Rabbit Hole Reality

"You take the red pill … and I'll show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."

Experimenting with the Gospels

eyewitnessJ. Warner Wallace came to New Jersey last week to make a case for Christianity at the New Jersey Apologetics Conference, Liquid Church, and Rutgers University. In his presentations he offered evidence for the reliability of the gospels, including how to test an eyewitness.  The first step in testing a witness is to establish whether he/she was actually present. The next steps focus on accuracy and corroborative evidence. Additionally, if there are multiple eyewitnesses, can their statements be reconciled?  Why don’t all the witnesses agree on the details of the event? Jim used his cold case investigative skills to address these issues and  offer evidence for trusting the eyewitness testimony in the New Testament Gospels.

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As part of Jim’s New Jersey tour, he agreed to have dinner with our Liquid Church life group, which  focuses on apologetics and had just finished reading and discussing Jim’s book Cold Case Christianity.   We had a lovely dinner which essentially was a Q&A session with Jim about various topics.

Let the Experiment Begin

Our life group met a week after our dinner with Jim.  Rick, our creative leader said, “All week we have been talking about our wonderful dinner with Jim.  I think it’s time we put pen to paper.  Face it, none of us are spring chickens. We might experience untimely deaths and the history of our dinner with Jim will be lost.”  (I think you see where this is going)  Rick had a 3-step plan for capturing the historical event of Jim’s visit which in the process would highlight the techniques that he taught us.

  1. Rick directed Buzz and Kraig  to the kitchen (they were Mark) and he directed Christine, Staci, and I to another room (we were called Matthew).  Rick instructed us to write down our own account of our dinner with Jim. Each group titled their account The Gospel of Jim’s Visit  and tried to include everything about the dinner, the conversation, the food, the order of the events, and every detail we considered interesting or important.  After we finished, we re-convened in the family room.
  2. Rick instructed Bryan (who was deemed Luke) to read the accounts from Mark and Matthew and write his own Gospel of Jim’s Visit.  Bryan had been talking with Rick, so he also had access to Rick’s eyewitness observations about the dinner with Jim.
  3. We had a newcomer to our life group that evening.  Beverly had not attended the dinner with Jim, but she knew generally about the dinner and that Jim was an apologist and a cold case detective.  Rick instructed Beverly to write her own Gospel of Jim’s Visit based on her general knowledge. We renamed it the Gospel of Thomas. Of course in a perfect analogy, Beverly’s gospel would be written after we were all dead.

Right about now you are probably thinking we left out the gospel account of John. Not so fast. The experiment will continue because four other members of our life group (Lee Ann, Joanne, Lillian, and Frank) attended the dinner, but were absent for the gospel experiment. They will represent John’s account because their Gospel of Jim’s Visit will be written last.

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Gospel Contradictions

We read aloud all four Gospels, noting the similarities, differences, omissions, and other peculiarities.  Here are the highlights:

  • Mark, Matthew, and Luke gave similar accounts regarding the date, time, place, and most importantly the substance of the conversation.  Each of these accounts were in agreement on the questions asked and Jim’s responses.  The Gospel of Thomas agreed on the date, time, and place of the event, but only made general comments about the conversation topics (some were wrong) without stating any specific questions and answers.
  • Mark and Matthew and Luke disagreed with respect to the order of the events and there was some disagreement about who asked which question, but no disagreement on the questions asked.
  • Mark and Matthew included their own specific information and curious details, with some overlap.  These details had nothing to do with substance of the conversation.  Luke had the most detail and was the longest account.
  • Mark and Matthew included some people’s names, but neither listed everyone present.  However, Luke’s account specifically named everyone present at the dinner.
  • Mark’s account omitted a portion of the dialogue because he (Buzz and Kraig) was in the kitchen and missed it.  Matthew and Luke included it.
  • Luke included his own embarrassing remark that he (Bryan) made during dinner.
  • Matthew included details about the food, flowers, desserts, and how Jim takes his coffee.  Mark omitted all of this.

It was very obvious which accounts were written by eyewitnesses and which was not.  There were so many details given in the eyewitness accounts that if someone in 100 years wants to investigate the historicity of our Gospels of Jim’s Visit  there will be many types of corroborating evidence to support it. Here are just a few facts they can confirm:

  1. Was there an airline called United that regularly caused delays and disrupted travel schedules because of mechanical problems with their planes?
  2. Was there a movie called Boyz in the Hood made in 1991 starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. set in South Central Los Angeles?
  3. Was it customary for people to drink Diet Coke and Pellegrino in 2014?
  4. Were Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson generals for the Confederacy?
  5. Was there a church called Liquid in New Jersey in 2014?
  6. Are there records to show there was a Liquid life group that met in Bernardsville, NJ on Friday nights?
  7. Did Lee Ann Chupp work as a teacher in Newark at the Performing Arts High School in 2014?
  8. Was J. Warner Wallace an active police officer during the 1990’s through 2014?
  9. Was there a book called Cold Case Christianity, written by J. Warner Wallace in 2013?
  10. Is there video footage of a man named J. Warner Wallace hosting a podcast wearing a green plaid shirt?

These are just a few of the historical facts found in our experimental gospels that could be verified by anyone wanting to know if The Gospels of Jim’s Visit were reliable.

Host Your Own Experiment

You too can do this experiment!  You need at least six unsuspecting people to be eyewitnesses, an event to observe, and someone who was not there.  It helps if your group reads Cold Case Christianity prior to the experiment.   This experiment will greatly benefit your case-making ability.  Not only will you have a good story to tell, but you will gain a better understanding of the nature of the eyewitness testimony found in the Gospels. We should not be discouraged by the seeming contradictions in the Gospel accounts.  Rather, we should appreciate the wonderfully messy accounts that fit together to give us a robust picture of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazereth.

The Nitty-Gritty on “Noah”

nitty_2If you want to get to the nitty-gritty on something it means you want to get to the heart of the matter, the essential substance, the crux.  If you have seen the movie “Noah” or have read the many reviews of the movie (favorable and unfavorable), you may be increasingly confused about how to evaluate the movie and how to engage your friends in conversation about it, especially if you are trying to commend the God of the Bible to them.  You want the nitty-gritty.

 I would like to recommend Dr. Brian Mattson and Brian Godawa to you.  Their blog posts on the “Noah”  movie are thorough and insightful and will help you understand the themes and imagery in the film and the variety of sources Director Darren Aronofsky used in making the film.  When we come to understand that the Bible is not his text, we will all be better equipped to articulate and unpack the movie for our friends.

Here are the blogs and podcasts that should be required reading/viewing for Christians who see the movie and want to talk about it with others:

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Dr. Brian Mattson

Sympathy for the Devil” by Dr. Brian Mattson

“Keep Handling the Real Thing” by Dr. Brian Mattson

“The Real Issue” by Dr. Brian Mattson

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Brian Godawa

 

“Interview with Brian Godawa” on Dead Reckoning Show

“The Subversion of God in Noah” by Brian Godawa

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Book Review: A Reasonable Response

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A Reasonable Response by William Lane Craig and Joseph Gorra is a compilation of Dr. Craig’s most insightful and instructive Q&A exchanges.  The book is meant to be a  “celebration and an example of the practice and ministry of answering questions.” [1]    The questions are organized in six broad categories:

  1.  Knowing and Believing What Is Real
  2.  God
  3.  Origins and the Meaning of Life
  4.  Afterlife and Evil
  5.  Jesus Christ and Being His Disciple
  6.  Issues of Christian Practice

In addition to the actual Q&A exchanges, Joseph Gorra gives extra ‘insights’ to aid the reader in understanding Craig’s suppositions and approaches.  He also provides a preface before each category that includes expectations, contextual comments, learning objectives, and additional resources.

Even though the reader may find it tempting to dive immediately into one of the question/answer topics, I highly recommend reading the Introduction, “A Meditation on the Practice and Ministry of Answering Questions.” It is worth the price of the book, offering a splendid view of the forest before your journey into the trees.   And more than that, Gorra challenges the reader to consider why you are compelled to investigate the trees in the first place.

Introduction

What is the secret to a fruitful ministry of answering questions? Gorra points out that those who can answer a question well have first wrestled with the question themselves and are able to help others come to know the answer.  This practice of inquiring helps us cultivate the virtue of humility because question-asking creatures are more likely to understand the reality that there is much more to know. William Lane Craig has modeled this virtue in his ministry of answering questions.  Gorra challenges those who have this ministry not to fall into the habit of living as if their scholarship is for the academy and close themselves off from the world.  His antidote for the ‘know it all’ is to develop Christian virtues.  Gorra refers the reader to JP Moreland’s five groups of virtues from Love Your God with All Your Mind [2] and their importance in developing a Christian mind.  If you have not already read Moreland’s book, you might as well put it at the top of your reading list.  You will add many more to your list as you work through each category of questions with their recommended resources.

Is question-asking inherent to human nature? Gorra asserts it is one of the aspects of being made in the image of God.  In other words, we are designed to be curious, to reason and discover reality.  This makes sense from my experience.  I have always thought the best part of a speaker event was the Q&A session afterward.  I suspect this is also true for others because the university students at our Ratio Christi [3] events seem to never tire of asking questions during Q&A time.  In fact, I depend on this ‘curiosity’ aspect of humanity in our Ratio Christi meetings.  One of our goals for our skeptical atheist friends is to challenge them to question certain aspects of their worldview that do not correspond to reality.  The Holy Spirit can then use a nagging question that needs an answer to bring a skeptic closer to Ultimate Reality, God Himself. Gorra sets the tone for the Q&A sections of the book with this thought, “Apologetics is not a sport: a kind of intellectual Ping-Pong.  It is intentional answering for the sake of growth.”  [4]

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The reader may choose to read individual Q&A exchanges out of order, but the sections are arranged logically and they build on one another.  Most people will no doubt be helped by the content of Dr. Craig’s responses.  That being said, I was surprised at how often I was impacted by how he answered the questions.  To show what I mean, I have chosen to summarize three Q&A exchanges as examples of the content (what) and the tone (how) of Craig’s answers.

1)         Is it arbitrary to adopt God’s nature as the Good?  [5]

The questioner objects to Divine Command Theory.  His trouble centers on his presupposition that God’s moral qualities are contingent properties, which could be different in different possible worlds.  Craig’s response corrects the questioner’s assumption and emphasizes that God’s moral qualities are an essential part of His nature.  There is no possible world in which God is not kind, impartial, gracious, and loving.  Further, Craig defines the concept of God as the greatest conceivable being: a necessary, metaphysically ultimate being, one that is worthy of worship.  On this view, “it is greater to be the Good than merely to reflect it.”  Therefore, taking God to be the ultimate explanatory stopping point is plausible and certainly not arbitrary.

The following phrases from this response reflect Dr. Craig’s tone and his ability to get to the heart of the objection:

  • Nice to hear from you!
  • This question is, I think, mis-phrased… 
  • The important question is…
  • Again, I think the wording of the question might be improved…
  • What is of interest is what I should do under the envisioned circumstances.
  • After stating the questioner’s understanding of Craig’s view, Craig says: But this isn’t the model I defend!
  • Your analogy presupposes…
  • I think what this objection is really getting at is the claim that it’s somehow arbitrary to adopt God’s nature as the Good.

 2)         Is God’s existence evident to every sincere seeker? [6]

The questioner objects to the claim that God will be evident to every sincere seeker because he knows people who have “sincerely sought God, but couldn’t find Him.”  Dr. Craig responds by explaining why he believes that sincere seekers will come to know God.  We have good reasons to believe that Jesus is the revelation of God (read Reasonable Faith) and Jesus makes the claim in Matthew 7:7-8 that those who seek will find.  Dr. Craig clarifies that seeking is more than merely an intellectual inquiry, but is rather a genuine soul searching.  The problem is that we are in no position to judge a person’s sincerity.  The truth is that people have an incredible capacity for rationalization and self-deception with regard to their own evaluation of their sincerity about seeking God.

The following phrases/footnotes from this response are helpful in learning ‘how’ to answer questions:

  • A true seeker will persist…Don’t give up! Keep searching, and you will find God.
  • This is not to say that every non-Christian who claims to have sought God is lying.  Self-deception is possible.
  • Dr. Craig offers four resources [7] to emphasize the need for further understanding of the human capacity for self-deception.
  • As for your examples, the last two are just silly…
  • By contrast, the first two examples deserve to be taken very seriously.
  • Now, I realize that my saying these things makes atheists see red!  But that is no argument, and they need to ask themselves…

 3)         How do you deal with doubts? [8]

The questioner is tortured with unanswered questions and would like to feel more secure in his beliefs.  Dr. Craig’s response points him to a secure belief, while continuing to search out answers to his questions.  The proper ground of our knowing the truths of the gospel to be true is the inner work of the Holy Spirit.  Argument and evidence play an essential role in our showing Christianity to be true.  Dr. Craig recommends Plantinga’s book Warranted Christian Belief [9] as a good resource.  For you to experience this kind of knowing it is imperative that you are a regenerate Christian.  If you have not been born anew of the Holy Spirit, then you lack His witness within you.  Is your faith just an intellectual belief or is God a living reality in your life?   If you are a regenerate Christian, then cultivate the spiritual disciplines, namely prayer, confession, Bible study, worship, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and evangelism.  Craig concludes by encouraging him to have a ‘question bag’ filled with unresolved difficulties.  Take out one question at a time and pursue the answer diligently.  Remember, you can live confidently even while having unanswered questions because the grounding of your faith is the Spirit’s witness.  This is the key to preventing unanswered questions from becoming destructive doubts.

The following phrases from this response are helpful when dealing with someone who is suffering with many questions and doubts.

  • I admire your courage and your honesty…
  • Be assured that many great men and women of God have traveled that same path before you and have not lost faith.
  • To speak personally…(Dr. Craig shared is life story)
  • Why are you reading those infidel websites anyway?
  • Doubt is not just a matter of academic debate; it involves a battle for your very soul.  Satan can use doubt to immobilize you.
  • One will always have unanswered questions.
  • I don’t know the answer to your question of whether your doubts will suddenly come to an end.

Questioning  one of Craig’s Responses [10]

I disagree with Dr. Craig regarding the Q&A entitled “On Evolutionary Theory and Theism.” He claims that there would be no debate between evolutionists and theists if both sides would clarify their terms, namely “undirected,” “purposeless,” and “random.” He asserts that most evolutionists (citing Francisco Ayala and Daryl Domning) are not using these terms to represent the philosophy of naturalism in their view of evolution, but only to describe the scientific mechanism.  Craig goes on to say if they were referring to naturalism, “…then evolutionary theory would be enormously presumptuous, since science is just not in a position to say with any justification that there is no divinely intended direction or goal of the evolutionary process.”  [11]  Yet, this is precisely the point of most debates on the subject.

First of all, I think Richard Dawkins, Douglas Futuyma, Gaylord Simpson, Stephen Jay Gould, Kenneth Miller, and other prominent evolutionary biologists (except Ayala and Domning) will heartily disagree with Craig’s assessment. Their definition of evolution includes the terms “undirected” and “purposeless” in the philosophical sense. [12] And yes it is “enormously presumptuous.”  After all, we are obliged to represent evolutionary biologists as they represent themselves and I do not think Dr. Craig has represented the predominant view of evolution, which assumes it is undirected and purposeless.

Second, Dr. Craig mentions that God could have put certain laws and initial conditions in place to ensure that crucial mutations led to evolutionary transitions to create biological complexity.  However, Stephen Meyer and Douglas Axe have demonstrated that the chemistry of DNA is not governed by a chemical law that influences the DNA sequence.   Therefore, a hands-on designer would be necessary to guide the mutations in such a way as to generate new functional genetic sequences. [13]

Having said this, I agree with Dr. Craig that theists and scientists should correct naturalists who assert that the evolutionary process is “not oriented toward any goal.”  To model Dr. Craig’s tone of answering questions, I would suggest that the more important question to ask when conversing with an evolutionary biologist about evolution and theism is, “Do you presuppose the philosophy of naturalism in your view of Neo-Darwinian evolution?”  Clarifying assumptions and terms should lead the way in any discussion.

Appendices [14]

Gorra offers suggestions for using the book in a small group setting in Appendix 1Appendix 2 encourages question-asking and answer-seeking as a way of life in the family and in the church.  If you are struggling to get an apologetics ministry started in your church, this is a must read.  Gorra gives nine models for apologetics in the local church, complete with advice on how to avoid common mistakes.  Appendix 3 gives a framework for civility in the context of real disagreements in online discussions.  Gorra gives ten factors that should represent our conversations.  The fifth one stands out:  What does it mean to be open-minded? It involves the ability to transcend a default standpoint in order to take seriously a distinct standpoint. In other words, hold your standpoint more like a hypothesis and another standpoint also as a hypothesis to be tested, and not merely tested for the sake of being assessed but to be understood. [15] In addition, Gorra offers twenty general recommendations toward more civil online engagement.  If you are frustrated with the lack of civil discourse in our culture, you will definitely benefit from this last appendix.

Take-aways

This book has a wealth of information for those who have or desire to have a ministry of answering questions.  I leave you with three take-aways:

1)         When answering a question, remember to commend the questioner, minimize the hurdles, pinpoint presuppositions, clarify their objections, pose a more interesting question about the topic, show excitement about the topic, respect disagreements among scholars, and try to give more than one view if possible.

2)         When crafting an argument, remember to make the intellectual price tag of their worldview as high as you can so the objector will find it very distasteful to compromise his intellectual integrity.  Offer a valid argument based on premises he knows to be true with a conclusion he simply does not want to accept! [16]

3)         Purchase Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig.  This book is listed most often as a resource in almost every subject category.  I own it and refer to it often.

 

[1]  See A Reasonable Response, page 15.

[2]  J. P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul, revised and updated (Colorado Springs, CO; NavPress, 2012), 121-27.

[3]  For more information about Ratio Christi, go to www.ratiochristi.org.

[4]  See A Reasonable Response, page 42.

[5]  See A Reasonable Response, pages 95-99.

[6]  See A Reasonable Response, pages 131-135.

[7]  Resources on this topic:  I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life, by Gregg A. Ten Elshof; The Making of an Atheist:  How Immorality Leads to Unbelief by James S. Spiegel; The Logic of the Heart:  Augustine, Pascal, and the Rationality of Faith by James R. Peters; Desperately Wicked:  Philosophy, Christianity and the Human  Heart by Patrick Downey.

[8]  See A Reasonable Response, pages 311-319.

[9]  Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford University Press, 2003).

[10]  See A Reasonable Response, pages  218-241.

[11]  See A Reasonable Response, page 239.

[12] See claims in the following resources: Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker, 6; Gaylord Simpson in The Meaning of Evolution, 344; Stephen Jay Gould in Ever Since Darwin, 33, 147, 267;  Douglas Futuyma in Evolutionary Biology, 5;  Kenneth Miller in Finding Darwin’s God, 291.

[13]  See ”Teleological Evolution:  The Difference it Doesn’t Make”  by Stephen Meyer, excerpted from Darwinism Defeated? The Johnson-Lamoureux Debate over Biological Origins, January 1, 1999.

[14]  See A Reasonable Response, pages 365-413.

[15]  See A Reasonable Response, page 401.

[16]  See A Reasonable Response, page 156.

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The Other Monuments Men

These monuments are not merely pretty things, not merely valued signs of man’s creative power. They are expressions of faith, and they stand for man’s struggle to relate himself to his past and to his God.”    Lieutenant George Stout

U. S. soldiers recovering “Wintergarden” by Manet from a salt mine vault.

The movie The Monuments Men brings the fascinating story of some of the unsung heroes of World War II to the big screen. You can watch the trailer here.  The historical details of the Monuments Men can be found in the books The Rape of Europa by Lynn H. Nicholas and The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel.

The men and women of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) section of the Allied Army were commissioned by General Dwight D. Eisenhower to protect monuments and cultural treasures from destruction during combat. This endeavor was monumental (pun intended) because it marked the first time an army fought a war while at the same time attempted to preserve the culture in the midst of combat.

The executive decision to protect our cultural heritage was in large part due to a pamphlet entitled Protection of Monuments: A Proposal for Consideration During War and Rehabilitation written by Lieutenant George Stout, who argued for the necessity for ‘right conduct’ with regards to safeguarding monuments.  Here is an excerpt,

To safeguard these things will not affect the course of battles, but it will affect the relations of invading armies with those peoples and [their] governments.… To safeguard these things will show respect for the beliefs and customs of all men and will bear witness that these things belong not only to a particular people but also to the heritage of mankind. To safeguard these things is part of the responsibility that lies on the governments of the United Nations. These monuments are not merely pretty things, not merely valued signs of man’s creative power. They are expressions of faith, and they stand for man’s struggle to relate himself to his past and to his God. With conviction that the safeguarding of monuments is an element in the right conduct of the war and in the hope for peace, we… wish to bring these facts to the attention of the government of the United States of America and to urge that means be sought for dealing with them  (The Monuments Men kindle edition, pp. 22-23).

The MFAA’s second directive was to reclaim and return countless works of art and religious artifacts stolen by the Nazis.  As noted in Edsel’s  book, Hitler had been eagerly planning to loot Europe long before the first shot was fired.

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Robert Edsel notes, “Years earlier, German art scholars had begun visiting the countries of Europe, secretly preparing inventories so that when Hitler conquered each country— oh yes, he had been preparing for conquest even then— his agents would know the name and location of every important object of artistic and cultural value (The Monuments Men kindle edition, p. 13).    The MFAA spent many long years returning cultural treasures to their rightful countries. However, private Jewish art collections confiscated by the Nazis remained unclaimed after the war because whole Jewish populations of nations were either killed or forced to flee, never to return.   It was finally decided that a charitable organization could act as ‘successor’ for this cultural property.  Two organizations were founded to take on the problem of  ‘heirless’ Jewish property,  the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization (JRWO) and the Jewish Cultural Reconstruction organization.   They took on the difficult task of distributing religious and cultural objects, including thousands of Torah scrolls, to groups worldwide (The Rape of Europa kindle edition, location 8366).

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A chaplain examines Torah scrolls recovered by the Monuments Men.

The Other Monuments Men  

The MFFA were not the only ones who protected priceless artifacts from Hitler during World War II.  I would like to highlight some other Monuments Men, the ‘unsung’ unsung heroes who are not mentioned in either the books or the movie but are just as noteworthy.  This is the story of the monks and townspeople of Berat, Albania who risked their lives to protect the Purple Codex of Berat from being confiscated by Nazi soldiers in 1944.

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one page from the 6th century Purple Codex of Berat

Background

I first learned about this New Testament manuscript while watching a lecture on you tube given by Dan Wallace regarding recent discoveries of manuscripts (story begins at 10:27 mark).  He is the founder and director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM).  Dan Wallace and his team are committed to digitally preserving every known ancient Greek New Testament manuscript.  In the process of their work they have discovered numerous new manuscripts; this year alone they have added eleven to the official catalog of manuscripts.  The abundance of ancient Greek manuscripts (5,838 as of September, 2013) allows textual critics to get back to the original wording of the New Testament, which is crucial in verifying its accuracy and reliability.

The Story of the Purple Codex of Berat

Dan Wallace and his team travelled to Albania in 2007 to digitally photograph 13 manuscripts, but were ecstatic to find there were 45 manuscripts;  the second largest cache of Greek manuscripts discovered in the last half century.  Found among the manuscripts was the Purple Codex of Matthew and Mark from the early 6th century.   Purple Codex manuscripts are handwritten gospels on parchment, dyed a deep red (purple) with letters written in silver.  The words Lord, God, Jesus, and Christ are written in gold.  There are only four other purple codices from the 6th century.

In 1943 Hitler demanded from the Albanian government three things:  the 6th century Purple Codex, a list of Jews, and the reserve gold from the national bank.  Upon hearing this threat, the monks immediately hid the Purple Codex in a metal chest beneath a well in the monastery.  In the fall of 1944 a Nazi general came to Berat, Albania specifically to collect these items for Hitler.  The soldiers threatened the monks and townspeople at gunpoint to hand over the codex.  After interrogating them, they eventually left, convinced by their testimonies that they knew nothing about the codex.  The next day, there was a long line of monks and townspeople waiting to confess their sins of lying to the soldiers. Oh and by the way, they never gave the Nazis the list of Jews either  (from The Codices of Albania).

It is  impressive that these ordinary townspeople, who could not read or speak Greek and who perhaps did not fully understand the value of the codex, risked their lives to protect this Scripture from harm.  Today the Purple Codex of Berat is the national treasure of Albania and is a living testimony of the history of Christianity in their country.  It has been digitally preserved by the CSNTM and now textual critics are able to compare it to all the other ancient manuscripts and continue the work of confirming the original wording of Matthew and Mark.

A Word About Courage

The reason we admire the monks and townspeople of Berat is because we recognize their courage.  They exhibited strength to do the right thing even in the face of certain death with no promise of reward.  Make no mistake, these people had reason to fear for their lives on that day because in 1944 most of the world, including the people who lived in the small town of Berat, Albania, knew the Nazis had no reservations about murdering civilians in order to give Hitler what he demanded.

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Nazi firing squad murdering civilians in the French Resistance

According to Plato and other philosophers, there are four cardinal virtues.  ‘Cardinal’ meaning the practice of all other virtues hinge on these four: prudence, justice, temperance, and courage (fortitude).  C.S. Lewis goes one step further by arguing that courage is the most vital and essential virtue.   He writes,

Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality  (Screwtape Letter #29).

In other words, courage is necessary in order to practice any virtue when tempted or pressured.  We cannot claim to be virtuous unless we have exhibited virtue at the testing point.  After all, Pilate was merciful until it became risky.  Lewis argues that one of the reasons God created a dangerous world is to force the humans he made to make moral decisions.  Making moral decisions very often means choosing between courage and cowardice (Screwtape Letter #29).

Our culture increasingly favors and extols the soft virtues of love and mercy while ignoring the hard virtues such as courage and temperance.  But let us remember that in order to truly exhibit love and mercy, we must learn to appreciate and cultivate the hard virtue of courage, which is simply doing the right thing at the point of highest reality.

 

 

 

 

 

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Rabbit Hole Reality

The Rabbit Hole is a metaphor for the conceptual path which is thought to lead to the true nature of reality.  A journey down this path begins with a choice:  the red pill or the blue pill.  Choosing to take the red pill simply means you have decided to search for the truth of the matter.  For those not familiar with this terminology, it refers to a critical scene in the movie The Matrix.  Neo is given a choice, whether he desires to know the truth about reality by taking the red pill or whether he would rather go on living in the deceptive world of the Matrix by taking the blue pill.  You can view the scene here. This scene illustrates a truth about our own lives.  Each of us is offered this same choice in life, whether to pursue the truth about Ultimate Reality or to remain in a world of self-deception.  You might ask why anyone would choose the blue pill?

Why Take the Blue Pill?

The apostle Paul points out that many people prefer living in a world of self-deception by suppressing the truth that is evident within them (Romans 1:18-23).  Every person has evidence for God’s existence through creation and conscience, but many choose to exchange this truth for a lie.  There are many reasons to suppress this truth, but at the root of them all is the belief that autonomy from God is the highest good.  This preferred ‘good’ is a self-deception because the truth is “it is He who has made us and not we ourselves” (Psalm 100:3).  If you are interested in reversing the effects of this false belief and the effects of the blue pill, there is a way back.  At the beginning of the Matrix scene, Trinity advises Neo to be honest.  Honesty is a difficult task when you have made a habit of suppressing the truth.  The first step is to bring truth back again as your primary goal of inquiry.  I suggest the book i told me so by Gregg Ten Elshof to help with this.

The Force is Strong in You

The force (of self-deception) is strong in you. (Yes, I just embedded a reference to Star Wars in the overall reference to The Matrix)  What does it mean to be self-deceived?  According to Ten Elshof, “We are self-deceived whenever we manage our own beliefs for the sake of some goal other than the truth.” (Kindle 49)  What does it look like to bring truth back as the primary goal of inquiry?

I recently read the conversion story of a French atheist (see the article here), who chronicled his own journey down the rabbit hole.  His initial step was actually a prayer experiment.  Guillaume Bignon writes,

So I picked up a Bible to figure it out. And at the same time, since I’m a scientist, I figured there was at least one experiment that could be carried out to dis-confirm the belief that God exists: I thought “if any of this is true, then there is a God who exists right now and presumably cares greatly about this project of mine”, so I started to pray in the air as an atheist “If there is a God, then here I am, I’m looking into this, why don’t you go ahead and reveal yourself to me. I’m open.” Well, I wasn’t, really, but I figured that shouldn’t stop God if He existed.”

You might not think this half-hearted prayer from a skeptic would amount to much, but it was the first crack in dismantling a life of self-deception.  Guillaume describes how God had been pursuing him through a relationship and other providential circumstances. Guillaume responded to these circumstances by picking up a Bible and deciding to engage in a ‘prayer experiment.’ His story illustrates what Ten Elshof means by bringing truth back to the primary goal of inquiry.  In Matrix terms, Guillaume took the red pill.

Take the Red Pill

To take the red pill not only means to pursue the truth about Ultimate Reality, but it also means to pursue the truth in all the big questions of life, such as:

  • What is the nature of material reality?
  • What does it mean to be human?
  • What is the human condition?
  • What is the solution to the human condition?
  • How do we know things?
  • Is there an afterlife?
  • How do you decide what is right and wrong?

If you choose to embark on this Truth Quest, you will soon discover that different worldviews have different answers to these important questions.  For example, Ultimate Reality for atheists is the material universe, for Muslims it is Allah, for Jews it is Yaweh, for Christians it is the personal Triune God, for Hindus it is impersonal Brahman, and Buddhists do not have a concept of god at all.

But do not assume that truth cannot be known simply because there is a plurality of answers to the big questions of life. There must be a way to evaluate competing answers for their truth-value, or what would be the point of the Truth Quest?  Here are four objective criteria (from JP Moreland blog post here) that will help in your investigation:

1)        Facts about Creation

A religion’s concept of God should be in harmony with the following facts:  (1) the existence and beginning of a finite universe, (2) the order and fine-tuning of the universe, including the existence of biological information, (3) the existence of finite minds such as our own, and (4) the existence of objective moral law and the equality of human rights.

2)        The Human Condition

A religion’s diagnosis and solution to the human condition should account for the fact that human beings share the following:  (1) we experience threefold alienation — we feel alienated from God, from other people (including those they love), and from ourselves; (2) we experience deep shame and guilt; (3) we desire personal life after death in which our loves and ideals may continue to be a part of their experience; (4) we desire that our individual lives have meaning and purpose; (5) we desire a life of beauty and drama, to be a part of something big and important, to be part of the struggle between good and evil; and (6) we experience the need for help and empowerment to live a life of virtue and character.

3)        Miracles

A religion’s origin and success should appeal to divine activity.  In other words, it should not be merely the result of human intellect or philosophical wisdom.  There should be supernatural explanations for its origin and success.

4)        Jesus

Choose the religion that gives the fullest account of the life and person of Jesus Christ.  Most religions make some claims about Jesus, so you might as well begin with the one that has the most information, which is Christianity.

Where Does the Rabbit Hole Lead?

Of course, this pursuit of Truth is more than simply believing true propositions about the most important topics in life.  It is that, but much more.  After all, if we are persons made in the image of God, having self-consciousness, rationality, and free will, we have the capacity to have a personal relationship with God. On the Christian view, the pursuit of Truth ultimately leads to a Person.  Jesus Christ claims He is the Truth.  This is different from claiming to tell the truth or lead people to true beliefs.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).  In other words, Jesus is the way back to God.  And the great part about all of this is that if you seek Truth and Reality, you will surely find Him (Hebrews 11:6, Deut. 4:29).  The choice is yours.

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