a Virginia Mission Parish in the Orthodox Anglican Church
Serving Poquoson and surrounding communities.
Are the Gospels Myth?
The Standard Model of Bilbical Criticism assumes a theological evolution during the 1st century which has been projected upon the memory of the historical Christ. This projection is alleged to have begun with the Gospels and elaborately continued by the Apostle Paul. But this model has produced no comprehensive and credible theory about where such a theology could have come from, nor has it been able to extract a credible "historical" Jesus from this process of projection and elaboration.
How could Paul have invented a complex, lawless religion in the face of his Pharisaical training? There are no circumstantial motives present in the text. What happened to Paul does not look like a theological evolution. One day he is killing Christians. The next he is arguing in the Synagogues that Jesus is the Christ. It will not do to say that he had an epiphany about a lawless religion on the one hand and then to accuse him of an excessively legalistic Christianity on the other. And if Paul did dream up this vast theological system in the depths of his own, tortured psychology, how did he single-handedly win over Peter, Matthew and Mark, proud, but bigoted Jews - and so many of the other Apostles?
Above is a link to ten reasons why I believe that the Gospels are not myth. And a few more reasons why I believe that the Apostles were not lying.
Why did God allow evil?
John says that “the lamb was slain from the foundation of the world” (Re 13:8b). Since time itself is a creation; that is, God is outside of time, the entire matrix of creation must be seen as conceived outside of time. And I think that’s why all events seem to be woven together in one seamless matrix – from the periodic table – to our prayers. But the world is not just a replay of something which has “already” occurred in the mind of God, like a rebroadcast of a super bowl. If Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, this means that the typing of this sentence is causally connected to the foundation of the world. Just like all our existential acts. So if the lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world, so was the Fall, and so was every football game. Although our freedom at first appears to be playing itself out upon a deterministic stage of history, since our freedom is from a God outside of time, so all our existential acts are connected to every event in time – backwards and forwards. It’s quite profound, the more you think about it. Our freedom does not have to be in time to be free. It must be both in and outside of time to be true freedom. And it is.
Therefore, I think we should not say that the way the world has played out is the “best of all possible worlds.” When God created, he created with the knowledge of the Fall and the Crucifixion. Nevertheless, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Ge 1:31) I believe that he was not saying: ‘this is the best I can do.’ God always achieves perfection. Every possible world he could have created would have achieved the same level of perfection. We conceive our own children knowing that they will be sinners, yet when we give them an opportunity to sin by giving them freedom, we do not sin. Nor when we punish them, we do not say: “I am sorry I ever conceived you.” No matter the knowledge of their inevitable fall, we all expect them to go down in history as remarkable saints.
Thinking about the utility of the sin of Adam and Eve; i.e., the Fall - the logic of St. Paul in his Romans argument could be used to illustrate this utility by taking its converse. Here’s Paul’s logic about the law and sin, for example:
“And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.”
To better understand the Fall we can transform this into:
And the fall, which has brought death upon all men, I found to be life. For grace, taking occasion by the fall, apprehended me, and by it, saved me. Thus the Fall is tragic, horrible and bad. Yet that which was bad was made life to me and to the whole world! (God be thanked.) But grace, that it might appear grace, worked life in me by that which is bad, that grace through the fall might become exceedingly graceful.
How this page came to be
Many people have asked me various questions in counseling or in our discussion time or in just growing in faith and knowledge together.
Some of these questions tend to be "bellwether" - that is, they are representative of a line of thinking that really takes time to sort out, and they are particularly important to our times. Yet so often such questions go unanswered. Young people are often told: "don't ask your questions, just believe."
So we have sorted some of these questions out and have posted what we think are good answers.
I prayed for a pony – why didn’t God give me one?
One reason that there is so little “answered prayer” these days is because we live in a world of religious existentialism - not belief. And most of these religious existentialisms concern themselves with one of the many non-New Testament jesuses in the pantheon of popular religion.
Secondly, most of the prayers that we hear about are prayers offered for material things or relief from pain or disease which seem to have nothing to do with (or take no thought for) the advancement of the Kingdom or of long-range individual spiritual development. Today’s prayers tend to be prayers like “come down from the cross”, “give me some quail to eat” or “give me a pony”. God will not alter our looks, or give us power or money for its own sake - or change history, or alter physics or change his basic program for us – yet most of our prayers fall into this category. Many of the long-winded charismatic prayers we hear border on the verge of telling God how to be God. It’s really quite bizarre and tedious. We want God to be more like a magician-God responsive to formulaic incantations, but this approach is probably very insulting and deeply grieving to him.
Even if we did believe and pray for the right things, we generally give God very short-fused requests with very little lead time, though we know that good things take time to “cook up.” Abraham and Sarah had prayed often for children; they just didn’t accept God’s timetable and went and ‘helped him out’ with plans of their own. And it’s a good thing that God is not a magician-like-genie that gives us what we want in an instant. In many cases we would be horrified and deeply grieved if he had. Thank God he does not act on our immature prayers of ignorance.
One of the most basic ideas we must carry around with us every day of our lives, is that we don’t really know who we are – that is, who God wants us to be. And we are therefore constantly asking for things that simply do not belong in our story. Thus ‘we do not know what we should pray for.’ We deny the vast majority of our children’s requests for “things” for reasons too numerous to mention and too difficult for them to understand. Sometimes, we don’t even answer with a “no” or even with a reason. We just tell them “to be quiet, please.” Just as God does us. So we do.
The vast majority of prayer examples we are given in the New Testament are prayers for general spiritual graces and not for specific things. We pray for our daily bread, not to be tested, for those who abuse us, that the Lord would send laborers into his harvest. General requests. And corporate requests. The great majority of Jesus’ teachings on prayer are to the group - not the individual (“you” plural; not singular, which you can’t see in the unconjugated English). Very rarely are specific things requested - like ponies or the removal of thorns in sides or bitter cups that we know we must drink. Prayer was made for Peter without ceasing by the Church, yet everyone was shocked with disbelief when he showed up at the prayer meeting. And even when James says: “the prayer of a righteous man avails much”, the prayer of faith saves the sick man, not heals him.
If we believe and are following the spirit, and are content with food and clothing and such things as we have, and God is taking care of us and knows what things we have need of before we ask or before we even know about them, then there will be very few things or times in which we pray to meet some specific deficiency or desire. And if we do pray something like that, we should be pretty darn careful about taking our spiritual destinies into our own hands. He might give us just what we ask for. Like a pony.
In the end, how do we know that Christianity is true?
We confirm Christianity the way we confirm anything else. We know Christianity the way we know anything else. If Christ is the logos, that is, language, then every quark and quasar is a standing speech of Christ, including my own consciousness. Descartes said: “I think therefore I am”; we say: ‘Christ knows me; therefore I am.’ Christ speaks my consciousness, my reason and my conscience into existence. He creates subjectivity and objectivity. Therefore it is impossible to know anything outside of him. He speaks to us (objectively) by his spirit (subjectively), directly into the consciousness that he has created; he speaks to us through our senses by means of the objective cosmos (we call this “science”); he speaks to us in our objective social interaction with others (we call this sociology and history); and he speaks to us objectively by prophets and apostles (we call this “special revelation”). And these four witnesses agree perfectly.
John’s first epistle speaks directly to the problem of knowing that we know Christ. For example, John says: “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” (1Jo 2:3 ) This is the only place in the NT where you can find such a construction (‘know that we know’) - which brushes up against the modern epistemological dilemma (‘how do we know that we know anything?’) But the really tricky thing here is that this not so much about the epistemological dilemma of knowing things outside of ourselves. This is about knowing our own deceitful selves. That’s a tough one. Socrates himself said so. So be careful to make sure you know what John is talking about. For example, he journeys right into the confusion and darkness of the soul: “For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart…” (1 Jo 3:20a)
Usually, the place to start with an agnostic (you can substitute yourself very nicely in this thought experiment) is to ask him what he believes to be certain. He will probably reply (emphatically) that nothing can be known with any certainty. And then you can point out to him that he is certain that agnosticism is the best that we can do, which is a contradiction in terms. And from there, you can begin the process of transferring that certainty to better things. Jesus staked out this very same territory in his argument with the religious establishment looking (supposedly) for a confirmational “sign” of his legitimacy. Jesus indicts their hypocrisy: “you can discern the coming weather from the sky, but not the signs of the times?” (Mt 16:1-3)
Beyond the preliminary confusion and ignorance of the Gospel message, a person’s doubts very often turn out to be a species of intellectual subterfuge, obfuscation, rationalization and rebellion. For example, as we talk to many, many people who display uncanny intellectual ability, far sharper than our own, as soon as the conversation rises above the merely superficial chit chat about religious existentialism, they profess that what we are saying is ‘too far over their heads’. Jeremiah said: “the heart is deceitfully wicked above all things and desperately corrupt – who can know it?” We only need interview our own hearts to confirm this.