Book Review: Can We Trust the Gospels?

Thanks to Angie Cheatham of Crossway Books for this review copy of Mark D. Roberts’ “blook,” Can We Trust the Gospels? Investigating the Reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (Crossway, 2007).   You might wonder what is a “blook”?  A blook is a book that was birthed out of a series of blog posts to make a “blook.”  Savvy?  😉

Pastor Mark Roberts (PhD, Harvard), has a heart and a passion for the Gospels that tell the story of Jesus.  He is also a blogger.  On his blog he did a series of posts on the historical reliability of the Gospels in which he was able to get much feedback from his readers – one of the readers was the publishers at Crossway – they then contacted Roberts and asked if he would be interested in publishing his blog posts into a book – thus creating a “blook.”   My guess is there will be significantly more “blooks” in the future (and I don’t see anything wrong with that!).

So what of the blook?  I think it is pretty good!  One endorsement is from Scot McKnight in which he avers that what F.F. Bruce did for his generation in arguing for historical reliability of the gospels, Pastor Mark has done for this generation.  I tend to agree (though I haven’t read the work by F.F. Bruce).  The best thing is that it is short (202 pgs), it is simple, it is to the point, and in a day and age when “less is more” when it comes to books, Mark has a captive audience!

In this blook he tackles all the basic issues that are often used to confront the reliability of the gospels such as can we know the original story?  Did the Evangelists know Jesus?  When were the gospels written?  What are the gospels? Are there contradictions?  Can they be both theology and history?  What about miracles, archeology, why only four and so on.

In terms of order he takes the standard approach of Markan priority (two (four) source theory).  On the issue of authorship of the Gospels – most of the authorship, apart from John is quite speculative it is best to go with the tradition – he also suggests that two of the gospels being written by men who did not know Jesus personally works more in their favor than the many gnostic gospels (which he does a lot of comparing and contrasting with throughout the blook), which tend to use the names of known disciples or characters in the biblical story.   Additionally, “The reliability of the New Testament Gospels does not depend on who wrote them so much as on the nature and purpose of the writings themselves” (49).  As to the time of their writings he goes the common dating: Matthew (65-85); Mark 60-75); Luke (65-95); John (75-100).

One point I liked was in talking about if we can know the contents of the original manuscripts – he attacked the common argument of the telephone game.  It doesn’t work.  People who use the telephone game as an argument fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the oral culture in which the Gospels were written.   People trained to transmit things orally would have the same problems modern people do who are not trained to transmit things orally – additionally oral cultures did not transmit the story of Jesus secretly as the Gnostics tended to so.  When the story was being told, all could hear, if mistakes were made, they could be pointed out right there and then.  the same went with writing and copying the Gospel accounts – people were trained to do it – so the mistakes were few and insignificant.  So, the whole, we can’t possibly have the contents of the original manuscripts argument is a farce.

I am sure there could be more to talk about but a review isn’t to give all the details just a few of the pertinent ones then comment on it and evaluate.  I like that it is a smooth easy read and the flow is logical and helps to make sense of the gospels.  Can we trust the gospels?  This is really a two part question.  Can we trust them to give us historically reliable information about Jesus and do they offer a trustworthy basis for faith in Jesus? (193).  The answer to both questions is yes and more so – can can know that we are getting reliable information regarding the life and times of the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth and therefore have a trustworthy basis for placing faith in Jesus for salvation. 

This is a useful book and I think Christians in general would do well to have a copy or two on hand for personal reference and for that friend who is needing help understanding the Gospels and how they work.

Barth’s Church Dogmatics on SALE!!

CBD has a deal (steal?) of the century going right now that if you like Barth, probably should not pass up – find a way to pay for it.

They have the Hendrickson’s Publishers edition of all 14 volumes of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics on sale for $99!

Take it or leave it. 

I can’t take it at the moment, but you should!

Re: Noah’s Ark

UPDATE: See Eric Cline on Good Morning America talking about the discovery here.


In regards to the recent supposed find (again) of Noah’s Ark I’ll simply point people to an interview with renown archeologist Eric Cline and others.   Here is a good comment:

“I’m fascinated by people’s fascination in Noah’s ark when there are many more solvable mysteries out there, and yet that might be exactly what draws them to it.  They know it’s inherently unsolvable,” says Mr. Cline, an associate professor of ancient history and archaeology at George Washington University and author of “From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible,” recently published by National Geographic.

I agree with others that this recent claim of finding Noah’s ark is dilettantism at its finest!

Also consider getting his little book (which I need to get too) Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions).

On Jesus’ “gospel”

I really liked Mike Bird’s blog post dealing with John Piper’s sermon on “Did Jesus preach Paul’s gospel?”  This topic is confusing to me to say the least – perhaps I am reading into it too much but why would Jesus preach Paul’s gospel (whatever that was)?  For Piper it is imputed righteousness as seen through the lens of the WCF and LBC (makes me wonder, is it anochronistic?).

For Mike Bird here is what he avered:

I submit that the WCF and LBC 1689 are not the contexts for understanding Jesus’ proclamation of a gospel. Rather, I would say that Isa. 52.7, Ps. Sol. 11.1-7, 4Q521, and the Priene inscription help us to understand what Jesus and the Evangelists meant by “gospel”. When I read Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:16-21; Matt 24:14, imputation does not come to my mind or to the the mind of any ancient Gospel commentary that I know of. Jesus’ “gospel” is Isaianic not Calvinistic (and this is coming from a Calvinist!).

This bears repeating: Jesus’ “gospel” is Isaianic not Calvinistic [or Lutheran or Arminian, etc].   Indeed.

Later he writes, which reflects my question above (which I asked to myself when I learned about the sermon and before I read this post):

Piper’s Jesus, on this point about imputation, is a construct conducive to a particular hermeneutical community, but it is neither canonical, nor catholic, nor historical.  Piper is setting off on a noble task of trying to show the parity of Jesus and Paul when it’s all the rage to drive them apart. The problem is that rather than showing that Paul was a faithful follower of Jesus, he seems to make Jesus an advocate of a theologically freighted reading of Paul (for a better effort on this task I recommend the work of David Wenham).

I know in the comments Bird noted he was trying to be sympthetic to Piper – but at this point I stand in complete agreement with Mike Bird on this issue – Paul’s gospel was actually a reflection of the gospel Jesus and the Apostles preached, not the other way around.

In other words, Piper sees the “gospel” Jesus preached through a particular interpretive lens (the theologically freighted stuff Bird noted), which is deemed by himself and his followers, as the “right” interpretive lens – ie., “right” doctrine.  In reality, it reflects his own theological commitments over and against a committment to read and understand the Gospels and Paul’s Letters as they stand, and in their historical context.

I could be off on this and looking at it from the wrong angle – if so, let me know how to see it differently.

ps., I guess we shouldn’t really pick on just John Piper, he isn’t the only person who does this (read Jesus through Paul instead of vice versa).

there’s a draft

did you hear about it? 😉 t’s been going for nearly 2000 years!  Yup, the boss man himself, God our Father who is in Heaven, is calling you to be a part of his Mission in this world – the Great Commission.  It’s called Mission: Go make Disciples! Another term is Mission Possible.  For with God all things are possible!  It’s one you can’t do alone but only in community through the person of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, which raised Jesus from the dead and which lives in you!  It won’t be easy and it will be costly.  It will  require much hard work and sacrifice, humilitation, suffering – even death – death to the self.   For that is the only way the Mission can be accomplished – through hard work, sacrifce, suffering, humiliation, and death.   But what is the end result?  Life and life abundantly;  Life eternal and fulness of the Spirit, the opportunity to participate in the mission and purposes of God in this world; to see his salvation reach to the ends of the earth!

The sad thing is, the fields are white for harvest – yet the workers are few!  What about you?  Are you ready to sign up?

on preparation for ministry (updated)

This is a risky post for me – if read by the wrong person or people I could get in a lot of trouble – mostly because of the circles in which I travel – but do know this reflects my own opinion.

If you are sensing a call to the ministry or to missions – whatever you do – do not go to Bible School.

If God says to you directly “I want you to Go to Bible School.”  Well, then you need to go.  But as a general rule, in most cases, Bible School can be hazardous to your ministry effectiveness.  Why?  Because there is often more to ministry than just Bible related issues.

Instead, if you want to be a pastor, I might suggest getting some general business degree – while churches are not businesses, they are often run like them in many respects – I mean someone needs to keep the books, manage the finances, know how to work in the best interest of the church from a business perspective and given that the vast significant majority of churches in America 50 to 100 folks – unless they happen to have someone in the congregation with a servants heart to help out with this kind of stuff – many of this kind of thing falls to the pastor.

If you want to be a missionary – get a practical degree such as teaching, business, linguistics, or even something far out like a chemistry, environmental science degree, even a medical degree or one in urban planning and community deelopment .  This way you’ll actually be able to be of some benefit to wherever you go other than just starting a Bible School or doing evangelism.  These are needed of course but so are medical skills, science skills, teaching and so on.


UPDATE: As an example, a missionary family I recently met, who live in an undisclosed location, the father is a specialist in agricultural development and are utlizing that skill where they are as relief workers.  In their first term, they served the people by hepling them build a chicken farm and to fish farms.  In effect, in meeting their physical needs it opened up the door for them to meet the people’s spiritual needs. 

This is modern missions


Pick either a Christian University and get a liberal arts degree that is practical and has a variety of transferrable skills – or go to a State College or University and get plugged into a Christian group on campus for spiritual support while studying in a secular anti-religious environment – this is pretty good prep for being out there in the world.

What about getting a theological education?  Save that for seminary 0r if you choose a Christian University – have ministry or Bible be your minor – but even then, I would suggest saving it for seminary.  Additionally,  stay away from things like missions majors, youth ministry degrees, and Bible majors.  Those will be of less help in ministry prep in the long run than if you get a good liberal arts degree and save the ministry prep for seminary.

That’s my $.02.

The Pentecostal (Christian) origins of Earth Day

I was surprised when I recently learned that the “real” founder of Earth Day is Pentecostal in his background.  In fact, John McConnell Jr (94) though best known for his zeal for peace and earth care, has roots in the Azsuza Street revival itself.  His grandfather (T.W. McConnell) received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in one of the services at the Asuza Street Mission – McConnell’s parents were involved int he founding of the Assemblies of God, they were at the original meeting in 1914.

You can read the article about MeConnell in the latest edition of the AG Heritage Magazine (fourth article down -PDF)

One thing to note, McConnell never intended for Earth Day to be what it is today – an over politicized event that emphasizes the creation over the creator – it he wanted it to be on the Spring Equinox so as to make it more inclusive of all peoples and all perspectives – today is Lenin’s birthday – the person that took Earth Day from McConnell did this intentionally – and that is why it tends to be such an isolating event.

Personally, I think earth care and the pursuit of peace is one area the Church has dropped the ball – well, at least in conservative evangelical circles – especially in dispensational “it’s all gonna burn anyways” circles – even more so in our pulling out of political circles when instead we should have been pushing for more ecologically minded policies that show thoughtfulness to the creation – since it too is awaiting redemption (cf. Rom 8).  Many of us with our theology have sadly, if not openly violated the creation mandate of Genesis 1:27 the one where God tells us to care for the Earth – this is where current trends in ecological theology can be promising where Christians are prodded to be more ecologically minded in their life and faith practice – not as worshipers of the Earth but in response to our worship of the ONE who made the Earth.


The Bible as Story

As a follow up to my last post about doctrine and the rightness of being – I want to post here that somewhere I read a comment “the Bible is full of propositional truth” – and this got me thinking.  Yes, but not really.  Well, sort of.  Let me explain. 

I don’t think the right way to look as the Scriptures is that of propositional truth but that of story.  I haven’t read any of Kevin Vanhoozer’s work but I do have his book “Is there meaning in this Text?” (which I need to get to)- anyways, he has another book titled “The Drama of Doctrine.”  It sounds interesting but I think a possible subtitle of the Bible might be “The Drama (Story) of Redemption.” 

This is not to say that there is no propositional truth in the Bible but to say that I don’t think it’s front and center as to what the Bible is about – it is about the story of redemption – God’s redemptive purposes in this world.

So, if the Bible is best seen as Story, and not just any story mind you but HIS/STORY – of which you and I are all a part – how does it work?  Well, there is the beginning.  That’s when God created the world.  There is the end.  That’s when we all go to live with God eternally in the new world.  And there is the climaxthe Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!  That is the point to which the story works – Jesus rising from the dead – Resurrection – through which we have Redemption.  But that is not all – while there is an end, I think that is still in the future (today, tomorrow, who knows?). 

I have come to be a bit of a believer in the notion that endings of the Gospel of Mark and the Book of Luke/Acts – were written in such a way as to leave part of the story openopen to fulfillment

Open to fulfillment?  Yup. 

By who?  By you and me and all who are followers of Jesus Christ – through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

In part, he left this world, and on Pentecost, through the sending of the Holy Spirit, he passed the baton on to the Apostles and to the rest of us – the sending of the Holy Spirit was a charismatic empowerment for us to do what he has called us to do, which is to carry on the great story of redemption (and reconciliation)! 

So what are we to fulfill?  Why, The Great Commission of course!  (which in part is the ministry of redemption/reconciliation).

And here is the best part: Each and every one of us has a part to play in The Great Drama of Redemption!  Not just Pastors and Bible teachers and other various special spiritual people.  How about that?  “No Disciple Left Behind!”  Lol!  In fact, we are “the rest of the story.”   We live out the story of redemption and reconciliation in and through the daily lives we live as followers of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

So, what about those propositional truths?  I think they are perhaps better seen as principles for us to live by as we go about fulfilling our part of the story!

I think too, if we do a really good job living out our part of the story (living in faithful witness to Jesus) – others are gonna wanna join in! 

What say you? 

on doctrine and being right

When the whole deal broke out that John Piper was inviting Rick Warren to speak at his Desiring God National Conference – I somehow got caught up in a conversation with some folks about the whole thing over on Facebook – whew!  One lesson I learned, you can’t always “reason” with neo-calvinists – I mean they were throwing John Piper under the bus – they were insisting Warren is a heretic, false teacher, emeny of the church?  WOW.  

Well, on the issue of doctrine and being right one fellow made the following comment to me

Brian, doctrine is most important, men have died for doctrine.  What you believe affects the way you live.  Jesus taught doctrine, the bible is full of doctrine.  That is loving one another when you teach the right doctrine.  The Scriptures say that God is love, so who better to define love than He.  If you do not have the right doctrine how can you say …  See More you love God.  Many on the day of judgement will stand before God thinking they know Him (which is right doctrine) and be sadly mistaken.  Men’s definition of love and God’s are way diffrent.  Search the Scriptures for in them you THINK you have eternal life. 

Oh Man, where to begin?  So many questions about this comment that I have.

First thing I guess I noticed, was that nobody died for Jesus!  Lol!  They died for a system of belief.  If so, that’s a real shame, you know? 

So knowing “right doctrine” can be equated with “knowing God”?  Wait a minuite, I thought God was a being, a person, not a system of belief?  God is someone to be related to not necessarily systematized. 

Search the Scriptures for in them you THINK you have eternal life.”   Huh?  I thought that was what Jesus rebuked the Jewish leaders for in John 5:39?

(39) “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you posess eternal life.  These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, (40) yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” 

This man was obviously committed to the calvinist way of understanding God and the Bible but has inisted that he would not want to be part of something that wasn’t right – by implication that calvinism is the most right way of thinking about and knowing/relating to God, to the exclusion of other ways, which was over-interpreted to mean any way is fine and good, which was sort of missing the point. 

Here is my main question: Are we so concerned about getting it right that we have missed the ONE who is the light and the life of all people, the ONE who alone is able to give us eternal life

I guess I am glad there isn’t going to be a systematic theology test when I get to heaven!  lol!