Christianity's Biggest Problem, Defending Dante, Between Testaments, and more...
Last week, as I re-read my letter—#45—I was disappointed in how I wrote about one particular link. I linked to Neither Progressive nor Conservative: The Politics of a Confessing Evangelical | Steve Bryan 📃, but I believe that I was short and unclear in my comments on the post, which I have left intact. I quoted extensively from the article, and I believe those quotations give a clearer picture of the point of the article and why I linked to it. The term "evangelical" has been a theological term for centuries, but more recently it has become a political term for a largely white conservative voting bloc in America.
To be identified as an "evangelical" no longer has the theological connections it used to when more than 40% of "evangelicals" in America no longer attend church more than once per year. That is why I said that there is a division coming. After the American 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, there are "evangelicals" who identify primarily with a political viewpoint and those who identify primarily in Messiah Jesus.
These two groups cannot co-exist under the same label forever. There are evangelicals who attend church more than once per year who nonetheless identify closely with the conservative populist political viewpoint—and may or may not be happy to share the "evangelical label"—but there are large numbers that do not.
The point of Bryan's term, "confessing evangelical," is to describe Christians who place Christ above both their nation and political party. Those who truly believe in the evangel, the Greek term for the "good news," and confess Jesus Christ must seek to not be confused for those who have hijacked the term as a political label.
Challenge Your Brain 🧠
Has @CosmicSkeptic Found Christianity's Biggest Problem? (Response) | Capturing Christianity (Cameron Bertuzzi) 📽 →
Is the problem of animal suffering Christianity’s biggest problem? And if it is, how can Christians respond? If the young-earth creationist perspective is true, then animals didn’t suffer before the fall, but there’s still the problem of current animal suffering. With modern farming, that’s at a huge scale. And if the earth is old, then billions of years have passed with animals killing and being killed before humanity arose.
This isn’t an issue that I have thought deeply about, but I appreciate Cam’s varied, thoughtful, and accessible responses.
Explore the Scriptures 📖
Reading Revelation | Ryan Leasure 📃 →
Few books generate more speculation than Revelation. Throughout church history, Christians have divided over how best to interpret this final book of the canon. In fact, G. K. Chesterton once quipped, “And though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.”1
A quick glance at the various treatments on Revelation validates Chesterton’s remarks. Different views of the millennium, the tribulation, the beast, the seven seals, and the great harlot are just tips of the iceberg. As a result, the speculative nature of the book has turned off many younger Christians from studying it. That is to say, while previous generations may have “obsessed” over Revelation to a fault, this generation has made the equal and opposite error of neglecting it altogether.
This neglect is problematic for several reasons. First and foremost, it’s problematic because John wrote this book to provide comfort and hope for suffering Christians. By neglecting the book, Christians miss out on so many great promises of God.
To counteract this trend, I’m starting a series on the book of Revelation. I do not plan to go verse-by-verse through the entire book. Rather, I plan to hit several of the key issues and themes along the way. If you follow along, you can expect 12-15 posts in this series.
Ryan’s a braver man than I. I’ve been (slowly) moving my way through the book of Hebrews, which is tough enough, but Ryan’s diving into the book of Revelation. This is the first in his series and tackles how we should read the book of Revelation.
This is a good place to start because Revelation is very difficult to understand and, frankly, most Christians’ interpretations start in the wrong place. I think that Ryan’s article is a good place to start on the different possible interpretations.
Christianity Is True ✝️
Talk about Doubts with Jonathan McLatchie | Apologetics 315 (Brian Auten and Chad Gross) 🎧 →
I enjoyed this interview with Jonathan McLatchie, who has started a new ministry: Talk about Doubts. He has assembled a range of Christian scholars. When someone struggling with doubts about the Christian faith reaches out, they are connected with a scholar that is an expert in their area of struggle for a one-on-one Zoom conversation.
It’s a brilliant idea for a ministry, and this interview goes into detail about McLatchie’s experiences so far.
This is completely optional, and everything that is currently free will continue to be free. Thank you for reading The Garden Weekly.
Read and Reflect 📖
In Defense of Dante | Mitch East 📃 →
I read Dante’s Inferno for the first—and only—time as a teenager. This was pretty much my impression:
The next time I heard someone mention Dante was in my freshmen Bible class on the New Testament. My professor taught us about the word “Gehenna,” the trash heap in the Valley of Hinnom where children had been sacrificed to idols (2 Chronicles 33:6). For the rest of my time in seminary, a professor might make an offhand remark contrasting “what the New Testament actually says about hell” and “what we get from Dante.” My overall impression was that Dante was not your friend if you wanted to know the truth about hell.
East’s feelings about Dante only became worse in seminary:
Dante, I was told, thought the Bible’s picture of hell was crystal clear. Some of my professors weren’t surprised by Dante’s confidence. He was just a product of his cultural milieu, which included the Roman Catholic Church in general and Thomas Aquinas in particular. At best, my professors credited Dante with a vivid imagination. At worst, Dante was seen as responsible for making hell “medieval” in the pejorative sense of the word.
The most negative comments about Dante didn’t come from my professors, but from fellow seminarians. We believed that Dante wasn’t just overreaching. He was simply wrong about hell. We (i.e. Enlightened Graduate Students) knew that Christ and the New Testament would be opposed to Dante’s image of hell. Gehenna was just a trash heap, “hell on earth” as it were. If there is a hell in the afterlife, it is temporary and all souls will eventually end up in heaven. Even if we didn’t wear a badge saying we were universalists, we basically turned hell into a different kind of purgatory. In the end, hell would be emptied and love would win.
But while I still think Dante’s depiction of hell is problematic if taken as somebody’s literal theology, East has convinced me that as a fictional picture, it’s defensible.
Church History Corner ⛪️
Biblical Archaeology’s Top 10 Discoveries of 2021 | Gordon Govier 📃 →
Did you know King Herod—who ordered the deaths of infants in Galilee—was a gardener? Or that the Dead Sea is still giving us scrolls? These and more are on the Top 10 archaeological discoveries of 2021.
Consider Another Perspective 🤔
Allen Parr and Dr. Frank Turek Discuss Race | The Beat with Allen Parr 🎧 →
Allen Parr and Dr. Frank Turek team up to discuss issues of race that affect our society today. Our goal was to model how to have a healthy conversation about sensitive racial issues.
This is a good discussion, though I would have taken a different tack at a few points. Parr takes the position that systemic racism is still a significant issue in the United States, while Turek argues that it is not. If you want to see two conservative Christians discuss CRT, systemic racism, police brutality, and more, this is a good one to watch.
Best with a Cup of Tea ☕️
Between Testaments | Undeceptions with John Dickson 🎧 →
Between Malichi and Matthew, there are about 400 years. These are sometimes known as the “silent years.” But between these two canonical books, there was a vibrant Jewish theological community producing works like Maccabees, Enoch, and other books. There were wars, kings, and revolutions.
This history and theological community formed the community that the New Testament writers grew up in. Their theological insights were guided by the Holy Spirit, but God used people. Understanding their history, training, culture, and reading helps us understand their meaning. Too few Christians have read 1 Enoch (which is quoted by Peter and Jude), Maccabees, and other books written during the “silent years.”
This podcast by historian John Dickson goes through the history between the testaments. I was riveted for the whole episode.
- Show Notes
- Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History | John Dickson 📚 (Affiliate Link)
Keep Your Mind on Things Above
I will be praying for you this week.
“Therefore I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing?
— Matthew 6:25 (CSB)