Welcome!

This blog grows out of my conviction that every aspect of our lives is sacred and is to be nurtured and celebrated as a good gift of God. Most of the posts will be the sorts of things you would expect from a historian and worldview teacher, but some are likely to be a bit surprising. Since God created all things good, including all aspects of human life, everything is interesting and important from the perspective of a biblical worldview. Everything under the Sun and under Heaven is thus fair game here. I hope you find it interesting and enjoyable.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas and Paganism

My new article at the Colson Center deals with a lot of the nonsense that gets thrown around by both atheists and well-meaning evangelicals and fundamentalists about the supposed pagan origins of Christmas and Christmas traditions.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Gospel and the Law, Part 3: the Civil Law

Here's the next article in the series on the Gospel and the Law of Moses. This one focuses on the Civil Law.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Today is the Thanksgiving Day holiday in the United States. These days Thanksgivings seems to be more associated with shopping and sales than actually giving thanks for the many blessings we have. I’ll spare you a rant on that point, but I would like to talk a bit about Thanksgiving, particularly through the lens of popular hymns associated with the holiday. The first is “Now Thank We All Our God:”

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and bless├Ęd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

The hymn was written by Martin Rinkert, a Lutheran pastor, in the midst of the Thirty Years’ War. The Thirty Years’ War is still remembered today as the most devastating war ever fought on German soil, including World Wars I and II. Rinkert moved to the city of Eilenberg in Saxony at the beginning of the war.  The city was overcrowded with refugees. It was taken by armies three times during the war, and also had multiple outbreaks of plague. In 1637, during a sever outbreak of plague, Rinkert was left as the only pastor in the city. He conducted up to 40 funerals a day, a total of 4,000 that year, including one for his wife.

In the midst of all of this chaos, death, and devastation, Rinkert wrote a hymn of thanks to God.

Or take another popular Thanksgiving Hymn, “We Gather Together:”

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

This hymn was written in 1597 by Adrianus Valerius in the middle of the Dutch Revolt against Spain, where the Dutch were fighting for their independence and the freedom to practice their religion. It was a nasty, brutal war, the echoes of which can be heard in the hymn. It was published in 1526, five years after the Dutch were drawn into the Thirty Years’ War as a continuation of their struggle for independence.

Our world today seems out of control, with war, terrorism, rioting, economic uncertainty, Ebola, …. The list is endless. And yet, in conditions worse than those we are facing, Rinkert and Valerius wrote hymns of thanks and faith. How much more should we be expressing our thanks to God for the unending blessings he has given us in this life and his promises for the age to come.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The New Covenant and the Law of Moses

The next article in the series on The Gospel and the Law is up. This one focuses on Maundy Thursday and the New Covenant.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

New Article: The Gospel and the Law

The Gospel and the Law is the first of a series of articles at the Colson Center focused on the relevance of the Law of Moses for the Christian. My argument, following traditional Christian reflections on the relationship of the Law and the Gospel, is that there is a logical and systematic reason why some aspects of the Law are binding on Christians but others aren't.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Obedience Based Discipleship, Part 3

Here's the final article in this series on obedience-based discipleship. I am currently working on a book with Jerry Trousdale (Miraculous Movements) on a related topic, so there may be more coming up on this subject in the coming months.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Every Square Inch Ministries

For some time, I have been considering starting a nonprofit corporation to help support my ministry travel and expenses. Given the opportunities that are on the horizon, I decided it's time to start the process. Every Square Inch Ministries is now recognized by the State of Connecticut as a nonprofit corporation. Its purpose is to help me provide resources through research, writing, and teaching to support churches, Christian organizations, and religious institutions around the world. We are not officially a charitable organization yet, but once we complete a few other pieces of paperwork for the state, we will be applying for 501(c)3 status with the IRS, which will enable us to receive tax deductible gifts. This will make raising support for missions work and travel for research much easier. Stay tuned for further developments, and check out the resources on the website!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Getting the Gospel Right

My newest article at the Colson Center is on Obedience Based Discipleship. Most of what passes for evangelism isn't actually preaching the Gospel, especially not the Gospel Jesus preached and told us to preach. See why in this article.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

New article: Sol Plaatje

A new article in the series "Christians who Changed their World" is up. This one is on Solomon Plaatje, one of the founders of the African National Congress and a tireless fighter for justice for Africa's native population.

Monday, July 21, 2014

New Article: Abba Enbaqom (c.1470-1561)

My newest article in the series "Christians who Changed their World" is up at the Colson Center. It's about Abba Enbaqom, a Yemeni convert to Christianity who became one of the most important leaders of the Ethiopian church. He was particularly significant for his work supporting the Christian community during a very dark period when a Somali imam led an army into Ethiopia determined to destroy the kingdom and convert the people at the point of a sword. His story has remarkable parallels with a number of trends today.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

It's John Calvin's 505th birthday

John Calvin is probably best known for his ideas on predestination, though most people don't really get him right on that. In honor of his birthday, I decided to post the explanation of predestination and the controversy surrounding it from The Reformation for Armchair Theologians. Enjoy:

Predestination 

To understand this controversy, we need to define predestination and see why it is important. The idea behind predestination is that our salvation depends on God and not on ourselves. Although there are a number of passages in Scripture that talk about it (e.g. Rom. 8:29ff or Eph. 1), it didn’t become a major subject in theology until the fourth century. A British monk named Pelagius had argued that our salvation depended entirely on the choices we make; both original sin and substitutionary atonement are false, according to Pelagius, since neither Adam’s guilt, nor ours, nor the merits of Christ can be imputed to another person. You are on your own before God. Some people in the church were heavily influenced by Pelagius, but others rejected his ideas. The most important of the latter was St. Augustine of Hippo. Augustine thought Pelagius’s ideas were not only false, but downright dangerous. Christ is the author of our salvation—it depends on what He has done, not what we have done. As a result, the decision about salvation is in God’s hands, not ours. And this is a good thing, since none of us deserves to be saved on the basis of our own merits. We have all sinned, and as a result, no one deserves blessings from God—salvation is a result of us getting what we don’t deserve, not what we do.
At this point, we need to distinguish between two different versions of the doctrine of predestination. Single predestination argues that God chooses some people for salvation, and judges others according to their own merits. Of course, that means they’ll be damned since no one measures up to God’s infinite standard of holiness. Double predestination, on the other hand, argues that God has a plan for everyone’s life—for some, it’s heaven, for others, it’s hell. God chooses everyone to either fly or fry; He doesn’t just leave us to our fate. This is a more severe version of the doctrine than singe predestination, though there’s no practical difference between the two in terms of the fate of those not chosen for salvation. There’s some dispute about Augustine’s views. Most scholars argue that he held to single predestination, others are equally sure he held to double predestination.
Whatever Augustine’s views, he won, and Pelagianism was declared a heresy. Between Augustine’s day and the sixteenth century, many variations of the doctrine of salvation emerged, with differing degrees of emphasis on human contributions to salvation. Pelagianism was out, but then there’s semi-Pelagianism, semi-Augustinianism, Augustinianism, hyper-Augustinianism, .... Catholic theology generally fell somewhere between Pelagianism and Augustinianism.
Luther, as an Augustinian monk, obviously was familiar with the history of the debate. And with his “New Theology,” he adamantly rejected even a hint of Pelagianism: we are saved by grace—God’s undeserved favor—and grace alone, and that comes from faith and faith alone. But faith itself is a gift of God, it doesn’t come from our actions or decisions. Period. But what this means is that God makes the decisions—if our salvation depended on our decision or on our responding to God in faith, then that decision or response would become the work which saves us, an idea Luther adamantly rejected. As a result, Luther recognized the need for predestination. It is a logical consequence of sola gratia and sola fide, and besides, it’s a good scriptural term. But Luther wasn’t willing to go any further than that. He believed that Scripture taught predestination, but he didn’t think it told us how it worked. So he simply said it happened and left it at that.
Calvin, on the other hand, thought that Scripture taught double predestination. At the same time, he didn’t think that it was an issue most people needed to deal with. Calvin was more interested in preaching the fundamentals of the faith and applying Scripture to life than in teaching about predestination, particularly because the discussion would likely distract from more important issues. So Calvin taught predestination in his theological works and biblical commentaries, but not from the pulpit. He simply didn’t want to focus on it in his public ministry. Unfortunately, he wasn’t given the chance to leave it in the background.

The Bolsec Controversy

Jerome Bolsec was a former monk and Catholic theologian who had converted to Protestantism and moved to Geneva. He was working as the personal physician of one of the nobles who lived outside the city and had become familiar with Calvin and his writings. He didn’t like Calvin personally and was irked by his ideas on predestination. So Bolsec took it upon himself to cause problems for Calvin with predestination as a wedge issue. His plan was simple. Calvin had too many things to do to attend the congregations (adult Bible studies), so Bolsec decided to go to one of them, and when the pastor asked if there were any questions, he would launch into his attack whether the passage being studied had any connection to predestination at all. Word would spread from there, and Calvin would never be able to get the lid on it; he’d be discredited, and Geneva would get rid of him. It was an ingenious plan, except for one slight miscalculation. Calvin was free that evening and showed up at the congregation. When Bolsec finished his presentation—remember, he had come gunning for bear—all eyes turned to Calvin to see how he would respond. Now keep in mind that Calvin had no formal theological training, and further that he was caught flat-footed by Bolsec. Despite this, he launched into a well reasoned, well argued, and well presented case, citing from memory extensive passages of Scripture and the church fathers verbatim. His presentation was so convincing that when it was over, one of the magistrates promptly arrested Bolsec for heresy.
Calvin was furious with Bolsec, not simply because he disagreed with Calvin on predestination, but because of the underhanded way he went about his attack. As a result, Calvin was out for blood at the trial. Bolsec was in fact convicted, but the Council overruled Calvin and argued that Bolsec’s heresy wasn’t sufficiently grave to warrant his execution. He was banished, though, and made his way to France. After starting a number of controversies in the Reformed churches there, he converted back to Catholicism and wrote a libelous (and fictitious) biography of Calvin that became a staple of anti-Calvin propaganda.
Bolsec did succeed in one part of his program, however: he made Calvin’s views on predestination a very public issue. Lutherans, who never really trusted Calvin because of his views on the Lord’s Supper, quickly picked up on it and began attacking Calvin as a heretic. Ironically enough these attacks soon led the Lutherans themselves to abandon predestination altogether, forgetting the fact that Luther himself accepted it. Calvin couldn’t let these challenges go unanswered, of course, and thus he ended up spending a considerable amount of energy defending his views on a doctrine he didn’t particularly want to focus on in his public ministry.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Gebre Mesqel Lalibela

My newest article at the Colson Center is up. It's on Gebre Mesqel Lalibela, the Ethiopian king who had eleven monolithic stone churches carved out of bedrock in his capital city. They are now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Gospel and the Avengers

The Gospel and the Avengers is a bit different from my usual articles, but if you've been watching the Marvel Comics movies, you might find it interesting. There will be more coming on this topic.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter and Paganism

It’s that time of year again. A new set of claims that Easter is a pagan holiday is making the rounds. From some of the Richard Dawkins’ Fan Club, we get Facebook posts claiming Easter is actually the festival of Ishtar, the ancient Mesopotamian fertility goddess, whose name was supposedly pronounced “Easter.” According to them, Constantine took a pagan holiday and inserted it into the church calendar.

This is load of complete nonsense.

Let’s start off with looking at a dictionary, or even Wikipedia, for the origins of the word “Easter.” The source is clear: it comes from Eostre, an Indo-European goddess who was associated in Germanic territories with spring, and whose name was thus used to designate both the season of spring and spring festivals. In other words, the name has nothing to do with Ishtar, and the geniuses who put out that idea simply demonstrate their inability to do even the most rudimentary fact checking.

 Ah, but if the holiday is named after a pagan goddess, doesn’t that make it pagan? No. First, since the name was used for spring and spring festivals, it’s not so outlandish that the important Christian feast that occurs in spring might pick up the name. More to the point, though, variants on the name Eostre are used for the holiday only in Germanic countries. In Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Russian, etc., the word for the holiday is a variant on Pascha, the name for Passover (Pesach in Hebrew). And Greek and Latin Christians were celebrating the holiday long before Christianity made it into Germanic areas. So no, it isn’t a pagan holiday whatever the etymology of the English name.

All of this is to say that the holiday is, or should be, Christian. The holiday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, his victory of sin and the grave, and the hope of our resurrection as well. We need to quit getting hung up over specious comparisons to pagan names and holidays and look at the claims of Christianity and the content of the church’s celebration.

Unless, of course, your Easter celebration is about bunnies, eggs, and chocolate. If so, if you don’t focus your attention on the fact of the resurrection, it might as well be a pagan holiday for you. It certainly ceases to be Christian at that point.

******

An added note: a reader pointed out this article to me that questions even the existence of the goddess Eostre. His arguments are worth considering, though I suspect Eostre was an actual goddess connected to the Titaness Eos, the goddess of the dawn in Greek mythology. Hence the reference to Indo-European mythology in my article.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Read an EBook Week

This week, March 2-8, 2014, is Read an EBook Week at Smashwords, one of my online publishers. For this week, Portals: Entering your Neighbor’s World and The Image of God will be available for 75% off list, meaning $1.00 for the first and $1.25 for the second. If you don’t already have them, this will be a great time to pick them up. The books can be found on my author page, https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/GlennSunshine, and are available in any e-reading format. If you don't have an e-reader, you can download the Kindle app for free from Amazon, or you could download the book as a PDF. Use REW75 as the coupon code on checkout.

And while you're at it, you should check out the other very inexpensive or free books that are available on Smashwords.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

True Reason launches today

True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism, edited by Tom Gilson and Carson Weitnauer, launches today! It's a response to the New Atheists written by some of the top scholars and apologists in the English-speaking world. Authors include Gilson, Weitnauer, William Lane Craig, Chuck Edwards, David Marshall, Lenny Esposito, David Wood, Peter Grice, Timothy McGrew, Samuel J.Youngs, Sean McDowell, John M. DePoe, Randall Hardman, Matthew Flanagan, and yours truly, contributing a chapter on Christianity and Slavery. It's definitely worth your time.

Monday, January 13, 2014

New article: Hunayn ibn Ishaq

This article is a reminder that in the early days of Islam, relations between Christians and Muslims within the Caliphate were not as hostile as what we are seeing in the Middle East today. There is no doubt that Christians were second class citizens and faced many social, legal, and religious restrictions, but there were members of the Christian community that rose to prominence under the caliphs. One could only wish that the current Islamists who want to return to the days of the caliphate would remember their own history.