This week’s video looks at an odd and challenging story from Mark’s gospel and considers how a little context can make a big difference. The Answers for Ambassadors episode is about agnosticism and evidence, and the links of the week discuss gender confusion, late bloomers, an epidemic of overwork-related deaths in Japan, and more! (If you receive these posts by email and aren’t seeing the video and podcast, just click the “Thursday Roundup” title to view the original post on my site.)
“The wealth of material that is available for determining the wording of the original New Testament is staggering: more than fifty-seven hundred Greek New Testament manuscripts, as many as twenty thousand versions, and more than one million quotations from patristic writers. In comparison with the average ancient Greek author, the New Testament copies are well over a thousand times more plentiful. If the average-sized manuscript were two and one-half inches thick, all the copies of the works of an average Greek author would stack up four feet high, while the copies of the New Testament would stack up over a mile high!”
~ Reinventing Jesus
The story of Jesus cursing the barren fig tree in Matthew 21 and Mark 11 looks odd at first glance. What was the point? Did Jesus just lose his temper? If we look a little deeper, though, we’ll find an “acted-out parable” with an important message for the Jews of Jesus’ day and for us as well.
Answers for Ambassadors Podcast
In the second part of Chapter 2 of The God Delusion, Dawkins argues that an absolute agnosticism which refuses to consider evidence for or against religion is irrational. Rather, he urges that religious claims can be evaluated scientifically. And he’s mostly correct! However, Dawkins’ assumption that all knowledge must be scientific has its own problems. This episode considers Dawkins’ theory of knowledge and offers a more biblical (and reasonable) alternative.
Best Reads of the Week
This two-part article on “How I found freedom from gender confusion” is an important read for Christians who are trying to understand gender confusion and how the church can minister to those who struggle with it: Part 1, Part 2. “[Staying silent about my struggles] meant that no one ever tackled the transvestitism head on. But, instead, every week I learned something. Startling pieces of knowledge about God, about myself, about the world… And gradually, that knowledge began to unpick the trap I was caught in.”
This thoughtful look at “late bloomers” through the lens of the story of Mark is profound, encouraging, and challenging. “This is the final lesson of the late bloomer: His or her success is highly contingent on the efforts of others. Late bloomers’ stories are invariably love stories, and this may be why we have such difficulty with them.”
Japan is struggling with an epidemic of karoshi: people who are working themselves to death. “A Cabinet Office report issued last month found that employees at 23% of Japanese companies worked 80 hours or more of overtime per month last year. That’s the threshold at which the risk of death from physical or psychological causes is significant, according to the report.” Historians speak of the Protestant work ethic, but Christianity balances its call for diligent work with an ethic which also prioritizes other, competing values, such as rest, family time, and worship. Without that biblical balance, a work ethic becomes just another idol—and idols usually end in human sacrifice, one way or the other.
A good reminder: “The Battle That’s Bigger Than the Culture War.”
This troubling report describes the collapse of support for free speech among Millennials. The rising generation has no sense of the danger of allowing government to determine who may speak and who may not, so they tend to ask whether speech might be hurtful before deciding whether it should be permitted. As I wrote in June, it’s possible to go wrong on free speech in two different directions, and our culture has somehow managed to simultaneously hurtle down both slippery slopes.
Some intriguing observations about the correlation between more institutional/confessional forms of Christianity and opposition to Donald Trump’s candidacy.
I’m not sure whether to be encouraged or depressed by this argument that predictions of the imminent breakup of the Republican party are overwrought.
Stuff I Like (Affiliate Link)
Reinventing Jesus is one of the best books available on the reliability of the gospel accounts. It is written to be accessible to a lay audience, but the authors provide a wealth of detail and explanation to help you understand how we ended up with today’s New Testament and why we have every reason to be confident that the Bible we hold in our hands accurately reflects the life and teaching of the historical Jesus Christ. Highly recommended.
And remember, anytime you start shopping on Amazon.com by clicking through this affiliate link, you’ll be helping to support my work at no extra cost to yourself. If you bookmark the page that opens after you click the affiliate link, you can use that bookmark each time you shop!
Photo of the Week
I photographed this lovely lacecap hydrangea at the UNC Charlotte Botanical Garden while visiting there with my wife.
(Check out other photos at my Etsy shop.)