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Jesus, History, and Mount Darwin: Part 13

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January 30, 2012 Tags: Education
Jesus, History, and Mount Darwin: Part 13

Rick Kennedy. You can read more about what we believe here.

Written in the genre of Henry David Thoreaus travel-thinking essays, Rick Kennedy's Jesus, History, and Mount Darwin: An Academic Excursion is the story of a three-day climb into the Evolution Range of the High Sierra mountains of California (click here to see a map of the mountains). Mount Darwin stands among other near-14,000-foot-high mountains that are named after promoters of religious versions of evolutionary thinking. Using the trek as its framing narrative, this series branches off to explore the complex and at times even murky spaces at the intersection of Christian faith, ancient and natural history, and observational science.


We did not make it to the top of Mount Darwin. No story of triumph here, intellectual or physical. The story is one of companionship and recognition of academic strengths and weaknesses. Christianity’s intellectual foundation—the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection—is weak at universities. It is weak in the way ancient human history is a weak academic discipline. It depends on social methods of knowledge. Being weak, however, does not mean wrong.

There is a story of Peter in the sixth chapter of John in which some of the disciples desert Jesus because of hard teachings. Other disciples are grumbling, and Jesus upbraids them: “Does this offend you?” He then turned to his core twelve and asks, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter’s answer is not full of triumph; it recognizes that our hope is in weakness, the weakness of words from one who, himself, became weak.

Tomorrow morning all four of us will be back in our classrooms where, as students and teachers, we engage in similar companionship and recognition of relative strengths and weaknesses. Classrooms are where we learn rationality, but there is also the higher hope for learning broader, vaguer, principles of reasonableness. Dave and I teach ancient world history, a rather hodge-podge and wimpy subject where the straight lines turn crooked and generalizations break down when applied to particulars. Our only real encounter with the past is in the crooked lines and inconsistencies of listening to words from dead people. Ancient history has no hope in academic philosophizing—no hope in Plato. Ancient history has to cling to an Aristotelian reasonableness, an understanding that what is social knowledge has to be worked with as social knowledge.

Natural history is rational. It is powerful. But should its confidence wash over into human history, negating the quirky fact that we have strong eyewitness and hearsay testimony that Jesus walked on water, calmed a storm, and rose bodily from the dead? Is natural history so powerful with its inferences drawn from observation that it has veto power over facts learned from the fellowship of people?

Clinging to Words

I follow Peter who listened when God told him to listen to Jesus. Like Peter, my reply to the question of abandoning Jesus is, “To whom shall I go?” Peter recognized that he has to cling to someone or something. There is no personal, independent truth in himself strong enough to save him. Like Peter, I see no hope for me in myself. Like Peter, I cling to words—words communicated with all the limits and frailties of human communication. Worse! Peter at least got to cling to words straight from Jesus. I have to cling to words translated, words written down in Greek, words passed from eyewitnesses through hearsay. Jesus looks at me and asks if I want to leave him like so many others. My answer is that I cling to him through his words as recorded.

I cling to his words in two ways: a church way and a university way. Among the fellowship of believers, I share the tradition and collective experience of two thousand years of believers who, at the core of Christian orthodoxy, believe in the Holy Spirit’s oversight over the writing of the whole Bible and that when its authors declare themselves bearing communications from God I must listen as carefully and conscientiously as if Jesus stood with his hand on the shoulder of every author. The Bible is an extension of the incarnation, the stooping down of Truth into mere words. God communicates, but God humbles himself to communicate through chosen authors and helps us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to read and listen. I believe this in a church way, sharing in a fellowship of prayer and belief. On the other hand, in universities, where the traditional standards of academic disciplines rub against each other, I cling to Jesus’ words and deeds as history, as well-attested reports.

History departments, by tradition and common practice, pride themselves in “practical realism” and recognize their “post-heroic situation.” We, by traditional rights, have a role in universities as the discipline most oriented to studying human words reporting past events and people. Modern archeology and the social sciences have been developed to avoid the weaknesses of words. However, traditional history is a social study, not a social science. The stronger university disciplines strive to discover things that are independent of the frailties of people. History departments, however, are mired in people, especially the words of dead people.

Natural historians can begin by making observations then move independently to historical assertions and even prediction of the future. Natural history is strong and deserves respect. However, natural history can’t tell you about Cleopatra. Archeology and history work very well together, but archeology can’t help us understand Julius Caesar’s goals and policies. Pick up any freshman history textbook and what distinguishes it from an archeology text is the amount of people that are named, the specific description of events, and, most importantly, phrases such as “Alexander desired . . .” or “Pope Gregory realized . . .” or “Although Caesar Augustus presented himself as the savior of the Republic, he was actually . . .” Natural history can’t credibly offer phrases like those. Historians are needed at the university banquet. No other discipline is so methodically devoted to investigating, analyzing, and assessing the thoughts, words, and actions of individual people in the ancient past. No other discipline is as devoted to listening to reports about people and events. Historians cling to these reports. Historians cling to words. It is a precarious position, but it’s the basis of the contribution we make to the whole university.

Christianity is rooted in ancient words. God became human and used human words. Paul told the Corinthian church that the foundations of their faith were the words of the eyewitnesses reporting an event. Paul, wanting to ground the Corinthian church’s intellectual claims in the Greek culture of his time and place, pointed to an historical event, the resurrection.

We Christians are told to be prepared in our Greek-influenced university-honoring culture “to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Paul tells us the foundation for that reason: Jesus’ resurrection. Paul reached for the weakest link in comprehensive Greek reasonableness: historical knowledge. Jesus had humbled himself to become human. Jesus humbled himself so much as to have his message embedded in the frailty of human words passed among humans over time. He humbled himself to have the intellectual strength of the faith embedded in the weakest of Greek intellectual methods. Jesus rigged Christian apologetics to be weak. Given all this humbling, all this weakness and frailty, Christians should never expect to win debates. Paul did not win in Athens. Christians won’t ever win in universities. Our Christian responsibility in universities is to claim our place at the foot of the university table, a place long established for us by the tradition of reasonableness that reaches back to Aristotle.

From Herodotus to the modern historians, the wisest practitioners of our discipline have not tried to pretend to strength. The wisest historians expect good readers to criticize the evidence even after we have shown that it is the best we’ve got. Barry Cunliffe, in The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek (2001), gathers all the bits and pieces of written and archeological evidence for a voyage to Iceland in the generation after Aristotle. Cunliffe’s is a beautiful book of common-sense historical pragmatism. We don’t have Pytheas’ whole book, just pieces quoted in other books. Furthermore, even writers in the ancient world attacked Pytheas’ account. But Cunliffe, like the best of historians, walks readers through the range of evidence, opposed and supporting, weak and weaker, and reaches for phrasings like this when promoting the possibility that Pytheas made it all the way to Iceland: “This is clearly an imaginative scenario—a fairy story, perhaps; a product of wishful thinking. Yet, returning firmly to the hard evidence. . . . It seems appropriate to take [Pytheas] at his word.” Jesus humbled himself to human history reported in ancient words. This is the resurrection’s best foothold in universities.

Extraordinary claims, whether from Pytheas or Luke, always come down to the “hard evidence” and the need to trust someone. It was common for historians in the Roman Empire such as Luke, Josephus, and Eusebius to offer a preface to their book stating their goals and method of research. In essence, each of these authors makes a plea to the reader: “Trust me, I have done the best I can with what I have to give you the truth.” In the historical tradition, the reader is then under obligation to read critically while also giving the author the benefit of the doubt.

Rick Kennedy received his BA, MA, and Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara and is professor of history at Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego, California. His books include A History of Reasonableness: Testimony and Authority in the Art of Thinking (University of Rochester Press, 2004), Aristotelian and Cartesian Logic at Harvard (Colonial Society of Massachusetts and University Press of Virginia, 1995), Faith at State: A Handbook for Christians at Secular Universities (InterVarsity, 1995), Jesus, History, and Mt Darwin: An Academic Excursion (2008), and The First American Evangelical: A Short Life of Cotton Mather (Eerdmans: 2015).

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Roger A. Sawtelle - #67431

January 30th 2012


Agreed that words are important, but the most important “thing” is the Word, Which is not the Bible, which is made up of words, but Jesus Christ, the rational Word of God.  Peter clung to Him, followed the Messiah because Jesus gives life its real and true meaning. “What does a person gain if he or she acheives all that the world can give but loses her or himself, loses their integrity, loses the meaning and purpose of life.

Life is messy, life is irrational, because life is not absolute as Plato envisioned.  Life is relational as Jesus and Paul claim.  History is also relational because it reflects life, not philosophy.  However history does have a meaning. 

People disagree as to what that meaning is, Christianity says its meaning is the return of Jesus and the fulfillment of the Kingdom, Islam and Judaism point to the fulfillment of the Sharia and the Torah respectively.  Others claim the spread of real democracy over the world.  Scientism also has its goal.

Does Christianity stand the test of history?  This is the question to be asked right now.  Of course there are many varieties of Christanity.  In my opinion it is only the Christianity that can fulfill the promise of Jesus to make all of God’s people one and bring us together to work in cooperation to solve the spiritual, intellectual, social, and economic problems that we all face that will stand.  

R Kennedy - #67435

January 30th 2012


I don’t think the test of Christianity’s truth is its ability to fulfill promises or solve problems.  We live in the middle of an experiment, in the middle of a math problem.  Fulfillments and solutions come at the end. 

In a university setting, Christianity is viable because it stands as reasonable history and makes sense of human experience in the aggregate of love, logic, joy, suffering, war, hope, mathematics, biology, statistics, and ....   

We murder Christianity when we dissect it.  We distort it when we insist that it should answer a specific question.  It’s intellectual power is as a whole—read from the center in Jesus outward to Genesis and Revelation.  Like Job and Habbakuk we learn more standing in silence.  Like Aristotle we understand more by thinking about ends.

The universities I have studied, attended, and worked at have all, usually most blatantly in their Mission Statements, have affirmed this kind of ultimate academic thinking.



Roger A. Sawtelle - #67436

January 30th 2012


You are speaking concerning a university setting.  I am speaking from a human setting.  If Christianity is not an answer to sin and the meaninglessness of death, what is it? 

Jesus spoke of God’s Kingdom as present, not future.  On the other hand do you really think that it is coming closer if humanity continues in the way we are going?

My reading of the world situation might be different from yours, but I see a serious problem as cultures compete for power, prosperity, and ideological dominance.

Why did Paul feel the imperative to share the good news of Jesus?

I agree with you that we distort Christianity when we dissect it, but it is already distorted.  We need to recapture the relational message of Love that Jesus taught and preached before it was recast by Greek thought, even though they did it for good reasons.     

HornSpiel - #67437

January 30th 2012

Dr. Kennedy,

Jesus rigged Christian apologetics to be weak. Given all this humbling, all this weakness and frailty, Christians should never expect to win debates. Paul did not win in Athens. Christians won’t ever win in universities.  

This strikes me as striking at the heart of apologetics, as taught by most Evangelical churches. I have never heard it said, at least by a Christian, that “Paul did not win at Athens.” Paul’s speech is usually held up as a model of effective apologetics. Of course only a tiny minority decided to follow Christ, but it’s not that his arguments were weak, it’s that sin is strong and Satan has blinded people’s eyes. It’s a spiritual battle.

Moreover, apologists like William Lane Craig or Ravi Zacharias must believe they are arguing from a strong position in order to be effective. They can’t get in front of a crowd and say, “I admit the historical evidence for the resurrection is weak—in the way ancient human history is a weak academic discipline.” Can they?

It seems to me you are describing a path to belief that is defined  not by answers but by the questions. When one is confronted by enough unanswerable questions, faith becomes a viable option.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not criticizing your conclusions In fact I find them quite compelling and consistent with God’s character. But if the (Evangelical) Church adopted them, it would be quite different than it is now. Do you not agree?

BTW thank you for interacting with people on your blog posts.
Roger A. Sawtelle - #67440

January 30th 2012

You are right, Jesus did not plan to win an argument.  He did not debate with His opponents, although He did give them a clear responses.

The fact that John calls Jesus the Logos makes it clear that Christianity is expected to be intellectually respectable, if not in line with the thinking of this world.

R Kennedy - #67442

January 30th 2012


When it comes to thinking about the evangelism—not churches or universities—I am a big fan of Billy Graham and the model he set, especially after the 1970s  As a model for Evangelicalism: Go Billy Go!  I  suppose the best work of Christian professors in Evangelicalism is in the keeping of a few loose ends from coming untied after the Crusade has swept through town. 

As for churches, they are the most wonderful institutions on earth.  We keep trying to mess them up, but they refuse to go away.  I  suppose the best work of Christian professors in churches is, maybe, if we are really good at what we do, tying some loose ends together that had not previously been tied that will help the work of the churches.

I see universities as a lesser, more narrow, institutions than churches.  Evangelism is like the wind.  Churches are the Bride of Christ.  In my book I have tried to keep an eye only on universites.   


Roger A. Sawtelle - #67447

January 31st 2012

Would we have a Billy Graham without an Augustine or Martin Luther? 

Merv - #67454

January 31st 2012

Rick, you poke at our need for “triumphant” postures in everything we do.  I appreciate that and find it challenging.  Where does boasting in myself, or boasting in my creed, slide into boasting in Christ—and him crucified.  (and if that last ‘boast’ isn’t deeply embedded with irony and paradox, nothing else could be—the incarnation would be the ultimate ‘humiliation’ using a Christian aspect of that word.)  Paul was eager to put forward his own weakness as his greatest showpiece for God’s strength, lest it be credited to Paul instead.  I think you really nail that here. 

One of our problems is that we see so many others wanting to strut their stuff in triumphalist tones that we think Christianity has to barge in and play the same game.  Yet Jesus turned that whole game on its head.  His disciples repeatedly didn’t get it.  And it turns out we still repeatedly don’t get it either.  How to mix needed intellectual rigor with true and deep humility—can you start teaching any lessons on that?  I’ll sign up.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #67461

February 1st 2012


We need a strong doctrine of the Holy Spirit.  When God gives us what we need on a gold platter, it is hard to boast about our ideas and abilities.

In a dualistic worldview there is no room for the Holy Spirit, which is why our understanding of the Spirit is so lacking. 

Furthermore you claim the incarnation but so far I see no evidence that anyone on this forum understands the Logos theology of John.  

R Kennedy - #67466

February 1st 2012

Merv and Roger,

My experiences don’t let me start from a strong doctrine of the Holy Spirit.  What I understand of the HS comes from accounts of what Jesus said about the HS in the gospels.  My understanding works outward from that.

I do, though, have a human connection, an empathy mediated by the scriptures, that helps me know about, and understand bits of, Jesus. But the Jesus I understand the least in the scriptures is the Jesus kicking over tables, condemning hypocrites, walking on water, calming a storm, killing a tree, and standing with Moses and Elijah on the mountain top.  That Jesus I trust and obey, but I don’t have any sense of understanding.  The Jesus I think I  have the best inkling of is the one presented in the sciptures as appearing unsuccessful and weak.  

The passage in the book that is most important to me is in the blog above, the passage about Peter clinging to words and the Word when Jesus looks around and sees people turning away from him.  It seems to me to be the weakest moment in the Bible—maybe even weaker than Jesus’ words on the cross.  It is a revealing moment when all seems to be lost, all seems to be in decline, all seems to be going nowhere for both Jesus and Peter, but Peter clings to words from a person—and we, by extension, cling to words about words.

Here is a fun question for us that reveals much about how we think of Christianity in our culture:  If Jesus played basketball at Nazareth High School, would he have been first string? 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #67470

February 1st 2012

Rick, thank you for your honest response.

In some ways we are not far apart, but in other ways we are.

You first say that Peter clings to words and the Word, which is very close to what I think as I well try to expalin.  Then you say that Peter “clings to words from a person” (not to the Word)—- “and we, by extension, cling to words about words.” 

Why do we not stand in the same position as Peter?  We hear the same words as he did, even as they are mediated through the Bible and Christians cling to the living Word, Jesus Christ, Who is still the Savior. 

The Holy Spirit as Love is relational.  Words are important because they communicate relationships.  Parables are important because they communicate relationships.  History as found in the Bible and elsewhere communicates relationships.  Jesus is the Logos, the rational Word of God, because He is God’s Love incarnate. 

Thus the “words” that united Peter and Jesus were really manifestations of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus could not soften His words to appeal to people, He had the integrity that impelled Him to always tell the truth.  This is His “weakness,” but ultimate strength.          

Merv - #67472

February 1st 2012

Roger, I’m not sure you are latching on to the significance of what I (and I think Rick) are wrestling with—that being genuine, unequivocal, recognizeable by everybody, weakness.  It reminds me a little bit of our ability to make sure something is spun right to bring about the needed triumphal note.  E.g. He may be slow, but he sure is thorough.  Or ... she may have lost that round, but she was able to outperform her opponent in this key area…    Now I’m not suggesting positive spin is never appropriate.  I’m a positive thinker myself, and the ultimate (and true) “positive spin” is when the cross leads to the resurrection.   But I think we Christians are too uncomfortable with the notion of Paul or especially Jesus appearing weak, so we insist that it is only a cover somehow—a veil concealing super-hero powers.  Our praise songs worship a God who “can do anything”.  We don’t want to sing about a God who experiences (i.e.  lives with—not just acts as if he has) human limitations.  I have learned a lot from reading authors like C.S. Lewis.  But I remember reading some Lewis (or it might have been Dorothy Sayers) in which they seemed to be insisting that Jesus, as the man of perfection, would have done nothing less than perfectly.  For example, as a carpenter his tables, chairs, or whatever he built—it would have been done perfectly (no angle ‘righter’ than his corners, no surface better, etc.)  Now maybe I misunderstood it at the time, but I thought Lewis fell short on that.  To insist that Jesus was never clumsy enough to stub his toe or hammer his finger is, I think, to begin to imagine an inhuman Jesus—a veiled super hero that is only pretending to understand or have human limitations without really living with them himself.  I think this misses the human element of what the incarnation is about.  When the Bible says Jesus asked somebody about something, I think he really wanted to know; he wasn’t always just pretending not to know.  I don’t think we’ve plumbed the depths of what Jesus means for us until we have helplessly felt our face pressed into the gravel, felt the sting of humiliation as we come to the end of ourselves, with no ‘ifs, ands, buts’ or caveats where we try to show that we really haven’t come to the end of ourselves.  I think the Bible speaks of these moments in ways that we shouldn’t overlook in our thirst for victorious conquest.

Rick, if Jesus played for the Nazareth Dunkers, I can imagine him spending much quality time on the bench.  In fact maybe he wouldn’t have appeared athletic enough to be invited to the team at all.  But he would be intimately aware of all the others who also “weren’t good enough” but wished they were.   


Roger A. Sawtelle - #67473

February 1st 2012


Thank you for your comments.

The questions you raise for me is the nature of God.  If God is Absolute, which is the traditional philosophical point of view, God is Perfect in a very distant impersonal way.  I am sure that you have heard the saying that God cannot suffer (because suffering indicates a lack of something God is infinite.)

If Jesus is God, and Jesus did suffer (not only in His human nature), then the philosophical theory that God cannot suffer must be wrong. 

I am sure you are familiar with the Western idea that men do not cry or show emotion in general.  It seems that this changing, in part because we are moving from the Newtonian absolute view of reality to the relativist postmodern understanding of reality, where it is more acceptable for men to show their emotions.

Does being perfect mean that Jesus never made a mistake?  Does the fact that the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit mean that it is error free?  Not if you are talking about relational truth as Jesus was.  Jesus was without sin, not without error or mistake, according to the Bible.  Our philosophy confuses the two and that is why we need to change our philosophy.

There are three possible stances in this world, independence, dependence, and interdependence.  Males and it seems we are talking primarily about men are taught that they must be independent and strong, even when they are not.  Women are taught to be dependent and sacrificing, even when they should not.  Christianity starting with God teaches us that we are to be interdependent, both independent and dependent so we can work together for the benefit of all.  Jesus was interdependent with both the Father and the Spirit.

I expect you noticed a perfectionist streak in me.  As a Wesleyan I do believe in Christian perfection, but I have learned that this is relational perfection, not mistake free perfectionism.  I am well aware of the cost and the problem of perfectionism an intollerance for mistakes and weaknesses in ourselves, which can mean my way or the highway. 

Jesus said, “Be perfect as the Father is perfect,” Who blesses everyone without exception with rain and sun.  Love everyone, including the unjust. Love creates Christian perfection, which is totally unlike worldly perfection, so be born again of the Holy Spirit of love. 

God is Love, which means God respects our limits.  Humans are called to love like Jesus loves, so we are called to accept our limits and the limits of others.            

PNG - #67533

February 3rd 2012

Merv, I remember the passage you are referring to - it is Dorothy Sayers, although I can’t remember in what work at the moment. I think she is right to insist that He would have done the best work that He could and I think you are right to guess that he smashed his finger now and then, and, if I can add to that, that His work got better over time - He did after all “grow in wisdom and stature…” - otherwise He didn’t really live and suffer as we do.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #67534

February 3rd 2012

Please do not leave out the end of that verse which indicates that Jesus grew (or evolved) not only physically and intellectually, but also spiritually.

(Luke 2:52 NIV)  And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

PNG - #67547

February 3rd 2012

That’s why I put the ellipsis on the end, although I was mostly commenting on His physical abilities as one of us.

Merv referred above to our human tendency (shared by evangelicals) to put the best spin on things, in support of our triumphalism. I can’t resist putting in something that just crossed my path. A certain lady investigating her genealogy found that she shared an ancestor with Senator Harry Reid of Nevada. She sent an inquiry to see if he had any biographical info on this ancestor. She received the following:

 “Remus Reid was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honor when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.”

In fact Remus Reid was imprisoned for stealing horses, escaped, robbed several trains, was caught by the Pinkertons, convicted and hanged. 

Somehow I don’t think we are going to get away with this sort of PR statement at the Last Judgement.

Merv - #67562

February 3rd 2012

I loved the story, PNG ... could hear the ending coming from a mile away.  

From the euphemism department at the Pentagon I heard of this phrase to replace the formerly used phrase:  “you are surrounded” —now they say that you are in a “target-rich environment”. 


Merv - #67475

February 1st 2012

Amen, Roger!  Your distinguishing  between “relational” and other perfectionisms may  be an excellent key, though I haven’t plumbed the depths of that.  Though we could probably still push on just what “relationally perfect” means too. 

I had never heard the saying you reference about God not suffering.  Nor would it even occur to me to even think such a thing!  To think of God in such depersonalized manner would be akin to equating him with some brute force of nature.

So, do you imagine Jesus as star center of the ball game, in the bleachers cheering on the team, or perhaps not at the game at all?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #67476

February 1st 2012


I have heard Roman Cetholics defend the idea that the Father cannot suffer.  There is weven a name for the heresy that the Father suffers, Patripassianism.  What is true about this is the Father did not suffer upon the Cross, the Son and Father are One, but not the same.  Aghain if God is Absolute, God is impassiable and impersonal.

As for Jesus as a basketball player, I think He would be a great team player, possibly a point guard, if He had the physical skills.  However I would expect that He would have little time for playing ball.  He would havce been needed to help His father in the workshop to support the family most of the time.  

Roger A. Sawtelle - #67477

February 1st 2012

After some further research I found a paper that claimed that the early Church Fathers believed that God in God’s Simplicity could not suffer, again for philosophical reasons.  If God were basically Simple, I would agree God could not suffer.

I had a discussion on BioLogos not long ago where I argued that God’s “Essence” is both One and Three, not just One or Simple.  Many do not agree. 

dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67522

February 2nd 2012

R Kennedy


“The passage in the book that is most important to me is in the blog above, the passage about Peter clinging to words and the Word when Jesus looks around and sees people turning away from him. It seems to me to be the weakest moment in the Bible”.


Are you referring to John 6:66?


R Kennedy - #67527

February 2nd 2012

Yes.  The sixth chapter of John.

dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67530

February 3rd 2012

R Kennedy,


Why did the disciples of John 6:66 turn away from Jesus?




PNG - #67550

February 3rd 2012

I can’t say that I am sure why they left, but the immediately preceding verse states, again, that God does the choosing and not us. I think that can be rather frightening and it might be the reason that they left.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #67551

February 3rd 2012

Don’t Blame,

The reason many followers of Jesus left according to the Gospel was because Jesus said, “I am the living Bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this Bread, he shall live for ever: and the Bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)

Now Christians today will recognize this saying as refering to Communion, but it really does not make sense in this context before the Crucifixion and the last supper. 

The other reference is that Jesus said that He came down from heaven which surely makes Him the Messiah.  This is the key meaning of Who Jesus is, that He is the Messiah, the Savior, which the Jews were expecting, but not in the form that Jesus presented Himself. 

This is Rick’s point, the world is still looking for a triumphant Savior, while Jesus is the suffering Servant.  Ironically the Black Church and Dr. King understood this better than the White churches and culture, which have yet to learn this important lesson.  They are still trying to reshape God in their own image. 

Peter speaking for the others affirmed his faith in the Logos, Word of God.   (John 1:11-12 NIV)  “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.  Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God…..”

Success in God’s eyes is recognizing God’s real Reality of Love, not human faux reality of arrogance. 




dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67573

February 3rd 2012


Thanks for responding to my question about John 6:66.

You wrote: “The reason many followers of Jesus left according to the Gospel was because Jesus said, “I am the living Bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this Bread, he shall live for ever: and the Bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51) “Now Christians today will recognize this saying as refering to Communion, but it really does not make sense in this context before the Crucifixion and the last supper.”

I was wondering about the “Christians today” part.

So I tried a word search for “flesh and blood” for the chapters after John 6. I got several hits, but didn’t find anything that appeared to relate to John 6. Then I tried a search for “body and blood”, and got just one hit. But I thought it was pretty interesting, so I read the whole chapter that contained the hit. Here are what I thought the most interesting verses were:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread,
and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.
Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” 1 Cor 11:23-29

The first thing I thought is that the idea of the Lord’s Supper/Communion apparently isn’t just something recognized by “Christians today”. Apparently it was recognized 2,000 years ago, by people who weren’t even at the Last Supper (i.e. St. Paul and those he was writing to).

The other thing was the words themselves. These words must be important. The Bible is important because of its words (and who is believed to have inspired them). Just as any book is worthwhile only because of its words.

The words are remarkable, I think. St. Paul doesn’t just say whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner commits a sin. Or even commits a sin against the Lord, which might be considered more serious. No, Paul says the one who receives unworthily commits a sin against the body and blood of the Lord.

Not every word search produces interesting results. But this one did, at least for me.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #67587

February 4th 2012

Don’t Blame Me,

Thank you for your observations.  They got me thinking too.

In terms of communion I grew up in a White Methodist church in Ohio where we rarely celebrated Communion. I remember one Sunday when we did and it was announced that the church would be celebrating Communion once a quarter.  To the best of my recollection this change did not really take place, but I have moved away and cannot really say. 

The problem probably is that Protestants broke with the Roman Catholic Church where every worship service is a Communion service, which believes in Transubstantiation of the Blood and Body of Jesus, and partaking of Communion is a Work and the channel for the Holy Spirit.  The Catholic Mass centers on the Body and Blood of Christ, the Protestant Service centers on the Bible and the spoken Word of God.   

In the Black Methodist Church tradition of which I am now a part we celebrate communion on important holidays and on every first Sunday.  This is closer to the original Wesleyan tradition I believe.  I think that this is a good balance between the Protestant Word emphasis and the Catholic Communion emphasis. 

You are right Communion has been important to the Church from its beginning.  In my relational understanding of the faith it affirms our covenant relationship with God the Father through God the Son and God the Holy, and our relationship to others, especially those in the Household of faith.  The reason Paul was so upset with the Church in Corinth was that some people were celebrating the Communion meal by acting like pigs with no consideration of others, particularly the poor members of the Church.

By placing these words of Jesus in the enter of the Gospel rather than at the end John emphasizes the the relational nature of faith.  Faith in Christ is not a simple intellectual experience, it is a sharing of His Suffering (Body) and His Power and Spirit (Blood.) 

Let us not get caught up in “words” and revive the Realist/Nominalist debate of the Middle Ages.  The issue is “What do words represent?” and that is relational meaning as found in the Logos of God.         

dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67632

February 4th 2012


Let us not get caught up in “words” and revive the Realist/Nominalist debate of the Middle Ages. The issue is “What do words represent?”

Exactly how would you communicate what the words represent?


Roger A. Sawtelle - #67635

February 4th 2012

Don’t Blame

Words represent relationships.

dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67649

February 4th 2012


But “relationships” is a word. You said “Let us not get caught up in “words”.”

I mean

Never mind.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #67676

February 5th 2012

Don’t Blame,

I repeat words represent relationships. 

Our culture has a problem with words.  Some think that words are real things, while most think that they are not.  It is clear that a word is not a “thing-in-itself.”  Words are signposts that point to something beyond themselves. 

The question is What do words point to?  My answer is Meaning.  The reason we have dictionaries is to define the meanings of words, although context and grammer also play an important role.

Meaning in turn is determined by relationships, so language is means whereby we give relational structure and meaning to our Reality.

For some reason Rick has a problem with words.  He doesn’t seem to understand how words link us with the Word.  One thing should be pointed out.  Jesus is the Word Who became flesh.  It is not only what He said, but also what He did which makes Him Who He is.  The Cross symbolizing His Crucifixion and Resurrection is the best word of Jesus.

We all know that words are important, but they can be misleading.  1 John 4:20 (NRSV) says, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

Believing creeds (words) does not make a person a Christian.  Trusting and believing in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit makes a person a Christian. 

That is another reason why Christians must not replace the words of God, the Bible, with the Word of God, Jesus Christ, the Logos as some Fundamentalists have done.. 





beaglelady - #67699

February 6th 2012

“For some reason Rick has a problem with words.  He doesn’t seem to understand how words link us with the Word.”

That’s a baseless accusation.

dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67679

February 5th 2012


Trusting and believing in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit makes a person a Christian.”

I think you may be having a word problem. According to the Bible, about the same could be said of Satan and his charges: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.” [James 2:19]

I think it better to say “Obeying Christ makes one a Christian.”



Roger A. Sawtelle - #67680

February 5th 2012

I don’t read in the Bible that Satan trusts in God.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #67682

February 5th 2012

Is not obedience a work?


dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67685

February 5th 2012


“I don’t read in the Bible that Satan trusts in God.”

I do. (See Mat 8:29, Mark 1:24, Mark 5:7, Luke 4:34, Luke 8:28.)

Satan and his charges trust that God is greater, trust that God will deal with them justly, trust that God will put them in hell.


dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67686

February 5th 2012


“Is not obedience a work?”

Yes it is. Do you see a problem with this?


Roger A. Sawtelle - #67696

February 6th 2012

Don’t Blame,

You are using the word “trust” (and “believe’) in a way very different from the way it is used in the New Testament, with the exception with the Letter of James which you have cited.

When John wrote, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting Life,” he did not mean that Satan and his crew would be saved and share heaven with believers because they know that God exists and is faithful and just. 

What John meant was that the Father sent the Son to break the power of sin so humans can enter into a full and personal love relationship with the Father through the Son by means of the Holy Spirit. 

As Luther put it Christians are saved by grace and justified by faith, not by obedience.  This is because Luther following Jesus, Paul, and John saw that salvation by means of obedience puts the Christian in exactly the same place as the Jew, which is righteousness by works or obedience to God’s Law, as if Jesus had never come and died upon the Cross to save us from the power of sin. 

James did not deny the importance of faith, he just made it clear that faith needs to be backed by a changed life worthy of repentance and the Spirit.  Paul also insisted on this.  They said and I most certainly agree that faith and salvation are much more than empty words, they indicate a relationship to God that fundamentally changes the way we live.

The repentant thief on the Cross is the classic example of salvation by grace through faith in that he did do anything to earn his salvation after a lifetime of criminal activity.         

dont_blame_me_blame_evolution - #67719

February 6th 2012


“James did not deny the importance of faith, he just made it clear that faith needs to be backed by a changed life… a relationship to God that fundamentally changes the way we live.”

Wouldn’t ‘changing the way we live’ involve obedience and work?

Also, if Satan and his crew “know that God exists and is faithful and just”, and so presumably know that God would have the power to save them, why are Satan and his crew going to hell?


Roger A. Sawtelle - #67724

February 6th 2012

Don’t Blame.

Satan and his crew do not want to go to heaven and God honors their choice, the same with all people who choose to join them.

The fact is humans cannot will or work their way into heaven.  God forgives us through the atoning death of the Messiah.  This done humans have the ability to accept or reject this gift of forgiveness.  Most seem too proud to accept it as a free unearned gift.

Once a person has accepted the gift of grace, God’s undeserved Love, then she or he does have the ability to freely serve God and obediently do God’s will.  However the saving change of life and relationships based on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the relational gift of the Holy Spirit comes first.  Then comes the process of perfection through the Spirit, which does include obedience and work as well as love and peace.  



R Kennedy - #67731

February 6th 2012


I am very grateful to you all for reading my blog.  On the other hand, can I try to get you back to the point that the blog thinks is crucial?

The biologos web site that is trying to do maybe the most important intellectual project in our university-influenced world today—find an intellectually respectable way to have one foot in the dynamism of modern biology and the other foot in the deepest, most foundational, traditions of historic Christianity.

I want to teach that a reasonable student and teacher at a university can find such a place to stand.  I wrote this book out of frustration with extremists on both sides with an Aristotelian belief that there is usually a true middle ground.  I get frustrated with theologians and philosophers.  I get frustrated with high-talking scientists.  I get frustrated with logic-chopping and grandstanding.

Do you all think that methodological humility can help us all have a nice dinner togeter?  Do you share with me the belief that we all could sit at a dinner table together with Darwin and find much to agree upon and much to learn from each other?

Today at lunch I listened to a faculty discussion that was full of dispair and smugness about wacky radio-Christians.  Despair and smugness destroy a good lunch. During the last few nights I have been reading the new biography of Charles Hodge.  Oh I wish I could have a lunch conversation—at Princeton in the Fall—with Charles Hodge and BB Warfield!  

Thanks so much for reading my blog!


Roger A. Sawtelle - #67739

February 7th 2012


I share your concern and frustration.  In my opinion the serious division between modernism and postmodernism, between fundamentalists and secularists is a serious threat to the Western culture. 

However I do not think that your approach is sufficient.  In an intellectual culture which is based on dualism, there is no middle ground.  The primary issue is not the science nor the theology, but the faulty philosophy, the faulty world view upon which both are based.

Humility is fine until we get into a contest of claiming who is most humble.  We need a common, mutual goal that we can all agree on and work toward which will benefit all, even if we must all give up some of our arrogance and pride. 

Maybe Charles Hodge and BB Warfield have an answer to this issue, but I doubt it.  Maybe Darwin does too, but I don’t see it.  I do know Who has the best answer and that is Jesus Christ, the Logos, the Rational Word of God. 

That is why Christians need to go back to the basics, go back to John 1 with new eyes informed by today’s science, by Einstein’s understanding that the universe is Relational and learn that the reality of God is not monistic or dualistic, but triune and relational, so there is a real middle ground with Jesus as the Center.

I offer you my book, DARWIN’S MYTH: Malthus, Ecology, and the Meaning of Life, if you are interested.       

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