Were the Earliest Christians Illiterate?

In the 1979 film Rocky II, the newly famous Rocky Balboa, fresh off his split-decision loss to Apollo Creed, is hired to do a TV commercial. During the filming of the commercial it quickly becomes clear that he can’t read the cue cards. The director, frustrated by how long the filming is taking, ruthlessly mocks Rocky: “You cost us thousands of dollars because you can’t read!”

Rocky is humiliated and embarrassed. Why? Because in our modern, western society most people can read. Reading is the norm. Illiteracy is the exception. It doesn’t matter how famous you are, or how talented you are. If you can’t read, you feel like an …

Continue reading...

One of the Core Markers of Early Christian Identity

One of the most notable features of early Christianity is that it was a religion concerned with books. Particularly, scriptural books.

As Margaret Mitchell observed, “Christianity was a religious movement with texts at its very heart and soul, in its background and foreground. Its communities were characterized by a pervading, even obsessive preoccupation with and habitus for sacred literature.”

Now, to modern ears, this doesn’t seem all that noteworthy. Given our historical situation—a world dominated by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—it seems quite normal for a religion to be bookish.

But it was not always so. In the ancient Greco-Roman world, books were rarely used in religious settings. Other than …

Continue reading...

Is the Book of James Really ‘An Epistle of Straw’?

We have a lot of books in our New Testament. All of them, we believe, are divinely inspired. And yet we don’t spend equal amounts of time reading them. For most of us, our reading pattern is profoundly lopsided, focusing mostly on Paul (especially Romans and Galatians) and the Gospels (with John leading the way). Indeed, some books (like 3 John) hardly get read at all.

This trend raises intriguing questions about why certain books were even included in the New Testament. What purpose do these less famous books serve? This becomes particularly acute with the book of James. Although 500 years have passed since Martin Luther called it …

Continue reading...

Three Reasons the Old Testament is More Important than You Think

When it comes to the reasons people reject the Bible, the Old Testament might just rank near the top of the list.  Whether it’s just something confusing (the book of Leviticus), or something historically hard to believe (the “giants” of Genesis 6), or even something offensive (God’s supposed condoning of genocide), the Old Testament has it covered.

A number of years ago, Kristin Swenson published A Most Peculiar Book: The Inherent Strangeness of the Bible. She covered a lot of ground in terms of what makes the Bible peculiar, and certainly some examples came from the New Testament. But most examples were overwhelmingly from the Old Testament. (For more, …

Continue reading...

Are Christians Allowed to Doubt? My Conversation with Josh Chatraw

At the inaugural Keller Center gathering last spring, I got together with Josh Chatraw, Billy Graham Chair of Evangelism at Beeson Divinity School, to discuss this important issue of doubt in the Christian life. The video of our conversation is below.

Both of us have written on the subject. Josh has recently released an entire book on the topic along with Jack Carson, Surprised by Doubt: How Disillusionment Can Invite Us into a Deeper Faith (Brazos, 2023).  And I have written on this topic here and there throughout my book, Surviving Religion 101: Letters to a Christian Student on Keeping the Faith in College (Crossway, 2021).

As an additional …

Continue reading...