Folks who wind up on this page usually want to know one (or more) things: (1) Who is this guy? (2) What are you trying to accomplish with the site — and all the associated podcasts, books, videos, etc.? and (3) What is it you believe — what drives you? I hope what follows helps, as it’s important to me that people understand what I believe (and don’t believe) and what motivates me to do what I do. This is especially the case since I do a lot of media interviews. Consider this page (and my FAQ) the authoritative source on who I am and what I think.
Who am I?
I’m a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (M.A., Ancient History) and the University of Wisconsin- Madison (M.A., Ph.D., Hebrew Bible and Semitic Studies). I have a dozen years of classroom teaching experience on the college level and another ten in distance education. I’m currently a Scholar-in-Residence at Logos Bible Software, a company that produces ancient text databases and other digital resources for study of the ancient world and biblical studies. You can get a more detailed answer to my academic background by reading through my CV.
Why do I do what I do online?
In a nutshell, my homepage, podcasts, other websites, and writing all aim to produce quality content for people who want certain things:
- Serious academic content for understanding the Bible in its own context, unfiltered by creeds and traditions — but made decipherable to those who don’t live in the ivory tower. In other words, I view it my duty as a biblical scholar to make scholarship comprehensible to the interested non-specialist. You could think of me as a missionary to the church in terms of exposing the normal person-in-the-pew to serious academic scholarship on the Bible and biblical theology. I believe it’s a critical need. Most churches today are more about perpetuating their denominational subculture or keeping those who attend adequately entertained than making them think. In my experience, every church has five or six people in it who are desperate for content — who are withering from content malnutrition. The rest of the people in churches don’t know they’re malnourished. I’m here to help. If you sense that there’s got to be more to the Bible than self-help platitudes and Sunday School lessons with adult illustrations, and that Jesus just has to be more than a cosmic life coach, you’re in the right place. I write at the Naked Bible blogand teach through the Naked Bible Podcast with you in mind. You’re also the person I had in view when I wrote The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. The book is a bestseller, despite the fact that it’s not available in stores. That was deliberate. You know that no one walks into a Christian bookstore looking for serious content. I know it, too.
- Serious academic critique of the cyber-twaddle you find on the internet about the Bible and the ancient world. Think Ancient Aliens or Zeitgeist and you get the idea. It irritates me that people are presented with shoddy, intellectually indefensible blather disguised as research. This is why I was in the YouTube documentary Ancient Aliens Debunked(millions of views). It’s why I blog at Paleobabble. It’s why I critique the ideas of the late ancient aliens theorist Zecharia Sitchin, whose books have been translated into over twenty languages and sold tens of millions of copies. It’s why I do interviews on fringe / alternative history talk shows. Someone has to say something. I may not be able to stop the madness but I can be a voice of sanity.
- Serious Christian engagement with modern alternative worldviews and the paranormal. Our culture is fascinated by ghosts, psychic phenomena, near death experiences, UFOs and extraterrestrials, and conspiracy theories. Movies featuring superheroes, vampires, artificial intelligence, and mutants are the rage. Why? They constitute an alternative to theism and Christianity. Science fiction and the paranormal capture the imagination by offering a means to our own divinity and glimpses of other realities. Space is heaven without the biblical God. The paranormal offers an escape from deterministic materialism and spirituality without centralized authority. It all satisfies the yearning for the transcendent and a destiny of becoming more than human, whether by modifying our bodies (transhumanism) or evolving with supernatural assistance that isn’t an (allegedly) angry deity. The message is simple and ancient: we will be as gods. Rather than belittle those who have rejected Christianity in favor of this new religion or denying someone’s anomalous experience, my goal is to help people consider that perhaps the problem isn’t the Bible, but the inside-the-box (or head-in-the-sand) thinking that often characterizes Christian approaches to these subjects. This is why I blog at UFO Religions, speak at UFO conferences, write sci-fi paranormal thrillers (The Facade, The Portent), and host the Peeranormal
What do I believe?
While I’m not anti-creedal or opposed to denominations, I am opposed to using creeds and denominational preferences to filter the Bible. Creeds are selective, historically-conditioned, limited by their context and the resources available to their formulators, and often agenda-driven. I’m more concerned with what the text says and what it can sustain in terms of interpretation than I am with creeds and mission statements. Every post-first century religious context is foreign to the Bible, and therefore is not the context of the Bible. The right context for interpreting the Bible is the context that produced it — the worldview and cognitive frame of reference of the biblical writers. (Here’s a video that explains what I mean). I’m a trained biblical scholar, but I also have what I think is a healthy disdain for the trendiness of academia and its own brand of self-assured dogmatics. I’d be a happier guy if every graduate student in biblical studies and theology was forced to take courses in logic and critical thinking. I once said that out loud in a doctoral class. I didn’t win hearts and minds that day.
Getting More Specific
As an academic I’m well aware that what follows won’t answer certain questions. That’s intentional because I’m trying to be brief. You’ll have to cope with the truncation (most readers will appreciate it). Broadly speaking, my own beliefs flow from some pretty simple presuppositions. If you want a research bibliography on the points that follow, and a history of the intellectual discourse on my positions and how they have survived the tests of philosophical coherence and time, I could give you one, but that would be sad.
For example, I’m a theist. It’s more coherent than atheism, despite the caricatures one encounters so often today. A funny line isn’t a coherent argument. The idea that there is a supreme intelligent Being has more explanatory power for things we know and experience than does the absence of that Being.
As a theist, it makes more sense to me to think that if a God exists, that God would actually be capable of doing things, and interested in doing things (as opposed to merely existing and doing nothing). I’m not a deity and I’m certainly not that mindless and uninteresting. I have to think God has intelligence and the desire to use that intelligence. Intelligence isn’t accidental, and intelligent beings aren’t as a rule indolent and uncreative.
I also think it’s more reasonable to believe that things that exist had a cause as opposed to having no cause. When it comes to the material creation, it either (a) created itself, (b) was always there, or (c) was created by an external force. Options A and B are ruled out by the Big Bang (cosmological science) and by logic. They are also ruled out by revelation like the Bible, but if you think you need the Bible to hold this position, you’re sadly uninformed.1 Lots of intelligent people who assign no importance to the Bible hold position C. And although position A has adherents, anyone who embraces a Big Bang has to (ultimately) reject it. I was taught in high school that there was no such thing as spontaneous generation of matter within a closed system. It made sense then, and it still makes sense. God seems a good candidate for the external cause to the material creation, and that is quite independent of what one thinks about Genesis. Appealing to another universe (or any other material catalyst) as the source for the existence of our universe is an infinite regress flaw. Consequently, it’s an ultimately flawed explanation.
Since I accept theism and the need for a beginning of matter, I think God could do lots of things that, to me, seem of smaller magnitude. For example, he can probably influence people to write stuff down (I can do that one) that would eventually get collected and made into a book (the Bible). He could even oversee the process and make sure they don’t screw it up, and if they did, he could bring along an editor to fix it. Again, that isn’t hard. This God could also become incarnate and decide (if he saw no other way) to surrender his incarnate life to rectify human failures and the corruption of his creation. It’s not a stretch to say that he’s the only one that could fix such a problem. If I were God, I not only could do that, I’d want to, especially if there was no way my creations could do that themselves. To not do it would be evil.
I am also a Christian because it’s the only religious approach that makes any sense for solving the fundamental problem all religions are supposed to address: right relationship to God. All other religions require perfect performance of imperfect people to please a perfect being. That’s impossible (and deeply incoherent, bordering on the definition of insanity – doing something over and over again and expecting different results). Christianity has the perfect being becoming incarnate in imperfect flesh (i.e., it could bleed, age, and die) to communicate to imperfect people that he had come to pay the penalty his own demands had placed on them (after all, he has the right to make demands of his own creatures – you do that if you have kids, and I’m guessing you don’t think it’s unreasonable). In other words, God, through Christ, becomes the solution for a problem we cannot solve. His motive? John 3:16. The requirement to have that applied to us? Faith — Trust the solution and don’t presume it needs your assistance or suggestions. That’s it. No endless and futile effort to appease an angry deity. The deity solves the problem himself on your behalf. That’s pretty nice of him, especially when you’re helpless to fix the problem yourself.2
What don’t I believe?
Obviously, there are lots of things I don’t believe for a whole range of reasons. My FAQ covers some ground there. In what remains of this page I want to assay a few things that pertain directly to the sorts of media that I do. Don’t assume something based on what you might see or hear in an interview or film. They edit those things, you know, and I don’t get any veto power over that.
For starters, I do a lot of interviews in what I call Christian Middle Earth (CME; click here for the interview in which I coined the term). It’s a useful metaphor for describing the wacky world of the internet, the “middle realm” that exists between the scholarly realm of the ivory tower and the normal realm of the local church. CME is home to the popular prophecy “experts,” “charismania” (signs and wonders movement; New Apostolic Reformation, Word of Faith / prosperity gospel peddlers), pseudo-archaeology, and all manner of speculative conspiratorial researchers. There are black hats and white hats in CME—both sincere believers who truly want to see the kingdom of God expand, and teacher-posers whose aim is to build their own kingdom. CME leaders have websites, podcasts, and blogs. They publish their own material and organize their own conferences. They have either never been exposed to peer-reviewed scholarship in biblical studies or avoid it like the plague, doing due diligence to inform their followers that their brilliance would be misunderstood and that the academy is deserving of suspicion.
I’m sympathetic to CME because most everyone there (however adept or inept in their research) craves content. You can find good thinking in CME, but a great deal of the content lacks coherence and would never survive peer review. Some of it is utterly ridiculous. But that doesn’t stop me from doing interviews on CME media. Why? Because CME is filled with people who honestly aren’t learning anything in church but haven’t quit in spite of that. (I’ve met plenty whose grasp of Scripture is likely firmer than that of many pastors). By doing CME shows I get to expose its inhabitants to solid academic content. It also enables me to inject some sanity into fringe topics—to get people to consider how to think more carefully about this or that idea, to adopt a better hermeneutic for Bible interpretation, or to ask them to consider an alternative position to some deeply flawed position they hold. I approach CME like I’d approach an interview with an atheist, pagan, Jewish, or Muslim host. I’ll have a conversation if I’m not censored. I have to be allowed to speak the truth.
In short, my appearance isn’t endorsement. When it comes to CME, it’s an opportunity to bridge the wide gap between the world of real biblical scholarship and normal folks who want it and, frankly, need it. In the vast majority of instances, that means promoting my own work—a book, a podcast, or a video. This is usually intuitively understood—authors have to promote their work since no one else is going to do that. But some Christians, rightfully sensitive about doctrine, will wonder whether (for instance) I endorse things like the New Apostolic Reformation or the Hebrew Roots movement. I don’t. Their teachings have serious exegetical flaws. I don’t do any show to do an infomercial for content I don’t agree with and know to be flawed.
Given that my work has attracted the attention of various segments of CME, readers are encouraged to read through my FAQ page. With respect to charismania and the New Apostolic Reformation, I’ve posted a few specifics on this page that exists externally to the FAQ.
- Philosophical materialists and atheists would opine here on how this is unscientific, somehow never bothering to explain scientifically why so many credentialed scientists would disagree.
- For those Jesus revisionists out there who say that Jesus is really a pagan deity . . . it’s cheating to charge the New Testament writers with borrowing from paganism and exclude a bodily resurrection (not a cadaverous one, either) and the gospel message from your comparison.