Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What Do You Mean By "Apologetics"?

   One consistent theme that runs through my writing, my teaching, and my pastoral work is my love of New Testament Apologetics.  A lot of folks are unfamiliar with the term, so I thought I'd spend a little time explaining what apologetics are, and why I find the field so fascinating.

   First of all, "Apologetics" doesn't mean that I am somehow apologizing for the contents of the New Testament.  That's a much more modern usage of the word.  In this context, "Apologetics" refers to the field of study in Christian scholarship that focuses on defending the historical accuracy, authority, and inspiration of the Scriptures.  Given the wholesale assault on the Bible waged in pop culture, academia, and the media for the last century or more, it's a field that has more and more relevance as young Christians demand to know: How much of what I was taught to believe is really true?

    I discovered apologetics right out of high school, when I read some of Josh McDowell's early works.  I've heard Josh speak twice in person and even got to have a short conversation with him once, years ago, and he was and is a most impressive and eloquent man.  His personal story is very compelling: the son of an abusive, alcoholic father whom he despised, McDowell was an angry young man who bitterly resented religion in general and Christianity in particular.   After debating some students who were involved with Campus Crusade for Christ, Josh set out write a book demolishing the historical claims of the Bible once and for all and proving Christianity to be an outright fraud.  But, the more research he did, the more he found the evidence leading him in the opposite direction.  In the end, his book, EVIDENCE THAT DEMANDS A VERDICT, showcased the many, compelling arguments in favor of the Bible's accuracy.  Since then, McDowell has authored many books and spoken and debated all over the world in defense of the faith.  I've read many of his books and they are all remarkable.  He has been an enormous intellectual and spiritual inspiration to me.

    Another writer who deeply influenced me is Lee Strobel.  Like McDowell, Lee was a former atheist - a journalist of some repute, serving as chief legal correspondent for the Boston Globe at one point - who decided to investigate the claims of the New Testament after his wife became a Christian (an event that irritated him a great deal at the time).  The more he studied, the more experts he interviewed, the more he became convinced that the New Testament did indeed accurately preserve the words and deeds of Jesus and His apostles.  So Lee also became a noted author and speaker in the field of apologetics.  I own four of his books that I have read over and over - THE CASE FOR CHRIST, THE CASE FOR FAITH, THE CASE FOR A CREATOR, and THE CASE FOR THE REAL JESUS.  One thing I love about Lee's books is that while he keeps his narrative on a very easy to follow level for the layman, he also references scholarly works that back up his summaries with years of research by scientists, scholars, and archeologists.  I would challenge anyone who believes that life on earth evolved by pure chance to read THE CASE FOR A CREATOR.   Unlike Dr. McDowell, I have never had the privilege of meeting Lee Strobel - but I certainly hope to some day!

    These two, and many other authors have inspired a passion for apologetics in me, but at the same time, what can I offer on this subject that other, more qualified men have not already done?  I don't have the expertise in Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac to research the primary source documents, I don't have the budget to travel to the Middle East for extended visits to research and look for new clues to the Gospel narrative.  I wanted to strike a blow for the authenticity of Scripture - but how? 

  Well, there is one thing I can do, and that is tell stories.  So in 2012, I sat down and began writing THE TESTIMONIUM - a tale of faith, archeology, romance, and terrorism.  But in the narrative of the exciting dig on Capri and the discovery of Pontius Pilate's long-lost report to Rome about the crucifixion of Jesus, I wove into the dialogue many of the arguments on apologetics that I had absorbed and engaged in over the years.  My hope was that many people who might not pick up a non-fiction work purporting to defend Christianity might instead pick up a thrilling story about a team of archeologists making an earth-shattering discovery and winding up in the crosshairs of an Al Qaeda assassin.  And when they do, maybe the will find the apologetics dialogue between my characters intriguing enough to make them want to do a little digging of their own . . .

    Did I succeed?  Read for yourself and find out!


Monday, January 18, 2016

Why the fascination with archeology?

   A recurring theme in my books - especially THE TESTIMONIUM and MATTHEW'S AUTOGRAPH - is archeology.  In these books I deal with Biblical archeology in particular, but all my literary characters are fascinated with bits of the past.  Joshua Parker is probably the closest of all of them to a literary alter ego for me, and his fascination with history and archeology mirrors my own - as does much of his back story.  I suppose I should go ahead and say I am not an archeologist by training, but I am fascinated by the science and most of all by what archeology enables us to do.  Who knows?  If I had followed my fascination and majored in archeology, I might have had a career like Joshua's!

    My dad collected Indian arrowheads when I was little, and when I was five years old I found my first point - a Yarbrough style dart point from the Middle Archaic period, some 3,000-4,000 years old, in a pile of fill dirt in my neighbor's yard.  Of course, I didn't know any of that at the time.  I just knew that it was an arrowhead, and that Indians had made it.  As I grew older and started collecting on my own, these little sharpened bits of stone came to fascinate me more and more.  After I learned how fantastically old some of these points are (I have found three Clovis points during my years of collecting, and they date back around 12,000 years!) it really got my imagination going.  All of recorded human history has elapsed since some of my finds were created by the primitive hunters who crafted them. 

    I am a historian by training, and the thought that every single person I have ever read about or taught about was born, lived, achieved notoriety, and died since most of the points in my collection were made is a source of endless wonder.  When the pyramids were built around 4500 years ago, my Clovis points were already over six thousand years old!   Archeology is the science that tries to connect these points to the people who made them, and as such this scientific discipline has my respect and ongoing interest.

    Biblical archeology is a whole different ball game, though. The thought of excavating places and artifacts connected with the narrative of the Old and New Testaments absolutely fascinates me.  So many places and names from the Bible have been confirmed by the work of archeologists in the Middle East over the last century, it has gone a long way towards confirming the historical accuracy of our Biblical accounts. There are still holes and gaps in our knowledge, especially surrounding the events of the Exodus, but it's amazing how much information we have been able to recover.  People (like the Hittites) and places (like the pool of Bethesda) long thought to be mythical have been confirmed.  Individuals like Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, and Simon Peter have been confirmed as historical through archeological discoveries. 

     And there is so much waiting to be found!  Every year new discoveries are made, ancient manuscripts unearthed, and more is learned about the world that Jesus and His disciples lived in.  While the discoveries made in my novels are fictitious - for now! - they represent things that may very well be waiting out there to be found.  And, like Josh and Father MacDonald, I firmly believe that, when carefully weighed, the archeological and historical evidence will prove that the narrative contained in the Bible is historically accurate and correct in its details.

     If you would like to read more about my characters and the remarkable discoveries they've made, and the adventures they've had along the way, you can start by reading my first novel, THE TESTIMONIUM, where Isabella Sforza, Joshua Parker, Giuseppe Rossini, and Father MacDonald find a unique Biblical treasure on the Isle of Capri: the original report filed to Rome by Pontius Pilate about the trial and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth!  You can buy THE TESTIMONIUM here:


Monday, January 11, 2016


  Why do so many of the books I write have to do with Rome?  Right now I have three books in print, and another one finished, and I am working on number five.  All of them have some connection to the Roman Empire:  my Capri Team adventures focus around discoveries from the Roman era, and both THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE and the yet-unpublished LOVER OF GOD are set in the First Century AD - the first in the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula, and the last during the reigns of Claudius and Nero.  Why am I so obsessed with the world of two thousand years ago?

    There are two reasons, one of which is very obvious:  my stories all deal with the early years of the Christian faith, and Christianity was born during the first century of the Roman Empire.  Jesus and all of His disciples were born, lived, and died as subjects of Rome.  It's one of the things that makes Christianity unique: our faith is inextricably linked to an actual moment in history, the middle part of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, to a real historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth, and to that incredible three year period when that man preached, taught, healed, was betrayed, arrested, killed, and then rose again.  Unlike the teachings of Buddha or Muhammad, the truth of Jesus' words rests with the facts of His life: If He did indeed rise from the dead, as is claimed for Him, then he had to be the Son of God, and all the things He claimed for Himself were true.  On the other hand, if He was crucified and His body was stolen, hidden, or simply rotted away in the ground somewhere, then He is just another dead philosopher, and all the claims of Christianity are built on "a throne of lies."  I believe that the verdict of history and archeology, when carefully and reasonably considered, point us directly to one conclusion: the most logical explanation for the entire Resurrection story is that Jesus, did, in fact, rise from the dead.  And all of that history and archeology that proves the case for my faith is centered in the first century of the Roman Empire.

    There is another reason that I love to write about Rome, however, beyond the Biblical and religious connections I feel with the world of the Caesars:  the Romans were amazing!  This city-state on the Italian peninsula came to rule a quarter or the world's population in a remarkably brief period of time.  By the First Century AD, you could travel from London to Libya and never be out of Caesar's jurisdiction.  Remarkably advanced, the Romans built roads and buildings that still stand today.  They sculpted statues that are as good (if not better) than anything any modern artist can create.  They practiced banking, voting, taxation, administration, and all the burdens of governing with incredible efficiency.  In the Second Century AD, they came within a cat's whisker of inventing the steam engine!  They were the most advanced people of the ancient world, and the government they created endured for five hundred years as a Republic, five hundred years as an Empire, and then packed up, relocated to Constantinople, and endured for another thousand years as the Byzantine Empire.  No other government in the world has enjoyed that kind of stability and longevity!

   And yet . . . the Romans were as brutal and barbaric as any people that have ever lived.  They watched gladiators slaughter one another for the amusement of the crowd.  They killed hundreds of thousands of Gauls, Britons, and Germans in their wars of conquest.  They practiced slavery on the widest scale ever seen until modern times.  They brought peace in the wake of the sword - most of the lands they conquered became, over time, more prosperous and stable than before the Romans conquered them - but the price in blood was very high indeed.  In short, the Romans, in all their savagery and splendor, in all their impressive civilization and horrific barbarism, were a microcosm of humanity.  They were the best of us and the worst of us, boiled down to the most basic elements.  For that reason, they fascinate me like no other ancient culture ever has.

   Want to know more?  Go to Amazon and buy my book, THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE.  There you will see the birth of Christianity laid side by side with the formative years of this mighty Empire that ruled the world Jesus lived in . . . . and I promise, you will enjoy the story!
(If you don't believe me, scroll through and read the reviews from previous readers!)


Monday, January 4, 2016

Looking Backward, Looking Forward . . .

2015 was a pretty good year for me and mine.

   My lovely wife of 31 years finished her Master's Degree this summer - which means next year we can actually enjoy time off together, since she won't be in summer school!  (Of course, the downside of that is her bizarre love for home improvement projects, but that's another story . . . I've pretty much gotten a pass the last three summers, so I guess I can't complain!)

   My daughters are wrapping up their time in community college and preparing to enter the workforce.  There comes a point, I am told, at which they move out of the house and we get to have money again.  But I am pretty sure that is an urban legend.

   I saw two of my books published this year, THE REDEMPTION OF PONTIUS PILATE in the spring and MATTHEW'S AUTOGRAPH in December.  I finished my fourth book, LOVER OF GOD, and started another, which I am calling THE GNOSTIC LIBRARY.  Little by little, I am becoming prolific!

   In terms of amusement, I watched 219 movies (yes, I have a serious problem!) and read 71 books, and I added 101 artifacts to my collection (93 personal finds, 8 gifts).  I also wasted a good many hours playing SKYRIM and other video games I love.  But despite all that, I also found time to teach classes night and day, spend every Sunday in the pulpit, and have a lot of quality time with my family. 

   I'm blessed to have three siblings that I all get along with quite well, and my Mom and Dad are both still living and mean more to me than I can say.  I have a job that I love (well, actually four of them - writing, pastoring, teaching by day at GCS, and nights at PJC!), and my health continues to be remarkably good for a fat guy who doesn't eat like he should.

   So yes, 2015 was a good year for me!

   Now, what will 2016 hold?

   While the future is always in God's lap, I do have some plans for this year.  By midsummer, I hope to be done with THE GNOSTIC LIBRARY.  It's another adventure for the "Capri Team" - a group of archeologists that I created in THE TESTIMONIUM and have enjoyed following on the adventures I send them on.  I rarely go more than a few months without working on something, so before the year is out I may begin my next book.

   My biggest adventure this year - or at least the biggest one I have scheduled - is my upcoming trip to Israel in March.  I will be leaving on the 9th, after school, for Austin, TX.  From there I will fly out via New York to Tel Aviv, to begin a ten day scholarly tour which will take me to about thirty different archeological sites dating from two thousand to four thousand years of age - from the  time of Abraham to the time of Christ!  I'll even get to spend a day assisting on a dig at a 3,000 year old Jewish village that is mentioned in the Old Testament.  I can't wait!

   As for the rest?  I'll continue to teach, read, watch horrible B-movies (and a few good ones to balance them out), hunt arrowheads when I can, raise goats, and enjoy walking through life with my one true love, my beautiful daughters, my wonderful church family, and the many good friends God has blessed me with.  And all of you are invited along for the ride, whether you encounter me here on this page or somewhere out in the wide world.

   As the very last Calvin and Hobbes comic strip once said:

"It's a magical world . . . let's go exploring!"