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The Little Book That Could

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About a year ago I embarked upon a massive undertaking. With no formal credentials, I set out to craft a scholarly work of Christian apologetics. What was I up against? More than you might imagine.
Just how important is it to know Greek and Hebrew in order to engage in meaningful exegesis? Well, let's just say it helps. This is especially true of apologetics, where the debate often turns on the meaning of a single phrase or word. Take Romans 5:18, for instance. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” This verse is the cornerstone upon which the doctrine of original sin is built.

But should it be? It all depends on the translation. The word translated because is eph' ho. According to some scholars, the word eph' means “on, upon, or over” and ho means “on which” or “over which”. Translated that way, Romans 5:18 reads: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, so death spread to all men, upon which all sinned.” Translated one way, the verse seems to say that man dies because he sins. Translated another way, it seems to say man sins because he dies, that is to say, his mortality makes him weak. One strategically placed word—or perhaps, I should say, strategically translated word—can change the entire meaning of a verse.

Which raises the obvious question: What possessed me into thinking I was up for this task? How did I write this book without any knowledge of the original languages of the bible, not to mention the fact that I also lack the scholar's familiarity with many other aspects of scripture? Well, basically I just stayed in my depth and kept it simple.
Fortunately, I think in my case my liabilities probably worked to my advantage. Unable to rely on philosophical jargon and lofty concepts, I had to rely on plain words and clear ideas. In most cases dense jargon does more to obscure than to enlighten, anyway. In fact I believe a great deal of truth gets buried beneath an avalanche of pretentious academic mumbo-jumbo. Most of it amounts to nothing more than finding creative ways of lying for God, and defending the indefensible, for, as one writer put it “Words are facile vehicles of thought, easily twisted into almost any shape, and made to answer to almost any end . . .”

Take Calvinism, for instance—the subject of my book. For those unfamiliar with Calvinism, it is essentially the idea that God has divided the human race into two classes of people—the elect and the reprobate. The elect were created as vessels or mercy; the reprobate as vessels of wrath. In other words, the elect were created for heaven and the reprobate for hell. Now, how might a professionally trained theologian defend God's right to create men simply in order to torment them forever in hell? He would say something like this: God's ways are higher than ours; they are a mystery. They are above reason, but not contrary to reason. How would the laymen regard this defense? Well, he would think it is pure nonsense. Indeed he might wonder how anyone of sound mind who could entertain it in the first place.

Allow me to illustrate. Randal Rauser is a prominent theologian who often blogs about Calvinism. Read the threads that accompany his articles on this topic, and you will get the sense that you are eavesdropping on a conversation at an insane asylum, as intelligent people employ fancy words and abstract concepts to defend the plausibility of something that to most people sounds utterly insane. One of his readers summed it up this way:
“In one sense I regret very much that teachings like those of the Calvinist have come to occupy the attention of intelligent people like yourself. I say this with the utmost respect for you. The teachings of Calvinism represent one of those truly bizarre intramural disputes that do not even get off the ground for people who've never been presented with them.”

I am betting that the reader who posted that comment was not a professionally trained theologian.

But I digress. My point was simply this: My perspective as a layman probably helped me to cut through some of the theological mumbo-jumbo and produce a book which, according to one critic, is “scholarly,” but also “accessible to a theological novice.”

In any case, I managed to write the book and get published. So, now what? Marketing, of course. But how? Well, I was not completely without options. I had developed a correspondence with two gentleman who were kind enough to feature my book on their websites. I conversed with a retired Wheaton college professor who was kind enough to give my book a great review on Amazon. I started a website called The Calvinist Universalist. And now . . . well right now I'm writing this essay and I plan to send it out to every media outlet I can think of. Yes, that's right; this essay has all been part of my marketing efforts. And the title of the essay? The Little Book that Could? Well, that's more of a wish than a fact. Right now it's just the little book that's trying. But if could be the Little Book that Could. I mean, that wouldn't be so unlikely, would it? No less likely than getting published in the first place.

My book is The Calvinist Universalist. It is available on the publisher's website (wipfandstock.com) and Amazon, or by calling 541-344-1528.

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