Apologetics, In the News

The Fact and Fiction of Bruce Chilton’s Mary Magdalene

Last week for the Huffington Post, Bruce Chilton, Bernard Iddings Bell professor of religion at Bard College, offered a synopsis of his book Mary Magdalene: A Biography (Doubleday, 2006). Chilton explains that Mary was a common name, which is why the biblical character was associated with a place called Magdala, so that she would not be confused with the other women with the same name. He points out that Jesus’ statement about the tax collectors and prostitutes having a better chance at getting into heaven before the chief priest and elders (Matt. 21:27) has led some to conclude Mary Magdalene worked the oldest profession (albeit the idea stretches credulity beyond the breaking point).

Chilton also mentions legends about the biblical character, such as her sailing on a rudderless ship to France, levitating while she prayed, being Jesus’ concubine according to the Cathars, or having sexual relations with Jesus and conceiving a child, as depicted in faked parchments produced by Pierre Plantard after World War II, which became subject to the popular fiction The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (Please seeMary Magdalene’s Modern Makeover and The Da Vinci Code: Revisiting a Cracked Conspiracy” by James Patrick Holding.

Chilton believes Mary Magdalene was the one whom the Lord exorcised demons out of, and identifies her with the women who anointed the Lord at the end of His ministry in Mark 14. There is nothing problematic with these assertions per se; however, red flags are raised with Chilton’s statements about Mary’s encounter with the resurrected Lord being merely a vision. “Mary Magdalene’s vision, precisely because it was a vision in the earliest account (Mark 16) and not the inspection of an empty tomb, placed Jesus in the realm of heaven,” writes Chilton.

The idea of Mary Magdalene having a visionary experience of the risen Lord does not really pan out, particularly in light of the many other eye witnesses to the resurrected Jesus. Paul Maire notes, “The ‘psychological’ or ‘hallucination’ theory would be attractive if only one person had claimed to see a vision of the risen Christ, perhaps Mary Magdalene, who formerly may have had psychological problems anyway. But the disciples were a hardheaded and hardly hallucinable group, especially Thomas. And, if sources have any validity, there would have to have collective hallucinations for different groups of up to five hundred in size, all of them seeing the same thing—a virtual impossibility in the case of a phenomenon that is usually extremely individualistic.”[1] (Please see, “Explaining Away Jesus’ Resurrection: HALLUCINATION The Recent Revival of Theories” by Gary Habermas.) Warren Nozaki, Research

For further study, please consider the following bookstore resources:

In The Fullness of Time


The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God

The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus

The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ


1. Paul L. Maier, In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1997), 196.

In the News

Do Ministers Like Joel Osteen and Charles Finney Help or Hinder the Church?

Charles Finney?

Daniel Harrell, Senior Minister at Colonial Church, in Edina, Minnesota, wrote a column for Patheos.com entitled, “Meet Joel Osteen’s Forefather, Charles Finney,” offering a general portrait of the nineteenth-century revivalist preacher, and highlighting certain parallels with the twenty-first century Word-Faith televangelist. For example, just as Osteen markets his ministry for the masses, investing $95 million to renovate the Compaq Center into a modern evangelical church without crosses, stained glass, and religious iconography, but with a café, wireless Internet access, videogames, and a vault for tithes, Finney similarly used theatrical preaching, introduced the altar call (perhaps to recruit new converts to assist in his anti-slavery campaign), called sinners out by name, prayed in “colloquial language,” which many considered “vulgar” at the time, and utilized publicity and mass media to promote nightly meetings.
Finney’s ideas, according to Harrell, were derived from a commitment to natural theology. Seeing that God endowed humans with rational faculties, the nineteenth-century preacher believed God could be known through human reason, volition, and ability; yet, Finney also found the doctrines of total depravity and original sin senseless, and taught that one could attain perfect sanctification. Harrell is right to point out “Finney’s take is not the Biblical gospel of grace.” Finney simply took human freedom to an unbiblical extreme, and the idea of Christian perfectionism is simply an error.
Harrell, having mentioned Finney in a sermon, received an apoplectic e-mail from a church elder complaining that the nineteenth-century preacher was responsible for much of what is wrong with American Christianity, to which Harrell agreed in part; yet finds “heirs such as Lakewood’s Joel Osteen, while at times terribly misleading and deserving of critique, are also the very messengers through whom thousands upon thousands of people first consider the possibility that they matter to God.”
It is true that people need to know they matter to God; however, can the message of Joel Osteen direct them to the God who cares? Osteen is in reality a new generation of Word-Faith teachers who teach a theologically aberrant prosperity gospel. Just as Word-Faith luminaries like Essek William Kenyon, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, and Benny Hinn propagate the idea that faith is a force, words are containers of the force, and through the force of faith man can speak into existence their health and wealth, Osteen likewise teaches, “Your words have creative power. One of the primary ways we release our faith is through our words. And there is a divine connection between you declaring God’s favor and you seeing God’s favor manifest in your life. And some of you are doing your best to please the Lord. You’re living a holy consecrated life but you’re not really experiencing God’s supernatural favor and it’s simply because you’re not declaring it. You’ve got to give life to your faith by speaking it out.” [1]
Harrell appeals to the principle of becoming all things to all people in 1 Corinthians 9 as justification for starting a contemporary worship service at his church, but also values Finney, Osteen, and other megachurch ministries as examples of ministers following the same principle. Is this what Paul really had in mind? Yes, a church designed like a popular entertainment venue or shopping mall with a practical life lesson delivered by a proficient orator attracts crowds, but is that really why believers gather together to worship? Who is the object of worship?
Are crowds really the “proof”? Many flock to so-called revival meetings to witness so-called signs and wonders performed by revivalists like C. Peter Wagner, Kim Clement, Bill Hamon, Bob Jones, Rick Joyner,and other associated with Joel’s Army, a part of the latter rain movement that believes the church is presently experiencing an end time restoration of super apostles and prophets; however, what they are really getting is spiritual counterfeit, which utilizes hypnosis to produce altered states of consciousness to induce bizarre behaviors like being slain in the spirit, or sardonic laughter. One can even argue that the hypnosis, altered states of consciousness, and induced bizarre behaviors were at one time relegated to the occult mystical practices associated with Hindu gurus and their ashrams, but now have entered into the church by the rock star like revival preachers. Some churches may attract the crowds, but are we witnessing the transformative work of the Spirit, or simply reproducing Counterfeit Revival?
—Warren Nozaki
Christianity in Crisis 21st Century (B995/$22.99) by Hank Hanegraaff further expounds on the problems on the problems with the Word-Faith movement, and Joel Osteen in particular.
Counterfeit Revival (B614/$12.99) by Hank Hanegraaff examines false revivals led by teachers purporting an end time restoration of super apostles and prophets manifested in bizarre signs and wonders such as being slain in the spirit and sardonic laughter.
1. Discover the Champion in You, Trinity Broadcasting Network, May 12, 2003. Cf. “Promoting the Gospel of Self-Esteem,” and “Osteen’s ‘Gospel-Light’ Message” by Bob Hunter.
In the News, Reviews

Atheism Will Doom Britain, but Does It Have to Be this Way?

In an op-ed piece for The Jerusalem Post, Shmuley Boteach laments “Godlessness has doomed Britain,” since “Atheism equals nihilism, neither of which are fertile ground for a national resurgence.” The logic of this is impeccable. Boteach points out that Britain’s greatest exports on the subject of religion are from thinkers who despise religion, such as Richard Dawkins who “compared religion to child abuse,” and Christopher Hitchens, who “titled his 2007 book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.” He also observes that whereas 92 percent of Americans believe in God, according to Britain’s National Center for Social Research, only 35 percent in Britain, and 43 percent declare no religion.

One can also point out that the militant approach of New Atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens carries a strong rhetorical sway, and their arguments on the surface appear convincing. It is only when one examines them closely under the light of truth that one realizes none of them hold any water. (See “Village Atheists with Vengeance.”)

Boteach finds that there is nothing comparable in Britain to American megachurch pastors like Rick Warren and Joel Osteen, and reasons that in the latter there is no official state church with religion being entrepreneurial, in the sense that “religion lives and dies in America like a commercial enterprise.” Pastors who “excite” with “uplifting and relevant” messages will fill pews, and those who do not will have empty pews. He also attributes “religious fervor” to the growth of America, “from pioneering backwoodsmen to the most powerful and innovative nation on earth,” whereas British influence has waned in the past century with “militant atheism” being “a key reason.” His explanation is that “atheism is a philosophy of nihilism in which nothing is sacred and all is accidental.”

The endgame of belief in a purely material universe that came about by random chance through the Darwinian Evolutionary process with its survival of the fittest and extinction of the inferior is nihilism. Boteach is certainly on target.

Whie it is generally true that “religious fervor” is a contributing factor to the growth and expansion of the United States, it is not “relevant” preaching that forms foundations of innovation and progress. One can argue that an attempt to be relevant makes for irrelevance (see “How Relevant Is Relevance?”). While Joel Osteen does have mass appeal, his overall message can be considered a “Gospel of Self-Esteem” or “Gospel-Light.” Whether or not his name-it-and-claim-it prosperity gospel can provide spiritual foundations for lasting social transformation is doubtful.

To be more precise, one can make the case that the Bible has been the spiritual source underlying progress in Western Civilization. Vishal Mangalwadi, in his lecture series entitled “Must the Sun Set on the West,” makes a compelling case that the sun is setting on the West because the West has severed itself from the source of its greatness, the Bible; however, the sun need not set on the West, because people can still return to the source of their greatness. Ultimately, it is from minds deeply influenced by the truth of Scripture that have gone on to make innovations that ultimately transformed the West. How Christianity Changed the World also explores the way Christianity inspired the highest achievements in Western civilization from its humble beginnings.

— Warren Nozaki

For further related study, please access the following:

“Christopher Hitchens’s Sledgehammer Rhetoric” (Douglas Groothuis reviews God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens)

“The Cook’s Tale: A Naturalist’s Quest for the Ingredients of Life” (Angus Menuge reviews The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins)

“Darwin’s Rottweiler: Fierce Barks, Feeble Bites” (Doug Groothuis reviews The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins)

“Dawkin’s and Darwin’s Three-Ring Circus” (Jonathan Wells reviews The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins)

“Can Morality Be Based in Our ‘Selfish’ Evolutionary Past?

Please also consider the following bookstore resources:


The Book that Made Your World B1044/$22.99