Lessons about Constantine & Ancient Rome

This summer I read Paul Stephenson’s 2010 book, “Constantine: Unconquered Emperor, Christian Victor,” and gained a wide variety of insights into the history of early Christianity as well as the Roman empire and its politics. In this post, I’d like to share the background of why I decided to read this book, many of my “key takeaways” / learning points from the book, and some reflections which I’ve had as a result of the ideas in this text. As I read the book, I shared quotations and thoughts on Twitter, and organized those tweets in a single “Twitter thread” you can view chronologically. I’m at the point in my life where I just want to read eBook versions of books or listen to them digitally, and unfortunately this book wasn’t (in late May 2021) available in the Amazon Kindle ebookstore. I did, however, find it for sale in the Google Play Store, so I ended up reading my first book in the iOS “Google Play Books” app. It was ok, but I much prefer reading eBooks on a physical Kindle eReader or in the iOS Kindle app.

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There were three primary catalysts for my decision to read this book about the Emperor Constantine.

1 – Christian Nationalism Historically and Today

Our mainstream and social media channels in the United States have amplified “Christian nationalism” to the point where it has become a significant political and cultural force. The rhetoric of Christian nationalism has militaristic / jingoistic overtones, and I am not only interested in these contemporary strains of Christian heresy (which was and remains after reading this book my perception) but also the movement’s historical roots. I suspected I would learn more about this studying the history of Constantine’s rule over Rome, and I was correct. Presbyterian Pastor Tim Keller’s article, “A Book Review on the Topic of Christian Nationalism,” is an excellent overview of these topics and issues from a contemporary perspective.

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In part through my research and work supporting the “Conspiracies and Culture Wars” media literacy project, I’ve been alarmed by the way Christian conservatives have been mobilized as well as deceived to support the QAnon conspiracy theory and political movement. My desire to have a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of the history of Christianity and its theological foundations were also motivators for me to learn more about Constantine and his Christian legacy.

2- Portrayal of Ancient Rome in “The Legacy Imperative”

Our Friday Morning Men’s Group at the Presbyterian Church we attend in Edmond, Oklahoma (FPCE) just finished a 10 part video series this summer called, “The Legacy Imperative.” I have wanted to write a blog just summarizing my thoughts and responses to that series, and still may do so. While there are many good ideas and exhortations in the series (like it’s good for Christian grandparents to share Bible stories with their grandchildren, read to their grandchildren, and share stories about their faith and beliefs with them) there are also some political as well as theological ideas woven throughout the series with which I have substantial issues with and criticisms to offer. Early in the series (maybe even in episode 1, the videos are locked behind a paywall so I can’t link directly to them) the author extols the Roman Empire, their wholesale destruction of Carthage in 146 BC, and paints overall a picture of Roman history which is romantic, nostalgic, and dangerously disconnected from many facts from history. At one point, the video series producers included a clip from the 2000 Russell Crowe movie, “Gladiator,” to cast a dramatic vision of the role today’s grandparents (allegedly) must play if their grandchildren and “this entire generation of lost souls” will be saved from hell and oblivion. So my experiences watching that entire series (as the youngest member of our group, it fell to me to ‘make the technology work’ over Zoom for most of our meetings) were additional catalysts encouraging me to learn more about Constantine and Roman history, especially as they intersected with Christian faith and early church history. For more on this topical thread, I highly recommend the Angry Planet podcast episode, “Rome Was Always in Decline” with author Edward J. Watts, who wrote the 2018 book, “Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny” as well as “The Final Pagan Generation: Rome’s Unexpected Path to Christianity” in 2015.

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3- Battle of the Milvian Bridge Artwork

The third primary catalyst for my decision to read this book was Pieter Lastman’s 1613 painting, “The Battle of Constantine and Maxentius” which is shared on the Google Art & Culture website. I was looking for an image of “Crossing the Rubicon,” and instead ended up learning a bit about “The Battle of the Milvian Bridge.” Like so many works of historical art, this image is a mix of state-sponsored propaganda, myth, and real historical events. I used this image in my March 7, 2021 Sunday School class lesson, “Introducing Tim Keller & “The Reason for God.” (It’s slide 28) I had never previously heard of that battle or its significance, and I was interested after my brief digital exposure to this artwork to learn more about this history.

With those three primary reasons for reading this book in mind, let’s dive into some of the key takeaways / learning points I had as a result of reading this book.

Persecution of Christians

First of all, I was a bit surprised to learn that the era of “Christian persecutions” in the Roman empire was as long as I’d imagined. It’s incredible to consider that Roman history spanned almost 2000 years, when the histories of both the western and eastern Roman empires (Byzantium) are combined and the early “Roman Kingdom” is included. Christians faced different types and levels of persecutions under Rome after the death and resurrection of Jesus, but those persecutions “mostly” came to an end during and following the rule of Constantine the Great. There was “one more pagan emperor in Rome” (Julian the Apostate) but Christianity’s official status within the Roman Empire during and following the rule of Constantine put an end to the types of Christian persecutions (death by lions in the colosseum, etc) which I’d learned about previously. 300 years may seem like a long time to us in the United States, since our nation is not yet that old, but in the span of Roman history it’s relatively shorter. I don’t intend to minimize the terrible reality of those years of persecution, but somehow in my mind I’d imagined Christians persecuted for many more centuries. So this was one thing I learned.

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Religious Toleration in Rome

Throughout his reign as Roman emperor, Constantine continued (and enforced) official Roman policies of religious toleration. Although those policies definitely changed under different rulers, I was interested to learn that the Roman Empire generally permitted a variety of different religious practices throughout its history. Roman military units practiced “religio” rites, which at times were manifested in worship of the emperor himself, and at times these were impossible for Christians to follow because they required the elevation of one’s loyalty and allegiance to the emperor over God. They also could, at times, require sacrifices to be offered to the god of the emperor at the time, which Christians regarded as prohibited.

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The overall “bend” of Roman religious history, which I understand more deeply because of Paul Stevenson’s book, was to support and allow diverse worship practices through religious toleration.

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Constantine had less toleration for dissent within Christian communities, however, he resorted to calling councils of bishops on multiple occasions to try and resolve disputes of theology and belief. The Nicene Creed, dates from the ecumenical council convened by Constantine in 325 A.D., and is still used by our Christian denomination as a foundational profession of faith. Because of the challenges of studying ancient history and particularly ancient personalities (even emperors) it’s difficult to have full confidence in any historian’s account of an individual’s temperament and personality traits. As Stephenson synthesizes the historical records about Constantine, however, it appears his ideas and opinions about Christian theology varied considerably depending on who his confidant(s) and trusted advisors were at the time. He was unable to force Christian leaders to “follow orders” and conform precisely to his will, as he could and did as a military commander, and resorted to ecumenical councils on multiple occasions to try and resolve differences of opinions and beliefs in Christendom. It is from this historical legacy “orthodox” Christianity emerged, and many of the articulated beliefs we (in the reformed Christian tradition) regard as foundational to our faith. I found it fascinating to learn more about these aspects of Christian history in this book.

History Can Be Tricky

One overall perception I took from Stephenson’s book is how extremely difficult and tricky it can be to seek “historical truth” among so many authors who were writing with overtly biased agendas (like writing an official history for a particular ruler / emperor) and the fact that many conquering emperors (including Constantine) sought to deliberately malign the historical records of their predecessors and opponents to expunge their legacy from history.

Constantine Was Not a “Good Guy”

Since he is credited as the Roman emperor who ushered in “the golden age” of Roman Christianity and originated “Christian orthodoxy,” I think Constantine is errantly regarded by some people as a hero and a “good guy.” He was not. Certainly Constantine was a consistent VICTOR in military battles, and this was the primary way he established his right to rule, claiming his victories proved that “the highest god” / the gods were on his side. Eventually he substituted “the Christian God” for Sol Invictus, the Roman Sun god, as the author of his divine blessing and right to rule. But we should not delude ourselves by overlooking facts of history or whitewashing the historical record as experts acknowledge with consensus. I was surprised to learn Constantine not only executed one of his wives (Fausta), he also killed one of his sons, allegedly because of an affair involving them both. Constantine was a brutal and effective military commander, which incidentally was historically a common denominator among most “successful” (relatively long lived) emperors of the Roman Empire. Of course my opinion here may incite criticism that we should not bring our twenty-first century moral sensibilities to bear in judging historical figures and specifically leaders from antiquity. We need to be aware of and acknowledge our own biases as well as beliefs in studying any topic, including history, but I think we are foolish to check our ethics and sense of morality at the door in these analyses.

Christianity Was Thriving and Diverse Before Constantine

One of the big misconceptions which Stephenson’s book addresses and debunks is the idea that Constantine’s embrace of Christianity was the primary factor in its “success” and growth throughout the Western world. While the official recognition of Christianity as the state religion in Rome, and in the Roman military, certainly did contribute in significant ways to its growth and popularity, Stephenson documents how Christianity was growing and thriving both inside and outside the Roman Empire before Constantine. It is important to note Christianity, even then, had a variety of sects / groups / theological adherents, which would eventually manifest after the Reformation in different denominations. As Christians seeking to follow Jesus Christ, we have always been a diverse and opinionated lot. We’ve never been just a single, “orthodox” religious group all “on the same page” which every element of belief or religious practice.

Constantine Co-oped Christianity to Serve His Imperial Purposes

This is perhaps one of the most important takeaways from Stephenson’s book and hopefully from anyone’s careful, historical consideration of Constantine: He was NOT a faithful follower of Jesus Christ throughout his life, and WAS a ruthless Roman emperor who co-oped the rituals, trappings and projected authority of the Christian faith to serve his own imperial purposes as an absolute monarch of a vast and diverse territory.

Here’s where the mythology and story of “The Battle of the Milvian Bridge” outside of Rome comes in. Stephenson clearly demonstrates not only by citing historical writings, but also the coins which were ‘struck’ / created by Constantine at different times and in different places throughout his rule to commemorate events and project his desired vision of the moment of himself as Rome’s supreme ruler, Constantine demonstrated a gradual, progressive move from pagan imperial worship to his own manufactured, Roman-state-supporting version of Christianity. In the stories which were spun by state sponsored historians, as well as later artists like Pieter Lastman’s 1613 painting, “The Battle of Constantine and Maxentius,” Constantine is portrayed as having a sudden conversion experience to Christianity, known as a literary plot technique called “peripety.” We must all beware, even today, not to fall under the misleading and openly manipulative spell of historians and artists who (often with deft artistic skill) portray the facts of history through not just “colored glasses” but rather through outright “distorted lenses.”

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Where I might have considered Constantine a heroic historical figure in the past, I do not consider him to be one now after reading this book. He certainly advanced important ideas and causes throughout the Roman Empire and world during his rule and life, and I do see how God worked through him in bringing us priceless articulations of our Christian faith like The Nicene Creed. But given his ruthless actions and nature, I would not consider Constantine to be a “hero of the Christian faith” or Christian tradition. To the contrary, I think Constantine perverted and usurped the powerful, authentic and original teachings of Jesus Christ and created an “orthodox institution” in the Catholic Church (as well as its subsequent iterations) which took the people of God / Christians / “the church” farther away rather than closer to an authentic understanding of Scripture, the nature of God, and our calling as God’s children.

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Roman Emperors Ruled From Outside Rome Too

I never took a course in high school or college specifically focused on just Roman history, so my background in this area is admittedly limited. I had, however, mainly conceived of Rome as the primary seat of power for the Western Roman Empire, and Constantinople s the primary seat of Eastern Power. However, Stephenson’s book revealed that throughout the centuries, Roman emperors made their palaces and seats of power in different parts of the empire. I was able to travel to Turkey on a two week bus trip in the early 1980s, but I’ve never been to some of the other places mentioned by Stephenson in this narrative about the life and legacy of Constantine. Among others, now I want to visit Trier (in Germany) and Nicomedia in northwest Turkey. I LOVE history and storytelling, and the idea that “places have stories to tell.” Reading this book has invigorated my desire to travel internationally more, and hopefully further deepen my own understanding of history including the Roman chapters which left ruins and artifacts that can still be studied today.

Vicars Were Roman Bureaucrats

At our Episcopal chapel services at school each week, I’m now used to prayers being offered and references being made to our ‘vicar.’ I learned that in the Roman empire, vicars were “officials subordinate to the praetorian prefects.” A substantial part of the “genius” of Roman government and a key to its relative long lasting history was the intricate bureaucracy which the state developed and maintained. It’s not a life changing fact, but I was very interested to learn more of the etymology of “vicar.”

Oaths of Allegiance

It’s very important to consider who we believe we owe and pledge our allegiance, both individually and collectively. One of the most important lessons I learned in Boy Scout Troop 74 in Manhattan, Kansas, growing up, under Scoutmaster Ray Hightower, was that we’re called to have our allegiance and loyalty first to God, then to country, then to state, community and family. I’m not saying family comes last, but I AM saying that God is FIRST and our nation / our Constitution is second.

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In Stephenson’s book =, I was very interested to learn that no pre-Constantine military oaths of allegiance which Roman soldiers were required to take and annually reaffirm survived antiquity. Stephenson explained that Christian pacifists as well as other Christ followers refused to pledge their highest allegiance to the Roman emperor above God, and this led to some of the persecutions of Christians in the pre-Constantine Roman world. By refusing to fight under arms or sacrifice to the gods of the emperor / the military, some Christians historically brought down condemnation and even death upon themselves. They were martyrs for the Christian faith. Christians refused to swear oaths of equal allegiance “to two masters.”

Infanticide of Female Babies Was Common in Ancient Rome

I didn’t know it was common for Roman families to kill female babies. Stephenson explains the value Christians placed on ALL loves, including female lives, was one of the factors contributing to its explosive growth in the years prior to Constantine’s rule.

The “Rain Miracle” of 168/169 AD

Before reading Stephenson’s book, I had never heard of “The Rain Miracle” of 168/169 AD during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Of course like all stories from history, we need to read this with “our filters on and up” for how tales are told and myths promulgated. Still, it’s a fascinating tale and would make a great children’s picture book. I wonder if anyone has made one?

“The Tetrarchy” which preceded the rule of Constantine

In yet another sign of my general historical illiteracy about ancient Rome, I hadn’t previously heard of (or remember hearing about “The Tetrarchy” in Rome which preceded the rule of Constantine. It’s fascinating to me that in some cases, Roman Emperors successfully utilized multiple rulers and both peer as well as subordinate authorities. The title “Augustus” was for the senior emperor / emperors, the title “Caesar” was for the junior emperors. Reading these chapters of history, it’s easy for me to have the names blur together, in part because I don’t have a mental picture (or much mental schema overall) to understand the described events and people in context. Still, my historical understanding and literacy of ancient Rome was deepened a little bit by Stephenson, in his references to The Tetrachy.

Christian Triumphalist Theology Contradicts Martyrdom

This is one of the most important points I think Stephenson makes convincingly in his book, and I probably should have elevated it far earlier in this post. The “Christian Triumphalist Theology” of Constantine, which we see shades of today in modern “Christian nationalism” in the United States, is contradictory to the lives and life claims of Christian martyrs. In the Constintinian / triumphalist view, God always intervenes in history to impose His will on the world. In the worldview of the Christan martyrs (as well as both orthodox and reformed traditional Christianity, from what I understand) God can and sometimes does choose to miraculously act in our lives to save, heal and redeem. However, God is not a ‘vending machine,’ and in His divine reality and nature He does allow both suffering and death, which can both bring Him glory and work out his ultimate purposes for humanity. These are big issues here: The existence of evil and faith in our God who is simultaneously omniscient and omnipotent is challenging both philosophically and theologically. I won’t comment further on these topics here, but definitely want to highlight this contradiction for the “Triumphalists” which Stephenson identifies.

Constantine: A Successful Book Burner

I’ve always found it fascinating to imagine what documents of heresy and unorthodox / forbidden writings might lie in the dark recesses of the Vatican Library. (I imagine it has dark recesses… perhaps it does not!) One of the works which is NOT in the Vatican Library or apparently anywhere else, because Constantine succeeded in his efforts to have all complete copies destroyed / burned, is “Against the Christians” by “Roman-Phoenician Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry of Tyre.”

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As I previously mentioned above in reference to Constantine’s toleration for non-Christian beliefs and practices, but intolerance for “unorthodox” Christianity, his rule over the Roman Empire was characterized by these challenging dynamics. I wonder if a full copy of “Against the Christians” will ever be uncovered in a European, Asian or African castle library or other archive, as the Waldseemüller map was in 1901?

Arias & Arianism

At some point, I may read further into the history of “Arias & Arianism.”

According to the current English WikiPedia entry for “Arius:”

Arius (256–336) was a Cyrenaic presbyter, ascetic, and priest best known for the doctrine of Arianism. His teachings about the nature of the Godhead in Christianity, which emphasized God the Father’s uniqueness and Christ’s subordination under the Father, and his opposition to what would become the dominant Christology, Homoousian Christology, made him a primary topic of the First Council of Nicaea convened by Emperor Constantine the Great in 325.

“Arius.” Wikipedia, 14 July 2021. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Arius&oldid=1033618333.

The prospect of studying Arianism to better understand orthodox and reformed Christianity reminds me a little of discussing “critical race theory” today in 2021, when that entire topic has been declared taboo by our state legislature in Oklahoma as well as in other states. To better understand a topic, idea or concept, it’s not just important but also VITAL to consider counter-arguments and objections others have raised and do raise to it today. So at some point, I’m going to learn more about Arianism.

Closing Reflections

If you’ve read this entire post up to this point, kudos to you. I’m writing this in part for myself, to better clarify and solidify my own learning from reading this book about Constantine by Paul Stephenson. But I’m also hopeful people I know or others just interested in this topic will find this post helpful, and if you’re in that category, please let me know by commenting on Facebook, leaving a comment on this post below, by reaching out on Twitter, or another electronic contact method.

Here are my closing reflections.

Reading this book makes me want to return to Turkey and Istanbul, but also travel in Italy, Germany, and other parts of the former Roman Empire. I can’t wait for COVID to end and (hopefully) my wife and I to have more opportunities for international travel.

On a more theologically serious note, reading this book draws into sharp relief the sad truth that Constantine and the architects of the Roman Catholic Church basically ignored the essential words and writings of Jesus Christ in developing an institution which was focused much more on social control and projecting support for the legitimacy of governing authorities than sharing the simple, transformative truth of the Gospel. Yes Constantine (in his subsequently legacy) made “Christianity the official religion of Rome,” and ended centuries of Christian persecutions. There are definitely good and valuable elements to those actions. Yet Constantine did those things at a tremendous cost, perverting and re-architecting for earthly goals the Gospel message and Truth of Jesus Christ. I am thankful for The Nicene Creed and the vital clarifications which the Council of Nicea and other ecumenical councils called by Constantine provided to counter basic heresies within early Christian faith traditions. I regret, however, that the Catholic church with its relics and associated superstitions, its prescription to pray to God through a member of the clergy rather than directly to God the Father through Jesus Christ, its focus on ornate and expensive cathedrals, its history of indulgences, its sponsorship of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the “conversion” of non-Europeans literally at sword point, and so much more.

Given all these misgivings about the history of “The Christian Church” post-Constantine, it might not come as a surprise that I’m eager to “lean further into my own theological roots” in the Protestant Reformation and the ‘reformed understandings of theology’ which resulted and continue to guide my life. I’ve really enjoyed and continue to enjoy worshipping in the Episcopalian traditions thanks mainly to our school chapel program, but it would be difficult for me at some point to altogether leave this “reformed Christian heritage” about which I feel and believe so strongly.

Finally, reading this book about Constantine and reflecting on the history which he shaped makes me want to continue DIRECTLY reading the Holy Scriptures of God’s Word, and continuing to seek the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit as I seek to know Him and understand the calling of His Son, Jesus Christ, on my life. I am awed by the arc of history and by our fortunate place in it today in 2021. I want to continue seeking and finding God at work in our world, to join Him in His ongoing struggle to bring the good news of Jesus Christ, with healing and wholeness, to our suffering world filled with darkness and beset by so many devils.

May God use us to further his kingdom and bring His light into all the dark places of this world.

The Origins of the Universe – Free Will and Quantum Mechanics

On July 10, 2020, I shared a lesson on “The Origins of the Universe – Free Will and Quantum Mechanics” for our Friday Morning Men’s Group at First Presbyterian Church of Edmond, Oklahoma, meeting virtually over Zoom. The video is 31 minutes long. The lesson was based on Chapter 3 of Francis Collins’ book “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.” This was a lesson I shared last year for our adult Sunday School class, “Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science.” Our focus Bible verse was Genesis 1:1-5.

‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. ‘

Genesis 1:1-5 (NIV)

The slides for this presentation are also available.

Genetic Editing and BioEthics (3 July 2020)

This morning I shared the lesson at our Friday Morning Men’s Group for First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. Because of COVID-19, we continue to meet “virtually” via Zoom each week. I recorded just the lesson portion of our hour meeting today, and it runs just under 30 minutes long.

Our scripture passages were:

Here’s the link to the TED Talk video I mentioned and recommend watching about CRISPR. It’s about 10 minutes long:“What you need to know about CRISPR | Ellen Jorgensen” (from 2016).


This video and others are included in this YouTube playlist
. Several other excellent videos from scientific / secular perspectives on CRISPR and Genetic Engineering in it. Check out the “Media” page of our Sunday School class website, “Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science” for additional related resources!

The slides from my presentation are available and also linked in the shared presentations folder on followjesus.wesfryer.com

Responding to George Floyd as Christians

Last Friday (June 5th) I shared a short lesson at our Friday Morning Men’s Group meeting for our church, which continues to meet virtually (via Zoom) because of COVID-19. A 21 minute recording of my lesson (NOT including our opening prayer / joys & concerns / devotional, breakout table talk time or closing sharing time / prayer) is linked below, along with the slides I shared.

This was and is an important conversation, and it was challenging to put together in-part because of the polarized society in which we live. Like our wider church family, our Friday Morning Men’s Group includes a cross-section of people with varying perspectives and opinions about politics and current events. Generally we do not directly address political topics in our group, we focus on Bible lessons and teaching. I believe it was appropriate and indeed vital that we talk about these issues together, however, and our ‘leadership team’ for our group which met on Tuesday had consensus on this.

I have not received much feedback on this lesson and these ideas yet, but the limited feedback I have heard surprised me. At least one member of our group found the opening article I shared, which was an op-ed written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to be offensive “hate propaganda.” (“Op-Ed: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Don’t Understand the Protests? What You’re Seeing Is People Pushed to the Edge.” Los Angeles Times, 31 May 2020. www.latimes.com, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-05-30/dont-understand-the-protests-what-youre-seeing-is-people-pushed-to-the-edge.)

My intention in starting with this article and reading directly from it was certainly not to share “propaganda” of any kind, and certainly not ‘hate propaganda.’ One of the last things I want to do with anything I say or share is to encourage hate or a perception that I am promoting hate. To the contrary, my purpose was to share Jesus and share love, and to encourage us all (myself included) to listen with intention to the voices of others in our community and nation so we can better understand and better ascertain how we can better understand and should respond in this time of upheaval.

I was surprised this article and these words from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were perceived in such a different way than I read and heard them, by at least some in attendance. My purpose was to share the perspective of an articulate and well-respected African-American / black American whose perceptions of both our society and culture, and the specific events involving George Floyd’s death, are different from my own. We all look at the world from own own vantage point. There is a great deal I do not understand about the world and about current events, but I definitely DO know that I can’t and don’t see the world the exact same way others do. This is not only true for my brothers and sisters of color, but also true for “other white men” who are hearing about and watching the same events happening in other parts of our country and world, as well as in our own community in Oklahoma City.

I am hopeful that in the not-too-distant future, there will be face-to-face opportunities to discuss these issues. I certainly had not planned (before last week) to present a Men’s Group lesson which would directly address race relations in our nation. This is not, incidentally, a topic which I feel overqualified to speak about publicly. But this was and is a situation and issue which we all need to discuss and process, and hopefully figure out how to explore together even when we disagree.

There is much to process here. I did not have time to share this video during our lesson on Friday, but I did include it in the slideshow and commented about it to the men in our group Friday. This is Pastor Jim Cymbala (of The Brooklyn Tabernacle in NYC) sharing a short, 3.5 minute mid-week message with his congregation about George Floyd’s killing and our responses as Christians. I heartily agree with his point that we must put our ultimate faith and trust in God, not in other human beings, in this time and always.

View this post on Instagram

A message from Pastor Cymbala

A post shared by The Brooklyn Tabernacle Church (@thebrooklyntabernacle) on

In addition, I want to share and commend two other videos. This first one is the panel discussion at our church from June 2nd with Larry T. Crudup of Tabernacle Baptist Church, Rev. Dr. Major Lewis Jemison of St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in OKC, and D. Lavel Crawford of Avery Chapel AME Church. Pastor Eric Laverentz from our church (First Presbyterian of Edmond) facilitated the conversation. This was an outstanding dialog and I plan to watch it again. Our family was able to watch it live at lunch together on Tuesday.

Finally, here is another panel discussion video about these issues, shared by Herman Stevenson, who is a member of our Friday Morning Men’s group and also participated in the panel. Panelists included Nathan Phifer, Herman (Steve) Stevenson, Jason Robinson, and Derrick Sier. Nathan’s purpose in organizing this panel was to build empathy and understanding among members of our Oklahoma City community.

6 Ways to Safely Serve Others During COVID-19

Yesterday our “Friday Morning Men’s Group” at our church met for the first time over a Zoom videoconference, which is the first time we’ve ever gathered virtually in the history of our group. Things went well overall. It was great to see and check in with everyone. We had about 30 of us in the conference I think, and everyone’s camera and microphone worked. We used a basic format, after an opening prayer we took turns sharing an update on a “silver lining” or challenge from our current time of “sheltering in place” at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. I was struck by a few things:

  1. A number of guys are struggling with the lack of social interaction and their empty schedules.
  2. Some men have already started taking advantage of virtual connection opportunities, reading daily from a novel to their grandchildren, for instance.
  3. Many are finding it difficult to have their grandchildren close by, but not being able to be with them / hug them / interact with them “in person.”
  4. Many are finding it difficult to not know how long this situation will go on, and are very eager to get back to “normal schedules.”

During the course of our videoconference and conversations, six things stood out to me as ways we can safely serve each other during COVID-19. There are clearly a LARGE number of needs we have within our group and in our larger communities. Finding tangible ways to serve and help each other during this disruptive time of crisis is important and can be a healthy addition to our schedules and lives.

1. Setup Virtual Family Dinner Connections

At least two of the guys in our group have already setup a “virtual family dinner” meeting via a Zoom videoconference. We did this with a friend and school colleague about a week ago, and it worked well. We connected to him via a Google Hangouts Meet videoconference on my iPad, and then put the iPad at our dinner table at the place where he’d sit if he was with us in person. Tomorrow for Easter Sunday, we’ve scheduled “dinner together” with my parents in Kansas and my sister and family in Missouri This reminds me of the Biblical exhortation we read in Hebrews 10:23-25:

‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. ‘

Hebrews 10:23-25

2. Invite Others to and Consider Leading a Small Group

The COVID-19 pandemic has moved us as individuals, families, and communities into a season for many new things. Remote learning for school, or closing schools. Staying at home with family perhaps more than ever, cooking and spending more time together. Finding more ways to share our resources with others in need, via non-profits like our Oklahoma City Regional Food Bank and Project 66 in Edmond.

I want to suggest it’s also the SEASON for virtual small group meetings. We have outstanding, free tools to facilitate small group interactions and meetings at a distance. These include FREE (40 minute or less) videoconferencing with Zoom, and Facebook Groups. While Zoom specifically has drawn a lot of recent, negative media attention for conference security problems, these have been addressed swiftly. If you have access to another collaborative videoconferencing platform or are willing to pay for one, by all means go for it. But if not, Zoom is a viable and good option for small group virtual meetings.

Our adult Sunday School Class, “Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science,” has continued to meet the past month as we’ve started “sheltering in place” as a city and a state. We’re meeting over a videoconference at our “regular time” on Sunday mornings between our church’s virtual worship services. We’re using both a private Facebook group and Google Classroom to share resources and updates. Our church’s recent move to “Realm Software” as a church-wide information system has empowered individual teachers (like me) to directly email and contact our group members. I don’t think our church small group connections should end with Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, however.

In addition to considering JOINING a virtual small group, I want to encourage you to consider STARTING one. Start a book club. You might do this by:

  1. Choosing a new book you want to read, or a book you love and want to share with others.
  2. Creating a Private Facebook Group, which you can moderate and control (both members and posts)
  3. Deciding on a weekly meeting time for your virtual book club.
  4. Creating a free account with Zoom, and creating a repeating meeting / videoconference at your desired time.
  5. Creating a REPEATING EVENT in your Facebook group, including the Zoom conference JOIN instructions.
  6. Inviting your friends and acquaintances to join your small group / book study.

As we each grow more comfortable and proficient at meeting over videoconferences, the number of available small groups will grow. Your group does not have to have a large number of members to be “successful” and beneficial, to both you and other members. Small groups should be all about connecting, relationships, interacting, as well as learning.

Step out and create your own small group, for a book study or other purpose. The ideas you discuss together with your small group members and the connections you make in upcoming weeks can be IMPORTANT pieces of the wellness / self-care plan we each need to not only survive but also THRIVE in this COVID-19 pandemic season.

3. Utilize Daily Devotion and Bible Reading Apps

We all can benefit from daily “quiet time” to pray, read scripture, meditate, and seek the voice of God. I have been using the free “Pray as You Go” app and website for the last couple years, and highly recommend it. Pray As You Go is a project of the Jesuits of Britain, Each day they post a 15 to 20 minute meditation which focuses on a different Bible verse or series of verses, which are repeated twice during each devotional.

Use a Bible reading app like the YouVersion Bible, which includes a variety of Bible Study reading plans, the ability to connect to others for prayer and encouragement, and videos from amazing Christian theology and evangelist media creators like The Bible Project. The verse of the day feature, the ability to highlight and share scripture verses, and even create Bible Verse InfoPics right within the app are fantastic and powerful ways to focus our minds above “on the things of God” when so many current events “down below on earth” seem chaotic and troubling.

4. Keep a Daily Written Journal

Journaling about your life, your day, your fears, your hopes, your dreams and other aspects of your thought life can be an extremely healthy and healing activity at any season of life. Particularly as we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic, something no one alive today has previously experienced, journaling can be a constructive and beneficial activity. When I was in college and after college graduation, I was an avid journal writer. Then sometime around 2003, I discovered blogging. “Writing in public” on a blog or via a social media platform can be beneficial in similar ways to keeping a private journal, but there are more complexities to digital, shared, interactive writing. When deciding whether or not you’ll keep a journal during COVID-19, remember the benefits of your writing times may not be limited to you. Your grandchildren and other descendants may read what you write this week! We are literally living through history, so why not document your journey in detail for your benefit and the potential future benefit of others?

5. Engage in Oral History Projects with Family Members

There’s no time like the present to start a family oral history project. A few weeks ago, I shared a one hour free webinar on “Family Oral History Projects” which was recorded and is now available on YouTube along with several others.

The full description of that March 19, 2020 virtual workshop was:

As parents, children, and teachers are staying at home practicing “social distancing,” it’s a perfect time to create family oral history projects! In this 60 minute, interactive webinar, Dr. Wes Fryer will share a variety of tools and strategies to conduct oral history interviews and create oral history digital stories which can be shared with your family and the world.

Description of “Family Oral History Projects” by Dr. Wesley Fryer

Who tells your story? You are the best person to tell it, and there’s no time like the present to get started.

6. Be a Digital Witness for Jesus

As Christians, we are called to not just share the story of OUR lives, but also the story of how GOD has moved and continues to move in our lives. Check out my 2020 book, “Pocket Share Jesus: Be a Digital Witness for Christ,” for more ideas and project suggestions about how to do this. The full book is available free online. It will be available for sale on Amazon soon.

BioEthics and Acting Like Jesus

Today I shared a lesson in our Sunday School class titled, “BioEthics and Acting Like Jesus.” We discussed and explored the appendix of Francis Collins’ book, “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief,” titled “The Moral Practice of Science and Medicine: BioEthics.” I recorded the audio from the lesson, and this evening edited the audio a bit and synchronized it to make a video I’ve shared on YouTube. In this blog post I’ll share that video, along with the lesson slides, our Bible focus verse for the lesson (Philippians 2:5-11) and additional, related books and videos I mentioned during class. These resources and others for our class, “Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science” are available on followjesus.wesfryer.com.

The video of recorded audio and synchronized slides for this lesson is 50 minutes and 20 seconds long.

Here are the slides from our lesson, which include embedded links to referenced videos and books.

Our focus Bible verse was Philippians 2:5-11:

‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ‘

Philippians 2:5-11

Some of the images of Jesus I used in this presentation are shared in the Google Arts and Culture article, “Representations of Jesus Christ in Art and Paintings.”

I mentioned and recommended Alec Ross’ (@alecjross) book, “The Industries of the Future,” during our lesson, and also mentioned his 3.5 minute video for Big Think in 2016, “Genome Mapping Will Expand Our Life Expectancies.”

I also mentioned (but did not play in class) Joe Hanson’s (@DrJoeHanson) 2017 video for PBS Studios show, “It’s OK To Be Smart,” (@okaytobesmart) titled “CRISPR and the Future of Human Evolution.”

In addition to genetic engineering, in vitro fertilization, and Somatic cell nuclear transfer, we also discussed a variety of “body enhancements” including Neil Harbisson, who “…is best known for being the first person in the world with an antenna implanted in his skull and for being legally recognized as a cyborg by a government.” I referenced the 2016 Business Insider article about Neil, “I talked with a real life cyborg, and now I’m convinced ‘cyborgism’ is the future,” and the included 4.5 minute video.

During our lesson I also mentioned a favorite book of mine, “Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology” by Neil Postman.

Next week we’re going to take additional time to discuss BioEthics, and most likely watch the 36 minute Braincraft video, “The Ethics of Gene Editing.”

During our lesson, I also mentioned the remarkable November 2019 PBS Frontline documentary, “In the Age of AI.” It’s two hours long, and I’m planning to spend one of our upcoming Sunday School lessons discussing it and watching a short excerpt. It’s possible I may be able to lead a multi-week study and discussion of this video over the summer, likely in June. AI is already reshaping some aspects of our society and the way we live, and it’s projected to transform even more in the years to come.

I hope these resources are beneficial for you as you learn more about bioethics and the topics addressed in this presentation. In addition to these resources, you can follow me on Twitter @pocketshare (my Christian channel) and @wfryer, (where I share things generally related to educational technology and learning.) You can also access my book, “Pocket Share Jesus: Be a Digital Witness for Jesus Christ” on pocketshare.pressbooks.com.

Responding to Possibilianism & Dr. David Eagleman: Knowing & Authority Beyond Science

As I’m continuing to teach and lead the class, “Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science” this year, I’m enjoying the YouTube recommendation engine (in moderation, of course) to help me discover other videos I can share and use in class as well as outside of class as ‘extra recommended media / videos.’ This morning YouTube helped me find Dr. David Eagleman’s (@davideagleman) 2016 presentation from PopTech, “GOD vs NO GOD – And the Winner Is?” It’s 20 minutes long. In the presentation, David makes some excellent observations about the awe and wonder with which we can (and perhaps should) regard our universe and our amazing human bodies, especially the human brain. He misses, however, some key perspectives about “knowing and authority beyond science,” however, and it is to those topics I want to turn in this post. Before going further, however, I recommend you watch his talk:

It’s good to be reminded of The Hubble Deep Field photograph, which is staggeringly beautiful and mind blowing in its implications for not only astronomy and science but also cosmology and faith. Created in 1995 as a composite image from a very small portion of the night sky using the Hubble Space Telescope, the Deep Field image powerfully conveys how vast our universe is, and how little we can literally glimpse of it from our position on earth on the outer rim of the Milky Way galaxy. It’s truly an awe-inspiring image that can be a catalyst for wonderful conversations about the origins of our universe and BIG questions of faith as well as science. How did we get here? Did God create all of this? How can we know about things like “Who created the universe” or “Why are we here?” “Are we alone in the vastness of space?” Science can encourage and provoke us to dive into these questions, but ultimately, there are a number of questions “modern science” (as we’ve learned to understand it the past 400 years of human history) can’t answer.

One of the lessons I’ve enjoyed sharing with my 5th and 6th grade students this year involves creating and sharing InfoPics. One of my 5th graders, Masha, commented to me last week how looking at images of the universe and our galaxy “makes her feel so small.” This is one of Masha’s InfoPics she shared on our class Seesaw blog. Her expressed sentiment is laden with cosmological and theological questions. It is to these questions as well I’d like to turn now.

In his video, ““GOD vs NO GOD – And the Winner Is?”, David Eagleman correctly points out the folly in dogmatically claiming that a creation story from any culture fully apprehends and describes the processes and observations of cosmology. Here are a few important elements he either omits or gets wrong in his talk about beliefs, science and the origins of our universe.

Creation Stories Were Not Crafted to Compete with a Scientific Worldview

David Eagleman conflates the Biblical creation story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with the Kuba Kingdom’s Creation story in the Congo. and his connections elicit laughter from his audience. The paraphrase of his message here is, “How can any rational human in the 21st century actually subscribe to such a patently incomplete and false story of cosmology?” Eagleman fails to grasp, or at least communicate to his audience in this 2016 presentation, that the Jewish creation stories (because remember, there are two of them in Genesis) were not formulated and should not be interpreted today to be comprehensive texts summarizing all that is known and needs to be known about cosmology (the origins of the universe). The Bible as a whole, and the Pentateuch specifically, are not “books of science.” Portraying Biblical cosmology as a “fail” because we have learned so much observationally about our universe in the past 400 years risks misunderstanding the value and purpose of these stories and literature. For more on these perspectives, I commend “The Bible Project” videos to you and specifically the six minute video, “The Book of Genesis – Part 1 of 2.”

Not All Faith Derives from Predominant Culture

David Eagleman misses another extremely important point about faith and belief in this talk, when he tries to explain to his audience how we understand where religion comes from. Eagleman asserts that predominant cultures imbue faith and belief, and this cultural transfer of cosmological perspectives is understandable from an anthropological / scientific perspective but not valid from the viewpoint of scientific truth. Eagleman’s observation can be more accurately stated this way: MANY people DO adopt their beliefs and faith perspectives from their parents, family, and predominant community culture. HOWEVER, some people “break” with their family and culture, and take on beliefs which are different and even bear a huge physical cost. The testimony of our former pastor, Mateen Elass, who grew up as a Muslim in Saudi Arabia and eventually came to faith at Stanford University after traveling to India and studying Buddhism intensely is a case that comes to mind. The faith of C.S. Lewis, who documented his journey from atheism to Christianity as a follower of Jesus in his book, “Mere Christianity,” also provides a counterpoint to Eagleman’s assertions about the origins of faith. Francis Collins, the leader of the Human Genome Project and author of “The Language of God,” grew up an agnostic but came to faith in Jesus. Orthopedic surgeon Curt Gruel, who spoke to our class on September 15, 2019, has a similar story of “being a disciple of science” but through his lived experiences coming to know and follow Jesus Christ. A couple weeks ago we heard from a Christian missionary working in Iran about the ways God is revealing himself to Muslims through visions and dreams today. Here’s the point Eagleman misses, and it’s very important when we discuss faith and cosmology. Not all faith and beliefs about God derive from a predominant culture / environmental pressures.

https://twitter.com/PocketShare/status/1179550552985878528

We Have Sources of “Knowing” Outside of Science

Another vital point which David Eagleman missed in his 2016 talk is the idea that as human beings, we have sources of “knowing” outside of science. Certainly science has tremendous value to us as a systematic way to not only understand our world but also creatively project our own ideas into it. Engineering is the application of scientific principles to design and build structures as well as solve problems. Your reading of this blog post right now is the result of technological innovation built on scientific principles and understanding. Yet the replicability of experimental conditions in a controlled setting / laboratory only provides PART of the ways we know and understand reality as human beings. Our ‘lived experiences’ can inform us and also reveal to us fundamental truths about our world, ultimate reality, and God. My own journey of faith, which included a dramatic ‘near death experience’ in undergraduate pilot training in the US Air Force, is a part of my own story and powerfully shaped my acknowledgement of and understanding of God’s reality in our world. Curt Gruel shared a similar “journey of faith” story with our Sunday School class in September. These experiences are not scientifically replicable in a lab setting where variables are tightly controlled. They are still, however, valid “ways of knowing” and point to the importance of understanding that “scientific knowledge is not the only type of knowledge which exists or points us to truth.”

Our Faith in God and Jesus is More than a “God of the Gaps” Understanding

One of the important points author and scientist Francis Collins makes in Chapter 4 of his book, “The Language of God,” is that Christian faith or any other faith in God as the creator of the universe should not hinge on a “God of the Gaps” understanding. In other words, we certainly DO regard the universe with awe. Our world IS still filled with mysteries which we do not understand, to the extent that we don’t have comprehensive or even “good” insights into the processes which define and explain phenomena we observe.

I’m not sure if there is a more generally acknowledged term for this, but it seems this dynamic throughout history has gone like this: “The more things we can NAME scientifically, the less space we have in our minds for God, his active role in our lives and world, and even His very existence.” In other words, as “the gaps” in our understanding of our world and universe have started to “fill in” through scientific inquiry and discovery in the past 400 years, we’ve (naively) convinced ourselves that we no longer need God. That God is a human, psychological and cultural creation. As Nietzsche said, “God is dead.” The Enlightenment and the scientific revolution which followed it have provided “science” as a replacement for religion and faith.

Thankfully, the God of our universe is not dead, and our perception of Him, our understanding of Him, and our faith in Him and his goodness need not hinge on a “God of the Gaps” understanding. Charles Darwin himself alluded to this in his concluding sentences in “The Origin of the Species,” when he observed:


“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”

Charles Darwin, concluding The Origin of Species, as quoted by Francis Collins in “The Language of God,” pp. 98-99.

In his 2016 PopTech talk about God and science, David Eagleman omits this important perspective that acknowledgement and understanding of, and faith in God, can be compatible with the rhetorical answer to scientific questions, “I don’t know.” One does not have to be a “Possibilianism,” to have and regularly express this kind of humility in the face of the universe’s mysteries. One can, in fact, be a Christian and follower of Jesus. Humility and acknowledging our inability to ever fully apprehend the fullness of God’s reality is, in fact, an essential in the Christian life.

‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ‘

Micah 6:8 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/MIC.6.8

Scientific Uncertainties and Discoveries Need Not Threaten Our Faith in God

Finally and importantly, David Eagleman omits the idea in his talk that scientific uncertainties and discoveries need not threaten our faith in God. This perspective was summarized well by Saint Augustine, who lived from 354 to 430 AD. He wrote:

“In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on the one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we to fall with it. “

Saint Augustine, “The Literal Meaning of Genesis,” translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor. Quoted by Francis Collins in “The Language of God,” page 83.

As David Eagleman encourages us in this 2016 video, we can and SHOULD be in awe of our universe and the mysteries it holds. We need not abandon faith and our belief in God, however, because we realize religious texts and Biblical stories fail to fully capture scientifically understood observations of and theories about our cosmology.

For more thoughts and resources related to these topics, I encourage you to check out the public website for our Sunday School class, “Curiosity and Questions: Faith and Science.” If you have feedback about this post or that site, you can leave a comment for me below, reach out on Twitter to @wfryer or @pocketshare, or use my online contact form.

Takeaways from Curt Gruel’s Presentation about Christian Faith from a Surgeon’s Perspective

Last Sunday during our “Curiosity and Questions: Jesus and Science” Sunday School class, Curt Gruel was our guest speaker. Curt is a very unique Christ follower. He was an orthopedic surgeon and the doctor in charge of the medical residents at OU Medical Center for years, and then went to seminary to (eventually) lead the “Heartpaths Spiritual Direction” program here in the Oklajoma City area. Curt has been my personal “spiritual director” for the past five or so years (at least since I was teaching STEM in Yukon Public Schools, before coming to Casady School) and is someone I deeply respect. Curt is also an artist, and has about 50 of his prints on virtual display at The Studio Gallery OKC. This Sunday (tomorrow) our class will be recapping Curt’s inspiring and theologically deep presentation from last week, so I thought I’d share the “tweeted takeaways” I shared during his presentation from my Christian Twitter channel (@pocketshare) and also provide a little summary analysis of ideas he shared or referenced in this post.

I created a “Twitter Moment” of the 9 tweets I shared during and immediately after Curt’s Sunday School presentation on my primary / professional Twitter account (@wfryer):

Here are some of the important concepts and terms Curt mentioned, which I plan to explore in a bit more detail in tomorrow’s Sunday School class recap:

  1. Empiricism
  2. Process Theology
  3. Biblical Inerrancy
  4. Johannes Kepler (We should reference both Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei)
  5. The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

To help us better understand the context and history of both theological and scientific thinkers as well as their ideas, I’ve started a timeline using the Knight Lab’s Timeline tool. I’ve titled it, “Faith and Science.” It is embedded below. I’ve started with five dates, the resurrection of Jesus Christ (33 AD), the fall of Jeruselem (70 AD), and the years of death for the three scientists mentioned above: Copernicus (1543), Kepler (1630), and Galileo (1642).

Responding to Stephen Fry’s Arguments Against God

Inspired by the sermon on September 1, 2019, at First United Methodist Church in Manhattan, Kansas, today our adult Sunday School class in Edmond, Oklahoma responded to a controversial and challenging video interview shared by Stephen Fry back in 2015. I recorded an 18.5 summary of our lesson today using Explain Everything on my iPad.

Here are the slides from today’s lesson, which include links to referenced videos and articles:

The video which we analyzed and responded to is, “Stephen Fry on God | The Meaning Of Life” from 2015:

Ian Paul points out in his article, “Stephen Fry and God,” that Fry was likely referencing a David Attenborough interview and video (“Sir David Attenborough’s view on Science & Religion – Life on Air“) from 2008 when he discussed the eye boring parasite.

Before closing our lesson today with “Joys and Concerns” and prayer, we watched Sean McDowell’s video, “How Do We Know God Is Good? 3 Reasons.” If you watch any of the videos linked and referenced in this post, this is the top one I recommend!

Bible Study Assisted by Google Home

This week Rachel and I have started a morning Bible study together, reading through the Gospel of John. This is something we’ve talked about doing for many months, but we finally decided to do it over the weekend. I think this was prompted, in part, by her sharing of her testimony / faith witness Sunday morning in our “Gospel Encounters” Sunday School class. As we read about the testimony of John the Baptist, I was reminded of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the fact that parts of the book of Isaiah (referenced in John 1:23) were included with the scroll fragments found at Qumran. I thought this discovery was made after World War II, but since we have a Google Home in the bathroom adjoining the room where we were sharing our study, I asked aloud, “Hey Google, when were the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered?” The Google Assistant replied with the dates, 1946-47. How cool to be able to verify information like that during our Bible study, just using my voice! It was like we had a digital librarian right on hand, standing by to readily answer our questions when needed!

‘This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?” “Well then, who are you?” they asked. “Are you Elijah?” “No,” he replied. “Are you the Prophet we are expecting?” “No.” “Then who are you? We need an answer for those who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?” John replied in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Clear the way for the Lord ’s coming!’” Then the Pharisees who had been sent asked him, “If you aren’t the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet, what right do you have to baptize?” John told them, “I baptize with water, but right here in the crowd is someone you do not recognize. Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal.” This encounter took place in Bethany, an area east of the Jordan River, where John was baptizing.’

John 1:19,21-28

Later, as we discussed the importance of having direct access to the Bible and these words from the disciple John, I mentioned Vatican II (“The Second Vatican Council”) in the context of the Catholic church making fundamental reforms in the way Mass is and was conducted. (The priests turned around to face the congregation instead of the altar and cross at the front of the church, and the mass changed from being shared in Latin to the local vernacular language of the congregation.) Again, I thought Vatican II took place during the 1960s, but I confirmed by asking Google Home… it was held from 1962 to 1965.

It’s wonderful to have access not only to the Internet, but to a search assistant via Google Home during Bible study!

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