Christianity 201

June 15, 2017

Investigating Jesus. A Lie?

I Cor 15:3 (NRSV) For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

by Clarke Dixon

Today we conclude our [weekly] series “Investigating Jesus” following the lead of cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace and his book Cold-Case Christianity. On this journey of we have considered

There is one more thing to look at which we have not addressed in depth yet. Though we can demonstrate that what was passed on by the early Christians was legitimately from the eyewitnesses of Jesus, what if they themselves were lying in the first place? What if the disciples stole the body, which would account for the empty tomb, and then made up the story about Jesus being raised from the dead? How do we know the disciples were not lying about Jesus’ resurrection?

J. Warner Wallace has experience with conspiracies which will help us answer this question. As usual, we are only scratching the surface here and I encourage you to read chapter 7 of Cold-Case Christianity. Wallace lists several characterizations of conspiracies:

  1. A conspiracy requires a small number of conspirators. The fewer conspirators there are, the easier it is to pull off a lie.
  2. A conspiracy requires great communication between the conspirators so that it is not broken up. This is why the police like to isolate people quickly.
  3. A conspiracy requires a short time span. To quote from Cold-Case Christianity: “The ideal conspiracy would involve only two conspirators, and one of the conspirators would kill the other right after the crime.”
  4. A conspiracy requires close friendships or “significant relational connections” so that one does not give the rest up.
  5. A conspiracy requires low pressure, because people will always tend to throw others under the bus to save their own bacon.

Do the disciples make good conspirators?

  1. There were too many of them. The eleven closest disciples are already too many. However, there were far more and according to Acts 1:15 there were 120 eyewitnesses all gathered together in one place following the resurrection. Additionally, Paul speaks in 1st Corinthians 15:6 of 500 eyewitnesses, “most of whom are still living”, (1 Corinthians 15:6 NIV).
  2. There was not the opportunity for great communication. The disciples eventually became scattered due to persecution and a drive to evangelize. Remember, this was the days of snail mail and “sail” mail. 
  3. The disciples kept to the story for the long haul, living out their lives dedicated to telling the “good news”.
  4. Some of the eleven close disciples did not know each other before Jesus called them to follow him. The 120 and the 500 mentioned earlier would undoubtedly have included many strangers.
  5. The disciples were persecuted and most of the “big names” were known to be martyred. You might point out here that people are willing to blow themselves up for the sake of religion, and so the martyrdom of the disciples does not necessarily point to the truth of what they were claiming. However, that is a very different thing. Modern day martyrs are not trying to knowingly keep a lie, but die for what they think is true. If the disciples were lying about the resurrection, then they would be dying for a lie. To quote Wallace: “While it’s reasonable to believe that you and I might die for what we mistakingly thought was true, it’s unreasonable to believe that these men died for what they definitely knew to be untrue.” Further, “None of these eyewitnesses ever recanted, none was ever trotted out by the enemies of Christianity in an effort to expose the Christian ‘lie’.”

We can also add that a conspiracy requires a desire to deceive. Why would the disciples want to be anything other than good Jews? They were waiting for the Messiah. If Jesus turned out to not be the Messiah, which would be the logical conclusion if the Romans killed him off, they would not turn him into one, they would go back to waiting for the real Messiah to show up. Something happened that convinced them that Jesus was and still is the real Messiah. They were so convinced they were willing to die for their conviction. What was that something?

Let us remember the “minimal facts” that are broadly agreed upon:

  • Jesus died on a cross and was buried.
  • Jesus’ tomb was found empty and no one ever produced His body.
  • Jesus’ disciples said they saw and interacted with Jesus resurrected from the dead.
  • Jesus’ disciples were so committed to their testimony that they were willing to die for it and they never changed their story.

What is the best explanation of that evidence? Keep in mind the things we have learned from Wallace; Jesus really died on the cross, the disciples did not hallucinate or imagine the resurrection,  the story of the resurrection went back to the disciples and was not a fabrication by later Christians, the disciples were not conspiring together and lying about the resurrection. So what accounts for all the evidence? The best explanation of the evidence is also the key reason the disciples knew that Jesus was the Messiah even though he was killed; He rose from the dead.

One More thing we learn from Wallace as we conclude this series. It is important to go “from belief that to belief in.” Christianity is not just a belief that Jesus rose from the dead, it is a belief in the fact that Jesus is Lord and Saviour as demonstrated in his rising from the dead. It goes beyond a changed opinion on one thing, Jesus’ resurection, to a changed perspective on everything. It goes beyond an intellectual assessment of the facts, to an emotional engagement with the One who is the Truth. It goes beyond a belief that God exists, to a knowledge that God loves and loves you. It goes beyond knowing in your head that Jesus is alive, to knowing in your heart that you need God’s grace. J. Warner Wallace as an atheist followed the evidence as one who knows how to follow the evidence. It changed his life. Will it change yours?

June 8, 2017

Investigating Jesus: A Reliable Bible

by Clarke Dixon

How do we know the Bible has not been changed?

During an investigation there is a danger that valid evidence can get mixed up with things which do not point the investigator in the right direction. J. Warner Wallace in his book Cold-Case Christianity tells of a cigarette butt collected as evidence for a murder case which was used by the defence to cast doubt upon the guilt of the defendant. His DNA was not found on the cigarette. However, that cigarette was collected as evidence simply by being within the area marked out by the police. Had the police marked out the crime scene a few feet shorter on one side, it would not have been considered at all. It was irrelevant to the case. Such things are known by investigators as “artifacts”, which can also include things like materials left by paramedics or footprints of the first people on the scene.

When it comes to the Bible, how do we know that the evidence has not been contaminated with “artifacts”? Before the invention of the printing press in the 1400’s the books of the Bible were copied by hand, again and again and again. How do we know that they were copied accurately? How do we know that the wording has not been changed as copies are made from copies of copies of copies . . .?

We have good news in that we can answer that question with great certainty; Yes, we do know that changes have occurred. Not what you expected from a Bible believing Baptist pastor I’m sure, but it is true. Look to the bottom of most modern English translations and you will see footnotes that say things like “other ancient authorities read. . .” Yes, there are “artifacts” which have found their way into the genuine evidence.

While knowing that artifacts have mixed into the evidence may not sound like good news to you, we do have some better news to share; we have so much material to work with, we are able to determine how the texts have been changed. We have the tools and the materials to help us separate the artifacts out from the evidence. Rather than asking if the texts have been changed, we can ask when and why in an effort to reconstruct the originals. This is a process called textual criticism. To do this scholars consider the external evidence, for example, comparing the age of manuscripts. They also examine the internal evidence, that is, the choice of words within the manuscripts. To give an example, let us consider a verse from two different translations:

And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 1 Corinthians 11:24 (KJV emphasis mine)

. . . and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:24 (NIV)

The words “Take, eat” are not in most modern translations because scholars have determined that they are, to use Wallace’s language, “artifacts” that don’t belong. The manuscripts lacking those two words are older and considered to be more reliable. That is the external evidence. Also, those two words are found in Matthew’s account (Matt 26:26) of the Lord’s Supper. It is not hard to imagine a scribe at some point adding those two words as a result of being familiar with Matthew’s Gospel. That is the internal evidence. Copies made from that copy, and all the copies to follow would also contain that “artifact”. Copies made before that change, and copies within a different “family” of copies would not.

When it comes to the New Testament Greek texts, we have thousands of manuscripts to compare, not to mention translations into other languages, quotations in the writings of Christians over the first few centuries, and early lectionaries. This process of determining the most original wording is something that is done with all ancient texts. however, when it comes to the New Testament, there is a far, far greater amount of manuscripts to work with. Also, the gap time-wise between the originals and the copies we have is so much smaller. The process called textual criticism gives us great confidence in the reliability of the Bible. To quote Wallace:

The same process that revealed to me (as  skeptic) the passages that couldn’t be trusted also revealed to me (as a believer) the passages that can be trusted. Textual criticism allows us to determine the nature of the original texts as we eliminate the textual artifacts. This should give us more confidence in what we have, not less. (J. Warner Wallace Cold-Case Christianity )

We have more good news. Even if we left all the artifacts in place, we would still come to the same conclusions and the same convictions. In investigating Jesus, you could go with the “artifact” every time and you would still have the same Saviour saying and doing the same things, including dying and rising from the dead. The variants are all minor things, mainly spelling and the like. Theology is never affected. I first learned of this fact, not at seminary, but from the head of the classics department at a liberal arts university where I did my undergraduate studies and began my journey of learning to read the New Testament in Greek.

How do we know that the New Testament is reliable given how often the writings had been copied over the years? Textual criticism points to the reliability of the scriptures. Theology also points to the reliability of the Bible. On this Sunday of Pentecost we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit. In reading through the book of Acts we see God being very involved in even the very details of how the Good News of Jesus was being shared. If God is so involved in such details for His Kingdom purposes, He is not going to allow His Word to be lost or corrupted!

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)

If all scripture is God breathed, we can depend on it being God protected also. When we study the Biblical texts using textual criticism in the same way we study other ancient works, we discover that the texts are reliable. We are not surprised, for so is God.

Today we have continued in our series “Investigating Jesus” to follow the lead of cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace in looking at the evidence for Jesus. As per usual, we have only scratched the surface here and I encourage you to read chapter 6 of  Cold-Case Christianity called “Separating Artifacts from Evidence”.


Read the whole collection of these articles at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

June 1, 2017

Investigating Jesus: Attention to Detail

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God ~ Mark 1:1a

by Clarke Dixon

The Gospel of Mark was not written by an apostle, by someone who was actually there for the events described. Why wouldn’t God have directed someone like Peter, who was there, to write a Gospel instead? Can we trust that Mark is preserving eyewitness testimony about Jesus when he was not an eyewitness himself?

Early Christian writers tell us that Mark’s Gospel basically was Peter’s eyewitness testimony. We have been investigating the evidence for Jesus following the lead of cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace, and his book Cold-Case Christianity. To summarize Wallace’s findings on what was said about the Gospel of Mark:

  • Papias (70-163), the bishop of Hierapolis said “Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ.”
  • Irenaeus (115-202) said “Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.”
  • Justin Martyr (103-165) referred to the Gospel of Mark as an early “memoir” of Peter.
  • And finally, Clement of Alexandria (150-215) said that those who heard Peter preach “were not satisfied with merely a single hearing or with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, who was a follower of Peter and whose Gospel is extant, to leave behind with them in writing a record of the teaching passed on to them orally.”

But why should we trust these early Christian writers? Is there any way to verify that what they say about Mark and Peter is true? J. Warner Wallace encourages us to pay attention to detail, or as the title of chapter 5 has it, “Hang on Every Word.” Wallace gives an example of a case where an ex-boyfriend said of a victim, “I was sorry to see her dead.” Though this may have been his normal way of expressing himself, it led the investigators to put some focus on him as a suspect. Eventually enough evidence was found to convict him of the murder. The words we use are important. To quote Wallace:

. . . all of us choose the words we use, and we’ve got lots of words to choose from. Our words eventually give us away. (J Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity)

As an atheist Wallace began paying attention to detail in the Gospels:

I had been interviewing and studying suspect and eyewitness statements for many years before I opened my first Bible. I approached the Gospels like I would any other forensic statement. Every little idiosyncrasy stood out for me. Every word was important. The small details interested me and forced me to dig deeper. (J Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity)

So what did Wallace find? We are only scratching the surface here and you may prefer to get the greater detail found in  Cold-Case Christianity. But by way of summary, Wallace points out the following:

  1. Peter is a major character in Mark’s gospel: Mark refers to him 26 times in a much shorter account than Matthew who only mentions him 3 extra times. He is the first and last to be mentioned.
  2. Mark writes about Peter as a friend, as someone with whom he was familiar. For example, only Mark never refers to Peter with the more formal “Simon Peter”.
  3. Mark treats Peter kindly, gives him respect. Mark does not include Peter’s failure when Jesus walked on water. Where other Gospels speak of Peter saying something foolish, in Mark, it is always just “one of the disciples”. Mark gives the least embarrassing account of Peter.
  4. Mark shares little things only Peter would know. Mark alone shares many additional and “seemingly unimportant details”, like when Peter was the one who said or did something whereas the other Gospels just refer to some of the disciples in general.
  5. Mark seems to know a lot about Peter’s preaching. It is interesting to compare Mark to Peter’s preaching in Acts 2 and 10 which feel like outlines for the book of Mark.

When paying attention to detail Wallace discovered that the Gospel of Mark points to the validity of what ancient Christian leaders said; Mark preserves for us the eyewitness testimony of Peter.

We can note also that later “gospels” written in the second century to promote gnostic thinking were always clearly attributed directly to apostles. The writers knew their fabrications would carry no weight if the name of an apostle was not attached. Contrast this to the Gospel of Mark where the early church preserved the knowledge of Mark’s authorship even though he himself was not an apostle. This speaks to the genuine nature of Mark’s Gospel which was written during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses.

Now that we are into our sixth week of investigating the evidence, you may be asking at this point; “Why do we need to provide evidence for such things? Why this whole sermon series?” Here are four reasons:

  1. Commandment. In 1st Peter 3:15 we are instructed to “always be ready to give the reason for the hope that you have.” We are learning from Wallace that we have good evidential reasons to continue growing in our hope even when objections are raised.
  2. Confidence. When people insinuate or state that “Christians are naive and stupid” we can have confidence that to trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour is neither naive, nor stupid, but reasonable. We may not count ourselves among them, but there are brilliant thinkers, experts in many different fields of study, who are followers of Jesus.
  3. Correction. If we as Canadians travel to another nation and someone asks how we like living in igloos, we would naturally correct them. How much more should we be correcting false ideas about Jesus!
  4. Call to Repentance. There are many methods of evangelism, and God uses many different means of drawing people to Himself including wonder, tragedy, testimony, Scripture, preaching, and even dreams. God also uses the investigation of the evidence!

Track Clarke’s articles on the current series on Cold Case Christianity at ClarkeDixon.wordpress.com

May 25, 2017

Investigating Jesus: Untampered Evidence

by Clarke Dixon

In objecting to Christianity many people cite a lack of trust that the evidence has been handled well and has not been tampered with. The “telephone game” is raised as an example of how things get changed when passed from one person to another so that you cannot trust the final message to be the same as the original. So how do we know that the Christian message has not changed over time from the original? How can we trust anything we hear about Jesus from the New Testament?

J. Warner Wallace points out that with policing there is a “chain of custody” which exists to ensure evidence is properly documented and protected. There is a paper trail documenting all the people who have ever handled it, with policies and procedures in place, all to ensure that jurors can trust they are indeed presented with the facts. The evidence cannot be tampered with. So can we identify a “chain of custody” with respect to the New Testament and the Christian message? Wallace has done the hard work for us in identifying at least three different “chains” which link the New Testament as we now have it to the original apostles. I will refer you to Wallace’s book, Cold-Case Christianity where he treats these with much greater detail, but to summarize:

  • John’s students confirm the accuracy of the Gospels: John taught Ignatius and Polycarp who taught Irenaeus who taught Hippolytus who lived 170-236 AD.
  • Paul’s students confirm the accuracy of the Gospels: Paul taught Linus and Clement of Rome and then we have Evaristus, Alexander 1, Sixtus, Telesphorus, Hyginus,Pius, Justin Martyr and then Tatian.
  • Peter’s students confirmed the accuracy of the Gospels: Peter communicated through Mark who taught Anianus, and then we have Avilius, Kedron, Primus, Justus, Pantaenus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Pamphilus of Caesarea and then Eusebius who lived 263-339 AD.

These “chains” represent three different parts of the Mediterranean world, with John’s chain running through Asian Minor, modern-day Turkey, Paul’s running through Rome, and Peter’s running through Northern Africa. In each of these locations and through time we find the same message consistently communicated with the New Testament works quoted or referred to often. Wallace points out that if we did not even have a New Testament, we could piece together the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in quite a lot of detail just from what these “Church Fathers” tell us.

As I had done a joint-major in Classical Studies I was intrigued by Wallace’s mention in this chapter of Herodotus and Thucydides. These two authors from antiquity, and many others like them, are used by classical historians in piecing together ancient history. Now the historians may or may not agree that Herodotus and Thucydides are accurate in their respective telling of history, but it is important for us to note that historians do not cast much doubt at all upon the fact that they are reading the works of Herodotus and Thucydides. Remarkably, there is no chain of custody to which we can turn to verify that these sources have not been tampered with. We can not refer to the the writings of the students or of the students of the students and so on of either Herodotus or Thucydides. And yet, no one ever brings up the “telephone game” as a reason we should suspect these books as we have them now to be fabrications or distortions of the originals. It seems obvious that many people develop a hyper-skepticism when it comes to the New Testament.

Skepticism is a very good thing. It keeps us from being naive, from believing things we ought not to. Skepticism can keep us from believing false witnesses who are trying to pull the wool over our eyes. However, hyper-skepticism is a bad thing. If all judges and jurors fell into hyper-skepticism, justice would be obstructed and many a guilty person would go free. Evidence would never be trusted as authentic. So why is it that a healthy scepticism with regard to ancient works turns to hyper-skepticism with regard to the ancient works that make up the New Testament? It goes back to Genesis 3 when Satan used his first and best tactic, saying to Eve: “Did God really say?” He continues to inspire a God denying hyper-skepticism in our day.

The apostles knew that God really was speaking into the world through Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection. They, and all their students knew the great importance of handing truth on correctly:

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand,  through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 (NRSV emphasis mine)

From a historical perspective, there is a wonderful “chain of custody” which gives us confidence that the New Testament and all that is said in it has been preserved well and untampered for us. From a theological perspective, of course there is a chain of evidence. God, having gone to such lengths to love us, would not allow his love to be hidden by layers of deceit. Do you need to read the New Testament with a new appreciation that it is genuine and untampered evidence?


Track Clarke’s articles on the current series on Cold Case Christianity at ClarkeDixon.wordpress.com

May 18, 2017

Investigating Jesus: Good Witnesses

by Clarke Dixon

[This is part of a continuing series, scroll back here to previous Thursdays, or read the posts at Clarke’s blog.]

The case is strong. As lead detective you have uncovered all the evidence and drawn the best conclusions. Eyewitness testimony is a key part of the evidence. But what if the jury members do not trust the witnesses? Why should they believe them? As the investigator you already have confidence in the eyewitnesses because you have already asked the important questions to establish trust.

When it comes to investigating Jesus, why should we trust the eyewitnesses? As we continue the journey of following the lead of cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace let us consider four key questions which Wallace says must be asked about eyewitnesses. Here again, we are only scratching the surface, please see Wallace’s book Cold-Case Christianity, where each question is the topic of an entire chapter. So what four questions are to be asked?

Were the eyewitnesses actually there?

Some who would love to discredit the eyewitnesses and strike their testimony from the investigation will claim that the writings of the New Testament, including the four Gospels were written far too late to contain any valid eyewitness testimony. However, if we can determine that they were written close to the events, then we can have confidence the eyewitnesses would have had the opportunity to review them, or be involved in the writing of them. So are there reasons we should consider the books of the New Testament as being written early? Though not Wallace’s full list, here are a few things to consider:

  • The siege and destruction of Jerusalem including the destruction of the Temple is not mentioned in the works of the New Testament beyond a prophecy of Jesus. There are plenty of times where one would expect such to be mentioned. The simplest explanation for such absence is that these writings predate the Fall of Jerusalem in 70AD, and so while the eyewitnesses of Jesus are still alive.
  • Luke, who wrote the history-focused book of Acts never mentions the deaths of Peter, Paul, or James in the 60’s AD. Since Luke would have been keen to point to their martyrdoms as examples of how they picked up their crosses and followed Jesus, it is reasonable to conclude that Luke wrote Acts before their deaths.
  • As you can tell from his opening words in each, Luke wrote his Gospel before he wrote Acts, and so during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses. It is widely agreed that the Gospel of Mark was written before that of Luke.
  • Paul’s speaks of the eyewitnesses as being still alive to corroborate the testimony in 1st Corinthians 15:6

Can we verify what the eyewitnesses have said in some way?

Is there any corroborating evidence to show that the eyewitness testimony is genuine? Or does the evidence suggest that it is fabricated? Here are some things to consider:

  • Wallace points to the “unintentional eyewitness support” which he encounters in crime cases. These happen one witness unintentionally says something that answers questions that another witness has raised. Wallace gives many examples, but here is one: We might wonder from reading Matthew 4:18-22 why Simon Peter and Andrew simply get up and follow Jesus. We learn from Luke 5:1-11 that Jesus had previously been fishing with them and was the cause of a miraculous catch of fish. Of course they get up and follow when he calls!
  • There is a genuine feel to the testimony with the little discrepancies in the stories which you expect when people remember the same events, but from different perspectives. For an example of how people remember the same things slightly differently, ask someone how long this week’s sermon felt! If every person in church that day answered with 53 minutes and 12 seconds, you you would suspect a collusion and a memorized answer. Genuine witnesses do not need to memorize what they know to be true. Discrepancies are a mark of authenticity.
  • The Gospels were written from different parts of the Roman Empire. However, they all reference names which are appropriate to the location of Palestine in that time. This is an extra piece of evidence that the Gospel writers know what they are talking about.
  • Other writers, both Jewish and non-Jewish make reference to Jesus, and while they are sceptical about the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead, they do confirm the kinds of things that were being said about Jesus whether they liked it or not.

Have the eyewitnesses changed their story over time?

You don’t want to trust witnesses who change their stories. Did the followers of Jesus say one thing early on, then something quite different later? Some things to consider:

  • The evidence points to the students of the eyewitnesses as being trustworthy in keeping and handing on their testimony. We will look at this next week.
  • Through something called “textual criticism” we can be quite certain about the reliability of the texts which we have. This will be covered two weeks from now.
  • The Jewish people were very good at keeping important records. The Christian Church inherited this passion for integrity in guarding the truth.

To sum this point up, the apostles never changed their tune despite pressure to do so, and the early Christians kept right on playing the same tune.

Do the eyewitnesses have a reason to lie?

Does the evidence suggest that the apostles were simply telling what they knew to be true, or did they have some motive to conspire together in a lie? Consider:

  • Wallace points out that the three key motives for being involved in a crime revolve around money, sex, or power. The apostles did not stand to gain in any of these things, in fact they stood to lose their lives for sticking to their testimony that Jesus was risen.
  • Some would say that we should not even consider the testimony of the apostles, for they had become Christians, and their testimony therefore is biased toward a “Christian slant.” Of course they were biased. They became biased because of what they saw and knew to be true. To not admit their testimony would be like not admitting the testimony of a witness because they were now biased regarding the guilt of the person they saw commit a murder. To quote Wallace from Cold-Case Christianity: “The disciples were not prejudicially biased; they were evidentially certain.”

Jesus called the apostles to fulfill the role of witnesses:

After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. . . . He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts 1:3,7,8 (NRSV emphasis mine)

While we often apply this text to all Christians, we should not lose sight of the fact that Jesus is talking specifically here to the apostles. They were to fulfil the role of witnesses, telling everyone they knew, and everyone they didn’t know, about what they had seen and knew to be true. In the writing of the documents that make up the New Testament, their testimony has been preserved. They are still eyewitnesses down to this day. They are good witnesses, of some very very Good News! What will you do with their testimony?

 

 

May 11, 2017

Investigating Jesus: Jury Duty

by Clarke Dixon

Let us return to the example of a crime we have been considering the last two weeks when you were called out as a detective to investigate the circumstances of my death. You have all the evidence, you have come to the best explanation, your prime suspect is now in custody and the prosecution is ready to go to trial. The evidence is overwhelming and the case is strong. You have determined that my neighbour murdered me for my chocolate. You are confidant that justice will be served. However, it could all go wrong. The jury could obstruct the search for truth!

We are continuing our journey of learning from cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace how to investigate the evidence with respect to the reality and resurrection of Jesus. While tracking along with the chapters of Cold-Case Christianity for Kids (keeping pace with the children of our Sunday School who are also on this journey), today we are leaving the script a wee bit to include some material gleaned from Wallace’s podcasts. Again, I refer you to J. Warner Wallace himself to dig deeper, and please be aware that not everything you read here in this adaptation necessarily reflects his opinions.

So how is it, that having built a strong case for the conviction of your prime suspect, the jury can get in the way of the search for truth? There is a process of jury selection which is very intentional to ensure that this does not happen. The defence and the prosecution alike want to select those jurors who will handle the search for truth well. Let us consider what kind of people you do not want on the jury.

You will not consider someone a very good seeker of truth and able to serve on the jury if they will only consider one kind of evidence. In the case of my death, what would happen if someone served on the jury who trusted no one, even the police and detectives working the case? However, perhaps they once worked at a coroner’s office and having learned to trust coroners will accept coroner’s reports as good evidence. If a juror only considered a coroner’s report as valid evidence, my murderer would go free. The jurors need to consider all kinds of evidence. J. Warner Wallace points out that in cold-cases jurors need to be able to consider circumstantial evidence and not just direct evidence.

Is this important in the search for truth in religious perspective? Yes! I have often heard said things like “only science can teach you anything.” If this were true then most of what we know about history is lost to us, not to mention that many bad people would go free instead of spending time in the justice system. You would not consider someone fit for jury duty if they will only consider one type of evidence. You do not want to be that kind of person when it comes to investigating Jesus.

You will not consider someone a very good seeker of truth and able to serve on the jury if they are fixated on only one piece of evidence. Returning to my death, suppose a juror was herself a recovering chocoholic and could only think of the empty chocolate wrappers on the table once it has been presented as evidence. She does not consider the gun or the gunshot wound. My murderer will go free. Convictions are most often dependent upon cumulative evidence, that is, jurors need to consider all the different pieces of evidence.

Is this important in the search for truth in religious perspective? Yes. Sometimes people can get fixated on one piece of evidence. Consider, for example, how some people think that if the process of evolution is proven to be correct, then Christianity is proven to be wrong. Conversely, others think that if evolution is proven to be wrong, then Christianity is proven to be correct. Thinking back over the last two Sundays, did you notice something as we considered evidence for the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus? Evolution was never mentioned! Pinning your evidence for God on evolution is like fixating on the empty chocolate wrappers. It may be that by fixating on the evolution debate people are making the case for a method of interpretation of Genesis rather than for the reality of God. The case for God is a cumulative case, there is much more evidence to consider. You would not consider someone fit for jury duty if they will only consider one piece of evidence. You do not want to be that kind of person when it comes to investigating Jesus.

You will not consider someone a very good seeker of truth and able to serve on the jury if they think they must be an expert on everything before they can have an opinion on anything. In the case of my death, a jury may hear testimony from an expert on guns who presents evidence that the bullet found in me was found moments before in my neighbour’s gun. If a juror thought something like “I don’t know enough about guns and bullets to trust that  the expert is correct,” my murderer would go free. Jurors need not be experts in everything, and in fact, having access to all the evidence are in a better place to come to a conclusion than the experts.

Is this important in the search for truth in religious perspective? Yes. Some people simply shrug and say “I can never know enough about cosmology or philosophy or anyotherology to be able to figure out if God exists and Jesus is alive, so I won’t bother to find out.” This is not rocket science. You don’t need to be an expert on everything to know something, or better, Someone. You would not consider someone fit for jury duty if they think they must be an expert on everything before they can have an opinion on anything. You do not want to be that kind of person when it comes to investigating Jesus.

You will not consider someone a very good seeker of truth and able to serve on the jury if they think that every question must be answered. Suppose all the jurors are ready with a guilty verdict against my neighbour except one who says “I can not commit to a conviction because I still have an unanswered question. How much chocolate did Clarke actually eat the day of his death?” A question goes unanswered and a murderer goes free. Not every question needs to be answered in the search for truth and a conviction.

Is this important in the search for truth in religious perspective? Yes. We can get hung up on one or two questions while the weight of the evidence goes unnoticed. This happens especially with the problem of evil and the question of how a good God could allow evil to persist. There are ways of dealing with this question, but even if we have trouble answering the question, we still have the weight of the evidence for God and the resurrection of Jesus to consider. You would not consider someone fit for jury duty if they think every question must be answered. You do not want to be that kind of person when it comes to investigating Jesus.

You will not consider someone a very good seeker of truth and able to serve on the jury if they are fixated on finding proof beyond every possible doubt. Suppose all the jurors are ready to deliver a guilty verdict on my neighbour except one. He says “I can not commit to the guilty verdict. It is possible that aliens stole the chocolate and set up the neighbour as the murderer so they would remain undetected.” And a murderer goes free. Jurors are instructed to bring a conviction, not when it is beyond every possible doubt, but beyond a reasonable doubt.

Is this important in the search for truth in religious perspective? Yes. For some people, when it comes to God no amount of evidence will be enough evidence. They are looking for proof beyond every possible doubt. If being beyond a reasonable doubt is enough to send someone to jail for a long time, then it should be enough to draw conclusions with regards to religious perspective. You would not consider someone fit for jury duty if they are looking proof beyond every possible doubt. You do not want to be that kind of person when it comes to investigating Jesus.

You will not consider someone a very good seeker of truth and able to serve on the jury if they really, really, really want a certain outcome to be true. You would not want my neighbour’s wife to serve on the jury. She may care more about having her husband home than where the evidence leads. Or perhaps she will be bent on ensuring a conviction!

Is this important in the search for truth in religious perspective? Yes. Some people do not want Christianity to be true and so do not want to hear about the evidence. Consider the story Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man asks Abraham to warn his brothers of what awaits them after death:

Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ” Luke 16:29-31 (NRSV)

They will not listen because their minds are already made up. You would not consider someone fit for jury duty if they really want a certain outcome to be true. You do not want to be that kind of person when it comes to investigating Jesus.

Would you be considered for jury duty? Are you a genuine seeker of truth open to considering where all the evidence leads? If not you may miss out on a very important conviction. The conviction that God loves you.

Read today’s and other articles by Clarke at ClarkeDixon.wordpress.com

May 4, 2017

Investigating Jesus: Evidence and Explanations

by Clarke Dixon

What explanation best fits the evidence? We are continuing the journey we began last week of learning from cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace how to investigate the evidence with respect to the resurrection of Jesus. We are looking today at how to infer to the most reasonable explanation from the evidence.

Let us return to the example of a crime we considered last week when you were called out to investigate the circumstances of my death. Let us review the evidence:

  • My love for chocolate is well known.
  • I was found slumped over a table covered with empty Easter chocolate wrappers.
  • The coroner’s report indicated elevated levels of chocolate in my blood.

Based on the evidence thus far you figure your hunch was correct. This is not a murder scene and I died from chocolate poisoning. However, you discover a new piece of evidence:

  • I have a gunshot wound which the coroner confirmed was the cause of death.

You quickly drop your first explanation knowing that it can not adequately explain the new evidence. Perhaps the best explanation now, is that my wife murdered me for eating her chocolate. However, more new evidence is found:

  • Witnesses confirm that my wife was at a quilting show the day of my death.
  • A gun was found nearby the house with the finger prints of a man known to be a very angry and unstable man who had recently refused treatment for a sever case of chocoholism.
  • Witnesses reported seeing that same man leave my house shortly after shots were heard.

Now let us review the possible explanations that you have come up with at various points along the investigation:

  1. I died from chocolate poisoning.
  2. My wife was mad at me for eating her chocolate and shot me.
  3. I was murdered by my neighbor who wanted my chocolate.

Now which is the best explanation?  Unlike the first two explanations, your third explanation, fits with all the evidence. It has the best explanatory power, and therefore my neighbour is now the prime suspect. What you have just done is infer the most reasonable explanation from the evidence, or what is technically known as “abductive reasoning.”

We do this quite naturally, in fact the disciple known as “Doubting Thomas” likely did this:

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” John 20:24-25

When the disciples tell Thomas that they saw Jesus risen from the dead, he likely considered the evidence standing in front of him, the disciples saying they saw Jesus alive, and considered the best explanation was that they had all lost their marbles. But given some new evidence, being able to see and touch Jesus for himself, a different explanation came to be the best one:

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:26-28

Based on all the evidence, Thomas comes to believe a different explanation of the facts; Jesus is risen!

So how does this apply to us today as we investigate the evidence for Jesus two millennia later? Let us begin by looking at the evidence, then we will go on to think about the explanations.

As we consider the evidence, let us narrow it down to those pieces of evidence that both the prosecution and the defence can agree upon. In other words, let us consider the facts about the Easter story which both Christian and non-Christian historians can agree upon so that we can begin without bias. J. Warner Wallace makes mention in Cold-Case Christianity of the “minimal facts” approach of Gary Habermas and Mike Licona. Remembering that Wallace began his journey as an atheist, consider:

“As I skeptic myself, I formed a list of New Testament claims as I first investigated the resurrection. When I was an unbeliever, I found four of Habermas and Licona’s minimal facts to be the most substantiated by both friends and foes of Christianity” J.Warner Wallace Cold-Case Christianity

So what are these pieces of evidence that must be explained? Wallace lists four:

  1. Jesus died on a cross and was buried.
  2. Jesus’ tomb was found empty and no one ever produced His body.
  3. Jesus’ disciples said they saw and interacted with Jesus – alive (resurrected, not just resuscitated).
  4. Jesus’ disciples were so committed to their testimony that they were willing to die for it. They never changed their story.

Now let us turn to the possible explanations that have been proposed. Again, please refer to Wallace himself in Cold-Case Christianity for deeper discussions, I cannot do them justice here:

Perhaps Jesus did not really die. But:

  • Jesus’ body would have been handled quite a bit, being taken down from the cross, wrapped for burial, and placed in the tomb. The people of antiquity were not stupid and knew a dead body when they saw one.
  • The Romans soldiers in charge of executions were very good at their jobs. In fact their own lives depended on it.
  • The water and blood that flowed from Jesus with the spear thrust is consistent with medical knowledge today about dead bodies.
  • If Jesus had recovered, he would have been very weak, and also would have died again at some point, earning the name “fraud” from the very people that put their lives in danger by calling him “Lord.”

Perhaps the disciples stole the body and lied about the resurrection. But:

  • This explanation does not account for the fourth piece of evidence, that the disciples, were changed people willing to die for their claim. To quote Wallace:

This theory requires us to believe that the apostles were transformed and emboldened not by the miraculous appearance of the resurrected Jesus but by elaborate lies created without any benefit to those who were perpetuating the hoax (J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity)

  • Why would the disciples, being Jews of deep conviction, deny their faith by saying that a dead man was the messiah rather than stick to waiting for the true messiah?
  • Paul speaks of over 500 people seeing Jesus alive, most of whom were still alive at the time Paul wrote. Are we to believe all these were in on a lie?
  • The tomb was guarded, and the disciples had already proven their cowardice.

Perhaps the disciples were delusional, being so upset about the death of Jesus that they imagined seeing Jesus alive. But:

  • This explanation fails to account for the tomb being empty and the body not being produced to squash the “Jesus movement.”
  • The disciples did not just claim to see Jesus, but interact with him. This level of interaction by so many people on different occasions cannot be explained by hallucinations.
  • The disciples clearly understood Jesus to have risen bodily to a new kind of “resurrection life” than that they had seen visions or a ghost.

Perhaps the disciples were fooled by an imposter. But:

  • This explanation fails to account for the tomb being empty and the body not being produced to squash the “Jesus movement.”
  • What imposter could convince so many people, especially sceptics like Thomas, not to mention James and Paul?
  • What would have been the motivation for someone to pull off such a hoax?

Perhaps the disciples were influenced by one or two of the group who has some sort of “vision.” But:

  • This explanation fails to account for the tomb being empty and the body not being produced to squash the “Jesus movement.”
  • This explanation would only work if the writings of the New Testament were written a long time after the events as such an explanation contradicts the New Testament accounts.

Perhaps the story of the resurrection was added many years following the death of Jesus and so is a legendary fable. But:

  • Even if there were a lengthy passage of time, this explanation still fails to account for the body not being produced to squash the “Jesus movement.”
  • The documents that make up the New Testament were written too close to the events for legend to develop.
  • the Christian creed from the beginning was “Jesus is Lord, and we know this because he is risen.” There is no evidence of development from “Jesus was a great teacher” to “Jesus was really great teacher and miracle worker” to “Jesus is Lord.” There appears in history, quickly following Jesus’ crucifixion (and claimed resurrection), a sudden new way of thinking about God, rather than a period of developing thought.

Perhaps Jesus rose from the dead. 

This last explanation, far more than any other fits all the evidence the best. If we are open to the possibility of the supernatural, and last week we looked at reasons why we should be, then this explanation is the best inference from the evidence. This explanation has the greatest explanatory power for all the “minimal facts” about the resurrection, but so much more evidence also. It explains why the theology developed the way it did and why Jews who were so solid in their Jewish expectations would see all their expectations as fulfilled in Jesus rather than shying away from him as a failed messiah wannabe. It explains, also, why sceptics like James, and especially Paul, did a 180. It explains why the writers of the documents of the New Testament said the kinds of things they did. As I’ve heard Frank Turek say via podcast “the New Testament writers did not create the resurrection, the resurrection created the New Testament writers.”

The disciple known as “Doubting Thomas” should rather be known as “Trusting Thomas.” He trusted the explanation “Jesus is risen” as the best explanation of the  evidence standing in front of him. Many sermons have been preached on how we ought to trust in Jesus without any evidence based on this verse:

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” John 20:29 (emphases mine)

However, to stop reading there is to stop reading in the wrong place! Consider the next two verses:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. John 20:30-31 (emphases mine)

The Gospel of John, along with all the documents that make up the New Testament, are, like all documents from ancient times, evidence upon which we can determine the events of history. The best explanation of the facts deduced from those documents is that Jesus rose from the dead. Don’t wait until you stand before Jesus to make a decision. You have enough evidence now to trust in the truth of the best explanation; Jesus is risen. John points out the significance of following where the evidence leads: “ . . . and that through believing you may have life in his name.” The explanation of the evidence is not just true, it is very good news!

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Link for this article at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

April 27, 2017

Investigating Jesus: Not Jumping to Conclusions

by Clarke Dixon

Some people see the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus as a matter of faith, and by faith they mean “belief despite the lack of evidence.” However, is this really how we define faith? Consider the things we trust, like a chair when we sit, or a car when we depend on it to get us somewhere. We don’t give much thought to whether the chair or car will let us down because we have evidence; they don’t normally let us down. When they begin to show some wear and tear, then our trust may wane, but here again this distrust is due to evidence. Consider the people you trust and those you do not trust. They have have likely earned your trust or distrust and you can probably point to evidence as to why your trust or lack thereof is reasonable. So too, trust in Jesus is a reasonable step to take based on evidence. Back to Easter, is there any evidence that the resurrection of Jesus happened? Can we put our trust in Jesus, not despite the evidence, but rather based of it?

J. Warner Wallace was an atheist when he became a cold-case detective, so we can rely on him to be very capable in handling evidence and eyewitness testimony. Follow his works in print and online and you will discover that he came to trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, not despite the evidence, but based on it. In our current series we are going to lean upon Wallace as we investigate the evidence for Jesus. I encourage you to read his books for yourself, Cold Case Christianity, and God’s Crime Scene and visit his website. For readers from our church family, our Sunday School children will be working their way through Cold-Case Christianity for Kids.

The first thing we learn from Wallace about conducting an investigation, is to never jump to conclusions. Let me give an example. Suppose you are a detective and you are called to the scene of a death. On the way you learn that it is me. Your first thought is “who would want to murder the pastor?” Knowing me well you think you know what happened. You arrive at my house, and, sure enough there I am at a table with all kinds of Easter chocolate wrappings. That confirms what you were thinking; Clarke has died from chocolate poisoning.  Additionally, there are no signs of the windows being tampered with. You conclude that this is not a murder scene and that your work here is done. You think you can explain the evidence by staying inside the room, there is no need to look outside for a murderer. Case closed.

This is what happens when people try to explain “who Jesus really was” or try to “get back to the historical Jesus” from a  purely naturalistic viewpoint. There are many books, documentaries and other media that do this. They evaluate the evidence but only allow for explanations that don’t include the possibility of any kind of supernatural occurrence or “Anyone out there”. Evaluating the evidence for Jesus without allowing a supernatural explanation  is to begin the investigation with a conclusion. Beginning with a conclusion is not a good way to discover truth.

The policewoman who was first on the scene asks you what you think about the gunshot wound. Oops, you missed some evidence. She also points out that no gun was found and the front door was unlocked. When I said you were a detective, I didn’t say you were a very good one! The evidence is pointing “outside the room” for an explanation. This is now a murder scene and someone out there is responsible.

Is there “Someone out there” when it comes to Jesus? Should the truth seeking person consider all the explanations for the resurrection of Jesus including the supernatural one? But we all know dead people don’t rise from the dead, you say. Yes, that is true, but when you understand the story of God as related in the documents that make up the Bible, then you will know that we should not expect to see people raised from the dead to a new kind of life in past history except for this one time. Can we rule out the supernatural? Can we rule out God’s involvement? Can we rule out God’s existence?

J. Warner Wallace has written a second book where he writes about the evidence for the supernatural, and indeed not just for the supernatural, but for the existence of a personal God. I encourage you to read the book for yourself, as I cannot explain adequately here the eight lines of evidence pointing to the existence of God. All I can do is whet your appetite:

  1. Science and philosophy point to a beginning and if there is a beginning – then something or Someone caused it.
  2. The universe gives the appearance of being “fine-tuned” for life. So many different circumstances are “just right” for life to be possible on earth.
  3. Life had a beginning, and a lot of information is involved with proteins and DNA. The existence of God as creator is the best explanation for the beginning of life.
  4. There are signs of design in biology with living creatures and even the smallest of cells demonstrating complexity, intricacy, and purpose. This points to a Designer.
  5. We have an experience of consciousness. How do we get from brain matter to mental states? No one has been able to figure out the relationship between the two, however this is not a quandary for God.
  6. We experience free will. Purely naturalistic explanations do not allow for free will. This does not fit with our experience, or our legal system.
  7. We appeal to moral absolutes. Moral truth is grounded in the reflection of the nature of a perfect Being.
  8. We experience evil. Evil can only exist if there is a Divine Being who is Good.

All this evidence found within the universe points to a Being outside the universe. And what’s more, each of these add to our understanding of that Being as Wallace relates:

The evidence we’ve identified in the universe is best explained by an external suspect, and given the nature of this evidence, our suspect is clearly nonspatial, atemporal, nonmaterial, and uncaused. Our suspect is also powerful enough to create everything we see in the universe and purposeful enough to produce a universe fine-tuned for life. Our suspect is intelligent and communicative, creative and resourceful. As a conscious Mind, our suspect is there personal source of moral truth and obligation and the standard of goodness. (J. Warner Wallace God’s Crime Scene)

This is what we understand from looking at the universe. Please note that we have not even cracked open a Bible yet! That being said, does the description fit with Someone you may have heard about?

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.Genesis 1:1-3 (NRSV)

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools . . .Romans 1:19-22 (NRSV)

Since studying what we find in the universe points us to the supernatural, we should not be ruling out the possibility of a supernatural explanation for Jesus, his teaching, his miracles, and his resurrection. Even more precisely, what we see by looking the evidence in the universe points us not just to the “supernatural” but to a Supreme Being that fits the description of God in the Bible. Therefore, when that grand story of the Bible includes the resurrection of one man from the dead, we will want to pay particular attention to the possibility of the supernatural in his case. You might acquiesce with “I suppose anything is possible, but it is still not probable.” Hold onto that thought for now and allow the possibility. Next week we will begin looking at the proposed explanations of the resurrection of Jesus and start thinking about what we may consider to be “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Please don’t assume that the only way I could die would be by chocolate poisoning. And please do not assume that nothing supernatural ever happens and Jesus is not risen. Let’s not jump to conclusions too quickly!


Read more from Clarke at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

December 22, 2016

Believe It Or Not, Mary and Joseph, a Baby Is On the Way

by Clarke Dixon

Christmas is an unbelievable time. It’s time for God to intervene in a special way. All along God has been preparing His people for something special, and this something special is on the way in the birth of Someone special. It’s time for God Himself to be incarnate. It’s time for Jesus to be born.

But before this birth something else needs to happen first. Mary and Joseph need to know about it. And this is where things can get tricky. What if they don’t believe it? A virgin conception does not happen everyday after all. What if they don’t want it? Being in on God’s plans. What if they don’t want Him? Jesus, their son, or rather, her son, and you are not going to believe who is really responsible for this pregnancy! I imagine the majority of Mary and Joseph’s neighbours and friends didn’t. Joseph himself didn’t believe at first either:

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, . . . Matthew 1:18-20

Though the writer of the Gospel of Matthew states rather matter of factly that this child is from the Holy Spirit, clearly Joseph initially does not think so. He already knows about the pregnancy before an angel explains it to him. If Mary told him about the angel’s explanation, he is not buying it. Mary must be lying. Being a good man he resolves to do, not the right thing, which would be to expose her obvious lack of fidelity publicly, but to do a good thing, breaking the relationship off, letting Mary carry on quietly with her life. An angel intervenes to help Joseph move from disbelief to trust, both trust in Mary, and more importantly, in what God has in store for them.

Mary quickly comes to a place of trust:

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Luke 1:38

It takes Joseph longer, but he eventually also comes around to a place of trust:

Matthew 1:24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

If Jesus were born today into our Western civilization, I wonder if a Mary or Joseph would be harder to find. If we were Mary or Joseph, we scientifically informed Westerners might try to explain away the experience. Joseph in the Bible evidently entertained the possibility that Mary was lying. A man today might conclude likewise, but also that the angel appearing to him in a dream was, in reality, more dream than angel. As for Mary, a woman today might entertain the possibility she was drugged and raped with the whole angel thing being an emotionally charged episode. That Joseph’s encounter with an angel mirrored that of Mary’s could be chalked up to the power of suggestion. There is, in our culture, a tendency in matters of faith to go with any possible explanation rather than a supernatural one. Any explanation without God, no matter how ridiculous it might be, is preferred to every explanation that includes God, no matter how good it is. In contrast to our society’s assertion that “nothing supernatural is possible,” Mary believed the angel’s assertion that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37)

What if you were Mary or Joseph? Would you trust the supernatural explanation, or would you go with the other possibilities? When it comes to finding truth, do you go with the most reasonable explanation, even if it involves the supernatural, or do you default to the possibilities that discount the supernatural?

The reality and existence of God as revealed in the Bible has great explanatory power for so many questions. Such as:

  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • Why does the evidence point to the universe having a beginning?
  • Why does the universe seem to be fine tuned for life in many ways?
  • Why does our solar system and planet seem to be placed “just so” for life?
  • Why do the ecosystems of the world work so well together?
  • Why is there life at all and not just dead matter?
  • How did life come about when even a simple cell is so complex?
  • Why is there mind and intelligence?
  • Why do human beings seem to be set apart from the rest of the animal world in so many ways?
  • Why are there objective moral values?
  • Why do we appreciate beauty?
  • Why is there is a unity and unified story across the Bible when the documents of the Bible were written over hundreds of years by many different writers?
  • Why are the NT documents the way they are?
  • Why was the tomb of Jesus empty?
  • Why were the early disciples changed people ready to die for their claims?
  • Why did Jewish theology develop the way it did into Christian theology, not changing direction, yet going down an unexpected road?

The supernatural explanation, that God the Creator exists, and that Jesus rose from the dead, is able to explain these questions and so many more. But there are those who would never allow for such an explanation. “It is possible that . . . ” becomes the mantra. It is thought that even if we have not found them, there must be other explanations rather than the “God explanation” that explains so much so well.

There are two difficulties to living with such a mantra. First, one’s mind would never be open to the possibility of God. A closed mind is not the best starting place for finding truth. Second, we don’t live that way. It is possible that my chair might fall apart at any moment. Yet here I sit. The possibility of chair failure does not dissuade me from my apparent trust in this chair. Does my wife truly love me, or did she marry me for my money? The latter is possible, the former is more likely and explains so much more besides. And so I trust. Is it possible I exist due to aliens swapping me out for the real Clarke Dixon. Possible, but not a possibility that I am concerned with. You can invoke aliens to cast doubt on anything and everything, especially God. But we don’t live that way. We don’t live with incredulous doubt, we live with sensible trust. As cold case detective, J. Warner Wallace points out, juries make incredibly important decisions based on what is beyond a reasonable doubt, not on what is beyond every possible doubt. If you approach matters of faith the way you approach life, a case can be made that the reality of God and His love is beyond reasonable doubt and can be trusted even in the face of other possible explanations. But if you are not open to a supernatural explanation, or you do not want it to be true, you will always default to other possible explanations. But will they be true? Though Joseph and Mary may have been able to come up with other possible explanations for what they experienced, they knew that this baby was Someone special. Do you?

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Read today’s post and other articles you’ve seen here at source at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

December 6, 2016

Giving Your Testimony Isn’t Sharing Your Faith

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This blog post was recommended and comes from ThinkApologetics.com: Responding to Critics, Seekers and Doubters. The author is Eric Chabot. There’s much to see at this site, so click the title, read the article there and then take some time to look around.

“But Can’t I Just Share My Testimony?”

Over the years I have had plenty of Christians ask me about how to go about sharing their faith with others. They always ask whether they should just go ahead and share their personal testimony. In this argument, many people say their religious beliefs have been tried and tested out in the reality of life. Thus, they think their beliefs correspond to reality because they do make a difference. In other words, “Christianity works because it is true!”There is nothing wrong with this. But allow me to offer a few suggestions:

Pragmatism has been one of the most prominent philosophies within American culture over the first quarter of the twentieth century. John Dewey was at the forefront of pragmatism within the educational system. For the pragmatist, an idea is said to be true if it “works” or brings desired results. Pragmatism is not as interested if the idea is objectively true, but simply if an idea leads to expedient or practical results.

In sharing the gospel Christians often resort to sharing a personal testimony. God can and does use our testimony in a powerful way. In other words, by sharing our testimony, we want to show that faith in Jesus works; He is responsible for transforming the human heart. While it is true that Jesus changes lives, let me ask a relevant question: Have you ever tried to share your faith with someone and heard a response such as, “I do not see my need to believe in Jesus. I am happy the way I am.” These type of responses are becoming more common in our culture. Let us look into the Scriptures to see how both Peter and Paul shared the gospel:

“Peter said, Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. For David says of Him, I saw the Lord always in my presence; for he is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken. ‘Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted; moreover my flesh also will live in hope; because you will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow your holy one to undergo decay. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

“Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. “For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: the Lord said to my Lord, “sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. Therefore let all the houses of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Messiah-this Jesus whom you crucified. Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. We see in this text that the primary apologetic methodology that Peter discusses is Jesus’ death and resurrection” (Acts Ch 2: 22-38).

Paul said, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:1-17).

Just as Peter, Paul also appealed to Jesus’ death and resurrection as the foundation of the gospel.

As we observe how the gospel was presented by Peter and Paul, do they ever suggest that Jesus is just one of the many options that changes lives? After all, if people simply want to believe in something that makes them happy, a lie can work, but its effectiveness does not make it true; it is still false, even if the result is beneficial.

What we can learn from Peter’s sermon in Acts Ch 2: 22-38 and Paul’s creed in 1 Corinthians 15:1-17 is an issue of objective truth. We should explain to our friends and acquaintances that the reason we believe the gospel transforms lives is because the gospel is true. In other words, just because our faith “works” for us and has changed our life is not what makes the gospel true. Rather, the gospel is first and foremost true; this is the reason why Jesus brings radical transformation in our character and actions. Just as Peter and Paul, we should try to appeal to an objective case for the gospel and then rely on our testimony to strengthen our case.

In sharing our testimony, we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of pragmatism. Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland adds some valuable insight into this issue:

“Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus.” (1)

Finally, as James Warner Wallace says:

If evidential verifiability is truly a Christian distinctive, shouldn’t it cause us to live differently than the adherents of other religious systems? Shouldn’t we, as Christians, be the one group who knows why their beliefs are true and the one group who is most willing to defend what they we believe? Shouldn’t we be the one group most interested in making the case for our metaphysical beliefs? Why then, are we often uninterested in the evidence? It’s time for us to allow the distinctly evidential nature of Christianity result in distinctly evidential believers. The nature of Christianity, rooted in the Resurrection, allows us the chance to investigate and defend its claims. As Christians, we ought to be uniquely thoughtful, reasonable and evidential in our beliefs, because verifiability is a Christian distinctive.

To read his article called Verifiability Is A Christian Distinctive- see here. 

December 5, 2016

The Age of Post-Truth

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” – John 18:37

If you follow media of any type, you’ve probably bumped up against the phrase “post-truth” in the last few weeks. Wikipedia defines it as, “a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.” The Oxford dictionary online is much the same denoting “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”  

The same dictionary publisher group named it the “word of the year.”  [source]

post-truth-banner

You see where we’re heading today. As Christians, we believe in objective truth, not subjective post-truth. We appeal to the scripture as our rock, our anchor, our source for knowledge. But it’s easy to fall into subjectivism.  We go back to Wikipedia for a definition of that term; “the philosophical tenet that ‘our own mental activity is the only unquestionable fact of our experience’. In other words, subjectivism is the doctrine that knowledge is merely subjective and that there is no external or objective truth.” [italics in last clause added]

How do we become subjective:

  • When we say the situation ethics of a given set of circumstances means violating a scriptural moral principle (see note below)
  • When we try to accommodate evolution into the first few chapters of Genesis (see note below)
  • When we make allowances for homosexuality which contract what the church has historically taught on the subject (see note below)
  • When we ignore teaching on the judgement of God and say that a loving God would never send anyone to hell. (see note below)

Okay…I guess I need to stop typing “see note below” and just say it: While the statements above would seem to imply that I am coming from a very conservative, dogmatic perspective I am no longer settled on some of these issues. Perhaps I am guilty of the same post-truth mindset. What I would want to say clearly here is that I hope that whatever Biblical worldview I have is formed from debates, forums and careful study of what the Bible actually does or does not say, and not from my subjective view, or personal perspective on how I wish things were.

Basically, I can’t allow my own feelings on an issue to override God’s objective truth on any given matter the same way the Roman Catholic church allows The Catechism of the Catholic Church to override scripture.

God does have an opinion on these matters and though “we see in part” and “we see through a glass darkly” it’s our job to try to discern what it is; especially in the cases where it impacts our personal code of behavior.

So here are the verses from TopVerses.com which got me started on this topic earlier today.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. – 2 Timothy 2:15

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” – John 4:24

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness. – Romans 1:18

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen. – Romans 1:25

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. – John 16:13

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. – John 8:44

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. – John 1:8

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me.” – John 15:26

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. – John 4:23

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – The Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. – John 14: 16,17

It gave me great joy to have some believers come and testify to your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. – 3 John 1:3,4

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. – John 1:17

It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. – 2 John 1:4

Who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. – 2 Timothy 1:4

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 1 John 1:6


Postscript: This isn’t all the verses on the page which contain the word truth in the NIV. You can read the entire list at this link. However, it’s interesting to note the number of occurrences of this word in the writings of John. Many of the above texts are from his gospel and the word occurs in each of the three epistles we have in our Bibles.

Traditionally, John’s is the gospel given out for evangelism purposes. It is consider an apologetic argument for the divinity of Christ. In a post-modern — and now we can add post-truth — world, there is no objective truth. I have written elsewhere that if you want to reach post-moderns with the person of Jesus Christ, perhaps the synoptic gospels are a better way to go. Now I’m rethinking that. Perhaps we need to continue, as the Apostle John does, to wave the banner for truth.


I can never write on a topic like this without thinking of the song One Rule for You. I looked at that song 4½ years ago and typed out the full lyrics at this article at Thinking Out Loud.

August 13, 2016

The Cross as Christianity’s Icon

Yesterday, we discovered an apologetics site we weren’t aware of… and we’re always interested in apologetics. After reading several posts, we decided to use this one to feature Answering Skeptics, but as always, you’re encouraged to click the link below and read this at source. The author goes by the user name, Saint of Christ. This certainly will make you think.

cross at Grace ChurchThe Cross Does NOT Represent Christianity

22 And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: 23 His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is ACCURSED of God) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance. – Deuteronomy 21:22-23

When you ask people, what does the cross represents? Immediately they’ll tell you, Christianity. But the truth is; the cross represents curse, not Christianity. Blessing, not curse, represents Christianity (Ephesians 1:3; 1 Peter 3:9).

When Jesus was crucified, He wasn’t crucified for Christians because Christians are those who are born of God, without past (2 Corinthians 5:17); born of His sinless Word (1 Peter 1:23; John 1:12-13; 1 John 3:9); He was crucified for the world sins (John 3:16; Romans 5:8).

Christianity was born at His resurrection, not His crucifixion. He was crucified for all sinners to pay the price for their sins. So it is wrong to suggest that the cross represents Christianity. It represents the world of sin (curse). Without the resurrection, Christianity wouldn’t exist.

Our theme verse says that he who is hanged on a tree is accursed of God. In other words, the tree [i.e. Cross] represents curse; it’s a symbol of curse. Indeed, everyone, except Jesus, who was crucified, was criminal. Jesus, who was willing to be our sin sacrifice, became curse for us. He was accursed of God on that Cross; that’s why the Holy Spirit left Him (Matthew 27:46). Paul reaffirmed this when he said, Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree(Galatians 3:13). Jesus became sin itself on that cross, For he hath made him TO BE SIN for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.(2 Corinthians 5:21). As Christians, we are not worshiping or serving the Jesus who was hanged on the cross; but the risen Christ.

So what represents Christianity? You may want to ask. The answer is, you. You are the epistle of Christ if you’re born again (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). You are the symbol of Christianity. That’s why He calls you the light of the world just like He is (Matthew 5:14, 16; Philippians 2:15).

The Church needs to grasp this truth and repent. Acts 17:30 says, And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent”. Some even use the cross sign to pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; even though, nowhere does the Bible ever suggest that we should pray this way. Jesus said, “to baptize”; not to pray, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). He told us to pray “to” the Father, “in” His name (John 15:16; 16:26-27); “through” the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26; 15:16).

Just because this has been practiced for ages doesn’t make it right. So repent. Proverbs 9:9 says, Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. So be wise.


At the same blog: Who Made Paul an Apostle? Some people would argue that Paul was self-appointed. This article shows otherwise.

Interestingly enough, there’s also a lengthy article attributed to Kenneth Hagin (a prosperity preacher, I presume) which refutes the idea that Jesus was poor. I have to admit that knowing the writer’s identity and intention somewhat biased my reading of this, but there is no disputing some of the evidence presented.

May 13, 2016

There is No Such Thing as “Blind Faith” in Scripture

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Luke 7:20 When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’ ”

21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.

Recently at the apologetics blog The 3rd Choice (The3rdChoice.org) a reader asked about the idea of accepting Christianity on “blind faith.”  Part of the question reads, ” Why make something that needs to be discovered, found or believed in when you can just be there?”

Jim Walton replies,

Jesus never said faith is blind, and the Bible doesn’t imply that faith is blind. In the Bible, faith is evidentiary. I define Biblical faith as “making an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make that assumption reasonable.” In my opinion, belief is always a choice, and is always based on evidence. When you sit down in a chair, you didn’t think twice about sitting down. You believe that the chair will hold you. Faith? Yes. You’ve sat in chairs hundreds of times, but you can’t be absolutely sure it will hold you this time. Things do break on occasion. But you make an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make it reasonable for you to make that assumption, and you sit down. That’s faith, and it was a conscious choice.

Almost all of life works this way because we can never know what lies ahead. Every time you turn a door knob you are expressing faith. Because 10,000 times you’ve turned a door knob, and it opened the door. So you turn the knob and move forward. Does it always work that way? No. Sometimes you turn the knob and the door doesn’t open. But you make an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make it reasonable for you to make that assumption.

We know chairs hold people. That’s past experience and learning. We know turning door knobs open doors. We know that when we turn a key a car starts. But every time we turn a car key, we do it because we believe it will start. The evidence is compelling, and it was a conscious choice. We don’t know for sure that the car will start, and unfortunately sometimes it doesn’t. Then we use our knowledge to try to figure out what to do about it. We dial our phone (as an act of faith, assuming it will work and help us reach another person), and try to get help.

You’ll notice in the Bible that evidence precedes faith. There is no “dumping on a random doorstep” and good luck to ya! God appears to Moses in a burning bush before he expect him to believe. He gave signs to take back to Pharaoh and the Israelite people, so they could see the signs before they were expected to believe. So also through the whole OT. In the NT, Jesus started off with turning water into wine, healing some people, casting out demons, and then he taught them about faith. And they couldn’t possibly understand the resurrection until there was some evidence to go on. The whole Bible is God revealing himself to us all—and I mean *actually*, not through some exercise of faith.

My faith in God is a conscious choice because I find the evidence compelling. It’s an assumption of truth based on enough evidence to make it reasonable for me to make that assumption. When you read the Bible, people came to Jesus to be healed because they had heard about other people who had been healed. They had seen other people whom Jesus had healed. People had heard him teach. Their faith was based on evidence. Jesus kept giving them new information, and they gained new knowledge from it. Based on that knowledge, they acted with more faith. People came to him to make requests. See how it works? My belief in God is based on my knowledge of the credibility of those writings, the logic of the teaching, and the historical evidence behind it all. The resurrection, for instance, has evidences that give it credibility that motivate me to believe in it. My faith in the resurrection is an assumption of truth based on enough evidence that makes it reasonable to hold that assumption. The same is true for my belief in the existence of God, my belief that the Bible is God’s word, and my understanding of how life works.

I would contend that faith is never blind.

 

March 16, 2016

The Gospel of John and the Religion Salesman

•••by Clarke Dixon

(read this on Clarke’s blog at this link)

How do we know that John, the writer of the Gospel of John, is not a “religion salesman?” People in sales have a very important function but we all have experience of someone who has tried very hard to sell us something we do not need, or something that does not even work. How do we know that John isn’t that kind of salesman? How do we know he is not trying to sell us on some new fabricated-from-thin-air religion? After all, there is a plethora of books and blogs written by “Jesus experts” who would tell us that indeed Christianity and the Jesus of Christianity is a human invention.

John’s sales pitch starts early. The Gospel of John begins with what is probably the most startling introduction in all of literature:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-4,14)

John 1The startling nature of these verses may be lost on the Christian reader who has come to love these words and the Lord they point to. But imagine you are one of the early readers of this book, you have heard something about Jesus and have picked up John’s Gospel in order to be introduced more fully to him. John tells us that you start, not with the birth of Jesus, but long before, in fact before Creation. Right from the get go you may well find all this to be blasphemous if you are Jewish, or utter foolishness if you are not. As you read John’s Gospel the claims John makes about Jesus, what he said and did, do not get any less extraordinary. There is no doubt that John is seeking to introduce us to someone who is extraordinary. In fact he is introducing us to God the Son who is risen from the dead. But why should we buy it? Why should we believe John? How do we know he is genuine in his testimony about Jesus and not some religion salesman selling a bogus product?

Those of us who are Christian will appeal to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture. God is not going to reveal Himself in Jesus to one generation only for the memory of Jesus to be distorted for the generations to come. But even those of us who are not Christian have good reason to weigh carefully the words of John before trashing him as a mere salesman of religion. Take, for example, these words of John:

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

There is so much theology presented in this verse that we often fail to notice a simple truth: “we have seen his glory.” We, as in, “I, John, have seen personally and am an eyewitness to the things I am writing,” and we, as in, “I am not the only one, there are other eyewitnesses that you can check what I am saying with.” This is eyewitness testimony. Further, the final words of the book:

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them . . . This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:20-25)

These reinforce that the writer was someone who was right in the middle of the life and ministry of Jesus, someone seeing and hearing all that is going on, someone who was close to Jesus. This friend of Jesus is identified in early Christian records as being John the apostle, the same John that wrote the following:

1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)

While the Christian can appeal to the work of the Holy Spirit, both in the writing and the reading of Scripture, we can also appeal to historical documents. The Biblical Gospels were not written long after the events they describe by people far from them in time and place as many people erroneously believe. Two of them were written by men who rubbed shoulders constantly with eyewitnesses, Mark being a companion to Peter, and Luke often being a companion of, and mixing in many of the same circles as, Paul. The other two Gospels were written by eyewitnesses themselves, Matthew Levi the tax collector, and John the “beloved disciple.” Though taking different perspectives and emphasizing different things, all four agree as to who Jesus is. But did these men make up a new religion to sell to anyone who would hear?

It has been said (I think by J. Warner Wallace) that people who tell lies, who engage in fraudulent activity, are doing so in order to get a) money, b) sex, or c) power. The Gospel writers were not getting rich, but getting into danger. Being Christ followers the Gospel writers would have kept to the strict sexual ethics they record Jesus as affirming, so sex would not be a motivating factor. As for power, persecution was more the norm. These were men willing to die for the truth of what they were sharing about Jesus. These men were willing to pick up a cross and follow. No salesman trying to sell a product he knows is bogus will do that.

Who would you rather listen to? The “Jesus experts” of our day, the people who 2000 years after the events would like you to buy their books? Or John, who was right in the middle of the events he relates, who was an intimate friend of Jesus whom he describes, who devoted his life and was willing to give his life for the truth he was sharing? Who is the religion salesman here really?

What do liberal minded authors want you to know about Jesus? All manner of quite diverse theories, but what they hold in common is that you do not need to care about Jesus. What does John want you to know about Jesus? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16) John wants you to know that Jesus cares about you.

(All references are taken from the NRSV. All emphasis are mine)

 

February 18, 2016

Objection! What About All the Evil in the World?

NLT Eccl. 8:14 And this is not all that is meaningless in our world. In this life, good people are often treated as though they were wicked, and wicked people are often treated as though they were good. This is so meaningless!

When devotional writers are featured here, we’re not just borrowing some articles, but there’s a very real sense that these writers are recommended resources. Sometimes I feel so positive about a website or blog that it’s hard to select just one piece from among many choices.

Occasionally I will reintroduce a topic that’s been covered here not because regular readers need to see it, but because there’s a message that needs to be continually repeated, and search engines bring us readers from all corners of the world.

Today we introduce you to the site simply called Abide, which is written by Blaize. We first selected a shorter version of this topic which appears on the site’s Apologetics Resources. Then, after formatting everything, we found this version in the 2011 archives. Click the title to read at source and look around.

The Problem of Evil

Read: Ecclesiastes 8:1-15

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes 8 addresses what has become known to in modern philosophy as the “problem of evil”.  The Preacher asks a number of questions concerning the nature of bad things happening to good people and the flip side of that, good things happening to bad people. He begins by speaking of the certainty of one thing that is the common fate of all people, and that is death. He says that no one can know the future. Death as he sees it comes to all and there is nothing that saves one from it and even more so to the ones who practice wickedness, because it will not save them either. The certainty of death then prompts the preacher to look at other matters concerning wicked: First he sees the wicked being praised in the cities in which they did much wickedness and they are being buried with honor. Second, he sees the wicked doing much wrong to the point they are not afraid to do it anymore. Third, he sees good people being treated as if they were wicked, and wicked people being treated as if they were good. All these things he says are meaningless.

The problem of evil has perplexed thinkers for ages as it did the Preacher. The reason why is because of a discrepancy in many the states of affairs that people are in and a purported inaction by God to resolve the state of affairs for good rather than evil. The argument may look something like this:

  1. If God exists, God is all loving and all powerful
  2. An all loving and all powerful God should remove evil.
  3. Evil exists.
  4. Therefore either:
    1. God does not  exist.
    2. God exists and is all loving but cannot remove evil.
    3. God exists and is all powerful but not all loving therefore does not want to remove evil.
    4. God exists but is neither all loving nor all powerful.

In any case, the conclusion purports a contradictory state of affairs in spite of what many believe about God. The problem with this is that the argument in most all forms obligates God to something that God is not necessarily obligated too. In the example above, premise 2 supposes that God “should” do something about evil by virtue of his that he is all loving and able. The only way the contradiction exists is if one supplies the extra premise that God “should” or “ought to” do something about evil. If premise two does not exist, then the contradiction does not exist.

On the other hand, one can supply another premise that says so long as there is a possible reason for evil to exist, there is no reason to doubt God’s existence, his goodness, or his ability to remove evil. A reason that attempts to explain evil is called a theodicy. There are many possible theodicies that are found in the Bible.

  • The Freewill Defense: The Bible is replete with verses that talk about the sinfulness of man, and how it pervades everyone who exists (Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12, Proverbs 20:9, Ecclesiastes 7:20). This freewill defense says evil is a result of man choosing sin.
  • The Greater-Good Theodicy – This reason says that sometimes evil occurs to bring about a net gain of good for the many. This is most clearly seen in Genesis when Joseph was sold into slavery and he endured much evil as a result. But in the end, Joseph says that what his brother intended for evil, God meant for good (Genesis 50:20).
  • The Soul-Making or Soul-Building Theodicy: This theodicy suggests that people endure evil to help build their character and faith. The motif of God disciplining children can be found in Hebrews 12:4-13. Hardship can produce a strong, more mature believer.
  • The Eschatological Theodicy: This one is uniquely Christian; in that all is made right in the cross by Jesus’ sacrifice and that there will come a time when evil is removed. There will be a new heaven and new earth with no crying, pain, or death (Revelation 21:1-4).

What one needs to realize though is these are only possible reasons for what God does. Usually when one is enduring evil, it is difficult if not impossible to know why bad things are happening. Even after sufferings have passed, sometimes the reason is not apparent. This was the case with Job. The readers of Job get to see the full picture of the matter, but Job never ascertains why he endured so much suffering. At the end of the book, he basically concedes that God’s reasons are too wonderful to know (Job 42:1-6). In all of his pondering on the problem of evil, the Preacher never questions the goodness of God, rather sees it better that one should do good in their lives because this is right in the sight of God and he sees the blessings that come from work as a gift from God. The Preacher was correct in noting that death is inescapable, but for Christians, there is the prospect of eternal life in a place where there is no evil. For the reasons the Preacher mentioned and the escape from evil when God creates a new heaven and new earth, it is most certainly more wise to side with God. Furthermore, there is no reason to doubt his goodness and power so long as God has a good reason for allowing evil to persist – even if the reason cannot be ascertained.

Lord, you are good! Help me to trust you even when I cannot understand why bad things are happening!

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