Christianity 201

February 7, 2019

Compelling Life

by Clarke Dixon

Why is there life? It turns out there are a number of questions worthy of consideration.

How did the earth become suitable for life? Despite the longing for “life out there,” many scientists tell us the odds are against life happening anywhere, even here! Many things need to come together with precision for life to be possible. They happen to do so for us. The earth just happens to have the right qualities such as the right atmosphere, right orbit, right tilt (thanks moon!), right weather patterns, right core temperature, right distance from and right orbit around the right kind of sun which is in the right place in our galaxy. We are only scratching the surface of things that need to come together for life to be possible. The earth appears to be a finely calibrated machine for the flourishing of life. When we see such kinds of precision we don’t normally ask “how did that happen?”, we ask “who did that?”.

How did life come about in the first place? Why is the universe not made up solely of non-living matter? In the past we were taught that life began with very simple organisms in a “primordial soup. ” However, life is incredibly complex even in its simplest expressions. The simplest of life forms require complex machinery and teamwork. As a  student I used to take my pens apart and write with just the ink tube and the attached ball-point. The pen could be reduced to very few parts and still work. Living things, however, cannot be reduced like that. They are more like a mechanical watch where messing with one cog renders the watch useless. Only living things are way more complex. When we see complex machinery we don’t ask “how did that happen?”, we ask “who did that?”.

Also, life happens thanks to an incredible amount of information such as we find in DNA. How did all that information get there? Back to my student days, anytime I would see a Commodore 64 computer on display in a store, I would write a short program that would write the same words, over and over again, on the screen. I knew just enough of the computer language called “Basic” to be able to do that. I am sure no employee on finding the computer would have asked, “how did that happen?”. Rather, they would ask the obvious question, “who wrote that?”.

How did there come to be such diversity and inter-dependence among amazing living things?  Why is the world not just covered in something like moss? Why such wonderful, often beautiful and awe-inspiring creatures? How did eco-systems come about which require the very diversity found within them? Living things are found in environments where not only can they flourish, but importantly, they can help other living things in the environment flourish also.

We are very often told that animals “adapted” to their environments. However, did they adapt, or were they, plus their environments, adapted to each other? When we see race cars whizzing around race tracks do we wonder how the cars adapted and became so fast? When we see trucks hauling heavy loads down a highway, do we ask how they adapted, becaming so big? We can speak of the evolution of the vehicle, but we know that intelligence is behind that evolution. Adaptation of things to environments is a matter of creation. When we see things uniquely placed according to what they are and can do we do not ask “how did that happen?”, we ask “who did that?”.

The real question.

John Entwistle, bass player for “The Who,” released a solo project including a song called “I Wonder” in which he marveled at the way things were put together. The song includes these lines in the chorus:

Thank you Mother Nature
For the way you got things planned
Don’t ever change a thing, I’m happy as I am.

In thinking about nature he was on the right track. There is a “who?” behind the “what?” and the “how?” questions.

The precise alignment of parameters required for life to flourish on earth points to intelligence and capability. The complexity found within even the simplest of living things points to intelligence and capability. The use of language in the building blocks of life points to intelligence and capability. The care shown through the placement of living things in finely balanced eco-systems points to intelligence and capability. The question is not “how,” but “who?”. Who has this kind of intelligence and capability?

Christianity provides a compelling answer to this question; “who?”.

Consider what we discover in the first two chapters of Genesis:

  1. On the suitability of the earth for life, God put all the necessary conditions and circumstance into place for life. Obvious things are mentioned like light, dark, the sun, the moon, water and land (see Genesis 1:1-19). We are not told about things like gravity, oxygen, and the like. We should not expect a science report from a book that is introducing us to God!
  2. On life getting life started in the first place, God, a living being, created life and living things. In being created by God living things are complex right from the start. In fact living things are created with “seed in it” (eg. Genesis 1:11), the ability to reproduce is baked right in. Besides, how could non-living, non-thinking things give rise to living, thinking things?
  3. On diverse living creatures being found in well balanced eco-systems, God created life according to their kinds (see Genesis 1:20-25). Also, food is provided (see Genesis 1:29-31). The required systems are put in place for life to flourish.

As we consider life and living things, there is one more question.

Why do human beings seem to be so different from the rest of the animals in remarkable ways? There is a difference in intelligence, creativity, language skills, morality, and religion. There is an ability to reflect and a desire for significance that is not found in other animals.

When a child in an orphanage is taken into a family where they are then fed, clothed, coached, taught, and experience loving and caring relationship for many, many years, we do not ask “how did that happen?”. When we see one child marked out from all the others in such remarkable ways, we ask, “who desired a special relationship with that child?”.

Back to Genesis chapters one and two. God created humanity in His image, and for a special relationship. Biblical scholars point to two accounts of creation, the first being found in chapter one and the second being found in chapter two.  In the first account humanity is created last, but “in his image” (see Genesis 1:26). In case we think that we were an afterthought, the second account has humanity created first (see Genesis 2:4-9). Both accounts point to how we were created by God for a special relationship.

The life, teaching, miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus are also a confirmation that God has created us for special relationship. God did something special for humanity about 2000 years ago in Jesus. Why? Because humanity has had a special place in God’s heart from the beginning. Humans are different from all other living things becuause we were created for a special relationship.

What the Bible tells us about God, our creator and redeemer, fits very well with the questions raised about life through philosophy and science. When we consider these questions of life and living things, it turns out there is a more compelling question than “how?”. It is “Who?”. The answer is God as revealed in the Bible, as revealed in Jesus. The answer is God, Who wants a special relationship with you.


This is all very introductory and merely a scratching of the surface of things. There are many fine resources available. Good starting points are “The Case for a Creator” by Lee Strobel, and “God’s Crime Scene” by J. Warner Wallace. This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

January 31, 2019

Compelling Morality

by Clarke Dixon

Are Christians better than everyone else? Are they more moral? Are they more likely to do the right thing, the good thing? Are people compelled to believe in God because Christians are moral people? The world may not find the moral performance of Christians to be compelling, but the fact of morality is compelling. The very fact that everyone can come up with an opinion on the above questions points to the existence of God. How so? Let’s take a look.

The Bible teaches that there is a moral lawgiver. Last week we looked at Psalm 19 and how the universe points to the existence of God. Some Bible scholars believe that Psalm 19 is actually two Psalms because there is a sudden shift following verse 6 from speaking of planetary systems to speaking of morality:

4 In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes; Psalms 19:4-8

But is it actually a shift?  We read about the sun following its course in verses 4-6. Though written, of course, from the perspective of the Psalmist standing on earth, we know from scientific discoveries that the planets and the sun are following the laws of physics. God created these laws so there could be a well-functioning, life-permitting-and-sustaining universe. Verse 7 then turns to another kind of law which is given by God for a well-functioning, life-permitting-and-sustaining universe; the moral law. When the sun and the planets follow God’s laws of physics, it works well for everyone. When we follow God’s moral law, life works well for everyone.

Imagine for a moment what would happen if the sun and earth did not follow the laws of physics. It would be catastrophic. We do not get very far into the Bible before we discover what happens when people do not follow the moral law. Had Cain kept to God’s moral law, it would have gone so much better for Abel. It would have gone so much better for Adam and Eve. It would have gone so much better for Cain also! Experience confirms what the Bible teaches; life just does not work well without morals. The vast majority of people know that morals are important and good for the well being of humanity, even if they do not like certain ones. The laws of physics point to a Creator. The laws of morality do also. As Psalm 19 points out, both are part of God’s life sustaining universe.

Philosophy confirms that there is a moral lawgiver. Consider that if we say there is no God, then we can not speak of objective morals existing either. You might not balk at that at first. After all, don’t different cultures have different moral standards? However, do you think there are certain things which would be wrong for all people in every place and time? Is murder on a whim ever okay? Most of us would think not. Either objective morality exists, or morals are just subjective and are determined by social norms and personal preference. Either murder on a whim is truly wrong, or we prefer it not happen so that society can function well. When ancient peoples conducted the practice of “exposing” a child, that is, leaving an unwanted infant to die, was that wrong? If God does not exist, if there is no lawgiver, then it was not objectively wrong. Some atheists are willing to admit that morality is subjective, a matter of preference from society to society, but not too many of us would go that far. If human rights are real, then so too is the existence of God. You can watch a short video that explains all this much better here. [Also embedded below*.]

Are Christians better than everyone else? Perhaps not. There are atheists who live very moral lives, and there are Christians who live very immoral lives. However, the very fact people have opinions on the question is compelling evidence that objective morality is real. It is therefore also compelling evidence that God is real. If you find the fact of morality compelling, then so too is God.


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV. This is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.


*We decided to include the video which Clarke referred to.

January 24, 2019

A Compelling Cosmos

by Clarke Dixon

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalm 19:1 (NIV)

You can imagine the Psalmist looking up to the stars in awe, praising God for all creation. But do the heaven’s still declare the glory of God in our day? Do the skies still proclaim the work of his hands to a people as sophisticated and learned as we are? The heavens would compel the ancients to glorify God as Creator. But are we compelled by them today?

It turns out that the heavens still speak. Philosophers and scientists do the talking, but through the study of “the heavens,” the cosmos, we can learn something about the existence and nature of God.

Let us look to three questions inspired by the heavens. Please note that this is all very introductory.

What is behind the beginning of the universe?

Beginning in the last century a majority of scientists have been won over to the view that our universe had a beginning. While some Christians balked at the “Big Bang” theory, others saw the implications for theology. After all, we people of the Jurdeo-Christian tradition have long been saying that the universe had a beginning. William Lane Craig lays out what he calls the Kalam Cosmological argument in this way:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Further, the cause “must be spaceless, timeless, immaterial, uncaused, and powerful.” Sound like anyone you know? God, as revealed in the Bible, fits this cause of the universe perfectly. But then you might object with “who created God?” Consider the first premise, and then note that God does not begin to exist, therefore we do not need to consider what caused his existence. Again, this is all very introductory, but here is a short video from William Lane Craig which explains it in a much better way.

Why are the conditions just right at the beginning of the universe for it to be life permitting?

Scientists tell us that certain physical constants, like the force of gravity, are so very specific, that if they were just slightly different at the beginning, the universe would not exist as we know it. It would not be life permitting. This is commonly called the Fine Tuning Argument.

Just how specific must these constants be? The web resource godandscience.org quotes Dr. Hugh Ross from his book, The Creator and the Cosmos, on one such constant, the ratio of electrons to protons:

One part in 1037 is such an incredibly sensitive balance that it is hard to visualize. The following analogy might help: Cover the entire North American continent in dimes all the way up to the moon, a height of about 239,000 miles . . . Next, pile dimes from here to the moon on a billion other continents the same size as North America. Paint one dime red and mix it into the billions of piles of dimes. Blindfold a friend and ask him to pick out one dime. The odds that he will pick the red dime are one in 1037. (p. 115)

Did this degree of fine tuning happen by necessity, chance, or by design? Design can be shown to be the most reasonable alternative. I am only scratching the surface, but here is another short video from William Lane Craig to give you a better handle on the fine tuning argument.

Why does anything exist at all?

Looking up to the heavens above on a starry night, we might ask not just how this all began, or how it ended up being so delicately balanced for life, but why is there anything at all? Gottfried Leibniz asked “why is there something rather than nothing?”. He then went on to show how God is the answer. William Lane Craig has formulated Leibniz’s thinking using the following premises:

  1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence (either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause).
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe exists.
  4. The explanation of the universe’s existence is God.

This can be a tricky one to wrap our minds around, but basically the idea is that the universe is contingent, that is, something else was required for its existence. We experience this in daily life as we see that all things have some cause behind them. There is a computer here in front of me because someone built it, and I bought it. This computer did not need to exist, nor did I have to buy it. Its existence and placement is contingent on many things. However, God exists necessarily. Nothing caused God to exist. The only way a contingent universe could exist is if something which existed necessarily caused it to exist. This is consistent with what the Bible teaches.

Here is one more short video from William Lane Craig to help you better understand the Leibniz contingency argument.

Some observations.

  • Some might wonder why not just read the Bible and not concern ourselves with such philosophical pursuits. However, the Bible itself says “The heavens declare the glory of God,” therefore it is worth hearing what the heavens declare. We do this through science and philosophy.
  • The fact that science and philosophy can be found to be in sync with theology reminds us that we need neither leave our brains at the door of the church, nor leave our faith in the parking lot of the university. This in itself is something compelling about Christianity. Many of us would find an “everything you know from anywhere else is wrong” kind of attitude to be off-putting.
  • Each of these arguments from philosophy and science are not a knock down argument for Christianity on their own. However, they are part of a larger cumulative case for the truth of Christianity which goes well beyond thinking about the cosmos.
  • You may feel like you can’t wrap your head around these arguments. As J. Warner Wallace points out, jurors in murder cases make decisions that affect the future of an individual in drastic ways, yet they don’t need to be experts. The jurors listen to the testimony of expert witnesses and consider all the evidence without becoming experts in any one part.

It is compelling that what was written so long ago in the Bible should provide answers consistent with what is being learned in our day. Christianity provides compelling answers to philosophical questions inspired by the cosmos, but far more than that, it speaks about God who loves! May you have confidence that Christianity is true. May you have confidence that God loves you in Christ!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

All Scripture references are taken from the NLT. This is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full 36-minute sermon can be heard on the podcast here.

January 17, 2019

Compelling Truth

by Clarke Dixon

How can you know that anything is true? If Christianity is not true, it is not truly compelling. So if we can’t know anything to be true, how can we be sure Christianity is true?

The idea of truth permeates the arrest of Jesus in John chapter 18. We have Jesus appealing to truth in verses 19-23, Peter denying the truth in verses 25-27,  the religious leaders lying in verses 30-31, and Pilate trying to get to the truth in verses 33-37. This is all capped off with Pilate’s famous words:

37 Pilate said, “So you are a king?”
Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”
38What is truth?” Pilate asked. John 18:37-38 (emphasis added)

What was Pilate’s tone of voice when he asked “what is truth?” If you were an actor how would you portray it? Would you make Pilate sound like a philosopher on a quest for knowledge? “Hmmm, an interesting question I would love to spend some time pondering.” Or would you make Pilate sound like a busy man who wanted to get back to his own plans for the day? “What does your version of truth matter when I’ve got so much more to worry about?”

Whichever you would choose, these are two approaches to truth today. There are those who get all philosophical about truth and say “We cannot be sure of anything, so don’t tell me about Jesus.” Then there are those who could care less; “It just doesn’t matter, so don’t tell me about Jesus.” Are they correct?

Can we know the truth?

How do we know that the entirety of our lives is not just some big dream and we will wake up some day to an entirely different world? How do we know we are not stuck in some sort of matrix kept alive by machines or aliens in state of dreaming as in the Matrix movies? Can we be 100% sure Christianity is true if we cannot be 100% sure anything is true? Can we be certain beyond all possible doubt?

Here’s the thing; we do not live as as if we cannot know anything. We live as people who know stuff! We are never 100% sure of anything before we make decisions. Even Pilate, after he asked “what is truth?”, immediately went to the people to report what he knew to be true:

“What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime.” John 18:38

Pilate knew enough to be able to form an opinion and make a decision. This is how we live. I had a scary experience many years ago. The roads were icy and I lost control of my car causing me to be on the wrong side of the road. I did not take the time to ponder if in fact it was all a dream, or that possibly the truck bearing down on me was just a hallucination, or a trick being played on me by aliens. After all, anything is possible. I knew I was in trouble, I made the right decisions and got the car under control again. This is how we live, not knowing things beyond a possible doubt, but knowing them beyond a reasonable doubt. We make decisions all the time, not because we can be 100% certain we are correct, but because it is reasonable to assume that we are.

Now consider that ordinary people experienced the extraordinary person of Jesus in ordinary ways. They could be as sure about him as I could be sure about my situation in a skidding car. With the exception of Paul and his Damascus road experience, those who experienced Jesus experienced him in the same way they would experience anyone. This is true before Easter, when ordinary people heard his extraordinary teaching and witnessed his extraordinary miracles in ordinary ways. This is also true following Easter when people saw Jesus alive again. Yes, he was even more extraordinary that before, but again, ordinary people were experiencing his extraordinary presence in normal ways. They were not having visions or dreams, they were living life, but there was Jesus in front of them. They could see him and touch him. They knew him to be real, just as they would know anything to be real:

1 We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. 2 This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy. 1 John 1:1-4 (emphasis added)

All those who saw Jesus risen from the dead were ordinary people experiencing the extraordinary person of Jesus in ordinary ways. They could be as sure of him as they could be sure of anything. Sure you can always say “it was possible that the risen Jesus was actually an alien imposter,” for anything is possible. But we don’t live that way. Neither did people 2000 years ago. They knew beyond a reasonable doubt that this was the risen Jesus. The truth of Christianity continues to be beyond a reasonable doubt in our day. We will be looking at some reasons to think so in the weeks to come.

So can we know anything? Yes, we reasonably know things to be true, but . . .

Does truth matter?

We live as if truth matters, a lot. Back to my scary experience in the car. I knew that moment could have changed my life for the rest of my days, if I had any more days left in this life. Reality matters! What is true with respect to Jesus matters incredibly. Grasping the reality of Jesus is not the same as forming an opinion on whether Coke is a better cola than Pepsi, or whether the Boston Bruins are a better team than the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is more like grasping the reality of a truck bearing down on you. It impacts every moment of your future. Why do people often live as if truth matters, but when it comes to spiritual things, it suddenly does not? You could say it matters more! Truth matters and spiritual truths matter, a lot.

Why has truth been challenged in our day? 

Deceit and deception are at the heart of the Fall as described in Genesis chapter 3. Adam and Eve were deceived, and in that deception sinned creating a wedge between themselves and God. There are deceptions today which keep that wedge in place. For example, that knowing truth is impossible or does not matter. Deceit and deception also run through the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Pilate was being deceived by the ones who wanted Jesus dead. Pilate was not totally deceived by them, knowing that Jesus was innocent of their accusations. However, he failed to recognize that the deception mattered. He thought his relationship with the people under his charge was more important the his relationship with the one now under his judgement, the One under whose charge he himself was.

Ironically, while the crucifixion of Jesus happened because of failure to apprehend the truth, it is a clear window into the truth, that

. . . God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 1 John 4:8-10

Deception ran through the Fall. Deception ran through the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Don’t let deception run through your life! God is love. That is a truth which can be known and which matters more than anything!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

All Scripture references are taken from the NLT. This is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast here.

August 23, 2018

The Good Sense of a Witness and 1st Peter 3:15

by Clarke Dixon

Editor’s Note: Clarke is away this week. This post was taken from the large number available at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, which includes many which have never been published here at C201.

You get past your anxiety, step out of your comfort zone and share your faith with someone. Then come the objections: “But how can you know that you are right and everyone else is wrong? But doesn’t science show that we don’t need a Creator? Aren’t the stories in the Bible just myths? How can you be sure the Bible is reliable?” and on and on we could go (and on and on some do!). So now what?

There are two roads open before us in the face of objections:

  1. Say something like, “don’t overthink it, just believe.”
  2. Say something like, “Good question, one I have thought about too, can I share with you some thoughts on that?” or “Good question, one I have not thought about before, perhaps you will allow me some time to think that through”

What would the New Testament apostles do in the face of objections, would they discourage thinking, or encourage it? The following passage gives us a good indication of what they did:

Paul went to the Jews in the synagogue, as he customarily did, and on three Sabbath days he addressed them from the scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead, saying, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” (Acts 17:2,3 NET)

There are quite a number of similar passages where Paul ’explains and demonstrates’ the truths of the Jesus and his Kingdom. There is one Greek word behind ’explains and demonstrates’ which according to standard lexicons could be translated with ’discuss, contend, argue, address, reason with.’ We do not get the impression that Paul or any of the other apostles would say anything like “do not think about it, just believe.” Instead they helped people think it through, they appealed to good sense. To the Jewish audience they would argue from the Scriptures (the Old Testament at this point), that the resurrection of Jesus makes good sense. To the Gentile audience they would argue that the Jewish hope and the resurrection of Jesus make good sense, far better sense in fact than pagan myths or Gentile philosophies. When the apostles proclaimed the Gospel, they appealed to good sense.

But doesn’t the Bible teach us to be leary of worldly wisdom, so ought we not to be careful in appealing to ’good sense’. We might quote Colossians 2:8 with this objection: “Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ”(Colossians 2:8 NET). However, this verse and others like it refer more to philosophical systems that could be named and were popular at the time, such as Stoicism, Hedonism, Epicureanism,and the like. It is not referring to logic and reason which are gifts of God, indeed part of what it means to be created in his image. That two plus two equals four is true for the atheist, the Buddhist, the Muslim, and the Christian alike, it is a logical statement without reference to any system of thought. In our day the Christian will want to be wary of naturalism, existentialism, communism, and many other isms, but we will always want to appeal to good sense, using the Godly gifts of logic and reason. In fact the Bible teaches us to appeal to good sense:

But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you. (1 Peter 3:15, 16 NET)

Being ready with an answer means being ready to share why it makes sense to you to hold the Christian hope. Are we ready to share the reason we are Christians?

We should note here that saying something like “I am a Christian because my parents were Christians and their parents were Christians, and so on” will do nothing to help someone come to faith in Jesus. This is not being a witness to what is true about Jesus, it is being a witness to what is true about your family. If we were brought up in the Christian faith, can we go further and explain why we have chosen to accept and affirm the tradition handed down to us? I once heard a story about a woman who in cooking her first turkey put the turkey in the sink and put the dish rack upside down over it. Her mother asked why she did that and with the response “because you always did,” said “don’t be silly dear, you don’t have a cat.” A tradition can begin for a reason, but when the reason for its existence vanishes does it make sense to carry the tradition into our generation?

It has made sense for me to carry faith in Christ into my generation and endeavour to pass it on to the next. I can point to the experience of Christ in my life, I can point to looking more deeply into Christianity through the lenses of ethics, history, literature, science and so forth. Whatever angle I have come at it, it has always ended up making sense. I have thought it through and am happy when I can help others think it through too.

When you witness to someone and the objections to Christianity start flying, are you ready to walk with them on a thoughtful path? They are worth the effort! To do so just makes sense.

August 9, 2018

Shall We Make Alterations to Jesus?

by Clarke Dixon

Does what the Bible say about Jesus fit you or would you like to make alterations? You love Jesus but perhaps you would rather he did not make such exclusive statements like “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)? We might prefer that he had said “I am a way, one truth among many, one road to life, and people can come to the Father in various ways”. In our pluralistic day we might be tempted by a view of Jesus that seems more inclusive of other religions.

In New Testament times, Christians were being tempted by an early form of teaching later known as Gnosticism. This teaching speaks of Jesus, but does concur with what the Bible teaches about him. The apostle John deals with this temptation in a letter known as 2nd John. In John’s letter we discover three reasons to resist the temptation to make alterations to Jesus.

First, if it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then truth falls off a cliff. John uses the word “truth” four times in the opening verses, then in verse seven he warns against deception:

Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! 2 John 1:7

The Gnostics were making alterations to Jesus to fit their worldview, rather than making alterations to their worldview to fit Jesus. They were messing with truth.

Why are you a Christian? Is it because you were raised a Christian? This can be a great introduction to Christianity, but is not, in fact, a reason to embrace it. Why was John a Christian? It was not because he was raised a Christian. He gives us some clues in 1st John:

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 (emphasis mine)

John was a follower of Jesus because he met Jesus, learned from Jesus, saw Jesus crucified and then risen from the dead. John was an eyewitness, he knew these things to be true. John does not write a warning against heresy because he is concerned about religion, but because he is concerned about truth. If we do not follow a Biblical view of Jesus, then truth falls off a cliff.

Second, if it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then love falls off a cliff. Love is a prominent theme in John’s letter:

4 It has given me great joy to find that children of yours have been living the life of truth as we were commanded by the Father. 5 And now I am asking you — dear lady, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but only the one which we have had from the beginning — that we should love one another. 6 To love is to live according to his commandments: this is the commandment which you have heard since the beginning, to live a life of love.

7 There are many deceivers at large in the world, refusing to acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in human nature. They are the Deceiver; they are the Antichrist.  2nd John 1:4-7 (NJB)

You might think it strange that I would include verse seven, about deception, along with verses five and six, which speak about love, but in fact John connects them. Verse seven begins with a rarely translated connecting word ‘for’. We might give a rough summary of the line of thought like this: “It is great to find your children living according to truth. Now you, yourself, must double down on living a life according to truth, a life of love, because false teachers are coming, and they have a very different ethic than the love ethic you learned from the teaching and example of Jesus.”

Love is important to the Christian because Jesus, in his existence, life, teaching, death, and resurrection, is an expression of God’s love. If Jesus is something other than that, then love is no longer the main thing. Under the gnostic teaching facing the Christians in John’s day, the main thing was the separation of the body from the spirit. This led to an ethic of either extreme asceticism, because you must care less about your body, or extreme indulgence, since you could care less about your body. Either way, a life of love was no longer the main thing.

There is a popular notion that all religions lead to a very similar ethic. However, some religions in the history of the world have required human sacrifice. Not all religions lead to the same ethic and not all religions are equal. Christianity offers love as the main ethic, for Christianity was born out of God’s love. We won’t be strongly pursuing a love ethic if we are listening to an alternate views of Jesus. If all religions lead to God, then who are we to condemn human sacrifice as an unloving practice? If it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then love falls off a cliff.

Third, if it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then souls will fall off a cliff. John speaks of this in verse 9:

Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 2 John 1:9

If Jesus was not executed then raised, we still have a separation from God problem.

But isn’t Jesus being too exclusive when he says “no one comes to the Father but by me”? A specific problem calls for a specific solution. Suppose my motorcycle stops running and a mechanic tells me that I need new ignition coils. Will I then say, that sounds too exclusive, perhaps we should replace the carburetors, tires, wheel bearings, and piston rings? A specific problem calls for a specific solution and nothing else will help. Our sin problem calls for a God’s grace solution. When Jesus says he is the way the truth and the life and that no one can come to the Father except through him, he is not being arrogant, but accurate. Greater effort can not deal with our separation from God problem. More religion just makes things worse. Only the grace of God will help us, and that grace has been expressed through Jesus. If we are not sharing a Biblical view of Jesus, then souls will fall off a cliff.

Accurate teaching about Jesus is important enough that we should not allow false teachers to set up shop:

10 Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; 11 for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person. 2 John 1:10-11

In other words, when heresy knocks, don’t send Jesus out to make room for the heretic.

We may be tempted to run after alternative views of Jesus, but truth, love, and souls are in danger of being destroyed if we do. While it might sound tempting, if Biblical teaching about Jesus is not at the heart of our Christian faith, then our Christian faith has lost its heart.


(The full sermon can be heard here or through iTunes podcast here, while available. Unless stated otherwise, Scriptures are taken from NRSV)

November 30, 2017

Why Worship This God and Not Another, Or None?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

The new Governor General of our nation, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, recently found herself in a bit of hot water with religious groups. In a speech she expressed concern that that anyone would believe in something other than what you can learn from science. To quote:

“And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.”

While people of faith, including myself, may have felt slighted by this, we do well to consider that our Governor General really is expressing a sentiment of many Canadians. Our most recent worship service began with the following words:

1 O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! Psalms 95:1-2 (NRSV)

Many Canadians would respond to this call to worship with “why would we bother to do that? Has not science taught us that God is not necessary?”

The people in the Psalmist’s day would have asked a similar question coming out of the typical worldview of their day: “Why sing to this Lord, and not another? Why not worship the gods of the Babylonians or the Egyptians? After all, those nations seem to be more powerful, so maybe their gods are more powerful! Why not the gods of the Canaanites? The worship in their fertility cult temples sounds like more fun than ours!”

The Psalmist goes on to answer this question, which in turn also helps us answer ours. Why worship this God?

3 For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
6 O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! Psalms 95:3-6

Worship the Lord, because He is the one true God, the Creator of everything including us. God as revealed in the Bible is quite a different kind of god from all the other gods believed in during those times. Of all the mythologies of those days, no other religion expressed the theology of creation in quite the same way as the Hebrew Scriptures. The theology of God as revealed in the Bible has stood the test of time in a way no other theologies have. Belief in God is still very much with us. Zeus and the rest, not so much. Why? The Judeo-Christian concept of God stands up to philosophical enquiry, historical study, and scientific scrutiny. In fact such investigations even point to Him!

You might ask, “how can science point to God as creator when there is a fight between science and faith?” Let us consider an example (inspired by John Lennox). Consider my favourite motorcycle, a 1939 Triumph Speed Twin. Now consider a motorcycle enthusiast who owns one, and loves to take it apart and put it back together again to see how it all works. Scientists are like the motorcycle enthusiast who studies the motorcycle. Now consider a history buff who collects books about the Triumph Motorcycle Company.  The history buff learns that a man named Edward Turner was the chief designer of the Speed Twin. Theologians are like the history buff who studies Edward Turner, the man behind the motorcycle. Now when scientists say things like “having studied the world and the universe, we are able to explain how things work without reference to God, therefore God does not exist”, it is a bit like the motorcycle enthusiast saying “having studied the motorcycle, I did not find Edward Turner in the crankcase spinning the crankshaft to make the motorcycle go, in fact I can explain how the motorcycle moves without reference to Edward Turner, therefore Edward Turner does not exist”. Scientists say a lot of good things, but they say too much when they say that kind of thing.

Theologians can say too much too of course. Though a history buff will learn about the Speed Twin from history books and biographies on Edward Turner, they will not learn the same kinds of things as someone with the blueprints. Both the scientists and the theologians need to be careful they don’t say too much.

Consider further, that the existence of the Speed Twin as an engineering marvel, and as a work of art, points to a designer. That much is obvious. There are scientists who infer the existence of a Creator God from the engineering excellence and the artistry evident in the universe. This is the theory of Intelligent Design which you can read more about here.

While the existence of design in the universe points to a Designer, why should someone today worship God as understood through Jesus and not some other? The Psalmist helps us answer this question also.  Why worship this God?

For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand. Psalm 95:7a

Worship this God because He is the God who has had a relationship with us all along. God’s people in the Psalmist’s day could look back at the records chronicling God’s relationship with them and recognize that God has been walking with them all along. The gods of the other nations were not. God was their shepherd, sometimes protecting, sometimes correcting, but never far away. Likewise, we can look back and see God’s hand in history.

If you are a Christian, suppose for a moment that you are not. You are hardly going to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, or that miracles of the Bible happened. However, even if we do not believe that the Bible is the Word of God, we should at least recognize that it is a collection of historical records. It is a collection of 66 books, written over 1500 years, by the hand of over 40 different authors from quite different backgrounds. Whether you believe what the authors have to say or not, at the very least you can believe that these are historical records of what they believed to be true. As we study this collection, questions arise. For example, why the incredible unity of thought about God? Why the incredible storyline that runs from beginning to end including creation, fall, promises plus shepherding, redemption, and restoration? Why did a group of Jews claim that Jesus experienced resurrection, and why were they willing to die for that claim? Why has Christianity stood the test of time where other religions have faded away? How has Christianity become the biggest religion in the world, and why does it spread even quicker under persecution? The simplest answer is often the best, and in this case answers every question: Jesus is Risen Lord, God is our maker and has a long history of relationship with humanity.

The Psalmist calls upon the people of his day to worship God and not another, to listen to God’s voice: “O that today you would listen to his voice!” Psalm 95:7b. Why listen to His voice and not another, or none? Because God is the Creator, and humanity has a long, and recorded history with Him. Are we listening?

1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . . Hebrews 1:1-3

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Canadian Baptist pastor Clarke Dixon’s writing appears here most Thursdays; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

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

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