Christianity 201

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.

February 11, 2015

Faith: Leap in the Dark, or Leap Into the Light?

Hebrews 11 1


Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].  (Hebrews 11:1 in the Amplified Bible.)

Pastor Clarke Dixon is back for his mid-week article; this one is worth sharing with people who are ‘on the edges’ of faith.

Faith Is . . .

Many people have a cynical view of faith and they say that it is belief where there is no evidence, or worse, belief despite evidence to the contrary. Some will call it a “leap in the dark,” or as I recall one person having put it: “faith is believing things that just ‘aint so.” Some will turn to Hebrews 11:1 as confirmation that faith is quite blind: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (NRSV)

The first thing we want to notice is that far from being blind, there is quite a lot of evidence for the truth of Christianity. Here is a list of some of the evidence, which I cannot do justice to, but you can research further:

  • From the world of science, specifically cosmology, The Kalam Cosmological argument. Basically, what science teaches about the universe having a beginning fits well with what the Bible teaches about God.
  • From the world of science, The Fine Tuning Argument. There are constants, such as the force of gravity, that if they were different the universe would not be life permitting. Either we are very, very, very, very, very, very, very lucky that these constants are just so, or life is a result of design, which of course points to a Designer.
  • From the world of biology, the complexity of living organisms, actually the complexity even of a single cell, infers the existence of a Designer.
  • From the world of philosophy, the Ontological Argument. You just have to look this one up, I can’t even begin to give a summary of it.
  • From the world of philosophy and ethics, the Moral Argument. Most people will want to admit that there are actions that ought to be wrong for all people at all times in all places. For example, do you agree that child sacrifice is morally wrong, or should it be allowed as okay in certain cultures? The existence of objective moral standards points to a morality Maker. The alternative is grim indeed.
  • From the world of history, the resurrection of Jesus. The simplest and best explanation of the data (the death of Jesus, the near-empty tomb, the changed people who went around saying they had seen Jesus alive) is that Jesus rose from the dead.
  • From the world of history, the existence of the Bible. The simplest and best explanation of the existence of the multiple documents from multiple authors from many different times and places that make up a very unified and consistent Bible, is that God really was communicating with people. Further the existence of the documents that make up the New Testament is best explained by the fact that Jesus really did rise from the dead.
  • From the world of archaeology. Archaeological finds provide confirmation for many specific people, places, and events in the Bible and also for the general account of the way things were.
  • From the world of sociology, the fact that Christianity has been able to spread across the globe, usually quite peacefully. As one hymn writer put it: “Jesus, there’s just something about that name.” Add to this, the positive impact that Christianity has had upon the world.
  • From personal experience, the intuition many of us feel, the palpable experience of God’s presence that many of us feel, the experience of miracles that many of us have been witness to.

Perhaps not one of these arguments on their own is a knock-down argument for the truth of Christianity, and personal experience by itself should not always be trusted since we all know of people whose experience has included powerful delusions. However, all these things together provide “a cumulative case” as many apologists have put it. It is a case worth pursuing.

So if becoming a Christian believer is not about taking a blind leap in the dark, but rather is a reasonable step based on the evidence available, what is the author of Hebrews talking about with “the conviction of things not seen”? We can better discover this if we look at the examples given throughout the rest of Hebrews chapter 11. To make it easier, and this article shorter, let us take a test case and consider the Israelites during the exodus from Egypt: “By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned” (Hebrews 11:29 NRSV). Did they have evidence of the existence and power of God? Yes, the path through the Sea was powerful evidence that God certainly exists. But before they “take the plunge” and begin walking, they also need to ask “Does God love us or is He leading us into a watery grave?” Faith is not just a matter of determining if God exists, it is also about whether we should trust Him or not. The Israelites had evidence that they should trust God, given the promises to the patriarchs, the plagues upon Egypt, and the cloud and fire keeping the pursuing Egyptians back. So they step out in faith and cross over, trusting God, who they cannot see, with their future, which they cannot see. Faith is the conviction of things not seen, but it is not blind.

Consider further the list of heroes who faced dire circumstances as related in verses 32-38. These are not examples of people believing in a religion despite the evidence, these are examples of people trusting God with their future despite their current circumstances. As one writer put it, faith is not just believing in God, but believing God. Faith is not blind but is the assurance of things hoped for.

We have already seen, in a very “scratch the surface” kind of way, that there is evidence for the truth of Christianity. But is there evidence that you and I can trust God? Yes:

  • Creation is not just evidence that God exists, but evidence that God is love. God could have wiped us out with a flood and enjoyed creation without us. But He chose to keep us in the picture and pursue relationship with us.
  • The Bible is evidence that God loves us. People communicate freely and fully when they are in love. God has been communicating with us and revealing Himself to us all along. He would not do this if He did not care.
  • Jesus is evidence of God’s love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16 NRSV).
  • The Holy Spirit is evidence of God’s love. God has made His presence with us and to us possible. This is evidence of love.

I would never ask a person to take a leap of faith in the dark and become a Christian. But I would ask them to examine the evidence for the truth of Christianity and take a reasonable step of faith. But this is not “taking up religion,” this is trusting God with your life and your future and so taking up your cross and following Jesus. You may not be able to see God, you may not be able to see the details of your future, you may not be able to see love, but that is okay for “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”