Blog Category: Apologetics



To Live Right, Shine the Light on Scripture

Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, our latest post in our year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” In this post we look at how we can shine the light on Scripture to counter claims that the Good News is “old news” that lacks modern relevance.


“The Bible is old-fashioned! Times have changed!”

Have you heard people express the view that Christians are out-of-date and out-of-step with the real world? That the Bible is just a dusty old book of fables? Instead of letting these claims close us down, let’s use them to start a conversation. As people hand us the opportunity, let us not hesitate to shine the light on the truth of Scripture.

If you’re familiar with the term Apologetics, you know that the word meanssharing what you believe, and why you believe it’s true.” Every Christian needs to know what the Bible says — and why it’s true. Every Christian needs to consistently read the Bible for themselves to gain first-hand knowledge of how God wants us to live, and why. God’s boundaries aren’t designed to keep us from having fun, but to protect us from unnecessary pain and drama.

Shine the Light on Scripture

When we shine the light on Scripture, it’s not you and I who have to carry the burden of proof — it’s God. Scholars continue to uncover “an avalanche,” as Josh puts it, of historical evidence. For more than 50 years, Josh McDowell has focused on teaching and publishing resources that educate Christians on this factual evidence that validates biblical dates and events — and, thus, the teachings of Jesus.

Because they have proven trustworthy, we can also have full confidence that God IS who He says. We don’t have to just “take it on faith.” Josh learned this truth first-hand, when he moved from skeptic to unwavering believer after his intensive research failed to disprove Jesus and Christianity. Josh shared that evidence in his Apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands A Verdict, which he and his son, Sean McDowell, recently expanded.


To watch FREE, short videos of Josh answering basic Apologetics questions such as Is there such a thing as truth?and Is the Bible historically accurate?” scroll to the bottom of this page. You will gain knowledge and confidence to answer skeptics when they ask the same of you. Shine the light on Scripture and watch God show up!


Apologetics: Classical, Relational & Moral Emphasis

Josh McDowell Ministry now focuses on three aspects of Apologetics: classical, relational, and moral. Classical is the authentic historical evidence that validates the Bible. Why add relational?

Josh realized that relationship is critical to our sharing the Good News. Others don’t care what we know, until they first know we care. And they certainly won’t listen if we’re not walking our talk. But Josh also realized that how we view God plays a critical role in how we view ourselves and our purpose in the world. Why add moral?

In his research, Josh has discovered that the number one barrier keeping our young people from trusting God and the Scriptures is their view of morality. Our society presents a model of morality that mocks God’s standard as old-fashioned and limiting. Society encourages us to move outside of God’s healthy boundaries, while it glosses over the possible destructive consequences, such as sexually transmitted diseases.


But even if we do find ourselves suffering these consequences, we find God ever-ready to pick us up to help us live our best life possible! How do we know this truth? By shining the light on Scripture and what its says about God’s love and grace for us.


Influence Youth to Choose God’s Standard

My husband, Alex, and I have three children. It’s been a privilege for us to have conversations with our kids about sex and morality, showing them the beautiful design of the Designer, and explaining why biblical standards have been set in place for their good and flourishing. God doesn’t want to see us used and abused! It breaks His heart.

Unfortunately, we grow up experiencing the brokenness of this world, because it’s all around us. But we can decide to walk in the freedom that comes from knowing and living in the light of Truth. We can discover that only God fully satisfies. Compared to His perfect love, the world’s promises are outed as cheap, momentary thrills that disappoint. That internal “God ache” never goes away because we don’t turn to Him to fill it.

Alex often speaks to huge crowds about their need for Jesus. But you and I can do the same within our small, intimate circles of influence, starting with our children. Our culture follows the tide of public opinion, but we can keep our young people from sinking. As parents, we can use apologetics materials to help anchor the hearts, minds, and souls of our children, so they choose the stability that flows only from the Word of God.


Parents, start the conversation and keep it going. Be ready to show your kids that Christianity has deep and vibrant roots. God is on the move! Take every advantage, in everyday situations and in everyday conversations, to guide your family to the Truth. 

To live right, we must shine the light on Scripture.
***Click here to watch Josh’s FREE Apologetics videos.


In our next blog post, let’s look at the epidemic sweeping our nation, both inside and outside of the church: porn addiction.

Catch up: The introductory post to this series.



Bare Facts: Talking About Sex

Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, our latest post in our year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” In this post we dive further into talking about sex with your kids. Specifically, God’s beautiful design for it.


“Love and sex — don’t they mean the same thing?”

We live in an age of information overload. Yet there’s so much misinformation about love, sex, and relationships. For many people, love and sex DO mean the same thing. But in last week’s post we talked about how they actually differ, especially to God. So much of the confusion stems from people having a desire for love — but not understanding what real love looks like.

Young people desperately need to hear and hold a positive, biblical worldview about God’s design for sex. Without this foundation in place, it’s no surprise to see so many end up broken, facing all kinds of challenges in their lives and relationships.


When we are talking about sex with our youth, we need to help them see that it’s a sacred act, not a casual one. Yet society pushes sexual exploration and immorality on our kids, encouraging them to embrace a cheapened morality. Parents, we don’t have to feel helpless about this influence. We can fight back by taking an active role in guiding our kids to understand God’s beautiful design for sex. We can help our kids to know and stand on the truth so they enjoy their best life.

Helpful Parenting Resource

Bare FactsTrust me, even when our kids act like they’re grossed out that we’re talking about sex, they are listening. Especially when we approach them with respect. They want to know what we think. Kids love to hear real stories of how we’ve gained our wisdom!

One resource that has equipped me and my husband, Alex, to have these conversations with our kids is Josh McDowell’s book, The Bare Facts: 39 Questions Your Parents Hope You Never Ask About Sex. Josh wrote the book because he believes knowledge, not ignorance, is the key to youthful purity. Using entertaining anecdotes, real stories, and biblical insights, Bare Facts delivers frank and biblical answers to top questions our kids are asking about sex, love, and relationships.

I read the book first, to prepare myself for talking with my teenagers. And then I gave them the book to them to read for themselves, to put us on the same page, literally. You can read some sample pages of Bare Facts by clicking here. You can order the book alone or as a book/DVD set, for use in small groups.

Love and sex are not the same thing, though that’s the message our kids see in entertainment and the media. In talking about sex with our kids, we guide them in  valuing the role God intends for sex. And we help them to hold fast to His standard, despite the siren call of our increasingly sexualized society. Our kids can’t know the truth, if we leave it to society to instruct them.


Using The Bare Facts: 39 Questions Your Parents Hope You Never Ask About Sex, you can talk to your kids about:

        • Whether sexting and oral sex are big deals. 
        • How to deal with their hormones, emotions, and sexual attraction.
        • Choosing to not view porn, to skip its addictive grip.
        • Why waiting to have sex until marriage has some really big perks.
        • God’s amazing grace and forgiveness if they’ve already had sex.

    As parents, we need to be ready to have important conversations with our kids. We need to make sure they feel free to ask questions and are prepared to make good choices. We need to make sure they aren’t doing life from shame or fear, but living in the light of God’s truth.

    ⇒ ⇒ Click here to see all of Josh’s parenting videos


    In our next blog post, let’s look at using the Bible as our guide for everyday life, even in the area of sex.

    Catch up: The introductory post to this series.



Josh McDowell: My 3-Pillar Approach to Apologetics

Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, our latest post in our year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” In this post Josh explains his 3-pillar approach to Apologetics.

 


Click video to watch.

Many people ask me, “Josh, you’re an apologist. So why do you talk about sex and pornography?”

Here’s why: I believe the rapid decline of our society demands it. I am, indeed, a classical apologist. But I must now focus on relational and moral apologetics as well, if I am to fully share God’s truth. Let me explain these three pillars further:

Classical Apologetics

As an evidential apologist I share evidence that confirms the truthfulness of the Bible. The term “apologist” actually means “to set forth positive reasons why you believe.” I believe, with all that I am, that Jesus is who He says He is, because God’s Word can be trusted. Though I started out a disbelieving skeptic, it has been God’s call on my life, for the last 50 years, to share the evidence that supports both of these claims!

But here’s the problem: I recognized, years ago, that when we try to present truth outside of the context of relationships, it’s so often rejected. So I can’t just be focused on the evidence itself, but on whether people are in productive relationships — an established foundation of trust, openness, and acceptance — to have productive conversations about God.

Relational Apologetics

Here’s the phrase I created to express this: Truth without relationships leads to rejection. So I want to help people to build good relationships with each other. I especially want parents to have these relationships of trust with their kids, so our youth won’t disregard God’s truths. I call this relational apologetics.

Moral Apologetics

I also discovered that the number one barrier that keeps a young person from trusting Christ, God, or the Scriptures is morality. That’s why I launched the “Why Wait” campaign years ago. Today,  the greatest barrier to a person coming to Christ is pervasive internet pornography, which has become a huge societal problem — even inside the Church. We must address porn addiction head-on, if Christianity is to maintain a positive influence in society.

So, I hope you now understand why these three pillars are our current focus here at Josh McDowell Ministry. My team and I thank you so much for your support, both your prayers and your financial gifts, to keep our efforts going!

Josh


In our next blog post, we look at topic many parents would rather skip: talking to their kids about sex.

Catch up: The introductory post to this series.



Josh’s Special Message to Grandparents!

Click to watch video

Grandparents, your role is super special! God has given YOU have the unique privilege of having a deep and lasting impact on your grandkids!


JOSH: People ask me, “Why do you have an emphasis on grandparents?”

Well, I’ve learned over the years that some of the most powerful people in a child’s life are Grandma and Grandpa. Why? Because when Grandma and Grandpa come over, they spend time with their grandkids, and often spend even more time with their grandkids than the parents do. Because of that, they’re a very powerful influence.

I believe that for grandparents to impact their grandchildren, they need to build strong relationships. The grandkids need to know that “Grandma and Grandpa really love me!” You build that trust that by listening to them, by encouraging them, by sharing God’s love with them, and by demonstrating your love for them.


Grandparents: As you build relationships with your grandkids, you should pass on God’s truth. But if you’re not grounded in God’s truth yourselves, you won’t be able to do that! 


Some important questions you need to be able to answer:

~ Why do you believe the Bible is true?
~ How do you know Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God?
~ Can you share why the resurrection is true, or that Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God?

Have these answers at the ready, because your grandchildren will ask them of you!


If you can’t give intelligent, biblically-based, historically accurate answers, your grandkids will eventually stop coming to you with these important questions. To gain these answers, you can read two of my bestselling books, Evidence That Demands a Verdict and More Than a Carpenter.

I also encourage you to check out these free parenting videos! I cover the topics of Affirmation, Acceptance, Appreciation, Availability, Affection, Approach Their World, and Accountability. 


Grandparents: Build loving relationships, be able to share truth within that context, and you will have a deep and lasting impact on your grandchildren! Go, YOU! You were made for this!

Josh


In our next Journey Together blog post, let’s look at what real love looks like. It’s certainly not the version that Hollywood tries to sell us as the real deal. 

Catch up: The introductory post to this series.



Showing Christ Relevant to Our Whatever Culture

Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, our latest post in our new year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” In this post, Josh shares nine ways he believes that Christians can show Christ relevant to non-believers in our modern “whatever” culture.

We can’t just claim, “Christ is truth” anymore, says Josh. We must provide historical evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible, but also share the deep and personal convictions we’ve gained through our committed walk with Christ.


Is Christ’s Truth Still Relevant? Yes!

Sadly, even inside the Church, most young people have bought into the secular idea that there is no absolute truth. But God’s standard of truth has not changed. What has changed is our tolerance for “situational” truth.

Yet when “truth” is based on situation, is it really truth? Vegetarians, for example, believe their “truth” that it’s wrong to kill animals for food. Nudists believe their “truth” that clothes are a hindrance. And scammers believe their “truth” that it’s perfectly acceptable to steal what belongs to another. Each defend their position, based on the “truth” of their subjective value system.

Tolerance used to mean respectfully acknowledging other viewpoints while not endorsing them. Now tolerance is defined as needing to respect all values, beliefs, and lifestyles as equal and valid — supposedly because there’s no “intelligent” way to discern which option is the best.

We conveniently push God’s absolute truth aside, viewing it to be old-fashioned and not applicable to a modern world. Or we decide there is no God.

But if there is no set truth, Josh reminds us, there are no answers. And if there are no answers, there are only questions. “People say, ‘I’m smart enough to create my own moral code,” says Josh. “But if we accept that norm, we justify even the actions of mass murderers.” Josh wisely notes that “truth” is not truth just because we believe it is.

Christians today are tasked with showing Christ relevant to a world that views Him as just one more option. How can we do so? Let’s look at Josh’s 9-step action plan.


Josh’s Nine Steps for Showing Christ Relevant to the World

Step 1: Create Community

Our society is full of broken people from broken homes suffering the fallout of dysfunctional relationships. How do today’s youth view success? One of the top rankings is a happy home life. People want to experience real love. You and I are to commit to loving so fiercely that people take note and wonder, “How is this possible?” We will sometimes fail  — but even in messy brokenness we can point to our source: Christ. Invite people into your life. See them as God sees them: as worthy and loved and cherished.

Step 2: Demonstrate Christ-like Compassion

Josh reminds us that it is only when we are convinced that another cares about us that we allow them to have influence in our life. Our churches should be known for their outreach ministries — but you and I need to be the ones signing up to participate to give these ministries life. We also need to minister in our personal lives. Are we good neighbors? Are we good friends? Are we willing to help a stranger, just for the opportunity to be like Christ? Ask God to help you live selflessly like Jesus.

Step 3: Context Truth Relationally

Bottom line: we must live out the truth of Christ through loving relationships. Do we allow others to take up our time when they need a helping hand or shoulder to cry on? Or do we live conditionally, only “serving” when we feel like it or because we think we’ll benefit? If you and I are to have the honor of showing Christ relevant in other people’s lives, we must do from a position of authentic relationship. We can build trust with people through grand gestures, but we build real intimacy by showing up, again and again, over time.

Step 4: Creatively Communicate Your Personal Testimony

Nothing will have more impact on showing Christ relevant to others than our effectively sharing our testimony. Can you confidently share ways that Christ has/is making a difference in your life? “Some people try to tell me they don’t have a testimony,” says Josh, “but I say, ‘Yes you do! You’re just being lazy. Set aside time to identify how your life was before Christ, how you came to know Christ, and how He’s changed your life.'”

It is because Josh has put in so many hours thinking about concrete examples to answer these questions that his personal testimony rings with authenticity and power. Because Josh KNOWS how Christ is relevant in his life, he is ever ready to share his testimony when asked. You and I should be just as prepared and hopeful at getting the chance to share ours. Start with this post about answering questions about Jesus.

Step 5: Demonstrate Caring Relationships

In our high-tech world, people crave caring relationships. As Josh puts it, “High tech calls for high touch.” The Church has the unique opportunity to meet this craving through loving community. But, again, entering a church can be an intimidating experience — especially for a non-believer who assumes s/he will be outed for not know when to sit, stand, pass the offering bucket, or even which book in the pew is the Bible.

People! We need to make sure we’re making it easy and comfortable for anyone to kick the tires of a church. That doesn’t mean we soften the message of our need for a Savior. It means we lead with caring. So the next time you go to church, don’t just say hi to the people you already know. Say hi to at least five people — especially those who look a bit anxious. Your friendly gesture of inclusion may be the single reason they decide to come back.

Step 6: Be Christ’s Love

It’s no big deal to love the lovable. But we enter a whole different ballgame when we show grace and patience and kindness to people who aren’t. The world is watching how you and I respond to the rude grocery cashier or jerky driver who just cut us off. The world is watching how we treat the homeless, convicts, and the adulterer next door that the neighborhood is having a field day gossiping about. “It’s loving the unlovable that will reach people’s hearts and minds to consider Jesus as the source of true love,” says Josh. “That’s the supernatural truth about the Christian faith.”

Beth Moore’s story about brushing a stranger’s hair in the airport always strikes me as the perfect example of showing Christ’s love. As Beth says, “When we are filled to the measure with the fullness of Christ, you cannot believe the needs we can meet. We can do what we know we can’t.” When we allow Him to, God can do through us what we simply can’t do on our own.

Step 7: Demonstrate Conspicuous Christ-like Marriage and Family

There can be no argument that America’s acceptance of easy divorce has severely handicapped the stability of the family unit. Why work hard on something that is just so much easier to leave behind? Kids suffer from the decisions of their parents on so many levels.

Today, most kids truly don’t know what the word “committed” really means. They throw away their water bottles, their barely used clothing, their gadgets — and their friends, when convenient. Because it’s the model they’ve been shown to follow. But you and I can make a difference by giving power and purpose to the word “committed.” We can demonstrate humility and selflessness and generosity. We can demonstrate sticking to hard stuff because it’s the right thing to do. We can demonstrate love. We can demonstrate the joy of living within God’s boundaries. “What has opened more doors for me to impact culture,” shares Josh, “has to do with the love I demonstrate for my wife and children.”

Step 8: Develop Credible Convictions

Before you and I can share our faith or testimony, we have to put in the work of growing the convictions we hold. As Josh mentioned above, some Christians have gotten lazy. To them, Christianity is a passive relationship, not an active, living/breathing relationship that gives their life peace and clarity and power. Some Christians have never even read the Bible!! People, how can we get in the game, if we don’t know the coach or the play book??

Here Josh gets very direct: If someone asks you why you take the truth of Christ at His word, and your reply is, “Because that’s what I was taught,” you prove the weakness of the foundation for your faith. Two other “dumb answers,” says Josh, are “Because I believe it” and “Because I have faith.” Ouch. But he’s right. Muslims have belief and faith. So do Mormons and Hindus and Buddhists and the New Age crowd. So how is your faith in Christ any different? “Faith,” says Josh, “doesn’t make something true.”

It’s a problem when the Church teaches a belief system without conviction. A conviction, explains Josh, is not just what you believe, but why you believe it, and how you’ve experienced it in your own life. Take the phrase, “Jesus saves.” In your own life, what does that mean? How has God showed you that 1) you matter to Him, that 2) He is changing you, and 3) That you can trust Him. Are you convinced, for example, that God is good, even when you don’t get what you want? The conviction that God is good, all the time, can only take root in our lives when we let go of how we think God should show up, and take Him at His word that He has a good plan for our life.

Step 9: Congregate Where People Are

Jesus didn’t check into a hotel in each town and tell the crowds to grab a number to visit with Him. What Jesus did do was make Himself accessible. He risked hanging with people that the religious leaders viewed so beneath them that interacting with them would soil both their fine clothing and their souls. But what they should have done, says Josh, is “throw the pearls, and let God decide who is swine.”

The point is to not set ourselves up as better than others, and to seek to create relationship with anyone needing God — even those that society disrespects or ridicules. Do you volunteer at church as a teacher or greeter? Have you served at a homeless shelter or food bank? Have you delivered meals to a shut-in? Have you participated in a prison ministry or a home for unwed mothers? Jesus loved loving on “sinners” because He felt compassion for the hurting. He was always on mission to draw them into loving relationship wth God.

Christ is extraordinarily relevant. We just have to get out there and show this truth to the world. God, alone, does the drawing of people to Him, so don’t feel like you have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Just keep to your lane — being a conduit He can use — and God will do what only God can do. 😉


In our next blog post, let’s look more at tolerance, and how society has derailed its traditional definition.

Catch up: The introductory post to this series.



If I Can’t See God, How Do I Know He Is Real? Quick VIDEO

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.



5 Attributes of God: Viewing God Correctly

Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, our fourteenth post in the year-long blog series we launched in January that we’re calling “Journey Together.” In this post we ponder five attributes of God. We can know Him!


God lives up to His promises because His character never changes. His faithfulnesses, as the Bible reminds us, is immeasurable. Click To Tweet

Why is it important that we view God as He really is?

A.W. Tozer, in his classic book, The Knowledge of the Holy, puts it this way: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

What does Tozer mean by this? He means that if we are to truly experience the life-changing power of Christianity, we must hold the correct view that God is all-powerful, sovereign, holy, just, and merciful. Adds Tozer: “Man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshipper entertains high or low thoughts of God.”



God has shared numerous attributes about Himself, so that we can correctly view Him within the limited capacity of our human brains. Click To Tweet

Can We Really Know God?

How do we know what God is like? The Bible. The Bible is full of details on what’s important to God. In broad strokes it tells us what He loves (us!), and what He hates (sin). It gets nitty gritty on His guidelines for how we are to love and forgive others, and His stance on stealing, coveting, and killing. It tells us how to battle our pride. It even leaves us with no doubt as to His views on some of our biggest societal issues, including porn, abortion, and homelessness.

Quick question: Do you entertain “high” or “low” thoughts about God? Do you know Him as your Creator — or more as a cosmic genie? Do you have a daily relationship with God — or do you seek Him out only when you have a problem?

Let’s look at five attributes of God’s nature. Each of them points us to seeing God correctly: as good, gracious, and reliable. He is who He is, not who we try to make Him into. God loves us fiercely, but His justice is as concrete as His love.


God is All-Powerful

“O Sovereign LORD! You have made the heavens and earth by Your great power. Nothing is too hard for You!” (Jeremiah 32:17)

God enjoys unlimited power; absolutely nothing is too hard for Him. God can simply speak something into existence! Everything God wants to happen, will happen; nothing can thwart or prevent His plans. God even has power over life and death. None can challenge Him or His plans. Because God is good, His power reflects His good character. We can trust that God not only holds this crazy world in the palm of His hand — but our individuals hurts and fears and needs as well. We serve a BIG God.

Notes Tozer: “God knows instantly and effortlessly all matter and all matters, all mind and every mind, all spirit and all spirits, all being and every being, all creaturehood and all creatures, every plurality and all pluralities, all law and every law, all relations, all causes, all thoughts, all mysteries, all enigmas, all feeling, all desires, every unuttered secret, all thrones and dominions, all personalities, all things visible and invisible in heaven and in earth, motion, space, time, life, death, good, evil, heaven, and hell.” 

God is all-powerful because He is sovereign.


God is Sovereign

“All the people of the earth are nothing compared to Him. He has the power to do as He pleases among the angels of heaven and with those who live on earth. No one can stop Him or challenge Him, saying, ‘What do You mean by doing these things?’” (Daniel 4:35)

God is self-sufficient and self-sustaining. He has no need of anything, including us. Yet He finds it a good thing to work through us to accomplish His master plan. So why are we too often guilty of trying to define God, stuffing Him inside a box we label and think we control? As if! Let’s not kid ourselves. God has dominion over all, including our life and death. God’s power diminishes any we think we have!

“Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms,” notes Tozer. “We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him. We want a God we can in some measure control.”

God is sovereign because He is completely holy and just.


God is Holy and Just

I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” (Isaiah 46:9-10)

God is perfect. Thus His holy presence demands that He reject our sin. But because He loves us so fiercely, He sacrificed Himself on the cross so that we can stand in right relationship with Him. Think about that: only God’s holiness could cover the filth of our sin. But just as He fights for us, God will turn His back on us if we refuse to give up our sin. Because God respects our free will, He leaves the choice entirely up to us. Now that’s a gracious God!

“Justice is not something God has,” notes Tozer. “Justice is something that God is.” 

Because God is holy, He is pure love. 


God is Loving

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from His love, Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can not keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35, 37-39)

God’s goodness stems from His loving nature. Not even our gravest sin minimizes God’s love for us! As Joyce Meyer frequently says, God separates our “who” from our “do.” We may have bad moments, but that doesn’t make us bad people in God’s eyes. Isn’t that amazing?! He instantly forgives us when we ask, and remembers our sin no more. He hears even our softest whisper of remorse!

“We need never shout across the spaces to an absent God,” notes Tozer. “He is nearer than our own soul, closer than our most secret thoughts.”

Because God is fully loving, He extends unmeasured mercy. 


God is Merciful

“The LORD is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.” (Psalm 145:8)

God is omniscient; He knows the past, present, and future. He knows every thought and word and action we’ll take today, tomorrow, even next year. Yet He has promised to “never relent from showing mercy to His children.” Thus, he administers His justice to us fairly. God listens to our pleas for mercy, and washes away our transgressions.

“As judgment is God’s justice confronting moral inequity,” adds Tozer, “so mercy is the goodness of God confronting human suffering and guilt. Were there no guilt in the world, no pain and no tears, God would yet be infinitely merciful; but His mercy might well remain hidden in His heart, unknown to the created universe. No voice would be raised to celebrate the mercy of which none felt the need. It is human misery and sin that call forth the divine mercy.”

God promises to never relent from showing His mercy to us. It is instantly given, when we confess our sins. As a society, however, we have decided we don’t need mercy. Because, we’ve decided, that a loving, merciful God won’t eventually punish us by casting us from His presence. Tozer puts it like this: “The vague and tenuous hope that God is too kind to punish the ungodly, has become a deadly opiate for the consciences of millions.”


God is Who God Is, Not Who We Say He Is

The truth, of course, is just the opposite. God is who He is, not as we try to mold Him into being. He makes the rules, we don’t. That sounds harsh, until we finally begin to understand His utterly holy and just character.

So, we have a choice: accept and follow Him as He is, to eternally remain in His precious presence. Or refuse to love and follow God, and miss out. I personally can’t wait to be overwhelmed by the majesty and glory of God. 

This Tozer quote is utterly fab:

“O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.’ Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.”


Study the attributes above, until you begin to get a solid, truthful view of who God is. He’s kinda irresistible once you open your heart and brain to all that He is!


In our next blog post, let’s pay homage to great moms everywhere, by looking at how they reflect God’s love! 

Catch up: The introductory post to this series.



Three Ways the Resurrection of Jesus Can Transform Your Life Today

 

 

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

 

Some of the greatest skeptics have been convinced by the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. These include literary geniuses (C.S. Lewis), lawyers (Simon Greenleaf), cold case detectives (J. Warner Wallace), historians (Will Durant), journalists (Lee Strobel) and many more.

As my father and I demonstrate in the updated Evidence that Demands A Verdict, the historical evidence for the resurrection is remarkable enough to persuade some of the greatest minds in history.

And yet the resurrection of Jesus is not merely a historical event from 2,000 years ago. The truth of the resurrection has power for your life today (Philippians 3:10).

Consider three examples:

 

1. The Resurrection Offers Answers for Doubters.

Doubt is not a sin. Even some of the apostles of Jesus doubted at his ascension (Matthew 28:17). Jude encourages us to be merciful towards those who doubt (1:22). I went through a period of significant doubt in my early twenties, and the evidence for the resurrection was significant in helping me maintain my faith. Part of what motivated Dr. Michael Licona to research and write his massive book on the resurrection, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, was to find answers to his own doubts. Knowing and experiencing the truth of the resurrection can help Christians who doubt.

 

2. The Resurrection Offers Hope for Grievers.

Like taxes, death is inevitable. We have all lost loved ones. As Christians, the resurrection offers us hope in our grief. The Apostle Paul writes:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

 

3. The Resurrection Offers Forgiveness for Sinners.

Guilt is a universal human experience. Naturalists try to explain it away as a vestige of Darwinian evolution. It is a trick, some claim, to get us to live in peaceful relationship for the sake of propagating the species. But the Christian has a different perspective: we feel guilty because we areguilty. Guilt is not illusory. We have wronged God, and we have wronged other human beings. The solution is not to deny the reality of guilt, or to rely upon human effort, but to embrace the forgiveness only Jesus offers. The Apostle Peter said:

 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:30-31)

The resurrection offers answers for doubters, hope for grievers, and forgiveness for sinners. If you are not a Christian, will you at least consider the evidence for the resurrection? You just might be surprised by its strength, but more importantly, how that truth can transform your life today.

 

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 

 

 



3 Foundational Truths of Christianity

Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, our thirteenth post in our new year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” In this post we’ll dive a bit further into three foundational truths of  Christianity.


What do Christians basically believe?

For starters, that God has a wonderful plan for humanity — though Adam and Eve mucked up the works pretty darn fast. Were the actions of these infamous first sinners a surprise to God? No. Because in creating us, God intentionally gave us free will. Just like He gave Satan. Despite knowing that we, too, would all too often choose sin over Him, God allows us the freedom to choose. God isn’t interested in robots, but messy people who sincerely love Him. 

Amazingly, God continually seeks to bring us back into right standing with Him. That’s true tolerance!

Let’s look at three foundational truths that committed Christ-followers find compelling enough to exclude all paths except Jesus.


foundational truths Christianity


Foundational Truth #1: Jesus Proved His Deity

During his 3-year ministry, Jesus repeatedly told His followers that He came from heaven to die for mankind’s sin, in order to reconcile us to God. In dying and resurrecting, Jesus fulfilled numerous Old Testament prophesies uttered hundreds of years before His birth.

But Jesus knows that talk can be cheap. So how did He make good on His claims? Through His actions.

Did Jesus demonstrate compassion, kindness, and acceptance? Yup! Jesus called out sin, but He foremost made it clear that He was motivated by the love that God the Father has for every single one of us. Did Jesus demonstrate incredible wisdom? Off the charts! He left even the most educated stumped. Did Jesus demonstrate miraculous power over nature, disease, demons, and death? Totally! Even over His own death, which validates His claim of the being the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Everything Jesus said AND did were congruent. Everything about Him, as I heard one scholar put it, “Hangs together.” It may still take quite the leap of faith for some of us to believe that God would come down in human form. But Jesus could NOT have done more to relationally prove God’s love.

Externally, Jesus appeared to be just a first-century Palestine peasant. But He proved His deity with His actions. Who can this be, asked His wowed disciples, that even the wind and sea obey Him? Click To Tweet


Foundational Truth #2: Christianity Changes People

The Bible clearly says that humanity’s woes stem from our collective sinful nature. Even our modern technology can’t save us from ourselves. Just look at the online porn footprint, which has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Despite the societal view that modern man has become “enlightened” by leaving God behind, we just can’t get beyond the pull of addiction, abuse, hatred, revenge, and other crippling, destructive behaviors.

Many people actually are looking for a “savior” — but they’re placing bets on the wrong ponies. It won’t be government intervention or subsidies, New Age philosophies, the media, the money of the super wealthy, or even the “right” president who will be able to “fix things.” Because they can’t address the real root of the problem: Us.

As Jesus notes in the Bible, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man.” (Matthew 15:19-20)

It’s so frustrating to Christians that they don’t instantly become like Jesus the moment they accept Him as Lord. God might, of course, immediately release a person from an addiction or situation that had so painfully ensnared them. But to become the loving, patient, self-controlled person that Christ modeled, we must go through the daily (and sometimes painful) process of partnering with God to put ourselves second.

But here’s the good news: because God offers us complete assurance of His love, acceptance, and forgiveness, we can RUN to him and find His arms open to us every time we mess up. We need that grace so much!


Foundational Truth #3: The Bible is Historical & Reliable

The Bible is God’s Word to us. It’s very cool that God not only cares about the issues we’re struggling with, but that in His Word He provides answers to many of our questions about life and purpose. To critics who suggest that the Bible is outdated, irrelevant, and in no way applicable to modern society, I’d have to ask if they’ve actually read much of it. The Bible teaches us how to love, how to forgive, where to place our focus, even how to be great spouses, friends, and parents.

The Bible’s integrity, specific to both its historical and geographical record, continues to be supported by external sources and archeological discoveries. Critics like to claim that the Bible can’t be trusted due to the element of human error. But this just isn’t true. We have lots of blog posts that cover the reliability of Scripture that you can peruse. Just one notable confirmation of the authenticity of the Bible can be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in a cave in Qumran only about 70 years ago.

Jesus fulfilled loads of Old Testament prophesy through His birth, death, and resurrection. Even today, the Bible continues to provide convincing prophetic accuracy. The Bible isn’t an ordinary, static book. It contains the Spirit of God!


“I’m just not sure that I can make the leap that Jesus is God. Or that He really cares about me.”

I totally get this! Because I had to overcome these mental hurdles, too. I hated that Christ died such a gruesome death; it took me years to gratefully accept that Jesus purposefully, willingly chose to hang there to express God‘s ceaseless love for ME. Because of that sacrifice — not my actions — I am deemed worthy to enter God’s presence without shame or guilt. That’s mind-blowing!

When Jesus said, “I am the Way,” he meant it. It wasn’t small talk, it wasn’t bragging, it was truth. 

Where else, in all of existence, can we find a restorative relationship based not on our do, but on our who? Show me! Among all world religions, ONLY Christianity offers grace and full acceptance of our messy insides — even if they resemble that ghastly Dorian Gray’s portrait. #yowza

The foundational truths of Christianity are based on the historical personage of Jesus. He lived, He died, and He resurrected, to intimately show us God’s amazing power and love. But the choice is up to us: Will we accept that we are so valued and wanted by the Creator of the universe?

Only through Christ can we receive the free gift of unconditional acceptance and love that we instinctively crave. This makes Christianity completely unique, and completely cool. Click To Tweet


In our next blog post, let’s look at five attributes of God. Wanna know God better? Don’t miss that post!

Catch up: The introductory post to this series.



What Makes the Bible So Special? Quick VIDEO

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.



Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, our twelfth post in our new year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” In this post we’ll look at two answers for the question “Why did Jesus have to die?”

Here’s why the “Why did Jesus have to die?” question is critical: if you and I don’t get clear on the need for Jesus’ cruel death on the cross, we’ll never fully grasp the full nature of God. And we’ll cheapen the significance of the cross — which I’ll admit I did for a whole lot of years. People, I was 100 percent disgusted by the cross. I hated hearing about it in church. And there was no way I was going to wear a shiny gold replica of it around my neck! Gross! As a young child I can remember thinking, “Poor grown-up baby Jesus!”

“Why did Jesus have to die?” Let’s look at two important reasons!



Why Did Jesus Have to Die? Because of Justice.

Why did Jesus have to die? Reason #1: So that God can welcome us into His holy presence.

Once humanity chose to sin, our sin separated us from God. Because God is completely holy. This might be hard for us to understand, so let’s use an analogy. Imagine a freshly shampooed carpet in our family playroom — and our muddy-pawed puppy racing toward it. We’d stall the puppy to prevent it from spoiling the carpet, right?

The torture that Jesus endured on the way to His death was shameful. Crucifixion, perfected under the oh-so-enlightened Romans, remains the most monstrous form of public execution ever devised. It is horrific, excruciating, and inhumane.

But when we isolate the words horrific, excruciating, and shameful, we get our first hints of the depth of sacrifice God was willing to make of Himself to reconcile us to Him. Click To Tweet

As a child — okay, even for a whole lot of my adult years — I missed the of Himself part. The phrase “God sent His son to die” muddies the reality that God and Jesus are one.

Author Max Lucado has been a tremendous influence in opening my eyes to just how up-close and personal God was during Jesus’ crucifixion. God wasn’t a distant bystander. Rather, because God and Jesus are interconnected, He also agonized over what needed to happen. He must have felt every slap, punch, and lash of the whip. He must have felt the jarring pain in each step to Golgotha. He must have felt the desperate overwhelm of suffocation of hanging on the cross. For sure, God felt the suffocating weight of our evilness and sin that draped heavily on Jesus. God or Jesus could have prevented the cross — but then again, no, if you and I were to be redeemed.

Jesus sweated drops of blood at the thought of what He was to endure. But He chose to willingly make that ultimate sacrifice, so that we can approach Him and the Father without obstacle, 24/7.

Dr. Andy Bannister of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries answers the question of “Why did Jesus have to die?” like this: The cross, he explains, is the cross-section of God’s mercy and justice. When true forgiveness or mercy is bestowed, someone has to pay the price for it. The cross offers true mercy and forgiveness, but not at the expense of justice. God, through Jesus, was perfectly unselfish. He stepped up to pay the exorbitant fine required for our sin. Notes Richard Cunningham in his excellent article on BeThinking.org: “We underestimate the significance of our sin — which is why the death of Jesus looks like gratuitous violence.” Bibleinfo.com adds, “…a just and perfect God could not simply sweep sin under the carpet and go on running a perfect universe.”

Because we can’t see our sin the way God does, we kinda think, maybe, that His standards are too high. That perhaps God should take a chill pill. But our perspective is wrong!

Christ's suffering was so terrible because it was equal to the seriousness of our sin. Click To Tweet

Here’s my prayer for all of us: that we begin to see how our sin hurts God — and that we gain the desire to truly honor Him wholeheartedly with our words, thoughts, and actions. To be as committed to reflecting the love expressed on the cross, as Jesus was in allowing Himself to be nailed to it.


Why Did Jesus Have to Die? Because of Love.

Why did Jesus have to die? Reason #2: To demonstrate God’s complete and utter love for us.

Why, asks Cunningham, did Jesus so deliberately co-operate with a series of events that took Him to a place of torture and bloody execution? It seems unnecessary. Except for the point we just made in Reason #1: That God Himself was in Christ, personally dealing with the sin.

“True love has the power not to ignore hurt, but to absorb it,” wisely notes Cunningham. God and Jesus absorbed the pain of our sin and digested it. And Christ, he adds, “plumbed the depths of His own divine heart for those inner resources which alone can quench God’s righteous anger.”

Bibleinfo.com’s view is spot on: “The cross is graphic enough to reach the most hardened criminal, but also the most sensitive humanist.” Jesus was willing to die brutally for us, to prevent our brutal punishment. Once we understand the depth of His sacrifice, we can’t help but be grateful.

Have you accepted Christ as Lord? The expiration date on His loving invitation ceases only upon your last breath. But why wait? Come feel His love now!


In our next blog post, let’s look at some of the foundations of the Christian faith. Christianity is based on truth!

Catch up: The introductory post to this series.



The Resurrection Answers Three Big Questions

 

 

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

 

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is either one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted on the minds of human beings—or it is the most remarkable fact of history.

My father has often shared these words to me in person, and he’s written them in his books. The older I get, the more I realize they’re unmistakably true. There’s no middle ground with the resurrection of Jesus. Either it is a colossal fabrication or the most important event in history.

Given that we are in Easter season, many people are thinking about the resurrection. Is it true? What does it mean? Why should I care?

In this short post, I have a modest goal: to persuade you of the monumental importance of the resurrection of Jesus. Thus, I consider three massive questions that the resurrection, if it is true, answers.

 

1. Does God Exist?

If Jesus has risen from the grave, and truly conquered death 2,000 years ago, then this seems to be powerful evidence for the existence of God. After all, a resurrection would require an enormous amount of power and an enormous amount of knowledge. Nature does not have the resources to account for a resurrection any more than a feather can account for a massive dent in a car (unless it’s a Chevy). There must be a supernatural explanation.

Commenting on Jesus’ claims to deity, Gary Habermas observes,

But were these claims true? To verify them, the Gospels assert that Jesus performed miracles as signs of his credibility. We are even told that he identified his resurrection and predicted in advance that this event would be the ultimate vindication of his message and his own claim to deity.

The sum of these teachings comprised Jesus’s personal belief in Christian theism. It makes sense that Jesus was in the best position to interpret the meaning of this event. And he claimed that God’s action in his resurrection would verify his teachings.

We need to entertain at least the possibility that Jesus was correct: that this unique historical event combined with Jesus’s unique claims might indicate that his theistic worldview was corroborated. [1]

If Jesus rose from the grave, then it seems to provide a positive answer to one of the most pressing issues humans ask—Does God exist?

 

2. Which Religion Is True?

If the resurrection actually took place in historical space-time, then all other religions and philosophies for coping with life fall short.

This doesn’t mean other religions are entirely false in everything they teach. Many religions offer profound insights about life. But it does mean that on core issues—the nature of God, salvation and the afterlife—Christianity is uniquely true. And on the flip side, as Paul observes, if the resurrection is not true, then Christianity is utterly false (1 Cor 15:14, 17).

Jesus encouraged people to believe in him because of both his teachings and his miracles (e.g. John 5:36-40; Luke 10:13-15). He seemed to view miracles as providing a divine seal on his own ministry. For instance, Jesus reportedly told the Jewish leaders that his miracles were proof that he was the Son of God (John 10:36-38). On another occasion, Jesus pointed to his resurrection as the greatest sign that would confirm his identity (Matthew 16:1-4).

Again, Gary Habermas observes:

In what the Book of Acts presents as its initial sermon, Peter reportedly declared that Jesus’s miracles, and especially the resurrection, were the chief indication that God had approved Jesus’s teachings (Acts 2:23-32)…By citing an early creed that utilizes at least three Christological titles, Paul proclaimed that the resurrection was God’s confirmation of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:3-4)…the resurrection would have been taken as God’s approval of Jesus’s message[2]

 

3. Is There Life After Death?

How could we really know if there is life after death? In the 1990 science-fiction thriller Flatliners (which was poorly updated in 2017), some medical students want to know if there is life after death. Instead of studying religion or philosophy, they decide to flatline one another’s hearts, resuscitate themselves back to life, and then give a report on what happens in the afterlife. While morbid, their thinking does make sense—if we want to know what’s on the other side of life, we should ask someone who has been there and come back.

If the resurrection is true, then Jesus has actually returned from the dead and can confirm that there is life after death.

In John 14:3, Jesus says to his disciples, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (ESV). In other words, Jesus can testify about life after death because he has died, and then returned to life as a witness. Thus, if the resurrection is true, then life continues after death, just as Jesus taught.

Can you see how important the resurrection is? Again, either it is a colossal fabrication, or it is the most important event in history. There’s no middle ground.

If you haven’t really considered the evidence, then today should be the day. Maybe start by checking out Evidence that Demands A Verdict, the book my father first wrote trying to refute the Christian faith. He came to the opposite conclusion, and together we just completed an update with the most recent evidence for Jesus.

 

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org

 

 


[1] Gary Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 66-67.

[2] Ibid., 91.



Josh Asks: Why Celebrate Easter?

Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, our eleventh post in our new year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” 

As our excitement for Easter’s approach builds, I have a question for you: What should be our focus? The story of a chocolate-totting bunny? Or, maybe, the sweetest love ever?


Real Meaning of Easter


I don’t know why the Easter Bunny gets so much press at Easter. I’m pretty sure he’s not real. 🙂 I’ve found no historical record of him in the Bible. Not in the Old Testament, and definitely not in the New.

Okay, I’m kidding about searching for the mythical Easter Bunny in the Bible! But I do want to make this point: Easter isn’t about chocolate and jelly beans and colored egg hunts. It’s not about new dresses and fancy lunches and making a rare appearance in church.

Easter, friends, is about the personal, life-changing relationship God wants to have with each of us. No chocolate treat that you and I can receive or give this Easter has a smidgen of the sweetness of that amazing gift. 

I am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Scripture is reliable and its very words are inspired by God. The Bible beats with God's heart. Click To Tweet

Yes, I Know It’s A Radical Story

You may not know this about me, but I once totally doubted God and the truthfulness of Christ’s deity. In fact, right after college, I set out to prove that the Bible is nothing more than a collection of distorted and unreliable records of historical and mythical events. Simply put, if I could prove that the Bible wasn’t a reliable document of history, then I could show that everything it says about God and the Christian faith is in question.

I REALLY wanted to do that. Because God’s existence did not jive with how I saw the world. Having absolutely no doubts that my worldview was correct, I assumed that discrediting God and the Bible was going to be delightfully easy. I couldn’t wait to expose God and Christ as frauds! So I traveled all over Europe, seeking out historical manuscripts and knowledgable scholars to not only validate my view — but to do so beyond any shadow of doubt.

Here’s the egg-on-my-face part of the story: Eventually I had to admit that the evidence for Christ being exactly who He said He is was overwhelming. To be intellectually honest, I couldn’t deny or ignore this truth. I had to accept it and adjust my worldview to align with this truth. It would have been an intellectual cop-out for me to say, “I simply refuse to accept this.”

It is a wise man who can admit when he has been intellectually lazy or wrong. Click To Tweet

Evaluating Life Via Our Worldview

I fully get that each of us views life through the lens of our personally constructed worldview. Some of us acquire our perspective through secular influences such as Darwinism, Postmodernism, or even Enlightenment philosophy. Some of us forge our worldview by the way people treat us. Some of us simply accept as truth whatever we’re taught by our parents, friends, or educators. (Ack! Please don’t trust and believe what you hear on social media!)

But I will say, boldly, that a true worldview explains the world as it actually is. Not as we choose to see it.

Some people find it nigh on impossible to believe that God is a personable being who keeps us on His mind 24/7. A delightful young man I met at a conference, for example, is attached to the idea that “God” is simply a massive energy force. So a “personal” relationship, he insists, is neither possible nor intended.

Hmmm… I’ll agree that God is supernatural energy. But impersonal? No way. An “energy force” who doesn’t hear my prayers, or dry my tears, or celebrate my wins can’t compare to the very personal, hands-on God I’ve come to know over the last 50 years. Friends, God is active in the smallest details of our lives. The Bible tells us so, and our own daily experience bears this out.

One reason I find the Bible so valuable is that it shows us who God is, and who we are in His eyes. Click To Tweet

Man-Made Construct?

“But your God and your Bible are man-made constructs,” argued my young friend, “All world religions are the same in this.”

In truth, Christianity is *nothing* like any other religion. Nor did it piecemeal itself together by borrowing from earlier religions, as some critics like to suggest. (This truth is self-evident, if you put in some study effort.)

The Bible gives us concrete knowledge of God’s loving yet holy character. It teaches us that God is an eternal being who is all-powerful, ever present, never changing, all-knowing — and crazy about us. The Bible is crystal-clear on one point: the personal cost God was willing to pay to prove His undying love for us.

The Bible affirms God's unyielding love for us, and the unique and special way each of us fits into God's universe. Click To Tweet

It’s Easter: Be Sweet Like Jesus!

My friend can’t yet see the value of Jesus’ sacrifice, nor the sweet, sweet joy we Christians have because of Jesus’ resurrection. So I asked him to do me a favor: To consider the truth of God with an open mind, like I did when I was his age. To at least question the validity of his worldview.  “Who knows,” he conceded, as we warmly shook hands in parting. “I might change my mind one day. In part because you were willing to discuss this so amicably with me.”

Friends, his comment pierced my heart as surely as Christ’s nails pierced His hands and feet! The resurrection story is the most amazing story ever. But if we don’t share the Good News with an attitude of love and respect and grace — in Easter speak: if we’re not sweet — we lose the opportunity to share our love for Jesus. We lose the opportunity to have influence. This Easter, let’s model the sweetness of Jesus!

This Easter season, when people are more open to hearing the Gospel message, let's model the sweetness of Jesus. #easter Click To Tweet

In our next blog post, let’s look more at why Jesus had to die for humanity. Some think His gesture unnecessary, some think it grotesque. What’s your view? How did you develop your view?

Catch up: The introductory post to this series. Did you miss last month’s posts on Christ’s resurrection details?



Was the Resurrection of Jesus a Late Church Invention?

 

 

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

 

 

To be a Christian today is to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. But what about the first Christians? Could belief in the resurrection have been a late church invention? If so, then Easter celebration is deeply misguided and Christians ought to reject the evidence for faith.

Critics often claim that there were a variety of “Christian” beliefs in the first and second centuries—some that embraced the resurrection of Jesus and others that rejected it. The resurrection party happened to “win,” and so contemporary Christians accept it.

The problem with this claim is that there is no early Christianity apart from belief in the resurrection.

Let me say it again—The earliest records we have all indicate that belief in the resurrection of Jesus was at the heart of the Christian faith.

Consider four points:

 

1. Early Christian Creeds:

Creeds are verbal proclamations that circulated before their inclusion in the New Testament (e.g., Romans 1:3-4, 1 Peter 3:18). They give us a glimpse into the earliest Christian beliefs. Perhaps the oldest creed comes from 1 Corinthians 15:3-5:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

Notice two things.

First, Paul passes on a tradition that he had previously been given. Given the formulaic structure of this passage, most scholars agree that Paul is passing on material he received.

Second, the resurrection is of “first importance” for the faith.

 

2. Early Christian Preaching:

The book of Acts records the beginning and expansion of the church. Resurrection is mentioned in most of the speeches, which make up roughly one-third of the book. In the first speech in Acts, Peter describes how God appointed Jesus to do wonders but he was killed by lawless men, and yet “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24).

 

3. Early Letters of Paul:

The epistles of Paul are filled with references to the resurrection. N.T. Wright observes:

Squeeze this letter [Romans] at any point, and resurrection spills out; hold it up the light, and you can see Easter sparking all the way through. If Romans had not been hailed as the great epistle of justification by faith, it might easily have come to be known as the chief letter of resurrection. [1]

 

4. Early Church Fathers:

Resurrection was a central theme for many of the believers shortly after the apostles. Affirmations of the resurrection can be found in Ignatius Letter to the Magnesians 11, Polycarp Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians 1.2, 1 Clement 42:3, and the Letter of Barnabas 5:6.

The centrality of the resurrection can be seen in the earliest Christians creeds, the first written documents, the first preaching, and in the apostolic fathers.

There simply is no record of early Christian faith divorced from the resurrection.

The resurrection of Jesus was not a late church invention. It was the heart of the earliest Christian faith and proclamation.

 

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 

 

[1] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 241.

 

 

 

 

 



What is the Evidence Jesus Rose from the Dead? Quick VIDEO

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.



Hope: Not Wishful Thinking For Christians

Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, our latest post in our new year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” In this post we’ll dive a bit further into how our relationship with God infuses us with hope.

Hope over our missteps of the past, which God can redeem. Hope for our present. And hope for the future, on the glorious day we will see Him face-to-face. A Christian’s hope is not simply a desire for something possibly attainable. A Christian’s hope is certain, because God has guaranteed it. God loved us at creation, and sent Jesus to ensure our eternity with Him when we accept Him as Lord.

Bottom line: our hope gains us strength, rest, and contentment. Let’s look at three ways we can tap into this hope, and keep it with us on a daily basis.


hope


—-Hope That We’re Special to God

Our value comes from one single source: God. Only what He says about us matters. Not what society says, not what our spouses say, not what our children say, not what our parents say, etc. God tells us over and over and over again in the Bible that He will never stop loving us, rooting for us, carrying us, and seeking after a relationship with us. Why? Because we are that special to Him.

If you’ve gotten the idea from your church that you’re not highly valued by God, you heard wrong. God may not like our behavior when it runs counter to His standards, but he never, for an instance, views us without love. That’s AMAZING grace, friends! The Bible tells us He CRAVES to be in relationship with us. Because He knows that if He can get our attention, He can tells us His love message over and over and over until it finally sinks into our souls and echoes with every heartbeat. Jesus covered all of our sins at the cross. God’s face is always turned toward us.

—-Hope That We’re Not Our Mistakes

I CANNOT tell you how much I love this one! We all want to be redeemed from our dumb choices, right?

On our worst days, we long for a Do Over button. The good news: one actually exists. God keeps His finger on it, ever willing to push it. Click To Tweet

God repeatedly tells us to drop our soiled baggage at His feet — and to stop picking it up again. Yes, it can be so hard to sometimes let go of the guilt and shame we think we have to keep punishing ourselves with. But God tells us to drop our load because He knows how much it hobbles us in moving forward. Anyway, He’s already forgiven it. The FIRST time we asked!

You might have been told, as a child, that you were a screw up. You might have been reminded last week by a family member, boss, or stranger, that you’re a screw up. You might even, at this very moment, be hearing voices in your head that you’re a screw up. BUT YOU ARE NOT. Trust me; I know how hard this can be to believe!

I was raised in a church that taught that God’s love for me was conditional. So it intentionally reminded me of my screwed-up nature every single Sunday. Family members also repeatedly told me that I didn’t measure up. So sometimes the negative self-talk in my head is downright vicious. That’s when I limp to God, to anxiously test if He’s still with me. My hope returns when in my soul I hear God assert, “Your who is NOT your do, beloved child of mine. You are redeemed because of my son, Jesus.” That renews my spirit!

Amazing grace. So hard to believe. But so necessary to believe if we're to love, trust, and wholeheartedly follow God. God's standards never deviate, but neither does His unceasing love. Click To Tweet

—-Hope That Our Life Matters

There is nothing worse than wandering through our days without meaning and purpose. Because without either we get antsy and depressed and start to think of ourselves as inconsequential. And then we begin to compare ourselves with others, which is never good, because we lose hope.

God’s Word tells us that HE distributes our gifts and talents. And that HE doesn’t view one person’s talents as more important than another’s. You might feel yourself a tiny minnow in a miles-wide ocean, but that’s not how God sees you. He sees you as the right person, in the right place, to do what He needs done in the right moment.

You might not be aware of it, but your words and actions have the power to change the trajectory of many other lives. Your bright smile might be the very nugget of hope that buoys another person. Your shared meal might be the small gesture of generosity that soothes another’s rejected heart. Your carving time out of your hectic schedule to sit with a hurting friend might plant seeds of hope that blossom and bear fruit that others get to gratefully gobble up. 😉

We’re all connected; Our actions matter because WE matter to our Creator!

So if you’re lying in a hospital bed right without hope, let this post remind you. If you’re having trouble finding a job and view yourself as worthless, let this post remind you to regain hope. If you’re going through a painful divorce and view yourself as unlovable, let this post remind of God’s great love for you. God says He’s with us through even our lowest of lows. Our hope shouldn’t be dependent on our circumstances, because the source of our hope is a solid rock.

Our hope in God's ceaseless love is grounded not in our wishing or fabricating, but in truth. The truth of God's Word. Click To Tweet

Accept it. Believe it. Live it. You matter, you are special, and you are loved no matter what. Allow Jesus’s sacrifice to spark hope eternal in you!


In our next blog post, let’s look toward Easter!!!!

Catch up: The introductory post to this series.



4 Misconceptions about Resurrection

 

 

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

 

 

Not long ago, I was invited onto a radio show to discuss the evidence for the resurrection with a Christian and a skeptic. The skeptical host pushed back on my argument for the uniqueness of the resurrection of Jesus. “Your claim is so obviously false,” he said, “Just look at all the resurrections of the dead in the Bible alone, including people like Lazarus.”

The host was certainly right that many other people have been raised from the dead in the Bible, but he was confused about the difference between rising from the dead and resurrection. This is a common misunderstanding. We are going to briefly consider four misconceptions about the meaning of resurrection, and then clarify the biblical idea.

 

1. Resurrection Is Not Immortality of the Soul.

Greek philosophers saw the body as the prison house of the soul. The material world was considered corrupt, fallen, and evil. Thus, the goal of salvation was to escape the physical realm and to be freed from its shackles. But in Hebrew thought, the material world is considered good. The soul without the body is incomplete. A human being is a body and soul in unity.

 

2. Resurrection Is Not Reincarnation.

Eastern religions teach reincarnation, the rebirth of the self (consciousness, soul, mind, etc.) after the death of the body. Reincarnation is considered a curse, not a blessing. Depending on the specific tradition, the goal is to escape the cycle of reincarnation and experience nirvana or personal annihilation. In contrast, the biblical view is that human beings live one life, and then are raised to be judged by God (Hebrews 9:27).

 

3. Resurrection Is Not Resuscitation.

As mentioned by the skeptic in the opening story, the Bible records many instances of people coming back to life. Elijah raised the widow’s son (1 Kings 17:17-24). Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:43-44). Peter raised Tabitha (Acts 9:36-42). And Paul raised Eutychus (Acts 20:9-12). But here is the difference between these people and Jesus: They would each die again, but Jesus was raised to immortality and glory.

 

4. Resurrection Is Not Translation.

The Bible records at least two instances where people were taken directly to God without dying. Enoch lived 365 years and then was taken up directly to be with God (Genesis 5:21-24). The prophet Elijah was taken to heaven by a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:1). These are not examples of resurrection because there is no evidence either experienced death.

 

So, what is resurrection?

As my father and I state in the updated Evidence that Demands A Verdict, resurrection is a return to physical life. But it is not a return to the present physical existence with all its limitations. Resurrected bodies are transformed, incorruptible, and eternal (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

Jesus was not resuscitated, reincarnated, or translated. And his soul did not escape to an immaterial realm.

Jesus was resurrected—never to die again. And since Jesus is the firstfruits of those who are yet to come, if we trust in Christ, we too will one day have transformed, resurrected bodies and be able to experience eternity with Christ and the Church in the New Heavens and New Earth (Revelation 21-22).

 

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 

 



Reason for Our Hope: Christ’s Resurrection

Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, the ninth post in our new year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” In this post let’s explore the hope that buoys us because of Christ’s resurrection.

Life to death. The exact moment that our earthly constraints unchain and our eyes open to the majesty of what's next. Some won't be ready, others will be chomping at the bit! Click To Tweet

If we love Christ, that poignant moment will bring unbridled joy. Why? Because in proving His power over death, Jesus promised us the privilege of being in His presence for eternity. One of the tenet verses of the Christian faith, John 3:16, puts it this way: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” 

Let’s look at why stepping into Heaven is going to be the most amazing moment ever.



Are You Chomping at the Bit?

Dude! We will be ushered into His presence! The most glorious sunset can only dimly hint at how much this will blow our minds. #justsayin

My heart aches for people who confidently declare there's nothing after death. Too often, they have no basis for their view. Click To Tweet

Those who put their hope in Christ do so because they know Him to be real. And not just because His ministry, death, and resurrection have been historically documented. And not because they dutifully shuffle in and out of church every Sunday. It’s because in earnestly seeking after Him, they feel His presence.

Jesus promises that all believers shall experience eternal joy. Not because we’ve earned it — but simply because we call Him “Lord.”


What’s So Great About Heaven, Anyway?

Spoiler alert: Heaven will be great because God will be there. You think the universe is awesome? God will be a million times more awesome, because He's the Creator. Click To Tweet

When I was a child, I gotta admit: I was not impressed to hear that Heaven is full of mansions, streets of gold, and non-stop choirs of angels. Ho-hum, that sounded boring. Now, as an adult, I gotta be honest and admit that it still does. LOL. So I’m happy to report that Heaven is SO. MUCH. MORE:

~ In Heaven we’ll be reunited with our dearly missed loved ones — fathers, sons, grandparents, even pets (maybe?) — who have gone before us. Oh, happy day!

~ In Heaven we’ll finally get to experience the fullness of God, without the filter of sin that hangs so heavy over this world.

~ In Heaven we’ll finally get answers to our huge philosophical questions. You know, like, “Why was I born?” … “What was my purpose?” … “What was the meaning of life?” … “Why was life so hard?” … and “Did I make you proud, Lord?”


The Truth: Let’s Grab It!

I know it’s cool for some to say, “I’m looking forward to partying with the sinners in hell.” I’m hoping that’s only because they don’t understand that hell isn’t going to be anything close to Party Central. Whether it’s blistering fire and brimstone, or a darkness so crushing that it suffocates the soul, the worst part of hell will be separation from God’s holy, amazing presence. That’s like seeing the beauty of the VIP table, but being banned to the kitchen to wash dishes for the rest of the meal. #justkeepingitreal

Jesus took Hell seriously. It's why He paid the ultimate price to display His power over it. That's the truth of the resurrection! Click To Tweet

Heaven: the place we’d be foolish not to want to be in for all of eternity. It’s our hope, and our promise, our reward for committing to Him. Heaven is the wonderful home we crave deep in our soul. Can you hardly wait to get there?


In our next blog post, let’s look even deeper at our hope in Christ. Continue the journey with us!

Catch up: The introductory post to this series.



Trusting in Christ’s Resurrection: The Disciples’ Reaction

Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, the eighth post in our new year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” Can we can place our trust in Christ’s resurrection?

What kind of person would take the blame for something he didn’t do? When you find the adjective, attach it to Jesus. He took the punishment we could not take, to offer the hope we cannot resist. Click To Tweet

Jesus Resurrection


The Wavering Became Rock-Solid Believers!

Let’s try to picture the arrest and death of Jesus from His disciples’ point of view: These mostly rough and tumble guys had walked away from their ho-hum lives to follow Jesus. In return, for the next few years, they got to bask in the notoriety of being Jesus’ inner circle. When they walked into a new town with Him, I bet they might have done so with a slight swagger. Because they knew what was about to happen: when Jesus showed up, He brought the miraculous. Can you just hear these guys saying, like it was no big deal, “Yeah, I’m just passing through. With Jesus.”

And then, BAM!

A deal was made, a disciple's dastardly kiss was completed, Jesus was arrested, and His disciples scrammed, proving themselves uncommitted. Click To Tweet

But, THEN! There’s no getting around the fact that something incredible happened to transform this motley crew from quivering cowards into red-hot evangelists! These men went from hiding behind locked doors to brazenly sharing the Good News. Did they let the threat of also being arrested, tortured, and possibly killed stop them? NO! (All but one were, in fact, murdered for the Gospel message). Why did they refuse to save themselves now?!

Because they now KNEW that every claim Jesus had made about Himself and God was true. Click To Tweet

For 40 days, you see, Jesus gave His followers the opportunity to engage with Him in community before He ascended into Heaven. He proved Himself in whatever ways they needed: He ate, drank, and spoke with them. He reminded them of where they had been, and where they were headed. He revealed to them how Old Testament scripture had been fulfilled by His grisly death and glorious resurrection. He even pushed back his sleeves and opened His robes to reveal His wounds to Thomas, the doubter on record who asserted to the other disciples:

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” ~ John 20:25

Poor Thomas; he has no idea that history has forever pegged him to this moment! But let’s not judge Thomas too harshly; we can be just as bad with our faith requirements! Doesn’t the “I won’t believe it” argument get used regularly today?

Thomas did redeem himself a week later, when Jesus appeared to the disciples. Though Jesus did gently chide Thomas for trusting more in his eyes than in Jesus’ promises, it’s clear that Jesus wasn’t judging Thomas for his low moment of faith. Just as Jesus didn’t judge Peter when he faltered in walking on the lake toward Jesus, or when Peter publicly denied Jesus three times after His arrest. Rather, Jesus lovingly lifted Peter from his self-condemnation over doing so. God is all about our restoration!

The message I get from Scripture is that our Creator is generous with His grace when we question His existence and love. But He also points out the mental and emotional roadblocks we put up that stall our choosing to trust Him. God doesn’t demand blind faith; He asks for our trust:

Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”~ John 20:26-29.

When Jesus showed up, He brought the miraculous. But when Jesus showed up, things also got real. Click To Tweet


Develop Your Own Confidence in Jesus!

So what’s it gonna take for you to believe that Christ is who He said He is?

Do we believe that our dining room chairs will hold our weight? Yes. Because we’ve tested them. Do we believe that lemons are sour? Yes. Because we’ve tested their acidic juice on our tongue. Can we likewise test the Bible, to believe that what it says about Jesus is true? Yes! Some of the ways of testing we’ve already discussed, including eyewitness accounts and confirmation of Bible facts via archeology and non-biblical historical texts. Want to read some of these facts?

These are links to blog posts that provide you with truthful, vetted facts about Christ’s resurrection:

~ Resurrection of Jesus: Code Critical
This post explains defines the term “resurrection,” and explains why Jesus’ rising is so significant for us today.

~ Resurrection of Jesus: Pre-Resurrection Facts
This post shows that Christ was verified to be dead before they removed His body from the cross, historical context for Jewish burial practices, and physical details about Christ’s tomb.

~ Resurrection of Jesus: Hoax or Truth?
This post looks at various theories scholars and critics have proposed over the centuries to debunk Christ’s resurrection. Ironically, we can debunk them using logic and science.

~ Is Jesus’ Resurrection Fact? History Weighs In!
This post looks at details of the empty tomb, discarded grave clothes, an12 distinct instances highlighted in the Bible in which Jesus appeared to individuals or groups of people after He rose.


Look, facts matter, even when it comes to Christianity. Because if Jesus isn't who He says He is, then we're all wasting our time here. Click To Tweet

But an important reminder: we can “fact ourselves to death” as I heard one person put it, as we seek evidence to support the Christian faith. Eventually, we must simply CHOOSE to trust in His resurrection. Christ’s disciples — men who had NOTHING to gain from their commitment to sharing the Good News — declare that Christ resurrected. Why shouldn’t we trust these eyewitnesses?


In our next blog post, we’ll look at the hope we have about the afterlife because our Lord defeated death. Please continue the journey with us. We’re just getting started!

Catch up: The introductory post to this series.



Does God Exist? Quick VIDEO with 5 Arguments

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.



Has God Given Enough Evidence for Rational Faith?

 

 

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

 

As a college student, I explored significant doubts I had about my faith. It bothered me that God didn’t make His existence more obvious. In fact, one skeptic made me wonder: Why doesn’t God write “Jesus Saves” on the moon or “Made by God” on each cell?

After carefully examining the evidence, however, I became convinced that God has made himself known (Rom. 1:18–21; 2:14, 15). He has not made Himself known exhaustively, but He has sufficiently.

Consider three prominent arguments for the existence of God:

 

The Cosmological Argument:

Both scientific and philosophical reasons help us conclude that the universe, at some point, had a beginning. Given that something can’t begin to exist without a cause, the cause must be outside the universe. Since matter, time, and energy simultaneously came into existence at a finite point in the past, the cause is plausibly timeless, immaterial, intelligent, powerful, and personal.

Simply put, the beginning of the universe points to a Beginner.

 

The Fine-Tuning of the Laws of Physics:

The laws of physics that govern the universe are exquisitely fine-tuned for the emergence and sustenance of human life. The slightest changes in any number of physical constants would make our universe inhospitable. The most compelling and reliable explanation for why the universe is so precisely fine- tuned is that an Intelligent Mind made it that way.

Simply put, the fine-tuning of the universe points to a Fine-Tuner.

 

The Moral Argument:

This argument reasons that since objective moral values exist, so must God. If God does not exist, then moral values are ultimately subjective and nonbinding. Yet we know objective moral values are real. Therefore, since moral values do exist, God must as well.

Simply put, the existence of moral values points to a universal Moral Lawgiver.

 

Much more could be said about these arguments. My father and I go into depth on each one of these (and more) in the updated Evidence that Demands A Verdict. And we also explore the historical evidence for the deity of Christ and his resurrection. There is evidence for those who want to consider it.

So, then, why doesn’t God make his existence more evident? Why didn’t God write “Jesus Saves” with the stars? This troubled me until I realized that it’s an absurd request.

After all, what language would God write it in? Hebrew? Arabic? English? And if he wrote it in a particular language, wouldn’t all the illiterate people throughout history object? What about all the blind people? Clearly the request for God to write “Jesus Saves” in the stars wouldn’t actually fix the supposed problem.

Remember: God is not interested in proving His existence, but in knowing mankind personally (John 17:1-5).

As counterintuitive as it may seem, there is no reason to believe that if God were to make His existence more manifest that more people would repent of their sin enter into a saving relationship with Him.

God revealed Himself tirelessly in the Old Testament by sending plagues to Egypt, parting the Red Sea, and destroying the enemies of Israel. Sadly, this didn’t produce lasting heart-change in the people. They continually rebelled and followed other gods.

And even in the New Testament, when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, the religious leaders want to kill Lazarus and run Jesus out of town.

Therefore, even if God blazoned “Jesus Saves” in the stars, we would have little reason to believe this would generate lasting faith.

God is not interested in merely proving His existence. But for those with eyes to see, and ears to hear, God has made Himself known. He has offered sufficient evidence for rational faith.

The question is—Will we trust Him?

 

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 

 



If There is Such Good Evidence for God, Why Don’t More People Believe? Quick VIDEO

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.



Deity of Christ: True or False?

Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, our fifth post in our new year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” In this post we’ll dive a bit further into whether Jesus claimed to be God.

Some Bible critics assert that Jesus didn't say He was God. Not true. In the Gospel of Mark alone, Jesus claimed His deity more than six times. I AM, He said. Click To Tweet

We look around at our majestic world and we ask, “Did this all really just occur through fortunate happenstance?” Or is this the work of a Creator, whose love of order and beauty and creativity extends also to us? To believe in God  doesn’t actually require all that much faith, because the clockwork intricacies of our world truly are astounding. Our souls yearn for a connection to Him. Yet some of us still fight so hard against believing in and trusting in God and the deity of Christ. Look, we can take our own explanations for life — or God’s Word. Which will you choose?



Did Jesus claim to be just a great spiritual guide — or God in human form? (Hint: the latter!)

Some skeptics like to assert that Jesus wasn’t God — and never claimed to be. So not true, people!! We should scratch our heads in confusion at these claims, because the Bible’s New Testament writers clearly wrote otherwise.

Take, for example, when the high priest asked Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus replied, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

“Blasphemy!” cried the high priest, as he tore his robes to signal his condemnation of Jesus. “What further need do we have of witnesses?” he asked the assembled Jewish leaders. And with that, without a fair and just trial, these leaders decided to murder Jesus. He wasn’t just stealing their thunder, He was uncomfortably questioning their beliefs.

But here’s the thing: Jesus allowed them to kill Him. Jesus didn’t care about saving Himself. So He didn’t, in all of recorded Scripture, tiptoe around the issue of His deity. He was God and claimed to be such. He did so calmly. Assuredly. Without worry. Because Jesus knew He was fully in control of the outcome of this and every other moment. #truth

Jesus kept His focus on the mission He came to complete: dying to wipe our life slates clean. The Gospel of John records that Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent me.”


~ With Humility, Jesus Boldly Claimed His Deity ~

John also records that Jesus said, without ego, Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Yet at this claim to deity, the Jews grabbed stones to try to kill Him. Why? Because they knew that, according to Mosaic law, any person daring to make such a claim was deserving of death. An important point: We know, from their reaction, that they understood Jesus to be claiming His deity. You and I should arrive at the same conclusion. When critics say otherwise, they ignore the obvious.

Jesus claimed to be worthy of the same honor due God. And that to see Jesus was to see God. Surely only a fool would make such a claim… and yet, Jesus DID walk on water! And calm the storms! And heal the lepers! And send all demons scurrying! Could anyone but God do so?

Jesus said that He pre-existed with God before coming to earth in human form. John 17:5 reads, “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory that I had with You before the world existed.” In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” In John 5, Jesus tells us that God the Father “has given all judgment to the Son.”

And in the Gospel of Matthew, in what is referred to as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus claimed to have higher authority than the sacred Old Testament law and established Jewish tradition. Jesus is recorded as gathering a group of His disciples in Galilee to tell them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Again, not to air a massive ego, but to simply assert His deity. To assure ALL Christ followers going forward that He holds the universe in His hands. We can trust Him!


~ And Humbly Displayed His Deity Via His Actions ~

Even in healing people Jesus humbly put His power and nature on display. He healed everyone — from the highest in stature to the lowest social outcast. Jesus wasn’t motivated by the highest bidder, but by His pure love. I adore that about Him!

As recorded in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus healed a paralytic brought to Jesus by four friends. Upon seeing the man, Jesus declared, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” “Blasphemy!” again cried the Jewish leaders. “Who but God can forgive sins?” As Sean McDowell explains in his post on the deity of Christ, “They believed the man was paralyzed because he had sinned against God, and yet Jesus had the audacity to claim that he could personally forgive these sins.” Because He WAS who He said He was, dudes! 

Jesus furthered His claim to divine authority by healing a man in the synagogue over the Sabbath. Some of the Pharisees were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched closely to see if He would heal on the Sabbath. “Which is lawful on the Sabbath,” asked Jesus, “to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” Scripture tells us His critics stayed silent, but plotted in their hearts to kill Him.

Rather than be floored by the miraculous, these hard-hearted Jewish leaders chose to besmirch Jesus’ deity and turn people against Him. Some even suggested that Jesus had power over demons simply because He, Himself, was a demon. Circular logic at its best! 


~ Yet Jesus Still Doesn’t Force the Issue ~

In His prayers to God, the Gospel writers tell us that Jesus used the Aramaic word Abba for father. It’s a word that suggested His closest possible intimacy with God. In claiming this unique relationship, Jesus calmly asserted His authority over Old Testament Scripture and the Jewish leadership. But His claims seriously upset the Jewish leaders’ apple cart.

Would you and I get just as mad at Jesus’ claims if He arrived today, declaring to be the Messiah and telling us to look to Him for life and answers? Quite possibly, if we similarly viewed Jesus through the lens of our selfish pride.

Yet Jesus had zero pride issues; He never moved beyond humility. Isn’t that freaking amazing?! He didn’t force people to believe in Him. He didn’t waste time chasing after people or trying to persuade them. He simply stated who He was, then got busy displaying the truth of His claims through His actions. Who but God has the power to control the natural world? Jesus performed the miraculous as easily as child’s play. He healed the sick just with a word or gesture. And salved the wounds of the hurting. And restored the lives of any who sought His help.

Though He possessed all the power of heaven, Jesus chose to die a criminal’s death to display the depth of His endless love for us. And through His resurrection, Jesus soundly settled the argument of His deity. But He gives us the freedom to choose whether we will trust Him on this.

So what say you? If you’re still hesitating to take Jesus at His word, I invite you to get up to speed on the historical evidence for Christ. You can start by reading through the year-long blog series we did last year, based on Josh and Sean McDowell’s book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict.

Jesus proclaimed His deity, and humbly proved it through His love and actions. The evidence is plentiful, if we choose to see it. Will we believe? Click To Tweet


In our next blog post, let’s look at five misconceptions non-believers have about Christians. (One is that we have no fun. Whaaaaaat? LOL!)

Catch up: The introductory post to this series.



Why Are Stories Such Powerful Means of Communication?

 

 

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

 

The first time I ever spoke at a student retreat, I asked my dad for some speaking advice.

He said, “Son, I have three words of advice for you: stories, stories, stories.”

In other words, if you want to be an effective communicator, tell stories. Now that I have been a public speaker for over two decades, I can see the wisdom in his suggestions with even greater clarity.

People remember stories and relate to them. Jesus is remembered partly because he told remarkable stories such as the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), and the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-20). People have always loved stories. And they always will. As I wrote in a previous post, human beings are “storytelling animals.”

But have you ever wondered what it is about stories that makes them so impactful? Why do we enjoy a good story from a friend?  Why do we love movies so much?

In his excellent book Marching Off the Map, student culture expert Tim Elmore offers some fascinating insights from neuroscience:

Part of the answer, at least, is because our brains become more active when hearing a story. Consider what it feels like to listen to a presentation, where the speaker uses boring PowerPoint slides with lists of bullet points.

No doubt, it can engage certain part of our brain. The visual aid helps, but the data listed on the screen is limited in how much it harnesses our minds.

When we hear a story, however, things dramatically shift inside us, according to researchers in Europe. Not only are the language processing portions of our brain activated, but any other portion we’d use when experiencing the events of that story are as well.

If we hear about the sweltering heat of a summer day, the preoptic areas of the anterior hypothalamus portion of our brain lights up.

If a person tells us how delicious their lasagna was last night, our sensory cortex lights up.

When a friend describes how fast he was running on a track last week, our motor cortex is ignited.

In other words, the better the storyteller, the more portions of the brain are engaged. It can be far superior to relaying mere facts. In many cases, the listeners actually feel as if they are experiencing the story itself. It is an experience.

Simply put, a story can put your whole brain to work. [1]

Yes! God has physically wired our brains to respond to narratives.

We feel, experience, and sometimes even taste certain aspects of a story. That’s why stories are such powerful means of persuasion.

So, if you want to genuinely influence people, don’t give mere facts and data, tell good stories.

Want to be a good parent? Tell your kids meaningful stories.

Want to be a good salesman? Tell powerful stories.

Want to be a good speaker? Tell good stories.

In fact, for anyone who wants to make a real difference in life, allow me to close with three words of advice: stories, stories, stories.

 

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 

[1] Tim Elmore and Andrew McPeak, Marching off the Map (Atlanta, GA: Poet Gardner Publishing, 2017), 141-142.

 



Is the New Testament Reliable? Quick VIDEO

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.



Interview: Former French Atheist Becomes a Christian

A couple years ago I posted this interview with Guillaume Bignon, former atheist who is now a Christian philosopher and theologian. The interview was so well received that I decided to repost it, just in case you missed it. In fact, this interview is so powerful that my father and I included it in the introduction to the updated Evidence that Demands a VerdictEnjoy!

 

Sean McDowell: How did you, as a French atheist, become a Christian?

Guillaume Bignon: I was in my mid-twenties, working near Paris as a computer scientist in finance, playing volleyball in national league and keyboard in a rock band, and hated the idea of God and religion.

It took quite a conspiracy of many improbable events for me to even hear the Gospel in such a secular culture as that of France: I met an American Christian on a random hitch-hike halfway around the world, we started dating and I read the Bible to disprove her silly beliefs, I was intrigued by the person of Jesus, then a timely and unexplained shoulder injury forced me off volleyball courts on Sundays, which allowed me to visit an evangelical Church in Paris (like I would visit a zoo to see weird animals), and there, when I tried to escape without speaking to anyone at the end of the service, I was struck at the door by a blast of chills in my stomach, leading me to turn around and walk straight to the head pastor. He and I met and talked regularly for hours at a time, wrestling through my questions, discovering that thoughtful Christians even existed, realizing the Bible was historically reliable, and starting to think the whole thing could be true.

At the same time, I came to commit some particularly immoral atrocity, was rather brutally struck with guilt, and got to finally understand the Gospel:

Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for my own sin; mine; the very thing that was killing me inside.

The Bible was teaching that Jesus took the penalty upon Himself, so that I might be forgiven for free, not by my good works, not by my religious rituals, but simply by receiving Him, placing my faith in Him for the forgiveness of sin. Amazing.

I did exactly that, experienced a spiritual rebirth, every trace of guilt departed, and I have lived with that freeing reality ever since. I then ended up moving to New York, studying in seminary for a Masters in New Testament studies, and eventually a PhD in philosophical theology. This is the very brief story of how God takes a French atheist who hates religion, breaks all his defenses, and turns him into a Christian theologian.

(The fuller version of the story can be read here.)

 

McDowell: What role did apologetics play in your conversion? Did you find any particular facts or evidences compelling?

Bignon: I didn’t have the language for this at the time, the word ‘apologetics’ never came up in my conversations with that Pastor in France, but we were clearly engaged in the process of asking thoughtful questions about the faith, and he was providing consistent answers from his biblical worldview.

An important piece I came to understand prior to my conversion was that my standard of proof was completely unrealistic. I wanted airtight proof before I could believe in God, and I came to realize almost none of the things I knew in life enjoyed this kind of support: my name, my date of birth, the reality of the outside world, the existence of other people, and a multitude of other things I was yet fully rational in believing. So my expectations about God suffered from a double standard. I discuss these ideas about God as a ‘properly basic’ belief on a radio show here:

Prior to my conversion, I also came to realize the existence of God wasn’t so conflicting with science as I had presupposed, and through my experience of immorality and guilt, I came to suspect an atheist worldview didn’t fit right with objective good and evil (I only later on came to learn this was called the moral argument for the existence of God).

Finally, apologetics was very present right after my conversion experience, to ground me in the faith, and think logically about my newly found Christian beliefs. It was all extremely helpful, even to understand what the Bible says, let alone providing reasons why it’s true.

 

McDowell: How was your life different after becoming a believer?

Bignon: As I mentioned, the Gospel meant that my guilt was gone. I felt a real freedom, a liberating joy of knowing that my past wrongdoing wouldn’t be held against me, and that the God who created the universe had revealed Himself to me, loved me while I was still a sinner, and saved me in spite of me. That was and still is amazing.

I also came to have an objective purpose in life. I knew I was called to share this good news with folks who, like I did before, have never heard it, or think this is intellectual suicide. I have seen God equip me to provide thoughtful answers. That is also another strange thing that happened: I used to hate reading. I never read a book in my life that wasn’t mandatory for school. And after my conversion, I couldn’t stop, and read all I could get my hands on, to learn about the faith, the Bible, philosophy, logic, history, anything related to questions or objections about God, and I was hooked.

Finally, of course, my view of morality changed on several important points, particularly about women, where I came to understand God’s purpose in marriage. That girl I had met turned out not to be meant for me, we broke up shortly after I moved to New York, and I eventually met a wonderful American Christian woman named Katherine, a multitalented fashion designer who had lived a year in France and met there while visiting my Pastor friend. We got married in 2010 and have now 3 babies aged 3, 1.5, and 3 month old. Life is busy but so good.

 

McDowell: What advice do you have for Christians to better engage their atheist or non-christian friends?

Bignon: There are too many things to say to be exhaustive, but let me give one tip: never assume that your hearer knows the Gospel. Between my French family and friends, and my work on Wall Street, I meet tons of people, grown ups, who have a surface level understanding of religions, but are absolutely clueless about what the Bible teaches in answer to the question “what must a sinner do to be saved?”

I myself lived through age 25 without ever having heard that the Bible teaches sinners are saved by faith and not by works. I was stunned, and it took me a while to even process it: Heaven is for free? Given as a gift to those who would just repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus? Amazing.

So here is my tip: early on in your conversations, make sure you say something like this: “let’s leave aside the arguments and reasons to think it’s true, I’m not yet trying to convince you that it’s a correct teaching, but let me explain to you very briefly what Christianity even teaches, what the Christian view is.” And proceed to tell them the Gospel (of course you need to be able to do just that, so prepare yourself to explain it clearly and Biblically).

I have done this over and over again, and have surprised more than a few listeners. And how do I know they get it? Because without fail, the first thing out of their mouth is Paul’s very anticipated objection straight out of Romans: “if salvation is by faith, why not go on sinning?” Proceed to answer that too, but rest assured that now, they get it; they get just how shocking the Gospel is, and you’re prepared to discuss its merits.

 

McDowell: What is your hope and goals for your country France?

Bignon: My hope is that the Gospel would come to be known, if not embraced. As I mentioned above, I spent 25 years in France without ever being told that salvation is by faith in Christ and not by works. And even that had to happen through a very unlikely set of circumstances. I want the French to be told this good news.

And then of course France will need apologetics. The French are generally thoughtful, and they will engage with thoughtful arguments. There is very little existing in French today, and one of my burdens is to help fix that. Write, speak, perhaps debate, bringing the best Christian scholarship into the French language.

There are dozens of William Lane Craig’s in the US, ready to do these things in English better than I could, but in the French-speaking world, not so much; so I am very happy to step up and offer what I can. The harvest is plentiful, and the laborers are few. No, even fewer than that.

 

Contact info:

Twitter: @theoloGUI

Blog in English: http://theologui.blogspot.com

Association of French-speaking Christian scholars: www.associationaxiome.com

 

 



Is the Old Testament Reliable? Quick VIDEO

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.



Can We Trust God?

Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, our third post in our new year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” In this post we’ll dive a bit further into how our trusting God affects our everyday life.

So here’s the thing: many of us don’t trust God. I’ll go a step further: NOT one of us fully trusts God every single moment. (Or if you do, WOW! You’re amazing!) But if we don’t learn to trust God, we’ll never gain a firm foundation for our Christian faith. We’ll always be unsure if He sees us as loved and accepted and important. (He does!!!!)

If we view God as a genie, that’s not trust. If we view God as a grumpy guy we have to butter up, that’s not trust. If we merely hope when we pray, that’s not trust. So how do we learn to trust God, even when it feels like He doesn’t existWe can start with deciding that we can take His Word as truth. By reading the Bible, and choosing to believe what it says about how God sees us, we can begin to trust that He really is our loving, caring creator.

Overheard: If you don't have a relationship with God, it's quite possible it's because you don't open your Bible. Click To Tweet


In What Do We Trust?

When you think about it, we sure do trust a lot of man-made things that can fail us at any moment. Our cars, for example, and other high-tech transporters such as trains and airplanes. Think about the latter for a second. We willingly put ourselves in a metal can that hurtles through the sky at 500+ mph, at a commercial cruising altitude of 35,000 feet! That’s a long fall to the ground if the wing snaps or the engine fails!

We put our trust in stop lights. And stop signs. And the blinking “Walk” sign at crosswalks. We trust that the bank will return our money to us when we want it. The bank, itself, trusts us to pay off our credit cards and house loans. That trust isn’t always rewarded.

Too, we trust our well-being — if not our very lives — to other people. Every time we step into a new relationship, we open ourselves up to potential joy and chest-crushing pain. Even when we open our arms to offer a hug, we expose our hearts to rejection.

Some of us trust in philosophies so bizarre that they require not only our blind faith, but our total dismissal of reality. Critics like to say that Christians do both, but their claims lack truth. Christianity isn’t bogus; it’s based on vetted historical facts, and the very real personage of Jesus.

Lastly, most of us put a TON of trust in ourselves. We’ve been influenced by society to believe that our individual fates are entirely due to our own efforts. Say what?!


In God We Trust?

Have you ever looked at a United States coin or bill and wondered, “Why does it say ‘In God We Trust’?”

Though this motto currently remains on our national currency, I think we can all agree it’s now a minority view. Some are lobbying to have the statement removed, as it is a tangible reminder that the U.S. once respectfully acknowledged God. Will the replacement text be “In Ourselves We Trust”?

Primarily through our increasingly secular media and educational systems, we’ve been conditioned away from trusting God and toward trusting in the inherent power of humanity. We have no idea just how immoral we’ve become. As I overheard one person put it, “We don’t even know what immorality is anymore.” #ouch #truth

Many people simply can’t stand a biblical standard of morality, because it stops them from feeling good about their habits and behaviors. They believe it’s perfectly acceptable to blame God for what they think should be different in the world, and to use their view as justification for rejecting Him. Hold up! Do we seriously believe we have the right to judge and condemn God?!


God Is Trustworthy!

Friends, are you as tired as I am of the hamster wheel that society tells us to keep racing on to achieve our “best life”? In our frenetic chasing of power and wealth and popularity, we lose sight of our real purpose. We’re not here to amass the most toys, Facebook likes, and YouTube views. We’re here to live full lives made wonderful and satisfying through our focus of honoring God and serving others.

The Bible shares, in great detail, how we are to correctly view and respond to life. It tells us who we are! It teaches us how to love. It tells us how to forgive, and why it’s critical that we do so. It instructs us on how to deal with disappointment and failure and setbacks. And it assures us that God continues to pursue us to have a personal relationship with Him. How mind-blowing is it that the Creator of the universe wants us to know and love and trust Him?!

The very planet itself, as Sean McDowell points out, shouts, “God is real! See Him in the details!”

Sure, we can live by a lower standard than God wishes for us — but we only shortchange ourselves. Give God the chance to show you that trusting Him is worth it. You can start to develop that trust by opening His Word.


You are hereby challenged to take the 30-day Proverbs Challenge!

Instead of firing up Facebook first thing tomorrow morning, jump on over to the YouVersion app. It will take you just a few minutes to read the wealth of wise tips in the 31 Proverbs. Read a Proverb a day! Here’s one of my favorite bits of wisdom. #goodstuff

Double Dare: post a favorite verse on Facebook! You’re going to be known for something, right? Why not for being wise? 😉


In our next blog post, let’s look at why viewing yourself as God views you is a HUGE deal. It’s a game-changer, really.

Catch up: The introductory post to this series. Last week’s post: Is the Bible Fact or Fiction?



Is the Bible Fact or Fiction?

Welcome! Thanks for joining us for this, our second post in our new year-long blog series we’re calling “Journey Together.” Our aim in this post is to dive further into whether we can trust the Bible.

The contents of the Bible were written over a period of over 1500 years, by 40+ authors from every walk of life: kings, fisherman, statesmen, poets, philosophers — even peasants. Some wrote in the wilderness, others in dungeons, some in a palace, and others while on military campaigns. And they wrote from three different continents, and in three languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Wow!

Can a book so unique really be factually and historically true? Is the Bible, as some believe, merely a “man-made” work of fiction — or a book guided by the hand of God?

“The case for the reliability of the New Testament,” asserts scholar and prolific writer Dr. Howard Vos, “is infinitely stronger than that for any other record of antiquity.” Let’s look at why he can confidently say this.



Trusting Historical Testimony

Because you and I weren’t there to see it for ourselves, we trust that our knowledge of the past is based on verified sources: written, oral, and physical testimony. Written testimony is a written record of what happened. Oral Testimony, the primary way in ancient times of faithfully passing history from one generation to the next, relied on meticulous storytelling. Physical testimony is tangible evidence, such as a fingerprint, photograph, clay pot, or manuscript.

Let’s apply these testimonies to just two events that we’re all at least vaguely familiar with:

~ How do we know that in 1945 the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan? Because of details and facts from all three forms of testimony. Eyewitness testimony for the event is especially compelling. Recounts one 14-year-old boy: “Night came and I could hear many voices crying and groaning with pain and begging for water. Someone cried, ‘Damn it! War tortures so many people who are innocent!’ Another said, ‘I hurt! Give me water!’ This person was so burned that we couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. The sky was red with flames. It was burning as if scorching heaven.”

~ How do we know what the Nazis did to Jews during World War II? Because of the horrific testimony that can’t be denied by those willing to look at the facts. Credible eyewitness testimony is critical to our understanding of what really occurred in the past.

So why do scholars have to admit that Jesus really did live and die? Because evidence, even from non-biblical sources, claims that He did. Why do Christians believe Jesus also resurrected? Again, because of compelling eyewitness testimony. 

The Bible’s Book of Acts, for example, is full of eyewitness testimony. Verse after verse emphasizes that people personally saw and interacted with Christ over a 40-day period after He resurrected. We’re not talking a period of four days, or forty hours! We’re talking forty days, people! Some examples:

Acts 2:32: “God has raised Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses to the fact.”
Acts 3:15: “You killed the author of life but God raised Him to life and we are witnesses to this fact.”
Acts 4:20: “As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

We can trust that the Book of Acts is legit. Or can we???


You Can’t Prove That!

You might be thinking that historical testimony isn’t necessarily reliable. Because we all know that sometimes people lie. And sometimes they intentionally skew the truth. Maybe, you’re thinking, their memory was faulty. Or maybe the disciples just wanted to make themselves seem important or grab power!  

Sorry, those aren’t reasonable suggestions. Why? Because not only were the writers of the New Testament eyewitnesses — or faithfully recorded eyewitness accounts — they appealed to the knowledge of their listeners concerning the truth about Christ. They confidently assert: “You were there. You saw Him do that. You heard him say that. You were there when He did that!” The apostles throw the whole arguments of what Jesus said and did back onto the laps of their audiences by saying, “You know as much as we know of what Jesus said and did.”

Don’t miss this critical point: the apostles presented their facts in the presence of knowledgeable, hostile people who would have immediately known if they were presenting false information.

The eyewitnesses of the events in question were still alive when the traditions were being completely formed about Christ! Even better: among those eye witnesses were bitter enemies of this new religious movement who would have contested and exposed any false statements the apostles tried to concoct or spread! That, in itself, is authentication.

The disciples could not afford to risk inaccuracy or to make stuff up, if their goal was to have people believe in Jesus. Click To Tweet


Testing the Authenticity of a Manuscript

There are two standard tests exist by which all historical documents can be vetted.

The first test is called a historiography. The second is the external evidence test. There, scholars ask, “Is there external evidence totally apart from the book under investigation that confirms its inner testimony or accuracy?”

We’d start our testing by examining the paper and ink used to record the manuscript. Then we’d study its timeline — how far the manuscript is removed from the original (autographa). Next we would determine the manuscript’s approximate date. We could use clues such as ink color, letter size, punctuation, ornamentation, and even text division.

Want to know what scholars find when they examine the Bible’s timeline? That they can date the earliest version of the written New Testament to within fifty years of Christ’s death!

You might be thinking that’s a long gap, but let’s put the gap into perspective. The closest version we have of all other non-biblical historical documents is closer to hundreds of years. There is a 50-year gap between the New Testament and the autographa — but a 500-year gap with the Iliad! 

We also can test a document via archaeology. Non-biblical historical literature verifies certain facts about Christ. We know that He lived during the time of Tiberius Cesar. That He lived a very virtuous life. That He performed miracles. That He was acclaimed to be the Messiah. that He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, on the eve of the Jewish Passover. That darkness and an earthquake occurred when He died from crucifixion. That His disciples interacted with Him for 40 days after He rose. That His disciples were willing to die for their beliefs. And that Christianity spread rapidly, as far as Rome.

Another benchmark scholars consider: how many copies of the original text exist? The more copies available to review, the easier it is to reconstruct the original document. Again, let’s compare the number of manuscripts of  literature of antiquity.

Many people consider the Roman historian Tacitus to be Rome’s most important historian. Yet there are only twenty manuscripts that remain of his annals. Of Pliny the Younger, only seven manuscripts survive. Of Aristotle, only 49 manuscripts. Of the Greek historian, Herodotus, only eight manuscripts survive. Of the Iliad, 643 manuscripts exist. But of just the New Testament, scholars have confirmed the existence of 24,633 manuscripts! 

The evidence for New Testament writings is so much greater than the evidence for writings of other classical authors.

Notes Josh McDowell, who once thought Christianity completely bogus until extensive research convinced him otherwise, “We can hold the New Testament in our hands and confidently say, ‘Jesus really said and did what it says.'”


In our next blog post, let’s look further at the tension between our trust and the Bible. (Hint: it often starts with our inability to trust in God.)

Catch up: The introductory post to this series. Last week’s post: Meticulous Scribe, Trusted Manuscript.

To view videos of Josh speaking on the topic of the trustworthiness of the Bible, click here.

 



Meticulous Scribe, Trusted Manuscript

Welcome to the first post in this new series we’ve titled “Journey Together!”

Each week we’ll look at our Christian beliefs, and whether they help us to answer these four important questions: “Why am I here?,” “What is truth?,” “Why should I believe this truth?,” and “How does this truth affect my every day life?” Can we, by daily applying God’s standards to our lives, really live the best version of life God wants for us? Let’s Journey Together to find out!

To get us started, below I share why I’m so excited about an ancient text, the Lodz Torah, which I had the amazing honor of acquiring. I named it in memory of the Jews who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazis during WW II.

The rare scroll showcases the strict standards historical scribes followed to ensure they faithfully copied older biblical texts. What these strict standards mean, of course, is that we can trust the validity of the Scriptures! We can open up the Bible and pretty confidently say, ‘Thus saith the Lord.”


“Baruch, it is certified!” Moshe exclaimed, as he burst through the door of his friend’s home. “I could not wait to tell you.”

Baruch immediately grasped Moshe’s elation, feeling it flood his own heart. Moshe was bringing the news he had been hoping to hear for many weeks now: that the rabbi had certified the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) that had taken Baruch a year to painstakingly copy onto a new scroll.

Meticulous Scribes, Trusted Manuscripts

It’s easy for me to visualize the above scene, because I, too, now 550+ years later, am overwhelmed as I touch the edge of this ancient text prepared by a dedicated Ashkenazi scribe.

The scribe undoubtably followed the strict requirement of preparing the skins and ink, as well as the traditions of precisely copying the Scripture. He certainly was rigorously trained, and highly skilled, a respected religious scholar in his community. To be certified as a scribe, this professional scribe had to memorize 4,000 different laws and principles dictating how to copy Scripture. Wow!

His work was eye-straining and back-breaking, as he worked hours on end hunched over a table, slowly and meticulously copying Scripture in a room dimly lit by candles or an oil lamp. Let’s follow his process.

Exacting Process

To begin, the scribe obtained ceremonially clean animal skins from a Jewish butcher, and created the panels for the scroll. Next, he carefully soaked the animal skins in water mixed with his barley leaves. For this particular scroll, he soaked five skins. The soaking softened the skins, making it easier for him to scrape off the hair and fibers.

Then came the critical task of ensuring that he copied every letter clearly and straight. Using threads as guides, the scribe took a dull knife that would not cut through the skin and carefully scored the surface horizontally. This indented the skin slightly to form a distinguishable line. He repeated the same process vertically, creating a perfect cross-pattern grid on which to copy each and every letter of God’s written Word. The scribe believed, like all the Jewish scribes before him, that he had a solemn responsibility to reproduce every letter perfectly and clearly. Writing his letters on the grid aided him in accomplishing this goal. He knew that miscopying what God said could mean misreading, mispronouncing, and worse, misinterpreting and misunderstanding what God wants his people to know about him and his ways.

In following typical Jewish tradition, this scribe would have dipped his new quill in the freshly prepared ink and uttered each word aloud before he wrote it. “In the beginning…” he would have recited, as he painstakingly formed the letters. But he would have stopped before completing the last letter of the word just before the word “God.” Because, according to tradition, he would need to put down his quill and ceremoniously wash his hands. It was critical to purify himself and sanctify the ink that would pen the name of God.

With 304,805 letters to write — and not a single one allowed to touch another — the scribe’s task was daunting. His meticulous care and deliberation is why it took him over a year to complete this very old Torah.

When finally finished, the scribe’s manuscript had to be certified as having been transcribed correctly. Some traditions required three separate rabbis to check the accuracy! This meant these persons had to completely unroll this 72-foot scroll to check and count every single word and all 304,805 of the letters. They had to be sure there was the same number of letters in this scroll compared to the Torah from which it was copied.

Not only that, when they counted the words, they knew the center word was found in Leviticus 13:33. If the center word of the new scroll did not fall exactly within verse 33, it could not be certified. They did the same thing for every letter. The center letter was found in Leviticus 11:45. If the center letter in the new scroll was in verse 45, they could be confident they had an exact replica of the previous Torah.

Proving Reliable

It is overwhelming to realize that God has superintended the writing and passing down of his words from generation to generation so that you and I can have an accurate revelation of him! He has gone to extraordinary lengths to restore the intimate relationship with us that he once had with Adam and Eve in Eden. And he has chosen the Bible as the means to reach out in human language, reveal the essence of his relational heart, and share the Good News of Christ as our salvation.

In Deuteronomy 10:20, Moses instructed the children of Israel “to fear the Lord your God and worship him.” To fear meant to be in awe of God, to revere him and worship him as the Almighty God who shows mercy and grace to his people. That awesome reverence is clearly evident as each scribe performed his solemn duty to pass down the Scripture from one generation to another with such accuracy and exactness.

Now I hope you can understand why I felt such strong emotion when I held this centuries-old medieval copy of ancient Scripture in my arms!It is a tangible embodiment of the scribe’s dedication, skill, and painstaking labor, and the work of all such committed scribes to ensure the preservation of God’s message of love to us!

Stay with us as we continue this blog series. Let’s  journey together!


The full version of this article by Josh McDowell can be found here. To visit the introduction page of this series, click here. Click here to read next week’s blog.  

Josh McDowell

Josh McDowell, founder of Josh McDowell Ministry, is passionate about “Serving others until the whole world hears about Jesus.” Blog content from Josh is based on extensive works and research he has done over the decades.



Can Science Explain Morality?

 

 

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

 

Human beings have a universal belief in right and wrong. As C.S. Lewis has observed, moral codes from cultures throughout world history vary over what specific behavior they consider moral, but there is an underlying agreement that objective moral values and duties exists.

As my father and I state in the introduction of the updated Evidence that Demands a Verdict, any adequate worldview must be able to explain this feature of reality.

 

Science and Morality

In his book The Moral Landscape, atheist Sam Harris claims science can provide a basis for objective morality. But in his recent book Stealing from Godmy friend Frank Turek has written a piercing response:

Science might be able to tell you if an action may hurt someone—like giving a man cyanide will kill him—but science can’t tell you whether or not you ought to hurt someone. Who said it’s wrong to hurt people? Sam Harris? Is his nature the standard of good? [1]

In other words, science is a descriptive discipline, but morality is a prescriptive discipline.

Science can describe how things work, but it can never tell us how we ought to behave.

Another popular explanation for morality is evolution.

 

Evolution and Morality

A few years ago, I participated in a public debate on the question of God and morality. My opponent argued that evolution explains morality better than God. But this explanation also fails too. Frank Beckwith and Greg Koukl offer two reasons:

First, evolution doesn’t explain what it’s meant to explain. It can only account for preprogrammed behavior, not moral choices. Moral choices, by their nature, are made by free agents. They are not determined by internal mechanics.

Second, the Darwinist explanation reduces morality to mere descriptions of behavior. The morality that evolution needs to account for, however, entails much more than conduct. Minimally, it involves motive and intent as well. Both are nonphysical elements that can’t, even in principle, evolve in a Darwinian sense.

Further, this assessment of morality, being descriptive only, ignores the most important moral question of all: Why should I be moral tomorrow? Evolution cannot answer that question. Morality dictates what future behavior ought to be. Darwinism can only attempt to describe why humans acted in a certain way in the past.[2]

Science and evolution simply cannot adequately explain the origin of right and wrong. They are both incapable of offering a robust account for why humans have moral obligations.

And yet theism offers a much more natural explanation. Think about it: Valuable human beings don’t come from purposeless, random processes in nature.

Rather, they come from a personal, good God. God Himself is the source for right and wrong, and we ought to follow His guidance because He is the one who created us.

Even those who don’t believe in God, still believe in objective morality, because the moral law is written on their hearts (See Romans 2:14-16). Belief in objective morality is ultimately inescapable.

Science can explain many things. But it will never be able to adequately account for morality.

To explain real right and wrong we need a source beyond human efforts – namely, God.

 

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 

 

[1] Frank Turek, Stealing from God (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014), 100.

[2] Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 164.

 



Journey Together

Welcome, friends! We’re so excited to launch a new blog series called Journey Together! We’re thrilled to have you join us!

Life! So full of questions and fears! You know it’s ok to have doubts, right? And to ask questions — even of God?

As humans, we have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and understanding that we daily try to fill. We want to understand our surroundings, our experiences, and the mysteries of life. We also want to enjoy life — and to live fully, with purpose. Deep down we yearn to be amazing people, right?

But how do we get there? Can we really know and trust that God exists and cares? Can we trust that what He says is true? And that when we apply His standards to our lives, we really can live our best life possible?

Let’s journey together and find out! My team of bloggers and I would like to walk with you through a year-long journey … a quest, really, of discovery … together. Think of it as a treasure adventure!

We’ll start at the beginning. And we’ll do so without using a lot of deep church lingo. We’ll dig into subjects that our founder and President, Josh McDowell, has researched and taught for decades, as well as stories from other people that will help us to make sense of life, so that we can live fully — and effectively encourage and share our faith with others.

Here’s a preview of our weekly blog lineup:

Belief Basics (January – April)

Our journey will begin before the compilation of our modern Bible. In our next blog post, for example, Josh shares why he finds it so emotional to hold a centuries-old Torah scroll in his hands. Each week, as we journey through historical facts, we will determine whether our belief in Christ has merit, and why we should allow our Christian beliefs to influence every aspect of our lives.

Belief Affects Our Relationships (May – July)

What we believe at our core affects everything about us, from our self-image and self-worth to the relationships we have with others. In an increasingly secular world, we desperately need a Christ-based perspective when it comes parenting and marriage.

Belief Affects Our Morals (Aug – Nov)

Whether we’re struggling with issues related to tolerance, religion, morality, sexuality, or love, our belief structure decidedly influences our choices and how we respond to culture.

A Life of Freedom (Nov – Dec)

Life is hard, but we can live fully — and in freedom. Let’s experience the wholeness and solutions to be found in living as God asks of us. Let’s live lives fueled by strength of character, purpose, and meaning!

As we journey together this year, we’ll keep asking and answering these four questions:

  • “Why am I here?”
  • “What is truth?”
  • “Why should I believe this truth?”
  • “How does this truth affect my everyday life?”

This is going to be fun! We’re thrilled you’re taking this journey with us! Feel free to contact us, at any time, with questions you might have about the content we cover!

Chrissy Gordon

Christina (Chrissy) Hleboff Gordon is Josh McDowell Ministry’s Social Media and Digital Marketing Manager. She lives in the Dallas area with her husband and four kids and enjoys all sorts of adventure.



Is Being Good Enough to Get to Heaven?

 

 

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

 

Some time ago, I had an in-depth discussion with a college student about the morality of hell. Even though I provided every philosophical and theological justification I could muster, he simply couldn’t accept that a loving and just God would send anyone to hell.

After about an hour of conversation, it finally dawned on me. His primary problem was that he believed in the essential goodness of mankind. From his perspective, hell seemed like total overkill for basically good people who commit a few small indiscretions.

In one sense, he’s right. If hell were the consequence for small missteps, it would seem remarkably unjust. However, in The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis has rightly observed, “When we say that we are bad, the ‘wrath’ of God seems a barbarous doctrine; as soon as we perceive our badness, it appears inevitable, a mere corollary from God’s goodness.”

 

Human Nature in the Bible

The Bible has a very stark view of human nature (Ps. 14:3Rom 7:18Titus 1:15Mark 7:20-23). While human beings are the most valuable creation of a loving God, we have utterly rebelled against our Creator. We are deeply affected by sin. In his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem explains:

“It is not just that some parts of us are sinful and others are pure. Rather, every part of our being is affected by sin—our intellects, our emotions and desires, our hearts (the center of our desires and decision-making processes), our goals and motives, and even our physical bodies.”

Thus, from a biblical perspective, God doesn’t send good people to hell; there is no such thing as a good person. And that includes you and me.

 

Human Nature in History

This depiction of human nature can be confirmed by looking at the history of humanity. My colleague Clay Jones has spent decades studying the problem of evil. He closely examined the evil perpetrated in the twentieth century by Nazis in Germany, communists in Russia, China, and Cambodia, the Japanese in World War II, and other nations including Turkey, Pakistan, Uganda, Sudan, and the United States. After immersing himself in these human tragedies, Jones concluded:

One day I was reading The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang, in the course of reading about one sickening rape or torture or murder after another, suddenly I was struck by the fact that horrendous evil is human and that most books on theodicy didn’t go far enough. Those who do genocide are not inhuman monsters—they’re all too human. They are precisely human. Genocide is what the race of Adam does.[1]

Human fallenness makes the gospel powerful: we can only appreciate the extent of the work of Christ when we understand the evil and corruption we and the world truly contain. This does not mean unbelievers cannot do some good in society—of course they can! However, sin has separated us so deeply from God that we have no power to save ourselves apart from God’s grace (Eph. 2:1, 2).

 

Why Jesus Came

This is why Jesus came, and this is ultimately what we are celebrating this Christmas season. Although Jesus was (and is) fully God, he humbled himself to take on human flesh (Phil. 2:5–7) and experience the death that humans deserve. As a result, we can experience forgiveness for our sins and come to know God personally (John 17:1–5). Jesus explains:

“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

So, is it enough to be a “good” person? It’s true that many people may live outwardly good lives, but for Jesus evil is a matter of the heart. According to Jesus no one is good (Mark 10:18). Anyone who honestly reflects upon his life, and sincerely probes his heart, knows that this is true. Our only hope is found in Jesus Christ, the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).

*This article was adapted from the updated and expanded Evidence that Demands a Verdict.

 

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 

[1] Clay Jones, Why Does God Allow Evil? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2016), 48.

 

 



Is Christianity A Copycat Religion? Quick VIDEO

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.



3 Failed Naturalistic Attempts at Explaining Consciousness

 

 

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

 

The existence and reality of consciousness present one of the most pressing challenges to metaphysical naturalism (the view that only physical things exist). In naturalism, everything that exists should be describable in physical terminology, including properties such as weight, size, and location.

But we all experience certain subjective aspects of the world that resist such explanation.

In his book Mind & CosmosAtheist philosopher Thomas Nagel explains why consciousness poses such an intractable problem for naturalism:

Consciousness is the most conspicuous obstacle to a comprehensive naturalism that relies only on the resources of physical science. The existence of consciousness seems to imply that the physical description of the universe, in spite of its richness and explanatory power, is only part of the truth, and that the natural order is far less austere than it would be if physics and chemistry accounted for everything. If we take this problem seriously, and follow out its implications, it threatens to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture. Yet it is very difficult to imagine a viable alternative (p. 35).

Naturalists have offered a variety of explanations for consciousness. In the introduction to the updated Evidence that Demands a Verdictmy father and I offer responses to three of the most common ones:

 

Naturalistic Attempt #1: Behaviorism:

Essentially, behaviorists reduce mental attributes to some observable behavior.

Nagel offers a cogent response:

It is certainly true that mental phenomena have behavioral manifestations, which supply our main evidence for them in other creatures. Yet all these theories seem insufficient as analyses of the mental because they leave out something essential that lies beyond the externally observable grounds for attributing mental states to others, namely, the aspect of mental phenomena that is evidence from first-person, inner point of view of the conscious subject: for example, the way sugar tastes to you or the way red looks or anger feels, each of which seems to be something more than the behavioral responses and discriminatory capacities that these experiences explain. Behaviorism leaves out the inner mental state itself. (p. 38)

 

Naturalistic Attempt #2: Evolution:

On this view, consciousness emerges from the process of natural selection, acting upon random mutation, and offers survival advantages to species.

In The Mysterious FlamePhilosopher Colin McGinn explains why evolution fails to explain consciousness:

But in the case of consciousness the Darwinian explanation does not tell us what we need to know, for the simple reason that it is unclear how matter can be so organized as to create a conscious being. The problem is in the raw materials. It looks as if with consciousness a new kind of reality has been injected into the universe, instead of just a recombination of the old realities. Even if minds showed no hint of design, the same old problem would exist: How can mere matter originate consciousness? How did evolution convert the water of biological tissue into the wine of consciousness?

 

Naturalistic Attempt #3: Identity:

This approach claims the mind and brain are simply two different terms that refer to the same physical reality.

But the problem with this attempt is that physical objects have different properties than mental objects. Mental objects do not have extension in space, weight, or location. And unlike mental states, physical objects cannot be of or about anything. They just are. Therefore, mental states are not identical to physical states.

 

Consciousness as Evidence for God

There are other naturalistic attempts to explain consciousness, but the reality is that naturalism has no plausible way to explain the emergence of mental properties.

And yet the existence of consciousness makes sense within the theistic worldview. If God is a supremely conscious being, and he has created us, then it makes perfect sense for human beings to be conscious agents who experience the world. God has both the power and incentive to create conscious beings.

The existence of consciousness does not prove God’s existence. But it is undeniable feature of reality that fits a lot more naturally into the theistic worldview.

 

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 

 



Why Does God Allow Natural Evil? Quick VIDEO

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.



Should Christians Practice Apologetics?

At Josh McDowell Ministry, we focus a great deal on Christian Apologetics. In other words, we work hard to defend Christianity, providing reasons to help people confidently believe in Jesus and the Christian message.

In another one of my articles, I sought to defend the biblical case for apologetics. Peter, Apollos, Paul and Jesus all modeled or spoke about apologetics at some level in a positive light. This provides plenty of reason for Christians to be engaged in that kind of work. However, there are still some objections against the practice of Christian apologetics which are worth mentioning. Although I reject these objections, they often contain valid concerns which any Christian apologist should bear in mind. Because of this, I encourage all of my readers to work through these points no matter where you stand on this issue. I will address three different concerns. Here they are:

1. “You don’t need to defend God.”

Perhaps you have heard it said against apologetics: “God is a lion. You don’t need to defend a lion. Just open the cage!” The idea is that the God doesn’t need our help. He doesn’t need a lawyer or an attorney. This illustration originated from the great preacher Charles Spurgeon. In one of his sermons from 1986, he writes:

A great many learned men are defending the gospel; no doubt it is a very proper and right thing to do, yet I always notice that, when there are most books of that kind, it is because the gospel itself is not being preached. Suppose a number of persons were to take it into their heads that they had to defend a lion, a full-grown king of beasts! There he is in the cage, and here come all the soldiers of the army to fight for him. Well, I should suggest to them, if they would not object, and feel that it was humbling to them, that they should kindly stand back, and open the door, and let the lion out! (1)

Unfortunately, this quote is sometimes presented without the first sentence. Spurgeon is not opposed to defending the gospel; he says that “it is a very proper and right thing to do.” His concern in when apologetics is used in replacement of the proclamation of the Gospel, which, by the way, is very very bad! Apologetics is meant to serve the Gospel; it does not exist for its own sake. If your apologetics does not move toward the proclamation of the Gospel, you better think long and hard about what you are trying to use it for!

Regardless of what Spurgeon thought of these matters, isn’t it still true that God doesn’t need our help defending Him? Certainly. In fact, it could be said that God doesn’t need us to open up His cage, either! It could even be said that God doesn’t need us at all! But it’s plain in Scripture that God has chosen to create us to and to use us to proclaim His Gospel (2 Tim. 4:2) and to demolish arguments against God (2 Cor. 10:5). So it’s not like apologetics, in itself, is some idea foreign to the Gospel, distracting us from what God is trying to do. Apologetics, through human agency, was in God’s program all along!

2. “You can’t argue a person into Christianity.”

I agree. Apologetics was never meant to argue a person into Christianity. If you think that apologetics can be used to argue people into Christianity, then you are misusing apologetics and it won’t work. Again, apologetics is meant to serve the Gospel. If you are familiar with Josh McDowell’s story coming to faith in Christ, you know how he tried to disprove Christianity but ended up being faced is an overwhelming supply of evidence in favor of the Christian faith. However, Josh will tell you that apologetics didn’t save him. It didn’t get him onto the other side of the cross. It simply cleared the way.

I am happy to submit that apologetics is not the only path by which God reveals Himself to the unsaved. Take a look at the different salvation stories of the New Testament. For some people, all it took was to simply look at Jesus and to marvel at His saving power (the second criminal on the cross, Luke 23:39-43). For others, they came to believe when scripture was explained to them (Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 8:27-38). Others became followers after being persuaded through the work of apologetics (Paul in the synagogues, Acts 17:1-4). Others came to faith after witnessing divine miracles (Pentecost, Acts 2). Most of these stories include a presentation of the Gospel, which is so important. All of them include the work of God who showed up and opened their hearts, which is absolutely imperative! So, apologetics is not everything. But it is something. As evangelists, our tool belt should be equipped with every tool God has given us. Apologetics is one of those tools, and it must find its proper place within God’s action to seek and save the lost.

3. “Apologetics ruins faith.”

One of the concerns about apologetics, particularly when it is presented among fellow Christians, is that it is antithetical to faith. If you know why you believe something, what is the point of faith? Why is faith even needed if we are convinced in our minds that something is true?

This objection against apologetics seems to understand “faith” as a blind faith, a non-intellectual acceptance of Biblical data where we embrace the truth of God without any good reason for doing so. Proponents of this objection may cite Hebrews 11:1 which speaks of faith as a “conviction of things not seen.” The worry is that once we introduce reasons for embracing God’s truth, faith is lost and replaced by reason.

It is true that Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” but this is not blind faith at all. Just keep reading! Multiple examples of faith are presented to us. “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark” (v. 7). “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (v. 8). “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (v. 23-24). In these examples, faith is belief in action. It is a forward-looking trust in God and a posture of obedience. Faith looks like something! Since apologetics doesn’t do that for us, it does not disrupt faith. Further, if you look up the word “conviction” from the phrase “conviction of things not seen” in our best Biblical Greek dictionaries, you will find that it is understood as “the act of presenting evidence for the truth of something” (BDAG) or “the evidence, normally based on argument or discussion, as to the truth or reality of something” (Louw and Nida). So you cannot argue that faith is blind using Hebrews 11:1.

To be clear, I think apologetics can disrupt our walk with God if we are not careful. Sometimes we think ourselves pious if we can win an argument, but we don’t even have a prayer life and we read the Bible as a textbook to be mastered rather than as the word of God meant to cut us to the soul and discern the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts (Heb 4:12). We may hide ourselves in apologetics rather than in God, and we may wield apologetics as a way to attain a worldly form of power. None of these things are good, but this the misuse of apologetics. In fact, almost any form of Christian spirituality can used to “manage” God rather than to help us draw near to Him. Let us strive to avoid these temptations as we peruse our life with God!

(1) C. H. Spurgeon, “Christ and His Co-Workers,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 42 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896), 256.



Does Christian Hypocrisy Undermine the Reasonability of the Faith?

 

 

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

 

Christian hypocrisy has done massive damage to the Christian faith.

According to author and social critic Os Guinness, the challenge of hypocrisy is second only to the problem of suffering and evil, and is one of the main reasons people duck the challenge of the gospel.

Hypocrisy is such a massive challenge, says Guinness, because Christians are called to be God’s witnesses to the world (Isa. 43:10; John 3:28):

 

“In other words, before we are asked to preach, proclaim or try to persuade people of the claims of Jesus and his Father, we are asked simply to be witnesses for him—to provide an honest and factual account of what we have seen and heard objectively, and what we ourselves have experienced (‘Once I was blind, but now I can see’)—and to live lives that support what we say.”[1]

 

It is tempting for Christians to respond by pointing out the hypocrisy in other people and worldviews.

For instance, the voices of tolerance and inclusiveness are often remarkably intolerant and non-inclusive of people with traditional values. Such hypocrisy should be rightly pointed out. But this doesn’t get Christians off the hook. After all, James said, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

Christians are called to a higher standard. Whether we like it or not, people will judge the truthfulness of Christianity by the lives of its adherents.

As with the charge that the church has caused injustice in the world, Christians should first look inside and see if there is any merit to this claim. Have we been hypocritical in any way? Have our lives betrayed our principles? Have we contributed to this narrative?

Rather than blame others, we need to take an honest look inside, identify our own hypocrisy, repent of it, and then admit our shortcomings.

As for the claim itself, it is an example of a “genetic fallacy,” which is a claim that is dismissed because of some perceived fault in its origin (its genesis).

Guinness explains,

 

There is an important difference between the source of a truth claim and the standard by which it should be assessed. It is therefore wrong to reject a claim just because of the character and condition of its source. . . . The issue is always truth, and truth is not a matter of where someone is “coming from” or how oddly or shabbily they have behaved in the past before making the claim. . . . If the Christian faith is true, it would still be true even if no one believed it, or if all who did were hypocrites; and if it is false, would still be false even if everyone believed it and there was no apparent hypocrisy in their behavior (196).

 

If you are upset about hypocrisy in the church, then you are in good company—Jesus felt the same way.

Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their religious hypocrisy, calling them blind guides, snakes, and even killers of the prophets (Matt. 23). He condemned them for not practicing what they preached. If hypocrisy troubles you, then you’re on the side of Jesus.

If you are not a believer, and have been dismissing Christianity because of the failure of Christians, I am sorry that Christians have let you down. But Jesus never will. Maybe it’s time to consider the message of Christ himself.

Have you considered the evidence that he is actually God in human flesh? If Jesus is not God, then Christianity is certainly false. But if he is God, then everything changes. That’s why Jesus said that the most important question is, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29).

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 


[1] Os Guinness, Fool’s Talk (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2015), 188.

 



Christianity: Putting It All Together

What’s the point of all this “Follow Jesus” stuff?

Wow! With this blog post, we complete a full year of blogging about the evidence for Christianity — from its historical roots (Jesus really lived!), to why Jesus calls us into relationship with Him.

The purpose of this year-long series has been simply this: to give you historically accurate information about Christianity, so that you might comfortably and knowledgeably share your love for Christ with others.

As we stated in our very first post, being a Christian is NOT about blindly following the teachings of our clergy. It’s about putting in the time and effort to become personally familiar with God and Jesus in order to build a relationship of depth with them. (Hint: to do so, we need to crack open our Bibles, people!


~ It Ain’t About “Blind” Faith ~

“Blind faith” is a criticism often tossed at Christians by non-believers — and they’re not wrong to raise it as a red flag for our lack of knowledge. Look at it from the non-believer’s perspective: If a Christian’s go-to answer is, “Just have faith,” it’s not particularly convincing that the Christian knows all that much about God, the Bible, or the history of Christianity. Why call yourself a “Christian,” if you’re not going to put any skin in the game? We need to dive into this “Follow Jesus” stuff with intent, friends. Only then can we really decide if Christianity makes sense to us — and if we’re willing to put in the commitment Christ desires of us.

I hope this blog series has shown you that Christianity is based on historical facts and evidence — not blind faith. And that’s a good thing, because if Christianity can’t be proven to have legitimacy, none of us should be following it! We’ve answered many of the challenging questions that skeptics tend to ask, such as, “But the Bible was written by lots of people over a hundred years. How can it be authentic?” and “Christianity appears to be a copy-cat religion. Can you prove otherwise?”

But there are many more. Let’s recap other questions typically asked by skeptics, to remind ourselves of what we may need to learn in order to have a productive conversation. The point is not to “win” a discussion, but to humbly step into each “God moment,” hoping that it may lead to another’s heart opening to the possibility of Christ. 😉


~ Christianity Pop Quiz: Know the Answer? ~

My truth is my truth, your truth is your truth. How can you say otherwise?

Why does Jesus consider me a sinner?

The Bible was created to manipulate people. How can you be okay with that?

How can you possibly believe in miracles?!

The Bible is full of contradictions. Doesn’t that make it silly to say it’s the Word of God?

You want me to believe that all the scribes that copied the Bible over the centuries got it right?

If you believe in the Bible, you think Science is all wrong, right?

How do you know that Jesus really lived?

What makes you believe that Jesus really resurrected?

How can you believe that God exists?!

You expect me to believe that we all originated from Adam and Eve?!

The Bible is just moral stories. Why do you think the stories are real?

How could a loving God send people to hell?!

Why do I need Jesus?


 ~ Authentically Share Your Love for Christ! ~

You may never get asked most of the above questions, but you might as well keep the information handy. That last question, though — “Why do I need Jesus?” —  is definitely one you DO need to be able to answer.

My answer is here. Your answer will also be subjective, based on your life experiences. We all have our unique reason(s) for responding to and loving Jesus. Check out this guy’s very authentic answer! Just one tiny paragraph of his powerful testimony:

So, Why Am I A Christian?

Because I know I’m a train wreck in a dumpster fire. But I also know that God loves me 100% as is, right now, in the midst of the burning carnage that is often my life. I know that if I were to stack up my cards against most church people, I’d fold every time. I’m not that good at following rules, and I run my mouth a lot. And yet, God loves me and is cheering for me as I get better and especially when I fall down. Where I see failure, he sees opportunity for growth. Where I see addiction, he sees an opportunity to take a step. Where I’ve given up, he whispers, “You can make it.

Man, I love that! But don’t miss that this guy found Jesus not in perfect people (or those pretending to be perfect), but in regular “sinners” committed to daily following and resembling Christ. In their own messy way, in their own messy style, and God’s okay with that!

How awesome is it that we serve a God of second — heck, 70 x 7 — chances! Perhaps that’s the point of all this “Follow Jesus” stuff. To KNOW, beyond a show of a doubt, that the Creator of the universe cares so much about us that He sent Himself in human form to clearly show us His nature. That despite the roller coaster of our life choices, we can trust that God is in the seat next to us. God’s love is constant! That should make us want to be “all in” when it comes to Christ!

 


why need Jesus

 

 

 

 


Evidence book cover Apologists

 

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



What’s Keeping You From Loving God?

What Keeps You From Loving God

If we don’t love God, we have a reason: our skewed view of God’s nature, our deciding we don’t “need” Him, or even that He doesn’t exist. The struggle is real to clearly see God’s nature — and to steadily move toward Him.


In surfing the Internet recently, I ran across a personal blog in which the writer explained why she doesn’t believe in God. She shared that as a child, she heard the Genesis story of Adam and Eve’s sin, and its ramifications for all of mankind.

To this day she can still feel, from that decades-old encounter, the condemnation heaped upon her. With a “triumphant smile,” she writes, her church teacher declared to the assembled class of youngsters, “YOU, too, would have sinned because human nature is sinful. If it happened to be YOU in the Garden, each of YOU would have disobeyed.” (I added the caps for emphasis.)

“Thus two doctrines got established before the end of our first religion lesson,” she writes, “our innate wickedness, and God as a punitive parent.”

Aghast at the guilt heaped upon her, she shares that she grappled with these doctrines for years, finding the question of God’s existence to be a source of “ultimate terror and agony.” She decided, by her mid-teens, to reject a god that would send her to hell for not following Him. It certainly was unacceptable to her that God would send her dad, who happened to be a “very loving atheist,” to hell as well.

This writer’s current view of God? That God’s existence makes absolutely no difference to her. Even if she knew for a fact that He exists. “Happiness” has become her god of choice; her religion that “God is a happy state of mind.”

I hear this viewpoint echoed a lot today. But there are other reasons people choose to reject God. Let’s look at some of them.  


~ Is God Really Trustworthy? Does He Care? ~

It is a challenge to look at our hurting world and still see the hand of a caring, intimately vested Creator. Which can make it so easy to decide, from our limited, subjective perceptive, that He doesn’t exist. That He can’t exist, if God is supposed to be so loving and good.

In his article Not Even God Could Make Me Religious, for example, atheist John Shook admits, “I’m not that open-minded about God.” Not if we are talking about God, he adds, “of the sort worshipped by billions nowadays. You’ve heard of this God: entirely supernatural, infinitely powerful, perfectly intelligent, etc.”

Snook’s burning question: Why would a God, if one exists, expose itself to looking unworthy?

Adding that he’d “be an atheist in heaven” — yowza! — Snook declares God to be a rather lousy creator and benefactor. A “good” god, he suggests, wouldn’t sit idle in a world filled with hate, war, death, and ugliness. “What does this atheist say if brought before God?” asks Shook. “‘Not worthy enough, God, not worthy enough.’” Harsh words! But I’m not sure that God has a problem with Snook’s questions — only with the condition of his heart. As Snook himself says, he’s not open to giving God a chance. His judgment of God is firmly cemented. End of story. Move on.

Hmmmmm …. I’m not gonna lie; there have been times when I, too, have questioned whether God is really at the helm of our ball of spinning mass. “Prove yourself to me!” I’ve begged, while basically informing God that the least He could do — if he’s really entirely supernatural, infinitely powerful, and perfectly intelligent, as Snook puts it — is to give me some small sign that He not only exists, but that He sees me and cares. I can honestly tell you that He has stepped up to respond, but often in a quiet, soul-level whisper that I have to get really still to hear.

The Lesson in Painful Moments

Ed Hager, a retired pastor, shares how God showed up in his darkest hour. In one of his blog posts for Chase Oaks Church, Hager talks about the overwhelming depression he endured when his wife of 20+ years left him for another man. Hager’s faith faltered, and he gave up his pastoral position. “After having begged God to save my marriage and ministry,” he shares, “I was blinded to His presence by my focus on all I perceived I had lost.”

As his depression threatened to engulf him, Hager desperately cried out to God — and God faithfully met him. “It was in those desperate moments,” writes Hager, “that I heard, not audibly, but with crystal clarity, ‘You haven’t lost everything because you haven’t lost Me and I’m all you need!‘”

Though this long period of pain was difficult to endure, Hager is quick to admit that the years he spent in this season of his life taught him to “never doubt in the darkness what I know to be true in the light.” And that “there are insights and understandings that can be gleaned from pain that can be learned in no other way.” I so agree with that. It is often when God is all that we have, that we find Him to provide all that we need.

Could it be that the pain of this world, then, is an important part of our development? Even though we instinctively fight against the notion of another suffering for our benefit? #christ


~ Are We Worthy of Receiving His Love? ~

I can say with complete confidence that I believe there to be no deeper hurt than feeling unloved, unwanted, or unloveable. As the saying goes, “Been there, done that, got the gosh darn T-shirt.”

My own religious upbringing demanded that I view God with trembling fear. In faithfully reading my illustrated children’s Bible, I learned to view God as the wrathful deity of the Old Testament who seemed to enjoy making people suffer. Why? Because we’re horrible, rotten creatures who will always disappoint him — and He’s pissed off about it! At least that’s the message that buried itself in my heart and mind. Don’t even get me started on how much I came to hate Eve for listening to that stupid, lying snake. I hated Eve because she caused me to hate myself.

It has taken me decades to finally choose to accept the free gift of God’s grace; to change my perspective from seeing my every slip up as proof of my defectiveness, to just one more opportunity of growth to get it right. And that God is okay with the process. (The Dude has patience!!) As Christian speaker Beth Moore puts it, “You cannot be free to return the love of God unless you first accept it. You can’t love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength unless you believe God loves you.”

Bottom line: as long as we hate that part of ourselves that is so easily led to choosing self over God, we will have a desperate time accepting that God truly does see us as anything but unworthy and unloveable.

Our love for God, adds Moore, opens our eyes to see Him at work. Our love for God gives us the desire to truly want to please Him. Our love for God helps us to crawl, if necessary, through troubling times. “The number one motivation you’ll have for persevering through the most difficult trials of your life,” she says, “will be the unabashed love of God. It is not determination, dedication or will that is going to get you through the bad times. It’s that you know God loves you, and you love him.”


~ But Do We Really Need God? ~

Oh, boy, we’re going deep now! So many people park right here and never budge. “I’m doing just fine at this life thing,” we think. “I don’t need God to feel happy, be a good person, or to live a meaningful life!”

Natasha Crain wrote an article on this very topic. When we begin to ask ourselves whether we really NEED God for those three areas of our life, she writes, it’s soooooo tempting to admit that we can, for the most part, live a productive, happy life without God being at the center of it.

If He’s just the Cosmic Dude we sleepily say hello to in church on Sunday mornings, for example, He won’t have much of an impact on our daily choices. Our choosing to be good, then, doesn’t depend on God being in our life. The truth is that a non-Christian can demonstrate a higher standard of moral living than a Christian, if he or she so chooses. “Christians” don’t get to claim the market on goodness. Some, indeed, earn the “hypocrite” label tossed at them.

And the Church should be humble about putting out the message that only Christianity can give life meaning — though knowing God, suggests Crain, helps us to discover our eternal purpose. 

Ryan Bell, a pastor for 19 years in the Seventh-day Adventist church, now has a new gospel he teaches: that being a Christian actually makes life less meaningful for people. Not only did Bell walk away from the pulpit, but he now claims to be an atheist. And boy, is he HAPPY about it.

“Life does not need a divine source in order to be meaningful,” he writes in just one of his “no God needed” articles. “Anyone who has seen a breathtaking sunset or fallen in love with another human being knows that we make meaning from the experiences of our lives; we construct it the way we construct any social narrative.”

His appreciation for life and its potential, he adds, increased when he stepped away from his faith. But we need to understand Bell’s view of God to properly analyze his statement.

Making Sure We Have the Right View of God

Somewhat akin to my own upbringing, Bell embraced the idea that being heaven-focused is super important, but daily life merely a struggle to endure. “Ironically,” he writes, “my Christian upbringing taught me that ultimately this life doesn’t matter, which tends to make believers apathetic about suffering and think that things will only get worse before God suddenly solves everything on the last day.”

Yuck. This is so not the view God wants us to hold for life. We’re to give this life our all, for His glory, not squander it despising “sinners” and trying to not rub shoulders with them.

Christians who live out Bell’s skewed theology not only live royally ticked off about the daily pains and obstacles of life, they want to insulate themselves as much as possible. They hold the yucky world at arm’s length, lest it dirty their halo and/or muck up their chances of residing in a heavenly mansion. (I was actually raised to think like this.)

Dr. William Lane Craig, a research professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, points out that Bell has merely swapped one subjective construct for another. To reject the constraints of his skewed theology, it’s clear that Bell believes he has to reject even its source: God. Craig explains why he doesn’t think Bell “gets” that atheism isn’t a better choice than Christianity, just different. To live “happily,” explains Craig, we each construct a personal value system to bring meaning to our life:

“You construct a set of values. You invent a purpose for your life. This is the only way in which you can live tolerably with atheism. So when he says that he has found that now, as an atheist, life is more meaningful to him and more precious and so forth, this only shows that he hasn’t understood that the claim is about objective meaning, value, and purpose. All he is saying is that as an atheist he finds more subjective meaning, value, and purpose to his life. That doesn’t in any way refute the argument that atheism implies the absurdity of life without God or nihilism. One isn’t talking about subjective attitudes. One is talking about the way the world really is independently of your attitudes.”


~ The Choice is Ours ~

Until we someday meet Him face-to-face, we will never understand why God has given us so much personal freedom to accept or reject Him. But that’s one of the things I love about Him. That He wants me, but won’t force the relationship. That, as the Bible says, He knows me so intimately, even the numbers of hairs on my head, but isn’t put off by my sins, fears, and selfishness. That He loves me and patiently waits for me to inch ever closer to Him.

For me NOW, loving God is a no-brainer. But as I mentioned earlier, for most of my early adult years I hoped to just skate by unnoticed, so He wouldn’t have an opportunity to merit out punishment. I feared God’s disappointment and wrath so much, that any desire I had to please Him came from a place of fear, not worship. But here’s the truth: neither height nor death, nor anything else in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! And with that assurance, I can freely love Him back. I continually fall more in love with Jesus, the closer I get in relationship with Him.

Where are you in your love for God? Are you hot or cold — and why is that?

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



If God is Love, Does Our Sin Matter?

God is loveIf we view God as “always loving,” can we be nonchalant about our sin?

MercyMe, one of my favorite contemporary Christian bands, is known for penning a number of songs about God’s grace covering sin. “Smile like you just got away with something,” croons the band. “Why? ‘Cause you just got away with something. Ever since, ever since grace got you.”

In another song, they sing, “No matter the bumps, no matter the bruises, no matter the scars, still the truth is the cross has made, the cross has made you flawless. No matter what they say or what you think you are, the day you called His name He made you flawless.”

I love the celebration of God’s amazing grace in these jaunty tunes. Yet we must keep the lyrics in proper context. MercyMe isn’t suggesting that sin doesn’t matter, but rather that despite our sin, God continuously desires for us to be reconciled to Him. Christ’s sacrifice doesn’t give us a free pass on our behavior. Our sin is still a HUGE deal to God.


~ C’mon, Does My Sin Really Matter? ~

God LOVES US fiercely — so wide and high and deep that we can’t fathom it — but He also hates our sin. Grappling with sin isn’t easy. On Christianity.net, I found the following question about sin. The poor punctuation and grammar doesn’t stop us from clearly seeing the condition of the heart of the person posing it:

repeating sin

This person wants to honor God, but temptation has the upper hand. This poster received the following answer, which I’ve condensed just a bit:

“That you continue to sin in the same way should indicate to you that you need to work particularly hard in that area not to sin. Try to work out what situations, decisions, activities or friends lead you into this sin, and then take steps to avoid them. And if you fall into sin, turn back to God and ask for forgiveness and then keep trying — remembering that a day will come when it will no longer be a problem. God is always ready to forgive, but we must never get complacent about sin and think it doesn’t matter. Rather, we do whatever we can to avoid temptation and deal with sin when it happens.”

What is our proper response to sin?


~ God’s Focus: Our Transformation ~

The first step, clearly, is agreeing with God that we have sinned. “But wait,” you might be thinking, “I’m not really sure whether I’ve sinned or not. I mean, my church never talks about sin.”

Many churches do now choose to sidestep addressing sin, so it can be hard to get a handle on which thoughts and behaviors God considers sinful. In his article The Fundamental Divergence: The War Between Biblical Christianity and Popular Thought, Dave Miller, a pastor, notes that many churches and pastors have wholeheartedly adopted the gospel of affirmation, which teaches that God loves and accepts as we are. Indeed He does, asserts Miller. But churches also must proclaim the accompanying gospel of transformation. God never wants us to stay in sin; He wants to partner with us so that we transform into better reflections of Christ.

Bottom line, says Miller: If we preach the gospel of affirmation without the gospel of transformation, we are basically saying that Jesus endured torture and death for nothing. Think about that: would it make sense for Jesus to have gone to such painful lengths, on our behalf, if God was lax about sin??? #nope

As we’ve said many times during this blog series, what Jesus did on the cross MATTERS. Jesus didn’t come to earth just to die, adds author and speaker Rick Thomas. “He had a higher vision.” Jesus wants us to follow His example; He wants us to get to the point where we, also, willingly die to self because of our love for Him.


~ Evidence of Our Heart ~

True change, adds Thomas, manifests itself as a penitent person actively pursuing these five attitudes and behaviors:

  • One: You actively put off your former life.
  • Two: You actively renew the spirit of your mind.
  • Three: You actively pursue true righteousness and holiness.
  • Four: You actively live these out.
  • Five: You motivate and sustain your behavior because you love Christ.

Thomas reminds us that the apostle Paul “perceived the saint/sinner tension,” and understood that Christians do sin (1 John 1:7-9) because of our fallen nature. But he encourages us toward change (Romans 2:4).

Another question posted to the Christianity.net website gripped my heart as well, as I’ve had similar thoughts about whether God really offers me continual grace. (Have you?)

stop feeling guilty

Wouldn’t it be utterly fantastic if our transformation to being like Christ instantly took place when we accepted Him as Savior?!

Unfortunately, our transformation is more typically a day-to-day, life-long process. And therein lies the rub: sometimes we choose to circle the mountain (repeat our sin) numerous times until we finally get tired of the result and finally decide to cease doing it. Even addicts have to reach rock bottom before they’re ready to ask for help. But God says it’s never too late for us. “Too much damage” already been done? No way, no how! #godsgotthis


~ Understanding His Love ~

In his article 10 Things You Should Know About the Love of God, Garry J. Williams reminds us that we tend to quickly leap to the wrong conclusions about God’s love. This comes out very clearly, he writes, “when someone says something like, ‘If I were a God of love then I . . . ‘ The reasoning that follows is usually untethered from God’s wider portrayal of himself in Scripture. When we do this God becomes, in effect, just a massive projection of our own selves, a shadow cast onto a screen behind us with all of our own features magnified and exaggerated.”

Williams’ point: We are not free to pick up the ball of “God is love” adds and run with it wherever we will. “The statement,” he writes, “must remain tethered within its immediate context in 1 John 4, within the broader context of John’s writings, and within the ultimate context of God’s entire self-description in Scripture. The local context immediately reminds us of the connection between love and propitiation, which requires that we understand God’s love alongside his justice and wrath.”

When temptation beckons, it can feel so hard to live within God’s parameters. But we must remember that though we are sorely tempted by people, objects, and especially our own bad habits, God desires more for us. He promises us, in His Word, that if we are faithful to His standards, we will avoid so many of the life issues that derail, if not defeat lives.

It comes down to this: do we trust that God’s plan for us is better than what tempts us to sin?

In constantly encouraging us to “Be You!”, society pretends to have the power to validate our freedom to live within our personal view of “truth.” So it also demands that we accept and affirm the lifestyle choices of everyone — or it labels us judgmental and close-minded. But there is no equating society’s standards to God’s standards. God’s Word tells us that every single one of us is in need of repentance and transformation because of sin. What God says matters way more than what society deems to be appropriate. Here’s the thing: society’s standards continue to decline; God’s standards stay constant. And His standards, which are designed to protect us, stem from His LOVE.


~ Mirroring That Love Back to Him ~

Once we’ve gotten to where we’ll acknowledge our sin, we have to figure out a way to overcome it.

The right mindset, writes John Piper, requires us to move our motivation from trying not to mess up with sin, but to not sinning because of how deeply we love Jesus. Our loving Jesus becomes deep and foundational and transformative, as we begin to treasure Him above all things. “Christianity,” adds Piper, “what Jesus demands from us, is not most deeply and most fundamentally decisions of the will. That comes later. Deeply and most fundamentally Christianity is a new birth — a deep, profound transformation of what we treasure, what we love.

God reminds us to “put on the armor of God” — truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, God’s word, prayer, alertness and perseverance — to keep our love and desire to please Him FIRST. We have to spend time in the Bible to stay connected with Jesus. The Bible is our life manual. (It’s really not the irrelevant, out-of-date history book you might think it is. It’s power! Open it!)


Warning: mentally dwelling on our temptation only serves to cement our desire for it!


Picture sin as a slice of delicious chocolate cake. Got the image in your mind? Okay, now really examine the cake’s details. The spongey texture of the cake. The glistening of the gooey icing. The decadent aroma of chocolate. Now imagine how good it’s gonna taste in your mouth. You’re starting to salivate, right? Shoot! Now you’re full-on drooling! As you helplessly grab a fork, you fall, hard, into “But I couldn’t help myself from sinning!” mode.

But there’s a way to thwart this cycle: SLAM ON YOUR MENTAL BRAKES! With that first thought of cake, SHOVE the image out of your head like it’s a head of slimy broccoli that reeks. Ewwwww! We CAN develop this auto-reflex with practice. Baby steps can become big steps — even if the journey includes some painful falls. And God is right there in the process!

Sin. It gets into our brains, excites our emotions, then makes a mess in our life. The good news: God sees it all, but never tires of encouraging us to turn to Him for the strength to overcome. “With my help,” God says in His Word, “you got this.” Now that’s amazing grace!

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Clearing the Fog: Is Christianity Blind Faith?

 

 

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

 

Many atheist critiques of Christianity claim that faith is blind, irrational, stupid.

In his book The God Delusionleading atheist Richard Dawkins asserts that faith opposes reason, and calls faith a “delusion,” which he describes as “persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence” (p. 28).

A common example used to show that the Bible denigrates evidence is the story of doubting Thomas. In The Selfish GeneDawkins writes, “Thomas demanded evidence…. The other apostles, whose faith was so strong that they did not need evidence, are held up to us as worthy of imitation” (198).

Was Jesus repudiating an evidence-based faith?

In the updated Evidence that Demands a Verdict, my father and I point out three problems with this assertion by Dawkins:

First, Jesus predicted his resurrection on multiple occasions in the presence of the disciples. Thomas should not have been surprised at the return of Jesus.

Second, Thomas heard eyewitness testimony (evidence) from the rest of the disciples and yet still refused to believe. (The vast majority of scientific knowledge we possess depends upon trusting the conclusions of other scientists, which is true for virtually all disciplines.)

Third, Jesus did many miracles during his ministry as proof of his identity. In fact, right after the story of Jesus scolding Thomas, John said the miracles of Jesus were recorded “so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31)

 

Christianity Values the Life of the Mind

Despite what Dawkins claims, Christianity values the role of the mind, which includes the proper use of reason and argumentation. Jesus said to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind (Mark 12:30). The Lord said to the nation of Israel, “Come now, let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18).

Scripture and church history emphasize the importance of the role of the mind in discipleship and evangelism.

In the Old Testament, God showered Egypt with miracles before inviting Israel to follow him into the wilderness. Rather than asking Israel for blind allegiance, God’s miracles through Moses gave them good reasons to trust him. Exodus 14:31 makes this clear: “Israel saw the great work which the Lord had done in Egypt; so the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord and His servant Moses.” Miracles preceded the call to belief, laying the foundation for a rational step of faith.

 

Faith Is Not Blind

Even so, many Christians use the term “faith” to mean “blind faith” rather than biblical faith. But Christianity itself does not demand blind faith.

In fact, quite the opposite: when Jesus Christ and the apostles called upon a person to exercise faith, it was not a “blind faith” but rather an intelligent faith.

The apostle Paul said, “I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12, emphasis added). Jesus specifically performed miracles to show who he was, and, as a result, many confidently placed their faith in him. During a trip to Capernaum, Jesus healed a paralytic. After forgiving the man’s sins, Jesus said to the crowd, “‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’—He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, arise, take up your bed and go to your house’” (Mark 2:10, 11). Jesus healed the man so people would know he spoke with authority from above.

Christians are often accused of taking a “blind leap into the dark.” However, my father Josh set out to disprove the Christian faith historically, but instead found the evidence powerful and convincing.

So, when he became a Christian, it wasn’t a blind leap into the dark, but a knowledgeable step into the light.

He placed the evidence onto the scales, and in his estimation, it tipped in favor of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, resurrected from the dead.

You may be convinced by the evidence. On the other hand, you may find it wanting. But the claim that “faith is blind” simply ignores the biblical and historical evidence.

In fact, only someone who hasn’t truly weighed the evidence could make such a claim. If you haven’t considered the evidence yet, maybe now is the time.

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.



“But Why Do I Need Jesus?”

Every Christian needs to know why they need Jesus.

Last week I spent a good bit of my time with a fabulous young person who was gracious, humble, and open — one of those special people who light up a room simply by entering it. During one of our frequent conversations, we touched on our spiritual beliefs. I shared that I have chosen to follow Jesus. He shared that he views Jesus to be an attractive role model, but considers him just “one of many teachers” offering truth and wisdom.

“All paths lead to God,” he added, his lovely smile wide and warm. “God is in everything and everywhere. We’re already at one with Him. We don’t need to limit ourselves to one religion.”

“So who do you think God is?” I asked him. My new friend’s smile widened. “He’s energy,” he replied. “And pure love.”

I’ve heard this response before, of course, stated with similar confidence. I don’t disagree with the answer, but I always find it interesting that a person who has not spent much time seeking to know God’s character can be so confident about who/what God is. I’ve been a dedicated Christian for 30+ years, but still feel inadequate at describing God. The more I try, the bigger He expands! But I definitely view God as much more than the ultimate energy field. To my mind, God has to be an intelligent, compassionate, holy, and intentional entity if He exudes perfect love.

“So,” I asked my new friend, “Do you think God will do what He says He’s going to do someday — namely, separate believers from non-believers and forever banish those who refuse to accept Jesus as savior?” He looked at me solemnly for a moment, then replied, “Is that really why people need Jesus?”

why need Jesus

 

 

 

 


~ We Need Jesus Because …. ~

There are lots of reasons we might list to suggest why we need Jesus.

Before answering my new friend, I paused to mentally sort through the standard biblical answers I’ve heard for this question. Did any of them adequately explain my own need for Him?

Perhaps one standard answer is that we need Jesus for His sacrifice on the cross; that without His death and resurrection, every single one of us faces eternal separation (damnation) from God. The Bible tells us that to not accept Jesus as Lord, is to forever suffer in the fiery furnace of hell. This answer offends some people, but appeals to others. I have one Christian friend who believes that “Jesus died for those who feel the need to be punished.” Trust me, this statement leads to some very deep philosophical discussions!

Specific to hell itself, R.C. Sproul suggests that it is “an eternity before the righteous, ever-burning wrath of God, a suffering torment from which there is no escape and no relief.” It sounds ghastly — and definitely not a place I want to visit. As a child, my Christian educators seemed to relish in recounting the horrors of hell: The flames. The smell. The gnashing of teeth. The screams of the tormented. I became so anxious about hell, in fact, that as soon as I walked into church (typically twice every Sunday and again on Wednesday nights), I fervently prayed that my own salvation hadn’t somehow managed to void itself. I may have needed Jesus to skirt an eternity of agony, but I didn’t love Him for it. I was too busy fearing God’s wrath; I had no bandwidth left to “find rest in the arms of Jesus.”

So if you’d asked me 20 years ago, “Why do I need Jesus?” my answer would have had a LOT to do with covering my butt — but very little to do with my delight in knowing Jesus. Today that makes me sad. Because I recognize that so many of us are still stuck right here.

Thankfully, over the years, God has worked on me to trust that His grace and unconditional love really are constants. To sin is not to easily slip from His grace. I am thankful to be reminded that even King David sinned — ROYALLY, I might add — by sleeping with another man’s wife and then murdering her husband to try to cover up his actions. Yet God was good: When David finally acknowledged his sin, God was quick to forgive him. He fully restored His relationship with David — even though David, like me, was far from perfect.

So last week I answered my new friend’s question like this:

I need Jesus because He has demonstrated, with every word and action, that His free gift of love is so wide and high and long and deep that it’s impossible for me to even comprehend it. I NEED and crave getting as close as possible to the source of that much love! I am amazed — and so grateful — that there is nothing I can do to cause Jesus to stop loving me. As God did with David, so God will do with me: stand firm on His promise of an enduring connection. Jesus not only “gets” my mess — my temptations, hot buttons, quirks, and fears — but actually delights in daily walking with me to manage and overcome them. I NEED Jesus to help me there; I’ll only muck it up on my own.

My young companion thoughtfully considered my answer, but I could tell he was only able to process it intellectually. And that’s completely understandable, as I doubt it’s possible for anyone to really understand the love Jesus has for them until they run smack dab into Him.


~ Responding to the Question With a Personal Answer ~

Curious, I queried a few friends as to why they need Jesus. One told me it’s because it’s so clear for her to see Him at work in her life. “There have just been too many times He has answered my prayers and showed up for me,” she said. “My experience goes way beyond coincidence.” Another told me that she needs Jesus because, without His presence, she’d “feel lost in an ocean without a life raft.” A third friend told me that of all the avenues of “truth” available to her, only Jesus had managed to “fill the clawing, empty hole” inside of her. “His filling me,” she added, “put an end to all my searching for meaning and happiness.”

So what’s your personal reason for why you need Jesus?

Is it, perhaps, because you see yourself in His healing of the bleeding woman or His forgiveness of the harlot? Or in His freeing the Samaritan woman from her shame, or in His restoration of Peter? Or perhaps, like me, you need Jesus to daily wash you clean, so that every day can be a fresh start? As Erik Segalini wrote in his article Why Do I Need a Savior, “I know what I need, like it or not. I need a Savior. Because my dark side lurks. And so does yours.”

Why do I need Jesus?” is not a question to answer superficially. Because a superficial answer outs us as having a superficial relationship with Christ. Rather, the question should elicit from us a personal reply that demonstrates what Jesus means to us. Consider it a God moment if you are asked this question so directly. Step into the moment prepared with an answer. Who knows? Your heart-felt words might carry more weight than you can possibly imagine and having a lasting impact.

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



God’s Origin Story: Guest Blog

 

 

 

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

 

Along with my regular posts at SeanMcDowell.org, I am now featuring some of my former students in the Biola Apologetics Program. This post is by my friend Timothy Fox, who helped me with both the Awana Advocates curriculum and the updated and revised Evidence that Demands a Verdict. He also blogs at Free Thinking Ministries and you can follow him on Twitter at @TimothyDFox. Enjoy!

 

God’s Origin Story

By Timothy Fox

 

In my last article, I compared superhero origin stories to the beginning of the universe. Every superhero needs an origin story, and so does the universe. We need a reason why it exists. I argued the best explanation is a God who caused the universe to come into existence. But doesn’t that just push the origins problem back one step? What is God’s origin story? Why is he here? That’s the focus of this article.

Whenever cosmic origins are discussed and God is offered as the explanation for the beginning of the universe, the skeptic is near certain to object “Yeah, well, who created God?” as the ultimate refutation. But this just shows the skeptic doesn’t understand who God is.

 

God and Shazam

When Billy Batson, an ordinary boy, says the word SHAZAM! he is transformed into the superhero Shazam (formerly Captain Marvel – it’s complicated). Shazam has the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the willpower of Atlas, the lightning blasts of Zeus, the invulnerability of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. (An alliteration of all of their names spells Shazam.) That’s a pretty awesome list of superpowers, isn’t it? But even with all that, Shazam still isn’t God.

In fact, superheroes aren’t even in the same league as God.

God isn’t just really strong; he is infinitely powerful.

God isn’t just smart; he has infinite knowledge.

God isn’t just good; he’s morally perfect.

Take everything that makes superheroes great and crank it up to infinity. That’s God. God isn’t just great; he’s a Maximally Great Being. God can’t be beaten; he can’t be killed; he can’t not exist. He lacks nothing, needs nothing.

God is the standard of goodness.

 

God Is Maximally Great

Now look at how silly the question “Who created God?” is.

If something created God, that thing would be greater than God. But nothing could be greater than a Maximally Great Being; therefore, nothing could have created God.

But couldn’t there be two Maximally Great Beings? No, as then neither one would be maximally great; it would be a tie. Which one would win an arm wrestling contest? Which would beat the other in a race? Which one would win at chess? Each might be a great being, but neither would be maximally great. Thus, there can only be one Maximally Great Being.

Last time we saw there were only two options for the existence of the universe: either it has always been here or it came into existence at some finite point in the past. If it came into existence, it needed a cause.

God never came into existence; therefore, he doesn’t need a cause. He is what Aristotle called the First Cause, or Unmoved Mover. God set the universe into motion.

 

God’s Origin Story

I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed you, but God has no origin story. He simply is. God is eternal. As the Bible describes: “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2). God is a Maximally Great Being, having every great-making property to the maximum.

Superheroes are strong. They’re brave. They’re fun to read about and watch.

But God is no mere superhero. God is the greatest being in the universe, and as such he is the only one worthy of our worship.

 

“Who among the gods

is like you, Lord?

Who is like you—

majestic in holiness,

awesome in glory,

working wonders?” – Exodus 15:10



Who God Says Who YOU Are

Who God Says You AreIt’s What God Says About You That Matters, Not What the World Says

We’ve spent a lot of time in this blog series demonstrating why the Bible, and thus the Christian faith, can be historically vetted and believed. If we accept that the Bible is real, then we can accept that Jesus lived — and that what God says about Himself and God is true. God says we’re family!

Bottom line: the Bible gives us the basis for believing that God exists, that He purposefully made each of us, and that He invites us to pursue a relationship with Him. 


I don’t know about you, but that makes the Bible an important book that I want to get very familiar with. I want to see, for myself, what it says about who God says I am. I find it really odd when I hear Christians say that they “don’t have time” to read the Bible. That’s like saying you’re enrolled in college, but you don’t plan to open your books. Why short yourself like that?

The world does its best to tell us what we are, often in terms of what we lack: too fat, too skinny, too loud, too dumb, too close-minded, too uncool, blah, blah, blah. But when we choose to believe what God says about us, it puts the world’s labels in perspective. And why, might I ask, do we allow the world to tell us who we are, or to steal our joy?

The joy that is firmly rooted in the knowledge that the God of the Universe says we’re unconditionally understood, wanted, and loved! We just have to choose to believe in Him, and allow these truths to become the core of our identity.


~ Who God Says YOU Are ~

Just a few of the many Scriptures that tell us how God sees us:

  • YOU possess His strength!

    Philippians 4:13 –  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.


  • He sees YOU with grace!

    1 Corinthians 1:4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.


  • YOU are God’s handiwork!

    Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”


  • God pursues YOU!

    Psalm 23:6 – Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


  • YOU are loved!

    1 John 4:10 – Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.


  • YOU are forgiven!

    1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.


  • Christ calls YOU friend!

    John 15:15 – I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.


~ The “God Hole” That Draws Us ~

So, here’s the thing: We all seek love and validation from the world. But the truth is that God designed us with a hole in our heart to draw us to seek Him. Our spouses can’t fully fill the void we’re born with. Our parents can’t fill it. Not even our best friends can be what we need and want them to be 100 percent of the time. But God can. It’s the role He designed for Himself!

Only by accepting God’s love are we able to deal with feeling unloved and unwanted by others. Even better: when we accept His love, we’re able to then authentically love others! Our worth is not determined by the world, but by Him. God says that we’re worthy of His love and of loving ourselves. End of story. Case closed. Always and forever. #truth #getit

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Did Jesus Really Claim to be God? Quick VIDEO

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.



Tips for Selflessness; Let’s Be Like Jesus

There was once a nymph named Narcissus,
Who thought himself very delicious;
So he stared like a fool
At his face in a pool,
And his folly today is still with us.*



One of the reasons we’ve spent so many weeks blogging about the evidence for Christ and the historical roots of Christianity, is to remind us that we don’t serve a mythical God. Rather, we serve the Almighty Creator — who is very real, very present, and very much cares how those of us who claim to be “Christians” think and act. We’re supposed to be striving for selflessness, like Jesus. Me too. #belikeJesus

People, let’s be real: the constant tug we feel to wallow in self-worship is relentless! We most definitely need God’s help to battle it. 

In Matthew 22, Jesus tells us that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. But in doing so, He places the emphasis on treating others as well as we, ourselves, would like to be treated. Agape love, the kind of love Jesus perfectly modeled for us, seeks to notice and act on the needs of others. Easier said than done? Too often! Our pesky human nature loves to focus on self. 

Thankfully, God knows that our developing the habit of selflessness is a daily, life-long process. That in some moments we’ll hit the mark, and in others we’ll utterly fail. God “gets” that it’s impossible for us to be selfless 100 percent of the time — though Mother Teresa may have gotten close! The truth: We’ll only be perfected when we get to the other side. But we can commit to allowing God to work on our selflessness now.

We must get past our own interests, if we’re to interest our self-absorbed world in the transforming love of Christ.


~ Does “Selflessness” Mean I Must Ignore Myself? ~

Nope…though some Christians have gotten the idea that, in “taking up Christ’s cross,” they must meet everyone else’s needs before their own. That only leads to resentment and burnout, people! And some Christians think they have to live in abject poverty to be a “good” Christian. Say, what???? The Bible clearly shows us that God enjoys blessing us. Money is not evil, people! It’s the love of money that gets us into trouble. That’s why the Bible tells us to guard our hearts.

And far too many Christians walk around thinking they have to think badly about themselves in order to stay humble. Yikes!! Where does the Bible tell us to repeatedly kick ourselves — as if we’re unloved, unwanted, and unacceptable? It doesn’t! The Bible repeatedly affirms that we are infinitely loved, and fully understood and accepted by God! That He has engraved us on the palms of His hands, that we are always on His mind!

Because we have this assurance of His faithfulness, even when we mess up, we can live with a spirit of grace, with our hearts and hands open. But don’t miss this truth: we must *accept* God’s grace and love for ourselves before we can cultivate the habit of being selfless. I think a lot of people walk around trying to amass and hoard stuff because they don’t know God has their back.

I love that Joyce Meyer, a popular Christian speaker and author with a global ministry, once grappled with accepting that there was anything lovable about herself. One day she decided to write “God loves me” on her bathroom mirror — and to repeat the phrase, aloud, for as long as it took for her to believe this truth. The day finally arrived! Joyce found her heart leaping for joy as the words rolled off her tongue.

Note: It wasn’t merely repeating the phrase that convinced Joyce, of course. It was God. In daily digesting the phrase, she gave God the focus and space to rewire her thinking.

Joyce never doubts God’s love now. Because she knows that she knows that God is consistent. And in becoming secure in His love and acceptance, Joyce began to desire to share it with others. Many of her world-wide ministry activities now significantly help to address the pain and needs of many.

When we willingly set aside our plans and desires, and pursue being of service to others, we are being selfless in the way the Bible asks us to be. “Love cannot remain by itself, it has no meaning,” noted Mother Teresa. “Love has to be put into action, and that action is service.” 


~ Demonstrating Selflessness, Like Jesus ~

Mother Teresa put it exactly right. We can’t “hope” or “envision” a better world, or even “send good thoughts into the universe,” and expect the world to right itself. Positivity and hope and vision don’t accomplish anything unless they’re accompanied by action. And action without love doesn’t really represent Jesus.

Our perfect role model, Jesus gave of Himself extravagantly. He went out of His way to be inconvenienced, to be compassionate. He treated the marginalized and ignored with kindness and respect, and in so doing reminded them that they DO matter. Every single one of us is so important to Jesus that He died to make it crystal clear.

Wanna mirror Jesus’ selflessness? Me too!

To develop this habit, we might give these three tips a whirl:

>>> 1. Let’s study up on verses in the Bible that ask us to serve. Like, Joyce, we’ll find that meditating on them will drive them deep into our hearts. And where our heart goes, so do our thoughts and actions.

Here’s just one verse, found in 1 John 3:16-18“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

>>> 2. Let’s choose to go about our day feeling grateful for what Christ has done, and continues to do, for us.

Again, this is way different than purposing to have a “positive mindset.” Positivity too easily evaporates when we step into our own bad circumstances. But when our joy is based on our trusting God’s goodness, even in dire circumstances, our positive outlook has staying power. “I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart,” go the song lyrics. I don’t know about you, but even humming that song puts me in a joyful mindset. When we’re joyful, we’ll naturally drizzle joy on others.

>>> 3. Let’s ask God to open our eyes to the needs of others.

And when our eyes are opened, let’s ACT. Again, some days we will utterly fail. But let’s dust ourselves off, get back on the horse, and ask for another chance to serve as the solution for another’s need. 

Hey, wouldn’t it be GREAT if, when we accepted Christ, we really were able to “go and sin no more?” Unfortunately, most of us have a lot of baggage and bad habits that God needs to work through before we’re able to hit that target. John R. W. Stoutt, in his book The Cross of Christ, captures our ongoing battle with self perfectly:

“There is, therefore, a great need for discernment in our self-understanding. Who am I? What is my ‘self’? The answer is that I am a Jekyll and Hyde, a mixed-up kid, having both dignity because I was created and have been re-created in the image of God, and depravity because I still have a fallen and rebellious nature. I am both noble and ignoble, beautiful and ugly, good and bad, upright and twisted, image and child of God, and yet sometimes yielding obsequious homage to the devil from whose clutches Christ has rescued me.”

Indeed! Christ was crucified, died, and resurrected to prove His great love for others. To demonstrate our selflessness can change the world. When we share His amazing love, even in tiny drops, it spreads around the globe! Let’s have more Me Too moments!! #changetheworld #belikeJesus


Love, wrote Mother Teresa “is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving.”


Evidence book cover Apologists

 

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



5 Reasons Christians Must Read the Bible

Bible Tell Us How to Live

The Bible is your daily life playbook, not an outdated relic to be kept on a shelf.

According to LifeWay Research, more than half of Americans have read little to none of the Bible. About 30 percent look up things in the Bible only when they need to. And less than a quarter have any kind of systematic plan for reading the Bible on a daily basis. Some, about 17 percent, simply flip it open to read a passage at random. 

Okay, I have to admit that some days I am among that last statistic. Worse, I sometimes hurry through a passage, just so I can check “Read Bible” off my to-do list. I might momentarily feel good, but I’m not fooling myself or God. When it comes to the Bible, we get out of it what focus we put into it.

Am I suggesting that we have to spend hours (or even a half-hour) reading the Bible every time we open it? Nope. Five minutes of quality, focused time might reap more benefit than reading for longer stretches distracted. It’s like praying, right? Some of us struggle to keep focused after saying, “Hey, God, it’s me again…” Fortunately, God looks at the condition of our hearts. 

Here’s the bottom line: When we forgo reading the Bible, what we’re really saying to God is that we’re too busy to put in the work of really knowing Him. That we’re good with having a distant relationship with Him. That we sure are happy that He’s just a prayer away — but please don’t ask us to read “that boring, irrelevant book.”

And right there we smack hard into the issue: our perception of His Word.

If we view the Bible as a relic with limited application to modern life, of course we’re not going to value it or want to read it. But if we view the Bible as God intended — His showing us His heart, His plan for mankind, and the sacrificial gift of Jesus that brings us into right standing with Him — we will afford it the respect it is due. Because when we value God’s Word, we will work to grow our knowledge of it. 

Let’s consider five reasons Christians should read the Bible. Not because it gains us brownie points, but because it gives strength and depth to our relationship with God.


~ The Bible Helps Us To… ~

1.  See who God is and how much He loves us. 

It is through the Bible that we learn that God is our loving creator and constant wooer. God tells us in His Word that His love for us is deep, vast, and unchanging. The truth: He desires to be in close relationship with us, and has specifically designed us with gifts and talents that glorify Him. When we correctly view ourselves through God’s lens — we are so very loved, wanted, and valuable — we can push back on a secular world that says otherwise. The good news: Only God’s view matters! 

2.  Understand why the death of Jesus is such a big deal. 

The Bible, ultimately, points us to Jesus. We are to read the Bible to learn about Jesus, why we should want to follow Him, and how His death empowers us and gains us a heavenly home with Him forever. We can, with confidence, tell people, “Jesus loves you!” because of what the Bible says about His life and death. His love and sacrifice for all of humanity is shared with us via Scripture. Jesus points us to the truth, but neither forces nor manipulates anyone into accepting His open invitation.

3.  Know God’s truth, so our lives honor and please Him.

The Bible shows us how to measure “success” — it’s not fame and riches, like the world tells us — and to clearly see what matters. When we build our lives solidly on Jesus, the world can’t manipulate us with its shifting views of “truth.” The Bible is still applicable to our modern lives because God’s nature and standards do not change. The ten commandments are as relevant now as they were two thousand plus years ago. Treating others with kindness is still in fashion with God, and always will be. His greatest commandment? Love God and love others.

4.  Gain a “God mindset,” which will guide our thoughts and actions.  

Though Satan loves to whisper in our ears that we’re screw ups, mess ups, and unlovable mistakes, that’s not what the Bible says. So let’s ignore Satan and stick with the source of truth! The Bible shows us that God knows we will fail to be perfect. Good thing He doesn’t demand perfection! But He does ask that we purpose in our hearts to daily follow and honor him. God’s grace, when we ask for forgiveness, is guaranteed. The Bible assures us that God never withholds forgiveness when asked. Wahoo! Blessed assurance! God is our loving father. Like an earthly father, He seeks the best for us. His standards and truth serve as healthy boundaries to keep us from the pain of sin.

To read the Bible is to immerse ourselves in stories that show us how God interacted with His people. Tip: A fun way to read the Old Testament is to start with an illustrated children’s Bible. The stories include wisdom we can learn from today. The story of Samson, for example, teaches us the perils of being hot-tempered and vain. In the story of David and Goliath we learn that it is God’s strength, not man’s, that should make us quiver in our boots. And after David had an affair with Bathsheba, even going so far as to murder her husband to cover his sin, we learn of the consistency of God’s forgiveness and the sweet relief of being reconciled to Him. In the New Testament, we see Christ’s actions modeling selfless living. Psalms can be used to jump start our prayer life, and Proverbs contains rich nuggets of gold on becoming a better friend, spouse, parent, and even how to respond to our enemies

5.  Live courageously in our dark, secular world.

It’s hard being a person who seeks after God when we live in a secular world. I don’t particularly like being called a “dimwit” who needs a “crutch” to get through life. But I have to laugh when I hear those labels slung at Christians. Because compared to God, I am a dimwit. And I can think of no better crutch that Jesus, because leaning on Him guarantees me strength. My relationship with Jesus allows me to live with authenticity and consistency. I don’t have to play the game of pretending to have it all together, for one thing. And when I am worried about something, I can hand that fear to Him and know that He’s working on it. The Bible, over and over, promises us God’s peace when we rely on Him. God is in control! 


~ The Bible is a Worthy Investment of Our Time ~

As Sean McDowell reminds us, “The Bible has shaped western civilization more than any book ever written. No other book even comes close.” So, clearly, a lot of people have found the Bible worth reading over the centuries.

But finding the time to read it in our speedy, modern world isn’t always easy. We have so much clamoring for our attention, including television and social media. How many of us, for example, have opened Facebook, “just to check for messages,” and found ourselves, an hour or two later, still scrolling through our feed? Ack! 

So how might we carve out time to read the Bible? One way might be a consistent reading time every day. You might try reading a Psalm or Proverb while you eat breakfast, for example. Or if your family eats dinner together, try adding it to your meal. What a great time to discuss the reading while you’re all still seated at the table! To help guide your Bible readings and discussion, consider signing up for our daily devotional emails. If reading together is initially difficult, try adding a Bible-based activity to family time. Who’s up for a game of Bible bingo or trivia

 A stat to digest: research done by Barna Group shows that less than 10 percent of all Christian families read the Bible together. How sad is that? Worse, what message might kids take from this? Most likely that the Bible isn’t all that important. And that’s simply not true. The Bible is our very foundation. The bottom line: Every Christian NEEDS to know what the Bible says. The Bible is our playbook for life. It outlines the plays as we move the ball down the field. So let’s read it, and in doing so invite God to join our team! Our reading the Bible gives God opportunities to profoundly change us.

For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and to joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of your heart (Hebrews 4:12).

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



10 Biblical Reasons God Allows Suffering

 

 

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

 

The existence of human suffering is arguably the most common and difficult problem raised against the existence and goodness of God.

It is a particularly thorny issue because people experience it both emotionally and logically.

The problem of suffering has been with us since the Garden of Eden and it will be with us until Christ comes back. But suffering is not just a problem for Christians. Every belief system has to account for suffering in some fashion or another.

The purpose of this post is not to attempt a theodicy, that is, a defense of why God allows suffering. Many fine books have done this, including the classical book The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis or Why Does God Allow Evil? by Clay Jones. Rather, I simply want to highlight ten ways the Bible addresses suffering.

These answers are not exhaustive, but they provide some biblical perspective for the inquisitive believer and non-believer:

1. Suffering is the result of mankind’s sin and rebellion against God (Genesis 3). Mankind chose to reject God’s one command, the world became corrupted by sin, and humans have suffered ever since.

2. God’s chosen people (the Hebrews) suffered when they disobeyed the Mosaic Covenant (Deuteronomy 28).

3. People sometimes suffer from the wrong choices of other human beings, even though God uses the resulting suffering for good (Genesis 50:20).

4. Suffering brings faithful believers into deeper understanding and relationship with Him (Job).

5. Believers suffer because of the jealousy and hatred of certain people who reject the Christian faith (Acts 7:54-60).

6. Believers suffer as a testament of faith to others (Hebrews 11).

7. God allows people to suffer so they will turn to Him in repentance and not perish for eternity (Luke 13:1-4).

8. Christians suffer so they can be conformed more closely to the character of Christ (Romans 8:28-30, James 1:2-4).

9. Believers suffer so they can know Christ more fully (Philippians 3:10).

10. To prepare followers of Christ for the glory of Heaven (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Each of these points deserves much more explanation. And each point raises further questions as well. Remember, there is no single answer to suffering.

But wrestling through these passages, and others, can help provide a biblical perspective on suffering.

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 

 



Is History Knowable? Implications for Christianity

Is History KnowableThe accuracy of history is critical. Even for Christianity.

We can look at this photo and make some subjective judgments. We might deduce that the child is somewhere cold. We might also suggest the child’s age, if not also his or her nationality, healthiness, and socioeconomic status. In effect, we’re self-determining this child’s history.

Historians, too, might start with a single photo in their attempt to piece together some aspect of the past. The question we should ask upon their completed puzzle is, “Did they get it right? Is their version of history reliable — or skewed by subjectivity?”

It’s a valid question, as history has a history of being written or adjusted to match a personal bias. Both Hitler and Stalin, for example, revised “history” to justify their politics. Tweaking of history is a common practice; too often we don’t realize that its telling lacks truth or objectivity. Ask American adults, for example, what caused the Civil War, and their replies might overwhelmingly point to whether they were educated in the North or the South.

In this post, let’s look at the burden that rests on historians, including some of the criteria they should employ as they determine historical “truth.” Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of this post: History isn’t true “history” unless its facts are presented objectively. Otherwise it’s skewed storytelling, if not outright propaganda.

Religion is one area in which truthful, objective history is critical to distinguish between fact and fiction, myth, and legend. Christianity makes historical claims that historians continue to study exhaustively. Some scholars do a great job of being objective; others are unable to get past their personal biases.



~ History Demands Objectivity ~

“A historian,” writes historian David Fischer, author of Historians’ Fallacies, “is someone (anyone) who asks an open-ended question about past events and answers it with selected facts which are arranged in the form of an explanatory paradigm.” In short, asserts Fischer, history is a problem-solving discipline. So a historian might ask, “Was Jesus was a real, historical person?” (Here an atheist says no, countered by a pro-Christ response.)

Fischer suggests the following seven rules should guide a historian’s methodology:

1.) Historical evidence must a direct answer to the question asked and not some other question.

2.) The historian must provide not just good evidence, but the best relevant evidence.

3.) This evidence must always be affirmative.

4.) The meaning of any empirical statement depends upon the context from which it is taken.

5.) An empirical statement must not be more precise that its evidence warrants.

6.) The historian must best determine the probability of A in relation to the probability of alternatives. As historian Richard Evans notes, “No historian really believes in the absolute truth of what they are writing, simply in its probable truth, which they have done their utmost to establish by following the usual rules of evidence.”

7.) The burden of proof rests upon its author.


Apologist and historian Michael Licona suggests six additional guidelines for the historian, in order to minimize bias and horizon (worldview) and arrive at the most accurate judgment possible:

1.) Pay close attention to historical methodology, including how competing hypotheses are compared and tested, and the manner in which data is collected, analyzed, and contextualized.

2.) The historian’s horizon and method should be public. He should be clear about his guiding presumptions.

3.) Employ peer pressure. Peer critique and analysis can help minimize and check bias.

4.) Submit ideas to unsympathetic (critical) experts for review and feedback to help gain accurate conclusions.

5.) Account for the relevant historical bedrock. Some facts are so firmly established, that any reputable theory must be incorporated or built upon them.

6.) Historians must detach from their biases. They must willingly confront data and arguments that run contrary to their preferred hypothesis. 



~ The Bias of Relativism, Revisionism, and Subjectivity ~

If objectivity is critical to discerning truth, why are historians often willing to slide into subjectivity, relativism, and revisionism? In part because of the influence of noted philosophers David Hume and Immanuel Kant, as well as historian Charles A. Beard.

Hume (1711-1776) taught that reality isn’t provable, so one should be skeptical of rational claims of  knowledge. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) argued that the only world knowable is the world we create within our minds. In other words, what’s important is how our minds understand and interpret things, not the way things really areBeard (1874-1948), heavily influenced by both thinkers, asserted that we can’t expect to know, with certainty, that a historical event actually happened.

Let’s look at Beard’s objections to the “knowability” of history:

1.) History is not directly observable. Beard contends, “The historian is not an observer of the path that lies beyond. He cannot see it objectively as the chemist sees his test tubes and compounds.” Beard is saying that, because historians didn’t see an event for themselves, they can only subjectively view it through the lens of others.

Rebuttal: That’s interesting, given that The Big Bang was theorized by scientists based on evidence without direct access to its occurrence. Noted contemporary philosopher Lane Craig reminds us that it is “naive to think that the scientist always has direct access to his objects of study,” especially in highly theoretical fields like physics.  Historians need not be held to this standard, when archeological data amply furnishes historians with direct access to the past.


2.) The fragmentary nature of historical accounts. Asserts Beard, “The documentation (including monuments and other relics) with which the historian must work covers only a part of the events and personalities that make up the actuality of history,” so therefore a historian can’t make final conclusions.

Rebuttal: Licona pushes back on this. “If we think of history as an exhaustive description of the past, then history is certainly unknowable,” he says. “However, if we regard history as an adequate description of a subject during a specific period, we are in a position to think that history is knowable to a degree. Although incomplete, adequate descriptions provide enough data for answering the questions being asked.” Fischer adds that the suggestion that a historian can’t know anything until he know everything is both impossible and absurd. Science certainly doesn’t hold itself to that standard. Scientists use fossil remains, which represent but a tiny percentage of past life, to reconstruct an objective picture of geological history. Dinosaurs, anyone?


3.) The problem of selection of documentation. Beard says, “Not only is the documentation partial, in very few cases can the historian be reasonably sure that he has assembled all the documents of a given period, region, or segment.” The selectivity in methodology, he asserts, renders history nonobjective.

Rebuttal: Yet, as contemporary philosopher Norman Geisler reminds us, jurors, in courtrooms every day, make judgments “beyond reasonable doubt” without having all the evidence. He adds that if the historian has the relevant and crucial evidence, it is sufficient to obtain objectivity.


4.) Every historian is a product of his time and worldview. Asserts Beard, “Whatever acts of purification the historian may perform he yet remains human, a creature of time, place, circumstance, interests, predilections, culture.”

Rebuttal: But just because the historian is a product of his time, it does not follow that his history is also a product of the time. Geisler notes that this confuses the content of knowledge and the process of attaining it. It confuses the formation of the view with its verification. Fischer gives us this example: “An American historian may chauvinistically assert that the United States declared its independence from England in 1776. That statement is true, no matter what the motives of its maker may have been. On the other hand, an English historian may patriotically insist that England declare its independence from the United States in 1776. That assertion is false, and always will be.”


5.) The historian can’t avoid value judgments. Beard writes, “Into the selection of topics, the choice and arrangement of materials, the specific historian’s ‘me’ will enter.” So Beard concludes, “The historian’s powers are limited. He may search for, but he cannot find ‘objective truth’ of history, or write it, ‘as it actually was.'”

Rebuttal: As N.T. Wright notes, “The fact that somebody, standing somewhere, with a particular point of view, is knowing something does not mean that the knowledge is less valuable: merely that it is precisely knowledge. … It must be asserted most strongly that to discover that a particular writer has a ‘bias’ tells us nothing whatever about the value of the information he or she presents. It merely bids us be aware of the bias (and our on, for that matter) and to assess the material according to as many sources as we can.”

Philosopher Mortimer J. Adler put forth that there’s a difference between self-evident truths and historical knowledge: “On the one hand we have self-evident truths that have certitude and incorrigibility; and we also have truths that are still subject to doubt but that are supported by evidence and reason to a degree that puts them beyond reasonable doubt or at least gives them predominance over contrary views. All else is mere opinion — with no claim to be knowledge or having any hold on truth.”



~ Implications for Christianity ~

Many skeptics and historians claim that there is no historical proof for Jesus or His resurrection outside of the Bible. Some disregard Christianity’s historical credibility because they find its historians biased, which is a really wonky argument for the New Testament, whose authors spent a lot of time reminding readers of facts and eyewitnesses that validated their claims about Jesus.

These skeptics also reject the Bible because it embodies the miraculous. The Red Sea parting? Impossible. Jesus walking on water? Impossible. Jesus resurrected as Lord? Impossible! Miracles are a theological construct, they assert, not a historical one, so the Bible holds no authority for objective study.

But we can logically assume that if a historian flat out refuses to acknowledge the possibility of the miraculous, that even if biblical miracles were repeated before their very eyes they would refuse to abandon their anti-miracle bias. If, like Hume, a person believes miracles to be logically impossible, then admitting a miracle becomes impossible for that person. In effect, they box themselves in, in order to hold onto their view. But it should matter more to arrive at the truth, right?


~ Historical Truth is Knowable ~

Hume, Kant, and Beard would have us believe that nothing is knowable. Well, I suppose we can debate their arguments until cows start milking themselves. But in the real world, their arguments simply don’t hold up. Real truth can be discovered and known, if we seek and test it objectively. Too, we don’t have to know everything about an event, as Beard asserts, to know that it did, in fact, happen. Common sense and real-world experience affirm this, even if philosophical pondering leads us to question even the possibility of reality or objective truth.

Hume, Kant, and Beard are wrong about the impossibility of knowing historical truth. There are very good reasons to conclude that careful historians can make accurate assessments of the past, including events considered miraculous.

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



How Can We Know Heaven Exists? Quick VIDEO

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.



Christians: Dialogue With Skeptics Part 2

Tips for Talking with a Skeptic “Prove Your God Exists!”

Last week, in Part 1 of this topic, we talked about the importance of our having a right attitude when interacting with skeptics.

I reminded you to let go of the “fight” mentality when challenged on your beliefs; to instead view these encounters as God-ordained opportunities to demonstrate the truth and love of Christ.

We also talked about the need to identify whether a skeptic is genuinely interested in having a productive conversation with us, or if their intent is to simply derail our faith. (There’s no point, in my mind, for entertaining the latter. Would you try to sell a car to a person who was committed to buying a bike?) 

Lastly, we talked about the important of asking questions, to help identify why the skeptic holds his views. Is their beef really with God…or humans?

Here, let’s identify some of the questions skeptics tend to ask, because we really need to have thoughtful answers ready when they posed to us. Then let’s observe two conversations between a Christian and a skeptic, to rate the Christian’s overall effectiveness. Role-playing is a great way to prepare for real conversations.


~ Common Objections You Should Learn to Answer ~

So what are some of the common objections raised by skeptics? Natasha Crain does a great job of identifying a good number of them in her blog post titled 65 Apologetics Questions Every Christian Parent Needs to Learn to Answer.

A sample:

~What key arguments are there for (and against) God’s existence?

~Why would a good God allow evil to exist?

~How can a loving God send people to hell?

~How can Christians say Jesus is the “only” way?

~Am I good enough to go to heaven?

~Is Christianity a less intelligent worldview than atheism?

~What evidence exists outside the Bible that Jesus existed as a historical person?

~How were the books of the Bible selected?

~Does Science disprove God?

~Is Christianity “responsible” for millions of deaths throughout history?

~Why does Christianity say objective truth is the only “real” truth?

 

Another good place to research questions and answers is in the books and websites of today’s top Christian apologists. In this blog series we discuss Josh and Sean McDowell’s revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. But you also can learn from Ravi Zacharias, J. Warner Wallace, Frank Turek, Gary Habermas, and Natasha Crain.

As you research and become practiced with answering these questions, don’t make it your goal to “win” against skeptics. Rather, make it your goal to help them understand why your belief in Christ isn’t based on mindless “blind faith,” but substantial, historical evidence. Always strive to be kind, open, and gracious as you argue chat with skeptics.


~ Three Must-Dos To Prepare for Skeptics ~

>>> 1: Develop the habit of critical thinking. This goes way beyond knowing Bible stories and memorizing Bible verses.

We need to know why we believe what we believe. We need to be able to make connections between things Jesus taught and how they’re still applicable for our modern lives. We need to be able to explain why a particular scientific theory doesn’t hold up, and why it might not really be all that important whether He created the universe in six days or 6 million years. We need to know what archeologists have proven historically about the Bible.

>>> 2: Remember that not every claim or fact uttered by a skeptic is true, particularly when it comes to the historicity of the Bible, or a scientific “fact.” 

We have the right to be just as skeptical as the skeptic, and to ask for objective proof. A common argument used by skeptics is that Christianity “borrowed” its theology from other religions. But when we research that claim, we see that the facts show that it’s the other way around.

Too, it’s NOT on us to prove God’s existence, and here’s why: no skeptic or atheist has yet been able to disprove God’s existence. So when atheist Richard Dawkins writes, “If you want to believe in…unicorns, or tooth fairies, Thor or Yahweh, the onus is on you to say why you believe in it. The onus is not on the rest of us to say why we do not,” his argument doesn’t hold up.

And when we read books by atheists and skeptics, we have to expect bias. The content in Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, for example, might sound convincing — until we also read books that dismantle his case against God. I love watching debates, because I get to see both sides of an argument. Here’s just one debate I found interesting: William Lane Craig vs. Christopher Hitchens – Does God Exist?.

We have to learn to recognize whether the skeptic challenging us is coming with an open mind, or is simply seeking to waste our time. I am happy to talk about God with people who truly want to have an authentic conversation. But if a committed atheist wants to chat for her entertainment or agenda, I’ll pass.

>>> 3: Commit to having a humble attitude when dialoguing with skeptics.

Even if we’re mocked, even if we’re told we’re stupid, we get to choose how we respond. Christ left His ego behind, and asks us to do the same. Witnessing isn’t about winning. It’s about showcasing Christ. Truly, if we’re not evidencing the nature of Christ in our lives, what’s the point of even trying to share out faith with people?


~ Role-Playing to Practice ~

Let’s look at two sample conversations between a skeptic and a Christian, to see how the Christian does at being respectful, and having knowledgeable answers.

Conversation 1:

SKEPTIC: “How can you Christians believe the Bible to be true? All you have to go on is faith.”
CHRISTIAN: “Faith is a good thing.”
SKEPTIC: “Have faith in Science, then! It’s real, unlike your Bible.”
CHRISTIAN: “The Bible is God’s Word. It’s totally real.”
SKEPTIC: “The Bible was written by 40 people, over 1,000 years. No way is it a sacred text!”
CHRISTIAN: “You made that up.”
SKEPTIC: “Have you even read the Bible?”
CHRISTIAN: “Of course!”
SKEPTIC: “All of it?”
CHRISTIAN: “I’ve read the most important part: John’s Gospel, where Jesus beats death and rises!”
SKEPTIC: “Resurrection. Now there’s a fairytale for you.”
CHRISTIAN: “You clearly lack the faith needed to be a Christian.”
SKEPTIC: “I don’t need faith to believe in a fairytale. Unless you have proof that God exists?”
CHRISTIAN: “The proof will be your burning in Hell!”

How do you rate the Christian? Give 1 star for low, 5 stars for high.

———————————————————————–

Conversation 2:

SKEPTIC: “How can you Christians believe the Bible to be true? All you have to go on is faith.”
CHRISTIAN: “Faith is a good thing.”
SKEPTIC: “Have faith in Science, dude. It’s real, unlike your Bible.”
CHRISTIAN: “Why don’t you think the Bible is real?”
SKEPTIC: “Because Science has proven the Big Bang Theory. Your Bible says God made the world.”
CHRISTIAN: “Who’s to say He isn’t the bang behind that possible Big Bang?”
SKEPTIC: “Are you that clueless? The universe isn’t due to some mythical, supernatural creator!”
CHRISTIAN: “Well, would you agree that Science has no clue, or proof, as to what started the universe?”
SKEPTIC: “It certainly wasn’t the God of your made-up Bible.”
CHRISTIAN: “There’s actually a lot of historical evidence that authenticates the Bible.”
SKEPTIC: “The Bible was written by, like, 40 people, over 1000+ years. No way is it authentic!”
CHRISTIAN: “You’re right about those numbers. But can I show you some of that historical evidence?”
SKEPTIC: “Only if you buy me a coffee. I’m going to need major caffeine to endure that torture.”
CHRISTIAN: “Coffee it is! I even promise to keep the torture session to a half-hour!”

How do you rate the Christian? Give 1 star for low, 5 stars for high.

—————————————————————————

My scores:
Conversation 1. I give the Christian one gold star, for being minimally effective. The Christian clearly isn’t familiar with the Bible, is condescending, and pronounces judgement on the skeptic. Yowza! How does that help to keep that skeptic open to further conversations?

Conversation 2. I give the Christian five gold stars, for being very effective. The Christian appears to be informed, respectful, and sincerely interested in having a pleasant conversation.


~ But I Don’t Wanna Talk to Skeptics! ~

Trust me, I get it. Too many days it feels like my brain is a sieve, and I worry that I won’t be able to utter any reasonable replies about my Christian faith!

I have found it helpful to create a little apologetics notebook that I can refer to as an ongoing refresher. I’ve also found it helpful to create a computer document of links, that I can go back and peruse or print out. You’ll have to figure out your own system for having ready access to info. Having that resource in place will give you a lot more confidence. But it should also help you to relax so you enjoy telling people about Jesus.

God doesn’t ask us to be perfect in our defense of Him — but He does expect us to know what we believe and be ready to share it. It’s an honor to be used for His purposes. 

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Christians: Dialogue With Skeptics Part 1

skeptics “Prove Your God Exists!”

When we Christians hear that, most of us start sweating. As if the entire weight of proving the truth of Christianity rests on our puny shoulders! But we also start sweating because we feel our egos to be on the line. To be a Christian, we’re told by skeptics, is to be feeble-minded, if not stupid.

Let’s collectively exhale a long, calming breath and view a skeptic’s challenge with the right perspective: that we’re simply stepping into a God-ordained opportunity to demonstrate to this person the grace and love of Christ.

We’re not answering a question, but a questioner, suggests Ravi Zacharias, a world-famous apologist known for the disarming, respectful manner in which he dialogues with skeptics. What should come through loud and clear, he stresses, is our love for people and God. Zacharias wisely notes, “A word in season can bring to fruit that which only God can nurture and nourish.”

In this post, let’s talk about why our attitude is critical as we interact with critics. In next week’s post, Part 2, we’ll identify some of the questions skeptics tend to ask, and how you can get up to speed on knowing the answers.


~ Simple Faith, Little Knowledge ~

It’s important to recognize which category of skeptic is challenging us. There are only two: skeptics who are honestly seeking to know what we believe, and why, and skeptics who are simply looking to derail our faith.

Many Christians, sadly, are easily persuaded to forsake their Christian beliefs because they don’t have much depth to their faith. I am reminded of a friend who told me that he decided Christianity was bogus after reading the novel, The DaVinci Code. It blew my mind that he allowed a single work of FICTION, a novel containing very few correct facts about Christianity, to turn him from God.

Research shows that many kids who grow up in “Christian” homes easily lose their beliefs after a college professor mocks and challenges them. Christian blogger Natasha Crain shares how her own faith wobbled after encountering skeptics at college.

“After 18 years of going to church,” she writes on her blog, ChristianMomThoughts, “I left home with approximately the following understanding of the Bible: Jesus is the son of God and died for my sins, I need to believe in Him in order to be saved and spend eternity in heaven, God created the world, Moses parted the Red Sea, Daniel was saved from a lion’s den, and somewhere along the way Jonah was swallowed by a whale.”

Crain thought her faith solid, but quickly realized that while she was well acquainted with stories in the Bible, she knew zip about the Bible itself. And even less about Church history. So she couldn’t knowledgeably discuss either when pressed.

She needed solid, credible answers for questions like “Who wrote the books of the Bible?” … “Why believe what the New Testament writers said about Jesus?”… and “Has the Bible been reliable translated and thus credible?” Critical questions, she admits, that previously “never even crossed my mind.”


~ Say What, Skeptic? ~

One skeptic told me that he finds it “satisfying” to watch a Christian’s beliefs crumble.

In part, because it justifies his own position. But also because he simply enjoys the game of mental manipulation. Not every “fact” he tells Christians is true — but they don’t know that. How many skeptics have told you something you took at face value?

“My job,” another atheist told me, “is to show you that your God is nothing more than a crutch. He doesn’t exist, and you’re stupid to believe in Him.” Later, by the way, I learned that this guy despises God because of the legalistic church he was forced to attend growing up. His beef wasn’t really with God, but humans.

So when skeptics tell us to “Prove God exists,” we have to remember that sometimes their reasons for being anti-God are based on their personal experiences and negative interactions with “Christians.” The Church isn’t perfect; it’s full of messy people in various stages of becoming like Jesus.


~ Listen More Than You Talk ~

What typically causes conversations between Christians and skeptics to go wrong?

Well, beyond our possible defensiveness, it’s that we do a lot of jabbering before we learn what — and why — the skeptic believes as he does. Rather, we should be quick to listen, suggests Donald Johnson, author of How to Talk to a Skeptic: An Easy-to-Follow Guide for Natural Conversations and Effective Apologetics.

“Too many religious conversations,” says Johnson, “involve people talking past each other because they haven’t taken the time to find out what the other person actually believes. The result is that each side tries to knock down a straw-man version of the other’s position. The skeptic argues against a version of Christianity that the believer does not hold, and the Christian attacks an atheistic worldview that the unbeliever does not hold. Then they wonder why the conversation never gets anywhere.”

What are some of the “good, probing” questions Johnson suggests that we ask?

>>> “Do you have a background in Christianity or some other church or religion?”

>>> “Have you always been a skeptic? If not, how did you arrive at your position?”

>>> “I understand that you think that Christianity offers false answer to life’s biggest questions, but what do you think are the right answers?”

>>> “Could you share what you believe to be the Christian message?”

>>> “What is the story of the Bible, as you understand it?”

Asking questions also gives us the opportunity to discover if the skeptic holds incorrect Christian theology. Here we can gently point out where they are in error. Obviously, we have to know correct Christian teaching ourselves in order to be of help there.

But don’t be that “know-it-all” Christian that everyone avoids when they see you coming. We don’t need to fit God into every conversation…especially if we’re doing a great job at mirroring Jesus in our daily life.

Non-believers, Johnson reminds us, won’t be open to hearing the Good News, if they don’t see it in action in our lives. Perhaps the proof they’re really seeking is not facts, but the real power of seeing a life transformed.


As we talk to anyone about Jesus, let us not be thinking of “winning,” but of being productively used by Him to nudge their hearts and minds a bit more open to His existence and love for them.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of this discussion in our blog post next week!

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



How Could A Loving God Send a Good Person to Hell? Quick VIDEO

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.



Does Science Disprove Miracles?

miracles

Photo by Quino Al

Science says the universe operates only within its natural laws. True or false?

Science says that when a person dies, they stay dead. So how do Christians find it possible to believe that Jesus rose after His death on the cross? Because of the supernatural — miraculous — component of His death. That singular, seemingly improbable event becomes a possibility for anyone open to the possibility that God does exist.

David Hume, a Scottish philosopher from the 18th century, strongly influenced modern skepticism and naturalism. He asserted that though humans are influenced primarily by feelings, reason will always weigh strongly against miracle. Anyone who believes in miracles, he added, is both gullible and biased by their religious beliefs. But another influential thinker, Augustine of Hippo, argued that miracles are made possible by hidden capacities in nature placed there by God. That nature itself partners with God to produce the miraculous. 

The Bible highlights numerous miracles performed by God, Jesus, and His disciples. Some Christian teachers assert that miracles no longer occur, that they ceased with the death of Christ’s last apostle. Yet those who have personally experienced or witnessed a true miracle know that God is still very much in the miracle business.

Should we be skeptical when we hear report of a miracle? Absolutely, as we humans are easily fooled. In the words of magician Justin Willman, right before he ran an experiment to see if two people could be convinced that they’d become invisible, “If the tiniest bit of evidence will make us believe the unbelievable, what would I have to show someone to make them believe the impossible?”

Great question. Let’s take a look at seven characteristics of true miracles.


~ Seven Characteristics of Miracles ~

Miracles Are Supernatural, Immediate Events

By definition, miracles are events produced by an infinite power. That there is some great, external agent who brings about the event in our natural world. In the Bible, miracles come from the hand of God; they are immediate, and they are always successful. When Jesus commanded the invalid to “Arise and take up your pallet and walk” for example, the man immediately became well (John 5:8). When Jesus told Lazarus to step out of his death tomb, Lazarus immediately shuffled forward in his burial cloth. When Jesus told demons to beat it, they reluctantly exited. When Jesus decided to walk on water, it immediately carried His weight. When Jesus told the stormy winds to cease their fury, they instantly calmed. Bottom line: God always accomplished what He intended to accomplish, for His glory.


Miracles Are Rare and Unpredictable Events

Miracles are exceptions to the normal rhythm of life. But that’s what makes them miraculous. There is no “magic” formula that produces a miracle. Mankind has no say in whether they happen, though the Bible tells us that our prayers reach God’s ears. God doesn’t grant a miracle because we’re “good enough” or “spiritual enough.” He doesn’t grant miracles because we’ve successfully bribed Him. Rather, he chooses when and where to supernaturally move in our natural world, according to His plans. To heal, or not to heal, much to our consternation, lies solely in His hand.


Miracles Hold No Contradictions

God always works within scientific natural law, in keeping with the world He created. Yet there is nothing logically contradictory about some events considered physically impossible. Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli put it this way: “A man walking through a wall (as Jesus did) is a miracle. A man both walking and not walking through a wall at the same time and in the same respect is a contradiction. God can perform miracles but not contradictions — not because His power is limited, but because contradictions are meaningless.”


Miracles Are More Than Astonishing and Glorify God

Who doesn’t love a magic shows? A magician’s slight of hand mesmerizes us, delighting us with the seemingly impossible. But though a magician can perform an astonishing act, he or she can’t perform a supernatural event outside of natural means. Willman, for example, didn’t really make those two people invisible. When God performs a miracle, our minds are legitimately blown. When a 110-pound woman finds the strength to lift a car off of her child, is that a miracle? Science says no, that perhaps a huge spike in adrenaline produces momentary super strength. But could the reality be that God sent an angel to assist her?


Miracles Aren’t Testable By Scientific Means

True miracles can’t be tested via scientific inquiry, as they lack predictive value and can’t be replicated. Still, Science can’t exclude the possibility that God does unprecedented things. As Augustine wrote, “For Him, ‘nature’ is what He does.”

The usual argument against miracles, adds Oxford mathematician John Lennox, is that they go against the natural laws that Science has discovered. Lennox disagrees. Science proceeds on an assumption of cause and effect, he agrees, but its natural laws are not, themselves, causal. “No billiard balls have ever been set in motion by Newton’s Laws of Motion,” adds Lennox. “People wielding billiard cues set billiard balls in motion. But Newton’s Laws of Motion will describe the way in which a billiard ball moves once its set in motion.”

In his article posted to PhilosophyTalk.org, John Perry asks, “Should a sane, rational person ever believe in miracles?” No, he replies, unless you’ve ruled out all the non-miraculous first. My question: How far does one have to go to meet that requirement?

Suppose, adds Perry, that “I see you walking across the water — just like Jesus. There are no hidden walkways lurking below the surface. You’re not wearing inflatable shoes. You’re not being supported by gossamer rope tied to a helicopter. You haven’t learned to wiggle your toes rapidly enough to keep you afloat. Shouldn’t I conclude that the laws of physics have been locally suspended and we’ve got a genuine miracle on our hands?”

No, says Perry, because it’s more likely that we’ve still missed some other scientific alternative. “Look,” he asserts, “as soon as one is tempted to think he’s witnessed a miracle, he should stop and think again.”

Why is that?

Perry’s holdout: the “highly improbable” yet supposedly “possible” suggestion by scientists that the water molecules could, “completely by accident,” collect under our feet as we walk, bonding together strongly enough to form a kind of traveling bridge. “So maybe you can walk on water,” writes Terry, “but there are no miracles.”

Wait, what? An accidental, highly improbable traveling bridge of water doesn’t seem miraculous?

Perry may be among those who believe that the Bible story of the Red Sea’s parting, which allowed the Israelites to flea from Egypt’s fast approaching army, was due to a strong wind, not the hand of God. So, then, it was mere coincidence that the parted sea walls snapped shut, to drown Pharaoh’s army, only after the last Israelite stepped safely out of the water? Perhaps, except that the event happened just as God said it would.

In describing existence as an “open system,” Lennox adds that the natural laws serve to describe what Science has so far observed to happen, which become the basis for future prediction. But these man-made laws, he asserts, can’t “forbid God from feeding a new event into nature.” If God is the designer of the system, He can’t be held its prisoner.

Just because we hunt for a natural explanation doesn’t mean God wasn’t involved! It is flawed thinking to assume that because a miracle is unprecedented, its probability must be zero. 

Scientific observation can make miracles very improbable, agrees Lennox. But we have to stop pretending that Science isn’t handicapped by its inability to definitively prove theory — including the origin of the universe. Science claims evolution to be “fact” — when, in truth, is it merely its best current guess. Neo-Darwinian Evolution remains theory falsified by evidence, as a writer on EvolutionNews.com puts it — despite the scientific community adamantly asserting otherwise.


~ To Believe or Not to Believe ~

“Perhaps the universe is a pretty dull place,” posted a commenter anonymously on Perry’s post. “But, as a realist, I find that somehow comforting.”

I get his point, truly. The comforting makes us feel somewhat in control of things. But my response would be to simply ask, “What is it that keeps you from being open to acknowledging the miraculous?” 

Deep minds, such as Lennox and Richard Dawkins, continue to debate the existence of God. Dawkins says Science disproves the existence of God, whereas Lennox views Science to be a reflection of God’s nature. Skeptics, atheists, realists, and others who want God exiled from reasonable thought have personal reasons for their position. But it’s not from knowing with full certainty that God is just myth. And to use the excuse that they can’t believe until God is proven with 100 percent certainty is a flimsy argument. Closing our minds to the miraculous doesn’t in any way negate its existence.

For Christians, the basis for believing in the miraculous goes back to the biblical conception of God. Says the very first verse of the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). “If He has the ability to do this,” shares Abigail Biggs, “then a virgin birth, walking on water, feeding 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish, and the other biblical miracles become not only possible but expected.”

Hume argued that it is always more rational to disbelieve the testimony of a miracle than to believe in the miracle. But if there really is a God who created the world and designed its laws, He showed His ultimate mastery by raising His Son.

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



What is the Most Powerful Evidence for the Christian Faith?

 

 

 

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

 

For the past three years I have been helping my father update his classic book Evidence that Demands a Verdict. There is no doubt that the evidence for Christianity has grown substantially since the book first released in 1972.

Since I have been working on this book people have been increasingly asking me, “What do you think is the most powerful evidence for the Christian faith?”

While I do think the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, the textual evidence for the reliability of the Bible, and the scientific evidence for a designer are persuasive, these are not the most powerful evidences.

So, what is it? At the beginning of Evidence, my father and I are clear that we believe there is a more powerful apologetic—

a clear, simple presentation of the claims of Christ and who he is, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Here is how my father explains it in the introduction:

For my (Josh’s) philosophical apologetics course at Talbot Theological Seminary, everyone had to write a paper on “The Best Defense of Christianity.” I found myself constantly putting it off and avoiding writing it, not because I didn’t have the material but because I felt I was at odds with what the professor was expecting (an expectation based on the ream of my lecture notes from his class).

Finally, I decided to voice my convictions. I began my paper with the sentence, “Some people say the best offense is a good defense, but I say to you that the best defense is a good offense.” I proceeded by explaining that I felt the best defense of Christianity is a “clear, simple presentation of the claims of Christ and who he is, in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Then I wrote out the “Four Spiritual Laws” and recorded my testimony of how, on December 19, 1959, at 8:30 p.m., during my second year at the university, I placed my trust in Christ as Savior and Lord. I concluded the paper with a presentation of the evidence for the resurrection.

The professor must have agreed with my approach that the best defense of Christianity is a clear and compelling presentation of the gospel, for he gave me an A.

William Tyndale was right in saying that “a ploughboy with the Bible would know more of God that the most learned ecclesiastic who ignored it.”

In other words, an Arkansas farm boy sharing the gospel can be more effective in the long run than a Harvard scholar with his intellectual arguments.

 

Although it may surprise some people, since my father is known for presenting “evidences” for the faith, he has always lived by this principle. I have seen him present the evidence for Christianity on countless occasions, but his goal is always to bring it back to the gospel.

After all, it is the gospel that has the power to set people free.

We hope you enjoy the updated Evidence. But just remember: It’s not the evidence alone that changes lives.

Apologetics is one critical tool God can use to draw people to Him. We are to be ready with an answer for our faith (see 1 Peter 3:15).

But when it is all said and done, the most powerful apologetic is a clear and compelling presentation of the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 



Doubt: When It’s Beneficial for Christians

doubt god

Photo by Steve Halama

Doubt Can Be the Catalyst for Real Faith.

Do “real” Christians have the freedom to doubt the existence of God, Jesus, and the truths of the Bible? Or should we feel guilty when our faith wobbles like Jell-O?

Says Paul Tillich, “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” I happen to agree with him.

God knows that we will have questions and doubts because we can’t see the big picture like He does. That’s why He repeatedly tells us, in His Word, to trust and chill (“Do NOT fear!”). But God also tells us to pursue the development of our faith. Doubt is a great motivator to fuel this pursuit.

God is not offended by our doubt. God designed us to seek truth, that we might grow in our knowledge of Him. So why do we feel that it’s bad, if not wrong, to question God, the Bible, and even our particular church’s stance on an issue?

We can all come up with lots of reasons for not wanting to ask the big questions, says Ann Sullivan, the author of Permission to Doubt: One Woman’s Journey into a Thinking Faith. We don’t want to appear vulnerable or confused. We were taught that our inquiries are a sign of disrespect or unbelief. We are afraid our faith will buckle under the bright lights of interrogation. And some of us, she adds, sidestep investigation altogether, just to make sure God doesn’t get mad at us. “But if God is really God,” she queries, “how could He ever be threatened by us? If our faith is rooted in truth and our ability to reason is a gift from God, shouldn’t He be able to handle any question we come up with?”

Her question gets at the heart of the matter, doesn’t it? Some of us hide or ignore our doubts because we’re not sure God can handle our daring to ask questions. Trusting God is rough stuff for people taught that God is easily angered and delights in thumping them on the head. 

I like the clarity that Pete Enns, a noted college professor, provides when he suggests, “Doubting God is painful and frightening because we think we are leaving God behind, but we are only leaving behind the idea of God we like to surround ourselves with—the small God, the God we control, the God who agrees with us. Doubt forces us to look at who we think God is.”

If faith and doubt are expressed as a mathematical equation, adds Christian writer Ed Cyzewski, it would look like this: A little faith > a lot of doubt. Doubt, he’s saying, doesn’t cancel out our faith. Because the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, but unbelief.


~ Skeptical Versus Skepticism ~

The definition of skeptical is “having an attitude of doubt.” As a philosophy, Skepticism goes so far as to question whether it’s even possible for humans to attain knowledge. “Can we ever really know anything?” ask these thinkers. “Does this chair really exist, or do I merely think it exists?”

Pyrrhonian Skepticism, developed in ancient Greece, even declines to make definitive judgements on the truth or untruth of any belief. So don’t ask these thinkers if the chair exists, because they will only argue both sides. Some even propose that our individual human “reality”—the lives that you and I think we’re living on a daily basis—is nothing more than mental fantasy generated by an evil genie or super-computers. (Cue the Matrix movie trailer, please.) 

John Ortberg, Jr., in his fabulous ChristianityToday.com article titled Slaying Spiritual Skepticism, asserts that the more destructive form of skepticism is a disease not so much of the intellect, but of the will. “It is not the doubting of Thomas that leads to a search for the truth,” he writes, “it is the doubting of Pilate (“What is truth?”), which is less a question about truth than an affirmation that truth cannot be found, an excuse to wash my hands of the whole thing and simply pursue my agenda.”

Here’s a question: if even philosophers think they can’t know anything with complete certainty—and be perfectly fine with holding that view—why do we Christians begin to sweat buckets when a skeptic demands that we prove, 100 percent, that God exists? Ahem! If they’re going to make that assertion, they first should prove by the same measure that He doesn’t.

Writes Lenny Esposito in his powerful article on ComeReason.org, “It seems that many people who object to Christianity want the Christians to do all the work and provide an answer for every nuance of their belief system, but don’t feel they are obligated to do the same. What bothers me is many Christians accept that premise and do a lot of work when the person objecting really wasn’t interested in the truth to begin with. Now, some people are sincerely seeking answers, and we should be able to give them good reasons for believing why we believe. But if the skeptic feels it important for you to have reasons for your faith, then they should be equally accountable.”

Dudes! Stop thinking you have to be a Christian encyclopedia, or that Christianity will crumble if you can’t answer every question! You’re not God (right?); you won’t have all the answers for this crazy thing called life while you’re still living it.


~ What? Even Mother Teresa Doubted? ~

Surely doubt plaques only “weak” Christians, right?

Heck, no! Doubt plagues even the major players!

Many noted Christian teachers and leaders have publicly acknowledged their doubt—among them Pope Francis, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Spurgeon. Closer to home, Sean McDowell has shared that his nature leads him to be a “consistent doubter.” He doubts, for example, his purchases, his daily choices, and yes, his spiritual beliefs. McDowell has said that his doubts can feel “crushing.” (Can you relate?) But he doesn’t view doubt to be a shameful weakness, as it pushes him to study, think, question—and share his findings to strengthen the faith of others.

The amazing Mother Teresa also had crushing doubts, as the world learned when her private letters were published. The secular media promptly labeled her a “fake,” “liar,” and “pretender.” Yet in this story by Enns, we gain insight into her deep faith:

“In 1975, the Jesuit philosopher, John Kavanaugh, went to work for three months at the ‘house of the dying’ in Calcutta with Mother Teresa. He was searching for an answer to some spiritual struggles. On his very first morning there, he met Mother Teresa. She asked him, ‘And what can I do for you?’ Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him. ‘What do you want me to pray for?’ she asked. He answered with the request that was the very reason he traveled thousands of miles to India: ‘Pray that I have clarity.’ Mother Teresa said firmly, ‘No. I will not do that.’ When he asked her why, she said, ‘Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.’ When Kavanaugh said, ‘You always seem to have clarity,’ Mother Teresa laughed and said, ‘I have never had clarity. What I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.’”

The world might label us “fake” Christians when doubt pulls at us to question our faith. But in actuality, admitting our doubts places us squarely in the Authentic Zone. And that’s right where God can begin speaking clearly to us. (All He might say there, by the way, is, “Teresa, you don’t need to know that right now. Just trust.”) 


~ Face Your Doubt, See Where It Leads ~

So what’s your deal with doubt? Do you pretend, like many church leaders, that your faith never falters? 

I’ll admit that I sometimes doubt that God is working for my good. There are things I pray for, you see, that He is not providing. In those moments, I have to remember my limited view. Like Mother Teresa, I also often question why a great and powerful God would allow so much evil and pain in this world. I have only two choices: take the easy route—simply decide that God is neither great nor good (or possibly asleep at the wheel)—or decide to seek answers to understand His nature and what He says about our free will and the consequences of sin.

Still, doubt can be paralyzing. But it’s important that we press on, because in pressing we find answers and strength.

I love the song “Even If” by the Christian band, MercyMe. It captures the direction I think every Christian should be headed: to faith, despite the doubt. Just a few of the song’s lyrics: “They say it only takes a little faith to move a mountain. Well good thing, a little faith is all I have right now. God when you choose to leave mountains unmoveable, give me the strength to be able to sing it is well with my soul.” Another MercyMe song equally impactful: You Are I Am.

So how do we constructively handle doubt? First, by identifying reliable sources. And lastly, by recognizing when to “Let go and let God.”

But while we’re on the hunt for truth, we must develop our ability to think critically, with rational and logical thought. We need to recognize where we are seeing others’ biases and assumptions instead of the truth. And then we need to admit our own biases. It’s okay to challenge everything, as buying into the crippling lie that Christians must live with “blind faithdoesn’t actually produce faith of substance.

Pastor Timothy Keller uses a helpful analogy to show why it’s critical that we view doubt in the right light:

“A faith without some doubts,” he says, “is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection. Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts—not only their own but their friends’ and neighbors’.”

Go ahead, admit your doubt. Just don’t stop there. Take action. Tell God your doubts and ask His help in finding truthful answers. He’s gonna love it. Just like He loves you.

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Does Truth Even Matter? Quick VIDEO

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.



Objective Truth: Christian Response to Postmodernism

Objective Truth Christian Response to Postmodernism

Conveniently Ignoring Objective Truth.

“If you are anything like me,” says noted Christian author and speaker Lisa Bevere, “you want to love the broken people around you.”

But so often Christians are told they’re being judgmental and hateful if they don’t accept the false version of love that accepts everything — no matter how destructive it is to people’s lives.

“In a wavering world,” adds Bevere, “I believe we can be people who stand like a rock, embodying both grace and truth. Real truth is not a river. It’s a rock.”

Lisa’s comments have been reverberating inside my brain ever since I heard them. Because she’s spot on. In rejecting objective truth, society is wooing us to believe that truth is a river; that it ebbs and flows with the trends, and that we each get to define and live out our personalized version of it.

Park a minute at this comic strip by Adam Ford called “Anti-Choice Judge.” It masterfully shows how subjective truth can warp a person’s view of themselves and the world. We need objective truth — God’s truth — to keep us from spiraling into total narcissistic self-absorption! We need God’s truth to keep things real.


~ Please Don’t Feel Judged or Offended ~

The Church is supposed to be full of Christians who are salty beacons of light. We’re supposed to lead people into an authentic relationship with Christ. Many churches — filled with messy people in various stages of sanctification (Duh! That’s what church is for!) — take this directive seriously and do their best to evidence Christ in their thoughts, words, and actions.

But just as many churches seem to be confused about their purpose.

In their attempt to demonstrate how “loving” they are, many now choose to dilute, if not ignore, God’s objective truth when it comes to hot potato issues such as abortion and sexual identity/behavior. Some churches no longer even use the words “sin” or “sinner,” for fear that someone might be offended and not return to fill the seats and budget. But these churches are failing to remind people of their desperate need for Christ as Savior. 

Shall we present Jesus’ cruel, excruciatingly painful sacrifice as unneeded or trivial, just so people will feel little — or no — conviction about their life choices? Shall “church” come to mean nothing more than weekly self-esteem rah-rah sessions for “good” people to “claim their blessing”?

Theatrical worship experiences, amped by pulse-pounding drums and guitars, fog smoke, and strobe lights are thrilling in the moment, but don’t stay with us after we walk out. Hey, Jesus, didn’t you just LOVE that mountain-top rock concert?!

Warm, fuzzy, funny sermons make us feel good, but did they lead us to a raw encounter with Christ? What about all the gimmicks many churches now use to entice people through their doors? Jesus, weren’t you just AWED at how clever we were to incorporate helicopter egg drops at Easter and glow-in-the-dark acrobats at Christmas? They will bring people to you, Jesus, we just know it!!! 

But do people leave talking about Jesus — or the helicopter?

When we become so hip and cool in the eyes of secular society, will the Church still have impact? Or will it become just another outlet for momentary feel good entertainment?

Jesus isn’t interested in our feeling comfortable. He’s interested in movement and growth. He wants to break all the chains and junk that keep us from Him.

Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” There is a huge difference between the person who is apologetic about his sin and the person who is repentant about his sin. In the first, a person continues to sin, knowing God is gracious to forgive. In the second, a person refuses to continue in his or her sin because s/he wants to please Christ.

In a secular blot post I read yesterday, the author stated that Christianity will “finally be of help to people” once society is able to remove its attachment to the supernatural. Sigh. Whenever I hear comments like this, which are typically expressed by atheists and angry ex-Christians who feel failed by the Church and God, I shake my head at their clueless arrogance. Yes, the Church is messy and flawed, and sometimes downright sinful, but it holds incredible life-changing power when it dies to self and allows Christ to reign.


~Moralistic Therapeutic Deism ~

Fortunately, God is at work even in churches that have embraced Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

“What the heck is that?” you ask.

Basically, it’s a feel-good theology in which God is a teddy bear. The term was coined by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in 2005, after they conducted a nationwide telephone survey of Christian teens to learn how they viewed religion.

Moralistic Therapeutic DeismObjective Truth Christian Response Postmodernism, writes Ford in another of his cool cartoons, “happens to be a preferred religion of Western culture, which usually (and tragically) goes by the name Christianity.” In it, God is a cosmic therapist and divine butler. Though He exists, it isn’t necessary to actually make him part of our daily life — unless we have need of Him.

God is simply at our beck and call, like a personal genie.

Adds Kenda Creasy Dean, author of Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism “offers comfort, bolsters self-esteem, helps solve problems, and lubricates interpersonal relationships by encouraging people to do good, feel good, and keep God at arm’s length.”

The bottom line: every “Christian” gets to heaven by being “good,” rather than submitting to Christ. Being a “good” person, you see, is the golden ticket to get into heaven. And anyway, God is a loving God, so He won’t really send anyone to Hell, you know! That would just be soooo mean! 

Dale Partridge, the founder of the RelearnChurch.org, which seeks to reconnect churches to the Bible, holds this view:  “We want costless Christianity,” he states. “We don’t like participatory Christianity that has a cost.”


~ Sin? What’s That? ~

Society asserts that God can’t be real, so objective truth can’t be real, either. So neither is the notion of “sin.” As Bevere notes, we’ve become a society of opinionated, rather than convicted, people.

But being a Christian isn’t about consensus morality determined by society. It’s morality based on the Word of God. The person who minimizes and justifies sin with a “Don’t judge me!” response, adds Ford, knows very little of the Bible.

Clearly, a lot of Christians aren’t reading the Bible.

Objective truth BibleA 2016 study of 1,000 Christians, conducted by LifeWay Research, showed that ONLY 11 percent of those surveyed had read the whole Bible. Ten percent of those surveyed had read NONE of it! A whopping 13 percent had read only a few sentences. How can Christians know the objective truth of what God considers sin, if they haven’t read His messages to them?

For many years I was a superficial Christian, determined to keep Jesus at arm’s length because I hated the gruesome cross story. But when I did start to seek Him — in part by reading the Bible, which society asserts is just a dry, useless book — this is what I discovered: that Jesus isn’t just “that cool dude who went around loving and healing people.” He’s our mind-blowing God who deliberately took human form to show us that He fully identifies with our every thought and struggle. He “gets” our temptations and our failings and our messy bits and our dark corners — and FULLY accepts and loves us — like no other person or organization or group ever will.

To know Jesus is awesome. To only know of Him is to seriously miss out.

Many who reject Christ hold a melioristic viewpoint: that the world is made better by human effort. That humans have an inherent tendency toward progress or improvement. That the perfectibility of man is entirely possible, above the control of every power that would impede it. Among those “powers,” they list religion.

But Jesus isn’t “religion.” Jesus is raw, real, authentic truth and love. He is our very needed savior. Our souls clamor for Him, even as we adamantly turn to other sources to fill our need for love, acceptance, control, and connection. Our seeking objective truth leads us to Jesus. Personal truth just leads us to an endless fascination with our bellybuttons.

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Postmodernism: Faulty Truth, False Reality

PostmodernismPostmodernism robs society of objective truth and reason. Are we doomed?

One of the most popular phrases today around the globe is “You have your truth, I have my truth, and nobody knows the truth.” If one looks at that statement objectively, however, it is immediately obvious that as a guiding philosophy it’s a major fail. This supposedly inclusive view can only work in La-La Land, not in real society.

What, you ask, is Postmodernism? I’d love to hand you a simple definition, but I can’t. Because no one actually can agree on its tenets; it’s so subjective and slippery. But, at its bare bones, postmodernism is a way of analyzing life. It rejects logic, fact, objective truth, and objective moral values. Perhaps you’ll find this short overview video of postmodernism helpful.

Postmodernism says that truth is inaccessible, and that everything is interpretation. That no interpretation is final. That language only has the meaning we give it. That there is no absolute truth outside our own unique perspective. That there is no single origin of morality. That reality cannot be known nor described objectively.

Though society has been influenced by the sloppy reasoning and false narratives of postmodernism for more than 50 years, making inroads even in the Church, it is our young people who have fully embraced postmodernism as the correct lens through which to view life. Gone are black and white, replaced by an endless selection of grays.


~ You Don’t Get to Judge My Reality ~

In a 2000 article by Christianity Today, Postmodernism was defined as “anything, everything, and nothing.” Today, people are demanding societal respect for their desire to live in the “safe bubble” of their personally crafted identity. The list of subjective identities continues to mushroom, as society spirals deeper into individual focus and narcissism.

As Lonny S. Jarrett writes in his article Narcissism: A Postmodern Epidemic, “Einstein’s theory of relativity, that all perception is relative to the perceiver, has become distorted into the perspective that each individual is living in his own universe, a universe that is a projection of his own mind with no external reality having its own independent existence, validity, or truth.” He adds, “Narcissism is present when one’s attention is focused relatively more on the voice in his own head than he is on the words coming out of the mouth of the person he is listening to.”

Having been brought up to expect acceptance of their personal lifestyle choices, many college students believe it perfectly acceptable to verbally or physically attack anyone they feel is disrespecting or judging their subjective truth. It’s their rage (easily triggered by self-perceived “micro-aggressions“), rather than the soundness of their arguments, that has gained them ground. The media, heady on the sensationalism of these “Social Justice Warriors,” has happily amplified their antics.

Per the Urban Dictionary, a Social Justice Warrior is someone “who uses the fight for civil rights as an excuse to be rude, condescending, and sometimes violent for the purpose of relieving their frustrations or validating their sense of unwarranted moral superiority.”

In a YouTube video I recently viewed, an angry young woman asserted that she considers it “an act of violence against her” if another person refuses to use the pronoun “They” when referencing her. Though her genetics identify her as female, she is offended by the label “She.” Not only did my jaw drop at her take-no-prisoners attitude, but at the logical implication of her statement. An act of violence — which typically leads to legal consequence — for not using the “right” pronoun?

“No one should be made to feel threatened or harassed simply because of who they are or what they believe,” stated Paul Alivisatos, UC Berkeley’s executive vice chancellor, in defending the school’s decision to beef up security and offer counseling to students “offended” by the visit of guest speaker Ben Shapiro, a conservative political commentator and author of Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth. Yet, clearly, it didn’t matter to them if Shapiro likewise felt harassed or offended.

Many SJWs believe a societal utopia can be achieved, but only through the removal of all judgements potentially lurking in objective truth and morality. “Subjectivity is comforting,” says Shapiro, “because you can never be wrong.” He adds that society — college campuses included — signal to all of us that there is virtue in being offended. That my being offended is enough for me to outright dismiss your view — and attack you for having it.

In raising our kids with the message “Feel free to be you!”, we’ve paved the highway of endless subjectivity. And having bought into this view, many of us are subtly and overtly pressuring others to vigilantly monitor that their views don’t offend another. Free speech is labeled “hate speech” when it does offend someone.

In a YouTube video I viewed, a young woman taunted an invited speaker. It was clear that she thought herself incredibly clever. Perhaps in her mind her scathing words and condescending tone imbued her with power. But in actuality, she came across as a bully. Her heightened sense of self-importance only served to amplify the obvious: she seethed with intolerance for any contrary view. In another video, in which Shapiro addressed a crowd of college students, a small group of students continued to interrupt him by chanting when he tried to speak. I had to agree, wholeheartedly, when he quipped, “You’re so boring.”

Shapiro was asked, “Why does your right to free speech trump my right to be offended?” His response, “Because if it doesn’t, there is no right to free speech.”


~ Postmodernism: Provocative Idea, Useless Model ~

Two mandates of Postmodernism are “openness” — which rejects reason — and “tolerance” — which rejects moral absolutes. It’s a reinterpretation of what is knowledge, and what should be viewed as knowl­edge. The standards of right/wrong and good/bad are just “social constructs” to be challenged or simply ignored.

Friedrich Nietzsche, the noted German atheist and philosopher, asserted that truth is just illusion. Ironically, Nietzsche, who was declared clinically insane the last decade of his life, had a huge impact on Western thinking and Postmodernist philosophers. It’s hard to understand why, when even his claim, “There are no facts, only interpretations,” gets instantly nullified because he states it as fact.

I am endlessly amused by philosophers, especially when they ignore the obvious and/or concoct theories that require a total rejection of logic. But I’m not convinced that living in a world fueled by subjective truth and subjective reality isn’t going to be really frustrating. Real truth matters.

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



What about Atrocities Committed In the Name of Christ? Quick VIDEO

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.



Can We Know God Really Exists?

God really existsIs it possible to know if God really exists, or do we each get to decide His existence for ourselves?

When it comes to God’s existence, some contemporary philosophers deny that we can know for sure. No one, they say, can really know, because His existence isn’t provable. God, they say, is the stuff of legends, tall tales, and delusional thinking — because, to them, He hasn’t offered the right proof that He’s real.

But here’s the thing: there is a truth and reality about God’s existence, even if we choose to disregard it.

I like what the great philosopher Mortimer Adler once said; that “there is a reality that is independent of the human mind, to which the mind can either conform or fail to conform. In other words, what we think does not create or in any way affect what we are thinking about. It is what it is, whether we think about it or not and regardless of what we think about it.”


~ Beyond a Reasonable Doubt ~

Can we say with 100 percent certainty that God really exists? No. But the key is not a perfect or absolute certainty, as skeptics assert, but a standard of proof that answers the question beyond a reasonable doubt. For skeptics to claim, “God can’t be proved,” doesn’t then make their assertion that “God isn’t real!” true.

“When a judge charges a jury,” says Josh McDowell, “he or she tells them to decide based on probability, not certainty; based on the evidence presented, not the certainty of having viewed the crime. If jury decisions were delayed until 100 percent certainty existed, no verdict would ever be rendered. Skeptics demand absolute certainty in religious matters, yet they don’t apply the standard of absolute certainty to anything else of major importance.”

Atheists, he adds, can’t even be 100 percent certain of their own belief that God doesn’t exist. And to deny the existence of God necessitates admitting the possibility that He does exist. The real struggle for most skeptics isn’t that they can’t believe, it’s that they’ve decided to refuse to believe. And many skeptics, if you ask them what definitive proof they need to believe, can’t tell you. They would rather cling to their assertion that God is a “delusional crutch” for otherwise possibly intelligent people. That dig is so silly it doesn’t even hurt. 😉

Does their unbelief make God nonexistent? Nope. Belief does not create truth; truth is independent of belief.

In pondering the concept of reality, business guru Seth Godin recently wrote this amazing statement:

“It’s ever easier to weave our own reality, to find a bubble and to reinforce what we believe with what we hear. We can invent our own rules, create our own theories, fabricate our own ‘facts’. It turns out, though, that when your reality is based on actual reality, it’s a lot more stable and resilient, because you don’t have to be so vigilant about what you’re going to filter out.”


~ Christianity Is, In Fact, Provable ~

I agree with skeptics on one point: people shouldn’t believe in God because simply they were taught to do so. God calls us to a deeper knowledge of Him than blind faith. (Nor should we accept all teaching as truthful Christian doctrine, without researching that its biblically sound.) Rather, God invites us into a relationship with Himself. He desires that we learn about Him, and learn to trust and love Him. So He continues to show us who He is.

Christianity is based on fact, not just faith.

Despite what critics say, Christianity has proven to be grounded in strong evidence. It has a high degree of probability for its claims of truth. We see evidence of God’s existence in our amazingly intricate world. DNA itself shouts of a deliberate designer who not only created the world but keeps it going! Marilyn Adamson writes in her article on EveryStudent.com:

“How is it that we can identify laws of nature that never change? Why is the universe so orderly, so reliable? The greatest scientists have been struck by how strange this is. There is no logical necessity for a universe that obeys rules, let alone one that abides by the rules of mathematics. This astonishment springs from the recognition that the universe doesn’t have to behave this way. It is easy to imagine a universe in which conditions change unpredictably from instant to instant, or even a universe in which things pop in and out of existence. Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize winner for quantum electrodynamics, said, ‘Why nature is mathematical is a mystery…The fact that there are rules at all is a kind of miracle.'”

In His Word, God tells us about His nature and His plan for mankind. God has also proven His existence through Jesus. No one in human history has made the claims Jesus made and been able to give rock-solid proof to back them up. Jesus had power over sickness, nature, sin, and even death. And Jesus repeatedly redirected human focus back to God.

In another article on EveryStudent.com, the writer uses the analogy of a college student charged with a crime to showcase the critical role Jesus willingly played for us:

“The judge sentences her to 30 days in jail or a $1,000 fine. The student can afford neither the time nor the money. The judge, knowing this, takes off his robes, walks to the front of the bench, and with his own checkbook pays the fine. Why? Because, as a just judge, he cannot overlook the offense. But, because he is the student’s father, he chooses to pay the penalty on her behalf. This is exactly what Jesus did for each of us on the cross. He made the great sacrifice of being beaten, humiliated, whipped and crucified on our behalf. He now asks us to respond to his sacrifice by inviting him into our lives.”


~ Fighting God’s Knock? ~

I have often wondered why some atheists are so determined to belittle and smear Christianity, to debunk that God really exists. This quote by Adamson, herself a former atheist, opened my eyes to one possibility:

“I didn’t realize that the reason the topic of God weighed so heavily on my mind, was because God was pressing the issue. I have come to find out that God wants to be known. He created us with the intention that we would know him. He has surrounded us with evidence of himself and he keeps the question of his existence squarely before us. It was as if I couldn’t escape thinking about the possibility of God. In fact, the day I chose to acknowledge God’s existence, my prayer began with, ‘Ok, you win…’ It might be that the underlying reason atheists are bothered by people believing in God is because God is actively pursuing them.”

Adamson adds that author C.S. Lewis, who also lost his battle to ignore God’s knocking at his soul, said he remembered, “…night after night, feeling whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.”

Lewis had enormous influence on the world. Imagine the loss to the world if Lewis had not penned the Narnia novels as well as his numerous other books that are now considered Christian classics.


~ Choice, Not Truth, is Entirely Up to Us ~

Does God exist? As Dr. William Lane Craig notes, this could be the most important question a person can consider. Our individual choice, to believe in or reject the existence of God, has enormous implications on how we view of life, morality, and humanity. Yet some of us are waiting for that one piece of definitive proof before we’ll believe — all the while ignoring God’s activity all around us.

The thing is, God is attempting to get our attention all the time.

With every sunrise and sunset. With every bird’s chirp. With every baby’s laugh. With every beat of our heart. Satan has done a great job of ensuring we have plenty of noise around us 24/7 — TV, internet, texting, Facebook, etc., — not to mention the daily demands of work and family, which helps to dull our ears to God’s voice.

So, to hear God, we might have to get really quiet.

Granted, leaning into the silence feels really weird — and unproductive — to people grown long accustomed to constant bombardment of interruption and noise. We’re a society accustomed to proving our worth by our level of busyness. And we instinctively shrink from the heaviness of silence, because it is in its pin-drop quietness that we just might realize how hard we have been working to deny our need for God.

Psssssst: God really exists. We all know this in the deepest recesses of our hearts.

But we must choose to open our minds to His showing us that He is present and actively working in the world to accomplish His purposes. That He cares, even when life really, really hurts. Bottom line: We can choose to fight Him or follow Him. God, in His graciousness, leaves the choice entirely up to us.

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



The Old Testament Is Embarrassing

 

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

 

This summer, I have been studying the book of Exodus. As I have been paying attention to the story of Moses and details of the Mosaic Law, it has become clear to me that the Old Testament is embarrassing. It is chalk full of embarrassing material.

Let me explain.

One of the criterion New Testament scholars use to weigh the reliability of an ancient saying or event is known as the principle of embarrassment.

As my father and I explain in Evidence that Demands a Verdict, the principle of embarrassment is a criterion that looks at ancient writings to see if there are hard, embarrassing, or unfavorable details about the author(s) or with the story’s purpose.

If such details exist, positive conclusions can be made about the integrity of the author(s).

Using this criterion, even many critical scholars conclude that a number of events in the New Testament are likely true, such as the disciples not understanding the teachings of Jesus (Mark 4:1-12), the three disciples falling asleep at Gethsemane (Matt 26:36-46), the crucifixion of Jesus as a criminal (Mark 15:21-41), and women discovering the empty tomb (John 20).

The fact that these hard, embarrassing, and unattractive stories exist in the New Testament indicates that the authors were more interested in accuracy than reputability.

The criterion can also help establish the reliability of the Old Testament, which is filled with embarrassing material.[1]

Consider three brief examples:

 

1. The Hebrew people came out of slavery

(Exodus 12-14). Why invent such a lowly origin story if it were not true? This is unique to the Jewish people. Of course, people could argue that the entire story was fabricated. But this fails to address the issue: Why even fabricate it in the first place?

 

2. The daughter of Pharaoh is the one who saves the life of Moses.

In a twist of irony, Pharaoh’s daughter rescues Moses from certain death (Exodus 2:1-10). Why invent a story about the daughter of Pharaoh—who enslaved and tried to kill the Hebrew people—heroically rescuing the savior of Israel? This is similar to the New Testament story of Joseph of Arimathea. Many scholars trust the account of the burial of Jesus because it seems unlikely the Gospel authors would invent an honorable burial for Jesus from a member of the Sanhedrin who condemned him to death.

 

3. David, the man after God’s own heart, is deeply flawed.

Along with Abraham and Moses, David is one of the most important figures in the Old Testament. The Messiah was to be from the lineage of David. And he was considered “a man after God’s own heart.” Yet he is a profoundly flawed character who commits both adultery and murder. Why invent such a defective character as David? Why not make him more honorable and faithful? Why not try to cover up his flaws, as the LDS Church as done with Joseph Smith?

These examples are only the “tip of the iceberg.” From the Torah to the Prophets, the Old Testament is filled with embarrassing material. And that’s one reason I trust it.

 

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, the National Spokesman for Summit Ministries, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 

[1] These examples came to my mind as I was reading The Rational Bible by Dennis Prager.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]



Relativism: Does It Contain Any Truth?

truth relativismDoes our personal version of “truth” (relativism) trump God’s objective truth?

In our current “Truth is what I say it is” culture, we have to ask if the issue of truth really matters. I mean, we all seem to be doing okay in life with our own version of truth, right?

Actually, no. When a society embraces a slippery slope of “truth,” its foundation turns from firm to shaky. A culture’s attack on truth ultimately affects the culture itself. People may hate the supposed strictness of God’s objective truth, but we have only to look around to see that societal morals that were once black and white have muddied to endless shades of gray. To ignore the negative side effects of this is to certainly put one’s head in the sand.

Like Neo in the Sci-Fi thriller The Matrix, our human nature prompts us to choose the pill that gains us a truthful reality. We’re hard-wired to seek out truth. And we instinctively know when we’re deviating from God’s objective truth, even if we ignore it or try to erase it as the standard to which we should be living.

Let’s look at three truths about truth, and why the assertion that “truth is relative” is completely wrong. Real, objective truth matters. In every area of our lives. 


~ The Truths About Truth ~

Truth Is Logical

Logic presupposes that truth is real, and that “first principles” are truths that cannot be denied, because they are self-evident. Logic applied to reality is a key example of a first principle. All logic can be reduced to a single axiom: the law of noncontradiction. This law says that no two opposite statements can both be true at the same time in the same sense. Logic must apply to reality. And because of that, we can use logic to test truth claims about reality.

Truth Is Objective

Though we can make subjective claims based on personal preferences — for example, “Chocolate ice cream is the best flavor in the world!” — this makes the claims only “true” for us and anyone who agrees with us. The statement is only true because we believe it to be true. These statements of “truth” can easily change, based on our current preferences.

But objective truths are true no matter what we believe about them. They do not change because of our thoughts of whims. They are mind-independent and depend on the object itself. 

“Objective truths, as opposed to subjective preferences, are based on the external world,” states apologist Sean McDowell. “They are related to the world independently of how we think or feel. For example, the sentences ‘1+2=3’ and ‘George Washington was the first president of the United States,’ and ‘Sacramento is the capital of California’ are all objective truths, that is, they are accurate statements even if we don’t believe them.”

Truth Is NOT Relative

We are free to have all the subjective preferences we want — from religion to politics to morality — but objective truth is not swayed by our personal views or even the collective view of society. So those who argue that all truth is subjective are espousing a form of relativism.

Relativism creeps into our vocabulary in statements like, “Well, that’s true for you, but not for me.” Unfortunately for those who champion relativism, the concept fails for two main reasons, which I outline below.


~ The Failure of Relativism ~

The first failure of relativism is that it is self-defeating. The second is that relativism leads to absurd logical outcomes.

To be consistent, the relativist must say, “Nothing is objectively true — including my own position. So you’re free to accept my view or reject it.” But here’s the reality: when a relativist asserts, “Everything is relative,” he expects his listeners to embrace HIS view of reality. And he expects his statement to pertain to all statements EXCEPT his own.

Norman Geisler puts it this way: “The only way the relativist can avoid the painful dilemma of relativism is to admit that there are at least some absolute truths. As noted, most relativists believe that relativism is absolutely true and that everyone should be a relativist. Therein lies the self-destructive nature of relativism. The relativist stands on the pinnacle of an absolute truth and wants to relativize everything else.”

The point not to miss: One can’t hold to relativism and insist that others do so as well. It’s a contradiction.

Relativism is a popular idea because, on the surface, it sounds accepting, inclusive, and easy-going. But it is only when we think through its implications, and apply them rigorously to life, do we see the pitfalls of being so accommodating.

As philosopher Paul Copan notes:

“Truth’s elusiveness in some areas of life is a major reason people believe something can be ‘true for you, but not for me.’ Looking around, the relativist comes to one firm conclusion: Too many people genuinely disagree about too many things for use to know truth. Significant — almost irreconcilable — differences in vital dimensions like religion, morality, politics, and philosophy can make it seem rash or even arrogant to say one perspective is true or mostly true and others are totally or partially wrong. Supposedly, then, the sensible conclusion to draw is that relativism must be true.”

In actuality, however, the only part of relativism that is true is that our perspectives do change the way we view events.

So while social and personal relationships do tend to define what people take to be true and false, these influences do NOT determine what is true or false with respect to objective reality. We may not see the truth correctly, but this does not diminish that the actual reality of truth exists.

Skeptics can cry, “God doesn’t exist!”, and personally believe it to be true. But God’s existence, in no way, is determined by our view of it.


~ Conclusion ~

As philosopher and author Steward E. Kelly says, an attempt to deny that truth exists is hopeless. “If there were, hypothetically speaking,” he adds, “no such thing as truth, then would it be true that there is no truth?” Apologist Ravi Zacharias puts a finer point on this when he says, “Truth by definition is exclusive.”

If truth were all-inclusive, he adds, “nothing would be false. And if nothing were false, what would be the meaning of true? Moreover, if nothing were false, would it be true to say that everything is false? It quickly becomes evident that the denial of truth as an absolute either ends up denying itself or else in effect not making any truthful assertion about truth.”

When we choose to view “truth” as subjective, we make it impossible to argue for any sort of binding morality or ethics. Bottom line: when real, objective truth dies, ethics die, too. Relativism undermines even the value of humanity. 

Apologist Gregory Koukl puts it this way:

“If truth can’t be known, then the concept of moral truth becomes incoherent. Ethics become relative, right and wrong matters of individual opinion. This may seem a moral liberty, but it ultimately rings hollow. “The death of truth in our society has created a moral decay in which ‘every debate ends with a barroom question, ‘Says, who?’ When we abandon the idea that one set of laws applies to every human being, all that remains is subjective, personal opinion.”

But the Bible draws a clear contrast between truth and error; the Bible does not present truth as a cultural creation. When Jesus drove a stake into the ground by claiming, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” He did so to give us a clear standard of truth to follow. 

Imagine if God continually changed His mind, and kept us guessing as to His nature and what he wants/expects from us. Sounds like the petulant Greek gods, if you ask me. Fortunately, God is NOT like that. His loving character never changes. And neither do the truths He has chosen to share with us via His Word.

From what influence are you determining “truth”? From the world, or from God’s Word? Because only the latter offers the real thing.

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



What are the Best Questions for Spiritual Conversation? Quick VIDEO

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.



Book Review: The End of Faith

 

 

A few years ago, I worked through The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, a popular atheist thinker who argued against a theistic worldview. I chose to read the book because I believe that it is important for Christians (and anyone, for that matter) to engage with viewpoints other than our own. Although I did not find the main thrust of his arguments very convincing, I still wrote about the experience because I found it to be quite formative to my understanding of atheism.

Standing tall next to Richard Dawkins in the world of  “New Atheism” is another man by the name of Sam Harris. I had the chance to read his popular title The End of Faith, where he argues that religion, particularly Western religion, is foolish to believe, harmful to society, and needs to end. My purpose in writing a review of this book is not to bash Harris or pretend like I know everything. But I hope to offer some constructive dialogue in contribution to the very important subject of religion in our world. I’m using the print edition from 2005.

 

Blind Faith

One thing I noticed right away with Harris’s evaluation of faith is that it is blind, without reason, and fundamentally opposed to rationality.

This is a common objection to theism which atheists often point out, but I was a little surprised to find Harris talking as though the vast majority of all Western religious people believe this way. “On this subject,” writes Harris, “liberals and conservatives have reached a rare consensus: religious beliefs are simply beyond the scope of rational discourse.” (Page 13). And further, “How is it that, in this one area of our lives, we have convinced ourselves that our beliefs about the world can float entirely free of reason and evidence?” (Page 17).

Clearly, Harris has a problem with blind faith.

So do I.

And so does almost any thoughtful Christian who recognizes the use/endorsement of persuasive rationality by Paul (Acts 18:28), Peter (1 Peter 3:15), John (1 John 1:1-3), and Jesus (Matthew 22:23-32).

To be fair, Harris does recognize that some religious people might try to use rationality to come to conclusions about the existence of God. He says “This is probably a conclusion that many religious believers will want to resist” (Page 63).

I can’t help but sense that Harris is also resisting this conclusion. As an atheist, he doesn’t seek to address it, at least not so much in this one book I read. In doing so he misses a great number of us. I recognize that rational faith is not his focus (see Page 65), but if he’s going to address mainstream Christianity, I think it ought to be.

 

Trivial Squabble

Another common thread in Harris’s thinking is that religious people debate about things which seem so trivial to him.

In order to make his point, he asks us to imagine if humanity lost all of its knowledge and begun the work to reclaim it all over again. Then on page 23, he asks “When in this process of reclaiming our humanity will it be important to know that Jesus was born a virgin? Or that he resurrected?” What about the knowledge that Jesus’ miraculous birth shows that he is God? What about the knowledge that the resurrection of Jesus was a victory over death itself rendering salvation to everyone who believes in his name?

Instead, Harris thinks that our message is as trivial as “rival interpretations of Star Was or Windows 98” (Page 36).

The difference is that no interpretation of Han Solo claims that he died for your sins! If the message of Jesus is true, wouldn’t it be important information worth caring about?

 

The Seeds of Chaos

A large portion of The End of Faith is dedicated to showing that religion, particularly Christianity and Islam, has created great evil.

One prime example he gives for Christianity is that they are to blame for the Jews who were killed at the holocaust. He doesn’t claim that Hitler was a devout Christian who was simply living from his religious convictions (Harris doesn’t go there, although some have tried). Rather, he argues that it was the Christian hatred toward Jews which influenced the German culture at large, setting the stage for Hitler’s hate speech to gain momentum (See page 100-101).

This is not a fair assessment. Many influences poured into the making of Hitler’s tyranny, influences which Harris has chosen to ignore. Listen to the words of Ravi Zacharias in response to this argument:

Has Harris read about Hitler’s own spiritual journey? Has he read anything about Hitler’s dabbling in the occult? Is he aware that Hitler personally presented the writing of Nietzsche to Stalin and Mussolini?

Is he ignoring the fact that others who were not Jewish were also slaughtered by Hitler?…  Does he recall Hitler’s words inscribed over one of the gas ovens in Auschwitz – “I want to raise a generation of young people devoid of a conscience, imperious, relentless and cruel”?

Does he know that Hitler’s point was that the destruction of the weak is a good thing for the survival of the strong and that “nature intended it that way,” as is taught by atheistic evolution’s tenet of natural selection?… None of these signs of the Holocaust point back to Christianity… (Zacharias, The End of Reason, 51-52.)

From reading The End of Faith, you get the sense that the deck has been stacked against religion. When something is unthinkably evil, only faith could have done it. (see Page 31).

The non-religious evils like the reign of Stalin is “little more than a political religion” (Page 79). Even religious “moderates” are dangerous to society for their inability to address extremism (See Pages 14-15, 20). And although Harris agrees that “there are millions of people whose faith moves them to perform extraordinary acts of self-sacrifice for the benefit if others,” he quickly reminds us that “there are far better reasons for self-sacrifice than those that religion provides… By contrast, the most monstrous crimes against humanity have invariably been inspired by unjustified belief.” (Pages 78-79).

Why aren’t these swords of criticism wielded against Harris’s own beliefs? “How conveniently the atheist plays word games,” writes Zacharias, “When it is Stalin or Pol Pot who does the slaughtering, it is because they are deranged or irrational ideologues; their atheism has nothing to do with their actions. But when a Holocaust is engendered by an ideologue, it is the culmination of four hundred years of Christian intolerance for the Jew.” (Zacharias, 52.)

I don’t wish to defend actions done by religious people which actually were evil. There are plenty of examples, and it is horrendous and embarrassing.

But for Christianity, the murder of Muslims in the crusades or the burning of witches and heretics in the medieval times (See chapter 3) are in violation of what it means to be a follower of Christ!

They go directly against the sacredness of human life and the mission of Jesus that all may be led to repentance for the forgiveness of their sins!

Evil may attach itself to Christianity, and even find cover under the disguise of “religious piety,” but it will never belong there. You cannot blame a system of belief based off its malpractice.

 

The Science of Good and Evil

Throughout the entire book, Harris evaluates the history of religion as he makes moral judgments. This is thin ice for an atheist because a worldview without God does not offer a foundation for making universal claims to good and evil.

For a Christian, evil is a violation of the sacred purpose for which God intended in something, and it goes against the very nature of who God is. But if everything is merely atoms and chemicals, and if life is only a product of evolutionary processes, what makes something good or evil? Why is killing worse than giving? Why is love better than hatred?

If Harris is to stand on his argument, he absolutely needs to provide a basis by which he can make judgments on the actions of other people. How does he do it?

The question is addressed in chapter 6, The Science of Good and Evil. The proposed solution is offered right at the beginning of the chapter: “A rational approach to ethics becomes possible once we realize that questions of right and wrong are really questions about the happiness and suffering of sentient creatures. If we are in a position to affect the happiness or suffering of others, we have ethical responsibilities toward them” (Pages 171-172).

A response like this doesn’t get at the problem. Why should we equate morality with happiness? Why are we responsible to affect the happiness and suffering of someone else? What if a rapist experiences more happiness raping someone than the sadness in the one being raped?

Harris never really addresses these deeper issues. Instead, he goes on to talk about how we don’t need religion as motivation for doing good… but how did we get on the topic of moral “motivation?” The problem with atheism is not that they have no motivation to do good. The problem is that goodness is objectively real only in a theistic worldview, and they are trying to wield it as against a theistic worldview.

Science cannot answer questions of morality. It will never get us any closer. That’s not what science does for us.

We might learn how to measure chemicals of happiness and sadness in the brain, but science will never tell us why one chemical in the brain matters more than another chemical.

If atheists are to defend themselves against this moral dilemma presented by theists like myself, they must not get sidetracked with conversations of moral motivation or unsubstantiated ethical theories.

 

Final Thoughts

For a time, I was somewhat of an “athiest-phobe,” thinking that all atheists were just angry, disturbed souls with the power of Hell to drag people under.

This is far from the truth.

Just like me, Sam Harris is concerned about people and he wants what’s best for them.

He writes out of great concern for the harm that religion has done in our history, and with the conviction that society would be far better off without it. I wholeheartedly believe that his concerns are misplaced, but that doesn’t make him any more distant from God’s love for every lost soul.

No doubt, Harris has been beaten over the head by many Christians who forgot that our battle is not against flesh and blood (See Eph. 6:12).

But if we live with with the love of tangible Christ and the knowledge of the truthfulness of God’s Word, books like these would be much harder to write and much harder to sell.

If you are reading this post, please pray for Sam Harris and all those who have never tasted the beauty and truth of God’s amazing love.

 

 



Do Alleged Contradictions Skew Bible Truth?

Contradictions Exist in the Bible?Bible scholars have a proven track record of resolving contradictions to harmonize the Bible.

In this blog post we explore the claim by skeptics that the Bible contradicts itself.

Are there differences among parts of the Bible? Yes. But are they contradictions? No. And we assert this because of two reasons: 1) The Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and 2) Alleged contradictions have, too many times, been proven to not be contradictions as new, relevant discoveries come to light.

The Bible, as inspired by God and recorded by men, is a book of truth. Sometimes we just can’t see the truth because our view is too narrow. It’s like our looking at a scene through the viewfinder of our camera. We can only capture what is within the borders of the shot frame. Just because the camera doesn’t capture the rest of the scene, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Too, we must remember that each writer of Scripture brought his own personal/cultural perspective.

The Bible is composed of 66 smaller books written by a variety of authors, at different times, with different styles, and in different genres. The poetry of Psalms, for instance, should be read differently than the historical narrative of Joshua, the laws in Leviticus, individual Proverbs, or the Gospels. We recognize that God has chosen to reveal Himself through a rich diversity of genres. Each writer communicated what God led him to write, but did so in his own way. That’s not a surprise to God!

Yet one way that Satan leads people away from God is by championing the notion that the Bible can’t be trusted — and, thus, neither can God. This sounds logical, IF the first assumption is correct. But it’s not. Skeptics are free to make whatever claims they like, just as we are free to disregard them. Not because we’re sticking our heads in the sand, but because of God’s track record of being faithful.

Let’s define the term “contradiction,” and look at just five mistakes critics commonly make when they deem the Bible to contain contradictions.


~ What is a Contradiction? ~

A contradiction occurs when two or more statements pull in opposite directions. For example, these two statements contradict each other: “The Bible contains contradictions” … “The Bible does not contain contradictions.” They are logically contradictory because one affirms and one denies. But both statements cannot be true.

When studying the Bible, a key question is not necessarily what it says, but what it means.

Some passages appear contradictory, but there are compelling, independent reasons to believe that when all the information is available, the Bible proves itself to be completely without error.  Walter Kaiser, author of Hard Sayings of the Bible, in asking the question, “Why are there so many discrepancies and difficulties in the Bible?”, makes this reply:

“There are a great number of sources to which we can trace them: errors of copyists in the manuscripts that have been handed down to us; the practice of using multiple names for the same person or place; the practice of using different methods for calculating official years, lengths of regencies and events; the special scope and purpose of individual authors, which sometimes led them to arrange their material topically rather than chronologically; and differences in the position from which an event or object was described and employed by the various writers.”

All of these factors, and more, he concludes, have had a profound influence on the material. Of course, to those who participated in the events, those factors were less of a barrier than they are to us. Our distance from the time and culture amplifies our difficulty. But that’s true with any historical event. Consider the wealth of personal experience that will be lost to our country upon the deaths of the last of our World War II veterans and remaining Holocaust survivors.


 ~ Common Mistakes Critics Commit When Alleging Contradictions ~

In their book Big Book of Bible Difficulties, scholars Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe identify 17 prevalent mistakes Bible critics commit when alleging biblical contradictions. These apply to both the Old and New Testaments. We list just five of the mistakes below:

Presuming the Bible Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Many critics assume the Bible is wrong until something proves it right. But the Bible should be considered truth until proven that it’s not. This is not asking anything special for the Bible; it is the way we approach all human communication. If we, for example, assume road signs and traffic signals couldn’t be trusted, we’d likely lie in a traffic accident before we could prove they were telling the truth. Likewise, if we assume food labels are wrong until proven right, we would have to open every can and package before buying it to ensure it’s what we want to buy. The Bible should be presumed to be telling us what the authors said and heard.

Says Geisler: “The Bible cannot err, since it is God’s Word, and God cannot err. This does not mean there are no difficulties in the Bible. But the difficulties are not due to God’s perfect revelation, but to our imperfect understanding of it.”

Failing to Understand the Context of the Passage

Taking scripture out of context is perhaps the most common mistakes made by critics. One can prove anything from the Bible by taking a passage out of context. A perfect example: The Bible says “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). But the full scripture is “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.'”

Assuming That Divergent Accounts Are False

Just because two or more accounts of the same event differ, it does not mean they are mutually exclusive. For example, Matthew 28:5 says that there was one angel at the tomb after the resurrection, whereas John tells us there were two (John 20:12). These are no contradictory reports. In fact, there is am infallible mathematical rule that easily explains this problem: whenever there are two, there is always one. Matthew did not say there was only one angel. One has to add the word “only” to Matthew’s account to make it contradict John’s.

Assuming That a Partial Report Is a False Report

Critics often jump to the conclusion that a partial report is false. But this is no so. If it were, most of what has ever been said would be false, since seldom does time or space permit an absolutely complete report. Occasionally the Bible expresses the same thing in different ways, or at least from different viewpoints, at different times. So inspiration does not exclude a diversity of expression. The four Gospels relate the same story in different ways to different groups of people, and sometimes even quote the same saying with different words.

Forgetting That Later Revelation Supersedes Previous Revelation

Sometimes critics of Scripture forget the principle of progressive revelation. God does not reveal everything at once, nor does He always lay down the same conditions for every period of time. Therefore, some of His later revelations will supersede His former statements. Bible critics sometimes confuse a change of revelation with a mistake. But the mistake is on the part of the critic. For example, when God created the human race, He commanded that they eat only fruits and vegetables (Genesis 1:29). But later, in Genesis 9:3 He commands that they also eat meat. This is a progressive revelation, not a contradiction.


 ~ Reading the Bible is Key ~

Human knowledge is limited and history is messy, so we should expect to face puzzling issues in the Bible, since we don’t have God’s all-knowing gaze. There is good reason to believe the Bible is true, and so we give it every benefit of the doubt.

Some critics, however, refuse to believe that God is good and trustworthy, typically for personal reasons. Some are mad at God. Others claim they adhere to strict logic. Others believe science to be the only trustworthy source of information. Others believe the Bible to be detrimental to society, saying its “harmful teachings has had a disastrous effect on society.”

We’ll agree that humans, throughout history, have had a tendency to cherry pick from the Bible to champion or defend their actions. But we can’t agree that God’s Word is full of “harmful teachings.” Anyone who has read the teachings of Christ would have to admit that Christ calls us to sacrificial love.

It is disturbing, however, that too few Christians actually know what the Bible says. Because they’re not taking the time to read it. In just one 2013 poll, for example, 57 percent of the American Christians canvassed admitted they read their Bibles maybe four times a year. Only one in five read the Bible on any regular basis! #saywhat? How can the Body of Christ expect to have any influence, if Christians aren’t getting serious about knowing what their Lord says???


It’s fine for critics to have their viewpoint, but it’s not fine for Christians to naively assume their anti-God views are correct. As critics themselves prove, it’s quite easy to twist Scripture to fit a particular view. Case in point: a friend recently shared that he abandoned his Catholic faith — after reading The DaVinci Code — which he took as truth and fact. The book showed him, he said, that the Bible contradicts itself too much for Him to believe in God anymore. The tragedy here: the novel is pure fiction!


Though critics commonly assert that the Bible contains authentic contradictions, many Bible scholars have provided plausible harmonizations over the centuries. Alleged contradictions often arise from mistakes in interpretation, ignoring genre or literary devices, or other faulty assumptions. But given the track record of Bible scholars in resolving alleged contradictions, we can have confidence that if all the facts were known, all “contradictions” would disappear.

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Did Moses Author the Pentateuch?

Moses Author PentateuchThe Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, is a core text for three world religions and the foundation  of the Christian Bible and the Jewish Scriptures.

So it matters that the texts be viewed with authority. It is through these books, long believed to have been revealed by God and recorded by Moses, that we learn the origins of humanity, as well as man’s purpose and destiny. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy give us an overview of God’s plan of redemption. And these five historical books provide thr foundation for everything else that follows in Scripture.

Though modern skeptics challenge that Moses wrote the books (some even doubt he existed), there is plenty of evidence throughout the Bible, as well as external texts, to give us confidence that he did. Old Testament and New Testament references clearly and consistently testify to Mosaic authorship, authority, and influence.


~ Moses a Reliable Source? ~

The books certainly do not herald Moses‘ future as prophet, priest, and leader. Rather, the picture we are given is Moses as an anti-hero — a murderer and outlaw who, as he spoke with God at the burning bush, requested THIRTEEN times that God find someone else to lead the Israelites to freedom!

Who would invent such a hero as the founder of a nation? God — who always knows what He’s doing when he picks a person to achieve His plans.

Moses quickly grew into a strong, yet humble leader who kept the spotlight on God. As both an Israelite and former member of Pharaoh’s household, Moses had an insider’s knowledge and understanding of the Egyptian court. This was but one tool God gave Moses for his interactions with Pharaoh. Imagine that ultimate showdown: one man who believed he was a god (Pharaoh) being shown by God that He, alone, holds the title.

~ Biblical Evidence for Moses’ Authorship ~

Technically, the Pentateuch, also known in Hebrew as the Torah, is anonymous. But it specifically records God commanding Moses to preserve received revelation. There are both Old and New Testament references to Moses that validate that Moses did write them. Even Jesus and His disciples acknowledged a significant connection between Moses and the Torah, and Jesus frequently referred to these books as being Moses’ teachings.

Examples of the Old Testament references to Moses:

Exodus 17:14: Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”

Exodus 24:4: And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord.

Exodus 34:27: And the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance wit these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.”

Numbers 33:2: Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the Lord, and these are their stages according to their starting places.

Deuteronomy 31:24-26: When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end, Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, “Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.”

Examples of testimony to Moses’ role in lawgiving woven throughout the Old Testament:

Joshua 1:7,8 and 23:6: “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do all that is written in it.”

1 Kings 2:3: (King David, on his deathbed, giving final instructions to his son, Solomon): “Keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in His ways and keeping His statutes, His commandments, His rules, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.”

2 Chronicles 17:9: “And they taught in Judah, having the Book of the Law of the Lord with them. They went about through all the cities of Judah and taught among the people.”

2 Chronicles 23:18: “And Jehoiada posted watchmen for the house of the Lord under the direction of the Levitical priests and the Levites whom David has organized to be in charge of the house of the Lord, to offer burnt offerings to the Lord, as it is written in the Law of Moses, with rejoicing and with singing, according to the order of David.”

Daniel 9:11,13: “All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside…And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against Him. … As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us.”

Malachi 4:4: “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded Him at Horeb for all Israel.”

Examples of New Testament References to the Law of Moses:

The New Testament also speaks of Moses’ significant involvement in the Pentateuch’s composition. Jesus often quoted Scripture traditionally attributed to Moses. In John 5:46, Jesus states, “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me.” And in Mark 12:26, Jesus says, “And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passages about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?” After His resurrection, Jesus gave additional authority to these books when He taught the two who walked with Him to Emmaus how the writings pointed to and were fulfilled in Him.

The disciple Peter spoke of Moses’ Authority in Acts 3:22: Moses said, “The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.”

James spoke of Moses’ influence in Acts 15:21: “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

The Sadducees also spoke of Moses’ Authorship in Mark 12:19: “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.”

Granted, none of this proves Moses was involved in writing the Pentateuch. But simply put, creation, human history, and the patriarchal period cannot be properly understood if not viewed in the life and work of Moses. Much of the Pentateuch, in fact, reads as Moses’ biography or perhaps autobiography.


~ Trusting the Reliability of the Bible ~

Until the 18th century AD, Moses’ authorship of the Pentateuch was largely unchallenged. But that’s not to say that anomalies did not go unnoticed. For example, could Moses have described his own death in Deuteronomy 34? While it’s possible that Moses received and recorded this by prophesy prior to his death, most scholars view this information to be an addendum by a later editor.

Moses may or may not be the single author of the Pentateuch. But he is decidedly the authority from which the Pentateuch emanated. The meaning, theology, and even history portrayed adequately reflect what Moses did say, pray, or sing. There is no reason to doubt Moses’ authorship of the oral tradition or some of the written records. But it is both possible and expected that revisions and updating occurred throughout its history right up until completion of the final version.

Still, some modern skeptics simply refuse to accept Moses’ role in the Pentateuch, due to lack of definitive evidence. Many have put forth numerous alternate theories about authorship that are quite convoluted. We have to remember that skeptics come with biases. Some deny the validity of the Old Testament. Others discount the supernatural accounts of God’s interventions reported in the Bible. Others bring personal beliefs to their interpretations. It is understandable that these factors shape how each scholar views and interprets the text.

But as the Skeptics Dictionary notes: “We know from experience that more often than not the theory that requires more complicated machinations is wrong.” In other words, the simpler the theory is, the more likely it is to be correct.

The model that remains the simplest explanation for the Pentateuch’s composition is the traditional Jewish and Christian model: Moses as the original author used some sources, and later editor(s) updated the text to ensure it was understandable to contemporary readers. Given the Bible’s track record of accuracy and reliability, should it not get the benefit of the doubt?

 

 

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



There’s no God? How boring!

 

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

 

There’s No God? How Boring!

SeanMcDowell.org

Recently I showed my high school students the movie Expelled by Ben Stein, where he claims that intelligent design proponents have lost jobs, lost tenure and had their reputations smeared.

One of the memorable scenes of the movie featured William Provine, Cornell University Professor and outspoken atheist, articulating the implications of Darwinism. If Darwinism is true, says Provine, then there is no God, life after death, purpose, objective morality, or free will. According to Provine, they are all illusions fostered on us by our genes and environment.

Provine also criticizes intelligent design for being boring: “Can you imagine anything more boring? The boredom attached to ID is supreme. It is so boring that I can’t even be bothered to think about it for a second. It’s just utterly boring.”

He said this with utter contempt for the claims of intelligent design and for the implications that there may be a God.

The more I think about this quote the more I am convinced that Provine has it exactly backwards.

Intelligent design is not boring, atheism is!

I’m not saying that atheists are boring, for that would be an ad hominem fallacy. I have many atheist friends who are incredibly interesting people. In fact, some are far more thoughtful and engaging than many of my Christian friends. I am not criticizing atheists, but atheism. Atheists are often interesting people, not because of their philosophy, but in spite of it.

So why is atheism boring?

One problem with atheism is that humans are purely physical machines lacking free will (as Provine so clearly articulated). Thus, people are simply cogs in the materialistic universe dragged along by physical, social, and biological forces. Humans are simply puppets of nature acted upon by external forces in the environment rather than free beings that make meaningful decisions.

If naturalism is true and there is no free will, then there can be no real character development in life or in drama since people are helpless victims of their environment.

This is why film professor John Caughie says that naturalism is boring when applied to movies (Television Drama: Realism, Modernism, and British Culture, p. 96-97).

Why do we enjoy movies?

The simple answer is that we are drawn to characters that choose good over evil, hope over despair, and forgiveness over revenge. Yet if atheism is true, characters are driven entirely by the inexorable physical laws of nature—they don’t make any choices at all.

Thus, Luke didn’t really choose to battle Darth Vader and the Dark Side—his genes did it for him. Rocky didn’t really go against the odds to be the Heavyweight Champion of the World—the laws of physics did it for him. How boring!

An example of naturalism in drama is Anton Chekhov’s The Three Sisters. The primary desire of the three sisters is to escape small-town life and move to Moscow. The entirety of the play involves them talking about moving but never actually doing it. They simply cannot escape from social expectations and family customs. What a great depiction of naturalism. Naturalistic films provide no dramatic escape from the environment because people are trapped behind their environment.

These kinds of plays or films are frustrating, depressing, and anti-climactic. And yet they portray naturalism accurately. Again, how boring!

Ultimately, the deterministic worldview of atheism fails to capture life as we truly experience it. In her excellent book Saving Leonardo, Nancy Pearcey sums up the problem determinism poses for film:

“A deterministic worldview produces characters that are not true to life. In reality, people do make genuine decisions. Much of the drama of human life stems from wrestling with wrenching moral dilemmas. Though naturalism was an offshoot of realism, we could say its greatest flaw was that is was not realistic enough. We all experience the moment-by-moment reality of making choices. The experience of freedom is attested to in every human culture, in every era of history, and in every part of the globe” (p. 152).

A test for every worldview is if it can describe the world as we actually experience it. If a worldview fails to explain a universal human experience (such as free will) then it is inadequate.

Professor Provine may choose to deny the existence of free will, but since he is made in the image of God, his life will betray that conviction.

In Expelled he tells his story of rejecting Christianity because of the compelling evidence for Darwinism. Ironically, one of the reasons he tells this is because he’s trying to persuade people to follow the same course. Yet if people are determined then they can’t choose otherwise. In fact, people can’t choose anything! Provine didn’t really even choose to reject Christianity—his genes did it for him. As sincere as Provine may be, I doubt he really believes this.

Again, my critique is aimed not at atheists but at atheism. Provine strikes me as an eminently interesting person that I would enjoy getting to know.

Nevertheless, I just can’t think about it any longer. It’s simply too boring.

 

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 

 



Was the Bible Exodus a Real Event?

Bible Exodus TrueDid the Israelites Flee Egypt for the Promised Land?

In our last blog post we looked at whether there is definitive proof that Adam and Eve existed as real people. In this blog post we’ll look at what proof exists for the mass Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.

No doubt about it, the Exodus of the Israelites, an event the Bible describes in great detail, is one of the most important historical events for both the Jewish and Christian faiths. Why? Because this central experience of rescue for the helpless out of a desperate condition has been recognized as a key example of God’s love.

Too, it is an example of God asserting His supremacy. In each plague He sends, God repeats this message: “I alone am God.” And in each miracle He provides for the Israelites as they flee Pharaoh’s pursuit, God reminds them that “I am who I am!

The Bible tells us that Pharaoh — considered a god — was just a man that God specifically placed on the throne for the big showdown with Moses. God, alone, can claim the title. Before He orchestrated the Israelite’s exit from Egypt, God brought 10 plagues that crushed the legitimacy of the numerous deities of the Egyptian people.

Let’s look at the Exodus details, and then at existing evidence for the event. Its symbolism alone makes the Exodus story invaluable.


~ The Exodus Story ~

It is in Exodus 3:7-8 that we see God speak after He decides to take action:

“I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey.” 

So God sends the 10 plagues, which the Egyptians dismiss until the pain finally cuts too close to the bone. Gnats didn’t move them. Flies didn’t move them. Neither did thick darkness. Not even the decimation of Egyptian crops and cattle motivated Pharaoh to agree to God’s demand to “Let my people go!” (Charlton Heston, time for your cameo!) #Moses 

Only at the last plague — in which every Egyptian firstborn dies — do the now shellshocked Egyptians finally beg the Israelites to get the heck out of Dodge. They even dump parting gifts of silver, gold, and clothing on the Israelites! (And we know what the Israelites did with that gold, right?) #calfidol

An interesting GotQuestions.org article sheds light on why God may have cherry-picked each plague. Examples: The second plague, of frogs from the Nile, was a judgment against Heqet, the frog-headed goddess of birth. Egyptians viewed frogs as sacred, and not to be killed. Yet God used the frogs to make a stench in the nostrils of the Egyptians, as they piled the dead, rotting frogs into heaps across the land (Exodus 8:13–14). The ninth plague, of thick darkness, was aimed at blasting the sun god, Ra, symbolized by Pharaoh himself. For three days, the land of Egypt was “smothered with an unearthly darkness, but the homes of the Israelites had light.” The tenth plague, the death of all firstborn males, was a smackdown on Isis, the supposed protector of children.

Finally, Pharaoh changed his tune from, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go!” to something like, “Dang it! Leave! Now!”

It seems incredulous that almost immediately, however, he decides that freeing the Israelites was a really dumb move. Mighty Egypt depended on their manpower. So Pharaoh orders his army to open the throttles on their chariots and make haste to reclaim their slave labor. (Okay, I will cut him some slack; Pharaohs were quite used to getting their way and calling the shots.)

But I wonder if God yawned at the little effort it took Him to stall their progress as He used high winds to separate the Red Sea so the Israelites could walk (bug-eyed, no doubt!) between the watery walls. Only when the huge crowd had reached the waiting shore did God allow the Egyptian army to proceed — and then drowned them as He snapped the divided walls closed. (Even with really bad overacting by Heston and the rest of the Ten Commandments movie cast, the scene is impressive.)

The obvious symbolism: in the Old Testament we see God use Moses to lead the Israelites out of physical slavery. In the New Testament, we see God use His son to free the entire human race from spiritual slavery.


~ Archaeological Limits ~

Jews and Christians have, for centuries, embraced the Exodus story. Because the Bible has proven itself trustworthy as a book of truth and fact.

Only in the last 20 years or so have scholars decided the event isn’t historical, due to lack of evidence. But, says scholar Anthony Frendo:

“Israel must have somehow (at least partially) come from outside Canaan in view of the multiple texts in the Old Testament which point in this direction. Why should the Old Testament authors have made this up? Should we not try harder to understand our texts in connection with the results of good archaeology, rather than superficially to dismiss the former?”

Alan Millard of the University of Liverpool, says:

“Lacking any trace of Joseph, Moses, or Israelites in Egypt, many have concluded they were never there. Yet no pharaoh would boast of the loss of his labor force on a monument, and administrative records on papyrus, leather, or wooden tablets which might have registered such events would perish rapidly in the Delta’s damp soil. It is equally unlikely that a camping crowd would leave recognizable remains from a semi-nomadic life in the Sinai Wilderness and in Transjordan. The absence of evidence is not, therefore, evidence of absence!”

Old Testament scholar and Egyptologist James Hoffmeier confirms that Goshen, in the Nile Delta, is quite moist due to rain and annual flooding. If the Israelites had been in the dry Southern region, where the Dead Sea scrolls have been uncovered, he is certain papyrus documents would have survived. “We have to be realistic,” he adds, “about what we think archaeology can and can’t do.”

“Archaeological discoveries have verified that parts of the Biblical Exodus are historically accurate, but archaeology can’t tell us everything, agrees the Biblical Archaeological Society. “Although archaeology can illuminate aspects of the past and bring parts of history to life, it has its limits.”

Our key takeaway: limited evidence does not mean the event didn’t happen as the Bible tells it.


~ Proof for the Plagues, Then? ~

Again, hard to prove. But some scholars give credence to naturalistic phenomenon, which God certainly could have used to achieve His goal. Hoffmeier explains:

“Some have theorized that the first plague — in which the Nile turns blood red — is associated with the presence of microscopic flagellates in the water that account for the color. This phenomenon is associated with the annual inundation of the Nile that begins in August, crests in September, and ends in October. These microbes consume large amounts of oxygen from the water which results in fish dying and causes a rank smell, rendering the water undrinkable as described in the Bible (Exodus 7:21). If indeed a contaminated annual flood marked the beginning of the plagues, which would have begun in the period of August to October, and since Passover is observed in the period March-April (that is, seven to nine months later), the ninth plague — three days of darkness — might have been caused by a severe dust storm or khamsin. Such dust storms can still blanket Egypt for days at a time during the months of March and April. They even darken the sun and fine dust covers everything. This scenario for the ninth plague certainly fits the description that it was a darkness to be felt (Exodus 10:21). By using the forces of nature against Egypt, the God of Israel demonstrated His superiority over the gods of Egypt and over Pharaoh, who was responsible for maintaining cosmic order in the land.”

How often, I wonder, does God use “the forces of nature” to make His point? But like the Egyptians, we often refuse to acknowledge the Hand of God until the pain becomes excruciatingly personal. Only then do we move.


 ~ Taking the Bible as Truth ~

We find the Exodus mentioned as a historical event throughout the Old Testament, including the books of Psalms, Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, and in the Prophets. We should note that the Bible is not a single source document. It is multiple sources, all of which maintain the authenticity of the Exodus tradition. Historians recognize that the likelihood of the authenticity of an event increases as independent sources that verify it are discovered.

To date, scholars cannot concretely prove that Moses existed, that Israel lived in Egypt, or that this group of Hebrews fled from Pharaoh. But neither can they disprove the historicity of the biblical narrative.

As Hoffmeier notes:

“With this overwhelming evidence within the Bible regarding the Egyptian sojourn, exodus, and wilderness episodes, evidence coming from a variety of types of literature and used in a host of different ways, it is methodologically inadvisable, at best, to treat the Bible as a single witness to history, requiring corroboration before the Egypt-Sinai reports can be taken as authentic.”

Simply put, there is enough evidence contained in the Bible to make the story believable. It is likely such a man as Moses existed, a people such as Israel lived in Egypt, and these people left Egypt via the route detailed in the Bible.

“Many people today treat the Bible as being guilty until proven innocent,” adds Hoffmeier. “Which doesn’t seem fair, as who’s around to prove it that lived back then?”

I stand firmly in the camp that God can do what He says He’s going to do, whether large or small. When I read of the Bible’s miracles — from the miraculous parting of the Red Sea to the miraculous resurrection of Jesus — it’s not my default to think, “I’m not believing it until I see definitive proof!” Rather, my default is, “Wow! Mind blown!”

I want my God, as we say here in Texas, “to go big, or go home!” 

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Did the Bible’s Adam Really Exist?

adam human manDoes Adam’s historicity matter?

The overarching theme running through all 66 books of the Bible is the story of God’s creative work, of humanity’s rebellion against God, and of God’s work to redeem fallen humanity.

The straightforward way of reading the Bible is that Adam was a historical person. It also seems clear that Scripture teaches that all humanity descended from Adam and Eve. This view has come under criticism in recent years — but not just from skeptics.

Doubts about Adam’s historicity are hardly surprising in a secular society that largely rejects the authority of the Bible. But there also is debate among Bible-believing Christians. In this blog post we’ll look at just four evangelical views of Adam, each defended by a noted professor of religion. Then we’ll look at what science has to say about Adam and Eve existing as real people.


~ Four Views of Adam ~

The four views of Adam, featured in the book Four Views on the Historical Adam by pastor Matthew Barrett, are as follows. Perhaps you hold one of these views yourself:

>>>No Historical Adam: Theistic Evolution/Evolutionary Creation View
Denis Lamoureux, professor of science and religion, argues that Adam did not exist as a person, but that his story remains “a vital, but incidental, ancient vessel that transports inerrant spiritual truths: only humans are created in the Image of God, only humans have fallen into sin, and our Creator judges us for our sinfulness.”

>>>Historical Adam: Archetypal Creation View
John Walton, professor of Old Testament, asserts that “Adam and Eve are real people in a real past. Nevertheless, I am persuaded that the biblical text is more interested in them as archetypal figures who represent all of humanity. … If this is true, Adam and Eve also may or may not be the first humans or the parents of the entire human race. Such an archetypal focus is theologically viable and is well-represented in the ancient Near East.”

>>>Historical Adam: Old-Earth View
C. John Collins, professor of Old Testament, argues “that the best way to account for the biblical presentation of human life is to understand that Adam and Eve were both real persons at the headwaters of humankind.” In other words, Collins believes that the Fall was both moral and historical.

>>>Historical Adam: Young-Earth View
William Barrick, professor of Old Testament, states, “Adam’s historicity is foundational to a number of biblical doctrines and is related to the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.  … The biblical account represents Adam as a single individual rather than an archetype or the product of biological evolution, and a number of New Testament texts rely on Adam’s historicity.”

As you can see, it’s possible for Christians to vary widely in their views on whether Adam and Eve were real people. Let’s allow science to weigh in as well.


~ Scientific Proof for Adam? ~

Has science proved or disproved the existence of Adam and Eve? No. At least not yet. But what researchers have discovered might still blow your mind.

While DNA profiling helps to resolve criminal cases and paternity suits, the sequencing of the full human genome by the Human Genome Project provides so much more: a genetic “fingerprint” of 3.2 billion base pairs (“letters” making up the genetic code) in human DNA. This has opened the door for molecular anthropology, which searches for links between ancient and modern human populations around the world.

Genetic information that has been uncovered in the past few decades has shed considerable light on human origins. Evolutionary biologists compare the human genome with those of primates to build evolutionary relationships. Skeptics of Darwinism maintain that genetic similarities between humans and other species are better understood as the result of common design rather than common ancestry. One technique for studying human ancestry is to compare the base-pair sequences of a specified segment of DNA between individuals from different people groups.

Interestingly, such comparisons show that human beings display much less genetic diversity than any other species. Several studies, for example, report a much more extensive genetic diversity for chimps, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans than for people. And the human similarity is observed worldwide, regardless of race or ethnicity!

Molecular anthropologists pose what they sometimes call the “Garden of Eden hypothesis” to explain the limited genetic diversity. This model maintains that humanity had a recent origin in a single location and the original population size must have been quite small. Comparisons using much longer data sequences from the Human Genome Project confirm the “very limited genetic diversity among human populations,” as well as the conclusion “that the African population groups are the oldest.”

One of the most widely used techniques in molecular anthropology is the study of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is inherited only from our mothers.

Molecular anthropologists have used it to trace humanity’s maternal line. A landmark study carried out on mtDNA samples from 147 people from five geographic populations was reported in 1987. The study’s authors concluded that all of the mtDNA stemmed from one woman who lived in Africa roughly 200,000 years ago.

Additional studies confirmed the conclusion that humanity can trace its maternal lineage back to one woman in a single location (probably east Africa). The science community named her “mitochondrial Eve.” Does this mean this woman was Eve? Not necessarily. From an evolutionary view, this means only that this female’s mitochondrial DNA is the only lineage not to become extinct and is now ubiquitous throughout the entire human race. However, this viewpoint is compatible with the view that there was an original mother and father who were the first parents of the entire human race.

Since Y-chromosomal DNA passes from father to son, molecular anthropologists study it to trace humanity’s paternal line. The consensus of a number of studies carried out no Y-chromosomal DNA from men representing different races and regions of the world is that humanity can trace its paternal lineage to a single man in a single location in Africa.

Again, this does not prove that this man was Adam, but that this man’s Y-chromosomal lineage is the only one that now runs ubiquitous throughout the entire human race.

Many of us have seen the standard March of Progress diagram depicting the evolution of man, right? The sequence of images starts with a hunchbacked ape and ends with an upright-walking modern human. This iconic diagram summarizes the message that humans evolved. Yet many paleoanthropologists doubt the validity of Darwinism, including the authors of the book, Science & Human Origins.

A 2015 review of human evolution by two leading paleoanthropologists admitted “[t]he dearth of unambiguous evidence for ancestor-descendant lineages,” and states “the evolutionary sequence for the majority of hominin lineages is unknown. Most hominin taxa, particularly early hominins, have no obvious ancestors, and in most cases ancestor-descendent sequences (fossil time series) cannot be reliably constructed.”

And a number of paleoanthropologists have admitted a distinct gap in the fossil record between humanlike members of the genus Homo and apelike species such as the Australopithecines. As the great evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr stated, “The earliest fossils of Homo … are separated from Australopithecus by a large, unbridged gap.”

Science, in many ways, actually points to a Creator!


~ Trusting God as Creator ~

Within the last 30 years, scientific evidence for Adam has emerged from the study of human genetics. The once-dominant multiregional model of human origins has been replaced with a model of humans spreading around the world from a small founding population in one location, possibly east Africa. The identification of single ancestral maternal and paternal DNA sequences, while not proof of an ancestral pair, is evidence one would expect from the biblical account of origins.

Paleontology and archaeology reveal at least three discontinuities in human history: the abrupt appearance of the genus Homo about two million years ago, the appearance of anatomically modern humans at around 130,000 BC, and the appearance of physical capability underwriting modern human behavior at around 40,000 BC. Physicist John Bloom argues that the two recent, abrupt discontinuities are evidence against a smooth, naturalistic transition and for the special creation of humanity.

I like how Bloom notes that the Bible reveals some things to us that are “hard to understand.” Science, of course, would have us believe that it, alone, is our key to understanding the universe and our place in it. “Interestingly enough, though,” adds Bloom, “the deeper scientists have delved into the nature of nature — in an effort to comprehend how physical reality works at its fundamental levels — they too have found themselves utterly perplexed.”

Bloom also notes that we tend to forget that God’s intelligence, power, and complexity “so far exceeds our comprehension that we have no metaphor or superlative that can even remotely do Him justice.” We should expect perplexing conundrums, even as new scientific discoveries develop, because God will always be mega strides ahead of us.

Was Adam the first human? Only God knows. Let’s take God at His Word: that He, alone, created humanity, and did so as part of His overall plan for creation. 

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Interview: How Does Christianity Fulfill our Deepest Aspirations?

 

Original post by Sean McDowell here. Used with permission.

 

How Does Christianity Fulfill our Deepest Aspiration? Author Interview.

 

My friend and Biola colleague Greg Ganssle has written a fascinating new book called Our Deepest Desires: How the Christian Story Fulfills Human Aspirations. Professor Ganssle takes a unique approach to the apologetic task. Essentially, his goal is not to show that Christianity is true, but to argue that when it is properly understood, people should wish it were true. He talks about how tragedy, beauty, and freedom make the most sense in a Christian worldview and that only Christianity fulfills our deepest desires.

Our Deepest Desires is one of the most interesting books I have read in awhile. I hope you will check out this interview and think about getting a copy of his excellent book:

 

 

SEAN MCDOWELL: Can you tell us briefly what your book is about?

GREG GANSSLE: As the subtitle indicates, the book is about how the Christian story explains and grounds our basic aspirations. Every person has the same task—that is we all aim to navigate life in the best way we can. We navigate life with some notions of what it is good to be and to do. These notions are widely shared among people, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack of them.

I structure the book around four fundamental commitments that are widely shared.

First, there is the commitment to persons. Nearly everything we care about is connected to human beings. Second, is the commitment to goodness. We want to be good and we enjoy what is good. Third, we are drawn towards beauty. Beauty calls us home in two ways. First, it calls us to see that this world is a wonderful place. Second, it points beyond this world to the next. Lastly, we long for personal freedom. That is the freedom to become the kind of people we want to be.

Each of these areas makes sense in the Christian story. God, the most fundamental reality, is personal. He is good and made a good world for his own good reasons. We are not surprised to find the world to be beautiful because he is a master artist. God created us to embody certain virtues, and we find our own freedom as we experience these.

 

MCDOWELL: The goal of your book is to convince people they should hope Christianity is true. What do you mean, and why start there?

GANSSLE: I start there because I think that most people do not care whether or not Christianity is true. They are already convinced that it is a story that hinders human flourishing, rather than a story that secures and promotes flourishing. What is startling is the fact that the things most human beings care most about fit better within the Christian story than they do in the various atheistic stories. Once we see this connection, we see that we want the Christian story to be true. Of course, the fact that we want it to be true does not show that it is true. But once a person wants it to be true, the objections to the truth of the Gospel seem much smaller.

 

MCDOWELL: Who is the primary audience?

GANSSLE: As I wrote this book, I was thinking of the many professors I know who are not yet followers of Christ. I was trying to overcome what I see as the biggest obstacle to belief in Christ–that the Christian story is unattractive. Nietzsche quipped, “What is decisive against Christianity now is our taste, not our reason.” I am trying to overcome the sense that the Christian story is not to be desired.

 

MCDOWELL: How might those who are already believers use and benefit from this book?

GANSSLE: There are two ways this book can benefit those who are already followers of Jesus. First, it can help us grasp the Gospel more deeply. We often have a superficial understanding of the Christian story. As a result, we fail to see its intrinsic relevance to the deep aspirations of every person. Our own appreciation of the Christian story will be enriched as we reflect on how it provides the resources to capture the most common human aspirations.

Second, this book will be a good tool to start conversations. You can hand it to a thoughtful person and discuss it later. Because it is not a work of scholarship, it is accessible to all kinds of people. I even made sure the chapters were short! I would recommend giving it to neighbors and following up with some questions.

 

MCDOWELL: What message is there for the church?

GANSSLE: I am convinced that the next horizon for apologetics is the desirability of the Gospel. As one of my colleagues has written (Dave Horner), the Christian story is “too good not to be true.” We have been so keen to defend theological notions such as the sinfulness of every person that we have neglected the deeper theological truths of the value, goodness and beauty of all God has created. We do not believe in the omnipotence of sin. Sin twists everything, to be sure, but it cannot erase that goodness that God has put into the world and into human beings.

 

MCDOWELL: I have heard you mention how tragedies reveal the deepest human desires. What do you mean, and how does this support the Christian worldview?

GANSSLE: When we encounter suffering, we long for meaning. We want our suffering to be meaningful or to contribute to a meaningful life. Horrendous suffering has the potential to crush a person’s soul. Unless our meaning is securely grounded in the God who brings good out of evil, who experienced evil, and who gives us his presence in the midst of suffering, we may find it impossible to experience a meaningful life in the midst of suffering. It is Jesus weeping at the grave of Lazarus that gives us hope because he is the God who bears our suffering and offers his presence.

 

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 

 



Are the Bible and Science at Odds?

Genesis Science Co-ExistCan Science and the Genesis Creation Story Co-Exist?

Genesis 1 — the creation story — inspires some of the most heated, sensitive, and yet important controversies within the Church today. How we personally view Genesis 1 does impact how we, individually, view the rest of Scripture, science, and the nature of the gospel itself.

Many young Christians, in fact, indicate that the supposed conflict between Christianity and science is one of the main reasons they have chosen to leave the church. That’s terrible news, right?

While the Church finds itself unable to reach a universal consensus on how to interpret Genesis 1, Christians must keep in mind that God reveals Himself in both Scripture and nature. Where we find apparent contradictions between the two, we must go back and revaluate our science and/or our interpretation of Scripture.

Writes R.C. Sproul, “There are two spheres of revelation; the Bible (special revelation) and nature (general revelation). In the latter, God manifests Himself through the created order. What God reveals in nature can never contradict what He reveals in Scripture, and what He reveals in Scripture can never contradict what he reveals in nature. He is the author of both forms of revelation, and God does not contradict himself.”

In this post, let’s look at various church interpretations of the Genesis 1 creation story, which highlight only topically the ongoing, raging debate over whether the inerrancy of the Bible demands a literal adherence to the text. Or can Christians  embrace both God and modern science, without judgement from those who disagree?


~ Early Church Interpretations ~

Genesis was written in Hebrew, and a responsible interpretation requires a good understanding of the Hebrew text. The use of commentaries that shed light on the nuances of the Hebrew text — for example the meaning of words, genre, verb tenses, literary devices, and the culture of the day — can be of considerable help in understanding the original meaning of a passage.

Let’s summarize three main interpretations of Genesis 1 that emerged from early church fathers, and then some of the modern interpretations. Obviously, they can’t all be correct … perhaps not even one of them is correct.

~ Epoch Day View

In writing about the sixth day of creation, Irenaeus, an early church father, was among others who suggested that this day could have been a thousand-year epoch. Irenaeus concluded that, based on the scriptural teaching that for God one day is as a thousand years (Psalm 90:4, 2 Peter 3:8) and that Adam lived for 930 years before dying (Genesis 5:5), the sixth day of creation could have lasted for a thousand years. Clearly, Irenaeus held the view that yom, the Hebrew word used for “day,” could be interpreted as an epoch or age.

~ Allegorical/Figurative Day View

Several early church fathers recognized a challenge in understanding the nature of the creation days: the sun, moon, and stars were not created until day four, so the first three days could not have been normal calendar days in terms of the earth’s movement in relation to these celestial bodies. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430), in his book The City of God, wrote: “As for these ‘days,’ it is difficult, perhaps impossible to think — let alone explain in words — what they mean.” In his commentary The Literal Meaning of Genesis, he argued that a creation day was not a typical calendar day, “certainly not such as the one we are familiar with here.” Concerning the duration of the creation week, Augustine believed that “God made all things together simultaneously,” and that the days are used to provide a logical — not chronological — sequence of explanation to us.

~ 24-Hour View

Many church fathers held the twenty-four-hour view of the creation days — among them Lactantius (AD 250-325), Victorinus (died AD 304), Ephrem the Syrian (AD 306-373), Basil of Caesarea (AD 329-379), and Ambrose of Milan (AD 338-397). These literalists asserted that the six days of creation were each 24 hours long.


~ Modern Interpretations of Genesis 1 ~

Toward the end of the eighteenth century, two developments provided an impetus for more thinking and debate over the interpretation of Genesis 1: the new discipline of geology and archeological discoveries. Two groups of thought emerged: Concordism, which is the supposition that the biblical teaching in Genesis can and should be harmonized to the developing scientific theories, and Non-Concordism, which does not try to harmonize biblical text with science because it doesn’t believe the intent of the biblical writer was to address modern science.

Concordist interpretations are driven by what some believe are remarkable agreements between the biblical text and modern science. Astronomer Robert Jastrow, for instance, has said, “Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation. … That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact.”

Concordists hold to one of two views concerning the age of the earth. “Old Earth” interpretations accept the mainstream scientific dating of 4.5 billion years. “Young Earth” interpretations claim the earth is 6,000-10,000 years old. The Young Earth views, rather than harmonizing with mainstream science, believe that mainstream science has incorrectly concluded that the earth is ancient and that the scientific evidence needs to be reconsidered.

Non-Concordist interpretation is driven by the desire to understand how early ancient Near East readers would have understood the text, given that the worldview of the original audience differs greatly from modern worldviews. As much as we’d like to do so, writes John Lennox in his book, Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science, “we cannot simply read it as if it were a Western document written to address contemporary Western concerns.”


Let’s look first at Concordist interpretations, starting with those who believe the earth to be quite old and finishing with those who believe it to be quite young:

~ Old-Earth Creationism (OEC)

OEC accepts standard scientific dating for the age of the universe. This does not mean, however, that OEC necessarily embraces some form of evolution. In other words, evolution requires an old earth, but just because the earth is old does not mean evolution is true.

Those who hold to the Gap View believe that an undefined period of rebellion followed God’s creation of a perfect universe and earth, during which Satan was cast to earth. This view posits that the “gap” between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2 could have lasted millions of years. This view, however, has grown out of favor with recent scholars.

Those who hold to the Day-Age View maintain that the days of creation are long but finite periods of time: “ages.” They note that the Hebrew word for day, yom, has different meanings depending on the context in which it is used. Specifically, Day-Age proponents argue that the amount of activity in the sixth day implies the passage of more time than a calendar day, that Adam’s response to Eve in Genesis 2:23 (“this at last is….) suggests a long period had elapsed between the time Adam began his work of naming animals and the creation of Eve, and that the absence of an end to the seventh day implies that we are still in this day.

Those who hold to the Intermittent Day View believe that the creation events described in Genesis occurred over a long period of time, subdivided into six parts, which is introduced by a literal day. This theory provides harmony between the interpretation of yom as a literal calendar day and today’s mainstream scientific view that the events described in Genesis 1 must have occurred over long periods of time.

Those who hold to the Days of Divine Fiat View argue that Genesis doesn’t describe six days of God working, but the days on which God issued His creative commands or “fiats.” Proponents of this theory believe the actual time taken for the outworking of creation can be estimated by modern scientific methods. The perspective here is God’s perspective from heaven: God stepped out on nothing in the inky blackness of eternity and simply spoke creation into existence.

~ Young-Earth Creationism (YEC)

YEC generally holds that the whole universe is as young as the earth. YEC questions the reliability and assumptions of many popular dating techniques used by the mainstream scientific community. YEC counters that there is much evidence that point to a young earth, and that although mainstream science has been biased toward an ancient earth, it is through the Biblical view of six days of creation that all scientific evidence must be viewed.

Some proponents of YEC believe in the validity of the 24-Hour View, which claims that God created the world in six, literal 24-hour days, as Genesis records. Arguments made for this theory include that the text wording “Evening came and then morning” seems to indicate a literal day, that Sabbath rest seems to imply six literal days of work during the creation week, and that although the sun was created on day four, there was life on day three (Genesis 1:11-13). As life can’t exist for long periods without sunlight, they assert, the days were not long ages.

The Mature Creation View also holds that creation took place over six 24-hour days. But here, God created the universe and all that is in it with the appearance of age.


Now let’s look at three Non-Concordist interpretations:

Those who hold to the Framework View interpret the Genesis account of creation to be a figurative framework that describes real history. This view maintains there are two “registers” of creation: the upper (invisible) and the lower (visible). The complete seven-day framework, they assert, is a metaphorical appropriation of lower-register language denoting an upper-register temporal reality.

“Why did Moses employ the anthropomorphic picture of God going about His creative labors in six days and resting on the seventh? He did so in order to communicate a theological message,” writes Dr. Lee Irons in his article on the subject. “The theological point of this literary structure is that the creation was made by God to be subordinate to man and through man’s obedient work as God’s regent exercising dominion over creation to enter God’s own rest. God’s purpose for creation was, through Adam’s obedience, to be ultimately transformed and glorified in order to be the theater of God’s glory and the eternal dwelling place of glorified humanity.” 

Those who hold to the Analogical Days View believe that not everything in the Genesis account needs to be taken as historically sequential. It is possible, they assert, that parts of some days overlap and that events on a particular day may be grouped for logical rather than chronological reasons. Says John C. Collins who developed this interpretation, “Genesis 1:1–2:3 is not a scientific account. … I would claim that it lays the foundation for all good science and philosophy, by telling us that the world came from a good and wise Creator.”

Those who hold to the Functional Cosmic Temple View argue that the use of the Hebrew verb bârâʼ (בָּרָא) in describing God’s creative activity refers to the creation of function rather than material. The key functions necessary for life were created during the first three days: the basis for time on day one (periods of light); the basis for weather on day two (water cycle); and the basis for food on day three (land and vegetation). The seventh day, the day of rest, represents God taking up His dwelling in the functioning cosmic temple. In this interpretation all the functions meet the needs of humanity, with God’s presence serving as the defining element of existence.


~ Conclusion ~

Christianity and science need not be at war with each other.

Many Christians believe that a literal, traditional view of the Genesis 1 story is the only alternative for “true” Christians. They simply can’t fathom how ANY Bible-believing Christian would deviate from the view that God created the universe in six consecutive 24-hour days, or that the earth is much older than about 6000 years.

Other Christians view this perspective to be narrow, if not silly. Could God have created the earth in six days? Of course, without breaking a sweat. But the length of time it took Him to do so isn’t the point of Genesis, they believe, so it doesn’t need to taken literally.

Let’s be clear on how we should view the word “literally.” Professor Norman Geisler does a great job in a reply he gave in an interview posted on the Billy Graham website:

“Everything in the Bible is literally true, but not everything is true literally. Jesus said, ‘I am the vine, I am the door.’ No one looks for a doorknob or hinges, or leaves coming out of His ear. The Bible has parables, and it has figures of speech. We adopt the literal method of interpreting the Bible as opposed to the allegorical method, where you spiritualize the meaning of the Bible. For those proponents, the resurrection didn’t happen literally, it was just a spiritual resurrection in the hearts of the disciples.”

As Christians it’s critical that we have a proper understanding of God’s Word — even as we disagree on particulars.

“Christians of one perspective,” writes BlueLetterBible.com, “are becoming skeptical of the genuineness of the salvation of those who hold to another interpretation.” Our view: the body of Christ needs to recognize that well-meaning Christians can hold differing interpretations of Genesis 1 and still remain within orthodoxy.

Surely Christians can agree on this: the book of Genesis shows us the creativity and power of our Creator. It shows us that God is in the details; that our universe is not the result of a haphazard accident, but part of a meticulous plan — however long He took to make it. And His creation matters to Him. Thus, you and I matter to Him. Some day God will fill us in on all the details. I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait. 

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Were Jesus’ Disciples Illiterate?

jesus-disciples-illiterate

A question often asked by curious Christians and critics: “Since Jesus’ disciples spoke Aramaic, how could they write any New Testament books — in Greek, no less — if they couldn’t even read or write in their own language?”

That sounds like a solid query … until you realize that the question is based on the wrong assumption that Jesus’ disciples were illiterate.

It’s interesting that many modern Christians assume that everyday Jews in Jesus’ time went without schooling. I’ve even been in churches that promote that “Jesus was but a simple carpenter” — as if He miraculously morphed from “uneducated wood guy” to “healing teacher extraordinare.”

But the Bible makes it clear that Jesus, even as a 12-year-old, possessed enough Jewish knowledge and moxie to enter the Jerusalem temple to discuss Scripture with seasoned temple teachers. It is in Luke 2:41-52 that we read how vexed Jesus’ parents were to find Him sitting in His “Father’s house,” happy as a clam, while they had been anxiously searching for Jesus for three days after realizing He wasn’t among the crowds schlepping home to Nazareth at the conclusion of Passover.

Jews in Jesus’ time placed a high value on education, as they took the commands of the Torah seriously. Thus, scholars believe that literacy among first century Jews was actually very high, despite the category of each man’s occupation. So it’s jumping to the wrong conclusion to assume that even carpenters and fishermen had not likely received schooling before they began apprenticing in their respective trade in their early teens.

So were the disciples illiterate? Hmmm…. is the real question you’re asking, “Did the disciples sometimes get help with writing down their message?” If that is what you’re after, the answer is yes, it’s certainly possible. But it’s doubtful that the disciples lacked the ability to read and write, or that they were ignorant of Jewish Scripture. And their understanding of Scripture certainly grew during their three years with Jesus.


~ Jesus on Mission From Childhood ~

Was young Jesus unique in having some familiarity with Jewish Scripture? No. So it wasn’t Jesus being in the temple that surprised His parents. Rather, it was His recognition, at such a young age, of His purpose and destiny. As BibleGateway.com puts it:

“Jesus’ parents — and Luke’s readers — need to appreciate that Jesus understood his mission. From the very beginning he is reflecting on the will of God. He starts revealing himself right in the center of Judaism’s religious capital. But there is a second key detail. Jesus refers to God as his Father. This alludes to the sense of family relationship and intimacy Jesus has with his heavenly Father (10:21-22). Such closeness to God not only is something Jesus’ parents need to appreciate but also is a point the disciples will struggle to grasp (9:59-62; 14:26; Mark 10:29-30). In fact, Luke makes this the first note in a series of revelations that will build the case for who Jesus is.”

The Bible doesn’t give us much information about Jesus’ first 30 years of life, but what it does tell us is that Jesus walked humbly, yet purposefully, toward this mission. And at the appointed time, He made His familiarity of Scripture obvious to the public. 

Adds BibleGateway.com: “Jesus is breaking new ground with his parents here, and they need to understand who He is, just as Luke’s readers do. The text makes it clear that at the time they still did not understand what He was saying to them. But Mary treasured (or pondered) all these things in her heart, an appropriate response to Jesus’ somewhat enigmatic remarks.” Obedient to his parents, Jesus returns with them to Nazareth. “While there he grows in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Lk 1:80; 2:40). There he awaits God’s timing to begin the ministry associated with God’s house.”

What a jolt it was for many of His contemporaries in Nazareth when Jesus did go public. In Mark 6:2-4, they expressed shock at His wisdom as he read Scripture:

“And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?”

But Jesus didn’t let their offense hold Him back. His time had come; He was going big, so He could go home as the resurrected savior. Jesus launched His ministry by selecting 12 men who would closely walk the journey with Him to the cross. From there, 11 of them would share the Good News until their last breath. 


~ Who Were These Disciples? ~

Historian Colin Green brings up a good point about these young, hand-picked Jewish men. “It is worth mentioning,” he writes, “that Jesus would have set out to select apostles who would be capable of going out and preaching his message effectively.”

Let’s recap who was included in this intimate group of disciples:

*Simon Peter, a fisherman/businessman who lived in Bethsaida and Capernaum, part of Jesus’ inner circle, martyred
*Andrew, brother to Peter, also a fisherman from Bethsaida, martyred
*John, brother to James, also a fisherman from Bethsaida, part of Jesus’ inner circle, died of natural causes
*James, brother to John, also a fisherman from Bethsaida, part of Jesus’ inner circle, the first disciple martyred
*Philip, also from Bethsaida, possibly a fisherman, martyred
*Nathaniel (Bartholomew), possibly a fisherman, martyred
*Thomas (Didymus), possibly a fisherman, famous for being the “doubter” of Christ’s wounds, killed
*Matthew (Levi), a tax collector from Capernaum, likely wealthy before joining Jesus’ ministry, martyred
*James, cousin to Jesus; martyred
*Thaddeus (Jude), lived in Galilee, martyred
*Simon, the zealot, possibly engaged in politics and anarchy before Jesus called him to be a faithful disciple, martyred
*Judas Iscariot, treasurer of the group and the “betrayer” of Christ who hanged himself after feeling remorse

We don’t know all that much about most of the disciples, but scholars believe they would have all been young, perhaps no older than 20 years of age, when selected by Jesus. We do know that Andrew and John were disciples of John the Baptist, prior to following Jesus. The Bible tells us that Thomas and Nathaniel were fishing by the Sea of Galilee with Peter when Jesus appeared to them after He resurrected. It’s likely they were fisherman. The Bible gives us no clue, however, as to the professions of Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Thaddeus, James, or Judas before they joined Jesus.

But, again, they likely received training in the Jewish Scriptures in their youth. And given that Greeks lived all around them, it is likely that they were bilingual in Aramaic and Greek, even if they couldn’t write the language.

Shares Apologetics professor Mikel Del Rosario:

“Interestingly, four of Jesus’ disciples had Greek names: Philip, Andrew (Peter’s brother), Thaddeus and Bartholomew. Why would their parents give them Greek names if Greek didn’t have some kind of influence in their families? Whether or not you’re Jewish, you would’ve picked up some Greek from living near native Greek speakers.”

Peter, John, and possibly Matthew are thought to have personally written books of the Bible. John wrote one of the Gospels. Jesus’ own brother James is believed to have written the Book of James. As a Galilean tax collector, Matthew would have been required to collect and record information, likely in multiple languages. Clearly, he could read and write. Historians know that tax collectors often carried wooden tablets thickly coated with wax. They used styluses to mark notes in the wax, which were later transcribed and written on papyrus or animal skins. Whether Matthew personally did the transcribing isn’t the important point here.


~ Using Scribes Doesn’t Change Authorship ~

In its blog post titled Common Objection #14 – “Jesus’ Disciples Were Uneducated and Illiterate,” Truth Bomb Apologetics reminds us that some members of the Judean ruling council pointed out that Peter and John were agrammotoi or “unschooled” (Acts 4:13). But that the word doesn’t necessarily imply that Peter and John were illiterate. In the context of the Jewish council, agrammatos likely meant “untrained in the Jewish law.” The council members were merely pointing out that Peter and John had not been schooled as rabbis.

Just for arguments sake, let’s go with their assertion that the disciples couldn’t read or write. Does that automatically translate to their being “simple” or uneducated? No. It simply means they needed help in writing down their message.

No problem! Professional scribes capable of turning Aramaic into polished Greek would have been readily available to the first century disciples. Scholars know that these scribes helped to record everything from receipts to legal documents to letters, for persons of both plenty and poverty. We know, for example, that the apostle Paul, who is credited with writing much of the New Testament, could capably write Greek. Yet even he used scribes to record his letters. Go, figure!

The disciples did exactly what Christ chose them to do: faithfully witnessed to the world, both orally and in writing, about Jesus. 

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Do the Gospels Reliably Portray Jesus?

gospels portray JesusCan We Trust These Ancient Storytellers?

Christians view the Bible as the true and inspired word of God, which it is. In the four Gospels—MatthewMarkLuke, and John—we learn details of the incredible ministry of Jesus. Not intended to be strict biographies, these detail-rich texts are interpretations by four individual authors, which they penned for specific audiences, to evoke specific images of Jesus.

The Zondervan Academic blog puts it this way:

“The Bible’s four Gospels paint four portraits of Jesus. While each gospel follows Him on the same journey, they recount it a little differently. They had their own methods, styles, purposes, audiences, and (probably) sources—making each portrait of Jesus uniquely valuable.”

How fortunate are we, as modern Christians, to be able to read all four perspectives together! Let’s take a closer look at the Gospels, to see where they are similar and where they differ, as we answer a common question asked by Christians: “Can I trust what the Gospel writers tell us about Jesus?”


~ What Are “Synoptic Gospels”? ~

The Gospels narrate the life history of Jesus. The first three Gospels are referred to as the “Synoptic Gospels.” The word “synoptic” comes from the Greek word synoptikos, which means “able to be seen together.” These Gospels share similarities in how they tell the story of Jesus—often shared in the same order, and even with the same wording. Yet it’s clear that the Book of Matthew was written to a Jewish audience, Mark to a Roman audience, and Luke to a Gentile audience.

John, the last Gospel to be written, offers more symbolism than the synoptics, as well as a more reflective perspective. John adopts a “post-resurrection” point of view, for example. Bible.org puts it this way:

“While we see the events through his eyes, we are carefully guided to see the events of Jesus’ life not as John saw them when they happened but as he now sees them. We understand more of the significance of the events described from the position the writer now holds than an eyewitness could have understood at the time the events took place.”

Of the four Gospels, Mark is the earliest text. It was likely written between AD 55-70, around the time the disciple Peter was martyred. Matthew was written between AD 50-70, and Luke around AD 60. A confirmation of the date of Matthew’s writing comes from an external source: a report by Irenaeus, a second-century church father, who wrote that Matthew composed his gospel “while Peter and Paul were preaching the Gospel and founding the church in Rome.” The only time we know that Peter and Paul were together in the capitol of the Roman Empire was the early to mid-60s. The exact dating of John’s gospel is unknown, though commonly thought to be around AD 90.

As Zondervan Academic notes, over 90 percent of the Book of John is unique; it contains material not found in any of the other three Gospels. In contrast, 93 percent of the Book of Mark appears in either Matthew or Luke—but a lot of what’s in those Gospels isn’t included in Mark.

To see this for yourself, check out the online Harmony of the Gospels guide by Blue Letter Bible. It clearly outlines, via a Scripture-linked table, which topics are found in each Gospel. It’s a handy research tool.


~ The Gospel Writers Weren’t Journalists ~

The common message of the Gospels, of course, is that Jesus came as God in the flesh. The Gospel writers never deviate from that message, yet each writer chose to highlight information he thought important to share.

The book of Matthew, for example, emphasizes Jesus’ role as the Messiah and the “King of the Jews.” Mark focuses on Jesus as a powerful miracle worker and servant. Luke portrays Jesus as the Son of man who highly values each person. And John emphasizes Jesus as both man and God, accessible to anyone who will choose to follow Him. Each writer uses phraseology and imaging that their contemporaries would have found familiar. As Gleason Archer states in his book Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, it’s akin to each Gospel writer chosing specific angles from which to take snapshots of Jesus.

The Gospel writers also were writing to people already familiar with Jesus. This is why they don’t spend time chronicling every detail of Jesus’ lifethough we modern Christians surely wish they had! We have no clue, for example, whether Jesus was an early riser or a night owl; whether he preferred meat to vegetables; or what He personally thought about a LOT of topics. So when we ask, “WWJD?” we often don’t have a definitive answer. Lol!

Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room: our wondering why the early Christians didn’t write down the life and teachings of Jesus—and why it took so long (25+ years after Christ’s death) for the Gospels to be written.

One obvious reason: Jesus’ followers assumed that He would return soon to establish His new earthly kingdom, thus making written records unnecessary.We have to remember, too, that the oral tradition was incredibly strong during Jesus’ lifetime; people were used to carefully sharing information in this manner.

As Nick Peters writes on his blog, “In fact, it’s a common question often asked to apologists when speaking about Jesus that ‘If all this really happened, why did they wait so long before they wrote it down?’ It’s a good question, but it’s also one that can be quite simple. Oral tradition was free, quick, reliable, and it reached everyone who understood the language. Writing meanwhile was expensive (Writing Galatians by today’s standards could cost about $500 and let’s not forget the delivery of the manuscript so think about how much a whole Gospel would cost), slow, not seen as being as reliable since the person who wrote the work was not there to teach about it often, and it would only reach those who could read or have it read to them.”

The Gospels do not provide a straight journalistic record. And the Gospel writers don’t collectively claim to be offering eye witness accounts of Jesus’ life. But did the Gospel writers simply make up stuff? Hardly. They were held in check by that fact that people were already familiar with Jesus—and there were eyewitnesses that would have called them out.  

Imagine a modern historian attempting to rewrite the history of crooner Elvis Presley. If he tried to assert that Elvis lacked talent, had no impact on the world, and didn’t accomplish much, we would laugh at him! Why? Because we know so much about Elvis, from both being eyewitnesses to his life and the mountains of material written about him.


~ Trusting the Gospels ~

Do we know for sure who wrote the Gospels? No. But John is believed to have been one of Christ’s twelve disciples. As such, he personally witnessed the events he wrote about. Luke, a friend of the apostle Paul, may not have been an eyewitness, but made careful use of the eyewitness accounts of others. Mark’s gospel includes preaching by Simon Peter, another of the disciples who had a front-seat view of Jesus’ ministry for three years. And Matthew, a tax collector, can be counted a reliable scribe, as he was both literate and accustomed to keeping detailed records. The early church was unanimous in their acceptance of Matthew as the author of this Gospel.

The Gospel writers had excellent credentials to write their texts: they had intimate, verified knowledge of Jesus’ ministry, and each possessed the skills to correctly record the facts of Jesus’ ministry.

It is common today for critics—and even some confused Christians—to assert that the Bible can’t be taken literally or seen as trustworthy, because of apparent discrepancies and differences. Sorry, but that’s just a convenient excuse for critics—and a sad statement on the depth of knowledge held by these Christians. The Bible has proven itself reliable over centuries, despite human error made by its writers and scribes that transcribed it.

History reliably confirms the Gospels. But don’t take my word for it—and definitely don’t take the word of critics without studying the matter for yourself. The depth of your study will determine the depth of your knowledge of Christ and the Church. Will it be easy? No. Because there’s a lot of wrong info out there. But Jesus promises us that when we diligently seek Him, we will find Him. Right on!

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Were Jesus’ Apostles Martyrs? Does it Matter?

martyrsWhat does historical evidence say?

The willingness of the apostles to suffer and die as martyrs for their faith is one of the  most commonly cited arguments for the resurrection. Why, after all, would any person willingly choose to submit to a painful death for confession of the Christian faith?

Yet some scholars assert there is insufficient evidence to confirm that any of the apostles were martyrs — or that their deaths even count as evidence for the resurrection.

In this post, let’s look at both issues, by first stating the case for the apostles possibly being martyrs, and then by raising two common objections by critics. You can decide if the objections have merit.

Let’s start with a definition of “martyr,” so we’re all on the same page:


martyrs


~ Making the Case for the Apostles Being Martyrs ~

How apologist Sean McDowell carefully states this position:

“The apostles spent between 1.5 to 3 years with Jesus during His public ministry, expecting Him to proclaim His kingdom on earth. Although disillusioned at His untimely death, they became the first witnesses of the risen Jesus and they endured persecution; many subsequently experienced martyrdom, signing their testimony, so to speak, in their own blood. The strength of their conviction, marked by their willingness to die, indicates that they did not fabricate these claims; rather, without exception, they actually believed Jesus to have risen from the dead. While in and of themselves these facts prove neither the truth of the resurrection in particular nor Christianity as a whole, they do demonstrate the apostles’ sincerity of belief, lending credibility to their claims about the veracity of the resurrection, which is fundamental to the case for Christianity.”

Adds New Testament scholar Craig Keener:

“People of course die regularly for values that are false; they do not, however, ordinarily die voluntarily for what they believe is false. Intentional deception by the disciples is thus implausible.”

As Keener says, Christians haven’t been the only martyrs in history, so we won’t pretend they are. But let us also not give a pass to skeptics who say Christians lean too much on martyrdom as being the sign of the inherent truth of Christianity. What’s important here is that the apostles really believed that Jesus had risen from the grave. Why? Because they interacted with him in His risen form. They ate with Him, they talked with Him, they touched His wounds. Basically, He blew their minds wide open to the truth of who He is.


~ Evidence for the Historicity of the Apostles as Martyrs ~

Were the first Christians actually persecuted for their faith? If so, it would provide a helpful setting for evaluating the likelihood of the individual apostles being martyrs.

Even though persecution was sporadic and local, there is evidence that the public proclamation of the faith could be costly. John the Baptist, for example, was imprisoned and beheaded (Matthew 14:1-11). Jesus was crucified. Stephen was stoned to death after his witness before the Sanhedrin (Acts 6 through 8). And Herod Agrippa killed James, the brother of John (Acts 12:2). The first statewide persecution of Christians was under the Roman emperor Nero (AD 64).

Strong historical evidence exists that at least some of the apostles were martyrs. Let’s look at just three apostles:

Peter:
The traditional view is that Peter was crucified in Rome, during the reign of Nero, between AD 64 and 67. The earliest evidence for his martyrdom comes from John 21: 18-19, which was written no later than 30 years after Peter’s death. Other early, consistent, and unanimous testimony for Peter’s martyrdom can be found in writings such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, and Tertullian.

Paul:
The traditional view is that Paul was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero. Scripture does not directly state his martyrdom, but there are hints in both Acts and 2 Timothy 4:6-8 that Paul knew his death was pending. The first evidence outside of Scripture is found in 1 Clement 5:5-7 (AD 95/96), in which Paul is described as suffering greatly for his faith and then being “set free from this world and transported up to the holy place, having become the greatest example of endurance.” Other early, consistent, and unanimous testimony for Paul’s martyrdom can be found in Ignatius, Polycarp, Dionysius of Corinth, Irenaeus, and Tertullian.

James, the brother of Jesus:
The earliest evidence for the death of James comes from Josephus in his Antiquities 20.197-203 (AD 93/94). This passage is largely undisputed by scholars. Josephus places James’ death (AD 62 ) between two Roman curators, Festus and Albinus. According to this account, the high priest Ananias had James stoned to death. But his death is also reported by Hegesippus and Clement of Alexandria. The case for the martyrdom of James is strengthened by the fact that both Christian and gnostic sources affirm that it happened. These suggest an early, widespread, and consistent tradition regarding the fate of James.


~ Why Critics Say Their Martyrdom Doesn’t Matter ~

Some critics assert that the argument of  “Christianity must be true, because His followers willingly died for him” doesn’t hold much water. Two points they use:

Objection #1: Plenty of people have died for their beliefs. So Christians can’t claim their martyrs are unique — or that Christianity is true because of it.

We can agree on their first point, for sure. Some examples of modern martyrs: Kamikazi pilots who willingly sacrificed their lives during World War II to help Japan win the war; Muslim radicals that caused the attacks on US soil on September 11, 2011, killing thousands of Americans; suicide terrorists, in general; Tibetan monks setting themselves on fire; and Jim Jones, the cult leader who directed his followers in their private compound in Africa to willingly take poison.

But this objection totally misses a key difference with the deaths of Christ’s early apostles. McDowell explains:

In contrast to the beliefs of Buddhist monks and Muslim radicals and any other modern martyrs, including Christians, the beliefs of the apostles were not received secondhand, but from personal experience with the risen Jesus. They proclaimed what they had seen and heard with their own eyes and ears, not stories received from others. Peter not only claims he was an eyewitness but that the events took place in public and that his audience had full knowledge of them. The events were not done secretly in a corner. Buddhist monks and Muslim terrorists are certainly willing to suffer and die for a faith they received secondhand, but the apostles were willing to suffer and die for what they had seen with their own eyes.

Objection #2: The apostles were not given the opportunity to recant.

Some critics believe that because there are no official records of the apostles being given the opportunity to recant, and thus live, this undermines the validity of their testimony.

Again, we can agree that there are no such records. But let’s not miss the obvious: the apostles knew full well the danger they each, individually, were stepping into when they publicly proclaimed Jesus as Lord. Would they really choose to be bold, knowing the dangers, then shrink back like sheep?

Let’s look at more insight from McDowell:

“The fact that their founding leader was a crucified criminal of the Roman Empire also certainly plays a part of their collective consciousness. Jesus even warned His disciples that the world would hate and even persecute them, as it did Him. Every time the apostles proclaimed the name of Christ, then, they knowingly risked suffering and death. Even so, they continued to teach and preach the risen Jesus. Given their active proclamation of Christ, and their full awareness of the cost of such proclamation, if some of the apostles died for their faith, they qualify under the traditional definition of martyr.”

Have you ever wished for a time machine? To then personally observe Jesus and the motley group that followed Him? Would not our own hearts be solidified by faith as we watched their transformation from mice to roaring lions? Jesus’ resurrection is truly a miracle — His greatest miracle. But I’d call it pretty miraculous, too, that a person can experience such gut-level transformation that demands they become new people. Do you have it in you to die for Christ? Do I? Let’s search our hearts to discern the current level of our commitment.


~ Conclusion  ~

The willing deaths of the apostles does not prove the resurrection is true. But it does show the depth of the apostles’ convictions. When I think of their conviction, I get a mental image of a very deep well. A well so deep that it takes time for a dropped penny to make a splash as it dive-bombs through the water.

The apostles were not liars. They did not invent the resurrection stories. They proclaimed the risen Jesus to skeptical and antagonistic audiences with full knowledge they would likely suffer, if not die, for their beliefs. There is no evidence they wavered in their convictions. They banked their lives on the risen Jesus they had personally experienced. We, too, can come to a personal experience of His resurrection by seeking after Him. Our knowledge is second-hand, for sure, but the Holy Spirit continues to affirm to us that everything the apostles tell us about Jesus in Scripture is true!

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 


One of the sources we included in our discussion is an academic book titled The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus by Sean McDowell. Sean’s credentials: An assistant professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, Sean has two Masters Degrees in Theology and Philosophy from Talbot Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Worldview Studies from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“While the New Testament tells us frustratingly little about what happened to the apostles, later traditions abound. The value of McDowell’s book lies in the fact that he not only collects these traditions from a wide range of literature and localities, but also assesses them critically with the use of a scale of degrees of historical probability. This makes his assessments more nuanced and discriminating than is often the case in judgments of historicity. … The book fills a major gap in the literature about early Christianity.” ~ Richard Bauckham, University of St Andrews, UK



Christ, the Miracle Worker: Do His Miracles Matter?

Jesus Miracle Matter

Indeed. The miracles of Jesus Christ are an essential part of His story and an essential part of the Christian faith.

Everyone in the ancient world at all familiar with Jesus regarded Him to be a miracle worker. Even His critics, including the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders, conceded His miracles — even as they denied that God was the source of His power.

As scholar Graham Stanton puts it: “The question was not, ‘Did Jesus perform miracles?’ for that was taken for granted. What was in dispute was on whose authority and with what power Jesus performed unusual deeds.”

Each of the Bible’s four Gospels repeatedly attest to Jesus performing both healings and exorcisms. So pervasive are miracle accounts in all of the different parts of the Gospels that it is clear that all of the sources on which the Gospels drew included such accounts. Not only are miracle accounts found in every layer of the gospel narratives, but references to miracles are found in an impressive variety of contexts: biographical sayings, parables, a dispute story, sayings of instructions, as well as the stories of exorcism, healing, and raising the dead.

Does it matter that Jesus performed miracles? You might not have considered this question before. Or maybe you’ve thought it only important that Jesus died and resurrected. In reality, Jesus’ miracles do matter. A lot. Let’s see why.


~ Establishing His credentials ~

The Bible — the ultimate guide on all things Jesus — tells us repeatedly that Jesus was a miracle worker. Actually, it shows us, by providing details on many of Jesus’ healings. Contemporary scholarship has swung in the direction of acknowledging that Jesus performed miracles. Why? Overwhelming evidence. The wealth of data about Jesus’ miraculous deeds erodes the suggestion that His miraculous deeds originated as legend or myth. Jesus’ contemporaries viewed Him as a miracle worker.

As scholars have applied their critical methodologies to the Gospels, even in a rather skeptical fashion of accepting as factual only what those methods can show most likely must have happened, they have found that there is no escaping that Jesus performed marvelous feats of healing. Jesus’ healings astonished His contemporaries, which they attributed to a supernatural source.

The Jewish historian Josephus, toward the end of the first century, described Jesus as “a worker of amazing deeds” — yet did so in carefully neutral language that stopped short of endorsing Jesus’ miracles as divine in origin. Too, various Jewish sources over the next several centuries also referred to Jesus’ miracles. The best known of these sources is the Babylonian Talmud, which was compiled from about the third to fifth centuries. It states that Jesus was found guilty of “sorcery.”

Obviously, the Talmud’s statement did not originate from Christians. Rather, these writers were reporting how the Jewish rabbis who rejected Jesus as the Messiah viewed His miraculous works. This makes their statement an independent testimony to the fact that Jesus was well known in Jewish history as a miracle worker. Says scholar Graham Twelftree, “Though the rabbinic material is late, it is valuable in that it does not appear to be dependent upon Christian traditions.”


~ Why His miracles matter ~

Our proof that Jesus’ contemporaries considered Him to be a miracle worker: they sought Him out whenever they heard He was near. So many people needed healings and exorcism! Jesus could have spent His entire 3-year ministry just focusing on the physical needs of the people. But His purpose was much deeper.

If we are to understand who Jesus is, we must understand the significance of His miracles. One thing they were not: a means for Jesus to show off or gain anything for Himself. Not once does the Bible — or any other source — suggest that Jesus used His miracles to advance Himself or His followers. Rather, Jesus doggedly stuck to the role of humble servant.

Historian and New Testament scholar Paul Barnett sets our thinking on the right track with this:

“The miracles of Jesus were always within the bounds of nature and not ‘contrary’ to nature’s patterns, that is, freakish or bizarre like the ‘signs’ and ‘portents’ that the Jews sought. His miracles were restrained, done for the good of those in need and not as spectacles in the manner of magicians. They served to point to Jesus as at one with the Creator in achieving His beneficent, end-time purposes on earth. In the miracles of Jesus the kingdom of God was present among them as the Son of Man went about doing good.”

Jesus’ miracles were intimately bound with His message that the kingdom of God was at hand, and had arrived in His own person. His “good news” was that God was exercising His kingly rule in the fallen, sinful world in a new way.

Miracles were an essential part of this message. Exorcisms were an integral sign of the kingdom of God. Jesus understood His work of casting out demons as the first campaign in His offensive against Satan. Yet the Jewish authorities asserted that Jesus’ power came from the Devil! We’re told in Mark 3:22 that: “And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘by the prince of demons He casts out the demons.'”

In His response, Jesus linked His powers directly to God:

“Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12).

Says Twelftree:

“In the casting out of demons, the mission of Jesus itself was taking place, being actualized or fulfilled. In short, in themselves the exorcisms of Jesus are the kingdom of God in operation. It is this conclusion and this dimension to Jesus’ exorcisms, more than anything else, which sets Him out over against His background and environment. Even if every other aspect of Jesus’ technique may have had at least a faint echo in other material, it is this indivisibility of miracle and message which reveals the exorcisms of Jesus to be especially unique. Jesus’ exorcisms were not simply ‘healings’ but were the coming of the kingdom of God.”

Adds authors Robert Bowman and Ed Komoszewski:

“The Gospels rarely record Jesus uttering any sort of prayer before performing a miracle, and the exceptions are prayers of thanks or blessing, not prayers asking God to effect a miracle. . . . By way of contrast, the book of Acts reports both Peter and Paul praying prior to performing miracles of healing. . . . Jesus also never invokes anyone else’s name when performing a miracle. . . . The apostles, on the other hand, healed in Jesus’ name.”


~ The Crucifixion: Christ’s Greatest Miracle  ~

Jesus could have escaped the crucifixion, had He chosen to do so. But He refused to allow anything to redirect Him from His mission to die and resurrect on our behalf: 

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)

“Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?” (Matthew 26:53, 54)

“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my father” (John 10: 17, 18)

But, oh, how deep was the disillusionment of Jesus’ disciples as He hung on that Roman cross! The Bible records that two of them on the road to Emmaus spoke of their faith in Jesus in the past tense: “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).

The disciples didn’t yet “get” it. But then Jesus resurrected — and brought their dread and disappointment to a screeching halt! He lives! Everything He said is true!

In allowing Himself to be captured, tried, and executed, Jesus’ actions spoke volumes about how He viewed Himself and His mission. Finally His disciples began to grasp who Jesus is. What He’s not: a myth or copycat savior. The early church accepted Jesus’ claims to deity because of the evidence they saw that supported it. The miracle of His resurrection drove this point home: we can trust that Jesus is God — and that He deeply cares for us.

As Christian philosopher Kenneth Samples puts it:

“Jesus’ credentials as the divine Messiah are indeed formidable — matchless personal character, incalculable influence upon history, fulfillment of prophesy, power to perform miracles, extraordinary wisdom, bodily resurrection, and so forth. Alternatives that deny His true deity offer no adequate explanation for these credentials.”


Do Jesus’ miracles matter? Yes. Every single one of them.

Because through them, we view the loving nature of God. Through them, we gain confidence for our “after” with Jesus. And through them we can know, in our “here and now,” that we can tap into His power to thwart Satan’s attempts to derail us! 

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Was Jesus Really Without Sin?

Jesus Without Sin

It’s a critically important question.

If the holy, morally perfect God were to become incarnate as a human being, one would reasonably expect that He would live a good and righteous life. We have solid reasons to think that Jesus Christ did fit this description.

Let’s look at biblical references, both by Jesus and about Jesus, to gain a clear picture of why He is believed to have lived without sin.

By the way, can you imagine??? I can’t get through a single day with 100% purity of thought, word, or action! Surely, He had to be God!


~ Scripture States Jesus Lived a Perfect Life ~

All of the Bible‘s New Testament books, which, by the way, were composed less than seventy years after Jesus’ death, have one consistent message: that Jesus lived without sin. We’re told this in the four Gospels, in reports of speeches by early Christian leaders in the books of Acts, in epistles written by four different authors (Paul, Peter, John, and the author of Hebrews), and in the book of Revelation.

As New Testament scholar George H. Guthrie has noted, “It was a widely disseminated tradition in earliest Christianity that Jesus was sinless…a claim made all the more pointed by the fact that many of the church’s leaders were drawn from Jesus’ family member or closest associates.”

Per Paul, Jesus was not a sinner, but heaped with our sin, that God would see us as unblemished. New Testament scholar Murray J. Harris puts it this way: “Although Christ was aware of the reality of sin and observed sin in others (Hebrews 12:3), He Himself, Paul affirms, never had any personal involvement in sin.  … Neither outwardly in act nor inwardly in attitude did Christ sin, and at no time was His conscience stained with sin.”

1 Peter 2:21, 22 says this:

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth.

Hebrews 4:14 says this:

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

1 John 3:5 says this:

And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.

In short, the consistent testimony of first-century Christians to the character of Jesus was that He was without sin, perfect in holiness and righteousness. There are no dissenting statements from Christians in the first — or even second — century. As G. C. Berkouwer, a twentieth-century theology noted, “Ancient heretics, however divergent they were in Christology, did not attack the sinlessness of Christ.”

Granted, zealous followers sometimes have an excessively high opinion of their master, but that does not seem to have been the case with Christ. His followers wrote about Jesus — and themselves — with refreshing candor.


~ Jesus Implicitly Claimed to be Sinless ~

Jesus’ followers viewed Him as sinless — but did Jesus share their view?

Jesus did not directly speak to His own perfection. Should this, as some critics assert, clue us in to the fact that Jesus didn’t see Himself as sinless? Not at all. In a kind of sideways fashion, much of what Jesus said assumed or presupposed His own lack of sin.

Let’s take the issue of forgiveness:

Jesus forgave other people’s sins (Matthew 9:2-6; Mark 2:5-10; Luke 5:20-24; Luke 7:47-49) and taught His followers to forgive others and to pray for God’s forgiveness for their own sins. Yet Jesus never said anything about needing forgiveness Himself — a surprising omission as good spiritual leaders typically use themselves as object lessons or at least model for their disciples what they are teaching them.

As the famous historian Kenneth Scott Latourette remarked:

“It is highly significant that in one as sensitive morally as was Jesus and who taught His followers to ask for the forgiveness of their sins there is no hint of any need of forgiveness for Himself, no asking of pardon, either from those about Him or of God.”

Thomas Oden, previously a Drew University theologian, wrote one of the best expositions and defenses of the sinlessness of Christ. In his writings he explains why Jesus’ lack of any apparent guilt over His own sin is quite revealing:

“Those who have walked the furthest on the way to holiness are those likely to be most keenly aware of their own guilt. St. Teresa of Avila, for example, understood most acutely how distant she was from the full possibility of life in Christ, but it was not because she was living distantly from the life but so near to it. … This was not morbid preoccupation with guilt but simply the expression of daily life lived so near to God that she was more painfully aware of each small increment of distance from God than others might have known in a lifetime. Yet Jesus, whose closeness to God could hardly be questioned, showed no evidences of such guilt or remorse or distance but rather sustained the closest filial relation.”

The Gospel of John reports moments when Jesus indirectly attests to His knowing Himself to be without sin. John 15:9: So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” 


~ Jesus’ Contemporaries Attested to His Sinlessness ~

In the New Testament, a variety of sources refer to Jesus as “the Holy One of God.” Both Mark and Luke record an incident in which “an unclean spirit,” that is, a demon, identified Jesus with the same title:

Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did you come to destroy us? I know who You are — the Holy One of God!”

Evidently, Jesus radiated a holiness, a purity, to which the demons were sensitive and against which they reacted with anger or fear.

Early church leaders also referred to Jesus as “the Righteous One” (Acts 7:52; 22:14) and “the Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14). In some passages of the Gospels, speakers refer to Jesus’ goodness in a specific context, especially His having been innocent of wrongdoing justifying His execution. By the way, these speakers, including Judas Iscariot, Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate, Pilate’s wife, and the centurion in charge at Jesus’ crucifixion, weren’t believers. To this Oden comments, “This is a remarkable confluence of testimony among precisely those who had conspired in bringing His life to a bloody end.”

The Pharisees and other leaders diligently observed Jesus, committed to finding fault in Him and trap Him in His own words. What, however, was the best they could come up with? That He:

~ Broke the Sabbath by doing work on it
~ Was a friend to tax collectors and other sinners, and even ate with them
~ Claimed to be the King of the Jews
~ Taught the people to refuse to pay taxes to Caesar
~ Threatened to destroy the Jerusalem temple
~ Cast out demons because He was in league with Beelzebul (the Devil)
~ Committed blasphemy by forgiving sins
~ Committed blasphemy by claiming to be the Son of God or equal to God

Were these actions sinful? Not the ones He actually did. And some of these criticisms, ironically, now seen from our later point of view, reflect very well on Jesus.

That Jesus didn’t allow legalistic judgments to stop Him from healing on the Sabbath, is one. That Jesus befriended the marginalized is another. Jesus didn’t endorse the sin of these persons by choosing to spend time with them. Rather, he befriended them to free them of their sin.

The harshest criticism the Pharisees were able to deliver was the charge of blasphemy. All four Gospels report that this accusation was made on different occasions, both in Galilee and Jerusalem. It is interesting to see how Jesus answered the charge.

“Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus said, I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death (Mark 14:61-64).

As proof that He had the divine authority to act as God would, Jesus pointed to the fact that He did certain things that only God could do. It was through His miracles that Jesus demonstrated that His claims to be the Son of God or equal to God were not blasphemous.

For example, when challenged about His forgiving a man’s sins, Jesus asked:

Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. (Luke 5:23-25)


~ Do You Accept the Bible as Truth?  ~

Have you questioned whether Jesus could, as God, sin even just a teensy bit? Perhaps you’ve thought, “Surely Jesus told a little white lie, or two. I mean who hasn’t, at some point, to save face or not be impolite?”

Yet if we look at the picture of Jesus we gain through the Gospels, we see a man who never used manipulation to endear Himself to others. And we know, per the many stories detailing His interactions with Pharisees — and even with His beloved disciple Peter, who tried to talk Jesus out of willing sacrificing Himself — that Jesus could be brutally frank with people.

Did Jesus get mad at people? Yup. Did Jesus get disappointed in people? Yup. Did Jesus repeatedly have to redirect people to help them to understand His message? Yup, yup, yup. But in His responses He did not sin. The Bible tells us so. Not once, in the many details shared about Jesus’ 3-year ministry, is there a single mention of Jesus taking a sinful step in any direction.

If Jesus were just a man, that’s freaking amazing! (And downright unbelievable.) But if Jesus is God, not sinning was simply staying within His nature. 

Was Jesus really without sin? The Bible says so. But you, ultimately, must decide if you will accept God’s Word as truth.

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Were Some Books Left out of the Bible? Quick VIDEO

 

[Original post by Sean McDowell found here]

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.


Was Jesus Really Birthed by a Virgin?

Jesus Birthed by Virgin

The Virgin Birth: Plausible, if God Exists

The Apostles’ Creed, an early creed of the Christian faith, affirms that Jesus Christ “was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.” If this belief is true, it means that Jesus’ entrance into human history isn’t just a tad different, but completely unique.

We can’t, of course, make the same kind of historical argument for the virgin birth that we can make for the resurrection. In the case of the resurrection, numerous eyewitnesses saw Jesus die and also later saw Him come back from the dead. But no eyewitness can attest to how Mary became pregnant. If Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, that event was private.

Atheists, of course, declare it to be a “biological impossibility” for a virgin woman to give birth. In one sense they’re correct: humans, like other mammals, are normally incapable of parthenogenesis (a word that derives from Greek words meaning “virgin” and “birth”). But in another sense they’re completely wrong.

Affirming the virgin birth of Christ as “miraculous” does not mean having to believe that the laws of nature have been broken or violated. Just because a virgin birth is not naturally possible doesn’t mean we rule out the possibility of there being a God not bound by the laws of nature.


Is anything impossible for the God who designed and crafted our meticulously detailed universe? 


~ The Virgin Birth: The Ultimate Miracle? ~

People in the ancient world knew that human conception naturally required sexual intercourse.

For that reason, they viewed Jesus’ conception by Mary to be a miracle. Joseph, the man who took Mary as his wife, certainly believed that Mary was telling him the truth when she said she had yet to be with a man.

Writes the great Christian thinker C. S. Lewis,

“Some people seem to have an idea that belief in miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the course of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it. … No doubt the modern gynecologist knows several things about birth and begetting which St. Joseph did not know. But those things do not concern the main point — that a virgin birth is contrary to the course of nature. And Joseph obviously knew that.”

When scientists imply that Christians claim Jesus was born through an unusual but ultimately natural process of parthenogenesis, they are mistaken. Rather, Christians claim divine intervention to be the force that reconfigured the normal course of events.

As New Testament professors Andreas Kostenberger and Alexander Stewart point out, much of the criticism of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth proceeds from hostile assumptions:

The only reason to doubt the possibility of the miracle itself would be a prior commitment to philosophical naturalism; that is, the belief that the material world is all that exists and that there is no such thing as God or supernatural intervention. From this perspective, miracles just don’t happen. This worldview assumes that science can explain everything, but such an approach demands more from science than it can produce.

Indeed. Science has yet to prove the beginnings of our existence. At best, it has put forth possible theories.


Our ability to accept the virgin birth as plausible depends largely on our view of the existence of God. One who refutes the existence of God likely also refutes the possibility of miracles.


~ The Idea That Jesus Was Born a Virgin Originated Very Early ~

Skeptics commonly assert that the story of Jesus being born of a virgin must be due to legend or myth.

But there are several problems with this claim. First, the virgin birth was a foundational component of early Christianity, not an idea that made a later appearance in the church. Second, the virgin birth was contradicted by no one in the first century.

The New Testament books of Luke and Matthew contain accounts of the miraculous conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Scholars agree that the books were written sometime between AD 50 and 90 — less than a century after Jesus was born, and less than 60 years after His death. Some scholars even shorten the time between Jesus’ death and Luke’s gospel to be only 30 years.

Matthew and Luke, despite working entirely independently from each other and not being dependent on the same source, agree on an amazing number of very specific facts about the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. So we are on solid ground in concluding that the accounts are factually based.

Explains Bible scholar and pastor Mark Roberts,

“Contrary to what is sometimes stated by hyper-critical scholars, you can tell the whole Christmas story with all the key facts by using only what is common to both Matthew and Luke. This means that we have two, relatively early, independent accounts of the birth of Jesus that confirm each other’s reliability.”

The general consensus among scholars is that neither writer drew on the other’s narratives in composing his own. As New Testament scholar Michael Bird states in the Routledge Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus, “The differences between Matthew and Luke in the birth narratives are so sharp that they probably wrote their accounts independently from one another and used different sources.”

The idea that Jesus was conceived of a virgin predated both Matthew and Luke.

The simplest explanation for the similarities and differences in these two gospels is that Matthew’s account derived from Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, and Luke’s account derived from His mother, Mary. This explanation doesn’t require that Matthew and Luke spoke with Mary and Joseph directly. In fact, Joseph is generally thought to have died before Jesus began his public ministry. So, presumably, his story of the virgin birth was passed on to his sons — including James, the half-brother of Jesus. Likewise, Luke may have heard Mary’s story from Mary herself, or perhaps from the apostle John or one of the women who had known Mary.


If Jesus was not born of a virgin, we must dismiss the Bible as being unreliable. And without the miraculous intervention of God in the process, we lose the very nature of Jesus’ divinity.


~ Jesus’ Virgin Birth Story Didn’t Derive From Pagan Myths ~

Skeptics also claim that the virgin birth borrows from ancient pagan myths about noble human figures being the offspring of the gods and mortal women.

The critics who draw these parallels often couch their descriptions of these pagan myths in language that deliberately imitates Christian language. Despite trying to depict Christianity as a copycat religion, the pagan myths do not have anything to do with virgin births.

Asserts Bart Ehrman, a famous agnostic-atheist New Testament scholar who doesn’t believe in Christ’s virgin birth,

“In none of the stories of the divine humans born from the union of a god and a mortal is the mortal a virgin. One has simply to diligently compare these myths to the virgin birth of Jesus to see that they lack any useful comparison.”

Note: there is no realistic chance of any substantial contact by Christians in the Mediterranean world with myths about Krishna or the Buddha, within the first 50 years or so of Christianity. And the Aztecs lived on the other side of the world in Central America, and did not emerge as a culture for several hundred years after Jesus was born. Even Genghis Kahn, which legend says was birthed from the virgin daughter of a Mongol king, lived twelve centuries after Christ!


Christianity didn’t borrow the the virgin birth from another myth or religion. Those religions, however, perhaps borrowed aspects of Christianity.


Christ’s Virgin Birth Outside God’s Supernatural Powers? ~

Clearly, a good case can be made that the virgin birth is the best explanation of the available evidence, provided that we accept the existence of God or are at least open to the possibility of His existence.

Admittedly, for those skeptical about God’s existence, the conclusion of the virgin birth may seem intolerable. But if a person can accept that God is big enough to do what humans deem impossible, then believing in the miracle of the virgin birth doesn’t actually require much faith.

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Critical Tactic: Surfacing the Question Beneath the Question

[Original post by Sean McDowell found here.]

One difficult lesson I have learned in apologetics and evangelism is to identify the question beneath the question. To be honest, I have spent considerable time answering questions I thought people were asking, but because I was operating under false assumptions, I missed the heart of their query. Have you ever made this same mistake?

Here are three examples from my own life and ministry, and the brief lesson I learned from each of them:

 

1. The Question Beneath the Problem of Evil

A number of years ago, a 20-something asked me about why God allows evil. Mistakenly thinking that the heart of her question was intellectual, I proceeded to give her the classical free will defense. She raised questions, and I continually offered what I thought were reasonable responses…until she started to cry. In my insensitivity and callousness to her personal hurt, I ended up doing more harm than good.

Grappling with the philosophical question of evil and suffering is critical, but in this case, I missed the deeper emotional issues at the heart of her question. This is why whenever someone asks about evil and suffering, it is wise to first ask back: “Of all the questions you can ask about God, why that one?” This helps clarify the question beneath the question and to reveal whether the real issue is emotional or intellectual. And then when you know the heart of the issue, you can respond appropriately.

 

2. The Question Beneath Sexual Identity

As a speaker and teacher, I have had many conversations with young people about sexual identity. Not too long ago a young man approached me after a lecture on my book Same-Sex Marriage. While his questions were about Leviticus 18 and whether all sins are equal, I sensed there were deeper issues at play in his personal life.

And so I simply spent time listening to him and affirming him as a human being whom God deeply loves. After awhile, he opened up about his struggles with same-sex attraction. He had never shared with another adult before because he was afraid of how he might be treated. Although we spent time wrestling with the important theological issues he raised, there were deeper relational questions he was asking under the surface: Is my sin worse than others? Does God really love me? Will people reject me if they discover who I really am? Do I belong?

This is why in conversations about sexual identity we must remember that beneath the question is a person with a story. He or she may be wrestling with questions of identity and belonging and needs to know first that you care about him or her.

 

3. The Question Beneath the Problem of Hell

Recently at a conference, I got into a lengthy conversation with a young man about Hell. He had tons of questions about the nature of Hell and how a loving God could send someone there. He didn’t believe in God, and so I did my best to help him make sense of how the biblical view of Hell could be both loving and just.

And then later in the conversation he asked a question that got to the heart of the issue: “How can people enjoy Heaven when they have loved ones in Hell?” I sensed there was a question beneath the question, and so I asked him if this was merely an academic issue or whether it was personal. And he shared that his father had recently died as an agnostic. Knowing this changes everything about his questions.

While he was interested in making theological sense of Hell, his deeper issues were personal: How could he enjoy Heaven without his own father? Was he betraying his father by believing in God? How did his own father, who he clearly loved, deserve a fate as horrific as Hell?

 

The point of this post is not to answer these questions.

And it’s not to encourage people to always assume that there’s a deeper question beneath the question. Sometimes there’s not. Sometimes people are just curious. But in my experience, many times there is a deeper emotional, relational, or personal question at the heart of the matter. And unless (and until) we identify the real issue, our words will have little effect.

This is why in spiritual conversations I try to do two things to grasp the underlying issue. First, pray that God would give me wisdom. And second, ask a lot of questions.

Life is too short to be spent answering the wrong questions.

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.



Two Religions That Claim to be Christian

Christian or cult?

Can a religion claim to be “Christian” if it changes biblical truths about Christ and God?

One of the things I find interesting about Christian history is how quickly Scripture can be corrupted. The early church, for example, had to fight off gnosticism, which, among other false ideas, taught that salvation was gained through the acquisition of divine “knowledge.”

Today, we find Christian churches practicing some pretty strange stuff — dancing with poisonous snakes during church services, for example — which members say publicly displays their faith in a Bible verse they interpret to guarantee God’s protection. Though participants are often bitten, this doesn’t dissuade them. Neither, apparently, does death. When bites prove fatal, church members view the loss to be “God’s will.”

When the Bible is not just misinterpreted, as in the case above, but intentionally reinterpreted to create new doctrine, we move into the realm of false religion. Two groups that we can soundly place in that category — the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) — cling to the claim that they are “Christian.” 

Both groups share some commonalities. Both believe themselves to be God’s “true” church. Both claim their spiritual texts to be more authoritative than the Bible. Both believe they must witness door-to-door to gain new members. And both require members to fully adhere to church doctrine — or face possible expulsion and complete shunning by family and friends.

Note that despite their departure from Bible-based doctrine, both groups continue to draw members around the globe. In part because of the strong sense of community that members enjoy when in good standing. But these members don’t know they’re being doctrinally misled.

Let’s look more closely at the core beliefs of these two groups, to clearly see where they derail in their teachings about Christ and God.


~Mormons ~

Asserts one church source, “We believe that our church, our books of scripture, our teachings, and our lives are all centered on Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.”

He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross under an immeasurable weight to ransom us from our mortal burdens. After three days Jesus Christ overcame death, emerging from the tomb resurrected and winning for us that same reward; He made possible our own resurrection, the permanent union of our spirit and perfected physical body. 

On the surface, the above description of Jesus on the official LDS website appears to follow Christian doctrine. At least until we get clear on how Mormons view Jesus. Bottom line: Mormons DON’T think Jesus is God, but a separate god created by God. And He didn’t resurrect to redeem them, but to ensure their own physical resurrection after death. Mormon doctrine strips Jesus of His deity and significantly downplays His role in our lives.

Dr. Lynn Wilder, once a tenured professor at Brigham Young University who is now a Christian, shares that Mormonism doesn’t guide members into correctly viewing Christ: “I didn’t get very far through the New Testament before I realized that the Christ in the Bible was not the Christ I knew in Mormonism. And I had sold this Christ short. This one was huge. This was the one that was real. This is the one that I wanted. This is the one that changed my life.”

Sandra Tanner, the great-great-granddaughter of Brigham Young, the church’s second prophet, adds that the LDS church teaches that salvation is dependent on so much more than Christ: “Mormons believe we were all born as spirit children of Heavenly Father. And so Jesus is our older brother. But Christ’s atonement alone is not sufficient. Mormons believe their salvation is completed only with the addition of Mormon ordinances, Mormon gospel, and Mormon Temple ritual.”

GotQuestions.org nicely sums up this works “to do” list for us:

In the Mormon gospel we see belief + repentance + baptism + laying on of hands + temple work + mission work + church ministry + tithing + ceasing from sin + abstaining from the use of intoxicants and strong drinks and tobacco and caffeine + confessing Joseph Smith as Prophet + temple marriage + baptism for the dead + genealogy research . . . the list could go on and on and on.

Only upon completion of all these things may Mormons attain the third and highest “degree of glory,” thus achieving the ultimate goal of the Mormon gospel — godhood.

Wait; what? Mormons believe they’ll become gods? Where does it say that in the Bible?

And Mormons believe there’s no hell, but a “spirit prison.” LDS doctrine also teaches that Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit are separate, individual gods — part of a universal community of gods. But here’s the kicker: these gods were once mere men! Don’t miss this: Mormons believe that God — our Creator — was once a man elevated to godhood by his own efforts.

So the ultimate goal of every committed Mormon male, then, is to also attain godhood. In the words of LDS founder Joseph Smith“Here then, is eternal life — to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you.”

In the early 1800s, while still a teen, Smith claimed he had visions of being visited by God, Jesus, and the angel Moroni. God’s supposed message to him: that all existing Christian churches were false, and their teachings an “abomination.” So directed by Moroni, Smith translated special gold plates on which were written the Book of Mormon. (It is from this book, which the LDS believe contains the “fullness of the gospel,” that the church got the nickname “Mormon.”)

Smith pronounced the text to be “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion … a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”

Wait; what? Joseph Smith asserted that the Book of Mormon has been more faithfully translated (transmitted) than the Bible?

Per the LDS website, “The Book of Mormon answers essential questions that we all have at some point: Is there life after death, and what’s waiting for us on the other side? What is the purpose of life, and how can I find happiness and peace now? Does God know me and hear my prayers? How can I avoid sin and learn to truly repent? How can I become the best possible version of myself?”

I share this response put forth by Pastor Tim Challies: “The heart of Joseph Smith’s false teaching was that he put his own authority over the authority of Scripture. By adding his own revelation to the Bible’s revelation, Smith took it upon himself to identify and correct what he claimed were errors in Scripture.”

Interesting stuff, right? Space constraints demand that I move on to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But I leave you with this comparison chart that shows, clearly, that Christianity and Mormonism are very different religions. You might also watch this YouTube video, in which two ex-Mormons share why they left the church.


Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) movement started in the late 1800s under the leadership of Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916). Russell outlined early church doctrine in his six volume series, Studies in Scripture.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Christianity died soon after Christ, but was resurrected under Russell. In the 1870s Russell organized the Watchtower Society, which directs, administers, and disseminates all doctrine. Per current Watchtower doctrine, society members are “modern day servants of Jehovah, a people intent on living in the light of biblical truth.”

Yet the “biblical truth” they’re referring to isn’t found in the Christian Bible, but in their own deliberate misinterpretation of it, which they published in 1961 as The New World Translation (NWT). Dr. Bruce Metzger, during his role as professor of New Testament at Princeton, was among many other Bible scholars that characterized the NWT as “erroneous” and “reprehensible.”

Doctrinal tweaking continues to be a hallmark of this religion. So we might speculate that the Watchtower Society is comprised of poor listeners — or that God keeps changing His “truth.”  

Says an ex-Jehovah Witness on her website:

“Russell taught and published many doctrines that the current Watchtower Society totally rejects, and engaged in practices regarded by current Jehovah’s Witnesses to be of pagan origin. In fact, if Russell were a Jehovah’s Witness in the current Watchtower Organization, he would have been disfellowshipped for his beliefs and practices!”

One reason members cite for leaving the church is the amount of repeated false prophesy the Watchtower Society has put out. As one outsider noted, “The Jehovah’s Witnesses are the undisputed world champions of false prophecy.” Russell was but one church leader that prophesied a date for the end of the world. Russell chose 1914. When Jesus failed to show up for this scheduled Second Coming, the Watchtower Society assured members that Jesus had come — but was invisible.

Some of what the NWT now teaches: Jesus is God’s only direct creation, “the firstborn of all creation,” so He has earned the right to the title “son of God”; Jesus is actually Michael the Archangel in human form; after His crucifixion, Jesus was recreated as an immaterial spirit creature; and the Holy Spirit is not a person, but a specific manifestation of God’s power. 

Say, what?? Jesus is the Archangel Michael?? Where does it say that in the Bible?

We have to agree with Dr. James White, a Christian apologist, that “Christianity is a religion of the Book. If you twist the Book, you twist the faith.”

Yet, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe they alone know the “truth” of God. Thus they view all persons outside their religion — whether Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, or atheist — to be “the walking dead” who are “under God’s wrath.” The reason Witnesses spend so much time going door-to-door is to fulfill the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations.”

Per the JW website: “We endeavor to share our faith with others, hoping that they will benefit from God’s promises. But we don’t believe that we earn our salvation by engaging in our ministry. … He saved us because of His mercy, and not because of any good things that we have done.”

Why, then, do Witnesses not live with an assurance of God’s acceptance?

An interesting fact, per Dr. White: 99 percent of Jehovah Witnesses believe themselves to be among ‘The Great Crowd” that might get to enjoy an earthly paradise after the Millennium. An upper echelon of believers — a mere 144,000 of the most faithful Witnesses — get to be part of the “Anointed Class.”  This small group, which the Watchtower Organization believes to be nearly full, will resurrect as spiritual beings and reign with Jehovah in heaven. Those who find themselves among The Great Crowd will resurrect as physical beings — but only through the Anointed Class gain access to Jehovah.

Followers who find the courage to leave — “apostates” — are formally shunned and “disfellowshipped” by the church. Even family members still in the church are prohibited from having any interaction with them. So, for some, to leave the church means being forced to break connections with the very people most special to them. Does shunning reflect the love Jesus asks of His followers?

Per the JW website, “Surely, someone who strives to obey Jesus’ commands can be called Christian.” In actuality, that barely gets to the heart of the matter. Even this tiny slice of church doctrine clearly show us that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t have a biblical understanding of Christ


~ What Should Be the Christian Response to These Religions?  ~

Skip annoyance and go straight to compassion.

Specific to Mormons, I like the way Tanner puts it. Christians, she says, need to understand that when these young Mormons come knocking, they sincerely believe what they’re preaching.

“They don’t understand, probably, all of Mormon doctrine,” she says. “Your kindness to them, your challenge to them to read the New Testament, could be the start of their journey to Christ. So, when we see them at the door, we need to remember, this is someone Christ died for. They don’t know the deception they’re in. We need to reach out with a heart of love to these people.”

Before you try to counter-witness to LDS missionaries, however, you might want to get up to speed on their terminology, and have a sure understanding of how their beliefs differ from those of Bible-based Christians. You can also check out this discussion between Sean McDowell and Eric Johnson, in which they discuss in the new book they co-edited, Sharing the Good News with Mormons. The book highlights tips from 26 authors on using 24 different strategies for engaging Mormons in spiritual conversation.

The same goes for Jehovah’s Witness you might encounter. Recognize that they doggedly believe that they, alone, possess God’s truth. Carefully trained by the Watchtower Organization to expect persecution as they go door-to-door, your kind response can have a positive impact, perhaps providing you the opportunity to be an outside influence. Here’s a beginner’s guide on dialoging with Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Do you have to accept literature, or allow these visitors inside for a chat? No. But do commit to showing them compassion and respect. You’d hope for the same, right?

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Is Christianity Unique, or a Copycat Religion?

Christianity Copycat Religion?Christianity: Unique Among All Religions.

Mythicists confidently assert, “Christianity is nothing more than a patchwork quilt of ancient pagan and mystery religions.”

Bottom line: They believe that the early Church borrowed heavily from pagan deities already in existence at the time of Jesus. To make their case, they cite extensive lists of apparent similarities between Christianity and these religions. “Jesus, the Son of God? Hardly,” they say. “He’s just another copycat.”

The charge that Christianity plagiarized from surrounding pagan religions came to the fore in the late 19th century, becoming prominent in academic circles at the turn of the 20th century. Though this notion has largely been rejected by the academic community, because historical facts don’t support it, it lingers as a vague idea in popular culture. It’s a popular argument that mythicists — scholars focused on debunking the historicity of the Bible — like to promote.

Yet do their charges of “Christ, the copycat” hold up? Nope. When one takes the time to study the similarities they suggest, it’s quickly apparent that the differences are actually much greater than any commonalities. 

Some of the pagan deities they compare to Jesus include Isis, Osiris, and Horus, which originated in Egypt. Too, the cult of Adonis, which rose in Syria and Palestine. And Mithra, which started in Persia (Iran), but was widely practiced across the Roman empire.

Here’s the truth: Although these pagan religions are historically earlier than Christianity, scholars have uncovered almost no historical record of what these religions believed before Christianity. Almost all of the earliest writings of these cults date from the third and fourth centuries A.D.

As Sean McDowell notes in this short video, history could make the case that these mystery religions may have been the copycats — not the other way around.


~ So, What’s a “Mystery Religion”? ~

Good question. Neo-Paganism.com puts it this way:

“They are called ‘mysteries’ because some aspects of the traditions were kept secret, but also because the experiences conveyed by the rituals were ineffable; they could not be communicated, only experienced. Aristotle stated that ‘the initiated learned nothing precisely, but they received impressions and were put into a certain frame of mind. Not to learn (mathein) but to suffer (pathein) was the reason for participation in the Eleusinian ritual; and this was exactly the effect of the celebration.’”

Writes Hank Hanegraaff on the Christian Research Institute website:

“While followers of Christ were committed to essential Christian doctrines, devotees of the mysteries worked themselves into altered states of consciousness. They were committed to the notion that experience is a better teacher than words. … Far from being rooted in history and evidence, the mysteries reveled in hype and emotionalism.”


~ Comparing Apples to Oranges ~

Right there we see one of the major differences between those religions and Christianity: sound doctrine.

Certainly, parallel terms existed between Christianity and these mystery religions. But there is little evidence for parallel concepts. For example, all spoke of “salvation.” But what early Christians meant by the term had little in common with what devotees of these mystery religions meant by it.

“The terminological fallacy occurs when words are redefined to prove a point,” clarifies Got Questions Ministries. “For example, the Zeitgeist movie says that Horus [the son of Osiris and Isis] ‘began his ministry,’ but the word ministry is being redefined. Horus had no actual ‘ministry’ — nothing like that of Christ’s ministry. Those claiming a link between Mithra and Jesus talk about the ‘baptism’ that initiated prospects into the Mithra cult, but what was it actually? Mithraic priests would place initiates into a pit, suspend a bull over the pit, and slit the bull’s stomach, covering the initiates in blood and gore. Such a practice bears no resemblance whatsoever to Christian baptism — a person going under water (symbolizing the death of Christ) and then coming back out of the water (symbolizing Christ’s resurrection).”

Mythicists propose that Mithra shared many commonalities with Christ: Both were both birthed from virgins. Both were miracle-working teachers accompanied by 12 disciples. Both died, were buried in tombs, and resurrected three days later for the benefit of the world. And both were hailed as “the way, the truth, and the light.”

Umm…no, not, not even close. #nocopycatzone

In actuality, there were three versions of Mithra — and not one of them left behind ancient writings outlining the cult’s beliefs. Historians have only been able to piece together bits of the religion using second-hand sources and inscriptions. In the Roman version of the cult, Mithra was born not of a virgin, but sprang from a rock. In other versions he was created as an adult. No proof exists that he had disciples, and there’s no evidence of his self-sacrifice. And there is no indication, in any version, that Mithra resurrected.

Neither is there evidence to support their claims that Jesus and the Egyptian god Horus shared these proposed commonalities: 12 disciples, crucifixion between two thieves, and resurrection. We can also blast apart supposed similarities with Krishna, Attis, Dionysus, and other mythic gods.

But jump on YouTube, and you’ll find video after video echoing the false claim that Christianity is a copycat religion. Perhaps the mythicist approach is: “Tell a lie, repeat it, keep asserting that it’s true, and those too lazy to verify our supposed facts will simply believe and help us spread them!”

So why have billions of people chosen to call Jesus, “Lord”? Are they all stupid, hoodwinked sheeple?!

If so, how do we explain when diehard atheists — Josh McDowell, included — become diehard Christians while trying their best to debunk Christianity as a copycat religion? They cite the avalanche of historical evidence that eventually becomes too great for them to ignore. Jesus rises to the top, uniquely original!


~ Three Truths That Show Christianity Isn’t a Copycat ~

Let’s look at just three important truths that nullify the argument that Christianity is a copycat religion.

Jesus: The Only Historically Vetted Religious Figure.

This point is so important! Jesus wasn’t a fabricated character or mythical creature, like Osiris, Adonis, and Attis, but a real person who walked this earth. Historians are largely unanimous in their agreement that Jesus lived, was crucified, and buried. The Gospels, which tell us about the resurrection, go to great lengths to speak to the where, who, and when of Jesus’ ministry. They practically beg readers to check out the historical documentation to prove its truth. Secular historical sources have helped to validate Scripture. And archeologists continue to uncover details that support that biblical details are, indeed, authentic.

Jesus Died Once; Pagan Deities Cyclically Died and Rose Each Year.

The cyclical process of nature is a standard theme of mystery pagan religions. The annual crop cycle depicts the renewal of life each spring, and death each fall. Thus, these religions attached deep symbolic significance to the natural, ongoing process of growth, death, decay, and rebirth. Their deities repeatedly died and rose. But Jesus died only once. He controls nature; He’s not bound by it! The mythical figure Osiris was forced to rule over the land of the dead when he resurrected. Unlike Jesus, he had no power over life.

Christianity is Doggedly Monotheistic.

True to its Jewish roots, Christianity did not accept other gods. Unlike the Gentiles of that era, early Christians strongly resisted pagan ideas. As the early apostles spread the Gospel message, they found themselves not only introducing people to the strange idea of a man risen from the dead, they came face-to-face with a polytheistic culture. Yet they made no accommodation on this front. Christ, alone, they declared, is the Savior of the world. On that point they weren’t going to budge in order to attract followers.


~ The Copycat Claim Just Doesn’t Hold Up ~

We’ve covered a lot of ground here, but I want to reiterate this point: the deities of these pagan religions weren’t real people. They were mythical characters created to explain aspects of everyday life. They’re fun to read about, but they’re not deities worthy of our commitment.

In contrast, Christianity tells the story of Jesus, which history documents as having literally existed, just as the Bible tells us. All during His ministry Jesus said and did things that reinforced His claim that He is the Son of God. When scores of witnesses saw His resurrected form, they believed, and spread the word. The four Gospels, written by His disciples or person who intimately knew them, give us minute details of Christ’s ministry, both before and after His death. We see the heart of God, and what’s important to Him. Chiefly among them: that we would know that He loves us so much that He was willing to be the ultimate sacrificial lamb.

In no way is Jesus like any of the pagan deities to which He is compared. His unique gift to the world: Himself, so that you and I can have a relationship with Him, just as He always intended.

Choosing to give Jesus a chance to prove Himself is really hard for some people. In part because it does take faith to believe that Christ resurrected. And because our increasingly secular society tells us to abhor the concepts of “sin” and “savior” and “sacrifice” and “submission.” And given our societal embrace of all forms of “truth,” many find it really difficult to believe that there is really only one single, universal standard of truth: God.

Jesus a copycat? No way, no how. 

The claim that “Nothing in Christianity is original” — one of the lines penned by author Dan Brown in his fictional tale The Da Vinci Code — can only be claimed by those who don’t yet know Him.

Study the Bible before you jump on the “Jesus is a myth” bandwagon. 🙂

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Is Jesus’ Resurrection Fact? History Weighs in!

jesus resurrection factYou, ultimately, get to decide if the resurrection is fact or fiction. Choose wisely.

In this year-long blog series based on Josh and Sean McDowell’s extensively updated classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, we’re focused on proving to you that the Christian faith is rooted not in fairy tale, but on historical fact that confirms that Jesus lived, was crucified by the Romans, died on the cross, and resurrected.

In this post we’re honing in on four facts that validate His resurrection: the empty tomb, the left-behind grave clothes, post-resurrection appearances by Jesus, and lack of opposing Jewish refutation. If you missed our earlier three posts on the resurrection topic, you can view the first post here.


~ Post-Resurrection Facts ~

The Empty Tomb

Ironically, Jesus’ body was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin — the ruling body of Jews who ensured Jesus’ crucifixion.

It is highly unlikely that the Gospel writers would fabricate this detail, given the hostility the early Christians would have felt toward these Jewish leaders. They must have thought, “How the heck did this happen?!!” But in asking for Jesus’ body, Joseph — a secret follower of Jesus! — put his reputation and social standing in jeopardy to provide Jesus with a proper burial. No common, mass criminal burial for the Son of God!

Assisted by Nicodemus, a fellow member of the Sanhedrin, Joseph helped to fulfill Jewish prophecy about Jesus uttered hundreds of years prior: “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9).

The Gospels also tell us that, among His followers, it was the committed group of women who first noted the empty tomb. The fact that the women brought spices to anoint Jesus’s body clearly shows us that they did not expect Jesus to beat death. But they were surprised to see the stone rolled aside when they reached the tomb.

Why does the testimony of the women help to validate the historical truthfulness of the empty tomb? Because at the time of Jesus, in first-century Mediterranean culture, women weren’t considered credible eyewitnesses, given their low status in the eyes of the people and the courts. One of the women, Mary Magdalene, had been previously possessed of seven demons before Jesus healed her. She, perhaps, would have been viewed as the least reliable witness among them.

The fact that the Gospel writers acknowledge that women — not men — were the first to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection shows us that the writers weren’t interested in embellishing the story to make it more palatable to contemporary readers. (Gals, don’t you love that God refused to be boxed in by cultural norms of the day??!!)

Upon hearing the women’s eyewitness account, Peter and John found their courage and ran to see the empty tomb for themselves. Just as fast word spread that the tomb was, indeed, empty. This common knowledge explains why there is no mention of people continuing to view Jesus’ tomb site as a place of religious worship, though the practice was common at tombs of other prophets and holy persons in Jesus’ time.

Imagine the consternation among the Jewish authorities! Here they thought they’d rid themselves of the Jesus “problem,” but the “problem” refused to quietly go away! Ironically, these Jewish leaders knew, from the eyewitness accounts of the terrified soldiers, that a supernatural resurrection had occurred. Yet they stubbornly refused to acknowledge and receive Christ as their long-awaited Messiah.

Their flimsy story about the disciples stealing Jesus’ dead body might have held up if Jesus wasn’t repeatedly seen, in full possession of His mind and body, meeting with people. Jesus was not only alive; He was Risen! Those who acknowledged this truth responded!


~ The Grave Clothes ~

The Bible tells us that the disciples Peter and John were the first to spot the abandoned burial clothes:

At that, Peter and the other disciple went out, heading for the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and got to the tomb first. Stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying there, yet he did not go in. Then, following him, Simon Peter came also. He entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. The wrapping that had been on his head was not lying with the linen cloths but was folded up in a separate place by itself. The other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, then entered the tomb, saw, and believed.  ~ John 20:3-9

Have you ever wondered why Jesus’ grave clothes were left behind? It’s such an interesting detail, right?

If grave robbers took Jesus’ body, what would be their purpose in laboriously removing the spices-laden burial clothes (75 pounds of myrrh and aloes, per the Bible) from Jesus’ lifeless, mutilated body? Body snatching isn’t a leisurely activity — it’s a clandestine “Snatch and dash, before we get caught” activity!

The left-behind grave clothes, then, serve as yet one more detail, clearly orchestrated by God, that factually support the truth of the resurrection.


~ Numerous Appearances by Jesus ~

The Bible is silent on where Jesus nabbed a fresh robe (minor detail, people!), but it tells us 12 distinct instances in which Jesus appeared to individuals or groups of people (critical details!) after He rose:

  1. Mary Magdalene: see John 20:11-18 — saw, heard, touched Jesus
  2. Women leaving the tomb: see Matthew 28:8-10 — saw, heard, touched Jesus
  3. Emmaus disciples: see Luke 24:13-19 — talked with Jesus
  4. Simon Peter: see Luke 24:34 and 1 Corinthians 15:5 — saw, heard Jesus
  5. Disciples without Thomas: see Luke 24:36-43 — saw, heard, touched, Jesus ate with them
  6. Disciples with Thomas: see John 20:24-29 — saw, heard, touched, saw wounds of Jesus
  7. Disciples at the Sea of Galilee: see John 21 — saw, touched, Jesus cooks for them
  8. Disciples on a mountain in Galilee: see Matthew 28:16-17 — saw, heard Jesus
  9. Disciples: Luke 24:50-52 — saw, heard Jesus
  10. 500 believers: 1 Corinthians 15:6 — saw, heard Jesus
  11. James (Jesus’ half-brother): 1 Corinthians 15:7 — saw, heard Jesus
  12. Paul: Acts 9:3-6 — saw, heard Jesus

To both the women and the disciples, Jesus appeared in a physical, resurrected body — not in a spirit form lacking physical matter, as the “lost” Gnostic gospels would have us believe. The disciples touched Jesus’ wounds, spoke with Him, and even ate with Him. There was no way the disciples would later be convinced that they were merely hallucinating. Because they interacted with Jesus in the flesh, they were able to fully support the claim that Jesus lived.

Yet some critics choose to dilute the power of the resurrection by suggesting that it does not depend on what happened to Jesus’ body. Wrong! Jesus was not just a spirit, and the term “resurrection” is not just a figure of speech. Jesus appeared to his disciples in His human body, though it now possessed supernatural attributes. Jesus could, for example, appear and disappear at will.


~ No Opposing Jewish Refutation ~

The Jewish leaders could not adequately explain the empty tomb!

From our modern perspective it appears that they fumbled the ball in coming up with a good rebuttal. Seriously? The best they could do was suggest and spread the fictitious tale that the disciples took Jesus’ body?

But don’t miss this interesting fact: at no time do we have record of any disciple, when arrested and disciplined by the Jewish authorities, being charged with grave robbery. The silence of the Jewish authorities is as significant as the testimony of the early Christians that Jesus lived.

The church was founded on the resurrection; disproving it would have destroyed the whole Christian movement. Yet the Jewish authorities focused their efforts on post-event intimidation: threatening, beating, flogging, imprisoning, and even killing the disciples when they refused to give up their faith!


~ Jesus’ Resurrection: the Core of Christian Belief ~

The bottom line: The world-changing impact of the empty tomb can’t be underestimated — not in Jesus’ time and not in ours.

Apologist Sean McDowell puts it this way:

Christianity was a movement begun by Jews in Jerusalem not because they were all tired of Judaism and wanted to invent something new. It was birthed because they experienced such a life-changing experience interacting with Christ. No evidence exists that the earliest Christians considered the resurrection secondary; rather, the centrality of the resurrection in the earliest creeds, which pre-date the New Testament books (for example, Romans 1:3-4, 4:24-25; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 1 Corinthians 15:3-7) shows just the opposite — that the resurrection, its historical reality, itself grounded faith in Jesus as Messiah.

Let’s remember that the disciples in the Gospel accounts were slow to believe that Jesus was alive. They are not portrayed as poster children of amazing faith. That, my friends, is believable; the disciples experienced the same issues of faith that you and I face! 

Will you choose to believe in Christ’s resurrection? For you, is it fact or fiction?

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Making Apologetics Personal: A Quick Lesson from John 4

[Original post by Sean McDowell found here]

 

It’s no secret that I love apologetics. I love to read apologetics blogs, study apologetics books, and have apologetics conversations.

But there is a constant temptation I have to battle that I believe is common among many apologists: the temptation to simply study apologetics but not put it into practice.

Let me state something clearly up front so I am not misunderstood: Studying apologetics has tremendous value in its own right. After all, learning how to defend the faith can bring both clarity and confidence in God and Scripture.

Nevertheless, apologetics does not primarily have an inward focus in the life of the believer. It has an outward focus aimed at graciously answering tough questions that trouble both believers and non-believers in their understanding of God and salvation (e.g., 1 Pet. 3:15; Jude 3).

So, why would someone study apologetics but never put it into use?

There are probably a myriad of reasons. But I suspect one reason is that its much easier, and more comfortable, to discuss apologetic matters in the abstract. It is less risky to debate the age of the earth or presuppositionalism with a fellow believer than to discuss the evidence for the resurrection with a non-believer. After all, what is there to lose in an “in-house” discussion? As easy and tempting as this can become, Jesus took another route.

Jesus obviously knew the Scriptures well and was eager to discuss them. But he regularly puts his knowledge into practice. In John 4, for instance, Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well. Wanting to keep religion as an abstract matter, she raises the question as to whether one should worship in Jerusalem or Samaria. Yet Jesus declined to entertain the question merely as a theoretical exercise. He made the issue personal by discussing her five husbands and how God wants her to worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24).

My point is not that we should necessarily confront other people in their sin, as Jesus did in John 4. There is a time and place for that, as Scripture teaches (e.g., Matt 18:15-20). Rather, my point is that we apologists must not solely remain in the realm of speculative discussion—we need to “get in the game” and find a way to apply apologetics to life. The greater point of apologetics is not simply to learn the material for its own sake, but for the sake of changing lives.

Jesus refused to keep religious issues entirely in the abstract. He made them personal. And so should we.

Pastor Dan Kimball wrote an insightful (and convicting) chapter in Apologetics for a New Generation called “A New Kind of Apologist.” He tells the story of how apologetics played a key role in his conversion to Christianity. As a new Christian, Dan was eager to share his faith, so he quickly began to immerse himself in apologetics. He read books, went to conferences, watched videos, studied debates, and more. But ironically, he noticed a disturbing trend: The more he studied apologetics the less he was really doing apologetics and evangelism. In other words, his study of apologetics actually drove him further away from the practice of it.

Fortunately Dan noticed this trend early in his journey and did a 180. As a pastor, he still studies apologetics, and writes apologetics-related books, but always with an eye for how he can apply it to life and ministry. Like Jesus in his conversation with the woman at the well, Dan refuses to keep apologetics in the theoretical realm. He wants to make it personal. And this is what I try to do as well.

How about you?

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.


Resurrection of Jesus: Pre-Resurrection Facts

resurrectionThe resurrection of Jesus is critical to the Christian faith; without it, we don’t have much of a foundation for believing that Jesus was and is God. #lightinthedarkness

Yet the resurrection is one of the hot topics of Christianity. Skeptics argue it’s not provable. But is that true? Let’s look at some important pre-resurrection facts that say otherwise.


Jesus’ Death Certified

The Romans were master executioners. Their go-to form of killing those they deemed to be criminals? Crucifixion. The Romans were the principle utilizers of this barbaric form of torture for more than five centuries. They apparently learned the practice from the Carthaginians, then rapidly developed a high degree of efficiency and skill in using it. By the time of Jesus, we could say they had perfected it.

Why is it important to stress that they were experts at it? Because some critics (and even writers of the “lost” Gnostic gospels) assert that Jesus wasn’t really dead when He was removed from the cross. The suggestions is that Jesus merely “fainted.” 

Sorry, no; both Biblical and secular historical accounts say He was dead. In fact, the soldiers did not have to break Jesus’ legs to speed up His death, as was customary with crucifixions. By piercing His side with a sword, they confirmed His death. Pontius Pilate even asked for confirmation of Jesus’ death. So a centurion confirmed Jesus’s death before allowing Joseph of Arimathea to take possession of Jesus’ body for burial.

Is it possible to be horribly tortured by flogging, then crucified, and yet live?

There is only one example, in the writings of the Roman historian Josephus, of a person surviving crucifixion. Josephus does not tell us how long his “former acquaintance” hung on the cross, or whether he, like Jesus, endured forty torturous lashes prior to being nailed to the cross. Josephus tells us only that he was able to get this person taken off his cross while still alive, and that Josephus ensured that the man received the best medical care that Rome could provide. Two other men crucified with him also were taken down and given expert medical care, but they both died.


Historical Context for Jewish Burial Practices

The time that would lapse between death and burial was quite short. Typically, burial took place on the day of death or, if death occurred at the end of the day or during the night, the following day. Joseph of Arimathea, who bravely asked Pilate for Jesus’ body, seems to have been motivated by a concern for the observance of the Jewish law — which dictates that a body be buried within 24 hours. However, Jewish law prohibits burial on the Sabbath and festivals. So Jesus had to be buried before sundown on Friday; waiting until after sundown on Saturday would have exceeded the 24-hour time limit. Scholars confirm that the details recorded by biblical writers are consistent with known customs and normal practices of that time and place.

Some critics argue that the Romans did not allow crucified criminals to be buried. Not so, say historians. Nor is there anything irregular about the Gospels’ report that a member of the Sanhedrin requested permission to give Jesus a proper burial in keeping with Jewish burial practices.

Paul confirms the burial story in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. There is conclusive evidence that Paul drew from material predating his writing that can be traced to within three to eight years of Christ’s death. The burial is told in a simple and straightforward manner, and no conflicting tradition about the burial story exists. Nor are there early documents that refute the burial story as presented in the Gospels. It is highly unlikely that Christians invented the story of Joseph of Arimathea burying Jesus’ body, as some critics assert. Why would early Christians make a hero of a member of the very court responsible for Jesus’ death?


First Century Tombs and Archeology/Joseph’s Tomb

Archeology has provided helpful insight into the tombs in and around first-century Jerusalem. Scholarly and public attention has focused almost exclusively on the rock-cut tombs that surround the ancient city of Jerusalem. Most of Jerusalem’s rock-cut tombs are not display tombs, but relatively modest, with an undecorated entrance and a single burial chamber with a loculi. Because of the expense associated with hewing a burial cave into bedrock, only the wealthier members of Jerusalem’s population could afford rock-cut tombs.

The Stone

What kind of stone was placed at the entrance to Jesus’ burial tomb? Square stones were commonly used in Jesus’ time to seal cave tomb entrances. They fit much like a cork in a bottle: one end of the blocking stone stone fit snugly into the entrance while the other end, like the top of a cork, was somewhat larger on the outside.

But three of the four Gospel writers say the stone was “rolled back,” implying that the stone was round. Writes archeologist Amos Kloner: “Of the more than 900 burial caves from the Second Temple period found in and around Jerusalem, only four are known to have used disc-shaped (round) blocking stones. … The handful of round blocking stones from Jerusalem in this period are large, at least four feet in diameter. They occur only in the more elaborate cave tombs, which had at least two rooms or, as in one case, a spacious hall.”

Don’t miss this point: Our Lord was buried in a grave created for a person of significance. God’s hand was even in that detail!

Scholars believe the massive stone, estimated to have weighed between 1.5 and 2 tons, could be rolled down a slanted grove to cover the entrance. Although it would be easy to close the tomb, it would take several men to roll the heavy stone away from the entrance to remove or steal the body. The large stone would have provided additional security at Jesus’ gravesite, which the Jewish authorities wanted, to ensure that Jesus’ disciples couldn’t easily steal His body.

The Guard

The Gospel of Matthew (27:62-66) provides the context and narrative for the requesting and posting of the guard. As the passage shows, the Pharisees and chief priests clearly do not believe Jesus will resurrect from the dead. Rather, their motivation for requesting the guard was to deter the disciples from making the claim that He resurrected on the third day.

Were the guards Jewish temple guards or Roman soldiers? Writes New Testament scholar Michael Wilkins, “Since they had no authority to post guards around a burial site of a criminal executed by Roman authorities, the religious officials had to ask Pilate for a contingent of guards. … The Jewish officials were not allowed to use the troops except for the purposes the Roman governor authorized. This explains why the guards will later go to the temple authorities to report Jesus’ resurrection rather than to Pilate himself.”

Too, if the guards were Jewish, they would not have been worried about Roman punishment for failing to keep Jesus’ body secure in the tomb. 

Matthew’s Gospel (28:2-4, 11-15) states that guards’ great fear and their effort to get help in order to account for the missing body. The narrative of the Gospel is impressive: seeing the angel of the Lord roll back the stone on that Sunday morning was so frightening that it caused the highly trained soldiers to become “like dead men.” They knew they were about to face extreme punishment, if not death, from their superiors for failing to keep the body entombed. But their necks were saved when the guards and Jewish authorities collaborated — each for their own vested purposes.

The Jewish authorities had only two choices open to them: admit that Jesus rose, or peg the disciples as looters of His body. Have you ever wondered, as I have, why Jesus didn’t also appear to the Jewish leaders? Or maybe He did, but the Gospel writers weren’t privy to the details of the visit. Still, as vested as the Jewish leaders were on keeping to their version of the truth, it probably wouldn’t have mattered if Jesus appeared to them in His risen form, right? 


~ Jesus Rose!  ~

Jesus claimedDid the historical Jesus live and die? Absolutely. Did Jesus die on the cross? Absolutely. Was Jesus’ body buried in a tomb before it went missing? Absolutely. Did Jesus resurrect and interact with both crowds of people and his beloved disciples? The Bible says yes — and we get to choose whether or not we believe it.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ disciples quickly desert Jesus during His arrest, and remain largely in hiding during His trial, execution, and in the early days following His resurrection. Can you say, “Jesus picked some big chickens?”

Without Jesus, the disciples become dejected, and lose direction and focus. Some even return to the work they did before Jesus called them. Others, hiding behind locked doors, are paralyzed by their fear. But then…..BAM! #postgravevisit

There’s no getting around the fact that something incredible motivated Jesus’ disciples, strengthening their faith and transforming them from quaking cowards to roaring lions! From unfocused to wholeheartedly focused on sharing the good news of Christ’s resurrection — even as these disciples recognize that their own death may be the penalty. (Scripture, by the way, does tell us that all but the disciple John were martyred for their faith in Jesus.)

Their encounter with the Risen Jesus? #lifechanging #lightinthedarkness #noturningback #alltheway 

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Resurrection of Jesus: Code Critical

Resurrection of Jesus CriticalDoes His Resurrection Really Matter?

Heck, yeah! More than puppies, and chocolate, and glorious sunsets — or whatever it is that grabs your heart and stops you in your tracks.

If Jesus didn’t rise, we have no foundation for our faith. And if we’re gullibly basing our lives on a fairytale, we sure are wasting a lot of time trying to resemble a person who had the crazy idea He was God!

I personally have no doubt that Jesus is the Risen Son of God, though it took me years before I finally stopped asking every “But….What if….How” question my mind could dream up. Thank God I finally released my grasp on needing every T crossed and every I dotted before I could step out in faith!

So I totally “get” that some people still can’t quite wrap their heads or hearts around the cross and resurrection. And I’m not just talking about nonbelievers. We church-goers have issues, too.

Case in point: a Christian friend recently admitted to me that she’s “okay” with God — mostly because she sees Him as safely distant — but that she still can’t trust the whole “Jesus loves us so much that He had to die thing” because it feels way too personal. But no judgment here: I, too, was stuck in that mindset for years! I wanted no part of the pain and shame of the cross — until the day I finally fell in love with the sacrificial love it represents.

So this resurrection thing: Let’s define it, and chat briefly about why it is Code Critical that Jesus lived, died, AND resurrected, just as He promised He would.


~ What is Resurrection? ~

What, exactly, do we mean by “resurrection“? Are we understanding the term in the same way that people living at the time of Jesus did?

In his groundbreaking historical analysis of the resurrection, leading bible scholar and theologian N. T. Wright explains how the word was used and meant to persons living in the ancient world, whether or not they believed in the possibility of it:

This basic tenet of human existence and experience is accepted as axiomatic throughout the ancient world; once people have gone by the road of death, they do not return. … “Resurrection” was not one way of describing what death consisted of. It was a way of describing something everyone knew did not happen: the idea that death could be reversed, undone, could (as it were) work backwards. Not even in myth was it permitted.

For Wright to point out that “not even in myth was it permitted” emphasizes the uniqueness of the resurrection of Christ in an ancient world that accepted so many startling supernatural events in its stories. Wright points out that various ancient cultures all knew what the word meant, but there was no consensus regarding its reality. Pagans, Jews, and Christians, he shares, all understood the Greek word anastasis. “Some Jews affirmed it as a long-term future hope; virtually all Christians claimed that it had happened to Jesus and would happen to them in the future,” adds Wright. “‘Resurrection’ meant embodiment; that was equally so for the pagans who denied it.”

In both the Old and New Testaments, at least ten individuals were raised from the dead. In the Old Testament people were raised by the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The New Testament records that Jesus, Peter, and Paul raised people from the dead. But were they resurrected like Christ? No. When viewed through the lens of Christ’s resurrection, we’d have to say they were merely resuscitated.

They lived out the remainder of their lives in the same ho-hum human bodies in which they had been birthed. Jesus was resurrected with a body that was recognizably His own, yet radically transformed. The quality of their resurrection pales in comparison to the resurrection Jesus experienced.


~ The Significance of the Resurrection ~

So why is Jesus’ resurrection so important to Christianity?

Because if Jesus was *just* a good teacher, and not our Risen Savior, nothing about our faith really matters.

Christ’s empty tomb was a necessary condition for the specific way in which the early Christians understood the event. That is, as an actual, historical event. Had Jesus’ body remained in the tomb, the early Christians would not have considered Jesus resurrected. Apologist Norman Geisler puts it like this:

If Christ did not rise in the same physical body that was placed in the tomb, then the resurrection loses its value as an evidential proof of His claims to be God (John 8:58; 10:30). The resurrection cannot verify Jesus’ claims to be God unless He was resurrected in the body in which He was crucified. That body was a literal, physical body. Unless Jesus rose in a material body, there is no way to verify His resurrection. It loses its historically persuasive value. The truth of Christianity is based on the bodily resurrection of Christ.

Adds philosopher Douglas Groothuis:

Of all the world’s religions Christianity alone purports to be based on the resurrection of its divine founder. No other religion or worldview makes such an audacious and consequential claim. … The resurrection of Jesus is at the center of the Christian worldview and Christian devotion. The Gospels do not end with the death of Jesus but speak of an empty tomb, of His appearances, and of a commission by the risen Jesus.

As Paul asserts in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, without the resurrection we lose redemption for our sin, and we lose all hope that life extends past our final exhale of breath. Paul concludes that, “If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.” How foolish, indeed, to align ourselves with Christ, if His claims about His deity hadn’t been confirmed by eyewitnesses.

As the late Pinchas Lapide, an orthodox Jew and Israeli historian, said:

Without the experience of the resurrection, the crucifixion of Jesus would most likely have remained without consequences and forgotten, just as were the innumerable crucifixions of pious Jews which the Romans carried out before Jesus, during the lifetime of Jesus, and up until the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70….Thus the Christian faith stands and falls not with Golgotha, the infamous “place of the skull,” where thousands of Jesus’ brothers were murdered cruelly by Roman mercenaries, but with the experience “on the third day” after the crucifixion, an experience which was able to defuse, to refute, and even to make meaningful this death on the cross for the community of disciples.


~ Do Discrepancies Invalidate The Resurrection? ~

Some people have an aversion to believing in Christ’s resurrection because they see that the New Testament narratives do not match each other 100 percent. They conclude that these “discrepancies” indicate that the Gospels are largely made-up stories.

Yet scholars argue that it is the minor differences in the tellings of the Gospel story that indicate authenticity, not substantial error. Says philosopher Douglas Groothuis, “If each account perfectly mirrored the rest, this would likely be a sign of collusion, not accurate history told from differing (but equally truthful) perspectives.

Retired Los Angeles Police Department cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace, a former atheist turned apologist who is a recognized authority in evaluating eyewitness testimony, asserts:

If there’s one thing that my experience as a detective has revealed, it’s that witnesses often make conflicting and inconsistent statements when describing what they saw at a crime scene. They frequently disagree with one another and either fail to see something obvious or describe the same event in a number of conflicting ways. The more eyewitnesses involved in the case, the more likely there will be points of disagreement.

Wallace adds that any “discrepancies” in the Gospels are simply divergent recollections that can be pieced together to get a complete picture of what occurred.

Mark, he shares, is far more passionate and active in his choice of adjectives. Three of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) contain blocks of identical or nearly identical descriptions, perhaps because of common agreement of important parts of the narrative. But John’s account attempts to fill in the details not offered by the prior witnesses. John makes little effort to cover the same familiar ground.

Wallace’s point: small discrepancies need not line up perfectly, as long as the overall story of Jesus’ resurrection holds together.

Scholars haven’t relied solely on the Gospel tellings of the resurrection. A historical approach to scholarly research, you see, examines witnesses living at the time of an event, or living soon enough after it to hear firsthand accounts. Scholars have scoured the written testimony of early church leaders — among them Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Justin Martyr — to capture their view of the resurrection.

Here’s the gist: Clement focuses upon familiar daily and seasonal happenings (the rising and setting of the sun; the crop cycle) as parallels of Jesus’ resurrection and the future resurrection we shall each experience. Ignatius speaks of the resurrection as a permanent source of inner strength. Polycarp, in his Letter to the Philippians, encourages believers to endure persecution in view of the power of the resurrection. And Justin Martyr reminds believers that because of the resurrection, our spirits will live on for eternity, even as our earthly bodies become dust.


~ Living Out the Resurrection ~

Christians are thankful that Jesus shared His teachings while He yet lived. But it is because of His resurrection that we can raise the roof with heartfelt worship. If just a man, we could credit Jesus only with being an amazing spiritual leader. But if we claim Him to be the resurrected Son of God, we can entrust to Him our messy lives — and our future hope of hanging out with Him forever. Stand back, angels; God’s people are gonna rock the house!

As we wait for that day, however, let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground and model the same sacrificial love that Jesus showed us. In closing, I want to leave you an excerpt from Max Lucado’s lovely book, Facing Your Giants:

Who is a mediator but one who stands in between? And what did Christ do but stand in between God’s anger and our punishment? Christ intercepted the wrath of heaven. Something remotely similar happened at the Chungkai camp. One evening after work detail, a Japanese guard announced that a shovel was missing. The officer kept the Allies in formation, insisting that someone had stolen it. Screaming in broken English, he demanded that the guilty man step forward. He shouldered his rifle, ready to kill one prisoner at a time until a confession was made. A Scottish soldier broke ranks, stood stiffly at attention, and said, “I did it.” The officer unleashed his anger and beat the man to death. When the guard was finally exhausted, the prisoners packed up the man’s body and their tools and returned to camp. Only then were the shovels recounted. The Japanese soldier had made a mistake. No shovel was missing after all.

Who does that? What kind of person would take the blame for something he didn’t do? When you find the adjective, attach it to Jesus. Christ lived the life we could not live and took the punishment we could not take to offer the hope we cannot resist. His sacrifice begs us to ask this question: if He so loved us, can we not love each other? Having been forgiven, can we not forgive? Having feasted at the table of grace, can we not share a few crumbs? 

“Get” it? Cool! Now go SHARE it!

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Why Does God Allow Evil? Author Interview for Groundbreaking Book.

[Original post by Sean McDowell found here]

 

Dr. Clay Jones is one of my colleagues in the Biola Apologetics M.A. program. Although he has been teaching and thinking about the problem of evil for decades, he has just released a new book: Why Does God Allow Evil? Here is my endorsement that made the back cover of the book: “If you are looking for one book to make sense of the problem of evil, this book is for you.”

I plan to use this book very soon with a group of high school students. And it will now be the top book that I recommend on this subject (along with If God, Why Evil by Norman Geisler and The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis).

Professor Jones was kind enough to answer some of my questions regarding the problem of evil and what unique contribution his book makes. Check out the brief interview and then consider getting a copy of his outstanding book:

 

SEAN MCDOWELLThere are many books on the problem of evil. What makes your new book unique?

CLAY JONES: Craig Hazen, the founder of Biola’s MA in Christian apologetics said it well, “In this book, Clay Jones actually answers the question ‘Why Does God Allow Evil?’ So many books on the topic don’t give an answer. Hence, this is a breath of fresh air. There is a bonus too. In his answer to the question Jones gives a full-arc presentation of the gospel. I’ve seen even seasoned Christians awaken to the depths of the gospel for the first time in response to Jones’s material.” Indeed, so many books on the problem of evil conclude only with a “I guess we’ll find out in heaven” kind of answer, but I contend that the Bible tells us why God allows evil.

 

MCDOWELLWhat do you think most Christians fail to grasp about why God may allow evil?

JONES: In the 1980s, I began to seriously study what God had done for us as Christians now and the glory that God had in store for us for our eternities. Later I began to study the lost state that we were in before we came to Christ. In other words, I started to study the depths of human depravity.

Most Christians don’t understand these things deeply and that’s a problem not only for understanding why God allows evil, but for understanding much of what the Lord is doing in the universe. As the renowned Bible expositor D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Most of our troubles are due to the fact that we are guilty of a double failure; we fail on the one hand to realize the depth of sin, and on the other hand we fail to realize the greatness and the height and the glory of our salvation.” Lloyd-Jones is exactly right.

 

MCDOWELLYou have studied the problem of evil for decades. How has your perspective changed over time?

JONES: My perspective hasn’t really changed from the 1980s—it has intensified. As I’ve continued to study the horror of human rebellion, the nature and value of free will, and the glory that awaits us in heaven for ever, I appreciated the significance of those teachings ever more fully. Some Christian truths like Roman’s 3:20, “there is no one who does good, no not one” are counter-intuitive to even many Christians. But those intuitions are mistaken. We need to revolve certain ideas in our minds until we find them not only worthy of intellectual assent but emotionally compelling. That’s what my study has done in my own life.

 

MCDOWELLWhat is the most powerful response for believers to use when skeptics raise the problem of evil?

JONES: When talking with a skeptic I focus on three things. First, my book thoroughly documents that humans aren’t good, and we need to argue that point with skeptics. I point out to skeptics that every genocide researcher I’ve ever read and even every genocide victim I’ve ever read concludes that it is the average member of a population that commits genocide. That tells us there is something terribly wrong with humankind and skeptics really don’t have an answer for this.

Well, if humans really aren’t good, then the question “why do bad things happen to good people” is moot from the start. I also point out the free will entails being able to use your free will wrongly—that’s as logical at it gets. Finally, I point out that eternity will dwarf our suffering to insignificance. I have found great success in arguing these points with skeptics.

 

MCDOWELLWhat motivated you to spend so much time reading, thinking, teaching, and writing on this topic?

JONES: I’ve found that it not only answers the question “why does God allow evil?” it also explains most of what God’s doing in the universe and what our own lives are about. For me, studying the problem of evil is studying the whole of Christian doctrine because it is all related and that’s life-changing.

 

MCDOWELLWhat is the biggest truth missing from the typical argument against the problem of evil?

JONES: The biggest lack in the typical discussion regarding “why does God allow evil?” is a focus on the eternal. I’ve read a lot of books on the subject and most of them barely nod at eternity playing a part in our answering the question. But C.S. Lewis was right: “Scripture and tradition habitually put the joys of heaven into the scale against the sufferings of earth, and no solution of the problem of pain that does not do so can be called a Christian one.” But it is much more than answering the problem of evil,a failure to understand the glory that awaits the Christian for eternity hurts Christians in many other ways. That’s why I spend three chapters on eternity in my book. We need to do Colossians 3:1-4!

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.


Resurrection of Jesus: Hoax or Truth?

Resurrection of JesusWhy the Resurrection Matters.

Christians believe the resurrection is true, and that historical accounts of it have provided adequate evidence to certify it as a real event.

Why is the resurrection so important? Because without it, our faith has no basis.

The apostle Paul suspends the weight of Christianity on this single thread: If Jesus has not been raised, then our faith is worthless; and we are to be pitied above all men (1 Corinthians 15).

Fortunately, heaps of historical evidence does support Jesus’ claim that He would beat death. 

Most scholars don’t disagree that Jesus was an actual historical person crucified by the Romans. What some take issue with are the supernatural and theological implications of the resurrection. These skeptics have spent considerable time coming up with naturalistic (anti-supernatural) theories to try to explain the known facts surrounding the resurrection. Some deny the resurrection outright, by selective use of facts or redefining facts to give a misdiagnosis of the events. (By the way, if you’re unclear about the difference between Christ’s resurrection and those He raised from the dead, read this short post by Sean McDowell.)

Let’s look at just three of these alternate theories: the Apparent Death (Swoon) Theory, the Theft (Conspiracy) Theory, and the Hallucination Theory, to determine if they explain away the resurrection.


~ Apparent Death Theory ~

This theory, which emerged in the late 1700s and evolved through various liberal German theologians, posits that Jesus did not die on the cross, but only appeared to die. A modern version of this theory was popularized in The Passover Plot, a 1960s book by Hugh Schonfield.

Details of the Theory
This theory states that Jesus merely fainted on the cross, from pain, shock, and loss of blood. He was removed from the cross, alive but unconscious, and placed in the tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish leadership. Jesus supposedly revived at some point, in part because of the coolness of the tomb. Despite not having access to desperately needed medical care and nourishment, Jesus then supposedly managed to unwrap His dressings by Himself and then, in the total darkness of the tomb, locate and roll away the mammoth stone that sealed the tomb entrance. And then, still unnoticed by the guards, Jesus supposedly walked a significant distance, on feet punctured by the cross nails, to rejoin His disciples and declare Himself the risen Lord.

Response
Serious scholars don’t support this theory because it fails to account for the known facts. Evidence, both historical and medical, argues against the possibility of survival. We have at least ten reasons to be confident that Jesus did, in fact, die on the cross:

  • The nature of His injuries. He was brutally whipped, beaten, and crowned with deep thorns, all of which resulted in enormous blood loss and tissue damage. He collapsed while carrying His cross beam (approximate weight to be believed around 100 pounds) to the crucifixion site.
  • The nature of crucifixion virtually guarantees death from asphyxiation. In an attempt to bolster their view, skeptics cite the historian Josephus, who describes an extremely rare case in which one person survived crucifixion, overlooking the fact that his account describes three crucifixion victims who were alive when taken down, but two of which died shortly thereafter, despite receiving excellent Roman medical care.
  • The piercing of Jesus’ side, from which came “blood and water” (John 19:34), indicating serum separated from clotted blood, gives medical evidence that Jesus had already died.
  • Jesus said He was in the act of dying while on the cross: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
  • The Roman soldiers, well trained executioners, were charged with making sure He was dead before taken off the cross. When they went to break Jesus’ legs, to hasten His death, they found Him already dead.
  • Pilate summoned the centurion to make sure Jesus was, indeed, dead before surrendering the body to Joseph for burial.
  • Jesus’ body was wrapped in about a hundred pounds of cloth and spices, and placed in a tomb that was sealed with a massive stone. From inside the tomb, Jesus would have had no way to leverage the stone to roll it away, let alone push it back enough to slip past it.
  • Medical experts who have studied the circumstances surrounding the end of Jesus’ life have concluded that He did actually die on the cross, most likely from a combination of factors: hypovolemic shock, exhaustion asphyxia, and even acute heart failure.
  • Non-Christian historians from the 1st and 2nd centuries, such as Tacitus and Josephus, recorded Jesus’s death in their writings.
  • The earliest Christian writers after the time of Christ, such as Polycarp and Ignatius, verify that Jesus died on the cross.

In his article, A Lawyer Examines The Swoon Theory, Texas attorney Joseph “Rick” Reinckens satirically unpacks this theory. Just a snippet:

“Jesus has been whipped, beaten and stabbed, is hemorrhaging, and hasn’t had any food or drink for at least three days. Does He just push the stone open enough to squeeze through? No, He pushes the stone door COMPLETELY out of the way!!!”

The theory asserts that Jesus got past the guards undetected — and then somehow traveled seven miles to Emmaus, to rejoin His disciples. Again, let’s look at Jesus’ physical condition, to decide if this sounds feasible:

  • Jesus would have had nothing to eat or drink for more than two days, as it has been over 48 hours since the Passover meal.
  • Jesus would have been severely dehydrated from losing massive amount of blood and fluids.
  • Jesus’ entire body would have been a pulpy mess, because of the severe beatings and scourging by the Roman guards.
  • The gaping wound in His side, from being pierced by the Roman guard’s sword, would have likely perforated a lung and/or Jesus’ heart.
  • Jesus crumpled under the weight of the crossbeam as He made His way to the crucifixion site. Yet now He manages to roll aside a tomb stone that scholars estimate weighed more than 400 pounds?

If Jesus had managed to get Himself to His disciples, are we to believe that they viewed Him, in His near-death state, to be their triumphant, risen Lord? And consider this: if Jesus had survived the crucifixion, why would His disciples create the idea of His resurrection? Would they not have thumbed their noses at Rome more by simply stating that Rome’s best efforts at torture were no limit to Jesus, the man and Messiah from Galilee?

If it crossed your mind that Jesus could have healed Himself in the tomb — as historical records tell us that He healed so many others — ask yourself why He would do so. If He didn’t die, His own predictions about Himself were untrue. If He didn’t die, His promises to us are, as Paul states, worthless. Would any of us follow Jesus if we thought Him a liar and fake? I certainly wouldn’t. 


~ Theft Theory ~

The oldest of the naturalistic alternative theories, this theory comes in different forms. The first form is that the disciples stole the body from the sealed and guarded tomb, and conspired to teach that Jesus had resurrected. The second form is that grave robbers stole the body, and when Jesus’ disciples discovered the theft, they decided to tell everyone that He resurrected.

The great historian Eusebius (A.D. 314-318) was the first to argue that it is inconceivable that such a well-planned and thought-out conspiracy could succeed. Eusebius satirically imagined how the disciples might have motivated each other to take this route:

Let us band together to invent all the miracles and resurrection appearances which we never saw and let us carry the sham even to death! Why not die for nothing? Why dislike torture and whipping inflicted for no good reason? Let us go out to all the nations and overthrow their institutions and denounce their gods! And even if we don’t convince anybody, at least we’ll have the satisfaction of drawing down on ourselves the punishment for our own deceit.

Details of the Theory
This theory originates back to the time of the resurrection itself. It was first recorded by Matthew (28:11-55), when the chief priests told the Roman guards to concoct the story that Jesus’ disciples had stolen His body while they slept. (Hmm….how would they know that, if they were asleep?) Justin Martyr also recorded this early theory in his writings around AD 165, as does Tertullian, who was born in AD 150. One of the leading proponents of this theory today is mythicist Richard Carrier, who believes the resurrection to be an invention later adopted as church doctrine.

Richard Carrier’s Empty Tomb Hypothesis
Theory #1: Growth of a Later Legend
Carrier believes the most probable and plausible cause of the empty tomb story presented in the Gospels is that over time a legend grew that Jesus did, in fact, physically rise, not just spiritually. Carrier himself believes that Jesus was raised bodily, but that His earthly body continued to rot in its tomb.

He also believes that Mark created the idea of the empty tomb, which Luke and Matthew then copied in their Gospels. Mark, he asserts, viewed the empty tomb as symbolic, not historic. He further asserts that several parallels exist between Mark’s gospel and Orphic doctrines, and that “Mark’s empty tomb story mimics the secret salvation narratives of the Orphic mysteries, substituting Jewish-Messianic eschatology for the pagan elements.”

Carrier also suggests that Mark employs a “Reversal of Expectation” motif. This is the idea that what the reader is expecting to happen in the narrative is suddenly reversed by the author in order to surprise and confound the audience. Carrier states:

The parables of Jesus are also full of the reversal of expectation theme, and Mark appears to agree with the program of concealing the truth behind parables. And so, the empty tomb is probably itself a parable, which accordingly employs a reversal of expectation as its theme. … This program leads him to “create” thematic events that thwart the reader’s expectation, and an empty tomb is exactly the sort of thing an author would invent to serve that aim.

Carrier adds:

What I have presented so far is an articulation of my theory as to the origins of the empty tomb story, first as a metaphor in Mark, then as an inspiring element in the development of a Christian heresy that took the empty tomb as literal, using it to bolster their own doctrine of resurrection of the flesh. That this heresy became the eventual orthodoxy is simply an accident of history and politics.

Response
First, the idea that the empty tomb is a late invention layered over the Christian system one or two generations later completely ignores the evidence that the church, from its inception, preached the risen Jesus. And this teaching took place in Jerusalem, the very site of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

Theory #2: Theft
Carrier puts forth this second theory: that Jesus was put in the tomb on Friday, but that the Roman guards weren’t posted until Saturday morning, giving robbers or disciples plenty of time to steal Jesus’ body. He also suggests that the Roman guards quite possibly took two bribes — one from the robbers, and one from the Jewish leaders — after the guards reported the empty tomb. Asserts Carrier:

There is simply nothing improbable in an empty tomb being the result of theft, which then is linked with or even inspires (by leaving the suggestion of an ascension or escape in people’s minds), independent reports of appearances, especially appearances of a visionary kind, such as that which converted Paul.

Response
If you will remember, the disciples were so terrified when Jesus was arrested, they scattered and went into hiding. Even Peter, who swore he would die with Jesus, if necessary, denied knowing Jesus three times. The theory that Jesus’ disciples (or someone else) stole the body fails, when we consider that the disciples were doing all they could to go radio silent.

Should we believe that they suddenly found the courage to not only steal Jesus’ body, but to then boldly go around telling their contemporaries that Jesus had resurrected? Though Jesus had told His disciples repeatedly that He must die and rise, a bodily resurrection was an entirely new concept for their Jewish thinking. They didn’t “get” it until the risen Jesus appeared and spent the next 40 days with them. Only then were they emboldened to grab their megaphones and lustily shout the good news — whatever the consequences. 

Peter wasn’t convinced by the empty tomb. Neither was Mary, the first to reach it. She simply assumed His body had been moved. And we all know what it took to turn doubting Thomas into believing Thomas: placing his own hands on Jesus’ wounds. The Jewish leaders tacitly acknowledged that the tomb was empty. Why else would they have paid the Roman guards to make up the story about Jesus’ body being stolen?

And let’s not forget yet another clue that grave robbers didn’t take Jesus’ body: the left-behind grave cloths. Supposed body snatchers — whether disciples or unknown persons — would hardly have taken the time to unwrap Jesus’s body to leave the burial linens behind. Myrrh, one of the spices placed within the burial cloths, would have made removing the cloth extremely slow and tedious, as it would have cleaved to both the linens and Jesus’ body. What robber has time for that? Certainly not timid disciples!

Jesus left the linens behind as a big, bold statement: I have resurrected!


~ Hallucination Theory ~

Is it possible that people just thought they saw Jesus? Science has proved that hallucinations are entirely subjective, as they occur within individuals, not among groups of people. So how do we account for hundreds of people simultaneously seeing Jesus, and the 11 disciples interacting with Him as a group? We can definitely eliminate hallucination.

Says Peter Kreeft:

“Hallucinations usually happen only once, except to the insane. This one returned many times, to ordinary people. Five hundred separate Elvis sightings may be dismissed, but if five hundred simple fishermen in Maine saw, touched, and talked with him at once, in the same town, that would be a different matter.”

Details of the Theory
The Hallucination Theory asserts that the many people who saw Jesus in His resurrected body just imagined doing so. Atheist and New Testament theologian Gerd Ludemann asserts that Peter’s vision was psychologically prompted. Peter, he says, saw a vision of Jesus because of his suffocating feelings of guilt, and his intense desire to have Jesus back and leading the disciples. As a result, states Ludemann, Peter “saw” Jesus and thus made it possible for the other disciples to “see” Jesus as well. He adds that Paul, feeling remorse for so viciously attacking the church, converted to Christianity with the same zeal after seeing an hallucination of Jesus. “Paul’s vision of seeing Christ was merely a dream,” says Ludemann, which, “reinforced by enthusiasm, was contagious and led to many more visions, until we have an ‘appearance’ to more than five hundred people.” 

Response
This theory, arguably the most widely held naturalistic theory for the resurrection, lacks the most evidence support for its case. Hallucinations are a poor explanation. Hallucinations do occur, but only to individuals. Because hallucinations are entirely subjective, multiple people do not simultaneously experience them. And persons experiencing a hallucination do not feel they have direct or voluntary control over the experience. We know from historical sources that the people who saw Jesus were in total control of their reaction to Him.

Philosophers Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli offer these reasons why the Hallucination Theory cannot be considered a reliable naturalistic explanation for the resurrection:

  • There were too many witnesses who saw Jesus — and at the time of Paul’s writing, he asserted that most of the 500 who saw Jesus were still alive, and could be questioned as to what they experienced. If untrue, Paul’s enemies would have called him out on this.
  • These witnesses are qualified sources. They had firsthand knowledge of the facts.
  • The 500 saw Christ together, at the same time and place. This is way more remarkable than 500 private “hallucinations” at different times and places.
  • Hallucinations last typically for a few seconds or minutes. This “hallucination” (Jesus) hung around for 40 days!
  • This “hallucination” (Jesus) returned many times, to ordinary people.
  • As we previously stated, hallucinations happen to individuals. They are not a shared experience.
  • When Jesus first appeared to His disciples, they thought He was a ghost. He had to eat something to prove He was not. The resurrected Christ ate with His disciples on at least two occasions.
  • Jesus allowed His disciples to touch him. Doing so helped the disciples to believe He was real, and not a “vision.”
  • His disciples saw the empty tomb for themselves. If Jesus’ body would have still been there, they would not have believed Him risen.

To suggest that early followers of Christ were duped into believing Jesus lived because of mass hysteria is what’s really insane. People might get emotionally invested for a period, but to stick with a belief, they really have to believe it. Christianity has flourished because a real relationship with Christ produces just that: an ongoing connection that devoted Christians savor too much to forfeit.


~ Our Conclusion: Jesus Lives! ~

While a single alternate theory might be capable of explaining just one piece of evidence, none of the alternate theories can account for all the historical evidence that points to the truth of the resurrection. And simply stitching together various alternate theories fails to give skeptics what they want: a purely naturalistic explanation of the effects and facts.

Given all that we know about the resurrection as a historical event, we can have confidence that it also was a supernatural event that shook the very gates of hell. Skeptics can, and likely will, argue otherwise until they reach their last breath. But to anyone who has personally experienced Jesus, and chosen to accept Him as Lord, their arguments fall flat.

Christianity requires faith — but not blind faith. As we’ve shown you in the 21 blog posts we’ve posted so far in this year-long series, we can base our faith on the avalanche of historical evidence that serves to validate the claims of Christ, the church, and the Bible!

Your to-do, as you prepare to celebrate Easter: Read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15

Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
Jesus lives!

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Did Jesus Fulfill Old Testament Prophecy?

Prophesy Fulfilled by JesusOnly One Person Has Fulfilled All Old Testament Messianic Prophecy. Jesus!

One reason the Bible’s Old Testament is so important to Christians is that it contains prophecy — over 300 predictions, in fact — that, like the threads of a tapestry, establish the Messianic credentials of Jesus.

Put another way, the Old Testament is like an intricate jigsaw puzzle. The numerous pieces, on their own, are puzzling — until they are assembled enough to fill out the intended picture. Thus, the New Testament is the decryption key for unlocking Old Testament meaning.

Some might say, after reading through a list of Old Testament prophecy, that some were fulfilled in the deaths of Kennedy, Nasser, King, and other great figures. One could possibly find a prophecy or two fulfilled in the lives of these notable fellas; but not one of them can be credited with fulfilling all of them. Only Jesus did so.

Just a handful of prophecy that Jesus fulfilled: He was born in Bethlehem, preceded by a messenger (John the Baptist), entered Jerusalem on a donkey, was betrayed by a friend who received thirty pieces of silver, was silent before His accusers, and died in the manner Romans used for criminals (crucifixion), during which they pierced His hands and feet.

Peter Stoner, in his classic book Science Speaks, calculated the chance of any man fulfilling these prophecies, even down to the present time, to be 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000 (10 to the 17th power). 

How can anyone think that Jesus just “happened” to be in the right place at the right time? Clearly, we can’t consider coincidence.


~ Jesus Beat the Odds ~

To help us visually comprehend the staggering odds of this probability, Stoner proposed that we take that many silver dollars and lay them across the state of Texas. In doing so, we’d find they would stack up across the state two feet deep. But wait; there’s more! Now mark one of the silver dollars, and stir up the entire mass of coins. Then blindfold an enthusiastic volunteer and tell him that he can travel as far as he likes across Texas, but that he *must* pick out the marked silver dollar. THAT is how difficult it would be for one man to fulfill these prophecies. Unless, of course, he did so because of divine appointment.

Stoner then upped the ante significantly: he looked at the odds of any man fulfilling even just 48 of the 300+ Old Testament prophecies. The odds jumped to 10 to the 157th power! #yowza


~ A Few Examples ~

Jewish scholars understood and interpreted their sacred Scriptures as being capable of multilevel meaning; that in a narrative text, a detail or element could appear significant enough for a reader to feel it hint at a larger idea, even as it remained part of its own story. Centuries of biblical interpreters have followed the lead of the authors of New Testament Scripture, who quote elements of Old Testament Scripture to show how it foreshadows Jesus as Messiah. Of course, interpretation using this method must take care to be faithful to the original narrative.

Below are three side-by-side examples of how the New Testament builds upon an element (which scholars refer to as a “type”)  in the Old Testament: 

Christ Our Passover Lamb

Old Testament: “Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, ‘Pick out and take lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the Passover lamb” (Exodus 12:21).

New Testament: “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7).

The festival of Passover celebrates God’s deliverance of the Israelite people from slavery in Egypt. As we know from Bible history, Pharaoh’s continued stubbornness to release the Israelites resulted in the tenth and final plague — the death of every firstborn. The Jews, by smearing the blood of a spotless lamb upon the doorposts of their home, were passed over and didn’t suffer this consequence. The Egyptians, including Pharaoh, lost their firstborns.

By accepting Christ — by applying His blood to the doorposts of our hearts, so to speak — we escape judgment and eternal separation from God. Scholarly sources tell us unanimously that Jesus was crucified around Passover, which further reinforces His identity as the Passover lamb. The unblemished lambs that the Jews sacrificed were selected five days before they were slaughtered. Similarly, Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem five days before the Passover sacrifices in the temple; He entered Jerusalem on the day of  lamb selection, choosing to become the ultimate Lamb of God.

He Was to Enter Jerusalem on a Donkey

Old Testament: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

New Testament: “And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. And as He rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As  he was drawing near — already on the way down the Mount of Olives — the whole multitude of His disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen” (Luke 19:35-37).

A “Light” to the Gentiles

Old Testament: “And now the Lord says, He who formed me from the womb to be His servant, to bring Jacob back to Him; and that Israel might be gathered to Him — for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength — he says: ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will might you a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth'” (Isaiah 49:5-6).

New Testament: “For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:47-48).

Just this morning I was reading Isaiah 53. The entire chapter talks about Jesus as Christ. Just a few verses (4-6):

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was on him and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”


~ Three Objections by Skeptics ~

Skeptics object to the claim that numerous passages in the Old Testament foreshadow events in the life of Jesus. They counterclaim that the New Testament writers purposefully shaped their material to match passages in the Old Testament. They also assert that the New Testament writers stretched the meanings of obscure references, and that they took those references out of context, by adopting a word or detail and inserting it into an event in the Gospels.

Skeptic Objection #1: The Gospel writers deliberately crafted their biographies of Jesus to make Jesus appear to fulfill the Old Testament Scriptures.

We have several reasons to believe the Gospel writers reported Jesus’ life and words accurately — and did so even at the risk of persecution. They did not play to what their audiences likely expected. We have to remember that at the time the Gospels were written, the Christian church was enduring considerable persecution. Many Christians were martyred for their faith in excruciating and inhumane ways, including crucifixion, being burned alive, or being fed to wild animals. The Gospel writers had nothing to gain from inventing yet another new religion — and everything to lose. Too, they didn’t make Jesus sound high and mighty, but low and humble, as was His purpose in giving up His life. If the Gospel writers were intent on growing their numbers, they wouldn’t have offered up, as Messiah, a man who, in no way, represented the conquering hero that the Jews were expecting. Jesus freely allowed Rome to kill him, so that His purpose was fulfilled.

Skeptic Objection #2: Old Testament types and foreshadowings are typically stretched and contrived, and therefore offer little evidential support for Jesus being the Messiah.

It is certainly true that some Christians have tended to stretch Old Testament typology or suggest hidden symbolism that might not exist. But we have only two options to consider here: The close correspondence between Old Testament texts and New Testament details of Jesus’ life can *only* be explained by 1) purposeful contrivance or 2) divine orchestration. As I hope you can see, a compelling cumulative case for Jesus as the Messiah clearly weights the evidence toward the second option.

Skeptic Objection #3: The Gospel writers took Old Testament texts out of context in order to prove that Jesus was the Messiah.

Many New Testament writers quoted Old Testament words and set them in a new context, as did both Jews and later Christians who wrote commentaries to interpret Old Testament passages. In the early centuries of the church, different schools of thought arose concerning how this should be handled.

The interpreters of the School of Alexandria, for example, were comfortable taking a word or detail out of its original context in order to illustrate and reinforce a spiritual interpretation. In contrast, the scholars in Antioch emphasized the importance of retaining the meaning of the original historical context, even when reverent contemplation of the text suggested a concept that allowed additional applications.

Diodore of Tarsus, who died about AD 390, was a leader in this second school of thinking. The methodology that he described emphasizes a careful study of the original language, in order to understand the historical substance and plain literal sense of the text as the foundation for understanding its deeper meaning. He sought to carefully guard against overzealous and overreaching applications. Theologian Christopher A. Hall puts it this way: Diodore’s aim was to guard against the creation of meaning “out of thin air.”

In the same way, Augustine of Hippo, in his On Christian Doctrine about rules for the interpretation of Scripture, distinguished between details that are simply in the narrative, and details that are in the narrative but also appear to be signs of higher meaning.

A basic point to remember: it was Jesus’ own behavior and statements that prompted the New Testament writers to recognize His resonance with Old Testament scriptures. Again, going back to the puzzle analogy: the more the puzzle was put together, the more it began to showcase Jesus.


~ Summary of Old Testament Prophecy Fulfilled by Jesus ~

Speaking of puzzle pieces, let’s conclude this blog post with a list of Old Testament prophecy that you can read for yourself. This exercise will be so worth the investment of your time, if you truly want to confirm what Scripture says. To have a Bible that you never open completely defeats the purpose of God giving His Word to us, right? Treat the Bible as your study guide, not a relic so sacred that it can’t be opened — or marked up! God is surely okay with your highlighting any passages that speak to you, in whatever hue of highlighter you choose!

His Nativity and Early Years
The fact: Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 7:14; Jeremiah 31:22
The place: Numbers 24:17, 19; Micah 5:2
Adoration by Magi: Psalm 72:10, 15; Isaiah 60: 3, 6

His Mission and Office
Mission: Genesis 12:3; 49:10; Numbers 24:19; Deuteronomy 18:18-19; Psalm 21:1; Isaiah 59:20; Jeremiah 33:16
Prophet like Moses: Deuteronomy 18:15
Conversion of Gentiles: Isaiah 11:10; Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalms 18:49; 19:4; 117:1; Isaiah 42:1; 45:23; 49:6; Hosea 1:10; 2:23; Joel 2:32
Ministry in Galilee: Isaiah 9:1-2
Preaching: Psalms 2:7; 78:2; Isaiah 2:3; 61:1; Micah 4:2

His Passion
Rejection by Jews and Gentiles: Psalms 2:1; 22:12; 41:5; 56:5; 69:8; 118:22-23; Isaiah 6:9-10; 8:14; 29:13; 53:1; 65:2
Persecution: Psalms 22:6; 35:7, 12; 56:5; 71:10; 109:2; Isaiah 49:7; 53:3
Triumphal entry: Psalms 8:2; 118:25-26; Zechariah 9:9
Betrayal by friend: Psalms 41:9; 55:13; Zechariah 13:6
False accusation: Psalms 2:1-2; 27:12; 35:11; 109:2
Silence under accusation: Psalm 38:13; Isaiah 53:7
Mocking: Psalms 22:7-8, 16; 109:25

His Resurrection
Psalms 2:7; 16:8-10; 30:3; 41:10; 118:17

His Ascension
Psalms 16:11; 24:7; 68:18; 110:1; 118:19

His Second Advent
Psalm 50:3-6; Isaiah 9:6-7; 66:18; Daniel 7:13-14; Zechariah 12:10; 14:4-8

His Universal, Everlasting Dominion
1 Chronicles 17:11-14; Psalms 2:6-8; 8:6; 45:6; 7; 72:8; 110:1-3; Isaiah 9:7; Daniel 7:14

Did Jesus fulfill Old Testament prophecy? Yes! But study up to know for yourself!

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



Why Are There So Many Translations of the Bible? Quick Video

 

[Original post by Sean McDowell found here]

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.


An Investigation: Is Jesus Liar, Lunatic, or Lord?

Jesus liar lunatic or LordWho is Jesus of Nazareth?

While many have asked and offered to answer the question, “Who is Jesus of Nazareth?”, no one can escape the evidence that He was a historical person and that His life radically altered human history.

As world-renowned historian Jaroslav Pelikan put it: “It is from His birth that most of the human race dates its calendars, it is by His name that millions curse, and in His name that millions pray.”

Due to His influence, Jesus of Nazareth has been transforming lives for almost two millennia. In the process, He has rewritten the direction and outcome of human history. It’s a fact that the teachings of Jesus have been a force of overwhelming good throughout the history of the world. Unfortunately, it also is true that much harm has been committed in Jesus’ name — both by the church at large, and by individuals seeking to use Him to further their own agendas.

Who did Jesus claim to be? What did He attempt to gain through His ministry and sacrificial death? Clearly, Jesus thought it fundamentally important what others believed about Him. He wasn’t interested in neutrality, for instance; He frequently taught that His followers must be all in — or eventually be left out. When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” He wasn’t making meaningless, abstract statements. His divinity was central to His messages; Jesus regarded the two as inseparable.

Jesus lunatic, liar, or LordPer the great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else He would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

C.S. Lewis popularized this “Trilemma” argument, though it has earlier roots in the writings of Scottish Christian preacher “Rabbi” John Duncan, and Watchman Nee in his 1936 book, Normal Christian Faith. The 3-legged stool of this argument quickly gets to the heart of the matter: will we accept Jesus — or not?

Was Jesus a liar, lunatic — or Lord? Let’s look at each option.


~ Was Jesus a Liar? ~

If Jesus knew He was not God, then He was lying. But if he was a liar, then He also was a hypocrite, as He told others to be honest, whatever the cost. If that’s the case, then we can say that would make Jesus unspeakably evil, as He deliberately told others to forsake their religious beliefs and trust Him for their eternal destiny. Jewish religious leaders actually did charge Jesus with having a demon (John 8:48), which Scripture decidedly refutes. And if Jesus knew He was lying, then He was a fool, as His claims led to His crucifixion.

But would a liar teach his followers, as Jesus did throughout the Gospels, to adhere to a profoundly moral code? Could such a massive deceiver teach unselfish, ethical truths and live the morally exemplary life that Jesus did? The very notion is ridiculous.

John Stuart Mill, a philosopher, skeptic, and antagonist of Christianity, still admitted that Jesus was a first-rate ethicist supremely worthy of our attention and emulation:

“But about the life and sayings of Jesus there is a stamp of personal originality combined with profundity of insight….in the very first rank of men of sublime genius of whom our species can boast. When this pre-eminent genius is combined with the qualities of probably the greatest moral reformer, and martyr to that mission, who ever existed upon earth, religion cannot be said to have made a bad choice in pitching on this man as the ideal representative and guide of humanity; nor, even now, would it be easy, even for an unbeliever, to find a better translation of the rule of virtue from the abstract into the concrete, than to endeavor so to live that Christ would approve our life.”

To put that succinctly, Mills is saying that Jesus was a perfect example of all that He taught.

Let’s also consider this equally long statement by William Lecky, a noted Irish historian and dedicated opponent of organized Christianity, because it’s just so darn good:

“It was reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character, which through all the changes of eighteen centuries has inspired the hearts of men with an impassioned love; has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments, and conditions; has been not only the highest pattern of virtue but the strongest incentive to its practice; and has exercised so deep an influence that it may be truly said that the simple record of [Jesus’] three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers, and all other exhortations of moralists.”

As church historian Philip Schaff adds, Jesus was a “character so original, so complete, so uniformly consistent, so perfect, so human and yet so high above all human greatness” who could be neither fraud nor fiction. Schaff adds that Jesus “never lost the even balance of His mind,” but “sailed serenely over all the troubles and persecutions, as the sun above the clouds, who always returned the wisest answer to tempting questions, who calmly and deliberately predicted His death on the cross.” I personally haven’t met any other human who lived up to Jesus’ behavior…have you?

In his book Cold-Case Christianity, cold-case homicide detective J. Warner Wallace lists these three decisive motives at the heart of any misbehavior: financial greed, sexual or relational desire, or power.

Jesus wasn’t interested in any of them. The New Testament writers tell us that He taught His disciples to give to the needy, and to not store up earthly treasures. And no evidence exists that Jesus was motivated by lust or relationships. The Gospels stress the respect that Jesus displayed toward women, including those who followed and supported His ministry. And rather than gain power for Himself, Jesus modeled serving others and giving without expectation of return, even to the wicked and ungrateful. He taught His disciples to do the same. If Jesus had been interested in personal power, He would have stepped into the political role people expected of Him. Instead, He shunned it.


~ Was Jesus a Lunatic? ~

So if Jesus wasn’t a liar, is it feasible that He mistakenly thought He was God? After all, one might be both sincere — but also sincerely wrong. Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft deftly shows why we must reject the option of Jesus being a lunatic:

“A measure of your insanity is the size of the gap between what you think you are and what you really are. If I think I am the greatest philosopher in America, I am only an arrogant fool; if I think I am Napoleon, I am probably over the edge; if I think I am a butterfly, I am fully embarked from the sunny shores of sanity. But if I think I am God, I am even more insane because the gap between anything finite and the infinite God is even greater than the gap between any two finite things, even a man and a butterfly. Well, then, why not liar or lunatic? But almost no one who has read the Gospels can honestly and seriously consider that option. The savviness, the canniness, the human wisdom, the attractiveness of Jesus emerge from the Gospels with an unavoidable force to any but the most hardened and prejudiced reader.”

He adds:

“Jesus has in abundance precisely those three qualities which liars and lunatics most conspicuously lack: (1) His practical wisdom, His ability to read human hearts …. (2) His deep and winning love, His passionate compassion, His ability to attract people and make them feel at home and forgiven, His authority; and above all (3) His ability to astonish, His unpredictability, His creativity. Liars and lunatics are all so dull and predictable! No one who knows the Gospels and human beings can seriously entertain the possibility that Jesus was a liar or a lunatic, a bad man.”

The idea that Jesus was self-deceived or delusional is simply not compatible with the impression He has left on history. So viewing Jesus as a lunatic is our second ridiculous option.


~ Is Jesus Lord? ~

In the first century, when people were given a number of answers about Jesus’ identity, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:15-16). Like Peter, we can decide to believe that Jesus made truthful claims about being God — and then accept or reject Him as our personal Savior.

Yes, Jesus was put to death by the Romans. But was that the end of the movement that He launched three years earlier? We have to shout a resounding “No!”, if the millions who call Him “Lord” are to be counted. Jesus stands head-and-shoulders above all other self-proclaimed “saviors,” because He is clearly at work among His people. His presence is palpable, when His people draw near. He is still answering our prayers (even when the answer is no!), and guiding us.

God’s Word tells us that we each must choose for ourselves whether or not to believe that Jesus is Lord. Can the Bible prove that Jesus is God? No. But we can take heart that archeological discoveries continue to prove its legitimacy as a truthful document. The Bible does clearly show us that Jesus, as a proven historical figure, was amazing in the way He demonstrated love. He gave all credit to God the Father, with whom He said He was equal. As the apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament, “these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

So we are left with two ridiculous options — and one that must be given weight as entirely possible. Historians disagree with this, of course, saying that faith can’t be used as a measure of proving truth. Really? Sometimes I feel very sad for people who refuse to consider options, simply because they can’t see or feel them for themselves. Faith, it seems to me, identifies the real risk takers among us. And definitely the wisest. 😉

We cannot put Jesus on the shelf as a great moral teacher; evidence strongly favors Jesus being so much more. Still undecided on whether Jesus is liar, lunatic, or Lord? Join us next week as we look at Old Testament prophesies fulfilled by Jesus.

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.

 



The Absurdity of Moral Relativism: A Student’s Perspective

[Original post by Sean McDowell found here]

 

When I was a full-time high school teacher, one of my favorite assignments was to have my students develop a creative project to illustrate what would follow if moral relativism were true.

Students wrote stories, composed songs, made short films, and more.

My all-time favorite was a short poem written by a high school senior. She captures the moral absurdity that would follow if morality were truly relative to the individual:

 

“If Relativism Were True”

The trigger’s pulled, heart cold as stone. Body thrown into the sea. 

No tears are shed, though his brother is dead. 

He says “It was right for me.”

 

A woman is bruised, all black and blue. She silently drinks her tea. 

Her husband’s eyes conceal the lies. 

He says, “It was right for me.”

 

No blanket, crib, or bedtime tales. This baby will never be. 

The girl’s too scared, too unprepared. 

She says, “It was right for me.”

 

Sad but true, we live as though this system is the key. 

But God’s laws weren’t meant to be broken or bent. 

Without them, we can never be free.

 

 

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.


An Investigation: The Lofty Claims of Jesus

Jesus claimedWas Jesus Just a Man, or God?

No doubt about it, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of the western culture for almost twenty centuries. Talk about staying power! Equally constant: the debate about who He is.

Almost everyone who has heard of Jesus has developed an opinion about Him. That’s to be expected, as He is the most famous, and controversial, person in world history.

Was Jesus just a man — or, as Jesus Himself claimed, God in human form?

The controversy about Jesus extends to this core identity. On the one hand, Christians believe Jesus is the divine Son of God, the fulfillment of ancient biblical prophecies, the promised Savior of the world.

Skeptics, on the other hand, assert that Jesus was neither divine nor claimed to be. He was possibly a great teacher — just one among many who claimed to possess the truth. But Jesus’ claims of power and authority, they say, were proved exaggerated when the Romans nailed His body to a cross. Anyone who claimed to see Jesus alive afterward, they add, simply experienced grief-induced visions.

Heck, spend even five minutes reading any published book by a prominent skeptic, and you just might find yourself questioning if anything you believe about Jesus contains a nugget of truth. But that’s not a bad thing, if it motivates you to deeper study. If we’re going to call ourselves “followers of Christ,” we should have a solid basis for doing so. God calls to be committed, not lukewarm.

So which is it?

Was Jesus a mere mortal — the loving, peacemaking cult hero that many today make Him out to be? Was He a revolutionary, thwarted in His plans to set up a new political kingdom? Or was Jesus God, as He boldly claimed, despite knowing that He was courting retaliation by the Jewish leaders and Rome by doing so? 

As Alister McGrath, Oxford professor of science of religion, writes: “The challenge posed to every succeeding generation by the New Testament witness to Jesus is not so much, ‘What did He teach?’ but ‘Who is He? And what is His relevance for us today?'”

To answer that, we need to look at some of the lofty claims Jesus made, as recorded by the New Testament writers.


~ Jesus Claims His Deity Directly ~

“Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?” And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death (Mark 14:61-64).

On trial for His life, Jesus addressed the Sanhedrin with words He knew they would find blasphemous. That’s interesting, right? Jesus didn’t tiptoe around the issue. He answered them directly, using Old Testament references that He knew they would instantly understand.

The Gospel of John records that Jesus made this claim on a number of occasions. Once, when Jesus replied, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM,” the Jews took up stones to throw at Him. Their reaction leaves little doubt that they understood His reference as a claim to divinity. The Jews knew that anyone daring to make that claim was blasphemous and, according to Mosaic law, deserving of death.

Jesus claimed also that He was worthy of the same honor due God the Father. And even that God couldn’t be honored if Jesus wasn’t honored. He also claimed that to see Him was to see God. That would have blown the minds of these Jews. Per author and minister William Barclay, “To the Greeks, God was characteristically The Invisible; the Jews would count it as an article of faith that no one had seen God at any time. …. It may well be that to the ancient world this was the most staggering thing Jesus ever said.”

In the Matthew account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly cites Old Testament law, but then asserts His authority over it. Can you picture the scene? People crowding around Jesus — likely drawn by His willingness and ability to heal — and they hear Him boldly declare that He has authority even higher than their respected Mosaic Law. Jesus’ words were extraordinary in a Jewish culture that revered the teachings of prophets and patriarchs as sacred. On at least six occasions (commonly referred to as the antitheses), Jesus uses the formula, “You have heard that it was said..but I say to you.” In doing so, Jesus was plainly contrasting His superiority to their Jewish tradition!

If that didn’t spin their heads enough, Jesus went even further: He actually received worship as God. These Jews knew full well that Scripture issues a persistent warning against worshiping anyone or anything but God Himself. The first of the Ten Commandments, for example, clearly states, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). It is remarkable, then, to find that Jesus freely accepted worship. In no record do we find Jesus stopping people from worshiping Him.

Within the Jewish context in which the first Christians operated, it was God and God alone who was to be worshiped. So imagine the hurdle it took for the Jews hearing Jesus’ claims to disregard Scripture and call Him “Lord.” Many did while He was still alive. And convinced of His deity, the New Testament tells us that the early church continued to give Jesus worship after His death and ascension.


~ Jesus Claims His Deity Indirectly ~

In addition to these direct claims, Jesus did and said many other things that implied His divinity. Let’s look at some examples:

Jesus forgave sins. Jewish scribes steeped in the Law took issue with this. In Mark 2 we read that they asked, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Knowing their doubts, Jesus explicitly declared that His authority to forgive sins came from His being “the Son of Man.”

In calling Himself the “Son of Man,” Jesus was referring to three things: His earthly ministry of coming with godly power to bring salvation to the lost via His ultimate sacrifice (Matthew 8:19-20; 9:6; 11:19; Luke 19:9-10; Luke 22:47-48); His warning to His disciples about His impending death (Matthew 12:40; 17: 9,22; 20:18); and His Second Coming as the glorious judge of all humanity (Matthew 13:41; 24: 27,30; 25:31, Luke 18:8; 21:36).

Jesus claimed to be “life.” In John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He didn’t say that He knew these things, but that He was them. In John 11:25 He says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Merrill Tenney, professor of New Testament and Greek, sums it up this way: “He declared Himself to be the final key to all mysteries.”

Jesus claimed that God gave Him supreme authority. The disciples, who had seen Jesus walk on water and tell angry waves to give it a rest, likely eagerly nodded their assent. Those drawn to Jesus likely felt hope leap in their hearts. But any scoffers either laughed or got pretty darn annoyed at this crowd-attracting fella from that hick town, Nazareth.

In John 5:22 and 5:27 Jesus declares that the Father “has given all judgment to the Son.” At the conclusion of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gathers a group of His disciples to a mountain in Galilee for some final words, which scholars now refer to as the “Great Commission.” Jesus begins with a forceful declaration: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). Jesus is point-blank telling His disciples that He shares the seat of God’s throne, a position that places Him over the entire universe.

Jesus claimed that He pre-existed, that He consciously existed before His life on earth, and was aware of it during that life. In John 17:5, Jesus says, “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory that I had with You before the world existed.” In John 6:38, Jesus says, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent me.” Similar statements abound in the Gospels and New Testament Epistles.

Jesus claimed to be the “Son of God.” Theologian Michael Green writes that Jesus “asserted that He had a relationship with God which no one had ever claimed before. It comes out in the Aramaic word Abba (father) which He was so fond of using, especially in prayer.” Adds Green, “It is the familiar word of closest intimacy. That is why He differentiated between His own relationship with God as Father and that of other people.”

Not even King David, who wrote most of the Psalms and was known for his closeness to God, prayed in such intimate terms. British theologian George Beasley-Murray observed, “It remains the case that Jesus stands alone in His undeviating use of this mode of address in His prayers to God.” Concludes Maire Byrne, Millowtown Lecturer in Biblical Studies and Old Testament, “From the Jewish prayers many forms of address of God as Father are found, but not Abba. Therefore, the choice of this as a form of address by Jesus is striking.”


~ Jesus: Both God and Man ~

We began this post with the question, “Who is Jesus?” We then looked at New Testament scripture to see who Jesus claimed that He is.

What we know so far is that the New Testament consistently say that Jesus claimed to be equal to God, empowered with the unique characteristics of God (sovereignty, judgment, divine authority, forgiveness of sins, and preexistence), and thus worthy of worship.

Skeptics, of course, disagree. Some assert that not even His hometown of Nazareth existed, though archaeologists have located and dated a house to be from the time of Jesus.

Again, skeptics make all kinds of claims — and if we are not, ourselves, skeptical of the claims of skeptics, we might find ourselves quickly persuaded that our Christian beliefs are without merit. It is the task of skeptics to debunk Jesus. In remembering that, let us continue in our quest to uncover the truth, which gives foundation to our faith.

In our next blog post in this series we’ll look at this question: “Is Jesus Lord, liar, or lunatic?” See you then!

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.



Does Historical Evidence Prove that Jesus Lived?

evidence Jesus livedEvidence does, indeed, show that Jesus lived. The question is, will you believe it?

At this point we’re not even addressing the question of whether Jesus was God in human form. There’s no point in doing so, if we don’t first show, through historical record, that Jesus did, in fact, live and have a ministry in and around Jerusalem before He was crucified.

Some critics say that Jesus was a fictional character, nothing more than a myth developed by zealots who wished to start a new religion. Dr. Robert Price, for example, an atheist and mythicist, appears to find it far easier to believe in aliens than he does Jesus.

Critics like Price view historical documents as having been clearly manipulated for one purpose: to gain the church legitimacy and authority over others. Historical writings, they say, can’t be trusted. Christianity, they assert, is nothing more than a knock-off religion that stole from other religions and mythical figures such as Hercules. Price goes so far as to equate Jesus to the fictional comic book character, Superman.

Argues Price: “Which is more likely: that a man walked on water, glowed like the sun and rose from the dead, or that someone has rewritten a bunch of well-known miracle stories?” Historian Bart Ehrman, who also rejects Jesus as God, still counters that Price and other scholars skeptical of Jesus the historical person are simply choosing to disregard clear evidence.

Both of these skeptics are entrenched in their position, though they do admit that their continued research continues to tweak their thinking. Phrases common with both of them — “It seems to me…” and “In my mind…” — stood out to me as, perhaps, the crux of the issue. Many people simply refuse to believe in Jesus because they can’t wrap their brain around a figure who can’t be proven, 100 percent, to be who He said He is. “I have’t met Jesus,” they say, “So I simply can’t know for sure that he lived, much less resurrected.”

But can we?


~Trusting Quality Sources ~

Can we trust the multitude of old writings that contain information about Jesus?

Definitely. It is critical, however, to evaluate the quality of any source that mentions Jesus; not every ancient mention of Jesus aids an investigation into whether He really lived.

The “lost gospels,” for example, offer a version of Jesus that totally differs from the four biblical Gospels, which is why they remain excluded from the Bible. Gnostic in nature, these 2nd or 3rd century texts suggest that Jesus came with a secret message of “inner knowing” for a select few. Wrong. Jesus’ message is open to everyone. Most scholars do not view these texts as credible sources on Jesus.

In contrast, leading New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham presents the Gospels as eyewitness testimony, pointing to the short distance between their writing and the people who would have seen Jesus in person:

“The Gospels were written within living memory of the events they recount. Mark’s Gospel was written well within the lifetime of many of the eyewitnesses, while the other three canonical Gospels were written in the period when living eyewitnesses were becoming scarce, exactly at the point in time when their testimony would perish with them were it not put in writing.”

What about Christian sources such as Paul or the authors of the General Epistles (letters) included in the Bible? What about the writings of 1st- and 2nd-century Christian leaders such as Ignatius and Clement of Rome? Or must we exclude them because they are pro-Christ?

That’s akin to asking experts not to have an opinion on a topic they know well! Are the writings of highly esteemed Roman historians Tacitus and Josephus quality resources? What about facts discovered during archeological digs? Do they support the case for a historical Jesus?

Ehrman, who is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, routinely lectures on the validity of Jesus the historical figure. He has authored numerous books on the topic.  Though he rejects the divinity of Christ, he is fully convinced that Jesus did live and was crucified. “Did Jesus exist is a historical detective story,” he says. “I invite you to look at the hard, cold facts and judge for yourself.”

Space constraints prevent us from having an in-depth examination of these facts. For that you might read one of Ehrman’s books. But we can cover some of the highlights. Let’s get to it!


~Roman Historians Tacitus and Josephus ~

Flavius Josephus was a Jewish politician, soldier, and historian who lived around AD 37-100. He was born in Jerusalem shortly after Christ’s crucifixion. As his father, Matthias, was a highly respected priest, Josephus was born into a family that would have been acutely aware of the early Jesus followers, a movement that would have been viewed as a threat to Judaism. He may have even heard some of the apostles preach in prison.

Scholars view Josephus as the single most important Jewish historian of the ancient world. Among his works, Josephus penned Antiquities of the Jews, to explain the Jewish people and their beliefs to the Romans, in an effort to reduce anti-Jewish bigotry. Antiquities is important in our investigation of the historicity of Jesus.

In Antiquities 20.200, for example, Josephus writes about the death of James, at the instigation of the Jewish high priest Ananus. Josephus clearly labels James the brother of Jesus “who was called Christ.” By including these details, he offers us a clear, non-Christian attestation of the historicity of Jesus.

Cornelius Tacitus, another important Roman historian, lived approximately between AD 56 and 120. Modern historians view his Annals (which covers Roman emperors Augustus to Nero) to be the best source of information about this period in Roman history.

It is from Tacitus, for example, that we know that Nero blamed a devastating fire that happened in Rome in AD 64 on Christians. Wrote Tacitus: “Therefore, to squelch the rumor, Nero created scapegoats and subjected to the most refined tortures those whom the common people call ‘Christians,’ hated for their abominable crimes. Their name comes from Christ, who, during the reign of Tiberius, had been executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate.” 

Though scholars do not know where Tacitus obtained the information he used in Annals, they know he had access to the Acta Senatus, the Roman Senate’s archives of its activities. Those Roman records could have contained reports of Jesus’ crucifixion, and he could have retrieved the details from there. Or he could have learned the facts while he was proconsul in Asia.

Tacitus’ writing confirm the New Testament accounts that Tiberius and Pilate were in power when Jesus was crucified. Tacitus also points to the continued growth of Christianity in the years shortly after Jesus died, as reported in the New Testament book of Acts. His report clearly demonstrates the remarkable resolve of Jesus’ earliest followers, and the growth of the movement Jesus founded. It is because Tacitus is held in such high esteem by modern historians that his Annals carry such weight.

Professor Casey Elledge of Gustavus Adophus College holds this view of early non-Christian sources, including Tacitus, Josephus, and Seutonius:

“The testimonies of ancient historians offer strong evidence against a purely mythical reading of Jesus. In contrast to those who have denied the historical evidence of Jesus altogether, judging him merely to have been a mythological construct of early Christian thought, the testimonies of the ancient historians reveal how even those outside the early church regarded Jesus to have been a historical person. It remains difficult, therefore, if not impossible, to deny the historical existence of Jesus when the earliest Christians, Jewish and pagan evidence mention him.”


~Paul ~

Paul’s writings are important because they are the earliest Christian documents and the earliest writings we have concerning Jesus as a historical person.

Within two years of Jesus’ death, Paul was actively hunting down His followers. But Paul did a complete about-face: from passionate persecutor of the early church to radical apostle for Jesus. So convinced was he of Jesus as Christ, that he helped to spread the Good News far and wide.

Did Paul meet Jesus personally? Historians suggest no. Did Paul personally know anyone who personally knew Jesus? Historians say yes. Three years after his “blinded by the light” conversion, Paul spent time with the disciple Peter, as well as James, the brother of Jesus, both of whom would eventually die for their faith. 

Paul is often faulted by skeptics for not laying out the history of Jesus’ life in the 13 letters (Pauline Epistles) that bear his name (scholars believe he wrote perhaps half of them). Yet to expect Paul to do so is ridiculous; his letters primarily focus on calling out specific concerns happening at specific churches.

Yet Paul clearly based many of his arguments on the assumption that Jesus did exist as a real person. We know that Paul saw Jesus as a Palestine Jew, a teacher/preacher, the son of a woman, and brother to siblings — and both fully human and divine. Paul was fully convinced that Jesus was the crucified messiah (a Hebrew word that translates to “anointed one”).

Jews, we must remember, were looking for their long-expected “messiah” to be a high and mighty figure, someone who would overthrow the enemy and set up God’s kingdom on earth. To invent such a demeaning death would have done Paul no favors in his attempt to grow a community of Christ-followers. Says Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23: “Jews demanded signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

As Ehrman says so matter-of-factly, “You can’t explain the crucified messiah as something that was made up. If it is hard to imagine Jews inventing the idea of a crucified messiah, where did the idea come from? It came from historical realities. There really was a man Jesus …. no Jew would have invented him.”

N.T. Wright, a leading English New Testament scholar, elaborates on the challenge for Gentiles to see Jesus as divine:

It flew in the face of all Hellenistic wisdom: part of the point of crucifixion was that it completely degraded the sufferer. It denied him any chance of a noble death, a considerable preoccupation among pagans. It also, in the normal run of things, denied him a proper burial as well, since the body would have been eaten by birds, rats, or other carrion and any final remains dumped in a common pit. The complete helplessness of crucifixion stood in sharp contrast to the Stoic, and indeed Socratic, ideal of the person who, perhaps through committing suicide, remained in control of their own fate.

Critics often use this argument to show just how “preposterous” it is to believe that God would come to earth and die. Logically, we humans can’t wrap our heads around it. I’ve been a Christian a long time and I still struggle with understanding why God would use this format to express His great love for us. But to imagine that my puny brain is capable of understanding God’s choices is what’s really preposterous. How, in any way, can I equate myself to the supernatural being who created DNA, much less sweet puppy kisses?


~ General Epistles ~

The Epistles found in our modern Bible were letters written to early churches and believers. It remains a mystery as to who authored some of them. But most scholars agree that the Epistles with known authors were written by an apostle or family member (James, Jude) of Jesus. That makes these letters very important for our study of the historicity of Jesus.

James makes no explicit reference to the person of the historical Jesus. But his references to “the wisdom …. from above” and “the righteous man” make it clear that he knew Jesus to be both human and God. Peter writes as one who had first-hand physical knowledge of Christ. Peter, you will remember, was a witness to the sufferings of Jesus, whom he wrote “suffered in the flesh.” Among New Testament writings, the letter to the Hebrews perhaps most clearly proclaims the gospel with the reality of Jesus as a historical figure. The book’s unknown author (perhaps Barnabas or Paul) writes repeatedly of Jesus’ obedience to God, including his painful, sacrificial death.

Per biblical scholars Richard Burridge and Graham Gould:

“Clearly, the debate here was not about what it means to call Jesus God, or Lord, or Christ, since that is taken for granted. Instead in these letters the question was the extent to which Jesus was human. …. It was the recognition that Jesus came ‘as a human among us’ which is crucial.”

The New Testament books would make no sense if they were written about a figure who did not historically exist. The Bible writers clearly and firmly believed that Jesus lived, died, and resurrected. 


~Early Church Writings ~

The collection of writings from 1st- and 2nd-century Christian leaders, known collectively as the Apostolic Fathers, also prove helpful for our study. Let’s look briefly at two of these early leaders: Clement of Rome and Ignatius.

It is widely believed by historians that Clement personally knew the apostles, including Peter and Paul. After they were martyred, Clement became a leader of the church in Rome. Not much detail is known about Clement, but some of his writings provide valuable insight into the early church. His letter to the church at Corinth, for example, may be the earliest document we have outside of the New Testament.

Clement is best known for the letter ascribed to him, written to the church in Corinth, known as 1 Clement. The letter stresses the importance of the Corinth church to humbly interact with each other, in order to remain unified. To give power to his letter, Clement reminded his readers of his direct connection to Christ’s disciples. His teachings could be trusted, he was saying, because he personally learned from the disciples the teachings that Christ had personally given them. The Corinthians obviously agreed: Clement’s letter was read in the Corinthian church as part of the liturgy for many years.

Ignatius, a bishop of Antioch, was condemned to death in Rome in the early 2nd century. In several of his letters, he references the historical Jesus. In one letter to the church in Tralles, he writes:

Jesus Christ who was of the race of David, who was the Son of Mary, who was truly born and ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died in the sight of those in heaven and on earth and those under the earth; who moreover was truly raised from the dead, His Father having raised Him, who in the like fashion will so raise us also who believe in Him.

Ignatius was clearly attempting to place the events of Jesus in the realm of history, in part because of the growing threat of Gnosticism, which I mentioned earlier. Gnostics refused to believe that Jesus was human, as they viewed physical matter as evil. They deemed the idea of God becoming human to be outrageous. This is one reason the writers of the New Testament so often described Jesus as “manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit.” They stress that He was buried, then “came in the flesh” to the disciples, that they might exam his physical wounds — which Scripture says they did.

The cross is critical to Christian belief. Not because Jesus hung there, but because He overcame death. If we downplay the severity of the torture Jesus endured on our behalf, or even suggest that Jesus didn’t really suffer, we cheapen His selfless act. God’s gift was costly. But because of it, we can know how far He is willing to go to reconcile us to Him. To be honest, I rejected this gift for many years because I hated the thought of Jesus humiliated and suffering in agony for me. But if we refuse to accept the cross, we will never fully love Jesus back with our whole heart.

Contemplating his own death, Ignatius rightly believed that if Christ had died only in appearance, his own willingness to sacrifice his life for Christ would have no meaning. It would be wasted effort. The early church grew because of this shared commitment to willingly follow in the footsteps of Christ. They were sold out for Jesus. Are we sold out, too?


~ Archeological Discoveries ~

So here’s the thing about archeology: it continues to validate Scripture! Every major city listed in the Gospels and Acts, for example, has been located and excavated! Scholars have recovered a number of amazing inscriptions, including one that mentions Pilate, the Roman governor who condemned Jesus to the cross. Think about how important that is!

Archaeological support of the Bible can’t be ignored. While no archeological evidence clearly points us to proof that Jesus existed — scholars have yet to discover any “Jesus slept here!” signs, for example — significant evidence does support cities and people described in the Bible. Therefore, we should give weight to the Bible’s claim that Jesus did exist.

It is exciting that each new discovery helps us to more clearly see the early church and how Jesus changed the lives of those who heard and accepted His message of grace and forgiveness.


~ Decide for Yourself if Jesus Lived ~

The bottom line: both Christian and secular scholars from a large cross-section of theological schools have concluded that we can have confidence that Jesus really lived — just as the Bible tells us.

Ehrman is just one scholar that asserts that too much evidence exists for anyone to say Jesus wasn’t born and crucified:

“The reality is that every single author who mentions Jesus — pagan, Christian, or Jewish — was fully convinced that He at least lived. Even the enemies of the Jesus movement thought so; among their many slurs against the religion, His nonexistence is never one of them…. Jesus certainty existed.

Ehrman gets sufficient push-back from modern skeptics on the validity of this “certainty,” but his point is well taken: those who were closest to Jesus the man tell us that He did exist. If we choose to think them wrong, that’s on us.

Adds religious scholar and writer Reza Aslan, “The great Christian theologian Rudolf Bultmann liked to say that the quest for the historical Jesus is ultimately an internal quest. Scholars tend to see the Jesus they want to see. Too often they see themselves — their own reflection — in the image of Jesus they have constructed.”

If that’s the case, who do YOU say Jesus is? Myth? Man? Teacher? Savior? What makes you think so? 

I invite you to join us in our next post in this series as we begin to examine Jesus in greater detail. He made some lofty claims during His time on earth. Did He live up to them? Is it possible that He really is who He says He is?

p.s. Thanks for joining us for this weekly year-long blog series. Our goal is to strengthen your faith in the TRUTH of Jesus. Fortunately, we have plenty of FACTUAL EVIDENCE to do just that! As we get closer to our Easter celebration, be thinking about how you might share the GOOD NEWS with others!

 

Evidence book cover Apologists

This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!

If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.



7 Fascinating Facts that Make the Bible Unique

The Bible is a unique book. There is no other book that even stands in its category.

(Original post by Sean McDowell at SeanMcDowell.org.)

Below are seven factors that show how the Bible stands apart from all other books in history. We list many more facts in the updated Evidence that Demands a Verdict.

1. Unique in Authorship. The Bible was written by roughly forty different people from a whole range of backgrounds. Authors include kings (Solomon), fishermen (Peter), doctors (Luke), military leaders (Joshua), tax collectors (Matthew), and even some who are unknown. Biblical writers include almost every type of person: wise and foolish, faithful and treacherous, rich and poor, innocent and guilty, and young and old.

2. Unique in Literary Genre. The Bible is written in a multitude of distinct literary forms (or genres). It includes poetry (Song of Songs), history (Exodus), law (Leviticus), historical biographies (Gospels), songs (Psalms), wise sayings (Proverbs), letters (e.g., Romans), and more. Other ancient literary works utilize a multiplicity of literary genres, but the biblical authors use them in order to focus their audience’s attention on one supreme metanarrative.

3. Unique in its Languages. The Bible is written in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek). Each of these dialects has a particular way of using words, painting images, and describing reality. Quite obviously, most books are written in one language alone.

4. Unique in its Teachings. The Bible contains unique teachings not found in any of the other religious texts of the world. For instance, Christian Scriptures uniquely teach that salvation is by grace alone, a free gift from God to anyone who will receive it. There are other religions that offer forms of grace, but none that offer grace as a no-strings-attached gift (e.g., Ephesians 2:8-9).

5. Unique in its Impact. The Bible has shaped Western civilization more than any other book. Its influence is unmistakable on art, music, literature, history, government, and so on. And despite the common mantra, the Bible was not a hindrance to the development of science. In fact, quite the opposite is true: Christian theology was essential for the rise of science.

6. Unique in its Circulation. From early handwritten manuscripts, to the invention of the printing press, to the ubiquity of the Internet, the Bible is the most widely circulated book in history. Rarely does a book reach the bestseller list or sell a hundred thousand copies. But the Bible has sold billions of copies and been printed tens of billions of times. No other book is even close.

7. Unique in its Survival. No other written work has been as critiqued, scrutinized, or challenged as the Bible. The Bible has survived the attack of the Roman Emperor Diocletian in the 3rd-4th centuries,  18th century biblical criticism, and 20th century postmodern theory. There is currently a resurgence of scholarship defending the reliability of the Bible.

The Bible is undoubtedly a unique book. Of course, this does not mean it’s true. But it should be an invitation for the curious reader—the truth seeker—to inquire about its message.



The Work of Textual Criticism

For those of you who have engaged with Christian apologetics, you probably understand that a common objection to the Bible is that it has been changed or corrupted over time. Our response is to point out the number of manuscripts we have of the Bible, the early date of many of the manuscripts, and give a brief explanation of how this helps us to reconstruct the original text of the Bible through a process referred to as “Textual Criticism.”

As an apologist, it helps to have this information ready for anyone skeptical of our modern text in the Bible. But very few of us have actually done the work of textual criticism, and so there remains a shade of doubt and mystery of this esoteric work and how this all comes together. You know that we have a good handle on the text of the Bible generally speaking, but what about any given verse? For instance, you may be reading the ESV when you stumble across a direct claim to the deity of Jesus, referred to as “God” in John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” This is an important verse in our search for the true identity of Jesus. Yet you pick up the KJV and the reference to Jesus as God is lost: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Translations often differ based on stylistic preferences, but you may suspect we are looking at a textual variant by which the ESV and KJV have chosen different readings. You would be correct!

Now what?

I had the opportunity to study textual criticism in seminary and to actually do the work of a textual critic on this verse, and I would like to walk you though the process. My goal is that by the end, you will have a closer sense of how this process works, even if you don’t have the tools and education in the original Greek language to do the process yourself.

I use the fifth revised edition of Greek New Testament (UBS5) with a critical apparatus (1). If you turn to John 1:18, you will see the Greek text which they have chosen to use. They select “the only God” which agrees with the ESV translation, but it comes with a footnote pointing us toward the apparatus at the bottom of the page. In the apparatus, you are supplied a list different readings for this phrase and a rating for how confident they are in the one they chose. The differences are:

  1. monogenēs theos which translates into “the only God.” This is the chosen reading, and their rating is B, which means the text is “almost certain.” (2)
  2. ho monogenēs theos which translates into “the only God” (3)
  3. ho monogenēs huios which translates into “the only son”
  4. monogenēs huois theou which translates into “the only son of God”
  5. ho monogenēs which translates into “the one and only”

Many of us would be content knowing that monogenēs theos is the chosen reading and it is “almost certain” by the scholars who put the apparatus together. However, the apparatus also supplies a list of significant manuscripts for each of the readings, for those who want to come to a decision on their own. Variant 1 is supported by several very important manuscripts: the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus which date to the fourth century, and Papyrus 66 from around 200 AD. Many of the manuscripts for this reading are also from the Alexandrian text-type tradition, which is a tradition that took great care when copying manuscripts. According to Ramsey Michaels, “This is the reading of the best and most ancient manuscripts.” (4)

Variant 2 has similar manuscript support as variant 1, which is no surprise since they are so closely related. Papyrus 75 supports this reading, and that manuscript dates to the early third century. What it lacks is support from the Vaticanus and the earliest form of the Sinaiticus.

The strength of variant 3 used in the KJV is the wide spread of text type support, and a lot of support from quotations of church fathers who lived very early. The problem with this reading, however, is that most of the manuscript support is quite late, and it is missing many of the more significant manuscripts. It could be that the early church fathers actually used the first reading, but their writings were changed at a later time!

Variant 4 has very little manuscript support, and none of it is even in the original language of Greek.

Variant 5 is only supported by the Latin Vulgate and a Latin father of the same time period. We could deduce that this Latin church father quoted from the Vulgate reading, so we basically only have one source to go by.

So far, we have only looked at external evidence for the five different readings of John 1:18, and we are starting to see that the first reading, the one which makes a direct claim to Jesus as God, has the best manuscript support. Much more work could be done here. We could venture into internal evidence by examining which reading is most likely to have been the cause of an accident, or which reading would likely have been an intentional alteration. We can look at John’s themes and theology and determine which reading best “fits” with his use of language. All this comes together to form a final conclusion about how each of the readings stack up.

(1) Please note: I do not suggest you purchase this text for yourself unless you have a decent handle on Biblical Greek.

(2) Barbara and Kurt Aland, Karavidopoulos, Martini and Metzger, The Greek New Testament, Fifth Edition (UBS5) with Critical Apparatus. pp 307. For ratings, see p. 8*.

(3) Readings 1 and 2 translate into English the same way. This was not a mistake. Some readings are so subtle that by the time you translate them into English, the difference is completely lost. Reading 2 is the same as reading 1 except that it includes the article ho which is already implied in reading 1.

(4) Michaels, The New International Commentary o the New Testament. p. 92.

 



Spiritual but not Religious?

The spiritual landscape of America is changing.

New Age Spirituality, also known as the “Spiritual but not Religious” movement (SBNR), has grown tremendously in North America. As a lot of Christians have focused heavily on rationalized, modernistic approaches to evangelism, there is a new voice emerging which is simply asking “Why?” Why all this doctrine and systematic theology? Why the institutions? Why religious exclusivity? Why can’t I just be a spiritual person?

Well, you can be a spiritual person, sure. But the real question is this: Does being “just spiritual” fix the problem?

Every worldview has some narrative to it.

And every narrative I have looked at has some point of tension which needs to be resolved. As much as SBNR believers would like to synthesize everything, the narratives of SBNR and Christianity simply don’t mix. They speak of different problems and offer different solutions.

The SBNR movement is a kind of worldview which has really started to flourish in America, beckoning us to adopt a more eastern mindset where all different religions are stripped of their doctrine and you get a kind of spiritual smorgasbord to choose from. All of this is based on a narrative that pantheism is true and our world is filled with spiritual forces which enlightened humans can tap into in order to gain peace, wholeness, healing, knowledge, or to accomplish various other spiritual purposes. For SBNR followers, outsiders seem to be lost in a place of unknowning, perhaps by the veil of materialism or modernism or scientism or religion. Many don’t realize the extraordinary potential of human life and the reality that you, me, and all is god.

Many New Age people have become convinced that we shouldn’t critically evaluate this kind of worldview. In fact, many of them find such an endeavor quite repulsive. Enlightened ones have no need for such mechanical behavior of an age gone by.  This is fascinating to me because as humans we think. Whether we think we think or we think we don’t think, we do think! And so if a system of thought like New Age is telling us not to think about things—about their logical conclusions and implications—don’t you think, that perhaps, there’s something awry here? Does it not strike you as odd that this bold claim for human reality and human purpose and human existence is one which declares war against a central component of human life?

In Christianity, the narrative of New Age spirituality is simply mistaken and the quest to merge Christ into the smorgasbord of spirituality is not possible. If Christianity is true, there is no pantheism and there is only one God. We are not God. We are humans who can become filled with God and His Holy Spirit. The problem is that we are separated from God because of sin. The solution is that Jesus died on the cross to remove our sin and give us the opportunity to accept this amazing free gift. Spirituality gets you to spirits. Only Jesus gets you to God. I’m not talking about dry lifeless powerless doctrine and legalistic teachings. I’m talking about the fullness of human life given to us by a God who knows us, who loves us, and who wants to be in a real relationship with us!

You might be a spiritual person without any sense or care of Jesus as Lord and Savior. Maybe you have spirits doing stuff for you, and so being “just spiritual” seems to be working out fine. Please listen to me: those spirits don’t care about you. The only thing they care about is keeping you distracted from the One who truly does care about you. When you are found by God and God is found in you, when you are truly connected and placed in union with the real God of this universe, God doesn’t just give us another spirit. He gives us Himself. That is the free gift we talk about when we speak of grace.



Is Christianity Intolerant?

This is one of the most loaded questions you could ever ask!

Typically when the issue is brought forth, it comes bearing the pain of a hot-button issue such as homosexuality, the fair treatment of women, the exclusion of other religions, or something similar. Each of these important issues deserve their own discussion. But in order to stay brief, I’m going to remain general.

I almost find it odd to address this question because no one is really asking it.

Most people are already quite decided whether or not they believe that Christianity is a tolerant religion.

One of the reasons we don’t find common ground is because we aren’t using a common definition.

The word “tolerance” has shifted greatly in meaning over the years. The traditional, old-school definition of tolerance is to recognize and respect and value the other person regardless of whether his/her views differ from your own. This is fully endorsed in Bible. We are to live at peace with one another (Heb. 12:14), to show love and compassion for one another (1 Pe. 3:8), to forgive as Christ forgave us (Eph. 4:32). In fact, there is no other worldview which places as much value on a human person, because only in the Judeo-Christian worldview do we believe every person is made in the very image of God Himself (Gen. 1:27)!

The modern idea of tolerance is quite different, because it doesn’t make a distinction between a person’s belief and the person’s dignity. If I say that I disagree with your view on religion, morality, marriage, etc., and I try to show you why this viewpoint is flawed, I’m attacking you as a person. The Bible does make explicit true and false statements about religion and cultural issues of our time. So in this way it is very intolerant. But the Bible is only intolerant of certain ideas and beliefs, never of people.

I find that the modern idea of tolerance is not very consistent with itself. When you engage with someone on a political debate, does that mean you are intolerant because you do not accept the other person’s beliefs about something like immigration or tax plans? If you condemn Christianity or Islam because they are intolerant, does that mean you are also intolerant because you don’t tolerate their intolerance? Such a modern view of tolerance might look good on paper but nobody really lives by those standards, nor can we, nor should we.

I believe you really can express a real disagreement with someone and still value them as a person. I think the real problem is that we have forgotten how to do so.

We’ve forgotten how to speak truth in love.

Please realize: Nobody wants to be a bigot. (Maybe some do, but they are few and far between!) If I am convinced that the Bible is true, and that Jesus is the only way to God as the Bible says He is (John 14:6), and I go up to my friend and sayplainly, “Jesus is the only way to God,” I do so at great risk! I am fully aware that this could damage our friendship. I’m fully aware that I could be perceived as intolerant. If I didn’t care about the person, why would I tell him that Jesus is the only way to God? Why the drama? But I do care. I care very deeply. I am disturbed that this valuable human being, this image bearer of God, is living a life completely unaware of the joy of knowing the love and saving power of Jesus Christ.



Why the Lost Gospels Don’t Belong in the Bible

lost gospels true? no.Scripture must meet exacting criteria to be included in the Bible. The “lost gospels” don’t make the cut.

One argument used by critics to try to discredit God’s Word is by asserting that the Bible was developed via a power struggle. Namely, that what’s included in the Bible — and conversely what was excluded — was determined by a handful of men who happened to wield political power at just the right moment in time. Novels like The Da Vinci Code popularize this idea, though the claim is as false as most of the “facts” in Dan Brown’s fable.

As we have clearly demonstrated in earlier blog posts in this series, the formation of the Bible was the result of exacting scrutiny by many people over many years. The Council of Nicea (AD 325), for example, did not determine which books should be in the New Testament. Neither did the Roman emperor Constantine. The 39 books of the Old Testament form the Bible of Judaism; the Christian Bible adds the additional 27 books of the New Testament. This complete list of books was found “acceptable” because the church deemed them to be divinely inspired books of truth.

As new manuscripts come to light — including the lost gospels — some scholars wish to ignore the exacting standards demanded by the New Testament Canon. You’ve likely heard the media promote their arguments for including these “gospels” in the Bible, which they assert is “truth” that “enhances” our knowledge of Jesus. 

Let’s look at just four of these gospels, to help you see why they don’t belong in God’s Word — and why the Bible can be viewed as a historically accurate document, in large part because it has been so carefully vetted.


~ Why Stringent Guidelines Matter ~

As books of the New Testament were selected for inclusion, a critical question was asked: Was a book written by an apostle or associate of an apostle of Jesus? Was it written near the time Christ lived and died? Archaeological evidence continues to validate the Bible Gospels, specific to details about persons, places, and timing. Eyewitnesses could have been called forth at the time of their writing to agree with or discredit the text.

Can the “lost gospels” claim the same? No.

The reasons given for rejecting these and other “lost gospels” are compelling. The main criticisms of these gospels and their authors: the Jesus they depict is not recognizable as the Jesus known in the Bible Gospels; they skew God’s nature; they contain errors on important Christian basics like sin, holiness, ethics, and redemption; and they can’t be proven to have origins among Jesus’ earliest followers. The date of a manuscript is key to determining the authenticity of writings outside the canon. Most weren’t written until the 2nd century and beyond. 

Too, these “lost gospels” have Gnostic overtones. Gnosticism, which seriously threatened the early church, was dedicated to searching for “enlightenment” from secret and hidden wisdom among Christ’s teachings. Gnostics view Jesus only as a “teacher of wisdom,” not as “Savior.”

Says historian Philip Jenkins, &#