Richard Dawkins and Meaning of Life

Do you have worldview? The term worldview was used in the sense described by prominent German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). Dilthey affirmed that philosophy must be defined as a comprehensiveness vision of reality that involves the social and historical reality of humankind, including religion. A worldview is thus the nature and structure of the body of convictions of a group or individual. (1) Worldview includes a sense of meaning and value and principles of action. It is much more than merely an “outlook” or an “attitude.” Each person’s worldview is based on a key category, an organizing principle, a guiding image, a clue, or an insight selected from the complexity of his or her multidimensional experience. (2) Believe it or not, a worldview will impact our view of our vocation, our family, government, education, the environment, etc. A worldview also impacts ethical issues in our culture such as homosexuality, abortion, stem cell research etc. Remember, the issues of competing worldviews shape the past, present, and future of a nation.

Some of the fundamental questions that make up a worldview are the following:
Creation: How did it all begin? Where did we come from?
Fall: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?
Redemption: What can we do about it? How can the world be set right again?
Morality: What is the basis for morality? In other words, how do we know what is right and wrong?
History: What is the meaning of history? Where is history going?
Death: What happens to a person at death?
Epistemology: Why is it possible to know anything at all?
Ontology: What is reality? What is the nature of the external reality around us?
Purpose: What is man’s purpose in the world?

In regards to this topic there is one thing I have thought about a lot. Theism has a clear teleology which is the belief in or the perception of purposeful development toward an end.  Even agnostic physicist Paul Davies says, “”The laws [of physics] … seem to be the product of exceedingly ingenious design… The universe must have a purpose.”- Superforce: The Search for a Grand Unified Theory of Nature. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984), p. 243.

Many atheists adhere to a naturalistic worldview which has no teleology.  So even is nature clearly exhibits a clear teleology, they will try to stay clear of it. When we observe the effects in the world, we can infer there are two kinds of causes—natural and intelligent. In other words, there are really two general kinds of explanations for events: intentional accounts (which demonstrate signs of value, design, and purpose) and non-intentional accounts (which lack values, design, and purpose).

On Richard Dawkin’s view,  humans are a blind cosmic accident who came from a process that has no meaning, no purpose, no goal, and no direction. As Dawkins says:

Humans have always wondered about the meaning of life…life has no higher purpose than to perpetuate the survival of DNA…life has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference-Scheff, Liam. 2007. The Dawkins Delusion. Salvo, 2:94.

Now here’s the kicker: Back in 2006, when Dawkins wrote The God Delusion, he said in the preface the following:

“If  this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”- pg 28.

So  this is where it gets tricky: Here Dawkins says life has no purpose, no design, etc… In other words, in his worldview, there is no intentionality, or purpose. We are all just dancing to our DNA.  But here in his book The God Delusion, it is clear that his intention or purpose is to convert religious people to atheism. In the end, this seems a bit inconsistent. But then, always remember:

Sources:

1. Newport. J.P. Life’s Ultimate Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1989, 4.
2. Ibid.

Chart on Approaches to the Existence of God

When it comes to attempting to have fruitful conversations about whether God exists, I used to just jump to an argument for God. As someone that has talked to hundreds of agnostics and atheists on a large college campus, I used to sit down and try to explain it in detail to the individual. I have now decided to take a different approach and back up. Thus I am convinced more than ever that the first question in the discussion is “How should we approach the existence of God?” or we can ask, “If God exists, how should God show people he is real?” In reality, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. People are intellectual, emotional, and volitional creatures. So here is a chart on some of the different ways people approach the existence of God.

 

 A Generic God/ A Deistic God/A God of Nature (general revelation) explains:

 

Note: These points are compatible with Judaism and Islam.

 

 

A Intelligent Designer/God is more likely to explain:

 

  God as an Explanatory Hypothesis/Which Explains Reality Better? God or No God (Nature is all there is)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–

Revelatory Arguments: A Theistic God: God’s disclosure of Himself to humanity(Historical Revelation)

C.S. Lewis said that “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” (see The Weight of Glory). To apply what Lewis says, we might utilize what is called inference to the best explanation. The inference to the best explanation model takes into account the best available explanation in our whole range of experience and reflection. For example, when we look at these features of reality, which provides a more satisfactory explanation:

  • How do you explain the Origin of the Universe?
  • How do you explain the Mathematical Fine-Tuning of the Universe?
  • How do you explain the Terrestrial Fine-Tuning of Planet Earth?
  • How do you explain the Informational Fine-Tuning of the DNA molecule?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Mathematical Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Logical Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Physical/Natural Laws?
  • How do you explain the Origin of the First Cell?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Human Reason?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Human Consciousness?
  • How do you explain the Origin of Objective Morality?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Meaning in Life?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Value in Life?
  • How do you explain Ultimate Purpose in Life?

—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—

 Why the need for a revelation?

  • Man’s lack of knowledge: Aquinas said it is clear that, “if it were necessary to use a strict demonstration as the only way to reach a knowledge of the things which we must know about God, very few could ever construct such a demonstration and even these could do it only after a long time.”

We also need to know the following:

  • Character of God: We need a concrete communication to establish the exact nature of God’s character. Who is God and what is He Like?
  • The Origin of Evil/The Fall: Man needs to be educated concerning the reasons for our situation.
  • Man’s Origin: Without a clear revelation, people might think they are the result of a blind, naturalistic process instead of being created in the image of God.
  • Mankind’s Destiny: In the absence of a revelation, we might think that this life is all there is.
  • The mediums God uses in the Bible are: General revelation (Creation; Psalm:1-4;Rom. 1:20; Conscience; Rom. 2:12-15); Special/Historical Revelation: physical appearances of God (Genesis 3:8, 18:1; Exodus 3:1-4 34:5-7 ); Dreams (Genesis 28:12, 37:5; 1 Kings 3:5; Daniel 2 ); Visions (Genesis 15:1; Ezekiel 8:3-4; Daniel 7; 2 Corinthians 12:1-7); The written Word of God (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17); Prophecy (Isaiah 41:21-24; 42:8-9), and most importantly—Jesus (John 3:16; 14:9; Colossians 2:9; Heb. 1:1-2), and Messengers (Acts 10:30-33).

 “Why won’t God give me a sign?” See our post called The Most Common Objection on College Campuses

·  Response: The skeptic constantly assumes that if they could just see God directly or if God would give them an unmistakable sign that He is there, they would bow their knee and follow Him.  Sadly, this is misguided on several levels. God declares, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).  However, there seems to be other texts that indicate people did see God. Even in Exodus 33:11 Moses speaks to God “face to face.” Obviously, “face to face” is a figure of speech which means they were in close communion or conversation.

Also, in Genesis 32:30, Jacob saw God appearing as an angel. But he did not truly see God. In Genesis 18:1, it says the Lord appeared to Abraham. Obviously, there are other cases where God appears in various forms. But this is not the same thing as seeing God directly with all His glory and holiness. It is evident that people can’t see God in all His fullness (Exodus 33:20). If they did, they would be destroyed. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God and he shows the world who God is (Heb. 1:1).

 

Problems with Conflicting Revelations 

We must admit that all the Holy Books contain contradictory revelations: To assert that the God of the Bible would give a clear revelation in the person of Jesus (33 A.D.) and then give another revelation 600-650 years later (Islam), which contradicts the one in 33 A.D is odd. Furthermore, what about the two other so-called revelations in the 1800′s (Mormonism and the Watchtower Society) that both contradict the Christian and Muslim claim. If anything, that would make the God of the Bible a very contradictory Being.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Response

·   We have to weigh the evidence for each claim.

The Old Testament explains:

The New Testament explains:

(1) The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate/the Jewish Messiah.  God authenticated Jesus’ teaching/ claim to divinity by His miracles/His messianic speaking authority, His messianic actions, and His resurrection. (2)  Hence, Jesus is God incarnate. (3) Jesus (i.e., God incarnate) taught that the Old Testament is divinely inspired, and he promised the inspiration of the New Testament through his apostles.(4) Therefore, the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) is divinely inspired.

 

Existential Arguments
  • Existential Needs: The latest book by Clifford Williams Called Existential Reasons For Belief in God is another approach to why people believe in God. According to Williams, for some people logic and reason are dominant and in others emotion and satisfaction of needs are dominant. Williams mentions 10 existential needs from his book:
  • the need for cosmic security
  • the need for meaning
  • the need to feel loved
  • the need to love
  • the need for awe
  • the need to delight in goodness
  • the need to live beyond the grave without the anxieties that currently affect us
  • the need to be forgiven
  • the need for justice and fairness
  • the need to be present with our loved ones

 

Pragmatic Arguments

 

 

 

—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–

Challenge to Pragmatic Argument

 

 

 

 

—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–

Religious Experience

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–

Challenge to Religious Experience Argument

 

 

· “I don’t understand what difference Christianity would make in my life?”

·  People say their religious beliefs have been tried and tested out in the reality of life.

·  “Jesus works in my life. Thus, it is true!”

—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—

·   If Mormonism or Islam makes someone a more moral person or makes them more responsible, does that mean Mormonism or Islam is true?

·  Can’t people from other religious backgrounds feed the poor and do good things?

·  Pragmatic arguments have to be tied to evidence as well.

 

—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—

People have had a personal encounter with Jesus: Disciples of Jesus are blessed to receive the assurance of the truthfulness of our faith through the work of The Holy Spirit (Rom 8: 16-17; 2 Cor. 2:2).

·  Other people of other faiths claim to have personal revelations/experiences. Mormons claims that the Holy Spirit confirms their faith as well.

·  Christians can’t rely on experience alone. There is a difference between “being certain” and “feeling certain.” Our feelings/emotions can be up and down.

·   All experience must be grounded by truth/objective truth. Truth wins over experience!

 

—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–—–

All religious experiences must have an external test.

Christians often lack the assurance of the work of the Spirit because of:

1.Unconfessed Sin/Unrepentant sin

2. Weak prayer life/devotional life

3. We aren’t rooted in community

4. We don’t know God/faulty views of God

5. Internet Information

6. Little or no apologetic/critical thinking skills

7. Poor discernment

 

 

 

 

 

Eight Differences Between Christianity and Judaism

I am often asked what are some of the differences between modern Judaism and Christianity. Granted, this is a very complicated topic. Linguistically speaking, Christianity didn’t exist in the first century. Judaism in the first century was not seen as a single “way.” Thus, there were were many Judaisms (i.e.,the Sadducees, the Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots). The followers of Jesus are referred to as a “sect” (Acts 24:14;28:22); “the sect of the Nazarenes”(24:5). Hence, the first followers of Jesus were considered to be a sect of Second Temple Judaism.

But here are some of the differences between Judaism and Christianity: Adapted from 60 Questions Christians Ask About Jewish Beliefs and Practices by Michael L. Brown, pgs 49-53.

1. God—Judaism believes in God’s absolute unity; Christianity believes in God’s tri-unity. Judaism believes that it is acceptable for Gentiles to worship God as Trinity but states that for a Jew, it is idolatrous, especially since this includes the worship of Jesus. Judaism emphasizes God’s complete incorporeality (i.e., that He has no bodily form of any kind); Christianity puts less emphasis on His incorporeal nature.

2.Messiah—Judaism believes that the Messiah, who will be fully human, is yet to come, although there are Jewish traditions that indicate that there is a potential Messiah in each generation. This Messiah will regather the Jewish exiles, fight the wars of the Lord, rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and bring about universal peace and the knowledge of God. Christianity believes that the Messiah, who was both fully human and fully divine—the Word incarnate, the Son of God—came two thousand years ago to die for our sins, rising from the dead and sending God’s Spirit to the earth to continue His mission. He will return at the end of the age to establish His Kingdom on the earth, destroy God’s enemies and bring about universal peace and the knowledge of God.

3. Sin—Judaism believes that every human being has a battle between the good inclination (the yetzer hatov) and the evil inclination (the yetzer hara’), but it does not believe in the doctrine of “original sin,” emphasizing instead that through the power of repentance, the evil inclination can be overcome. Christianity believes that Adam’s fall affected the entire human race (this, too, is believed by Judaism, but not in as radical a way), that the best of us fall infinitely short of God’s glory and perfection and only through the blood of Jesus, the Messiah, can we be spiritually transformed.

4. Salvation—Judaism does not hold to the concept of individual salvation, and in the late 1970s, when a major Christian organization launched the evangelistic “I Found It” campaign, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi—with whom I attended graduate school classes at New York University—launched the “We Never Lost It” campaign. Judaism thinks more corporately than does Christianity, and even though the concept of forgiveness of sins and atonement is important (see the next paragraph), there is no such concept of “being saved” or “getting saved” in Judaism, and there is much less emphasis on the afterlife (see also the next two entries).

5. Atonement—Although traditional Jews pray daily for the rebuilding of the Temple and the restoration of animal sacrifices (Reform Jews have removed such petitions from their prayer book), Judaism does not believe that blood atonement is essential for personal atonement. Rather, repentance, good deeds, prayer and personal suffering (seen, at times, as a payment for sin) take the place of sacrifices; partial support for this is found in 2 Chronicles 7:14, among other verses. Christianity teaches that atonement can only come through the substitutionary death of the Messiah and that true saving faith includes repentance (see Acts 2:38; 20:21; 26:20).

6. Afterlife—While Judaism recognizes that this world is the vestibule to the world to come, and while there is daily prayer for the coming of the Messiah and the Messianic age, the primary emphasis in Judaism is on the present world, the here and now, in keeping with the emphasis in the Tanakh. Christianity sees the world to come—specifically, heaven and hell—as being of paramount importance, to the point that the way we are called to live in this world can only make complete sense in the light of eternity. While there is a wholesome appreciation of life in this world, it is not to be separated from the world to come.

7. Creed vs. Deed—Judaism has basic creeds—most notably Moses Maimonides’s Thirteen Principles of Faith, although some of these were hotly disputed in his day—and there are fundamental, essential beliefs in Judaism. The greater emphasis, however, is put on deeds—specifically, observing the commandments of the Torah, as understood and passed on through the traditions. Christianity puts a tremendous emphasis on good works and stresses the importance of a transformed life, but its greater emphasis is put on holding to the essentials of the faith, from which a transformed life and good works will naturally emanate. Thus it is sometimes said that Judaism emphasizes orthopraxy; Christianity emphasizes orthodoxy. Or, put another way, Judaism is the religion of the deed, Christianity the religion of the creed. These statements are, however, somewhat exaggerated.

8. Mission—Both Jews and Christians feel a calling to be a light to the world and to make God known, but that sense of mission is worked out very differently in Judaism and Christianity. The former places its emphasis on being faithful to the Jewish calling, meaning living according to the Torah and rabbinic traditions, praying the communal prayers and studying the sacred texts. In so doing, the example of the Jewish people will ultimately enlighten the world. Christianity feels a sacred calling to make the message of salvation known through all available means, including living a life deeply devoted to the Lord (and thereby being an example and hastening redemption) and, quite pointedly, sharing the Good News about Jesus to everyone. Thus, Christianity has always had “missionaries,” while that has not been the norm for more than 1,900 years in Judaism.

Eight Ways Christian Apologists Can Strive To Live The Resurrected Life

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A Point of Concern

This is the time of the year when most apologetic websites (including mine) out the extra effort to provide resources for evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. However, a question lurking in the back of my mind is whether we are actually attempting to live the resurrected life. Several years ago, I remember reading The Cost of Discipleship by the German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In this book, Bonhoeffer laid out what he believed it was to follow Christ. This book was published during the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany. It was during this period that Bonhoeffer’s view of costly discipleship was put together. And it was his view of costly discipleship that ultimately led to his death.

Over the years I have talked to plenty of people about the Gospel. While I run across plenty of people who have never heard the message before, I also I come across plenty of people who profess to be Christians but are not going forward in their faith. If I meet an individual who says they are a professed believer, I always ask them where they are in the discipleship process. Many times when I ask, “Are you becoming a disciple?” I usually get the response, “What’s a disciple?”

Many are oblivious to the importance of discipleship. Therefore, I find myself exhorting hundreds of people to get rooted in congregational/community life—get back to the basics (e.g., read the Bible, prayer). I always give these individuals contact information of local churches that they can attend. It saddens me to see what is happening in the transition from the point when someone makes a professed/salvation decision for Jesus and the overall discipleship/commitment aspect to our faith.

What is a Disciple?

The Hebrew word for disciple is “talmid.” A talmid is a student of one of the sages of Israel. A disciple is a learner, or pupil. When we decide to repent and turn to our Lord for the forgiveness of sins, we have to realize we are now on a new journey. The Gospel is a message for the here and now- not just the future. We have to learn how to live out our faith in the world around us. A disciple (in the New Testament sense) is someone who is striving (by God’s grace) to be consistent follower of Jesus. The goal of the Christian is to imitate our Master.

Discipleship takes a commitment between the discipler and the one being discipled. For those that say they don’t need discipleship, you are setting yourself up for failure. Sorry to be so blunt. But there is no such thing as a Long Ranger Christian.

Why is Discipleship a Hard Sell?

Discipleship is not getting any easier in the world we live in. In an overly sensate culture, people need to be constantly stimulated and have a hard time focusing on something such as discipleship. In a world that wants instant results, self- sacrifice is tough sell. Part of the problem is that churches preach a Gospel that promises that Jesus will fix all our problems. And when things get tough, many people bail out. A long-term commitment to our Lord which involves self denial (Luke 9:23) is hard to swallow for those that have been told The American Dream is the way of happiness.

So given that Jesus is the ultimate Sage- our Master and Lord, here are some of my tips on striving to be a lifelong disciple of Jesus. By the way, I have not mastered these tips. I have to work on implementing them as well. And this is not an exhaustive list. And please understand that I am not saying that if you follow some perfect list you will live be a full blown disciple of Jesus. Anyway let’s look at a few of these:

1. Spiritual Disciplines: It is imperative to stick with spiritual disciplines on a consistent basis. Prayer, Bible reading, study, sharing your faith, serving in the gifts God has given you, etc, should be exercised on a consistent basis. If you don’t pray or stay out of the Bible for day or two, don’t beat yourself up. Get back on track.

By the way, I have noticed a pattern. When I see those who walk away from the Lord, I can almost guarantee that at some point they dropped their spiritual disciplines. They stopped praying, stopped reading the Bible, etc. My advice is to stick with the basics of these disciplines. Don’t go for the quick fix or the one big spiritual high. They never last.

2. Share Your Faith: Since Jesus commands His people to “make disciples of the nations” (Matt.28:19), the Christian who is not ashamed of the gospel (Rom. 1:16), will desire to share it with his neighbor.  Furthermore, can someone enter into the process of discipleship without hearing a verbal proclamation of the gospel? One of the largest obstacles in motivating people to obey the Great Commission is a fear of rejection, misunderstanding, or ridicule.

Remember, the primary role of the Holy Spirit is to magnify the person of Jesus (John 16:12-15). John Piper once asked his father why Christians don’t have more joy in their lives. His father said there is a cure for this issue- Christians need to share their faith. In order for the local congregation to operate in a balanced fashion, it should emphasize both in reach through edification and discipleship (Eph.4:10-13), as well as training to the congregants about how to obey the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19).

3. Make a commitment to obey (or yield) to God: Yes, at some point, you need to tell God you are making a commitment to obey Him. And even when it is tough, your desire is to still obey Him. Given the Holy Spirit’s role is to enable us to obey the Father, you are not on your own. I can say without hesitation that many Christians have never made a commitment to obey God. Why? Because they are afraid. How can you trust someone you don’t know very well?

Remember, God’s goal is to conform us to the image of Christ. And given that the Son obeyed the Father, we are called to be like the Messiah in our submission to the Father as well. So if you want to be used by God, you will need to ask God to cultivate a passion to obey Him. He is after your heart. And He will always want you to be challenged in your obedience. And remember, you can’t please everyone and obey God. People that are craving for the acceptance of others have a hard time obeying God. Who are you drawing your identity from?

4. Be faithful: Whatever God has given you to do (and much of this is already revealed in the Bible), be faithful with it. Many of us want God to give us giant assignments. But He may start with little assignments and then see how faithful we are with that. But always remember your identity is in Christ. One of the reasons Christians burn out is because they think the more they can work for God, the more God will be happy with them and accept them. This is nonsense. God already accepts us and loves us unconditionally on the basis of what His Son has done for us. Yes, I know faith without works is dead. But we need to have a more balanced view about this issue.

5. Integrate Your Faith: Remember, you are in a relationship with God wherever you go. You represent God at your job, family, school, etc. We need to get away from the compartmentalization issue. God cares about every aspect of our lives. The Bible teaches no secular/sacred dichotomy. Everything in our lives should be viewed as worship and ministry. If you view worship as only regulated to a two hour block on a Sunday morning, you are compartmentalizing your spiritual life.

The God of the Bible is certainly a God of revelation. However, as already mentioned, the Bible does command us to love God with our minds (Matt. 22:27), as well as love God with the rest of our being. Hence, biblical faith involves a commitment of the whole person.

6. Know Your Position in the Messiah: It is imperative that we continually know our position in Christ. WHAT IS YOUR POSITION? The power of the resurrection comes to us everyday in Christ. Therefore, God wants us to experience the resurrection power of Jesus on an ongoing basis. As Paul says in Galatians 2:19-20, “For through the law I died to the law, that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” What we tend to forget that Jesus did not die and rose from the dead only for us to go to heaven. He has given us victory over sin in this life in that he broke the power of sin. Yes, we will still sin some times. But, we should not make excuses and say I just can’t overcome any sin. That is a lie. And it not based on a positional understanding of our relationship with God. Yes, there will be struggles in this area. But we are not alone! This leads me to my next point:

7. Know the role of the Holy Spirit: You can forget about following Jesus without knowing the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He is your Helper on a daily basis. Yes, I know there are people who afraid of learning about Him because of so much weirdness in the Church. Remember, there is no “getting more of the Spirit.” Rather, the question is, “How much does the Spirit have of us?” There is more fullness in our lives that comes from the Spirit’s influence in our lives (Eph 5:18). We are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. The more yielded we are, hence, a willingness to follow the Spirit (and doing so) produces this filling. By the way, did you know that Jesus did not perform any of his miracles independently of the Father; instead Jesus did all his miracles in union with the Father (John 5:36; 10:38; 14:10-11) so that His audience would see the unique relationship between the Father and the Son.

8. Build your knowledge: We are called to know, teach, and live by foundational truths. A foundational truth is a basic idea or foundation that other ideas are built on. We need to know what the essentials to our faith are. How can we explain the plan of salvation to someone if we do not understand what a believer must believe? The attributes of God, the deity of Jesus, or the resurrection of Jesus are just some of the foundational truths that we need to know.

That is it for now.

Why the Resurrection of Jesus Matters!

 

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Does the resurrection of Jesus matter? We are presently promoting a large event at a large college campus that will be a discussion/debate between Dr. Michael Licona and Dr. Larry Shapiro on the plausibility of belief the resurrection of Jesus. By the way, if you live in Columbus, Ohio or near here, the event is Feb 26th, 8:00 pm, Mershon Auditorium, 1871 N High St. Columbus, OH 43210, Not to my surprise, like most events that center on the existence of God or the topic of the resurrection of Jesus, the issue of whether the topic is even relevant comes up quite a bit. In other words, in a somewhat post modern world, people aren’t always asking whether it is true. Instead, they are asking, “What difference does this issue make in my life?”  I previously did a post called Does It Matter Whether God Exists?  So let me list a few reasons why I think such a topic such as the resurrection matters:

1.The Resurrection of Jesus provides evidence that the God of the Bible exists. Let’s look a the following syllogisms. 

I1. f Jesus rose from the dead, the God of the Bible exists
2. Jesus rose from the dead
3.Therefore, the God of the Bible exists (not Zeus, Thor or the Flying Spaghetti Monster)

“In a debate with Gary Habermas, former atheist Anthony Flew agreed that if it is a knowable fact that Jesus rose from the dead literally and physically it then constitutes “the best, if not the only, reason for accepting that Jesus is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.”–Gary R. Habermas and Antony G. N. Flew, Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, ed. Terry L. Miethe (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 3

Next syllogism

1.If the God of the Bible exists, then I’m not a naturalistic accident
2.The God of the Bible exists
3. Therefore, I’m not a naturalistic accident

“The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet.” — Stephen Hawking

“In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”- Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden (New York: Basic Books. 1995), 133.

“Human beings cannot be deserving of a special measure of respect by virtue of their having been created ‘in God’s image’ when they have not been created at all (and there is no God). Thus the traditional conception of human dignity is also undermined in the wake of Darwin.”-R. Bontekoe, The Nature of Dignity (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 15– 16.

On theistic belief, all human beings enjoy, the right to life and the resources to sustain it, for life is a gift from God. Humans have a right to human dignity, i.e. the right to receive respect irrespective of age, gender, race or rank or any other way. A responsibility to secure/protect/establish the rights of others. Rights are linked to personhood. Because humans are made in the likeness of a personal God, they are intrinsically (essentially) valuable. Rights come by virtue of who we are by nature (or essence), not our function.

2. If Jesus rose from the dead, it provides answers to the four worldview questions. Let’s look at this syllogism. 

1 .If Jesus rose from the dead, it answers the four worldview questions
2. Jesus rose from the dead
3. Therefore, it answers the four most important worldview questions

Here are the four worldview questions:

1.How we view man’s origins/what is a human? (How did we get here?)

2. What is wrong with the world, and how to fix the problem? (The human condition)

3.Where are we headed as a human race? (Our destiny)

4. How we know right from wrong? (Morality)

Believe it or not, a worldview will impact our view of our vocation, our family, government, education, the environment, etc. A worldview also impacts ethical issues in our culture such as homosexuality, abortion, stem cell research etc. Remember, the issues of competing worldviews shape the past, present, and future of a nation.

3. If Jesus rose from the dead, it provides answers to existential questions. 

Existential Reasons for Belief in God: A Defense of Desires and Emotions for Faith  -     By: Clifford Williams

1.If Jesus rose from the dead, then people can have their existential needs met (i.e., need for meaning, hope, transcendence, love, security, etc.)

2.Jesus rose from the dead

3.Therefore, people can have their existential needs met.

These are some of the reasons why a topic such as the resurrection matters. Granted, I haven’t discussed objections or evidence for the resurrection of Jesus in this post. That’s a topic that has been discussed elsewhere.

The Challenge of Technology and Spiritual Blindness

 

Over the last eleven years I have been doing evangelism and apologetics on a major college campus. What is probably our greatest challenge today? Technology! What do I mean by this? 90% percent of the students I see daily or weekly are on their cell phones. Trying to get them to engage and get out of their personal cell phone life is a real challenge. I really think the adversary our souls is using this to his advantage. Let me illustrate:

There is a relationship between Paul’s commission in Acts 26:16-18 and 2 Corinthians 4:4-6:

“I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:15-18)

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Christ’s sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,“ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
(2 Corinthians 4: 4-6).

We see the relationship between these two passages:

Acts 26:16-18:
(1) Paul’s commission;
(2) Vision of God
(3) Existence under Satan
(4) [Blinded-presupposed]
(5) Turning to God
(6) From darkness to light

2 Corinthians 4:4-6:
(1) Paul’s commission
(2) Vision of God
(3) Under “god of this age”
(4) Blinded
(5) Implied: Turning to God
(6) From Darkness to Light

Source: Data adopted from Seyoom Kim, Paul and the NewPerspective: Second Thoughts on the Origin of Paul’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 102; cited in John Piper’s God is the Gospel.

In the end, we need to heed the words of Pascal:

“If our condition were truly happy, we would not need diversion from thinking of it in order to make ourselves happy…”

“As men are not able to fight against death, misery, ignorance, they have taken it into their heads, in order to be happy, not to think of them at all…”

“The only thing which consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet this it the greatest of our miseries. For it is this which principally hinders us from reflecting upon ourselves, and which makes us insensibly ruin ourselves. Without this we should be in a state of weariness, and this weariness would spur us to seek a more solid means of escaping from it. But diversion amuses us, and leads us unconsciously to death.”

– Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), Pensées, 139, 164-165, 171

If it is so obvious that Jesus is the Messiah, why didn’t the disciples understand it?

Over the years, I have been asked if the messianic prophecies are so clear about the coming of Jesus, why didn’t the disciples understand His mission? This question can be dealt with in a number of ways.

First, we must understand the different messianic expectations at the time of Jesus. As I have  said before, there wasn’t one dominant messianic expectation at the time of Jesus

Secondly, we need to understand the various ways the New Testament authors interpret the Jewish Scriptures. 

Third, we need to possibly consider the words of Michael Heiser here. He says:

“Have you ever wondered how it was that the disciples never seemed to get the things that Jesus told them about himself? Think about it. When Jesus told them that it was time for him to go to Jerusalem and die, it angered and scared them (Matt. 17:22-23; Mark 9:30-32). No one replied, “That’s right—I read that in the Scriptures.” Peter even rebuked Jesus for saying such a thing (Matt. 16:21-23). The truth is that the disciples had little sense of what was going on. Even after the resurrection their minds had to be supernaturally enabled to get the message (Luke 24:44-45). We shouldn’t be too hard on the disciples. They weren’t dumb. Their ignorance was the result of God’s deliberate plan to conceal messianic prophecy. Paul talked about the need for that when writing to the Corinthians: But we speak the hidden wisdom of God in a mystery, which God predestined before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew. For if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Cor. 2:7-8) Had Satan and the other powers of darkness known that instigating people to kill the messiah was precisely what God had designed to accomplish their own doom, they never would have done it. The gospels are clear that Satan and demons knew the prophesied son of David had come (Matt. 8:28-29; Luke 4:31-35). The Old Testament was clear that would happen at some point. But what it concealed was the plan of redemption.

Let’s take Isaiah 53 as an example. It’s clear that God’s servant would suffer for sins—but the Hebrew word translated “messiah” (mashiach) never occurs in the passage. It occurs only once in all of Isaiah—and then it is used of Cyrus, a pagan king. The word never occurs in Jeremiah or Ezekiel, and is only found once in the Minor Prophets (Hab. 3:13) where it speaks of the nation. The occurrences in the Psalms refer to Israel’s king. Only a handful of them are quoted by New Testament authors of the messianic king—but their application only became clear after the fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Even the label “son of God” isn’t helpful since Israel is called God’s son in Exod. 4:22-23, and kings like David got that title, too. As shocking as it sounds, there isn’t a single verse in the Old Testament that refers to a suffering messiah (mashiach) who would be God incarnate, die, and rise again. That’s deliberate. What we do get in the Old Testament are all the pieces of that profile scattered in dozens, even hundreds of places. The portrait could only be discerned after the fact. The plan of salvation was a cosmic chess game that had to be won. The rest of prophecy figures to work out the same way—fulfilments hidden in plain sight.” – Michael Heiser, The 60 Second Scholar: 100 Insights That Illumine the Bible

Feel free to check out our post called Are There Over 300 Messianic Prophecies?

Also, see Heiser’s clip here: How Biblical Prophecy is Unclear and Why- Michael S. Heiser

Why the Resurrection of Jesus is the Best Explanation For What Happened To Paul

Over the years I have had my share of discussions about what we can know about Jesus. I think a good starting place about historical discussions about Jesus is seen in the book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by New Testament historian Mike Licona.[1]  In the book Licona discusses what is called “The Historical Bedrock.” These three facts about the Historical Jesus are held by most critical scholars and historians:

1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion

2. Very Shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.

3. Within a few years after Jesus death, Paul became a follower of Jesus after a personal experience that he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him.[2]

In this post, I want to focus on #3. After all, Paul wrote a large majority of the New Testament. Also, his letters are the earliest records we have for Jesus.

Well known New Testament scholar Dr. Bart Ehrman writes the following regarding Paul’s experience:

It is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution. We know some of these believers by name; one of them, the apostle Paul, claims quite plainly to have seen Jesus alive after his death. Thus, for the historian, Christianity begins after the death of Jesus, not with the resurrection itself, but with the belief in the resurrection” [3]

Even New Testament scholar Dale Allison even says that Paul converted from a persecutor of the church to one of its greatest promoters because of an experience he perceived was of the risen Jesus appearing to him. [4]   Note: see more below on the issue of whether Paul  “converted.”

Some Background on Paul

The undisputed letters of Paul that can be used to give us an understanding about who he was and what his mission was are in Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. The rest of the letters yield very little about the life of Paul.  From Paul’s Letters, we can gather that:

1. The man’s name was Paul: A Greek name.

2. He had a Jewish name, Saul. Remember, having two names was not uncommon for Jews who lived outside Palestine in the first century.

3. Paul was born in Tarsus, a city in Southwestern Asia Minor.

4. He came from a family of Pharisees of the tribe of Benjamin and was named for the tribe’s most illustrious member, King Saul.

5. Paul studied under the famous teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22: 3), the grandson of Hillel. Hillel is known as the Academy of Hillel, founded by a Jewish sage called Hillel the Elder.  The House of Hillel was a school of Jewish law and thought that was very well known in the 1st century B.C.E. Jerusalem.

6. Since Paul’s letters show familiarity with rabbinic methods for interpretation of Scripture and popular Hellenistic philosophy to a degree, this makes it likely that he received a formal education in both areas. Hence, Paul’s exegesis of the Old Testament shows evidence of his rabbinic training.

7. Paul was probably, as an adult, a resident of Damascus. [5]

8. In many places, Paul discusses his Jewish identity. He says “ I am a Jew” (Acts 22;3) “I am a Pharisee” (Acts 23;6), and “I am a prisoner for the sake of the hope of Israel”  (Acts 28:20).

Paul was an active persecutor of the early Christian movement:

The language Paul uses in his pre-revelatory encounter with the risen Lord shows how much how antagonistic he was towards the messianic movement. In Gal. 1:13-15, Paul uses terms such as “persecute” and “destroy” to describe his efforts to put an end to the spread of the early  faith.

Even though Paul does not give a list of the reasons why he was an ardent persecutor of the early Messianic Movement, this reasons for being a persecutor was probably due to several reasons:

First, he may have perceived it to be a threat to Torah obedience.  We need to keep in mind that in within the historical background of the first century, if a Jewish person was to deny the Torah as part of their practice, they would be denying the fact that they were a Jew! [6]

Second, given how he speaks about this topic in his letters (Gal 3:13;1), Paul was most likely aware of Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.” The context of this verse is describing the public display of the corpse of an executed criminal. To say that crucifixion was portrayed in a negative light within Judaism in the first century is an understatement. “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse”-the very method of death brought a divine curse upon the crucified. In other words, anyone who was crucified was assumed not to be the Anointed One of God. So Paul most likely found the idea of group of Jewish people following a crucified Messiah to be abhorrent.

Third, given what we see in Acts 8 (following the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7)  we see that Paul most likely found the Jesus movement as a threat to the Temple. It says in Acts 8: 1-3,

“Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him.But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.”

What Can We Know About Paul’s Revelation of Jesus ?

Jesus was crucified about 33 A.D.  According to many scholars, Paul became a follower of Jesus around 35 A.D. Remember, Paul’s letters are dated between AD 40 and 60.

 Also, Paul did not follow Jesus from the beginning.  However, Paul is still considered an apostle, though “abnormally born” and “the least of the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:8-9). His turning to Jesus happened though a dramatic revelatory encounter (Acts 9: 1-7). His first years as a follower of Jesus in Arabia remain a mystery.  

Three years later after his call, he went to Jerusalem to visit; this is where he saw Peter and James and most likely received the doctrinal content of the Gospel that he goes on to discuss in 1 Cor. 15:3-8. So in this case, we must differentiate between between essence and form. The essence of the gospel, that Jesus of Nazareth was truly the Son of God, was revealed to Paul on the life changing moment on the Damascus road. Paul realized that those that he had been persecuting had been right all along about Jesus being the Messiah.[7] As far as the form the gospel, this includes the historical undergirding of certain events, certain phraseology used to express the new truth and doubtless many other things that were passed onto Paul by those other than him. [8]

As already mentioned, in many places, Paul discusses his Jewish identity. He says “ I am a Jew” (Acts 22;3) “I am a Pharisee” (Acts 23;6), and “I am a prisoner for the sake of the hope of Israel”  (Acts 28:20).  Notice that Paul didn’t say “I was a Pharisee” or that “I was a Jew.” So perhaps it is inaccurate to say that Paul switched religions. Hence, it would be more reasonable to say that while Paul did have a radical reorientation about his theology, but he more likely received a “call” rather than a conversion to a new religion.  If anything, Paul did ‘repent.’ The Hebrew word for repent is “shub” which means to “turn back” or “return.”  So Paul was most certainly restored to the God of Israel through the Messiah. But  the old saying, “Paul converted to Christianity” has not gone unchallenged within New Testament scholarship.

What does the Resurrection of Jesus explain  in relation to Paul’s coming to faith in the Messiah?

#1 The Resurrection of Jesus explains the appearance to Paul was not a vision:

If Paul did have a vision then the term “vision” is vague and must be defined. As Licona points out, visions are either objective (i.e., something that is seen without the use of our natural senses) or subjective (i.e., a  product of our minds). The real  problem is with the vision hypothesis is that it doesn’t explain Paul’s use of resurrection to explain what had happened to Jesus.  The two words are used for resurrection in the New Testament  are “anastasis” (rising up) and “egersis” (waking up), which  both imply a physical body. Furthermore, the use of the word “opethe” (the Greek word for appeared) shows the Gospel writers did believe that Jesus appeared physically.

“There you will see (opethe) him” (Matt. 28:7); “The Lord has risen and has appeared (opethe) to Simon” (Luke 24:24). When they used “opethe” here, it means that He appeared physically to them. So when Paul gives his list of appearances in 1 Cor. 15, the issues becomes whether the appearance to him is the same as it was to the disciples. There is no doubt the post resurrection body of Jesus (after the ascension) had to be somewhat different than the body the disciples saw. Also, whenever the New Testament mentions the word body, in the context of referring to an individual human being, the Greek word “soma” always refers to a literal, physical body.Greek specialist Robert Gundry says “the consistent and exclusive use of soma for the physical body in anthropological contexts resists dematerialization of the resurrection, whether by idealism or by existentialism.” [9] Furthermore, in N.T. Wright’s  The Resurrection of the Son of God shows that the Greek word for resurrection which is “anastasis” was used by ancient Jews, pagans, and Christians as bodily in nature.

The Resurrection helps explains Paul’s Christology

As already mentioned, Paul’s Letters are the earliest records we have for the life of Jesus. They are also the earliest letters we have for the Christology of Jesus. In several of Paul’s Letters Jesus is referred to as “Lord” (Gr. kyrios). Hence, the willingness to do this place Jesus in a role attributed to God in Jewish expectation.” For a Jewish person, when the title “Lord” (Heb. Adonai) was used in place of the divine name YHWH, this was the highest designation a Jewish person could use for deity.

Also, as pointed out by Richard Bauckham in his work on this topic, Paul believed that  Jesus was God by attributing attributes to him that were distinctly reserved for God. And he did so in a distinctly Jewish manner while also preserving  monotheism. There were three attributes that first century Jews uniquely assigned to God:

1. God is the Sole Ruler of all things

2. God is the Sole Creator of all things

3. God is the only being deserving of worship

So let’s look at how Paul matches up the data here:

1. Jesus participates in God’s sole rule over all things

 Phil: 3:20-21: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”

 Eph. 1:21-22: Paul speaks of Jesus being “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet…”

Here, Jesus is clearly given the authority to rule above every one of God’s created beings.

2. Jesus as the Creator of all things

Jesus is clearly thought by Paul to have been the creator of the universe. This attribute is reserved only to God in Second Temple Judaism. Paul makes it clear that Jesus created all things.

Col. 1:15-16: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”

3. Jesus as worthy of worship

As discussed above, only God was worthy of worship in Second Temple Judaism. Nevertheless, Paul discusses the worship of Jesus. Since God is the sole Creator and Ruler of all things He alone should be worshiped. Even within the Roman Empire, Jews worshiped God alone. No other entity was worthy of worship. Here is one of the earliest Christological texts:

Philippians 2:6-11: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Conclusion:

In the end, it is clear that Paul had a dramatic change that turned him from a persecutor of the early followers of Jesus to the greatest missionary of the early faith. Someone may object and say it is not a big deal for someone to make such a radical change in their beliefs in antiquity. After all, people change beliefs all the time (i.e. people leave Islam for the Christian faith or vice versa). In response, I suggest doing a thorough study of the honor and shame culture that Paul was acquainted with. You will see it was much more of a challenge to change one’s beliefs in antiquity than it is today. I submit that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for the change in Paul’s life.

Sources:

[1] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographal Approach (Downers Grove, ILL: Intervarsity Press, 2010).

 [2] Ibid, 302-303.

 [3] Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Third Edition (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 276.

 [4] Dale Allison, Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters (New York: T&T Clark, 2005), 263-268.

[5] Most of points 1-8 are laid out in Marion Soard’s The Apostle Paul: An Introduction to his Writings and Teaching (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1987), 10-11.

[6] See Martin Hengel’s The Pre-Christian Paul (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1991).

 [7] D. A. Carson, D. J. Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction To The New Testament(Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publising House, 2002),220.

 [8] Ibid.

[9] Norman Geisler. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books 1999), 668.