Two New Resources on the Genre of the Gospels

Over the years, I have had my share of discussions about the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). There is still an overall skepticism towards them that permeates the culture and college campuses. I have found that many skeptics have never stopped and asked the question, “What Are The Gospels?” Historian and theologian Paul Barnett has made some helpful comments here on this topic.
He says:

“In attempting to identify the gospels in terms of existing literary genres, it is not always recognized, as it should be, that Mark alone calls his book by that name. Furthermore, the four canonical gospels differ from each other in both character and intention. Mark wrote his text to be read aloud in church meetings (Mark 13:14) to demonstrate that Jesus was the awesome Son of Man who disappeared as mysteriously as he had appeared. Luke wrote his two-volume “narrative” to confirm catechumens like Theophilus in the truth in which he had been instructed (Luke 1:1-4). Matthew wrote his gospel as a manual for the instruction of disciples, based on the collected teachings of the Christ (Matt 28:19). John wrote his book with special interest in Jesus’ miracle signs and lengthy pastoral and polemical discourse. The character and intention of each gospel are different. Luke and Matthew felt that Mark’s gospel was inadequate, so they adapted it and added other material to suit their purposes. John wrote his “book” to reassure his Christian hearers that Jesus was truly the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:30-31). Clearly each gospel is biographical in character and bears some similarities to the Greco-Roman bioi of that general era, e.g., Suetonius’s Twelve Caesars or Plutarch’s Parallel Lives.56 Nonetheless, the gospels are unusual if not unique because their intended readership and purpose are so exclusively defined. Whereas the contemporary biographers and historians wrote to inform everyone in general and no one in particular, the gospelers wrote their texts narrowly and specifically for Christians for “in-house” use. Accordingly, attempts to classify the gospels according to this genre or that should be regarded as secondary. The primary observation should be to recognize their unique intended audience as church-directed and their function as ecclesial-liturgical (Mark), polemical-apologetic (John), and instructional (Matthew, Luke-Acts). Mark is a special case. The writer’s explicit direction to the lector to explain the meaning of an obscure text (Mark 13:14) and the many implied side comments to those present (e.g., 7:11,19;13:37; 15:21) identify this text as designed to be read aloud in a church meeting. Mark must be classified alongside the letters of Paul and the Apocalypse as a text the author specifically wrote for an aural purpose in a liturgical, ecclesial setting. That was also likely true of Matthew, Luke-Acts, and John. The gospels claim another dimension as well, the supranatural. That is to say, the gospels are existentially the word of the risen and ascended Kyrios that are read aloud to his assembled people (cf. Mark 13:14 – “Let the lector explain”). Mark’s opening words indicate that what follows is “the gospel of (i.e., from) Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” that is to say, his word to his hearers in the churches. The man Mark is merely the human cipher through whom the words of the risen Lord come to his people. Using different language, John asserts that the “book” he writes is a “true … witness” to Christ’s “signs” for his hearers to safely “believe” for immediate entry to “eternal life” (John 20:30-31; 19:35; cf. 21:24). Does the supranatural character of Mark suggest that his gospel is a historical, in fact mythical in character? No. Mark roots his narrative in the soil of geography (e.g., Nazareth, Capernaum, Gennesaret, Bethsaida, Tyre, Sidon, the Decapolis, Caesarea Philippi, Jerusalem) and (as noted) in the context of John the Baptist and of known political leaders (Herod the king [actually, tetrarch], the high priest, Pontius Pilate). Jesus’ movements as fugitive from the ruler of Galilee (chapters 6-9) are consistent with one avoiding the borders of Herod Antipas’s jurisdiction. Mark’s gospel is the word of the living Christ to the churches and a work that is both historical and geographical. We offer two observations about the genre of the gospels. First, their special readership (church groups) and purpose liturgical/polemical/apologetic/instructional) make it difficult to classify them alongside other contemporary texts. Second, insofar as they are able to be classified, they belong to the broad group of biographies (bioi). In short, they are ecclesial documents that are biographical and historical in character. For both Mark and John their words are supranaturally true. Yet at the same time they must also be historically true. If they are not historically true, they cannot be supranaturally true.”- Finding the Historical Christ (After Jesus) by Paul Barnett

For more on this topic, see our post A Closer Look at the Genre of the Gospels: Ancient and Modern Historiography: What are the Gospels?

The good news is that there have been two new excellent sources that discuss the genre of the Gospels. The first is Craig Keener’s Biographies and Jesus: What Does It Mean for the Gospels to Be Biographies?

The second is Michael Licona’s Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography

Enjoy!

The Supposed Warfare Between Christianity and Science

Thanks to the wonderful resource Christian Apologetics Alliance for this resource.

The following is an excerpt from Dr. Douglas Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics, chapter five, “Distortions of the Christian Worldview—Or the God I Don’t Believe In”.  It is posted with Dr. Groothuis’ gracious permission.  The pic is taken by friend Sarah Geis.

Photo credit: Sarah Geis

The Supposed Warfare Between Christianity and Science

Many object to Christianity on the basis that it is hostile to scientific progress.  Much has been made of the alleged “warfare between science and religion,” as if the forces of retrenchment and obscurantism (religion) were always hurling their ideological ordnance against the forces of reason, experimentation, and enlightenment (science).[1] This caricature has been kept alive by Richard Dawkins in his best-selling book, The God Delusion (2006). On this account, Christianity is reactionary and anti-science. But, on the other hand, if Christianity has contributed significantly to scientific betterment, then this would be of positive apologetic value.[2]

The relationship between Christianity and science is extensive and multifaceted. We will look at two areas of Christian response to science. The first response is historical: How has Christianity related to scientific discovery? The second is philosophical and theological: How does the Christian worldview address the nature of the universe and matters of scientific discovery?

The historical record is not one of unmitigated hostility of the church against science, resulting in science always claiming victory over benighted theological assertions. On the contrary, the Christian understanding of nature often inspired scientific research. As part of a long and fascinating research project concerning the relationship of Christian monotheism to Western history, sociologist Rodney Stark argues that the medieval Christian worldview provided a wellspring of intellectual resources for the development of science, technology, and commerce. He argues that the later achievements of the Scientific Revolution were not the results of “an eruption of secular thinking,” but were rather “the culmination of many centuries of systematic progress by medieval Scholastics, sustained by that uniquely Christian twelfth-century invention, the university.”[3] This development was rooted in the Christian belief that nature is rationally knowable and should be investigated and used for the common good and the glory of God.

Science only reached its glories in the Christian west during the Scientific Revolution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when new discoveries were made in physics, astronomy, mathematics, and other sciences. This was due in part to the rejection of some of the inherited Roman Catholic ideas of nature held by the Church on the basis of its adoption of Aristotelian philosophy. For example, Francis Bacon and Blaise Pascal (both Christians) rejected certain a priori accounts of nature (strongly influenced by Aristotelianism) for a more experimental/empirical approach. Bacon developed an inductive approach to science (although he engaged in few experiments) and Pascal performed significant experiments concerning the vacuum, the behavior of fluids, and so on.[4] Other seminal scientific figures such as Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo held to a theistic worldview which encouraged the study and development of creation.[5] They did not view the Bible as inhibiting science, but as being compatible with the best investigations of nature.

Despite this record of harmony between religious commitment and scientific aspiration, there has been discord as well—although not to the degree that is usually assumed. Two examples of this discord were Galileo’s conflict with the Roman Catholic authorities and the infamous Huxley-Wilberforce debate over Darwinism. These icons of church-science warfare need to be knocked off the secularists’ trophy shelf.

Galileo, as noted, was a confessing Christian who discerned no discord between the Bible and natural science. He famously stated that the Scriptures tell us how to go to heaven, but not how the heavens go. By this, he meant that Scripture should not be pressed beyond what it was intended to communicate. He was not denying the truth of the Bible, but rather its misinterpretation. Galileo built on the Copernican heliocentric theory and confirmed it through telescopic observation. The church objected to Galileo’s theory more on the basis of their commitment to Aristotelian principles concerning nature than on a conflict between the Bible and new scientific findings. Further, Galileo was rather intemperate in his opinions and thereby left himself open to censure. He was placed under house arrest, but was not tortured or imprisoned in any cruel manner. Galileo’s mistreatment was certainly indefensible, but the whole sorry episode fails to represent any incorrigible conflict between the Bible and scientific progress.[6]

We will discuss Darwinism in detail in later chapters. However, one event is often invoked to demonstrate the futility of criticizing the essentials of Darwinism: the debate between Thomas Huxley (known as “Darwin’s bulldog”) and Samuel Wilberforce, an Anglican bishop. Occurring shortly after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, the debate came to be characterized as a rout for Huxley, who exposed the benighted clergyman as a buffoon through an especially apt one-liner. But the reality was quite different. The event caused very little controversy at the time, and was not written up in local papers until some time later. There was no consensus that Huxley was the victor. Wilberforce, who is usually dubbed as opposing Darwin for theological reasons alone, in fact, marshaled a scientific critique of his theory based on a previously written fifty page article. Far from forever banishing rational criticism of Darwinism, this debate revealed two capable intellects sparring over a very significant topic.

Having briefly looked at historical matters, we need to consider in more detail the intellectual reasons why the Christian worldview encouraged science in the middle ages and especially in the Scientific Revolution. The rise of science in the West is unique in world history. As Stark says:

Real science arose only once: in Europe. China, Islam, India, and ancient Greece     and Rome each had a highly developed alchemy. But only in Europe did alchemy    develop into chemistry. By the same token, many societies developed elaborate     systems of astrology, but only in Europe did astrology lead to astronomy. Why?[7]

The answer lies in the Christian West’s view of God, creation, and humanity. Unlike cultures elsewhere, “Christians developed science because they believed it could be done, and should be done.”[8] Philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead noted in Science and the Modern World that the medievalists insisted on “the rationality of God, conceived as with the personal energy of Jehovah and with the rationality of a Greek philosopher. Every detail was supervised and ordered: the search into nature could only result in the vindication of the faith in rationality.”[9]

The deities of other religions (outside of monotheism) were irrational and impersonal, and could not serve as the foundation for belief in an orderly and knowable creation. Lacking any creation of creation, these other cultures could only posit a universe that is, according to Stark, “a supreme mystery, inconsistent, unpredictable, and arbitrary. For those holding these religious premises, the path to wisdom is through meditation into mystical insights and there is no occasion to celebrate reason.”[10] But Christianity, on the contrary, “depicted God as a rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being and the universe as his personal creation, thus having a rational, lawful, stable structure, awaiting human comprehension.”[11]

Although Islam affirms a doctrine of creation, its views of God and humanity are far different from Christianity. The God of Islam is an unknowable commander and humans are Allah’s slaves, not made in his image. Creation is controlled moment-by-moment by God’s arbitrary will, such that laws and processes cannot be discerned. Basic scientific theories are not discoverable, since they depend on natural regularities.[12] According to eminent historian and philosopher of science, Stanley Jaki Islamic thinkers –having assimilated Aristotle nearly wholesale—did not have a conception of God “adequately rational to inspire an effective distaste for various types of pantheistic, cyclic, animistic, and magical world pictures which freely made their way into the Rasa’l [an early Islamic encyclopedia of knowledge].”[13] While Christian thinkers believed in miracles, they deemed them as rare and as not interfering with the basic patterns of the natural order established by God himself.[14]

Kenneth Samples has aptly summarized ten ways in which Christian belief creates a hospitable environment for scientific inquiry.[15]

  1. The physical universe is an objective reality, which is ontologically distinct from the Creator (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1).
  2. The laws of nature exhibit order, pattern, and regularity, since they are established by an orderly God (Psalm 19:1-4).
  3. The laws of nature are uniform throughout the physical universe, since God created and providentially and sustains them.
  4. The physical universe is intelligible because God created us to know himself, ourselves, and the rest of creation. (Genesis 1-2; Proverbs 8).
  5. The world is good, valuable, and worthy of careful study, because it was created for a purpose by a perfectly good God (Genesis 1).  Humans, as the unique image bearers of God, were created to discern, discover, and develop the goodness of creation for the glory of God and human betterment through work. The creation mandate (Genesis 1:26-28) includes scientific activity.[16]
  6. Because the world is not divine and therefore not a proper object of worship, it can be an object of rational study and empirical observation.
  7. Human beings possess the ability to discover the universe’s intelligibility, since we are made in God’s image and have been placed on earth to develop its intrinsic possibilities.
  8. Because God did not reveal everything about nature, empirical investigation is necessary to discern the kind of patterns God laid down in creation.
  9. God encourages, even propels, science through his imperative to humans to take dominion over nature (Genesis 1:28).
  10. The intellectual virtues essential to carrying out the scientific enterprise (studiousness, honesty, integrity, humility, and courage) are part of God’s moral law (Exodus 20:1-17).[17]
While Christianity and science have had their scuffles, there is nothing inherent in the Christian worldview that is inimical to science rightly understood.  We will take the relationship of Christianity and science (particularly Darwinism) in more detail in several later chapters.

[1] Andrew D. White, The Warfare of Science and Religion (orig. pub. 1895; New York: George Braziller, 1955).

[2] See the apologetic criterion concerning human betterment in the chapter “Apologetic Method.”

[3] Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (New York: Random House, 2005), 12.

[4] For a brief account of Pascal’s philosophy of science, see Douglas Groothuis, On Pascal (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2003). Bacon and Pascal were key players in the Scientific Revolution, but held different understandings of nature. Bacon was far more optimistic about human progress through science than was Pascal. See Douglas Groothuis, “Bacon and Pascal on Mastery Over Nature,” Research in Philosophy and Technology 14 (1994).

[5] Not all these thinkers held to an orthodox Christian view. Newton may have been an Arian. Nevertheless, they were religious people who held a theistic worldview and who did not deem science as antithetical to religious convictions.

[6] See Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 163-166.

[7] Stark, The Victory of Reason, 14.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Alfred North Whitehead, Science in the Modern World.

[10] Stark, Victory of Reason,15.

[11] Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God, 147.

[12] Ibid., 154-155.

[13] Stanely Jaki, The Savior of Science in Stark, Glory, 155-156.

[14] I will explain more of the biblical understanding and defense of miracle in an upcoming chapter.

[15] I have modified them somewhat, but within the spirit of what he wrote.

[16] On the significance and depth of the creation mandate, see Francis Nigel Lee, The Central Significance of Culture (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1976), chapter one.

[17] On the presuppositions of science, see also J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987), 198-201

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