Why asking “What is your truth language?” is critical to mission work!

Introduction

Perhaps you have heard of the book The Five Love Languages: Secret to Love That Lasts. This book has been quite popular among couples. There is no doubt the culture is changing at a faster rate than we can keep up with it. Trying to do mission work the way we did it 20 or 30 years ago has its challenges. In my view, perhaps we need to ask people what exactly is their truth language? In other words, just as for married couples there are different love languages, perhaps there are possible ways to approach truth for so many different people? Is there one truth language? The analogy applies to truth and the existence of God. When Christians  attempt to share their faith or ask people whether Christianity is true, or even why they think it is true,  you will hear a variety of answers. In other words, given people are such complex creatures, we need to ask them if they will consider some of the following approaches to our faith. Here are some of the ones I have discussed with people.

#1: The Revelatory Approach

For many Christians they think Christianity is true because God has revealed it to them through both natural and revealed theology. Now I want you to think about your family and friends. How do you know what they expect of you unless they communicate to you?  If they really wanted you to know something, they have to take the initiative to speak to you, write it down, or possibly communicate to you through a text message, an email, or something else. In other words, they have to do something to get through to you!  Now remember, you can ignore their attempts to communicate with you. You can stay busy or just shut them out.

Now think of the communication issue and God’s existence. We can’t see the God of the Bible directly (which is a good thing!), but He still has chosen to communicate to us.  For example, there is a tendency to forget that the Bible stresses that sin can dampen the cognitive faculties that God has given us to find Him. Therefore, sin has damaging consequences on the knowing process (Is. 6:9-10; Zech. 7:11-12; Matt. 13:10-13). Thus, people are dead, blinded, and bound to sin.

Christianity stresses that  the God of the Bible is capable of giving a revelation to mankind through a specific medium. One of the most important themes of the Bible is that since God is free and personal, that he acts on behalf of those whom he loves, and that his actions includes already within history, a partial disclosure of his nature, attributes, and intensions.  Revelation is a disclosure of something that has been hidden– an “uncovering,” or “unveiling.” There are three things are needed for a revelation to take place: God, a medium, and a being able to receive the revelation.

The mediums God uses in the Bible are general revelation (Creation; Psalm 19:1-4;Romans 1:20 Conscience; Rom. 2:12-15); Special 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).

But why the need for revelation? First, we need to know the character of GodHence, we need a clear communication to establish the exact nature of God’s character. Who is God and what is He Like? Also, we need a revelation to understand the origin of evil. Thus, we need to be educated concerning the reasons for where we are at as a human race. Furthermore, 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. And without a clear revelation we wouldn’t know our destiny.

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).

#2: Historical Arguments/Prophecy

Many Christians have been challenged by the revelation argument. After all, the Bible is considered to be God’s revelation to mankind. However, The Quran, The Book of Mormon, and other holy books are considered to be The Word of God. Who has it right?  The late Christopher Hitchens said:

Since all these revelations, many of them hopelessly inconsistent, cannot by definition be simultaneously true, it must follow that some of them are false and illusory. It could also follow that only one of them is authentic, but in the first place this seems dubious and in the second place it appears to necessitate religious war in order to decide whose revelation is the true one.[1]

The objection by Hitchens shouldn’t be discarded. For the follower of Jesus, there is the call to “make disciples of the nations” (Matt.28:19). Any attempt to reach out to a lost and needy world will result in several encounters with people from a variety of spiritual backgrounds. Many Christians can be surprised to find out that many people from non-Christian backgrounds are incredibly sincere about their faith. Unfortunately, sincerity is not a test for truth. Many people have been sincerely wrong about many things. Almost all the people I have encountered from religious backgrounds think they have “true” revelation. And they are just as fervent and committed to their beliefs as devout Christians are. There is no doubt that religious experience shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, the issue of religious experience brings up an interesting point in apologetic dialogue. Which revelation is true? What god is the individual encountering?

John P. Newport sums up the issue rather nicely:

No sane person tries to accept as authoritative revelation from God all writings which are self-declared to be such. However eager we may be for harmony and tolerance, we cannot be intellectually honest unless we face the fact that there is a real contradiction between conflicting truth claims. As we reflect on how we are created in the image of God, we need to remember that we are creatures of both will and mind, of faith and reason. We are called to think as well as act and feel; therefore our faith will always have a rational element to it.[2]

But even though I wholeheartedly agree with Newport, I still think it is fine to follow what Randy Newman calls the “plausibility factor.”

Isn’t it reasonable to believe that a God who created us could, if he wanted to do so through the vehicle of inspired writing?” In other words, does it make sense that God should provide a revelation of Himself to humanity? [3]

If we go ahead and say “yes” to the following question, we then can ask if God has revealed Himself in the course of human history, when and where has He done this? We can look at religious texts and see if they pass the tests for historicity.  Thus, we enter the domain of historical apologetics. Remember, all  claims have to be taken on a case by case basis. We need to evaluate the evidence for each claim in its own historical and religious context.

For example, former atheist Anthony Flew said the resurrection of Jesus was the best attested miracle claim that he had seen. Another aspect of the historical argument is the argument from prophecy. Fulfilled prophecy does take a good bit of exegetical work and we don’t want to jump into it too lightly. See more here: : The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case  for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

I tend to agree with Dr. Daniel Wallace when he says the following about the relationship between history and our faith:

“The best of biblical scholarship pursues truth at all costs. And it bases its conclusions on real evidence, not on wishes, emotion, or blind faith. This is in line with the key tenets of historic Christianity: If God became man in time-space history, then we ought to link our faith to history. It must not be a leap of faith, but it should be a step of faith. The religion of the Bible is the only major religion in the world that subjects itself to historical inquiry. The Incarnation has forever put God’s stamp of approval on pursuing truth, wrestling with data, and changing our minds based on evidence. When we deny evidence its place and appeal to emotion instead, we are methodologically denying the significance of the Incarnation. Much is thus at stake when it comes to a text such as the story of the woman caught in adultery. What is at stake is not, as some might think, the mercy of God; rather, what is at stake is how we view the very Incarnation itself. Ironically, if we allow passages into the Gospels that do not have the best credentials, we are in fact tacitly questioning whether the Lord of the Gospels, Jesus Christ himself, became man, for we jettison historicity in favor of personal preference. By affirming a spurious passage about him we may be losing a whole lot more than we gain.

It is the duty of pastors for the sake of their faith to study the data, to know the evidence, to have firm convictions rooted in history. And we dare not serve up anything less than the same kind of meal for our congregations. We do not serve the church of Jesus Christ faithfully when we hide evidence from laypeople; we need to learn to insulate our congregations, but not isolate them. The Incarnation of Christ demands nothing less than this.”- Daniel Wallace

 

#3: God or Theism as an Explanatory Hypothesis?

Some Christians have followed the C.S. Lewis approach when he 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?

Using God as an explanatory explanation is seen in philosophical theology or natural theology arguments. The book The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology does a fine job in handling this issue. To see a short example of this approach online see,  The Return of the God Hypothesis  by Stephen C. Meyer or Paul Copan’s God: The Best Explanation

An example of this approach is seen in a book like A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the  Genius of Nature by Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt.

#4: Pragmatic Arguments?

Many Christians think Christianity  is true because of the pragmatic benefits they see in their own lives. This is a very popular approach. In this argument, many people say their religious beliefs have been tried and tested out in the reality of life.  In other words, “Christianity works because it is true!”

This does have some merit. After all, if the Christian faith is the one true path, it should make a radical difference in the reality of life. The challenge of this argument is that in some cases, it seems Christianity doesn’t work. Christians have challenges in their families, work related issues and relationships. However, just because Christians don’t always reflect the character of Jesus and don’t always show the difference it makes, this doesn’t mean Christianity is false. It could be that the person is not under healthy teaching/discipleship or living in sin. So the pragmatic argument can be a tricky one. Everyone knows Christians have done some amazing things for the world (see here), but we also have some inconsistencies.

#5: Existential Arguments

There is no doubt that many Christians are Christians for existential reasons. In 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

Conclusion:

All Christians owe it to themselves to never assume there in one truth language for people. The best thing to do is ask questions and get people to think about what truth language makes sense to them. It can be a challenge. But it can be quite rewarding.

Sources:

  1. Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2009), 97-98.
  2. John C. Newport, Life’s Most Important Questions: A  Contemporary Philosophy of Religion (Dallas, Texas. Word Publishing. 1989),  452-453

Handling a Rabbi’s Objection: The Messianic Mission and the Inclusion of the Gentiles into God’s Redemptive Plan

This is the season when many Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus and his entry into the world as the Jewish Messiah who would provide redemption for the sins of mankind. I won’t go into the issues of all the commerical aspects of the Christmas holiday and the fact that Jesus was not born Dec 25th. That is not the point of this post.

What is interesting is that over the years  the Jewish community has come up with a criterion that supposedly shows that the Jewish Messiah has not come.  In Aryeh Kaplan’s The Real Messiah: A Jewish Response to Missionaries, we see a list of some of the common expectations for the Messiah:

 In the Messianic age, the Jewish people will dwell freely in their land. There will be an “ingathering of the exiles” when all the Jews return to Israel. This will eventually bring all the nations to acknowledge the God of Israel and acknowledge the truth of his teachings. The Messiah will be king over Israel, but in a sense, rule rover the nations.

The Jewish concept of the Messiah is that which is clearly taught in the prophets of the Bible. He is a leader of the Jews , strong in wisdom and power and spirit. It is he who will bring complete redemption to the Jewish people both spiritually and physically. Along with this, he will bring eternal love, prosperity and moral perfection to the world.

  The Jewish Messiah will bring all peoples to God. This is expressed in the Alenu prayer, which concludes all three daily services:

May the world be perfected under the kingdom of the Almighty. Let all the humans call upon Your Name and turn all the world’s evildoers to You. Let everyone on earth know that every knee must bow to you….and let them all accept the yoke of Your Kingdom.

The Prophets in the Bible  foretold that when the Messiah comes, all the nations of the world will unite to acknowledge and worship the one true God. The knowledge of God will fill the earth. The world will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the seas (Isaiah 11, 9). On the contrary, Islam developed and became the religion of the nations and many other nations, Christianity broke up into many conflicting sects which were constantly at war with each other, and a large part of the world continued to worship idols. Even today is far away from the worship of the one true God.

One of the major tasks of the Messiah is to bring peace into the entire world. In the time of the Messiah, there are to be no more wars, and the manufacture of arms will cease. The Prophet Isaiah (Ch 2, 4) says, “And they shall beat their swords and plowshares and spears into their pruning hooks. Nations will not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Yet, Christian nations are very war-like and wars have been going on almost non-stop since the time of Jesus up to and including today. [1]

After reading these messianic expectations, I think that Jesus does fulfill some of them. I also admit that some of these expectations will be fulfilled at His return. While there are many ways to respond to this, we do see that one of the messianic expectations is that the Messiah is supposed to king over the nations and that He as a Jew will help provide other people groups gain access to knowledge of the one true God.

#1: The First Issue: Israel’s Election

What does it mean to say Israel was elected? Scott Bader-Saye says:

Election is the choice by one person of another person out of a range of possible candidates. This choice then establishes a mutual relationship between the elector and the elected, in biblical terms a “covenant” (berit). Election is much more fundamental then just freedom of choice in the ordinary sense, where a free person chooses to do one act from a range of possible acts. Instead, the elector chooses another person with whom she will both act and elicit responses, and then establishes the community in which these acts are done, and then promises that for which the election has occurred. The content of these practical choices is governed by Torah, but there could be no such coherent standards of action without prior context of election, the establishment of covenantal community, and the promise of ultimate purpose.”[2]

#2:  Election involves Redemption

Election is not solely a doctrine about salvation- that some get saved while others do not. Hence, it is simply about God’s fairness. Instead, election of one is not the rejection of the rest, but ultimately for their benefit.  It is in Genesis 12:1–3 that the Messianic blessing for the entire world would come from the offspring of Abraham:

I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”

This promise of a universal blessing  was repeated to Isaac (26:4), and reaffirmed to Jacob (28:13-15; 35:11, 12; 46:3) and Moses (Ex. 3:6-8; 6:2-8).  The universal blessing is promised to the  peoples on all the earth – 70 nations at the time – who would be beneficiaries of the promise.  The promise to Abraham pointed to a seed, a race, a family, a man, as well as a land, and a blessing of universal proportions.

Christopher Wright points out the significance of the promise:

There is an immense difference between prediction and promise. Promise presupposes, initiates or sustains personal relationship and involves personal commitment (prediction need not). Thus the fulfillment of a promise may, in the event, take a quite different form from the material terms in which it was made, yet still be a true fulfillment in as much as its purpose was bound up with the relationship, not the objective form of words used. Thus it must be asked of any prophecy not only, ‘what was actually said at the time?’ but also ‘what was the promise for?’ [3]

#3: Redemption is the Fulfillment of Election:

It is God’s reaching out to restore Israel and through Israel to extend covenantal peace to the world.  Israel is elected for mission by God for the sake of these other families so that God’s blessing might come to all of them through what Israel is and what Israel does. The calling of Israel would  be to see the inclusion of Gentiles (“goyim” or “people groups” ) into the covenant.

We see in Jeremiah 1:5 that this prophet is chosen by God, not simply as a prophet to Israel, but as prophet “to the nations.” Other prophets like Jonah or major writing prophets, addressed twenty-five chapters of their prophecies to the Gentile nations of their day (Isa. 13-23; Jer. 46-51; Ezek. 25-32). Amos also spoke of all the nations coming to the God of Israel (Amos 9:12). So the point is that while Israel was called to have an inward focus, they have an external calling.  Another important passage is in  Isaiah 49:1-7:

“Listen to Me, O islands, And pay attention, you peoples from afar, The LORD called Me from the womb; From the body of My mother He named Me. He has made My mouth like a sharp sword, In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me; And He has also made Me a select arrow, He has hidden Me in His quiver. He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel, In Whom I will show My glory.” But I said, “I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity;Yet surely the justice due to Me is with the LORD, And My reward with My God.” And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him. For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, And My God is My strength, He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One, To the despised One, To the One abhorred by the nation, To the Servant of rulers, Kings will see and arise, Princes will also bow down, Because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You.”

Remember the following issues with  the Servant of the Lord:

1. God’s servants  were those who worshiped him and carried out his will, often in important leadership roles. Individuals such as Abraham(Gen 26:24 ), Moses ( Exod 14:31; Deut 34:5 ), David ( 2 Samuel 7:52 Samuel 7:8 ), and Isaiah (20:3) were called God’s “servants” as they obediently walked with the Lord.

2. The Servant as Israel: At times it seems quite clear that the servant refers collectively to the nation of Israel. The people of Israel (or Jacob) compose the corporate body that God calls “My servant” (Isa 41:8, 9; 42:19; 43:10; 44:1, 2, 21, 26; 45:4; 48:20; 49;3; Jer 30:10; 46:27, 28; Ezek. 28:25; 37:25).

3. The Servant as a Righteous Remnant: Sometimes the concept of the “servant” seems to refer to those in Israel who were spiritual, the righteous remnant who remained faithful to the Lord. In 42:5 and 49:8 the servant functions as “a covenant for the people” and is involved in the restoration of the land after the Babylonian exile.

4. The Servant as an Individual: Unlike the nation Israel, the servant of the Lord listened to God’s word and spoke words of comfort and healing ( 42:2-3 ; 50:4-5). Yet his words were powerful and authoritative, and like a judge he was concerned about establishing justice and righteousness ( Isaiah 42:1Isaiah 42:4 ; 49:2 ). Twice the servant is called “a light to the Gentiles” ( 42:6 ; 49:6 ), and “light” is clearly paralleled to “salvation.” Similarly, the servant is involved in the restoration of the nation Israel ( 49:5). He is “a covenant for the people” ( 42:6 ; 49:8 ) as the ruler who was promised in the Davidic covenant ( 2 Sam 7:16 ) and the One who would initiate the new covenant. The servant opens the eyes of the blind and frees captives from prison ( 42:7 ; cf. 61:1 ).

5. A careful reading of the four servant songs has nonetheless led many scholars to argue that the servant refers to an individual who fulfills in himself all that Israel was meant to be. In some respects the servant can be compared with the Davidic messianic king. Both were chosen by God and characterized by righteousness and justice (cf. 9:7 ;Isaiah 42:1 Isaiah 42:6 ). The Spirit of God would empower both the king and the servant ( 11:1-4 ; 42:1 ), and ultimately the suffering servant would be highly exalted (cf. 52:13 ;53:12 ) and given the status of a king. The “shoot” or “branch” from the family of Jesse (11:1 ) is linked with the description of the servant as “a tender shoot” ( 53:2 ).[4]

So in order for Isa. 49:1-7 to be successful, we must take some things into consideration. First, in vs 3, the Servant is Israel, while in vs 6, the Servant is an individual. The Servant will be powerful, bringing God’s “salvation to the ends of the earth,” and yet he will be “despised and abhorred by the nation” of Israel, although rulers of the gentiles will “bow down” to him. So let us keep the following things in mind:

Has there ever been any Jewish person who fits these words, having begun a world religion of Gentiles? With the backdrop of Genesis 12:1-3 in mind, we see in Isaiah 49:6 that  the enlarged mission to the Gentiles climaxes the Servant’s commission from God—“I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (v. 6b). “Light” is here parallel with “salvation” (cf. Isa. 42:6).  How does one calculate the probability that a Jewish person would found a world religion that mostly consists of non-Jews?  A reasonable assumption is that a founder belongs to some people group.  Also, an expected Messiah would be despised by his own nation certainly gives him a tough start on becoming a world leader, and Jesus in particular is reliably reported to have been executed as a criminal. Despised and executed criminals are not likely candidates for becoming major figures in world history, so the antecedent odds for this particular candidate, Jesus, to overcome these severe handicaps and still become a worldwide religious leader would be awfully difficult. [5]

In the history of Judaism, the evidence seems to point to only one potential candidate who can possibly  have fulfilled the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3. As Richard Bauckham says:

Matthew frames the whole story of Jesus between the identification of him as the descendant of Abraham in the opening verse of the Gospel and, in the closing words of Jesus at the end of the Gospels, the commissions of the disciples of Jesus to the make disciples of all nations. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus begins with Abraham (1:1-2) not with Adam, as Luke’s does (3:38) nor with David, which would have been sufficient to portray Jesus the Messiah the son of David, which certainly is an important theme here in Matthew’s Gospel. However, for Matthew, Jesus is the Messiah not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles. He is the descendant of Abraham through whom God’s blessing will reach the nations. [6]



Sources:

[1] Aryeh Kaplan, The Real Messiah: A Jewish Response to Missionaries (New York, NY: National Conference of Synagogue Youth, 2000), 26-35.

[2] Scott Bader-Saye, The Church and Israel After Christendom: The Politics of Election(Boulder CO: Westview Press, 1999), 31.

 [3] Christopher Wright, “A Christian Approach To Old Testament Prophecy Concerning Israel:  http://www.theologicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/jerusalem_wright.pdf{accessed November 20, 2012}.

[4] Herbert M. Wolf, “The Servant of the Lord” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996), 726.

[5] See Public Theology and Scientific Method: Formulating Reasons That Count Across Worldviews by Hugh G. Gauch, Jr., John A. Bloom, and Robert C. Newman Philosophia Christi (2002). Available athttp://www.drjbloom.com/public%20files/PubTheoMethod.pdf.

6.  Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian in a Postmodern World (Carlisle: Paternoster; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 33

Does Early Testimony Matter to Muslims?

Just this past week I had the opportunity to speak to some Muslims about one of the largest differences in our faith and their faith. For Christians, the death and resurrection is central to the Gospel message. After all, the “Kerygma” in the Book of Acts is the Messiah was crucified according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23) and that He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24; 31-32; 3:15-26;10:40-41;17:31;26:23). But for Muslims, they think Jesus didn’t die. Instead, the early disciples were deceived and Allah delivered Jesus. It says in Sura 4:156-157:

“And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.”

As historians evaluate the sources available for the resurrection of Jesus, a critical question is the dating of the sources. In relation to early testimony, historian David Hacket Fisher says, “An historian must not merely provide good relevant evidence but the best relevant evidence. And the best relevant evidence, all things being equal, is evidence which is most nearly immediate to the event itself.” (1) In a previous post, I pointed out the earliest record for the death and resurrection of Jesus is 1 Cor. 15:3-8.

Over the years, I have talked to Muslims about this issue. As I just said, Islam states Jesus was never crucified, and therefore, never risen. The Qur’an was written some six hundred years or more after the life of Jesus which makes it a much later source of information than the New Testament. It seems the evidence tells us that the historical content of the Gospel (Jesus’ death and resurrection) was circulating very early among the Christian community. As I just said, historians look for the records that are closest to the date of event. Given the early date of 1 Cor. 15: 3-8 as well as other sources,  it is quite evident that this document is a more reliable resource than the Qur’an.

Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument For Jesus of Nazareth, took on the Christ-myther issue. It should be no surprise that this book was scolded by many atheists. As I have said before, even though I find Ehrman to be very inconsistent on many issues, I still have respect for him. One part of the book I found rather interesting is the section where Ehrman discusses the kinds of resources historians look for when they are trying to establish the past existence of a person. Let me go over a few of these and see how this criteria helps make a case for Jesus:

First, Ehrman says,

“Historians prefer to have lots of written sources, not just one or two. The more, obviously the better. If there were only two or two sources you might suspect that the stories were made up. But if there are lots of sources—just as when there are lots of eyewitnesses to a car accident-then it is hard to claim that any of them just happened to make it up.”-pg 40-41

How does this request hold up on what we have for Jesus? Well, we certainly have some early sources (40 to 60 ad) that being Paul’s Letters. Paul’s creed in 1 Cor 15. is a very early creed about the death and resurrection of Jesus. While not extensive in scope, Paul’s Letters mention some historical aspects of the life of Jesus such as:

1. Jesus’ Jewish ancestry (Gal 3:16) 2. Jesus’ Davidic descent (Rom 1:3) 3. Jesus being born of a woman (Gal 4:4) 4. Jesus’ life under the Jewish law (Gal 4:4) 5. Jesus’ Brothers (1 Cor 9:5) 6. Jesus’ 12 Disciples (1 Cor 15: 7) 7. One of whom was named James (1 Cor 15: 7) 8. That some had wives (1 Cor 9: 5) 9. Paul knew Peter and James (Gal 1:18-2:16) 10. Jesus’ poverty ( 2 Cor 8:9) 11. Jesus’ humility ( Phil. 1:5-7) 12. Jesus Meekness and Gentleness (2 Cor. 10:1) 13. Abuse by Others (Rom 15:3) 14. Jesus’ teachings on divorce and remarriage (1 Cor. 7:10-11) 15. On paying wages of ministers (1 Cor 9:14) 16. On paying taxes ( Rom 13: 6-7) 17. On the duty to love one’s neighbors (Rom 13: 9) 18. On Jewish ceremonial uncleanliness ( Rom 14: 14) 19. Jesus’ titles to deity ( Rom 1: 3-4; 10:9) 20. On vigilance in view of Jesus’ second coming ( 1 Thess: 4: 15) 21. On the Lord’s Supper ( 1 Cor. 11: 23-25) 22. Jesus’ Sinless Life ( 2 Cor. 5:21) 23. Jesus’ death on a cross ( Rom 4:24; 5:8; Gal. 3:13; 1 Cor 15: 3) 24. Specifically by crucifixion ( Rom 6: 6; Gal 2:20) 25. By Jewish instigation ( 1Thess. 2:14-15) 26. Jesus’ burial (1 Cor. 15: 4) 27. Jesus’ resurrection on the “third day” (1 Cor.15:4) 28. Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to the apostles ( 1 Cor.15:5-8) 29. And to other eyewitnesses (1 Cor 15:6); and 30. Jesus’ position at God’s right hand ( Rom 8:34).To see common objections to Paul, see our post here.

Let’s look at this point. Ehrman also says:

“Moreover, in an ideal situation, the various sources that discuss a figure or an event should corroborate what each other’s had to say, at least on the major points if not all the details.”-pg 41

Do we see this in the Gospels? Mark Roberts mentions this issue in his book Can We Trurst the Gospels? Roberts notes a list of some of the details about Jesus’s life and ministry that are found in all four gospels, yes, including John:

• Jesus was a Jewish man.
• Jesus ministered during the time when Pontius Pilate was prefect of Judea (around A.D. 27 to A.D. 37).
• Jesus had a close connection with John the Baptist, and his ministry superceded that of John.
• John the Baptist was involved with the descent of the Spirit on Jesus.
• Jesus’s ministry took place in Galilee, especially early in his ministry
• Jesus’s ministry concluded in Jerusalem.
• Jesus gathered disciples around him. (This is important, because Jewish teachers in the time of Jesus didn’t recruit their own students, but rather the students came to them.)
• The brothers, Andrew and Simon (Peter), were among Jesus’s first disciples.
• The followers of Jesus referred to him as “rabbi.”
• Jesus taught women, and they were included among the larger group of his followers. (This, by the way, sets Jesus apart from other Jewish teachers of his day.)
• Jesus taught in Jewish synagogues.
• Jesus was popular with the masses.
• At times, however, Jesus left the crowds to be alone.
• Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God (in Matthew, more commonly the “kingdom of heaven”).
• Jesus called people to believe in God and in God’s saving activity.
• The ministry of Jesus involved conflict with supernatural evil powers, including Satan and demons.
• Jesus used the cryptic title “Son of Man” in reference to Himself and in order to explain His mission. (Jesus’s fondness for and use of this title was very unusual in his day, and was not picked up by the early church.)
• Jesus saw his mission as the Son of Man as leading to his death. (This was unprecedented in Judaism. Even among Jesus’s followers it was both unexpected and unwelcome.)
• Jesus, though apparently understanding himself to be Israel’s promised Messiah, was curiously circumspect about this identification. (This is striking, given the early and widespread confession of Christians that Jesus was the Messiah.)
• Jesus did various sorts of miracles, including healings and nature miracles.
• One of Jesus’s miracles involved the multiplication of food so that thousands could eat when they were hungry.
• Jesus even raised the dead.
• The miracles of Jesus were understood as signs of God’s power that pointed to truth beyond the miracle itself.
• Jesus was misunderstood by almost everybody, including his own disciples.
• Jewish opponents of Jesus accused him of being empowered by supernatural evil.
• Jesus experienced conflict with many Jewish leaders, especially the Pharisees and ultimately the temple-centered leadership in Jerusalem.
• Jesus spoke and acted in ways that undermined the temple in Jerusalem.
• Jesus spoke and acted in ways that implied He had a unique connection with God.
• Jesus referred to God as Father, thus claiming unusual intimacy with God.
• Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, at the time of Passover, under the authority of Pontius Pilate, and with the cooperation of some Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. (There are quite a few more details concerning the death of Jesus that are shared by all four gospels.)
• Most of Jesus’s followers either abandoned him or denied him during his crucifixion.
• Jesus was raised from the dead on the first day of the week.

As Roberts notes,

“This is certainly an impressive list of similarities shared by all four gospels. It’s especially significant because I’ve included the Gospel of John here, even though it is the most unusual among the biblical gospels. It shows that John shares with the synoptics the same basic narrative. Thus the four biblical testimonies about Jesus are impressively similar at the core. Because Matthew and Luke used Mark, their witnesses aren’t independent, but they do corroborate Mark’s account. Thus the fact that there are four gospels contributes significantly to our confidence in their historical accuracy.”- pg 100

The sad thing is that I have had very little success when pointing this out to Muslims. But why? The answer is simple: Most Muslims think that Muhammad’s claim that the angel Gabriel visited him and that it was during these angelic visitations that the angel purportedly revealed to Muhammad the words of Allah. These dictated revelations compose the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book. Therefore, that settles it. If a perfect dictation is all we need, it doesn’t matter if Muhammad never lived in the first century nor for that matter it doesn’t matter that he never had any contact with the apostles/disciples.  It seems historical apologetics and the need for early testimony (as pointed out above) is no match for verbal dictation. Thus, the Qur’an is perfect and who cares if it came on the scene some six hundred years later.

Note: Also see our post- A Look at the Evidence for the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus

1. Hacket Fisher, D.H., Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought. New York: Harper Torchbooks. 1970, 62.

So You Want To Be An Apologist?

481812_4627956772804_777054397_n

Introduction

A ways back I remember reading an article by William Lane Craig about advice for people who want be an apologist. In all honesty, Craig probably knows many people who have come to him asking for advice. I think he would admit that many of them want to live the life he has and is living (e.g., lots of speaking gigs/debates, lots of fans, lots of attention, etc).  As I have said before, given the overload of reality TV shows and celebrity worship, the last thing we need are apologists who have a narcissism problem.  If you are craving attention and affirmation, than that can’t be motivation for being a player in apologetics. I am not saying that it is a bad thing to be encouraged and noted at all for contributions into the field of apologetics. However, we need to check ourselves in this area. However, let me state the following:  Given where we are at as a culture and in the local congregation,  we need apologetics more than ever!

The more I have thought about this issue, these are the kinds of questions that come up in my discussions with others on a regular basis:

#1: Can you do it full time?

When I mean “full time” I mean being an apologist is how you make a living. In other words, if you have a family, being an apologist is how you support your family. How many apologists actually do this? Not many! Ravi Zacharias is one. Greg Koukl from Stand to Reason is another. James Warner Wallace, author of Cold Case Christianity was a homicide detective and has started to derive an income from speaking on his book. Frank Turek, co author of I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist has his own ministry called Cross Examined. He also has a job consulting business on the side. Others like William Lane Craig, Norman Geisler and  J.P. Moreland, have all taught on an academic level. They write books, speak, debate, etc.

What’s my point? To do it full time, you have to be a good fundraiser. Do you like getting in front of people and asking them for money? Do you like communicating your vision in a public or private setting? Do you want to be dependent on others to give to you and the apologetic ministry you are involved with?  Or, you can always work a job and do some apologetics on the side. That’s what the majority of us do. Given that many in the church are still incredibly uneducated about the nature and role of apologetics, there will always be need to educate the local church on the topic. I have written more on the issue of why opposition mostly comes from the church here.

#2: Traveling

Something else to think about is the issue of traveling. Let’s say you write an apologetics book and people want to book you to speak at a conference or somewhere else. Are you open to traveling? Do you have a young family? Or, are you starting a family? Many apologists such as Frank Turek and James Wallace are empty nesters. Same with Michael Licona. This means they have some flexibility. Remember, your first ministry is your family. The last thing a wife wants is a husband that is away every week while she stays home and tries to raise the kids. And no, it won’t matter when you say “But I am called to do this!” And of course, your kids need a parent  that is engaged with them. Now having said that, I am not opposed to some travel. But it is a weekly thing or once or twice a month?  Just remember that it won’t matter how well you can do apologetics if you can’t minister to your own family! Think it through and plan well. Perhaps you can just do some apologetics ministry at a local level. Get involved with a Ratio Christi chapter or start an apologetic ministry at your church. Brian Auten at Apologetics 315 has given us many tips about these issues here and here.

#3: Apologetic Degrees

I have some personal experience with this one. When I enrolled at Southern Evangelical Seminary to get a degree I thought an M.A. in Apologetics was perfect. But as I began to tell people about the degree I was working on, it became apparent the word ‘apologetics’ caused mass confusion. I also realized that a Masters in Apologetics might not open many doors to teach on an academic level. So I opted for an M.A. in Religious Studies. Granted, I had already been reading and studying apologetics for several years before I even got a degree. Also, in my degree program  I did take some apologetics and philosophy classes (e.g, epistemology, metaphysics, etc). Now that I look back on it, I am not opposed to an M.A. in Apologetics. But you have to think about where that degree will take you. Do you want to teach? Do you want to be a lay apologist in your church? Is your church have a favorable view of apologetics? Many ministry leaders are still in the dark about this field.  Do you want to write? Do you plan on doing more graduate work? Do you want a degree to help you be a more effective evangelist?   Do you want to direct a Ratio Christi chapter? Remember that most churches aren’t hiring apologists.

 #4: You Can’t Learn Everything!

Remember, when it comes to apologetics, you can’t learn everything. In other words, you can’t be an expert on every single topic (e.g., philosophy, ethics,  history, science, cultural apologetics). I think we should have a general understanding of these topics but then specialize in a few areas. For example, I tend to specialize in early Christology, Messianic Prophecy, cultural objections, the resurrection, worldviews, Jewish objections to Jesus, etc. Now I do love to dip into the science stuff as well. But most of us don’t have time to master every topic. And remember that there will always be questions!

#5: Get Out and Do Apologetics

The best way to learn apologetics is by doing it. You can read books and learn the material. But if you aren’t engaging people, you won’t see how well apologetics works in practice. Granted, I have been on a campus for many years and had many discussions with students about these topics. But all of us should be committed to sharing our faith and engaging people on a one on one level. That’s where the rubber meets the road. In my personal experience, many Christians aren’t motivated to defend their faith in the public square because they are ashamed of the Gospel.

Note: You may also want to read our post The Right and Wrong Reasons to Pursue Apologetics or our post called Why Does Opposition to Apologetics Come From Mostly Within the Church?