Some Signs You May Be Ashamed of the Gospel

Golgotha

 

We are living in a day of religious pluralism and theological illiteracy. On a very general level, many Christians have been told they need to share the Gospel with people. But why? What is it that motivates you to even engage the culture for the Christian faith? Or maybe you just don’t engage it all. Overseas, Christians are being persecuted and killed for their beliefs. So don’t take it for granted that we have the freedom to share what we believe with others.

1. The Starting Point

If you don’t agree with the following syllogism, it makes it hard to want to share your faith: 1. The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence. 2. The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate. This claim to divinity was proven by His miracles/His speaking authority, His actions, and His resurrection. 3. Therefore, there is reliable historical evidence that Jesus is God incarnate.

So if this syllogism is correct, it leads to the next syllogism:

The Command to Make Disciples: Matt 28:19

1. Whatever Jesus teaches is true. 2. Jesus taught that we are to “Go and make disciples of the nations” (Matt 28:19). 3. Therefore, Christians should desire to “Go and make disciples of the nations” (Matt 28:19).

This command does not mean we need to be sent to some far distant land to preach the Gospel. The command applies to every Christian no matter where they are located. God uses us wherever we are.

It is true that much of the Church has focused on the “go” part of this command. But we need to remember that The Great Commission is accomplished while we “go” about living our daily lives.

The context of Matt 28:19 is that in fulfillment of the Great Commission, we are to make disciples. We are to baptize new believers and we are to teach them. Unless there has been teaching and instruction about the commands of Jesus, there has not been any discipleship. So it is clear that people can’t enter into the process of discipleship without hearing about the Gospel.

Romans 1:16

“For  I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is  the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew  first and also to  the Greek. For in it  the righteousness of God is revealed  from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (ESV)

Grammatically, the entire verse is in the present tense. There are three verbs: unashamedis and believes. All are in the present tense. So Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel. He knew it was for the Jew and the Greek. He also knew the power of God was demonstrated in the message.

But now we need to ask ourselves whether we can make an application of this text. Do we as Christians actually believe the Gospel is Good News and are we ashamed or unashamed of the Gospel? Are there some visible signs as to whether we are ashamed or unashamed of the Gospel? Here are some signs that we might be ashamed of the Gospel. Please note the goal of this post is not meant to induce false guilt or condemnation.

#1: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we are worried about offending people

One time I was a class on evangelism. One student said that one of the people they witnessed to were offended by the message. My response is the same as always: The Gospel is offensive. Paul commented about the challenge of proclaiming a dying Messiah to his fellow countrymen:

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor.1:21-22)

To summarize “The Kerygma” of the early Christian community:

1. The promises by God made in the Hebrew Bible/The Old Testament have now been revealed with the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2:30;3;19;24,10:43; 26:6-7;22).

2. Jesus was anointed by God at his baptism (Acts 10:38).

3. Jesus began his ministry at Galilee after his baptism (Acts 10:37).

4.Jesus conducted a beneficent ministry, doing good and performing mighty works by the power of God ( Acts 2:22; 10:38).

5. The Messiah was crucified according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23).

6. 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).

7. Jesus was exalted and given the name “Lord” (Acts 2:25-29;33-36;3:13;10:36).

8. He gave the Holy Spirit to form the new community of God (Acts 1:8;2;14-18;33,38-39;10:44-47).

9. He will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:20-21;10:42; 17:31).

10. All who hear the message should repent and be baptized because of the finished work of Jesus (Acts 2:21;38;3:19;10:43, 17-48; 17:30, 26:20).

You could always make people less offended and preach a false Gospel such as “Jesus will meet all your needs.” In other words, Jesus is a buddy. But if you do this, you will have to answer to God for giving people the false Gospel. So always remember the power is in the message. And it will offend because the Holy Spirit does convict people of the truthfulness of the message.

#2: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we are a man-pleaser rather than a God pleaser

This happens to all of us. In a day of political correctness, Christians are more worried about what their peers think than what God thinks. In the end, we will answer to God with what we did with the Gospel. We are stewards of the message.

#3: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we are afraid we can’t answer objections

In this case, that’s why we have apologetics. There are plenty of resources that can help the Christian to be confident in what they believe.

#4: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we don’t take the Lordship of Jesus seriously

This is a hot topic. As far as Lordship, I think the new believer needs to know about this early on. To make Jesus as Lord of one’s life is a lifelong process. It is a call to daily surrender. We are called to yield our time, bodies, goals and gifts to His Lordship. Is it easy? No, not at all. I struggle with this quite a bit. But we do have a Helper to give us the grace to do it (hint: study the ministry of the Holy Spirit). So in other words, we say ‘”Lord Jesus, have your way with me. I am relying on the work of the Holy Spirit to yield myself to you on a daily basis.”

There is no doubt that in a world that wants instant results, self- sacrifice is a 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 walk away. 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.

#5: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we don’t really believe the Gospel is true

In this case, perhaps we need to preach the Gospel to ourselves on a daily basis. Do we really believe it is Good News?

#6: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we don’t even know what the Gospel actually is!

You may say this is impossible. But there has been a slew of books questioning “What is the Gospel?” I have written elsewhere that the Gospel is presented in a variety of contexts.

Those are some of the checkpoints I have come up with. Feel free to think of some more.

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What is the Relationship Between Social Justice and Apologetics?

Unless you have been living under a rock, you might have noticed there is a lot of debate about how local churches and campus ministries can integrate social justice issues into their teaching and outreach. Yes, some say no to any social justice issues while others make it the primary issue. One thing that comes to mind is the relationship between apologetics and social justice. One thing for sure: people that fight for social justice care about people, and believe in equality, rights, and the dignity of humans. I think that apologetics can help explain ‘why’ we care about these issues. This means we are back to the topic of worldview.

Some of the fundamental questions that make up a worldview are the following:

• Origins: 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? (3)

In addition to these primary questions, there are three major narratives :

  1. Identity: You have to be true to yourself.
  2. Freedom: I should be free to live any way I want as long as I’m not harming anyone else.
  3. Happiness: You’ve got to do what makes you happy in the end. Morality: No one has the right to tell anyone else what is  right or wrong for him or her.

Does this sound like the thoughts you have about yourself and about life? If so, then you have drunk deeply from the well of Western culture. But we think that if you ponder the Big Questions noted above, you will see the connection between these and the four aforementioned narratives. And if God does exist, well—that has ramifications for all of the questions and narratives we have. Our worldview speaks not only to questions about origins, meaning, morality, and destiny, but also to secondary questions about family, career and calling, politics, economics, education, the arts—all of life. Our worldview is all-encompassing, and the different components fit together like the strands of a web. We ask ourselves a lot of questions: What am I supposed to do with my life? What is ‘the good life’ and how can I be happy? Who am I and what is my identity?

Let’s look at some worldview questions and provide some comparisons here:

  1. Origins
    1. Are we simply further evolved animals that came about through the interplay of matter, time, and chance?
    2. Are we created in the image and likeness of a personal God?
  2. What is the nature of humanity?
    1. Is humanity a highly complex meat machine, or a person made in the image of God?
    2. Are we created in the image and likeness of a personal God?
  3. Morality
    1. What’s wrong with the human condition?
    2. Is God the foundation of moral values and moral duties, or do humans/society create their own moral values and moral duties?
  4. Purpose
    1. Is there any objective meaning and purpose in life, or are we simply random creatures in a purposeless, meaningless universe?
    2. Do we create our own purpose and meaning?
  5. Identity/What Defines Us
    1. Being an Image Bearer of God?
    2. What I own? Where I live? My career? My sexuality? My political position?
  6. Destiny 
    1.What is our end? The Greek word ‘telos’ carries connotations of purpose, end, goal, and destination.2. Personal extinction, transformation to a higher state, reincarnation, or resurrection?
  7. History: Does history have a beginning and an end?
    1.Does history begin with God’s creation of the world and end with the return of Jesus?
    2. Is history headed in a specific direction?

Why do humans matter? 

These worldview issues are all related to the issue of social justice. But back to the issue of fighting for humans.  Why humans matter so much if all of reality is reducible to matter, chance, and the laws of nature? Biological reductionism, metaphysical materialism, and psychological behaviorism say that impersonal, physical, and valueless processes cause valuable, rights-bearing persons to be.

Humans, therefore, can assign value to fellow humans by sheer choice. However, this assignment of value to human life is subjective, not objective. Assigning value to people based on personal choice leads us to ask, “What if someone doesn’t think a group of people are valuable?” Rights, it seems, are linked to personhood. The Bible, for example, says that humans are made in the likeness and image of God, and that they are therefore intrinsically valuable. Rights come by virtue of who human beings are by nature, as opposed to function, productivity, or ‘usefulness. One thing is for sure: the concern over such a topic demonstrates that people live as if they care about justice, equality, and human rights. But to atheist and skeptics, why do humans matter so much and why would they be outraged over all the mistreatment of their fellow humans? Why fight so hard for humans?

There are five options other than grounding human value in anything other than a view that  humans are made in the likeness and image of God, and that they are therefore intrinsically valuable. Rights come by virtue of who human beings are by nature, as opposed to function, productivity, or ‘usefulness. Here they are:

First option: Peter Singer and others describe any attempt to see humans as more significant than any other part of the animal world as arrogant speciesism (the view that one’s own species is the superior one).

A second option is some form of rationalist autonomy, in which one of the properties that make humans significant is the use of reason—specifically people’s capacity to set ends for themselves.

A third option is to see human significance as somehow grounded in an evolutionary framework through adaptability and survival, though humans’ place at the top of the evolutionary ladder could well be temporary. This outlook opens the door to a view that is the subject of transhumanism (the view that it might be possible for human beings to surpass their humanity and become something different than merely human).

A fourth option is a type of naturalistic Platonism, which recognizes that some necessary things about human beings are built into the structure of the world but does not necessarily acknowledge that there is a designer who placed them there.

A final option, which moves toward the discussion of postmodern individualism addressed in the previous chapter, would be to see the grounding for human significance collapse into some form of subjectivism. In this outlook, significance is a matter of personal preference or is conferred by some external authority such as the state.

See Why People Matter: A Christian Engagement with Rival Views of Human Significance, John F. Kilner, Russell DiSilvestro, David Gushee, Amy Hall, John Kilner, Gilbert Meilaender, and Patrick Smith.

Conclusion

Apologetics can help Christians be informed about why they fight so hard for social justice. Yes, atheists and secularists and fight for social justice issues as well.  But I think a theistic worldview lays the groundwork for why we fight for the equality of humans, dignity, value,  and a better world.

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Why Won’t God Show Me A Miracle?

 

If only God would give me some clear sign![Woody Allen]

Miracles play a significant role in Christian theology. Obviously, if miracles can’t happen the Christian claim is false (see 1 Cor. 15). What is the definition of a miracle? Theologians and philosophers have offered numerous definitions. But we might say that a miracle is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. Let me state from the outset that I am all for a healthy skepticism towards the miraculous. Obviously, we can’t just be gullible and accept every claim that is out there.

When we look into the Bible, there seems to be a pattern of how God works in the history of Israel. Every time he is doing something new in their midst, he confirmed what he was doing through a prophet. Signs are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God.

We see this is an important feature with Moses and Jesus:

1. God says to Moses, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you” (Exod. 3:12).

2. When Moses asks God, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me?” the Lord gives Moses two “signs”: his rod turns into a snake (Exod. 4:3) and his hand becomes leprous (Exod. 4:1–7).

3. Moses “performed the signs before the people, and they believed; … they bowed down and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31).

“Sign”(sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels). Remember that the prophet Isaiah spoke of a time where miraculous deeds would be the sign of both the spiritual and physical deliverance of Israel (Isa.26: 19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1). Also:

  1. The word “sign”  is reserved for what we would call a miracle.
  2. “Sign” is also used of the most significant miracle in the New Testament, the  resurrection of Jesus from the grave.
  3. Jesus  repeated this prediction of his resurrection when he was asked for a  sign(Matt. 16:1, 4). Not only was the resurrection a miracle,  but it was a miracle that Jesus predicted (Matt. 12:40; 16:21; 20:19; John 2:19).
  4. Nicodemus  said of Jesus “We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one  could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2).
  5. “Jesus the  Nazarene was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders   and signs, which God did among you through him, as you  yourselves know” (Acts 2:22).

So the pattern for miracles is the following:

Sign/Miracle—–Knowledge is Imparted—–Should Result in Obedience/Active Participation

The Skeptics Complaint

Craig Kenner has written a two volume set called Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. Naturally, some skeptics aren’t satisfied with Keener’s work. They complain that it is not enough to appeal to religious texts that contain miracle accounts. Also, Keener doesn’t give enough documented cases of miracles in our present day. In the end, (as always), many skeptics demand that God will show them a miracle. They seem to assume if God really does that one big miracle, they will bow their knee and profess Jesus as Lord and give their life to him. I find this to be very presumptuous. It is interesting that Jesus ran into the same issue.

At one point, the Pharisees attributed the miracles of Jesus to Satan. And in some cases the miracle is a witness against those who reject this evidence. John grieved: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). Jesus himself said of some, “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). One result, though not the purpose, of miracles is condemnation of the unbeliever (cf. John 12:31, 37). (1)

This is why we need to remember the following. In their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli give a summary of faith.

Kreeft and Tacelli say we must distinguish between the act of faith from the object of faith- believing from what is believed. The object of faith means all things believed. For the Christian, this means everything God has revealed in the Bible. This faith (the object, not the act) is expressed in propositions. Propositions are many, but the ultimate object of faith is one. The ultimate object of faith is not words, but God’s Words (singular), indeed-Himself.

Without a relationship with the living God, propositions are pointless, for their point is to point beyond themselves to God. But without propositions, we cannot know or tell others what God we believe in and what we believe about God. There are several aspects of faith:

1. Emotional faith: is feeling assurance or trust or confidence in a person. This includes hope (which is much stronger than a wish and peace (which is much stronger then mere calm.).

2. Intellectual faith: is belief. It is this aspect of faith that is formulated in propositions and summarized in creeds.

3. Volitional faith: is an act of the will, a commitment to obey God’s will. This faith is faithfulness, or fidelity. It manifests itself in behavior, that is, in good works.

The bottom line is that even if a skeptic got their miracle, it doesn’t mean it will help #3 here. In other words, miracles don’t guarantee it will change a person’s will. We can’t overlook the fact that sin and a hardened heart can dampen a person’s receptivity to the evidence that is already available to them.

Sources:

1. Geisler, N. L., BECA, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book. 1999, 481.

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Does the Bible Utilize One Type of Apologetic Methodology?

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Note: Thanks to No Blind Faith.com for the logo here.

Apologists can tend to be quite rigid when it come to apologetic methodology. We sometimes argue a lot over which form of apologetics is the most effective model for reaching the world for the Christian faith. The reality is when we glance into the Scriptures, there isn’t one form of apologetic methodology. So what kind of apologetics do we see in the Bible?

Evidentalism: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the apostles utilized an evidential model by appealing to prophecy and the resurrection as the basis for the evidence of Jesus’ Messiahship (Acts 2:14-32-39; 3:6-16, 4:8-14; 17:1-4; 26:26; 1 Cor. 15:1-8). F.F. Bruce says the primary way that the apostles established the fact that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament Messianic Promises was their appeal to prophecy and miracles (1)

Obviously the Apostles were speaking to Jewish theists (many modern Jewish people are not theists) and we need to understand the hermeneutics of messianic prophecy. But the point is that they did appeal to an evidential model.

Prophecy as a Verification Test

Also, when it comes to the history of Israel, God would continually speak through prophets to correct the problem of His people turning away from him towards false gods/nature deities. There are texts that support the God of Israel from other nature deities: For example:

“I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.”-Isaiah 42:8-9

We see the following:

1. God will demonstrate his true omniscience by demonstrating he is the one talking.
2. He will do so by declaring in advance what the course of future history will hold.
3. This provides a verification test as to who the true God is and that such a writing is from him. (2)

God also challenged Israel’s ‘gods’ to do the same:

“Present your case,” says the Lord. “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King. “Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; whoever chooses you is detestable.”- Isaiah 41:21-24

To see more on this, see here:

There seems to be a pattern of how God works in the history of Israel. Every time he is doing something new in their midst, he confirmed what he was doing through a prophet. Signs are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God. We see this is an important feature with Moses and Jesus:

1. God says to Moses, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you” (Exod. 3:12).
2. When Moses asks God, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me?” the Lord gives Moses two “signs”: his rod turns into a snake (Exod. 4:3) and his hand becomes leprous (Exod. 4:1–7).
3. Moses “performed the signs before the people, and they believed; … they bowed down and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31).

“Sign”(sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels). Remember that the prophet Isaiah spoke of a time where miraculous deeds would be the sign of both the spiritual and physical deliverance of Israel (Isa.26: 19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1). Also:

1. The word “sign” is reserved for what we would call a miracle.

2. “Sign” is also used of the most significant miracle in the New Testament, the resurrection of Jesus from the grave.

3. Jesus repeated this prediction of his resurrection when he was asked for a sign (Matt. 16:1, 4). Not only was the resurrection a miracle, but it was a miracle that Jesus predicted (Matt. 12:40; 16:21; 20:19; John 2:19).

4. Nicodemus said of Jesus “We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2).

5.“Jesus the Nazarene was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God.

What about Jesus?

While Jesus appealed to several methods, he most certainly utilized an evidential model. Jesus recounted the distinctive features of His ministry: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matt. 11:4-6; see also Luke 7:22).

Jesus’ works of healing and teaching are meant to serve as positive evidence of His messianic identity, because they fulfill the messianic predictions of the Hebrew Scriptures. What Jesus claimed is this:

1. If one does certain kinds of actions (the acts cited above), then one is the Messiah.
2. I am doing those kinds of actions.
3. Therefore, I am the Messiah.

We see in other Scriptures that Jesus continually appeals to His “works” as proof of His Messiahship (John 7:3, 21; 9:3, 4; 10:25, 32, 37, 38, 14:10, 11, 12, 15:24). These Scriptures appeal to the individual works of Jesus. The miracles “bear witness’” that He is the Messiah.

Natural Theology

Paul says that God’s existence and attributes can be “clearly seen” (Romans 1:18-20) since they have been “shown” to the unbelieving world through “the things that are made” (nature). Notice that Paul never posits that we can view God as a material object. But he does say that people should be able to look at the effects in the world and infer that there is a Creator. We should be able to look at the natural world and see some evidence for a Creator.

So what has been made (i.e., designed, created)? The laws of nature? The existence and fine tuning of the universe? The Genetic Code? Or, does nature and chance act on their own without any agency?

Does the Bible say people already have some awareness of the knowledge of God?

Even though there are cases for evidentialism throughout the Bible, do we see any case for a presuppositional approach? The answer is yes. But as I just demonstrated, it is not the only model.

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Rom.1:18-20).

According to Romans Ch1:18, the word “suppress,” means “to consciously dismiss in the mind,”to “hold down”, or to “hold back by force or to dismiss.”As much as humans try to suppress the truth of God’s existence, the human mind is still aware of their moral accountability to Him. In relation to this passage, Paul says God’s revelation says is not hidden or concealed. The reason this revelation is clear is because God shows it to him. In other words, God makes knowledge of Himself available to man! The creation gives a cognitive knowledge of God’s existence but not saving knowledge. However, according to Romans 1:18-21, man is not left in ignorance about God.

Former atheist J. Budziszewski says the following about the Romans passage:

I am not at present concerned to explore Paul’s general claim that those who deny the Creator are wicked but only his more particular claim that they are intellectually dishonest. Notice that he does not criticize nonbelievers because they do not know about God but ought to. Rather, he criticizes them because they do know about God but pretend to themselves that they don’t. According to his account, we are not ignorant of God’s reality at all. Rather, we “suppress” it; to translate differently, we “hold it down.” With all our strength we try not to know it, even though we can’t help knowing it; with one part of our minds we do know it, while with another we say, “I know no such thing.” From the biblical point of view, then, the reason it is so difficult to argue with an atheist—as I once was—is that he is not being honest with himself. He knows there is a God, but he tells himself that he doesn’t. How can a person explain how he reached new first principles? By what route could he have arrived at them? To what deeper considerations could he have appealed? If the biblical account is true, then it would seem that no one really arrives at new first principles; a person only seems to arrive at them. The atheist does not lack true first principles; they are in his knowledge already, though suppressed. The convert from atheism did not acquire them; rather, things he knew all along were unearthed. (3)

So can we tell people “According to the Bible, you already know God and you are suppressing the truth?” You can try this approach. Or, for that matter you can try the entire presuppositional approach and tell people they can’t make sense of reality without God as a starting point. But expect some challenges to this. I prefer to use abduction and point out that theism is a better explanation for what we observe than naturalism. Paul Copan does something similar to this right here.

Conclusion:

I once read Five Views On Apologetics. Most of the authors admitted we should allow a thousand apologetic methods to flourish and not to dogmatic about using one apologetic model. This is the approach I have taken over the years. I hope you will as well.

Sources:

1. F.F. Bruce, A Defense of the Gospel in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 74-75.).
2. Dennis McCallum, Discovering God: Exploring The Possibilities of Faith (Columbus, Ohio: New Paradigm Publishing, 2011), 10-13.
3. N. L. Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman. Why I Am A Christian. Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 2001, 49

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“How does your worldview answer the question ‘What happens when we die?'”

Worldview is a buzzword people hear throughout their lives. But while it may be a buzzword, everyone does have a worldview, or they are in the process of forming their worldview. A worldview is the way we view reality. A worldview answers large questions such as origins, purpose, morality, and destiny. Parents, educators, peer groups, social media, religious upbringing, and even personal experience can all play a large role in determining a worldview. One worldview question is the following: “What happens to a person at death?” 

While some atheists don’t consider atheism to be an actual worldview, atheism has been associated with what is called naturalism. Ronald Carlson offers a clear definition of naturalism:

A person who does not affirm the supernatural— God, gods, ghosts, immaterial souls, spirits— is a person who affirms naturalism. For naturalists, nature is all there is. And if it is not science, then it is nonscience (i.e., nonsense). Most naturalists put stock in empirical, evidence-based ways of justifying opinions about what is real; this is exemplified by science.  Naturalists think such beliefs are more reliable and objective than those based on intuition, various kinds of revelation, sacred texts, religious authority, or reports by people claiming to have had religious experiences.[1]

Philosophical naturalism became a dominant view for many modern scientists and thinkers but at great existential cost. Some atheists have been straightforward about their views of the afterlife. During a debate with Intelligent Design advocate Phillip Johnson, the late William Provine said the following:

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.[2]

The late theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking echoed these doldrums, befitting his atheist convictions as well:

I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.[3]

Finally, the late famous astronomer and cosmologist Carl Sagan said this about the afterlife:

I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.[4]

Is Death the End?

In sharp contrast to these comments from atheists about the afterlife, the Bible offers an alternative to what happens to us at death. This leads us to an important word: salvation. I know from personal experience the word “salvation” can be rather confusing. When I first visited a local congregation several years ago, an eager young man walked up to me and asked me, “Are you saved?”  I was at a stage of my life when I was examining my own beliefs. But as I drove home that night, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “What did this man actually mean when he asked me if I’m ‘saved?’” Jewish people (as well as others), tend to view belief in Jesus as important for one reason and one reason only– the afterlife! In other words, it seems the only thing is what happens to people after they die. Committed followers of Jesus ask people “If you were to die today, do you have assurance you are going to heaven?” This line of thinking is problematic because heaven isn’t really the focus of the resurrection. Now let’s be clear: the issue of heaven is not irrelevant. It matters!  As N.T Wright says,

When Jesus declares that there are many dwelling places in his father’s house (John 14: 2), the word for dwelling place is monē, which denotes a temporary lodging. When Paul says that his desire is “to depart and be with Christ, which is far better,” he is indeed thinking of a blissful life with his Lord immediately after death, but this is only the prelude to the resurrection itself.[5]

Wright’s work has offered a correction to the traditional view that states that heaven is the final destiny. As Wright notes, resurrection is “life after life- after- death.” [6] Resurrection occurs after life after death.

You might wonder about cases in the Bible where we see people brought back to life after they died.  Though these instances of raising individuals from the dead are important illustrations of how God works, these people still had to face a second deaththey would go onto die at a later date which makes them simply revivifications or resuscitations of the dead. Jesus is the only person in history that has raised from the dead never to die again. This has important implications in our personal lives, because one day, all of us will die physically. However, some of us will die not only physically, but spiritually as well. But what does it mean to “die spiritually?”

The Hebrew word “shalom” means peace, completeness, or wholeness. It refers to peace between two entities (especially between man and God, between two people, or between two countries). Our failure to do what’s right (sin) not only impacts our relationship with God but has negative consequences for others, which is why we lack this wholeness and connection to God. This lack of wholeness causes us to be fragmented. And it gets worse. If we continue to choose sin, our hearts harden towards God, making it even more difficult to change course. The good news is the death and resurrection of Jesus has made a reconnection to God possible, so we don’t have to die a spiritual death. To repeat what we just said, resurrection is “life after life- after- death.”[7] The resurrection occurs after life after death, one day we will be physically alive again. But the resurrection guarantees we can have shalom in this life as well. To see more on evidence for the resurrection, see here. Or, see my new book “The Resurrection of the Jewish Messiah.” 

Sources”

[1] R.F. Carlson, “Naturalism” featured in Dictionary of Christianity and Science, Paul Copan, Tremper Longman III, Christopher Reese, and Michael G. Strauss (Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2016), 470.

[2] “Darwinism: Science or Naturalistic Philosophy?”: A debate between William B. Provine and Phillip E. Johnson at Stanford University, April 30, 1994, available at  http://www.arn.org/docs/orpages/or161/161main.htm, accessed April 21, 2019.

[3] I. Sample,  Stephen Hawking, “There is no heaven; it’s a fairy story’ available at https://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/may/15/stephen-hawking-interview-there-is-no-heaven, accessed April 18th, 2019.

[4] C. Sagan, “In the Valley of the Shadow,” Parade (March 10, 1996), 18-21.

[5] N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: Harper One. 2008), 41.

[6]  Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, The New Testament and the Question of God 3 (Minneapolis: Fortress. 2003), 86.

 

 

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A Look at the Jesus Story, Oral Tradition and Eyewitness Memory

Behind the Gospels: Understanding the Oral Tradition by [Eve, Eric]

Even though the Christian can always offer certain dates for the Gospels,  there was a gap of time between the ascension of Jesus and when the Gospel authors actually wrote their individual biographies about the life of Jesus. Therefore, there was an oral period where the words and deeds of Jesus were committed to memory by the disciples and transmitted orally. Oral Tradition is the transmission of a teaching or saying from person to person or from generation to generation by word of mouth rather than by the use of writing. The home, the synagogue, and the elementary school was where Jewish people learned how to memorize and recall information such as community prayers. It is true that we don’t have access to the oral phase of the Jesus story. Thus, there aren’t any sound recordings or videos of the disciples of Jesus talking about Him that remains today.  Therefore, all we have is the written evidence. The New Testament contains 27 texts, and all of them were written sometime during the first century CE. Also, none of these appear to be transcriptions or descriptions of an oral performance of  Jesus.

Given that many skeptics assume the New Testament is biased they tend to ask for sources that are written about Jesus outside the New Testament. Furthermore, since the request for these sources must be written by non-Christians, this supposedly equates to pure objectivity and no propaganda. Sadly, the demand for this wishlist shows the ignorance about the oral world of Jesus. The late Maurice Casey, a non-Christian scholar who specialized in early Christianity summarized the importance of the oral world of Jesus:

The major reasons why all our earliest sources for the Life and Teaching of Jesus are Christian is that Jesus was a first- century Jewish prophet who lived in a primarily oral Jewish culture, not a significant politician in the Graeco-Roman world. By contrast, for example, Julius Caeser was an important political and literary figure in the highly literate culture of the Romans. It is therefore natural that he should have written literary works which have survived, and that other surviving literary sources have written about him.[1]

Casey goes onto say:

Jesus of Nazareth left no literary works at all, and he had no reason to write any. He lived in a primarily oral culture, except for the sanctity and central importance of its sacred texts, which approximate to our Hebrew Bible. A variety of works now thought of as Apocrypha (e.g. Sirach) or Pseudopigrapha (e.g. 1 Enoch) were held equally sacred by some Jewish people, and could equally well  learnt and repeated by people who did not possess the then- difficult skill of writing. Almost all our surviving primary sources about Jesus are Christian because most people who had any interest in writing about him were his followers,and  the few relatively early comments by other writers such as Josephus and Tacitus are largely due to special circumstances, such as Jesus’ brother Jacob (Jos.Ant .XX,200), or the great fire of Rome (Tac.Annals XI, 44). [2]

As Craig Evans notes, according to the Shema, which all Torah observant Jews were expected to recite daily, parents were to teach their children the Torah ( Deut 4:9; 6:7; 11:19; 31:12-13; 2 Chr 17:7-9; Eccl 12:9).[3]

How would Jesus have made his teaching memorable?

While none of Jesus’ adversaries called Jesus a rabbi, Jesus was seen as a rabbi and teacher  in the Gospels (Matt. 8:19; 9:11; 12:38; Mk. 4:38; 5:35; 9:17; 10:17, 20; 12:14, 19, 32; Lk. 19:39; Jn. 1:38; 3:2). In the first century, A.D. Rabbi (‘My great one”) could refer to those religious figures who were in a high position, while later in the third century it became associated with those who had produced rabbinic literature.[4] There are several terms that can be seen  as part of the rabbinic terminology of that day. As Paul Barnett notes, the disciples of Jesus had “come” to him, “followed after” him, “learned from” him, “taken his yoke upon” them” (Mt. 11:28-30; Mk 1).[5]

Jesus taught in poetic form, employing alliteration, paronomasia, assonance, parallelism, and rhyme. Since over 90 percent of Jesus’ teaching was poetic, this would make it simple to memorize.[6] Also, in some ways Jesus did fit the mold of a rabbi, this doesn’t mean he fit the mold of an ordained of rabbi which was more of a formal office that took place a century or more later. The similarities and differences between Jesus as a rabbi and teacher and the rabbis who also taught in his culture are seen here:

  1. Jesus taught but not in formal educational settings.
  2. Jesus’ delivering system was face to face and oral.
  3. Jesus modeled how to live as much or more than he stated, ”Do this” or “Don’t do that.”
  4. Jesus’ teachings were created orally and transmitted orally.
  5. Jesus was a passionate guardian of Old Testament law.
  6. Jesus explained and expanded on Old Testament law.
  7. Jesus’ actions could attain the status of commandments in the minds of his followers.
  8. God’s truth was incarnate in Jesus.
  9. Jesus wrote nothing; it was sufficient for this oral text to remain oral.
  10. The oral origins of the Gospels are evident within the Gospels.
  11. It was not until approximately twenty years after Jesus’ public ministry that the first written accounts of his words and deeds were inscribed in the Gospels. [7]

Interestingly enough, given Jesus had such a high view of the Torah and it was believed that God was incarnate in Jesus, we should heed the words of Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner. He says:

Since rabbinical documents repeatedly claim that, if you want to know the law, you should not only listen to what the rabbi says but also copy what he does, it follows that, in his person, the rabbi represents and embodies the Torah. God in the Torah revealed God’s will and purpose for the world. So God had said what the human being should be. The rabbi was the human being in God’s image. That, to be sure, is why (but merely by the way) what the rabbi said about the meaning of Scripture derived from revelation. Collections of the things he said about Scripture constituted compositions integral to the Torah. So in the rabbi, the word of God was made flesh. And out of the union of man and Torah, producing the rabbi as Torah incarnate, was born Judaism, the faith of Torah: the ever present revelation, the always open-canon. For fifteen hundred years, from the time of the first collections of scriptural exegeses to our own day, the enduring context for midrash remained the same: encounter with the living God.[8]

We also see an emphasis on the importance of remembering the words of Jesus:

Listen carefully to what I’m about to tell you.” (Luke 9:44)

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20)

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away(Mark 13:31)

“ It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life (John 6:63)

“So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-68)

“Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (John 14:10)

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you”(John 14:26)

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7)

Even after the ascension of Jesus, the apostles gave their eyewitness testimony to the words of Jesus. It is also important to note the role of how the disciples were active participants in the life of Jesus. They saw the importance of bearing witness to the deeds and sayings of Jesus:

As Bauckham says:

The sense (not a properly one generic one) in which the witnesses of the Holocaust created a new literature of testimony, is much the same sense as that in which the witnesses of the history created the Gospels. Those witnesses understood the imperative to witness to a command of the risen Christ, but the parallel is sufficient to be suggestive. In both cases, the uniqueness required precisely witness as the only means by which the events could be adequately known. In both cases, the exceptionality of the event means that only the testimony of participant witness can give us anything approaching access to the truth of the event.[9]

Common Objections to Oral Tradition

#1: Hasn’t Memory Been Shown to Be Very Unreliable?

First, if memory is so unreliable much of human existence couldn’t be sustained on a daily basis. Memory, along with testimony are some of the things we take for granted in the common concerns of life without being able to give a reason for them. Also, high impact events that have strong emotional involvement can survive accuracy over a long period.  As Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy note, the “memoric skepticism” paradigm can be traced back to the collapse in human knowledge after World War I.[10]  This time period that gave rise to the this paradigm is seen in various forms such as individual (F.C. Bartlett); collective/social (Maurice Halbwachs); historiography (Carl Becker); sociology of knowledge (Karl Mannheim) and New Testament studies (Rudolph Bultmann).[11] Sociologist Barry Schwartz says: “These men appealed so greatly to the West because their views resonated with the cynicism of the post World War I worldview and ethos: ‘the world is not what it seems.’[12]

One thing for sure: high impact events that have strong emotional involvement can survive accuracy over a long period.  For example, my sister died in 1973. Even though I was four years old at the time I can still remember much of the details of the day it happened. Steven Waterhouse summarizes Bauckham’s work and the importance of memory:

1.  Unique, unusual, unexpected events (like healings, miracles, and exorcisms) are memorable.

  1.  Events that are personally important and relevant tend toward long term memory (like matters of the Messiah’s arrival and eternal destiny in heaven or hell).
  1. Events in which one is emotionally involved are memorable (Mark 9:6, 14:72, as in being a participant in a great cause with struggles and opposition).
  1.  Memories involving vivid imagery are remembered well (Mark 2:4, 4:37-38, 6:39-40, 7:33-34, 9:20, 10:32, 50, 11:14).
  1.  Memories often include irrelevant and odd details (there were “other boats,” Mark 4:36).
  1.  Reliable memories rarely include precise dates as on July 15 but do include time of day and relationships to seasons and holidays (as in the Gospel of John).
  1.  The “gist” of a memory (even with details essential to the main point) is more likely to be retained than purely secondary details. (Bauckham’s own conclusion is that this explains the variation in the Gospel accounts but unity on the core facts.)
  1.  Frequent retelling of a story shortly after an event tends to sharpen not diminish memory. “Frequent recall is an important factor in both retaining memory and retaining it accurately.” [13]

In conclusion, as Bauckham says:

 The eyewitnesses who remembered the events of the history of Jesus were remembering inherently very memorable events, unusual events that would have impressed themselves on the memory, events of key significance for those who remembered them, landmark or life-changing events for them in many cases, and their memories would have been reinforced and stabilized by frequent rehearsal, beginning soon after the event. They did not need to remember – and the Gospels rarely record – merely peripheral aspects of the scene or the event, the aspects of recollective memory that are least reliable. Such details may often have been subject to performative variation in the eyewitnesses’ telling of their stories, but the central features of the memory, those that constituted its meaning for those who witnessed and attested it, are likely to have been preserved reliably. We may conclude that the memories of eyewitnesses of the history of Jesus score highly by the criteria for likely reliability that have been established by the psychological study of recollective memory.”[14]

Sources:

[1]Mauruce Casey, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? (New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark.2014).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Craig Evans and W. H. Brackney, Jewish Scripture and the Literacy of Jesus (From Biblical Criticism to Biblical Faith (Mercer University Press, 2007), 41-54.

[4]  John H. Walton and D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World World of Scripture (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press. 2013), 105.

[5]Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History (Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press. 1997), 138.

[6]D. G. Reid,  The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament: A One-Volume Compendium Of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2004), 460.

[7] Walton and Sandy, 108.

[8] Jacob Neusner, Midrash in Context: Exegesis in Formative Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 137.

[9]Bauckham, 287.

[10] Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case For The Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books, 2007), 278.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Barry Schwartz, “Christian Origins: Historcial Truth and Social Memory” in Memory, Tradition and Text: Uses of the Past in Early Christianity, ed. A Kirkand T. Thatcher (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), 45-46; cited in  Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case For The Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books, 2007), 278.

[13] Steven Waterhouse, Jesus and History, How We Know His Life and Claims (Amarillo, TX: Westcliff Press, 2009), 86-87.

[14]Bauckham,  346; cited in Waterhouse, Jesus and History, How We Know His Life and Claims (Amarillo, TX: Westcliff Press, 2009),  87.

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