Archive | March, 2010

Evidence of the Resurrection: Part 1 – Internal Evidence

Just as we test the historicity of any event, not through emotional conviction, but with historical evidence, I would like to devote some time to laying out a brief historical case for the Resurrection of Christ, the central issue of the Christian faith.

Here is what we need:

1. Internal Evidence: Evidence coming from within the primary witness documents, the New Testament.

2. External Evidence: Collaborative evidence coming from outside the primary witness documents.

Internal Evidence:

  • Honesty
  • Irrelevant Details
  • Harmony
  • Public Extraordinary Claims
  • Lack of Motivation for Fabrication

The entire Bible records both successes and failures of the heroes. I have always been impressed by this. It never paints the glorious picture that you would expect from legendary material, but shows them in all their worst moments. The Israelites whined, David murdered, Peter denied, the apostles abandoned Christ in fear, Moses became angry, Jacob deceived, Noah got drunk, Adam and Eve disobeyed, Paul persecuted, Solomon worshiped idols, Abraham was a bigamist, Lot committed incest, John the Baptist doubted, Abraham doubted, Sarah doubted, Nicodemus doubted, Thomas doubted, Jonah ran, Samson self-served, and John, at the very end of the story, when he should have had it all figured out, worshiped an angel (Rev 22:8). I love it! (ahem).

And these are the Jews who wrote the Bible!

In addition, the most faithful are seen as suffering the most (Joseph, Job, and Lazarus), while the wicked are seen as prospering (the rich man). In the case of the Gospels, the disciples who recorded it claimed to have abandoned Christ and did not believe in His resurrection when told. Even after the resurrection, they still present themselves as completely ignorant of God’s plan (Acts 1:6-7). Women are the first to witness the resurrection which has an element of self-incrimination since a woman’s testimony was not worth anything in the first century. If someone were making this up, why include such an incriminating detail? (I am glad they did—what an Easter message this is for us today!)

Irrelevant Details:
The Gospel writers (especially John) contain many elements to their story that are really irrelevant to the big picture. Normally, when someone is making a story up, they include only the details that contribute to the fabrication. Irrelevant details are a mark of genuineness in all situations.

Notice this small segment of the Gospel of John 20:1-8 (HT: Gregory Boyd, but modified): Continue Reading →

What Happened to the Twelve Apostles? How Their Deaths Evidence Easter

This is an Easter updated repost—Happy Easter!

Download PDF (with family discussion questions)

I have an interest in the death of the Apostles. We all should. Every Christian should spend some time looking into the historical records. There are many legends concerning their deaths which makes the historical evidence hard to interpret. Many times the accounts conflict with one another. Most early Christians wanted their home to be crowned with the stature of having been the final resting place of one of the twelve. It is probably for this reason that there were embellishments forged.

Sifting through the wheat and the chaff is not easy task. The martyrdom of some of the Apostles is more certain than others. Historians will have different degrees of certainty concerning the circumstances of their deaths. For instance, unbiased historians will not take issue with the historical credibility of the martyrdom of Peter, Paul, and James the Apostle. Many of the other accounts have decent historic validity as well. Some accounts, however, raise the eyebrow and cause us to remain agnostic.

However, when boiled down to their least common denominator, it is very feasible to believe that all but one of the Apostles suffered and died a martyr’s death, even if we can’t be sure of the exact details.

Amidst some uncertainty, one thing is clear—the reason given for their death was the same in all accounts. They were killed because they proclaimed to have seen Christ die and then to have seen Him alive. They all died because of an unwavering, unrelenting claim that Christ rose from the grave. They died for Easter.

Personally, in my mind, the gruesome death of the Apostles as recorded below was one of the greatest gifts that God ever gave to the Church. It contributes much to Christian apologetics by answering the “how do you know?” question concerning the resurrection of Christ.

The following is my attempt to take the best of all the sources and share the most likely scenario for each Apostle’s death. At the risk of spoiling some of the “legends,” I have given each account a grade of probability from A (highest probability) to D (lowest probability).

Read through the accounts of their deaths. Use it this Easter. Tell your children. This may sound odd, but in a very real sense, I thank God for bringing about the Apostles’ deaths, for in their deaths they sealed their testimony in blood making our faith in the risen Christ built upon a solid foundation.

(1) The Apostle James

James, the Apostle of the Lord, was the second recorded martyr after Christ’s death (Stephen was the first). His death is recorded in Acts 12:2 where it is told that Herod Agrippa killed him with a sword. Clemens Alexandrinus and Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History II.2) both tell how the executioner witnessed the courage and un-recanting spirit of James and was then convinced of Christ resurrection and was executed along with James.

Date of Martyrdom: 44-45 A.D.

Probability rating: A for the death of James, C- for the death of the executioner

(2) The Apostle Peter

Although, just before the crucifixion, Peter denied three times that he even knew Christ, after the resurrection he did not do so again. Peter, just as Jesus told him in John 21:18-19, was crucified by Roman executioners because he could not deny his master again. According to Eusebius, he thought himself unworthy to be crucified as his Master, and, therefore, he asked to be crucified “head downward.”

Date of Martyrdom: ca. 64 A.D.

Probability rating: A

(3) The Apostle Andrew

Andrew, who introduced his brother Peter to Christ, went to join Peter with Christ in eternity six years after Peter’s death. After preaching Christ’s resurrection to the Scythians and Thracians, he too was crucified for his faith. As Hippolytus tells us, Andrew was hanged on an olive tree at Patrae, a town in Achaia. Continue Reading →

A Theology of Indifference: Part II

Not too long ago, I was sitting with a group of Christians and engaged in a discussion with a young man about theology.  Immediately, some of his statements began to concern me as I found them inconsistent both with scripture and the historical foundation of Christianity.  I looked around waiting for someone else to jump in.  No one did.  Either they felt what he was saying was not important or didn’t realize how off base he was. What was the problem?  Apathy? Indifference? Who cares, he was a Christian anyway.

As a follow up to A Theology of Indifference from last year, I continue to be concerned, alarmed and dismayed at the growing lack of discernment in the body of Christ.  This concern has recently been amplified by a comment, spoken to me in love, that I did not need to be so serious about my Biblical and theological pursuits.  You need balance, my friend said.  While I don’t quite have the social life I’d like since I am after all, a single mother taking a full load in the ThM program and working part-time, I balance (pun intended) that against the value of what it is all about – understanding more fully what God has revealed through his word, through his son and throughout history.  No, it doesn’t leave too much room for a social life but maybe learning about God on his terms is a little more important.  Maybe I care too much.

I have definitely become more aware of the importance of human relationships and the need to develop them.  We cannot live this life alone, especially not a Christian life.  Relationship is necessary.   Engagement with people is necessary.  I, for one, could use better relationship and have been making intentional steps in that direction.  But does that cause us to put doctrinal significance of essentials on the back burner?  Does the quest for relationship and balance cause us to lose sight of the importance of the triune God and his plan for his people?  Have we exchanged fellowship for Christian education because in the end, it is people who matter.  Who cares about doctrine and besides it divides.

Who is Christ?  How are others expressing him?  Listen and pay attention.  You will find some interesting statements.  I do wonder if the average church goer was asked what Christ accomplished on the crossed, what answers would we get?  He died for our sins. Justification, reconciliation, propitiation, redemption and sanctification sound real fancy and probably to most, are relegated to academic learning but we needn’t be concerned with such technical terms.  But I think these so vitally important to understand the great salvation that has been handed down encompassed in Romans 5:8, “while we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly”.   The bottom line is can we understand and articulate the faith sufficient to create an atmosphere of discernment.

In Michael’s recent piece about people walking away from the church in droves due to dogmitized approaches to Christianity that leave no room for legitimate questioning or critical learning, is it any wonder that they have said “cancel my subscription”.  No amount of fellowship, ministry programs, revivals, outreach programs or worship concerts can compensate for the growing in grace and the true knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:18).  It is my opinion that only through solid Christian education can any real growth take place through the application of discernment and ministry.  Yes, they do go hand in hand.  Otherwise, answers to questions and questions about answers will get swallowed up in a sea of popularized thinking that leaves no foundation for understanding why we believe what we believe.

Friends, we need to start caring about our faith.  We cannot settle for formulas, pop-theology and the latest formation craze.  We need to start paying attention to how people are expressing the basics of Christianity – the nature of the triune God, the work and person of Christ, the purpose of the church and God’s plan for history.  Otherwise, unchecked and unexamined ideas will infiltrate the church indicative of Jude’s concern that “certain persons have crept in unnoticed” (Jude 1:4).  That does not mean go to the other extreme and nit-pick about every doctrinal issue.  But it does mean at least understanding what they are.  Fellowship is good, concerts are great, programs are helpful.  But striving to understand God on his terms is priceless and worthy of the highest discernment.

Rant over :)

Edit Note:  I’m afraid I have given the impression that this post is about correcting people.  It is not.  Rather, it is about having discernment, which requires having the ability to understand where ideas and concepts deviate from an historic understanding of Christianity.  The application of how correction is handled is a completely different issue and will vary depending on the scenario.

“How People Become Evangelists of Unbelief” or Leaving (Christ)ianity – An Evangelical Epidemic

I sat down with a young lady not too long ago and had a conversation. This was a conversation about faith—her faith. Better put, this was a conversation about a faith that once was and is no more. She was a very interesting and bright lady—inquisitive, well-read, and very suspicious. She began by telling me that she was a Christian (past tense) and had since left the faith. Christ was once a part of her confession, but, as she recounted to me, after a long voyage of not finding sufficient answers for her doubts, she believes that she had no choice but to follow her own integrity and renounce Christ all together. I asked her what her problems were and she became very emotional. It was like I represented Christianity and she was ready to take it all out on me.

Ignorance. Pity. Shame. These are all good descriptions of what she thought of Christianity. But the primary description that I felt coming from here was “betrayal.” She had been betrayed by the Church because they duped her into a belief not unlike that of the tooth fairy. When she discovered this “betrayal”, no one had a valid answer or excuse. So she left. She is now an unbeliever—a soon-to-be evangelistic unbeliever no doubt. She was at such a point in this process that no matter what I said, she was not open to listen.

One fascination, obsession, and focus (neurotic impulse?) I have in my life and ministry is with regard to those, like this young lady, who leave the faith. I’m sure you have noticed this. I have well over a dozen books giving autobiographical sketches of those who once proclaimed to be Christian and are now evangelistic atheists, agnostics, or skeptics, with their goal to convert or, rather, unconvert others. I have been in contact with many people who either have already left or are on the verge of leaving in the form of emails, phone calls and visits in person.

No, it is not a neurotic impulse. I believe that it is the recognition of an extremely serious issue that we are facing today. We are facing an epidemic in Christianity—an epidemic of unbelief among our own. Crowding our churches are those who are somewhere in the process of leaving. No, I am not talking about leaving a denomination. I am not talking about abandoning some institutionalized expression of Christianity. I am not talking about leaving the church (though related). And I am not even talking about renouncing religion. I am talking about those who are leaving Christ. (And this is coming from a Calvinist who does not believe that the truly elect will ever leave).

Over 31 million Americans are saying “check please” to the church, and are off to find answers elsewhere. Jeff Schadt, coordinator of Youth Transition Network, says thousands of youth fall away from the church when transitioning from high school to college. He and other youth leaders estimate that 65 to 94 percent of high school students stop attending church after graduating. From my studies and experience I find that leaving church is many times the first visible step in one’s pilgrimage away from Christ.

The question that we must ask is a very simple one: Why? Why are people leaving the faith at this epidemic and alarming rate? In my studies, I have found the two primary reasons people leave the faith are 1) intellectual challenges and 2) bad theology or misplaced beliefs.

First, I want to explain this transition process, focusing on the first: intellectual challenges. You might even find yourself somewhere on this journey.

Step one: Doubt
Step two: Discouragement
Step three: Disillusionment
Step four: Apathy
Step five: Departure

Step One: Doubt

Here is where the person begins to examine his or her faith more critically by asking questions, expressing concerns, and becoming transparent with their doubt. This doubt is not wholesale, but expresses an inner longing to have questions answered and the intellect satisfied to some degree. Normally this person will inquire of mentors in the faith, requesting an audience for their doubt. There are many reasons for the onset of this doubt. Here are the three that are primary:

Maturation: Much of the time it comes from simple maturation. People grow and begin to ask serious questions about their beliefs and that of their parents. It is the stage of intellectual maturation in which discernment becomes strong.  Continue Reading →

New to Parchment and Pen: Michael’s Hapax Legomenon

Look the word up. Good word.

This will represent our new “side blog” which will contain plugs, announcements, and other things that don’t deserve a formal blog post.

  • -Please pray for my friend Michael Spencer. My heart breaks for him.
  • -Parchment and Pen is #4 in religious blogs on Technorati.
  • -I am down this evening with serious tailbone (?) pain. I don’t know where this has come from. It has been six or seven weeks sense it started and is progressively getting worse. It is so bad tonight that I can hardly think. The only thing that gets rid of the pain are pain pills, but they keep my mind messed up. Any thoughts? Continue Reading →

Christians Who Struggle with Serious Sins

I am so often torn by my own sinfulness to the point of despair. I wonder, “How can a Christian such as myself be so sinful?” This is because I know myself. If you know yourself well enough (and are not in denial), I imagine you often say the same thing.

I am comforted by the fact that some of the greatest saints in the Bible did not have it all together. They all wrestled with their own flesh and selfish tendencies. So  much so, I am persuaded to say that a lack of sinfulness is not necessarily the primary mark of a Christian. Most of you would agree. However, many of you would be quick to point out certain sins that are so hideous that they cannot be committed by a Christian. These are the “really bad” sins. What are these sins? I wish I had a list. Is it murder? Deception? Homosexual practice? Adultery? Supporting cultural political moves which destabilize society (ahem…nationalize health care)? Which sins are so bad that  they have crossed that line?

Let me use Peter as an illustration. Poor Peter. Had he known that we were going to use him as our personal scape goat for all-time, he would have rethought his enthusiasm to be involved in Christ’s ministry! This illustration comes from his visit to Cornelius’ house along with his vision on the rooftop of Simon the tanner’s house. At this time, Peter received a vision that illustrated God’s desire that Peter extend the proclamation of the Gospel beyond the ethic boundaries in which Peter found comfort. He was to go to a Gentile named Cornelius and present the Gospel. Until this time Peter would not have made such a bold move as associating with a Gentile or bringing them what he conceived to be the “Jewish Gospel.” In fact, Peter invokes the common religious law in defense of his previous assumptions. As he put it, “You know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile” (Acts 10:28). The word used here for “unlawful” does not describe that which went against the Mosaic Law of God, but the cultural stipulations of the Jewish religious community. This term for “unlawful” (athemitos) is used of wanton or callously lawless acts (NET; BDAG). In other words, it was not against the God’s Law for Peter to associate with Cornelius or any other Gentiles, but it was against the Jewish customs of the day. John Pohill describes it this way,

No specific law forbade Jews to associate with Gentiles, but the purity regulations rendered close social interaction virtually impossible. Robertson (WP 3:141) cites Juvenal’s Satire 14.104f. and Tacitus Hist. 5.5 as evidence from Gentile writers that such Jewish refusal to associate with Gentiles was in fact the practice. According to S. Wilson, this passage is the closest in Acts to actually abrogating the Jewish laws (Luke and the Law [Cambridge: University Press, 1983], 63-73). (Polhill, John B.: Acts. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1992 The New American Commentary, 26). 

Craig Keener describes the situation,

Devout Jews would not enter into idolaters homes lest they unwittingly participate in idolatry; they apparently extended this custom to not entering any Gentile’s home. It was considered unclean to eat Gentiles’ food or to drink their wine; although this purity regulation did not prohibit all social contact, it prevented dining together at banquets and made much of the Roman world feel that Jews were antisocial. (Keener, Craig S.; InterVarsity Press: The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993, S. Ac 10:27). 

It is important to note that Peter’s presupposed prohibition was not only absent from the Mosaic Law, but it was counter to one of its main priorities of representing God to the nations. God chose the Jews to be a holy people who were to separate themselves from the evil practices of other nations. But they were also to be a kingdom of priests that brought God’s message of hope and redemption to all the world (Ex. 19:6). This ethnic prejudice that had become so common to the Jews was not part of God’s plan. In fact, it was a prideful act of racism that was sinful in the sight of God. As Kent Hughes puts it, Continue Reading →

The Biggest Problems with Some of My Theological Positions

I like to be personally preemptive in my own theology, making myself aware of the weaknesses of particular positions I hold. Some of the weaknesses are significant and some are relatively minor in my view. This helps me to keep perspective about why people disagree with my position. It also helps to disarm conversations so that productivity can happen in theological discourse (i.e. you are not just trading shots, one-upping each other). Without this, theological advancement rarely takes place. It simply turns into an exercise in trying to win an argument, and I am not interested in that. I hope my goal is to discover truth.

Therefore, I have put together a list of some of my positions along with what I perceive to be the biggest problems associated with them. I encourage others to do the same. It will give you quite a bit of legitimacy when you can admit your own weaknesses:

Sola Fide. I believe that justification is by faith alone, without the addition of any works whatsoever.

Biggest problem with this belief: There are many passages in the Scripture that are hard to reconcile with sola fide. The one that stands out the most in my opinion is Matt 25:22-46. Christ seems to indicate that the judgment will be on the basis of deeds that we have done or failed to do, not on faith alone.

Eternal security: I believe that once a person is saved, he or she cannot lose their salvation.

Biggest problem with this belief: Hands down, for me, the biggest problem does not arise from the infamous Hebrews passages (I actually think they are relatively easy to understand), but from Matthew 18:23-35. Christ seems to teach that the forgiven can have their penalty laid back on their shoulders due to their own non-forgiveness of others. This parallels the Lord’s Prayer which seems to make our forgiveness from God contingent upon our forgiveness of others (Matt. 6:12). “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespasses against us.” Continue Reading →

The History of Science is the History of Bad Ideas

“The history of Science is the history of bad ideas.”

This is a quote that I heard recently. I think that it is a rather tongue-in-cheek way of expressing our (post)modern culture’s current attitude with respect to the authority of science. During the modern period, science was king. The scientific revolution produced hopes of a Utopian society where virtually all problems would be solved due to human innovation, evolution, and advancement. But during the postmodern period, science has been humbled due to a realization that the process was not as clean as we thought. Human contamination, insufficient data, faulty presuppositions, and religiously and politically motivated studies have tainted our hopes that science is truly king.

Euclid said, “The laws of nature are but the mathematical thoughts of God.” Such is true, but how do we know that we have properly interpreted the “mathematical thoughts of God”? I believe in the authority of nature and many of our (scientific) conclusions about such. Every Christian should. I have written about this in times past. Romans 1 says that creation itself leaves people without an epistemic excuse about God’s reality. This, among many other things, provides a firm biblical foundation for cosmology, biology, physics, and rationality in the Christian life. In this sense, the study of nature is mandated for the Christian.

However, we need to be timid about our conclusions that come from science, knowing the ways that it, like the Bible, can be manipulated. More important for what I am talking about now, we need to realize how dynamic the conclusions of science can be.

I was a fitness trainer through the nineties as well as working in the fields of sports medicine. I was very good at what I did and understood the issues (at least I thought). I focused on weight loss physiology. I wanted to provide people with the best—the most scientifically accurate—routine for weight loss. When it came to losing weight though, I would tell people to engage in a steady-state cardio routine. This is one in which you would keep your heart rate up consistently and moderately for above thirty-minutes. Then about fifteen minutes of resistance training. Without getting into all the details of why, suffice it to say that this was the most accepted scientific method for such goals. When it came to nutrition, I was not faddish at all. I repudiated the fads. I wanted to stick to that which was scientifically verifiable and accepted: the food pyramid. However both have changed since the nineties. Now, in order to lose weight, your cardio must include more of a circuit training where your heart rate gets up into its anaerobic state every so often. This is something that I used to teach against with (scientific) resolve. On top of this, the food pyramid has been turned upside down and subjectivized! Now, I am not saying what I did before did not work…it did. But it was not really right. There is a stability to say that exercise and proper nutrition are essential to weight loss. But I am no longer quite so committed to a particular type of exercise and nutrition. It is not so stable. Some of my theories have been literally turned upside down! That is just one example of the sort of things that can dissolution a person toward so-called scientific conclusions.

Here is a list of some other things that have changed over the years with regard to scientific ideas:

  • Maternal impression (the mother’s thoughts can influence the child’s)
  • Human cell (simplistic to complex)
  • The status of Pluto (no longer a planet)
  • Piltdown man (scientific hoax about a “missing link” in evolution)
  • The food pyramid (turned upside down)
  • Health benefits of alcohol (bad for you one day, good for you the next) Continue Reading →