On Pluralism In Western Culture

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I am currently reading a book on apologetics from my Logos library. The opening chapters of the text are littered  with quotes from D.S. Carson. CArson is an intellectual heavyweight in the area of Biblical scholarship and Christianity. I learned a great deal from his books while I was in seminary. The following are a few of the quotes I lifted from the text. These are all Carson quotes from God and Culture.

In the religious field, this means that few people will be offended by the multiplying new religions. No matter how wacky, no matter how flimsy their intellectual credentials, no matter how subjective and uncontrolled, no matter how blatantly self-centered, no matter how obviously their gods have been manufactured to foster human self-promotion, the media will treat them with fascination and even a degree of respect. But if any religion claims that in some measure other religions are wrong, a line has been crossed and resentment is immediately stirred up: pluralism … has been challenged. Exclusiveness is the one religious idea that cannot be tolerated.

Pluralism has managed to set in place certain “rules” for playing the game of religion—rules that transcend any single religion. These rules are judged to be axiomatic. They include the following: religiously based exclusive claims must be false; what is old or traditional in religion is suspect and should probably be superseded; “sin” is a concept steeped in intolerance. The list could easily be expanded.

Those who are committed to the proposition that all views are equally valid have eliminated the possibility that one or more of those opinions has a special claim to being true or valid. They have foreclosed on open-mindedness in the same breath by which they extol the virtues of open-mindedness; they are dogmatic about pluralism.…

Both the irony and the tragedy of this fierce intolerance stem from the fact that it is done in the name of tolerance. It is not “liberal education” in the best sense; it is not pluralism in the best sense. It is fundamentalistic dogmatism in the worse sense.…

Faith and reason comic: Love wins… What loses?

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This is my second attempt at a comic. Please let me know what you think. Before you criticize my position on Bell’s book, please take the time to read the first four installments of my review. I’ll write the last one eventually. Most of what stalled me out was the sort of thing I highlight in this comic. Please let me know what you think.

Defending the Resurrection: Part 2- Defending the Resurrection

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Very often discussions about the truthfulness of Christianity center around proof for the existence of God or questions regarding the moral teachings. However important these topics may be, the most important component of Christianity is Jesus. Jesus is the man that makes Christianity different. In addition, He is the lynch-pin of the faith. If one desires to knock down the existence of God amongst Christians and destroy the very foundation of the faith, they need only pull this pin. Further, they need not even tear down Jesus entirely. Rather, one must merely disprove the resurrection. Paul wrote that if Christ did not rise from the dead, all belief is in vain. The main reason for this is that all of the most important beliefs regarding Christianity center around the reserection.

Often, the argument that happens between atheists and believers revolves around the scientifically possible or provable. However, this is problematic because Christianity doesn’t revolve around scientifically verifiable facts. Rather, it revolves around historic events. This makes the argument subject to historically verifiable events. This makes the argument between believers and the skeptics look something like this: (please note this is an example that removes the religious element because it creates clarity)

Historian: The battle of Gettysburg took place between July 1 and July 3 in 1863. Robert E. Lee commanded the confederates, while George Meade commanded the union. Roughly 46,000 men were killed or wounded. It marked the beginning of the end of the confederacy.

Scientist: that’s an incredible story, but certainly you cannot prove this scientifically! You cannot measure anything that demonstrates that this took place, and that which was measured is not reproducible. 46,000 men killed in battle! That is simply hard to believe.

Historian: I have newspaper clippings, bullets, journal entries, and years of belief amongst Americans!

Scientist: Measure something and prove it to me! All of those things can be manufactured after the fact! Show me something measurable and repeatable!

Now, obviously this is a bit of an exaggeration, but the point remains true. The story of the resurrection is the hinge point for the truthfulness of the claims of the scriptures. It is also a point of historic evidence, not scientific measurement. This points to the logical question: what historic evidence exists? The gospel accounts are the biggest and best evidence that points to the resurrection of Christ. They stand on their own strength as four different eyewitness accounts. In addition, we have at least 4 other New Testament authors that defend the resurrection as eyewitnesses. For the purpose of this essay, we will look primarily at the opposing positions. The next essay will deal with the pro-resurrection arguments/evidence, but most of the pro-resurrection proofs are best illuminated as responses to the anti-resurrection arguments. So, for now let’s begin by looking at the common arguments against the resurrection as they have appeared throughout history.

  1. Stolen Body: This is the first argument against the resurrection that was made by the temple leadership that arrested and crucified Christ. The long and short of the argument is that the disciples came to the tomb and stole the body. They then went out and proclaimed that Jesus had been raised. This explanation offers us an important bit of information: the body of Christ was gone. Otherwise, the temple officials would have simply produced it. It’s tough to say that Jesus was alive when the corpse is lying in the room. The veracity of the stolen body claim is questionable, at best. The texts tell us that a squad of Roman soldiers was left to guard the tomb and that the imperial seal was placed on the stone blocking the entrance. The penalty for breaking such a seal was death and guards were present to follow through with the sentence. These were not just any guards; they were Roman soldiers, the most elite soldiers in the world. For the body of Jesus to have been stolen, it would require that the disciples attack the soldiers, beat them and then steal the body. Further, they would need to do this without killing anyone or being killed themselves. Since we have record of the fates of most of the twelve and none of them were killed during the time of the crucifixion/resurrection, this seems unlikely. Further, there was no prosecution of rebels who dared attack the guards, much less kill any of them. The elite ninjas that pulled this off were the same disciples that ran away rather than stand with Jesus in the garden. One of the disciples even pulled out of his clothes when he was grabbed, opting instead to run off naked rather than fight. You know you aren’t tough when bullies take your clothes entirely. The argument is that these same fishermen, tax collectors and other assorted men that ran away days before, later defeated elite soldiers in order to collect a dead body. They would have done this, knowing it was a death penalty offense. It seems dubious. The temple officials accounted for the unlikely skirmish by alleging that the guards were asleep. Here again, we find problems. Sleeping on guard duty was a death penalty offense, giving them real incentive to stay awake. Further, this was not one soldier, it was a squad of soldiers. A squad typically consisted of 8 men. An elite squad of soldiers, all sleeping, while the disciples snuck by, rolled a boulder away (without waking someone up) and stole the body. Really? Again, this seems dubious. So, what if all of these things happened? Well, the disciples would then need to concoct a whopper of a story and convince 500 other witnesses to go along with it. (Paul refers to 500 witnesses of the resurrection.) Even if that were the case, they would need to stand by that lie. Despite torture, persecution and living in constant danger, they would need to stand by it. There are lots of reasons people lie: to get out of trouble, to profit from manipulation or simply for the sake of being dishonest. None of those reasons make sense when the liars are being tortured. Why would you maintain a lie under torture or even the threat of death? Of the 11 disciples that remained after Judas’ death, 10 were killed swearing they saw what they saw. The 11th died in prison still swearing to it. Many have argued that lots of people die for their faith. Simple willingness to die doesn’t prove anything. The major difference here is willingness to die for faith, verses willingness to die for claiming to have witnessed an event. These guys were not just claiming to believe something they were told; they were claiming to have seen something. Why on earth would anyone die or be tortured for a lie? If the disciples stole the body, they would need to lie about it, but they gain nothing for it. Even if 11 guys could be sold on this course of action, they weren’t alone in it. Paul, when pointing to proof of the resurrection in one of his letters, urged the readers to ask their neighbors because 500 witnesses saw the risen Christ. That’s a large crowd for a conspiracy or a con game. The stolen body theory simply doesn’t fit the available evidence.
  2. The substitute: The Koran is the origin of this argument, that Christ did not even go to the cross, but instead a substitute was sent in His place unbeknownst to the disciples. Fist things first, this was revealed to Mohammed through his claimed revelation from Allah. It is not based on any historic evidence. Second, reading the narrative of the trial and crucifixion points to the unlikelihood of this being the case. Judas, who knew Jesus, sells out Christ. Judas later kills himself in remorse, which points to the idea that it is unlikely that he would identify the wrong guy. His trial was run by the temple authorities, who had watched him teach and knew who he was. They also stood and watched the crucifixion, along with John the beloved disciple and Mary (Jesus’ mom!). You have an awesome look-alike when your own mom doesn’t recognize you. Further, why wouldn’t a substitute make it clear that he wasn’t Jesus?! There is no record of the guy on the cross saying: “Hey! You got the wrong guy! I am Rufus, I’m not Jesus!” Ultimately, this theory lacks detail because the Koran is vague. I suggest detail would do nothing but further expose the spuriousness of the theory.
  3. The swoon theory: This theory argues that if Jesus’ body wasn’t stolen and lots of people saw him, perhaps he didn’t die on the cross, but rather passed out only to wake up later and leave the tomb under his own power. This would account for confusion on the part of the disciples and their willingness to stand by their story. This theory sounds reasonable until we compare it with the details of the death and burial. Christ had been severely tortured before the crucifixion, which included scourging. Scourging was a bad enough punishment that it was illegal for a Roman citizen to be scourged beyond 39 times, because it would usually result in the death of the victim as a result of their flesh being so torn that their organs simply falling out. Scourging was followed by crucifixion. Nails were pounded through the victim’s hands or wrists and their feet or ankles. They were then suspended from a cross until dead. This sometimes lasted days. In Christ’s case, it was a mere 6 hours as a result of the severity of the treatment he had received before the crucifixion. After he died, the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, resulting in water and blood pouring out. Several things could cause this, but one of the more popular theories involves the piercing of the pericardial sack and heart (i.e. the heart and the bag it comes in). It seems reasonable that a trained Roman soldier would know the most efficient way to kill a guy with a spear. The heart really works when you happen to be in a hurry to kill someone. Jesus then was buried in a stone tomb with a boulder blocking the entrance. He was pretty severely injured. If he had passed out and revived, its unlikely that he would be able to muscle the boulder from the entrance to the tomb. Even if he did, the nasty surprise that would meet him outside would certainly have ended his escape: a squad of elite Roman soldiers. In his injured state, he would not have been capable of escape. For arguments sake, if he had escaped and appeared to the disciples a day or so later, they would be stretched to argue that he had come back from the dead, for he would have been in pretty bad shape. Then, he would need to exit the scene and the disciples would have been in the same boat of lying regarding his ascension into heaven. The theory simply doesn’t fit the facts.
  4. The poison theory: This is a variation of the swoon theory. It involves Christ receiving a poison during the crucifixion that would result in him appearing dead. The soldiers, it is argued, would have administered the poison when they gave him vinegar to drink during the crucifixion. The problem here is that the guys who were killing him would then be complicit with faking his death. Why would they fake his death, then run him through with a spear an hour later. Further, when he awoke from his deathlike state, he would need to escape the tomb. See the previous point for the major issue with this scenario.
  5. The wrong tomb theory: One of the more recent theories regarding the resurrection, which claims to account for the empty tomb is that the disciples were so grieved at the loss of their master that they went to the wrong tomb and hysterically assumed he was alive. The story exploded from there and a religion was born. Here is the problem with this one: Opponents to the new teaching could have gone to the right tomb, produced the body and ended the discussion. Then there is the issue of the multitude of witnesses. They were witnesses to the resurrection, not the empty tomb.
  6. The impostor theory: I will start by saying that this one is silly, but in the name of fairness, it is worth covering. The theory goes that someone disguised himself as Jesus in order to trick the disciples in the grandest practical joke ever. I can’t say this out loud without smiling. So, first things first, this doesn’t account for the empty tomb and there is no evidence supporting it. The temple officials could have produced the body of Christ at any time and demonstrated the invalidity of the resurrection. Beyond that, Jesus had lived/traveled with the disciples for 3 years before the crucifixion. The imposter Jesus would need to be pretty versed to pull this off. It would be tough for someone to convince me that they were my wife, even if they looked like her because I have lived with her. If they didn’t know to tease me about my mustache or bring me biscuits and eggs in bed on Saturday mornings, it would be a tip off that something was wrong. Some of the arguments purporting this position included the idea that Mary didn’t immediately recognize Christ, but rather thought he was the gardener and that the 2 guys on the road to Emmaeus didn’t recognize him either. As for Mary, she was likely weeping and the text clearly indicates that she turned and recognized him. So crying and looking away impaired her immediate awareness to identify Him. As for the two on the road to Emmaeus, The text indicates that they were kept from knowing who he was until he was done teaching to them. One could argue that this is a simple supernatural explanation for the event, but the whole conversation is about the resurrection. Certainly a supernatural explanation is warranted. The rest of the 11 saw and identified Jesus without hesitation, even Thomas who openly challenged the claims.
  7. The hallucination theory: “Everyone who saw Jesus alive was hallucinating” is the general idea behind this theory. The big problem with this is that hallucinations are always private. There is no such thing as group hallucinations. They simply do not happen. In addition, the 500 or so people who all saw him would need to be hallucinating in unison. Further, the body was still gone.
  8. It never happened: I will deal with this one more thoroughly in a later essay on this subject. I will, however, touch on it briefly for the sake of completeness in this essay. For a far more thorough exploration of the theory, please stay tuned. The early church originated in Jerusalem and grew outward from there. The disciples did not start the church in Greece and take advantage of the ignorance of the people. They started it in the place where everything took place. If the crucifixion and resurrection had not occurred at all, or even if they had made up Jesus entirely, this would mean that the disciples went to the people of Jerusalem and told them they saw something they didn’t see. It would be a crazy plan and would have been completely shut down before even getting out of the gates. I cannot convince anyone that they met someone last week, listened to him teach in a crowd of thousands and watched him be tortured to death if they didn’t actually see it.
  9. Some brief points in favor of the historicity of the resurrection: (all of these will be addressed in more detail in the next essay)
  • The disciples: These guys make for a pretty compelling point on the issue. They lived poor, lost family, were tortured and killed swearing they saw the risen Lord. Their actions are not the actions of men who were making up a story because they got nothing in this world for their efforts. They did not get rich, they did not attract popularity, it got them into trouble (not out of it), and it ultimately got them killed.
  • Multiple accounts: This one will be examined more in depth later as well, but it’s worth touching for this discussion. Unlike every other world religion, the resurrection is accounted for directly by multiple witnesses in writing. We do not have a book. We have 4 direct accounts, and at least 4 other writers who attest to the historicity the resurrection.
  • The large group of witnesses to the risen Lord: Paul directs his readers to ask the witnesses themselves. This is a crummy strategy if there were none.
  • The stolen body theory is the only one from the era of the early church: The only contra-resurrection theory that was found in the ancient era is that the body was stolen. Every other offering is a product of guesses based on suppositions precarious balanced on anti-supernatural bias. Even then, the Bible accounts for the stolen body theory in Matthew, who refers to a bribe that was given to the soldiers to lie about what happened. As we examined earlier, the “sleeping soldiers/stolen body claim” is problematic on a number of accounts, whereas the bribe does fit the facts we have regarding the event.
  • The Apostle Paul: Paul was a persecutor of Christians. We know from Acts and Paul’s own account that he was involved in the persecution and execution of early believers. We also know that Paul went against his teaching rabbi in persecuting Christians. This is no small thing. Paul then is turned around and not only becomes a Christian, but becomes one of the strongest advocates of the faith. This is roughly akin to Hitler becoming a rabbi and leading the remnant of the Jews back to Israel. All of this is based on an encounter with the risen Lord.
  • The crumminess of the story: The story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection is a powerful one in our day and age. However, to an ancient Jew crucifixion is unbelievably offensive. The Old Testament associates crucifixion with being accursed of God. Saul was killed in a similar manner. Jews were deeply offended by the practice. Further, most Jews were looking for God to send a messiah in the vein of Judas Maccabeus, who kicked the butts of the Persians and chased them out of the promised land. They wanted a conqueror. Even further still, the incarnation is a deeply offensive concept to the Jews of that time and an absurd concept to anyone who was a student of Plato or Aristotle. If the disciples concocted this story in an effort to make a fortune, they were dumb. This story stands as the opposite of what would be an effective con at the time. Its just downright offensive to the cultures of the time.

Summary: The major arguments against the resurrection are fanciful guesses that do not stand up to the slightest degree of examination. In fact, most of these arguments are so weak that they highlight the strength of the argument for the resurrection. The next essay will look at the evidence in favor of the resurrection as a total, cohesive argument.

Interlude: Sola Scriptura

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One of my favorite memories from my adolescent years is of arguing with my dad. Seems odd, right? I became a Christian when I was in Jr. High School and was excited to learn. One of the first Christian books I read was Luther’s Catechism. I read it because I wanted to know everything about God that I could possibly learn. I read and studied and absorbed. My father blessed me tremendously by pushing me to think about what I believed. His challenges to my thinking forced me to read the scriptures as a meter stick for my beliefs. Since then I have tried to practice this discipline in relation to my faith. When I read seminary texts, I try to check the scriptures to determine if the Bible supports the claims being made. When I read books from popular theologians, I read the Bible to determine the veracity of the claims. When I listen to sermons, I work to do the same thing. Measure, test and discern using the scriptures as the source for ultimate truth. Debating Bible with my father gave me this gift. At times, clever philosophies and theologies have come along only to be measured against the Word and judged accordingly. Let there be no doubt, at times I wanted them to be true, while at other times, I wanted to find them false. But my desires must always be subordinate to the will and truth of the God I serve. Paul pointed to the Berean church in Acts 17:10-12, referring to it as particularly noble because they tested everything he taught against the scriptures. Paul was happy that they questioned him and checked his teachings against the scriptures. Paul lived in a time rife with deceivers and false teachers, not unlike what we face today. In the wake of his ministry, Paul constantly battled false teachings, prompting him to say amazingly stern things to the effect of: if anyone teaches any gospel other than the one I taught, let them be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9) What is taught in the church matters. We must measure and test. I don’t have time to write the next installment of my love wins review. I will probably write it next week. However, I wanted to take a moment to comment on my observations of the discourse thus far. After all, the debate ought to be part of how we measure and test. That having been said, I have been reading blogs and articles, listening to podcasts and having conversations. The bluster, incredulity, name calling and condemnation has been more distasteful than anything else. Now, I have read a few great articles and discussions from a variety of sources. I have also read some dump and mindless articles. One of the more discouraging trends that I have encountered time and again is scant discussion of the scriptures and facts. I suspect this is a product of the appalling degree of Biblical and theological illiteracy in the church. We have so much freedom and so many available resources that they have lost all value. In the end, if we are going to discuss the matter, the only thing of importance is the scriptures. Period. Sure, it is difficult to think that people may go to hell. Its a sad possibility, but that isn’t enough to make the scripture supporting the existence of hell null and void. Only God can decide the truth of the existence of eternal punishment or salvation by faith in Christ. God gives us the truth in the scriptures and only they can act as the arbiters of truth. If we are to debate, let us do so with the scriptures. This makes it tough because it’s easy to love Rob Bell. We want to defend Bell because we love him. Others want to attack him because they loathe him. It doesn’t matter either way. We can only look to the scriptures for truth. Love him or hate him, measure the truth of all teachings against the word of God. I rather like Bell, but I will not choose any teaching over the plain message the scriptures. Don’t argue about the other guy’s argumentation style, argue their scriptures. Nothing else matters. The most important lesson I learned from arguing with my dad is that the best way to learn is to study and read in pursuit of the truth. If this debate has caught your attention and gotten your blood boiling… Read the scriptures and study. Then the goal ceases to be defeating the evil heretic or the stiff necked evangelical and becomes about learning who our God is so that we can take a closer walk with him.