The original sceptics

Richard Dawkins was asked, “What do you think happened to the body of Jesus, and how does that tally with the accounts of the resurrection?” His answer was, “Presumably what happened to Jesus was what happens to all of us when we die.  We decompose.  Accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension are about as well-documented as Jack and the Beanstalk.”  Dawkins’ status as  a sceptic and opponent of Christianity is well known.  Is he correct in his assessment of Jesus’ resurrection?  Is the Biblical account of Jesus’ resurrection just a ‘fairy tale’?

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Dawkins is not the first sceptic. The original sceptics of the resurrection were actually those who were closest to Jesus, those who subsequently proclaimed the Good News of a resurrected Christ.  But in the days after Jesus’ resurrection they weren’t out in the streets fearlessly proclaiming the glory of the cross or Jesus’ victory over the grave.  They were hiding behind locked doors, terrified that the Jews would find them.  They were disappointed, despondent and disillusioned after the brutal death of the person they believed was the Messiah.  We read in the Scriptures that only a few women were brave enough to visit Jesus’ burial place.  They had prepared spices, and wanted to provide Jesus with some dignity in his death.

Nothing however could have prepared these courageous ladies for what happened.  They found that Jesus’ body was not in his tomb, and were subsequently confronted by angels.  When they returned to tell the apostles of their profound revelation, these men’s response was that the women’s “words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11).  Despite the many instances where Jesus had told his disciples that he would be killed, and then after three days rise from the dead, they viewed the women’s testimony as being fictional.

That first Sunday evening after Jesus’ crucifixion, he appeared in his resurrected body to the disciples.  Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli write that the “consequences of the resurrection can be seen by comparing the disciples before and after.  Before, they ran away, denied their Master and huddled behind locked doors in fear and confusion.  After, they were transformed from scared rabbits into confident saints, world-changing missionaries, courageous martyrs and joy-filled touring ambassadors for Christ.”  The transformation of the disciples is one evidence of the truthfulness of the resurrection.  After all, what else would have convinced the apostles to extricate themselves from behind locked doors to risk their lives proclaiming an extremely unpopular message?  Many of these men would die for their faith and preaching!  Only a fool would be willing to die for a myth!

A further evidence that the resurrection was not created by the church, but rather that the church was created by the resurrection, is the fact that women were the first eyewitnesses of the resurrection.  If the early church had made up the resurrection story, they would never have had their primary witnesses as women.  The reason for this is that in the first century AD a woman’s testimony wasn’t worth much, indeed, it wasn’t even admissible in the court of law.

If Jesus had not truly risen from the grave, the frightened, confused disciples would never have emerged from behind their locked doors to become fearless preachers.  Nothing but a resurrected Jesus could have roused the original sceptics from their unbelief.  If the church had made up the resurrection story, they wouldn’t have had their primary witnesses as women.  These two points of consideration, together with Luke’s reputation as a historian of the highest rank, point to the resurrection of Jesus not being an idle tale, but rather a historical fact.

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Creation and purpose

“Who am I?  Why am I here?  Where am I going?”  These are eternal questions that we all ask at some stage in our life.  For many people life is defined by the pursuit of happiness.  For others their motto is, “The person who dies with the most toys wins!”  Even Charlie Brown and Lucy, in one of Charles Shultz’ cartoons debate this question.  Lucy says to Charlie Brown, “I’m intrigued by this view you have on the purpose of life, Charlie Brown … You say we’re put here on earth to make others happy?”  Charlie Brown answers, “That’s right.”  The next frame shows the two of them in deep thought.  Lucy eventually asks, “What are the others put here for?”

Run!

What is the purpose of life for the person who doesn’t believe in a Creator God?  One such person, Jean-Paul Satré, wrote that “Every existent is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance.”  As Albert Mohler writes, “For the atheist … Life is a cosmic accident, morality is an arbitrary game by which we order our lives, and meaning is non-existent. As Oxford University’s Professor Richard Dawkins explains, human life is nothing more than a way for selfish genes to multiply and reproduce. There is no meaning or dignity to humanity.”

Does the Christian who believes in a Creator God have purpose on this planet?  In the Scriptures we read that the LORD said that, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:7).   God, by His own sovereign free choice, chose to create mankind to enjoy and reflect His glory (Revelation 4:11).  When mankind rebelled against Him He sent His Son to redeem a people for Himself.

Dignity and purpose, for the Christian, are directly related to God’s Person and purpose.  The Bible teaches that man was created to know their Creator, in the deepest sense of that word.  That is why Paul wrote, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).  When man knows and loves God, the LORD in turn delights in the pinnacle of His creative handiwork (Zephaniah 3:17).  John Piper has written, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”  If this is true, then purpose is found not in work or pleasure as ends in themselves, but in pursuing these activities under, and for, our Sovereign Creator.  Purpose is found not in travelling to the ends of the earth, but in humbly looking up.

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Should science trump the Bible?

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Is it essential for Christians to believe in a literal Adam and Eve?  This is a much debated topic within Christian circles.  Individuals choose sides in this debate based on a decision of authority.  Each Christian must ask, ‘Is science authoritative, or is the Bible authoritative?’

While discussing this topic Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Let us take as an example … a crucial passage which raises the whole question of the relationship between Scripture and modern science in an acute form, the argument of the apostle Paul in Romans 5:12-21.  In these verses he is unfolding the glorious doctrine of our union with Christ.  But you will notice that he develops it in terms of our former union with Adam.  ’As in Adam … so in Christ.’  You cannot possibly believe the New Testament doctrine of the atonement and redemption in Christ unless you accept its teaching with regard to the fall, and with regard to sin … My assertion is that according to the biblical teaching, you cannot divorce the doctrine of the atonement from the doctrine of the fall and the doctrine of sin.  And that puts you face to face with the question of history.  Man was either created, as Genesis tells us, perfect, and then fell; or else man has been slowly developing from the animal and has never been perfect at all.  It is either one or the other … So you see the danger of beginning to separate and to say that, in rejecting the first chapters of Genesis, you are merely rejecting what your ‘scientific’ knowledge makes impossible.  But you are not merely doing that.  You are rejecting an essential part of the doctrine of atonement.”

The Scriptures teach that God created a mankind, and that “sin came into the world through one man” (Romans 5:12).  Adam is not only presented as a man in the New Testament, but Jesus Christ’s purpose and life work are contrasted with Adam’s failure.  Christians believe that each person is born under the representative head Adam, but when they are redeemed they are brought under the representative head Jesus Christ.  We read, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Should science trump the Bible?  For the Christian the answer should be a resounding no, especially when that decision compromises their entire faith in the entire gospel.

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Do all roads lead to heaven?

Oprah Winfrey

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Are all the religions of the world just many different paths traversing the same mountain in a variety of ways?  Will we all eventually reach the summit of God’s presence via our different paths?  Many people believe this to be the case:

  • John Lennon: “I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right.  It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.”
  • Homer Simpson: “I’m gonna die!  Jesus, Allah, Buddha – I love you all!”
  • Mahatma Gandhi: “All paths leading to God are equally good.”
  • Oprah Winfrey: “One of the biggest mistakes humans make is to believe there is only one way.  Actually, there are many diverse paths leading to what you call God.”

When discussing eternal matters with a Hindu friend, I said that while I respected her right to believe what she did, our religions are not parallel belief systems, but mutually exclusive.  She was shocked at my statement.  She maintained that as long as a person has a religious system and is sincere, they will go to heaven.  She said to me that if Jesus had heard my statement he would be embarrassed by my narrow-mindedness.  I in turn was surprised by her response, and said that I was simply being true to what Jesus said.

One of Jesus’ most outrageous, exclusive statements is recorded in the Gospel of John.  Jesus is quoted as saying,“I am the way, the truth and the life.  No man comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  Regarding this verse, Thomas à Kempis tried to describe the fullness of what Jesus was saying with the following words: “Follow … me.  I am the way and the truth and the life.  Without the way there is no going; without the truth there is no knowing; without the life there is no living.  I am the way which [you] must follow; the truth which [you] must believe; the life for which [you] must hope.  I am the [only] way; the infallible truth, the never-ending life.  I am the straightest way; the sovereign truth; life true, life blessed, life uncreated.”  Jesus’ way has always been the ‘narrow way’, not the ‘broad way’ that leads to destruction.

Any Which Way

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With reference to the postmodern philosophy of pluralism Tony Walter says, “A new stage has been reached; people do not choose between different religions, they choose their own religion from the elements they like in all the others … Orthodox, institutionalised religion is out, but home-made, make-it-up-as-you-go-along spirituality is in.”   But we must seriously question our faith in our own assessment of truth.  Can we believe that all religions are equally true, when their definitions of who God is, how one is saved, and how God has revealed Himself are so contradictory?  If Jesus claimed to be God, and the only way to heaven, then we cannot say that all other religions that discount the deity of Jesus are equally true.  All roads cannot lead to heaven.

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Adam: Man or myth?

The origin of man is a hotly debated subject.  Ever since Charles Darwin published his work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of the Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life in 1859, atheists have had an intellectual argument for their position.  With evolutionary theory’s widespread acceptance in academic circles, many Christians have sought to reconcile evolutionary theory with the creation account in Genesis 1-11.

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Debate between the traditionally held belief – that God created a literal Adam and Eve, and that all other people came from them – and a view that seeks to marry evolution and mainstream Christianity, has hotted up in recent years.  This largely due to the rise in prominence of theistic evolution.  Some of the leading proponents of theistic evolution have written posts for the Biologos blog.  The Editor of this blog notes in a post entitled Adam and Eve: Literal or Literary? that, “BioLogos takes a firm stand on the fact that Adam and Eve could not have been the sole biological progenitors of all humans, [but] science does not rule out the possibility of a historical Adam and Eve…”  In this blog post, Daniel Harrell, writes, “If they are literal people, then the trove of evolutionary and DNA evidence can’t be right.  It’s impossible for the human race to trace back to a single pair of parents (and this without mentioning a talking snake and God creating Adam out of the dirt and Eve from his rib).”

Is a belief in a literal Adam and Eve necessary  for Christians?  Conservative evangelicals argue that it is imperative.  The reason for this is not petty, trivial or harping on a secondary or side issue.  The Christian faith hinges on a salvation story that has its roots and foundation in Genesis 1-3.   The gospel has four major themes: creation, fall, redemption and restoration.  If there was no literal Fall when Adam and Eve sinned in the  Garden of Eden, then there is no need for redemption through Jesus’ death on the cross.  If the world as we know it simply evolved (with or without God being some type of an absent clockmaker) then it was never a utopia to start with.   Paradise was never lost, death didn’t result from rebellion against God, man is not born with original sin, and Jesus’ death on the cross was noble but of no effect.  By removing the Fall from the gospel, evangelical Christianity’s primary teaching, the Doctrine of Salvation, changes completely.

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If we are to interpret the Bible correctly we must join the dots.  We must trace the cycle of creation to the Fall, the Fall to the redemption that God Himself provided in the person of Jesus Christ, and the hope of complete restoration at the consummation of time.  If Adam and Eve didn’t sin against God, then disease and death were there from the beginning. The dots that we must join must also extend to the teachings of Jesus and the apostle Paul, who referred to Adam and Eve as being real people (e.g. Mark 10:3-9; Romans 5:12-14,19).  Adam is also frequently referred to in genealogies in the Scriptures (e.g. Luke 3:38).

Without the bad news of the Fall (and man’s resultant negative standing before God), there cannot be any good news of salvation.  The word ‘gospel’ simply means ‘good news’.  This is the message that Christians are called to proclaim to the world: That God created a perfect world, and although mankind (represented by Adam and Eve) turned their back on God and sinned (which affected the whole of the created realm), God provided a means of reconciliation with Himself.    He sent His Son to die for the the sins of man, such that mankind could be justified before Him by faith.  This is the great hope of the Christian faith.  No Adam, no need for Jesus.  No Jesus, no redemption.  No redemption, no ultimate restoration.  No restoration, no hope.

Read more on this topic in a recent article The Non-Mythical Adam and Eve! by Robert Carter, and in blog posts by Albert Mohler entitled False Start? The Controversy Over Adam and Eve Heats Up and Adam and Eve: Clarifying Again What Is at Stake.

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God in a box?

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The word ‘God’ means different things to different people.  But can we put God in a box, and quantify Him? (if He is a Him!)  Some maintain that we can can, leaving the box empty and putting the label ‘God’ on the box, implying that God does not exist.  Others would argue that God is outside of our time-space ‘capsule’, and that He is bigger than the box, and can never be confined to a box.

John Blanchard argues in his book Does God Believe in Atheists? that the word God has become meaningless in and of itself.  He writes that when the word God is used it must be defined by the user.  In explaining what he means he writes that in a worldwide poll taken in 1991, 80% of people professed to believe in some kind of god.  He continues, “In a Western European survey, 75% of those polled said they believed in God, but when just one qualification was added – as to whether they believed in a ‘personal God’ – the figure dropped dramatically to just 32%.”  Blanchard quotes David Trueblood, who says that, “Nothing is easier than to use the word ‘God’ and mean almost nothing by it. It is easy to be right if we are sufficiently vague … in what we say”

Renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking believes that there is no God.  He has been quoted as saying that, “What could define God [is a conception of divinity] as the embodiment of the laws of nature.  However, this is not what most people would think of that God.”  When asked about death, Hawkings replied, “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.”

Test tubes and other recipients in chemistry lab

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God’s existence cannot be proven scientifically (by taking God out of a box and subjecting Him to various laboratory tests).  But neither can God’s existence be rejected by scientists on an empirical basis.  How then can Christians believe in a transcendent Creator who is outside of, and beyond, the Universe?  Their worldview is not governed primarily by science textbooks, although many of them do practice and love science.  In the hierarchy of books, one book stands above all other books.  The reason for its preeminence has to do with its ultimate Author.  Evangelical Christians believe that God’s attributes are discovered by means of God’s revelation which is recorded in the Book, not man’s empirical research that is recorded in books.

What divine attributes does God’s self-revelation, the Bible, yield when it is studied?  Just one chapter of the 1189 in the Bible, Psalm 139, describes God as being omniscient, incomprehensible, omnipresent, self-existent and holy.  Based on these attributes of God, Christians would argue that any God that could be measured, tested and observed under a microscope (or in a cage) would be no God at all.  How many people would agree to believing in a God with all of these attributes if this question were put to them in a large scale survey.

Evangelical Christians believe that a God that man can put in a ‘box’ is not worthy of praise.  Does this mean that Christians need to have blind faith, since they cannot know their incomprehensible God completely?  No!  Christians believe that God has revealed enough of Himself in His Word and in Jesus Christ for reasonable people to put their faith in Him.

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Moonshadow

Lunar Eclipse

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Millions of people across the world watched the total eclipse of the moon yesterday.  This was a relatively rare event in that it was not only a total eclipse, but a central lunar eclipse, i.e. the centre point of earth’s shadow passed across the moon.  There is something very awe-inspiring about about the sun (which is 150 million kilometers from the earth) being aligned with the earth and the moon (which are separated by 385,000 kilometers).

The wonder that we experience when watching this cosmic alignment can have two sources.  Firstly, for those who believe that our universe had an uncontrolled, explosive origin, and hold to philosophical naturalism, their awe is at the improbability of the event.  Their amazement is at the order and mathematical predictability that ensued from such a chaotic beginning.

For those who hold a theistic worldview the awe is centered on the order that was introduced into the created realm at its genesis by God.  Although the Psalmist David did not have access to the telescopes and scientific knowledge of the 21st century he saw enough evidence in the created realm to realize that God is transcendent, and that man is relatively insignificant.  His amazement was multiplied by the realization that this Creator had a personal interest in individual humans.  He wrote, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4).

In the movie Gladiator, Maximus, the main actor said: “What we do in life echoes in eternity.”  If he is correct, then what we believe in this life is of cardinal importance.  Further, how we interpret natural phenomenon, and life itself, will impact our ultimate destiny – if it exists!  Perhaps it would be wise to use occurrences like the recent lunar eclipse to question and test our worldviews, and not just for ‘cool’ photographic opportunities?

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