Did the First Christians Believe in the Physical Resurrection Of Jesus?

Did the first Christians actually believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead? Or was his resurrection an idea that evolved over time? We all love a good conspiracy theory…but does this one have a ring of truth about it or not?

Richard Carrier identifies the earliest written record about post-resurrection Jesus in Paul’s letters. He goes full blown conspiracy – deciding that Paul’s idea of resurrection was “spiritual” rather than physical. To Carrier, the idea “Jesus actually walked out of the grave with the same body that went into it, leaving an empty tomb to astonish all, was probably a legend that developed.”[1] The New Testament Gospels, written after Paul’s death, therefore contain these legends. There was no empty tomb, just an idea in Paul’s mind that got blown up out of all proportion.

But is Carrier right that Paul was talking about ephemeral spiritual resurrections and spiritual bodies?

No – the first Christians believed in an empty tomb and Jesus’ physical resurrection. The explanation gets a bit technical tho…

Paul’s Teaching on the Empowerment of Resurrection Bodies

Paul contrasts natural and spiritual bodies in 1 Corinthians 15. To western minds, we might jump to the assumption he’s contrasting a physical body with a ghostly…spiritual body. We would be wrong. Why?

Paul’s original Greek contrasts soma psychikon (translated natural) and soma pneumatikon (translated spiritual). The word psychikon refers to something as soulish, while the word pneumatikon refers to something as spiritual. Paul’s not talking about physical bodies at all. He’s contrasting soulish and spirit empowered bodies.

This distinction has nothing to do with the composition of the bodies. Adjectives with the ending -ikos have ethical meanings, they don’t refer to material composition.[2] So Paul’s not talking about the composition of a soulish or spiritual body and he’s not thinking about the resurrection body’s composition. He’s talking about its power source.

Paul’s argument about resurrection bodies hinges on our power source – are we naturally driven, or driven by God’s power in our lives?

Carrier’s misunderstanding of Paul is probably enough to end the discussion here. But to show that the first Christians (like Paul) did indeed believe in an empty tomb and a physically resurrected Jesus, I’ll look now at Paul’s subsequent argument about the resurrection body.

Paul’s Teaching on the Nature of Resurrection Bodies

1 – Bodies are Physical

Paul teaches a right understanding of the physical body to those who despised the physical, and therefore expected resurrection to be somehow different. He appeals to God’s original creative work of the physical Adam.

“The first man, Adam, became a living person. But the last Adam – that is Christ – is a life-giving Spirit. What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later.”[3] He’s saying, we all know soulish bodies exist (soma psychikon), but bodies animated by God’s spirit are also real (soma pneumatikon). Jesus’ resurrection body is an example of pneumatikon.[4]

If Paul didn’t think Jesus’ resurrection body was physical, why would he link the resurrected Christ with Adam? No – he tacitly assumes Jesus was really, physically raised.

2 – Jesus Resurrection Body is Like What Our Future Resurrection Body Will Be Like

He goes on to say that, “Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.”[5] Our own resurrection bodies will be like Christ’s.

Jesus’ resurrection body was physical, so ours will be too.

3 – Our Soulish Lives Will Be Swallowed Up in Spirit Empowered Lives

The aim isn’t to leave our bodies for spiritual existence, the aim is “to let the present ‘heavenly’ life change the present earthy reality”[6] and look for a future where God’s intended “pneumatikos state…swallow(s) up and replace(s) [a] merely psychikos life.”[7]

Our current, corruptible soulish bodies can’t inherit God’s kingdom, but our future non-corruptible spirit empowered bodies will.

Conclusion

Carrier thinks Paul taught a non-physical resurrection body to his readers in Corinth. Yet Paul’s not writing about the nature of the body at all. Rather, he’s talking about what empowers the body – is it just soul, or spirit? In his argument, Paul assumes Christians will have a future body that will be “animated by, enlivened by, the Spirit of the true God.”[8]

Carrier misrepresents Paul’s argument, claiming he didn’t believe in physical resurrection bodies. No, Paul assumed Jesus’ physical resurrection and likened it to the Christian’s future, Spirit empowered body.

Conspiracy theories about the evolution of Jesus’ resurrection accounts therefore are not grounded; the earliest Christians (like Paul) did believe both that Christ was physically raised, and in the future, we will be too.

[1] Richard C. Carrier, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb,” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, eds. Robert M. Price, and Jeffery Jay Lowder (New York: Prometheus Books, 2005), Loc. 1259, Kindle.

[2] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, (London:Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003), 350.

[3] 1 Cor 15:45, NLT.

[4] Wright, 354.

[5] Wright, 355.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Wright, 354.

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Curious Evidence for the Claimed Resurrection of Jesus

When considering the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, one thing often overlooked is the lack of a second burial.

In ancient Jerusalem, families often shared tombs where deceased family and friends were laid on stone shelves. Bodies were “wrapped in grave-cloths along with a significant amount of spices, to offset the smell of putrification, on the usual assumption that other shelves in the cave would be required soon.”[1] Then after a year, the family would return and “collect the bones, fold them reverently and carefully…and place them in an ossuary.”[2] This would count as the second burial and cleared tomb space for future burials.

Here’s the interesting thing – no account exists of a second burial for Jesus’ body.

  • If the data existed, wouldn’t the enemies of Christianity have pointed to it?
  • Jesus’ life was carefully documented, why would the second burial also be written down?

What is written down casts doubt that a second burial ever occurred at all.

  • At the precise time the second burial should have occurred, the record talks about his friends “proclaiming him as Messiah…on the grounds that he had been raised from the dead.”[3]
  • Also at this time, the Christian church’s persecutor, Saul of Tarsus, claimed to have encountered the risen Jesus and become a Christian evangelist.

 

Perhaps the reburial happened privately so wasn’t documented. Could Jesus’ disciples have stolen the body as a way of concocting a resurrection myth?

  1. Why? No-one in first century Judaism expected resurrections to work this way, so why would they concoct something they weren’t expecting?
  2. This implicates the disciples in a coverup. Yet the historical record establishes high confidence that many were martyred for their Christian faith. “Lying about something is a poor thesis for being a martyr.”[4]
  3. How does this explain Saul going from persecutor to Christian evangelist?
  4. If Jesus was still dead when Christianity erupted in the city where he was killed and buried, why wasn’t his dead body produced by the authorities to stop the Christians from preaching his resurrection?

 

Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, so we cannot be 100% sure. But given the history of the early Christian church combined with Saul’s conversion, isn’t it reasonable to posit that there’s no evidence of Jesus’ second burial because no body remained and days after his public execution, the tomb was empty, and friends and enemies alike did encounter him alive again in a new way?[5]

 

Image courtesy of Pexels.

[1] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, (London Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2003), 707.

[2] Wright, 708.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Evidence for the Empty Tomb, The Resurrection of Jesus, Gary Habermas, in the Credo Courses, accessed May 6th, 2017, http://www.credocourses.com/product/the-resurrection-of-jesus/.

[5] 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Acts 2:32.

Why Does the Claimed Resurrection of Jesus Matter?

aaron-burden-40490-unsplash

Why do Christians make a big deal about the resurrection of Jesus? The claims made in the Bible texts are that Jesus was conclusively killed on a Roman cross, but that a few days later he was conclusively experienced as being alive by multiple hundreds of people. Why should I care about this odd claim? After all – odd things happen every day. This resurrection report was made a long time ago. Why is this report any more significant than any other unexplained phenomena that happens today in our mad world?

I’d suggest that it is because this is not just an isolated, strange event. Rather – it is a central part of a sequence of events that has been trans formative for this world as a whole. I’m talking about the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus.

What I’m saying here is – the events surrounding Jesus – point to God’s existence, and Jesus identity as God’s Son…saviour of the world. So…how does that work?

1 – Jesus made some very bombastic claims about himself.

I’ll summarise some of those below.

2 – The historical record points to Jesus’ physical, bodily resurrection from the dead.

3 – Given these premises, we can conclude not only that God exists but God verified the bombastic claims that Jesus made about himself and therefore Jesus identity.

So first then, what bombastic claims did Jesus make about himself?

In a religious, monotheistic culture (ancient Israel), Jesus made two mind bending claims:

1 – That he personally had the authority to forgive people’s sins.

For example, “[Jesus] said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’ ….’[Some people thought] he’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’”[1]

2 – That he personally is deity, that he is God.

He did this in many complex ways that Jewish hearers would understand by calling himself the Son of Man and the Son of God. One brief incident that makes more sense to Western ears is found in John’s gospel, “before Abraham was born, I am!”[2]

3 – What people do with Jesus – determines where we will spend eternity.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[3]

No other ancient religious founder that we know of has done this. Jesus wasn’t following the common trend of religious leaders saying, “I’ve got important words here you must listen to.” No – Jesus was different. He said, “I am personally those words of life.” I’m the saviour.

Some might suppose – maybe Jesus was a cosmic prankster, a twisted person taking advantage of people’s ancient, religious naivety? Well – sure – you can claim that. But you won’t have any historical evidence to support your claim. And you will have a lot of evidence to the contrary that you’ll have to refute!

Second, why do I say the historical record points to Jesus’ physical, bodily resurrection?

I’ve laid out some key parts of this historical record in another blog here.

https://respondblogs.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/respondblogs-do-any-natural-explanations-for-the-resurrection-work/

In summary, these two premises lead me to conclude that it’s no accident Jesus resurrection happened. It wasn’t just a random, unexplained event. There was purpose here, it happened for a reason. God exists and he is verifying Jesus’ identity, and the truth of what he did and said in his life.

Because Jesus’ resurrection happened at a point in time, we can conclude not just that God exists, but that Jesus claims about himself are true and so Christianity is also true. Jesus is the saviour of the world.

That’s one big reason why Christians make a noise about Jesus’ resurrection.

Media from unsplash.com

Blog adapted from Gary Habermas, The Resurrection of Jesus, Credo Courses, http://www.credocourses.com.

[1] Mark 2:5-6, NIV.

[2] John 8:58, NIV.

[3] John 14:6, NIV.

Nature and Reason Point to the Existence of God

road-sun-rays-path

Richard Swinburne proposed this argument for the existence of God[1] during a debate at Oxford University. His argument’s uses an approach called “natural theology” because it appeals to nature and human reason when arguing for the existence of God.

 

I often hear people dismiss the idea of God. “We just don’t know”, they say. Swinburne appeals to nature, and to human reason, and takes issue with this claim.

 

Swinburne’s proposition is that God is a personal being. Clearly, we are too. But unlike us, God has no limits or constraints placed upon him.

 

Further, God’s also perfectly good and free from irrational inclinations. Unfortunately, we can’t consistently do the right and good thing. Partly, that’s because we don’t always do the rational thing. There are many complicated reasons for this. But God’s not subject to this limitation – we might not fully understand why he does certain things (he’s God and we’re not) but God acts on reason always. He’s free – and he is good.

 

Swinburne proposes that if this God exists and is responsible for the universe – then that would explain two interesting observations.

1 – that there IS a physical universe in the first place.

2 – the Universe is governed by laws (captured by theories like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity).

These laws mean that every single particle in the universe has the same power and liability to influence any other particle in the universe.

 

 

Why would Swinburne’s description of God explain the existence of our ordered universe?

First – a good God would naturally seek to bring about good things. Fundamentally, human beings are intended as good things. It’s good for me that we all exist…and its good for you too. Of course, we face choices on how to treat each other. And we don’t always choose the good thing. But – its good for us that God has delegated this choice to us. We have free will because God intended it that way.

 

Second – for beings like us to exist, God must provide the necessary conditions. We are limited beings, embodied and our physical bodies require a physical universe.

If we are to be able to act as free beings in this universe, it has to be an ordered and regular universe. Not a chaotic one. What does this mean?

1 – we can predict what will happen. For example, if I feed you then – all things being equal – you will live. If I poison you…you will die.

2 – in a chaotic universe, it wouldn’t matter what I did…I would never actually know how it might affect you…. either positively or negatively. A regular universe is required for us to see how things behave. And this regularity is captured by certain laws, like physical laws, and these lead to general principles. For example, food nourishes and poison kills.

 

Swinburne’s claim is – if this sort of God exists – then you would expect to have a universe which is ordered.

 

 

What if there wasn’t a God like this. Would we expect this sort of ordered universe?

First – think about our physical universe.

Every particle of matter stretching across our mind-bendingly vast universe. Not only do these particles of matter exist in the first place…they are completely regular. Each and every one is composed of the same sub-atomic building blocks and behaves exactly the same way.

Now – how likely would this be if there was no God? Wouldn’t this be a bit like winning the lottery…not once…but a trillion-trillion times in perfect sequence?

Yet some people who do not believe in God might say – that’s just how the universe is.

But to believe that every particle of matter behaves as every other particle of matter – yet then proceed to decide that this state of affairs doesn’t require a meaningful explanation – seems deeply unscientific.

1 – you are faced with an overwhelmingly enormous number of coincidences.

2 – you can explain them all by a very simple explanation – there is a God.

3 – to stop at the coincides and to live with them, flies in the face of the scientific method.

 

So – we have data about how our universe is structured and behaves. Matter exists, and there are conscious beings who are able to recognise and analyse that fact. If there’s a God, you would expect that data. If there’s no God – if the physical laws are somehow ultimate and there’s nothing and no one beyond them – then you would not expect this data. It’s just astronomically unlikely.

 

Second – think about human moral choice.

We are faced with the choices whether to help or hinder other people…to hurt or to benefit. I face this choice, and evil results when I abuse the privilege of this choice. God’s good, and he’s interested in making people who are good and who will live forever.

The way human beings work, the choices we repeatedly make form our characters. Every time we choose to do the good and right thing, its easier to make that choice again. Likewise, every time we compromise, its easier to compromise in the future. God allows us the freedom to make these choices – but his goal is to help us develop good character.

So – what about human suffering, then? The fact that human beings suffer seems to fly in the face of this. Does suffering disprove the existence of God because it takes away human moral choice?

Well – to develop good character, we must have serious problems to face and to overcome. If I become ill, then the question is how will I deal with this? Will I grow in resentment and become a negative influence on the people around me? Or – will I face this challenge good naturedly?

Isn’t it reasonable to assume that God would provide difficult situations as an opportunity – during our limited time on this planet – to give us the chance to develop a good character? While this does not cover all issues related to human suffering, it poses a serious challenge to me. How will I choose to respond when I am suffering?

So – human freedom – and the choice to build a good or reprobate character – points to the existence of God.

 

 

In summary – this is the sort of world you would expect to have if there was a God. If there was no God – it would just be unbelievable that such a world would exist.

Therefore – on that basis – Swinburne proposes that there is a God.

 

 

Image courtesy of pexels.com.

[1] Richard Swinburne, Religion Helps Society | Richard Swinburne | Oxford Union, OxfordUnion, Youtube, accessed 23rd January 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_QXll-_qhQ.

Replicants and Life Without God

Joi-Agent-K

It didn’t make much dollar at the box office. And neither did its predecessor. There are complaints that its too long. But then people complained the original was too slow.

Blade Runner 2049 is not short of critics…and plain old-fashioned apathy amongst the movie going public.

 

Full disclosure – I went to see this movie FOUR times at the cinema. Why? Because box office and buzz are not always good measures of an important movie. Sometimes the important movies come and go unnoticed…because their significance isn’t generally recognised. (e.g. Blade Runner…The Shawshank Redemption…etc)

 

So – why do I think the sequel to the original Blade Runner movie is significant? There are many reasons. I’m going to put my finger on one. And I will give some PLOT SPOILERS in the process.

 

Spoiler-Alert

 

 

Still here? Good.

 

The original Blade Runner focussed its narrative on REPLICANTS, artificial humans. Blade Runner 2049 continues this narrative. Only more so. In fact, the film’s protagonist – Agent K – is himself a replicant – there’s no mystery here…its revealed within the opening minutes of the movie. The story does this…partly because the healthy humans in this universe live in the off-world colonies…and this story is set on earth. But the deeper reason is because replicants help us – the viewing audience – understand ourselves.

What are replicants? They are sophisticated androids that are virtually indistinguishable from human beings. You’ve got to know what you’re looking for to spot a replicant. That’s why skilled Blade Runner units are required to track down the replicants of interest in society. It’s also why we in the audience can find ourselves empathising with these characters and their experiences.

I’ll go further than that. We don’t just empathise with the replicants. We recognize ourselves in them – not just in the choices they make, but in their ontology – what makes them “them”.

Replicants are material constructs…sophisticated biological mechanisms that serve a purpose amongst other sophisticated biological mechanisms. Yet they long to be more. Some long to live longer. Others long for their “lives” to be filled with deeper significance in fulfilling relationships.

Is this any different from the way so many people live their lives today?

People’s world view often has no place for God. Their naturalistic assumption is they are only physical, complex biological computers lacking an essence or soul. There were constructed in line with the physical laws laid down in our Universe. But they don’t transcend them in any way. This life is all there is. There’s no purpose or significance beyond it. Craig puts his finger on the inevitable consequences of such a world view:

“There is no God, and there is no immortality. And what is the consequence of this? It means that life itself is absurd. It means that the life we have is without ultimate significance, value, or purpose.”[1]

That’s why I find Blade Runner 2049 such a profoundly moving experience to watch. Because it shows “people” coming to terms with the reality of a meaningless, absurd life. And I think so many of us in the real world today are facing that same dark and hopeless discovery.

 

Longing for Meaningful Relationships:

Agent K’s treasures his girlfriend, Joi. She too is an artificial person. Yet she’s not physical – just a portable hologram that speaks encouraging and loving words to him. Perhaps there’s more to Joi because we see her devotion to K in her desire to experience a physical relationship with him. And also – to name K. There’s nothing so intimate with another person – than to share a special name. She names him Joe.

K tragically loses his precious Joi, that meaningful relationship comes to an abrupt end. In one truly heart-breaking moment, while reflecting on his loss, K watches an advert selling the Joi hologram product to prospective customers. And he suddenly realises that Joi’s special name for him – Joe – is just simply part of the standard package. All the Joi’s do it. There’s nothing special or unique after all about his Joi, and also his time with her because in reality he was simply using a mass produced product.

Here’s the reality for us today – if we view people as biological products – then I don’t think there’s any ultimate meaning to our existence. No ultimate meaning in relationships with other products. We just exist – interact. Anything that does occur – might seem important at the time. But because reality has no meaning – these experiences will therefore also have no ultimate meaning.

Yet there’s a drama in Blade Runner 2049…that mirrors the real world. K intuitively knows there’s more to it than that. K gives voice to the inner sense within us – the audience – that human beings are MORE than just biological products. We are people with potential – our lives have meaning – and that’s why we spend our lives looking for meaning. Outrage builds within us…no, there is more than this. I am more valuable than that!

 

Longing for a Purpose Greater than Ourselves:

The movie presents some grand and overarching concepts. Yet its final act suddenly narrows in and focusses down on a very personal mission.

Agent K tracks down Rick Deckard, who had been in exile since the events of the original movie. K finds an opportunity to achieve a bigger more important purpose with the rest of his “life”. Deckard has a child that he’s never met and known. Agent K decides he’s going to allow Deckard to finally meet and know his child…to build the real and meaningful relationship with them that he’s been longing for himself.

K essentially sacrifices his life – to allow Deckard to know his child. In a scene poignantly reminiscent of Rutger Hauer’s “Tears in Rain,” K saves and lifts Deckard to safety. But not just safety…to meaning and a future with the child he’s never met.

The significance of this task is unquestioned by K. That’s probably one reason why he’s willing to die to achieve it. In his last moments…do we see him praying in the snow? Or are his lips just moving as his system breaks down?

As an audience – we’re left reflecting on K’s selfless, heroic act. And we know that the outcome is worth the sacrifice. We intuitively know that there are some things in the world that are truly noble, some purposes that are greater than us. Reuniting families, restoring broken relationships is one of them.

 

Meaning and Purpose Because there’s a God:

In his press tour, I heard Harrison Ford describe the Blade Runner 2049 story as, “the triumph of the human spirit.” Personally, I’m more struck by its rage against the meaningless…the sense that ultimate value and meaning does exist in the universe, even though life seems to try and convince us otherwise.

And if that’s true – and I think it is – it’s only because there’s a transcendent person who is responsible for everything, who gives it meaning. A loving God who crafted us, who chooses to give the ultimate purpose and meaning that transcends our seemingly absurd lives.

I’d suggest that – if there are resonances within us that question, and rage against the seeming meaningless and absurdities of life…its because actually life isn’t absurd. There is a God with a purpose and plan for our own good. We aren’t biological products. We’re much loved children.

 

[1] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, (), 72.

Christianity Causes CONFLICT?

blood handsOften I hear people reject Christianity because of the violence that Christians have wrought throughout human history.

 

But what if conflict is not actually caused by “religion” at all? People start wars (hello President Trump and Kim Jong-un). Violence is a human problem that inflicts both the religious and the irreligious.

 

My focus in this blog…is specifically Christianity. Why? Because I’m a Christian. And because I view it as a unique faith system. Only Christianity reveals the God who is seeking people out personally to save them. I won’t speak for other religious belief systems…I will speak for Christianity.

 

At the outset, I’m convinced that no violence is acceptable for a Christian. I am NOT going to attempt to justify or defend past atrocities committed by Christians. I will say that I think Christian people suffer the same tendency TOWARDS violence as other human beings. We all have hearts that need changing. BUT – there is hope.

 

What’s my argument proposing that conflict is not particularly caused by Christianity?

First – Christianity’s Critics Exaggerate Past Christian Violence

Christianity’s critics exaggerate the past in order to misrepresent the behaviour of violent, misguided Christians from the past.

John Dickson has researched two sad but specific examples of Christian violence over the last 600 years.

1 The Spanish Inquisition (no one expects the Spanish Inquisition)

Setup to coerce people into Catholicism, it began in the 15th century and lasted for 350 years. It is commonly claimed that hundreds of thousands of heretics were killed during this period. The facts paint a different picture.

“in its 350-year history, the Spanish Inquisition probably killed around 6,000 people. That comes out at eighteen deaths a year.”[1]

That’s 18 deaths a year too many…I agree! But a lot less than the hundreds of thousands that are often claimed.

2 The Crusades

A popular notion blames the crusades during the Middle Ages on the Christian church. Someone who was alive around that time – Martin Luther – had this to say about that notion:

“there are scarcely five Christians in such an army, and perhaps there are worse people in the eyes of God in that army than are the Turks; and yet they all want to bear the name of Christ.”[2]

In other words, the exaggeration here is on the level of genuine, believing Christians who were actually involved in this violence.

3 The Northern Ireland Troubles

This thirty year conflict, beginning in 1968, was sectarian and claimed the lives of less than 4,000 people…though many more were injured physically and psychologically over this time. The BBC history website reports, “During the Troubles, the scale of the killings perpetrated by all sides – republican and loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces – eventually exceeded 3,600.”[3]

Having personally lived through this time, and known people caught up in it, it was terrible in so many senses. And 133 deaths a year were too many.

 

 

Second – Secular Conflict is Worse than Religious Violence Yet this Fact is Downplayed

Let’s bring a bit of perspective here.

1 The French Revolution

The secular French Revolution between September 1793 and July 1794 happened in the name of liberty, equality and fraternity.

“As many people were executed…in a single year of the Revolution…as were killed in the entire three decades of the [Northern Ireland] ‘troubles’”[4].

The French Revolution was a bloodbath.

 

2 Secular 20th Century Wars

World War 1 (the war to end all wars) caused an estimated 8,000,000 deaths.

World War 2 was much worse; 35,000,000 deaths.

Joseph Stalin’s openly atheistic regime killed at least 20,000,000 people. This means more people died under Stalin each and every week…than died as a result of the entire 350 year history of the Spanish Inquisition.

Atheist Paul Pot and his communist Khmer Rouge, “led Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. During that time, about 1.5 million Cambodians out of a total population of 7 to 8 million died of starvation, execution, disease or overwork. Some estimates place the death toll even higher. One detention centre, S-21, was so notorious that only seven of the roughly 20,000 people imprisoned there are known to have survived.”[5]

 

I would suggest that the results of purely secular conflicts are downplayed because they are so much MORE bloodthirsty than the historical religious ones.

 

Third – Violence is Not Particular to Christianity. It is a common Human Problem

These figures are both tragic and mind boggling. But they paint an obvious picture.

BOTH religion and irreligion can inspire violence. Yet the irreligious violence tends to be MUCH MORE SEVERE than the violence from Christians.

Christian violence is a sad historical fact. So is secular violence – which is much worse than the Christian violence.

This points to my thesis that – I don’t think conflict is particularly caused by Christianity. Violence is a human problem; we all are affected.  The problem is the human heart….not Christianity or Christian belief.

 

 

 

YET – there is STILL HOPE for Humankind

The hope will not appear if mankind succeeds in stamping out Christianity (as some have suggested). The hope comes when we become more true to the life and teachings of Jesus. Why?

Imagine a committed atheist who is convinced that there’s no God and we live in a cold merciless universe… the product of the blind forces of physics..

If I [as a Christian] try to put myself in that position, then I make an interesting observation. As Bertrand Russell once pointed out, the atheist’s decision to love is nothing more than a personal preference. Surely because there is no God, and therefore no ultimate accountability for our actions, then ANY kind of life is logically compatible with the atheist worldview?

While the atheist can live how he pleases, no such free choice lies before the Christian. We are commanded to love like Jesus loves. “when Christians love, they do so in full accordance with their worldview that begins with the love of God and the inherent value of his much loved creatures.”[6] A hate filled Christian is indeed a historical fact…but it is also a clear logical DEFIANCE of the Christian worldview. A hate filled Christian makes no logical sense.

 

So where is the hope I referred to earlier?

Christianity doesn’t provoke war; it brings peace to all people. Eternal peace between us and God.

The solution for violent Christianity is REAL Christianity.

The solution for a violent world is not no religion…where love is logically nothing more than a lifestyle choice. The solution is REAL Christianity; loving and following Jesus Christ in a fuller and more devoted way.

 

“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: Love your neighbour as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” – Jesus Christ (Mark 12:30-31, NLT)

 

“The cure is not less religion, but, in a carefully qualified sense, more religion…The more Christian faith matters to its adherents as faith and the more they practice it as an ongoing tradition with strong ties to its origins and with clear cognitive and moral content, the better off we will be.”            – Miroslav Volf (Christian theologian)

 

“But why so many words when I can say it in one sentence, and in a sentence very appropriate for a Jew. Honour your master, Jesus Christ, not only in words and songs but, rather, foremost in your deeds.” – Albert Einstein (deist)

[1] John Dickson, Life of Jesus, Zondervan, 68.

[2] Martin Luther, On War Against the Turk, available from http://www.lutherdansk.dk/On%20war%20against%20Islamic%20reign%20of%20terror/On%20war%20against%20Islamic%20reign%20of%20terror1.htm, accessed 4th January 2018.

[3] BBC History, “The Troubles 1968 – 1998”, BBC History, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/troubles, accessed May 5th 2015.

[4] John Dickson, 69.

[5] History, Pol Pot, History, http://www.history.com/topics/pol-pot, accessed May 5th 2015.

[6] John Dickson, 70.

Getting to the Good Place

frozen

Eleanor wakes up in the afterlife.

After inquiring about how she died, she quickly fires the question, “Who was right about all this?” In other words, which religion correctly described the afterlife? How do we make sure we get to the good place rather than the bad place?

The response:

“Hindus were a little bit right…Muslims a little bit…Jews, Christians, Buddhists…every religion guessed about five percent.” In other words – all the religions got some things right and a lot of things wrong about heaven and hell.

This is all according to Netflix’s “The Good Place” (which is a hilariously funny show – go and watch it).

In the reality of your life – maybe you reject all religions. But then, your religion is humanity; you’re already in the good place, but its not actually very good and you’re not here to stay. The afterlife’s going to be a real, unplanned for bummer when you arrive there.

But maybe there’s part of you that’s open to seeking the truth about life in religions? Whether or not the Netflix show’s assessment of religion turns out to be correct…my personal advice to you is…always start with Christianity first.

Why?

First – Christianity has EVIDENCE that’s open to scrutiny.

Historical evidence can be verified or disproved. The great thing about this is, you can test the evidence and if it doesn’t hold up then you can quickly drop Christianity and move on in your spiritual quest.

“Christ died for our sins … was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day…was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers”.[1]

The New Testament’s claims can be assessed. So – start there.

That’s not true of Islam, which is a long-term experiment. Surah 21 says “We try you with evil and good as a test; then unto Us you will be returned.”[2] So, I don’t know Islam’s right till after I die. Buddhism? “You’d better get a Zen Master…you’re going to be working at that thing for a long time till you experience enlightenment.”[3]

However, Christianity is an evidential belief system. So, start there first.

Second – Christianity is the only religion with a true notion of GRACE.

This means God shares the riches of his love based on nothing we’ve done (or not done) but instead based on Jesus’ atoning death on the cross. Christianity is the only religion that has “freely shared forgiveness” at its core. This means qualification to enter the good place after death is based on Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, not our final score.

Islam doesn’t work this way. Cannon Andrew White led a church in Iraq for years and is an expert on the Qur’an. “The trouble is a lack of forgiveness in Islam. I’ve looked through the Quran trying to find forgiveness…there isn’t any. If you find it, tell me.”[4] What about Eastern religions? They point you towards demands involving hot coals and meditation.

Why do all that…without checking something that’s free first? Christianity.

Third – Christianity is a complete WORLD VIEW FIT.

Christianity makes sense of all aspects of our lives – everything fits together. That’s not the case elsewhere.

Chan Buddhism urges the cleansing of the mind…leading to natural illumination (tun-wu). This is sometimes provoked by riddles (koans) or questions like, “What’s the sound of one hand clapping?”[5] and “Suffering exists, but there’s no-one who suffers.”[6] Buddhists deny logic in their religious life, yet in their financial dealings and caring for their family, logic is essential. Abandon logic in the real world, you risk going bankrupt or putting your family at risk.

Yet a Christian remains a Christian in every area of life. We look the world in the face – study the exquisite complexity of nature from our limbs to our cells. Life looks designed, and there’s a good reason for that.

Christianity applies to the whole of my life – everything fits.

My final reason for trying Christianity first is…

Fourth – Jesus Christ.

Start with Christianity because of who Jesus is. Everyone wants Jesus on board with their religion. The Qur’an elevates him above Mohammad[7], Hindus have him as an avatar incarnation of Vishnu and Buddhists call him the enlightened one.[8]

If all the religions mention Jesus in some way…then doesn’t it make sense to start with Christianity? Which has Jesus at the very centre of everything it believes? After all, if everyone wants Jesus on board their train…there must be something about him. Right?

In summary, I have a strong suspicion that we only get one go at life (prove me wrong). So…doesn’t it make sense to start with the religion that’s easily disproved first? The one that’s built around the free gift of salvation and makes sense of life and the universe?

Image courtesy of Pexels, https://www.pexels.com/photo/berries-berry-blur-close-up-275706/.

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:4-6, NLT.

[2] John R. Hinnells, The New Penguin Handbook of Living Religions Second Edition, (Penguin Books, 1997), 176.

[3] Craig J. Hazen, PH.D., Christianity and the Challenge of World Religions, CD, (Biola University, 2015), disc 2.

[4] The Vicar of Baghdad: ‘I’ve looked through the Quran trying to find forgiveness…there isn’t any’, The Spectator, accessed November 24th, 2015, http://new.spectator.co.uk/2015/11/isis-bombs-have-exiled-the-vicar-of-baghdad-to-surrey-but-hes-itching-to-go-back-to-the-middle-east/.

[5] Spurgeon’s 9.4.

[6] Spurgeon’s College, Exploring Other Faiths, (Spurgeon’s College, 2003), 8.5.

[7] Arthur J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted, (Oxford University Press, 1991), 53

[8] Hazen, disc 2.