Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Happy Belated Birthday, Copernicus!

Yesterday, if you didn't notice from the Google Doodle, was Copernicus' 540th birthday. He is one of the men responsible for getting the ball rolling (pun totally intended) of accepting that the Earth moves around a central Sun, and not the other way around. 

Feel free to party at this point - I'll wait...

...Ok, welcome back! Copernicus was a devout Catholic Christian who did not want to upset the Church, but for largely unknown reasons began to work out a heliocentric model of the solar system. To us it is common sense that the Sun is at the center, but in his day, it was common sense that the Earth was at the center. Heliocentrism was not largely accepted for another 150 years or so.

Happy Birthday, Nick!

Minimal Fact #3

Minimal Fact #3 of Jesus' Resurrection:*

Paul, the skeptic and persecutor of Christians, converted to becoming a follower of Christ.

In Paul's own words (1 Corinthians 15:9-10, Galatians 1:12-16, 22-23, and Phillipians 3:6-7), he describes himself as a persecutor of the church. We also have record in Acts (7:58, 8:1-3, 9:1-19, 22:3-16, 26:9-23) of Paul's actions against the church. There was also a report circulating among the region of Galatia that said, “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy" (Gal 1:22-23).

Paul also describes in his own words (see passages above) of his conversion. This is significant because Paul doesn't claim to have heard the Gospel message from some schmo around town, but Paul claims to have seen the risen Lord himself. He then has a dramatic change of life, eventually becoming an apostle and leader in the church.

Paul could have been mistaken, of course. But one thing we know is that he truly believed it. No less than 6 other sources (Luke, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Tertullian, Dionysius of Corinth, and Origen) testify to Paul's suffering and martyrdom for the faith. People have (and do) die for believing something that is wrong, but they never die for a lie. This is why the vast majority of scholars in this field agree that Paul did in fact become a convert to Christianity.

Paul was a persecutor, said he met the risen Jesus, became a leader in the church, suffered and died for the faith.

Minimal Facts:
1) Jesus died by crucifixion.
2) The disciples believed that they experienced the risen Jesus.
3) Paul, the skeptic, became a believer in Christ.

*Adapted from The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, by Habermas & Licona.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

As an encouragement to believers and to "put a stone in the shoe" of non-believers, I want to offer evidence that Jesus of Nazareth is no longer dead. Lent begins this year on Wednesday, Feb 13, so in less than two weeks we'll be in the season when we remember (officially) the death and resurrection of Jesus. Perhaps you and I will have the opportunity to discuss this with an unbelieving friend or co-worker. I hope to give you something to talk about.

I will be using what has been called the "minimal facts" approach to the Resurrection. There are certain facts that are agreed to by the overwhelming majority of New Testament scholars, not all of which are Christians. A surprising number of scholars are not Christians themselves, and approach the Bible simply as a work of literature by humans. But even the majority of these skeptical scholars agree to the "minimal facts" of the Resurrection as I'll be sharing them.

Next time: Minimal Fact #1

Minimal Fact #2

Remember, Minimal Fact #1 of Jesus' resurrection is that Jesus really died on a Roman cross.

Minimal Fact #2 of Jesus' resurrection:*

Jesus' disciples and followers had experiences that they interpreted to be Jesus' bodily resurrection.

Notice how this is worded. It doesn't say that Jesus bodily rose from the dead, but that his followers had experiences that they thought was Jesus' resurrection. It has to be worded this way in order to be a minimal fact (a fact agreed upon by the vast majority of historians and New Testament scholars, many of which are skeptics to Christianity).

How do we know this? Here's how: 1) They said it, and 2) They believed it.

1) There is record of strong oral tradition dating back to before the first books of the Bible were even written (See 1 Corinthians 15:3-7). The written record includes Paul's letters, the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John), sermon summaries (Acts 2). These all testify that the disciples claimed to have seen Jesus raised bodily from the dead.

2) They believed they witnessed Jesus' resurrection. Nine ancient sources record the disciples' willingness to suffer and even to die for their faith in Christ. These sources include the book of Acts, Polycarp, Tertullian, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Origen, and Dionysius of Corinth. People will and do die for things all the time, even for being mistaken. BUT, people do not suffer or die for something the know to be false. So at the very least this evidence tells us that the disciples truly believed that they saw Jesus alive.

Once I've laid out all 5 minimal facts, then we'll talk about how skeptics explain away all the facts. For now here's what we know:
1) Jesus died.
2) Jesus' followers had experiences which led them to believe that he rose bodily.

*Adapted from The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, by Habermas & Licona.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Minimal Fact #1

Minimal Fact #1 of Jesus' Resurrection:*

Jesus died by crucifixion.

This might seem like an odd place to start. We're talking about Jesus' resurrection, and the first piece of evidence is that he died?

Well, in fact this is an important place to begin. Every reputable scholar in the field, both Christian and skeptic, agree that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and died on a Roman cross. John Dominic Crossan, one of the founders of the liberal Jesus Seminar and no friend of conservative Christianity, said, "Jesus’ death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixition, we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavius Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus" (Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 145).

From Jesus' death, we can infer a couple of things. 1) Jesus actually existed. In order to die, you have to be alive, right? No credible scholar on the planet disputes that Jesus of Nazareth was a real human being who walked the Earth. The only ones who do deny it are the internet loons. 2) A popular explanation of the resurrection is called the "Swoon Theory," where Jesus is said to have been taken down from the cross still alive and then revived in the tomb. The problem is that historians universally agree that Jesus really died. So the Swoon Theory is not taken seriously in scholarly circles, even among scholars who don't believe in the bodily resurrection.

So there we are: Minimal Fact #1 says that Jesus really died. Stay tuned for Minimal Fact #2.

*Adapted from The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, by Habermas & Licona.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Can We Give Evidence for Our Faith?

So, giving historical facts as evidence for our faith in Christ is entirely biblical. Not only that, but it is helpful for two reason: 1) The evidence encourages the faith of Christians that what we believe is actually true, and 2) it gives the non-Christian something to chew on. If it turns out that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is strong, then non-believers that we interact with can be challenged by it. The Holy Spirit can then use this evidence to work on that person's heart.

Demonstrating that there are good reasons to believe what we believe is encouraging to Christians. Skeptics and non-believers in our culture tell a story that they have reason on their side and that Christians foolishly believe in spite of the facts. But this couldn't be further from the truth. The Christian faith is entirely reasonable. Good reasons abound for being a follower of Christ.

Emotions are also a huge part of following Christ, but I'm not focusing on our emotions because the modern American evangelical Church is so tuned in to our emotions that we sometimes get the idea that following Jesus is all about our feelings. But there is more to it. Jesus said that we should love God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds (Matt 22:37). God is worthy of being worshiped by all of our being, including our minds.