Professor explains how his study of the historical Jesus made him leave atheism

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let’s investigate Jesus!

Dr. Michael F. Bird has a great article in Christianity Today. I’ve featured his debates with atheist historican James Crossley on this blog before, and I have the book they co-wrote.

In the article, Dr. Bird writes:

I grew up in a secular home in suburban Australia, where religion was categorically rejected—it was seen as a crutch, and people of faith were derided as morally deviant hypocrites. Rates for church attendance in Australia are some of the lowest in the Western world, and the country’s political leaders feel no need to feign religious devotion. In fact, they think it’s better to avoid religion altogether.

As a teenager, I wrote poetry mocking belief in God. My mother threw enough profanity at religious door knockers to make even a sailor blush.

Many years later, however, I read the New Testament for myself. The Jesus I encountered was far different from the deluded radical, even mythical character described to me. This Jesus—the Jesus of history—was real. He touched upon things that cut close to my heart, especially as I pondered the meaning of human existence. I was struck by the early church’s testimony to Jesus: In Christ’s death God has vanquished evil, and by his resurrection he has brought life and hope to all.

When I crossed from unbelief to belief, all the pieces suddenly began to fit together. I had always felt a strange unease about my disbelief. I had an acute suspicion that there might be something more, something transcendent, but I also knew that I was told not to think that. I “knew” that ethics were nothing more than aesthetics, a mere word game for things I liked and disliked. I felt conflicted when my heart ached over the injustice and cruelty in the world.

Faith grew from seeds of doubt, and I came upon a whole new world that, for the first time, actually made sense to me. To this day, I do not find faith stifling or constricting. Rather, faith has been liberating and transformative for me. It has opened a constellation of meaning, beauty, hope, and life that I had been indoctrinated to deny. And so began a lifelong quest to know, study, and teach about the one whom Christians called Lord.

And now specifics:

For many secularists, Ehrman is a godsend who propagates common misconceptions about Jesus and the early church. He believes there was a spectrum of divinity between gods and humans in the ancient world. Therefore, he asserts that the early church’s beliefs about Jesus evolved: from a man exalted to heaven to an angel who became human to a pre-existent “divine” person who became incarnate to a subordinated or lesser god to being declared one with God.

My faith and studies have led me to believe otherwise. First-century Jews and early Christians clearly demarcated God from all other reality, thus leading them to hold to a very strict monotheism. That said, Jesus was not seen as a Greek god like Zeus who trotted about earth or a human being who morphed into an angel at death. Rather, the first Christians redefined the concept of “one God” around the person and work of Jesus Christ. Not to mention the New Testament writers, especially Luke and Paul, consistently identify Jesus with the God of Israel.

Many people get the idea that Jesus was just a prophet and never claimed to be divine. But a careful look at the Gospels shows that the historical Jesus explicitly claimed to exercise divine prerogatives. He identified himself with God’s activity in the world. He believed that in his own person, Israel’s God was returning to Zion, just as the prophets had promised. And he claimed he would sit on God’s throne. These claims, when studied up close, are de facto claims to divine personhood, the reasons religious leaders of the day were so outraged.

Evidence shows that Jesus claimed to be God incarnate, and within 20-some years after his death and resurrection, Christians were identifying him with the God of Israel, using the language and grammar of the Old Testament to do so.

Sure, some sects in the first few centuries held heretical beliefs about Jesus. But the mainstream, orthodox view of Christ’s identity was always consistent with and rooted in the New Testament, though orthodox Christology became more refined in the following centuries.

It’s definitely true that you can recover a high Christology (a view of Jesus as divine) from the earliest gospel, Mark. I wrote about it in a previous post. But the earliest evidence for Jesus is that creed in 1 Corinthians 15, that I blogged about recently.

Here is his conclusion:

Some have great confidence in skeptical scholarship, and I once did, perhaps more than anyone else. If anyone thinks they are assured in their unbelief, I was more committed: born of unbelieving parents, never baptized or dedicated; on scholarly credentials, a PhD from a secular university; as to zeal, mocking the church; as to ideological righteousness, totally radicalized. But whatever intellectual superiority I thought I had over Christians, I now count it as sheer ignorance. Indeed, I count everything in my former life as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing the historical Jesus who is also the risen Lord. For his sake, I have given up trying to be a hipster atheist. I consider that old chestnut pure filth, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a CV that will gain me tenure at an Ivy League school, but knowing that I’ve bound myself to Jesus—and where he is, there I shall also be.

I recently led a Bible study on the passage he is paralleling there – it comes from my favorite book of the Bible, Philippians.

What I like about Bird’s story is that he was a skeptic, and his study of history is what changed his mind. This contradicts a narrative that young people are sold at the university, which is that the more education you have, the more you turn away from theism in general, and Christianity in particular. I wouldn’t even classify him as a super conservative scholar, by any means – he’s just a good scholar who believes whatever he thinks is historically sound. It just turns out that you can recover enough historically to ground a commitment to Jesus Christ. You can’t get everything as a historian, but you get enough to cause a change of mind about who Jesus was.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Can atheists help themselves to objective morality on atheism?


A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

Here’s Dr. William Lane Craig explaining why you can’t:

He presents 3 reasons why in the video, all of which are also discussed in his Defenders class:

The mention of Plato brings to mind another possible atheistic response to the first premise of the moral argument that if God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist. Plato thought that the Good just exists as a sort of self-subsistent idea, as an entity in and of itself. Indeed, it is the most real thing in reality. The Good simply exists. If you find this difficult to grasp, join the company! Nevertheless, that is what Plato believed. Later Christian thinkers, like Augustine, equated Plato’s Good with the nature of God. God’s nature is the Good, and so it was anchored in a concrete object, namely, God. But for Plato, at least, the Good just sort of existed on its own as a kind of self-existent idea.

Some atheists might say that moral values, like Justice, Mercy, Love, and Forbearance, just exist all on their own as sort of abstract moral objects. They have no other foundation; they just exist. We can call this view Atheistic Moral Platonism. According to this view, moral values are not grounded in God. They just exist all on their own.

Unintelligibility of Atheistic Moral Platonism

What might we say by way of response to Atheistic Moral Platonism? Let me make three responses. First, it seems to me that this view is just unintelligible. I simply don’t understand what it means. What does it mean, for example, to say that the moral value Justice just exists? I understand what it means to say that a person is just or that some action is just, but what does it even mean to say that in the absence of any persons or any objects at all, that Justice just exists? It is hard to understand even what this means. Moral values seem to be properties of persons, and so it is hard to understand how Justice can just exist as a sort of abstraction.

Lack of Moral Obligation on Atheistic Moral Platonism

Secondly, a major weakness of this view is that it provides no basis for objective moral duties. Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that moral values like Justice, Love, Forbearance, and Tolerance just exist on their own. Why would that lay any sort of moral obligation upon me? Why would the existence of this realm of ideas make it my duty to be, say, merciful or loving? Who or what lays such an obligation upon me? Why would I have the moral duty to be merciful or loving? Notice that on this view moral vices like Greed, Hatred, and Selfishness presumably also exist as abstractions. In the absence of any moral law giver, what obligates me to align my life with one set of these abstract ideas rather than with some other set of abstract ideas? There just doesn’t seem to be any basis at all for moral duty in this view. In the absence of a moral law giver, Atheistic Moral Platonism lacks any basis for moral obligation.

Improbability of Atheistic Moral Platonism

Finally, thirdly, it is fantastically improbable that the blind evolutionary process should spit forth exactly those kinds of creatures that align with the existence of this realm of abstract values.1 Remember that they have no relationship with each other at all. The natural realm and this abstract moral realm are completely separate. And yet, lo and behold, the natural realm has by chance alone evolved exactly those kind of creatures whose lives align with these moral duties and values. This seems to be an incredible coincidence when you think about it. It is almost as if the moral realm knew that we were coming! I think it is a far more plausible view to say that both the natural realm and the moral realm are under the sovereignty of a divine being, who is both the creator of natural laws that govern the physical universe and whose commands constitute the moral laws that govern our ethical duties. This is a more coherent view of reality. Theism is a more coherent view because these two realms of reality don’t fall apart in this disjointed way. They are both under the sovereignty of a single natural and moral law giver.

For those three reasons, Atheistic Moral Platonism is a less plausible view than theistic based ethics such as I have been defending.

And now, I must be mean to the atheists, because I think this me too nonsense is just ridiculous, desperate intellectual dishonesty.

I remember having a conversation with one of my IT project managers who was an atheist, and she asked me what I thought would happen to dogs when they died. I said “well they don’t have an afterlife so they just rot away when we bury them and get eaten by worms”. She was aghast and said “no they don’t, they go to Heaven”. And that’s what morality on atheism is. It’s just an appearance package that gets bolted on absolute meaninglessness and hedonism. And even if the atheist tries to make traditional decisions in their own lives, they typically push for full-on dismantling of Judeo-Christian values, especially in the sexual realm. And that spills over into abortion, divorce, same-sex marriage and government restraints on free speech, conscience and religious liberty.

Dear atheists: you cannot duct tape morality onto nihilism and have it be rational. We know you’re doing it to feel good about yourselves and to appear normal instead of wearing your nihilism openly. But your faked morality is not even close to the morality of theists, and especially not of Christian theists. Christians go against their self-interest because we imitate the self-sacrificial love of Christ, who gave himself as a ransom to save others. That makes no sense on an atheistic worldview, since this life is all you have, and there is no afterlife where your actions are in the context of a relationship with that self-sacrificial Son of God. In any case, free will doesn’t exist on atheism, so that means no moral choices regardless. These are the common sense implications of atheist first principles, and in fact that’s what you hear expressed from the finest atheist scholars: no free will, no right and wrong, no life after death.

If you want to see what atheists really think about morality, then take a look at this post featuring Matt Dillahunty, where he is asked to condemn the Holocaust as objectively wrong, and he refuses to do it. That’s intellectually consistent atheist morality right there. If the universe is an accident, and human beings evolved by accident, then there is way things ought to be, and no way we ought to act. And no one is there is no ongoing two-way relationship for our conduct to be part of, anyway. On atheism, human beings will die out individually and collectively in the heat death of the universe. Once the heat death of the universe arrives, there will be no one left to care how we lived after we’re dead – there is no one waiting for us who cares how we act towards him and towards others. Atheists can arbitrarily put any limits they want on their actions, based on what makes them feel good, and what makes people like them, perhaps taking account the arbitrary customs and conventions of the time and place they find themselves in. But it’s delusional and irrational make-believe for atheists to claim that morality is rational on their worldview.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Survey: women explain why they avoid having children

Is it OK to tell women they are wrong?
Are women today genuinely interested in marriage and children, or do they have other plans?

This article comes from the leftist Huffington Post.

They write:

The Huffington Post and YouGov asked 124 women why they choose to be childfree. Their motivations ranged from preferring their current lifestyles (64 percent) to prioritizing their careers (9 percent) — a.k.a. fairly universal things that have motivated men not to have children for centuries. To give insight into the complex, layered decisions women make, HuffPost asked childfree readers to discuss the reasons they have chosen not to have kids and gathered 270 responses here.

They grouped the responses into 5 categories:

  1. I want to prioritize my career
  2. I don’t like children
  3. I had a bad relationship with my parents
  4. I don’t want the financial responsibility
  5. I like my life as it is

And here are some of the ones that I thought were the most interesting, and pay attention to the ones that include fear-of-missing-out travel, which I blogged about before:

Category 1:

I am a first-generation college graduate in my family. My mother was a single mom my entire childhood, and I was there to see that struggle. Being a parent, for a woman, means for life. Being a parent, for men, seems to be something very different. I understand raising children is a big life change and I don’t want to sell myself short on my potential to become something more and maybe even create change. I am childfree because I want to travel, move, pursue my career wholly and be able to push myself to be an inspiration to other women. If a child comes into my life, it won’t be until I am happy and successful in my work life, and not until I am secure with my finances and a marriage. I don’t want to one day wake up as an old woman wishing I had waited to have children so I could live my own life first, make mistakes, learn new things and find myself. Today kids are not for me.

Category 2:

I’m nearly 47; my boyfriend (domestic partner) of 17 years is nearly 50. I’ve never been pregnant and have taken every precaution to remain childfree. I tolerate other people’s children when I have to. I’m happiest when there are NO children around. I definitely don’t want them in my home. I like my life as it is. My boyfriend and I are both scientists. We also raise snakes and spiders! We like to travel. We travel to ride roller coasters (members of ACE — American Coaster Enthusiasts) and to attend rock concerts. I am also a performer in a senior winter guard. My plate overfloweth! I see no reason to procreate. I would be unhappy. Why be unhappy?

Category 3:

I have a great relationship with my husband. We have the time and money to travel, and that gives us precious memories. I had a bad relationship with my dad, and maybe I’m scared to treat my children like that. I’m very happy with my decision. I have a great relationship with myself too.

Category 4:

My spouse and I have talked in depth about having children. However, we both decided that our desire to travel the world is a financial burden in itself. If we have kids, we will never have the means to travel, and at the end of our life, we would rather be 100 percent committed to fulfilling our own realistic dreams rather than only able to provide a subpar life for a child. Comes down to the fact we are selfish, but at least we recognize this and made the choice early enough to avoid damaging a kid

Category 5:

The thought of having to do kiddie crap every weekend makes me want to shoot myself. I like having the extra money to save for retirement and not worry about braces, summer camp or college tuition. I can travel on a moment’s notice. I can give my all to my job and not have to worry about daycare, sick days, or having to leave my co workers to pick up my slack. I’m the “cool aunt” to all my nieces and nephews. I have more time to do the things that make me happy and productive. My relationship with my guy is not strained due to the constant neediness of children. I don’t want to put my body through pregnancy and childbirth. I can give my dog all the attention he needs and deserves.

If I had to choose one comment to represent the entire survey, it would be this one:

The moment you have children, you’re life ceases to be about yourself. Kids always take priority and I feel like I can do more for this world than just generate offspring.

Or maybe this one:

I honestly feel too lazy. I haven’t achieved enough, and if I had a child I would “just be a mom,” which isn’t enough for me or what I want out of life.

I think this is the real reason why young, unmarried women choose not to prepare or plan for marriage and children . Marriage and children “some day” is like planning for your retirement by winning the lottery. Marriage and children “some day” is an excuse to signal to family and friends that you will eventually want the responsibility of a husband and kids, but that you are justified in being self-centered right now.

We need to move beyond a survey to quantify this, and this U.S. Census data does that:

Childless by choice, not because of men
Childless by choice, not because of men failing to “man up”

These quotations are very troubling if you are a young man who has been serious about obtaining STEM degrees, saving money by not traveling, and making a plan to have a marriage and family that will serve God. I am seeing real hostility in young, unmarried Christian women to the idea that marriage will impose responsibilities, expectations and obligations on them. And their parents, relatives, friends and co-workers are doing nothing to detect and counter this attitude. As Lindsay argued on this blog before, the marriage / children plan is an excellent way for Christians to make a difference. It will take a lot of work, but it makes much more of a difference for the kingdom than just doing whatever makes you feel happy.

A friend of mine named Bee commented on an early version of this post::

Sad to say this but many Christian voices are encouraging Christian women to travel, date around and delay marriage and childbirth. Here are several negative voices:

Mandy Hale is a Christian woman who is mid 30’s, never married and has wasted years in travel and bad relationships. She has a large twitter following. She promotes her travel oriented, feelings oriented lifestyle.

Christian counselor Stephen Arteburn tells of encouraging his daughter to travel and date around and not think about marriage until her late 20’s. Unfortunately, no one can flip a switch on their 28th birthday and quickly get married to a quality guy. Also, late marriage for women means having more than 1 or 2 children is risky.

[…]Bskillet81 found evangelical american princesses (EAP) obsessed with travel, entitlement, feelings, and personal fulfillment.

I just read some of Mandy’s quotes from GoodReads and she is certifiably nuts.

Greed drives the advocacy of organizations on climate change

Atmospheric temperature measurements though Sept 2015
Atmospheric temperature measurements though Sept 2015

This article from the The Stream is helpful.


Global warming alarmism is big business. On one side you have Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Environmental Defense Fund, The Climate Project and dozens upon dozens of other non-governmental organizations who solicit hundreds of millions from private donors and from government, and who in turn award lucrative grants to further their agenda.

You also have the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Health, the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture, both Houses of Congress and many more government agencies, spraying global warming money at anything that moves and at staggering rates — billions of dollars.

And then you also have every major and minor university — with contributions from every department, from Critical Literature Theory to Women’s Studies — all with their hands out and eager to provide the support Greenpeace, the government and others desire. Add to that another two or three dozen think tanks which are also sniffing for grants or which support government intervention to do the impossible and stop the earth’s climate from changing.

Every scientific organization which is dependent on grant money has released a statement saying “something must be done” about global warming. They’re supported, fawned over and feted by just about every news and media agency. And don’t forget the leadership of most major organized religions have their own statements — and their hands out.

We’re not done: we still have to add the dozens of Solyndra-type companies eager to sell the government products, to get “green” subsidies or to support its global-warming agenda. Included in that list are oil companies. Oil companies?

How much money are we talking about? Billions:

Joanne Nova has documented the massive amount of money pouring from government into the pockets of individuals and groups associated with the environment. “The U.S. government has provided over $79 billion since 1989 on policies related to climate change, including science and technology research, foreign aid, and tax breaks.” $79 billion.

Now it’s important to note that when the government hands out money, they are not handing out part of their profits from the sale of useful products and services, the way a private company might. No. What government does is they borrow money from future taxpayers and add it to the national debt. That’s why our national debt has doubled under Obama and will be $20 trillion by the time he leaves office in January 2017. So, government is busy manufacturing support for government intervention and regulation of businesses and individuals using money that will be taken from future job creators and taxpayers.

Would you like to have your money back so you can support causest that you care about instead of global warming socialism? So would I. But that’s why people ought to support slimming down government and letting it only perform those minimalist duties that are laid out for it in the Constitution.

The pilgrims experiment with communism before the second Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving
Less than half the original pilgrims made it to the the first Thanksgiving

Here’s an article from The Stream about the second Thanksgiving, by Dante Witt. I like this article because it tells us so much about the character of the United States of America. Why are we so conservative about economics?

She briefly retells the story of how the pilgrims were helped by Squanto, which I blogged about in my previous post, then she talks about the troubles they had next.


Although Squanto’s farming techniques worked better than their old ones, the pilgrims still could not produce enough food. Was it bad luck? Bad soil? No. The Mayflower pilgrims were part of a joint stock company which stipulated that the pilgrims would pool their resources, and receive a share of the profit.

The strategy turned out to be deeply misguided, working about as well as various communist economic schemes hundreds of years later. The sad state of the colony after two years of communism, wrote William Bradford, “may well evidence the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and the other ancients applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and the bringing of community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God” (p. 121).

So the pilgrims amended their contract so that each family was now responsible for its own provision. The difference was stark. Bradford explained:

This had good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so that more corn was planted than could have been by any other means the Governor could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

In fact, it’s estimated the colonists planted about six times the crops they would have planted otherwise.

That shows where Americans get their views of economics, but what about the praying and the gratitude?


With new farming techniques and an amended government, the pilgrims did all they humanly could to ward off starvation. But they could not control the weather. A drought settled on the colony and threatened to kill the corn before the harvest. Recognizing with the Psalmist that “except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it,” the colonists turned to God. According to Bradford, they “set apart a solemn day of humiliation to seek the Lord by humble & fervent prayer, in this great distress.” What was the outcome?

And he was pleased to give them a gracious & speedy answer, both to their own & the Indians admiration, that lived amongst them. For all the morning, and greatest part of the day, it was clear weather & very hot, and not a cloud or any sign of rain to be seen, yet toward evening it began to overcast, and shortly after to rain, with such sweet and gentle showers, as gave them cause of rejoicing, & blessing God. It came, without either wind, or thunder, or any violence, and by degrees in that abundance, as that the earth was thoroughly wet and soaked therewith. Which did so apparently revive & quicken the decayed corn & other fruits, as was wonderful to see, and made the Indians astonished to behold. (p. 131)

Seeing the speedy results of the Puritans’ prayers, an Indian named Hobanak said, “Now I see that the Englishman’s God is a good God, for he hath heard you, and sent you rain, and that without storms and tempests and thunder, which usually we have with our rain, which breaks down our corn, but yours stands whole and good still; surely your God is a good God.” (pp. 64-5)

Then William Bradford again proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving to God, the forerunner of the American tradition of Thanksgiving.

So, this story explains why the United States has this character that values the free enterprise system, hard work, individual achievement, prayer, and gratitude. These are the values that make us American, that made us into such a great nation.


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