Tag Archives: Theology

N.T. Wright lectures on the resurrection of Jesus: did Jesus rise from the dead?

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let's take a look at the facts
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let’s take a look at the facts

Here’s a lecture from N.T. Wright, whose multi-volume case for the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus seems to be getting a lot of respect from the other side, (although I strongly disagree with his economic and political views, which are naive at best). Wright has taught at Cambridge University, Oxford University, Duke University, McGill University, and lectured on dozens of prestigious campuses around the world. He’s published 40 books.

Here’s a video of his case for the resurrection:

N.T. Wright’s historical case for the bodily resurrection of Jesus

Wright basically argues that the resurrection cannot have been a myth invented by the early Christian community, because the idea of the Messiah dying and being bodily resurrected to eternal life was completely unexpected in Jewish theology, and therefore would not have been fabricated.

In Judaism, when people die, they stay dead. At the most, they might re-appear as apparitions, or be resuscitated to life for a while, but then die again later. There was no concept of the bodily resurrection to eternal life of a single person, especially of the Messiah, prior to the general resurrection of all the righteous dead on judgment day.

Wright’s case for the resurrection has 3 parts:

  • The Jewish theological beliefs of the early Christian community underwent 7 mutations that are inexplicable apart from the bodily resurrection of Jesus
  • The empty tomb
  • The post-mortem appearances of Jesus to individuals and groups, friends and foes

Here’s the outline of Wright’s case:

…the foundation of my argument for what happened at Easter is the reflection that this Jewish hope has undergone remarkable modifications or mutations within early Christianity, which can be plotted consistently right across the first two centuries. And these mutations are so striking, in an area of human experience where societies tend to be very conservative, that they force the historian… to ask, Why did they occur?

The mutations occur within a strictly Jewish context. The early Christians held firmly, like most of their Jewish contemporaries, to a two-step belief about the future: first, death and whatever lies immediately beyond; second, a new bodily existence in a newly remade world. ‘Resurrection’ is not a fancy word for ‘life after death’; it denotes life after ‘life after death’.

And here are the 7 mutations:

  1. Christian theology of the afterlife mutates from multiples views (Judaism) to a single view: resurrection (Christianity). When you die, your soul goes off to wait in Sheol. On judgment day, the righteous dead get new resurrection bodies, identical to Jesus’ resurrection body.
  2. The relative importance of the doctrine of resurrection changes from being peripheral (Judaism) to central (Christianity).
  3. The idea of what the resurrection would be like goes from multiple views (Judaism) to a single view: an incorruptible, spiritually-oriented body composed of the material of the previous corruptible body (Christianity).
  4. The timing of the resurrection changes from judgment day (Judaism) to a split between the resurrection of the Messiah right now and the resurrection of the rest of the righteous on judgment day (Christianity).
  5. There is a new view of eschatology as collaboration with God to transform the world.
  6. There is a new metaphorical concept of resurrection, referred to as being “born-again”.
  7. There is a new association of the concept of resurrection to the Messiah. (The Messiah was not even supposed to die, and he certainly wasn’t supposed to rise again from the dead in a resurrected body!)

There are also other historical puzzles that are solved by postulating a bodily resurrection of Jesus.

  1. Jewish people thought that the Messiah was not supposed to die. Although there were lots of (warrior) Messiahs running around at the time, whenever they got killed, their followers would abandon them. Why didn’t Jesus’ followers abandon him when he died?
  2. If the early Christian church wanted to communicate that Jesus was special, despite his shameful death on the cross, they would have made up a story using the existing Jewish concept of exaltation. Applying the concept of bodily resurrection to a dead Messiah would be a radical departure from Jewish theology, when an invented exaltation was already available to do the job.
  3. The early church became extremely reckless about sickness and death, taking care of people with communicable diseases and testifying about their faith in the face of torture and execution. Why did they scorn sickness and death?
  4. The gospels, especially Mark, do not contain any embellishments and “theology historicized”. If they were made-up, there would have been events that had some connection to theological concepts. But the narratives are instead bare-bones: “Guy dies public death. People encounter same guy alive later.” Plain vanilla narrative.
  5. The story of the women who were the first witnesses to the empty tomb cannot have been invented, because the testimony of women was inadmissible under almost all circumstances at that time. If the story were invented, they would have invented male discoverers of the tomb. Female discovers would have hampered conversion efforts.
  6. There are almost no legendary embellishments in the gospels, while there are plenty in the later gnostic forgeries. No crowds of singing angels, no talking crosses, and no booming voices from the clouds.
  7. There is no mention of the future hope of the general resurrection, which I guess they thought was imminent anyway.

To conclude, Wright makes the argument that the best explanation of all of these changes in theology and practice is that God raised Jesus (bodily) from the dead. There is simply no way that this community would have made up the single resurrection of the Messiah – who wasn’t even supposed to die – and then put themselves on the line for that belief.

And remember, the belief in a resurrected Jesus was something that the earliest witnesses could really assess, because they were the ones who saw him killed and then walking around again after his death. They were able to confirm or deny their belief in the resurrection of Jesus based on their own personal experiences with the object of those beliefs.

J. Warner Wallace: 10 important questions for Jehovah’s witnesses

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

So there’s this group of people called Jehovah’s Witnesses that use Christian language to describe a religion that denies key parts of the Christian worldview. They like to go door-to-door to tell people what they believe. Since you may might them knocking on your door to tell you about their worldview, it might be worth it to read this post from J. Warner Wallace over in advance.

I’ll just post a snip of the first I use when they come to my door. It’s also the first on Wallace’s list:

If I am to accept the teaching of the Jehovah’s Witness religion, I am first going to have to trust the source of this teaching. But how can I trust someone who claims to speak for God when they have been wrong about prior predictions?

There are a number of false predictions made either by Charles Russell, subsequent leaders of the church or the Watchtower Organization itself, including this limited sampling:

1886 The Millennial Reign Has Already Begun “The outward evidences are that the marshalling of the hosts for the battle of the great day of God almighty, is in progress while the skirmishing is commencing.” (Watchtower reprints 1, page 817 January 1886)

1897 The Millennial Reign Began in 1874 “ Our Lord, the appointed King, is now present, since October 1874” (Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 4, page 621)

1899 The Times Described in Revelation 16 Have Begun “…the ‘battle of the great day of God Almighty’ (Revelation 16:14), which will end in A.D. 1914 with the complete overthrow of earth’s present rulership, is already commenced.” (The Time Is at Hand, page 101 – 1908 edition)

1916 The Millennial Reign Began in 1873 “The Bible chronology herein presented shows that the six great 1000 year days beginning with Adam are ended, and that the great 7th Day, the 1000 years of Christ’s Reign, began in 1873.” (The Time Is at Hand, page ii)

1917 Armageddon Has Begun “The present great war in Europe is the beginning of the Armageddon of the scriptures.” (Pastor Russell’s Sermons, 1917, page 676)

1918 The Saints Will Be Resurrected in 1925 “Therefore we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful prophets of old, particularly those named by the Apostle in Hebrews 11, to the condition of human perfection.” (Millions Now Living Will Never Die, page 89)

“1925 shall mark the resurrection of the faithful worthies…We are standing at the very portals of that blessed time!” (Millions Now Living Will Never Die, page 105)

1922 Jesus Will Return in 1925 “The date 1925 is even more distinctly indicated by the Scriptures than 1914.” (The Watchtower, September 1st, 1922, page 262)

1923 Jesus Will Return in 1925 “Our thought is that 1925 is definitely settled by the Scriptures. As to Noah, the Christian now has much more upon which to base his faith than Noah had upon which to base his faith in a coming deluge.” (The Watchtower, April 1st, 1923, page 106)

1925 Jesus May Return in 1925 “The year 1925 is here. With great expectation Christians have looked forward to this year. Many have confidently expected that all members of the body of Christ will be changed to heavenly glory during this year. This may be accomplished. It may not be. In his own due time God will accomplish his purposes concerning his people. Christians should not be so deeply concerned about what may transpire this year.” (The Watchtower, January 1st, 1925, page 3)

1940 Armageddon is Eminent Within the Year “The year 1940 is certain to be the most important year yet, because Armageddon is very near.” (Informant, May 1940)

1941 Jesus Will Return in Months “Receiving the gift, the marching children clasped it to them, not a toy or plaything for idle pleasure, but the Lord’s provided instrument for most effective work in the remaining months before Armageddon.” (The Watchtower, September 15th, 1941, page 288)

1946 Armageddon is “At the Door” “…the disaster of Armageddon, greater than that which befell Sodom and Gomorrah, is at the door.” (Let God be True, 1946, page 194)

1968 Jesus Will Return in 1975 “Why are you looking forward to 1975?” (The Watchtower, August 15th, 1968, page 494)

“Just think , brothers, there is only 90 months left before 6000 years of mans existence on earth is completed… the majority of people living today will probably be alive when Armageddon breaks out.” (Kingdom Mystery, March 1968, page 4)

This is the quickest way to see why you should not convert to their organization. In the Bible, it’s a serious crime to make a prediction about the future and then have it not come true. It’s actually a capital offense, and it’s something that “false prophets” do. But it happens all the time with JWs. Just remind them of this and say “I cannot be affiliated with any organization that fails to get their truth claims right over and over again, because it shows me clearly that they don’t speak for God”.

Wallace actually has the quote from the Bible in his point 3:

Deuteronomy 18:20-22:

20 But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’

21 You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’

22 When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.

The other one I use is John 1:1, which Wallace’s first point under the “Biblical Questions” heading. Really, though, the failed predictions alone should be enough for you to falsify the Jehovah’s Witness worldview.

If you want a longer treatment of this topic, check out Michael Licona’s PDF document on Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Walter Bradley asks: what is religion really supposed to be about?

Dr. Walter L. Bradley
Dr. Walter L. Bradley

This lecture is based on the book “Truth in Religion” by famous philosopher Mortimer J. Adler. At the time of writing the book, he was not a Christian, but there is still a lot of value in the book for Christians who are trying to understand what religion should really be about.

About the speaker

The speaker is one of my top 3 favorite speakers of all time in Christian apologetics, Dr. Walter Bradley. (The other two are Dr. Stephen C. Meyer and Dr. Michael Strauss)

Here’s a biography:

Dr. Bradley received his B.S. in Engineering Science and his Ph.D. in Materials Science from the University of Texas in Austin.

Dr. Bradley taught for eight years at the Colorado School of Mines before assuming a position as Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University (TAMU) in 1976.

During his 24 years at Texas A&M, Dr. Bradley served as Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University and as Director of the Polymer Technology Center, and received five College of Engineering Research Awards. He has received over $4,500,000 in research grants and has published over 140 technical articles and book chapters. He has also co-authored “The Mystery Of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories. He is a Fellow of the American Society for Materials and of the American Scientific Affiliation and serves as a consultant for many Fortune 500 companies.

You can read more about his recent research on how to use coconuts to make car parts in this article from Science Daily.

The MP3 file is here. (31 minutes + Q&A)

Topics:

  • what is pluralism?
  • what is multiculturalism?
  • what is relativism?
  • some propositions are true culturally – just for certain groups in certain times (cultures)
  • some proposition are true trans-culturally – true independently of what anyone wants or feels
  • Mathematical truth is trans-cultural – it is true regardless of cultural fashions
  • Scientific truth is trans-cultural – it is true regardless of cultural fashions
  • Some truths are not like this – cooking traditions, clothing traditions and greeting traditions
  • These kinds of truths are NOT trans-cultural, they vary by culture
  • The question is – is religion true like math and science, or true depending on the culture
  • Some people think that your religion depends on where you were born or what your family believes
  • Religions make conflicting claims about the way the world really is, so they can’t all be true
  • And these conflicts are at the core of the religions – who God is, how can we be related to him, etc.
  • So if religions convey trans-cultural truth, then either one is true or none are true
  • If they are not trying to convey trans-cultural truth, then they are not like math and science
  • Let’s assume that religion is the same as trans-cultural truth
  • How can we know which religion is true? 1) the laws of logic, 2) empirical testing against reality
  • Logical consistency is needed to make the first cut – self-contradictory claims cannot be true
  • To be true trans-culturally, a proposition must at least NOT break the law of non-contradiction
  • According to Mortimer Adler’s book, only Christianity, Judaism and Islam are not self-contradictory
  • All the others can be excluded on the basis of overt internal contradictions on fundamental questions
  • The others that are self-contradictory can be true culturally, but not trans-culturally
  • The way to proceed forward is to test the three non-contradictory religions against science and history
  • One of these three may be true, or they could all be false
  • We can test the three by evaluating their conflicting truth claims about the historical Jesus
  • Famous skeptics have undertaken studies to undermine the historical Jesus presented in the Bible
  • Lew Wallace, Simon Greenleaf and Frank Morrison assessed the evidence as atheists and became Christians
  • There is a lot of opposition in culture to the idea that one religion might be true
  • But if you take the claims of Jesus at face value, he claims to be the unique revelation of God to mankind
  • Either he was telling the truth about that, or he was lying, or he was crazy
  • So which is it?

Why don’t religious people ask if their religion is true?

People seem to be chicken these days about claiming that their religion is true. It’s easier to say that my religion is true for me, and your religion is true for you – reduce it to personal preferences. So long as everyone is sincere about what they believe, then that’s the most important thing, right?

But it is NOT TRUE that you can believe whatever you want as long as you are sincere – sincerity doesn’t mean that you can’t be mistaken. I can jump off the top of the Sears Tower and be sincere in my belief that I will float down like a feather, but that doesn’t make my belief true. If you want to have a good relationship with God, you have to know things about him, not just have sincere beliefs. You have to know whether he exists and what he is like – really. It’s not enough to have sincere beliefs that are not actually true.

I think that God’s existence and character can be assessed and known based on logic and evidence. I think that God exists independently of whether I want him to or not, and I think that his character and desires are not the same as my character and desires. And I don’t really care what my neighbors think of my disagreeing with them, my goal is not to keep silent and to just get along with them and be happier in my community.

God’s first commandment to us is not to love our neighbor – that’s number two. Number one is to love him. And how can we love him, if we don’t want to know him. And how can we love him, if we don’t tell people the truth about him when they ask us?

That message is not going to win us a lot of friends, but our job as Christians is to tell how and why God stepped into history. Jesus expects us to be his ambassadors and to carry out the task of evangelism faithfully, and to suffer with him and – if necessary – to be rejected like he was rejected.

William Lane Craig discusses faith and reason with university students

This is an interview of Dr. William Lane Craig before college students at the University of Central Florida. (95 minutes)

You can get an MP3 of the lecture here. (33 MB)

Questions from the interviewer: (40 minutes)

  • What started you on his journey of studying faith and reason?
  • How would you define the word “faith”?
  • Are faith and reason compatible? How are they related?
  • How can reasonable faith help us to avoid the two extremes of superstition and nihilism?
  • Who makes the best arguments against the Christian faith?
  • Why are angry atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens more well known than better-informed academic atheists?
  • Does the Bible require Christians to give the unbeliever reasons for their faith?
  • How does faith spur Christians to think carefully about the big questions in life?
  • Should the American church prod churchgoers to develop their minds so they can engage the secular culture?
  • When talking about Christianity intellectually, is there a risk of neglecting the experience of being a Christian?
  • Which Christian apologist has shaped your thinking the most?
  • Which Christian philosopher has shaped your thinking the most?
  • Does the confidence that comes from apologetics undermine humility and reverence?
  • If you had to sketch out a 5 minute case for Christianity, what would you present?
  • Can non-Christians use their reason to arrive at truth?
  • Are there cases where atheists must affirm irrational things in order to remain atheists?
  • Can the universe have existed eternal, so that there is no need to explain who created it?
  • Even if you persuade someone that Christianity is true, does that mean they will live it out?

There is also a long period of questions, many of them hostile, from the audience of students (55 minutes).

  • Haven’t you said nasty things about some atheists? Aren’t you a meany?
  • What do you make of the presuppositional approach to apologetics?
  • Can a person stop being a Christian because of the chances that happen to them as they age?
  • Why did God wait so long after humans appeared to reveal himself to people through Jesus?
  • Can a person be saved by faith without have any intellectual assent to truth?
  • How do you find time for regular things like marriage when you have to study and speak so much?
  • How would you respond to Zeitgeist and parallels to Christianity in Greek/Roman mythology?
  • Do Christians have to assume that the Bible is inerrant and inspired in order to evangelize?
  • If the universe has a beginning, then why doesn’t God have a beginning?
  • Can you name some philosophical resources on abstract objects, Platonism and nominalism?
  • How can you know that Christianity more right than other religions?
  • Should we respond to the problem of evil by saying that our moral notions are different from God’s?
  • Define the A and B theories of time. Explain how they relate to the kalam cosmological argument.
  • How can Christians claim that their view is true in the face of so many world religions?
  • What is the role of emotions in Christian belief and thought?
  • Can evolution be reconciled with Christian beliefs and the Bible?
  • When witnessing person-to-person, should you balance apologetics with personal testimony?
  • Is there a good analogy for the trinity that can help people to understand it? [Note: HE HAS ONE!]
  • How can Christians reconcile God’s omniscience, God’s sovereignty and human free will?

This is a nice introductory lecture that is sure to get Christians to become interested in apologetics. As you watch or listen to it, imagine what the world would be like if every Christian could answer the questions of skeptical college students and professors like Dr. Craig. What would non-Christians think about Christianity if every Christian had studied these issues like Dr. Craig? Why aren’t we making an effort to study these things so that we can answer these questions?

It is really fun to see him fielding the questions from the skeptical university students. My favorite question was from the physics student who sounds really foreign, (at 1:19:00), then you realize that he is a Christian. I do think that Dr. Craig went a little far in accommodating evolution, but I put that down to the venue, and not wanting to get into a peripheral issue.

Andreas Kostenberger explains what the Bible says about marriage and family

Marriage and family
Marriage and family

A long essay posted by the Family Research Council, and written by the expert on Bible and marriage.

About the author:

Andreas J. Kostenberger is the Director of Ph.D. Studies and Professor of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also editor of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) and founding president of Biblical Foundations, an organization with the aim of “restoring the biblical foundations of the home, the church, and society.” Dr. Kostenberger holds doctorates awarded by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) and the Vienna University of Economics. His publications include the commentary on John in the Baker Exegetical Commentary Series, and God, Marriage, and Family. With Peter O’Brien, he wrote Salvation to the Ends of the Earth, and The Book Study Concordance with Raymond Bouchoc.

Intro:

Incredible as it may seem, we can no longer assume that people in our culture understand what the proper definition of “marriage” and “the family” is. Not only is this a sad commentary on the impact of same-sex marriage activists on our society, it also shows how the culture’s memory of the biblical tradition on which it is largely based is fading fast. What is marriage, biblically defined? And what is the biblical definition of a family? In this brief treatise on marriage and the family, we will take up these questions and proceed to discuss a number of related matters, such as singleness, divorce and remarriage, and homosexuality, in an effort to develop a full-orbed understanding of the biblical teaching on the subject. As I have sought to demonstrate at some length in my book God, Marriage, and the Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation, marriage and the family are institutions under siege today, and only a return to the biblical foundation of these God-given institutions will reverse the decline of marriage and the family in our culture today.

[…]These aspects of marriage–the complementarity of male and female, and the irreplaceable role of male-female relations in reproducing the human race–are part of the original order of creation, and are evident to all human beings from the enduring order of nature. These common elements of marriage are at the heart of our civil laws defining and regulating marriage. Therefore, people of all cultures and religions–including those who lack faith in God, Christ, or the Bible–are capable of participating in the institution of marriage. However, we who are Christians believe that the fullest understanding of God’s will for marriage can be derived from a careful examination of scriptural teachings. It is incumbent upon the church to educate both itself and the larger culture regarding the full breadth and depth of God’s intentions for marriage.

The essay itself covers many useful areas:

  • difference between a contract and a covenant
  • 5 principles of marriage: permanence, sacredness, intimacy, mutuality, exclusivity
  • alternatives to marriage: polygamy, divorce, adultery, homosexuality, sterility
  • the Biblical pattern for marriage and what it means
  • how marriage mirrors Christ’s relationship with his church
  • singleness, chastity, celibacy
  • homosexuality
  • divorce

For my two excerpts, I want to focus on two things that I have personally encountered with a young Christian woman, who disagree with both of these points.

First, marriage as a covenant means that you stay in it regardless of feelings:

Today, marriage and the family are regularly viewed as social conventions that can be entered into and severed by the marital partners at will. As long as a given marriage relationship meets the needs of both individuals involved and is considered advantageous by both sides, the marriage is worth sustaining. If one or both partners decide that they will be better off by breaking up the marriage and entering into a new, better marital union, nothing can legitimately keep them from pursuing their self-interest, self-realization, and self-fulfillment.

[…]In essence, a covenant is a contract between two parties that is established before God as a witness, a contract whose permanence is ultimately safeguarded by none other than God himself. In this sense, marriage is a covenant: it is entered into by the husband and the wife before God as a witness. Because it is ultimately God who has joined the marriage partners together, the husband and the wife vow to each other abiding loyalty and fidelity “till death do us part.” Rightly understood, therefore, a marriage entered into before God involves three persons: a husband, a wife, and God. For this reason, it is not self-interest, human advantage, or an unfettered commitment to personal freedom that governs the marriage relationship, but the husband and wife’s joint commitment to conduct their marriage based on God’s design and sovereign plan.

And you should practice self-denial, self-sacrificial love, etc. before the marriage. Practicing how to do whatever makes you feel good even when it hurts others is not preparation for marriage.

Second, the notion of male headship, which means that in marriage, men set the overall strategy and enable their wives to help them by clearing obstacles and encouraging her to engage:

Wives, for their part, are called to submit to their own husbands, as to the Lord. As the church submits to Christ, so wives should to their husbands in everything (Ephesians 5:21-24). Husbands, in turn, are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. They are to provide for their wives both physically and spiritually and to cherish them as God’s special provision for them (Ephesians 5:25-30).

If you want to know what the Bible says about marriage, read this article. I’m sure you’ll learn something new about marriage as God intended it. It’s always good to look in the Bible and see what God wants from us. We should not be reading it n order to try to make it serve our feelings. Let’s open the Bible and see who God is first. Once we know God, then we can make decisions and plans that respect him, and pursue those plans regardless of our feelings and desires.