Tag Archives: Christianity

William Lane Craig: was Jesus crucified for being a political threat to the Romans?

Let's investigate the historical facts
Let’s investigate the historical facts

I blogged previously about William Lane Craig’s appearance on the Ben Shapiro show. One thing that didn’t seem to come up was Ben’s own explanation for the rapid belief among the followers of Jesus in his bodily resurrection, and his identity as the Jewish Messiah. I guess Dr. Craig did some digging and found out Ben’s view, because he posted a response to Ben on Facebook.

Here it is:

NOTE ON THE BEN SHAPIRO INTERVIEW

I’m grateful to Ben Shapiro for inviting me to appear on his program and for his excellent interview. Prior to going on the show, I prepared a brief on his view that Jesus was a political revolutionary who got himself crucified. As it turned out, the issue never came up, and the brief, like most of them I prepare, remained unused. But I share it here with you in case this issue ever comes up in your conversations.

Jesus as a Violent Revolutionary

This view was suggested by SGF Brandon back in the 1960s but has been virtually universally rejected by scholars. Why?

Four reasons:

1. It would require us to regard as inauthentic all of Jesus’ moral teachings concerning non-violence, turning the other cheek, loving one’s enemies, etc.

John Meier, A Marginal Jew, vol. 3, pp. 566-67:
“Jesus’ inclusive outreach to all of Israel in the end time, his emphasis on mercy and forgiveness, his rejection of retaliation, and his exhortation to love even one’s enemies lay at the opposite end of the Palestinian-Jewish spectrum from violence-prone zealotry.”

2. Roman authorities never regarded Jesus or his followers as enemies.
When Messianic pretenders or prophets arose, the Roman authorities acted pre-emptively, decisively, and ruthlessly to destroy them. For example,
A.D. 36 a Samaritan prophet led people up Mt. Gerizim. Pilate immediately sent cavalry and infantry to attack them and destroy them.
A.D. 45 a man named Theudas led people to the Jordan River to part the waters. Fadus sent cavalry in a surprise attack and killed and captured many.
A.D. 50s a prophet called the Egyptian led followers to the Mt. of Olives to watch the walls of Jerusalem fall. Felix sent Roman troops to slaughter all of them.
But Roman troops were never sent to attack the followers of Jesus, either during his lifetime or after his death.

3. During Jesus’ ministry Palestine was at relative peace.
All of the above examples occurred after Jesus’ death. During Jesus’ lifetime Palestine was basically at peace.

John Meier: “the fatal flaw of this approach is its presupposition that there was one or more organized and armed groups of Jewish revolutionaries active in Palestine c.a. A.D. 28-30. . . . But, as far as the historical record permits us to judge, there were no organized, armed groups of Jewish revolutionaries active during Jesus’ public ministry.”

So obviously Jesus did not lead such a group.

4. The evidence is that Jesus rejected being the Messiah in a militaristic sense.
I agree that Jesus thought of himself as the Messiah, but not in the military sense of a warrior-king.

James D.G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, p. 653: Jesus ignored or refused or rejected the dominant current understanding of the Messiah as a royal and military power like Herod the Great.

Jesus ran contrary to the chief priests’ and the people’s expectations. Mk 15.31-2: “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”

Most Jewish people I talk to don’t really have a thought out explanation for the basic historic facts about Christianity. They tend to treat the New Testament as forbidden, and just keep the bare historical facts about Christianity at arm’s length. So, even if I put forward a minimal facts case for the resurrection, for example, they tend to not want to engage with it. They won’t deny facts, and they won’t put up an alternative explanation. The best response I’ve heard is the one Ben gave: Jesus didn’t achieve the things that Jews expected the Messiah to achieve, so we’re still waiting on the real Messiah. And Dr. Craig’s response to that was, well if Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, and God raised him from the dead, then God thinks that he’s the Messiah.

What I’ve noticed in listening to my favorite Jewish conservatives like Dennis Prager, Ben Shapiro, etc. is that Jews don’t put as much emphasis on testing religious claims as evangelical Protestants do. I have had evangelical Prostestants write to me about all kinds of scientific breakthroughs and historical discoveries, asking me what impact this or that has on the truth of Christianity. In my opinion, even conservative Jews don’t invest as much time into that sort of thing. They seem to be respectful of all religions that produce people who keep to the general moral teachings of the Old Testament. This is nice for me, because I do take those moral teachings seriously. But I remember someone asking Dennis Prager how to choose a religion, and his first rule was not to disrupt your family or community. That is something that no Christian like me could say.

After all, we have this from the founder of Christianity:

Matthew 10:34-38:

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 

35 For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—

36     a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 

38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Just to be clear, that sword is meant to divide, not do violence, OK? I actually told that verse to my mother when I was breaking with the Islamic religion she was trying to push me into when I was young. She did not like it!

Also, Christians have this:

John 18:36-37:

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

So, Christianity is a truth-centered religion. Getting the beliefs correct comes first, and the good actions follow from that. It’s not primarily about feeling good, about family acceptance, not about community cohesion, or even being a “good person”. It’s about recognizing Jesus for who he is – Lord and Savior – and giving Jesus acknowledgement and respect in your priorities and actions.

Dr. William Lane Craig interviewed on the Ben Shapiro Show Sunday Special

Dr. William Lane Craig on the Ben Shapiro Sunday special
Dr. William Lane Craig on the Ben Shapiro Sunday special

The episode of the Ben Shapiro show that we’ve all been waiting for is here! They discuss arguments for God’s existence in the first 25 minutes. The spend the first 26 minutes on arguments for God,and  the next 16 minutes on Christian distinctives. They spend a bunch more time responding to common arguments for atheism, and finally Ben asks Dr. Craig how he became a Christian.

Summary:

William Lane Craig, philosopher, theologian, and best selling author of numerous books including “On Guard: Defending Your Faith With Reason And Precision,” joins Ben to discuss the hard sciences vs. philosophy, the cosmological and ontological arguments, Jesus, slavery, gay marriage, and much more.

Video:

The MP3 file is here.

Topics:

  • Why are we seeing such a decline in religious belief in America?
  • Why are mainline denominations in Christianity and Judaism emptying out?
  • What was the driver behind the move away from religion starting in the 1960s?
  • Why is their a gap in the university and in the broader culture between reason and religious belief?
  • What is the strongest argument for God’s existence?
  • What is the most compelling argument for God’s existence for this culture?
  • Respond to Richard Dawkins’ challenge that God needs a cause.
  • Why does the universe have to have a cause?
  • Does Darwinian evolution provide grounds for our awareness of objective moral values and duties?
  • What is the strongest objection to the cosmological argument?
  • What is the strongest objection to the moral argument?
  • What about the objection that the existence of the universe is just a “brute fact” and doesn’t need an explanation for it’s existence?
  • What about David Hume’s objection to the law of causality?
  • What about objections to the cause of the universe from apparently uncaused events in quantum mechanics?
  • What is the ontological argument, and why is it frequently dismissed?
  • How do we get from an unmoved mover to a moral God?
  • Which arguments show that God is a mind?
  • How do you show that God is present and active in time now?
  • How do you move from God as Creator, Designer and moral lawgiver to a God who has revealed himself to human beings?
  • Who does Jesus claim to be in the gospels, and what is the evidence that his claims were correct?
  • From the Jewish perspective, this narrative has some  problems. First, merely declaring yourself as the Messiah is not seen as a punishable offense.
  • Second, the real problem is that Jesus vision of himself as the Messiah is completely different than how Jews have understood the Messiah. The Messiah in Judaism has always been a political figure who is destined to restore the Kingdom of Israel, bringing more Jews back to Israel, etc.  Claiming to be God, though would be blasphemy and a punishable offense.
  • Why is resurrection proof of divinity? Wasn’t Lazarus also raised from the dead?
  • The gospels were written decades after the events they claim to describe. Should we still see them as reliable enough to infer that the resurrection really happened?
  • Couldn’t legends have been introduced in the gap between the events and the time that the events were recorded?
  • Is it enough for us to have a Creator God, or is there a reason for God to reveal himself to us?
  • Tell us about your experience debating atheist scholars on university campuses.
  • Has any an atheist ever caused you to doubt your arguments?
  • The problem of human evil is easy to respond to, but how do you respond to the problem of natural evil, i.e. – suffering from events in the natural world, such as birth defects or natural disasters.
  • Atheists like to bring up specific disagreements they have with the Bible, e.g. – same-sex marriage, abortion, slavery, genocide. How would you respond to those?
  • Regarding slavery in the Bible, isn’t it the case that people sometimes do things that are not prescribed by God, and the Bible merely records that?
  • How would you respond then to people who push for same-sex marriage by arguing that this is a case where God wanted same-sex marriage, but couldn’t press for it because the people were not capable at that time and in that culture?
  • When discussing specific issues of morality, do you try to argue from a natural law perspective or from the morality in the Bible?
  • How would you respond to someone like Jordan Peterson who approaches religion teachings pragmatically, focusing on behaviors rather than the rational grounding of those behaviors?
  • How do you speak to young people about God without them losing interest?
  • How did you become a Christian?
  • As the influence of Judeo-Christian religion recedes, what do you see filling the void, and how do you see that affecting Western civilization going forward?

New study: regular churchgoers and married people most satisfied with their love life

Marriage and family
Marriage and family

One of the curious things about me is that I love to read studies in order to understand what to do in order to reach a goal. My goal is to find the “best practices” that are likely to achieve good outcomes for things I am trying to do. One of the things that we should all be concerned about is having a good love life. Well, believe it or not, there are studies about that!

Consider this article from Science Daily.

Excerpt:

Regular churchgoers, married people or those who enjoy harmonious social ties are most satisfied with their love life. This also goes for people who are currently in love or who experience the commitment and sexual desire of their partners, says Félix Neto and Maria da Conceição Pinto of the Universidade do Porto in Portugal. Their findings, published in an article in Springer’s journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, look at the influences on love life satisfaction throughout one’s adult life.

The researchers associate love with the desire to enter into, maintain, or expand a close, connected, and ongoing relationship with another person. In turn, love life satisfaction is a purely subjective, overall measurement of someone’s actual enjoyment of love. To investigate the factors that influence this across various age groups, 1,284 adult Portuguese women and men ranging between 18 and 90 years old were asked to evaluate and weigh specific facets of their own love lives by using the Satisfaction With Love Life Scale.

[…]While education does not impact a person’s love life satisfaction, religious involvement does. The finding that believers and regular churchgoers are positive about their love lives is in line with previous studies that associate religious involvement with better mental health and greater satisfaction with life and sexual relationships in general.

Previously, I blogged about a study reported in USA Today, which showed that people who attend church have lower divorce rates than those who don’t attend church.

Excerpt:

It’s been proclaimed from pulpits and blogs for years — Christians divorce as much as everyone else in America.

But some scholars and family activists are questioning the oft-cited statistics, saying Christians who attend church regularly are more likely to remain wed.

[…]The various findings on religion and divorce hinge on what kind of Christians are being discussed.

Wright combed through the General Social Survey, a vast demographic study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and found that Christians, like adherents of other religions, have a divorce rate of about 42%. The rate among religiously unaffiliated Americans is 50%.

When Wright examined the statistics on evangelicals, he found worship attendance has a big influence on the numbers. Six in 10 evangelicals who never attend had been divorced or separated, compared to just 38% of weekly attendees.

[…]Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, agrees there’s been some confusion.

“You do hear, both in Christian and non-Christian circles, that Christians are no different from anyone else when it comes to divorce and that is not true if you are focusing on Christians who are regular church attendees,” he said.

Wilcox’s analysis of the National Survey of Families and Households has found that Americans who attend religious services several times a month were about 35% less likely to divorce than those with no religious affiliation.

Nominal conservative Protestants, on the other hand, were 20% more likely to divorce than the religiously unaffiliated.

“There’s something about being a nominal ‘Christian’ that is linked to a lot of negative outcomes when it comes to family life,” Wilcox said.

Whenever I talk to atheists about marital satisfaction and marital stability, they always tell me these myths about how atheists divorce less, have more and better sex, and are happier in their marriages than religious people. But when I ask them for studies, they don’t have any. It’s like they believe things without any evidence at all.

In addition, atheists have lower marriage rates than religious people. That’s not surprising, since marriage only works if both people are willing to give up on pleasure in the moment in order to build something together, over the long term.

Now clearly, there are going to be atheists with great marriages that never break up. But individual cases do not overturn peer-reviewed research studies. The fact is that marriage is an institution that is soaked through with moral values and moral obligations. If you think that morality is just arbitrary customs and conventions that vary by time and place, as is logically consistent with atheism, then the odds are that you won’t be able to stay married for long – if you even get married at all.

William Lane Craig explains the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

Probably one of the most common questions that you hear from people who don’t fully understand Christianity is this question: “why did Jesus have to die?”. The answer that most Christians seem to hold to is that 1) humans are rebelling against God, 2) Humans deserve punishment for their rebellion, 3) Humans cannot escape the punishment for their rebellion on their own, 4) Jesus was punished in the place of the rebellious humans, 5) Those who accept this sacrifice are forgiven for their rebelling.

Are humans rebellious?

Some people think that humans are not really rebellious at all, but it’s actually easy to see. You can see it just by looking at how people spend their time. Some of us have no time for God at all, and instead try to fill our lives with material possessions and experiences in order to have happy feelings. Some of us embrace just the parts of God that make us feel happy, like church and singing and feelings of comfort, while avoiding the hard parts of that vertical relationship; reading, thinking and disagreeing with people who don’t believe the truth about God. And so on.

This condition of being in rebellion is universal, and all of us are guilty of breaking the law at some point. All of us deserve to be separated from God’s goodness and love. Even if we wanted to stop rebelling, we would not be able to make up for the times where we do rebel by being good at other times, any more than we could get out of a speeding ticket by appealing to the times when we drove at the speed limit, (something that I never do, in any case).

This is not to say that all sinners are punished equally – the degree of punishment is proportional to the sins a person commits. However, the standard is perfection. And worse than that, the most important moral obligation is a vertical moral obligation. You can’t satisfy the demands of the moral law just by making your neighbor happy, while treating God like a pariah. The first commandment is to love God, the second is to love your neighbor. Even loving your neighbor requires you to tell your neighbor the truth – not just to make them feel good. The vertical relationship is more important than the horizontal one, and we’ve all screwed up the vertical relationship. We all don’t want God to be there, telling us what’s best for us, interfering with our fun. We don’t want to relate to a loving God if it means having to care what he thinks about anything that we are doing.

Who is going to pay for our rebellion?

The Christian answer to the problem of our rebellion is that Jesus takes the punishment we deserve in our place.

However, I’ve noticed that on some atheist blogs, they don’t like the idea that someone else can take our punishment for us to exonerate us for crimes that we’ve committed. So I’ll quote from this post by the great William Lane Craig, to respond to that objection.

Excerpt:

The central problem of the Penal Theory is, as you point out, understanding how punishing a person other than the perpetrator of the wrong can meet the demands of justice. Indeed, we might even say that it would be wrong to punish some innocent person for the crimes I commit!

It seems to me, however, that in other aspects of human life we do recognize this practice. I remember once sharing the Gospel with a businessman. When I explained that Christ had died to pay the penalty for our sins, he responded, “Oh, yes, that’s imputation.” I was stunned, as I never expected this theological concept to be familiar to this non-Christian businessman. When I asked him how he came to be familiar with this idea, he replied, “Oh, we use imputation all the time in the insurance business.” He explained to me that certain sorts of insurance policy are written so that, for example, if someone else drives my car and gets in an accident, the responsibility is imputed to me rather than to the driver. Even though the driver behaved recklessly, I am the one held liable; it is just as if I had done it.

Now this is parallel to substitutionary atonement. Normally I would be liable for the misdeeds I have done. But through my faith in Christ, I am, as it were, covered by his divine insurance policy, whereby he assumes the liability for my actions. My sin is imputed to him, and he pays its penalty. The demands of justice are fulfilled, just as they are in mundane affairs in which someone pays the penalty for something imputed to him. This is as literal a transaction as those that transpire regularly in the insurance industry.

So, it turns out that the doctrine of substitionary atonement is not as mysterious or as objectionable as everyone seems to think it is.

Jay Richards: How to end poverty in 10 tough steps

Jay Richards: How to end poverty in 10 tough steps
Jay Richards: How to end poverty in 10 tough steps

Why are some nations more prosperous than others? Is it because the wealthier nations exploit the poorer ones, keeping them poor? Or are there certain policies, laws, and cultural beliefs that lead to prosperity? Dr. Jay Richards delivers a lecture for Impact 360, in which he identifies 10 different factors that lift nations out of poverty, and explains why they work.

Summary:

  1. Establish and maintain the rule of law.
  2. Focus the jurisdiction of government on maintaining the rule of law, and limit its jurisdiction over the economy and the institutions of civil society.
  3. Implement a formal property system with consistent and accessible means for securing a clear title to property one owns.
  4. Encourage economic freedom: Allow people to trade goods and services unencumbered by tariffs, subsidies, price controls, undue regulation, and restrictive immigration policies.
  5. Encourage stable families and other important private institutions that mediate between the individual and the state.
  6. Encourage belief in the truth that the universe is purposeful and makes sense.
  7. Encourage the right cultural mores—orientation to the future and the belief that progress but not utopia is possible in this life; willingness to save and delay gratification; willingness to risk, to respect the rights and property of others, to be diligent, to be thrifty.
  8. Instill a proper understanding of the nature of wealth and poverty—that wealth is created, that free trade is win-win, that risk is essential to enterprise, that trade-offs are unavoidable, that the success of others need not come at your expense, and that you can pursue legitimate self-interest and the common good at the same time.
  9. Focus on your comparative advantage rather than protecting what used to be your competitive advantage.
  10. Work hard.

Solving economic problems is just like solving any other problem. First, we read to learn what has been proven to work. Then, we do what works. I want to encourage Christians to move beyond good intentions to good results when voting for economic policies. Often, people on the left want to “fix” inequalities by doing what feels good to them, or what sounds good to them. Economics is about choosing policies that we know have worked in other times and places.

Let’s talk more about #4 from Richards’ list.

Economic freedom linked to prosperity

Consider the book “The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution” by famous conservative theologian Wayne Grudem.

You can even read an article about it from the left-wing Christian Post here:

In a presentation of his new book at the Family Research Council, biblical theologian Wayne Grudem argued that poor countries can become rich only by producing their own prosperity, and that the free market is not only the economic answer, but in tune with the Bible’s moral teachings.

“Every nation that has escaped poverty has done so by producing its own prosperity,” said Grudem, professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona. Perhaps best known for his book Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Grudem presented the key themes in his new book The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution. The very first of his 79 factors to help nations escape poverty in “a free market economy.”

[…]Grudem argued that the wealth of a country is determined by its per-capita income – the average amount of money each citizen makes. The only way to increase this is to increase the production of goods and services, creating more wealth for everyone, he said.

[…]The professor pointed to 79 factors to help a country produce more goods and services, in three different key areas: the economic system, government, and cultural beliefs and values.

For the economic system, Grudem mentioned the Index of Economic Freedom, a report put out by the Heritage Foundation to judge each country’s openness to trade and wealth creation.

You can find the Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom right here. Take a look at the countries at the top… these countries also have a very high per capita income. Their citizens are earning a lot of money by selling what they produce to willing customers. The ones at the bottom are run by socialist governments. You wouldn’t want to try to make a living in Venezuela or Cuba or North Korea. But these are the places that American socialists admire and support. Does that tell you something about what they would do to you, if they got hold of the reins of government?

The Fraser Institute in Canada did a similar ranking of economic freedom (economic freedom = low taxes, low regulation, free trade), and they concluded:

Countries in the top quartile (25 per cent) of economic freedom (such as the U.K., Japan and Ireland) had an average per-capita income of US$40,376 in 2016 compared to US$5,649 for the bottom quartile countries (such as Venezuela, Iran and Zimbabwe). And life expectancy is 79.5 years in the top quartile of countries compared to 64.4 years in the bottom quartile.

Economic freedom works best.