Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Resurection of Jesus: Fact or Fiction?

I say fact, unapologeticly and unabashadly so.

However, not all would agree with me. A friend pointed me to this article he came across recently in which a historian, Richard Carrier, attempts to prove that the resurection of Jesus never happened. To the layman, he makes a compelling argument. He appears to have his facts and order and makes the reader think twice about these beliefs on which we hang our faith. My reason for posting this here is for the purposes of preparing Christians to defend their position on the resurection and other related issues. He is not the only person who thinks this way. I am certainly not smart enough to go "toe to toe," so to speak, with this guy (yet). What I will do is make some observations where I think that Carrier and his arguement fall short. Let me first say that my comments will be focused on what Carrier calls his "Main Argument." I would suggest you read the main argument first before you continue onto my comments. It is rather lengthy (13 pages), but worth a skim at least.

To quickly sum up Carrier's main argument, his points are that there is very little historical data on the resurection, that the story evolved through time, and that the first generation Christians never believed in a bodily resurection, that is, the resurection of a corpse, but rather, in only a spritual resurection.

1. Carrier has an agenda

It is important to note a few things about Carrier himself that make this argument interesting. First, Carrier travels around to Universities giving talks on this topic, trying to "convert" people to this idea. As a good friend of mine said, time plus inteligence plus a devilish purpose can do a lot. I am not saying that since he has an agenda it makes his argument invalid. If that were the case, then no Christian scientist would be credible. Rather, I think we need to understand that Carrier is attempting to prove that the resurection is not true from the outset. He is not just sharing information from a non-biased viewpoint. As his bio states, he grew up a "Freethinking Methodist," whatever that means. He must have been really hurt by the church at some point in his life. This is worth noting from the outset.

2. The argument reeks of Early German Liberalism

Early German Liberalism was a movevement in the mid to late 1800's that was concerned with removing any eyewitness accounts that the Bible claimed. This movement eventually evolved into another movement you may have heard of; the Third Reich and eventually the Nazi party. The basic thought process, as I understand it, is that if eyewitness accounts are removed from the Bible, then the Bible is proven unreliable, and we no longer have a responsibility to it. This is a very dangerous endeavor.

3. Some of his assumed facts are wrong

Some of the ponts that Carrier assumes as fact are wrong. There are several examples, but I am not historically sound enough to catch them all, as some of my colleagues are. One is his idea that the books of the Bible were anonymous and that authors names were attached to them half of a century later. There is an army of scholars and hundreds of years of church history that says that is simply not true. Plus, most of the NT books are written in the first generation of Christianity, where it would have been obvious who wrote them, and if the books were being circulated under a different name, the eyewitnesses would have called them out.

4. There are many noticable differences between the New Testament story of Jesus and the mythological fables we see throughout history

Again, this is not my area of expertise, but worth mentioning briefly. The countless fables that we read about throughout history (fables, mythology, fantastic stories, heroes etc.) are night and day different from the New Testament account of Jesus. Literally books have been written on this, and I will try to find some to reference here. The primary differences are in the nature of the outpouring of God and the varification of the incidences. The outpouring of God in these other fables is hyperbolicly extreme. Miricles seem to be for show and are very gaudy in nature. I reference you to The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, an apocraphal work from the 2nd century AD (CE). Giving this work a quick scan, you will see how different the miricles are as opposed to the New Testament.

The second reason they are different is because Luke, the writer of the Gospel of Luke and Acts, was concerned with accuracy. We see more detailed physical discription in Luke than other writers. We also see Luke nail the historical facts time and time again. We see the resurected Jesus appearing to literally hundreds of people after his resurection. We see miricles that are verified (i.e. the formerly blind man showing himself to the priests (critics)). The New Testament is just a different animal than are these other fables.

5. Paul could not have believed in only a spiritual resurection

Lastly, and in my opinion most importantly, Paul could not have believed in a spiritual resuresction only. Paul was a Pharasee. He apparently did not stop being a Pharasee when he became a Christian, because he claims the title several times in the New Testament (Phil 3:1-5, Acts 26:1-5). One of the foundational beliefs of the Pharisees was in a bodily resuresction. In fact, Paul's message is basically that he believes in the resurection like all of the other Jews, the only difference is that he believes it has already happened. This is the primary deviding point between Pharisees and Saducees: the Saducees believed there was no resurection.

This is similar to what the Jahovah's Witnesses have done with John 1:1, which, in their version states "In the begining was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god." Even though the Greek would allow this liberty with the language, it is inconcievable that John, a Jew from birth and a disciple, monotheistic to the core, would have written "a god" when he could perhaps not even concieve of the idea of their being multiple gods. In a similar way, it is a must that Paul believes in a bodily resurection because of his Pharisaic background.

In conclusion, there will always be detractors and smart people who are dedicated to disprove or combat Christianity. The fact remains that the message of Christ is "foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18). Our job is to stay educated and in the "current of the river" in order that we may inteligently discuss and defend our positions. I believe that Christians should be the most educated and informed people on earth. If we really love Jesus the way we say we do, we will not stop until we have turned over every stone in order to better understand him and the world in which he lived. In the end, though, no one has ever been reasoned into the Kingdom. God's Spirit must touch a life and change a human heart. Let us continue to be good witnesses to the world for the cause of Christ.

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Closer Look at Acts: Part 1, Theology From History

I recently purchased a commentary on the Book of Acts written by my friend and former college professor Dr. Wave Nunnally. The commentary is very exhaustive (538 pages!), but it is proving to be a great help and supplement to the biblical text. The commentary is still in the process of being published, and is not released yet, but I was able to obtain one from him. I encourage you to check it out when it is released in the next few months.

In the mean time, I plan to share some of the great insights that the commentary shares. Much of this I already new from college, but this has been a good reminder of important biblical truths and practices. This week we look at the reality that Acts intends that Theology is derived from historical narrative. In other words, Luke (the writer of Acts) is not only a historian, but a theologian as well. He is not arbitrarily recording events from the early church in the first century, but intentionally taking the reader on a theological journey. As Nunnally states, "[Luke] frames his narratives in such a way that the reader is given hints as to weather the author approves or disapproves of the actions of the characters."

Though it seems very clear that it is possible to derive theology from narrative, some have challenged this idea. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stewart "have questioned the appropriateness of deriving theology and practice from biblical material composed in narrative form." However, this position brings up several problems. One, this idea would exclude a large portion of the Old Testament as well as large portions of the Gospels from being able to communicate theology and practice. Second, it seems to create a hierarchy of scripture, or a canon within a canon, if you will. Lastly, it seems to go against Paul's words in Timothy 3:16-17 which states "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be equipped for every good work."

Luke is perhaps one of the greatest and most significant first century historians whose work still survives today. He tells a story, but he also communicates a timeless message. We are truly indebted to Luke for his Herculean contribution to our Bible today.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Book Review: Experiencing Velvet Elvis

Minutes ago I finished reading Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell (click on the image to buy) and I must say that this is one of the best books I have read in a long time.

The premise is this: Bell at one point bought a velvet Elvis painting. He observes that the artist did not sign his name, but rather just an initial, and assumes that the artist must have been a big deal at the time because he expected people to know who he was with a single initial. Now, what if the artist suggested that the painting was so good that there should be no other works of Elvis ever painted? We would think he was crazy (and probably pretty egotistical). Bell makes the point that this is what we have done with the church: that we are still advocating one model as the only way to do it. His subtitle then becomes Repainting the Christian Faith.

Let me start my review by saying that you should not read this book if you are close minded. Bell certainly pushes the envelope with this work. That is a huge part of why I enjoyed it so much. But, if you take him too seriously or get easily angered at new ideas, this book is not for you. He challenges your thinking and stretches your mind, not in a harsh or demeaning way, but as a fellow thinker on the Christian journey. I did not agree with everything Bell said, but there are a number of great observations and perspectives that Bell shares with the reader. The book is an experience. It is a quick read, but in the time you are not reading it, the ideas will run laps in your mind. Bell does not claim to have all the answers. Rather, he spurs the reader to deep thought and evaluation of how the church has done things over the years.

I will make 3 observation concerning the content:

1. Bell is very careful to maintain the Jewish culture in the interpretation of the Bible, something that Christendom has lost for the most part, to their detriment. If the reader is not framiliar with the world of First Century Palestine, Bell's recounts and explanations of common biblical stories will be enlightening.

2. Bell puts huge importance on the church (you and me) being involved in the Social Justice arena. He attributes the bad reputation some have of the church to condemning the world rather than serving them and meeting their needs as we should be doing. He has a huge heart for the poor and needy in our society. He really made me consider what I can do to help out more.

3. Bell has an incredibly high view of people, and believes God does too. He makes the statement that he learned that he needed to have faith in God, and got to the point where he did, and then realized that God has faith in us too. He also has some interesting observations on sin and grace and the churches message in those areas.

I encourage you to experience Velvet Elvis. I found this book amazingly freeing and an encouragement for myself to continue to think outside the box. See if it won't challenge you and open up ideas for you the way it did me.

Here is a sampling of quotes from the book:

"[T]his book is for those who need a fresh take on Jesus and what it means to live the kind of life he teaches us to live." Pg 14

"The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God. We are dealing with somebody we make up." Pg 25

"We have to embrace the Bible as the wild, uncensored, passionate account it is of people experiencing the living God." Pg 63

"Salvation is living more and more in harmony with God, a process that will go on forever." Pg 107

"The resurrection for [early Christians] was not an abstract spiritual concept; it was a concrete social and economic reality. God raised Jesus from the dead to show the world that Jesus is Lord, and it is through his power and his example and his spirit that the world is restored." Pg 164

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Myth of The Week: The Missing Day

Ok, so I am sure that all of you have gotten that email that claims that NASA's scientists found a missing day in the cosmos that matched up with the day missing recorded in the bible. I remember being very happy when I read this story, thinking that science was serving Christianity in a huge way (which I still believe it does). However, as this article shows, the fact that NASA experienced such a discovery is merely a myth. I get irritated when well meaning Christians get too ambitious for their own good and authenticity and truth are compromised. There are literally hundreds of these throughout the history of Christendom. Can we please just present the bible and our information truthfully so we don't come off looking desperate?

Anyway, give the article a read. Here is the closing paragraph from it, which I think makes a great point.

[O]ur willingness to accept legends depends far more upon their expression of concepts we want to believe than upon their plausibility. If the sun once really did stand still for a day, the best evidence we'd have for proving it would be the accounts of people who saw it happen. That is what the Bible is said to offer. Some of us accept that, and some of us don't.