White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

Camping Out

Harold CampingThis post is actually written for followers of Harold Camping to read on May 22, after their leader’s failed prediction of Judgment Day on May 21 (today) passes.

Undaunted by our Lord’s explicit warning against predicting “the day and the hour” of his return and his warning about false prophets in the last days, as well as by his own failed speculation that Jesus would return in 1994, Mr. Camping has squandered enormous resources on full-page ads in national newspapers and billboards across the country for his new date.

Reared in the Christian Reformed Church (in which he was an elder), Mr. Camping owns “Family Radio Network,” with over a hundred stations and translators in the US, and others around the world, including Moscow, Istanbul, and in various parts of Africa. His organization also owns several TV stations.

I recall listening to Mr. Camping’s “Open Forum” as a teen-ager, hearing for the first time serious teaching on the doctrines of grace. However, since 1988, when he left the Christian Reformed Church, he has gradually adopted a variety of teachings. In biblical interpretation, he employes a hermeneutic in which there are multiple layers of meaning and, as in much of medieval speculation, the “spiritual interpretation” seems to be his preferred method. So it’s not surprising that he would mine the Bible much like a medieval alchemist, looking for the secret meaning.

Some of these teachings are well-represented in evangelicalism, but contrary to Reformed teaching—such as the distinction between a rapture of the saints and the second coming of Christ. Other teachings are odd interpretations that he claims to have received directly from God, although they resemble past errors in church history. In recent years, he has argued that there is no eternal punishment (hell is simply death) and so emphasizes God’s eternal decree that Christ’s work in history is merely a demonstration of what he already accomplished in eternity.

By the turn of the millennium, he announced the end of the “church era,” calling his followers to abandon their local churches. And many did. Years ago, as president of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, which sponsors James Boice’s “Bible Study Hour,” I met with Mr. Camping. He was asking us to delete any reference to the church in Dr. Boice’s sermons, which we refused to do. So many loyal listeners could no longer hear the broadcast. Resolute and self-confident in the meeting, Mr. Camping seemed for the first time to me then to have crossed the line from the idiosyncratic to the heretical.

Apostasy is a serious business. Nevertheless, Christ extends his open hand to Mr. Camping and his followers to return to him and his body. Tragically, some followers will be completely disillusioned on May 22. Having already abandoned the church, many will likely become skeptical of anyone who claims to teach Scripture, indeed even of Scripture itself. (I’ve even heard of one follower who said that if the prediction turns out to be wrong, then the Bible is wrong.)

Of course, Jesus may return tomorrow, or the next day, or long after we die. We simply do not know. However, we can be sure that the errors that he teaches—quite apart from his failed predictions—are enough to regard him, tragically, as a false prophet.

Also tragic is the shame that such movements bring to the cause of Christ. Predictably (no pun intended), atheists are planning “rapture parties” around the world. (BBC report: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-13468131; NBC report: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2J0ce66hzQ

As for the rest of us, we’ll be in church this Lord’s Day, proclaiming Christ’s death and resurrection, longing for his return…on his Father’s timetable, which none of us knows.

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Cleaning up after Harold

I’ve read stories this morning at Slate and in The New York Times about Harold Camping’s prediction that the rapture will occur tomorrow. Each one makes the same kind of reporting mistakes that drive our friends at GetReligion batty. But what’s really tragic about the mainstream reporting on this issue is the barely disguised, thinly veiled mockery that provides the undercurrent for each narrative. There’s been fantastic theological and exegetical reflection elsewhere (here and here, for starters), which I won’t repeat here. Instead, I want to think about how we should interact with our friends and neighbors who have been overtaken by Camping’s madness.

A few days ago, the local Los Angeles evening news program featured an interview with Michael Shermer, the former Christian turned skeptic that Mike Horton interviewed for the next episode of White Horse Inn coming up this Sunday. Shermer and the anchor sat across from one another and traded smirks, eye rolls, and knowing grins about all those deluded Christians who believed that Jesus was coming back on Saturday. At some level you probably expect this from people who have no concept of living between the ages; of praying with the apostle John at the end of Revelation, “even so, come Lord Jesus!”; of feeling the same missionary burden that propelled these otherwise normal Americans into the streets to warn of the judgment to come.

The real danger post-Saturday doesn’t come from the skeptics, however, it comes from people like you and me. Having lived through Camping’s failed prediction in 1994 and his 2002 rejection of the visible body of Christ on earth, many Reformational Christians feel the same desire to smirk, roll their eyes, and use the worst kind of language to describe fellow Christians who have been deluded by false teaching. We also probably feel a justified sense of outrage that Camping is making a mockery of Christ and his church, giving skeptics like Shermer a free shot at one of our cherished hopes.

We must be very careful about how we respond. Will we join our friends at the “Rapture Parties” that are planned for pubs and living rooms around the nation? Will we laugh at those who have spent the last several months of their lives dedicated to a true but untimely belief? What will we say on Saturday night or Sunday morning?

History teaches us that previous generations caught up in eschatological fervor often fell away from Christ when their deeply held beliefs about the end of the world didn’t pan out. While Camping must answer for his false teaching at the end of the age, Reformational Christians are facing a pastoral problem come Sunday morning: how can we apply the salve of the Gospel to the wounded sheep who will be wandering aimlessly, having discovered that what they thought was true (so true they were willing to upend their lives over it) was not? If this isn’t true, they might reason, then what other deeply held beliefs and convictions and doctrines and hopes might not be true?

It’s at this point that we need to be ready to provide a reasonable defense of our reasonable faith. Christianity is not founded upon some complex Bible code that needs years of analysis to reveal its secret. Christianity is about a man who claimed to be God, who died in full public view as a criminal, and was inexplicably raised from the dead three days later appearing to a multitude of witnesses. When his followers, who witnessed his resurrection, began speaking of it publicly, they connected the prophecies of the Old Testament to the life and death and resurrection of this man who claimed the power to forgive sins. This is the heart of the Christian faith, the message that deserves to be featured on billboards, sides of buses, and pamphlets all over the world.  It is also the message that needs to be reinvested into the hearts and lives of those who found hope and meaning in Harold Camping’s latest bad idea.

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Reformation in Korea

Yullin Presbyterian ChurchI just returned from Korea, after 10 days of fellowship with brothers and sisters seeking a new Reformation not only in their own nation but also throughout Asia. Much as is the case in the U.S., the vitality of sound faith and practice in Korean churches has been challenged by consumerism, pragmatism, and Arminian revivalism. The history is rich, especially given the fact that the earliest missions were dominated by Presbyterian leaders and the Presbyterian Church (mainline as well as conservative denominations) remains the largest body there. However, a number of solid Reformed and Presbyterian leaders there are longing for a new Reformation that will recover a more Christ-centered, Word-proclaiming, and doctrinally sound faith and practice.

Together with my colleague, Julius Kim (and our wives), I was treated to the remarkable hospitality of several churches and institutions. Sponsored by the Yullin Presbyterian Church in Seoul, the trip included a conference at Yullin on recovering Reformed theology and worship, with 1400 conferees. I also spoke at Hapdong Theological Seminary and Torch Trinity Graduate School of Theology and preached at Yullin Church and Jesus Family Presbyterian Church. The trip also included interviews with one of the largest newspapers in Korea as well as the Ministry and Theology Journal, the most widely read Christian magazine in Korea. Lastly, I gave a lecture at the Korean Reformed Theological Society meeting.

Three things especially encouraged me.

First, Yullin-pastored by The Rev. Nam-Joon Kim, is a hub of reformation not only in Korea but throughout Asia, especially China. It’s one of the most rigorous disciple-making churches I’ve encountered, with serious courses in Scripture and Christian doctrine required for membership and even more for office-bearers. The church even houses an amazing collection of sixteenth and seventeenth-century books and manuscripts as well as a whole team that oversees a bee-hive of activity for database and curriculum development. Among the 4,500 members are many young people, hungering for God’s Word. Out of this concern for truth there is an amazing range of efforts in missions, evangelism, and outreach in Seoul and beyond. It’s truly remarkable to see such a dedication to getting the gospel right and getting it out!

Second, Reformation and Revival Publishing, under the leadership of The Rev. Geum-San Baek, has been translating and publishing all of my books and we are even talking about the possibility of a Korean edition of Modern Reformation.

Third, my interest in expanding our reach into China was encouraged by conversations with Pastor Nam-Joon Kim and others who have established contacts throughout the house church movement. As the Christian movement grows there (soon China will have the largest Christian population in the world), the opportunity to infuse it with Reformation theology is very exciting.

As we continue this fellowship with like-minded brothers and sisters in Asia, please pray that White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation will be able to make the most of strategic opportunities.

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What hath Jerusalem to do with Palo Alto?

Church, digitizedSubmitted by Dr. Brian J. Lee of Christ Reformed Church in Washington, D.C.

The May 16th New Yorker (behind firewall) delivers “The Facebook Sonnet,” a delightful poem by Sherman Alexie, which captures the anomie of “the endless high-school reunion” that is Facebook. Interesting that for Alexie the desire to “exhume, resume, and extend Childhood” ends with a perversion of the divine:

“…Let one’s search for God become public domain.
Let church.com become our church.

Let’s sign up, sign in, and confess
Here at the altar of loneliness.”

Where is wisdom to be found? Theologians seek to rebuild the house of God as a “virtual resource center,” but poets see the pitfalls of making the sacramental digital.

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What makes a good resume?

We’ve all heard of resume-padding, but this is a little ridiculous:

A pastor who regaled family and parishioners with tales from his time in the Navy SEALs is backtracking after his story turned out to be nothing more than a self-described “ego-booster,” according to reports.

Without knowing the man, his ministry, or his preaching, it’s impossible to say how this lie found its way into his sermons, his counseling, or his leadership. But it certainly had to have an impact. Contrast how this pastor wanted to be seen and known with how the apostle Paul describes his ministry in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5,

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Paul’s perception of his own ministry and of his own place in that ministry went arm in arm with his message of Christ crucified, the power of God displayed in the hiddenness of the cross. Sadly, many modern pastors do not have the same confidence that Paul had in his message.  But when the message changes to something more than the scandal of Christ and Him crucified, there must be a corresponding change to the messenger. Messages that are focused on me and my abilities and my successes are far more convincing if they are delivered by a man who seems to have experienced the success he offers in his sermons.

The foolishness of the cross remains a scandal among those who profess to worship the risen Christ, even among those who are called to be his heralds. When faced with our own personal sins and idols, the temptation is strong to make ourselves more than we really are, to pretend to be more than we have ever been. But when we succumb to that temptation we also turn away from the only hope we can ever have to be loved according to our real circumstances rather than the fiction that we create, believe, and project to others.

I hope that for this particular pastor, someone in his church or some peer reminds him of Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians 2 and I hope it changes the way he preaches to desperate sinners and counsels those who just can’t seem to rise above their circumstances. Having had his glory pulled out from under him, he is in a perfect position to remember the glory of the One who was lifted up for him. May all our pastors take refuge in the foolishness and weakness and hiddenness of God.

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Revised “Christianity Explored”!

The Great Commission has been our year-long theme at White Horse Inn. In fact, everything we do is focused on getting the gospel right and getting it out. We know we’re not a church, but God has used the White Horse Inn, Modern Reformation magazine, events and our other resources to help Christians know what they believe and why they believe it. And even many pastors have written to tell us that these conversations have changed their own conversations and directions in their ministry.

But beyond helping Christians know the faith better, there is a tremendous need for resources to help us to communicate this faith to those outside the church. There just isn’t very much out there, frankly. Of course, there are lots of evangelistic programs-lines to memorize, with pretty strong (and predictable) pressure to “close the deal” at the end.

Well, we can’t complain any more about our resources. Unlike other evangelistic courses, “Christianity Explored” isn’t formulaic. It isn’t built around themes, but around the unfolding drama of Jesus-his person and his work-in the Gospel of Mark. The author, Rico Tice, is a long-time friend-we roomed next door to each other at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and kept each other up many a night talking theology and evangelism. Rico’s example alone is a constant source of encouragement to make the most of every opportunity to share the gospel. And it is the gospel that drives him. I love his familiar line, “The bad news is worse than you thought; the good news is greater than you ever imagined.”

Besides the content, there’s finally a practical program. Yes, a program. Only this one is sound! It’s easy for us as ministers to talk about evangelism as a noble ideal, but never get around to it. D. L. Moody once replied to a critic of his methods, “I like my way of doing better than your way of not doing it.” Well now you don’t have to choose. The program is based on the content, not vice versa. But there is a DVD (also CD), with Rico walking folks through Mark. There’s a Leader’s Guide as well as a Handbook for others following along. You can do this with your family, invite over some neighbors over to the house or do the course at a local spot where non-Christians who wouldn’t attend church can show up, listen in, and ask questions. And you can go through the course with your whole church. Even mature believers will gain new insights-and fresh appreciation for the glory of Christ in his gospel.

Sorry to go on about this, but “Christianity Explored”-especially with this newly revised edition-is exactly what we’ve need for a long time. My prayer is that churches faithful to getting the gospel right will become just as known for getting the gospel out. And “Christianity Explored” is the best supporting resource I know of for helping us to do that. The best way of getting more information on “Christianity Explored” in the US is by contacting Brad Byrd at The Good Book Company. You can also visit www.christianityexplored.org.

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IX Marks on Church Membership

There are few evangelical churches that practice formal church membership anymore. Our friends at IX Marks (associated with Mark Dever and Capitol Hill Baptist Church) recently posted a new eJournal on the topic of church membership. Matt Chandler’s lead article, Is Church Membership Biblical?, is especially good and worth your time to read. Here’s the intro:

I was 28 when I became the pastor of Highland Village First Baptist Church (now known as The Village Church). I had had a rough go early on in my church experience, and at that time I was not fully out of my “disenchanted with the local church” phase.

In all honesty, I wasn’t sure at the time that church membership was biblical. Despite that, the Spirit had made it all too clear that I was going to be pastoring this small church in the suburbs of Dallas. That was one of the many ironies of my life in those days.

Highland Village First Baptist Church was a “seeker-sensitive” church in the Willow Creek mold and had no formal membership process, although they were actively working on one and wanted the new pastor’s input. I had a strong understanding of the church universal but wasn’t well versed—and, as I said, somewhat skeptical—about the church local. We started growing quickly with young and oftentimes disenchanted 20-somethings who usually had no church background, or bad church backgrounds. They liked The Village because we were “different.” This always struck me as strange because we weren’t doing anything but preaching and singing.

In conversations with these men and women I began to hear things like “The church is corrupt; it’s just about money and a pastor’s ego,” or “I love Jesus, it’s the church I have a problem with.” My favorite one was, “When you organize the church it loses its power.” Although something occasionally resonated in me with these comments (I, along with most of my generation, have authority and commitment issues), I found them confusing since they were being made to me by people who were attending the church where I was the pastor.

Read the whole thing here.

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The Death of Osama bin Laden: What Kind of Justice Has Been Done?

Osama Bin Laden - Dead 2011Dr. Horton’s post below was originally published on Christianity Today.

Understandably, news of Osama bin Laden’s demise at the hands of U. S. Navy Seals provoked cries of celebration. The mastermind of terror, even against civilians (indeed, against fellow Muslims) has been brought to justice. But what kind of justice?

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, President George W. Bush authorized “Operation Infinite Justice.” Especially after his comment that “this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while,” however, the mission was renamed “Operation Enduring Freedom.” Reportedly, the name-change was due at least in part to the concern raised by Muslims that only God can execute “infinite justice.” One would have hoped that the change had been provoked instead by Christian reaction.

Islam, of course, is not just a religion; it’s a cultural and even geo-political reality. As such, its strict adherents excoriate co-religionists like Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im who call for an “Islamic Reformation” that would make jihad into a spiritual struggle rather than an armed military conflict.

Unfortunately, Christianity has had a long and complicated history of its own on this score. On one hand, the fourth-century theologian Augustine responded to the sacking of Rome with a detailed scriptural argument for two cities: the City of Man and the City of God. Each city has its own origins, ends, and means. As citizens of both kingdoms, every believer is called to recognize the difference between them. Compared with the City of God, the City of Man is hardly a true commonwealth. It cannot ensure ultimate peace, security, justice, and love. Nevertheless, Augustine argues, it can still be considered a commonwealth in a limited, provisional, and penultimate sense. Out of these reflections (especially in the City of God) there arose a legacy of just war theory and a Christian realism about the legitimacy and limitation of human societies in this time between the times.

Nevertheless, the Middle Ages gave rise to a fusion of Christ and culture known as “Christendom.” In the name of Christendom, kings and their knights rode off to crusades with papal blessing, as David and the hosts of Yahweh redivivus, cleansing the Holy Land of infidels.

In spite of its own contradictions in practice, the magisterial Reformation sought to distinguish between the kingdom of Christ, which conquers by Word and Spirit, and the kingdoms of this age that are given the divine authority to defend temporal justice. Drawing on the New Testament and church fathers, especially Augustine, the reformers realized that there was no theocracy in the new covenant; all nation-states were “secular” in the sense of being common rather than holy. With no holy land, there can be no holy war. Only just wars, based on natural law.

But ideas like “Christendom” die hard. We saw that with the memorial service after 9/11. Held in a building popularly known as the “National Cathedral,” with military honor guards processing and the strains of “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” announcements of a resolve to secure infinite justice in an open-ended “crusade” provided fodder for Islamic extremists in their effort to replay ancient battles. A romantic patriotism has always seethed beneath the professed separation of church and state, as in the famous “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Written by a Unitarian, the hymn confuses Union victory with Christ’s final judgment. Something very close to “infinite justice.”

Cultures are the most dangerous when they invoke holy texts for their defense of holy land through holy war. However, Christians have no biblical basis for doing this in the first place. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly abrogated the ceremonial and civil law that God had given uniquely to the nation of Israel. Now is the era of common grace and common land, obeying rulers—even pagan ones—and living under constitutions other than the one that God gave through Moses. As Paul reminds us in Romans 13, secular rulers are given the power of the temporal sword—finite justice—while the gospel conquers in the power of the Spirit through that Word “above all earthly pow’rs.”

What does all of this mean for our response to the news about the most notorious terrorist in recent history?

First, it means that we can rejoice that even in this present evil age, God’s common grace and common justice are being displayed through secular authorities. “For [the ruler] is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. … Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom. 13:4, 7). Yet the divine wrath that rulers execute is temporal and finite rather than eternal and infinite. Such justice is never so pure that it is unmingled with injustice, never so final that it satisfies God’s eternal law. In view of the image of God stamped on every person, justice must always be tempered by love. Commenting on Genesis 9:6, John Calvin reminded us that we cannot hate even our most perverse enemies, because of the image of God in them. In one sense, the creation of every person in God’s image provokes the temporal sword against murderers. Yet in another sense, it also restrains our lust for revenge. “Should any one object, that this divine image has been obliterated, the solution is easy; first, there yet exists some remnant of it, so that man is possessed of no small dignity; and, secondly, the Celestial Creator himself, however corrupted man may be, still keeps in view the end of his original creation; and according to his example, we ought to consider for what end he created men, and what excellence he has bestowed upon them above the rest of living beings.”

Second, it means that we cannot rejoice in the death of the wicked any more than does God (Ezek. 18:23). We may take satisfaction that temporal justice has been served, but Christians should display a sober restraint. When Christ returns, bringing infinite justice in his wake, his saints will rejoice in the death of his enemies. For now, however, he calls us to pray for our enemies, even for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). This is the day of salvation, calling sinners to repent and believe the gospel. We may delight in the temporal justice shown to evildoers, but leave the final justice to God.

Third, it means that the mandate to believe and to proclaim the gospel to every person is all the more urgent. After all, where would we be ourselves if Christ, in his first advent, had brought final and infinite justice instead of bearing it on behalf of his people? On the cross, Christ willingly offered himself as the lightning rod for God’s infinite wrath, rising triumphantly on the third day. The events of 9/11 did not change everything in the way that the events of 33 A.D. did. Nor will the death of Osama bin Laden on 5/1/11 satisfy the final justice that awaits him—and all of us—on the last day.

So as we take satisfaction in the honorable service of U.S. forces in bringing a terrorist to justice in the court of the temporal city, let us never dare to confuse this with “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). In our response, let us use this opportunity to display to our non-Christian neighbors the radical contrasts between the biblical view of God, humanity, redemption, and the last judgment, and the religious and secularist distortions—even those that profess to be Christian.

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Seized by Secularism

Like Europe, the United States has now been “seized by secularism,” Newt Gingrich warned at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Wednesday. As evidence of the replacement of Christianity with secularism, the former House Speaker cited the following: replacing Anno Domini (A.D.) with the Common Era (C.E.), banning school prayer, striking out “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the court battle over the Mojave Desert Cross that commemorates World War I veterans. Gingrich explained how “secularist fanaticism” encouraged him to join the Church of Rome in 2008. He asked the audience to imagine themselves as the pope, facing a culture that tears down crosses and bans school prayer.

At the same time, Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly was ruffled over the current TIME cover story, reporting the denial of hell by evangelical pastor Rob Bell in his book, Love Wins. O’Reilly said we need hell for the Pol Pots, Lenins, and Hitlers of the world, though he cited official Roman Catholic statements about those who try sincerely to do good as unlikely candidates for hell. So Ghandi is in, but Hitler is out. Ah, so good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell—and, of course, I’m a good person. If this isn’t a secularization of the Christian faith, I don’t know what is.

Also in the last couple days, MSNBC commentator Lawrence O’Donnell took on Rusch Limbaugh for distorting Jesus’s teaching. After a tirade against the Left for using Jesus as a mascot for socialism, Limbaugh used Jesus as a mascot for capitalism. Not “What Would Jesus Do?”, but “What Would Jesus Take?”, is the question to ask. And the answer, of course, is nothing. Jesus was against high taxes. Au contraire, O’Donnell responds, quoting Jesus’s conversation with the rich young ruler and the separation of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25. For his part, O’Donnell invokes Jesus for a progressive income tax structure.

So what do all of these stories have in common? Lots of things come to mind, but I’ll mention two. First, all of these stories point up the remarkable ignorance of Scripture and a consequent inability to do anything more with it than find quotable sound-bites for positions that one would have if Jesus had never lived. Second, they suggest that there is indeed a creeping secularism that is threatening vital Christianity. However, I would suggest that the kind of Christianity that many worried souls have in mind is not really that different from creeping secularism.

In the 1950s, C. S. Lewis was asked by Decision magazine whether he was concerned about the “de-Christianizing” of the West, especially Europe. Lewis replied, “I’m not really qualified to speak to the question of the culture, but there is definitely a de-Christianizing of the church.” It’s one thing for Christian churches to lose their cultural influence. Fusing Christ with a particular civilization is already a gross distortion of the faith. Nevertheless, “Christendom” is over, regardless of whether you think it was a good or bad idea in the first place. Benign prayers to an unkown god in public schools, apart from the Mediator, is already a capitulation to secularism. Who cares whether crosses no longer dominate national memorials where Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, and atheists are buried? The question is whether the cross is proclaimed in our churches.

Maybe “fanatical secularists” who are so nervous about public expressions of faith have something to worry about, when burning Qur’ans and using Jesus for whatever left-wing or right-wing policy become the most familiar presence of religion in public life. Maybe it’s time for us to stop taking God’s name in vain and begin again to be Christians in a pagan culture.

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Risen Indeed!

Every Easter affords fresh opportunities for national news magazines to take up the question of Jesus’s resurrection. It’s difficult to point with any firmness to a “consensus” in Jesus scholarship any more than in other studies. Nevertheless, even liberals recognize (and lament) a trend in New Testament scholarship away from many of the “assured results” assumed by their predecessors only a generation ago.

Many factors have contributed to this more conservative trend, but two are worth mentioning. First, there has been a trend toward earlier dating of the Gospel accounts, which undermines the critical presupposition that the most obvious reports of Jesus’s bodily resurrection and deity are later interpolations. Second, especially since the last 40 years or so, there has been a trend toward placing Jesus in his Jewish milieu and this has led—generally speaking—to greater suspicion of the quite Gentile (Greek) biases that have dominated higher-critical (i.e., liberal) scholarship.

It’s helpful for us to return to the “facts of the case.” Here, speculation is useless. It does not matter what we thought reality was like: whether we believed in thirty gods or none. It doesn’t matter what we find helpful, meaningful, or fulfilling. This is not about spirituality or moral uplift. Something has happened in history and we cannot wish it away. It either happened or it didn’t happen, but the claim itself is hardly meaningless or beyond investigation.

The Facts of the Case

The earliest Christians testified to the following elements of the resurrection claim, even to the point of martyrdom:

1. Jesus Christ lived, died, and was buried.

Even Marcus Borg, co-founder of the sceptical “Jesus Seminar,” concedes that Christ’s death by Roman crucifixion is “the most certain fact about the historical Jesus.”1 There are numerous attestations to these facts from ancient Jewish and Roman sources. According to the Babylonian Talmud, “Yeshua” was a false prophet hanged on Passover eve for sorcery and blasphemy. No less a towering Jewish scholar than Joseph Klausner identifies the following references to Jesus in the Talmud: Jesus was a rabbi whose mother, Mary (Miriam), was married to a carpenter who was nevertheless not the natural father of Jesus. Jesus went with his family to Egypt, returned to Judea and made disciples, performed miraculous signs by sorcery, led Israel astray, and was deserted at his trial without any defenders. On Passover eve he was crucified.2

Suetonius (75-130 AD), a Roman official and historian, recorded the explusion of Jews from Rome in 48 AD because of controversy erupting over “a certain Chrestus” (Claudius 25.4). Late in the first century, Tacitus—the greatest Roman historian—referred to the crucifixion of Jesus under Pontius Pilate (Annals [Read the rest of this entry...]

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