Jesus The Game Changer

Jesus the Game Changer 6 of 10: CARE

This is the sixth post in a series of posts running parallel to weekly screening of the series Jesus the Game Changer on Shine TV.


The influential and the marginalised. The wealthy and the poor – all are offered the same fatherly care that Jesus offers.

Sure – modern society cares for the less fortunate. But is there a moral foundation which holds these convictions up? If naturalism is true (and most people assume it is), then there is no reason to put others’ interests ahead of your own. Any altruistic action is done to get you some action. Everything is for you, through you and to you. Amen.

There is a better way

Let’s take a step back into the New Testament’s ancient context. People were viewed from a utilitarian perspective, receiving worth in keeping with how they contribute. The weak and needy – women, children, and the disabled – could not contribute meaningfully and were ostracised, sometimes killed.

Before you get on your moral high horse about how far we have progressed – women are treated as equals with men, children are nurtured and the disabled are loved and cared for – consider these:

  • Women remain oppressed in a misogynistic culture that treats them as sexual objects
  • Children are still beaten, bruised and forgotten by parents. If not physical trauma, then emotional – trophy children strive to meet the unfulfilled goals of their aging parents. But the bar keeps moving.
  • The disabled are becoming endangered. Our aversion to mental or physical disability has grown so strong that parents-to-be can screen for certain conditions and decide whether to take a life or not. Everyone is a eugenicist.

If you were paying attention, you will have noticed that we haven’t changed at all. The symptoms may have changed, but the cause still rots within our bones. Who will save us from this body of death?

Jesus, the Care Giver

Jesus comes and creates a counter-culture where all are truly equal and equally valued. This equality is not due to vague sentimentality or political ideology, but because of our desperate sin problem. We have broken God’s infinite Law and therefore, deserve infinite punishment. As Martin Luther famously said on his deathbed – “We are beggars; this is true.”

But God…

A fountain of everlasting water pours forth from a cross and heavenly bread rises from a tomb. Those who drink and eat will never hunger nor thirst.

Christians can genuinely care for all because they know, deep within their bones, that they are beggars telling other beggars where to be fed.

Dig in.

Jesus The Game Changer

Jesus the Game Changer 5 of 10: DEMOCRACY

This is the fifth post in a series of posts running parallel to weekly screening of the series Jesus the Game Changer on Shine TV.


Democracy and Christianity

Democracy in America

In 1831 a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville traveled to America to undertake a study of American Society. He wanted to understand why the French democratic experiment had failed, and to identify what things America was implementing to protect democracy. He wrote a work called De La Démocratie en Amérique, otherwise known as Democracy in America.

In Democracy in America, Tocqueville identified various threats to democracy, the first of which was an excessive love for equality. The idea of equality implies that because no person has any more right to rule than another, the only just way to run society is by the will of the majority; however, this can lead to despotism or tyranny. In a purely democratic society, whatever most people consider to be right, is what is right since if you go against what the majority have said, you proclaim that your opinion is superior. People are expected to agree with the majority while at the same time, abandoning rational thought. As Tocqueville comments:

“Formerly tyranny used the clumsy weapons of chains and hangmen; nowadays even despotism, though it seemed to have nothing to learn, has been perfected by civilization…Under the absolute government of a single man, despotism, to reach the soul, clumsily struck at the body, and the soul, escaping from such glows, rose gloriously above it; but in democratic republics that is not at all how tyranny behaves; it leaves the body alone and goes straight for the soul.”

A second threat he identified, was an overemphasis on individualism. As people become more equal, they begin to focus in on themselves. In an aristocratic society, people have societal bonds and duties toward each other; if all men are equal, duties beyond that to your family and friends become less important to maintain. Citizens who become too individualistic soon begin to lose the will and motivation to fulfill civic duties and exercise their freedom. A third threat he saw was a tendency of the people towards materialism. As equality grows, individuals begin to believe that they should have as much as everyone else. Further, people may willingly abandon their freedom in exchange for a benevolent despotism which will protect their own personal peace and prosperity.

However, at the same time, Tocqueville also identified elements that can combat the undesired side-effects of equality including religion, the education of women, and freedom of association and of the press. Alexis argues that religion is the most important because of the things it teaches. First of all, religion teaches citizens of the nation how to use and not abuse their freedom. Because the government provides no absolute standards, it is necessary for religion to provide moral boundaries, and as such, teach citizens how to use their freedom. He argues:

“Despotism may be able to do without faith, but freedom cannot … How could a society escape destruction if, when political ties are relaxed, moral ties are not tightened? And what can be done with a people master of itself if it is not subject to God?”

The second reason why religion is a true defender of democracy, is that it stands against the spirit of individualism. Because religion brings people into a community of common belief, it encourages individuals to think about the local and broader community of which they are a member. Finally, because religion draws people’s thoughts beyond the physical toward the eternal and immaterial, it leads them away from materialism. For these reasons and more, Tocqueville strongly warns the leaders of society to not disturb the faith of the people for fear that “the soul may for a moment be found empty of faith and love of physical pleasures come and spread and fill all.”

Tocqueville concludes his work with the following:

“The nations of our day cannot prevent conditions of equality from spreading in their midst. But it depends upon themselves whether equality is to lead to servitude or freedom, knowledge or barbarism, prosperity or wretchedness.” [0]

Democracy and Christianity

So, how does Christianity fit into all this? In this next section, we will look at how the Christian religion provides a sure foundation for democracy and equality.

In the first chapter of Genesis we read:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27 ESV)

Right in the beginning, God affirms that all humans are made in the image of God and in so doing declares the equal value and dignity of every person. Yet the dignity of man is marred, for in the third chapter of Genesis we read:

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. (Genesis 3:22-23 ESV)

Right at the start, the Bible affirms the nobility of man, yet at the same time the wretchedness of man. From this we reason that because all men are equal, no person has the right to rule with absolute authority, yet because we are fallen, limits on the power of government are necessary. The will of the majority is not necessarily right, and the individual has the right and even a duty to go against the majority opinion when he or she believes the majority is wrong. Second, the Genesis narrative demonstrates to us that every human being is accountable before God to obey the moral law. There is a God in heaven who will judge, and as Adam and Eve were judged for their transgressions, so God will judge every person on either their own deeds, or upon the finished work of Christ as the New Testament affirms. Third, we see that the Bible does not affirm individualism :

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. (Genesis 1:28-29 ESV)

In this first chapter, God commands Adam and Eve to populate the earth and bring it under their authority and rule. As such they have a duty to each other and to the earth, a responsibility to obey God and look after that which has been entrusted to them. This is not individualism, but a focus on community and a clear picture of obedience and interdependence. Finally, Christianity clearly speaks out against materialism by teaching that every human being will one day die and spend eternity in either heaven or hell. Any possession in this life we possess for a limited time; the one who is consumed with temporal things may forfeit the next life, yet one who has an eternal perspective understands that this life is only a brief moment when compared with eternity.

In the Final Analysis

As you can see, the Christian perspective provides a sure foundation for the preservation of democracy. In fact, everything that has been said thus far can be summarized in this statement:

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27 ESV)

Each individual is to love and serve every other individual, to obey God, to think of others before the self, and to love only God and people. What does this mean for us? We need to get involved in government and pray that others may also get involved who are Christians. We need to share the gospel, and bring people into the kingdom so that they may also be governed by Christ. And finally, we need to examine our own lives, and see if we are truly loving God and people, or if we are succumbing to individualism and materialism. If we are, then we must repent and seek the forgiveness and strength of the Lord. Democracy sure has problems, but it’s the best we have, as Churchill once remarked before the House of Commons:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…” [1]


References

[0] – http://www.gradesaver.com/democracy-in-america

[1] – https://richardlangworth.com/worst-form-of-government

Jesus the Game Changer - digital download

Jesus the Game Changer 4 of 10: WOMEN & CHILDREN

This is the fourth post in a series of posts running parallel to weekly screening of the series Jesus the Game Changer on Shine TV.


Do you know what it is like to be treated as a second-class citizen? A valuable thought experiment is to delve into the life of a woman or child in the Greco-Roman world to experience what this was truly like. Women and children were viewed as inferior citizens regardless of which social strata they found themselves in. This sentiment is found in countless writings from that period and irks the modern progressive (despite modern treatment of women and children being no less unjust).

Both yesterday and today, we witness an urge to subdue the vulnerable that is endemic to mankind. As with all injustice, Jesus Christ comes to right these wrongs.

Jesus and women

Jesus was by no means afraid to get intimate with the lesser – with those the cultural elite  controlled. Through his interactions with the bleeding woman, the thirsty Samaritan and countless prostitutes, Jesus was declaring a massively important theological truth – we are all equal in that we all stand equally in need of mercy and grace for the rebellion in our hearts.

The resurrection accounts contained in the four Gospels report that women were the first to see the shattered stone and empty tomb. This is no passing detail for the authors – this is a punch to the face of ancient female relations. If you wanted to create your own religion in first century Palestine, one of the first steps you would take is to avoid having women play an integral part in the genesis. But they did. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John must have missed that lesson.

Jesus and children

All of Jesus’ gentle interactions with children (or little ones) was not to demonstrate how good of a Sunday School teacher he would have been. As with so many of Jesus’ words and actions, we have to dig deep for the gold beneath the surface:

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-30)

Did you catch that? We are the children. We are the helpless, vulnerable, dependants who require constant adult supervision to avoid getting lost or cracking our skulls on the coffee table. God’s gracious will was to reveal his plan of salvation to us – foolish and misunderstanding children – to give something infinite to those infinitely undeserving

Yet again we see Jesus, the great Leveler – he definitively levels the playing field by not only teaching with his words and actions that all men are equal, but by focusing every eye and shutting every mouth via the truth of sin and judgement. No matter your gender or age every person stands empty-handed before a holy God who justly demands perfection.

With unparalleled gentleness and meekness, this carpenter from Nazareth stoops down to the prostitute and the little ones, opens his arms and says, “Come to me all who labour and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

We, the prostitutes and fools of this world, are adopted as his children. Game changing.

Jesus the Game Changer - digital download

Jesus the Game Changer 2 of 10: EQUALITY

This is the second post in a series of posts running parallel to weekly screening of the series Jesus the Game Changer on Shine TV.


A constant cry heard around the modern world is for equality. People have a deep seated sense of injustice seeing other people treated differently based on their race, sex, or religion. But where does this pursuit of equality come from?

The Genesis of equality

Today’s opinionated secularist will attribute these inequalities to a backward, religious aftertaste from our ignorant past. However, the source of Western civilisation’s obsession with equality and fairness stems from the world’s most influential religion – Christianity.

Through the teachings of the Bible generally, and Jesus specifically, we discover that we are made in the image of God, placing significant worth and dignity on every human being. In the biblical accounts of creation, human beings are clearly differentiated from every other living thing by this image woven into our being.

As sin came into the world, this imago Dei in man was obscured, becoming unrecognisable. The default condition of the human heart transitioned from love of God and neighbour to idolatry and murder.

The History of equality

Since the days of the New Testament, the apostolic authors demonstrated this countercultural idea by exhorting Christians to treat all men as equal. Slaves, women, children and Gentiles were seen through the Master’s eyes – as lost sheep in need of rescuing.

This ethic developed historically through institutions such as hospitals and orphanages – expressions of the uniquely Christian desire to love the lesser.

One of the most notable historical examples is of William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect. His lifelong quest to abolish slavery from the British Empire was driven not by some vague and groundless humanitarianism but by the imago Dei – the image of God in every human being, making us all equal before our Creator.

The Future of equality

Can other worldviews account for this innate sense of human equality? Short answer – no. No other belief system can come close to offering a robust explanation for human equality. They can definitely treat others with genuine dignity and worth – they just don’t have a legitimate reason to do so.

The teachings of Jesus not only show us how we ought to carry out our horizontal relationships (man and man), but reveal the true state of our vertical relationship (man and God). Jesus, the ultimate leveller, has shown all man that they are indeed equal in the most important way – by coming and revealing the hopelessness of all before a holy and perfect God. He came to live a perfect life and die a perfect death in our place to offer forgiveness and salvation.

All men are created equal and stand in equal need of a Saviour.

Jesus The Game Changer

Jesus the Game Changer 1 of 10: JESUS

This is the first post in a series of posts running parallel to weekly screening of the series Jesus the Game Changer on Shine TV.


Who has had the greatest impact on history? Who is the most important person who ever lived? Who is the most unexpected person to ever be remembered?

Jesus.

The Romans built Bath in AD 70, 2000 kms from Rome itself. At the same time in Palestine, a small group of people existed who had no power and authority, claiming that a person who had died in obscurity was the Messiah. If you had to guess which would last the longest, what would you say? 2000 years later Christianity is still here and Rome is long gone. How did this happen?

The Impact of Jesus

In the episode this week, Karl interviewed a computer scientist, Steven Skiena, who undertook a study to analyze Wikipedia with the goal of finding the relevance of people in history. He looked for things like how long an article is, how many times it is read, how many links to it, and how many times it was edited. Jesus came out number one. This is significant, it shows that Jesus is, today, the person around whom there is the most discussion and controversy. Who would have ever thought that Jesus would still be so popular? A man who lived and died 2000 years ago? It is strange because Jesus died in obscurity, having written nothing and in a state of utter and complete humiliation, was crucified on a cross. For everyone, surely, this was a clear sign that Jesus was nothing. Yet today, people are still talking about him. According to a 2005 study, Jesus is followed by approximately 2 billion people, around 33% of the world’s population[1]. For a person who never led an army, never held government office, never had children, never wrote anything but who died on a cross in obscurity 2000 years ago, this is remarkable. Jesus is the most controversial figure today.

So, what is the evidence that Jesus existed?

Evidence for Jesus

Nothing in history is certain, however, we do have some pieces of evidence, and what we have is better explained by the existence of Jesus of Nazareth than his non-existence. Some of the best pieces of evidence, are writings by hostile historians who mention Jesus, people like Josephus, Pliny, and Tacitus. These sources are pieces of external evidence, yet we also have a great deal of internal evidence coming from the gospel accounts themselves, four different accounts that have differences but yet a striking similarity. People in history didn’t record things in the same way that we record things, we want perfection, but such a thing is not a realistic perspective for ancient history. Rather, when dealing with history, we want independent accounts from as many different perspectives as possible. A great example is the video ref in rugby. The more cameras that have a perspective on the play, the better the picture is of what happened, and the better the judgement is of the ref. Thus, it is possible that what skeptics call contradictions may in fact be merely a difference in perspective, a different angle on the same event.

So, if we accept that the gospel accounts are all relatively reliable perspectives on the same event, how do we know we have what was written?

It may seem strange to you, but the New Testament is the most well attested document in history. If you have 200 manuscripts of a particular document, that is significant. However, for the New Testament we have over 5800 manuscripts in Greek, and 8000 Latin manuscripts. This is simply incredible; the wealth of manuscripts we have today means we can be almost certain that the documents we have today are actually what was written. But what about the authors, what do we know about them? Well, for one thing, they had no incentives to lie. Think about it. Your messiah has been killed, and you are hunted by the authorities. If you knew the whole deal was a lie, would you really write a book that might get you killed? No, you must believe what you are writing is the truth, and is truly important. The gospel accounts are four biographies, claiming that Jesus did some things that were seen, and that those things were recorded so that the readers might have eternal life.

However, some may object by saying that many of the events recorded in the gospels are miracles, and miracles can’t happen because the laws of nature cannot be broken. This objection only works if we live in a closed universe without a creator who created the universe. Yet, this is not what Christians claim. We agree, people cannot naturally turn water into wine, walk on water, create bread, and rise from the dead. However, the universe is an open universe, created by a being who can step in and alter the natural course of events.

Even so, miracles aside, why is Jesus unique, how is he different?

All the other teachers drew men to themselves and have others do things for them. However, Jesus came and did something for us, rising from the dead and by that, opening the door to eternity. He gave himself away in the ultimate act of self-sacrifice, doing that which we never could have done, reconciling us to God, and giving us life everlasting.

So, what is Faith? What does it mean to have Faith in Jesus?

Faith in Jesus

The Christian faith is 3 things:

  1. Information
  2. Agreement with the Information
  3. Trust in the Information

How does this apply to Jesus?

  1. Jesus died and rose from the dead
  2. It may seem impossible, but it is hard to explain the facts any other way so we accept them
  3. We act on the Information and trust Christ for our salvation

Jesus the Game Changer

Jesus was and is a game changer, not just for people alive today, but also for the apostle Paul. Paul was a man who hated Christians, who made a living seeking out Christians and throwing them in jail. Yet when Christ entered Paul’s life, everything changed for Paul. This is still true today. Maybe you feel that because you can’t believe in God or Jesus as the Son of God, then you are out of luck. However even today, Jesus is a game changer. He comes the way he did 2000 years ago, telling stories that haunt us, and bringing us to the realization that we need him. Give Jesus a go, step into his story, there is more there than is on the surface. Only in Christ do we have hope. Life is very brief.

In this week’s episode, Mary Jo Sharp commented that reading the Bible got along the path, but didn’t get her to Jesus. She only realized she needed Christ when she heard the truth of the Gospel which says that we are sinful, separated from God by our sin, and that only through Christ is the path unto salvation.

Do you know Christ? Have you accepted His offer of forgiveness? Have you repented of your sin and now rejoice in newness of life?

Jesus is a game changer, He has changed my life, and I know that He can change yours.


References

[1] http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html

Assurance of salvation

Assurance of Salvation: 3 Reasons Why Apologetics Fails

If someone asked you right now “How certain are you that you are going to heaven?” what would you say? Could you put a number on it? This is what is known as Assurance of Salvation, the knowledge that God has saved us from our sins and that we are in a right relationship with Him.

Now for an Apologist, one given to studying the supporting arguments and evidence for Christianity, the temptation is to give the very arguments themselves the role of being the ground of assurance of salvation. For example, it is demonstrable from arguments like the Kalam Cosmological Argument that a space-less, timeless, immaterial, and immensely powerful personal being exists, who we call God. When this argument is conjoined with the historical evidence for Jesus Christ, God is shown to be the God of the Bible, a being who loves the world and sent his son Jesus Christ to die for the sins of sinners, rescuing those who accept the offer of salvation from eternal judgement (Romans 10:9-10, John 3:36, Acts 4:12). However, using arguments and evidence as the sole ground for assurance of salvation fails for the 3 following reasons:

  1. The conclusions of Natural Theology are disputable
    The conclusions of the arguments and evidence for the existence of God are very powerful, and if true, have a great deal to say about our lives and the world around us. However, many of these conclusions are supported by premises that are not absolutely certain, and as such, the conclusion cannot be absolutely certain either. If this is true, though we may believe beyond a reasonable doubt, we can never have complete confidence that we are indeed saved.
  2. Our ability to reason is fallible
    It is clear that human beings do not have impeccable reasoning abilities. We often construct flawed arguments and make judgement errors. Can we really place full confidence in our own ability to reason? Now this is not to say that we cannot reach true conclusions in which we have a great deal of confidence, for if we could not, then it is odd that I would be writing this article seeking to persuade you of what I believe on this topic. I think what I believe is true, and that I have good reasons for it. I am not trying to argue that I am right even though I don’t know I am right. Rather, I mean that what we arrive at using our own reasoning, we ought to never simply assume as absolutely true. We must always be willing to admit we are wrong, and since certainty cannot exist where the possibility of being wrong is present, one cannot have absolute confidence.
  3. We have a limited and often errant experience and perception of the world
    It is clear that we are limited and do not fully know the world around us. Some people have more knowledge than others while still other believe and have been taught false ideas. If one needed to have perfect knowledge of the world to truly believe in God, no person could ever fully believe. Moreover, many people have no evidence and some even believe that the evidence points away from God. Are we simply to assume that they are not justified in believing in God simply because of what they think they know? Surely not! God is not so cruel as to allow us the possibility of fumbling around in the dark, without any hope of seeing the light.

For these three reasons, I am skeptical of anyone who claims they are certain of the claims of Christianity simply by arguments and evidence, and nothing more. God is not a God who abandons us to the whims of our fallible faculties which we use to make probabilistic judgements on sometimes errant information. Scripture asserts that we can KNOW that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13). If arguments and evidence do not provide this, we must look elsewhere for the sure foundation of our belief. The purpose of Apologetics is actually somewhat modest. Instead of using it to know Christianity is true, we rather use it to SHOW that Christianity is true. However, this leaves the knowing position quite open, and that which fills it is what I will address in my next post.

Morality needs God

Ron Smith vs Matthew Flannagan | “Morality Does Not Need God” | Waikato University

Hello readers, today we have uploaded the the debate with Dr Ron Smith and Dr Matthew Flannagan to YouTube, though some of you may have noticed it floating around Facebook. It was a well-attended debate, in total 200 people came along and participated.

This sort of event is what we like to see at Thinking Matters, people from both sides of the “God” debate coming together and engaging in a civil and intelligent conversation. You will be able to tell that Matthew and Ron disagreed with each other, yet they disagreed with “reverence and respect”, showing that disagreements over religion do not necessarily divide. In addition, the questions that were asked of the interlocutors, were penetrating but at the same time, cordial. No one got offended and everyone was calm.

In his opening remarks Dr Frank Scrimgeour, the moderator commented:

“It is an important occasion, and an important topic that befits a university, particularly a contemporary university that seeks to place more moral claims on its students, more than was the case when I was an undergraduate student … I trust that it will be a fun evening and I look forward to crowd response, but I request that it will be done with dignity and good nature. I am sure that enhances the quality of the conversation … I am not interested in moderating a debate where people cannot hear the participants. So I guess the more you disagree with someone, I challenge you to listen harder and be ready to ask the insightful question at the appropriate time … Think hard and enjoy yourselves.”

Ron echoed this sentiment saying:

“I was an easy target for the invitation to speak in this because I have become increasingly concerned, to be frank, about the extent to which the university has attached itself, and areas within it, to particular ideological views, and really shutdown discussion in a variety of areas … where discussion is inhibited. Now if there is anywhere in the community where discussion ought to proceed without persons needing to be protected against the possibility that arguments don’t sit well, it’s a university. The university has failed to live up to its obligation, so this is the test of the principle.”

Both of these men understand how important debates on the existence and nature of God are, and have identified that a university ought be a perfect place for such a discussion to go ahead. One of the key reasons why the debate was a true victory, was because it showed that people can disagree about the most important things in life and still part on good terms. Matthew defended the Christian conception of God and Morality in the true spirit of 1 Peter 3:15-16, where St Peter commands:

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

May this also be something we never forget.

how to be an atheist

An Interview on “How to Be an Atheist”

In a new video from Crossway Books, Justin Taylor sits down to talk to Mitch Stokes about his provocatively titled book How to Be an Atheist: Why Many Skeptics Aren’t Skeptical Enough.

Stokes was an engineer before he studied philosophy under intellectual heavyweights Wolterstorff and Plantinga. His previous book, A Shot of Faith (to the Head), expertly navigated deep philosophical and scientific waters to help readers get an understandable grasp of the rationality of theistic belief. His new book, How to be an Atheist, encourages skeptics to be more skeptical about the certainty of their skeptical beliefs. It sounds like an interesting read.

Karl Faase

New Video Series on How Jesus Changed the World with Karl Faase

Olive Tree Media have released a trailer for a new DVD series about how the life and teaching of Jesus changed the world and why it matters. Hosted by Karl Faase, the 10 episode series includes interviews with notable Christian academics such as Miroslav Volf and Rodney Stark. The series comes out in July.

Karl Faase is the Senior Pastor of Gymea Baptist Church and CEO of Olive Tree Media, an Australian-based media organisation which produces DVD and television series for Christian media and church use.

mars steps

Diamond in the rough – Why Christianity is unique

In my previous post, we explored the falsifiability (or lack thereof) of some world religions. Here we will dive straight into the credentials of my personal favourite – Christianity.

We left off with you asking a question – How is the Christian religion any different from the others? Wasn’t Christianity founded by a solitary, subjective figure ? Didn’t Jesus claim to hear directly from ‘The Father’? Isn’t he also circularly impervious to the attacks of the enemy?

Yes, Christianity is founded on one man, claiming to be God. And yes, he does command your trust by virtue of him being God and owning you.  So far, so circular. The differences become clear when you take a look at the biblical authors approach to this issue. Rather than falling back on their divine authority and declaring “Believe, because I said so”, like Muhammad, the Buddha, and Joseph Smith, the biblical authors say, “Take a look for yourself”. Christianity invites investigation.

In his first letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul addresses the bodily resurrection of Jesus to a culture steeped in pagan philosophy and mythology. See Paul’s words below:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for the our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:3-6)

Paul is reminding the Corinthian church of the basic theological foundation that he lay when he was ministering in Corinth – in fulfilment of the Old Testament Scriptures, Jesus Christ of Nazareth was murdered, buried, and resurrected to claim a people for himself. The Corinthians didn’t have hearsay and rumours to go on with these claims, but actual witnesses of the events. While some of them had fallen asleep (died), others lived and continued to shine as beacons of testimony. Paul’s appeal to eyewitnesses to solidify the flesh-and-blood resurrection of Jesus from the tomb mirrors that of the Gospel writers. Frequently in their accounts, names of seemingly inconsequential people are given to add some extra oomph to the eyewitness accounts. To put it another way – “If you don’t believe me, go ask this guy.”

Paul goes a step further in the following section of his letter:

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 

If Christ has not been raised, you faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

If in Christ we have hope for this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:14-15, 17, 19)

Let me try to put this in an even more provocative way – if Christ was not raised from the dead, then Christianity is pointless. Did you hear that? You are of all people most to be pitied if you have given your life for a cause still six feet under. If you are of the persuasion who thinks that even if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then the Christian life is still worth living because of the “family values and strong morals” it breeds, go for it. But don’t call it Christianity. As for me, I am going to eat, drink (a lot), and be merry, for tomorrow I die.

By staking the the future of the Christian religion on an historical event that did not happen in a corner, the biblical authors willingly opened themselves up to scrutiny in a way that no other religion has or ever will. While the followers of Muhammad, Buddha, and Joseph Smith point to their leaders’ enlightened, mystical authority as unquestionable proof, the Christian bases their Leader’s authority by pointing to an empty tomb and saying, “Take a look for yourself”

the cross

All religions the same? Take a closer look

An oft repeated sentiment today is that all religions are basically the same in that they are all subjective, unscientific, and just plain false. So in today’s secular climate, how does someone go about filtering out the good from the gunk? Is there even a concept of good religion, or are they all gunk?

Secularism has firmly removed religion from the public sphere of objectivity and ‘science’, and placed it in the private corner of subjectivity and ‘faith’. This means that religion can never really be considered true in any meaningful sense. It can provide meaning for adherents in a utilitarian sense, but can’t authoritatively direct mankind due to its obsession with ancient books and garden fairies.

I don’t see the majority view changing on this anytime soon, so for the purposes of this post, I will appeal to an objective and scientific concept to bring the objective backing the world craves to the subjective sphere they despise. This concept is known as falsifiability.

What is falsifiability?

The philosopher of science, Karl Popper, suggested the criterion of falsifiability – a scientific hypothesis must be inherently disprovable before it can be accepted as a legitimate theory. While this criterion was originally only used within the physical sciences, it was eventually used across a number of social sciences, including anthropology and history.

By applying falsifiability to a small number of the world’s great religions, we begin to see weeds amidst the wheat. Take a look at these origins stories:

Islam

An Arabian merchant begins to receive visions from the Almighty God (Allah) whilst in a mountain cave. Turns out these vivid hallucinations are actually the words of Allah, the one true God. Muhammad is the True Prophet and forms a people in submission (the meaning of the word, Islam) to Allah.

Buddhism

The Buddha, or “the awakened one”, shares his eternal insights with man on how to transcend our earthy desires to reach the spiritual Nirvana.

Mormonism

Disillusioned by the various Christian denominations before him, a young boy named Joseph Smith asks God to give him wisdom for which path to choose. One day, while in a wood, Joseph receives an angelic vision of the true faith and Mormonism is born.

Can you see the similarities between these three religions? They all originated from moments of quiet contemplation. This does not necessarily mean that they aren’t true but it does create skepticism when considered in the broader context of the respective religious histories. Turns out caves and trees are perfect places to start a religion.

It isn’t that these three religions aren’t falsifiable – their claims can be investigated and doubt shed. The issue is that they automatically reject criticism based on their internal frameworks, making them inherently unfalsifiable. Muhammad and Joseph Smith can’t be wrong because they were declared as authoritative prophets of God. Rejecting Buddha’s teachings proves that you are filled with desire, and thus not worthy. What we see is the proverbial bait and switch – offering a falsifiable claim only to remove it right before your eyes using their own theology (or in Buddhism’s case, a-theology).

Take a look

Wasn’t Christianity founded by a solitary figure, you ask? Didn’t Jesus claim that he heard directly from ‘The Father’? Isn’t he also circularly impervious to the attacks of the enemy? Good questions. Let’s look at them next time.