‘What Child is This?’ is a favourite Christmas hymn. It is based on the poem The Manger Throne by William C. Dix and sung to the tune of Greensleeves. The combination of religious lyrics and a 16th Century folk tune result in a powerful song evoking a sense of expectancy and awe over the scene of a baby born in a stable in the Middle East more than two millennia ago. The wonder, the questioning that must have dwelt in the hearts of those who were part of and involved in the birth story of Jesus is expressed well in the words of this song. This was an extraordinary event at the end of a line of extraordinary events that involved angelic visitations, a miraculous conception, prophecy, and a moving star from the east that guided three gift bearing visitors from far off lands.
How can we possibly get people interested in Jesus if people believe he was just a made-up story? Or if people think that the scriptures are riddled with fantastical exaggerations?
In this article I will present an approach for helping people get past Jesus Mythicism, followed by several links for dealing with other sceptical beliefs that typically follow this extreme scepticism.
The Incarnation is one of the essential doctrines of Christianity. It is the belief that God became incarnate in the historical Jesus who was both truly God and truly Man. Any mixing or blurring of the two natures within Christ has traditionally resulted in heresy for going against the explicit teachings of scripture. This explains why such a vital Christian Doctrine has been under attack since the beginning. Christians are accused of believing in a logical contradiction. 
Some have argued that God possesses attributes like omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence and is described as timeless, spaceless and immaterial. God has these attributes necessarily and if He were to lose any of them, He would cease to be God. However, these properties are not typically observed in human beings. Thus the question is raised “How can Jesus be both truly God but truly Man at the same time”?
Philosopher Thomas V. Morris, from the University of Notre Dame, summarizes the problem as follows:
“It is logically impossible for any being to exemplify at one and the same time both a property and its logical complement. Thus, recent critics have concluded, it is logically impossible for any one person to be both human and divine, to have all the attributes proper to deity and all those ingredients in human nature as well. The doctrine of the Incarnation on this view is an incoherent theological development of the early church which must be discarded by us in favour of some other way of conceptualizing the importance of Jesus for Christian faith. He could not possibly have been God Incarnate, a literally divine person in human nature.” 
This does look like a serious difficulty but Morris has produced one of the best responses to this sort of challenge in his book “The Logic of God incarnate”. Following his lead, Philosopher Ronald H. Nash has revisited the argument and laid it out for us in his book “Worldviews in Conflict”. Like Morris, Ronald presents three major distinctions that needs to be understood in order to work our way out of this apparent contradiction. They are as follows:
- The distinction between essential and nonessential properties
- The distinction between essential and common properties
- The distinction between being fully human and merely human. 
Essential and nonessential properties
The word ‘property’ simply refers to a feature or characteristic of something. Properties are of two types, essential and nonessential, which we can understand by looking at the example of a red ball. The colour of a ball is a nonessential property because even if we change the colour to yellow or blue, the object would still be a ball. But the property of ‘roundness’ is an essential property, because if we were to change that then the object would cease to be a ball. One cannot have a ball that isn’t round. Similarly there are certain properties which are essential to God such as necessary existence, omnipotence, omniscience, and so on. If there is a being that might lack any of these essential properties, then that being could not be God. When Christians affirm that Jesus is God, they also affirm that Jesus possesses all these essential properties of God. This is pretty obvious as well as easy to grasp, but the real problem arises when we try to identify the essential properties of human beings. Critics of incarnation go wrong when they believe that in order to be a human one has to be lacking in omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, etc. In other words, it is incorrect to conclude that the lack of these properties is essential to being human. This could be explained further, but we first need to understand the distinction between essential and common properties. 
Essential and common properties
A common property is any property that human beings possess but it is not necessarily an essential property. In order to explain this common property, Ronald refers to Morris’ example of ten fingers. He explains that since all human beings have ten fingers, this is common property. But it is obvious that having ten fingers is not an essential property to being a human because a man can lose one or all of the fingers and still be a human being.  Let’s take a look at how Morris explains the importance and relevance of these points with regards to the doctrine of Incarnation:
“It is certainly quite common for human beings to lack omnipotence, omniscience, necessary existence, and so on. I think any orthodox Christian will agree that, apart from Jesus, these are even universal features of human existence. Further, in the case of any of us who do exemplify the logical complements of these distinctively divine attributes, it may well be most reasonable to hold that they are in our case essential attributes. I, for example, could not possibly become omnipotent. As a creature, I am essentially limited in power. But why think this is true on account of human nature? Why think that any attributes incompatible with deity are elements of human nature, properties without which one could not be truly or fully human?”
In other words, even though you and I lack those essential properties of a divine being, where is the argument that proves these limitations are essential for being human? Morris argues that these properties are simply common human properties and not essential ones. 
Being Fully Human and Being Merely Human
An individual is ‘fully human’ if he has all the essential human properties, while an individual is merely human if he has all the properties of a human being but has some additional limitations like for example lacking omnipotence, lacking omniscience and so on. That being said, what Christians believe is that “Jesus was fully human without being merely human.” What it means is that, Jesus possessed all the properties essential to being a deity as well as all the properties to being a human being. Morris argues that critics are confused when they try to conclude that the lack of divine properties is essential to human nature.
The three major distinctions play a vital role in defeating the alleged contradiction that exists within the Doctrine of Incarnation and thus helps us in concluding that the orthodox Christology is not self-contradictory.
 Nash, Ronald H. 1992. WORLDVIEWS IN CONFLICT – CHOOSING CHRISTIANITY IN A WORLD OF IDEAS. Michigan, MI: ZondervanPublishingHouse., pp. 99-100
 Ibid., p.100
 Morris, Thomas V. 1988. “Understanding God incarnate.” Accessed March 17, 2018. http://place.asburyseminary.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1431&context=asburyjournal
 Nash, Ronald H. 1992. WORLDVIEWS IN CONFLICT – CHOOSING CHRISTIANITY IN A WORLD OF IDEAS. Michigan, MI: ZondervanPublishingHouse., p. 101
 Ibid., pp. 102-103
 Ibid., pp. 103-104
 Morris, Thomas V. 1988. “Understanding God incarnate.” Accessed March 18, 2018. http://place.asburyseminary.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1431&context=asburyjournal
 Nash, Ronald H. 1992. WORLDVIEWS IN CONFLICT – CHOOSING CHRISTIANITY IN A WORLD OF IDEAS. Michigan, MI: ZondervanPublishingHouse., p. 104
I love this time of year. We decorate our homes with tinsel, nativity scenes and snow globes. And of course, the tree!
Christmas is a time when most families come together to share gifts, stories, laughter and love. For others it is a bittersweet time, or even a painfully lonely time. Despite the rampant commercialism, encroaching secularism and yes – the stress – Christmas day still points to and commemorates one of the most important days on the Christian calendar, the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
As Christians it is a time we can unashamedly share the Good News of Jesus and have reason to invite people to Church. Despite the prevalence of gifts and delicious food and all those jolly men in red suits, the foundation of the Christmas celebration in western culture is still Jesus’s birth and because of this our conversations can more easily turn to God and the true meaning of Christmas. The conversations can be light and friendly or, because our current culture questions everything, we can find ourselves faced with some tough questions about our faith. One of the most asked questions and possibly the hardest to answer is:
“But if God is so loving, how could He send people to hell?”
I’ll be honest, the first time someone asked me this question, I fell silent. It was a question I personally struggled to find an answer for. The biblical concepts of an all-loving God and the terrifying descriptions of Hell were too incongruent. With a primary focus on our Loving God in current sermons and writings, I began to wonder if Hell did actually exist and if God really would send people there.
Yet, although Hell has largely disappeared from current Christian conversations, it has not disappeared from the Bible. There are many verses in the Scriptures that forewarn of it. Jesus warned of Hell more than He discussed heaven.1 Despite its awfulness, biblical authority won and I could not deny Hell’s existance.
To find some clarity on this tough doctrine we can look at three attributes of God. First, God is Holy – perfectly pure in a way we can barely imagine from our earthly perspective so marred by sin. Sin can be described as a corruption of good that affects both the natural realm and our internal selves – damaging our character and spirit by turning our focus inward, rather than outward in worship to God. It is as impossible for sin to exist in God’s Holy presence, as it is impossible that a tissue can survive a burning flame. God hates sin and all it does to humanity.2 Rebecca Manly Pippert put it well in her book Hope has its reasons,
‘Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it…Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference. God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but his settled opposition to the cancer…which is eating out the insides of the human race he loves with his whole being.’3
Second, God is Just. There will be a time when He will set things right and complete justice will prevail. He is also just, in that He will never force us into a relationship with Him. If we spend our lives denying God, refuting Him and refusing Him, it would not be just for Him to force us to then live eternally in constant fellowship with Him.4
Third, God is Love. His love for humanity is all encompassing, and incredibly patient. Although we sometimes wish He’d quickly rid the world of evil, His love for us means He is waiting for as many people as possible to turn to Him.5 I’m personally grateful He waited for me! The evil in the world is a result of our having free will. We have the choice to love God and follow His ways and we have the choice to deny Him and follow our own ways. It follows then, that when we die, our choice to be in relationship with Him, or not, would also be honored. It would not be a loving or just act for God to force us to be with Him for all eternity. There has to be a hell, a place of complete separation from God, for those who don’t choose Heaven.6
In his allegory, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis wrote:
‘There are only two kinds of people – those who say, “Thy will be done” to God or those to whom God in the end says, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice it wouldn’t be Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.’
God does not send us to Hell, we choose to go there and that is the greatest tragedy. God didn’t just reach out for us, He came down as one of us. Down into our messy reality to save us from our sins and give us a way up and out. Love came down in the form of a baby boy who would one day make the ultimate sacrifice to change the world and bring hope and the offer of life beyond all we could imagine. He still offers us the hope that there will one day be no more suffering, sickness, death and destruction and that one-day every tear will be wiped away.7 So in our response to the first question, we could also sincerely ask,
“Why would you not choose Heaven?”
There are many verses where Jesus explains about, warns against and describes Hell, for example, the sobering Matthew 25:31- 46. In Luke 16: 19-31 Jesus tells the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. It is interesting to me that the Rich Man does not ask to be let out of Hell, he seems resigned, but he does want his family warned.
R. C. Sproul makes this insightful observation from Isaiah 6: “The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love, or mercy, mercy, mercy, or wrath, wrath, wrath, or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is full of His glory.” – R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1985).
Rebecca Manley Pippert, Hope Has It’s Reasons (Harper, 1990)
Jo Vitale – apologist with Ravi Zacharias Ministries, quoted from Just Asking, during a podcast titled: How Can a Good God Send People to Hell?
In his book, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, (Penguin Random House, 2009), Timothy Keller goes into more depth on this topic in Chapter 5 – How can a loving God send people to Hell?
Revelation 21:3-4 “And behold I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
In our conversations with others about God – we will eventually encounter difficult questions like these:
“So you think I’m going to hell?”
“Do you think everyone who doesn’t believe like you are going to hell?”
“But why do I need Jesus?”
How do we answer such a pointed questions without sounding judgemental and bigoted?
Rather than being caught out – these questions are actually wonderful opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Check out this short clip where Greg Koukl outlines a tactical and gracious way you can answer these questions so you’re not caught out:
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.
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?
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. 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:
- Agreement with the Information
- Trust in the Information
How does this apply to Jesus?
- Jesus died and rose from the dead
- It may seem impossible, but it is hard to explain the facts any other way so we accept them
- 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.
If you have missed any of the last 5 posts, don’t worry, take a look at Adam’s original piece.
To summarize, Adam pointed out that there are 5 good reasons to think Jesus rose from the dead namely:
- The Empty Tomb
- The Post-Mortem Appearances of Jesus
- The Conversion of Saul of Tarsus
- The Boldness of the Disciples
- The Explosion of Christianity
Taken in isolation, any one of these events can be explained without having to revert to non-naturalistic explanations. For example, the empty tomb could be explained by the disciples stealing the body; or the Boldness of the Disciples could be attributed to an “experience/vision” of the risen Christ.
However, taken in concert, it is hard to see how any naturalistic explanation accounts for all of these facts. Such an explanation, is a veritable “Frankenstein’s Monster” of an explanation, being neither simple, nor plausible, but rather a monstrous and freakish mishmash of doubtful and tenuous theories. In fact, such an attempt to explain the previously mentioned facts seems to betray the strongly biased presuppositions of the proposer; namely an unwillingness to entertain the thought of a non-naturalistic explanation. Without justification, such a presupposition seems arbitrary and even irrational, why not be open to the possibility of a supernatural intervention?
However, that is not the question for today. Rather, in light of the evidence we have examined together, what are the implications for us today in the 21st century. What if Jesus rose from the dead? What if he didn’t? Let us turn again to Adam, and see what He says.
Tomorrow, we will conclude with why all of this matters.
Today we are looking at a 4th piece of evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as expressed by Adam Ford from adam4d.com, the boldness of the disciples who proclaimed the gospel message.
Today we are looking at a third piece of evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as expressed by Adam Ford from adam4d.com, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, an early persecutor of the church who became the apostle to the Gentiles.
Welcome back, If you missed part 1, please check it out.