Monday, July 30, 2007

Review: The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis

A review and summary of The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.)

must read

The Problem of Pain in a nutshell: If you have a proper understanding of God and a proper understanding of humanity, pain is less problematic.

The slightly longer version:

The classic “problem of evil” is usually stated:

“‘If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.’” (16)
Lewis answers by showing that those who say this do not know what “almighty,” “good,” or “perfectly happy” really mean.

Understanding God
He starts by demonstrating that “almighty” does not mean that God can do anything we imagine; certain things are logical impossibilities. “You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense” (18). Just as square circles are a nonsense, saying “God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it” (18) is nonsense. “Meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words ‘God can’” (18). Lewis says a world with free will necessarily includes the possibility of evil.

Lewis then explains divine goodness: God’s love means He wants what is best for us; what’s best for us is God. We were made by Him and for Him, and we will only be really happy when we are in harmony with Him. God does not want us to be happy in any terrestrial sense of the term if it will prevent us from being happy in the heavenly sense. Because He wants us to be happy in the heavenly sense, He will seek to improve on us:

“When Christianity says that God loves man, it mean that God loves man: not that He has some ‘disinterested’ … concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are objects of His love. You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of terrible aspect,’ is present: … the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes.” (39)

Understanding humans
After examining God, Lewis turns to humans and explains that we fell from our state and now exist in a constant state of rebellion. We do not, according to Lewis, understand just how wicked we are. Once we do, God’s severity no longer seems severe. “…Man, as a species, spoiled himself, and … good…must therefore mean primarily remedial or corrective good.” (85)

Understanding pain
Once we understand just how wicked we are, we can examine natural evil – i.e., evil not caused by human agency, aka pain. Because we are fallen, “good” consists of learning to deny ourselves. “We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved: we are… rebels who must lay down our arms” (88). Pain assists us in that task in three ways:

1) Pain tells us everything is not right with our lives. “…Pain is not only immediately recognizable evil, but evil impossible to ignore…. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pain; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (90-1).

2) Pain tells us what we have is not enough. “Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us…. Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for” (94). (This section contains one of the most remarkable passages I have read in a long, long time. I was amazed that, in a passage dealing with why God allows us to suffer, Lewis had me feeling sorry for God. His writing on the “divine humility” is truly masterful.)

3) Pain is necessary to learn self-surrender.

“If the thing we like doing is…the thing God wants us to do, yet that is not our reason for doing it; it remains a mere happy coincidence. We cannot therefore know that we are acting…for God’s sake, unless the material of the action is contrary to our inclinations, or…painful….The full acting out of the self’s surrender to God therefore demands pain…” (97-8)

Other thoughts on pain: Lewis follows this with a series of propositions related to the topic of human pain. One is particularly notable for what it implies: “If tribulation is a necessary element in redemption, we must anticipate that it will never cease till God sees the world to be either redeemed or no further redeemable” (114). This may answer why “wicked” people seem to have such easy lives – they may not be worth the trouble to afflict as they are completely unredeemable whereas the basically decent (but just as lost) person might be roused out of his complacency to realize his fallen state.

Lewis on hell
After explaining, essentially, that pain is to keep us from going to hell, Lewis examines the state of those who are not redeemed by their pain. Hell is not an idea that Lewis likes, and he shows that God does not like it either – this is demonstrated by the cross and the lengths He continues to go to in an attempt to woo us to Himself. But hell is, Lewis says, both moral and necessary for those who persist in their rebellion.

Lewis sees hell as, in some ways, simply giving the condemned what they said they wanted their whole lives – to live their way without God. To those who think people should be given a second chance, Lewis says:

“I believe that if a million chances were likely to do good, they would be given. But a master often knows…that it is really useless to send a boy in for a certain examination again. Finality must come some time, and it does not require a very robust faith to believe that omniscience knows when.” (126)

In the end, says Lewis, hell is an inescapable by-product of free will – i.e., some are simply going to refuse God if given the choice. It is another act of divine humility that God allows His creatures to refuse Him.

Lewis on animal pain
After addressing human pain and hell, Lewis briefly addresses animal pain. His argument is basically that we’re not really sure what God will do about animal pain, but we know that the responsibility for it lies with Satan and us. To those who are seriously disturbed by animal pain, Lewis explains that, lacking consciousness, animals cannot suffer the way humans can suffer. At any rate, he is convinced that God will make everything right in the end.

Lewis on heaven
Lewis wraps up his work by considering heaven (used, I think, as shorthand for “the afterlife” including both heaven and the new earth) – the ultimate prize and the core of Christian thought on pain. The Bible insists that what we suffer here is nothing compared to what we will be given in the next life (c.f., Rom 8:18, 2Cor 4:17-18). Lewis says that in this life we all desire something unnamable; we know that we’re missing something though we may not be able to say exactly what.

That thing we’re missing is that part of God we have been made to especially love. Lewis says that we are all made to want different things about God. “Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it…” (152). Once we receive this prize, we will realize that it was worth everything we went through to get there.

This book is typical Lewis – well written, well though-out, and (relatively) easy to follow. Except the last chapter. I found it a bit harder to see Lewis’ point here than in the other chapters, but a little time and reflection cleared things up. There are elements of Lewis’ argument that may not sit well with reformed folks. The chapter on the fall will probably not agree with inerrantists; fortunately he says the chapter is not essential to his argument and can be skipped – the reader can probably get away with just reading the last paragraph of the chapter.

Overall, I think Lewis gives an excellent explanation of why we experience pain. I especially appreciate his treatment of natural evil which so many authors try to side step. He takes it head-on and says that pain is necessarily unpleasant but it is what we need to make us into what we ought to (and in our better moments want to) be.

The only problem I see with this book at the moment is that, after reading his explanation of how pain brings us to God, I was left wondering about the Christians (those who have, allegedly, surrendered their will to God) who suffer. This is certainly not an insurmountable problem, in fact it might be easier to answer than anything he actually addresses in the book, but his silence on the issue means the reader can come away with questions that will need to be answered by another book. So while this is an excellent book, it will not be the only one a person would need to read.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Suffering for Christ

Verses I wish weren't in the Bible: Phil 1:29

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ…to suffer for him.” (Phil 1:29)

I don't like this verse for two reasons. First, it tells me suffering for Christ isn't just a good thing, it's a blessing. I don't like suffering. I can live with the notion that suffering is good for me, but if it is a blessing, shouldn't I want it? I don't.

Now, I don’t think this is saying to seek out suffering, just that when it comes, I should recognize it for what it is. There was a time when people would actually go up to a Roman official and say, “I’m a Christian, and I want to die!” I’m not sure how different that is from suicide.

The second reason I don't like it is this: What does it mean if I'm not suffering? J. Vernon McGee said, “When you get to the place where He lets you suffer for Him, you have arrived—that is the high calling of Christ Jesus.” Does my lack of suffering mean Christ thinks I'd embarrass Him? Could I not withstand the test?

You might argue that people don't suffer for Christ in the US. It's true they don't generally suffer unto death, but you can suffer. I know a woman who lost a job because she "disturbed the environment" in the workplace – not by being annoying but just by being there. Why isn't my Christianity disruptive enough to make people uncomfortable? Why isn’t my life just a little harder than for my non-Christian coworkers and neighbors?

This verse makes me wonder why I’m not suffering. I really wish it weren’t in the Bible.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Dancing with Cinderella

I recently heard Steven Curtis Chapman perform a song off his next album during a radio interview. The chorus says:

So I dance with Cinderella
While she is here in my arms
'Cause I know something the prince never knew
Oh I will dance with Cinderella
I don't want to miss even one song
'Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight
And she'll be gone
(find full lyrics plus video here)

It's one of those parental tear jerkers, and I was barely maintaining my composure.

Then my not quite four-year-old piped up from the back seat, "Daddy, I'm Cinderella."

Composure gone. As much as I don't like tear jerkers, it's never a bad idea to be reminded that our kids are going to grow up way too fast.

That said, these days it's all too common to find people who've made their kids their idol. Life is not meant to be about our kids. As Christians, we should know what life is about, but in the midst of trying to know Christ and make Him known, we occasionally have to remind ourselves that the most important place to make Christ known is at home. If you lead a million people to Christ and fail to do the same with your kids, I don't think that's a life well lived. Do you?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

OK, Christ Rose; Why Did He Die?

After arguing that we can be confident that Jesus did rise from the dead, the question begs to be asked: Why did Jesus do all this? I think we can let the Bible answer that.

“…Christ died for our sins…” (1 Corinthians 15:3)

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8)

“… he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6)

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

“… if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. … for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Romans 10:9, 13)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The resurrection: A story no one would make up, part 5

Objections to the evidence

(See also part 1 and part 2 and part 3 and part 4)

After arguing that the resurrection of Christ is a story that no one would make up, I think it is appropriate to address some objections to the resurrection.

I briefly addressed a claim that Paul does not teach a bodily resurrection in the comments of the first post of this series.

Resurrection from the dead is impossible. As improbable as it may be for this story to be made up, it is even more improbable for it to be true.
Dead people don’t get up. It’s impossible. Which is the point. It is impossible; that’s why it’s a miracle. The question becomes, “Are miracles possible?”

If Genesis 1:1 is true, if God can create everything out of nothing, then what is impossible for Him? That the laws of physics are immutable for us does not make them so for God. If you accept the existence of God, the miraculous is not a priori impossible, and the evidence for the resurrection has to be evaluated on its own merit.

We don’t have evidence of appearances and the empty tomb; we have evidence of reports of appearances and the empty tomb. That is quite a bit different from an actual empty tomb and actual appearances.
If I get what he’s saying, he’s claiming that, since we didn’t see the tomb/appearances ourselves, we have no evidence of it happening – only evidence that people said it did. That is, of course, the only kind of evidence we have for all kinds of things – all of history and most criminal cases. Eye witness testimony is the evidence unless you have video (which was kind of hard more than a couple of decades ago).

We have eye-witness reports, and we have good reason to believe those witnesses. Barring time travel, that is the best evidence we will ever have, but it should be enough. If it’s enough to take a man’s life away, it is enough to change how you live yours.

Jesus was not buried. also Jesus didn’t die; he swooned.
We already briefly addressed the argument that Christ wasn’t buried in the body of the first post. I would like to say something about these kinds of objections in general. At the heart of these assertions, I believe, is a bit of modern arrogance that thinks that we can ask meaningful questions about these things that no one thought about for the previous two thousand years or so.

We have no evidence to suggest that anyone claimed Jesus swooned on the cross – probably because they were not daft enough to propose such an idea. If they assumed Roman soldiers knew how to kill, we can too. If they accepted that bodies were occasionally claimed and buried after crucifixion, we can too. (Actually, the fact that the gospels all go into so much detail about the burial may be evidence that it was unusual.) If people who saw crucifixions all the time were not concerned about these little details, we who are 1500 years removed should not be either.

Why should I have to make life (or longer) decisions based on something that happened 2000 years ago?
Great question. Why can't we get more up to date information to make decisions of this caliber? We don't know. It doesn't change the fact that everyone has to make a decision about Christ. Not making one is the same as deciding against Him. So the question is, do you want to make your decisions based on eye witness testimony by people who had nothing to gain and everything to lose in standing by this story, or do you want to decide based on your feelings, notions, or theories about what life "ought" to be like?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The resurrection: A story no one would make up, part 4

(See also part 1 and part 2 and part 3)

Let’s continue with 1Cor 15:3-8:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

The prophecies: A story no one could make up

Now I would like to look quickly at what it says at the beginning of this creed – that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised according to the Scriptures. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection had been prophesied hundreds of years before His birth. Details He could never have fabricated were fulfilled in Him. Pick any eight prophecies – lots cast for His clothes and death by crucifixion, silent before accusers, badly beaten, killed with criminals, buried with rich, resurrection, betrayed for money (Psalms 22 & 16, Isaiah 52-53). The odds of Christ’s fulfilling these eight prophecies are 1 in 10^17 or one hundred million billion; that is a huge number, so an illustration can help make it a little clearer. This is one by Peter Stoner that Josh McDowell uses:

Suppose you cover the entire state of Texas with silver dollars two feet deep – that’s 10^17 silver dollars. Paint one of them red and mix it in good. Now send a blindfolded friend to go anywhere in the state he wishes and randomly pick up one dollar. The odds that he’d get the red one are 1 in 10^17. That is how likely it is for one person to fulfill eight prophecies. Some Bible scholars say Christ fulfilled over 300 prophecies. That is just impossible to fake.


What we have here is a very supernatural story. A story no one would or could make up. We have not followed cleverly devised fables. And that makes us unique in all the religions of the world.

Muslims base their lives on what one man said happened to him while he was alone in a cave. Buddhists base their lives on the teachings of a man who said, “Hey, I found enlightenment out there in the woods. Let me tell you how I did it.” We base our lives on the teachings of a Man who did His miracles in public, died publicly, and upon rising from the dead was seen publicly, and we still have an empty tomb to prove it. That bestows on us both a great privilege and an awesome responsibility. We have the truth, and we have to do something about it.

Which leads me to my final point, a warning. I hope you will be able to explain why you believe what you believe to those who ask you. But if you sit down and convince someone that the resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact, the work is not done. It is not believing that Jesus rose from the dead that saves us; it is trusting in His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins that saves us. It is an important distinction that we must be mindful of.

All of this is just the tip of a huge mountain of evidence that supports what we believe with solid, documented facts. If you’d like to go a little deeper into the topic, an excellent introduction to historical apologetics is Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. If you would like to go much, much deeper into the topic, his book gives you an excellent list of books that will take you into the nitty gritty of the subject.

Some other useful introductions:
Resurrection by Hank Hanegraaff
More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell


Are we done yet? No, next time I'd like to address some objections to all this (within the limits of what can be done on a blog). If you have, or have heard, objections to this, please share them.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The resurrection: A story no one would make up, part 3

(See also part 1 and part 2)

Let’s continue with
1Cor 15:3-8:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

Resurrection Appearances, part 2

Next Paul lists an appearance to more than 500 of the brothers. Unlike other religions, our miracles didn’t happen in secret. Jesus was seen out in the open by many people – too many for it to be some kind of delusion. And then Paul points out that most of them are still alive.

When Paul tells the Corinthian church that most of the 500 are still alive, he’s telling them that they can check out his story. And in chapter 16 verse 3, Paul says that he’s going to send some of them to Jerusalem when he gets there. If this were a made up story, Paul would say, “It happened; trust me.” Instead he says, “It really happened; here, you can check me out.” You don’t tell people to check out a made up story.

Next we come to James. We don’t get a lot of information about the Lord’s brothers in the gospels, but what we do isn’t exactly flattering. They didn’t believe Him; they made fun of Him (e.g., John 7:5). If everyone else fantasized about Jesus rising from the dead, His skeptical brother would not. And this skepticism would not be fabricated because, according to JP Moreland, for a rabbi’s family to not accept him was very embarrassing. (Strobel, p248)

Finally Paul tacks on his experience. We know that Saul of Tarsus was a devout Jew who hated Christians and no doubt thought that Jesus was a troublemaker who was rightly dead and gone. There is no psychological explanation for his experience on the road to Damascus. There is also no explanation for what his traveling companions experienced (Acts 9:7). They didn’t see or hear Jesus, but they saw and heard something, and when it was over Saul was blind and speaking much more kindly of Christians. That was something that could not be fabricated and was, again, done in the presence of witnesses.

One might argue that this doesn’t count as evidence for the resurrection. I can see the point. But (I think it was NT Wright who pointed this out) since Paul includes it, it seems safe to say that he didn't classify this encounter as just a vision: He saw Jesus in the flesh. If, however, we're misinterpreting this, I believe it’s safe to say that people don’t normally talk to other people from heaven. Jesus’ communication with Paul demonstrates that this Jesus is not just some guy, even a good guy; there is something extra special about Him if He’s speaking to you from heaven.

Strobel, Lee, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The resurrection: A story no one would make up, part 2

(See also part 1)

Let’s continue with
1Cor 15:3-8:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

Resurrection Appearances, part 1

Now let’s look at the list of resurrection appearances. He appeared to Peter, then the Twelve, a whole mess of disciples, then James, then the apostles again … can you think of a glaring omission from this list? Who was the first to find the empty tomb and to see Jesus?

The women! The fact that the gospels record women as finding the tomb and Mary as seeing Jesus first is evidence of the truth of the story. Here’s why: In those days, the Jews had very little respect for women. They thought they were all a bunch of empty-headed gossips, and the word of a woman was considered unreliable. A modern equivalent might be having the only witness be the town drunk. If someone in that day were going to make up a story, they would not have had women finding the tomb or seeing Jesus. The men would have seen Him and brought the news to the women. Now, some have objected to this saying that a woman’s testimony was acceptable if she was in a unique position to know the truth. That’s fine. The point is that if you were making up a story you wouldn’t make it up with only women finding the tomb.

Next let’s look at the appearances to Peter and the Twelve. What do we know about the behavior of the apostles during the arrest and death of Jesus? They ran scared and hid (Mark 14:50, John 20:19). Peter denied Him. They had been taught that God would not let His Messiah die (Strobel, p246; Maclear, p124). When Jesus was arrested and executed, they thought it was over. On Sunday morning they were not expecting a risen Savior but a Roman soldier to visit them.

If you are going to make up a story like the gospels, would you spin a tale that makes you come out like a bozo – never understanding what Jesus said and then hiding in fear? No! A made up story would have had them waiting outside the tomb on Easter morning with a big cake saying, “Welcome back!” No one would have made up their role in this story.

We know something else about Peter and the apostles. Before the resurrection they ran scared. Afterwards they were bold. When someone said, “Stop preaching about Jesus or we’ll kill you,” they answered, “Do your worst!” Many people throughout history have died for what they believed was true, but no one dies for what they know is false. The apostles were part of a small group in the unique position of knowing for certain whether or not Christ really rose from the dead, and they all went to their deaths proclaiming that He did. This is very difficult to explain apart from their seeing the risen Christ.

Next time we'll look at the rest of the appearances.

Strobel, Lee, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998).

Maclear, GF, A Class-Book of New Testament History (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1866).

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The resurrection: A story no one would make up, part 1

If someone asked you why you believe Jesus rose from the dead, could you give them a coherent, well thought out answer?

In 1 Peter 3:15 that we are commanded to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” This is especially important today when there are so many people, like the Jesus Seminar, running around who are just delighted to tell people how the resurrection is just a myth, a story made up generations after the death of Jesus. But Peter tells us in his second book, “we did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2Pet 1:16). Not only was the gospel not invented, it was a story no one would have made up. Why not? Let’s look at
1Cor 15:3-8:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

This is a great passage to memorize; if you can’t memorize it, try to memorize the address. It makes an excellent outline for sharing the evidence for the resurrection.

Background: Bible scholars believe that this passage is from a creed of the early church. First Corinthians was written in the mid-50s AD. Paul says he gave them this creed when he was there, which was in about 51AD. That means this creed is less than 20 years from the resurrection at most – far too short for any real legendary embellishment. More than that, many scholars say that the language of this passage suggests that this is something Paul learned when he first became a Christian and was probably in use within 2-5 years after the resurrection. This is far, far too short for legendary development as this is well within the lifetime and memory of the witnesses. (Strobel, p230)

In chapter 15, Paul is arguing that there is a resurrection of the dead. He bases that argument on the fact that Christ was resurrected, and this passage is his proof. So let’s look at it in detail. Today we will examine the first section.

Died, buried and raised: The creed starts with the statement that Christ died, was buried, and then was raised from the dead. First let’s consider His death. The cross has become something of a romantic symbol for us. It held none of that romance then. Jesus’ death was the most shameful death available in that era. For a modern parallel, consider these modes of death: car accident, gun shot wound, electric chair. The first is emotionally neutral; the second may in some cases actually raise a person’s status; the third is reserved for criminals – only those convicted of vile crimes. No one would make up a story where the religious leader dies in the electric chair because such a death would taint the leader and the whole movement. Crucifixion was the same way. Unless it was true, the apostles would not have taught that Jesus died on a Roman cross. (This may relate especially to the "Jesus never existed" crowd.)

Regarding the burial, some today will claim that there was no tomb – that Jesus, like all crucified criminals, would have been buried in a mass grave if at all. This can be dismissed by the fact that history shows us that the Jewish response to “the tomb is empty” was not “what tomb?” but “the disciples stole the body" (seen in Matthew 28:11-15 and in Justin's
Dialogue with Trypho).

Regarding the resurrection, no one questions that the Christian church started in Jerusalem, where Jesus was killed and buried. If there was still a body in his tomb, the Jewish leaders would have been all to happy to drag it out for all to see. The fact that they never did this as they persecuted the Church is evidence that the tomb was in fact empty. Peter's earliest sermon proclaims an empty tomb (Acts 2:29-32), something that could not have been done unless it were demonstrably true.

We can also dismiss modern claims that the resurrection the disciples claimed occurred was a spiritual or metaphorical resurrection simply because that was a nonsense in Jewish thought of that day. William Lane Craig says that the Jews had no concept of a nonphysical resurrection; they preserved their bones because they believed they would one day have life in them again (Strobel, p211).

We can see that the very nature of the claim they made – of a crucified and risen Christ – is something that they would not have made up. Next time we’ll look at some of the appearances and what they tell us about the veracity of the story.

Strobel, Lee, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998).

The resurrection: A story no one would make up

An examination of the evidence for the resurrection of Christ using 1Cor 15:3-8 as an outline.

Part 1:
On the death, burial, and empty tomb
Part 2:
On the appearances to the women and to Peter and the Twelve
Part 3:
On the appearances to the 500, James, and Paul
Part 4:
On the prophecies: a story no one could make up; and the conclusion of the matter
Part 5:
Addressing objections to the resurrection

"Ok, Christ Rose; Why Did He Die?"

Friday, July 13, 2007

My Jesus, her Jesus

Our neighborhood Wal-Mart, like many grocery stores, has a Roman Catholic icon-candle section. It's in what strikes me as an odd place -- next to the trashbags, across from the paper towels -- and I'd managed to miss it for quite a while. One day when my oldest, Virginia, was with me, we noticed it and stopped to look for a moment. The next week, as we passed by, Virginia wanted to stop, but I was in a hurry and didn't want to let her, until she said this: "I want to see my Jesus!"

Oh, how I loved hearing "my Jesus" come out of her little mouth. Even though I know that she doesn't have a clue what Jesus really did or what He means to me, I delight in hearing her tell me that she loves Jesus and that she wants to go to church and talk about Jesus. I think it is a taste of what it will be like when He really does become her Jesus, and more importantly, she His Virginia. After praying for that day for... how long will it be, six, eight, ten years? Hopefully no longer, I don't think I could bear it. After praying for that day for years, how sweet will it be to see my little girl at the foot of the cross and know that I will see her one day in glory?

Some interesting links

John Piper hates the Prosperity "Gospel" (@ The Christian Mind)

By now you've heard about the Roman Catholic Church's statement regarding protestant churches. I was going to write about it, but Greg Peters has said everything I wanted to say and then some @ Scriptorium Daily. Al Mohler has some insightful things to say as well (HT: Justin Taylor).

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Inerrancy, deity, and resurrection, oh my!

I heard this from a caller on STR’s radio broadcast (April 15, 2007): Since Jesus thought the OT was inerrant, and since we know it has factual and moral errors, He cannot be God – and thus probably didn’t rise from the dead.

1) I’m not sure this argument holds up at all. Is the resurrection necessarily a vindication of every word that came out of Jesus’ mouth, or is it a vindication of His mission and teaching in that regard? It’s something to think about.

2) But let’s say it’s a valid argument. We want to start from our strongest position: The evidence that Jesus rose from the dead is too good (I’ll blog about this in detail next week) to set aside based on one objection, so let’s consider this objection from the assumption that Jesus did, indeed, rise from the grave. Assuming again that the NT is reliable, Jesus taught that His resurrection would be the vindication of His teaching and mission – including His claims to deity.

If Jesus did rise from the dead and is God, then, given the caller’s statements, either Jesus didn’t claim the OT was inerrant or the caller is wrong about the OT having errors. I’m not convinced Jesus taught the OT was inerrant, but I’m in a minority position among evangelicals, so let’s say that he did.

It is now up to us to prove errors in the OT.

3) Regarding factual errors in the OT, whole books have been written on the question, and so there’s little I can do but scratch the surface here. Let me just say this: From Genesis 1 to the walls of Jericho to pi, there is no “error” that cannot be explained to someone who’s willing to listen. To those who are determined to find errors, no explanation will ever be rational enough because they want there to be errors.

4) It is interesting that the caller spoke of the OT’s factual and moral errors. This is an all too common accusation, and it boils down to this:

There are things in the OT that we don’t like, therefore the OT is wrong.

The truth is, we often don’t like things in the OT because we don’t like seeing sin as sin. When the Bible records God ordering the destruction of the Amalekites or striking down Uzzah, we don’t understand, and we don’t like it, so it must be wrong. (The pride is so thick you couldn’t stir it with a blender.) The truth is, a holy God is occasionally going to decide it is time to smite some sinners. This is something modern Americans (including many modern Christians) and the “nice” god they worship need to hear.

(Incidentally, after this writing, the conversation continued on the radio, June 10th, and recently on their blog.)

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Three maxims from the Constructive Curmudgeon

Douglas Groothuis gives us three powerful maxims:

1. Follow the argument, wherever it leads.
2. Accept the truth, whatever it is.
3. Defend the truth, whatever the cost.

Some great truths. And I can find something there to offend just about everyone I know.

1) I know too many who think "argument" means being argumentative and that arguing is un-Christian. Unfortunately I know even more who couldn't follow an argument to the end of their driveway.

2) Is there anyone out there who doesn't know about postmodernism? I don't think I need to touch this one.

3) Too many Christians (and non-Christians, for that matter) don't want to defend the truth. Even if they believe there is truth and that they have it, they don't want to offend someone by defending it. They'll toss out sin and the cross and the fatherhood of God, not because they don't believe it, but because they think it will bring more people to Christ. Well, it won't bring anyone to a Christ worth having.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Say what you're thinking!

Do you ever get into a conversation with someone and they’re pontificating on something of immense import (to them), and you find yourself wondering, “What’s the point?”

Many times after being in a discussion with someone that went nowhere, I realized the best thing I could have said was exactly what was going through my mind at the time: What's the point? What does this have to do with what we’re discussing? This can make them either stop and spell out their argument or face up to the fact that they don't really have one (instead they have anecdotes, emotions, or assertions).

There are a lot of times when I think we need to just go with our gut response. When someone’s babbling, and you want to beat your head against the wall wondering why they aren’t listening to you, it’s best to stop them and ask that very question. If someone’s belaboring a point that isn’t relevant to the argument, point it out. If someone’s argument wouldn’t even seem logical to a four-year-old, point it out. Nicely.

That last part is the hardest part for me. I’ve worked hard to learn to stop keeping this stuff in. Now I need to find that filter that looks for a good way to phrase it. But that doesn’t change the situation: sometimes you just need to say what you’re thinking.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Celebrate your freedom!

'Tis the season to talk about freedom, so let’s.

As the US celebrates its Independence Day, it is a good time for all free people to pause to appreciate their freedom and to pray for those who lack it. This is true with both political freedom and spiritual freedom.

It is a great gift to live in a land where you can actually influence your government, where you can have a say in what it does and can say your peace when you think it’s wrong. It’s a greater gift to live in a land where you can serve your Lord without fear. And while the two do not necessarily exist together, they usually do. We must remember to guard our freedom carefully, because when one goes, the other usually follows. And where we can spread these freedoms we will more easily be able to spread the gospel.

But as we reflect on the value of our earthly freedoms, we have to remember that there is a greater freedom that is far more valuable, and those who lack it are far more pitiable. We have been freed from the law of sin and death! We have been freed from the penalty of our sins, we are being freed from the power of sin even now, and we will one day be freed from even the presence of sin! We were purchased like slaves, and yet we’ve been invited to live as part of the Master’s family as free sons and daughters!

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free," so dwell in that freedom, delight in that freedom, and, most importantly, share that freedom.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Be careful what you wish for

This is Virginia and Hannah – the most precious jewels in all creation, in case you were wondering. Virginia’s the older one.

When she was younger I often wished Virginia could tell us what she wanted to eat. What I didn't expect was that, once she reached that age, what she would always say is “corndog.” “But they don't have corndogs here.” “CORNDOG!!”(Who knew you could whine that loud?)

Sometimes we don't really want what we think we want. Thankfully, God has no problem telling us no. We mustn't misunderstand Jesus' words – faith is necessary, but it isn't all-sufficient. God is not a genie, and His wisdom and sovereign plan are supreme. Which is a good thing; as the theologian Garth Brooks sang, “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers.”

(And I’m trying to enjoy Hannah’s inability to talk back at this stage.)