Archive for September, 2011

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The Problem of Petitionary Prayer: Part 3

September 30, 2011

Unanswered prayer bothers me. At different points in my spiritual journey I’ve reflected deeply on the nature of prayer. I’ve read many books and tried many methods of prayer.

Unanswered prayer still bothers me.

Having Kaeden; however, has caused me to reflect again on the problem of petitionary prayer. As a parent, I can glimpse multiple reasons why God may not answer all of our prayers.

For example, one day my wife and I pray that Kaeden will have a sibling or two (that is a point of debate). Imagine this scenario: both of our children want to ride in the front seat with dad. Both ask repeatedly for the privilege of being up front and having control over the radio on our trip to the zoo.

What do I do as a parent? Answering yes to one child requires answering no to the other.

How do you say no to this face?

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When I was in Bible college, I remember being at a meeting where a pastor said, ‘Lets pray for sun.’ I responded (tongue in cheek), ‘Well, I’m going to pray for rain and we will see who wins’.

Bible college students are the worst.

It was a joke with a serious point. As Kaeden grows up he might pray for sun in the summer so that we can go to the water slides. But a farmer might be praying for rain. You see the issue. People consistently pray for contradictory things and for God to answer ‘yes’ to one prayer means, necessarily, that someone else experiences a ‘no’ to their request.

I’m sure God’s decisions in regard to answering one person’s prayer and not another coincide with His greater plans, which unfortunately we are not always privileged to share in.

Here is another issue we touched on last week. Sometimes we ask for things that are not good for us. I used the example of Kaeden asking for ice cream every day at breakfast time. A loving father would deny that request. It is the same with God.

I will always remember hearing Billy Graham’s wife say that she was glad that God didn’t always answer prayers because if He did she would have married the wrong man twice.

Here is a quote I came across,

“A God that should fail to hear, receive, attend to one single prayer, the feeblest or the worst, I cannot believe in; but in a God that would grant every request of every man or every company of men, would be an evil God- that is no God, but a demon”.

The same would apply to parents in relationship with their children. Unanswered prayers bother me. Maybe that isn’t true. Perhaps, it’s just the answer no that upsets me. I’m more like a child then I’d like to admit.

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Here is another problem: Look at Jesus’ words below.

“Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24)”.

Okay. It’s not a problem it is a promise. But It becomes a problem when it looks like the promise isn’t true. I’ve asked, believed and not received. So either there is something wrong with the teaching of Jesus or there is something wrong with me.

Because of my theology I don’t believe there is something wrong with Jesus. So guess who is left? The sinful pastor. Perhaps, I am misunderstanding Jesus’ promises on prayer.

Jesus doesn’t add any qualifiers to the above statement. Whatever you ask for in prayer is yours. Okay. Do I not believe enough?

I think the solution lies in taking Jesus’ teaching on prayer as a whole.

He says elsewhere,

“Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13)

The difficulty is resolved when we take note of the key phrase ‘if you ask anything in my name’. In the Ancient Near East a person’s name represented their character (or the totality of who they are).

To pray in Jesus’ name; therefore, means to pray in his authority and according to his character, or in a way that truly represents his plans and purposes. To pray in Jesus’ name is a fancy way of saying to pray according to his will.

Some Christians believe that tacking on to the end of your prayer, ‘if it be your will God’ is evidence of a lack of faith. I don’t see how that can be true when that is how Jesus teaches us to pray (Matt 6:9-19). It is also how Jesus himself prayed (Luke 22:42). To pray ‘your will be done God’ is a recognition of humility and dependance. Both are prerequisites for success in prayer.

A Christian will begin to find greater success in prayer the more they find themselves in tune with Christ and begin desiring the things He desires as revealed in scripture.

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Prayer and Parenting part 2

September 23, 2011

As Kaeden learns to speak more words he will begin to combine them into sentences. Some of those sentences will take the form of requests directed towards me?

Right now, I’m enjoying the nonsensical babbling. It requires less of me.

‘Daddy, can I go outside’?

‘Daddy, can I have more ice cream’?

‘Daddy, can I have throwing knives strictly for recreational purposes’?

‘Dad, can I drive the car’?

How a parent responds to a child, or a teenager, can shed some light on how God responds to our prayers. Have you ever felt like prayer wasn’t working? Have you ever felt like God didn’t answer your prayers?

Unanswered prayer can be emotionally distressing for a Christian. Why doesn’t this work?, or ‘I was tempted, I prayed and the temptation didn’t go away’? Is God indifferent or impotent?

No, God is neither impotent or indifferent. Along with the many frustrating examples of unanswered prayer there is an enormous number of people willing to testify to answered prayers. Believers who often find that the amount of ‘coincidences’ in their lives dramatically increase when they pray frequently and fervently.

But that causes another problem, ‘Why does it seem like prayer works sometimes and not at other times? I wonder if that is even the right way to frame the question?

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Is God like a pinata filled with candy? Is prayer our whacking stick? Is God similar to a slot machine that we hope will pay out when we put in our prayer tokens?

We would quickly say, ‘no, of course not’. But I think some of our frustrations about prayer not ‘working’ are rooted in those types of false views about God. God is not a pinata He’s a papa. God’s a perfect father.

Sometimes prayer becomes our way of getting God to do what we want and then we are frustrated when God doesn’t cooperate. We’re annoyed when he continues to labor under the ‘delusion’ that He is in charge and knows best.

I’m a father. Why will I say no to many of my sons requests as he grows? It’s not because I don’t love him and it’s not due to my inability to act.

For example, it’s easy for me to go into the freezer at breakfast time and scoop some ice cream into a bowl for him. But I’m not going to do that. Why? because I know better than my son. I’ve been around longer and I’m wiser (not that wise just wiser than him). Ice cream for breakfast every morning would bring short term happiness and long term negative consequences into his life. So I will respond in the negative. Or wait until after dinner.

Sometimes I will say no to Kaeden because I love him. It seems God answers prayers in the same manner that parents answer the requests of their children.

Yes, no, or wait. No is an answer. So is wait. It just may not be the answer we want. But who’s in charge anyways?

Why do we pray? Is it simply to get stuff from God? What if your child only spoke to you when they wanted something? Prayer is the language of request but on a deeper level it is the language of relationship. We pray for relational purposes, to know God. And then we trust that God will deal with our requests that arise in our relationship with Him in a manner completely consistent with His wisdom, love and grace.

God will answer every prayer that we would have prayed if we knew what He knows and desired what He desires.

The above statement should remind us of the importance of listening to God. The more we listen to God and conform our will to his the more effective our prayers will be and the more results we will see.

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Eight years from now I will ask my son to move a large rock in the backyard. I won’t tell him why I will just stress the importance of his obedience. He will go out into the yard and push and push and push on this huge boulder. The first day it doesn’t move. The second day it still remains stationary. 4 weeks later he has faithfully tried to move that boulder every single day. It hasn’t budged an inch.

Finally in frustration he throws up his hands and comes to me. ‘Dad, I’ve been pushing this boulder for a month because you asked me to’. It has made no difference. The boulder hasn’t moved. It’s been a pointless exercise’. ‘what difference has it made’?

I respond, ‘what to you mean what difference has it made’? Look at your arms, they are stronger, test your core, is it not sturdier? Examine your legs, the muscles are far more refined’. Your toughness has increased, your endurance has grown exponentially.

You see, the point wasn’t to move the boulder it was to strengthen you.

This is what often happens in prayer. We pray and we pray and we pray and we don’t see the results we want. But maybe it isn’t about us getting our way with God. Perhaps, Prayer is about God getting his way with us.

I pray and pray and pray like my son pushed and pushed and pushed. I pray because it changes me, strengthens me and makes me more like my Father in Heaven.

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Prayer and Parenting

September 16, 2011

Kaeden is learning to talk.

He can already pronounce some one syllable words. We think we hear car, mommy and daddy. Our parental desires, however, may be influencing what we are ‘hearing’.

Have you ever asked yourself, ‘Why are all the ‘best’ swear words so easy to say’? So many of them are one syllable. That concerns me as a father. It will be easier for my son to pronounce the F bomb than the word fornication (an F word that is far more neglected in our culture).

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Justin Bieber ‘wrote’ a song called Pray; it’s about prayer. Somehow I saw the music video which ends with this quote, “God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer”.

God does speak in the silence of the heart, but is listening the beginning of prayer?

When the disciples asked Jesus, ‘Teach us how to pray’. Did Jesus respond with silence? Did he say, ‘ first things first, listen’. No. He gave them a pattern of petitionary prayer that begins with the spoken words ‘our Father’.

Prayer is a conversation with God. Prayer is a child learning to talk to their perfect heavenly Father. Yet many people say they don’t know how to pray. They may know how to converse with a stranger on a bus but not with the God of the Universe.

Perhaps, it’s because we’ve made prayer something it isn’t. We’ve made it too formalized. Prayer becomes less like a child learning to talk to their parent and more like a theologian discoursing on the incommunicable attributes of God’s nature (by the way incommunicable attributes are those characteristic’s of God that he doesn’t share with people eg. all-powerful, or everywhere present) .

To hear people pray like that can really intimidate the beginner.

Or the language of prayer can seem really foreign to people when we start using words like ‘thou’, ‘thee’ and ‘though art’, or my favorite prayer word ‘beseech’. I try to use the word ‘beseech’ once a day in ordinary conversations. It’s difficult to slip it in.

I know some people would respond that it’s important to use special words in addressing God because it’s a sign of reverence. To speak to God in every day speech is too familiar, too irreverent. If you address God as ‘dude’ I see their point.

But again, prayer is a child talking to their heavenly father. You can certainly respect your father without addressing him in 17th century english and cliches.

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If prayer is a conversation with God prayer must also involve listening. Kaeden is learning to talk. He is also learning to listen. Kind of. Like most Christians in prayer Kaeden is better at talking than listening.

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Kaeden is learning to speak by spending time with his parents. If you want to learn to pray rub shoulders with people who already know how to pray. Plunge into the Psalms, which is like enrolling in a school of prayer.

Lastly, remember the heart of God for his people. I will be delighted to hear my son’s first crystal clear word because I’m his father. To hear him call me ‘daddy’ for the first time will be a sweet sound to my ears.

Our prayers can delight God in the same way (Rev 8:4).

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The End of the Matter…Or the Beginning.

September 10, 2011

Chris– St. Augustine once wrote (somewhere) that death makes life tragic because if you have a good life you don’t want to die but you have to die. If you have a terrible life you don’t mind dying but, either way, your life is tragic.

Sally– Hmmm.

Chris– If you think about it, life is like getting into a car that you know is going to crash. You don’t know when, you don’t how, but there is a wreck coming. It doesn’t matter if you buckle up, eat vegetables, and do sit ups; the end result will be the same.

It’s a little disconcerting.

Sally– Why? The universe got along fine before I got here and it will get along fine after I’m gone. It doesn’t bother me.

Chris– Really?

Sally– Why should it?

Chris– Well, I think you’re contemplating death from a detached viewpoint. Consider the conscious self that is you being snuffed out or enveloped in overwhelming, unrelenting darkness, and you’ll begin to see why people fear death.

Nature is snuffing out our lights one person at a time until her own light sputters and dies. She began with a bang and will end with a whimper and we are her careless causalities along the way.

Nothing to do but shake your pitiful fist at the coming cold nothingness.

Sally– All of a sudden you sound like a consistent atheist. But why be so morbid? Death is a natural part of life.

Chris– Why doesn’t it feel natural? Why does it feel like an intrusion, an alien force, an enemy. We fight death because death is not a friend but a foe.

Do you ever wonder, ‘if we are solely a product of nature, why does nature (more specifically death) seem so horrible and unnatural to us’? Have you forgotten what it felt like when your Grandma passed away?

Sally– I do remember when my Grandma passed away. It was an open casket and I looked in. I regretted it immediately. The corpse in the coffin didn’t seem like my Grandma…it was almost like she wasn’t there anymore. Nothing about that experience felt natural like ‘this is how things are supposed to be’.

I guess I agree. Death feels like an enemy.

Chris– Then that is one reason why the resurrection matters. God takes on our enemy and defeats it in Christ. Death doesn’t have the final word.

St. Paul wrote, “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1st Corinthians 15:55).

Some people believe that nothing happens after death because when you interrogate the dead silence is generally the response. In the resurrection of Jesus the silence is shattered; we have a word from beyond the grave that death is not the end. Life wins, Love wins, if love is received.

Nature in her fallen state is mortal and we shall out last her; she was robbed of the last word the instant Jesus left an empty tomb behind ushering in God’s first great act of new creation.

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St. Paul also writes, “If Christ has not been raised your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1st Corinthians 15:17).

The Bible says the penalty for sin is death. Sin and death were alien invasions into God’s good creation.

God isn’t vindictive but sin separates us from the living God and the life that finds its source in Him, thereby, leading us to death. In this sense, sin is suicidal.

Now, the Bible says that Jesus never sinned yet Jesus dies. Why?

Here is the great wonder, the grand mystery, the glorious exchange; Jesus dies for our sins, in our place, taking upon himself the death we deserved. The barrier of sin that separates us from God is removed, the demands of Justice are satisfied, and the love of God is demonstrated at the cross of Christ.

Our sin puts us in debt to a holy God. If authentic reconciliation is to occur between Creator and rebellious creatures that debt has to be paid. God pays it himself at the cross.

Sally– I’ve heard all of that before.

Chris– Right, but know you have a reason to believe it. If Jesus died and that was the end of it he should be honored, or despised, as a martyr. But there is no reason to believe his death somehow affected humanities relationship to God.

No one believes that about Socrates.

But if God raised Jesus from the dead there is a very good reason to believe that his death atoned for our sins and through faith in him we can be forgiven and reconciled to our creator.

The resurrection would be God’s stamp of approval on the life and ministry of Jesus. I think it is safe to assume that God wouldn’t raise from the dead a man who told lies about His character, purposes and plans.

Sally– Interesting.

Chris– As long as it remains simply interesting the death and resurrection of Jesus is personally irrelevant to you.

Sally– But I’m not sure I want to become a Christian. Doesn’t being a Christian imply that other religions are erroneous and off base on some level?

Chris– Yes. If Jesus conquered the grave than religions that teach he didn’t are wrong. If Jesus rose his teaching is not human projection but divine self-disclosure. Any religious system we create, therefore, has to be shaped around this cataclysmic historical event. Christianity is the only one that is.

Sally– How exclusive and elitist!

Chris– Truth by definition is exclusive. If it is true that Jesus is the incarnation and revelation of God than it can’t also be true that Jesus isn’t the incarnation and revelation of the one true God. It follows necessarily that, ‘If Christianity is true Islam is false. If Judaism is true Christianity is false’.

Sally– But that is both ignorant and arrogant. Ignorant because how can you know which religion is right and arrogant because you claim you’re right without sufficient warrant to do so.

Chris– Let me ask you a question, ‘If Jesus rose from the dead wouldn’t that give him unparalleled authority to speak on matters like ‘life after death, who is God, what God desires, and the path of salvation’? Again, assuming that God wouldn’t resurrect a false teacher who was leading people astray.

Jesus would have authority not shared by Buddha, Krishna, Moses or Mohammed. No disrespect intended but all of those men died and stayed dead (none, other than Moses, claimed miracles). If Jesus rose he is in a category set apart and has authority to speak on God’s behalf in a way that none of these other religious leaders do.

Sally– Yes, okay, the resurrection would set Jesus apart. I see your point. But I’m still not sure…

Chris– That’s okay. Jesus rose. Not only is death defeated and sin atoned for; God has revealed himself in history through the person and work of Christ, and he will reveal himself to you if you seek Him with all of our heart.

Sally– I’m not ready.

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“The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity, I think, from the evidence offered for the occurrence of most other supposedly miraculous events” –

This statement was made by one of the premier atheistic philosophers of the 20th century, Antony Flew.

When he made the above statement he had converted, based on philosophical and scientific arguments, to a belief in God. He did not believe in the resurrection when he made the comment quoted above.

He believes in it now. Flew passed away several years ago.

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Tying up loose ends…

September 6, 2011

Sally– We’ve been talking about miracles. Well, one miracle; the resurrection.

Chris– Yah.

Sally – A have a couple more questions.

Chris– On the resurrection?

Sally– Umm, kind of.

Chris– Go ahead.

Sally– Don’t miracles break the laws of nature?

Chris– That is a complex question with several possible answers. I would say, ‘No, miracles do not break the laws of nature. Rather, Miracles presuppose the laws of nature. You wouldn’t be able to recognize a miracle if events in nature didn’t behave in a regular, predictable pattern.

Think of it like this; if I drop this apple the laws of gravity dictate that it will fall to the ground. Every time I drop the Apple it will inevitably plummet to the ground caught in the unrelenting grip of gravity. Unless, of course, I intervene by grabbing the apple as it falls. Now, I didn’t break the laws of nature (or in this specific case gravity) I just added something; a personal agent, who for the purpose of an illustration caught the apple.

Miracles are God interrupting the normal pattern of things to accomplish his purposes, or to illustrate spiritual truths.

Sally– Interesting. So you believe God did miracles through Jesus but I assume you’ve never seen anyone walk on water.

Chris– Yes, but that doesn’t bother me. I doesn’t bother me that I’ve yet to see someone walk on water. It doesn’t perturb me that most people who’ve ever lived have never seen anyone walk on water.

We’ve never seen anything like that because we’ve never seen anyone like Jesus. Jesus is unique in the history of the world because Jesus is the only time God has ever become incarnate (taken on flesh) in the history of the world.

So it makes perfect sense that he will do some things that we’ve never seen before and haven’t seen since.

Sally– Yes, but you’ve presupposed the uniqueness of Jesus to explain the miracles of Jesus. And I bet if I asked you to prove the uniqueness of Jesus you would point to his miracles. That is arguing in a circle.

Chris– Well, I see your point. But there are other ways I could contend that Jesus is unique as well. We’ve been discussing the big one; God raised him from the dead.

Sally– Interesting. Here’s another question; You told me that you believe God still does miracles. Why does God hate amputees?

Chris– What? That is so random. God doesn’t hate amputee’s. God loves amputees. What’s your real question?

Sally– Well, look, normally when I hear about Christians claiming ‘miracles’ it revolves around things that could have happened naturally. Someone has cancer, they are prayed for, and they recover. Christians claim an answer to prayer and perhaps a miracle. Even if the recovery was remarkably fast it still could have happened naturally.

Why doesn’t God heal amputee’s by causing their limbs to grow back? That would be a definite miracle. Does God not love amputees?

Chris– Hmm, Christians do have to be careful about how they use the term ‘miracle’. But in your example, wasn’t amputating a limb part of the healing? I mean the person had an infection, or something, so they amputated the leg to save the patients life. Isn’t it amazing how God has created our bodies so that we can lose a limb and survive?

Some Biochemists have even argued that our blood clotting system is so complex that it is evidence for God designing our bodies.

Sally– Wow, way to skirt the question. That is the only answer you’ve given were I want to accuse you of intellectual dishonesty. You ducked it. You totally ducked it.

Chris– Easy. It’s not nice to condemn someone’s first, fumbling attempt.

Sally– Sorry.

Chris– Okay, here is a true story. A child in malaysia is covered from head to toe in eczema that is raw and oozing in places. As a result the child is in terrible discomfort and the parents are distressed.

As soon as Dr. White and his wife Lorrie lay hands on the child and pray for him he falls fast asleep. Within twenty minutes the oozing stops and the redness begins to fade. By the next morning the child’s skin is totally restored. He is healed completely.

Dr. White also tells the story about a bone actually changing under his hands while he prayed for someone with a deformity. Oh, and Dr. White is a medical doctor and he has been an associated professor of psychiatry for over thirteen years. He knows the difference between organic illness and psychosomatic illness. He’s also written about hallucinations. Plus, he’s an honest, forthright man.

I know people who’ve seen the deaf gain their hearing back through healing prayer.

Sally– Uhh, well, there is probably another explanation. I still want to see a limb grow back. And I’d be more impressed if that Doctor White wasn’t already a believer when this event ‘happened’.

Chris– The man who wrote the story down didn’t believe that God still does miracles but his experience of the miraculous changed his mind.

Sally– Oh.

Chris– Do you know what is more impressive than God causing a limb to grow back? God raising from the dead a person who has been in the grave for three days. And as we’ve been discussing there is good evidence for that. And the Resurrection has implications for the amputee and everybody.

But there is a real sense in which miracles (that happened 2000 years ago and still happen today) create a problem. Why does this person get healed and this person doesn’t? A Christian once remarked to me with a bit of hyperbole, ‘every person I’ve prayed for to get healed has died’.

Sally– Maybe that is the real issue lying behind the Amputee question. Why some and not others? I’ve read the Gospels and even Jesus didn’t heal everybody. It bothers me a lot. The Bible says Paul was a healer but he struggled with ‘a thorn in his flesh’ his whole life. Even if I believed in the resurrection it would still frustrate me.

Chris– Sure it would. But if the resurrection is true, it has profound implications for evil, suffering and sickness. God is still involved in this world. God hasn’t given up on this world and Christians believe the resurrection was God’s first great act of renewal and restoration; not solely a challenge to our minds but a promise to our hearts that God will usher in the world we all want. A world devoid of sin, sickness and death.

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Sally– Let me change directions and ask another question. Let’s say that human beings (Homo Sapiens) have been on the planet for a hundred thousand years. Are you telling me that for ninety eight thousand years God just sat by and watched while people suffered and died? Than two thousands years ago he finally decided to intervene and he did so by crucifying his son and than raising him from the dead. Doesn’t that strike you as odd?

Chris– No.

Sally– Really, why?

Chris– Well, firstly some Christians and secularists would contest your statement that human beings have been around for a hundred thousand years.

Sally– I don’t have time for those kinds of Christians.

Chris– Why? I’m sure they’re smart and educated. But anyways, let’s grant that human beings have been around that long. The real issue is not the length of time but the human population. The population reference bureau has estimated that there has been around one hundred and five billion people, or so, on planet earth.

Sally– That’s a lot.

Chris– Yah. Only two percent of that total population lived before the time of Jesus. God didn’t ignore the people before the coming of Christ but christ came at ‘the fullness of time’ right before an exponential increase in the population.

The Roman Empire ruled, roads were safe, koine Greek was a language spoken by most people, the jews had their scriptures, the Greeks and Romans had their myths about dying and rising Gods; humanity had been spiritually prepared for God’s entrance into human history in the person of Christ.

Sally– Yah, but why a death and resurrection? Isn’t that so local, limited and unimpressive?

Chris– Out of death, coming life? Local, unimpressive, hardly. Isn’t it the message all of Creation has been preaching from the beginning? Lets go from the macro to the micro, the mountains to the miniscule.

We are carbon based creatures. Carbon is formed through nuclear fusion taking place in the center of stars. When the star dies it expels copious amounts of carbon into the cosmos. If you believe that scientific picture stars literally had to die so that we could live.

We are star dust and the breath of God.

You see it in the seasons, death springing forth into life. You discover it in seeds; planted, buried, resurrected into something beautiful and unexpected.

I’ve experienced it at the dinner table. Occasionally my wife will make me eat a salad even though I would prefer steak all the time.

Sally– I’m a vegetarian.

Chris– I’m so, so sorry for you. Sometimes I have salad and on the salad are tomatoes. Tomatoes grow on a plant, they’re alive, but in order for me to eat them they have to be plucked, which means the tomatoes dies.

The death of one things means the life of something else.

Every time you have any illness millions of white blood cells smother the invading cell, and in doing so die. White blood cells die so that we can live.

The death of one thing means the life of something else. This is the message that all of creation has been preaching.

Sally– Right, right that is where the ‘pagans’ got their myths about dying and rising ‘gods’; these gods were often tied to the seasons and the crops.

Chris– Yes, exactly. So is it really surprising that when the God of creation wants to redeem his creatures he does so through a death and resurrection. The death of Jesus means spiritual life for us. The resurrection of Jesus means eternal life for us.

It fits.

Sally- Don’t you find it suspicious that the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection mirrors this underlying principle woven through the fabric of creation. Maybe it fits to well? Doesn’t it concern you that your story of Jesus mirrors the pagan myths?

Chris– No. Not at all. I think many of the comparisons are strained and over drawn. For example, read the Egyptian myth or Isis and Osiris for yourself and then compare it to the Gospels. Talk about a stretch. There is not a ‘resurrection’ in any type of jewish sense in those ‘pagan’ texts. Plus, many of the alleged similarities come from mystery religion texts that post-date Christianity, or contain similarities that most religions have in common (e.g. a belief in the afterlife, or salvation).

But even if there were striking similarities who really cares? Look, we’re simply having a conversation here so I haven’t quoted anyone but here is a passage from a C.S Lewis lecture called, ‘Is Theology Poetry’? that has really helped me:

“The truth is that the resemblances tell nothing either for or against the truth of Christians theology. If you start from the assumption that the Theology is false, the resemblances are quite consistent with that assumption. One would expect creatures of the same sort, face with the same universe, to make the same false guesses more than once. But if you start with the assumption that the theology is true, the resemblances fit in equally well…The divine light, we are told, ‘lighteneth every man’. We should, therefore, expect in the mind of great Pagan teachers and myth makers some glimpse of the them which we believe to be the very plot of the whole cosmic story- the theme of incarnation, death and rebirth” (Weight of Glory, pg. 128).

Lewis, for all of his flaws, knew myths and he knew Christianity was different.

Sally– Hmmm. I’m running out of steam. You’ve actually answered a lot of my questions. But here is my last one,

So what? Jesus rose from the dead. The world is a stranger place than I once thought it was. So what?

Chris– Now, you’ve given me something to really ponder. Let’s talk tomorrow.

Sally– Okay.

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The Conversation Continues…Is Jesus alive?

September 3, 2011

Sally– You know every time I raise I rival theory you shoot it through with bullet holes. You ask a lot of questions that I can’t answer. But maybe the truth is, ‘we just don’t know’. We are peering through the mist of history and our gaze is forever obscured by the passage of time. Plus, history is written by the winners; in other words, history is biased.

Maybe, we can’t know what really happened to Jesus or the 1st Christians. Have you ever thought about that?

Chris– Wow, you went poetic on me for a second. Not all history is written by the winners, just like not all ‘truth’ is what your colleagues let you get away with.

I’m not sure I agree unless you mean ‘we can’t know anything historically with absolute certainty’. In fact, I’m not sure we can know anything with absolute certainty. None of us are God. The closest rival is Chuck Norris.

Here is a question, ‘how do you even know you are were born into your family?

Sally– Are you mocking me?

Chris– No seriously, how do you know you were born into your family?

Sally– Ummm, my parents told me all about the birth. I have a birth certificate and I’ve seen pictures. I also accidently came across the birth video, which, incidentally, scarred me for life.

Chris – So your parents have never lied before? How do you know they weren’t lying when they told the story of your birth? Documents can be forged, pictures can be faked, and videos can be tampered with.

Sally- This is ridiculous. Based on the evidence I do have I’m more than confident that I was born into my family.

Chris- I agree. Based on the evidence of your parents testimony, the pictures and the documents you are more than reasonable to conclude you were born into your family, which means we can know some things about the past.

Sally- Well, of course we can. But events 25 years ago and events 2000 thousand years ago are not the same thing. Plus, everyone is born, everyone isn’t rising from the dead. If you had a video tape of Jesus rising I would believe.

Well, actually maybe I wouldn’t. Video tapes can be tampered with.

Chris– I know, I know I just wanted to see how radical your skepticism runs. Can we know anything about ancient history in your view?

Sally- Yes, I think we can. But when it comes to historiography we are talking about different levels of certainty from unlikely, to probably, to almost certain that this is what took place.

Chris- I’ll accept that. So what can we know historically that almost certainly took place in your view?

Sally– Quite a lot. For example, we know that Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC. We know with a high degree of certainty that the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 AD. We know that Islam spread through military conquests. We know a movement called Christianity began in the 1st century within the folds of Judaism. We know the first Christians claimed that God raised Jesus from the dead. We don’t, however, know that God raised Jesus from the dead in my view.

Chris– Well, when it comes to historical investigation into events that took place in the distant past we need to look at our sources, assess their reliability, and seek to create a hypothesis that explains the events being described. There may be multiple explanations for any given event so we have to assess the relative strengths of each theory.

Historians assess competing hypothesis according to criteria like explanatory scope, explanatory power, plausibility, illumination, degree of ad hocness etc, etc.

Sally– I’ve heard that. Does Ad Hoc mean relying on too many unsupported assumptions to justify your theory? So the more you do that the more Ad Hoc the theory is and the less compelling it becomes.

Chris– Basically.

Sally– Okay fine. How does this address the issue of the resurrection?

Chris– In our first conversation we looked at the earliest written testimony we posses about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, which included appearances to his disciples, five hundred people at once, a skeptic (James) and an enemy (Paul). This eye witness testimony is found in 1st Corinthians 15 in a creedal form that dates from within a couple of years after the crucifixion of Christ.

This is eye witness testimony from an early date. We also find some relevant information in the book of Acts and the Gospels but all we really need is 1st Corinthians 15 for our purposes.

Sally– Right, I’ll admit since we first talked I did some research about 1st Corinthians 15. Scholars do take it very seriously as reliable testimony.

Chris– Well, based on our written sources here are the relevant facts that are agreed to by the majority of scholars in the field of New Testament Studies, including atheists, Jews and Agnostics.

Sally– Wait a minute. The majority of scholars…What rubbish! I’ve heard the majority of scholars claimed by both sides for radically opposed perspectives. You can’t bully me with your claimed scholarly consensus. If brave individuals didn’t challenge learned majority opinion we would make no progress in knowledge. Consensus! Nothing but stock refuge for the intellectually timid.

Chris– Are you done?

Sally– Yes.

Chris– Look, I’m not trying to bully you. I’m not trying to pull the wool over your eyes. A lot of scholars don’t believe that Jesus rose but the majority of scholars including Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, Bart Ermhan, Gerd Ludemann and E.P Sanders, will grant the facts that I will list. None of them are Christians in any traditional sense (two are atheists) but if you know the field you know they’re major players to be reckoned with.

But keep this in mind, in arguing for the bodily resurrection of Jesus I’m assuming a minority position amongst main stream scholars. For some reason liberal (in theological studies) has come to mean close minded to the miraculous.

Sally– Well, to be honest I don’t read thoroughly in the field of New Testament Studies and I ‘m not sure if I trust your comments on consensus but I’ll hear the ‘facts’.

By the way, does it bother you that most people get there ‘facts’ about Jesus from books authored by biologists and vanity fair writers?

Chris– Would it bother you if Evangelical Christians got most of their facts about biology from a lawyer, an engineer and a cosmologist?

Sally– Um, yah.

Chris– Anyways, here is the relevant data about Jesus. 1. Jesus died. 2. His tomb was found empty. 3. The Disciples claimed to have seen Jesus risen from the dead. 4. Paul was converted to Christianity. 5. James, the brother of Jesus, was also converted to Christianity. You can get all of that from 1st Corinthians 15.

Sally– Oh, okay well yah, I would probably grant those facts myself.

Chris– The only above claim that is a little controversial is the empty tomb but it is implied by the statement ‘he was buried’. All the other data, however, is basically certain as far as historical knowledge goes.

Only the most radical historical skepticism would deny it and that type of skepticism shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Sally– Why?

Chris– Because it is consistently inconsistent (eg. the proponents are rarely skeptical about their skepticism. They espouse doubt with a certitude that would be tragically funny, if they weren’t so serious).

Sally– Ha.

Chris– I thought you’d like that. Now, you can add to the above facts: 6. The Resurrection was the center of preaching in the early church. 7. The first Christians radically redefined the Jewish notion of Messiah. No one denies that. 8. The message of the Resurrection was proclaimed in Jerusalem, were Jesus was crucified and buried a short while beforehand. Again, basically uncontested. 9. The Disciples lives were transformed from fearful doubters to bold testifiers of the resurrection who were not afraid to suffer for their beliefs. Uncontroversial.

The more you know about the 1st century the more you would be willing to grant the above statements.

So what is the best explanation for all of this data? We’ve seen that the hallucination hypothesis fails and so does the conspiracy theory. What is the one cause big enough to explain all of these affects?

Gosh, think solely of James’ conversion. What would it take for you to worship your brother? I know your brother lovingly terrorized you growing up. How many times did he ‘accidently’ hit you in the head with a tennis ball, snow ball, basketball etc, etc?

My dad fashioned a spear into wood and impaled his brother with it when they were younger (He claims it was an accident). I just went to a family reunion and my uncle was not singing worship chorus’ directed towards my deified dad.

Sally– It would take a miracle for me to worship my brother and die for that belief.

Chris– Exactly.

Sally– Thankfully miracles don’t happen. Well, honestly I’m not sure. But there has to be some smart person with a degree who could explain the above evidence without resorting to a miracle?

Chris– Sure. If you don’t believe in God a miraculous explanation is not open to you. So an intelligent atheist will use their God given brain to come up with some type of theory to explain the above data.

But the question is ‘what is the best explanation’? We are doing what philosophers call , ‘an inference to the best explanation’. We’ve seen that explanations like visions, hallucinations, and conspiracies fail to fully explain.

I mean think of the Jesus’ resurrection appearance to the five hundred, many of whom were still alive when Paul wrote 1st Corinthians 15. Paul tells the Corinthians this so that the skeptical can check it out if they really want to.

If you lied to your parents about living on campus at UBC would you invite them to visit, especially if they were already suspicious you were being dishonest and would take you up on the offer?

Sally– No, obviously not.

Chris– So if Paul is making up the appearance to the five hundred why an open invitation to check it out?

Sally– Well, I don’t know but…

Chris– If God exists the miraculous is possible, right? If you admit God, you admit the possibility of the miraculous; you have no safeguard against it. If you asked the first eye witnesses how to explain all of the above data what answer would they give?

Sally– Jesus rose.

Chris– So maybe he did. The resurrection explains all of the above facts far better than any other theory. It’s the only explanation that really works. Open the door of your worldview a crack to make room for a God who actually acts in history. Bust free from your anti-miraculous dogma that holds your wonder shackled to a flat, static view of reality.

Sally– I, I’m not comfortable with that.

Chris– We’re not after comfort but truth.

Sally– Look, here is the problem. Imagine I was a judge presiding over a class action suit where a bunch of people were suing a hospital for malpractice. A couple of patients died tragically in the same month on the operating table. It looks like mistakes may have been made by the attending surgeons resulting in the fatalities. The grieved families are suing the Hospital for millions.

Chris– Where is this going? Is this a diversion?

Sally– No. Wait for it. Let’s say I’m also on the board of Trustee’s for the Hospital.

Chris- Would that happen?

Sally- I doesn’t matter because here is the point. I wouldn’t be able to judge that case because I have a vested interest in the Hospital. I would be biased. I couldn’t approach the evidence from a position of neutrality.

Chris– Okay. I’m not sure the analogy is perfect but..

Sally– Let me finish. It’s the same with the issue of Jesus rising from the dead. It’s not like studying whether or not Nero lit Rome on fire and fiddled while it burned. If Jesus rose, I have to take him seriously. I might be compelled to change my life. That is problematic for me. I like my life as it is.

I don’t feel a God shaped void in my heart.

I don’t want a God who meddles. Look, i’m not opposed to his (or her) existence I just want ‘it’ to leave me alone. I don’t want a God who sends prophets or messiahs or whatever…

Chris– Wow. That is honest and insightful. You’ve hit on the problem with any kind of Jesus research. You can’t approach the New Testament documents from a neutral position…

Sally– Right.