Thinking Out Loud

December 8, 2021

Jesus Taught 12 Students for 3 Years: What Was the Curriculum?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:24 am

This drawing first appeared at my devotional blog, C201, a year-and-a-half ago. I find it amusing looking back that the related article I wrote specifically mentions Matthias and Justus, the two nominees to replace Judas after the betrayal, but in the drawing it’s Matthias and “?.” (There’s a pun here somewhere about how sometimes there’s just no Justus.)

The two were mentioned toward the end of the article as an example of people who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. (Acts 1: 21b – 22a) in order to show that while “the twelve” were the “official” disciples, there were others such as the siblings Mary, Martha and Lazarus; Mary the mother of Jesus, two other Marys (a popular name; they must have been Catholic) and people like Nicodemus who appears at both the beginning and end of John’s Gospel, and John Mark, who might have been too young to be counted at the outset but is definitely part of the inner circle in the Garden of Gethsemane.

When I say, “official” disciples, I realize some are confused by the use of the term “the twelve apostles” and then there is the matter that we are all, today, disciples. And if we want to throw out numbers, let’s not forget the 72 (or as some prefer, 70) who Jesus sent out two-by-two. Casual adherents and visitors wouldn’t have been allowed on that missions trip.

The point of all this is to bring us to this verse:

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. – John 21:25 NIV

Want an example?

In Luke 24:13-35, we have the story of Jesus appearing to Clopas and the other unnamed person on the road to Emmaus. The crucifixion has left them shattered, and they describe their sadness to Jesus and then Jesus responds.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. – v27

Of all the “other things” that John was referring to, most people I know would give their eye teeth to have a transcription of that small group discussion. The entire, big-picture story-arc of the Bible as taught by Jesus himself. Nobody knew it was happening, but for a brief span of time, it was the hottest ticket in town.

So how does this connect with “the twelve?”

The thing that separates those young men from the additional disciples is a rabbinical relationship between teacher and student. He was their rabbi, and for three years they followed him (literally, as he was itinerant, always on the move) as he did whatever might be expected of a rabbi, plus a few extras that probably weren’t.

So what was on the curriculum? What was in the syllabus?

I haven’t seen much written about this, but I would expect there would be teaching on ethics, on philosophy, on Israel’s history, and perhaps even a lecture or two about dealing with pesky parishioners or doing fundraising to support their ministry. Things that rabbis taught their pupils, necessary for advancement on the day they themselves became teachers, plus some of whatever elements would distinguish one rabbi’s teaching from another.

The point is, we don’t know.

Most of what we see and hear of his teaching happened in a public setting, leaving us with enough in terms of the “red letter” quotable quotes to advance the kingdom and change the world; but also leave us hungering for more, such as Clopas and the other person got to hear while walking from Emmaus.

At the site BibleRef.com, the point is made that because of the writing style in John, this observation about the volume of unrecorded actions and teachings of Jesus, is the only time the writer uses the pronoun, “I.”

Throughout the gospel of John, there have been overtly anonymous references to a particular disciple (John 1:37; 13:23; 18:15–16; 19:26; 21:23). The prior verse seems to confirm this person is John, the author of the entire work (John 21:24). John may have used a secretary to write down his words as he spoke, partly explaining why this writing ends with a specific claim to authorship. There appears to be an additional stamp of approval, possibly from a local church, attached to that statement as well.

Here, the “signature” concludes with the gospel of John’s only explicit use of a first-person perspective. It’s not entirely clear if this is still John speaking, or if this continues the note of approval which began with the phrase “and we know…” from the prior verse. Either way, it makes the point that Jesus’ earthly ministry could not be fully detailed in a single book. Further, to explain or understand those words would require immense effort. The existence of Bible commentaries—such as this very ministry—which are many times longer than the text itself is further proof of this.

Apparently John himself (or if you prefer, the writer of the Gospel of John*) is most emphatic on this; grammatically, it’s the crescendo in what has been, after all, a first-person account.

As Knowing-Jesus.com states,

John only related a fraction of the inexhaustible fullness of all Christ did during His 33 years on earth, which was spent going about doing good. He humbled Himself and only did those things He heard from His Father in heaven and He worked the works of God, through the mighty power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

…John’s gospel only touches on the fringe of inexhaustible fullness of all that Jesus did – for words are insufficient to capture the infinite riches of His unparalled life.

The site Heartlight.org sums up the passage well:

Jesus did many great deeds when he was here. He also is continuing to do those great deeds through his people and for the people of the world. But even though the world could not contain a book that recorded all the good things that Jesus did, Jesus did walk on our planet, look up at our stars, and face our mortal frailties so we could see God. Why? Three reasons are especially important to John:

  1. Jesus loves us, as does his Father.
  2. We need Jesus’ love, mercy, grace, example, message, and truth.
  3. The Father wanted Jesus to come and reveal himself to us.

We don’t know every single word that was spoken by Jesus on this earth, but we’re given enough that, if we can process and assimilate that, we can indeed transform our world.


Some of the teaching of Jesus that we do have recorded were indeed asides to the twelve. The public, including seekers, scribes and spiritual leaders were not present. But most of what we read is part of what is termed his “public ministry.”

If you want to delve further into Christ’s teaching, The Gospel of Matthew is your best bet, containing five (count ’em, five) of Christ’s discourses. Much attention is given to the first one, which we call The Sermon on the Mount, but if you want to read what we covered at C201 a year ago about the others, here are the links:

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Mission

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Parables

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: The Church

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: End Times


* I included this phrase as a concession to those who believe and teach that the Gospels weren’t necessarily authored by the person whose name they bear. I’m all for advances in research and textual criticism, but the phrase, “the writer of the Gospel of John” is just an awkward sentence construction.


Warning: Speculation as to what all is contained in the things that Jesus may have said or done which are not recorded is a dangerous pursuit. To say it differently, this is how cults get started. We have enough solid content from the common canon of scripture without having to elaborate or focus on things which are pure conjecture.

November 3, 2021

Jesus as History’s Ultimate Person of Interest

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:41 am

Book Review: Person of Interest by J. Warner Wallace.

This is the fourth time it’s been my privilege to review one of J. Warner Wallace’s books, and while each one makes a compelling case for Christianity, I would propose that the set of four, taken together, provides an almost irrefutable, undeniable case for Jesus being all he claimed to be.

As in his previous titles, the skills of Wallace’s work as a cold case detective provide a motif for the spiritual issues under discussion. This time around it’s a single case: the disappearance and probable murder of a woman named Tammy. In this situation, a body was never located, which makes it the most difficult type of cold case to investigate.

This time around however, on the other side of the analogy is the author’s own faith journey, from atheist to believer. The very personal aspect of this makes it very similar to Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ.

In Person of Interest: Why Jesus Still Matters in a World That Rejects the Bible (Zondervan, 2021) Wallace explains that there are two critical sets of factors at play in a potential murder investigation, and in a critical look at the life of Christ.

He sorts these things using the imagery of a bomb exploding. The first type of these factors includes noteworthy things leading up to the “event,” which he calls the fuse. Then, everything that happens after, he terms the fallout. A longer fuse and  greater fallout lead more clearly to the establishing of a person of interest.

What therefore sets this book apart from other apologetic resources is the emphasis on the particular time and place in history that Jesus occupied, and the spinoff effects including influences in diverse things like art, architecture, literature, sculpture, etc.

Included on the fallout side is the thorny issue of the capital-C Church’s relationship with science, and the influence Christianity has had on other religions, including religions which were founded before the birth of Jesus. It’s a courageous, outside-the-box perspective, and while one might argue that the reverberations from Christ’s life aren’t any more significant than the cultural echoes from, for example, The Beatles, added together, his documentation of such effects make Person of Interest a unique resource.

The book is also peppered with the usual illustrations provided by the author himself which are a hallmark of all of his titles. It does make for faster reading, especially if you process things visually. Some of these however are a bit repetitive, and most require a visit to the website to view more clearly, as the reproduction in the book is rather fuzzy. Several of the footnotes — 54 pages of them in a 312 page paperback — direct the reader to examine these images in detail online, along with selected case notes.

Wallace paints with broad strokes and a few times, I thought the finished work could have been tightened up a little. In the section on architecture he stated that the early followers of Jesus “lacked financial patronage,” (p131) but in fact, this was exactly Theophilus’ role in underwriting the research for the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts.

In a section concerned with the early church’s role in fostering education, he mentioned The Didache and referred to it having a “question and answer” format (p160) when in fact it does not follow that catechism method. These are things I’m willing to overlook, however.

I’m not sure that I would use Person of Interest as an initial reading suggestion for someone interested in Christian believe — though a week from now I might do that with one particular person I am meeting — but as a supplement to Wallace’s first book, Cold Case Christianity, it would prove to be a good complementary resource.

A free preview excerpt of Person of Interest, consisting of the introduction and first chapter is available at this link.

If you appreciate the study of Christian apologetics and already own a handful of resources, consider this. I guarantee you don’t have anything like it in your library.

October 11, 2021

Review: Searching for Enough by Tyler Staton

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:01 am

Thomas didn’t really show up until page 149.

Despite being tipped off on page 10 as to the overall direction of the book Searching for Enough: The High-Wire Walk Between Doubt and Faith, I was expecting him earlier because the apostle Thomas is the centerpiece of Tyler Staton’s signature sermon.

I’ve heard him preach it all the way through twice, and almost three times to different audiences, and I’ve continued to be captivated by his teaching style. I was introduced to him though Bridgetown, on a Sunday that John Mark Comer was away, and tracked down some sermons to Oaks Church Brooklyn in the heart of New York.

If you preach at Bridgetown it means you’ve done your homework. The teaching part of the service runs the better part of an hour, and during that time you’d better have something to say, including the necessary research and an equal balance of references to things academic and scholarly, and the stuff of everyday life.

In the past few weeks, Tyler Staton formally took the teaching reins at Bridgetown, moving his family from one side of the country to another, as John Mark Comer moves on to some new projects.

At the time the book was completed New York City was very much in his blood. That city is a mix of all types of people, each carrying all manner of stories and so is Tyler. He has no problem finding connection points with his audience through references to the basic challenges of life; the challenges we face in our search for enough.

John Mark wrote the foreword to Searching for Enough, including the advice to read slowly. At this point I’m thankful to have finished the book — and the review — in the same year the book was written. There’s a lot of rich content here, and as I considered some brief words here, I found myself back at the beginning and drawn into the story all over again.

This is very much a look at the life of Jesus, and especially the final week — what we call the passion week — when “all four accounts slow way down;” and merge, falling into “perfect harmony with one another, suddenly documenting each precise detail when they had been a sweeping survey up to that point.”

And then, post-resurrection, Thomas, aka Didymus (the twin) comes into view. The book dares us to see Thomas as our twin, and recognize that his doubts are not that far from removed from where we often find ourselves; along with anecdotes from the lives of people similar to us, and those who walk a very different road.

Searching for Enough passes my personal litmus test for what a book on the Christian life should be. It’s one I would recommend reading, but is especially good when paired with some background familiarity with Tyler’s teaching style as found on video at YouTube, Oaks Church and Bridgetown.

Available in paperback from Zondervan wherever you buy quality books. Thanks to Mark H. at HarperCollins Christian Products.


Read an excerpt from Searching for Enough at this link.

April 5, 2021

Mark Clark’s Follow-Up Book Equally Packed with Content

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:09 am

I think the greatest challenge I had with reviewing Mark Clark’s The Problem of God three years ago is that the book was simply so wide-ranging in its coverage of the apologetic waterfront. There is so much entailed in the advice to “always be ready to give an account,” and I so much want to own the material to be able to present it and properly articulate the content when asked that the prospect can be overwhelming.

And then there’s the sense in that book, along with the sequel, The Problem of Jesus that this is Mark’s own story and so he’s able to present responses to the “problems” because he’s worked them through in his own life, as opposed to those of us “older brothers” who grew up in the church and took everything as it was handed to us before we reached an age of potential internal skepticism.

I explained this in my first review,

Until his later teens, Clark was camped on the other side of the border of faith. Partying. Drugs. Disbelief. So he has those still there clearly in view as he writes this; these are the type of people who made up the nucleus of Village Church when it was founded in 2010.

The autobiographical elements are far from distracting, rather they serve an essential purpose, an underlying personal narrative connecting the philosophical threads.

There is a certain aspect to which the subjects in the two books overlap, like to proverbial Venn diagram. I would offer that he may not have had the second book in view when he penned the first, and wanted to cover a sufficient number of bases. Perhaps I’m wrong on this, but there’s a lot about Jesus in the first book, and a number of things about God in the second.

You don’t need to have read the first to start the sequel, and I’m quite happy to own both, which have a combined total of over 600 pages packed with content. To that end, there are 328 endnotes — I lead a dull life and so I counted them — reflecting a host of sources. (Remind me to look up Herman Bavinck, whose contributions were always insightful.) One reviewer offered that Clark “intertwines personal story, heavy scholarship, and winsome argument together.” I would add that the book is definitely accessible to the average reader of Christian non-fiction.

The Problem of Jesus: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to the Scandal of Jesus (Zondervan) covers nine different subject areas, but this time around a double chapter is given to each: The historical Jesus; the Gospels; discipleship; God’s loving nature; miracles; the stories Jesus told; the divinity of Jesus; his death; and his resurrection.

I love books like this, and so it gets my wholehearted recommendation. Take it for a test drive: We included an excerpt at Christianity 201 on the weekend, which you can read at this link.


 

Thanks as usual to Mark H. at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for an opportunity to check out The Problem of Jesus.

May 27, 2020

Drawing a Crowd Needn’t Be Seen as Problematic

In the past ten weeks, I’ve been doing more original writing at C201, than here at Thinking Out Loud. While I don’t want this to simply be a mirror site for the other one, I do want to share these here from time to time. This one appeared earlier this month…

Previous generations didn’t have the word, “megachurch.” Of course they didn’t have “televangelist” either. There were indeed large churches, however and there were preachers (George Whitefield is a good example) who preached to thousands — in the outdoors, no less — without the benefit of sound equipment. But we tend to look back favorably on those days, believing it was a matter of substance over style.

Today, we have popular preachers whose television ministries have huge followings and whose close-up pictures are plastered on the front cover of their books. (No, not just that one; I’m thinking of about six.)

The general conclusion at which people arrive is that they are getting those followers because they are saying what people want to hear. On close examination, it’s true that many of the hooks of their sermons and books are positive motivational sayings that also work on posters and coffee mugs.

For those of us who are insiders, we immediately default to the phrase itching ears. This is drawn from 2 Timothy 4:3

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. (NLT)

This true, probably more true now than ever, but the challenge for Christians today is that everyone who drives by a church with an overflowing parking lot is likely to jump to conclusions and declare that church liberal in their theology or empty of doctrines; or infer that people only go there for the music.

It’s true that Jesus warned his disciples they were not going to win a popularity contest. In Matthew 7: 13-14 he tells his disciples,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”. (NIV)

and then immediately makes a statement about false teachers.

Jesus had his own fall from popularity when he began what I call the tough teachings and others call the “hard sayings.” A month ago I referred to “the ominously verse-referenced” John 6:66

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (NIV)

Many of you grew up in churches where you were told you were part of “the chosen few” a reference to Matthew 22:14

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” (ESV)

Jesus told his disciples that they would experience rejection in some places. In Matthew 10:14 he is saying,

If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave. (NLT)

In other words, there is, at least in Evangelicalism, a mindset that says that we are a tiny remnant, and by extrapolation is suspicious of large crowds.

But there are exceptions.

I think of an American pastor who since Christmas has been walking his church through some very challenging sermons; raising the bar when it comes to expectations for both compassionate service and lifestyle evangelism. But he’s not off in a corner doing this, it’s one of the top ten churches in the U.S.

I think of two Canadian pastors, from two very different eras, who have a giftedness when it comes to taking Bible passage “A” and showing people how it relates to Bible passage “B.” I’ve seen both of them preach before thousands of people. It was far from “itching ears;” you had to work hard just to keep up with the note-taking, which is challenging when you’re sitting there with your mouth open going, “Wow!”

I think of Nicodemus who we characterize as coming to Jesus in secret. I was always taught that was the reason for his nighttime visit in John 3. But lately I read that the rabbis set aside the early evening for further discussion. He was coming back for the Q. and A. part of the teaching. He wanted more. I find him to be representative of people in the crowd who were there for all the right reasons. (Compare his motivation to that of Felix in Acts 24:25-26.) The itching ears crowd don’t come back for the evening service, the Tuesday morning Bible study, or the midweek prayer meeting.

The website Knowing Jesus has come up with more than 30 good examples of Jesus being surrounded by crowds. True, the Bible tells us that some of them were simply there for the miracle spectacle or the free lunches, but I’m sure that many of them were drawn to Jesus for greater, higher reasons. (There’s a limit to how many hours people will listen to teaching in order to get a fish sandwich lunch.)

So where did all this come from today? A friend posted this on Facebook. I’ve decided to delete the original author’s name.

His words appear deep, meaningful and mature, but indirectly he is lashing out against individuals or movements which are left unnamed. He’s implying that everyone who is drawing a big crowd is doing so at the expense of preaching the Word. I suspect his words land with people who are already on-side, so I don’t really get the point of posting things like this at all.

Furthermore, the inference is that the sign of a successful ministry is suffering, hardship and opposition.

Like so many things in scripture, there is a balance to be found.

In Matthew 5:14 +16, we find Jesus saying

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden”
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
(NASB)

If all you experience is suffering, hardship and opposition, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing everything right, but rather, it could be you’re doing something seriously wrong.

Oswald Smith wrote the hymn which begins:

There is joy in serving Jesus
As I journey on my way
Joy that fills my heart with praises
Every hour and every day

I really hope that’s your experience as well.

 

April 4, 2020

Songs for Good Friday | Songs for Communion

For the past decade, I’ve linked to or included songs at Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201 which are cross-focused, appropriate for a Communion Service (Eucharist) or Good Friday. There are also a number of songs we’ve done individually or as part of a worship team. I’ve never attempted to gather them all in one place.

These are not the top songs which come to mind for many of you, but ones which I thought might be lesser known, or are more lyrically rich. There are a number by UK artists, and I feel the lyrical depth we get from songwriters there exceeds the output we see from writers in Nashville. I have however included a few you should recognize.

This is the first time I’ve embedded a playlist — not a single video — so to keep it playing you either need to keep this blog page open, or click the YouTube icon to transfer the action directly to YouTube. Right now there are 21 songs, so if you want to have this playing in the background, you should be good for 90+ minutes.

Again, these are not “Easter songs.” A few of them move to the resurrection, but the idea was to focus on the arrest, trial, scourging, suffering and crucifixion of Jesus.

If the player does not open properly here is the link.

February 10, 2020

A Truth Test: Who’s Getting the Credit?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:58 am

In just a few short weeks, Christianity 201 is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Here’s a recent post.

Several days ago I was struck by a verse I had previously skipped over, John 7:28. Jesus says,

“Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”

He says this at the Festival of Tabernacles as the Jewish scholars are trying to get him to state, for the record, from where his teaching derives, since he did not sit under the tutoring of their rabbis. In context:

NIV.John.7.16-18 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.

Some commentaries focus more on the idea that Jesus gives God the Father credit, rather than the particularities of verse 18, which makes a more general statement about how this is can be an example of a test for truth.

For example BibleRef.com:

Rather than being educated in some Rabbinic school, or generating knowledge on His own, Jesus credits His amazing wisdom to God (John 7:16). In context, this is what Jesus means by those speaking on “his own authority.” While Jesus is fully man, and fully God (Colossians 1:19), His earthly mission is to follow the will of God the Father. Since the message Jesus brings is that of God, God is to be given credit for it. Even further, Jesus claims that a person’s willingness to obey God is what determines his or her understanding—rather than the reverse, where understanding enables obedience.

Even Jesus’ critics were forced to take note of His honesty and moral perfection (John 8:46)…

Quoting The Biblical Illustrator commentary at StudyLight.com, there is a closer connection between truth and humility.

1. … The conceited man

(l) Speaks out of himself. He is known everywhere by his ostentatious parade of originality and infallibility. His own opinions evolved from his inner consciousness, in proud independence of other thinkers, are the standard of truth and untruth. His predecessors were all very well in their day; but their teaching is now obsolete. His contemporaries are right according to their light, but their light is only one remove from darkness. To raise the least objection against his ipse dixit is only an evidence of “knowing nothing about it.” How many such original geniuses afflict the Church, the state, halls of science and schools of philosophy!

2. Its aim–“his own glory.” This is the end which the conceited man never loses sight of, and everything he does has as its motive the gratification of his own personal vanity. He dresses and attitudinizes for the purpose of attracting attention; he talks to secure praise for his sagacity or adventures; he schemes and works that he may be talked about, or to obtain gain. And verily he has his reward.

The IVP Bible Commentary at BibleGateway.com continues this theme,

One either speaks from God or one speaks from self, no matter how many external authorities are appealed to. One seeking God, who is caring for God’s glory rather than one’s own, such as Jesus refers to, is able to believe (5:44). Jesus’, “humility and obedience allow him to speak with the authority of God” (Barrett 1978:318), and these are the same qualities that enable a person to recognize God’s word in Jesus’ teaching.

Eugene Peterson renders this verse in The Message as,

A person making things up tries to make himself look good. But someone trying to honor the one who sent him sticks to the facts and doesn’t tamper with reality.

This verse has been percolating in my thoughts for several days now, but it came back again in a service on the weekend, reading the story from Acts 3 of Jesus healing the lame man:

NIV.Acts.3.12b …“Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13a The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus.

The goal of The Incarnate One, and the aim of those First Century apostles was the same: To deflect the glory; the credit; the honor; etc., away from themselves and towards God the Father.

The principle of John 7:18 is to tell us that this can be a test for the veracity; the truthfulness of the one speaking.

June 28, 2019

Compelling: Believable and Beautiful

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:48 am

For the past six months, my friend Pastor Clarke Dixon has been preaching an epic-length series under the title “Compelling.” Six months is a long time, but it represents a commitment to assemble all the major apologetic arguments in one place. It was truly a labor of love — in many ways — and I decided we would share it here as well as we’ve been doing every Thursday at Christianity 201 for the last six months. Each of the points below is a link, and you can access the full articles for each subject by clicking through.

NIV.I Peter.3.13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

Believable and Beautiful: Why Christianity is Compelling

by Clarke Dixon

Can we really believe what we read in books written so long ago? With so many world-views and so many religions, how could we ever pick just one? Does it really matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere, and don’t bother others with it? Don’t people need to leave their brains at the door of a Christian church? Many people are reluctant to consider Christianity. However, in our series we have considered how Christianity is compelling, both in being believable, and beautiful.

First let us review why Christianity is believable, why one need neither leave their brain at the door of the church, nor their faith in the university parking lot. (Click on the links to read the corresponding “Shrunk Sermon.”)

BELIEVABLE

  • Compelling Truth.  People who are “relativists” when it comes to faith and religion suddenly become “modernists” when they need surgery. Truth can be known and does matter. We consistently live as people who know truth can be known and does matter. The truth about Jesus can be known and does matter.
  • A Compelling Cosmos. We considered that the universe had a beginning, the “fine-tuning” of the universe to be life-permitting, and the fact that anything exists at all. What we learn from studying the universe points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Morality. Very few people will say that there are not certain behaviors that ought to be considered evil for all people at all times in all places. The reality of objective morality points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Life. Life began and now flourishes in a world that seems ideally suited for it. The realities of life point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Minds. Thinking people point to the reality of a thinking God.
  • Compelling Religion. The appetite for the spiritual points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Evil. The existence of suffering and evil is consistent with what the Bible teaches about our experience. Suffering and evil point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Holy Books. What caused each of the books of the Bible to be written? The documents that make up the Bible point to the reality of God whose interaction with the world stirred up much writing.
  • The Compelling Man. The most compelling man in history, compelling in his activity, his teaching, his ethics, his presence, his good works, his love, and his impact, points to the reality of God.
  • A Compelling Turn of Events. The tomb was empty and disciples were going about telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. They were willing to die for that testimony. Naysayers like James and Paul, changed their minds. Devoted Jews took radical shifts in their theology. The events of, and following, Easter, point to the reality of God.

Cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace speaks of a cold-case trial as being a cumulative case. That is, the best explanation of the evidence is the one that explains all the evidence. With regards to religion and faith, certain world-views may explain some of the evidence. For example, with regards to suffering, Eastern religions have a nice tidy explanation. If you suffer, it is because you deserve it. Your karma is catching up to you. There is a cosmic justice and suffering makes sense. However, there are still many things that don’t makes sense. If Eastern religions are correct, then how did the Bible come into being? Why was the tomb of Jesus empty, why did the disciples go around telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead and why were they willing to die for that? Why did naysayers like James and Paul change their tune about who Jesus is and what he is about? Likewise, atheism also gives a good explanation as to why there is suffering. However, again, atheism can not explain all the evidence. Christianity explains all the evidence! Therefore, not only are the truth claims of Christianity believable, there are compelling reasons why we can see them as being the best depiction of reality. God is for real, and in Christ, God is for us.

We can further ask if each worldview is consistent in where it leads. It would be strange if, while the evidence points to the existence of a good and loving God, belief in, and devotion to, that God led to a terrible way to live, and a horrible society. We have used the example of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. If you have read the novel, or watched the TV series, you will see the dominance of a worldview which leads to ugliness and not beauty. Does Christianity lead to ugliness, or to beauty? In our series we considered how Christianity leads to beauty.

BEAUTIFUL

  • Compelling Evidence. Science and Christianity point in the same direction. Christianity helped science get started. A perspective which denigrates science is ugly. That Christianity can work with science is beautiful!
  • Compelling Religion. While religion can, in the words of Christopher Hitchens, “poison everything,” a Biblical Spirit-led Christianity leads to healing. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace. The love of God for people is beautiful. God’s grace and forgiveness is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace, Part 2. The call to grace, forgiveness, and wisdom in human relationships is beautiful!
  • The Compelling God. The perfect justice and wonderful mercy of God is beautiful. Only at the cross do we see God being perfectly just while also being merciful. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Mission. The sharing of good news is always beautiful. That we share the good news through words, rather than by force, and give people the space and freedom to choose for themselves, is beautiful!
  • Compelling Family. The Christian vision for parenting and marriage is beautiful. Yet the flexibility that no one is forced to fit the mold of “married with children” is also beautiful!
  • A Compelling Life. The Jesus-centered, Spirit-filled, life lived in wisdom is beautiful. That we don’t just follow rules, but grow in character, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Society. Christians are not called to takeover the government and set up a society that enforces Christian living. That Christians are called to be salt and light is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Perspective on Humanity. No one has greater value than anyone else. That all people are created in the image of God, without exception, and without exception Christ bore the cross for all people, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling People. That the Church is to be a people who do good works in Jesus’ name, in allegiance to Jesus, under the influence of the Spirit, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Future. The future of every single person, whether they receive Jesus or not, is reasonable & consistent with a good and loving God. This is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Invitation. Everyone is invited! You are invited! This is beautiful!

The outworking of the Christian faith is consistent with the good and loving God the evidence points to. There are many aspects of Christianity that make us say “of course that is how a good and loving God would do it.” However, Christians have often made a mess of things and been the cause of ugliness rather than beauty. When this happens, it results from a disconnect from Jesus, and often, an unfortunate understanding of God’s Word. The inconsistency is ours. The ugliness is ours. But there is beauty. There is beauty, because there is God.

Perhaps you still have questions. I do. We don’t need all the answers. I have long thought of faith as being like a jigsaw puzzle. As we are figuring out our view of the world, our spirituality, and the way things are, pieces come together. Some people start with the most difficult of questions and give up. But for many of us, the puzzle pieces come together in such a way that the picture begins to form. It is a beautiful picture. So beautiful, in fact, that we cannot help but keep working on it. Sometimes there are pieces that we cannot yet place. Sometimes we have the sense that we are forcing certain pieces together that don’t fit. Sometimes we need to take pieces out that we thought fit, and fit them in where they really belong. This is all a normal part of growing and maturing in our understanding. The picture that comes together as we grow in our understanding is beautiful, and well worth the effort. It is a picture of the cross, of God’s love in Christ.

My prayer throughout this whole series is that you would find the Christian faith to be believable and beautiful, that you would find Christ to be compelling.


Use the above links to read any of the posts in the series. At each you’ll find a link for the audio version of the full sermon on which they are based.


1 John.1.1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

June 17, 2019

I Love Analogies, But…

I am a great believer in the power of analogy. Jesus did this in his ministry. However, I’m not so sure that this one works. The kids in the post in which this appeared on social media were quite young. In other words, impressionable. But fortunately, also prone to forgetting this over the years.

In the larger scheme of things, “Father, Son, Spirit” is itself an analogy to the point that it is God trying to describe the community of God — or Godhead, a word I’m not fond of — in a way that we might understand. But of course we’re forced to create other analogies (ice/water/steam, length/height/depth, eggs, shamrocks, etc.; each of which has its own liabilities) to try to make this more understandable.

I guess my objection here is that on any level, even allowing for liabilities, this one just doesn’t work.


More articles on Trinity here:

May 17, 2019

Charles Colson Quotation

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:33 am

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