Thinking Out Loud

October 16, 2017

Skye Jethani’s State of the Modern Church Address

Those of have heard Skye Jethani speak, be it a sermon, conference message, or podcast conversation, know him to both extremely forthright and wonderfully articulate on matters related to church and culture. He brings this gift to a new book, Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc. released last week by Moody Press.

The book is a series of 24 short essays on various aspects of church and ministry leadership; interconnected, but presented such they can be studied in any order. While I have heard him touch on many of these before, as assembled here, much of this material was new to me.

Skye Jethani’s forté is analysis, and a major part of his analytical toolkit is a knowledge of the broader sweep of modern church history, some of this no doubt afforded by his years serving in various departments of Christianity Today, Inc. and as a local church pastor. While much ink has been spilled over the last 20 years lamenting the state of the modern church in North America, Australia/New Zealand and Western Europe, the words here are more prescriptive; a look at where the church may have lost its way presented alongside healthy doses of routes we might take to get back on track. Each essay ends with two or three “next step” questions or applications.

Some standout chapters for me — many of which were brought to life through some clever analogies — included:

1. Ambition (and motivation; always a good place to start)
3. Wastefulness (versus efficiency which can enslave us)
6. Dramas (there are three playing out in church leadership)
8. Simplicity (versus the complexity we see everywhere else, discussed in chapter 9)
9. Complexity (the longest chapter in the book; Jethani at his best)
10. Redundancy (an interesting approach to the matter of pastoral succession)
12. Illumination (another longer chapter; on sermon expectation and who might preach)
15. Platform (this chapter is gold; a look at how we confer authority in the local church)
16. Celebrity (analysis of the rise of the “Evangelical Industrial Complex”)
18. Consumers (again, I preferred the longer chapters; this one is about church choices; some of the other chapters not listed I would like to have seen fleshed out in greater detail.)

And then there was chapter 24, an even more autobiographical essay which strikes at the heart of ministry from the author’s early experiences as a hospital chaplain. A fitting ending in so many respects.

On a personal level, if I’ve learned nothing else in the last 20 years, I’ve learned that while ecclesiology is by definition the domain of pastors, books about ecclesiology are widely read by a variety of lay-people who who feel a sense of ownership in the local churches in their community. With so much reconstruction taking place in the look, feel and purpose of weekend gatherings; many want to champion these changes while others are fearful of going too far and thereby losing the plot. So while the book is being marketed more as an academic title for Bible college or classroom discussion, I think the finished product is something I would encourage many of my friends to read.

 


Read a short sample from Immeasurable at this link

Related: Skye Jethani on news and media

Related: A review of the 2012 title, With.


Photo: Skye Jethani on the weekly Phil Vischer podcast.


Thanks to Martin Smith at Parasource Distribution & Marketing for a review copy of Immeasurable.

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July 27, 2017

Resenting the Church’s Wealth

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:34 am

Before leaving Austria’s Melk Abbey, I persuaded my wife to buy two small postcards. It was a rather strange place to make our only abbey/cathedral/church expenditure because she was not terribly impressed with this particular excursion.

She found it extremely opulent and it was such a huge contrast to the simple crucifix that we had seen in the museum. The two postcards were meant to ask the question, “How did we get from this to this?” In other words, how did the death of the simple, peripatetic rabbi as a common criminal lead to the layers and layers of gold which adorned the worship space?

One answer that was given us on another tour was that the churches and cathedrals “must outdo the palaces” because “God deserves better than the King.”

Just ponder that for a few minutes…

…I wonder to what extent the average person at the time of construction could come to resent the church’s wealth? When your family is living in a cold and damp hovel in the middle of cruel winter and you’ve had to skip supper because the rats have eaten the food you had set aside to cook that night; and then you look out the window and see this gigantic gold-topped cathedral being built just a mile or two from your home, do you start to wonder about the equity of all things? Or do you in fact the connect the dots as we did and wonder how the simple story of the teacher who told his closest disciples to carry no bag for their journey and focus on building heavenly treasure gave way to stained glass and organs and statues and twelve libraries?

Fast forward to 2017. Are things much different? Do people resent the church’s wealth today? When your family is living in subsidized housing and the landlord refuses to fix the hot water heater and you’ve had to skip dinner because the refrigerator is empty, the Food Stamps/EBT debit card is missing and the only friend who might help you out is in lockup for DUI; when you look out the window and see the megachurch on the other side of the freeway which now prevents you from seeing the sunset; do you start to wonder why that huge building needs to exist at all while you go hungry? Do you connect the dots and wonder how the story of the Nazareth carpenter who preached the Sermon on the Mount and told the rich young man to sell everything gave way to an air-conditioned house of worship with 2,600 plush seats and a fully equipped children’s ministry center and state-of-the-art sound and lighting?

Are we still trying to outdo the palace?

July 2, 2017

When People Play God

Last week, on a recommendation, we watched the 2013 British film Philomena starring Judi Dench. IMDb.com succinctly sums up the plot:

When former journalist Martin Sixsmith is dismissed from the Labour Party in disgrace, he is at a loss as to what do. That changes when a young Irish woman approaches him about a story of her mother, Philomena, who had her son taken away when she was a teenage inmate of a Catholic convent. Martin arranges a magazine assignment about her search for him that eventually leads to America.

Wikipedia reminds us that the movie is based on true story in the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by journalist Martin Sixsmith.

One of the more disturbing scenes in the movie occurs early on, when young Philomena is delivering her baby at the convent. It turns out to be a breach birth and the nun in charge suggests that the extreme pain and agony the girl is experiencing is her penance for transgressing the moral law resulting in her pregnancy. It is only the compassion of an associate which saves the life of the child.

Throughout the rest of the movie we see the ongoing effects of this penance which Philomena is expected to bear both as a child and into adulthood; penance inflicted on her by the Catholic nuns, or at least one in particular, who would presume to play God in this situation and mete out her punishment as often as the opportunity arises.

We know that little Anthony was adopted by an American family but what happened next? Is he enjoying a good life or is he one of the many homeless we see in documentaries or on the evening news? That’s the quest which drives Martin the journalist, and Philomena. Even if things worked out well for the boy — you figure he has to have a good start if his U.S. parents can afford the international adoption of a child from Ireland — you come to think there are no winners in a situation like this.

And for me at least, it all comes back to the nun, the convent, the Catholic church at large wanting the poor teenager to pay a lifetime of suffering for her mistake. It’s about the self-righteous attitude of some nuns and priests — whose vocation has possibly kept them apart from the pleasures of sexual intimacy somewhat resenting those who have experienced it — and the total inappropriateness of such a mindset in a case like Philomena’s.

Strangely, it’s also about having the grace to bear such an injustice without letting it give way to anger or bitterness. Martin the journalist is looking for justice. Philomena is simply looking for answers. Two very different attitudes, with the latter even holding out the possibility of forgiveness.

This movie will make you think and is a great group discussion starter. Download it if you get an opportunity, or purchase a DVD as we did.

 

 

 

May 5, 2017

The Book Which Launched J. Warner Wallace

Four years ago, most of us did not know the name J. Warner Wallace. Today his two bestselling books have made him a leading voice in Christian apologetics. I’ve received a copy of Foresnic Faith the newest from him and hope to review it here in the near future.

We never repeat book reviews here. I’ll re-purpose other content, but generally the book reviews are limited to a specific time period when the book is fresh. Today an exception…

The book that started it all

Every decade or so a great work of apologetics appears which breaks the boundaries of the discipline and reaches a wider audience. Josh McDowell did it years ago with Evidence That Demands a Verdict; Frank Morrison with Who Moved the Stone? and more recently Lee Strobel brought a large audience to the discussion with The Case for Christ series.

Enter former Los Angeles County homicide investigator J. Warner Wallace and his book Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. (2013, David C. Cook).  Like Strobel, Wallace was a skeptic turned believer, and like McDowell, Wallace leaves no stone unturned in his study of the reliability of scripture, from obscure passages to those central to core doctrine.

The book is divided into two parts, the nature of cold case investigation — and this case is 2,000 + years old, and the particular evidence that the Bible offers. But first one other book comparison, and you won’t see it coming. Years ago Philip Keller wrote A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. People loved that book because there were particular insights that only one who tended sheep could offer toward interpretation of the text that begins “The Lord is my shepherd.” In many respects, Cold Case Christianity offers the same type of intimacy with the subject matter that only an insider who has worked in this vocation can contribute. So if you feel you’ve read enough apologetics titles to last a lifetime, allow me to offer you one more! 

It’s important to note that Wallace approached this originally from the perspective of an atheist. While the evidence in this case is compelling, I found the first part of the book (which is more than half of the total) most interesting. Possible recipients of this book would include men (Father’s Day is coming) and anyone who reads mysteries or watches mystery or suspense or programs related to the justice system on video or TV.

In a sense, in Cold Case Christianity you, or someone you know who is sitting on the fence in terms of belief, are the jury. So the other possible recipients of this book would be anyone who is investigating Christianity; including people who might not read other books in the apologetics genre.

The second part of the book is the evidence itself. Here, Wallace brings in much from non-Biblical sources, satisfying the oft-voice complaint that some apologists are simply using the Bible to prove the Bible.

This is a handbook I intend to keep within reach and will no doubt refer back to many times.

The sophomore release

Two years later, Wallace returned with a similarly structured book looking at a slightly different subject. Again, with Forensic Faith just coming to market, I decided to make this a two-for-one.

In God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe (David C. Cook) J. Warner Wallace applies his unique skills to the idea of God being behind what we might call creation. But we need to watch using the word creation in describing this book, since creation science is concerned with origins and answering the “How did we get here?” type of questions. Rather, this is more about intelligent design and bypassing the How? and When? questions to look more at What?; or more specifically the complexity that exists in the world pointing to a master designer; a designer who exists outside the realms we can observe or quantify.

The last distinction is important to Wallace’s argument; he compares it to cases where detectives would have to determine if the killer was in the room or came from outside the room. The analogy is very fitting, but the proof isn’t contained in one chapter or another, but in the aggregate of a case built on a foundation consisting of an amalgam of evidence and syllogistic logic.

The evidence “inside the room” points to a very specific “suspect.” He’s not a malicious intruder. Although I’ve titled this book God’s Crime Scene (in an effort to illustrate an evidential approach to the investigation of the universe), God hasn’t committed any crime here. In addition, God is not an unconcerned intruder; He isn’t dispassionate about His creation. (p. 201)

God’s Crime Scene is intended therefore to make the argument for the existence of God accessible to the average reader through the comparisons to anecdotal cold-case detective work, and the use of cartoon-like illustrations. But make no mistake, this is not light reading.

This time around, I found myself gladly absorbing the chapters that were more philosophical and epistemological in nature, but totally over my depth in the sections that relied more on biology and physics. I could only marvel that the author was able to present such a wide swath of material which was so multi-disciplinary.

Still there were elements of the argument that were not lost on me. Even a child could see the resemblance of a machine-like mechanism in the human body and a man-made machine that forms a similar function, the latter being something we know was intelligently designed. Or the logic that if we agree that the brain is distinct from the mind, then it’s not a huge leap to the idea that a soul exists.

This is a textbook-quality product that will appeal to a variety of readers with an assortment of interests in this topic and offers the additional payoff of further insights into detectives’ investigative processes. You don’t have to understand every nuance of every issue to both appreciate and learn from Wallace’s writing; and it is in the cumulative assembly of all the various subjects raised here that Wallace is able to mark the case closed…

…You can learn more about the books and ministry of this author at ColdCaseChristianity.com .

May 19, 2016

Why Some Muslims Become Christians

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:05 am

ConversionBelow is a short excerpt from a longer article by Sherry Weddell which appeared online this week at The National Catholic Register under the title Why Are Millions of Muslims Becoming Christian?

She uses the term MBB (Muslim Background Believers) to describe such converts, and the “millions” figure in the original headline seems to be based on the fact that,

The U.S. is a magnet for MBBs, which is why about 477,000 lived here in 2010. Roughly 60,000 were Catholic, 40,000 were Orthodox, and the rest are almost all evangelical Protestants. There were approximately 180,000 Arab-Muslim background Christians and about 130,000 Iranian MBBs in the U.S. six years ago. What is especially stunning is to realize that the pace of MBB growth has dramatically accelerated since 2000.

combined with the observation that,

Recently, Catholics have begun seeing mainstream media coverage of mass baptisms of Muslims in Europe. Some of my friends who work in Catholic parishes have helped Muslims enter the Church through RCIA.

So on to the “why” question. Weddell lists five reasons which are summarized from research by Dudley Woodbury, a Fulbright scholar of Islam:

  •  The lifestyle of Christians. Former Muslims cited the love that Christians exhibited in their relationships with non-Christians and their treatment of women as equals.
  •  The power of God in answered prayers and healing. The Jesus portrayed in the Quran is a prophet who heals lepers and the blind and raises the dead. Often, dreams or visions about Jesus or a man of light were reported. (Some also have dreams of the Bible or of the Virgin Mary, who is revered within Islam.)
  •  Dissatisfaction with the type of Islam they had experienced. In his article “How ISIS Is Spreading the Gospel,” David Cashin of the Zwemer Center observes, “I have often referred to Islamic radicals as ‘proto-evangelists’ for the Christian faith.”
  •  The spiritual truth in the Bible. Muslims are generally taught that the Torah, Psalms and the Gospels are from God, but that they became corrupted. These Christian converts said, however, that the truth of God found in Scripture became compelling for them and key to their understanding of God’s character.
  •  Biblical teachings about the love of God. In the Quran, God’s love is conditional, but God’s love for all people in the Bible was especially eye-opening for Muslims. These converts were moved by the love expressed through the life and teachings of Jesus.

Again, you’re encouraged to read the full report at National Catholic Register.

April 22, 2016

Everything You Wanted to Know about Evangelicals

A few weeks ago we reviewed a book by Brian Stiller, Praying for the World, in which the author provides a wealth of information about world conditions based on his extensive travel and interaction as a former Director of Youth for Christ Canada, former President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, former President of Tyndale College and Seminary, and now Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance.

Evangelicals Around the World - Thomas Nelson - Brian Stiller editorBrian is actually at the center of another recently-released project, this one also global in its perspective and one which also deserves to be in every church library and on several coffee tables as well. He serves as general editor for Evangelicals Around the World: A Global Handbook for the 21st Century (Thomas Nelson, 2015), a collection of over 50 essays and reports from almost as many different writers, each with a particular expertise on their given topic.

I’m not sure who it was, but about five years ago, I read a blogger making the point that we need to make a stylistic change from small-e evangelical to capital-E Evangelical. Of course, Evangelicals came of age long before that. Most people reference Jimmy Carter, the born again President, and of course the birth of Billy Graham’s ministry.

But in the book, the roots of Evangelicalism are traced back to 1521, followed by an exhaustive history of the contributing streams to the movement from the 1700s to the present. There is a chapter defining the core beliefs of Evangelicals, their commitment to world missions, their interactions with other denominations and religions, their role in urban ministry, their involvement in politics, their approach to environmental issues, their sensitivities on gender-related issues, their relationship to the similar-sounding word evangelism, and a chapter I personally found interesting, their appreciation of and contribution to the arts.

The authors of each section also include a well-chosen bibliography for those who wish to pursue any given topic.

Halfway through, the book’s focus becomes regional with a look at Evangelicals in Africa, Latin America, North America, Asia, Europe and Oceania. While the articles about these regions continue the detail of the earlier articles, there is the addition of demographic charts which help paint a clear picture of where Evangelicals rank in different countries, both among Christians in general, but also the general populace.

Particularly challenging is an article on the future of the Evangelical movement, how it will be identified and the type of people who will define its ranks; though that essay needs to be qualified in light of the regional analyses.

Evangelicals Around the World is a hardcover reference book; 422 pages, $34.99 US; but its topical scope exceeds the bounds of academic textbooks. Rather, if you are part of the movement and want to know your roots; or if you are an outsider who wants to learn more about this particular expression of Christianity; this is certainly the definitive work on this subject worth owning.


Postscript: In this review I speak about their role and their perspective, but this is the tribe with which I identify. After a many years of working in interdenominational settings and  trying to be all things to all people; today, when the declaration that “I am a Christ-follower” fails to suffice, I am pleased to say that “I am an Evangelical” and have identified this way decisively for more than 20 years. I did not receive a review copy of this, but sought the book out because I wanted to study it personally and look at it more closely.

April 7, 2016

Every Generation Has its Tree in the Garden

After writing on Tuesday morning about the Set Free Summit taking place in North Carolina, I got to scrolling through old posts here and discovered one from six years ago which has never re-run.

If you know what the conference is about, you’ll read what follows through that lens, which is what I believe I had in mind when I wrote it. The idea that right now, thanks to the same wonderful technology which is allowing people all over the world to read my words, an entire generation is captivated by the empty yet addictive appeal of the latest iteration of the Temptation Tree.

Or maybe there are several…

It was a simple test. Other than this, you can do anything you want to, just don’t touch that tree over there. Yeah, that one.

Adam and Eve lived in less complex times. It was a good time to be alive if you were bad at remembering peoples’ names. Or not so good at history. And the only moral law they had was “The One Commandments.” Thou shalt not touch the fruit of the tree in the middle.

You know the tree. The one that looks so inviting. The one thing you can’t have. The big fluffy tree that’s like a giant “Wet Paint” sign that’s just begging you to touch your finger to it. Except they didn’t have paint back then.

Anyway, you know how that story ended.

I believe that throughout history there has always been a tree in the middle of the garden. It’s there in the garden of our world. In the garden of our society. In the garden of our nation. In the garden of our community. In the garden of our families. In the garden of our hearts.

There’s always a tree.

The warning not to touch its fruit is given to some by direct command, though others believe that the idea of not tasting of its bounty is written on the hearts of people; they simply know.

Some people say that everyone knows this, some people think people do need to be commanded, to have it spelled out for them; while others spend long hours drinking hot beverages wondering what then of the people who haven’t heard of the command.

In some cases, there is always one large tree to confront. In other cases there are several trees which must be avoided. Some reach a point where they simply lose interest in the forbidden fruit, it no longer tempts them, only to find themselves looking squarely at another tree, which holds a similar prohibition.

“Why, when I have lived my whole life never having been tempted to touch the tree in the middle of the garden, do I find myself now, at this stage of life, looking squarely at another tree in another part of the garden which is so very captivating, but apparently so equally off limits?”

Many, therefore, succumb.

Meanwhile others say there are no trees that are verboten. The time of such restrictions has passed, and one is free to enjoy all the fruit of all the trees. They entice others to eat, and the penalty for such as trespass doesn’t seem to befall these, though the eating of the fruit does leave a kind of stomach ache that lasts for a long, long, long, time.

At the other extreme are those who manage to transcend all of the temptations and all of the trees. These people enjoy a kind of regret-free, stomach-ache free existence. They are above such weaknesses. They don’t eat the fruit. They don’t touch the tree. They stay away from all the trees in all the gardens that might be simply wrong to taste, touch or even look back on.

They are however, rather quick to condemn those who who do succumb. “We warned them;” they say. “We put up signs that pointed people to the other trees; the safe, practical trees; the open spaces free of vegetation.”

They do this, not realizing, that their response is their tree.

Their careful analysis of the condition of gardens inhabited by weak people who do in fact stumble, who do in fact fail; their commentary on the nature of human weakness; their lack of compassion for those who have been unable to resist the appeal of the tree and its fruit… somehow… in some way… that became their tree.

They have gazed at it. They have touched its trunk, its branches and its leaves. They have tasted its fruit.

They are really no different.

For all have missed it; coming up short in understanding of the true nature of the creator and his expectations.

They forgot to look at the tree they were standing next to all along.

December 30, 2015

Wednesday Link List

The creator of Veggie Tales and What's In The Bible has a thing for Truck Stop shopping.

The creator of Veggie Tales and What’s In The Bible has a thing for Truck Stop shopping.

Normally we take a week off around this time, but there were a few things in the file; and then we found a few more. And then a few more.

The Unofficial Bible for Minecrafters

September 28, 2015

Resolving the Four Different Versions of the Sign on The Cross

sign on Jesus' cross

A few weeks ago here I reviewed the new book by J. Warner Wallace God’s Crime Scene and back in 2013 we looked at his first book Cold Case Christianity. Of all the various possible approaches to Christian apologetics, the methodology used by this cold case detective is really resonating with reviewers and readers as the internet is abuzz with positive responses from the denominational spectrum.

Still there are times when I look back at my reviews — especially after a book really takes off — and wonder if I could have done more to whet my readers’ appetite for the author. So when I saw this excerpt sitting unattended in an unlit corner of the blogosphere, I figured, ‘Hey, Wallace is all about crime, let’s do some stealing.’ I think you’ll agree what follows is worth reading, and since my own detective work reveals you guys don’t always click through, the excerpt is here in full. (Click the title below to read at source.)


Why Are There Four Versions of the Sign on Jesus’ Cross?

It’s not uncommon for skeptics of Christianity to point to differences between the New Testament Gospel accounts as evidence of corruption or unreliability. I’ve discussed many of these alleged contradictions in my talks around the country, and I’ve written about many of them here at ColdCaseChristianity.com. One example sometimes offered by critics is the sign posted above the cross of Jesus. The simple, brief message of this sign is recorded by all four Gospel authors, yet none of them record precisely the same words. How could these four men fail to record the same sign, given the importance of the moment and the brevity of the message? Look at the variations offered by the Gospel authors:

“This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37)
“The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26)
“This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38)
“Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19)

In evaluating alleged “contradictions” of this nature, I think it’s important to remember a few overarching principles related to eyewitness testimony (I describe many of these principles in my first book, Cold-Case Christianity). Even though I accept and affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, inerrancy is not required of reliable eyewitnesses. In fact, I’ve never had a completely inerrant eyewitness in all my years as a homicide detective. In addition, I’ve never had a case where two witnesses have ever agreed completely on the details of the crime. Eyewitness reliability isn’t dependent upon perfection, but is instead established on the basis of a four part template I’ve described repeatedly in my book and on my website. But beyond these generalities, much can be said specifically about the variations between descriptions of the sign over Jesus’ cross. I take the following approach when evaluating multiple eyewitness accounts, and the same methodology can be used to evaluate these signs:

• Identify the Common Details
When interviewing multiple eyewitnesses, I listen carefully for common features in their testimony. In every witness observation, some details are more important than others; some aspects of the event stick out in the mind of the observers more than others. In this case, one expression is repeated by all four authors: “the King of the Jews”. Why does this one aspect of the sign appear repeatedly without variation? These words describe the crime for which Jesus was executed. Jesus was crucified because He proclaimed Himself a King; He was executed for His alleged rebellion against Caesar. This is consistent with the trial accounts we have in the Gospels and also accurately reflects the actions taken by the Roman government against other popular rebels. While we, as Christians, now understand God’s plan related to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the authors of the Gospels are simply recording the one most prominent feature of the sign: the description of Jesus’ crime.

Cold Case Christianity• Recognize the Perspective of Each Eyewitness
Every witness offers a view of the event from his or her unique perspective. I’m not just talking about geographic or locational perspectives here, but I am also talking about the personal worldview, history and experience every witness brings to the crime. All witness testimony is colored by the personal interests, biases, aspirations, concerns and idiosyncrasies of the eyewitnesses. In this particular case, an important clue was recorded by John to help us understand why there might be variation between the accounts. John said, “Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.” The sign was written in a variety of languages and we simply don’t know how much variation occurred between these translations. The perspective and life experience of each author now comes into play. Which translation was the author referencing? Even more importantly, what were the concerns of the author related to the event? Some witnesses are more likely to repeat a victim’s name than others (if, for example, they knew the victim personally). Others will focus on something about which the witness had firsthand knowledge. I’ve seen an incredible amount of variation between reliable accounts on the basis of nothing more than personal perspective.

• Consider the Conditions of the “Interview”
In working cold cases over the years, I’ve read my fair share of investigative supplemental reports containing eyewitness accounts. I’ve come to recognize the role interviewers have on the accounts given by eyewitnesses. Years later, when re-interviewing these same eyewitnesses, I’ve uncovered additional information simply because I asked questions neglected by the first interviewer. When evaluating an account from the past, it’s important to recognize the location, form and purpose of the interview. This will have a direct impact on the resulting account. Something similar must be considered when evaluating the description of the sign on Jesus’ cross. We simply don’t know precisely the purpose of each author or the conditions under which each author wrote his Gospel. Why, for example, is Mark’s version of the sign so brief? Why, for that matter, is Mark’s entire Gospel so brief? Was there something about Mark’s personality accounting for his brevity (there does seem to be some evidence of this given the short, emotionally charged nature of his account), or was something even simpler involved (like a shortage of papyrus)? We’ll never know for sure, but we simply cannot assume each author was writing under the exact same conditions. No two witnesses are interviewed in precisely the same way.

• Differentiate Between Complimentary and Conflicting Accounts
When comparing two eyewitness accounts, I am more concerned about unresolvable contradictions than complimentary details. In fact, I have come to expect some degree of resolvable variation in true, reliable eyewitness accounts. While there are clearly variations between the sign descriptions in the Gospels, these dissimilarities don’t amount to a true contradiction. Consider the following reasonable message on the sign:

“This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”

If this was the message of the sign, all four Gospel accounts have captured a complimentary, reliable summation of the sign, even though there is some expected variation between accounts. None of these accounts contain an unresolvable, troublesome claim like:

“This is Judas Iscariot, the King of the Jews”

If one of the accounts contained this information, we would truly have a conflict worthy of our attention. There’s a difference between complimentary variation and conflicting description.

• Assess the Opportunity for Collusion
Whenever I am called to a crime scene as a detective, the first request I make of the dispatcher is to separate the eyewitnesses before I get there. I request this so the witnesses won’t have the opportunity to talk to one another about what they’ve seen. Witnesses will sometimes try to resolve any variations before I get there. I don’t want them to do this; that’s my job, not theirs. Instead, I want the messy, sometimes confusing, apparently contradictory accounts offered by every group of witnesses in such a situation. There have been times, however, when witnesses have the opportunity to consult with one another for several hours before I arrive on scene. When this is the case, and their individual accounts still vary from one another, I usually have even more confidence in the reliability of these accounts. When people have the opportunity to align their statements, yet still refuse to do so, I know I am getting the nuanced observations I need to properly investigate the case. The Gospel authors (and the early Church) certainly had the opportunity to change the descriptions to make sure they matched, but they refused to do so. As a result, we can have even more confidence in the reliability of these accounts. They display the level of variation I would expect to see if they were true, reliable eyewitness descriptions.

If the four authors of the Gospels had written precisely the same words throughout their Gospel accounts, skeptics would be no more confident in their content. In fact, I suspect, critics of the New Testament would be even more vocal in their opposition. The Gospels are appropriately varied and nuanced, just like all multiple eyewitness accounts. The variations between the sign descriptions is further evidence of this expected variation. This level of dissimilarity should give us confidence in the accounts, rather than pause. Why are there four versions of the sign on Jesus’ cross? Because the accounts are written on the basis of eyewitness observations. They demonstrate the characteristics we would expect if they are reliable descriptions of a true event in history.

~J. Warner Wallace

Both Cold Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene are available from David C. Cook Publishing where you buy quality Christian products.

September 24, 2015

Tolkien and Lewis Unlikely Choices for Sci-Fi and Fantasy

by guest book reviewer: Ruth Wilkinson

A common piece of advice given to young writers is, “Write what you know.”

So how did a couple of turn of the century, word-geek, English academics become the preeminent fantasy and science fiction writers of the modern era?

Joseph Laconte - A Hobbit A Wardrobe and a Great War - Thomas Nelson In A Hobbit, A Wardrobe and A Great War (Thomas Nelson) History professor Joseph Loconte traces the parallel stories of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien through the cataclysm that was World War 1 and beyond to their shared discovery and exploration of epic fiction and alternate history.  Drawing from many sources – including historians, biographers and original writings – he connects the two young men’s experiences in the trenches, mud, fire and disease of The Great War with themes, characters and landscapes found in the Narnia series, Lord of the Rings and their other writings.

We come to understand what the fierce friendships, values and personal strength of the characters they created have to teach us about being human and at war.  Quoting Lewis, “For let us make no mistake.  All that we fear from all the kinds of adversity, severally, is collected together in the life of a soldier on active service.  Like sickness, it threatens pain and death.  Like poverty, it threatens ill lodging, cold, heat, thirst and hunger.  Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice and arbitrary rule.  Like exile, it separates you from all you love.”  And when Tolkien writes,”I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory.  I love only that which they protect,” is he writing about England or Middle Earth?

And we see the world through the eyes of Lewis, a teenager who had written off Christianity as “ugly architecture, ugly music and bad poetry”, and Tolkien, a young man of faith whose Catholicism survived the war intact, when his peers and culture had found God to be uninterested and absent, and therefore nonexistent.

Loconte examines the spirit of an age that worshiped science, eugenics, industrialization, technology and related forms of ‘progress’.  He lays out how those forces were put to use in a war that was more destructive and devastating than any in the past, and the profound disillusionment and cynicism that were born out of it. And, yet, Lewis is able, through his friendship with Tolkien, to rediscover “…the myth that has really happened” – the story of Jesus Christ – to turn from his skepticism and to write stories that “offer the only possible escape from a world divided between wolves who do not understand, and sheep who cannot defend, the things which make life desirable.”  Loconte writes, “Against the temper of their times, these authors dared to reclaim some of the older beliefs and virtues.  Their common Christian faith had much to do with this…”

This book challenges:  both to look back at the horror that humanity is capable of, and to look forward to the hope that Christ brings – when “everything sad will come untrue.”

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