December 21, 2013
People love to make the case that Christmas is a pagan holiday that Christians adopted and Christianized. The primary piece of evidence is that the date is December 25 (a day that falls right in the middle of the Winter Solstice celebrations so important to paganism). Others point out that Christ’s actual birthday is either unknown or probably in the spring.
“In the first chapter of Luke, we read that the angel Gabriel told Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would conceive John the Baptist while Zechariah was performing his priestly duties on the Day of Atonement, also known as Yom Kippur. That feast always falls in either late September or early October.
Luke also tells us that, after Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive Jesus, she went in haste to visit Elizabeth, and that Elizabeth was in the sixth month of her pregnancy. If Elizabeth conceived in late September, and Mary visited her in her sixth month, that means Mary conceived Jesus and visited Elizabeth in late March. If Mary conceived Jesus in late March, that places his birth in late December.”
In the end there is nothing that requires us to know the exact date. There is nothing wrong with picking a day and celebrating his birth then. But I found this interesting.
December 20, 2013
CNN religion writer John Blake wrote this piece marking the 50th anniversary of the death of famed Christian author C.S. Lewis. It would be a generally positive article but Blake seems to give the impression that Lewis was terribly inconsistent in his Christian faith and engaged in wildly inappropriate sexual jokes at parties (asking people to spank him) and lived with a woman outside of wedlock in a strange (and possibly sexual) relationship.
Reading the reactions to this story, I saw more than a few people quote this article with smug satisfaction supposing that it confirmed that yet another Christian is a creepy hypocrite. But there is a major part of the story that is not made clear in Blake’s article: both the salacious revelations (the inappropriate jokes and the alleged premarital sex) were BEFORE HE CONVERTED TO CHRISTIANITY. Yes, the “shocking” revelation here is that Lewis did not adhere to Christian ethics before he was a Christian.
But that should not be shocking to anyone. The Apostle Paul participated in murder before converting. Saint Augustine was notoriously immoral before converting. And countless other heroes of the faith were not exactly ‘saints’ before becoming saints.
Of course no one is perfect after coming to faith either. In fact, even the most famous saints in history had areas of inconsistency and sin. But Lewis had nothing in his life known to us that would cause us to call him a hypocrite. His only known vices after converting were that he drank beer and he smoked tobacco……and neither of these things are sins if done in moderation.
For further reading, here is an article from a C.S. Lewis biographer who explains all of this better than I can.
November 1, 2013
At the heart of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul said that if Christ is not raised than our faith is empty and Christians should be pitied. How can we know that the resurrection is true? The below will lay out some very brief arguments. Books could be written on each point where I have only included a few sentences but I think they will at least introduce the arguments. So here are six arguments (among many) for the resurrection:
1) Gospels are Eyewitness Accounts: The gospels combined with the epistles of Paul are based on eyewitness accounts. This case is made by Bauckham a scholar at St Andrew’s (other scholars such as Wright and Witherington have done similar work). Bauckham argues that the gospels include specific names of minor characters (pointers to people who may have been influential and important in the early church). He notes the use of names that were extremely consistent with what we know about first century Palestine (something a later more removed author would find difficult). He notes the way that oral tradition in oral societies typically did a good job of preserving stories and sorting out truth from falsehood (unlike our modern conceptions that if it is not written down immediately it will be lost). And then he goes on to note many other details and peculiarities of the four gospels that would only make sense if they were largely based on eyewitnesses. Read more here.
2) Resurrection is Surprising but Consistent with 1st Century Jewish Theology: The resurrection of Christ was both a natural outworking of Israeli theology. First century Jews had been longing for God to act in history and when that happened many (but not all) expected a general resurrection of the dead. But no one was hoping for a single person to be resurrected. These facts undermine the idea that the resurrection was made up. It was not the sort of thing that people would have made up.
3) The Gospels are Good Testimony: The gospel narratives are convincing testimonies because:
a) They are different in details but the same in substance (indicating they are based on different eyewitness testimonies describing the same events).
b) In all four accounts, women are listed as the first witnesses to the resurrection. No one would make this up because in those days women were not considered reliable witnesses.
4) Martyrdom of the Witnesses: The early Christians would have access to what really happened (either by being personally witnesses to the events or by knowing someone who was) and yet they died willingly for their testimony. Why would they do this? People die for various faiths all the time (there are Muslim martyrs, Buddhist martyrs and etc) but these martyrs are dying for something they believe to be true not something they know is false. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, there are a group of people that died for something they know is false.
5) Resurrection Tradition Must Be Very Early: Early Christianity was amazingly uniform in its eschatology. Judaism had a mainstream view of the general resurrection of believers on the last day but this was one view among many and even those who held it had spectrum of beliefs. But the early Christian church was uniform in its belief in the general resurrection and even the specifics of what the resurrection would look like (that the resurrected would have transformed but corporeal immortal bodies). Given the fast rate of growth of Christianity in the early days and the expansion throughout the kingdom, this uniformity points to an early understanding of what happened to Christ – the resurrection narrative could not have been added after the religion spread or there would be many ideas instead of one throughout the church.
6) Jews Had a Way of Continuing Movements When Leaders Died: There were plenty of first century Jewish revolutionaries (would-be messiahs) who died on crosses in the first century. The followers would either disband or choose a brother or son of the messiah as a substitute. Jesus had a brother (James) who was a leader in the church. It is highly improbable that James would not accept leadership but would instead die for claiming that his brother was resurrected.
No one of these arguments is overwhelming but when you start to add them all together, I think that the case starts to become very strong. I think that when we look at what happened in the first century, I think even the greatest skeptic would have to at least say that something similar to the gospel accounts happened on Easter.
October 25, 2013
I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened. – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
October 14, 2013
Without some sort of God, humanity, even if it lasts millions of years, will just be a spark in relation to the sea of dead time that preceded it and will follow it. There will be no one around to remember any of it. Whether we are loving or cruel, kind or mean, just or unjust, in the end would make no difference.
October 5, 2013
The existence of the Big Bang begs the question of what came before that, and who or what was responsible. It certainly demonstrates the limits of science as no other phenomenon has done. The consequences of the Big Bang theory for theology are profound. For faith traditions that describe the universe as having been created by God from nothingness (ex nihilo), this is an electrifying outcome. Does such an astonishing event as the Big Bang fit the definition of a miracle?
The sense of awe created by these realizations has caused more than a few agnostic scientists to sound downright theological. In God and the Astronomers, the astrophysicist Robert Jastrow wrote this final paragraph: “At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” – Francis Collins, Language of God
October 2, 2013
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of “just” and unjust”?… What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?… Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too— for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies…. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. – CS Lewis, an excerpt from Mere Christianity