Tuesday, 20 May 2014


Why do you believe in God?

Well, maybe you don't. That's fair enough. Although in that case, I would ask: why don't you believe in God? And no, this isn't an attempt to shift the burden of proof to proving that God doesn't exist.

Well, I'm sure anyone with an opinion on the matter managed to come up with some sort of answer to those questions quickly enough. So here's another one: why, or why not, do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Again, I'm sure most people can provide a response one way or another.

So here's something to consider. Why did the early Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God? As a matter of fact, that question is one of the most important to consider in regards to salvation, the veracity of the Bible, and even the existence of God.

You see, many people will answer those first two questions with something along the lines of "the Bible tells me so". It may vary, some may provide more details than others, and some may provide additional evidence. But ultimately, the main factor in the vast majority of people's beliefs will be the Bible. And that's certainly not a bad thing - because the Bible IS how we should know these things. The real question is: why should we believe the Bible?

That's where a lot of people, both Christian or not, trip up. Atheists, especially, like to say that Christians believe that the Bible is infallible because God said so, and they know that's true because the Bible said so, and so on. This is, of course, circular reasoning. However, it's also a straw man, because a good case can be made for the reliability of the Bible based on objective reasoning and historical evidence.

So, let's get back to that third question. Why did the early Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God? Paul actually directly states this in 1 Corinthians 15, and in no uncertain terms: 

"Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable."

Paul makes it abundantly clear that his faith, and the faith of the entire early church, rested entirely and completely on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. He even goes so far as to say that if it is not true, then Christians are "of all men the most pitiable". So what relevance does the critical importance of their belief in the resurrection have for us?

It tells us that the early Christians believed so strongly in that resurrection that they were willing to die for it. To be tortured, crucified, and killed. And this wasn't based on "blind faith". Paul made sure to give the church a reason for the resurrection, earlier in the chapter:

"For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time."

Paul was not simply asking the Christians to believe in the resurrection so that they could have hope in Christ. He gave them a reason for that hope. He referenced direct eyewitness testimonies of Jesus being raised from the dead.

The fact that the early church accepted these testimonies is as critical to us today as the testimonies themselves were to their own faith. It tells us that the testimonies were reliable. Their sheer efficacy alone speaks to their reliability, but it's still worthwhile to look into what actually made them reliable.

The main two factors are numbers and profit. First, we know that many people testified to this resurrection. Paul said that Jesus "was seen be over five hundred brethren at once". It's not an accident that he included this number. Five hundred people testifying is a lot. And this isn't new information designed to strengthen an argument - Paul is recapping what he has already told them. Because of this, it's also reasonable to assume that he isn't lying to bolster his claims. It would be far too easily testable for Paul to rest on it if it were false.

The second factor, profit, is actually referring to the complete lack of it. The apostles gained nothing from their ministry. The idea that it might have been a deliberate deception is simply nonsensical. They stood to gain absolutely nothing from it monetarily or socially. In Philippians 1, Paul describes how he rejoices in suffering because it is used to further the gospel, and he condemns those who would preach for reasons other than out of love. And it certainly wouldn't have been a good way to gain the acceptance of their peers: everything they preached was diametrically opposed to the prevailing views of the times. The only explanation for their actions was that to them, "to live is Christ, and to die is gain".

So the early Christians definitely believed in the resurrection of Jesus, and they believed it for good reasons. As I said before, this has pretty major implications for us. The willingness of the apostles to suffer for what they believed, and the belief of the Christians who were not eyewitnesses, indicate a strong historical reliability for the Bible. Given the historical setting, it's not at all reasonable to assume that it was some kind of deception. No one stood to gain from their actions or beliefs at the time.

So, why did the early Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God? Well, they believed it because He was raised from the dead - which corresponded with the claims He made about Himself while He was alive. And they believed He was raised from the dead because they had numerous reliable eyewitness testimonies about it.

One final question. Why do I believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Well, I believe it because He died for me, and was raised from the dead. And I can know that because the early church died for Him, knowing beyond a doubt that He would then raise them from the dead.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Is Agnosticism a reasonable middle ground?

With the topic of religious truth being so popular these days, many people believe the best course of action is to say "well, we can never really know the truth, so why live as if one stance is objectively true?" This is, while technically philosophically different from atheism, practically speaking the same thing. Assuming we can't really know which religion or lack thereof is true, the default position is to act as if none of them are true. But is this a sensible solution to the often confusing conundrum of religious quandaries? Let's take a look at what it means, using a practical example.

Say you are a sergeant in the US army. Your squad is deep in enemy territory, and you've completed an important mission. At this point, you are attempting to get to a safe zone, but are being followed by many enemy soldiers. You are currently camped in the most defensible position you can find, but you know it won't hold out for long against the enemy. You need to know if there's a way out, so you send out 4 of your best men on reconnaissance, and you also order some other men to interrogate some local villagers. Your presence in this territory is not popular with the locals, so you're not sure if you can trust them. But at this point, you're looking for any option to survive.

Eventually, everyone you have sent out returns. And they all have good news! The men you sent out on reconnaissance all agree on one point: there is a gap in the enemy forces that can be easily exploited to escape. You will have to take your squad through as quickly as possible, though, because the enemy intends to close in soon.

The men you sent to interrogate the villagers also have good news, but theirs is different from what your spies brought back. Their reports also, for the most part, don't agree among themselves. Some of them say that there is another way out through the soldiers - this is a popular claim, but most of them are pointing in completely different directions. A few even say that the enemy is actually not there at all! They claim that they left some time ago - or maybe were never there to begin with.

Now, as the commanding officer, you are left with a choice. You are responsible for the lives of every man in your squad. You can listen to the testimony of your spies. They have been shown to be reliable in other matters, and you have no reason to doubt them now. Except, of course, that their testimony is different from the varying claims of the villagers. If you wish, you could trust the locals, even though their stories vastly differ among themselves. But why not just pick the one you like best? The claim that the enemy doesn't even exist is particularly attractive. After all, you haven't really seen any of the enemy yet personally - you've been focused on staying as far away as possible. Perhaps you can stroll back to base camp unharmed, without worrying about the possibility of being shot.

One thing is certain, though. The only decision that you can't make is to stay where you are. If there is an enemy, they will be attacking soon. And if there is not an enemy right now, then they will eventually find you. And your soldiers have homes and families to go back to. You need to make sure they survive. To do this, you can choose to trust any of the testimonies presented to you - but you absolutely cannot stay where you are. Sure, it's impossible to really know which option is true. But the choice of no choice is guaranteed to have consequences. You will stagnate in your camp until you die, one way or another. The choice of no choice is the choice of throwing your life away - and the lives of all of your men.

Agnosticism is choosing to take no action in the face of incredibly important consequences. Even if you choose to believe that there is no God, then you are at least being intellectually honest. The consequences will be exactly the same as if you chose no choice, but they will be the result of a real choice. And it's not even a particularly difficult choice! The testimony found in the gospels is presented by reliable eyewitnesses. Truth be told, they are some of the best historical documents available to us. (Seriously, click the link up there. If you get that book you will not regret it.)

In Revelation 3:15-16, God sent a message to the church in Laodicea. He said "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth." That's agnosticism. Lukewarm water. It's not a "safe" middle ground - it's the choice to either condemn your squad, or make them wait for nothing.