My ongoing conversation with Bible skeptics has taught me a few things.
The first and foremost is that most aren’t skeptics in the true sense. A skeptic is one who calls accepted knowledge into question or tries to find alternative theories to explain the data on hand. Christians need to have a healthy skepticism toward the Bible, not in order to disprove it as God’s Word, but to challenge faulty interpretations and to test how well we are able to defend the integrity of scripture. While I’ve had a few good conversations with skeptics that were rational, what I’ve found most often is blatant cynicism.
Cynicism is characterized by a mistrust or mockery of established conventions. The cynic doesn’t use inquiry or constructive argument, but mainly sarcasm, verbal abuse and a host of logical fallacies. Oscar Wilde described a cynic as, “A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” A cynic is one who wants to take the easy path toward being considered an intellectual without doing any of the heavy lifting. It’s a philosophy of misdirection in which the cynic feels proud of his ability to debate merely because he is able to call everything into question without really contributing anything positive toward human knowledge. I wanted to here post three of the most common cynical statements I encounter and some of my brief responses to them.
1. Jesus never really existed. This was the thesis of Bruno Bauer in the 1890s who claimed that Jesus was not a historical person but was an amalgamation of pagan myths. Sir James Frazer followed in the 1920s with his book, The Golden Bough. Although Frazer did not doubt Jesus was a real person, he tried to match many of the Gospel stories with pagan myths showing that the New Testament stories about Jesus had no basis in history. The problem with the Jesus Myth hypothesis is that it was almost universally rejected by scholars soon after it appeared.
When I first encountered this crackpot hypothesis, I had a several months’ long debate on my discussion board, which you can see here:
Rather than run over a lot of old ground each time I get this objection, I simply offer two challenges to the Jesus Mythist.
If they can’t offer names, I won’t continue the conversation. One recently called my tactic “hypocrasy” (sic) because I am a creationist and creationism has been disproved by modern science. What amazes me here is that he fails to see the difference. There are hundreds and perhaps thousands of Ph.D.s teaching science who are creationists. We are a minority, but creationism isn’t a position that has no credible proponents.
1. Can you name a single writer prior to the 1800s who claimed Jesus never existed?
2. Can you name even five Ph.D.s teaching history at the university level who claim Jesus never existed?
What I usually find when I challenge these young unthinking postmodernists is that they don’t really understand the meaning of their thesis. They either confuse the Mythist position with that of Historical Criticism — that Jesus was a mere man. Or they simply haven’t thought the position through, but are driven by an emotional desire to prove Christianity wrong. In very few cases are Jesus Mythists willing to admit that their hypothesis isn’t based on any historical testimony or documentary data. What they do instead is to change the subject to dozens of other objections. It’s hit-and-run atheist activism. I encourage those who want to be involved with apologetics not to waste time with people who do not want to argue through their position and answer hard questions.
2. The New Testament was not written until well after the death of Jesus. I’ve even heard a few who are convinced that the New Testament was not written for “hundreds of years” after Jesus. Just a brief bit of background on this position should be considered. In the 1800s, it was the German Higher Critics who first began to push the proposed date of the New Testament into the second century — even to the later decades. Some were motivated by anti-Semitism. They simply couldn’t fathom the idea of first century Jews founding the religion of Europe. The late dating was not based on documentary evidence or historical testimony. Instead their conjecture was founded on form criticism and source criticism — the idea being that the critic could read into the text what type of person wrote the book, when it was written, and which sources (often non-extant “phantom” documents) the author used.
Reading the Higher Critics or their modern counterparts is aggravating because they will completely dismiss all documentary evidence and historical testimony out of hand. Documentary evidence is in the form of actual manuscripts and fragments of the New Testament. Historical testimony is the records left by first and second century church fathers who quoted from and left commentary on the New Testament.
First, in the late 1800s up to this day there have been about 100 manuscript fragments discovered that date from 115 to 300 AD. The earliest manuscript is a copy of the Gospel of John called the Ryland’s fragment. Since this is considered to be at least a copy of a copy, and John is thought to be the last Gospel written, this puts the Gospels squarely in the first century. The latest possible date for the three synoptic Gospels according to the data then is the 70s and 80s. But we should stress this is the latest possible date. Nothing precludes an earlier date.
Second, the universal testimony of the church fathers beginning with Clement of Rome in the first century has the bulk of the New Testament written by the named authors prior to 70 AD. Some have the earliest Gospel being written by 40 AD. A skeptic may doubt this and certainly liberal scholars want to prefer the later dates of the 70s and 80s, however, there is no testimony from the ealry centuries that even hints at a later date for any of the books of the New Testament. The best the cynic has is an argument from silence. Since conservatives can’t prove conculsively a specific date for each book, then the dates must be later. Of course, this is not logical.
The weakness of the cynic’s position is that he believes the argument from silence “proves” something when in fact, in studying historical events you can seldom prove a negative. The true skeptic ought to admit that the worst case scenario is that we cannot know for certain the exact date of the New Testament — and therefore we must make educated guesses.
3. The Bible isn’t true because people don’t rise from the dead. The belief in miracles such as the resurrection can have a rational basis. However the atheist is irrational in that he wants to interpret the world from a purely naturalistic viewpoint. Yet naturalism has no explanation as to how the universe could have been formed from nothing or to how the beginning of a universe created out chaos and random order, can result in a universe of increasing complexity and order. To hold to a faith that has no basis in collected data is irrational.
On the other hand, Christianity is rational. Jesus Christ the Living Word (or the LOGOS) is the unifying principle of all human knowledge and is the basis for all rational thought. Christianity does not deny scientific and rational thought. All philosophy up until the time of Immanuel Kant was rational in nature. Western philosophy was divided into two groups — Christian and Greek pagan. But both groups were looking for a “unifying principle” that would unite the study of both the seen material and the unseen spiritual worlds. To Christians, this unifying principle was Christ, since the LOGOS was both a linguistic (Biblical literature) and logical (the God-man Jesus Christ as a real historical teacher) answer to the problem of the natural/spiritual dichotomy.
When Immanuel Kant wrote Critique of Pure Reason, he rejected the idea that there can be a principle that unites all fields of knowledge. He was actually arguing for an “irrational” system that tells us that we must forever accept a total dichotomy between the visible and invisible worlds. Modern philosophy and liberal theology now sees the two worlds (the noumenal world and the phenomenal world) as two airtight compartments. If the spiritual world exists, we cannot know anything about it through rational thought according to Kant.
Georg Hegel came along soon after and proposed that all truth is a synthesis between thesis and antithesis. That is, there are no objective truths, just what we end up agreeing upon after argument and debate. In fact, we make up new truths in the process. Thus Kant and Hegel together ended up creating an irrational basis for human philosophy that can never explain how the universe fits together as a whole. Even in the world of science, history, education, literature, and politics, people now see a divided universe that exists in many small compartments, but cannot be understood as a whole. People seek to understand the “many” while denying the “one.”
Hitler was simply echoing Hegelian thought when he said: “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it” and “How fortunate for leaders that men do not think” and “The great masses of the people will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one.”In other words, the “lie” becomes the new “truth” if most people will just believe it.
What Kant and Hegel did was to open the door to irrational thought in the form of existentialism and postmodernism. In fact, we are already well down the slippery slope to irrational philosophy.
What is irrational is the modern reliance on a Kantian, Hegelian dualistic view of the universe that excludes what we cannot measure scientifically as “irrational.” The cynic has gone so far down the rabbit hole of existentialism, that he doesn’t even understand the irrationality Kantian and Hegelian thought. In the long run, his position isn’t a philosophical or religious problem at all. It’s a moral problem fueled by irrational passions.
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Who is the Real Jesus?
Ever since the dawn of modern rationalism, skeptics have sought to use textual criticism, archeology and historical reconstructions to uncover the “historical Jesus” — a wise teacher who said many wonderful things, but fulfilled no prophecies, performed no miracles and certainly did not rise from the dead in triumph over sin.
Over the past 100 years, however, startling discoveries in biblical archeology and scholarship have all but vanquished the faulty assumptions of these doubting modernists. Regrettably, these discoveries have often been ignored by the skeptics as well as by the popular media. As a result, the liberal view still holds sway in universities and impacts the culture and even much of the church.
The Real Jesus explodes the myths of these critics and the movies, books and television programs that have popularized their views. Presented in ten parts — perfect for individual, family and classroom study — viewers will be challenged to go deeper in their knowledge of Christ in order to be able to defend their faith and present the truth to a skeptical modern world – that the Jesus of the Gospels is the Jesus of history — “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He is the real Jesus.
Speakers include: George Grant, Ted Baehr, Stephen Mansfield, Raymond Ortlund, Phil Kayser, David Lutzweiler, Jay Grimstead, J.P. Holding, and Eric Holmberg.
Ten parts, over two hours of instruction!
Running Time: 130 minutes
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Special Two-Disc Set!
After 40 years of intense study and world-wide ministry, Dr. Francis Schaeffer completed his crowning work of scholarship – to present profound truths in simple film language. Dr. Schaeffer’s brilliant analysis of the past and predictions for current trends have proven so uncannily accurate that this amazing series still feels contemporary almost three decades after its initial release. Ultimately, Schaeffer concludes that man’s only hope is a return to God’s Biblical absolute, the truth revealed in Christ through the Scriptures.
Available for the first time on DVD, this documentary spectacular also includes intimate in-depth conversations with Francis and Edith Schaeffer. With the on-disc study guide, this presentation forms a unique course of comprehensive study. While this series forms an innovative analysis of the past, this outstanding work is more than history. Each episode focuses on a significant era, yet speaks clearly to 21st-century man with answers for modern problems.
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Download the Free Study Guide!
Just what is Calvinism?
Does this teaching make man a deterministic robot and God the author of sin? What about free will? If the church accepts Calvinism, won’t evangelism be stifled, perhaps even extinguished? How can we balance God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility? What are the differences between historic Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism? Why did men like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, Whitefield, Edwards and a host of renowned Protestant evangelists embrace the teaching of predestination and election and deny free will theology?
This is the first video documentary that answers these and other related questions. Hosted by Eric Holmberg, this fascinating three-part, four-hour presentation is detailed enough so as to not gloss over the controversy. At the same time, it is broken up into ten “Sunday-school-sized” sections to make the rich content manageable and accessible for the average viewer.
Running Time: 257 minutes
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With “preaching to the lost” being such a basic foundation of Christianity, why do many in the church seem to be apathetic on this issue of preaching in highways and byways of towns and cities?
Is it biblical to stand in the public places of the world and proclaim the gospel, regardless if people want to hear it or not?
Does the Bible really call church pastors, leaders and evangelists to proclaim the gospel in the public square as part of obedience to the Great Commission, or is public preaching something that is outdated and not applicable for our day and age?
These any many other questions are answered in this documentary.
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High Quality Paperback — 200 pages
A Reasonable Response to Christian Postmodernism
Includes a response to the book Christian Jihad by Colonel V. Doner
The title of this book is a misnomer. In reality, I am not trying to get anyone to shut up, but rather to provoke a discussion. This book is a warning about the philosophy of “Christian postmodernism” and the threat that it poses not only to Christian orthodoxy, but to the peace and prosperity our culture as well. The purpose is to equip the reader with some basic principles that can be used to refute their arguments.
Part 1 is a response to some of the recent writings by Frank Schaeffer, the son of the late Francis Schaeffer. This was originally written as a defense against Frank’s attacks on pro-life street activism – a movement that his father helped bring into being through his books, A Christian Manifesto, How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? These works have impacted literally hundreds of thousands of Christian activists.
Part 2 is a response to Colonel Doner and his book, Christian Jihad: Neo-Fundamentalists and the Polarization of America. Doner was one of the key architects of the Christian Right that emerged in the 1980s, who now represents the disillusionment and defection many Christian activists experienced in the 1990s and 2000s. There is still great hope for America to be reformed according to biblical principles. As a new generation is emerging, it is important to recognize the mistakes that Christian activists have made in the past even while holding to a vision for the future.
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