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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That Swiss Hermit Strikes Again!
Dr. Schaeffer, who was one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the twentieth century, shows that secular humanism has displaced the Judeo-Christian consensus that once defined our nation’s moral boundaries. Law, education, and medicine have all been reshaped for the worse as a consequence. America’s dominant worldview changed, Schaeffer charges, when Christians weren’t looking.
Schaeffer lists two reasons for evangelical indifference: a false concept of spirituality and fear. He calls on believers to stand against the tyranny and moral chaos that come when humanism reigns-and warns that believers may, at some point, be forced to make the hard choice between obeying God or Caesar. A Christian Manifesto is a thought-provoking and bracing Christian analysis of American culture and the obligation Christians have to engage the culture with the claims of Christ.
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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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Foundations in Biblical Eschatology
By Jay Rogers, Larry Waugh, Rodney Stortz, Joseph Meiring. High quality paperback, 167 pages.
All Christians believe that their great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will one day return. Although we cannot know the exact time of His return, what exactly did Jesus mean when he spoke of the signs of His coming (Mat. 24)? How are we to interpret the prophecies in Isaiah regarding the time when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:19)? Should we expect a time of great tribulation and apostasy or revival and reformation before the Lord returns? Is the devil bound now, and are the saints reigning with Christ? Did you know that there are four hermeneutical approaches to the book of Daniel and Revelation?
These and many more questions are dealt with by four authors as they present the four views on the millennium. Each view is then critiqued by the other three authors.
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“When the lives of the unborn are snuffed out, they often feel pain, pain that is long and agonizing.” – President Ronald Reagan to National Religious Broadcasters Convention, January 1981
Ronald Reagan became convinced of this as a result of watching The Silent Scream – a movie he considered so powerful and convicting that he screened it at the White House.
The modern technology of real-time ultrasound now reveals the actual responses of a 12-week old fetus to being aborted. As the unborn child attempts to escape the abortionist’s suction curette, her motions can be seen to become desperately agitated and her heart rate doubles. Her mouth opens – as if to scream – but no sound can come out. Her scream doesn’t have to remain silent, however … not if you will become her voice. This newly re-mastered version features eight language tracks and two bonus videos.
“…a high technology “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” arousing public opinion just as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 antislavery novel ignited the abolitionist movement.” – Sen. Gordon Humphrey, Time Magazine
Languages: English, Spanish, French, South Korean, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese
Running Time: 28 minutes
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Who is the dreaded beast of Revelation?
Now at last, a plausible candidate for this personification of evil incarnate has been identified (or re-identified). Ken Gentry’s insightful analysis of scripture and history is likely to revolutionize your understanding of the book of Revelation — and even more importantly — amplify and energize your entire Christian worldview!
Historical footage and other graphics are used to illustrate the lecture Dr. Gentry presented at the 1999 Ligonier Conference in Orlando, Florida. It is followed by a one-hour question and answer session addressing the key concerns and objections typically raised in response to his position. This presentation also features an introduction that touches on not only the confusion and controversy surrounding this issue — but just why it may well be one of the most significant issues facing the Church today.
Ideal for group meetings, personal Bible study — for anyone who wants to understand the historical context of John’s famous letter “… to the seven churches which are in Asia.” (Revelation 1:4)
Running Time: 145 minutes
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