Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Basics: The Core Proof of the Faith, Part II

The previous entry makes the irrefutable argument that the Bible must be the Word of God, on the basis of the fact that Jesus 1) said it is, 2) claimed to be God, and 3) was resurrected after He died, something no God would do if He cared about not actively misleading people by endorsing a false prophet's claims by making his prophecy come true.

The argument is irrefutable (not to be confused with undeniable--people can refuse to accept truth at will, but to be irrefutable means that it cannot be proven false) because if you deny any one of the key points, you create a nonsensical situation: see this post.

Now, if the Bible is clearly God's Word on the authority of Jesus, the God-Man, then the only missing piece of this concisely stated proof is the piece that applies it to "real life," that is, the piece that makes the argument something more than a good philosophical idea, and an incontrovertible fact. And that piece is the evidence of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

All evidence of this, to us modern people, is indirect, because none of us saw His death or resurrection with our own eyes, or had the opportunity to hear other eyewitnesses tell us. That does not make the evidence any less compelling.

One of the articles I came across when I was coming to faith which was most helpful in framing how I think about this subject was one from the website Tektonics, entitled "The Impossible Faith."

The argument is very intriguing, because it actually comes as an "oh yeah?" confrontation rather than a mea-culpa-toned defense, as if we are really on the defensive. Instead, it makes the strong argument that it is the person questioning Christianity that needs to explain how come the religion survived the first 100 years. This is not some weak argument from ignorance about how come Christianity is so popular. After all, it isn't. Most people claiming to be Christians are not, and the irony is that they do so because it's convenient--but in a time of harsh persecution, it will be less convenient, and fewer people will claim to be Christian. This is one of the points the article makes. It lists 17 different points of incredulity, boldly arguing that if Christianity is just another man-made religion, there is no way it should have had any followers once the first generation of believers had died out. Here's how they state it, verbatim:
"Rodney Stark has shown in The Rise of Christianity why the movement continued to grow once it got a foothold, but this does not address how it managed to get a foothold in the first place. So how did it happen?
I propose that there is only one, broad explanation for Christianity overcoming these intolerable disadvantages, and that is that it had the ultimate rebuttal -- a certain, trustworthy, and undeniable witness to the resurrection of Jesus, the only event which, in the eyes of the ancients, would have vindicated Jesus' honor and overcome the innumerable stigmae of his life and death...
Skeptics and critics must explain otherwise why, despite each and every one of these factors, Christianity survived, and thrived. A consistent witness, one that was strong enough to reach into the second century in spite of these factors, is the only reasonable candidate."
And from the beginning of the article,
"Below I offer a list of 17 factors to be considered -- places where Christianity "did the wrong thing" in order to be a successful religion. It is my contention that the only way Christianity did succeed is because it was a truly revealed faith -- and because it had the irrefutable witness of the Resurrection"
I recommend the article enthusiastically. Here is a short summary of each point.

  1. Crucifixion was so dishonorable that the idea that a God would die that way was unacceptable. See the article for proof that this was a really big deal, not just a minor point of fine taste.
  2. Jesus was a nobody from nowhere. Ironically, our society isn't prejudiced enough for me to find a contemporary analogy.
  3. A physical resurrection was not what anyone expected. The article demonstrates that 'spiritual' resurrection was the fashion, and the early Gnostic heresy demonstrates this sentiment quite well. They held that matter was base, even evil, and that spirit was pure. To be trapped in bodies of flesh was to them a form of punishment. And they were only continuing the common Platonic philosophy of the time.
  4. People accept what they're used to, what's already established. Novelty is frowned upon, it's just human nature. We are uncomfortable with change. That's why people in lopsided voting districts send the same person to Congress for 40 years in a row.
  5. Rules aren't popular. Christianity's biggest offense to our culture today is the idea that they are wrong in what they believe or what they do, and will be punished for it. Offends many today, certainly then.
  6. Not allowing retaliation not only stifles human nature, it goes against other world religions. If you read the Quran, you find it almost reads as a hate manifesto, repeatedly talking about how so-and-so offended Mohammed and he commands muslims to take up the offense and make sure to get back at the Jews by killing them, for laughing at him. Basically. Christianity is a tough sell when it says "do not repay evil with evil" Romans 12:17. 1 Peter 3:9
  7. God walking among humans isn't 'transcendent' enough, and Islam makes a big deal of that as well. If you want to understand how hard it was for Romans and Greeks to accept Christianity, just interview a muslim who's educated about their own faith, basically. Very similar ways of thinking in some respects.
  8. You'll be hurt and lose your possessions and family ties etc if you join. No perks! Sweet!
  9. How can a God be a man? Many people criticize it today; still a problem then. But even more viscerally -- God having bowel movements? Surely He's above that stuff, no? 
  10. You lose all your class privileges! Even fewer perks if you're coming from a position farther up the rung in society. If you're a man, you're reduced to equality with women, if you're old, you're reduced to equality with the young, if you're black, you're reduced to equality with whites (switched that up on you for some perspective), etc. If you're rich, you're not any more special than the poor. Money doesn't buy you favor.
  11. Relying on women as trustworthy witnesses. One of the more significant overlooked aspects of the Gospel in our modern society, and yet another example of where Islam can help us understand just how alien this is. In Shariah Law, the testimony of 4 women is equal to that of one man's. Women were forbidden from being witnesses. The fact that the Bible matter-of-factly reports their words as if they were true was another offense.
  12. Same deal with the women, when it comes to low-class provincial men, which all the apostles except Paul were. Even today, we are more likely to believe a report if the president says it, but if a random homeless guy on the street says something about the president that no one else corroborates, you know as well as I do that you'd ignore him without a second thought.
  13. People would check the facts. Making claims that can be proven false would cause gossip to spread like wildfire, killing your man-made cult off before it left the ground.
  14. A God who doesn't know things? At face value, it would seem to contradict the idea in Part I that I mentioned, that we assume certain things about God -- like omniscience, in this case. This is a perfect example of why it would have been such a challenge to get people to believe in Him -- so many problems to explain away! It begs the question of how come Christianity survived.
  15. Christ was put to shame -- this returns to an earlier point and emphasizes it. In our culture, it might be hard to understand, so it's important to realize just how serious these difficulties were for Christianity in an honor-and-shame culture.
  16. Breaking up families for the sake of faith, loss of social opportunity, people you don't like get included in the group, introducing the concept of social mobility as opposed to inherent status due to birth, discouraging revolution against unjust powers, etc. Sign me up!
  17. Encouraging fact checking. That's not what you do if you know you're making it up.

It's an excellent read and it effectively proves that if it were not for the fact that the Resurrection actually happened, there is no reason why Christianity should have existed beyond the year 100, and the fact that it did (because it's here today) is therefore proof that the Resurrection occurred. See, you just proved something that happened 2000 years ago without being a scholar and without seeing it for yourself. You just needed to consider some basic concepts that no reasonable person will argue against. In this way, the Resurrection -- and therefore, the Bible's 100% reliability and authority as God's Word -- is irrefutable.

Knowing is one thing, believing on it is another. I encourage you not to perform half-measures.


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