Wednesday, December 17, 2008

An epiphany - walking in to undesirable circumstances with open arms instead of trying to avoid them altogether

One crucial life lesson I have been learning since our move to the Denver area has been a painful one. Sandy and I were "studying," and during this time we discussed matters of faith. In the course of our conversation, I was made aware of the next step I must take forward to mature as a Christian. The realization was both painful and freeing (like a light bulb suddenly illuminating).

I have been running from trying and difficult circumstances of certain sorts like the plague. "Running" isn't a very accurate description. Loathing and dreading perhaps. Here's an example. Nothing has made my sinful, imperfect being more apparent than my embarrassingly crappy attempts at good parenting. I'm not at all good at distinguishing that fine line between letting my 2-year-old toddler express her autonomy and drawing boundaries for her. Sometimes my patience runs thin way too fast. Earlier today, I felt incredibly guilty for letting my frustrations get the better of me. I didn't strike my child out of anger or anything like that. Didn't strike her at all. But, I feel like raising my voice to her and getting impatient with her taking seemingly aeons to put away her toys was just as bad. I hate how I dealt with that situation and some other previous ones.

Rather than expecting myself to never make any parenting mistakes from now on, the Holy Spirit let me know that I should walk towards such patience-testing, emotionally difficult circumstances with open arms, learning to lean on the Lord while walking through them. I cannot continually live in fear of having to deal with difficult situations, whether in relation to parenting or anything else. Instead, from the inside out, as a part of my growth and maturing as a Christian, I need to learn to lean on God as the Counselor and wise adviser. This is true in every aspect of my life and with every interpersonal relationship I have.

How do I know that the Holy Spirit is saying this to me, first through my friend Sandy and then again this morning? I didn't hear some sort of little voice whispering in my ear. I am not keen enough to reach this sort of realization on my own; I've lived long enough to realize that human reasoning and insight has its limits. This could not have come from Sandy or me without any assistance. It was the Lord, moving through the Holy Spirit.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Be still and know that I am God

This chapter of my life, the one that started around the time we moved to the Denver area, has been rough and turbulent. I gave birth to my second child and we moved half way across the country in two months time. We up and left a church full of good people, some beloved friends, and a life beyond just babies. In our new abode, four months later, I haven't met any kindred spirits yet (there are amazing people here, but none where we cannot stay away from each other), and I feel lonely a lot. Don't get me wrong, my close friends are still around, just not close by. My psychological and mental well-being have been on a roller coaster ride, taking steep climbs and nose-dives, heading down windy paths. On top of all that, my body still has not (and may not ever) fully recovered from my last delivery. My teeth are not the strongest (that isn't even counting the root canal and crown I had done at the end of my pregnancy), and I have a hernia that wants to stay. I'm used to a pretty busy life with a schedule filled with activities. Before coming to Colorado, I was on the worship team at church, teaching an adult Sunday school class, and facilitating a small group. I even resumed all this a week after delivering our second child. What am I doing now? None of that. I try to put my husband first (after God of course, but before the children), look after our home, and take care of our children. I'm doing nothing in service of our church, I'm not in any bible studies, I'm not a part of any small group. Nothing extracurricular. Well, I am in school, part-time.

I'm saying all this not just to unload and to complain. Really. There are people in this life that have much more to complain about. I have a great life: an awesome God to serve, a wonderful husband, two endearing and darling children, a roof over my head, food on the table, freedom that people in many parts of the world will never experience, the opportunity to continue studying, the list goes on . . .

What I am saying is that in the midst of this turbulence and interesting adventure, I have noticed and recognized, at times, that the Lord is calling my attention towards Him. Sunday morning, before church, I even spoke with my husband about the time I had with the Lord that morning, where He told me that this is a time for me to grow in my relationship with Him.

That same day, the day before yesterday, we went to church and heard our Pastor (Kevin Navarro) speak on Psalm 46. We've been working our way through the Book of Acts, and starting this past Sunday, we took a brief hiatus in observance of this Advent season. I truly believe the Lord was using Pastor Kevin to speak to me. "Be still and know that I am God," He's telling me. Be still from all the flurry in my head - worry about finances, anxieties about whether I am being a good spouse or a good mother, concerns about whether I'm doing enough with my life (especially on matters of significance), everything. This is a time for silence. It is a time for quiet, to listen to the Lord.

Verses 1 through 3 of Psalm 46 recognizes that we live in a fallen world - full of disappointment, hurt, pain, suffering. God isn't trying to slap icing and sugar on something that is bitter and ugly. Nor is he putting a band aid on a wound. He admits and points out that we live in a messed up world. But, God also wants us to know that in the midst of this chaos, He is our refuge and our strength. God is our strong tower. God is our foundation. God is our rock.

Think on that friends. We serve a Lord that loves us so much that he gave his only Son to die for our sins. But, God did not make that sacrifice and help us no more. He still is our Abba, who loves us, carries us, wants us to lean on Him.

This day and any day you feel like a failure and life sucks, remember that you are His precious child and that He made you the way you are, special and very important. What you see as flaws are not flaws to Him.

Also remember that the spotlight is not on you; it's about the Lord. It's all about Him.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

William Lane Craig's motivating and moving story about how he came to have two PhDs

One of my really good friends, Christine, alerted me to this story. It offered me so much hope, in the face of a rather trying time:

Got it off of Reasonable Faith with William Lane Craig:

Question 83

Subject: Double Doctorates


Question:

Dear Dr. Craig,

I am curious as to how you obtained your double Phds. How did you attain the second one? I am curious because such an achievement is among my own goals. Thank you Sir, God Bless.

Yours Respectfully,

Christopher


Dr. Craig responds:

Then you’re certainly more ambitious than I was, Christopher! We never planned to do such a thing; we were just sort of led into it. Jan and I have found that the Lord never shines His light very far down our path but gives us just enough light to take the next step.

Occasionally I like to take a more personal Question of the Week like yours, so let me share a bit of the story of how God has led us.

My senior year at Wheaton College I was introduced to the subject of Apologetics through reading of E. J. Carnell’s An Introduction to Christian Apologetics. Carnell’s book electrified me. He was addressing all the interesting questions that I wondered about and wanted answers to. I admired Carnell greatly because he had earned doctorates in philosophy and theology from Boston University and Harvard University respectively. I thought how wonderful it would be to have expertise like that in both areas, but I never dreamt that this would be something I might aspire to.

I did, however, aspire to a seminary education following my college graduation, so in 1973 I moved with my young wife to Deerfield, Illinois, to commence studies in Philosophy of Religion under Norman Geisler at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. We spent two great years at Trinity, studying under men such as Paul Feinberg, David Wolfe, John Warwick Montgomery, David Wells, John Woodbridge, J. I. Packer, Clark Pinnock, and Murray Harris. I earned twin Master’s degrees in Philosophy of Religion and in Church History and the History of Christian Thought. It turned out to be a crucial stepping stone in the path God had laid out for us.

As graduation from Trinity neared, Jan and I were sitting one evening at the supper table in our little campus apartment, talking about what to do after graduation. Neither of us had any clear leading or inclination of what we should do next.

So Jan said to me, “Well, if money were no object, what would you really like to do next?”

I replied, “If money were no object, what I’d really like to do is go to England and do a doctorate under John Hick.”

“Who’s he?” she asked.

“Oh, he’s this famous British philosopher who’s written extensively on arguments for the existence of God,” I explained. “If I could study with him, I could develop a cosmological argument for God’s existence.”

But it hardly seemed a realistic idea.

The next evening at supper Jan handed me a slip of paper with John Hick’s address on it. “I went to the library today and found out that he’s at the University of Birmingham in England,” she said. “Why don’t you write him a letter and ask him if you can do a doctoral thesis under him on the cosmological argument?”

What a woman! So I did, and to our amazement and delight Professor Hick wrote back saying he’d be very pleased to supervise my doctoral work on that subject. So it was an open door!

The only problem was, the University of Birmingham required an official bank statement certifying that we had all of the money for all of the years it would take me to complete the doctoral degree. (They didn’t want foreign students dropping out midway through their doctoral programs because they had run out of cash.)

Well, we didn’t have that kind of money! In fact, we were as poor as church mice. Our efficiency apartment was so small that lying on our mattress on the floor I could reach out and touch the refrigerator. We used to cut paper plates in half just to keep down expenses! (That led to an embarrassing moment once when we had Dr. Woodbridge over for dessert, and Jan, not even thinking about it, served him his pie on a half of a paper plate! Gracious to a fault, he never said a thing.)

But we really sensed that God was calling us to go to England to do this degree. There were no scholarships for foreign students from the financially strapped British universities. We had to come up with the money ourselves. And so every morning and evening we began to pray that somehow the Lord would supply the money.

To make a long story short, we made an appointment with a non-Christian businessman whose family Jan was acquainted with, and we laid out for him what we believed God was calling us to do. And this non-Christian businessman gave us—not loaned us—he gave us all of the money we needed to do the doctoral degree under John Hick at the University of Birmingham! It was one of the most astonishing provisions of the Lord I have ever seen. So Jan and I felt as though God had miraculously plucked us up and transported us to England to do this degree.

I did write on the cosmological argument under Professor Hick’s direction and was awarded the Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Birmingham. Three books flowed out of my doctoral dissertation, including The Kalam Cosmological Argument (1979). Today the kalam argument has become one of the most discussed arguments of natural theology.

As Jan and I neared the completion of my doctoral studies in Birmingham, our future path was again unclear to us. I had sent out a number of applications for teaching positions in philosophy at American universities but had received no bites. We didn’t know what to do.

I remember it like yesterday. We were sitting at the supper table in our little house outside Birmingham, and Jan suddenly said to me, “Well, if money were no object, what would you really like to do next?”

I laughed because I remembered how the Lord had used her question to guide us in the past. I had no trouble answering the question. “If money were no object, what I’d really like to do is go to Germany and study under Wolfhart Pannenberg.”

“Who’s he?”

“Oh, he’s this famous German theologian who’s defended the resurrection of Christ historically,” I explained. “If I could study with him, I could develop a historical apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus.”

Our conversation drifted to other subjects, but Jan later told me that my remark had just lit a fire under her. The next day while I was at the university, she slipped away to the library and began to research grants-in-aid for study at German universities. Most of the leads proved to be defunct or otherwise inapplicable to our situation. But there were two grants she found that were possibilities. You can imagine how surprised I was when she sprung them on me!

One was from a government agency called the Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst (DAAD), which offered scholarships to study at German universities. Unfortunately, the grant amounts were small and not intended to cover all one’s expenses. The other was from a foundation called the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung. This foundation was evidently an effort at Kulturpolitik (cultural politics), aimed at refurbishing Germany’s image in the post-War era. It provided very generous fellowships to bring foreign scientists and other scholars to do research for a year or two at German laboratories and universities.

Reading the literature from the Humboldt Stiftung just made my mouth water. They would pay for four months of a German refresher course at the Goethe Institute for the scholar and his spouse prior to beginning research, they would help find housing, they would pay for visits to another university if your research required it, they would pay for conferences, they would send pocket money from time to time—it was unbelievable! They even permitted recipients to submit the results of their research as a doctoral dissertation toward a degree from the university at which they were working.

The literature sent by the Humboldt Stiftung made it evident that the vast majority of their fellows were natural scientists—physicists, chemists, biologists, and so on. But it did say that applicants in any field were welcome. So we decided to apply in the field of theology and propose as my research topic an examination of the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus! And we decided to go for the doctoral degree in theology at the same time.

We then began to pray morning and night that God would give us this fellowship. Sometimes I could believe God for such a thing; but then I would think of this panel of 80 German scientists in Bonn evaluating the applications and coming to this proposal on the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, and my heart would just sink!

It would take about nine months for the Humboldt Stiftung to evaluate the applications, and in the meantime our lease was expiring, so we needed to move out of our house in Birmingham. So I said to Jan, “Honey, you’ve sacrificed a lot for me during my studies. Let’s do something that you’d like to do. What would you really like to do?”

She said, “I’ve always wanted to learn French. I had to drop my French class in college because I got sick, and I’ve always felt bad I didn’t get to learn French.”

“O.K.,” I said, “Let’s go to France and enroll in a French language school!”

So we began to look into the possibilities. The obvious one was the Alliance Française, which is the official language school in France. But the far more interesting option was the Centre Missionnaire in Albertville, a Christian language school nestled in the French Alps for training foreign missionaries to French-speaking countries. They emphasized learning to really speak French with as little foreign accent as possible, as well as to read and write it, along with all the biblical and theological vocabulary only a Christian school would provide.

So we wrote to the Centre Missionnaire, asking if we could study there. To our dismay, they wrote back informing us that applicants have to be missionaries officially with a mission board and, moreover, the course would cost several thousand dollars. Well, we didn’t have that kind of money. We had spent just about all of the money given to us by the businessman to do our doctoral studies in Birmingham.

So I wrote back to the Centre Missionnaire explaining our financial situation. I also explained that while we weren’t officially missionaries, we did want to serve the Lord, and I included a letter of commendation from one of the elders at the Brethren church we were attending in Birmingham. Then I basically forgot about it.

Time passed, and none of my other efforts to find a job had materialized. We had shipped all of our belongings back to my parents’ home in Illinois. In one week we had to move out of our house in Birmingham, and we had nowhere to go.

I remember walking out to the mail box that day to collect the mail. I found there a letter from the Centre Missionnaire. I opened it half-heartedly and began to read. And then—my eyes suddenly grew wide as I read the words: “It doesn’t really matter to us whether you are missionaries as long as you want to serve the Lord. And as for the money, you just pay what you can, and we’ll trust God for the rest.” Unbelievable!

Once again we felt as though God had just miraculously plucked us up and transported us to another country to do His will. We later learned that the Centre had actually turned down paying missionaries and accepted us instead. We went to France with a deep sense of divine commissioning and so threw ourselves into our language studies. It was unbelievably rigorous, but by the end of our eight months there I was preaching in French at our small church, and Jan led our French neighbors to Christ.

Our French language training was going to be over in August, and as of July we still hadn’t heard anything from the Humboldt Stiftung. Then one day we received a letter from the Humboldt Stiftung. The only problem was, it was in German, and with my rusty high school German I wasn’t sure what it said!

So we grabbed the letter and rushed into the village to a small bookstore, where we found a French-German dictionary. As we stood there slowly translating the letter into French, hoping against hope, we could scarcely contain our excitement. “We are pleased to inform you that you have been granted a fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation to study the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus under the direction of Professor Dr. Wolfhart Pannenberg at the University of Munich.” So for the next two years the German government paid me to study the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus! Incredible! Absolutely incredible!

Jan and I arrived in Germany on a cold January day to begin four months of language studies at the Goethe Institute in Göttingen, a small university town near the East German border. We had chosen Göttingen because “high German” is spoken by the ordinary people in that region, as opposed to a local dialect. It’s amazing how much you can learn in four months when you’re immersed in the language. We hired a university student named Heidi to help us with our pronunciation. With my post-doctoral studies in Munich looming, we were super-motivated to learn German. After a couple of months we determined only to speak German with each other until 8:00 p.m., when we’d revert to English. (It’s funny, but even when you know the meaning of the words, “Ich liebe dich” just doesn’t convey the same feeling as “I love you” to a native English speaker!)

By the end of our four months I had finished the advanced class with the highest grade of “1,” and Jan, whose knowledge of German when we started didn’t extend beyond “eins, zwei, drei,” was able to converse freely with the shopkeepers and people in our town. One evening during dinner at the Goethe Institute she astonished me. There’s a German proverb, “Ohne Fleiss, kein Preis!” (Without effort, no reward!). So during the meal Jan asked the Turkish fellow next to her (in German) to pass the meat. But he showed her the empty serving dish and offered her the bowl of rice instead. To which she instantly retorted, “Danke, nein! Ohne Fleisch, kein Reis!” (No thanks! Without meat, no rice!) I about split! Here she was already punning in German!

I have to admit that it seemed a little nutty to spend nine months learning French just before going off to do post-doctoral studies in Germany. But the Lord’s providence is amazing. The first day I showed up at the theology department at the University of Munich to confer with Professor Dr. Pannenberg, he took me into the departmental library and pulled three books off the shelf and said, “Why don’t you get started with these?” To my amazement, two of the three were in French! I thought to myself, “Praise you, Lord!” I could never have said to Pannenberg that I didn’t read French. That would have been equivalent to saying that I wasn’t qualified to do the research! God knew what He was doing.

Doing my doctorate in theology under Pannenberg was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life. I even had to pass a Latin qualifying exam to get the degree, which necessitated my taking Latin in German! But by the end of our time in Munich I’d learned so much about the resurrection of Jesus that I was worlds away from where I’d been when we first came. As a Christian, I of course believed in Jesus’ resurrection, and I was familiar with popular apologetics for it; but I was quite surprised to discover as a result of my research how solid a historical case can be made for the resurrection. Again, three books came out of that research, one of which served as the dissertation for my second doctorate, this time in theology from the University of Munich.

Since that time I’ve had the opportunity to debate some of the world’s leading sceptical New Testament scholars like John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, Gerd Lüdemann, and Bart Ehrman, as well as best-selling popularizers like John Shelby Spong, on the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. In all objectivity, I have to say I’ve been shocked at how impotent these eminent scholars are when it comes to refuting the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.

Very often, and I mean, very often, it turns out to be philosophical considerations, not historical considerations, that lie at the root of their scepticism. But, of course, these men aren’t trained in philosophy and so make amateurish blunders, which a trained philosopher can easily spot. I’m so thankful that the Lord in His providence led us first to do doctoral work on philosophy before turning to a study of Jesus’ resurrection, for it is really philosophy and not history which under girds the scepticism of radical critics.

So we’re very grateful for the way the Lord has marvelously led us, as we stepped out in faith, and equipped us beyond what we could ever have imagined to do His work.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Give 'thanks'

I love praise and worship songs. The chorus of a song starts, "Give 'thanks' with a grateful heart. Give 'thanks' to the Holy One. Give 'thanks' because He's given Jesus Christ, his only Son. And now, let the weak say, 'I am strong," let the poor say, 'I am rich,' because of what the Lord has done for us. . ."

I'm going through a little bit of a valley, and I say this, not to complain. Our family is about to make a really important move, one that is good for our family in the long run and one that comes as a blessing from the Lord. Moves and changes, though, are not without their difficulties. My feelings of sadness and anxiety may be due to a combination of moving blues and post-partum depression.

When I feel badly like this, I try to take the focus off of me by interceding for others and praying for friends and family. But, a few insightful friends have suggested a couple of other very important things to do: singing praises to the Lord and thanking the Lord.

Below is a list of things for which I am thankful. The list is in no particular order and is by no means exhaustive. It's late and I'm just starting the list. . .
  • My husband who loves me and puts up with all my crap, for better and for worse.
  • Having been able to have a successful VBAC this past May; having a skillful, understanding, caring obstetrician guide me through pregnancy and delivering Victoria; being surrounded by a team of very capable staff when I was in labor and delivery; being prayed for by lots of friends, having nursed continually encourage me while in labor (when I felt like I didn't have what it takes to deliver a baby into the world).
  • Manda, Christine, Abirami, Diana, Tenny, Chrissy, Cami, Katia, Debbie, Maxine, Elisa, Jeannie, Mommy & Daddy, Momma & Poppa, Becky, Jenny & Aaron, Brittany, Martha. . .
  • La Leche League.
  • My breastfeeding support friends.
  • Our church family.
  • Troy and I were able to conceive relatively easily each time we have tried.
  • We have a roof over our head, food on our table, clothing on our backs.
  • God has ALWAYS provided for us in time of need.
Alright, there's much more to be said and shared, but I am about to pass out, and I'm incapable of any lucid thinking. Good night to all.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Addendum to previous post, on Yale student; it was false

Yale University officials investigated Aliza Shvarts' claims and found them to be false. When confronted, she admitted that she was never pregnant and did not really induce abortions.

See the following Associated Press article for more details:

Yale: Student's artwork purporting to show abortion a hoax

It is also worth noting that she let Yale know that if they went public with what she had admitted to University officials, she would stick to her original story (of performing numerous artificial inseminations on herself, followed by
taking abortifacient herbs) and claim that the University was only trying to protect its own reputation.

What is wrong with the Yale senior who's using abortion for a medium for art?

Some of the vital information is the following:
  • Aliza Shvarts '08 artificially inseminated herself frequently, using sperm donated from volunteers.
  • Then, she took abortifacient drugs to induce miscarriages.
  • Her so-called art exhibit involves two things: showing a video recordings of these forced abortions and blood from different abortions.
To see the article on this, click on the link provided below:

For senior, abortion a medium for art, political discourse

I can't bring myself to read the details of that article again. Disgusting. Infuriating. Tragic. . .

Monday, February 11, 2008

Correspondence #27: How can another man's death pardon me?

February 10, 2008 Lily Chang

Gregory A. Boyd & Edward K. Boyd’s Letters from a Skeptic: a Skeptic Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about Christianity.

Correspondence 27: How can another man’s death pardon me?

Edward’s inquiry:

“The idea that the ‘rules’ are there to drive us to accept salvation as a gift – that’s one hell of a revolutionary concept! . . . It sounds like someone saying, ‘Well, since I can’t live up to these high standards, I’ll simply say that the purpose of the standards is to reveal the fact that I can’t live up to them.’ But on another level your interpretation of Jesus’ teachings is very compelling to me” (172).

“How can one man’s death 2,000 years ago pardon me? How can a God of perfect justice punish Jesus for my sins, and then let me off the hook knowing full well that I’m still guilty as hell (literally)? And why would He go through all the trouble? Surely there must have been an easier way” (172-173).


Greg’s response:

Regarding the ideals of Jesus’ teachings, the emphasis is that salvation hinges not on our own goodness (we are sinful), but rather, on God’s grace –

“Rather than inspire giant feats of self-effort which result in denying the sinful reality of our inner life, Jesus was trying to bring about the end of all self-effort by getting us to examine the sinful reality of our inner lives. And it works, if one hears Him rightly” (174).

“So in a word, the Cross of Christ and grace of God mean it’s safe before God to be real, honest, and therefore healthy. How relatively ‘good’ or bad’ a person is completely beside the point. Grace is, as you said so eloquently, Dad, ‘one hell of a revolutionary concept’” (175).

On how Christ’s death is a pardon for us, Jesus isn’t just any man who took a hit for us. Furthermore, Scripture reveals exactly why Jesus took a hit for us, why he died for us –

“The church has never arrived at any definite theology of how we are made right with God through the work of the cross (what’s called ‘the atonement’)” (175).

2 noteworthy points:

1. “Dad, it’s important to realize that Jesus was not just ‘a man’ whose death 2,000 years ago gets you off the hook. . . . Rather, Jesus is Himself God as well as man. . . . There are only two parties – the all-holy God and sinful humanity – and the Jesus who died for us is both. This is not injustice, Dad; this is incomprehensible love” (175).

2. “Secondly, without trying to explain exactly how the atonement occurred, or whether it had to happen the way it did, I think we are given enough insight in Scripture to make sense of the fact that it occurred the way it did. We can say why Jesus died for us without going so far as to say that He had to die for us” (176).

How we as sinful beings can be compatible with a perfect God –

  1. We must have an atonement for our sins –

“And this, Dad, is exactly what the Bible says happened in the life and death of Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God’s love absorbed His own justice. Out of love for humanity, God Himself satisfied His own moral standard by absorbing within Himself the sin of humanity and the punishment which that sin deserved. As a man, God ‘became sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God’ (2 Cor. 5:19)” (177).


  1. We have to be changed into beings compatible with God –

“The Bible says that when a person accepts what God has done for him in Christ, God gives him His own perfect righteousness, the only kind of righteousness which is compatible with God. In the Book of Romans, Paul says, ‘To the man who does not work (try to earn God’s love by his behavior) but who simply trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness’ (4:5)” (177).

“This does not, obviously, mean that people are perfect from the moment they give their lives to the Lord. A believer is given a ‘new self,’ a self identified with the righteousness of God. But he yet lives under a habitual addiction to the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors of ‘the old self,’ the self which is identified with everything other than God. Believers are thus given a new nature which is what they truly are, but they yet live, in varying degrees, in contradiction to this new nature. Only in heaven will the gift of God’s eternal righteousness shine forth from us perfectly. Only then will the ‘old self’ be shown to be the lie that it is. Our time on earth after our conversion is simply a slow progression toward this end” (177-178).

Friday, February 08, 2008

Correspondence #26: Isn't the Christian life impossible to live?

January 27, 2008 Lily Chang

Gregory A. Boyd & Edward K. Boyd’s Letters from a Skeptic: a Skeptic Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about Christianity.

Correspondence 26: Isn’t the Christian life impossible to live?

Edward’s inquiry:

“So here’s my problem: how can God really expect anyone to live up to His ideals? I mean, I consider myself to be a pretty good person. I’ve certainly gone out of my way to help the underdog more than most. But I also know that my life isn’t the ‘saintly’ life the Bible idealizes. Nor could it ever be. But this biblical ideal seems to me to be totally impractical and unrealistic” (167).

“The Bible seems to have all sorts of other hang-ups on sex. Why did God slay a person for masturbating? Isn’t that a wee bit extreme? And why does God give us all these sexual drives and make sex so enjoyable, only to then clamp down on us so hard with all His rules? And what of Jesus’ statement that people who get remarried are committing adultery – which is why I had to get my previous marriage annulled so Jeanne could stay in the Catholic Church. It all seems quite impractical and unrealistic” (167).

“But it’s not only the rigidity of the Bible’s sexual ethics which bothers me. I remember hearing a priest preach on Jesus’ command to ‘love your enemies,’ and I thought to myself that this command would be the ruin of any nation that actually tried to live it! So too Jesus said somewhere that if someone steals your coat you should offer him your shirt as well, or if someone hits you on one side of the face you should offer him the other side to hit as well! Come on! I bet there’s not a Christian in the state of Florida who would actually do that!” (167).

Greg’s response:

We cannot live a sin free, holy life on our own. Hence our need for a Savior –

“Now about your last letter: Dad, you are perfectly correct! No one can live the Christian life! No one has, does, or ever will (this side of heaven) perfectly live the Christian life! Do you think for a moment that I’m any better at doing the ‘holiness routine’ than you? You know me better than that! It’s as impossible for me as it is for you

But this is just the point, Dad. It is the central motive for all of Jesus’ ethical teachings. We are unable to perform our way to God on our own: thus, we need a Savior! Throughout Jesus’ ministry He was confronting people who (like the Christians you’ve confronted) believed that they were righteous before God on the basis of how good they were. They didn’t think they needed a Savior” (168).

“But this righteousness, Dad, we cannot acquire through our own effort. This is the realization Jesus is driving us to with His teaching. Being rightly related to God isn’t about ‘doing’ anything. It’s not a performance. If it were, as some try to make it, we’d all be goners. Rather, God’s righteousness can only be received as a gift. God wants to give it to you, for free, no strings attached! He wants to establish a relationship with you, Dad, a relationship which is characterized by unconditional love” (169).

“Read such teachings of Scripture, and recognize how badly you, like everyone else, need a Savior. And then simply accept Him. He died on the cross for your sins. Dad, so that sin no longer needs to be the issue between you and God. The only issue is, do you accept this sacrifice?” (170).

3 comments raised in response to Edward’s concerns:

  1. “First, there’s no record in the Bible of God ever slaying anyone for masturbating” (170).

Genesis 38:6-10 –

Not about masturbation, but rather, about not fulfilling obligation as a brother-in-law and not obeying God.

Deuteronomy 25:5-10.

  1. “Secondly, concerning the political applicability of Jesus’ ethics, you’re right that a nation would come to disaster if it tried to survive with a ‘turn the other cheek’ mentality. . . . [T]he main purpose of Jesus’ ethics wasn’t to set up a new, more restrictive, social program in this fallen world . . . What He was doing was revealing how sinful our situation is. He lifts up God’s ideal to drive us to the cross” (170).
  1. “I’m guessing, Dad, that you are concerned that accepting Christ is going to entail ‘giving up’ certain things in your life. And you’re not sure you can, or want, to do this. I’m guessing that you have something like the common notion that being a Christian means doing a lot of things you’d rather not do and not doing a lot of things you’d rather do.

Let me just say, Dad, that nothing could be further from the truth. You, like me, are a sinner precisely because you don’t do what you need to do, and you do do what you need not do, and you like it that way. Did you follow that? And that’s why you need a Savior. If you could clean up your act on your own, or even wanted to clean up your act on your own, you wouldn’t need anything more than a gentle ‘divine encouragement’ now and then. But instead, you need a Savior who suffered and died a hellish death and who is willing and able to do the whole thing for you!” (171).

“So, Dad, becoming a Christian just means confessing that you need Him – precisely because you are helpless to make yourself right with God or change your life. Being a Christian isn’t about doing what you don’t want to do; it’s about allowing Christ to change what you want to do” (171).

Correspondence #25: How would an all-loving God torture people in an eternal hell?

January 20, 2008 Lily Chang

Gregory A. Boyd & Edward K. Boyd’s Letters from a Skeptic: a Skeptic Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about Christianity.

Correspondence 25: How could an all-loving God torture people in an eternal hell?

Edward’s inquiry:

“Now tell me, what the hell (excuse the pun) would be the purpose of torturing someone eternally? What’s the point? Obviously there’s no ‘lesson’ to be learned. This isn’t corrective punishment. The person in hell has no hope of ever improving his character or situation. So this is sheer vengeance, pure retribution, unadulterated anger, with no motive other than the pure divine delight of inflicting horrifying pain on a person” (160).

“Don’t get me wrong, Greg. There are plenty of people whom I wouldn’t mind seeing in hell – for a time. But even I’d get tired of hearing Hitler scream after a couple of hundred years. Wouldn’t the ‘fun’ wear off? After that, I’d probably figure he’s paid his debt to his victims, and then I’d just kill him” (160-161).

Greg’s response:

“Hell is a real theological problem, I must admit it! To be perfectly honest, Dad, I’ve never been able to make much sense of it myself. But I have enough grounds for believing in Jesus and in the Bible to accept what they say on this matter, even though it doesn’t make perfect sense to me. If I decided to reverse this procedure and to thus reject these two authorities because of their teaching on hell didn’t seem reasonable to me, I’d have to then explain away all the evidences these two authorities have on their behalf” (162).

4 general comments:

1. The descriptions of hell aren’t to be taken literally; when they are, contradictions occur (162) –

· Hell as a place of total darkness & a place of fire.

· Hell as a pit and as a lake burning with brimstone.

2. People earn their places in hell; God doesn’t put them there –

“It is simply inaccurate to construe God as taking any delight in people’s pain. He tells us explicitly, ‘I take no delight in the destruction of the wicked’ (Ezek. 18:23)” (163).

“Now God, to be sure, allows these people to go to hell. But He does it by giving such people their own way” (163).

3. The will of sinners, not the will of God, keeps people in hell –

“[I]f hell is, in fact, eternally locked (and I believe it is0, then it is so ‘from the inside’ (C.S. Lewis again). Again, it is not the will of God which keeps sinners in hell, but the will of sinners” (163).

“The biblical doctrine that there is coming a state of being where people will be permanently solidified in their respective characters, is, I would think, just what an analysis of human nature would lead us to anticipate” (164).

“So it’s simply not the case that God tortures people eternally out of some sadistic delight in inflicting pain. What pain the damned experience they inflict on themselves” (164).

4. About whether God puts those in hell out of their misery is controversial –

“[Y]ou wondered why God would not, after a time, finally put the rebellious out of their misery. Why doesn’t He just perform a divine act of euthanasia and exterminate the damned? You should know that a number of very reputable evangelical theologians maintain that this is exactly what the Bible teaches! They maintain on the basis of analysis of the scriptural text, that the Bible itself teaches that God will ultimately annihilate all who are not ‘in Christ’” (164).

“While I find this view most compelling on a strictly rational level, I have some exegetical reservations with it” (165).

“The most important thing about hell, Dad, is not in understanding it or explaining it: it’s to avoid it! Whatever theory one holds about it, it is a nightmarish reality humans were never supposed to have a part in. And yet, our race is so presently fallen, so utterly screwed up, that the only way to avoid being ‘disposed of’ in this place is to grasp onto the Savior” (165).

“Think of it this way: if Jesus willingly died for us to avoid it, hell must be one terrifying experience!” (165).

Correspondence #24: Do all non-Christians go to hell?

January 13, 2008 Lily Chang

Gregory A. Boyd & Edward K. Boyd’s Letters from a Skeptic: a Skeptic Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about Christianity.

Correspondence 24: Do all non-Christians go to hell?

Edward’s inquiry:

“The root of my problem, I think, is that regardless of how much more reasonable the Bible is (to us!) to believe as God’s Word than any other book, people are still going to believe in other books so long as it’s part of their upbringing and culture to do so” (155).

“Now, on your account, does this not mean that these people cannot be saved? Isn’t this what all ‘born-again’ people believe? And doesn’t this mean that these unfortunate people – who constitute the vast majority of the world – are in fact going to be sent to hell by your all-loving God? But how can this be since they had nothing to do with when they were born, where they were born, what culture they were born into, and even who they were born as!” (155).

“How can one go to hell by the accident of where he happened to be born? How can there be one right way to God when there are so few who have the chance of finding that one way? How can heathen children go to hell just because they weren’t born into a Christian home?” (155-156).

Greg’s response:

In short – “I can say with certainty that all without Christ are damned, but not all without explicit faith in Christ are damned” (159).

Breaking down Greg’s response, he admits that there’s much disagreement among Evangelicals on the issue and further says that his approach is to move from the known to the unknown. His response is based on five principles:

1. “First, if I have very good grounds for believing the Bible to be God’s Word – the person of Jesus, the fulfilled prophecy, personal experience, etc. – then I must, at the start, be willing to confess that this revelation may have teachings which are going to transcend my own rationality” (156-157).

“The bottom line, Dad, is that reality is infinitely more complex than we can ever imagine. There are perhaps billions of variables which affect God’s interaction with us about which we have no conception . . .” (157).

2. “Second, I am certain that God is the most decisively revealed in Jesus Christ. Nothing is more central to the New Testament than this. ‘If you see Me, you see the Father’ (John 14:9-10)” (157).

“However God may appear at times, He cannot be other than He is in Jesus Christ” (157).

3. “A third principle of which I am certain as I work toward an understanding of the issue you raised is that there is no salvation outside of Jesus Christ” (157).

“‘There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). Sinners are only made compatible with God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. They cannot do it on their own” (158).

4. “ . . . there are some people who did not know Jesus Christ personally or consciously, but who were nevertheless saved” (158).

“[T]he sacrifice of Christ embraces more than those who consciously embrace it. If people in the Old Testament, Jews and Gentiles, could be made right with God, then it can only be because God applied to them the blood of a Savior they were, for various reasons outside of their control, prevented from knowing” (158).

“This, I suspect, is what we must also say about small children who die, about retarded people, and about others who are prevented from knowing Christ through no fault of their own” (158).

5. “[P]eople who have not heard and believed the Gospel are in grave danger. While there may be enough in the Bible to give us a small degree of hope for the unevangelized, there is nothing to give us any assurance about them. Indeed, everything we are told impresses on us an urgency about evangelizing them. All people need to hear!” (158).

Correspondence #23: What about the 'holy books' of other religions?

January 6, 2008 Lily Chang

Gregory A. Boyd & Edward K. Boyd’s Letters from a Skeptic: a Skeptic Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about Christianity.

Correspondence 23: What about the ‘holy books’ of other religions?

Edward’s inquiry:

“I wonder, however, if you didn’t minimize the blame which the Bible must take for the different views Christians have of it. Are questions about baptism and the like the only things Christians don’t agree on? Didn’t that group you used to belong to when you first became a Christian hold that the Trinity was wrong? Don’t the Jehovah’s Witnesses who come around here every so often say that Jesus wasn’t God?” (149).

“All religions have their own ‘Bibles,’ don’t they? How do you know that yours is the only true one? They, no doubt, have their reasons for holding to the one they believe in, just like you do yours. So how can you say yours is the one and only truly true one? It strikes me as a fairly narrow-minded position” (149-150).

Greg’s responses:

1. Regarding various sects that distinguish themselves from traditional Christianity by denying central tenets of faith –

“But these are generally regarded as ‘cults,’ and their very uniqueness is an indictment on them. Anytime anyone ‘discovers’ some new ‘truth’ in the Bible that no one else in church history has ever seen – and these sects are founded on just this assumption – one should immediately become suspicious” (150).

2. Regarding the “holy books” of other religions –

1) “First, only a few major religions have ‘holy books’ that claim to be ‘God’s Word.’ The literature of most religions, Hinduism and Buddhism for example, is regarded by the religion’s adherents as being sacred and full of wisdom, but in no sense infallible” (151).

2) In working from the known to the unknown, Greg points out the following:

“Thus, I know why I believe in Christ, why I believe in the Bible, and what the Bible has done for my life. I have to start with this. When I judge ‘the competition’ in this light, I arrive at the conclusion that, since they contradict the Bible on certain fundamental points, they cannot also be the Word of God” (151).

3) “Thirdly, it shouldn’t surprise you, Dad, to find that there are other works which claim to be God’s Word. For one thing, it simply reveals how hungry people are to hear God’s Word. When a starving person doesn’t have any real food to eat, he fantasizes a dinner of his own creation” (152).

3. On the comment that Christianity is the one and only truly true religion is a narrow-minded position –

“Narrow-mindedness does not attach to what you believe, but how you believe it. If I refuse to consider any perspective, any religious book, and any philosophy which disagreed with my own, that would be narrow-minded. But just because I hold to a belief that disagrees with other perspectives, other religious books, and other philosophies doesn’t itself make me narrow” (152).

Correspondence #20: Isn't the Bible full of myths and God's vengeance?

December 16, 2007 Lily Chang

Gregory A. Boyd & Edward K. Boyd’s Letters from a Skeptic: a Skeptic Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about Christianity.

Correspondence 20: Isn’t the Bible full of myths and God’s vengeance?

Edward’s questions:

  1. “Do you take it all [the Bible] to be literally true? Do you take every word of it to be infallible? Square with me, Greg. Do you really believe in the talking snake stuff? Do you take all of the nonsense seriously?” (131).
  1. “You have talked so much about the love of God, etc. But the God I recall in the Old Testament is anything but this!” (131).
  1. “And, finally, there is this problem. I don’t know much about this, but I’ve heard that none of the authors of the Old Testament books are the ones the books say they are. I’ve heard that a bunch of different people wrote the ‘five books of Moses,’ that Solomon couldn’t possibly have written all his proverbs, etc.” (131-132).

Greg’s responses:

Regarding 1. –

“Dad, I do take the entire Bible seriously. How can I do otherwise if Jesus Christ is my Lord? He took it seriously, so must I. I’m thus prepared to accept stories as true which I otherwise wouldn’t accept. But there are several considerations which alleviate the difficulty of this somewhat” (133).

1) “First, realize that humanity was in a very different situation back then than we are today. Hence, God’s mode of operation was quite different back then than it is today” (133).

“We don’t today normally see the sort of strange and miraculous activities the Bible speaks of, but if the evidence suggests that it was in fact like this, if we have reasons for accepting it, why not? The Resurrection of Christ, archeology, prophecies, etc. are, I contend, just those reasons” (133).

2) “Secondly, realize that the narratives of the Bible are selective. They are in the Bible precisely because they are unusual” (133).

“But [the spectacular deeds of Yahweh are] collected all together in one library called the Bible, which is why it collectively reads like these things happened all the time” (133).

3) ‘Third, as I hinted in the previous letter, I see no reason why God would have to limit Himself to the genre of literal history in revealing Himself to us. There is no reason why certain sections of Scripture could not contain some symbolic elements. If utilizing the literary genres of myth or allegory would better express the point God is trying to make, then what would prevent Him from using them? Nothing” (133).

“So, Dad, taking the Bible seriously does not necessarily mean taking it all literally” (134).

“Authors in biblical times were not as infatuated with ‘literal facts’ as modern authors tend to be. They frequently wove together history and allegory or history and myth to make a point. Ezekiel 19 is one case in point. The author tells literal history, but he does it by using symbolism. The end result is a story which has a literal point and must, as history, be taken seriously, but which can’t be understood literally at every point. The idea that the Bible must be 100 percent literal if it is 100 percent inspired is a very recent, and quite misguided notion” (134).

Regarding 2. – on God in the Old Testament –

“But it helps me to try to put things in perspective” (135).

1) “First, as I said earlier, it’s always best to work from the known to the unknown. Jesus Christ is the person in whom God is fully revealed. This, for me, must be my central definition of God. Whatever else God is like, He can’t be different than the God I encounter here” (135).

2) “Secondly, we again have to remember that when we read the Old Testament, we’re dealing with an entirely different world than our own. . . . “[The ancient mind] was an intensely violent, power-driven world where ‘might was right’ (maybe not so different from our own after all?). Life was cheap” (135).

“The Canaanites, for example, used to ritually sacrifice newborn babies by burning them alive. There’s evidence that they would perform some ‘religious’ ritual of tying together the legs of a woman in labor, and leaving her there until she died! These cultures would sometimes impale their conquered adult subjects and celebrate their victories by smashing the heads of their subjects’ infants against the rocks!

So, perhaps one of the reasons God had to use violence in the Old Testament was because violence was the only way of accomplishing what He wanted to accomplish” (135).

3) “Another consideration is this: perhaps the death of certain people was, in certain circumstances, the lesser of two evils” (135).

Regarding 3. – the authorship of the Old Testament –

“For my part, I think the evidence indicates that Moses was the primary author of the first five books of the Bible, but it also seems clear that he utilized sources which predate him (like the Gospel authors did), and also that material was added to this work at a later date” (136).

Correspondence #19: Why do you think the Bible is inspired?

December 9, 2007 Lily Chang

Gregory A. Boyd & Edward K. Boyd’s Letters from a Skeptic: a Skeptic Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about Christianity.

Correspondence 19: Why do you think the Bible is inspired?

Edward’s question: There are some really strange stories in the Bible. Doesn’t that make the Bible, as a whole, difficult to accept?

“I’m afraid I just can’t ‘suspend’ judgment on all the stories in the Bible. For me, Christianity stands or falls as a whole. It’s a package deal. You can’t ask me only to consider your strong arguments and bypass your embarrassing material. For me, to believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world goes hand in hand with believing in a book that has got some very strange stories in it” (126).

· That a serpent spoke.

· That a man was swallowed by a whale.

· That an ax-head floated.

· That a giant sea was parted.

· That a man grew stronger the longer his hair became.

Greg’s response: Just as we progress from the known to the unknown, from the clear to unclear, in every field; so, too, we must apply this to the current situation.

Various reasons for accepting the Bible as God’s Word –

1) the Lordship of Christ (128), which Greg discusses in previous letters. In this correspondence, he discusses others.

2) “First, the Bible contains a good deal of fulfilled prophetic material which is explainable only on the supposition that this book is God’s Word” (128).

The Old Testament foretells various things that are fulfilled in the New Testament – some examples:

· Jesus’ place of birth as Bethlehem.

· Jesus’ linage from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David.

· Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist.

· Jesus’ suffering and death.

· Jesus’ crucifixion and his crucifixion among common criminals.

· Jesus’ divinity.

· Ezekiel prophesying that Nebuchadnezzar II, a Babylonian king, would overthrow the city of Tyre; nations would wage war with Tyre; Tyre would be totally destroyed and made flat as a rock; Tyre would be pushed into the sea.

3) “[The Bible] has, as I mentioned some time ago, time and again proven itself to be archeologically accurate” (129).

4) “There is also a unity to the Bible, Dad, that defies naturalistic explanations” – God’s loving pursuit of humanity, humanity’s resistance to Him, redemption (130).

5) “And finally, there is the experience of the inspiration of Scripture, an experience testified to by Christians throughout the centuries. For one who has experienced the transforming power of the message of this ‘library,’ the ‘troublesome parts’ of Scripture are minor” (130).

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Correspondence #18: Why does God make believing in Him so difficult?

December 2, 2007 Lily Chang

Gregory A. Boyd & Edward K. Boyd’s Letters from a Skeptic: a Skeptic Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about Christianity.

Correspondence 18: Why does God make believing in Him so difficult?

Edward’s question:

“Why does God put us in a position where we have to try to believe in Him? Why does He toy with mankind, teasing us with evidence that’s good enough to make us uncomfortable, but never coming directly out and making Himself clear?” (119).

“It seems to me that an all-powerful God could do a much better job of convincing people of His existence than any evangelist ever does, and even better than all your arguments do. . . .[J]ust write it across the sky, nice and big: ‘Here’s your proof, Ed. Believe in Me or go to hell! Sincerely, the Almighty” (120).

“I suppose it’s for the better, but the more convincing you sound, the more ticked off I seem to get. And I’ve found myself recently thinking about this material too much, which means I walk around here in a state of frustration” (120).

Greg’s response:

1) To his dad’s state of frustration –

“I’m sorry you’re feeling frustration over all this, but then again I’m not. From my perspective, it’s a positive thing. Changing something as fundamental as one’s worldview is never easy – especially when you’ve held it for as long as you have” (121).

“In a fallen world like this, worldviews are going to collide for thinking people.

So don’t let my apparent certainty in our dialogue fool you. I’m a convinced Christian for sure: in the light of the evidence, and under the impact of the Spirit’s working in my heart, I could not be otherwise. But faith has never come easily for me either” (122).

2) To his dad’s questions of why faith is so difficult and why God isn’t more obvious –

“Think for a moment, Dad, what would happen if God did what you asked Him to do in your last letter – if God individually wrote a message in the clouds for every person alive. What if He wrote ‘Jesus is My Son. Believe in Him or perish’? Would all people now put their love and trust in Jesus Christ? I suspect not” (122).

Reasons why people wouldn’t necessarily put their love and trust in Jesus Christ, even if God made proof of His existence more obvious (by writing the proof in the sky, for instance):

1) “First, the impression stupendous events have on us is rarely permanent. The impression fades with time” (123).

“If a person does base his faith on miracles, he needs a steady diet. But then the miracles stop being miraculous” (123).

2) “Second, there’s almost nothing which can’t be explained in more than one way. The cloud which says, ‘Believe in My Son’ could be a strange cloud formation, a hoax, a demon, a hallucination” (123).

“The explanations don’t have to be good, just possible . . . and sometimes not even that!” (124).

3) “Third, divine things are not as clear in this world as they might otherwise be because our world is, as I’ve argued before, caught in the crossfire of a spiritual cosmic war” (124).

“And some of the time when things are not ‘clear’ to people, it’s not because the issue itself isn’t clear; it’s because their mind, deceived by the will of demonic forces or their own evil-bent free will, is cloudy. God can holler all He wants, but if people are covering up their ears, they cry out ‘why doesn’t God talk?’” (124).

4) “Finally, even when God’s ‘direct approach’ seems to work, it doesn’t. God desires a loving, trusting relationship with us. We were created to this end. But does parting the Red Sea do that? Does speaking from the clouds do that?” (124).

“They can temporarily modify behavior – including the fear-filled words ‘I love you.’ But they do not produce love” (124).

“Love must be chosen. It must be free, and it must be from the heart, without external motivations” (124).

“The long and short of it, Dad, is that faith is more than a historical hypothesis. It is also a decision: a moral decision. The question is not only, ‘Do you rationally see why you should believe?’ but also ‘Do you want to believe?’ . . . God desires faith because He seeks love from responsible people, not forced behavior from robots” (125).

“As important as those issues are, salvation isn’t about believing in a talking serpent who deceived a woman, a giant fish who swallowed a man, or a sea that parted. It’s about recognizing your need for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (125).

Correspondence #17: How can you believe that a man was God?

November 25, 2007 Lily Chang

Gregory A. Boyd & Edward K. Boyd’s Letters from a Skeptic: a Skeptic Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about Christianity.

Correspondence 17: How can you believe that a man was God?

Edward’s claim: Even if Jesus did rise from the dead, that doesn’t prove He’s God.

“Suppose, for the sake of argument, that I conceded that Jesus did resuscitate or something. The grave was empty. That would be a strange event, for sure, but I’m wondering whether it alone proves that this man is everything the Christians want to make Him. I mean, I’ve heard of other people coming back to life. Does this prove that they’re God?” (110).

Greg’s response: To Edward’s allegation that Christ’s divinity was a piece of superstition that began with Paul, Greg says the following –

1) Various considerations that further substantiate the conclusion that Jesus Christ is God incarnate are:

· Jesus isn’t portrayed as divine only in Paul’s letters but everywhere in the Gospels –

“It’s true that Jesus Himself never comes out and explicitly says He is God in the Gospels, but He is everywhere portrayed in terms that come to the same thing. He says things like ‘If you see Me, you see the Father,’ ‘Honor Me even as you honor the Father,’ and ‘I and the Father are one’” (112).

· “Jesus makes Himself the object of faith, consistently saying such things as ‘believe in Me.’ He everywhere equates believing in Him with believing in God, rejecting Him with rejecting God” (112).

· “On top of this, Dad, we find the disciples calling Jesus ‘Lord’ (Kurios) which is the Greek equivalent to Yahweh, the name of God in the Old Testament” (113).

2) First-century orthodox Jews believed that there was only one God and that He is infinitely above human beings. They believe that Jesus was God incarnate –

“Now, what makes all of this most remarkable, Dad, is that we are dealing with first-century Jews here. Jews were (and are) not like the other ancient pagan cultures who believe in many gods, some who could come down to earth and take human form at will. No, at the center of the orthodox Jewish faith is the belief that there is only one God and that He is infinitely above human beings. . . .

All of this raises a perplexing historical question: whatever could have convinced these Jews that Jesus was in fact God incarnate? . . .

According to the Gospels, it wasn’t the ‘resuscitation’ of a corpse which convinced them that Jesus was God incarnate; it was the Resurrection of a man who had already embodied the kingdom of God – its love, teaching, and power – during His life” (114).

To Edward’s claim that the incarnation is a contradiction, Greg responds by saying –

3) The incarnation is paradoxical but not a contradiction.

“The analogy that is frequently used by theologians is that physicists say something similar about the nature of light. It can be proven that light has both wave and particle-like features. But this is paradoxical, for we have no way of conceiving how something could have both of these features simultaneously. But since the evidence for both features is incontrovertible, physicists yet assert that it is, in fact, true.

Something similar may be said of the Trinity, which you also raised in your previous letter. This is not a belief that ‘part of’ God was a man while ‘part of’ God was in heaven. God is Spirit, and thus can’t be ‘divided up.’ Rather, this belief is (among other things) the belief that God fully exists as transcendent Father, while God fully exists as Incarnate Son, while God also fully exists as indwelling Spirit (in the hearts of believers). God exists, and eternally has always existed, in three different ways. That’s what the doctrine of the Trinity comes to.

Is this a contradiction? No, but it is paradoxical. We can’t conceive how it is true, but there are good grounds for believing that it is true” (115).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Correspondence #16: How can you believe that a man rose from the dead?

November 18, 2007 Lily Chang

Gregory A. Boyd & Edward K. Boyd’s Letters from a Skeptic: a Skeptic Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about Christianity.

Correspondence 16: How can you believe that a man rose from the dead?

Greg considers each of his dad’s questions and answers them at length, so we’ll take a look at those questions and responses together.

1) Edward’s 1st objection to the Resurrection: The Resurrection is just an article of faith that a person believes or does not believe.

Greg: Believing in the Resurrection takes a conjunction of evidence ascertained by historical criteria and the Spirit of God working in a person’s heart –

“The event took place in history, and thus it must be ascertained by historical criteria, just like any other historical event. It takes more than evidence to believe in the Resurrection of Christ – I believe it also takes the Spirit of God working in a person’s heart – but this doesn’t mean that this belief can or should be held apart from historical evidence” (102).

2) Edward’s 2nd objection: Though the Gospels may be trustworthy in general, they aren’t necessarily trustworthy in every respect.

Greg: That’s not a reasonable demand. We don’t even ask that sort of rigor of other ancient documents.

“How could one ever prove such a thing about any ancient historical document? I’ve been maintaining that we must treat the Gospels just like we treat other ancient documents, but what you’re asking for goes way beyond this” (102).

3) Edward’s 3rd objection: Legendary features have crept into the Gospels.

Greg: People seem to assume that there are legendary aspects of the Gospels because of the supernatural events.

“From all I’ve been able to find (and I study this material a good deal), the only real basis anyone has for making this claim is that there are supernatural aspects to Jesus’ life in the Gospels and supernatural events” (103).

Greg considers four arguments against the theory that the Gospels contain legendary material –

a) The Gospels were written not long after the events recorded in them, and that’s not enough time for legendary accretion to happen –

“First, the Gospels are written within several decades of the events they record, and that is not enough time for significant accretion to occur” (103).

b) People who were trying to undermine the message of the Gospel would have pointed out any legendary accretion –

“Second, the Gospels are written in a hostile environment which would necessarily hold in check the development of legendary accretion” (103).

c) “Thirdly, if legendary accretion did occur, we would expect to find it in the later strata of the Gospel material, but not in the earlier” (103).

d) “Finally, if the Gospels contained legendary material amidst their otherwise trustworthy material, we should expect this material would not pass our earlier discussed ‘historical criteria’ as well as their other ‘non-legendary’ material” (104).

Next, Greg looks at the historicity of the Resurrection, pointing out, he says, that it “is, in my estimation, stronger than for any other event of Jesus’s life – and stronger than the evidence for the historicity of many other historical events we take for granted” (104):

  1. “The Resurrection event is testified to by five independent sources (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul – who refer to numerous other sources as well, such as Peter and James in 1 Cor. 15). This plurality enhances the credibility of each” (104).

  1. “The location of Jesus’ tomb was well known by all, so if Jesus had not risen from the dead, if His body were yet in the tomb, this could have been easily checked out” (104-105).

  1. “Related to #2, no one disputes that the Christian church began in Jerusalem just a few weeks after Jesus’ crucifixion. It exploded in growth. And the content of the message that caused this explosion was that Jesus was the Messiah, the Lord of all, as was evidenced by His miracles and resurrection from the dead (see Acts 2:16ff)” (105).

  1. “As I stated earlier, the Resurrection narratives lack the characteristics common to late legendary narratives, and embody many of the characteristics common to early eyewitness-based reports” (105) –

a. irrelevant story line –

“To give one illustration, Mark mentions the name of the well-known member of the Sanhedrin (a Jewish councilman) who donated a tomb for Jesus – Joseph of Arimathea” (105).

b. counterproductive material –

“Legends lack this. The role women in the story, for example, could, in the first century context, do nothing but damage the testimony of the authors” (105).

c. Total lack of theological reflection in the narratives –

“Later legendary material leaves nothing unexplained, but the Gospel narratives contain many puzzling features which the authors simply report, but leave puzzling. For example, Jesus tells Mary Magdaline in John 20: ‘Do not hold on to Me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.’ Why not? The author doesn’t say” (105-106).

  1. “The conversion of Paul is unexplainable except on the basis he himself gives: he confronted the risen Lord (see Acts 9 and 1 Cor. 15). Here was a man dead set against Christianity, even overseeing the stoning of one of its preachers, and then in a moment he’s converted. Similarly, James, the brother of Jesus, was also a nonbeliever in Jesus until the Lord appeared to him (1 Cor. 15:7)” (106).

  1. “Paul gives us an early list of the Resurrection appearances. It’s found in 1 Corinthians 15, written about 15 to 20 years after the Resurrection” (106) – Christ’s appearance to the apostles, to James, to mre than 500 at the time, most of whom were still living (1 Cor. 15:6).
  2. “There is no way of accounting for the transformation of the disciples except on the basis of the Resurrection, the very basis they themselves give. If you compare the disciples before the death of Jesus with the disciples after the Resurrection appearances, you will see a world of difference” (106).

  1. “Finally, there is no motive for the disciples to fabricate this story. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose” (106).

Finally, Greg briefly examines Greg’s alternative explanations for the Resurrection:

1) Someone could have stolen Jesus’ body –

Greg’s response: They couldn’t have gotten past the Roman guards (107).

2) Perhaps the disciples just hallucinated about seeing Jesus –

Greg’s response: “[T]he appearances have none of the qualities of hallucinations. They occur over a relatively long period of time. They occurred to groups of people at the same time (who interact with, even eat with, the ‘hallucination’)” (107).

3) Maybe Jesus made up the whole thing –

Greg’s response: Jesus couldn’t stage his own death, with the executioners present, and a resurrection (107).

In the end, Greg points out the following:

“The resurrected life of Jesus is the first instance of something which is going to in time be universal. He is the first illustration of what humans are going to be, of what they are divinely intended to be. He is, in fact, the first true human being” (108).

Greg uses the following illustration:

“Jesus is the first zygote to go full term and become a newborn baby. But if you never saw a fully formed baby, you’d have trouble believing that this microscopic, fertilized zygote could ever become one” (108).

“What is tragic though, and I need to close by telling you this, Dad, is that Scripture makes it clear that many of these zygotes will be aborted. . . the only umbilical cord we have with God is Jesus Christ” (108).