Thursday, March 27, 2008

Feb/March Truthbomb Apologetics Newsletter

A Ministry of Faith Christian Fellowship (explorefcf.com)

Introduction

As those who follow Christ, we must be able to provide the unbeliever with evidence that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead and that His tomb was empty on that first Easter morning.

As Peter wrote many years ago, it is our job to, "always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15b, CSB).

Our prayer is that this newsletter will equip you to share God's message of salvation using the evidence for Jesus' life, death, and resurrection from the dead. Then, next month we will focus on some of the objections skeptics have raised against the historical resurrection account.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Part One

In the Apostle Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth, he summarizes the "gospel" beautifully:

"For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, NKJV, Emphasis mine.)

Here, Paul makes clear the heart of the gospel message, but he also goes on to explain that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the very fact that Christianity rises and falls upon:

"And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses or God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, who He did not raise up- if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!" (1 Corinthians 15:13-17, NKJV, Emphasis mine)

Paul makes two things very clear in these verses: 1) If Jesus Christ was not resurrected from the dead, the Christian faith is empty or futile, and 2) If Jesus Christ did not come to this earth, die for the sins of mankind, and defeat death by rising from the dead, then we are still in our sins and dead to God spiritually.

The Verification Factor

The role of the Holy Spirit in one's salvation is critical and necessary. The Bible itself confirms:

"The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God's children" (Romans 8:16a, CSB).

When someone puts their faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit will confirm in their heart that they are saved. This is experiential evidence for the believer that Jesus is who He said He was/is.

However, we must address the fact that other world religions claim to possess so-called "tests for truth" that can be apparently experienced as well. For example, the Muslim will tell you to follow Islam because only God could have written the Qur'an:

"An if ye are in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto Our slave (Muhammad), then produce a surah of the like thereof, and call your witnesses beside Allah if ye are truthful. And if ye do it not-and ye can never do it- then guard yourselves against the fire prepared for disbelievers, whose fuel is of men and stones" [1]

Further, the Book of Mormon tells us:

"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” [2]

So how does one handle these conflicting truth claims? Can a sincere seeker of truth really discover what is correct?

It's imperative to understand that a believer's experience must correlate with the external evidence available through history, archaeology, and other observable facts.

For example, the test for truth presented in the Qur'an is highly subjective (based on feelings/opinions) when one considers that a Christian could easily claim that Psalm 19 is far superior in literary form to the first Sura in the Qur'an, even though both contain a similar message. [3]

Further, the Book of Mormon proves inadequate under critical inquiry due to the virtually non-existent archaeological evidence to substantiate its lofty claims.

Surely these facts raise critical questions that need answered: How should a Christian challenge the sincere person who believes an alternative religion and claims to have the assurance of God's Spirit to substantiate what he or she believes? What about the person that doesn’t believe in Jesus at all? What about the atheist?

Here, the resurrection provides an objective test for truth as Dr. Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, in their book, The Case for the Resurrection, explain:

"We have the external test that, if Jesus actually rose from the dead, it appears the truth of Christianity is confirmed and all adherents to conflicting beliefs must reassess whether their assurance came from a spirit other than God's or was the result of self-delusion." [4]

Our beliefs must be grounded in reality and in truth, otherwise, they are, as Paul wrote, "empty."

As a Matter of Fact…

Dr. Gary Habermas has compiled a list of more than 2, 200 sources in French, German, and English in which experts have written on the resurrection from 1975 to the present. He has identified minimal facts (12 total) that are strongly evidenced and which are regarded as historical by the large majority of scholars, including skeptical ones.

In an interview with author Lee Strobel, scholar Mike Licona explains the "minimal facts" approach to presenting the evidence for the resurrection:

"Under this approach, we only consider facts that meet two criteria. First, there must be very strong historical evidence supporting them. And secondly, the evidence must be so strong that the vast majority of today's scholars on the subject- including skeptical ones- accept these as historical facts…Lets face it: there's a greater likelihood that a purported historical fact is true when someone accepts it even though they're not in agreement with your metaphysical beliefs." [5]

This set of facts is based upon viewing the Bible solely as a set of ancient, historical literature. One does not need to appeal to the Bible’s inerrancy or inspiration to set forth a compelling case that Jesus rose from the dead.

Layin’ the Facts Down…

In The Risen Jesus and Future Hope, Gary Habermas reports that virtually all scholars (believing and unbelieving) agree that the following events concerning Jesus and Christianity actually took place in history:

1) Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.
2) He was buried, most likely in a private tomb.
3) Soon afterwards, the disciples were discouraged, bereaved, and despondent, having lost hope.
4) Jesus' tomb was found empty very soon after his burial.
5) The disciples had experiences that they believed were actual appearances of the risen Jesus.
6) Due to these experiences, the disciples' lives were thoroughly transformed. They were even willing to die for their belief.
7) The proclamation of the Resurrection took place very early, from the beginning of church history.
8) The disciples' public testimony and preaching of the Resurrection took place in the city of Jerusalem, where Jesus had been crucified and buried shortly before.
9) The gospel message centered on the preaching and on the death and resurrection of Jesus.
10) Sunday was the primary day for gathering and worshiping.
11) James, the brother of Jesus and a skeptic before this time, was converted when he believed he also saw the risen Jesus.
12) Just a few years later, Saul of Tarsus (Paul) became a Christian believer, due to an experience that he also believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus. [6]

While all these facts are agreed upon by a large majority of scholars, we will focus on the five that are most evidenced. They are as follows:

Fact #1- Jesus was killed by Crucifixion

Unless you are Michael Baigent, author of the sensationalistic The Jesus Papers, virtually no one disagrees with the fact that Jesus was killed by crucifixion. Roman soldiers were professional executioners and they were very good at their job. As Licona comments:

"This first fact is as solid as anything in ancient history: Jesus was crucified and dead as a result." [7]

Fact #2- Jesus' Disciples Believed that He Rose and Appeared to Them

The testimony of the Apostle Paul about the disciples, oral traditions, and the written works of the early church all prove to sustain this second fact.
The information found in Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth (15:3-7) can be dated back to within 2-5 years of Jesus' death and resurrection. [8]

Here, Paul writes:

"For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time, most of whom remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James then to all the apostles."

Due to the minimal amount of time between the death of Jesus and Paul receiving these messages, the resurrection of Christ cannot be simply dismissed as a legend that develop over time.

Evidence such as this has led even skeptics such as Gerd Ludemann to conclude:

"It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus' death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ." [9]

Fact #3- The Conversion of the Church Persecutor Paul

It is sufficient here to say that there exist six ancient sources in addition to Paul that record Paul's conversion and his willingness to suffer persecution for his transformed beliefs. These include:

1) Luke
2) Clement of Rome
3) Polycarp
4) Tertullian
5) Dionysius of Corinth
6) Origen [10]

Paul would have had no reason to fabricate his conversion. He would have done so only to gain punishment, beatings, and imprisonment

Fact #4- The Conversion of the Skeptic James, Jesus' Half-Brother

History tells us that James began as a skeptic and even mocked Jesus at one time (Jn. 7:3-5), but later became the leader of the Jerusalem church and both Christian and non-Christian sources record that he died a martyr for his belief in Jesus. [11] This fact is also recorded in the above mentioned passages received by Paul within 2-5 years after Jesus' death. Again, legend did not have time to creep in.

Fact #5- Jesus' Tomb was Empty

Although this fact does not share the same acceptance among scholars as the other four, there is compelling evidence that indicates that Jesus' tomb was indeed empty on that first Easter morning.

Consider the following 3 points:

a) The Jerusalem Factor- Simply put, if Jesus' tomb was not empty, Christianity would have never made it off the ground. Jesus was publicly murdered and buried in Jerusalem, the very same place the disciples began to preach that Jesus had risen from the dead. If you are the Roman or Jewish authorities, and Jesus had not risen from the dead, all you would have to do is produce his body and drag it through the streets for all to see. That would have stopped the movement almost immediately.

b) Skeptics Testify to the Empty Tomb- Not only were those who were skeptical unable to produce a body, they actually admitted an empty tomb!

In Matthew 28:12-13, the Roman guards come to the chief priests and explain to them that the tomb is empty. Notice their reply:

"After the priests had assembled with the elders and agreed on a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money and told them, "Say this, 'His disciples came during the night and stole Him while we were sleeping."

The chief priests were forced to pay the soldiers to lie because they knew the tomb was indeed vacant!

Further, this falsehood put forth by the chief priests is also recorded by Justin Martyr and Tertullian. [12]

c) The Testimony of the Women- In all four gospels, we find that the women were the first to discover the tomb was empty. Why is this significant? In first century Jewish and Roman cultures, the testimony of a woman was not held in high esteem. If someone were going to make up the story of Jesus' resurrection, surely they would not have made women the first to find the tomb empty simply because this would have been devastating to the credibility of their case. The only reason they would have reported that women were the first to find the tomb empty is because it really happened!

The Best Explanation

The power of the minimal facts argument is that it does not allow the skeptic/unbeliever to simply brush aside the resurrection. A skeptic not only is forced to provide alternative theories to the resurrection, but they must also be able to present first-century evidence to substantiate their conclusions.

Clearly, with the facts that have been collected from the earliest available data, the best and only explanation is that God rose His only begotten Son from death to life so that "everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

Many may reject the resurrection on theological grounds, naturalistic grounds, and even philosophical grounds, but one cannot, when the evidence is considered with an open-mind, reject it on historical grounds.

The minimal facts approach provides the believer with a simple, easy to remember method, in which to communicate the gospel message.

Remember, belief in Christ, His death for our sins, and His resurrection is what is critical to salvation, which must be our ultimate goal. Let us remain on the most important topic, the one in which Paul reminds us validates all we believe, Jesus died, rose again, and defeated death. There is not other message like it…

Movie Recommendation

The Case for Christ: The Film
by Lee Strobel

New York Times Best Selling Author, Lee Strobel, puts forth The Case for Christ: The Film, an offspring of his 1998 best-selling book, The Case for Christ.
I was very impressed with the quality of the movie and the "Mission Impossible/James Bond" approach it takes to examining the validity of the historicity of Jesus Christ makes it a fun view.

Scholars such as Dr. Gary Habermas, Dr. William Lane Craig, Mike Licona, Ben Witherington, III, and J.P. Moreland, among others, explain why belief in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is grounded in historical evidence.

I loaned this video to a seeking friend of mine and upon viewing the video, she called my house and said, "I need to study the existence of God now because I believe Jesus existed." I can think of no better recommendation than that.

Although some of the language was a bit technical, overall The Case for Christ: The Film is a great faith builder and/or witnessing tool.

Book Reviews


The Case for the Real Jesus
by Lee Strobel

In Lee Strobel's latest book, The Case for the Real Jesus, he sets out to investigate six new challenges that have emerged from modern skepticism regarding the historical Jesus since Strobel's first book was published, The Case for Christ.

True to form, Strobel hunted down some of the top scholars in the world and challenged them with some of the following claims:

1) Scholars are Uncovering a Radically Different Jesus in Ancient Documents just as Credible as the Four Gospels.
2) The Bible's Portrait of Jesus Can't Be Trusted because the Church tampered with the Text.
3) New Explanations have Refuted Jesus' Resurrection.
4) Christianity's Beliefs about Jesus were copied from Pagan Religions.
5) Jesus was an Imposter who failed to fulfill the Messianic Prophecies.
6) People should be Free to Pick and Choose what to Believe about Jesus.

Strobel questions prominent scholars Dan Wallace, Craig Evans, Paul Copan, Mike Licona, Michael Brown, and Edwin M. Yamauchi and in the process tackles the above objections head-on.

While I enjoyed the entire book, I found the interview with Dan Wallace worth the price of the book alone. Wallace does a masterful job in debunking skeptical scholar Bart Ehrman, explaining biblical inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility, and explaining why the biblical text we have today is reliable.

Further, New Testament Scholar,Craig Evans, approaches the popular Gnostic texts that liberal scholars tend to drool over and shows why they serve only to tell us about those who aligned themselves with the Gnostic movement, but little, if anything, regarding the historical Jesus.

I highly recommend this book to the believer who is looking to combat the various attacks on the historical Jesus and to the unbeliever who is seeking truth. This is a great starting place!

Article of the Month

http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/apol-eva.html- This article, by the founder of Probe Ministries, Jimmy Williams, explains the relationship between Christian apologetics and evangelism and also offers some practical tips on how to share the gospel more effectively.

Website of the Month

http://www.alwaysbeready.com/- Home of the Always Be Ready Apologetics Ministry led by Charlie Campbell, this site offers a wealth of material on various topics. This a great tool to add to your apologetics arsenal. We'll be adding it to ours!

Explorefcf.com Apologetics Update

-An article from the Truthbomb Apologetics blog entitled The Christian, Apathy, and Apologetics, was featured on one of the top apologetics sites on the internet, http://www.tektonics.org/ by J.P. Holding.

***See here: http://www.tektonics.org/newstuff.html and scroll down to February 7, 2008 to check it out.

-We added a few articles to our blog including Barack Obama's Theology, the Historical Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and Moses: Dazed and Confused?

- My wife and I found out that our second child is going to be another girl! We are going to name her Lily Opal. Praise the Lord!

Apologetic Verse for the Month

"The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him."
- Proverbs 18:17, CSB

Many times an unbeliever can present an objection to the Christian message or "state his case" and at first can seem very compelling. Don't be intimated. Let them know you have listened and that you plan to study out the claim, then return for your "cross-examination." This shows the inquirer that you really listened and care enough to look into their question(s). Also, if we are honestly seeking that which is true we have nothing to fear. We serve the truth (Jn.14:6) others seek.

Next Month

We take a look at the various objections skeptics present in an attempt to discredit the historical record of the resurrection. You will see the power of the minimal facts argument in action.

For those who object to the evidence presented above, hang in there until next month or email me! :-)

Prayer Requests

1) My Dad- Please pray for my dad. He is having numerous health issues and family difficulties.

2) My unborn daughter, Lily Opal- We found out that our unborn daughter has a little bit of fluid resting in her kidney so please pray for it's removal.

3) Faith Christian Fellowship- Pray that God will continue to shape us into the church He desires and teach us to get out of His way!

4) Truthbomb Apologetics- Pray that God would lead us to the topics He desires us to tackle and allow us to manage our time effectively so that we can have more opportunities to write and study.

5) Impact Thursdays (First Thursday of Every Month) - Pray that God will bring forth laborers to share the gospel and visit those who have been to the church.

Courage and Godspeed,
Chad A. Gross

Resources

1) Sura 2:23-24, The Glorious Qur'an, p.7; Text and Explanatory Translation by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall.
2) Moroni 10:4-5, The Book of Mormon, p. 529 by Joseph Smith, Jun.
3) Gary R. Habermas and Mike Licona, The Case for the Resurrection, p. 27.
4) Ibid, p. 28.
5) Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, p. 112.
6) Gary R. Habermas, The Risen Jesus and Future Hope, as quoted by Norman Geisler and Roman Turek in I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, p. 299-300.
7) Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, p. 114.
8) Gary R. Habermas and Mike Licona, The Case for the Resurrrection, p. 52-53.
9) Gerd Ludemann, What Really Happened to Jesus? trans. John Bowden, p. 80. 10) Lee Stobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, p. 119.
11) Ibid, p. 122.
12) Ibid, p. 123.

No comments: