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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible
  • Archive for December, 2014

    The Ultimate Environmentalists

    Wednesday, December 24th, 2014 by Elgin Hushbeck

    In one sense, critics of the Bible are the ultimate environmentalists, for they recycle everything.  Refute one of their objections, and they just move on to the next, and over time they all get recycled.  The most recent example of this was Raphael Lataster’s article in the Washington Post that asks “Did historical Jesus really exist? The evidence just doesn’t add up. ”

    There is really nothing new in Lataster’s arguments and these keep popping up from time to time in one form or another.    Gordon Stein, another critic, wrote in 1980 that while “at one point in time, the question of Jesus’ historicity was a much more popular one for discussion” he considered it “far from resolved.” Michael Martin, another critic writing in the 1990s wrote that “the historicity of Jesus is not only taken for granted by Christians, but is assumed by the vast majority of non-Christians and anti-Christians” and that “the very idea that Jesus is a myth is seldom entertained, let alone, seriously considered.”  Still he thought that “a strong prima facie case” could be made against an historical Jesus. (Michael Martin, The Case Against Christianity, p 36-7)

    Thus when Lataster points out that numerous secular scholars have presented their own versions of the so-called ‘Historical Jesus’” he joins a long line of skeptics trying to make a case that even many fellow skeptics find questionable.  It is no wonder that he begins by trying to restrict the discussion just to those who would at least accept many of his assumptions, even if they do question his conclusions.  Believers in the “Christ of Faith” he says “ought not to get involved.”

    Nor is it hard to see why he would wish to exclude them, for he assumes that a “divine Jesus who walked on water” is “implausible” and “easily-dismissed,” which it is if you start with the assumption that there is no God, and miracles cannot happen, as do so many critics. But believers do not accept these assumptions, and thus the foundation for much of his argument falls apart.

    The first “problem” Lataster cites is a good example of the importance of such assumptions in his reasoning process.  He writes “the earliest sources only reference to the clearly fictional Christ of Faith.” One only need ask, why is it “clearly” fictional?  In the  19th century such claims were far easier to make, but the weight of scholarship over the last century has tended to both strengthen the reliability of the Gospel accounts, and to push the dates of their composition far earlier than skeptics originally assumed.

    As for the evidence Lataster presents, key is his claim that “Paul’s Epistles, written earlier than the Gospels… only describe his ‘Heavenly Jesus’” and that he avoids Jesus’ “earthly events and teachings.” One of his key supports for this this claim is that in 1 Cor 2:6-10 Paul taught that demons killed the “celestial Jesus.”  Now while fundamentalists are at times guilty of ripping a text kicking and screaming from its context, this is ripping it from the context, beating it to a pulp, and then reshaping it to fit a theory.  The key passage, states, “None of the rulers of this world understood it, because if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

    And here all this time I thought of crucifixion as an earthly Roman form of execution, rather than something done by demons to celestial beings.  In fact, without an earthly, and thus historical, body to put on a cross, what does crucifixion even mean?

    Later in the same letter, Paul addresses some of those in Corinth who did not believe that a resurrection of the body was all that important.  Thus in 1 Cor 15:3-8 he writes, “For I passed on to you the most important points that I received: The Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he was buried, he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures—and is still alive!— and he was seen by Cephas, and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Next he was seen by James, then by all the apostles, and finally he was seen by me, as though I were born abnormally late.”

    Death, burial and resurrection all point to a physical and thus historical Christ. Nor is this just some minor secondary teaching, but one Paul says is most important.  Note the appeal made to these skeptics concerning the eyewitnesses and the fact that many were still alive. This an implicit challenge to go and talk to them if you doubted what he was saying.

    It is for reasons such as these, plus a lot more that space does not allow for here, that even most skeptics reject these claims when they periodically come up.  For example, in my book Christianity and Secularism, I look at the early non-Christian sources and just from these we get the following picture:

    There was a religious teacher named Jesus. We are told that His birth was not a normal birth. During His ministry Jesus did many miracles. He had a large following, and the religious leaders of the time opposed Him. We learn that while in Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus was arrested. He was condemned to death by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. His death was by crucifixion. During the crucifixion there was an unexplained darkening of the sky. Finally, His followers claimed that three days later Jesus rose from the dead and still lives. (pg 132)

    Again this is the picture of Jesus from the early critics. Ultimately there is the question of how Christianity got started in the first place, growing to one of the largest religions in the world, and vastly changing the course of human history. If the accounts in the Bible are true, this is what we would expect.  It is hard enough to account for this if Jesus was just a misunderstood historical figure whose follower got carried away in their claims about him. It is impossible to account for if there never really was an historical Jesus.

    I think it is pretty safe to say that we can file this one away, yet again, at least until it come up next time, perhaps in another 10 or so years.

     

    Responding to David Watson on Christians, Ferguson and the issue of Race

    Wednesday, December 10th, 2014 by Elgin Hushbeck

    David Watson recently wrote concerning the controversy over the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Trayvon Martin that, “We are seeing again and again a great travesty–the killing of African-American men without consequence. If we as Christians don’t call this out and commit ourselves to doing something about it, then we are not living into our high calling as people who claim the name of Jesus.”  He goes on to write about the lack of indictment, “I believe that most Christians, regardless of their race, know this is wrong.”

    Now I do believe that Christians should be concerned about injustice, but we should also be concerned about truth. Nor are our concerns for Justice limited only to certain groups, but should be a concern for Justice for all.  This includes police officers.  So while we are in agreement that something is wrong here, we disagree over what it is.

    Watson wrote that “we should not convict people before they receive a fair trial” but it is hard to see this as anything more than an empty platitude, for the rest article takes their guilt as a given. After all, Zimmerman did have a trial, and was acquitted. Yet that did not stop Watson from including him.  Watson says of the officers in the other two cases that they cast, “a pall over the reputations of many good and honorable law enforcement officers.”  What casts a pall are those whose prejudices lead them to rush to judgment before the facts are known and then to ignore the facts when they come out.

    A lack of a trial does not preclude due process. The Grand Jury system is part of due process and is there to protect people from needless prosecution.   Being charged with a crime and put on trial is not an inconsequential event in a person’s life.  Given the evidence in these cases the only hope of a conviction would be from persuading a jury to ignore the evidence so as to placate those with a vocal, and at times violent, agenda. This would hardly be an example of Justice.

    Watson’s main argument seems to be based on the false premise that unarmed equals innocent.  Consider the case of Officer David Smith who in March responded to a report of a disturbance and was attacked by an unarmed man before he could even get out of his car.  The unarmed man was able to grab Officer Smith’s weapon and then proceeded to shoot him to death.  Nor is police officers being killed in the line of duty rare.  In 2013, 105 officers were killed in the line of duty, 30 were shot to death.

    So when Michael Brown similarly attacked a police officer in what reasonably could be construed as an attempt to obtain his weapon he lost any claim to be innocent. When he charged head down toward the officer,  Brown left the officer little choice but to use deadly force.   This was not a Hollywood western where the hero can just wing the bad guy.  Nor is it hard to imagine how this could easily have gone the other way, leaving Officer Wilson dead.  Had that been the case, few outside of the area would know of Ferguson, and Officer Wilson would have quietly been added to the list of officers killed in the line of duty in 2014.

    Even if you have some questions about the evidence, given this set of facts, the presumption of innocent until proven guilty, and a burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, there would be no way consistent with Justice to get a conviction.  To put the officer on trial would itself be an injustice.

    The circumstances of Eric Garner’s death, while tragic and troubling, hardly call for the officers involved to be put on trial. It is troubling as most of us thankfully can ignore the government most of the time. For those on the left the government is the dispenser of all that is good. But as the Romans 13:4 says, “for it is not without reason that they bear the sword.”

    We may not like it; we may even wish it was different; but when a police officer says you are under arrest either you go quietly, or the situation will escalate until you are in custody, even the act of resisting being itself a crime. There is no right to resist arrest.   As things escalate, so does the chance for a bad outcome.

    In the case of Garner, his resisting arrest and his underlying health problems were major factors in his death.  While Garner was black and the arresting officer white, it is hard to see how race played any significant role given that the arrest was supervised by a police sergeant, who happened to be a black woman.  But that his arrest was conducted under the supervision of a black woman does not fit the political agenda and so is conveniently left out of most reports.

    The simple fact is that when citizens are put into confrontation with the government, the government is going to win, at least in the short term.  Last year New York City logged 228,000 misdemeanor arrests.  That tragic outcomes such as Garner are so rare is a testimony to the service and professionalism of Police Officers across the country.

    The real problem with focusing on these rare events and trying to cast them to fit a racial agenda is that since it is not grounded in truth it is bound to divide people, which has clearly been the case here. While some will focus on the agenda, and others will focus on what actually happened.  This will make things worse, not better.

    In addition, as I have written in the past, it diverts attention away from the very real problems that face many of our communities: the breakdown of family life, failing schools, crime, and lack of economic opportunity.  These are the real problems we should be focusing on.

     

    The Reliability of the Gospel stories on Google Hangout

    Wednesday, December 10th, 2014 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Join me tonight from 7:00 – 8:00 PM CT as I will be discussing the Reliability of the Gospel stories with Thomas Hudgins (translator, Aprenda a leer el Griego del Nuevo Testamento),  and missionary Rev. Mike Bradley, just in time for Advent!

    The Ten Commandments

    Sunday, December 7th, 2014 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Prager University has just posted a wonderful new set of short videos (about 5 min each) on the 10 Commandments,  why they are the best moral code ever written, and why they are relevant for today. I highly recommend these.