Monday, December 31, 2012

Del Lawson (1922-2012)

Linda and Del watching NIU beat Kent State at Ford Field in Detroit

Linda's father Del Lawson went to be with the Lord early this morning. He died in the ER unit of Mercy Hospital in Monroe.

We got home from the hospital at 4 AM - 3 hours ago. Linda and I woke up at 7 and can't get back to sleep.

Del lived with us for 6 1/2 years. A few minutes ago I told Linda, "It feels alone in our house."

Del was 90.

I have a million memories of life with Linda's father. Here's a recent one.

On Friday, Nov. 30, Northern Illinois University was playing Kent State in football for the MAC championship at Ford Field in Detroit. Del played a year of football for NIU, and lived most of his life in DeKalb, Illinois, where NIU is located. Linda and I got our Bachelor's degrees there.

On the day of the game there was much anticipation in our home, especially in Del. He was going to watch it on TV. I got the idea - why not take Del to see the game, live, at Ford Field? I shared this with Linda, who agreed we should. Then I asked Del, "Would you like to go see the game in person tonight?" Del answered, "Why yes, I would. But I must insist on one thing. I AM GOING TO PAY FOR THE TICKETS!" I had learned many years ago that one should not debate Del about things like this.

Immediately Del began calling family and friends, saying, "I'm going to the game tonight!" I went online and got the tickets. We drove to the stadium, packing Del's wheelchair. When we got to Ford Field we were given a handicapped place on the 50-yard line. We had a beautiful view of the game!

Del was like a kid in a candy store. He shouted, he cheered, he laughed, and his eyes were wide open as he beheld, before him, his beloved Huskies. The game was one of the most exciting I had ever seen. NIU won in 2 overtimes, 44-37. Del told Linda, many times in the days that followed, "That was the most fun I've had in years!"

Until now..., because of that event Linda, Del, Lora, Grady, and I believe so firmly in: Christ has been raised from the dead, and we who are in Him shall also live forever with our God.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

I Am a Nobody to Whom God Speaks

Monroe County

I confess that God speaks to me. In this regard I'm nobody special. See T.R. Luhrman's anthropological- and psychological-based essay "If you hear God speak audibly, you (usually) aren't crazy."

She writes:

"For the last 10 years, I have been doing anthropological and psychological research among experientially oriented evangelicals, the sort of people who seek a personal relationship with God and who expect that God will talk back. For most of them, most of the time, God talks back in a quiet voice they hear inside their minds, or through images that come to mind during prayer. But many of them also reported sensory experiences of God. They say God touched their shoulder, or that he spoke up from the back seat and said, in a way they heard with their ears, that he loved them. Indeed, in 1999, Gallup reported that 23% of all Americans had heard a voice or seen a vision in response to prayer."

I have had such experiences - many of them. My spiritual journals are a record of the voice and activity of God in my life. I have over 3000 pages of journal entries in the past 35 years documenting such things, as they happen to me. Not all the pages record instances of hearing God, but many do. I am a nobody to whom God speaks.

In my Ph.D work at Northwestern I did neurophysiological studies on language processing, especially as it relates to religious language. I am familiar with the physical neural happenings of language and experience. When I hear God speak to me of course something neural is happening. But it's not my physical brain that's making this up, as I understand this, using inference to the best explanation.

Hearing God speak is important. Speaking intra-Christianly, if a preacher does not hear from God, then I am not interested. Hearing God should be a common experience of quite ordinary people, which includes your basic preacher. God is estraordinary, we preachers are not. Luhrman writes: "About a third of the people I interviewed carefully at the church where I did research reported an unusual sensory experience they associated with God. While they found these experiences startling, they also found them deeply reassuring."

As we approach Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's birthday it is instructive to remember that what god did through Dr. King was rooted in his hearing God speak to him. Luhrman notes this. King bographer Lewis Baldwin records this. Baldwin writes that once Dr. King received a phone call at midnight from a racist who called him a “n*****,” and threatened to kill him and “blow up” his home. This deeply disturbed him, and he was unable to sleep.

Baldwin states:

“Knowing that the theology he had studied in the corridors of academia could not help him and that he had nowhere else to turn, King had a face-to-face encounter with what he, in the tradition of his forebears, called a “Waymaker,” exposing his fears, insecurities, and vulnerablities with sincerity and humility. Great comfort came as an “inner voice” spoke to King, reminding him that he was not alone, commanding him to stand up for righteousness, justice, and truth, and assuring him that “lo, I will be with you, even to the end of the world.”” (Lewis Baldwin, Never to Leave Us Alone: The Prayer Life of Martin Luther King Jr., 69)

Engage with God and listen.

Friday, December 28, 2012

5 Difficulties with Calvinism

I have never been a Calvinist. Perhaps that's because, on becoming a Jesus-follower in 1970 at Northern Illinois University, one of my campus ministry leaders was William Lane Craig. Bill, though almost as young as I was at the time, was already a brilliant philosophical thinker. I was a philosophy major. Bill was my initial mentor in theistic philosophy.

Bill here posts 5 objections to Calvinism. They are:
  1. Universal, divine, causal determinism cannot offer a coherent interpretation of Scripture.
  2. Universal causal determinism cannot be rationally affirmed.
  3. Universal, divine, determinism makes God the author of sin and precludes human responsibility.
  4. Universal, divine, determinism nullifies human agency.
  5. Universal, divine determinism makes reality into a farce.

From Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion:

In conformity, therefore, to the clear doctrine of the Scripture, we assert, that by an eternal and immutable counsel, God has once for all determined, both whom he would admit to salvation, and whom he would condemn to destruction. We affirm that this counsel, as far as concerns the elect, is founded on his gratuitous mercy, totally irrespective of human merit; but that to those whom he devotes to condemnation, the gate of life is closed by a just and irreprehensible, but incomprehensible, judgment. In the elect, we consider calling as an evidence of election, and justification as another token of its manifestation, till they arrive in glory, which constitutes its completion. As God seals his elect by vocation and justification, so by excluding the reprobate from the knowledge of his name and the sanctification of his Spirit, he affords an indication of the judgement that awaits them.

The Difference Between "Empiricism" and "Empirical"

Cardinal on one of our feeders

Christian Smith suspects that the disconnect between social scientific studies of moral behavior and the morally committed lives of social scientists is due, among perhaps other things, to an underlying philosophical empiricism. Smith writes:

"I think that when social scientists work with professional theoretical depictions of the human that are at odds with their personal, moral, and political views of the human, something else unintentional is going on: the influence of a powerful background assumption about social science-namely, the model of naturalistic positivist empiricism' that demands that the social sciences emulate the natural sciences." Christian Smith, What Is a Person?: Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up, Kindle Locations 73-75)

I really like how Smith defines 'empiricism' and distinguishes it from the 'empirical.' (K 73-75, fn. 6)

"Here we meet a crucial distinction between empiricism as a philosophical belief and being empirical as a method. These are not at all the same thing. My argument in this book is resolutely against empiricism (also sometimes stated as being antiempiricist), in that I reject the philosophical belief that valid human knowledge is always and only obtained through sense perceptions of observed evidence gained through experience and ideally through deliberate experimentation-and thus a priori ruling out the role of reasoning, as well as perhaps innate ideas, intuition, or, in principle, revelation. My argument, however, fully affirms the need for science to be empirical as one of the defining characteristics of natural and social scientific work. We need all of the empirical evidence we can gather for our reasoning minds to use in larger processes of understanding and explanation in order to better grasp a reality not all aspects of which are empirically observable. The meaning of this should become clear as the book's argument develops." (Kindle Locations 5848-5854)

Science, which concern empircal reality, is not heful a understanding all of reality. This is easily seen in the self-defeating nature of logical positivism's empiricist criterion of meaning (as famously stated in A.J. Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic, and refuted by many, to include the later Wittgenstein).

The Disconnect Between Social Scientific Study of Morality and the Moral Commitments of Social Scientists

I've been waiting to read U of Notre Dame professor Christian Smith's What Is a Person?: Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up. Some years ago I appreciated (as everyone did) his brilliant study Soul Searching that gave us, among other things, the idea of moralistic therapeutic deism as the default religion of today's American adolescents.

Here is Smith, early in What Is a Person?, stating, as a sociologist, his concern. It's a long quote, worth reading in its entirety with little comment.

"The gap I see between the depiction of human beings in many of our social science theories and the moral and political beliefs and commitments that many social scientists embrace. Most social science scholars I know are personally committed-some passionately so-to human rights, social justice, equality, tolerance, and human emancipation. Behind those commitments stands a moral belief in the innate, inalienable dignity and value of human persons.

The disconnect I see is that few of the social science theories we employ in our disciplines model human beings in ways that justify or account for these humanistic moral and political beliefs. Few representations of the human in social science theories make it at all clear why such objects should be bearers of rights, equality, or self-determination. [Cmp. William Lane Craig's metaethical concerns here.]

If anything, much theory portrays humans as essentially governed by external social influences, competing socially for material resources, strategically manipulating public presentations of self, struggling with rivals for power and status, cobbling identities through fluid assemblies of scripted roles, rationalizing actions with post hoc discursive justifications, and otherwise behaving, thinking, and feeling in ways that are commonly predictable by variable attributes and categories according to which their lives can be broken down, measured, and statistically modeled.

Perhaps all this is true. But that picture does not obviously justify belief in human rights, social justice, equality, tolerance, and emancipation. I think it often does not and cannot. Some social scientists might be willing to live with that kind of intellectual and moral tension, even schizophrenia. I prefer to think harder about ways our social scientific, moral, and political views of human beings might better correspond with and reinforce one another." (Kindle Locations 60-69)

Thursday, December 27, 2012


We'll be live video-feeding IHOP's One Thing conference at Redeemer this Fri - Mon.

SATURDAY SESSIONS: 10am, 3pm ,8pm

Speakers include: Mike Bickle, Lou Engle, Misty Edwards, George Otis Jr
Worship Leaders: Cory Asbury & Misty Edwards and others

Here is a link that takes you to Mike Bickle's invitation to the event & explains his heart for this conference:

Ford investing $773 million in 6 Michigan plants, adding 2,350 jobs

Monroe County

"Ford will create 2,350 hourly jobs and invest $773 million in six southeast Michigan plants during the next two years, fueled by Americans' decisions to replace aging cars and trucks." (Detroit Free Press)

"In southeast Michigan, the automaker will start hiring 1,200 people at its Flat Rock plant in the second quarter of 2013 to begin making the Ford Fusion. Other area plants are expanding."

Flat Rock is just a few miles from Monroe.

"We have a lot of investment going on right here in the Detroit area," said Jim Tetreault, Ford vice president, North America manufacturing. "There is lots of good news for southeast Michigan."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Budgets and Programs not Needed to Proclaim the Gospel?

I took a shot of this bumper sticker in Monroe

Today is a reading day for me. Yay!!! This "down" time is an "up"time for me. I've got a bunch of new books, and I think I may begin reading them all today.

One of them is by New Testament scholar Scot McKnight, entitled The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. The book has two Forewards, by two of my heroes - N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard. Wright writes:

"The revolution Scot is proposing is massive— so massive that I doubt whether any of his colleagues, and certainly not this writer, will at once agree with every detail... [T]he large thesis that is advanced here, in parallel with other similar cases that some of us are trying to make, is that the movement that has long called itself “evangelical” is in fact better labeled “soterian.” That is, we have thought we were talking about “the gospel” when in fact we were concentrating on “salvation.”" (p. 12)

"Scot McKnight has his finger on a sore spot in contemporary Christianity, particularly in America. For many people, “the gospel” has shrunk right down to a statement about Jesus’ death and its meaning, and a prayer with which people accept it." (p. 14)

Willard writes that, in the American church today, "the personal and social transformation that is so clearly anticipated in the biblical writers and is so clearly present in the acknowledged “great ones” of The Way rarely becomes real. Only a life of intelligent discipleship could bring it to pass. Without that we have massive nominal, non-disciple “Christianity.” This leads one to ask, “What was the message that shocked the ancient world into its response to Christ and his apostles?”" (p. 15)

A diminished, non-revoutionary "gospel" is preached today that has no connection with discipleship and spiritual formation. "It is a view of grace and salvation that, supposedly, gets one ready to die, but leaves them unprepared to live now in the grace and power of resurrection life. The gospel of King Jesus and of his kingdom-now is indeed “the power of God that brings salvation/ deliverance.” To prove this, just preach, teach, and manifest the good news of life now, for you and everyone, in the kingdom of the heavens with Jesus— your whole life. Study the Gospels to see how Jesus did it, and then do it in the manner he did it. You don’t need a program, a budget, or any special qualifications to do this. Just understand it in the biblical form and do it. Scot McKnight gives you the key." (p. 16)

No programs?

No budget?

No special qualifications?

Like the early church that exploded upon the world???

The Need for Critical Thinking

I teach logic, the core form of critical thinking, at Monroe County Community College. Most students who come into my classes are weak thinkers. Hopefully, after a semester and six exams, their critical thinking skills will have improved. Is this important?

Richard Arum, in Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, writes: 

"These diverse concerns about the state of undergraduate education have served to draw attention to measuring whether students are actually developing the capacity for critical thinking and complex reasoning at college. In a rapidly changing economy and society, there is widespread agreement that these individual capacities are the foundation for effective democratic citizenship and economic productivity. “With all the controversy over the college curriculum,” Derek Bok has commented, “it is impressive to find faculty members agreeing almost unanimously that teaching students to think critically is the principal aim of undergraduate education.” Institutional mission statements also echo this widespread commitment to developing students’ critical thinking. They typically include a pledge, for example, that schools will work to challenge students to “think critically and intuitively,” and to ensure that graduates will become adept at “critical, analytical, and logical thinking.”" (Kindle Locations 105-112; emphasis mine)

"[T]he labor market values “the highly analytical individual who can think abstractly.”3 But what if increased educational attainment is not equivalent to enhanced individual capacity for critical thinking and complex reasoning?" (Kindle Locations 116-118)

Arum's academic concern is that incoming college students cannot reason or think, and academic institutions fail in helping the situation. Arum writes: "Many students come to college not only poorly prepared by prior schooling for highly demanding academic tasks that ideally lie in front of them, but—more troubling still—they enter college with attitudes, norms, values, and behaviors that are often at odds with academic commitment." (Kindle Locations 134-136)

Humilitas - On True Greatness

Cat, in Monroe, MI

John Dickson's Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership is selling for only $3.79, for your Kindle, on amazon. I picked it up today. Dickson writes:

"My thesis is simple: The most influential and inspiring people are often marked by humility. True greatness, in other words, frequently goes hand in hand with a virtue that, on the face of it, might be thought to curb achievement and mute influence. In fact, I believe it does the opposite." (Kindle Locations 104-106)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Jesus Instructed His Followers to Abide in Him - 31 Days with Jesus - Day 31

Church of the Nativity, Jerusalem


A dying man's last words are said to be important.

I was in India, riding in the back seat of a car on a 5-hour ride from Hyderabad to Kurnool along one of India's major highways. I could not sleep, even though I was jet-lag tired. India, by their own admission, leads the world in road deaths. I thought I was gong to die a hundred times or more on that trip. My driver was a crazed man in a land of psycho-drivers. He would routinely pass cars while going up a hill, or going around a curve. Occasionally he played "chicken" with an ongoing car, and sometimes with an oncoming truck. The game was to see who would "chicken out" first and swerve aside. This is beyond ridiculous, I thought, as my Indian friend and host slept soundly next to me through it all.

One time we passed a car going round a curve and came face to face with a truck. My driver swerved at the last moment. When I saw the truck coming at us I said the following profound, almost-last-words-of-a-dead-man: "Oh no!" Had I died whoever would do my funeral would have to say: "John the theologian's last words were, "Oh no!""

Jesus's Final Words, aka his "Final Discourse," were profound and continue to guide my life to this moment. We hear them in John chapters 14-16. The disciples are wondering what they will do when Jesus is gone. Jesus instructs them, and us.

He does not say, "form some committees and think of strategies to keep this thing going." He does tell them: "Abide in me." Jesus says:  Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. (John 14:19-20)

Call this "reciprocal abiding." God comes to make his home in the heart of every Jesus-follower. Every Jesus-follower is to tend this inner fire by connecting to Jesus like a branch connects to a Vine.

As we abide in Christ we...
  •  do the kind of things Jesus has been doing (John 14:12)
  • do greater things than Jesus has been doing (John 14:12)
  • will be taught and led by God himself (John 14:26)
  • will be immersed in Trinitarian peace (John 14:27)
  • will live lives that will bear much fruit (John 15:5
  • will live lives of true, God-love (John 15:9)
  • will be flooded with the kind of joy Jesus experiences (John 15:11)
  • will receive the Father's wisdom (John 15:15)
  • will bear fruit that will last (John 15:16)
Jesus's last teaching was, simply:





To Him.

In Him.

The result is that He lives, in and through you.

A few years ago some film students at the University of Michigan were making a movie about Southeast Michigan. They interviewed me as part of their project. I remember two of their questions.
They asked: "What is the #1 problem you see in Southeast Michigan?"

I answered: "Me."

They asked again: "What is the #1 thing you need to do, as a pastor, for your people?"

I answered: "The #1 thing I need to do for my people is to stay attached to Jesus, to continually abide in Christ." Because what my people need is Jesus, not me. Jesus is all they need. Jesus is all any church needs.

Therefore shall we sing, today, these words:

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell:
O, come to us
Abide with us
Our Lord, Emmanuel

Monday, December 24, 2012

Jesus is Alive - 31 Days with Jesus - Day 30

My Jewish, Jesus-following wife Linda, in Israel


I celebrated my first Easter in the spring of 1971. I was 22 years old. I don't remember the details; I do remember it being different. Because I believed. I believed Jesus was who he said he was. I believed Jesus died on a cross, for us, and "us" now included me. And I believed Jesus was raised from the dead. He was..., no, he is..., alive! Christ lives!

Or course. How logically odd it would be were he not alive, now.

When Linda and I were in Israel we saw the Damascus Road the apostle Paul walked on. We stood on a mountain in the Golan Heights looking north into Syria, and saw the road heading towards Damascus. It was on that road, or one very much like it, that Saul had his life-changing encounter with Christ, post mortem, post resurrection.

After that encounter, and via Spirit-given revelation, Paul began to speak of a great mystery. This mystery, Paul wrote, has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. For Paul, the Jesus-encounter continued. The living Christ, by his Spirit, has come to make his home in our hearts. Sam Storms writes:

"The mystery is that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, is now in you, that is, [all] who believe in him. He lives and abides in you, not merely with you or beside you or above and below you, but in you!" (Storms, The Hope of Glory, 128)

Yesterday morning at Redeemer, at the beginning of my message on Ephesians 1:1-10, I told my people: "I will give a gold star to whoever can correctly answer this question: What is the main theme of the letters of Paul?" The correct answer is: What it means to be "in Christ," and the living reality this is for every follower of Jesus. New Testament scholar Klyne Snodgrass writes:

""In Christ"and related expressions are among the most important components of Paul's theology, especially in Ephesians." (Snodgrass, Ephesians )

Referring to Ephesians 1 Ben Witherington writes: "The key to understanding what Paul means by "chose us" and "predestined us" is the phrase "in Christ." (Witherington, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles)

Paul uses the term "in Christ and variations of it 200 times, more or less, in his letters. He uses this term 37 times in Ephesians, and 8 times in the first 10 verses. Christ is not only alive, he indwells us by his Spirit.

Go back once more to when I was 22 and a new Jesus-follower. There was a Christian coffee house in Rockford, Illinois, that Linda and I regularly went to. There were a lot of young, radical Jesus-followers there. And one old man. His name was Peter Potter. Peter had just lost his wife of many years. I will always remember sitting around him, with other young radicals, listening to Peter talk about his loss, his life, and his hope. His favorite verse was Colossians 1:27. He repeated it over and over and over as he spoke. This little verse was carving out a new neural pathway in my physical brain. This pathway is still there, today. It runs, in me, deep and wide and long. Its waters course through my being as surely as I breathe. Christ, in me, the hope of glory.

He lives. In Me. In the hearts and minds of all who have chosen Jesus, and thus are now "in him."

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Nation of Illiterate Zombies

I saw this cartoon by Oliphant in today's nytimes.

And asked, "Why do I think there is truth here?"

And answered: Because today's youth mostly abide in "the shallows." They lack critical thinking skills.

I googled, and found this.

"Many humanities professors have become disinclined to investigate with our students how we generate the values we believe in, or the norms according to which we go about our lives. In other words, we have been less interested in showing how we make a norm legitimate than in sharpening our tools for delegitimization. The philosopher Robert Pippin has recently made a similar point, and has described how evolutionary biology and psychology have moved into this terrain, explaining moral values as the product of the same dynamic that gives rise to the taste for sweets. Pippin argues, on the contrary, that "the practical autonomy of the normative is the proper terrain of the humanities," and he has an easy task of showing how the pseudoscientific evolutionary "explanation" of our moral choices is a pretty flimsy "just-so" story.
If we humanities professors saw ourselves more often as explorers of the normative than as critics of normativity, we would have a better chance to reconnect our intellectual work to broader currents in public culture."
- Michael Roth, "Beyond Critical Thinking"

I thought: "Beautiful!" Explanatory. It jives with my experience teaching critical thinking in college.

Needed: The Next Great Christian Fiction Writer

Storefront in Monroe, Michigan

When I was a campus minister at Michigan State University I was in a small group that met weekly to discuss religious fiction. (Thank you will, Steve, Amy, and anyone else it that group.) We read a work of fiction each week, and met to talk about it. I always left feeling filled with insights and understandings and different questions. Fiction can express things non-fiction cannot say. There's a time for metaphor when, as Philip Wheelwright said, the steel nets of literal language fail.

There I met Shusaku Endo, and his novel "Silence." Is "Silence" the greatest book I have ever read? Maybe.

We read Nathaniel Hawthorne and John Updike and Walker Percy, Doestoevsky, and Tolstoy.

We dined on the works of Annie Dillard. Her "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" remains one of the top ten books I have ever read. And "An Expedition to the Pole" is forever carved on the spiral walls of my DNA.

We read Flannery O'Connor.

I am filled with memories of those discussions which, in me, began years before that as J.P. introduced me to C.S. Lewis. We met weekly to discuss our common faith as expressed in fantasy, and Lewis's heart-breaking, revelatory Till We Have Faces.

Today's nytimes has a beautiful, fictive essay by Paul Elie entitled "Has Fiction Lost its Faith?" If you are a Jesus-follower who loves and looks for fictive expressions of the fact of Christ and our shared religious experience, you need to read this.

Elie writes: "If any patch of our culture can be said to be post-Christian, it is literature. Half a century after Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Reynolds Price and John Updike presented themselves as novelists with what O’Connor called “Christian convictions,” their would-be successors are thin on the ground."

Elie surveys the religious fiction landscape and uncovers what is now there, and the shape it takes. He writes:

"Where has the novel of belief gone?
The obvious answer is that it has gone where belief itself has gone. In America today Christianity is highly visible in public life but marginal or of no consequence in a great many individual lives. For the first time in our history it is possible to speak of Christianity matter-of-factly as one religion among many; for the first time it is possible to leave it out of the conversation altogether."
This is correct. Yet there are significant pockets of Jesus-following among the young. I am in touch with some of this.
Read Elie's beautiful essay. 
Pray for the coming of the next Flannery O'Connor.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Political Meaning of Christmas

Here's an interesting article from a Mennonite scholar, in the Winnipeg Free Press - "The Political Meaning of Christmas."

Jesus rose from the Dead - 31 Days with Jesus - Day 28

Cable gondola shuttle to the top of Masada, Israel (near the Dead Sea)


Christians didn't celebrate Christmas for the first few hundred years. "There is no mention of birth celebrations in the writings of early Christian writers such as Irenaeus (c. 130–200) or Tertullian (c. 160–225). Origen of Alexandria (c. 165–264) goes so far as to mock Roman celebrations of birth anniversaries, dismissing them as “pagan” practices—a strong indication that Jesus’ birth was not marked with similar festivities at that place and time.1 As far as we can tell, Christmas was not celebrated at all at this point... Finally, in about 200 C.E., a Christian teacher in Egypt makes reference to the date Jesus was born...  The earliest mention of December 25 as Jesus’ birthday comes from a mid-fourth-century Roman almanac that lists the death dates of various Christian bishops and martyrs. The first date listed, December 25, is marked: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae: “Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea.”3 In about 400 C.E., Augustine of Hippo mentions a local dissident Christian group, the Donatists, who apparently kept Christmas festivals on December 25, but refused to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6, regarding it as an innovation." (For more see "How December 25 Became Christmas." And note: the popular idea that December 25 is rooted in paganism is itself a myth - see the cited essay for this, too.)

However, early Jesus-followers did celebrate Easter. The cross and the resurrection of Christ were the primary realities of the Jesus-life.

 I believe in the birth of Christ. But I have not invested much study time in Jesus's birth. The Cross and Resurrection are THE BIG ONES. I have spent the better part of my lifetime studying these realities. As Paul himself wrote, "If Christ is not been raised, then our preaching is useless and so is your faith." Faith rises and falls on the matter of the historical resurrection.

Rewind 42 years. I am 21, and a brand new Jesus-follower. One of my pastors, and one of my two theistic philosophical mentors (the other being J.P.), presented to me a historical argument for the resurrection of Christ. Here it is, updated and revised. Listen to the audio and follow along if you would like to see a defense of the resurrection of Christ. But if not, one more thing.

I am not, nor ever have, been a philosophical naturalist/materialist/physicalist. I am less convinced today than ever of the poverty of philosophical physicalism. I still believe - more now than 42 years ago - in a God who is all-powerful and can, of course, resurrect dead people.

There is a God.

God raised Christ from the dead.

All who are "in Him" shall rise with Him.

I presented this historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus at Redeemer on April 3, 2012. It is largely taken from William Lane Craig's work, with other scholarship added as I saw fit, plus my own comments.

The audio presentation is here. These are the notes I gave to those who came. Listen and follow along.



(Adapted from William Lane Craig, debate with Richard Carrier; Question 103 at; Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” at


· Focus on the historical case for the resurrection of Jesus.

o Argue NOT from the Bible as God’s Word, but argue HISTORICALLY using the ancient texts as historical records, historical documents.

· All historical truths are probableistic (inductive). The historian asks, re. historical facts – what is the best, most probable explanation for the facts?

· Presuppose the existence of God.

o An atheist will not share this presupposition.

o The atheist will assume, therefore, that supernatural events are impossible.

Defend two major contentions.

#1 – There are 4 historical facts that must be explained by any historical hypothesis.

· Jesus’ burial (Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb)

· The discovery of his empty tomb

· Jesus’ post-mortem appearances

· The origin of his disciples’ belief in the resurrection

#2 – The best explanation of those facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead.

#1 – the following 4 facts are accepted by the majority of New Testament scholars. (NOTE: If a person wants to study the historicity of the New Testament documents, read the works of New Testament scholars. But aren’t they biased? And, if they are biased, can we trust them? A few points: 1) everyone is biased; 2) bias is helpful, even necessary; 3) a world-famous brain surgeon is biased – if you want to study brain surgery study with those who spend their life on the subject; if you want to study and learn about the guitar do not learn from someone who claims to be “neutral” about the guitar (I think “neutrality” is not an option…).

Fact 1 – after the crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.

Evidence: Jesus’ burial is multiply-attested in various independent sources.

This does NOT mean that the burial stories are in the 4 Gospels. It means that the source material Mark used is different from the source material of Matthew and Luke, and they are all different from John, and these are all different from Paul’s sources.

The burial account is part of Mark's source material for the story of Jesus' Passion.

This is a very early source which is probably based on eyewitness testimony and dates to within several years of Jesus' crucifixion.

Moreover, Paul in his first letter to the church of Corinth also cites an extremely early source for Jesus' burial which most scholars date to within a few years or even months of the crucifixion.

Independent testimony to Jesus' burial by Joseph is also found in the special sources used by Matthew and Luke and in the Gospel of John. Historians consider themselves to have hit historical pay dirt when they have two independent accounts of the same event. But we have the remarkable number of at least five independent sources for Jesus' burial, some of which are extraordinarily early.

Mark's Passion source didn't end with Jesus' burial, but with the story of the empty tomb, which is tied to the burial account verbally and grammatically. Moreover, Matthew and John rely on independent sources about the empty tomb. Jesus' empty tomb is also mentioned in the early sermons independently preserved in the Acts of the Apostles (2.29; 13.36), and it's implied by the very old tradition handed on by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church (I Cor. 15.4). Thus, we have multiple, early attestation of the fact of the empty tomb in at least four independent sources. (See, Question 103)

Craig writes:

Notice the focus is on the early, independent sources used by the New Testament authors.

First and foremost is the Passion source which Mark used in writing his Gospel. Whereas most of Mark's Gospel consists of short anecdotal stories strung like pearls on a string, when we get to the final week of Jesus' life we encounter a continuous narrative of events from the Jewish plot during the Feast of Unleavened Bread through Jesus' burial and empty tomb.

The events of the Last Supper, arrest, execution, burial, and empty tomb were central to the identity of early Christian communities. According to James D. G. Dunn, "The most obvious explanation of this feature is that the framework was early on fixed within the tradition process and remained so throughout the transition to written Gospels. This suggests in turn a tradition rooted in the memory of the participants and put into that framework by them" (J. D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 2003, pp. 765-6.)

The dominant view among NT scholars is therefore that the Passion narratives are early and based on eyewitness testimony (Mark Allen Powell, JAAR 68 [2000]: 171). Indeed, according to Richard Bauckham, many scholars date Mark's Passion narrative no later than the 40s (recall that Jesus died in A.D. 30) (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 2006, p. 243). So we're dealing here with an extraordinarily early source.

Matthew and Luke, re. the burial story, draw on resources different from Mark. Craig writes:

Now Matthew and Luke probably knew Mark's Gospel, as you note, and used it as one of their sources. But the differences between Mark and the other Synoptics point to other independent sources behind Matthew and Luke. These differences are not plausibly explained as due to editorial changes introduced by Matthew and Luke because of (i) their sporadic and uneven nature (e.g., Mark: "tomb which had been hewn out of rock"; Matthew: "tomb which he hewed in the rock"; (ii) the inexplicable omission of events like Pilate's interrogating the centurion; and (iii) Matthew and Luke's agreeing in their wording in contrast to Mark (e.g., Matt. 27.58 = Lk. 23.52 "This man went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus." Also the phrase translated "wrapped it in linen" is identical in Matthew and Luke. How could Matthew and Luke have independently chosen exactly the same wording in contrast to Mark? They both probably had another source. Indeed, as we'll see when we get to the empty tomb account, differences between Matthew and Luke emerge that suggest multiple sources.

What about the Gospel of John? Craig writes:

John is generally believed to be independent of the Synoptic Gospels. As Paul Barnett points out, "Careful comparison of the texts of Mark and John indicate that neither of these Gospels is dependent on the other. Yet they have a number of incidents in common: For example, . . . the burial of Jesus in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea" (Jesus and the Logic of History, 1997, pp. 104-5).


Finally, the old tradition handed on by Paul to the Corinthian church, which is among the earliest traditions identifiable in the NT, refers to Jesus' burial in the second line of the tradition. That this is the same event as the burial described in the Gospels becomes evident by comparing Paul's tradition with the Passion narratives on the one hand and the sermons in the Acts of the Apostles on the other. The four-line tradition handed on by Paul is a summary of the central events of Jesus' crucifixion, burial by Joseph of Arimathea, the discovery of his empty tomb, and his appearances to the disciples.

As a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin that was against Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention.

NT scholar Raymond Brown says burial by Joseph of Arimathea is very probable. Why? Because: It is almost inexplicable why Christians would make up a story about a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who does what is right by Jesus.

So most NT scholars say it is highly likely that Jesus’ body was placed in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea.

Fact #2 – on the Sunday after the crucifixion the tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of His women followers.

Most NT scholars also agree with the fact of the empty tomb.

Some who argue against this claim that the story of the empty tomb was a fictional, literary creation of Mark.

1 – The historical reliability of the burial account supports the empty tomb.

If the account of Jesus’ burial is accurate, then the site of Jesus’ tomb was known to Jew and Christian alike.

In that case it’s a very short inference to the historicity of the empty tomb.

Because in that case, the tomb must have been empty when the disciples began to preach that Jesus was risen.

Why? Because the disciples could not have believed in Jesus’ resurrection if his corpse still was lying in the tomb.

As long as the corpse of Jesus lay in the tomb, a Christian movement in Jerusalem, founded on the resurrection of Jesus, would never have arisen.

If the disciples went around preaching “Jesus is risen from the dead,” but his body lay in the tomb, hardly anyone would have believed them. Remember that early Christian belief in the resurrection flourished in Jerusalem, the very city where Jesus had been publicly crucified.

More than this, even if a lot of people believed this while the body of Jesus was still in the tomb, the Jewish authorities could have exposed the whole thing by pointing to Jesus’ tomb, even perhaps exhuming Jesus’ dead body.

2 – the empty tomb is multiply attested in independent early sources.

The account of Jesus' burial in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea is part of Mark's source material for the passion story. This is a very early source which is probably based on eyewitness testimony. (Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, Kindle Locations 6492-6493).
Moreover, Matthew and John rely on independent sources about the empty tomb.

The empty tomb tradition is independently preserved in the early sermons in the book of Acts.

And, it’s implied in the very old tradition cited by his first letter to the Corinthian church.

Thus we have multiple early attestation of the fact of the empty tomb, in at least 4 independent sources.

So, the story of the empty tomb can’t be a literary creation of Mark.

Craig writes:

What about the empty tomb account? First, it was also part of the pre-Markan Passion narrative. The empty tomb story is syntactically tied to the burial story; indeed, they are just one story. E.g., the antecedent of "him" (Jesus) in Mk. 16:1 is in the burial account (15:43); the women's discussion of the stone presupposes the stone's being rolled over the tomb's entrance; their visiting the tomb presupposes their noting its location in 15.47; the words of the angel "see the place where they laid him" refer back to Joseph's laying body in the tomb.

As for the other Gospels, that Matthew has an independent tradition of the empty tomb is evident not only from the non-Matthean vocabulary (e.g., the words translated "on the next day," "the preparation day," "deceiver," "guard [of soldiers]," "to make secure," "to seal"; the expression "on the third day" is also non-Matthean, for he everywhere else uses "after three days;" the expression "chief priests and Pharisees" never appears in Mark or Luke and is also unusual for Matthew), but also from Matt. 28.15: "this story has been spread among Jews till this day," indicative of a tradition history of disputes with Jewish non-Christians. Luke and John have the non-Markan story of Peter and another disciple inspecting the tomb, which, given John's independence of Luke, indicates a separate tradition behind the story. Moreover, we have already seen that John's independence of Mark shows that he has a separate source for the empty tomb.

The early sermons in Acts are likely not created by Luke out of whole cloth but represent early apostolic preaching. We find the empty tomb implied in the contrast between David's tomb and Jesus': "David died and was buried and his tomb is with us to this day." But "this Jesus God has raised up" (2:29-32; cf. 13.36-7).

Finally, the third line of the tradition handed on by Paul summarizes, as I have said, the empty tomb story. The German NT critic Klaus Berger concludes: "Without a doubt the grave of Jesus was found to be empty, and, moreover, the texts about it are not in general dependent upon Mark" (ZKT, 1993, p. 436).

Thus, the burial and empty tomb of Jesus enjoy multiple, early, independent attestation. While some of these traditions could be variations on a common tradition (such as Luke and John's tradition of the disciples' inspection of the empty tomb in response to the women's report), they cannot all be so regarded because they narrate different events. Even in the case of variations on a common tradition, we are pushed back so early, as Dunn emphasizes, that we must now ask what events occurred to leave such an early impression on the tradition, and the obvious explanation is the burial of Jesus in the tomb and the discovery of the empty tomb. While multiple, independent attestation alone would not render the burial and empty tomb "virtually certain," keep in mind that this is but one line of evidence among many, so that the cumulative case for these facts is very powerful, indeed.

3 – The tomb was discovered empty by women.

In patriarchal Jewish society the testimony of women was not highly regarded.

In fact, the ancient Jewish historian Josephus says that, on account of their boldness and levity, women should not even be allowed to serve as witnesses in a Jewish court of law.

In light of this fact how remarkable it is that it is women who were the discoverers of Jesus’ empty tomb.

Any later legendary account would surely have made male disciples find the empty tomb.

The fact that it is women rather than men who are the chief witnesses to the empty tomb is best explained by the fact that they were the discoverers of the empty tomb.

The Gospel writers faithfully record what for them was an awkward and embarrassing fact.

4 – the story of the empty tomb is simple and lacks theological embellishment.

Mark’s story of the empty tomb is uncolored by the theological and apologetical motifs that would be present if the story was a Christian creation.

For example, it’s remarkable that in Mark’s account the resurrection of Jesus is not actually described at all.

Contrast later, forged “gospels,” in which Jesus is seen emerging from the tomb in glory to multitudes of crowds.

In Mark we have little or no embellishment. At most, the critical historian might want to call the angel a later embellishment.

But Mark’s account of the resurrection is stark. Simple.

Mark’s story has all the earmarks of a very primitive tradition which is free from theological and apologetical reflection.

This is powerful evidence against those critics who argue that Mark’s account of the empty tomb is a literary creation.

5 – The early church polemic presupposes the empty tomb.

In Matthew 28 we find a Christian attempt to refute a Jewish polemic against the resurrection.

Disciples of Jesus were in Jerusalem proclaiming “Jesus is risen from the dead!”

How did Jews respond to this?

By saying Jesus’ body is still in the tomb?

By say the disciples are crazy?

No – what they did say was this: “The disciples stole away the body.”

Think about that for a moment.

The earliest Jewish response to the situation was itself an attempt to explain the fact that the tomb was empty.

Fact #3 – Jesus’ post-mortem appearances.

On different occasions and under various circumstances individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus now alive from the dead.

This is a fact that’s acknowledged by virtually all NT scholars, for the following reasons.

1 – Paul’s list of resurrection appearances guarantees that such appearances occurred.

· Paul tells us that Jesus appeared to his chief disciple, Peter.

· Paul tells us that Jesus appeared to the 12.

· Paul tells us that Jesus appeared to 500 at once.

· Paul tells us that Jesus ten appeared to his younger brother James, who apparently at that time was not a believer.

· Paul then tells us that Jesus appeared to all the apostles.

· Finally, Paul adds, “Jesus appeared also to me.” And Paul was at that time still an unbeliever.

Craig writes:

Undoubtedly the major impetus for the reassessment of the appearance tradition was the demonstration by Joachim Jeremias that in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-5 Paul is quoting an old Christian formula which he received and in turn passed on to his converts According to Galatians 1:18 Paul was in Jerusalem three years after his conversion on a fact-finding mission, during which he conferred with Peter and James over a two week period, and he probably received the formula at this time, if not before. Since Paul was converted in AD 33, this means that the list of witnesses goes back to within the first five years after Jesus' death. Thus, it is idle to dismiss these appearances as legendary. We can try to explain them away as hallucinations if we wish, but we cannot deny they occurred. Paul's information makes it certain that on separate occasions various individuals and groups saw Jesus alive from the dead. According to Norman Perrin, the late NT critic of the University of Chicago: "The more we study the tradition with regard to the appearances, the firmer the rock begins to appear upon which they are based." This conclusion is virtually indisputable.

Given the early date of Paul’s writing this, plus Paul’s personal acquaintance with the persons involved, these appearances cannot be dismissed as unhistorical.

NOTE: the early date ensures that the appearance stories cannot be “legendary.” Legends take many years to develop. Craig writes: “For in order for these stories to be in the main legendary, a very considerable length of time must be available for the evolution and development of the traditions until the historical elements have been supplanted by unhistorical.”

2 – The appearance narratives in the Gospels provide multiple independent attestation of the appearances.

The appearance narratives span such a breadth of independent sources that it cannot be reasonably denied that the original disciples had such appearances.

Even the skeptical scholar Gerd Ludemann says it cannot be denied that these early followers of Jesus did have such experiences.

N.T. Wright, in The Resurrection of the Son of God, gives a 7-step argument in support of these two claims.
  1. When early Christians are asked why they believed in the resurrection of Christ, “their answers hone in on two things”:
    1. Stories about Jesus’ tomb being empty.
    2. Stories about Jesus appearing to people, alive again.
    3. These stories were formulated within the context and worldview of Second-Temple Judaism. “No second-Temple Jews came up with anything remotely like them.” (688)
  • Neither the empty tomb by itself, nor the appearances by themselves, would have generated early Christian belief in the resurrection.
    1. The empty tomb, by itself, would be a puzzle and a tragedy.
  • i. Perhaps, e.g., the grace had been robbed? “Tombs were often robbed in the ancient world, adding to grief both insult and injury.” (688)

    ii. “Nobody in the pagan world would have interpreted an empty tomb as implying resurrection; everyone knew such a thing was out of the question.” (688-689)

    iii. “Certainly… the disciples were not expecting any such thing to happen to Jesus.” (689)

      1. The appearances, by themselves, would have been classified as visions or hallucinations, which were well known in the ancient world.
      2. Individually, the empty tomb and the appearances are insufficient to explain the belief in the resurrection of Jesus.
    1. “However, an empty tomb and appearances of a living Jesus, taken together, would have presented a powerful reason for the emergence of the belief.” (Ib.)
      1. Together, the empty tomb and the appearances provide a sufficient reason for early Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection.
      2. “From
  • “The meaning of resurrection within Second-Temple Judaism makes it impossible to conceive of this reshaped resurrection belief emerging without it being known that a body had disappeared, and that the person had been discovered to be thoroughly alive again.” (Ib.)
  • Alternative explanations for the emergence of the belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead do not have the same explanatory power.
  • “It is therefore historically highly probable that Jesus’ tomb was indeed empty on the third day after his execution, and that the disciples did indeed encounter him giving every appearance of being well and truly alive.” (687)
  • The past and most important question is: What explanation can be given for these two phenomena?
  • Fact #4 – The original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus is risen from the dead despite them having every predisposition to the contrary.

    Think of the situation these followers of Jesus faced after his crucifixion.

    1 – Their leader was dead. Jewish Messianic expectations had no idea of a Messiah who would triumph over his enemies by being humiliated and executed by them as a criminal.

    2 – Jewish beliefs about the afterlife did not allow for some individual to rise from the dead before the expected general resurrection from the dead.

    But the early disciples felt so strongly that God had raised the individual man Jesus from the dead that they were willing to die for the truth of that belief.

    Then… the question arises… what caused them to believe such an un-Jewish, outlandish thing?

    N.T. Wright says – “That is why, as an historian, that I cannot explain the arising of Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind.”


    The following 4 facts are agreed upon by the majority of New Testament scholars.

    1. Jesus’ burial

    2. Jesus’ empty tomb

    3. Jesus’ post-mortem appearances

    4. The origin of the disciples’ belief

    This brings us to the second major contention, which is: the best explanation for these facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead.

    6 Tests Historians Use to Discover What Is the Best Explanation For a Given Historical Fact (from historian C.B McCullough)

    The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” passes all of these tests.

    1. It has great explanatory scope – it explains all 4 of the facts before us

    2. It has great explanatory power – it explains each fact well

    3. It is plausible – give the historical context of Jesus’ own life and claims, the resurrection occurs as divine confirmation of those claims.

    4. It is not ad hoc or contrived – it requires only 1 additional hypothesis; viz., that God exists.

    5. It is in accord with accepted beliefs – the hypothesis God raised Jesus from the dead does not conflict with the accepted belief that people don’t rise naturally from the dead.

    6. It far outstrips any rival theories in meeting conditions 1-5. No natural hypothesis does as good a job at explaining the 4 facts.

    I think the best explanation for the historical facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead.

    ADDITION - N.T. Wright on the Resurrection of Jesus, from his The Resurrection of the Son of God.

    These two things must be regarded as historically secure:

    1. The emptiness of the tomb

    2. The meetings with the risen Jesus

    “These two phenomena are firmly warranted.” (686)

    Wright gives a 7-step argument in support of these two claims.

    1. When early Christians are asked why they believed in the resurrection of Christ, “their answers hone in on two things”:

    a. Stories about Jesus’ tomb being empty.

    b. Stories about Jesus appearing to people, alive again.

    c. These stories were formulated within the context and worldview of Second-Temple Judaism. “No second-Temple Jews came up with anything remotely like them.” (688)

    2. Neither the empty tomb by itself, nor the appearances by themselves, would have generated early Christian belief in the resurrection.

    a. The empty tomb, by itself, would be a puzzle and a tragedy.

    i. Perhaps, e.g., the grace had been robbed? “Tombs were often robbed in the ancient world, adding to grief both insult and injury.” (688)

    ii. “Nobody in the pagan world would have interpreted an empty tomb as implying resurrection; everyone knew such a thing was out of the question.” (688-689)

    iii. “Certainly… the disciples were not expecting any such thing to happen to Jesus.” (689)

    b. The appearances, by themselves, would have been classified as visions or hallucinations, which were well known in the ancient world.

    c. Individually, the empty tomb and the appearances are insufficient to explain the belief in the resurrection of Jesus.

    3. “However, an empty tomb and appearances of a living Jesus, taken together, would have presented a powerful reason for the emergence of the belief.” (Ib.)

    a. Together, the empty tomb and the appearances provide a sufficient reason for early Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection.

    4. “The meaning of resurrection within Second-Temple Judaism makes it impossible to conceive of this reshaped resurrection belief emerging without it being known that a body had disappeared, and that the person had been discovered to be thoroughly alive again.” (Ib.)

    5. Alternative explanations for the emergence of the belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead do not have the same explanatory power.

    6. “It is therefore historically highly probable that Jesus’ tomb was indeed empty on the third day after his execution, and that the disciples did indeed encounter him giving every appearance of being well and truly alive.” (687)

    7. The past and most important question is: What explanation can be given for these two phenomena?