Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Self-Forgiveness and Liberation from the Past - #1

My feet, standing on the floor at Hockeytown Restaurant in Detroit

If you struggle with self-hatred I recommend a book by Everett Worthington - Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free From the Past. Worthington is Professor of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, and a follower of Jesus.

I got this book for Christmas and am slow-cooking in it. I can never hear enough about forgiveness. I need it for myself. And I need more wisdom in dispensing it to others.

I meet many people who cannot forgive their own selves from past failures, whether real or imagined but unreal. Un-self-forgiveness is a mental and spiritual assassin. Self-forgiveness that is rooted in God's great act of forgiveness in Christ is liberating.

Self-forgiveness will free you from guilt. "Sometimes guilt arises over unrealistic expectations and standards of perfection that none of us can achieve. When you are able to forgive yourself, that weight is lifted." (Worthington, p. 45)

Self-forgiveness will free you from self-blame. "Self-forgiveness frees you from the chattering, accusing voice in your head." (Ib., 46)

Self-forgiveness will free you from stress-related illness. "Self-forgiveness can improve your health, 1 and here’s why. Holding on to self-condemnation elevates your stress, which has been associated with a long list of physical and psychological harm." (Ib.)

Self-forgiveness can liberate you from alcohol misuse. "Forgiveness of the self might be, for alcoholics, the most difficult type of forgiveness to achieve. But if they were able to do so, it could help control their drinking." (Ib., p. 47)

Self-forgiveness can liberate you from accusation. "By bringing our sins to God and receiving God’s forgiveness, we can then forgive ourselves and we can rest in the knowledge that the accusations of Satan are groundless. If we forgive ourselves, we can silence the oppressive voice of the enemy." (Ib., 47)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for flourishing. "By not being so wrapped up in self-condemnation, you can enjoy more pleasurable and positive experiences." (Ib.)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for focusing on God. "Instead of being wrapped up in condemning yourself for past failures, you can seek God and enjoy that relationship." (Ib.)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for focusing on others. "Self-forgiveness allows you to focus on others, with the goal of helping to meet their needs." (Ib., p. 48)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for health. "Self-forgiveness provides energy and vitality. It supplies both a freedom from the past and a forward-thinking orientation that helps you seek the benefits of exercise, a healthy diet, and energetic work." (Ib.)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for a better quality of life. "Self-forgiveness can matter greatly in enhancing one’s quality of life." (Ib., 50)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for peace. "People who continue to wrestle with self-blame are unsettled. They find it difficult to exhale and relax. Forgiving yourself will help you live at peace." (Ib.)

Worthington cites empirical studies that support these conclusions. I ask, given the great benefits of self-forgiveness, why would anyone choose to wallow in self-condemnation? 

Next: What Makes Forgiving Ourselves so Difficult.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Be Interpreted by Scripture (PrayerLife)

Icy branches reflected in the River Raisin
When I lead a prayer retreat or a spiritual formation class I send the students out to pray for an hour, using Psalm 23 as their meditative focus. I tell them that they are not to exegete the verses, but instead be exegeted by them, via God's Spirit. This is an anti-Cartesian, anti-Western hermeneutic. It's more Jewish than American, and has affinities with the hermeneutical theory of Hans-Georg Gadamer in his book Truth and Method. There is an interplay between the text and the reader, with the text being-read by the self and the self being-read by the text.

The idea is that God, through the biblical text, knows you. Therefore place yourself before the text and be interpreted. This syncs with the idea in the book of Hebrews which describes the word of God as living and active and like a sword that penetrates your deepest being. The result is a knowing by being-known. The text is no longer a dispassionate object of study but is more like a passionate surgeon opening you up and studying you.

Henri Nouwen, in his book Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life, writes about this:

"Spiritual reading, however, is different. It means not simply reading about spiritual things but also reading about spiritual things in a spiritual way. That requires a willingness not just to read but to be read, not just to master but to be mastered by words. As long as we read the Bible or a spiritual book simply to acquire knowledge, our reading does not help us in our spiritual life." (Nouwen, Discernment, pp. 41-42)

Prayer and Self-Control (PrayerLife)

One of the things I pray for is self-control. Being self-controlled is part of a flourishing, fruitful life. Self-control is good; lack of it is bad.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 Paul writes:

6So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. 7For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night....  8But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled...

Here we see that "drunk" is bad because it is "of the night/darkness" and leads to out-of-control-ness. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22-23 that a person under the influence of the Holy Spirit is self-controlled. That is, "self-control" is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. When people are attached to the Spirit self-control results.

Such fruit is important in today's addiction culture. An addict is someone who is "attached" to something that controls him. (The French word for 'addiction' is, as Gerald May has told us, attache.) The addict, being attached to sexual urges, drugs, food, even 'control,' is non-self-controlled. The addict cannot, meaningfully, say 'Yes' to the good and 'No' to the bad. 

Self-control seems as valuable today as it has ever been. 

Self-control is freedom.

Pray for self-control today.

Worship In the New Year at Redeemer! (+ chess tournament...)

New Year's Eve at Redeemer - Begins at 8 PM. 

Games, food, and fellowship in the gym. Bring a snack and drink to share. 

9:00 - I'm challenging all comers (kids & adults) to chess and checkers. Bring your own chess or checkers set. I'll play 5, 10, 20, 50 people at a time.     :)

We'll end by singing in the New Year with worship, prayer, and celebration! (Worship starts at 11)

Deeper Bible Study

I've involved 100 adults in my church in something I call Deeper Bible Study. On Monday mornings I send them the verses I preach on the following Sunday, sometimes with some notes. My goal is to lead them into a study of the Bible; to give them tools to more effectively study Scripture.

Here is what I just emailed them.

This coming Sunday I'm preaching out of 1 John 5:1-5.

I print the verses out and carry them with me.

I pull them out during the day and read them. If God speaks to me through them I write it down.

After familiarizing myself with the verses I then begin to turn to commentaries to deepen my understanding of the verses. I choose commentaries I trust. For 1 John I especially use Robert Yarbrough's commentary. When there is something in a commentary I find helpful I write it down in a file.

All throughout this week I will be praying these verses, studying these verses, and meditating on these verses. Then Sunday morning I will preach and teach what God has given me.
January 4, 2015
1 John 5:1-5

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Unbelief in Free Will Increases Bad Behavior

One of my love languages is reading books. One book I received for Christmas is Free: Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will. it's written by Florida State University philosopher Alfred Mele. Mele received a 4.4 million dollar grant to pursue the questions about free will. This book contains his findings. 

Mele believes free will exists, and when people believe they have free will this promotes human welfare. Conversely, when people believe free will does not exist it increases bad behavior. Mele writes:

"There’s evidence that lowering people’s confidence in the existence of free will increases bad behavior. In one study ( Vohs and Schooler 2008 ), people who read passages in which scientists deny that free will exists are more likely to cheat on a subsequent task. In another experiment ( Baumeister et al. 2009 ), college students presented with a series of sentences denying the existence of free will proceeded to behave more aggressively than a control group: they served larger amounts of spicy salsa to people who said they dislike spicy food, despite being told these people had to eat everything on their plates." (Mele, pp. 4-5)

One possible reason for this is that the nonexistence of free will is perceived to remove human responsibility. "If you’re not responsible, you really don’t deserve to be blamed for your unseemly actions. And believing that you can’t be blamed for acting on your dishonest or aggressive urges reduces your incentive to control them. So you cheat or dish out unpleasantness. We can imagine a student who is piling on the hot salsa thinking, “Hey, you can’t blame me for the heartburn you’re about to get; I’m not responsible for what I do.”" (Ib., 5)

Friday, December 26, 2014

31 Days With the Real Jesus - Day 30 - Jesus Instructed His Followers to Abide in Him

Church of the Nativity, Jerusalem

Day 30 - Jesus Instructed His Followers to Abide in Him 

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 tells 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)
  • are taught and led by God himself (John 14:26)
  • are immersed in Trinitarian peace (John 14:27)
  • live lives that will bear much fruit (John 15:5
  • live lives of true, God-love (John 15:9)
  • are flooded with the kind of joy Jesus experiences (John 15:11)
  • receive the Father's wisdom (John 15:15)
  • 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

Thursday, December 25, 2014

31 Days With the Real Jesus - Day 29 - Jesus Is Alive


Day 29 - Jesus Is Alive

I know it's Christmas Day. Merry Christmas!

For me this is also a good day to think about Easter, since the child born to redeem humanity would ultimately accomplish this via a cross and an empty tomb. On that day when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us God took the first baby steps on the road connecting the manger with the resurrection. The Christ of Christmas was born to save us.

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. It was a different Easter for me 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. I believed Jesus was raised from the dead. He was..., no, he is..., alive! Christ lives!

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 from where we could see the road heading towards Damascus. It was on that road that Saul had his life-changing encounter with the postmortem, post-resurrection Jesus. 

After his encounter Paul began to speak of a great mystery. This mystery 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. (Colossians 1:27) For Paul, the Jesus-encounter continued. The living Christ, by his Spirit, came to make his home in his heart. 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)

One Sunday morning at Redeemer I said, "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 notes: "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 in his letters. He uses it 37 times in Ephesians, and 8 times in the first 10 verses. Christ is not only alive, he indwells us by his Spirit. 

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 many 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 with others listening to Peter talk about his loss, his life, and his hope. His favorite verse was Colossians 1:27 - "Christ in me, the hope of glory.". 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. Christ in me, the hope of glory.

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."

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Nietzsche's "Parable of the Madman" as Paradigmatic for Western Culture

What I really enjoy as a Christmas gift is a(nother) book. Thanks to my family for recognizing this need in me and responding to it (again) with amazon gift cards.

I used the cards last night, turning to my "Wish List" on amazon. Today I am reading. One of my longed-for books was Mary Eberstadt's How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization. Eberstadt just confirmed my approach to teaching philosophy of religion. I teach Nietzsche's "parable of the madman" as seminal to understanding Western secularism. Eberstadt writes:

"Friedrich Nietzsche['s]... parable of the madman in the marketplace foretelling the death of God remains the paradigm through which many sophisticated people understand secularization right down to this day." (Eberstadt, 3)

Eberstadt's stated "purpose is to offer an alternative account of what Nietzsche’s madman really saw in what he called the “tombs” (read, the churches and cathedrals) of Europe." (5)

Christmas Eve at Redeemer - 6 - 7 PM - Communion and Candlelight Service

Redeemer Fellowship Church
5305 Evergreen

Tonight - 6-7 PM

Bring gifts for our missionaries and our general fund from 5:30-6.

Linda Piippo, pianist
John Collins, violinist

Ann Pitts, vocalist

31 Days with the Real Jesus - Day 28 - Jesus Will Return to Restore Heaven and Earth


Day 28 - Jesus Will Return to Restore Heaven and Earth

As a new Jesus-follower way, way back in the early 1970s, I was taken by a book called The Late, Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsey. Lindsey talked about a "rapturing" of Jesus-followers who would be taken away to heaven when Jesus comes again. Some, unfortunately, will be "left behind." Now, 44 years later, I no longer believe in "the rapture" (because it's not biblical). But I do believe Christ is coming again to restore these heavens and this earth. Scripture affirms this.

The Jewish hope was for THIS created world to be reclaimed.

Genesis 1 – God created…and saw that it was good.

Isaiah 65:17

“See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.

20 “Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere child;

When Jesus comes again there will be a new heavens and a new earth. Scripture supports this.

a. Eph. 1:8-10 - "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment— to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ."

b. Col. 1:19-20 - "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."

c. 2 Peter 3:11-13 -"Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells."

d. Rom. 8:18-21 - I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God."

e. On Rev. 21-22 N.T. Wright says: – “When we come to the picture of the actual end in Revelation 21-22, we find not ransomed souls making their way to a disembodied heaven but rather the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven, to earth, uniting the two in a lasting embrace." (N.T. Wright)

i. Rev. 21:1-4 - Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

But what about 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17? 

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God. The dead in Christ will rise first; then we, who are left alive, will be snatched up with them on clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.

Wright writes: “When Paul speaks of "meeting" the Lord "in the air," the point is precisely not—as in the popular rapture theology—that the saved believers would then stay up in the air somewhere, away from earth. The point is that, having gone out to meet their returning Lord, they will escort him royally into his domain, that is, back to the place they have come from. (p. 133)

This is Jewish wedding language. We will go to meet the coming Bridegroom, and escort him onto the new earth to be with his Bride.

Ben Witherington says that, in ancient Roman culture, when a royal person arrived to their city, a greeting committee would go out and escort him back into the city. In Jewish culture, when the bridegroom approached towards where the bride was, a welcoming group went out with their lamps and escorted the groom into the wedding place. “The classic texts thought to refer to the rapture, especially 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, say nothing about saints being taken suddenly into heaven. Rather, they go forth to meet Christ in the sky when he is returning, and then they return with him to the earth to reign.” (BW, Revelation, 261)

Paul’s image of the people “meeting the Lord in the air” should be read with the assumption that the people will immediately turn around and lead the Lord back to the newly remade world. (NTW)

Further, we read in Matthew 24: That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.40 

Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be
grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
Rapture theory assumes being “taken away” is a good thing. It is not. (Being "taken" is not necessarily a good thing, right?)

So, God made heaven and earth; at the last he will remake both and join them together forever. We, the Bride of Christ, will go forth to meet him when he appears, and lead the celebratory 
parade of the Bridegroom to his transformed earth. 

A few years ago, at our summer conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin, YWAM's Dean Sherman was preaching about these things. Speaking of life after this life he said, "I don't want heaven to have streets of gold. I want heaven to look like Green Lake." Me too. Paul said, "the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed." (Romans 8:19) As beautiful as Green Lake, Wisconsin, is, how much more shall it be when Christ returns and the kingdom of heaven is established in all its fullness!
N.T. Wright quotes from: Surprised by Hope.

Ben Witherington quotes from: Revelation.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Lie of Ontological Uniqueness (and the Real Meaning of Christmas)

Two snowflakes make the shape of a heart,
on MCCC's campus
Several years ago I met occasionally with a young man who said he was a Jesus-follower. I think he was, and anyway I'm not the ultimate judge of such things.

He struggled deeply. He would talk with me, smiling, and say "The reason people can't deal with me is because they've never met anyone like me before." 

I told him I've met many people like him. This upset him. He insisted on his ontological uniqueness. This was the heart of his problem; viz., believing he was different, in essence, from anyone else on the planet.

His false sense of ontological uniqueness isolated him. If there's no one else on earth that is like you, then you are alone. You are an alien, one of the X-men, and everyone else is a stranger. This is the lie, or myth, of ontological uniqueness. It was this young man's prison.

Ontological uniqueness is not the same as saying "No two snowflakes are alike." But of course. And of course they are alike in that they are both snowflakes. My young friend saw all of humanity as snowflakes, except for his own self. If that were true, then community (koinonia) would be impossible. No wonder he felt isolated. No wonder others could not get near to him.

The truth is, the deeper we go inside persons the more we are all the same. I refer to the elements of our ultimate same-ness as "ontological dualities." Everyone, e.g., as they have the chance, struggles with things like Life vs. Death and Trust vs. Control, 

One of Satan's strategies is to persuade us that our sin, our failure, is so horrible that no one could ever relate to it, thus no one could understand or have compassion towards us. Or, oppositionally, the enemy could persuade us of having an other-worldly giftedness so that we would think we are above all the rest of failing humanity.

The truth is that, in a deep, ontological way, we are "Everyman." Christ died for us all. God became one of us.

That is the cure for our isolation. And, BTW, it points to the real meaning of Christmas.

31 Days With the Real Jesus - Day 27 - Jesus Rose From the Dead

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

Day 27 - Jesus Rose From the Dead

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. 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.” 

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 as much study time in Jesus's birth as I have in his resurrection. 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 44 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 (scroll down), updated and revised. But if not, one more thing. 

I am not, nor ever have been, a philosophical naturalist/materialist/physicalist. I am convinced of the poverty of philosophical physicalism. I believe - more now than 44 years ago - in a God who is all-powerful and can 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.

These are the notes I gave to those who came. 


(Adapted from William Lane Craig, debate with Richard Carrier; Question 103 at reasonablefaith.orgContemporary 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 testimonyand 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 twoindependent 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?