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Doubting the Skeptics: the Divinity of Christ in light of Liberal scholarship

INTRODUCTION: WHAT’S THIS ABOUT, AND WHY SHOULD I CARE?

If you go to a secular or Liberal-Christian university to study Christianity, you will likely be told that Jesus was not God but merely a man. Thus, the Gospels were not records of actual events, but evolved over time as peoples’ beliefs about Jesus evolved and amplified until this “Jewish Rabbi” somehow became “God in the flesh, fully God, fully man.”

This is a mini-seminar meant to survey and critique this understanding.

…but, you say, “I have never, nor will I ever, go to a secular or liberal university!” In this introduction, I provide five reasons why you NEED to know this information, including the ability to understand the Emergent Church engage with culture, and grapple with Islamic apologetics.

THE FATHERS ON THE GOSPELS

How did we get our four gospels? Why don’t we ask the scholars and church-leaders who lived within three hundred years of the actual events! Here is a run-down of the ancient, historic understanding of how the gospels were written.

For a written summary of Eusebius on the authoring of the Gospels, see here.

Please note that I am not saying that we simply accept Eusebius’ word on the subject, then consider the matter closed. My point is that we should bring these ancient sources to the table and consider them. These people are not uneducated or unintelligent, and they are living much closer to the events than we are. As C.S. Lewis says, it is pure “Chronological Snobbery” to believe that just because we are more recent, we are automatically smarter than these people!

THE LIBERALS ON THE GOSPELS

This is a summary of what you will hear if you take a class on Christianity in a secular or Liberal school.

For a definition of “Christian liberalism,” see here.

If you have never heard of “Q” before, this article may help explain what I am talking about.

For a more thorough critique of the “Q Hypothesis,” see “Ten Reasons to Question ‘Q’ ” or buy Mark S. Goodacre’s The Case Against Q: Studies in Markan Priority and Synoptic Problem.

THREE CRITIQUES OF THE LIBERAL CONSENSUS

When presented in a class, the secular/liberal perspective on Christianity is always presented as “the way” that “all educated peoples believe.” However, there are at least three major problems with it.

(note: The author/book which I cannot remember on the spot is Albert Schweitzer, “The Quest of the Historical Jesus.” Although an older book, the quality of the scholarship has made this work a classic which is still cited and interacted with in contemporary scholarship).

Please note that my purpose is not to DISPROVE their theory: only to prove the point that it is a THEORY, which is based upon beliefs. It is far from bullet-proof, and ultimately it is based upon “prior beliefs,” or “presuppositions,” just like Christianity is.

An excellent book, for more on this topic (from a highly reputable source) is Craig A. Evans’ “Fabricating Jesus” (book review to come shortly).

SON OF MAN, SON OF GOD

This is a major topic, which deserves to be examined by itself. If Jesus called Himself “The Son of Man,” why do we call Him, “The Son of God?” This is a major argument which will come up if you ever get into a conversation with an informed Muslim. It is also raised often by Liberal/secular scholars like Thomas Sheehan.

CONCLUSION: IT ALL COMES DOWN TO BELIEF

As I say several times in this sermon, the point of my talk is NOT to disprove the Liberal understanding of the Gospels. It is merely this: to give an overview of it, to provide a few critiques of it, and then say, over and over, “It’s just a THEORY!” The conservative belief is ALSO a theory. Neither are in the realm of hard science: at the end of the day, you must simply choose to believe what seems the most plausible to yourself.

Most importantly, I want you to understand that both of these theories come down to basic beliefs: do you believe that miracles can happen, that God answers prayers, that God is “Emmanuel – God WITH US”? If so, then there is no real reason to doubt the historic understanding of the Gospels. If you DOUBT this fundamental belief, however, then historic Christianity is impossible. Then you will be forced to adopt something like the secular version of the gospels.

It may at times seem that “everyone” believes the secular version of the Gospels, which includes the belief that Jesus was not God. Indeed – I will agree that “most” scholars believe this. However, this doesn’t really shake me. Why? I recognize that most of the people studying Jesus are not Christians. Most of them are skeptics, agnostics, atheists and adherents to other religions such as Islam. Considering this starting point, it is not at all surprising that they have come to these conclusions: they flow naturally out of their naturalistic beliefs.

They have begun with the assumption that miracles cannot happen. Thus, the records which show that Jesus walked on water, fed thousands and rose from the dead must be false. …so they decide beforehand that they are false. Then they have done all their research from that starting point, and ended up with the conclusion that “no miracles happened here.” Tell me – where is the mystery in this? Isn’t it obvious that their conclusions are based upon their presuppositions?

Christianity has always been based on the fundamentally “foolish” concept of miracle, and of a resurrection. This concept has always caused us to be mocked (Acts 17:32), and it has always made our religion basically “foolish” to the educated elite of society (1 Cor. 1:23).

Nothing has changed. Today, as 2000 years ago, the person who wishes to follow Christ must decide whether or not they are willing to rise, pick up their cross of shame, and FOLLOW Christ, no matter what the world believes.

This is what I would like to encourage and empower you to do, even as you go on to study in higher education, and may be presented with beliefs just like what I just presented here today.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Eusebius of Caesarea. Church History. c. 330. Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890). Available for free on newadvent.org (click on “fathers,” or see here)

Evans, Craig A. Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels . Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008) (Review coming soon!)

Machen, J. Gresham. Christianity and Liberalism. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1923, reprint 2009. (buy here, or access for free electronically here)

Schweitzer, Albert. The Quest of the Historical Jesus. 1906. Edited by W. Montgomery. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2005.

Sheehan, Thomas. The Historical Jesus: How did Jesus of Nazareth, who never claimed to be Christ or divine, become the Son of God? Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2006. (You may download Syllabus, and/or take class on iTunes U for free)

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