What would we know about Jesus if we lost every Biblical manuscript on the planet? Could we have any certainty Jesus actually lived, and would we be able to re-capture any of the details of his life or nature? As it turns out, there are several ancient sources of information about Jesus. Some of these are from pagan, non-Christian authors (I’ve written about these sources here at Cold-Case Christianity). But there are even more compelling early non-Biblical accounts we can reference in an effort to understand who Jesus is (and was). We can still read the accounts of those early Christians who learned directly from the Biblical authors. Ignatius and Polycarp were direct students of the Apostle John; Clement was a direct student of the Apostle Paul. These students later became leaders in the early Christian Church and wrote their own letters to local congregations. Seven letters from Ignatius still survive, along with one letter from Polycarp and Clement. These are the earliest non-Biblical accounts we have describing the life and nature of Jesus. They are not in your Bible, but the information provided by these students of the Biblical authors is compelling. It provides us with the earliest snapshot of Jesus, and demonstrates the story of Jesus was not distorted or modified in the centuries between Jesus’ ministry and the first Church Councils. Here is a brief summary of what we can know about Jesus from the earliest Non-Biblical authors: [Read more…]
Last weekend, after speaking at the NRB National Apologetics Conference, I was approached by a man who asked a question about the shape of crucifixion cross of Jesus. He’d been approached by Jehovah’s Witnesses who challenged the traditional shape of the cross. They argued the Greek word for “cross” (stauros) simply meant an “upright pole”, “upright stake” or “torture stake”. His Jehovah’s Witness visitors claimed Jesus was actually nailed to a straight stake with a single spike through his hands and another through his feet. In my experience with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I’ve also heard them argue the traditional Christian shape of the cross was borrowed from pagan sources and, as a result, it is un-Christian to acknowledge the traditional cross shape in church architecture, worship or adornment. While the Greek words used for the cross in the New Testament are not specific about its shape (“stauros” = stake / pole and “xulon” = timber / tree), there are several evidential clues offered in the scripture to help us understand the true shape of Jesus’ cross.
Before we look at the evidence related to the cross, we need to examine the many ways Roman executed criminals on wooden structures of one kind or another throughout history. Josephus, when writing about the siege of Jerusalem ion 70AD, acknowledged the fact Roman soldiers used a variety of methods and stake shapes to execute their prisoners: [Read more…]
As Christians, we have a lot of questions that we don’t always know how to investigate on our own, and we’re grateful when somebody will come in and give us the quick answer. But if you’ve raised kids, you know that when your kids have a question and ask you to sort something out for them, they come away with one kind of knowledge. When you allow your kids to work through, and find, and research the answer for themselves, they come away with a completely different kind of understanding. I can remember when I first came to Christianity out of atheism, I really needed to examine the issues for myself. And let’s face it, there are lots of times when it’s not so much an understanding of the truth; it’s not so much that the truth is out there and I just can’t grasp it; it’s that I hold some type of prerequisite, presupposition, that prevents me from seeing the truth clearly.
That’s why for me, as a new Christian, apologetics websites were just as important as the skeptic sites I had been visiting. I wanted to get some balance and some clear thinking on the issues we know are inherent to the Christian worldview. I found myself applying the same skepticism I had as a detective, and an atheist, to my own examination of Scripture. Here is my approach to answering some of my own questions about Christian doctrine, and Christian evidence. These are principles and tools that may help you sort out the truth for yourself. To help you remember, each of them start with the letter “D”. First, some qualities I think are important as a student of the Bible: [Read more…]
I became a Christian when my first two children were very young. They have no memory of me prior to my conversion. But all four of my kids were raised in Christian community. I didn’t train, mentor or prepare them on my own, and you shouldn’t either. Young Christians are facing a formidable task as they get ready to enter an adult culture growingly hostile to the Christian worldview. While Christian leaders may disagree about the severity of the problem, the evidence of attrition amongst 17-30 year olds is well documented. If our kids aren’t trained and exposed to the challenges at an early age, they are far more likely to leave the Church. And while it is tempting to think we, as parents, are all our kids will ever need, this is simply untrue. Parents, don’t train your kids on your own. [Read more…]
I feel honored to be a very small part of the faculty at Biola University (where I serve as an Adjunct Professor in the Master’s Degree program in Christian Apologetics). Two weeks ago I taught a class covering the material in Cold-Case Christianity and began by asking the seventy-four students in my class why they wanted an advance degree in apologetics. Thirty of these students said they were taking the class to grow in their faith. The remaining forty-four said they were either teaching apologetics locally or planned on teaching apologetics in the future. This latter group saw the Biola graduate degree as an important step of preparation. Not everyone agrees.
In fact, some people in the Christian community think an advanced degree in apologetics is largely a waste of time. Two people I deeply admire have come out publicly with this assertion: Max Andrews (of the Sententias Blog) and Glenn Peoples (of the Right Reason Blog) both wrote blog posts this year entitled, “Don’t Get a Degree in Apologetics”. Andrews and Peoples believe an academic degree in an advanced, specific discipline (i.e. biblical studies, history, historiography, theology, philosophy, physics, chemistry, etc.) is a far better choice than a broad degree in apologetics. Andrews writes:
“My advice is to pick a discipline and excel in that discipline. All the greatest apologists have a discipline: Gary Habermas, Mike Licona, William Lane Craig, NT Wright. etc. Don’t be a jack of all trades. Be a master of one and be skilled in many.”
Think about those who have reputations as being the best apologists out there (whether they use the word “apologetics” or not). Everyone’s list will be slightly different, but the list will probably include names like C. S. Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, John Lennox, Peter Kreeft, Richard Bauckham and others. Do you want to be a great apologist? Great. Do you think these people are / were great apologists? I agree. OK, now ask yourself what all of these people – along with probably every other person you might add to this list – lack. They probably lack a whole lot of things, but one of the things they lack is a degree in apologetics.
Let me take a minute to respond to these statements and make an important distinction between expert witnesses and case makers. Both have been incredibly important in every criminal case I’ve ever seen presented in front of a jury. Expert witnesses are critical and foundational to jurors. Without these men and women, the evidential foundation for each case would be insufficient. I rely on expert witnesses to testify about DNA, fingerprint, behavioral and other forensic issues; these folks are often the centerpiece of my case. But there is another critical participant in every jury trial. I’ve seen great evidential cases ruined by poor case makers. A young, inexperienced (or simply ungifted) prosecutor can make a mess of a case in front of a jury. Case makers are the directors, authors, orchestrators and presenters for every case argued to a jury. They seam together the divergent testimonies and translate the experts so jurors understand their importance (and their role within the larger case).
Expert witnesses are narrowly focused and typically have difficulty relating to the lay-people who make up the jury; the attorneys stand in the gap, weaving the expert testimony into the overarching case and “throwing the ball” so jurors can “catch it”. You can have great expert witnesses and still lose at trial. In fact, in every case I’ve worked, the defense has also called equally qualified, educated and accomplished expert witnesses who have testified in opposition to the experts called by the prosecution. The case makers (the attorneys) were responsible for arguing why their experts were more relevant than those from the other side. In criminal trials, case makers are just as important as expert witnesses, and this is also true in the Christian community. Without a good case maker, expert testimony can sound a lot like, “blah, blah, blah”.
There are very few (and I mean very few) expert witnesses in the Christian community who are also popularly accessible case makers. Let’s be honest about that. Some of these great thinkers are friends of mine, and I think they would acknowledge their role quite happily. Richard Bauckham’s incredibly important work, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, has not been nearly as successful as Lee Strobel’sCase for Christ. In fact, many of these amazing expert witnesses would still be largely unread (and unknown) if they hadn’t appeared in Lee’s work. Case makers make expert testimony accessible and show how the limited evidence offered by these experts fits into the larger case. That’s what Lee has done so brilliantly over the years. It’s no coincidence we’re experiencing a renaissance in apologetics simultaneous with the success of Lee’s books. Great case makers amplify the work of great expert witnesses. In fact, you could take the book sales of everyone mentioned by Andrews and Peoples combined (with the obvious exception of C. S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias) and they wouldn’t come close to the book sales of Lee Strobel or Josh McDowell alone. Lee and Josh are great case makers (neither has an advanced degree in a specialty area by the way); both are relying on the testimony of great expert witnesses.
Let me make one final observation. Courtroom dramas are incredibly popular in our culture. Think about your favorite book, television show or movie in this genre. Now let me ask you a question: Which characters are highlighted most in these dramas? Who are the protagonists or antagonists featured in each story? In most courtroom dramas, the primary characters are the attorneys and detectives: the case makers. Think about it. Whenever an investigative drama features an expert witness as the primary character (in shows like CSI or Quincy) the experts are actually mischaracterized and given investigative or case making roles they don’t actually possess in real life. The culture is far more interested in case makers and investigators than it is in expert witnesses. People are more interested in the total picture than the minutia; they want to hear the case in their own language, and they are far more likely to embrace people with whom they can relate. Case makers are just as important as expert witnesses (and perhaps more important when it comes to influencing a culture).
So take a hard look at your gifting and your interests. If you’re better suited as an expert witness, interested in specific fields of study and focused academically, get the degree in biblical studies, history, historiography, theology, philosophy, physics, or chemistry as Andrews and Peoples would suggest. God will use you powerfully to establish the foundation from which a case can be made. But if you’re more interested (and gifted) in communicating the overarching, cumulative case for Christianity (constructed from the testimony of many experts), feel free to pursue a degree in case making (apologetics). The church needs expert witnesses and case makers and these are usually two different sets of people. Great expert witnesses aren’t always great apologists, and great apologists (like Lee Strobel, Josh and Sean McDowell, Frank Turek, Greg Koukl and many others you know by name) don’t have to be expert witnesses.