“proof” of the resurrection of Christ is in the pudding

Christianity Today has an interesting review on the new film now out in the theaters, “The Case for Christ,” telling the story of Lee Strobel’s conversion from an atheism to evangelical Christianity. The story by itself probably makes the film compelling enough to want to watch, though I’m not much of a film watcher myself. And I admit to avoiding watching Christian films, since I think what is often painted is an unreal world. Which is sad and difficult, since something of what those films convey is usually valuable and even important.

Christian apologetics concerns both the defending and argument for the veracity of the faith, so that in perhaps what at best is a kind of C. S. Lewis approach, an appeal is made for the argument of the truth of the gospel, specifically here, of Christ’s resurrection. Not completely on a rational basis, but even an appeal to experience and beauty gets put on a rational scale in the end. I admit that I like that approach for myself. But good as that might be for people like me, who like to see intellectual arguments pro and con, that actually ends up not being the most satisfying approach in the sense of life changing. And when one puts all their weight on the intellectual side, there is always the possibility that the something more we don’t know might tip the scales another way; we just can’t know for sure. Although many a person who either practices law, as a lawyer, or approaches life from that perspective has concluded that the evidence in favor of Jesus having actually risen from the dead is quite telling and compelling.

To consider the gospel accounts of Jesus’s last week before his death in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is a good exercise, as we see the perspectives of the four evangelists in telling that story. And then Luke’s story continues on in Acts, which tells us about the beginning of the early church and the spread of the gospel throughout the known world.

What ends up, I believe, being most persuasive in appealing for the faith of the gospel and the truth of Jesus’s bodily resurrection is the change that occurred in Jesus’s followers. That is in terms not only of this really taking place, but of its significance, as well. If Jesus simply rose from the dead with the promise that someday we who have faith in him will likewise be resurrected into that same life, that has wonderful meaning, to be sure. But it might not impact us much in this life, at least not in the way that scripture tells us it does.

We begin by faith right now to share in Jesus’s resurrection life. This is clear throughout the Final/New Testament, Romans 6 being one example, but all throughout. Romans 6 speaks of participation by faith and baptism in Christ’s death and resurrection, so that we can now, by grace begin to live this new life. It might be seen as a more “religious” argument, but Christ’s resurrection is at the heart of the faith, of what Christianity essentially is according to scripture. It is a partipation not just in seeking to follow Christ’s teachings, or the teachings of the church, as important as those are. But it is an actual participation no less in the very life of Christ, yes, his resurrection life, beginning even prior to the resurrection to come, in our lives now, by the Spirit.

We live because he lives, and our life in him is distinct. And while it is in anticipation of the resurrection to come, it partakes of that resurrection in partaking of Christ right now in this life. In changing the way we live, the breath that we breathe, in other words what motivates us, and how we want to live. More precisely, what God is making us to be over time in becoming more and more like Jesus.

This is both an individual and joint venture, to be sure. But the key is Christ and his resurrection. We follow one whose life is now our life, which means a difference now, and all the difference in the world beyond this life, as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 15.

And so the truth and reality of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead will be seen by me today, not in considering once again the way the story is told in the gospel accounts. But the difference this reality makes in my life right now, through the nitty gritty and sometimes downright difficult circumstances of life. Does Christ make a difference there, and in what way? That’s the question, answered more than well enough for me time and time again. In and through the risen Jesus.

Myron B. Penner on victorious truth in this life

…we may also characterize gospel truth as victorious truth that overcomes the world, but this victory is eschatological and future-oriented so that in this world it is always an overcoming truth, always an on-the-way-to-victory truth. It is never a triumphant, sovereign truth that rules and reigns here and now with full and complete presence. To be eschatological is to be hopeful; it is to be oriented toward things that are yet to come. The contingent, second-order, contextual truths of the gospel we come to know and are shaped by lack the full, objective presence that is the goal of epistemological inquiry. I believe Stanley Grenz and John Franke are trying to capture something of this notion of truth in relation to Christian theology with their emphasis on “eschatological realism.” When they say that Christian language shapes reality by the power of the Holy Spirit in light of God’s future, I do not understand them as proposing yet another metaphysical thesis nor even making a statement about the power of language. Instead, I find the importance of their work is in the attention they call to the necessary role faith plays in our witness to gospel truth. If “reality” or Truth does not lie in the world of sense perception but with “God’s eschatological will for creation,” our witness is decidedly prophetic, and human reason of itself cannot grasp what is fully real.  Prophetic witness is not (just) to “objective” realities but to a world and reality that is on its way to becoming present here, now. We witness to truths that lack full presence but are such that, as they edify us, they bring us further into the reality of God’s kingdom that is coming here on earth, where God’s will is done as it is in heaven. These are truths that transform how we live here and now in our everyday practices, and shape us into the kinds of persons  who are in Truth’s possession.

Myron B. Penner, The End of Apologetics: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Context, 130-131.

Myron B. Penner on the true Christian stand of faith in and for the truth

…truth for the Christian is a task, and the task is not to know the truth intellectually but to become the truth. For this reason Kierkegaard connects belief, truth, and suffering. Belief shapes us into who we are, and the truth—the kind that edifies us—rubs off the rough corners and molds us into the kind of selves that can both attest to them and express them with our lives. Christian witness, then, also takes the form of a struggle against untruth, against everything that is soul-destroying and unedifying and that sets itself up against the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ—in our lives, in our communities, and in the world—as we establish a community that manifests the gospel truth. In this way Christian truth stands as an offense to us in our secular condition and often runs counter to our staid interpretations of the world that are based on our empirical observations and rational calculations. Christians, quite literally, are to display another reality and an alternative way of living in and ordering our world—one structured by the message of the crucified and risen Christ and displays the presence and reality of the Holy Spirit. It is a reality shaped by cross and resurrection.

The sense in which Christian truth claims can be verified is the degree to which they are true of us—those who believe—both in our corporate and individual lives. The proof of Christian truth does not depend upon a rational apologetic procedure but on the witness of Christians—our full testimony to the truth that edifies us and builds us up. The character and quality of our lives together are a witness that we have been built up and shaped by the truths we confess. This confession involves placing our entire lives on the line, confessing with our words and our lives the truth of God in Jesus Christ and putting ourselves at the disposal of those to whom we witness (Marcel). Vanhoozer notes that the Greek term for one who testifies is a martyr, which includes both the act of “giving witness” and that of “giving one’s life” for the truth. In a truly Kirkegaardian spirit, he goes on to argue that what is ultimately required to stake a theological truth claim is martyrdom, “for it is the whole speech act of testifying, not only the proposition, that ultimately communicates truth claims about the way of wisdom.” The martyr’s witness, as one who stakes one’s life on the truths by which one has been edified, enables those of us who receive it to imagine a truth bigger than our own lives—one for which we could live and die—and it presents us with an opportunity to make that truth our own. This sort of witness, I contend, creates the conditions for the intelligibility of the truths of the Christian gospel by publically displaying a life or a way of being in which its claims make sense—a life that can only be made sense of in terms of those claims.

Myron B. Penner, The End of Apologetics, The: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Context, 127-129.

winning arguments

There are some people who are quite keen and adept at winning debates. I think I used to try to be that way, and at least I thought it was important to some extent. Now as I get older and reflect over time, I’m beginning to think it’s less important, not that important, maybe not of much importance at all.

I think very few people have been won over, who have lost an argument. Now if it is done clearly in love, with some good give and take on both sides, at least the former being clearly the case, then over time the seeds planted could change one’s heart and mind. But by and large I think the debate mentality can be ego driven so that truth is not really what it’s all about as much as winning a contest. We know one could win a debate and yet not really have the substance of truth on their side.

Paul did debate, a debate that was in-house concerning the one faith. And he won over many Jews as a result. So did Apollos, who was quite adept at this. But I’m wondering more about those outside of the faith. I’m not sure I see any scriptural precedent in which debating such did any good, though I would think it could, depending.

I prefer to think in terms of sharing, as much preferable to debating. In the sharing, there may well end up being elements of debate, as the two share concerning their particular faith (or lack thereof). But by and large, those times would simply be sharing with each other, and in terms of a witness. I share what’s important, essential and central to my life and why, and what difference that makes. And I seek to listen well to someone else do the same. And I let them have the last word, and maybe even let it seem that they have won the debate, while doing the best I can to present the faith, or my faith.

And Peter tells us that we’re to always be ready to give an answer to those who ask us about the hope we have, to do so with gentleness and respect. We witness from the witness of Jesus’ resurrection, our lives being in a long chain of changed lives because of that. And we believe the gospel of Christ is the power of salvation to all who believe. The good news that Jesus is King has a power all its own. Our ability to defend it may do some good, but we have to be careful that we don’t get in the way of a message which has a power all its own, and simply needs to be proclaimed, shared as a witness.

In the end it is God through Jesus by the Spirit who changes hearts and minds. Who keeps us in his love and care, so that we continue to have and be a witness. Even though we may not be able to win a single argument.  God continues to do his good work in the world, even through us in Jesus for the good of the world.

people need the Lord

This is not a trite saying, and indeed is worthy of universal acceptance: People need the Lord.

“Who is the Lord?” would be a common and sane question from many. The sense that we are needy, dependent beings would be accepted by most human beings on some level. Although there is the philosophy that it is best if people seek to make it on their own, that if everyone would do that as they are able, the world would be a better place. That is taking personal responsibility seriously, but it is failing to take into account the directive that we’re to love our neighbor as ourselves (or, as one who is like ourselves).

Life is full of mystery. We can insist that only what is verifiable through our senses and tested by reason is viable. Yet we are left with questions we can’t honestly answer by those means. We’re left only with our own conjectures or opinion about such. A love which exists for the good of others will make little or no sense unless it can be explained in some biological, naturalistic terms.

We humans are not meant to live in isolation. We are social beings, or most of us do best in relationship with others. Yes, some of us like our space and time alone, and I think I’m one of them. But we are at a loss when we are cut off from everyone. The punishment of solitary confinement points to this as a maxim for most of us.

People the world over have been inclined to reach out to some being, something which is over them, a higher power, often for superstitious, or pragmatic reasons. Though oftentimes as well due to an ideology which is somehow to explain or make a difference in the world, in their world, for good as they understand it.

There are hints of the good and the bad. Of a creator or creators, something or someone which provides a general explanation for everything.

Enter Jesus. Jesus is the one who gives the answer which in the end will bring the world to its feet, yes up from the grave. Jesus is the one in and through whom there is a hope which will put the world out of its misery not by destruction, but by “putting it to rights” (as N.T. Wright expresses it), making all things new.

And this promise for the world includes each and every individual in the world. We all need something more than all the good we have. And that something is in terms of God’s will in Jesus, and what Jesus brings in that will for us and for the world. And it is in terms of being saved to become part of the solution to the problem for the world in and through Jesus.

Yes, it is personal and individual, as well as collective and with reference to all things. In fact all things, everything, along with every person is meant to be remade, made new, according to the intent of God in Jesus.

Jesus and all that comes from him found in scripture is the reason for my life, for what I believe is truly human and good, and the fulfillment of that. That’s not to say that people can’t enjoy a good measure of these things apart from Jesus, but it is to say that we can’t be heading to the fulfillment of these things, which includes getting rid of all that is in the way of that, except through Jesus.

On October 22, 1973 I asked God to take over my life, committing my life to God through Jesus’ death for my sins. And from that day to this, it’s never been the same. Yes, I’ve had my bumps, bruises, falls and failures along the way. Yes, I’ve hardly been able to see the way at times. But the Lord has been present through it all, and only he keeps me going to this day. And I want to know him much more. Along with others in him for the world.


review of Anna Rapa’s “Second Story: seeing what’s not being said” (part two)

…from Issachar, men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do—200 chiefs…

1 Chronicles 12:32

Anna Rapa has written a kind of wisdom story in Second Story: seeing what’s not being said. In her words to me, “It’s really meant to be an object lesson or ideas with skin on. Could’ve been written as a nonfiction book, but it seemed impossible to really convey what the ideas would look like without a story.”

Anna tells the story well, real life people. One begins to identify especially with the main characters, Alex and Annie who have been anticipating marriage. Except Alex’s accident through which his life was hanging in the balance has awakened him to the importance of making his life count for God. Gone is the care free, fun loving Alex. In in his place is an Alex who wants to talk most all the time about spiritual things. And wants to share and confront others with the truth of God so that they might see their need for Christ.

Annie is all but lost. She was glad he wanted to go to church, she was raised that way. But really caring about other’s religion or personal matters to her seemed more than a bit much.

Enter Sara, who had served as a youth worker some years back in Alex’s church youth group. The three begin to meet, and we see every bit as significant a change in Annie as had happened with Alex. Except that Annie’s change due to Sara’s sharing had come with more than Alex could have imagined. More than he was willing to take on, or accept.

Alex is busy “witnessing” to people verbally any opportunity he has. A fellow worker, Drew, Alex discovers is gay, and has cancer. Alex is always wanting to share with him his need for Jesus, but Drew is not only uninterested, but antagonistic. He has been raised in a church, and his father is upset over his lifestyle. Alex while repulsed by that himself, won’t let up in trying to help Drew come to faith, seeing Drew’s death as imminent.

In the meantime, Annie is benefiting from their times together with Sara. She had been reticent, but in desperation had committed herself to God, or reached out to him while not really wanting such help. There was something not ringing true to her in what she saw of Alex in his change. And she was not where she needed to be herself as to God and his will.

In this unfolding comes a really compelling, well told story. With wisdom and insight woven in throughout.

God begins to change Annie through study of scripture and prayer from the times with Sara. Certain parts spoke into my life, such as when Annie was trying to grapple with Jesus’ words in the first and greatest commandment to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength. As is true throughout the book, how she works through this is so true to life. Annie begins to genuinely care about people. So that her friend Oliver, and her neighbors, Patti and Josie become priorities to her, simply as people. From that she does want to share the difference God is making in her life.

Alex sees every contact as a responsibility to confront others of their need, their danger if they don’t repent and believe the gospel. For him it is all about being a part of God’s work of reconciliation. For Annie it is first about loving people, praying for them, and out of that, sharing her faith when it is natural. Annie thinks it’s not always wise to speak of faith, in fact is reticent to do so unless it is a natural expression of her life, or sharing her story. Alex thinks he should always try to speak.

Out of this comes the perfect storm. Taught by Sara and really part of her own understanding and experience, Annie sees life as uncertain and not so black and white. Alex wants certainty, and sees truth at stake, or being compromised with Sara’s view that like Jesus we should tell stories from scripture, our own story as well, praying that the Spirit will give the hearer understanding. Alex can’t shake the belief that it’s up to him to help others understand the truth and their need for Jesus. Sara also has taught them that barriers to the faith for many today are largely emotional, that we help people to come to truth in their minds by being sensitive to where they are struggling in their hearts.

The story for me had an unexpected ending. It sets in stark and helpful contrast two models of evangelism and leaves us the reader grappling with which is the one most true to the witness of scripture and in the way we find in Jesus in scripture. And how we should be Christ’s ambassadors for reconciliation in this present time.

There is much more in this book. Anna covers it well, and out of her own life of nearly a decade in learning and growing in her walk in it. I believe this is an important book for this day. And Anna continues to think through this, and wants to do  so with others on her blog.

For me it was an encouragement as well as a challenge. That we should commit ourselves to this life of loving others and praying for their reconciliation to God through Christ. That we are to live out God’s calling in a way that is natural to us, to God’s gifting of us. And with love and sensitivity to others. Not abandoning the call to introduce others to Jesus. But doing so as those committed to others as true friends. Not in a commitment which is only about adding more to God’s kingdom in Jesus, or seeing more saved.

So on the one hand thinking through this in reading the book alleviated pressure on me and unnecessary guilt, while on the other hand it encouraged me to be more open and ready out of love to share the good news of Jesus with others. In God’s working.

Thanks, Anna for this valuable contribution to me, to us as Christ’s body in the world. I pray that this book may be a blessing to many in days to come.

review of Anna Rapa’s “Second Story: seeing what’s not being said” (part one)

Rachel Held Evans on the witness the world needs

It’s always a little embarrassing when you come out swinging and there’s nobody there to fight with you. I think that’s how a lot of us felt when we realized that the world wasn’t asking the questions we had learned to answer. Many of us who grew up in the church or received Christian educations were under the impression that the world was full of atheists and agnostics and that the greatest threat against Christianity was the rise of secular humanism. But what we found upon entering the real world was that most of our peers were receptive to spiritual things. Most believed in God, were open to the supernatural, and respected ideas so long as they were not forced upon them…They weren’t searching for historical evidence in support of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. They were searching for some signs of life among his followers.

Not once after graduating from Bryan was I asked to make a case for the scientific feasibility of miracles, but often I was asked why Christians aren’t more like Jesus. I may have met one or two people who rejected Christianity because they had difficulties with the deity of Christ, but most rejected Christianity because they thought it means becoming judgmental, narrow-minded, intolerant, and unkind. People didn’t argue with me about the problem of evil; they argued about why Christians aren’t doing more to alleviate human suffering, support the poor, and oppose violence and war. Most weren’t looking for a faith that provided all the answers; they were looking for one in which they were free to ask questions.

Rachel Held Evans, Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions, 203-4.

See Justin Topp’s review of her book, and here is my review.