There is and always has been a desire to discredit Christianity. Why is this?
- Christianity makes a claim on your time, talents, and treasures
- Christianity makes a claim on how you use your power and influence
- Christianity makes a claim on your sexuality
- Christianity makes a claim on your character, things like patience needing nurture and anger needing held in check.
- Christianity makes a claim on your behaviours, things like drinking and violence must be replaced by sobriety and gentleness.
- Christianity makes a claim on how you respond to offence, so you are expected to offer forgiveness
- Christianity makes a claim on your viewpoints, so you don’t get a choice on things like racism, abortion, or the equality of the sexes
- Christianity changes you
In short, religion is powerful stuff, and Christianity can really turn your life right upside down. Change does not come easy, and many are uneasy with the kinds of changes that will come with becoming a Christian. So if you don’t like it, your options are, to reject Christianity as a true, but unwanted. Or, far easier on the conscience, to discredit Christianity altogether.
One of the most popular ways to do this is to imagine that the early group of people known as Christians took a historical teacher by the name of Jesus, and turned him into the Messiah. So taking Jesus and making him Christ.
Enter the Gospel of John. Often this work is thought to be one of the latest New Testament documents to be written and is prime fodder for the “look how Christians are changing Jesus into God” thinkers. The author of the Gospel is not shy about what he thinks about Jesus:
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John [the baptizer] testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me. ’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known (John 1:14-18 NRSV)
The Gospel goes on to present miracles and teaching of Jesus that go beyond “nice” to scandalous. You cannot read the Gospel of John without concluding that yes, the author of the Gospel really does believe Jesus is God, and yes, he also believes that Jesus really did die for our sin and rise from the dead. We do not find here the kind of Jesus a lot of people would like to find; just a pleasant teacher of nice moral ethics.
The author ends the Gospel with a little surprise: “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24 NRSV). In other words, “all that you just read about, I saw first hand. I was right there, in the midst of it all. When you were reading about ‘the beloved disciple,’ you were reading about me.”
So now you have a decision to make. Either the author of the Gospel is a liar, or he is telling the truth. He is either a fabricator of lies or an eyewitness who is in fact really close to Jesus. The author is claiming to be an eyewitness, so you are the juror who must weigh the evidence and come to a conclusion as to whether or not this witness has reliable testimony. Have we any evidence to suggest that this Christian author is telling the truth?
Consider the following:
- the author has knowledge of Palestine consistent with a disciple of Jesus
- the author has knowledge of Judaism consistent with a disciple of Jesus
- the author has a knowledge of Jerusalem consistent with someone who was there. Remember that the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD would make this difficult for someone generations later.
- The destruction of Jerusalem does not figure prominently in the Gospel. If it were written later you would expect the author to say more about it.
- The author includes details consistent with an eyewitness report.
- Integrity was integral to the early Christian movement. A forgery would not gain respect.
But consider also:
- Christianity makes a claim on your time, talents, and treasures. It ensures that you are making a positive contribution to society and in so doing ensures that the hungry are being fed, the downtrodden are being lifted up, that people, all people, are being cared for.
- Christianity makes a claim on how you use your power and influence. It ensures that you are seeking to serve rather than being served, and in so doing ensures good governance.
- Christianity makes a claim on your sexuality. It ensures that you are remaining faithful to your spouse and family. It also ensures that no one need fear your violation of their personhood, your part in the creation of an unwanted child, or your spreading of disease.
- Christianity makes a claim on your character, things like patience and anger. It ensures that your presence is good news to others.
- Christianity makes a claim on your behaviours, things like drinking and violence. It ensures that your presence is safe for others.
- Christianity makes a claim on how you respond to offence. It ensures that relationships are moving forward positively.
- Christianity makes a claim on your viewpoints, on things like racism, abortion, the equality of the sexes. It makes for a better world.
- Christianity changes you. It makes for a better you, which makes for a better world.
Now did a group of guys, including John, get together and say “here is what we want religion to do, let’s invent a new one around this Jesus who taught us good things but then was crucified”? Or were they witnesses to the most profound moment in history when “the Word became flesh and lived among us . . .full of grace and truth” (John 1:14)?
We do have very early manuscript evidence of the Gospel of John, in fact fragments from the Gospel have now been found dating from earlier than some have claimed the Gospel was written! But we have no “smoking gun” evidence of a manuscript dating from the first century when most believe it was written. What we do have are changed lives, from the disciples themselves right through to disciples of Jesus today. And we have the rest of the New Testament documents providing corroborating evidence. And we have the witness of the Old Testament to the promises of God to save. And we have the incredible figure of Jesus with teachings and theology no Jew or non-Jew would have made up. And we have the witness of the Holy Spirit . . .
Has the jury reached a verdict?