Believable and Beautiful. Why Christianity is Compelling.

Can we really believe what we read in books written so long ago? With so many world-views and so many religions, how could we ever pick just one? Does it really matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere, and don’t bother others with it? Don’t people need to leave their brains at the door of a Christian church? Many people are reluctant to consider Christianity. However, in our series we have considered how Christianity is compelling, both in being believable, and beautiful.

First let us review why Christianity is believable, why one need neither leave their brain at the door of the church, nor their faith in the university parking lot. (Click on the links to read the corresponding “Shrunk Sermon.”)

BELIEVABLE

  • Compelling Truth.  People who are “relativists” when it comes to faith and religion suddenly become “modernists” when they need surgery. Truth can be known and does matter. We consistently live as people who know truth can be known and does matter. The truth about Jesus can be known and does matter.
  • A Compelling Cosmos. We considered that the universe had a beginning, the “fine-tuning” of the universe to be life-permitting, and the fact that anything exists at all. What we learn from studying the universe points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Morality. Very few people will say that there are not certain behaviours that ought to be considered evil for all people at all times in all places. The reality of objective morality points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Life. Life began and now flourishes in a world that seems ideally suited for it. The realities of life point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Minds. Thinking people point to the reality of a thinking God.
  • Compelling Religion. The appetite for the spiritual points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Evil. The existence of suffering and evil is consistent with what the Bible teaches about our experience. Suffering and evil point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Holy Books. What caused each of the books of the Bible to be written? The documents that make up the Bible point to the reality of God whose interaction with the world stirred up much writing.
  • The Compelling Man. The most compelling man in history, compelling in his activity, his teaching, his ethics, his presence, his good works, his love, and his impact, points to the reality of God.
  • A Compelling Turn of Events. The tomb was empty and disciples were going about telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. They were willing to die for that testimony. Naysayers like James and Paul, changed their minds. Devoted Jews took radical shifts in their theology. The events of, and following, Easter, point to the reality of God.

Cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace speaks of a cold-case trial as being a cumulative case. That is, the best explanation of the evidence is the one that explains all the evidence. With regards to religion and faith, certain world-views may explain some of the evidence. For example, with regards to suffering, Eastern religions have a nice tidy explanation. If you suffer, it is because you deserve it. Your karma is catching up to you. There is a cosmic justice and suffering makes sense. However, there are still many things that don’t makes sense. If Eastern religions are correct, then how did the Bible come into being? Why was the tomb of Jesus empty, why did the disciples go around telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead and why were they willing to die for that? Why did naysayers like James and Paul change their tune about who Jesus is and what he is about? Likewise, atheism also gives a good explanation as to why there is suffering. However, again, atheism can not explain all the evidence. Christianity explains all the evidence! Therefore, not only are the truth claims of Christianity believable, there are compelling reasons why we can see them as being the best depiction of reality. God is for real, and in Christ, God is for us.

We can further ask if each worldview is consistent in where it leads. It would be strange if, while the evidence points to the existence of a good and loving God, belief in, and devotion to, that God led to a terrible way to live, and a horrible society. We have used the example of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. If you have read the novel, or watched the tv series, you will see the dominance of a worldview which leads to ugliness and not beauty. Does Christianity lead to ugliness, or to beauty? In our series we considered how Christianity leads to beauty.

BEAUTIFUL

  • Compelling Evidence. Science and Christianity point in the same direction. Christianity helped science get started. A perspective which denigrates science is ugly. That Christianity can work with science is beautiful!
  • Compelling Religion. While religion can, in the words of Christopher Hitchens, “poison everything,” a Biblical Spirit-led Christianity leads to healing. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace. The love of God for people is beautiful. God’s grace and forgiveness is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace, Part 2. The call to grace, forgiveness, and wisdom in human relationships is beautiful!
  • The Compelling God. The perfect justice and wonderful mercy of God is beautiful. Only at the cross do we see God being perfectly just while also being merciful. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Mission. The sharing of good news is always beautiful. That we share the good news through words, rather than by force, and give people the space and freedom to choose for themselves, is beautiful!
  • Compelling Family. The Christian vision for parenting and marriage is beautiful. Yet the flexibility that no one is forced to fit the mold of “married with children” is also beautiful!
  • A Compelling Life. The Jesus-centred, Spirit-filled, life lived in wisdom is beautiful. That we don’t just follow rules, but grow in character, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Society.. Christians are not called to takeover the government and set up a society that enforces Christian living. That Christians are called to be salt and light is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Perspective on Humanity. No one has greater value than anyone else. That all people are created in the image of God, without exception, and without exception Christ bore the cross for all people, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling People. That the Church is to be a people who do good works in Jesus’ name, in allegiance to Jesus, under the influence of the Spirit, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Future. The future of every single person, whether they receive Jesus or not, is reasonable & consistent with a good and loving God. This is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Invitation. Everyone is invited! You are invited! This is beautiful!

The outworking of the Christian faith is consistent with the good and loving God the evidence points to. There are many aspects of Christianity that make us say “of course that is how a good and loving God would do it.” However, Christians have often made a mess of things and been the cause of ugliness rather than beauty. When this happens, it results from a disconnect from Jesus, and often, an unfortunate understanding of God’s WordThe inconsistency is ours. The ugliness is ours. But there is beauty. There is beauty, because there is God.

Perhaps you still have questions. I do. We don’t need all the answers. I have long thought of faith as being like a jigsaw puzzle. As we are figuring out our view of the world, our spirituality, and the way things are, pieces come together. Some people start with the most difficult of questions and give up. But for many of us, the puzzle pieces come together in such a way that the picture begins to form. It is a beautiful picture. So beautiful, in fact, that we cannot help but keep working on it. Sometimes there are pieces that we cannot yet place. Sometimes we have the sense that we are forcing certain pieces together that don’t fit. Sometimes we need to take pieces out that we thought fit, and fit them in where they really belong. This is all a normal part of growing and maturing in our understanding. The picture that comes together as we grow in our understanding is beautiful, and well worth the effort. It is a picture of the cross, of God’s love in Christ.

My prayer throughout this whole series is that you would find the Christian faith to be believable and beautiful, that you would find Christ to be compelling.

(This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here.)

Compelling Truth

How can you know that anything is true? If Christianity is not true, it is not truly compelling. So if we can’t know anything to be true, how can we be sure Christianity is true?

The idea of truth permeates the arrest of Jesus in John chapter 18. We have Jesus appealing to truth in verses 19-23, Peter denying the truth in verses 25-27,  the religious leaders lying in verses 30-31, and Pilate trying to get to the truth in verses 33-37. This is all capped off with Pilate’s famous words:

Pilate said, “So you are a king?”
Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”
38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. John 18:37-38 (emphasis added)

What was Pilate’s tone of voice when he asked “what is truth?” If you were an actor how would you portray it? Would you make Pilate sound like a philosopher on a quest for knowledge? “Hmmm, an interesting question I would love to spend some time pondering.” Or would you make Pilate sound like a busy man who wanted to get back to his own plans for the day? “What does your version of truth matter when I’ve got so much more to worry about?”

Whichever you would choose, these are two approaches to truth today. There are those who get all philosophical about truth and say “We cannot be sure of anything, so don’t tell me about Jesus.” Then there are those who could care less; “It just doesn’t matter, so don’t tell me about Jesus.” Are they correct?

Can we know the truth?

How do we know that the entirety of our lives is not just some big dream and we will wake up some day to an entirely different world? How do we know we are not stuck in some sort of matrix kept alive by machines or aliens in state of dreaming as in the Matrix movies? Can we be 100% sure Christianity is true if we cannot be 100% sure anything is true? Can we be certain beyond all possible doubt?

Here’s the thing; we do not live as as if we cannot know anything. We live as people who know stuff! We are never 100% sure of anything before we make decisions. Even Pilate, after he asked “what is truth?”, immediately went to the people to report what he knew to be true:

“What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime. John 18:38

Pilate knew enough to be able to form an opinion and make a decision. This is how we live. I had a scary experience many years ago. The roads were icy and I lost control of my car causing me to be on the wrong side of the road. I did not take the time to ponder if in fact it was all a dream, or that possibly the truck bearing down on me was just a hallucination, or a trick being played on me by aliens. After all, anything is possible. I knew I was in trouble, I made the right decisions and got the car under control again. This is how we live, not knowing things beyond a possible doubt, but knowing them beyond a reasonable doubt. We make decisions all the time, not because we can be 100% certain we are correct, but because it is reasonable to assume that we are.

Now consider that ordinary people experienced the extraordinary person of Jesus in ordinary ways. They could be as sure about him as I could be sure about my situation in a skidding car. With the exception of Paul and his Damascus road experience, those who experienced Jesus experienced him in the same way they would experience anyone. This is true before Easter, when ordinary people heard his extraordinary teaching and witnessed his extraordinary miracles in ordinary ways. This is also true following Easter when people saw Jesus alive again. Yes, he was even more extraordinary that before, but again, ordinary people were experiencing his extraordinary presence in normal ways. They were not having visions or dreams, they were living life, but there was Jesus in front of them. They could see him and touch him. They knew him to be real, just as they would know anything to be real:

We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. 2 This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy. 1 John 1:1-4 (emphasis added)

All those who saw Jesus risen from the dead were ordinary people experiencing the extraordinary person of Jesus in ordinary ways. They could be as sure of him as they could be sure of anything. Sure you can always say “it was possible that the risen Jesus was actually an alien imposter,” for anything is possible. But we don’t live that way. Neither did people 2000 years ago. They knew beyond a reasonable doubt that this was the risen Jesus. The truth of Christianity continues to be beyond a reasonable doubt in our day. We will be looking at some reasons to think so in the weeks to come.

So can we know anything? Yes, we reasonably know things to be true, but . . .

Does truth matter?

We live as if truth matters, a lot. Back to my scary experience in the car. I knew that moment could have changed my life for the rest of my days, if I had any more days left in this life. Reality matters! What is true with respect to Jesus matters incredibly. Grasping the reality of Jesus is not the same as forming an opinion on whether Coke is a better cola than Pepsi, or whether the Boston Bruins are a better team than the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is more like grasping the reality of a truck bearing down on you. It impacts every moment of your future. Why do people often live as if truth matters, but when it comes to spiritual things, it suddenly does not? You could say it matters more! Truth matters and spiritual truths matter, a lot.

Why has truth been challenged in our day? 

Deceit and deception are at the heart of the Fall as described in Genesis chapter 3. Adam and Eve were deceived, and in that deception sinned creating a wedge between themselves and God. There are deceptions today which keep that wedge in place. For example, that knowing truth is impossible or does not matter. Deceit and deception also run through the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Pilate was being deceived by the ones who wanted Jesus dead. Pilate was not totally deceived by them, knowing that Jesus was innocent of their accusations. However, he failed to recognize that the deception mattered. He thought his relationship with the people under his charge was more important the his relationship with the one now under his judgement, the One under whose charge he himself was.

Ironically, while the crucifixion of Jesus happened because of failure to apprehend the truth, it is a clear window into the truth, that

. . . God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 1 John 4:8-10

Deception ran through the Fall. Deception ran through the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Don’t let deception run through your life! God is love. That is a truth which can be known and which matters more than anything!

(All Scripture references are taken from the NLT. This is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast here).

Investigating Jesus: Jury Duty

Let us return to the example of a crime we have been considering the last two weeks when you were called out as a detective to investigate the circumstances of my death. You have all the evidence, you have come to the best explanation, your prime suspect is now in custody and the prosecution is ready to go to trial. The evidence is overwhelming and the case is strong. You have determined that my neighbour murdered me for my chocolate. You are confidant that justice will be served. However, it could all go wrong. The jury could obstruct the search for truth!

We are continuing our journey of learning from cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace how to investigate the evidence with respect to the reality and resurrection of Jesus. While tracking along with the chapters of “Cold-Case Christianity for Kids” (keeping pace with the children of our Sunday School who are also on this journey), today we are leaving the script a wee bit to include some material gleaned from Wallace’s podcasts. Again, I refer you to J. Warner Wallace himself to dig deeper, and please be aware that not everything you read here in this adaptation necessarily reflects his opinions.

So how is it, that having built a strong case for the conviction of your prime suspect, the jury can get in the way of the search for truth? There is a process of jury selection which is very intentional to ensure that this does not happen. The defence and the prosecution alike want to select those jurors who will handle the search for truth well. Let us consider what kind of people you do not want on the jury.

You will not consider someone a very good seeker of truth and able to serve on the jury if they will only consider one kind of evidence. In the case of my death, what would happen if someone served on the jury who trusted no one, even the police and detectives working the case? However, perhaps they once worked at a coroner’s office and having learned to trust coroners will accept coroner’s reports as good evidence. If a juror only considered a coroner’s report as valid evidence, my murderer would go free. The jurors need to consider all kinds of evidence. J. Warner Wallace points out that in cold-cases jurors need to be able to consider circumstantial evidence and not just direct evidence.

Is this important in the search for truth in religious perspective? Yes! I have often heard said things like “only science can teach you anything.” If this were true then most of what we know about history is lost to us, not to mention that many bad people would go free instead of spending time in the justice system. You would not consider someone fit for jury duty if they will only consider one type of evidence. You do not want to be that kind of person when it comes to investigating Jesus.

You will not consider someone a very good seeker of truth and able to serve on the jury if they are fixated on only one piece of evidence. Returning to my death, suppose a juror was herself a recovering chocoholic and could only think of the empty chocolate wrappers on the table once it has been presented as evidence. She does not consider the gun or the gunshot wound. My murderer will go free. Convictions are most often dependant upon cumulative evidence, that is, jurors need to consider all the different pieces of evidence.

Is this important in the search for truth in religious perspective? Yes. Sometimes people can get fixated on one piece of evidence. Consider, for example, how some people think that if the process of evolution is proven to be correct, then Christianity is proven to be wrong. Conversely, others think that if evolution is proven to be wrong, then Christianity is proven to be correct. Thinking back over the last two Sundays, did you notice something as we considered evidence for the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus? Evolution was never mentioned! Pinning your evidence for God on evolution is like fixating on the empty chocolate wrappers. It may be that by fixating on the evolution debate people are making the case for a method of interpretation of Genesis rather than for the reality of God. The case for God is a cumulative case, there is much more evidence to consider. You would not consider someone fit for jury duty if they will only consider one piece of evidence. You do not want to be that kind of person when it comes to investigating Jesus.

You will not consider someone a very good seeker of truth and able to serve on the jury if they think they must be an expert on everything before they can have an opinion on anything. In the case of my death, a jury may hear testimony from an expert on guns who presents evidence that the bullet found in me was found moments before in my neighbour’s gun. If a juror thought something like “I don’t know enough about guns and bullets to trust that  the expert is correct,” my murderer would go free. Jurors need not be experts in everything, and in fact, having access to all the evidence are in a better place to come to a conclusion than the experts.

Is this important in the search for truth in religious perspective? Yes. Some people simply shrug and say “I can never know enough about cosmology or philosophy or anyotherology to be able to figure out if God exists and Jesus is alive, so I won’t bother to find out.” This is not rocket science. You don’t need to be an expert on everything to know something, or better, Someone. You would not consider someone fit for jury duty if they think they must be an expert on everything before they can have an opinion on anything. You do not want to be that kind of person when it comes to investigating Jesus.

You will not consider someone a very good seeker of truth and able to serve on the jury if they think that every question must be answered. Suppose all the jurors are ready with a guilty verdict against my neighbour except one who says “I can not commit to a conviction because I still have an unanswered question. How much chocolate did Clarke actually eat the day of his death?” A question goes unanswered and a murderer goes free. Not every question needs to be answered in the search for truth and a conviction.

Is this important in the search for truth in religious perspective? Yes. We can get hung up on one or two questions while the weight of the evidence goes unnoticed. This happens especially with the problem of evil and the question of how a good God could allow evil to persist. There are ways of dealing with this question, but even if we have trouble answering the question, we still have the weight of the evidence for God and the resurrection of Jesus to consider. You would not consider someone fit for jury duty if they think every question must be answered. You do not want to be that kind of person when it comes to investigating Jesus.

You will not consider someone a very good seeker of truth and able to serve on the jury if they are fixated on finding proof beyond every possible doubt. Suppose all the jurors are ready to deliver a guilty verdict on my neighbour except one. He says “I can not commit to the guilty verdict. It is possible that aliens stole the chocolate and set up the neighbour as the murderer so they would remain undetected.” And a murderer goes free. Jurors are instructed to bring a conviction, not when it is beyond every possible doubt, but beyond a reasonable doubt.

Is this important in the search for truth in religious perspective? Yes. For some people, when it comes to God no amount of evidence will be enough evidence. They are looking for proof beyond every possible doubt. If being beyond a reasonable doubt is enough to send someone to jail for a long time, then it should be enough to draw conclusions with regards to religious perspective. You would not consider someone fit for jury duty if they are looking proof beyond every possible doubt. You do not want to be that kind of person when it comes to investigating Jesus.

You will not consider someone a very good seeker of truth and able to serve on the jury if they really, really, really want a certain outcome to be true. You would not want my neighbour’s wife to serve on the jury. She may care more about having her husband home than where the evidence leads. Or perhaps she will be bent on ensuring a conviction!

Is this important in the search for truth in religious perspective? Yes. Some people do not want Christianity to be true and so do not want to hear about the evidence. Consider the story Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man asks Abraham to warn his brothers of what awaits them after death:

Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ” Luke 16:29-31 (NRSV)

They will not listen because their minds are already made up. You would not consider someone fit for jury duty if they really want a certain outcome to be true. You do not want to be that kind of person when it comes to investigating Jesus.

Would you be considered for jury duty? Are you a genuine seeker of truth open to considering where all the evidence leads? If not you may miss out on a very important conviction. The conviction that God loves you.