Categories
philosophy

What is an evangelical – III

Belief that Jesus’ death and resurrection were historical facts, necessary for our new life

The 20th Century has seen an unparalleled interest in the truth claims of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Numerous academics, skeptics and religious challengers have been attempting to subvert the historical validity of the New Testament. The most recent scholarship has not only further confirmed the accuracy of the New Testament texts, but it has also uncovered additional documentation to support the existence of Jesus Christ in the first century.

Mark Allen Powell, in his book “Jesus as a Figure in History“, provides a great summary of the standard criteria used in religious studies research to comment on authenticity. Powell provides six criteria. They are:

  1. Multiple Attestation – are the same ideas found in multiple sources?
  2. Dissimilarity – an idea is more likely to be authentic if it is different from the typical perspectives of the period in question. In this case, perspectives that differed from typical Judaic thought would be considered more likely to come from Jesus.
  3. Memorable Form – memorable phrases, stories or sayings would be more likely to be authentic. It is assumed that stories pertaining to Jesus were first transmitted in oral form, it is more likely that proverbs, beatitudes and stories in memorable forms would be more likely to be accurately remembered, shared and passed on.
  4. Language and Environment – Does the language and environment fit the historical period in question? If so, this supports the authenticity of the claim.
  5. Explanation – Does the story or quote in question further support the claims made about the person, place or thing in question.
  6. Coherence – Does the story under scrutiny fit with the rest of the factual information known about the topic at hand? If so, this lends additional credence to the argument in question.

There is plenty of writing out there to support all six of these categories. There are multiple sources that point to the validity of the Jesus of history, both before and after his resurrection. There are numerous sources that date back to the same century as Christ’s life. And, these sources come from numerous different perspectives. This multiple attestation shows the abundance of early documentation in support of the claim that Jesus is the Messiah. The criteria of dissimilarity fits, as Jesus’ message definitely went against the grain of the Jewish leaders of the day. We need look no further than the Sermon on the Mount to see the criteria of memorable form at play. The language, environment and explanations for the stories of Jesus all seem to fit together quite well. And, there is a coherence to the stories of Jesus that suggests a valid historical foundation as well.

Obviously, one cannot be absolutely certain of anything, regardless of the proof provided. In today’s day and age with all of the technical wizardry available, we cannot even be certain that what we see in the news is even true. But, based on the documentation available and the adherence to the six criteria listed above, we have a very strong upon which to lay our belief in the historical facts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Next, we’ll tackle the concept of “commitment to prayer, discipleship, and faithful service to wider humanity“.

Until then, I urge you to read further on this interesting topic. There is a great deal of research pertaining to the historical Jesus.

In Him,

Todd Dow

Categories
philosophy

What is an evangelical – II

Affirmation that, suddenly or gradually, individuals are transformed (“reborn”) into believers

I have my black belt in the martial arts. I have also earned my undergrad at the University of Toronto. Many others have followed similar paths. As pretty much everyone will attest to, you don’t become a black belt or a university graduate just by waking up one morning. The journey to accomplishing these goals are long and arduous. They require commitment and hard work. Knowledge is required in order to obtain these goals.

Christians feel a similar sense of growth in their acceptance of Jesus as Christ. For most, it is a journey of faith that requires knowledge. Individuals make an informed decision to commit their lives to Jesus and for some, this is a long process, similar to completing a series of courses. For others, it is almost instantaneous. Regardless of the length of time required or the amount of work dedicated to this transformation, there is a sense of rebirth that occurs in this conversion.

I hadn’t thought about reconsidering my relationship with God until a casual conversation with a good friend of mine at a wedding a few years back. My rebirth occurred over a number of discussions with this friend. I had always believed in God, but my walk with Christ had been neglected for quite a long time. I had many questions to ask before I could get back on track with God. I knew that I had lived a life outside of Christ for quite some time and I yearned to rebuild that relationship but I didn’t know if God would accept me. My learning consisted of understanding what God expected from me and how he would forgive me for my sins. Although I knew that God was forgiving, I was skeptical about how forgiving he could be. With the help of a few close friends and family, I was comforted in the love of the Lord and his unconditional acceptance of me into his kingdom.

My walk was both sudden and gradual. I knew immediately that I wanted Jesus in my life and that I believed in him. But it was a gradual process in bringing me closer to him. This is a process that never ends… Every day I still find myself growing closer and closer to God. For me, at least, this is not simply a one time event that leads to a conversion that never has to be revisited again. I find myself constantly yearning for a higher understanding of my faith and for the God that I live for.

The rebirth that Christians experience is an inner event. It happens within the individual. Nobody can make you reborn. Well… nobody except God. But even then, it is left up to the individual believer to accept Jesus as our personal saviour. Like a parent that wants to love their child, it is only when the child freely accepts that love that the love can be shared between the parent and the child.

After one’s private affirmation of faith, a public declaration normally follows. This public declaration is known as baptism. In baptism, water is used as a a sign of a believer’s cleansing from sin. This symbolic event can take many forms including a mere sprinkling of water in a church setting to complete dunking of the participant in a river or some other body of water. This public affirmation of faith is important as it announces one’s wish to participate as a Christian in the church community.

Consider Jesus’ teaching to Nicodemus in John 3:1-5:
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.”
“How can anyone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.
(John 3:1-5, TNIV)

It is important for each of us to recognize this yearning to live our lives in direct relationship with God and to heed this call to become born in God’s presence. Don’t hesitate. If you want to know God better and to live life in his presence, take the time today to take this walk of commitment in faith with God. It might take seconds to feel comfortable in God’s presence, or it may take years to grasp the many difficult questions that come from knowing Christ in your life. Either way, embrace the commitment to get to know God better and to learn what life spent in Christ is all about.

Next time, we’ll discuss a topic that is especially exciting for me. We’ll discuss Jesus’ death and resurrection as historical facts.

Until that time, I encourage you to continue your walk with God.

In him,

Todd Dow

Categories
philosophy

What is an evangelical – I

Acceptance of the authority of Scripture over all other documents and traditions

Have you ever had someone challenge your faith by asking if you really believe what it says in the Bible? In today’s post, I will provide my response to this question. I must preface this article by saying that this is a difficult topic and I can only pray that I will do this posting justice. Many great theologians throughout history have provided their input on this topic. I do not hold a candle to many of the greats. Thus, I will standing on the shoulders of giants in my meagre attempt to do this topic justice.

According to the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective:
4. We believe that all Scripture is inspired by God through the Holy Spirit for instruction in salvation and training in righteousness. We accept the Scriptures as the Word of God and as the fully reliable and trustworthy standard for Christian faith and life. Led by the Holy Spirit in the church, we interpret Scripture in harmony with Jesus Christ.

Most other Christians follow a similar doctrine. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association stresses the importance of scripture as the infallible word of God as the first and foremost belief in their statement of faith: The BGEA believes: “The Bible to be the infallible Word of God, that it is His holy and inspired Word, and that it is of supreme and final authority.”

I could go on, listing many other Christian organizations that stress the infallibility of scripture. As we can see, this is considered one of the core beliefs of Christianity.

But why? What is it about scripture that makes it so important. There are many reasons, including:

  • The Bible outlines God’s commands to us.
  • The Bible contains the history of humanity from the beginning of creation.
  • The Bible displays God’s power.
  • The Bible shows Jesus’ ministry and his message of hope and salvation.
  • The Bible contains God’s direction on how to live.
  • It is filled with birth, death and rebirth.
  • It is filled with miracles both great and small.

The Bible is quite fascinating… The Bible has provided comfort and guidance to Christians for hundreds of years. It contains guidance for both the layman and the minister. It contains messages that are layered with meaning. Consider Jesus’ numerous parables and the duplicate messages contained in his messages.

Leading scholars have debated the truth claims of the Bible for years. Scholarly research continues to validate the historical accuracy of the Bible. And, for those passages that are troublesome to the rational mind, metaphorical interpretation is acceptable.

The spectacular thing about the Christian scripture is that it captures the good news of our Messiah, Jesus Christ, in great detail. Religious studies scholars weigh source documents using a concept called multiple attestation. In a nutshell, this concept holds that the more original source documents provide the same facts, the more historically accurate the story in question is held to be. Thus, a source document that has no other “attestations” or collaborating documents, would not be considered very strong. In the case of Christianity, we have four original gospels, or accounts, of Jesus Christ and his ministry. Further, there are scores of additional source documents that also speak of Jesus as our Messiah. This large number of original texts suggests that there is strong compelling evidence to support the truth claims of the New Testament. I therefore hold that the burden of proof is on the skeptic to show me that my beliefs are not valid. I have yet to find anyone that can shake my firm belief in the historical accuracy of the good news of the New Testament.

Now, why would I take this scripture to be the ultimate authority? Well… The Old Testament is filled with numerous commands from God. Further, Jesus’ directions in the New Testament are equally important. As a follower of Jesus, it is my duty to follow his direction. Therefore, the scriptures that contain these directions are considered the authority over all other documents and traditions.

That being said, many would ask me if it appropriate for me to follow the law as laid out in Leviticus. According to this book, numerous offenses demand punishment by death. Jesus alleviates us of these severe punishments by forgiving us for our sins. The New Testament provides us with a more humane way of dealing with our human failings. Thus, I defend this book against those that would criticize it as backwards or inhumane.

The heart of the Bible is the message of Christ’s salvation and our direction to love God and our neighbour. To lose sight of this clear message is to get stuck in the weeds. Legalistic interpretations and arguments do nothing to enhance the community-building gifts that Jesus gives us. We must not lose sight of the fact that Christianity is God’s Way and it is the way of peace, tolerance, harmony and love. Missing this point means to miss the true meaning of living in spiritual bliss with our creator.

I urge you to look to scripture with an open mind, looking for the positive influence that it can bring to your life. Learn from its historical failures. Learn from the numerous wisdom texts contained within. And most of all, absorb the life-changing influence of Jesus’ message of love and peace.

So here we are… Acceptance of the authority of Scripture over all other documents and traditions.
Now that we have laid this foundation, I urge you to reacquaint yourself with scripture. Whether this is a continuation of a bible reading from earlier today or your first time looking through the good book in quite some time, there’s no time like the present to remind yourself of the power of God’s word.

‘Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom’ (Psalm 90:12, KJV)

Next, we’ll tackle the concept of “rebirth” that is so important to Christians.

Until next time, may God bless you and keep you safe.

Todd Dow

Categories
philosophy

What is an evangelical – Introduction

I’m going to spend the next few posts defining what I think it means to be an evangelical Christian. I believe that this is a valuable exercise, as it allows me to outline where I’m coming from and to give us a level playing field. I regularly experience articles in the media, where they refer to different religious groups, but they don’t really explain what they mean by the terms they use. So… to avoid any sense of confusion that may arise on this blog, I’m going to take the opportunity to fill you in on where I’m coming from.

My definition might be slightly different from definitions used by others, but I will do my best to draw in other reference points where it makes sense to add credence to my arguments and to help clarify my explanations.

So, where am I coming from? Well… I am a Mennonite Evangelical Christian. Those three words all carry a great deal of meaning. There are stereotypes involved in each of them. I’ll use the next four posts to explain my take on the word “evangelical”.

I recently came across an interesting article that outlines what it means to be an Evangelical Christian. Many in the media have portrayed Evangelicals in a negative light. Fortunately, Evangelical is not a bad word. In fact, I’m happy to be an Evangelical. As Michael Davenport, the author of the article in question, points out, Evangelicals approach their faith in a manner that allows them to “participate creatively in modern society”. To Davenport, Evangelicals are reaching out to their peers, trying to share the good news of Jesus. In addition to the good news of Jesus’ death, which offers us salvation for our sins, this good news also outlines a way of life that benefits all of mankind. Just think of how much better the world would be if we all adopted the advice that Jesus gives us concerning how to live our lives. The world would be a much better place indeed if we followed his greatest commandment:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” – Matthew 22:37-39

Evangelical is a word to describe an approach to faith, as opposed to describing a specific denomination. Davenport identifies four key features to the Evangelical approach. They are:

  • acceptance of the authority of Scripture over all other documents and traditions;
  • affirmation that, suddenly or gradually, individuals are transformed (”reborn”) into believers;
  • belief that Jesus’ death and resurrection were historical facts, necessary for our new life; and
  • commitment to prayer, discipleship, and faithful service to wider humanity.

Over the next few posts, I’m going to work through these four features. What do these features really mean to me? How do they influence my behaviour? What do they tell me about how I should be living? Most importantly, will embracing these four features bring me closer to God? I’m going to hazard a guess and say you betcha!

Read on and let me know if you agree or disagree with what I’ve got to say.

In Him,

Todd Dow