"I do not advise that we end the year on a somber note. The march, not the dirge, has ever been the music of Christianity. If we are good students in the school of life, there is much that the years have to teach us. But the Christian is more than a student, more than a philosopher. He is a believer, and the object of his faith makes the difference, the mighty difference. Of all persons the Christian should be best prepared for whatever the New Year brings. He has dealt with life at its source. In Christ he has disposed of a thousand enemies that other men must face alone and unprepared. He can face his tomorrow cheerful and unafraid because yesterday he turned his feet into the ways of peace and today he lives in God. The man who has made God his dwelling place will always have a safe habitation."1
Around this time of year, it is very common to hear the oft-repeated claim that Christmas is a pagan holiday and that Christians ought not celebrate it. Below, I have assembled resources that address some of the common concerns both Christian and non-Christians have around this time of year.
You can find answers to other common questions here.
As for me, in regard to Christians and Christmas, I believe what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 14:5- "One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind" (ESV).
"I can’t think of anything more pleasing to Christ than the church celebrating His birthday every year. Keep in mind that the whole principle of annual festival and celebration is deeply rooted in ancient Jewish tradition. In the Old Testament, for example, there were times when God emphatically commanded the people to remember certain events with annual celebrations. While the New Testament doesn’t require that we celebrate Christmas every year, I certainly see nothing wrong with the church’s entering into this joyous time of celebrating the Incarnation, which is the dividing point of all human history. Originally, it was intended to honor, not Mithras or any of the other mystery religion cults, but the birth of our King."1
Does Christmas have pagan origins or not? Today's post features 3 short and concise articles by apologist and speaker Lenny Esposito that consider this question historically and with up-to-date scholarship.
"The claim that the roots of Christmas are pagan is one I hear over and over again, especially in December. The idea isn't even new. The New England Puritans, who valued work more than celebration, taught such. Puritan preacher Increase Mather preached that "the early Christians who first observed the Nativity on December 25 did not do so thinking that 'Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian.'
When one digs into the actual history however, a much different picture arises. There are two ways to approach the question: one is to see how December 25 became associated with the Nativity, which is how the early church would have referred to the day of Christ's birth. The other one is to look at the celebrations of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus. Either approach shows the dubious nature of the claim that Christmas has pagan roots."
The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus includes 12 facts
agreed upon by scholars, both liberal and conservative. A reasonable approach
is to evaluate those 12 known facts against 13 theories about what happened to
determine each theory’s explanatory power (which of the 12 facts it doesn’t
account for). The only 2 theories that account for all 12 known facts are:
Jesus was an alien
Jesus was bodily resurrected
are the 12 facts (gotten from a presentation by Dr. Craig Hazen):
1.Jesus died by crucifixion [*** core
2.He was buried
3.Jesus’ death caused the disciples to
despair and lose hope, believing that his life was ended
4.The tomb was discovered to be empty
just a few days later
5.The disciples had experiences which
they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus [*** core fact #3]
6.The disciples were transformed from
doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers
of his death and resurrection [*** core fact #1]
7.This message was the center of
preaching in the early church
8.This message was especially
proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and was buried shortly before
9.As a result of this preaching the
church was born and grew
10.Sunday became the primary day of worship
11.James, who had been a skeptic, was converted to the faith
when he also believed he saw the resurrected Jesus
12.A few years later, Paul was also converted by an experience
which he, likewise, believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus [***core
is a chart of 13 theories that attempt to explain the facts (again, credit is
given here to Craig Hazen for this excellent chart):
Peter J. Williams (PhD, University of Cambridge) is the principal of Tyndale House and the consulting editor and coordinator of this project. He is also chair of the International Greek New Testament Project, which is producing the largest scholarly edition ever attempted of a single book of the New Testament, namely the Editio Critica Maior of John's Gospel. He is the author of Early Syriac Translation Technique and the Textual Criticism of the Greek Gospels.
About the Book
The Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—tell the story of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ while he was on earth. But how do Christians know if they are true? What evidence is there that the events actually happened? This accessible introduction to the historical and theological reliability of the four Gospels, written by New Testament scholar Peter J. Williams, presents evidence from a variety of non-Christian sources, assesses how accurately the 4 accounts reflect the cultural context of their time, compares different accounts of crucial events, and considers how these texts were handed down throughout the centuries. Written for the skeptic, the scholar, and everyone in between, this book answers common objections raised against the historicity of the Gospels in order to foster trust in God's Word.
“The wild and unscholarly yet widely accepted assertion by Richard Dawkins that the only difference between The Da Vinci Code and the Gospels is that the Gospels are ancient fiction while The Da Vinci Code is modern fiction deserves a measured and scholarly response. There is no one better qualified than Peter Williams to provide it, and this book is a masterly presentation of a compelling cumulative case that ‘all of history hangs on Jesus.’”
- John C. Lennox, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, University of Oxford
“This much-needed book provides a mine of information for Christians wanting to know more about the historical background to the Gospels and offers a series of challenges to those skeptical of what we can know about Jesus. Peter Williams has distilled a mass of information and thought into this short and accessible book, and it deserves careful reading both inside and outside the church.”
- Simon Gathercole, Reader in New Testament Studies, University of Cambridge
On October 24, 2018, John Dominic Crossan and Mike Licona dialogue on the question "Who was the historical Jesus?" The questions both were asked to address specifically were "What can be verified about Jesus" and "How can they be verified?"
This public dialogue took place at Kennesaw State University in the Atlanta-Metro area. After each had delivered their 15-minute opening statements, they dialogued on 4 questions: Can historians investigate miracle claims? Do the Gospels contain eyewitness testimony? Who did Jesus think he was? Did Jesus rise from the dead?1
There are numerous atheists that I greatly respect as thinkers. However, I openly confess that Richard Dawkins is not one of those thinkers. While he certainly is a gifted writer when it comes to matters of science, he has repeatedly demonstrated that he is woefully ill-equipped when it comes to dealing with issues related to philosophy and metaphysics. So imagine my surprise, and disappointment, when I recently read that Dawkins is planning on releasing a children's book titled Atheism for Children. According to Dawkins, the book, "will be unflinching, not a storybook. Children won't beg parents to buy it for Christmas." His goal is to "arm them against indoctrination by schools, grandparents and religious books – and against taunting by religious schoolmates. Help them think on evidence..."
I certainly have no problem with someone encouraging children to "think on evidence," but I am quite skeptical that Dawkins is the best man for the job. Indeed, I am not sure that he is the best candidate to be teaching children much of anything. So, before you run out and buy Dawkins' forthcoming children's book, you might want to become a bit more familiar with the man himself. So, here are 7 things you should know about Richard Dawkins before you allow him to teach your children about his atheism (or anything else).
1. His book The God Delusion has been harshly criticized by both atheists and theists for being shallow and ignorant. Atheist and philosopher of biology Michael Ruse writes:
"Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion would fail any introductory philosophy or religion course. Proudly he criticizes that whereof he knows nothing...I am indignant at the poor quality of the argumentation..."1 He concludes, "I have written elsewhere that The God Delusion makes me ashamed to be an atheist. Let me say that again."2
"Now despite the fact that this book is mainly philosophy, Dawkins is not a philosopher (he's a biologist). Even taking this into account, however, much of the philosophy he purveys is at best jejune. You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class."3
2. Dawkins has been openly criticized by fellow Oxford don and atheist philosopher, Daniel Came, for refusing to debate philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig, despite being given opportunities to do so. Came wrote the following to Dawkins in regard to his refusal to debate Craig:
"...the absence of a debate with the foremost apologist for Christian theism is a glaring omission on your CV and is of course apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part. I notice that, by contrast, you are happy to discuss theological matters with television and radio presenters and other intellectual heavyweights like Pastor Ted Haggard of the National Association of Evangelicals and Pastor Keenan Roberts of the Colorado Hell House."4
I trust readers can pick up on Came's sarcasm! Dawkins seems anxious to debate intellectual "lightweights," but seems to go out of his way to debate genuine intellectual "heavyweights" like William Lane Craig and Stephen Meyer. To be fair, the one notable exception is Dr. John Lennox.
3. William Lane Craig believes that Dawkins' "central argument" in The God Delusion should win the prize of "the worst atheistic argument in the history of Western thought."In Contending with Christianity Critics he writes:
"Several years ago my atheist colleague Quentin Smith unceremoniously crowned Stephen Hawking’s argument against God in A Brief History of Time as 'the worst atheistic argument in the history of Western thought.' With the advent of The God Delusion the time has come to relieve Hawking of this weighty crown and to recognize Richard Dawkins’s accession to the throne."5
4. Richard Dawkins believes that to carry a baby to term that has Down syndrome is "immoral" and to abort the child is the"civilized" and "sensible" choice.6 So, I suppose if you have a child with Down syndrome, you might want to think twice about buying them Richard's book!
5. Richard Dawkins has no moral objection to infanticide. Yes, you read that correctly. See below:
6. Dawkins believes that "mild pedophilia" or "touching up" causes no lasting harm and shouldn't be judged as harshly as rape or other crimes.7
7. According to Dawkins, rape isn't really wrong, and if you believe it is, that is simply your arbitrary opinion. Nothing more! This was evident in an interview he participated in with radio host Justin Brierley. It was as follows:
Brierley:When you make a value judgement, don't you immediately step yourself outside of this evolutionary process and say that the reason this is good is that it's good? And you don't have any way to stand on that statement.
Dawkins:My value judgement itself could come from my evolutionary past.
Brierley: So therefore it's just as random in a sense as any product of evolution.
Dawkins:You could say that...Nothing about it makes it more probable that there is anything supernatural.
Brierley: Ultimately, your belief that rape is wrong is as arbitrary as the fact that we've evolved five fingers rather than six.
Dawkins:You could say that, yeah.8
Dawkins' book The God Delusion, while popular with layman, has been harshly criticized by philosophers on both sides of the God debate. Moreover, Dawkins has dodged the Christian faith's foremost debater and some have argued that this is due to cowardice. Finally, it is my opinion that Dawkins' own views on issues related to Down syndrome children, infanticide, "mild pedophilia" and rape make him unfit to educate children about anything.
We live in a post-truth society—that’s what The Economist claimed at the close of 2016 when Oxford English Dictionary chose “post-truth” as its Word of the Year. Go back a bit further, and having eleven percent of America believe that you are “honest and trustworthy” was good enough to have a nine percent lead in the race to be the next President of the United States. But of course, even the polls were post-true.
We are very confused about the truth: There’s the truth, and then there’s the naked truth. There’s the truth, and then there’s the gospel truth (though the gospel is taken to be obviously false). There’s the honest truth, and then there’s the God’s honest truth (but that has nothing to do with God).
We stretch the truth and bend the truth and twist the truth. We bury the truth because the truth hurts. When we want something to be false, we knock on wood. When we want something to be true, we cross our fingers. Which wooden cross are we trusting in?
Why do we have such a confused relationship with the truth? Fear. We’re afraid of truth. Truth has so often been abused that experience has taught us the trajectory of truth—the trajectory of believing you are right and others are wrong—is from truth to disagreement to devaluing to intolerance to extremism to violence to terrorism.
And if that is the trajectory, then those committed to truth are in fact terrorists in the making. If that is the trajectory, then truth is an act of war, and an act of war leaves you with only two options: fight or flee.
Most of Western society is fleeing. Everything around us is structured to avoid disagreement about the truth: We spend most of our time on Facebook and Twitter where we can “like” and “retweet” but there is no option to “dislike.” Sports no longer teach us how to disagree. In professional sports, we replay every call to avoid disagreement. In youth sports, we don’t keep score and everyone gets a trophy.
When it comes to dating, we use online sites that “match” us with someone so similar in beliefs, background, and personality that as much disagreement as possible is avoided. We no longer meet people different from us at coffee shops because we go to drive-thru Starbucks. We no longer meet people while shopping because everything we could ever need or want is delivered to our door. Culturally, everything around us is set up to avoid disagreement.
The alternative to fleeing is fighting. I was walking around Oxford University a few months ago, and two guys walking just ahead of me were having a spirited conversation about how crazy they found certain Christian positions on ethical issues. One of them wondered out loud whether the only solution would be to shame Christians out of their positions.
His friend quickly responded, “Yeah, that’s what we should do! We should ridicule them mercilessly in the most insensitive ways we can think of.” That’s an exact quote. Then they both made a right turn and swiped their faculty cards to enter the University of Oxford Theoretical Physics building.
These were probably scholars at Oxford, a place that prides itself on intellectual freedom and the exchange of ideas, and “merciless, insensitive ridicule” was the best they could come up with for resolving disagreement. I found myself wondering how many beliefs they hold in theoretical physics will one day be considered ridiculous.
How does one get to this point? How does someone get to the point where merciless ridicule seems like the best way forward?
I think it’s because we have come to see truth as more important than love. If truth is greater than love, then you fight—then the end goal of truth justifies whatever means necessary, whether the means of haughty academics or the means of ISIS. If truth is greater than love, then love is a temptation—a distraction threatening to avert our attention from what is truly important. If truth is greater than love, then those who disagree with us are enemies, and warmth toward our enemies must be extinguished in favor of the cold, hard facts.
The alternative is that love is greater than truth. Then you flee. You flee from the dangers of truth and adopt a pluralism that assures us “All truths are equally valid.” Does that include the claim that all truth claims are not equally valid? One college student recently told my colleague Abdu Murray that he doesn’t believe it is his place to disagree with anyone.
Abdu said, “Sure you do.”
The student said, “No I don’t.”
Abdu said, “You just did.”
Philosophically, that’s how quickly pluralism runs into incoherence. But if truth starts you down a path that ends in extremism, violence, and terrorism, then philosophical incoherence might seem like a price worth paying.
Either truth is greater than love or love is greater than truth. Fight or flee. This is the cultural ultimatum we are living in. What’s your choice?
Maybe there’s another way. Jesus disagreed with us. His very coming was an act of disagreement with us—a statement that we require saving because our lives have disagreed so badly with what God intended for us.
But Jesus’s loving sacrifice for us was the very content of his disagreement; it was his very statement that we are sinners in need of a savior. God cut the link between disagreement and devaluing by making his communication of truth one and the same as his communication of love.
Not “Truth is greater than love.” Not “Love is greater than truth.” “God islove” (1 John 4:8), and God is truth (John 14:6). And therefore, love is truth.
Only in Jesus does truth equal love, and therefore only Jesus can get us out of the cultural ultimatum we are stuck in: fight or flee. Every other worldview makes a choice between love and truth. Jesus refused to, because in him, and only in him, love and truth are one and the same.
So the next time we have a choice between love and truth, let’s refuse to choose. Instead, let’s remember when the Truth—Jesus himself—was stretched. Let’s remember when the Truth was twisted and bent, when the Truth was naked. Let’s remember when the Truth hurt, and when the Truth was buried—and ultimately triumphed.
Let us remember which wooden cross we are trusting in. And let us remember that love that is not truth is not love, and truth that is not love is not truth.
On a surface level, this certainly seems to be true. However, upon closer examination, we learn that while most religions have a similar moral code1, they actually disagree on almost every major issue including the nature of God, the nature of man, sin, salvation, heaven, hell and creation!
Author and apologist Frank Turek explains the significance of these facts:
"Think about it: the nature of God, the nature of man, sin, salvation, heaven, hell and creation. Those are the biggies! Here are a few of those big differences:
Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe in different versions of a theistic God, while most Hindus and New Agers believe that everything that exists is part of an impersonal, pantheistic force they call God.
Many Hindus believe that evil is a complete illusion, while Christians, Muslims, and Jews believe that evil is real.
Christians believe that people are saved by grace while all other religions, if they believe in salvation at all, teach some kind of salvation by good works (the definition of 'good' and what one is saved from varies greatly)."2
"You could also summarize by saying that although religions appear to say similar things horizontally (love your neighbor, etc), they are saying radically different things vertically (in relation to God, etc)."3
So, while this claim may be popular, it is clearly untenable.
Footnotes: 1. For the Christian, this is just what we would expect to find when one considers the Christian conviction that God has implanted right and wrong on our consciences. Consider the words of Paul in Romans 2:12-16. 2. Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, p. 46. 3. This quote originated on FB and was used with Pastor Clemente's permission.
John Lennox is Professor of Mathematics (emeritus) at the University of Oxford and Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College, Oxford. He is also an Associate Fellow of the Said Business School, Oxford University, and teaches for the Oxford Strategic Leadership Programme. In addition, he is an Adjunct Lecturer at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, and at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, as well as being a Senior Fellow of the Trinity Forum.
In this featured talk, Lennox discusses the critical questions surrounding artificial intelligence and how the future of artificial intelligence bears on a Christian vision of reality.
"The nature of the assumptions of science do not prove the existence of a God very much like the God of the Bible, but in my view, they provide reasons for preferring theism over scientistic naturalism. The assumptions are at home in a theistic worldview; they fit quite naturally. If God is himself a rational being, then it stands to reason that he would create a rational, orderly universe. If he created us, then it naturally follows that he would give us the proper faculties to know and appreciate the inner workings of his world by 'thinking his thoughts after him.' The existence of objective values makes far more sense if there is an objective Lawgiver than if there is not.
If we begin with 'In the beginning, there was the Logos," then we have reasonable explanations for these assumptions. But if we begin with 'In the beginning were the particles (or plasma, strings, etc.)," it is hard to see how these assumptions could have obtained...certain naturalistic commitments-e.g, naturalistic evolutionary theory-actually undermine crucial assumptions of science such as the trustworthiness of our faculties for obtaining truth about the world's deep structure."1
When discussing God and time it is useful to understand the difference between the A-Theory of time and the B-Theory of time.
The A-Theory of time is the most widely accepted of the two and for good reason. As philosopher William Lane Craig explains:
"According to A-Theory, things/events in time are not all equally real: the future does not yet exist and the past no longer exists; only things which are present are real. Temporal becoming is an objective feature of reality: things come into being and go out of being."  This is the commonsense view of time. Past events are no longer, the present is real, and the future does not yet exist.
In contrast, as Craig explains, on the B-theory of time, "...all events in time are equally real, and temporal becoming is an illusion of human consciousness. Pastness, presentness, and futurity are at most relative notions: for example, relative to the persons living in the year 2050 the people and events of 2000 are past, but relative to the persons living in 1950 the people and events of 2000 are future. Things and events in time are objectively ordered by the relations earlier than, simultaneous with, and later than, which are tenseless relations that are unchanging and hold regardless of whether the related events are past, present, or future relative to some observer."  On the B-Theory of time you can think of all events, past, present and future, as represented on a yard stick. We are right now somewhere on the yard stick, but all the events represented by the yard stick are equally real.
For those interested in learning more, I recommend this short video in which Dr. Craig explains the A-Theory of time and B-Theory of time and how it relates to the Kalam cosmological argument for God's existence.
Which theory of time do you hold to? Please share in the comments!
Courage and Godspeed, Chad
Footnotes: 1. William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith 3rd. Ed., p. 121. 2. Ibid., p. 121. Related Posts