Yesterday in comments Jeanette said my beliefs were “stark raving barking bonkers.” I’m here today to admit that that’s a good description of how I responded to her in comments over the past two days. I was committing the classic, contemptible apologist’s error of taking down her logic all day long — including personal aspersions on her character — without expressing the goodness and the beauty and glory of following Jesus Christ. Jeanette, I apologize for that. It wasn’t just crazy, it was really unkind of me to do it.
We may still disagree on whether my beliefs are bonkers, but I want to talk about why my actions were.
Starting in the Wrong Place Means Going the Wrong Direction
It was clear that Jeanette didn’t know what Christians believe about God. The better place to begin would have been with Christ, not with the logical argument I mistakenly took up. The logic was fine, except it started in all the wrong places and therefore went all the wrong directions.
God’s Extraordinary Revelation in Jesus Christ
Anyway, yes, I know, as Jeanette also said in that comment thread, that there’s something exceedingly strange about the idea that one man who walked the earth 2,000 years ago wearing a robe was God’s best self-revelation of all time, and that he makes all the difference to everyone who lives on our 21st century planet today. It would take an exceedingly extraordinary man to be able to bear that weight. Jesus is that extraordinary.
In his life showed himself to be the most complete and perfect manifestation of other-centered, self-sacrificial love the world has seen. Even if you believe his story is fictional, you’ll find that it’s still the most complete and perfect story of other-centered, self-sacrificial love the world has seen, including all the world’s fiction and myth. He never used his extraordinary power for his own benefit, which is true of no other person or fictional character. Part of the reason I’m convinced his story is true is because if it weren’t, then there would be no explaining how the people of the time invented it.
He lived, he demonstrated love like no one else, then he died — and rose again. For this there is also good historical support. Every academically credible historian studying that era agrees to a definite list of basic facts:
- Jesus lived and taught.
- He died on a Roman cross.
- His tomb was found empty and his body never found, even though all the authorities had high motivation to find it.*
- His disciples believed they saw him resurrected following his death.
- Saul, a bitter opponent of the disciples, converted to Christianity after an experience he described as meeting the risen Christ.
- Several of the early disciples gave their lives for their conviction that they had known and seen the risen Christ.
- A movement was founded as a result of all this that continues to grow today.
- The earliest moments of that movement were recorded (the book of Acts) by an historian with a detailed contemporary knowledge of the world in which those events took place — too detailed, and too accurate, to have been made up by someone even a few decades later.
*Number 3 is not universally agreed upon: some historians are less willing to say there’s strong historical evidence for the empty tomb.
Other than that, this list is agreed upon by all credible historians, including atheists and skeptics. The tiny handful who say Jesus was a myth are considered cranks, and for good reason: these facts are solidly established in history.
Many explanations have been offered for these several facts, but it seems clear to me at least that, unless you come in with a question-begging prejudice against the supernatural, the most reasonable one is that the accounts are true.
Looking to Jesus
So what I should have said in that comment exchange was to start out by looking at Jesus. I’m sure Jeanette would have said she doesn’t believe in him, doesn’t believe the stories, maybe doesn’t believe he even existed. My view is that he’s worth looking at anyway: he really did exist, first of all, and he’s the single most influential individual in all history. His story is unique for its uninterrupted selfless love. It’s worth reading.
And that would have been a much better way to begin and to follow through on that discussion with Jeanette — or with anyone who doesn’t know the basic facts of the great man and God we Christians believe in and follow.