Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Case for the Real Jesus

Lee Strobel has written a series of popular apologetic books following the same general format (interviews with experts), each with the title "the Case for...".

The next one looks like it will be worthwhile, as this one tackles topics that seem to pop up on a regular basis.

Here are the topics:
• Did the church suppress ancient non-biblical documents that paint a more accurate picture of Jesus than the four Gospels?
• Did the church distort the truth about Jesus by tampering with early New Testament texts?
• Do new insights and explanations finally disprove the resurrection?
• Have fresh arguments disqualified Jesus from being the Messiah?
• Did Christianity steal its core ideas from earlier mythology?

Obviously, the qualifications of the Messiah is of interest to readers of this blog. But the mythology question comes up a lot in Jewish apologetics. Not that the other don't. But the whole Mithras stuff is a common refrain.


Sunday, July 01, 2007

Examining the Testimony of Julius Ciss, Part 1

Julius' testimony is interesting in that he became a Messianic Jew before becoming an Orthodox Jew. I don't in any way want to say that his testimony is not genuine. Sometimes people understand everything just fine, but their heart is not full of faith. Too many people of all stripes say "if that person truly understood X they wouldn't have abandoned it." That's not always the case. That said, let's start looking at Julius Ciss' testimony.
It was at a Messianic "Rosh Hashana" service in the fall of 1976 that I formally committed myself to Christianity. At this service, the "Messianic rabbi" (as their pastors often call themselves) had preached a message of atonement, stressing the need for us to be forgiven for our sins through the blood of Jesus. I was overwhelmed by a sense that everything he preached was true. I was overcome by guilt for my sins. The opportunity to be forgiven these "sins" and to secure myself a place in heaven was irresistible. The pastor announced that refusing to atone carried with it as a consequence an eternity of burning in hell. I couldn't afford the risk of not "atoning". I decided to come forward and make my statement of faith: that I believed Jesus was the Messiah, and that he died as an eternal sacrifice for my sins.

It may become clearer as we look at more of his testimony, but I'm not sure how deep Mr. Ciss's understanding of his sin was. This may become clearer when we look at more of his testimony.

Notice how he uses "scare quotes" around the word "sins". What sins were Ciss convinced of but now he is not? Lying? Idolatry? Adultery?

I think Ciss may have been reacting to the need to believe in Jesus. The message very often gets formulated like this: don't believe in Jesus and you will go to hell; believe in Jesus and you will be saved and to heaven. The sin becomes merely not believing in Jesus. And while it is true that if you don't believe in Jesus you will go to hell, that sounds horribly arbitrary to people. It sounds like God is looking for a particular ticket.

What needs to give it proper context? The law of God. We sin in numerous ways beyond our faith or lack thereof. And I don't mean to minimize the importance of faith.

We need to be broken by the law of God.

Imagine you are on a ship. "Get on the lifeboat or you will be destroyed." If people think the ship is fine, they won't pay you any attention. If you convince them that the ship is sinking, your message will resonate with more people.

The gospel of John makes it clear that people who don't believe in Jesus are condemned already.

Our message makes more sense when we use the law of God. So I would have much rather have heard Julius Ciss said "I was convinced I was a liar, idolator, blasphemer, adulterer-at-heart, thief."

Now, if you do this, I don't think you guarantee any results. We are still dependent on the Holy Spirit to produce real results. But we will reduce the amount of false converts like Julius Ciss. And by "false", I mean faith which isn't produced by the Holy Spirit. Julius Ciss had genuine faith, but it wasn't Holy Spirit-produced faith.