Atlanta, Georgia

Last week, I was in Atlanta, Georgia, for meetings. Every meeting was within the same hotel or walking distance from the hotel, so my experience was rather narrow. Yet, in travels, that's been consistent. One may not know the depth of the experience, until arrival. Honestly, depth also comes from ordinary places and ordinary moments. 

While at dinner one night, the southern fried chicken, gravy, and fixings was outstanding, but I was struck more with Richard, our waiter. He not only was exceptional in his service, he took time to connect with us and in doing so, earned himself a substantial tip (ok, it helped that a successful international attorney was in our dinner party). Richard loves people or fakes it as well as anyone I've seen. More than this: Richard serves people in a way that invites us all to consider our service.

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4 Reasons We Should Accept the Gospels As Eyewitness Accounts

In the movie, God’s Not Dead 2, I was asked to defend the historicity of Jesus and the eyewitness reliability of the Gospels. Many skeptics reject the eyewitness authority of the Gospel accounts, even though the early Church selected and embraced the canonical Gospels based primarily on the eyewitness authority of their authors. Some critics even argue the Gospels were never intended to be seen as eyewitness testimony, in spite of the fact the earliest students of the apostles (and first Church leaders) repeated the content of the Gospels in their own letters, affirming the eyewitness status of their authors. As a cold-case detective who examines eyewitness accounts every day, I investigated the accounts in my book, Cold-Case Christianity; A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. My investigation led me to conclude the New Testament gospels should be considered eyewitness accounts for four reasons:

1. Eyewitness Authority Was Affirmed By the Gospel Authors
The authors of the Gospels proclaimed their authority as eyewitnesses (or as chroniclers of the eyewitnesses), and the earliest believers embraced the traditional authorship of the eyewitnesses. The Gospel authors (and their sources) repeatedly identified themselves as eyewitnesses:

2 Peter 1:16-17
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

John 21:24-25
This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.

Luke 1:1-4
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

2. Eyewitness Authority Was Confirmed By the First Believers
The early believers and Church Fathers accepted the Gospel accounts as eyewitness documents. Papias, when describing the authorship of the Gospel of Mark, for example, said, “Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ.” In addition, Papias, Ireneaus, Origen and Jerome affirmed the authorship of Matthew’s Gospel by the tax collector described in the account, written for the Hebrews in his native dialect.

3. Eyewitness Authority Was Foundational to the Growth of the Church
The eyewitness authority of the Apostles was key to the expansion of the early Church. The apostles were unified in the manner in which they proclaimed Christ. They repeatedly identified themselves, first and foremost, as eyewitnesses:

Acts 2:23-24, 32
“This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him… God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.”

4. Eyewitness Authority Was Used to Validate New Testament Writings
Even Paul understood the importance of eyewitness authority. He continually referred to his own encounter with Jesus to establish the authenticity of his office and writings. Paul also directed his readers to other eyewitnesses who could corroborate his claims:

1 Corinthians 15:3-8
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

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3 Reasons Why the Historicity of Jesus Matters

In God’s Not Dead 2, high school student, Brooke Thawley, having just experienced the death of her brother, asks her teacher, Grace Wesley, how she might deal with the heartbreak and sadness she is experiencing. Grace responds by citing the source of her own strength in similar situations: Jesus. Later in the movie, Brooke asks a question about Jesus in the classroom. Grace responds and sets off a series of events that ultimately lead to a law suit against her. Can Christian teachers (or students, for that matter) make these kinds of statements? The movie echoes other true-life cases in which the name of Jesus is held in low regard in the public school setting. In 2013, for example, 10-year-old Erin Shead was attending Lucy Elementary School in Memphis Tennessee. Her teacher assigned a simple project: write about someone you idolize. Erin chose God. “I look up to God,” she wrote. “I love him and Jesus, and Jesus is His earthly son. I also love Jesus.” Erin’s teacher objected to her choice. She told Erin to start over again, and allowed her to pick Michael Jackson as the subject of her report. Erin’s mom brought the case before the School Board. The Board eventually agreed with the Shead’s and permitted Erin to write about Jesus. Why would anyone consider Michael Jackson as a credible source of wisdom and admiration but reject Jesus? Why is the name of Jesus increasingly held in contempt in our public schools? While it is most likely due to a growing bias against Christianity in general, it may also be due to disbelief in Jesus as a true person from history.

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Why Assumptions Can Be Hazardous to the Truth of Christianity

The producers of God’s Not Dead 2, asked me to play a small role in the film, testifying as an expert witness in a civil trial. I was happy to defend the historicity of Jesus and the eyewitness reliability of the Gospels, but I know my efforts sometimes fall on deaf ears. The evidential strength of my case is usually dependent on the pre-existing biases of my audience. If my hearers hold a philosophical presupposition that prevents them from hearing (or fairly evaluating) what I have to say, the truth will elude them. Assumptions can be hazardous to the truth of Christianity.

I began to understand the hazard of philosophical presuppositions while working as a homicide detective.

You Can Trust the Gospel Accounts, Even If They Don’t Agree

In the upcoming movie, God’s Not Dead 2, I was asked to defend the historicity of Jesus and the eyewitness reliability of the Gospels. Skeptics sometimes challenge the gospels because there appear to be differences between the accounts. As a skeptic myself, investigating the gospels for the first time at the age of thirty-five, I also observed the discrepancies between the gospels. These differences didn’t, however, automatically disqualify them for me. If there’s one thing my experience as a detective has revealed, it’s that witnesses often make conflicting and inconsistent statements when describing what they saw at a crime scene.

Learning about God from my Son: On Easter

For God so loved the world

I have been known to say things like,


“I love coffee.”


“I love cupcakes.”


“I love road trips.”


Becoming mom to my son Justice has taught me an ocean full about God’s love for me and for all His creation; as in, all of the world and all of the peoples in the world.


This is actually why, this blog series, “Learning About God from My Son” exists. I wanted a place to share what I’m learning about God in the hopes it might help you to know and believe of His incredible love more and more and be a place Justice could one day look back on and read about his crazy momma’s love for him because of God’s faithfulness to me.

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Investigating Easter: Were the Disciples Simply Influenced by Limited “Spiritual” Sightings?

As an unbelieving investigator of the gospels, I made a list of explanations for the what the gospel authors reported about the Resurrection of Jesus. I was a committed philosophical naturalist at the time, so I rejected the Resurrection as unreasonable. Instead, I believed there had to be a better explanation. Were the disciples lying? Did they imagine the Resurrection? I searched for a more “acceptable” alternative. In recent years, some skeptics have offered one such alternate explanation: Perhaps one or two of the disciples had a “vision” of the risen Christ and then convinced the others that these “spiritual” sightings were legitimate. They argue that additional sightings simply came as a response to the intense influence of the first visions.

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Midnight Special film review

This review is by Jacob Kindberg, a film director known for Sing Over Me, a documentary about worship, identity, and the transformative power of the Gospel.

With “Midnight Special” internationally renowned indie director Jeff Nichols makes his first foray into the Sci-fi genre, and for the most part it is a groundbreaking success. The film is smart, unpredictable, and thrilling, but its emotional resonance is hindered by its obscurity and a fumbled third act. With strong performances across the board, a taut script, and incredible visuals, it is a good film that might have been great.

Nichols regular Michael Shannon turns in a typically stellar turn as Roy, the father of Alton, a young boy with mysterious powers played by Jaeden Lieberher. The story follows father and son as they run from multiple groups interested in the child’s unique abilities, including a religious cult and the federal government. Rounding out the incredible cast is Adam Driver, who plays an NSA specialist, Joel Edgerton, a childhood friend of Roy who helps the duo flee, and Kirsten Dunst, Alton’s mother.

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On Raising Royalty

One of the more quoted movies in my household is Coming to America. You remember the movie. Eddie Murphy plays an African prince who has servants upon servants at his feet, ready and willing to do anything and everything for him. On the night of the Prince’s 21st birthday, he is presented with a wife who has been groomed her entire life to serve him. The Prince wants a real relationship; not a mechanical, robotic one so he heads off to America in search of life outside the walls of his African Kingdom. If you haven't seen Coming to America, stop reading this and watch it right now.


My son Justice is a prince.

 

That's right; he is royalty!

 

With a last name like Ngangnang, you might be wondering if he is an actual African prince. He is African and as funny as Eddie Murphy, but my son's royalty isn't rooted in his Cameroonian heritage. It runs much deeper and wider.

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Investigating Easter: Were the Disciples Fooled By An Imposter?

As an atheist, the Resurrection of Jesus seemed preposterous to me. I was willing to accept the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth, but I rejected the supernatural claims of the New Testament Gospels, especially the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. When I eventually decided to investigate the Resurrection, I made a list of all the possible explanations for the claims of the disciples. Were they mistaken about the death of Jesus? Did they lie about the Resurrection? Were they hallucinating? I examined a number of explanations, including the possibility that an imposter tricked the disciples and convinced them that Jesus was still alive. If this were the case, the disciples might have unknowingly advanced a lie.

While imposter theories may account for the observations of the disciples, they require an additional set of conspirators (other than the apostles who were later fooled) to accomplish the task of stealing the body. Many of my partners spent several years investigating fraud and forgery crimes prior to joining us on the homicide team. They’ve learned something about successful con artists. The less the victim understands about the specific topic and area in which they are being “conned,” the more likely the con artist will be successful. Victims are often fooled and swindled out of their money because they have little or no expertise in the area in which the con artist is operating. The perpetrator is able to use sophisticated language and make claims that are outside of the victim’s expertise. The crook sounds legitimate, primarily because the victim doesn’t really know what truly is legitimate. When the targeted victim knows more about the subject than the person attempting the con, the odds are good that the perpetrator will fail at his attempt to fool the victim. For this reason, the proposal that a sophisticated first-century con artist fooled the disciples seems unreasonable. There are many concerns with such a theory:

1. The impersonator would have to be familiar enough with Jesus’s mannerisms and statements to convince the disciples. The disciples knew the topic of the con better than anyone who might con them.

2. Many of the disciples were skeptical and displayed none of the necessary naïveté that would be required for the con artist to succeed. Thomas, for example, was openly skeptical from the beginning.

3. Who would seek to start a world religious movement if not one of the hopeful disciples? This theory requires someone to be motivated to impersonate Jesus other than the disciples themselves.

4. This explanation also fails to account for the empty tomb or missing body of Jesus.

5. The impersonator would need to possess miraculous powers; the disciples reported that the resurrected Jesus appeared miraculously (Luke 24:36), performed many miracles and “convincing proofs” (John 21:6, Acts 1:3), and ascended into heaven miraculously (Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9).

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