Unbelievable? Two Reasons Why Some People Reject the Reliability of the Gospels

During an interview on Unbelievable? with Justin Brierley, I responded to the objections of two atheists who rejected the reliability of the Gospel accounts on the basis of apparent contradictions with Josephus’ record and a concern about-corroborative evidence. I’ve learned to employ a four-pronged template when assessing the reliability of a witness, and I took this approach when I first examined the Gospels as a skeptic (I was 35 years old before I became interested in the Gospel accounts). As I evaluated the Biblical text with these principles in mind, I became convinced they were a reliable record of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. I understand, however, when others come to a different conclusion, and I think there are two reasons why someone might disagree about the most reasonable inference from the evidence. Before I address these two reasons, however, I want to ask you to imagine the existence of a historical account related to an ancient teacher. Imagine investigating this ancient record and discovering the following:

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In the Footsteps of Jesus

There are few places in the Holy Land where you can actually say, “I’m walking on the very stones where Jesus put his feet.” Most places the Bible talks about as familiar stomping grounds for Jesus—Bethlehem, Nazareth, the hillsides around the Sea of Galilee, the Garden of Gethsemane, Golgotha, the tomb—are marked in modern-day Israel, but they are approximations, not the actual locations.

There’s no way to know if Jesus was actually at these particular places as they exist today, not with 2,000 years of dust and debris covering them, not to mention the many churches, chapels, shrines and souvenir shops that dot the landscape.

However, there is at least one spot where it’s pretty safe to say, “I’m walking where Jesus walked,” and that’s the Via Dolorosa, or the “Way of Suffering,” which courses through the old city of Jerusalem. Our guide assured us that these stones deep beneath the current city streets are in fact the stones Jesus touched as he made his way to the cross.

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God Is Amazing

Everything changes when you see God for how He really is.

A little more than 15 years ago, as the 1990s were coming to a close, Bruce Bickel and I wrote a book called God Is in the Small Stuff. We must have hit a nerve, because the book has sold more than a million copies.

Fifteen years ago the world was a much different place. The Christian life was easy. You could relax and rest in the knowledge that God was interested in every detail of your life. No matter what you were going through personally, you could count on God’s involvement.

How times have changed. Over the last 15 years there has been a generational shift, a culture shift, a technology shift, a global political shift, and a faith shift that no one could have anticipated. Today’s world is massively different than it was in the closing years of the twentieth century. For one thing, there’s more hostility towards God now than there was then. In the view of many people—including many Christians—God is no longer great and powerful. Instead, He is ineffective and rather weak.

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Do You Believe in Miracles?

Miracles in the Bible—especially the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead—are a problem for many people. To those who operate within a worldview of naturalism , a miracle is a violation of natural law (naturalism by definition excludes the supernatural). They don’t believe in miracles of any kind, most of all the resurrection.

The historical records of people seeing Jesus after the resurrection are meaningless to naturalists, because the events happened so long ago during a time when people were more prone to believe myths and fables. Of course, naturalists don’t have a problem believing in the existence of Julius Caesar, probably because he never performed any miracles.

Deists don’t go much for miracles either. Thomas Jefferson famously removed all the miracles from the New Testament and published what is known as The Jefferson Bible, or The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. His goal was to present Jesus as a great moral teacher, without the miracles or the resurrection.

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Spiritual Gridlock: The End of Miracles?

“My grandma is in the hospital, and she needs prayer. Can you pray for healing for her?”

“Of course, let’s pray.”

There’s nothing wrong with this dialogue, but the conversation ending there is tragic—yet, this is how most prayer meetings go. We pray to God like He is going to do all the work. We act like we don’t need to be involved. Ultimately, God does do all the hard work, but that doesn’t make us exempt.

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Mysterious Ways

Johnny take a dive with your sister in the rain
Let her talk about the things you can’t explain
To touch is to heal
To hurt is to steal
If you want to kiss the sky 
Better learn how to kneel
- U2’s “Mysterious Ways”

A couple Sundays ago, I was walking into the 9 am service at my church (I typically think of the 9 am service as the “grown up” service, because the people that go to that service no longer care about sleeping in.  Since I’ve turned 30, I’ve become “those people”.  I’m also contemplating taking a bus to work periodically.  I think this is my mid-life crisis.), minding my own business, saying hi to some friends, and looking forward to being just another “seat filler” for the service.  (I spent my time doing some ministry work earlier this summer, I was ready to just sit back and hear about God!  Cut a 30-year old some slack, okay?)

Why Won't God Heal Amputees?

“Why won’t God heal amputees?”  The question caught me by surprise.

I had just finished my “Why I Am a Christian” talk at Calvary Chapel Chino Valley’s youth conference in April.  After talking with a few students and leaders, a young man approached.  He challenged me with this question, explaining his atheist friend had asked it earlier in the week. And he had no answer for his friend.

Apparently, it’s a question atheists make a big deal about. There is even an entire website dedicated to it (www.whywontgodhealamputees.com).  The website claims “this is one of the most important questions we can ask about God.”  Sometime, somewhere I had heard the objection but had never given it much attention.  Now it was staring me right in the face.  Immediate attention was required.

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Why Miracles Matter

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of those historic events theologians and Christian apologists have worked very hard to "prove."  And rightly so.  No less a biblical authority than the apostle Paul says the faith of all who follow Christ is "futile" if Christ has not been raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:17).  So it's not enough to believe Jesus is some kind of life force that fills all people, and it's certainly not acceptable to conjecture that God is going to rescue humanity apart from the risen Christ.  Either Jesus is alive today  and the Christian faith is true, or Jesus is still dead and the Christianity is a joke.

The good news is that there is enough historic evidence to reasonably believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ took place as the Bible describes.  There's the proof of the empty tomb, the proof of hundreds of eyewitnesses, and the proof of transformed believers who sacrificed everything for what they knew to be true.

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Why Jesus Matters

It is undeniable and indisputable.  Jesus was the most extraordinary person the world has ever known.  Even atheists and those who are cynical of any spiritual nature in Christ and humanity readily acknowledge the overwhelming impact Jesus has made on our civilization.  The famous historian--and self-professed skeptic--W.E.H. Lecky conceded the importance of the life of Jesus Christ with this statement:

"The character of Jesus has not only been the highest pattern of virtue, but the strongest incentive in its practice, and has exerted so deep an influence, that it may truly be said that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortations of moralists."

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