I Befriended Bart Ehrman by Debating Him

I’ve been blessed by my friendships with debate opponents, despite strong disagreements.

 

I Befriended Bart Ehrman by Debating Him

It was February 2008. I had committed to a public debate with the prominent agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman. He was an established scholar, an award-winning professor at a prominent university, and a New York Times best-selling author. Additionally, he already had several public debates under his belt.

In contrast, I was still a year away from completing my PhD and knew far less about the New Testament and early Christianity. And yet, there I was, committed to debating Bart Ehrman.

A few months earlier, I had been talking to Phil Roberts, then the president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Roberts knew about my apologetics work and had asked me if I might be interested in doing a public debate. I told him I’d want to debate Ehrman, and Roberts set it up.

Why did I choose to face this giant? His scholarship was leading people away from the Christian faith and sowing seeds of doubt in the minds of many others; he needed to be answered.

Preparing with ‘Pseudo-Bart’

The topic for our debate was “Can historians prove Jesus rose from the dead?” My nearly completed doctoral research focused on this very topic, so I was confident I knew more about it than Ehrman. Over the next five months, I dedicated no less than 50 hours a week to preparing.

I read everything Ehrman had written on the topic and formulated answers to his various assertions. I dissected his previous debate with the prominent Christian philosopher William Lane Craig and thought through how to respond if Ehrman were to make the same points and rebuttals. I wanted every answer to be sound, succinct, and accessible to our audience. I practiced managing the time for giving each answer so I wouldn’t have to rush.

My friend Amy Ponce became a debate “sparring partner.” In 2004, I debated the atheist historian Richard Carrier. Amy had read a lot of Carrier’s work and acted as a stand-in for practice debates, so I asked her to do the same with Ehrman.

She studied Ehrman’s work and was able to impersonate his views and delivery. By the time the debate drew near, I was convinced she knew Ehrman’s views as well as he did—maybe even better. She had him down, his attitude, the phrases he liked to use. I even called her “Bart.”

I told Amy she could call me anytime, even in the middle of the night to wake me up and try to catch me off guard with one of Ehrman’s arguments. We staged a mock debate with Amy acting as “Pseudo-Bart,” complete with the official time constraints. Craig, the philosopher who had debated Ehrman before, listened in and felt Amy’s prep was so good that she was a harder debate opponent than Ehrman would be. After months of preparation, I felt ready.

Facing the giant

The day finally arrived. I flew to Kansas City, where the debate would be held on Midwestern Baptist Seminary’s campus. I woke the morning of the debate to find, to my horror, that I’d nearly lost my voice. Fortunately, the sound engineers at the venue were very helpful and the debate went ahead.

Standing offstage waiting for the event to start, I had jitters. Ehrman was waiting next to me in the wings and I was sizing him up. I knew he was a seasoned debater and never pulled his punches, even when debating his friends, which I certainly was not. I knew he would use clever rhetoric, a charming demeanor, careful logic, and thorough research—everything—to score points. He was out to win this debate.

Finally, the moment came and we stepped on stage. Once we were seated and the debate began, my jitters disappeared. I’d been preparing for months. I knew this stuff cold. I was a bit frustrated that my voice was weakened because it prevented me from being as passionate and engaging as I wanted. Even so, I felt good during the debate. I knew Ehrman was wrong. I knew I could answer him. This was my area of expertise. He couldn’t say anything I didn’t have an answer for.

When the debate finally drew to a close, I had mixed feelings. I had just taken on one of the world’s leading skeptics and thought I had at least held my own. But I wasn’t sure what the audience felt. For me, there’s tremendous pressure in public debates because if I perform poorly, I might inadvertently contribute to a believer’s doubts. I take Matthew 18:6 very seriously; I don’t want to cause anyone to stumble.

Immediately after the debate, two students came up to me and told me the event had instilled such a new confidence in their faith that they were prepared to devote themselves to full-time Christian ministry. A few months later, I met a college freshman whose professor was using one of Ehrman’s books as required reading and it was rocking her faith. I gave her a DVD copy of my debate with Ehrman and her face lit up. I later learned that the recording of the debate with Ehrman had encouraged her tremendously. In fact, she was now flourishing as a faith-filled student leader in her campus ministry!

You’d certainly expect that after five months of preparation designed to publicly denounce his ideas and testimonies from Christians encouraged by my ability to stand up to his doubt-inducing arguments, Ehrman and I would not be on speaking terms.

It’s true, I felt a little anger toward him before the debate began because I knew the effect his scholarship was having on people, leading some of them away from Christian faith. But that anger was tempered by knowing that Jesus loves Ehrman. There is no room for hatred. By the time the debate actually started, I did not feel any animosity toward him. In fact, since then, Ehrman and I have become friends.

A table in the presence of my enemies

In the 11 years since that debate in Kansas City, Ehrman and I have engaged in two more public debates, a written debate, and two dialogues on the popular podcast Unbelievable? with Justin Brierley. We have strong disagreements on a number of matters pertaining to Jesus and the Gospels, and our debates have always been spirited.

Despite the societal norm to demonize those with whom we disagree, Ehrman and I get along really well. I have grown to like him as a person and consider him a friend. We always greet one another with a smile and a hug at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature.

How is it that Ehrman and I can battle each other vigorously on matters held dearly to each of us, then part with a handshake and a hug, which emerge from a genuine warmth toward the other?

Years ago, a mentor of mine, Gary Habermas, told me that he likes to have dinner with his debate opponent before the event in order to break the ice. So before that first debate with Ehrman in 2008, I asked Midwestern to set up a dinner with him ahead of the event.

As we ate, Ehrman and I asked one another surface questions, such as what our present research concerned, what would be the topic of the next book we planned to write, and about our families. We didn’t have much time to get to know each other, but it helped to relate in a more social context, away from the debate stage. As we have come to feel more comfortable with each other over the years, our conversations have become more relaxed and personal.

At our second debate, held at Southern Evangelical Seminary a year later, we again had dinner beforehand with the president and a few faculty members. Knowing that he does a lot of public debates, one of the seminary professors at our table asked Ehrman who his favorite debate opponents were. I was a little nervous about what he would say. But while Ehrman admitted that some of his opponents could be mean, he said, “I really like Mike because he’s a nice guy.”

Getting to know each other off the debate stage was instrumental in correcting any stereotype we may have had of the other. I could see that the person with whom I was sharing a meal did not have the glowing red eyes of a demon! And Ehrman could see that his opponent was not an angry Bible thumper who was going to scold him publicly during the debate. Instead, we both met a friendly guy with whom we could have a collegial dialogue.

Whenever we debate one another, we have fun with it. We’re still serious about our topics and we still don’t agree.The debate is always lively. Ehrman doesn’t pull any punches and neither do I. But we relate in a very relaxed way; we banter back and forth and occasionally goof off. I feel there’s trust there. He knows I’m not going to talk bad about him behind his back and vice versa. I don’t agree with him, and I’m deeply concerned about the effect his work has on people. But I respect him and I like him.

Blessed are the peacemakers

There are people on both sides of any issue who are divisive and rancorous, and we cannot change that. What we can control is how we interact with others when we disagree with them. As followers of Jesus, it is our responsibility to love our neighbor, to be salt and light to our culture, and to return good for evil (Matt. 5:13–14, Rom. 12:14–21).

This is difficult when a person is screaming at us in disagreement, and it can even be a challenge in a good-natured public debate. But Jesus did not say that following him would be easy. In fact, he told us specifically that it will not be (Matt. 10:22–25, John 15:18–20).

As followers of Jesus, we are called to be his representatives in our society (John 20:21). So, we must engage in dialogues with those with whom we disgaree. We must not compromise Bible-based morals, despite the increasing hostility toward us for embracing those morals. We should not be surprised that much of our society hates us and desires to silence us. On the contrary, Jesus told us we should expect this sort of treatment.

That does not mean that everyone is out to get us or that disagreement precludes friendships. I’ve been blessed by my friendships with several of my debate opponents, despite strong disagreements on core issues. Jesus calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:43–47). Should we do any less to those with whom we have disagreements but are not our enemies?

Since Jesus’ message is offensive to many in our culture, let’s not compound that by being unnecessarily offensive in our behavior. We just may find that we can participate in brokering peace in our society (Matt. 5:9) and that more people become open to hearing Jesus’ message as a result.

After our debate at Kennesaw State University last year, Ehrman and I both stood up and hugged. I told him, “Hey Bart, I’m really glad to call you a friend. I’d really like to call you a brother. You know the story of the prodigal son. C’mon, man! God wants you back!”

He smiled at me and, with a twinkle in his eye, asked me to come over to his side. I grinned back at him and said, “I don’t think so.”

Michael R. Licona is associate professor of theology at Houston Baptist University and founder of Risen Jesus ministries. His most recent book is Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017).

From Christianity Today Magazine; July 2019

Norman Geisler: He Didn’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist

Apologist Norman Geisler:  The Man Who Didn’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist

Died: Apologist Norman Geisler, Who Didn’t Have ‘Enough Faith to Be an Atheist’

Just two months after his retirement from public ministry, evangelical theologian Norman Geisler died Monday at age 86. He had been hospitalized over the weekend after suffering a blood clot in his brain.

Described as “a cross between Thomas Aquinas and Billy Graham,” Geisler was a prolific author, apologist, and professor, as well as the co-founder and former president of Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES) in North Carolina and co-founder of Veritas International University in California.

Many evangelical leaders consider Geisler among the top Christian thinkers in recent decades, with pastor Derwin Gray calling him “one of Christianity’s greatest philosophers, apologists, & theologians” and Colson Center president John Stonestreet remembering him as “a towering figure in Christian apologetics and philosophy.”

Geisler was respected for the breadth and depth of his career of over 70 years, and his model of defending the faith and the Bible through classical apologetics.

“When Geisler began, there were few philosophers who embraced evangelicalism. Even more rare was a trained philosopher who was committed to helping ordinary believers in the defense of the gospel,” said Gregory E. Ganssle, philosophy professor at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology. “Geisler paved the way for the kind of sophisticated apologetics we enjoy today,” by combining scholarly rigor with a desire to equip the church and writing books that “could be read and used by believers in all walks of life.”

Current SES president Richard Land described him as a powerfully refreshing voice that inspired conservative scholars, ministers, and fellow apologists.

“For us, Dr. Geisler’s latest defense of the faith was like a long drink of cold water in the midst of what was too often an arid and sterile theological landscape,” Land wrote. “Dr. Geisler has been the ‘go to’ authority for more than two generations of evangelical seminary students who were looking for a bold, erudite, and uncompromisingly faithful defense of the inerrant, infallible Word of God and the historical doctrines of the Christian faith.”

He was on the team of theologians that wrote the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and co-wrote the popular book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist in 2004.

“Norman Geisler was one of the four to five most influential people in my life. It was meeting Norm and reading his works that first drew my interest to philosophy and the rest is history,” Talbot Seminary philosophy professor J. P. Moreland told CT. “He was a tireless worker for the Kingdom and a brother who was faithful to the end. We have lost a giant and the world is worse off for his departure.”

In addition to his scholarship and teaching, Geisler participated in theological debates with fellow scholars, including a 2011 dispute with Michael Licona around the bodily resurrection of the saints, which was covered by Christianity Today.

He is the author, co-author, or editor of 127 titles, including a book on transhumanism due out next year. His book The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics was named by CT among the top religion reference books by living theologians in 2002.

Geisler’s works had been translated into more than a dozen languages, and online tributes for spanned the globe, from Kenya to Brazil. Brazilian theologian Roney Cozzer wrote, “I often say that Geisler was ‘a source from which I drank too much’” and praised God for his legacy.

The Michigan-born scholar received degrees from Wheaton College, William Tyndale College, and Loyola University.

William C. Roach, president of the International Society of Apologetics (which Geisler founded in 2007), was mentored by Geisler and shared details in a tribute today:

Both of us were raised in non-Christian homes, our mother’s would not allow us to play football as kids, we both had alcoholic parents, struggled significantly in school, and most importantly—after our conversion to Christ we both had to face objections to the Christian faith.

Dr. Geisler used to say he got into apologetics because he was stumped by a drunk on the streets of Detroit…” Dr. Geisler knew that he either had to find answers to people’s objections or he must stop sharing his faith. Since the latter is not an option, Dr. Geisler dedicated his life to defending the historic Christian faith.

Following the news of his passing, his ministry posted 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (ESV), one of his favorite passages to quote when he learned of a death in the body of Christ: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

Geisler’s memorial service will be held in Charlote, North Carolina, on Saturday, July 6. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Barbara Jean, their six children, 15 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

 

NOTE: the above article is from Christianity Today Magazine; July 2019

The Resurrection’s Impact on a Brilliant (now former) Atheist

Below is an article penned by Oxford professor, Alister McGrath.  McGrath is a brilliant intellectual, holding a doctorate in theology as well as a Ph.D. in molecular biophysics. (Ever heard the myopic lie about the Christian faith being solely for the intellectually weak? It’s actually the intellectually weak who perpetuate this mockery.)

The article was published years ago in Christianity Today Magazine.  For convenience, I have printed the article in its entirety for you here.  Enjoy, nw

The Resurrection: A Bridge Between Two Worlds

How the Resurrection infused my rational faith with a passionate hope.
Alister McGrath

 

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A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere.” What would have happened to me, I often wonder, if I had read those words of C. S. Lewis when I was 18 years old and been alerted to the danger of reading? At the time, I was a grumpy and frankly rather arrogant atheist. I was totally convinced that there was no God, and that anyone who thought there was needed to be locked up for her own good. I was majoring in the sciences at high school and had won a scholarship to study chemistry at Oxford University, beginning in October 1971. I had every reason to believe that studying the sciences further would confirm my rampant godlessness. While waiting to go up to Oxford, I decided to work my way through a pile of “improving books.” Needless to say, none of them were religious.

Eventually, I came to a classic work of philosophy—Plato’s Republic. I couldn’t make sense of everything I read. But one image etched itself into my imagination. Plato asks us to imagine a group of men, trapped in a cave, knowing only a world of flickering shadows cast by a fire. Having experienced no other world, they assume that the shadows are the only reality. Yet the reader knows—and is meant to know—that there is another world beyond the cave, awaiting discovery.

As I read this passage, the hard-nosed rationalist within me smiled condescendingly. Typical escapist superstition! What you see is what you get, and that’s the end of the matter. Yet a still, small voice within me whispered words of doubt. What if this world is only part of the story? What if this world is only a shadowland? What if there is something more wonderful beyond it?

Had I read Lewis at that stage, I would have known that he once shared my dilemma as the imaginative deficiency of his youthful atheism began to dawn on him: “On the one side, a many-islanded sea of poetry and myth; on the other, a glib and shallow rationalism.” Yet even without Lewis, a seed of doubt had been planted within my dogmatic mindset. I could not have known this, but within a year, such doubts would overwhelm me and lead me to rediscover Christianity.

My own conversion was intellectual. I didn’t need a quick spiritual fix. Instead, I encountered a compelling and luminous vision of reality so powerful and attractive that it demanded a response. Christianity made more sense of the world I saw around me and experienced within me than anything else—my earlier atheism included. I discovered the sheer intellectual capaciousness of the Christian faith—its remarkable, God-given ability to offer us a lens through which we can see things, bringing everything into a sharper focus. It’s a light that illuminates the shadowlands. That’s why I’ve come to love Lewis’s great one-liner: “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not just because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Although my journey of faith started with reason, it did not end there. The novelist Evelyn Waugh once wrote of the “delicious process of exploring” that he experienced upon converting to Christianity in 1930. I know just what he meant. Everything is new and exciting. It’s all too much to take in at once. You have to keep coming back, going deeper each time around. That’s what I found with the Resurrection.

Eminently Reasonable

My first reflections on the resurrection of Christ were exactly what you’d expect from a recovering hyper-rationalist. My questions were all about historical factuality. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? What was the evidence for it? At that stage, my concern was really to reassure myself of the trustworthiness of the New Testament. If the Resurrection didn’t happen, then the New Testament could not be trusted. If it did, the New Testament was to be trusted. Although I emerged from this period of questioning with my faith intact, I could not help feeling there was rather more to the resurrection of Christ than the validation of the authority of Scripture.

I now began to reflect on how the Resurrection helped me make sense of the identity of Christ. I cut my theological teeth on works like German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Jesus: God and Man, which offered a complex and intriguing defense of the Resurrection as a public event and argued its importance for understanding the true significance of Jesus Christ.

My own conversion was intellectual. I didn’t need a quick spiritual fix. Instead, I encountered a compelling and luminous vision of reality so powerful and attractive that it demanded a response.

My early concern was to get straight what Christians believed, and why they believed it. How does the Resurrection fit into the web of Christian beliefs? How does it fit into the overall scheme of the Christian faith? After several years of wrestling with these issues, I came down firmly on the side of Christian orthodoxy. I became, and remain, a dedicated and convinced defender of traditional Christian theology. Having persuaded myself of its merits, I was more than happy to try to persuade others as well. My early books had titles such as Understanding Jesus and Understanding the Trinity.

Today, I remain convinced that Christianity gives the best “big picture” of reality, one which makes sense of science, history, culture, and personal experience. This is one of its greatest strengths, and it helped me come to faith. Yet I came to realize that it has more strengths than I had initially appreciated. I was like someone holding a diamond up to the light, and realizing it had many facets—each scintillating brilliantly in the light—and rejoicing as I came to appreciate their individual beauty and relevance.

A deeper appreciation of the significance of the Resurrection slowly began to dawn. I had always understood that the significance of the Resurrection went beyond deepening our understandings of the identity of Christ and our own situation. Yet I found it difficult to express this in words, and could not quite grasp its traction on the deeper things of life.

Deeper Dimensions

My appreciation of the deeper dimensions of the gospel grew considerably as I worked as a curate—the Church of England’s term for an assistant pastor—in a parish in England’s East Midlands in the early 1980s, ministering to those who were suffering, dying, and bereaved. Ordinary people, often in the final stages of their life, explained to me how their faith in the Resurrection transformed their lives and brought new hope to their sufferings and losses. As I listened to them, I realized that they were ministering to me as much as I to them.

Those good faithful Christian people taught me that the Resurrection enabled believers to do more than think. It helped them to cope with the sorrows, ambiguity, and pain of life. They hadn’t read Pannenberg. But they had immersed themselves in the New Testament and absorbed its fundamental message of hope. They knew that, even though they walked through the valley of the shadow of death, God was with them. So they kept walking through the wilderness of this world, knowing God was by their side. They knew that Christ’s resurrection was the firm foundation for their hope that all who trusted in him would finally rise with him and be with him in the New Jerusalem. So they faced suffering with dignity and serenity, knowing that those who suffer with Christ will be glorified with him.

To put it simply: Ordinary Christian believers helped me realize that the Resurrection changes not just the way we think but also the way we live. Things that I had understood in a rather dry and detached way now became living realities. What I had once studied, I now inhabited. What I had once understood, I now embraced. My time in a parish helped me to realize that the gospel impacted every aspect of our existence—our reasoning, emotions, imaginations, and values. Looking back on those days, I can now see that they liberated me from an impoverished view of the Christian faith. There’s nothing wrong with a faith that shapes the way we think—as long as we allow it to do its work of transforming every aspect of our lives. The healing balm of the gospel needs to salve the wounds of every faculty that we possess, so that they can all be transformed, enriched, and empowered through the grace of God.

Now many readers will feel—not without good reason—that this is all rather obvious. It is to me now. But it wasn’t when I began my pilgrimage of faith over 40 years ago. It was something I had to discover, and learn the hard way. To use a phrase from Lewis, my imagination was baptized as I realized how much more there was to discover about the gospel.

And so I returned to the Resurrection. I was already reassured of its historical truth. I had figured out its enormous implications for a right understanding of the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. But now I was ready for more—to engage with the Resurrection at a level and with an enthusiasm I had not known before. So what did I encounter?

Space permits only one reflection: It brought a new dimension to my understanding of worship. The resurrection of Christ creates a bridge between two worlds—the everyday world in which we exist and a better and brighter world of the Christian hope. Sharing in Christ’s resurrection means sharing in the hope that we shall one day inhabit the New Jerusalem, and anticipating being part of its worship and adoration. Though our entry into the courtyards of heaven lies in the future, we can anticipate it now. Worship on earth is a foretaste of the worship of heaven.

The Fragrance of Heaven

I came across an illustration years ago that helped me visualize this. In his 1888 work The Atmosphere, the French astronomer Camille Flammarion (1842-1925) reproduced an illustration that he declared to be a medieval woodcut. (This is now thought to be Flammarion’s own invention, by the way.) It shows a man on the threshold of the everyday world, peering beyond it into a deeper and more complex reality.

Ordinary Christian believers helped me realize that the Resurrection changes not just the way we think but also the way we live.

That’s how I see the Resurrection. By his death and resurrection, Christ has built a bridge and opened a door to the New Jerusalem. Not only do we, as citizens of heaven, have a God-given and Christbased right of entry and abode there; we can anticipate our arrival in its courtyards, allowing the worship of heaven to inspire and excite us right now. The fragrance of heaven wafts into the everyday world. By God’s grace, those things we enjoy and love now become signs and pledges of something greater to come. Jonathan Edwards put this rather well in his great sermon of September 1733, “The Christian Pilgrim”:

To go to heaven fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows. But the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean.

The resurrection of Christ is the guarantor that these hopes of heaven are not the pathetic delusions of wistful human hearts. No. These are realities that are secured, disclosed, and illuminated through the gospel declaration of the resurrection of Christ as the firstfruits, with believers to follow in God’s own good time. No wonder the New Testament exults in the Resurrection hope!

When Paul speaks of the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8, NIV 1984), he is not forbidding us to explore but rather encouraging us to do so, in the knowledge that there will always be more to discover about Christ, the focus and center of our faith. Paul is right: Knowing Christ is better than anything the world can offer, even though that knowledge is limited by our finitude and sin. But one day, we shall know Christ as he really is, and be with him in his kingdom. Christ’s incarnation evokes our wonder that God once came to us; his resurrection consolidates our hope that one day we shall return home, rejoicing, to that same God.

Alister McGrath is professor of theology at King’s College London, and president of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics.

Why is there Something Instead of Nothing?

The Christian graduate student organization I was a part of at Texas Tech University invited Dr. Michael Strauss to speak in 2015. I was given the privilege of sitting down with him over lunch and visiting with him personally. It was dialogue that strained my intellect, to say the least.

I continue to correspond with him from time to time, as well as subscribe to his blog.

I’m passing along his latest blog because it concerns my favorite physicist who holds to an atheistic worldview, Sean Carroll, a physicist at CalTech. Carroll is brilliant. I admire him greatly as a physicist.

During my grad studies at HBU we were required to watch one of his debates with Christian apologist, William Lane Craig. While Carroll didn’t necessarily “win”, he was quite convincing to anyone with a purely naturalistic worldview.

In Strauss’ recent blog (linked below), Strauss slowly dismantles Carroll’s arguments for “Why there is something instead of nothing,” the proverbial “Achilles heel” for naturalists.

As I visited with a young atheist a few weeks ago about my essay regarding C.S. Lewis’ and David Humes’ opposing arguments for miracles, it all comes down to one’s presuppositions. What’s alluring about Carroll’s presuppositions to naturalists is his acute intellect. But, as we know, “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.”

This is heady stuff. Enjoy Dr. Strauss’ blog here.

Nick

 

 

The Old Rugged Cross

NOTE: I wrote this four months after finding my 19 year old son after he’d taken his own life…

The-Old-Rugged-Cross-By-MidoriEyes-On-DeviantArt

There have been moments these past months that I’ve wanted to give up on God.

I’m simply being honest.

As one who grew up in a violent, alcoholic home, I witnessed more violence as a child than I care to remember.

As a full-time pastor now for 30+ years, I’ve had, on occasion, the unfortunate opportunity to see the very ugly side of what some have otherwise called “Christianity.”

But those pale in comparison to the events of May 13th, 2013, when my world caved in around me.

In light of the pain we suffer on planet earth, what proof is there that there is a God? More than that, what proof is there that that God really loves me?

From their outstanding work, “Name Above All Names,” Alistair Begg & Sinclair Ferguson write,

It is the cross alone that ultimately proves the love of God to us – not the circumstances of our lives.

We must not allow ourselves to be tricked into thinking that if things are going well with us, Then we can be sure of God’s love. For life can often seem dark and painful. Things do not always go well for us.

Rather, we look to the sacrifice of the cross and the proof God gave there of His love. ‘God [demonstrated proof of] His love toward us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:8)

This is the proof I need. This is the truth I need to hear. This dispels the lies of the enemy.”

This is the unstoppable, indefensible, indisputable love of God in Christ Jesus.

I love you, Nick

This Is What’s On My Mind…

When I open my Facebook app there is a space at the top where I can post something. In that space is the question, “What’s on your mind?”

My friends, on my mind is my desire to visit with skeptics and non-believers about the Christian faith.

The musician who had the greatest life-impact on me growing up was a hippy piano-player named Keith Green. Raised in Southern California, he spent most of his younger days playing gigs on Sunset Strip before coming to faith in Christ as an adult.

In his biography he wrote,

[Before professing my faith in Christ], “The thing that kept me from Christ was Christians.” I couldn’t agree more. We often are horrible representations of Christ.

That’s why my conversation with anyone interested will center not around Christians, but on Christ. Who was this man? Is there solid evidence for his existence? His miracles? His death and resurrection?  Is there evidence to support his outlandish claims?

And what about the hard questions of life here on planet earth? The problem of pain, “How could a good and loving God possibly allow such evil and pain?”, is the No. 1 argument for atheism. And for good reason. I lost my dad to alcoholism, my sister to drug abuse, and my son to suicide. I know pain on this earth. And my heart breaks for those who are hurting. So I have no problem discussing this painfully difficult question.

And, then there’s the Bible. Didn’t the medieval church tamper with the text? Isn’t it full of contradictions and hokey stories? If you wish, we can talk about that as well.

Many people tend to think that professing faith in Christ means we have to somehow “measure up” and begin living a form of a perfect life. That’s a lie. It’s precisely because we can’t measure up or live a perfect life that God sent a Savior. We profess faith in *his* perfect life. And somehow Christ’s perfection and right standing before a holy, terrifying God is imputed to us putting us in right standing before God. (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21) I love the phrase, “I love Jesus but I cuss a little.” Bottom line, we’re all a mess. But, in Christ, we’re a perfect mess.

My friends, the Bible – which I believe, after careful scrutiny and investigation, to be true – says a Day is coming when Christ busts the sky open and returns to this fallen, corrupt earth to turn everything right-side-up again.  (cf. Matthew 24:30-31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).  What will matter at that moment is the condition of our soul. John, the disciple and eye-witness of Jesus, warned,

“And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12)

The former atheist, C.S. Lewis, said,

“Christianity, if false, is of no importance; if true, of infinite importance; but the one thing it can never be is of moderate importance.”

If you are interested in having friendly, intelligent dialogue about the Christian faith please look me up on Facebook and PM (private message) me. This allows us time and “peace and quiet” to talk as long as we want.

Oh, last thing – you will receive absolutely no pressure from me to change your mind, repent or “get saved.” That’s a very personal decision between you and Christ (should you come to believe in him.) Nor will you encounter any disrespect, or judgmental, pharisaical attitude. (Obviously, I expect the same in return.). Christ never treated people that way and neither will I. My role will simply be to, hopefully, provide some food-for-thought based on what I strongly believe to be true.

And…, we can end up agreeing to disagree. Jesus always allowed people to believe what they preferred to believe. I won’t be any different.

The most powerful force in existence is the life-changing, liberating love of Christ. (cf. Romans 8: 38-39)

Wanna talk? PM me. 🙂) – I may not be able to reply immediately. But, I promise, I will as soon as possible.

The Lord’s love for you is beyond comprehension.

“If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

Love to you all, Nick

How Jesus Found Me at Harvard

“Into [my atheistic state], God broke in.”

What a powerful story from Harvard professor, Mark Shepard.

Short article. Enjoy… nw

Harvard University is special for me because it is where I first came to know Jesus Christ. Perhaps this should not be surprising. Harvard is a place that reveres truth (Veritas), and Jesus says he is the truth. But most people when they hear this about me are surprised, since they see the university as a secular place. Let me share my story and a few of the surprises it has entailed.

I grew up in a Jewish home and was raised in Hebrew school and Jewish observance. But by the time I entered Harvard College as a freshman, I had rebelled and become an atheist. Like many atheists, I had strong beliefs. I believed that faith was the opposite of reason – and therefore to be avoided. I believed that science was the only real way of knowing truth. And I believed that life should be lived based on logical optimization and rationality, free from the softness of emotional thinking. (Perhaps you can see why I became an economist.)

Into this state, God broke in.

My first surprise was meeting Christians who actually believed their faith – and in a thoughtful, intelligent way. I got to know a resident tutor, who also happened to be a minister for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. In long conversations in the dining halls, we explored the deep questions: Is there a God? Is there purpose behind the universe? Is there such thing as moral truth? And what does the Bible have to say about all this? Amazingly to me, my tutor had faith, but also welcomed questioning of that faith and consideration of evidence for and against Christianity. Here was a faith not opposed to reason, but deeply involved with it.

My second surprise was in the power of the Bible, and particularly Jesus, to make sense of the world, and to move and inspire me. As I read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount for the first time, I was blown away. Here was the most beautiful, powerful expression of moral truth I had ever encountered. But who did this come from? Could this really be the work of a poor Jewish carpenter and his uneducated followers? And how could I deal with the fact that my worldview gave me little grounding even to believe in moral truth?

My third surprise – which still surprises and challenges me to this day – was finding out that I am a sinner. This merits explanation. Sin, in common usage, is a joke. It’s a word used for pleasurable things that prudish people label as bad. This is not what I mean by sin. Sin, in my experience, is rooted in an overwhelming pride. When I enter the world, I want to be better than people around me – to be more impressive and more accomplished, and to be recognized as such. When mixed with an academic environment like Harvard, this sinful tendency is toxic. Collectively, it leads to bottom-line thinking, with a culture of celebrity for people who succeed and worthlessness for those who do not. It turns Harvard’s greatest strength – its brilliant people – into a source of envy and anxiety. In my life, I have seen this way of thinking lead to depression, unfruitfulness, and a desire to quit academics and even life itself. Sin is self-destructive.

While my old worldview gave me few resources to understand or deal with sin, Christianity confronts it head on. God’s answer is the gospel: the good news that Jesus came into the world to live, die, and be raised for sinners. The gospel reminds me, first, that because God is central, life is not about me but about him. I don’t have to achieve, to impress, to justify myself. I am accepted in him. Second, the gospel frees me from the misdeeds of my past, since Jesus has paid for them. Finally, the gospel gives me – and the whole university – a new purpose. By learning, teaching, and relating to each other in humility and love, we participate in renewing the world. This is a purpose in which everyone in the university can participate, regardless of rank or status.

God’s vision for the university now animates my heart and gives me continual resources to renew my life and to beat back sin. I encourage you to consider this truth that has changed my life and promises to do the same for you.

Mark Shepard is an assistant professor at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. His main research studies health economics.