Thursday, November 25, 2004

The Passion of the Christ, 4:
Contending for the Truth?
GEM 04:11:09

The Passion of the Christ takes the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ sufferings, trials, death and resurrection seriously, in the teeth of a wave of media-driven opinion that often doubts the Gospels, and even Jesus’ existence as a historical figure. But, this skepticism simply reflects the heavily publicized but highly dubious ideas of a tiny number of radical scholars.

For, as Canadian Scholar Craig Evans aptly noted just last week, during the 2004 University of Calgary Annual Bental Public Lecture, "If you bracket off the Jesus Seminar -- and they grab all the headlines -- the work of the last 30 years has given us much greater confidence that the gospels can yield a coherent, historically accurate portrait of Jesus . . . . The trend -- from archeology, new literary discoveries and reassessing the cultural context -- is to see the gospel as essentially reliable. Our understanding of Jesus is more nuanced, more Jewish and more unpredictable." So, we should confidently heed Jude’s bold challenge: “I . . . urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” [Jude v. 3.]

Similarly, Peter encourages us to “[a]lways be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” noting that he and the other Apostles “did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord . . . we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” [1 Pt 3:15b, 2 Pt 1:16.] Paul not only reports that testimony, but also cautions us that we live and serve God in a world that is full of misleading arguments and false systems of thought and life that try to block people from knowing him:

what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. [1 Cor 15:3 – 6, written ~ AD 55. He would have “received” it ~ AD 32 - 35.]]

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish [deceptive] arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. [2 Cor 10:4 – 5, cf. Col 2:3.]

However, this is a day when “drawing lines” between the true and the false -- or even good and evil -- quite often seems rude or even offensive. How, then, should we “earnestly contend for the faith” in our time?

1] With the fearless force of right reason and solid facts, but with gentle, polite respect: As Peter counsels, we are to “give the reason for the hope that [we] have . . . with gentleness and respect.” This is always a work in progress, as it is all too easy to be caught up in the heat of the moment. [NB: cf. James 3:1 – 18, esp. vv 1 - 2.]

2] By marking the distinction between mere rhetoric and right reason. For, as Aristotle pointed out, our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are very different from those made when we are pained and hostile.

Thus, we should recognise that how we may feel about a matter is often simply irrelevant to whether it is true or false, sound or misleading. Similarly, no authority is better than his or her facts and logic. It is only when claimed facts are true, fairly represent the truth, and are tied to correct reasoning, that an argument becomes sound.

But, many now demand the right to select or even make up “facts” to suit their wishes; often refusing to accept otherwise credible reports that do not suit their fancy. There is a name for such selective skepticism: intellectual hypocrisy. (NB: By sharp contrast, when Paul was on trial before Agrippa in AD 60, he boldly said: “the king is familiar with [the now fulfilled OT prophecies that the Christ “would suffer and as the first to rise from the dead would proclaim light to his own people and the Gentiles”] . . . none of this has escaped his attention, because it was not done in a corner.” [Ac 26:19 - 26.])

Similarly, those who rage that Christians are trying to “impose” their “backward” values on progressive communities, actually appeal to the sense of fairness that is central to biblical morality: “do to others as you would have them do to you.” [Matt 7:12.] Why, then, do such people so often oppose moral reasoning that simply uses fairness as a yardstick to guide us on specific decisions? [For instance, Christians object to making gambling into a key plank of Montserrat’s national economic policy, because it would try to build up our riches by harming and exploiting other people. That en’t fair!]

Finally, our thinking is heavily influenced by the media and educators. But, when we hear or read news or information presented as “knowledge,” do we ask if it give a true, fair, balanced, charitable view of issues, facts, claims, people and alternatives? (For instance, many of the recent news reports on Flores Island man failed to acknowledge that the claimed discovery of a new species of man is hotly disputed among the Scientists! How much more should we regard skeptically those who would assure us – in the teeth of the recorded testimony of over 500 eyewitnesses -- that Jesus is a myth!)

In short, let’s first get the credible material facts into play, let us treat people and their opinions with proper respect, and then let us fearlessly see where the logic of the gospel facts leads us: to the foot of the cross, and to a certain empty tomb that first ever Easter Sunday. So now, let’s talk . . . AMEN