Jesus Christ: Liar? Lunatic? Legend? or God?/Program 6

By: Dr. John Warwick Montgomery; ©1988
Dr. Montgomery answers the person who says: “Listen, I don’t believe that there is any evidence that even suggests that God exists. But I’m not an `ornery’ atheist, I’m an `ordinary’ atheist who is open to hearing the evidence



Recent surveys and polls show that 98% of Americans believe in God. But these same polls reveal many do not believe that Jesus Christ is the God they believe in. Tonight, John Ankerberg will examine the evidence and the claims of Christianity’s central figure to answer the question, “Was Jesus Christ a liar, a lunatic, a legend, or God?”

John’s guest is attorney John Warwick Montgomery, Dean of the Simon Greenleaf School of Law in the state of California and a practicing trial lawyer both in England and America.

During tonight’s program we will ask:

  • If a lawyer were to argue the claims of Jesus Christ in a court of law, what real evidence would he point to?
  • Are the biographies concerning Jesus’ life nothing more than legends that were written several hundred years after Jesus lived, or real historical documents written by eyewitnesses?
  • How would a lawyer determine whether the witnesses concerning Jesus’ life, namely Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James and Peter, are lying or telling the truth?
  • How do the New Testament documents compare with other well-attested historical documents in the ancient world?
  • Is there any reason to believe we have a distorted view of what Jesus said and did because it happened so long ago?
  • If there is accurate historical information about Jesus Christ, is there any proof that Jesus actually claimed he was God?
  • Is there any evidence that Jesus ever offered proof to the people of his day to verify his claim that he was God?
  • What does a trial lawyer think about the evidence Christ presented to prove his claim of deity?

All of these questions and more will be answered during our program tonight. We invite you to join us.

Ankerberg: Thank you for joining us tonight. We’re talking about the evidence for God. We have had a series of programs where we have talked about the historical reliability of the information concerning Jesus Christ, and then what Jesus Christ himself said, and then capping it off by his own resurrection. We’ve examined Hume’s argument concerning the miraculous, that the resurrection; “Even if it did take place, we know that it couldn’t take place because we don’t accept miracles.” We’ve defused that, and we have come to the conclusion that intellectually the evidence pushes you to the wall that you should invite Jesus Christ to forgive you of your sins and dedicate your life to him.
But we want to go back to an area that we haven’t covered and that is, for those of you who say, “I don’t believe there is any evidence for God to start with. I am one of the few percentage of people in America, according to the Gallup Poll, that don’t even believe in God. I do not believe it.” Dr. Montgomery, we want to come to you and let me start off by this: first of all, we want to get into people’s minds that basically still the best demonstration of God is still to be seen in Jesus. For most of the people across the board we ought to start there and then let’s go to the people that don’t even start with the concept of God in their vocabulary.
Montgomery: Yes, as far as I’m concerned the best introduction to God comes in Jesus Christ. If a person says to me, “Define God.” I say, “I’ll do better than that. I’ll introduce you to him.” And I take the person to Jesus Christ because we’re going to understand God the best by God’s appearance right here in our own midst. We are humans and therefore we’re going to meet God the most effectively right here in the human situation. So everything we’ve done so far in this series relates directly to our topic tonight. The evidence for Jesus Christ, his resurrection from the dead, points us directly to God. One could not go with us as far as we’ve gone so far and deny God’s existence. You’ve already met him. You’ve come across him in Jesus risen again from the dead.
Ankerberg: But there are some people that are philosophers that are saying, “We can’t even meaningfully discuss the word ‘God’ because by definition God is unique, so unique that anything that we’re going to say about him doesn’t really jibe, it’s not true.”
Montgomery: That particular position has been presented by certain linguistic philosophers in our time stemming from the work of the later Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations. And the view is in essence that you cannot speak meaningfully about anything unique. That uniqueness eliminates any kind of rational discussion. This is expressed by the quip that used to be going around on college campuses: “How will you recognize God when you get to heaven?” And the answer is, “By the big ‘G’ on his sweatshirt.” See? But you see, since God is unique, you wouldn’t be able to recognize him and who would put the “G” there? How could you be sure it was put on the right person? This argument is illogical; it is irrational.
Why? Because it goes against our human experience. We talk about the unique all the time without any difficulty at all. Seems to me that when I was a whippersnapper my preacher discoursed on snowflakes. “Ah,” he said, “each little snowflake is different from each other little snowflake.” I don’t know how he knew this; I don’t know how preachers know that each snowflake is different, but assuming that they are right, one can still talk about snowflakes.
More important, think of the person sitting next to you, or think of yourself. Each human being is unique. The genetic chromosomal pattern that produced the person next to you or produced you never existed before and apparently will never exist again. So, you are different in some fundamental sense from any other person who’s ever lived and from any other thing. And yet it’s perfectly possible to talk about the person next to you or you. So the philosophers, the analytical philosophers, are simply wrong that the uniqueness of God limits the possibility of talking about Him. And let’s say for the sake of argument, and it isn’t just for the sake of argument because this is what we’ve been talking about in this series, let’s say that that unique being came to earth and made it even easier for you. And that’s exactly what happened in Jesus Christ.
Ankerberg: Let’s talk about the philosophers a little bit more. Give us the parable of Antony Flew and John Wisdom that the philosophers… it’s really a good illustration about the liberals who are talking about God and they’ve got nothing to talk about. I mean, it exposes them, but it’s terrific for historic Christianity. Would you explain that parable and why that’s so?
Montgomery: The analytical philosophers John Wisdom and Antony Flew developed a parable which they employ to show how nonsensical it is to talk about God. I think it’s wonderful that one of these men is named John Wisdom; makes you feel that the universe is not entirely in difficulty. And in this parable we have two explorers coming across a clearing in the jungle. The clearing in the jungle represents some degree of order in this world. And one explorer says, “There’s a gardener who comes and takes care of this garden.” the other says, “There is no gardener.” One of them represents a believer in God; the other represents an atheist. So, they sit down and they watch. No gardener is seen. They remember H. G. Wells’ “Invisible Man,” so they put a barbed wire around the clearing and they electrify it to catch any invisible climber, but there is never any indication of anyone being there. They patrol it with bloodhounds but the bloodhounds never give a cry. Finally at the end, the believer says, “But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible to electric shocks, and he comes and takes care of the garden which he loves.” And the skeptic replies, but how does that kind of a gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or from no gardener at all?”
This parable is to show, presumably, that people who believe in God believe in something that suffers the death by a thousand qualifications. “God is not this, not that, not the other thing, there is never any evidence and therefore believers in God might as well be believing in an imaginary God.” Well, as you pointed out, John, that’s exactly the mess that religious liberals get in.
Ankerberg: Give them a few examples like of Tillich’s, etc., etc., down the line.
Montgomery: Oh, yes, well, Karl Barth, whom you mentioned previously, Karl Barth said the resurrection occurred, but it didn’t occur in ordinary history so it can’t be investigated. Paul Tillich says that God is the “ground of all being” and also being itself, and so you’re not sure whether you’re looking at God when you shave in the morning and look in the mirror. You don’t know what the “ground of all being” is. It can’t be hamburger but there’s some sort of “ground” there. And the whole thing is so indefinable and so vague, so untestable, that you actually don’t end up with any sort of definable belief at all. The Eastern religions in talking about Brahman, “Brahman is all,” get into that same sort of difficulty. But historic Christianity – and this is the important point – historic Christianity is not in those categories. Not in the slightest. Why? Because in historic Christianity you don’t need to set up a barbed wire fence. You don’t need any bloodhounds. The Gardener literally enters the garden. I think it’s fascinating on Easter morning, the women thought they were seeing a gardener… that’s the “Gardener” of the Flew/Wisdom parable, everybody. The Gardener came into this world and he displayed himself “by many infallible proofs.” [Acts 1:3]
Ankerberg: We’ve got one minute before we take our break. What is a denotative definition versus a descriptive definition of God and why is it so neat that Christianity is one of the only religions in the world that can define God denotatively?
Montgomery: Well, when people ask for a definition of God they’re usually thinking of a dictionary definition. That’s a descriptive definition. The trouble with such definitions is that you can always ask for the definition of the terms you use in the definition. All dictionaries are circular, in other words. And therefore there are many skeptics who try to get Christians into these discussions: “Define God!” And the minute the definition is given, then the skeptic asks for a definition of the definition. A far more effective form of definition not only in theology but in life is denotative definition, which involves denoting, pointing. What’s a Ford? You take the person out and you say, “That’s a Ford!” Well, only Christianity can provide a denotative definition of God. I don’t have to define God! I take you to Jesus Christ and I point, like John the Baptist did, and I say, “I must decrease; he must increase. [John 3:30] There’s God. Now, do something about him.”
Ankerberg: Terrific. We’re going to come back and we’re going to ask Dr. Montgomery to outline the evidence for the person that says, “Give me the evidence for the existence of God. I’m an atheist.” We’ll do that when we come right back. Stick with us.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back, and we’re talking with Dr. John Warwick Montgomery and we’re talking about the evidence for the existence of God. If you say, “Listen, I don’t believe that there is any evidence that even suggests that God exists. But I’m not an ‘ornery’ atheist, I’m an ‘ordinary’ atheist who is open to hearing the evidence. And if you’ve got something, I’m willing to listen.” So, Dr. Montgomery, what would you say to a person who says, “Listen, I don’t know if God exists or not.” What would you tell him?
Montgomery: Well, I first want to make sure that the person is open-minded on the subject; not vacant-minded but open-minded. I want to be sure that the person is not an atheist, as a matter of fact, but an agnostic and willing therefore to consider evidence. There’s no sense in wasting time with people who are atheists; that is, who are closed off to the existence of God. The Bible says, “The fool has said in his heart ‘There is no God.’” [Psa. 14:1] It is foolishness to take that kind of closed-minded position.
But it certainly isn’t foolishness, especially in a secular age, if one looks out at this very, very complex and mysterious universe and wonders if there is a God. So, we pick up then from the point of “wonder.” Can this universe adequately be explained on its own ground? Answer: “No.” The universe is not self-explanatory; it is mysterious in the best sense of the word. Let’s begin with anything, any single object or any person. Begin with this book. Being one of my books it’s a particularly valuable place to start. Does this book explain itself? Certainly not. You’re going to have to go beyond the book to something else.
In fact, you’re going to have to go to a lot of “something elses.” You’re going to have to go to an author. Books don’t appear without an author. They also don’t get into the trade without a publisher, a printer, a distributor, paper manufacturers and on and on and on. This object doesn’t explain itself; it forces you to go beyond it to other things. Or, take the person sitting next to you. That person does not explain himself or herself. You must at least go beyond that person to parents in order to explain that person. But then, of course, you’re going to have to go to grandparents and you’re going to have to go to the chemistry and physics of the person and so on.
The whole universe is made up of objects like the ones we’ve just been discussing, and persons. And the universe is the sum total of everything in it. So, if any individual element of the universe cannot explain itself, if you take them all together, you take them as a whole, you do not have something that is self-explanatory. You have a gigantic amount of non-self-explanatory stuff. Philosophers call this “contingency.” What you get is a whale of a lot of contingency. And since the universe does not explain itself, you are obliged to go beyond it for an explanation. You must go from the contingent to something absolute that does not require further explanation and that’s God. So you must move from the universe, beyond it to God.
Ankerberg: Then you have people like Bertrand Russell who said, “But, you know, where does God come from and who caused God?”
Montgomery: Yes, that’s the next question asked. And a couple of things need to be seen about that. First of all, the nonsensical character of the question. It sounds like it’s sensible, “Where did God come from?” But it’s only grammatically sensible. It’s like the question, “How many corners does a circle have?” It’s sensible grammatically but if you know what a circle is, you know you can’t ask about the corners of it. And if you know what you mean by “God” and you mean by God, “that which is self-explanatory,” you can’t ask the question, “Where does he come from?” or “Where does it come from?” because that in itself implies that God isn’t self-explanatory.
The second thing about it is this: Let’s say for the sake of argument that you’re moving from the universe to God in order to explain it. But, then you say, “How do I explain God?” and you say, “Well, I’m going to have to explain him.” Then you’re going to have to go to a God to the second power to explain the God to the first power. That will require a God to the third, fourth, fifth… it becomes an infinite series, ending up with, “God to the nth power.” That simply means it’s an infinite series.
But if it’s infinite, you’ve never explained “God to the n minus one.” Because if the series has no end, there isn’t any next to last. If you haven’t explained “God to the n minus one,” you haven’t explained God to the n minus two, minus three,… finally, you’re back to the universe you were trying to explain to begin with. You would have done better listening to old Gomer Pyle re-runs on television. This has accomplished absolutely nothing.
You’re going to have to stop this business at one of two points. Either with the universe in which we find ourselves, or with God as the self-explanatory end of the series. Now, the only meaningful question in all of this is, which is the better place to stop? The atheist stops with the universe; the believer in God stops with the self-explanatory absolute. Which is better? Well, no question about this. You’ve got to stop here, because you admitted to begin with that everything in the universe that you come across can’t explain itself.
You can’t then suddenly turn this universe into something self-explanatory. That’s myth-making. It’s turning the universe into God. It’s making that which can’t explain itself suddenly and magically explanatory. The Christian is not the myth-maker, the atheist is the myth-maker. The Christian takes the universe seriously, that it can’t explain itself and insists on going to a source of explanation which can.
Ankerberg: Besides that logical airtight argument that you just gave, support that with explaining the Second Law of Thermodynamics and how it proves the existence of God.
Montgomery: Well, this is not an argument developed by Bible school teachers. This follows from one of the most fundamental laws of contemporary physics and engineering. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that in a closed system the available energy will become less and less until finally you have no available energy at all. This is called a growth in entropy that finally results in heat death. Alright? It is a generalized law of the universe.
Now, for the atheist the universe has got to be such a system because there is no God outside. The universe is all there is. It is such a closed system. But according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics it only takes a finite amount of time to reach heat death. Think about it. For the atheist the universe is all there is, so it has always been around. It’s been around for an infinite period of time. But an infinite period of time will embrace any finite period, so the universe would already have reached heat death if the atheists were right. Now, it evidently hasn’t because there’s enough energy left to discuss the question. So, we conclude that the atheist is wrong in his assumptions.
One of two things must be the case, maybe both: the universe was created a finite amount of time ago and hasn’t yet had enough time to reach heat death: God created it. And/or there is a cosmic gas station attendant out there somewhere feeding in energy: That’s known as continuous creation by the theologians. But you’ve got to have creation. That’s the point. You’ve got to have creation. The Second Law of Thermodynamics insists on it. Go to Gordon Van Wylen’s textbook on thermodynamics published by Wylie and Son in Philadelphia, the scientific and technical publisher. Gordon Van Wylen was head of engineering at the University of Michigan. This is the most widely-used text in thermodynamics. Van Wylen says, “My authors and myself must believe in God. We have no choice. The Second Law of Thermodynamics insists upon this.”
Ankerberg: Okay. But if you have an infinite force, if you call this absolute, “God,” how do we know this absolute is personal?
Montgomery: Well, is it more reasonable to think that the absolute is personal or impersonal? For one thing, notice that we have used our minds in reasoning to the absolute. Wouldn’t it be strange if it required rational minds and personalities to engage in this argumentation, and when you finally arrived at God, he is non-rational. It would be more reasonable to assume that the reason we are able to get there rationally is that he is a rational and personal being himself. For another thing, in our experience, the impersonal does not give rise to the personal. You do not have bird houses giving rise to birds. The personal gives rise to the impersonal. Human beings build bridges, bridges do not turn into people, and so it is more reasonable to assume that the Source of the universe is personal and rational than that the Source of the universe is impersonal, that is to say, irrational.
Ankerberg: In thirty seconds, why is it then, go back to the first thing that we said, why is the demonstration of God then best seen in relationship to who Jesus is?
Montgomery: The reason is that when we’ve used the contingency argument and we’ve used the Second Law of Thermodynamics and we’ve talked in the terms that we have during this program, the best that we have arrived at is a “Source” of the universe, a First Cause, if you will, for everything. First causes are not sufficient for salvation. It says in the Bible that the devils also believe in God and tremble. [Jas. 2:19] In order to be saved you’ve got to meet the God of the universe as Savior, as the one who has died on the cross to deal with your own personal problems and risen again to take care of the problem of death in your own experience. So, the best place to meet God is just where we said at the beginning of this program. The best place to meet God is God in Christ. God was in Christ, the witnesses say, “reconciling the world unto himself.” [2 Cor. 5:19] And he is capable of reconciling you personally to himself. But, of course, it’s up to you as to whether you let him.
Ankerberg: Now, you’ve heard the evidence, you’ve heard the information, and what will you do with Jesus Christ? The Bible doesn’t say it’s an intellectual problem all the time. Many times it’s a moral problem: you just won’t. You won’t turn from your way of doing things and turn to Christ. But we ask you to examine your conclusions in light of the evidence and realize the invitation from Christ is open to you to commit your life to him. Join us for more next week.

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