Of Mice and Men: Christopher Hitchens’ Death
|By: Dr. John G. Weldon; ©2011|
|Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men has its title taken from Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse” which observed, “The best laid schemes of mice and men / Go oft awry.” This is particularly true for skeptics, especially at the end of life.|
- 1 Of Mice and Men: Christopher Hitchens’ Death, Falsifiability, Rationality and the Ultimate Apologetic: 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
- 2 Of Mice and Men
- 3 One of The World’s Greatest Conversions from Skepticism
- 4 The Ultimate Apologetic?
- 5 Impossibilities
- 6 Eyewitness testimony
- 7 Messianic Prophecy
- 8 Christ’s Atonement & Resurrection and Yet More Impossibilities
- 9 The Triple Hazards of Skepticism: Conversion, Life and Hell
- 10 The Uniqueness of Christianity: Why Only One God Exists
- 11 The Importance of Falsifiability
- 12 The Skeptic’s Impossible Task: Rationally Explain the Empty Tomb
- 13 Conclusion: Only 1 Option
- 14 Making Sense of God’s Wrath against Sin: And the Wonder of Its Eternal Removal
- 15 Notes
Of Mice and Men: Christopher Hitchens’ Death, Falsifiability, Rationality and the Ultimate Apologetic: 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
- And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? (Matthew 16:26, NLT)
Of Mice and Men
Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck’s novella Of Mice and Men has its title taken from Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse” which observed, “The best laid schemes of mice and men / Go oft awry.” This is particularly true for skeptics, especially at the end of life.
Ironically, unaware of it, I began writing these words just a day or so after the death of the famous atheist and outspoken critic of Christianity (and religion generally, particularly Islam), Christopher Hitchens. He was an unbeliever whom many Christians had been praying for, including myself, even as many of us had been praying for that other most famous and notorious atheist, the late Anthony Flew, who converted at least to deism as explained in his book, There Is a God, which I have reviewed elsewhere.
The great American philosopher and poet Walt Whitman also once spoke of mice when he observed that “a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.” True enough.
One can never be certain about deathbed conversions, and one can always hope that before passing these famous atheists had opened their eyes to observe the mouse and everything it implied. Clearly, both had encountered enough debates with Christian scholars, some of whom were their friends, to have heard the gospel clearly and persuasively. It is also possible that in the end, both did bow the knee. In the case of Mr. Hitchens:
- Christopher knew that faithful Christians believed that it is appointed to man once to die, and after that the Judgment. He knew that we believe what Jesus taught about the reality of damnation. He also knew that we believe—for I told him—that in this life, the door of repentance is always open. A wise Puritan once noted what we learn from the last-minute conversion of the thief on the cross—one, that no one might despair, but only one, that no one might presume.
As Douglas Wilson implies in his obituary, there is reason to believe, perhaps only if somewhat, that Christopher Hitchens may indeed have experienced a deathbed conversion, because he was apparently worried that it actually might happen. “The subject came up repeatedly, and was plainly a concern to him.” (This might possibly have been true of Anthony Flew, but for different reasons.) One can but hope; I, along with many, always liked and respected Christopher from the interviews I saw with him, although I was unfamiliar with Dr. Flew. Thankfully, Christopher’s own brother, Peter Hitchens was soundly converted from atheism, in the process writing, The Rage against God: Why Faith Is the Foundation of Civilization, a critique of his brother’s book, God Is Not Great.) His brother’s influence as well may have had an impact upon Christopher. (And while we are on the subject of atheism, The “ILoveAtheists.com” website has a good concise summary of the arguments for the existence of God.
Unfortunately, the problem with skepticism is it’s too bad to be true; it doesn’t just seek the impossible task of once and for all disapproving (or destroying) Christianity but that it is, as Douglas points out, a universal solvent (such as relativism). Indeed, as Nietzsche observed, it wipes everything away from the horizon – including skepticism. The other problem of skepticism is that relayed by Robert Burns – their best laid plans often go astray. In their attempt to disprove Christianity, some become converted to faith in Jesus Christ in the process because, through their open-minded research, they find the evidence sufficiently persuasive. Christian history provides many powerful illustrations.
Regardless, Walt Whitman was observationally correct, more so than he possibly knew back in the 19th century before the truly startling discoveries of inner and outer space achieved today through God’s common grace, known in this case as scientific research. Entire books have been written on the miracles that exist everywhere. The universe has literally trillions of miracles and marvels that, whether carefully or even carelessly observed stagger us, unbelievers included, although through repression of common sense and wonder, some can become bored even with the astonishments that exist around us.
I think of the stunning beauty on the island of Maui where I lived for over a decade, from eucalyptus trees with rainbow trunks to breaching whales and black, red and green sand beaches – spectacular scenery and natural magnificence everywhere. My first year on the island I did little more than praise God almost perpetually for the wonder of His beauty openly displayed everywhere I went. Throughout this life, everything from the smallest microcosm to the greatest macrocosm is stunning in its originality and miraculous character – from the remarkable bacterial flagellum to the miracle of the ovum, from the human brain to the most beautiful nebula.
Ironically, even a mouse is willing to tell us more about God than an unbeliever.
To be sure, in God’s wisdom, this stunning world itself is what makes a mockery of the infidelity of modern skepticism and science and their lifeless religion of evolution, a decaying speculation that constantly robs God of the glory due Him alone. Indeed, to think that everything in existence arose simply by chance (a nonentity) from nothing at all is completely absurd and equivalent to stating that “nothing and nothing” created everything there is, which not only violates scientific law but common sense and what everyone knows is true: God exists and He created everything (Romans 1:19). Modern critics of Christian faith and materialistic scientists may choose to believe in a fairytale myth (naturalistic evolution) through deliberate misinterpretation or repression of data or indoctrination, but nothing will ever alter the miraculous nature of existence. As Whitman also observed in his poem “Miracles”:
- To me, every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
- Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
- Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same…
One of The World’s Greatest Conversions from Skepticism
The apostle Paul was one of the most brilliant men of the first century, “trained thoroughly” under Gamaliel, perhaps the leading authority in the Sanhedrin of the first century and the grandson of the eminent Jewish teacher Hillel the Elder (Acts 22:3). He wrote almost 1/3 (31.57%) of the New Testament and his missionary journeys positively altered the course of Western civilization.
Yet he was one of the least likely men of that century to have become a Christian. His very training and nature predisposed him to see Jesus as a false Messiah – as God’s enemy and as his enemy, which is why he tried with all his might to destroy the budding Christian faith. Look at how one of the finest historians of the first century, the physician Luke (who wrote of almost 30% of the New Testament), describes Saul’s persecution of the Church: “But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison” (Acts 8:3). “… Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1). He “raised havoc in Jerusalem” against Jews who had believed in the Messiah. (Acts 9:21) The apostle himself later confessed that, “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison” (Acts 22:4) and, “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9). He refers to “how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13). Saul of Tarsus was no small enemy of the truth.
Yet shortly this very same individual was an absolutely committed believer in Jesus Christ, preaching the gospel to the very people who once commissioned him to destroy the church. Throughout his life he underwent some of the most brutal suffering endured by a Christian. Imagine the kind of personal pressure he would have experienced and was forced to tolerate from the Sanhedrin and his own family and friends, not to mention everything else. (This is a reminder to us to remember to pray for our brethren around the world who experience similar ostracism and persecution when converting to Christianity from a hostile religion, whether Islam or any other.)
Thus, on what became the famous road to Damascus, Jesus Christ appeared to Saul personally, beginning his conversion. Saul’s transformation alone has subsequently converted even noted skeptics to Christian faith (actually, many to most Christians are converted skeptics), such as the distinguished British politician and statesman Baron George Lyttelton (a descendant of the great jurist Sir Thomas Littleton), educated at Oxford and Lord Commissioner of the Treasury. Lyttelton wrote a lengthy volume, Observations on the Conversion and Apostleship of St Paul (1747), which none less than the noted historian Dr. Johnson believed one “to which infidelity has never been able to fabricate a specious answer.” This remains true to this day: even at his best, Dr. Anthony Flew couldn’t come up with a better solution to the problem than the nonsensical idea of a “conversion psychosis disorder.” Of course, no psychotic vision is capable of explaining the dramatic kind of conversion Paul encountered, given his past education, training and history. Is that the best skeptics can come up with?
Lyttelton and his friend, Gilbert West, had both agreed to once and for all disprove Christianity. West, also of Oxford, had assumed the task of disproving the resurrection of Jesus Christ and became converted to Christian faith in the process. Lyttelton wrote to West in 1761, “Sir, in a late conversation we had together upon the subject of the Christian religion, I told you that besides all the proofs of it which may be drawn from the prophecies of the Old Testament, from the necessary connection it has with the whole system of the Jewish religion, from the miracles of Christ, and from the evidence given of his reflection by all the other apostles, I thought the conversion and apostleship of Saint Paul alone, duly considered, was of itself a demonstration sufficient to prove Christianity a divine revelation (emphasis added).
The Ultimate Apologetic?
Historical proofs 20 centuries old are hard to come by. Nevertheless, returning to the apostle Paul, less than 20 years after his conversion he penned 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, to my mind perhaps the ultimate Christian apologetic, for the reasons discussed below. (In Paul’s declaration citated below I have placed in brackets relevant comments or themes.)
- “For what I received [early oral tradition, received months after the resurrection] I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins [propitiatory atonement] according to the Scriptures [messianic prophecy], that he was buried [empirical data], that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures [messianic prophecy, empirical data], and that he appeared to Peter [empirical data; Peter had earlier denied knowing Jesus three times swearing an oath, placing himself under an eternal curse if he were lying, yet Peter became the most prominent apostle], and then to the Twelve [empirical data; all former skeptics]. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living [unparalleled, unique empirical data for such an event; falsifiability], though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James [former skeptic], then to all the apostles [all former skeptics], and last of all he appeared to me also [former hostile persecutor of the church], as to one abnormally born.”
As humanities professor Dr. Louis Markos observes, “Nearly all scholars, whether liberal or orthodox, accept the Pauline authorship of 1 Corinthians, which certainly dates to no later than the 50s.” But more importantly, he goes on to point out that Paul’s apologetic statement dates back to a creed “in the 30s… only a few years after the events it describes.” In other words, these brief Scriptures reveal a well-known tradition that existed within two years after Christ’s death and resurrection. But in fact, it would have logically existed within a few months, not years after the crucifixion which is why: “Gary [Habermas] said about James D.G. Dunn [PhD, DD University of Cambridge], ‘In his recent book Remembering Jesus that this passage (1 Cor. 15.3ff) wasn’t just taught. It was already stratified. It was already put in this creedal form within months of the crucifixion.’” (See “12 facts” note 38)
This utterly destroys liberal and skeptical theology which teaches that the biblical Jesus was an invention of later disciples, or that, in various ways, they changed the historical Jesus into something he wasn’t. Time constrains us all and there was clearly no time for that with Christological doctrine established so early.
In this earliest creedal declaration we find a number of key elements for Christian apologetics, all potentially falsifiable. Let’s consider just four: reliable and yet startling eyewitness testimony (including living and formerly skeptical or hostile eyewitness testimony), historically and religiously unique messianic prophecy, and Christ’s atonement and resurrection from the dead.
Clearly, a belief in the undeniable eyewitness nature of Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead, His atoning death on the cross, and fulfillment of messianic prophecy were among the very earliest creedal and doctrinal/apologetic teachings of Christianity.
Let’s consider these briefly:
Much is made today of the “unreliability” of eyewitness testimony, as in a car accident or crime scene where things happen so fast or emotions are so strained and fragile that it’s only natural for witnesses to be uncertain or get things wrong. The problem is that the resurrection is of an entirely different order. No man on earth can mistake a dead man who has come to life, and therefore the eyewitness nature of the resurrection appearances is of a completely dissimilar nature. Entire books have been written on the credibility of the eyewitness testimony to Christ’s resurrection and how it establishes the truth of the resurrection. Each of the four independent Gospels were predicated upon legitimate, indisputable eyewitness testimony. For example, see noted scholar Richard Bauckham’s (a fellow of both the British Academy and the Royal Society of Edinburg) 500-page scholarly Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, demolishing form criticism and the equally discrediting the “finding the historical Jesus” endeavor, using the philosophy of epistemology, and proving beyond all reasonable doubt that the Gospels have valid and unimpeachable eyewitness authority, the highest possible standard for historiography. (The book is not perfect; but it clearly makes its point; Dr. J.N.D. Anderson’s older classic Christianity: The Witness of History – A Lawyer’s Approach is also worthy of note. Anderson taught at Cambridge University, was knighted by the Queen, a noted authority on Islamic law, and Professor of Oriental Laws, University of London and director of its Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.)
This unique credibility for such an unparalleled miraculous event is why both Jesus and the book of Acts (which emphasizes the early preaching and growth of the church), stress eyewitness testimony:
- “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact” (Acts 2:32).
- “You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48).
- “We are witnesses of this” (Acts 3:15).
- “And we are witnesses of these things…” (Acts 5:32).
- “We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem” (Acts 10:32).
Reliable and even inerrant eyewitness testimony in the New Testament is exactly what would be expected from the declaration of God incarnate Himself who promised the Apostles: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (John 14:26; cf. 16: 13). Jesus is clearly referring here to the writing of the Gospels about Himself.
The Hebrew prophets could not have foretold the specifics of Jesus life in detail apart from divine inspiration. Numerous authoritative books exist on messianic prophecy, proving that Jesus alone was and is the Jewish Messiah – they demonstrate beyond doubt that only Jesus could have been the Messiah because only He fulfilled specific and detailed messianic prophecy. According to the prophecy in Daniel 9, the Jewish Messiah had to come at the precise time Jesus came. In other words, if Jesus was not the Messiah, there is no Jewish Messiah, and both Judaism and Christianity are demonstrably false religions.
Messianic prophecy is a topic often overlooked or neglected and because it is so important and so definitive for the divine inspiration of the Bible instead of placing the following references in a footnote, I would like to situate them here for the reader’s perusal:
– Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Christology (see also his important: Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology)
– Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Messianic Prophecy Objections
– Herbert Lockyer, All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible
– Walter C. Kaiser Jr., The Messiah in the Old Testament,
– Christopher J. H. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament
– Michael Rydelnik, The Messianic Hope: Is the Old Testament Really Messianic? (NAC Studies in Bible & Theology)
– Norman L. Geisler, Christ: the Theme of the Bible
– Harold Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (On Daniel 9) 
– Paton James Gloag, The Messianic Prophecies
– Franz Delitzsch, Messianic Prophecies: Lectures
– Edward Hartley Dewart, Jesus the Messiah in Prophecy and Fulfillment, a Review and Refutation of the Negative Theory of Messianic Prophecy
– Alfred Edersheim, Prophecy and History in Relation to the Messiah (Classic Reprint)
– and, I would also like to mention John Ankerberg and my, The Case for Jesus the Messiah: Incredible Prophecies that Prove God Exists, a popular treatment (which includes the major prophecies in Hebrew).
There also many fine websites by both Christians and messianic Jews on messianic prophecy such as Messiah Revealed, which has a list of about 300 messianic prophecies (see “View Prophecies by Category, Index of All”: http://www.messiahrevealed.org/; JewishRoots.net; for a good brief summary see Bible.org: http://bible.org/article/messianic-prophecies; or Jews for Jesus: http://www.jewsforjesus.org/answers/prophecy/evidence).
Messianic prophecy (along with biblical prophecy in general) is not only a proof of the divine inspiration of the Bible, it’s also fun to study, indeed Jesus commanded its study.
Christ’s Atonement & Resurrection and Yet More Impossibilities
The historic fact of the Resurrection makes the spiritual propitiatory atonement of Jesus Christ an historical fact as well because it is tied directly to plain, historical messianic prophecy (e.g. Isaiah 53; Psalm 22) and to Christ’s own declarations to his disciples after His resurrection from the dead: “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.… This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms [books have been written on each of these].… This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:26-27, 44, 46-48).
When we simply cite Psalm 16 & 22 and Isaiah 53, the three major Old Testament examples of Christ’s death and resurrection, it’s virtually like reading the New Testament. We see why Paul modeled part of his argument as to what he considered “of first importance” on that which was “according to the Scriptures” [i.e., Old Testament messianic prophecy], and why Jesus himself said that the entire Old Testament spoke of Him, as we noted above.
Consider Psalm 16:9-11, generally conceded a reference to the Messiah (emphasis added):
- Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Consider portions of Psalm 22:1-31 (emphasis added):
- Ps 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? … Ps. 22:6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: Ps. 22:8 “He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” Ps. 22:9 Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. Ps. 22:10 From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God…. Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Ps. 22:13 Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me. Ps. 22:14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. Ps. 22:15] My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Ps. 22:16 Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled and a & a and is in and in me, they have pierced my hands and my feet [. Ps. 22:17 I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. Ps. 22:18 They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. Ps. 22:24 For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help…. Ps. 22:27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, Ps. 22:28 for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. Ps. 22:30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. Ps. 22:31 They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn—for he has done it.
Obviously, a book could be written commenting upon this Psalm alone.
Consider Isaiah 53 – this chapter in the “suffering servant” section of Isaiah (chapters 49-53) so closely parallels the life of Christ that no Jewish Rabbi, writer or scholar in 2,000 years has ever dealt successfully with this passage from their perspective (emphasis added) .
- Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
This may be considered the most profound Christological section in the entire Old Testament, so much so that no comment is required.
In sum: 1) the unimpeachable eyewitness nature of the multiple and varied resurrection appearances of Jesus from the dead, including to 500 people at once, to skeptics (really, of all the appearances, initially, who wouldn’t be a skeptic?), including a former deadly and powerful persecutor of the church; 2) the divinely inspired, supernatural messianic prophecies that cannot be collectively refuted by anyone, proven by the fact that they stand 2500-3500 years later and 3) the historical nature of Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sins predicated on messianic prophecy (e.g., Isaiah 53), His own prophetic teaching, and His physical resurrection from the dead collectively provide a virtual “ultimate apologetic” that skeptics and critics should consider opening their hearts and minds to, hopefully laying aside unwarranted biases and presuppositions, such as the irrational assumption that miracles never happen.
But there is more – the logical consequences of the resurrection in the life of the believing Jewish community, which quickly swelled to tens of thousands of people, of which we can only summarize examples below.
Not surprisingly, only Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead explains why the believing Jews immediately ended their animal sacrifices, something they had practiced for some 1500 years (vital to Judaism and a change otherwise impossible); altered the Sabbath day from Saturday to Sunday (to celebrate the resurrection, an impossible alteration apart from the resurrection); changed the entirety of their religious focus from law to grace (a religious and psychological impossibility apart from the resurrection); changed their actual fundamental theology (!) from monotheism to trinitarianism (another impossibility apart from the resurrection, for these were fiercely monotheistic Jews, a belief that was virtually inbred through severe divine judgments for idolatry); changed their belief from the Messiah being a political deliverer to a spiritual deliverer (inexplicable apart from the resurrection) and finally, believed what no one else on earth had believed up to that point – that a physical resurrection from the dead had actually occurred right then (something impossible to explain apart from the fact of it, as former Bishop of Durham N.T. Wright argues so persuasively in The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003) (See also, Michael R. Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: a New Historiographical Approach (2010.)
Let’s try to bring a little bit of this home. Imagine President Ronald Reagan literally emerging physically from the grave today, during a ceremony honoring his achievements – appearing bodily in perfect health to hundreds of people right than and also to various groups of individuals over a period of two months, eating with them, conversing with them for hours, appearing to groups of people instantaneously in locked rooms, walking with them – and then bodily, physically ascending into the clouds in front of eyewitnesses! Imagine the unbelievable phenomenon and commotion it would cause. The news of this would spread like wildfire. Imagine at least a dozen supernatural miracles involved surrounding the event, as was true for Jesus (see below.)
Consider events like the following occurring upon Jesus death and imagine if something like this happened today upon the public death of the president:
- “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the [massive] curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Sonof God!” (Matthew 27:50-54)
Ponder this for a moment. Just after Jesus cried out his last words from the cross, “It is finished,” [i.e., all sin has been atoned for], the magnificent blue, white, scarlet and purple veil of Herod’s Temple was literally torn in two – instantaneously. This veil was apparently 4 inches thick, 60 feet x 40 feet, weighed 3-4 tons and took 200-300 men to hold it. The high priests would have been both horrified and terrified. There was a great earthquake that actually split rocks. Most amazing of all, many dead people were supernaturally raised to life and came out of the tombs, walking into Jerusalem “and appeared to many people.” No wonder the centurion and the Roman guard were terrified. Who wouldn’t be? But what could be greater proof that upon the cross Christ had actually conquered death? Talk about empirical evidence! As the apostle Paul observed in one of his public defenses, even King Herod Agrippa II (great grandson of Herod the Great) knew about these things because “none of this was done in a corner.” “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do” (Acts 26:25-27).
Of course, this is 2,000 years ago and communication was largely by word of mouth; but nevertheless, events surrounding the life of Christ would have been widely discussed and disseminated, with hundreds and thousands of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, miracles, teachings, death and resurrection – as well as the miracles cited above at the moment of his death. I think it’s the plethora of miracles that shut everyone’s mouth when it came to attempting to disprove Jesus resurrection in the first century.
Explaining the existence of the Christian church rationally and logically, apart from the Christian explanation, requires piling one impossibility upon another, impossibilities compounded upon impossibilities almost to the nth power. It’s not just that Christianity doesn’t make sense apart from the Christian explanation, it’s that it could never have existed to begin with, and that the world itself doesn’t make any sense apart from the Christian explanation. Of all the philosophies and religions in history, only Christianity explains everything and explains it the best. In 40 years of studying other religions and philosophies, I have yet to encounter even a minor competitor to Christianity, nor is there the possibility of one because it would be obvious if someone else like Jesus existed.
The Triple Hazards of Skepticism: Conversion, Life and Hell
Extending CS Lewis’s trilemma we find that, unfortunately, skeptics face their own trilemma or, more precisely, triple hazard.
First, because biblical Christianity is absolutely true, if they examine the evidence carefully and honestly, they just may become converted to that which they formerly hated, as the apostle Paul. (Of course, that is also something wonderful, but it means skeptics must be careful to avoid certain facts and will constantly be faced with the weakness of their own position.) As former atheist and Oxford/Cambridge professor C.S. Lewis observed in Surprised by Joy, “A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere — ‘Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,’ as Herbert says, ‘fine nets and stratagems.’ God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”
Second, they must suffer the natural, built-in consequences of their personal skepticism not just individually (Galatians 6:7, which everyone experiences), but knowing that they bear some very small part of the responsibility for the collective social consequences of skepticism as well (relativism, materialism, nihilism, solipsism, cynicism, meaninglessness, amoralism, atheism, humanism, etc.) – consequences that have destroyed millions of lives and families and probably resulted in the unnecessary deaths of at least 700 million people in the last century alone, primarily from the logical consequences of materialism/evolution (e.g., abortion) and Marxism/socialism.
Third, if skeptics never repent from their skepticism and turn to personal faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins, they will, upon the moment of death, be forced to face God in judgment and spend forever in Hell, something that everyone therein residing fully acknowledge is perfectly fair and just. Obviously, if Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life” and no one comes to the Father but by him (John 14:6), then apart from Jesus there is no way, there is no truth, and there is no life.
Skepticism and its logical consequences are a truly high price to pay just to be skeptical, especially when it means living a lie, suffering the consequences, and, in the end having this proven beyond all doubt, indeed, proven for all time and eternity. Particularly when it requires discarding an eternity of indescribable joy as the other side of the price.
The fact that the creedal declaration in 1 Corinthians 15 can be traced to within a few months of Jesus’ death and resurrection reveals that the basic doctrines of the Christian church were already clearly affirmed in the early 30s A.D. – the very earliest Christian doctrines are the same ones we have known for 2,000 years. And in 2,000 years no skeptic has ever been able to disprove even one of them. Surely that must speak volumes to those willing to listen.
The Uniqueness of Christianity: Why Only One God Exists
Most people are unaware of how unique Christian teaching really is. A small book could be written on the uniqueness of Christianity in contrast to all other religions.
Only Christianity teaches salvation as a wholly free gift received by God’ s grace (unmerited favor) alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Every other religion that has ever existed teaches salvation by good works and personal merit.
Only Christianity has a doctrine of the Trinity, upon which everything in Christianity and life itself rests. In Judaism the ultimate reality is Unitarian/good; in Hinduism the ultimate reality is pantheistic/monistic; in Buddhism the ultimate reality is impersonal/pantheistic (Nirvana), polytheistic (Mahayana), or atheistic (Theravadin). In Islam the ultimate reality is Unitarian. But nowhere else do we find a Trinitarian God.
Only Christianity (and the religion from which it was derived) have an infinitely holy and righteous God. Apart from modern Judaism (which, incidentally, is not the Judaism of the Old Testament), all the other religions are also ultimately amoral or something similar, which isn’t to say they can’t have moral teachings, but it is to say there is a major problem here because of how they conceive ultimate reality. Only Christianity (and Judaism upon which it is based) have a God who is infinitely holy and righteous, although the two Gods differ in nature (Unitarian versus Trinitarian).
Regardless, neither of the above two teachings (salvation by grace alone, not works; trinitarianism) would have been invented by men because they never could have been invented by men. Never having been invented in some 10,000 years apart from divine revelation seems proof enough. They can only be found in one religion throughout history and are only adequately explained through divine revelation.
Only Christianity has revealed God to us because all other gods are false idols. “For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens” (Psalm 96:5). No other gods exist, only one God exists, the biblical God. For those who say some other God exists than the Christian God, I would ask, where is the evidence? Indeed, where is any evidence? Shouldn’t people take note of the fact that apologetics is, almost exclusively a Christian enterprise? (Yes, Muslims also have apologetics, but they have been soundly discredited, particularly by former Muslims.) By definition, it is impossible to prove a myth and all non-Christian gods are myths. That is exactly what we find when we look at the “apologetics” of non-Christian religions: an impossible endeavor. Where is the evidence for the Hindu Brahman – or Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, etc? Or the Buddhist Nirvana? Or the Tao? Or any other ultimate concept in a non-Christian religion?
Only Christianity has a doctrine of the Fall of man, empirically validated day after day, in every life, around the world, throughout human history: there has never been a perfect man except Jesus. (For example, in Hinduism & Buddhism, individual personality or existence per se constitute the fall of man, which is why personality and existence are intentionally destroyed through alleged “spiritual enlightenment.”) Indeed, if Christianity is correct in its belief in original sin, then only Christ’s incarnation, atonement and resurrection can possibly be the solution – which means Christianity and it alone offers a solution for the most fundamental problem of humanity, the most fundamental problem in all human history. Again, the Christian doctrine of the fall of man is the most empirically verified religious doctrine in the record of humanity. If anything in life is true, it is this. And yet only Christianity offers the solution, an incredibly costly solution paid by the Father and particularly the Son, a price they were willing to pay. Yet people live every day of their lives as if God didn’t even exist – when in fact he has given His own life for them. In no other religion does God historically actually die for human sin. Think a minute, if you were God, and an infinitely perfect Being in every sense, and the very people you lovingly created had ignored you all day long after everything you had done for them (life, happiness, pleasure, entertainment, family, on and on, not to mention providing for them the death of your one and only Son so they could inherit a free gift of eternal life), yet they continued to spurn you, even blaspheme you, wouldn’t you be angry?
Only Christianity has an historical divine incarnation.
Only Christianity has a God of love, a God who “is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).
Only Christianity has a God who has demonstrated His love in space-time history. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Only Christianity has extensive fulfilled prophecy.
Only Christianity has a Scripture that can rationally be defended.
Only Christianity has its founder resurrecting physically from the dead.
Only Christianity has its founder predicting such an event at least 15 times, forecasting in advance those who would kill him (Jewish leaders, Romans), the method of death (crucifixion), the specific time of physical resurrection (third day) and the place it would occur (Jerusalem).
Only Christianity has someone like Jesus, a figure utterly unique in world history.
Only Christianity has solid evidence from history, archaeology, science, linguistics, textual criticism, probability theory, fulfilled prophecy, correspondence to reality and much else proving that, among all the religions of the world, biblical Christianity alone is fully true. This is why all other gods are myths who do not exist: historical evidence definitively establishes the truth of the one true God and therefore all other claimed deities who oppose Him cannot exist by definition. Every other God people worship today opposes the one true God, logically meaning they are human inventions and myths. It is impossible by definition that there is more than one supreme God. Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead proved him an infallible authority and in that role He declared infallibly, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).
Indeed, Christianity is the only world religion in human history that is truly historical and truly original, something underappreciated by most people, especially skeptics and critics who (as I once did as a skeptic), never examined, or fairly examined, the evidence for the truth of biblical Christianity. I only read things I liked, that supported what I wanted to believe. Only as a Christian did I learn to look at both sides.
Only Christian revelation and doctrine are tried directly to unique historic facts that can be proven or disproven: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The mythology of Hinduism and Buddhism and the ancient Greeks and Romans is well known. The few religions that have some basis in history, such as Islam, do not have their revelatory doctrines (the essence of the religion) predicated directly upon necessary historical events. Mohammed and every other founder of a religion could disappear overnight without changing the fundamentals of the religion. In contrast, Jesus could never be removed from Christianity without destroying it entirely. The difference is enormous.
Only the Christian religion has universal appeal. Not everyone on earth wants to be a secularist, communist, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Taoist, Sikh, Confucian, evolutionist, Mormon, atheist, Janist, Zoroastrian, etc. but, in their heart of hearts, everyone on earth does want and even yearns for (although they also rebel against it, because they are spiritually fallen), the essence and end of the Christian message, and Christianity is the only religion on earth, or in history for which this is true, because Christianity is a perfect fit with reality and gives men what they can find in no other religion. Being created in God’s image and “not far from him,” already “being enlightened” to a degree by Jesus, desiring more in life, ultimate meaning, ultimate love, the ultimate happy ending – all this and much more is found only in Christianity. And this includes postmoderns who toss out virtually everything
Only Christianity has a convincing explanation, empirically verified, and an eternal solution for the haunting problem of evil which illustrates that everyone on earth knows something is wrong with the creation. We never ask, “Why is there so much good in the world?” but “Why is there so much evil in the world?” because we intuitively sense that ultimate reality or God is good and that evil is the aberration. Only Christianity has a God who often (always, for all I know, at least in this life) turns evil into good (e.g. Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28) and, in the end, does away with evil forever because He is infinitely righteous and holy. Evil is a mystery and difficulty every religion and philosophy must deal with but far and away Christianity offers the best solution.
And we could go on– only Christianity has a Scripture which declares God created the universe ex nihilo or, out of nothing – God simply spoken it into existence, which is hardly a problem for being of infinite power. Only Christianity can make innumerable professions of its God such as in Hebrews 4:15 and many other scriptures. Only Christianity has the Bible the greatest book on earth, the greatest codebook, greatest love book, the greatest divine revelation in history – and the Bible itself is unique in about 20 separate categories. Only Christianity simultaneously affirms the value of the physical world (e.g. the flesh), while completely accepting the reality of the spiritual world.
In sum, biblical Christianity is truly unique and only biblical Christianity can be proved historically because of Jesus, again, the most unique Man in human history.
The Importance of Falsifiability
The noted philosopher Karl Popper has pointed out that a characteristic of a genuine and scientifically valid system is falsifiability — the ability to be proven false. Thankfully, most false things can be falsified. However, examples of nonfalsifiable or partially nonfalsifiable systems include much of modern psychology (Freudianism, Jungianism, humanistic and transpersonal psychology), much of modern speculative science (the Big Bang theory, endless multi-universes and evolutionary theory – again, genuine science involves falsifiability), and some political systems such as socialism, although it also is partly falsifiable because it has never worked politically/socially; but theoretically, it can “answer” every objection). These systems of belief either can’t be refuted by empirical evidence or proofs against them can be explained away, no matter how nonsensically. Basically, something is falsifiable if it is capable of being tested (verified or falsified) by experiment, observation, etc. The above examples are largely partially unfalsifiable in that although disprovable, an “answer” can be provided to every argument against them, however weak or silly. If you can’t prove something as important as Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead either true or false, what good is it?
Christianity, however, is clearly falsifiable in an absolute sense, not just partially, and this is key. In 2,000 years, with the best that the most brilliant critics and skeptics can throw at it, biblical Christianity has not only never been falsified, it has proportionately been strengthened, having survived and conquered all attacks.
Follow me as I develop my argument. Literally tens of thousands of people were alive who were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ miraculous ministry. When Jesus multiplied the bread and fish, about 20,000 people were involved; further, the gospel writers often pointed out that (not surprisingly) “large crowds” and “very large crowds” followed Jesus. (Matthew 4:1; 21:8; Mark 4:1; 8:18-20 [cf. Matthew 14:21]) So there was no scarcity of eyewitnesses to Jesus miracles, to the contrary, tens of thousands of people saw them or heard about them. And the word spread from there. “Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (John 12:18-20) The Jewish leaders were clearly threatened: after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead subsequent to his being four days in the grave: “Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:47-48).
As former skeptic Ralph O. Muncaster points out, people love to talk, just as they would have in Jesus day, especially about dramatic events, let alone controversial and supernatural ones. Because of Jewish messianic expectation in the first century, people would have talked about the miraculous birth of John the Baptist associated with Jesus birth (Luke 1:13-22); the supernatural announcement of Jesus birth (Luke 2:9-18); the proclamation of Jesus as Messiah by a respected Jewish Elder (Luke 2:27-33); the declaration that Jesus was the Messiah by a respected prophetess (Luke 2:26-38); the supernatural angelic warning given to Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt because of Herod’s edict to kill all babies under two years of age (Matthew 2:13-16); about of the many miracles done by Jesus; the truly dramatic and unparalleled miracles surrounding the moment of Jesus death in Matthew 27:54, cited above; the miracle of the resurrection itself and the widespread commotion it would have caused; the large number of miracles performed by the disciples in the book of Acts and also recorded in the epistles of Paul and by others, supernaturally confirming the truth of the Gospel (e.g., Acts 2:22; 3:2, 6-10; 8:13; 19:11; Galatians 3:5; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Hebrews 2:4) – not to mention additional things. As to the miracles of Jesus alone, most people have no idea of their extent and magnitude, unparalleled in human history, and that “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25).
Since we are but a week away from Christmas as these words are written, consider just one illustration the startling angelic announcement of Jesus birth – put yourself in the place of the shepherds and just imagine being there yourself during this truly dramatic encounter:
- That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. T