Jesus is The Reason – Apologetics 101-No.7 Jesus

This is the heart of everything.  The key question for theology, evangelism, apologetics – indeed all of life.  It is the question of Jesus Christ – it is why we are Christians and not just Theists.  My latest article on Christian Today – click the link for the original….here is the text.

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The Question – The young man at the University of Stirling made an astonishing statement, “OK, you have destroyed my atheism, but what do YOU believe? And why?” It is one of the few times that I have been floored by a question. What would I tell him? What would you say if one of your friends asked you that? Earlier in this series we looked at issues like evidence and proof, God and science, the God of the Bible and we will look at other key issues. But at the end of the day you can’t argue someone into the kingdom and to be honest, many ‘apologetic’ discussions seem to go round and round in circles. No sooner do you answer one accusation/question than another one comes along. So do we have one knock down reason why we are Christians? I think we do.

Are you a Christian? – Even asking that question indicates a key part of the problem. It is the use of the term ‘Christian’ as a means of self-identification. To the unbeliever it sounds religious, tribal and a bit self-righteous. When we bring the good news of Jesus it sounds to them like we are asking them to change tribes, or become ‘like us.’ And yet the early followers of Jesus did not often refer to themselves as Christians – the term Christian was a nickname first given to the followers of Jesus at Antioch (Acts 11:26) and quickly caught on. Nowadays the term Christian can have a great variety of meanings – it can mean a ‘good’ person in the sense that someone might say “that’s not very Christian of you,” or it can be a term of contempt usually followed by the words ‘nutter’ or ‘extremist.’ It can be an ethnic or tribal identification, but it seems to me that it is not often used in the original sense of the word, a ‘follower of Christ.’

The Course – The risk is that we speak about Christianity and have courses such as Christianity Explored and Alpha, which are in danger of presenting Christianity as a system, or a philosophy or just another religion. Of course their intention is to present Christ and this they often do in a wonderful way, but it’s the impression that is often given. Sometimes, as Burns prayed, God gives us ‘the gift to see ourselves as others see us.’ Alex Preston in his novel The Revelations, which is a thinly disguised attack on The Alpha Course and yuppie church in London, portrays Christianity as primarily being about ‘The Course.’

Although we are not often as extreme and cultish as Preston’s caricature, there is a real danger that we do present the course rather than Christ. You do the course and you pass the exam or go through the initiation ceremony at the end. We have Christian organisations, clubs and even political parties. We listen to Christian music, read Christian books and even have Christian holidays. The term Christian is now used as much as an adjective as it is a noun. And that’s not very Christian.

Even in Christian circles and media it is surprising how many speak about Christianity and few speak about Christ – except as the ultimate referee (‘my Jesus would not say this or would do this’) or good luck figure (equivalent to ‘may the force be with you’). For those seeking to communicate the gospel our concern is not to ‘Christianise’ people but to bring Christ to them and them to Christ. It is a question of identity. I am not a Christian so much as I am ‘in Christ.’ That is the language of the New Testament we need to recapture if we are to be effective in our communication of the Gospel. We can only share what we have. We can only share ‘who’ we have.

The late, great Christopher Hitchens wrote a book provocatively titled God is not Great. One of the main responses was entitled What’s so Great about Christianity? In my view it was the wrong title and the wrong answer. Christianity is not great. Christ is. Being a ‘Christian’ is not great. Being ‘in Christ’ is. Far too often we are so busy defending Christianity, or the Church, or the actions and words of some self-professing Christians (including ourselves), that we forget about Christ. And yet He is the ultimate apologetic. Truth is not a set of propositions. It is a Person.

Who is Jesus?  Having written a response to Richard Dawkins, I had planned to write a response to Hitchens, when I received the question from the student mentioned above. I told him that there were many reasons I believed in God, but the ultimate reason was Jesus Christ. His response was revealing “Yes, but who is Jesus?” He was not ignorant. He had the usual general knowledge and cultural awareness of Jesus (a kind-of first century hippie who spoke of peace, love and understanding and then got killed), but his question was spot on. How could I respond?

Magnificent Obsession – I honestly could not think of a book about Jesus to give a post-modern 21st Century western secularist. So I wrote one. Magnificent Obsession (this week’s recommended book!) I gave it that title because of a BBC programme I watched as a teenager entitled How to Get to Heaven in Montana. It was the story of a Mennonite community where some of the younger members had become ‘born-again’ Christians, which had resulted in some tensions in the community. The pastor had died and his son became the leader of the ‘born agains.’ At one point the interviewer asked this young bearded man, “What does Jesus Christ mean to you?” I will never forget the look on his face, as his eyes filled with tears and he passionately and quietly explained, “Jesus? Jesus? He is my everything. He is beautiful. He is my Magnificent Obsession.”

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That is who we are asking people to believe in. Not the system. Not the Church. Not the philosophy. Not the apologetic arguments. But Christ. Not ‘your own personal Jesus’ as so often portrayed, but rather the real flesh and blood Jesus, who really did exist, who really did teach, who really did die, who really did rise from the dead, and who really will return. (For the reality of the historical Jesus have a look at John Dickson’s wonderful Life of Jesus.)

Knowing Christ – The Good News is first of all about Jesus. Not us. To use theological language our apologetic must be Christological. Christ centred. Everything is about the beauty, love, humanity, divinity, will, teachings, death, life, resurrection, promises, warnings, character and works of Christ. If we want to know God, it is not enough to be theists, we need to know Christ. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:1-3)

If our apologetic is Christological then it means every question we look at will come back to Jesus. Not that at the end of every talk we just repeat the mantra “Jesus is the answer,” but that in our own thoughts, words and actions we show that He is the centre of everything.

When we look at the God of the Old Testament we do so through the lens of Christ who taught the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27) In speaking about God and science we remember Colossians and how all things are created by Him, for Him and in Him all things hold together.

Christ is our ultimate evidence. Larry King once said that if he met one person in history it would have to be Jesus and that the one question he would ask would be, “Were you born of a Virgin?” – because for him that would change everything. For me what changes everything is the resurrection. An atheist friend approached me after reading Magnificent Obsession. “David, what amazes me about your book is that you really believe that Jesus is still alive… wow… if that were true it would change everything” Indeed it does.

If you want to communicate the Gospel better, you need to get to know Christ better. I am intrigued by the rather bizarre fashion of some who state that they don’t go to church because they want to stay home and witness to their neighbours. But what is that witness? It is far too often about how nice I am, or my tribe is… not about Christ. How can it be? We don’t know Him. We don’t long for Him. We don’t even miss Him. If the apostle Paul could say, towards the end of his life, “I want to know Christ,” this man who wrote a third of the New Testament, who had met Jesus and who had planted half the churches in the world, why are we not aware that our greatest need is to know Christ better? To know the love that surpasses knowledge. To know how long, deep, high, and wide is the love of Christ.

Let me give a wonderful testimony that I received from an older Christian last week – I want to share how I’m beginning to see the might and majesty of Jesus. I’ve longed for this all my life. The first part of Colossians vibrates and pulsates as never before. I am beginning to see Jesus as never before. Why has it taken so very long? A benefit of old age? I am now beginning to understand why He is your Magnificent Obsession and of so many others. Now He lives in a wonderful new way. The Bible is coming alive. I thought I loved it, but this is new! Praise Him!

Do you not think that this lady will be a far more vibrant and effective witness to Jesus because of what she is experiencing in and through his Church? We testify to what (who) we have seen and heard.

They don’t need a course, or Christian values, or Christian tradition or even the Church, valuable and useful though all of those may be. They need Christ – and then along with Him, they graciously get all things. How strange that we so often present the ‘all things,’ and so rarely present Christ.

 

 


20 thoughts on “Jesus is The Reason – Apologetics 101-No.7 Jesus

  1. This post is just right. I have been so helped by my pastor Jack Miller, and his counsel, see Paul through the lens of Luke. From Paul the great truths of the gospel, from Luke how Jesus loved people, being patient, healing first, rebuking,feeding, but always loving.

  2. Agree wholeheartedly! For many years I have referred to myself as “a disciple of Jesus” rather than as a “Christian” – a word which, as you suggest, has been greatly devalued, especially during the past 40-50 years.

    I am, in fact, commencing a series on my own blog (www.crazyrev.blogspot.com) this evening, leading up to Resurrection Day – and it will be focusing on the Christ.

    Than you for your constantly encouraging messages.

    In Him.

  3. ‘Okay, said the man from Sterling, you’ve destroyed my Atheism’. Dear David, you haven’t destroyed a thing. It’s always the same with you isn’t it? You have to claim outright victory and destruction of someone else’s world view, which you then think only leaves your belief system as the only credible alternative. You still have no justification for believing the bible to be true for one thing, and a second, that it was given to mostly illiterate ancient shepherds by god. And you still haven’t shown, with any credible evidence, that your god exists.

    1. Its Stirling….and it wasn’t my claim, it was his statement. And I have much justification for believing the bible to be true. And it wasn’t written by illiterate shepherds (how do illiterate shepherds write?!)…and I have plenty credible evidence for God. Apart from those minor flaws your post is a devastating demonstration of atheist logic and reasoning!

      1. Not as devastating as your Christian logic. ‘Here’s a book written thousands of years ago, Many of the stories were fireside tales, passed down through generations and at some point, written down. In this book it tells us that it is the word of an invisible god. So it must be the words of an invisible god’.
        Now that’s justified logic if I’ve ever heard it.

      2. Except thats not Christian logic! Its easy enough to argue against a position that you just make up….Next time argue against what we actually do say….if you dare!

      3. Interesting….your wee rant contains no facts…kind of strange for someone who says they believe only because of empirical evidence…..feel free to present any when you can….

      4. Na David, that’s your usual deflective stock answer. YOU present empirical evidence that your god exists and also empirical evidence that Jesus ever existed.

      5. Already have done – lots of it…..but strange that you never present empirical evidence for anything. It appears that you have faith that you your beliefs are based on empirical evidence – and yet you never present any. Tell you what – I will let only post anything of yours here if it includes empirical evidence. That sounds fair?

      6. Tell you what, why don’t you present empirical evidence for the god you believe in instead of answering questions with a question? And am not bothered about you printing a letter, ne’r mind a word, on your website. But at some point I would like to meet an honest believer who can prove their god exists, and not just inside their own heads. Fair? Fair.

      7. So Michael – you are not up for the challenge. You demand evidence – but can’t provide any for your own beliefs. What a surprize! AS for me I have provided plenty evidence – two whole books worth – The Dawkins Letters and Magnificent Obsession. If you are serious about examining such evidence then feel free to do so. But I suspect that you are just ranting and looking at evidence is not really your strong point!

      8. Again David, thanks for your non answer. I will have a look to see if my local library has either of the books you mentioned. I’m not going to buy them as I recently purchased another book you championed, ‘God’s Undertaker’, and I suspect your two books are coming from a similar standpoint. I will endeavour to work my way through GU but it’s obvious from the very first chapter where Mr Lennox is coming from in regards to evidence and I suspect you’re similar. Page 16 from that book, ‘But that does not alter the fact that mainstream Christianity will insist that faith and evidence are inseparable. Indeed, faith is a response to evidence, not a rejoicing in the absence of evidence. The Christian apostle John writes in his biography of Jesus: These things are written that you might believe…
        Quite frankly who gives a toss what John writes? This is not evidence. This is a bloke who believes in god, telling others that what he is saying is true. The bible confirms Jesus existed. That does not make it a true evidential fact.
        Again, if this has nothing to do with YOUR brand of evidence, then please enlighten me. If you dare!

      9. Interesting that you have already pre-determined what is evidence (anything that agrees with you) and what is not (anything that disagrees with you). Even more interesting that in none of your posts do you offer any evidence at all – just assertion and bluster. I wonder what that is evidence of?!

  4. Amen. and amen.

    Judged, dead, raised and alive in Him. Our life is in Christ, hidden with Christ in God, in our union with Him, one with Him. My disobedience, sin, curse becomes His and His perfect obedient sinless righteousness, in union with Him, mine(ours). Don’t you just love Him? May we live in that reality.

    Antinomianism? Certainly not.

    Along with your book, Michael Reeves, “Our life in Christ” is marvellous, as is Sinclair Ferguson’s, preaching and teaching on this “centrepiece” and “centrepeace” of the the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Geoff

  5. Geoff, why not stop with the emotionally driven Christian reeled off soundbites and admit the fact that Christianity is an attempt to distance man from animals. Judged, dead, raised? You’ve got no idea whether he was or he wasn’t. And you might pretend you know where you’re going when you die, but really you have no more idea than I do. You just choose to believe what a little old book tells you. As well as a group of other hopeful, mislead Christians. Come over to the dark side! Ha ha!

  6. Sorry, have just come back to this post/blog.

    Thanks for the laugh Michael.

    Yes I do know where I’m going. You say you don’t know where you’re going. It’s a strange phrased from someone who doesn’t believe they are going anywhere!

    I have an assurance faith, of the experience of being “born from above.” If you call “joy” and exhultation at the Good News of Jesus “emotionally driven” I’m definitely guilty as charged, but it come from an informed mind. Any psychologist will tell you that a feeling comes from a thought!

    “Sound bites” . They have a depth of theological, spiritual, reality, which your blind, superficial materialistic narrow minded world view will never understand. Beyond your comprehension, as it is spiritually discerned.

    As for evidence I don’t think you have a great deal of understanding of the “laws of evidence”, for what amount to good and sufficient.evidence, but I’ve mentioned this at some length in previous blogs here, as a former lawyer. But I weary myself with this. Clearly you are close minded, biased. I wouldn’t want you on any jury.

    Apart from the fact you have not understood my post. In my Union with Christ by Holy Spirit … I have already been judged, I have already died, I have already been raised to life. I am as loved by the Father as His Son, a son of God, to be part of and to share in the Son’s inheritance. This is not is granted. to any other creature…And neither is Hell, which is no laughing matter.

    Read John Chapter 17

    But this is where we are agreed. If Christ has not been raised … my faith is in vain.

    Read “Who moved the Stone” by unbeliever Frank Morrison, but this would seem to be improbable due to the tone of your posts. Although you do keep coming back to this site. I ask you to doubt your doubts. No doubt your retort would be for me to doubt my faith, but I’ve had too long, too many years as a mocker, an unbeliever, of a wasted life that what I’ve posted here are not mere “soundbites”, but thought through, wrestled with, delights.

    And not many will talk of their Union with Christ, the main point of David’s blog, let alone being Christian soundbites.

    Lastly, in life where do you get your identity, your acceptance, your security, significance from. Where do you get the meaning of life from? From being a mere amoral animal?

    Is this your belief system, your “Creed” – a poem by journalist Steve Turner on the modern mind? -http://www.apuritansmind.com/apologetics/steveturnercreed/ If it is not linked it can easily be searched for. Enjoy.

    “All I once held dear built my life upon, all the world reveres and wars to own,
    Knowing you Jesus, there is no greater thing,
    You’re my all, you’re the best,
    You’re my joy, my righteousnes…
    And I love you LORD” Graham Kendrick

    My wife, a “sister in the LORD” and I sang this in a lift on my way to the operating theatre when there was no certainty that I would come out alive. Some on the ward before me hadn’t. I had to be returned to theatre from the intensive care life support systems, due to internal bleeding. I suppose I should have gone to the vets instead.

    “I’ll have some of that”, said the porter who had wheeled many to surgery.

    Michael I thank you for giving your name, not hiding behind internet anonimity

    And I thank you for the opportunity to share the Good News. It confirms and strengthens my faith. And thanks to you as well David.

    Geoff

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