We – Muslims and Christians – need to learn to dialogue like this.
I was given the opportunity at my church to share some of the things I learned in India. Given the fact that I’ve spent a lot of time comparing belief systems – and cultures – I thought it would be a great idea to teach my class about Muslims, and how to relate to them.
Well… I was wrong. I wrestled with God in preparing for that class. Like the Lord God wrestles with Jacob – and God wins – I think God led me to talk about something deeper that just information. The truth is – I told my group – that if they really want to know what Islam is or isn’t, they can go find out on the internet. And even then, information is so widely available that they would go insane trying to figure out who is representing Islam correctly and who is not.
My Muslimah would tell me, “Well, if you want to know about Islam, learn from me. I am a Muslim.”
Well, yeah… then again, I see other Muslims, and they practice Islam very differently than her. So who is being really faithful to their religion? And the same goes for Christianity. I’m not being a hypocrite here. Therefore, I decided not to talk about these issues in my class. Instead, I decided to talk about HONOR AND SHAME cultures.
Most of you know that I am from Mexico. My society – my people – is very similar to the Muslim society. And for all I know, very similar to Eastern cultures. So I shared basic examples to help them understand how Honor and Shame look like in real life – specially because this is a church in which the majority of people are white. Their culture is totally different than mine. You can adapt to a culture – I believe – but there has to be a basic understanding of the dynamics of a culture (other than your own) if you want to be effective in sharing the Gospel with them.
So what I’m planning to do with the next series of posts is to share the things I talked about in the class, and after that I hope I can shed more light into the issues of salvation from the Muslim perspective, and how it relates to my perspective. I never really grasped why Muslims would say Inshallah.
A Muslim could explain to me that they try to please Allah, and that their salvation is based on whether or not their scale is tilted to their good deeds at the end of their lives. But they would also tell me that even if the scale were tilted to the bad deeds, Allah in His infinite mercy, could still grant them paradise. The point is Muslims do not know. And so when I asked, “So are you going to heaven?” They always replied, “Inshallah, I will”. And that really confused me for a while. I’m learning new things about my own faith, and I’d like to share them.
More and more, I am letting go of myself and really running into His arms. He will keep me. He is amazing. He deserves all the glory, and all the praise, and all the honor. My prayer is that these posts would shed light into what has happened in my life lately. God, through these situations, has enabled me to see Him for who He is – The Greatest name, The All-Compassionate, The All-Merciful, The Inspirer of Faith – and I submit to Him.
NO. I’m not a Muslim at heart. Let me make that perfectly clear.
So just to make sure we are on the same page: I bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of my faith. Christ died on the cross. I believe in my heart that God raised Him from the dead. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God, for by Christ all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Christ and for Christ. Christ is before all things, and in Christ all things hold together.
I am not a Muslim, but I deeply love Muslims. I pray earnestly to My Father in Heaven that He will bring His chosen ones from Islam into a relationship with their Creator. If you are Muslim, I encourage you to keep reading. Hopefully, you will get to see for yourself why it is so difficult for you to reject Islam as your identity. You might have no idea of Honor and Shame in your society. Oh, but it is real… so real.
Rest assured though, when Allah calls you to faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, you will dare to call Him Father.
I’ve been hesitant about whether or not to write this post. There’s pain involved – my pain and others’ – and I’m not sure I will be able to communicate exactly how I feel. But being Ramadan, I felt compelled to write this piece. It will be long for sure. I wanted to share this for the sake of my own memory keeping. It’s easier to write down my thoughts once they’ve been processed.
I know some things about Ramadan. I spent a Ramadan in India. I wanted to fast with my friends, but I just didn’t seem to have the guts. I know it is one of the pillars of Islam. I know it is a time to get closer to Allah, and that Muslims abstain from food, drink, and sex to purify their souls. They feed the poor and the homeless. They make a big deal out of family. They help each other and the community. They pray. They give.
If you’re Muslim, I say to you, “Go for it”
Fast. Pray. Thank God for what He has given you. I love the idea of you wanting to please the Lord of the universe – The Creator of this world who is above all names. The God who made this Earth – so immense and full of glory. I love the idea of celebrating Him and Him only. I love the idea of worshipping Him with all our might.
Make no mistake, though, you will never be able to earn God’s favor. So watch your motives this Ramadan. I pray the LORD will reveal His glory to you this month. That’s exactly why I want to share what has been of me during the past few months: I’ve been in counseling.
I’ll skip you the details of how I got there, but there were some behaviors towards my spouse, and my children that were not right, or good, or healthy. I did not know this, of course. I thought my spouse was the only one in the wrong, and I wanted his behaviors to change. I was angry, but mostly sad – heartbroken. A friend who came alongside me encouraged me to get some help. So I did.
I was terrified of going to counseling. I think I had a panic attack while driving one night. I couldn’t take a deep breath. What am I gonna do? That is all I could think of. I had no idea about my future or my children’s future. I could only see what my fear was allowing me to see – a divorce. I mean, what else, right? If you go to counseling, and your husband doesn’t ever change… What did that mean? It obviously means he doesn’t love you enough to change.
I cried myself to sleep some nights thinking I was a liar. I had lied to my children… All those times in which I had told them Mommy and Daddy would be together forever might not be fulfilled. But what was I going to do as a divorced woman? I did not work. I had forsaken every single thing that could have allowed me to work. Plus, I was in a country that was not even my own. If I divorced my husband, that meant I was getting out of the country. Would I then stay with him just for my children? And I was so fearful of everything. Of every possible outcome. Then, if we divorced… my parents, his parents.
Oh, God! What was I going to do?
Why would God be doing this to me? Maybe I didn’t pray enough. I always said I’d pray more for my marriage or my children, but I end up forgetting to pray more. Maybe I didn’t have enough faith. Maybe God was just testing my faith. Maybe I just had to persevere… Persevere? Doing what? I didn’t like my situation…
I just read an article this morning so full of everything I am feeling. You can read the original article here.
You might be feeling that if Jesus really cared so much for your comfort, then you would not be dealing with such pain. But that is not true. What is true is that you likely prefer the comfort that comes from the absence of discomfort, while Jesus prefers you to have the ultimate comfort of your holiness.
So while you might feel frustrated over a very uncomfortable situation you’re being forced to deal with, Jesus is actually pursuing your long-term comfort through that very situation.
That did not make sense six months ago. That Jesus wanted to achieve something in me through pain. Yet, in my counselor’s office, there’s a plaque that says:
Every true strength is gained through struggle.
The article continues:
If you’re a Christian, you are a disciple of Jesus. And by necessity, a disciple undergoes discipline. If a disciple is a student, then discipline is training. Jesus’s discipline for you, however severe (and it is severe at times), is not God’s wrath against you. If you are tempted to believe that, don’t. It’s your unbelief or the Enemy talking to you.
No, discipline is training. Training in what? Training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). The unique training course that Jesus has designed for you (he designs a unique course for each disciple) has one great aim: to teach you to trust him in everything. That’s his goal for you. Jesus wants you to learn to trust in him in all things at all times. For the more you trust Jesus, the holier you become.
And this is horrible. It has felt terrible at times. To trust God in everything…
Fearful, yes, but I went to counseling. Alone. I thought my marriage needed help. I needed help. I needed perspective. Hands down, it has been one of the best decisions of my life.
Of course, I wanted my counselor to tell me if I was gonna end up having a divorce. Or for her to tell me if the situation that had led me to finally look for help was really that bad. Maybe it wasn’t that bad, you know? Maybe I was overreacting, or maybe I was making a big deal of something that was not a big deal.
During my very first session I learned that I am prone to make idols of things or people. And that was so weird. My counselor said, “If you cannot say NO to something or someone, you have made an idol out of that thing”. She then told me to go, and ask the Lord to reveal things to me. I was supposed to do that for the next week. Just to ask the Lord.
“Why do I make idols, God? Why do I get in these kind of relationships? Why do I feel the need to rescue or care for people?”.
I kid you not, the word CODEPENDENCY came to my mind. I am familiar with the word because my sister has always said my mom is codependent. I had no idea of what that word entailed, though. And, of course, I never thought it would involve me. But after reading about it, I realized the condition fits me quite well. Like a 100%
I have always felt that I’m stupid. That I am unworthy. That I am a failure. That I am not enough. I have always felt the need for approval and recognition, the need to control people, and how dreadful it is to make a simple decision. I know about low self-esteem, and compulsive behaviors like trying to be the best mom, or the best cook, or the best wife. Always trying to find purpose in something outside of myself because it helped me to avoid dealing with myself. Pleasing people.
It’s taken me some time to read about codependency, and the reasons that drive my behaviors – specially with my husband and my children. My family of origin played obviously a big part on that. My dad is an addict, and my mom has always enabled him. I can’t generalize a whole culture based on my childhood experiences, but my culture revolves very much around shame.
I lived in a very dysfunctional family where pain, and anger, and fear – feelings in general – were not to be expressed. There was never confrontation. I learned to repress my emotions, and disregard my own needs. I became a survivor. I developed behaviors that helped me deny, ignore or avoid difficult emotions. I don’t think I had every trusted anyone for real – not even my husband. Just until recently I thought self-control was meant to be swallowing what you were feeling. Stuffing it deep down inside you, and you never talk about it. That was not right.
But that’s how I learned to do life. I asked my counselor, “Where is God in all this? Where has He been?”. She said, “What do you mean? He is in the middle of it…”
I did not understand what she meant at that point, but little by little it’s beginning to make sense that God IS the One revealing all these things to me. He is the One guiding me through all this process. And I’ve been given the opportunity to face who I am – to know who I really am. I heard a sermon the other day in which Rich Nathan said that we really are worse than we think. But God loves us more than we can ever imagine.
Why are you striving these days? Why are you trying to earn grace?
Why are you crying? Let me lift up your face. Just don’t turn away.Why are you looking for love? Why are you still searching as if I’m not enough?
To where will you go child? Tell me where will you run, to where will you run?
Idols. My husband. My children. My friends. It all made sense. I am always trying to make people happy. Somehow I grew up like this. Trying not to rock the boat. It has become clearer than water that all I have ever wanted is for someone to love me. And the need for love has been so great that I went way too far in so many relationships to make that happen. I would lose myself – if that makes sense – so that other’s would love me.
It was painfully obvious with my husband. He never asked for this, but I put him on a throne. The throne that God deserved. I was expecting my husband to fulfill something that God did not create him to fulfill. I was setting my husband for failure really – expecting him to make me happy and to satisfy my most deepest need for love.
Dear God, won’t you please… Could You send someone here who would love me?
Who would love me for me, not for what I have done or what I would become. Who would love me for me… ’cause nobody has shown me what love really means.
I know you’ve murdered, and I know you have lied… And I watched you suffer all of your life. And now that you listen, I will tell you that I – I will love you for you. Not for what you have done or what you will become. I will love you for you, I will give you the love, the love that you never knew.
After my first session – that obviously rocked my world – I told my husband that I was going to start making changes for me, and that I hoped that we could really have a good relationship, and work through the challenges that lied ahead. I said I did not want to be afraid anymore of anybody or anything. I was going to follow God wherever He would lead, even if that meant that our relationship would have to come to and end. I never felt that God was telling me to divorce my husband – let me be clear about that.
The Lord has been very gracious to me, showing me that it was not my husband who needed to change, but me. Mainly ME. It was liberating to see that this person I thought was perfect, was so imperfect. It opened my eyes to the fact that I had been trying to get my worth based on my husband, or my children, or my friends. On what people thought of me. Counseling has really changed my life. The Lord is changing my life through it.
God has shown me that even when I had been so unfaithful to Him (basically breaking the Shema Yisrael, and the first three commandments since EVER), He still wanted ME. God wanted ME. He was pursuing me. He was like a husband in love with His Bride.
And I was His Bride!
I have always wanted someone to love me like this. And I was so angry at God, because this love that He was offering to me, I wanted it. Yes. But I wanted it from my husband. I wanted to be everything to my husband. God showed me, very gently, that I would always be disappointed if I kept on expecting this from my spouse. That was not my spouse’s role. He was not meant to make me happy. That was not what marriage was all about. Marriage meant something much deeper. Marriage was about intimacy.
An intimacy that I had never had – not even with my husband. Intimacy meant more than sex. Intimacy meant feeling wholly accepted just the way I was. Marriage was a mirror, like a reflection of the intimacy God wanted to have with me. But all those dreams, and hopes and expectations were for the Lord to fulfill – not my husband. I would keep hitting a wall if I expected somebody else to fulfill them. Only the LORD was perfect to meet and surpass my expectations of love.
Another thing was I didn’t even know who I was. And I’m still learning. I know this might sound weird, but it’s difficult for me to know what I like or dislike. I was raised to mirror everybody else. I am afraid of making mistakes, I’m afraid of being rejected. I was rejected as a child. I felt rejected by the people who were supposed to love me the most – my parents. I was abused emotionally. It’s difficult to say those words because maybe it wasn’t that bad. I’ve tried to find memories – good memories – but it is so difficult. I cannot remember my dad telling me he loved me while sober. And I cannot remember my mom not being worried, or angry, or crying, or yelling, or taking care of him. And it hurts.
But it was bad. Yes, it was that bad. It was not okay. It was not normal to go through what I went through. No child should ever need to hear a parent calling her stupid. No child should ever have to beg for forgiveness from a parent. No child should ever have to wake up in the middle of the night, and decide if she should stay with her dad or go with her mom. I think I faced these feelings and for the first time I said, “Yes. It hurts. And no, it was not okay.”
I had never done that before.
Do you dream of a home you never had?
An innocence that you cannot get back
The pain is real. You can’t erase it. Sooner or later you have to face it down. Down.
You have to face it down.
You are loved.
Do you keep your thoughts inside your head? Will you regret the things you never said? You have a voice. You have to use it. You have a choice. Don’t let them shut you down. Down. Don’t let them shut you down
You are loved
Do you feel the ache inside your soul? You know you’ll never make it on your own.
Sorrow is too great for you to hold it. You’re gonna break. Why don’t you lay it down?
Freedom comes in letting go. Open up the window to your heart.
Freedom comes in letting go. Open up your heart.
Why would you want to be with me, God? Don’t you know who I am?
I cannot relate to a loving father. Let me be fair. I know my dad loves me – in whatever his idea of love is. I give him that. But then you tell me about a Heavenly Father who loves me. Uh… I know what the Bible says. I know. It is the very first time that I am experiencing this kind of love, though.
God also has revealed to me that I know nothing about unconditional love. I grew up learning behaviors, and I made them my own to survive. Making people feel guilty, putting people down in order to feel better myself, I manipulated and controlled others. I basically knew emotional blackmail very well. I have blamed others for my lack of self control, and I have let others abuse me. I have tried to fill my need for love and acceptance the best way I had known so far. I don’t forgive. I always remember so that I can bring it back.
God has been been so very gentle and sweet while giving me a reality check of who I am now. I feel like I should not use these corny terms to describe the Maker of the Universe, but He has been so very gentle. Like if I was dating somebody for the very first time, He would be the perfect date. He has shown me that He has loved me forever. That even though I have rejected Him, He is still waiting for me to come back. That now that I had a clear picture of who I was, I was able to walk towards the woman He made me to be. And all this, He does because He loves me. Nothing else.
God is not codependent, that’s for sure. He doesn’t need me. And He loves me. Unconditionally. So it began to make sense. This intimacy thing. This is what it means. It means that God knows who we really are, and He loves us. There’s acceptance. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. It meant that I didn’t fear divorce anymore. Becasue the truth is that my husband is a gift God gave me. He is my husband, and I want to know him, and I want him to know me. So I’ve been open in sharing with him these feelings and issues, and he says he loves me. It means conflict and arguments are there. It means I don’t need perfection. It means I feel accepted. And I also need to work on being accepting.
God loves me. I wanted this with God. Yes, with my husband, too. But God. With God. This is the relationship God wants with me. Why would I say NO to that?
I bought myself a ring. I married God. My other marriage is fine, by the way. We are learning to communicate better, and I’m not stuffing my feelings when I am angry. I’m learning to be assertive, and we are not divorcing – this goes beyond divorce. God is changing ME.
I am the Lord’s wife first. He is the one that will fulfill ALL the expectations of love I have. He is actually showing me what love really means. He has been faithful to me even when I have been a spiritual prostitute. He has shown me what a Covenant Keeper He is. He does not leave nor forsake me based on my performance. He has lived with me the book of Hosea. Even after I had gone after my Baals, my lovers, and forgotten Him; He has betrothed me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and mercy.
He is a devoted husband.
Your love is devoted like a ring of solid gold,like a vow that is tested like a covenant of old.
Your love is enduring through the winter rain,
and beyond the horizon with mercy for today.Faithful You have been and faithful you will be.
You pledge yourself to me, and it’s why I singYour praise will ever be on my lips, ever be on my lips
You Father the orphan. Your kindness makes us whole.
And you shoulder our weakness, and your strength becomes our own.
Now you’re making me like you, clothing me in white.
Bringing beauty from ashes, for You will have Your bride
Free of all her guilt and rid of all her shame
And known by her true name and it’s why I sing
Your praise will ever be on my lips, ever be on my lips
You will be praised. You will be praised.
With angels and saints we sing worthy are You Lord!
You see it? It is LOVE. It is nothing else. If you know what I am talking about, if you have struggled with acceptance and your self-worth, you understand the need to be loved. And you understand that you would give yourself to people, and do things in order to get a tiny crumb of love. You may not be aware of it, but you stay in relationships that deep down you know they are not good for you, or you don’t even like to get something – acceptance, praise, whatever it might be.
I have given myself to get something in return. Always. Becasue I want to be loved. But God? What does He need? He doesn’t need anything. Why would God give Himself to me like this?
He wants me to be FREE…
All my Christian life, I have been a slave. To my idols. I had failed to see that Christ died to set me free from my sin, but also from the things, and behaviors, and patterns of thought that have entangled my earthly life. This is what it means to walk with Christ. Yes, I get heaven, but I also get to enjoy my life here and now. My Lord and my Savior died so that I could be free to choose Him.
That’s what God’s more interested in – my freedom. I understand slavery. I have been a slave to my anger, and to these behaviors that I’m working on changing. Along the way, I had been raising little slaves… They don’t deserve this. No child deserves what I went through. And while I am not and will never be the perfect mother, I do want to change my family history. Without realizing it, I had been encouraging the same patterns of family disfunction that both my husband and I were raised in. It is so clear now.
On my last session I was so very happy to share with my counselor some changes that I’ve made, and some tough conversations that I had with people I was afraid of. I felt different. I turned around, and I read a verse that meant a lot to me:
Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
This is in the context of the prophet Isaiah speaking to the Israelites. God is telling them He will deliver them AGAIN from Babylon – another “exodus”. Where there is no clear path ahead of me, God will create one. He is always a step ahead of me. He knew about all this. He knew about my fears, and about my shame. He has covered it all.
I am learning a lot about being a parent in counseling. I am learning to show my children who they are, and who God is. To show them, not to teach them. I was teaching them one thing, but showing them a completely different one. I was being harsh, laying down the law. If they did something, they paid. Again, God is changing ME.
I am being more patient. More forgiving. I think that can be mistaken as if I’m letting them off the hook many times, but I don’t think I am. I am just showing my children what I have been learning myself. I am showing them how to regulate their emotions, and really, how to manage them. I just feel that I haven’t been very gracious to them in all these years. I have been expecting a behavior that it is right -like obedience – but I don’t think I have taken enough time to cultivate what it takes for that behavior to develop.
Basically I haven’t been a very good listener. It’s taking a whole lot of help from the Lord to wait fifteen minutes by my son’s side while he cannot stop crying. Waiting until we can talk about what triggered that anger explosion. It was easier to spank him because he pushed his sister, and then make him apologize. And then he would cry more and more. And sometimes I do think, “You know, all this emotional Let’s-talk-about-it-crap takes a lot of time, and a lot of effort…”
And the truth is I don’t want to deal with it. I don’t. Then I close my eyes, and I’m like, “Yeah, well… nobody showed you how to deal with your emotions. You have stuffed them all your life and when they explode, it has been disastrous – in family, in friendships, in marriage… “
The Lord reminded me of this the other day at the library:
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
I have been treated so tenderly by my heavenly Father. He is showing me how forgiving He is. I deserve the worst, but I don’t get what I deserve. He loves me. Are there consequences? Yes. Is there discipline? Yes. But I am just happy that God is working something in me through both my children and their strong will. He is showing me how to be more like Jesus. Isn’t that the point of the Christian life anyway? Jesus will not leave me alone…
So yeah, feelings are not being stuffed anymore. I think it is being particularly difficult for my husband. Sometimes I think that what I do here at home does not really have an impact on anyone. But I am realizing, basically, that God is helping my husband and I to get closer to each other, and also to potentially change future generations. God is helping me to break away from the cycle of abuse and codependency of at least four generations on my side.
I’ve been swimming, so this next song means a lot to me. I’ve never swam before, so learning to breathe correctly and all that was very challenging for me. All those feelings of inadequacy, of being a loser, would continually come to my mind. But I kept on trying and I’m getting much better. In my class, sometimes we practice drafting for triathlons. When there is a lot of people swimming next to you, the water gets really choppy. And even though I know how to breathe correctly, sometimes when I open my mouth all I get is water inside. No air. I have to put my head back in the water, then lift it up again, and try harder.
This time in my life has felt a little bit like that – like swimming in choppy water trying to get air. But God has been with me every step of the way. We are not done yet. I’m sure He will keep on revealing things to me, things that as of right now I have no idea about.
I like swimming because God showed me that I can swim. When I see a lake or a pond, I feel like swimming there, even though I have never swam in open water before. The idea of drowning in an open-water swim terrified me, but I can’t wait to try it now.
One final thought. I began this post with Muslims in mind. If you are Muslim, and you are reading this, I think you can relate to a lot of the issues I talked about. We do share honor and shame societies. I wouldn’t be surprised if you have been treated like this. I pray that one day you will be able to relate to God in this forgiving, accepting, and unconditional-loving way. There is no other way, but through Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
Life gets choppy at times. Being Ramadan I know you want to please Allah. I know. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Ask Him for a dream. Test Him on that. Dare to call Him Father. And always remember that if God calls you to swim, He will keep you breathing above the waves.
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep. My faith will stand
And I will call upon Your name. And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise. My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
Oh, Jesus, you’re my God!
This teaching on the Resurrection is great. Many good points for apologetics with Muslims 🙂
I believed in Christianity because its message appealed to me. I was raised running on an empty love-tank. I believed it. I never asked if it was true – I just wanted LOVE.
But a feeling didn’t matter when I was confronted with other faiths. So I was ready – as difficult as it was – to test my own beliefs, and follow the evidence. It was the worst year of my life, but without a doubt, it was the most enriching experience I have ever had.
I hope you enjoy this debate. David Wood is one of my personal heroes.
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…
1 Corinthians 15:17
He is risen 🙂
Great video. Go Columbus, Ohio! 🙂
“Did Jesus intend to found the Christian church? This interesting question can be answered in the affirmative and in the negative. It depends on what precisely is being asked. If by church one means an organization and a people that stand outside of Israel, the answer is no. If by a community of disciples committed to the restoration of Israel and the convers…ion and instruction of the Gentiles, then the answer is yes. Jesus did not wish to lead his disciples out of Israel, but to train followers who will lead Israel, who will bring renewal to Israel , and who will instruct Gentiles in the way of the Lord. Jesus longed for the fulfillment of the promises and the prophecies, a fulfillment that would bless Israel and the nations alike. The estrangement of the church from Israel was not the result of Jesus’ teaching or Paul’s teaching. Rather, the parting of the ways, as it has been called in recent years, was the result of a long process”—Craig Evans , From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation.
Another quote by Evans:
But we must ask if Paul has created a new institution, a new organization, something that stands over against Israel, something that Jesus himself never anticipated. From time to time learned tomes and popular books have asserted that the Christian church is largely Paul’s creation, that Jesus himself never intended for such a thing to emerge. Frankly, I think the hypothesis of Paul as creator of the church or inventor of Christianity is too simplistic. A solution that is fairer to the sources, both Christian and Jewish, is more complicated. -Evans, Craig A., From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation .
Take a look at both quotes from Evans in this post. From the author’s own experience, most Christians and Jewish people like the current boundaries. In other words, we have two separate religions- Judaism and Christianity. Thus, we don’t care much about as to how we got to that place. One thing for sure: If we discuss the “imperial Christianity” that was legalized in the fourth century by Constantine and whether Jesus or Paul is the founder of that, the answer is no. By then, the Christianity that existed was so far away from what Jesus and Paul had done, it had morphed into a new and separate religion.
As Evans says, this was the result of complex factors.
Do these issues matter for apologetics?
“An Assessment of the Present State of Historical Jesus Research” is a popular level summary in a chapter included in a book by Sean McDowell, A New Kind of Apologist (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2016), Used by Permission.
Michael Licona (original article)
A few years ago, I boarded a plane for a very long flight. I had a new book I had saved for the trip and was very much looking forward to reading it. Shortly after I took my seat, an elderly man, probably in his eighties, took his seat next to me. I smiled thinking, He’s going to fall asleep and I’m going to get in a lot of reading.
I was mistaken. Just after I began reading, my fellow passenger leaned over and looked very deliberately at the pages of my book. I smiled and showed him the cover. It was a book on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. He chuckled and said, “Well, I guess we don’t have to think seriously about that, since it has now been proven that Jesus never even existed!” He then sat up straight, as though our conversation had ended and now it was time to find something else to do. Hit and run? Not a chance, my new friend.
“Why do you think Jesus never existed?” I asked. This led to a short conversation on Jesus’s existence. It did not take long for him to concede that Jesus had, in fact, existed. But he maintained that “resurrections are impossible. There is no evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and it certainly could never be proved.” Perhaps you have had a similar discussion with someone and wished you had known how to reply. In what follows, I am going to discuss three key areas that will both inform and equip you to engage in intelligent discussions about Jesus with others.
Current State of Historical Jesus Studies
Our first matter is to define what is meant by the “historical Jesus.” Although scholars have not agreed on a definition, most would at least be satisfied with the following definition as a means to enter a discussion: When the data has been sifted, sorted, and assessed, the historical Jesus is the Jesus historians can prove with reasonable certainty and apart from faith.
It is important to observe that the historical Jesus is not the real Jesus who walked and taught in Judea and Galilee, but is the Jesus known through the results of historical investigation. The real Jesus was much more than the historical Jesus, just as a corpse in a grave was once much more than the minimal information described on the tombstone. And then there is the Jesus in the Gospels. This third Jesus is also a partial representative of the real Jesus who had many more elements to his personality and many more things that he said and did than could ever be reported in a Gospel with a length of less than twenty-five thousand words.
It is very important to understand these distinctions and many often fail here. In theory, these three Jesuses are not necessarily in conflict. For example, if historical investigation were some day to prove that the real Jesus did not claim to be the Son of God, the real Jesus and the historical Jesus would be in conflict with the Jesus in the Gospels, since the Jesus in the Gospels claimed to be the Son of God. On the other hand, the inability of historical investigation to determine whether Jesus was born of a virgin does not place the historical Jesus in conflict with the Jesus in the Gospels or the real Jesus, since the former will always be an incomplete figure. Accordingly, if historians cannot prove Jesus performed Event X, it is a misstep to conclude on that basis that it did not occur. To do so would be quite naive, since numerous events that actually occurred in the distant past cannot be verified.
How do historians arrive at conclusions regarding Jesus?
There are several approaches and various tools used within each approach. The most common approach at present is to recognize that Jesus was a Jewish itinerant preacher who lived in first-century Palestine in a culture that was both Jewish and Greco-Roman. This provides historians with a background knowledge that helps them obtain a more accurate understanding of what Jesus taught and the impact it may have had on those who heard him. They then apply what are referred to as criteria of authenticity to the words and deeds of Jesus as preserved in the Gospels. These criteria reflect commonsense principles. If two or more sources that are independent of one another provide similar reports of the same event, we can have more confidence that the event had occurred than if only one source had reported it. This is called the criterion of multiple attestation. For example, the Gospel of Mark and Paul’s letters are independent of one another. So, when both report that Jesus was buried, we have multiple attestation of the event.
If a source that is unsympathetic or even hostile toward the Christian faith provides a report that agrees with the Christian reports, we can have more confidence that the event had occurred, since the unsympathetic or hostile source would not have the bias carried by the authors of the Christian reports. This is called the criterion of unsympathetic sources. For example, Tacitus referred to Christianity as an evil and mischievous superstition (Annals 15.44). This identifies him as an unsympathetic source. So, when he reports Jesus’s execution by Pontius Pilate, a report entirely compatible with what we find in the Gospels, historians can have more confidence that the event had occurred.
If a report in the Gospels provides data that would have been embarrassing to the early Christian movement, we can have more confidence that the event had occurred, since it is unlikely that the author would have invented content likely to detract from the cause for which he wrote. This is called the criterion of embarrassment. For example, Mark reports that Peter rebuked Jesus and that Jesus in turn rebuked Peter, calling him “Satan” (Mark 8:31-33). Since Peter was a leader of the Jerusalem church, it seems unlikely that the early Christians would have invented and preserved a tradition that casts him in such an unfavorable manner.
Historians prefer to have reports that are from eyewitnesses or from a source whose report was written close to the event it purports to describe. This is called the criterion of early attestation. For example, almost all scholars agree that Paul has preserved an oral tradition in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 that goes back to the earliest days of the Christian church and that the content of these verses, although not necessarily the creedal form in which the content appears, very probably goes back to the Jerusalem apostles.
It would be nice if historians could climb into a time machine, return to the past, and verify their conclusions. Since that is not possible, historians can establish matters with only varying degrees of certainty. And it is entirely possible that a lack of data could lead historians to arrive at a false conclusion. This is not only the state of affairs when historians investigate biblical events but also with every other purported event in antiquity. Accordingly, the fulfillment of one or more of the criteria of authenticity in relation to specific reports about Jesus may be said to establish their authenticity with “reasonable” but not “absolute” certainty.
Historians who investigate nonreligious matters have strenuously debated the nature of history for several decades. Understanding the many challenges to knowing the past faced by historians, some have claimed that the past cannot be known and that historians merely create their own narratives of the past based on their subjective interpretations of the data. These are known as postmodern historians. Although the debate concerning the nature of history continues, the majority of historians have come to reject postmodern approaches to history and embrace realism, the view that the past can be known to a degree. Of course, historical descriptions of the past will never be exhaustive, will vary in their accuracy, and can be established with only varying degrees of certainty.
Therefore, when speaking of Jesus, it is unreasonable to demand absolute certainty. This is important because many of the skeptics we encounter outside the academic world, and even some skeptics within it, have an approach that, in essence, says, “As long as there is an alternate explanation to the biblical account that cannot be absolutely disproved, the biblical account should not be taken seriously.” Such an approach suggests those holding this view have a sophomoric understanding of how the practice of history works. A competent historian embraces what he or she concludes is the most probable explanation of the available data, since there is little of the distant past that can be established with such certainty that no room remains for an extremely unlikely alternative.
The Jesus Mythers
During the past twenty years or so, a number of books and articles have appeared on the Internet arguing that Jesus is a myth who never existed. Viewing the biographical information of their authors reveals that only a handful have any academic credentials. Unfortunately, most people reading the literature written by “mythers” (as they are commonly referred to) are not accustomed to critical thinking by comparing sources. For them, Earl Doherty and Dee Murdock (aka Acharya S) are as credible as John Meier and N.T. Wright. Yet they are unaware that neither Doherty nor Murdock ever went beyond earning a bachelor’s degree while Meier and Wright earned doctorates in relevant fields and teach New Testament studies at prestigious universities.
I am not claiming the lack of academic credentials on the part of Doherty and Murdock prohibits them from having good arguments and, therefore, they should be ignored. However, it is true that they do not have the training and experience in the proper fields. As a result, they often make egregious errors and silly proposals that sound credible only to the naive.??1 Mythers are often guilty of twisting data, providing false claims, appealing to other sources who are also not scholars, requiring an unreasonable burden of proof before acknowledging the existence of Jesus while being unaware that the scenarios they have proposed in order to address the data border on unbridled fantasy. Readers should understand that publishing on the World Wide Web does not make one a world-class scholar, since the only credential one must have to publish on the Internet is to breathe.
It is noteworthy that one could count on one hand all the scholars in the fields of history and biblical studies who have been persuaded by the arguments of mythers. This is not because the majority of historians and biblical scholars are Christians (I seriously doubt that is the case). It is also noteworthy that even some atheist and agnostic scholars have blasted mythers for their poor arguments and treatment of the data.??2 Scholars simply refuse to give them much attention and regard them to be as absurd as holocaust deniers.
Discussing the Historical Jesus with Others
With the advent of the Internet in the nineties, an explosion of information became available to the public. Christians are far more likely to hear arguments from their skeptical family members, colleagues at work, and neighbors that are more sophisticated than what they may have heard before the Internet. Moreover, our culture has changed. People are easily offended and many regard truth as relative. Everyone has their own truth and thinks it is morally wrong to offend others by telling them you think they are mistaken.
The apostle Paul adjusted his approach to relate better to his particular audience.??3 We should do no less. We must be more careful than ever to be winsome in our interactions with nonbelievers. We can be respectful of those we disagree with and make an effort to listen to them while they present their views in the same manner we would like for them to listen to us while we present ours. We should not overstate our case but temper it. Instead of saying “The historical evidence proves that Jesus rose from the dead,” say “The historical evidence strongly suggests Jesus rose from the dead.” Instead of saying, “I know that I know Christianity is true,” say “In view of the evidence I’ve examined as well as the answers to prayer I have personally witnessed, I’m convinced Christianity is true.”
Remember the words of the apostles Peter and Paul. Peter wrote, “But set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts, always prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account concerning the hope in you” (1 Peter 3:15, author’s translation). Paul similarly wrote, “Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6, author’s translation).
It is important to recognize that presenting good arguments to a skeptic will not ensure he or she will be convinced by them. Their objections to following Christ may be intellectual (e.g., they are not persuaded by the evidence), emotional (e.g., their Muslim or Jewish family would disown them or they had a poor experience with one or more Christians or their father), or volitional (e.g., they do not want to believe because of pride or it may require them to alter their behavior).
It is their responsibility to make a proper decision. It is our responsibility to share the message of hope through Christ “with gentleness and respect” and “with grace,” as Peter and Paul taught. The gospel message is already offensive to some. We need not make it more offensive by presenting it in a manner that lacks gentleness, respect, and grace. When we combine more knowledge with a heart that deeply cares for our nonbelieving friends, we will be pleasantly surprised to find ourselves engaged in dialogues that are far more enjoyable and effective than we may ever have imagined.