The Apologetic of a Christian Life

There are a lot of areas of apologetics that I am interested in.  But even if I was able to demonstrate the logic of intelligent design, biblical reliability, historical Jesus and the truth of the resurrection, when skeptics read stories like that of Ted Haggard, the facts start to lose their power. 

The story of Ted Haggard, which is coming up again such as in this article from CNN, is one of those that Christians wish would just go away.  Haggard seemed to be one of those superstars that could do no wrong.  Then, seemingly in an instant, it all fell apart.  Where did Haggard go wrong?  Of course he should not have engaged in homosexual activity.  But his mistakes were greater than that.  He should not have covered it up instead of seeking help.  He should not have taken the influential positions in the church knowing that he was struggling and had secrets.  He should not have strengthened the prejudice of hypocrisy by taking an active role in the protest against same-sex marriage.  Haggard’s fall is the story of mistake piled on mistake piled on mistake.

Why am I talking about this on my apologetics blog?  The story of Haggard is the story that many skeptics expect to hear.  The apologetic role that the rest of us have to take is to strive to live a Christian life.  I am not suggesting that Haggard is a worse sinner than any other Christian.  But we can make decisions in our struggles that perhaps demonstrate our vulnerability while preventing the damage to the name of Christ.  We want Haggard’s story to go away but his story is one that the Church needs to hear and to learn from.  Let us learn from Haggard and move forward with honest hearts and humble reliance upon God.

Laozi, Jesus and the Virgin Birth

One of the most common arguments of the Jesus myth hypothesis is that the virgin birth of Jesus in the Gospels is just another version of the many virgin births in other religions.  When one looks at these stories, it quickly becomes apparent that there are not as many virgin births as some claim (Horus and Mithras were not born of a virgin).  But there are some virgin births in other religions.

One of the competing virgin births is that of Laozi or Lao Tzu, a major (and possibly mythical) figure in the foundation of Taoism.  Although this is a virgin birth, it should be carefully compared with that of the accounts in the Gospels.  Loazi was born to a virgin mother that conceived him through the power of a polar star, whose rays were holy. The virgin mother carried him for eighty-one years and then gave birth to him out of her left armpit while leaning against a plum tree. Laozi’s mother died after giving birth, but it is believed that her soul merged with the soul of her son and became one.  Notice the details of an eighty-one year pregnancy and the birth from the armpit.

Compare that with the virgin birth of Jesus.  While the Gospel account is obviously miraculous, it is much more restrained than that which we find concerning Laozi.  We have no reason not to believe that Mary had a normal nine month pregnancy and then gave birth in the normal way that women give birth.  In other religions, the virgin birth is one aspect of a fantastic series of events surrounding the birth.  The Gospels, on the other hand, separate themselves by recounting believable and realistic events following the miraculous conception.  The Gospel writers give no indication of a borrowing of a universal virgin birth myth.

If you are interested in this topic, the conversation continues at:
http://1peter315.wordpress.com/2009/09/23/who-is-the-father-of-jesus-christ/
and
http://1peter315.wordpress.com/2009/09/01/why-do-i-believe-in-the-virgin-birth/

The Jesus Legend

I recently finished reading Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd’s The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Gospel Tradition.  I must say that this is one of the best apologetic books that I have ever read.  The author’s really interact with the material without getting bogged down in the details of radical claims.  The purpose of this book is not to prove that every verse in the Bible is true or to work out the doctrine of inspiration and inerrancy.  Rather they work through the synoptic tradition in an attempt to demonstrate that they should be taken seriously as historical documents.

There are some very interesting things in this book.  Eddy and Boyd go on the offensive against presuppositions against the supernatural.  Some critics dismiss the Gospels because of miracles.  Eddy and Boyd remind us that ancient history writers did not dismiss the supernatural, nor do many people in the present age.  The authors also take an indepth look at the extra-biblical evidence of Jesus.  They admit when the sources are weak but also show the quality of much that we do have.  There is also an interesting section on the genre of the Gospels.  This is worth quoting.

While the Gospels may not be fully captured by the genre of ancient biography, they nonetheless are biographical in nature. Similarly, while the Gospels—even Luke—may not be reduced to historiography, pure and simple, still they are clearly historical in their intent. (p. 351)

Eddy and Boyd base much of their claims on the oral formation of the Gospel tradition. They argue persuasively that the oral nature does not work against the reliability of the Gospels. In this they use some of the current work on oral cultures.

It is not uncommon to find in orally dominant societies a clear conceptual and/or terminological differentiation between narratives considered to be factual and those considered to be fictional…. A most significant expression of this historical awareness is that it is frequently the case in predominantly oral settings that, within the context of the performance arena, the audience shares in the responsibility of accurately preserving the essential historical remembrances. That is, if an oral performer misrepresents the tradition—sometimes in even relatively minor ways—the audience frequently corrects him in the midst of the performance. (pp. 261-62)

I very much enjoyed the Jesus Legend.  The authors have an engaging writing style and the content is solid.  The footnotes give plenty of information for those who are looking for more.  The one criticism I have is that they do not give much detail in the comparison of the Gospels to pagan myths.  Nevertheless, this is a solid work.  If you have encountered any of the claims that Jesus never existed or that the Gospels are simply legends mistaken as history, this is the book to get.

Unmasking the Pagan Christ: The Documentary

In 2004, former Anglican priest and New Testament professor Tom Harpur wrote a book called The Pagan Christ, in which he argued that there was no historical Jesus but that the Gospels are Jewish versions of ancient myths, especially those found in Egypt, on which a which an inclusive spirituality focused on a Cosmic Christ rather than a literal Jesus might be built.

In 2006, Stanley Porter, New Testament professor and president of McMaster Divinity College, and myself wrote a response book called Unmasking the Pagan Christ, in which we argued that there is evidence for a historical Jesus and that the Gospels differ greatly from the pagan myths.

In 2007, a documentary based on the Pagan Christ was aired on CBC, repeating many of the same arguments of Tom Harpur but also including responses by Stan Porter and Ward Gasque.  It was a very highly rated documentary and it created some great discussion.

Last year, Stan and I were approached by David Brady Productions, the people who produced the Pagan Christ documentary, offering to do a documentary on our book.  Much of the work was done over the summer and around Christmas time, I received a copy of the completed documentary.  I must say that I am very pleased with it.  It is not an attack on Tom Harpur, as we strived in our book to confront the content and not the man.  It gives Tom and fellow Jesus myth proponent Peter Gandy an opportunity to share their side.  One of the things that I like about it is that the support for the historical Jesus in this documentary is not just from evangelical scholars.  There are people from a wide range of backgrounds, including one scholar that people might be surprised at as being on our side.  It is a very interesting documentary that people will want to check out even if they are not familiar with Tom Harpur’s version of the Jesus myth.  If you have come across the radical ideas of Peter Gandy, Timothy Freke, Robert Price, G.A. Wells or the movie Zeitgeist, you will want to see this documentary. The documentary will be aired April 2 at 9:00 pm on VisionTV.  The press release can be found here.

If you are interested in purchasing the DVD, they are approximately $20.  Email me at steve@stephenjbedard.com.

Atheists Strike Back

Atheist grmaoups are attempting to put pressure to stop all references to God in Barack Obama’s inauguration.  You can read the story here.  As I have said previously, I just do not get this.  When I was an atheist, it never bothered me when God was mentioned in public settings.  I disagreed with the people but I was not offended.  These atheists feel that mention of God violates their freedom of religion.  But again, it does not bother me when other religions are mention, even if I disagree with them.  When they had the American memorial service after the September 11 attack, Jewish and Muslim clergy were involved.  I was not offended, in fact I thought it was a powerful statement of how people can unite in the face of terror.  I think certain atheists need to stop taking themselves so seriously.