Introduction: Normally I write brief blog posts. But in this special series I go more in-depth on an important topic, the trustworthiness (reliability) of the four Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus in the New Testament (NT): Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Even with the added depth I’ve tried to keep the posts accessible and not overly technical.
Feel free to leave comments, or you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks!
Hello. My name is Rick Mattson. I work for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as a traveling “apologist,” that is, one who makes a case for the Christian faith. I work mostly with graduate students. During Q&A sessions students bring up many issues such as what the Bible says about LGBTQ, hell, slavery, suffering, other religions, etc.
But when I dig deeper into these issues with students, even more fundamental questions about Christianity come to the surface: Does God exist? Is Jesus even real? Is Christianity just a fictional but convenient “system” for explaining the big questions of life and providing a sense of (false) security? And aren’t most Christians just born into it . . . lucky for them?
So, if you are a graduate student or other thoughtful person, I am writing with you in mind. You may be a confirmed skeptic, a curious seeker of God or a questioning Christian — no matter. I hope these posts will help you think through the trustworthiness of the stories of Jesus in the NT. And I’m truly thankful you would take the time to read my posts.
To my thinking, the Jesus-question is the greatest question in the world, because if the biblical accounts of Jesus’ life are true, all of us should pay close attention.
But if the accounts are not true, then I guess everything is up for grabs.
First Idea: Faith is like Skydiving. You look before you leap.
My wife Sharon threatened for years to jump out of an airplane. I joked that I planned to skip this celestial event (too scary to watch), but promised to attend her funeral afterward. This got zero laughs from her.
In any case, I did some checking on the relative safety of skydiving. The United States Parachute Association reports that 99.99% of jumps are successful. A fraction are not. I was worried that Sharon would be counted among the fraction . . .
Last fall she did the jump. She leapt out of a small airplane from twelve thousand feet, dangling under what looked to be a giant dish rag for a few minutes till she glided down and hit turf . . . . green, safe turf, on the airfield. I was much relieved.
Before the day of the dive there was plenty of evidence to suggest my wife would be safe. There was the track record of the industry, the quality of the gear and pilot, the training they were given. All very assuring. But no proof. At some point Sharon would – and did – trust the evidence and plunge through an open hatch into thin air, no guarantee of living another day to tell of it.
To my thinking, skydiving is a good analogy for Christian faith. You look before you leap. You consider the evidence, even if it falls short of proof, which it always does. Then you take the plunge. I’m arguing here for a thoughtful, informed decision about Jesus, not blind faith.
So where does that leave us?
If you’re a seeker of Jesus (meaning, you’re checking him out), you’re probably okay with what I’ve said so far. You’re looking at the reasons for Christian faith and you’re intrigued by the possibilities.
If you’re a skeptic, however, you probably have objections. One may be that you’ve never thought the words “evidence” and “faith” could appear in the same sentence.
I understand. You’ve probably been around Christians who just “have faith,” and that’s all there is to it. Not everyone is a philosophical thinker. Many are following the tradition of their upbringing or had a dramatic conversion experience they look back on fondly . . . or they simply sense on a subjective level that God is present in their life each day.
You, understandably, don’t want to adopt blind faith.
You may be a person who wishes to live your life in a more scientific way — by reason rather than faith. And here is where I wish to appeal to your best sensibilities. I want to simply invite you to consider that many (certainly not all) Christians do approach their faith from the standpoint of reason.
Myself? I would NEVER believe in Jesus (or anything else) if I thought the evidence and rationale for doing so was lacking. You’ll have to take my word on that.
So what is the evidence, the rationale for Christianity, particularly for the life of Jesus?
I’ll write about that in my next post..
Thanks again for giving me the privilege of writing to you.