Well, it looks like I spoke too soon. Contrary to my previous declaration that Tim Keller was done trying to build a logical case for Christianity and had just moved on to sermonizing, it turns out the second-to-the-last chapter in his apologetics work The Reason for God really did contain one last shot at arguing for the legitimacy of the Christian faith.
In Chapter 13, Keller rehashes the story of the resurrection of Jesus, arguing that it must have actually happened, not so much because he has positive proof for it besides a collection of stories in an ancient book, but more because until you can definitively explain how this story came to be in the first place, you are supposed to assume that it must be true.
I suspect a misrepresentation here, but cannot confirm it.
This is what we call “shifting the burden of proof.” Ordinarily a person engaging in counter-apologetics (which is what I suppose I am doing in this series of posts) has to carefully break down the other person’s logic order to expose when and where this sleight of hand occurs in the other person’s argumentation. But Keller just comes right out and states his bias in plain language:
Most people think that, when it comes to Jesus’s resurrection, the burden of proof is on believers to give evidence that it happened. That is not completely the case. The resurrection also puts a burden of proof on its nonbelievers. It is not enough to simply believe Jesus did not rise from the dead. You must then come up with a historically feasible alternate explanation for the birth of the church. (p.210)
(1) At least, this statement does not support Carter's original representation of Keller. Keller says it is "not completely the case" that the burden of proof is on the Christian. But this does not at all support the claim that Keller says it is "more" because "you are supposed to assume the story is true" until you can explain it. It is like confusing, "Mr. Keller did not eat all the chocolate ice cream: Mr. Carter ate some, too" with "You must believe that Mr. Carter ate most the ice cream." There are two changes in meaning, here: "some" to "most," and the appearance of the imperative.
Um, why, exactly? That seems a rather facile assertion on Keller’s part. Why am I obligated to explain why a religious community or tradition exists? Must I give an adequate explanation for why Islam exists? Or Hinduism? Or Mormonism? Or Scientology? Each of these religions makes claims upon which the rest of their beliefs are based, and I fail to see why we are automatically obligated to accept them by default until we can first definitively prove that those claims are false. Or does Keller mean that only his religion should be privileged in that way? I wonder why, exactly?
(2) Even if Keller didn't explain that (didn't he?), many other apologists have, so Carter need not wonder so.
Hinduism is the religion of India, named thousands of years after it appeared, which grew up in native soil and came to include a number of ideas over those millennia, such as reincarnation, caste, the importance of the guru, and a set of gods and goddesses.
Hinduism is easily explained in such general terms. It does not depend on any historical action by any historical person. If Krishna did not speak to Arjuna, Hindus can take the story metaphorically, or ignore it and attend to any of the millions of other Hindu gods.
Christianity, by sharp contrast, grew up in a hostile environment (both Jewish and Roman) proclaiming two things (see Acts): the death of Jesus for the sins of the world, and his resurrection. That Christians were hated and killed for their faith, is certain. That they preached Christ risen, is clear throughout Acts. That Jesus died shortly before the Gospel spread out from Palestine, is clear, historically.
Since Christianity is founded on the resurrection of Jesus, a recent event to those preaching it, and since Jesus' first disciples would have known whether they really did meet Jesus or not, the truth of Christianity is supported by the early spread of that faith, in a way that is not paralleled by Hinduism or these other religions. (Some attempt has been made to find a parallel with Mormonism, but I think unsuccessfully.)
(3) We have not been given any evidence that Keller said we should believe Christianity "by default."
A resurrection is an extraordinary claim, and as notable skeptics Sagan, Hitchens, and before them LaPlace have all said in various forms, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
(4) And before them, David Hume.
But in the full context of background facts to the Gospel, I have argued that in fact, the resurrection of Jesus (but only Jesus -- let us not imagine there are valid parallels) is really not so "extraordinary"
in the relevant sense.
It would mean very little for someone to simply argue that a peasant rabbi amassed a following in ancient rural Palestine only to fall in with zealots and get himself killed by the Roman authorities.
(5) The Zealot Party probably did not exist in Jesus' time. Anyway, all the evidence is against Jesus having been a precursor, so that argument would not really work.
We have evidence of that occurring on more than one occasion. But it’s another thing altogether to claim that, after a weekend in a tomb, one of those rabbis came back to life, walked through walls, ate breakfast, and then flew away up into the sky. Those are extraordinary claims, and yet Keller says it’s on you to believe them all unless you can prove they never happened.
(6) Oh, and doesn't Tim Keller offer any positive reasons to believe in those claims? Of course he does.
Given other "reasons for God," the claim that God acted on behalf of not some random rabbi, but the central figure in human history, who has changed the world more than anyone else, and offers the world it's most luminous teachings, simply is not "extraordinary" in the sense, or to the degree, Carter facilely assumes.
Why Are We Still Debating This?
Arguments for the historicity of the Gospels wear me out, I have to confess. Like apologetics discussions in general, I find them tedious and repetitive. It seems to me that after people slog their way through all the details (and that can go on for days, weeks, or months) they come away believing the exact same things they believed going into the discussion.
(7) This impression should be seen as a gross over-generalization and corrected. In fact, converts both to atheism and to Christianity often cite their study of the historicity of the gospels as key to their conversions, in both directions.
I would also suggest that if the subject bores Mr. Carter, he not post on it. Work that bores one, is often done poorly.
My own personal feeling is that the whole preoccupation misses the most important point of all:
If the resurrection of Jesus really happened, we wouldn’t be still debating its historicity today. The present-day evidence for the other claims of the Christian faith would be overwhelming, and all around us. They would leave little room for doubt.
(8) This is non-sequitur, and ignores Christian anthropology and even secular psychology. As atheists often point out in other situations, human beings have a strong propensity for "cognitive dissonance reduction," to believe what they want to. The human heart, says the Bible, is "wicked."
From the fact that not everyone believes Fact X, it does not follow that Fact X is untrue, of course. Nor does it follow that evidence for related truths would be overwhelming.
The very fact that we are still dissecting these ancient stories, looking for clues to determine whether or not they really happened says enough, don’t you think? I believe we have too quickly forgotten that the same book which asserts that Jesus came back from the dead also asserts other things, such as: 1) if you pray for people to be healed they will get better, 2) if you give money to God you’ll get even more back in return, and 3) if you truly trust Jesus with all your heart then his spirit will empower you to become a better person. It says all of those things, and so much more, yet the devout keep pointing us away from present-day evidence toward ancient stories which we will never be able to positively disprove without the use of a time machine.
(9) Carter is simplifying Christian claims to refute them more easily. The gospels note that because of lack of faith, in one place even Jesus was unable to do many miracles. Furthermore, Paul prayed for his own healing of some sort, and did not receive it. Yes, there are also passages that seem, on the surface, to imply that everyone prayed for will be healed, but they must be taken in this larger context. See recent books by Eric Metaxis and Craig Keener on miracles, to see that miraculous healing does sometimes occur.
(10) The money promise is one of those phony pseudo-verses that prosperity preachers love. The New Testament makes no such promise, if you read it seriously.
Jesus does say, in Luke 3:38:
"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
But look earlier in the same chapter!
"Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and cast insults at you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven . . . "
It is clear throughout the chapter that Jesus is talking about rewards beyond the here-and-now, and therefore beyond Mr. Carter's calculations.
(11) I happen to think (3) is true. I have seen people do just that -- trust Jesus with all their hearts -- and I have seen them become better people. I was just talking with my aunt today about how this happened in my mother's life. I know that if I trusted Jesus more, I would become a much better person.
According to the writer(s) of the fourth Gospel, Jesus himself indicated what he intentioned would be the most visible evidence for his own legitimacy: The unity of the church. If the author(s) of that gospel can be believed at all, Jesus had the audacity to gamble his own legacy on his followers’ ability to remain in harmonious relationship with one another. I have often called this “the most failed prayer in history,” and it seems to me that any student of history should be forgiven for concluding based on what we have seen that in fact Jesus wasn’t who the Bible says he was.
(12) We're wandering quite a distance from Tim Keller's arguments for the resurrection, you will notice. The thread connecting the two issues has not quite broken, but has become thin, long, and multiply frayed.
Suppose that John, in his old age, fondly remembered the words of Jesus in his youth -- and remembered some of them not quite correctly.
How much easier is it to remember the most significant and awe-inspiring sight of your life -- whatever that may be, a marriage, a sudden death, an unexpected victory -- than the precise words of even a close friend, 50 years later? From which it follows that even if John did slightly romanticize Jesus' promise, that would in no way undermine the dramatic claim that he met him alive, after dead.
But did Jesus actually say anything about "the unity of the church" in the John 14-17? Well he does pray as follows:
15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
20“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Carter seems to have forgotten, somehow, that this is primarily a prayer, not a prophecy. And it is primarily about the disciples themselves, secondarily about those they would lead to faith. (As the whole prayer shows.)
That Jesus was not just waving a magic wand and making his followers be nice, is clear throughout the gospels and the epistles. They are stubborn, pig-headed, argumentative, even treacherous -- that very night! In other words, the Spirit leads, but gives Christians the freedom to follow -- or not.
That aside, I see no reason not to work my way through the handful of reasons which Keller believes the burden of proof—or rather disproof—remains on people like me who disbelieve that a guy died and came back 36 hours later nearly 2,000 years ago. I do feel the need to throw in couple of caveats first, however.
(13) Given the claim of your article, you really would need, not "work through" Keller's arguments, but fairly evaluate them, to come to the conclusion that Keller really is just tossing the whole issue into the unbeliever's lap, as you claim. I don't think he is, and you seem to sort of concede that here, too.
First, I will assume for the sake of argument that Jesus was in fact a real, historical person. I will admit this is far from certain, and I dare you to bring that subject up within any gathering of English speaking atheists today.
(14) It is quite certain. Name the gathering, and if they are polite and intelligent, name the hour.
But for the purposes of interacting with this chapter, we might as well start with that assumption. Remember that just because a guy named Jesus lived and died in the way the Bible says he did does NOT necessarily establish that he also performed miracles and came back from the dead. I hope most readers can separate Supernatural Jesus from Regular Joe Jesus long enough to get through the topic at hand.
(15) There never was any "regular Joe" Jesus. The historicity and supernatural character of Jesus are interwoven throughout the gospels (AN Wilson saw this even as an atheist) in such a manner that they cannot be rationally separated. That is the very fact -- a challenge to their core world assumptions -- that forces skeptics like Carrier et al into the absurd "mythicist" position, and the likes of Stephen Law into downgrading the gospels as historical sources. And aside from his miracles, Jesus is never "regular Joe" -- his teachings are as amazing as his acts, his social character, his style.
Second, I cannot help but note that in a chapter aimed at convincing skeptics of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, Keller relies upon the same individual for 9 out of 10 citations, and that individual happens to be an Anglican bishop. Granted, N.T. Wright is a brilliant writer and a devoted student of primitive Christianity who gratuated with honors from Oxford University. He’s no slouch. But he’s still an Anglican minister, and at heart he is a student of Christian theology. I found it somewhat disappointing to see him relying so heavily upon a fellow man of the cloth to establish a question of objective history.
(16) And yet Carter, to argue for his principle of "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," cited three skeptics alone, and none as historically-literate as Wright.
Also, aside from his undergrad days, people like Marcus Borg and Raymond Martin, neither I think a Christian, set Wright at or near the pinnacle of historical Jesus studies. What difference does it make what clothes he wears? Maybe he's a pastor BECAUSE he finds the evidence so strong.
Seven Arguments Against the Resurrection NOT Happening
1. While the gospels weren’t written until a full generation after the time of Jesus, the letters of Paul attest to the resurrection as well, and they were written earlier.
Well, yes, that is most likely true. Although we’re still talking about second- or third-hand information at best, and it’s still at least 20 years after the time at which these events were to have taken place. If I were to write a piece today about the untimely death of Princess Diana, I doubt it would carry much historical weight, given that I was neither there to witness the automobile accident that claimed her life nor was I even in the same country at the time. I wouldn’t be much of an authority on the details of her death, nor would anyone treat me as such unless they were desperate for reliable sources of information on the matter.
(17) But Paul says he met Jesus. He also knew Jesus' closest friends, who say they met him after his death. That changes things.
2. ZOMG there were 500 witnesses to the risen Jesus!
Okay, so Keller never used the word “zomg,” but I feel entitled to poke fun after having heard this thrown out as many times as I have over the years. The passage in 1 Corinthians 15 to which Keller refers doesn’t establish what he thinks it establishes at all, because Paul is merely repeating what he was told by someone else, and we don’t even know if that someone else was supposed to be one of those 500 people in the first place. Keller seems a bit overly impressed by all of this:
Paul’s letter was to a church, and therefore it was a public document, written to be read aloud. Paul was inviting anyone who doubted that Jesus had appeared to people after his death to go and talk to the eyewitnesses if they wished. (p.212)
Just how often does Keller think people on the other side of the Mediterranean made trips to Jerusalem? And if they did travel the nearly 1,800 miles by land (or 800 by sea), how exactly would they track down any of those 500 witnesses now that more than 20 years had come and gone since that time? In short, this doesn’t count as 500 points, it only counts as one point, if even that. It’s not even an eyewitness’s account. It’s a second-, third-, or even fourth-hand retelling of a story that claims there were eyewitnesses. Can people really not understand this difference? I’m kind of baffled.
(18) Actually, the Jewish Christian community seems to have been surprisingly mobile. (Or not surprisingly -- read the Greek historians, and see how much traffic there was by sea between ports even centuries before Christ.) Many Jews from around the Mediterranean visited Jerusalem for Passover, and many Christians were scattered by persecution -- Paul should know, he was one of the persecutors -- throughout the Jewish diaspora.
We KNOW Paul interviewed some of the eyewitnesses: it is probably that he had met many of them, even that some were in Corinth, a major seaport just down the road from Athens. According to Rodney Stark (and Carrier echoes him), the church had less than a thousand believers by this time -- a large percentage were probably eyewitnesses, even outside of Palestine.
3. We don’t give ancient people enough credit for their skepticism, nor for their ability to distinguish between fact and folklore.
Both Wright and Keller borrow heavily from C.S. Lewis, who frequently accused his contemporaries of “chronological snobbery” whereby modern people look down on their ancient counterparts as simpletons who would believe any tall tale they heard.
(19) Wright does no such thing. He cites Lewis extremely sparingly in his massive historical works. He obtains his opinions first-hand, from a massive amount of first-hand reading in ancient sources.
My main problem with this contention isn’t that people back then weren’t as smart as we are today, it’s that people today are still much more gullible than we care to admit. In other words, it’s not that ancients were so easily duped, it’s that we all are, even today.
Fair enough, which is why I'm dissecting your article.
The advent of the Information Age hasn’t necessarily spawned a generation of critical thinkers. I often say that misinformation travels just as fast as information, perhaps even faster. So this isn’t just a problem of ancient history. I’ve worked in a supplement store and I know good and well that as long the person giving nutritional advice is wearing a lab coat and/or has a stethoscope around their neck, people will buy whatever they are selling. And you don’t have to travel far from an major city before you run into a culture of superstition that makes you want to put your car in reverse and head back home as quickly as possible.
(20) Yes, but that cuts both ways. People are both eager to believe, and to disbelieve. It depends on their biases.
4. Women were among the first to report the resurrection, and nobody in that day would have made that up.
Far too much has been made of the fact that the gospels report women as the first to testify to the resurrection. Apologists for many years have counted this as a mark in favor of the “criteria of embarrassment,” meaning that if the early church had truly fabricated the resurrection account, they would have made sure to put the first testimonies in the mouths of men for reasons of social convention.
Women’s low social status meant that their testimony was not admissible evidence in court…The only possible explanation for why women were depicted as meeting Jesus first is if they really had. (p.213)
Well, that’s not exactly the only possible explanation, and this isn’t exactly a court of law, either. But in that particular culture and time, women’s lower social status actually made them more likely to be the ones given the responsibility of handling burial rituals, wrapping bodies and unwrapping them again to reapply burial spices and so forth. It’s quite normal and expected that if there had been a burial and a subsequent removal of the body of Jesus, women should have been the first to discover that he was missing.
(21) Which makes the Gospel story more credible, doesn't it?
And I should probably add here that I think this is exactly what happened. I don’t personally subscribe to the mythicist position which suggests that Jesus never even existed. To my mind, it is more likely that there was a guy named Jesus who did in fact get executed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that his body was removed at some point, leading to a whole host of theories and legends which eventually grew into post-crucifixion sightings of a resurrected Jesus.
(22) But that hypothesis has long since been massively debunked. Let's not put too much faith in folk historical theorizing. This "argument" doesn't even lay a glove on the usual arguments of a Craig or a Habermas, which have been bandied about for decades, now.
On just one minor note, remember that the gospels were written within the normal life-expectancy of Jesus' first followers -- and Paul's accounts, even earlier. So we don't have an "eventually" to work with, here.
The earliest version of the earliest gospel (Mark 16:1-8) ends with two women carrying burial spices to an empty tomb only to flee the scene “trembling and bewildered, saying nothing to anyone because they were afraid.” The oldest manuscripts we have of this gospel end with two confused women and no resurrection appearances. Which means at bare minimum we can surmise that the stories of later appearances by Jesus must have grown up later on, and in time were even added to the end of the text of Mark’s gospel in order to corroborate the legends that grew up between the different versions of the story.
(23) No, we cannot. Because Mark already mentions the resurrection at least two previous times in his gospel. (Mark 9:31; Mark 10:34) And also because Paul's conversion, and I Corinthians 15, were written first. And also because of the internal credibility of the resurrection accounts, from an historical point of view.
5. People in that time would have never believed in an individual bodily resurrection because it wouldn’t have fit their worldview.
Keller here again leans heavily on the work of N.T. Wright who argues in several of his works that any concept of resurrection familiar to the people of this time period would have disallowed for a personal resurrection of just one individual, and certainly not one that is physical in nature. Keller seems far too confident in ruling out any such thinking when he says things like:
Once your soul is free of its body, a return to re-embodied life was outlandish, unthinkable, and impossible… The very idea of an individual resurrection would have been as impossible to imagine to a Jew as to a Greek. (p.215-216)
And yet we have right there in the letter to the Hebrews (arguably the most Jewish book in the New Testament) this illuminating admission:
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said,“Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead…
It seems to me that whoever wrote the letter to the Hebrews believed that, even as far back as Abraham, there must have been some kind of concept of individual resurrection. If not for a belief in individual resurrection, how else would Abraham have been willing to march up that mountain ready to sacrifice the very offspring through whom the man was supposed to become “the father of many nations?”
I think this argument is not so obviously mistaken. Wright's point, that the Jews of the time were not looking for an individual resurrection, is no doubt correct, and Carter does nothing to overthrow it, however.
6. First-century Jews would never have agreed to worship a human as divine, unless he really were God incarnate.
Keller makes it sound like the deification of Jesus happened immediately. He takes the time-frame in which Jesus goes from rabbi to prophet to messiah to God and collapses it into an instantaneous event.
Jews…believed in a single, transcendent, personal God. It was absolute blasphemy to propose that any human being should be worshiped. Yet hundreds of Jews began worshiping Jesus literally overnight. (p.218)
Did they really, though? Because it seems to me the bulk of our knowledge about primitive Christianity comes from the later Pauline communities, not the earlier Judean ones.
(24) "Later" Pauline communities? We're talking about groups of believers who appeared more closely in time than the present is to my first trip to Asia, in my early 20s. It wasn't that long ago. The concept of "primitive" and "later / developed" here is bogus, chronologically.
(25) And the gospels do clearly represent the first community of believers. Bauckham has made a strong case for that, and I am presently writing what I believe is an even stronger case.
Do we really know how quickly they adapted to the idea that Jesus was somehow both human and divine? Even the early Christian hymn which Keller cites from Philippians 2, while situating the development of a high Christology in the mid-first-century, doesn’t really tell us that it wasn’t the more Greek-leaning diaspora communities who provided that particular innovation.
And as I mentioned in my last post, a cursory glance through the early church councils of the Fourth and Fifth centuries reveals that the divinity of Jesus was still being hotly debating in the church even 400 years after its inception. That’s not to say that the worship of Jesus didn’t start as early as the first century, but it does mean that the church’s understanding of the divinity of Jesus wasn’t exactly a fully developed thing right off the bat.
(26) Carter is conflating "understanding" with "belief." Yes, it is clear that Jews were worshiping Jesus as Messiah, Savior, and God within the first generation. That IS a reason to believe something spectacular happened -- as the gospels say. It is not by itself proof of the resurrection, but it fits within the rest of the evidence.
7. The early disciples would have never sacrificed their lives if the resurrection didn’t really happen.
Honestly, I don’t see how any American living in post 9/11 society can overlook the very real possibility that a dozen or more zealous young men would be willing to sacrifice their lives for a religious belief. Zealotry is no proof that the things you believe are actually true. It only means that you sincerely believe them to be true.
(27) I don't see how any American interested in the question, can still garble the argument this badly.
How many years has Josh McDowell been repeating, "Yes, people often die for a belief. But not for a belief that they know is untrue?" Thirty? Three thousand? It seems like it.
The key here is that the early followers of Jesus who claimed to have met Jesus alive, would have known if they "made a mistake," and would not willingly have died for that little error! There are ways of getting around this argument -- but not if you don't see that it's there in the first place!
Did the original 12 apostles in fact give up their lives for their faith? I don’t really know. This is another one of those many points at which people like Keller immediately believe any and every story that church tradition has preserved about the deaths of the earliest disciples. One such story I recall describes the apostle Peter being crucified upside down at his own request because, as the story goes, he didn’t consider himself worthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus. Because of course, Roman emperors were always taking requests from their captives, right?
(28) Occam doesn't like it when people who claim to be interested in the facts keep on dumping historical evidence ("church tradition") because it causes them unease.
Actually, Clement of Rome refers to Peter's martyrdom just 20-30 years after the fact.
Making Easter Relevant
I must comment on one last assertion that Keller makes in this chapter because I hear it from time to time and it has always struck me as a non sequitur. Following Wright’s lead, Keller suggests that the story of the resurrection of Jesus isn’t just about getting sins forgiven, but that it also portends to a future restoration of the whole world, and that the expectation of this future deliverance should motivate the church to become a meditating force to implement that deliverance in some anticipatory way.
Each year at Easter I get to preach on the Resurrection. In my sermon I always say to my skeptical, secular friends that, even if they can’t believe in the resurrection, they should want it to be true. Most of them care deeply about justice for the poor, alleviating hunger and disease, and caring for the environment. (p.220)
My first thought when I read that last sentence was about how unconcerned about those things evangelical Christians in America seem to be. If the story of the resurrection is supposed to motivate the church to seek to effect change in those areas, they sure haven’t made any of those things central components of the culture wars they’ve been fighting over the last few decades. The church in America is much more concerned with exerting control over what people do in their bedrooms than whether or not they’ve had enough to eat or what their carbon footprint happens to be.
(29) Carter is, apparently, too focused on politics, and not enough on social reality.
Sociologist Arthur Brooks shows that in fact, pious Christians in America contribute many times as much to charity, and are "by every measure" more charitable, than secularists, on average. (See Who Really Cares?)
(30) What lunatic would care more about whether, say, their daughter burns off ten gallons of gasoline in her car over the weekend, than if she sleeps with a VD-laden pig who's going to dump her and leave her with an unsupported child AND an STD? The messed-up priorities are, I think, Carter's own.
And I would think that even if I did believe in apocalyptic global warming, which I do not.
Keller goes on to give a lengthy quote from one of Wright’s sermons to argue that the Easter story should move the church to become a force for good in the world in precisely those ways:
Easter means that in a world where injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things—and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement the victory of Jesus over them all. (p.221)
Those are wonderful goals, and I would love to see the church in America come to focus on such real-world activities as alleviating injustice, war, poverty and disease. But I fail to see how stories of miraculous feedings and healings necessarily inspires that. I mean it’s not like Jesus taught his disciples about antibiotics or how to better irrigate arid tracts of land. The early church didn’t travel to impoverished districts to dig wells or lobby to change the laws or foreign policies of the Roman Empire. In fact, the only direct action I can recall Jesus taking toward the environment was when he killed a fig tree for not bearing figs out of season. Not exactly the environmental hero we were looking for.
(31) Well, then, like many secularists, thanks to our biased and delinquent educational system, you're missing out on a huge chunk of human history.
I don't see anything in Keller's comment about the environment. But I see a great deal in history about followers of Jesus changing the world for the better in the ways Keller mentions here. (See, for instance, pages 63-86 of my How Jesus Passes the Outsider Test
, also numerous posts on this site.)
And yes, that emphatically did begin with the early Church, as is crystal clear throughout the gospels and Acts, and as people like Will Durant and Rodney Stark chronicle for the next few centuries as well. So Carter is just wrong: the gospels did inspire massive, world-changing reforms, which have changed his life, and those of everyone he loves, for the better, whether he realizes it or not.
Furthermore, the things we are told that Jesus did were all instantaneous miracles. Now we are being told that his example is supposed to lead the church to do the same things he did, but in non-miraculous ways because of course everybody knows better than to expect that? I’ve never understood the appeal of this line of reasoning. It tickles the fancy of the modern progressive listener, and I guess I can’t blame either of these two churchmen for seeking to make their own ancient religious tradition relevant to the times in which we live.
But this has always felt like a bit of a stretch. And I suspect the majority of the church instinctively knows that, which would explain why those things haven’t really caught on in the church today.
(32) Again, Carter is just parading his ignorance -- both of the enormous reforms by which the Gospel of Jesus has changed the entire world, and of miracles that still occur, today.
So I predicted 30, and found 32. We do our best to add value, here at Christ the Tao.