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Professional Malpractice

Web posted on October 21, 2017

Hey Jude!

In the October issue of the Niagara Anglican, editor Hollis Hiscock tells of a time when he shared with his Facebook friends that he was preparing a sermon on the topic "Who is Jesus to me?'

One of the Facebook friends replied, "I don't know anymore. I used to go to church and hear people talk as if they actually had a personal relationship with Jesus. I don't think I have had a conversation with anyone in the last year who has said that they felt Jesus had led them to do this or that. I want to believe in Jesus. I want to believe in the Trinity. I just don't know what I believe anymore, sadly. I really wish you hadn't asked this question."

I'm delighted that Father Hiscock asked the question, "Who is Jesus to me?" It's a question that Jesus requires all of us to answer. But your answer to the subjective "to me" question really depends on how you answer the logically prior objective question, "Who is Jesus?"

When someone asks you "Who is Jesus to you?" one possible response is "Which Jesus do you mean? The demythologized Jesus whom C. S. Lewis described as a Jewish Boy Scout leader who went about giving good advice that nobody wants? Or the New Testament Jesus who was God incarnate, born of a virgin, died for our sins, rose from the dead, and promised to come again?" Your answer to the "to me" question isn't worth much if you get the other answer wrong.

Last week I ran into a retired clergy friend who was carrying a copy of the late Tom Harpur's book, "The Pagan Christ". I mentioned to him that Tom had been my thesis advisor at Wycliffe, and that I watched with sadness as Tom's faith deteriorated over the next 45 years.

My retired clergy friend acknowledged that he, too, had lost his faith and was no longer attending church. The change began, he said, when he stopped believing in the resurrection. Give him full marks for that insight! Who Jesus was "to him" necessarily underwent a major shift precisely when he changed his mind about the one detail that most decisively defines who Jesus is.

If Jesus is not truly alive, he is of no more use to us than Mohammed, Confucius, the Buddha, or any other religious guru. If Jesus is not truly alive, then all religions are equal competitors in the supermarket of faith. And there is no convincing reason why we should choose any one of them over the others, nor even why we should choose any at all.

So how is it that Father Hiscock's Facebook friend, my clergy friend, and even my recently deceased New Testament prof, not to mention many others of your own acquaintance, have walked away?

Some folks reject Jesus with hostility: they may be reacting against a hypocritical institution, or a heavy-handed parent, or even against the very idea of an ultimate Authority. Others, like that Facebook friend, would really like to believe, if only they could be sure that they weren't taking leave of their senses by doing so. And many, reflecting on the combined elements of human evil, natural disasters, and current scientific knowledge, have decided that a Christian world-view is improbable.

In fact, the Christian world-view is as intellectually defensible as any skeptical world-view. There is nothing new about human evil or natural disasters, and there is nothing in current scientific knowledge that compels disbelief. In fact, as long as you read the Bible in the light of the best literary, historical, theological, and scientific scholarship available, you'll find an abundance of evidence to commend a Christian world-view.

So why is that evidence not common knowledge? Why is skepticism rife? Why have the likes of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris had a field day debunking Christianity?

Because of professional malpractice.

Not theirs, but ours.

Christian clergy have a professional duty to explain why it's reasonable to believe in such things as the virgin birth, the incarnation, the Trinity, and the resurrection. Most (as far as I can tell) seldom do so. Seminaries, supervising pastors (= bishops), and governing church bodies have a professional duty to encourage and enable their clergy to explain these things. Most (as far as I can tell) seldom do so.

Some clergy do a good job of preaching about salvation. Others are diligent to show from Scripture how to lead a Christian life. Still others are adept at spiritual healing. And those are all really important. But can you remember the last time you heard a sermon on the historical evidence for the resurrection? Or a scientific rationale for the Christmas star and the virgin birth? Or an explanation of why belief in God is more reasonable than scepticism? Or how the book of Isaiah can still be the word of God, even if it really does come from two or three authors spread over a century and a half?

We can never argue people into the kingdom of God. But logical reasons and objective evidence can help to keep them there when they're wrestling with doubts. Reasons and evidence can also help those who are sitting on the fence to get off on the right side.

St Peter says that all Christians should "be ready always to give an answer to everyone who asks of you a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15).

Is that happening in your church?

If not, why not?

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Paste the following link into your browser, and you can read J. N. D. Anderson's monograph on the resurrection. That's the paper that kept this skeptical student in the faith during his university years: https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_resurrection_anderson.html

If you e-mail me (see below) I'll send you by return e-mail my monograph "Science, History, and the Birth of Jesus". It will confirm your best thoughts about the Christmas story, and dispel some thoughts you should never have had in the first place.


Rev Robert Lyon is the assistant at St Jude, Guelph, a congregation of the Anglican Network in Canada, that meets at 10 o'clock on Sundays at the Evergreen Centre, near Riverside Park. Robert welcomes your questions and comments, and will be pleased to discuss topics on request. Contact him at nm@albedo.net.
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