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A Conversation About the Exclusive Claims of Christianity



The following exchange occurred between me and a friend who is not a believer regarding the exclusive claims of biblical Christianity and the inclusive commitments of liberal Christianity.  Here’s an excerpt.



“As for the primary difference between us, I think it is this.  You want to be saved by a God whom you believe you have wronged and may therefore condemn you to hell if you don’t worship him in a narrow manner.  By contrast, even if such a God exists, I don’t want to be saved by or worship an entity that would condemn a soul to hell as that does not reflect love.”

The interaction highlights many of the critical issues that arise when discussing the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith including the exclusivity of Christ with an intelligent person who does not believe the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God.


This rigorous dialogue resulted in the temporary loss of friendship but ended with Tana wanting to study the great truths of the Christian faith.  She remains unconverted but grace has caused her to seek out answers in the study of systematic theology from an evangelical perspective.


Tana is well-versed in all the arguments used by skeptics and those opposed to evangelical Christianity.  I don’t answer every objection but I do press home the central claims of Jesus Christ regarding his deity and the authority of Scripture based upon his resurrection from the dead. 


The content of the subject lines are important.  For example, “Are you just curious about my beliefs or trying to save me from damnation?”  Take note of them.  I’ve redacted names and deleted irrelevant information that would distract the reader.  I’ve also added notes in brackets [ ].


I hope this exchange equips believers to defend the faith and helps unbelievers to consider the faith.  It starts off with Tana telling me about her “two-minute interaction” with a survivor of the Holocaust while she was living in Jerusalem as a 12-year-old girl.  It starts off slowly.


"Tana" is a pseudonym, not her real name.


Tana:


Dear Brent, BTW, I don’t often tell the story about the Holocaust survivor that I told you about because I’m afraid that it will be misconstrued to mean that I equate the Holocaust with what [redacted] is doing or something of that nature. I don’t.  However, there’s no question that I sense the same evil that the Holocaust survivor was talking about when I hear [redacted] getting people to laugh about how a little controversy about sexual abuse bring people to family meetings and listen to folks clap for [redacted], a man who has devastated the lives of children who could not protect themselves.  And that I don’t want that evil taking over my world the way it took over hers. One thing I’d like to do with my new site is provide references to substantive material, rather than [redacted] garbage about forgiveness, resentment, and anger. In particular, many Holocaust survivors have had lots of takes on those subjects.  The one I met didn’t address forgiveness in particular during our two-minute interaction but she did say that she was angry with God for a long time.  I take her statement that “life has a price and we will never understand his ways” to mean that her perspective on the unbelievable degree of suffering that came with her life indicated she saw a broader picture that transcended feeling called to do anything but tell 12-year-olds her story and call them courageous, for reasons one of them still doesn’t understand. ;-) Not all Holocaust survivors felt the same way.  One who changed his German name to Jean Amery, a French-sounding name, wrote brilliant literature about how he felt that forgiveness could be morally wrong in some circumstances.  He was also frustrated by the human tendency to want to shove things under the carpet and move on, instead of fighting for justice, which is what I think the [redacted] are doing. In a way that’s understandable but if everyone made that trade-off we’d all be in concentration camps.  And if you’re going to bow out of taking a real moral stand you can at least do so with some integrity. Jean Amery understood that the natural order of things in life, including addressing atrocities, was to move on.  But he committed suicide because he literally couldn’t live in a world where unspeakable things kept happening due to what he perceived as the inability of the natural order of things to stop long enough for the moral order to catch up.  By contrast, the Holocaust survivor I met ultimately had hope for the world, I believe.  She did promise the person in the cattle car that she would tell the world what happened to her yet I don’t think that anyone would have thought less of her for declining to relive the horrors she experienced by talking about them on a regular basis. And the truth is that I think the moral order has done a better job keeping up with the natural order since WWII.  It’s not that horrible things don’t happen yet child abuse was not considered a crime people could talk about without shame, 60 years ago in the U.S., and it still isn’t considered a crime in most of the world.  Yet now abusing a child is considered one of the worst things an adult can do, morally speaking. So it seems a small thing in comparison; yet children at [redacted] are safer because you and I are willing to take a stand for them. And that’s all God asks of us, Brent, I believe.  Just that we do what we can to help the moral order keep up with the natural order. I know you’re not short on books yet at some point I’d like to send you a copy of Resentment’s Virtue by Jean Amery.  He has lots of interesting things to say about forgiveness and anger. 

Me:

Amery is correct.  It is immoral to forgive the unrepentant.  Repentance requires public confession, a commitment to moral change and the restitution of victims.  That’s also what God demands of us before he forgives.  Furthermore, someone must pay the penalty for our sins.  That is why Christ died on the cross.  He took our sins, died our death and then gave us his righteousness as a gift.   

Tana:

Dear Brent, You always articulate your truth beautifully.  My take on sin is a somewhat different on a macro level.  I believe no one on earth is damned.  We have all already been saved by God but are determined to reject that truth.  Thus our job is simply understanding God’s love through our interactions with others.  I’m not fully on-board with Jean Amery because I believe we can forgive someone yet still hold them accountable for their actions.  Isn’t that ultimately what Christ has done, from a traditional Christian perspective?  Jean Amery wasn’t big on prioritizing reconciliation.  However, I agree that true forgiveness necessitates taking actions that reflect a change in perspective and trying to fix what we have made wrong, to the degree that we can.  By contrast, the type of forgiveness that [redacted] market is the moral equivalent of what Bonhoeffer called cheap grace, in my view. We can’t just buy or negotiate our way out of moral issues.  Suggesting otherwise indicates great immaturity to me. Amery drew a dichotomy between victims and perpetrators but acknowledged that we all contribute to what goes on around us.  He was frustrated by the tendency to prioritize personal comfort over holding people accountable for their actions as am I.  I was lucky to be introduced to Holocaust literature by a remarkable Professor at Hebrew U. [Hebrew University in Jerusalem]  His perspective was interesting because he was a Jewish historian who wrote about Germany and the Holocaust but had grown up as a privileged white South African.  He may not have tortured anyone but he had been complicit in terrible things during Apartheid.  He said, “you grow used to ignoring the suffering of others.” I certainly got used to ignoring starving babies on the street when I lived in Pakistan whereas I would never tolerate that situation here.
Anyway, my birthday is coming up.  There’s a book of essays about Jean Amery that I’ve wanted for years: On Jean Amery: Philosophy of Catastrophe. The Kindle version is cheaper but it’s the type of book you’d rather have as a hard copy. Certainly if it’s a book you might be interested in reading I’ll put the hard cover version on my wish list.  The Kindle intro to the book, that I’ve read, is excellent. Best, Tana

Brent:

No need for the book but I appreciate the offer. I have to differ with you on your understanding of man, salvation and eternity.  Here is the Bible’s perspective on those subjects.      God created man in his image.  Man rebelled.  Man became corrupt (i.e. a sinner by nature and choice). He came under the judgment of God.  Yet in his love, holiness and justice, God the Father sent God the Son to be the substitutionary and wrath removing sacrifice (i.e., atonement) for mankind’s sin.  That is the heart of the gospel.  Through the Church, God mercifully holds out the promise of salvation to undeserving sinners but on the condition of repentance and faith.  Therefore, he commands all men everywhere to repent and believe in Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the only Savior because he is the one and only God/Man as attested to in the resurrection.  There is no other way to God.  Those willing to follow Christ and embrace the gospel are forgiven, justified, regenerated and adopted into his family as a gift of free grace.  Outside of Christ there is no salvation.  Hell is a reality.  Heaven is a reality.  Those who accept Christ are saved from eternal damnation and enjoy eternal bliss.  Those who don’t are justly and eternally condemned.  This is the teaching of historic Protestantism.  More importantly, it is the teaching of the New Testament.  The gospel of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension is the most amazing news ever heralded or published.  It must be preached throughout the world.  Here’s a series of messages I did on the gospel if you are interested.  I got a little loud at points so keep your cursor on the volume control.  You can skip the introductions.  😊 Part 1: The Reason for the Gospel Skip 0:00-7:10 http://stgilesepc.org/sermon-august-15-brent-detwiler/ Part 2: The Reality of the Gospel Skip 0:00-7:53 http://stgilesepc.org/sermon-august-22-brent-detwiler/ Part 3: The Response to the Gospel Skip 0:00-6:56 http://stgilesepc.org/sermon-august-29-brent-detwiler/ Part 4: The Results of the Gospel Skip 0:00-2:15 http://stgilesepc.org/sermon-september-5-brent-detwiler/ Getting the gospel right is the most important thing in the world.  I hope my brief explanation and the messages are helpful to you. Brent

Tana:

Dear Brent, Thank you for the explanation.  I will read your references as I’m always interested in what you have to say about anything. My take on the Gospel is very different from yours and I realize you probably think I’m going to hell as a result.  We can talk about that yet it’s probably the kind of thing that goes over better on the phone.  :-)

Me:

Is this statement by St. John’s Episcopal Church in Minnesota: http://stjohns-mpls.org/about/our-beliefs/ WHAT IS AN EPICOPALIAN The Episcopal Church is sometimes called a “bridge” church, because of our strong affinities with both Roman Catholic and other Protestant churches and our respect for all faith traditions.  Our worship consists of music, prayers, readings from Scripture and a sermon, followed by what we call the celebration of Holy Communion, a sacred act of remembering and re-living Jesus’ last meal with his disciples.  Our worship is traditional in many ways, and quite innovative in others.  It’s that combination of tradition and innovation that gives the Episcopal Church its distinct feel.  We love to explore the deeper questions of life and faith, in the context of that deeper grounding. Some things to know about Episcopalians: We are Christians, followers of Jesus, who we believe to be the Son of God. We are also deeply respectful toward other faiths and committed to inter-faith dialogue and witness.  While we feel called to follow Jesus, we don’t presume that all people are called to the same path.  We are people of the Book.  The Bible is our sacred text and story.  But we also acknowledge that the Bible is an ancient human document, full of all the contradictions and inconsistencies of humanity.  We seek in Scripture spiritual inspiration, historical grounding for our faith, the teachings of Jesus and of the Hebrew prophets before him, and guidance for our own life of prayer and service. We are people of community and of communion.  For Episcopalians, our gathering in community and our common prayers are priceless.  We don’t need to agree with one another about matters of faith, but we are called to pray together, with and for one another.  We believe, as Jesus taught, that when two or three of us are gathered, he is in our midst, and we need the diversity of human community to embody God’s dream.  At St. John’s, we practice open communion—all who worship with us are welcome to participate in the sharing of bread and wine. We are people of deep questioning and curiosity.  We love the rituals of worship, and the open-mindedness of spiritual exploration.  We are committed to reaching out, beyond the Church, to seek and serve Christ in all persons. I grew up arguing about theology and doctrine.  Then I got interested in how many times the Bible has been edited - the Council of Nicaea alone threw out half the books that could have been included in what most folks consider the New Testament.  At Hebrew U. I found listening to the rabbinical students talk about the quote unquote Old Testament very interesting as there is little resemblance between the Tanakh [the Hebrew Bible] and the Christian Old Testament [untrue, they are identical because both use the Masoretic text], an issue few Biblical literalists address.  Then I got upset by what I perceive as the degree to which Paul distorted Jesus’ teachings.  After that I concluded that if he had not Christianity would never have survived in a Greco-Roman world. Now I just focus on spreading the love of Christ as that love is what makes Christianity distinctive from other religions, to me.  Interestingly, I first saw Christ’s love through [redacted]. ;-) Do you believe Jesus is fully God and fully man?  Or in other words, do you affirm the virgin birth and incarnation of God in Christ?

Tana:

I would love to discuss faith issue with someone with your intellectual acumen, if nothing else.  It’s just not something I think will work well by e-mail because my beliefs are complex and ultimately inter-faith so we may not have much common ground.  However, we can give it a shot.  And if this doesn’t work we can talk about other issues on which we doubtless agree such as politics or the roles of men and women. ;-)  Simply put, my faith is in a personal relationship with God/Christ, not the Bible or another intermediary. For example, I believe that Jesus was wholly man and wholly divine yet I think that’s true of everyone.  I do not think that he was magically born of a Virgin or that Jesus himself believed he was the exclusive Son of God.  Those are distortions of his teachings that were created by his followers. I think that Jesus was an extraordinary soul who represented the best of human potential who came to show us the way to that effect as his statement, “all I have done you shall do and more” suggests. In fact, I think the belief that Jesus was divine and the rest of us are schmoes [sinful] came about during the reign of Constantine [A.D. 306-337].  Prior to that time and the Council of Nicaea [A.D. 325], many Christians believed that Jesus was simply a human spiritual leader.  Under Constantine, the potential books of the Bible that promoted the idea that Jesus was simply one of many of God’s children, albeit a very mature one, were deliberately not made part of the canonization process for political reasons.  Namely, Constantine and others wanted to promote the concept of a divine Jesus. Intellectually, I have read books by and listened to many lectures by Bart Ehrman, the head of religious studies at UNC [University of North Carolina], who started out as an Evangelical at Wheaton [College] and later became a historian focusing on the issues above.  Emotionally and spiritually, I don’t want to be saved by a God who would condemn anyone to hell for any reason. Truthfully, I see the Bible being manipulated today by the very people who insist it is infallible.  For example, Evangelicals such as Al Mohler, Wayne Grudem, and other big names didn’t have a problem with the NIV [New International Version of the Bible, 1984 edition] until recently.  Then they suddenly declared its new translation [2011 edition], and it’s whole brand, it seems, heresy? What changed?  The ESV [English Standard Version of the Bible], which was created by Crossway [in 2001], an entity that publishes [redacted] books and gives lots of money to his conferences came out and the NIV was its main competitor. So in my view, [redacted], a supposed Biblical literalist, was willing to falsely create translation problems and create his own version of the Bible, to line his pockets [the assertions are untrue]. If that’s going on now, imagine how much the Bible has been changed in the past?  Doubly so given that Biblical literal-ism is a Protestant idea.  The Catholic Church has always looked at the Bible in a more liberal fashion and considered the teachings of Church leaders as valuable as Scripture. So right now I focus on the teachings of Christ, not Paul, John Calvin, or [redacted].  And if Biblical scholars say that the Book of John was created in 100 A.D., meaning that no one who knew Christ could have written it, I join with many Episcopalians and quote unquote liberal Christians in saying, “who cares who wrote it as long as it is divinely inspired on a fundamental level?”  In particular, I try to live out the message underlying Jesus’ dialogue with Simon Peter: Do you love me, Simon Peter?  Lord, you know I do.  Then go, feed my sheep. 

Me:

Two follow up questions. 1. What do you base your beliefs upon? 2. Do you believe in Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead?

Tana:

1) I don’t base my beliefs on any creed or intellectual source per se as I believe that God cannot be understood in ego-driven concrete terms. However, the underpinning of my belief system is best reflected in a book called A Course in Miracles. It’s heavy reading and the description below doesn’t do it justice.  “This “combined” edition from the Foundation for Inner Peace is the only complete version that includes all of the writings that Dr. Helen Schucman, the Scribe of A Course in Miracles, authorized to be printed.  It consists of a Text, Workbook for Students, Manual for Teachers, and Clarification of Terms.  Also included are the supplements “Psychotherapy: Purpose, Process and Practice” and “The Song of Prayer,” extensions of the Course principles which were dictated to Dr. Schucman shortly after she completed the Course itself.  A Course in Miracles is a complete self-study spiritual thought system that teaches that the way to universal love and peace - or remembering God - is by undoing guilt through forgiving others, healing our relationships and making them holy.  Emphasizing that it is but one version of the universal curriculum, it uses the language of traditional Christianity, but expresses a non-sectarian, non-denominational spirituality.  Over 2-million English language copies in print.” 2) I haven’t formed a conclusive opinion respecting Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead.  However, I don’t believe that he died for anyone’s sins and the concept of sin is an illusion based on our determination to believe that we are separated from God and will be punished for the separateness. 

Tana:

Dear Brent, I think that one big problem plaguing the Evangelical world now, that was not present when my motherattended an Evangelical college 40 years ago and my great Aunt went to Wheaton with Billy Graham 70 years ago, is an anti-intellectual attitude that turns away thinking people and leaves places like [redacted] with folks who just parrot what others tell them to say. That forces people with good minds and good consciences to become Episcopalians or abandon Christianity all together. Believe it or not, I don’t think that’s ideal.  Quote unquote liberal Christianity has its problems, in my view, and there are aspects of Evangelical Christianity that I like very much.  I first saw the love of Christ through [an evangelical believer], not my Episcopal peers, although I now see Christ’s love in many people.  And no one prays for me like Evangelicals do. When my mom attended [redacted] in the 70s and my grandparents attended [redacted] in the 40s, they were taught that all subjects could be viewed from a Christian perspective.  My mother reviewed the movie The Last Tango in Paris, which was X-rated at the time, and did her senior thesis on the work of Kurt Vonnegut. Now the college she attended teaches students to distrust the secular world instead of engaging it and their critical thinking skills have suffered as a result/they don’t attract great minds anymore.  Is that something we could talk about? Also, I may be a lost cause.  However, I think you could better evangelize more quote unquote liberal Christians better if you read some of the books they’ve read. It’s no danger to your faith.  I immersed myself in the Evangelical community for 3 years but did not become an Evangelical.  I did, however, come to respect Evangelicals a lot more than I had prior to really engaging the community. Just a thought. ;-)

Tana:

If I have a question I just pray and ask God about it directly.  I usually get non-intellectual guidance that way as opposed to hearing a voice say, “Tna, you must do XYW.”  So then I discuss my thoughts about a moral issue or general spiritual issue with people like you, whose judgment I trust, and whose actions reflect a willingness to do what God has called them to do. That usually clarifies the subject more. Then I pray again. After that I do what I feel is aligned with grace. That’s how I form my beliefs and the actions I take as a result of them.

Me:

I should have been more specific.  What do you base your beliefs about Jesus upon?

Tana:

I think I’m going to take a rain check on that question for now. :-)

Tana:

The sources I’ve referenced reflect the true teachings of Christ, intellectually but I’m more drawn to an intuitive understanding of his love, emotionally and spiritually. I believe that I can have a direct interaction with Jesus as opposed to relying on a book or person to intercede for him. There are passages in the Bible that I believe are divinely inspired as is the best of the Christian tradition. However, the Bible as it has been passed down reflects the teachings of Paul, not Jesus.  I do not consider Paul an authority on the teachings of Jesus, whom he never knew. Nor am I interested in his views on slaves submitting to masters or women submitting to men. I have stronger opinions about Paul’s background and motives that I’ll keep to myself. :-)

Tana:

Just asking because I’m starting to feel that I’m being interrogated.  I’m certainly not trying to offend you and have always been honest with you and others about not being an evangelical. :-)

Me:

How do you know which passages are inspired and which ones are not?

Me:

I’m trying to understand your beliefs and the basis for your beliefs before answering.  

Tana:

I understand, Brent.  There is a time and place for everything and in that vein I’ll say a couple things.  1) I’m not able to expend energy in interfaith dialogues with anyone right now.  2) You’d need to read some of the material I referenced to truly understand what I believe.  I wouldn’t ask you about your faith without reading your material carefully. :-)

Tana:

I use the mind and general sense of discernment God gave me to make a judgment call.  Passages in Leviticus saying people should burn the incest victim along with the perpetrator don’t seem inspired by a loving God [there are no such passages].  The idea of loving ones neighbor as oneself does.  If everything in the Bible is inspired by God or reflects his directive then one has to explain how a loving God ordered the Hebrews to commit the world’s first known genocide [destroying the Canaanites was not genocide, see https://www.bethinking.org/bible/old-testament-mass-killings] in dashing the heads of Canaanite babies on rocks [there was no such practice].  And accept the Bibles clear endorsement of slavery [OT & NT servitude was very different from 18th & 19th century slavery in America; the Bible does not endorse slavery]; and the right of men to kill their wives and children for any reason [nowhere is this taught in the Bible, murder is condemned].  Typing on my phone so the punctuation is off. :-)

Tana:

How do you know how guys like [redacted] have edited the Bible for political or financial reasons over the centuries thereby distorting Jesus’ teachings.  We know that several of Jesus’ disciples, like Peter, distrusted Paul, who made no apologies for declining to represent Jesus’ direct teachings and made a living as a professional spy and killer for the Roman government. :-)

Tana:

The answer I usually get to this question is that God ensures that no one can truly distort his word.  I can’t argue with a belief system that precludes using the minds God has given us to ask logical questions.  I don’t want to be subject to a God who would ask such a thing of beings he created.

Tana:

Your questions are excellent and have forced me to re-think the source of my beliefs.  We can pick up on faith issues later, if that’s okay. Right now my intellectual energy is being taken up by the [redacted] situation, which is tricky, and learning how to create a Joomla website myself and operate a server. And making a living. And your Facebook timeline is getting to be terrifying. Goodness?  [redacted]  I don’t want to believe folks would take things that far yet there seems to be little they won’t do over there to cover up crimes or really awful behavior. Ugh... ;-)

Tana:

Dear Brent, To answer your questions as best I can briefly -  Believing that Jesus did not die on the cross and that his crucifixion was a staged means of escaping people persecuting him, a la the Da Vinci Code, would be easy.  However, I think that Jesus really did die and return to life in this world.  The point of doing so was not to suffer for anyone’s sins but to show that death is an illusion and love has already won.  I’m also drawn to the idea that many of Jesus’ true teachings were communicated after his resurrection. Respecting inspired passages of scripture - I believe there are only two fundamental feelings: love and fear.  So if a passage advocates loving your neighbor, I’m more inclined to believe it is aligned with God’s love than does a passage suggesting that you can dash the heads of your neighbors’ babies on rocks if you don’t like their belief systems. Ultimately, I think the Bible is a good reference regarding Christian traditions yet it doesn’t reflect Jesus’ teachings very well because the manuscripts that did/do never made it through the canonization process. I am interfaith in believing that Christianity is one way to God but not the only way.  I didn’t used to say I was a Christian for that reason. However, even though I do not believe that God only speaks through Christianity, I now call myself a Christian because I am drawn to and adhere to Jesus’ teachings about love and social justice to a far greater extent than I feel aligned with any other spiritual leader or practice. My beliefs respecting Jesus and all other things ultimately come from a direct relationship with God rather than being based on a book, creed, or anything else that can be articulated intellectually.  I hope that answers your questions.  I would love to read what you sent me and perhaps debate or discuss our perspectives on Christianity at some point and you're certainly welcome to respond to what I've said. I’m just hesitant to spend lots of energy on philosophical issues when I’m worried that people in a church that does not reflect God’s love, right now, need assistance in getting out of a home they’re sequestered in till someone can figure out how to cover up whatever horrible thing they’re privy to and/or finding someone to help them do something besides pray about their suicide plan. As my favorite pastor told me, “I’ve seen drugs change lives, Tana.  I think the Lord put doctors and scientists in this world for a reason.” I think you’re better off praying you’ll find a good psychiatrist than you are asking God to heal you without the aid of others.  I know you’re likely worried that my belief system is leading me to hell and maybe it is.  Yet that won’t be on your head, Brent.  You can already say you tried to reach me with the truth and I chose not to believe in it.  Sometime we should talk about happier or easier subjects. ;-)

Me:

As you might imagine I am familiar with your positions and arguments.  I hope to provide a fuller response later.  The fundamental issue on which we differ is that of authority.  I believe the Bible is the Word of God.  You do not.  You believe the Bible is full of contradictions and heretical teachings. Yet, you also believe it contains inspired passages.  Therein lies the fundamental problem.  To resolve this dilemma you have set yourself up as the final judge in determining which passages and teachings of the Bible are true and which ones are false.  You make these determinations based upon your intuition and immediate access to God.  “My beliefs respecting Jesus and all other things ultimately come from a direct relationship with God rather than being based on a book, creed, or anything else that can be articulated intellectually.”  Therefore, your authoritative source of belief is a subjective, anti-intellectual and transcendental interpretation of God’s guidance.  Your understanding of all metaphysical realities is based upon a “pipeline” to heaven and inward feelings without conscious reasoning.  There are insurmountable problems with this position.  Let me point out one. If truth is determined subjectively than what happens when people disagree?  For instance on abortion, homosexuality, the inspiration of Scripture, or the Deity of Christ.  What if I claim lesbianism is wrong based upon my intuition and “direct relationship with God” but you claim lesbianism is right based upon your intuition and “direct relationship with God.”  Only one person can be correct.  In other words, subjectivism is an absurd way for determining truth.  It leads to moral anarchy and ethical uncertainty.  In the end, truth cannot be known. Christianity on the other hand is a faith founded on fact.  The New Testament is a historically reliable document having been produced by eyewitnesses or close associates of eyewitnesses.  None of it was written in the second century by people far removed from the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ.  Furthermore, the textual tradition [the abundance of manuscripts] for the NT is far stronger than any other writing from the Greco-Roman period.  In these historically trustworthy documents, Jesus claimed to be God and those who knew him best made the same claim.  Jesus further stated that he would raise himself from the dead and thereby prove his claim to be Lord, God, and Christ.  The fact of the resurrection is attested to by all the writers of the New Testament.  There is no doubt. Since Jesus is God incarnate, I am happy to agree with his view of the OT and what he taught about the coming NT.  I could develop this point at great length.  Suffice it to say, he believed the OT was the inspired Word of God, he believed his teachings were authoritative, he promised the apostles would infallibly call to mind all they were taught and be led into future truth.  The apostles in turn worked with the other writers of Scripture or proved to be a check on other writers of Scripture.  For instance, Peter had no doubt Paul was inspired by God to write holy Scripture (2 Pet 3:15-16).  The great divide between us is this.  You determine truth subjectively.  You are the final authority.  I believe in objective truth as recorded in Scripture by lawgivers, prophets, kings, Christ and apostles.  Subjectivism yields no certainty only confusion.  Biblical objectivism yields certainty and is subjectively the most satisfying experience a person can know because it is based upon the truth.  I believe in Jesus’ exclusive claim, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6).  I hope you will one day. You know of my love for you in Christ. Brent

Tana:

Thanks, Brent.  I actually don’t interpret truth subjectively or presume that I am the final moral authority on anything.  I merely try to do what I feel God calls me to do.  My guidance is whether my actions reflect love or fear.  What I say below will be somewhat contradictory, likely, because in an early sense, things are perceived to be true on different levels. I would say that my belief system transcends the intellect, when necessary, as opposed to being anti-intellectual.  This concept is not unique to me – it’s reflected in Buddhism and Taoism.  People who are anti-intellectual are not open to the viewpoints of others.  I am.  I believe that you may be right about the nature of God and truth whereas you cannot accept my idea that the truth cannot be condensed into a simple creed. So in what way is my belief system less intellectual than yours? I think that things have to be considered true on different levels, so we can process earthly life, but that the only truth with a capital “T” is that God is love and we are one with God.  Nothing can separate us from that love.  Views on other issues ultimately don’t matter because our earthly experiences are only meant to enlighten us.  Ultimately, subjectivity is an illusion as is fear or any idea that we could ever be separate from God. As for Biblical scholarship, I don’t believe that any serious scholar can claim that the four gospels were written in the second century given all the evidence we have that they were not.  And even if they were, the fact that [redacted] is altering the Bible now so he can sell more copies of his version of the Bible precludes the concept that the manuscript we call the Bible reflects anyone’s true teachings, given all the edits that logically must have been made to it over time. And what of all the potential books of the Bible that the Council of Nicaea threw out for pragmatic reasons?  What if there were teachings in those books that say very different things than the ones that made it through the canonization process [how the Church universal recognized the inspired books of the Bible]. As for Biblical objectivity, I see no such thing as people have to interpret the Bible to use it as a form of guidance and often do so in radically different ways.  For example, Paul clearly endorsed slavery, as did everyone during his lifetime, and that endorsement was used by clergy to justify enslavement.  Now clergy are somehow managing to claim that the Bible does not endorse slavery but considers it an evil institution.  I see no objectivism in how the Bible has been interpreted respecting specific issues over time - just intellectual mind games.  As for the primary difference between us, I think it is this.  You want to be saved by a God whom you believe you have wronged and may therefore condemn you to hell if you don’t worship him in a narrow manner.  By contrast, even if such a God exists, I don’t want to be saved by or worship an entity that would condemn a soul to hell as that does not reflect love. I consider you a brother in Christ.  I hope you take that in the spirit in which it is intended. ;-)

Tana:

“What if I claim lesbianism is wrong based upon my intuition and ‘direct relationship with God’ but you claim lesbianism is right based upon your intuition and ‘direct relationship with God.’  Only one person can be correct.  In other words, subjectivism is an absurd way for determining truth.  It leads to moral anarchy and ethical uncertainty.  In the end, truth cannot be known.” From a sociological perspective, subjectivism doesn’t seek to determine truth and most subjectivists would claim that there are many truths, even logically-speaking. For example, is lesbianism a sin in and of itself or is it only a sin if acted upon?  Many Christians disagree on this issue.  Therefore advocating an objectivist view of the Bible doesn’t help much respecting practical matters. And in the end truth with a small “t” must be subjective because everyone processes information uniquely.  We get 15,000,000 bits of data a second and only consciously process 11 of them. All that can really exist, then, is “our truth” not “the truth.”  I reject both subjectivism and objectivism as means of determining truth because I believe Truth transcends human consciousness.

Me:

How do you know God is love?  Maybe God is hate.  You have no objective standard by which to determine truth claims.

Tana:

How do you know that the Bible reflects God’s word?  Where is your objective proof of that?

Me:

Answer my question first.

Tana:

You don’t have any objective way of determining truth claims either.  And as I’ve said, I don’t know if I’m right.  I do know that I’d rather my own intuition about moral issues than try to adhere to a subjective creed.

Tana:

Maybe God is hate.  The Old Testament could lead someone to believe that.  I’m more drawn to the love of God seen in the New Testament.

Tana:

It’s the same question, my friend.  You seem to be getting irritated.  Should we take a rain check on this subject?

Me:

Not in the least.  I’m just trying to lovingly help you see your position is unsupportable.  I’ve already clearly stated my position.  Jesus Christ is God.  This is proven by the resurrection.  Therefore I believe what he says about the Bible.  It is the infallible Word of God.  Your dispute is not with me, it is with Jesus Christ.

Me:

I don’t mean this to sound harsh in anyway but it is Jesus Christ to whom you will have to answer at the final judgement.  Not Buddha, Mohammed, Zoroaster, Confucius, Joseph Smith, Al Mohler or Brent Detwiler.  We are all mere mortals. We are all sinners.  We are all dead or will be soon.   Jesus on the other hand is the sinless Lamb of God who died for our sins, rose from the grave and sits at the right hand of God the Father.  He will judge you, me and the whole world.  Those who believe in his gospel will be saved from wrath.  Those who reject his propitiatory sacrifice will perish everlastingly.  That is objective truth as taught by Jesus Christ himself.

Tana:

Dear Brent, You are entitled to your beliefs but you have not logically refuted anything I’ve said.  Repeatedly asserting that Jesus Christ is God does not prove that he is.  Your position that your belief is objective and mine is not cannot be supported by a subjective presupposition that you refer to as “your position.”  If you disagree then show me proof, that I can see with my own eyes, that Jesus rose from the dead.  Show me that he is God.  Prove that I will see Christ and not Buddha when I die.  If you cannot do these things then all you have are subjective opinions, not objective facts. These are the rules of logic, Brent, upon which objectivity must be based or it has no integrity. “Your dispute is not with me, it is with Jesus Christ.”  I have no dispute with anyone or anything, and I don’t need to convert others to my way of thinking.  You can subjectively believe that Jesus will have a problem with me but you cannot make that assertion an objective fact rather than a subjective opinion. We cannot objectively prove opinions or beliefs.  Objectivity lies in the realm of facts.  There is a yes or no answer to whether or not lesbianism exists. However trying to claim one is right or wrong about whether it is sinful makes as much logical sense as trying to prove that one can be right or wrong about whether the color purple is ugly. Beliefs preclude objectivity.  I spent enough time listening to people in Israel claim that a piece of land was their God-given inheritance to know that you cannot be right or wrong about such things.  ;-)

Tana:

It’s a long series of subjective opinions, Brent.  If one does not believe that Jesus taught the Truth then the entire basis of the argument above falls apart.

Tana:

I think we disagree about the meaning of objectivity, for one thing.  ;-)

Tana:

I know you’re an Evangelical Minister so this is what I would I would expect you to believe.  It is also the belief system I grew up with and no longer adhere to for all the reasons I described.  It doesn’t bother me - I enjoy talking to people from different backgrounds.  However, I think the insistence on being right may be perceived as imposing ones beliefs on others. In other words, I would use a softer approach to evangelizing someone you don’t know as well as you know me. :-)

Me:

How do I know that Jesus Christ rose from the dead in A.D. 33?  The same way I know Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 B.C.  The testimony of eyewitnesses.  Here are but a few examples from the historical record.  Luke 1:1-4 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, [2] just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. [3] Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, [4] so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. Acts 1:1-3 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all the Jesus began to do and to teach [2] until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. [3] After his suffering he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.  He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. John 19:33-35 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. [34] Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. [35] The man [John] who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 1 John 1:3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according the Scriptures [5] and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. [6] After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of who are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  [7] Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, [9] and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” 2 Peter 1:16 We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. The fact of the resurrection is extensively documented in each of the four gospels.  Matthew and John were eyewitnesses.  Mark and Luke were close associates of eyewitnesses.  Their historical accounts cannot be rejected unless you dismiss them as liars and lunatics.  Of course, that will not do.  They were men of the highest integrity. Like the apostle Paul told Governor Festus, the resurrection did not happen off in an obscure corner.  It was well known and well attested.  That’s why Paul challenged Festus like I am challenging you.  The resurrection was “true and reasonable” because it was based upon rock solid evidence, not personal opinions or subjective impressions. Acts 26:24-26 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” [25] “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. [26] The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it [the resurrection] was not done in a corner.” There is no getting around the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is a matter of public record.  Its historicity cannot be denied.  As I’ve said before, your argument is not with me.  These are not my beliefs.  I did not come up with them.  Your dispute is with Jesus Christ.  The resurrection is proof positive that all Jesus’s claims are true.  He was vindicated and validated in the resurrection.  Anyone can claim to be god.  Anyone can claim their teaching is infallible.  Anyone can claim they are the only Savior of the world.  And anyone can claim they have the power to raise themselves from the dead three days after the fact.  Claims are meaningless.  Proof is essential.  Jesus said he would die for the sins of the world and then rise from the dead on the third day.  It happened exactly as he said.  He proved all his claims.  There are answers to people’s questions about the Christian faith.  Those answers can remove all intellectual objections.  In the end, a person doesn’t become a Christian because he or she doesn’t want to follow Jesus Christ as Lord.  It is a volitional issue not an intellectual issue.  There is no lack of evidence.  That is what Jesus taught (John 3:16-21).  God is holy.  That is the fundamental fact about God in the Bible.  Man is unholy.  That is the fundamental fact about man in the Bible.  Man is a sinner in need of a Savior.  That is why God the Father sent his one and only Son to die in our place as payment in full for our sins.  There is no greater expression of God’s love.  1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” [the payment or punishment for our sins that turns away God’s wrath and reveals God’s love.] Jesus himself knew this was the reason for his coming.  He understood his death in terms of a ransom.  The price paid to secure the release of captives.  Men are locked up in the prison house of God’s righteous wrath.  Christ came to set us free. Matt 20:26-28 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, [27] and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, [28] even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. One final Scripture.  John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.  I want you to have life.  Eternal life.  The life of God himself.  Now and forever.  I don’t want the wrath of God to remain upon because you reject Jesus Christ and his teachings.  You are not rejecting me.  You are not contending with my teaching.  You are rejecting the God/Man who died for your sins, rose from the dead and will judge the world on the last day.  That is ever so serious!  And yet, he loves you!  One day I hope you come to experience his love in full measure when you embrace his propitiatory sacrifice and marvel at his grace. I remain your friend. Brent

Tana:

And I remain your friend, Brent, despite our differences of opinion on many things. I do think we’ve expressed our positions on Jesus’ teachings to the extent that we can do so for now.  From my perspective, you are rejecting all the evidence we have that the Gospels were not written by people who could have witnessed a resurrection.  Even if they were, how do we know that those people weren’t lying or confused about an event that is hard to believe as people didn’t generally rise from the dead whereas they crossed the Rubicon all the time?  We have copious evidence that the Gospels were written at least 100 years after the life of Jesus and the earliest semi-reliable copies of them only came into focus in the 4th Century.  The only truly reliable historical account of Jesus’ existence, that scholars believe was written around the time he was alive, are the writings of Josephus.  He mentions Jesus but the wording in his manuscripts about Jesus was clearly altered by Christian scribes to present Jesus in a favorable light.  The alterations are not subtle. There is also extensive archaeological evidence that Caesar crossed what was recorded as the Rubicon boundary between Roman and non-Roman territories, even though we don’t know where it was or whether it was a stream or river.  But to date we have no archaeological evidence that Jesus existed. If you aren’t willing to look at the sources I present and have a serious discussion about them, then you can’t expect me to accept what you say about your sources at face value, my friend. That’s just a matter of being intellectually fair and honest. I really do think we should take a break from this subject for now as I think we’re just going around in circles at this point. ;-)

Me:

You say, “From my perspective, you are rejecting all the evidence we have that the Gospels were not written by people who could have witnessed a resurrection.”  What evidence?  Tana, you have not presented one shred of evidence in all you have written to support this claim.  You say, “If you aren’t willing to look at the sources I present and have a serious discussion about them, then you can’t expect me to accept what you say about your sources at face value, my friend.”  What sources?  Tana, you don’t cite a single source and you only reference Josephus.  I have studied the Jewish historian, Josephus.  I have his complete works in front of me right now.  He was not an expert on Christian origins like Eusebius.  Nevertheless, his two reference to Jesus support the testimony found in the gospels.  The bracketed notes are from the translator.     “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure.  He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles.  He was [the] Christ.  And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.  And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” (Antiquities, Book 18, Chapter 3. 3) “Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he [Ananus the High Priest] assembled the Sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.” (Antiquities, Book 20, Chapter 9. 1) I have study textual criticism for nearly 40 years.  Tana, there is no evidence any of the gospels were written 100 years after the death of Jesus (A.D 133 or later).  For example, quote one Church Father from the Second Century who thought the four gospels were written in the Second Century.  There are none.       Do you realize what you are saying?  You are saying Matthew didn’t write Matthew, Mark didn’t write Mark, Luke didn’t write Luke and John didn’t write John.  That flies in the face of all the evidence – both internal and external. For example, here is what Papias said about Mark’s gospel in A.D. 130 as recorded by Eusebius.  Do you really know better than this student of John the apostle? “The Elder [John the apostle] used to say this also: “Mark, having been the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately all that he [Peter] mentioned, whether sayings or doings of Christ, not, however, in order.  For he was neither a hearer nor a companion of the Lord; but afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who adapted his teachings as necessity required, not as though he were making a compilation of the sayings of the Lord.  So then Mark made no mistake writing down in this way some things as he [Peter] mentioned them; for he paid attention to this one thing, not to omit anything that he had heard, not to include any false statement among them.” (Papias, A.D. 130, Bishop of Hierapolis in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III.39) And do you know better than Irenaeus who was a student of Polycarp who was a student of John the apostle? “Matthew published his Gospel among the Hebrews in their own tongue, when Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel in Rome and founding the church there.  After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself handed down to us in writing the substance of Peter’s preaching.  Luke, the follower of Paul, set down in a book the gospel preached by his teacher.  Then John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on His breast, himself produced his Gospel, while he was living at Ephesus in Asia.” (Irenaeus, A.D. 180, Bishop of Lyons in Against Heresies, III.1.) Listen to John Warwick Montgomery on the significance of this quote.  By the way, Montgomery is a Lutheran theologian with 11 earned degrees including doctorates in Law, Theology and Philosophy. “The value of Irenaeus’ remarks is especially great because he had been a student of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, martyred in A.D. 156 after being a Christian for 86 years.  Polycarp in turn had been a disciple of the Apostle John himself.  Irenaeus had often heard from Polycarp the eyewitness accounts of Jesus received from John and others who had been personally acquainted with Jesus.” (John Warwick Montgomery, History and Christianity, p. 34) Most importantly, do you know better than Luke the physician who “investigated everything carefully from the beginning…so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:3-4)?  Luke/Acts is the definitive work on Christian origins and “his authorship is supported by the uniform testimony of early Christian writings (e.g., the Muratorian Canon, A.D. 170, and the works of Irenaeus, c. 180).” (New International Version Study Bible) You say, “Even if they were, how do we know that those people weren’t lying or confused about an event that is hard to believe as people didn’t generally rise from the dead whereas they crossed the Rubicon all the time?”  Are you serious?  Are you claiming that every writer of the New Testament was a liar?  That is crazy.  Jesus condemned lying and who would suffer prison, torture or martyrdom for a lie they could easily renounce.      The authors of the New Testament were not confused.  They were absolutely certain.  Read their own words.  Furthermore, none of them believed Jesus would rise from the dead.  They had to be convinced by definitive proofs.  It wasn’t until he appeared to them in bodily form that they believed.  Thomas is a great case in point.  “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (John 20:24-31). Julius Caesar didn’t cross the Rubicon “all the time.”  We know he crossed it once in 49 B.C.  Not because of archaeology but because of eyewitnesses and written accounts.  Having said that you should subscribed to the magazine Biblical Archaeology.  Many decades ago liberal theologians thought the advance of archeology would prove the Bible wrong.  They were wrong.  Time and time again it has confirmed the historical accuracy of the Bible.  For example, the Dead Sea scrolls.  The Great Isaiah Scroll was discovered in 1947 in Qumran.  It was 1,100 years older than the most extant manuscript in our possession at the time.   Liberals thought for sure it would show how the text was corrupted by scribes who copied it over the first millennium.  What did it show?  Just the opposite.  Liberals were shocked.    Here is what Dr. Pete Flint, the foremost scholar on the Isaiah scroll, said about its accuracy.  I had the privilege of talking with Peter in person about this matter when he was in Charlotte for a private lecture.  You should read any of his works on the Dead Sea Scrolls. “For years, biblical conservatives have pointed happily to the Great Isaiah Scroll, which was among the original seven scrolls found in the first cave in 1947.  With all 66 chapters completely preserved, this version of Isaiah, though copied down around 100 B.C. – matches the A.D. 1000 Masoretic Text upon which all modern OT translations are based 99 percent of the time.  Nearly the same level of accuracy is found in the other biblical manuscripts found at Qumran. This confirms to us that our Hebrew Bible was wonderfully preserved.”  (Dr. Peter Flint, “From the Dead Sea to Charlotte,” The Charlotte Observer, February 12, 2006) This is an article by a conservative regarding James’ ossuary and an inscription referring to Jesus. http://www.icr.org/article/has-archaeological-evidence-for-jesus-been-discove/  Liberals like James Tabor have made the same point.  “Tabor is most recently involved in research on a tomb found in 1980 in Jerusalem in the area of east Talpiot.  It contained ossuaries with the names Jesus son of Joseph, two Marys, a Joseph, a Matthew, and a Jude son of Jesus.  In the book, The Jesus Dynasty, Tabor had discussed the possibilities that this tomb might be linked to Jesus of Nazareth and his family.” (Wikipedia) The article by Dr. John D. Morris [linked above], also points out the limitations of archaeology as it pertains to Jesus.  By the way, Tabor is at the University of North Carolina – Charlotte.  I once refuted him in a public forum when he scoffed at the notion that John wrote the gospel.  I presented evidence.  He would not answer to my evidence and presented none of his own.  When I continued to press he flat out refused to answer.  I kid you not.  Instead he began to rant about me being an unscholarly fundamentalist.  It was the lowest form of debate possible.  He could not attack my arguments so he was left to attack me.  He was desperate. Tana, you have opined, presumed and speculated but you have not produce any evidence for your positions.  What historical evidence do you have to support the notion that the Biblical writers were liars?  That they were confused about the resurrection?  That the gospels were written 100 years after Jesus’ death?  That they were written by pseudonymous authors and not by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?  That Jesus was a lunatic when he claimed to be Yahweh – the I AM of Exodus 3:14?  That the Jews were mistaken about Jesus’ identity when they asked Pilate to crucify him for blasphemy because he claimed to be ontologically one with God and equal to God in glory? And if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then what happen to his body?  Do you have historical evidence that the apostles stole his body and then made up the resurrection story?  Can you quote a Jewish source to that effect?  A Gentile source?  You say, “If you aren’t willing to look at the sources I present and have a serious discussion about them, then you can’t expect me to accept what you say about your sources at face value, my friend.  That’s just a matter of being intellectually fair and honest.”  I am glad “to look at the sources” but you provide none except an uncited reference to Josephus.  I am not the one being intellectually unfair or dishonest.  Let me cite another example.  You say, “And what of all the potential books of the Bible that the Council of Nicaea threw out for pragmatic reasons?  What if there were teachings in those books that say very different things than the ones that made it through the canonization process.”  What books did the Council of Nicaea throw out for pragmatic reasons?  None.  This is an egregious error on your part. The Council of Nicaea met to deal with Arianism not the canon of Scripture.  They didn’t throw out any books.  Pick up any bonafide work on Church History for verification.  Even Wikipedia gets it right.  “A number of erroneous views have been stated regarding the council’s role in establishing the biblical canon. In fact, there is no record of any discussion of the biblical canon at the council at all.  The development of the biblical canon took centuries, and was nearly complete (with exceptions known as the Antilegomena, written texts whose authenticity or value is disputed) by the time the Muratorian fragment was written.” No one threw out any books that were generally accepted by Judaism or the Apostolic Church.  You would do well to understand the difference between the Homologoumena, Antilegomena, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha when discussing the OT Canon and NT Canon.  For example, you appear to have the “false writings” (Pseudepigrapha) in mind which date from the 2nd and 3rd Century when referring to books that were thrown out.  But these books were never thrown out by any Church Council because they were never under consideration for the canon.  They were books universally condemned from their inception as the work of Gnostics and heretics.  They were rejected by all.  The Gospel of Judas (made famous by Dan Brown in the Da Vinci Code) was one of those spurious works. You make many erroneous claims.  For instance, “We have copious evidence that the Gospels were written at least 100 years after the life of Jesus and the earliest semi-reliable copies of them only came into focus in the 4th Century.”  This statement is completely fallacious.  You reference “copious evidence” when in reality there is no evidence.  Even Bart Ehrman, the outspoken opponent of orthodox Christianity, dates all the Gospels from the 1st Century.  “Most historians think that Mark was the first of our Gospels to be written, sometime between the mid-60s to early 70s.  Matthew and Luke were probably produced some ten or fifteen years later, perhaps around 80 or 85.  John was written perhaps ten years after that, in 90 or 95.  These are necessarily rough estimates, but almost all scholars agree within a few years.”  (Bart D. Ehrman, A Brief History to the New Testament, p. 52) Ehrman is right about all the Gospels being written before the 2nd Century.  He is wrong when he says “almost all scholars agree within a few years” for the precise dates he gives for each Gospel.  In fact, most scholars date the four Gospels earlier than Ehrman.  Nevertheless, his overall point is well taken.  None of the Gospels date from the 2nd Century.  Tana, I don’t know a single scholar, whether liberal or conservative, that would agree with you.  Here’s another example.  You say, “The only truly reliable historical account of Jesus’ existence, that scholars believe was written around the time he was alive, are the writings of Josephus.”  Honestly, that is an absurd statement.  Scholars throughout the world believe the Gospels are a “reliable historical account of Jesus’ existence.”  Name one scholar who doesn’t believe the NT provides evidence of Jesus’ existence?  Furthermore, Josephus was not a contemporary of Jesus Christ.  He wrote The Antiquities of the Jews in A.D. 93 or 94.  That was 60 years after Christ’s death.    Now back to the basics.  The four Gospels and Acts are historical accounts written by eyewitnesses or close associates of eyewitnesses.    They form the factual basis for historic Christianity.  The truthfulness of these documents is further confirmed by the remaining 22 books of the New Testament.  In addition, all the Church Fathers from the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Century testify to their accuracy.  Tana, there is no doubt about the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  The evidence is overwhelming.  Jesus Christ is unquestionably God the Son.      Therefore, you should listen to him when he says you need to be saved from wrath, born again, reconcile to God and forgiven of sins.  You should also listen to him regarding the Old Testament and the coming New Testament as authoritative Scripture.  In the end, you have no intellectual basis for rejecting Jesus Christ.  Therefore I appeal to you.  Please humble yourself, turn from your sin and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  There is salvation in no one else.  I say all this for one reason.  I care about your temporal and eternal well-being.  The Good News is the greatest news, the most important news, in all the world.  Believe it.

Me:

I am very familiar with [Bart] Ehrman.  I have all his main texts including Misquoting Jesus.  He has been soundly refuted in debates, articles, and texts [books].  I have lectured on and against his positions.  I’m glad to provide them for you.  Let me know if you are interested.   I’ve also studied the World Religions.  I can send you some excellent comparative studies if you are interested.

Tana:

Good to hear, Brent.  I’m happy to let you and Bart Ehrman debate each other.  I find some of his claims over the top, myself and certainly don’t think he’s infallible.  I hope someone will eventually address [redacted] decision to edit the Bible to make a few bucks as that situation is presently undermining a belief in Biblical inerrancy in a big way. I have to learn how to fix a server and set up a directory site. Please don’t worry about my soul, Brent.  I’d rather rot in hell with my Jewish friends than spend all eternity with the folks at [redacted] who believe the Bible is inerrant. That is my choice. :-)

Me:

One clarification.  I have not argued for the infallibility of Scripture per se.  I have argued for the infallibility of Christ as incarnate God.  He then argues for the infallibility of Scripture.  For example, here is his view of the OT in the words of Dr. Bruce Milne. Jesus quoted Scripture authoritatively (Mt. 4:4; Mk. 14:27); referred to it as the ‘word of God’ (Mt. 19:4f.; Mk. 7:11-13; Jn. 10:34f.) and believed it to be a revelation of God given under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Mk. 12:36).  He believed the whole OT to be authoritative (Lk. 24:25-27,44).  He cited each of its main divisions, the law (Mt. 4:4); the poetic books (Mk. 12:10f.); the prophets (Mk. 7:6). He accepted OT history as true, including the existence of the patriarchs (Mt. 22:32; Jn. 8:56), Moses’ call at the burning bush (Mk. 12:26), the Queen of Sheba's visit to Solomon (Lk. 11:31), the ministry of Jonah (Lk. 11:30), the murders of Abel and Zechariah (Mt. 23:35), David’s eating the temple shewbread (Mt. 12:3), Noah and the flood (Lk. 17:26f.), Lot and the destruction of Sodom (Lk. 17:28f.), and judgment of Tyre and Sidon (Mt. 11:21f.), the ministry of Elijah and Elisha (Lk. 4:26f.).  He accepted the miracles recorded there (Lk. 4:25-27; Jn. 3:14). Jesus accepted OT prophecy (Mt. 11:10; Mk. 7:6).  He accepted OT ethics as normative (Mt. 5:17ff.; 19:3-6; Mk. 10:19).  He stated that the OT Scriptures were to reveal him (Lk. 24:46f.; Jn. 5:39,45f.)  It is not surprising therefore that he denounced those who did not believe them (Mt. 22:29f.; Lk. 24:25) or robbed them of their divine authority by appeal to human traditions (Mt. 15:3).
Significantly, although as incarnate deity he exercised the very authority of God, Jesus at no point opposed his personal authority to that of Scripture.  He deferred to its authority on two central issues: his teaching and actions (Mt. 12:3-5; 19:4f.; Jn. 10:35) and his messianic ministry (Mt. 26:24,53f.; Lk. 24:46). (Bruce Milne, Know the Truth, pp. 29-30) Don’t get me wrong.  There are many ways to argue for the inspiration, inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.  In your case, however, I’ve limited myself to Jesus’ perspective as the infallible Christ. 

Tana:

Thanks, Brent.  BTW: I’m sorry if I said anything that offended you.  In particular, suggesting that you don’t know anything about other religions was rude. I’m not in a place where I can expend energy on intellectual debates yet I was at one point and probably will be again.  I think that many quote unquote liberal Christians would love to read your work and discuss Biblical inerrancy with you because the problem, and I don’t mean this in an insulting way, is that most Biblical literalists cannot back-up their claims with anything besides, “I believe this because my Pastor told me too.”  They also often insist on getting into issues such as whether dinosaurs and people co-existed, whether the earth is 6000 years old, and whether it’s ethical to tell a lot of Jewish students at the University of Maryland that “Jesus loves them,” even after those individuals have indicated that this is not a message they want to hear. In other words, you don’t do this yet many Evangelicals pester people in such a way that they end up saying, “our idea of hell is being around people like you for all eternity.”  You and I know each other well yet telling me that I have a dispute with Jesus doesn’t make me want to talk about the matter further because it seems unnecessarily adversarial.  That’s just feedback. I think many people would love to separate the dinosaur issue from the Biblical inerrancy issues and talk to someone about Bart Ehrman, who doesn’t accept his conclusions, in a serious and respectful way. At some point I would be interested in seeing your rebuttals of Ehrman’s arguments.  I know you are a great scholar and would take what you have to say very seriously.  I do not have a gift for languages so would be reliant on you, Ehrman, and others, who do, respecting translation and other language issues.  The date in which the Gospels were written bothers me/interests me a lot less than what Ehrman and others have to say about how they believe the Bible was created during the canonization process.  One specific question I’d have regarding one of Ehrman’s arguments is whether or not his contention (which I have not researched at length) that one of Paul’s letters references a system of Bishoprics proves that the letter could not have been written by Paul because Bishoprics weren’t formed until after his death. My biggest issues are two-fold: 1) I reject the concept that a manuscript can be copied and recopied over time without being dramatically altered even inadvertently.  Ehrman and others make the point that manuscripts had to be hand-written prior to the invention of the printing press and some of the people transcribing Biblical texts were better educated/more concerned about not making mistakes than others.  When I studied Hebrew, I did realize that changing a single word changes the whole meaning of a verse.
2) I think the canonization process precludes saying that all we need to know about God and Jesus iswritten between the pages of the English Standard Version of the Bible.  Even if we forget about the Council of Nicaea and Constantine and all the potential edits to Biblical texts before then, Roman Catholics and the Amish recognize the Apocrypha whereas most other Christians groups do not.  I can’t conclude that the Amish and Roman Catholics are not real Christians and/or are going to hell because they believe in books of the Bible that talk about the Maccabees and other historical events that we know took place.  I think it’s only logical and ethical to be open to the idea that the Bible may not contain the teachings of Christ, Paul, or anyone else in their entirety at this point.  I would believe that even if Ehrman was a complete fraud respecting language and translation issues. Some of the other issues we’re discussing are very interesting and complex.  For example, I would genuinely love to know how one can reconcile the idea that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary yet was also of the line of David, which could only occur if Jesus was Joseph’s biological son.  This is a significant issue as the Old Testament says that the Messiah must be a direct descendant of Kind David on his paternal side. The only argument I’ve heard about the legitimacy of rejecting the Bible’s endorsement of slavery, as expressed through Paul and others, is that a belief in that institution merely reflected the societal norms of the time someone like Paul lived in.  If we’re making that argument about slavery and Paul, why not also apply it to his teachings about the roles of women/men and homosexuality, as people’s views on those subjects have changed, too, over time. Ditto saying that polygamy is a sin now when God did not communicate that to the biblical patriarchs and some form of it was the norm until about 1000 years ago, + it’s still practiced in many areas of the world. My Jewish friends also ask me how Christians can claim to be monotheists within the context of embracing a concept like the Trinity.  I think they have an excellent point and don’t see why the Trinity, that a Bishop came up with in the 3rd or 4th Century, needs to be an essential part of the Christian faith.  And of course how did Cain find a wife if Adam and Eve were the original human inhabitants of the planet?  Why did God give us the capacity to understand science yet indicate that he created trees before he created the sun?   How come there’s a snake in one version of the account of the fall from grace but not the other?  Etc.  Etc.  In the Jewish tradition, Adam has a first wife named Lillith.  What happened to her in the Christian text?  Why is there such a big difference between the Jewish and Christian texts of the first five books of the Old Testament [there are no differences because both are based upon the Masoretic text]?  Is it because anti-Semitic Christians wanted a separate text from Jews?  If so, how does that affect the Biblical inerrancy claim?   I can understand why Roman Catholics have always taken Genesis metaphorically. ;-) At some point I may revisit all this yet there are a couple issues keeping me from wanting to spend lots of time debating them now. [Note: All her questions are answered in the ESV Study Bible or in many other works designed to address alleged discrepancies, textual variants, interpretative difficulties and  canonization which is the historical process by which the authoritative books of the Bible were recognized and received by Judaism and the Patristic Church.]  1) I don’t want to end up in the position I was in before where I read a lot about the history of the Bible and Jesus’ teachings at the expense of following his directive to “feed my sheep” by going to homeless shelters or otherwise interacting with the community.  I’m an introvert [and] that lends itself to just sitting around debating doctrine or what happens in the after-life as opposed to trying to show God’s love in this life. 2) At one time, I used to read about other religions if I wanted to know more about them.  Now, I spend time with people who practice a religion I’m interested in as that is the only way to understand how they live their lives and what they truly believe. That is why I spent 3.5 years on Evangelical blogs and interacting with Evangelical families.  Things got better when [redacted] came onto the scene and while I don’t compare my suffering to yours, I was subject to much of the same vitriol and ignorance that you were subjected to.  In particular, many people don’t like interacting with Evangelicals because there almost always is a “my way is the highway and your way leads to Hell” mentality that is not pleasant to deal with emotionally.  Much as I enjoy your friendship, I feel I need a break from that type of interaction. My perspective on Evangelicalism changed as a result.  4 years ago I would have said  that the Evangelical mentality was dated and destined to disappear.  I don’t feel that way or want that to happen anymore. Likewise, I think you’ve read a lot about other religions yet suspect you haven’t interacted with people who practice them outside of the context of a “your religion is wrong and mine is right” schema.  I could be mistaken and perhaps you’ve spent time at a Buddhist ashram and been open to understanding the religious views of others from their perspective, in a non-adversarial context.  If you really want to reach people like me, I don’t recommend going into debate mode.  Your generation was open to an adversarial way of discussing religious differences.  People in my generation are leaving organized religion all together, arguably, because we don’t like being told what we have to believe. Thanks always for your friendship.  It is a great blessing. ;-)

Tana:

Dear Brent, A couple things.  My personal beliefs aren’t just based on a subjective intuitive conception of what is the right thing to do although that’s how I make moral decisions ultimately.  I’m very intellectually attached to a book called A Course in Miracles that purports to re-examine Jesus’ teachings with the underlying assumption that his true message was that we can never be separated from God’s love and the belief that we can is a fear-based illusion.  You certainly don’t need to read that book - I just wanted to clarify where I’m coming from. Thanks for listening. ;-)

Me:

Thanks for the update on [redacted] and the additional questions/comments about theology.  I’d love to address the latter but I don’t have the time.  Hope to in the future.  Got my hands full right now.  I’ve appreciated our interaction though.  So keep reading those historically reliable gospels.  They are full of good news!  Brent    

Tana:

Thanks, Brent.  There’s lots of good news in the Bible but nothing positive is coming out of [redacted] or [redacted] these days. …

Tana:

I really am, Brent.  I don’t think I need to devote time to criticizing you over endorsing [redacted] silly attempt to cover for itself, yet we clearly have different goals and values at this point. Good luck to you and I do appreciate all the good work you’ve done for humanity. :-)

Brent:

I don’t feel the same way about [the necessity of] losing your friendship but I’ll respect your choice.  Thanks for all the ways you helped me and encouraged me. Brent

Tana:

Dear Brent, I’ve set gmail up to block your e-mails because I don’t want dialogue about any issues right now. … For one thing, your logical arguments are so bad I feel like I’m talking to an impostor of Brent Detwiler.  At one point, you tried to argue that you could objectively prove that Jesus is God.  Brent, if we prove could that a God existed, life would be easier.  The degree to which you equated objectivity with your subjective beliefs was surprising to me given how intelligent you are and the fact that you've never done that before. You’re cutting corners intellectually and factually in your articles, now, too. [Note: This sudden “losing of friendship” and being “blocked” took me by surprise but it is the price one often pays for sharing the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ.  Evangelism in the New Testament was “adversarial.”  I don’t mean belligerent.  I mean clear, direct and consequential.  People were commanded to repent and believe or face eternal punishment for their rebellion against God.  As a result, Christians were widely persecuted for sharing the good news of Christ crucified.  That is why Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit upon the early church.  It needed divine power and courage to proclaim he was the only Savior by which men must be saved.  This message resulted in grave suffering and sometimes martyrdom.  Two months later, I received the following email from Tana out of the blue.]  

Tana:

Wow, the former [redacted] made quite a statement on your Facebook page.  It’s hard to know what to say. On another subject, can I get your advice on studying Systematic Theology?  I’m reading On Discipleship and other Bonhoeffer material but would like to go back to the beginning and read primary sources, apart from Bonhoeffer. The question is how I can get the most out of studying Systematic Theology.  I’m loving Calvin’s Institutes but know I’m missing things because he’s likely assuming the reader has read Augustine and Aquinas, which I have not.  Therefore, I should probably put Calvin on hold. Aquinas assumes one has read Aristotle and I think all major theologians assume people have some familiarity with Plato. I have studied Plato at length but not Aristotle.  I might cheat and read books about Aristotle rather than source material apart from the Nicomachean Ethics. After I brush up on Plato and read some Aristotle, I’d need to know more about Paul’s teachings.  I’m sensing Augustine is next on the list yet don’t want to miss out on anyone.  Also, I’m suspending any beliefs I have about issues like Biblical inerrancy in studying Systematic Theology.  I’m taking the Bible at face value.  I also expect this study to take years because I really want to understand what I’m reading. Thanks for any advice you may have. ;-)

Me:

I’d recommend Concise Theology by J.I. Packer and Know the Truth by Bruce Milne as excellent introductions.  For a fuller treatment, I’d recommend Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief by John Frame.  “Introduction” is a misnomer.  While I am at it, I’d recommend “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God by Packer as an excellent read on the doctrine of Scripture. [Four months later I received the following email.  I was surprised again.  And for the record, I am not a scholar.]

Tana:

You’re a great teacher and scholar, Brent, and this is a time when your community really needs one. If you send me raw material you’ve used in sermons and lectures perhaps [redacted] and I can format it into content that could be sold at very reasonable prices.  To my knowledge, neither the OT or the NT says that only idiots and criminals should be able to make a living helping others understand Biblical issues.  Nor do Protestant clergy take vows of poverty. Seriously, Brent, I don’t meant to pressure you and you and I have very different views about many Biblical issues.  However, I still think your views have merit and that young evangelical pastors desperately need some good role models. So do my Jewish friends.  They’d like a resource that explains the orthodox view of Christianity and I have no one I’m truly comfortable with to send them to.  J.I. Packer and John Stott seem to pass muster for most Evangelical scholars but they are ultimately of the Church of England and therefore not much like most American Evangelicals, in my view. Please just send me some material, Brent, and let me see what I can do with it. ;-)

Related Article

God Almighty, Billy Graham & My Conversion to Christ

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 at 3:07PM


Testimony on Facebook

June 16, 2019

47 years ago tonight at Explo 72, I was sitting in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas listening to Billy Graham preach Christ crucified and risen from the dead.  I realized I was not a Christian in the true biblical sense.  I was a Christian in name only.


That evening my heart was convicted and I realized what a great sinner I was before a holy God.  But more, my mind was enlightened to understand, and my heart opened to believe in the good news of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  I turned from my sins and trusted in him for my salvation.  I was 18 years old.


From what was I saved?  His holy wrath.  That is the central message of the Bible.  Christ died for our sins and suffered in our place.  The judgment of God fell on him so the grace of God could fall on us.


As a retire tonight, I am exceedingly grateful for 47 years of gospel joy, peace, and power.  My sins are forgiven, I am reconciled to God through Christ, and the Holy Spirit lives in me.

The same is true for all who repent of their sins and believe in the good news of Jesus’ incarnate birth, perfect life, sacrificial death, bodily resurrection, and glorious ascension. 


“Jesus is the answer!” and “One way Jesus!” were our rallying cries in 1972 because Jesus taught, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no cone comes to the Father except though Me” (John 14:6).  A man may lose everything, but if he has Christ, he has all he needs.  With Jesus, every day is blessed with gospel joy.

#evangelism #gospel #brentdetwiler #exclusivity #bible #salvation #biblicalchristianity #christianity #christian

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