BIBLICAL BASIS FOR CATECHISM
Major Challenges to Christianity:
DOUBTS ABOUT THE EXISTENCE OF CHRIST
This challenge is a more recent challenge to Christianity.Christopher Hitchens (one of the leading atheists of the last 20 years) throws out this challenge but doesn't really develop it in god Is Not Great. Hitchens, though, has the luxury in making this claim that the early opponents of Christianity apparently did not enjoy. If a person today claims that Jesus existed 2,000 years ago, Hitchens could counter: "You don't know; you weren't there." According to Hitchens and to many who reject Christianity, there are no sources outside the NT which claim that Christ ever existed. They especially claim that it is strange that no Roman document ever mentions Jesus.
Moreover, the earliest opponents of Christianity claimed that Jesus actually was a sorcerer whose powers were derived from Satan (see the Babylonian Talmud). When Christianity's opponents charged this against Christianity, it is establishing 2 pieces of valuable evidence: (1) Jesus did exist (contra Hitchens) and (2) He performed some kind of magic.
The charges that Jesus did miracles in the power of Satan actually date back to the ministry of Christ according to the earliest documents (Matt. 13). His opponents apparently couldn't deny the supernatural aspect of His ministry because they had been performed in front of so many people; rather they claimed Satan was the source of His ministry. Jesus, though, according to the documents dispelled those attacks first by showing how illogical the charges were and second by pointing to the nature of the "miracles" themselves. Jesus claimed it was illogical to think that Satan gave Him power to cast out demons when the main thing Satan wanted was to inflict people with demonic possession (Matt. 12:22-29). Second, Jesus healed the blind and raised the dead, miracles beyond the scope of Satan's power. Satan could blind a man or kill him but never heal or raise from the dead since these are life-giving miracles.
Moreover, according to the documents many of these miracles could not have been faked since Jesus supposedly performed healing miracles upon people who had been certifiably ill, demon-possessed, or dead for a length of time which confirmed that they were truly ill (John 5:5; 9:1; 11:39).
According to Christianity, God is love. If that is true, then how can Christians account for all the evil and suffering in the world? Because this topic is HUGE and has been used not only against the third model of reality but specifically against Christianity, we will devote an entire study just on this one topic. For right now, it is sufficient to say that whereas Christianity acknowledges the harshness of suffering, it also claims that God uses it to accomplish wonderful things in our lives.
THE NATURE OF THE DOCUMENTS
It is interesting that in attacking Christianity that Christopher Hitchens first acknowledges the impact that C.S. Lewis has made upon the defense for Christianity. He basically acknowledges that Lewis is the primary defender of Christianity and that anybody who attacks Christianity today really has to deal with Lewis.
Hitchens goes on though to try to minimize Lewis by claiming that Lewis' main problem is that Lewis trusted the documents (the NT) upon which Christianity is based. Hitchens paints Lewis as naive since Lewis apparently embraces unquestionably the NT as being a reliable document; the truth though is that Lewis was an expert in ancient documents--he graduated with a first in his second degree, Greats (philosophy and ancient history). Hitchens then goes on to show how absurd the NT is.
Contradictions in the Gospels
I am not going to provide a counterpoint for each argument Hitchens presents. First, some of his attacks are dubious. When he claims that the accounts of the resurrection from the 4 Gospels contradict each other, he provides no evidence for that attack. He just states his claim and leaves it as is. The truth is that if all 4 accounts were identical, then Hitchens would use their similarity to undermine their claim that the resurrection occurred. If the accounts of the resurrection come from different people, then you would expect some differences (not contradictions) just like you would expect different accounts of a football game from different fans who went to the game.
Also, briefly consider his argument that the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke contradict each other: Luke has the baby Jesus going to the Temple after His birth in order to be consecrated to the Lord, whereas Matthew has Joseph fleeing with his family to Egypt. A simple analysis of the Greek text shows there are no contradictions. Luke is dealing with the immediate events after the birth. Matthew may be claiming that Jesus actually lived for up to 2 years in Bethlehem after His birth (He is called "a child," not a "baby" in Matt. 2:11 which indicates Jesus could be up to 2 years in age--hence Herod's decision to have all the Bethlehem babies 2 years of age and under killed; moreover by this time, Jesus is living in a house and not a barn). It may be that Joseph wanted Jesus to be raised in the hometown of His great ancestor, David-—a reasonable explanation of the events. If the two gospels were exactly identical as Hitchens wants them to be, then one of them would be unnecessary.
Are the Documents Reliable?
A bigger issue, though, needs to be addressed. On the whole, are the NT documents reliable? From the early 19th century until the 20th century, it became fashionable to claim that the NT documents were written actually 150-200 years after teh supposed events occurred (the F.C. Baur school from Tubingen University, Germany). Now Paul naturally wrote Romans, 1/2 Corinthians, and Galatians, but probably nothing else. Of the Gospels, Mark was written first and John last.
This claim was totally undermined in the early 20th century. In the sands of Egypt was found a fragment of the Gospel of John dated to the year 120 A.D. Taking into account the fact that it took time to copy the Gospel (no one believes this is the original document since it most likely was composed by John in the city of Ephesus in modern-day Turkey) and that it took time to disseminate the document, scholars of all persuasion claimed that the Gospel of John itself was probably composed NO LATER THAN 80 A.D.! (Even one of the most radical NT scholars of the 20th century admitted this--Rudolf Bultmann.) This find upended all the claims that the NT was written 150 years after the event. If John was the last book written in the NT with the exception of Revelation, then all the other NT documents were written within 50 years of the Christ event. Paul himself composed 1/2 Corinthians within 20 years of the event. This account is confirmed by the fact that whenever legitimate scholars on the History Channel who disagree with traditional Christianity discuss the NT documents, they now claim that they are not really credible because they were written decades after the events supposedly occurred. Why is that important? Because they have admitted that the NT documents were not written 150 years after the event which would seriously undermine their historical credibility, but now only decades afterwards.
Why were the Gospels written later than the letters of Paul? Doesn't their later writing hurt their credibility? First, Paul wrote continuously because he was addressing immediate concerns the churches were facing. He didn't have the luxury of waiting 40 - 50 years to write to the churches because their concerns were immediate and desperate. On the other hand, the Gospels were not needed to be composed because the eyewitnesses were available themselves to communicate the stories to the people. It was only when the eyewitnesses started dying that the church realized that if it did not put down their stories into written form, then they would lose those stories forever. As a result, it is easy to see the reason the Gospels would have been composed later.
But can you trust documents that were written 50 years after the event? (Remember that the LAST Gospel was written 50 years after the event; the others could have been written a whole lot earlier.) Can you trust your memory 50 years after an event has occurred? Well, it depends upon the event. There are many things I cannot remember from 50 years ago. In another 2 1/2 years, though, I will be able to tell you exactly where I was and what I was doing to the day 50 years earlier. I was sitting at my desk at Samuel B. Chase Elementary School near Temple Hills, Maryland, looking at the speaker which was located just to the upper lefthand side of the door which exited out into the hall--the hall where we would occasionally have drills in case of a nuclear attack (we would squat down and place our head between our knees to keep the nuclear explosion from killing us!).
Why do I remember this? Because that afternoon, a voice came over the loud speaker system announcing that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, TX. Not only this event, but several other happenings are etched permanently into my memory because of his assassination: looking at TV and seeing Lee Harvey Oswald exiting the police station being shot by Jack Ruby; seeing the lines of people marching past the casket of John Kennedy, lying in state in the rotunda of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.; seeing the body transported down the mall for burial at Arlington Cemetery and seeing his little son salute his dad as the casket was rolled past him and his mom and sister. I will never forgot those events.
Some people can remember even way back further than that. Ask those in their 80's where they were when they heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Ask them where they were when they heard the announcement that President Franklin Roosevelt had died, the only president many of them had ever known. You don't forget those kinds of events, ever.
As important and dramatic as these events were, just think about how more dramatic and emotionally wrenching the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ would have been. If I will be able to remember the assassination of JFK 50 years ago, how much more would the disciples have remembered the events of the crucifixion and resurrection. (Moreover, also remember that there is no reason in the world why the disciples didn't jot down their memories a lot earlier than 50 years after the event. They might have organized all their memoirs into Gospels later; however, that would not have prevented them from jotting down notes or memoirs of what they had seen while Christ was here.)
But These Documents were Written by Believers!
So, how does that make a difference? Very few, if any, books based on history are completely unbiased. Nobody seriously questions Thucydides' account of the struggle between the Athenians and Spartans in his The Peloponnesian War although he had been a general in the Athenian army. Yes, there may be some coloring involved; however, does anyone doubt the war occurred and which side won? We don't throw out Winston Churchill's History of the English Speaking People because he is pro-Anglo/American. We accept that the events he describes actually occurred, even though he is biased.
Finally, there is one person who wrote some of the original documents who was actually violently opposed to Christianity, Paul. Moreover, according to the documents, unflattering in a way, one of Jesus' half-brothers (James) originally didn't believe in Christ but later converted because he supposedly had a visit from the resurrected Jesus.
IS THE STORY ABOUT CHRIST JUST ANOTHER MYTH
In the past one hundred years, Christianity has been attacked because of the numerous similarities between the story of Christianity and other mythologies, especially the myth of the dying and rising God. In fact, C.S. Lewis initially rejected Christianity even after he came to believe in God because he claimed that Jesus was no more than another dying and rising corn king like all the other dying and rising corn kings found in other ancient religions. J.R.R. Tolkien was the one who showed him the crucial difference between the "Christ myth" and the other ancient myths of the dying and rising gods. According to Tolkien, the difference was that the "Christ myth" was an historical event which could be historically verified, whereas these other myths occurred in some mythological past unverifiable by historical canons.
Why though would there be similarities between Christianity and pagan myths if Christianity was supposed to be true? First of all, make sure that the myths are based upon sound documentation. (For example, some have tried to make Jesus a "Christian" counterpart of the Egyptian god Horus (see http://creativecounterpart.wordpress.com/2008/01/10/ending-the-myths-of-horus-jesus/). Lewis has 2 responsess to such a challenge
According to Lewis, if Christianity is true, then myths are not false; there is actually truth in these myths. Such a statement surprises many people because, in their view, myths by their very nature are false. Their surprise though probably just indicates that they were taught about myths in Jr. High and are still stuck in the Jr. High mentality. It all depends on what you mean by "myth." There are actually 3 ways that "myth" can be understood.
If Lewis is right, then myths are "windows" into the supernatural. By love and magic (miracle) Cinderellas do become princesses; by love and magic (miracle) the beast turns into a prince; by love and magic (miracle) the little wooden puppet becomes a real boy; and we all do live happily ever after.
Lewis is not kidding when he writes at the end of The Chronicles of Narnia that the children all lived "happily ever after." The 4 Pevensie children have repeatedly come to Narnia to experience wonderful adventures with Aslan. At the end of the second book, the 2 older children (Peter and Susan) are informed that they cannot return because they are too old. At the end of the third book (The Voyage of the Dawn Treade), Aslan tells Lucy and Edmnud that they cannot return because they too have gotten too old. In that heartbreaking scene, Lucy weeps: "Aslan, it is not Narnia that I will miss. I will miss you." At that point he tells her that he also lives in her world, but by another name (Jesus). brought her
In one of the most famous dedications to a book ever written, Lewis writes (in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe):
My Dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow faster than books. As a result, you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand, a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather,