My Experience with De-Converts from Christianity

In recent months I have had exposure to numerous atheists and agnostics who have deconverted from Christianity.  As a rule, I have found them to be just that – de-converted from Christianity (or some form of it) rather than deconverted from Christ.

Another way of stating this is that these people have de-converted from social Christianity rather than spiritual Christianity (for the difference, which is vast, see Spiritual Christianity Versus Social Christianity).  What passes for Christianity today in fundamentalist and evangelical churches really amounts to Churchianity (see The Curse of Churchianity).   That is, instead of pursuing the kingdom of God – as Jesus taught we should – Christians are pursuing the kingdom of church.  The two ideas are completely opposed to each other.

When today’s generation of Christian adults were children, they were taught the precepts of Churchianity – not the precepts of Jesus Christ our Lord.  As a result, it is not surprising that many of them – upon leaving the nest – find social groups more to their liking.  In fact, I’m surprised there aren’t more de-converts from the idolatry of church.   

By contrast, Jesus Christ gives no reason to de-convert.  He is faithful.  He is the mighty God and humanity’s greatest friend.  Oh, how I love Him so!

Do Historians Believe Jesus Existed?

Historians – whether conservative or liberal, whether believing or unbelieving – are apparently united in their conviction that Jesus existed.  Why then do we see people on the Internet saying that He did not exist or we cannot know whether He existed?  Such people are not thumbing their nose at believers; they are thumbing their nose at historians, evidence, and the historical method – the sorts of things upon which they claim to rely.

 

Dialogue with David (re: Heaven and Hell)

This dialogue began in the comments of The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven.  While it began in the context of discussing the logical structure of that book, I moved it here when David requested that we approach the discussion with a different logical structure. 

If you want to read the discussion prior to this point, here is the last comment of that discussion.  From there you can work backward to reconstruct the beginning of the conversation.

If, however, you’re a reader just joining the discussion, it’s not necessary that you work backward.  I’ll give a summary that will allow you to follow the discussion without backtracking.  That summary is this:  I believe that the Bible teaches that Everyone Is Going to Heaven (this link provides a one-page summary of my view, while  The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven provides a much longer explanation).  

David disagrees, and here, in his own words, is his view:

God will not have anything to do with sin. He hates it. He is spirit and thus is everywhere at once. Nevertheless, in a sense that I can not really articulate, He lives in heaven. It’s a spiritual realm in contrast to our material one.

God is one; and yet the Bible shows that He operates in three persons, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. I see each of them having what we would call personality. And, yet, Scripture clearly teaches that there is only one God. All three ‘persons’ of the Godhead have never not existed. 2000 years ago, the second person, the son, who was a spirit being, became a man on earth, Jesus. He was fully man and fully God. Don’t ask me to explain that….

God’s plan is to live with man for all eternity. Since man is sinful, He had a problem to solve and He did it with Jesus’ death. God has always been identifying men/women to ‘save.’ By this I mean, He declares them righteous. They are not righteous; but, he can do this since at a point in time (2000 years ago) He knew that their sin would be paid for and thus make His declaration just.

The way in which a person is declared righteous is when God decides that they have faith/trust in what He has revealed to them. Genesis 15:6 is a nice example of this happening to Abraham well before the cross. Yet, when Abraham died, he went to Sheol. He had been declared righteous; but, his sin had not yet been paid for by the cross. Today, it is the gospel of Jesus that one must trust to receive this declaration. Those who don’t trust this message remain unrighteous and can not come into the presence of God, heaven. Sorry.

Not only righteous people but also unrighteous people went to Sheol before the cross. And, from Luke 16:19ff it seems like there was a good part and a not so good part. After the cross, Jesus took the ones from the good part to be with Him. According to 2 Corinthians 5:8 (as I understand it, at least) Paul says he would rather be absent from the body (I take this to be physically dead) and to be home with the Lord (I take this to be with Jesus in heaven). So, when one who God has declared righteous (God did this for me on December 19, 1987) dies today, they are immediately transported to heaven as a spirit being. Their body is rotting in the earth and they never have anything to do with Sheol. They are not yet resurrected which for me means being given a body like the one Christ had when he appeared on earth after the cross. That resurrection will happen when Christ comes for His church someday.

So, what about the unrighteous. They are still flocking to Sheol; the bad part. And, not until the various judgments of Christ, will they be resurrected to go to a place nobody should ever have to go to. On the other hand, it is one to which we all (including me, of course) deserve to go to.

So, as you can see, you and I are miles apart in our theology. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what you think might be profitable for us to discuss. I still think the list of premises approach is the most likely one to yield any fruit.

I am happy to try to work with David’s structure (“list of premises”) and see if that leads to more common understanding. 

David, I know you previously laid out your structure but, not knowing whether you might want to adjust that in any way, didn’t want to just repeat it without giving you the opportunity to update.  Therefore, if you will begin your reply by restating your current logical construct and which part you would like me to address, then I’ll respond, and we’ll go back and forth – unfettered by the structure of my book, following your logical leanings, and hopefully having a productive dialogue.

Word Cloud Bible

A four-minute early 21st Century meditation on a collection of treasured ancient documents.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmNnXRfTjZ8&feature=player_embedded#!

The Logical Fallacy of Chronological Snobbery

Victor Reppert on his dangerous idea blog calls attenion to the logical fallacy of chronological snobbery.  He references the concept on several posts.

I have seen chronological snobbery in some people when they say things like, “In biblical times people were superstitious and more prone to accept supernatural accounts uncritically; that’s why the Jesus story was embellished with miracles – so that more people would believe the story.” Such people erroneously think that skepticism is an invention of modern times.

Usually this snobbery is selectively applied.  For many people who reject the Bible on this basis still manage to find wisdom in Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Homer, or Shakespeare.

An Open Letter to Bart Ehrman

Dear Dr. Ehrman,

I know that you are a respected New Testament scholar who nonetheless either doubts or disbelieves the resurrection of Jesus because you are an agnostic.  Given this, I am particularly interested in what you think about the resurrection.

In a 2006 debate with William Lane Craig about the resurrection of Jesus, you closed your side of the debate with the following statement (which is on page 29 of the transcript and 12/12 of the video clips, accessible through the link above):

 Let me conclude by telling you what I really do think about Jesus’ resurrection. The one thing we know about the Christians after the death of Jesus is that they turned to their scriptures to try and make sense of it. They had believed Jesus was the Messiah, but then he got crucified, and so he couldn’t be the Messiah. No Jew, prior to Christianity, thought that the Messiah was to be crucified. The Messiah was to be a great warrior or a great king or a great judge. He was to be a figure of grandeur and power, not somebody who’s squashed by the enemy like a mosquito. How could Jesus, the Messiah, have been killed as a common criminal? Christians turned to their scriptures to try and understand it, and they found passages that refer to the Righteous One of God’s suffering death. But in these passages, such as Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 and Psalm [69], the one who is punished or who is killed is also vindicated by God. Christians came to believe their scriptures that Jesus was the Righteous One and that God must have vindicated him. And so Christians came to think of Jesus as one who, even though he had been crucified, came to be exalted to heaven, much as Elijah and Enoch had in the Hebrew scriptures. How can he be Jesus the Messiah though, if he’s been exalted to heaven? Well, Jesus must be coming back soon to establish the kingdom. He wasn’t an earthly Messiah; he’s a spiritual Messiah. That’s why  the early Christians thought the end was coming right away in their own lifetime. That’s why Paul taught that Christ was the first fruit of the resurrection. But if Jesus is exalted, he is no longer dead, and so Christians started circulating the story of his resurrection. It wasn’t three days later they started circulating the story; it might have been a year later, maybe two years. Five years later they didn’t know when the stories had started. Nobody could go to the tomb to check; the body had decomposed. Believers who knew he had been raised from the dead started having visions of him. Others told stories about these visions of him, including Paul. Stories of these visions circulated. Some of them were actual visions like Paul, others of them were stories of visions like the five hundred group of people who saw him. On the basis of these stories, narratives were constructed and circulated and eventually we got the Gospels of the New Testament written 30, 40, 50, 60 years later.
   

I’m curious, Dr. Ehrman, about why you find this scenario plausible.  It immediately provokes several questions:

1. How were Jesus’ disciples able to find in the Scriptures prophecies of a Messiah who died accursed but who was then raised from the dead, when this perspective had alluded all Jews before them (including many who were far more educated)?

2. How were Jesus’ disciples able to convince other Jews that this radical interpretation was worth following (in the face of strenuous persecution from authorities) when the disciples had nothing to justify it but their visions?

3. Why do the New Testament documents go to such great lengths to portray the apostles as needing and providing evidence and proof if, as you say, it was the Scriptures and visions that led them to this conviction about Jesus being raised from the dead?  In other words, if they truly believed He was the Righteous One of God as you say, why would they dishonor Him with such blatant lies?

4. Further to previous question, if you believe that people other than the apostles wrote the the New Testament, who lied about all the firsthand experiences – the apostles or those who wrote the New Testament?

5. If Christ was not raised, who knocked Paul off his horse and how did it happen that half the New Testament came to be a man who violently opposed to the message of Christ’s resurrection?

Without answers to these questions, it’s hard to believe that you have really put your scenario under the microscope of even your own critical thinking.

Sincerely,

Mike Gantt



Was There Really a Jesus of Nazareth?

Take note of this post from Ari’s Blog of Awesome which focuses on the historicity of Jesus. Ari says, “Many may be misled in their investigation [of the historicity of Jesus] that the view that Jesus did not exist is popular or that those who affirm the positive do so on shaky evidence.” He then begins to describe the strength of the case for the historical Jesus, quoting three respected historians:

1) Robert E. Van Voorst, Professor of New Testament Studies at Western Theological Seminary, in his discussion on the historical evidence of Jesus outside of the New Testament states:

“The theory of Jesus’ nonexistence is now effectively dead as a scholarly question.” (Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence.14.)

2) Mark Allan Powell, a professor of NT and chairman for Historical Jesus at the Society of Biblical Literature puts it harsh stating:

Anyone who says that today [i.e. that Jesus didn’t exist]–in the academic world at least–gets grouped with the skinheads who say there was no Holocaust and the scientific holdouts who want to believe the world is flat. (Mark A Powell, Jesus As a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee. 168)

3) The late F.F. Bruce in his popular The New Testament Documents: Are they reliable? said:

“Some writers may toy with the fancy of a ‘Christ-myth,’ but they do not do so on the ground of historical evidence. The historicity of Christ is as axiomatic for an unbiased historian as the historicity of Julius Caesar. It is not historians who propagate the ‘Christ-myth’ theories.” (Bruce, The New Testament Documents. 123.)

The historicity of Jesus of Nazareth is a settled fact of history.  Those who say or suggest otherwise are simply not informed.

Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus? A Debate between William Lane Craig and Bart D. Ehrman

Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus? 

A Debate between William Lane Craig and Bart D. Ehrman

Held at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts

March 28, 2006

The YouTube Video of the debate (approximately 12 ten-minute segments)

The transcript of the debate (takes you to a page that will let you download a 38-page pdf)

Dialogue with “ExChristian.Net” (re: Heaven and Hell)

Last month I came across a post called “Hell – Roots” on a site called ExChristian.net.  I thought this provided a good opportunity to tell the news of how everyone is going to heaven.  I was confirming the thesis of the post – which was that an eternal afterlife of hell was not something people needed to worry about.  I was thus taken by surprise at the hostility toward my message. 

The tone of the dialogue is decidedly less edifying than that of Dialogue with “Common Sense Atheism” that I posted earlier today.  In fact, so upset were they with my message that they banned me from the site.  Thus I was responding to various challenges when I found the comment mechanism inoperable for me and saw the pop-up “You have been banned from commenting on this site,” or something to that effect.

While this experience was jarring, I attribute it to the fact that it is a site intended for proselytizing.  That is, they are welcoming “de-converted Christians” and don’t want anyone making comments that might interfere with that process.  While I don’t consider that attitude wise, it does make their action rational. 

It interests me to juxtapose in my mind this dialogue with the Dialogue with Don and Robert (re: Heaven and Hell).  In both cases, you have people rejecting the idea that everyone is going to heaven on the basis that it is not true.  The former – atheists – believe it’s not true because they don’t believe anyone is going.  The latter – Christians – believe it’s not true because they believe only they are going. 

I would have thought a group of exChristians (or at least some of them) would be interested in the idea that they could reject what was wrong with modern-day Christianity without having to reject what was right with it (that is, hold on to the baby of Christ and throw out the bath water of churchianity).  I learned something.  Here then is that conversation (I show up in the comments as “mdgantt”).

Dialogue with “Common Sense Atheism” (re: the Resurrection of Christ)

I recently engaged in an exchange about the resurrection of Christ with folks at the Common Sense Atheism site hosted by Luke Muehlhauser.  The dialogue followed in the wake of Luke’s post Why the Resurrection Is Unbelievable (part 1).  Note that there were many other exchanges taking place in the comment stream as well, so you have to selectively view my comments and responses to them.

I found the same general paucity of evidence or logic for assertions that the New Testament is an unreliable historical record there that I’ve been finding at my post I Invite You to Challenge Me at My Most Vulnerable Point.  However, you should judge for yourself.  Here again is the link (I show up in the comments as “Mike Gantt”).