Tag Archives: naturalism

Why the World Hates Jesus of Nazareth (5 of 7)

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”  Jesus, Jn. 15:18

In the previous installment, I made the case that Jesus rejected materialism.

Jesus defended the poor and preached a word of warning to the rich. In his words and actions, Jesus rejected the idol of consumerism. Contrary to the economy of empire, King Jesus seeks to establish a Kingdom on the earth that is about giving and sharing, not taking and accumulating.

In God’s economy, the poor are blessed (Lk 6:20). This aspect of Jesus and his ministry especially threatens those in powerful positions of affluence and privilege. The gospel of Jesus undermines their way of life, and denounces their way of carving up the world for their own personal pleasure.

As I said in the introduction to this blog series, I’m using seven provocative statements as a way of summarizing the radical life and teachings of Jesus as recorded in the NT. It is my deepest desire that the Christian and skeptic alike will come to embrace the true beauty of Christ’s Kingdom, while being ever-mindful of the real cost of discipleship. We must count the cost.

For this is why the world hates Jesus and his good news. And why those who belong to the world system will hate those who choose to follow him.

5. Jesus Challenged Worldly Wisdom

The apostle John writes in his Gospel that Jesus is the logos (Word) of God.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  John 1:1-5 NIV

John has in mind two big ideas by referring to Jesus as the logos of God.

In Jewish perspective, Jesus is the Word of God (spoken & written) in human form. No doubt an idea that was (and is) unthinkable to Jews. From a Hellenistic Greek perspective, Jesus is the Wisdom of God—the perfect mind behind the universe. He is transcendent above the material world.

Jesus is also the Wisdom of Proverbs personified (Prov 1:20-33). He is Wisdom in the flesh! The apostle Paul testifies that in Jesus is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:2-3). He is the divine mind.

“Wisdom, God’s blueprint for humans, at last herself becomes human.” N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, pg. 120

The Gospel of John would have us know, from the very beginning, that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Creator of all that is seen and unseen. He came from God, and is God in human form—the invisible made visible.

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father [God].”  Jesus, Jn 14:9b

This is just the evidence you would think all religious people and skeptics would need to repent and believe in the One that God sent in order to make himself known. However, John tells us that Jesus “came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him” (Jn 1:10 NLT).

Why did the world not recognize him? Because God’s wisdom is foolishness to those who refuse to repent of worldly wisdom (1 Cor 1:18).

“Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” Paul, 1 Cor 1:20-21 NIV

The life and ministry of Jesus can certainly be viewed as foolishness.

  • Jesus was born of a virgin (Lk 1:26-38),
  • Lived in obscurity for most of his life (Lk 2-3),
  • He was single with no interest in marriage (Matt 19:29),
  • Took up the role of rabbi with no formal education (Jn 1:49; 7:15),
  • Rejected by his family and friends (Mk 3:20; Lk 4:14-30),
  • He was a wandering homeless man for three years (Lk 9:58),
  • Performed miracles and casted out evil spirits (Mk 5:9; Jn 2),
  • Forgave sins with the authority of God (Mk 2:5-7),
  • Proclaimed that he and God were one and the same (Jn 10:30),
  • Emphatically claimed to be the only way to God (Jn 14:6),
  • He raised Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11),
  • Crucified as a condemned criminal (Lk 23:33; Jn 18:30),
  • Followers said he was resurrected in a radical new body (Lk 24),
  • Believed he would return to consummate the Kingdom (Matt 24).

“Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Jesus, Matt 11:6

First and foremost, Jesus challenges worldly wisdom with his self-proclaimed divine identity, and heaven-born mission. Jesus’ self-awareness is most clearly expressed in The Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46).

It can’t be denied that Jesus sees himself as the son of the vineyard owner. The son (Jesus) is sent to the tenants (religious leaders) of the vineyard (Israel), after the tenants had already killed others (prophets) the vineyard owner (God) had sent to collect the harvest. The son will also be killed (crucifixion). Jesus then tells his audience that the Kingdom of God will be taken from the religious and given to others that will receive it (v.43).

Jesus not only claimed to be the only begotten (i.e. one of a kind) Son of God that comes to take away the sins of the world (Jn 3:16), he proved that his wisdom was from another place. This wisdom incited hatred.

The leaders of Israel believed Jesus and his followers were dangerous. They made repeated attempts to trap Jesus with their wisdom, but he always confounded them with his wisdom from above (Matt 22:20-22; Jn 8:6).

“Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God.”  Paul, 1 Cor 3:18-19 NLT

It wasn’t just his “new teaching” that intimidated the religious leaders (Mk 1:27), it was something more—something they couldn’t quite put their finger on. He seemed to have someone helping him. It appeared to be the power of God, but still they stumbled over their own wisdom and rejected him.

Even the folks back in Nazareth were mystified at his great wisdom and miracle-working. Nevertheless, they hated him for his claims to be the eternal, omniscient Son of God (Matt 13:54; Lk 4:28-30).

And that’s the thing about Jesus, isn’t it? He does not allow anyone to separate his “wise” teachings from his self-identifying claim to be the Lord of the universe. C.S. Lewis said it best in Mere Christianity, pgs 40-41:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” 

Worldly wisdom scoffs at the idea that Jesus is the Messiah—the savior of the world. Those who embrace the wisdom of the world have constructed a system that doesn’t allow for the Creator of the cosmos to make himself known in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

The world today sees faith in Christ as a threat to human progress. The wisdom of God, as expressed in Jesus, and now through his followers, can’t simply be left alone. Jesus challenges the “wisdom of the wise”—religious pluralism, scientific naturalism, and political imperialism.

And he calls for a Kingdom revolution of the heart and mind.

Therefore, God’s wisdom may have it that many of his peaceful followers walk a road of suffering, even death (Lk. 11:49; Rev. 5:10-11).

If they crucified the Son of God for challenging conventional wisdom and cultural expectations, what will they to do those who follow him?

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

Read the next post:  6. Jesus Was Loving and Intolerant.


Why I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, Part III

It seems to me that there are at least five established facts in the case for the resurrection. These “minimal facts” are the death of Jesus by Roman crucifixion, the empty tomb, the disciple’s resurrection claims, the conversions of James and Paul, and the rapid growth of the early church in the face of suffering and death.

This is compelling evidence for the resurrection of Jesus that every skeptic must confront with historical, logical, and consistent reasons of rebuttal if they wish to challenge mainstream biblical and historical scholarship or engage in an attack on the gospel of Jesus.

Furthermore, there are certain biases, presuppositions, and cultural conditioning that must be acknowledged on the outset of an investigation into the case for the resurrection. The skeptic, as well as the Christian, must be aware of this and seek openly and honestly with heart and mind.

III. Limitations of Science & Boundaries of Human Reason

The seventeenth and eighteenth century Enlightenment has conditioned much of the West to separate faith and reason. The church has often been guilty of refusing to take serious the discoveries of science. The sloppy practice of using the Scriptures to attack and defend scientific theories has furthered the idea that faith and reason are at odds with one another.

Of course, there is such a thing as bad science, something that many evolutionary biologists and skeptics of religion today refuse to acknowledge. But who will argue that it was right for the church to denounce Galileo’s heliocentrism—that the earth revolves around the sun?

Like many European intellectuals who grew tired of the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church, some modern skeptics abandon faith altogether, reject any spiritual dimensions to life and the cosmos, only to rely solely upon science as the only infallible guide to epistemology (what we can know and how can we know it). This is just as arrogant and foolhardy as the fundamentalist preacher who tries to read the first chapters of Genesis as a literal scientific account of creation. It’s wrong. We should recognize it’s wrong. And start being honest about faith and reason.

In his book, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, N.T. Wright describes spirituality as a “hidden spring” within our society. The ruling class has tried to pave over the spring of spirituality with concrete, regulate and dispense with it in ways that are best for them, and keep it from pouring out freely into the public square. Wright says, sooner or later, that spring is going to burst open!

I think we have been seeing that spring bursting open in American society. Despite the heightened sensitivity to religious fundamentalism, and the claims by the new atheists that God is a delusion—making most of the world’s population schizophrenic—people are not turning away from faith, they are merely beginning to question some of the old paradigms and practices of a church that is stuck in a bygone age—a church that has failed to give them Jesus.

Many people, young and old, are leaving the church to discover faith. While I don’t think abandoning the church is the answer, it may allow for some to discover the Lord’s idea for the ekklesia (i.e. called out community) of God in close-knit Christian relationships, enabling a spiritual revolution among the organized church of Christ within society.

Others who are seeking different forms of spirituality give evidence to the deep yearnings within us all. In fact, Tom Wright says they are “echoes of a voice” that serve as signposts to a future world where God sets the world to rights. These universal desires can be seen in our longing for justice in an unjust world, the continued need we have for relationships in a world broken with heartache and divorce, the dream of knowing a beauty that never fades, and the hunger for spirituality that fully expresses what it means to be human. Wright says the “echoes” are from the voice of God.

I don’t believe that science (i.e. a study of the physical world) can fully account for the way things really are in the universe. The naturalistic criteria laid down by a community that has set the rules according to human reason and observation limits our understanding of the world to what we can see, touch, quantify, and calculate. Life as we know it is too complex to fathom. There are simply too many mysteries in the known universe to let a few skeptics in the scientific community tell us that there is no God, and that the laws of nature are never suspended.

Naturalism may dictate that dead people stay dead. But if there is a God who created the world, and sent his Son to reveal his divine program, then how can we be so certain that this God wouldn’t raise Jesus from the dead in order to vindicate him and affirm divine revelation? I believe it is just the sort of thing God would do to reveal himself and redeem mankind for a new world—a world that he has not left to simply wind down, grow cold, and become stardust.

The thinking of philosopher David Hume has left an indelible mark on Western society. Hume rejected the idea of miracles, largely based on his naturalistic perspective that the laws of nature prohibit them from happening. Hume wrote:

“The Christian Religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one. Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity: And whoever is moved by Faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience.” (Concerning Human Understanding, 10.2.101.)

Did you catch that? Hume is saying that it is a miracle that anyone could ever be dumb enough to believe in the Christian faith!

Would the resurrection of Jesus be a violation of natural laws? Are miracles to be entirely ruled out because Hume concluded that they are contrary to nature and the whole of human experience? I don’t believe so. And I think further scientific investigation can get us there.

There are currently three main views of natural law: the regularity theory, the nomic necessity theory, and the causal dispositions theory. None of these theories actually allow for miracles to be understood as violations of the laws of nature. Instead, miracles are naturally impossible events that require an unknown or “supernatural” force to interrupt the natural world at a certain time and place. William Lane Craig writes:

“When a scientific anomaly occurs, it is usually assumed that some unknown natural factors are interfering, so that the law is neither violated nor revised. But suppose the law fails to describe or predict accurately because some supernatural factors are interfering? Clearly the implicit assumption of such laws is that no supernatural factors as well as no natural factors are interfering. Thus, if the law proves inaccurate in a particular case because God is acting, the law is neither violated nor revised. If God brings about some event which a law of nature fails to predict or describe, such an event cannot be characterized as a violation of a law of nature, since the law is valid only under tacit assumption that no supernatural factors come into play in addition to the natural factors” (Craig, 262).

I have found that it is important to do your study of the historical Jesus by first discarding of the presupposition that naturalism can fully account for the way things are in the world. As Craig has written, “If we begin by presupposing naturalism, then of course what we wind up with is a purely natural Jesus. This reconstructed, naturalistic Jesus is not based on evidence, but on definition” (Craig, 279).

Craig Keener has recently reminded us of the reality of miracles in contemporary times with his two-volume set, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (2011). I agree with Keener, there is good reason and ample evidence that ought to prompt us to believe in miracles today.

Miracles are not a problem for me simply because I believe that God exists, but because I believe this loving God is actively involved in creation. The very laws of nature (as we know them) are continually sustained by his power. He has revealed himself in the natural order and in the spiritual order. But more specifically, God’s good will for creation has been made known in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

And he has displayed his saving power by raising this Jesus from the dead.

Conclusion—Believing in the Face of Objections & Seasons of Doubt

I believe that once you exhaust all normal causations for the resurrection story, the evidence points to the “high probability” that Jesus rose from the dead. In fact, we have the sort of evidence we would expect to find if Jesus was raised from the dead. It’s actually not all that difficult to believe, depending on your presuppositions. I believe an honest search will lead a person to at least acknowledge the weight of the evidence.

However, a historical, biblical, or scientific investigation is not enough to push someone over the edge of skepticism into belief. In the end, it’s not the intellectual inquiry that produces and completes faith. While faith involves reasoning with the intellect, there is still yet another dimension of faith that must be embraced: mystery. Once a person reaches the boundaries of human reason, they will be faced with the mystery of it all.

What do you do with the mystery?

If you don’t allow for mystery, there can be no such thing as real faith. Don’t confuse mystery with ignorance. To recognize mystery is simply to take notice of the boundaries of human reason—the finite mind of man in contrast to the infinite mind of God—and revel in the majesty of God’s power.

When I was in the sixth grade, Mrs. Fuller was my English teacher. There were many times when I apparently tried to take over the class, insert my all-knowing wisdom, and stand in the place of Mrs. Fuller. She would always patiently respond with a kind reminder that she was the teacher and I was the student. She would point to herself, “teacher,” and then to me, “student.” After a while, all she had to do is say those words to me when I got too big for my britches. Now I use this with my students.

In the face of objections by skeptics, and in my own seasons of doubt, the living Lord continually reminds me that he is the Teacher, and I am merely the student. So, as the student, I will take the evidence that has convinced me of the resurrection of Jesus, and then go sit down amidst all the objections and doubt, in order to be taught by the risen Lord.

Happy Easter!

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

Suggested Reading:

“The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?” by F.F. Bruce; “Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament” by Daniel B. Wallace; “The Historical Reliability of the Gospels” by Craig Blomberg; “What are the Gospels?: A Comparison of Graeco-Roman Biography” by Richard Burridge; “Who Was Jesus?” by N.T. Wright; “Jesus & the Victory of God” by N.T. Wright; “Historical Jesus: Five Views” by James Beilby; “The Historical Figure of Jesus” by E.P. Sanders; “Lord or Legend: Wrestling with the Jesus Dilemma” by Gregory Boyd & Paul Rhodes Eddy; “The Aims of Jesus” by Ben Meyer; “Jesus & the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony” by Richard Bauckham; “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” by Gary Habermas & Mike Licona; “The Resurrection of the Son of God” by N.T. Wright; “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach” by Mike Licona; “The Virginal Conception & Bodily Resurrection of Jesus” by Raymond Brown; “Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth & Apologetics” by William Lane Craig; “Jesus & His World: The Archaeological Evidence” by Craig Evans; “Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ” by Darrell Bock; “Lost in Transmission: What Can We Know About the Words of Jesus” by Nicholas Perrin; “Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels” by Craig Evans

Films & Documentaries:

“The Life of Jesus: Who He Is & Why He Matters” by John Dickson (book & DVD); “Jesus: The Complete Story (BBC, 2004); “Resurrection” by N.T. Wright; “The Gospel of John” (Philip Savile, 2005); “Passion of the Christ” (Mel Gibson, 2004); “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel (book & DVD); “Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead? A Critical Examination of the Facts About the Resurrection of Jesus” by Ignatius Press (2008).

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