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Berlin, 14. Oktober 2015

Viele herzliche Grüße aus Berlin! We've had a great week, enjoying fellowship with our German family in Christ. A real bonus is that the senior church leaders are Scott & Lynne Green. The three of us were introduced to authentic Christianity in the same North Carolina campus ministry back in the '70s. Scott was at UNC; Lynne and I were at Duke. (My wife became a Christian in London, soon after our church planting.) It's always good to reconnect.

Vicki's women's evening was a huge success, and our teaching day went smoothly -- and was well attended. Special thanks to organizer Christian Zimmermann. We were even joined by disciples who drove down from Hamburg -- I believe all the Jacobys in the U.S. are originally from Hamburg. The day focused mainly on evidences. Secular society is at times corrosive to faith, and the Bibeltag seemed to rejuvenate many. We have also been teaching in informal meetings around the church, on various topics.

Here in Berlin I've found myself thinking a lot about the 1940s. We're staying in the old Jewish Quarter -- before the evacuations to the death camps. Written notices everywhere remind us what happened and when-- the many rules and laws enacted that aimed to eradicate a whole population group.

Our apartment is only two blocks from the site of Albert Einstein's residence. His building no longer stands (it was bombed in WW2), after Einstein safely fled the Nazis in 1932, but still the reminder that this great mind -- and a Jewish one -- was domiciled just a short walk from us is inspiring and humbling. (Imagine if he hadn't got out of Germany...!) Einstein was born the same year as my grandfather (1879), another connection. This man strove intensively to penetrate the mysteries of the universe. Such intensity moves me to apply myself to internalize the life-giving message of the Bible, think about and better know the one Einstein called "that luminous figure," Jesus Christ.

Following the customary recap of last week's article, we will begin a new topic, Christ. In particular, we want to gain wisdom in answering skeptics who dispute Jesus' claims, resurrection, and significance for our lives.
The Answering Skeptics series:
Hypocrisy, Scripture, Morality, Nonsense questions, God, Science, Suffering, Miracles, Christ, and Religion

Recap: Miracles
  • Of course, the skeptic is correct that miracles are impossible by definition -- if you define them that way. 
  • Reality is composed of two "storeys." The downstairs is the empirical world, subject to the examination of science. The upstairs is the invisible, non-physical, spiritual world. There is ample evidence for the reality of both storeys
  • Miracles don't violate natural law. It may well be that God accelerates natural processes, or works around his laws.
  • Pre-modern people weren't stupid; not all miracle claims were passively accepted. For instance, they knew as well as we do that people don't walk on water -- but God might (Matt 14:25; Job 9:8). 
  • Few modern claims of the miraculous measure up to scrutiny, or the quality level, of biblical miracle. Yet some do (1%?). We should be skeptical, though not excessively so.

Jesus Christ: Skeptic Challenges 1-6

Today and in the following two weeks we'll provide answers to eighteen claims skeptics have made about Christ. If you learn these responses, you will be well equipped to defend the truth about Jesus Christ in nearly any situation.
  1. There's no proof Jesus even lived, apart from the Bible, which as we know is biased. Actually, a number of ancient non-Christians refer to Jesus. Check out Jesus: Historical Evidence, one of our recent podcasts. But is it fair to rule out the Bible's words about Jesus, merely because they are favorable? Such thinking would lead us to reject any book written in praise (or censure) of anybody. 
  2. Jesus' original words were lost by his disciples. No one can remember perfectly after a period of decades. Ancient peoples, like a handful of modern ones, are transmitting the learning, wisdom, and culture through oral tradition. Jewish disciples were known to be adept at preserving a rabbi's teaching, especially through memorization. Though of course no one's memory is always perfect, information is preserved well enough. For example, the blind poet Homer's Iliad and Odyssey -- hardly short works! -- have come down to us in this way. While there was a short oral phase in the transmission of the Jesus tradition, things were written down soon enough. And as long as his first followers were still alive, they were able to serve as a check on any significant errors in telling the gospel story.
  3. The New Testament was written too long after Jesus' life to be of historical value. There was a period of about 20 years between the ascension of Christ (30 AD) and the first N.T. documents (Gal, or possibly 1 Thess). That's a pretty short time. For comparison, the definitive biography of Churchill did not come out in 1966 (the year after he died)! Some excellent volumes appeared in the 1980s and 1990s. In fact the passage of a few years was necessary to allow for perspective. But we can get even closer than 20 years. Some sources about Christ cited in the N.T. go back to as close to Pentecost as two years, give or take (1 Cor 15:3-4)! 
  4. Jesus' limited knowledge, as seen in Matthew 24:36, shows that he was not truly the Son of God. Jesus was limited in various ways during his incarnation, so this should not surprise us. For example, he could now be in only one place at a time; he grew tired, and had to eat in order to keep on going (apart from times of fasting); and he had presumably a normal human brain -- no external hard drive for instant access to all the data in the universe. At times he used his divine powers, most often when he was helping others, but for the most part he seems to have lived without any unfair advantage that would remove him from the category of human being. The incarnation entailed an emptying of himself (Phil 2:7), including, apparently, a portion of his knowledge. 
  5. Jesus taught the same things as Muhammad, Confucius, and all the other founders of world religions. Not so. Careful scholarship has shown us that the differences between religions far outweigh the similarities. Have you ever read the Qur'an, the Hadith, or the Analects of Confucius? No one who has studied these works side by side with the Gospels can pretend that his message was the same as theirs. Rather, he claimed to present and to be the exclusive truth (John 14:6). Others pointed to what they thought was the way; Jesus confidently proclaimed that he is the way.
  6. In the "missing years," Jesus traveled to India, sat at the feet of the Buddha and found enlightenment. Not so. As a dutiful Jewish eldest son, in the "missing years" (age 12-32, years for which we have no information about his life), Jesus would have learned his father's craft. Once Joseph died, Jesus, as the eldest of five brothers (Matt 13:55), would have had family responsibilities -- no time for a trip to India. Besides, the Buddha died nearly five centuries before Jesus was born! The teaching of Christ was not a form of eastern mysticism, nor is it compatible with the views of other Asian religions, or the popular New Age Movement. Attempts to flatten the revolutionary teaching of Jesus, or homogenize the teachings of the world's religions, are misguided. To hear the voice of Christ, we must listen to him, not to those who would reinterpret him (2 Tim 4:3). 
         To be continued...


In keeping with our pattern of visiting a smaller city along with a larger city, or a small church along with a large one, this weekend we leave Berlin (larger) for Düsseldorf (smaller). Our aim is to encourage and strengthen, with an implicit message: We think you're important. In this way the International Bible Teaching Ministry has been able to have an impact in all sorts of places, from Guam to Guyana, Moscow to Vladivostok, Togo to Tokyo. I've spoken in Berlin on four occasions; this is the first visit to Düsseldorf. We will travel by train (about 4 hours), and take in the brilliantly autumnal German countryside.

By the way, here are the links to my classes on Countercultural Christianity (last month's Norfolk trip): CCC Part 1 and CCC Part 2. It feels good to be creating new material, and seeing people "get it" is deeply rewarding. Thanks for remembering us, and praying for our mission to expose the lost and the saved to God's word.

Ihr bruder,
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