“Don’t Judge”—What Jesus Really Meant

Fewer and fewer people today know the Bible. But if there’s one verse that’s still commonly quoted, it’s, “Judge not, and you will not be judged”.

These are the words of Jesus. And what people normally mean when they repeat them is, “It’s not your place to judge my moral choices. It’s 2019—everyone should be free to choose the lifestyle that makes them happy, so long as no one gets hurt.”

“Let me sin in peace,” is another way to put it.

But there’s a problem with this. Those who hold to this worldview are often very quick to judge Christians—even quite harshly. It has to be one of the great ironies of our time.

So apparently there is a place for judgment. As it happens, this is what Jesus himself said all along, if we read his quote in context. It’s from Matthew 7:1-6, and it famously begins like this:

1 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.

2 For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.

After telling us how not to judge, Jesus goes on to highlight three ways that we should judge. 

See the Master Teacher is aware of something we often forget. As humans, we’re making judgment calls all the time. There’s no way to avoid it.

So the question isn’t, Should we judge? But rather, Who and how should we judge?

Judge Yourself Honestly | v3-5a

First, in verses 3-5a, Jesus says:

3 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?

4 How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?

5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye…

If this passage is familiar to us then it’s probably lost some of its original humour. Being a carpenter, Jesus knew wood, and he chose a Greek word that means a big timber beam—the main one holding the house roof up.

The picture is of two people—one with an almighty beam projecting out of her eye offering to help her friend get a bit of sawdust out of his. Slapstick at its finest.

“If this passage is familiar to us then it’s probably lost some of its original humour.”

If we’re going to help someone else sort out their problems, Jesus insists, we first need to deal with the problems in our own life. We need to judge ourselves honestly.

When we’re quick to judge others, we develop a self-righteous and insensitive heart. The only way to counteract this is to readily find the faults in our own lives before we go trying to spot them in others.

Judge Others Humbly | v5b

So is Jesus saying that our lives need to be perfect before we’re able to offer others critique or counsel? No, he’s not.

In fact, his whole point in telling us to judge ourselves honestly is so that we’ll be able to help others. That’s what he says in verse 5b:

5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

Jesus wants us to see well enough to deal with the speck in our friend’s eye. There is a place for judging others, providing that it’s done with clear vision and humility.

If we’re going to be of any use to others, we need to be striving to live a life of integrity ourselves. In other words, we need to judge others humbly.

The world would have us believe that there are only two ways to respond to sin: wholehearted endorsement, or prickly hatred. But Jesus shows us a third way: the narrow way, the way of humility.

Judge Critics Wisely | v6

This passage ends with an interesting and provocative twist. In verse 6, Jesus says:

6 “Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.

It may sound like Jesus has changed topics here, but he hasn’t. He’s still talking about judgment. He’s telling us to judge our critics wisely.

If we follow him on the path less travelled—the path of humility—Jesus warns us that there’s a risk involved. People may see us as a soft target, and try to take advantage of us.

A perfect example is the kind of people I mentioned at the start, who are apt to misquote this passage. “Judge not, and you will not be judged,” can be used in an attempt to silence Christians. Even to accuse us of hatred—and a phobia or three.

“Jesus opposed the proud, but gave grace to the humble.”

Maybe someone who makes these accusations is simply hurting, and they need our love and compassion. There are times when the right thing to do is apologise on behalf of other Christians who’ve caused the hurt.

On the other hand, this may be smoke and mirrors to hide a calculated motive. When this is the case, any concession or apology we make will end up as trampled pearls. And the attack will only grow worse.

This is why we’re going to need all the help that Jesus has to offer. He opposed the proud, but gave grace to the humble—and He never missed a beat. We need His wisdom to do the same.

Good and Bad Judgment

It’s easy to misquote Jesus. Even Christians can cave in to the pressures of the world and make “judge not” an excuse for sin. But this leads only in one direction: judging Christians who won’t play the game.

Judgment is part of human nature. Some judgment is good. But the only way we can avoid bad judgment—also known as condemnation—is to know that condemnation no longer hangs over our heads.

“It’s easy to misquote Jesus.”

Jesus didn’t just teach the world about judgment. He actually took the world’s judgment on his own shoulders. He suffered and died on a cross to save each of us from God’s eternal judgment.

When we know this, we’re free. We no longer need to try scramble up the heap by finding fault in the lives of others. We can rest in God’s verdict that “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

And then we can judge as we should, with the honesty, wisdom and humility that he supplies.

America’s Founders on the High Price of Freedom

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”—Thomas Paine

Such was the mood on the North American continent centuries ago, when pilgrims and pioneers dreamt of a brand new nation to call their own.

Somehow, their experiment worked. Despite the founders’ striking flaws and modern America’s many faults, the United States remains a great beacon of liberty for the rest of the world.

I’ve been on a pilgrimage this last month down the east coast of the USA. It’s my first time here, so given my obsession with the history of ideas, I made sure to visit Philadelphia and Washington—among many other cities—to better understand the origins of America for myself.

“There’s an urgent need for us to recapture the ideas that shaped the free world.”

Yes, we Australians can struggle to relate to the unbridled patriotism of America. What they achieved in a sudden, dramatic break from Britain, we too now enjoy in our quiet corner of the world. And we managed it without the same fanfare, past or present.

But with all that said, the architects of the American project continue to inspire any who stop and consider what they achieved. They were years ahead of their time, bold and zealous, and their love of liberty still resounds today.

Right now in the West, the very foundations of freedom are being called into question. So now more than ever, there’s an urgent need for us to recapture the ideas that shaped the free world.

Consider 25 quotes from America’s founders on what freedom cost—and what’s required to keep it alive.

Freedom Requires Risk

Many today want to feel safe from every conceivable danger—even hurt feelings. But there’s always a trade-off between safety and freedom. If we want freedom, we also have to endure a level of discomfort and uncertainty.

“Those that can give up essential liberty to gain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”—Benjamin Franklin

“If we want freedom, we also have to endure a level of discomfort and uncertainty.”

“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms.”—Samuel Adams

“Timid men… prefer the calm of despotism to the boisterous sea of liberty.”—Thomas Jefferson

Freedom Requires Appreciation

When freedom is all we’ve ever known, it’s easy to take it for granted and even be apathetic about its demise. But when we know the price others paid for our freedom, we’re inspired to preserve it for coming generations.

“You will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make a good use of it.”—John Adams

“It’s easy to take freedom for granted.”

“I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”—Patrick Henry

“The truth is, all might be free if they valued freedom, and defended it as they ought.”—Samuel Adams

Freedom Requires Forbearance

If we truly value freedom for ourselves, this means defending it for others—even when that makes us uneasy or offended. The ability to tolerate and even love people with views wildly different than ours is good for them, good for us, and good for society.

“It behoves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others.”—Thomas Jefferson

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”—Thomas Jefferson

“If we truly value freedom for ourselves, this means defending it for others.”

“If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”—George Washington

“He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”—Thomas Paine

Freedom Requires Vigilance

Freedom is still in short supply around the world. This speaks to the fact that freedom is hard won, easy to lose and, once lost, hard to regain. If we want it preserved, we must be ever watchful.

“The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.”—Thomas Jefferson

“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.”—Thomas Paine

“Freedom is hard won, easy to lose and, once lost, hard to regain.”

“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”—John Adams

“A constitution of government, once changed from freedom, can never be restored. Liberty once lost is lost forever.”—John Adams

“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”—Thomas Jefferson

Freedom Requires Godliness

Government can provide for our general safety and welfare, but what it cannot do is protect us from our own corruption. Unpopular as it is to admit, the further a society drifts from virtue and godliness, the further we drift from freedom.

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”—Benjamin Franklin

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion… Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”—John Adams

“Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.”—William V. Wells

“Freedom cannot protect us from our own corruption.”

“A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.”—Samuel Adams

“Those people who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants.”—William Penn

“It is when people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.”—Patrick Henry

Freedom Requires God

It is no coincidence that the freest and safest nations on earth are also those most profoundly shaped by the Bible. The idea that all people are born free, equal, and with inherent rights is not universally accepted around the world, and it did not arise in a vacuum. Human rights find their origins in the explicit teachings of Christianity.

“Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.”—Benjamin Franklin

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”—Declaration of Independence, 1776

“Human rights find their origins in the explicit teachings of Christianity.”

“It cannot be emphasised too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.”—Patrick Henry

“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?”—Thomas Jefferson

We owe much to those who laid the groundwork for the centuries of freedom we’ve enjoyed in the West. May we honour them, and take their word on what’s needed to preserve it for the centuries to come.

The Battle is Not Yours But God’s

What’s the battle that you’re facing right now?

Three thousand years ago, God’s people faced their own battle. Victory came, but only after struggle. And it came in the most unlikely of ways. The lesson they first had to learn was this:

“This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf.”

It’s the story of Jehoshaphat, found in 2 Chronicles 20:1-30.

The setting for the story is this: the tiny kingdom of Judah find themselves surrounded by not one, but three invading armies. From a human point of view, they’re about to get decimated.

Judah’s king at the time is Jehoshaphat. He’s in the middle of a 25-year reign. He’s a good king—a man of integrity, and a skilled diplomat. Most importantly, he is deeply committed to the ways of the Lord.

With armies about to wipe Judah off the map—in the face of great discouragement and defeat, Jehoshaphat does five things that change the game for God’s people.

These are five things we can do when nothing else is working, when we need our own But God moment.

1. Own Your Problem | v1-4

The first is own your problem. It’s possible for weeks or even years to pass before we’re honest about our need for help. Human cultures reward performance and encourage us to hide our battles behind an “I’ve-got-it-together” facade.

Jehoshaphat dropped the facade. In verses 1-4, we read that:

“Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the Lord for guidance. He also ordered everyone in Judah to begin fasting. So people from all the towns of Judah came to Jerusalem to seek the Lord’s help.”

He owned his problem. He didn’t hide his fear and pretend everything was okay. He begged God for guidance, and wore his weakness in public.

If only you and I allowed ourselves to be that vulnerable. When’s the last time you shared your deepest fears with a friend? Or cried in public? Or healed a broken relationship with the word sorry? Or asked someone to pray for you?

You’re not weak if you admit weakness. Admitting weakness is actually what makes you strong. That’s what takes courage. That’s how you live from the heart. So own your problem, and be vulnerable, like Jehoshaphat was.

2. Lean Into God | v5-12

The second is lean into God. Notice that Jehoshaphat doesn’t go to the pantry and binge. He doesn’t medicate himself with Netflix, a night out on the town, or a sinkhole of self pity.

He goes to God. Read his prayer in verses 5-12. He begins by reflecting on how good God has been in the past, helping Israel take the promised land, and fight off their enemies, and build the temple.

What are the good deeds God has done in your life that you can recount? If you’ve grown up in Australia, you’ve probably got thousands you could list.

When we refocus our vision on the character and faithfulness of God, as Jehoshaphat did, it actually changes the way we view our circumstances. Our circumstances themselves may not change, but we can always choose to wipe our tears and lean into God for another day.

3. Trust His Promises | v13-17

The third is trust his promises. The Bible is full of promises. Some have counted 8000 of them. That’s a lot of promises (and a lot of counting).

Here, in verses 13-17, God gives a promise through one of his people. He doesn’t use someone famous like Isaiah or Ezekiel. Instead, the Spirit of the Lord comes upon a man called Jahaziel, who we know almost nothing else about. This is what he says:

“Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.

“Tomorrow, march out against them… But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!”

The timeless truths of Scripture, so full of God’s promises, are our sure foundation. But we also must be ready to trust his promises when they come as a word for the present moment. We even need to be ready to be the prophetic voice he uses.

Just think. Those powerful words, the battle is not yours but God’s, weren’t uttered by anyone famous. They came through a little person—Jahaziel—someone like you or me.

4. Choose To Worship | v18-21

The fourth is choose to worship. A prophet has given a rousing speech, but Judah is still on the brink of annihilation. Peasants have taken refuge inside Jerusalem’s walls. Invading armies close in. The people are terrified.

What do they do? In verses 18-21, they worship. Jehoshaphat bows low with his face to the ground. Then the whole nation joins him. Imagine the scene: hundreds of thousands prostrating themselves together before God.

Then three groups of worship leaders, who are probably scattered around, stand up and begin singing with a loud voice, praising God.

And as the story fast-forwards to the next day, King Jehoshaphat gives a Braveheart-like speech.

“Listen to me, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be able to stand firm.”

They don’t sharpen their swords or conduct last-minute training for battle. Instead:

“The king appointed singers to walk ahead of the army, singing to the Lord and praising him for his holy splendour, singing: ‘Give thanks to the Lord; his faithful love endures forever!’”

Remember that still, nothing has changed. They’re putting on their armour. The enemy draws near. Besides a prophecy, they have no reason to believe they’ll be alive by sundown. Yet they choose to worship. “Give thanks to the Lord; his faithful love endures forever.”

If Judah could worship God in the face of all this, will you worship God in the face of your battle?  Will you stubbornly give God glory and declare his goodness over your life?

That’s what Judah did. And if you peek ahead, it says God came to their rescue “the very moment they began to sing and give praise”. Worship, in other words, was the key to their triumph.

5. Wait for Victory | v22-30

That leads to the final point, wait for victory. Judah’s victory was incredible. Verses 22-30 tell us that:

“The Lord caused the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir to start fighting among themselves…

“So when the army of Judah arrived at the lookout point in the wilderness, all they saw were dead bodies lying on the ground as far as they could see. Not a single one of the enemy had escaped.”

Not only did Judah survive an imminent invasion. Not only did they survive it without swinging a sword. But we also read that it took them three days to collect the booty. They went home with more showbags than they could carry.

And the story ends with these words:

“So Jehoshaphat’s kingdom was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side.”

You might be staring down a big army at the moment. But take heart, because victory is on the way. It might not feel like it right now, but as we see in the story of Jehoshaphat, God sometimes lets the odds get stacked against his people so that he gets even more glory in the end.

When you’ve owned your problem, leaned into God, trusted his promises, and chosen to worship, there’s only one thing left to do. You need to wait for victory.

This is the hardest thing to do, because it doesn’t involve you at all. But that’s the point.

“This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf. Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”

Israel Folau and the Crush of Corporate Activism

The corporate activists are cheering, but they shouldn’t be.

Back in April, Rugby Australia, under pressure from its major sponsor Qantas, sacked rugby superstar Israel Folau for posting a paraphrased Bible verse on Instagram. In May, a tribunal upheld the decision, allowing his $4 million contract to be officially torn up.

Now in June, GoFundMe has discovered the power of corporate activism too. Using the fund-raising site, Israel had reached out to likeminded Australians who wanted to support him in his court appeal for religious freedom. $700,000 had been donated to his cause before GoFundMe suddenly pulled his page from their platform.

“Corporate activism is a growing phenomenon.”

The reason GoFundMe gave for their decision was “violation of its terms of service”. Exactly which terms Israel has violated is still unclear.

Some suggest it’s because his fund promoted harassment or vilification. But clearly this can’t be the case. Anti-Folau campaigns abound on the website, including the “Israel is a knob cause”, the “F*** Israel Folau Foundation” and others raising funds for his ‘mental health issues’ or even for a rainbow sex toy to gag him with.

Others suggest that Folau’s campaign was canned because his was a legal fund. But this can’t be the reasoning either, given that GoFundMe continues to allow around 17,000 other legal campaigns on their site. This includes the fund for the fabled ‘Eggboy’ who (deserved or not) assaulted a sitting Commonwealth senator.

“By including some groups, these corporations exclude others.”

It seems increasingly clear that what GoFundMe has an issue with—and what Qantas and Rugby Australia before them take issue with—is the historic teachings of Christianity.

Corporate activism is a growing phenomenon. Companies are using their clout to crush any opinion they don’t like. And by all means, they’re free to: they’re private enterprises, and this is a free country.

But in doing so, they’re creating a new set of marginalised minorities. By including some groups, these corporations exclude others. They preach tolerance but practice intolerance. And the gentle giant Folau—a Pacific Islander who counts Christianity as core to his identity—is only their latest victim.

“Companies are using their clout to crush any opinion they don’t like.”

Folau’s fight is far from over. The Australian reports that GoFundMe’s decision has only hardened Israel’s resolve to have his day in court. 

And in the 24 hours since the Australian Christian Lobby began hosting a new fundraiser for Folau, almost double the amount given on Go Fund Me has been raised again. At the time of writing, that amount sits at $1.3 million.

What his opponents are yet to realise is this: Folau practices his faith like he plays his footy. He’s no pushover.

Not only that, but there’s a band of quiet Australians waiting in the wings who helped ScoMo to  shock victory, and who are more than willing to put their money where their mouth is and get behind Folau’s fight for religious freedom.

“Folau practices his faith like he plays his footy.”

It may just turn out that Go Fund Me’s late great grubby move is the spectacular own-goal that helps Folau and his followers to the victory they’ve been waiting for.

In any case, as the dust settles on this latest development, there are three questions that every Aussie Christian can be reflecting on.

1. Do You Really Believe?

The entire Israel Folau saga boils down to this: he lost his job for posting a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. This now infamous passage says:

“Don’t you realise that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.

“Israel lost his job for posting a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.”

“Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

It’s hard to find a crisper announcement of the gospel in all of Scripture than the one Israel posted. So the question for every Christian is, do you really believe the Bible?

Notice that the question isn’t “Would you post this verse on your own social media account?” Certainly, there are more winsome ways to reach out to a secular world. Still, the question remains, do you actually believe what this verse says?

2. Can You Still Love?

It’s easy in a climate like this for us Christians to see ourselves only as an oppressed subculture. Yes, this is becoming increasingly true. But the early church had it far worse than we do, and still they found a way to love.

They were radical not only in their unwavering commitment to truth, but also in their unwavering commitment to love. Love your enemy, turn the other cheek, and bless those who persecute you are words for us today as much as they were for early believers.

21st century Christians are sobering up to the realisation that we live in a modern-day Babylon. 

“God isn’t calling us to start a revolt.”

This makes the story of the Babylonian exile a great source of wisdom for us today. So consider the words that Jeremiah wrote to the Jewish exiles in Babylon:

“Work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7).

God isn’t calling us to start a revolt. He wants us to work and pray for the peace and prosperity of Australia. As Timothy Keller puts it, God calls us to be a “counter-culture for the common good”.

3. Will You Speak Out?

Keep in mind though that this doesn’t mean we just fall in line with what the mainstream culture demands of us.

If we truly long for peace and prosperity in Australia, then surely we want to see our civilisation’s hard-won freedoms continue to flourish.

“Political silence is tough to shake.”

Israel Folau lost his job for being a Christian: for believing and expressing a central Christian conviction. If someone with a profile as high as Izzy’s can be fired for his faith, anyone can. The only difference is that everyday religious people won’t have any fame to leverage for their cause.

Now is the opportune time for Christians to speak out.

For some, this might mean swallowing our pride. It’s not sexy today to stand for ‘conservative’ causes—especially not Christian ones. Political bias, like political silence, is tough to shake.

But if we truly believe in freedom for all to practice their faith, then speaking up now is the right thing to do.

So will you?

Turning the Tide on the West’s Cultural Decline

A Book Review of Escape From Reason by Francis Schaeffer

We’re two decades into the new millennium but something strange is in the air. We can’t name it, but somehow we can sense it. In the West, new trinkets and ideas surround us; still something about our lives feels frayed, hollow, fractured.

Francis Schaeffer’s Escape From Reason gives words to that fracture. Published 50 years ago, it frames the dilemma of modern humanity with such prophetic insight that it could have been written yesterday.

“Something about our lives feels frayed, hollow, fractured.”

C.S. Lewis once said, “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.” If it’s been a while since you’ve read an old book, make Escape From Reason your next.

Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) was a pastor, theologian, and philosopher and evangelist, and also the founder of L’Abri, a discipleship community based in Switzerland.

Schaeffer had an impressive array of passions—from art, music and architecture, to theology, philosophy and modern culture. Such a broad knowledge base enabled him to connect dots that no one else did; moreover it gave him piercing insight into the modern mind.

Most of all, however, Schaeffer was an evangelist. He preached, discipled, and wrote over twenty books with a single aim: to see modern people transformed by the gospel.

“Schaeffer had an impressive array of passions.”

In Escape From Reason, Schaeffer contends that to make sense of life, we humans are looking for a unity between two “levels” of knowledge—picture two stories of a house.

Downstairs is the diverse array of our earthly experiences—in philosophy, these are known as particulars or nature. Upstairs in this house is some kind of transcendent truth that gives all the particulars meaning—in philosophy these are called universals or grace.

It is only when we can perceive a unity between the downstairs and the upstairs that we can be at peace within ourselves and make sense of the world we live in.

Schaeffer had piercing insight into the modern mind.”

In Chapter 1, Schaeffer suggests that early Christians emphasised grace to the neglect of nature. But then beginning with Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), an over-correction towards nature began to take place.

In the world of art, this was revolutionary as paintings, for example, became far more lifelike. But in theology it spelt trouble. As the Renaissance took off, people began wondering if grace—in particular, the insights of Scripture—were even needed anymore.

Schaeffer highlights in Chapter 2 why the Bible’s revelation is needed. Scripture gives us a perspective that our view from downstairs cannot—namely that we humans are both broken and beautiful. Broken, meaning we desperately need grace. But also beautiful: made in God’s image, therefore far more than simply “cogs in the machine” of nature.

Chapter 3 traces how tragically, this “cogs in the machine” view of humanity took over the modern world. It even led philosophers, starting with Hegel (1770-1832), to abandon all hope of a downstairs-upstairs unity. And since philosophy eventually flows down to the arts and popular culture, an all-pervading despair began to fill the western hemisphere.

“This really is the reason we moderns find it so hard to live with ourselves.”

Why did philosophers abandon this hope? In Chapter 4 Schaeffer tells us. Beginning only with downstairs rationalistic ideas, everything—including humanity itself—is reduced to mere mathematics and machinery, with no ultimate meaning or purpose.

In other words, we moderns now find it impossible to believe an upstairs even exists anymore. So we’re forced to take a “leap of faith” and invent our own irrational upstairs meaning out of thin air.

So now, downstairs and upstairs have zero relationship to each other. Downstairs logic leads to meaninglessness. And any upstairs meaning we concoct is purely illogical. All unity has been lost. This is Schaeffer’s famous “dichotomy”. And it is—he contends—the great cause of the West’s despair, right up to the present day.

“Christians need to respond to this with gospel clarity.”

In Chapters 5 and 6, Schaeffer draws on his knowledge of the world of art, literature, cinema and popular culture to illustrate this dichotomy, centring on the seismic shifts that took place in the 1960s. In doing so, he proves convincingly that this dichotomy really is the the reason we moderns find it so hard to live with ourselves.

Finally, in Chapter 7 he summarises his entire argument and insists that he has not written Escape From Reason in order to entertain. Rather, he did so to expose the utter despair of modern people, and thus the need for Christians to respond to it with gospel clarity.

At 120 pages, Escape From Reason is one of Schaeffer’s shorter works, so you won’t need long to read it. You will, however, need your brain—and a willingness to learn some of his unique vocabulary.

But if you’re serious about turning the tide on the West’s cultural decline, and you long to see Australia’s Christian foundations rebuilt, you absolutely need to read this book.

The Christian Roots of Human Rights

Religion has fallen on hard times across the West—at least in the media, the major universities, and our other culture-shaping institutions.

But there’s one form of religion today that’s praised and promoted widely, and that’s the religion of human rights. Human rights might be secular. But to the secular, they couldn’t be more sacred.

In the words of British legal academic Anthony Julius, the human rights movement “is the new secular religion of our time.” Samuel Moyn, law professor at Yale University, calls them “the premier values of the day”.

“For most of time, rights were a privilege for the powerful, and little more.”

This elevation of human rights to such a holy status has made many believers, Christian and otherwise, quite suspect of the whole movement—rightly so perhaps.

But when Christians take such a combative stance, they forget the distinctly Christian origins of human rights. In fact, like so much that we take for granted in our secular age, human rights simply wouldn’t exist apart from the civilising power of Jesus Christ.

It would be foolish to argue that Christianity alone has shaped human rights as we know them. Likewise, only a fool could deny church abuses of human rights through the centuries.

“Human rights simply wouldn’t exist apart from the civilising power of Jesus Christ.”

But if all this is true, then far more foolish is the claim that human rights were some kind of inevitable discovery—a ‘fact of nature’ that our human family always would have stumbled upon.

Most cultures for most of time, including many in our present day, simply do not accept human rights as a given. They were a privilege for the powerful, and little more.

An honest look at history reveals that human rights have been profoundly shaped by Christian ideas. Consider ten moments of time that make this clear.

1. The Creation of Humanity

Whatever you believe about the first chapter of Genesis, there’s no denying that the concept of the imago dei or the ‘image of God’ has played a big role in shaping the West’s understanding of human rights.

Genesis 1:26-27 says, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

Inspired by these words, a despised Christian minority ended the barbaric practice of infanticide in the Roman Empire, and stood against the ancient slave trade.

“God created man in his own image.”—Genesis 1:27

Inspired by these words, William Wilberforce finally abolished slavery in the British empire, and Martin Luther King Jr. fought bravely for civil rights in the United States.

Inspired by these words, Mother Teresa served the poor in India’s slums for fifty years, and Nelson Mandela dismantled apartheid in South Africa.

In fact, new research has made a very politically incorrect discovery. Christian missionaries exporting the idea of imago dei to colonial lands were the single greatest force in creating free and stable democracies in the developing world.

2. The Mosaic Law

Human rights today have been deeply influenced by the Old Testament scriptures—especially the law of Moses.

In The Evolution of the West, Nick Spencer calls the Mosaic Law’s focus on widows, orphans, aliens and the poor ‘obsessive’, and argues that in ancient Jewish thought, to deprive these groups of justice is actually to deprive God of his rights.

Says Spencer, “If one acknowledges this—that God, in effect, has rights—one has made a crucial move towards recognising natural human rights.”

“Today we consider rights fixed or ‘inalienable’. This idea is not a modern invention.”

And Nicholas Wolterstorff, philosopher at Yale University, makes the case that if God has such rights, then so do humans who are made in his image.

So, for example, he says, “The proscription against murder is grounded not in God’s law but in the worth of the human being. All who bear God’s image possess, on that account, an inherent right not to be murdered.”

Today we don’t make human rights dependent on something that humans do or possess—instead, we consider them fixed or ‘inalienable’. This idea is not a modern invention; it can clearly be traced to the Jewish scriptures.

3. The Life of Jesus

Jesus’ treatment of women, children, and society’s down-and-outs was remarkable in an ancient context.

The way Jesus spoke to women, healed them, taught them, praised them and involved them in his ministry made it clear that he saw women as equals. And he broke many social conventions to do so.

Ancient wisdom said that children should be seen but not heard. Yet on this backdrop, Jesus welcomed children and embraced them. He had scathing words for any who would harm a child. And he frequently praised children and their faith as the ideal for grown-ups to imitate.

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”—Jesus

Jesus is still admired today for the care he showed to the sick, poor and dying. The gospels are peppered with too many of these stories to recount. In fact, Jesus so identified with the world’s forgotten that to feed, clothe and care for ‘the least of these’ was—in his words—to do the same for him.

For all these reasons, Wolterstorff argues that human rights ultimately trace their origins to Jesus. “Being loved by God,” he says, which was one of Jesus central teachings, “gives to each human being who bears it the worth in which natural human rights inhere.”

Or in the words of author John Ortberg, “It’s really Jesus who brought that notion of the dignity and worth of every human being from little Israel to the much larger world.”

4. The Early Church Fathers

Historians also see the beginnings of human rights language in the early church fathers.

The most famous perhaps is Basil of Caesarea, who in a 4th century sermon claimed that the wealth of the rich in fact belonged to the poor.

“That bread which you keep belongs to the hungry; that coat which you preserve in your wardrobe, to the naked; those shoes which are rotting in your possession, to the shoeless; that gold which you have hidden in the ground, to the needy. Wherefore, as often as you were able to help others, and refused, so often did you do them wrong.”

“Historians see the beginnings of human rights language in the early church fathers.”

John Chrysostom, living at the same time, also taught that generosity is a duty and not merely a choice. “Even if he is the most wicked of all men, let us free him from hunger. We show mercy on him not because of his virtue but because of his misfortune.”

And consider that the only criticism of institutional slavery that has reached us from the ancient world was also from an early church father, Gregory of Nyssa, who asked, “Who can buy a man, who can sell him, when he is made in the likeness of God?”

5. The Middle Ages

Our next stop through the sweep of human rights history is the Middle Ages. In this period, canon lawyers of the Catholic church developed the idea of natural rights, a concept that is simply taken for granted today.

In the 1280s, for example, Godfrey of Fontaines argued that if a beggar stole a loaf of bread from his rich neighbour, he couldn’t be charged for theft since he had a natural right to that bread in order to survive:

“Each one is bound by the law of nature to sustain his life, which cannot be done without exterior goods, therefore also by the law of nature each has dominion and a certain right in the common exterior goods of this world which right cannot be renounced.”

“Canon lawyers of the Catholic church developed the idea of natural rights.”

By the year 1300, Godfrey and other Christian thinkers had recognised at least five natural rights: the right of the poor to the necessities of life; the right of self preservation; rights to property; the right to a fair trial; and the right of self-defence.

These are remarkable advances for a period often dubbed ‘the Dark Ages’.

6. The Reformation

Another momentous step towards modern human rights took place during the Reformation—a social and spiritual revolution in 16th century Europe.

The Catholic church had been selling indulgences. Put crudely, they were exchanging the promise of heaven for money. A monk called Martin Luther was enraged, believing the church had come to wield far too much power over the inner lives of its people:

“For over the soul God can and will let no one rule but Himself… therefore, where temporal power presumes to prescribe laws for the soul it encroaches upon God’s government and only misleads and destroys the souls.”

The battlecry of the Reformers was salvation by grace alone. All have sinned—even priests and bishops. Yet all who believe are priests unto God—even beggars and outcasts.

“Reformers set the stage for the idea of individual freedom.”

Their great vision was to see the Bible in the languages of the people so that every soul could discern God’s truth independently, so that every conscience could answer to heaven directly, and so that every heart could know God personally.

The Reformers had set out to redefine faith. But in the process, historians now say that they also redefined the dignity of the human person, endowed the self with moral authority, and set the stage for the idea of individual freedom.

According to Joseph Loconte, Professor of History at The Kings College in New York City, “Virtually every important defence of religious freedom in the 17th century—the liberal politics of William Penn, Roger Williams, Pierre Bayle, and John Locke—took Luther’s insights for granted.”

The Reformation has had such a profound impact on our understanding of human rights today that even the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights uses language that tips the hat to Luther and his vision.

7. The Birth of the Modern World

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

So run the most familiar words of the United States Declaration of Independence (1776).

Among the other political documents that have profoundly shaped our modern world are the Magna Carta (1215), the English Bill of Rights (1689) and the United States Bill of Rights (1789).

“All men are created equal [and] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”—United States Declaration of Independence

Collectively, these are the precursors of today’s human rights documents. And all of them arose in distinctly Christian lands, resting on and expressing Christian ideas.

Some would include in this list France’s more secular Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789). And to be sure, not all of America’s founding fathers were of orthodox Christian faith.

Still, it’s hard to deny that Christendom was the greenhouse in which all of these important documents came to flower.

8. The World at War

The two world wars of the 20th century caused unimaginable devastation to the human family. Because of this, the wars were also a cause for deep reflection on what it means to be human.

Samuel Moyn, an expert on human rights from Yale University, explains that during this period, the idea of the ‘human person’ was becoming central in Christian political thought.

Evidence of this can be seen, he says, in the new Irish Constitution, drawn up in 1937, which began: “In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions of both men and States must be referred.”

The constitution went on: “Seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured…” Moyn observes that never before in history had the word dignity been used this way in reference to humans.

“During the war years, the human rights conversation was being led by the church.”

In the same year, Pope Pius XI issued With Burning Concern, an encyclical written in German and smuggled into Germany to decry Hitler’s Nazi regime, declaring:

“Man, as a person, possesses rights that he holds from God and which must remain, with regard to the collectivity, beyond the reach of anything that would tend to deny them, to abolish them, or to neglect them.”

These words, argues Moyn, along with Pope Pius XII’s Christmas message of 1942, were landmark declarations about human dignity. In other words, during the war years, the human rights conversation was being led by the church.

9. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Surely the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a secular document? This is certainly what its drafters set out to achieve, in order to give it widespread religious and cultural appeal.

But the University of Notre Dame’s Iain Benson points out that some of its key framers were followers of Jesus:

“The major proponents of human rights as it was developed and codified in the twentieth century were themselves Christians—people like Jacques Maritain from France and Charles Malik in Lebanon.”

“Some of the Declaration’s key framers were followers of Jesus.”

Nick Spencer, author of The Evolution of the West, contends that not only did Christians help draft the document, but that the ideas it contains betray their Christian influence:

“In the sense that the Declaration of Human Rights doesn’t draw explicitly on any religious doctrines of course it’s thoroughly secular, but if you lift the lid you find an awful lot of Christian workings underneath the bonnet.”

10. The Post-War Period

The tragedies of the World War I and II kept the nations of Europe focussed on the issue of human rights over the following decades. Moyn observes that in this period, just as they had earlier, Christians once again led the charge:

“Conservative Christian thought bore the language and logic of human rights in the immediate pre-war and war years and it was generally conservative Christian thinkers and parties that nurtured it in the post-war period.”

Moyn calls this the last European golden age for the Christian faith,arguing that the Christian Democratic parties that came to power between World War II and the 1960s played a key role in embedding human rights in global politics.

The One Who Gave Up His Rights

Today the tides are shifting. English philosopher Roger Scruton has remarked that “Europe is rapidly jettisoning its Christian heritage and has found nothing to put in the place of it save the religion of ‘human rights’.”

Some may call this progress. But we’ve got to ask the question: if human rights are in large measure the fruit of Christian ideas, what is their future as those Christian roots continue to die?

Maybe there’s another set of ideas that can sustain human rights in the modern world.

“Followers of Jesus have played a central role in framing human rights and making them global.”

But that’s a big maybe. Because to date, what has sustained them through time—what has influenced them more than anything else—is Jesus.

In the words of Samuel Moyn, “No one interested in where human rights came from can afford to ignore Christianity.”

From the earliest days of the church, through the Middle Ages and the Reformation and into the modern world, followers of Jesus have played a central role in framing human rights and making them global.

“No one interested in where human rights came from can afford to ignore Christianity.”—Samuel Moyn

Followers of Jesus did this for the simple reason that they were following Jesus.

Let it be remembered that in his mission to earth, Jesus’ ultimate act was to lay down his life to redeem the world. In that great sacrifice, he declared the immeasurable value of every human life.

In that sacrifice, he gave up his rights entirely—so that we might have ours.

Originally published as Ten Reasons Our Human Rights Come From Jesus at the Canberra Declaration.

Ten Reasons Jesus is the Most Influential Person in History

Let’s be honest: it’s all too easy to highjack Jesus and make him the pin-up boy for our cause. Depending on your flavour he’s the middle-class moralist, the enlightened guru, the hellfire preacher, the social justice warrior—and the list grows every year.

The reason Jesus keeps getting a rebrand—the reason he simply refuses to go away—is that he is without question the most influential person in history.

Don’t believe me? Then consider the following.

1. Jesus Is Permanently World Famous

Most of the world is religious. But only one faith figure has over half the world’s attention. The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam make up 54% of the world’s population. And a common thread of all three is Jesus.

Yes, Jesus was rejected by the Jews as a false Messiah—but he was the most compelling candidate to date. And he remains the most famous Jew who ever lived.

“The Bible is unbeatably the best-selling book in history.”

Jesus is the central figure of the world’s biggest religion. Christianity has always been a contagious faith. As a result, a third of the planet has pledged its allegiance to Jesus, with dramatic church growth continuing in Asia, Africa and South America.

Even Muslims, who deny that Jesus is God’s Son, acknowledge him as a prophet. The Qur’an calls him ‘Isa al-Masih or Jesus the Messiah, and it refers to him 93 times—four times more often than Muhammad himself.

But the Bible—whose central character is Jesus—has had better traction. At five billion copies, the Bible is unbeatably the best-selling book in history. It’s also the world’s most translated, written-about, and shoplifted, book of all time.

2. Jesus Launched An Equality Revolution

Staggering inequality still exists around the world. When people face discrimination for their gender, ethnicity, age or creed, a deep sense of injustice wells up in us.

But did you know that not everyone feels the same? For most of human history—and in much of the world today—it’s perfectly normal to treat people unequally.

Most ancient civilisations practiced slavery; even Plato and Aristotle defended it. Fast forward to the modern world and there are more slaves now than when slavery was abolished.

“Staggering inequality still exists around the world.”

Besides that, the caste system, FGM, child marriage and honour killings are tragically commonplace. This isn’t a matter of spite—these cultures are simply acting on deeply-held beliefs.

Thankfully, the equality we enjoy is having a ripple effect around the planet. But notice where this ideal originates: generally in western cultures which have been deeply shaped by the Bible.

Others will protest that our emphasis on equality comes from the Renaissance or the human rights movement. But even these were birthed in a Christian-saturated worldview. Uncomfortable as it might be, this equality revolution finds its beginnings in Jesus.

“All people are created equal. If that’s true, then all beliefs are not.”

From his embrace of women and children, to his claim that God knows the number of hairs on our head; from his call to leave the ninety-nine for the one, to his charge for costly love to the least of these, Jesus defied the ancient world to insist that every life matters.

All people are created equal. If that’s true, then all beliefs are not. Objectively speaking, Jesus taught a better way.

And in a time when “progress” has taken us beyond equality and into the frightful realm of identity politics, quota queens and reverse racism, Jesus still teaches a better way.

3. Jesus Redefined “Hero”

Here’s another confronting truth about the ancient world: its heroes were—let’s be honest—mostly murderers. Think conquering caesars, samurai warriors, and knights in shining armour.

Thousands of years later, it couldn’t be more opposite. In the West at least, we esteem the nun who serves in the ghetto, the rescuer who sacrifices his life to save a child, and the head of state who relates to the humble and lowly.

This is an extraordinary reversal. And once again, Jesus helps explain it.

As Jesus hung on the cross crying out in agony, his devastated followers had to decide: either he wasn’t the hero they once thought—or their very definition of hero had to change. They chose the second option.

“This is an extraordinary reversal.”

Slowly the continent of Europe marinated in a single, world-changing idea: the universe-creating God stepped down to earth, became a peasant carpenter, washed his disciples dirty feet, made upside-down claims like the meek will inherit the earth, and then gave up his life for his friends.

Whether you’re a Christian or not, if your idea of a hero is a humble, self-giving servant, then you’ve been shaped by Jesus.

4. Jesus Inspired Universal Literacy

Most cultures have turned their language into writing. Some have gone on to develop beautiful literature. But from time immemorial and on every continent, education was for the elite.

That is until followers of Jesus saw otherwise. As the Reformation swept Europe, reformers like Luther and Wycliffe had a vision to make the Word of God available to the masses, taking it from Latin into the languages of the people.

“Christians have played a disproportionate role in making universal education global.”

Missionaries continued this project. To translate Scripture, they systematised national languages like Hindi, Urdu and Bengali which helped birth nations. In fact, thousands of indigenous dialects have been saved by Christians in this drive to democratise language.

A Bible you can understand is only useful if you can read. So the other goal of reformers and missionaries was mass literacy, for which they enlisted the help of governments. From the earliest days, Christians have played a disproportionate role in making universal education global.

As for higher learning, don’t forget that monks invented the university—and that the world’s leading institutions like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale (and too many more to list) were established to teach the Bible.

5. Jesus Is The Star Of Ancient History

It’s often assumed that the Bible is historically unreliable. Some even question if Jesus ever lived. But it’s no exaggeration to say that Jesus is the best-attested figure of ancient history.

Tiberius was emperor when Jesus was born. But almost everything we know about him was written 80 years after the event. The writings we have about Jesus, on the other hand, were written within 20-60 years of his life.

“Jesus is the best-attested figure of ancient history.”

In case you didn’t catch that, our records about a ragtag rabbi called Jesus are better than those we have for the man who ruled the world at the same time.

But it gets more impressive. No one claims the history about Caesar or the writings of Plato were made up. But only a handful of these documents have survived.

By contrast, 24,000 New Testament manuscripts can be found throughout the world’s libraries. With these, it’s possible to reconstruct the New Testament with near-perfect accuracy.

“The historical evidence for Jesus is overwhelming.”

And if you’re concerned that the writers of the Bible were biased, consider just some of what we know about Jesus from non-Christian authors:

Jesus came from Nazareth; he lived a virtuous life; he was crucified in Palestine during the festival of Passover, under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius Caesar; he was considered a Jewish king; his disciples believed he was raised to life three days after he died; and they worshipped him as God.

Yes, faith is needed to follow Jesus—but it’s not a blind faith. The historical evidence for Jesus is overwhelming.

6. Jesus’ Followers Discovered Science

Many believe that science and religion are at war. Take Richard Dawkins for example, who says, “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”

But this would be news to the founders of modern science, who were mostly Bible-believing Christians. Think Pascal, Faraday, Pasteur, Kelvin—or Newton, who discovered gravity but wrote over a million words about the Bible.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth gave Europe a real universe that could be studied.”

Quite simply, science arose only once in history—in Christian Europe. Many other cultures had scientific insights. But it took a lot more than insights to develop a culture of science. For that, Christian assumptions were needed. Like these:

Objective truth exists. Many eastern faiths say that each person can find their own truth. But science only works if truth exists and can be discovered—a thoroughly Christian idea.

The universe exists. It’s also common in the East to see the world as an illusion. By contrast, “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” gave Europe a real universe that could be studied.

The universe is orderly. Most faiths imagine an array of gods competing to run the universe. However, one Creator using one set of laws made life much easier for scientists like Kepler who said that to do science was to “think God’s thoughts after him”.

“All of these ideas are at the heart of Christian belief.”

We’re fallen and sinful. No one likes the Christian doctrine of original sin, but it inspired the scientific method which stresses that a discovery is only made when we’ve doubted our theories until we can doubt them no more.

Our brains can be trusted. If we’re here by some cosmic accident, how can we trust the conclusions our brains come to? But if we’re made in the image of an intelligent God, that problem is solved as well.

All of these ideas—which are at the heart of Christian belief—made science possible.

7. Jesus Is The World’s Greatest Force For Compassion

Early Christians were despised in the Roman Empire. Despite this, their program to feed Rome’s poor was as big as the city’s civic guilds. And they scoured streets and trash heaps to rescue discarded babies—their example ultimately ending infanticide.

Christianity and compassion are deeply linked. The history of hospitals, for example, is mostly a history of the church. Public healthcare was unknown in the ancient world, before St. Basil opened a 300-bed hospital. His vision spanned a thousand years until monks were caring for the sick in 37,000 European monasteries.

As modern medicine was born, followers of Jesus led the charge again, pioneering antiseptic surgery, clinical teaching, physiology, transplant surgery, the vaccine, and writing what became the standard medical textbook for two centuries.

“Christianity and compassion are deeply linked.”

The world wouldn’t be the same without Christian heroes like William Carey who ended widow burning in India, William Wilberforce who abolished the slave trade, Martin Luther King, Jr. who transformed civil rights in the U.S, and Mother Teresa whose name is literally a synonym for compassion.

By no means do Christians have a monopoly on care. But Jesus—who gave us the story of the Good Samaritan, and backed it up with his profound love for the hungry, sick and dying—has inspired more compassion than any other force in history.

8. Jesus Paved The Way For Democracy

Winston Churchill famously said that “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” He must be right if almost 70% of nations have adopted it.

Rule of law is the remarkable idea that a nation is governed by its constitution—something with a higher authority than senators, kings, or the mob majority.

For this, followers of Jesus were inspired by ancient Israel’s law—and they were central in drafting the foundation texts of modern democracy like The Magna Carta, Lex Rex, The English Bill of Rights and the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

“On these ideas we’ve built the freest, safest and most generous societies on earth.”

They reasoned that if we’re all made in God’s image, we the people should get a say in how government is formed, not just the elite. But if we’re fallen and sinful, we also need checks and balances to restrain our own corruption.

These are revolutionary ideas—enjoyed by very few in history. On them we’ve built the freest, safest and most generous societies on earth. Even human rights, which are slowly being adopted worldwide, have deeply Christian roots.

As secularism spreads, it’s worth remembering that the separation of church and state was originally Jesus’ idea. And that freedom of religion has never meant freedom from religion.

If it did, we never would have discovered democracy in the first place.

9. Jesus And His Church Are The Most Hated People On Earth

Many people suffer oppression today—but none more than followers of Jesus. Though they make up only one third of the world’s inhabitants, Christians bear the brunt of some 80% of religious discrimination.

100 million Christians are targeted for their faith in 139 countries—or three quarters of all nations on earth. Every year, 150,000 believers are put to death simply for what they believe. In its Middle Eastern homeland, the church is under threat of extinction.

What doesn’t make sense about all of this is that the western media will stand up for almost any minority group—but it’s almost silent when it comes to the global war on Christians.

“Christians bear the brunt of some 80% of religious discrimination.”

This silence, in fact, is key to understanding another trend: a growing anti-Christian sentiment in the West.

Christians who report discrimination in places like Australia, Europe and North America are often dismissed as having a martyr complex. But real data has led Open Doors, the leading authority on global Christian persecution, to warn that western nations will soon be included in their annual reports.

When a single faith is the target of so much worldwide opposition—and this despite the many benefits it has brought the world—it should get our attention.

Maybe Jesus really did come to rescue humanity from its deep hostility towards God.

10. Jesus’ Claim To Be God Was Unique

One final quality that sets Jesus apart is his claim to be God. That might sound odd, given that countless people through time have done the same.

But actually, the claim of most was that they were a god. Jesus however claimed to be the God—the Creator of the universe, walking among us in human flesh.

“Jesus seems far too virtuous to be a deceiver, and far too brilliant to be a lunatic.”

No one else who launched a world religion has gone there—certainly not Muhammad or the Buddha. And most who’ve done so in modern times have actually taken a shortcut: claiming to be a reincarnate Jesus, they’ve simply hoped to borrow some of his unassailable fame.

When God spoke to Moses in the burning bush, I AM was the name he gave himself. What got Jesus in so much trouble with the religious leaders was when he took this title to himself, saying “before Abraham was, I AM”.

Jesus forgave sins, which any Jew knew was God’s business alone. He accepted worship, which was an even greater scandal. In these and countless other ways he made himself equal with God—which is what ultimately got him crucified.

“Jesus claimed to be the Creator of the universe.”

Jesus could have been lying. It’s also possible that he was insane. But if his biographies are true, he seems far too virtuous to be a deceiver, and far too brilliant to be a lunatic.

The only possibility that remains is that he is who he says he is. The implications of this are profound. It means that he is Lord—and I am not.

And it means there is hope. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

He was born in an obscure village

The child of a peasant woman

He grew up in another obscure village

Where he worked in a carpenter shop

Until he was thirty when public opinion turned against him

 

He never wrote a book

He never held an office

He never went to college

He never visited a big city

He never travelled more than two hundred miles

From the place where he was born

He did none of the things

Usually associated with greatness

He had no credentials but himself

 

He was only thirty three

His friends ran away

One of them denied him

He was turned over to his enemies

And went through the mockery of a trial

He was nailed to a cross between two thieves

While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing

The only property he had on earth

When he was dead

He was laid in a borrowed grave

Through the pity of a friend

 

Nineteen centuries have come and gone

And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race

And the leader of mankind’s progress

All the armies that have ever marched

All the navies that have ever sailed

All the parliaments that have ever sat

All the kings that ever reigned put together

Have not affected the life of mankind on earth

As powerfully as that one solitary life

 

One Solitary Life—Dr James Allan Francis, 1926

Does the Bible Contradict Itself?

You’ve probably heard the accusation: the Bible contradicts itself. More evidence—if we needed it—that the Bible was written by simple people in a much simpler era.

In fact, there’s a group called the Reason Project who claim to have found five hundred such contradictions in Scripture.

So does their accusation stand?

On closer inspection, most of these so-called contradictions are little more than silly word games: cherry-picked verses that ignore both the culture and the theology of the Bible.

But some are worth a closer look.

One Angel Or Two?

When Matthew wrote about Jesus’ resurrection, he mentioned the angel at the tomb. But in John’s gospel, there are two angels. So which is it?

Notice that Matthew didn’t say only one angel was present. Basic maths says that if you have two of something, you also have one of them.

“These reports aren’t hard to reconcile.”

This solution might sound a bit too cute for the cynical-minded. But it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which two angels were at the tomb, and one played a more prominent role in the conversation that took place.

Matthew chose to focus on the one, while John felt it was worth mentioning both. That’s hardly a contradiction.

How Did Judas Really Die?

Or there’s the death of Judas—the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Judas hanged himself, according to Matthew’s account. But Luke records that he fell headlong and was found disembowelled.

It’s interesting that the traditional site for Judas’s field is a pasture at the bottom of a cliff outside the city of Jerusalem.

A very plausible scenario is that Judas indeed hanged himself, and that eventually his rope broke or was cut, causing him to plummet to the field below. Once again, these reports aren’t hard to reconcile.

The Contradictions of Jesus

Contradictions are often pointed out between Jesus’ teachings recorded in different places. The details seem to differ depending on which gospel account you read.

But I’m a preacher. And I’ve used my favourite illustrations and teaching points on many occasions, often modifying them for my audience or to make a slightly different point. Surely Jesus is allowed the same freedom?

So much of what passes as contradiction is actually nothing of the sort. It’s worth bearing this in mind the next time you hear this accusation made.

More Trustworthy, Not Less

In fact, much of what passes as contradiction makes the Bible more trustworthy, not less.

Imagine, God forbid, a murder took place on the streets of your city. Four witnesses stepped forward who claimed not to know each other, but who gave near-identical testimony, pointing the finger at the same suspect.

“The four gospels emphasise different aspects of Jesus’ life, character and ministry.”

Any lawyer would be right to assume the four witnesses had colluded, agreeing to give the same account. Suddenly they are the guilty ones. They’ve been caught selling a fake story—probably to hide a darker truth.

Likewise, if Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s accounts were nearly identical, we’d be right to think they’d collaborated, trying to fool the world with a concocted story about Jesus.

“Much of what passes as contradiction makes the Bible more trustworthy, not less.”

As it is, however, their gospels emphasise different aspects of Jesus’ life, character and ministry. At times, they differ so much that harmonising them takes time and consideration, as we’ve seen.

And this is exactly what we’d expect if their accounts were honest, independent, and based on eyewitness testimony.

Warts and All

The same holds true of other embarrassing details in the Bible. Too often, the main characters in Scripture are—to put it bluntly—idiots.

Abraham is a chronic liar. David has an affair. The nation of Israel can’t stop sinning. The disciples betray Jesus and run away. The early church was a hot mess.

“For Bible writers to include these details is strong evidence that they were telling the truth.”

If the Bible really was made up by the people who wrote it, why didn’t they try to make themselves look less stupid?

Ancient cultures had a strong honour-shame dynamic. In other words, for Bible writers to include these warts-and-all details is strong evidence that they were telling the truth.

The Best News in the World

During the last four posts, we’ve explored the Bible’s uniqueness, its preservation, its historicity and its internal coherence. On each count, it has emerged with surprising credibility, given the accusations levelled against it.

People today are reluctant to accept the Bible’s claims. At one level, this is understandable. Scripture holds out high moral standards; it strips away our self-reliance; it speaks of a great day of accountability for every soul.

“The Bible has emerged with surprising credibility, given the accusations levelled against it.”

But that’s not all it does. It also gives us unspeakable promises, like these from Romans 8.

If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.

“The Bible gives us unspeakable promises.”

No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If the Bible is a trustworthy document, it’s not bad news. It turns out to be the best news in the world.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please give it a like, comment or share on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of the series:

Sources

Clark, Mark. The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.

McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2017.

Is the Bible Historically Reliable?

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. We all know the tune. But how much confidence can we actually have that anything the Bible records is true?

Many skeptics of Christianity are adamant that the Bible is not a reliable source of history. If they’re right, then as followers of Jesus we need to rethink our most deeply-held convictions.

If.

See, there’s a reason the Bible is held in such suspicion. Put simply, it’s because the Bible records miracles. And there’s an unspoken rule in the halls of academia that says a document is only historically accurate if it doesn’t describe supernatural events.

“If skeptics are right, we need to rethink our most deeply-held convictions.”

This might be a fashionable idea. But it’s far from being a self-evident fact. Really, it’s a worldview—an assumption that’s been made before any research has begun.

Anyone is free to believe this, of course. But that’s the point—it’s a belief. It’s as much a belief as the Christian who naively claims no research is needed since God wrote the Bible and it must be true.

“There’s an unspoken rule in the halls of academia.”

What if, for the sake of historical inquiry, we all agreed to suspend our beliefs? What if we asked a question everyone agreed on: Is the Bible historically accurate when it speaks of events that can be tested historically?

Now we’re getting somewhere.

The Embarrassment of Scholars

If you’re familiar with the Bible, you’ll know the feeling. Nodding off to sleep as you endure another list of dates, names or numbers.

In case it hasn’t occurred to you yet, those details aren’t there for your entertainment. They’re there for historical verification. Thousands of them.

For centuries, skeptics have assumed many of the Bible’s historical claims to be bogus. But so often, it’s the skeptics who’ve been put to shame.

Let’s take a few examples.

Isaiah talks about King Sargon of Assyria. For years academics scoffed and said such a king never existed. Then in 1842, his entire palace was unearthed in modern-day Iraq.

For a hundred years, skeptics said that the Hittites, mentioned many times in the Old Testament, were just a made-up people-group.

But in the late 19th century, the Hittite capital city Hattusa was uncovered in modern-day Turkey. It’s such a vast city that it’s still being dug up today.

Or take the Pool of Bethesda. For many years, university professors taught that the gospel of John was unreliable because it spoke of this apparently non-existent pool.

But with new technology, archaeologists were able to dig deeper, discovering what is without doubt the Pool of Bethesda spoken of by John.

This is just a sampling, but the pattern is a familiar one. Archaeology has vindicated the the Bible time and time again.

It’s beyond the reach of archaeology to prove the Bible’s supernatural events. But literally thousands of archaeological discoveries have been made that confirm the Bible’s other claims.

Let the Archaeologists Speak

Sir William Ramsay was born in Scotland in the 1850s. From a young age, he was skeptical of the Bible, calling it a book of fables.

He especially doubted that the book of Acts was real history because the author, Luke, spoke of so many places for which there was simply no evidence.

Ramsay studied at Oxford and then travelled to modern-day Turkey, fully expecting to discover there that Acts was mere myth.

After thirty years of study, Ramsay became the foremost scholar in this field. Towards the end of his life, this is what he said:

“Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy… this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians… Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.”

Sir William Ramsay died a believer.

“After thirty years of study, Ramsay became the foremost scholar in this field.”

W. F. Albright, one of the world’s great archaeologists, said, “There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition.”

Nelson Glueck unearthed some 1,500 ancient sites. He wrote, “In all of my archaeological investigation I have never found one artefact of antiquity that contradicts any statement of the Word of God.”

But the Bible’s Writers Were Biased

Let’s change gears for a minute. You may have heard it suggested that the Bible’s writers were already believers, so of course they were biased in their telling of history.

“The Bible has withstood centuries of skepticism.”

But even if we set aside the entire Bible, there’s still so much we know about Jesus from non-Christian writers like Thallus, Tacitus, Lucian, Emperor Trajan, and Pliny the Younger.

Consider these words from Josephus:

“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”

From non-Christian authors alone, here’s what we know about Jesus:

  • he came from Nazareth
  • he lived a wise and virtuous life
  • he was crucified in Palestine, during the festival of Passover, under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius Caesar
  • he was considered a Jewish king
  • his disciples believed he was raised to life three days after he died
  • he was a sorcerer
  • his small band of disciples grew and spread as far as Rome
  • his followers believed in one God and worshipped Christ as divine

Is the Bible historically reliable? It depends. If you’re searching for proof of every miracle, historical inquiry won’t get you very far. At some point, you’ll have to exercise faith.

But it will be a faith that rests on facts.

The Bible has withstood centuries of skepticism. But here’s what we know: when it speaks of events that can be tested historically, the Bible is a thoroughly trustworthy document.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please give it a like, comment or share on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of the series:

Sources

Clark, Mark. The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.

McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2017.

Has the Bible Been Tampered With?

You’ve probably heard it suggested that the Bible we read today is nothing like the original, given how many times it’s been copied through the centuries.

Surely this has provided too much opportunity—so the argument goes—for people to copy it poorly. Or worse, to tamper with it to suit their own agenda.

This makes for a good story, but is it true?

The Old Testament

The Jews had a special class of people whose only task was to preserve the Scriptures. In making a new copy, the scribe wasn’t allowed to write a single letter from memory: every one had to be checked.

Two others would hover over his shoulder ensuring he made no mistakes. If an error was made, all three of them had to initial it.

“The Jews had a special class of people whose only task was to preserve the Scriptures.”

On completion of a book, every word would be counted. And tallies would be made of each letter of the Hebrew alphabet to see if it matched the original.

If a new manuscript didn’t pass these and other tests, it was trashed and the process would begin again.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

Until last century, the earliest copies we had of the Old Testament only went back as far as AD900. So arguably, it still could have changed a lot in that time, despite every scribe’s good intention.

But then along came a shepherd boy called Muhammad. He was tending his goats near some caves at the Dead Sea. The year was 1947.

Bored, he tossed a stone into a cave and heard the sound of breaking pottery. So he scrambled in and made the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century: the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“What made this find so important was that they dated back to the time of Jesus.”

They were a collection of around 500 works, written on leather, wrapped in linen, and stored in jars. Among them was most of the Old Testament.

What made this find so important was that they dated back to the time of Jesus—a millennia older than any previous Old Testaments we had. More important still, they bore remarkable similarity to those older copies.

Take for example Isaiah 53. After a thousand years of copying, only 17 letters in the entire chapter were different. Most of the changes were obvious slips of the pen or minor spelling changes, and none affected the meaning of the text.

Reflecting on the value of the Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeologist W. F. Albright said, “We may rest assured that the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible, though not infallible, has been preserved with an accuracy perhaps unparalleled in any other Near Eastern literature.”

The New Testament

Tiberius was the emperor who famously sent Mary and Joseph packing for Bethlehem. Volumes have been written about Tiberius. But almost everything we know about him was written 80 years after his life by the historian Tacitus.

Now consider the biographies of Jesus, also known as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These gospels were written within 30-60 years of Jesus’ life.

In other words, our records about Jesus are better than the those we have for the man who ruled the world at the same time.

This has other implications too. If Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote while witnesses to Jesus were still living, it would have been near impossible for them to invent stories about him.

“Our records about Jesus are better than they are for the man who ruled the world at the same time.”

Imagine an account was fake. To shut down the Jesus movement, all a skeptic needed to do was visit this village, ask if Jesus really did heal that person, and the whole charade would be exposed.

Instead, in those early centuries a perplexed pagan world watched on as this fledgling movement spread throughout the empire.

The Ancient World’s Most Copied Text

In the Rylands Library in Manchester, UK is a fragment of John’s gospel. It’s the earliest parchment we have of the New Testament.

Like most ancient documents, it’s a copy. But it’s been dated to within 50 years of the original. Compared with other writings from the ancient world, this is remarkable.

“As far as tests go for ancient documents, the Bible passes every one with flying colours.”

But the New Testament has even greater credentials. No one claims the history about Caesar or the writings of Plato were made up. But only a handful of these documents have survived.

On the other hand, 25,000 New Testament manuscripts can be found throughout the libraries of the world. Not just fragments, but whole scrolls and books too. As such, we can reconstruct the New Testament with near-perfect accuracy.

So has the Bible been tampered with?

There’s no evidence for this claim. Instead, the evidence points in a different direction. As far as tests go for ancient documents, the Bible passes every one with flying colours.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the Bible is the best-attested document of ancient history.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please give it a like, comment or share on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of the series:

Sources

Clark, Mark. The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.

McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2017.