Pastor Turned Atheist Advertises…My Response

http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/08/opinion/bell-god-atheism/index.html

A friend recently forwarded me a link to an article on the CNN website and was interested in my perspective on what Ryan Bell, a former Seventh Day Adventist pastor turned atheist, had to say about his recent conversion to atheism (see link above). I think that the term “conversion” is wholly appropriate here because it is true that atheism is a religion. Even though it does not espouse a God, it is a belief system that is central to those who follow it (even though a panel of atheists recently stated that they do not hold any beliefs-huh?). In other words, their atheist worldview informs the way in which they view the world that in turn gives them meaning in life. Even though it appears in the opinion section of the CNN website, Ryan’s article is captioned as an advertisement and is located with photos of others who are atheists. Of course, he is not the first nor will he be the last minister who turns to atheism. In discussing Ryan’s comments, I will have some thoughts to convey from logic and common sense observation but I will also address his view of Christianity that I must say is foreign to me.   Like most atheist communication that I have noted, his advertisement for atheism does not treat any topic in detail but lists a number of objections superficially. So, it would take a book to respond thoroughly to his remarks on the insufficiency of Christianity but I will respond in general to the theme of his article.

As Ryan has mentioned Christian apologists in his article/advertisement, I do find it interesting that a good number of prominent Christian apologists were former atheists who, after investigating the evidence for orthodox Christianity, became Christians and then on to becoming Christian apologists (those who defend the objective truthfulness of Christianity). Some of these prominent atheists turned “apologists (I like the word ‘defender’ better)” include C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, J. Warner Wallace, and Lee Strobel to name a few. Furthermore, I have met a number of former atheists in my seminary training who are now studying to be Christian apologists or ministers of the Gospel. However, this change from skeptic to believer like those just mentioned was not my experience. Even as a young child, I have always believed in the existence of God even though I would not label my parents “evangelical Christians” in these early days. Moreover, through my experiences of personal and family need, I came into relationship with Jesus Christ at an early age. I found this new relationship with Jesus Christ aided me not only in developing myself as I transitioned into adulthood, but it helped me to deal with the ongoing struggles that I experienced daily. A lot of assistance through these hard times came from other Christians who were always there to support me in these times of need. In similarity to those who helped me, I also have been able to assist others in time of need as they experience hardship. It was only as I grew older that I questioned whether my subjective experiences of God meeting me in my moments of trial, had an objective basis in reality. So, this began my quest to determine how my faith in Jesus lined up with the “real world.” I wasn’t questioning my assumptions about whether God existed like Ryan. Rather, I was checking to see if my profound life experiences lined up with a God who could also be discerned through philosophy, logic, and actual evidence.

With this introduction, I would like to comment on some of what Ryan had to say in his article from my perspective as a Christian. I have to say that even though there are some Seventh Day Adventist groups that are now considered within the realm of “evangelical” Christianity, there are many groups within this sect that would not be considered evangelical at all but hold to a doctrine that strays from the norms of faith by grace in Jesus Christ and his atoning work on the cross. Some of these views would be the notion that Jesus not only had his own identity but also was considered by some SDA adherents to be the Archangel, Michael. Other aberrant beliefs held by a number of SDA groups include the necessity to hold worship services on Saturday, the denial of the immortality of the soul, the denial of the punishment of the wicked, and an emphasis on the teachings of Ellen White (the founder) who emphasized a legalistic or works based approach to a relationship with God. I mention these points because I am not sure that Ryan, as a SDA pastor, was really within the “evangelical” mainstream of Christendom.

In making his points about atheism, Ryan mentions his time of reflection looking at the ebbing and flowing ocean and the fact that he is actually alive to experience them marveling at the coincidence or chance of this happening. I appreciate his passion for beautiful vistas, especially the ocean as I have always been one who loves to go to the beach and experience it as not only a work of art but also as a playground of sorts where splashing around, swimming, etc. makes an ideal day for me (except for the sunburn-problem of evil-ha). As equally satisfying to me as looking at the beauty of the ocean and playing in its waters, is to smell/feel the salt water breeze, hear/see the different denizens that inhabit this habitat, and to either read or just to be with someone I love. It really doesn’t get any better for me.

I mention my love for the ocean because it is a tremendous assumption to believe that the ebbing and flowing of the tides and all of the other qualities just described about the ocean/beach came about because of random chance. Notwithstanding the lack of planets with life sustaining qualities with oceans in the observable universe, it is also unlikely that the ebb and flow of our tides caused by a moon that orbits our planet is serendipitous. Additionally there are complex eco-systems that regulate the population of creatures that are designed to fill their own little niche or role. Not only is there efficiency of design in this particular ecosystem but there is also the aesthetic aspect of the ocean (beach) to consider as well. Most of us have enjoyed a beautiful sunset or the night sounds and sights of the sand being covered by a layer of water and iridescent foam illuminated by a glowing moon. What random process causes the panorama of colors, the scent filled breezes and the stars that twinkle in the night skies? What random process gave me the faculty to sense all of these delights much less the medium that these delights travel through (sound and light waves)?

The truth is the chance of an organism that has the faculties to observe the intricacy and appreciate the beauty of the designed world/universe arrayed before us is really zero. It is not reasonable at all to believe that this all just happened and is sustained indefinitely by chance. We know intuitively that the sun will rise tomorrow and the planets will remain on their celestial courses like clockwork. These assumed events would not be reasonable in a chance universe.  So even though I appreciate the seascape like Ryan does, it is totally unreasonable that this beautiful and complex environment just “popped” into being. Also, there is great evidence to believe that Jesus Christ was a real space-time person who was crucified and was observed to be alive after his death.  For brevity’s sake, I will not list these proofs here but I am convinced after examining the evidence that all of the aforementioned facts about Jesus are true and that he can be experienced today (for a later post).

Again in contrast to Ryan, I find meaning in the fact that a kind and loving God who created such beauty and intricately designed all of the details of this world/universe that we live in cares so much for us corporately and as individuals! Not only did He create this wondrous world and universe but he also created us to enjoy it, to explore it, and to fellowship with Him.   The fact that God spent so much effort on all of this ultimately shows his kindness for humanity. However, the greatest kindness was when God condescended and took the form of a human, lived a perfect life, and sacrificed all so that we could not only find comfort through the struggles of life now, but also in order that we can come into relationship with him here and into eternity.

In contrast to Ryan, I find that my relationship with Jesus Christ has sustained me through the struggles in life with the hope that he is refining me when I experience these temporary “evils.” His selfless example also informs me in my relations with others no matter what their sexual orientation or gender. I respect and appreciate others no matter what label they have.  Just because I may not agree with someone does not mean that I wish them any ill will.  Rather my faith compels me to love another person unconditionally yet tell them the truth about a God who cares for them who will help them navigate life’s storms.  So, I guess that Ryan’s brand of “Christianity” that he affirmed in his post is totally foreign to me. Instead of this mute and uncaring deity that Ryan was acquainted with, my experience is that God has sustained me in dark times and develops His character in me as I continue through life. In short, my subjective experience of God is objectively affirmed through the world that I observe around me. The kind creator of the oceans humbled himself even to death in order to give me comfort/guidance in this life and so that I can be His family member here and forever!

It was supposed to be an apologetics post…but just personal reflections on Christmas for now

Like most of you who read this blog post, I have to say that I love the Christmas season (minus the traffic jams, getting many boxes of Christmas decorations out of storage, and shopping pressures). It is a time of year where celebrations, parties, and good will are upon most of us. Prior to moving to North Carolina, Christmas greetings were relegated to church, home, and with friends at work who I knew would be receptive to Christmas greetings. I remember after I recently moved to North Carolina, I was refreshed by public Christmas greetings everywhere I turned including, DMV offices, stores, and in the courthouses that I frequented when working with the USMS. It was evident that North Carolinians in the Triad region were more comfortable with publicly sharing their affirmation of Christmas and I was/am glad to experience this public sense of joy for the season.

In my past Christmas experiences, I am grateful for all of the fun had as I was growing up. Mom and Dad were always so generous in giving us kids memorable presents that would take up our time playing with on Christmas days. The kids (Scott, Johnny, Jimmy, and me) always looked forward to Dad’s Christmas spread that was always laden with goodies of every sort. We would eat from the spread all day. The Christmas buffet style meal that dad prepared for us has become a tradition for my family as well. Other traditions that have carried on into the next generation are attending or singing in Christmas musicals, riding around and looking at Christmas lights, and watching old Christmas movies. Good times! I think that these Christmas traditions are familiar to many of you. Unfortunately, my mother became mentally ill and the home around Christmas could be filled with dysfunction at points. However, even through this struggle at home, Christmas remained a great season to celebrate.

It is funny how time changes things and how one’s perspective on Christmas changes as the years progress! Instead of looking forward to my haul of presents, it is much more enjoyable for me now to give presents than to receive them (Acts 20:35). This impulse to give is in accord with the kindness of God who looks to give good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:11). So, I relish when it is time to open gifts to see the reactions of Andrea and the kids (Ryan and Rachel)! In addition to enjoying opening gifts, now that I am older and loved ones have departed from my family, I think with fondness about those loved ones who are no longer with me. Yes, there is sadness but there is also joy in remembering them during the season.  So, even though Christmas can be a time where we grieve the fact that some of our loved ones have departed, not only can we remember the good times that we had with them but we also have the hope that we will see them again if they were/are in relationship with Jesus Christ!

In addition to traditions and remembering beloved family members that have gone before me, I think that the practice of gift giving is wholly appropriate during this time of year. What better way to celebrate the birth of Jesus the one who gave totally and completely to us? In Christian theology, the concept of the kenosis of Jesus is put forth and is described as a person of the Trinity (Jesus) giving up many of his divine attributes while on earth in order to become “God Incarnate.” Even in this act of taking on human flesh, God humbled himself in order to begin his work of salvation on behalf of humanity (Philippians 2:5-8). So, giving gifts to each other is a great way to symbolize the eternal gift of Jesus through his sacrifice on the cross.

It is also a time when we can think of those who are less fortunate than we are. This is in keeping with the kenosis of Jesus as well. Even as he condescended to our lowly station, so we should also look for opportunities to help others who are in need. Even as Jesus gave and keeps on giving to us, we can also give to others who are in need around us. So if you want to give a birthday/Christmas present to Jesus, just share with someone who is in need as he states in Matthew 25:40 (whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did to me).

In addition to giving to others during the Christmas season (and at other times too), I am so appreciative for his guidance and care for me personally! He creates a sustainable world, creates my very soul and body so that I can exist, and then shows me how I can truly optimize my life by coming into relationship with him. Not only did Jesus do this, but then he also greatly suffered on my behalf. In doing so, not only has he given me an example of how I should live but he also allows me to be a part of his family both now and eternally. Through his sacrifice and through his resurrection, I can find forgiveness and I can know how to forgive others. So even as he has done all of this for me, how can I not worship him in song services during this season and how can I not pour out of the material benefits that he has lavished upon me for the good of others?

Even as the special day approaches and amid all of the hustle and bustle of this most blessed of holidays, may we take time to be thankful for the little baby in Bethlehem who even being very God, lowered himself to our humble estate. In this age of media hype and celebrity worship, it is so ironic to think that the God who has all power humbled himself so completely for us. May we, in turn, celebrate his birth by loving those around us, remembering loved ones who have gone before us, and giving liberally to family members as well as to those in need. I had intended on typing about the prophetic passages of Jesus in the Old Testament but oh well! Maybe I will try again on another blog post? Merry Christmas from Andrea and me to your household!

New Evidence That Jesus Had a Wife and Family… Really?

A friend recently asked me to have a look at the claims of The Lost Gospel: decoding the sacred text that reveals Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene by Mr. Simcha Jacobovici and Dr. Barrie Wilson. I will start by saying that I have not purchased this recently released book. However, large portions of the book can be viewed on the Google Books website (http://books.google.com/books?id=mGvcBAAAQBAJ&q=Son+of+God – v=onepage&q&f=false). I have reviewed portions of the book where the authors discuss how they came to their conclusions about the Story of Joseph and Aseneth. It is not my purpose to give a thorough analysis of the book here in this blog post. This is not a scholarly book review. Rather, it is a short commentary about how information has been handled by the authors from my perspective as a retired investigator who has worked extensively with evidence.

The spectacular claim of this book is that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that they had children together. This information is supposedly contained within a 6th century Syriac version of a pseudepigraphical story (a book falsely attributed to a known person such as a Bible character or author), originally written in Greek, that has been newly “re-discovered” at the British Museum and properly interpreted by Jacobovici and Wilson. The story is entitled Joseph and Aseneth and is authored by an unknown writer. The story is included within texts that come from Syriac texts translated from the original Greek by “pseudo-Zacharias Rhetor” (Cargill, 2014).  Moreover, Jacobovici and Wilson claim that it was common to interpret the Bible as allegory in the timeframe of the early Christian church and that is what their contention is with this story; that it is an allegory that refers to Jesus and Mary Magdalene as being married and having a family. In essence, whenever Joseph is mentioned, Jesus is really who the author is referring to allegorically. Whenever Aseneth is mentioned, Mary is really the person who is being referred to by the author.  Huh?

However, the authors have some very serious problems at the outset with the information that they utilize to make their conclusions. Firstly, other than their opinion that they offer that Joseph and Aseneth is an allegory where the characters are representative of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, the authors do not have a historical source that states that this book is an allegorical representation of Jesus and Mary. Does the author (of course, we really do not know who the author is) or a reliable source contemporaneous with the author supply us with information showing that it was the author’s intent to write Joseph and Aseneth as an allegory describing Jesus and Mary as a married couple with children? Other than their own speculation, do the authors provide any good evidence that this was the intent of the original author?

In contrast to this claim of Jacobovici and Wilson, Dr. Robert Cargill, an assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa, offers his opinion that the intent of the author of Joseph and Aseneth is widely known in the scholarly community. According to Cargill, the reason for writing the account of Joseph and Aseneth was to justify why Joseph married a non-Jew and that most scholars agree with this assessment. Restated, most scholars believe the purpose of this story is to offer an explanation why the Hebrew patriarch Joseph had good reasons to marry a non-Jew and Egyptian, Aseneth. In short Cargill asserts that the scholarly community does not take The Lost Gospel seriously. Moreover, Cargill is clear to point out that he is not taking up the Christian cause, as he is an agnostic (Cargill, Date of Access: 18 Nov 2014).

In addition to the lack of any historical witnesses to demonstrate the allegorical nature of Joseph and Aseneth, is there any information available that the author of Joseph and Aseneth (again, we do not know who the author is) was in a position to observe the family of Jesus or does the author get the information from a reliable source? Jacobovici and Wilson do not supply us with any historical witnesses who may have seen the “family of Jesus” growing up and living together. They only offer the opinions of some scholars who say that the book could have been written in the first or second centuries after Christ’s birth (Jacobovici and Wilson, 2014). But even if we allow for an early date of writing (first or second century), there is no good evidence that the author was in a position to witness the day-to-day life of Jesus and his activities with his alleged wife and family. Again in measuring the veracity of the evidence, we should ask, “Is there good quality information coming from a source that would be in a position to witness the events that they describe?” In order to give evidence or testimony the proper weight that it is due, these foundational questions should be asked and answered when gauging the validity of historical texts. Clearly Jacobovici and Wilson do not answer these important foundational questions. If they have no credible source for their information, then no weight should be granted to their position. All of this important information is missing from the case they make. All we have in The Lost Gospel is unsupported conjecture.

Moreover, a statement that the authors make to support their claim comes from an argument from silence; the Bible does not mention whether Jesus was married or single. When I read this statement, I immediately asked myself, “Would a defendant or prosecutor be able to use an argument from silence as evidence?” In an argument from silence, who would be called as the witness and what testimony could be given? By its very definition, this sort of argument could not be supported by testimony. If the authors don’t have any positive evidence to present for their point, then an argument from silence should not be afforded any weight when considering the value of their central thesis.

Even though Jacobovici and Wilson suggest a new way to look at Jesus, in fact, the idea that Jesus had a wife is not a new proposition at all. We see this idea suggested in The Gospel of Philip that is believed by scholars to have been written anywhere from the late-second century to the mid-third century, CE. In similarity to Joseph and Aseneth, The Gospel of Philip is also known to be a pseudepigraphical book as it is known that the Apostle Philip did not write this book. In The Gospel of Philip, the unknown author refers to Mary Magdalene as the companion of Jesus, that Jesus would kiss Mary on the mouth, and that the disciples questioned Jesus about this intimate relationship (Kirby, Date of access: 15 Nov 2014). In addition to the mention of a married Jesus Christ in The Gospel of Philip, Ahmadiyya Muslims also make a similar claim regarding Jesus Christ. They claim that Jesus recovered from his wounds after his crucifixion, was probably married, and moved to the Kashmir region of India where he died of natural causes (Ahmad, Date of access; 15 Nov 2014). So, even though Jacobovici and Wilson have announced a breakthrough discovery, these uncorroborated claims about a married Jesus have been floating around for a good while now.

For your convenience and in addition to the link for Dr. Cargill’s article, I have also provided another link below that leads to a book review that was published recently in the Washington Post entitled, The book that claims Jesus had a wife and kids-and the embattled author behind it (McCoy, 2014). This article shows the spurious nature of Mr. Jacobovici’s past work and questions the validity of his current project.  In the United States, the right to express one’s opinion is enshrined in our founding documents. However if an opinion is not buttressed upon good evidence, it should be given little if any weight at all. From my experience in handling evidence, Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Wilson should not expect to be taken seriously as they have no foundation for their claims and have not presented relevant evidence for their positions. Because of its lack of supporting evidence, the book should be considered as fiction.

References:

Ahmad, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam. 2003. Jesus in india, translated by Qazi Abdul Hamid. London:Islam International Publications. http://www.alislam.org/library/books/Jesus-in-India.pdf date of access: 15 Nov. 2011.

Cargill, Robert. Review of “The Lost Gospel: decoding the sacred text that reveals Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene” by Jacobovici and Wilson. http://robertcargill.com/2014/11/10/review-of-the-lost-gospel-by-jacobovici-and-wilson Date of Access: 15 Nov 2014.

Jacobovici S. and Wilson, B. 2014. The lost gospel: decoding the sacred text that reveals Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene. New York: Pegasus Books. http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Gospel-Decoding-Marriage-Magdalene-ebook/dp/B00L5MQZ1U/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1416331942&sr=1-1&keywords=9781605987293  Date of access 18 Nov 2014.

Kirby, P. The gospel of Philip. Early christian writings. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/gospelphilip.html  Date of access: 18 Nov 2014.

McCoy, Terrence. The book that claims Jesus had a wife and the author behind it. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/11/10/the-book-that-claims-jesus-had-a-wife-and-kids-and-the-controversial-author-behind-it Date of Access: 15 Nov 2014.

Co-Conspirators, Colson, Early Church Leaders, and the Resurrection

I recently ran across a quote from Chuck Colson regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ that made me think about the disciples and their unswerving dedication to Jesus. Not only does Colson’s quote (I will share it in this post) remind me of the devotion of the disciples, but it also reminds me of my experience with federal conspiracy trial defendants.  These items demonstrate to me that the Bible accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are reliable.

One of the core missions of the U.S. Marshals Service is the protection of the federal judicial court process. If there were no provisions made to protect the integrity of the federal judiciary system, then the system would be open to corruption from an external entity. For instance, if mechanisms, procedures, and manpower allocations were not provided for its protection, then the court facilities could be damaged or destroyed, court officials could be harmed, and those in–custody defendants going to trial could be broken out of custody if the requisite security arrangements were not provided. The U.S. Marshals Service is mandated to provide these protective services to the federal judiciary and specifically for my discussion here, provide for the safekeeping of in-custody witnesses and in-custody defendants as they go through their legal proceedings in federal court.

A particular example of an external entity attempting to thwart the federal judicial system occurred on March 9, 1988 in Roanoke, Virginia and was reported by the The Free Lance Star in its article entitled, Trial set for prisoner who attempted escape. See link to article:

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1298&dat=19880810&id=7P5NAAAAIBAJ&sjid=04sDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5033,4212185

Two deputy U.S. marshals were transporting an in-custody defendant to a medical clinic after he had been charged and arrested for bank robbery.  The medical escort had been arranged by the USMS because this defendant had complained of chest pain to the jail staff where he was being housed during his legal proceedings.  Unbeknownst to the transporting deputies, accomplices (co-conspirators) of the defendant were laying in wait for the prisoner escort detail to depart the medical clinic. When the defendant departed from the clinic, an ambush occurred. As the ambush unfolded, two armed assailants attempted to free the defendant and confronted the deputies, the two accomplices were shot and killed by one of the deputies, and the defendant remained in-custody to face additional charges related to this escape attempt. This is just one example of how our justice system could have been damaged by external forces.

I mention these facts as a foundation for what I have noticed regarding those charged with federal conspiracy crimes. In these criminal conspiracy proceedings, there are often many defendants charged under one criminal conspiracy.  For example, investigators will gather evidence on an entire drug ring to include the leaders, the mules, those who manufacture the illegal drugs, the street sellers, etc. and then bring the entire organization into the federal system for prosecution. Oftentimes, I have observed where many of these in-custody defendants, whose custody status is maintained by the USMS, will plead guilty and testify against the remaining co-conspirators in the trial proceedings. In some instances, all of the conspirators will plead guilty. During the process of pleading guilty, the defendants normally will give an account of their illegal activities as well as the illegal activities of the other co-defendants.  The motivation for pleading guilty and testifying against their other co-conspirators is a reduced sentence.  In certain cases, some co-conspirators will not serve any time in prison because of their cooperation with the prosecution.  So there is great motivation to be truthful about one’s illegal activities and the crimes of other co-conspirators when facing federal prosecution.

In relation to the Gospel accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I think that it is telling that after these events occur, none of the disciples who witnessed these events come forward and reveal, in particular, that the post-resurrection experiences of the risen Jesus Christ were actually a fraud. In fact, there are New Testament accounts of several who were imprisoned for being leaders of the Christian movement. In particular, Peter and John were jailed for their testimony about the risen Jesus Christ and the religious authorities of that day directed them to stop speaking about Jesus to include his resurrection (Acts 4:1-4). But Peter and John kept on proclaiming the message of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life through the resurrected Jesus Christ.

Moreover as you may be aware, it is known that Peter eventually was martyred in Rome in the A.D. 60 timeframe while he led the church there.  Paul is also martyred in this same era in Rome even while he proclaims the truth of the risen Jesus Christ, whom he had experienced decades earlier, even as he worked to persecute Christians.  In fact, these accounts of the martyrdom of early Christian leaders are great circumstantial evidence for the truthfulness of the Gospel accounts; that all of the disciples who witnessed the resurrection, with the exception of John who was exiled, never recanted their faith in the risen Jesus Christ even under pain of torture and death.  Chuck Colson, one of the infamous Watergate burglars of the Nixon era who later converted to Christianity said of the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible (Colson.  Date of Access: 3 November 2014).

In further corroboration of Paul’s martyrdom, Paul himself writes about his impending death as he says good-bye to Timothy.   In 2 Timothy 4:6-8, he describes his current state and that the time for his departure was near (v. 6).  The accounts of the martyrdom of the disciples are also noted in the writings of the early church fathers who wrote about this martyrdom of not only Peter but also Paul.  Clement of Rome wrote of both the martyrdom of Peter and Paul in his letter to the Corinthians:

Consider the noble examples of our own generation. Through jealousy and envy, the greatest and most righteous pillars were persecuted even to death. Let us set before our eyes the good Apostles: Peter, who through unwarranted jealousy not one or two but many toils, and having thus given testimony went to the place of glory that was his due. Through jealousy and strife Paul showed the way to the prize for endurance. Seven times he was in chains, he was exiled, he was stoned (Clement, 1970:7-8)

To further corroborate the existence of Clement and his relationship to Paul, he is mentioned by name by Paul in Philippians 4:3 as one who “has contended at my side in the cause of the Gospel.” So, not only does Paul testify about his own coming martyrdom, but Clement who was one of Paul’s associates during Paul’s ministry, testifies of Paul’s death for the cause of Christ.  Another early church witness to the resurrected Christ was James, the brother of Jesus. His martyrdom by stoning and his relationship to Jesus are mentioned by the Roman historian Josephus (Josephus, 1987:538) who wrote contemporaneously about these events.

As I consider my experience with maintaining in-custody federal co-conspirators, it makes sense to me that if the circumstances surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ were fraudulent, then one of the disciples would have surely “spilled the beans.” My experience with federal co-conspirators is that they often plead guilty, will admit their criminal activity, and will testify regarding the  crimes of their criminal partners in hopes of receiving a reduced sentence.  Chuck Colson was right; twelve men would not have gone to their deaths hiding the secret that the resurrection was a fraud. Rather, they would have admitted their fraudulent scheme, and would have testified against the other disciples in order to avoid the sentence of death. This topic also makes me thankful for the great sacrifices of these early church leaders. Without their writings we would have never known about the sacrifice of Jesus, once and for all, for humanity. However, because of their willingness to tell and to write what they had witnessed regarding Jesus, those in later eras would know about the “lamb of God,” who sacrificed himself not only to atone for my sins but also for the sins of any other person who begins a relationship with him.

Clement. 1970. The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 1 (W. Jurgens trans.). Colledgeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.

Goodreads. Charles W. Colson>quotes. http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/27694.Charles_W_Colson. Date of access: 3 Nov. 2014.

Josephus F. 1987. The works of Josephus: New Updated Version, Complete and Unabridged in one volume (W. Whiston trans.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing Co.

Mead, E. 10 Aug. 1988. Trial set for prisoner who attempted escape (in The Free Lance-Star:35). http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1298&dat=19880810&id=7P5NAAAAIBAJ&sjid=04sDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5033,4212185 Date of access: 3 Nov. 2014.

Judas, the Informant…not much has changed in 2000 years

Mugshot of Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, a well known informant for the FBI against John Gotti

I was recently reading through Mark and I again noticed a certain passage that I have read many times before that rings true from my experience on the street as a cop/agent. In Mark’s Gospel, the account of Judas turning informant for the Sanhedrin is mentioned. Judas goes to the Sanhedrin in order to get a big payoff.  The Sanhedrin agrees and then Judas goes off and betrays Jesus with a kiss. When Judas “gives the signal,” then in comes the Sanhedrin’s henchmen to arrest Jesus and take him before that body (Mark 14: 10-11, 44-46).

I have to say that this informant scenario is one that is re-enacted numerous times everyday in jurisdictions through the United States. There are a number of different reasons that informants are motivated to assist law enforcement agencies in their attempts to arrest criminals. Some informants turn in other drug dealers for revenge.  In other words, an informant who is part of a criminal gang may call the “tip hotline” number because they want to see someone from an opposing drug gang arrested. This may allow the informant’s gang to get a better grip on the drug traffic in a particular community.

Another reason that an informant may call the tip hotline is when a citizen is trying to make his community a better place to live. Without the assistance of upstanding citizens in a particular community, the police would not be able to be as effective as they are today.  Law abiding citizens who inform on criminals are essential to keeping crime in check. So hats off to the “ordinary Joe” who protects the community by letting the cops know about criminals! Another type of informant that most people are familiar with today is one who works in order to earn money for the information that they give. The amount of money given to an informant on any given case depends on how big of a threat that the criminal is to the community. Some informants are paid as little as $50 and as much as six figures or even more.

In reference to my past work hunting fugitives, there are any number of scenarios that can play out when working with informants. One possibility is that the informant can give particular information as to where the fugitive is and rely on the cops to make the arrest by themselves. However, because of the fluidity of some situations with a fugitive who is often “looking over his shoulder,” sometimes the informant has to give active assistance to the police. Oftentimes, some sort of pre-arranged signal to the police is needed in order for the police to know where the fugitive is located at a particular time. For example an informant may be stationed in a parking lot where the fugitive is located and when the fugitive comes to a parking lot, the informant may take off his coat or give some other sort of signal. More than likely today, it would be a phone call with a pre-determined phrase that would indicate that the fugitive was either present or nearby. Then upon receiving the signal from the informant, the police move in and arrest the fugitive. Many of these types of scenarios are played out in cop movies and television shows today.

So, when I recently read the aforementioned account of the betrayal of Jesus in Mark, I saw these elements in this account. First you have Judas going to the Sanhedrin in order to make a deal for some cash. This puts Judas in the category of the informant that is motivated by money. Judas is able to strike a deal, but of course he was pretty sure that he would be able to because Jesus was such a high profile person of that time period and he knew that the Sanhedrin would be interested. Next, Judas goes to the area where Jesus is located and leads the Sanhedrin’s men directly to Jesus and so there is no confusion, Judas gives the Sanhedrin’s squad of soldiers a pre-determined signal (a kiss). Upon the execution of the signal, the squad moves in and arrests Jesus.

In many scenarios, law enforcement agencies will not pay an informant until a successful arrest has been made. However, in some circumstances money will be advanced to an informant. The latter is what occurs in this scenario (Matthew chapter twenty-six). There are many different theories as to how much the thirty pieces of silver were worth but some theorize that it may have been up to half a years work for a skilled laborer.  Regardless of how much money Judas was paid, he did earn his wage by leading the Sanhedrin’s squad to the location of Jesus. There are skeptics who criticize this passage of scripture by stating that because Jesus was such a high profile target, there would be no need for informants to help the Sanhedrin find him because everyone would know where he would be at any given time.

I disagree with this assertion and I think that the case of FBI Most Wanted fugitive James “Whitey” Bulger underscores the fact that a notorious fugitive can live openly in a populated area for many years without being noticed. Bulger was a mafia kingpin accused of murdering numerous persons during his underworld career centered in Boston, MA. Bulger had evaded arrest and had lived for sixteen years in an apartment located in Santa Monica, California before his arrest in 2011.  As most of you know, for cases of this magnitude, there is a lot of press coverage with photos of the fugitive and known associates broadcast over the various forms of visual media. Even in this age of media proliferation, Bulger was able to remain at large for many years. Below is a link to a report of the arrest of Bulger in Santa Monica that occurred as a result of a tip from an informant.

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/06/23/police-mobster-james-whitey-bulger-arrested-in-california/

In some of the cases that I worked through the years, there was often the concern that the fugitive would get tipped off as to the efforts of the police to arrest him/her. On occasion, the police miss the fugitive by a matter of just minutes. I remember a high profile case where an informant called me and said that the fugitive was present, at that moment, in the business that the informant was calling from. In the short amount of time it took me to travel from the office to the business establishment, the fugitive had already moved on. The informant met me at the curb and told me the fugitive had just pulled off seconds before I arrived.

I mention these scenarios to show that those who state that an informant was not necessary to point out Jesus are not familiar with the real world of law enforcement efforts where the work of informants are needed and an essential part of bringing criminals to justice. So, the account of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas rings true to this retired criminal investigator who has worked with informants through the years. This is just a small example of how the Bible can be relied upon for being truthful in what it says.

Upon reflecting on how Jesus could have fled from Jerusalem in order to avoid capture, I am so thankful that he stayed and allowed himself to be arrested, flogged, and crucified.  He knew that Judas was going to betray  him and knew that he was going to be arrested, etc.  But why would he flee when this was the reason he came to Earth in the first place? He spoke of his impending death and resurrection on several occasions before it happened (Matt. 12:40,17:12; Luke 9:12; Mark 8:31).  I cannot imagine the agony of knowing that such an awful experience was looming in the future.  As he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane the anticipation of his suffering begins but even in these emotion filled moments, Jesus’s focus was not on himself.  Rather, his focus was on those he was leaving and for those who would come into relationship with him as a result of his sacrifice (John 17:6-26).  As the old gospel song states “When He was on the cross, you were on his mind.”  This virtuous mindset is observed when Jesus forgives and pardons the thief who is hanging there next to him (Luke 23:39-43).  Even in these tortuous moments, Jesus was focused on his mission to minister salvation to any who seek him.  I am thankful that Jesus did not run and hide.  Rather, he willingly faced torture and death so that I could be counted as part of the family of God (Matthew 28:10; John 20:17).  I will post some more on other accounts in the Gospel narratives that remind me of my experiences of working in law enforcement.

 

 

What Was God Thinking?…Why Allow Evil?

Through the years, I have read various works of literature treating the problem of evil to include the views of skeptics, philosophers, and theologians.  In recent years, skeptical writers have “gone off” on the God of the Bible by stating that if he indeed exists, he is guilty of being a cruel tyrant.  Skeptical thinkers, such as Emeritus Professor of Philosophy Richard Norman (University of Kent), refer to the state of this current world and say that a Christian cannot explain the presence of evil/suffering in the world and must say that it is a mystery from the perspective of Christianity with its all-good, loving, yet omnipotent God. How can a good God allow all of the pain and suffering that we observe in the world?

This post is not an exhaustive attempt to deal with this question.  I will come back to this issue in my posts from time to time because it is such an important issue to discuss.  Rather, I want to make several points in regards to Norman’s above mentioned idea (about Christians and evil) that I first heard in his discussion with Doctor Clay Jones regarding the problem of evil that was aired on a radio broadcast on June 21st of this year (here is a link to the discussion between Jones and Norman http://www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable/Episodes/Why-does-God-allow-Evil-Clay-Jones-vs-Richard-Norman).  Jones is associate professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University in La Mirada, California.  Jones made some great points generally regarding the problem of evil and its relation to what the Bible has to say about it.  This discussion caused me to think about the problem of evil in relation to God’s overall goal for humanity.

In law enforcement circles, when putting together any sort of operational plan, the first consideration is to put forth the goal of whatever mission you are trying to achieve.  After clearly stating the goal, then the particulars of the operation will flow from this guiding principle.  For instance if the objective of a fugitive apprehension operation is to arrest violent sexual predators with outstanding warrants who are wanted in a particular jurisdiction, then targets can be selected for apprehension, law enforcement partners with concurrent jurisdiction can be invited to participate, and post-arrest interrogation strategies can be developed.   This would also hold true for the formation of arrest procedures as well because there have been violent acts perpetrated against police officers by sex offender fugitives when arrests attempts are made.  More than likely the operation planner will assign more men per team, make sure that each team has a body bunker that they can bring with them to the door for added protection, and make sure to have the proper armaments available in the event of a violent confrontation.  The goal of the operation determines the way in which the operation will proceed. This process of goal setting is transferrable to any other enterprise as well.

It makes sense to me that if we are going to assess Norman’s view, we need to discern what the Bible says regarding God’s ultimate goal for humanity.  The Bible does give us the reason why he created humanity.  One such passage that gives this reason is recorded in the twenty-first chapter of the Revelation According to John.   In verse three, John states, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’”  This passage is the proclamation given in the future as John sees the “New Jerusalem” in a vision “coming down out of heaven (v. 2).”  It is from this starting point that we can discuss the problem of evil.  In view of God’s desire to make a people for Himself that will dwell with Him eternally, we can discern why God allows evil. God desires to expand his family and extends this invitation to humanity through relationship with Jesus Christ.

So, when we are in relationship with Jesus Christ, God works through these trials to make us more like Himself in this life and to prepare us be united with him in the future.   It is in these times of struggle when God meets us in our need and causes growth to occur (Romans 5:3-4).  It is in these hard times that we can draw strength from and follow the example of Jesus Christ, God himself, who lived a life of sacrifice even ultimate sacrifice on a cross. Not only do we receive sustenance from God as we go through the struggles themselves, but we also know that we are being prepared for eternity as a member of God’s family (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).  Also, even as the first man, Adam, brought death and “fallenness” to the world through his disobedience (Romans 5:12), so Jesus, the second Adam, brings redemption and entry into God’s eternal family (Romans 5:18-21).  So, we can see that the fallen state of the world is in accord with what is included within the Bible. With the goal of expanding His family, God allows evil to make those in relationship with Him more like Himself and prepares us for an eternity as God’s family members.

Dawkins: Giving Up God…Getting Freedom?

I would say, as an opening line, that from what I have read or heard from Dr. Richard Dawkins, we would probably never agree on anything unless it might be a favorite dish or say a travel destination.  Maybe we would like to drive the same type of car or appreciate a particular work of art?  So, when I recently viewed the conversation between Dawkins and Ben Stein that is included in the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, I was reminded again how differently Dawkins and I view the world.

In this interview, Dawkins commented on how he has heard from people who have given up religion, that they “feel a great sense of release and freedom.”  As I began ruminating on Dawkins comments, it made me think about the possibility of giving up religion.  What if I gave up religion (more specifically, Christianity)?  What would I be freed from?  Here is a partial list:

1)  a perfect example of how not to live a self absorbed life (Jesus).

2) the real key to happiness (putting others before yourself).

3) great advice on how to deal with people/life (Bible).

4) the reality that there is more to our existence than just the physical world.

5) comfort when experiencing pain/loss.

6) how to really have fun without chemicals, without carnal indulgence, and without having it at the expense of others.

7) loving others not because of what they can do for me but because they have great worth as creations of God.

8) receiving guidance/assurance when facing the crises of life.

9) the knowledge that there is a life full of utter contentment after death when in relationship with God.

10) Knowing that you have been forgiven at a great price and that in turn, you can forgive others through God’s own example.

In short, why would I want to be freed from the freedom giver?  No thank you, Dr. Dawkins.

 

 

 

First Blog

Thanks for visiting my blog site.  This is a place where I will share my views on different subjects that are of interest to me.  As stated in other parts of the website, my blogs will mostly deal with the intersection of Christian belief and modern culture.  I have  been interested in this area in recent years as I have seen in my lifetime a turn from traditional principles which I believe were central to the formation of our great country and yes, Western society in general.  I see this turn as an erosion of the strong foundations of American culture that were based upon principles derived from the Bible.  I do not think that my little blog will change the world.  Rather, hopefully it will be a place where  folks can come to and dialogue about issues facing all of us and what Scripture, logic, philosophy, and history may have to say on any given topic.

As the rest of my website attests to, I believe that there are great reasons to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  Not that this can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, as in a trial.  After all, the New Testament affirms that by “grace you have been saved through faith [in Jesus Christ] (Ephesians 2:8).”  However, there are great reasons to believe that Jesus Christ was and is what has been attested to in the New Testament narratives.  These reasons come from the New Testament writings themselves as well as from a chorus of historical characters who speak about Jesus.

As we exchange ideas, I fully expect that there will be a divergence of views shared here that I look forward to and am sure I will learn from.  Of course, I expect that we will disagree from time to time.  I only ask that we stay away from personal attacks and try to stick to the topic at hand.  I would also ask that our blog entries not be excessively long where the entry rivals the page count of War and Peace.  So, if we could keep the entries reasonable in length and stay on topic, it would be appreciated.   I look forward to our exchanges and hope that they will be beneficial to all who participate.