Many religions compete for the allegiance of people, some more successfully than others. Only one religion, however, is rooted in historical facts: Christianity. When we view the apologetics of Stephen or Paul in Acts we find they tell the history of Christianity — the creation, the events of the Old Testament in God's dealing with Israel — as the rationale for belief.
Stephen, the first martyr, defended the faith against his persecutors with a history lesson. Beginning with the visit God made to Abraham, Stephen told his Jewish inquisitors some homegrown facts. Not that they were unaware of these facts; they simply had chosen to ignore them. So Stephen rightly took the opportunity to remind these learned Jews that the facts of history were on his side.
Paul used the same tactic on non-Jewish pagans in Athens. Once the persistent persecutor of Christians, he became the articulate defender of the faith. Paul identified the unknown God whom the Athenians chose to worship. This God, said Paul, was the One who had created all things. This was not just an impersonal god who might have been the first cause, but also the very personal God who had created all things and made them for a purpose.
Our creeds reflect this historical aspect of Christianity. The Apostles' and Nicene Creeds early identified God as the One who made heaven and earth, which was an historical event. If creation did not occur at some time in the past, then the God we identify could not exist.
The ancient world was a lot like our own. It was governed by religious pluralism and pragmatism. The political order was seen as the source of all law and authority, and there was widespread apathy to the Christian message. Therefore, the tactics used by these early church fathers and the contemporary followers of Christ is instructive for our own time today.
We live in a world governed by pragmatism, materialism, and the idea that truth, (if it exists) is unknowable. And nothing gets people more upset than when someone insists that one religion is true and all others are false. This upset is exacerbated when the religion claiming to be true insists that it alone possesses the historical facts to verify its claim.
Here are the facts: In writing to the Corinthian church, St. Paul argues that without a resurrection, we are still dead in our sins. The Easter event is thus crucial to the claims of Christianity. The importance of history and historical events to Christianity cannot be overstated. Neither can the implications of these historical events. St. Paul's emphasis on the resurrection is appropriate, given that it signifies, better than anything else, the idea of new life. This is a theme the apostle repeatedly returns to in his letters. New life means a new man (Eph 4:24; Col. 3:10) and without the resurrection none of this would be possible.
The resurrection is thus the fact that sets Christianity apart from all other religions. The prophet of Islam is dead. All that remains of Buddha are statues. Meanwhile, the Christ of Christianity lives on, risen from the dead. Without the resurrection, Christianity is dead in the water. This is how important the resurrection is.
Considering the importance of historical events, and especially of the resurrection to the early evangelists, it might be time for the church 2,000 years later to acquire a taste for historical argument. The propensity to consider Christianity in terms of psychology rather than history is not helping the culture of our day find its meaning and identification with the God who made all things. Rather than argue for an historical creation, for historical intervention by God in the affairs of men culminating in the resurrection by one Man from the dead as the first-fruits of what is to come, our age would rather offer Jesus as the heavenly Pain Reliever. Or, if people are not getting enough enjoyment in life, then Christ is the Great Aphrodisiac offering pleasure to all if taken in sufficient quantities.
Perhaps this is why the world today is so troubled. Rather than offer the world the historical Triune God of the Bible, and the Old and New Testaments and the historical events that go with Him, people are offered a psychological solution that makes them feel good for a while but produces no lasting change. Like placebos designed to make us feel good without curing underlying problems, Jesus is offered as no more than the junkie's weekly fix. "Come back here next week, folks, and you'll get another shot in the arm to make you feel well again." Feelings are paramount.
Our culture is sick and dying. There is no evidence that Christianity is turning the tide against big government, wrong legislation, and outright attempts to suppress Christianity from the religious marketplace. Well, some of this should be expected since to sign up in the kingdom of God is to abandon our country of birth and its political order, and to take on the kingdom of our new birth, offering our allegiance to the King of kings. Christ is now our Ruler, not our president or prime minister, and this makes us treasonous to the modern nation-state. This is why modern pagans wish to stamp out Christianity from the marketplace.
If history, as it is given to us in the New Testament canon, is any guide then it seems we cannot win the battle for the hearts and minds of men and women in our age by using a different set of tactics than the apostles. They were, after all, closer to our King than any of us, and had first hand knowledge, experience and training to achieve the remarkable: the conversion of pagan tribes and nations to the gospel.
We must insist, in the face of strong opposition, that the truth is not relative, that history is not just one man's interpretation of the past. Rather we must insist in words that the historical story of Christianity, centered in the Easter event with the resurrection as its culmination, alone provides credible evidence and that all men should choose wisely in what they believe.
Finally, our words must be followed by actions that reflect the moral character of the God who manifested Himself on earth and rose again from the dead to save us from our attempts to be our own god. What we do speaks louder than what we say, so words and actions go together.
If we are in doubt as to the right path, we must ponder again the resurrection and its historical importance to Christianity. If we're convinced that history is vital to the Christian message, we must move forward in faith and confidence knowing that saints of old have trodden the path we've selected. And the signposts are there to guide us to do our part to bring all the nations to Zion, so that we will see the glory of Christ reflected throughout the whole earth. With this message the early Christians converted great parts of Europe and created Christendom. With all its faults, it was recognizable as Christendom, the outcome of the Easter message.
Maybe it's time to take our history seriously and insist in our evangelism there is one God, Maker of heaven and earth, who alone can save us from our rebellion and wickedness and give us new life and hope. And if we compare this message with those of other religions we find that we have no competition, no similar offering from the other great -isms of this world.
What causes us to hesitate? Is it because we do not expect God to bless our efforts to convert the world to Christ? If our message is true and our faith contains real confidence, then the future is ours.
Hesitation is the backbone of lost causes.
- Ian Hodge
Ian Hodge, Ph.D. (1947–2016) was a long-term supporter of Chalcedon and an occasional contributor to Faith for All of Life. He was also a business consultant in Australia, USA, Canada, and New Zealand, and a prominent piano teacher in Australia.