Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Fool's Bones?

Hollywood film producer James Cameron may have resurrected the Titanic, but he wants to keep Jesus forever in the grave. Unless you've been in a coma for the past month you cannot help knowing that Cameron, along with director Simcha Jacobovici, has produced a documentary film about the 1980 discovery of an ossuary in Jerusalem that they say contains the remains of Jesus and his family:
New scientific evidence, including DNA analysis conducted at one of the world's foremost molecular genetics laboratories, as well as studies by leading scholars, suggests a 2,000-year-old Jerusalem tomb could have once held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. The findings also suggest that Jesus and Mary Magdalene might have produced a son named Judah. The DNA findings, alongside statistical conclusions made about the artifacts — originally excavated in 1980 — open a potentially significant chapter in Biblical archaeological history.
You think?!

There are plenty of places to read expert critiques of the specific scientific and archaeological issues surrounding this story. The most notable (in my humble opinion) come from resurrection expert Dr. Gary Habermas and the legendary Western Michigan University Professor of History, Paul Maier, whose 1994 novel ,"A Skeleton in God's Closet," was based on a parallel premise.

Because I am no expert on these subjects I will refrain from attempting to add some lame analysis of my own to the mix. Having said that though, I cannot help but smile as I point out that it is the same type of Jesus-was-not-divine thought process that offered us the DaVinci Code "proof" that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, who now gives us The Lost Tomb. I have to wonder how they reconcile the fact that The Code says Mary is buried under the Louvre in Paris, while The Lost Tomb has identified her bones in a 2000 year-old Jerusalem crypt?

Details, details ...

Instead, I want to focus on what the response of clear-thinking Christians should be to The Lost Tomb claims.

Should we ignore them? No.
Should we take them seriously? Yes.
Should they make us question our faith? Absolutely!

Before you dismiss me as a flaming heretic for that third assertion, please note that I think the actual evidence James Cameron and company have produced is not only lacking but silly. I actually think Cameron has seriously damaged his credibility by associating himself with such a ridiculously hollow case. But that's not the question I want to address. The question is this: How should we respond to this, or any future, claim against our faith? I think we have three choices ...

Ignore it

This is by far the easiest response -- because it is mindless. Anyone can be mindless. But we are not called to be mindless. We are called to "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks [us] to give the reason for the hope that [we] have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (1Peter 3:15).) Ignoring the issue hardly seems appropriate since the core of the issue goes directly to the authenticity and trustworthiness of the hope we claim to have.

Proclaim a piously dismissive confidence in our faith

I have heard some respond to The Lost Tomb by essentially saying, "I don't care if they are the bones of Jesus. It wouldn't make a bit of difference in what I believe." Here's an example from a letter to the editor in the March 19th issue of Newsweek:
As a Christian who religiously reads Newsweek, I must admit to a little uneasiness when I came upon "Raiders of the Lost Tomb." Not because of the possibility of its shaking my faith, but because of the debate it will prompt in both the secular and Christian communities. I'm not looking forward to the media overcoverage or the emotionally charged emails from my fellow believers. It's all a waste of time. For those of us who believe, the physical cannot change the spiritual. For those who don't, they still won't believe.
First, maybe I'm weird but I do not think it a "waste of time" and I do look forward to the public debate on this subject. What better way is there to get people talking about the most important topics we could ever address?! Most of us -- partly because we insist on separating our "Christian community" from the "secular" one (and thereby relegate our faith to a matter of personal preference instead of Truth) -- never discuss such issues. We avoid them. I think our society is the worse for it and I don't understand why anyone wants to talk about anything else. But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

Second, I reject the passive acceptance of the notion that those who don't currently believe never will. Says who? I also reject the notion that the "physical" and the "spiritual" are mutually exclusive. This is modernist, humanist view, not a Biblical one.

While such a view sounds holy and confident, this kind of response amounts to nothing more than a more self-righteous way to ignore the claim. This is a retreat to a fideism that says, in effect, "don't bother me with facts, I already know what I believe." But this is not a demonstration of Biblical faith. As I have discussed elsewhere, a true Biblical faith is based on historically accurate and philosophically consistent reasoning. It is not only that, but it is grounded in that. It is a trust that comes from confidence in knowledge gained by observing the way the world works and a correspondence with the way the world is. This is what makes Christianity unique among the world religions. We have evidence to back up the truthfulness of our faith claims.

It would be radically inconsistent for me to call on the Darwinian Evolutionists (for instance) to examine their theory in light of the actual evidence if I am not willing to do the same. It would be hypocritical for me to dismiss the denial of reality inherent in a New Age or Hindu worldview while I avoid defending the reality of my own view. My faith rests on my confidence that I believe what I claim to believe because it is true and corresponds to the "real" world.

Engage it

This is the only appropriate response to any challenge to our faith. We are told to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God ..." and I believe we should each be prepared and poised to do just that. In this specific case the stakes are clearly defined. The Lost Tomb calls into question the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is not just some tangential, anti-religious mudslinging. This goes to the core of Christian belief. In fact, if James Cameron and company prove to be correct in the assertions they make in this documentary, I will reject Christianity tomorrow. I would be a fool not to.

That may sound like a radical and extravagant statement coming from someone who claims to be so enamored with Christians apologetics. And it is. But I am dead serious when I make it because I am in good company in doing so ...

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile ... If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men (1 Corinthians 15:14-17)

Like the Apostle Paul, I have no use for a useless faith. I have no desire to engage in an activity so futile as to follow an imposter to deity whose bones really sit in a Jerusalem burial ossuary. I have no penchant for reaping the pity I would deserve if my only reward for following Christ was the empty promise of feeling good about myself in this life.

I will engage this issue and all others like it with a spirit of humility and an intellectually honest dedication to the pursuit of the truth. Anything less is a waste of my time -- and His.

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