Theology I learned in a hospital cardiac ward

Spencer D Gear

heart diagram

(image courtesy WPClipart)

On 28th February 2003, I was released from the cardiac ward of an Australian hospital after my 4th valve replacement open-heart surgery (I had a 5th such surgery in 2013). What follows in no way minimises the superb care I received at the hands of all of the caring medical & other staff at that excellent hospital.

However, from a number of different staff people and a visitor, I received some profound reflections on life and life-after-death issues that need to be examined and/or challenged.

This is theology from the cardiac ward.

I am young enough never to have heard Francis Schaeffer in person, although he lived and died (d. 15 May, 1984 from cancer) in my generation, but old enough to have read just about everything he wrote, learned deeply from him, and admired him from a distance.

He has taught me the necessity to think of all of life “worldviewishly” – seeing our world and life as a whole and not as bits and pieces. [1] It was Schaeffer who challenged us: “When people refuse God’s answer, they are living against the revelation of the universe and against the revelation of themselves.” [2]

He put it another way:

The strength of the Christian system – the acid test of it – is that everything fits under the apex of the existing, infinite-personal God, and it is the only system in the world where this is true. No other system has an apex under which everything fits. That is why I am a Christian and no longer an agnostic. In all the other systems something “sticks out,” something cannot be included; it has to be mutilated or ignored. [2a]

The revelation of the universe is stated clearly in:

Romans 1:19-20 (ESV), “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” [3]

The revelation of themselves is clear in:

Romans 2:14-16 (ESV), “For when Gentiles [non-Jews], who do not have the law [of God], by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

If you would like to investigate evidence for the accuracy and dependability of the Bible, see:

Flower11 Can you trust the Bible? Part 1

Flower11 Can you trust the Bible? Part 2

Flower11 Can you trust the Bible? Part 3

Flower11 Can you trust the Bible? Part 4

See also:

# F F Bruce 2003. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. This online link is to the 1959 edition.

# Walter C Kaiser Jr 2001. The Old Testament Documents: Are They Reliable & Relevant? Downers Grove, Illinois/Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press

# K A Kitchen 2003. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge UK: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company.

# C L Blomberg 2007. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 2nd edn. Downers Grove, Illinois/Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press.

# Craig L Blomberg 2016. The Historical Reliability of the New Testament. Nashville, Tennessee, B&H Academic.

What follows is an analysis of some of the theology I picked up in that cardiac ward.

A.    After death – zip!

No Death

(image courtesy ChristArt)

I had the following conversation with a nurse:

Nurse (N): You are so much younger than many who have cardiac surgery here (everything is relative since I’m a 1946 model).

SG: Yeh!

N: Last week there was a fellow here for by-pass surgery at age 92. I don’t know why we waste money & other resources on expensive surgery for these oldies. They’ll never have a productive life again.

SG: So, what do you think we should do about it?

N: They should recognise that their time is up. There is nothing after death, so why waste precious resources?

Response:

1.  Is death the dead end?

How do we know what happens at death? Is death the end and the snuffing out of all life? Do we disappear into dust, or do we live beyond the grave?

“When I die, I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive,” said the late British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, who died in 1970. [4] We can hardly argue with that assessment: “When I die, I shall rot!” That is exactly what happens to the human body when placed in the ground. Three years after he published that statement, Russell had died. But is it the whole truth? Does the real “me” disappear?

Elsewhere, Russell stated: “There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendour, no vastness anywhere; only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.” [4a] Russell most assuredly knows now whether his philosophical and atheistic ponderings about death were correct. But there’s a better way to have a more sure word about what happens at death (see below).

C. S. Lewis, Britain’s favourite fantasy writer of the Narnia series and other writings such as Mere Christianity [5] wrote that “There are no ordinary people. . . It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” [6]

Senior pastor at Moody Church, Chicago, Edwin W. Lutzer comes to a very different conclusion to Bertrand Russell:

One minute after you slip behind the parted curtain, you will either be enjoying a personal welcome from Christ or catching your first glimpse of gloom as you have never known it. Either way, your future will be irrevocably fixed and eternally unchangeable. [7]

In Indiana, USA, I understand that there is a tombstone with this epitaph:

Pause, stranger, when you pass me by
As you are now, so once was I
As I am now, so you will be
So prepare for death and follow me

An unknown passerby read the words and scratched this reply below the above verse:

To follow you I’m not content
Until I know which way you went. [8]

2.  Which way?

Down through the centuries there have been may who have attempted to roll back the curtain of what happens after death through channelling, a doctrine of reincarnation and an examination of near-death experiences.

It’s pretty natural to want to think that all will be OK beyond death or that death ends it all. Larry Gordon, chief executive of Largo Entertainment, commented, “We all want to believe that death isn’t so bad.” [9]

Some try to contact people after death through the demonic – through spirit mediums. Bishop James Pike tried to do it to contact his son who had committed suicide His son reportedly said, “I’m confused. . . I am not in purgatory, but something like Hell, here, . . . yet nobody blames me here.” [10]

Listen to Shirley MacLaine and she claims that

we can eliminate the fear of death by proclaiming that it does not exist. Through contact in the spirit world, she has discovered that in a previous existence she was a princess in Atlantis, an Inca in Peru, and even was a child raised by elephants. In some previous existences, she was male; in others, female. [11]

Raymond Moody, in Life After Life[12], recorded interviews with those who were near death and had been successfully resuscitated. The stories contained

many similar elements: the patient would hear himself being pronounced dead; he would be out of his body, watching the doctors work over his corpse. While in this state, he would meet relatives or friends who had died and then encounter a “being of light.” When he knows that he must return to his body, he does so reluctantly because the experience of love and peace has engulfed him. [13]

Melvin Morse tells of the near-death experiences of children in Closer to the Light [14] and most of the kids’ experiences are positive. Betty Eadie tells of her own experience on the “other side” in Embraced by the Light [15]. The title gives the clincher for her. She claims to have seen Christ and dedicates the book to him: “To the Light, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom I owe all that I have.”

In Doug Groothius’s comments on this book in Deceived by the Light, he wrote:

The initial printing of 20,000 copies [of Eadie’s book] sold in two weeks and the second printing of 30,000 also went quickly. Within six months the book was on the New York Times bestseller list, where it stayed for well over a year, selling more than a million copies. Paperback rights for the book were sold for nearly two million dollars, after which the paperback edition zoomed to the bestseller lists as well. And at the time of this writing, Eadie is busy speaking around the country and writing another book.

The dust jacket claims that the book offers “astonishing proof of a life after physical death,” and that Eadie “saw more, perhaps, than any other person has seen before, and she came back with an almost photographic view.” [16]

BUT . . . Eadie’s Jesus is radically different from the Jesus of the New Testament.

  • He is separate from the Father and would do nothing to offend her.
  • She had no reason to regret deeds committed in the past.
  • We human beings are not sinful people.
  • Human “spirit beings” assisted the heavenly Father at creation.[17]

It is common to hear of positive near-death experiences, but other research indicates that many people tell terrifying stories of the life beyond. Some speak of a lake of fire, darkness, and tormented people who are awaiting judgment. For this alternate view of near-death experiences, see Philip J. Swihart, The Edge of Death [18] and Maurice Rawlings, Beyond Death’s Door [19]. Rawlings is a cardiologist and cardiovascular specialist who has revived many patients. In his second book on near-death experiences, To Hell and Back, Dr. Rawlings notes:

Most people are deathly afraid of dying. They say, “Doctor, I’m afraid of dying.” But I have never heard one of them say, “Doctor, I’m afraid of judgment.” And judgment is the main concern of patients who have been there and returned to tell about it. . .    Drs. Moody and Ring, both now actively engaged in the paranormal – Moody into mirrors and crystal balls and Ring into UFOs — reviewed several thousand NDEs in the Evergreen Study and reported that less than 1 percent (actually only 0.3 percent) had hellish experiences and would have us think that life after death is, after all the evidence is reviewed, entirely a heavenly affair.    Fortunately, a few observers are beginning to disagree. One of the disagreements was by researcher Dr. Charles Garfield who noted, “Not everyone dies a blissful, accepting death. . .  Almost as many of the dying patients interviewed reported negative visions (demons and so forth), as reported blissful experiences, while some reported both. Note his ratio of roughly 50/50 for negative/positive. I am not the only researcher claiming large amounts of existing negative material [emphasis in original]. [20]

Dr. Rawlings relates the case of a patient who was resuscitated in the excitement of the Knoxville football stadium (Tennessee, USA) and was later transferred to the doctor’s clinic at the Diagnostic Center. The patient related:

I was moving through a vacuum as if life never ended, so black you could almost touch it. Black, frightening, and desolate. I was all alone somewhere in outer space.    I was in front of some type of conveyor belt which carried huge pieces of puzzle in weird colors that had to be fitted together rapidly under severe penalty from an unseen force. It was horrible. Impossible. I was shrieking and crying. I was deathly afraid of this force. I knew it was Hell, but there was no fire or heat or anything that I had expected.    I was alone, isolated from all sound, until I heard a mumbling, and I could vaguely see a kneeling form. It was my wife. She was praying at my bedside. I never wanted to be a Christian, but I surely am now. Hell is too real. [21]

Woody Allen, in his whimsical way, got to the point: “I’m not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens” [22]

For a critique of Eadie’s near-death experiences and some thought-provoking questions and answers about life after death, I recommend Doug Groothuis, Deceived by the Light. [23]

Is there a better way to be determine how we can be as sure as possible about what happens at death? There certainly is and we will be eternally poorer if we neglect it.

3.   A more certain word on life beyond the grave

The best person to ask about what happens at death is to seek the One who made the human being immortal – God Himself – and gives the most sure word on life-after-death. Jesus states that “I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev. 1:18).

God has spoken decisively on what happens at death and we do well to listen to Him and act upon His exhortations. A brief summary of what to expect includes the following [24]:

Heaven or Hell(image courtesy ChristArt)

a. Death is abnormal

It was caused by the fall of human beings into sin (see Gen. 3:19; Rom. 5:12). The last enemy to be destroyed will be death (I Cor. 15:26).

b. Immortality (meaning deathlessness) and eternal life. Only God is immortal (I Tim. 6:16), yet through His death, Jesus Christ “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). God’s promise for the Christian believer is that he/she will live forever and this is a certain hope (I Cor. 15:44; 2 Cor. 5:1).

c. The Christian & resurrection

The uniqueness of Christianity is not only the assurance of eternal life but that, because of Christ’s resurrection, Christians will be resurrected at the last day ( I Cor. 15:17-18). This will be a resurrection and not a resuscitation, and the believer will inherit intellectual powers and wisdom (I Cor. 13:12).

d. Conscious experience after death. Death has no mastery over the Christian believer (Rom. 6:9). There will be rest from labour (including rest from toil, sorrow, pain and sin). There will be work, but in God’s service (Matt. 25:21).

e.  New language for the death experience for believers. After Christ’s resurrection, the disciples did not refer to death when they spoke of the ending of human life, but their language was:

    • To “depart and be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23),
    • “Those who have fallen asleep” in Jesus (I Thess. 4:15), and
    • “Away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).

The Christian who departs this life goes immediately into the presence of Christ and will be forever with Him.

f.  Do believers go straight to heaven?  After the death and resurrection of Christ, the spirits of Christians go immediately into the presence of Christ in a place that is called heaven, paradise or the Father’s house (see 2 Cor. 12:2, 4; John 14:2-3). “After the death and ascension of Jesus the believer no longer has to pass through the portals of Hades [as in the Old Testament times], but instead goes immediately to be with Him.” [25]

g. Hell and the unbeliever.  The doctrine of hell is never a pleasant topic of conversation and some have tried to deny it or snuff out its impact by substituting annihilation as an alternative. The Bible is clear according to Matthew 25:46, “And these [the unbelievers on Jesus’ ‘left’] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” But doesn’t 2 Thess. 1:9 support annihilation: “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” The word translated “destruction” means “ruin.”

There are no verses to support the doctrine of purgatory and many to contradict it.

There are many verses that reveal the existence of heaven (for the Christian believer) and hell (for the unbeliever). See Ps. 1; 73; Dan. 12:2; Matt. 7:13-14, 24-27; 25:1-13; John 3:16; 2 Thess. 1:8-10; Rev. 20:11-15; 22:14-15.

Conclusion: There is no biblical evidence for death being a dead-end. For the believer, it will be entrance into the presence of the Lord and heaven. For the unbeliever, it will be entrance into the presence of the Lord and hell. The Bible presents no other alternatives.

G. K. Chesterton once stated that “hell is the greatest compliment God has ever paid to the dignity of human freedom.” [26] What about others outside of Christ? C. S. Lewis offered the challenge: “If you are worried about the people outside [of Christ], the most unreasonable thing you can do is to remain outside yourself.” [27]

B. Christianity the crutch

Healed

(image courtesy ChristArt)

When I related this story of the nurse’s statement that there is nothing at death, to a Christian friend who visited me in hospital, he told of a medical situation involving a mutual acquaintance who was in her late 60s & in hospital on the morning of surgery. As a doctor moved towards her bed, he asked what she was reading. When she explained that it was a Christian devotional book and that she was praying, the doctor’s response was: “Don’t you trust us? Why do you need a crutch?” She was too weak and in a pre-med state to give a response.

Response:

How are Christians to respond to the allegation that their dependence on Christ alone for salvation and their calling upon Him in prayer in difficult circumstances is the use of a “crutch”? It’s a fairly standard line from the soap-box, populist university agitator, “Ha! Ha! You Christians are weak and Christ is your crutch.” Karl Marx reinforced this stereotype with his proclamation, “Religion is the opiate of the people.”

The inference in this complaint against Christianity is that only weak people need a crutch. Real men/women can make it through life on their own without supernatural resources.

Amazingly, this snigger against Christ can raise some core issues with which to challenge the university atheist, sceptical medical doctor, and others.

1.    The Crutch Defined

A literal, physical crutch is “a staff or support to assist a lame or infirm person in walking,” but it is used also as a colloquial expression to mean “anything relied on or trusted.” [28]

2. Only the sick need a crutch

There is a sense in which Christianity could be described metaphorically as a crutch – all people have a terminal spiritual disease (the sin problem) and they need help for that disease. But this problem is more than a “disease.”

Also, if a crutch is something that we rely on or trust in, that applies also to the Christ of the cross and the resurrection in whom Christians put their trust.

But Christianity defined as a “crutch” comes with too much negative baggage to be of significant use in explaining the Christian faith. However, there is a sense in which “crutch” is ok and not ok. Consider the following:

  • Matthew 15:18-19: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”
  • Romans 3:10-12: “As it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’”
  • Romans 5:12: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one
    man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

The Bible takes sin seriously because it is the core human problem. Unless we solve the sin problem, there is no hope for each person or for the whole human race. R. C. Sproul correctly summarises our human dilemma as diagnosed by the Bible:

“The biblical meaning of sin is to miss the mark of God’s righteousness.“All human beings are sinners.“Sin involves a failure to conform to (omission) and a transgression of (commission) the law of God.“Only moral agents can be guilty of sin.“Each sin committed incurs greater guilt.“Sin violates God and people.” [29]

As politically incorrect as it is to state it this way – sin is the problem, not just for criminals and other rebels, but for all of us.

3. But the sin-sick need more than a crutch

In the Bible verses above, we’ve stated the problem – all of us have violated the law of God and stand guilty as sinners. The problem is very deep. Is there a solution that is more than a fanciful “crutch”? There is and that’s the good news:

Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

1 John 1:8-10: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

If you are really serious about doing business with God and not seeking a crutch (superficial answer), consider these essentials:

flamin-arrow-small God is holy and absolutely just.

flamin-arrow-small We are sinners and God hates sin.

flamin-arrow-small God inflicts his wrath on sin; how can it be pacified?

flamin-arrow-small Consider who Jesus Christ really is and what he has done to deal with the sin problem through his death on the cross and the shedding of his blood.

flamin-arrow-small What does God demand of you for real change to happen in your life?

flamin-arrow-small What happens to those who reject God’s offer of salvation?

flamin-arrow-small If you want to know more, consider the Content of the Gospel.

By now you should understand that the diagnosis is far too serious and the solution radical enough to need something more than a crutch.

4.  It doesn’t sound or look like a crutch

Throughout history, many Christians could not be described as those overcome by weakness. They have sought anything but a crutch.

The early Christians . . . endured shunning, mocking, slander, illegal search and seizure, false arrest, kangaroo trials with perjured testimony, floggings, beatings, imprisonment, and stonings for their beliefs. They were crucified, burned alive, mutilated by lions, and hung on poles and covered with pitch and used as wicks to light [Roman Emperor] Nero’s gardens. They hardly sound like weaklings. Not a single crutch in sight. The history of the Christian church up to this very day is associated with reality – the martyrs’ blood has often been the nutrient of growth. [29a]

For a sample of some of the sufferings that Christians have endured for their faith, see

  • Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and
  • By Their Blood: Christian Martyrs of the 20th Century [29b]

In the latter book, James and Marti Hefley wrote:

It appears likely that Dr. Paul Carlson was correct when he told Congolese believers before his martyrdom, that more believers have died for Christ in this [20th] century than in all the previous centuries combined. Of course, there is no hard evidence to prove this, since the records of most martyrdoms before the twentieth century are lost, and the names of countless martyrs in this [20th] century (those who died in the Soviet Union and China, for example) are not available for scrutiny. [29c]

If Christianity is a crutch, why is it that the children of martyrs have now become missionaries themselves for the Christian faith?

Dr. David and Rebecca Thompson, for instance, are now serving with the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Africa. Dr. Thompson’s father and mother were killed at Banmethuot, Vietnam, in 1968. Mrs Thompson’s father, Archie Mitchell, was captured by Communist Viet Cong in Vietnam in 1962, and is still unaccounted for, and her mother endured almost a year’s communist captivity in 1975. And five of six sons of Hector McMillan, martyred in Zaire, in 1964, are either already missionaries or under appointment to go. The remaining son has spent six months helping missionaries in Africa. Their mother died from cancer in 1976. [29d]

Christianity as a “crutch” is an accusation that doesn’t hold up. Even though resistance to the Christian faith may increase, more martyrs will fall, those totally committed to Jesus Christ will continue to proclaim him as Saviour, Redeemer, Reconciler and Resurrected Lord – until Jesus Christ returns. This proclamation by Christians will continue at home and in other countries, no matter what the risk. The Christian faith is no crutch at all. It is the faith for those seeking eternal life with God Himself – and it may lead to a martyr’s grave.

C.  Beat up on the church

(image courtesy WPClipart)

A nurse was pulling the wires out of my chest that were connected to my heart (the wires were there in case an electric charge was needed after surgery), so she needed to distract me from this minimally painful event. Out of the blue, she attacked “these Christians who are abusers of children.” Why? This was the first day that I was well enough to read extensively and my wife, Desley, had brought two contrasting books (at my request): a New International Version New Testament and John Dominic Crossan’s book, The Historical Jesus (studying for my doctoral thesis). [30]

I had divulged the content of my reading, so it was time to flog the church for its worst examples.

Playing by the wrong rules

I would never judge that hospital’s medical care by the nurses who might have abused patients or did the illegal. But it’s still OK to flog the church for its hypocrites. I’m ashamed of people like Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart and others who have given the church a terrible public reputation.

However, there is a fundamental problem about this nurse’s response and Jesus knew it. He stated it clearly in the incident with the woman taken in adultery: John 8:7, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Even after a person becomes a Christian he/she is still a sinner – a redeemed sinner. Romans 7 details the Christians life-long struggle with sin. Note Romans 7:17 , “So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” To believers, John wrote: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

I deeply regret the gross and much publicised sinful activity of some Christians that has become a blight on the church and a point of accusation against Christian believers. I have shown repentant remorse over my own sin and will continue to do that should I commit any known sin in the future.

But the facts are that Christians live by the power of God, sometimes fall into sin bringing a reproach on the Name of Christ, but God is still working on us and in us. This is not an excuse. This is just the way it is.

Perfection is for those who are in heaven. Until than, Christians live by the laws of sin and forgiveness, thanks to Christ’s redemptive work. Romans 6:11 states the battle, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

D.  I don’t believe anything any more

I spoke with a nurse who saw the unorthodox material I was reading (John D. Crossan, The Historical Jesus). She said that she read the book about 10 years ago when she did a graduate diploma in theology at a Roman Catholic (RC) seminary and then added: “But the sad fact is that now I don’t believe anything.” [An overstatement, but an attempt to convey that she has abandoned the faith of her fathers.]

Now, she was investigating Islam and commended the RC school that was teaching her grandchildren Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity and other world religions – all as worthy possibilities of following.

My wife and I had an open conversation with her as she transparently revealed that she (age 60) was raised “in a strict Irish RC family” who believed that “you need to have faith and don’t question.” She, a questioning person, could not accept the blind faith that was fed to her, read widely, and today doesn’t know what to believe.

This conversation raised three enduring issues for me:

  • There is no power in civil religion without a relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • Telling anybody, especially our children, to “just believe and don’t question,” is useless in preparing them for eternity and does not give them a foundation on which to build a Christian worldview of substance.
  • We must provide answers of substance to refute writers like John Dominic Crossan, the fellows of the Jesus Seminar, and others who are eroding confidence in the Scriptures by their reconstruction of biblical history.

Let’s examine these issues!

             1. Civil religion has no power

There is no staying power in civil religion – attending church and being part of organised religion – even if that religion is part of Christianity. The key is stated clearly in John 1:12-13 (ESV): “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

The keys are:

  • Receive Christ by believing on the person of the crucified and resurrected Christ;
  • To these, Christ gives the right and privilege to become children of God, in relationship with Him;
  • The people in relationship with Christ are born of God.
  • If you’d like to know more, see The Content of the Gospel.

             2.  An apologetic against: “Just believe and don’t question”

There is a great lack of emphasis on apologetics in training in theological colleges and seminaries. It is one of the main branches of systematic theology and is critical to our preparing all of God’s people, especially the young, for defending their faith.

An enduring faith is one built on factual evidence for the faith, the evidence of which can be tested. Leading apologist and theologian, Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, hit the mark when he said: “Lose the Bible and you lose the best evidence for God; defend the Bible and you discover ‘many infallible proofs’ for the salvation revealed once for all through the death and resurrection of His Son (Acts 1:3).” [31]

a.  Some reasons to believe

Basic biblical Christianity requires these dimensions:

          (1)  Proclaim the gospel and disciple believers

The Bible’s statements are clear:

Mark 13:10:  “And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.”

Matthew 28:19-20:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Linked with these commands by Jesus to take the gospel into all the world and disciple believers, is the requirement for gifted church leaders to equip believers for this kind of ministry:

           (2)  Equip believers for ministry

Ephesians. 4:10-14,

He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministryfor building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (emphasis added)

Proclaiming the gospel and discipling believers are at the core of New Testament Christianity. So is the need for the people with ministry gifts (Eph. 4) to engage in training/equipping the people of God for ministry. This is a neglected area in the contemporary church where I live in Australia.

But there’s more to it than a simple proclamation of the Gospel and the equipping ministry of those gifted by God.

           (3)  The need to defend (give reasons) for the Christian faith.

Francis Schaeffer.jpg

Francis Schaeffer (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Francis Schaeffer saw this need, understood the Bible’s message, and practised what he preached. He wrote:

”At times I get tired of being asked why I don’t just preach the “simple gospel.” You have to preach the simple gospel so that it is simple to the person to whom you are talking, so it is no longer simple. The dilemma of modern man is simple: he does not know why man has any meaning. He is lost. Man remains a zero. This is the damnation of our generation, the heart of modern man’s problem. . . It is the Christian who has the answer at this point – a titanic answer! So why have we as Christians gone on saying the great truths in ways that nobody understands? Why do we keep talking to ourselves, if men are lost and we say we love them? Man’s damnation today is that he can find no meaning for man, but if we begin with the personal beginning we have an absolutely opposite situation. . . Only one fills the philosophical need of existence, of Being, and it is the Judeo-Christian God – not just an abstract concept, but rather that this God is really there. He exists. There is no other answer, and orthodox Christians ought to be ashamed of having been defensive for so long. It is not a time to be defensive. There is no other answer. . . Christianity is not only true to the dogmas, it is not only true to what God has said in the Bible, but it is also true to what is there, and you will never fall off the end of the world! It is not just an approximate model; it is true to what is there. When the evangelical catches that – when evangelicalism catches that – we may have our revolution”. [32]

Basic Christianity requires faith (the just/righteous shall live by faith, Rom. 1:17), but Christianity requires more than what Francis Schaeffer calls “the simple gospel.”

1 Peter 3:15 declares: “But in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

Giving reasons for why we believe (making a defense) is core Christianity. This is the ministry of apologetics that is in such short supply in today’s church. This nurse in the cardiac ward was subjected to anaemic Christianity – Christianity without reasons.

Foundational material is found in Francis Schaeffer’s early books on the infinite-personal God who exists, is there, and has spoken. [33]

This kind of foundation would have been an excellent antidote for the nurse who “now believes nothing.” However, she was exposed to the doubts and reconstruction of writers such as John Dominic Crossan. That would be enough to give any searching person the turn-off for a long time [see below].

a.  Some recommended reading

If you are serious about seeking meaning in life and investigating the Christian faith, the following are recommended:

  • John Blanchard, Does God Believe in Atheists? Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2000 [John is a British author, teacher and conference speaker. This is one of the most provocative books I have read in a long while – 600 pages – but well worth the read if you want evidence and challenges.]
  • William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1994 [Craig comes out with the big guns in defense of Christianity. This is not for those who prefer light reading.]
  • Stephen Gaukroger, It Makes Sense. London: Scripture Union, 1989 [an excellent lay-level introduction to the key evidence for Christianity].
  • Norman Geisler & Ron Brooks, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1990. [Recommended]
  • John Warwick Montgomery, Faith Founded on Fact: Essays in Evidential Apologetics. Newburgh, IN: Trinity Press, , 1978.
  • Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview (Vols. 1-5). Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1982.
  • Francis A. Schaeffer, Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy (3 books in 1 vol.): The God Who Is There; Escape from Reason; He Is There and He Is Not Silent. Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1990. [In speaking to the people of our times, Francis Schaeffer was one of the best. These are his foundational books in one volume. Highly recommended.]
  • R. C. Sproul, John Gerstner & Arthur Lindsley, Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Academie Books (Zondervan Publishing Company), 1984.
  • Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House (Willow Creek Resources), 1998 [Strobel builds a strong case for the Christian faith as an investigative journalist. It is packed with facts to give excellent evidence for the faith.]
  • Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House (Willow Creek Resources), 2000 [Again, highly recommended.]
  • Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God? Dallas: Word Publishing, 1994 [An Indian-born Canadian, Ravi refutes the atheistic way and demonstrates meaning in life through an examination of the claims of Christ. He is one of the world’s foremost apologists. Ravi’s home page, including his magazine, Just Thinking can be accessed at: www.rzim.org]

           (4)  A brief response to John Dominic Crossan, the reconstructionist

John Dominic Crossan (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

The havoc of historical and biblical reconstructionists such as John Dominic Crossan cannot be over-estimated in the negative impact on the Christian community and for others who are seeking God, or for those whose faith is not firmly grounded in the foundations of the faith.

It is not surprising that the nurse “believes in nothing” after reading Crossan. Take a read!

a.  Out of  the mind of Dom Crossan

Consider his views:

(1) “It is precisely that fourfold record [the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John] that constitutes the core problem. . . The gospels are, in other words, interpretations.” [34]

(2) “What those first Christians experienced as the continuing presence of the risen Jesus or the abiding empowerment of the Spirit gave the transmitters of the Jesus tradition a creative freedom we would never have dared postulate had such a conclusion not been forced upon us by the evidence. Even when, for example, Matthew and Luke are using Mark as a source for what Jesus said or did or what others said or did in relation to Jesus, they are unnervingly free about omission and addition, about change, correction, or creation in their own individual accounts. . . The gospels are neither histories nor biographies.” [35]

(3) “The journey to and from Nazareth for census and tax registration [in the birth story of Jesus] is a pure fiction, a creation of Luke’s own imagination. . . I understand the virginal conception of Jesus to be a confessional statement about Jesus’ status and not a biological statement about Mary’s’body. It is later faith in Jesus as an adult retrojected mythologically onto Jesus as an infant. . .” [36]

(4) Concerning the “son of man” sayings about Jesus: “It was thereafter easier to create and place upon his [Jesus’]] lips certain titular ‘Son of Man’ sayings as the tradition of his words grew after his death.” [37]

b. Crossan declares his hand

(1) “This is the central problem of what Jesus was doing in his healing miracles. Was he curing the disease through an intervention in the physical world, or was he healing the illness through an intervention in the social world? I presume that Jesus, who did not and could not cure that disease or any other one, healed the poor man’s illness by refusing to accept the disease’s ritual uncleanness and social ostracization. . . . But miracles are not changes in the physical world so much as changes in the social world.” [38]

(2) “I myself, for example, do not believe that there are personal supernatural spirits who invade our bodies from outside and, for either good or evil, replace or jostle for place with our own personality. But the vast, vast majority of the world’s people have always so believed, and according to one recent cross-cultural survey, about 75 percent still do.” [39]

(3) Concerning the raising of Lazarus by Jesus: “While I do not think this event ever did or could happen, I think it is absolutely true….  I understand, therefore, the story of Lazarus as process incarnated in event and not the reverse. I do not think that anyone, anywhere, at any time brings dead people back to life.” [40]

(4) “My proposal is that Jesus’ first followers knew almost nothing whatsoever about the details of his crucifixion, death or burial. What we have now in those detailed passion accounts [in the Bible’s gospels] is not history remembered but prophecy historicized. And it is necessary to be very clear on what I mean here by prophecy. I do not mean texts, events, or persons that predicted or forshadowed the future, that projected themselves forward toward a distant fulfillment. I mean such units sought out backward, as it were, sought out after the events of Jesus’ life were already known and his followers declared that texts from the Hebrew Scriptures had been written with him in mind. Prophecy, in this sense, is known after rather than before the fact.” [41]

(5) How do we deal with the death, burial, empty tomb and resurrection of Jesus? Crossan’s response is: “Is this fact or fiction, history or mythology? Do fiction and mythology crowd closely around the end of the story just as they did around its beginning? And if there is fiction or mythology, on what is it based? I have already argued, for instance, that Jesus’ burial by his friends was totally fictional and unhistorical. He was buried, if buried at all, by his enemies, and the necessarily shallow grave would have been easy prey for scavenging animals.” [42]

(6)”The core problem is compounded by another one. Those four gospels do not represent all the early gospels available or even a random sample within them but are instead a calculated collection known as the canonical gospels.” [43] In fact, Crossan prefers the material in the extracanonical gospels to the four canonical gospels.

Note what Crossan has done. In the above section, “Crossan declares his hand,” there is evidence of his presuppositions that drive his conclusions. Crossan ends where he begins — with his presuppositions. This is circular reasoning and is cheating. He does not listen to what the documents say, but imposes his views on them. It is expected that he will come out with conclusions that agree with his presuppositions.   His presuppositions include:

  • He does not believe that Jesus healed physical disease.  Nobody, including Jesus, brings dead people back to life again.  He’s a naturalist, disguised as a sociologist.
  • He does not believe in supernatural spirits.
  • He does not believe in supernatural foretelling in prophecy, but links it to mythology and fiction.  He rejects the Bible as the authoritative Word of God.
  • Therefore, he prefers the extracanonical gospels over the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

He calls it reconstruction; I call it dishonesty. He has personal reasons to debunk the biblical revelation and he does not allow the Scriptures to speak for themselves.  His presuppositions drive his agenda.

He admits that his writings, based on 80% of his correspondence, have met the needs of

A group in this country [USA] who claim a center of the road between the extremes of secularism and fundamentalism. They are also dissatisfied, disappointed, or even disgusted with classical Christianity and their denominational tradition. They hold on with anger or leave with nostalgia, but are not happy with either decision. . . But they know now that those roots must be in a renewed Christianity whose validity does not reject every other religion’s integrity, a renewed Christianity that has purged itself of rationalism, fundamentalism, and literalism, whether of book, tradition, community or leader. [44]

In spite of his repudiation of much of the Bible, he still wants to see himself as “a Christian.” [45] The reality of his theology is seen in this blasphemous statement from his memoir:

Mine eyes decline the glory of the coming of the Lord who will trample out the vintage made of human beings as grapes. I decline the first or second coming of such a Jesus and, even more emphatically, of a God whose final solution to the existence of evil and the problem of injustice is the extermination of all those considered evil or unjust. I reject, and I think we should all reject, that vision from the final book of the Christian Bible, from the book of Revelation, where “the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles”. [46]

c. How should we respond to Crossan’s approach to the Gospel of Christ?

The Scripture warns us of those who proclaim another gospel:

Matthew 12:30, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (see also Luke 9:50; 11:23; Mark 9:40)

2 Cor. 11:4, “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.”

Galatians 1:8-9, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. [9] As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

It is very clear that John D. Crossan is proclaiming a gospel that is contrary to that of the New Testament.

For a different assessment of what will happen to those who reject Christ, see Hell & Judgment.

What is Jesus’ assessment of a denial of Himself? Matthew 10:33 states, “But whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” Where does that leave John Dominic Crossan?

E.  The happy wanderer

Five days before I exited that cardiac ward, Vince came to our room of 4 as a patient. He was the life of the “party.” He had such a happy disposition that he brought “sunshine” to that ward. He joked, laughed with us (sometimes a pain for my zipper chest) and we became the best of mates (Aussie for buddies) in such a short time. He gave the nurses heaps and put a sign on his bed, “Is there any Dr. who will claim me?” He had been admitted to hospital with suspected angina, had a series of tests, but for 2 days he was not visited by a Dr. because she thought that he had been discharged. Now that did bring some laughter to the room. I believe Vince brought to that ward a dimension of Prov. 17:22: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

F.  Now what?

1. Australian Christians have a long way to go in proclaiming the Gospel clearly so that ordinary, thinking people have a clear understanding of what happens when the last breath leaves the human body?

2. Religion as a crutch is a common rebuff. There’s a need to defend the faith here as Dr John W. Montgomery would say, “It is faith founded on fact.” A crutch that sends some Christians to a martyr’s grave hardly seems that it needs a crutch for a weakling.

3. When the unbeliever raises examples of Christian hypocrites who offend them, I want to empathasise with them. They offend me also. But we don’t judge any religion or anything else on the worst examples. Nursing is not judged by its worst representatives.

4. Civil religion and “faith” not based on evidence are due for a burial – sooner than later.

5. There’s an urgent need for all of us to be active apologists (see I Peter 3:15), if we are convinced by and have experienced the power of the crucified Christ. Those who have the gifts and motivation should be doing much more public defense of the faith in secular countries like my own.

6. Unorthodox proclaimers such as John Dominic Crossan and his mates from the Jesus Seminar need thorough refutations from convinced Christian apologists.

7. In all our seriousness, never forget that “a cheerful heart is good medicine.”

8. I must not forget to thank God for a godly wife who prayed, read Scripture, and meditated during 7.5 hours of surgery and was there to sit for hours per day beside my bed as I was in the intensive care unit (where it seems that I lost 2 days of my life) and then in the cardiac ward – for the 4th time.

G.  From the cardiac ward

These are my personal, theological and apologetic reminisces from time spent in the cardiac ward of an Australian hospital. I am grateful to my living Lord God Almighty for every breath I breathe. To my last breath I will praise him with the knowledge that, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Ps. 116:15) and we “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). I am assured that I will not leave this earth one minute before God’s appointed time for me (and all others):

Psalm 139:16:

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there were none of them.

Endnotes

1. See especially, Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto, “The Abolition of Truth and Morality”in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview (Vol. 5), p. 423-4. Here, Schaeffer stated:

The basic problem of the Christians in this country in the last eighty years or so, in regard to society and in regard to government, is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.
They have very gradually become disturbed over permissiveness, pornography, and the public schools, the breakdown of the family, and finally abortion. But they have not seen this as a totality – each thing being a part, a symptom, of a much larger problem. They have failed to see that all of this has come about dur to a shift in world view – that is, through a fundamental change in the overall way people think and view the world and life as a whole. This shift has been away from a world view that was at least vaguely Christian in people’s memory (even if they were not individually Christian) toward something completely different – toward a world view based upon the idea that the final reality is impersonal matter or energy shaped into its present form by impersonal chance. They have not see that this world view has taken the place of the one that had previously dominated Northern European culture, including the United States [and my own country of Australia], which was at least Christian in memory, even if the individuals were not individually Christian.
These two world views stand as totals in complete antithesis to each other in content and also in their natural results – including sociological and governmental results, and specifically including law.
It is not that these two world views are different only in how they understand the nature of reality and existence. They also inevitably produce totally different results. The operative word here is inevitably. It is not just that they happen to bring forth different results, but it is absolutely inevitable that they will bring forth different results.

2. Francis A. Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, Appendix A: “The Question of Apologetics” in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview (Vol. 1). Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1982, p. 180.
2a  Francis A. Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview (Vol. 1). Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1982, p. 339.
3. ESV refers to The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Bibles (A division of Good News Publishers), 2001. Unless otherwise stated, all Bible quotations are from the ESV.
4. Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian. London: Unwin Books, 1967, p. 47.
4a. In J. Kerby Anderson, Life, Death & Beyond. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1980, p. 66.
5. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (rev. & exp. ed.). New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1952.
6. C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (rev. & exp. ed.). New York: Macmillan, 1980, pp. 18-19.
7. Erwin W. Lutzer, One Minute After You Die: A Preview of Your Final Destination. Chicago: Moody Press, 1997, p. 9.
8. In ibid., p. 11.
9. Martha Smigis, Hollywood Goes to Heaven,” Time, 3 June 1991, p. 70, in Lutzer p. 17.
10. James A. Pike, The Other Side. New York: Doubleday, 1968, p. 115, in Lutzer, p. 18.
11.  In Lutzer, p. 21.
12. Raymond Moody, Life After Life. Covington, GA: Mockingbird, 1975.
13. Lutzer’s description, p. 22.
14. Melvin Morse, Closer to the Light. New York: Ivy, 1990.
15. Betty J. Eadie and Curtis Taylor, Embraced by the Light. Placerville, CA: Gold Leaf, 1992.
16. Doug Groothuis, Deceived by the Light. Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1997, p. 11.
17. Eadie & Taylor, Embraced by the Light.
18. Philip J. Swihart, The Edge of Death. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1978.
19. Maurice S. Rawlings, Beyond Death’s Door. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1978. (Also released by New York: Bantam Books, Inc., 1979.)
20. Maurice Rawlings, To Hell and Back. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993, pp. 32, 73
21. Ibid., p. 79.
22. In Groothuis, p. 9.
23. Ibid.
24. Based on J. Kerby Anderson, ch. 8, “Our lives beyond death,” p. 145 ff.
25. Ibid., p. 158.
26. In ibid., p. 167.
27. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 66.
28. The Macquarie Dictionary: Australia’s National Dictionary (3rd. ed.). Macquarie University, NSW, Australia: The Macquarie Library, 1997, p. 524.
29. R. C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992, p. 144.
29a. D. James Kennedy, Skeptics Answered: Handling Tough Questiona about the Christian Faith. Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Books, 1997, p. 142.
29b. W. Grinton Berry (ed.), Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1978; James and Marti Hefley, By Their Blood: Christian Martyrs of the 20th Century. Milford MI: Mott Media, 1979.
29c. In James and Marti Hefley, p. 589.
29d. Ibid., p. 590.
30. John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.
31. John Warwick Montgomery, Faith Founded on Fact: Essays in Evidential Apologetics. Newburgh, IN: Trinity Press, , 1978, p. xiii.
32. Francis A. Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent in Complete Works (Vol. 1), pp. 285-287, 290.
33. Schaeffer’s foundational material is now available as a separate volume: Francis A. Schaeffer, Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy (3 books in 1 vol.): The God Who Is There; Escape from Reason; He Is There and He Is Not Silent. Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1990.
34. John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography [this is an abbreviated version of his earlier book, The Historical Jesus]. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994, p. x.
35. Ibid., p. xiii.
36. Ibid., p. 21, 23.
37. Ibid., p. 51.
38. Ibid., p. 82.
39. Ibid., p. 85.
40. Ibid., pp. 94-95.
41. Ibid., p. 145, emphasis in the original.
42. Ibid., p. 160.
43. Ibid., p. x.
44. John Dominic Crossan, A Long Way from Tipperary: A Memoir. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000, p. xx.
45. Ibid., p. xix.
46. Ibid., p. 185.
47. Ibid.

Romans 8:28:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Copyright © 2007 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 October 2015.