Every group has its own distinct language, and Christianity is no different. Back when I was an unbeliever, a Christian friend approached me and said, “Jim, I've been convicted lately, and God has put you on my heart. God told me you need to be born again; you need to come to repentance and experience a conversion. It’s time for you to deal with the sin in your life and have a true spiritual rebirth. Why don’t you invite Jesus into your heart and make Him the Lord of your life? If you have faith you can be saved. You can be washed by the Blood of the Lamb, and sanctified so you can enjoy fellowship with your Christian brethren.” OK, he didn’t actually put it quite like that. But he might as well have. I couldn’t understand a thing he said. His “Christianese” was fluent and mine was not. Years later, I found myself using much of the same language with my unbelieving friends, only to find them equally confused and alienated. So, here’s a list of common Christian expressions I’ve decided to translate for all my friends who are still speaking the language of the secular culture:
#1. “God has put you (or something) on my heart. / God told me.”
Really? As an atheist, I was offended by this kind of language. What makes you Christians so sure you know what God is thinking? Are you actually hearing a voice from Heaven? Does it sound like Morgan Freeman? Sounds a bit presumptuous to me.
Try this instead: “Jim, I've been thinking about you a lot lately. You come to mind when I am praying and talking to God.”
#2. “Be ‘born again.’ / Have a spiritual rebirth.”
Is “Born Again” a political party or something you want me to join? Aren’t all Christians “born again?” If so, why are you using the additional adjective? Are “Born Agains” the true, hardcore Christians? Are they political activists like the modern day “Birthers”? Sorry, I’m too busy to become a fanatic or join a movement.
Try this instead: “Reconsider your beliefs and begin a new life as a Christian.”
#3. “You need to come to repentance. / Experience a conversion.”
My mother used to take me to Catholic Mass occasionally when I was a small boy. I hated it. I never understood what those priests were saying, but I’m sure it had something to do with “penance,” “penitence,” or “repentance.” Didn’t King James die a long time ago? Why are we still trying to talk like him?
Try this instead: “You and I might be ‘good’ at times but we’re not ‘perfect.’ If God is all-powerful, He has the ability to be perfect. The only way imperfect creatures like you and I can be united to a perfect God is to accept the pardon He’s offering for our imperfection.”
#4. “Deal with your sin.”
You go ahead and deal with your sin if you want to. I’m too busy dealing with everyone else’s sin. I’m a police officer, for crying out loud; we’re the “good guys.” We put the “bad guys” in jail, and most of the folks I arrest tell me they’re Christians. Please Mr. “Holier Than Thou,” don’t start talking to me about my “sin.” It’s offensive.
Try this instead: “The Bible says Jesus is God and the only perfect man who ever lived. Yet He died like a common criminal to pay the price for our daily ‘crimes’ of imperfection. If we are willing to accept what Jesus did for us on the cross, He’s willing to apply His perfection to us.”
#5. “Invite Jesus into your heart.”
You mean like a boyfriend? What exactly does that mean to have “Jesus in my heart?” I’m not an emotional kind of guy, so please don’t ask me to sing songs or hold hands with Jesus, especially in public. Do I have to emasculate myself to become a Christian? If so, thanks for reminding me why I’m not a Christian.
Try this instead: “When we admit our imperfections, believe Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for our mistakes, and accept His sacrifice, we can start a new relationship with God.”
#6. “Make Jesus the Lord of your life.”
Isn’t this the twenty-first century? Are there still serfs and lords? Was J.R. Tolkien the author of your Scripture? It kind of sounds that way. What is a “Lord” anyway? Is it like a “slave master”? Between bosses and supervisors, most of us have enough people trying to be our “Lord.” Thanks anyway.
Try this instead: “As you begin to appreciate the magnitude of God’s forgiveness and sacrifice, you’ll find yourself wanting to be more like Him.”
#7. “Have faith.”
If by “faith” you mean believing in something in spite of the evidence, no thanks. Blind faith is dangerous. I’m a cop; evidence matters to me. You can keep your “faith;” I’d rather have my “reason.” The world would be a better place if fewer people flew planes into buildings because they believed something blindly.
Try this instead: “Jesus gave us more than enough evidence to believe what He said about Himself. He never asked people to take an irrational, blind leap. He asked instead for a reasonable step of trust.”
#8. “Be saved.”
Saved from what and saved by who? Last time I checked, I’m the guy who usually does the saving. And doesn’t your holy book say “God helps those who help themselves?” I’ve been helping myself for thirty-five years now without a problem. No need to change that. I’m okay, but thanks for the offer.
Try this instead: “God doesn’t want anyone to be separated from Him. He’s given us a way home. All we have to do is accept His offer of forgiveness through Jesus.”
#9. “Be washed by the blood of the Lamb.”
Tell me you didn’t just say that. I know what a “blood bath” is, and it’s not usually a good thing. I’m not sure what a lamb has to do with it, but lamb’s not my favorite food anyway. Are you trying to get me excited about Christianity or chase me away?
Try this instead: “It turns out that the death of one man (Jesus) provides forgiveness for the rest of us.”
#10. “Be Sanctified.”
Is that kind of like “sanctimonious?” I sure know a lot of Christians who are smug and self-righteous. Is that what happens over time if I become a Christian? It certainly seems that way. “Sanctified” sounds a bit arrogant. I bet sanctified people think their pretty “special.” You can keep your pretentious “sanctification.”
Try this instead: “Grateful people are selfless people. Christians who understand how much they’ve been forgiven are changed over time.”
Bonus Expression #11. “Enjoy fellowship.”
What, another Lord of the Rings reference? Really? Do you people ever use language from this century? Christianity sounds a lot like an exclusive country club. If I join, it sounds like I’ll get to become a “fellow” of some sort. Do I have to give up having a beer with the fellas in order to hang out with the Christian fellows? Hmm, that kind of makes the decision easy for me.
Try this instead: “It’s encouraging to find grateful Christians who are struggling to become people of God. We’re out there and eager to have you join our community, regardless of what you may believe today.”
I understand the importance of our theologically rich Christian language, and as a Christian I often use similar words when talking with Christians. But when I’m talking with unbelievers, I try to think about how I used to hear and interpret these words before I became a Christian. How do I share what I believe? I take the time to translate important Christian concepts for those who might be willing to entertain the ideas if only I was willing to speak their language.
This post is excerpted from my article, “What Cops Can Teach Christians about the Critical Use of Language” first published in the Christian Research Journal. The Christian Research Journal equips Christians with the information they need to discern doctrinal errors, evangelize people of other faiths, and provide a strong defense of Christian beliefs and ethics.
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A visitor to ColdCaseChristianity.com wrote recently to express her concerns and growing doubts about Christianity. Raised in the Church, she finds herself questioning the reliability of the Gospel authors because some of them failed to mention important events in the life and ministry of Jesus. Why does only one Gospel writer mention the Raising of Lazarus? Why does only one writer mention the dead people who rose from the grave at Jesus’ crucifixion? There are many examples of singular, seemingly important events mentioned by only one of the four Gospel authors. Shouldn’t all of the alleged eyewitnesses have included these events, and doesn’t the absence of information in a particular Gospel cast doubt on whether or not the event actually occurred? My experience working with eyewitnesses may help you think clearly about these issues and objections. You can trust the Gospel eyewitness accounts, even though some are missing important details:
Eyewitness Accounts Vary Based on Their Scope
When I interview an eyewitness, I am very careful to set the parameter for the testimony before I begin. I usually frame the interview by saying something like, “Please tell me everything you saw from the moment the robber came in the bank, to the moment he left.” I make sure to set the constraints the same way for each and every witness. Without these parameters, the resulting testimony would vary wildly from person to person. Some would include details prior to or after the robbery, some would include only the highlights, and some would omit major elements in the event. If I want to be able to compare the testimony of two or three witnesses later, I’m going to have to make sure they begin with the same scope and framework in mind.
The Gospel authors clearly did not testify with the same initial instructions. There was no unifying investigator present to set the framework for their testimony, so their responses vary in the same way they would vary today if the scope of their testimony was not established from the onset. Mark, according to Papias, the 1st Century Bishop of Hierapolis, “became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said and done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord, nor had followed him, but later on, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them.” More concerned about accuracy of individual events than the order in which they occurred, Mark offered details like many of my witnesses who are interviewed without a unified parameter. Mark is simply recording the preaching of Peter, and Peter only referred to portions of Jesus’ life and ministry, making no effort to order them for his listeners.
Eyewitness Accounts Vary Based on Their Perspective and Purpose
In addition, the witnesses I interview often want to highlight a particular element in the crime scene or a particular suspect behavior they think is important. Sometimes their choice of detail is influenced greatly by their own life history. Their values, experiences and personal concerns guide their selection of which details they include, and which they omit. Witnesses also typically try to offer what they think I am looking for as the detective rather than every little thing they actually saw. They are speaking to a specific audience (an investigator), and this has an impact on what they choose to include or omit. When this happens, I have to refocus each witness and ask them to fill in the details they skipped over, including everything they saw, even if they don’t think it’s important to me as a detective. If I don’t encourage eyewitnesses to be more inclusive and specific, they will omit important details.
The Gospel authors were not similarly directed. They had specific audiences in mind and particular perspectives to offer, and none of their testimony was guided by a unifying investigator who could encourage them to fill in the missing details. Luke clearly had a particular reader in mind (Theophilus): “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught (Luke 1)”. Like other witnesses and historians, Luke likely allowed his intended audience to influence his selection of details. His testimony was also most certainly shaped by his own life experience (as an educated man),his own personal history, and his values. Matthew did something similar when he highlighted the details of Jesus’ life most relevant to Matthew’s Jewish audience.
Eyewitness Accounts Vary Based on Their Knowledge of Other Testimony
Sometimes an eyewitness will only provide those details he thinks are missing from the testimony of others. This is most likely to occur if the witness is the last one to be interviewed and he (or she) is already familiar with the testimony of the other witnesses. When I see this happening, I ask this last witness to pretend like he or she is the only witness in my case, “Try to include every detail like I’ve never heard anything about the case. Pretend like I know nothing about the event.” Once the witness has done that, I may go back and re-interview the prior witnesses to see why they didn’t mention the late details offered by the final witness. In the end, my reports related to everyone’s testimony will be as complete as possible, including all the details remembered by each person I interviewed.
The gospel authors were not similarly directed and re-interviewed. John was the last person to provide an account, and he clearly selected those events important to him, given his stated goal: “…many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20)”. John knew what had already been provided by others, and he selected specific events (some which were previously unreported) to make his case. He acknowledged his limited choice of data: “…there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written (John 21)”. John admitted what we already know: witnesses pick and choose from their own observations unless they are specifically directed to do otherwise.
Skeptics sometimes infer more from omissions (or inclusions) in the Gospels than what is reasonable, especially given the manner in which the Gospels came to be written. Because the four authors were not specifically instructed, guided or re-interviewed by a unifying detective, we simply cannot conclude much from the differences between the accounts. We must, instead, do our best to employ the four part template we use to evaluate eyewitness reliability after the fact. This template (as I’ve described it in Cold-Case Christianity), provides us with confidence in the trustworthy nature of the Biblical narratives. That’s why you can trust the Gospel eyewitness accounts, even though some are missing important details.
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This past weekend I got to hang out with Frank Turek, a dear friend, co-laborer and mentor. Frank is the author of I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, and he was here in our neck of the woods teaching several services at a large local church. Susie and I joined him afterward and we spent the better part of two days together. We ate some barbeque, ran through the local woods (we found out Frank runs faster than we do), and talked about our work and passion to train Christians to think critically about what they believe. Frank does more than train Christians, however. Frank trains trainers.
Frank’s been a teacher and cultural influencer for years, but in if you want to impact your culture exponentially, you’ve got to multiply your own efforts by creating additional trainers. That’s exactly what Frank does every year at the CrossExamined Instructor Academy (CIA). Frank has assembled a team of speakers and thinkers to help him train up the next generation of Christian Case Makers. This three day experience isn’t for beginners. It’s for people who have already started to step out and teach apologetics in their local churches and communities. CIA will teach you how to present I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, including four categories critical to Christian Case Making: Truth, God, Miracles and the New Testament. You’ll also learn how to answer questions about those topics in a hostile environment. During these three days, in addition to hearing lectures and participating in discussions, participants will be asked to present a portion of I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist and answer questions from the instructors. Like last year, I am part of the CIA faculty, along with Frank, Greg Koukl, Dr. Richard Howe, Brett Kunkle and Ted Wright.
If you’re a tent-making Case Maker, I think you should come and be a part of this incredible opportunity for the following reasons:
It’s a Great Place to Grow Your Knowledge Base
There’s an extensive reading list required for everyone who attends the program, so you’re going to have to prepare yourself with additional knowledge before you even arrive on the campus of Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES). But trust me; you’re going to learn a lot from the instructors and other participants. The people who come to this academy are gifted and knowledgeable. We all get to learn from one another and everyone comes away with something they didn’t know prior to the training.
It’s a Great Place to Refine Your Approach
One of the best things about CIA is the emphasis on presentation. It’s one thing to know something, another to communicate what you know effectively (especially if you want to be winsome or influential). This year we are increasing our focus in this area. We want to make you better Case Makers and communicators. We’ve got special break-out sessions planned for you to accomplish this goal.
It’s a Great Place to Learn the Art of Influence
If you want to influence a culture effectively, it all begins with your “platform”. I will be talking a lot about that this year; Frank scheduled me to teach one of the new breakout sessions where we’ll examine a number of successful strategies guaranteed to increase your audience and influence. If you’re a tent-making Case Maker like me, this will be the perfect opportunity to learn from one another.
It’s a Great Place to Connect with Other Case Makers
Perhaps my favorite part of this training is the opportunity to meet all of you and “hang out in the halls” together. If you’re staying at the local hotel, we’ll be eating breakfast every day (as well as other meals on the SES campus). We’ll definitely learn from each other, but more importantly, we’ll get to know each other as brothers and sisters (and likely begin a relationship that will extend over the years).
If you want to become a more effective Christian Case Maker, I can’t think of a better, more concise, more focused opportunity. Join us at the CrossExamined Instructor Academy from August 14th to 16th as we encourage, critique, train and inspire each other to make the case for Christianity.
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The case for the reliability of the New Testament Gospel eyewitness accounts is dependent on the reliability of the authors. Eyewitnesses are typically evaluated in criminal trials by asking four critical questions: Were the witnesses really present at the time of the crime? Can the witnesses’ accounts be corroborated in some way? Have the witnesses changed their story over time? Do the witnesses have biases causing them to lie, exaggerate or misinterpret what was seen? We can examine the Gospels and their authors by asking similar questions. Is the Bible true? The cumulative case for the trustworthy nature of the Gospels confirms their reliability:
(1) The Gospels Were Written Early
It’s much harder to tell an elaborate lie in the same generation as those who witnessed the truth. The Gospels were written early enough to have been cross-checked by those who were still alive and would have known better:
(a) The missing information in the Book of Acts (i.e. the destruction of the Temple, the siege of Jerusalem, the deaths of Peter, Paul and James) is best explained by dating Acts prior to 61AD
(b) Luke wrote his Gospel prior to the Book of Acts
(c) Paul’s referencing of Luke 10:6-7 (1 Timothy 5:17-18, written in 63-64AD) and Luke 22:19-20 (1 Corinthians 11:23-26, written in 53-57AD) is best explained by dating the Gospel of Luke prior to 53-57AD
(d) Luke’s reference to his Gospel as “orderly” in Luke 1:3 (as compared to Bishop Papias’ 1st Century description of Mark’s account as “not, indeed, in order”) and Luke’s repeated references of Mark’s Gospels are best explained by dating Mark’s Gospel prior to Luke’s from 45-50AD
(a) Archaeology corroborates many people, locations and events described in the Gospels
(b) Ancient Jewish, Greek and Pagan accounts corroborate the outline of Jesus’ identity, life, death and resurrection
(c) The Gospel authors correctly identify minor, local geographic features and cities in the region of the accounts
(d) The Gospel authors correctly cite the ancient proper names used by people in the region of the accounts
(e) Mark’s repeated reference and familiarity with Peter corroborates Papias’ description of Mark’s authorship of the account
(f) The authors of the Gospels support one another unintentionally with details obscure details between the accounts
(3) The Gospels Have Been Accurately Delivered
The Gospels were cherished and treated as Scripture from the earliest of times. We can test their content and accurate transmission:
(a) A New Testament “Chain of Custody” can be reconstructed from the Gospel authors (through their subsequent students) to confirm the original content of the documents
(b) Much of the Gospels (and all the critical features of Jesus) can be confirmed in the writings of the Church Fathers
(c) The vast number of ancient copies of the Gospels can be compared to one another to identify and eliminate late additions and copyist variants within the text
(d) The earliest caretakers of the text considered it to be a precise, divinely inspired document worthy of careful preservation
(4) The Gospels Authors Were Unbiased
The authors of the Gospels claimed to be eyewitnesses who were transformed by what they observed in Jesus of Nazareth:
(a) The authors were convinced on the basis of observation afterward, rather than biased beforehand
(b) The three motives driving bias were absent in the lives of the authors. They were not driven by financial gain, sexual (or relational) lust or the pursuit of power. They died without any of these advantages
(c) The testimony of the authors was attested by their willingness to die for what they claimed. There is no evidence any of them ever recanted their testimony
The gospel authors were present during the life of Jesus and wrote their accounts early enough to be cross-checked by those who knew Jesus. Their accounts can be sufficiently corroborated and have been accurately delivered to us through the centuries. The authors lacked motive to lie to us about their observations and died rather than recant their testimony. Is the Bible true? The case for the reliability of the Gospels is strong and substantive. We have good reason to trust what the eyewitnesses told us about Jesus of Nazareth.
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