Rethinking Trump and Faith

I was not at all sure how to write this, and I’m still not a hundred percent comfortable with it, but I believe it needs to be written. I need to rethink my position on President Trump and faith.

By “faith,” I do not mean faith in Donald Trump. As the president himself said in May to an audience at Liberty University and tweeted on Friday, “we do not worship government, we worship God.”

By “faith,” I also do not mean Donald Trump’s personal faith in God. That’s between him and his Maker. Far be it from me, or anyone, to stand in the middle between a man or woman and God.

Then, what do I mean? I mean what effect has President Trump, for all his faith talk, having on our country, and is that something people of faith in God (I’m mostly talking about Christians here, but it also applies to any faith group) should applaud?

First, my misgivings.

Trump is not, by his public actions and persona, a pious or God-fearing man. He has publicly stated that he doesn’t need to repent, for in his eyes, apparently he believes he hasn’t sinned. The Bible calls such a person a liar, or a fool. That doesn’t mean that privately, Trump hasn’t sought God’s mercy–again, this is not intended to be a faith inventory for our president. His public statements and actions stand for themselves before humanity and God.

Therefore, I have many general and specific misgivings about Trump’s value to people of faith. I’ve written warnings several times about not giving scorpions a ride across the river. But now the scorpion has ridden on the backs of evangelical Christian voters, and we can only pray and hope that we don’t get the stinger.

I have my own personal doubts about whether, and when, that will happen. I have many reasons to believe it will, at some point when Christians disagree with Trump.

Or worse, to avoid the stinger, many God-fearing Christians may malign their own faith and betray their own consciences.

My main misgiving is that Donald Trump may weaken American Christianity more than it already is weakened. And much of American Christianity is already lukewarm, uninspired, dead to sin, entranced by idolatry, and weak as a newborn kitten.

But that doesn’t mean God can’t use Trump.

Actions > Words

On Monday, the Trump Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (sans Secretary) released its strategic plan document for the years 2018-2022, including this language:

HHS accomplishes its mission through programs and initiatives that cover a wide spectrum of activities, serving Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception.

Scientifically, biologically, and medically, that phrase is indisputable. Politically, it’s the third rail, charged by lightning bolts and covered with burning lava. To say that “health care begins at conception” puts the conceived human being’s health care at the same plane as the adult woman who carries the conceived human being.

And we know, politically, that goes against the “women’s health” movement, which survives only on the premise that the conceived human being is entitled to nothing until its maternal host decides to grant it life, at which point they call it a baby. This benighted atrocity allows mothers to assuage their consciences when they kill the baby (but in reality, most experience a horrifying mental trauma).

Trump has also ended the Obamacare birth control mandate, and has successfully nominated and sworn Justice Neil Gorsuch on to the Supreme Court to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. That wasn’t a “win” but it certainly was no loss either, to the cause of unborn life.

The Trump Administration’s (and the president’s) words from the bully pulpit give Christians reason to have hope that the slow and quickening erosion of religious rights in the U.S. would stem a bit.

But Trump has trashed the First Amendment when it suits him. Any erosion of the First Amendment puts religious freedom in danger. So when Trump threatens NBC or the New York Times, he is indirectly threatening your church pastor, who relies on the same Amendment, separated by a few mere words, for an unrestricted right to speak.

Should we celebrate? Not yet.

God is good

One point that came up in discussion of this topic is the Biblical and unchangeable nature of God as Good. If God uses Donald Trump, it is for good. It can be no other way. God is not responsible for evil, and is not a tempter of man to sin (James 1:13).

That raises the question: What is “Good?”

Good to us is our comfort, our freedom, our financial success, our health, our children, our nation. Matthew 6:31-33 tells Christians not to seek those things, but “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.” Therefore, it’s “Good” when God withholds some of the things we of little faith crave in order to give us greater righteousness and His kingdom.

If God used Trump to humble Christians who have misplaced their faith, that, to God, would be “Good.” To those who are humbled, or humiliated, or persecuted, it would not seem good.

Therefore, God could have used Barack Obama for this purpose, or even Hillary Clinton. But God sovereignly allowed Trump to gain the presidency, and with it, Trump has the authority over this nation as the leader of the federal government.

Authority of leaders is from God

Another discussion point is that God appoints leaders and establishes governing authorities (Romans 13:1). Therefore, we must be subject to those authorities as citizens of the U.S. (or legal residents, or illegal residents who are not citizens, just the same).

Rebelling against “what God has instituted” brings judgment on those who rebel. This doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to disagree. It doesn’t even mean we cannot engage in constructive protest, or even civil disobedience. It does mean that–Christians, at least–cannot be anarchists.

So much for Antifa.

Let’s look at Trump’s economic achievements. There are really none we can directly attribute to him, but overall, those with the cash are sanguine about the economy. Therefore the stock market is bullish–very bullish. Investment is happily waiting for a place to profit, and corporations are gearing up to get a tax break.

If you’re rich, things are very good.

And that means if you are skilled in a job area where investment is going to hit, you’re also doing very well–or about to. If you’re not, you have the opportunity to move or retrain. If you’re counting on entitlements to make you happy, things may not be so good.

Either way, Christians should pray for President Trump, because he is in authority by God’s sovereign will (as Obama was), and we should not rebel against God.

Observations about opposition

The most interesting question for me is an observation about those opposing President Trump. On the whole, the greatest opposition to Trump and his administration comes from those who don’t simply lack faith in God, but from those who actively oppose God.

Those people who hate God and Christianity also hate Donald Trump, even if Trump did things that they would normally agree with. Trump says he has no problem with gay marriage (“law of the land”), but the LGBT community hates the fact that Vice President Pence is not a supporter of gay marriage. Even though the VP is essentially powerless to do–well, anything except break ties in the Senate, they still hate Trump.

They hate Trump because Trump is close to evangelical Christians. They say “white evangelicals” but that’s not true. A number of black evangelicals have also endorsed and become close to Trump–although one such minister, A.R. Bernard, resigned over Trump’s indefensible Charlottesville comments.

It really doesn’t matter, because Trump’s actions, such as they help any faithful Christians, help all faithful Christians, of any race. That being said, Trump’s words and actions, such as they hurt the cause of race relations, hurt all Christians, because racism is a sin, and God hates sin.

One thing we can observe is that Trump never attacked A.R. Bernard for his resignation. He made wry comments about those business leaders in his economic councils who resigned, but kept quiet about Bernard. And most evangelicals stuck with him. Faith and politics make terrible housemates, and many evangelical advisors wisely stayed out of the political fray.

Those who didn’t, compromised themselves and harmed the cause of Christ.

The Bible says to let the wheat and the tares grow up together. Not everyone who calls themselves “Christian” is in fact a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. And not everyone who appears to be aloof from faith is an unbeliever.

We must not divide everything into good and evil, day and night. There are surely satanic people and the demon-possessed who hate Trump because God may use Trump for good, and they oppose it. But there are others who, according to their conscience, cannot support Trump as an exemplar of Christian values, who are very serious disciples of the Christian faith. Both exist and do so without a paradox.

Conclusion

I had to go through this exercise because it was necessary to determine if I have misplaced my faith. Donald Trump may be a very powerful tool in God’s hands–as any POTUS could be. But if Christians or any with faith in God, misplace our faith in Trump, he can be damaging to that faith in the extreme.

For those evangelical leaders who pander themselves to Trump as he panders to them, you will meet your shame and humiliation. For those who rebel against God’s authority, you will meet your judgment.

But for those who rightly divide the truth–Biblical truth–we may find greater clarity with President Trump in office. We may find greater access to the Trump Administration, and great moral victories through its policies.

On the whole, I am much more pleased with Trump’s presidency that I expected to be at this point. Again, I’m not talking about Trump as a person–we could discuss his obvious flaws for tens of thousands of words. But as a person of faith in God, I am encouraged, for now.

My overriding prayer, as I recommend to everyone, is that Trump grow closer to God, and grow in wisdom, love, righteousness, humility, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Against these, there is no law.

Christ Still Stands


About 6 or 7 years ago I began seeing something…strange. I began seeing the shape of a cross in random places. It wasn’t just a typical “t” shaped cross. This cross had a squiggly line as it’s tail. I’ve tried to recreate it as best I can here.

I don’t think the shape is significant other than the fact that the tail made it notable. Two straight lines intersecting isn’t a rare thing to see, but this was and the places I was seeing it were strange. I can’t tell you when I first noticed it, as I did not know that sighting would be important. I do remember feeling a bit surprised one day when I saw that “cross” scribbled onto the back windshield of a dirty car I was following on the freeway. A few days later I was driving home late at night and as I approached a giant corporate tower comprised of many stories of glass windows, I found myself uttering an audible, “Oh!” as I saw the shape of my “cross” reflected in the glass. Was I going crazy?

 

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Later that week I again saw it scrawled in the dirt of a parked car, next to the obligatory “Wash Me!” humor. Another day, I was walking my daughter to school one morning when I happened to look down at my feet just in time to see two long, thin leaves had fallen to the ground and landed in that cross shape…and one of the leaves had the squiggly “tail”. It was at that point my heart skipped a beat. At first I thought it was some mental trick or some residual weirdness from a dream. But this could be no coincidence. Leaves don’t make this shape.

The final straw came when one day I was in my garage tightening the screws in the door handle of the back door. I bent down to inspect my work and sucked in a breath of shock as I noticed an ever-so-faintly carved “cross” with the squiggly line carved just beneath the door handle. It was nearly invisible, but I ran my finger over it. It was real. I felt the grooves. It existed.

Well, maybe I just saw this and then my brain started subliminally spotting it everywhere else. That makes sense, right? I moved on with my day but still felt uneasy. I went back later to look at the carving. It was not there. Was it ever there? I felt it with my fingers. I saw it with my eyes. And yet it no longer existed.

That was it. I was no longer curious, I was alarmed. These kind of things just don’t happen to me! I’m the practical sort of Christian…I don’t have visions or see signs of wonder! I analyze and weigh and measure…like a good intellectual.

Whenever I have questions of this sort I always turn to my father-in-law, who has been a pastor for over 40 years and is one of the most committed, self-sacrificing, wise men I’ve ever known. I told him about the cross I’d been seeing for weeks now. I told him, “I know this is Christ’s symbol, but where normally it would bring me peace I’m actually feeling frightened by it. It’s scaring me. Do you think it means something?”

His voice took on a higher pitch, always an indication he’s had a revelation. It’s his “now that I think about it…” voice.

“You know…” he started, ” I had this dream the other night and now it makes sense. I saw a city, and a large hill outside the city and the hill was teeming with people…thousands and thousands of people. They were packed shoulder to shoulder, all the way to the top of the hill. And they all had their hands in air, their heads looked up to the clouds and they shouted to the sky, “Why, Lord! Why have you let this happen to us? Where are you? Why do we suffer?”. They cried and shouted, some in self-pity and some in anger. It was so loud. In the middle of the crowd, standing on a giant pedestal stood Christ…adorned in light, arms extended over the whole crowd. He just stood there while everyone continued to cry out. He did not move or change. He was just there. I see now that your cross is pointing to this Jesus on the hilltop. A time is coming when our nation will cry out in outrage and anger. There will be mass confusion and pain and people will ask, “What does God think? Where is God in all this?!!” and the answer will be “Christ still stands.” This is what you’re seeing. This is a reminder to you that in times of turmoil, whatever that might look like, Christ will still be on the throne. He will still be the beacon, He will still stand even when we are looking right at Him and yet straight past Him. Christ still stands. I believe this is the meaning of what you’re seeing.”

At the time Obama was our president and while we were just beginning the social media era of hysteria, things didn’t yet seem that bad. I loathed Obama as a president and felt (and still feel) his policies were designed to ignore a large part of the country and to sow division. However, concerned as I was I certainly didn’t feel that this was the chaos my father-in-law was describing. I didn’t make the connection and tucked away the conversation.

I see now what it all meant. Now we are descending into chaos, into noise, into wailing and gnashing of teeth. Social media has amplified our “numbers” and amplified our complaints and lent legitimacy to illegitimate arguments. Like dad’s vision, social media has made us those people on that hill, squeezed in shoulder-to-shoulder, yelling and screaming in anger, self-righteousness and pain. We are looking straight at the Risen King and still somehow right through Him.

While that brings me pain and even fear the abiding truth of that vision is my greatest comfort…

Christ still stands.

While we are busy declaring our current racial tensions as the most important and pressing issue of our time…Christ still stands.

While we are judging the value of our friends or family members or coworkers based on one opinion they hold on one issue, while we are summarizing the entirety of their lives – regardless of charity or service – based on what they DIDN’T say about race or Nazis or yo momma…Christ still stands.

While we are busy proving to the world that we’re not bad people, that we’re better than those bad people because we have the right opinion…Christ still stands.

While we’re busy ignoring the horrors of life pretty much everywhere else in the world so we can argue about statues…Christ still stands.

While we are busy deleting/unfriending longtime friends who have been with us through tough times and good times…Christ still stands

While we are busy demanding that people choose outrage over kindness and shame over grace…Christ still stands.

While we are myopically claiming that this time is the most turbulent time the world has ever seen…Christ still stands.

While we look straight through Him and the sharp and narrow path to peace He provides…Christ still stands.

Even as we cry out in confusion and beat each other over the head with self-righteous anger and hypocritical demands, Christ still stands.

In a world where Christ is becoming a very dangerous friend to have, and where people feel justified in forcing their definitions of “good” and “justice” on everyone else…Christ still stands.

In a world where I am overwhelmed not only by the sad divisions in our nation but my own life, my own responsibilities, and the mundane tasks that create so much stress day to day…Christ still stands.

We cannot look to each other for moral guidance. The only guiding star is Christ, and He stands firmly rooted even as we cry out to Him and at Him.

Do you choose to be one of those people on the hill, crying empty sentiments to the open sky? Or do you choose to look to the pillar standing right in the center of it all?

The world says, “Come together.”
Christ says, “Come to Me.” – Darrel B. Harrison

 

 

There’s One Certain Way To Know If Bieber’s Faith Is Real




I don’t listen to Justin Bieber’s music. I don’t follow him on social media, and I generally don’t read celebrity gossip news about him. Most of that triggers my gag reflex, in fact.

But I came across this story in TMZ about how Biebs ran over a photographer in his truck.

Justin was leaving the Saban Theater, where he’d been worshipping at a City Church event. He climbed into his monster pickup truck as photogs scrambled around the vehicle, and when he gunned it to pull away … hit the man. It’s pretty clear in the video … Justin’s front right side tire hits, or rolls over, the paparazzo.



A couple of things stood out. First, Bieber just cancelled the last 14 dates of an 18-month world tour, without giving much of a reason other than taking some time off. Some have speculated that Bieber found Jesus again. This wouldn’t be the first time that’s been reported.

There’s also speculation that Bieber is about to start his own church.

A baby in the faith like Bieber might be cautioned on trying to become a faith leader, versus a pop icon. The two things are arguably mutually exclusive, if not generally incompatible in their goals. Dr. Michael Brown wrote as much in a 2015 open letter.

Returning to the hitting-the-paparazzo-with-his-truck incident: Bieber was attending a Wednesday-night worship service. At most churches, only the hardcore faithful go on Wednesday night Bible studies. Certainly, Bieber can get any number of spiritual advisers to hang around with him, or get photo-ops laying hands on him in prayer (like another celebrity politician we know). The fact that he went to church be in fellowship with other Christians is both important and remarkable.

TMZ’s story continues:

Justin did not flee the scene and, in fact, stopped as soon as other photogs pointed out what had happened. Bieber stayed right by the man’s side for roughly 8 to 10 minutes until paramedics and police arrived.

How many other 23-year-old super-celebrities would stick around with a person whose job it is to be a gadfly to celebrities after hitting them with a truck? Can you imagine, say, Miley Cyrus, or one of the Kardashians doing that?

The photographer called Bieber “a good kid.” He added, “he was compassionate.”

You might be thinking right now that I am going to claim Bieber’s compassion is the certain sign of his faith. You’d be wrong.

Plenty of people have compassion. ISIS members have compassion for some people–just not people who aren’t part of ISIS. Compassion is a good thing, it’s something a Christian has, and practices in deed, but it’s not a sure sign of faith.

The sign of Bieber’s faith–as certain as the sun coming up–is this.

John 15:19: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” And its opposite, John 7:7 “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil.”

1 John 3:13: “Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.”

When the world rejects Justin Bieber, and the paparazzi following him look for him to fall, not because the world loves to see celebrities mess up so they can be forgiven, but so they can be destroyed, then we will know he’s found a rock-solid faith in Jesus Christ.

Look at how the world reacted in positive glee when Josh Duggar’s sins were exposed. Look at how they jump at every opportunity to attack Chip and Joanna Gaines. Look at what happens to every Hollywood personality when they publicly proclaim their allegiance to Christ.

The absolute, certain sign of true faith is when the world hates you.

I pray that Justin Bieber’s faith would grow, and that he would know what’s coming. The world will turn on him. It will be difficult for him–in ways I cannot possibly know. But I pray that he will prevail in his faith: a real faith will endure the test.

Britain’s Liberal Democrat Party Leader Resigns Because Of His Christian Faith

It’s a statement we hear a lot coming from conservatives: “I don’t understand how a person can be a Christian and be a liberal.” Between remaining faithful to policies on abortion, transgenderism, and the size of government that fly in the face of Biblical beliefs and the general hostility toward faith on the Left, political liberalism is becoming increasingly less of a place for a Christian to feel at home.

The latest example has happened across the pond, where Tim Farron, once the leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrat Party, has stepped down from that position because he found it difficult to reconcile his party loyalty and his faith in Jesus Christ.

“The consequences of the focus on my faith is that I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader,” he said in a televised statement.

“To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.”

It’s easy to leave a party whose numbers in Parliament paled in comparison to the giant Tory and Labour parties, but Farron – whose record included support for gay rights and a pro-choice position on abortion – found himself repeatedly grilled about his Christian faith in television interviews, largely hounded about whether he thinks homosexuality is a sin. He addressed this treatment in his statement (including an admission that he hadn’t always handled himself well in those interviews).

“From the very first day of my leadership, I have faced questions about my Christian faith. I’ve tried to answer with grace and patience. Sometimes my answers could have been wiser.”

He also said:

“I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in. In which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.”

Part of the problem with Farron’s party is that its leader was forced to spend too much time in interviews debating the religiosity of his political positions. This wasn’t so much Farron’s fault as it is the fault of contemporary liberalism. The secular Left (a term which is becoming increasingly redundant) views faithful Christianity as something to be ignored at best and stamped out at worst.

Over at National Review, Michael Brendan Dougherty put it this way:

The entire elite culture and much of the popular culture is secular in a quite specific way. It is not a secularism that encourages public neutrality while maintaining a generous social pluralism. It’s a secularism that demands the humiliation of religion, specifically Christianity. And in Britain it has a decidedly classist flavor, one that holds it impossible for an Evangelical like Farron — one of those people — to represent the better sort of person.

In supremely secular Britain, Farron’s Christianity was seen as more of a freak show than a valid system of belief. It stood to reason that he would one day have to choose between his faith in Jesus Christ and his devotion to political party.

In a uniquely British way, Tim Farron was made to care. Good for him for choosing to care about the right things in life.

Millennials Should Learn from Us, Not Lead Us

Several months ago I read an article by a Christian-turned-atheist who actually bragged that they were “de-converted” because their small children posed unanswerable questions to them about their faith. I remember sitting there for some time after reading that, trying to figure out why a grown adult would ever publish such an admission, even if they were in fact incapable of matching the intellect of a 6-year-old.

We see similar peculiarity every election cycle when adults submit the sanctity of their vote to the wisdom of their children’s immature, if not cute, political observations. Even political science professors jump on this mindless phenomenon, not to condemn the ignorance of letting toddlers just out of diapers determine the direction of the free world, but to applaud it. Take University of Colorado (Denver) prof Michael Cummings who wrote in his book, “Children’s Voices in Politics”:

“There are some very young people, politically precocious, who have strong ideas about public policy.”

He suggests that kids as young as 5 have some really engaging thoughts on issues like homelessness, the environment, and education, and that perhaps it is time to consider letting kids vote as soon as they want to vote.

Enough.

Let me preface this by saying that you won’t find too many people that have a stronger appreciation for youth, or a desire to work with them, instruct them, guide them, laugh with them, connect with them, and try to be a positive role model for them. I’ve dedicated my life to those things and am consistently blessed by the experience. And one of the greatest joys in my work is to see how so many of those high school kids, flush with passion but lacking in wisdom, grow and mature as they age.

That maturing is increasingly a challenging prospect, however, in a society that seems to worship youth simply for being young. Products and merchandise are prolifically peddled to keep us looking younger, feeling younger, and acting younger. From a physical standpoint, that makes a modicum of sense. Most people would prefer the curves and chiseled physique of a 20-something to the lumps and wrinkles of a 75-year-old.

But from an intellectual, logical, or philosophical perspective, idolizing youth is about as dumb as it gets. From across the pond, Clare Foges exposes precisely why in a piece blasting the absurdity of regarding young people as “political sages”:

[W]hat is galling is the veneration of youthful opinion regardless of the sense it makes; this growing idea that being under 25 confers some special sagacity that the rest of us might benefit from. A generation reared to revere the words “empowerment” and “respect” is demanding that they are empowered and their views respected.

Last week’s election revealed the judgment of many young voters to be as we might expect of those with relatively limited experience: hopelessly naive. They turned out in their droves for a man who became a kind of millennials’ prophet; promising to lead them out of the badlands of austerity and towards a future where everything is nicer, cheaper, or indeed free. They voted for a man who would have endangered our economy, the whisper of whose name can send the pound on a swan-dive.

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There is no wisdom here, no great lesson to be learnt; just the insight that many young people rather like being offered free stuff and ask few questions about how, ultimately, that stuff is funded.

Sound familiar? In addition to other demographic exploitation, America suffered for the last eight years under this same hopelessly naïve political approach. While some lamented the voters who chose Barack Obama because he was (half) black, I was far more concerned with the voters who picked him because he was “cool.”

  • For these youthful voters, his “dabbing” on Ellen overshadowed the galling reality that he racked up more debt than all previous presidents combined.
  • They overlooked the tragic realities that his backwards foreign policy led to the rise of ISIS and endangered the free world as never before, because he “slow-jammed the news” with Jimmy Fallon.
  • The fact that he shot baskets with Clark Kellogg and filled out an NCAA bracket every year was of more importance to them than the failure of his signature healthcare policy that stripped coverage from millions and raised premiums on nearly everyone in the country.

This is the problem inherent in a youthful mind, it overemphasizes idealism and undervalues consequence; its grasp on reality can be obscured by impassioned rhetoric and emotion. If the Obama phenomenon wasn’t proof of that, consider who millennials turned to in droves during the most recent campaign: a socialist once marginalized in Congress for his hair-brained adherence to failed pie-in-the-sky economic fantasies.

Which brings us back to Foges’ analysis:

Yet the passionate sense of grievance among many young people — that theirs is a generation uniquely betrayed by the generations above — should not simply be “listened to” as though it were true; it must be robustly challenged…What should be challenged too is the youthful expectation of a free lunch. For instance, many 18 to 24-year-olds — reared on the language of rights — believe it their right to receive a free university education, as Corbyn [read Bernie or Barack in America] exploited so successfully. What must be communicated to young people is not congratulations for backing wish-list politics but the reality that public resources are finite.

Wishing for a better world is nothing to be derided, and there is always something appealing about youthful enthusiasm…But when it comes to the way we run our country, we have a duty not to kowtow to youthful dreaming but to confront some of the myths that underpin it. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Socialism is a proven disaster. These might not make for inspiring Facebook posts but they have the virtue of being the truth.

I wholeheartedly concur. And as one who loves and works with young people every day, I would hasten to add that the greatest service we can render to them is not lionizing their idealism, but rather disciplining them to remember it is never an adequate substitute for wisdom and truth.

A Real Jesus Actually Exists

We accept that Socrates existed, though Socrates did not leave writings behind. A few people so intent on believing Jesus is imaginary have decided Socrates was too. These are largely weak minded fools.

Socrates may have no writings on his own, but Plato, Xenophon and Aristophanes — all of whom we know existed — wrote about Socrates. We derive knowledge of Socrates from those who did know him and wrote about him. The same is true of Jesus.

Though modern scholarship has spent a good bit of time trying to disprove Biblical writings — again, if you start from the premise that they are frauds, guess what you’ll probably conclude — we do largely know that Matthew was written by the Apostle Matthew, Mark written based on testimony from Peter, Luke written by a doctor who interviewed eyewitnesses and investigated their claims, and John by the Apostle John. Three of the four were based on eye witnesses and the fourth was based on interviews with eye witnesses by one who later became an eye witness to the works of the Apostles. Additionally, the separate books of Peter, John, James, and Jude were written by eye witnesses.

It goes beyond those books though. We know that a man named Irenaeus existed. He was born in 130 AD in Turkey and died in 202 AD in France. We have writings from Irenaeus and we have writings of others documenting his existence. We know from Irenaeus that he studied under another man named Polycarp.

We know Polycarp existed. We have writings from Polycarp and we have writings about Polycarp. He was born around 69 AD and was martyred in 155 AD. From the writings of others about Polycarp and from Polycarp himself we learned that he, along with a man named Ignatius, studied under an older man named John.

Ignatius, who wrote and was written about, with Polycarp, were two of the early second generation leaders of the church. Ignatius was born some time around 35 AD and was martyred by being fed to wild beasts around 107 AD. Ignatius and Polycarp both claim that they studied under a man named John who they both identified as the Apostle John. They attribute the Gospel of John to him and much of what they learned about Christ to his eye witness.

There was also a man named Clement who existed. We know he existed because of his writings and the writings of others. Paul referenced Clement in Philippians 4:3.

Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Clement, through his writings and the writings of others, came into contact with Peter, Paul, and possibly John. Clement, not an eye witness to Christ, was an eye witness to these other men.

Irenaeus claimed Polycarp and Ignatius studied under the Apostle John. Polycarp and Ignatius made the same claim, treating John as an eye witness to Christ. Clement, an eye witness to Peter and Paul for sure, documented their existence and their claims to be eye witnesses to Christ.

Peter, John, Matthew, James and Jude all wrote books of the Bible claiming to be eye witnesses to both Jesus and the events of his life. Then there is Paul, who we know persecuted the early church, then claimed a supernatural physical visit from Christ after his death. The other church leaders who he had sought to kill took him into the church and affirmed his ministry. But we do not even have to get to Paul to establish this — either Jesus existed or a great many people over a century collaborated in an elaborate conspiracy to create him.

To claim Jesus did not exist, we must also declare a bunch of other people — who we know existed by their own writings and the writings of others — did not exist.

So that all leads to the next question:

If Jesus existed, why did so many claim him to be God?

Here, I have to give a good bit of credit to Pastor Mark Driscoll and his sermon on James. Driscoll is getting a lot of criticism these days over plagiarism allegations. I am reading the book in question and will address that at some point. But for now, just know that Driscoll’s sermon is Biblically based and Biblically sound. Also, I do like Driscoll, would very much like to meet him, and think he is worth reading. I’ll add reservations and caveats about his book at a later date. Suffice it to say, I do not think the controversy disqualifying.

So, to get to Jesus’s claims about himself and others’ claims about him, we first need to broach an issue. The Bible claims he had brothers. At the Council of Constantinople in 553 AD, the early church declared that Mary was “ever virgin.” Many Christians believe this. It is not just a Catholic belief. Early Protestant leaders like Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Zwingli, and others agreed. They interpreted the references to Jesus’s “brothers and sisters” as either (1) Joseph’s children from a prior marriage or (2) his closest cousins in an extended family.

Going into this, understand I think Jesus’s brothers and sisters were his half-brothers and sisters, all younger than him, from the marriage between Mary and Joseph. But for purposes here, we should all agree that, at least, his “brothers and sisters” were his closest family who knew him best — whether half siblings or closest cousins. There are a number of passages that reference them in the New Testament and the sense of the phrasing is that they were his closest relatives.

Mark 6:1-6 describes the family thusly:

He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?’

Matthew 13:53–57, in accordance, reads:

And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?”

Jesus had four brothers: James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas (later called Jude). He had at least two sisters. The tradition at the time was the oldest son typically received the grandfather’s name. We know that Joseph’s father’s name was Jacob. Matthew 1:16 tells us, “and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.”

James is the Greek derivative for Jacob. We can conclude that James was either Joseph’s oldest natural born son or the oldest son of Joseph’s own brother. If the second son was indeed Joseph’s son, it makes sense the first son is named for the grandfather and the second son for the father himself.

This also explains why there are so many Jacobs, James, and Judases in the Bible. Jacob, in particular, was very popular given Genesis.

Many people may not realize that, based on the eye witness accounts of Jesus’s friends, Jesus’s family thought he was a nutter. So much for the “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” framing. His family was all in for lunatic. See Mark 3:21, 31–35:

And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’”

“. . . And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.’ And he answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’”

Today, as Mark Driscoll and others have noted, we would call this an intervention. Jesus’s “mother and his brothers came” trying “to seize him” because they thought he was a nutter claiming to be God. The most extraordinary thing about this is that Jesus’s own mother was involved. Luke 1 tells us the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”

Mary clearly knew he was special and from the Lord. John 2:1-5 — an eye witness account — tells us

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Despite what she had experienced and knew, Mary too went with Jesus’s brothers to seize him and carry him home. Note that Mary stuck with Jesus the whole way through his life, unlike his brothers and sisters — no doubt coming to a richer and richer understanding of her son over time.

John tells us Jesus’s brothers wanted him gone. John 7:2-5 notes

Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’ For not even his brothers believed in him.

This is Jesus’s brothers confronting him telling him that if he really thinks he is a big deal — if he really thinks he is God — he needs to go to the big city and show everyone. He needs to tell the world, which he can’t do in a small town. They want him gone, with his friends, and given the implications of what they’re telling him to do, they may very well think he is going to get himself killed.

The brothers who had tried to stage an intervention had given up and wanted their brother gone. And Jesus goes. He winds up being arrested, tried, tortured, and crucified. The most striking thing here is that his brothers did not even show up at the execution. His mother was there. The mother, who with the brothers, had tried to save Jesus from himself — she was there. But the brothers were not.

From the account in Matthew 27:55,56

There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

From Mark 15:40,41:

There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.

From Luke 23:49:

And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.

Lastly, from John 19:25-27:

but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

From John we learn that Jesus, from the cross and about to die, told John that he had to look after Mary. We learn that “from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” Why? The brothers who had tried to stage an intervention would not show up at the execution. Mary was there with no immediate family. John, the Apostle, had to take her into “his own home.”

And Jesus died.

If that were all there were, lunatic he would be. The family would have been right. They tried to intervene to no avail. The brothers sent Jesus packing. He got himself arrested, tried, and killed. They wouldn’t even show up as he hung on the cross dying. Or at least we have a record of who was there and not one of those eye witness accounts documents his brothers being there. Jesus’s best friend is commanded to take care of Jesus’s mother as if they were son and mother.

That would be the end of it, except something extraordinary happened.

From Acts 1:14 we learn that “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”

It is clear from the text that these are not the Apostles. These are James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude — these are the family members who had tried to seize him, urged him to leave, and would not show up at his death. They were in the early church. So what happened? Seriously? These people thought he was crazy. They, his family, knew him best. Were he some sinner or a jerk they would not make up the early church after he, the lunatic jerk, had died. But there they were.

Look at James alone. James became a leader in the early church. Paul called him a pillar. Paul traveled to Jerusalem after his conversion to meet with the Apostles and with James. This is James the brother of Jesus, not James the Apostle. James the brother of Jesus, called James the Just, came to be referred to as “camel knees” because he was on his knees praying so much.

James the brother who had rejected Christ in life became a pillar of the early church vested with authority.

Paul, writing to the Galatians documents

“When they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles.” (Galatians 2:7–9)

From Acts 15:12-21:

And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, ‘Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,

“After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.”

Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.’

Paul sought out James and Peter — Paul, the guy Jesus himself had told to go preach to the Gentiles, went to find Jesus’s brother who had rejected Jesus in life. He didn’t just seek him out, we learn from Paul and others that James had, in fact, become a well known and established authority figure in the early church. He considered himself a servant of Jesus, not his brother — a servant to a living God who had been crucified.

In 62 AD, early church history notes that the local Jews of Jerusalem went to James. They respected him. They told him they wanted him to tell all of Jesus’s followers that, being Jesus’s brother, he could testify Jesus was not God. Made sense, didn’t it? Here’s the guy who escorted Jesus out of town and wouldn’t show up to the funeral because his brother was an embarrassing nutter. Also, here is a guy, being Jesus’s brother, who could claim part of Jesus’s legacy and become the icon himself.

But by 62 AD, James was so invested in the idea that Jesus was the Risen Lord he told the Jews the crowd was right. Jesus was Lord. Enraged, the Jews carried him to the top of the temple and threw him off. When he did not die, they stoned him and beat him with clubs until he died.

Then, the early church tells us, Jesus’s brother Simon took James’s place.

Along the way, Jesus’s brother Jude also became a church leader. He too eventually was killed by the Roman state in a purge of Christians. Accounts are mixed as to whether it was his children or grandchildren, but it appears his grandchildren were called before the Emperor. They testified that that their relative Jesus had been talking about a return at the last day, not an imminent take over of the Empire — that he was King in Heaven. They were spared, became leaders within the church themselves, and were executed by a later Emperor.

Jesus’s family, who had rejected him in life, were willing to die proclaiming he had risen. Something had to have happened. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that Jesus “appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:5-7)

It is a silly thing to say that Jesus did not exist. There is an ample historic record to show, through eye witnesses, that Jesus and Socrates both existed. Many atheists concede Jesus existed, but, unlike with Socrates, they say extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

One of Christ’s friends betrayed him, then committed suicide.

Eleven of the twelve who followed Jesus were willing to go to the ends of the earth to proclaim him God.

Ten of the twelve met terrible deaths because they would not recant that Jesus was God. The tenth, John, lived in exile. His students and others documented the numerous attempts to kill John.

Jesus’s brothers, who rejected him in life, embraced him as a risen, living God after his death. They too were willing to be put to death for refusing to recant after Christ’s crucifixion what they refused to believe when he walked and talked with them.

Others came claiming to be the messiah. Their claims did not last. The man named Jesus not only must have been a spectacularly charismatic person, who surrounded himself with spectacularly charismatic people — all of whom were willing to be tortured and killed — because Jesus and these men were able to recruit into faith a lot of others who, over two thousand years, grew into the world’s largest religion. Many of them were persecuted, tortured, and killed in horribly gruesome ways. Still they persisted in the faith.

So either these men were charismatic liars so invested in their lies they were willing to be tortured and killed or they were telling the truth.

Those who do not want to believe will not believe. As for the rest of us — Christ’s own family rejected him as a lunatic then, after his torture and crucifixion, picked up the cross claiming Christ had risen. And they too, the brothers who rejected him in life, were willing to die proclaiming him risen.

That’s pretty extraordinary to me.

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President,

I have a sincere question I want to ask you.

It’s about a speech you gave back in 2007. In Greenville, SC, you approached the issue of faith head on. In your speech you said, “I think it’s important, particularly for those of us in the Democratic Party, to not cede values and faith to any one party.” You concluded by saying, “We’re going to keep on praising together. I am confident that we can create a Kingdom right here on Earth.”

Mr. President, from my perspective, in the years since that speech the Democratic Party has become increasingly hostile toward people of faith. During the gay marriage arguments at the Supreme Court your own solicitor general raised the possibility of religious organizations losing their tax exempt status for not going along with the gay marriage agenda.

In 2016, your party’s Presidential nominee said, regarding access to reproductive health care and childbirth, “[R]eligious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”

As if bookends between your speech in 2007 and Secretary Clinton’s statement in 2016, Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious organizations sincerely believed that your Administration was placing them in conflict with their faith. Though your administration did not see it that way, I think it is fair to argue that perhaps you could not see the concerns of people of faith, or were unwilling because you decided you’d made reasonable concessions.

Concurrently, the issues of gay marriage and transgenderism have moved so quickly as to not allow any accommodation or breathing room for people who disagree based on sincerely held religious views — views that, I might add, transcend denominations and even religions both in this country and around the world.

Mr. President, in 2007, you made a direct play for evangelical voters, but by 2016, for some reason the Democratic Party acted as if it did not even need them anymore.

My question, Mr. President, is did you really believed what you said in 2007?

I really hope you did and I really hope you still do. We need two parties in this country both committed to religious liberty and toleration of differing religious viewpoints. I would caution you that a Christian worldview would understand that we cannot create that kingdom you wanted on this Earth because we are all sinners. But I agree with you that it is “a healthy thing, that we’re not putting people in boxes, that everybody is out there trying to figure out how do we live right and how do we create a stronger America”

In 2007, sir, you offered olive branches to Christians, but many of the Christians who were willing to support you now feel like the last eight years have been increasingly hostile toward their faith. Many of your voters also feel like they can now silence, censor, and otherwise disrespect people of faith who are public and open about their faith.

I just hope that in leaving office, if you really did believe what you said, you might help your party realize that people of faith should not have to compromise their genuine and sincere beliefs in order to conduct business or speak in the town square. I hope sir that you will understand and help your party understand that millions of us sincerely believe that “[i]n the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” and in that act created us male and female and made marriage between one man and one woman. Consequently, because we believe we are creatures and not the Creator neither you nor us have the power to change that. State demands that we reject this or fail to practice it in our jobs and daily lives in order to stay in business or speak in public will not change what we believe and should not try to force that change.

If you really do want a more perfect union, sir, I hope you’ll work to allow differences between people and allow those differences not just be held, but to be lived in public without fear of reprisal.

Thank you for your consideration.