Why We Believe
Last fall author Joseph Atwill made a splash in London when he claimed the Gospels were faked by the Romans to quell a possible Jewish uprising. The theory, preposterous as it is, goes like this: Jesus preached that government should be obeyed (Mt. 22:21); so the Romans who occupied Judea and surrounding areas invented a religion with Christ (Messiah) at the head to rally the Jews together and render them docile and obedient to Caesar.
However, history refutes Atwill’s theory. The Jewish people still revolted in a bloody insurrection that culminated in the destruction of the second Temple and the stand-off in the desert at Masada. Furthermore, followers of Jesus refused to worship Caesar, resulting in their blood running fast and furious in the Circus Maximus in Rome and elsewhere.
Atwill’s silly speculations remind us of the Bible’s admonition, “Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). So let us review some of those reasons.
(1) Christianity, unlike other religions, is rooted in God’s intervention in history and substantiated by historical fact. Luke, the Greek physician, verified the eyewitness testimony on which he based his Gospel of Luke (Lk. 1:1–4). He also documented the fact that Jesus’ resurrection was authenticated by “many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3).
The apostle Peter affirmed that he and the other apostles were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ miraculous ministry (2 Pet. 1:16). Paul, who encountered the resurrected Christ, affirmed that the gospel has nothing in common with human speculations and “profane and old wives’ fables” (1 Tim. 4:7)—a category into which Atwill’s theories seem to fall.
The New Testament overflows with historical data. Furthermore, ancient secular sources also verify Jesus’ life and times. Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius corroborated Christ’s historicity, as did Pliny the Younger (ca. 112), who wrote that early Christians led surprisingly righteous lives and sang hymns “to Christ as to God.”
He described their communion meals, and Roman Emperor Trajan corroborated the authenticity of Pliny’s observations. According to ancient secular historian Julius Africanus, the pagan historian Thallus, writing within two decades of Jesus’ death and resurrection, noted the solar eclipse and earthquakes Luke’s Gospel said had occurred following Christ’s crucifixion. (See Luke 23:44–45.) Also, the Jewish Talmud, Sanhedrin 43:a, says Jesus was crucified on Passover on charges of blasphemy and “sorcery.”
(2) Christianity gives us a coherent explanation of the world around us. The January/February 2013 issue of MIT Technology Review advertised a scientific symposium that promised to illustrate the “beauty” of science in “satisfying the essential human drive to understand the world in which we live.”
Science is useful to discover operational features of our world. But when it aspires to “beauty” and absolute truth, it becomes scientism—the worship of science. Scientific extremists seem to forget the scientific method is only possible because of the consistent rules of the universe, which permit observation and deductive analysis. But such rules (called “laws of nature”) presuppose an overriding Rule Maker, or Law Giver.
The more science digs, the more it encounters nonphysical realities and principles. Popular Science magazine recently investigated the phenomena of “dark matter,” a kind of “shadow universe” that physicists now theorize may exist alongside ours. Is belief in “dark matter” any more reasonable than belief in a spiritual dimension that exists alongside the physical one?
(3) Christianity not only explains our world and the sinfulness and failings of human nature, but it also gives Christians a life that can be lived successfully and consistently with that worldview.
The late Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer wrote about the failure of followers of secular philosophical systems to live consistently with their own theories. For example, Jean-Paul Sartre, the famous French existentialist, wrote about the meaninglessness of the universe; yet he fought in the French resistance against the Nazis because he knew the Third Reich was evil. He also fell in love, had friendships, and manifested other evidences that life does, indeed, have meaning and value.
In the end, the most impressive proof of Christianity’s truth is the witness of the Holy Spirit to believers who trust in Christ. Even the famous philosopher David Hume, a hardened skeptic, noted that the believer in God “is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person” that transcends “custom and experience.”
But then, this should not come as a surprise, as God’s Word tells us the same thing: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16).
Why do we believe? Because God’s truth is factual, intellectually coherent, and consistent with real life. And when we trust in His Son, Jesus, God imprints it indelibly on our hearts.