Quick excursion: Stephen Colbert the Christian apologist
I’ve previously mentioned Bart Ehrman, probably the most famous modern agnostic (the “happy agnostic”)–he is chair of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill…a biblical scholar who now appears to have the main goal of debunking the Bible and Christian faith.
Recently he was a guest on Comedy Channel’s Colbert Report. He probably expected it to be a mostly friendly visit–I don’t know Stephen Colbert’s religious leanings, but I don’t think anyone would mistake his humor for that of a Christian fundamentalist.
Colbert, however, ate him alive…and although I don’t think Colbert was fair to Ehrman, we could learn a few things from his approach. (If you are interested in seeing it yourselves, please visit check out our Facebook page at http://facebook.antrimcoc.org. I’ve got a link there for it. I wouldn’t wait…Colbert seems to have taken down the original page and I’m not sure how long my direct pointer to the video will work.)
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
Things we can learn from Colbert’s approach in “Why is the Bible a big fat lie and I am an idiot for believing it?”
Stick with the most important facts
It’s very easy to spend an entire discussion discussing minor points…when, before you should invest time in those…it makes sense to settle on the the most important facts. Discussing whether John was the only Gospel writer who spoke of Jesus as divine (or whether “Son of God” was even a term for divinity), Colbert asked, “What is the son of a duck? A duck?” He then made the point…
“If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck and it raises the dead like a duck… It’s a duck.”
If Jesus was resurrected, then everything He claimed, and every claim He has on us…has been completely validated.
Don’t allow people to bombard you with a whole bunch of supposed discrepancies
When Ehrman tried to point to the “conflicting” accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion, Colbert asked Ehrman if all of the Gospels do mention Christ was crucified. When Ehrman confirmed that…Colbert asked, “Aren’t you kind of burying the lead then? Aren’t you nitpicking by saying that he [Jesus] said this thing in one and that thing in the other?” The point is that Ehrman was quibbling about minutia when, as Colbert states, “Banner headline is…God dies.”
Different folks have different focuses
After Ehrman then explained how the Gospels each give “conflicting” views of Jesus’ time on the cross, Colbert provided an interesting “parable” about 4 different blind men in a jungle who fall into a pit that an elephant already stumbled into.
“What is this thing in here with us? So much greater than we are?”
Most of you already know what story this is a version of. Colbert’s punch-line, however, is very effective:
“Isn’t it just possible that you are missing the point…and that Jesus is an elephant? An elephant that is so big that each of these four men could only see part of him?”
Don’t let anyone make you respond as if the Bible is one book written by one author in one year. It is 66 books written by around 40 authors over a period of around 1,500 years…with the last book penned over 1,900 years ago. Additionally, it isn’t a single literary form…there is poetry, narrative, apocalypse, etcetera. It should surprise no one that it takes some effort to understand what is said in context, and it should amaze everyone that it is so consistent throughout.
Before I return to our regularly schedule program…
After Colbert’s elephant punch-line the crowd was going pretty wild, and Ehrman was speechless. To wrap it up, Colbert asked, “I tell you what, why don’t we both die and let God settle it?”
Ehrman responded, “That will be fine with me.”
Let’s all pray that they both will join all of us in eternal life…
WDJD: The Gospel
We need to define what the gospel is…although I’d first like to turn to Paul in Galatians 1:6-9 to show why it is important we have the correct definition:
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 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.
Clearly it is not a minor infraction to “distort the gospel”…
The short version definition is simple:
Gospel means “good news.”
That definition is so accurate “good news” can be used interchangeably with “gospel.”
However, the “good news” about what?
What’s included in the gospel?
During my time with Liberty University I did a paper on the gospel in the sermons in Acts. As part of that I had to define what the gospel was. I’m going to read from that (leaving out the Scripture references…but you’ll be able to get those on-line):
As Bock notes, “Nothing is more precious to evangelicals than the gospel, the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ” In that single statement, Bock not only communicates the importance of the gospel, but he (perhaps unintentionally) touches on two of the gospel’s essentials: Jesus Christ and salvation. Is that it, however? If Jesus and salvation are preached, has the core of the good news been covered? Although the “core” essential, Jesus Christ, is included, a review of Scripture shows the gospel to be much more encompassing.
Prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the good news is most tied to the kingdom message (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 16:16), but even then Christ is explicitly included in the good news (Luke 1:13-19; 2:10; Gal. 3:8). After Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, the kingdom message is not lost (see Acts 8:12; 19:8), but Christ, His work, and the proper response to it become central. Wetmore focuses on six passages that he says “specifically [reveal] the content of the gospel message” and are important “because they are written with the express purpose of stating the content” (Rom. 1:1-17; 2:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Col. 1:21-23; 2 Tim. 1:8-11; 2 Tim. 2:8). Based on these verses Wetmore states the “essential” themes of the gospel are (a) Jesus Christ; (b) His humanity; (c) His death via the cross; (d) His resurrection; (e) humanity’s sinful state; (f) a need for belief; (g) salvation, justification, reconciliation, and eternal life; (h) “the gospel is given in the Scriptures”; and (i) “we must be continually reminded of the gospel.” A review of the use of the word “gospel” and the phrase “good news” through the Bible also adds obedience (Rom. 10:16; 2 Cor. 9:13; Phil. 1:27; Heb. 4:6); judgment (Rom. 2:16; Rev. 14:6-7); peace (Acts 10:36; Eph. 6:15); heaven (Col. 1:5); Christ’s glory (2 Cor. 4:4); Christ’s post-resurrection appearances (1 Cor. 15:1-19); the resurrection of the saved (1 Cor. 15:1-19); Christ’s lordship (2 Thes. 1:8); grace (Acts 20:24); repentance (Mark 1:15); turning from idols (Acts 14:15); and, as mentioned before, the kingdom.
Quite inclusive, eh? I wrapped up my definition by stating…
In summary, the essentials of the gospel are Jesus Christ, His death, His resurrection, and salvation based on His work. It is not that other portions of the good news are unimportant–they just flow from those fundamentals.
Good news about Jesus…
I promised you the last time I would not go long with my sermon…and I can also promise you that I could keep talking for hours just limiting myself to good news we can see in Jesus’ words in actions in the Gospel of John. Instead I’d like to focus on two main features:
Feature #1: I AM
As John MacArthur notes in his study Bible, “Twenty-three times in all we find our Lord’s meaningful ‘I AM’…”
We are going to quickly look at eight of these:
Jesus is the bread of life (John 6:35)
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
He is bread that will make it so you and I never hunger…
Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12)
12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
He is the light of the world who gives us the light of life…
Jesus is the door of the sheep (John 10:7-9)
7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
He is the door that opens to salvation…
Jesus is the good shepherd (John 10:11)
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
He is a shepherd who loved us so much that “while we were still sinners, [he] died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25)
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.4 Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
He is the giver of eternal life who will replace our perishable bodies with imperishable, our mortal bodies with immortal ones (1 Corinthians 15:51-54)
He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6)
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
He is not only the way, the truth, and the life…in Him we see the fullness of the Father…
He is the true vine (John 15:1)
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
He is the vine that gives us life…that allows us to bear fruit…
He is I AM! (John 8:58-59)
But most importantly, He is “I AM”!
58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, aI am.” 59 So bthey picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
He is God. “I AM” is the name God gave for Himself at the burning bush with Moses (Exodus 3:13-14).
Don’t miss out on the importance of that…Jesus is God. God Himself who did not come “into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16).
I feel like I am shorting you…
As I head into the final part of my sermon, I feel like I am shorting you…because there is so much good news in John that I won’t have time to mention (for instance did you know that Jesus specifically prayed for you and me? Take a look at John 17:20).
Feature #2: The most important part of the gospel: Jesus and the Father are one
Personally I think the greatest bit of good news seen through Christ become clear with a few more Scriptures…
44 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.
26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.
The best news is that whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father…a Father who loves us Himself…not some angry God who would strike us all down for the most minor infraction if it weren’t for Jesus pleading on our behalf with His blood.
And that is so, so important because, per John 17:3:
3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Knowing the only true God…and the truth about His character…is where we get eternal life.
Punch-line: Jesus is the gospel!
Did you all notice something pretty common in all the good news? One word that showed up more than any other?
Jesus is the gospel! Yes, there are many other facets to the good news, but ultimately they can all be summarized in the person of Jesus Christ…and what better summary can there be than that?!
A final thought…
The African-American spiritual, “Get On Board, Little Children” (from http://www.gospelsonglyrics.org/songs/the_gospel_train_is_coming.html) speaks of a train…here are a few portions…
The Gospel train’s a’comin’
I hear it just at hand
I hear the car wheel rumblin’
And rollin’ thro’ the land
Get on board little children
Get on board little children
Get on board little children
There’s room for many more.
[ Snip ]
The fare is cheap and all can go
The rich and poor are there
No second class aboard this train
No difference in the fare.
The Good News includes the fact that there is room for many-a-more on a gospel train whose engineer is a God “who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). We know that for sure because that God was made manifest in Christ…
Will you invite others to join you on that train by sharing with them the truth about God as shown by Jesus so they can provide the only fare required…trust in the Father?
Scripture references (in order)
1 Corinthians 1:6-9
1 Corinthians 15:51-54
1 Timothy 2:4