Video for April 13th, 2023
Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
A few weeks ago, a Chaplain in higher education told me of a philosophy lecture by a fairly well-known modern philosopher at their college. It was a dogmatic affair making a number of assertions about the nature of reality. The theme was that the secular view of the world was the neutral space against which all other world views needed to be judged. Secularism is often painted as the culmination of humankind’s intellectual journey. Faith is something that belongs squarely in the world of ideas and opinions with no basis in fact. Thomas Aquinas was convinced that nothing pertaining to faith could be discerned but for divine revelation. It is hardly surprising therefore that philosophical reasoning starting from a Godless premise will not come to correct conclusions about the world. We are in a place where faith and scientific discovery are seen as fundamentally at odds.
Into this world view, breaks the light of Easter. Surprisingly, to modern eyes God refuses to play the secular game. In the proclamation of the Gospel in the New Testament, you will find very little philosophical reasoning of any kind. Paul has a bit of a go when he debates with Athenian philosophers in Acts 17, but he really can’t help himself. His basic argument is that all these gods you are worshipping are not really gods at all, and that God has truly, finally and definitely revealed himself in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is an assertive speech.
In his sermon to Cornelius’s household in Acts 10, Peter doesn’t rely on logic, or philosophical reasoning he simply appeals to eye witness testimony. It’s a summary of the facts about Jesus which they would have been familiar with. The things Jesus did were without precedent. No-one had ever healed like this man, nor taught with such authority or deep personal resonance. No-one had ever demonstrated such power over evil and psychological oppression and brought new life. No-one had ever shown such a bias to the poor and excluded, nor acted so consistently with his convictions. No-one, before or since has ever resisted political expediency, or currying favour with the powerful, or manipulating crowds for his own ends. And in the end, all this got him killed by the Roman authorities at the direct request of religious leaders who should have known better.
The key thing Peter appeals to time and time again is eye-witness testimony. Thousands witnessed what Jesus did in his earthly life. These events are recorded for us in the Gospel accounts. It was incontrovertible that he was killed and buried. The Roman’s were very good at crucifixion; it was their speciality. But the final piece de resistance was the resurrection. This too was validated by eye-witness testimony. We saw him killed, but on the third day we saw him alive again. The authorities at the time, tried to buy another story from the stupefied guards who saw it happen, and no body could ever be produced to gainsay the disciples preaching.
This is where secular philosophy and Christian faith are on common ground. Science demands proof, empirical evidence that something happened. The resurrection of Jesus says, “here you are then!” Here is the reality of eternity breaking into human experience. By reason you can’t get to it and you can’t reason it away. It stands there 2000 years ago at the turning point of history, an incontrovertible fact that has seismic implications for all of us. As Peter says, this established Jesus’ absolute authority over everything. We don’t use the concept of Lord very much, but Peter asserts that is who Jesus is, the one with authority over everything and the one to whom we owe our ultimate allegiance. But he is a good lord, unlike his contemporaries. His only goal is love and the wholeness and fulfilment of those who follow his direction.
Despite the privations and risk that ensued, the apostles could do nothing else but go around sharing this good news. It got most of them killed as well. But the message transformed a brutal empire with nothing other than love and has been the foundation of our modern society. Everything we deeply value in our culture has Christian roots. Read Tom Holland’s book, Dominion if you doubt that. The irony of the secular philosopher is that even secularism is trying to grow the kingdom of God, but without the God who inspired and animates it.
In this Easter season, I pray we would have the courage to live and proclaim the great truth of the resurrection afresh.