I have started with a bold statement. Many people in fact try to maintain their Christian faith while denying that the New Testament is composed of true and trustworthy facts. This may seem to you either quite reasonable or quite foolish.
Let me say that many more so-called Liberal Christians wish to maintain “Christian” moral values (at least some of them) while rejecting the idea that the New Testament and/ or the Gospels are true. Of course, to many the New Testament or the Gospels are irrelevant documents that are from hoary ages past. They were written by pious, but perhaps misguided men who were misogynist or sexist, patriarchal. They were men who lived before the “Scientific” age or the “Rational” age. They believed in things like angels, demons, miracles, gods... Now we know better.
Often our Christianity is composed of historical practices, for example celebrating the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. We have also inherited the Liturgy or words of that service. Though we may reject the Gospels as historically accurate and truth-telling, we trust these “symbols” or creeds or tradition. They comfort us. They might not be provable according to science, but our spirits need encouragement and our traditions give us comfort.
Christians who do not rely on the historical Gospels for their doctrine or teachings often hold onto Church Tradition (what has been believed by those Christians in the past, like the Apostle’s Creed, or practices like the Eucharist). In effect we have then two bases for our faith: Church Tradition and our own religious experience.
While Tradition can be helpful, it is at times self-contradictory. Most people do not accept all of Church Tradition, but only those things they like. There is also a Western (Roman Catholic) Church Tradition and an Eastern (Orthodox) Church Tradition. We must choose which we trust.
Our religious experience may indeed be self-authenticating. However, it cannot be measured or tested objectively. Our religious experience, for example feeling God’s touch, feeling near to God or hearing his voice is not testable. There is no way for us to show that it is true or veridical. Religious experience is subjective.
Religious experience is also quite difficult to judge in any sense. Many religious mystics from many religious traditions have similar experiences, for example feeling near to God, hearing his voice, feeling his touch. We cannot judge between mystical experiences to judge which are true or veridical. They may be true, but they cannot be checked.
It is for this reason that Christianity is first and foremost a religion of the Book, the Gospels, the New Testament or the whole Bible. Early Christian apologists, those who defend the truth of Christianity, made this clear. The Gospel writer, Luke, wrote
1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
Luke was a medical doctor. He was a man of science in so far as anyone would have been in his day. He had an eye for details and noted many things other Gospel writers did not, for instance details about illnesses and healings. Luke wrote his Gospel, his life of Christ, for a person named Theophilus. We are not sure whether Theophilus was an actual person or a sort of pseudonym for some convert to Christianity. It could be either. The main point, though, of Luke’s introduction to his life of Christ is that he has been painstaking to hand on information from eyewitnesses.
We know from his Gospel that he drew, for instance, on Mary’s testimony, the comments of Jesus’ mother. Luke also drew on the eyewitness accounts of other of the “apostles,” the disciples or followers of Jesus.
Secondly Luke tells us that he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” [of Jesus’ life and ministry]. Luke is painstaking in his account of Jesus. He is known for his detailed account of illnesses and cures, as we would expect from a doctor.
Thirdly Luke gives an “orderly account.” He is “covering the bases.” He lays it all out in order and tries to include everything which is necessary for us to understand.
Luke is letting us know at the beginning of his Gospel that this is a factual account. It is based on eyewitness accounts. It is not made up. It is not just what he wants to say. He is telling us what happened as carefully and completely as he can.
In the Book of the Acts of the Apostles Luke again gives a preface to his book, he says:
1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
This book, the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, is again addressed to Theophilus, who seems to have been an upper class convert, as far as we know. Luke notes the purpose for his first book: “I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven.” Luke’s goal in the Gospel was to set out all that Jesus did and taught. Luke gives us further information from the period beyond the Gospels: “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.” Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t wishful thinking or a group hallucination. He gave “many convincing proofs,” for instance, he ate bread and fish with them, and allowed Thomas to touch the wounds in his hands and sides. (John 20:24-29)In my next blog I will turn from Luke’s assertions that his Gospel is composed of eyewitness
testimony and so historical facts to John the Apostle’s similar claims.