What happened 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, a small Jewish village of an oppressed vassal state of the Roman Empire? And what happened some 33 years later in Jerusalem? Many worldviews and religions offer completely different answers to those questions. Indeed, they zealously disagree on how to even ask the questions. After all, the authority to explain the past wields tremendous power in shaping the future. (This is just as true about ancient events as it is about conflicts of the past century and even the past decade.) So how do we know who is correct?
We measure the years according to these events—the alleged birth and life of Christ. History turns on it, literally. Although in recent years historians made it fashionable not to use the terms B.C. and A.D. to measure history, instead to use the terms B.C.E. and C.E. Nevertheless, they cannot hide the fact that the turning point is the life of Christ. So what do we do with this man Jesus?
Let us look at six different vantage points for listening to history and answering this question, six ways of approaching the issue, and looking at Jesus.
- Islam’s question: What did Mohammed say the angel Gabriel told him in the 7th century A.D.?
- Mormonism’s, Jehovah’s Witnesses’, and other cults’ questions: What did various teachers say God told them?
- Gnosticism’s Question: What did various teachers say they learned from angels and visions?
- Hinduism’s (and Buddhism’s) question: What teaching sounds fruitful and beneficial?
- Naturalism’s question: What fits within a naturalistic worldview?
- Christianity’s question: What did the eyewitnesses claim to see and hear?
Upon what basis do we make claims about history? What constitutes good, balanced news about the past? A brief examination of them quickly reveals that Christianity, and Christianity alone, lays claim not to mystical and esoteric revelations, or to deep spiritual insight, or even to presuppositions, but rather to eyewitness accounts of historical events.
Most worldviews begin with grand presuppositions–many of them centered upon what one man claims to know from God. Islam, for example, insists that whatever Mohammad said the angel told him about the past, it must be true. The same claim is made by Mormons regarding a man named Joseph Smith. The same claim was made by Gnostics in the centuries after Christ’s birth. Now although the Bible does also offer several revelations through angels and visions, these are always, only about the future—never the past. In fact, it explicitly denounces such beliefs.
Naturalism likewise begins with a presupposition, but not regarding what someone claims God told them, Instead, naturalism assumes the total irrelevance, if not the complete absence, of God.
By contrast, Christianity, as it is offered to us in the Bible, seeks to minimize presuppositions. When it comes to understanding what happened, the God of the Bible does not demand blind faith, but instead asks for reasoned faith. And reasoned faith will satisfy our appetite much more than a smorgasbord of mystical signs and wonders and miracles ever could. We don’t need to see spectacular miracles; instead, we need to see clearly what is going on. Consider, for example, that 500 years ago most people believed that the sun, moon, and stars all revolved around the earth—that the universe centered on us. Then the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus offered a reasonable theory that the earth revolved around the sun, and physicist Galileo Galilei offered evidence to support his theory. Their ideas contradicted the presuppositions made by many, yet eventually proved to be true.
Today, due to pollution, few people can see the skies the way Copernicus and Galileo saw them in all their spectacular wonder. Indeed many of us seldom ever notice the stars. Back then people could stand transfixed in awe, and be so enthralled they would even ascribe all kinds of religious ideas and superstitions to them. But we have something much, much better: we understand what they are. And we understand much more about how the universe works. Understanding is truly better than seeing.
Similarly, we don’t need to see spectacular signs and wonders from God, though he does also provide those at times. But he will give us something much better: understanding. We can know (by faith) what happened in the past, and why. That will give us peace of mind about the future. Ask good questions, listen, and be amazed.