by Mary Ann Collins
November 1, 2009
This book claims to describe twelve "bottom line" beliefs that all Christians hold in common. However, its description of those beliefs is confusing, and at times clearly contrary to Scripture. For example, in discussing what happens after we die (chapter 12), it includes reincarnation as a belief that is held by some Christians (p. 94). However, reincarnation is contrary to Jesus' parable about the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). And it is clearly refuted in the book of Hebrews, which says, "it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27, emphasis added).
I have discussed two chapters dealing with beliefs that are absolutely foundational to Christianity. Following that are some general comments about the book.
This chapter makes the following main points about Jesus:
(1) "Jesus is a man who transformed human culture." That statement is followed by discussing how, over the centuries, Christians have founded hospitals, nursed the sick, provided education, helped the poor, and engaged in "social services." (p. 15)
This approach could be used by humanists or atheists who care about the poor.
(2) "Some see Jesus as a 'rabbi' who taught the ultimate ethical system for life within community." The Sermon on the Mount is given as an illustration of teachings about ethics. (p. 15)
This approach could also be used by humanists or atheists.
(3) "Some see Jesus as a personal presence. He challenges us in our daily decision-making. He comforts us in times of crisis. He confronts us at work or school or home, asking us, as he did Matthew, to 'Rise up, and follow' (Matt 9:9). He is intensely personal and involved in our human lives." (p. 17)
This third approach is alright as far as it goes, but there is much more to Jesus Christ than that. The apostle Paul said,
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
Nowhere in the entire chapter is there a word about Jesus being our Savior, that He loves us so much that He died to save us from our sins. Nothing is said about Jesus Christ being Lord. And nothing is said about Jesus being God incarnate, both God and man.
The silence is deafening.
The first paragraph says that "A bottom line belief for all Christians is a belief in the resurrection." However, that statement is immediately qualified by saying that what Christians believe about the resurrection varies widely. The chapter gives four different approaches to the resurrection. They are discussed below, in the order that they are given in the book.
(1) "Some interpret the resurrection as more of a spiritual than a physical phenomenon, almost as if Jesus were an apparition. Such an understanding is neo-Docetic, and despite the fact that Docetism was deemed heretical centuries ago, its influence and broad level of acceptance remains undeniable even today." This statement is followed by accounts of ghost stories. (p. 22)
According to the online edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, docetism did more than deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. It also denied that he had a real body during his life on earth. It spiritualized Jesus to the point of claiming that He only had an "apparent or phantom" body. This was one of the earliest heresies, and in the second century it became a teaching of Gnosticism. This heresy denies the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. As a result, it also denies salvation. By trying to spiritualize Jesus to the point of denying His humanity, it makes a mockery of the Gospels and of Christianity.1
Docetism is clearly refuted in the Bible. It wasn't just "deemed heretical "centuries ago" - it has always been considered to be a heresy, ever since the early church. It spiritualizes Jesus, denying that He is God come in the flesh, it denies both the Incarnation and the Resurrection, and it thereby nullifies salvation. The apostle John warned Christians not to be deceived by such false teachings. He said,
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. (1 John 4:1-3)
The Bible makes it absolutely clear that Jesus had a physical, bodily resurrection. And it specifically refutes the idea that what the disciples encountered was a spirit or a ghost. Consider the following account of the apostle Luke:
Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, "Peace to you." But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit. And He said to them, "Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have." When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, "Have you any food here?" So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence. (Luke 24:36-43)
They personally handled the physical body of Jesus. They touched Him and felt Him. When they gave Him food, He physically ate real food in their presence. Jesus made it absolutely clear that He was physically present. By handling Jesus' body, the disciples personally experienced the concrete, physical nature of Jesus' resurrected body.
(2) "Another way of interpreting the resurrection is that Christ's followers in the days after the crucifixion merely felt his nearness with them." This statement is followed by accounts of grieving people who "feel" the presence of loved ones who have died.
In addition to denying that Jesus was resurrected as described in Luke's gospel, this approach makes Jesus Christ seem to be no different than anybody else.
(3) "Jesus' teachings, his principles, and the lives of discipleship exhibited by his followers all survived in spite of the cross. There are those who say that Jesus lives on through the people who started the Christian movement and keep it going." (p. 23)
Again, this approach denies the resurrection as described in Luke's gospel. And again, it makes Jesus Christ seem to be no different than other people. One could say that Karl Marx lives on through the people who keep his movement going. One could say the same thing about other people who have impacted society in smaller ways.
(4) "Finally, there are many traditionalists among us who accept the idea of the bodily resurrection of Jesus." (p. 25)
After giving three approaches that deny the Biblical accounts of the Resurrection, the author finally mentions that there are Christians who believe that Jesus was resurrected bodily. And he calls such people "traditionalists." But belief that Jesus was physically resurrected as described in the Bible is not based on tradition - it is based on Scripture. By talking in terms of tradition, the author makes the belief seem as if it rests on the traditions of men rather than being based on the clear, obvious, unmistakable meaning of the accounts of the Resurrection given in the Gospels, the Book of Acts, and in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.
The literal bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ is absolutely central to Christianity. Our salvation depends on it. The resurrection of the dead depends on it. Without a literal, physical resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, our faith is worthless. The apostle Paul said,
Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up - if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)
Bottom Line Beliefs does not build up faith. It brings fog instead of light. It gives a distorted, watered-down, confusing picture of Jesus Christ and of Christianity. If readers are not Scripturally knowledgeable and well grounded in foundational Christian doctrines, then this book is likely to cause confusion and undermine their faith.
For centuries, courageous missionaries have faced dangers, hardships, and death in order to share their faith with people in other countries. And they are still doing it today, in nations where Christians are severely persecuted.
The early Christians faced death by torture rather than deny their faith. And throughout history since then, Christians have been suffering and dying for their faith. It is still going on today, in countries such as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. These faithful Christians endure hardship and death because of their love for, and trust in, the Lord Jesus Christ - a risen Savior, a glorious Lord who conquered death and hell. Not for a ghost or an ethics teacher.
1. "Docetism," The Encyclopedia Britannica (online edition)
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