Camp Mivoden – Haden Lake, ID
Greetings to all of you out there who have been keeping up with us each weekend as I have been going from place to place. The first two months of 2011 are over and I will be spending next weekend at home preparing for a very busy March. I’m on a plane tonight headed home and I wanted to shoot this email out into cyberspace and hope it finds its way to your email inbox. I want to thank each of you who were praying for this weekend’s meetings. I was speaking at Camp Mivoden, where the Upper Columbia Conference was having its annual men’s retreat. If I can be transparent with how preaching “happens” for me personally, I have been wrestling since last October with some content about the historical reliability of the Jesus of the four gospels–content that I feel so passionate about in our current cultural climate. We, as a ministry, are not just convicted about sharing the Gospel of God’s character of love through the lens of our Adventist beliefs, we also feel very passionately about not singing to the choir! We feel very passionately about presenting God’s love in a way that it is plausible and acceptable to our post–modern, unchurched culture today, too. This is a section of our society that we, as a church, have yet to show success in reaching. Therefore, I feel VERY passionate about the content I have been sharing since last October. If the Jesus story cannot be first rooted in historically reliable events, then how are we going to expect the post-modern world to accept this picture of God that Jesus so beautifully reveals? In other words, if the Gospel story is fiction, then how can we expect others to really believe that the representation of God’s character in that story is true?
As with all content, how it works for me, is that first, I get really excited about it, and then I endeavor to present it. It’s very clumsy at first. (Sorry, Hawaii, though you may not have known, I tested this new material on you last October. I’ll grant there were times in those new presentations that it got a little loose. Thanks for your patience.) BUT, my point is THIS! This weekend at Camp Mivoden in Haden Lake, Idaho, the communication and successful transfer of this content FINALLY clicked! I’m so excited! Let me see if I can get it all out here via email for you.
First, the great philosopher of history, R.G. Collingwood, on page 139 of his book The Idea of History, argues that to the extent that one’s research and findings are rooted in prior dogmatic assumptions, such research cannot be considered critical or scientific. And there is a HUGE philosophical assumption that presupposes almost all of modern academic research and findings in relation to the gospels. This assumption is the absolute rejection of anything miraculous. Therefore, based on this assumption alone, the conclusion is that the gospels cannot pass as historically reliable accounts of true events because they contain the supernatural. But research rooted in this prior dogmatic assumption, I submit, produces findings from research that simply is biased! I will agree that this world generally runs in accordance with natural laws, but what evidence do we have for the basis of saying it does so exhaustively without there ever being an exception to these so-called laws? The unwarranted assumption in academic philosophical naturalistic circles that nothing happens that cannot be explained by naturalistic explanations (i.e. the absolute rejection of anything miraculous) is not a conclusion based on evidence and reason, for no evidence or reason could warrant such an exhaustive conclusion. Rather, it is an assumption based on a presupposition of the naturalistic worldview, pure and simple.
You see, a natural law is a description of what we generally find in the world, not a prescription of what we must find. The goal of scholarly historical-critical research is to draw probabilistic conclusions based on evidence, not to assume certain conclusions prior to open investigation of the evidence. Now since we all agree that events generally happen in accordance with natural laws, it makes sense to prefer naturalistic explanations. But this is quite different from coming to the four gospels and, based on the assumptions of our naturalistic worldview, presupposing that since the miraculous is impossible, the twelve apostles must be either making up these stories about Jesus (i.e., the conspiracy theory) or that their story is basically a “legend” that the disciples were sincerely believing themselves, but that was not rooted in historical events (i.e., the legendary theory). These theories, put forth in our secular academic world today, are anything but critical and scientific, because, at the very outset of investigating the gospels, the unverifiable assumption is already in place that all events must be explained in naturalistic terms. A more open-minded scholarly approach would be to hold a preference for naturalistic explanations, but if all naturalistic explanations become implausible and irrational, we should remain open to considering explanations that go beyond our known natural laws. Anything else is, again, biased.
How does this all relate to this past weekend at Camp Mivoden? Well, of course we spent time on my usual favorite subjects (like understanding how God could be a God of love and yet our present lives be filled with so much pain), but we also, as open-mindedly as we could, looked at the non-biblical, historical evidence for the historical reliability of the gospels. Once the conspiracy and legendary theories (which are the only naturalistic explanations, in my opinion, academically worthy of attention) were seen to be truly implausible based on evidence upon which we all agree, we considered the only other option left. That the story of Jesus we find in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, contains miraculous events because these events truly took place in human history. In short, the Jesus story really happened! Now watch what this led to.
By the time we got to the subject of the Cross, Jesus was so rooted and grounded in historical reality that the effect of combining the truth of the story with the revelation of God’s character of love revealed within the story produced one of the most powerful synergistic climaxes I have witnessed in the last ten years. It was tremendously powerful and lives were changed. Paradigms shifts took place, pictures of God were dramatically revolutionized, and decisions were made (even from some of the more skeptical, higher critical hearts) to follow this newfound Jesus. In short, last weekend, whether through reconfirmation or, for some, the very first time, faith in God’s love for us happened, and the kingdom was enlarged.
A long time ago, a friend of mine looked me in the eye and said, “Herb, you’re never gonna save the world. You can’t fix this world.” Tonight, pondering that statement in the context of this weekend, they’re right. I can’t fix this world, but before I leave it, I’m gonna make a difference. And the biggest difference I feel I can make in the lives of my fellow travelers on this journey is to spend my life convincing others of how much the God of this universe, truly, loves their guts! Again, it’s not about a religion, it’s about a person. It doesn’t mean you have to accept Christianity; rather, the real question is, what will you do with this Jesus and the picture of this personal God with a character of pure, radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered love that this Jesus reveals?
For all those that are supporting Renewed Heart Ministries, whether financially, prayerfully, or both, thank you. Thank you. I’m humbled by what I saw this weekend, and I’m so deeply grateful for you and your support. Together, we can, and we will, and we are making a difference.
Love like the sun, love like the rain, and let’s together keep enlarging the kingdom.
With love and deep appreciation for you,