Dr. James C. Denison
President, Center for Informed Faith, Dallas, TX
December 10, 2010
Chocolate, enchiladas, and Advent faith
Worried about gaining weight during the holidays? The more you think about food, the less of it you’ll eat, according to a report on this morning’s BBC website.
A new study reveals that people who imagined they were eating chocolate wanted less of it than those who had not been thinking about it. Researchers attribute their findings to “habituation”—the more people have of something, the less rewarding it becomes and the less they want of it. I’m skeptical. At this moment I’m thinking of enchiladas—now I know what I want for lunch.
Faith and facts are not always friends. For example, a group called “American Atheists” has made the news this week with their claim that Christmas is a “myth.” During this Advent “week of faith,” we have discussed the facts behind the Christmas story. As we have seen, Luke’s account of the journey to Bethlehem aligns with known historical records, and the place of Jesus’ birth is attested by reliable ancient tradition.
It is interesting that no early critic of Christianity thought to question the fact of his existence. This seems the easiest way to debunk the faith—if Jesus’ birth and life were truly a myth, how could faith in him be justified? But we can find not a single attempt in ancient history to claim what American Atheists now argue.
The opposite is true, in fact. Thallus the Samaritan (A.D. 52) referred to the crucifixion of Jesus. Mara bar Serapion (after A.D. 70) spoke of Christ as the Jews’ “wise King.” Tacitus (ca. AD 115) stated: “Christus . . . suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus” (Annals XV.44).
And Pliny the Younger described Christian worship in A.D. 112: “They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ as to a god.” Note that Christians worshiped Christ as God in A.D. 112, not centuries later after their beliefs “evolved,” as some critics claim.
All that to say, Christianity stands on the foundation of historical fact. Do the data prove beyond any question that Jesus is the Son of God? Of course not. Neither can skeptics prove that he is not. Faith is a relationship. Like all relationships, it requires a commitment which transcends the evidence and becomes self-validating.
There are excellent reasons for believing in the truth of Christmas. But the best is the simplest: you can meet the Baby of Bethlehem personally. When Billy Graham was asked about the “God is dead” controversy of the 1960s, he smiled and said, “I can assure you that he’s not—I spoke with him this morning.” So can you.