Issue #102 — Easter 2023
Holy Week is one of my favorite times of the year. It's a time for reflection and remembering what Immanuel, God with us, did for us. His example of living and dying for us opened the door to our redemption—our purchase from bondage to slavery. Even though The Garden Weekly is still on hiatus, I couldn't pass up creating a special Holy Week 2023 newsletter. There will be occasional other letters like this too. I can't resist sharing what is impacting my life. Thank you for your time, attention, and the kind words many of you wrote when I announced this hiatus.
From the Garden
Thoughts on the Christian Faith
Why the Resurrection Hypothesis Fails to Account for the Empty Tomb
Skeptic Jeff Lowder is a proponent of the “relocation hypothesis” to explain the empty tomb during the resurrection of Jesus. His primary writing on the topic comes from a book he co-edited, The Empty Tomb, and he has further responded to critics such as Stephen Davis, Josh McDowell, and Sean McDowell. The relocation hypothesis says that Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb was always meant to be a temporary resting place for Jesus’ body. According to the hypothesis, on Saturday night after Passover, Joseph had the body moved to a dishonorable burial site elsewhere. Since the soon-to-be Christians did not know the body of Jesus was moved, they were surprised to find the tomb empty. What happened after this, Lowder doesn’t say. According to him, the relocation hypothesis isn’t meant to explain anything after the tomb is found empty. This limitation helps his argument significantly; he does not even attempt to explain the conversion of the disciples, James, or Paul. But this also severely limits his argument as a reason that Christianity isn’t true.
Still, even if we take it on its own, the relocation argument faces significant challenges. Lowder defends the relocation hypothesis, writing:
What, then, are the other types of evidence relevant to the final probability of the relocation hypothesis? There is conclusive evidence to show there is “a high prior probability that the Jews would bury an executed criminal like Jesus dishonorably” (266). Moreover, as I argued in my chapter, there is circumstantial evidence that favors the relocation hypothesis over the honorable burial hypothesis: (a) the rushed chronology of Jesus’ burial as described in Mark’s gospel; (b) Mary’s statement in John 20:2,7 (c) Joseph would have defiled his own tomb by storing Jesus’ body in it; and (d) the empty tomb itself.
Nonviolence: The Revolutionary Way of Jesus | Preston Sprinkle
In American Evangelical Christianity, lethal violence is supported—or even celebrated—in some forms, such as self-defense and the military. Dr. Preston Sprinkle (with help from Andrew Rillera), an evangelical who grew up playing war and shooting guns, re-examined his assumptions about the Biblical text and church history and came to a startling conclusion: as Christians, we are never to use violence or support its use. Even though I never really examined violence and war Biblically, I went into Nonviolence: The Revolutionary Way of Jesus fully expecting to disagree with Dr. Sprinkle’s conclusions. I grew up in a church that heavily celebrated the U.S. military and that talked in positive terms about using lethal force in self-defense. I was shocked to find that the Biblical case for non-violence is much stronger than I thought.
Nonviolence is a book written for anyone. Despite Dr. Sprinkle’s theological credentials, he’s written an incredibly accessible book. Anyone can read this book, and anyone can think about whether Christians can support violence.
Gaming Alone | Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra 🎧 →
Nearly all American teenage boys—97 percent of them—play video games. On average, they spend more than two hours a day maneuvering in digital worlds.
For two out of five teen boys, that feels like too much time.
They’re probably right. Though it’s impossible to draw a direct link, it’s hard not to notice that as gaming grows, males are falling farther behind girls in school, in joining the work force, and in starting families.
As Reformed Christians, we aren’t ready to give up on video games yet. In this episode of Recorded, Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra examines why boys are more likely than girls to be addicted to video games, why playing with people online doesn’t mean you have more friends, and what it looks like to bring video games under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
I grew up playing video games so this podcast resonated with me in many ways. As I’ve become a husband and father, my time to play video games has diminished and it’s become a habit to play in reduced periods, with more time spent on creating and interacting with people. But I still feel that addictive pull of conquering a challenging video game.
Whether you’ve felt that pull, know someone in that pull, or have never played video games, you’ll find the story this podcast tells interesting and helpful.
Was America Ever Christian? | Allen Guelzo 📃 →
The idea of a “Christian America” holds both myth and significant meaning. On the one hand, American history offers little evidence of a distinctly Christian founding; many of the Founders, in fact, actively opposed Christianity and sought its disenfranchisement in the new republic. On the other hand, the decades after the Founding saw a surge of Christian faith throughout the country. By the eve of Civil War, America could justifiably be called a “Christian nation,” but its Christianity was cultural, not political, the result of vigorous local and national enterprises rather than governmental action.
I was taught that America was founded as a Christian nation, with a special connection and mandate from God, and that we need to return to those roots. I’ve even read “Christian” history books for children that explicitly teach that.
Allen Guelzo, a distinguished research scholar for Princeton, writes in Desiring God about why narrative isn’t true. As Christians, we are committed to truth, not convenient narratives, and Guelzo helps us find the truth amidst the narratives on both sides of the political aisle.
This reminds me of Christian Historiography and American History by Ryan McCormick, which I first linked to in Issue #62 and was my #2 favorite piece of Christian content in 2022.
Bethel and Bill Johnson’s Bridge to the New Age and Spiritual Fakery | Mike Winger 📽 →
Videos of Christians “calling out” other Christians aren’t something I’m drawn to. In general, I find those who make that kind of content tend to be uncharitable, un-Christlike, and generally unhelpful. But I do think that Mike Winger generally tries his best to be fair and to only call out what he sees as dangerous.
In this case, that’s Bethel, who had a member write about her experiences in Bethel and was endorsed by Bethel leadership. As Winger lays out, this book is heretical, and the fact that it was driven by Bethel's leadership is terrifying because of the sway Bethel’s music and teaching have in American Christianity.
I have been wanting to make this video for quite a while. It's based on the teaching in the book The Physics of Heaven, which is very much a "Bethel book". It is sold in their bookstore, it's endorsed by their leaders, it's written by people from Bethel, including their two lead pastors, Bill Johnson and Beni Johnson. The book is a very open appeal to Christians to embrace New Age beliefs and practices. I truly wish I was exaggerating.
Does the Old Testament Dehumanize Women? | Sandy Richter 🎧 →
A common objection to Christianity is that it oppresses women. Skeptics will cite New Testament passages, but the Old Testament is their bread and butter. Dr. Richter has deeply studied the Old Testament and come to a different conclusion: the Old Testament does precisely the opposite. When we understand the historical and cultural context, the Hebrews were supposed to be shockingly pro-woman.
Easter Week in Real Time | Russ Ramsey 📃 →
Ramsey has written a simple but helpful article walking us through what happened each day of Easter week, from Palm Sunday to Easter. I know this is posting a little late for you to walk through each day, so keep this one around for next year too.
Where was Jesus for the three days in between His death and resurrection? Did Jesus go to hell? | GotQuestions 🎧 →
If you’ve read the Apostle’s Creed, you’ve probably read the line “He (Jesus) descended to hell” after his death. As best historians can tell, this line wasn’t in the original version of the creed but was added sometime later. There are many interpretations of this line, and of Jesus’ activity on the Saturday after his death and before his resurrection.
This episode talks about many of the most prominent theories and what we can discern from scripture.
40 Music Videos for Holy Week | Brett McCracken 📽🎶 →
I’m sharing this a bit late again, but hopefully, this collection of songs is one that you’ll be able to enjoy through the rest of Holy Week, and the rest of the year.
His Heart Beats
The angel told the women, “Don’t be afraid, because I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here. For he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see him there.’ Listen, I have told you.” So, departing quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, they ran to tell his disciples the news.
The eleven disciples traveled to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted. Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
— Matthew 28:5–8, 16–20