“Fake news” isn’t a new phenomenon, though. There’s quite a bit of fake news out there regarding the person of Jesus, the origins of the church, and the development of the Bible. Even though such “news” has no factual basis, it’s believed by an uncomfortably large number of people.
Here’s a sampling of five leading stories
1. Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.
Perhaps there’s no conspiracy theory about early Christianity more sensational and captivating than the claim that Jesus was married and had children. It’s not only fodder for books like The Da Vinci Code, but it seems to pop up again and again in the mainstream media.
2. The deity of Jesus wasn’t decided until the Council of Nicea in the fourth century.
Another widespread conviction is that Jesus was merely an ordinary human who was exalted to divine status by the council of Nicea. They then suppressed (and oppressed) all who insisted otherwise.
3. Christians didn’t have a ‘Bible’ until the time of Constantine.
Also making our top-five list is the oft-repeated claim that early Christians, at least for the first four centuries, didn’t have a Bible. They were reliant merely on ever-changing oral tradition. And this problem wasn’t resolved until Constantine commissioned the production of a Bible in the fourth century (containing only the books he preferred).
4. The ‘Gnostic’ Gospels like Thomas were just as popular as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Ever since the discovery of the so-called Gnostic Gospels at Nag Hammadi in 1945, it’s been popular to insist that these “lost” Gospels were once more popular than our canonical ones. During the first few centuries, we’re told, Christians read the Gospel of Thomas with equal (if not more) regularity than the books that made it into our Bibles.
This whole narrative has a clear purpose behind it: to convince people that all Gospels are pretty much the same, and no Gospel is more valid than another.
5. The words of the New Testament were radically changed and corrupted in the earliest centuries.
Rounding out our top-five fake news stories is the claim that the text of the New Testament has been so radically corrupted, edited, and changed that we can’t really know what the original authors said. Made famous by Bart Ehrman’s bestseller Misquoting Jesus, this story has been repeated ad infinitum.
But there’s no evidence for this level of radical corruption. Can we see scribal changes and mistakes in our New Testament manuscripts? Of course, but that’s true for every document of antiquity. The New Testament.
These five examples of “fake news” about early Christianity get repeated so often people believe they must be true. Just like in the political world, however, we need to carefully examine the facts before we repeat the claims.
Far from being a stagnant collection of dates, movements, and odd-sounding names, the church’s past represents a treasure trove of God-exalting wisdom that helps us navigate the cultural realities of the present.
Here are four reasons parents, pastors, teachers, and youth workers should teach church history to teenagers.
1. Teen Christians belong to the church.
Church history is their history, too.
2. Church history gives teens a vision to live boldly for Christ.
The pages of church history are filled with teenagers who have leaned into that proverb’s truth. Studied carefully, these examples give today’s teens vision and inspiration to surrender to Christ.
3. Church history provides examples that help us navigate broken cultures.
Any broken cultural reality we might experience in the present has likely been recognized by those who have gone before us. Examples of God’s people throughout the ages are invaluable resources for discipleship, with particular usefulness for teenagers.
4. Teens are the church’s future leaders, and leaders need to engage church history.
From William Wilberforce’s lifelong battle to abolish the British slave trade to the zealous missionary strategies of John Calvin, William Carey, Lottie Moon, and Elisabeth Elliott, church history offers a sure foundation on which to continue God’s global work.
Today (22 November) is the fifty-third anniversary of the death of Clive Staples Lewis, one of the most well known, widely read, and frequently quoted Christian authors of modern times. Here are nine things you should know about the author and apologist who has been called “The Apostle to the Skeptics.”
1. Lewis is best known for his seven children’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia. But he wrote more than 60 books in various genres, including poetry, allegorical novel, popular theology, educational philosophy, science-fiction, children’s fairy tale, retold myth, literary criticism, correspondence, and autobiography.
2. Lewis’s close friend Owen Barfield, to whom he dedicated his book The Allegory of Love, was also his lawyer. Lewis asked Barfield to establish a charitable trust (“The Agape Fund”) with his book earnings. It’s estimated that 90 percent of Lewis’s income went to charity.
3. Lewis had a fondness for nicknames. He and his brother, Warnie, called each other “Smallpigiebotham” (SPB) and “Archpigiebotham” (APB), inspired by their childhood nurse’s threat to smack their “piggybottoms.” Even after Lewis’s death, Warnie still referred to him as “my beloved SPB.”
4. In 1917, Lewis left his studies to volunteer for the British Army. During the First World War, he was commissioned into the Third Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry. Lewis arrived at the front line in the Somme Valley in France on his 19th birthday and experienced trench warfare. On April 15, 1918, he was wounded, and two of his colleagues were killed by a British shell falling short of its target. Lewis suffered from depression and homesickness during his convalescence.
5. Lewis was raised in a church-going family in the Church of Ireland. He became an atheist at 15, though he later described his young self as being paradoxically “very angry with God for not existing.”
6. Lewis’s return to the Christian faith was influenced by the works of George MacDonald, arguments with his Oxford colleague and friend J. R. R. Tolkien, and G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man.
7. Although Lewis considered himself to an entirely orthodox Anglican, his work has been extremely popular among evangelicals and Catholics. Billy Graham, who Lewis met in 1955, said he “found him to be not only intelligent and witty but also gentle and gracious.” And the late Pope John Paul II said Lewis’s The Four Loves was one of his favorite books.
8. After reading Lewis’s 1940 book, The Problem of Pain, the Rev. James Welch, the BBC Director of Religious Broadcasting, asked Lewis to give talks on the radio. While Lewis was at Oxford during World War II he gave a series of BBC radio talks made between 1942 and 1944. The transcripts of the broadcasts originally appeared in print as three separate pamphlets—The Case for Christianity (1942), Christian Behaviour (1943), and Beyond Personality (1944) — but were later combined into the book Mere Christianity. In 2000, Mere Christianity was voted best book of the 20th century by Christianity Today.
9. On November 22, 1963, exactly one week before his 65th birthday, Lewis collapsed in his bedroom at 5:30 p.m. and died a few minutes later. Media coverage of his death was almost completely overshadowed by news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, who was killed less than an hour earlier. In 2003, Lewis was added to the list of saints commemorated on the church calendar of the Episcopal Church.
The Story: The governor of Georgia recently attempted to make a “biblical case” against the state legislature’s new religious liberty bill.
The Background: Lawmakers in Georgia have been working to protect the religious liberties of the state’s citizens by passing legislation that would prevent them from having to participate in commerce related to same-sex marriage. But the state’s Republican governor, Nathan Deal, has warned that he will reject any measure that “allows discrimination in our state in order to protect people of faith.” (…)
Why It Matters: Gov. Deal proposes a “compromise” position: Christians will be forced to compromise their conscience on the issue of serving same-sex weddings.
The claim that we must violate our conscience because Jesus would not want us to “discriminate against anybody” is incoherent and unbiblical. But it’s Gov. Deal’s direct threat to the religious liberty of Christians that is most offensive. (…)
Ray Ortlund Jr, What Does It Mean to Be Born Again?
Text: John 3:1–7
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’
By JOE CARTER for The Gospel Coalition Blog
Darren’s Aronofksy’s new film Noah, which opens in theaters tomorrow, has been criticized for not being faithful o the biblical narrative. But how much of the story do most people remember? Here are nine things you should know about the story of Noah:
1. The story of Noah is told is chiastic parallelism (or chiasmus), a figure of speech in which the order of the terms in the first of two parallel clauses is reversed in the second. If you assign the letters A and B to the first appearance of the key words or phrases and A’ and B’ to their subsequent appearance, they follow what is commonly referred to as an A-B-B-A pattern.
A chiasm in the story of Noah and the flood (Genesis 6.10-9.19):
A Noah (10a)
B Shem, Ham, and Japheth (10b)
C Ark to be built (14-16)
D Flood announced (17)
E Covenant with Noah (18-20)
F Food in the Ark (21)
G Command to enter the Ark (7.1-3)
H 7 days waiting for flood (4-5)
I 7 days waiting for flood (7-10)
J Entry to ark (11-15)
K Yahweh shuts Noah in (16)
L 40 days flood (17a)
M Waters increase (17b-18)
N Mountains covered (18-20)
O 150 days waters prevail (21-24)
P GOD REMEMBERS NOAH (8.1)
O’ 150 days waters abate (3)
N’ Mountain tops become visible (4-5)
M’ Waters abate (6)
L’ 40 days (end of) (6a)
K’ Noah opens window of ark (6b)
J’ Raven and dove leave ark (7-9)
I’ 7 days waiting for waters to subside (10-11)
H’ 7 days waiting for waters to subside (12-13)
G’ Command to leave the ark (15-17)
F’ Food outside the ark (9.1-4)
E’ Covenant with all flesh (8-10)
D’ No flood in future (11-17)
C’ Ark (18a)
B’ Shem, Ham, Japheth (18b)
A’ Noah (19)
2. Based on 18 inches to a cubit, the total cubic volume of Noah’s ark would have been 1,518,000 cubic feet, the equivalent to 250 single-deck railroad stock cars. Since the average stock car can carry 80 180 lb. sheep or to 160 50 lb. sheep per deck (2.5 – 5 sq ft per animal), it’s estimated the ark could carry 20,000-40,000 sheep size animals.
3. From Ancient Near Eastern records to nautical practices as recent as the 19th century, sailors the world over used doves, ravens, and other birds to help them find and navigate toward land. A raven will fly directly toward land, so it’s line of flight can be used as a guide. Doves have a limited ability for sustained flight, so they can be used to determine the location of a landing site. As long as the dove returns, no landing site is in close range.
4. Noah and his family were on the ark for a total of 370 days. Noah’s first recorded act on leaving the ark is building an altar to the Lord (Gen. 8:20).
5. The Bible says the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat (a mountain range in Turkey) but does not specify which mountain.
6. Noah became the first drunk recorded in Scripture, resulting in immoral behavior and family troubles (Genesis 9:20-26).
7. The only time Noah is recorded as speaking is when he curses his grandson Canaan and blesses his sons Shem and Japeth. At all other points in his story, God does the talking and Noah does the listening.
8. At 950 years of age, Noah had the third longest life recorded in the Bible (after Methuselah (969) and Jared (962)).
9. Besides the book of Genesis, Noah is also mentioned in eight other books of the Bible (1st Chronicles 1:4, Isaiah 54:9, Ezekiel 14:14; 20, Matthew 24:37-38, Luke 3:36, 17:26-27, Hebrews 11:7, 1 Peter 3:20, and 2 Peter 2:5) as well as in the Book of Enoch (10:1-3) and the Qur’an (Sura 71).
I have ministered to adolescents for eleven years, eight of them as a youth minister. Based on my conversations with kids and observations in the culture, I consider these five theological tools essential for parents, pastors, and youth ministers hoping to minister effectively to today’s teens.
1. Knowledge about the canonization of Scripture.
Perhaps it is a result of The DaVinci Code or maybe the effects of deconstructionism and revisionism in historical studies, but one of the primary apologetic questions I receive from students involves the formation of the canon of Scripture. In no subject area have I observed more misinformation. Students have told me that their high school English teacher taught that the Gospel of Mary Magdalene was not included in the Bible because Christianity is misogynistic. A kid told me that the Gospels were actually written in fourth century.
If a student does not trust the Bible as God’s Word, ministries will have a hard time giving them any confidence in the truths of Christianity; the Bible serves as the authority and foundation for all Christian doctrine. Those ministering to youth must possess a strong understanding of the history and system by which the early church discerned certain books as authoritative and rejected other books as either uninspired or heretical.
Recommended Reading: F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture
2. Developed theology of sexuality, particularly homosexuality.
Questions about premarital sex, gender, and sexuality are increasingly common in youth ministry. For many kids the make-or-break issue about Christianity is homosexuality. Many kids think the actions of anti-gay fanatics, such as Westboro Baptist Church, represent Christian theology regarding homosexuality, and, needless to say, they hold reservations about the faith. Meanwhile, other kids espouse the secular portrayal of homosexuality as a civil rights issue akin to racial segregation.
Youth ministers need a balanced, scriptural theology that neither amplifies homosexuality as worse than other forms of sexual sin nor permits it any more than we condone pornography or adultery. Equally important, they need a humble, gentle, and compassionate tone in dealing with the issue.
Recommended Reading: Wesley Hill, Washed And Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality
3. Ability to teach the Bible in the greater context of redemptive history.
Earlier in my career, people said that postmodern kids had rejected metanarratives and only listened to the micro-narratives of personal storytelling. Some of my colleagues and I now agree that the fatalism of denying a defined metanarrative for life and the world seems to have bottomed out. Kids are more likely today to want to believe there is reason and design behind everything that happens in the world. Students greatly benefit from knowing salvation history.
As a way of taking students through all of redemptive history, I teach each one of my small groups a study on „Top 25 Events from the Bible” that travels from Genesis to Revelation. When teaching Scripture, I make a point to connect the content to the broader context of biblical narrative. It reinforces for kids the belief that a good, sovereign God rules the course of human history, as well as the events of their individual life, at a time when they desire it.
Recommended Reading: Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture
4. Theological, not only moral, understanding of sin.
Most students—Christian and secular alike—believe morality is individually relative. Therefore, explaining sin simply in moral terms will not resonate with most teenagers. You may say that all people judge, lust, envy, and lie, but your teenage audience likely can justify any of those sins at the personal level, believing they have ultimate authority over morality.
Consequently, those ministering to teens need a theological understanding of how sin originates from the human desire to live independently from God and to be the „god” of our own lives. Most students will accept that they do not depend on God for all matters of their life, if at all, or that they do not have a relationship with him. (In truth, these matters represent our deeper issue as sinners and the source of our immorality.) Students will accept the theological argument for human sinfulness far more readily than a moral explanation.
Recommended Reading: Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods
5. Understand adoption as an element of salvation.
I charge myself as guilty for neglecting this element of salvation, and it cost me big time. The church often exclusively preaches salvation as an individual matter. In a sense, we camp out on regeneration and justification and stop there. I know I did. The persistent teaching of my colleague, Mark Howard, and the talks from Ray Ortlund and Mary Willson at the 2012 Rooted Conference (recordings from all three can be found here) opened my eyes to this blind spot.
Far more than previous generations, today’s teenagers value community. If they do not see how groups or beliefs yield corporate fellowship, they are less likely to embrace it. Adoption represents the aspect of salvation whereby God adopts sinners as his sons and daughters. Our salvation does not simply save us individually but also makes us a part of a greater body of intimate connection. Having a fuller understanding of salvation in both individual and corporate terms will help a person ministering to teens offer the gospel in a way that appeals to their high view of fellowship and need for loving acceptance.
Recommended Reading: Trevor Burke, Adopted into God’s Family (in the NSBT series edited by D. A. Carson)
Cameron Cole is the director of youth ministries at Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama, and the chairman of Rooted: Advancing Grace-Driven Youth Ministry, which holds its next conference, Hope in a Time of Suffering, in Atlanta from October 10 to 12, 2013.