If you have been following this blog for the last few months you know that I recently called out the LCMS authors of “Making the Case for Christianity” for the fringe scholarship and blatantly silly claims made in their book, such as:
“The fact is that the evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is as complete and as sound as any fact of the ancient world.” —Craig Parton, p. 82
As a former member of the LCMS, I then wrote to many of the district presidents (bishops) of the LCMS and to many pastors in the LCMS pointing out just how weak the evidence really is for the bodily Resurrection of Jesus. I was told I had not read enough books by conservative Christian scholars. One of the books I was told to read was “Resurrection of the Son of God” by scholar NT Wright. But I had already read and reviewed that book here on this blog in 2014. I pointed out to the authors of “Making the Case for Christianity” that in direct contradiction to their views that the traditional authors wrote the Gospels, NT Wright states that “no one knows who wrote the four Gospels!”
So much for that recommendation!
I was then told to read scholar Richard Bauckham’s “paradigm shifting” book “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”. I read it and was shocked by the many silly assumptions and blatant grasping at any and all straws to hold together the ancient Christian supernatural claim of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. I reviewed Bauckham’s book here on this blog, chapter by chapter, and shared my view that Bauckham’s book had only enhanced my view that conservative Christian scholars have very, very weak evidence to support their positions.
So now the bishops, pastors, and theologians of the LCMS are sick of me. They do not want to hear any more from me. They have stopped responding to my emails. They have stopped responding to my letters…except for the one letter I received today. I will copy it below (although I will not publish the name of the LCMS bishop who authored it):
Dear Mr. Matson,
I am not really sure why you keep sending me copies of pieces of your blog. After receiving your latest piece I spent a few moments trying to puzzle that out. I share what I consider to be the most reasonable in order of likelihood, based on what little evidence you have supplied.
- You earnestly desire someone to provide you with rational evidence so that you can believe without bearing the label of a fool.
- You think you are irritating and enjoy it.
- You think you can destroy the faith of those who read your words.
With regard to number 1: No one is converted by rational arguments. I cannot convince you. If I listed 100 “scholars” who found the Scripture reliable, you could list 101 who do not. A super rational God will not fit into the box of human rationality. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18
With regard to number 2: I think you are somewhat of a catch 22 concerning irritation. I suspect that by this time the other guys [the other LCMS bishops], who probably have secretaries, have instructed them to trash anything coming from Gary Matson. Likewise, any anonymous epistles are also trashed, thus reducing immensely your opportunity to irritate.
With regard to number 3: I am not a Christian because I find the Scriptures reliable. I find the Scriptures reliable because I am a Christian. Neither Bauckham, Francisco, Papias, or NT Wright had anything to do with my conversion. The Gospel converted me, and it cannot be undone of its power. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Romans 1:16
I am probably completely wrong, but given my reasoning I cannot imagine why you would want me to hear from you. It only engenders such an unsatisfying response.
In His Service,
Unnamed LCMS District President (Bishop)
Gary: Strange. So the truths of Christianity are not found by investigating the “evidence”. The truths of Christianity are found through the mysterious (magical?) workings of “the Gospel”. So Christianity cannot be discovered by using your intelligence. Christianity cannot be discovered by using your brain. Christianity can only be discovered by MAGIC! Christianity can only be discovered through the power of magical words found in an ancient middle-eastern holy book, spoken by an officially sanctioned holy man, which cause evil spirits to flee the wicked souls of little babies, while water is poured over their little heads, granting them “eternal salvation” from eternal doom.
Well, that is not what the LCMS theologian authors of “Making the Case for Christianity” said in the conclusion of their book! Let’s read again what these authors say about defending Christianity with anything other than evidence and apologetics. Here is Dr. Adam Francisco in the conclusion to “Making the Case for Christianity”, p. 199:
“They [non-Christians]…denounce Christianity as a not so cleverly devised myth or just some story that Christians continue to tell themselves for existential comfort. [For Christians] to shrink from apologetics in this environment is suicidal and as JP Moreland puts it, a betrayal of the Gospel: [It} is a form of intellectual pacifism that, at the end of the day, recommends backgammon while the barbarians are at the gate…
…It is the immoral, coward’s way out that is not worthy of a movement born out of the martyr’s blood.”
So which is it, LCMS bishops, pastors, and theologians: Apologetics or Faith?
The LCMS authors of “Making the Case for Christianity” state that the keystone evidence for Christianity, the Resurrection of Jesus, is just as good as the evidence for any other fact of Antiquity. If that is the case, why isn’t the evidence alone good enough to cause me to believe the claims of Christianity? I don’t need magic words to believe that Alexander the Great destroyed the city of Tyre. I don’t need magic words to believe that the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD. I just need my brain to review the evidence for these claims to believe them. But Bishop X and other LCMS pastors say that evidence and using my brain will never be enough to confirm the validity of the claims of Christianity. They say that I must have faith and the magical powers of the Gospel to truly believe. So who is right here? Why are LCMS Lutheran bishops, pastors, and theologians speaking out of both sides of their mouths???
I can tell you why: Because when they get backed into a corner on the poor quality of their “evidence” they pull out their last defense, the “faith card”. You see, conservative Christians never intended to accept evidence to determine the validity of orthodox Christianity, for themselves. They just use evidence and apologetics in their attempts to convert non-believers. Their intense emotional and psychological attachment to their supernatural beliefs (which they refer to as “faith”) will never be deterred by any amount of evidence to the contrary. Even if we could trot out the very corpse of Jesus, confirmed by irrefutable DNA evidence , most conservative Christians would find some way to deny the evidence staring them in the face!
So why do I keep writing to you, Bishop X? I write to you because I am involved in one of the greatest movements in the history of the world: the debunking of fear-based religious superstitions! I am not against Christianity as a whole, only against fear-based Christianity; your branch of Christianity; the branch of Christianity that teaches little children that if they don’t do as the Church and the holy book say, the invisible Boogeyman-in-the-Sky is going to “get them” in some form…for all eternity.
It’s an ugly, evil superstition, Bishop. It isn’t real. No one should fear your imaginary, invisible, ancient deity. No one should fear the magic of your holy book. Magic is not real. It isn’t real when the magician performs magic at your child’s birthday party, and the magic tricks in your ancient holy book weren’t real either. That is why for some strange reason none of these magic tricks happen today when there are ubiquitous video recorders and cell phone cameras that could record them. They are ancient tall tales, told by ancient, scientifically-ignorant people who were simply trying to make sense of their dangerous, scary world. You can appeal to the power of the “Gospel” all you want, Bishop, but what you are really appealing to is “magic” and magic is not real. Period.
And finally, since I contributed thousands of dollars to your denomination while I was a member, and since I allowed my little children to be indoctrinated by your fear-based superstitions for several years, I think it is only fair that you and your fellow LCMS bishops have the courtesy to spend a couple of minutes reading my letters before you have your secretaries toss them in the trash.
Gary Matson, Jr.