A review by Stuart Brogden
John Warwick Montgomery has an impressive resume – author of more than 60 books in in 6 languages; he holds eleven earned degrees; is admitted as a lawyer to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court; and is a Distinguished Research Professor at Concordia University Wisconsin. That’s something of note. He has written a short book, History, Law, and Christianity, which is divided into two parts that examine the historical and legal evidence for Christianity. One of his colleagues at the university, Rod Rosenbladt, endorses this book and encourages readers to buy several copies, “because you will end up doing what I do. You will give copies to non-Christians!”
And this perspective reveals the faulty foundation of this work – it is presented as a compelling argument for the biblical account of Jesus that can bring lost people into the kingdom of God. We should not overlook the excellent examination of historical and legal evidence that does support the biblical accounts – but we cannot fall into the trap of thinking evidence or philosophical arguments will save anyone. This faulty foundation shows up early in the book – page 4, as the author declares, “Like Cambridge professor C.S. Lewis, I was brought ‘kicking and struggling’ into the kingdom of God by the historical evidence on behalf of Jesus’ claims.” On page 31, Montgomery serves up a short quote by Pliny the Younger, circa 122, showing how early Christians met for worship, and he then comments, “From that day to this all Christians – Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant – have worshiped Christ as God on the basis of the historically impeccable testimony of Jesus’ own followers and of those who knew them intimately.” Let’s leave aside the issue of which Jesus is embraced by Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics and just focus on the thrust of Montgomery’s statement. It is another declaration that people come to saving knowledge of Christ on the basis of evidence and confidence of arguments based on that evidence.
This cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. If the author’s perspective is true, we need to witness with an eye towards saving people contrary to the Apostle Paul – And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, ESV)
As with other books that have been written in this vein, this book can be quite useful for Christians who want to grow in their confidence of the biblical record, but is dangerous as a witnessing tool. People convinced by such evidence and sound arguments may very well end up having a faith that rests in the wisdom of men. We are ambassadors of the cross, not of historical evidence. People are brought into a saving knowledge of Christ Jesus by the work of His Spirit, as we proclaim His gospel. The flip side of the coin offered up by Montgomery is the attractive but just as faulty view that we can save Mormons (or others) by showing them factual errors in their religious books and doctrines. We cannot argue anyone into the kingdom of God.
That being said, this book has much encouragement for the saints. Montgomery rightly refutes post-modernism, false philosophical arguments, and liberal theology. He provides a very credible and readable defense of the person and deity of Christ Jesus from the historical record and the legal perspective, starting off (page 8) reminding us our faith is not blind or without evidentiary support: “Christian theology cannot be divorced from logic and history.” Since the gospel is centered on the work and person of Christ Jesus, we must accept the biblical record as factual – not something merely mystical – just as Jesus did when He talked about Adam, Jonah, Abraham, and other ancients from Moses’ account. Montgomery reminds us that while we can gain much from reading books written by other Christians, our faith and our truth are founded on the “primary documents” – the word of God. This is good stuff!
On page 11 and following, our author examines the historical credibility of the Bible, looking at biographical evidence, internal evidence, and external evidence. In each of these areas, the Scriptures excel in comparison to other historical persons and events accepted by all with far less support in all of these areas. Does this not reinforce the fact that such evidence cannot bring about the change that happens when one is born by again by the will of the Creator? But to see how blind lost people are to truth and willing they are to believe anything else, Montgomery observes: “To express skepticism concerning the resultant text of the New Testament books (as represented, for example, by Nestle’s Novem Testamentum Graece) is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament.” We can have confidence in our God because His Word is reliable. But we believe His Word because He opened our mind to His Truth when He made new creatures in Christ.
The second part of this short book focuses on the legal defense of the faith. He begins (page 47) by pointing out that every false religion is self-validating, a standard that very post-modern would embrace. “Christianity, on the other hand, declares that the truth of its absolute claims rests squarely on certain historical facts open to ordinary investigation.” The edge of the knife – our faith is fact-based, historically, archeologically, and philosophically; but can only be embraced if we are raised from spiritual death by the Author of all Truth. By nature, men suppress the Truth (Roman 1:18) and cannot will or desire to see it (Isaiah 64:7). Beginning on page 51, Montgomery addresses “four overarching questions” that “need to be addressed: (1) Are the historical records of Jesus solid enough to rely upon? (2) Is the testimony in these records concerning his life and ministry sufficiently reliable to know what he claimed about himself? (3) Do the accounts of his resurrection from the dead, offered as proof of his divine claims, in fact establish those claims? (4) If Jesus’ deity is established in the foregoing manner, does he place a divine stamp of approval on the Bible so as render it pronouncements apodictically certain?” Then he uses classical legal reasoning to examine each of these.
Our author examines motives for false testimony and the complexities of deception, providing nifty charts to show the various points of tension in each false presentation. Telling lies requires excellent memory and collaboration – and falls apart rather easily under competent cross-examination. The culture of disciples provided a cross-examination of sorts, making it impossible for them to carry on a life based on lies when so many Jews and Romans, who were hostile to their claims, walked among them day by day.
His last paragraph is worth a close read: “To meet man’s desperate need for apodictic (clearly established or beyond dispute) principles of human conduct, an incarnate God must not speak with a forked tongue. And, as we have seen, no divine stuttering has occurred. To the contrary, his message can be relied upon as evidentially established, a sure light shining in a dark world, illuminating the path to eternity.” Note this clearly – “His message can be relied upon.” We have been entrusted with His message, not our own. His message is the simple, foolish message of the cross, the story of the fall of man, the perfect life of the solitary God-man who earned the right to take the punishment for our sins and make a way for sinners to be reconciled to holy God. That is the life-giving message that He has given us – and we have nothing to be ashamed of when we proclaim it. The message is credible because the Author is credible. Once He gives new life, we can appreciate and embrace the trustworthiness of the message.
What follows is a portion of what will be in part 2 of the book I am writing (Reformed and Baptist). I would like any constructive criticism ya’ll may be able and willing to contribute.
Perhaps the most clear, comprehensive illustration of the gospel in the Old Testament is portrayed in the story of the great flood. In the days of Noah, as in most eras of humanity, men were evil and there were few who knew and worshiped the One God. Noah found favor in the eyes of YHWH (Gen 6:3). Noah alone, of all the men on earth at that time, found favor in God’s sight. What does this mean? Abraham declared that he had found favor in God’s sight (Ex 33:12 & 13) and Moses, like Noah, is said by YHWH to have found favor in His eyes (Ex 33:16 & 17). Each man was solitary in his standing as God’s chosen vessel in the midst of a wicked and crooked generation, just as was the Christ to whom each of these men pointed. These mortal men, however, had no righteousness of their own, as the types always fail to fully portray the anti-type. They found favor in God’s sight because, as we see in the tale of Joseph in Egypt (Gen 39 – 50), God was with each of them and His favor was given to each of them. While each of the ancient patriarchs serve our purpose of showing how salvation has always been by grace given to sinners through faith given to sinners to believe God’s message about the promised Savior, Noah is the one example we will focus on.
In verse 9 we read that Noah was righteous, blameless in his generation – because he walked with God. Here, again, we must not read too much into these adjectives describing Noah. No natural man has ever been or will ever be truly blameless or righteous before God unless God justifies him and makes Him so (Ecc 7:20); there is no one who calls upon God, no one who rouses himself to take hold of Him (Isa 64:7). Noah’s blamelessness means he was circumspect in his living and did not give his generation cause to blaspheme God, just as described in 1 Tim 3:7, wherein the qualifications of elders are revealed. As our Lord kept Himself pure (John 17:4), using His walk with and prayer to His Father (Luke 22:39 – 46) to strengthen Him, so Noah was strengthened by walking with God – just as you and I are in our day. The earth was corrupt in God’s sight, filled with violence (verse 11); note the contrast to Noah, who found favor in God’s sight. As He will do at the end of the age, God the Righteous Judge declared His judgment upon the wicked world (verse 13) and told Noah how to save himself and his family (verses 14 – 17). Noah was told to make an ark and make many rooms in it, for the salvation of his family and all the animals God would shut up in the ark (Gen 7:11 – 17). None but the people and animals that God called would be allowed in the ark, none but those effectually called by YHWH into His provision of refuge would be saved. The vast majority of the earth’s population was consumed by God’s wrath; there was no refuge for anyone other than being in the ark (verses 20 – 23).
Do you see how this story points us to Christ? He was the solitary Son who was pleasing to the Father, hated by the world (John 15:18 & 19) and the wicked and corrupt generation that was seeking after signs (Matt 16:4). God pronounced His judgment that will cause the earth and its starry heavens to burn up and be consumed in His wrath (2 Pet 3:10), brought forth in resurrected glory as will His children be (1 Cor 15:35 – 49). Jesus went to prepare many rooms in His Father’s house, promising to take us there (John 14:2 & 3). The house, the temple (Eph 2:21 & 22), the city in which our Lord will dwell with those He saves (Rev 21:1-3); is built up of His elect, spiritual stones (1 Pet 2:4 & 5); firmly planted on the foundation laid by Jesus (1 Cor 3:11) and the prophets and apostles (Eph 2:20) – our Chief Cornerstone (Acts 4:11) and the other foundations stones that will never be shaken (Heb 12:28). None but those effectually called by God (John 17:1 & 2) will be allowed to enter in to the New Jerusalem that Christ is building by His blood and His righteousness (Heb 9:12; 1 Pet 1:18 & 19; 1 Cor 1:30).
I bring in a parable on baptism in chapter 2, so the reader will also know that this ark is specifically called out by Peter as a type, with the flood representing Jesus’ baptism in the wrath of God (1 Pet 3:21), the cup of which He drank – to the fullest, all the dregs (Psalm 75:2 – 8; Christ stood in our place as the one condemned, which is portrayed here) – to save those He predestined for that glorious end.
This is why I think this bit of history from God’s Holy Scriptures is one of the best for showing the comprehensive story of God’s redemptive purposes shown throughout His Word, which is the main theme in all of Scripture. Don’t take my word for it – this is what the Captain of our salvation said to dull minded disciples shortly after His resurrection. And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)
“The blood and suffering of Christ, applied and relied on by faith, justify the sinner, silence Satan the accuser, purge the conscience from dead works, and open a way into the holiest of all.”
– Nathanael Vincent
Birth: Unknown – Death: 1697
beginning. But how many professing Christians were taken in? We who claim Christ should not be such easy targets for deceptive tales that rail against the Word of God given to us.
Now, the publisher, author, his parents, and who all else who was involved in allowing this take the country by storm admit is was a lie! Of course, the Washington Post has the story – when has that paper not delighted in trying to bring disgrace to the body and name of Christ.
Here’s how it opens:
Tyndale House, a major Christian publisher, has announced that it will stop selling “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,” by Alex Malarkey and his father, Kevin Malarkey.
The best-selling book, first published in 2010, purports to describe what Alex experienced while he lay in a coma after a car accident when he was 6 years old. The coma lasted two months, and his injuries left him paralyzed, but the subsequent spiritual memoir – with its assuring description of “miracles, angels, and life beyond This World” – became part of a popular genre of “heavenly tourism.”
Earlier this week, Alex recanted his testimony about the afterlife. In an open letter to Christian bookstores posted on the Pulpit and Pen Web site, Alex states flatly: “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.”
This comparison came to me a while back while I was studying for a sermon. I do not presume to have unearthed deep truths, but pray this simple comparison prompts the reader to consider each Word that has proceeded from the mouth of God.
Contrasting Adam and Israel.
|Formed by God from the dust of the earth.||Formed by God from the dust of the people of the world.|
|Was brought to life by the word and breathe of God.||Was brought into being by the word of God.|
|Had close fellowship with God.||Had close fellowship with God.|
|Was given a covenant within which to live and prosper.||Was given a covenant within which to live and prosper.|
|Broke the covenant and received the penalty of death, which was carried out in due time.||Broke the covenant and received the penalty of death, which was carried out in the fullness of time.|
|Was cast out of the garden, cursed to walk and work in the world which was wrecked by The Fall.||Was divorced by God, left desolate, cursed to walk and work in darkness until the light of Christ.|
|As a type of Christ, Adam points us to the anti-type, Christ Jesus, in whom there is life for Adam’s children who are secure in the Last Adam.||As a type of Christ, Israel points us to the anti-type, Christ Jesus, in whom there is life for Abraham’s children of promise.|