In a culture that increasingly subscribes to moral relativism, it’s “crucial” for Christians to have more than a superficial understanding of Jesus and a defense for both His deity and existence, a pastor and apologist has said.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Mark Clark, founding pastor of Village Church in Vancouver, Canada, said the onus is on Christian parents and teachers to have a “clear, full picture” of Jesus, as the next generation is going to “reject Christianity based on how Christians live their lives and the hypocrisy and divisions they see in the church.”
“Depending on our ideological bent, we'll home in on different aspects of Jesus and then ignore other aspects,” he said. “Yes, Jesus was all about the Golden Rule, but He was also about the scandalous idea that you have to give up your family life if it’s an idol in order to follow Him. We focus on Jesus saying, ‘I'm the truth’ and forget that He loved, served, and gave His life for the people and loved the poor and the marginalized and that Christianity actually flourishes among the margins.”
“We need to see Jesus clearly and fill in the pieces we’ve gotten wrong.”
A recent study from Barna found that two-thirds of teens and young adults (65%) agree that “many religions can lead to eternal life” compared to 58% of teens and young adults surveyed in 2018. Additionally, 31% of teens and young adults “strongly agree” that what is “morally right and wrong changes over time, based on society,” compared to just 25% in 2018.
The reason for this shift, according to Clark, is twofold: “Part of it is not having a biblical worldview constructed through the biblical text,” he said. “The Bible is very clear about the exclusive claim that Jesus is the only way.”
But a more subtle reason for this shift, he said, is the philosophy of “the autonomous self” that has slowly seeped into both Christian and secular cultures over the last few decades.
“We used to have a more collectivist attitude; now, we’re all about self-actualization,” he said. “This is about your personal feelings. This is about you flourishing as an individual. Once we've made that pivot, then everything is relativized and it becomes ‘my truth’ and ‘your truth’ rather than absolute truth.”
“As a culture, we’ve traded out the truth for, ‘we all just wanted to get along,’” he continued “This massive hermeneutic of the self has made it so that all truth becomes relative and, 'I can believe what I want to believe, don't project your values on me.'”
A self-described “skeptic,” Clark became a Christian at age 19, after conducting exhaustive philosophical and historical research for the person of Jesus. So through his speaking and writing, Clark said, he tries to address both the believer and the skeptic.
In latest his book,The Problem of Jesus: Answering Skeptics’ Challenges to the Scandal of Jesus (Zondervan), Clark asks readers to grapple with the teaching, claims, and actions of Jesus. He looks at the historical and philosophical evidence of who Jesus really was, and examines how Christians should properly view Him.
“I wanted to write something that both challenged, informed, and convinced the skeptic, but also helped the believer deepen their faith and inspire their affections and heart for Jesus,” he said.
“This question of Jesus is the definitive issue for the fate of everyone who's ever lived. You’ve got to figure it out. You've got a look at it square in the face and chase it down, versus relegating it to a space that doesn’t matter.”
Though questions surrounding Jesus’ existence have become “popular” in post-Christian culture, both liberal and conservative scholars agree He did, in fact, exist.
“It’s almost relegated to a footnote, because it’s not even a question,” Clark said. “No historian worth their salt actually thinks Jesus didn't exist. There is more historical evidence for Him than any other religious figure. You have people who are enemies of Christianity that actually wrote about Jesus, confirming He actually lived.”
The question then becomes: “Was Jesus actually who He said He was?”
“The Gospels all present different presentations of Jesus, but most historians would look at the Gospels and say they’re all legitimate and have historical value, while archaeology vindicates the Gospels over and over again,” Clark added.
“So the question of whether or not Jesus was the Son of God has historical legitimacy in the sense that we can trust the Gospels, which of course presents Him as the Son of God. There are also reasons to believe the resurrection was legitimate from a historical vantage point, which is the moment where everything Jesus has said about Himself is vindicated and legitimized.”
Either Jesus is the Son of God — “or a group of people got together and created a religion that they all got slaughtered and tortured for,” Clark said, adding: “Nobody dies for a lie they made up. These people, who claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus, died horrible deaths.”
The pastor noted that though many people emerged over the years claiming to be the Messiah, none of them claimed to have resurrected from the dead.
“Neither in Judaism or pagan culture did they have this concept of one person rising from the dead and return to the physical world,” he said. “Christianity is so unique in the marketplace of ideas, and it just lends credence to it from a historical vantage point.”
A clear picture of Jesus — the man who forever altered the course of human history — is essential to impacting all realms of society with the truth that doesn’t change and shift over time.
“When the believer’s faith is deepened and their affection for Jesus increases, their life will actually change,” Clark stressed. “The way they raise their children, deal with money, their marriage — everything is impacted when we have a holistic picture of Jesus and what it means to follow Him in the modern world.”
“What if,” he posited, “we let the whole portrait of Jesus actually inspire us, scandal us, confront us, and encourage us?”