Monday, July 25, 2005

Christmas in July

Christmas is five months from today, and I'm in the process of putting together the Christmas segments for my Apologetics Log series on the NTRM boards. Christmas is a holiday that receives a lot of attention from the non-Christian world. Many unbelievers enjoy the Christmas season, even if they don't believe in much that's involved in the Christian view of Jesus' birth. The holiday is an opportunity for evangelism and apologetics. Yet, how well do we use that opportunity? The church has responded well to Easter. We can think of a lot of books that have been published on the resurrection of Christ, and a lot of good arguments for the resurrection have been popularized. The same can't be said, to the same degree, for Christmas.

A few years ago, a relative gave me an article from The Washington Post that opens with these lines:

At the risk of being called the Grinch Who Stole Bethlehem, Paula Fredriksen states emphatically: Jesus was born in Nazareth, not the "little town" of the Christmas carol.

"I can't think of any New Testament scholar who takes [the Gospel accounts of Jesus's birth] to be historically reliable," said Fredriksen, a Boston University professor who specializes in early Christianity. "Most believe he was born in Nazareth."

As you go on to read the rest of this error-filled article in The Washington Post, you realize that although relatively few people read such articles in The Washington Post, the cumulative effect from all such publications, television broadcasts, etc. combined has to be highly significant. How well prepared are you to respond to this sort of material? What would you do if a friend or relative who isn't a Christian, or is an immature Christian, asked you about an article like this one in The Washington Post?

I'll be addressing these issues in more depth later this year in the Apologetics Log series. But I recommend that all of you do some research on your own long before the next Christmas season arrives.

The best general overview of the data that I've seen is Ben Witherington's article in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Joel B. Green, et al., editors (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), pp. 60-74. Craig Keener has a good commentary on Matthew (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1999), and Darrell Bock has a good commentary on Luke (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994). Once you understand the issues involved, I'd also recommended reading the earliest church fathers (something you ought to do anyway) with those issues in mind (go here, here, and here, for example). They have some relevant information that's often overlooked in apologetic material on Christmas issues.