It’s Christmas, which means people will (hopefully) be thinking about Jesus. What do the majority of Canadians (Christian or not) think about Jesus? What can we know about Jesus that’s not from the Bible? What’s so important about His death? Is it true that He really rose from the dead? These are some of the questions that Christian apologist Logan Gates will be answering this week. If you’re a skeptic or hold any other worldview different than Christianity, then allow Logan to make you think. If you are a Christian, this is a great conversation to encourage and challenge your faith. Logan also gives some things to think about when your non-Christian family member or friend visits you this season.
Who's our guest?
Logan Gates is an Apologist and Itinerant Speaker. He earned a master’s degree in theology at the University of Oxford alongside two years of study at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. Logan’s passion is to help others encounter God by speaking on the big questions in life.
With me today is Logan Gates. Logan is an Itinerant Speaker. He’s also earned a master’s degree in theology at the University of Oxford with two years of study at the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics.
It’s great to have you on the show with us today, Logan.
Yeah, it’s great to be here. Thanks.
Can you share with us a little bit about who you are? Personally, you and I are very fresh friends and obviously with our listeners as well. Who are you and maybe how did you come to know Jesus and things like that?
Sure. I grew up in the States, actually in the Washington, D.C. area and I grew up in a Christian family. I went to church pretty much every Sunday. I think I’d say it was around high school for me that I began just to question some of the faith that I had grown up taking for granted.
I think, when I tell my story of how I ended up, I think, really making my faith my own, I tend to speak about it in terms of a journey of the head and of the heart because I’d say at first it was really a journey starting at the mind and the questions that were related to whether we can trust the Bible and ‘how does what I learn in science class fit with what I learn in Sunday school?’ and that sort of thing.
I think I began to really find that the Christian faith I felt really had answers, that these questions, it was okay to ask them. Then as I was asking them, I found the Christian faith offered better answers than I was finding from secularism and other religions and that sort of thing. I really think on the one hand this was, in my own faith, a more intellectual journey towards seeing the Christian faith as really true.
Did you find that you were alone in that? I’m guessing maybe you’re in public school in science class and things like that.
Did you have friends with you doing that journey together?
You know how it happened, I did go to public school. It was a weekend retreat that focused on apologetics. I didn’t really know much even about that word, but it has to do with the defense of the Christian faith. It comes from this word which actually we find in the New Testament, apologia, which means to give a reason, defense.
I remember going to this retreat and just was almost amazed that no one had told me this thing before. That there were such good reasons to believe. We have these manuscripts of the New Testament that date within 50 years of the completion of the New Testament. There’s some of the philosophical evidence relating to the fact that we seem to have had a beginning and something coming from nothing – what was this first cause? And even Aristotle spoke about this sort of thing. And I remember just having my eyes open to this whole new way of thinking about faith. There are good reasons to believe this, and that it wasn’t just good news, but it was good news that was really true. I had this more intellectual exploration in high school. I think it was around university that I began to feel not just the conviction of truth happening in my mind but also seeing that I was needing a basis for my identity and worth that was something secure and solid and stable.
I was a runner much through high school leading into university. I just had problems that ended that part of my … I was really hoping to maybe even make a career. I think it was at that point, university, I got really tasting not just the truth of the Christian faith, but really being touched freshly about what Jesus had done for me. This wasn’t just something true. It was something I needed. Here was Someone who had given me a basis, something that wouldn’t fall away with a knee injury or a career failure. It’s something that really lasted. That put for me a desire just to help people see those two dimensions of the Christian faith, that it speaks to the mind and to the heart.
It was in that desire to pursue, I went to seminary. And I went to England for seminary in part because I wanted a more global experience to get out of the North American bubble. But, then also I found the University of Oxford because I wanted to explore my faith in a place that it would be questioned
That is awesome. I bet some of the conversations you had with different students and people at Oxford were probably just fascinating, eh?
Yes. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Yes.
That’s so cool.
Alright, Logan. We’re approaching Christmas, obviously. It’s coming up really soon which we, as Christians, we know that it’s all about Jesus. We celebrate the fact that God came down as man – incarnation.
Now, a question I will have for you which I think is interesting: where do most people, and when I say people, I mean people of all religions, all beliefs, worldviews, so the atheist to the Muslim to whoever, the agnostic – where do most people, at least in North America, stand when it comes to the general beliefs about Jesus?
That’s a really good question. Actually we can hopefully put some statistics even to that question. The Barna Group, it’s actually an American think tank that does research on religion in America and a bit in Canada as well. They find about 9 out of 10 North Americans believe in the existence of Jesus as a person. For most Canadians, Americans, that’s not really a question up for debate no matter what religion or background you come from. It’s when we move into the questions of really who was Jesus? Was He God? Did He lead a perfect life? At that point, we find about half of the number would say they believe Jesus was God. Then fewer than that might say even that He lived this perfect sinless life that the Bible claims He did. Very much the norm I’d say. Canada, especially, we’re a country of tolerance and inclusivity. We want to look at Jesus mostly as another religious figure, a good teacher among many.
Kind of like Gandhi and the Dalai Lama and people like that?
Now, what about young adults specifically? Maybe it’s exactly the same, but I think of so many young adults, like millennials that go into college, university. What are their teachers telling them about Jesus and what are they thinking about when it comes to Jesus?
Often for many Canadians who’d grown up in the church, they’re getting a very different picture. In 2011, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada did a study called Hemorrhaging Faith. They were noticing so many people who’d grown up in the church walking away from their faith in high school and university. As they did these surveys, they found between 60 and 65% of Christians of all backgrounds in Canada were saying that they either strongly felt their beliefs were challenged in university or, at the very least, challenged to some extent. I think that reflects the pressure.
I think many Christians feel, when they get to university, maybe they haven’t thought through their faith before and why they really believe what they believe. Then they come across real opposition even from their professors at times.
That’s good. That’s awesome. Now, as a Christian apologist, Logan, obviously having gone to Oxford for many years and now working with RZIM, as an apologist you have to deal with history and facts. That’s huge. You’re giving a reason for the faith and especially in our postmodern culture, we rely so much on empirical and historical evidence and all that kind of stuff.
Anyways, as a Christian apologist dealing with history, I’m wondering if you could just set the stage. If someone is listening right now and maybe they only are thinking of Jesus as another Gandhi or Dalai lama, I’m wondering if you could just tell us the story of the historical Jesus. What are the main plot points of his life? What can we know to be true from the ancient manuscripts that we have?
Sure. Maybe for someone who’s skeptical to start with the Bible, we could even take a step back and say, “What are other ancient historians writing about this person of Jesus, people who weren’t Christians?” If we took, say, even just three like Tacitus who is a Roman statesman, Josephus who is a Jewish historian and Pliny the Younger, let’s say, who was a Syrian philosopher, what’s interesting about those three is none of them are Christians. They’re from three different ethnic backgrounds, a Roman, a Jew, a Syrian. They’re from three different vocational backgrounds, a politician, a statesman, a historian and a philosopher and, yet, what emerges from their writings on Jesus is actually very consistent, what we might call a historical skeleton of Jesus’s life.
They’d all affirmed that He existed and their mention of other figures also in the Bible, Pontius Pilate, James, the brother of Jesus, that sort of thing. They would speak about the execution of Jesus by the Roman authorities. That’s really not something in Western academic institutions that’s questioned. We really believe across the board, Jewish, Greek, Syrian historians all affirming this fact, that Jesus was crucified. He really did die.
But, then they’d also affirmed the interesting fact of the sudden growth of the Christian movement. Something soon after Jesus’s death lead to this outbreak of not just a following of Jesus’s teaching but the proclamation of the Christian message with this idea of a resurrection. This sudden growth happened soon after his death. That’s not really disputed. Something caused that. I, as a Christian, of course look at that and I say, “That seems to be a resurrection shaped hole in ancient history surrounding the legacy of Jesus.”
Then the last thing I’ll just add is that Jesus was worshiped as God at a very early date. That’s something that these ancient historians tell us, not a new invention, really.
Yeah, for sure. Maybe you can shed light on this, too, the fact that … For instance, I had a great friend growing up for many years. He didn’t come from a Christian home. I remember talking to his dad one time. We had graduated high school and I was now in Bible college and I was talking to him. I told him, “Yeah, I’m enrolled in Bible college.” He looked at me. He said, “Okay.” He’s like, “Yeah, the Bible is okay. It talks about good morals and all that kind of stuff.” I guess the question is, when it comes to Jesus, He wasn’t just this good teacher that said, “Turn the other cheek and love one another.” He said some very profound and exclusive things. When you read the gospels, He’s saying things like, “I’m the only way to be saved,” and things like that. I wonder if you could shed light a little bit on that.
Yes. Another one of these historical gaps if we just look at ancient historians is why was Jesus executed? Why did He gain so many enemies? We think here’s just this great, nice guy. He’s got good moral teachings. Mostly just adding on to Judaism and other ideas that are already out there. But then, why the opposition?
I think it’s really the historical eyewitness accounts in the New Testament that lay out the kind of things Jesus was claiming about Himself that I think helped provide historical elaboration to why He was killed in the first place. That He was claiming to be one with the Father. That He was claiming the authority to forgive sins. That He was claiming to have always existed before the beginning of time. It’s that sort of thing that I think makes Him a prickly figure to deal with. We can’t just put Him in a category of a ‘good moral teacher’.
We don’t tend to take seriously people today who call themselves God. We put them in nice padded rooms where they can’t hurt anybody. Yet, here is someone who was claiming that sort of thing and, yet, He is not the kind of person you’d lock away in an insane asylum. He’s living this life of integrity. He’s doing these amazing signs. I think it’s His resurrection that really seals the deal. If that really happened, I think that would give legitimacy to the claims He was making. If that really happened, well, what about the rest of what He was saying about Himself being God in the flesh?
Interesting. Logan, because I feel like there’s lots of young adults that would affirm what Jesus did and what Jesus said when it just comes to the things that maybe they would believe in. When he says, “Love one another,” all that kind of … They’re like, “Yeah, Jesus was that kind of person.” But, they don’t even know that He’s said some of these other things, that “I’ve existed from the beginning” and pretty much “I am God.” They just discount that and the miracles as well.
Yes, absolutely. I think the biggest thing for all of us to think about is “What do we make of Jesus’s death?” The average Canadian today will say, “Jesus’s death on a cross, I think it was a loving sacrifice for his friends. But, this whole idea that it dealt with sin or that He died to take my punishment, I don’t buy that.”
Just to give you a little illustration, I think something that helps us unpack that is imagine that … Let’s say you and I, we got to know each other. We’re in downtown Vancouver hanging out. I just, at the end of the day, say, “I really care about you a lot, Isaac. I just want to show you how much I care about you right now. I’ll show you my love.” I jumped into the ocean and I swam as far out as I could and I drowned. Would you look at someone else and say, “Wow, he did love me so much. He showed me that love right there.” Of course not. Let’s say, instead of me just jumping in, you fell in, I jumped in and saved you and I died in the process. Would that be loving? That changes the story, of course.
I think the real question is, if Jesus is just some random person dying, in no sense should that be loving. That’s crazy. How is that an act of love? But, if we were in a situation that He rescued us from, I think it’s only there that this loving Jesus and the loving act of Jesus’s death can make sense to us. As a Christian, I see this fits with what Jesus was saying, that we needed a saviour. That’s what the good news of Christmas is. That’s what the angel says in that Christmas story we read once a year in church. The angel comes bringing good news, “Unto you is born a saviour who is Christ the Lord.”
That’s awesome, Logan.
Now we’ve touched on this already but I want to just dig a little bit further into it. For many people, like you already said at the very beginning, including professional historians who maybe are Christian or not Christian, the fact that Jesus lived isn’t the issue. The tensions, the doubts, surround His resurrection. You talk about the resurrection hole. I’m wondering if you could just let us know a little bit about the resurrection, maybe some truth and facts to encourage believers, but also to the unbeliever listening, the skeptic that’s listening? What kind of things can you say to maybe poke the presuppositions that they’ve held?
Yes. I do think presuppositions are a big question here. I think for many Canadians, there’s just not a lot of openness to even the possibility that Jesus could rise from the dead because miracles, they break the laws of science. I think that it’s almost there that I want to spend a bit more time just to gently push on that and say, “Is that really a fair definition of a miracle?”
Just as another illustration of that, C.S. Lewis, well-known children’s author who wroteThe Chronicles of Narnia, he gave this illustration where he says, “Imagine that you go home, let’s say after work today and you’ve put in your bedside table drawer a hundred dollars. You open the drawer. You close the drawer. You have a hundred dollars in there. The next day you do the same thing. You put in another hundred dollars. The following day, let’s say, you come back. You open the drawer and instead of the $200 that you expect, you only find $50.” Lewis said, “Are you going to conclude that the laws of arithmetic have been broken? That 100 plus 100 now equals 50? Or, will you conclude that the laws of, well, Canada have been broken? That someone has broken in from the outside and there’s been some intervention in the system?”
I think it’s actually because you know the laws of arithmetic don’t change that you’re able to see some kind of intervention has happened. I think in the same way it’s because we know that the laws of science don’t change, that bodies don’t rise from the dead, because we know that, we can see if something like this happened, well, there’s been some intervention from the outside. At the very least, I try to encourage people to at least be open to the possibility scientifically that Jesus could have risen from the dead.
I think a great conversation can be had about the evidence. I’d want to point people to some of these facts that are virtually affirmed across the board by historians, Christian or otherwise. That Jesus, well, that He really died. That’s affirmed from a number of sources. That’s affirmed in the eyewitness accounts in the Bible that he’s stabbed with a spear and what leaves His side is described as water and blood. Now, we can look at that and say, “This is probably what’s called pericambrial fluid. It would only have looked that way coming from the cavity of the heart if Jesus really died. We can really think we have, in some sense, medical evidence He really died.
Then we could pass onto the fact of the resurrection appearances. Within the New Testament, there are six separate eyewitness accounts that speak of people having these personal encounters with Jesus. Some of these are as early as two to three years after Jesus died that they’re written down. These are appearances that are very concrete. People are eating with Jesus. These are people who are sometimes in groups of one or two, sometimes in groups of 500. These are people who are sometimes not even Christians like the Apostle Paul or Jesus’s own brother James seemed to have had such a real experience with this risen Jesus that they changed their minds and became Christians.
I’d say that the death of Jesus, the resurrection appearances and I do think the empty tomb is something we have to grapple with. Why, if the Romans had removed the body and later wanted to quench this movement, why would they not just produce the body? Why, if the Jews also were trying to suppress these teachings, these blasphemous teachings of Jesus being gone, why, if they had the body, would they not return it? If the disciples had the body when they were being killed off one by one, would they really keep pressing on with this lie if they saw it wasn’t getting anywhere?
I think the fact that the tomb was empty, it demands an answer. Why would that be the case unless something like a resurrection happened? I think for me it’s not maybe just one fact that everything rests on. It’s just the number of little pieces of evidence that stack up I think makes a strong case.
Thank you for sharing that. That’s good to hear. It’s interesting to think that you take any of these other supposed reasons for the empty tomb and all these different things, like you said, with the Jews suppressing it or the Romans, or whatever. You take those and then you try to make that work with the evidence that you have. I feel like if you are going to be intellectually responsible with the evidence that you have, it just won’t work.
Until you actually try out and test the idea that let’s just say that it was a miracle and Jesus really did rise from the dead, then you’ll notice that all of these facts we do have, it will work. I just feel like so many of us, a lot of young adults that are maybe skeptics, what is it maybe, Logan, that’s stopping them, hindering them from piecing those things together? I would think that it’s something to do with our hearts rather than actually our minds.
I think you’re right. I think we should be able to get to the point theoretically that we say, “I’m willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads.” I think we like to think of ourselves as really rational beings. But, I think you’re right to point out that this is a bit more of a complicated question when this is just not some random historical fact, but it’s a fact which has consequences if it’s true. If Jesus really is God, that means that there is a God, that I am no longer in charge of my life. That I am subject to a God who has made me and, therefore, has certain rights over the way I live.
I think we should be honest. I think a good question I try to ask my friends who are agnostic or atheist or just skeptical, I just try to ask them, “If you really found this were to be true, would you be willing to follow Jesus? If you really came to the conclusion that He was who He says He was, would you be willing to commit your life to Him and to give everything that you have to Him?” I think that’s a very honest question. I think I have friends who say, “Maybe not.” But, I think that if we can get to the point of saying yes, I think that helps us be more humble in the way we more openly engage the evidence.
So good, Logan. We have a few minutes left. I really wanted to ask this question because there are people listening that have brothers and sisters and friends and maybe uncles and aunts that aren’t Christians and maybe they’re a little bit antagonistic towards Christianity, but they’re going to meet them for Christmas and sit around the table and everything like that.
I’m wondering if you could share with us some approaches to evangelism that we can take this season maybe even from your own experience, even like you just shared, that question to ask is part of that. What have you found to be most helpful?
I do think the Christmas season is one of the best times in the whole year to have these kind of conversations about faith. If your family has a tradition of going to church even with the broader family maybe who aren’t Christians, that’s a great chance, inviting them along. Then it’s the easiest conversation starter after that to ask “What do you make of that? Where do you stand with God and this Christmas story and do you think this is something really true?” I think it’s a very natural place for a conversation. I think people are more open to it this time of year.
I think I’d say another helpful question or something to think about is Blaise Pascal, the 17th century mathematician, who talked about this idea that when it comes to speaking about Christ, he was always trying to make sure people could see they wanted it to be true, that it was something good and beautiful. Then he wanted to help show them that it was true.
I think I try to sometimes have conversations with people maybe who are a bit more skeptical of the facts and just try to ask them “If this really were true, don’t you think that would be something beautiful? That there was this God who not just wants to hang out in heaven on the clouds away from the pain and suffering in our world, but who came down to be with us and to create a way by dying for us, that we as broken, sinful people could come to be reconciled with our Maker and be one with Him and to live forever. Wouldn’t you want to believe that at the very least?” I think that engages the heart more.
These questions as I try to say my own story have been more … they’re not just questions of the mind. They’re questions of the heart. I think however we can try to get people to invite them to see the beauty of what the Christian message is. Then, at that point, to help them see that there are good reasons to believe it’s true. I think that can be helpful for some of those Christmas conversations.
That’s such a good point and important. I’m thinking about it because so often even for me I feel like I need to be just telling my agnostic and skeptical friends about all the rational ways that they can actually understand intellectually that Jesus did rise from the dead. I totally skip over this part of, first, just get their hearts wanting the beauty of what the gospel is. What you just said is so good. Get them to want that and then say, “By the way, there are all these facts to base this on as well,” which is such an awesome opportunity. That’s so good. Is there anything else, Logan, you wanted to share before we have end this conversation?
I just want to say even for those of us who are Christians, I do think that Christmas is a wonderful time to maybe hit reset with God. I think there can be such a busyness to the Christmas season or even just the course of the year that we can just sometimes slide into Christmas not being quite sure where we stand with God or if we’re as close to him as we had been in the past.
I think it’s this beautiful, basic Christmas story that is the reminder that it is while we are ourselves sinful, before anything has changed on planet earth, God intervenes. He steps into the world. He offers His son and, as Paul summarizes so beautifully, “It’s while we were still sinners that Christ has died for us. He has come and laid down his life for us wherever we are.” It’s a kind of love that demands a response. It’s so extravagant and yet it’s something that can begin wherever we are. That’s the beautiful thing I think about following Jesus. He’s always asking people to follow Him.
You can start following someone even if you’re … you can be five feet away from that person or five miles or 5,000 miles, but the decision to turn your life and to reorient it back to God, I think that’s something beautiful that we can start wherever we are.
That’s so good, Logan. Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to do this. It means a lot. It was a great pleasure to chat with you. Thanks so much.
Thanks for having me.