Who are we to condemn Thomas? 13

Thomas usually makes a pretty easy target for our condescending judgments. So often and firmly do we judge him that we usually can’t think of his name without appending the required doubting adjective.

Why? What was his crime? He wanted to see and touch Jesus’ crucifixion wounds. He had heard the news, but he wanted to see with his own eyes.

We shouldn’t be so quick to judge him. There’s a lot of that in us, as evidenced in Mark Driscoll’s recent introduction to his commendable three-year exposition of Mark. Driscoll visited the Holy Land over the summer with a film crew and will be showing his congregation some of the important locations connected to Jesus’ ministry.

What we decided to do is, since Luke went to all these places–Bethlehem, Capernaum, Nazareth–he went to all these places to investigate the man who is God, the Lord Jesus Christ, we got this crazy idea: wouldn’t it be cool to do what Luke did? To just go there, and see it, and investigate it, and check it out. So we did…

We wanted to get Jesus off the flannel graph and get him actually on the dust of the earth just like he was. We want to take you to the places where he was, so you can see it and see it as historical reality, to investigate “the things that have been accomplished among us.” And so that’s what we did…

And when we finally get to it in a few years in Luke 24, I’ll preach on the “Resurrection of Jesus” from Luke 24 from the empty tomb of Jesus.

The question is, why? Well, because just like Luke, we want to do investigation so that you can have certainty about who Jesus is and what he’s done. We want you to have that personal certainty about Jesus.

My question to Driscoll is, how does it increase our faith in Jesus to see the historical reality of Jesus’ life? If my faith will be increased by watching Driscoll’s movies, would it be increased even more if I could go to the Holy Land myself?

This is exactly the same rationale that sustained the Roman Catholic impulse to engage in pilgrimages and hunt for relics. If only I could see and touch the nail that held Jesus to the cross, I would see the crucifixion as “historical reality” and have a “personal certainty about Jesus.”

Driscoll’s well-intentioned goal of retracing Luke’s steps and treating us as his own Theophilus misses the whole point of what Luke did and actually undermines Scripture. Luke did it once so that we didn’t have to do it again. He says as much in his preface:

Since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, must excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:3-4)

When Driscoll presents his trip as helping us have “personal certainty about Jesus,” he–probably unwittingly–suggests that Luke’s own account is insufficient. When you think we need more evidence than Luke provided, you might start preaching sermons based on unverified claims you pick up from tour guides (like this).

Luke seemed to think that he’d given us as much information as we needed. We didn’t need to visit the places, because Luke had done so, or had talked to people who had. John acknowledges at the end of his own account that there was much, much more that Jesus did that didn’t need to be written down (John 21:25).

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

The Bible alone is perfectly sufficient for our faith and “personal certainty.” If we need trips to the Holy Land to boost our faith, we have learned nothing from Thomas or from Jesus’ response to him. The point of the Thomas account is not to emphasize his doubt, but to shine a light on our own doubt. In fact, Jesus was very gentle with Thomas.

Here’s how the Thomas affair unfolded: In Luke 24:36-39, Jesus appears to his disciples, who don’t believe that it is really him. He assures them by letting them see and touch his death scars.

Why do doubts arise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see.

Now, Thomas wasn’t with the rest of the disciples when that happened, and when they reported the event to him in John 20:24, he merely asks for the same evidence that the other disciples were given. He wants to see and touch the wounds too.

When Thomas does see Jesus, he’s not rebuked for his doubt; instead, Jesus removes his doubt by showing him the physical evidence. Thomas, however, is told that he’s the last who will be shown that evidence. From John 20:27-29:

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

What’s the point of John’s lesson? It’s the very next paragraph, cited above, where he tells us that what he has written is given to us that we may believe.

In other words, Thomas, you have the privilege of believing because of what you see with your physical eyes, but after you will come generations of believers who will have to trust their spiritual eyes. How do we see? How do we remove our doubts and say, with Thomas, “My Lord and my God”?

Through what the Gospel writers recorded. They’re not even very subtle about it. I’ve cited part of Luke’s preface where he says, I know what I’m talking about, so trust me. John says the same thing as he signs off his book in John 21:24:

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

That’s all we need. When we hype visits and videos of the artifacts and places where Jesus walked and talked, we ignore the guarantees of the Gospel writers. We undermine their authority.

In seeking certainty, we actually feed doubt.

13 thoughts on “Who are we to condemn Thomas?

  1. Chris Sep 29, 2009 1:26 pm

    I have read your blog for a few months and actually a like a lot of your analysis of some of the circus church, christ/crossless preaching at some of the hip mega churches in your area. I like the Piper quotes contrasting what some of these CEO/Soreboard pastors are saying or sending out. I like a lot of what you say.

    I am not going to pick apart every detail of your post, so please show me the same charity in this comment that is as well intended as it can be.

    I think on this issue you may be over zealous in your critique. Showing people vidoes of places Jesus walked isn’t going to retard anyones spiritual growth and does nothing to deminish the authority of scripture that Driscoll/Mars Hill champion in a city full of people that have been raise to believe the Bible is a fairy tale. There are countless other issues with poor preaching in this country, especially among the mega chruch types, that is Christless, Goseplless, Bibleless and you do well to point them out. Driscoll is not one of them. He shamelessly aspouses a “high view of scripture”. I don’t know how familiar you are with his preaching/teaching or him as a man. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him and speaking with him numerous times over the past few years. As long as I’ve either attended Mars Hill or listened to his podcasts he’s preached line by line through whole books of the Bible. When he does do rare a topical series its Vintage Jesus, Christ on the Cross, Praying like Jesus. He’s faithful to the word, always reforming while holding to the truth, and is quick to confess and repent of sin modeling that well for his congregation. When the started getting to big to fast he realized that he was becoming to disconnected from his people he began engaging with individuals before and after his 5 services. I not saying the guys perfect, but he doesn’t claim that any new iniative is a directive from God like some of the guys you keep tabs on and you can’t say he doesn’t love Jesus, love the Cross, love the Bible and love teaching those truths to people. He doesn’t proof text one verse to have it justify an entire sermon of Dr Phil crap,or challenge the devil to a scoreboard contest, he tackles and address tough doctrines, constantly encouraging people to read and study the scriptures to have the Holy Spirit aid them in coming to there own convicitions rather than relying on him as the soucre of biblical knowledge and tells men to act and grow as pastors of there own home.

    Anyway I hope you read my comments with charity, I am not telling you Driscoll is above critique, I personally have disagreements with some of his church philosophy and other secondary issue from time to time. I just think there are much better things to ring the bell on that are truely detrimental to peoples spiritural growth, which you often find, than a guy who shamelessly preaches the Bible also showing video footage of where Jesus walked.

    Grace.

  2. James Downing Sep 29, 2009 2:12 pm

    Chris – Thank you for your comments. Driscoll is on the the opposite side of the country from us, so it is great to get a perspective from someone who has had personal contact with the man.
    I didn’t see this post as a bell-ringing post, or a skewering of Driscoll. To my understanding, this is a follow up to Driscoll’s “Filthy Roman Sponge” teaching, which you’d probably agree is way off base. This article just gives a little back story to the 2 minute video clip that some of us here found troubling.
    I’m glad to hear of your good interactions with Driscoll. The guy seems to be quite the enigma. Full of great doctrine and glaring faults. I don’t think you’d find anyone here disagreeing with him about the “majors”, just some issues over methods.

    • James Duncan Sep 29, 2009 3:24 pm

      Chris,

      Downing’s read my intention accurately. This is not a denunciation of Driscoll, though his statement about the purpose of the Holy Land trip got me thinking about why we generally assume those are valuable. The title of the post also implicates all of us in the same kind of let-me-see-it thinking that I’m describing here.

      The main point here is the sufficiency of Scripture, not necessarily the insufficiency of Driscoll.

  3. Chris Sep 29, 2009 3:49 pm

    Coolio, we don’t have many Catholics up in the Northwest, or even wacko fundimentist like Hagee that think the “Holy Land” and Israel is more sacred than Jesus working in our hearts. We have mostly secular pagans so I haven’t seen people abuse the concept of pilgramage or relics. Mars Hill has a high population of new Christians (unlike PN I still use the term) that were not raise in a part of the country like yours that has at least some cultural shadow of christianty and knowledge of the biblical narriative. Most here are raise secular/pagan with no knowledge or background about the time and places that Jesus lived, so supplementing the narriative of the Book of Luke with some guided video of the setting would provide more edifying for this audience than one that grew up with many aspects of Isreal/Roman context as given or taught by church/family.

    I hope some of that makes sense. I’ve spent most all of my life in the NW as a Christian outsider in two of the least churched states in the country and I’ve also spent time in Texas and the South and I can tell you they are very different places especially when it comes to there engagment or lack of with Christianity.

  4. Chris Rich Sep 29, 2009 3:53 pm

    Also, we can talk all we want about the insufficiency of Driscoll or any other pastors as we all lead from a place of brokeness. I perfer to meditate on the insufficiency of Chris Rich and praise God for his Grace and imputation of righteousness.

  5. James Downing Sep 29, 2009 4:20 pm

    Of course Chris, we are all flawed. However, that doesn’t excuse a very public teacher when he makes a doctrinal mistake. It is our duty as Christians to correct those errors, even if we agree with most of what that teacher says.

  6. Barbara Sep 29, 2009 4:41 pm

    While I absolutely agree that Scripture, illuminated and applied by the Holy Spirit, is sufficient for faith and for walking in the faith, it is still an amazing grace that we have been given in being allowed to see – either by travels or by photos or video – something of the area where these things we read about took place. For us visual learners, it helps tremendously to be able to see the things that the original audience would have already known – the fact that the mount that Jesus preached from was more of a tall hill, and not what we might picture as a mountain range, for example. Along with the basics of what the history and customs were in the day, it helps from a hermeneutical standpoint. And I can tell you personally, that to see – not in Driscoll’s expositions but in one that addresses one much farther back in time – the mountains of Midian, the ranges of the Sinai Peninsula, the dry riverbed hemmed in in such a way that Pharoah would have snorted as he sent his chariots after the people, sure that the wilderness had them hemmed in; that opens to the only beach capable of containing that many people, which just happens to sit on the only area in that deeply canyon-filled portion of the Red Sea on either side of the peninsula that is high and flat enough for thousands of people to cross it -the rest is filled with mile-deep drop-offs – it leads me to a greater appreciation for and understanding of the plight of the Hebrew people in their exodus from Egypt, a greater understanding of their fear, a better understanding of what lay before Moses, and even greater than that, it drove home to me the fact that God created that portion of the world with the redemption of His people in mind. And it led me to a deeper study of the Exodus and it filled my soul with worship and really did strengthen my faith in the God who has planned His deliverance of His people from Egypt, just as He planned His deliverance of His people from their sins and has planned His deliverance of His people from the second death.

    And I see nothing wrong with that.

  7. Ron Sep 29, 2009 4:56 pm

    Tangentially and perhaps not a sufficiently coherent thought/question, could one make the same arguments against apologetics that use extra-biblical sources as are made here against Driscoll’s ‘pilgrimage’? Could apologetically referring the documents of Pliny, Tacitus, and Josephus be construed as undermining the sufficiency of Scripture? What about the logical arguments used to ‘prove’ the existence of God, the ontological, teleological, and other ‘proofs’ etc? That being said, perhaps paradoxically in light of this post, you will be hard pressed to find someone more committed to sola scriptura than myself.

  8. Ron Sep 29, 2009 6:19 pm

    Rushed my comment…intended to say in the last sentence “paradoxically in light of this ‘comment’, not “in light of this ‘post” and that with an intent to infer that I have been edified and my faith strengthened by some of the great apologists of the faith.

  9. James Duncan Sep 29, 2009 10:29 pm

    Barbara,

    I certainly don’t want to devalue your experience in Egypt, but the problem is that not many believers have that chance, and we have more of an opportunity in this age of jet travel than anyone has ever had. I would take issue with your description of an “original audience.” Jesus’ words to Thomas indicate that the original audience is us. It’s also the Amazonian tribesman who has never heard of Egypt. My point is that God provided more than enough in what was written for the stay-at-home believer to have a full and deep faith–even the visual learners.

    Another problem with lessons from geography is that it has very likely changed. I mean, who would call Israel a land of milk and honey today? It seems clear that the climate has changed dramatically since those days, which would suggest that the landscape you’re looking at is quite different from the landscape that Moses, David and Jesus walked in. To draw lessons from what we see in the hills and on the ground now seems a bit anachronistic.

    Is there value? Sure. God gave us this world and invited us to study it. I would say, however, that a visit to Egypt or Israel should–ideally–have no more impact on our faith than a visit to Sweden or Zambia.

    Ron,

    It seems like a lot of what you are describing might fall under the heading of general revelation.

  10. Barbara Sep 30, 2009 6:09 pm

    James, I was utterly confused at first in reading your response, but I think I understand part of the misunderstanding – I haven’t been to Egypt. And I never said that Scripture isn’t sufficient for saving faith but for crying out loud, don’t knock the grace that we’ve been given in having the opportunity to see these things. It’s a gift. What I was referring to – for us working folks who don’t get vacations – is in the venues of video and photography. Without it my only frame of reference for what any part of geography looks like would be limited to the Southeastern US.

    Perhaps much has indeed changed, but much remains the same. It still helps to know what the cultural and geographic parts of their daily lives were. I start reading about them walking here and there, I’m pulling out maps and looking up pictures to see – not from a standpoint of faith, but from a standpoint of gaining information to assist in my understanding. Archaeological findings bring tremendous interest. To see the pictures of the Canaanite idols clears away any weird images I had in my head. To see what an Asherah is, that helps. Bringing a rudimentary understanding of the book of Hebrews and its discussion of the Levitical sacrifices to a video clip of a lamb being sacrificed by a Jewish tribe drives home the innocence of the lamb, the innocence of the Lamb, and the horror of sin in light of the fact that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” in a way that just reading about it can’t (at least if you’re a visual learner like me). It deepens the understanding.

    Seeing and exploring the area still has value that can’t be discredited, and if they lead one to meditate on Scriptural truths and to go back into the Scriptures with renewed interest after seeing an area where the 5000 were fed or where a battle was won, it seems a bit nitpicky to say that just because one was edified by seeing the area where the events described by Scripture took place instead of, say, while reading Scripture on a random trip to Sweden, that it is not part of the providence of God in leading that person there to see it. Even RC Sproul recounts a particular interest in visiting the cistern in Rome where Paul was held while awaiting his execution by Nero. In doing so, we get a visual – we can have an idea what he was suffering in his last days, a ballpark idea of the conditions he lived in, and where he was when he wrote those final words to Timothy.

    God gives the grace to allow us to see these things, and to be edified by them. I dare not knock that just because some guy on the ‘net thinks it ought not be so.

  11. Barbara Sep 30, 2009 7:06 pm

    Or maybe more succinctly put, it would be like a sermon illustration from a good Bible teacher/expositor who is explaining the customs/dialect/geographical challenges of the time – but in visual, 3-D, so that his hearers can have a better understanding of and appreciation for the text, which does have quite solid Biblical warrant. I’m not saying we rely on these things to the degree of the authority of Scripture, but they are helps that we have been graciously given.

  12. James Duncan Sep 30, 2009 7:39 pm

    Barbara,

    We are not that far apart. I don’t think I was knocking the grace you describe, especially when I acknowledged that there was value in it.

    I’m not advocating that we turn into know nothings about history and geography. I just think that we should hold that stuff very lightly when we put it alongside Scripture. My interpretation of Driscoll’s rationale for his trip and videography is that he’s putting too much value in what we can see with our eyes.

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