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About this series
A Journalist Explores the Credibility and Impact of Christianity
If someone were to ask you: “how do you know Jesus actually lived?” or “can we really trust the Bible?”... what would you say? In this new series, pastor and journalist John Dickerson answers those questions. Using evidence from multiple, reliable sources, and the well-documented impact of Jesus’ followers throughout history, John builds a credible case for the Christian faith. Our hope is that this series will help you confidently say: “Jesus is real, the Bible is true… and I can prove it!”.More from this series
Just imagine if right now there were no universities in the United States, the roads that you drove on today to get here, wouldn't be like that because there wouldn't be engineers trained to grade and design the road like that. The vehicle you have wouldn't exist. The electricity you had that you can turn on the lights, it wouldn't be there. Without the university, you removed that one thing from the last 1000 years and we're back in the dark ages. So, where did the university system come from? Well, we don't have to have an opinion about this or guess because it's documented. The university system, as we know it, started about 1000 years ago in Europe and it started in Christian cathedrals.
I'll show you here, the crest of Oxford university, which is still ranked the number one university in the world. Oxford was founded in 1096 A.D. So, it is almost a thousand years old. This crest has three crowns on it, which symbolic of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This crest, in the middle, has some Latin words. What do those Latin words say? They say this, The Lord is my Light - education was called the light of learning.
And the whole idea was that the light of learning would enlighten society so that people could treat each other the way Jesus said. Now, the church that Oxford grew out of, was it a perfect church? No, churches tend to get corrupted throughout history. They get a lot of power and money and they tend to get corrupted. But every time that happens, there's a band of sincere followers of Jesus who say, Hey, this isn't about Jesus anymore, we're going to break off and we're going to get back to following Jesus. And that happens all throughout history.
Oxford is not unique in being founded as a Christian university. Now the word university actually comes from a Latin word for all things, Universita. And these were cathedral schools that were at the largest Christian cathedrals throughout Europe. And they said, we're going to start to each all things - Universita. So, if you trace the first seed universities like Oxford, you'll find about a dozen of them throughout Europe. All of them grew out of Christian cathedrals. All of them have Christian, overtly Christian foundings like this. Those universities would then train up people like Isaac Newton.
Now, if you were to ask who's the most influential scientist in all of history who has transformed society, so that we now live in the modern era, you know who I'd like to asked that question to Albert Einstein. Albert Einstein, who would you say is the most influential scientist ever? And he answered that question. And he said, It's Isaac Newton. You know, you were taught about him with the apple and gravity, that guy. Isaac Newton unlocked the cabinets of science for all of humanity. And soon after would be the industrial revolution and the modern era because of Isaac Newton's learnings.
Behind me, here is a picture of one of the pages of Isaac Newton's journals. He was prolific. There are tens of thousands of pages. Now, if you know anything about ancient languages, you see at the top there Hebrew on the third line, that's the Hebrew language, the Jewish language. It's what the old Testament is written in. You see, Isaac Newton started as a theology student. He learned ancient Hebrew and ancient Greek and ancient Aramaic. He would go into the libraries at Cambridge and Oxford, and he would pull out ancient manuscripts of the Bible. And all of this is documented. He would do these mathematical calculations from the Old Testament. He made predictions based on those. And for Isaac Newton, if you read his works like Principia, one of his most seminal works, you'll find that his theology and his science were hand in hand. He was a devoted follower of Jesus. And we don't know that from people's opinions, we know that because we can read his own writings.
You might think, Well, is Isaac Newton, some weird anomaly or exception? Here's the bottom line. Johannes Kepler, who gave you your eyeglasses, Blaise Pascal, Robert Boyle, who gave us Boyle’s Law, the father of modern chemistry, and the list goes on. If you take a secular atheist’s list of the most influential scientists in the scientific revolution, and then you look at their own primary writings, you'll find that over 90% of them were Christians, and that over 70% of them wrote passionate things like Kepler and Pascal and Isaac Newton about their faith in God.
Here's an excerpt from one of those journals of Isaac Newton. He wrote: This is life eternal, that they might know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent.
Now here's my point. I'm not saying that Isaac Newton was perfect or that any Christian was perfect. The only perfect person is Jesus. But when people form a whole group and say: We're going to try to obey the Word of God. It leads the people around them up into more freedom, more dignity for the people around them. And this would be my assessment based on the hundreds of ancient documents that I compile in the book, Jesus Skeptic, that we live in a society that is the result of a pursuit of truth. It's almost like climbing a mountain.
Graduates of Cambridge would cross the Atlantic and start Harvard university, started by the Reverend John Harvard, a pastor and its seminary graduates would go start Yale and Princeton.
Their graduates would start the University of Michigan and IU and Butler and, and literally the entire university system that we know today can all be traced back here in the U.S. to Harvard, which traces back to Cambridge in Oxford, and all of them were overtly founded to teach the Bible. Now, clearly that's not their main thing anymore, but they and their graduates have brought more light to the world than perhaps any other movement in history.
Now, if you want to get nerdy like me, in the late 1800s, if you wonder, Why doesn't Harvard and Yale, why don't they teach all about Jesus anymore? In the late 1800s, as many of those nations that had been predominantly Christian experienced prosperity and wealth and freedom, unlike any other in the world, any other in history, people thought, We're smart enough. We don't need God anymore. This God stuff's kind of antiquated. I mean, could a guy really raise people from the dead? You're telling me that God came to earth and died on a cross and rose from the dead?
And the smartest people at the smartest universities decided, We could build a better society without God. Why do we need God? And this is very clearly traced through academia and philosophy. In the late 1800s, you get at German universities, that had been founded by Martin Luther, a Protestant Christian, you get this philosophic turn that says, We don't need God anymore. Perhaps you've heard of Frederick Nietzsche who said around that time, God is dead. We can build a better society without God. Let's keep the progress and the success and the technology, but get rid of the Bible.
And it wasn't long after that, that the world started to spin into chaos. Two world wars would follow. And we now live at a time where there's still a lot of Christian values in our land assumed, but the overtness of Christianity is pretty much not allowed. To the point that in 2016 Oxford University, they pick a word of the year, every year to describe society. They said the word to describe society now is: Post-truth. Academics used to be about what's the truth, but we've moved beyond truth. And it's from that move beyond truth that some of the greatest atrocities in human history have happened.
For example, if you think of the Soviet Union, we all know that tens of millions of people starved to death, that many educated people were arrested and thrown into prison camps called gulags, often up in the Siberian wilderness in the snow.
I want to show you two paintings that demonstrate this, not from my opinion, but from the Russian people. This is a painting by a famous Russian artist named Mikhail Nesterov. This was before the Bolshevik Revolution or before communism took over. What was communism? It was the philosophy of Frederick Nietzsche and his peers, Karl Marx, and others who said, We don't need God. We can make a better society without God. And in this painting, what you see is Jesus on the left. And you can see all the different classes of Russian people looking to Jesus, because that was the Russian norm. Was it a perfect church? It was the Orthodox church. It was far from perfect. It was pretty corrupted. It was pretty broken. And yet people of every class knew about Jesus and worshiped Him to some degree. Russia was known in the late 1800s as the Holy Rus or the land of a thousand domes because the Orthodox churches would have these domes on them.
Well as Lenin and other young Russian revolutionaries read the post-God ideas from the German seminaries, they led the country to completely turn away. Clergy would be arrested. Church bells would be melted down. And at that time, this same artist, Mikhail Nesterov painted a second painting. If you look closely at the middle of this painting to the right, you'll see clergy and others holding what looks like a portrait. And if you study it closely, it's the face of Jesus. And then Nesterov painted over the face of Jesus with dark paint. And the whole point is he's symbolizing that: My nation has said, we're no longer going to follow Jesus. We're going to follow a new young ideal. And if you study it closely, you'll actually see a kind of John the Baptist prophet who looks half naked and he's trying to warn them: Don't do this. Don't try to make a better society without God. It won't work.
Well, we know from the last 100 years, how it worked. Massive decreases in human rights, starvation, loss of private property. If you want to know, Well, John was, was it getting rid of God that really made all this happen? How about instead of me answering that, how about we ask the best, one of the top academics from the USSR, who once he disagreed with the government got arrested and taken to a prison camp in the snow, survived. His name's Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
And after the fall of the Soviet Union, Solzhenitsyn went around the world trying to warn people. Here's what he said, “If I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible, the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God. That's why all this happened. That's the opinion of an academic who survived the gulags. You can read more about it in the book, Jesus Skeptic, I'm not going to unpack it anymore today. But my point is this, what people believe affects the way they treat the people around them. You multiply that out by millions of people. You get radically different societies. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teachings…”, what did He say? “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “If you give a cup of cold water to someone who's thirsty, you've done it as unto Almighty God.”
When societies follow the words of Jesus, those societies lead the way in freedom. And when societies discard the words of Jesus, they lose those freedoms. Now we can't control entire societies, but we can control ourselves, and our families, and our movement. And we can be people who say: We will hold to the teachings of Jesus, no matter the cost, because that's the best way to guarantee freedom and prosperity for our kids. And that's the best way to guarantee for ourselves, freedom from addiction, freedom from greed, freedom from unforgiveness.
[Jesus:]“If you hold to My teachings, you're really My disciples. Then you'll know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
I'm actually a pastor's kid. Some of you probably didn't know that. I pushed away from it for a season. And then God brought me full circle. Part of how God brought me full circle is that when I pushed away and I was skeptical and I was working as a journalist and a reporter with the values of: I want to speak the truth. I want to expose corruption. I want to help the weak. I want to bring justice and accountability, I realized as I looked around the world, those are actually Christian values.
And even if I think I'm too smart to be a Christian, when I go out and do work along those lines, I'm actually doing work along the lines of Christian values. And then as I looked more into my family of origin, I'm one of four boys. By statistics in the U.S., if all four of us are married, two should be divorced, right? That's about the divorce rate. All four of us are happily married. All four of us are free from addictions. All four of us are excelling in our respective fields. One's an educator, one's a businessman, one's a varsity basketball coach. And I looked back through my family and this wasn't always the case for my family. It was when my grandpa trusted in Jesus in the 1940s that he had a radical conversion and he broke the patterns of the Dickerson family, going back hundreds of years. He broke patterns of abuse and of depression. That all changed when my grandpa was transformed by Jesus.
And then he passed that freedom onto my dad and my dad wasn't perfect but he raised me with one thing. He said, “John, I don't care how much money you make. I don't have any money for you for college. I don't care if you're successful in this world, but you have to know the Word of God.” And he just filled my mind with the Word of God, to the point that even when I pushed away from it and went off and made the money and got successful, the Word of God was still in there, the greatest inheritance that any child can have. And the Word of God continued to speak to me. And then as I did the research, I saw that this claim, “If you hold to My teachings, the truth will set you free,” that it's proven in families, in individuals, even in societies. God's truth, obeyed, sets families free.
I wonder today. What if the best thing that you could do for your family is to believe Jesus more and obey Him more. I've found that to be true for me. What if the best gift that you could give to your family is to make sure every week they're gathered with other believers so that their minds are being filled with God's truth.
I want to show you the story of a mom here in our church family, who in some ways, similar to me, was raised in a branch of Christianity, but kind of turned away. Go ahead and have a look.
I loved growing up in the Church. That we had that faith. My parents instilled that faith and I wouldn't change that. I just, for my family, I wanted something a little bit different. I wanted them to have the faith, but I wanted there to be a better understanding of what it is, what it means and why it's important. And I think that's why I stepped away for as long as I did. Cause I didn't know what I wanted that to look like.
I grew up in the Catholic church, family of five. So very faithfully went to church every Sunday. As a little kid, you don't really understand anything that's happening. You just you're listening to the priest talk and you don't really know what that means. So, in college I started questioning what I personally believed. Like, the Catholic faith was my family's faith. And again, I love that I was raised in the church, but I just wanted to try to better understand what my own faith was.
My husband and I got married. He was not raised in the church. And so didn't really have that interest or desire. And then kids came along and I really had a strong desire to get back into the church, but I still didn't know what church, what kind of church.
So, I did some church shopping with the kids and then my husband would come for your major holidays, because it was always a great family photo opportunity, but just nothing really sank in for him. But then the Easter before The Greater Things campaign, on his own he came down, the message with John, just hit him just right. So, he started attending with us, me coming consistently, the kids coming and getting more involved and their baptisms. You know, because as a young adult, I really had a firm belief that, well I was already baptized, you know, and my parents did that for me. I don't need to do that again. And I was very adamant that I didn't need to do it again.
But then again, just after seeing everything, the kids being baptized, my husband coming to church, which is something I prayed about for about 14 years and really never thought it would happen. I just, I made that decision for myself. So, I did a believer’s baptism this past January.
And then the August one came up and he was like, “I think I'm ready to do this.” I was like, “Okay.” And then it was also really funny because we had a lot of conversations about who was going to do the baptism. And I told him it's usually whoever brings you to the church, what that looks like. And I said so that's something I can do. Or if you feel more, are comfortable with some of the other guys that you've gotten to know. And so, then he finally just said, “Well, I'm going to let whoever's there do it.”
Well, then he filled out the registration and read more into it. And the night before he's like, “Well, this is what the registration says. So, I really think that should be you.” So, I actually got to, I actually got to do his baptism, which was amazing. I don't even know how to put it into words. It was just the most amazing, joyful, exhilarating, like I really never, ever imagined that that's something he would choose to do, let alone being the one to get to do it for him and the kids were watching. So that was really cool, too.
We still have our moments - what family doesn't? But the type of music that we listen to has changed, both of the boys have been praying before like their marching band. They pray before their performances. A couple years ago, that's not something they would've done. Really, a church like Connection Point it's as big or as little as you want it to be. If you come and you just come and sit through service, it's probably going to feel really big and you're probably going to feel lonely. But if you come and you plug in, then it's the smallest church in the world.
Isn’t that a great story? I love seeing God set people free. God's truth is always available to set you free in your life. But whether it will or not depends on will you obey it? And I hope you've heard from me you don't have to obey it perfectly; you just have to obey it willfully, intentionally, with some consistency. We all still stumble and fall down. We're a group of imperfect people, but what we have in common is when we fall down, we've got people around us who pick us up and dust us off and say, keep following Jesus. He's the path to freedom.