Matt Connally is a pastor in the United States. He received an MDiv from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and a Bachelors of Journalism from The University of Texas, where he served as editor of The Daily Texan from 1991-92. He has also worked with Campus Crusade for Christ for several years both in the United States and Asia.
Why is all of history measured according to the birth of Jesus Christ? Why does the calendar daily remind us how many years it has been since he lived?
And why, for that matter, does any worldview worth its weight in neurons have to address this event and try to put it into perspective?
At first glance one might respond that the calendar’s starting point was, in the grand scheme of things, arbitrary. After all, we had to start counting the years somewhere and Europeans just happened to be in the geopolitical lead when the dates were set, but that does not necessarily mean that the birth of Christ is more special than other events or that the Judeo-Christian take on history is more credible than others. To say otherwise would be terribly ethnocentric and narrow-minded.
However, the Biblical view of history is radically unique as compared to all other views, for Christianity alone accounts for the past based solely upon what the records and the eyewitnesses say happened. For example, when a physician named Luke went to write an account for a friend concerning the news of Jesus, he began by stating his sources:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)
Together with the other three gospels—Matthew, Mark, and John—the early church saw these as four different views of the same events, perhaps very comparable to how a director will use several cameras to shoot the same scene for a movie. Although they have variations in style and differ in what details they present and what they emphasize, they weave together into a singular historical record of astonishing depth and complexity (especially when read in light of the Old Testament). And again, they all claim to be first hand accounts of historical events. As the fisherman John put it:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us. (1 John 1:1-3)
By contrast, all other views of the past—at least in regard to what God has done—are dictated by man according to presuppositions and/or special revelations. For example, Mohammed dramatically edited 2000 years of Biblical history based upon what he said an angel told him in a cave. So although Muslims claim to descend from Abraham, going through his first son Ishmael rather than his second son Isaac (as the Jews did), their history did not start with Abraham and then gradually develop over the next two millennia; instead, it sprang up all at once in the 7th century A.D. Similar methods of accounting for the past are found in the proclamations of Mormons, all the Gnostic forms of Christianity, and many cults. Even Hinduism, whose history reaches back several thousand years, does not rest upon eyewitness accounts but rather upon mystical revelations. That is why they can exalt Christ as a great spiritual teacher without believing that he is the one and only God.
A slightly different way of doing history is espoused by Naturalism—the worldview which is based upon evolutionary theory. For the most part Naturalists hold to the presupposition that supernatural events simply do not occur. Therefore, the Biblical account must be wrong and should be edited according to an evolutionary view of society. They speculate on what political motives might lay behind particular writings and beliefs and insist, quite ironically, that true religious belief rests upon presuppositions and blind faith.
But at the end of the day we are still confronted with the testimonies about what happened two thousand years ago. The event was so dramatic that Jerusalem, after centuries of being dominated by several empires (the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and then the Romans) without budging a single inch, suddenly transformed by leaps and bounds. The Roman Empire soon followed, and today the news continues to change societies. In fact, today the Christian church is arguably seated in the Far East rather than in the West.
For many Americans the gospel is the ten ton elephant in the room that they just don’t know what to do with. In recent years scholars have tried to secularize the calendar by replacing Anno Domini (A.D., “in the year of our Lord”) with Common Era (C.E.), and Before Christ (B.C.) with Before the Common Era (B.C.E.). But the basis for the calendar remains the same, and the accounts of the life of Christ confront us as strikingly as ever.
What is the best response? The witnesses tell us that this excellent, balanced news about Christmas is very good news indeed. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) So let us respond as the shepherds did, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:20)