Called to Prayer

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Defining Moments 


Michael Licona 

Contributing to Part 4: “Coming to the Crux” 


Michael Licona is associate professor of theology at Houston Baptist University and 

author of the groundbreaking work The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical 

Approach. He has publically debated many leading agnostic and Muslim scholars and spoken at 

more than fifty university campuses worldwide. 

There are times when each of us must make a decision that reveals our character and 

determines the course our life will take. This is called a “defining moment.” Caesar decided to 

cross the Rubicon, knowing his action would result in a civil war with Rome. Dietrich 

Bonhoeffer decided to involve himself with a plot to kill Hitler, knowing his actions were 

morally justified but also that the plan could cost him his life. 

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus wrestled with His impending torture and brutal 

execution. He had to decide whether to retreat or face the ordeal. Anyone in similar 

circumstances would want to leave, and Jesus indicated that was His desire. But He also 

recognized that His very purpose in this world was to endure such an ordeal. So He decided to 

face the ordeal (Mark 14:32–15:39; John 18:1–19:30). This was a defining moment in Jesus’ life, 

and it altered the cosmic order. 

When I first met Nabeel, neither he nor I realized each of us would soon experience 

defining moments in our lives. The journeys on which each of us were about to embark were 



quite similar. At the starting line, both of us were raised in families that took seriously their 

religious beliefs. From a very early age, both of us had possessed a desire to know God and 

please Him. Both of us were committed to following truth, no matter where it led. Both of us 

sincerely believed we were already following the truth and the other was not. 

My journey started in 2003 when I began my doctoral research. I began with the 

objective of proving Jesus’ resurrection from a different angle: to show Jesus had risen from the 

dead, using the standard tools of historical investigation. I began by reading literature on the 

philosophy of history and the historical method. It wasn’t long before I was confronted with the 

challenge of my personal biases. I wanted Jesus’ resurrection to be proven fact. But the literature 

was informing me that my objective could severely hinder the integrity of my investigation. Of 

course, skeptics are faced with a similar challenge: they want Jesus’ resurrection to be disproved. 

If left unchecked, our biases will so guide our historical investigations that we will almost always 

arrive at the conclusion we seek. 

After about a year of study, the motivation behind my doctoral research changed. Instead 

of seeking to prove Jesus’ resurrection, I was now consumed with discovering what an 

investigation of the matter would reveal if I were to place my bias on the shelf as best as I could. 

I engaged in numerous public debates with prominent skeptical scholars on the question, “Did 

Jesus rise from the dead?” Prior to each debate, I asked God to reveal truth to me. “If I’m on the 

wrong track, please show me my error. Humiliate me if needed. Just break through any part of 

my conditioning that’s prohibiting me from seeing truth. I just want to follow You, Lord, even if 

You’re not who I think You are.” 

Because most of my debate opponents were prominent scholars who are well-informed, I 

knew there was no room for laziness on my part. I was forced to become well-acquainted with 



the data and how each opponent would account for it. In a debate, I could not merely reply that 

their arguments did not convince me. I had to provide reasons—good reasons—for why their 

arguments were ineffective. Therefore, debates forced me to think through virtually every 

element of the matter of Jesus’ resurrection. My journey was a difficult one, in which I often 

agonized over keeping a check on my bias. After five and a half years, my journey ended with 

my concluding that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead accounts for the historical data in a manner 

far superior to any competing hypothesis.


 My decision to seek and follow truth no matter where 

it led and my decision to engage in persistent efforts to manage my biases as best as I possibly 

could during my investigation were defining moments in my life. I remain a follower of Jesus 

not because I was raised that way but because the historical evidence strongly suggests that His 

resurrection from the dead was an event that occurred in history. 

Nabeel entered his journey with confidence that the evidence would confirm his Islamic 

faith. His journey was intense and, as far as I could tell, was honest and open-minded. Nabeel 

unreservedly wanted Islam to be true. It was the way he had been raised, and he was proud to be 

a Muslim. He also deeply loved his parents and did not want to cause them grief or bring them 

disgrace from their Islamic community, difficulties that would surely follow if Nabeel left the 

faith they had taught him and become a follower of Jesus. This is a matter that non-Muslim 

Westerners rarely consider, since this type of disgrace is not common in our culture. However, 



 Interested readers may view a number of my debates at A 

slightly revised version of my doctoral dissertation is available as a book: Michael R. Licona, 

The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: 

InterVarsity, 2010). 



like I am, Nabeel is more interested in discovering and finding truth, even when doing so may 

lead to undesirable consequences. But when we consider that there is a very good chance that our 

decision about Jesus will determine our eternal destiny, should anything other than a serious 

pursuit of truth satisfy us? Nabeel’s journey may have taken less time than my own, but it was no 

less agonizing for him. When Nabeel discovered that the strong evidence for Jesus’ divinity—

His personal claims to being God’s heavenly Son, His death by crucifixion, and His resurrection 

from the dead—was able to withstand the toughest critical scrutiny by Islamic and skeptical 

scholars alike, he decided to be led by the truth and became a follower of Jesus. This was, 

indeed, a defining moment for Nabeel. 




The Deity of Jesus Christ 


J. Ed Komoszewski 

Contributing to Section 5: “Jesus: Mortal Messiah or Divine Son of God?” 


J. Ed Komoszewski has served as a professor of biblical and theological studies at 

Northwestern College and as the director of research for Josh McDowell Ministry. He is 

coauthor of two influential books: Reinventing Jesus and Putting Jesus in His Place, both 

focused on the identity and deity of Jesus. 

Tensions rise when the name Jesus is dropped. It has always been this way. In Jesus’ own 

day, the Jewish authorities were just as suspicious of His divine claims as Nabeel had been as a 

pious Muslim struggling to come to terms with the provocative rabbi from Galilee in modern 

times. “Who do you think you are?” they demanded upon realizing that Jesus claimed to be 

greater than Abraham (John 8:53). The scribes and Pharisees were repeatedly confronted with 

Jesus’ claims straight from His mouth, so they couldn’t simply dismiss those claims as later 

corruptions (as Islam had taught Nabeel to do). Quite tellingly, their own explanation—reported 

in all four gospels—was that Jesus was controlled by a demon (Matt. 9:34; 12:24; Mark 3:22; 

Luke 11:15; John 7:20; 8:48). 

Islam does not stoop so low. In fact, it honors Jesus as highly as its theology allows it to 

honor any human being. Islam regards Him as a great prophet, second in importance only to 

Muhammad. It agrees with the New Testament that Jesus (unlike Muhammad) was conceived 

and born of a virgin. It also teaches that Jesus ascended bodily to paradise or heaven without 



even dying (again, unlike Muhammad). Although this teaching disagrees with the New 

Testament, it expresses a noble view of Jesus from a Muslim perspective. 

Of course, Christians agree that Jesus was both a human being and a great prophet, but 

we understand Him to be far more than that. Regrettably, we sometimes give the impression that 

belief in Jesus as God incarnate derives solely from the gospel of John. And this opens the door 

to the “John doesn’t count” argument that Nabeel used to get around the testimony of the fourth 

gospel. In actuality, as Nabeel soon discovered, other parts of the New Testament tout an equally 

high view of Jesus Christ. The following examples only scratch the surface. 

The apostle Paul wrote his epistles or letters between the years 49 and 65. Since Jesus 

died in 30 or 33, this means his epistles were all written within about twenty to thirty-five years 

after Jesus’ death. They are generally recognized as the earliest Christian writings. Remarkably 

enough, Paul twice called Jesus “God” (Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13). But his favorite title for Jesus was 



,” the designation used by Jews in the first century when speaking or writing in reference 

to the Hebrew divine name YHWH (“Yahweh” or “Jehovah”). For example, where the Old 

Testament referred to “the day of the L


” (day of Yahweh, e.g., Joel 2:31), Paul referred to 

“the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14; etc.). Where the Old Testament spoke of 

“calling on the name of the L


” (the name of Yahweh, e.g., Joel 2:32), Paul spoke of calling 

“on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2; see also Rom. 10:12–14). Where the Old 

Testament made the foundation of Israel’s faith the confession that there is “one L


” who 

alone is God (Deut. 6:4), Paul affirms that Jesus is the “one Lord” through whom all things were 

made (1 Cor. 8:6; see also Eph. 4:5). Where the Old Testament states that every knee will bow 

and every tongue swear allegiance to the L


 (Isa. 45:23), Paul says that every knee will bow 



and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10–11). These examples make clear 

that Paul—just like John—viewed Jesus as far more than a prophet. 

But if John “doesn’t count,” then perhaps Paul doesn’t count either. Nabeel describes 

some of the polemical arguments he was taught as a Muslim to call Paul’s teaching into question. 

The problem with this approach, of course, is that soon no early Christian source will count. Yet 

Jesus is called God not only in John (1:1, 18; 20:28) and Paul (Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13) but also in 

Acts (20:28), Hebrews (1:8), and 2 Peter (1:1). He is revered as the L


 (Yahweh) not only in 

Paul but also in Acts (1:24; 2:21, 36) and 1 Peter (2:3; 3:13–16). Both Hebrews (1:6) and 

Revelation (5:12–13) teach that the angels in heaven worship Jesus Christ. The belief that Jesus 

is infinitely exalted permeates New Testament writings. 

Consider the gospel of Mark, which most scholars think was the first gospel to be written. 

Mark begins his gospel by quoting Isaiah 40:3: “Make ready the way of the Lord, make His 

paths straight” (Mark 1:3 NASB). Yet “the Lord” whose way is made ready is the Lord Jesus, 

whom John the Baptist said was so far above him that John was not even worthy to perform the 

menial slave’s task of loosening his sandal (Mark 1:7–8). Throughout the gospel of Mark, Jesus 

speaks and acts in ways that are simply far too exalted even if He were a great prophet. When 

Jesus healed people, cast out demons, or performed other miracles, He did so not by asking God 

in prayer to do these things; rather, He spoke the word, and it happened (1:25–27, 41, etc.). He 

forgave a man’s sins, which the scribes recognized was the sole prerogative of God (2:5–7). He 

claimed to be the Lord of the Sabbath, transcending the laws of its observance (2:28). When He 

was on the Sea of Galilee with His disciples and a violent storm threatened to pull their ship 

down, Jesus told the storm to “be still,” and it did (4:39). When He was questioned by the high 



priest, Jesus said that He would sit at the right hand of the Power in heaven (14:62). In other 

words, He was going to rule from the throne of God alongside the Father. 

What about Matthew, usually considered the most Jewish of the four gospels? Matthew’s 

gospel has all of the same elements we have seen in Mark’s and includes additional testimonies 

to the deity of Christ. Matthew’s narrative begins by describing Jesus as “God with us” (Matt. 

1:23) and climaxes with the resurrected Jesus promising His disciples, “I am with you always, 

even to the end of the age” (28:20 NASB). In other words, Jesus embodies the divine presence; 

He is God in the flesh. Another statement along the same lines appears about halfway through 

the gospel, when Jesus tells His disciples, “Where two or three have gathered together in My 

name, I am there in their midst” (18:20 NASB). No mere prophet, no matter how great, would or 

could make such a claim. When the disciples saw the risen Jesus, they worshiped Him, and He 

claimed to have all authority in both heaven and earth (28:17–18). Clearly, Matthew also viewed 

Jesus as nothing less than full deity. 

All of the principal authors of the New Testament writings—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, 

Paul, Peter, and the unnamed author of Hebrews—attest to the divine claims, nature, and 

prerogatives of Jesus. These men wrote from thirty to sixty years after Jesus’ death; all of them 

except Luke were Jewish men who spent part of their lives in Judea and Galilee. They all either 

knew Jesus personally or knew people who had known Jesus personally. By contrast, 

Muhammad did not know Jesus and did not know anyone who had ever seen Jesus. He lived five 

hundred years later in a different culture and in a different country (Arabia), and it is on the basis 

of his teaching alone that Islam regards Jesus as a great prophet but not divine. From a strictly 

historical perspective, the multiple testimonies of the first-century New Testament authors must 

take precedence with regard to understanding who and what Jesus claimed to be. Nabeel 



eventually gave the New Testament writings their proper place. And Jesus eternally took His 

rightful place, as God, on the throne of Nabeel’s heart. 




The Trinity and the Gospel 


Robert M. Bowman, Jr. 

Contributing to Part 6: “The Case for the Gospel” 


Robert M. Bowman Jr. is the director of research for the Institute for Religious Research 

based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Rob has taught apologetics, biblical studies, and new 

religious movements at Biola University and Cornerstone University and is the author of sixty 

articles and thirteen books, including Why You Should Believe in the Trinity and The Word-

Faith Controversy

Nabeel was a Muslim when he struggled with and even fought against the Christian 

doctrines of the Trinity and of salvation by the death of Jesus Christ. But it isn’t just Muslims 

and people of other non-Christian backgrounds who have difficulty coming to terms with these 

beliefs. I myself, though coming from a Christian background, went through a period of intense 

doubt and searching during my college years regarding these and other Christian teachings. Like 

many others, I was especially troubled by the doctrine of the Trinity. Not only was it difficult to 

understand but it was unclear whether the Bible even supported it. I once had discussions with a 

Sunday school teacher who tried to defend the Trinity by insisting that Jesus is God the Father. I 

knew that wasn’t what the Trinity means. 

As I studied the Bible and wrestled with these issues, I came to understand that in a real 

sense the doctrine was not a human creation, even though its verbal formulations in the creeds 

were composed by fallible men. Frankly, the Trinity is not the sort of doctrine people invent. 



When people create doctrines, they generally try to come up with an elegantly simple idea that 

others can get behind. In doing so, they typically come up with an idea that you can find in a 

variety of religions throughout history. On the one hand, that is why there are various religions 

teaching that everything is divine or has divinity in it, why quite a few teach that there are many 

gods with some greater than others, and why several assert that God is a solitary person who 

stays outside the universe looking in at us. On the other hand, a God who exists eternally in three 

distinct persons, one who assumed human nature while still remaining God—this complex, 

challenging set of ideas is unique among all the religions of the world. You cannot find it outside 

of historic Christianity. 

So where did this doctrine originate? Christians believe that God is triune—that He exists 

as one God in three persons—because Jesus revealed God in that way. Jesus taught us, foremost, 

about our heavenly Father. The Lord’s Prayer, the most famous of all prayers, begins, “Our 

Father, who art in heaven.” Christians think of God as their Father because Jesus taught us to 

think of Him that way. At the same time, we see in the gospels that Jesus claimed to be God’s 

“Son” in a way that showed Him to be absolutely unique. For example, when Jewish teachers 

challenged Jesus for working on the Sabbath (by healing a paralyzed man), Jesus explained that 

the Father worked on the Sabbath, and as His Son, so did He (John 5:17). In some way, then, 

Jesus is uniquely the Son of God, but He graciously invites us to “share” in His close, familial 

relationship with the Father, to become God’s “children.” Jesus also promised that after His 

return to heaven, He would send someone else in His place to be with His disciples forever (John 

14:16–17; 15:26–27). This someone else was the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit is 

identified in the Bible as God (Acts 5:3–4) but is someone distinct from the Father and the Son, 

as these and many other texts of the Bible reveal. So Jesus reveals the Trinity to us by revealing 



(1) the Father as the one who sent Jesus and who invites us to be His children, (2) Jesus Himself 

as the unique Son of the Father, and (3) the Holy Spirit as a divine person sent from the Father 

and the Son after Jesus returned to heaven. 

The key to understanding this, for me, was to answer the question, Who is Jesus? If Jesus 

really is the Son who came from the Father, died and rose again for our salvation, ascended into 

heaven, and then sent the Holy Spirit to live within His people, then something along the lines of 

the doctrine of the Trinity is true. The more I studied the Bible, the more ways it revealed Jesus 

to be the eternal, divine Son of God come in the flesh (what Christians call the incarnation). 

Once I got past crude caricatures of the Trinity and weak objections to its possible existence, I 

began recognizing its truth throughout Scripture. 

I also came to appreciate how closely the doctrine of the Trinity is linked to the gospel of 

salvation. The gospel or “good news” is the message of God’s victory over the devil and over 

human rebellion, corruption, and death. It isn’t about what I do for God; it’s about what He has 

done and is doing for me. Jesus isn’t a character sent by the Creator to tell us to straighten up and 

fly right; Jesus is the Creator who walked among us in humility to experience our fragility and to 

rescue us from our hopeless human condition. 

His paying the debt for our sins is just one part of how He saves us. Jesus did not pay the 

penalty for our misdeeds so we can continue disobeying God with abandon; rather, in dying on 

the cross, Jesus not only canceled our spiritual debt but also cured our spiritual disease. When we 

put our trust in Christ, He forgives our sins and also begins the work of changing us from the 

inside to become holy and loving like Him, and like God our Father. Jesus does this through the 

Holy Spirit, whom He sent. Salvation by grace does not mean we stay impure sinners forever. 

Rather, it means that God forgives all our sins and does for us what we cannot do for ourselves 



by paying the penalty for our sins and working to eliminate sin from our lives. He does this in 

two stages: while we are mortal, the Holy Spirit changes our hearts so that we begin to live in a 

way that is more pleasing to God, even though we still commit sin; and then in the resurrection at 

the end of history, we will be made morally and spiritually perfect beings. 

Thus, all three persons of the Trinity are involved in our salvation. The Father calls us 

into a relationship with Him through the Son, whom He sent; the Son creates that relationship by 

dying to break down the barrier of rebellion that has separated us from the Father; and the Holy 

Spirit works within us to trust in the Son and to worship the Father according to the truth of the 

gospel. When we are brought into the Christian faith, this is why we are baptized “in the name of 

the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19 NIV). It means that we are 

acknowledging the three persons as the one God who has mercifully rescued us from our sin and 

given us the gift of eternal life. 




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