Ready to Answer - Lesson 10

By Jim Baird

Is Jesus More than a Great Religious Leader?

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. The students will be able to discuss some reasons that unbelievers might want to consider looking at Jesus as more than just a great religious leader.
  2. In particular, students will come to appreciate the remarkable durability of the movement that came fromJesus, as shown by its ability to survive both persecution and intellectual criticism.
  3. Students will also investigate the impact for good that Christianity has had on the world. As a side note, this lesson will address the issue of the evil that has been done in the name of Jesus.


  1. It is important not just to read these notes to the class. The teacher should be very familiar with the outline and choose how to present the material, making notes in the margins as needed. Practicing the lesson a few times will allow the teacher to look at the students’ eyes while making the presentation.
  2. Some find it helpful to underline the key words that will spark their memory of what to say and do next.
  3. Blackboard should be provided, clean with chalk and erasers.
  4. Students should have access to Bibles, or have overheads of all scriptures.
  5. If you are going to use the handouts associated with this lesson, give them out after the introduction. The underlined material in these notes appears in the handouts.


The greatness of Jesus is shown in the impact he continued to have after his execution.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class

Introduction: (about 2 minutes)

  1. Last lesson we saw that based on the moral teachings of Jesus alone, he stands out from all the other important moral teachers of human history.
  2. In this lesson, we will look at two other kinds of evidence that set Jesus apart.
    1. The durability of Christianity in the face of persecution; intellectual criticism and other hardships.
    2. The great good that has been done in the world because of Christianity.

Learning Experiences: (about 45 minutes)

  1. The Jesus movement has shown a remarkable ability to survive persecution and hostile criticism.
    1. Christianity survived Roman persecution
      1. Rome persecuted many cults and essentially drove them from the Empire: the Druids, the more extreme devotees of Bacchus and a variety of others suffered this fate.
      2. But Christianity accepted the worst that Rome could do, and grew.
      3. An intellectually curious person would want to knowhow Christianity had this kind of strength.
    2. Christianity survived Roman intellectual critiques
      1. The Roman world had an intellectual culture as advanced as any prior to modern times.
      2. The critique of Christianity by pagan intellectuals was persistent and severe.
      3. Yet it is Christianity which is alive today, while the critics and their criticisms have left hardly a trace.
    3. Christianity has survived the modern critique.
      1. Since the 1700’s, Christianity has been the primary target of the most sophisticated hostile intellectual examination that any religion or philosophy has ever undergone.
        1. Some have called the modern age the Age of Criticism.
        2. And more than one scholar has pointed out that the rules of skeptical inquiry which have become more or less standard in our culture were largely designed to attack Christianity.
        3. Christianity has been examined in every area:
          1. Its Bible has been dissected.
          2. Its doctrines have been minutely examined for inconsistencies.
          3. Its evidences have been scoured for weaknesses.
        4. In almost every generation of the 18th through20th centuries, scholars have proclaimed that Christianity will soon fade away.
      2. But in spite of all of this, Christianity continues, not just to hold its own, but to grow, in some cases, explosively.
      3. To see the durability which Christianity shows in this, all that is necessary is to subject the critics of Christianity to the same level of skepticism which they direct at Christianity.
        1. Most live only until the first hostile critic.
        2. Few live more than a decade or two.
        3. Only a handful survive a century.
        4. What successes they have had seem to come largely from highly selective skepticism.
          1. For instance, the philosophers David Hume and Immanuel Kant are still commonly cited in college philosophy texts as finally undermining all attempts to know that God exists based on the evidence around us.
          2. But what is less often pointed out is that Hume and Kant have such a narrow definition of knowledge that neither would admit that we 'know’ that the earth orbits the sun or that gravity is a universal law, or that most of the other findings of modern science are true.
          3. If they were consistent, those who use Hume and Kant to undermine religion would be equally skeptical of modern science. But this almost never happens. The typical pattern is to subject religion to the most intense skepticism, while dropping to much more common sense standards of inquiry for just about everything else.
      4. A philosopher named Karl Popper is famous for saying that we can trust the theories of science when they have stood up to many tests and have survived critical examination for several years.
      5. By this standard, Christianity has the best credentials of any philosophy or religion on the planet.
  2. The Jesus movement is the most beneficial movement in history.
    1. The philosophers of the ancient world recognized the brotherhood of all men, but never succeeded in getting many to live as if it were true. But the church thatJesus established practiced this brotherhood to are markable degree.
      1. One of the amazing things about early Christianity was the extent to which it overcame distinctions between rich and poor, slave and free, Jew and Gentile, male and female.
      2. While the early church had repeated struggles with this, they surpassed all other ancient groups in establishing equal dignity for all.
    2. Christianity has converted more people without force than any other system.
      1. Skeptics will point out that Christianity has its share of forced converts, which is true.
      2. But it is the greatest missionary religion on the planet. Millions of individuals have heard the message of Jesus and freely chosen to follow him.
    3. Certainly skeptics will remind us of the evil that has been done in the name of Christ:
      1. The Crusades
      2. The Inquisition
      3. Witch trials
      4. Religious Wars
      5. The persecution of the Jews
    4. These are horrible, and we should learn from these examples how easy it is to misuse Christianity.
    5. But we shouldn’t let skeptics pretend that these atrocities were worse than what was going on in other cultures.
      1. Humans have always done things like these, using whatever religion or philosophy was popular at that place and time.
      2. This is a human problem, not a Christian one.
    6. Furthermore, if you take all the people who suffered in all of these ways, they would make only a fraction of those killed by the two great post-Christian movements of the 20th century: communism and fascism.
      1. The millions killed by Hitler in Europe.
      2. The many more millions killed by Stalin andChairman Mao.
      3. These examples alone should tell us that we are not making moral progress by turning our backs on the morality of Jesus.
    7. On the positive side of the balance, we need to ask: What movement in all of history has built more orphanages and hospitals and refuges for the poor?
      1. [Ask: How many of you, the last time you were in a hospital, were in a hospital built by some Christian group or other?]
      2. Other groups have also done these things, but Christianity has shown the power repeatedly to get its followers to do more.
    8. What movement in all of history has done more to end slavery?
      1. Because many churches and individual Christians supported slavery, we often don’t make use of this piece of evidence.
      2. But the fact is that if you look at history, you find Christians at work in almost every significant victory against slavery. [Oddly, in the U. S. our public school textbooks tend to play down this aspect of the fight to end slavery here.]
      3. Isn’t it telling that those places around the world where slavery is returning are those places were Christianity is being most successfully suppressed?
    9. Christianity has done more than any other movement in history to end other abuses of human beings.
      1. Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the most famous atheists of the 19th century. He hated Christianity as a plague on humanity,
      2. But he also hated democracy and the idea of individual human rights, feeling that it got in the way of the best and strongest of humanity having what is rightfully theirs.
        1. His last book before he went insane was called The Anti-Christ.
        2. In it he blamed Jesus for the spread of the idea of human rights, indicating that it is Jesus’ idea of the immortality of the soul that makes each individual valuable,
        3. He indicated that this idea gradually worked its way into western culture until it gave rise to idea of individual human rights.
      3. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had more enemies like Nietzsche? What he meant as a condemnation, we can take as high praise.
      4. It is no accident the concept of individual rights has received its fullest expression in those countries which are formed on Christian foundations.
    10. Almost all of the great universities of the West were begun for religious purposes. Oxford, Cambridge, the Sorbonne, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, were all originally Christian colleges.
    11. The ideal of universal education received its largest impulse from Protestant Christianity, to promote wider reading of the scriptures.
    12. Modern music and visual arts in the West have been decisively shaped by Christianity.
    13. And on and on the list goes. If you are benefiting now from Western Culture, you should at very least give thanks for the influence of Jesus of Nazareth.
    14. If you are a thinking person, you may well on this basis alone wonder if Jesus was not more than just a man.


  1. We have seen last week that Jesus stands out above the greatest moral teachers of human history.
  2. This week we have seen the amazing durability of the Jesus movement against persecution and intellectual criticism, and we have seen the enormous good that has been done by the Jesus movement
  3. None of these arguments can force someone to believe in Jesus.
  4. But they do make it irrational to claim that there is nothing that sets Jesus apart from the many other great teachers and religious leaders of history. There is no one else that can make all the claims that we have made here for Jesus. He is unique.
  5. For these reasons, if a person were looking for a guide to life, Jesus should stand out as the primary candidate.
  6. As we add to this evidence in the next few lessons, it should become increasingly clear how very reasonable it is to put one’s faith in Jesus.

Application: (About 3 minutes)

  1. It is easy to forget just how much Jesus has changed the world.Ask: What year is it? And then ask: Why is it this number instead of some other? Answer: Because those who made the calendar wanted to start with the coming of Jesus into the world. Our own calendar recognizes that Jesus is the most important man who ever lived.
  2. Ask: Why is it so easy to forget the importance of Christ? [Probe for recognition that the modern culture has gone to great lengths to make us forget the importance of Jesus.]
  3. Ask: So, how would we live differently, if we were more conscious of the great impact Jesus has had on the world?

Further Resources:

Rubel Shelly, Prepare to Answer, 20th Century Christian, 1990,ch. 9.

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