Is the Resurrection of Jesus Believable?
The first blog post is in this series explained the warrant behind asking the question “Is the Resurrection of Jesus Believable?” and it challenged the Christian church to make Jesus’ resurrection the primary part of personal evangelism and to give it a prominent position in its teaching ministry. The short explanation for that challenge is: because the resurrection is the Gospel. I mean that the resurrection encompasses all of the component parts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—the resurrection validates the cross; it validates Jesus’ claim of deity, it validates all of Jesus’ teachings; it validates the Old Testament and the New Testament, the entirety of redemptive history from creation to glory even eternity past and eternity future. All of those glorious theological truth claims, all of those supreme matters of faith in a God who cannot be seen rest upon this single historical event. Paul knew this. Otherwise he could not have written to the Corinthians, “and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”
The remaining blog posts will try to persuade the skeptic, and the Christian alike, that not only could the resurrection happen, but that it did happen. Where do we begin? I’ll begin where I perceive the skeptics are coming from… “it just seems ridiculous.” I get that. Why should anyone give the story of the resurrection of Jesus a second thought? Furthermore, even if Jesus was raised from the dead, how does that validate his claim of deity and all of Christianity? It seems utterly absurd and irrational. People do not, cannot be raised from the dead.
Yet millions of Christians believe it and entrust their never-dying souls to Jesus because of it. Generally speaking, these are not unthinking people. As fellow human beings, Christians do not differ from non-Christians in intellect and rationality. That bastion of unquestionable research, Wikipedia, cites: “According to [the book] 100 Years of Nobel Prize (2005), a review of Nobel prizes awarded between 1901 and 2000, 65.4% of Nobel Prize Laureates, have identified Christianity in its various forms as their religious preference (427 prizes).” Certainly, this does not prove the resurrection and is not an appeal to Nobel Prize winners as authorities, rather it simply supports the point that the Christian faith, grounded in the story of the resurrection of Jesus, is believed by many people whom our society acknowledges as the intellectual elite.
With Christians intellects like Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, C.S. Lewis, John Lennox, Ravi Zacharias, and Alister McGrath (just to list some of my favorite geniuses off the top of my head), I think it is safe to say that the resurrection of Jesus has been believed by some rather brilliant people throughout the ages. Furthermore, I would venture to say that most Christians, at least those I associate with, do not typically entertain fantastical stories as believable stories. For instance, modern day accounts of miracles like resurrections, exorcisms, weeping statues, and healings are rightly met with skepticism by many—me included. I would demand irrefutable proof before accepting any of those things as fact. Furthermore, I really have no desire to even investigate those claims. I do not rely on them as evidence for my faith nor do I fear that if they prove fraudulent that my faith and the claims of Christ are in any way threatened or diminished. I am inclined to think the stereotypical TV evangelists who purportedly demonstrate faith healing and so-called “words of knowledge” are false teachers, maybe even shysters (since I do not know any personally, I cannot say with certainty that they are crooks). But, I outright dismiss all preachers whose message smells of the “health and wealth gospel.” Paul’s words still ring true today:
For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain.
But I digress.
Admittedly, most Christians work backwards in the thinking process, in their logic. Of the many Christian testimonies I’ve heard over my 50 years in the church, almost always I hear of faith coming before intellectual pursuit. That is, most Christians do not come to faith after a logical review of the historic evidence of the resurrection of Jesus; rather, they attribute their belief to a personal experience with the risen Christ, then they begin to make sense of it and study the Bible. Understanding the events as historical comes later. Just because faith is not first deduced from scientific or historic evidence, does not make it irrational. Actually, the process is quite rational. Think about it, the only way a rational person would be persuaded of a miracle is to witness it firsthand. Do we not all relate to the skeptic’s mantra from Marvin Gaye’s I Heard it Through the Grapevine, “People say, believe half of what you see, son, and none of what you hear?” The genuine Christian will tell you that something spiritual happened TO him. Something—rather, some-One— from outside of himself penetrated him, reached into his soul and changed him. They did not physically see or hear the risen Jesus, but they did, and still do, experience Him. The Bible expresses this experience in terms of being “born again” or having been spiritually deaf, they now hear, spiritually blind they now see, and having been spiritually dead, they are now alive. With new spiritual eyes, they read the Scriptures and believe them to be true. It is after-the-fact that the Christian goes on to investigate the historical evidence and are intellectually satisfied to find the record is “legit.” Some investigate first, but most people I’ve heard experience what I described.
I would also propose that it is the very rare Christian who can defend the legitimacy of Jesus’ resurrection using empirical data. As a result, Christians become easy targets for claims of “fideism,”—a negative term for having “blind faith,” where “blind” means irrational, unthinking, or ignorant. When challenged, most Christians can only refer to some Bible verses. And so, they come off looking like “fundamentalists” or “Bible thumpers” whose only argument is “because the Bible says so.” This works if they speak only among themselves, with other Christians. Other Christians get it. After all, Jesus taught that childlike faith is genuine faith. It can be argued perhaps that the doubters are the weaker ones…only doubters seek affirmation from empirical support, e.g. “Doubting Thomas.” I’ve known Christians, myself included, who teach that since “The Gospel is the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16), we ideally just need to get unbelievers to read the words for themselves or at least present a Gospel formula to them—pearl-string verses like quoting “the Romans road.” But to the skeptic, a Christian who exudes “because the Bible says so” is enough to squelch any further dialogue. Jesus often confounded His detractors with superior reasoning, which included Bible verses, but more often he presented Bible truth in a logical and relatable way—like parables. Also, the Apostle Paul regularly argued from the Scriptures. Paul was a highly educated religious lawyer. His letter to the Romans, his “Magnum Opus” is a well-reasoned argument. The point is that while childlike faith is to be lauded for its trusting God, there is a time and place for adult reasoning for the faith. That was obviously true then, and it is just as true for today.
Perhaps to some readers I’ve merely confirmed the skeptic’s suspicions that Christians are using “circular reasoning,” which is not reasoning at all. Did I not state that we Christians come to the debate with pre-conceived conclusions, biased toward seeing only what we want to see rather than using pure, objective research…like they do. Or do they?
Getting back to my alien and the Iowa farmer analogy…why would otherwise rational people (Christians) believe the resurrection of Jesus, especially 2,000 years removed from the supposed event? And why should Christians press the skeptic to believe when they seemingly do the same thing the skeptic does when confronted with fantastical stories?
I begin answering with, and arguing for, the uniqueness of Jesus’s miracles and especially His resurrection. While I am skeptical of modern-day miracles, I do allow for the possibility of miracles. One reason why they can happen is because they have happened. One difference between the Christian and the skeptic is the Christian believes in a very particular theism while most skeptics, secularists, believe in naturalism or materialism. That means Christians believe in an unseen, spiritual reality, specifically that which the Bible accounts for, while most skeptics believe in a purely material world.
The next blog post will present a detailed argument for the historical evidence drawn largely from Gary Habermas’s “minimal facts” argument. It should interest the skeptic and Christian alike that the resurrection can be substantiated using the skeptics’ own criteria!
Wikipedia, “List of Christian Nobel Laureates,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_Nobel_laureates#CITEREFShalev2003, accessed December 24, 2016