Little could be more compelling, I thought, than to become convinced of the truth of Christ’s resurrection. It is so central to the Christian faith that the apostle Paul wrote, “If Christ was not raised from the dead then your faith is in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:17). The objective was very clear: How to become convinced that the resurrection really happened? (from The Race Before Us)
A couple of weeks ago we featured “Doubt, Faith and Truth – Part II,” which touched on a Sunday School class I am teaching based upon my book. The class is called: “Doubt, Faith and Truth in The Race Before Us.” Originally planned to be just two sessions, the class has continued to grow. Somewhat belatedly, here is Part III: “Proof of the Resurrection” – one of the many “arguments” referenced in Part II and examined in the book in trying to “get at” the “truth.”
Again, it is probably foolhardy to even start a blog post on a topic like this that usually requires thousands of words if not pages. Many books have been written on the topic, including perhaps the gold standard in this area – N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God (approximately 800 pages), which Tim Keller acknowledged (in The Reason for God) had a profound impact on his own thinking (“. . . when I closed the book, I said, at a time when it was very important to me to feel this way, I said, ‘He really really really did rise from the dead”).
With all of those disclaimers, I will mention briefly how Sunday School topic and discussion. The Race Before Us has a chapter devoted to my exploration of this issue – chapter 10 is entitled: “Colson’s Proof: Running from Watergate.” The title comes from Charles Colson, former White House counsel to President Nixon, who was convicted of crimes in connection with the Watergate break-in and cover-up. Colson was known for saying that “Watergate proves the resurrection.” Specifically, Colson said:
I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, and then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world—and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.
We used this interesting observation in class to discuss (as much as you can in an hour) the historical basis and evidence that supports a conclusion, as Tim Keller said, that Jesus “really, really, really” did rise from the dead. Because we had limited time, I focused our discussion on Colson’s observations and the “minimal facts” approach (emphasized by many apologists, but in my journey I specifically looked at the work of Gary Habermas and Michael Licona (The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus) – “minimal facts” about which very few historians disagree. These authors suggest that a focus on these five essentially undisputed facts compels the conclusion that Christ must have risen from the dead:
1) Jesus died by crucifixion.
2) Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose from the dead and appeared to them.
3) Paul, a persecutor of the church, suddenly changed to faith in Jesus.
4) James, skeptical of Jesus during his ministry, suddenly changed to faith in Jesus.
5) The tomb of Jesus was empty.
In light of these facts, Colson’s conclusions about human conduct, and a variety of other observations, I concluded, as Tim Keller wrote, that for the atheist, for the skeptic, it is not enough to simply say that Jesus did not rise from the dead.
You must come up with a historically feasible alternate explanation for the birth of the church. You have to provide some other plausible account for how things began.
Even staunchly atheistic historians have great problems finding an explanation for the rise of Christianity other than perhaps – just perhaps – Jesus really did rise from the dead. (Or, as Tim Keller has said – “He really, really, really did rise from the dead.”)
Postscript – Not surprisingly, in our fourth class, we covered the moral argument in an hour as well. So in the near future Part IV of “Doubt, Faith & Truth” will attempt the equally outrageous take of taking on book-length, thesis-worthy topics in 400 words or less.