Not too long ago (sometime back in May) Andy Stanley and Jeff Durbin, two notable pastors with their own perspective ministries, had a dialogue on the Premiere Christian radio program Unbelievable, with Justin Brierley (here). One of the primary focuses of the discussion dealt with apologetic methodologies. At one point during the interchange Stanley challenged Durbin with the following statement: “I’m tying this [i.e. the Christian faith] specifically to the resurrection…why do you believe what you believe?” Durbin’s response was immediate: “Because of the Word of the Living God.” If you watch the video you will notice that Stanley distorts his face a bit. It appears he didn’t appreciate Durbin’s rationale.
For Stanley (and others who share his mindset), the Christian faith stands or falls in regards to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. William Lane Craig admits as much in a debate he had with Gerd Ludemann, agreeing with his opponent that “the resurrection of Jesus is the central point of the Christian religion.”i
I have listened to this approach many times, and a constant refrain is given to Paul’s statement in 1Cor 15 about the vanity of the Christian faith if Christ has not been raised:
- “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…if Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile…” (1Cor 15.14, 17a).
What Paul says in 1Cor 15 is absolutely true. If Jesus did not rise from the grave; if He did not ascend to the Father’s right hand; if He is not seated on His throne in Heaven ruling all creation; then, our faith as Christians is utterly meaningless. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…” (1Cor 15.20a), as Paul states.
J.P. Moreland writes,
“We see examples of apologetics everywhere in Scripture. In Acts, Paul argued, reasoned, presented evidence, and tried rationally to persuade others to become Christians (Acts 14:15-17; 17:2-4, 16-31; 18.4) …[Likewise,] Jesus Christ Himself regularly engaged in logical debate and rational argument with false, destructive ideologies in His culture, and on several occasions He told people to believe in Him, not simply on the basis of His Word, but because of the evidence of His miracles.”ii
In other words, don’t just take our word for it. In fact, don’t just take what we claim is God’s Word as the basis for truth (i.e. the Bible), but listen to the evidence. Look at the evidence. Follow the evidence. And as Moreland argues, Jesus and Paul were just following the methodology of the prophets. They “regularly…appealed to evidence to justify belief in the biblical God or in the divine authority of their inspired message….”iii
Evidences are important, but they are limited in their usefulness. The Achilles heel of all evidential approachesiv is the standard one uses to interpret their meaning. You may have heard it said, “Follow the evidence,” “Let the evidence speak for itself,” etc., but the truth is evidence must always be interpreted. How one interprets the evidence is determined by the authoritative standard they submit to.
I find that many Christians I speak to have a hard time understanding this. The reason is that they have had encounters where evidence was presented by party “A” to party “B,” and party “B” who are formerly in disagreement has been persuaded to take the position of party “A.” Let me give a quick illustration to help you see what I am saying.
The Pricing Debate…
Sally comes over to your house and says, “Hey, you wanna grab a bite to eat?” Your stomach has been growling for about a half-an-hour, so you don’t need much convincing. You’re starving, but your funds are limited, so you say “Sure, what place did you have in mind?” Sally, who has been craving a nice juicy cheeseburger and fries says “What about Five Guys”? I hear they have really good food, and I’ve been wanting to try it for a while now.” “Five Guys! Man, I heard they are really expensive…you know, a’ la carte and all. I really don’t have much money. Why not McDonald’s?” you respond.
A debate then ensues between You and Sally. How can Sally set Your mind at ease? If we were Sally we’d probably get a copy of the menu offline, and then compare prices. If she told you that a cheeseburger at that restaurant was the same size and price as the Quarter Pounder at McD’s, and then presented the evidence to you, you’d probably change your mind. Isn’t that a wonderful example of the presenting the evidence to win over an unbeliever? Seems like it doesn’t it.
Let’s think this through…
Now take a step back a minute, and think about why this approach worked. You changed your mind when Sally showed you the menu from Five Guys and compared with McDonald’s. You saw the evidence and adopted Sally’s position. Why? Because you both accepted the standard. You both looked at the menu from the restaurant as authoritative on prices. You were able to come to the right conclusion because you submitted to what was presented to you.
The problem is that approach does not work with spiritual truths, of which the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one. That is precisely Paul’s point in 1Cor 1-2, which we I shall address in my next article. But, for a moment consider the Christian claim regarding the resurrection. Are we able to separate it from the rest of the Christian system of faith? Not if we want to make sense of it!
As powerful a piece of evidence that the resurrection of Jesus truly is, it is utterly meaningless apart from the biblical testimony. What do you prove, if you can show that Jesus was raised from the grave historically? What have you done if you can show that a supposed majority of scholars accept your claim, other than ride dangerously close to the fallacious appeal to majority? Not much.
THE GLAZED OVER PROBLEM
There is an inherent problem with this popular apologetic approach. Where one points to Christ’s resurrection, and then attempts to prove it on mere evidential grounds (historical, psychological, etc.). The cross of Christ and the resurrection of our Lord are absolutely meaningless divorced from the context in which these truths have been formed.
Apart from Scripture, the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, was crucified on a Roman cross and physically raised from the grave is nonsensical. Every statement that Christian’s profess about this man and His ministry is steeped in theological content. Just look….
Take for instance the name Jesus (Yeshua), that is not just a name but a name with profound meaning: “Yahweh saves” (cf. Matt 1.21; Isa 45.21-22). Or, what about the name of his city (Nazareth), which appears to come from the Hebrew word for branch an allusion to Isa 11:1 (cf. Matt 2.23). Christ (Christos) is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah (mashiyach) and it means the anointed one of God—prophet, priest, and kings in the O.T., a general reference, but a specific reference to the rightful ruler of all (cf. Gen 49.10; Matt 2.2-6; Mic 5.2; 1Sam 2.10). The Roman cross also has weighty significance in that it represents the curse of God upon the one who hangs upon it; necessary, since Jesus is said to take the curse of His people upon Himself as a substitute (cf. Deut 21.22-23; Gal 3.13; also see Isa 53). And let us not forget the resurrection, of which Paul refers to and gives true meaning to Christian hope in Acts 17:16-34 (cf. Acts 2.24-32; Isa 26.19; Hos 13.14).
How can one preach Christ crucified, proclaiming the cross and the resurrection apart from biblical truths that give contextual meaning to the extraordinary event that Stanley and those like him speak about? The answer? You can’t, not consistently at least. The popularity of the approach does not make it biblical.
Forthcoming: The Wisdom of the Babbler gives meaning to the Cross of Christ and the Resurrection of our Lord
iPaul Copan and Ronald K. Tacelli, Jesus’ Resurrection Fact or Figment: A Debate between William Lane Craig & Gerd Ludemann (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 31.
iiJ. P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind: the Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul, Rev. ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress  2012), 149.
ivThis includes Classical and Evidential uses of evidences in apologetic dialogue. All methodologies that start with the evidence in a fashion that cuts ties with biblical revelation are guilty of this approach.