Like most people I have my particular areas of interest (my little niches), but I try to stretch myself beyond my passions from time-to-time. If you will, I try to be a connoisseur of various subjects. One area that tends to hold my attention is Christian apologetics. There is a plethora of subdivisions under the heading “Christian Apologetics.” Some examples would be Classical/Thomist Apologetics, Evidential Apologetics, Historical Apologetics, and my personal favorite Van Tilian Presuppositional-Reformed Apologetics.
One area of disagreement that I have with those forms of Christian apologetics that use a methodology not founded on biblical presuppositions is that they differ very little from the skeptic. How so? They share a false sense of neutrality when looking at facts and evidences. That is to say, there is a pretended form of neutrality that says we can look objectively at “A,” and “B,” and “C” in order to come to a correct conclusion. Tied with this, both the skeptic and the non-Reformed, non-Presuppositional Apologist deny that a person can really be certain about anything.
Historical Apologetics is one such field. It focuses on the authenticity and reliability of the biblical text (Holy Bible/Holy Scripture). The problem with “historicity” is the inability to verify every fact recorded as a definite fact recorded. As I was striking some items off of my wife’s “Honey Do List” I had YouTube on playing in the background. I had stumbled upon an interview with Laura Robinson, a PhD candidate at Duke who was identified in the heading as a New Testament scholar. She was offering a critique of historical apologetics and used Lee Strobel’s book The Case For Christ as an example of an error not to mimic.
In the book Strobel uses his former experience as an atheist that was eventually converted to the Christian faith as a platform. He lays out the work as an investigative reporter interviewing various expert witnesses to come a conclusion. The person interviewing Robinson admitted that he’d not read the book, but was somewhat troubled by the problems she’d highlighted in Strobel’s writing. She used this as a stepping stone of sorts to show the limitations of the historical apologetic approach.
The Subject of Certainty
What caught my attention in the dialogue with her interviewer was her comments regarding the level of certainty we have in investigating historical events. She was concerned that many of the historical events recorded in the Bible sometimes become a stumbling block of sorts to individuals that learn that the percentage of certainty from a historical standpoint is only about 30-60% certainty (perhaps in some cases 80-90%). Which she notes is troubling to some, evidenced by their leaving their profession of faith.
Limitations of historical analysis…
The problem when looking at historical documents she noted was that we are unable to get the source of the information. We cannot meet the eyewitnesses. We weren’t there, and so we cannot verify with absolute certainty the claims of Scripture on every given point.
And so, for her the method that she identifies as the best method is not in trying to reconstruct historical occurrences in the past recorded for us in (or even outside of) Scripture, but in recognizing the Living Savior—Jesus.
Tickling our hearts…
I will admit that on the surface such statements seem profound. The truth of Christ Jesus resonates in us. We know Him, we cannot deny Him, and so this type of declaration is often met with an “amen” from many professing believers. Robinson goes on to say in her interview that she does not need historical evidences that her husband is real. She doesn’t look at his birth certificate to know he’s her husband, she says. This analogy of sorts is then applied to the Christian’s knowledge of the Living Savior. He, being the premiere revelation of God, knowing the resurrected Jesus and His followers (He lives through us) is all the certainty that Christians need. In fact, she seems to lean in the direction that this is really the only certainty that we will get.
Trouble stirs beneath the Surface…
So, if I understand the argument presented (and its not the first time I’ve heard it offered up as a silver bullet of sorts) we cannot be certain about the biblical text, but we can be certain about the risen, crucified Jesus. We don’t need to overly stress the reconstruction of various historical details recorded for us in the Bible, but we ought to put overarching stress on Jesus as our personal savior. This is popular in “red-letter” Christian camps. It may in fact be the reason that men like Andy Stanley don’t want to worry about the Old Testament, prefer to focus on the New Testament writings, and lean heavily on just one aspect of the Christian faith—the Resurrection—in their witness to others.
As human beings we think analogously. This is why we preachers (**not limited to preachers) like to use illustrations when we communicate. Sometimes an analogy helps illustrate a truth that we might be slow in getting. Knowing this I don’t want to be overly harsh in my treatment of Robinson’s analogy of her husband and his birth certificate. But I do want to probe the analogy a bit.
Tentatively Scrutinizing the Claim…
Robinson claims she is absolutely certain that he is her husband because she is able to come into personal contact with him. Okay, that is true in so far as it goes, as long as her husband is not a doppelganger. But in order to marry him he needed to verify who he is to the proper authorities. How does he do this without the proper papers? Moreover, before he became her husband, he had to introduce himself to her (and she to him). There was a point in their past when the two did not know each other. Suppose he lied about his identity; how would she know if not for those documents that she so blithely dismisses in an effort to diminish the importance of the biblical record. (Perhaps “diminish” is too harsh of a word, maybe “skate” is a better one? You know, like skating around the issue, in preference for another.)
All Share a Personal Status…
There is no question that Jesus is personal to us. Either we see Him in a good light or one where we view Him with disdain, but in either case Jesus is personal to all people. All people have a relationship with Jesus, but not all who have a relationship with Him are on good terms. But how do we know who Jesus is?
We Need Something to Verify (give Certainty) to the Identity of Jesus
This is something that I encounter more often than you would think. A form of reasoning about Christ as Lord and Savior that is very inconsistent with reality. Unfortunately, there are Christians blissfully ignorant of the fact that you cannot know Jesus the person, unless you know Jesus in Scripture.
Are we to believe that we cannot be certain what the Bible says about this or that historic event, but we can be certain of the historic Jesus because He is personally alive today at the Father’s right hand? That I may have uncertainty with who and what is revealed to me in Scripture because I cannot verify it, but I can have absolute certainty with Him who I cannot observe with any of my five senses?
“But you have all these other Christians that may be used as verification for the living Jesus,” the observation comes. How can this help me in verifying who Jesus really is apart from Scripture? How am I able to recognize what Christianity (those that bear the name of Jesus) is without first referring to the standards provided in God’s Word? It is not possible.
But what about…
Now I know that Jesus told Thomas the following truth:
“Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20.29b).
And yet we are told that those things which are written down for us—the very historic events that skeptics and nominal Christians wring their hands and scratch their heads over:
“Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1Cor 10.11)
Things that cannot be verified by human means (historicity) with absolute certainty, and yet these things (such as the crossing of the Red Sea, the eating of manna, water coming from a rock struck by the staff of Moses, and the golden calf incident, being killed by fiery serpents; see 1Cor 10.1-10) are given for our benefit.
In what way? That we may know with certainty that these events did occur and God did judge between the faithful and unfaithful, blessing the obedient and cursing the disobedient. These things the Israelites were commanded to teach their children as a witness to them for their good. Did they have a way to verify them other than by God’s Word being shared through the mouth of His servants? No.
The Old Standard Stands…
The standard that Jesus gives is merely a repeating of the standard of old:
“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets [idiom for God’s Word], they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16.31).
I realize the weight of those words might not have the impact I’m looking for. You may be unfamiliar with why this truth is important, let alone applicable. Some may try to dismiss it altogether saying, “that’s just a parabolic teaching.”
Who were Moses and the Prophets? They were God’s mouthpieces. They said what God told them to say. They confronted the people with what had been recorded as things God said and did. Starting with Moses we find that he is called to represent God—to testify on His behalf—to Pharaoh, the Egyptian people, and the Israelites (Exod 3.9-11). In response Moses says to the Lord God:
“Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” (Exod 3.13)
God answers Moses with the following statement:
“I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you” (Exod 3.14).
“What sort of certainty Moses are you providing for us? You say that God sent you. That He is the God of our fathers—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—but how can we be certain?” Supposing that this is what Moses was anticipating would happen when he showed up back in Egypt forty years after he’d left. The answer is the same here, as it is in Jesus’ teaching about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. Either you will take God at His Word, what He has spoken, or you will not.
Point being you cannot know for certain God exists if you fail to take Him at His Word. You cannot know for certain who the living Jesus is, without the documents that identify Him to you. While I agree with Robinson that historical apologetics is limited in its ability to provide absolute certainty of all elements of the Christian faith, I disagree that the way we come to certainty is bypassing or passing over the historical elements of the Bible in light of a mystical experience with Jesus.
The Biblical Testimony is necessary for Certainty on Both Counts
For only those who “…receive the kingdom of God like a child…” will enter in (Luke 18.17). Thus, Jesus’ prayer for His people is that they would be set-apart by the truth, which is the Word of God (John 17.17) in order to know truth from error. How can you worship Christ, how can you be for certain who He is, if you do not first see or hear Him as declared in Scripture (cf. Rom 10.13-17)? How are we to know who the Christ is, if we first do not “examine everything carefully” (1Thess 5.21), and second, do not test the spirit of every teaching (1John 4.1)?
In short, we better know who it is we Love as God in the flesh, lest we love one who is not God. We need to check the Lord and Savior’s “birth certificate” (identification papers) we claim lest we passionately serve one who is not:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord…And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from me, you who practices lawlessness” (Matt 7.21-22a, 23).
While this particular concept (certainty vs. uncertainty) is often proliferated and is not unique among various biblical scholars, Christian philosophers and apologists, it is nonetheless false. If you cannot be certain of what the biblical record provides, then to be consistent you cannot be certain of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Nor is it right to assume that you can logically separate the Living Christ from His Living Word. The Christ of Scripture is one and the same as the Christ who is Lord and Savior. We must have an objective standard to appeal to, unless we desire to hold our subjective opinion up as the true litmus test.
 Laura Robinson, “Laura Robinson: A New Testament Scholar Critiques Apologetics,” interviewed by Haden Clark, Help Me Believe, https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hpdUsUpEoR8
 It should be noted that she does divide into two categories (1) historical evidence from those that would fall under the category of (2) miracles, signs, etc. as these would be only “spiritually” understood and accepted (ref to 1Cor 2.14). This is a helpful admission, but I would argue that you cannot truly separate category (1) apart from category (2) for even those elements of Scripture that we define as historical narratives, events, need to be spiritually discerned. For apart from this they are just foolish stumbling blocks to the unbelieving (1Cor 1.18, 23). Meaning that the teachings of Scripture (both categories) are only accepted as absolute facts pertinent to the historic record and not wild-eyed embellishments by religious zealots, by the household of faith. Regardless of the literary style (e.g., signs vs. genealogies), only those who have the Spirit will truly respect them as genuine truth: see 1Cor 2.)
 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the New American Standard Bible 95’ (NASB).