Reality of the Resurrection -- Part 2

Do we have any facts that support the historical resurrection of Jesus?  Absolutely.  And we won’t just use arguments from guys on our side.  To make the strongest possible case, we’ll rely on those facts that virtually all scholars who study this subject agree upon, including critics of Christianity.  Resurrection scholars Gary Habermas and Michael Licona call this the “minimal facts” approach.  

Notice, this approach does not require us to defend an error-free Bible.  It does not require us to show the Bible is the inspired word of God.  Although important issues, inerrancy and inspiration are not essential to our case for the resurrection.  Instead, the minimal facts approach lets us build common ground with the critic.  Basically we’re saying to the skeptic, “You show me your historical facts and I’ll show you how they are evidence for the historical resurrection of Jesus.”  

So, what are the minimal facts?  Habermas and Licona list five:  

FACT #1:  Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.  
Not only is Jesus’ crucifixion recorded in all four gospels, but non-Christian sources report the event too.  Jewish historian Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus are just a couple of those sources.  

And remember, virtually all scholars accept this fact.  

FACT #2:  The disciples believed they had seen the risen Jesus.
Scholars recognize two important pieces of evidence for this fact.  First, the disciples claimed to have seen the risen Jesus.  Paul lists the eyewitnesses in I Corinthians 15:3-8:  

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:  that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

By the way, it’s legit to cite the Bible here.  Even critical scholars believe I Corinthians is an authentic letter written by Paul.  At this point, we’re simply using it as a source of ancient history, not as an inspired book of the Bible.  Thus, we have a reliable list of people who believed they saw resurrection appearances of Jesus.

Second, the disciples really believed they had seen Jesus such that it totally transformed them.  Jesus their leader had been brutally killed before their eyes.  Understandably, they split.  Peter even denies Jesus three times.  But something happened, transforming them from cowards who abandoned Jesus to courageous men who risked life and limb for His message.  They didn’t just claim Jesus rose, they really really believed it.

And remember, virtually all scholars accept this fact.  

FACT #3:  Saul of Tarsus (Paul), an enemy of the church, converted because he believed he had seen the risen Jesus.  
Before his Road-to-Damascus experience, Paul tried to destroy the Christian church.  He beat Christians, imprisoned them, and killed them.  But suddenly, he converts to Christianity.  Why?  Paul and Luke both report it was because he believed the resurrected Jesus had appeared to him.  

And remember, virtually all scholars accept this fact.  

FACT #4:  James, the brother of Jesus and a skeptic, converted because he believed he had seen the risen Jesus.  
The Gospels tell us James was skeptical of Jesus’ ministry (Mark 3:21; John 7:5).  He was unconvinced.  However, James eventually converts and is even martyred for his faith in Jesus.  What transformed this skeptic into a believer?  He believed he saw the risen Jesus.  Remember the eyewitness list in I Corinthians 15?  Verse 7 tells us “[Jesus] appeared to James.”  

And remember, virtually all scholars accept this fact.  

FACT #5:  The tomb of Jesus was empty.
Where was Jesus publicly executed?  In Jerusalem.  Where did the disciples start proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection?  In Jerusalem.  Think about those two facts, together.  How does Christianity get started if Jesus corpse is still in the tomb?  It doesn’t.  Jewish and Roman leaders simply pull out the dead body and game over.  But that didn’t happen.  The disciples preach the resurrection in the very city Jesus is crucified.  That’s only possible if the tomb is empty.

This is the one fact not accepted by “virtually all scholars.”  However, Gary Habermas found that about 75% of scholars buy this one and that’s still a large majority.

There you have it—five historical facts that need an explanation.  

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Reality of the Resurrection -- Part 1

Last Sunday millions of Christians celebrated Easter.  But if the bones of Jesus were found tomorrow, would you walk away from Christianity?  You should. 

Why?  Because faith in a dead Jesus is worthless.  Even the Apostle Paul says so.  In I Corinthians 15:14, he writes, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”  Did you catch that?  The bones of Jesus would make our faith useless.  

C’mon Paul, isn’t that kind of harsh?  No and here’s why.  Imagine a group of people who have dedicated their lives to Peter Pan.  They construct a beautiful building to gather in celebration of Pan’s life.  They sing songs to him and tell stories about his wonderful deeds.  What would you think about such a group?  What a waste of life.  Peter Pan is a fairytale.  We should feel sorry for such people.

Well, if Jesus did not rise bodily from the grave, then Christianity is a fairytale.  Just like Peter Pan, it’s make believe and Christians are wasting their lives.  And what should people think about us?  Paul concludes that if Christ hasn’t been raised, “we are to be pitied more than all men” (verse 19).  

So, when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus, what’s at stake for Christians?  Everything.

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More Than a Feeling

It was eighty against one.  Not good odds but when I role-play an atheist with the typical Christian students, I like my chances.  But these weren’t students.  They were adults.  And not just any adults, but Christian leaders on the East Coast.  Pastors, youth pastors, parachurch leaders, school teachers, and administrators.

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Can We Make the Pro-Life Movement "Cool?" -- Part 1

A discussion of pro-life "cool" with the crew from Life Training Institute (

Can We Make the Pro-Life Movement "Cool?"

It depends.  What do we mean by "cool" and what will we do to achieve it?  But I think abortion is the greatest social justice issue of our time (despite a growing Evangelical aversion to the issue) and therefore, we've got to think carefully about how we communicate the pro-life message.  

Check out part one of my "cool" discussion with the Life Training Institute crew, in their most recent podcast.

Thomas Nagel Likes Stephen Meyer's Book

Nice.  Prominent philosopher Thomas Nagel--no friend to Christianity--names Stephen Meyer's Signature in the Cell: DNA and the evidence for Intelligent Design as one of his books of the year:

Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell: DNA and the evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperCollins) is a detailed account of the problem of how life came into existence from lifeless matter – something that had to happen before the process of biological evolution could begin. The controversy over Intelligent Design has so far focused mainly on whether the evolution of life since its beginnings can be explained entirely by natural selection and other non-purposive causes. Meyer takes up the prior question of how the immensely complex and exquisitely functional chemical structure of DNA, which cannot be explained by natural selection because it makes natural selection possible, could have originated without an intentional cause. He examines the history and present state of research on non-purposive chemical explanations of the origin of life, and argues that the available evidence offers no prospect of a credible naturalistic alternative to the hypothesis of an intentional cause. Meyer is a Christian, but atheists, and theists who believe God never intervenes in the natural world, will be instructed by his careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem.

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Who's Waiting for Your Kids?

In a few short years, students will leave our homes and graduate from our churches. They'll head off to college. Who's waiting for them? What kinds of people will they meet? And are they ready?

We Live at the Mercy of Our Ideas

I recently spoke with a youth worker who told me he was not teaching theology and apologetics to the students in his youth group because he was focusing on “practical Christian living.”  Certainly he’s well-intentioned but with this approach, I have no confidence much practical Christian living is going to happen in the lives of those students. This dichotomy between beliefs and behavior represents a profound misunderstanding amongst Christians and not only does it harm our young people but the church-at-large.  Here’s why.

We are what we think.  Recent discoveries in neuroscience make this clear.  Change your thoughts and you can change your brain chemistry.  In turn, these brain alterations affect how we deal with things like anger and anxiety.  False ways of thinking lead to destructive patterns of living.  When young people have false ideas about God, His requirements, the authority of Scripture or the meaning of life, certain behaviors follow.  We live at the mercy of our ideas. 

Of course, before neuroscience came along God had been telling humanity this from the beginning.  His Word is filled with instruction about the relationship between thought and action: 

  • Hosea 4:5 & 6 – You stumble day and night, and the prophets stumble with people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
  • Romans 1:28 & 29 – Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness...
  • Romans 12:2 – Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
  • Philippians 4:8 – Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
  • Colossians 1:9 & 10 – For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God...
  • II Timothy 2:25 – Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.
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Questioning Evangelism

Christians talk too much.  At least, they feel the pressure to.

I have a talk entitled “Why I Am a Christian,” where I discuss the primary reason we ought to follow Christ:  because He’s the Truth.  Christianity (in the sense of C.S. Lewis’ “mere Christianity”) is true and we have good reasons to think so.  But sometimes, when people hear this they feel pressure to have all the right answers for their non-believing friends.  I hear the stress in their voices when they ask, “So what should I say to my non-Christian friends?”  I have some advice. 

First, start with questions.  Oftentimes, Christians think evangelism means we talk and others listen.  So, the believer is supposed to have a polished “Gospel presentation” and a finely tuned response to all objections.  But this approach is undignifying to non-Christians and it completely ignores the unique questions an individual might have.  And it’s why some Christians are really good at answering questions no one is asking.  Francis Schaeffer’s words are instructive here:  “If I have only an hour with someone, I will spend the first 55 minutes asking questions and finding out what is troubling their heart and mind, and then the last 5 minutes I will share something of the truth.” 

I encourage students to start with Stand to Reason’s first two “Columbo” questions

#1 -- What do you mean by that?

#2 -- How did you come to that conclusion?

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Wet Blanket Believers

I wish I could've hung out with Thomas Aquinas.  He must've been a riot.  The name may conjure stuffy intellectual images but it shouldn't.  In his Summa Theologica, he draws our attention to an oft-ignored virtue: wit.

“Jokes and plays are words and gestures that are not instructive but merely seek to give lively pleasure. We should enjoy them. They are governed by the virtue of witty gaiety to which Aristotle refers (Ethics II28aI) and which we call pleasantness. A ready-witted man is quick with repartee and turns speech and action to light relief.”

I could totally see Thomas throwing down some sarcastic barbs at fellow members of the Domincan Order. Later Aquinas says:

“It is against reason to be burdensome to others, showing no amusement and acting as a wet blanket. Those without a sense of fun, who never say anything ridiculous, and are cantankerous with those who do, these are vicious, and are called grumpy and rude.”
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Brett Kunkle is the Student Impact Director at Stand to Reason. He is a huge fan of his wife and 5 kids, surfing the Point in Newport Beach, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, in that order.