Why Assumptions Can Be Hazardous to the Truth of Christianity

The producers of God’s Not Dead 2, asked me to play a small role in the film, testifying as an expert witness in a civil trial. I was happy to defend the historicity of Jesus and the eyewitness reliability of the Gospels, but I know my efforts sometimes fall on deaf ears. The evidential strength of my case is usually dependent on the pre-existing biases of my audience. If my hearers hold a philosophical presupposition that prevents them from hearing (or fairly evaluating) what I have to say, the truth will elude them. Assumptions can be hazardous to the truth of Christianity.

I began to understand the hazard of philosophical presuppositions while working as a homicide detective.

You Can Trust the Gospel Accounts, Even If They Don’t Agree

In the upcoming movie, God’s Not Dead 2, I was asked to defend the historicity of Jesus and the eyewitness reliability of the Gospels. Skeptics sometimes challenge the gospels because there appear to be differences between the accounts. As a skeptic myself, investigating the gospels for the first time at the age of thirty-five, I also observed the discrepancies between the gospels. These differences didn’t, however, automatically disqualify them for me. If there’s one thing my experience as a detective has revealed, it’s that witnesses often make conflicting and inconsistent statements when describing what they saw at a crime scene.

Investigating Easter: Were the Disciples Simply Influenced by Limited “Spiritual” Sightings?

As an unbelieving investigator of the gospels, I made a list of explanations for the what the gospel authors reported about the Resurrection of Jesus. I was a committed philosophical naturalist at the time, so I rejected the Resurrection as unreasonable. Instead, I believed there had to be a better explanation. Were the disciples lying? Did they imagine the Resurrection? I searched for a more “acceptable” alternative. In recent years, some skeptics have offered one such alternate explanation: Perhaps one or two of the disciples had a “vision” of the risen Christ and then convinced the others that these “spiritual” sightings were legitimate. They argue that additional sightings simply came as a response to the intense influence of the first visions.

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Investigating Easter: Were the Disciples Fooled By An Imposter?

As an atheist, the Resurrection of Jesus seemed preposterous to me. I was willing to accept the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth, but I rejected the supernatural claims of the New Testament Gospels, especially the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. When I eventually decided to investigate the Resurrection, I made a list of all the possible explanations for the claims of the disciples. Were they mistaken about the death of Jesus? Did they lie about the Resurrection? Were they hallucinating? I examined a number of explanations, including the possibility that an imposter tricked the disciples and convinced them that Jesus was still alive. If this were the case, the disciples might have unknowingly advanced a lie.

While imposter theories may account for the observations of the disciples, they require an additional set of conspirators (other than the apostles who were later fooled) to accomplish the task of stealing the body. Many of my partners spent several years investigating fraud and forgery crimes prior to joining us on the homicide team. They’ve learned something about successful con artists. The less the victim understands about the specific topic and area in which they are being “conned,” the more likely the con artist will be successful. Victims are often fooled and swindled out of their money because they have little or no expertise in the area in which the con artist is operating. The perpetrator is able to use sophisticated language and make claims that are outside of the victim’s expertise. The crook sounds legitimate, primarily because the victim doesn’t really know what truly is legitimate. When the targeted victim knows more about the subject than the person attempting the con, the odds are good that the perpetrator will fail at his attempt to fool the victim. For this reason, the proposal that a sophisticated first-century con artist fooled the disciples seems unreasonable. There are many concerns with such a theory:

1. The impersonator would have to be familiar enough with Jesus’s mannerisms and statements to convince the disciples. The disciples knew the topic of the con better than anyone who might con them.

2. Many of the disciples were skeptical and displayed none of the necessary naïveté that would be required for the con artist to succeed. Thomas, for example, was openly skeptical from the beginning.

3. Who would seek to start a world religious movement if not one of the hopeful disciples? This theory requires someone to be motivated to impersonate Jesus other than the disciples themselves.

4. This explanation also fails to account for the empty tomb or missing body of Jesus.

5. The impersonator would need to possess miraculous powers; the disciples reported that the resurrected Jesus appeared miraculously (Luke 24:36), performed many miracles and “convincing proofs” (John 21:6, Acts 1:3), and ascended into heaven miraculously (Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9).

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Investigating Easter: Did the Disciples Imagine the Resurrection?

In the many centuries since the disciples of Jesus reportedly observed the risen Christ, critics of Christianity have challenged the supernatural claim of the Resurrection. Some skeptics believe the disciples, as a result of their intense grief and sorrow, only imagined seeing Jesus alive after His death on the cross. These critics claim the appearances were simply hallucinations that resulted from wishful thinking. But this proposal fails to explain the empty tomb and only accounts for the resurrection experiences at first glance.

As a detective, I frequently encounter witnesses who are related in some way to the victim in my case. These witnesses are often profoundly impacted by their grief following the murder.

Islam, Jihad, and ISIS

Nabeel Qureshi was raised in a devout and loving Muslim home, but during his college years he began to closely examine Islamic teachings along with the claims of Christianity. As a result, Nabeel committed his life to Jesus Christ, a dramatic and engaging story he told in the New York Times bestselling and award-winning memoir, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, is Qureshi’s just-released book, rushed to press in the wake of the growing global concern over the threats and actions of Muslim extremists. This is Part 3 of a 4-part interview with Qureshi, currently studying Judaism and Christianity at Oxford, pursuing his doctorate in New Testament studies.
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Investigating Easter: Did The Disciples Lie About the Resurrection?

Did Jesus really rise from the grave on Easter Sunday? Is the Resurrection of Jesus a fabrication created by the disciples in an effort to start a world religion or accomplish some other nefarious goal? Some skeptics claim the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the grave and later fabricated the stories of Jesus’s resurrection appearances. While this explanation may account for the empty tomb and the resurrection observations (as lies), it fails to account for the transformed lives of the apostles.

In my years working robberies, I had the opportunity to investigate (and break) a number of conspiracy efforts, and I learned about the nature of successful conspiracies. I’ve written about this extensively at ColdCaseChristianity.com. Based on my experience, I am hesitant to embrace any theory that requires the conspiratorial effort of a large number of people, over a significant period of time, when there is personally little or nothing to gain by their effort. This skeptical apostolic conspiracy theory requires us to believe that the apostles were transformed and emboldened not by the miraculous appearance of the resurrected Jesus but by elaborate lies created without any benefit to those who were perpetuating the hoax. In addition to this concern from the perspective of a detective, there are other concerns that have to be considered when evaluating the claim that the disciples lied about the resurrection:

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Islam and Muslims

This is the second of a four-part interview with Nabeel Qureshi, author of the New York Times bestselling book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Qureshi's newest book, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, releases March 8.

Are there different kinds of followers of Islam?

Muslims interpret Muhammad’s teachings very differently, often along partisan lines of authoritative interpreters and cultural boundaries. That is why, in very broad strokes, Shia Islam looks different from Sunni Islam, why Bosnian Islam looks different from Saudi Islam, why folk Islam in the outlands of Yemen looks different from scholarly Islam in the halls of Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Although the core of Islam is centered on the person of Muhammad in seventh century Arabia, the expression of Islam reflects local customs.

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Answering Jihad Part 1

Nabeel Qureshi was raised in a devout and loving Muslim home, but during his college years he began to closely examine Islamic teachings along with the claims of Christianity. As a result, Nabeel committed his life to Jesus Christ, a dramatic and engaging story he told in the New York Times bestselling and award-winning memoir, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, is Qureshi’s just-released book, rushed to press in the wake of the growing global concern over the threats and actions of Muslim extremists. This is Part 1 of a 4-part interview with Qureshi, currently studying Judaism and Christianity at Oxford, pursuing his doctorate in New Testament studies.

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Investigating Easter: Did Jesus Really Die on the Cross?

Some skeptics have offered the possibility that the disciples were mistaken about Jesus’s death on the cross. They propose that Jesus survived the beating (and the crucifixion) and simply appeared to the disciples after He recovered. After all, the Biblical record in John’s gospel indicates the two thieves crucified alongside Jesus were still alive when the soldiers arrived to remove the bodies from the crosses:

John 19:31-35
Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.

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