An Excerpt from The Resurrection Fact

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This is an edited excerpt from the conclusion of The Resurrection Fact: Responding to Modern Critics, edited by John Bombaro and Adam Francisco. (1517 Publishing, 2016).

Jesus’s resurrection is a matter of fact. This is the most basic of Christian assertions, as Paul wrote, after explaining what it would mean if he had not been raised (in 1 Corinthians 15:12–19). “But in fact,” Paul writes, “Christ has been raised from the dead.” And it is in this fact, as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” that the good news offered in the Gospel (namely, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life) is grounded. “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Cor. 15:20–24).

The resurrection was God’s way of furnishing “proof to all men” (Acts 17:31 NASB) that the Gospel is true. It is for this reason that the defense of the resurrection is essential to the task that Peter exhorts Christians to always be prepared for: “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pt. 3:15).

Ever since the first century, the defense of the resurrection has been the heart and soul of the apologetic task. Then came David Hume, and with him (and a host of other enlightenment thinkers) the proliferation of the naturalist worldview and its critique of the miraculous. The response by many influential Christian writers of the age and throughout the modern era was to retreat to existentialism and fideism. Apologists began to take “their cue from Søren Kierkegaard’s willingness to substitute for objective proofs of faith to the believer’s personal, existential experience and to claim that, in the final analysis, ‘truth is subjectivity.’” As John Warwick Montgomery puts it, in his typically incisive manner, “Thus miracles in the heart have replaced miracles in history in the weaponry not only of theological radicals such as Rudolf Bultmann and neo orthodox advocates of the ‘theology of crisis,’ but also of evangelical pietists who sing with A.H. Ackley, ‘You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.’” [1]

The relegation of the resurrection to the realm of private, subjective belief did not protect Christianity from its secular aggressors. In fact, it led to the claim by many twentieth-century analytical philosophers that the Gospel was—factually speaking— meaningless gibberish, and while the theology of Christianity might be different from all the other religions, it rested on the same shoddy epistemological foundation as other religions. Not only is its veracity outside the pale of any real critical investigation; the ability for one to know whether it was true or not was destroyed. It is no small wonder, then, that Christianity has lost its appeal in Western culture.

Jesus’s resurrection is Christianity’s linchpin. It holds everything together and is the ground on which Christianity’s truthfulness stands or falls.

If Christianity is to be taken seriously—and not as just another private cult of belief that happened to achieve dominance in the West centuries ago—then it must show itself to be something other than another cleverly devised myth. There is no good reason to believe that the church invented the story or that the disciples were deluded into thinking they saw their master alive and well while he lay dead. The case is actually quite the opposite. The objections modern skeptics raise alleging this are not rooted in problems with the evidence. They are, instead, grounded in modern philosophical assumptions and methodological bias. They therefore fall far short of undermining or weakening the foundation of the Christian faith.

The resurrection is foundational for Christian belief. It is also foundational for its defense. It is Jesus’s resurrection that confirms the claims he made about himself—that he was the Son of God and coequal with the Father and the Spirit. It also, by confirming his divinity, verifies the inspiration of the Bible. He regarded the Bible in his own day—that is, the Old Testament—as the word of God (e.g., Mark 7:13, Matt. 4:4, 22:31). Also, before his ascension, he promised to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples so that they would be able to recall everything their master had taught them and to guide them in all truth (John 14:15–31, 16:4–15). Eventually, after turning the world upside down with their preaching and persuasion, they inscribed what they had been eyewitnesses of and what some of them had learned from eyewitness into the texts that make up the New Testament. [2] Not everything was written down, for there was too much to write about. Nevertheless, it still comprised the inspired apostolic message in all its fullness. Thus, after the generation of apostles with their inspired teachings passed, God’s word remained enshrined in the New Testament. Accordingly, we have good reasons derived from objective evidence to believe that the Bible is the word of God. [3]

Jesus’s resurrection is Christianity’s linchpin. It holds everything together and is the ground on which Christianity’s truthfulness stands or falls. Illustrating it to be a fact does not and cannot bring non-Christians to saving faith in Jesus. Only God the Holy Spirit does that. It can, however, change the minds of those who have fallen prey to bad history (influenced by bad methodology, philosophy, and theology), and it most certainly can demonstrate that Christianity is not a cleverly devised myth. God did enter time and space in the person and work of Jesus. He presented many infallible and convincing proofs (Acts 1:3) that he was the Christ, the Son of the living God. The last and final proof was his resurrection (Acts 17:31). This did not happen in some otherworldly or extra-historical realm beyond human observation. No. As Paul put it, it did not happen in a corner (Acts 26:26). It was and is a matter of fact.

This is an edited excerpt from the conclusion of The Resurrection Fact: Responding to Modern Critics, edited by John Bombaro and Adam Francisco. (1517 Publishing, 2016), pgs 228-232.

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[1] John Warwick Montgomery, “Science, Theology, and the Miraculous,” in Faith Founded on Fact: Essays in Evidential Apologetics (Edmonton, AB: Canadian Institute for Law, Theology, and Public Policy, 2001), 45.

[2] On this, see J. E. Komoszewski, M. J. Sawyer, and D. B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2006), 21–38.

[3] This is the basic apologetic approach of John Warwick Montgomery. It can be found in varying degrees of detail throughout all his work, above all his Tractatus Logico-Theologicus (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2013).