This book started as a brief letter to my six children. I wanted them to have something in writing from me about why I think the physical resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for the evidence we have surrounding the disciples and Paul.
1. What initially prompted you to write this book?
Long story short, a letter soon turned into chapters, and through the constant encouragement of my wife, I kept writing and eventually ended up with the book, Faithless to Fearless. My hope is that it will add value to the continuing conversation about what happened during those critical moments shortly after Jesus’ brutal crucifixion as a Messianic pretender.
2. In the introduction, you talk about how your career path turned from academia to the business world. How has this mixed experience impacted your approach to Apologetics?
The transition from academia to business forced me to see things differently, and perhaps, more importantly, to ask different questions than I did in the university. Initially, I wanted to understand better why people make the decisions they do and what prompts certain types of behaviors under certain conditions. As I dug in, the idea of change started to surface as a critical topic because of what I saw (and still do) in individuals and organizations. And this became the impetus of questions such as, “Why are individuals and groups so resistant to change?” “What about human nature causes a default objection to new ideas and behaviors?” Recent research into how our brains operate and how much our environment impacts our thinking sheds light on the problem. I started to apply these new findings to the behavior of Jesus’ disciples and Paul. It explains much of the odd behavior we find in the Gospels, as well as Paul’s intent to inflict harm on the early Christians as he rode into Damascus. Neither the disciples nor Paul expected a resurrected Messiah, so something has to account for their dramatic transition from faithless to fearless in the days/years following Jesus’ crucifixion.
3. Why is it important to distinguish between possibility and probability?
In his best selling book, Principles, Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio makes a distinction between possibility and probability thinking. The distinction is important because the quality of a person’s judgment and decision-making process can be impacted by whether he or she tends to slide toward one or the other. In any decision, there are numerous possibilities - most of the time, far too many to be meaningfully assessed - that might affect one’s decision. Dalio makes the point that people can obsess over improbable scenarios, which produces a form of analysis paralysis and goes nowhere productive. When making decisions, it’s crucial to focus on what’s probable, not what’s possible. Any manager knows that slipping down the possibility rabbit hole can halt progress and cause teams to stagnate. Same with all our decisions. Statistically, we’re much more likely to be correct when we confine our explanations to the more probable scenarios and outcomes. This is especially true of emotionally charged subjects. Thus when evaluating the cause of the sudden about-face of Jesus’ disciples and Paul, probabilities - as opposed to mere possibilities - must be our guide. Otherwise, we’re likely to get stuck in a hopeless mire of unlikely explanations.
Neither the disciples nor Paul expected a resurrected Messiah, so something has to account for their dramatic transition from faithless to fearless in the days/years following Jesus’ crucifixion.
4. In Chapter 2, you identify some common ‘human obstacles.’ What do these obstacles tell us about the role of reason in our day-to-day lives?
Research from various fields in the past few decades reveals certain human tendencies that can skew our judgments in the wrong direction. This isn’t meant to suggest that we can’t come to reliable conclusions or make solid decisions. It simply means that if we’re going to do so, we need to be aware of some common pitfalls in how our minds can hold the truth at bay. What the evidence shows is that this is one of those both/and situations; yes, we can know the world around us and come to sound judgments, and yes, we have to correct biases that afflict the vast majority of human beings. Saying this means that we have to resist the extremes that, on the one hand, would have us lop off the branch we’re sitting on and believe that we can’t know truth and that on the other, would mean our judgments are to be taken as true without scrutiny.
One recent finding shows that rather than taking the time to examine the evidence for or against something, we often process the first thing we hear as true, which then anchors other beliefs we come to hold. And it all happens so quickly that we’re not even aware of it. Thus if we’re to objectively examine the disciples’ claim that Jesus appeared to them after his crucifixion, potential biases have to be held in check. One such belief might come in the form of an automatic bias against miracles. But whether Jesus rose from the dead has to be anchored in the most probable explanation of the facts surrounding his death, the undisputed claims of the disciples and Paul, and what we know to be true of the period in question.
5. In Chapter 4, you discuss the textual reliability of the New Testament. When compared with other texts of antiquity, what makes the New Testament unique?
Compared to other texts of antiquity, the New Testament is unique in several ways. For starters, scholars believe that we have what, for instance, Herodotus or Thucydides, actually wrote - even though the time between when they originally wrote and the earliest extant manuscript is 1,300 years later. Caesar’s Gallic War was composed around 50 BC, yet our earliest manuscript dates from nine hundred years later, and we have only ten of them. Still, scholars have good reason to believe that the manuscripts we have access to are essentially what was originally composed.
Now consider the New Testament. We have around 5,000 Greek manuscripts, 8,000 manuscript copies of the Latin Bible (the Vulgate), and 350 copies of the Syriac versions. That’s not even including all the quotes from the church fathers (from which we can virtually reproduce the entire New Testament) and the 2,135 church lectionaries. As for the interval between the actual writings and the earliest extant copies, Sir Frederic Kenyon remarked: “In no other case is the interval of time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest extant manuscript so short as in that of the New Testament.” The bottom line is that the evidence for the integrity of the New Testament documents is remarkable and beyond reasonable doubt.
6. In your book, you tell the story of your upbringing in a staunch Mormon family. Reflecting on your childhood, you said, “At no point during this period did I question my Mormon faith.” What led you to eventually question the beliefs of Mormonism?
Two things prompted me to question my Mormon upbringing. The first was being confronted with the checkered past of its founders. It turned out that there was a stark contrast between what I’d been taught and what history says about them. The second, and just as significant, involved what I’d been taught about the Bible my whole life: namely, since it had gone through hundreds of years of being copied by scribes, it must have been corrupted such that it can no longer be trusted (thus the apparent need for Mormon prophets). After digging into the research of textual criticism, I was surprised to find that the New Testament documents are remarkably reliable. In fact, scholars have found that none of the errors we do see in the transmission process involve in any significant way doctrinal issues. That fact alone undermined everything I’d been taught as a Mormon. Failing to take the New Testament seriously was no longer an option.
7. What, in a few short sentences, is the “minimal facts” approach, and why did you choose to use it in your book?
The minimal facts approach takes the core evidence that all scholars, whether atheist or Christian, agree on, and shows that the best explanation for it is the physical resurrection of Jesus. Briefly, the minimal facts include the following:
- Jesus died by crucifixion and his body was buried,
- Shortly afterward, Jesus’ disciples claim to have had appearances of the risen Jesus,
- One to three years later, Saul of Tarsus (Paul) claimed to have had an encounter with the risen Jesus as he rode into Damascus to persecute the early Christians.
I also include two other well-accepted facts. The first comes from the incredibly early dating of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, which scholars agree was formulated no later than just a few years after the crucifixion and much too early to have been corrupted by myth. The second concerns the well-attested fact that from the very beginning and without a hint of evolutionary development, believers regarded Jesus as fully divine and identified him with Israel’s one true God, YHWH. Each of these demands explanation, especially because of what we know of human behavior and of the disciples’ and Paul’s in particular. I argue that the best explanation of their dramatic shift from faithless to fearless is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
8. Is there any advice or thoughts you would share with the reader as they approach this book?
This book was written for those who are genuinely curious about the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection appearances. It’s written for the curious skeptic, as well as for Christians hoping to understand in depth why the disciples behaved the way they did, and why a known persecutor of the early faith made a sudden about-face as he began preaching the very Jesus he’d spent his time fiercely denouncing. The book aims to show why a group of disciples, who were clearly shaken and terrified after their Master had been executed as a criminal of the state, began preaching a crucified Messiah at the risk of being alienated and executed by the very same authorities. My hope is that the research will be both intrinsically interesting and shed more light on the dramatic events that came to shape the rest of human history.