Archive for August, 2008

Why I Am a Christian, Part 3b: Because of the Resurrection

August 22, 2008

[Read part 3a if you haven’t already.  Parts 1 and 2 would also be helpful.]

I have already argued that the early Christians proclaimed that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and by that they meant that he had been raised bodily, in space and time.  Their proclamation did not concern a mere spiritual or moral reality whereby Jesus “lives on” in spite of the fact that his body was rotting away. 

Given that, let’s consider two alternative explanations to the traditional Christian claim that the proclamation of Jesus’ disciples resulted from the historical fact of Jesus’ bodily resurrection.  One explanation is that Jesus’ followers knowingly lied and deceived the world.  They stole his body and proclaimed him as risen from the dead, but they were able to conceal the evidence of their conspiracy to such a remarkable degree that they were never found out.

This explanation is ridiculous.  It requires us to believe that Jesus’ disciples were evil geniuses, capable of all of the following:

– faking severe distress when their master was arrested and executed

– overcoming trained guards at Jesus’ tomb

– faking exuberant joy when they began proclaiming the message of the resurrection

– holding on to this knowingly fabricated message without wavering in spite of intense persecution, even death.

Think about it.  Many people die for lies, but that is because they believe the lies to be true.  Very, very, very few people will die for what they know is a lie.  And yet, on this theory we must assume that all of Jesus’ disciples who were in on the conspiracy, without exception, went to their deaths without ever spilling the beans.  And, in any case, what would be the motive?  If this theory is true, it requires us to believe, not that Jesus was an exceptional person, but that his disciples were exceptional: exceptionally clever, skilled, and evil.  The idea makes little sense.

Another alternative to the traditional view is that the disciples sincerely believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead, but they were simply mistaken.  The most common way to explain this is to argue that they hallucinated appearances of Jesus.  But while this theory has more plausibility than the former one we considered, it still suffers from serious deficiencies.

First, there is the problem of the actual body of Jesus.  Several New Testament documents testify that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.  All four Gospels make that claim.  Paul’s summary of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15, while it does not mention the tomb, explicitly says that Jesus was buried.  There is no rival story in the early Christian tradition.  The body of Jesus was laid in a tomb, according to the historical evidence.  Therefore, if the disciples hallucinated appearances of Jesus and began proclaiming that he had been raised, all that the enemies of the church had to do to squash the movement was to produce the body.  That would not have been hard to do; they knew where it was (they put guards there!).  The fact that the body of Jesus was never produced indicates that more than hallucination was going on in those early days of the church.

Second, the early Christians’ account of what actually happened does not match what we would expect in the case of a hallucination.  When people hallucinate, they do so in categories that are already in their heads.  But if the disicples hallucinated the resurrection of Jesus, then they created totally new categories of thought in the process.  The Jewish expectation was that all of the dead would be raised at once at the end of history.  The resurrection of Jesus, however, was that of a single individual in the middle of history.  In some sense the end had broken into time.  Nothing could have prepared the disciples of Jesus to begin to think in these categories.  Had they hallucinated, they probably would have seen Jesus in Heaven at Abraham’s bosom or something to that effect.  The fact that they claimed to see him, in the flesh, walking, talking, and eating, makes hallucination highly unlikely.  They simply would not have had the mental categories for those kinds of hallucinations. 

Therefore, I conclude that all the alternative explanations to the traditional claim that Jesus was, in fact, raised bodily from the dead, have no merit.  What this means as an apologetic for Christianity I will explain in part 3c.


Aaron’s Words of Wisdom

August 22, 2008

Pragmatism just doesn’t work.

Aaron’s Words of Wisdom for Inspiration

August 9, 2008

Always remember that you are unique, just like everybody else.

For Craig’s Convenience

August 7, 2008

My friend Craig is going back to seminary.  He recently wrote this to tell about it.  Some of what he said reminded me of what I wrote back in late 2005.  So I asked Craig for his comments on that post from almost three years ago.  Craig, feel free to comment here if you want.  And anyone else, for that matter.  There has been quite a comment deficit around here for some time.

My November Prediction

August 5, 2008

If he does not lose it for himself, John McCain will be the next President of the United States.  That is my prediction.  I see this race as McCain’s to lose, for several reasons:

(1) Obama has the media in his back pocket.  They give him way more coverage than McCain.  They have made this race entirely about him, and they cannot praise him enough.  Furthermore, he just got back from a trip in which he pretended that he actually was the President and was received like a rock star in Europe.  Here’s this young, energetic, fresh, inspiring figure with everything going for him versus an old white man.  And this old white man is a member of the same party as a wildly unpopular President.  By all accounts, Obama should have already run away with this.  And yet, the polls show that he has only a slight lead, which means nothing, especially at this stage in the game.  Obama’s inability to show a commanding lead even with everything going for him shows me that he does not have what it takes to win when the contest really gets going. 

(2) In addition, we should assume that polls will always be skewed in Obama’s favor.  They are normally skewed in favor of liberal Democrats anyway (remember all the projections about Kerry winning in 2004?), but I think they will be even more so this time due to the fact that more people will say they will vote for a black man than actually will vote for a black man.  This is what you might call hypocritical white guilt.  Many white people want to respond to a poll in a way that makes them look like they are racially progressive, but when they get into the privacy of the voting booth, they will not feel the pressure to put on that kind of a front.  Now, if white guilt voters are bad, these people are even worse.  Be that as it may, it still translates into fewer votes for Obama than the polls indicate.  

(3) On the issues, what does Obama have over McCain?  McCain clearly has the advantage on energy and on Iraq.  Obama’s more recent approach to these two issues reminds me of John Kerry.  He’s trying to have everything both ways.  McCain is not my favorite candidate ever, but he is stronger on national security than Obama, his position on the troop surge was right all along (contra Obama, who, unless he has changed his position, still won’t acknowledge that it has worked), and has made domestic oil production and more nuclear power central to his energy policy.  Americans are getting hit in their pocketbooks right now primarily because of the energy policies that the Democrats still defend tenaciously.  If Republicans play this right, they could have a massive victory in November, in spite of the fact that Republicanism as a brand is not popular right now. 

So, I am predicting a McCain victory, and it’s not just because I am a Republican.  A month ago I wouldn’t have made any prediction, but from where I sit now, it looks to me like this is McCain’s race to lose. 

While we’re on this topic, read Jonah Goldberg’s excellent piece on Obama, the postmodern candidate.  Here’s an excerpt:

“The Obama campaign has a postmodern feel to it because more than anything else, it seems to be about itself. Its relationship to reality is almost theoretical. Sure, the campaign has policy proposals, but they are props to advance the narrative of a grand movement existing in order to be a movement galvanized around the singular ideal of movement-ness. Obama’s followers are, to borrow from David Hasselhoff  —  another American hugely popular in Germany  —  hooked on a feeling. “We are the ones we have been waiting for!” Well, of course you are.”

Why I Am a Christian, Part 3a: Because of the Resurrection

August 2, 2008

Historically, whenever a claimant to the title of “Messiah” has rallied a movement around himself and then gotten killed, what has happened to the movement?  It has always dissipated.  To my knowledge, there are no contemporary followers of Simon Bar Kokhba (killed by the Romans in 135 AD) or of any of the other messianic claimants of that general period in history.

Except one.  Jesus of Nazareth, like Bar Kokhba after him, was killed by the Romans, put to death by the pagans, and yet the movement he had gathered only spread like wildfire afterwards.  This is something totally unexpected, and it can only be attributed to the fact that Jesus’ followers proclaimed him as risen from the dead.  That this was the early Christian message (and has been the central message of Christianity down to this day) is indisputable.  The question for us to consider here is how we explain that proclamation.  It seems to me that one of the following must be true:

(1) Jesus’ followers proclaimed his resurrection, but by that they did not refer to a bodily resurrection; they meant instead that Jesus’ inspiring influence continues, so that he still “lives” in his followers today.

(2) Jesus’ followers proclaimed his resurrection because they pulled a fast one on everybody; they stole his body and propagated a lie that took the world by storm.

(3) Jesus’ followers sincerely believed that Jesus was raised from the dead, but they were mistaken.  There are several possibilities about how this could have occurred, but hallucination seems to be the most likely one.

(4) Jesus’ followers proclaimed that he had risen from the dead because he really did rise from the dead bodily, and they saw him alive after he had died.   

If we approach this question without an anti-supernatural bias that posits a closed universe, unable to be affected miraculously by outside powers, then the only explanation that makes sense is number 4.  This is another reason why I find the claims of Christianity compelling.

Explanation number 1, sometimes propagated by liberal Protestants, simply will not do.  Jesus’ followers were first-century Jews, and while not all first-century Jews believed in a bodily resurrection (i.e., the Sadduccees), most of them certainly did.  But even the few that didn’t believe in a bodily resurrection didn’t use the word “resurrection” and related terminology to refer to something else.  There may not have been unanimous agreement on the doctrine itself, but there does seem to be something close to a unanimous agreement on the terminology among first-century Jews.  That Jesus’ followers would have started proclaiming a message of resurrection, by which they meant something totally different from the accepted usage of that terminology in their cultural milieu, without bothering to make it clear to everyone that they did, in fact, mean something totally different, is simply incredible.

If this is the case, it means either that Jesus’ followers proclaimed what they knew to be a lie (Jesus’ bodily resurrection) or they sincerely believed he had been raised from the dead.  We will consider these options in the next post.