Posted by: Johnold Strey | April 14, 2009

Resurrection Resources

habermas-licona-book-coverI recently ordered the book, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona.  Habermas is one of today’s best apologists for the Christian faith and especially for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He is distinguished professor and chair of the philosophy and theology department at Liberty University (Lynchburg, VA).  Licona, his co-author, is a New Testament historian and has been involved in Christian apologetics presentations for over a decade.  The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus was first published in 2004.  I knew about the book for some time, but finally ordered it a couple of weeks ago.  While I haven’t done more than skim through it at this point, it already looks to be a great resource for confessing and defending the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The main approach in the book is called the “minimal facts approach.”  Here’s a description of the approach from a text box on page 47 of the book:

The “minimal facts approach” considers only data that meet two criteria:

  1. The data are strongly evidenced.
  2. The data are granted by virtually all scholars on the subject, even the skeptical ones.

A skeptic ought not be allowed to merely cite apparent contradictions in the Bible and say that the Resurrection has been disproved.  The “minimal facts approach” builds a case using facts with a high degree of certainty, facts that any skeptic probably accepts.  These facts need to be addressed.  If a skeptic takes a position that even the majority of skeptical scholars reject, we can argue individually for the minimal facs that we are using.  So if a skeptic prefers to take another position, that’s okay.  In so doing, the believer now has an opportunity to present much more data in support of the argument for Jesus’ resurrection.  The skeptic will need to respond.

Basically, this approach for defending Jesus’ resurrection sticks to facts that even the critics accept as true.  If a person can build the case for the resurrection using only what critics of the resurrection accept, that’s a pretty strong case!  And that’s what Habermas and Licona do in this book.

The “minimal facts approach” focuses on five widely accepted facts.  The first four of these facts listed below are accepted by over 95% of scholars.  The fifth fact is less widely accepted — around 75% of scholars.  But keep in mind that these percentages are based on responses from scholars all over the map — from fundamentalists on one extreme to people that say Jesus never lived on the other extreme.  Here are the five facts:

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
  2. Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them.
  3. The church persecutor Paul (Saul) was suddenly changed and came to believe in the risen Jesus.
  4. The skeptic James, the brother of Jesus, also suddenly changed and came to believe in the risen Jesus.
  5. Jesus’ tomb was empty on Easter morning.

Habermas and Licona don’t merely intend this to be an interesting apologetics book that you read, put on the shelf, and then forget about it.  The book includes a CD-Rom with an interactive quiz game that tests your knowledge on the book as you read through it.  This is a rather creative and clever way to get you to read the book with a purpose — to equip yourself to confess and defend the resurrection of Jesus — and then test yourself to see what you’ve absorbed and what you need to review.

I first learned about this book several years ago when Gary Habermas was interviewed on the old version of “Issues, Etc.”  You can still listen that that interview from the May 3, 2004 program at this link.  Personally I tend to learn better when reading is reinforced with some type of verbal or visual presentation.  Although I’ve only skimmed through the book up to this point, I have listened to the interview with Habermas several times.  I started to take the first quiz on the CD-Rom without having done any serious reading in the book, and I was surprised to see that I knew the majority of the answers, at least of the questions that I answered so far (though I clearly have some more reading and learning to do)!  The answers I did know were due in large part to the “Issues, Etc.” audio segment linked above.  I encourage you to check it out and augment your reading that way.

veritas

Veritas Forum

In addition to the book and related “Issues, Etc.” segment, Habermas has done some presentations in conjunction with the Veritas Forum (veritas is Latin for “truth”), an organization that intends to bring a discussion of Christianity to colleges and universities.  You can find a menu of Gary Habermas’s Veritas presentations here.  Among them is one titled, “The Resurrection Argument that Changed a Generation of Scholars.”  His other presentations on Veritas are also interesting, informative, and worth a listen.

As always, I’m not necessarily giving a rubber stamp to everything that is said or written in these resources, but from an apologetics standpoint, I believe there is valuable material here.  Apologetics is at its best when it defends the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed, that is, when it focuses on Jesus Christ.  The resurrection forces you to deal with Jesus Christ.  You might not get to the gospel if you spend your apologetics energies arguing for a six-day creation or the existence of God or some other similar matter.  But if we direct our conversations to a defense of the resurrection, then we will be focused on the key historical event of the Christian faith, and (most importantly) we will confess Christ as the risen Lord in the process.

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