Sunday, March 24, 2013

Contending for Easter, Part I - Putting It All On the Line (Tim Barnett)


Putting It All On the Line - Tim Barnett

As promised yesterday, today begins an 8-part series, Contending for Easter, being published by the Canadian Apologetics Coalition (of which I am a humble member).  The first article is written by Tim Barnett, apologist and author in Ontario.  You can view via the hyperlink above; I have posted the article below as well.  Our hope and prayer is that you will be reminded through this series of the importance of affirming and embracing the reality of Jesus of Nazareth's atoning death and bodily resurrection - the very center of the Christian faith - as items of a reasonable faith.

In this opening article, Barnett argues that the Christian faith not only places the resurrection at the center of personal belief, but also allows for individual investigation into the truthfulness and historicity of the resurrection.  Other religions place central doctrines beyond the realm of rational investigation: Christianity invites scrutiny and examination.  Enjoy!



3.24.2013 by Tim Barnett

Every year without fail, right around Easter, the popular media comes out with some theory about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that allegedly discredits or flat out refutes the central claim of Christianity: the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

In February 2007, two-months before Easter, Canadian filmmakers Simcha Jacobovici—known as Canada's “Naked Archaeologist”—and James Cameron—known for enormously successful blockbusters like Titanic andAvatar—announced to the world that they had found the tomb of Jesus and his family. Together they produced a Hollywood-quality documentary called The Lost Tomb of Jesus, which purported to provide evidence for their extraordinary claim.
Within days of its release, the documentary was thoroughly refuted. In fact, Israeli archaeologist Amos Kloner, who was among the first to examine the tomb when it was first discovered, told the Jerusalem Post that “[This film] is all nonsense.”[1] He went on to tell Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA), “It's a beautiful story but without any proof whatsoever.”[2]
Needless to say, six years later no credible scholar accepts the claim that we have found the bones of Jesus and for good reason.[3]
Even though this particular claim was debunked it got me thinking; what would happen if the bones of Jesus were really discovered? Imagine archaeologists find an ossuary— bone box— with Jesus’ name on it and they are able to say conclusively that these are the bones of Jesus of Nazareth. In this hypothetical scenario, should you walk away from your Christian faith?
The apostle Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, gives us a definitive answer. He writes:
“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”[4]
Paul’s argument is clear: If Christ has not been raised then seven disastrous consequences inescapably follow. If Christ has not been raised, (1) Christian preaching is in vain; (2) Christian faith is in vain; (3) Christians are false witnesses about God; (4) Christian faith is futile; (5) Christians are still in their sins; (6) Christians who have died are lost; and (7) those who hope in Christ are utterly pitiable since their hope ends with this life.[5]
Paul puts it all on the line; without Easter—the resurrection of Jesus—there is no Christianity. Thus, Paul reveals an explicit way to—at least in principle—falsify Christianity. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, Christianity is false, and Jesus was actually a liar, more accurately described as a false prophet, or a lunatic,no different than the mental patient in the psych-ward who thinks he’s the messiah.
Conversely, if Jesus did rise from the dead, then Christianity is true and this miraculous event confirms Jesus’ radical claim to be Lord.
Christianity is like no other religion in that its central claim is testable. This cannot be said of any other religion. Most, if not all, religions have some sort of internal experience that helps serve as confirmation to its own veracity. We could call this an internal test.[6]
Let me give you a few examples. If a sincere seeker reads the Book of Mormon and feels “the burning in the bosom”[7], this should be received as conformation that God is revealing to them that Mormonism is true. Likewise, if you read the Quran and get the overwhelming sense that it is the greatest book—containing the greatest suras—ever written, then you should take that subjective experience to mean that the Quran is from God and Islam is true.[8]
The Christian also claims to have an inward experience of God. Paul, writing to the Church in Rome, says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”[9] This same notion is echoed in the classic Easter hymn I Serve A Risen Saviour, in the beautiful words, ‘you ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.’[10] This is certainly a precious truth that every Christian holds dear. However, that's not the only reason I know He lives.
Notice that Mormonism, Islam and Christianity cannot all be true. The law of non-contradiction does not leave that option available. So how are we to adjudicate between religious experiences?
Christianity provides a ‘tiebreaker’—what we can call an external test. That is to say, I also believe because of the external evidence surrounding the crucifixion, burial, empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, and origin of the disciple’s belief in the resurrection point powerfully to one conclusion: Jesus rose from the dead.
Christian faith does not rely solely on an individual’s internal, subjective experience. Christianity uniquely offers external, objective evidences that add to—and does not negate or take away from—the internal spiritual experience. So not only do I experience Christ living in my heart, I also have been persuaded by the evidence to the conclusion that He lives.
Someone might be thinking that reason and evidence run counter to faith, so that the more evidence you have, the less faith you need. From this perspective, evidence is actually an assault on faith. Philosopher J.P. Moreland has pointed out that if this were true then the best thing that could happen to Christianity is for the bones of Jesus to be discovered. This way Christians could exercise more faith in believing in His resurrection.[11]
However, this concept of faith being blind is simply mistaken. Paul doesn’t encourage a faith that rejects evidence. On the contrary, he links the truth of Christianity to a singular historical event, which can be tested by reason and evidence. Apologist and author, Sean McDowell quips, “Biblical faith is not belief in spite of the evidence, but belief in light of the evidence.”[12] Therefore, the evidence for the resurrection, far from undermining faith, actually substantiates it. This can be demonstrated over and over again from the Scriptures.[13]
Canada is becoming rapidly more secular everyday. Unfortunately, most people in our culture have no idea that there are good reasons to be a Christian—the greatest of which is Easter. Sadly, they have bought into the erroneous idea that the resurrection is something that you just believe as an act of blind faith.
There is a group of Canadian apologists—of whom I am honoured to be apart—who vehemently disagree with the secular worldview and are working diligently to show that there are good reasons for faith. In the same vein, eight Canadian apologists, from across this great Nation, have joined together to provide Canadians with the best evidence available for the historical resurrection of Jesus. Over the next 8-days leading up to Easter, the Canadian Apologetics Coalition will be publishing an 8-part cumulative case for the veracity of the resurrection. It is our hope that this collaborative effort will help to strengthen and grow the faith of the believers and unbelievers from coast to coast.
Before getting right into the best arguments for the resurrection we thought it essential to first provide some reasons to believe in the reliability of the New Testament. This will be the subject of tomorrow’s article. Stay tuned!

[1] David Horovitz, New film claims Jesus buried in Talpiot,http://www.jpost.com/LandedPages/PrintArticle.aspx?id=52596 (February 2007)
[2] Stuart Laidlaw, Jesus tomb claim sparks furor,http://www.thestar.com/news/2007/02/26/jesus_tomb_claim_sparks_furor.html (February 2007)
[3] For a much more extensive treatment of this topic read: Craig Evans, Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012)
[4] 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 ESV
[5] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, (Westmont, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2011), 529. 
[6] This idea an internal test versus an external test was taken from The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.
[7] Doctrines and Covenants, Section 9, Verse 8. “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.” [Emphasis Mine]
[8] The Heifer (Al-Baqarah), Sura 2:23. “If you have any doubt regarding what we revealed to our servant, then produce one sura like these, and call upon your own witnesses against GOD, if you are truthful.”
[9] Romans 8:16 ESV
[10] Alfred Ackley, I Serve A Risen Saviour.
[11] Greg Koukl. “Faith and Facts.” http://www.str.org/site/News2?id=5242 [accessed March 18, 2013].
[12] Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow, Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2010), 21.
[13] For a more extensive treatment of this topic and examples of biblical faith from Scripture read: Greg Koukl, “Faith and Wishing.” http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5244 [accessed March 18, 2013].