Convinced and Convincing
Christians believe. That’s what we are known for. But when it comes to expressing the reason for our belief, many feel incapable. This should not be the case. Truth is sacred because it is an expression of God himself. It can be known (albeit limitedly) by us because He has created us as rational beings in an orderly world. If Christianity is the truth, we have every reason to be able to defend it before the unbelieving world.
When faced with the questions of unbelieving Jews, Paul gave a reasoned defense of why Jesus was worth following. With pagan priests and interested philosophers gathered around him on Mars Hill, Paul was ready with the Christian worldview on the creation story and God’s judgment. He didn’t see any conflict between walking in the Spirit and debating strongly in favor of Christ. And neither should we. But when arguing with unbelievers, we should always remember two things: first, that their false beliefs must be the target of your arguments, not them. Second, that they are people, not machines. So, ask questions to understand the person: What do they believe? Why do they believe it?
But often when it comes down to explaining the reasons for our belief, we frequently find ourselves spinning cognitive tires. What should I say? Why do I think Christianity is the only right religion? How do I show others something that seems so obvious to me? From the many avenues we could take to show why Christianity is a rational belief system, let me expand on one I consider to be one of the most salient and rewarding: the resurrection of Jesus. Every Christian should learn to defend the historic nature of the resurrection. It’s a simple argument and the main one that Paul used to convince people of his day to build their lives on the Messiah. William Lane Craig gives one of the most concise and beautiful renditions of this argument in his book On Guard, from which I chose to borrow the structure of the argument in this article (Craig, 2010). He writes that the evidence available to us could be best summarized in three points, from which we can judge potential explanations:
1. The empty tomb
The fact that the tomb was found empty can be reasonably shown by several proofs: (a) we have multiple, independent sources that state this, an incredible historical corroboration compared to the relatively few sources we have for most facts of the ancient world, and (b) the first Jewish response to the disciples’ resurrection story shows that they knew the tomb was empty: “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep” (Matt. 28:11, ESV). For these reasons, among many others, most secular and Christian scholars agree that the tomb was empty (Craig, 2010).
2. Jesus’ appearances to the disciples after he died
The independent accounts of his appearances in the Gospels, Acts, and 1 Corinthians indicate the widespread nature of these appearance claims, giving them validity. Our earliest known account, the creed included in 1 Corinthians 15, attests to Jesus’ appearance to at least 500 witnesses at one time. Paul appeals to the testimony of these witnesses, most of whom were still alive at the time 1 Corinthians was written. It seems that the only reason he mentions that fact is to show that his argument was verifiable. Had those 500 witnesses not been alive and believing, Paul would quickly have been revealed as a fraud. He was not merely speaking his opinion, whispering some fable to them. He was giving them evidence to be tested.
3. The disciples’ belief in the resurrection
Suddenly, 11 men who had been hiding in an attic with the doors locked were preaching boldly on the temple steps that Jesus was the Messiah. Right under the noses of those who had killed their leader, the Apostles fearlessly promoted their assurance that Jesus was raised from the dead. There is no good explanation for this extreme change besides that Jesus really did appear to them after they knew he had died. Some suggest that the Apostles experienced Jesus-hallucinations resulting from their mental state of desire for him to be with them. But this is clearly not the case, because they experienced these appearances in groups, large and small—not the nature of hallucinations at all. Also, as Jewish men, they were not expecting the Messiah to die (Wright, 2016). The death of a messiah was the end of the movement for every other messianic claimant. Something surprised them and convinced them that their Messiah had really risen from the dead. They understood that this dramatic sign was bringing in God’s new age of kingdom victory over death and decay. If we take seriously the evidence we have of their testimony, we must conclude that seeing the risen Jesus changed their minds and launched Christianity. Without the appearances of Jesus after his death, we would have no explanation for why even the detractors like Thomas and Jesus’ brothers would have suddenly changed and begun worshiping Him, to their martyrdom.
The resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation of these three facts and is an important asset in talking about the credibility of the Bible. Although it is only one of many ways to explain why we are called “believers,” it is worth your time to learn this argument for the truth of the gospel.