Recap of 2016 National Conference on Christian Apologetics

Last Friday and Saturday, Southern Evangelical Seminary held its annual apologetics conference at Calvary Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. On Thursday, a special women’s edition of the conference was held. I had the distinct honor to attend this conference which was titled “The Defense Never Rests.” This was my fourth conference and quite honestly it was one of the best yet.

Due to an illness, Lee Strobel was not able to attend the conference as previously scheduled. Dr. Norman Geisler stepped up to fill in for the ailing Strobel. Geisler addressed the freedoms that America was built upon, particularly addressing the role that the Judeo-Christian ethic played in the development of the country. One fascinating fact that quite interested me was that for nearly 300 years, Americans read the Bible, prayed, and learned the Ten Commandments while in public school. From 1960-1963, prayer, devotional readings of the Bible, and the adherence to the Ten Commandments were eliminated from the public school system. Since that time, divorces and abortions have increased over 200%. Is there a connection? I agree with Geisler in saying that there is.

Dr. Frank Turek led the next lecture I attended. His lecture was titled “When Reason Isn’t the Reason for Unbelief.” Turek revealed that reason is not the stumbling block that keeps most atheists from coming to the Christian faith: the consequences of the Christian faith do. Assembling some of the material from his book Stealing from God, Turek concludes that atheists often must steal principles from God in order to make their case. I loved Augustine’s quote given which says, “We love the truth when it enlightens us. We hate the truth when it convicts us.” How true! Morality is only known because of the standard given to us by God. While many feel they are somewhat less righteous than Mother Teresa and far more righteous than Hitler, Turek noted from Scripture that everyone is unrighteous before God. Turek brought a great lesson!

The third lecture I attended was led by Dr. Barry Leventhal and titled “The Problem of Evil and The Holocaust.” Leventhal told something that I had never before heard. He told of individuals surviving the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp who had visions of the Messiah. One particular individual despised Christianity so much that it became a means of survival. Joseph Herschowitz was his name. Herschowitz kept telling himself, “If I ever get out of here, I will make those Christians pay.” Why did he blame the Christians? It was because they stood idly by and did not say anything to the Jews defense. Herschowitz, to his surprise, had an encounter with what Leventhal called “The Mysterious Messiah.” Leventhal addressed the hiddenness of God and noted that what we know of God pales in comparison to the great depths of God that we do not know. As Leventhal noted, we do not know just how many people in the shadows of the concentration camps met this Mystery Messiah that we know to be Christ Jesus. The term “powerful” does not do justice to the might of Leventhal’s lecture.

The fourth lecture I attended was led by Norman Geisler. I caught just a bit of his lecture. Geisler’s second address was on the title of the conference, “The Defense Never Rests.” He spoke of the challenges that the church has met since its illustrious inception. His main focus was on the importance of defending the truth of God’s Word against any and all errors. I hope to hear this lecture in its entirety soon.

The fifth lecture was given by Dr. Doug Potter. Potter’s lecture was titled “The Book of Enoch, Angels, and Giants, O My…” This lecture was all about the pseudopigraphal book known as 1 Enoch. Some question whether 1 Enoch should be included in the canon since Jude quoted from 1 Enoch. Potter argued that it was possible that Jude and the mysterious writer of 1 Enoch could have pulled from another unknown source. But even if Jude did quote 1 Enoch, this does not grant that 1 Enoch should be included. For instance, Paul was known to quote from non-Christian literary texts of his day. Potter concludes that 1 Enoch does not find a home in the New Testament canon. While 1 Enoch is interesting, I most certainly concur with Dr. Potter.

The sixth lecture I attended was led by Dr. Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe. Ross’ lecture was on the “Faint Sun Paradox: New Proofs of Creation.” My specialty is in the realm of theology, so I dare not try to explain all of what Dr. Ross said. Nevertheless, Dr. Ross noted that as the sun grows older, it becomes larger, hotter, and more luminous. Without enough light, the earth would be a snowball. With too much light, the earth would be a fireball. We find ourselves in a perfect position where life is allowable. In addition, Dr. Ross presented other fascinating signs of design which must be in place to allow for life to exist. Dr. Ross clearly illuminated the fact that a Creator not only put everything into place, that same Creator works within creation keeping things balanced so that life can exist. However, this information came with a warning. Unless God intervenes, life cannot continue to exist much past 1,400 years. While not going into much more detail, he did say that other factors may bring that time-frame into centuries. So the notion that Jesus is coming soon is far more relevant that the skeptic may want to think.

The seventh lecture I attended was led by Dr. Sean McDowell. His lecture was of great interest to me being the lover of history that I am. McDowell gave the lecture titled “The Fate of the Apostles.” McDowell addressed the history and legendary material surrounding the fate of the apostles. He noted that we can know with high probability that Peter, Paul, James the brother of Jesus, and James the son of Zebedee died as martyrs. He also noted that we can know with good probability that Thomas and Andrew also died as martyrs. However as it pertains to the remaining apostles, the historian cannot be certain although there are reasons to think that the apostles all, or nearly all, died as martyrs. I had a chance to speak with McDowell after the lecture. Let me just say, Sean McDowell is a kind man and extremely intelligent. He noted that John was the most interesting of the apostles he studied. There are some indications suggesting that he could have died as a martyr, but nothing conclusive. Other sources indicate that he died a natural death while ministering in Ephesus. In my humble opinion, I feel that John 21:20-24 indicates the latter as I also feel that there are good reasons to hold that the apostle John dictated his Gospel to an amanuensis. Fantastic lecture!!!

On Saturday, I attended three lectures. The eighth lecture of the conference was led again by Hugh Ross. Ross’ second lecture was titled “Habitability for Redemption.” Ross argued that the habitability index of creation is just right to allow countless billions of individuals to come to faith. God designed creation so that the maximum number of individuals could hear the gospel and enter into a relationship with God. Excellent lecture!

The ninth lecture I attended was led by Jay Sekulow of the American Center of Law and Justice. Sekulow is a defense attorney who has defended religious freedoms in the United States of America as well as defending the persecuted church at the United Nations. Concurring with Dr. Richard Land, hearing Sekulow is what it must have been like to hear the apostle Paul. Sekulow shared with us the importance in staying true to our Christian convictions, but doing so in an intelligent fashion. Sekulow noted that while politics is an important endeavor, politics never raised someone from the dead. Excellent point! It was also fascinating to hear of Sekulow’s testimony in how he came to know Yeshua (Jesus) as his Savior.

The tenth and final lecture I was able to attend was led by J. Warner Wallace. Mr. Wallace is an extremely likable fellow. Wallace is a former cold-case homicide detective for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), star of the movie God’s Not Dead 2, and author of the books Cold-case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene. In his second lecture, Wallace presented material found in his book Cold-case Christianity. Wallace used the evidence of a cold-case homicide detective to demonstrate that the four Gospels are documents penned by eyewitnesses. Wallace’s presentation was top-notch and left one on the edge of their seats. He performed well under pressure because Dr. Gary Habermas and two Ph.D. students were in the front row. Apparently they gave him two thumbs up after the presentation had concluded. I was certainly cheering him on. I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Wallace’s early dating of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) as I feel the logic and evidence using the lack of information concerning the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. in Acts and the synoptics weigh in favor of an early dating. Mr. Wallace added the capstone to what was, in my opinion, one of the best apologetics conferences yet.

The only trouble was, I wanted to hear much more! My good buddies J. Andrew Payne and Devin Pellew presented what I heard were excellent lectures on apologetic methodologies and answering objections to the Christian faith. If you have not attended, you need to make sure to check http://conference.ses.edu for details on the 2017 edition of the National Conference on Christian Apologetics. God-willing, I hope to be there again.

 

(c) October 17, 2016. Brian Chilton.

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Answers to Arian’s Agnosticism

Recently, Arian Foster, a running back for the Houston Texans and NFL star, exposed a secret that he had been hiding for quite some time. Foster admitted that he was an atheist. Actually in an interview with Openly Secular which can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrLZkwMP8kk, Foster’s belief is far more in line with agnosticism—the confession that one does not know whether God exists—rather than atheism. From the outset, it must be acknowledged that Foster was very cordial and was not aggressively opposed to a person’s belief in God. In addition, Foster was still open to the belief that God could exist. Therefore, it is completely possible that Foster could change his mind. It is with that notion in mind that I would like to present four answers to Foster’s agnosticism.

Strong Scientism

In Foster’s interview, he seems to demonstrate a form of scientism. Scientism is the belief that science holds all the answers for life’s questions. Norman Geisler describes scientism as the “belief that the scientific method is the only method for discovering truth” (Geisler 1999, 702). However, one must inquire if science can truly answer all that scientists suppose that it can.

If one is truly devoted to find the truth of what is and what may exist, one must understand the limitations of science. Geisler notes that “Even empirical scientists recognize the limitations of the scientific method…since it can only deal with observable phenomena. It begs the question in favor of materialism to assume that there is nothing beyond the observable. Other aspects of reality cannot be captured by the scientific method…Some are known intuitively (see First Principles), others inferentially (see Causality, Principle of) or transcendentally (see Transcendental Argument), and some only by special revelation (see Revelation, Special)” (Geisler 1999, 702). Before one criticizes the notion of special revelation, one must understand that science may be able to read the brainwaves of a person thinking, but scientists cannot know the thoughts of a person unless the person reveals such thoughts to the scientist—yet another limitation of science.

 William Lane Craig answers Peter Atkin’s scientism by describing five areas that science cannot prove. The full video can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQL2YDY_LiM. Craig notes that science cannot attest to the following: “1) logical and mathematical truths cannot be attested by science. Science presupposes logic and mathematics…2) Metaphysical truths like there are other minds other than my own and that the external world is real cannot be proven by the scientific method…3) Ethical beliefs cannot be proven by the scientific method…4) Aesthetic judgments cannot be proven by the scientific method…5) Science itself cannot be proven by the scientific method…For instance the Theory of Relativity hinges upon the assumption that the state of light is constant in one direction from point A to point B” (Craig, YouTube). Therefore, Foster and other adherents to scientism should understand that their beliefs are severely limited if one’s worldview only allows observable realities limited by the scientific method as the means to their understanding.

For further references on this issue, see William Lane Craig’s book Reasonable Faith and John Lennox’s book God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?

 wlc reasonable faith Lennox Gods Undertaker book

Victimized by Syncretism

Foster states in his interview that his father was a Muslim and his mother was a Catholic. Foster has read the Quran and the Bible extensively. Yet, Foster claimed that his father was a freethinker. This brings forth some questions. Did Foster’s father profess atheism while practicing Islam? Or was Foster’s father faithful and Foster remained confused? Only Mr. Foster could answer those questions. However, it does seem that Foster may be confused by the ideological and philosophical differences between various world religions. It may have been simpler for Foster to claim neutrality. Nevertheless, if Foster is truly committed to finding the truth, he must examine the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, examine the evidence for the resurrection of Christ, and the impact of the Christian message. If Jesus is who he proclaimed to be, then everything changes.

For further information on this issue, see Ravi Zacharias’ book Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message and Nabeel Qureshi’s autobiography Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, as well as Gary Habermas and Michael Licona’s book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, J. Warner Wallace’s book Cold-case Christianity, and Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. 

Zacharias Jesus Among other Gods bookqureshi seeking allah finding jesus    the case for the resurrection of jesus book image   cold case christianity  Case for Christ

 

Hypocritical Behavior by Christians

Another issue that seems to have plagued Foster is the unChristlike behavior by those professing to be Christians. Hypocrisy is a classic excuse used by individuals who refuse to come to Christ or who refuse to attend church. However, while Christians can never act perfectly on earth, at times Christians harm their message by becoming “super-spiritual.” Some professing Christians live as if they could never associate with those who are unbelievers or those who live lifestyles outside their acceptable boundaries. Yet, the Christian must remember that Christ associated himself with sinners. The Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?’ When Jesus heard this, he said, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do…Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners’” (Matthew 9:10-13, NLT).[1] The apostle Paul notes several sins to the Corinthian church. Yet, he ends by saying, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11, ESV).[2]

What does this mean? To Mr. Foster and those who have avoided Christianity by the bad actions of those professing Christ, understand that truth is not determined by the actions of those professing truth. It could be that a person could speak the truth and act harshly and still be correct. Also, it could be that someone behaves kindly but professes a lie. The most important issue is to discover the truth.

To the Christian, this should be a reminder that people will not hear your message if your behavior does not back up your message. If you sing “Oh how I love Jesus” and behave like you should be singing “Oh how I love myself,” then do not be surprised if the skeptic does not take your claims seriously.

For further information on this issue, see Josh McDowell’s book The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict and Craig Groeschel’s book The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living as if He Doesn’t Exist.

Mcdowell New Evidence bookChristian atheist

One-sided Research to Search

Foster noted that he had conducted his own private research. However, he noted that he was inspired by individuals like Bill Maher, Penn and Teller, and Richard Dawkins. One must question how balanced Foster’s search for truth truly was. In Foster’s defense, he may have not known that other resources in defense of Christianity existed. It is for that reason that I have listed resources for further study in this article. A good case can be made for God’s existence. J. Warner Wallace, a former atheist and cold-case investigator for the Los Angeles Police Department and current Christian apologist writes the following,

“I identified and listed four categories of evidence for consideration: 1. Cosmological Evidence, a. Our universe had a beginning, b. Our universe appears to be fine-tuned for human life; 2. Biological Evidence, a. Life in our universe emerged from non-life, b. Biological organisms appear to be designed; 3. Mental Evidence, a. Nonmaterial consciousness emerged from unconscious matter, b. As humans, we are ‘free agents’ in our otherwise ‘cause and effect’ universe; 4. Moral Evidence, a. Transcendent, objective moral truths exist in our universe, b. Evil and injustice continue to persist, in spite of our best efforts” (Wallace 2015, 24).

Good, strong reasons exist for one to believe in God. It is not a mere knowledge of the heart. It is a knowledge of the mind as well.

For more information on this issue, see J. Warner Wallace’s book God’s Crime Scene and Robert J. Spitzer’s book New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy.

J Warner Wallace Gods Crime Scene Spitzer

 Failure of Church to Engage in Apologetics

According to Foster’s interview and a report on ESPN, Foster had engaged Christians. However, no one could offer Foster a reason for the hope they held. No one. According to Foster, his mother was not allowed to ask questions as a Christian. No one in college could answer Foster’s objections. Instead of offering a defense for the faith that they held, many Christians would simply avoid engaging Foster on such issues. In this regard, Foster’s quest for truth hit the same kind of snag that I did. In the late 90s and early 2000s, I had asked individuals questions pertaining to the reliability to the Bible. No one could offer a defense. No one. For those of faith, we MUST remember that we are required to be ready “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV).

Conclusion

What if? What if Arian Foster had accessed Christian apologetic resources? What if Arian Foster had the opportunity to engage with Christian apologists? What if the church was prepared to answer such objections? Would Foster still remain a skeptic? Perhaps, but if Foster is open to seek the truth, then one must think that Foster may be willing to rethink the truth claims of Christianity. That is my prayer for Arian Foster. I was in the same position as Arian Foster is today. No, I did not have the notoriety and fame that Foster does. No, I do not possess the physical talent that Foster holds. However, I did hold some of the same questions that Foster has. I did have some of the annoyances towards those who professed Christ and did not live according to their beliefs. By the grace of God, I was led towards the reality that the truth was found in the Christian message. It is my prayer and hope that Foster will find the same. Instead of rebuking Foster for his doubts, I encourage others to pray that Foster will find the answers to life’s most pressing questions.

 Sources Cited:

Craig, William Lane, and Peter Atkins. “What Science Cannot Prove.” Video. YouTube. Accessed August 9, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQL2YDY_LiM.

Foster, Arian. “Arian Foster—Openly Secular.” Video. YouTube. Accessed August 9, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrLZkwMP8kk.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999.

Wallace, J. Warner. God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2015.


© August 9, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Scripture noted as NLT comes from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013.

[2] Scripture noted as ESV comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Could the Church of the Future Be Constituted by the Atheists of Today?

Could the Church of the Future Be Constituted by the Atheists of Today?.

Could the Church of the Future Be Constituted by the Atheists of Today?

One of the amazing things about God is how God is able to transform a person from one pathway to a completely different pathway…a better pathway.  I recently spoke to an individual who told me of an inspirational pastor.  This pastor was originally from California and was actively involved in gangs.  However, the one-day pastor would have an experience with God through Jesus Christ and would experience a complete turn-around.  The individual now ministers in West Virginia and has adopted children born in tough circumstances to give them a better life.  This should not be surprising, because God has an amazing capacity of turning something good out of something bad.

It should not be surprising to hear when someone is transformed to a different mind-set either.  There are in fact many individuals who are now Christians who once were agnostic or of an atheist mind-set.  There are three examples that we offer to show how God can transform the mind, as well as the heart.

Modern Examples of Great Transformations

Many more individuals could be listed when speaking of individuals who have made an amazing turnaround from skepticism to faith.  But, to keep from writing a novel, we will limit this article to three individuals who have been transformed.

J-Warner-Wallace  J. Warner Wallace (angry atheist turned Christian)     

One of the most impressive new apologists to surface in recent years is an apologist who is also a homicide detective.  J. Warner Wallace is that apologist/detective.  Wallace has been featured on Dateline especially for his cold-case detective skills.  Wallace, interestingly enough, was a former atheist.  Wallace writes in his book Cold-Case Christianity, “My friends knew me as an angry atheist, a skeptic who thoughtfully dissected Christians and the Christian worldview, yet I suddenly found myself reading the Gospels to hear what Jesus had to say.  Something about the Gospels caught my attention, more as an investigator than as someone interested in the ancient philosophy of an imaginary sage” (Wallace 2013, 16).  It would be Wallace’s use of his cold-case detective skills applied to the Gospels that led him to the understanding that the Gospels were based upon genuine eyewitness accounts.  Eventually, this led him to the possibilities that the Gospels were true and allowed him to open his heart to an experience with God.

Wallace is now one of the premiere up-and-coming apologists of our time.  Wallace has joined the team at “Stand to Reason,” headed by Greg Koukl, and hosts his own podcast each week titled “Please Convince Me” which is available for free on ITunes.  In addition to this, Wallace travels around the nation giving talks concerning the research he has conducted pertaining to the reliability of the New Testament.

fuz rana      Fuz Rana (agnostic turned Christian)

Dr. Fazale Rana, henceforth called by his more common name “Fuz Rana,” is a biochemist, best selling author, and an advocate of Intelligent Design.  However, he stated that at one time he was an agnostic (Rana 2013, Apologetics.com Radio).  What changed Rana from uncertainty to certainty?  It was the design found in the universe and the evidence posited that “there looks to be a Mind behind everything” (Rana 2013, Apologetics.com Radio).  Rana is a world-renown Christian apologist and works with Hugh Ross’ “Reasons to Believe” ministries found at http://www.reasons.org.

lee strobel     Lee Strobel (angry atheist turned Christian)

Lee Strobel graduated from Yale University with a Masters of Studies in Law and is the former award-winning legal editor of the Chicago Tribune.  Strobel was an angry atheist who did not desire for God to exist.  Yet, upon the transformation witnessed by his wife’s turn to Christ, Strobel set out to discover whether Christianity was true or not…hoping to rescue his wife from what he thought to be a cult.  Yet something happened in his investigation.  Strobel writes, “On November 8, 1981, I realized that my biggest objection to Jesus also had been quieted by the evidence of history.  I found myself chuckling at how the tables had been turned.  In light of the convincing facts I had learned during my investigation, in the face of this overwhelming avalanche of evidence in the case for Christ, the great irony was this: it would require much more faith for me to maintain my atheism than to trust in Jesus of Nazareth” (Strobel 1998, 265)!  Strobel is now a former pastor and a world-renown apologist defending the very faith that he once condemned.

Ancient Examples of Great Transformations

The transformations listed above are not unique.  There are many ancient examples of the very same kind of transformation.  Take Paul and James, for instance.

apostle paul     Apostle Paul

The Apostle Paul is a great example of an ancient example of one who had an epic transformation.  Paul had been a persecutor of Christians until he experienced the risen Jesus and had a grand transformation.  Luke recorded the message and the events that occurred to Paul as he wrote, “And I was in complete agreement when your witness Stephen was killed. I stood by and kept the coats they took off when they stoned him.’ “But the Lord said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles!’ ” The crowd listened until Paul said that word. Then they all began to shout, “Away with such a fellow! He isn’t fit to live” (Acts 22:20-22, NLT).   Paul was completely transformed by the power, love, and reality of the risen Jesus Christ.

James_Bro_of_Jesus     James, Brother of Jesus

James, the brother of Jesus, did not believe in Jesus during His earthly ministry.  John records, “You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!”  For even his brothers didn’t believe in him” (John 7:4-5, NLT).  James was one of Jesus’ brothers.  Yet, James became a leading ambassador of Jesus after the resurrection of Jesus.  Luke records that the brothers of Jesus were there meeting in prayer after the departure of Jesus, “Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile.  When they arrived, they went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying…They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus” (Acts 22:12-13a, 14, NLT).  James experienced a grand transformation as he would become the pastor of the Jerusalem church.

Many other ancient individuals could be listed including those outside of the pages of the Bible such as Justin Martyr (who turned from Stoicism to Christianity) and Augustine (who turned from a hedonistic lifestyle to Christian faith).

Conclusion

Although I came to faith at an early age, I nearly lost my faith due to doubt in my mid-20s.  However, I too had a grand transformation when I was influenced by the evidence presented by those who also had grand transformations such as Strobel, McDowell, Craig, Habermas, and others.  These individuals were open to the truth wherever it led.  The truth in fact led them to the throne of God.

I close with this thought: it could be that many who are angry atheists now will become the leaders of the church tomorrow.  This is well within the realm of possibility.  God can transform a heart that is bitter and fill it with forgiveness.  God can transform a heart that knows only hate to a heart that is open to love.  This is well within the power of God.  So for the Christian, I would simply say: don’t become angry with those who are antagonists to the faith.  Pray for them.  They may very well be your colleagues in the faith very soon.  It could be that the next great evangelist, like Billy Graham, has not come to faith yet.

Praying for my atheist friends to come to faith,

Pastor Brian Chilton

Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007).

Rana, Fazale. “Progressive Creationism with Biochemist Dr. Fuz Rana,” interviewed on Apologetics.com Radio Show. ITunes broadcast. August 20, 2013.  Accessed August 23rd, 2013.

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.

Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-Case Christianity. Colorado Springs: Colorado, David C. Cook Publishers, 2013.

Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ: Part 4–Psychological Evidence

We originally planned to have 4 parts to this topic.  However, as time has progressed, it has become necessary to have five parts.  So if previous articles listed only four in this series…understand that yes, I can count and have not lost my mind.  🙂  The material required five articles instead of four.  God bless.

Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Part 4: Psychological Evidence

 

by: Pastor Brian Chilton

 

When my cousin and I were younger, we would stay at our grandparents’ house after getting home from school until our parents came to pick us up.  My cousin was older than I.  He would go home by himself because he was old enough to do so.  My cousin has always had the knack for telling good stories.  Some of the stories were true and some were not.  One time, he got off the bus and had claimed that he had broken his arm.  He had it bandaged up and everything.  We were all concerned and asked him how he broke his arm.  He told us and then went home.  I told my dad about him breaking his arm.  So later that afternoon, my dad called my uncle and asked about my cousin.  My uncle said, “He did not break his arm.  He is just fine.”  We were all astonished because he had pulled a very clever prank.  The prank did not last long because the truth eventually came out.

When it comes to lies, or conspiracies, eventually there is a break and the truth wins in the end.  Many are engrossed with conspiracy theories in our day and time.  Some are infatuated with the fictional conspiracy tales of Dan Brown.  On late night radio shows and even on some major channels, conspiracies are discussed.  Some have postulated that Christianity itself is a big conspiracy.  However, when the evidence is examined, one finds that conspiracy theories just do not hold water when speaking about the historicity of Christ’s resurrection.  So in this article, we wish to examine the psychological evidence found in that people do not die for lies and we will examine the psychological nature of conspiracies as given by J. Warner Wallace in his book Cold-Case Christianity.

Would You Die for a Lie

A story is told of a group of people going into a congregation of 5,000 people and threatening to assault the Christians in attendance.  Everyone except 50 left.  The pretend assaulters proclaimed, “Now we know who the real Christians are.”  It is one thing to die for something someone believes in, but it is something completely different to die for something you know to be true or false.  This is the case with the early Christians.  They died for what they knew to be true.  John writes, “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”[1]  John reported what he had “seen” and “heard.”  Going back to our original story about my cousin, we can see that when probed my cousin finally relented and told the truth.  For one, there was no evidence that my cousin’s arm was broken.  Secondly, when threatened with possible punishment, he quickly told the truth.

However, the same is not the case with the early Christians.  They never relented even when posed with severe punishment.  Consider the fact that the following individuals died for their faith:

-Simon Peter (crucified upside-down in Rome),

-Andrew (crucified on an “X” shaped cross in southern Greece),

-James, son of Zebedee (killed with the sword),

-John, son of Zebedee (exiled to the Isle of Patmos),

-Matthew (killed by sword in Ethiopia),

-Thomas (killed by stabbing in Madras, India),

-Philip (crucified in Phyrgia),

-Simon the Canaanite (hacked to death in Egypt),

-Bartholomew, otherwise known as Nathaniel (skinned alive and then beheaded in Armenia),

-Thaddeus (killed in Persia)

-James the Less (executed in Egypt),

-James, the brother of Jesus (thrown off the Temple mount and beaten to death with clubs),

-Paul (beheaded at about the same time Peter was crucified in Rome in 67 AD).

Other Christians were fed to lions, burned at the stake, and killed viciously.  Yet, none of them forsook the story that they had in fact seen Jesus raised from the dead.  This speaks volumes as to the historicity of the claim.  If Jesus’ body were in the tomb, all that would have happened would be that the enemies would have exposed the body and then the story would have been over.  Yet a body was never retrieved and the apostles never recanted.  But, another piece of psychological information exists…that of the non-relational attributes of conspiracy theories.

Resurrection Witness Does Not Match Conspiracies

J. Warner Wallace, a cold-case detective and former atheist (now a Christian), gives five prerequisites that must exist in order for a conspiracy to remain intact in the seventh chapter of his book Cold-Case Christianity.  Wallace writes, “In my experience as a detective, I have investigated many conspiracies and multiple-suspect crimes.  While successful conspiracies are the popular subject of many movies and novels, I’ve come to learn that they are (in reality) very difficult to pull off.  Successful conspiracies share a number of common characteristics: A SMALL NUMBER OF CONSIRATORS…THOROUGH AND IMMEDIATE COMMUNICATION…A SHORT TIME SPAN…SIGNIFICANT RELATIONAL CONNECTIONS…LITTLE OR NO PRESSURE.”[2]

 Let’s consider Wallace’s five points.  First, Wallace noted that a conspiracy had to contain a “small number of conspirators.”  Remember from our previous post (See Eyewitness Testimony article) that there were over 500 witnesses who saw Jesus alive from the dead.  It could have been as high as 3,000 witnesses that day.  Numerous people were saying the same thing.  If the resurrection was based on a lie, someone somewhere would have cracked and told the conspiracy.  It only took my uncle to crack the case of my cousin’s broken arm…one conspirator!  How does a conspiracy pass the test with hundreds if not thousands proclaiming the same thing?

Second, Wallace mentions that a conspiracy must have “thorough and immediate communication.”  Everyone needed to be in direct communication with one another at all times.  Yet in the gospel accounts, we do not see an organized arrangement of resurrection accounts.  They are what one would expect to find if they were reporting actual eyewitness testimony…somewhat scattered coming from different eyewitnesses.  In Jesus’ day, no mass media outlets were available.  It would have been much easier for the authorities to crack the resurrection case if in fact the resurrection was false.  That never happened.

Third, Wallace lists that conspiracies must have “a short time span.”  Yet, the message of the resurrection has lasted even until now with direct succession of testimony from the earliest apostles.[3]  In other words, the longer a lie is given the more likelihood that the lie will break.  This never happened in close to 2,000 years since the resurrection of Christ transpired.

Fourth, Wallace lists that conspiracies must have “significant relational connections.”  In other words, for a conspiracy to work there must be close family ties.  A person will be more likely to “rat out” a person that is not family rather than one who is.  With the disciples of Jesus, you do have some who are loosely related to Jesus (John and James could have been Jesus’ cousins) and some who are directly related to Jesus (Mary, the mother of Jesus and James the brother of Jesus).  But remember, the brothers of Jesus did not believe in Jesus during His earthly ministry and only came to follow Him after the resurrection.  For the most part, the disciples were unrelated to Jesus.  Perhaps this was why many left Jesus when He was being tried.  However, they all came back and professed Jesus as the risen Lord…some who had been adversaries of Jesus (James, Jude, Paul, and even some of the Sanhedrin who condemned Jesus).[4]  This does not fit the mold of a conspiracy.

Finally, Wallace lists that a conspiracy must have “little or no pressure.”  The higher the temperature results in the higher chance that something will melt.  With respects to musician Glenn Frey, “the heat was on” for the apostles.  From the beginning, the Christians were excommunicated and cast-aways from the society in general.  During the time of Nero when many eyewitnesses were still living, massive waves of Christian persecution swept across the Roman Empire but the message only grew stronger!  This is exactly the opposite of what one would expect from a conspiracy!

Hence, psychologically we find that Christianity is built upon a historical event that transformed the lives of the Christians: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The resurrection was not a hallucination.  It was not a cleverly devised plan.  It was a historical fact.  You too can be transformed by the amazing power of the resurrection.  Will you allow the Risen Jesus to have access to your life today by entering into a relationship with Him?  The resurrection still brings power to those who are willing to embrace this historical fact even after 2,000 years.

Bibliography

All Scripture unless otherwise noted comes from New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

Wallace, J. Warner, Cold-Case Christianity (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2013).


[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Jn 1:3.

[2] J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2013), 110-112.

[3] See chapter 13 “Were They Accurate?” of J. Warner Wallace’s book Cold-Case Christianity for a thorough review of apostolic succession.  Multiple lines of apostolic authority existed.

[4] Specifically Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were part of the Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus.  However, it is not clear if Nicodemus and Joseph were in the party that condemned Jesus.  It may have been that they were absent at the trial.