Part 1: A Case for the Historicity of the Resurrection

This is the first opening statement in a formal written debate between Stuart McEwing and Malcolm Trevena. The question of the debate is “Is the resurrection of Jesus fact or fiction?”

Preliminaries

First, I would like to thank Mr. Malcolm Trevena for agreeing to debate me. I hope this exchange will benefit the both of us, as well as all the readers who persevere through to the end of this exchange. I will refer to my opponent from this point on by last name only, and hope that this convention for scholarly and professional decorum will not undermine the geniality of our exchange.

 

Introduction

The scandal of Christianity is that it is a religion grounded in historical events, which if they can be demonstrated to be false, would empty it of all meaning and power. Chief among those historical events is the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.[1] Accordingly, if Christians are to maintain that their faith is reasonable in the current mental environment, it will be crucial to establish the resurrection of Jesus is a true fact of history against critics who argue otherwise.

Most people when they come to Christ do not do so on the basis of historical research. Rather, they come to know the great truths of the gospel, such as God’s existence, of Christ’s atoning life, death and resurrection, on the basis of an experience with the risen Lord Himself. This experience I take as veridical, and a fully legitimate grounding of knowledge. Even though the Christian is warranted in believing what happened 2000 years ago without studying history or philosophy, throughout the course of this debate I will be making my case without reference to this appropriate ground of knowledge. Instead I will be attempting to show that Jesus was raised from the dead in a manner that any responsible and fair-minded historian could accept when this received revelation is absent.

In this debate I will be arguing that there is credible evidence for regarding Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as historical. Malcolm will be arguing the opposing position that Jesus’ resurrection should be regarded as unhistorical. Notice that between fact and fiction there is a third position possible; namely, that Jesus’ resurrection should not be regarded as historical or unhistorical, but rather that any determination of the sort should be regarded as unjustifiable on historical grounds. This agnostic position is compatible with Christianity, since Christians, as I have already noted, do not generally accept Christianity on the basis of historical research or philosophical speculation. What this shows is that no one in this debate is without a burden of proof. With this in mind, I will be defending two main contentions.

(1) There are at least four credible facts that any adequate historical hypothesis must explain, namely, the burial of Jesus after his crucifixion, the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and that the disciples radically came to believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead.

(2) The hypothesis God raised Jesus from the dead is the best explanation of those facts.

In this opening statement, I will first look at the historical data that can be recovered from that first Easter weekend. I will then evaluate the resurrection hypothesis: “God raised Jesus from the dead,” using the criteria for the best explanation.

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The Great Debate: Is the Resurrection of Jesus Fact or Fiction?

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be hosting a debate on the historicity of the resurrection here at the blog. The debate will take place between Malcolm Trevena and regular TM contributor Stuart McEwing. Stuart will be arguing in the affirmative and defending the resurrection, while Malcolm will take the negative position and argue against its historicity.

Here is the format for the debate:

1) Stuart’s opening statement.
2) Malcolm’s opening statement.
3) Stuart’s first response.
4) Malcolm’s first response.
5) Stuart’s second response.
6) Malcolm’s second response.
7) Stuart’s third response.
8) Malcolm’s third response.
9) Stuart’s closing statement.
10) Malcolm’s closing statement.

To assure the debate’s momentum, we’re hoping that responses will be posted no later than five days. I’ll be updating this post with links to all the statements/responses. Please note that comments to the initial posts will be closed. We realize this may be frustrating for some who wish to chime in immediately, but we feel it will keep the participants from being overwhelmed by outside comments during the course of the debate. We’ll open up the closing statements to comments and discussion.

If true, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead separates Christianity from all mere religion. It is, therefore, a question worth discussing and debating over. On it, hangs not just the truth of Christianity, but hope for every human being. We look forward to a lively and fruitful exchange.

We’ve got to train our kids for war

An Excerpt from the 3rd Edition of Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig:

In high school and college Christian teenagers are intellectually assaulted with every manner of non-Christian worldview coupled with an over-whelming relativism. If parents are not intellectually engaged with their faith and do not have sound arguments for Christian theism and good answers to their children’s questions, then we are in real danger of losing our youth. It’s no longer enough to teach our children Bible stories; they need doctrine and apologetics. Frankly, I find it hard to understand how people today can risk parenthood without having studied apologetics.

Unfortunately, our churches have largely dropped the ball in this area. It’s insufficient for youth groups and Sunday school classes to focus on entertainment and simpering devotional thoughts. We’ve got to train our kids for war. We dare not send them out to public high school and university armed with rubber swords and plastic armour. The time for playing games is past.