Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mike Licona and the Resurrection in Apologetic Method


Mike Licona has created no small stir in his book, “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.” In that book, Licona introduces a seriously problematic hermeneutical method for interpreting Matt. 27:52-53. This text describes a resurrection of other saints along with the resurrection of Christ. For some reason, Licona alleges that Matthew uses apocalyptic language here, denying a literal resurrection of these saints as recorded by Matthew. From a literary standpoint, there is no good reason for Licona to retreat to this position. I wonder why he does so. Worthy question! What Licona does by employing such a hermeneutical method is provide precisely the knock-out blow his opponents need to answer his own defense of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If THIS language is merely apocalyptic and should not be understood literally, then who can we say that Christ’s resurrection is any different? This is a very serious problem for Licona on several fronts. The two most significant fronts are the resurrection defense itself and his view on the inerrancy of Scripture. However, I want to consider another perspective. I want to explore the risks of leaning entirely on the resurrection event as a defense of the Christian worldview.

The resurrection of Christ as a demonstration of God’s existence and power, not to mention Christ’s own divinity is only valid if one presupposes a God who is, and who can work such miracles to begin with. In other words, the resurrection does not prove that God exists. The resurrection only proves that something unique, something mysterious, something that we do not understand happened at the tomb of Jesus Christ some 2000 years ago. If a person refuses to believe that God is, they will in turn come up with a number of possible explanations for the resurrection event even if those reasons are extraordinarily implausible. Some will challenge the historicity of the event itself. They will claim it did not happen. This is where Licona’s book answers that challenge most effectively. Some people simply deny the resurrection event from a historical standpoint. The question for people that deny the historicity of the resurrection concerns the methodology that serves as the basis for their denial. Is the denial based on historical method or is it propped up by a philosophical presupposition, such as an anti-supernatural bias. For example, a naturalist or materialist may deny the validity of the resurrection on the ground that miracles do not happen and are not possible. From this perspective, you help the materialist recognize that if the resurrection of Christ is treated with the very same historical method that other events from history are treated, it passes the test. If a historian is consistent in their methodology, they will have to accept the historical account of the resurrection as valid. If they reject the resurrection event, they will be left to reject a lot more from history than many people imagine. Of course, we are not willing to be that radical in our conclusions about history for fear of a loss of credibility. What we would rather be is irrational, accepting Alexander the Great on the one hand, and rejecting the Historical Jesus on the other. That is what sin does to the human mind. Claiming that the resurrection is a religious event does not make it any less of an historical one.

Others, however, do not take this approach to the resurrection. They do not deny that Christ’s immediate disciples believed He rose from the dead. In fact, some are fine accepting the fact that Jesus was dead and somehow experienced something very, very peculiar. He was apparently revived from the dead. However, they contend that this unique event does not necessarily mean that God exists or that Jesus is His Son. All it means is that something very strange happened and science cannot yet explain it. Hold the phone, they say. Give science enough time and we will eventually be able to explain what happened at the tomb.

Every position is a faith position to one degree or another. Every perspective comes with a worldview in back of it. This is unavoidable. The atheist has unbelievable faith in human reason and scientific method. She considers both to have nearly unlimited capacity. If we give it enough time, reason and science, can and will solve our problem of knowledge. “To say, therefore, that we can investigate other historical claims in a neutral or objective fashion, but that with the resurrection an element of subjectivity inevitably creeps in, is to ignore the fact that all historical work consists of a dialogue between the historian, in community with other historians, and the source materials; and that at every point the historians’ own worldview-perspectives are inevitably involved.” [Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. 29] The resurrection demonstrates to the believer that Christ was the Son of God, that His payment on the cross was accepted and approved by the Father and that we shall live with Him throughout the endless ages of eternity. That knowledge is based on faith in the revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ. The underlying presupposition is that God exists and that God, as Creator, revealed Himself to humanity in the person of Christ. Moreover, the belief that the Bible is trustworthy as the inspired and infallible Scripture also serves as a foundational commitment within the Christian community that supports the view that Jesus physically rose from the dead some 2000 years ago just as Scripture teaches.

As for the skeptics, unbelievers, critics, and cynics, they are in a very difficult place. If they deny the resurrection event entirely, they have a difficult time rescuing all historical knowledge. If they attempt to say the reports were forged from a historical standpoint, the psychological implications are arduous to say the least. Credibility remains under serious threat in that scenario. If they hold the view that something unique happened, they just don’t know what it was, then reason and science, to date have demonstrated a miserable inability to help us explain what happened on that day. The Christian can gladly inform the atheist that their faith in reason and science is indeed impressive. What basis do they have to reject God since they readily admit that the reason for that rejection is that science and reason cannot fully explain the Creator either? If they can accept the unique event of the resurrection, then they have lost their ground for rejecting God. They must either go back to the historical denial which would result in the loss of all historical knowledge. However, they would never do that. They could claim it was all forged. But in that case, they would be left trying to provide psychological proof that such a thing is even plausible. Again, we are back to the credibility problem. Perhaps it is best to just accept the fact that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and rose from the dead 2000 years ago proving that He was indeed who He said He was. In this view, we have historical evidence to support the claim. It is a highly logical conclusion so we don’t have to worry about irrationalism. We also get to keep historical knowledge. True, it requires faith to accept, but so does every other position regarding the resurrection of Christ.

There is a definite place for the resurrection in the defense of the Christian worldview. However, one should always recognize that even historical evidence is filtered through biased worldviews that are built are faith positions no different from the Christian worldview. Some have amazing faith in science, others in human reason. Christians place their faith in the God of Scripture. He is that one true God that is.

People live what they believe; EVERYTHING else is just noise!

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