The Resurrection, Evidence, Probability, and Faith

The historicity of Jesus, the evidential claims of Christianity – can they prove the faith? Should it prove faith? This would certainly turn Hebrews 11:1 on its head: perhaps evidence is the assurance of faith hoped for. Undoubtedly, there is evidence of truth, but historical evidence is a difficulty all on its own; it is a hard science, one that only brings opportunities for various interpretations. I believe it was Lewis that threw the choices into the ring: Jesus is a lunatic, liar, or Lord. It is really a great summation; but what determines one’s choice? Is evidence the determinant between the options? Is evidence anything without interpretation?

Truly, I would submit that the resurrection of Jesus Christ would be the only vindication for his lordship. Therefore, how might the resurrection be proved? Say that one could prove it – more so, make it more probable that any other alternative – could such a truth be embraced by the understanding? Would man, could man, ever motion to believe such foolishness purely from a proposed probability? Historical evidence indeed points to probabilities, but what is probable about a dead man coming back to life? For the man to agree to the probability – agree that the foolish is not foolish – the understanding would will its defeat. A new possibility must enter his reasoning, and the whole idea of possibility must be refashioned. The paradox of Christianity – that God (the eternal, absolute other) became man (the temporal, not absolute other), died and rose again from the dead – is not attainable by means of established probability. As long as the understanding exists in its superiority, it will forsake the probable foolishness for the improbable reasonableness. Evidence can certainly point man to a position of acceptance or rejection; but when the evidence declares foolishness, which will the understanding choose?

In the same spirit of bluntness of which the apostle Paul spoke, the significance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the significance of Christianity. ‘If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith’ (1 Cor 15:14). As Groothuis states, “Christianity without a risen Christ is pointless.”[1] Furthermore, Paul claims that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ‘given proof’ for the coming judgment of God (Acts 17:30-31). The resurrection is the proof, and therefore, any Christian apologetic, inasmuch as it is in the business of defending and commending the faith, must put forth this proof as the centralizing proof. How, then, is such a proof effective? How is it that the resurrection of Jesus Christ provides the proof of Christianity? 1) It proves the claims of Jesus. 2) It proves that the Father vindicated Jesus’ atonement. 3) It is the harmonization of the sinfulness of the human condition, the righteousness of God, and the covenantal love of God, therefore proclaiming the means of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration. Many more things could be listed – including the most basic proofs of the existence of ontological Trinity, the transcendence of God, the reliability of the Scriptures, etc. – but the more important question concerns the resurrection’s place within apologetics (and within evangelism). How does the resurrection prove Christianity to an unbeliever? At its basis, it concerns a historical evidence, which is consistent with and determinant of the Christian worldview’s interpretation of reality. The apologetic route is historical.

Groothuis asserts, “The resurrection of Jesus is part of a theistic worldview.”[2] I recall a conversation I had with a gentleman, where he claimed that Christianity was irrational: ‘What is reasonable about a man rising from the dead?’ I simply responded that it is perfectly rational to assume that the God of all life could raise a man from the dead. I absolutely conceded that if one is a naturalist, denying the existence of God, then resurrection is foolish and without reason; but given my worldview, my interpretation of the resurrection does not require me to leave reason out of my pondering. It is this realization that best constructs the Christian’s apologetic method in regards to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The historical fact of the resurrection is the proof of Christianity, but as all facts and all proofs are subject to interpretation – that interpretation being determined by one’s worldview – one must first and foremost identify and address the unbeliever’s worldview. A fact’s epistemological reasonableness is determined subjectively, while its ontological reasonableness is objectively determined. Apologetics moves from the established latter to the contingent former.

As Groothuis noted, many do not affirm the resurrection as a historical fact “because of a precommitment to methodological naturalism in historical explanation – that is, the position that historians qua historians must never admit a supernatural explanation for anything.”[3] Miracles are simply ‘out of the question’ in regards to naturalistic historical explanation. Groothuis combats this claim. He gives this example in response to Hume’s in-principle argument against miracles: “It is improbable that anyone will be dealt a perfect poker hand three times in a row, but if we have evidence that this occurred, there is no reason to deny it simply because it is improbable.”[4] Although this example is sound within itself, in regards to the purpose at hand – i.e. in regards to the probability of the resurrection – there is a negated variable. Being dealt three perfect poker hands in a row is improbable, but it is not impossible. The naturalist will say the resurrection and miracles in general are impossible, not merely improbable. At the bottom of the deliberations regarding improbability between naturalists and Christians, there is a different categorization of impossibility – a different understanding of that which can be rendered impossible. Once again, this difference in understanding is dictated by one’s determined worldview. Thus, Groothuis is correct in noting the concept of “conditional probability,” as probability calculations are necessarily formed out of the awareness and understanding of certain facts. One might add that those facts, which outline the conditions for probability calculations, are interpreted from within one’s worldview, because all facts are interpreted from within one’s worldview. Circular reasoning is committed by all who reason, and reasoning between two ‘circular reasoners’ will always circle back to the frustration of circular reasoning.

This is why I find the minimal facts approach to be insufficient.[5] Truly, the alternative naturalistic explanations fail in their ability to produce a higher probability than the Christian explanation. Attempting to think as a naturalist, such an alternative explanation seems less probable, but at least somewhat probable: Jesus was crucified, but his body was stolen by non-disciples (purposes of which could be insignificantly various), which inspired the wishful-thinking of the disciples and Jesus’ followers, who then possibly self-induced individual hallucinations, where other disciples falsified accounts to follow suit until the whole movement grew to be so large that self-deception was unbreakable, even stirring a communal cause so valuable that it was worth dying for (similar to Islam). Again, within the theistic worldview, this naturalistic alternative is not more probable than the Christian explanation. However, those minimal facts – 1) death by crucifixion, 2) burial in a known tomb, 3) the empty tomb, and 4) the postmortem appearances of Jesus – are best explained by the resurrection of Jesus if and only if such an explanation is a possible explanation for the naturalist.[6] The naturalistic claim that ‘the resurrection of Jesus is completely absurd’ arises from their interpreted experience of the world. They have never seen a miracle, and therefore, why would they believe in a miracle that condemns them in their sin and calls them (as they see it) to a life of ludicrous beliefs? If there is any alternative, even if the probability is a smidgen under 100% certainty, they resolve to comfortably embrace it over and against the impossible.

Perhaps some may claim that the heightened probability can be accepted despite the rendered impossibility. Whether such a concession is at all plausible or possible itself is debatable, but nonetheless, many think it. What, then, is the resulting belief? The ‘new believer’ believes that the resurrection is the most plausible answer, and by means of deduction, he accepts the truth. Truly, is such a concession of ‘most probably’ a characteristic of biblical faith? Woe is Christianity! If there were anything so bitter for God to vomit out of his mouth, such an autonomous mathematician disguised as a disciple would surely conjure up the taste. Faith is not the result of measured probabilities. Faith is the certainty of the unseen – the hypostasis of hope.

The glory of it all, however, is that faith accomplishes the task and frees the understanding. The understanding and the impossible collide, and faith takes the offended consciousness and places it in its proper function again. Faith makes certainty out of uncertainty, and makes wisdom out of foolishness. The understanding is then a conquered servant, faith’s spoila opima; yet it is a humble joy for the understanding.[7] A Christian no longer feels the defeat of the understanding because his faith has granted its restoration in light of the foolishness of the gospel.

[1]Douglas R. Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 529.

[2] Ibid., 530; likewise stated, “If a convincing case can be given for theism, the probability of miracles in general, and the resurrection in particular, is increased.”

[3] Ibid., 531. Emphasis added.

[4] Ibid., 534.

[5] It is not completely unprofitable or without its place in apologetics, but it is either a preliminary or secondary notation, not the whole apologetic.

[6] See Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 540-550.

[7] See: Søren Kierkegaard, Kierkegaard’s Writings, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, vol. 7, Philosophical Fragments, Johannes Climacus (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985), 48; Søren Kierkegaard, Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1975), 3:3073; Søren Kierkegaard, Kierkegaard’s Writings, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, vol. 21, For Self-Examination and Judge for Yourself (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991, 1990), 98.

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One thought on “The Resurrection, Evidence, Probability, and Faith

  1. Hallelujah for that the day in powerful grace among us with resurection power in our life to do great things with his help and heal the sick and open the eyes of blind and cast out the demonds, are that really today? Yes and amen the lord is same yesterday, today and forever thanks and bless,keijo sweden

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