Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Crib Sheets: Why Do I Believe in the Resurrection of Christ?

All believers need to be able to explain why they believe in the resurrection. "He lives within my heart" or "I spoke to him this morning" may be fine as part of that, but it can't be the sum total of it. The bodily resurrection of Christ is a historical fact or Christianity is a joke.

The truth is that the resurrection of Christ is a story no one would make up. If you've never read that series before, please do. In all, I can combine that into one speech about 20 minutes long — and that is still leaving out some of the evidence.

Here I will boil it down into versions that can be shared in a few minutes or less.

(Bold is for subject headings/barest statements of facts. Normal text gives the thumbnail of the argument. Italics give explanatory comments that you can go into if time allows and if necessary.)

1. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus all happened publicly.

Jesus was executed in a public place and buried in a public cemetery. After his resurrection, his tomb was empty for all to see. Many of his post-resurrection appearances were in public places.

It is impossible to believe that Christianity could have begun in Jerusalem, within a short walk of Christ's tomb, unless that tomb was empty. The Jewish and Roman leaders would have been happy to produce Jesus' body to silence those who claimed he'd been raised from the dead (c.f., Acts 4). Instead, the oldest Jewish argument against the resurrection (the disciples stole the body) assumes an empty tomb.

2. The story contains many embarrassing elements that would have been omitted if untrue.

If first century Jews were to make up a story to start a new religion, it would not have included the founder being executed in what that society saw as the lowest, most degrading manner. They would not have women be the primary witnesses to the resurrection because that society viewed women as unreliable witnesses. They would not have made themselves look bad, being petty and argumentative and never understanding Jesus. And they wouldn't have included the fact that Jesus' own family didn't believe in him.

It's hard to grasp how that looked to people in their day. In modern terms, this story is as implausible as if the founder was put to death in the electric chair, the witness to the resurrection was the town drunk, his followers were childish high school dropouts, and Jesus' family had tried to have him committed to a mental hospital. It's not that these elements can't be true. It's that you wouldn't make these elements up if you were making things up.

3. There are many different appearance stories.

Jesus appeared to his followers under a variety of circumstances. It happened individually and in groups of varying sizes (from 2 to 500). He appeared in private rooms and in public places. He touched people and things. He even appeared to some who weren't his followers.

Some claim that the post-resurrection appearances were dreams, visions, or grief- (or drug-) induced hallucinations. But the variety of the appearances prevents that from being plausible. One person might convince himself that he saw Jesus, but not 500. They touched him. He cooked them lunch. Dreams don't cook.

4. There is no other explanation for the changes the resurrection caused.

Two changes that have to be explained are the changes in the disciples and the changes they made in their traditions. Cowards now boldly proclaimed that their crucified leader was Lord of the universe under threat of violence. And they proceeded to change the use and meaning of traditional ceremonies based on their belief that Jesus was the resurrected Lord.

First century Jews were very big on tradition. There was a right was to do everything, and it was the old way. But after Easter this group of Jews took the Passover meal and turned it into communion saying that there was a new covenant that did away with the centuries old sacrificial system. And these men, who ran and hid when Jesus was arrested, continued to teach this after being arrested and beaten and even when people started killing members of their group.

5. The story was prophesied long before it happened.

Dozens of elements of this unlikely story were foretold hundreds of years before it happened. Things no mere man could have controlled had to come together to fulfill these prophecies. Pick just eight prophecies — lots cast for His clothes, death by crucifixion, silent before accusers, badly beaten, killed with criminals, buried with rich, resurrection, betrayed for money. The odds of someone orchestrating those eight elements are 1 in a hundred million billion. Dozens of prophecies were fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

One in a hundred million billion is a hard number to picture. A useful illustration goes like this: Cover the state of Texas two feet deep with silver dollars. Mark one of them and throw it out at random. Blindfold someone and let them walk as far as they want; then they pick up one silver dollar. The odds that they picked up the one you marked are the same as Christ fulfilling just eight prophecies.

These five elements of this story make for a story that you wouldn't, couldn't make up. That's why I believe it.

This argument requires that you believe that miracles are possible; that only requires that God exists. It also requires that you trust the Bible as a reliable source of information.

The above is drawn from many sources, chiefly The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.

Crib Sheets: Why Do I Believe the Bible?

We need to be able to explain why people should take the Bible seriously. If the only explanation is "it works" or "I just believe it," it has nothing more to offer than the Koran or the Hindu Vedas.

But that's not why we should believe the Bible.

The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eye witnesses to supernatural events that occurred in accordance with specific prophecies demonstrating the Bible's divine origin.
This sentence can constitute an answer to "why should I believe the Bible." The key points of this sentence can then be expanded as necessary for argumentation or explanation. Again, whole books have been written on this subject, but this is a thumbnail argument.

(Bold is for subject headings. Normal text gives the thumbnail of the argument. Italics give explanatory comments that you can go into if time allows and if necessary.)

The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents ...

We have ample evidence that we have, within a reasonable degree of certainty, what the Biblical authors wrote.

It is frequently claimed that modern Bibles are based on translations of translations that take us far away from the original writings of the Bible. That is false. We have thousands of copies of the Biblical texts in the original languages. We also have thousands of early translations. We also have quotations from the Bible in the writings of saints of the past. With all of these sources, we can determine what the original text really said.

We also have ample evidence that the authors wanted to and were able to honestly record what happened.

The authors tell us they wrote what they heard and saw or what they carefully researched. They share embarrassing or confusing things they could easily have left out. Where they can be checked against archeology, they have held up.

...written by eye witnesses to supernatural events...

These people wrote about what they saw, and what they saw were things that couldn't have happened by natural means. From a handful of men routing armies to the raising of the dead, the authors recorded a series of impossible things.

...that occurred in accordance with specific prophecies demonstrating the Bible's divine origin.

Those impossible things were, in many cases, foretold. Prophecies come true throughout the Bible — for example, the destruction of Tyre or Cyrus' returning the Jews to Israel — but most center around Jesus. There are more than a dozen very specific prophecies fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Those prophecies and the supernatural events they foretold are the proof that the Bible was not written merely by men. God is the ultimate author of this book.

This argument is the strongest for the New Testament. If we have to further bolster the case for the Old Testament, I argue that the support of a man who died and rose from the grave gives it more than enough credibility.

The above borrows heavily from The Ever-Loving Truth by Voddie Baucham and The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.

Crib Sheets: Why Do I Believe in God?

These are the arguments for the existence of God I find most compelling. There are others. Use what appeals to you, the ones you find compelling.

(Bold is for subject headings. Normal text gives the thumbnail of the argument. Italics gives explanatory comments that you can go into if time allows and if necessary.)

1. The Cosmological Argument

A. Whatever began to exist has a cause. The universe began. Therefore the universe must have a cause.

Something cannot come from nothing. Even subatomic particles that arise from vacuum fluctuations aren't coming from "nothing" but from an energy-rich quantum field. If anything has ever come from nothing, anything can come from nothing.

However, God doesn't need a cause because God did not begin. There cannot be a continual, infinite progression of causes. It must stop somewhere. True infinities do not exist. There must be a first cause, and that is God (see B).

But the universe did begin. That the universe began to exist is a necessary result of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and General Relativity (among other physical observations). It is simply not possible that the universe has always existed.

If the universe didn't always exist, and if something can't come from nothing, something created the universe.

B. If the conditions for the creation of the universe were always met, the universe would have always existed. The universe has not always existed. Therefore some condition had to change. The physical conditions could not change, so it had to be a decision on the part of the creator — thus the creator has to be personal, not simply some force.

2. The Design Argument

The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design. It is not due to physical necessity or chance. Therefore, it is due to design.

The design in the universe is unmistakable. There are dozens of physical parameters in the universe that have to be just so before life — any life, not just human — is even conceivable. One example is the cosmological constant which drives the expansion of the universe. If it were different by one part in 10 to the power of 120 (or 10^120; 10^9 is a billion) life couldn't exist.

These numbers don't have to be anything like they are, but if they weren't what they are, no one would be here. The odds of all of them being what they are simply by chance are beyond ridiculous — it would be like one person winning the lottery millions of times.

Therefore the features of the universe that make life possible must have been designed by an intelligent, personal designer

3. The Moral Argument

If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist. Objective moral values and duties do exist. Therefore, God exists.

Notice that this is NOT arguing that atheists cannot be good. It's arguing that if God doesn't exist, there is no such thing as objective "good." If humans are just unusually advanced animals, murder is not wrong. One man killing another is no more wrong than a lion killing a gazelle. There is no moral obligation to help each other. Selfishness is nothing worse than the lion failing to share with the hyena.

But we all know instinctively that murder is wrong. Rape is wrong. Stealing is wrong. It is good to help people who are in need. We feel bad when we do wrong and when we fail to do right because this morality is ingrained in us. When someone does evil we do not respond as if the rules for a well-functioning society have been violated. We respond as if something evil has been committed. Those few who seem not to recognize morality do not disprove morality any more than the colorblind disprove the existence of color.

This inborn, universal knowledge of objective moral values and duties shows that God must exist.

The above only proves that a god exists. It takes more to prove the existence of the Christian God. For that you have to move from here to the case for believing the Bible and for the resurrection of Christ.

Whole books have been written on these topics. This is of necessity a brief summary. I encourage you to study so that you can explain these arguments in more detail where it is needed.

The above borrows heavily from On Guard by Williams Lane Craig.

Staying Ready to Defend the Faith

One day I was eating lunch and had a puzzling thought:

I collect knives. I have big knives and small knives. I have pretty knives and scary knives. I have knives with lights in them, knives with tools in them, and knives with knives in them.

So why am I cutting my chicken with a spoon?

Having all the knives in the world does me no good if I don't have one with me when I need it.

Christendom has all the tools it needs to defend the faith. They will do you no good if you don't appropriate them. And even if you go out and buy some good books, having all the books in the world will do you no good if you don't remember what is in them.

I've read quite a few theology and apologetics books. I've also read blogs and magazine articles. I've watched tv shows and listened to podcasts.

And a couple of years later I couldn't recall half of what I had once learned.

So I decided I should create some "crib sheets" I could review from time to time to jog my memory — or that I could flat out pull out in a pinch. (People choke under pressure. Don't be ashamed. Be prepared.)

I encourage you to do something like this on your own, but in the meantime, these notes are something you can refer to if you need them. You can even copy them into a memo on your phone or bookmark them in your browser if you want. Use them however you need if you find them helpful.

Apologetics crib sheets:

Why do I believe in God?

Why do I believe the Bible?

Why do I believe in the resurrection of Christ?