The way this interview came about was quite interesting. In class this morning I was preparing for an up coming debate I have with The Dutch Atheist on the 24th. Class was relatively boring so I used the time constructively. During our 15 minute break my peer and friend Emmanuel (“Manni” for short) inquired what I was writing about. So I told him and he thought it would be good to whip out his phone to do a mini interview. However, I decided to put it into writing since for some unknown reason the phone recorder chopped words every two or so seconds. So it was quite unintelligible.
Italicized words in my responses is information that I’ve added in, usually in brackets to provide context. Any other editing was limited to excluding “uhms” and “ahs” etc. and sentence structure.
EM: So what is your argument for the resurrection of Jesus?
James: I would say that we would have to look at the historical evidence and come to a conclusion, or a best explanation, of that evidence. I think I would definitely bring up Gary Habermas’ minimal facts approach (MFA) and argue from that about what we can know from history about Jesus and the facts surrounding him.
EM: Could you quickly summarize what the MFA is?
James: The MFA is a set of persuasive historical data that no historian doubts about Jesus. It’s the effort of scholar Gary Habermas who has analyzed over 3000 peer reviewed articles written by scholars. Basically he found that one can present at least three facts surrounding Jesus’ passion that all historians accept, even the most radical and “out there” ones (the third fact is more controversial). These are namely that (1) Jesus was crucified, (2) buried in a tomb, (3) that the tomb was found empty by his women followers, and that (4) his followers had post-mortem resurrection appearances. The only exception is fact three which commands two-thirds of consensus whereas none of the rest are by any means in doubt. I would agree with the consensus because we have persuasive arguments and sufficient evidence for it. I’ve outlined eight before whereas Habermas has outlined two dozen of them.
EM: You refer to the Bible but is there no evidence outside of the Bible for Jesus and his resurrection?
James: For Jesus’ basic existence as a historical figure there is quite a lot of extra-biblical evidence. Scholars would emphasize 1st century historian Josephus Flavius and early 2nd century Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus. Both historians write on Jesus. Beyond them we have the testimony of the early church fathers such as Ignatius and Clement who are significant. There are other 2nd century mentions by Pliny the Younger, Serapion, Lucian and so on. Within 150 years there are a good few dozen extra-biblical references to Jesus.
Regarding the evidence for the resurrection outside of the Bible the answer would be no. But we must remember that the Bible is not one book as opposed to 66. Basically “the Bible” is a library of historical information of events, people, movements, etc that we recorded and written down by authors. So, when the historian wants to learn about Jesus the New Testament (a library of 27 books) is considered over other extra-biblical sources. That is where I would say we need to look first and I think most historians would agree with that.
Lastly, when we do this we can get some well-established facts about Jesus. Historians test the gospel accounts as well as Paul and the other New Testament letters by the same standard they do other historical books. When they do this they do no assume that the New Testament documents are divinely inspired; they simply approach them as they do any historical text. Basically we have an entire body of literature on Jesus to consider and that makes us quite lucky.
EM: If I was an atheist what kind of argument would you use to defeat me?
James: Well, I’ve got a few good arguments I’d use but I think the argument from miracles is very convincing for me. Basically we have solid documented evidence on video, via testimony, and so forth. I’ve seen some radical cases through my considering of the evidence. Rugby player Jaco van der Westhuyzen is particularly interesting. He basically damaged his leg quite severely (Jaco: “ruptured my posterior cruciate ligament”) and was ruled out of rugby. However, he went to a pastor in Nigeria known for healing (TB Joshua). We have this radical case documented in the media, newspapers, on video, in doctor reports, and through his own testimony. This is a radical case, probably more so than most I’ve considered (for example, I’ve done many interviews, read studies, and so forth – I actually have plans to do a documentary this holiday with three friends). I would highly recommend readers to get their hands on Professor Keener’s book “Miracles” as well as watch Darren Wilson’s four part series. The human testimony for miracles is quite overwhelming. I’ve seen reports of entire villages converting overnight, for example, after seeing these things. Keener documents some awesome cases where atheists convert (an atheist family converted in China after a family member was healed form cancer following prayer. An atheist university professor, Luis, in Colombia converted and planted a church after his wife was dramatically healed).
What I’m saying is that all this is hard to swallow for the atheist. The atheist believes in a sort of closed system that no external agent can get in to do these kinds of things. Basically miracles can’t happen because no supernatural being exists to make them happen. The point is that if just one miracle really happened then the entire atheistic worldview system implodes. This would happen because a miracle would be excellent evidence for the supernatural but the supernatural can’t exist on atheism since most atheists (most atheists are naturalists) believe that the material, natural world is all that there is. That’s why they have to resort to all sorts of highly unlikely, often irrational, explanations. And since we have good evidence for this I think atheism is false.