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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



The Risen Jesus & Future Hope by Gary R. Habermas (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers) (Paperback) Today it is widely agreed across a broad spectrum of opinion that the resurrection of Jesus is the central claim in the Christian faith. This can be seen in New Testament writings, and most scholars recognize that it remains so today. Supported by these writings, many recent scholars have shown that other doctrines also take the resurrection as their departure point.

This book attempts to establish a resurrection theology that moves from this event to several other key Christian beliefs. I will map out several paths, including historical, philosophical, counseling, and experiential, in which the resurrection might serve as the foundation for these theological tenets. Some readers may resist a particular angle. Even so, one should still appreciate the richness of the resurrection, as well as other doctrines following from it.

Much of the interaction with contemporary scholarship in this volume comes from my two-year study of most of the published sources on Jesus's res­urrection written in German, French, and English from 1975 to 2003.1 The study included more than fourteen hundred scholarly texts. Just plotting the positions on the current spectrum took well over five hundred pages.

While scholars generally agree that the resurrection is at the center of Chris­tianity and has application to other doctrines, at least two major issues cause widespread disagreement. (1) Was the resurrection an actual event of history? If not, did it still occur, perhaps in other than a strictly space–time manner?

(2) Is the relationship between this doctrine and other theological beliefs and practices formed by some sort of evidential argument? Or is the relationship between Jesus's resurrection and, say, the believer's life after death simply a matter of faith, evidential arguments aside?

Even if there is little initial agreement on these two questions, the various positions that relate the resurrection to other theological truths still share much common ground. Strangely enough, even critical theologians who believe that Jesus was not raised from the dead in any actual or historical sense usually think that there is still an important, perhaps even crucial, connec­tion between the resurrection and other religious beliefs and actions.

My position is that Jesus's resurrection is best considered a historical event of the past. There are varying amounts of entailment between this event and other Christian doctrines or practices. Sometimes there is a fairly direct argument. On other occasions, though, I develop pastoral and other practical links between the resurrection and the beliefs and practices of believers. I will pursue both sorts of connections.

Other reasons, besides the resurrection of Jesus, corroborate the truth of Christian theology. This event should not be arbitrarily separated from these other evidences, or from theology. It is not a stand-alone event, but must be taken in the context of the entire Christian message. In this volume I am concentrating on avenues by which the special significance of the resurrection can be pursued, without claiming that it is the only path to theology and practice or that it should be isolated from related studies.

How can the resurrection continue to provide a strong foundation for Christian theology, ethics, ministry, and personal practice? How does it evi­dence the truth of the Christian faith? Are the New Testament teachings on this subject still helpful? Can they be adapted to today's intellectual climate?

The purpose of this book is to relate the resurrection to some of these theological and practical areas. I attempt to build a modest case for reestablishing the resurrection as the center of Christian theism. This includes asking what early believers meant by taking this event as the foundation for the Christian faith.

Briefly, the approach in part I is to ask whether the resurrection of Jesus is historical, and how it might provide a basis for the Gospel doctrine of sal­vation and eternal life. I pursue this in five steps, with one chapter being given to the development of each of the following major subjects. A sixth chapter attempts to track down a few of the implications of the message of the resurrection.

First, while space prohibits me from developing a detailed case for the historicity of the resurrection, I outline a very brief argument for the historical nature of this event. Throughout, the case will be built on data that can be established by critical standards.

The second step is to ask how an event like the resurrection might be related to the existence and activity of God. In what sense might it be said that God was involved in raising Jesus from the dead?

If God did resurrect Jesus, what would that say about Jesus and his teach­ings? This is my third topic. I argue that, if God raised Jesus from the dead, it makes the most sense to conclude that God approved of and vindicated Jesus's message.

As Jesus's central teaching, the Kingdom of God and its entrance requirements are of primary interest. This subject is treated in two parts. The fourth chapter addresses the difficult question regarding the concept of the King-dom. Although the issue is by no means settled, I make some suggestions.

The fifth chapter investigates Jesus's call for a decision in light of the eter­nal life of God's Kingdom. I examine the Gospel message, as well as Jesus's teachings on total commitment. A sixth chapter treats the variety of ancient views on the nature of the afterlife and addresses some practical considerations based on this topic.

While evidential and doctrinal discussions can answer some crucial ques­tions, they frequently fail to relate to our deepest existential needs. For this reason, part II turns from doctrinal to practical concerns. Four chapters ad-dress some areas in which the resurrection of Jesus informs our present life. They include topics like treating the most painful aspects of the fear of death, as well as an application of Jesus's resurrection to personal suffering. Further, I study the New Testament teaching that the Holy Spirit's testimony to believers provides a more foundational assurance of the Gospel than do evi­dences. Lastly, I reflect on how the authority of Scripture provides a basis for living the Christian life.

I developed this approach about thirty years ago and have taught it in many lectures since that time. Still, I make no claim that this is the best approach to the topics given here; other outlooks are certainly valid. Different approaches can also be used in conjunction with one other.

A Variety of Approaches

In the New Testament, both evidential and nonevidential approaches are used to present the teachings of Jesus Christ. The factor determining which approach is used might be the religious tradition, language, nationality, or

other orientation of the recipients of the message. But something as simple as the personal preference of the recipients could also be the key. Perhaps Paul said it best. After noting some of these factors, he proclaimed that he was willing to use various methods to reach a variety of people in preaching the Gospel (1 Cor 9:19–22).

A host of New Testament texts note different methods of preaching. Of-ten, a straightforward presentation of the Gospel was appropriate. This was Jesus's approach with Nicodemus On 3:1–15). Jesus's talk with the woman at the well was similar On 4:5–42). Peter's sermon at the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:34–48), the testimony of Paul and his company to Lydia (Acts 16:13–15), and the episode with Paul, Silas, and the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:23–34) include some differences but many similarities to Jesus's straight-forward presentation.

However, on other occasions we are told that evidence was presented, of-ten combined with debate and argumentation. The Book of Acts is a primer on these differences in approach. The author relates that Paul often spoke to audiences of both Jews and Gentiles, such as at Pisidian Antioch (13:26, 48) and at Athens (17:17–18). This was precisely the sort of situation that re­quired different methods, and different methods are precisely what we find.

Sometimes straightforward preaching was the order of the day, as at Ico­nium (14:7) and Derbe (14:20–21). At Iconium (14:3) and Lystra (14:9–10), we are told that Paul performed miracles. When evidence was presented, he generally appealed either to Old Testament prophecy, used at Pisidian Anti­och (13:23–29) and Thessalonica (17:1–4), or to Jesus's resurrection, used in Athens (17:18, 31) and before Agrippa and Festus (26:8, 12–19, 22–23). On most of the occasions on which he presented evidence, Paul used both Old Testament prophecy and Jesus's resurrection.

Paul was not shy about using sophisticated arguments whenever necessary or appropriate. We are told that he debated with his audiences in both Thes­salonica (17:2) and Athens (17:17). We have already remarked on the way Paul quoted Greek sources and used evidence ( 17:31) at Areopagus; his choice of terms in the speech make it reminiscent of a courtroom situation.

We read that these different methods frequently led to many of Paul's hearers becoming Christians. It would presumably surprise few that this would occur after Paul's preaching (14:20–21). But Paul's argumentation and his use of evidential presentations also led to many conversions, such as at Thessalonica (17:1–4) and Athens (17:22–34). On other occasions, like in Corinth (18:4–6) and Ephesus (19:8–9), Paul tried to win converts by these methods, but perhaps did not. Yet it is clear that many individuas werepersuaded by the Holy Spirit to believe the Gospel after evidence was pre­sented or even after debates took place. So it is mistaken to assert that such techniques never produce spiritual or other positive results.

Even from this brief overview, it should be apparent that, as the early church grew, various techniques were involved in communicating the Gospel. It makes sense that diverse methods are also appropriate today, and can still produce good results in teaching, counseling, living, and defending Christian theism.

Surveying some of the material found in the Book of Acts is helpful, es­pecially for its methodological variety. Oftentimes preaching, a quiet con­versation, or a straightforward testimony is exactly what is needed. When someone is ready to consider the claims of the Gospel, the simplest approach is probably the best one. On the other hand, sometimes a more evidential ap­proach is required.

My dual approach has already been identified. If the resurrection of Jesus occurred, much follows, both theoretically and practically. If I am correct that this event would indicate God's confirmation of Jesus's teachings, then it would seem to evidence some degree of entailment between this event and other Christian doctrines. There are also meaningful links between Jesus's resurrection and several practical concerns of Christian living.

What about those who oppose the use of evidences in the presentation of the Gospel message? It could be held, in spite of the examples in Acts, that only faith-based approaches ought to be attempted and that debate and evi­dence never have a place in Christian presentations. Many think that the is-sues presented in the Gospel are simply matters of faith, unrelated to any sort of argument.

Others conclude that the application of the Gospel message to more prac­tical topics, to which I turn in part II, is often groundless. They argue that experiential considerations are too frequently open to charges of subjectivity and that we can never know if they represent only our personal feelings. Our faith needs to be grounded.

Those who prefer more evidential arguments respond that New Testament faith was grounded in strong arguments, so it is no crime for ours to be, as well. Rather, the question is whether or not our arguments are legitimate. If they are, then our faith stands on firm grounds. Those inclined to more practical con­siderations may respond that our personal experience is the truest test of reality. Besides, we need for our faith to be life transforming and not simply a matter of building arguments. This emphasis is found in the New Testament, too.

Could there be grounds for some agreement between these two positions? Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians 9:19–22 could be applied to the issues before us. Perhaps there are different ways to present the claims of Christianity.

The content may be essentially the same, while the means of communicating it varies from person to person and from audience to audience. It might even be the case that what appear to some as quite different enterprises still share much common ground.

It would appear, then, that there is room for more than one stance re­garding this question of methodology. It should be acknowledged that fideis­tic stances can generate some beautiful attempts to communicate Christian­ity. Likewise, we could all gain from various evidenced connections between the resurrection of Jesus and other Christian doctrines and practices. As Paul suggested, our chief interest should be to communicate the Gospel, not to rule out other procedures. Methodological exclusivists who deny anyone's approach but their own may have a problem with this solution, but the ma­jority should at least be open to the arguments presented here. It is in this spirit of methodological variety that I present more than one approach in this volume, treating historical, philosophical, counseling, and experiential issues. Granted, the overall flavor will be more evidential, but experiential pursuits are far from ignored.

So my approach might be used primarily in two ways. First, studying Christianity's strong foundation could strengthen the believer's faith. As when John the Baptist expressed his doubt in two questions directed to Jesus (Lk 7:18-23), sometimes evidence can play a role in strengthening one's faith. Jesus faced the challenges squarely and answered them with facts. But experiential studies on subjects like facing the fear of death, personal suffer­ing, or the witness of the Holy Spirit can also strengthen a believer's faith, even if in a different way.

Second, I advance this approach to challenge unbelievers with the ra­tionality of Christian theism. In particular, many of the arguments elaborated here do not rely on the inspiration or even the trustworthiness of the New Testament. For example, the first chapter on Jesus's resurrection builds only on data that are recognized by virtually every scholar who studies this material. Many of the other arguments utilize the same minimal basis. As Paul found out at Areopagus (Acts 17:22–34) and elsewhere, many unbelievers will at least listen and consider the arguments that are advanced. Good dia­logue may occur, too. From a human perspective, we cannot ask for much more than that.

For any other result to follow, the Holy Spirit will have to be involved. Without the leading of the Spirit, one might be convinced but not finally changed. As philosopher Paul Moser asserts, "Argument can indeed remove some obstacles to God's self-revelation. God's Spirit is, however, the final source and seal of such revelation."

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