Evidence And Resurrection – A Preamble To Easter & “Keep It Simple For Sinners” Approach To The Gospel

Induction, the basis for all scientific inference, presupposes the uniformity of nature, which is to say it operates under the expectation that the future will be like the past. From a Christian perspective, it is ordinary providence that explains how the scientific method is possible. Therefore, to argue for the miracle of the resurrection according to evidence and human experience is foolishness. (Proverbs 26:4) Resurrection is a phenomenon that contemplates an exchange of ordinary providence for the miraculous, which pertains to God working without, above, or against the ordinary. (WCF 5.3).

The resurrection of Christ from the dead is contra-uniform. It does not comport with experience. Our experience is that people die and are not raised three days later. Also, we have all met plenty of liars and those deceived into embracing false beliefs (even dying for false beliefs!) but nobody living has ever observed a single resurrection of the body. Given the uniformity of nature coupled with personal experience without remainder, a more probable explanation for the empty tomb is a hoax put on by liars rather than a miracle put on by God. (The same reasoning applies to the virgin birth.)

Since scientific inference consists of making generalizations based upon specific observations, the principle of induction isn’t terribly useful in trying to draw rational inferences about the miraculous. That is why we do not come to know the Savior lives by examining evidence according to an alleged neutral posture, for the un-exegeted facts do not lead us to the conclusion that Christ is risen. So, at the very least, Christians should not argue evidentially for the resurrection lest we deceive the lost by implying that we ourselves know Christ lives because of evidence upon which our saving faith does not rest. Besides, even if one were to become subjectively persuaded that Jesus probably rose from the dead, true saving faith entails believing what is revealed in the Word based upon the authority of God himself speaking therein. (WCF 14.2) That must sink in if we’re ever going to see the deficiencies of basing saving hope on “evidence that demands a verdict.”

Lastly, on what infallible authority is one to embrace not just the resurrection but its soteriological significance coupled with other gospel truths like Jesus is both Christ and Lord? In other words, when should special revelation take precedent over the authority of subjective inference?

True believers have heard from God. As it is written:

[Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven

Matthew 16:15-17

An improper (yet popular) use of evidence:

In that misogynistic culture, women were regarded as second-rate eyewitnesses. If the Gospels are pious fiction, why would the narrators invent inferior witnesses rather than more culturally credible witnesses?

Well known Reformed blogger (now at home with the Lord)

That argument gets a bit of traction around Easter. One rejoinder is the narrators weren’t clever enough to recognize that they were inventing inferior witnesses. Another is that the narrators were extremely clever and did recognize that they were inventing inferior witnesses! After calculating the risk of using seemingly inferior witnesses, the narrators concluded that there is significant persuasive force in using such witnesses. The logic being, if inferior witnesses would not likely be invented intentionally, then people might naturally conclude the inferior witnesses were not invented and, therefore, are all the more credible. (I’m sure I must have seen such reverse psychology on a Columbo episode.)

Law-Gospel – the KISS method for fellow sinners:

When well-meaning Christians remove the extraordinary claim of the resurrection from its salvific context, the resurrection is anything but credible. Yet, the resurrection is sufficiently explanatory within the context of things we know by nature and are awakened to by the Holy Spirit working in conjunction with Scripture. Namely, God’s wrath abides upon all men and God is patient, merciful and loving toward sinners. In the context of man’s plight and God’s character, the preaching of the cross can be apprehended as not just credible but the very wisdom of God. Only the gospel can reconcile mercy, grace and love with alienation, justice and wrath. Revelation, not autonomous reason, is profound!

Our full persuasion of the resurrection unto knowledge of the truth is revelatory and law-gospel centric. The good news of John 3:16 is intelligible only in the context of the bad news of Romans 1:18-20 and Romans 3:10-20. The former presupposes the latter. Sinners come to know their Savior lives not by being offered a savior who might have come back from the dead. Rather, sinners come to a saving knowledge of Christ when awakened to the unmistakably authoritative gospel reality of God’s remedy for uncleanness and unrighteousness.

Evidence will always be interpreted according to presuppositional bias:

To argue for the historical reliability of the resurrection narratives based upon the complementary and harmonious nature of the gospel accounts, as opposed to the synoptics being scripted in three part unison, (which they were not), is philosophically prejudiced and to engage in special pleading. Otherwise, identical accounts of historical claims – even synoptic claims – would become ipso facto suspect! Special pleading notwithstanding, such evidentialism proves too much.

Let’s not deny how we came to believe:

We read in Scripture that a man named Saul who once opposed Christ became the chief apologist for the Christian faith. The way in which one will interpret the transformation of Saul to Paul will be consistent with one’s pre-commitment(s). Christians take the fanaticism of the apostle as corroborating what they already believe to be true about the resurrection; whereas naturalists will find an explanation for the apostle’s transformation and empty tomb outside the Christian resurrection interpretation. Similarly, the way in which one interprets Joseph Smith’s claims will be according to one’s pre-commitment(s). If one is committed to a closed canon, then the claims of Smith’s Mormonism will be deemed false.

Of course the tomb is empty, for Christ is risen. Of course the apostle Paul preached the resurrection of Christ with all his heart, soul and strength, for Christ is risen. Of course the Mormon religion is a cult, for Jesus is the eternal Son of God and the canon is closed. Do we come to believe these revealed truths by evaluating supposed brute-particulars in an alleged neutral fashion, or do we reckon as authoritative Scripture’s testimony regarding our spiritual condition and God’s love for sinners? Do the “facts” speak for themselves or has God exegeted the facts for us?

As we grow in grace our worldview becomes increasingly marshaled according to a pre-commitment to God’s revelation. Yet we must never forget that our more mature biblical convictions of today have one relevant beginning, without which we would not have first believed. It all began when we were first presented the Bible’s testimony as a fact that is intrinsically authoritative and as such not subject to human judgement or ingenuity. Whether true believers know it or not, we considered God on his say so alone and by his grace were born again not of corruptible seed but by the incorruptible word of God. (1 Peter 1:23)

A call to apologetic methodological fidelity:

If Scripture is intrinsically authoritative, its message may not, nor cannot, be vindicated evidentially lest the interpreter of the facts becomes his own ultimate authority, even over God’s word. Accordingly, the unbeliever must be called upon to attend to the intrinsically authoritative gospel message that is divinely consistent, coherent and explanatory with respect to the four part drama of creation, fall, redemption and consummation.

The only way one will savingly turn to receive the resurrected and ascended Christ is if the Holy Spirit grants increase to the work of the cross as explicated in the context of God’s revealed remedy for man’s dire dilemma. Accordingly, we must abandon all forms of evidentialism and embrace an apologetic methodology that upholds the self-attesting and authoritative word of God so that we might skillfully undress the deceitfulness of sin and defend the righteous demands of God through the hope of the gospel.

After exposing the futility of unbelief, our desire for the unbeliever is that he might attend and submit to the authoritative claims of Christ as they come to us from the very voice of God in Scripture. After all, what other hope is there? It is the gospel alone that is the power of God unto salvation. (Romans 1:16)

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1:22-24


Can it be proven that Christ is risen?

If Harry did not believe the Philadelphia Phillies won the 1980 world series, he would likely change his mind if it could be proven from Baseball Almanac. Similarly, if Harry did not believe Calvin Coolidge was the 30th President of the United States, The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents would more than likely put the matter to rest for Harry. Similar examples could be given for state capitals, the location of famous rivers and so on. The point should be apparent. What one will accept as proof will depend upon what one accepts as authoritative.

The reason people are willing to change their minds on such matters after being confronted with a reliable, even an authoritative source, is because not much is at stake. It does not dramatically affect one’s worldview whether Calvin Coolidge rather than, say, Herbert Hoover was the 30th U.S. President. Just like it does not disrupt one’s worldview if one mistakes the winner of the 1980 World Series with the winner of the 1981 world series. Adjusting relatively inconsequential beliefs is not a matter of grave concern. Nothing major is at stake, other than perhaps a little pride.

In both cases, we may say that what was first in question by Harry was later proved true by a source worthy of acceptance. We may also say Harry became persuaded. Moving forward, we would do well to maintain a clear distinction between the objective nature of proof and the subjective nature of persuasion. The question before us is whether proof is ever dependent upon the result of persuasion.

Now what if Harry did not readily accept the testimony of a book on U.S. Presidents right off the bat? In other words, what if Harry was not immediately persuaded by an appeal to an authoritative book but then after further reflection realized the book must be correct. Obviously Harry’s disbelief would have given way to belief. Harry would have become persuaded by the proof for Calvin Coolidge as America’s 30th President. It is also noteworthy that the proof Harry would eventually be persuaded by never changed. Therefore, the proof itself did not become more persuasive. Rather, a valid proof with a reasonable premise (that such books are typically reliable) eventually persuaded. The variable was Harry. He changed. The proof remained constant. It did not change.

Lest we confound the objectivity of truth and what constitutes sound argumentation, we must maintain that Calvin Coolidge was objectively proven to be the 30th President of the United States prior to Harry becoming subjectively persuaded by the proof. If not, then objective proof would be dependent upon subjective results, in which case arguments could become sound (or go from weak to strong in the case of inductive arguments) after they are subjectively accepted, which would collapse proof into persuasion. It could not be proven to a philosophical skeptic that there is a tree outside the window or the cat is on the roof.

Putting this all together, if persuasion is a matter of what one will accept as authoritative and a sound proof is a matter of validly presented truth, then the resurrection of Jesus Christ can be proven from the Bible regardless whether the unbeliever rejects the authority of God’s word. If proving secular historical facts from fallible and potentially errant books is not dependent upon consensus, then how much more the case with facts contained in God’s infallible and inerrant Word? The issue at stake is what one will accept as authoritative.

Now obviously I would not expect an unbeliever to submit to the objective authority of God speaking in his Word without the Holy Spirit’s sovereign work of subjective persuasion, but neither should I expect a Christian to deny that the Christian worldview can be proven true from the Bible. Comparatively speaking (and whether one accepts it or not), we have it on greater authority that Christ is risen than Calvin Coolidge was the 30th U.S President (or the Phillies won the Series in 1980). Uninspired history books can err. God’s Word cannot.

At the heart of apologetic methodology is ultimate authority. How the authority of Scripture should shape the Christian’s defense of the faith is a matter of bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, (even as the Christian gives an answer for the hope that is in him, with meekness and fear.) How consistently the believer sanctifies the Lord God in his heart will determine his general apologetic methodology.