Easter Sunday should more properly be called “Resurrection Day,” because it’s our Lord’s resurrection that’s being celebrated, and the very basis of the Christian faith. But our faith is based on solid evidence that the resurrection really happened. During this week's broadcast, John Stonestreet discusses that evidence with distinguished professor Gary Habermas from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.
“Happy Easter! He has risen! He has risen, indeed!” We say that and believe it on faith. But it’s faith founded on evidential grounds. And our guest this week has devoted much of his academic life to exploring, enumerating and advancing those grounds.
Dr. Habermas, who is currently Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Distinguished Research Professor at Liberty University, started experiencing gnawing doubts about the authenticity of Jesus' resurrection, among other questions, at an early age. He describes how, as a young man, he embarked on a mission to find solid proof that Jesus really had emerged from that tomb after dying on the cross two millennia ago.
"I was on a pilgrimage to see if there was anything that can be trusted about Christianity," he says. "I actually reached an impasse where I came to the conclusion that the resurrection couldn’t be proved—that is just had to be believed."
Dr. Gary Habermas (photo: Liberty University faculty page)
But Habermas was in for a life-changing surprise. Near the end of his PhD studies at Michigan State University, that impasse came crashing down when his professors gave him the green light to write his dissertation on the resurrection of Christ.
Forbidden to simply "quote the Bible," as one faculty member put it, Habermas began exploring the historical and circumstantial grounds for believing that the Founder of Christianity had actually died and come back to life on the third day thereafter. He developed an approach he termed the "minimal facts" argument.
Dr. Habermas explains: “I proposed a list of facts which people shared, and that these facts could best be explained by Jesus’ resurrection.”
Taking any uniquely Christian assumptions out of the picture and beginning solely from grounds commonly accepted by secular historians and skeptics alike, Habermas constructed an argument reminiscent of C. S. Lewis' famous "Lord, liar, lunatic" apologetic for the authenticity of Jesus' other claims.
Some of the facts which Habermas discovered non-Christian scholars generally agree on are that Jesus of Nazareth died by crucifixion, that His disciples were afraid and filled with despair afterward, that Jesus' tomb was found empty, and most importantly, that the disciples believed they had actually seen the risen Christ.
This last fact, argues Dr. Habermas, is the key to it all. Of course, just because the disciples believed they had seen Jesus alive after His death does not prove the resurrection by itself. But it does exonerate the disciples as possible culprits in a hoax. We know this, Dr. Habermas points out, because these same disciples not only transformed from cowards into unstoppable evangelists within the space of days, but actually died for their testimony.
As apologists have often noted, men will often live for what they know to be a lie. But they will never die for it.
Dr. Habermas goes further still, noting that major skeptics of Jesus' claims, like the Lord's own brother, James, and Saul of Tarsus, inexplicably became converts and Apostles.
Habermas remembers the astonishment he felt after assembling this list of agreed-upon facts.
"If this is what the critics allow," he said, "this is pretty significant! The majority of scholars concede these facts because the vast majority of the data supports them."
"These are facts," interjects John, "that everyone agrees on—skeptical scholars, Christian scholars, evangelical scholars. They agree that these are reliable facts. And when you put these facts together, you need to ask, what happened to create these facts?"
The only explanation which can even begin to account for such details, realized Habermas all those years ago, was resurrection.
Since that time, he has devoted much of his professional life to expounding these evidential bases for the greatest miracle of all time, and has become one of the world's foremost apologists for the trustworthiness of the Christian story. He has debated some of the fiercest skeptics and atheists on the academic speaking circuit, and has authored several groundbreaking books on the subject, including "The Case for the Resurrection."
We hope you'll take full advantage of Dr. Habermas's work not only through putting the arguments you've heard this week into practice, but by deepening your understanding further with the resources below.
We hope you've enjoyed this edition of "BreakPoint this Week," and pray you'll have a blessed Easter weekend!
BreakPoint this Week: Jesus the King. John Stonestreet interviews Dr. Timothy Keller, who defends the historical trustworthiness of the Gospels, and unpacks the cosmic implications of Christ's resurrection. (Read more)
Colson Center Theme of the Week: Almost all the religions of the world fall into one of two categories. There are the optimistic ones and the pessimistic ones.. (Read more)