Posts Tagged ‘Michael Licona’

“Reason to Believe,” Week 3: Examining the alternatives

March 27, 2015


Last Sunday evening, I finished my three-part class, “Reason to Believe,” by examining remaining alternative theories that purport to explain the events of Easter Sunday and its aftermath. Last week we discussed the conspiracy theory, the idea that the disciples had conspired to steal the body and convince the world that Jesus had been resurrected. This week, we looked at the following alternatives:

  • Wrong tomb: that the disciples discovered the wrong tomb, which was empty, and believed on that basis that Jesus was resurrected
  • Apparent death or “swoon theory”: that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross but recovered in the tomb
  • Psychological phenomena: that the disciples, grief-stricken and guilty that they had let their teacher die, experienced hallucinations of Jesus, and believed that he had been resurrected; or they were deluded into thinking that Jesus had returned from the dead, perhaps under the influence of Peter’s leadership.
  • Pagan influences: that the disciples had borrowed motifs from pagan religions about dying and rising gods, and applied them to the life and death of Jesus—if Jesus were even an historical person.

You may download an MP3 of this file by right-clicking here.

“Reason to Believe,” Week 1 is here.

“Reason to Believe,” Week 2 is here.

“Reason to Believe,” Week 1: Three things we know for sure (so far)

March 11, 2015


Last Sunday night at Hampton United Methodist Church I began my new three-week class, “Reason to Believe: Examining the Evidence for the Resurrection.” As I’ve said many times before, the resurrection of Jesus Christ rests on solid historical evidence. In this first session I began laying out the evidence using the strategy of Christian apologists Gary Habermas and Mike Licona: the “minimal facts” approach. I also draw upon the writings of William Lane Craig and N.T. Wright, as well as this podcast by Glenn Peoples.

[You can also download an MP3 of this presentation by clicking here.]

None of these ideas is original to me. In fact, since I recently listened to Dr. Peoples’s podcast in my car a few times on long car trips, I’m afraid I unintentionally stole a few turns of phrase from him. I intentionally stole some of his thoughts about Richard Carrier’s rejection of Fact #3. Sorry! But please listen to Peoples’s podcast and read his blog. He’s the best!

The minimal facts approach identifies facts surrounding Easter Sunday that nearly everyone—including the vast majority of secular historians—agrees upon. When I say “vast majority” that’s exactly what I mean: Habermas reviewed 2,200 articles related to the resurrection, written in English, German, or French, by a wide variety of scholars since 1975, and for each of these facts, nearly all agree upon the following, with the exception of the empty tomb, which enjoys a mere 75 percent of acceptance among scholars. (Don’t worry: as I say in my presentation, that the disciples found an empty tomb, especially given the historicity of Jesus’ burial in a tomb, is, from my perspective, a no-brainer.)

How one numbers and divides up these “minimal facts” varies from one person to another. In my class, I laid them out as follows (click to enlarge):


As I explain in my video, we arrive at these facts, in part, by treating the documents that make up the New Testament merely as ancient historical documents, without any commitment to their inspiration by the Holy Spirit—not to mention a belief in their infallibility or inerrancy.

Notice Fact #4: I’m not asserting that historians believe the disciples saw the risen Lord, only that they sincerely believed they did. Regarding Facts #5 and 6, my point is that we can know from history that both James and Paul were “hostile witnesses”: people who disbelieved or opposed Christianity and, upon having an encounter with a person whom they believed was the resurrected Jesus, dramatically changed their lives, such that both were martyred for their faith.

In Part 1, I only covered the first three facts. As I told my class, these are not the most interesting. In fact, as scripture makes clear, only one disciple that we know of—the “beloved disciple,” or John—comes to faith on the basis of Fact #3, the discovery of the empty tomb. Nevertheless, in order to refute alternative theories that purport to explain Easter Sunday and its aftermath, we have to understand these first four facts. (Please note: Facts #5 and 6 could fall under #4. Fact #2—that Jesus was buried—could be implied by Fact #3. You get the idea.)

Enjoy! If you have a chance to watch the video (or listen to the MP3) and can offer feedback, I’d appreciate it.

“Reason to Believe,” a new three-week class on the resurrection

March 5, 2015


I mentioned in last Sunday’s sermon that back in 2007 I witnessed a debate in Atlanta between bestselling atheist author Christopher Hitchens and one of my seminary professors, Dr. Tim Jackson. To say the least, Dr. Jackson was facing an intimidating adversary in Hitchens, yet he was able to meet his every objection with humor and equanimity.

I felt inspired: Dr. Jackson’s example made me want to take seriously Peter’s command to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

The only problem, as I said last Sunday, was that I was effectively living as an atheist myself, for all the difference God’s Word was making in my life. Among other things, I did not hold a high view of the authority of scripture. I had become a professional Bible reader—studying it mostly to prepare sermons and Bible studies, or to get a good grade on an exam or essay.

Thank God the Holy Spirit got hold of me soon enough—using thinkers like N.T. Wright, whose book The Resurrection of the Son of God was another formative influence on me. I repented. I began to take God’s Word seriously once again. And within a couple of years I started this blog, in part to defend the Christian faith.

With all this in mind, I’m excited to begin a three-part class this Sunday night on the resurrection of Jesus Christ called “Reason to Believe.”

Does our belief in the miracle at the center of our faith rest on solid historical evidence? Is it reasonable to believe that Jesus was bodily resurrected? What about alternative theories that attempt to explain Easter Sunday?

Our stakes in answering these questions couldn’t be higher: Christianity stands or falls on the historicity of this miracle. As Paul rightly understood, if the resurrection didn’t happen, then our faith is futile, we are still in our sins, and “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19).

For the class, I’ll draw upon the “minimal facts” approach of Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, as well as insights from N.T. Wright, William Lane Craig, Glenn Peoples, and others.

I look forward to a lively discussion!