Saturday, January 15, 2011

The 200-Word Resurrection Witness - test case #1

DaGoodS, Vinny, I and several others have been having a continuing conversation with Dr Clay Jones, Assistant Professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Back in September, Dr Jones posted, what he called, his 200-word Resurrection Witness. It is basically, what we who engage in Christian Apologetics discussions call, the ‘Die for a Lie’ argument for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The discussion began HERE and continues HERE.

I first heard the 'Die for a Lie' argument while attending Calvary Chapel in Albuquerque under pastor Skip Heitzig. I do believe it was he who conned me into believing that the argument had any merit. I am embarrassed to admit that I used the ‘Die for a Lie’ argument on my friends at work in the attempt to convince them that there was solid historical evidence to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But that was nearly 20 years ago. I have learned quite a bit since those days.

So, we have been trying to explain to Dr Jones, on his blog, why we do not believe his 200-word Resurrection Witness is a very good argument. In one comment to Dr Jones’ article, after listing a number of problems I had with the argument, I commented:

…Dr Jones, these are complicated issues, the number of sources is vast, and the objections are many, and I think legitimate. I am sorry, but I just don’t think you can win over educated skeptics in 200 words or less.


To which Dr Jones replied:
It never entered my thought process that my 200 word witness would be successful against the educated skeptic. I wrote it for the average man or woman one might encounter at an airport or a soccer game.



An astounding admission, and one that DaGoodS has also blogged about!

So, while folding laundry this evening with my unsuspecting wife RoseMary, and figuring the average woman folding laundry was close enough to an average woman in the airport or soccer game, I decided to use her as a test case. RoseMary, for a little background, is a Roman Catholic from the Philippines, and has no conception of the particular subdiscipline of Christianity called ‘apologetics’.

The conversation that ensued occurred less than an hour ago, and I want to type it down now while it is still fresh in my memory.

While folding some socks, I gave her that look, that certain look which surely warned her that I was about to start talking about religion again.

“Hey RoseMary, can I ask you something? Something that involves religion? I promise, it is not something I want to interrogate you about. I just want to read you something and get your response.”

“Sure”

“OK, I want to read you something from a blogsite, something called a ‘200 word Resurrection WItness’. It is an argument that will try to convince you that there is really evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. So just pretend you are hanging around at the airport or maybe a soccer game and somebody approaches you and says this to you, please tell me what your response will be.”

Then I read, quoting Dr Jones' Resurrection Witness:

In apologetics we provide argument and evidence for the truth of historic Christianity. For example, consider Jesus’ resurrection. We know that Jesus’ disciples walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, and ate with Jesus—they knew who Jesus was. They were with Jesus when he was arrested and they then scattered. The Romans then scourged Jesus, drove spikes through His wrists and His feet to nail him to the cross, and thrust a spear in His side to make sure He was dead. Then they buried Jesus.

But three days later, Jesus’ tomb was found empty and the disciples started testifying that they again walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, and ate with Jesus. And what’s really amazing is that many testified to his resurrection even to their own torture and death. We know extra-Biblically that Nero beheaded the Apostle Paul and we know from the Jewish historian Josephus that the Sanhedrin stoned to death Jesus’ brother James, who had become a leader of the Christian church.

So here’s my question: if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, then why would the first disciples die for what they knew was a lie?



RoseMary: OK. I’m not sure how you want me to respond.

Me: Somebody is trying to convince you that Jesus rose from the dead based on reasoned argument. Basically, Jesus’ apostles spent time with Jesus while he was alive, then saw him killed, then saw him alive again, risen from the dead. How do we know? Because they were all willing to die for their witness to the resurrected Jesus. The argument says that we know the Resurrection is true because why else would the disciples die for what they knew to be a lie? How do you respond to that?

RoseMary (utterly confused): I don’t understand. Is the person who wrote this a Christian?

Me: Yes! Here is the thing, we in the United States, in the West in general, live in a post-Faith world. We want evidence for claims. I want evidence! So a whole new discipline arose in Christianity called Apologetics. The people who do this spend their time cooking up arguments, based on what they consider reasonable evidence, for the truth of Christianity. Evidence like you could present in a court case, let’s say. I confess that I was into learning this stuff a lot several years ago, because it was very interesting to me! So this professor…

RoseMary: You mean there is a college professor who does this for a living?

Me: Believe it or not, yeah. I think there are lots of them. Anyway, what this argument is doing, is trying to convince you that Jesus rose from the dead with an evidence based, reasonable argument. Why would the Apostles die as martyrs, if they knew that Jesus did not rise from the dead? There is no good answer to this, so the argument goes, so therefore, Jesus had to have risen from the dead, and Christianity is true! So what is your response to this?

RoseMary (flabbergasted): That is… just crazy. I mean, I believe because I have to believe this to be a Catholic. Where is the Faith? You don’t reason this out. You accept it as a lifestyle, as a matter of Faith. You have to have Faith.

Me: So you don’t think much of the argument?

RoseMary: When you need arguments like that, it means you doubt. You are a Doubting Thomas, and you really don’t have Faith. That’s one reason why Protestants are crazy. How can you be a Christian if you don't have Faith? Faith cannot be measured by any physical thing, you believe because you believe. Whether there is evidence or not. Whether Jesus really did rise from the dead, or did not rise from the dead, you believe it is simple as that. If you probe you are a Doubting Thomas. Why would you want proof?

After letting RoseMary read this to confirm that I got her words and thoughts down accurately, she went on to clarify. I typed these words as she spoke. This next bit from her is verbatim:

RoseMary: I was very confused about what that man was trying to get at, and what that article was all about. That is why I had to ask you a few times to explain to me. Because now I realize that an average Joe or Jane will not just grasp it that easily because we will not understand what he is trying to convey. I think I am educated and smart enough, but I did not get what he was trying to say. And honestly, I don’t care what he says. People like him don’t have to tell me to believe and what not to believe, I think I can take care of that pretty much by myself. And my Faith cannot just be explained by a Professor through his words. I understand my Faith as I see fit. And I think that many people in this world who have Faith believe in what they should believe. Does that make sense? I need Tagalog to say it right. Maybe that is why it is hard to explain. It is very hard in English. Maybe that is why I don’t get him. If an American tells me what to believe, I will not get him, because it does not reach me. Maybe for other Americans, but I don’t get it. I understand the English, I understand the words, I understand the language, but I do not understand the context. I don’t understand where the argument is coming from. The whole idea of arguing about this does not make sense to me. Why does this man spend his time making up arguments like this? Maybe he should go into making pottery. Can I watch my movie now?

So there you have it, the response of an average woman when presented with the 200-word ‘Die for a Lie’ argument. Perhaps, since RoseMary is already a believer in the resurrection, she is not quite the target audience that the argument is designed for. Also, RoseMary, being from the Philippines, may find the whole concept of apologetics difficult because of the cultural divide. But then again, I remember when I shared ‘Die for a Lie’ with my old co-workers. I got pretty much the same response from all those men and women that I witnessed to, and there was no cultural divide then. When I approached the average person with ‘Die for a Lie’, without even first enquiring as to what their current religious beliefs were, I was always met with the same utter confusion, astonishment, and bewilderment.

I learned something from RoseMary this evening. Apologetic arguments like ‘Die for a Lie’ make sense to Dr Clay Jones, Vinny, DaGoodS, and myself because we are in the game. Dr Jones defends these arguments for a living. I question and critique them, almost as a hobby – thinking about such things is fun and instructive, and I am also hopeful to learn a thing or two. But to those who accept their religious beliefs on Faith, and are not in the game, and do not understand the context or apologetic language, these apologetic arguments appear to make absolutely no sense.

Which leads me to question - is there even a point to Christian Apologetics?

I am wondering if I should present this same 200-word argument to a sample of my co-workers, and get their responses. Maybe. I can call it a social-science experiment.

Thank you again to my ever-suffering wife RoseMary for putting her up to another religious experiment. And, as always dear Reader, I would love to read your thoughts.

9 comments:

DagoodS said...

I see two (2) “points” (in the loosest possible term) to Christian Apologetics;

1) It provides comfort to people who want to rely upon intellectualism, but do not have the time/material/motivation/capability to study for themselves. They can rely that somewhere somebody “smart” has proven their case for them; and

2) Unfortunately, with the advent of the internet’s anonymity and ethereal conversation, it allows many to practice malicious conversation under the auspices of “Godly necessity.” They can morally justify being a jerk without assuming the responsibility.

Technically apologia is a defense of Christian dogma, (not something to argue a person into a position) yet in reality what good is a defense if it never prevails? Take any analogy you want—sports, court cases, debate—imagine saying you have a wonderful defense, but it won’t win over the opposing side!

Then how good of a defense is it?

The best line from your wife is: “You mean there is a college professor who does this for a living?”

Did you tell her we are asking ourselves the same question every day? *grin*

HeIsSailing said...

DaGoodS says:

"It provides comfort to people who want to rely upon intellectualism, but do not have the time/material/motivation/capability to study for themselves. They can rely that somewhere somebody “smart” has proven their case for them;"

This is EXACTLY what attracted me to apologetics while I was at Calvary Chapel. I was especially spellbound by the apologetic tactics of somebody who is obviously intelligent and a charismatic speaker: Chuck Missler.

Then I enrolled in college and learned how critical thinking should be applied.

After that, it was byebye Chuck Missler and his Koinonia Ministries.

And the thing is, DaGood, I KNEW at the time, I KNEW that so many of the arguments had holes in them. I thought Die for a Lie was a great defense, but for instance, the prediction of Daniel's 70 Weeks - I used it, but I KNEW it was a bad argument. I could see the holes in it even while I was engaging in it!!!! Amazing when I think back on those days.

hmmm... another idea for a blog article....

Yes, RoseMary knows I read up on Christianity and religions for a hobby. She plays FarmTown on Facecbook. To each their own, I suppose.

Vinny said...

I accepted Christ as my personal savior around the time I graduated from high school back in 1975. Because I wanted to know the intellectual basis for a faith that I had embraced for emotional reasons, one of the first books I read was Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell. Having been raised Catholic, I was inclined to give the Bible the benefit of the doubt, but I remember being profoundly disappointed by the quality of the arguments for the historical trustworthiness of the New Testament. I couldn't imagine trying to use any of those arguments to convince my unbelieving friends and family.
I did not immediately abandon my new found faith, but I'm sure it contributed to the fact that I only lasted a couple years.

Zoe said...

I at one time could not get enough "apologetics" because intellectually I wanted to have a defense for my belief, in order to win others for Christ. And, I didn't have the time to do so on my own, as DagoodS mentioned. I trusted that those who were born-again knew what they were talking about and that their arguments were solid.

The first book I bought was Evidence That Demands A Verdict that Vinny mentioned. Perhaps the first of many that gradually led me down the slippery slope of increasing my Doubting Thomas status.

At the core of it, apologetics were my attempt to comfort my belief and delving into them eventually caused such discomfort that I simply could not have simple faith any longer.

prairie nymph said...

But what does Rosemary have faith in? She is trusting either in the traditions of a faith, or in what religious authorities tell her.

Faith isn't really based on individual experience god, but often on what others say god is and wants. Otherwise, wouldn't everyone be free to admit that they worship a slightly different god than everyone else?

I am not saying the essence of what she does or holds dear to her heart is only from listening to others, but I would guess the particular form that she lives it by is.

Catholics and Orthodox Christians can base their faith on tradition, but many Protestants have a distrust of tradition drilled into them.

I think that many people needed apologetics because we lost faith in institutions, heirarchical authority and traditions.

It would be just as absurd for certain people to 'believe' based on the fact that their parents, church leaders, or government told them to.

Why do you drive the car you do? Did you research it? Or just buy it because your parents had a similar car? Personalities play a large part.

Once the authority of tradition is questioned, a person needs something else to hang on to. Voila: apologetics. And after that, agnosticism.

DagoodS is quite right- my mom reads apologetics because she doesn't think she is very smart, but still wants Christianity to be right. Instead of a Pope, she has picked Ravi Zacharias.

HeIsSailing said...

Zoe says:

The first book I bought was Evidence That Demands A Verdict that Vinny mentioned.

That might have been the first apologetics book I owned also. I bought two volumes of EDV from our church bookstore back in the late 80's, but I only read the first volume. The second volume did stuff like try to debunk the documentary hypothesis of the Pentatuch, which I had never heard of anyway.... that 2nd volume seemed a little too arcane for me. The first volume was more nuts and bolts.

They were also big. I think that fact alone, that you could stuff THAT MUCH evidence into a two volume tome, was an apologetic in itself. Unlike you, I bought it, hook line and sinker. Even if I saw holes in some of the arguments, I figured those holes had solutions, simply because I believed they had to have solutions. Of course, at the time I was under the powerful spell of Calvary Chapel and their charismatic pastors.


At the core of it, apologetics were my attempt to comfort my belief and delving into them eventually caused such discomfort that I simply could not have simple faith any longer.

ditto.

HeIsSailing said...

prairie nymph says:

But what does Rosemary have faith in? She is trusting either in the traditions of a faith, or in what religious authorities tell her.

With her, it is safe to say, it is more tradition that she believes in, but also community. Throughout her entire life, until she moved to the United States, everyone she knew in her family, her school, her work, EVERYBODY was Catholic. I don't think she ever met a person who was not Catholic. She identifies herself just as much Catholic as she does Filipino.

But the funny thing is, she is a bit of a heretic in her own way. She does not believe in Sin exists. Or Hell. She even doubts if there is a Heaven is up there. She does not give a damn about the Pope, Roman authority, and even thinks our current Pope Benedict XVI is a criminal who needs to do some jail time (although she loves John Paul II). With her, she believes and worships God (or maybe gods?) in her own way, in a way that makes sense to her, but uses the Catholic ceremony to express that worship, simply because it is the only way she knows how. Unlike me, she has no painful memories or wounds from her religious upbringing, and has no desire to abandon the Faith altogether.


Prairie Nymph:
Catholics and Orthodox Christians can base their faith on tradition, but many Protestants have a distrust of tradition drilled into them.

You know, Protestants say that, but I think they rely just as much on tradition (authority of the Inerrant Bible, anyone?), but they don't even know it or are willing to admit it.

Prairie Nymph:
DagoodS is quite right- my mom reads apologetics because she doesn't think she is very smart, but still wants Christianity to be right. Instead of a Pope, she has picked Ravi Zacharias.

I picked John MacArthur and Chuck Missler. And before them, Oral Roberts.

prairienymph said...

Of course you are right about Protestants putting faith in certain traditions, like the inerrancy of the Bible ;)

But, it seems as if belief is the most important part of Protestantism. I was at a housewarming party of a Menno girl and some Catholic girls. The Mennonites were in the kitchen eating and debating theology. The Catholics were in the living room drinking beer and singing praise and worship songs.

Community is powerful. Perhaps Protestants need to learn from people like RoseMary.

We are still struggling over whether to tell our small group what we no longer believe.
If we were Catholic, when we no longer shared the beliefs we could still share the rituals with the people around us.

Hendy said...

I think you almost need this to come from a Christian to a Christian rather than from yourself. If I were to pose this to my wife, she'd already be on guard. I'd want to be a fly on the wall when a stranger tried to evangelize her. I bet they'd get along great and praise god together about having found him.

Does that make sense?

I also agree with DagoodS about apologetics being there to hide behind. I absolutely agree, in fact, and have seen it come up many times in my conversations with friends who believe:
- Me: I don't believe due to x, y, and z
- Them: Well, have you read a, b, and c works on those topics?
- Me: No, what do they say?
- Them: You should just read them. So and so author is sooo knowledgeable about x, y, and z and has responded in length. Let me know what you think of his arguments.

But they don't have the slightest desire to internalize those arguments themselves and it's nearly as likely that they've never even read the book they're suggestions. So many conversations I've had dead-end because the involved party will refer me "upward and onward." They don't know what that person will say; only that they're apparently smarter than me and thus I should go wrestle with them.

Lastly, such existences allow the believer to look into a matter with a quick google search (e.g. "Christian response to the problem of evil"), read the first few sites that come up (which will almost certainly be Christian), and then forever know that some smarty-internet-pants answered those foolish questions once and for all.