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Dr. William Lane Craig: “The Evidence for Christianity”

May 30, 2010

Courtesy of the great apologetics site bethinking.org, here is an audio lecture on The Evidence for Christianity by the redoubtable Dr. William Lane Craig, author of such works as Reasonable Faith.  In this lecture, for which the text can be found here, Dr. Craig gives a very sound defense of the rationality and the defensibility of the Christian faith.  (It should be noted that he comes from what I’d call an evidentiary (as opposed to a presuppositional) apologetics background.)   I found this portion, about the way the historicity of Jesus is now regarded, to be encouraging:

2.  But what about belief in the Christian God?  Is it rational to believe in Jesus as the gospels portray him?

a.  Jesus has become a stormcenter of controversy today, as radical scholars like those in the so-called Jesus Seminar have said that only 20% of Jesus’s recorded words were authentic.  When you check out the evidence, however, a much different picture emerges than the one painted by the radical critics.  Today the majority of New Testament scholars agree that the historical Jesus deliberately stood and spoke in the place of God Himself, that he claimed that in himself the kingdom of God had come, and that he carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcisms as signs of that fact.  According to the German theologian Horst George Pöhlmann,

Today there is virtually a consensus . . . that Jesus came on the scene with an unheard of authority, with the claim of the authority to stand in God’s place and speak to us and bring us to salvation.  With regard to Jesus there are only two possible modes of behavior:  either to believe that in him God encounters us or to nail him to the cross as a blasphemer.  Tertium non datur. [There is no third way.]

Thus, Jesus either was who he claimed to be, or he was a blasphemous megalomaniac, which seems utterly implausible.

b.  But there’s more.  For we have dramatic confirmation of the validity of Jesus’s radical claims about himself, namely, his resurrection from the dead.  Again, in the second half of this century, there has been a dramatic reversal of scholarship on this issue.  Back in the thirties and forties, gospel-events like the discovery of Jesus’s empty tomb were widely regarded as legendary and as an embarrassment for the Christian faith.  Similarly, Jesus’s appearances alive after his death were widely taken to be hallucinations induced by the disciples’ faith in Jesus.  This scepticism concerning the resurrection also peaked in the late 1960’s and then began rapidly to recede.  Today it lingers on in liberal backwaters like the Jesus Seminar.  But the majority of critics agree:  (1) that after his crucifixion Jesus of Nazareth was interred in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea, (2) that the tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of his women followers on Sunday morning,  (3) that various individuals and groups of people on multiple occasions and under different circumstances saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death, and (4) that the original disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection was not a result of their faith in him or of wishful thinking, but that, on the contrary, their faith was the result of their having come to believe in this resurrection.  These are the facts.  The question is, how do you explain them?

Here the skeptic faces a desperate situation.  A few years ago I had debate on the resurrection with a professor at the University of California, Irvine, who had written his doctoral dissertation on the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.  He did not deny the facts of Jesus’ honorable burial, the empty tomb, his resurrection appearances, or the origin of the disciples’ faith.  Rather his only recourse way to try to explain them away by some new theory.  So he argued that Jesus must have had an unknown, identical twin brother who was separated from him at birth, and who showed up in Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion, stole Jesus’s body, and then showed himself to the disciples, leading them to mistakenly infer that Jesus rose from the dead.  I won’t bother you with how I went about refuting the theory; but I think this example is instructive because it shows to what desperate lengths the skeptic has to go to avoid the resurrection of Jesus.  In fact, the evidence is so good that one of the world’s leading Jewish theologians, the late Pinchas Lapide, declared himself convinced on the basis of the evidence that the God of Israel raised Jesus from the dead.

Again, much more deserves to be said about this, but I think that again enough has been shared to show that the Christian is rational in believing Jesus rose from the dead and was who he claimed to be.

If you like this portion, please read or listen to the entire lecture – it is fascinating, and Dr. Craig is a really enjoyable speaker.

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