Did you know that there is a pretty conservative case for the core message of Christianity that can convince people of its truth, even if they are very skeptical of the Bible? All you need are the basic methods of logic, science, and history, and a willingness examine the New Testament letters as purely historical documents the way historians do.
In a nutshell, the truth of Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus. So without assuming Biblical inerrancy, we can make a quick and compelling case for Christianity by asking the four big questions that lead up to belief that God raised Jesus from death:
The universe--all space, time, and matter--began to exist at the Big Bang. But whatever begins to exist has a cause. So the universe has a cause. The cause obviously must transcend space, time, and matter in order to cause their existence. That sounds suspiciously like God already:
A first cause that is (1) timeless, (2) spaceless, and (3) immaterial. It must also be (4) enormously powerful and (5) have the disposition to create, of all things, a life-permitting universe.
Of all the known ways the universe's physical laws, constants, and initial conditions could have been, few ways would ever allow life of any kind to exist. For example, if the cosmological constant were off by 1 part in 10 to the 120th power, the universe would expand too rapidly (only ever allowing hydrogen and helium) or it would collapse in a picosecond. So:
Geoff Brumfiel (Nature Magazine's Washington Correspondent): “If you believe the equations of the world’s leading cosmologists, the probability that the universe would turn out this way [life-permitting] by chance are infinitesimal — one in a very large number.” [“Our Universe: Outrageous Fortune,” Nature, Vol 439:10-12 (Jan. 5, 2006)]
The fine-tuning of the universe makes perfect sense if God exists, but is very surprising and awkward for atheists.
Moral facts are facts. If the Nazis won and took over the world, the Holocaust would still be evil (even though everyone alive may agree it was good). It is just as if everyone started saying 2+2=9; they would be wrong. But what grounds moral facts? Philosophers have long said that if there is no God, then the answer is: nothing. Ever-changing evolutionary feelings adapted for this stage of human survival obviously can't ground objective moral facts (love is good, murder is wrong). So when we see people (including atheists) doing loving and honest things, what allows us to all agree they are objectively and permanently good? The best explanation: God’s changeless nature is the standard of moral value, so the more personal, honest, and loving something is, the more God-like and good/valuable it is. And God’s natural commands (“do not lie, do not murder [Jews]”) ground objective moral duties. Old Testament prohpets and Jesus all teach we will be judged on the basis of God's moral law when we die.
While many historians doubt Jesus performed miracles, all specialists agree that Jesus is a real historical figure:
Paul Maier (Ancient history professor at Western Michigan): “Open nearly any text in ancient history of Western civilization used widely in colleges and universities today, and you will find a generally sympathetic, if compressed, version of Jesus' life, which ends with some variation of the statement that he was crucified by Pontius Pilate and died as a result. No ranking historian anywhere in the world shares the ultimate criticism voiced by German philosopher Bruno Bauer in the last century, that Jesus was a myth, that he never lived in fact.”
Even if there is a God, He rarely (or never) raises people from the dead. Why would Jesus be different? Answer: Jesus is very different.
If Jesus were sinless, and especially God incarnate, you can see why He would raise Himself back to life upon being killed: to prove that the sinless truly will rise, that Jesus truly is God's envoy, and that God has power over death to deliver on His promise for His people.
The truth of Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection. It is the litmus test. There are strong initial reasons to doubt a good case can be made: The New Testament reports are 2,000+ year-old, biased Christian writings, and the reported event is a miracle. But prominent atheists with exactly these surface worries, after investigating, come out confessing:
Jeff Lowder (Philosopher, debater, co-founder of infidels.org): “I remember thinking to myself that if I took the time to investigate the resurrection, I could make anyone who believed it look like a fool. Or so I thought. …I was about to discard [it as] ‘another illogical religious belief,’ …[yet] I found extremely difficult to deal with as a critic.”
Antony Flew (Lecturer at Oxford, arguably Christianity's greatest critic in his day): “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It's outstandingly different in quality and quantity.”
One of the strongest pieces of evidence is that even atheist historians today can agree the apostles honestly believed that they saw Jesus appear to them before their eyes. Any historian can look at how the experience transformed them and know the alleged witnesses at least weren’t lying. So:
Gary Habermas (Professor at Liberty) “On the state of Resurrection studies today, I recently completed an overview of more than 1,400 sources on the resurrection of Jesus published since 1975. I studied and cataloged about 650 of these texts in English, German, and French. Some of the results of this study are certainly intriguing. For example, perhaps no fact is more widely recognized than that early Christian believers had real experiences that they thought were appearances of the risen Jesus. A critic may claim that what they saw were hallucinations or visions, but he does not deny that they actually experienced something.” [The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel, 2004), 60.]
This is powerful because no skeptic of Jesus's resurrection has been able to give a plausible hypothesis of what the apostles actually experienced, if not Jesus Himself. Some skeptical historians suggested group hallucinations, but the sheer number and variety of witnesses defies modern medical case-books. Hallucinations are like dreams: they cannot be shared. The case for Jesus’s tomb being suddenly found empty is also very strong. See details at beliefmap.org/jesus/body/missing. While the case for the resurrection is not technically a "proof" (since proofs are limited to math, etc.), it is strong evidence; adept skeptical investigators have come out being compelled by it, ultimately believing that Jesus is God's chosen, and that He did resurrect Jesus.
Jesus's grand message is worth repeating: Divine judgment is coming, and we are all going to be found guilty on our own (Romans 3:23). Heaven is not a place for sin or sinners. To enter, we must gladly and earnestly want to submit ourselves to God's moral transformation of us, both progressively in this life and in a final way on the day of judgment. On that day, all evil will be destroyed and the righteous will be preserved. God also provided a means through Jesus whereby anyone's past sins can be covered for free; Jesus already paid the price on the cross. Again, all you need to do is accept God's offer of salvation. You can enter enter into this special relationship through prayer to God: declare your submission, receiving God's indwelling presence, and ask for forgiveness and cleansing through Jesus. God loves you more than any earthly love you know, and God desires you to be with Him now and in the coming Kingdom. The Divine offer and promises for you stand at this very moment. Will you accept? If so, pray to God, and immediately find a "non-denominational" church (to start out) and talk to the pastor about the next steps for your life.