A Quick 4-Step Case for Christianity
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are the basic methods of logic, science, and history, and a willingness to examine the New Testament letters as purely historical documents the way historians do.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:
(#1) DOES GOD EXIST?
• Argument #1: Physical reality began to exist
All space, time, and matter began to exist at the Big Bang. But, surely whatever begins to exist has a cause. Therefore, the universe has a cause. And of course, the cause must transcend the space, time, and matter that it creates (assuming you agree that self-causation is absurd). Well, such a transcendent cause already sounds suspiciously like God: It is an ultimate 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.
• Argument #2: The Universe is fine-tuned
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 life-permitting nature of this fine-tuned universe makes perfect sense if God exists, but is very surprising and awkward for atheists, as many of them admit.
• Argument #3 There are moral facts:
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 (e.g. that 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 good? The best explanation: God’s changeless nature is the standard of changeless moral values, and the more personal, honest, and loving something is, the more God-like and therefore good/valuable it is. But then what are our moral duties? Answer: God’s natural commands (“do not lie, do not murder”) flow from his goodness, and ground our objective moral duties. There is no other feasible explanation on the market for objective moral values and duties. Old Testament prophets and Jesus all teach we will be judged on the basis of God's moral law and commands when we die.
(#2) DID JESUS WALK THE EARTH?
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.”
(#3) WOULD GOD RESURRECT JESUS?
Even if there is a God, He rarely (or never) raises people from the dead. Why would Jesus be different? Well, if Jesus were God incarnate—or even if Jesus were sinless and simultaneously proclaiming God's message that the sinless will have eternal life—you can see why God would raise him back to life upon being killed: it would contextually verify that Jesus is sinless, and that Jesus is truly God's approved envoy, and finally that God has the commitment and power he promised us, to preserve the righteous and give them eternal life. So we just need to ask if Jesus, rather than being a kook, is plausibly God's envoy. It makes all the difference!
- First, historians recognize the genre of the Gospel reports as Greco-Roman biographies of Jesus, meaning the texts claim to be directly or indirectly grounded in witness testimony. Historians don't read the New Testament as "holy scripture." Whether the miracles are embellishments or not, these biographies of Jesus reveal his shockingly radical love and service for others, often in ways that were embarrassing in that time. Recall Jesus's caring for the culture’s most downtrodden: women, Gentiles, Samaritans, and tax collectors. It's not behavior anyone would want to invent or apply to Jesus, who is supposed to be Israel's prophesied King. It truly seemed like Jesus was out of this world. In conjunction with Jesus's message to humanity, the reports of Jesus's living sinlessly fits well if he truly were God's son and envoy.
- Second, Jesus fulfilled the many Old Testament prophecies about the coming King-Savior of the world (e.g., see Isaiah 53).
- Third, Jesus gave a grand Divine message worth vindicating, if true. It was that God’s judgment of all humanity is coming, and that those who freely follow Him and accept the moral transformation He offers to them will not perish, but have eternal life with God; i.e. God's righteous people will be resurrected to eternal life while the rest of the non-compliant world will be destroyed. The world will thereby be perfected; all that remains are God and those freely joining His project of maximizing the "good". If you believe in God, then there are philosophical arguments outside scripture which would lead one to expect such an all-good being to carry out a plan like this.
- Fourth, to this day, Jesus is the centerpiece of human history, penetrating every country on the globe, down to remote villages. His impact on culture, empires, art, music, literature, architecture, human relations, charity, medicine, education, holidays, etc. is unparalleled. In conjunction with the other coincidences surrounding Jesus, this influence arguably defies chance.
- Fifth, Jesus’s followers were convinced Jesus performed miracles in His own name (i.e. on His own authority) right before their eyes, and they recorded how Jesus, amidst His culture-defying love, claimed to actually be God in the flesh. This is an historical fact.
(#4) DID JESUS RISE?
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 it 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 that Jesus died on the cross and yet soonafter 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.
THE GOSPEL: AN OFFER FOR YOU
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. Simply declare your submission to God's indwelling presence which will be given freely, and ask for forgiveness and cleansing of your past and future sin 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.