This is a continuation of the review I started here.
In chapter 2 of Raised with Christ, “The Empty Cross, the Empty Tomb”, Adrian Warnock looks at the evidence for the resurrection. But I am a little confused about how he justifies doing so:
Human reason alone cannot prove to anyone that Jesus rose from the dead. … To persuade our intellect to believe in the resurrection requires not only rational arguments but a gift of faith from God. Christianity is, however, a reasonable faith. So we need to study the evidence for the resurrection and 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). (p.31)
I wonder, if we can’t persuade anyone unless God gives them faith, and since presumably (at least in Reformed thinking) any faith God might give them is entirely effectual, what is the point of rational arguments which cannot help the matter? A better “reason for the hope that is in you” might be a personal testimony. Or perhaps faith is not simply a gift of God, as I recently argued elsewhere.
As Adrian starts his discussion of the actual evidence he touches on a subject he is sometimes thought to be obsessed with. But what he writes is not what some might expect:
[Jesus] was no mere conservative follower of the culture of his day. Jesus gave great dignity to women. He treated them as friends and was willing to sit with them and teach them, defying all traditions of the day. … Here was a teacher who did not despise women. He did not see them merely as servants to wait on the men. … It was in the events of the resurrection that Jesus gave the highest honor to women. … To then appoint [women] as the first messengers of the good news … shows the total absence of prejudice in Jesus. (p.34)
Well, I can’t help wishing that the Christian leaders that Adrian approves of would follow Jesus’ example here, being “no mere conservative follower[s] of the culture of [our] day” but showing “total absence of prejudice”, going out of their way to give “great dignity to women” and “not see them merely as servants to wait on the men”. But for Adrian, writing last week on his “blog”, the role of a wife seems to be “helping to shape [her husband], all the time doing so in a submissive and honoring way” – which sounds to me rather like a servant role.
Adrian then retells the biblical accounts of the resurrection, based on a rather standard harmonisation of the four gospels. He passes on a strange suggestion from Ralph Martin and Peter Davids, for which he quotes no evidence, that during the following 40 days “Jesus makes frequent journeys between heaven and earth” (p.37). (Good for his frequent flier points, no doubt!) He shows that the resurrected Jesus had a real physical body, but without discussing whether it had blood.
Thus in this chapter Adrian manages to put together, from the biblical accounts, a coherent narrative of what actually happened on that first Easter Sunday and in the following weeks. The problem at this point is that this narrative will only seem at all convincing to those who already accept the Bible as a true account of ancient events. And most of those people are already Christians.
So Adrian needed to continue with his chapter 3, “Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?” Most of this is given over to brief discussion and rejection of seven possible alternative explanations of the biblical evidence. This follows a pattern of Christian apologetics familiar at least since Frank Morison’s 1930 classic Who Moved the Stone? (not referenced by Adrian). The only new insight here is into hallucinations, based on Adrian’s experience as a psychiatrist (p.51). The chapter closes with a summary of early extra-biblical evidence supporting the resurrection.
The main weakness of the argument in these two chapters is its failure to engage properly with critical scholarship. Adrian begins and ends chapter 3 by quoting claims by apologist Gary Habermas that “critical scholars have even admitted” (p.56) that none of the alternative explanations are tenable. But has he read what any of these critical scholars are actually saying? He has at least interacted with N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, and refers to how in that book Wright “counters six conclusions that liberal scholars have come to about the resurrection” (p.56). Nevertheless I suspect that anyone well trained in critical methods in theology would be able quickly to demolish Adrian’s arguments here.
Early in chapter 3 Adrian quotes some words which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle put on the lips of Sherlock Holmes:
When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. (p.44)
No doubt Adrian intends that by proving all the alternatives impossible he can demonstrate the “improbable” resurrection to be true. The problem for him, and for this whole line of argument, is that in our materialist society, as indeed in ancient Greek society (compare Acts 17:32), most non-Christians presuppose that the bodily resurrection is impossible – and so conclude that one of the alternatives, “however improbable, must be the truth.” Unbelievers will change such presuppositions not in response to logical argument but only by undergoing a paradigm shift. Perhaps that can only happen if they receive “a gift of faith from God” – but I do know of people who have been pushed into such a shift through personal testimony of God working in power today.
Nevertheless, these chapters should be useful for strengthening the faith in the resurrection of young Christians and of those whose churches have neglected to teach on this subject.
Continued in part 3.