Minimal Fact Approach to the Resurrection of Christ

One of the hardest groups to share the gospel with is those people I would term “skeptics” or atheists. At a high level, there are two categories we share the gospel with;

1) those who have been exposed to it before, and

2) those who have not been exposed to it.

We can further sub-divide category 1 into at least three groups:

     a) nominal Christians (heard the gospel, assent to it’s truth and would say they hold to the principles of Christ’s teaching,
     b) agnostics (heard it but never really studied it in depth or if they have, have not reached a conclusion, and
     c) heard it, but reject it for any number of reasons.

One of the difficulties many face in their approach to evangelism of group C is not having adequate “touch points” within which to build a basis for sharing the gospel. We want to grab a person, quote from scripture to tell them they are hell-bound without even appreciating that they place no truth value on the scriptures. This is like a member of the LDS church quoting to us from the Book of Mormon. We reject the book, so any statement from it fails to motivate us. What we lack is a way to get behind the person’s own view to help them work toward placing a truth value in scripture.

One approach to sharing with a skeptic (I am going to group skeptics and atheists together just for brevity, one could argue there are distinct differences between the two, but for the purpose of this I am going to set those aside for discussion) is the minimal facts approach. The minimal facts approach takes a view of only holding to those minimal facts that the overwhelming majority of scholars would assent to accepting as true. A simple list of those facts is:

  • Jesus died on the cross and was buried
  • Jesus’ tomb was empty and no one ever produced His body
  • Jesus’ disciples believed they saw the resurrected  Jesus after his death
  • Jesus’ disciples were transformed following these sightings of him

Given these minimal facts, we can reach a number of possible conclusions:

  1. The disciples were simply wrong about His death
  2. The disciples lied about the resurrection
  3. The disciples were delusional
  4. The disciples did not see Jesus, but either an imposter or someone like Him.
  5. The disciples were influenced by limited spiritual sightings
  6. The disciples’ observations were distorted later
  7. The disciples saw the resurrected Christ

Is it possible to eliminate any of these potential conclusion to arrive a the most likely conclusion given the minimal facts and what we know of the disciples reports?  While scripture can surely be used as a building block in our approach through minimal facts, we can’t just simply point at the text and say, “there, see”.  To the skeptic, that approach would suffer from the same reasoning by which we would deny a claim from the Book of Mormon or the Koran.  We need to be able to demonstrate that our answers and elimination of possible conclusions is rational and follows the accepted criteria of the minimal facts framework — noticeably missing in that framework is that the biblical texts are independently truth.

In saying that, i want to provide a caution.  The minimal facts approach does not in any way deny the veracity of scripture.  As Christians, we simply have the ability to employ the minimal facts approach to meet the non-believer/skeptic where they are.  We don’t require them first to assent to the truthfulness of scripture, although we are confident that if examined sincerely, the scriptures withstand reasonable challenges and can be trusted as God’s revelation to us.

(This work draws heavily from the Minimal Facts Approach as demonstrated by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, and most recently in J. Warner Wallace’s book, ‘Cold Case Christianity’ published by David C. Cook.  This work is available at http://www.amazon.com/Cold-Case-Christianity-Homicide-Detective-Investigates/dp/1434704696.)

Do you remember me? (A Dog’s Story)

Do you remember me?
I remember you.
I still remember that first time I saw you, your eyes were so bright.
Your face was so warm. Yours was not the first face I had seen, but
it was different that day. You spoke to me in such a sweet way. When
you left that day, I got to go with you! I learned two words that
day, mine and home.

You took me to that place called home and showed me my bed, although I
seldom slept there. Instead, I got to sleep in a much bigger bed, with
you. We would lay there all night. Your breath reminded me of mom’s,
so even and so warm. The days I had spent behind the wire in that other
place would so quickly fade because this place was now home,
you said, “You are mine!”
and I loved you so.

The days were a little hard on me, you always seemed so sad to be
going to that place you called ‘work’.
I worried for you while you were away,
I can’t imagine but from the sadness on your voice when you
spoke of it, it could not have been a warm place.
I worried until you came back home.

Some days, you didn’t have to go to work.
Those were my favorite days.
We would sleep late and when we got out of bed we would play.
You would always tell me how much you loved me and I would get to curl up
on the couch with you while you watched tv.
Sometimes we would go for walks. You, by my side!
I was so proud to show you off to my friends!
Some o them didn’t have people that walked them like you did me, they
had to look on from their yards or windows.
Some days we even went for a ride. I got to hang my head out the window while you seemed happy
to always sit in the same place holding on. I always hoped you would
one day get to let go of that wheel you held and we could play,
I didn’t like the way you seemed so afraid of it.

Those days were so much fun. Even on the days when you had to go to
work, when you got home we would often get to go for a walk. You would
talk to the neighbors while we went by their homes.
It was bliss to walk with you.

As the years went by something changed.
While once we would spend time together, you no longer wanted to spend time with me.
Sometimes you wouldn’t take me for walks or i would have to wait longer for my
food. Still, those weren’t the worst of days.

There came that day when we went for a ride.
We stopped at a place I didn’t know.
You put my leash on me and took me inside. You introduced
me to a lady, she was nice.
She patted my head and told you they would take good care of me.
Then you left.

I worried about you, because you seemed so distracted.
You left and they put me in a thing called a kennel.
It had a cold floor but there was a bowl of food and clean water.
Sometimes, you had not changed my water like you did long ago.
It was ok, it just was a little different.
You used to give me the most scrumptious meals and would
even give me bites of your food. Lately, you would just give me food
from my bag. That was ok too. It was good, but I worried because you
seemed to be so distant.

I hoped you would be back soon.
They are nice to me. They give me food and water.
We don’t get to go out on walks. I sit on the floor and
wait for you.
Sometimes, someone comes and walks by my cage.
I hear them talk with the people who take care of me. They ask how I am
sometimes. The people here say something I don’t understand, ‘owner
surrender’. The new people say something must be wrong and it makes me worry
about you.
I hope you are ok. Something must have happened to you or
you would have come to get me. Soon, you will walk up to my kennel and I
will here waiting for you, just like I have always waited.
I remember you so well.

Are We Forgiving?

The theme of forgiveness keeps intruding on my thoughts. It goes back to an essay that appeared in Tom Oord’s Reaching Forgivenessbook, ‘Creation Made Free’. [See Chapter 11: The Final Form of Love: The Science of Forgiveness and the Openness of God by Richard Rice] The essay was excellent and really made me think on the topic of forgiveness and I kept thinking that we really don’t spend enough time really understanding what forgiveness really means. Rice in his work stated that instead of defining what forgiveness is, researches usually default to saying what forgiveness is not. Such as forgiveness is not condoning or excusing or forgetting an act. These all tend to dismiss the actual occurrence of a wrong while forgiveness acknowledges that a wrong has been committed, otherwise there is no necessity for forgiveness.

Often, when we speak about forgiving a person, we move along the lines that when someone asks for forgiveness, we are ready to offer it. I don’t think that is really in line with the example of Christ nor the will of God. Sure, maybe we have already given serious thought to our attitude toward the transgressor, but it seems that saying we will forgive only when asked is not having a correct attitude. What if God had witheld the incarnation until we asked? What if Christ had not gone to the Cross 2,000 years ago? God seems to have preceded my very existence with already having taken all the actions necessary for my forgiveness. Get that? Before I sinned, He had already accomplished fogiveness toward me. My asking for His forgiveness does not changed His attitude toward me, it changes my attitude toward Him! I first read that in a sermon that Dr. Wes Tracy gave many years ago. As time goes on, I see that more and more every day.

Maybe forgiveness is not an action, but maybe more than an attitude. It isn’t walking around and ignoring wrongs. But it is walking around a wrong to an encounter with the person on the other side. It is being set in our hearts to not harbor ill until they ask for its removal. It is extending our hearts to them and living toward them to encourage their seeking reconciliation.

N.T. Wright has talked about forgiveness being a “return from exile”.  [N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, vol. 2, Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 268.]  Some see that statement as problematic, but I think it speaks accurately to the restoration of relationship that forgiveness provides.  God took all of the necessary steps He could to ensure our return from exile to Him, it is simply left a path for us to walk to realize it.  We should perhaps do the same for others.  Not an easy task to be sure but a task well worth devoting ourselves to so that the transformational work of the Holy Spirit may be manifested within us and proceeding from us!  Let us forgive and live out to a relationship that encourages community!  Let the Kingdom of God begin in us this day!

Touching Truth

In an otherwise interesting conversation I recently overheard, a participant questioned how we could not know something that we could not see, taste, or touch. This is an often used device among many that want to argue against the existence of a non-physical being, in this case God. The interesting thing about this question is that it does not subject itself to the same critical analysis it is thrusting upon the other. If we can only know things that we can taste, touch, see, then how do we know the truth of that very claim? How do we subject the statement “I can only believe that which I can experience with my senses” to the same test? Can I know the truth of that statement by seeing, touching, tasting, smelling? By the criterion offered for knowing something (the senses), the truth claim itself fails. There are many names that can be applied to this, suicidal and hypocritical are two of the most ready examples that come to mind.

Thinking on Truth

In a discussion I was participating in, someone asked me about my definition of truth.  This post is what I offered with some additional thoughts added for the blog.

Regarding my definition of truth, I provided a simplistic summation of it in an earlier post. A more formal expression would be:

Truth obtains when a truth bearer stands in an appropriate correspondence relation to a truth maker.

This is somewhat a technical definition but let me give some definitions and perhaps it will make more sense (at least it took these terms being defined to help me).

The truth bearer is that proposition which is being considered. The truth maker is that which makes a proposition true–a fact. A fact is some real, that is, obtaining state of affairs in the world. So in this case the truth of the statement “God is all loving” is true if and only if there is a supreme transcendent being (God) who is all loving. The statement “I am a person” is true if and only if there is a being (I) who satisfies the criteria for personhood.

It is important to note that the knowledge of truth is distinctly separate from the existence of truth. Let’s say that I believe it is raining outside. I may have good reasons to believe that, perhaps a colleague entered the building and was carrying a wet umbrella. Let us say that I walk to the window and observe the weather. At the same time I move to the window another colleague who has not had any prior consideration of the weather conditions also moves to the window. We both observe it is raining outside.  We both have the same sensory perception that it is raining outside. However, I also have a second experience not shared by my colleague. I am able to verify my belief that it is raining outside. Notice that the truth for both of us is unchanged whether or not we held the prior belief. It would also be true that it is raining outside whether or not I knew or believed it to be true.

[Another person in the discussion had offered a distinction between two categories that were identified as 1) Scientific Truth, and 2) Religious Truth.  In the discussion there was a statement made that it was not important that religious truths were verifiable.  This second paragraph was in response to that statement]

I would disagree that the veracity of biblical statements is not critical, unless I desire to believe in something independent of any hope of that belief being actualized. I think Paul spoke directly to this in his letter to the Corinthians when he wrote:

“Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is empty, and your faith also is empty. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

On another level, I also believe Christ addressed this same topic. In Mark 2, Jesus was confronted by those who doubted his authority. I think these scribes represent those who would only hold to positivist (verifiable by empirical evidence) notions of truth. When Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic, the scribes doubted the truth of Christ’s authority. These people only believed in what they could analyze and see. Christ then performed a verifiable miracle to satisfy the unbelief of the scribes.