Reason, Revelation and the Resurrection
I recently read a short article on Biologos entitled On What Basis Should A Scientist Accept The Resurrection? A composite piece written by a number of Biologos contributors, the article sets out an argument for the basis for and authority upon which the scientist should accept an historical resurrection. The authors encourage the scientist to "evaluate data." They explain, "an open-minded person will find impressive historical evidence consistent with the resurrection." Again, "But for those who are open, such evidence provides a reasonable basis for belief, so that, as the Gospel of John says, 'believing, you may have life in His [Jesus's] name' (John 20:31)." The article purports to assess and evaluate the historical data for the resurrection. This available data is the ground upon which scientists and "open minded" people should believe in the resurrection and thus follow Christ. While all of this sounds reasonable, several methodological and presuppositional problems arise from the arguments make in the article.
First, the presupposition that some are "open minded." Given its view of origins, Biologos is not known for its rigorous biblical anthropology. Thus, its designation that some are open- minded enough to be swayed by good historical evidence really misses the Biblical mark. We see here the bent of these brethren: seeking to make the gospel palatable and credible to a reasonable but unbelieving mind, they have, in Bultmann-esque style, stripped the Bible of anything that might cause modern man an offense (can you say 'resurrection'?). In place is a presentation of independent, historical evidence, which will sway the open-minded. Excising the supernatural work of Father, Son and Spirit in the resurrection of Christ, they direct the reader to simply look at evidences to the resurrection, as if by independent and reasonable examination of such, one will come to saving faith. Scripture's diagnosis of man is just not that positive (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Eph. 2:1; 1 Cor. 2:14ff). That is the first problem.
The second problem is that the authors' historical evidence, in some cases, is exceedingly weak. Said weakness is revealed in arguments from silence and conjecture. These arguments are, by no means, persuasive: "Had the body been stolen, it would have been relatively easy to locate the body but that never happened;" and "The quickest way to discredit the new Jesus movement would have been to produce physical evidence that Jesus had indeed remained dead. No one did this." The article argues that reasonable people, open-minded people will respond well to such arguments for the resurrection. I am a Christian, and speaking frankly, I don't respond well to such arguments. If those in essential agreement with the historicity of the resurrection do not think the argument sound, how much less the skeptic? Is this really reasonable evidence for reasonable people?
The third problem lies in the fact this historical evidence is derived from, and more frequently goes by a different name: Holy Scripture. The data in the article is called "historical" but it is largely derived from Scripture itself! Details concerning expectations of the Messiah, of the death process of crucifixion and of the empty tomb are all "biblical" data! Now while Scripture is historical, in the article these biblical examples are largely presented as independent sources. However, they do not come to us independent of Scripture, much less independent of God, yet they are held out as "historical" facts without any concession to or apparent realization that they are fundamentally Scriptural evidences. It doesn't take a genius to get past this rhetorical sleight of hand.
Granted there are some arguments in the article which appear to be genuinely historical: "Virtually all historians believe that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person in 1st Century Palestine." This is grand claim. Which historians believe this? I seriously doubt that a survey of the academy would justify this claim, but at least it is a claim independent of the authority of Scripture. It is, in fact, one of the article's rare historical claims.
Rather, the "evidence" presented in the article is Scripture itself. Why not just say so? Why not simply state, and state boldly that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is chiefly found in Scripture, which in the hands of the Holy Spirit will transform the lives of sinners? Simply put, for Biologos to base their argument on the authority of Scripture opens them to the mockery and ridicule of a skeptical world, the very same they are trying to avoid.
This seems, rather too much, like having one's cake and eating it. One cannot, with any credibility before the believing or unbelieving world, cite Scriptural evidence for the resurrection while doing everything to avoid using concepts like the authority of Scripture . By all means we may use historical evidences to assist in our understanding of Scripture. We may use archaeology, geology, and the like to assist our interpretation of Scripture. However, Scripture, inspired by God as it is, cannot be made subject to general revelation.
Biologos, as an institution has firmly enthroned their interpretation of natural revelation over that of special revelation. This article is itself historical evidence of the subjugation of special revelation by these kinds of arguments.
I applaud Biologos's attempt to reach the lost and declare truth to them. I hope it is true that their motivations for such are honorable and God-honoring. Yet, attempts like this do not help their agenda; rather, they hinder it. In short, they, and we - the church - must do much better than this. Allowing Scripture to be Scripture, trusting what God has said He can and will do in it and through, seems to me a far better platform upon which to base our apologetics and evangelism.