Spreading the Word

I recently finished reading the latest offering of Gary Habermas on the resurrection, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, and wrote a review for amazon. Co-authored with Michael Liconoa, the book received praise from the usual apologist suspects, such as Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and J.P. Moreland. But it also received praise from respected New Testament scholar Ben Witherington and historian Paul Maier.

At 384 pages, I expected this to be an in-depth discussion of the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Having read it, I discovered that it is not. But it is something else. And something very helpful. It is a kind of manual for Christians about how to evangelize by using the historical evidence for Jesus' resurrection. The actual presentation of the evidence is not nearly as in depth as N.T. Wright's exquisite The Resurrection of the Son of God or as forcefully structured as William L. Craig's many expressions of the argument (The Son Rises and Reasonable Faith), but is at least as vaulable.

Habermas and Licona effectively distill down five "minimal facts" that most historians and scholars would agree with.

1) Jesus' death by crucifixion;
2) Jesus' disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them;
3) Paul, a persecutor of the church, has suddenly changed to faith in Jesus;
4) James, skeptical of Jesus during his ministry, was suddenly changed to faith in Jesus; and,
5) The tomb of Jesus was empty.

Except for, perhaps, No. 4, these facts are agreed to by even moderate non-sectarian scholars. The Case for Jesus does a good job in distilling down the reasons scholarship has arrived at these conclusions. They use graphs and illustrations to track and organize the argument. Though I usually find such graphs somewhat annoying, these were helpful.

Perhaps the greatest strength of this book is that it avoids the usual pitfalls of trying to prove too much. It advises readers to focus on the resurrection, just as the early church did. You may not be able to convince everyone that the Bible is inerrant, that Jesus fulfilled all OT prophecies, or that the resurrection accounts can be completely harmonized. Why waste the effort and drive off potential converts when the evidence for the resurrection itself is so strong? Sage advice. And there is more of it that I think will be helpful to those seeking to share their faith by presenting the case for one of its core beliefs.

Though it is sometimes hard for me to gauge how other Christian laypersons (who do not make a hobby of this kind of stuff) will absorb the material, I suspect they will find the evidence, as well as the practical suggestions offered on to how to share the material, very helpful.

Even if, as I am, you tend to shy away from popular apologetics, this book is worth a read.


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