This review appeared in the Apr-Jun 2006 vol. 163 no. 2 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
The Case for the Resurrection of JesusKregel Publications, Grand Rapids September 25, 2004
Habermas is distinguished professor and chair of the department of philosophy and theology at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, and is a prominent evangelical apologist. His co-author Licona is a New Testament historian. This book is a user-friendly apologetic tool for informed and interested evangelical laypersons. The authors use a “minimal facts” approach to argue for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. They “consider only those data that are so strongly attested historically that even the majority of unbelieving scholars accept them as facts” (p. 75). In their view such an approach is more effective than the use of the Bible alone, since this evidence is effective even for those skeptics who disbelieve the Scriptures. Of course the eyewitness testimony of the apostles, as recorded in Scripture, does figure prominently in building their case.
The resurrection of Jesus is the focal point of New Testament teaching. Apart from His resurrection, there is no gospel, no salvation from sin. If Jesus was raised, then Christianity is true and the Bible is trustworthy. But can Jesus’ resurrection be proven? The answer depends on whether proof requires certainty or simply a high degree of probability. The authors acknowledge that nothing can be proven historically with one-hundred percent certainty, but they argue that the resurrection of Jesus can be established with a high degree of probability. The authors believe that the evidence for the resurrection helps provide answers to unbelievers’ questions. They caution, however, that no one will ever argue or reason someone into becoming a Christian. Only God can bring salvation, but yet there is value in providing answers to people’s questions. And for Christians the “historical certainty we have of Jesus’ resurrection only reinforces that God’s Spirit has indeed spoken to us” (p. 33). For believers apologetics can help strengthen the faith one already has through seeking understanding.
The book begins with a brief and simple introduction to historiography, arguing that the principle of multiple independent attestation, by enemies and eyewitnesses and from early sources, provides strong testimony. They then present five “minimal facts” of the resurrection: Jesus died by crucifixion, His disciples believed in His resurrection and appearances, Paul’s life was changed from persecutor to apostle, the skeptic James was converted, and the tomb is empty. Alternative interpretations of these facts are then discussed and refuted. The authors address skeptics’ questions and objections clearly and carefully.
The next-to-last chapter gives excellent advice for those engaged in communicating with unbelievers and skeptics. The authors urge conversation in truth and love, in humility and mercy, without anger and argumentation. In short, Christians should evidence Christlike character when interacting with non-Christians. The final chapter summarizes the gospel and provides a “Romans Road” approach to its presentation. An appendix summarizes and overviews the book’s material in outline form. “Resurrection Challenge,” an interactive computer game on CD that accompanies the book, provides an entertaining way of testing the reader’s understanding and recollection of the book’s content in a “Jeopardy-style” format.
This book is a helpful tool for evangelism and apologetics. The “minimal facts” approach avoids the fallacy of trying to prove too much. The authors acknowledge the need for the Spirit of God to accomplish conversion. Their approach is disarming to those skeptics who expect Christians simply to quote a Bible verse to defend every claim or in response to every question. Yet the authors’ approach is heavily dependent on the claims of Scripture. They encourage Christians to focus on the main issue, avoiding becoming distracted by peripheral questions. Their method is a winsome and kind way to engage people in conversation. However, this may be an oversimplification. Seldom do “real-world” conversations occur like those presented in this book. But as a tool to encourage the faith of believers and as a tool in communicating the gospel this is a good resource. It can be read to great advantage by people of a wide variety of ages and spiritual maturity, and it would be effective in a small-group setting, either to strengthen the faith of believers or as an evangelistic tool. As a means of pointing to the resurrection of Jesus as the basis of hope, as the center of the gospel, this book is recommended. The Lord is risen indeed!
—Glenn R. Kreider