Thursday, August 15, 2013

Confessions of a Former Skeptic

Let’s play pretend for a moment. A reporter has been given the assignment of writing an article about your life entitled, “Is John/Jane Doe an Honest Person?” In order to do his work the reporter is given full access to your personal and financial records. He’s going to do a lot of digging so he will be scrutinizing every detail. As part of his research process the reporter is going to be interviewing people who know you best. If your mother says that you are an honest person, we may have reason to believe her, but since she loves you and is no doubt biased, we can only accept her appraisal with reservation. However, if one of your enemies admits to the reporter that you are an honest person, we have an even stronger reason to believe what is being asserted, since potential bias is removed.

Historians call this “the principle of enemy attestation.” This principle asserts that any if source that does not have sympathy for a certain person, message, or cause comes to affirm something about it then it is more likely to be authentic.

Consequently, when we examine the evidence for resurrection of Christ this is one of its greatest assets. The New Testament records the testimony of hostile or unsympathetic witnesses who claim that the resurrection was a historical fact. In fact, history is replete with examples of skeptics who turned into believers after examining the evidence concerning the resurrection. In light of this, I decided to put a short list together of some of the skeptics who tried to disprove the resurrection, only being converted in the process.

Paul: No informed individual would regard Saul of Tarsus to have been a follower of Christ. He despised Christ and persecuted Christians, aiming to eradicate their whole cult. Saul of all people had no reason to become a believer, by his own account He was proud and content being a Pharisee (Phil 3:4-6). He saw killing Christians as a divine mandate that he joyfully carried out (Acts 8:1-3, 22:2-6, 26:9-11; Gal. 1:13-14). However, Saul went from being the greatest persecutor of the early church to the greatest preacher. Acts 9:1-9 records the story of Saul’s conversion to Paul on the Damascus Road when the resurrected Jesus appeared to him with such power and glory that he was blinded and knocked off his horse. Paul was never the same again. He ended up writing over half of the New Testament and giving his life for the Gospel, as he was beheaded in 64 AD under Emperor Nero. What could account for this radical transformation? Nothing short of a personal appearance by the risen Jesus, which Paul affirmed multiple times (Acts 22:6-11, 26:12-18; 1 Cor. 15:8, Gal. 1:15-16).

James: The half-brother of Jesus was another skeptic. The Gospels indicate that none of Jesus’ brothers believed Him during His lifetime (John 7:5; Mark 3:21-25). In fact they tried to fool Jesus into a death trap at a public feast in Jerusalem. Yet James later became a follower of his half-brother and joined the band of persecuted Christians. James became a key leader in the church (Acts 15:12-21; Gal 1:19), wrote an epistle in the New Testament that bears his name (James 1:1), and became one of the churches early martyrs as attested by Josephus and Clement of Alexandria. Again, what else could explain such a drastic transformation? The best reason is that James had an encounter with the risen Christ (1 Cor. 15:7).  

Both of those men gave their lives for a message they couldn’t deny. Nobody dies for something they know to be a lie. As John Stott said, “A man is prepared to die for a conviction, but not a concoction.” Charles Colson, Special Counsel to President Nixon during the Watergate scandal, knew full well how difficult it is to keep a conspiracy together. Colson explained, “I know how impossible it is for a group of people, even some of the most powerful in the world, to maintain a lie. The Watergate cover up lasted only a few weeks before the first conspirator broke and turned state’s evidence.”1 As soon as pressure mounted and the conspirators realized they could be punished, they jumped ship to save their own skin. Yet not even one of the disciples, even though they all faced horrendous persecution and even death, renounced his belief in the resurrection of Christ.

Sir Lionel Luckhoo: Luckhoo was known in the legal world as the greatest defense attorney that ever lived.  In fact, the Guinness Book of World Records has him listed with the most wins ever by a defense attorney with 245 consecutive murder acquittals. He was knighted twice by the Queen of England. Luckhoo, was an avowed atheist. Someone asked him if he had ever investigated the evidence for the resurrection and challenged him to apply his legal prowess to the New Testament. He accepted the challenge and at the end of his investigation he went from being an atheist to being a Christian. He said, “I say unequivocally that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt.”2

Dr. Simon Greenleaf: Greenleaf was for many years the professor emeritus of law at Harvard University and a renowned skeptic. His three-volume classic of American jurisprudence, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence was a standard textbook for law students during the nineteenth century. A brilliant lecturer, Dr. Greenleaf often mocked Christianity in his classes. One day some of his students challenged him to apply the laws of legal evidence he had developed to the case of Christ’s resurrection. After much persuasion, Greenleaf took on the task in the form a book with the lengthy title of An Examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists, by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice. After carefully, examining all the information available to him, Greenleaf concluded that the facts of the New Testament, impartially judged, spoke for themselves. He came to the conclusion that according to the laws of legal evidence used in courts of law, there is more evidence for the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ than for just about any other event in history.

Frank Morrison: In the 1930s a rationalistic English journalist named Frank Morrison set out to debunk the crazy idea of Jesus’ resurrection once and for all. He examined the historical evidence with all his legal logic and evidential expertise. Morrison sifted through every possibility that might account for the disappearance of Jesus’ body, yet the only logical solution was the biblical explanation. In the end he wrote a book called Who Moved the Stone? The only thing it debunked was his skepticism. His book has become a classic apologetic text for the historical resurrection of Christ. In the opening chapter entitled, “The Book that Refused to Be Written,” Morrison said, “The book that was originally planned was left high and dry, like those Thames barges when the great river goes out to meet the incoming sea. The writer discovered one day that not only could he no longer write the book as he had once conceived it, but that he would not if he could.”3   

Josh McDowell: As a pre-law student, Josh McDowell was also a skeptic of Christianity and believed that every Christian had two minds: one was lost while the other was out looking for it. McDowell was eventually challenged by a group of Christian friends to investigate the Christian truth claims. Thinking this a farce, he accepted the challenge and decided that he would write the definitive book which would make laughingstock of Christianity. McDowell only made it a year or so into his research until he realized that weight of the evidence in favor of the Bible was too great for his skepticism to hold up. Josh wrote:
“One day while I was sitting in a library in London, England, I sensed a voice inside me saying, “Josh, you don’t have a leg to stand on.” I immediately suppressed it. But just about every day after that I heard the same inner voice. The more I researched, the more I heard His voice. I returned to the United States and to the university, but I couldn’t sleep at night. I would go to bed at ten o’clock and lie awake until four in the morning, trying to refute the overwhelming evidence I was accumulating that Jesus Christ was God’s Son. I began to realize that I was being intellectually dishonest.”4      

McDowell eventually gave his life to Christ and wrote a number of important texts in defense of Christianity, among them Evidence That Demands a Verdict and More Than a
Carpenter. You can hear Josh’s whole story here.

If you are skeptic, why do you reject the resurrection Christ? The above examples show that it cannot be because the Christian worldview lacks sufficient evidence. I would tell you not to trust the testimonies of these men and instead do your own homework, but there is always that danger that you might end up making the same conclusion they did. Are you willing to follow the evidence where ever it leads?

1. Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live? (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1999), 275-276.
2. Ross Clifford, The Case for the Empty Tomb (Claremont, CA: Albatross, 1991), 112.
3. Frank Morrison, Who Moved the Stone? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1958), 8.
4. Josh McDowell, Evidence for Christianity (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006), xxiii. 

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