I like doubt.
It’s addictive. Like the familiar warmth of a heavily caffeinated latte on a cold winter day, it keeps me going. Seeking. One of my favorite quotes of all time is Descartes’:
“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.”
I admit fully, and regularly, that without the Resurrection, Christianity is meaningless. There could be no better litmus test for the faith. Did Jesus even exist? What were those “startling deeds”? Could the whole thing just been hallucinations or a conspiracy? Why would those early followers scatter, then mobilize, and ultimately give their lives to following what they believed to be the risen Son of God? He was either just a man or something more. As a self-prescribed doubting theist, the question “How could this have actually happened?” will always be on my mind.
It’s rare to come across an apologetics book with such empathy. Short, sweet, and personal, this 100 page book by Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson was well-done. It’s a primer, not an encyclopedia, which I think will be welcomed by readers. It’s personal, historical, and theological, continually asking if we have good reason to even consider the possibility, and if in fact true, the character of God that would be revealed. A fresh perspective, warmly written by two young pastors.
Co-author Jonathan Dodson stopped by, virtually speaking, for a little Q & A.
1) Why did you write the book?
We came at this book with an “anti-evidence” approach. Instead, we chose to invite doubt from the outset. Our goal was not to marshal as many evidences as possible for the resurrection, pile them up, and say to the reader, “See, you should believe because we gave you so much evidence it demands the verdict of your belief.” Belief is more complicated than that, and doubt is multilayered.
Instead, we wanted to acknowledge the implausibility of the Christian belief in the resurrection, particularly for post-Enlightenment cultures. To many people, it comes as a shock that anyone would actually believe a man beat death, much less that he did it as a fully restored person and not a zombie. As a Christian, if you pause for a moment and consider the audacity of what we are asking people to believe, the shock value of the resurrection begins to settle in on you. Did Jesus decompose? How were his muscles revitalized from atrophy? How did he avoid brain damage? If he was resurrected, how did he move around from Jerusalem to Galilee to the road to Emmaus so quickly? However, a lot of Christians just accept the resurrection as fact and don’t doubt it. They just swallow the doctrine and move on. As a result, they miss out on layers of value and truth embedded in resurrection.
So, we wanted to get firm believers to crack open the doctrine and skeptics to hear that we get it, that it is all a bit unbelievable. So we wrote it out of respect for skeptics and the questions they ask…
2) Of all the evidence, which idea do you personally find most compelling when it comes to believing that Jesus actually rose from the dead?
I find the unbelief in the resurrection among 1st century people to be the most compelling, which is why I spend most of the time explaining that in the first chapter. Big shout out to N.T. Wright’s 700+ page The Resurrection and the Son of God for help in grasping this. To simplify history, Greeks and Jews alive at the time of the resurrection had no real reason to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, they doubted the resurrection. For many Greeks the idea of being raised from the dead was unappealing, if not undesirable. In Platonic thought, the body was to be escaped in order to enter the realm of the philosopher-king. Ideas were prized over the material world. So, if you came to a Greek and said, “Hey, Jesus raised from the dead you should follow him.” He or she would reply by saying, “Why would he want to do that? He was liberated from corruption only to return to it?” For Greeks, the resurrection of the body wasn’t a desirable or, in many cases, even philosophically possible.
Although Jews affirmed the possibility, and actual temporary resurrection in Elijah’s ministry, this was very rare. The party position on the resurrection, if in fact they believed it (the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection at all), was that there would be one big resurrection at the end of time, when Yahweh judged the nations. All would be raised to face judgment. So, according to Jewish thought, the Messiah rising from the dead, alone, in the middle of history, was inconceivable. Most Jews didn’t expect the messiah to die much less rise from the dead. So if you came to them and said, “Isn’t it great that Jesus rose from the dead, they would say, “That’s impossible. Where’s the judgment and universal resurrection?” For the Jews, resurrection of Jesus was too early and too few.
So the historical cards are stacked against belief in the resurrection. Contemporary skeptics have friends in the first century. So why the sudden shift among of thousands of people to belief in the resurrection? How could they drop age-old philosophy and time-tested theology to opt for belief in the resurrection? That’s like a prominent Democrat abandoning their party overnight and becoming a Republican. The only plausible reason to explain this sudden worldview shift, in the face of familial, cultural, and social rejection and scorn, is if, in fact, people witnessed the resurrected Christ. A mass delusion of vision is simply out of the question. Psychologists say that something on this scale simply isn’t possible. Moreover, the early Christians didn’t act delusional; their encounters with the risen Christ led them to serve the poor, care for widows and orphans, and even suffer martyrdom for their faith. It wasn’t violent martyrdom, like strapping a bomb to your chest. It was faithful witness to Jesus Christ, accompanied by prayers for their persecutors not hate speech. So, the overnight change in worldviews, across philosophical streams, had to be the result of people really encountering or hearing from someone they trusted, that Jesus did actually rise from the dead.
It seems the book was not just written for the skeptic, but a reminder for the believer (which I am both). For those that actually accept this belief (which I do) that the Creator of the Universe was revealed in the risen Christ, it will inspire a life of discipleship (which it has).
A life of love…To all peoples in all cultures…Spending our lives for the sake of others…Fight for peace…Bring justice… Adopting orphans or caring for teenage mothers…Hosting the homeless…Visiting prisoners…To fight for justice and for people to be treated as people of worth and value…Daily need to ask yourself: “How can I bring hope and love into this world, this city, and my neighborhood?” (Raised? Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection, Dodson and Watson, pages 86,87,93)
Amen (I have a long way to go).
For more information about the book and documentary, visit the website.