A Resurrection Apologetic

A Resurrection Apologetic September 26, 2012

Apologetics has been through some rough waters in the last twenty or so years. Some have found apologetics to be arrogant or so rational it leaves the seeker cold. Yet others, and many read folks like Bill Craig, Lee Strobel, and Paul Copan, are excited to the point of obsession with apologetics. In their book, The Cross is Not Enough, Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson make an astute point, one that can be both threaten and liberate at the same time. Their point? That our theology is not unrelated to our personality type. They refer to Leslie Francis’ works, which I have myself used at times (see the end of Blue Parakeet ).

Which kind of apologetics appeals to you most? What do you think of their idea that apologetics is shaped by personality type?

What Clifford and Johnson are getting at is that Christian apologetics can’t assume everyone moves to or deeper into faith by reason and careful inductive reasoning. Many come to the faith as a result of art or story or relationship. They take some time to summarize and criticize Peter Rollins, whose approach is decidedly contra-traditional and rationalist apologetics, because some are very rational while others are not. Rollins appeals to the latter but not always to the former. When I heard Pete, when asked if he believed in the resurrection, say that he denies it daily by the way he lives … my response was “Clever, but not the point at all.” What he did was change from the traditional apologetical approach to a postmodern apologetic, to a lifestyle or embodiment apologetic. Clifford and Johnson would say his response appeals to only one sort and, in fact, they push back for a few pages at his own understandings of a variety of topics, including his (mis)appeal to apophatic theology.

They map four kinds of apologetics: vindication (positive case), defense (making the faith credible), refutation (challenging the naysayers), and persuasion (appealing to non-Christians to consider and believe in Jesus).

After sketching a few approaches to apologetics today, including the value of story, the need to be alert to post-Christendom, and to an apologetics of “touch” (this section seeks to connect to post-modern spirituality and seekers), Clifford and Johnson propose a few elements for a more rational approach:

1. Commonly agreed facts: Jesus’ death by crucifixion, appearance tellings, personal transformation, importance of resurrection in early churches, and the conversion of folks like Paul and James.

2. Some details: resurrection meant embodiment, Paul’s belief in a physical resurrection of Jesus and believers, story of death and resurrection, early Christian testimonies, credibility of the stories, and the unlikelihood of the Gospels being about hallucinations or just visions.

So they think this leads to four central questions to be asked:

1. Can we trust the NT Gospels?

2. Did Jesus really die?

3. What circumstantial evidence exists for resurrection?

4. Any evidence for the theme of resurrection outside the Bible?

And they suggest entering into resurrection through a resurrection theology — that is, through the difference resurrection makes. Forgiveness, whole person, empowerment, hope for now and future, and confidence.

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  • RJS

    I am sure that the effectiveness and use of apologetics are shaped by personality type. There are differences even among those for whom rational defense is important – I find Bill Craig, Lee Strobel and those who argue in this fashion unconvincing. But the capacity for rational defense and a reason to believe is essential. The styles of Polkinghorne and NT Wright or even Tim Keller in his “The Reason for God” are much more convincing from my perspective.

    I am mostly intrigued here by their four central questions – I think they miss the big one, which I would phrase loosely as “why resurrection?”. The four questions they list are irrelevant if there is not some persuasive reason to care about the question.

  • Scot:

    For me, the Resurrection is the starting point of everything. The resurrection of Christ makes us rethink the Cross, the ministry of Jesus, the salvation history of Israel, creation and ultimately God as revealed in the victorious love of the resurrection. Going forward from the Resurrection, we are compelled to rethink humanity, the church, salvation, and our ultimate hope in Christ. I do not mean to downplay the cross in anyway, but simply to remember we always look at he cross with from the perspective of a Living Savior. Paul is right. Without the resurrection, we are without hope and therefore, the most pitiful of all people.

  • Tim


    “Some have found apologetics to be arrogant or so rational it leaves the seeker cold. Yet others, and many read folks like Bill Craig, Lee Strobel, and Paul Copan, are excited to the point of obsession with apologetics.”

    I think adding to the above a not insignificant role of apologetics as propaganda could have broadened this discussion. Christian apologetics target a primarily lay church-going audience. One that is not well equipped to discriminate between the better apologetic arguments out there and ones that would embarrass, say, scholars such as yourself. We see a lot of apologetic work out there based on faulty argumentation, inaccurate representation of scholarship, and specious reasoning. And of course, many church-goers tend to be very credulous of such apologetic works when sold at Christian Book Stores, or in their Church library, or when recommended by a similarly credulous friend. My own family is a case in point. Most of them very bright, intelligent people. But on the whole very willing to swallow hook, line, and sinker apologetic works that tell them what they want to hear.

    And for a minority of us (but hey, we still matter), will some day interact with other ideas, from other communities, and realize how we’ve been hoodwinked by authors and “thinkers” respected and deemed “safe” by our communities. And one should not underestimate the damage this can cause. And so I think any discussion of apologetics should discuss its role in delivering propaganda to the faithful.

  • I enjoy Peter Rollins. I don’t always agree with everything he says and get frustrated when he won’t answer a question directly. But I still am glad that he’s out there doing what he’s doing. Some of his parables are brilliant, but he takes the idea of a paradox beyond its limits, almost to the point of parody.

  • Scott Gay

    A small group of people in an upper room were not so much concerned with proofs and theories of survival as such. But in reality they had witnessed the shattering of history by a creative act of God Almighty. God was doing something that’s comparable only with what is called creation of life. The heralds of the resurrection were not merely telling it as a fact. They were living in it as if in a new world.

  • Kenton


    I’m scratching my head over your “Clever, but not the point at all” remark. As I read the sermon on the mount (where Jesus preaches the good news/”gospel” of the kingdom), the point WAS to participate in blessing the poor and the meek, being peacemakers, being salt and light, etc. etc. The thing is, though, if you bless the poor and the meek and are a peacemaker being salt and light and are otherwise participating in the gospel of the kingdom, you’re gonna get crucified. But if you believe resurrection has the last word, you don’t fear that coming crucifixion.

    That IS the point.

  • scotmcknight

    Kenton, I would say it is a false dichotomy. Both physical coming back to life in a bodied state and living out that resurrection by working new creation.

  • Not sure I have much to add to this discussion, though I’m fascinated by it; however, I will say that if we’re going to add questions to the four above, “Why crucifixion?” might be a decent one, too. (Or “why death”?) I think it’s very difficult for the post-Christian mindset to understand what “dying for our sins” even means, and therefore what the point is. And when posed with the question (or the attitude) it’s correspondingly difficult to explain. “Guilt” analogies don’t work when the hearer doesn’t believe in sin.

  • Kenton

    Well, yes, that would be a false dichotomy, but I don’t think Pete’s dividing it along those lines. (Although, can you ever really tell with Peter Rollins? 8|)

    The ones who ARE espousing that false dichotomy are the one’s who focus on the cross and just give lip service to the resurrection: “Christ completed the work on the cross”, “Your works don’t matter”, “All you have to do is ‘believe'”, etc. They highlight Eph 2:8-9 and minimize v.10. They have a Good Friday Christianity, not an Easter Christianity.

  • I’m still not quite sure about this part:

    “Apologetics has been through some rough waters in the last twenty or so years. Some have found apologetics to be arrogant or so rational it leaves the seeker cold. Yet others, and many read folks like Bill Craig, Lee Strobel, and Paul Copan, are excited to the point of obsession with apologetics.”

    I understand the imagery of the extremes (Spock apologetics Vs. Khan/Nero apologetics). I have seen these extremes too. Where I am not understanding your point is the use of Craig, Strobel, and Copan. Are you saying that those ‘others’ who read Craig, Strobel, and Copan are obsessed because they read Craig, Strobel, and Copan or are you saying that Craig, Strobel, and Copan perpetuate a style of apologetics that produces obsessed ‘others?’ Maybe I’m reading too much into this?


    Roger Sharp

  • SamB

    I do believe Jesus rose from the dead and somehow the resurrected life was given to us so that those who follow the Spirit fulfill the law which is summarized as loving God and others. But I agree with Bonhoeffer and others (Pete Rollins?) that we have so emptied these words and ideas we really ought to be quiet at least in the West and demonstrate that Jesus is resurrected by our doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly before our God in our neighborhoods and throughout the entire world.

  • scotmcknight

    Roger, what I’m saying is that there are two ends to the apologetics spectrum: some have no use for traditional apologetics while others are obsessed by them. I’m not saying Craig, Strobel and Copan are obsessed.

    Kenton and SamB, the best option is both/and and not an either/or.

  • Kenton



    Of course it should be both/and. And indeed resurrection is fairly dependent on death last I checked.

    It’s just that I don’t hear a lot of “both/and”. It’s drowned out by a lot of “either/or”. And that wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s the wrong friggin’ “either”.


  • John I.

    I found the division of apologetic kinds both thought provoking and useful. As always, it comes down to one’s audience and one’s relationship to that audience.

    Personally, I am very excited by the work of Copan, Craig, Moreland, etc. Not so much by the work of guys like Strobel, Hanegraff, McDowell. But I’m a guy who digs philosophy. Hence I’m more convinced by the philosophical works that go much deeper into particular issues.


  • Just read a story from Time Magazine (2007) about Mother Teresa’s crisis of faith.


    To me, she epitomizes what is ultimately the only apologetic: To stare into the darkness, seeing nothing, holding no certainty, and yet to choose to enter for the love of another. Her faith of this kind is foolishness to the world, but is the narrow path to life!

    Rollins would never claim to be “right” with how he sees God, but he has opened my eyes and humbled my mind.

  • Delighted to see some fruitful discussion about the resurrection reframed in different contexts for apologetics based on chapter 3.

    I note Tim’s remarks about the problem of sloppy apologetics especially the kind that can function as propaganda. We did not enter into that specific evaluative discussion in The Cross is Not Enough about apologetics degenerating into propaganda since the book was primarily oriented about articulating that the resurrection is Christianity’s lynchpin and looking at its theological meaning and effects.

    Basically, as co-authors of The Cross Is Not Enough we have “rested” a little bit on the corpus of our earlier publications where we have previously raised questions about poor apologetics. That’s one good reason why serious readers who want to dig deeper should follow the bibliographical trail in the book’s endnotes.

    The problem about apologetics as propaganda has been discussed partly from “outside” by the religious studies scholar Douglas Cowan, Bearing False Witness: An Introduction to the Christian Countercult (Prager2003). Cowan describes and analyses the specific genre of evangelical apologetics toward “cults” and “new religions”. Cowan’s thesis is nuanced around propaganda theory, the sociology of knowledge (apologists acting as gate-keepers maintaining/patrolling boundaries), etc.

    In other writings of mine, I have taken up critical assessments of Christian apologetics in various essays published in the Lutheran Theological Journal (2000 & 2002), in the e-journal Sacred Tribes Journal, in my unpublished MTh thesis [which includes my agreement and critical evaluation also of Cowan’s position], and aspects of my work have been taken up by some contributors to Encountering New Religious Movements: A Holistic Evangelical Approach, eds. Irving Hexham et. al (Kregel 2004). Brief consideration in evaluating ineffective or lopsided approaches to apologetics also occurs in my co-written book with Ross Clifford, Jesus and the gods of the new age (Lion 2001/Victor 2003), and again in the Lausanne Occasional paper no. 45 “Religious and Non-Religious Spirituality in the Western World” (Lausanne Forum 2004/Morling Press 2004).

    Its great to see the discussion carrying on.

  • MatthewS

    Yesterday, we buried a dear friend who was a trusted leader in our church. It’s a tough time for our church and for many of us as individuals. More than anything else, when the brain is searching for something it can comprehend, I find the resurrection comforting. The world feels like it’s all falling apart sometimes but the resurrection stands out as something you can trust.

  • Thom Waters

    The real problem to the story of resurrection as conventionally believed and offered is that by the time some of the disciples began to preach this story there was no body of any kind to be found. There was no “dead body” to disprove or discredit the claim and there was no “living, resurrected body” to promote it. It is a resurrection claim with no body of any kind. If you accept the Christian explanation, then you have a piling on of miracles if you will. We have the miracle claim of Resurrection coupled with the transportation of this risen body into the clouds, perhaps a dematerialization of some kind. One miracle is not enough. We can top that one with another equally fantastic tale. All you need to do is “believe”. Sure, why not? I’ll just check my brain at the door, and ask for it back on my way out.