— Why would a skeptic adopt a faith-based worldview?
— Why are resurrection accounts short and vague?
— Are recent archaeological findings significant?
Q. What evidence would cause an “atheist” to be swayed to a faith-based worldview?
A. I was an atheist for much of my life, starting in high school. In fact, a while back I was contacted by a nurse who had been a classmate of mine at Prospect High School in suburban Chicago during the late 1960s. She recalled how she had been “the good Catholic girl,” while I was the acerbic atheist who was constantly belittling her for her faith. She was stunned when she stumbled upon one of my books and discovered I had later become a Christian!
I think your question may reflect a misunderstanding about faith. When I was an atheist, I still had a “faith-based worldview” — it was a faith built on my unproven conclusion that God does not exist. We all take steps of faith each day of our lives. Let me explain.
I define faith as being a step we take in the same direction we believe the evidence is pointing. For instance, I’m sitting here at my computer while sipping a bottle of water. How did I know the water wasn’t poisoned? Well, the bottle came sealed. It bears the label of a reputable water company. It looks clear. There was no odor coming from the bottle when I opened it. My wife gave it to me, and she has no reason to want to harm me. So based on that evidence, it made sense to take a step of faith in the same direction and take a sip. Did I know for an absolute fact that it wasn’t poisoned? No, but all the evidence pointed in the direction that it was safe to drink and therefore it was rational to do so.
When I was a teenager, it seemed rational for me to become an atheist. The world looked chaotic and unplanned. I believed my teachers when they said the unguided processes of evolution explained the origin and development of life. The presence of so much suffering in the world seemed to argue against a deity, miracles appeared scientifically impossible, and so on. Reading atheist authors reinforced my views. It seemed logical to take a step of faith in the same direction the evidence appeared to be pointing and became an atheist.
Years later, however, my agnostic wife became a follower of Jesus, and the positive changes in her character and values prompted me to go to church, where I heard the gospel explained in a way I could understand it. Intrigued, I decided to use my journalism and legal training to systematically investigate whether there was any credibility to Christianity or any other world religion.
After nearly two years of study, I concluded that my step of faith into atheism had been based on incomplete and inaccurate data. When I examined the evidence more thoroughly, I found that science pointed toward God, not away from him. (As nanoscientist James Tour of Rice University says: “If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God.”) And the evidence of history established persuasively to me that Jesus not only existed but that he claimed to be the Son of God and backed it up by returning from the dead.
Based on this more thorough examination of the data, I concluded that the most rational thing I could do would be to take a step of faith in the same direction the evidence was pointing and put my faith in Christ — in other words, as Psalm 34:8 says, to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Today, more than 25 years later, my personal experience of knowing Jesus — as well as the vast wealth of additional information I’ve learned and the quiet but firm affirmation of the Holy Spirit — has only confirmed that step a million times over. In short, putting my faith in Christ was not a leap into the dark but a sensible step into the light.
What are the specific facts that pointed me in the direction of God? I’ve written hundreds of pages based on my interviews with scholars and experts with doctorates from such institutions as Cambridge, Brandeis and Princeton, who offer updated evidence and arguments for the truth of Christianity, as well as refutations of the most common objections to the faith. My books The Case for Christ, The Case for a Creator, The Case for the Real Jesus and The Case for Faith are widely available, including for free through local libraries.
One other point about why an atheist like me would become a Christian: although convinced at the time that God didn’t exist, I was open-minded enough (perhaps because of my journalism training) to be willing to examine the issue afresh. And that’s what I encourage all skeptics to do: conduct a thorough investigation. Try to set aside your biases and preconceptions.
If your kneejerk reaction to this advice is to say, “I’m not going to do that — it’s ridiculous,” then let me challenge you to ask yourself why. Why would you refuse to look into the very facts that would help you make a truly informed decision about God? As you consider this question, be aware that the Bible warns that none of us is spiritually neutral. Because we’ve already done things we know — and God knows — are wrong, we all have an inbred tendency to “suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). That tendency must be fought.
One of the ways to do that is to sincerely say the skeptic’s prayer: “God I don’t believe you’re there. In fact, I’m convinced you’re not. But if you are, then I really do want to know you — so please reveal yourself to me.” If God doesn’t exist, you’ve only wasted a few seconds. But if he does, you may gain eternity with him.
So make this a front-burner issue in your life. And promise yourself that when the evidence is in, you’ll reach a verdict. Specifically, decide in advance that if the information you find points to the existence of God, then you’ll take next steps to seek and follow him (John 1:12).
Q. I wonder why the story after Jesus resurrected in the Bible is short and vague. Shouldn’t it be the most important part of Bible?
A. I sent your question to my friend, resurrection scholar Dr. Michael Licona, author of The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach and co-author with Gary Habermas of The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. You can visit Dr. Licona’s website at www.risenjesus.com.
Here’s his reply:
The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are biographies of Jesus. In most ancient biographies, very little is reported of the subject’s childhood while the bulk is devoted to the subject’s adult life and accomplishments in a manner meant to reveal their character. Given the length of a scroll, the author had to do this in 25,000 words or less.
It’s no different in these biographies of Jesus. The Gospels devote most of their content to Jesus’ earthly ministry, including his teachings and miracles. One of his teachings is that he would be crucified and rise from the dead shortly thereafter. These predictions appear frequently throughout each of the Gospels.
So it comes as no surprise to the reader when Jesus is finally crucified and raised from the dead. Although Jesus’ crucifixion takes up less than a chapter in each of the Gospels and his resurrection takes up a full chapter in each, his death and resurrection are the climactic points to which the authors have been building. Devoting more space to them would have been disproportionate to the whole of Jesus’ life.
Although we would like more details included in the resurrection narratives, they are far from vague. They report that Jesus’ physical body was raised from the dead and exited the tomb, that he showed himself to his disciples on numerous occasions and allowed them to touch him. He could eat, appear and disappear at will, and speak with them. All of which makes me excited to get my resurrection body some day!
Q. I’ve been reading about a supposedly important archaeological discovery of a tomb in Jerusalem that bears witness to Jesus’ resurrection. Can you comment on it?
A. Better yet, let’s get comments from my friend Dr. Craig Evans, professor of New Testament at Acadia University in Nova Scotia and a recognized expert on archaeological findings. Here’s a link to a recent column in which he dismisses the significance of this well-publicized discovery (as have most archaeologists).
By the way, the other day I received my copy of Dr. Evans’ latest book, Jesus and His World, which describes the archaeological findings that have shed light on Jesus and his first-century environment. Though written for a popular audience, it reflects Evans’ usual sober and scholarly analysis. Shimon Gibson, chair of the department of archaeology at the University of the Holy Land, calls it “masterful, erudite, and well-written.” Can’t wait to read it!
Dr. Evans is among the scholars I interviewed for my book The Case for the Real Jesus, in which he discusses the claim that there are other “gospels” that rival the biblical ones.