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Eight Points of Encouragement for Those Who Are Doubting Their Faith

1.  Focus only on the issues that make or break Christianity.

Realize this: People can and do easily get off course, discussing, debating, and getting depressed over issues that are not linchpin issues to Christianity. From the details of creation/evolution to the inerrancy of Scripture, some people’s faith can be quite disturbed—quite unnecessarily disturbed. For example, while I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, if one of the authors happened to get a detail wrong, this does not mean that the entire Christ story is false. In what area of life do we find the same standards? This can be called a “house of cards” theology. In other words, if one card falls, they all fall. Our faith should never be a house of cards. There are so many things that we are all going to be wrong about when we get to heaven. I have often said that theologians need to be well rehearsed in recantations in order to get prepared for heaven!

However, while the Christian faith is not a “house of cards”, there is a definite foundation. This foundation, first and foremost, is the resurrection of Christ. If Christ rose from the grave, Christianity is true. If he did not, it is false (1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Cor 15:17). Since this is an historic event that took place in a public arena, with dates and people involved described, from a historians standpoint, it longs to be examined. As Daniel Wallace has put it, “The fact of the incarnation demands an incarnational method of inquiry and examination” (i.e. not a merely a “spiritual” examination).

Therefore, from a purely intellectual standpoint, I would set down all other studies, including conversations with those who are representing another religion, books about atheism, or the destiny of the unevangelized. Just to focus on this central issue of Christianity. There is so much good stuff out there on this subject, but I would start here and graduate to here and here. Listen or watch to the debates with William Lane Craig about the historicity of the resurrection. Again, if Christ rose from the grave, Christianity is true, God does love you, and we just have to work out the details. If he did not raise, the journey goes on and we look elsewhere. Rarely have I found someone who is in the crucible of intellectual doubt, yet has a strong conviction about Christ’s resurrection. A conviction about the resurrection goes a long way to stabilize your faith.

2. Doubt your doubts.

There are many doubts going through your mind. However, don’t mistake a doubt with a belief. Do not give to your doubts the credence that Christianity no longer holds in your life as if they have greater right to your beliefs than what you were formerly assured of. Remember, as unassured as you may be that Christianity is true right now, give equal unassurance to its alternatives, including agnosticism.

3. Make sure that you don’t lose fellowship with other believers.

Often Christians feel as if they need to validate their faith by only hanging around those who are not of the faith. I often see this with young men who are enthusiastically engaged in apologetics (defending the faith). The idea is that if the faith is true, it can withstand any onslaught. While this is true in theory, it is not very pragmatic in any area.

One normally becomes emotionally predisposed to those of their immediate fellowship. “Following the crowed” is a very effective means of being persuaded of the most unlikely beliefs. In fact, I have often said that if I hung around the flat-earth society members too long (and there is a flat earth society!), I may begin to doubt that the world is round. This is not because the arguments or evidence is persuasive, but simply because of implicit emotional control of belief that such constant fellowship affords.

Give equal (if not more) time to fellowship with those who are strong in the Christian faith. Our faith must be allowed access to the strength that common fellowship provides.

4. Realize that the presence of other possibilities does necessarily not equate to the presence of other probabilities.

Every decision we make in life is based not on infallible certainty, but degrees of probability. Many people get their faith disturbed when they encounter other theories or explanations. No matter how unlikely these other theories are, their faith is disrupted simply because other theories exist. But the fact that there are many alternative possible options out there does not mean that these options are probable or worth your time. In other words, the possibility of an alternative should never equate to the probability of the alternative.

When it comes to the resurrection of Christ, the possibilities are endless: group hallucinations, stolen body, Christ did not really die (swoon theory), an unexplained anomaly, body eaten by dogs, mistaken identity, and a thousand others. However, when all the evidence is considered, we find that these possibilities, while possible, may not explain the evidence as well as a simple belief that Christ rose from the grave. In other words, to suspend faith due to the presence of other possibilities is actually putting unwarranted faith (i.e. blind faith) in a less likely option.

5. Don’t think you can ever be an expert in everything.

You will never be an expert on everything (and probably not even one thing). No one is. Humanity has quite a bit of self-delusion concerning how much we know. We may know a bit more than the next person, but to call anyone an “expert” in any one area is quite silly and self-inflated. Even the greatest minds that have ever lived are quit small when compared to all of reality. If your aspiration is to come to know everything before you make a solid decision, then you will be an eternal tire-kicker with regard to your faith. You will always be one step, one bit of evidence, one unexamined option away from faith.

The other day I was boarding an airplane. I began to think of all the wrong things that could go wrong. My anxiety rose as I thought about the innumerable possibilities of something bad happening. They are never-ending. I would have to become an expert in so many things in order to examine what needs to be examined to make a decision that chocked out all uncertainty. I will never be an expert in all these areas. However, this does not mean that I am making a morally responsible decision to stay off the plane. I have to confer trust in the expertise of others—even trust of my very life. But this trust is well-placed as the probability that they know what they are doing is strong. At some point there is not only a sufficiency in probability, but a moral obligation to the probability that makes indecision the greatest example of blind faith there is.

6. Be careful not to make individual emotional preference a decisive benchmark of truth.

I see so many people who set their own emotional or moral preference as the ultimate and decisive standard for truth. For example, some people say things like “I could not ever believe in the God of the Old Testament. He is mean and cruel.” Fine as that may be, our personal opinions about God’s meanness or niceness do not have a vote in truth. If God is mean, so be it. That is an internal debate. Our attitude or emotional disposition has no bearing on God’s existence or authority.

I recently saw a respected Christian scholar say that if God were such and such way, I would not serve or worship him. In essence he was saying “If God does not satisfy my emotional disposition, possessing characteristics that I think he should have, he will not be my God.” As understanding as I am of this in one sense, in another sense I have to express complete bewilderment and sadness. We worship and serve God because he is God not because he is God and we like him. If God is God, he is Lord and King. We don’t petition how we think he should be. Alternatives are not suddenly valid when we don’t like him. Truths about God are not a democracy.

The first question is not whether God is mean or a “moral monster”, but whether he is God. Then we can discuss the problems with God in the Old Testament or God’s decree of election. I certainly don’t believe that God is cruel in the OT or NT. I do believe that God loves mankind because he says he does (John 3:16). He is a better authority on himself than I am.

My point is that this is not an issue that should occupy your focus and it certainly should not cause you to have doubts about God’s existence. If Christ rose from the grave, whatever conclusion one comes to about any number of peripheral issues does not have the poison of death either way.

 7. Don’t stop living out your devotion to Christ.

You are merely doubting your faith. You are not a unbeliever. Therefore, don’t live according to your doubts, but live according to the faith that you still have left. Sometimes doubt is brought about by the mere fact that we are no longer devoted to Christ as much as you once were. Sin and disobedience can produce an unhealthy doubt. Further doubt can often be an excuse for our lack of devotion. Therefore, commit yourself once again to the belief that you do have, not the one that you don’t have. If you live according to your doubt, then all you can expect is further doubt (Luke 8:18).

8. Realize that doubt is not a bad thing.

Often, doubt is the first sign of true or deep faith. It is only through doubt and an acknowledgement that we could be wrong that we come to true convictions about what we believe. God is not scared or angry about people’s doubts when they are truly searching for the truth. He challenges us over and over again in the Scriptures to be wise and stop being naive. If our faith is true, it can handle doubts and skepticism. I have been through many periods of doubt and every time my belief came out stronger. I believe that yours can to.

I pray that this is helpful for you.

82 Responses to “Eight Points of Encouragement for Those Who Are Doubting Their Faith”

  1. maybe christianity is false, and the doubt is causing you to become less wrong.

  2. I think Christianity is the truest thing I have known and any doubt has always caused me to be less wrong.

  3. Boz, I think your comment is kinda the assumption behind the instigation of this post. Doubt—the type I am trying to help people through—does make that assumption.

  4. great post – especially the one about resurrection – that is definitely where I have conquered doubt in the past – or rather, what puts doubts about other aspects of faith into context. I can doubt some things, but not that one thing, and so clearly Christianity is true.
    I would say, though, on point six, that really, if God is petty and mean and horrible, and a moral monster, that we don’t have a moral obligation to worship him. In that case we are pretty much screwed any way because he would be random in his blessings and we may as well just live it up while we can. I think for me, when this has been my doubt, it has again been the resurrection that has helped me.
    If the resurrection is true, then everything Jesus said is real, and the bible is real, and in that case “God so loved the world…” and “we love because he first loved us…” and “God showed his love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
    Even if sometimes when I look at the OT in some spots, it looks like God might be mean, I know it can’t be true because a God who would make Himself utterly vulnerable to our sin out of love for us, who would be that courageous, who is so holy and good and pure that even as a human being never sinned – that God can’t be the one I sometimes fear him to be. That God is a God to worship. And even if in many areas I still think God is wrong, I know that I either must be reading/thinking about it wrong, or I have to change my idea about what is wrong and right.
    For me it is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ, evidenced by historical data, that puts all other parts of the faith and bible into context, my life into context, and my emotions into context. And it is also the reason I know that God is NOT a moral monster.

  5. oh, by random I meant capricious – it would be completely unpredictable whether he would decide to kill you or do something nice, or torture you or whatever.

  6. Sage advice here, Michael – I may have doubts about hermeneutical aspects of some passages, but my faith in the risen Christ remains firm. I question some of the lore of American evangelicalism, but I know that God is Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer, and that we live in a world which is under his providential superintendence. I don’t understand the why or the how of many questions, but I know that God is good, and that he has a morally and redemptively sufficient purpose for all he allows or ordains – otherwise we would live in a world of chaos and randomness, where there would be no conclusion possible but nihilism and hopelessness. By faith I don’t believe we live in such a world. Even if he doesn’t answer my questions of why or how, God is good, and that’s enough for me to hang onto even while I continue to wrestle with the difficult questions.

  7. The thing that caused me to doubt the most and almost threw me for a loop is when a few years ago some people claimed to have found the bones of Jesus Christ, That would have devastated me, but I trusted God and His Word, and held on until the claim was falsified.

  8. With reference to the whole intellectual process of doubt, I have dealt with this briefly with this in The Survivor’s Guide to Theology. Michael Polanyi has stayted:

    “. . .every doubt has a fiduciary structure and is rooted in a set of faith commitments which for so long as they support the doubt, can¬not themselves be doubted. The branch upon which every doubt sits is a belief. To insist on chopping this branch off in the misguided attempt to assume a wholly uncommitted position can only result in self-refer-ential destruction, as the initial doubt itself falls to the floor”.40

    Shifting the focus of our doubt means shifting the focus of our faith commitments. The whole enterprise of doubt rests on an uncritical acceptance of and reliance on a whole framework of meaning. Thus doubt is not an objec¬tive process. Rather, it is highly subjective and rooted in all sorts of commit¬ments beyond the awareness of the doubter. The act of doubting, then, is not avoidance of unproven beliefs. The doubt itself rests on unproven belief. If we commit ourselves to the principle of doubt, we must ultimately either be reduced to silence, since nothing at all can be proved, or be willing to move from one belief structure to another so that we may avoid permanently asso¬ciating ourselves with any other unproven beliefs. “Philosophic doubt is thus kept on the leash and prevented from calling in question anything that the skeptic believes in, or from approving of any doubt that he does not share.”41 The skeptic in effect says that his own chosen beliefs are neutral and objective and that we could accept the way he sees things if only we would accept rational beliefs like his own. As Polanyi has observed, “a dogmatic orthodoxy can be kept in check both internally and externally, while a creed inverted into a science is both blind and deceptive.”42

    The footnotes are from Polanyi’s book “Personal Knowledge.”

  9. GREAT ADVICE:
    Don’t mistake a doubt with a belief. Do not give to your doubts the credence that Christianity no longer holds in your life as if they have greater right to your beliefs than what you were formerly assured of. Remember, as unassured as you may be that Christianity is true right now, give equal unassurance to its alternatives, including agnosticism.

  10. Michael-
    Thank you for addressing issues such as doubt. Doubt is a dirty word in modern Christian culture and like blood, no one wants to look at it. You serve your brethren well, bringing these topics out of the closet. I do not have doubts, but I know people who do, and they are ostracized for them in their circles of “Christian” brethren – it should not be tolerated.
    Rather we should have open, honest questioning – than fear and closed eyes.

  11. Fellow believers need encouragement every day. I’ve seen that we live in a negatively programmed world. The curse from the fall hasn’t yet been removed from the earth and the prince of this world-system and his minions delight in opposing ANYTHING that the Lord and His church does in advancing the Kingdom while crashing the gates of hell. A pastor friend of mine some years ago once stated that ‘prayer & praise’ are the power twins. Like the wings of a bird, both need to be in operation to go anywhere. May I extend my Thank You to those in leadership at Credo House for outlining these eight points via e mail and their website. Contemporary Christian music has reinforced the love and worship I have for Jesus Christ. He IS our Champion, never to die again and His Kingdom is without end! Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord, Praise the Lord!

  12. Good post. Before I was married I shared a rental house with three other men who were attending seminary. That was one of the greatest experiences of my life. All three men were real, honest and totally in love with God. I learned so, so much living with them as they pursued their degrees at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). Most nights we would sit together after eating and wrestle with theological issues or thoughts about God and life. All three of these men went on to become pastors, one is a youth pastor, one is a pastor ministering to Spanish-speaking people in Florida and the other was a workplace chaplain (he has since moved on to a secular career). I still keep in touch, but not as much as I’d like.

    One of the men had been my roommate before we moved into this house with the others, he was my mentor and a very great friend. He taught me what friendship was and, frankly, how to be a man. Sometimes we would witness to someone, when the occasion arose. I learned how to do this well, in a calm, friendly, confident and loving manner through this friend’s tutelage. He would always say, “keep coming back to the cross”. That line stuck in my head, and has served me well over the years. “Keep coming back to the cross”. Sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down in some issue that doesn’t really even relate to one’s faith, but if you keep coming back to the cross, to the truth of the debt Christ paid and (most importantly) the resurrection, it helps center things and compels the person to confront that all-important fact: either Jesus rose from the dead and God is real and we can be reconciled to God, or it’s all a sham and we move on.

  13. For those who know that strong faith is only made stronger by the tests…http://www.lettertothechurches.com/evidencethedevil.htm

  14. “If the resurrection is true, then everything Jesus said is real”

    This doesn’t really follow – even in the New Testament, other people come back from the dead without that making them the Son of God (other people come back from the dead on the day of the Crucifixion, for a start).

    But leave that aside: you’ve made an interesting case, which is that it’s testable, and all comes down to whether the Resurrection happened. So the question has to be what sort of evidence would persuade you that the Resurrection wasn’t true? What authority would you accept for archaeological evidence or other research?

  15. Steve, it is not the resurrection, but what the resurrection proclaims. Jesus’ claims for himself are vindicated in the resurrection.

    What evidence would be necessary for the resurrection not to have taken place? Simply the lack of evidence. Take away the early testimony and the early spread of Christianity and you have no resurrection. I think Mike Licona’s work is very helpful in helping people work through what historians look for when assessing events of the past.

  16. “Steve, it is not the resurrection, but what the resurrection proclaims. Jesus’ claims for himself are vindicated in the resurrection.”

    Yes, but you said ‘if Christ rose from the grave, Christianity is true’. So your argument, surely, is that anyone can say the sorts of things that Jesus said, it’s the Resurrection that would represent unique proof, and seals the deal.

    “What evidence would be necessary for the resurrection not to have taken place? Simply the lack of evidence.”

    I’m sorry, I don’t really understand this. Are you saying that the existence of the Biblical account is evidence that all the events in it are true?

    I’m afraid I don’t really understand how the Bible can be inerrant but have errors in it, either. It’s fine to say there will be errors of detail, but what counts as a detail? Is Noah’s Ark a detail? Are Jesus’ siblings?

    “Take away the early testimony and the early spread of Christianity and you have no resurrection. I think Mike Licona’s work is very helpful in helping people work through what historians look for when assessing events of the past.”

    The Biblical account is contradictory, though, and says there were some pretty spectacular events over that weekend, which no other contemporary sources mention.

    At the other end of the NT, we can be confident that many of the events ‘never happened’. No strange star, no census, no Massacre of the Innocents – no Herod ruling at that time, for that matter. If Herod didn’t happen, why would you be confident the Resurrection did?

    As for the spread of ideas – there are more Mormons now than there were Christians after a hundred years or so. Does that mean Mormonism is necessarily true? Do only true ideas spread?

    I think you’re right that if we could demonstrate whether the Resurrection was true or false, it would represent a compelling argument for the truth or falsehood of Christianity. In which case, aren’t questions of exactly how we’d work out if it ‘really happened’ absolutely central, and worthy of real intellectual rigor?

  17. Steve, if something did not happen in history, the lack of evidence would be the most persuasive. That is what I am saying in answer to your question.

    As for the evidence for the resurrection, there are so many things to discuss, but I have summed up some here:

    http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/04/evidence-for-the-resurrection-in-a-nutshell/

    But, again, the are so many great sources these days on this issue.

    As for the assumption of contradictions in the Bible, the first thing I say is “So what?” If there is contradictions, the main story line is in tact. Who cares whether a detail was wrong here or there. If you are looking for perfection before you would believe an historical account you probably won’t even accept the most elementary claims of ancient (or modern) history! I don’t believe their are contradictions, but it does not matter too much for the case of the resurrection.

    Read here for more on that: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/06/what-do-the-differences-in-the-gospels-really-prove/.

    Thanks for posting!

  18. “Therefore, from a purely intellectual standpoint, I would set down all other studies, including conversations with those who are representing another religion, books about atheism, or the destiny of the unevangelized. Just to focus on this central issue of Christianity. There is so much good stuff out there on this subject, but I would start here and graduate to here and here. Listen or watch to the debates with William Lane Craig about the historicity of the resurrection.”

    I find it rather revealing that you suggest that the doubter give attention only to one side of the disputed question. It does not suggest much confidence in the strength of the case for the resurrection.

    I’ve often seen religious believers, of many faiths, suggest avoiding reading or conversing with skeptics. I never hear the skeptics suggesting you only read or listen to skeptics.

    • David, I think you have missed my point (or I was unclear—very likely). The idea is that this is a Christian doubter. They are seeking to see if Christianity is true. My point is that it all hinges on the resurrection of Christ. Certainly one can (and should) read books that are against the resurrection. My point is this is the central issue. If the resurrection did not happen, then doubt needs to turn to disbelief. If it did, all other religious options are moot.

  19. But why do you suggest they avoid conversation with and reading of skeptics? You appear to now be changing your position. Which is fine.

    To more specifically address the resurrection:

    There are obvious reasons to be unconvinced of such a claim if the evidence is not strong. But all we have are some accounts, mostly anonymous, written decades after the supposed miracle.

    That’s not much to go on.

  20. David, I understand your opinion and know who you have been reading to get there, but it is a bit of question begging for the research that I am pointing people to.

    Again, my intention was to focus studies on the resurrection. Critical research was assumed.

  21. I first came to stop believing in the resurrection of Jesus about 25 years ago. And that conclusion was the result of long study and reflection. In the years since then I’ve continued to study religion and theology (both Christian and otherwise). I’ve read arguments by Craig and Habermas and quite a few others on the subject. The arguments claiming good historical evidence for the resurrection are plainly absurd. Whether one is Christian or not, a sensible and honest person with even the most ordinary critical thinking skills should be willing to admit that the historical evidence is minimal.

    Just out of curiosity though who is it that you’re assuming I read on this subject to form my opinion?

  22. Steve, I have asked myself the question you pose, “what would it take to make me not believe the resurrection?” As a matter-of-fact, I was once on the other side of the fence asking “what would it take for me to believe the resurrection?” So, I’ve posed these questions to myself and examined them fully, have you? Many people I meet have only studied the one side, they’ve only examined their position and have never really spent any time looking at the other side. There are many different – plausible and powerful – reasons to believe the resurrection is true, but I’ve never really seen any good ones against it. Modern day scholars have pretty much abandoned the “passover plot” or “swoon” theory, which leaves little else. The idea that it was all simply made up, does not hold water when you look at how quickly and how far it spread. The historical record proves that the spread of legends or myth takes considerable time, which simply isn’t the case with Christianity. What evidence do you have against the resurrection? Pose it here and lets examine it.

  23. There are plenty of critical scholars who believe that the Gospel accounts are very late.

    “The arguments claiming good historical evidence for the resurrection are plainly absurd.”

    That is a bit of an overstatment which, frankly, makes it hard to take you or your studies seriously. Not saying you really mean “absurd”, but I would take a look here for some friendly advice on dialogue and rhetoric in these type of issues (especially if you want to have a voice that goes beyond speaking to the choir) :)

    http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/02/why-i-wont-listen-to-you-or-read-your-writing/.

    My point is that to say that the historical evidence for the resurrection is “absurd” means that your focus is probably too stanted to say anything else. Therefore, rhetoric must pick up where confidence fails.

    Here is how I would have put it: “I can understand why someone would believe in the resurrection, but I find the difficulties, for myself, beyond the ability to overcome.”

    Most importantly, this post is not about arguing for or against the resurrection per se…I have tons of stuff on this blog that covers that. This is trying to help Christians who are doubting their faith so I hope you understand if we try to stay on topic.

  24. Again, guys, great discussion and topic. But please allow me to focus this topic.

    As for those who don’t believe in the resurrection, you are free to post links to what you believe to be the most significant arguments against the resurrection and then we can leave it at that. Sometimes these posts can turn into “side show” scholarship which can turn people agnostic about EVERYTHING! :)

  25. “There are many different – plausible and powerful – reasons to believe the resurrection is true….”

    What reasons do you find both plausible and powerful?

    “… but I’ve never really seen any good ones against it.”

    There reason to not believe is simple and obvious: the implausibility of the claim combined with the absence of good supporting evidence.

    “Modern day scholars have pretty much abandoned the “passover plot” or “swoon” theory, which leaves little else.”

    Little else? Given the paucity of evidence as to what occurred the possibilities are near boundless.

    “The idea that it was all simply made up, does not hold water when you look at how quickly and how far it spread.”

    Lies can’t spread far and fast?

    “The historical record proves that the spread of legends or myth takes considerable time, which simply isn’t the case with Christianity.”

    The historical record proves nothing of the sort. There are countless legends and implausible tales that have spread far and fast. You could probably find a dozen famous examples of ones that occurred in your lifetime with just a bit of googling or a quick trip to the library.

    “What evidence do you have against the resurrection? Pose it here and lets examine it.”

    I don’t need to disprove wild stories. Only to point out how bad the supposed evidence actually is. I can no more disprove the resurrection than I can disprove the existence of vampires. Nor should any reasonable person expect one to be able to.

  26. “My point is that to say that the historical evidence for the resurrection is “absurd” means that your focus is probably too stanted to say anything else. Therefore, rhetoric must pick up where confidence fails.”

    Actually, I thought that even when I was Christian. I have the bad habit of being honest with myself: as much as I believed the Resurrection as a matter of faith I could not in good conscience clam the historical evidence was anything but paltry.

  27. David, again, your post is heavy on emotional rhetoric and overstatements which makes it hard to take what you are saying seriously.

    Either way, again, no more about the resurrection. You are all more than welcome to continue this discussion here: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/04/evidence-for-the-resurrection-in-a-nutshell/.

    Thanks for respecting the spirit of the post.

  28. TO ALL:

    I see that so many people are interested in the books and purchasing them. I am glad.

    To those of you who are our local readers, being near the Credo House Coffee Shop, we do have Mike Licona’s book here. Also, here will be here speaking Dec 13!!

    Finally, here is a very popular post that I did a while back comparing the evidence for the death of my sister with the evidence for the resurrection: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/06/evidence-for-the-death-of-my-sister-vs-evidence-for-the-resurrection-of-christ/.

  29. OK, but who was it you were assuming I’d read? You never did say.

  30. Well, Michael as stated that he doesn’t want to turn this into a debate about the resurrection, and since it is his blog I will respect his wishes. So, I will say this one thing and then you and I can take this to email if you wish.

    When you say: “the implausibility of the claim combined with the absence of good supporting evidence”, you’re really saying nothing. The idea that the earth was round was once “implausible” but that doesn’t mean it was false. The “implausibility” of a matter doesn’t deny the truth of it. And you claim there is no “good supporting evidence”? That claim is simply wrong. We have good evidence that the claim was true. There were people alive when the gospel was spreading who had seen the resurrected Jesus. That means there were people living who could easily have denied Paul’s claim in I Cor. 15:3-4 where he writes, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than *five hundred* of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.” So, when Paul wrote this there were still many people *alive* who had seen the risen Christ, yet already Paul had “received” this creed and it had spread. Already churches had sprung up where Jesus was worshiped. The church was already thriving and there were still people alive who had seen Jesus resurrected. That is an amazing occurrence that myth and legend simply cannot account for, however if it was true then it all makes perfect sense.

    I think it’s pretty silly comparing the spread of myth and legend today with that of 2000 years ago. Today we have television, radio, the internet with webpages, blogs, email, you name it. Information is spread almost instantaneously today, but back then it took a considerable amount of time for information to spread. Most people didn’t have access to paper, let alone books. There were no newspapers, information traveled by word of mouth from people traveling on foot or on the back of a donkey.

    If Jesus had died and been buried and stayed there, people would know that. When the disciples and people who had seen Jesus resurrected began to spread that news, there would have been others around to say, “bogus, he’s buried over there, we can go visit his body!” The usual claim is that no one claimed Jesus rose from the dead, that myth and legend crept into the tale over time, but that doesn’t account for the early spread of the church, the creed, the gospel. That kind of legend and myth, inseminating itself into a true account took centuries back then, but we have fragments of the Gospel of John, found in *Egypt*, from the first century. Far too early for legend and myth to have crept in. It’s more “plausible” that the account is true than it was a myth

  31. It’s Michael’s blog so I won’t debate further on this post. And I never have such conversation via email. Doing them publicly is part of the point. Back in the days when I deconverted (the 80s) someone like myself, living in a small Bible belt town, had no opportunity to hash the topic out among a group of both believers and skeptics. It was a lonely road. The internet can make the process of struggling with questions about faith far less isolating. And that’s a good thing. It’s the main reason I take the time to participate in these sorts of discussions. I don’t want the struggle with doubt, whichever side one ends up on, to be as painful for others as it was for me.

  32. I appreciate your story. However the only option to overcoming doubt is to be content to be naive, no matter what side one ends up on. There are so many factors that contribute to our faith, whether faith that Christ is God or faith that nothing created everything, It is hard to dispel all doubt. This does not mean we despell convictions but that we are always seeking the truth with the realization that our beliefs are dependent on outside forces. For atheists fate is the primary contributing “transcendent” factor. For Christians, it is God working through the mind, emotions, will, and experience.

    I don’t think our ambitions is to dispel all doubt, but to find warranted confidence even though we will doubt until the bridge of death is crossed.

  33. I will be happy to take this to the other place that Michael suggested if you want to do it in “public”. As far as the pain you suffered while abandoning Christianity, all I can say is, that is probably a good thing (to a certain extent). Whenever one abandons a previously deeply held belief, it should be somewhat painful or I would think the person was being flippant or not taking it seriously. I can’t imagine it ever to be fun. The fact that you suffered pain indicates that you didn’t take leaving the faith lightly.

    At any rate, I’ll move over to:

    http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/04/evidence-for-the-resurrection-in-a-nutshell/.

    if you want to continue this publicly.

  34. I have some issues with the methodology you are suggesting to doubters. It seems to me to be an oversimplification.

    Michael wrote… “Again, if Christ rose from the grave, Christianity is true, God does love you, and we just have to work out the details.”

    I felt you were smuggling in a lot of claims without making it clear what they were. I think this became more apparent when you said, “Steve, it is not the resurrection, but what the resurrection proclaims. Jesus’ claims for himself are vindicated in the resurrection. ”

    Right, so it isn’t MERELY the resurrection. It is also the interpretation of the resurrection. If, however, you say that the resurrection of Jesus entails X, then evidence against X is evidence against the resurrection, and is no longer something be ignored in favor of purely historical arguments. If the following syllogism holds…

    If R (the resurrection), then C (Christianity)
    R, therefore C

    Then so does this, I think.

    If R, then C
    Not C, therefore not R

    For example. If you say that Jesus resurrection entails the truth of his claims, then evidence against his claims are relevant evidence. Thus, the evidence against a loving God (the problem of evil, Old Testament ethics, the hiddenness of God) must be considered.

    If, on the other hand, you want to weaken the connection between the resurrection and these other claims so that many of the Christian claims can be false while the resurrection keeps Christianity true, then you’ve severed the connection you need to say that “if Christ rose from the grave, Christianity is true, God does love you, and we just have to work out the details.” If evidence against a loving God isn’t evidence against the resurrection, the evidence for the resurrection is not evidence for a loving God.

  35. “There are so many factors that contribute to our faith, whether faith that Christ is God or faith that nothing created everything, It is hard to dispel all doubt.”

    Those are plainly not the only options—on either the theist or nontheist side. But I’m not saying all doubt should be dispelled. I specifically said that one cannot disprove the resurrection. But that does not change the fact that one can come to a firm and sound conclusion that there is no basis for being convinced that belief in a particular claim lacks sound basis.

    I don’t think our ambitions is to dispel all doubt, but to find warranted confidence even though we will doubt until the bridge of death is crossed.

  36. I’ve no desire to move the conversation to an inactive post. That’s hardly particularly likely to be seen by much of anyone. I’m content to move on if Michael doesn’t want it discussed here.

  37. TDC,

    I think your criticism is valid and well taken. I suppose then the first step is establishing the reality of the resurrection. Once this is taken, then I do think is establishes the divine ministry and nature of Christ beyond a reasonable doubt as all other alternatives such as “anomaly” in nature (which I see increasingly taken by both true seekers and antagonists) are much less credible.

    The next step is to assess the meaning of the resurrection. If we have gotten there, from my experience, it goes a long way and normally solves people’s most significant problems. Of course, this is assuming that the problems are intellectual (which, I find, is really rarely the case). Then the other points of my post may apply.

  38. “I’ve no desire to move the conversation to an inactive post. That’s hardly particularly likely to be seen by much of anyone.”

    I don’t really blame you, but it does say that your main motive in posting comments is not to engage in a discussion for mutual learning but to use this blog as a plateform. In such a case, you need to read the rules.

  39. TDC has a good point. If, for example, if the doubter concludes that the problem of evil weighs more heavily against theism than the historical evidence weighs in favor of the Resurrection then the overall weight of evidence is against rather than for Christianity (assuming the doubter’s evaluation of the relative merits of the evidence is sound).

    Or to give a similar objection:

    Suppose one concludes that we have extremely good evidence for reincarnation. This is inconsistent with Christianity and so if the historical evidence for the resurrection is weaker than the evidence for reincarnation then, again, we have a problem.

    The topic cannot necessarily be addressed in isolation. Probably shouldn’t be for that matter. I think, as a matter of background information, one’s judgement as to the general evidence in support of miraculous events is especially important when looking at the Resurrection as a potentially historical event.

  40. “I don’t really blame you, but it does say that your main motive in posting comments is not to engage in a discussion for mutual learning but to use this blog as a plateform. In such a case, you need to read the rules.”

    You free to ask me not to post if you think my comments are not contributing to the discussion (or for any other reason you like, It’s your blog). If you do so I’ll respect your wishes.

  41. David, love to have you here. But I also want to have you hear. :)

    Seriously, just read the rules. The comments here are not for self-promotion or a surragate blog. If you have discussion and are truly wanting to learn, you are welcome. If not, it is up to you whether you are going to break the rules. I am rarely involved in the comments and most do get by without any flags. I am just in this one more because 1) it is very important to me, 2) there are many people reading this post (although not many reading the comments—about 1 percent).

  42. Cant seem to get “edit” to load. I meant to say “You’re”, obviously.

  43. David,

    It’s my understanding that the latest Christian scholarship in support of the resurrection of Jesus are Licona’s, “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach” and N.T. Wright’s, “Resurrection of the Son of God.” Provided that you still retain an interest in this subject following your deconversion I recommend that you evaluate the highly sophisticated arguments contained in those books. Christian scholarship has come a long way since the time you deconverted in the 80s.

    Perhaps the simplest observation that can be made in favor of Christianity is that throughout the prophetic literature of the OT we repeatedly find the promise that in the “last days” Yahweh would restore the house of Israel in such a way that peoples from every nation would be gathered to his holy mountain (Isa 2:2-3; Dan 2:28, 44; 7:13-14; Mic 4:1-2; Zech 8:20-23) and that Yahweh would take “for priests and for Levites” peoples from nations that had never even heard of him (Isa 66:18-21). Amazingly enough, this is actually happening! Peoples from nations that couldn’t be more disconnected from the ancient Hebrew epic now understand themselves to be worshiping the God of Israel. It’s a tremendous confirmation of one of the boldest claims of the NT, that disciples of Jesus (i.e. Yahweh in the flesh) would be made from every nation. And not only this, but these oracles were recorded at a time when such a thing would have been unthinkable; after all, the ancient Hebrews were worshiping Yahweh in the context of a covenant that was made with their ancestors and concerned the governing of a specific people in a specific land.

  44. David,

    The problem of evil is a separate question from the resurrection of Jesus. In any case, the NT solves the problem of evil and suffering in its universalist eschatology.

  45. Why is it that the “problem of evil weighs more heavily against theism”. Augustine answered this problem very adroitly over 1500 years ago, and the Bible addresses it completely. God gives us free will and many of us use that free will licentiously, how is that fact evidence for atheism?

    Elsewhere TDC writes:

    “If evidence against a loving God isn’t evidence against the resurrection, the evidence for the resurrection is not evidence for a loving God.”

    That logic doesn’t hold, but what evidence is there against a loving God? We see things as Paul described as “through a glass darkly” so our perspective as to the “meanness” of God often has little to do with the facts. For example, I have two teenaged sons, when they were little they sometimes said (and felt strongly) that I was being “mean”, because they could not comprehend why I would not allow them to eat candy all day long. They thought I was “mean” sometimes because I would not allow them to run into the street. From their perspective, I was mean and you wouldn’t be able to convince them otherwise (in many cases). Often times what we consider “cruelty” in the Old Testament is really love.

    Dave Matthews has a line in one of his songs “Everybody Wake Up” which goes:

    “I Remember the words of the misguided fool
    Do unto others as you’d have them do
    Not an eye for an eye is the golden rule
    Just leaves a room full of blind men”

    Many people see the “eye for an eye” as a sign of God’s “cruelty”. However, if you look at a bit more discerningly you realize that without rules such as these, there would be far more blind men. If someone could go around poking out people’s eyes with no consequences, what would stop him from poking all the eyes he can poke? That, actually, is what would lead to a “room full of blind men”.

    God brought laws like this into a world that was pretty lawless, rather like the Old West. Today we view people like Judge Roy Bean and the Texas Rangers as bringing justice to a lawless land, yet how did they stop the killing and stealing and crime? Being nice? No, they stopped the crime by bringing people to justice who had committed crimes. They called people to accountability for their actions, in essence they started making people pay an eye for an eye and in doing so they brought order to chaos.

    Some people have suggested that Jesus “changed” the law by stating that people should turn the other cheek, but that simply isn’t true. He said to turn the cheek from a slap, not an eye-gouging, plus the person would still be accountable for the slap. Jesus told us to “love our neighbor as ourselves”, but that comes from the Old Testament books containing the law:

    Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself… Leviticus 19:18

    The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt… Leviticus 19:3

    Claims that God is cruel in the OT, aren’t correct.

  46. NW and Sean,

    Could you guys address the argument I put forward in comment 36? NW said the problem of evil and the resurrection are separate, but I argued that you can’t entirely separate them if you think the resurrection entails the truth of Christianity. Sean, you said the logic doesn’t hold. Why not?

  47. “The idea that it was all simply made up, does not hold water when you look at how quickly and how far it spread … The historical record proves that the spread of legends or myth takes considerable time”

    Well, no, that’s false. Ideas can spread very quickly, and it doesn’t matter if they are true or not. Look at urban myths, something like ‘Obama was born in Kenya’ or something like that. Fads and weird ideas spread across the Roman Empire with incredible speed – just look at the speed Christian *heresy* spread once the Church was established.

    “What evidence do you have against the resurrection?”

    Well, the burden of proof isn’t on me. But we could see that dying on a tree and being reborn is a very common myth, across many cultures. As is ‘the savior didn’t die, he’ll return at the time of greatest need’. As is dying to atone for the sins of others. As is rallying around a martyr.

    We could point to internal inconsistencies in the Bible and clear evidence of editing and retconning. While documentary records are patchy, I think it’s surprising that no one else – including the other gospels – mentions the events of Matthew 27:52-53, in particular, but that no one else apparently noticed the veil of the temple, earthquake or sky going dark.

    Saying that all surviving records from the period are, by modern standards, patchy and unreliable is true, but it’s an argument *against* relying on the gospels.

    We could point to the failed prophecies of Jesus regarding his destiny. We can see very human motivations for lying about Christ’s death, and map what we know happened to the development of other cults. We can point to the convenient fact that after years of attracting crowds, Jesus didn’t appear or ascend in front of multitudes after his death.

    This is beside the point. We can’t prove or disprove it. It was a long time ago and the waters have been muddied. What we face is a choice as individuals, and if ‘it hinges on the Resurrection’ has any value as a claim, it has to be falsifiable.

    So the only pertinent question is ‘what would it take for *you* to be convinced one way or the other?’. Not to persuade everyone in the world. What would it take for *you* to reject the idea the Resurrection happened?

    Someone mentioned Jesus’s bones being found. Well, we have the Turin Shroud. The Catholic Church claims it’s Jesus’s burial cloth. It’s not, it’s a medieval fake. Does that count as proof the Resurrection was false? Clearly not, but that and other relics were considered evidence once.

    Christianity survived the awkward discovery that Adam & Eve never existed, so there was no Fall, so there was no original sin for Christ to redeem on the Cross. It would survive if a literal Resurrection was somehow ruled out. Don’t you think?

    I think there’s an interesting question here, but only if it’s a question, not a smug assertion of existing belief (and that applies to atheists as well as Christians). If it’s true, it’s true. So … how can we tell?

  48. I promised to take this elsewhere, but if these assertions by TDK and David are left unanswered here, that doesn’t bode well for believers with doubts. So unless you call me on the carpet, Michael, I soldier on.

    TDC, there are several problems with your equation and assertion:

    “If R (the resurrection), then C (Christianity)
    R, therefore C

    Then so does this, I think.

    If R, then C
    Not C, therefore not R”

    When you say “if not C” what does that mean? Does that mean that if you could truly refute the entirety of Christianity then the resurrection would be refuted as well? If that is your supposition, I agree, because Christianity is absolutely predicated upon the resurrection, so if you disprove all of Christianity you have disprove the resurrection. They are absolutely inseparable, which Michael pointed out early by quoting Paul. If the resurrection isn’t true, Christianity falls, it’s a sham. You cannot disprove “Christianity” without disproving the resurrection, they have no meaning separately. The resurrection is essential to Christianity. This why I always found Thomas Jefferson’s brand of “Christianity” and his homemade bible to be so silly. Jesus claimed to be God. He claimed he would rise from the dead. If he didn’t raise from the dead, he was either insane or a liar (the “other” category that has been made vogue by Dawkins is meaningless). So when people deny the resurrection and still want to keep Jesus as a “good man” they clearly have no concept of what he said. Jesus could not have made the claims and promises he did and be anything other than a crazy man or a liar if those claims and promises were false, and one of those claims was the resurrection.

    If, however, you are saying that the resurrection could be disproved if you disprove other tenets of Christianity, again we have a problem. Are yous saying if we disprove ALL of the other tenets of Christianity the resurrection is untrue, or are you saying one is enough? I think the real problem here is what Socrates referred to as definition of terms. I doubt Michael is saying that the resurrection proves every possible facet of what all peoples would consider part of Christianity. For example, does the resurrection prove the Catholic claim of transubstantiation? No. Does it prove Annihilationism or Universal reconciliation? No. So first we have to come up with an agreement of what “Christianity” is. Most can be summed up in I Cor 15: 3-4:

    “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”.

    Others might say that the Nicene Creed contains the basics of the Christian belief. TDC and David, what do you consider to be “Christianity”? If you feel that disproving Christianity could disprove the resurrection (as you state in your logic equation) are you speaking of the whole of Christianity, or is disproving it in part sufficient? More info would be helpful.

  49. “This is trying to help Christians who are doubting their faith so I hope you understand if we try to stay on topic.”

    Yes, but … in your own words the truth of the Resurrection is ‘make or break’ and a ‘foundation’. I agree. I think anyone who accepts the Resurrection has to, basically, accept Christianity. The ‘only’ argument then would be about which type of Christian.

    So the question of whether the Resurrection happened is relevant.

    Your blog, your rules, and I don’t want to overstep hospitality.

    But, OK, how about approaching it from this angle: we know beyond any reasonable doubt that Adam & Eve not just didn’t exist but that they couldn’t have existed. Not in anything like the form the Bible describes. Given that, the Fall didn’t happen. Given that … what would be the point of Christ dying for Adam’s sin? Isn’t that a dealbreaker for the Resurrection?

  50. “Could you guys address the argument I put forward in comment 36? NW said the problem of evil and the resurrection are separate, but I argued that you can’t entirely separate them if you think the resurrection entails the truth of Christianity. Sean, you said the logic doesn’t hold. Why not?”

    I think I articulated my reasoning in the last post, but I’ll say a bit more.

    I said the logic doesn’t hold water as it pertains to a couple things. One, the problem of evil is not “evidence against the existence of God”. Evil exists because God has given man free will and man uses that free will, often, licentiously. The fact that man chooses to do evil things with his free will is no evidence against the existence of God. God will deal with evil, once and for all, one day, but for now evil (or the lack of good) exists because man often chooses to disobey God and do terrible things with that freedom. That, for a time God has chosen to “allow” that evil to exist is no evidence that God doesn’t exist.

    As far as the logical equation you proposed, I’ve spoken to that in my last post. Read that and then see what you think.

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