‘Apologetics’ is a word from the Bible that means “to give an answer or defense for the hope of the gospel” (1 Pet. 3:15). Every person whose life has ever been transformed by Jesus is necessarily an apologist, someone called to proclaim, explain, and defend the Good News. As apologists, we stand on the shoulders of faithful Christians from previous generations.
We must be careful to follow in their footsteps and avoid pitfalls and compromises in our witness. That’s because there is a cosmic gravitational pull away from the authority of God’s Word. It’s as old as the third chapter of Genesis. Apologists are not immune to this temptation.
Indeed, apologetics is often the proving grounds for someone’s position on Scripture. The point of contact, where our gospel ministry interacts with the lives of those far from Jesus, is where our commitment to biblical authority is tested and tried. Every generation of the church must fight the allure of locating the center of our faith to something other than Scripture.
One influential pastor and author recently said, “The foundation of our faith isn’t the Bible. The foundation of our faith is an event, the resurrection.” Another Christian leader said, “Christians often start as the basis of their faith with the Bible …. I think that’s idolatry. I think the foundation of our faith is supposed to be Jesus.”
Something about these statements sounds obvious, virtuous, and even true. But any move away from biblical authority is dangerous. The emphasis on the resurrection apart from Scripture is really a call to focus on the historical evidences for the resurrection.
Our blinding bias
Evidence doesn’t interpret itself. There is indeed a great amount of evidence for the resurrection. However, it is naïve to conclude that the evidence alone can establish the miraculous event of Jesus rising from the dead. Evidence must be interpreted. And the person making the interpretation brings a bias to the evidence that will determine their conclusion.
Philosopher Roy Clouser gives a compelling case for the impossibility of a bias-free approach to evidence in his book The Myth of Religious Neutrality. He argues that all persons bring a view of ultimate realty that sets the parameters for what interpretations will be considered plausible.
One interesting, though sad, example of a person who carefully considered the evidence for the resurrection yet denied it is the late philosopher Antony Flew. Flew was one of the most prolific atheistic authors of his generation. Yet, at the end of his life he re-examined his worldview and concluded that the evidence of the universe is best explained by divine creation. As a deist, Flew overturned his entire life’s work of atheistic philosophy.
It could be argued that he had little to lose by going one step further and accepting the truth of a particular religious tradition, especially if he found the evidence compelling. One of his final debates was with Christian apologist Gary Habermaas on the topic of the resurrection. Flew concluded that the evidence for the resurrection was superior in both quality and quantity to any other religious miracle claim. Though he found it compelling, he ultimately did not find it convincing. He died as a deist who denied God’s interaction in human history, in spite of his respect for the historical case for the resurrection.
Scripture interprets history
In order to properly interpret the facts of the resurrection we need God’s revelation of himself. We need God to explain himself to us. That’s what the Bible claims to do. And this is how the very first disciples made sense of resurrection. They explained the resurrection of Jesus according to the authority of the Scripture.
In fact, the first Christian creed is recorded in 1 Corinthians 15, “That Christ died … according to the Scriptures … and was raised … according to the Scriptures.” This early creed, included in inspired Scripture, demonstrates the early disciples dependence upon Scripture in order to understand the resurrection of Jesus. They were interpreting the historical events surrounding Jesus through the framework of what God had revealed about himself in the Old Testament.
Some will think I am here disparaging the use of historical evidences in apologetics. I am not. It is my aim to demonstrate that evidences are not self-interpreting, and that the way we make sense of the claims of the gospel, including the resurrection, is through Scripture.
We cannot, we should not, divorce the resurrection from Scripture or pit evidences for the resurrection against Scripture. The first disciples didn’t. We shouldn’t either. The Bible is the foundation of our faith and our apologetics.