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From The Best Schools: Interview with Michael Licona on a historian’s view of the resurrection of Jesus

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TBS: During this period of your life, you investigated the arguments for atheism. What were the strongest arguments you found for atheism? What counterarguments did you discover that persuaded you atheism is false?

ML: Most would agree that the best argument atheism has to offer is the problem of evil, pain, and suffering in the world. And it’s a powerful card to hold in one’s hand. But it’s not at all conclusive. The highly esteemed Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga has demonstrated the unlikelihood of a race of beings with free will who all choose to do the right things all of the time. Thus, in a world of free beings, there is going to be evil, pain, and suffering that result, and especially so if the report of the fall in Genesis is accurate.

What the atheist must demonstrate is that there are possible worlds of free beings in which there is on balance a greater amount of good and lesser amount of evil than we experience in this world. This burden cannot be met. The late agnostic philosopher William Rowe countered Plantinga by noting what appears to be senseless evil in the world, such as a fawn burned to death by a tree that fell on it after being struck by lightning. This argument makes the problem of evil more difficult to answer. But there are Christian philosophers such as Ed Martin, Jeremy Evans, Bruce Little, and David Wood who have presented what I regard as plausible solutions to Rowe’s challenge.

One thing some of us have noticed about such challenges is the illegitimate use of sentimentality. Why a fawn? Why not a mature skunk – a creature few would miss?

(Rube butts in again: Why not two skunks, killed instantly?)

The animal suffering is the same, yet the human emotional reaction is different. This fact should arouse suspicion in the hearer if the argument is supposed to be strictly rational.

TBS: Resurrection is a 700-page work dense with scholarly annotation. Nevertheless, would you be able to summarize the main conclusions you reach in this work for our readers? What does this book add to conservative New Testament scholarship about the Resurrection? What’s new here? How does it differ from other magisterial work in this area, such as that of Gary Habermas and N.T. Wright?

ML: I think there are three major differences between my new book and where others have previously gone. First, I discuss issues pertaining to the philosophy of history and historical method with a depth that exceeds by far what other scholars have offered pertaining to the question of Jesus’ resurrection. Second, I interact with the debate over whether historians are within their professional rights to investigate miracle claims to a far greater degree than has been previously offered. Third, I subject a variety of hypotheses to strictly controlled historical method in a more comprehensive manner than has been previously offered. There are other contributions the book makes to the discussion, such as a discussion pertaining to the historicity of Jesus’ predictions pertaining to his imminent death and resurrection, as well as the meaning of two Greek terms upon which an important discussion hinges. But the above three are the major ones.

TBS: Resurrection, despite its very traditional view that the bodily resurrection of Jesus occurred in space and time, has engendered a good deal of controversy in the evangelical community. In particular, Norman Geisler accused you of denying biblical inerrancy for your interpretation of a few verses in Matthew 27. As a result, you resigned your appointment with the North American Mission Board and left Southern Evangelical Seminary. On the other hand, you have also received public support from William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, J.P. Moreland, and many others. Please give us your version of what happened. …


4 Replies to “From The Best Schools: Interview with Michael Licona on a historian’s view of the resurrection of Jesus

  1. 1
    Axel says:

    I was under the impression that they were the ghosts of saints that were seen in Jerusalem at that time. Where ghosts fit in to eschatology I don’t know; nor do I have any kind of clear memory of what the Vedantist, Aldous Huxley, posited in his fascinating and enlightening essay, The Perennial Philosophy.

    I find the idea that such a statement in Matthew is likely to be a rhetorical device akin to use of the term, ‘earth-shaking’ or ‘raining cats and dogs’, fanciful in the extreme.

    Incidentally, the latter term derives from the way in which cats and dogs lodged beneath the thatched roofs of dwellings in olden times, (if I remember correctly, for warmth), and when it rained hard, they would come down from there rapidly.

    Interesting to read of the hideous inroads made in university curricula in the US, even outside of scientific disciplines, as my step-niece, a sympathetic agnostic, told us that before they even started their post-graduate studies at Balliol, they were required to read the Bible from cover to cover. So much of our Western culture, artistic no less than scientific, has been based on it.

    For the most mordant wit, it seems to me that right-wingers satirising other right-wingers are supreme, and some of Evelyn Waugh’s animadversions vis-a-vis the newpaper proprietor, Rex Mottram, in Brideshead Revisited, are as funny as you could ever, ever come across.

    He describes Mottram being coached in the Catholic faith by an eminent Jesuit priest, believed to be based on a real-life Jesuit, who described Mottram as something unique in his experience and uniquely distinctive of the modern day, as it then was. As if a single organ had taken over a person’s whole body. The way Waugh wrote it was witheringly hilarious.

    Well, Mottram seems to have been the prophet, the personification, indeed, of the modern zeitgeist, particularly as promoted by the US and UK; the ultimate prodigy of that extremely narrow field relating to the price of everything and the value of nothing.

    Possibly the most outrageously funny line was that of the nanny of Sebastian, the toff, who speaking to the protagonist, Charles(?), when he was billeted with his unit at the Flyte country seat. She said something like: “You’d never guess what, Mr Ryder(?)! We heard Mr Mottram on the radio the other day. He’s an MP now, you know. And to think we were entertaining angels, all unawares!” Imagine an amalgam of recent Western media moguls who’ve been in trouble one way or another with the law; either having been imprisoned or currently under investigation. Think, The News of the World and Daily Telegraph.

  2. 2

    Licona reminds me that apologetics has been taken over by Modernists–those who would argue for the truth of Christianity based on logic.

    What else could it be based on? you might ask.

    Well, for many centuries, people have based their faith on miracles, on experiences, on feelings, on emotion.

    But that’s not apologetics! you might protest.

    Precisely my point. Apologetics has become defined as the rational debate for the truth of Christianity using the assumptions of rationalism, Modernism. If we use philosophy as a guide, there are 3 possible foundations for our confidence: Ethics, Metaphysics, and Epistemology. Apologetics has focussed only on the last. Occasonally, people would argue, as in the famous “Grand Inquisitor” chapter of “The Brothers Karamotsov”, that without God there cannot be ethics. But for whatever reason, this has not been seen as a compelling argument.

    Metaphysics, however, has been completely neglected. The meaning of persons. The beauty of sunsets. The existence of the self. The ability to do science. All these are metaphysical arguments for the necessity of God, and to my mind, are far more compelling than arguing whether the evidence for the resurrection is compelling.

    So it does not come as a surprise that Licona flubs the “resurrected saints” verse in Matthew 27. It doesn’t fit his Modernist preconceptions of what a resurrection should be like. The Eastern Orthodox, on the other hand, would tell him that this is precisely what you should expect when Christ opened the gates of Hell.

    “Metaphysics.” muttered the professor. “What do they teach in schools nowadays?”

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    Though, as my handle indicates, I believe that the personal experiences of those little serendipitous miracles that happen to whomever humbly calls on Christ in times of need, are the best evidence as to ‘knowing’ that Christ is real, and even the best evidence that Christ is indeed ‘in one’s life’, (as does William Lane Craig feel personal experience is the best evidence), I have been very, very, surprised to learn that the number one problem in physics and mathematics today, of a reconciliation between quantum mechanics and general relativity, finds a very credible reconciliation into a ‘theory of everything’ within the resurrection of Christ Himself:

    The Center Of The Universe Is Life – General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Entropy and The Shroud Of Turin – video

    Centrality of Each Individual Observer In The Universe and Christ’s Very Credible Reconciliation Of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics

    For me this is simply completely astonishing! That the resurrection event of Jesus Christ would find itself at the center of the number one problem in science today, as a very credible reconciliation to the problem, it simply and utterly amazing!! And that this amazing ‘coincidence’ would be discovered after such extreme effort on man’s part to discover how reality is actually constructed is, at least from my perspective, even evidence of God’s profound sense of humor in the matter:

    “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”
    ? Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers

    For the atheist, who ‘believes’ in science, this should be very sobering, or at least very unsettling, for if one were to truly hold a atheistic point of view that the resurrection event of Christ is on par with unicorns, and/or fairies at the bottom of ponds, then it is simply not even on the radar scope of reason for them to find that the resurrection event of Christ would even be able to offer such a credible reconciliation between general relativity and quantum mechanics into a theory of everything!

    Verse and Music:

    Matthew 28:18
    And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and upon earth.”

    Natalie Grant – Alive (Resurrection music video)

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    of note: here is a better, more recent, video than the one I listed in the previous post:

    The Center of The Universe Is Life – General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Entropy, and The Shroud Of Turin – updated video

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