I was recently speaking with someone who is an outspoken atheist, who could probably be labeled an anti-theist, but someone with whom I have been able to develop a friendly relationship, based on our ongoing conversations about my Christian faith and her lack thereof. Jan, would tell you that she was raised a Southern Baptist, but that she hasn’t read the Bible since she decided that she no longer believed what she had been taught from it – 40 years ago. Jan will readily cite obscure Old Testament verses taken out of their original contexts in an effort to undermine Christianity and support her disbelief, which is a commonly tactic used by many skeptics. Whether one’s reason for rejecting Christianity is based on difficult passages in the Old Testament, the many “hypocrites” who claim to be Christians, or any of the other claimed reasons for disbelief, it is important for the Christian and unbeliever alike to understand that those reasons in no way affect the truthfulness of the claims of Christianity.
What Jan has only recently begun to understand is that the claims of Christianity are in no way dependent on the Old Testament, the number of hypocrites claiming to be Christian, or any other peripheral argument. In fact, only one thing can disprove and discredit Christianity – nothing else can. The truth of Christianity is solely contingent on the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was killed and buried, then resurrected three days later as he claimed he would do (1 Cor. 15:17). If that is true, then Jesus’ fulfillment of his own prophecies concerning his death and resurrection validate several foundational Christian beliefs. Those beliefs include that God exists, since no one naturally returns to life after three days of being dead and buried, and that God validated all of the claims/teachings of Jesus by enabling him to fulfill his prophecies concerning his death and resurrection. So, “How do I know God exists?” Jesus resurrected. “How do I know that the “Christian God” is the only true God?” Jesus resurrected. “How do I know that the Bible is authoritative and true?” Jesus verified his claims to deity by resurrecting from the dead, which gives me sufficient reason to trust his affirmation of the trustworthiness of the Old Testament and the teaching of his apostles in the New Testament.
Continuing that line of thought, if God exists and he has revealed himself through Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:9), then everything that Jesus taught about God, eternity, the way to heaven and hell, all forms of morality, and the reliability of the Old and New Testaments is true. However, as even the Christian scriptures testify, all of his teachings regarding those issues are meaningless if he did not resurrect from the dead after his death by crucifixion. Therefore, for one to successfully discredit Christianity, or even provide valid reasons for doubt, he must reach beyond misinterpreted Old Testament verses and emotive reasons for disbelief. Instead, the critic must begin with the resurrection of Jesus. In order to consider the truthfulness of Jesus’ resurrection, one need only consider the New Testament accounts of the event as historical documents. After all, even the most skeptical historian will affirm that those documents were written by men with firsthand knowledge of the historical Jesus.
After explaining all of this to Jan, I asked her, “So, what reasons do you have for not believing that Jesus resurrected from the dead, as so many eyewitnesses claimed?” She smiled thoughtfully and responded, “Well, I’m going to have to think about that. I might not actually have any real reasons.” I returned her smile and said, “You don’t!” In fact, as she is beginning to realize, all of her reasons to disbelieve are emotional in nature. She simply does not want to believe that God exists – much less that Jesus is the only way to God. However, we all know that one not wanting to believe something has no bearing on whether, or not, that particular something is true.
So what does this mean for Christians? It means that we should not be distracted by the red herring arguments that are often presented as reasons to doubt Christianity. Instead, we must remember that there is only one thing that could discredit Christianity: One must overcome and prove as false the mountain of historical evidence that has been preserved within the New Testament, as well extra biblical historical accounts, which affirm the resurrection accounts. For that reason, the Christian must continue to respectfully and lovingly redirect skeptics’ focuses from peripheral objections to the central issue of Christianity. It also means that the most important focus of a Christian’s evangelistic conversation is that Jesus was not only crucified, but that he was raised to life three days later. Not only is that truth at the heart of the Gospel, but it also forces those who disbelieve to put aside empty attacks on Christianity and, instead, to consider the truthfulness of its most central claim. This ultimately enables the Christian to redirect the focus of conversation with a skeptic from difficult texts and emotional objections that have no ability in themselves to bring salvation, instead, to clearly articulated Gospel conversations.
For additional information on the historical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, see either of the sites below, or anything written by Gary Habermas, or William Lane Craig, on the topic. I also recommend any of the “resurrection debates” between either of those men and their atheist counterparts, which can be found on YouTube.