Saturday, March 30, 2013

I Still Believe in the Resurrection - Now More than Ever

Church in Nairobi, Kenya

42 years ago, almost exactly to this date, God told me - "I love you." I had a William Jamesian-type "religious experience." It stunned me. Never, ever before had anything like this happened to me. Not even when I was doing drugs. At that point I knew God existed, and I knew God loved me. And I knew this love was associated with Jesus.

So in the moment, I prayed. I was not a praying person. I did pray, in emergencies, as a little boy. But I had not prayed for many years. On that day, I prayed. I said, "God, if you are real, and Jesus if you are real, help me. If you can help me, I will follow you for the rest of my life." He did. And I have.

Such is the persuasive power of religious experience. As W. James noted, it is existentially incontrovertible. Logically it may lack apologetic force. But by God's Spirit, as I have traveled the world and spoke out my story, God has used it to convince the hearts of many people.

I see it this way. Logic is cool and useful. My PhD work in philosophy was heavy, big-time, in logic and rationality. I remember being intellectually persuaded by Cartesian "clear and distinct ideas," and then being further persuaded as I followed the Cartesian path to things like Edmund Husserl's Cartesian Meditations and the quest for epistemic certainty.  I've taught logic at our county community college for 15 years and love it. But life is not, essentially, logical. Or, as Philip Wheelwright once put it, human experience cannot be captured in the steel nets of literal language (rationality). I'm talking about the power of story.

I have a story. I come back to it all the time. I'm living out a story, even as I type these words. "Story" can convince where logic cannot. Logic, then, can be used to understand "story." And God can convince where I cannot. Just tell the Jesus-story as experientially real, and see what God can do with it. If there is a method, that's it. Credo ut intelligam.

I believed. Then I wanted to understand. The more I have understood, the more I have believed. Belief always births questions. Which have compelled me, not to abandon my belief (like it has for some who, in my mind, gave up on Christianity way to soon), but to seek more understanding. This growth-in-faith-and-knowledge process continues, proceeding dialectically in a quasi-Hegelian fashion. So today, now, the point of the whole thing appears clearer to me than it ever has. Q &  A. Which births Q1. Which quests for A1. Which births Q2. And so on...

At age 21 I believed. God encountered me. I changed my undergraduate major from music theory to philosophy. I was hooked forever! I got involved in two campus ministries at Northern Illinois University.  The pastors of these ministries were scholars (thank you John Peterson and Bill Craig). Immediately I became interested in the resurrection of Christ as an historical event. I began to study it that way, and was mentored in how to do this. I came to believe that a person who was dead was brought back to life, and that this made all the difference in human history.

In theological seminary I dove deeper into historical Jesus studies and resurrection studies. I was introduced to all the reasons one might disbelieve in the resurrection. The two main objections at that time are still with us today. Some internet intellectual wanna-be's think this is new information, but the current state of those who doubt the resurrection has been with us for a long time.

Objection 1 is: philosophical naturalism. I reject this, for logical and experiential reasons. I could never be a philosophical naturalist; indeed, I am not. I do not have enough faith for that. Objection 2 is: the Jesus-accounts are largely mythical. Again, this idea has been out there for a long time, and I studied it thoroughly a few decades ago. I rejected it then, and still do today. (Yes, I've heard of "Zeitgeist." And no, scholars are not interested in it at all. Even atheist Richard Carrier finds it "absolute garbage." If you want to really study the historical Jesus stay out of internet chat rooms and do some actual study, preferably university-level.)

I went deeper into historical Jesus and rez-studies in my doctoral work, writing a 400-page dissertation on Jesus's resurrection (+ 50 more pages of footnotes). It took me six years to write and rewrite and rework and restudy this over and over and over and finally get it down in paper. You have to actually experience doing something like this to understand  the dialectics of Q&A. The outcome of what was for me, at least, a massive amount of historical and linguistic study, caused me to believe even more in Jesus's resurrection as an actual, historical event.

After I graduated with my PhD in 1986 I did not lay aside my Jesus-studies. Every week (with few exceptions) I read in this area. I am so thankful for today's state of historical Jesus research! I've combined this with an ever-renewing abiding in Christ. I know, in the Hebraic sense of *yadah, that Christ truly is Emmanuel, God-with-us!

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. Yay!

I still believe in the Resurrection of Jesus - now more than ever.

*yadah - Heb., to know intimately