by George Brahm
Andy Stanley asks, “Would we have our Bible as it is today if there was no Resurrection? Would the Christian faith exist if Jesus was not raised from the dead?”
Obviously not. If Christ was not raised from the dead, there would be no ‘Good News’ to tell, the Bible would not exist and neither would the Christian faith. Paul admits as much in 1 Corinthians 15:14, saying, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (ESV).
Pastor Stanley, however, goes on to conclude that the Resurrection alone is sufficient to explain why the Bible exists and why Christianity is true. This, I argue, is an unjustified conclusion. Here’s why.
Necessary and Sufficient Conditions
During the first week of any introductory logic class, the instructor goes over the difference between necessary conditions and sufficient conditions. A condition X is necessary for some state of affairs Y if and only if it is the case that if X does not obtain, Y will not obtain. Or to put it as a conditional, if not X, then not Y. For instance, being 18 years of age is a necessary condition for my being able to vote; if I am not 18 years of age, I will not be able to vote.
On the other hand, a condition X is sufficient for some state of affairs Y if and only if it is the case that X obtaining guarantees that Y obtains. Or in conditional form, if X, then Y. To use a hackneyed example, rain falling on the ground is a sufficient condition for the street to be wet; if rain falls on the street, it guarantees that the street gets wet.
In the above examples, it is imperative to note that a condition’s being necessary does not imply that it is also sufficient, and a condition’s being sufficient does not imply that it is necessary. While my being 18 years of age is necessary for me to be able to vote, it is not sufficient; it is possible that I’m a 30-year-old felon, which would render me incapable of voting. Similarly, while rain falling on the ground would be sufficient for the ground to be wet, it is not necessary; any source of water, like a sprinkler, could do the job equally well. As a general rule, a state of affairs might require more than one necessary condition to obtain, but it only requires one sufficient condition to obtain.
The problem with Pastor Stanley’s methodology is that he treats the Resurrection being historical fact as a sufficient condition for the Bible’s existence and for the truth of Christianity. He narrates how he once instructed his children to tell their peers that their faith in Christ and Christianity is based on the Resurrection alone. And he uses the alleged sufficiency of the Resurrection to argue for why we can ‘unhitch’ the Old Testament from our apologetic methodology and our Christian lives as a whole.
No apostle has ever used Pastor Stanley’s methodology. Let’s go back to the verse from 1 Corinthians 15, which Stanley quoted to support his methodology in his recent Unbelievable? debate with Pastor Jeff Durbin of Apologia Church. In 1 Corinthians 15:14, Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” The form of the conditional as stated in the verse (if not X, then not Y) implies that Paul sees the Resurrection as a necessary condition for the truth of Christianity, but not as a sufficient condition. He is not saying, “If the Resurrection occurred, Christianity is true.” While he implies that without the Resurrection, the Christian faith cannot be true, he does not imply that the Resurrection alone makes the Christian faith true. Stanley points out that the Resurrection was central to the message of the apostles throughout the book of Acts. That is true, and that would be consistent with viewing the Resurrection as a necessary part of the Christian message. But it is also imperative to note that the apostles constantly referred to the Old Testament in their Gospel presentations; as Pastor Durbin pointed out, this is most evident in their use of the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies to demonstrate that Jesus was the promised Messiah. In other words, the apostles also saw the Old Testament as a necessary part of their apologetic methodology; they would certainly not be on board with Pastor Stanley’s plan to ‘unhitch’ the Old Testament from their Gospel presentations.
Why the Historical Fact of the Resurrection Cannot be Sufficient for the Truth of Christianity
I’d like to go further, however, and make a case for why establishing the Resurrection as a fact of history tells us very little about the truth of Christianity as a whole.
Pastor Stanley’s ‘unhitched’ approach assumes that we can win over the unbeliever by utilizing the following three-step methodology:
- Establish that even if the Bible is not inerrant or infallible, the Gospels are, at minimum, ‘reliable’ historical documents, and certain ‘minimal facts’ can be extracted from them.
- Use the minimal facts from 1 to show that the Resurrection actually happened.
- Point out to them that if the Resurrection actually happened, the rest of the Christian faith is true, and the unbeliever is now obligated to ‘follow the evidence’ into the Christian faith.
For the sake of argument, let us grant that steps 1 and 2 in Pastor Stanley’s methodology work as advertised. Is proving the Resurrection as historical fact sufficient to lead the unbeliever into the Christian faith? Stanley thinks so, and in this, he is demonstrably wrong.
As analytic philosopher of religion and apologist Lydia McGrew points out, such a ‘minimal facts’ approach to the Resurrection tells us very little about the truth of the Christian faith. In step 1, the practitioner of such a methodology grants a significant amount of ground to the skeptic, reducing the Gospels to mere historical documents that potentially contain errors and contradictions, relying on nothing more than a few ‘minimal facts’ to make their case for the historicity of the Resurrection. Yet in step 3, the skeptic is suddenly expected to make a jump to accepting all the doctrines and beliefs that are essential to Christianity, based solely on the historicity of the Resurrection as proved by a few minimal facts. How does this work? How do you move from “The Resurrection really happened!” to “God is triune” or even something as simple as “You are a sinner and you need a Saviour”? Stanley thinks that “The Bible tells me so” is off limits, so how must we proceed? Or as McGrew asks, what part of this methodology stops one from becoming a Socinian or an Arian, as opposed to becoming an orthodox Christian? And how do you now convince the skeptic, with nothing but the Resurrection in hand, that the Bible is actually inerrant (something Stanley claims to believe) after granting to them, for the sake of argument, that the Bible could be riddled with errors?
McGrew rightly points out that the problem with a ‘minimal facts’ methodology like Pastor Stanley’s is that it makes a hard distinction between how we ought to deal with the unbeliever and how we ought to deal with the professing believer. Or as apologist and theologian James White describes these cases, what we are winning them with is not what we are winning them to.
A more consistent approach is in order; a methodology that values the authority of Scripture and the role of reason as its handmaiden, as opposed to unhitching Scripture from Scripture and Scripture from reason. Andy Stanley is right to point out that the Scriptures could not have existed without the Resurrection. But the Resurrection is not sufficient for the existence of the Scriptures; factors like divine inspiration and preservation are equally necessary for their existence. And while the Resurrection is absolutely crucial to the truth of the Christian faith, it is not sufficient to make the Christian faith true. And most importantly, all of Scripture is God-breathed and has a necessary role to play in how we live our Christian lives.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of other authors at Cogent Christianity.