Monday, May 14, 2012

Resurrection of Christ, Historical or History Making?

Jurgen Motlmann

 Atheists have argued, but more importantly historians have argued, that a view like that of the resurrection of Christ can't be understood as a historical event, thus can't be proved by historical evidence becuase history is intrinsically naturalistic. Historians must make naturalistic assumptions thus miracle can't play role in history. The first thing to notice about this argument is that far from contradicting what I've said, it supports my position in that I argue that atheist's only have ideological objections to the resurrection. There's no historically based disproof. If untrained non-historian apologists mistakenly argue "this is historical" they atheists objects are not based upon disproving the historically based evidence they are only based upon ideological assumptions. Evoking the rules of hsitory is also ideological assumption.

Secondly, I don't say "O I'm going to prove the resurrection historically." In the heat of argument I may have said words to that effect, but my actual position is not "yes we definitely prove the resurrection." There is no way to prove something that hapepned 2000 years ago, at least not to the point of making it indubitable. The only way to do that would be to go back in time and watch it happen. It's as unfair a requirement that it be "historical" as it is to say we are going to prove it historically. Either way is an unfair requirement becuase it's not something that can be proved. The prohibition on supernatural evidence in history not withstanding it's unrealistic, and therefore, unfair, to expect it to be proved. Be that as it may all is not lost for the historically minded apologist. There is still a good argument to be made for the resurrection and it invovles historically-based evidence.

 The better decision making paradigm is not "proof," that is unrealistic, but "warrant." If we don't claim we proving historical events but rather that understanding an event in a certain way (as true) is warranted by the evidence, then we are not imposing the unrealistic burden of proof nor are we evoking the category of "history" to explain it thus we are not transgressing historical protocols. Rather we are finding that the placing of confidence in a hypothesis for private belief is warranted by the evidence. Toward this end we need to see text as an artifact. So rather than say "this is true becasue so and so says it,"we are saying "this is what the early community of faith believed as evidence by their texts. To the extent that we can trust their testimony we can place confidence in the hypothesis that this belief may communicate a truth. Thus private belief that this is the case is warranted. Thus the resurrection, not put in the cateroy of "historical fact" is nevertheless understood as both a religious symbol and a likely event.
 Religious Symbol and Historical Likelihood.

I affirm the literal resurrection of Christ, as I affirm the Nicene creed. Unfortunately, affirming it and proving it are two different things. Many apologists try to use the Resurrection as proof in itself that Jesus was the Son of God. The problem is, the event itself has to be proven, and is of equal dispute to the claims of Christ deity. Thus, I doubt that it makes a great tool for verifying the claims of the faith, since it is itself such a claim. On the other hand, let us ask ourselves, "was the true purpose of the resurrection as a proof of Jesus validity?" I think not. I think the true purpose was not offer modern scientific "courtroom evidence" of the event, but to confirm in a religious way, for insiders, by provision of an important symbol. Tillich says that a symbol participates in the thing it symbolizes. Thus a bull fighter dying young is a symbol of darning courage going awry, but a non specific figure like the American flag is not a symbol but an emblem. Thus the resurrection of Christ can be a theological symbol and still be a real event! Thus the true importance of the event is its theological significance and not its market place value as an apologetic tool.

Be that as it may, the event of Christ's resurrection offers more to the unbeliever and the cause of Christian apologetics than one might think given what I wrote. Rather than give up on it as an argument, we need to put it into a different context: we need to abandon the "court room" model of proof in apologetics, and take up a historian's perspective. The point is not that we can prove the resurrection "really happened." The importance of historical evidence surrounding resurrection is its possibility as a history making event. By that I mean, it's not as important to prove "conclusively" that it happened, as it is to show that the perimeters shaped by the evidence still leave open the validity of the possibility that such an event occurred, once one clears away the ideological clutter of naturalism. The evidence need only point to the fact that the belief tenet is still "in the running" as a possibility, not that it actually happened, although we believe, as Christians, that it did happen. The event described cannot included as a historical event, because history as a modern social science is constructed upon naturalistic assumptions; but it can be understood as a history making event, one that shaped the nature of our society and culture.

 Away with the Court Room Model

So much past apologetics has been based upon the model of a court room debate, then declared to "prove history." We see this most especially in McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict (the classic case). We also see it in the works of a vast array of apologists who say things like, "the man who invented rules for court room evidence (Simon Greenleaf--1783-1953 ) argued for the Resurrection, and he was a smart lawyer, so he must be right." But historians do not "prove" historical 'arguments' by holding courtroom debates! If we are going to make historical claims for the resurrection, we have to think like historians, and not like lawyers. We have to hold the evidence to the perimeters of historical evidence, not to those of jurisprudence.

History is probability. It's not mathematical probably, but it is probabilistic. One cannot go back in time and verify the assumptions of historians, all we can do is argue from extrapolated data as to the most likely conclusion based upon the "facts." But how are these "facts" ascertained? They are not derived from debate, they are not derived from physical artifacts, and they are certainly not given in any kind of absolute certainty. Many skeptics place the level of confirmation they seek on a par with a TV camera recording an event it happens. History is documents! History is not a documentary featuring live footage, although such material is no doubt going to be included in future historical records. But history is the impression we find most likely as a probabilistic guess based upon the data we find available in written documents of the past. Historians do debate documents, but they do not say things like, "would this be accepted in a courts of law?" Historians don't a flying spit wad about what is accepted in a court of law (but one hears that phrase in apologetics quite a bit). Thus, in accessing the prospects for the validity of the resurrection, one cannot worry about courtrooms, or about exact proof as though we could take a TV camera to the tomb and watch the angel move the stone. The best we can ever do is to access the possibility and its place int he likelihood of events, given our world view assumptions vis a vie, supernatural events.

 The History Making Concept.

In his great ground breaking work, Theology of Hope (1964) Jurgen Moltmann did something radical. It suited Moltmann to be radical because he was one of the major influences upon radical theology of the 60s, including liberation theology. Being German Moltmann took the structures of historical scholarship very seriously. He knew that historiography of the nineteenth century had ruled out any but naturalistic assumptions in the category of "historical." Moltmann argues, the rules of history exclude the miraculous. This is because historians, as heirs to the enlightenment, automatically exclude the supernatural. For this reason the resurrection cannot be seen as historical, a priori, for the rules of making history are set by an ideology of metaphysical assumptions which dogmatically exclude anything miraculous. History must be predicated upon the assumption of a coherent natural world, therefore, the supernatural cannot be part of history (176). Yet he felt it was important to make a place for the resurrection in modern thought. So he argued for changing the rules. Rather than calling the resurrection "historical" he calls it "history making." The belief itself has shaped the outline of historical event. This is apart from the question of its truth content, the fact of belief in it made history what it is. This introduces the concept of understanding the belief as history making thus the evidence that supports the belief is also history making. His solution: change the rules. We wont call it "historical" but "history making."

"The resurrection of Christ does not mean a possibility within the world and its history, but a new possibility altogether for the world, for existence, and for history. Only when the world can be understood as contingent creation out of the freedom of God...does the rising of Christ become intelligible as nova create [new creation]. is necessary to expose the profound irrationality of the rational cosmos of the tech scientific world." (179)

"The resurrection of Christ is without prattle in the history known to us. But it can be for that very reason regarded as a 'history making event' in the light of which all other history is illumined, called into question and transformed." (180)

Skeptics are too quick to argue that the resurrection is not historical fact. Before they jump into this fray, they should first ask themselves about the nature of historical facts. Most historical "facts" are not proven. "History" (whatever that is) says that Davy Crockett died at the Alamo, yet evidence indicates he did not. History, like science is a social construct, and is determined by those with the clout to write history. In modernity we have gained an anti-supernatural bias, and so the believer is forced to ask rhetorical questions like "did Jesus raise form the dead?" and then to answer them rhetorically. The German Theologian Jurgen Moltmann changes the rules. Rather than ask if the resurrection is "historical" he merely argues that it doesn't have to be, it is history making. We change the rules of the debate because predicated upon the preaching of the resurrection is one of the most profound developments of world history; the growth of the Christian faith which has shaped the entire Western tradition. We view the Resurrection of Christ as history making because the belief in it did change history, the doctrine of it has made history, and belief today shapes the basis of all Christian doctrine. We put aside the hypocritical skepticism of naturalistic circular arguments and allow ourselves to accept the verdict of a history that has been made by faith in the event, in light of the fact that there is enough there to base faith upon. (see Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 1968).

The doctrine furnishes the basis for hope, when grasped in faith, that offers a much more profound answer to any of questions about life and death than any form of skepticism or pride in confusion ever could. Rather than merely declare a rules change, I will argue that this rules change is warranted based upon the evidence. In other words, not that the resurrection can be "proven" in the same sense that any other aspect of historical research can be proven, but that the resurrection evidence is credible enough that one can feel confident in asserting its truth as a tenet of faith. The actual case can never be proven, or disproved, but the evidence allows one to believe with impunity.

In keeping with my policy of enlightening the reader about my sources, I must point out that I do lean heavily upon two major evangelical sources here: F.F. Bruce, and William Lane Craig. Bruce is, however, one of the most highly respected Evangelical scholars, even among the liberal camp, and Craig is renown as a highly credible and effective apologist. The other sources such as D. E. H. Whiteley, Stephen Neil, Gaalyah Cornfeld, and Luke Timothy Johnson are basically liberal or moderate.A few major liberal theologians, such as Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg have defended faith in the resurrection.

Historical Verdict Reversed

"The real case for skepticism of the resurrection of Christ was actually developed by 19th century liberal theology, and though they don't know it, the objections of most Internet skeptics today are echoes of those arguments. But in the postwar era even major liberal theologians began to defend the resurrection. Ernst Kasemann, student of Bultmann, at Marburg in 1953 argued that Bultmann's skepticism toward the historical Jesus was biased and Kasemann re-opened a new Quest for the historical Jesus. The great modern liberal theologian Wolfheart Paennberg argued for the resurrection of Jesus. Hans Grass argued that the resurrection cannot be dismissed as mere myth, and Hans Freiherr von Campenhausen defended the historical credibility of Jesus empty tomb." (in William Lane Craig, "Contemporary Scholarship and The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ," Truth, 1 (1985): 89-95. "Equally startling is the declaration of one of the world's leading Jewish theologians Pinchas Lapid, that he is convinced on the basis of the evidence that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Lapide twits New Testament critics like Bultmann and Marxsen for their unjustified skepticism and concludes that he believes on the basis of the evidence that the God of Israel raised Jesus from the dead." (Craig, Ibid.)

"According to Jakob Kremer, "By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb" and he furnishes a list, to which his own name may be added, of twenty-eight prominent scholars in support. I can think of at least sixteen more names that he failed to mention. Thus, it is today widely recognized that the empty tomb of Jesus is a simple historical fact. As D. H. van Daalen has pointed out, "It is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions." But assumptions may simply have to be changed in light of historical facts.:"(Ibid.)

Before the apologist can even posit the turth of the resurrection, his truth is refuted by the very nature of historical "facts" as modern thought construes them; supernatural events cannot be part of history. But Moltmann turns this around on the nature of modern thought by arguing that before modern thought can posit a naturalistic history, the content of history is already shaped by supernatural claims.


The standard I set my arguments:The Resurrection was a history making event. Whatever truly happened, the actual events which are make by the claims of witnesses and faith in the veracity of those witnesses, the upshot of it all is that the historical probabilities suggest the likelihood of an event, and that event shaped the nature of history itself. The faith claims cannot be historical claims, but they don't have to be. The faith itself is justified, it cannot be ruled out by history, but instead lies at the base of modern history in some form. We can suggest throughout the strength of the evidence that those actual events were the very events attested to in the Gospels. We cannot prove this claim with absolute certainty, but the warrant provided by the evidence itself is strong enough to make the historical nature of the religious hope valid. Some religious hopes are just ruled out by the facts. For example, the idea that the Native Americans are part of the 10 lost tribes of Israel; this can be dispelled by genetics as well as dentistry. The Resurrection, on the other hand, can be accepted as likely Given the suspension of ideological objections of Naturalism.


Miles said...

How does one define "natural" anyways?

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

I define it "belonging to the realm of life from life." that's from Mathias Jospeh Scheeben who was a Neo Thomist of the mid 19th century. His work Nature and Grace(1856).

This is not to say things must be biological to be natural but in the realm in which biology is part. Based upon the Greek (Phu-sys) concept of nature.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

BTW supernatural is not opposed to natural. Supernature is the power of God to raise human consciousness to a higher level (in other words mystical expedience). I takes place in the natural. It's also the ground and end of the natural.