This past month, I had the privilege of spending a weekend training young adults at Lakeshore Pentecostal Camp. In our last session together, we looked at the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. I always begin this talk by asking the Christians in the room to reflect on a question: What would happen if the bones of Jesus were discovered tomorrow? Imagine archaeologists find an ossuary—bone box—with Jesus’ name on it, and they are able to say conclusively that these are the bones of Jesus of Nazareth. In this hypothetical scenario, should you walk away from your Christian faith?
The apostle Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, gives us a definitive answer. He writes:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15:12–19).
Paul’s argument is clear: If Jesus has not been raised, then seven disastrous consequences inescapably follow. If Christ has not been raised, (1) Christian preaching is in vain, (2) Christian faith is in vain, (3) Christians are false witnesses about God, (4) Christian faith is futile, (5) Christians are still in their sins, (6) Christians who have died are lost, and (7) those who hope in Christ are utterly pitiable since their hope ends with this life.1
Paul puts it all on the line. Without Easter—the resurrection of Jesus—there is no Christianity. Thus, Paul reveals an explicit way to—at least in principle—falsify Christianity. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, Christianity is false and Jesus was actually a liar, more accurately described as a false prophet, or a lunatic, no different than the mental patient in the psych-ward who thinks he’s the messiah. Conversely, if Jesus did rise from the dead, then Christianity is true, and this miraculous event confirms Jesus’ radical claim to be God.
Christianity is like no other religion in that its central claim is testable. This cannot be said of any other religion. Most religions have some sort of internal experience that is taken to be a confirmation of its own veracity. We could call this an internal test.2
Let me give you a few examples. If a sincere seeker reads the Book of Mormon and feels “the burning in the bosom,” this should be received as confirmation that God is revealing to them that Mormonism is true.3 Likewise, if you read the Qur’an and get the overwhelming sense that it is the greatest book, containing the greatest suras, ever written, then you should take that subjective experience to mean that the Qur’an is from God and Islam is true.4
The Christian also claims to have an inward experience of God. Paul, writing to the Church in Rome, says, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom. 8:16). This same notion is echoed in the classic Easter hymn written by Alfred Ackley titled I Serve a Risen Savior. Within the chorus, we sing the beautiful words, “you ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.” This is certainly a precious truth that every Christian holds dear. However, that’s not the only reason we know He lives.
Notice that Mormonism, Islam, and Christianity cannot all be true. The law of non-contradiction does not leave that option available. So how are we to adjudicate between religious experiences?
Christianity provides a “tiebreaker,” what we can call an external test. That is to say, the external evidence surrounding the crucifixion, burial, empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, and origin of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection point powerfully to one conclusion: Jesus rose from the dead.
Christian faith does not rely solely on an individual’s internal, subjective experience. Christianity uniquely offers external, objective evidences that add to—and do not negate or take away from—the internal spiritual experience. So not only do I experience Christ living in my heart, but I also have been persuaded by the evidence to the conclusion that He lives. This tiebreaker should also force people of other religions to re-evaluate their internal experience.
Someone might be thinking that reason and evidence run counter to faith, so that the more evidence you have, the less faith you need. From this perspective, evidence is actually an assault on faith. Philosopher J.P. Moreland has pointed out that if this were true, then the best thing that could happen to Christianity would be for the bones of Jesus to be discovered. This way Christians could exercise more faith in believing in His resurrection.5
However, this concept of faith being blind is simply mistaken. Paul doesn’t encourage a faith that rejects evidence. On the contrary, he links the truth of Christianity to a singular historical event that can be tested by reason and evidence. Apologist and author Sean McDowell quips, “Biblical faith is not belief in spite of the evidence, but belief in light of the evidence.”6 Therefore, the evidence for the resurrection, far from undermining faith, actually substantiates it.