Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Historicity of the Resurrection with Licona, and a Theological Correction from Torrance

The following are three videos done by Dr. Michael Licona, and sponsored by Michael Patton's Credo House. Licona is an expert (wrote his PhD dissertation) on the historicity of the resurrection. Even though I am more Torrancean in orientation, I still find the kind of work that Licona, Wright, Bauckham (to name a few) are doing in this area of Christian origins is still a viable and necessary piece of historical work (V. a Christian Dogmatic one). In light of the season we are in I am at least going to feature the first three of the ten videos that Licona has done thus far on the historicity of the resurrection. Here they are:

Myth #1: Contradictions in the Gospels from Credo House on Vimeo.
Myth #2: Pagan Parallels in the Mystery Religions from Credo House on Vimeo.

Myth #3: The Fraud Theory from Credo House on Vimeo.

Here is Thomas Torrance providing a more balanced way to understand the relation between the historical and the revelatory from within a Christ-conditioned mode of conception. I think Licona's & companies' work in their areas fits into the 'historical' side of the work that is indeed important to the Christian faith. But left to itself, using a Christological index, we end up with an Adoptionistic approach to Christ; wherein the humanity of Christ is merely a historical appendage adopted by the Divine Logos in his incarnation instead of given direct shape by his person in the womb of Mary (an/enhypostasis).

The mystery of Christ is presented to us within history — that historical involvement is not an accidental characteristic of the mystery but essential to it. That is the problem.

Let us first put it this way, recalling the bi-polarity of our theological knowledge. If God has become man in the historical Jesus, that is an historical event that comes under our historical examination so far as the humanity of Jesus is concerned, but the fact that God became man is an event that cannot be appreciated by ordinary historical science, for here we are concerned with more than simply an historical event, namely, with the act of the eternal God. So far as this event is a fact of nature it can be observed, and so far as it is historical in the sense that other natural events are historical, it can be appreciated as such; but the essential becoming behind it cannot be directly perceived except by an act of perception appropriate to the eternal event. That act of perception appropriate to an eternal act, or divine act, would surely be the pure vision of God, which we do not have in history. Here on earth and in time we do not see directly, face to face, but see only in part, as through a glass enigmatically, in a mystery. We see the eternal or divine act within history, within our fallen world where historical observation is essential. Faith would be better described then as the kind of perception appropriate to perceiving a divine act in history, an eternal act in time. So that faith is appropriate both to the true perception of historical facts, and also to the true perception of God’s action in history. Nor is it the way we are given within history to perceive God’s acts in history, and that means that faith is the obedience of our minds to the mystery of Christ, who is God and man in the historical Jesus. What is clearly of paramount importance here is the holding together of the historical and the theological in our relation to Christ.

If the two are not held together, we have broken up the given unity in Christ into the historical on the one hand, and the theological on the other, refracting it into elements which we can no longer put together again. We then find that we cannot start from the historical and move to the theological, or from the theological and move to the historical without distortion, and nor can we rediscover the original unity. We can only start from the given, where the historical and the theological are in indissoluble union in Christ. [Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation, 6-7] 

I hope, with Torrance's caveat in mind, that you can appreciate something like what Licona is attempting; while at the same time understanding that Licona & company probably could use the theological corrective that Torrance has to offer!


  1. Yes, I think I grasp the point. Licona's history is patched together using logic, I think good logic, (e.g. "the Disciples would not have gone to their deaths for a lie.) This leads me to ask a question: what if physical evidence comes out which seems to contradict what we accept as evidence: What if historians were to discover a document of the time which claims that Roman, or Herodian officials discovered the hidden body of Jesus? Would that throw a wrench in the armor of your faith? What if it was that, plus a few other artifacts corroborating such a story?
    My argument is that the modern historical point of view is nice, when it is not purely naturalistic, and rejecting the miraculous by definition. But overriding the modern historical evidence is what we first believed of the Apostolic testimony, quickened by the Spirit. Historical arguments may be used to jar the door of a closed mind open, but they will not create faith in the unbeliever, nor can contradictory evidence destroy the faith of the believer, although it would be an unsettling battle. Some who were struggling as I once did between my secular college professors and my own idols, may fall, as I did, but truthfully, it was my own idols which brought me down.
    Torrance's point is (I think) that faith in The Truth, which has been wrought by the Spirit, puts to rest forever the question of whether the Christ, the Son of God, was born in Nazareth, and lived as a man among men, was tortured and died on the cross and on the 3rd day was bodily resurrected. Our faith does not depend upon historical externals, neither can it, for the birth of the Son of God can not be naturally apprehended.
    My next question is, does modern history hold any sway at all in moving an unbelieving person toward believing the Gospel? Or is the real crux of the issue whether we are sinners in need of The Savior? I'm asking because I have been cornered before, trying to defend the historicity of Jesus the Savior.

  2. @Duane,

    I think Licona's method is fine as far as it goes; the application of it will cause me some problems because Licona and the tradition he is working from within (historist) does not think through a thickly conceived Christian Dogmatic approach.

    Yes, if there was credible evidence that conclusively demonstrated that Jesus did not rise again from the dead; I would think this should throw a wrench into any Christian's belief system ... I would think that TFT would agree!

    But your point on the "worldviews" informing the interpretation of the data is the key. I think this is where the "contradictory evidence" is situated; i.e. within people's respective noetic structures an prior methodological schema through which they think. This is where folk need to be challenged; the evidence is already available in overwhelming doses. And this is where the of course the reality and the contradiction of the cross confronts the wisdom of the world and puts it to death; and so we can only rely on the Holy Spirit to make such heart changes in peoples' lives (which objectively he has through and in the humanity of Christ). So the faith, as you note, rests within a historical reality; but the historical reality itself is not the given---the givenness of that reality is the Revealed reality of the eternal Logos in the man from Nazareth, and it is only eyes of faith that can appreciate this.

    I've seen being able to respond to people's doubts through historical research hold sway for some in removing some intellectual barriers. So I think it does to a point, and that discussing consistency of belief against reality is an important mode of communicating the Good News. But I would rather just see the power of the Gospel and its proclamation from Christian premises rue the day; I think this is ultimately the best approach. I guess I just think we should be prepared to respond from various vantage points in Evangelism. The most powerful thing I've been involved with is to communicate to folk what the Incarnation and Atonement is all about from a Christian theological perspective; I've seen more people open to this than just arguing brute historical datum.

  3. And ironically, I did find one point of common ground with Matt Chandler and Calvinism, that being at the end of the day, after I witness, and another waters, or visa versa, it is God who gives the increase. And incidentally, today, recounting Palm Sunday background to our Christianity x Islam group, I found an argument I had heard before, regarding Jacob's prophecy that "The scepter will not depart Judah until Shilo comes." The explanation I like is that according to the Talmud,(Jerusalem, Sanhedrin, fol. 24, recto.) Rome took away Sanhedron's authority to condemn and execute an accused. It was lost "a little more than forty years before the destruction of the Temple" [around 30 AD?]. The Jews then lamented the loss of this power: 'Woe unto us, for the scepter has departed from Judah, and the Messiah has not come!'" And of course the Gospels confirm this when Pilate tells them "go crucify him yourselves." They answered "we have no authority to".

    I'm sure you are right Bobby, about communicating what the Incarnation and Atonement are all about. We have been working on this, and I have no doubt that seeds are planted behind the scenes, but these folks are highly resistant and in fact the Qur'an proscribes ascribing to the One God any partner. So they think of any representation of Jesus or the Christ as a partner of God, as being blasphemous.
    Discussions have led them to decide that no-one should do what I think they called dawaa (evangelism)there from either faith. That's fine. I'm just there to share with them what Christians believe and why. I won't dispute with them on any point. For one, I don't have the time, but more to the point, I believe they would resist it as one being pushed into believing something. So I share and let go and let God do it. :O)

  4. Duane,

    Yes, the Gen 49:10 prophecy is cool!

    I have worked with Muslims for quite a few years in the past; so I know how it is to work with them. And I am well aware of the sin of Shirk, and other idiosyncrazies ;-) Muslims follow. But yes, we just need to be faithful in sowing the seed and let the Lord bring the increase.


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