The Risen Jesus and Future Hope

Article excerpt

The Risen Jesus and Future Hope. By Gary R. Habermas. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003, 239 pp., $25.00 paper.

The subject of the resurrection is of perennial importance for both theology and apologetics. It is at the heart of the Christian faith, and by being so has inevitably been the subject of many works, including works of apologetics. This is true on both a scholarly and a popular level, as is witnessed by recent works such as N. T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God and Lee Strobel's The Case for Easter.

One scholar who has devoted a large part of his career to the topic of the resurrection is Gary Habermas. I am unaware of anyone who has made a deeper study of the bodily resurrection of Jesus than Habermas or done more to defend its historicity. In this most recent work, he again defends the truth of the resurrection and draws out some of its implications. He uses the full resources of his learning on the subject but writes in a style readily available to the layperson.

The book is divided into two broad sections: the first, "A Resurrection Faith," is divided into six chapters; the second, "The Resurrection and some Practical Issues," consists of four chapters. Habermas's purpose is threefold: apologetic, in that he defends the historical truth of the risen Jesus; theological, in that he explains the meaning of the resurrection; and practical, in that he draws out what the resurrection should entail in the life of a Christian.

The first chapter covers the resurrection of Jesus as a historical event. Habermas employs the defense of the historicity of the resurrection that he has developed and used in many books and debates. The essence of his approach is to use only those facts whose historical reliability enjoys almost universal agreement among scholars. Using these core facts Habermas develops his case that the resurrection of Jesus must have occurred as an event in history because only the bodily resurrection can explain the facts.

Another important part of his apologetic methodology is that Habermas details the bankruptcy of naturalistic theories. These theories attempt to show that the core facts can be reasonably explained without believing that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. However, according to Habermas, all of these theories contain multiple flaws and should be rejected on historical grounds; indeed, twentieth-century naturalistic theories have been rejected by almost every scholar.

In his second chapter, "A Theistic Universe," Habermas argues that there are weighty arguments for God's existence and briefly examines four of them: (1) the epistemic argument that knowledge cannot be justified in naturalism; (2) the Kalam cosmological argument that the universe had a beginning in time and therefore must have been caused to come into existence by God; (3) the argument that there is too much information and specified complexity in the universe and especially living things to be accounted for without design; and (4) near death experiences. Some of these arguments have various versions; for example, Habermas lists three versions of the epistemic argument. He does not claim too much for these arguments, stating rather that these and other arguments make a strong cumulative case for theism and (especially) against naturalism. For example, the last argument from near-death experiences is really more of an argument against naturalism and physicalism than it is for theism: Granting that there is empirical evidence for human survival after death does not necessarily lead to theism, and Habermas does not claim that it does; rather, his limited point is that such evidence does undermine theism's main philosophic rival.

In the final pages of the chapter, Habermas argues that the philosophical case against either the existence or knowability of miracles fails. For example, he attacks the concept of the antecedent improbability of miracles, the notion that miracles are so a priori improbable that realistically there could never be enough evidence to justifiably believe in even one miracle. …