I have asked a few respected Evangelical scholars and authors to contribute on the issue of Christians and doubt. I am grateful to each one of these men for not only contributing here, but being the type of scholar who deals with such issues with openness. I am posting them one at a time over the next couple of weeks.
Mike Licona is a New Testament historian and apologist. He has a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies (University of Pretoria), which he completed with distinction. He serves as external research collaborator at North-West University (Potchefstroom). More on Mike below.
Mike, if you were talking to someone who is having significant problems with their faith, doubting whether or not Christianity is true for whatever reason, what would you say to them if you only had one minute?
Each of us has idiosyncrasies. One of mine is I’m a second-guesser. It’s hard for me to purchase a bottle of cologne without wondering before I leave the store whether I should have bought a different one.
I seem to question just about everything. I don’t want to make a bad decision, even in some very insignificant matters. So, it just makes sense that I often have doubts pertaining to decisions in significant matters. It’s not an intentional exercise. In fact, it’s downright frustrating to me. But it’s the way I’m wired.
What about my Christian faith? Have I ever experienced doubts? Many times. Have I been brain-washed? Do I hold my beliefs because I was brought up to believe them? What if I’m wrong? And it doesn’t help that our culture is growing increasingly hostile toward the Christian worldview.
Thankfully, when I began having these questions in the 1980s, a philosophy professor understood where I was because he had also struggled with doubts. I didn’t have professor Gary Habermas for a class at Liberty University since he taught in the philosophy department while my graduate work there was in the field of New Testament studies. But Habermas helped me tremendously in understanding doubt and dealing with it.
Habermas is a specialist when it comes to the historical case for Jesus’ resurrection. In fact, he’s probably the foremost expert on the subject. Habermas explained that I wasn’t alone and that many seminary students had expressed their personal doubts to him in confidence. After all, they were devoting their lives to the ministry. So, it only made sense to reassure themselves that Christianity is true before devoting their lives to full-time ministry, a life that often involves sacrifice.
I had the inward peace Paul describes as being the inward confirmation of God’s Spirit that I belonged to Him (Romans 8:16). But Mormons also claim to have a confirming peace from God as do followers of other religions. Certainly, we all couldn’t be right since many religions contradict themselves. So, how can I know whether my peace is really from God? That’s a tough question. And to be honest, I still don’t have the answer to that one. But when it came to the evidence, Habermas pointed me to Jesus’ resurrection. If Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true. Game—set—match! “But,” I thought, “that’s reported in the Bible. How can I know if the Bible’s true? Must I just accept it purely on faith?” That didn’t work for me … a second-guesser.
Habermas gave me a brief tour of the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. I was comforted to know there was evidence. But there were loopholes, too. The case wasn’t airtight. The evidence didn’t give me 100 percent certainty. This didn’t faze Habermas. Science can’t provide that degree of certainty, either. Scientific and historical investigation can only take us so far. We must look for the best explanation given our current data and settle for reasonable or adequate certainty as we do with other major life decisions. The rest is faith, whether you embrace the Christian worldview or atheist worldview or any other worldview.
Habermas has since become one of my dearest friends. He saved my faith! Like him, I’ve since devoted my life to studying the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, having written a few books on the subject, including a doctoral dissertation of more than 700 pages: “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach” (IVP Academic, 2011). Moreover, I’ve spoken on Jesus’ resurrection on more than 50 college campuses and engaged in a dozen or so public debates with some of the brightest skeptical minds in North America. The more I see the lengths to which skeptics must go in order to question the evidence, the firmer the case for Jesus’ resurrection becomes. And that’s comforting to a second-guesser like me: to see that my faith is confirmed by strong historical evidence.
If you’re interested in learning some of the evidence, the North American Mission Board has created a five-part video series with discussion questions for groups or even individual study. It’s available for free download at http://www.4truth.net/risen. For additional help on doubt, you may find Gary Habermas’ free online book helpful: “The Thomas Factor.”
Mike Licona has written many works, spoken on dozens of college campuses, and participated in many debates. His latest contribution is his work on the resurrection of Christ, The Resurrection of Jesus. You can find out more about Mike at www.risenjesus.com
Stuggling with your faith? Visit our sister site Dealing with Doubt: www.dealingwithdoubt.org.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]