Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
As we begin our journey together to answer the question my professor asked me, there’s one thing that very good atheists and very good Christians have in common. The central issue for these diametrically opposed groups is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s where we must begin. Either Jesus rose from the dead, or He’s just another religious teacher and you should go to the salad bar of religion and pick the one you like. But if He really rose from the dead, if He’s actually alive right now, and if we worship a living Savior and His resurrection power actually lives inside our mortal bodies . . . then that is a whole different story.
Life after death is a timeless cultural preoccupation. The ability to beat death and have a second chance at life sounds like a popular movie plot. From comic book heroes to zombie outbreaks and everything in between, our culture seems to be obsessed with the idea of “coming back from the dead.” We binge-watch TV shows on the topic and search online for first-person accounts of what it’s like to come back to life after being pronounced clinically dead. Let me tell you, there is one “coming back from the dead” story that dramatically stands apart from all the rest. It offers real hope to all of humanity.
Listen to what the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians:
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:13–19)
According to the apostle Paul, if the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ isn’t true, Christianity is a hoax, and it’s a bad one, and none of it is true.
Despite the centuries of skepticism and criticism, the truth remains that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is central to the Christian faith. Both Christians and atheists agree that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is vital.
Prominent atheist professor of philosophy Antony Flew and Christian professor of apologetics and philosophy Gary Habermas began debating in 1985. Over the next two decades, their debates led to several books, including Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate. In this book, Flew writes,
First, we [Habermas and myself] both construe resurrection, or the rising from the dead, in a thoroughly literal and physical way. . . .
Second, we are again agreed that the question whether, in that literal understanding, Jesus did rise from the dead is of supreme theoretical and practical importance. For the knowable fact that he did, if it is indeed a knowable fact, is the best, if not the only, reason for accepting that Jesus is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.
Third, we are agreed both that the identification is the defining and distinguishing characteristic of the true Christian, and that it is scarcely possible to make it without also accepting that the Resurrection did literally happen.1
What Flew is saying is, if Jesus rose, you have an intellectually feasible argument that everything Jesus said could be true. If he didn’t, all of Christianity falls.
Chip Ingram, Why I Believe: Straight Answers to Honest Questions about God, the Bible, and Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017).