The second method of apologetics presented in Five Views on Apologetics is evidential apologetics, presented by Dr. Gary Habermas. Dr. Habermas is
Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University. He has written over 30 books, but is probably best known as the co – author of The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, along with Dr. Michael Licona. Dr. Habermas is notable for pioneering a minimal facts case for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
In distinction to the two step classical method, evidentialists use a one step method. As I pointed out in Part 2, classical apologists argue in two steps for the existence of a theistic god through natural theology, and that this god is the Christian God of the Bible through Christian evidences. Evidentialists contend that Christian evidences are sufficient to persuade skeptics. Therefore only one step is necessary. Evidential apologetics is sometimes referred to as historical apologetics due to its emphasis on the historical case for the life, death, and miraculous resurrection of Jesus.
The chief interest of this method is the postulating and developing of historical evidences (one species of propositional data) for the Christian faith. This is its single, major contribution to the issue. Not only is it thought that these evidences provide the best means of deciding between the theistic systems of belief, but also that they can be utilized as an indication of God’s existence and activity.
– Dr. Gary Habermas, from Chapter Two: Evidential Apologetics, Five Views on Apologetics
Aside from Dr. Habermas, prominent evidentialists include John Warwick Montgomery, Josh McDowell, Greg Koukl, and J. Warner Wallace.
The historical case for Christianity is nothing new, but is rooted in the Bible itself. Paul appeals to the eyewitness testimony of the earliest followers of Jesus.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
– 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, ESV
Paul does not merely support his claims about the resurrection of Jesus Christ with eyewitness testimony, but says that the truth of Christianity depends entirely on whether Jesus rose from the dead or not.
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. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
– 1 Corinthians 15:12-22, ESV
If we should ever discover the grave of Jesus of Nazareth, it would disprove Christianity. However, the Christian apologist should take heart–Paul made his claims at a time when people who heard Jesus teach, and possibly even witnessed His public crucifixion, might have said, “I was there, and this is what really happened…” We should also keep in mind that before he became the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul was a violent persecutor of the early church. Something radically changed him. Jesus appearing to Paul is the most reasonable explanation of his transformation.
Dr. Habermas’ minimal facts argument is currently the dominant historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus. It is used not only by evidentialists, but by classical apologists such as William Lane Craig.
In a nutshell, the minimal facts case for the resurrection argues certain facts are agreed upon as historically reliable by the majority of New Testament scholars. These scholars cover the spectrum of belief from conservative Evangelicals to skeptical atheists and agnostics. The minimal facts argument does not require that the Bible be the inerrant and infallible Word of God, or that it even be treated as holy or authoritative [this is a tactical move, and not a statement one way or the other on the inspiration or authority of the Bible]. It need only be treated as an ancient manuscript purporting to give a testimony of the life, ministry, execution, and resurrection of Jesus, and is treated as any other ancient document which makes historical claims.
There are twelve minimal facts as follows:
1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. He was buried.
3. His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope.
4. The tomb was empty (the most contested).
5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus (the most important proof).
6. The disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.
7. The resurrection was the central message.
8. They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.
9. The Church was born and grew.
10. Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship.
11. James was converted to the faith when he saw the resurrected Jesus (James was a family skeptic).
12. Paul was converted to the faith (Paul was an outsider skeptic).
Virtually all New Testament scholars agree to these facts whether they believe Jesus actually rose from the dead or not. This is not the nose counting fallacy, because the point of the minimal facts case is not that the resurrection is true because most New Testament scholars say it is. In fact, the skeptics would stop short of saying Jesus rose from the dead. As the reader can see, minimal fact number five is that the disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus. The point of the argument is that given the minimal facts that even most skeptical New Testament will concede are reliable, the best explanation is that Jesus of Nazareth rose bodily from the dead.
Alternative theories fall short. If the experiences of the risen Jesus had been hallucinations, the authorities would simply have refuted the disciples’ testimony by displaying Jesus’ corpse. If Jesus had not actually died on the cross, but only fainted and came to later, the disciples would not have celebrated Him as a risen savior, but encouraged Him to seek medical attention. It is implausible that the disciples would have been able to defeat a unit of a Roman soldiers in order to steal the body away from the tomb. This is not an exhaustive explanation of the minimal facts case, nor is it intended to be. I recommend that the reader studies this argument and the historical case for the resurrection in greater depth for themselves. My primary purpose is to demonstrate how the evidentialist method might work.
Dr. Habermas emphasizes that evidentialist apologetics is eclectic. The central focus is Christian historical evidences, but the evidentialist is free to use any evidence supporting Christianity that she finds useful. Although the difference between classical and evidential apologetics is small, evidentialists distinguish themselves in that they claim only one step of Christian evidences is necessary to persuasively present the case for Christianity. Many evidentialists would argue that going straight to Christian evidence is an advantage because it gets to the gospel more quickly.