The Enlightenment's "Miracle" Problem

I'm back recording a show for the radio again today. My producer, Jay Friesen, and I will be talking about a sermon on the resurrection of Christ.

I'm not sure how the show will go, because we basically do a cool "shock jock" format of two guys bantering on whatever comes to mind.

Here's something that comes to my mind.

The age of modern historical scholarship, an outworking of the philosophical Enlightenment, sought to undermine the doctrine of Christ's resurrection by banishing "miracles" from one's analysis of historical events. Nothing completely out of the ordinary, nothing without historical precedent could be included to ascertain an historical event. All things must be predictable and explainable from purely natural principles. A causes B, B causes C, and so forth. No "god of the gaps" can be legitimately appealed to.

Since nobody has ever been proven to have risen from the dead before or since Jesus, therefore we can rule out that he was, in fact, raised from the dead.

But here's the delicious irony.

Left with purely naturalistic principles, Enlightenment scholarship created its own miracle in need of explanation.

How is it that a disheartened band of eleven Galilean fishermen, fresh off the execution of their revolutionary leader at the hands of the Roman authorities, managed to not only keep their movement alive, but to essentially take over the entire known world?

This is without historical precedent. Nothing like it had ever happened. Other Jewish revolutionary leaders were crucified, and their movements were utterly snuffed out forever. Nothing like it has happened since. Of course, there are always small sects with charismatic leaders claiming to be uniquely chosen by God for some purpose, but their movements always remain... well, small sects that peter out in the end.

Other religions have flourished, of course, but never after so inauspicious a beginning as having their leader appear to so epically fail. Mohammed never promised to bring in the Kingdom of God only to be routinely and summarily slaughtered by the global power of the age.

No such petering out with Christianity. It has become the world's largest and fastest growing religion, all of this after their leader suffered death at the hands of Pontius Pilate.

So now we have a new miracle to explain. And on the Enlightenment's own principles, the rise and success of Christianity cannot be explained by historical necessity or cause-and-effect. For nothing like it has ever happened. It has no comparison. It is nothing short of a miracle. A one-time, completely unprecedented event. It will not do for such scholars to now say, well, really weird things happen. That is precisely what their method does not allow.

There is, in fact, only one viable historical explanation for why these disheartened and terrified fishermen did the unprecedented and succeeded in the way they did.

Jesus of Nazareth really did rise from the grave.

And that, my friends, is honest historical analysis.

Brian Mattson