A Discussion with Marty Sampson, Gary Habermas, and Mike Licona On the Resurrection

Marty Sampson, formerly of the worship team "Hillsong" is in the throes of doubt. I know one other person who became a blogger here at DC, who eventually emerged from doubt as a Christian. Check his story out right here. So I don't predict how Sampson's journey will go. I wish him well on his journey. I know that belief is powerful and bolstered by a whole lot of very strong social ties that can be extremely hard to break away from, even if there are an overwhelming number of good solid reasons to walk away from it. So I won't accept praise or blame for his final decision even though I'm in contact with him.

I was honored to join in a discussion with apologists Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, known as experts resurrection apologetics, at Marty's request. I like Gary and Mike both as persons. I've met them both on two or three occasions. Habermas even recommends my last book to his PhD students LINK. But they are wrong. I think I made that case.

Let me rehearse it as best as I can. [No video of it was recorded as far as I know].

One thing Habermas and Licona argue for is a minimal facts approach to the resurrection. To see what that means and my criticisms of it see here.

After the niceties I began by asking if I could offer four questions that would call into question their minimal facts approach. They all agreed. This took 40 minutes of a 2 1/2 hour call (my phone battery went from 98% to 5% and I had to charge it for the last few minutes). My over-all point was they are special pleading a set of minimal facts rather than addressing all of the facts. My four questions highlight four facts their approach ignores. I could list at least ten important ones.

1) Who is Jesus? This is a question all non-believers and all non-Christian religionists disagree with them about. No minimal facts here. They both agreed Jesus was the 2nd person of the trinity who became flesh, a god/man. I asked whether they could explain how a being could be 100% god and 100% man with nothing left over. At this point Habermas talked about the consensus of an overwhelming number of scholars on the minimal facts, including skeptics. Their point, which is repeated through this line of questioning, was that if Jesus was raised from the dead then he's god in the flesh regardless of whether we can figure out my further questions.

2) How did Jesus enter the world? I mentioned the problems of believing in the virgin birth, which they were aware. Not only do all skeptics and non-Christian believers disagree, but even liberal Christians and some progressive evangelicals. Licona immediately responded that such a belief is tangential to the resurrection, since Jesus could be resurrected regardless of how he entered the world. I asked "Well, how did the god/man enter the world then"? At that point Habermas once again started talking about the evidence of the resurrection. If Jesus arose from the dead there's no problem believing he entered the world through a virgin, they argued. I counter-argued that the story of the virgin birth has no objective evidence for it, so one should doubt the resurrection for the same reasons one doubts the virgin birth. In other words, they have it backwards because they're special pleading. One can doubt the resurrection tale because one can doubt the virgin birth tale, I argued, rather than believe the virgin birth tale because of resurrection tale.

3) Where is Jesus now and where will he spend eternity? They didn't seem to understand this one so I briefly explained. Let me quote from my magnum opus, Why I Became an Atheist:
There was a second person of the Trinity, known as the Logos, who existed before time; then there was Jesus, who is God-in-the-flesh—a unique and new being in history; and finally, there is the resurrected and glorified Jesus who now is purportedly “sitting at the right hand of God.” Now keep in mind that the God-man Jesus was a fully human being, so any resurrected God-man must have a body in keeping with his humanity; otherwise, the human part of the God-man ceased to exist, died, or his body was simply discarded.

But it can’t be that God would destroy a sinless man—the man Jesus. There are a few Christian attempts to deal with this problem, none of which I find plausible. One possibility is that Jesus was not a new creature at all, but instead he was/is the exact embodiment of the second person of the Trinity, the “Logos of God.” That is to say, Jesus was/is the essential nature of the second person of the Trinity, and he was always embodied as he existed on earth from eternity. But this solution is rejected by J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, in that it would deny that “the Logos (the second person of the Trinity) preexisted as a member of the Trinity in incorporeal form.”29

Still another possibility is that after the resurrection and ascension events of Jesus there are now two beings rather than one. In heaven there is the human Jesus, and then there is the second person of the Trinity. There are now two beings who exist and arose out of one being, one person, here on earth. That is, the second person of the Trinity discarded his human form to live for the rest of eternity unhindered, letting the human part of him exist as a separate person in heaven with him. But this solution is not considered by Christians to be orthodox, because the Chalcedon creed speaks of there being a “union” of the God-man such that the result is “but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.” How can such a metaphysical union be separated into two beings? The traditional orthodox doctrine is that Jesus is one person!

One can simply say the second person of the Trinity took on a human form and now must keep it for all of eternity.30 But this whole belief is extremely troublesome and implausible. If the human nature of Jesus is forever linked to the second person of the Trinity, then the full Trinity now includes a man, that is, the human side of Jesus. In heaven, the second person of the Trinity must now forever live encapsulated within a human body (a glorious body, nonetheless, but a body). We now have an embodied God, forever! This whole thing seems contrived and is the result of believing, along with ancient superstitious people, that human beings could be gods (see Acts 14:11; 28:6).
Of course, they scoffed at this and said wherever Jesus is right now is irrelevant to whether he was resurrected from the dead. I counter-argued for the lengths that theologians must go to defend orthodoxy once they grant an unevidenced belief.

4) How did Jesus get to heaven with his body if he was bodily resurrected? Of course this is the belief that pre-scientific ancient Christians had that Jesus returned to heaven by flying up into the sky. This is something David Madison ridiculed right here. Licona said the mechanism for Jesus getting to heaven isn't important. The importance lies in the fact that if Jesus was resurrected then it wouldn't be a problem for his god. In other words, rather than questioning the resurrection because it entails some unanswerable questions, ones that every non-Christian disagrees with Christians about, they special plead their case and will continue doing so, no matter what other unanswerable questions they must face, most notably the personal identity after death problem. On this 5th problem Dale Allison says, “My own considered opinion is that staking our postmodern identity to a literal resurrection because the Bible tells us so is akin to insisting on finding science in Genesis or seeing blueprints for the future in Revelation. . . . Apart from scriptural fundamentalism, I see no reason why we should, on the other side of the grave, need to come back for our rotting or disassembled corpses.”

Much more was said in the rest of our discussion. I just wanted to write up this part of it.