Preface. On the subject of apologetics, two statements in beginning: (1) I started out (three-plus decades ago) as an evidentialist, moved through Schaeffer to van Til, and now am pretty much a modified van Tilian; and (2) if you don't know what any of that means, it's okay. Really. Please read on.
Apologetics is the reasoned defense of the Christian faith. Evidentialism is the approach to apologetics that focus presents facts, builds a probability case for Christianity, and bids people make a leap (or, to some, "hop") of faith the rest of the way to Christ. Folks like John Warwick Montgomery and Josh McDowell (and a million others) represent this approach.
Cornelius van Til, late professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, constructed a Christian approach to apologetic that... would really hard to describe briefly without someone jumping all over me. I think a fair way is to say that van Til mounted a Biblical attack on the idea that fallen man can autonomously construct a truthful Weltanschauung.
Clear? Oh. Sorry. Let's try that again.
We are creatures, living in a created world. We, our world, and every fact we touch is created, and thus endowed by our Creator with a meaning which He defined by that very created design (cf. Psalm 104:24; Proverbs 3:19; 8:21-31; Romans 11:36). Therefore, there is no such thing as a "brute" fact. Things mean what God says they mean; any other idea is a misapprehension. Constructing other ideas is an act of intellectual rebellion growing out of autonomy, "self-rule" — the demand of being little gods creating our own little universes.
But our problem is sin. Sin isn't just something we do, it is what we are, and that without choice (Romans 6:20). Sin does not merely affect our actions, but our very way of thinking and reasoning (Ephesians 4:17-19). Our problem is not that we have no access to the truth about God. We are surrounded by truths about God, everywhere we turn (Psalm 19:1-6). We have plenty of access. Our problem is that we naturally pervert and distort every truth we meet when we meet it (Romans 1:18ff.), until we are liberated by the sovereign grace of God (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).
What does any of this have to do with the resurrection of Christ?
The resurrection. The resurrection is an essential component of the Gospel, beyond all sane debate.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.... (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)So, if we prove the resurrection to an unbeliever, he will believe in the Gospel, right?
Not necessarily. For instance, I believed in the resurrection long before I was saved. It made sense, it was well-attested. I had no argument about the brute fact of the resurrection of Jesus. I just didn't believe that it meant what Jesus-freaks wanted to think it meant. It was just a demonstration of that principle of life that the Christ within all of us seeks to express. Jesus did it better, but anyone can do it. (That no one yet had managed to was weird, but it's a weird world.)
I affirmed the event, but not its meaning.
Van Til himself captured this pretty brilliantly in his dialogue between Mr. Black (an unbeliever), Mr. Grey (an evidentialist), and Mr. White (not Famous James, but an archetypal "Calvinist" as described by van Til).
[Mister Grey:] I want to deal with simple facts. I want to show you that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is as truly a fact as any fact that you can mention. To use the words of Dr. Wilbur Smith, himself a ‘moderate’ Calvinist but opposed to the idea of a distinctively Reformed method for the defense of the faith: ‘The meaning of the resurrection is a theological matter, but the fact of the resurrection is a historical matter; the nature of the resurrection body of Jesus may be a mystery, but the fact that the body disappeared from the tomb is a matter to be decided upon by historical evidence.’ The historical evidence for the resurrection is the kind of evidence that you as a scientist would desire.Sound familiar? I imagine that would sound pretty good to many good brothers and sisters. But listen to Mr. Black's response:
[Mr. Black:] Now as for accepting the resurrection of Jesus...as thus properly separated from the traditional system of theology, I do not in the least mind doing that. To tell you the truth, I have accepted the resurrection as a fact now for some time. The evidence for it is overwhelming. This is a strange universe. All kinds of ‘miracles’ happen in it. The universe is ‘open.’ So why should there not be some resurrections here and there? The resurrection of Jesus would be a fine item for Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Why not send it in?Oh, ouch. That didn't go very well, did it?
Perhaps we've had similar dialogues. We think that, if we can make a strong historical case for the resurrection, our friend will be compelled to repent and believe. Yet nothing of the sort happens. Why?
Here's where we need to listen a bit more closely to Paul, I think. Let's ask the apostle to raise his voice a bit for emphasis:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.... (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)Paul does not adduce the resurrection as a "brute fact," but as an interpreted fact, as a fact freighted with specific assigned meaning. The resurrection means neither nothing nor anything, but something.
Here's where I also think of the words of Solomon:
A wise man scales the city of the mightyWe need to take aim at the wrong presuppositions that underlie our friends' thinking, as Paul did in Athens (Acts 17). Often demolition must precede reconstruction (Jeremiah 1:10; 2 Timothy 3:16; 4:2).
and brings down the stronghold in which they trust (Proverbs 21:22)
Then we bring to bear the evidences—but as God's facts, not brute facts.
(FWIW, I try to do this very thing in Why I Am (Still) a Christian.)