Good question...if Christianity is true, why does it need so much defending? And why doesn't God make it clearer?


Draft: Sept 24/2000



I got this open question/perspective recently:



I know you probably do not have the time to answer this question but I thought I would pose it anyway. I am curious as to why Christianity needs such an enormous amount of apologetics and biblical explanations to prove that it is the truth of life? It seems to me that if the Bible is the Word of God to mankind, He could ensure that the message would be very clear and need little explanation. An example of this is how much explanation is needed to explain the contradictory resurrection accounts. I have heard many different explanations from Christians. These explanations are always long-winded, convoluted, fairly unreasonable, and illogical. On the other hand, I have read "secular" explanations of these accounts which are usually very reasonable and logical. More importantly, they are explained in terms of natural human behavior which is how humans best understand life. We understand life very largely in natural terms and see no evidence of the supernatural. How does one decide which is the correct explanation? It seems that the most reasonable position is the one that makes the most sense to our human lives which is the secular explanations. We ask why would the women even bother to go the tomb to anoint the rotting body if they knew they couldn't roll the stone away? The most reasonable answer is the story is not true. Yet I'm sure that a Christian apologist could give us a long-winded, illogical explanation and ask us to accept it as a revelation from God. I would ask why God couldn't simply ensure that His revelation is very clear in all ways? Why allow for alternate explanations? Why allow for the possibility that the story could very reasonably be construed as false? It seems very important since we talking about each person's eternal fate.



This question is a little too generic for detailed response (and I think I detect a hint of frustration/exasperation with previous answers from Christians in there somewhere--smile), but I think some response to the general overall perspective might be useful (and hopefully I won't misunderstand it)...So, I will repeat the material, making comments and observations where it seems appropriate. [Original in italics, mine in "timid" and bold]



My response ended up being very 'long-winded' (due to the power of suggestion in the question, no, so I have to break this into sections (the last one of which is only in skeleton/outline format at this time).


This document will function as the main menu and Section 1:


Section 1: If Christianity is true, why does it need so much 'defense' and 'apologetics'?

Section 2: The question of responsibility: is God supposed to 'prove stuff' to us, or are we supposed to 'seek God'?

Section 3: Interacting with the "possibly revelatory" data: Lessons from the Text on Encounter, Response, Results

Section 4: Two Pushbacks, on "would more hurt"? and "why seek a hidden God anyway?"

Section 5: Practice and Problems of "Seeking"




I am curious as to why Christianity needs such an enormous amount of apologetics and biblical explanations to prove that it is the truth of life? It seems to me that if the Bible is the Word of God to mankind, He could ensure that the message would be very clear and need little explanation.


Let me comment on the second sentence first.


I have already discussed issues of unavoidable ambiguity and deliberate ambiguity in process1.html, so I won't repeat that discussion here. But the summary is that, given the scope of the 'problem', the range of topics needing discussion, and the tools of communication, clarity is a very, very relative concept. I encourage you to explore some of the discussion on ambiguity in process1.html.


But, even if comprehensive clarity were perfectly and uniformly achievable for everyone, regardless of mental capacity, educational background, linguistic competence, and ethical sensitivity and orientation, a very large part of the problem would not be solved at all--in fact, it might even get worse.


That major part of the problem is a 'secularly known' one: resistance to change.


To "win bread" in life, I have performed a number of "for pay" management consulting services: I used to sell training tapes to IT executives, I still research and make executive analyses/recommendations on new technologies and organizational issues, and I give speeches and training seminars on various management topics. This past spring, I was asked to lead an all-day workshop for CIO's in Australia, on the topic of what is known in management science as "Change Management".


Change management basically deals with how to anticipate, leverage, and overcome people's learned (not "instinctive") resistance to change, their default behavior to protect the status quo (and the status they associate with their role in that status quo). A CEO may need to change the company, to insure that the company survives and thrives in a changing market, or a boss may need to reorganize to improve customer service. Regardless of how brilliant the vision is, how fantastic the outcomes are likely to be, or how absolutely good/fair/ethical/true the "plan" is, most/many people in the organization will DEFAULT to resisting it, under most implementations!


Change management deals specifically with finding out where the resistance is, what type it is, how it is motivated, what are its perceptions and misconceptions, etc. Many, many, many excellent business initiatives fail because of failure to recognize this fundamental aspect of human behavior. [For example, it is estimated that up to 80% of all Business Process Reengineering projects fail for this reason alone.]


One of the bases of resistance is lack of clarity, of course. People fear the unknown (unless the known is really, really bad), and one of the major executive tools for helping people accept change is clear explanation and additional detail. But even when it is perfectly clear to everyone in the organization, there are ALWAYS people who resist the direction.


In a CM analysis, resisters can be categorized along axes of Constructive/Destructive, and Overt/Covert behavior, as this Individual Change Roles Grid would illustrate.




The Constructive axis reflects individuals who are in basic agreement with the project, but are resistant to aspects of the implementation; Destructive behavior is opposed the plan at its core. Overt/Covert resistance is self-explanatory.


But notice that there is a category called 'terrorist'--individuals (and groups in some cases) that are overtly attempting to cause the plan to fail. They may understand perfectly the benefits to the organization, but not like their "new roles and status" in the "new world". [Often, middle managers who fear loss of prestige, turf, power, status, and privilege are the main (but never the only!) ones who populate this category, and they throw roadblocks in front of the project to derail it, and try to convert others to their cause.]


This is such a fundamental aspect of individual behavior in organizational life (not just of "business", but of all secondary organizations, and often in primary groups like families as well), that it would absurd to believe that this tendency-to-resist would not operate in the sphere of ideas, religion, academia, and worldviews.


In other words, clarity of a message about a coming change, or about a call to action of change--no matter how true or beautiful or noble or virtuous--is NO guarantee of acceptance (if we are talking about real humans, of course!).


In fact, if the message somehow is perceived as "threatening" to status, significance, or power, the resistance is stronger, more vocal, and more insistent. Resistance looks for rationalizations for its position, it looks for flaws in the plan, it subterfuges the vision, it demoralizes supporters, it seeks to discredit the leadership, it interprets ambiguities in executive statements in the most negative manner possible , it preaches executive conspiracy (that the promised vision will not be goodness for the faithful, but that they will be laid off without warning and without expectation...and that the executives KNOW this will happen, but are trying to keep that information from us), it spreads doubts about the motives of the executives, and accuses their messages of misleading the people...etc., etc., etc...Anyone who has been involved with organizational change will recognize these actions (some with painful memory). This is not 'religion' we are talking about here--but 'secular life'.


The application of this reality to our question should be obvious. A Christian message that is brutally honest with people about their problems and the unearned-nature of the free solution, will not likely sit well with those in power, those who are addicted to arrogance, who are taken in by selfish-ambition, are deceived by wealth and affluence, and those who are "perfect" already...


By no means are all that resist a member of  this category--just as in organizations there are those who resist initially because a program might seem unfair to their direct reports, or might seem to not be in the best interests of customers, but THIS kind of resistance can be overcome by explanation, patient communication, clarification of rumors/ambiguities, etc. But it is important to note that the communication required to help these more noble,  'other-centered resisters' is MUCH GREATER in volume, duration, detail, etc than the ORIGINAL communication which attempted to explain the program. In other words, an original disclosure of a plan/project/direction, generally requires MUCH MORE later elaboration, clarification, FAQ's, explanation that the original disclosure contained--no matter HOW CLEAR it was initially.


The Christian message--at its root--has a 'leveling' effect: the self-worthless are really worth more than they thought, and the self-worthy are worth less than they thought. The God who came to earth as a peasant, and reaches forth an ennobling smile and a helping hand to a ruined heart, is the same God who confronts the smug, worth-more-than-others, dehumanizing arrogant with "Re-humanize yourself, or I will turn you into that which you look down your nose at..." ("and, if you need a new heart to do that, I will give it freely--to those who ask in honesty, not demand in pride")


In Calvin Miller's The Singer, there is a scene etched in my mind, in which The Singer and the World-Hater are discussing humanity's plight:


He [the Singer] watched the human commerce flowing through the rough-hewn gates. Never had he seen so many people hungry for a living song. They jostled shapelessly, a mass of urban sameness. Each hurried after urgent unattended business, yet none had any reason for the press.


The Singer sighed.


Sometimes a child would follow in the madding throng. Already it appeared the youngster tried to learn the routine, manufactured steps of older men he mimicked in the way.


"Hello, Singer," said the voice he knew too well. "Welcome to the quiet of the grove. Does the senseless empty crowd offend you?"


"How did you manage to make them cherish all this nothingness?" he asked the World Hater.


"I simply make them feel embarrassed to admit that they are incomplete. A man would rather close his eyes than see himself as your Father-Spirit does. I teach them to exalt their emptiness and thus preserve the dignity of man."


"They need the dignity of God."


"You tell them that. I sell a cheaper product."



This same dynamic applies in so many areas of life...and one's attitude to the Christian message is no exception.


My point here is not to argue that all resisters are 'terrorists' or 'evil' (!!!)--since even those most intimate with God have this issue in their lives--but only to point out that clarity is no guarantee of non-resistance, and that on the contrary, we would expect more resistance to a honest 'reality check' assessment of human morality and fellow-treatment--especially one that threatened our exalted views of ourselves.


And, part of my point about Change Management is that it requires additional communication, clarification, defense, explanations of ambiguities, defusing rumors and conspiracies, etc...All of which become part of the "needing so much defense" point you make.


Additionally, I might anticipate a later section, and point out that attempts to make any message clear to the most number of people will invariably require wordsmithing it to the 'lowest common denominator'. We have to adjust the demands on education, lucidity, reading skills, background knowledge, etc significantly downward. [In the good news of the bible, the radical message of the free gift of forgiveness through simple trust is often stated quite 'bluntly'--"For this is how God loved the world: He gave his unique Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life". How difficult is that to understand at its basic meaning?] But the simpler and 'less adorned' the message becomes, the less accepting the intellectual elite are of it! They sometimes desire the solution to be 'more complex', to justify their priestcraft or the "needs for their services". And so the "clarity for all" requirement can result in increased resistance (of a very vocal, and well-argued type, I might add!) from those who prefer complexity for other reasons.




Now the first sentence (I am curious as to why Christianity needs such an enormous amount of apologetics and biblical explanations to prove that it is the truth of life?) is of course broader than just the 'resistance' issue, for there are so many more issues involved than just the three we have already mentioned: original ambiguity, resistance to change, and resistance to simplicity.


Statistically speaking, Christianity doesn't actually "use" apologetics much to "prove" its truth. Most people seem to judge the message by its "odd" transforming effects on a few people's lives, or by some sense of 'authenticity' in the character, words, and life of Jesus. They often know that the people they see changed by opening their life up to Jesus are not perfect, but the positive differences seem so much more 'super-mundane' in quality, that the negatives do not seem, in their judgment, to outweigh them. And those that learn of Jesus from the bible, or a film, or message always find sayings or actions of His that are incomprehensible (and often disturbing) to them, but the forcefulness of the images/narratives/portrayals of His love and mercy and strength and acceptance and call-to-quality and compassion and integrity and openness and honesty  and self-sacrifice on the Cross seems, in their judgment, to outweigh the initial disturbing and perplexing elements.


There is obviously also a scope problem. Given that the disclosure of God was over a long period of time, involving changes in orientation, dealing with an exceptionally wide range of human/community/universal issues, and given in culturally-specific contexts, there would be COUNTLESS questions--of simple 'what does this mean?' and 'how does this impact me?' and 'how does passage X fit with passage Y?' types, that could, should, and undoubtedly would be asked by the multitude of people approaching the text from other times, other cultures, other worldviews, and other situations needing insight and guidance.


This would not be 'apologetics' generally, but would fall into the 'biblical explanations' category. But what is a "biblical explanation" for someone, may be "apologetics" to someone else...


For example:


But you get the picture...


And then there is the huge category of extra-biblical "background information" needed to even understand some of the meanings, and these can look like either 'explanation' or 'apologetic':





And then the next huge category is just the historical and literary context of the documents themselves. Historical 'explanation' questions could just as easily be posed as "objections":




And there are more and more areas of questions (and correspondingly, "objections") due to the simple fact that God did this thing inside our history, and with our hands, and with our language, and in front of people like us.


The religious character of the Christian message may account for some of the immense amount of anti-Christian material that has emerged over the centuries, but it wouldn't account for all of it. We have countless examples from just 'secular history' where the intellectual discussions rage, and tomes and tomes of offensive and defensive material are produced--but this doesn't mean much more than the simple fact that we can ALWAYS come up with "another question" for some position or some event in history. Consider for a moment, by way of illustration, the reams of writing on:


  1. What did Aristotle/Plato mean in some passage in their works?
  2. The Unity of Homer's works
  3. The Assassination of JFK!
  4. Shakespearian forgeries


And, with the possible exception of #3 (but it could have been the Piso, these are not even 'religious' issues...


One other point here before I try to move on. The word "apologetics" essentially comes from a word meaning "defense"...and "defense" implies "offense" (whether read, implied, or anticipated) if there is lots of 'defense', then there must be  'lots of offense' first, and the Christian might point out that a large proportion of our 'apologetics' (but not all by any means) is required ONLY BECAUSE of the large amount of attacks that are levied against us. Some of these 'attacks' seem clearly justified (e.g., abuses of religious authority, scandals in church leadership, poorly-thought out Christian 'expansions' of the NT message(!), and sometimes just the stupid positions we Christians take on occasion), which should produce confession/apology/reparations instead of 'defense'(!), and some attacks seem clearly 'obfuscational' (I have seen lists of 'contradictions' and 'absurdities in the bible' that would embarrass any authentic skeptic by the superficiality and unreasonableness of the assertions therein), and many, many more (most?) attacks lie somewhere in between...


So, I would encourage you to not put too much weight on the 'amount' of Christian response to questions, because the number of factors that would contribute to that (especially the 'amount' of questions lodged, and the questions that are simply 'secular' and 'historical' in nature--shared with many non-religious questions) is too high to warrant much confidence in any conclusion therefrom.




An example of this is how much explanation is needed to explain the contradictory resurrection accounts. I have heard many different explanations from Christians. These explanations are always long-winded, convoluted, fairly unreasonable, and illogical.


Perhaps you are referring to my own discussion of "Do the Resurrection accounts HOPELESSLY contradict one another?", at ordorise.html. Although I am very often 'long-winded', and very often 'convoluted' (or at least 'rambling' and 'unfocused'), I would need more detailed criticism from you about my article there before I could agree with you about me being "fairly unreasonable" and "illogical" (not sure how something could be "illogical" AND only "fairly" unreasonable!--but this is would be an example of me applying 'improper precision expectations' to your words--like I mentioned people do to the biblical documents often. So, instead, I will simply say "what you meant was clear enough--I don't need to get nit-picky").


And, perhaps more to the point, the "quantity and long-windedness" of all harmonizations in historical literature is a function of how much data we have and how uniform the data is. When we have as much as in the NT accounts, we can have better conjecture-to-data ratios (see the ordorise.html discussion), but almost NO historical reconstructions can avoid conjecture to 'glue the data together'. The historian Albert Outler, in a keynote address at an interdisciplinary colloquy on the gospels, said this (italics his, bold mine):


"The aims of historical reconstruction had best not include the hope of pre-emptive certainty. They had better be more concerned with credible narration and stable etiologies (taking all public evidence into account and then mixing this with whatever it takes to produce a plausible conjecture). The best history is that would yields the most intelligible "perspectives" on significant slices of historical experience (which is what we mean by the terms "epoch," "period," etc.). The aims of such reconstruction do not include narratives that are wholly verifiable (a rare if not nonexistent achievement). What may be hoped for is etiological insight, which is not the same things as a set of strict cause-effect equations. No critical historian will flinch from ingenious conjecture. The decisive factor for him/her, however, will be the ratio of unavoidable conjecture to public data and their interweaving with his/her own metahistorical presuppositions" [The Relationships among the Gospels: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue, W.O. Walker, ed., Trinity Upress:23]


This issue (as you will mention in a minute) is how much 'intelligibility' the conjecture 'adds' to the overall narrative reconstruction. [Notice, though, that Outler's statement that wholly verifiable historical narratives are essentially nonexistent would entail that every historical narrative would be 'unclear', incomplete, in need of conjecture and possibly harmonization, and be open to questions, attacks, 'apologetics' etc...This is one of my main points--the bible has no claim to uniqueness in this area! This is simply a function of it being 'in time', on "the bottom shelf of history", for us to be able to get at it (so to speak) and hear the message of God's reaching in to us.


All multiple-account events in history REQUIRE the same sets of operations on the public data AS DO the scripture narratives, and the detection of 'hard contradictions' in related narratives can be a very, very subjective process...


Again, let me encourage you to work through the long-winded  piece "Do the Resurrection accounts HOPELESSLY contradict one another?", at ordorise.html




On the other hand, I have read "secular" explanations of these accounts which are usually very reasonable and logical. More importantly, they are explained in terms of natural human behavior which is how humans best understand life. We understand life very largely in natural terms and see no evidence of the supernatural. How does one decide which is the correct explanation? It seems that the most reasonable position is the one that makes the most sense to our human lives which is the secular explanations. We ask why would the women even bother to go the tomb to anoint the rotting body if they knew they couldn't roll the stone away? The most reasonable answer is the story is not true. Yet I'm sure that a Christian apologist could give us a long-winded, illogical explanation and ask us to accept it as a revelation from God.


I seem to detect a slight confusion in this about the nature of a 'secular' explanation. Let me first make a few observations about this comment, and then try to indicate an approach to the issue.


First of all, to the best of my knowledge, most (if not all) Christian harmonizations of the events described in the resurrection narratives of the Gospels ARE "secular" instead of "religious" or "faith-based". They all contain statements of sequence of events, why X did Y, when event A occurred, how event B "looked" to bystanders, what the motives of XYZ were, what was going through the mind of ABC when he/she/they did X, and the like. These are all historical operations, instead of theological propositions. They use explanations from "natural human behavior" (e.g., the disbelief of the apostles at the testimony of the women, the hysteria over the lost of a leader, the fear of the ruling authorities, the desire to apply honorable burial praxis to the body, the disbelief of Thomas at the testimony of the apostles, the doubts and fears of the apostles at the appearances of Jesus, their slowness to understand the whole point of the Resurrection, etc.).



Second. But these are explanations (from natural human behavior) for the behavior of the characters within the narrative. In other words, the events within the narratives can be completely (and in multiple ways, actually) harmonized on the basis of "natural human responses" to the major events of that situation: betrayal of the leader, criminal execution of Jesus, abject loss, trauma, fear of authorities, and the multiple, tangible, varied, and non-ghostly appearances of a Risen Jesus. Given those, the behavior of the narrative players can be harmonized easily, and in many ways...And each of these intra-narrative explanations will draw exclusively on 'natural human behavior' when confronted with extreme events.


But this is a harmonization of the events within the narrative: order, motives, etc. The issue of 'harmonization' of the events within the narrative with the wider context of history, psychology, literary praxis, and scientific worldview, may be where your issue is.


Where the 'secular' versus 'supernatural' (if I understand your question correctly) issue shows up, is in the question "can we explain how the narrative came to contain these extreme elements, the Roman execution of a popular leader and subsequent appearances to his disciples"? And here we will confront the question of which conjectural-reconstruction of "what might really have occurred" will provide the best (most intelligible and most plausible) explanation for how the biblical texts in front of us came to describe those events in that specific way (in other words, why do the biblical accounts "look that way", why do they describe their experiences as 'appearances' of Jesus, etc.).


For example, in the wider context of history:





For example, in the wider context of psychology:





For example, in the wider context of literary praxis:





For example, in the wide context of scientific worldview:



It should be obvious that EACH of these could have multiple possible reconstructions, and the issue is which --of the competing reconstructions--is the most plausible reconstruction. [Of course, in many cases, there could be multiple equally-plausible possibilities, and so we might have to invoke external criteria to 'pick one', such as goodness-of-fit with RELATED reconstructions.]


Now, these are only a FEW of the MANY issues that have to be dealt with in any historical reconstruction of "what really happened", but it must be emphasized that whatever reconstruction is built, it must address all of these simultaneously. It won't do, for example, to create one reconstruction in which the disciples are insane and at the same time say they were brilliant enough to create/manage a major conspiracy and at the same time say they were gentle and transparent enough to win the hearts of thousands of people who saw them every day, in the nitty-gritty of life...


It is the Christian thinker that is convinced that the most coherent, elegant, simple, and plausible (but not without difficulty--no positions are), and the least burdened by having to provide evidence for duplicity, conspiracy, mistakes, and legendary accretions (remember, the possibility of these is not the same thing as evidence for their occurrence!! Never confuse the two...) is a reconstruction that allows that the extreme events described in the narratives did indeed happen.


The fact that this includes supernatural elements (often unexpected, resisted, and misunderstood by the characters themselves!) which provide a psychologically, historically, and literarily plausible basis for the actions of the disciples, the foes, and for the character of the literary residue thereof, does not render the whole reconstruction "a matter of blind faith"! The supernatural elements are only ONE part of the reconstruction, which is dominated by more 'natural' elements (e.g., jealousy of the Jewish leaders, Roman anti-Semitism in the title of Jesus on the Cross, post-trauma confusion of the disciples).


For someone to actively dismiss the narratives as untrue, by disallowing any supernatural element at all--on the basis of worldview--would require them to construct a 'better' alternative that would explain, more naturally, the existence, shape, and texture of the narratives as they emerged from that history. And I have tried to illustrate above some of the difficulty of explaining how the events came to be retold in the specific narrative fashion that they did.


Now, let me be quick to point out that although disallowing the supernatural certainly forces one to explain away some of the details of the narratives, the converse is NOT TRUE. One could be a thorough-going supernaturalist and not believe a word of the gospels (on historical grounds). Indeed, not quite at that extreme, there are many, many evangelical Christian scholars who are heart-and-soul-and-mind-and-strength His, and yet who believe this specific NT passage has an error, or that pericope was 'embellished' with pro-Roman elements, or this Galilean story of Jesus was removed from its original context and 'transplanted over here' for reasons of teaching. The assumption of supernatural possibility does NOT absolve one from still doing the historical (broadly considered) work at that level, but the converse forces one to generate much more elaborate and 'convoluted' explanations as to why the Jewish crowds of that first post-Easter Jerusalem believed the testimony of Peter & Co. that they had physically seen a crucified Jew overcome death, why an unbroken stream of changed and transformed lives through history have agreed with the bible that "Jesus was right--there IS a new life possible"; and why a little Jesus movement survived, thrived, and eventually "conquered"  in the hostile culture (without doing the "go-inside and in-breed" cult thing) by demonstrating a 'superhuman' love to their fellow humans and a view of life that "made more sense" of non-theoretical experience.



Third.   The issue of "the best understanding of life is from a natural perspective" is not a real disagreement here, in my opinion. At least the biblical worldview is one of a high-degree of predictability (e.g., natural laws as being from God's orderly character and motivated by His desire for our stable experience down here). But what I would suggest as perhaps a better dichotomy than "natural/supernatural" is that of "impersonal/personal".


In the impersonal world of physics and chemistry, we don't see a lot of 'interrupting events' within closed systems (although the issue of the interconnection between consciousness and quantum collapse is problematic...). [Of course, this is getting a little more difficult to assert with virtual particles sorta 'popping into existence', and 'cosmogony singularities' at the other/macro end of the scale DO seem perhaps a bit 'invasive' to].


But the problem occurs once we move into the 'personal' category, for in THAT realm, physics and chemical systems get 'interrupted' all the time--every time I decide to move my hand, I interrupt some matter's momentum vectors, and every time I chew a mouthful of "Deluxe Super Trail Mix" I create vast new sets of chemical reactions and quantities of reagents within my stomach.


And it is this layer of personal/impersonal interaction where the 'mystery' seems to be. We have enough data about psychosomatic effects to know that something is very, very 'non-closed' there...Without going into the discussion at Evidence for the Existence of the Soul [], let me point out that the mind/brain interaction is one of the most suggestive "supernatural possibility indicators" I can imagine. For if my little consciousness can somehow produce physical and chemical and biological effects of macro-level, and in some cases, paranormal magnitude, what could a Super-Consciousness or Pure-Mind do, if It temporarily inhabited a body? [Remember the other 'stories' in the biblical tradition of pure-intelligences, without the same kinds of gravitational and optical relationships with our universe as we are currently confined to. The tradition called them 'angels', and they were not subject to gravity or light reflection/refraction--unless they 'chose to be so'.] Would there be any a priori reason to believe a Supreme Consciousness couldn't transmute compounds, read minds, levitate over water, produce benevolent physiological changes in others, or act at a distance?


I personally think this is a fruitful area to investigate, because it is a much more 'natural' and 'visible' analogy to how we might understand this issue, but it is not the only one, and isn't even intended to be the main one, as far as I can tell. The main day-to-day and wide-scope evidence of supernatural reality within history is supposed to be personal (and often, unpredicted) transformation of individual people (and the resultant communities) into lives more like God's--lives of love, integrity, loyalty, rejoicing, peace, beneficence, passion. And, when this transformation occurs in contexts where it is NOT 'socially acceptable' or 'culturally tolerated' or 'predicted by upbringing', then the data counts so much more than where Christian behavior is the 'default'.


The real place to look is in the lives of those who awaken-to-love in persecuted churches, in non-western cultures, in anti-Christian families, in situations of extreme duress and hardship. Where it is neither expected/required, nor a means to achieve comfort or status, nor an escape route of places where you are at risk every moment of taking a bullet, or being fed to lions, or being stoned by your countrymen, or being burned to death in your car, or  being killed and literally eaten by your family, or being shot in the head in the village square...or of being embarrassed in front of your fellow students by your professor, or in front of your fellow scientists by your peers...


These singular souls' "answers" to questions posed to them by others may be far from accurate, and may be "guesses without tether", but the fire-life within, glowing not consuming, as it manifests a "discontinuity, born from internal new life", stretching toward gentleness (without complicity with the treacherous) and compassion (without de-humanizing patronizing) and peace (without detachment into some emotion-less and suffering-less monastery or temple) is supposed to provide the basic evidence of the New Life of God, the Resurrection Possibility, the promised victory of love and freedom over anti-love, callousness, and exploitation.


And, as I mentioned above, these people will be the first to admit their mistakes and failures, but the observer--like all observers--should look at the pattern, the cluster of life, the holistic character which lives "in front of them", and then decide whether or not "this person has been with Jesus"...



Fourth, the question about the women is a perfect example of an altogether non-supernatural explanation. The distraught women are trying to fulfill one of the basic requirements of burial for good Jews--anointing the body. They have started out, and know that they will not be able to move the stone themselves. But they also know that there are others there at the tomb: definitely the guard, probably a gardener, maybe some servants from Nicodemus/Joseph, possibly even other hostile parties or curious bystanders. The Greek form of the question they ask has the "for us" in an emphasized position ("who will move FOR US the stone from the mouth of the cave"), the issue being not "Is anybody there?", but "is there anybody there that will help US?" The guards might not be cooperative, the gardener might be too busy, and the other parties might/might not be interested in help these Jewish women...their question is a perfectly reasonable (and predictable) one, given the historical setting and situation. This is a PURELY 'secular' explanation, but as I pointed out early, almost all of the "Christian" reconstructions are going to consist of 'natural elements' anyway.


So, although my couple of sentences in the paragraph above MIGHT BE considered "long-winded," they certainly couldn't be construed as 'illogical' and as a request to 'accept the answer as a revelation from God'.


And, I might venture that this simple explanation--purely 'natural'--is a much simpler, more natural, and more plausible answer than an explanation that has to assert that the event DID NOT happen, and then go on to explain WHY someone decided to make it up (e.g., motive), WHY they made that SPECIFIC remark up (e.g., what did they think this minor addition would accomplish, would it not look like a 'problem' to their readers at all?), HOW they incorporated it/smuggled it into the Gospel of Mark (or the background traditions), HOW/WHY it was omitted in the other gospels (that allegedly were derived from Mark, if you buy that program), WHY it wasn't dropped in later copying of the Gospel of Mark over time, etc., etc., etc...See the point? The Christian 'explanation' is significantly more 'secular' and 'natural' than the alternative one of "the story is not true---they made it up".



Fifth, all apologists do not give long-winded answers--only I seem to (smile)...and I have obviously given you plenty of cannon fodder in this response, friend...I know...(resigned smile)



Let me now just make a quick closing comment or two about the 'how to decide' issue.


First of all, hopefully I have shown that the dichotomy between "secular" and "supernatural" is not as harsh as you might have originally thought. Hopefully, you can you see that these are on a spectrum instead, and that Christian reconstructions primarily use human/personal/natural/secular factors in explaining narratives, but are open to the possibility of a supernatural event occurring within a narrative. [The actual historical assessment of whether it 'looks historical or not' is simply a matter of historical criteria, and these are well-developed in the case of NT/Jesus studies--see NT:AAJ for a detailed explication of those.]



Secondly, secular and NT historians (of various worldviews and persuasions) themselves are very reluctant to decide ahead of time "what could and couldn't have happened", and for some of them this at least applies to the mildly-supernatural (e.g., healing miracles, spirit-actions). They have learned not to judge the past by the present (a common methodological mistake), nor other cultural grids by one's own. The growing awareness/emphasis of the need to avoid reductionism in 'mapping' another culture to our own is testimony to this.


Accordingly, the best recommendation I can give on a decision process is to follow the general lead of the historian:

  1. Do not decide ahead of time what was possible/impossible (esp. in light of the comments made above about glimpses of the supernatural),

  2. DO evaluate how the supernatural and natural elements 'cohere'--do they look like an interacting whole (as opposed to some supernatural element thrown in for effect, but not germane to the narrative),

  3. Do require supernatural elements to have some historical implications/evidence, either in the lives of the observers, the stubbornness of the tradition,  and/or  historicity of the narrative (there are other candidates for this as well),

  4. Do not force modern categories and values onto the different time/culture/literature,

  5. Do not reject positions on the basis of the necessity of conjecture,

  6. Do not reject positions on the basis of ambiguity or complexity of understanding the material, and

  7. DO accept the position that explains/predicts the data with the least amount of 'data explain-away' and the least amount of 'conspiracy requirements'.


[This list is NOT complete, obviously, but it probably contains the more relevant items for this specific discussion.]


on to Section 2...


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