Apologetics, Inc.

Is Christianity a conspiracy to gain power, or an honest & risky belief?

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As I was reading Galatians chapter one this morning, I was struck by the phrase “who raised him from the dead.” Could you imagine writing that down in the first century with the conviction that it really happened and then sending it to someone? It can be easy for the shocking claims of Christianity to become old news, something so familiar it elicits yawns. But this is no idle tale to grow weary of. It’s a radical message that ought to awaken us from a spiritual slumber.

The literal physical resurrection of Jesus is the central claim of Christianity, and it has always been that way. Christianity, as a religion, is unique in this regard. A while back, I was in England with my friend and colleague, Scott Klusendorf. One day, while traveling by train, we found ourselves in a conversation about religion with a woman who taught literature at a prestigious university. Before long, she stated rather matter-of-factly that everyone knows that all religions are basically the same, something manmade for the simple purpose of profiting and securing power in the world. Scott responded with a very simple question: “What other religion has the death and resurrection of their leader as their main belief?” She didn’t know what to say. She paused, thought, and then said, “Well, that’s a good question, isn’t it?”

And it is a good question. A troubling question. A question that should startle us all. Why would a religion build itself upon such a claim?

We tend to think that the people of old were dumb, superstitious, and easily led astray by religious fairytales, whereas we moderns would never fall for such nonsense. This is an immature view of antiquity, which C.S. Lewis once called “Chronological Snobbery.” 

In contrast to modern followers of figures like pastor John Lindell, who claims to have witnessed a miraculous regrowing of toes and alleges to possess proof he won’t reveal, the Jewish community of the first century upheld stringent standards for verifying truth claims. They were fundamentally an evidence-based culture. For example, legally, you could not bring a charge against another without two witnesses (Deut 17:6, 19:15). When it came to miracles, you couldn’t just claim a healing. You had to prove it (Matt 8:4; John 9:18). And you had to prove it in a smaller community than ours and one that doesn’t have a 24-hour news cycle. 

In other words, everyone is going to pay attention to a miraculous claim in Jesus’ community, and they won’t move on from yesterday’s news so quickly. John Lindell benefits from all the other crazy claims that dominate social media. His radical claims are one of many, and he benefits from a saturated—one insane story after another— environment. His claims fall on the ears of a scrolling culture addicted to the dopamine release of discovery. We are an amused and distracted people. Who cares if Lindell claims he saw toes grow back? Do you think Lebron is done with the Lakers?

In the first century, the claims made by Jesus and his Jewish followers could have you killed. And some, of course, were killed for proclaiming the resurrection. So again, can you imagine being a devout Jew living in the first century and writing the phrase, “who raised him from the dead.” What would it take for you to risk your life for this claim? What would it take for you to join others and begin a movement based on this claim? What would cause you to embrace this claim that, if false, would damn you as a blasphemer and cut you off from the promises of God to which you already clung? Why would Paul, Peter, John, James, or anyone else cling to this belief and base a movement on it? What’s the power play? Where’s the profit? This is what troubled the professor on the train. 

The origin of Christianity without a literal physical resurrection is hard to explain. It is not like other religions. It seems highly improbable that a group of devout Jews would radically reorient their lives around a belief that posed significant risks, including the threat of death and divine disfavor, without compelling evidence to support such a belief. Furthermore, to think that a religion founded on such a dubious claim could spread across the world and profoundly impact Western civilization appears rather extraordinary. A naturalistic explanation of the origin of Christianity seems, to me, like a radical claim. Do you think there is enough evidence to justify belief in it? 

I don’t.

Picture of Michael C. Sherrard

Michael C. Sherrard

Michael C. Sherrard is the president of Apologetics, Inc., the author of Why You Matter and Relational Apologetics, and faculty at Summit Ministries.

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