The New Testament affirms that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a fact of history. The resurrection of Christ is therefore a legitimate subject for historical scrutiny. The New Testament documents are to be examined and evidences for Jesus’ resurrection evaluated and tested.
But Christ’s resurrection was no ordinary historical event. The cause of his resurrection lies outside the normal historical process. We cannot discuss the resurrection of Jesus as we would discuss, for example the Premiership of Winston Churchill during World War II. Documentary records exist for both these episodes in history. The Bible insists that God upholds and directs the Universe in general and that he is involved in the historical process. The rise and fall of politicians is in his hands (Proverbs 21:1) he also determines the outcome of military campaigns (21:31). We can perhaps trace God’s providential hand in the events of World War II in terms of the Biblical worldview. But Christ’s resurrection was a direct act of God. He did not use human agents to accomplish his purpose in this instance. There is no secondary historical cause for Christ’s resurrection. “God raised him up on the third day and showed him openly” (Acts 10:40). How can we investigate a direct act of God?
In the usual historical sense, we cannot prove that Jesus rose from the dead. No one witnessed the event itself. We have the evidence of his empty tomb and resurrection appearances, but they, in themselves will not convince anybody to believe in the resurrection of Christ. We can prove that Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on 10th May 1940 (Churchill Roy Jenkins, Pan 2002:p586). But it takes faith to believe that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Jesus had to appear to his forlorn disciples to convince them that he was alive. He “opened their understanding” so that they could comprehend that his death and resurrection were the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. (Luke 24:45-49.) The witness of the Holy Spirit to the testimony of Scripture and God-given faith are the necessary preconditions for a person to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. Apart from this no amount of evidentialist arguments will effect faith in Jesus’ resurrection.
If I can deal with Borg (quoted below) and other Liberal scholars here: A persons’ attitude to the New Testament claims that Jesus rose from the dead, says a lot about his or her underlying worldview. If we see the world through the spectacles of the Enlightenment, the resurrection of Jesus does not make sense and “could not have happened”. According to Enlightenment assumptions, the historical process is closed to outside intervention. When such a rationalist worldview is married with Biblical scholarship, the resurrection of Jesus becomes a “spiritual” event that has meaning in the consciousness of Christians then and now. But Jesus cannot have actually risen from the dead. The historical basis for Christ’s resurrection is ruled out of consideration from the start and the New Testament documents are then deconstructed to fit in with rationalist presuppositions.
This is very much Borg’s approach,
My position is that experiences of the risen Christ as a continuing presence generated the claim that “Jesus is Lord” and the statement that “God raised Jesus from the dead” and the story of the empty tomb may well have been generated by those experiences.
(The Meaning of Jesus N.T. Wright & Marcus Borg, SPCK, 1999:p137.)
But should Christian Theology be determined by the sceptical outlook of the Enlightenment? It is here that the resurrection of Jesus as an historical fact impacts on the whole issue of Christian epistemology. Tom Wright writes,
Grasping the nettle – proposing as an historical statement, that the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth was empty because his body had been transformed into a new mode of physicality – will of course evoke howls of protest from those for whom the closed world of Enlightenment theory renders any such thing impossible from the start. But if Christianity is only going to be allowed to rent an apartment in the Enlightenment’s housing scheme, and on its terms, we are to borrow Paul’s phrase, of all people to be pitied – especially as the Enlightenment itself is rumoured to be bankrupt and to be facing serious charges of fraud. (Wright & Borg, 1999:124.)
Christian Theology should be based on Biblical presuppositions. A Christian Theology that has no room for the resurrection of Jesus must answer Paul’s question to King Agrippa, “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8.)