In recent weeks, I’ve enjoyed reading “The God Who is There” and “Escape from Reason” by Francis Schaeffer. A good brother in Christ recommended the books to me and I am grateful for the recommendation. Schaeffer had a lot of good things to say about the devolution of Western thought that began in the early Renaissance and gained steam in late 18th/early 19th century philosophy. His description of how the conclusions of philosophers trickle down to Christian theology through the fine arts is intriguing. If that sort of thing interests you, I recommend the books. In chapter six of “Escape from Reason,” Schaeffer cautions his readers, “The evangelical Christian needs to be careful because some evangelicals have recently been asserting that what matters is not setting out to prove or disprove propositions; what matters is an encounter with Jesus.” He then goes on to say (in language that is unique to Schaeffer that I will paraphrase for the sake of clarity) that such a believer in God has moved into a non-rational state of belief. Schaeffer asserts that this type of faith — one based upon experience rather than ration or verifiable historical evidence made available through the Word of God — is foreign to Bible.
I believe Schaeffer’s analysis and conclusion are accurate. Let’s take just one “Jesus encounter” from the New Testament: the resurrected Christ. Without question, the eleven apostles experienced something in the weeks following the resurrection. They believe they saw Jesus risen from the dead. Some believe they were hallucinating. Others call it a delusion or “conversion disorder.” Nevertheless, they experienced something, something that profoundly changed the course of their lives. How then do we know if what they said they experienced was real? We look to the evidence that supports their claim.
We know that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. This is fact verified by those who witnessed the event as well as external sources such as Tacitus, Josephus, Mara Bar-Serapion, and the Jewish Talmud. Even the most skeptical scholar agrees that the crucifixion of Jesus took place.
The early disciples were convinced to the point they were willing to die for what they believed they experienced. History tells us that all of the apostles were killed for their faith except for John.
Paul, an early enemy and persecutor of the Christian faith, converted when he saw the resurrected Jesus. Paul abandoned a promising career as a Rabbi and endured a terrible life of hardship for the sake of his belief.
James, the brother of Jesus, was skeptical of his brother’s claims during His ministry but later became a pillar in the Jerusalem church. James was convinced by witnessing His risen brother.
The tomb of Jesus was empty. The eleven apostles began preaching the good news of Jesus’s resurrection less than two months after His crucifixion. The tomb was near Jerusalem. If in fact the body of Jesus was still in the tomb, those who opposed the apostles’ message could produce the body easily. The arid climate would have preserved the body well enough to be recognized. By accusing the disciples of stealing the body, the Jewish leadership indirectly admitted the tomb was empty.
In the Christian faith’s most important “Jesus encounter”, we find a number of historical facts that verify the claims of the apostles. These truths lead me and many others to believe that Jesus’s resurrection is an historical event and not a subjective experience.
Perhaps you have “encountered Jesus.” Or, perhaps you believe such an encounter is possible though you have never experienced it. If you’re willing to do so, I would like to hear from you in the comments section below. Where in the Bible can I turn to learn if such an experience is possible within the covenant of Christ? What objective evidence can you offer that what you experienced was in fact an encounter with Jesus? If you believe you encountered Jesus, I believe you experienced something. However, I want to know how I can verify it was in fact Jesus you encountered. I don’t want to miss something important!
Come, let’s reason together.