On the occasion of Editor Carl F. H. Henry’s recent lecture series at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois, several Chicago-area theologians shared in a vigorous panel discussion on problems of faith and history. Participants were Dr. William Hordern, professor of systematic theology at Garrett Biblical Institute, Evanston; Dr. Jules L. Moreau, professor of church history at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, Evanston; and Father Sergius Wroblewski, professor of New Testament and church history at Christ the King Seminary (Franciscan), West Chicago. Joining them were Dean Kenneth Kantzer of Trinity Seminary, Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, professor of church history at Trinity, and Editor Henry. An abridgment of the discussion follows.—ED.

DEAN KANTZER: The focus of our interest is on the nature of history, and the relationship which Jesus Christ bears to history in our Christian faith. Perhaps Dr. Henry will state the issues briefly for us, and then we will be asking one another some questions.

DR. HENRY: Frontier issues in the dialogue on the Continent at the moment include the relationship of revelation and history and the relationship of revelation and truth. At this breakpoint over faith and history the cleavage occurs between Barthian dialectical theology and Bultmannian existential theology, and then also between many post-Bultmannians and Bultmann himself, and finally also between the Heilsgeschichte scholars and the post-Bultmannians. The further question is raised over the connection between revelation and truth, which is a subject of debate among the dialectical theologians and which recalls Barth’s modifications of his own point of view, and the consequent assault on Barth’s views by both evangelical scholars and the Pannenberg school.

DEAN KANTZER: If I remember correctly, you hold that the lack of objectivity in Barth’s view of the relationship between Jesus and history represented a fatal weakness in the Barthian position, which led to a more easy victory of Bultmann in his distinction between the Christ of faith and the Jesus of history. Would you care to say just a further word about that?

DR. HENRY: Confessedly Barth’s introduction of objectifying elements into his theology places a wide distance between Barth and the existential theologians, whether Bultmannian or post-Bultmannian. Yet the objectifying elements Barth introduced into his system are not really objects of historical research. And for all the objectifying factors with which he buttressed his doctrine of the knowledge of God, he agreed in spirit with Bultmann that God is not an object of rational knowledge. Both scholars reject the objectivity of God as an object of rational knowledge. Barth and Bultmann shared the fundamental dialectical premise that divine revelation is never objectively given—neither in historical events nor in concepts or words—and in agreement with this underlying premise Bultmann dispensed entirely with the objectifying elements that Barth sought to preserve with a surer instinct for biblical theology.

Article continues below

DEAN KANTZER: NOW, Dr. Hordern, we would be interested to know whether you agree that this was a flaw in Barth that made Bultmann’s victory more easily accomplished.

PROF. HORDERN: It seems to me that there is a great deal more objectivity in Barth than you imply. His revolt from existentialism was not quite so belated; he made it when he started writing his Church Dogmatics. He tore up the original version because it had too much existentialism in it. I am aware of the fact that Bonhoeffer spoke of Barth’s revelational positivism, and I think that is a more apt criticism in some ways than to say that Barth does not have sufficient objectivity. He very definitely believed—quite apart from man’s knowledge of it—that God was in Christ, that the Bible is (as he puts it in Church Dogmatics I/2) the Word of God, and that this is true whether or not man recognizes it. The real problem, when you raise the question of the objectivity of history, is, What does one mean by history? And maybe also, What does one mean by objectivity?

If by history you simply mean investigation of what has happened in the past, it is very obvious that Barth’s whole system was built upon the historical nature of the revelation, that it was an event that happened—that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin and raised from the dead. These are events that happened. But if by history you mean what so many people mean today, that which can be verified by modern historical method (and when that in turn means that by definition any miracle cannot have been historical), then it seems to me that Barth is forced to say that historical criticism cannot help the Christian faith, or that it cannot produce anything other than a non-biblical Jesus. By definition it cannot, if this is what one means by historical method, and this is what is widely meant. That is why Barth, speaking of the resurrection, can say, Of course this is not historical if by history (I am not quoting him verbatim) you have the concept that miracles are not historical by definition. But, he says (and I can imagine the twinkle in his eye), that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. In other words, Barth is arguing that more has happened objectively—whatever we mean by that—than what would be discovered by historical method. But it seems to me there is more objectivity here in Barth than you have given reason to suppose.

Article continues below

PROF. MONTGOMERY: I wonder what you would say—what Barth would say—if I claimed that in my backyard there is a large green elephant eating a raspberry ice cream cone, but that there is no way by empirical investigation to determine that he is there. Nonetheless, I maintain, as a matter of fact, that it is there in every objective and factual sense. Now I have a feeling that you would either regard this as a claim that the elephant is there and is subject to empirical investigation, or contend that it isn’t there by the very fact that there is no way of determining the fact. I wonder if this doesn’t point up the problem. To claim objectivity, but to remove any possibility of determining it, is by definition to destroy objectivity.

PROF. MOREAU: Would you be willing to use, instead of this green elephant monstrosity, the body of the late Herbert Hoover out in Iowa?

PROF. MONTGOMERY: The reason that I use my example is that I don’t want an illustration which has merely natural repercussions. The problem here points to the question of the miraculous, and therefore I would like something bizarre in order to keep the aspect of miracle in view.

PROF. HORDERN: I’m not sure that the miraculous is bizarre. But to carry out the analogy Barth would have to say that one who knows (before he goes to your garden and looks) that there is no such thing as a green elephant—if he then “sees” it, he will obviously say, I have hallucinations. No evidence is going to prove the reality of a green elephant to this man. When you have a concept of history which has decided before it investigates any empirical facts that dead men stay dead, then if this is what you mean by history (as many people do), historical investigation proves nothing.

PROF. MONTGOMERY: Isn’t this the very point: whether historical method necessitates the presupposition that the miraculous, whatever we mean by this, cannot take place? It seems to me that the confusion here is between historical method and what might be called historicism or historical prejudice. Historical investigation very definitely can take place on the empirical level without the positivistic presupposition that the nexus of natural causes cannot be broken. It seems to me that the question here is whether historical method, apart from that rationalistic presupposition, will or will not yield revelatory data concerning Jesus Christ. And if one says that it won’t, then one strips away the meaning of the word “objectivity.”

Article continues below

PROF. HORDERN: But this, I think, is Barth’s point; he does not use this precise formulation, but what you call historical method without historicism, Barth definitely approves.

PROF. MONTGOMERY: Well, I get the impression that he would prefer not to speak of historical method at all in connection with the resurrection. He is willing to use it in connection with the death of Christ—with those events that are of a natural and normal type. But it appears to me that with regard to the resurrection, for example, there is a hesitancy that doesn’t arise simply from Barth’s refusal to take a rationalistic position on miracles. He seems unhappy with any use of historical method in relation to the resurrection.

PROF. MOREAU: What kind of historical method would you use in connection with the resurrection, when in the first place I’m not sure you know what you mean by the word “resurrection”—or at least I don’t know what you mean by the word “resurrection.” You have submitted a whole set of active verb sentences.

PROF. MONTGOMERY: The claim that somebody, as a matter of fact, rose from the dead following his death.

PROF. MOREAU: That I don’t think is what the Bible says. The Bible says somebody “was raised,” and I’m not altogether sure that ek nekron—“from dead”—can be taken to mean “raised from the dead” in that sense.

PROF. MONTGOMERY: Well, that’s the sphere of death. I won’t belabor the genitive.

PROF. MOREAU: Well, I will, because I think it is pretty important. I don’t think there is any word “resurrection” as such. I don’t think the Bible talks conceptually.

PROF. MONTGOMERY: Well, then, in concrete terms, take the question of a man rising from the dead.…

PROF. MOREAU: What kind of historical method would you use to investigate that?

Article continues below

PROF. MONTGOMERY: One has to determine empirically first of all whether this concrete man died, and secondly, whether after this event this concrete man engaged in normal human intercourse with other persons in a spatial-temporal situation.

PROF. MOREAU: You think that historical method is capable of doing this?

PROF. MONTGOMERY: Very definitely; but it’s hardly capable of arriving at an explanation, of determining how it happened.

PROF. MOREAU: NOW that historical method has done this, what good is that kind of information?

PROF. MONTGOMERY: Plenty, if you have a death problem—because you are obviously going to wonder why in thunderation this happened.

FATHER WROBLEWSKI: I would hold that you can accept the apostolic testimony as historical, and I think that in doing that you follow historical method. When I read historians who tell me that Napoleon carried on a war, I am unable to see it, but I go by the testimony of those who did so, and of those who have sifted the evidence. And so I feel that I can accept the testimony of the apostles for the same reason. They saw, they didn’t merely imagine; and to me that is historical testimony. I will admit to a subjective element, however. The apostles who reacted to the human Christ (or rather to the suffering servant), and then to the risen Christ, appraised him differently. Each Gospel has a different method because each gospel author took a certain view of Christ. That was in a way subjective because it was peculiar to him. But even that was not achieved apart from the influence of the Holy Spirit.

DEAN KANTZER: I wonder if I could sharpen the issue by referring to the green elephant again. There is no question (so far as our discussion here is concerned) as to its facticity. There really was a green elephant there—unless perhaps it was Saturday night! The question is, How one can know that that green elephant was there? And now, carrying this analogy over to the resurrection, the question is, How we can discern this facticity which we are admitting? Then comes the question, Is this a matter of history? Some are saying it is, and some are saying it isn’t. On the surface it might look as though it were simply a matter of definition, of the definition of history: whether history is a study in which you rule out the supernatural. But as we proceeded it became perfectly obvious that this wasn’t the whole point, that the issue goes beyond whether or not you define history one way or another. The issue is whether in theory the idea of presuppositionless history is possible. Or whether one believes that history is a methodology which one must engage in with the presupposition that miracles do not happen. With that kind of presupposition one couldn’t under any circumstances find any historical data about the kind of event that we call resurrection. There are those who, in other words, do not wish to make the distinction that Dr. Hordern was making (between a history that excludes supernatural events and a history that doesn’t), and who prefer to say of Christ’s resurrection, “Incredible—this is the kind of thing that nothing we have any right to call history (with any sort of presupposition) could touch!” Dr. Moreau, how do you feel about this latter position?

Article continues below

PROF. MOREAU: In part I think this is right. In one sense history is knowledge of the past. I think Father Wroblewski’s statement about a Napoleonic war is very interesting. But that’s perfectly accessible; you don’t have to depend on someone’s testimony for that—not really.

FATHER WROBLEWSKI: But you are surely dependent on the testimony of reliable witness, aren’t you? You never saw Napoleon.

PROF. MOREAU: But then you have the problem of the differences in Scripture.

FATHER WROBLEWSKI: I think those differences in part at least are demonstrated by the fact that the Scriptures are written from a particular viewpoint. I don’t think that the question is defining what is the object of history. I think that the difficulty lies in what you define as observable. If you decide from a philosophical point of view that miracles are impossible, necessarily as a historian you limit what you can observe. I think that this is the difficulty between the right and the left, in the interpretation of Scripture. Bultmann, for instance, would deny, from a philosophical point of view, that there is any miracle, and therefore he would exclude a witness’s power to observe anything miraculous—I mean a man rising from the dead, or anything like that.

DEAN KANTZER: DO you think that the author of the Gospel of Luke thought that by inquiring from witnesses and by investigating sources you could come to the certainty of the events that are recorded in the Gospel of Luke?

PROF. MOREAU: I’m not sure, and I’m not sure that’s relevant. In the light of other knowledge about the past it would be interesting.

Article continues below

FATHER WROBLEWSKI: DO you have more confidence in Napoleon’s historians than in the gospel witnesses? Do you regard the fathers of the Church as “primitives” in science and in history?

PROF. HORDERN: One of the best things that I read on the current historical problem is something that CHRISTIANITY TODAY published not very long ago, which turned out to have been the inaugural address made by J. Gresham Machen in 1915. This shows you how theology goes around in circles. What is now the hottest issue was being discussed in a very interesting fashion there. I think Karl Barth would agree with that article, which is why I wonder about the debate over objectivity. But let’s leave Karl Barth out of this; he is not here to defend himself. First of all, you have to recognize that there is a historical problem. For example, did Lee Oswald, unaided, without conspiracy, assassinate Kennedy? If this is a typical group of Americans, you divide 50–50 yes and no. Do you believe the Warren Commission’s report? For the Gallup Poll, 50 per cent of us do and 50 per cent don’t. It is a historical event that was investigated thoroughly, completely; probably no event in all history had such a thorough investigation of the facts so quickly.

PROF. MONTGOMERY: Are you suggesting a statistical test of a historical truth?

PROF. HORDERN: NO, not at all! You could never hope to have an event investigated more thoroughly, more completely, than this assassination was investigated under the Warren Report. Yet it is not just “crackpots” that remain unpersuaded. It is not a matter of statistics. You cannot get absolute historical proof. And those who doubt the Warren Commission report say, Well, look; who did the investigating? Just one side there! Oswald didn’t do the investigating; the American government did! What you’ve got here is what the American government wanted to find! And you can take the same attitude toward him who is talking about the resurrection of Jesus—the Christian. Always when you have a problem of history you have this kind of dubiousness.

DR. HENRY: Are you saying that, in principle, the question of the death of Napoleon is no different from the question of the death and resurrection of Christ—that both come under the same difficulties insofar as historical accessibility and research are concerned?

PROF. HORDERN: In principle, yes. This is the problem of history in general. It’s one thing to empirically investigate this green elephant today, if we can rush outside and he is there now. It is another thing to decide whether we have historical evidence to persuade us that he was there last Saturday. Now we must ask if the witnesses are reliable. Perhaps Saturday night is the night they go out on the town.

Article continues below

DR. HENRY: But suppose one argues that it was really there, yet insists that facticity cannot be determined by historical research—that in point of fact this was a confrontation that took place on “the rim” of history?

PROF. HORDERN: You’re going to make me defend Barth again; he’s very capable of defending himself. But I would answer the question for myself. (Whether Barth would want me to say this or not, I’m not sure; perhaps it depends on where you draw your evidence from Barth. The historical question, What does Barth really think?, is also a problem.) What does Machen do—when he argues for the historicity of the resurrection? He points to those facts that cannot really be disputed because all you have to do is open your New Testament and there they are. Here’s a man writing who says, I saw the risen Jesus! There a community was formed, and here we have it today—and we have something pretty empirical here. Here something comes through two thousand years, and here it is. And then Machen argues: Which is more likely: that these disciples got together when Jesus died and said, “Isn’t this horrible; let’s pretend he rose from the dead,” and started a movement, and endured persecution for a lie—or that he arose? And now if this is what you mean by the historical argument, fine. The Gospel does depend upon historical argument. If this does not make any kind of sense, then we would be pretty silly to believe it. On the other hand, it will never persuade any of my skeptical friends who know that dead men stay dead.

PROF. MONTGOMERY: How do they know that?

DR. HENRY: They have a private pipeline to ultimate reality.

PROF. MONTGOMERY: Isn’t it at that very point that the attack needs to be delivered—if I may succumb to military terminology. Isn’t the area of difficulty not really the question of historicity but the question of presupposition with regard to the nature of the world? And it certainly can be shown that whoever enters an investigation with a presupposition such as Dr. Hordern describes feels that he has a kind of stranglehold on the universe—a stranglehold that simply can’t be justified.

Article continues below

PROF. HORDERN: Don’t argue with me. I don’t hold that position.

PROF. MONTGOMERY: Granted: your presentation a moment ago was magnificent.

PROF. HORDERN: Machen’s presentation, actually. There is still a further point, though, if we come back to the death problem. Machen makes the other point, that on the basis of historical evidence we may not be persuaded but that ultimately we believe because in the context of the Church we meet the risen Christ. And, therefore, what makes reasonably logical the historical account of the past is ultimately something at which you might shrug your shoulders and say, Well, isn’t that interesting?

PROF. MOREAU: TOO bad they didn’t have a Society for Psychical Research there. They would have really gotten some good material. When we meet the risen Christ in our lives, then all this becomes significant and important to us.

PROF. MONTGOMERY: But make a distinction on the question of appropriation: appropriating the fact is not what makes it factual. This is the crucial consideration I think we tend to overlook; when, for example, Professor Hordern writes in his Case for a New Reformation Theology that religious objectivity can be arrived at only when we have faith in objectivity, he enters on a path that leads straight to solipsism. Apart from the distinction between the object (Christ historically resurrected, in the ordinary sense of “history”—Historie) and the subject (ourselves as believers in it) a clear distinction must be made.

PROF. MOREAU: Maybe God can make such a distinction—I can’t!

FATHER WROBLEWSKI: What difference would it make whether he rose or not? I would like to know, what difference, if you cannot establish that Christ rose from the dead? Paul said that we who are in Christ are united with the risen Christ. If he didn’t rise from the dead, we are miserable. In fact, Paul said we then are of all men most miserable. But apparently Dr. Moreau wouldn’t be very miserable. What would bother you about all this?

PROF. MOREAU: Come back to what the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is. What really makes the difference is whether or not there is some experience of the risen Christ at this moment in communal fellowship with him.

FATHER WROBLEWSKI: And this makes what difference for what?

PROF. MOREAU: Significance or non-significance.

PROF. MONTGOMERY: But then I think I would have to ask the question, if I were a non-Christian, Why should I involve myself in this kind of a community rather than in, let’s say, another community? What criteria are men to employ in order to justify a choice or decision?

Article continues below

PROF. MOREAU: I simply refuse to become involved in dichotomies of that sort.

FATHER WROBLEWSKI: I would see no reality to the experience of the risen Christ if I had no proof of his resurrection.

[At this point Dean Kantzer welcomed questions from the floor.]

STUDENT: If Christ did not rise from the dead, how could I have any subjective benefits from the resurrection of Christ in my life today?

PROF. MOREAU: There are two points I would make in reference to that. First, I did not say he was not raised from the dead. What I am really concerned about is whether or not there is any historical verification. As far as I’m concerned the empty tomb story is a purely figurative account, an expanding of something which is quite real in the sense of an experience. And I think it is inaccessible for historical inquiry. I did not say that God did not raise him from the dead. I insist on keeping that physical language.

PROF. MONTGOMERY: But you would distinguish this from a “real” objectivity of the resurrection?

PROF. MOREAU: I don’t like that language.

PROF. MONTGOMERY: But you distinguish between the resurrection and the empty tomb?

PROF. MOREAU: I distinguish the statement that God raised Jesus from the dead from the statement that the empty tomb has anything to do with this in terms of inquiry or investigation or proof.

DR. HENRY: By what criteria do you distinguish this presence of the risen Christ from a mere immortality of influence?

PROF. MONTGOMERY: And how do you know (this is a terribly irreverent question) that your experience of Christ in the heart differs from heartburn?

PROF. MOREAU: I suppose ultimately I don’t.

STUDENT: I would like to ask Dr. Hordern a question in view of his use of the example of the shooting of President Kennedy supposedly by Oswald. I hesitate to accept this analogy completely because, as far as I know, there is no record that Oswald claimed that he was going to do this. If the record of the New Testament writers is valid, I think there is a distinction here between the Christ event and the event of the shooting of John F. Kennedy, because of the claim here apparently that Christ was going to do his work. Maybe this accounts for the problem of so many people not believing the Warren Commission.

Article continues below

PROF. HORDERN: TO me the parallel between the Kennedy assassination and the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is simply the parallel that both are history to us. And the very fact that a history so close to us, so thoroughly investigated, still cannot beat down all possible doubts indicates to me that when we have some history two thousand years old, with much less material, and without the intensive investigation—without the FBI to help out—how much less certainty we can have on this basis.

I’ve been trying to locate myself with Dr. Moreau here; we obviously have a number of things in common. I would warn him, however, as Barth has warned Bultmann, that if you too easily get rid of that empty tomb you’re probably falling into Docetism. But to me the thing that you cannot argue has been raised here a couple of times: If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, how can it all be important to me? You have two questions here. One, Did Jesus Christ rise from the dead?—which you can settle somewhere, though I’m not quite sure where. And the other question is, What does it mean to me? Certainly my point is that before you even ask the question, Did Jesus Christ rise from the dead?, you ask it only because it concerns you in some way. One man is concerned because he wants all dead men to stay dead and therefore he wants as an answer: No, he didn’t rise. Another man wants to answer it another way. My point is simply that we have to make the historical judgment on the basis of our own experience. It seems to me I’ve got Machen on my side here, because he says that if we didn’t actually know the living Christ now, we could not believe the history of the past. And I’m arguing that you don’t independently solve the one question, Did he rise from the dead?, and then ask, How do I appropriate this?, or, What does it mean to me?, but that these two are continually involved together. That doesn’t mean, however, that you haven’t any reason for this. You have a lot of reasons. There is a great difference between the guy who just shuts his eyes and believes and the fellow who doesn’t—I know that Dr. Moreau has a lot of reasons for what he believes. But ultimately, if you really want to put it that way, none of us knows that we are even here, and a good philosopher could prove we aren’t. We walk through this world as sojourners by faith and not by sight.

STUDENT: The question, though, is, By faith in what? Ultimately we’ve got to get back to the question of what the ground of faith is. Otherwise someone can come along and, maintaining that we walk by faith and not by sight, take a position exactly contrary to yours or mine, and there won’t be anything that the Christian proclamation can say in relation to this at all.

Article continues below

STUDENT: I could push it back a little farther. You mentioned the rhythm of history, and that the character of the event was in question. It seems to me that one thing that distinguishes the data in connection with President Kennedy’s assassination and the resurrection is the kind of material we have. Paul says this thing was not done in a corner. In the assassination we have an event which took place under the tightest security, deliberately obscured by the person who did it, and this is why the evidence is obscure. But in the case of Jesus, it was quite the opposite; it was right out in the open. I’d like to ask Dr. Henry if he believes that there is a distinction between the Napoleonic or Kennedy-assassination type of history and Jesus-event, and if the real question isn’t about the supernatural rather than simply a question of events.

DR. HENRY: When you ask a historical question, you can answer only in terms of historical research and historical method. The collective consciousness of the early Church, or my present psychological encounters of whatever nature, cannot give a decisive answer to the question of the historicity of an event some nineteen centuries ago. So I would agree with Professor Hordern that as history the New Testament saving events are subject to the same research as other historical events. There is, however, a broader frontier. Jesus Christ stepped into history from the outside; ultimately we do not explain him in toto from within history, but we explain history by him. And it is certainly true that there is more to the case for the resurrection of Jesus Christ than the historical fact. The Christian does not argue the case for the risen Christ only in terms of the historical data. There is the relevance of Pentecost; I certainly would not want to drop the Book of Acts and the Epistles out of the case for the risen Christ. But when it comes to the question of a historical resurrection from the dead and the matter of the empty tomb, this can be answered only in terms of historical research and testimony. And I quite grant that one cannot get to absolute certainty in terms of historical method; absolute certainty is always something communicated by the Spirit of God. But the very heart of the apostolic preaching falls out if you lose the historical ingredient.

Article continues below

PROF. MONTGOMERY: Let me set up another analogy than Dr. Hordern’s appeal to the Kennedy assassination. It is fairer to compare the resurrection to other events of classical times, because it’s in the same general time area and therefore the amount of data is perhaps more comparable. I majored in classics in college, and to my amazement I never heard any questioning of the events of the classical period as to their per se historicity despite the fact that these are based on much less data than the resurrection of Christ. For example, the existence of Plato depends upon manuscript evidence dated over a thousand years later. If we must begin with sheer faith in order to arrive at the event-character of the resurrection, then we are going to drop out not simply the resurrection but a tremendous portion of world history, which I don’t think we’re prepared to do.

PROF. HORDERN: I couldn’t care less whether Caesar crossed the Rubicon or not. It doesn’t make any difference to me. I’m not going to lead my life any differently tomorrow either way; nothing stands or falls with it. Perhaps if I made my living out of history, and was battling with some other colleague, we might have ourselves a real battle among historians over precisely such questions. There is hardly anything that has happened in past history that doesn’t get debated by historians at some time or other. Most of us couldn’t care less, however; we have no real involvement with this. But here we have a story that comes to us from two thousand years ago, and if it is true, then my destiny not only here but hereafter depends upon this story—and you ask me to believe it on the basis only of the generally unreliable historical data?

PROF. MONTGOMERY: NO, not quite. I say only that the historical probabilities are comparable to those of other events of classical times. Therefore there is an excellent objective ground to which to tie the religion that Jesus sets forth. Final validation of this can only come experientially. But it is desperately important not to put ourselves in such a position that the event-nature of the resurrection depends wholly upon “the faith.” It’s the other way around. The faith has its starting point in the event, the objective event, and only by the appropriation of this objective event do we discover the final validity of it. The appropriation is the subjective element, and this must not enter into the investigation of the event. If it does, the Christian faith is reduced to irrelevant circularity.

Article continues below

FATHER WROBLEWSKI: Dr. Hordern, as you realize, there is resistance today to the acceptance of miracles as proof. Why is it that Scripture itself urges miracles, the empty tomb, the charismatic gifts, the coming down of the Holy Spirit as proof? Would you resist those proofs, if the Scripture itself urges such proofs?

PROF. HORDERN: Show me where the Scripture urges these as proofs.

DR. HENRY: What of Paul’s emphasis that Jesus was seen by more than 500 persons at once in proof of the resurrection?

PROF. MONTGOMERY: The Christian faith is built upon Gospel that is “good news,” and there is no news, good or bad, of something that didn’t happen. I personally am much disturbed by certain contemporary movements in theology which seem to imply that we can have the faith regardless of whether anything happened or not. I believe absolutely that the whole Christian faith is premised upon the fact that at a certain point of time under Pontius Pilate a certain Man died and was buried and three days later rose from the dead. If in some way you could demonstrate to me that Jesus never lived, died, or rose again, then I would have to say I have no right to my faith.

PROF. MOREAU: I couldn’t do that, because you are beginning with the assumption that it did take place.

FATHER WROBLEWSKI: I hold that the apostolic witness to the miraculous in the life of Christ is equivalent to the kind of evidence history is based on. The apostles saw and heard these things happen in time and space, and I have no reason to disbelieve the soundness of their testimony. Rather I have more reason to trust their powers of observation because they signed their testimony in blood. Scholars who deny the miraculous do so on philosophical grounds in the face of Scripture’s insistence on the miraculous as evidence. It is true that the evidence is not absolute if only because the “appointed witnesses” were few and their written record puzzling. But this is peculiar about biblical evidence: it leaves the intellect somewhat hesitant that the act of faith may arise more from the Holy Spirit’s operation than intellectual proof.

PROF. MOREAU: The current preoccupation with the facticity of the circumstances surrounding the event called the resurrection reflects a concern for historical verification which is quite foreign to the attitude of the early Church. The “proof” that God had raised Jesus from among the dead was the experience of the living Lord in the community. The narrative of the empty tomb and the embroidery around it served an apologetic purpose rather than a verificational one. The involved argument advanced by St. Paul (1 Cor. 15:35–58) seems only to underline this contention.

Article continues below

PROF. HORDERN: The life of Jesus is a historical event like other historical events and is known through the reports of those who witnessed it. It differs from other historical events because we have a unique opportunity to test the reliability of the witnesses. They tell us that Jesus did not stay dead and that we can know him as the risen Lord. As a result, our evaluation of the gospel records cannot be separated from our relationship to the risen Christ today.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.