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Defending the Resurrection Paperback – August 24, 2010
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I see the few negative reviews of Holding's material whine about his "uncivil" attitude, as if that's an objective opinion in a subjective (at least from their viewpoint) world. Try harder detractors, please try harder.
Defending the Resurrection (DTR) is really a different book from other books you will find on the resurrection. Many books will examine many of the historical details. If you read Licona, you will hear about the eyewitness appearances, the empty tomb, the conversion of Paul, etc. If you read Wright, you will hear about the place of Jesus in the story of Israel.
I think both of these are excellent and absolutely essential.
I’d also round them all off by reading DTR. DTR will not go into the history of Israel. It also will not make many claims about the creed in 1 Cor. 15 or why scholars think that Jesus did in fact appear to eyewitnesses. It’s not that these don’t matter, as DTR does have an extensive chapter on the topic of hallucinations, but that DTR wishes to focus its work on another area altogether.
DTR mainly focuses on the social setting of the NT and why resurrection was so important and why we can indeed believe it happened. It goes into extensive detail of the relationship of Christianity to the Roman Empire with such ideas as tolerance, the rejection of the new, claims of exclusivity, and others.
An interesting one for many readers will be the concept of resurrection itself. Today, we tend to view resurrection as a good thing, provided we have a new body. Who wouldn’t want another go around in life? Yet to the world of the NT, it was a different story.
In that world, the body was a prison to be escaped and you did not want to return to it. This is why so many of the lower class did in fact flock to the mystery religions. Christianity did not even really offer them something that they wanted, which would be another strike against it. It could have easily gone with the docetic heresies that were floating around, and yet it didn’t.
DTR also compares the survival of the Christian religion in comparison to Mormonism, Mithraism, and Muhammad. Readers of Holding will realize that this is pointing back to another work of his, The Impossible Faith, and that only Christianity truly qualifies as an Impossible Faith.
Also, you will find responses here to the internet theories that you won’t find responses to in many other books. What about the idea for instance of Cavin that Jesus had an identical twin show up who acted like he was the resurrected Lord? Most don’t take that one seriously for a reason, but DTR doesn’t want to leave you unprepared and will give you what you need to know in order to meet the objections that you will normally find on the internet.
In conclusion, I do recommend this book, though I recommend you read works like Licona and Wright first to get the case entirely there and then get this one to answer the objections that come up afterwards. DTR will be a valuable reference in any library for dealing with those.
Deeper Waters Christian Ministries
That being said, JP Holding and his co-authors have put together a book in Defending the Resurrection (DTR) that does a masterful job of, well, defending the resurrection. Though the book is seriously flawed in one way. It's subtitle is absent. It should be called Defending the Resurrection - or, how to set fire to bad arguments, because that's exactly what the book does. Every crank theory about the resurrection that I know of ( the idea that it was copied from the OT or a pagan source, for example) takes a trip through the meat grinder courtesy of this book.
It looks as if the authors dredged through the darkest depths of internet skepticism, cataloged all the critiques of the resurrection and soundly refuted them. The effort is extensive and well documented, meaning that the typical attacks - "your faith is based on a myth about a Jewish zombie!" - just won't do. Anybody seeking to debunk (refute, doubt, deny, whatever) Christianity will have to contend with this sort of work. Admittedly, many of the more fringe theories aren't advanced by credible historians anymore, but you can still find them defended in books and films aimed at the general public. And that's certainly a good enough reason to refute them.
Of course, not every critic of the resurrection is an internet crank, and there are plausible theories that seek to explain the resurrection in naturalistic terms which have to be dealt with. One of the more widely accepted ideas is that Jesus never actually claimed to be divine. He was, we're told, just an apocalyptic prophet who succeeded in pissing off the right people which lead to his execution.
I remember, for example, reading Bart Ehrman's arguments in Jesus, Interrupted to this effect. The chapter, a response to C.S. Lewis' famous trilemma argument, seemed compelling at the time, but further studied revealed that Ehrman's argument ignores some important evidence and misreads several relevant New Testament passages. Christians who pick up this book before encountering such criticisms could be spared the same frustration I encountered.
But my favorite section of DTR deals with the philosophical objections to miracles and the resurrection in particular. If you're at all familiar with skeptical literature on this subject, you know how little the arguments have changed since the 18th Century. I find this especially entertaining because Holding and co. turn the Enlightenment reasoning around on people like David Hume and shoot them in the face with it, illustrating how shallow and subjective the philosophical critiques are.
The authors also note that these sorts of arguments are, hypocritically enough, made entirely apart from the available data about the resurrection. It's the only way the skeptics can keep their philosophical presuppositions in place, by continuously raising the bar on what constitutes acceptable evidence.
The one serious criticism I have of the book is its length. I doubt that the average church goer will pick up this 400 page apologetics textbook (it's literally the size of a textbook) and read it cover to cover. It probably would have been a good idea to split the material into two books to make it more manageable. Still, despite its length and sometimes technical nature, I hope the average believer will buy DTR and read all of it. It's filled with the kind of information Christians need to have handy when they inevitably encounter challenges to their faith.