What are the best theoretical arguments for Christianity?

David Marshall writes

One of the interesting points DW makes is that his solution attempts to solve two outstanding mysteries that coincide in time and place — the admittedly unsolved mystery of Jesus’ resurrection, and the equally unsolved mystery of the Shroud. His hypothesis in no way solves either problem, but in fact shows how difficult they are to solve. (He is refreshingly candid on this point.) But even if he could solve those two problems, there are others lining up, that his hypothesis would not solve: (1) The mystery of Jesus’ uniquely powerful, life-changing, and truthful words; (2) the mystery of prophecies that Jesus fulfills, not only in Jewish tradition, but even (I have argued) in Chinese tradition; (3) the mystery of Jesus’ influence on the world, uniquely fulfilling God’s promise to bless all nations through Abraham’s seed; and others. One still seeks a solution that covers all the data, and the Christian solution still does this best, whatever other difficulties it may introduce.

A good summary of some of the most important theoretical arguments* for Christianity (this is not to say theism, which is a different and logically ‘prior’ issue), where Christianity is understood as having a significant historical aspect.

(* I am speaking here of issues pertaining to the plausibility of accounts of some kind of resurrection (see N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God) and 1.-3., not of the Shroud, although as far as I can tell it is one of the most interesting Christian artifacts. I had dismissed it as a medieval forgery, thinking it had been shown so by carbon dating analysis. The situation seems more interesting than this, and no convincing demonstration of how the shroud was made – whenever that might have been – has yet been done, as far as I can tell. Whatever the case, it is an interesting historical puzzle, and if authentic – a big if – might add support to claims of some kind of resurrection.)

One important thing here is that we now have further evidence in one respect than those at the beginning of Christianity (such as St. Peter or St. Paul). For whatever reasons (probably related to the resurrection and 1.-2. above, such as St. Paul’s belief that he had seen the resurrected Christ), these people were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. Although the testimonial (or first-person) evidence is different now, we have about 2,000 years of history with which to look back on, which gives another line of evidence (3. above) for the idea that Jesus was in some important sense the Messiah.

(Of course, much of contemporary debate isn’t about what is unique to Christianity, rather it’s (logically, at least) prior questions involved with (typically a Christian kind of) theism (is there a God with such-and-such kinds of attributes, acting in the world in certain kinds of ways, a loving spiritual Father, and so on?).)

(My guess is that theoretical arguments in this case are usually secondary – primary are experiences in some sense of Jesus as Christ, which many people claim to have. This in turn becomes another theoretical argument for people who haven’t had such an experience themselves (perhaps they could be called ‘signs’), but it doesn’t seem compelling to many people when theoretical as such. Rather, the theoretical arguments are at most a beginning point – a prompt. At least so it seems to me.)

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