See how typical this sounds for you:
“I saw an intriguing exchange on Twitter the other day. My friend Mike Betts had written something very innocuous – the Bible says we should trust God, or something like that – and someone responded, in a series of tweets that quickly degenerated into expletives and accusations of idiocy, that it is ridiculous to base our lives on an Iron Age text. What evidence is there, they demanded, that the Bible is true? After a few helpful questions, Mike wisely suggested that 140 characters might not be the best medium with which to argue for biblical authority, and said he could point them to some useful resources if they wanted. His interlocutor, apparently satisfied that “I can’t explain all that in a tweet” meant “I have no reason to believe it whatsoever”, immediately left the discussion, no doubt even more entrenched in their view that all Christians are idiots who are simply too stupid to have thought about whether the Bible can be trusted. Sigh.”
That’s a guy named Andrew Wilson setting up what I found to be a helpful article on ways to respond to such conversations. He wonders: “How would I explain the argument for biblical authority, to a secular person, as quickly and logically as possible?” Then he gives a succinct bit of logic to try to do exactly that. Here are the twelve steps to his thinking:
- There are multiple, literarily independent, first century historical sources that attest to the empty tomb and/or the resurrection appearances of Jesus of Nazareth. (For the very skeptical, this can be established by learning Koine Greek and visiting the Chester Beatty Library, the British Museum, and so on).
- Historical scholars generally agree that this is because the tomb of Jesus was empty, and his followers had experiences which they understood to be resurrection appearances.
- If miracles are possible, the most likely explanation of this evidence is that Jesus of Nazareth was bodily raised from the dead. If miracles are impossible, an alternative explanation – hallucination, conspiracy, swoon, other – is required.
- If the existence of a creator God is possible, then miracles – understood as suspensions of natural laws as a result of divine action – are possible, since a creator God could act in any way they chose.
- The existence of God is possible. (Philosophically, this may be the most contentious premise so far – but since anyone denying it has to show the impossibility of God, and that has proved beyond the reach of most, I consider it fair game).
- Therefore miracles are possible (from #4, #5).
- Therefore the most likely explanation for the historical evidence we have is that Jesus of Nazareth was bodily raised from the dead (from #3, #6).
- If Jesus of Nazareth was bodily raised from the dead, the most likely meaning of this event is that Israel’s God has vindicated and exalted him as Lord.
- If Israel’s God has vindicated and exalted Jesus as Lord, then we should accept and embrace his view of the way God’s authority functions in the world. (Again, almost everyone in history who believe Jesus was resurrected has believed something like this).
- The historical evidence we have indicates that Jesus of Nazareth believed divine authority was expressed through (a) the Hebrew scriptures, (b) his own prophetic teaching and actions, and (c) the teaching and actions of those whom he delegated as apostles.
- The Bible is the collection of (a) the Hebrew scriptures (Genesis to Malachi), (b) Jesus’ own prophetic teaching and actions (Matthew to John), and (c) the teaching and actions of those whom he delegated as apostles (Acts to Revelation). (It is of course open to anyone to object that, properly speaking, several of these books were not written by apostles. Rather than entering into a protracted defense of the Protestant canon here, I will simply direct the reader to Michael Kruger’s Canon Revisited, and point out that even if someone disagrees with him, they would still need to concede the authority of the vast majority of the Bible).
- Therefore we should accept and embrace the authority of the Bible (from #8, #9, #10, #11).
Did you find that helpful? Wilson concedes:
Obviously I wouldn’t assume someone could be persuaded by a few hundred words–and in my experience, people who fire expletives around on Twitter are not usually looking to be persuaded of anything anyway–but I thought it might be helpful to lay out the argument, at least as I see it, both to give an example of how a Christian might respond, and to help a skeptic identify the point in the argument at which they differ. (Usually, it comes down to the resurrection. If I believe Jesus is alive, I probably accept biblical authority, even if I nuance it differently from other Christians; if I don’t, then I don’t. On the basis of 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, I think Paul would be with me on that).
That last point is key. I’ve found it helpful to remember that my message to the world isn’t first, “I have the perfect book!” but (first) “Jesus is alive!” The fact that Jesus is raised from the dead is our central, most important message. The fact that the Bible gives perfect, trustworthy witness to that fact is essential, but as part of the support to our main gospel.