Jesus’ Resurrection – Fact or Figment?: A Debate Between William Lane Craig & Gerd Lüdemann, edited by Paul Copan & Ronald K. Tacelli (IVP, 2000)

I couple years ago I listened to the New Testament scholar Gerd Lüdemann argue his case against the resurrection in which he contended that the source of the myth were hallucinations Peter and Paul had of the risen Jesus, which then influenced their communities. I found it fascinating to hear, in part just to see where there was a general historical consensus and what points were disputed.

Jesus Resurrection – Fact or Figment? is the transcript of a 1997 debate between Lüdemann and William Lane Craig, a well-known Christian apologist. It also includes a long introduction by Copan and Tacelli which unnecessarily outlines what each speaker said, and, of much greater value, four responses to the debate by other scholars (two sharing Craig’s view and two sharing Lüdemann’s). These provide in depth analyses of the points made in the debate. At the end of the book both speakers give concluding remarks on the debate and the four responses to it.

The debate itself is a little disappointing just because Craig is so dominant. He is the much more experienced and skilled debater, he has a deeper understanding of his opponent’s perspective and he structures his responses with a clarity that shows up each of Lüdemann’s missteps. Also, Craig moves effortlessly between history and philosophy, whereas Lüdemann has little competence in speaking to the latter. But the responses of other scholars compensate for Lüdemann’s shortcomings and, taken as a whole, the book is an excellent display of where the evidence lies for each side.

What becomes quite apparent is that there several areas in which the evidence points strongly towards resurrection: the empty tomb, post-mortem appearances and the disciples’ belief in the resurrection (even though it was at odds with their expectations and beliefs about the possibility of resurrection); and there is a single argument for rejecting the resurrection hypothesis, though admittedly a powerful one, namely that it is not a natural explanation.

I think it is valuable for everyone – whether Christian or not – to be familiar with these arguments. If nothing else it will reveal why Christian accept something as incredible as resurrection and the kind of intellectual contortions required to rationalise the evidence for it.

Interestingly, at the end of their case both Craig and Lüdemann choose to address the issue personally (Craig in the debate and Lüdemann in his reflections upon it). Craig describes his life-changing, personal relationship with Jesus, something he can experience only because Jesus did rise again. Lüdemann describes how he once held to a liberal theology which affirmed the resurrection and return of Jesus without seeing them as historical events. He describes his deep regret at holding to a view so lacking in integrity. He is no longer a Christian in any sense of the word. ‘At the same time,’ he says, ‘I am convinced that human beings cannot live by the bread of historical facts alone. They need meaning in their lives, and I do too.’ He now finds this in the transcendent spiritualism of an obscure Gnostic group.