The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona (book review)

Let’s cut to the chase and do so boldly: many collegiate academics are pedagogical disasters. Having a pile of knowledge is a decidedly Industrial Age response to a world that’s already evolving out of the Information Age, and once a pile of knowledge is amassed, its existence does not necessarily create value for someone. Such is the risk with documentation of Jesus’ resurrection, and the authors of The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, have both written more than most real people can read.

In this case I wasn’t looking for exhaustive knowledge, but instruction on how to apply it. The foundation question for my investigation of this book and this post:

How are you helping me actually engage with this knowledge effectively?

In short, there is much to love about this book – it at least makes an attempt to assist engagement in two key ways (to be unfolded below). Unfortunately, it also fails in a rather spectacular way, too.

Leaves-me-wanting #1: Disclaimer and discredits

I purchased the Kindle version of the book. To my delight – and then disillusionment – the book cover declares that it includes an interactive CD. Some opening notes include a chapter that says, “How to use this book and software.” There is no CD with a Kindle version of the book, obviously, and there is no place you’re instructed to interact with the material online. Clearly whatever this material could have contributed to the thesis question will be absent. And, given that I’ve already pointed out that there is zero editing to make the Kindle version make sense, don’t expect digital (Kindle) navigation to be anything but painfully rudimentary. To be fair, the Kindle was introduced a few years after this book was released, but all this means is that the publisher did jack diddly when they did decide to release on the Kindle. But hey, if you want to party like it’s 1999, buy the hard copy.

Success #1: Taxonomy beyond “minimal facts approach”

If you want to be successful with knowledge regarding the resurrection, you’ve got a couple choices. One, learn everything. Two, prioritize where to start given that you may never, ever match the scholarship of Habermas and Licona. To its credit, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus presents information in a manner that, whether the learner knows it or not, demonstrates an essential taxonomic prioritization of the material a hopeful apologist will need.

In case you’re unaware, the “minimal facts approach” was pioneered by Habermas as a means of getting to the bottom line (which he’s good at). The bottom line is seeking “evidence with a high degree of certainty,” and when it comes to the resurrection, the book lays out what Habermas originated as those facts that even non-theist, anti-Christian, secular scholars largely agree with. In other words, if you were to use the methods and modes of secular historians to establish the likelihood of a historical fact, what would that be? Doing so with facts about the resurrection gets you started with the highest likelihood for success. This is the second of four parts to the book.

Part 3, then is a list of opposing theories, but if you “zoom back out” for a moment, the taxonomic genius more fully comes into view in three ways:

  1. Categorization of objections. For example, “legend theories” are noted as having three types (embellishment, a nonhistorical literary style, and myths in other religions). Are there more? Of course? But this helps you understand the category before the detail, an essential value in how adults learn.
  2. Visualization of categories. See the image in this post…it and many others like it will help understand, visually, the categorization of various parts of the instruction.
  3. Deferment of lesser-common objections. Part 4 is set apart because they’re noted as minor points. You don’t want to be unaware, but this isn’t where you start.

What’s the value to you?

As a student of apologetics in a master’s program at Biola, I can tell you that not one single time have I heard anyone prioritize a list of objections based on frequency (which would be rudimentary epistemological analysis in a corporate body of knowledge). Where should you start? If allocating a scarce resource (time or money), how should you weight where you build knowledge so that you are most prepared for a) the most common situations or b) a specially-targeted situation(s)?

Success #2: Narrative that helps the understanding of context

I’ll make this part brief, but pedagogically facts devoid of context are much harder to remember. The aforementioned taxonomy is part of that, and part of it is narrative. It helps the learner understand application.

The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus includes more narrative than a typical academic textbook. The irony is that this has a place in instruction that some academics object to (It’s not academic enough! It doesn’t have enough gravitas!). The value to you? Many readers will find the illustrations and examples not only useful for understanding, but probably in their ability to share as well.

Success #3: Appendix that saves time as a reference tool

The appendix’ subtitle is simply, “a detailed outline of arguments.” Not only is such structure useful for the one arranging the taxonomy to begin with, but users have different cognitive engagement with a bulleted outline versus a more prosaic delivery. The value to you? Your ability to quickly refresh your memory in a particular category now does not require you to skim pages and pages of reading (which you hopefully highlighted). The appendix outline is a righteous reference tool unto itself.

If there’s a downside (and this may only be the Kindle), is that at several points when outline goes deep enough, there is no more indentation. Imagine that you get to ‘part a, section 2, point 2, sub point 1, sub sub point 3’ and visually the last ‘sub sub’ point isn’t indented. While understandable why someone would do this (formatting gets nasty), it loses the visual cue to your cognition.

Success #4: People skills and putting it all together

The final chapter of the book is simply entitled “People Skills: The Art of Sharing,” and the very inclusion of such a chapter gives you an indication of the intended audience for the book. After all, no ‘serious’ academic work would include such a chapter. Yet it is precisely what is needed when you hear an exhortation for fact checking in one of Licona’s personal stories or an example story about applying this at a company outing.

The bottom line

Even if you’re an academic, go buy this book. No, it’s not going to take you to the nether-reaches of historical, philosophical, and epistemological argument. What it will do, however, is answer a question you may not have even been asking: If I’m going to impact the world, how do I help others who in turn can themselves help others? Such a means of leadership or teaching is, ironically, not only biblical, but is a fabulous forcing function for making engagement happen.