WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–In our postmodern world some might ask, “So what if Jesus did rise from the dead? I’m glad it works for you, but it’s not for me, it’s not where I’m at.” How should we respond to those who may not deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but who do question its significance and relevance for today? Let me share two significant moments in my own life.
Several years ago I participated in a short term mission trip to Thailand. This country is almost totally Buddhist and very resistant to Christianity. We have had little success in evangelizing Thailand. One day we hired a guide to take us around Bangkok. As we began talking I told him I was Christian. He politely informed me that he was a Buddhist, and then he asked me to explain what a Christian is. To my amazement he had never heard about Jesus. He kindly allowed me to talk for some time and when I got to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, he literally stopped the car and turned to me in the backseat to ask if I had really said that Jesus was raised from the dead. I said that was correct, and I went on to tell him that Jesus remains alive today as God and King over all things.
When I finished, this Buddhist from Thailand said nothing for several minutes. He then looked at me again and said, “If this Jesus really did come back to life from the dead, He did something that no one else has ever done. If that is true, He would have the right to make a claim on every person that no one else could.” That Buddhist man did not become a Christian that day. I do not know if he has, and I’ve never seen or heard from him again. He said he just could not believe that someone could come back from the dead, but he would think about it.
I do believe this: He saw the issue and what is at stake with crystal clear clarity. Now let me share a second experience.
Several years ago I became friends with a gifted and brilliant man named Mike Bryan. Mike is not a Christian. In fact he considers himself to be an atheist or agnostic, depending on which day it is. Mike is incredibly smart and intelligent. He is also quite curious. That curiosity led Mike to Dallas, Texas, and Criswell College around 1990 for the purpose of living within an evangelical community and writing about his experience. Surprisingly — especially to his editors — Mike did not produce the hatchet job they expected. He actually was quite complimentary about what he found, and so he wrote a book entitled “Chapter and Verse: A Skeptic Revisits Christianity.”
After spending almost six months with us: going to classes, attending a major pastor’s conference in Jacksonville, Fla., traveling on a mission trip and observing a Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, it was time for Mike to leave and return to his home in New York City. My wife and our four boys had fallen in love with Mike and so we had him over for dinner before he left. After dinner, as we were sitting around talking, I asked Mike this question: “Thinking about all you have studied and experienced, what is the bottom line as you see it?” With no hesitation at all Mike responded, “That’s easy. It’s the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.”
Mike then proceeded to set forth the logic of the issue. “If Jesus rose from the dead then there is a God and He is that God,” Mike said. “Furthermore, the Bible is true because He said it was true and believed it was true. And, that means there is a heaven and a hell, and one’s relationship with Jesus is the deciding factor as to which way you go.”
I have often wished my seminary students, fellow theologians and brothers and sisters in Christ who attend our churches saw the issue as clearly as this agnostic/atheist. If the resurrection is true, the rest of Christianity falls right into place. If, on the other hand it is not true, millions of us wasted our time on Easter Sunday. I am convinced, based on the historical evidence and the witness of the Spirit in my heart, it was not a waste!
Daniel L. Akin is president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.