Interview with Gary Habermas
Would you say that when you became a Christian you committed intellectual suicide?
I became a Christian believer at a young age, but afterwards I experienced a very protracted time of acute doubt (see below). Experiencing and pursuing these questions propelled me into several decades of spending my life in search of what might be called the big questions of life. After writing thirty-six books, along with dozens of other publications and many debates, I would say without hesitation that today, I am more sure of the truth of Christianity than at any previous time in my life. So without equivocation, I would say that far from committing intellectual suicide, I think firmly that Christianity explains the nature of the universe far better than any other philosophy or religion.
What questions were you particularly touched by during your search for God? How did you come to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour? Were there any arguments that played a key role in your conversion?
I trusted Jesus Christ as a child, and was raised in a Christian home. But during my teen years, I began a very long pilgrimage of more than 10 years. I read and studied widely, ranging especially through the fields of philosophy, nineteenth century German theological liberalism, and the world religions. In particular, I concentrated on philosophical naturalism and the ideas of skeptics such as the Scottish philosopher David Hume, the German critical theologian David Strauss, the French thinker Ernest Renan, as well as the area of ancient mythology. For me, it was certainly not a case of squeezing everything into a Christian box regardless of whether or not it fit. Family members and friends would probably remember the odd paths where my search took me. Through much intense study, personal visits, and discussions with believers from other persuasions, I pursued both fringe as well as mainline philosophies and religions. I argued with Christians and told them that they were mistaken about central theology. At one time, I thought that I was in the process of becoming a Buddhist and that I had already stepped over into that faith.
During this search, many topics made fascinating studies. I settled down in the area of apologetics, studying arguments for both Christian and non-Christian systems. I concluded that some evidences for Christianity, while intriguing, couldn’t close the argument or establish the grounds for faith. And I rejected outright some of the purported reasons to be a Christian. Sometimes I was appalled when I found out why Christians believed what they did. Without any question, a single topic that emerged during this time held more promise than any other: arguments for the resurrection of Jesus. Very early, I realized that if Jesus was raised from the dead in time-space history, then this would easily be the strongest indication that Jesus was who he said he was. But at that time, I knew neither the evidence for the resurrection nor any strong reasons for concluding that Jesus thought of himself as Deity. Only years later, after 18 books on this subject along with debates and dialogues with some of the brightest minds around, did I rest in the argument that not only was the resurrection by far the best explanation for the historical facts upon which virtually all critical scholars who study this subject agree, but that this event was also the strongest indication of Jesus’ identity. The interested individual may pursue some of these studies on my website www.garyhabermas.com
What questions are you most often confronted with in your ministry?
Occasionally, I am asked factual questions, concerning such topics as the reliability of the New Testament, details regarding the life of the historical Jesus, or especially regarding his resurrection. Happily, I can report after decades of research that Christianity does exceptionally well when it comes to historical areas of investigation such as these.
Seldom noticed, however, is that research indicates that the majority of religious doubts, including many questions by unbelievers, tend to be more emotional in nature. In other words, although the questions may appear very often to be more factual in nature, they very frequently emanate from distraught emotional states. As such, they are generally not solved by evidential considerations at all. Rather, techniques such as those taught in cognitive or cognitive-behavioural approaches work best.
It is often said that the most prominent objections to religion concern issues related to personal pain and suffering. I took an entirely new perspective on this subject when my wife of 23 years died of cancer in 1995. I thought that my doubts would return, but they never did so, for which I was deeply thankful to God. Strangely enough, emotional complaints against God often come during times of personal suffering. In testimony after testimony of those who have experienced horrible psychological pain, the objections cry out not for detailed factual, passionless answers of a textbook nature, but for emotional corrections. Once again, those interested in some of these details can pursue various audio and video lectures at www.garyhabermas.com (This site also includes my two out of print books on the subject of religious doubt, located under the books tab.)
What would you like to say to Europeans reading this interview?
Throughout much of the Western world today, philosophical naturalism of various stripes holds sway in intellectual circles. Yet, there are signs at present that the naturalistic fortress is crumbling. For example, new studies in the cognitive sciences argue for different approaches. Philosophical areas that were taboo until a few decades ago, like those of God’s existence, an afterlife, as well as intercessory prayer and even certain miracle stories are gaining not only popularity, but incredible backup. Then if we were to add some of the historical areas mentioned here, such as the nature of the New Testament text, the historical Jesus, and especially the resurrection, we might begin to put together a well-rounded picture of orthodox Christianity. Truly, these are new and exciting times.
But even beyond evidential concerns, it has been hinted above that emotional needs may be much more prevalent today in a love-and relationship-starved world. In my opinion, dealing with our emotional pain presents a well-rounded picture that completes the evidential landscape. When the two come together, there are great reasons for the deepest joy available today.
Interview given for the French apologetics website www.raisonsdecroire.org – reproduced by permission.
Gary Habermas (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is Distinguished Research Professor at Liberty University. He has published 36 books (18 on Jesus’ resurrection), most recently, Did the Resurrection Happen? (with Antony Flew and David Baggett). He has also written over sixty-five chapters, essays, or articles in other books, plus more than 100 articles in journals and other periodicals. He has been a Visiting (or Adjunct) Professor teaching over 40 courses at 15 different graduate schools and seminaries in the US and abroad (including the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics). His website is www.garyhabermas.com