Evidence that Produced a Verdict
By Paul Ernst
I was raised in a marginally Christian home. My parents did not know the Lord, but church attendance and the Ten Commandments were “good ideas.”
After my mother died when I was 10, I went to an Episcopal school. I became familiar with the forms of worship, and I prayed a lot.
By high school, any faith that I had had dried up, and I was beginning to be impressed with the one subject I enjoyed—science. I had contempt for anything that was not based on reason. I was not a typical teenager and was socially isolated. This eventually led to a loveless marriage as an escape from loneliness. The universe was just a cruel joke. Divorce was followed by a series of failed relationships, but eventually I found meaning in endurance sports.
At age 51, I was looking to hold on to my youth with one more athletic victory when a paper arrived from a business associate, a lawyer, purporting to prove the deity of Jesus Christ. I was not anti-Christian. I even appreciated their values over the growing barbarian hoard (of which I was a part!). It was a nice story—too bad it was probably a myth. In any case, we won’t know until we die, I had thought. Besides, I had already prepared my defense: “Not enough evidence.”
I scanned the paper. It was not the usual Bible tract stuff, but a tightly reasoned legal argument based on verifiable facts that would be admissible under the rules of evidence. I had never heard this anywhere, despite having read several books on religion. What it showed is that the writers of the New Testament were living witnesses who were willing to die based on what they saw. That’s impressive. People will die for all sorts of things, but not knowingly for a lie. Still, there are lots of weird phenomena in the world, and this might just be one of them.
I had an inkling that becoming a believer would change everything. I had to get this right. The second part of the paper dealt with Old Testament predictions concerning Christ. I had never heard that such a thing as predictive prophecy was in the Bible. It was all there if you really looked—an address system for the Messiah: time, place, mode of death, dozens of details. This was powerful! The numbers against these being all coincidences were stacking up. However, I still had a “what about” list, especially those Old Testament stories that seemed purely mythical—and what about science, my means to truth?
I was praying that God would give me the answers. I wanted to believe in Him, but the burden would have to fall on Him. At this point, God brought more key people and information into my life. A Christian philosopher showed me that I was still judging God and the Bible by the standards of naturalism, the philosophy that nature is all there is. How did I know naturalism was true? I had assumed that the facts of science were the “safe” ground from which—perhaps with some more facts and a leap of faith—one might get to believe. I suddenly saw how the whole scientific enterprise is a faith commitment founded on an argument that was at best circular and also self-refuting. How could the statement “science gives truth” be tested by the scientific method? Why should I stake my eternal destiny on the idea that “nothing X time X chance = everything,” especially when there is no good evidence offered to support it? Besides, the best science shows that time and space were created by a Cause outside of this universe. With naturalism now an insufficient world view, the idea of a real God acting in His creation was a possibility. The facts of the resurrection were so strong that it must be true. Only one ad hoc assumption was needed to complete the resurrection story—God exists! And by this time, I knew the arguments against His existence were weak indeed.
Still, I knew I only had a probabilistic argument. I went to my philosophy professor and told him I was 99% certain Jesus rose from the dead. He pointed out that I was demanding more proof than I demanded in other areas of my life. He called it the “mistake of epistemological perfection,” which is, if you can’t know something indubitably, you can’t know it at all. This is not how we really make decisions. Carl Sagan (author of Cosmos) had told me that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Well, my extraordinary proof would come through the verifiable facts I had been presented and through the witness of the Holy Spirit, with whom I was just getting acquainted.
I think the “Aha!” moment came when I first opened the Bible. Up to this point, I had been reading about the Bible, but I was afraid to read it. What if it were just a mess? I didn’t want to lose what I had. I turned to the famous Isaiah 53 passage that I had been reading about. There I saw a clear picture of the cross. I knew it could not have been written after the fact.
Only God could write this. I felt a shudder, and tears came to my eyes. I guess the Spirit does speak through the Word. At this point, I decided to put my trust in God through Jesus Christ. I still have those “Bible difficulties,” and I even teach now on how to resolve them. God has shown me enough to trust Him with my life. And just because He doesn’t run the universe according to my rational but very fallen brain is no reason not to trust Him. He is the Creator, and I am the creature.
So I publicly confessed that Jesus is the living Lord and have held fast to Him despite some attacks from the Evil One on my “Doubting Thomas” personality. Besides, as Jesus’ disciple Peter said, “Where else will we go?”
Through all this, my live-in girl friend was reading Christian fiction and deciding she wanted what the characters in the stories had: real purpose and meaning. We made our decisions for Christ within a few weeks of each other, got married, and made a public confession at our new church. Our relationship with Christ as the head is infinitely better because…well, Christ is the head— and we take the biblical admonition to love and obey seriously.
People will die for all sorts of things, but not knowingly for a lie.
I have found the Christian life to be the intellectual adventure that I never got off the ground in my youth. God has graciously allowed me to be used in helping bring others to Him. While it is often said that you can’t argue anyone into the kingdom, I am evidence that God can use a well-placed argument to demolish strongholds that keep people from considering Christ. I continue to enjoy learning and refining the philosophical, historical, and scientific case for Christian truth claims and how to present them to a lost world. God has given me a small platform, as I have developed adult Sunday school material and facilitated group studies.
My hope is that my work is faithful to Him and not just a platform for myself. It is an exciting time to be a Christian. New tools to present the gospel are being developed, and I hope God will let me see some of this bear fruit in the lives of my lost friends.