The Resurrection: An 18th Century Defense for 21st Century Christians

May 4, 2011

The two key elements at the heart of Christianity are the cross and the empty tomb. Rarely do many outside of the faith deny the veracity of the cross. That Jesus of Nazareth died in Jerusalem under the oversight of Pontius Pilate is a well-attested fact. The element more difficult to believe is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just as Paul found the men at Athens skeptical of the resurrection (Acts 17:32), so people today struggle to accept this most important truth. But without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christianity itself falls apart. Paul makes this explicit in 1 Corinthians 15:12–19:

“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

Christianity stands or falls on the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In an age of skepticism regarding the supernatural, Christians find it difficult to show people the truth of Christianity because of denials of the resurrection. This is not a new phenomenon.

During the rise of the Enlightenment period in the 18th century, it became common to embrace only what could be verified using normal human faculties. Since no one could reproduce a resurrection, logically, it was reasoned, it must be impossible. When one removes the supernatural from Christianity, particularly through the denial of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, all of Christianity falls.

Thankfully, there were people who fought against the tide of anti-supernaturalism during the Enlightenment period. One such man was John Gill.

Introducing John Gill

John Gill was born in Kettering, Northamptonshire, England on November 23, 1697. His parents were God-fearing individuals of the Calvinistic Baptist tradition. His early years were spent studying in the local grammar school where he excelled in languages. The church at Kettering recognized his gifts as a preacher and in 1719 Gill became pastor of the famous Horselydown congregation in London where he served for a staggering fifty-two years until his death in 1771. Gill would become a prolific author and one of the most influential theologians of the Particular Baptist cause.

Gill’s Defense of the Resurrection

Gill taught and preached frequently the doctrine of the resurrection. One such occasion was the famous Lime Street Lectures of 1731.[1] While we cannot spend a detailed amount of time analyzing his defense, we can make some general conclusions about how he defended the resurrection and how we can learn to do the same today.

First, Gill knew his opponents and their arguments. Uneducated beyond some initial grammar school, Gill made it his goal as both a Christian and as a minister of God’s Word to be informed in the writings of the orthodox and the unorthodox alike. He was expertly versed in Jewish thought and literature, and was aware of ancient pagan authors and the arguments they made. He was aware of Christian thinking on the issue from the early church through the Reformation and post-Reformation Puritan period in which he lived. He was aware of the arguments made by those who agreed with a resurrection and those who denied it.

Second, he progressed through his argumentation in a logical way. First, he considers that the doctrine of resurrection is a “credible” thing. When one considers all of the amazing things that occur in the world and all of the things God has done in the Scriptures, resurrection from the dead is something that is not completely incredible to believe. From there he moves to more explicit references in Scripture to argue for the resurrection of the dead. Finally, he considers how the resurrection is necessary because it is connected with all kinds of other doctrines in the Bible. He clinches it with the key: If Christ is raised, so too are we. This leads the reader along the argument, slowly building the case, so that when one reaches the end, he faces an insurmountable argument defending the resurrection from the dead.

Third, the core of the defense of the resurrection for Gill comes straight from the Scriptures. When much Enlightenment thinking was turning to the other “book of the revelation of God” namely nature, to define the world, Gill still sees the lasting answers in God’s special revelation, Scripture. Our theology can only be derived from the Scriptures itself. It is God’s communication to man and thus gives us the answers we are looking for. Instead of rooting his argument in the conclusions of others, he looks to the Scriptures to defend this crucial doctrine.

Learning from Gill’s Defense

It is not just the secular atheistic world that denies the core supernatural elements of our faith but also much of liberal Christianity denies the miraculous and especially the resurrection from the dead. It is imperative that we understand and defend this crucial element of our faith. If the resurrection of Christ is denied then our faith is in vain. What then can we learn from Gill when defending the truth of the elements of our Christian faith?

First, the maxim of “know thy enemy” is invaluable. If we want to honestly interact with those who disagree with our position, we need to know what they are saying. Too many Christians attempt to contend against the arguments of liberals and atheists alike without knowing what they actually believe about the subject. Study the issue, especially as articulated by those who disagree with you. A. N. Wilson’s, Jesus: A Life, Barbara Thiering’s Jesus the Man, and John Shelby Spong’s, Resurrection: Myth or Reality? are good places to start. For defenses of the resurrection which interact with detractors see Gary Habermas and Michael Licona’s The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus and N.T. Wright’s magisterial The Resurrection of the Son of God.

Second, know the Word of God. There is no more important tool in your arsenal than the Word of God. Gill demonstrates his vast knowledge of the Word of God on the subject and draws Scriptures from throughout the Bible to support his argument. Strong argument for affirming the truth of the resurrection is based on a systematic understanding of the teaching in the entire Bible. For instance, Gill considers Job 19:25–27, Isaiah 26:19, and Daniel 12:2 from the Old Testament. The clinching argument from the New Testament is that since the resurrection of Christ is true (1 Cor. 15), then our resurrection is true too!

Finally, know how to make your argument. The reality is that the unbelieving mind cannot grasp the spiritual things of God. You cannot convince them with logical arguments that the resurrection is reasonable or possible apart from the Word of God. The mind of the unbeliever is hostile to God (Rom. 8:7). Our goal is to present the truth claims of the Scriptures and pray that the Spirit of God would use this Word to draw our hearer to Christ. Gill’s approach —a systematic walk through the Scriptures—is the best and most reasonable defense of the resurrection.

Our world may seem more sophisticated today than it was in Gill’s time. Yet little has actually changed. The arguments are the same. Nothing new is under the sun. Unfortunately what has changed is how little we care about history. Many of these fights have been raging for hundreds of years. Think about how much we can learn from those who have gone before us. Gill’s comprehensive defense of the resurrection should help us in our own defense of this crucial doctrine. And there is no more important doctrine.

In closing, Gill’s words as to the importance of the resurrection are fitting:

The whole gospel is connected with it; if there is no truth in this, there is none in that. As the doctrine of the resurrection receives confirmation from the doctrines of personal election, the gift of the persons of the elect to Christ, the covenant of grace, redemption by Christ, union with him, and the sanctification of the Spirit, so these can have no subsistence without supposing that.


[1] The sermons are available at http://www.pbministries.org/books/gill/Sermons&Tracts/sermon_87.htm


Book Review – Raised with Christ

January 23, 2010

Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything. By Adrian Warnock. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.

It seems that all it takes to receive a book offer nowadays is to have a successful blog (I’m still waiting for my offer!). Those popular bloggers that write often begin to develop their writing ability and develop an audience and it is no wonder that publishing companies notice them. As I am a frequent reader of Adrian Warnock’s blog I can attest to Warnock’s wonderful ability to communicate and to communicate important theological truths to those who might not have a seminary education. For those of us with a seminary education, we are put in our place on how to communicate the unsearchable riches of Christ to those around us! But I digress…

Warnock has authored a fascinating new book on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But not just the resurrection, but on the importance of the resurrection. The book deals with how the resurrection of Christ affects absolutely everything. There have been other books written on the historicity of the resurrection, the theological importance of the resurrection, and other concepts around the resurrection but Warnock has helped those who are simply striving to live the Christian life in the pew to understand how the resurrection affects everything. And he does this admirably. As the Western Church has in some areas denied the resurrection and the rest have often denied the power of the resurrection, it is so important to be reminded of the what and why of the resurrection of Christ today in our churches.

Warnock begins his volume with the standard fare of treating the historicity, the understanding of resurrection in the time of the Old Testament and New Testament, and some of the initial theological implications of the resurrection. But Warnock’s book begins to really resonate when he begins dealing with the neglect of the resurrection in the church. “To only think of Jesus as a long-haired, gentle man in a robe and wearing sandals has devastating effects on the church…. The world seems blind to the Bible’s description of the resurrected Jesus, full of power and authority” (p. 68). It is true the resurrection has never left the church but we may not always give full credence to it and to its effects in the life of the Christian and the church.

He continues to provide an overview of the importance of the resurrection and glimpses of the resurrection in the Bible. Moving on though Warnock gives to me as the most important section of the book, the second half beginning with chapter 8 and “What Did the Resurrection Ever Do For Us?” In this fascinating chapter Warnock outlines the importance of the resurrection in our lives. It is not simple theological abstract truth but is absolutely crucial for the Christian and the church. Surveying the preaching in the Book of Acts Warnock outlines a number of attendant  results of the resurrection (p. 114):

  • The sending of the Spirit (Acts 2:33)
  • Physical healings (Acts 3:15-16)
  • The conversion of sinners (Acts 3:26)
  • Salvation by union with Jesus (Acts 4:11-12)
  • Jesus’ role as the leader of his church (Acts 5:30-31; 9)
  • Forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:30-31)
  • Comfort for the dying (Acts 7)
  • The commissioning of gospel messengers (Acts 9; 10:42)
  • Freedom from the penalty and power of sin (Acts 13:37-39)
  • Assurance that the gospel is true (Acts 17:31)
  • Our own resurrection (Acts 17:31)
  • Jesus’ future judgment of this world (Acts 17:31)

It is amazing. The resurrection does not just promise us eternal life, but is the basis for all of the above realities in the life of the church and the Christian and this simply from the book of Acts!

Warnock moves on to treat other theological realities in the life of the Christian and the church that have results from the resurrection that we don’t always make connections: justification, sanctification, prayer, revival, glorification and other important areas in our Christian lives. Do we, for instance, believe in the resurrection as only once happened and never again, or do we believe that the Lord revives dead hearts to life? Do we pray to that end just as those in church history did for revival? “Where are the miracles? Where are the salvations? Where are the damatic acts? Where is God? The answer is, he is still here, he is still in the business of bringing life where there is death, and he still is the One who answers by fire. As churches we can ask him for the fire of revival… (p. 179).” Where indeed? The resurrection not only is the promise of our eternal life but is the promise of God that He is still in the business of resurrection!

This book is one of the most important, in my humble opinion, ever written on the topic of the resurrection. It is not that Warnock has necessarily said anything that has not been said before in different places and in different ways. Instead, the value in the book is that Warnock has made the sort of hum-drum reality of the resurrection come to life for the church and the Christian! The resurrection of Christ, far more than just some historical event, has ongoing ramifications in the our lives today! The resurrection has great implications for our lives and we fully grasp the nature of and importance of the resurrection of Christ it will profoundly change our lives. That is where this book is so important. It makes so much of the resurrection! And rightly, we should make much of it. Hopefully this book will drive more preachers and teachers to talk about the importance of the resurrection. I heartily recommend Warnock’s book to this end. May the resurrection again be a topic of constant address in the church and may we live like a community brought from death to life in our own resurrection!

For more information on this book see the website that goes along with this book, www.raisedwithchrist.net.

This book was given away as part of the Working out Salvation with Fear and Trembling 2010 Crossway Book Giveaway. If you would like to enter the contest to win other Crossway titles in 2010 check out the contest here:


And the January Winner Is…

January 20, 2010

Announcing the winner for the month of January for the Working out Salvation with Fear and Trembling 2010 Crossway Book Giveaway is…

Jordan Rieck, better known as King’sBro, the writer of the blog, The Visit Back to the Truth. Contact me with your mailing address so we can send you out your free copy!

Dave wins a free copy of Adrian Warnock’s book, Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything. This book, just released in January is heavily endorsed by many evangelical leaders. I would highly recommend you purchase this book and read it carefully for your own edification and growth in Christ! Check also the website of the book here. Also, be on the lookout for my review of the book posted here on the blog in the next few days.

And, you can get in on the action for February’s book giveaway where we’re giving away D.A. Carson’s, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. Just see the details about the giveaway here.