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Does A Maximalist Case Have An Elevator Pitch Version?

In a prior article I wrote “Why I Prefer A Minimal Facts Approach Over A Maximalist One”, I said that one of the reasons The Minimal Facts Approach is my preferred approach is that I can expand it or contract it to be however long or short I need it to be. It’s very easy to give a brief case for the core facts needing to explain in about 5 minutes. I basically can give one criteria-of-authenticity argument for Jesus’ crucifixion, His empty tomb, the postmortem appearances to the disciples, and I’m done. Or maybe I just give one argument for The Empty Tomb and the postmortem appearances to the disciples, and I’m done. Whenever I’m done, we move onto a discussion of what best explains the historical facts laid out. This is where discussions over naturalistic theories take place.

Dr. Lydia McGrew is a philosopher and Christian Apologist who hates The Minimal Facts method. Besides the written articles in which Dr. McGrew expresses her misgivings, she also gave her criticisms in a presentation on the Apologetics Academy YouTube channel. You can click here to watch it in its entirety. I’m not going to interact with everything she said in the video, as a good bit of overlaps with what she’s written on the blog “What’s Wrong With The World”. Rather, I shall here address one thing she didn’t say in those articles.

McGrew Makes Her Elevator Pitch For The Case For The Resurrection Of Jesus

At 34:27 in her video, Lydia McGrew argues that the popular charge that defending a Maximalist Case “takes too long” is false. She maintains that it can be defended briefly. First says that in spite of the “problems” with a Minimal Facts approach, you’re “going to have to go further anyway. I’m not going to take the time to go over what she thinks are problems with a minimal facts approach. I’ve already done that in prior articles. However, I’m to challenge the idea that a Maximalist case really can be as brief as a Minimal Facts approach.

At around 41:40, McGrew presents what she calls “The Trilemma Version” of The Maximalist Case. This is pretty much a 3 step syllogism which goes as follows;

1: Either the disciples were deceivers, they were mistaken, or they were telling the truth.

2: They were not deceivers nor mistaken.

3: Therefore, they were telling the truth.

Now, on her slide in the presentation, she has it worded exactly like this

*Either the disciples were deceivers, they were mistaken, or they were telling the truth.

*They were not deceivers (massive motivation against bringing forward such a story as a lie in those social circumstances)

*They were not merely mistaken (refer to details of the account they gave)

*Therefore, they were telling the truth.

I’m not going to say much about how she defends each of these steps, because what she says in defense of these steps isn’t problematic. I agreed with everything she said, and the argument is good as it stands, except for one tiny problem. She didn’t defend the reliability of the gospels? Everything she said from the first step to the last was built on the assumption that the gospels were reliable! But that’s exactly what McGrew maintains we MUST do in order to get to the resurrection! Now, I grant you don’t need to go into ALL the evidence for reliability to make a case. That’s something she rightfully pointed out at 39:39 – 41:16. You don’t lay out everything at once. However, I was hoping for a brief case that the gospels were at minimum (1) Intending to record history, (2) Eyewitness testimony. Maybe some fast and brief reasons to think so. But she moved straight on to her Trilemma argument without even giving A LITTLE BIT of evidence for these crucial facts. She just assumed them. I was sitting there thinking “Wait a minute, where are we getting the disciples’ testimony at? And how do we even know this is their testimony?” Having studied what I studied, I knew what she was presupposing and I knew the evidence for it, but if I were an ill informed skeptic, her brief case wouldn’t have been the least bit compelling. I know the evidence for the eyewitness nature of the gospels, but how do you lay that out prior to making this Trilemma argument in such a way that avoids the long-windedness McGrew claims the Maximalist Argument can avoid?

A second brief way she presents is an “Inference To The Best Explanation” version (see timestamp 44:00 – 45:25). On her slides, she presents the case as follows

*The disciples claimed to have had multisensory experiences, both as individuals and in groups, on multiple occasions, of conversing with Jesus. They claimed that he was able to eat and was tangible. They gave details of these encounters as found in the gospel accounts.

* They undertook serious risk of death for making these claims and continued to do so under persecution.

* The best explanation of these facts is that they were telling the truth: Jesus really had physically risen from the dead.

Again, her reasons behind each of these steps are pretty good reasons (just listen to what she said in 44:00 – 45:25 to hear for yourself). But the major issue is that, again, this 3 step argument depends on the presupposition that AT LEAST the gospels and Acts represent eyewitness testimony; specifically that of the disciples themselves either directly (e.g Matthew and John) or secondhand (Mark and Luke). Nevermind reliable eyewitness testimony, this argument presupposes that the disciples’ own testimony comes from the gospels! Now, I don’t dispute that it does! I want to make it clear that just because I’m a Minimal Facts guy [1]or “Moderate Facts” guy, if Caleb Jackson is correct in saying I use a slightly more liberal version of Habermas’ argument, that doesn’t mean I believe the gospels are unreliable, or that defending their reliability should never be done. I definitely believe they are reliable – such a belief doesn’t stem from a pre-commitment to inerrancy, by the way – and I think full reliability can be defended. As a historian, you can defend the reliability of the gospels and make data points out of all sorts of things (e.g Jesus eating fish). The problem is not that I disagree with the presuppositions behind Dr. McGrew’s arguments, my problem is that she doesn’t defend those presuppositions. As such, these so-called brief Maximalist cases would only be compelling to other studious Christians like myself, or a Craig Blomberg, or a J. Warner Wallace. I.E people who already believe the gospels are reliable and probably already believe Jesus rose from the dead.

Unless Dr. McGrew really wants to reach skeptics, and doesn’t just want to preach to the choir, she’s going to have to show why the gospels and Acts represent eyewitness testimony at minimum. It’s true that “you don’t need to bring out all of your pots and pans”, but you need at least to bring out the dishes containing the meal. McGrew has not shown how that can be done in a timely manner in which I have 15 minutes to make my case in a debate, or maybe 5 minutes to answer someone at the bus stop. I think she has shown how the resurrection can be argued for quickly, presupposing the reliability of the New Testament. And that’s great if my intelocutor shares that presupposition. If I ever meet a skeptic who thinks the gospels are reliable, eyewitness testimony, I will definitely use these arguments rather than unpack a minimal facts approach. However, I think it’s more likely that I’ll find a unicorn first!

Maybe Erik Manning Can Do A Better Job

Erik Manning, another anti-Minimal Facts Apologist, also attempts to show a Maximalist case in a short amount of time. In a relatively recent Facebook post, he wrote

\\“Apologists should not be in the business of using a faulty argument because it’s rhetorically effective, or more socially acceptable, or more expedient. That said, the maximal case has an “elevator pitch” or “TikTok” version that sounds like this:

Multiple lines of evidence indicate that the testimony we have in the gospels traces back to the original eyewitness testimony. The disciples claimed to have had multisensory experiences, both as individuals and in groups, on multiple occasions, of conversing with Jesus. They claimed that he was able to eat and was tangible. They gave details of these encounters as found in the gospel accounts. The content of their claims makes it unlikely that they were mistaken. They also undertook serious risks of death for asserting these claims and continued to do so under persecution. This makes it unlikely that they were lying.

The most plausible explanation for these facts is that they were telling the truth: Christ had physically risen from the dead. Resurrection cases, whether they are minimal facts cases or not, start with certain assertions that can be backed up with additional facts. Max data advocates are ready to do that, whether we have 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour or 7 hours.”\\

What should we say to this? Is is a persuasive “TikTok” version of the maximal case? I certainly don’t think so! This looks more like a list of data points on a PowerPoint presentation than an argument. They look like a series of assertions a conference speaker might lay out and say “Here’s the list of data points that I’ll be defending throughout tonight’s talk.” to be defended”. Maybe this is something I can include in the final entry of my future blog series on gospel reliability and its implications for the resurrection, but if I were a skeptic, I’d be reading every line going “Assertion, assertion, assertion, assertion. Where’s the evidence?” Manning says “Multiple lines of evidence indicate that the testimony we have in the gospels traces back to the original eyewitness testimony.” Ok, and that evidence is……what? Manning doesn’t go into it in his Facebook post. “The disciples claimed to have had multisensory experiences, both as individuals and in groups, on multiple occasions, of coversing with Jesus.” Where is Manning getting these claims of the disciples? The gospels, right. And why should we trust the gospels? Erik doesn’t tell us. Not in his “TikTok” version of the Maximal case. He definitely has told us why across elsewhere in other content that he has produced. However, he doesn’t include those reasons in the Facebook post. Just click this link to read the whole thing for yourself. Where is it? Where’s the evidence that we ought to believe the gospels are eyewitness testimony? It does exist, it’s just not given in Manning’s post (in either a long essay or in Elevator Pitch form).

What Does An Elevator Pitch Of The Minimal Facts Argument Look Like

Let me just give a hypothetical example of what unpacking The Minimal Facts Approach looks like.

——————

Sam: “Jesus’ resurrection is a myth. It’s no more true than Zeus impregnating Athena.” 

Me: “Actually, there’s lots of historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection?” 

Sam: “Yeah? Like what?” 

Me: “Well, most scholars – even skeptical non-Christians like Ehrman – don’t throw the gospels and epistles out as mythical material. They don’t think they’re inspired, but by employing what they call ‘The Criteria Of Authenticity’, they can ascertain certain facts regarding the Historical Jesus. Extra biblical evidence is welcome, but we’re concerned mainly with applying the criteria to the New Testament documents. When we do this, we can arrive at a few historical facts, and nearly everyone from evangelicals to liberal atheists grant these. They are (1) Jesus died by crucifixion, (2) His tomb was found empty the following sunday. And (3) His disciples believed he appeared to them after His death. 

Let me give just one argument for the historicity of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus’ crucifixion is mentioned in 4 secular sources in addition to the gospels, and epistles in our Bibles. This makes at least 9 independent sources. One of the criterion is multiple attestation; if an event is recorded in 2 or more independent sources, it’s more likely to be true. After all, what are the odds that 9 independent authors would all make up the same fictional event and treat is as history? Those sources are Josephus, Tactitus, Mara-Bar Sarapion, Lucian Of Samosata, the synoptic gospels, the gospel of John, and Paul’s letters (e.g 1 Corinthians). 

We can reasonably conclude Jesus’ tomb was empty because all 4 gospels feature women as witnesses to the empty tomb. The testimony of a woman was regarded as worthless back then, so if the empty tomb narratives were conjured up whole cloth, they would have made male disciples be the ones to discover it. Since they did not, the best explanation is that the tomb really was found empty. This really happened. According to the criterion of embarrassment which says that people don’t make up lies to make their stories seem non-credible.

Thirdly, we have Paul’s testimony to the appearances in 1 Corinthians 15. Scholars believe Paul likely got this list of appearances 2-5 years after his conversion, most likely in the trip to Jerusalem he mentions in Galatians 1 and 2 in which he visited with Peter and James for 15 days. Scholars think it’s a creed for several reasons (1) Paul says “For what I received, I passed onto you” indicating he’s not writing in His own hand, (2) It’s structured in paralellism – i.e long line followed by a short line, followed by another long line, (3) the repetitive “and that” is ryhtmic which was likely done on purpose to contribute to easy memorization. Scholars think he most likely got it during the 15 days mentioned in Gal 1 for a couple of reasons. I’ll only mention one here; Peter and James are two of the individual appearances specifically named. 

So, we have a creed that lists multiple group appearances that Paul got from Peter and James; two of Jesus’ closest disciples. Early AND Eyewitness testimony are two of the Criteria of Authenticity. In fact, these are probably a couple of the most important. Moreover, to have an account that is both early and is from an eyewitness is like gold to historians. We can safely conclude then, that Jesus’ disciples were claiming He appeared to them. 

For these reasons we can conclude that the crucifixion, Jesus’ empty tomb, and postmortem appearances are historical facts. 

Sam: Yeah, ok. I guess something must have happened that first Easter. But that doesn’t mean Jesus rose from the dead. Maybe the tomb was empty because the disciples stole the body. Or maybe they only THOUGHT they saw Jesus, but were actually hallucinating. 

Me: Those certainly are possible options. As someone who doesn’t like appealing to supernatural explanations when natural ones will do, I have to rule such options out before I conclude something supernatural occurred. I think those natural theories are weak. Would you like to know why? 

————————–

As you can see, I unpacked my case in only a few minutes. There was a lot more I could have said, but I streamlined my arguments to make sure to avoid info dumping him. After the initial pitch, the conversation shifted to what the best explanation of the 3 facts I brought up were. I could have been even MORE brief if I had just left the crucifixion out of it and focused only on The Empty Tomb and Postmortem Appearances to the disciples.

Conclusion

I have to say; after watching McGrew’s presentation and reading Manning’s Facebook post, I was disappointed. I was hoping that I was wrong that this could be laid out in a setting conducive to dialogue (as opposed to a monologue), but they did not deliver. Now, I’ve been accused multiple times of not knowing what their criticisms of The Minimal Facts approach is, and of not even knowing what McGrew has said. This is true only with regards to how she and those who follow her deal with the Too-long-objection to the Maximal case. I was certainly aware of the reasons why she was against the minimal case, though I went over the content again just to make sure I was understanding the arguments correctly. After all, I do not wish to attack straw men. But I definitely was ignorant of how she dealt with the objection that a Maximal Data Approach takes too long to unpack and, thus, is only good for books, 1 hour lectures, courses, and multi part blog post series. I really was hoping to be proven wrong here, but it turns out that the criticism still stands.

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References

References
1 or “Moderate Facts” guy, if Caleb Jackson is correct in saying I use a slightly more liberal version of Habermas’ argument

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