What roles do testimony and the argument for evidence play in Christian witness?
Classically, view these three observations:
'Answer'—perhaps it's in the question at the very moment it is delivered; possibly a little more than anyone of us would like.
'Argument'—in this sense it's a series of reasons and evidence that seeks to support the belief in the conclusion.
'Testimony'—usually indicates a particular form of evidence, and is particularly seen in cases where access to the evidence is limited.
In this case, the central claim of Christianity is that Jesus died on the cross for our sin, rose from the dead and for this we have very limited access to the evidence (see below for a book on evidence), and so relying on the testimony of the apostles and/or other witnesses is crucial.
However, in apologetics other aspects of what Christians believe, though they stand or fall with the first claim, are more accessible.
Jesus recognised this difficulty in his discussion with his disciples, 'You believe because you have seen, how much more those who believe but have not seen' (John chapter 20, verse 29).
Is Christianity reliant on testimony? And if so is this a problem?
Christianity appears to be reliant on testimony for the most crucial part of the Christian claim, namely that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
Two women delivered the initial testimony about Jesus' resurrection his followers—at that time the witness of women was considered to be culturally insufficient. The testimony of 12 men was expected to make a convincing case. This indicates that doubt and reconsideration of this central claim has always been a part of faith.
If the biblical account is true, there is another aspect which should be considered.
Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit which will convince people from within by advocating that Jesus rose again. This can be viewed as a kind of testimony from God.
Given that testimony is usually trustworthy based on the source it comes from, this indicates that even without excellent access to the initial evidence of the resurrection, we ought to be able to have confidence.
The Holy Spirit guided the hands of the biblical authors, so their testimony is also the testimony of God. This means that the testimony of the Holy Spirit does not have to be a mystical or intangible one, but one which we have good access to.
In addition to this the Holy Spirit helps Christians to interpret the Bible.
Room to doubt
Remember the man who came to Jesus called out to Jesus: 'Help me with my doubt!' (Mark chapter 9, verse 24).
This is where testimony and conviction meet. This is where the Holy Spirit connects.
In other words, doubt is good. Doubt, by necessity, leans on the walls of testimony and conviction. There needs to always be room to doubt.
And why not turn doubt around—doubting the claims that the Christian claims are false—indeed to reach this point and one need not resort to total philosophical scepticism as it would breach doubt as a true and trustworthy illusion.
We can but only hear Jesus' words again for now they bring a reality and a truth that allows doubt but with a ringing conclusion: 'You believe because you have seen, how much more those who believe but have not seen'. (John chapter 20, verse 29)
Book on evidence
For those seeking a good book on the evidence of the Resurrection you could go no further than this, now in its second printing by New Reformation Press: Leading Lawyers' Case for the Resurrection by Rev Dr Ross Clifford (Principal of Morling College). Available at Koorong.
Alexander Gillespie is an Arts Honours graduate of the University of Sydney. Particular fields of interest include Nineteenth-Century migration history, conceptual philosophy, social policy and ecclesiology. He currently lives in Sydney with his wife and enjoys researching and writing.