Is what happened on the day Jesus rose from the dead that much of a mystery? Dan Barker thinks so.
“I HAVE AN EASTER challenge for Christians.”
That’s Dan Barker–former pastor turned atheist–issuing his infamous but sincere dare to all people who put faith in Jesus’ resurrection.
Mind you, he’s not looking for proof.
He simply wants you to tell him exactly what happened on the day Jesus supposedly rose from the dead.
To be fair, Dan will let you use all the Gospel accounts (including John), Acts and 1 Corinthians. All you have to do is write a plausible, chronological narrative.
One important condition, though: Do not omit one single detail.
Fail: Dan Barker
Barker confesses that when he tried this challenge, he failed…meaning he couldn’t craft a plausible, chronological narrative.
What Barker is doing is pointing out the discrepancies of the resurrection narratives and calling into question the reliability of the writers.
Now, since my buddy Eshu introduced me to the challenge, I’ve been searching for Christian responses. I’ve found two. Surprising, especially since Barker issued this challenge in 1992.
Responses to Barker’s Easter Challenge
The most recent response is from small-town Idaho pastor Stephen Kingsley’s book The Easter Answer.
Kingsley believes the answer involves redefining the time of day the resurrection occurred. I’m skeptical of its acceptance since you can’t even buy a copy on Amazon.
Before that, James Patrick Holding tackled Barker’s challenge by harmonizing the resurrection accounts. His response seems legit.
I wonder: Is it simply that nobody is taking Barker’s challenge serious? They don’t see the differences in the accounts any more problematic or unresolvable than, say, four, five or six biographies on Alexander the Great?
Not sure. The jury is still out.
What I Think of Barker’s Easter Challenge
At first blush, Barker’s challenge can seem intimidating. Overwhelming. Perhaps even damning.
But Barker himself said, “Of course, none of these contradictions prove that the resurrection did not happen, but they do throw considerable doubt on the reliability of the supposed witnesses. Some of them were wrong. Maybe they were all wrong.”
In a nutshell, Barker’s advocating doubt. And what’s at stake here is the reliability of the Gospel accounts. Fortunately, there’s a mountain of Christian apologetic literature dealing with this issue, so perhaps Barker’s challenge is already answered in those books and papers.
Pale, Paper-Thin Arguments
Listen, I’m no scholar….and perhaps a smidgen naive…but after closer inspection, I don’t find Barker’s train of thought compelling.
For instance, Barker says that Christian apologists who use the analogy of several witnesses viewing a car accident aren’t in serious trouble if they simply disagree on the color of the vehicle.
However, if one says the accident occurred in Chicago and the other said Milwaukee, then at least one person has serious issues with the truth.
The important thing they both agree on, however, is that there was an accident.
You Have to Deal with the Resurrection
But even if all of the resurrection witnesses were proven wrong except one, you still have a resurrection. Maybe not enough evidence for you to put your trust into Jesus…but people trust the reliability of an airplane on less.
Honestly, Barker’s challenge isn’t surprising coming from an anti-super naturalist who said:
This challenge could be harder. I could ask why reports of supernatural beings, vanishing and materializing out of thin air, long-dead corpses coming back to life, and people levitating should be given serious consideration at all.
Dan Barker wouldn’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection even if the ghost of Thomas Paine hand-delivered a photo album of the event. He’s simply closed to anything supernatural.
What Do You Think?
Know of any resources that tackled Barker’s Easter challenge? Ever had your faith in the resurrection rocked before? Indeed, ask yourself this question: Why do you believe the resurrection is true?
Tough questions, for sure. But it’s meant to motivate you to crack open the books and prepare an answer to anyone who asks you for the hope you have in you.