This is a very engaging book, with an exciting premise: It imagines what it would be like if St. Paul and the prophet Muhammad were to have a formal debate on whether or not Jesus was resurrected (!).
The idea is that MIT has been able to create two opposing lifelike holograms that, by computers incorporating extensive data on how the two men thought and argued, mimic the saint and the prophet, debating before a stadium filled with a large audience including many Christians and Muslims. The author sets the (literal) stage and also creates a moderator to keep the debaters in line and to ask them each questions, and the book’s chapters include the moderator’s introduction, opening statements by Paul and Muhammad, rebuttals, questions from the audience, and so forth, finishing with closing statements by each and a conclusion by the moderator.
The argument put forth by Paul for the historicity of the Resurrection is very similar to the one that the author and Gary Habermas make in the book they coauthored, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which I wrote about on this blogsite here. It relies on historical evidence, both in the New Testament and outside it, for three propositions, accepted by most historians, Christian and non-Christian alike: (1) Jesus was killed by crucifixion; (2) three days later, the tomb in which His body had been laid was empty; and (3) many people — with a focus on the disciples, His half-brother James, and Paul himself — saw and declared that they saw Jesus alive thereafter. Muhammad’s argument attempts to undermine each of Paul’s propositions, and makes the counterargument from the Qu’ran that God miraculously rescued Jesus, who was not the Son of God but a prophet, from being crucified at all.
The author gives Paul the first and last word in the debate, but says that he tried hard to present as strongly as he can the Muslim side of the argument. The reader can get a good flavor of the book just by reading Muhammad’s and Paul’s closing statements (chapters 13 and 14).
A couple of additional notes:
- This book was written after the book noted above that the author, Michael Licona, coauthored with Gary Habermas. Habermas and William Lane Craig both endorse the book, and Lee Strobel writes the foreword.
- The book is obviously of interest to evangelists planning to speak to Muslims. In the book’s foreword (10-11), Lee Strobel notes that the author has engaged in high-profile debates with Muslim experts on the deity of Jesus. Also in this regard I’ll note that Paul’s imagined attack in the book on the credibility of the Qu’ran itself is both interesting and important (see 112-13 carryover paragraph, arguing that it is fifth-hand). See also this quote (13):
Since Jesus’s resurrection is the foundation of the Christian faith and is an event denied by Islam’s holy Scripture called the Qur’an, both Muslims and Christians can agree upon two things: (1) If Jesus did not rise from the dead, Christianity is false, and (2) if Jesus was resurrected, Christianity is true and Islam is false. The resurrection of Jesus, therefore, is a good topic for discussion among Muslims and Christians. Did it occur? Is the evidence strong enough that a rational person would be justified in believing that it occurred merely based on the evidence?
One final note: The debate’s moderator repeatedly notes that, as the debate here is framed, the burden of proof is heavily on Paul: “All we need is reasonable doubt and you [Paul] cannot walk away as the victor of this debate” (106). But in real life, I don’t think this is true at all. To the contrary, as I argue frequently in the posts on this blogsite, Pascal’s wager demonstrates decisively that, if there is plausibility to Christianity’s claim to truth — let alone if Christianity is more likely true than not, even if it has not been proved beyond a “reasonable doubt” — then it is foolish not to believe.