…but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 21:31.
Our culture does not really understand the concept of faith. TV shows, movies, novels and other venues often present faith as “a leap in the dark,” believing something without or in spite of evidence. Sadly, this is not limited to modern media. Many atheists, and perhaps sadder still, many Christians, define faith in similar terms. How often, after all, do atheists or Christians alike discuss faith in terms of believing without evidence?
In reality, the term “faith” does not imply an absence of evidence. The author of John presents himself as an eyewitness to the Resurrection (John 21:24-25), and he presents his gospel as a matter of that which He has seen. As I note elsewhere, John’s eyewitness testimony appears to be reliable (http://apologiafides.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/the-evidence-and-the-gospel-of-john/), and he is giving an account of what he saw. Yet, John also notes his goal as compelling belief – that we should exercise faith because of his testimony. This implies that his own belief was based on his own experience of the gospel. Likewise, one of the terms for “miracle” is the Greek word for signs, and Jesus miracles are presented as evidence of His Messiahship, again indicating that faith is not contrary to evidence.
Likewise, Paul, the great apostle to the gentiles, well known as the great champion of salvation by grace through faith alone also discussed himself as an eyewitness (1 Corinthians 15), and as someone who has spoken with other eyewitnesses. He presents his conclusions about the future resurrection of the dead, based on the evidence of eyewitness testimony. So, apparently Paul, presumably an expert in faith, did not assume that faith was without regard to the evidence.
In reality, the conclusion from John’s statement above is that faith is not something that materializes in spite of the evidence, but that it is a definite response to the evidence eyewitnesses have presented. When someone is told about the eyewitness testimony of the Resurrection he is immediately faced with a choice: he can respond and accept Christ’s claims to be who He claimed to be; His sacrifice for what He claimed it was, and His rightful place as ruler — or one can reject these claims. Or, at least momentarily, he can investigate whether the eyewitnesses are reliable or not, although eventually he will have to come to a decision.
As Christians then, discussing the quality of the eyewitness testimony is of tremendous importance. If the Christian faith is based in the historicity of the gospels, and faith is a response to that historicity, then it behooves us all as a necessity to have some understanding of the evidence; why the eyewitness testimony appears to be reliable.