I’m in the Holy Land this week with 48 people—the majority are teens—as another apologist and I lead them on a trip they will never forget. Last week I asked a Mormon friend about a particular site in Israel that some are touting as evidence for the Book of Mormon. With a wipe of his hand, he said that it didn’t matter, that one’s feelings should play the prominent role in determining the reality of a particular piece of evidence.
Having visited the Holy Land himself, he told me:
“How does one explain the feeling one gets in the Holy Land? I submit to you that THAT (the feeling) is a stronger proof of the divinity of the Bible than Peter’s House, or the Herodium, or Hezekiah’s Tunnel. To the skeptic they (your top 5) prove that there is a house and a tunnel and a stadium, but one cannot deny the feelings one gets as one tours the Holy Land. THAT my friend is what I am talking about. Thank you for providing me the opportunity to teach you before you go so you can pass that along to those on your tour. Ask them to put themselves in touch with how they feel when they are there. Teach them that that feeling overrides any lookee here’s you could provide them. Those feelings is/are God revealing to them that he indeed did come to that land as the Bible teaches. Not the Herodium, not the tunnel and not a house someone has called Peter’s. You can feel it. That is the only way I can explain it. You pooh pooh it, but it is the only thing that is real. Pass it along. Your tour participants will bless you for your insights, you needn’t credit a Mormon for clueing you in.”
Did you catch what he’s saying? According to this logic, it doesn’t matter whether these sites that I’m visiting are real. Rather, what matters is that a person has a “feeling” it is true. I do agree with him that archaeology does not “prove” the Bible—I have never claimed it did. Yet the places we’re traveling to are, generally, authentic historic sites. For example, Jesus may have never risen from the dead even though we know where the tomb probably is. (Yes, there are two possibilities, and scholars generally believe that one of them is correct.)
Yet twentieth century German theologian Rudolph Bultmann taught that the historical resurrection doesn’t matter as long as a person existentially believes the resurrection in his or her heart. I disagree. If the resurrection didn’t take place, then as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, this religion is worthless and Christians ought to be considered the most pitied of people. If it did take place, it ought to make every difference in the world.
By discounting the archaeological evidence that is used to support the Bible, my Mormon friend is trying to cover up the lack of historic sites that can be attributed to the Book of Mormon. Perhaps, deep down, he knows that the evidence to support the story as told in the Book of Mormon is just underwhelming.
But if it’s true that one’s feelings take preeminence when it comes to determining the truthfulness of a biblical (or Book of Mormon) site, the religion becomes nothing more than a post-modern, esoteric anything-goes faith. That’s more faith than I think God intended for humans to have.
Trust me, I’ll be having many emotional feelings over the next couple of weeks as I take in the wonderful sites of Ephesus, Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Capernaum. But my feelings will be based on facts, a reality that will make it even that much more satisfying to my soul.