Gerald O'Collins, Professor of Theology at the Gregorian University in Rome and author of many books in systematic theology, offers in this small volume a rapid survey of the scriptural and historical evidence for Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion. As he states in the introduction, one cannot provide an explanation of the resurrection anymore than one can explain how the world was created and how it will come to an end through the power of God. But one can at least make clear what is at stake in believing that the resurrection actually happened. As he notes in the first chapter, for example, one must already believe that God can intervene in nature in unexpected ways. Otherwise, the resurrection is antecedently ruled out. Likewise, while there are certain analogies to bereavement experiences where relatives reported seeing a dead person alive and well again, or to various forms of mystical visions by individuals, what is reported in the New Testament accounts of the resurrection seems to be of a different character.
Then in the second chapter, O'Collins asks about the role of historical evidence for belief in the resurrection and concludes that while faith in the crucified and risen Jesus cannot exist without some historical evidence, historical evidence by itself will not produce faith. Faith is primarily the result of a commitment to the person of Jesus in terms of hope and love rather than logical reasoning.
Thinking along the same lines in Chapter Three, O'Collins notes the role which our own personal experience and the testimony of others influence thinking and behavior in all areas of life but, above all, in matters of religion. We read about the impact of Jesus on the lives of others in the New Testament and we experience the presence of the Lord both in the Eucharist and in the exemplary conduct of fellow Christians.
Finally, in the last two chapters O'Collins evaluates the testimony to the resurrection in the four evangelists. Mark focuses on the empty tomb and the angel announcing to the women that Jesus will meet the apostles in Galilee. Here O'Collins offers a rebuttal of the theory that the empty tomb was a fabrication of the early Christian community. Then, with reference to Matthew, Luke and John, O'Collins assesses the differing accounts of the resurrection appearances of Jesus in the three Gospels, noting that all three evangelists testify to the divine plan of redemption for the human race in virtue of Jesus's resurrection. That is, all three in different ways make clear how redemption is achieved through the victory of life over death, the forgiveness of sin, and the power of divine love to heal previous infidelities and to reconcile sinners with their God.
This is certainly a worthwhile defense of classical Christian belief in the resurrection, striking a judicious balance between scepticism and fideism in dealing with the miracle of the resurrection. It is, to be sure, at times somewhat dry and pedantic like a legal brief for a judge. But within its limits it is a very well argued case for the credibility of the resurrection.