What is the criteria for determining what is evidence is support for Christian belief?
What criteria do you employ in support of calling something evidence? I am curious because many people I meet only consider something evidence if it was written down and somehow correlates to physical observable objects. I think differently. For example, with regard to the Flavius Josephus, and various typology concepts being proposed/investigated by scholars, I find this evidence from historical parallels to be more profound than physical evidence. They are so many and so effective that, to me, they are impossible to ignore. If I add chronology, it seems clear a common string connects them all. I am respectfully eager to hear your rational, empirical, evidenced thoughts.
What is the nature of evidence in the context of Christian belief? What a great question! This is a deep and necessary question for us to consider. Not every kind of “evidence” is the same, not every kind of evidence is appropriate for various uses, and not every kind of evidence should be given equal weight.
My response is that this is a complex question with no concrete answer, but it does deserve significant attention. The empiricist only accepts evidence based on physical, observable phenomena. They would reject a priori arguments based purely on reason or logic. Is this a good approach? I certainly do not think so if we accept ONLY this kind of evidence. On the other hand, there is the classical apologetics of Thomas Aquinas, which is still a very popular approach toward defending faith. This sort of approach is based purely on rational thought. It rejects the use of personal testimony or archaeological artifacts as the basis for belief in the Christian God.
Let me suggest a book titled Five Views on Apologetics by Steven B. Cowan. Also, let me suggest you consider taking the first course in our Apologetics Certificate series on the Existence of God. It begins with a couple of hours on the various approaches to Christian Apologetics (which is, in essence, the question you are asking). There are various lists of the different kinds of evidential approaches to defending and proving Christian belief, but the book I mention above has these five:
1. The Classical Method. (primarily appealing to reasoned arguments for the existence of God)
2. The Evidential Method. (using evidences such as fulfilled prophecy, biblical reliability, and archaeological and historical accuracy)
3. The Cumulative Case Method. (similar to #2, but bringing together other things such as science, logical arguments, etc._
4. The Presuppositional Method. (arguing from consistency of the Christian world view with reality versus other world views)
5. The Reformed Epistemological Method. (evidence based principally on personal experience with the infinite)
For myself, I hesitate to provide a definition of evidence. I prefer a common-sense approach. If a reasonable person would agree that this is evidence, then I say that it is evidence. For example, those who criticize biblical Christianity say that its claims are in contradiction to historical or archaeological evidence. I say that physical finds such as the Tel Dan Inscription or the Taylor Prism or the Moabite Stone are solid, physical evidence that this criticism is simply not true.
But…. This is not the only kind of evidence. There is the evidence from Old Testament prophecies about the Kingdom of God or about the Messiah which appear clearly to have been fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ or in the unfolding of the Church. To me, these are not exactly physical evidence, but when we find in Psalm 22 a prophecy that the Messiah will be crucified at a time hundreds of years before crucifixion was even invented, to me this is evidence.
You seem to be inclined to be particularly convinced by types, prefigure and foreshadow fulfillment. Well, I will give a hearty amen to that. I have written a book on this topic titled From Shadow to Reality. I want to strongly encourage you to get a copy of this book. I have lectured on historical fulfillment of Old Testament foreshadow in dozens of countries. I believe that this is very compelling evidence. The fact that Abraham offered his only son on Mt. Moriah which is where Jerusalem was built (Genesis 22) and that Isaac carried the wood to be used for his sacrifice up the same mountain up which Jesus carried the wood to be used for his sacrifice is an unmistakeable parallel and very strong evidence for the inspiration of the Bible. This is not physical evidence. In fact, it is a rather unique type of evidence, not found outside of Christianity. Yet it is compelling to me. However, its use requires at least a rudimentary knowledge of the Bible.
Then there are the classical arguments for the existence of God. There is the moral argument or the cosmological argument. Are these “evidence” that supports Christian belief? Some would say that by definition such rational arguments are not evidence. Well, for me, such fine distinctions are not helpful. I will go ahead and call the argument from design compelling evidence for the existence of the God of the Bible.
Then there is the evidence of the fact that the Bible works. Its practical precepts simply work in improving human life. Then there is the evidence which comes from the fact that the Christian world view is the best means to answer questions such the question of evil or of suffering or of sin or of purpose and the like. To me all of these are different kinds of evidence. To me, if they work as reasoned arguments that convince people that Jesus is who he said he is, then I will go ahead and call that evidence. I guess that makes me a Cumulative Case apologist.
Of course, there is another kind of evidence which is personal experience. I am personally a bit skeptical of this kind of “Epistemological Method” as such experiences can be subjective. My Muslim and Mormon friends have such experiences. This is not the kind of evidence I tend to use, but the honest truth is that such experiential evidence in which a person has a personal encounter with God through their own or other’s experiences may just be the single most important reason people come to faith. It is hard to argue against the efficacy of such “evidence,” although I personally rarely appeal to such evidence when I try to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ.
Did I answer your question?