Fundamental #4: Christ’s Resurrection

jesus2.jpgI believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. I believe it literally happened. He rose again, in his body, and presented himself alive to the world. Christ’s literal, bodily resurrection has always been a central article of historic, biblical Christianity. It’s one of those dividing lines. Some doctrines leave a lot of latitude. Reasonable Christians, reasonably interpreting the Bible, can disagree, and still be faithful to God, Jesus, and the Scriptures.

Other doctrines, like these fundamentals, are non-negotiable. We won’t hate those who disagree. We won’t slander, gossip, or act in any unloving way. But we will disagree, and though we can be friends, we can’t have the deep fellowship of co-followers of Jesus — followers who are “like minded” and “of one mind” on the definitional stuff about Christianity (Phil. 2:2). “In essentials, unity!” declared Augustine. And the resurrection is an essential. I have a zero tolerance policy for diversity on this one, sorry. We take our stand on a literal, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

jesuswalkingonwatercartdotcomYou might ask, “Is there any other kind of resurrection?”

That’s just the problem. Some, within the church, now assert that Jesus rose spiritually, but not bodily, from the dead. They say his resurrection was a spiritual, psychological event for his followers, who then  enhanced the story when they wrote our Scriptures. It didn’t matter, the argument goes, that Jesus’ body lay rotting in the grave. What mattered was that his followers felt him to be alive in their hearts, and they preserved that feeling in the stories (myths)  they wrote down.

Taking the lead in this spiritual resurrection theory is a group calling itself the Jesus Seminar. A group of scholars founded by Marcus Borg and popularized by John Dominic Crossan and Elaine Pagels and others have done their best to preach the gospel that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, and that if we knew where to look, we just might find his bones.

The seeds of this denial are as old as doubting Thomas. Our generation saw the publication of The Myth of God Incarnate (1977), a small booklet urging a “demythologized” Jesus upon the world. Remove the supernatural. Uproot the miraculous. Overturn the unscientific. Extirpate the narrow-minded. Edit out those things in Scripture which are unworthy of Scripture, and we will come to a kernel of truth, the original truth of Jesus, minus the barnacles of mythology that have grown on him over the centuries.

Ahemmmm.  Exactly who sits in judgment on these doctrines? Who gets to decide what is unworthy of Jesus? of Scripture?

[Here’s a paragraph from my upcoming book, Four Letter Words. Subscribe to the email newsletter and I’ll let you know when it’s out.]

Thomas Jefferson gave this bandwagon a shove. He stitched together his own Bible by literally using scissors to cut out verses from the gospels that were miraculous or “unworthy” of Jesus. He said that the true history and sayings of Jesus shined out from the false, “like diamonds on a dung heap.” He left the “nonsense” behind, and pasted up a 48-page Bible. It told the story of Jesus from his birth (minus angels and a virginal mother) to his burial (minus a resurrection).

Every Easter and every Christmas, the major TV networks trot out “scholars” to talk about the beauties of an “Easter message” without a resurrection, and a “Christmas spirit” without an divine incarnation. You should know that most of these scholars are members of the Jesus Seminar.

Not to demonize these people, just to disagree with them. And to know where they’re coming from:  a naturalistic premise.

Premises are everything.

pantokratorIf we believe that there is a God who transcends the created order, and is at liberty to intervene in that order… if we believe he can — and does and has and will — temporarily suspend the laws of physics and nature to effect what we call a miracle… then it makes perfect sense to believe the simple story that Christ rose from the dead. Indeed, we must press further and say with the Apostle Paul…

“And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.” 1 Corinthians 15:14, NKJV.

“And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” 1 Corinthians 15:17, NKJV.

It all depends on your premise. Supernaturalistic or naturalistic/materialistic.

The Jesus Seminar people operate from a materialistic premise, i.e., all that happens is explainable by science, physics, or psychology. Such scholars are essentially Deist, or perhaps Atheist, or maybe even Buddhist (indifferent) in their thinking about God. In any event, God does not intervene in the laws of nature… and so the miracles of the Bible must be explained away in scientific terms. All things are made of energy and matter (hence the term, materialist), and whatever laws govern energy and matter governed the resurrection of Jesus.  His body decayed. His soul dissipated into nothingness when his brain ceased functioning. All that remains are our memories of his teaching and love and personality and spirituality… and through those memories we keep him alive forever… a spiritualistic kind of resurrection.

That faith, says Paul, is in vain. I agree.

No resurrection, no salvation. No salvation, no sin to save us from and/or no holy God to condemn that sin. Deny the literal resurrection, and the whole cloth of Christianity unravels. Deny the resurrection (which ONLY God can do) and you invent a salvation not worthy of the name (something ONLY humans can do). Deny the resurrection, and our faith is in vain.

For anyone who has ever been bitten by the Jesus Seminar bug, might I recommend a wonderful little innoculation I stumbled upon some years ago.  Written in response to The Myth of God Incarnate, this booklet is called The Truth of God Incarnate, and it’s worth finding (click here). Edited by Michael Green, this book wonderfully answers the objections of the first book, and leaves the reader with a great appreciation for the Scriptural premise that God reigns on high and that he reaches his hands into the affairs of earth.

I love G.K. Chesterton’s comments on the result of materialistic premises:

Now it is the charge against the main deductions of the materialist that, right or wrong, they gradually destroy his humanity; I do not mean only kindness, I mean hope, courage, poetry, initiative, all that is human. For instance, when materialism leads men to complete fatalism (as it generally does), it is quite idle to pretend that it is in any sense a liberating force. It is absurd to say that you are especially advancing freedom when you only use free thought to destroy free will. The determinists come to bind , not to loose . They may well call their law the “chain” of causation. It is the worst chain that ever fettered a human being.

Yes, Jesus lives within my heart. Yes, I keep alive the memories of his words and life as described in Scripture. And yes, his resurrection is spiritual… but that’s not all. It is also literal, physical, and bodily. In a body, Jesus died. In a body, Jesus was buried. In a body, Jesus rose again. In a body, he ascended to heaven. In a body, he sat down at the right hand of God. In a body, he will come again.

The body of the God-man is an essential part of his humanness. To deny him a body in his resurection is to deny his humanity, post-Calvary. It is to deny the exaltation of one of our own to the throne of the cosmos. To deny Jesus a future is to deny all humanity a future. To deny Jesus an afterlife is to deny me an afterlife. Don’t sugar coat this denial with platitudes about Jesus’ love  and wonderful teachings, and how he inspires hope, and how his message (once we’ve skimmed off the supernaturalistic dross) contributes to the moral improvement of mankind. Don’t give me neo-Gnosticism. I’ve read the DaVinci Code, and guess what…IT’S FICTION.

Give me that old time religion. Christ died. Christ is risen. Christ is coming again.

jesuspower


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15 thoughts on “Fundamental #4: Christ’s Resurrection

  1. Bill,
    Great series on our faith. I feel that the Resurrection is the big stumbling block as it DEMANDS a decision whether or not to follow Christ.

    From a non-believer’s perspective.

    Jesus’ life: Great guy, had some neat things to say, like his teachings
    Jesus’ death: From a secular view, a political killing
    Jesus’ resurrection: Whoa, where did this come from. If He came back from the dead, He is who He said He is.

    Without the Resurrection, Jesus of Nazareth is a blip in history. With the Resurrection, He is the author of history, the fufillment of the Scriptures, God Incarnate, Victorious Savior of all who follow Him.

  2. I am afraid that you have painted The Jesus Seminar”ites” (at least some of them) into a convenient black and white corner. Although I too believe in a physical resurrection, saying that their premise is purely naturalistic and neo-gnostic in content is surely in error.
    Those who claim a naturalistic worldview (in the modern sense of the term) dismiss God as fiction, period–God does not exist for God is spirit (not material). But if you believe in a God, and that this God is personal and can be experienced on an individual level (as Borg and others do–in fact Crossan states in one of his books that Jesus appeared to him and spoke), then this is far from a naturalistic paradigm. It is rather a very supernatural one. Regarding gnosticism, Crossan actually opposes it–what it conveys: a special head knowledge available to a spiritual elite. He corresponds this 1st century thinking to the 21st century thinking of safety and individualism. This exclusive knowledge doesn’t flesh out into the practical of everyday life and action. It is the ivory tower theology of propositions without practice. Personal spirituality without corporate religion. Whether the resurrection was literal or metaphorical, the important question is what does it mean for us–how does it affect our lives in a practical way? How does it challenge us to live different? This is the question that concerns Crossan and much of the Jesus seminar.
    And when you truly boil it all down, the proof of Jesus is not in defending a physical (or spiritual) resurrection, it is in the fruit from a life of self-sacrificial love for God and one another. This is the true mark of a believer. This is the only non-negotiable (John 13:35).
    And who are you to say that you cannot have the deep fellowship that is reserved for co-followers of Jesus (first, that is quite an arrogant statement to make since they claim to be just that–followers of Jesus!), with someone like Marcus Borg? Have you ever talked to him? Just a thought 🙂

    • Justin, Thanks for visiting; I think we are going to disagree (respectfully) on some foundational points.

      First, I think that the Bible suggests more non-negotiables than “love.”

      “Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son.” 1 John 2:22, NKJV.
      “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.” 1 John 2:23, NKJV.

      Second, by “deep fellowship,” I had in mind the deep fellowship of those who affirm the deity and Saviorhood of Christ, and thereby enter into the fellowship described by John: “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:3, KJV. By denying Christ’s deity, and his supernatural messiahship, and his bodily resurrection, the Jesus Seminar leaders are by definition excluded from that fellowship (with God). As an evangelical, I have no deep union/communion/fellowship (being of one heart and mind) with someone who denies that stuff. Yes, I’m sure he’s a nice guy. Yes, we can be cordial. But he denies some fundamental truths about my best friend, Jesus, and that affects everything. I think you misread my point.
      Bill

      • Hey Bill, thanks for replying 🙂
        I would also like to hear your response regarding my other points.

        For sure, the Bible is full of all sorts of non-negotiables. Any cursory reading of say, Exodus or Leviticus shows your statement to be more
        than obvious. But Jesus boiled down the whole of Scripture to this: Love God with all that you are, and love your neighbor as yourself. And he even says, a new commandment I give you, to love one another as I have loved you. So it goes from love God with all that you are to love God and people with all that you are (even to death). This is agape love, a very clear and distinctive love that compels us–the very love of God toward us. And there are various litmus tests that are described in the bible that can be “proofs” that this love abides in us. You can tell a tree by its fruit; everyone who practices righteousness is born of God, etc. Yes, John also says anyone who denies Jesus as Messiah also denies the Father, and these people are antichrist. He also further clarifies what it means to deny Jesus as Messiah:
        “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist…” (1 John 4:2-3). And this reveals one of the main forces of John’s letter–opposition to the gnostics who believed that Jesus was simply a spirit without a body while living on earth. (And this is where I am a bit puzzled that you would lump a worldview of naturalism/materialism with gnosticism; these are totally in opposition, and neither view describes the Jesus Seminar.)
        But Marcus Borg (and others) does not deny that Jesus came as fully human, not only was he fully human, but he was also the face of God.
        This is a combination of material/spirit.
        But even more importantly, I would hope to never be presumptious enough to judge someone’s relationship with God and Jesus–not just any god and “Jesus”, but the God and Jesus that Borg, Crossan, and others write about. This is something we are not called to do. I will gladly leave that to Jesus himself. If Marcus claims to have a deep, meaningful and life-transforming relationship with God through Jesus, then the only thing I can look at is the fruit. Propositional judments are far less important (even a waste of time) than sacrificial love, community, and compassion. Personally, I have seen the futility in defending “Jesus” (it is rather our doctrine of Jesus that we are defending) based on my subjective views of “fundamental propositional truths”. In the last few years I have encountered the mystery of Jesus (my best friend too) who is much bigger than that. Perfect love drives out all fear (and I believe all false doctrine is rooted in fear). You can have your old time religion, I want Jesus. I imagine what the world would be like (and witness glimses of it from time to time) if we spent half the time we do defending our precious doctrines from the “corruption of the heretics” and used all that energy and passion to be living sacrifices of love to everyone around us. I think this is perhaps western christianity’s biggest challenge. At any rate, I know it is mine 🙂

        Lots of love,

        Justin

  3. I couldn’t agree more, Bill. I really can’t imagine that Christians have been willing to die because they counted on a non-literal resurrection.

    • I think you might be missing the point. The evidence of Jesus’ resurrection was God’s agape love compelling christians to live out a life that followed in Jesus’ footsteps–the life of God. This love for God and others was the new paradigm.

      Certain muslims involved in jihad die on a daily basis convinced in a certain kind of grand physical resurrection on the day of judgment. And besides, plenty of Christians over the centuries have died as martyrs with a very Platonic idea of heaven.
      All of this is not to say that I don’t believe in a literal resurrection, it is simply that the christian life doesn’t hinge on a literal resurrection. It hinges on the love and Spirit of God that is operating in our lives.

  4. This was a very good blog. Between the Davinci Code and Angels & Demons. Dan Brown puts a lot of historical facts to really support gnosticism. It seems like it anyway. There is also a lot of books out on it. I just have to remember that it is just really good fiction. Those were good bible verses to support the “resurrection and the other comment about Christians being not willing to die for a non-literal resurrection was a good point too. I have always wondered though about the books that were kept out of the bible like what if some of those were meant to be in the bible. I know my grandma’s catholic bible has some different books in it…hmmm. It can be very confusing thats all especially for a new christian who likes to keep their mind open at all times. Aren’t all bibles based off of what the first one made. I mean if there is more information out there it is kind of not right for us not to be able to rell ALL the books. That is just my opinon. I do believe in Jesus and try to live a life off his example but you get taught to keep an open mind all through school and critical thinking an such and it would be nice to have a miracle or two to see like they did back in Jesus days. Of course they were convinced they were there. I hope this does not sound like I think I am smarter than the bible or anything but I always wonder about where we get our information and how good it is. Hopefully better than our media. Thanks.

  5. Friends…

    One of the most fascinating aspects (and my most cherished appreciation) of the resurrection is the fatal blow dealt to Platonic dualism. Platonic dualism teaches that the material world is inferior, or at least exists in a separate, contradistinctive reality to the spirit world (see Plato’s “Timaeus” dialogues as a valuable resource). Platonic dualism is the ROOT that appears in its BRANCHES of various colors, flavors, doctrines, and teachings such as the Jesus Seminar. In fact, I believe that a clear understanding of Platonic dualism will help many born-again believers to better understand the New Testament, because New Testament writings (particularly John, James, and the author of Hebrews) contravene Platonic dualism with much prejudicial vehemence—and rightly so.

    For example, the author of Hebrews spends the first two chapters explaining that the Person of Jesus in his resurrection was superior to any and all angelic beings (“ministering spirits”); Jesus’ sacrifice “cleansed the heavens”; and the physical resurrection of Jesus resulted in his physical seating at the right hand of the invisible God… Even the Apostle John goes to great lengths to explain that the Person of Jesus is God-man, and not some emanation or projection (remember the story of Thomas examining the hands and side of the resurrected Jesus?)….. John mentions the physical world as lying (remaining) in the Evil One (invisible Satan)… Many New Testament passages discuss that Christians are actual members of the Body of Christ who will be resurrected in perfect bodies (i.e., not separate and distinct from the LIFE of Christ in body-versus-spirit terminology)… You get the point. This is very abstract, but you see the worldview is vertical (God’s Life vs. death, separation from God) as opposed to horizontal (i.e., the invisible spirit world and visible material world are competing, separate and distinct realities).

    So what does this have to do with the Jesus Seminar?

    First, as just mentioned, the “reality” or priority in the Bible concerns God’s life versus death (separation from God). Sin is what separated the creature from the creator (Life), thus death from this Life of God. What the Jesus seminar does is place the emphasis on the Platonic dualism of the natural world and priority of developing positive behavior (based on assimilating knowledge of God and Jesus) in strict behavioral terms, because God and Jesus are “out there.” To put it another way, the Jesus Seminar DEEMPHASIZES the priority of God’s life as the source of power (i.e., resurrection of Jesus atoning for sin, which had separated man in death from God) with almost exclusive emphasis on what the individual does with his “spiritual” knowledge or perception of God and Jesus as described in the New Testament. It’s what you do with what you know that counts, in their view.

    On the other hand, the born-again Christian (who received God’s life and righteousness anew through faith in God’s testimony in his Word) produces fruit in his or her life because of the possession and reliance on the Life of God (Holy Spirit) within him or her. (Jesus is the vine and we are the branches.) Again, in contradistinction, the Jesus Seminar relies on naturalistic concepts (some “supernatural”) to ensure the development of positive behavior in ones life. The New Testament writers (cited above) would call these positive behaviors “dead works” because they stem from death (separation from God), and not on God’s Life. The “vine” or ROOT for the Jesus Seminar is not our Lord Jesus Christ, but instead is Platonic dualism.

    These descriptions or distinctions discussed above may seem very superfluous to adherents to the Jesus Seminar. But to the born-again Christian, these are realities based on faith. If an adherent of the Jesus Seminar is unable to believe in God’s Life and righteousness as the source of power (vertical), then the result is defaulted to reliance on the prince of this world; his power; and his glory (horizontal).

    Grace,
    Joseph

    • I think we are a bit confused now. Bill says the Jesus Seminar comes from a naturalistic premise (even though Borg believes that Jesus was a miraculous healer, excorcist, etc. during his physical life on earth), and then combines this with neo-gnosticism–a contradiction in terms; you say that it is Platonic dualism at its root. This is surely in line with gnosticism.
      But if you listen to the words of Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, etc., we have a belief in a God who is alive and present, who wants to transform our lives and the world (physical included) that we live in. This is no naturalistic worldview, nor it is one of spiritual escapism from the evil of the material, no; it is the both/and that true christianity is concerned with. Now I am not trying to support the Jesus Seminar in all of their beliefs; I am simply trying to show that a lot of simplistic black and white statements have been made regarding them, and most of these are misinformed.

      • Hi Justin…

        I’m in good company: quoting William Lane Craig here…

        “Naturalism

        The number one presupposition of the Seminar is anti–supernaturalism or more simply, naturalism. Naturalism is the view that every event in the world has a natural cause. There are no events with supernatural causes. In other words, miracles cannot happen.

        Now this presupposition constitutes an absolute watershed for the study of the gospels. If you presuppose naturalism, then things like the incarnation, the Virgin Birth, Jesus’ miracles, and his resurrection go out the window before you even sit down at the table to look at the evidence. As supernatural events, they cannot be historical.”

        Source: http://tr.im/s1ZY (here’s more: http://tr.im/s20U)

        If Marcus Borg in specific is a supernaturalist, then I’m wrong about him, and I apologize, and retract my statements. But I’m right about the premises of the Jesus Seminar as a whole.

        I would find it odd, though, for a writer to call Jesus a supernatural miracle worker, and then proceed to deny the resurrection, the virgin birth, the Incarnation, the deity, and the messiahnic claims of Christ.

        Rob’t Funk, the Jesus Seminar founder, laid out the premises of the Jesus Seminar, in his founding speech:

        # “Jesus did not ask us to believe that his death was a blood sacrifice, that he was going to die for our sins.”
        # “Jesus did not ask us to believe that he was the messiah. He certainly never suggested that he was the second person of the trinity. In fact, he rarely referred to himself at all.”
        # “Jesus did not call upon people to repent, or fast, or observe the sabbath. He did not threaten with hell or promise heaven.”
        # “Jesus did not ask us to believe that he would be raised from the dead.”
        # “Jesus did not ask us to believe that he was born of a virgin.”
        [source: http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/jesussem.html ]
        # “Jesus did not regard scripture as infallible or even inspired.”

        The Jesus he bows to is NOT the Jesus I bow to. When I say Jesus, I refer to the historical person who claimed to be and was God and human in on Person, the dying, rising, living, coming again Savior.

        We disagree. Justin, I appreciate your visiting, but I think we’re unlikely to convince each other.

        God’s richest blessings…

        Bill

  6. Hey Bill,

    Like I said in my original response, I don’t believe in the theology of the Jesus Seminar, I just saw some hasty generalizations in your writing regarding the group as a WHOLE. I feel that we need to be as informed as possible regarding any person or group that we may disagree with (and the best way to do this is to read their actual words, not someone who already has a bias against them), and with our informed perception we need to be clear and articulate in our attempts to distinguish and clarify. We should try to avoid generalizing based on assumptions. This is something I have learned based on personal experience! 😦 The truth is usually more nuanced than the black and white absolutes that we tend to readily identify when critiquing someone or something.
    With that said, I am not trying to convince you of the “truth” of the Jesus Seminar (or any other theology for that matter), only that hopefully we can be aware that their is usually more to the story.

    Look forward to reading more of your blog,

    Justin

    • Justin: Just a thought – I believe the Truth IS black and white absolutes. What is nuanced is OUR perceptions and interpretations of that absolute Truth.

      Thank God our salvation/Life isn’t based upon what we think or feel it should be. It’s HIS plan, HIS way, and HIS Truth – actually, HIS story too.

      Ditto, God’s richest blessings upon you too!

      • Our perception and interpretation of the truth is all that we have–being finite creatures–otherwise we would be God. So yes, I agree with you that God is a God of absolute truth; truth is also multi-faceted and always greater than our limited perceptions and interpretations. This is very humbling when we realize this. Thanks for the thought.

  7. Bill, thanks again for this amazing blog. Of all the professors I’ve encountered in a Christian college, classes at seminary or church (though some were excellent), I have learned the most from you. Your ability to breakdown difficult concepts into understandable every day language has blessed me beyond what words can express.

    Biggest concepts I’ve learned is that I can’t love God or live for God except by His Spirit….which He gives freely to those who put their faith in Christ. It’s all about Christ…what He has done and continues to do through us (though we may be messed up, selfish, undeserving, self righteous, moral failures) He continues to use us in our weakness….for He became weak, so that in Him, we are strong.

    thanks again 🙂

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