I 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.
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?
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.
If 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.