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.


Fundamentals #3: Substitutionary Atonement

jesuscrossToday’s post is part 3 in a series on some biblical fundamentals. If you want a little context, scroll down and read the previous posts, especially the first one.  Thanks.

If the central moment in history is the Crucifixion/Resurrection of Jesus, and if we claim to follow that Jesus, it follows that we ought to have a pretty solid idea of why Jesus died and rose again. Anyone raised in Sunday School might answer, “For our sins” or “For our salvation.” Yes, that’s why.  But what do these words mean? And, what did the Cross (when I say that, please include the Ressurection in your thinking — it’s to much to always say “the Crucifixion/Resurrection event complex”) mean?  Why did Jesus come? Why did he die? Why did he rise from the dead?

Churchy types have suggested a variety of answers over the centuries. Collectively, these answers are called: THEORIES OF THE ATONEMENT. I’d like to describe only 3 of the biggies, and center on one of them.  Let me say at the outset, that all three theories contain truth.  We’ll never exhuast the riches of the atoning work of Christ, no matter how much we contemplate, theorize, or write.  But that shouldn’t stop of from trying. Just because we can’t come to exhaustive truth, it doesn’t mean we can’t come to true truth.

So each of these theories has its beauties. If you want more, or to read about other theories, go here or here or here.   Here’s a synopsis of three:

jesussinfulwoman1. THE MORAL EXAMPLE THEORY.

Key idea:  Jesus died and rose again to show God’s love, thereby influencing us to a life of love.

a.k.a., the Moral Influence Theory, the Subjective View

Proponent: Abelard, a monk

Example: The beautiful hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” flows from a Moral Example stream: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.”

Critique/Comments:  The Moral Example Theory is true; but it can’t stand by itself. If this is ALL that is true of the Cross, it makes no sense. Was the horrific death on the Cross really God’s only option to show forth his love? Was it his only way  to melt our hearts and change our ways?  Leon Morris points out that, unless Christ’s death actually accomplished something beyond being an example of love, it’s as pointless as a man who sees a person about to drown, jumping into the water — not to save the drowing victim, but simply to drown with him.

This is the theory that’s winning the day in the postmodern, emerging church.  Jesus loves us.  Jesus proved it. Now we should love others too.  Sacrificially.

It’s true, but it’s not enough truth to make the Cross make sense. The biggest drawback is that by making the moral example theory preeminent, you minimize the sin problem (which the Cross addresses), you minimize the alienation between humans and God, and thus, you open the door to universalism, and salvation by good works or love or world service.  (Go here to read how Brian McLaren espouses this very thing, and Michael Horton challenges him on it.)

pantokrator2. CHRISTUS VICTOR

Key Idea:  Christus Victor is Latin for Christ, the Victor. Through the Cross/Ressurrection of Jesus, God body slammed Satan, Sin, and Death, and now wears the championship belt in the cosmic conflict of the ages.

Leon Morris: “Because of their sin people rightly belong to Satan, the fathers reasoned. But God offered his son as a ransom, a bargain the evil one eagerly accepted. When, however, Satan got Christ down into hell he found that he could not hold him. On the third day Christ rose triumphant and left Satan without either his original prisoners or the ransom he had accepted in their stead. It did not need a profound intellect to see that God must have foreseen this, but the thought that God deceived the devil did not worry the fathers. than Satan as well as stronger. They even worked out illustrations like a fishing trip: The flesh of Jesus was the bait, the deity the fishhook. Satan swallowed the hook along with the bait and was transfixed.”

Later theologians rightly softened the “bait” analogy and took away the deceptive scheming of God.  If Satan chooses to be self-deceived, so be it. The devil has been routed. Evil has been crushed at its source. Christ reigns supreme. He is head over all, the Kosmokrator, the Lord of the Universe, and the Cosmic Powerhouse.

a.k.a., The Atonement as Victory Theory, goes hand in hand with the Ransom Theory.

Proponents: most of the Church Fathers, Gustaf Aulen, my friend, Jonathan H.

Example: the rousing hymn, “Up from the Grave He Arose… with a mighty triumph o’er his foes / He arose a victor from the dark domain / and He lives forever with his saints to reign…”

Comments/Critique: This theory it is not only true, it has abundant testimony in Scripture. And, to me, it’s thrilling. I love the thought of Jesus my Champion. The only drawback I see, and I’d love to hear Jonathan on this one, is that it makes the Atonement a question of “Who’s Stronger?”  It can (not that it necessarily does) bypass questions of righteousness… and make God the toughest guy on the block, in a “might makes right” sort of way.


Key idea: Christ died on the Cross as our substitute; he paid the penalty for our sins, so that God could be JUST and the JUSTIFIER of the person who believes in Jesus.

a.k.a., Vicarious Atonement.

crossgrunewaldProponents: Traditional, Historic Christianity, especially Protestants and conservatives.

Example: “I need no other argument / I need no other plea / It is enough that Jesus died, / And that he died for me.”

Comments/Critique:  Only this theory makes all the other theories work. Jesus died for a REASON: to rescue us from sin by “being made sin for us.”  To deny that is to deny the bulk of Scripture.

That’s why Subsitutionary Atonement is one of the marks of a faithful Christian. It is a non-negotiable, an essential… AND IT HAS BEEN UNDER ATTACK in the halls of religious academia for 100 years.  That’s what made it a fundamental… a sine qua non of Christianity… during the early 1900’s in a debate now called the modernist/fundamentalist controversey.

Modernists denied the deity of Christ. They denied the supernatural elements of the faith. They denied a need for salvation (except from economic injustice) and they denied a Savior.  They redefined Jesus as a moral example (theory 1) and rigorously denied Substitutionary Atonement.

Conservatives countered that only Substitionary Atonement respects the sinfulness of sin, the holiness of God, the alienation between us, and the need for redemption, propitiation, satisfaction of divine justice.  In fact, to deny Substitutionary Atonement was to deny the Cross, and to deny the Cross was to deny Christ, and to deny Christ was to deny Christianity.

I agree.  I have blogged a whole lot about Substitutionary Atonement… Click here for a sampling.

If we want to claim apostolic authority, we have to follow apostolic teaching… and the clearest, most concise summary of the gospel is SUBSTITUTIONARY:

“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins [subsitutionary atonement] according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,” 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, NKJV.


This does not erase other theories, it puts them in context and gives them their meaning.

One hymn comes to mind that beautifully balances different theories of the atonement… and I LOVE IT.  It’s been updated, and I love that one too. Here are the lyrics, with some underlining (I can’t help myself, I’m a teacher).  And then some links to hear it sung.  After all… theology (when you do it right) becomes doxology and doxology becomes love for the world.

Original Trinity Hymnal, #689

One day when heaven was filled with his praises,
One day when sin was as black as could be,
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin—
Dwelt amongst men, my example is he! [Moral Example Theory]

Living, he loved me; dying, he saved me;
Buried, he carried my sins far away;
Rising, he justified freely, for ever:
One day he’s coming—O, glorious day!

One day they led him up Calvary’s mountain,
One day they nailed him to die on the tree;
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected:
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is he!
[Substitutionary Atonement!!!]

One day they left him alone in the garden,
One day he rested, from suffering free;
Angels came down o’er his tomb to keep vigil;
Hope of the hopeless, my Saviour is he!

One day the grave could conceal him no longer,
One day the stone rolled away from the door;
Then he arose, over death he had conquered;
Now is ascended, my Lord evermore! [Christus Victor!]

One day the trumpet will sound for his coming,
One day the skies with his glories will shine;
Wonderful day, my beloved ones bringing;
Glorious Saviour, this Jesus is mine!

(by Pastor Wilbur Chapman)

To sing along with the old hymn, and have a cross-cultural experience, click here.

To worship with the excellent updated Jeff Johnson version, click here.

Fundamentals #2: Deity of Christ

pantokratorI’m continuing a series on the fundamental truths of Christianity, as outlined 2 generations ago. The so-called “fundamentalist/modernist controversey” pitted conservative theologians against liberal theologians in the early 1900’s.  Marsden’s book, Reforming Fundamentalism, gives an excellent history.

Today’s fundamental is one of those truths that highlights the nature of theological development.  Theology is clarified and articulated in times of CONTROVERSY. When there’s doctrinal slippage — as in the outright denial of the deity of Christ — the church rightly reemphasizes historic truth.

Most conservative theologians hold fast to the deity of Christ; it’s the true humanity of Christ that needs emphasis today, but that’s for another post.

Here are some of the notes I use when I teach college/seminary classes on theology… Be nice… this is more of a fat outline than a well-written article, and it’s more academic than populist…

The Deity of Christ

The deity of Christ “may be called a prime article of revealed theology; effecting not only the subsistence of the Godhead, but the question of whether Christ is to be trusted, obeyed, and worshipped as God, the nature and efficacy of His atoning offices, the constitution of the Church, and all its rites.  He who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ is a Christian; he who does not (whatever his profession) is a mere Deist.” (Dabney)

We call ourselves Christians.  What do we believe about Christ, or more importantly, what do the Scriptures reveal about Christ?

I.  The Scriptural Texts Testifying to His Deity.

A. Isa 7:14, cited in Mt 1:21-23.

79-Holy Spirit ComingJesus is Immanuel – God with us.  Isaiah chapters 7-12 are often designated the Book of Immanuel and constitute a growing revelation of the person so named.  So, in 7:14 Immanuel is to be born of a virgin.  In 9:6 this same person is specifically named as God. NOTE: the phrase translated “Everlasting Father” is better translated “Father of Eternity” (S.L. Johnson).  In ch. 11, Immanuel is seen as ruler of earth.  This is one and the same individual, later named Jesus in the first gospel.

B. John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word..
en  archee    `een  ho logos
and the Word was with God….
kai ho logos `een pros ton theon
and the Word was God.
kai theos `een ho logos.

This verse sets forth John’s clear teaching that Jesus is God.    The opening phrase, an allusion to Gen 1:1, takes us beyond the beginning of creation.  The word “was”  is durative – it expresses an ongoing period.  The word “in”  is temporal – it expresses a “time when”,-here in language of accommodation.  There is no way for a human to describe the dateless past other than to simply say “In the Beginning…”

Logos is a Jewish-Platonic-Stoic term very familiar in intellectual circles in John’s day.  It had become a technical term just as “Messiah”.  “Neither term is a complete presentation of the Person of Christ, but both are useful.  It is however, very difficult to translate Logos into English because of the double idea in it of Reason and Expression.”  (A.T. Robertson)  John uses the term to indicate the eternal relation of the Logos to God and to outline broad features of the Incarnation.

The Logos “was with God.”  There are two important conclusions from this assertion: 1) that there is a distinction of some sort between God and Logos; and, 2) that there is an intimate, ongoing (the durative verb “was” again) relationship between God and Logos.  Thus, the two are distinct yet possess a certain relationship.  The next phrase states this relationship.

“And the Word was God.”  The literal word order in Greek is correctly rendered in this translation.  Greek word order differs from English word order.  Here is the rule: “In copulative sentences [sentences with the verb “is”], if expressions are convertible, then the article [the word “the”] distinguishes the subject from the predicate, though there are exceptions.”  (Moulton,Howard, and Turner, v.3, pp 182,3).    Therefore, in the Greek word order, the subject of this sentence comes after the verb, but we know that it is the subject because of the article.  So, while Gk word order says “god was the word” the  correct English order is “the Word was God.”

Note John’s use of the imperfect tense of the verb “to be”.  If John had simply stated that the Word “IS” God, using the present tense, he would have set up a confusing equation (God=Word).  But by using the imperfect (ongoing past) tense John avoids a complete equation, which is consistent with the distinction of persons implied by verse one.  Therefore, he says that the Logos is God, but not that all of God is the Logos.  The equation does not work both ways.  To say that Bill is human is not to say that all humans are Bill.  The only conclusion from this verse is that the Logos is eternal God yet distinct from the Father.

The Jehovah’s witnesses display a profound lack of integrity in their exegesis of this verse.  They claim that the Word was “a god”, overly pressing the fact that there is no article with “theos”.    First, this view mis-states the use of the article in copulative sentences.  Second, granting the blatantly false translation that the Word is “a god”, we wonder what this means?  It is inconceivable that there be a plurality of divine essences.  Are there many equal gods?  Or is Jesus the only one who fits in this category?  Or is Jesus an inferior God (which is non-sensical)? John had the option of a perfectly good word for “godlike” – instead of saying “theos”  he could have said “theois.”  Third, how are we to explain the role of the Logos in creation (v. 14), especially in light of the 1st chapter of Genesis?  Finally, how can we deal with the rest of John’s claims regarding the essential deity of this person?  The JW’s distort Scripture to suit their purposes. Continue reading