This article is one of those classic pieces that proclaims the existence of a trend but then offers little more than the sparsest of anecdotal evidence that such a trend is actually occurring.
Still, the question is a perennial one. How important to Christian belief is it that Jesus “literally” rose from the dead? The classic Christian position is that Jesus was raised bodily but that he was raised to a new kind of existence, with a “spiritual” body. In the Gospel accounts the risen Jesus is not bound by the usual constraints of the physical world; he appears in locked rooms, he is at times unrecognizable to his disciples, etc. And yet he also eats and is very tangible, as in the story of Doubting Thomas. This stands somewhere between a sheerly physcialist “resuscitation” view (which pretty much no one that I’m aware of holds) and a “spiritual” view which denies that Jesus rose bodily.
To me the Resurrection has always been key. I could never work up much interest in a Christianity that reduced it to a metaphorical truth about Jesus’ teachings living on in his disciples or some such thing. For one thing, it’s clear that the disciples claimed that he really rose. As Pascal said, if Jesus wasn’t raised, then the disciples were either deceived or deceivers. So if the Resurrection isn’t real, then Christianity, whatever great moral insights it may offer, is based on a mistake or a fraud.
Even when I was an agnostic investigating Christianity, I always thought it was a dishonest dodge when modernist theologians would write that it didn’t matter whether Jesus really rose from the dead, and that the Resurrection was really a metaphor for some higher, more “spiritual” truth. St. Paul’s famous hypothetical that “if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain” always seemed compelling and just flat-out more honest than the revisionist view.
I think Ian Markham, the dean of Hartford Seminary who is quoted in the Post article makes a good point:
“We are just aware that life is much more mysterious and surprising,” Markham said. “People are less inclined to dismiss things just because they are unscientific.”
For me, the argument that God is, after all, God, and if he wants to raise someone fromt the dead he no doubt can do so, has always been compelling. C.S. Lewis makes the point in his book Miracles that the question of God is logically prior to the question of whether miraculous events can happen. For, if there’s a Power that exists “outside” of the natural world and its nexus of cause and effect, we have no guarantee that it can’t or won’t intervene.
Another, though maybe less rational, experience that predisposed me to not find a literal Resurrection absurd has been, I think, the fact that I grew up reading comic books and science fiction. So the ideas of parallel dimensions, supernatural powers, beings existing beyond the mundane world were already part of my mental furniture when I started to think seriously about Christian claims. I was used to thinking that the laws of nature might well apply to only a small sliver of our experience. If Jean Grey can come back from the dead umpteen times, why not Jesus? I could at least imagine the possibility, so the idea of resurrection didn’t present some kind of insuperable obstacle for me.
More seriously, I think the Resurrection is important for Christian belief, not least because in raising Jesus from the dead God showed us what kind of God he is. That has always been the Church’s contention from day one – that in the cross and resurrection of Jesus God was at work “reconciling the world to himself.” Apart from that what basis do we have for knowing what God is like? The insights of the apostles would not be of any more intrinsic merit than any other sage or religious guru.
Moreover, the Resurrection shows that God is at work redeeming all aspects of our existence, not just our souls or spirits. He is concerned with the physical dimension as much as the spiritual. Contra the Gnostics (and to quote Lewis) “God likes matter; he invented it.”
(Note: Edited slightly Friday afternoon)
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Following this link: http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Jesus_Resurrection.htm
will take you to a very summarized version of N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God. That it’s briefer is not the only advantage. It’s also about $60 cheaper. 🙂
I wish I would have known about that link when I was in seminary! I love Wright (who could not love someone named Wright?) but reading his academic books was akin to water-torture.
Once again Lee, you have hit the nail on the head. I was once attracted to the “spiritualized” view, that if Jesus’ bones were found tomorrow, it wouldn’t matter. But for reasons you pretty much outlined, I have come to the conclusion that the incarnation and resurrection are what really makes the gospel stand apart from everything else on the religious scene. God became human, to the point of death, and was raised from the dead, conquering the power of death itself, and becoming the firstfruits of God’s coming reign. Muhammed, Sidhartha, Lao Tzu and all the rest were great, and maybe Christianity would have become a prominent religious sect even without the resurrection, but with, Christianity stands apart.
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