Many LDS scholars are more or less willing to give up on historical accuracy of the accounts of Jesus’s life, and even some of the historical details of the Passion Narrative. However, I haven’t met any that are willing to compromise the necessity of the resurrection. Indeed, some even argue that this is the ONLY thing which needs to have occurred in order for the gospel to be “true.” Presumably, the reason is because the atonement and miracle of Jesus’s resurrection are the foundation of our faith in him as the Son of God and as a demonstration of the efficacy of the gospel to effectuate eternal life. The essential truthfulness of the gospel is a great weight to hang on the shoulders of the resurrection.
Without denying the resurrection, I want to ask two questions. First, is the resurrection a sufficient cause for belief in the truthfulness of the gospel? Is this the only historical reality that needs to have occurred? Are all other truth claims contingent? Second, is the resurrection a necessary aspect of the gospel? This question is perhaps more controversial, but I think that it bears some consideration. Why is the resurrection necessary? Can the gospel still be true without it? Why or why not?I think that the answer to both questions suggests something about what we take to be fundamental about religion. Is religion a morality system? A set of rituals? A community with shared culture and values? If it is any of these, then the resurrection does not need to be a historical reality in order for religion to have its efficacy. I think that most people would argue that religion (Mormon religion, at least) is a system of salvation, which is why the resurrection is necessary. But what is a system of salvation apart from morality, rituals, and community? Is the resurrection the true fundamental aspect of the gospel without which it all falls apart, or can there be a fully “secularized” understanding of the resurrection, as many have taken to be the case with the other miracles?