Our Reasonable Faith 14

This series is by RJS
One of the biggest hurdles to orthodox Christian belief in our world today is affirmation of the bodily resurrection of Jesus as historical reality. After all we know better than this. Isn’t it a much more reasonable and enlightened approach to realize that the empty tomb is a myth – and the resurrection appearances hallucination, or even theologically true metaphor? Acknowledgment of the existence of God and the power of the Christian story does not necessitate belief in bodily resurrection from the dead. — Or does it?
The reality of the resurrection is the topic of the penultimate chapter of Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God.

Keller bases his arguments for the reality of The Resurrection of the Son of God on NT Wright’s book of this name. For those who are interested in condensed versions (Wright’s book after all is 740 rather dense pages), the arguments are outlined in a lecture “Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection” available in audio, video, or text form here or here. Another lecture by Bishop Wright at Emory University in 2008 “Why Does Jesus’ Resurrection Matter?” can be found here with Q&A here.
So what are the principal arguments for the reality of the resurrection as advanced by Wright and Keller?
1. The resurrection is attested to early in Christian literature – 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 6 are excellent examples of this, written within a few decades of the crucifixion. In addition Paul refers to multiple witnesses, still alive at the time of his writing, to make his case on the reality of the resurrection. It is difficult to defend the premise that resurrection was a late addition – only refined when distance in time and place made credulity feasible.
2. The gospel variation and presence of women as earliest witness attest to true testimony provided in these accounts. Scripted story and collusion would provide better uniformity of detail.
3. The bodily resurrection was a foreign concept in Greek, Roman, and Jewish thought – thus the claim was without precedent, a powerful argument for historicity. Consider in particular the Jewish context. As Keller points out: It was absolute blasphemy to propose that any human should be worshipped. Yet hundreds of Jews began worshipping Jesus literally overnight. The hymn to Christ as God that Paul quotes in Philippians 2 is generally recognized to have been written just a few years after the crucifixion. What enormous event broke through all Jewish resistance? p.209-210. The testimony of early devotion to Jesus as divine or bordering on divine is overwhelming – something powerful happened to the disciples of Jesus and changed their world view. The hymn in Philippians 2 is a compelling passage:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

4. The explosion of Christianity on the scene and the rapid, unstoppable growth despite persecution over the first several centuries. These people believed what they said and put their lives on the line because of it. Virtually all the apostles and early Christian leaders died for their faith, and it is hard to believe that this kind of powerful self-sacrifice would be done to support a hoax. p. 210
5. The resurrection is the victory in the Christian story; it is the linchpin. — The resurrection tells us that what we do here today matters. We die with Christ and are raised with Christ to new life and a new ethic. The battle is won, the kingdom will come. It matters that we care deeply about justice for the poor, alleviate hunger and disease, care for the environment — because the world is not an accident that will eventually die in the passing of the sun.
Without the victory – without the resurrection – don’t we ultimately, if we are honest with ourselves, stand with Nietzche?

Once upon a time, on a little star in a distant corner of the universe, clever little animals invented for themselves proud words, like truth and goodness. But soon enough the little star cooled, and the little animals had to die and with them their proud words. But the universe, never missing a step, drew another breath and moved on, dancing its cosmic dance across endless skies (as quoted by Sparks in God’s Word in Human Words)

OK, so much for Keller and Wright, with a bit of my own editorializing thrown in for good measure.
What do you think? Is the affirmation of the bodily resurrection of Jesus as historical reality essential to Christian orthodoxy? Why? Or alternatively is orthodoxy as historically defined an idea whose time has passed?
What do you find to be the most convincing evidence for the resurrection of the Son of God?

  • http://communityofjesus.blogspot.com/ Ted M. Gossard

    Gold, real gold, RJS.
    Of course the resurrection in Jesus is Christianity. Without it Christianity is no longer what it claims to be, more than just for helping us live, but the very life by which we and in the end all things created- live.

  • http://jonathanjong.wordpress.com Jonathan Jong

    Ditto. I think the resurrection is key. It’s the evidence of the specialness of Jesus, for starters, and the vindication of his claims. I agree with Hume (most days) that the Resurrection cannot establish theism, but given theism, I think the Resurrection helps to establish Christianity. But it’s a difficult thing to believe. I think 1, 2, and, 3 above are cumulatively persuasive, though (as Tom Wright admits) there’s no knock-down, drag-out argument even after a hugh book.

  • http://deleted mariam

    Since deciding I would assume God exists my attitude towards the resurrection, and the other miracles described in the NT has been “in for a penny, in for a pound”. If I’m going to believe in God I might as well just accept this other stuff too. Nevertheless my faith wouldn’t come tumbling down if it was proven that the resurrection was not a historical reality.
    I can see alternative possibilities – the most likely to me would be that a grieving, desolate group of followers desperately needed to believe in Jesus’ resurrection – which had been predicted by the OT and, according to the gospels, by Christ himself. One or more of these shattered people reported seeing Christ in the flesh. The story spread like wild fire amongst his followers, and soon he was being spotted everywhere. Yes, 500 people claiming to have seen Jesus after his death is a lot of people, but how many people claimed to have seen Elvis after he died (I’m not trying to be facetious – just pointing out the difficulty of always assuming so-called eye-witness reports are reliable, even when the number is big.) This was a people more accustomed to believe in miracles and supernatural phenomena than we are, so it isn’t implausible that Jesus’ followers resurrected him through honest love, loyalty and hope. I certainly know of people who have “seen” someone who died – their spouse, their child. I don’t believe they are lying, but I don’t necessarily believe I would have seen the person if I was in the room with them. When my daughter was very ill she hallucinated people and they were solid – that is to her they were not just visions but solid reality that she could smell, hear and touch. We have centuries of stories of miraculous events and actions performed or experienced by saints and I think we tend to take them with a much greater grain of salt.
    When I say I can picture the resurrection this way I don’t mean that that is what I believe, just that if the literal bodily resurrection did not occur that that to me is the most likely explanation – a few people who actually believed that they saw the risen Christ and legends rapidly growing from the reports of reports of reports of those sightings. I don’t see it as a lie or a hoax – just that the need for hope of so many people created an answer, and who is to say that God’s hand would not be in the creation of such a hope? There is certainly a line of thought which says that our thoughts, dreams and hope are every bit as real and true as what we perceive through our senses – that there is not such a sharp divide between what we see and what we want to see.
    But to answer your question, the most convincing evidence for the resurrection of the Son of God is that 2,000 years later it still gives hope to millions of people, it still changes lives, it still challenges the powers of this world. It still offers redemption and answers the question Why? I would believe that whether I believed in a literal resurrection or not, but belief in the resurrection makes our faith much richer. I think it would be hard for an imaginary event to do all that.

  • Kyle (Ranger)

    The historical reality of the resurrection is as essential to orthodoxy as anything. It was the center of early Christian hope and found in all of the early creeds. It’s found throughout the earliest Christian documents both canonical and non-canonical. Without the resurrection Christianity simply would not have thrived as it did.
    For something a little more scholarly on the topic of how central the resurrection was to early Christianity, I’d suggest Larry Hurtado’s “Lord Jesus Christ” and “How Did Jesus Become God?” There are plenty of other scholarly works on the topic, but I really enjoyed those two.
    Keller does a fine job in a very basic sense of arguing for the historical reality of the resurrection, but I think Wright does a better job on the popular level in “Surprised by Hope” which we’ve already discussed here. Still, it doesn’t do his bigger book on the topic full justice, so if you are really interested then read “The Resurrection of the Son of God.”
    Did you read the Q&A and tableside chat from the NT Wright discussion on “Can a Scientist Believe…?” The tableside chat was awesome, by far the best part IMO. Malcom Jeeves (neuroscientist from St. Andrews) seems to lead most of the discussion but has great insights.
    You are so correct on the existential argument for the resurrection! Thanks for contributing your viewpoint on the topic.

  • RJS

    I didn’t read the tableside chat – but I did listen to it. When possible I download mp3′s and listen on my drive to and from work. This is a great discussion – because it is a conversation not a Q&A.
    I have also read Hurtado’s Lord Jesus Christ. It is an excellent scholarly book – dealing predominantly with the rapid rise in devotion to Jesus as Lord. I enjoyed it – and though this may bring the wrath of some upon me – I found it easier to read than Wright’s big book RSG.

  • Diane

    I saw an exhibit on the sinking of the Titanic a few years ago. An eyewitness (woman) insisted the ship broke in two as it sank. Scientists scoffed: impossible. She must have been mistaken. Unreliable witness. When the Titanic was discovered it was in two pieces. Faced with the undeniable, science figured out how it happened. I couldn’t help but think of the Resurrection. Just because science or enlightenment rationalism says a thing is impossible, doesn’t mean it is. Plus, the fact that was are still talking about it 2,000 years later, as others have noted, adds strength to the notion that Something Happened.

  • Scott M

    I just wanted to add that, for me personally, one of the best lecture summaries of his arguments in the big book was in this lecture at Roanoke College, Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?. Scroll down to the March 16, 2007 event for options for audio or video. You might find it particularly interesting, mariam. Or not. But he does speak directly to some of the ideas you mention.
    Unlike the statement many seem to want to make today, if the Resurrection is not true, then I’m not staying a Christian. Period. If Jesus didn’t rise, then he did not conquer death and trying to follow him is a waste of time and lives. Yes, the Resurrection is absolutely essential and central. We have life because God, through and with Jesus, defeated death. The entire claim and basis for Christianity has always been built on the Resurrection. It’s the foundational truth. I think the only reason so many (pretty much exclusively in the West btw) can try to discount it is that Western Christianity shifted to perspectives on the “atoning” work of Christ in which the Resurrection was not the central and defining moment in which the cosmos changed. In fact, it has been taken so far as to become little more than the “proof” that the Father accepted the payment of the Son on the cross. (I read that recently in the Southern Baptists of Texas publication.)
    Christianity is pretty unique among religions in that it pins everything, all its hope and claims, on the historical life, death, and resurrection of a particular man, in a particular place, at a particular time. Take that away and you’ve got nothing but hollow collection of advice that isn’t really all that good in a world in which bodily resurrection and new creation is not the true reality.
    Of course, the idea of resurrection was never that big of a deal to me to believe. I always approached every religion and spirituality on its own terms — willing to accept what it said about the nature of reality — at least for a while. If I’m going to be Christian, the resurrection must be true. But that wasn’t really the big deal for me. I didn’t want to be Christian. Most of what I thought or “knew” about Christians and Christianity was pretty negative. I didn’t really think that what I thought I knew about the Christian perspective had anything to do with how I wanted to view reality. I had tons of issues with Christianity. But the resurrection was never one of them.
    But then, I was never a materialist of any sort. That’s probably why. As someone with a deep interest in history, especially ancient history, the work of N.T. Wright as a historian (which is pretty much what the Resurrection of the Son of God is) was especially meaningful to me. I actually did read the big book and loved it. But then I also do things like read dense 800 page books on the Civil War. Or ancient Greece. Or different periods of Rome. Or Persia. I haven’t read as much of that sort of stuff lately. (My heavy reading for a while has been to catch up on Christian thinking.) Wright’s historical treatment is outstanding.

  • Rick

    RJS: you asked, “Is the affirmation of the bodily resurrection of Jesus as historical reality essential to Christian orthodoxy? Why?”
    Alister McGrath sums its importance up nicely:
    “The New Testament is permeated by the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The consequences of this event, both for the personal experience of the first Christians and for their understanding of the understanding of the identity and significance of Jesus himself, dominate the horizons of the New Testament writers. It was on the basis of their firm belief that the one who was crucified had been raised by God from the dead, that the astonishing developments in the perceived status and identity of Jesus took place.”
    McGrath goes on to commend Pannenberg’s view for its reliability: “For Pannenberg, the decisive factor in determining what hap­pened on the first Easter Day is the evidence contained in the New Testament, and not dogmatic and provisional scholarly theories about the nature of reality. How, asks Pannenberg, are we to account for the New Testament evidence? What is its most probable explanation? The historical evidence liberates us from the dogmatic metaphysical presuppositions about what can and what can’t have happened in history that underlie Troeltsch’s critique of the resurrection, and allows us to return to the Jesus of history. For Pannenberg, the resurrection of Jesus is the most probable and plausible explanation of the historical evidence.”
    The whole article can be found here:

  • Jerry M

    Chuck Colson gives an interesting twist to the discussion on the resurrection of Jesus in his book, ‘Loving God’. He works with the accusation that the apostles all agreed to lie and say that Jesus rose when they knew He didn’t. i.e. – they agreed to a cover-up. Writing from his experiences with Watergate, he then discusses what often happens when a handful of men agree to cover-up the truth. Once prosecutors started hounding the men and threatening jail time, it was every man for himself and only a matter of time before someone let the truth out to save their own skin.
    If the resurrection of Jesus were false, it would only be human nature that at least one of the apostles would have denied it to save their own skin. It’s the old, ‘Why die for a lie?’ argument. People might die for what they believe to be true but is actually false. But – what group of people would die for what they knew was false? The testimony of history is that of the original 11 disciples who were handpicked by Jesus and saw the evidence for the resurrection, 10 of them died martyrs deaths and one endured persecution and exile for clinging to the truth of the resurrection.
    Thanks for this series RJS, I have really enjoyed it.

  • http://www.friends4thejourney.com josenmiami

    I believe it … as St. Paul said, if its not true, then we of all people are most to be pitied … God has been faithful in my life at every critical point in our journey … God has intervened in my life miraculously many times …why would I chooose not to believe such a wonderful story as the resurrection when it corresponds with all my experience of God in these last 30 years?

  • Scott M

    I’ve been mulling it a bit more and I’m not sure I captured the heart of the importance of the resurrection from my perspective. Yes, it is through the resurrection that the Triune God defeated death for the healing of man. And without that, there is no healing. There is no promise of life.
    But it’s more than that. Unlike most religions, Christianity pins everything on an actual historical person, not on something that person wrote or said, but on the person himself. That person is, of course, Jesus of Nazareth. And Christianity places the nexus of all history, the center of time, and the great cosmos-defining moment squarely in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the subsequent indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And it’s not some archetype or mythical figure. Rather, Christianity presents and relies on Jesus as an actual figure who lived, who was executed by the empire (normally the end of the story for any revolutionary figure — especially one who claimed to be king), and who bodily rose again. And Christianity goes on to say that this actual human being was also the one creator God.
    Now, if that’s not who Jesus was and that’s not what Jesus did, then Christianity loses its entire foundation. There ceases to be any basis for all that it says about the nature of reality, what it means to be human, and how we should then live. Further, while many of the things it says make sense with a resurrected Jesus, they don’t look nearly as attractive if death still reigns.
    But my bottom line seems to be this: If Christianity isn’t true, I’m not really interested in wasting my time with it. I have no desire to create some pseudo-Christian spirituality that doesn’t require the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I’m not interested in trying to redefine terms and ideas to mean something other than what Christians have always meant by them. That whole exercise looks like a colossal waste of time and energy to me. If Christianity is not true, I’ll move on to something else. Maybe there is something else that is true.
    I guess that’s the part I have a hard time trying to fathom. Sure, the resurrection is unbelievable. I’m not sure it’s any more unbelievable than the creator God becoming man or more difficult to grasp than the mystery of the utter unity of a Triune God. But it’s always been unbelievable. Paul was laughed out of Athens. It was absurd then to suggest that a man executed by the Romans had been raised from the dead and actually was God. (The latter was actually the more believable claim in the ancient pagan world.) The absurdity is not some recent discovery now that we are less primitive and more enlightened. People who say things like that merely reveal both their own arrogance and their ignorance of ancient man.
    But that’s the claim of Christianity. It always has been for two thousand years. If you don’t believe it, fine. But why do you still want to be Christian? That is just utterly bizarre to me. Why would anyone want to continue following a religion they don’t believe is true? It’s not like there aren’t many options out there. That’s the thing I have a hard time getting my head around. I don’t get the motivation.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Is the affirmation of the bodily resurrection of Jesus as historical reality essential to Christian orthodoxy?
    I know everyone’s going to be surprised that I think the resurrection is the essential Christian belief. Christ pinned His own authority on in. As Paul put it, if Christ was not raised, then Christianity is a lie and a waste of time. The gospels are no more meaningful than Aesop’s fables if Christ’s body did not get up and leave that tomb.
    I think Keller said in this book, if we accept the existence of God, then we have to accept the possibility of miracles.
    What do you find to be the most convincing evidence for the resurrection of the Son of God?
    I wrote at length why I think . The hardest thing to explain, though, is the complete transformation of the disciples character and theology. As Keller pointed out, there is no precedent for what happened to these guys if they didn’t see a resurrected Christ.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Messed up my link: I wrote at length why I thinkthe resurrection is a story no one would make up.

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com/ Matt Edwards

    Wright’s thesis is not to prove that the resurrection actually happened. He doesn’t go that far. At the end of his tome on the resurrection, he concludes that the early Christians believed that Jesus had raised from the dead. He is more interested in addressing arguments such as the ones mariam raises in #3 than he is in the scientific possibility that it happened.
    That being said, I think Wright successfully establishes the fact that the bodily resurrection of Jesus was integral to the belief of the early Christians. It was, perhaps, the sine qua non of their faith. I would agree with Scott M #7 that without the resurrection, I’m out. The life and teaching of Jesus is too absurd to be valuable apart from resurrection. I might even call it masochistic. Why would you want to suffer for your enemies if this is all there is?
    If you don’t believe in the resurrection, I guess you can call yourself a “Christian,” but you have to admit that your faith looks nothing like that of the ancients.

  • Scott M

    Matt, I’m not sure I agree that Wright is not offering (or intending to offer) a proof in the historical sense. His point is that nothing purely from a historical (or other) argument can bring about faith, can somehow force you to believe in something like the resurrection. In essence, he’s saying that no historical proof can actually cause someone to believe the resurrection. And I agree with that point.
    However, in the Resurrection of the Son of God, he’s presented a historical proof as thorough, encompassing, and convincing as anything we can say historically about almost anything, especially in the ancient world. If the event were anything less utterly singular and unbelievable than the resurrection, it’s hard to imagine even any much debate on the topic. Historically we have widespread consensus on important events and persons based on a much less convincing historical picture or framework than we have for the resurrection of Jesus.

  • tscott

    doesn’t being bodily resurrected go deep into Jewish culture…including being buried upright, instead of
    burned like the greeks?

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    tscott, Keller’s point about the Jews is that they had no notion of an individual resurrection. That Jesus was resurrected and no one else was contrary to their theology.
    And, of course, Greeks thought physical resurrection was not only nonsensical but undesirable as the physical was evil.

  • http://awaitingredemption.blogspot.com Matt Edwards

    Scott M #15
    You’re right. He is doing that. I misspoke. He says something to extent that the most likely historical explanation for the Christian phenomenon is that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

  • http://deleted mariam

    I have to admit that at times resurrection for me is a bit like a gift beautifully wrapped that someone gives to me. I accept it and appreciate the the thought but I am a little afraid to open it or example it too closely for fear that the reality, what is inside, won’t match the thought. Scott, I know that you don’t come from a Christian background so a lot of what you say resonates with me and I admire the leap of faith you have made. Perhaps I’m not that far along on the journey yet. My belief is more a willing suspension of disbelief – an assumption rather than a full acceptance. Heck, I’m still processing the existence of God. I need time.
    For those of us coming from the outside the Christian miracles don’t sound any different than Joseph Smith finding the magic spectacles or ghost stories or anything else which can’t be subjected to empirical testing. However I think people should be patient with people who have a hard time believing in supernatural events. In general, people who call themselves Christians but can’t accept the historical fact of the the literal bodily resurrection of Christ are not denying the what they see is the essential truth of Christianity. They are trying their best to be as faithful as they can to what those stories mean, to make Christ’s teaching meaningful in their lives, while at the same time reconciling that with an inability to let go of reason. And just as Jesus was patient with Thomas, who had been a follower, had heard Jesus’ predictions of his resurrection, had heard the stories from people he knew and trusted that Jesus was risen AND had the risen Jesus standing right in front of him and STILL couldn’t believe it, we should also be patient with those who have a hard time believing in the miraculous (and I am one of them).
    There are very good reasons not to let go of rational explanations. As I said in a previous post, when something supernatural seems to occur we need to look for rational explanations first – otherwise how do we know that it is not our eyes or mind playing tricks on us. I am not as convinced as some by eye-witness accounts because I have seen repeatedly how emotional and psychological need create alternative realities. I have seen desperate and broken people cling to stories that do not match physical reality but are true and necessary for them. We all do this, to some extent, so much that I wonder whether any of our stories or memories would withstand the test of literal historicity.
    So I suppose I come at this from a different direction. Having travelled on a journey when I came to have less and less faith in what I and others perceive through our senses to be real and true, seeing how different people “remember” actual events, and how memories can be created and become part of someone’s story even though they never actually happened, the underlying truth, the meta-truth of a story becomes even more important to me than the position of molecules at one point in time (even if I could trust my perception of that position of molecules and was convinced that time was linear).
    I believe that I love my family and my family loves me. Even when their actions and my actions do not always support this hypothesis I still believe. If we could rationally break down love into all its molecular and electronic parts and say that love does not “really” exist in any literal way, I would still believe in it. The meta-truth about love is more important and real to me than the physical truth of love. And this is the way I feel about the resurrection. I realize that it is possible that their are rational explanations for what happened. There are supernatural explanations for what happened. I don’t know “what” happened on a literal, molecular level but I know, at least in my limited way, WHY it happened.
    We do not now have any of the things it took to convince Thomas of Jesus’ resurrection. Therefore I don’t think we should ever say, “You aren’t allowed to be a Christian, if you don’t believe in a literal resurrection (or virgin birth, or casting out of demons, etc).” Christ did not do that with Thomas. Instead he took his hand and showed him. What I think we should do instead of coccooning ourselves in the flag of our faith, is to live as if we truly believe in the resurrection, because our transformation and actions – our resurrection – is going to be probably the most important evidence that it really occurred. And we invite the doubters to walk with us because it is through our transformation and their transformation that the resurrection becomes real.

  • Patrick Hare

    Marian (#19)
    What a beautiful and gracious post. Thanks for that!

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    I think we all want to be understanding to those who are on the road to faith, but those who want to stand up and proudly proclaim themselves Christians and deny essential truths — most especially the resurrection — are a different case. It’s not the seekers but the Spongs I have problems with. Like someone said earlier, if the resurrection didn’t happen, Jesus’ teachings aren’t beautiful; they’re a waste. Loving enemies, giving til it hurts, treating lust like adultery — these things will only cause you unnecessary pain unless there is something beyond this life.
    That said, I want to bring up something you said:
    For those of us coming from the outside the Christian miracles don’t sound any different than Joseph Smith finding the magic spectacles…
    No, you can’t subject the resurrection to empirical testing, but it’s not in the same class as Smith’s spectacles.
    Smith claimed to have produced a book using tablets and glasses no one had seen. Likewise, Mohammad said he has a visit with an angel that no one else saw. Buddha came out of the woods with a story of an experience that no one else witnessed, but he was sure it happened.
    Jesus’ tomb was open and empty for all to see. He was seen by hundreds of people at the same time making any kind of halucination impossible. He spent the better part of a day with the disciples going to Emmaus. He talked with people, ate with people, moved objects — all things that mind-tricks don’t do.
    Most important of all, Jesus did this to people who had lost hope in Him. They would have seen the crucifixion as proof that Jesus was a fraud — just like the other fake messiahs who’d come along. They had no sense of a dying and rising Messiah, and they had no notion of one person being resurrected alone. These people should have turned around and gone home, dejected, depressed, and just hoping they could get back to their old lives.
    Instead they started talking about the impossible. God had raised Jesus from the dead proving that He had the Truth. His way was the way. It offered hope and strength and peace and forgiveness. Most of all it promised us that what we did in this life would matter forever, and that the forever would more than make up for whatever we went through here.
    All of that was dependent on that tomb being empty.

  • http://bobbyorr.wordpress.com MatthewS

    Great Post, many great comments.
    I appreciate Scott M’s comments #7,#9 on this. I am in the “if the resurrection didn’t happen, then I’m out” crowd.
    I heard the (apocryphal?) story of a physics prof that would not talk to you unless you could first verbalize what evidence would be required for you to renounce the opinion you currently hold. If you can’t verbalize that, then what separates your opinion from baseless propaganda? For me, if clear evidence were to arise that there had been no resurrection, then I would be completely shaken.
    Some personal angst thrown in for free:
    I was raised in a system that distilled much of the Bible and Jesus’ teachings down to principles. It was said that anyone, believer or non-believer, could follow God’s principles and that God would bless them for it. The system emphasized passages related to authority and submission, service, obedience and all but ignored the fruit of the Spirit. Stemming from this experience, I am resolved to hold any theological or life-change system at an arm’s length that does not depend on the Spirit’s enabling to grow the fruit of the Spirit in the believer’s life. The Spirit grows good fruit in human lives using the same power with which he raised Jesus. I believe that there will be a redemption for which human beings and nature itself groans. It seems to me that no resurrection = no reason to believe the final redemption is anything more than a wizard behind a curtain.

  • mariam

    I am not interested in deconstructing the resurrection. I have already said that, however I may struggle with it, I have decided to believe in it. I made that commitment out of respect for orthodoxy, for the traditional of CHristian belief, more than out of personal necessity. All of the points you make as “proof” of the resurrection have been argued about ad infinitum elsewhere and I’m not interested in that discussion, partly because I find arguing on that level has a tendency to push me back into the disbeliever’s camp. That is that I see the holes in the arguments (on both sides) and then the belief I have seems hollow. I don’t like reducing it in that way. So, hopefully, you’ll forgive me if I say that I don’t want to engage you in sword play on this issue.
    BUt there is one thing you say that I truly disagree with. Perhaps it is necessary for you to believe in a literal resurrection in order to find Christ’s teachings beautiful and sensible, but not everyone shares that necessity with you. Life is full of pain whether we follow Christ’s teachings or not. Both Christians and non-Christians have followed Christ’s teaching because they found redemption and beauty in them in THIS life. Christ’s teachings give us a way to transcend pain, to give meaning to suffering and it is not just about putting up with stuff in this life so we can get into heaven. I agree with you that Christ’s way is “the way”. But I don’t think it is just “the way” into heaven. It is the way we are to follow in this life to work towards his Kingdom on earth. You see I don’t find loving and forgiving my enemy (and you know my story I think so you know I am not just talking in theoretical terms) “a waste of time” or “unnecessary pain”. What I found was that it gave me peace, it lifted a dark burden from me and made it possible for me to feel joy and love again. I did not have to wait for heaven to realize that Jesus was right about it being a better way. WHen I give until it hurts, I find that it, in fact, doesn’t hurt – that, in contrast, to causing unnecessary pain, it brings joy. When I accept that lust is part of the same parcel as adultery, I have more compassion for others, for one thing, because I am no longer feeling superior to them, but I also recognize that something as destructive as adultery starts with something as seemingly harmless as lust and I need to recognize when I following the calling of my body, rather than my mind. If, at some point, I am asked to suffer or die for something that I believe to be true and right I will feel privileged, whether there is a resurrection or not. We all live and die. To die standing up for something we believe in is the greatest gift we can be given because it makes meaning of our lives. None of these teachings require a belief in literal resurrection or even heaven to be true or beautiful to me. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in it.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Aimed at large and off topic:
    Mariam’s comments in #23 remind me of a story I read about a professor or high school teacher who had students who were never exposed to Christian teachings read the Sermon on the Mount.
    We read it and see it as beautiful but challenging. They read it and were outraged. It was unfair, it asked too much, it was unrealistic and unnecessary in their view.
    I’ve come across people who want to try an atheistic version of Christianity because the philosphy and ethic is so attractive. I wonder how much of this idea is rooted in the fact that Western culture is totally inundated with Judeo-Christian ethics. Even non-believers see it as valuable because we’ve been taught to value it.
    But if we all die and turn to dust with nothing thereafter, does it really have any value? Man in his natural state is a hedonist. If one subscribes to a Darwinian view of life, then might makes right and only the fit survive — what value does compassion have? Why love your enemy when he might attack your offspring? Shouldn’t you rather annihilate him?
    If there is really no afterlife, if this is really all there is, does anything — from the Golden Rule on down — in Christianity have any merit? If so, what parts and why?

  • mariam

    Wow, Chris. Great questions. I wish I had time to write a page mulling them over but I have to drag myself away from the computer and get some of those mundane tasks like cutting the grass done. Here, I find the old Bhuddist saying most helpful:
    “Before enlightenment, cut wood, draw water. After enlightenment, cut wood, draw water.”
    Jesus told Martha not to worry so much about housework and that is certainly more attractive to me but it doesn’t help me get the work done.
    However, just one point. From a purely secular, evolutionary point of view (I’m playing devil’s advocate here, so don’t jump on me) Jesus makes sense. Most evolutionists argue that altruism is built into our genes to ensure the survival of the race. When we stick together as families we have a better chances of surviving against others and sometimes that sticking together means sacrificing individual needs in favour of the needs of others (who among us would not die for our child?). When we stick together as tribes and sacrifice for each other we will have a better chance of surviving as a tribe. Ditto for nations. And when we extend compassion, love, forgiveness, sharing, self-sacrifice to all humanity we have the best chance of survival as a race. What Jesus is essentially telling us to do is to give up our grip on the things we think are most important for our own individual, immediate survival and comfort, because in the end those desires and attachments will destroy us. As Christians we see this in a spiritual sense – that our attachment to the things of this world prevent us from entering God’s Kingdom. A secularist might see this as meaning that we must be prepared to sacrifice our individual needs and desires for the greater good so that humanity survives. Although, you say that atheists (and people like me) find this philosophy attractive because we are subconsciously immersed in Judeo-Christian ethics, I have found this viewpoint transcends faith and is often the central truth in other faiths as well.

  • Scott M

    mariam, don’t give me too much credit. No, my background is not Christian, but it is also not really the secular materialist perspective you describe. From my closest influences, I would tend to say that my father’s (one of the research scientists in my family) default is pretty much that perspective, though he has always been easygoing and open to experience. On the other hand, as I grew up my mother’s perspective was more … exploratory. I did also have many Christians scattered around our family and had encounters with a wide array of Christian expressions. And, of course, I also have other extended family with the more secular, material perspective. That’s the stew which shaped me which is why the best label I’ve been able to come up with my default cultural shaping is radical pluralism.
    Although it’s not the sort of thing you usually step through in some linear, conscious, and deliberate manner, I would probably say that I tended to reject the secular view (a clear divide between the sensible and anything transcendent — between the natural and ordinary and the “supernatural”) or the strictly materialist view (nothing exists beyond the sensible) from a fairly young age. I would say I had rejected that sort of perspective even while I remained ambivalent about the Christian perspective. I’ve never viewed the world through a secular or materialist lens and so I was unlikely to begin doing so when I began to find myself caught in the current of Jesus of Nazareth.
    I tried to explain that above. I don’t think there was ever the same “leap of faith” for me when it comes to things like the resurrection that someone more from those perspectives might require. It was a different sort of leap. Was I willing to accept a reality in which the transcendent, creator god was not only personal, but poured himself out to become part of his creation? Was I willing to accept the sort of love and life demanded by the cross? And did I belief that the powers and death was defeated in the way Christians said Jesus did so and thus the ultimate reality of the fully human being was utterly bodily and maintained our individual identity? (Before Christianity my general position on human selfhood involved the transmigration of souls in a way that was similar to Hinduism but which I would say had been westernized in some ways to make it more palatable.) And my biggest hurdle was that it made these Christians my people, my family. And I had a pretty negative opinion — much of it based on my own experience — about Christians. And I really didn’t want that at all.
    With that said, I’m beginning to see that the perspective from which you are emerging tends to lump everything transcendent in a single category called “supernatural”. And that’s a mistake. Everything about Christianity revolves around the incarnation, life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus followed by his ascension to the throne of power over all other powers and the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is within these mysteries that Christians discover the nature of reality, the nature of God, and the nature of man. The Resurrection is not a “miracle” like turning water into wine or feeding the five thousand or calming the storm. It is an utterly singular, one-off event through which the Triune God defeated death and the powers and brought healing to mankind. I don’t generally accept the natural/supernatural dichotomy, but even if I did I would call it a category mistake to call the Resurrection “supernatural”. It defines the nature of the reality of the cosmos.
    The same is not true of the other signs and wonders. Frankly, I don’t believe that a reality is filled and sustained moment to moment by a transcendent God will always present itself to us in ways we expect or anticipate. I would never call “miracles” some sort of intervention in the “natural” order by an external deity. Rather, they are simply one of the ways we encounter the true nature of the reality around us. God is the very air we breathe. We exist from one moment to the next because he begrudges existence to none of his creation. Nevertheless, the only harm I see in treating all signs of the God who permeates all that is as myths or stories is that it reduces the reality you will allow yourself to experience to the immediately sensible. I think that may make it harder to learn to dance with God, but I don’t see it as something critical.
    But the resurrection is not in that category. If you cannot accept it, you are saying something fundamentally different about the very nature of God and the nature of reality itself. I’m not big on saying who is and who is not a Christian. And I’m certainly not willing to put limits on the ways God can relate to his eikons. But it certainly shrinks the reality you are able to perceive and the life you are prepared to receive. And when you actually work through what the NT says, it all hinges on the resurrection. Remove that linchpin and Christianity just doesn’t look very attractive any more.
    I would also disagree with assertion that there is something irrational about belief in the Resurrection. Nothing in Christianity ever demands that you set aside reason, though it also never allows you to rest solely upon reason. However, as one would expect for something that (from a Christian perspective) is a historical event around which reality revolves, there is ample historical evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. As far as historical proof goes, the evidence really goes beyond almost anything else we treat as proof about the ancient world. But historical evidence and proof just isn’t the same as scientific or mathematical proof. It’s a different sort of thing. But it is still utterly rational. Again, if you would like to open the package called the resurrection without abandoning reason, start with N.T. Wright’s big book, The Resurrection of the Son of God. He is a historian and he treats the question as an historian.
    Thomas did not actually require the proof he thought he would need. He said one thing, but when he actually encountered the risen Jesus, he not only did not have to touch and feel, but he leapt beyond merely accepting that Jesus had risen to the declaration: My Lord and my God! I find I’m not willing to say that we are unable to encounter the risen Jesus today. He is not off someplace distant. He is the head of the church and is with us always. Yes, he is often veiled, but he was often veiled in the resurrection encounters detailed in the gospels. I’m not sure I’m willing to concede that much has really changed. If anything, he is even closer and more present since the Spirit has been poured out and God pitches his tent now among us and in our bodies.

  • mariam

    (Two swaths done) PS Chris,
    Your story about the college students reminded me of a story I heard in college in a course on “Values in Education”. Following on Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, the psychologist Kohlberg theorized that there are six stages of moral development or reasoning:
    Stage 1: (infants) entirely selfish (only I exist) where we are motivated solely by fear of punishment
    Stage 2: (toddlers and young children) recognize that others also exist and we need to manipulate them to get what we want (“I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine)
    Stage 3: (pre-adolescents) recognition of the need to follow rules to obtain the approval of others and avoid disapproval
    Stage 4: (adolescents and most adults) following rules because we understand that they are required for the efficient functioning of society 4), Stage 5: (democracy) recognition that rules are social contracts and may and should be changed when they no longer service the common good Stage 6: (not many people, but certainly Jesus) recognition that our perceptions and experiences affect our individual values and the need for abstract reasoning to realize universal moral values. The rightness of an action is not in the end goal but in the act itself.
    Anyway someone gave a bunch of college students an ethical test to see what “stage” of moral development they were at and most of them tested out at Stage 2. For a short time afterward, many were wearing t-shirts that read “Stage 2 and proud of it!” Perhaps, that’s the underlying message of what people see as “progressive revelation” in the Bible. God provides incentives for people to get on board, regardless of the “stage” they are at.
    I;m not claiming I am at some high stage of moral development, BTW, and basically I think the whole thing is very suspect because what people can reason is the right thing to do is so often disconnected from what they actually do. Most of the time I’m trying to crawl to Stage 3.

  • RJS

    I appreciate your thoughts here – you make several excellent points. The process is not learn theology, assent to it, then follow. The process has to be follow, learn, grow. I said on the last post that I find three things essential: Incarnation – God came to us and identifies with us; Sacrifice – God forgives and redeems making it possible for us to follow; Resurrection – ultimate victory, truth and goodness actually exist, actually count, there is more to existence than our physical, material reason can apprehend. This is the Christian story. Progressive Faith has commented on other threads about the power of the Christian myth – that the real power is in the myth, the story. I agree with this sentiment – the story makes sense of the world and gives us purpose. And we can buy into the myth despite doubt and reservation. Perhaps in our secular age we must buy into the myth before we can actually understand and accept it as truth – true myth.
    On the other hand isn’t there a danger in resting in a “demythologized” Christianity with superstition and supernatural removed? This makes it palatable to our sensibilities, but when the fog clears what are we left with? From a secular evolutionary point of view, material realism alone, clever little animals don’t invent truth and goodness; rather these are impressed upon them by purely natural process to perpetuate the species, and then the star goes cold and the universe moves on. Unless the Christian story is true myth it is ultimately just farce.
    Now I ramble…

  • Scott M

    OK. That was longer than I realized it was. Sorry about that. It can be hard to tell when you’re typing away in a little box. I’m not sure the things I would say equate precisely to what some of the other have taken from them. Now, I would say that if the Resurrection is not a reality and the hardline materialist perspective is instead true, then nothing in Christianity can be considered as good advice. That’s true. However, if the Resurrection is not a historical reality, but the materialist perspective is also not true, I would still abandon Christianity for something different in a heartbeat. There is absolutely no chance I would stay Christian.
    But it’s for deeper reasons. Christianity, unlike many perspectives, rejects both the material and the spiritual view. Further, it is one of the only perspectives which adamantly holds that the death of the human being is an aberration. There is nothing natural about death. Further, the resurrection teaches that we are meant to be whole, unified beings — body and soul — eikons of God in a good creation with a life (an undivided life, remembered) in which we were created to continue in communion with our creator God. The Christian view of human life is that we were made for a life that endures — not as disembodied spirits, but as whole human beings.
    Remove the resurrection of Jesus and there is no longer a basis for that perspective. It all hinges on him and through him. And if that’s not true, there just isn’t much interesting in Christianity, at least nothing which can’t be found elsewhere in spiritualities that then might more accurately describe reality and the nature of the human being. I suppose Judaism, which has a perspective similar in some respects to Christianity, might still be true. (It’s certainly the only one which holds to some sort of bodily resurrection of the people of God — which views the person as body and soul and anything else as an aberration.) But the Christian claim would not be true. Two thousand years of followers of Jesus would simply be mistaken.
    That’s why I would stop pursuing the Christian way and look for something else. I have no interest in trying to shape myself into the form of a religion which does not accurately and truly describe reality, that does not tell me what it means to be a human being. I can find better ways to spend my life.

  • mariam

    Part of me agrees with you:) In fact, I’m not quite the materialist, rationalist sort that I seem to have portrayed myself as. I can find myself getting very “flaky” as in “how do I know anything really exists and this isn’t all just an illusion?” Then I scare myself and flee back to rationalism. Christianity actually allows me to make sense of both. I do get the difference between supernatural and transcendence and I think the resurrection is the latter.

  • Scott M

    Ah yes. Perhaps I am a butterfly dreaming I am a man dreaming I am a butterfly. ;)

  • Robert E. Mason

    The resurrection of the Son of God is the heart and soul of orthodox Christianity. It is what distinguishes Christianity from another slop of ethical demands, for Jesus is alive, living his life through the personality and in the situation of each believer. Believers, therefore, can carry out the seemingly impossible command to love our neighbors and pray for those who persecute them. Ray Stedman, late Pastor of the Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, put it this way: “the risen Lord, living His life in us, is the great provision that God made for us to handle the pressures, problems, dangers and disappointments of life.” Wendell Berry urges us to “practice resurrection.”
    My own testimony is that God has made provisions for my weakness, picking me up and carrying me through the debilitating effects of a disabling stroke. I have learned to live day by day in the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

  • mariam

    I agree with your 3 essentials. I don’t want to demythologize Christianity. I don’t find it necessary, and, in fact, without the mystery and transcendence I find it all a little gray. So much more glorious with the mystery. But I understand where the people who do are suspicious of the “superrnatural” are coming from, because I was there once and I would have been lost if I had been told, “You can’t be a Christian unless you believe all these things which probably don’t make sense to you right now.” instead of “God doesn’t care what you believe. He doesn’t want your beliefs, He wants your presence.” I am not saying that beliefs are not important – obviously some are because they provide a framework for our actions. But the first step is to follow – God will teach us the steps we need to know as we journey on.
    I also don’t believe in “resting” comfortably in what we believe about the nature of our faith, no matter what those beliefs are. I think God wants us to ask questions and I do believe, that when we truly seek and are open to the answers, God will lead us to them. In my previous discussion with Progressive Faith what I told him is that faith is about surrender, it is about being willing to give up everything – even our pet beliefs – to allow for possibilities. That surrender may allow for the possibility of God turning the natural world on its head or it may mean looking at the Bible in a new way. Reason is like armour for me and surrendering to me meant dropping that armour for God. I’m not fond of dropping it for anyone else though:)
    Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this great series on the big questions.

  • http://http:authenticmission.blogspot.com Andrew Kenny

    Great post:it’s good to be reminded about it’s importance. The arguments are sound, especially the conviction of the disciples who were prepared to lose their lives proclaming it.

  • Doug Allen

    I love reading these posts. Many are so erudite that they often send me to reference books or even Amazon.com; some are personal stories wonderfully moving and causing me to remember and maybe reinterpret parts of my own life and reconsider opinions about others, even Jesus. In this series, I was particularly thankful for the thoughtful posts of RJS, Mariam, and ScottM.