Is the Resurrection essential to Christian belief?

Just 42 percent of Americans identify the resurrection of Jesus as the point of Easter, according to a 2010 Barna survey, and only 2 percent “describe Easter as the most important holiday of their faith.”

I find this astounding. The Resurrection is the faith. A Christian faith not centered on the Resurrection is not fully Christian. “If Christ is not risen,” said Paul, “then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (1 Cor 15.14). If the grave isn’t empty, then our faith is.

Yet people resist this, with ever-increasing contortions. An example:

The way I believe in the resurrection is I believe that one can go from a death in this life, in the sense of being dead to the world and dead to other people, and can be resurrected to new life. When I preach about Easter and the resurrection, it’s in a metaphorical sense.

So said Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell in a conversation with atheist Christopher Hitchens. For his part, Hitchens saw things more clearly:

I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Exactly. Not that Hitchens was any kind of believer. He just understood what the content of the faith had to be for it to qualify as the faith.

Underscoring this point, in an interview with the Religion News Service John Shelby Spong defended his metaphorical understanding of the Resurrection by saying, “I think that’s a pretty good message.”

Yeah. As Christians we have no interest in “a pretty good message.” We want the Good News of the Lord Christ’s pascal triumph over sin, death, and the devil. Anything less is a sham.

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About Joel J. Miller

I'm the author of Lifted by Angels, a look at angels through the eyes of the early church. Click here for more about me or subscribe to my RSS here.

  • shannon oakley

    I’m agnostic, but I appreciate Joel Miller’s interpretation of Resurrection. Hitchen’s may not have, but he always spoiling for a spat. That was his business.

  • DKeane123

    “Anything less is a sham.” – It is likely a sham in and of itself.

    • Joel J. Miller

      Perhaps. But there is no sense in which Christianity can be understood apart from the Resurrection — not only Christ’s but everyone else’s as well. If a person thinks it’s a sham, they should look for another label than Christian.

  • duhsciple

    Sacrificed for our sins to whom?

    • Joel J. Miller

      Along with the anti-violent comment above, I’m assuming you’re getting at the penal substitutionary model. You’d have the ancient church on your side if you’re against it. The harrowing of hell, which is integral to the ancient understanding, is clearly a Christus Victor motif.

  • duhsciple

    Count me in on Jesus risen from the dead, the Servant Messiah King, the New Humanity, and the trust that we will be bodily raised.

    And I believe in an anti-violent atonement

    • Joel J. Miller

      I’m pretty sure the crucifixion was violent on a level you and I would have trouble comprehending, regardless of one’s take on the theology of the atonement.

  • Glenn Peterson

    One can believe whatever one wants to believe — resurrections, angels, virgin births — and one has the right to do so, of course. But believing requires an irrational leap of faith. a suspension of reason that does not negate the reality of this world. Believing in something irrational doesn’t make it real — what is, is. As Joseph Campbell said, if you don’t figure out that heaven and hell are right here on earth, you are probably going to miss it. Good luck with that resurrection thing.

    • Albert Bueno

      Knowing that the resurrection is true is not a suspension of reason. This can be verified by the historical accounts in Acts, the letters of St Paul, and nearly ten contemporary non Christian historical accounts. All of the Apostles were willingly martyred because they had seen, touched, and spoken with the risen Christ. Only John did not die after he was boiled in oil. Faced with death, who would not recant a lie?

      Additional coherent contemporary evidentiary facts are the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium of Oviedo, as well as every Byzantine reproduction of Christ, which was modeled from the Mandilion (folded Shroud in eigths showing only the face)

      Numerous academic skeptics have become Christians after a thorough study of the overwhelming facts from many sources.


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