Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Is the Resurrection Central to Christian Faith?

In conversations with several readers I've been wrestling with the question: Is the resurrection of Jesus central, indeed, essential to the Christian faith? In answer I have to say yes. One could raise the question of whether Jesus' teachings are sufficient to under gird a faith. At one level they are. And yet the cross seems problematic in such a scenario. Concerning the centrality of resurrection, I could turn to someone like Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham, who forthrightly defends a bodily resurrection. But I think for my purpose here, Marcus Borg is a more effective conversation partner. He writes in his response to Wright in The Meaning of Jesus:

Easter is utterly central to Christianity. "God raised Jesus from the dead" is the foundational affirmation of the New Testament. About this Tom and I agree. We also agree that the best explanation for the rise of Christianity -- indeed, the only adequate explanation -- is the resurrection of Jesus. We also agree about its central meanings. Put most compactly, I see the meanings of Easter as twofold: Jesus lives, and Jesus is Lord. Both claims are essential: Easter means that Jesus was experienced after his death, and that he is both Lord and Christ. Though each of us might add further subpoints of meaning, we agree about all the above.

Where they disagree is in the manner of that post resurrection experience of Jesus, that is it's historical grounding, but they agree that without the resurrection there is no Christian faith.


Mystical Seeker said...

But Borg does not consider a literal resurrection, as a historical event, to be necessary to the Christian faith. What he referred to the resurrection was in terms the post-Easter experiences of Jesus's followers, which he says may or may not have been historical--which is something entirely different from what many Christians insist, namely that the resurrection had to have been a literal, physical, historical event.

Here's what Borg says in "The God We Never Knew" (page 93):

Thus Easter need not involve the claim that God supernaturally intervened to raise the corpse of Jesus from the tomb. Rather, the core meaning of Easter is that Jesus continued to be experienced after his death, but in a radically new way: as a spiritual and divine reality. He was known in nonordinary experiences, as well as in the community's life together. The truth of Easter is grounded in such experiences of the risen Christ as a living presence, not in the physically observable events restricted to a particular day or a few weeks in the first century.

A lot of Christians would reject Borg's position out of hand and insist that the resurrection was a historical event, where Jesus actually walked on earth and interacted with his disciples. But Borg is saying that this is not the core of Christian belief.

So it really depends on what means by "resurrection", doesn't it?

The reality is that one can be quite vague when talking about the "resurrection" if one wants to. One can say that Jesus's message is still with us even though he was executed by the Romans--that his message of nonviolent love and the Kingdom of God lives on. So if you want to be as vague as possible in defining the resurrection, then, yes, I could agree that the resurrection lies at the core of Christianity. It is when you start talking about this as a physical, historical event, that I find myself in disagreement. More to the point, when people use this to argue that this, along with the presumption of life after death, is the foundation of the Christian faith, then we have something that I can't even remotely relate to as part of my own faith journey.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Since we started the conversation on your blog, I didn't want to let you have all the fun. I knew this would get you to post here!

Wright and Borg stand at very different points on this issue. As a famous fence sitter, I find my self pulled in both directions. I guess, I can live with both Borg and Wright's views, but I don't think that the church can exist without the resurrection -- for it declares that Rome's verdict doesn't stand, that death (so graphically illustrated this week in Virginia) doesn't have the last word.

Tonight I went to a memorial service for my friend Bob Adams at my former church. Whatever the nature of resurrection I stand in the hope that his death, which occurred in the midst of a horrible affliction of Parkinsons wasn't the last word either.

Easter then is the center of our hope -- a conviction that life is sacred and worthy of celebration.

It is true that many would reject Borg's interpretation. I can't move myself there, but I'm comfortable there. So, yes it all depends on what we mean by resurrection!

revkindle said...

Does the presence of Jesus' bones mean the end of Christianity? Only if you think of resurrection in terms of resuscitation. The Gospels are in stark disagreement on the details, often contradictory. No “witness” seems to have actually witnessed the event or the immediate circumstances following it over the next (up to) forty days. John and Luke have Jesus appearing and disappearing. John has Jesus presumably walking through walls, yet he eats (also, presumably). Paul in 1 Cor.15 emphasizes a "spiritual" body.

Lazarus was resuscitated, only to die again. The resurrection of Jesus, if bodily, certainly wasn't the body he was crucified in. So, if Jesus' bones are actually discovered, it won't bother me at all.

Something happened, to be sure. Whatever it was need not be explained in literal detail (since it wasn't) for us to agree that it is a mystery, and best left as such. Who can explain the unexplainable?

The "proof" of Christianity is not in the fact of the resurrection. It is in the fact of new life as promised in Jesus Christ. Now, the real question is, "Can 'new life' be demonstrated in those communities that claim to believe in resurrected life?" I say, perhaps, and mostly, no. Anyone who confidently says yes has never pastored a church!

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...


Thanks for the posting! By the way, Steve is a good "liberal" friend who has pushed me into trouble on many an occasion!!! You and Mystical Seeker need to talk -- you'd have fun. Especially since both of you are I believe in the Bay area.

Anonymous said...

Hiya Bob,

Luke 24:40 And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. 41 While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42 They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; 43 and He took it and ate it before them. 44 Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 "You are witnesses of these things. 49 "And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." 50 And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.

Probably just a figure of speech. I like spiritual pork chops better than fish.


Anonymous said...

Hiya Rev. Kindle

The "it" in 1 Cor 15:42 is referring to the same thing, right? Our perishable bodies and our spiritual bodies are the same "it" in this verse, right?

Eisegesis alert!