March 26, 2005

Easter Egg Christianity

The other day I noticed a Newsweek poll regarding belief in the resurrection. I was astonished to find that in this secular venue 81% had affirmed a belief in this event. 81% of the population believes that Jesus was supernaturally raised from the dead into an immortal, glorified body, thus vindicating His teaching and claims to be the Messiah and the very Son of God? I don't think so! Not if I'm reading my cultural cues properly anyways.

So how could this number be so high? I think part of the reason is hinted at in another Newsweek poll regarding belief in the virgin birth. In this one only 66% could manage buy-in. That's an odd discrepancy; you'd think that if someone could accept a return from the dead, then the virgin birth would be no problem, right? But the difference between the two is a matter of interpretive opportunity.

The resurrection has been a rather malleable concept in modern times. We classical Christians understand it to be a tangible, historical event, but there are many liberals who feel equally comfortable embracing it within their "faith tradition" as a mere metaphor for "spiritual renewal." It is such a muddle that in a debate over the reality of the resurrection between John Dominic Crossan (of "Jesus Seminar" fame) and William Lane Craig, Crossan was so stymied over what Craig meant by "real" that he stammered (something like), "you mean, would we see anything if we had a video camera outside the tomb?" On the other hand, the virgin birth is a bit harder to spin in metaphorical terms than the resurrection, and there doesn't seem to be as concerted an effort to do so. This is probably due to the fact that Paul threw down his gauntlet of faith on the resurrection itself ("if Christ has not been raised . . . then your faith is in vain"). And what a silly thing to do if he's really just authoring mythology; he'd probably have kept his head if he just went the "spiritual renewal" route.

It is not to say that the virgin birth is merely incidental theology (it's not only clearly taught in Scripture, but is philosophically necessary), but the resurrection is the lynchpin to all of Christianity. And this is why it is troubling that so many claim to believe in it yet do not exhibit the fruit of that belief. In fact, Barna has only 7% of the population qualifying as "evangelical" Christians, and even just 38% qualifying for the more generous categorization of "born again." What, then, should follow from a belief in the resurrection?

Since the resurrection is a supernatural event, this leads to numerous cascading, logical conclusions. First, if such a supernatural thing can happen, then there must be something "super" natural to cause it – God exists. Second, this God did not raise just anyone from the dead; He raised this One, Jesus. Implicit in this act is God's stamp of approval on the works and teachings of the man. Third, Jesus made many bold claims about Himself, mankind, and Final Things. Fourth, this seems like important stuff in the economy of God; there is something that God is trying to get across to mankind here. Fifth, if God is superintending these things, and they are commended to our attention, then we can expect a reliable testimony of them to be preserved.

So a person believing in the resurrection should have good grounds for believing that Jesus actually said things like, "Before Abraham was, I am" and, "No man comes to the Father except through Me" and, "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven." How is it, then, that so many Christians can go to their Easter pageants and light their candles and sing their hymns while also denying potent realities like Jesus' unique divinity, the exclusivity of Christianity, or the doctrine of hell? The answer must be one of two things. One, they do not genuinely believe the resurrection to be a literal, historical event, i.e., they are simply immersed in the cultural expression of their "faith traditions." Two, they have not yielded to the logical implications of their profession of belief. Either this is a cavalier belief or it is simply an intellectual assent absent of any authentic faith commitment.

But for those who would reject or diminish the truth of the resurrection, Paul has these stern words to offer: "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. . . . If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."

What is Christianity without the resurrection? It is but a hollow shell of faith language and festive color that may be filled with any ideological confection that appeals to our individual tastes. It is the difference between the hen's egg and the jellybean-filled plastic shell: one is the natural and nutritious exemplar of life; the other is hollow of form and content – the product of man. What eggs will you be gathering this Easter?

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