Thursday, February 3, 2011

Resurrection: Win, Lose, or Draw

The resurrection of Jesus appears to be the cornerstone of Christianity. It seems that one has to make some sense of it in order to make sense of Christianity. I've just completed the book, "The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and NT Wright in Dialogue", which provides a transcript of a debate between Wright and Crossan on the resurrection as well as a series of essays by scholars evaluating the positions of Wright and Crossan. This is certainly not the first I've read on this topic. What I've come away with is this: it's a draw. Ultimately, belief or non belief in the resurrection rests more on one's worldview and a desire to believe or not, than it does in overwhelming evidence for either side. I think each side makes valid points. Crossan states that the the most logical position to take in face of the evidence is one of agnosticism toward the resurrection. However, I realize the Bible never promises hard evidence, rather, it points to God requiring belief and faith.

I realize the problems inherent in reaching a conclusion based on what we think God ought to do, but I confess it's difficult for me not to give more weight to disbelieving the resurrection for this reason: it seems that if God is using the resurrection of Christ to save all humanity, it should be practically a self evident truth that we all have access to, particularly if knowing that truth is what leads to salvation (in a broad sense of the word). Instead, we must rely on ancient texts, largely by non eyewitnesses, which have been redacted over time. For those not willing to accept what has been handed down to us by our tradition, we are left wading through a great deal scholarly work, which is not all in agreement. Should it be this hard? I find myself in sympathy with mystics or those who advocate an experiential knowledge of Christ, like the Mormons who pray to ask God if the book of Mormon is true. (Which I did during a study with them once: no confirmation given to me.) This way of knowing potentially gives everyone access to the truth. However, mystics, as far as I can tell, are not all in agreement.

I've given my emotional reaction to the book in an effort to disclose the lens through which I read the book, but in another post I'll discuss the stances of Wright and Crossan and summarize the strengths of their respective positions.

What is your stance on the resurrection and what has influenced your position? What do you think of my emotional objection to the lack of clear evidence?


  1. This:
    "... it seems that if God is using the resurrection of Christ to save all humanity, it should be practically a self evident truth that we all have access to, particularly if knowing that truth is what leads to salvation (in a broad sense of the word)"


    "For those not willing to accept what has been handed down to us by our tradition, we are left wading through a great deal scholarly work..." just the point I came to. I am sure there are other ways around it, perhaps more universalistic visions of the faith. Then maybe it could just be said that without faith you would be missing out on so much in life. I don't know.

    I am more sympathetic as well with the mystical versions of Christianity for those reasons. Which does not mean I find them convincing (like your Mormon example). But I feel it is more honest, or at least does not impinge on my personal expression of what I feel to be intellectual integrity.

    My stance on the resurrection overall is that it is improbable, because the evidences which could support it fit into other categories better; generally, as myths developed over time.

  2. DoOrDoNot. Thanks for the encouragement over at Mark's blog. My hesitations for keeping my blog stem from the extent of my doubts...the idea of being a stumbling block is really troubling me, perhaps some of the emotions are linked to my fundamentalist background. As you might guess, I cannot answer your question regarding the resurrection, and I often wonder how long I can embrace narrative Christianity. I was reading the story of Bart Erhman and how he progressed from fundamentlist Christianity to progressive/liberal Christianity to eventually just plain agnosticism. I'm not to familiar with mystical Christianity...would that be the same as special revelation? As you know, I'm extremely worn out by the difficulty of embracing Christianity. The difficulty of the quest sometimes seems like evidence in and of itself. Part of my sabbatical from historical reading stems from the fact that if I devote anymore time to it, I will be convinced Christianity is in error. Does that make sense? Apologetics/biblical studies/theology etc is simply not good for my spiritual quest.

    atimetorend: I haven't seen an update on your blog in awhile. I am curious as to how you and your wife are doing, and how you are handling the delicate issue of teaching your children and/or attending/finding churches.

  3. Having been raised so long in a Christian environment, my default thinking was to treat the Gospels as historical. When doing so, the resurrection story becomes probable, as one has to account for the “facts” such as the empty tomb, change in the apostle’s demeanor, continuation under persecution, etc.

    Now…after being out and learning to question the gospels—the Resurrection claim seems so implausible. A switch from “They are true” to “Are they true?” I would agree one’s worldview impacts one’s position; the problem comes with how many people’s worldview changes by reviewing the documents themselves. “Worldview” can’t be the sole reason, of course. (Nor do I think you are saying it is!)

    I would say your emotional reaction is justified by the impact emphasis placed on the resurrection in our society. If all we are talking about were issues with the historical difficulties surrounding Hannibal’s elephants, or the Roman Fire, or Alexander the Great—I doubt you would get very emotional about the source reliability. Here, many claim your eternal existence—the very fabric of your life—is weighed by how you believe.

    Certainly appropriate to be emotionally concerned such a great decision relies on such flimsy evidence. (Especially when it would be easy to provide such evidence. Even more especially when the tales themselves provide a Thomas who didn’t believe with much better evidence than you or I could ever hope for!)

  4. DoOrDoNot's and ATTR's comments remind me of the back and forth that happened between myself and a couple of others where I got exasperated and remarked:

    "Why is a God who wants such complete and utter devotion, a God who wants us to "leave all and follow Him" not more accessible to the average man? If the Bible is a revelation of God to man we shouldn't need all these outside sources to shed light on the scriptures themselves. I'm not saying I'm not willing to do the hard work of getting to know God, I'm saying an omnipotent, omniscient, merciful God could surely leave a better trail to Himself than that."

    I believe there are many things that should probably remain mysterious to us about God one exists. I've devoted a lot of time and effort into studies and have had a true heart's desire to truly know God and to be in fellowship with Him. But the very thing that all of Christianity rests on should not be so ambiguous. I hardly see how making it more obvious to those of us who are truly seeking would take away the free will of anyone else to accept or reject it. The Bible does say "seek and ye shall find when you seek with all your heart". Furthermore, when you have been seeking with everything you have and someone comes along and says, "oh no, you've gone about it all wrong, you're looking the wrong way", well that's just insulting.

  5. Great post. I relate a lot. I spent an immense amount of time looking into the resurrection and particularly listened to about as many debates as I could get my hands on from CSA on the topic.

    They all left me frustrated. Boyd, Habermas, Craig, Licona, Carrier, Ehrman, Flew... back and forth, back and forth. How to know who's right! Did Paul say nothing of a bodily resurrection or did he? Were the woman's testimonies unlikely for the time or weren't they? All kinds of stuff like that. Makes one's head approach critical mass.

    I agree with a lot of the previous comments. Somewhat early on in my own doubting, I recall thinking (about the whole topic, not just the resurrection), "How can the one who created everything from nothing, who knows the hairs on my head, who knew me from before I was in the womb, who exists in an unfathomable realm, who holds all in existence, who knows everything there is to know, and who makes loving us his prime objective... so hard to find?

    It just doesn't make sense.

    That's when, like D'Ma said, critics like to interject that it's my sense-making-device (brain) that's flawed, not the story that's being examined.

  6. There's a fair amount of consensus so far, I'll be interested in hearing from any readers who have a different view of the resurrection.

    atimetorend, It sounds like all of you have experienced the same emotional reaction as me or can at least understand where I'm coming from.

    DagoodS, Speaking of flimsy evidence, I'm definitely still interested in that piece on the resurrection on trial you were working on.

    Like A Child, I am no expert, but I would say that special revelation is one aspect of Christian mysticism. The focus is on being one with Christ and experiencing and gaining knowledge of Him directly. There is a focus on one's interior life: a letting go of one's ego and purifing one's self followed by being filled with God. Contemplation and prayer are usually part of this seeking after God. Here is a website if you want a fuller explanation:

    D'Ma, I like your comment about how there should be a "better trail." I think that's what several of us have experienced. Maybe that's why I have more openness to the mystical side of religion. Maybe scholarly debates are not where understanding lies.
    Hendy, Yes, I hear you about your head approaching critical mass! Mine too.

  7. I found your post most interesting. More and more, as I read these challenging complaints about how to retain Christianity when your fundamentalist worldview has been shattered, leads me to conclude that nothing but a total scrapping and rebuilding may be necessary.

    My route took me on a great tour of what is called New Thought. They don't negate the Bible, but retool it. And in doing so, you retool your understanding of God and what the Godhead intrinsically desires.

    I guess what I'm saying is that there is a necessity to erase present concepts of "what God wants." No God worth anything wants worship. For what?

    The whole idea of resurrection of Jesus becomes irrelevant, since you discard the quaint notion that Jesus was called by the Father to die for "our sins." How bloodthirsty!

    Jesus died, I submit, as a personal offering to show his full committment to the God he believed in, believing and perhaps knowing? that physical life is but a temporary moment in eternal existence.

    If one believes that evolutionary theory is correct, than one can conclude that God set the laws in motion, and then watches, and waits with eagerness for creatures to evolve to sentience and then begin to question their beginnings. It is then that we begin this journey to meet and communicate with that which created us.

    You then can return to the bible, accept the scholarly understanding of how it was created, and that it contains the wisdom of true believers, doing the best they could to explain themselves and the God they were seeking to understand. They made many errors, but we learn from them still, as we forge ahead, continuing to unmask this mystery of ourselves.

    I understand the idea that God should make this easy, but what would be the point? So we can all live forever in simple love and joy? He could have simply created it all that way in the first place and been done. I suspect it's the adventure of the experience that God seeks with us. Are you any different with your children? Don't you know in the end that you must allow them their mistakes and crooked road? You are there to support them when they fall and encourage them to continue. You realize you can't just set them down and explain "life" to them. They wouldn't listen in any case.

    Thanks for making me think by your wonderful post.

  8. To keep from losing my work to blogger vagaries I composed in another window--and put my comment at the end of the previous post instead of here. I'm really awake today.

  9. witshadows,
    It may be true that spirituality is all about the process of discovery and that we must seek and find just as we have done in all areas of life, from medicine to geology. It would be consistent. Maybe God's highest value is that we have the "adventure of experience." In which case, a more mystical approach would be fitting. That would be a very different approach to God than I've ever had. I'll think about it some more.

    You said: "I understand the idea that God should make this easy, but what would be the point? So we can all live forever in simple love and joy?"

    Well...yes. Sounds good to me! Better than hate and misery. Also, there is a danger in the comparison of God with earthly parents and children. It's very true that children must learn much on their own. However, it's also true that we provide them with guidance and nuturing. We're not like sea turtles who lay eggs in the sand and leave our offspring to hatch and find their way to the ocean alone. Our children experience us every day (hopefully) and aren't left to figure out if we exist and what our will for them is.

  10. LAC,

    I completely identify with not wanting to be a "stumbling block" to people. On the chance that I might be wrong about things, it makes me uncomfortable. On the chance that I am right, it still makes me uncomfortable because I don't want to cause people to go through what I have gone through....and still occasionally go through.

    I force myself to blog some of the things I blog about because I found that most of my attempts to be good and spiritual revolved around me censoring myself. I was being "good" if I kept my doubts and cynicism to myself. It was more important for me to keep these thoughts to myself and save the faith of others, then it was to really try to address what I was thinking and wondering.


    What I think about the resurrection is less relevant to me than it used to be. How I think about God, Jesus and religious belief is so completely different than it used to be that the question of whether Jesus was physically, literally resurrected seems superfluous.

    I used to think it was the most important pillar of Christian belief. Easter was my favorite holiday and the mystical, emotional experiences that I had from believing in the resurrection were quite profound.

    Now....I don't know. It is hard for me to explain how I might not believe in the resurrection, yet still feel loyalty to the label "Christian". It is incomprehensible to most Christians, and also to non-believers. Yet....there is something there, even after all of my reformulating, and analyzing, and questioning. There is something there--that even in the face of losing one kind of faith--is holding together some other kind of faith.

    I know that sounds like double-speak. I just don't know how to properly express it. Maybe I'll try to think about it and post more on it.

  11. DoOrDoNot,
    Maybe God is guiding and nurturing you. In my struggle with unbelief, I have found it hard to answer the question "How much evidence do you require to believe?" Do I expect God to show himself in all His glory? No. But like has been said here, maybe a clearer path would be beneficial. But I'm not sure what that would look like without being completely overwhelmed by the creator of this universe. It defiantly has been fruitful for me to think about.