Monday, April 5, 2010

The Resurrection Principle

On this morning after Easter Sunday, I hope you are energized by the celebration of new life at this auspicious time of the year and by the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the pivotal point of the Christian faith.
My new book, The Limits of Liberalism: A Historical, Theological, and Personal Appraisal of Christian Liberalism, should be released next month. In it, one of my criticisms of liberalism is related to its understanding of the resurrection of Jesus. Here is an excerpt about that:
John Shelby Spong [a retired Episcopal bishop and widely-known contemporary liberal Christian] writes about the resurrection of Jesus as occurring in Galilee, rather than in Jerusalem. That is because there was nothing “objective” that happened in Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified and buried. The “resurrection” was only something subjective that happened in the hearts and minds of the apostles who had fled to Galilee. Spong and other liberals talk about resurrection, to be sure, but it is a watered-down resurrection, one devoid of any factuality or any “taint” of the miraculous—expect in the sense that the Apostles “miraculously” experienced the spiritual presence and ongoing influence of the crucified Christ in their hearts as they were imbued with new faith and courage to carry on the teachings of the Jesus movement.
On the other hand, I also reject the over-literalness of some fundamentalist views of the resurrection. There is a tendency on the theological right to emphasize the historicity of the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus so much that its significance for our daily lives today is largely lost.
More than once I have preached an Easter sermon titled “The Resurrection Principle,” emphasizing the practical difference the resurrection makes (or could or should make) in our lives today, if we live by the resurrection principle. That principle emphasizes that life overcomes death, love overcomes hate and indifference, hope overcomes despair, and joy overcomes sorrow. These affirmations are all grounded in a firm belief in the actuality of Jesus’ resurrection, and they make a huge difference in the living of our daily lives.
Regardless of what happened on the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion, the effects of the resurrection principle in our lives today are of great importance. But if nothing factual or objective happened on that first Easter morning, aren't the effects of the resurrection principle little more than wish-fulfillment? Are our affirmations of life, love, hope, and joy based on an actual event, or are they only fanciful fabrications? I firmly believe they are rooted in a real occurrence and not merely in subjective experiences.
On this day after Easter, it is my prayer that on the basis of the good news about Jesus Christ all of us can affirm the resurrection principle and will, accordingly, truly rejoice and enthusiastically celebrate life, love, hope, and joy.


  1. Well stated. Living the fullness of the historic event is the only acceptable outcome for a Christian.

  2. Congratulations on the publication of your new book. I'll be looking forward to reading it and learning from your treatment of liberalism. I especially look forward to the way you might clarify your use of terms like literalness and factuality, how it is that one may understand grades of either (as in overly literal or too factual, etc.).

    It's not easy. I found myself responding to a question last week concerning whether one could be Christian if one did not believe in the truth of resurrection. I said that at some level one had to affirm its truth. But then I distinguished between scientifically verifiable truth and mythological truth. In the former case, verifiability begins with a claim that may be disconfirmed. That means that it is of a nature that permits its warrants to be disputed. In that case, the resurrection does not qualify and is therefore beyond scientific verifiability. Mythological truth on the other hand is concerned with the kinds of claims that function within story and surrounding community, creating communitas and ethos. It is not concerned about the criterion of disconfirmation. A myth is true in so far as it successfully functions to create identity, value, and humanity among persons who stand in meaningful relations to one another.

    There is much more to say about this. Perhaps you have in your new book.

  3. When I joined Second Baptist Church a little over 20 years ago, I joined on my statement of faith and prior baptism. PBS rubbed my nose in the prior baptism by airing an anniversary special on the Mormons this week. Not my Mormons, THE Mormons. I was born across the river, one of the Saints in Zion. I was far out into the wilderness when I met the daughter of a band of pilgrims, on their way from Goshen to the Promised Land. We got married, and eventually, there I was, joining a Baptist Church. When I joined Second Baptist, I laid the heavy burden of Joseph Smith, Jr. and the golden plates on the altar. They are now the Lord's problem. And when I joined on my prior baptism, I declined to pick up the heavy burden of Rev. Chriswell and the Original Autographs. One 19th Century extravagance does not justify another.

    So what does this have to do with resurrection? I laid done the metaphysical interpretation of the Bible. I even had a little ceremony, where I copied the King's speech from Richard III, where he washes the balm from his eyes, and surrenders the throne. That was the end of my life as a liberal, and the door that opened my path to becoming a "peculiar" Baptist. That was the resurrection of my pilgrimage of faith.

    Paul Tillich proclaimed the broken myth of Christianity. He also pointed out that resurrection was part of that myth. He foresaw the day when Christianity would find a way to resurrection as the faith it must become to endure in the modern age. I have faith in resurrection, just not metaphysical belief.

    Tonight PBS has moved on from the Mormons to the Buddha. Perhaps another word for resurrection is enlightenment. In a funny way Buddha was like Joseph Smith, Jr. He tried out the "churches" of his day, and finding them all wanting, started his own. Or, as the Apostle Paul put it, "The foolishness of God defeats the wisdom of man." Sometimes we try so hard to see the light, that we miss it when we see it.

  4. I was happy to have the following comments from a Thinking Friend in Independence who hasn't written often:

    "Your last two postings have been the most interesting to me. The one on Dorothy Day was such a good one. Certainly she had the gift of mercy. . . .

    "But the 'Resurrection Principle' is by far one of the best of your postings. It hit so well those things that the resurrection wrought for us and certainly we need to live with these things in mind every day. His victory over death is ours and all that means. Thank you!"