Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Is Proclaiming Jesus’ Resurrection Political Incorrect?

A few weeks ago I posted a blog article about political correctness. For the most part I favor the effort to be politically correct, for in its best form political correctness shows empathic understanding of those who are often discriminated against or belittled.
There was some questioning of a more recent article, though, along this very line. There was no direct reference to my not being P.C., but it was implied that what I wrote about the origins of Christianity and of Islam was problematic.
From the beginning I knew that there would likely be some pushback, for what I wrote could be used as an excuse to criticize, discriminate against, or mistreat Muslims today. I tried to counter that possibility by writing what I did in the final paragraph.
Christians around the world have just celebrated Easter (except for those in the Orthodox tradition who will not celebrate Easter until May 1). If there was, in fact, something historical about the resurrection of Jesus, Easter is an event that decisively differentiates Christianity from other religions.
Many have understood Jesus’ resurrection much too literally, seeing it is some sort of miraculous resuscitation of his physical body. That is not the kind of resurrection I am writing about.
On the other hand, many liberal Christian interpretations emphasize that Jesus’ resurrection was mainly metaphorical or “psychological” rather than historical. That is, it is explained as the “resurrection” of the spirit of Jesus in the hearts and minds of his early followers.
John Shelby Spong, for example, contends that the Jesus’ resurrection took place in Galilee, where the disciples had fled after Jesus’ crucifixion, rather than in Jerusalem, where Jesus had been buried in Joseph’s tomb.
Liberals need some way to explain the resurrection so Christianity can be considered just one religion among many that are equally valid and valuable.
That is not the kind of resurrection I am writing about either.
Recently, I have written a review of a book about the life and thought of Lesslie Newbigin. In that process I looked again at some of his notable writings, especially The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (1989). Newbigin (1909-98), an Englishman, was one of the premier missionaries and missiologists of the 20th century. (Several years ago I wrote a blog article in praise of Newbigin.)
Newbigin repeatedly used the words “public truth” in referring to the Christian message, and one of his smaller books is titled Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth (1991). The idea of public truth, of course, stands in stark contrast to the relativistic idea of truth in post-modernism and often in liberal Christianity as well.
He wrestles with the problem of truth not just from the standpoint of religious faith but also epistemologically, making repeated references to the significance of Michael Polanyi’s emphasis on “personal knowledge.”
In Truth to Tell, Newbigin avers, “To believe that the crucified Jesus rose from the dead, left an empty tomb, and regrouped his scatted disciples for their world mission can only be the result of a very radical change of mind indeed.”
He goes on to assert that “the simple truth is that the resurrection cannot be accommodated in any way of understanding the world except one of which it is the starting point” (p. 10-11).
Belief in the Resurrection should never lead to arrogance, condescension, or triumphalism. That belief should, however, lead faithful Christians to have confidence in the uniqueness of Jesus and to proclaim, boldly and lovingly, the significance of that pivotal event—even though some might consider it politically incorrect.


  1. This "liberal" Christian paraphrases a theologian friend in asking this question: Did he shoot up into the sky like a rocket or not (Luke 24:50-51)? :-)

    1. Anton, I wish your friends would consider the explanations of scholars, such as Newbigin or N.T. Wright, to give just one other example of a learned man who believes in Resurrection and Ascension (which is different from Resurrection and what the Luke 24 passage is about), rather than asking childish questions based on a literal reading of the Bible.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Ah, yes. A dodge of the question by labeling it childish, so typical of conservative Christianity. So let me rephrase: If the biblical claims are not to be taken literally, then why should the resurrection itself be viewed as literally true?

    4. Please note what I wrote in the article: "Many have understood Jesus’ resurrection much too literally, seeing it is some sort of miraculous resuscitation of his physical body. That is not the kind of resurrection I am writing about."

    5. So, what are you writing about?

    6. "Belief in the Resurrection should never lead to arrogance, condescension, or triumphalism."

      Is this statement consistent with dropping names of scholars with whom you agree, being picky about the difference between "Resurrection and Ascension", and not receiving the humor of how "a literal reading of the Bible" can give rise to "asking childish questions"?

      I appreciate that you are drawing attention to the problem of truth in the context of religious belief and public discourse. It prompted me to re-read in "Personal Knowledge"; especially pp. 279-286 on 'Religious doubt'. [Harper Torchbooks edition, 1964]

      "Secular experiences are [religion's] raw material: religion uses such experience as its theme for building up its own universe." [p. 283]

    7. Dick, I appreciate you posting comments, although I was shaken by your thinking that what I wrote was arrogant or condescending.

      I wrote the words you began with seeking to express my belief that we Christians who believe in the Resurrection should not be arrogant or condescending toward those of other religious faiths.

      Belief in the Resurrection as a historical event -- or "transhistorical" event, as Dr. Hinson referred to it (see his comments posted below) -- is a problem for interfaith dialogue.

      But in my comments to Anton I thought I was having dialogue with a friend, not with the advocate of a different religion or worldview. I apologize if I wrote in such a way that seemed arrogant.

      I was impressed that you had a copy of "Personal Knowledge" to consult. The pages you cited in Chapter 9 follow "The Fiduciary Programme" (pp. 264-268), which I consider the heart of the book.

      But Chapter 9, "The Critique of Doubt," is quite important, too, I think. Interestingly, though, I don't have any underlining on page 283, the page from which you cited, but I have pages 284-286 quite red with underlines.

    8. Leroy, I am inclined to think we Christians are sometimes more arrogant with those who share our faith tradition(s) than with those of other faiths. We seem more concerned to demonstrate to our own (and to ourselves) that we hold to 'the essentials' lest we entertain the idea that ‘the essentials’ might become ‘non-essentials’ over time and in new worldviews. Is it acceptable for “Belief in the Resurrection as a historical event -- or "transhistorical" event” to be a problem for Christian intra-faith dialogue?

      I am enough of a ‘modernist’ to think it useful to attempt to articulate humanly valuable insights from different times and cultures in my (our?) time and culture. I am enough of a ‘postmodernist’ not to be overly confident that I (we?) clearly share in a definable worldview.

      If recognizing the ‘truth’ of resurrection requires me to ‘believe’ in a super-naturalist worldview then I don’t recognize it as truth. On another hand, if my belief/commitment to a naturalist worldview enables me to encounter that truth through human literary art that is miracle enough. I think ‘visions’ have real effects. Of course I might not ‘get it’.

      I enjoyed Anton’s humor (made me think of “Life of Brian”) sufficiently to think that the question (set in Luke’s worldview) should be: Was he “carried up into heaven” on a bolt of lightning or not? :-) And did Luke even write “and he was carried up into heaven”?

      I noted the Polanyi sentence because I think he uses ‘secular’ here as I would use ‘ordinary/natural’ and thus religion ‘builds’ meaning ‘on’ this ‘public base’. A disputable inference I am sure. Are there any ‘undisputable’ inferences? :-)

      “Emmaus never happened. Emmaus always happens.”
      “[W]e can know more than we can tell.”

  2. 1soujourner, who often posts comments, had difficulty in getting his comments posted here today so he sent them by email:

    "A generally good statement on a foundational belief of the traditional Church. There are certainly wide variations of belief and practice within Christendom. Some expand beyond the foundational beliefs and mysteries with novel doctrines or philosophies. Some defend their beliefs violently. Some deny the basic traditional beliefs.

    "There probably needs to be some acceptance of variation (the annual timing of Easter celebration being one), but there probably should also be some solid foundational beliefs (the mystery of resurrection being one) which cannot be compromised.

    "Political Correctness is certainly far from foundational."

    1. I agree that political correctness is not foundational--but in its best form it is closely related in many cases to the foundational command to love others as we love ourselves.

    2. Sorry, the name is 1sojourner, not as I misspelled it above.

  3. Thinking Friend Eric Dollard shares these comments:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your provocative comments about the resurrection of Jesus.

    "The resurrection, and your article, raise many interesting questions--too many to be adequately discussed in an email. While the resurrection can be neither proven or disproven by any empirical method, it is certainly an event outside human experience. And since it is outside human experience, how does one come to believe it?

    "What should be the focus of Christian faith? Trying to model one's life on the life of Jesus or struggling with, and proclaiming, the historicity of the resurrection? What was the message of Jesus before he was crucified?

    "These are a few of the questions; there are many others."

    1. Thanks for raising good and important questions, Eric.

      Affirmation of the Resurrection is closely related, and based upon, belief in God, whose existence also cannot be "proven or disproven by any empirical method." Perhaps one comes to believe in the Resurrection in the same way, and after, one comes to believe in God.

      Concerning the second paragraph of questions, I would say that there is no reason to choose either Jesus' teachings or the actuality of his resurrection. This clearly need to be both/and, it seems to me.

  4. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson sent the following comments in an email:

    "I agree, Leroy. Like the Apostle Paul, we must continue to affirm the resurrection as an article of faith. We should recognize that we can’t 'prove' it for two reasons: It is a unique event. It is transhistorical. The existence of the Church shows that our belief depends on a profound conviction that God raised Jesus, but it doesn’t 'prove' what happened. Our recognition that it is an article of faith and not a demonstrable 'fact' should encourage us to leave room for the faith of others."

  5. Where did the body go if it was Not a physical Resurrection and aren`t we suppose to live by GFaith?

    1. John Tim, 1 Cor. 15:50 says that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" and earlier, in verse 44, the natural body and the spiritual body are contrasted.

      Jesus' physical body was not resuscitated. Rather, it was transformed into a spiritual body no longer subject to the "natural laws" of this physical world.

  6. Let those who have eyes to see, see. A great duopoly controls the debate about the resurrection through the foundation of the popular choice concerning the historical Jesus. On one side is what I would call the Professor Moriarty Theory that the whole gospel chronology is literally true. For centuries, the alternative has been some variation of what, with apologies to Robert M. Price, I would call the Scotland Yard Theory, The Incredible Shrinking Illiterate Peasant Jew Who Thereby Founded the Largest Religion in the History of the World.

    Now when Professor Moriarty squares off against Scotland Yard, it is obviously time for Sherlock Holmes to appear on the case. What would Sherlock do? I suspect he might start by reviewing the known background information for a new slant. For instance, he might notice in Isaiah that none other than Cyrus the Great, King of the Medes and the Persians, is declared the Lord's Messiah right there in Chapter 45. There goes the Scotland Yard Theory, blown out of the water. Holmes might find another clue in Isaiah 21, where we have a powerful poetic report of the spread of the news, "Babylon is fallen!" That is why Cyrus was the Messiah, he had defeated the Babylonians and set in motion the return of the Jews to Jerusalem.

    Some years later the Greeks set up the Abomination of the Desolation in the temple. The Maccabean Revolt cleansed the temple. Yet, at the end of their reign internal squabbling let Pompey the Great to bring his army down from Syria to claim control of Jerusalem. Unlike the Babylonians, he did not sack the temple. Unlike the Greeks, he did not set up an idol. However, what he did was take a tourists stroll through the most sacred parts of the temple. The New Testament spends a fair amount of energy on the significance of gentiles in the temple. Well, here was the gentile who notoriously did it!

    Pompey lived happily for a number of years thereafter, much to the chagrin of Jews. Then the Lord's Messiah crossed the Rubicon. Jewish soldiers by the thousands flocked to his banner. As he did increase, Pompey did decrease, until, at last, Pompey was beheaded by Pharaoh in Eqypt, and his head was presented as a gift. The gift did not please, and Pharaoh lost his throne to Cleopatra. The Messiah rewarded the Jews for their help, and gave special privileges to the Jews in Alexandria.

    The Messiah ruled in Rome and no other man ever had in the ancient world, he did not punish his enemies, but merely chastised and forgave them. In his propaganda he reminded people that his family was descended from Venus, the goddess of love. Then, on Nissan 15, he was lead like a lamb to the slaughter at Passover. Suetonius reports that the sky over Rome was darkened, and the tombs of the dead were opened, and they walked the streets. On the third day the first Gospel of Marc was proclaimed, as the high priest of the deceased Messiah told the crowd, per Shakespeare, "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. I have come to bury Caesar, not to praise him." Before he finished, the Holy Ghost had joined the trinity, although it took theologians a long time to figure that out. Why is sinning against the Holy Ghost the unforgivable sin? Why does the Holy Ghost kill people in the Book of Acts? Originally, the Holy Ghost was known as Great Caesar's Ghost. The men who had conspired to kill Caesar all died quickly and frequently mysteriously. Suetonius reports that the last mourners remaining after Caesar's cremation were the Jews. It appears they were still in Passover.

    See Part 2

  7. Part 2

    Julius Caesar famously responded to calls to crown him king by saying, "My name is Caesar, not King!" No Caesar after him was ever say such a joke. Augustus Caesar began in earnest the Roman Imperial Cult on the memory of Julius Caesar. Later, when the Julian dynasty ended, the cult mysteriously disappeared and Christianity appeared. Yet, buried deep in the scriptures of Christianity was buried the remains of a great tension between the Roman propagandists who wrote the gospels to glorify Titus Flavius by echoing in the travels of Jesus the travels of Titus during the First Jewish Revolt, and the Jews no doubt employed to link this story to Jewish roots, but who still remembered that Julius Caesar was known by many Jews as the Messiah. The many subversive verses in the New Testament are what remains of that struggle.

    The Latin root of the modern word 'cremation' is a homonym of the Greek root for 'crucifixion.' Both were pronounced as "kremo." To this day, the ashes of Julius Caesar are buried in the Julian tombs beneath Saint Peters Basilica in Rome. Julius Caesar was the fashion plate who taught the subsequent Pontifax Maximus to where the red shoes of his ancestors, the ancient Alban kings of Rome. Caesar held the title for twenty years before his death!

    Now I did not think up these things. People have worked hard to write books on different parts of this theory for many years. However, since this did not fit in the duopoly, they have all sat in relative obscurity, waiting for Sherlock to find them. A good place to start would be "Et tu, Judas? Then Fall Jesus" by Gary Courtney, 1992. Yes, that book is two dozen years old, and still largely unknown.

    Let those who eyes to see, see.

  8. I was impressed with comments received by email from local Thinking Friend Vern Barnet, and I appreciate him giving permission for me to post them here.

    "Watering down, or more commonly, prizing a common denominator above all ('we all believe in some sort of God') is inherently disrespectful of interfaith (and ecumenical) dialogue. It is dishonest and is based in a fear that love cannot exist without agreement.

    "Knowing another faith, like knowing another person in one's fullness, requires radical recognition, beholding, of differences as gifts to one another by which we may appreciate and revere the fullness of creation.

    "I do not want Christians to sidestep the Resurrection or Muslims to deny the human perfection of Muhammad or Hindus to renounce the message of the Gita, or Buddhists to evade the unutterable pervasive centrality of the Void.

    "It is only when folks of faith speak out of the depths of their experiences and listen openly that interfaith activity blooms and one's own faith leads to fresh discoveries."

  9. Thinking Friend Patrick Crews, who now lives in California, posted these comments on Facebook and I am sharing them here:

    "Are there politically incorrect religious beliefs? Yes. 'The Sons of Ham' belief was definitely so. But I fail to see how belief in Jesus resurrection is in any way politically incorrect. If we start declaring a religious belief politically incorrect because its different from some one else's religious belief, that's just intolerance."