Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Resurrection and Fake News

Last month Christianity Today published “The Resurrection: Good News vs Fake News (An Easter Sermon Idea).” That article is by Karl Vaters, the pastor of an Assembly of God church in the suburbs of Los Angeles. It would be interesting to know how many Easter sermons will use his central idea—as I am in this blog article.
In the past few months we have heard much about “fake news.” But the fake news phenomenon has been around for a long time. In fact, Wikipedia’s article says, “Significant fake news stories can be traced back to Octavian's 1st-century campaign of misinformation against Mark Antony.
Vaters sees evidence of fake news long before that, though. He avers that fake news was “how the serpent tempted Eve. By taking what God really said and twisting it just enough to make her doubt reality.”
Propaganda is a common type of fake news that has been around for centuries, and it has been widely used in religious squabbles, in politics, and especially in times of war. As I quoted in my 7/25/16 blog article, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.”
To quote Vaters again, “The first challenge to the gospel wasn’t an alternative idea, a better philosophy or the refutation of an argument.” No, “The first challenge to the truth of the gospel was the planting of fake news to compete with the real news.”
As Vaters points out, according to Matthew the Roman soldiers who had been guarding Jesus’ tomb were bribed to spread a fake news story. (If you need to review that story in Matthew 28:11-15, you can find it here.)
There are many today who do not believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. That is not surprising if (a) one does not believe in a transcendent God (who is also immanent) or (b) one does not believe that there is any reality beyond the material world, which can be fully analyzed by science.
Such people must find some way to dismiss the claims of all those who believe the good news about the Resurrection. So whether they use those words or not, they reject the reports about the reality of the Resurrection as just fake news.
There are, however, no reports that have been longer lasting or of greater significance than those of the Resurrection. It has been believed by hundreds of millions of people around the world for nearly two millennia now.
Even during the heyday of atheistic Marxism in the Soviet Union, strong belief in the Resurrection remained in the hearts of multitudes of primarily Eastern Orthodox Christian believers there. As was true before and since, on Easter morning someone would call out,
Христо́с воскре́се! (Christ is risen!)
And the people within earshot would respond,
Вои́стину воскре́се! (He is risen indeed!) 
One of my favorite musical compositions is "Russian Easter Overture." It was composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) in 1888, nearly three decades before the Bolshevik Revolution. It expresses well the power of the ongoing Russian Orthodox belief in the Resurrection.
I encourage all of you to listen tomorrow (or anytime) to this magnificent 15-minute piece as performed by the Mariinsky Orchestra, one of the leading symphony orchestras in Russia, on YouTube here or here as conducted by Dmitri Kitayenko (b. 1940 in Leningrad).
Listening to that moving music reinforces my belief that the Resurrection is real! It is the reports denying that pivotal point in history that is fake news.

Happy Easter!


  1. A wonderful orchestral tribute to the resurrection of Christ Jesus. !المسيح قام! حقا قا

    Our church has sent out missionaries to help "convert" the Orthodox to evangelicalism. But the witness of those facing persecution, torture, and execution for their belief in the risen Isa al Masih leads me closer to their discipleship. Then I hear that prominent evangelical apologist Hank Hanegraaff has moved into Orthodoxy. This is a sojourn with which I identify.

    Two years back I was traveling with some exchange students and stopped at McDonald's mid-afternoon. The lady in front of me asked the cashier why it was so crowded. She responded, "Easter". But the lady pushed back - "That is not until tomorrow." To which the cashier replied, "He's already alive, so we can be joyful now, but tomorrow we will celebrate." The manager just smiled. He is risen indeed!


    1. I have not known anything about Hank Hanegraaff, but I had seen the article about his converting to the Orthodox Church. When I saw that I wondered if you were familiar with him and his move to Orthodoxy.

  2. No argument from me that Christian faith in the resurrection of Jesus is not “fake news”. On the other hand, it seems a bit facile to treat an event of a belief that cannot be proved, an event in the realm of personal faith, as comparable to an observable event that can reported on the evening news. No doubt it could be part of a clever sermon, sounding as up to date as the evening news, to treat the resurrection celebrated at Easter by Christians, as real news. After all, the gospel itself connotes “good news.”
    My reluctance to want to jump on this contrast of “fake news” and “Easter faith” is based on a conviction that these are two different kinds of “realities”, one dealing with the actions of contemporary political figures and the other a complex acceptance in one’s life that life ending in death has a meaning beyond inevitable physical death.
    On the other hand, again, is it a kind of “fake news” to continue preach about “God” as a personal being with feelings that can change his/her mind based on human pleas, about “heaven” as a physical place somewhere above, and about human “immortality” as life beyond death where husbands and wives and beloved children will be back together as they are in this life? Not that these types of sermons are based on an intentional desire to deceive, but what kind of scriptural interpretation and theological understanding are such sermons based on? Likely, fairly literal acceptance of a story from the New Testament, without mention of literary genre, or comparing multiple diverse accounts, or even taking account of Jesus’ own reported statement that that is not what resurrection is, but is more like being an “angel” (Mt 22, 23-33), or of Paul’s seemingly contradictory positing that there can be a “spiritual body” “in heaven” (I Cor. 15, 12-58). How can we or do we present “spiritual bodies” and “heaven” as news in today’s world”

    1. Larry, I appreciate your thoughtful, and thought-provoking, comments.

      The specific example of “fake news” in Vaters’s article was that found in the Matthew 28 passage. But your point is well taken that there are two different levels or kinds of “reality,” and contrasting “fake news” to “Easter faith” may be confusing those levels/kinds in unhelpful ways.

      The last part of your comments is especially important, I think. I have just finished reading Wm. Paul Young’s book “Lies We Believe about God” (2017). (He, as you know, is the author of “The Shack.”) I may write a blog article soon about that book, for as you say, there is a lot of “fake news” about “God” or lies many people believe about God based on that “fake news.”

      Your closing question is certainly one that needs to be considered well by us Christian believers today. Although I spent much of my academic life working on theological issues and was particularly interested in apologetics, I am thinking now that the most important thing is not to come up with new and impressive arguments but to approach the world in the way the post-Easter followers of Jesus did: with undying hope and unflagging energy to share the good news that life is more powerful than death and that love is more powerful than hate.

  3. Early this morning I was happy to receive this Easter greeting from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard.

    "EASTER GREETINGS! to you, Leroy, and June. I hope you have a joyous day.

    "And thanks for the link to the Russian Easter Overture. It is a piece of music I have longed enjoyed."

  4. Hi, Leroy! When I think of propaganda and "fake news" as it relates to the Jesus event, I think of "Pax Romana." Some scholars call it a propaganda campaign designed to disguise just how cruel the Roman hegemony at that time was. That cruelty (used to control the masses) was on full display with every crucifixion, of course, but especially this one -- the crucifixion of the humble rabbi who spouted the gentle insubordination that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, who told us that the service that matters is not to bullies, emperors, Herodians and such, but to one another, and especially the naked, hungry, ill and imprisoned. The rabbi who revealed the religious elites of his time as money-grubbing hypocrites and toadies beholden to rituals, hierarchies and buildings at the expense of God's love for God's people.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Debra. It was good to hear here from you again.

      I think you are correct about the propaganda and "fake news" of Pax Romana--and the teachings of the "humble rabbi" who encountered/opposed that mindset.

      It just may be that we now need to pay close attention to that same teaching in these years that some call the time of "Pax Americana."

  5. I appreciate Facebook friend Naoko Jalbert posting the following comments on FB.

    "I appreciated your statements, 'I am thinking now that the most important thing is not to come up with new and impressive arguments but to approach the world in the post- Easter followers of Jesus did: with undying hope and unflagging energy to share the good news that life is more powerful than death and that love is more powerful than hate.'

    "Amen for that!!!

    "And I enjoyed Russian Easter Festival Overture very much."