In the comments section of Rachel Held Evans’ post, So how was your Easter…really? , hjk states the following:
“Rather disappointed in the whole sermon being devoted to proving the
resurrection, rather than proclaiming and explaining what the
resurrection means for the world, the church, and individuals in their
respective vocations. Why not proclaim the resurrection in such a way
that makes people WANT to believe in it, even if they [do] not presently
– rather than scientific and historical arguments.”
I’d like to ramble on about this insightful comment.
1. hjk’s comment reminds me of what George MacDonald said in some of his books: that God is one whom people would actually want to worship, if they knew him. After all, who among us does not want to be loved unconditionally? Who among us is not attracted to the concept of love? MacDonald
was probably implying that a reason that so many people do not want to
worship God is that they do not truly know God, for they have been
presented with a picture of a God who is far from loving and kind, a
picture that is inaccurate.
I can envision many conservative Christians recoiling from
what MacDonald is saying. After all, the New Testament (particularly
Paul) presents human beings as alienated from God, for they love neither
God nor his standards for human conduct. They desire to do their own thing. How many people would prefer a God who did not have that “no sex outside of marriage” rule?
But, if we truly knew God, would we become so drawn to him that we
would not want to violate his standards? Or would God conditioning his
favor on our conduct be a turn-off at the outset, since such a God would
not be unconditionally loving?
What I like about MacDonald is that he presents God as
unconditionally loving, and yet as one who disciplines sin and purifies
us—-even if that discipline and purification must occur after death.
2. Last Easter, my pastor recommended that we read an apologetic
pamphlet that attempted to defend the historicity of Jesus’
resurrection. The pastor also told us why we should want to
believe in the resurrection of Jesus—-because it is an example of God’s
power bringing a new beginning and new life, which God wants to do for
us today. But the pastor sought to give us material defending the
historicity of the event.
This year, the pastor did not recommend that pamphlet.
Rather, in his sermon, he said that the empty tomb baffled the
disciples, and that they only rejoiced when they experienced the risen
Christ. This was interesting, because so many Christian apologetic
spiels argue that the empty tomb is the proof that Jesus rose from the
dead. But the empty tomb did not do a whole lot for the faith of the
disciples. Rather, their experience of Jesus was what brought them the conviction that Jesus was alive.
3. What is my stance towards Christian apologetic defenses of Jesus’
resurrection? One argument that apologists have made is that the
disciples would not have died for a lie—-for something that they made
up. N.T. Wright has similarly argued that Messianic movements back then
died after the death of their founder, but that Christianity was unique
because it went on after Jesus’ crucifixion. For Wright, that’s
because Jesus rose from the dead.
Someone was using the “disciples would not have died for a
lie” argument, and I asked him for proof that the disciples were indeed
martyred for their Christian beliefs. He referred to Josephus’ account
of James the brother of Jesus being put to death. James was
not one of the Twelve, but I think that by itself does not disqualify
this guy’s argument because James was still an eyewitness to Jesus who
was put to death, in part because of his religious beliefs.
I do not think that the disciples would have died for a lie.
In my opinion, they truly believed that Jesus was alive. Does that
prove that Jesus rose from the dead? I think that Jesus’ resurrection
is one way to account for their belief that Jesus was alive, and for
their continued belief in Jesus. Others have offered other
explanations: hallucination, for example.
Those who think that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’
resurrection reflect eyewitness testimony to the empty tomb and Jesus’
appearances—-such as Richard Bauckham—-may conclude that we have good
reason to hold that Jesus rose from the dead. Those who regard the
characters in those stories merely as characters rather than as named
eyewitnesses, and who believe that the stories of the empty tomb are
late and reflect development (i.e., Matthew puts guards at the empty
tomb, whereas guards are not in Mark’s story), will argue that these
stories are not evidence that Jesus rose. And then there are those who
contend that there was an empty tomb, but they do not think that proves
Jesus’ resurrection. The body could have been moved, as Mary Magdalene
thought! See the late Ken Pulliam’s posts on this topic.
4. Why should I want for Jesus to have risen from the
dead? If that event proves that Christianity is true and that all
non-Christians are going to hell, then I’d have problems accepting it.
But if it’s about a new beginning or the renewal of an imperfect world,
then that is attractive to me. I think that one agenda of apologists is
to show that there is good reason to believe in renewal, for Jesus
historically rose from the dead. Otherwise, what evidence is
there that renewal will come? Often, it’s hard for people to look at
the world around them and to think that anything will get better!
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