Does Death & Resurrection Matter?

I've been enjoying a men's study group at my church for a few weeks now.

Last night we were talking about defining our personal relationship to God. "How do you even talk about something like that?" Especially without using the tired formulas of youth groups and televangelists.

As we chatted, one of the guys (also a seminary student) asked: "Does it really matter if Jesus died and resurrected and ascended? Do we need that? Couldn't Jesus just have survived, gotten off the cross, recovered and died of old age? Would that change anything?"

I've talked about my personal feelings about this. I choose to believe it's true because I don't feel a need to deconstruct Jesus. Marcus Borg believes in Jesus' death on the cross, but not a physical resurrection. Some folks thing Jesus snuck away to India.

What do you think? If Jesus didn't die on the cross and resurrect, are you off to the golf course - finished with the faith? Or do you find away to reframe Jesus, out of a total commitment to the intimate personality of the God you have encountered?

Just a little hypothetical food for thought.

16 comments:

adhunt said...

Well, it doesn't take a particularly large amount of faith to believe Jesus died on the Cross. It is more than a broad scholarly consensus including both liberals and conservatives.

The question, to types like your friend, is did that death "accomplish" something unique?

Similarly with the Resurrection.

I personally believe that there are multiple ways to interpret the Cross, including the *gasp, horror* "penal substitutionary" kind. Something about that moment told us a very powerful truth about God.

Though there must be room to grow for those who cannot "force" themselves to "believe" in the Resurrection, I cannot picture this faith being anything worth my time and effort, studying Christian Origins and Theology, if there was no Resurrection.

Sue Van Stelle said...

I'm with the "No resurrection; why bother?" crowd. Then there are much more constructive ways I could be spending my time, especially my Sunday mornings. I'm not putting up with the church crowd for the sake of a nice philosophy!! Egads.

If you haven't yet, pick up N. T. Wright's "Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church." Great guy, that Wright. We could use some more just like him.

Peter said...

Anthony, I agree - it doesn't take much to believe that Christ AT LEAST died on the cross. And of course, I do absolutely believe he resurrected, too.

(also, I enjoy reading your appreciation for good beer)

Sue, I enjoy Wright too - though I haven't yet read "Surprised."

For some reason, I think I'd keep attending church, even if someone "proved" (hardly possible, I think) that Jesus didn't die and resurrect.

Hard as it is to visualize (and ultimately, this is just a practice in hypotheticals) I can't imagine turning my back on Christ or rejecting God because my godview didn't pan out.

For me, the personal experience of life and relationship in Christ goes beyond historicity. Though I am absolutely informed and led by the historical accounts of Christ's diety - which I fully believe - I don't THINK my faith is bound by those any longer.

It's a hard thing to theorize about, though.

adhunt said...

Peter,

That is exactly why I never attempt to "argue" "proofs" of the Resurrection. Hell, I don't argue proofs of faith period. One can barely "prove" that I am sitting on a chair!

Something to think about... Your obvious love for Jesus and your refusal to "deconstruct" him my itself be a "testimony" or even "evidence" of the power of the Resurrection. I tend to point to words like that when I discuss such matters.

Peter said...

I like that Anthony. Thank you!
Personal testimonies are still very powerful and very relevant. We think of them, often, in terms of standing up in church and telling our stories of conversion. In reality, this blog is my ongoing testimony of conversion and ongoing transformation - mind, body, spirit.

You're right. Ultimately, I love Jesus too much to [personally] need to question or deconstruct him. That doesn't mean I think it's wrong or impious for others to do so. We all have very different experiences, relationships, motivations and needs.

Brandon K. Baker said...

"Then there are much more constructive ways I could be spending my time, especially my Sunday mornings. I'm not putting up with the church crowd for the sake of a nice philosophy!! Egads."

Yikes. I'm going to have to think on that comment some more.

I'm with Peter on this one. I'm still in if Jesus didn't rise from the dead. In fact, I'm still in if heaven isn't part of the deal. I've always posed that question to my friends, "if heaven weren't part of the deal, if this is all there is, would you still worship God?"

To think that heaven is the only reason to keep the faith is ludicrous to me. That's fire insurance, not faith. I don't mean to offend anyone here, but isn't that what it boils down to?

We worship God because God is worthy of worship.

Sue said...

Brandon,
I was using a little humorous hyperbole with the "church crowd" comment, but if you think really hard about it, the resurrection is what sets Jesus apart from Buddha, Mohammed, Lao Tse, the Dalai Lama and any other "enlightened" individual we may run across in history.
If the resurrection is pure fiction, or even something merely "psychological", then why should we trust anything else in the Gospels, and what on earth was Paul so excited about, anyway? Maybe his studying had caused him to become mad after all.
And really, why should I spend my time worshiping an individual who claimed to be God, but then whose followers invented such outrageous fiction about him?
Without the resurrection, I can still believe in the God of Abraham, but maybe I'd better be taking Judaism a lot more seriously.
No, I gotta say either Jesus' disciples left us with trustworthy eyewitness testimony, or Jesus created some kind of cultic following who were either sadly deceived or became corporately delusional. Frankly, given the actual gospel story and the history of the early church, the "cultic following" theory doesn't really fit.
I often can relate to the attitude of Doubting Thomas: Don't give me this nonsense about a resurrected Jesus unless there are scars to touch. Only then will I fall and cry, "My Lord and My God."

Jennifer said...

Look. Jesus rose from the grave. He was resurrected. That's what I believe anyhow. If I don't believe that, I'd be following a dead and pretty pointless faith.

But I'm not following a dead faith. I'm following a faith built on a resurrection.

And this is coming from me, a former atheist.

adhunt said...

Brandon,

I'm not offended at all. But I think you grossly charicatured belief in the Resurrection.

For one, the initial thought of Peter had to do with "is the death and resurrection necessary?" Not, "Is there a heaven?" or even "Would you worship God without a heaven"

I do not trust in the Resurrection as "fire insurance;" I trust in it because I have faith in the testimony of the early church and because of my lifelong experiences with God. I worship on account of the Resurrection as it demonstrates the faithfulness of God as creator and redeemer.

I don't "know" if I would worship IF there was no resurrection. For one, by the time I found out whether there was one or not (ie- died), if it wasn't true then I wouldn't exactly care. And two, I just don't know what it would be like to worship apart from such a belief since I have been a believer since my earliest days.

To say that Jesus was resurrected is not to just give mental assent to a dogma, it is an important thing which we say about what God has done and will do. Without it I actually do think that we would have a very different shape for a faith.

I hope I don't offend either!

Brandon K. Baker said...

I’m going to try and tackle all the responses to my comments in one post, so sorry if I truncate or fail to articulate my thoughts.

“If the resurrection is pure fiction, or even something merely "psychological", then why should we trust anything else in the Gospels … why should I spend my time worshiping an individual who claimed to be God, but then whose followers invented such outrageous fiction about him?”

Sue, I hope I don’t do injustice in linking these two portions of your reply together. I do so merely for convenience in response.

I would argue that just because one (or even more) aspect of the Gospels would be untrue (or misunderstood/misinterpreted) does not invalidate the entire corpus, just as one aspect being true (i.e. the historicity of Jesus’ life and death) does not validate the entire corpus. I will concede that it raises the very difficult question of “what then can we take as true and untrue and who decides?” But I like big questions, so I’m comfortable with it.

Jennifer, I don’t think the death of Christ sans resurrection would make Christianity a “dead faith.” Would it make his teaching any less true? Does the lack of resurrection disqualify him from being God incarnate?

Adhunt, I agree with you that I deviated from the original question by connecting the existence of heaven (and resulting commentary) to belief in the resurrection. I suppose I had that subject on my mind before hand and sort of dragged it into the conversation. Apologies.

I suppose another aspect of this conversation is whether we’re talking about physical resurrection or spiritual resurrection or both.

Good thoughts. Peter, jump in brother, I gotta know you're thoughts.

Peter said...

Nooooo, I'm too tired. And I think Rene Zelwegger is drunk on Letterman. And I heard Letterman tell a gay joke - a first, for me.

But back to the topic at hand:

Adhunt(Anthony), you said "I just don't know what it would be like to worship apart from such a belief since I have been a believer since my earliest days."

I'm in the same boat, though I'm arguing devil's advocate (as I'd wager Brandon is). It's not just theoretical, it's barely thinkable for me. But I'm still trying - and hey, I generally don't get 10 comments on my posts unless I post about homosexuals or vegetarians.

Brandon, I'd love to keep the dialogue going, but I'm not sure I have anything else to add - I just keep restating. Jennifer, I'm with you: I believe in the resurrection, too.

Let me say it plainly, which I've tried to avoid for the sake of not appearing somehow boastful, or even strangely fundamentalist:

I am so certain of my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, in God, that I can't imagine learning some historical or scientific fact that could undo my personal experience of conversion and transformation.

I realize that sounds EXTREMELY overconfident. And such hubris may just bite me in the @#%$!!

Thanks, everyone, for weighing in. The interesting thing is that I'm pretty sure ALL of us believe in the literal resurrection. What we're debating is the "what-if." Such dialogue is only worthwhile until it becomes destructive. I hope I didn't lead anyone there.

Blessings,
Peter

Josh Mueller said...

I've always found "what if" questions very powerful - they make you think about what really matters and why. In this particular case, I feel a bit torn. Of course I can stretch my mind and imagine a faith completely outside biblical parameters. But that kind of faith would be so radically different that I honestly can't conceive of it as following the same Jesus, never mind being able to convince myself that this would be anything but a self-constructed matrix with no real ties to objective realties beyond it.

Peter said...

Thanks for your honesty Josh. It is certainly daunting to imagine some "what-ifs."

Isn't that the most terrifying aspect of existentialism? There's no tangible reality beyond our own perceptions. I find it terrifying and freeing at the same time.

RickNiekLikeBikes said...

It’s difficult to explain, but I can love my God while being addicted to alcohol and I can love my God while shop-lifting. These things simply mean I’m a sinner in need of a Savior and my Savior says “ok” and if He says ok, then you say ok. When God says “ok” he’s telling that person and all persons around him/her “Don’t fret, the way they are now, isn’t the way they will be later, but make no mistake, this person is very much safe.

Here’s the crux. This relationship happens because God said it must. In Genesis 15 we find a Covenant, called an Unequal Covenant. One can find records of these treaties for example in legal documents from the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Unequal treaties were used by empires over a conquered nation obligating obedience from them. The vassal, conquered or servant agreed to terms promising benefit or consequence. A covenant was stronger than a treaty though in that a covenant implied a relationship. Covenanted parties often viewed each other as friends who were bound together permanently. Abraham’s covenant with Abimelech in Genesis 21 allowed these two very different men to live peaceably in the same area. The covenant between David and Jonathan was one of mutual loyalty and love. Like a treaty, each party made specific promises and could expect certain benefits and penalties based on the terms. However, a covenant is always CUT not made (Circumcision etc.). To break a covenant was to invite one’s own death as a penalty (Lord of the Rings). In God’s Covenant with Abraham (and in many other cases) an animal was cut in half signifying the blessings on one side and curses on the other and Abraham was supposed to have been made to pass between them, swearing agreement to the King’s covenant which would then gain both parties blessings for adherence or curses/punishment for disobedience. But look what happened in Genesis 15. God put Abraham into a frightening deep sleep. A covenant was born under which God established an everlasting relationship between He and His people and His people were covenanted to Him. But, and I am ever in awe of this, stunned even--God took the blessings and the curses upon Himself that day. He became both King and Vassal. This is the reason why the entirety of the human race was not destroyed at its first act of disobedience. And yet the covenant curses must be upheld because God cannot fail Himself. So a perfect man came who was also God, and for a second time, while we were put into a deep sleep God took the curses upon himself because we would fail the terms of His covenant. Christ was put to death in place of us as God covenanted way back in Genesis, of course having Covenanted with Himself for us. Even more stunning and mind boggling though—at the very same time Christ fulfilled the terms of the first covenant, He issued a new Covenant to His people, and fulfilled the terms of the Covenant for all of time forward. Again we slept (Romans 5:8) and He alone passed through His own blood--that of Jesus Christ the perfect lamb who had not failed and would not fail. He again became both King and Vassal. I can’t even begin to wrap my brain around the magnitude of that gift. The covenant has been paid for and it sets permanently fixed on the lips and Heart of God. The old promises were everlasting and this could not be interrupted. So He reinstated the same promises for His people, and now watch—though we disobey God’s Covenant for us, we shall not take the curses upon ourselves, but because God cannot fail His covenant, by His blood, and because He conquered death in resurrection, we are joined to Him as adopted sons and daughters and we will gain all the blessings sealed in the Covenant, not because we obeyed but because Christ is faithful.

I am the I am He says…I am the alpha and the omega…I am. That’s it. Herein lies the result of a Holiness that was placed within us. Hebrews 12:14-15 says, "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many."

Peter said...

Rick, you are truly a prolific commentor! Thank you - and I appreciate the time and care you put into articulating your beliefs.

I am familiar with the parallels between Christ's sacrifice, and the sacrifices of OT Covenantal Judaism. The death and resurrection of Christ (which, again, I do believe in) carries meaning and symbolism on SO many different levels.

RickNiekLikeBikes said...

Yea Peter, I get carried away sometimes. I'm a motor-mouth of the fingers sometimes.

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