Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Everything Hinges On This

Some thoughts on the centrality of the resurrection from Luke Timothy Johnson:

The existence of Christianity is inexplicable apart from the experience and conviction that the story of Jesus did not end with his death, but rather entered a new and more powerful phase. As Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15:13-19, responding to some who said that there is no resurrection of the dead:

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain [or “empty”], and your faith has been in vain [“empty”]. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ – whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile [or “foolish”] and you are still in your sins. Then those who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Paul’s language is extraordinarily strong. As much as any subsequent critic of Christianity, he recognizes that everything hinges on this article of the creed (see 15:1-3), and yet it is the article that most conflicts with any other human experience and is therefore the most difficult to assert. In a word, Paul acknowledges that if Jesus is not resurrected, the gospel is a lie, preachers (like himself) have been false witnesses, and Christians have been gullible and self-deluded fools who have wasted their lives. Nietzsche could not have put it more crisply.

Paul saw clearly that if Jesus was important only for what he did during his mortal existence, he was of no value to the Corinthians who gathered in his name. Jesus may have been a good teacher or a powerful prophet, but if he was not resurrected, he was at best a moral exemplar like other teachers or prophets. If he had not overcome mortality, he could not lead others to as hare of life greater than the merely mortal. If Jesus is not raised, Christianity is simply another cult or ethical society, and not a particularly attractive one.

The same is just as true today. Those contemporary forms of Christianity that focus only on the humanity of Jesus believe in vain. They have, sadly, capitulated to the mind of the Enlightenment …. If religion can hold as true only what is “within the bounds of reason,” and if “reason” is defined in terms of the empirically verifiable, then the resurrection is excluded by definition. But if the resurrection is excluded, why should Christians continue to revere Jesus, who is then only one of many figures from antiquity worthy of attention and honor? If Jesus is only the “historical Jesus,” then Christianity is a delusion and a waste of time. But if Jesus is raised as Lord, everything changes radically.
(Doubleday, 2003), pp. 179-180.

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