Christianity is at its core a supernatural religion. At the very outset of Christianity’s sacred text, the Bible, we read of an omnipotent God who created the universe out of nothing in six days. Accounts of the miraculous are spattered throughout the Bible: Moses and Joshua performed miracles; the prophets performed miracles; and Jesus and his apostles performed miracles.
But, of course, the most crucial miracle of all was the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Paul argued that if the resurrection of Christ did not happen, “then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Further, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:12–19). The Christian faith, including our hope for an afterlife, rises and falls on the historicity of the resurrection. This is the very basis of Christianity.
There are some, however, who profess to be Christian who deny the historicity of the resurrection. At Eastertime earlier this year, the Religion News Service website published an article by Kimberly Winston titled, “Can you question the Resurrection and still be a Christian?” Commenting on the article, Al Mohler pulled no punches when he answered, “If you mean to question in terms of questioning whether it actually happened, if you can doubt the resurrection or disbelieve in the resurrection and be a Christian, the answer to that is decisively answered in the negative within the Bible itself.”
Ms Winston, however, draws a distinction between “traditionalist and conservative Christians,” who wholeheartedly affirm a bodily resurrection of Christ, and “some more liberal brands of Christianity” who deny a bodily resurrection, even if they affirm the reality of the resurrection in some symbolic, metaphorical sense. She quotes Scott Korb, a “non-practicing Catholic” who “once wanted to become a priest,” as saying,
The miracle of a bodily resurrection is something I rejected without moving away from its basic idea. What I mean is that we can reach the lowest points of our lives, of going deep into a place that feels like death, and then find our way out again—that’s the story the Resurrection now tells me. And at Easter, this is expressed in community, and at its best, through the compassion of others.
Korb is not alone in his denial of the resurrection. One of the most famous “Christian” deniers of the resurrection is John Shelby Spong, who wrote in 1994, “I don’t think the Resurrection has anything to do with physical resuscitation. I think it means the life of Jesus was raised back into the life of God, not into the life of this world, and that it was out of this that his presence”—not his body—“was manifested to certain witnesses.” Closer to home, retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu also openly denies the resurrection. He said, that “a thinking Christian” will recognise “figurative” language with regard to the resurrection and the ascension. “When we speak even of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is not the revivication of a corpse.”
Ms Winston refers to beliefs such as these as “more liberal brands of Christianity,” but there is no way in which we can seriously speak of these teachings as Christian in any meaning of the word. The apostles clearly believed in a bodily resurrection of Jesus, and anticipated the same destiny for all followers of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18).
W. A. Criswell was an American Baptist preacher who died in early 2002. On 9 July 1950, he preached a sermon from Matthew 28:15–20 titled “The Resurrection: Fact or Fiction?” In it, he told of meeting an unnamed theologian on an airplane, with whom he struck up a conversation. The theologian told him of losing his only son as a young boy to spinal meningitis. With no medical hope before him, the theologian took to a bedside vigil beside his son.
As the young child’s life drew to its end, he began to lose his sight and, thinking that nighttime was arriving, said one afternoon to his father, “Dad, it’s growing dark, isn’t it?”
His father, experiencing a dark night of the soul himself, replied, “Yes, it’s growing dark. It’s growing dark.”
“Well, if it is,” said the boy, “I ought to get ready to go to sleep, shouldn’t I?”
The father, realising far more than his little son knew, answered, “Yes, you must get ready to go to sleep.
The little boy, who liked his pillow proper up in a particular way when going to sleep, prepared it. Before he lay his head on his pillow for the last time, he said to his father, “Good night, Daddy. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Good night, Son. I’ll see you in the morning,” said his father as he watched his son breathe his last.
Tears streaming down his cheeks, the father placed a hand on Criswell’s knee and said, “Preacher, I’m living for that day. I am living for that day when I will see that boy in the morning.”
If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, we are still in our sins. There is no hope for the morning if Jesus is not live. Death is then the final enemy that will victoriously claim its every victim. We grieve the loss of our loved ones without hope, and there is no comfort (contra Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18). If Jesus didn’t rise bodily from the tomb, then (contra Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:54–57) death has not been swallowed up in victory. The victory of death is certain. Its sting will irrevocably wound all. We have no cause to thank God, for there is no victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Those who deny the resurrection are simply not Christian. Christianity, from beginning to end, is a supernatural religion. Death is a reality, but we have hope in this life because we worship the one who conquered death. If we have faith in the risen Christ, we will one day be with him where he is (John 14:1–3). And when we are there, we will be reunited with the millions of believers who have died before us. That theologian, like David (2 Samuel 12:22–23), knew that he would one day see his beloved son, and if we have faith in the risen Christ we can share his hope. If we believe in the risen Christ, we can look forward to that glorious day in which “he will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Someday a bright new wave will break upon the shore,
and there will be no sickness, no more crying, no more war,
and little children never will grow hungry anymore,
and there’ll be a bright new morning over there,
there’ll be a bright new world for us to share.