Science and Christianity … Why Resurrection?

On my post last Tuesday, toward the end of the comments, the following question was asked (I edit slightly):

Your ‘Noah’ versus ‘resurrection’ argument is interesting.  … Moreover is the ‘resurrection’ as an event that important? Jesus was supposedly ‘resurrected’ physically in this reality, but went to heaven more or less right away anyway. The christian faith does not preach that a believer will be physically ‘resurrected’ in this reality like Jesus was but that they will live immortally in heaven. So the absence of a ‘resurrection’ event would have little effect on christian teaching. The ‘resurrection’ of Jesus is thus just some proof he was the son of God but even here I can’t quite determine who did the ‘resurrecting’. Did Jesus do it to himself or did God do it to him? If it were the former than it shows Jesus had God like powers (but you don’t so it is irrelevant) and if it is the latter it shows Jesus was God’s son (which doesn’t mean you will be ‘resurrected’). Which makes the whole ‘resurrection’ thing like the Noah story in that it teaches but has no real need to be a reality.

This is a great comment and question – and one I think we would do well to ponder and discuss.

Why is the resurrection as an event important? Does it matter that the resurrection is “physical” or of a real body? Does the lack of emphasis on resurrection in evangelical gospel preaching reveal a more spiritual or even Platonic theory of salvation?

The question posed by this commenter is one I’ve considered a great deal over the last several years because I think it actually hits at the core of much of the conflict between science and faith, and more broadly at the core of the conflict between reason and faith. You will certainly see traces of Scot and NT Wright, among others in my thinking. So a bit of my response:

This is a great question with a many part answer.

First – The Christian hope is not “liv[ing] immortally in heaven.” The Christian hope is a new heaven and a new earth – carrying on the mission of God, defeat of evil, restoration of creation. We do believe in resurrection – although not immediate resurrection. The resurrection then is “embodied life after life after death” and not just soul existence.

Second – none of the miracles of the NT are proof of divinity, or even proof of God’s power. Rather they all point to the coming restoration of all things and the fact that Jesus is the Messiah who is inaugurating that restoration. They are not “magic” for their wow content (although they can have a wow impact) rather with the coming of the Messiah the blind see, the lame walk, and people are made whole – all of creation is effected. This is the beginning of the kingdom we ultimately hope for.

Third – resurrection is the victory over evil and over death.

The commenter came back…

1) What is wrong with the current “heaven” or “earth” for that matter. I can’t see how these notions constitute resurrection.

2) Jesus is credited with making the blind see etc. but that has not made such things more prevalent since. Also if Jesus is doing all this restoring (which is also not resurrection) isn’t that the domain of the divine with godly power?

3) Even if you conquer death, you are still not resurrecting anyone in the real world (or are you?) and those in heaven don’t need resurrecting do they?

As inspiring as those 3 notions are I don’t think the average Christian sees the resurrection that way. They see it as proof that Jesus is God or the son of God. It is the difference between a prophet or healer channeling the power of God and having that power yourself. This is going into the ‘doctrine of the Trinity’ area I know but the point is people come to Christianity because they believe Jesus was a God as evidenced by miraculous events attributed to him. A true test of faith would be to believe Jesus was God in the absence of any miracles. Would you honestly do that?

Why Miracles – Why Resurrection – What is Faith – What is the Gospel … How can a 21st century educated westerner believe this superstition – and why would they want to try?

These questions, I think, are at the root of much of the conflict between reason and faith – and much of what is “wrong” in our church – not wrong in praxis, but wrong in understanding and preaching. We don’t actually preach either the gospel or the mission of God. I don’t believe in Jesus as son of God because of miracles. I believe in the story – in God and in his mission, work, and relationship with the world. Would I believe in the absence of miracles? Yes, although I think that the miracles are part of the story and part of the form of communication used by God in relationship with his creation and creatures. They display God’s power – but don’t prove God’s power. I believe them because they make sense as part of the story, not because they are supernatural.

The last part of commenter’s statement quoted above is absolutely true –  the average Christian (and dare I say the average pastor) sees the miracles of Jesus culminating in the resurrection primarily as proofs of the divinity of Jesus. This was brought home for me last year when I participated in a discussion of NT Wright’s book “The Challenge of Jesus.” The idea that the miracles were not proofs – but part of the story – was met with some resistance and much discussion. This disjointed view of the faith leads to real questions and real problems.

NT Wright has an excellent lecture (here or here) dealing with the question: “Can a scientist believe in the resurrection?” – but we also need to turn this question around a bit … and ask not “Can a scientist” … but

Why would a scientist – or anyone else – believe in the resurrection?

Do you have any answers for this commenter … why do you believe?

If you wish to contact me, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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