Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Power of the Resurrection: The Easter Story as Apologetic

The historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the lynchpin of the Christian faith. Take it away, and the entire Christian worldview collapses under the weight of its own foolishness. The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that if someone produces the body of Jesus, our faith, our prayers, our preaching, and our very way of life are to be pitied above all others.

This Easter season, a new set of challenges faces the church, and seeks to undermine historic Christian teaching. Every challenge throughout the history of the church has been met with various apologetic approaches. But each threat has ultimately and finally been defeated with three profound, simple words: "Christ is risen!"

Three very distinct threats to the Christian faith can be noted this Easter. Just this month, National Geographic released a series of TV specials surrounding the "Gospel of Judas," a document that dates back to around 150 A.D. and supposedly gives a "different angle" to the relationship between Jesus and the disciple who betrayed Him. Notably absent from this series is the fact that even using the most liberal dating, this document is predated by the latest of the New Testament Gospels by 50 years, making its comparative reliability highly questionable at best. Along with "Judas," wide discussion of the "Gnostic" gospels has risen, even within the ranks of Christendom. And this May, the world will have the opportunity to see the silver screen version of "The DaVinci Code" in theatres.

Patterned after the best-selling novel by Dan Brown, "DaVinci" posits the theory that historic Christian teaching is, in fact, the product of a grand, ecclesiastical conspiracy. Such a notion is popular with our culture, which pants like a bloodthirsty wolf at the thought of uncovering a conspiratorial plot. In fact, the whole idea behind "DaVinci" is so popular, our culture has all but ignored the enormous historical fallacies present in the book, many of which were made by one of the main characters, a historian! My dear friend Spencer Haygood has eloquently stated that any Oxford-educated history professor who made such gross mistakes would immediately be stripped of his terminal degree and be sent back to History 101. But such mistakes are glossed over by the wider populace, who prefers to think of Christianity as "DaVinci" presents it: an institution founded by conspiratorial action and maintained by continued cover-up.

Certainly such claims should be answered by the church, and the arsenal of information against "DaVinci" grows by the day. But if we answer a story full of error only with the facts, the story still wins! Ultimately, confronting the latest attempts to undermine historic Christian faith must be empowered by the greatest of all stories! Our culture is now steeped in narrative. As such, they require a narrrative apologetic. Solomon was right: there really is nothing new under the sun! After 2000 years, the Easter story is still the greatest defense of the Christian faith. Therefore, the answer to the latest threats against Gospel integrity is ultimately that which has finally answered all other attempts to undermine Christianity: We must confront error with the story of the resurrected God-man!

And let's be honest: part of that truth is that the church has had her conspirators! Roman Catholicism is the result of the theological collapse of the Christian church in the third century, which itself resulted in the return of a spurious and unneccesary "Priesthood." Christian Hierarchicalism in all its forms is the result of women being seen as essentially inferior to men, and as a result, barring them not just from the Pastoral office (a Biblical position I believe), but also from any form of leadership in Christ's church. Denominationalism, in its worst form, is the result of individuals within particular expressions of church life claiming that theirs is the only "true church." The list of attempts to hijack the mission of the church could go on and on. As Greg Caruso of CRM Ministries well states, "When it is disfunctional, the body of Christ is a hideous thing!"

Nevertheless, throughout all of this, the true church has continued to stand, and with it, the power of the Gospel it is called to preach. For 2000 years, the church has answered her critics, and after 2000 years, the message of the Gospel remains undefeated! In light of this, are we really so afraid of "DaVinci"? For two millenia, the Gospel has withstood the attacks of Marcionism, Arianism, Gnosticism, Doceticism, Donatism, Imperial Catholicism, Hyper-Calvinism, German higher Criticism, Neo-Orthodoxy, Hyper-Landmarkism, and Postliberlism. After all of this, do we really believe it can finally be brought down by Tom Hanks and Opie?!

Certainly we need to be prepared to discuss the inaccuracies and inconsistencies of "DaVinci." Followers of Christ should, as Peter exhorts, be prepared to give an answer for what we believe, and why we believe it (1 Peter 3:15). But the greatest way to defend the Christian faith is to proclaim the greatest story of all; the story we remember this weekend. The ultimate proof of the truthfulness and superiority of Christianity is that while the tombs of all other religious leaders are occupied, we can proclaim with confidence that a dead man rose from the grave and has commissioned us to tell His story. The Canadian scientist G.B. Harding said that in searching for a religion, he asked himself two questions: 1. Has anybody conquered death? 2. Have they provided a way for me to do it? After searching the world and finding the tombs of Mohammed, Buddha, Confucious, and others respectively occupied, he found the tomb of Jesus Christ empty, and subsequently read the New Testament, finding the words of Jesus which said "Because I live, you shall live also!" In the words of Harding, "my search is over!"

This Easter, let us stand on the shoulders of our brothers and sisters who have come before us, face the present challenges to our ancient faith, and say with the confidence of our Orthodox brothers and sisters . . . .

"Christ is risen!. . . . .


. . . .He is risen indeed!"

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I disagree. I do conceade that your writing is very elequent. But there is no more or less evidence for JC as a god making the reliegion relevent than any of the other main religions of the world. The body could have been stolen. Or never placed in the tomb. How would anyone then find JC if he was then burned? Keep your faith but knocking other religions to me is like a bully who deep inside is scarred and hides it with bravado.

Stephen said...

Anonymous,

If you are so sure that the man Christ Jesus is dead and that your opinion, or belief system, is the one accurate one then why glean or peruse a Christian blog site?!?

I always find it interesting the ones who do not believe in The Risen Lord make it such a point to make their views known on a site dedicated to proclaiming Jesus the Messiah. Why not design your own site to publish your viewpoints? The answer is quite obvious, Friend, that is the Holy Spirit tugging at your heart right now!!!

"No more or less evidence"???

I highly suggest you read Mark Antonacci's book "The Resurrection of the Shroud".

Empirical proof of the Risen Lord is residing in a church in Turin, Italy!!

Don't say one other word until you read that book and then we can discuss further.

Joel Rainey said...

Hello anonymous! I'm glad you stopped in, and equally pleased you feel the freedom of dissent in this forum. I hope you will allow me the same freedom as I seek humbly to address the issues you raise.

First, you state "Keep your faith but knocking other religions to me is like a bully who deep inside is scared and hides it with a bravado." When I read that statement, my first feeling was of regret...regret that instead of us being able to communicate over coffee in a context where we can hear each other's tone of voice and see facial expressions, we must do so in print, which often limits how human communication is received. As a result, you have interpreted my statements as that of a bully. I do hope you believe me when I say my statements were not meant in this way at all, and I also hope you will read the following as coming from a heart that seeks to be ever-more clothed in humility.

That said, I must tell you that according to Biblical teaching, my faith cannot be kept unless the resurrection of Jesus is an historic reality. Conversely, if Jesus is risen from the dead, this is the ultimate statement of His deity, which by default makes null and void any other attempts to reach God. Therefore, my statements were not intended to be "bullish." But if Jesus is risen, what I believe is simply reality, not only for me, but for everyone in the world, even those such as yourself who don't believe. The bottom line for me, according to the teachings of my own faith, is that if Christ is not risen, my faith is false and useless.

Also, you say that there is no more or less evidence for Jesus as God than there is evidence for the validity and relevance of other faiths. Quite simply, nothing could be further from the truth. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is one of the best attested historical facts of antiquity: He was seen during 40 day period following the resurrection by over 500 witnesses (mass-hallucenation?), and attested as risen from the dead by Jewish scholars who were reticent to accept Him as their Messiah (Josephus)

Was the body stolen? Not likely. Roman soldiers were placed to guard the tomb, and were charged with its security with their lives in the balance. They would have never allowed such a thing to happen.

Never placed in the tomb? Honestly, that one is a bit far fetched. Again, the Romans are our chief witnesses to the fact that He was indeed buried, because they had grave concern that the body would be stolen.

Most convincing is the fact that three days after His death, the disciples (who were not expecting His resurrection, but instead, hiding in fear) are proclaiming that He is risen. Had He not been, the Romans could have simply produced the body and Christianity as a world faith would have never happened. Furthermore, these same disciples later willingly give their lives for the message of the risen Christ. Would you willingly die for something you knew was a lie? I don't know about you, but if I were preaching something I knew was false, I would definitely show them where the body was the moment I was threatened with death!

I will grant you this much: If Jesus Christ is not risen from the dead, then He is not God, and all my faith in His death for my sin, and all my attempts to conform to His image are a total waste of time. But if He is risen, then He is exactly who He claimed to be: God very God, Messiah, King of Kings, and the ultimate and final Judge of all Humanity.

Again, please hear this as one fallen human talking to another. I believe God created you, me, and every other human being in His image and likeness. I believe you have worth and dignity because of this, and I believe that your eternity and mine is dependent on what we do with this, the most powerful story in history. My ultimate desire is not to "disprove" other faiths. If Christ is truly the resurrected Lord, this will happen. My ultimate desire is to simply share this powerful story with others like you, and pray for you to know Him as I do.

I certainly don't expect this post to totally convince you, and sincerely hope you don't interpret this post as an attempt to "sell" you on anything. But I do hope you will stop in again, in public, or private by emailing me personally. If nothing else, it would be a pleasure to make a new friend.