Too Staggering a Claim to Remain Neutral

“If Jesus is dead, then Christianity is dead. If Jesus is alive, then Christianity is alive,” write Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears in their latest, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (p. 279).

In support of the release of Doctrine, Crossway has released two sample chapters including a 24-page chapter on the Resurrection of Jesus:

Apart from the resurrection of Jesus Christ, there is no savior, no salvation, no forgiveness of sin, and no hope of resurrected eternal life. Apart from the resurrection, Jesus is reduced to yet another good but dead man and therefore is of no considerable help to us in this life or at its end. Plainly stated, without the resurrection of Jesus, the few billion people today who worship Jesus as God are gullible; their hope for a resurrection life after this life is the hope of silly fools who trust in a dead man to give them life. Subsequently, the doctrine of Jesus’ resurrection is, without question, profoundly significant and worthy of the most careful consideration and examination.

Driscoll & Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, p. 279

“Apart from the resurrection. . . people today who worship Jesus as God are gullible.” It’s a harsh truth. Is it one we’ve taken time to consider?

Around this time of year is when the TV specials and magazine articles begin appearing in an attempt to debunk Jesus & the resurrection. “Maybe Jesus didn’t really die on the cross,” they say. “Maybe he only looked like he did.”

Maybe everyone who claimed to see Jesus hallucinated.

Maybe the whole thing is a bunch of gobbledygook cobbled together from various mythologies. After all, at the time, everyone’s god had come back from the dead… right?

Monday night, I was reading a Maclean’s Magazine article, “The Real Jesus?” which offers commentary on Paul Johnson’s new book, Jesus: A Biography From a Believer. The article asserts that Johnson’s work, is “a lovely little book, as beautifully written as any of Johnson’s histories, subtle and insightful on what the New Testament aims to tell us about Jesus Christ. But it isn’t historical writing, at least not by the standards of those—skeptic and believer alike—who abide by the rules of the professional historian’s craft.”

The article states is that because miracles don’t have human or natural agency, they can’t be seen as legitimate historical evidence. Because time (for us) moves in only one direction, it’s more likely that any of Jesus’ predictions of the future—including His betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection—were inserted later, and that any documents outside of Scripture that do exist don’t really provide anything useful in terms of verifying the claims of Scripture.

“In the case of the historical Jesus, that evidence simply doesn’t exist.”

In other words, if it can’t be explained solely by human reason, it can’t possibly be true.

In this chapter, Driscoll & Breshears offer a powerful apologetic in response to such claims, and their work is compelling, thoughtful and insightful.

Speaking specifically to the evidence for the bodily resurrection, they write, “It is commonly purported by some that the entire idea of a bodily resurrection was in fact not a novel idea but one borrowed from other ancient philosophies and spiritualities.” But this isn’t the case, as N.T. Wright’s work on the Resurrection has shown. Quoting Wright, they contend, “In so far as the ancient non-Jewish world had a Bible, its Old Testament was Homer. And in so far as Homer has anything to say about resurrection, he is quite blunt: it doesn’t happen” (p. 283).

The idea of resurrection is denied in ancient paganism from Homer all the way to the Athenian dramatist Aeschylus, who wrote, “Once a man has died, and the dust has soaked up his blood, there is no resurrection.” Wright provides a helpful summary: “Christianity was born into a world where its central claim was known to be false. Many believed that the dead were non-existent; outside Judaism, nobody believed in resurrection.” (p. 283)

Driscoll & Breshears continue, illustrating that “there is no possibility that the idea of a resurrection was borrowed because there is no definitive evidence for the teaching of a deity resurrection in any of the mystery religions prior to the second century. In fact, it seems that other religions and spiritualities stole the idea of a resurrection from Christians!” (p. 286)

The resurrection of Adonis is not spoken of until the second to fourth centuries. Attis, the consort of Cybele, is not referred to as a resurrected god until after AD 150. Some have postulated that the taurobolium ritual of Attis and Mithra, the Persian god, is the source of the biblical doctrine of the resurrection. In this ritual, the initiate was put in a pit, and a bull was slaughtered on a grating over him, drenching him with blood. However, the earliest this ritual is mentioned is AD 160, and the belief that it led to rebirth is not mentioned until the fourth century. In fact, Princeton scholar Bruce Metzger has argued that the taurobolium was said to have the power to confer eternal life only after it encountered Christianity. (p. 286)

This is just a small taste of the argument presented.

But no matter how well thought out the argument, no matter how credible the sources, the trouble with the resurrection of Jesus is that if we really don’t want to believe it we won’t. If we can’t see it, we can’t accept it. Paul reminds us that, as slaves to sin, we exchange the truth for a lie, preferring our interpretation of events rather than the truth. Worshipping a created thing, in this case our idealized intellect, rather than the Creator (cf. Rom. 1:25).

And because of this, none of us can claim to be “agnostic” on the resurrection. The subject itself doesn’t allow for it:

[N]o one can remain neutral regarding Jesus’ resurrection. The claim is too staggering, the event is too earthshaking, the implications are too significant, and the matter is too serious. We must each either receive or reject it as truth for us, and to remain indifferent or undecided is to reject it. (p. 303)

Download the chapter. Read it. Chew on it. Savor it. And ask yourself:

Where do I stand on the Resurrection of Jesus?

Thanks to Justin Taylor for providing the link to the chapter!

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