Monday, March 21, 2005

The Resurrection: Real but not Historical

Something happened that first Easter morning that was powerful enough to embolden Jesus' band of followers and lead them to change the weekly day of worship from the Jewish Sabbath to the first day of the week. But whatever it was, it wasn't Jesus being raised from the dead. In fact, the resurrection doesn't have anything at all to do with Jesus' body. That's the position Bishop John Shelby Spong sought to defend against evangelical apologist, Dr. William Lane Craig in The Great Resurrection Debate , an event broadcast live last night by the Church Communication Network.

According to Spong, who described himself as not being a "biblical literalist," it's not possible to be a Christian and deny the "reality of the resurrection." But, says Spong, this reality should not be understood as a physical return from death. What appear to be historical narratives are more properly understood as symbolism employed by Jesus' followers to convey their powerful and ineffable "God experience." A God-experience, says Spong, must be put into human words and our language is not big enough to envelop that inbreaking of eternity.

Granted, our language is not capable of capturing God's totality. But that's not to say that language is incapable of communicating any truths about God. As Francis Schaeffer noted, God has not given us exhaustive truth, but He has given us true (though partial) Truth.

Once I heard Bishop Spong's take on the inadequacy of language to describe God, I patiently waited for him to refute himself by ascribing some attributes to God. I wasn't disappointed. In his closing statements, just a few moments after saying "I cannot tell you who God is or what God is," the bishop proceeded to affirm that God is the source of love and the ground of all being.

It was evident to me that what really motivates Spong is the desire to make the Bible and Christianity plausible to the modern mind. This means adopting a hermeneutic that takes all references to miraculous events as poetic symbolism. If we fail to open the Scriptures to scholarship (by which Bishop Spong means the naturalistic rationalism assumed by the so-called biblical scholars of the Jesus Seminar of which he is a member) we will end up twisting twenty-first century minds into first century pretzels. 

As I watched and listened to the exchange, the words of C. S. Lewis in the first chapter of Miracles, kept coming to mind:
...the question whether miracles occur can never be answered simply by experience. Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our sense, something seen, heard, touched, smelled, or tasted. And our sense are not infallible. If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say. What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience. It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical question.
Another Lewis quote, this one from"Learning in War-Time," is likewise appropriate. "Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered." Those interested in learning how to answer the bad philosophy of the Jesus Seminar will find this article by Dr. Craig of interest.


Anonymous said...

That "review" sure didn't tell us much about the debate. What happened at the debate. How were the arguments presented and defended. Who was considered the winner. Thank you.

KP said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for reading and offering your feedback.

Due to time constraints I didn't set out to provide a review or summarization of the entire debate. I instead chose to comment on one aspect, namely Bishop Spong's interesting use of the term "resurrection" and his insistence that it (whatever "it" refers to)was powerful and real though not historical.

As for who was considered the winner, there was no exit poll taken to the best of my knowledge so I can't say what those who attended the event concluded. However, I doubt it will come as any surprise to you that in my estimation Dr. Craig fared better. The essay to which I linked will give you more detailed information about Dr. Craig's arguments against Bishop Spong and his Jesus Seminar colleagues. Take care.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your response. The blog at Stand to Reason stated that you were going fill us in on what happened at the debate. Sorry. I expected more, but keep up the good blogging. Thank you.

KP said...

No problem, Anonymous. After I read Melinda's post I could understand why you may have had greater expectations. Thanks for the encouragement with respect to the blog.