Resurrecting space for belief

Easter is a big deal. Passages like Paul’s claim in 1 Corinthians 15:13-15 (NIV) tell us:

13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.

As I a pastor I looked forward to Easter so much. I knew, however, that we would have  visitors, family members, and friends who would come to our services out of relational obligation or for social interest in the event. I knew that some of these would not believe in the literalness of the resurrection of Jesus’ body. 

I always had to think through how I was going to talk about this in a way that was both faithful in proclamation for us as a community of faith, while also attempting to be invitational and sensitive to potential objections or barriers from our guests.I have no interest in apologizing for what we believe as a faith community. But neither do I want to dogmatically push an ancient worldview that may, to the listener, be suspicious at best and incompatible at worst.
In light of the conversation that we have been having with Philip Clayton [around his new book] and my articulation between the miraculous and the ‘super’natural–  the resurrection takes on an interesting twist.

Here is the thing: as in so many aspects of our modern life, we exist in a world dominated by dualism and presentation designed for polarity.  The resurrection is no different. The two options seems to be:

A) it happened literally just like the Gospel accounts portray
B) the laws of physics can not be broken by even God and so the Gospel accounts are literary creations designed to portray theological themes.

I get both of those perspectives. I myself have no problem with the bodily resurrection as a miraculous event that carries deep theological implications (like prolepsis, ontological priority of the future, etc.)

But … in the same way that Jesus’ walking on water is not the POINT of that story. The point was to hear the word of Christ “be not afraid” . It was not simply to understand the physics of how Jesus might have walked on the water or to add it to a checklist of things you must believe even if you don’t understand them.

This is where Clayton’s idea is so powerful. 

In  Acts 9, Paul experienced Jesus post-ascension and he was also powerfully changed. It was that same guy (now named Paul) who penned the words that I quoted earlier (1 Cor. 15) .  But Paul did not encounter the biological body of Christ. He experienced something we can call the ‘real presence’ of Christ.


Various options are open to those who accept this hypothesis, which we might call the personal but nonphysical theory of Jesus’ post-mortem presents. There can be no talk of proof here, but there may be ways of showing that, at least in principle, a real albeit nonphysical presence of a person after death is compatible with the presumption against miracles to which the problem of evil let us in chapter 3.

One of these approaches involves postulating that the early disciples must have experienced a certain kind of event that no longer occurs today. Advocates of this view seek to do justice to the indications in the New Testament texts that, even if Jesus remains somehow present, the nature of his presence changed radically after the finite series of events that occurred soon after his death. They reason that something must have been different in the days or weeks after Jesus’s death, even if what occurred did not involve the resuscitation (even in some significantly transform condition) of the physical body.  – Predicament of Belief p. 97

My question is ‘why could that not have been what the disciples experienced?’ I know full well that the more progressive members of the Homebrewed community will say ‘Duh – we have held this for a long time.’ Please understand A) I was certainly not raised to think this way and did not know it was even an option B) most of the people I know and talk to panic when something like this is proposed.
I want to be clear: I am not trying to get everyone to believe this option. I am simply trying to highlight an alternative to the modern either-or argument that is stuck in an endless round-and-round stand off.

My only point is that those who buy into this third (real presence) option count as “believing in the resurrection”.  Those who subscribe to a literal-physical option often claim that only their option (#1) counts as legitimate. Those who hold to option #2 roll their eyes and look down their nose (not easy to do at the same time) at those who have not accounted for the literary devices employed in the Gospel accounts.

I’m interested in the ‘Big Tent’ here. To get there we must first concede that the point of the text is not about physics or biology. Even if we hold to that element of the story, we  have to remember that understanding or believing in the physics is not the point. To experience the risen Christ and be changed by that presence is the point.

So I wanted to ask
  1. What have you found helpful to include in the conversation that I am leaving out?
  2. What seem to be the sources of folks’ major hesitations that I have not accounted for?

I could really use some help thinking this through. Since I left behind my Josh McDowell evidence that demands a verdict and my Lee Strobel case for the resurrection, I am working diligently to both think and present a broader approach without going all the way to Marcus Borg-land.


[part 1 can be found here]