Yes, You Have to Believe in the Resurrection to be a Christian

Jason Micheli —  March 31, 2016 — 11 Comments

resurrectionNo.

Not unless you’re a Christian, that is.

In my Easter sermon this past weekend I echoed Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Jesus has not been raised from the dead then our faith is useless. Especially when it comes to Jesus’ teachings, I said, we’re off the hook if Jesus has not been vindicated by God through resurrection.

The assertions I made in the sermon provoked the anticipated pushback:

‘But you don’t have to believe in the Resurrection to be a Christian.

You can be a Christian by following the teachings of Jesus.’ 

Yeah, well, not really.

Never mind the irritating fact that if Jesus was not raised from the dead then there’s nothing transformative and death-defeating about his teaching. It just got him killed. Death had the last word (and still does).

If God did not raise Jesus from the dead, then God did not vindicate Jesus’ life, his way of life.

His teachings.

So then there’s nothing special about them, they lead only to crosses.

And then Nietzsche is right: power and will are the only sane, responsible ways to live in this world.

And then Paul is right: of all people in the world, we’re the most pitiable.

But the resurrection is a necessary belief on a less theological level too.

On an evidentiary level.

Think about it:

If I was witness called to the stand to testify on behalf of a defendant and every bit of my testimony rung true to you, the jury, until I got to the end of my story- the most important part- and I outright lied, then you would no longer trust any of my preceding testimony and you would cast aspersions upon the defendant about whom I lied.

At least, you should if you were doing your job as a jury.

To dismiss the Resurrection claim, which the evangelists believed whether or not you do, is to call them liars.

And if you think the evangelists liars about the climactic turn in their testimony, why in the world would you trust their prior testimony about the words and deeds of Jesus?

The disciples, after all, didn’t simply convert from one religion to another; they lived- suddenly- as if they inhabited a totally new world.

The disciples from whom we have received the Resurrection witness are the selfsame evangelists through whom we have received the ministry of Jesus. If they lied about the former then we’ve no basis to trust the latter.

And it really does come down to trust then, doesn’t it?

Because if you’re willing to accept the words and deeds of Jesus, as testified to by the evangelists, but not the Resurrection, as testified to by the evangelists, then you are, quite literally, picking and choose parts of the Gospel witness that you like.

Or that make sense to you. Or that fit into your a priori modernist worldview.

You’re not willing to trust that if what the apostles tell you about the sermon on the mount is true then perhaps what they tell you about empty tomb is too.

And ‘trust,’ let us not forget, is the best definition/translation for what the bible calls ‘faith.’

Jason Micheli

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11 responses to Yes, You Have to Believe in the Resurrection to be a Christian

  1. Jason, this argument is so conventional……..what’s up?

  2. Bam, JAM…keeping it real.

  3. I guess I’m conventional. Two thumbs up! Way up!!!

  4. Amen, and Amen again. I Jesus’ followers said it, and I believe it!

  5. Susanne Johnson March 31, 2016 at 5:09 PM

    While I agree with the overall thrust of this statement, I want to emphasize that one of the worst and most irresponsible things a preacher can do is to knock power, and leave it at that, rather than helping congregants reflect theologically on power, and moreover, to exercise responsible use of it. After all, the second question in the United Methodist baptismal liturgy is: “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?” When you knock human power, you falsely split and pit over against each other human agency and power and Divine agency and power – the power of the Resurrection. God intends for us human beings to have power, and to exercise “will” and “power,” grounded in Divine power and love. Paul Tillich’s classic little text entitled “Love, Power, and Justice” is the perfect corrective to misunderstandings of power, as is a book by evangelical scholar Robert Linthicum entitled “Building A People of Power: Equipping Churches to Transform Their Communities.”

    • A good pushback S, and I don’t disagree- well, I’ll always disagree with Tillich. Nature of blogs is that they’re short and unqualified. I mean here that if there’s no resurrection then Nietzsche is right that power (in the sense of sheer will) is the sanest course in life. What the resurrection shows, I think, is that Jesus’ suffering, nonviolent love is actual power.

  6. Wait – I’m confused about the dates. Whenever you said it, I agree.

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