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If Christ Is Not Risen

Thursday, March 28, 2024 @ 10:11 AM If Christ Is Not Risen Matthew White The Stand Writer MORE

Can a Christian believe the story of the resurrection, while rejecting that Jesus Christ physically rose from the dead? According to liberal theology, yes.

In the 17th century, an intellectual and philosophical movement known as the Age of Enlightenment, or Age of Reason, emerged. It was an era that profoundly influenced religious thought, eventually giving birth to theological liberalism. This led to many professing Christian theologians elevating man’s reasoning above Scripture and adopting liberal positions to make the teachings of the Bible more palatable.

With reason – instead of Scripture – being the final authority, liberal theology denies the supernatural and miraculous works of God (e.g., a worldwide flood, the parting of the Red Sea, the virgin birth, etc.) since they do not appeal to reason and cannot be explained in natural ways.

Since liberal theologians cede the authority of Scripture on such biblical accounts, they also discard the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus and explain it away by allegorizing or spiritualizing the event.

An allegorical approach

A theologically liberal view of the resurrection posits that Christ did not physically rise from the dead. Instead, Christ’s resurrection is regarded as an allegory that symbolizes a greater meaning such as victory over life’s circumstances – or whatever subjective meaning one chooses.

For example, Harry Emerson Fosdick, the most prominent liberal theologian of the early 1900s, said, “I believe in the persistence of personality through death, but I do not believe in the resurrection of the flesh.”

But denying the literal resurrection of Christ while adopting an allegorical or subjective view, under the guise of sophistication or intellectualism, ultimately yields the same result as denying it altogether – a denial of one of the most supernatural events in all of history.

After all, Christianity rises or falls on the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.

An essential doctrine

“The resurrection is not merely important to the historic Christian faith; without it, there would be no Christianity,” the late Dr. Adrian Rogers said. “It is the singular doctrine that elevates Christianity above all other world religions.”

Rogers’ statement echoes the apostle Paul’s sentiments expressed to the Corinthian believers when he said, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14, ESV).

Skepticism and denial plagued the believers at Corinth, provoking Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to address the topic in the 15th chapter of his first letter to them.

For most in the early church, Paul and the other apostles’ teachings managed to assuage their reluctance to believe in a bodily resurrection, and early on, belief in the resurrection became an essential doctrine.

Famed scholar and theologian N.T. Wright suggested that were it not for the resurrection, the early church movement would have been a failure.

“Christianity began as [a] resurrection movement,” Wright said. “[T]here is no evidence for a form of early Christianity in which the resurrection was not a central belief, as it were, bolted on to Christianity at the edge. It was the central driving force, informing the whole movement.”

Since the resurrection is so central to the Christian faith, liberal theologians have attempted to downplay or completely disregard the historic event.

After all, if it could be proven that the resurrection did not actually occur just as Scripture details it, the Christian faith would be reduced to a mere exercise in futility.

An undermining of truth

Dr. Gary Habermas, one of the world’s leading scholars on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, contends such denial undermines foundational doctrines of the Christian faith.

In an article titled “Jesus’ Resurrection and Contemporary Criticism,” Habermas wrote:

“[The New Testament] thesis is that the resurrection is the chief evidence for crucial areas of Christian theology. We are repeatedly told that the resurrection ensures the truthfulness of great doctrines, such as the person and deity of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:22-24; Romans 1:3-4), the gospel message (Acts 17:30-31), and the reality of heaven (1 Peter 1:3-5). In particular, the resurrection of Jesus is the pattern for the believer’s resurrection, as well.”

Using Habermas’ logic and apologetics, the following can be concluded:

▶ If Christ is proven “to be the Son of God … by His resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4), denying the resurrection denies His very deity.

▶ If God has commanded “all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness,” and that reality “has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31), then denying the resurrection denies a future judgement and the need for the gospel.

▶ If the believer’s “living hope” has been secured “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3), then denying the resurrection denies the very hope of heaven.

▶ If  “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20), making possible resurrection for all who trust Him (1 Corinthians 15:23), then denying His resurrection destroys the foundation that the believer’s future resurrection is built upon.

A hopeless reality

So what is the problem with a liberal view of the resurrection of Jesus? The problem is … it leaves one with no resurrection at all. It implies that Jesus was a liar. Jesus, Himself, answering the Jews who were seeking a sign, said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). John later bore witness that Jesus was indeed “speaking about the temple of His body” (John 2:21).

It leaves Christ in the grave; death remains the victor. It minimizes the account of Christ’s greatest display of power, reducing it to a mere story with a moral or hopeful message, something akin to a tale from Aesop’s Fables.

And if followed to its logical conclusion, a liberal view of the resurrection will eventually lead one to ask, “Why believe anything in the Bible at all?”

No wonder Paul so passionately defended the reality of the resurrection; the believer’s future and forgiveness depend on it.

(Digital Editor's Note: This article was first published in the April 2024 print edition of The Stand. Click HERE to get a free six-month subscription to the print version of The Stand.)

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