This piece grew out of a conversation on “Calvin in Common” surrounding the discussion at Calvin College regarding the historicity of Adam. A few of us who are Christians were asked if we did really believe in the resurrection and why. If Adam was never a real individual would it then also follow that the resurrection of Jesus Christ also be untrue? This was the question I was answering.
This is of course the thought that some desperately fear and many are articulating as the motivation for applying duct tape to theologian’s mouths. I am engaged in a number of these conversations directly and indirectly to the right side of myself, those who are saying S&H much be cut out (like some sort of cancer) because the “myth” idea will spread and soon you lose the whole thing.
Duct tape doesn’t work well with ideas and this question of course has been out of the bag longer than any of us have been alive.
Part of the problem here is that evangelicals have been using the Bible a certain way for so long that everyone can’t help but fall into this line of thinking. “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” The Bible according to evangelicals is the starting point of experiential faith, and everything gets swept in with it. I don’t think that really holds.
I started believing this stuff obviously long before I had a choice about the matter. I believed in it because people that loved me well and were trustworthy (parents and others) told me it was true, Bible and all. At some point of course, you grow up enough, talk to enough other people, meet enough other people that are nice, and good and trustworthy and don’t believe and you’ve got some deciding to do.
I’ve always found it helpful to locate the center of this religion and work out from that point. I think the Apostle Paul got it right in locating the center of the religion in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, everything else either holds together, or falls apart from that historical event. As others have suggested, the best contemporary historical treatment of the resurrection is NT Wright’s. I remember Tim Keller talking about the fact that he decided to read it while he was in the hospital battling cancer. He also noted that the quote he was meditating upon as they were rolling him into the operating room was not from Wright, or the Bible, but from Tolkien, but that is another matter.
I don’t see shaking Adam out of the Genesis tree as destroying the faith. I think that there is surely some theological work to do around this subject if you can’t stomach a historical Adam, but I’m not in any way sure that, for example, this disturbs all Christian traditions (especially the Orthodox Traditions) as much as it impacts our particular branch of the tree.
Nobody really believed Jesus was the Daniel 7 Son of Man until the resurrection. Even his closest friends when the heat was on bolted and ran. You don’t run away from a guy who can beat sea monsters just because the temple guard sneaks up on you. I’ve finished preaching through Luke and now I am in Acts and the change in the apostles is marked as a result of the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Many scholars are helpful today including NT Wright as mentioned above, Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Eyewitnesses-Gospels-Eyewitness-Testimony/dp/0802831621, and currently I’m working though Ben Witherington’s Acts Commentary http://www.amazon.com/Acts-Apostles-Socio-Rhetorical-Commentary/dp/0802845010. The historical value of the NT books is obviously contested, but it’s also clearly of a different nature than Genesis.
NT Wright’s thesis is that the best evidence for the resurrection lies with the community around that testimony and how it changed the world. Last year I worked my adult Sunday School class through the book of Revelation. You have scattered, small communities of Christians going from a persecuted minority to the majority position of the Roman Empire in a couple of centuries. It’s bracing.
Having said this there are days when I seriously sit back and ask myself “do I really believe all this stuff? Do I really believe that the universe, it’s very structure (read John Polkinghorne), will be overturned, remade, renewed and this all has already begun in the resurrected body of Jesus of Nazareth? (Colossians) It’s hardly a thought that is easy to embrace without a community, yet it is a thought that has endured 2000 years. Again, I realize lots of thought that I believe to be nuts have endured, but this surely is one of the crazier sounding ones.
I wrestle with these thoughts weekly as I prepare sermons. Not only am I challenged to believe it but I get to stand up publicly and try to tell others to. Here’s a blog post that is rather typical of these ponderings as I work through a Biblical text.
I know the vast majority of people tend to sit back and flow down stream with the ideas they’ve inherited from their parents or have absorbed along the way, usually ideas that get fashionable in a culture. We all can’t help doing a lot of absorption, that’s human, but as CS Lewis noted these Christian claims are so audacious they have to be weighed and evaluated and that evaluation tends to be multi-layered.
If the resurrection is true, and of a different category than even the resuscitations that Jesus is said to have accomplished, people who were raised only to die again, this is a bit of data that remakes my assumptions about the world and most importantly about Jesus. What if in fact he IS the Daniel 7 Son of Man? Once you arrive there then suddenly the words he is testified to have said take on more importance. He surely seems to revere the Old Testament, maybe that should impact how I see it, and on we go.
I also spend time, when I’m contemplating whether or not I believe all this stuff, what my alternatives are. (Maybe a minister shouldn’t write this kind of stuff, then again I work in an unimportant backwater church and no one will take out a full page ad in the Sac Bee about what I write here… 🙂 ) What if Jesus isn’t the Daniel 7 Son of Man? What if he didn’t rise from the dead. What if its all made up, a big confusion, etc. What have I left? I tend to find the alternatives finally distasteful. Each have their beauties and their attractive qualities, many would bring ill to myself and my loved ones, often they would make my life easier, get me more money and more of what my baser self thinks it wants.
Each time I run this mental course (so far at least… 🙂 ) I come back to the same conclusion. This is the only way for me to live. This is the only vision of the universe worth living in.
After our little exchange about Bachmann and Paul Spyksma sent me The NewYorker piece and I tried to read it on my Kindle, I decided to try a trial subscription to the New Yorker to read it. In it I found another interesting piece on a book about how to make atheism less dark. . Atheism is just too damn hollow and dark no matter how hard they try improve it.
I don’t know if I was any help. One of the better classes I took while at Calvin was one by Nick Woltersdorff on belief. He wasn’t there full time anymore but he was back for a bit and taught that course. It was my fifth year at Calvin (couldn’t finish in 4 due to my own indecision and so I took some extra fun courses and this was one of them.) One of the things I took away from that course was the reality often confirmed in my pastoral vocation that the path to believing something, anything, is hardly as simple as a syllogism. Belief captures us not the other way around. It makes Calvin’s notions of the Holy Spirit’s work sound pretty convincing.
I hope this isn’t too personal. I find it helpful to not just hear people lay out the facts as they see them but to also tell me why they think what they think. I’ll even leave you with a favorite song of mine (Resurrect Me by John Foreman)that pertains. It’s probably not Bont’s cup of tea (western music) but I like it. 🙂 pvk