MidWeek Message (Apr 22-Apr 28)

In October 1994 Moody Memorial Church in Chicago hosted a lively and important debate between two scholars with very different views of the resurrection.[1]  William Lane Craig of Talbot School of Theology and John Dominic Crossan of DePaul University debated about the historicity of the person of Jesus in the Gospels.

 The debate moderator opened with these words:

 The uniqueness of the scandal of the Christian religion rests on the mediation of revelation through historical events. Christianity is not just a code for living or a philosophy of religion. It is rooted in real events of history. To some people this is scandalous because it means that the truth of Christianity is inexplicably bound up with the truth of certain historical facts. And if those facts should be disproved, Christianity would be false. This, however, is what makes Christianity unique because, unlike other world religions, modern man has a means of actually verifying Christianity’s truth by historical evidence.[2]

Well, that set the terms for the debate.  And things quickly focused in on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus.  For Crossan the resurrection is a metaphor but not an historical fact.  Metaphors bear some truth, he claimed, but that does not mean that they must be based on real things happening in history.  He said that the Christian notion of the resurrection of Jesus may have come from visions or hallucinations or from beliefs springing from reading the Scriptures, but not from evidence in history.  Craig’s response reconfirmed his interest and expertise in the resurrection as a defensible historical fact.  He gives an excellent case for the resurrection.  I won’t repeat it here, but if you’re interested, it’s easy to find.   But what Craig effectively uncovered is that for Crossan, the absence of an historical resurrection makes no difference to his understanding of Christianity.  For scholars like Crossan, the resurrection simply does not matter.  It’s just a useful myth. 

But can we really call the resurrection nothing more than useful myth?  It’s noteworthy that this one event, this one claim to history, becomes the most objectionable.  Easter claims that God has acted in history.  What happened that Sunday long ago can be viewed as reliable basis for belief.  Christians believe in a God who acts in history and those activities must be taken as serious disclosures of his revelation to humankind.  Now, there is a very strong case for the reliability and surprising trustworthiness on the Gospel records.[3]  We are historically removed by 2,000 years, but we have amazingly strong testimony of the eyewitnesses.  John’s reliable account of the resurrection gives so many details.  The empty tomb, the placement of the burial clothes, the nature of Jesus’ resurrected body.  This is no fantasy.  This is a real man who can talk and be touched.  Divine events really do happen in history.  Frankly, the evidence is not lacking.   Believing it is reasonable. 

[1] Full transcript in Copan, Paul, ed., Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? A Debate Between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998).

[2] Ibid, p 24

[3] For example, see Richard Baukham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.