With Easter and the resurrection of Jesus at the forefront of my mind, I’ve spent the last couple of months wondering what liberal theologians think about the resurrection. In general, liberal Christians believe in the ethics of Christianity and deeply appreciate the lessons and principles that Jesus and Bible writers teach. But when it comes to actual facts, historical events, and miracles, they do not believe much of that stuff.
So I’ve been wondering… what do they do with the resurrection? If you don’t believe in a literal, historical, physical (in other words it REALLY did happen and you can take a PICTURE of it) resurrection, why would you even want to be a Christian? And what does it mean to be a Christian and not believe the most essential, core belief of Christianity out there - that Jesus rose from the dead?
For starters, there are several theories as to how the religion spread even though “it didn’t really happen”. The body was stolen, or he wasn’t really dead and woke up in the tomb, or the disciples spread rumors and eventually everyone believed it as fake news. That sort of stuff. But even if a liberal Christian believes the resurrection was false, why do they still call themselves Christians and what does the resurrection mean to them?
In order to answer this question, I turned to this book: The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and NT Wright in Dialogue. It’s a dictation of a debate between an Evangelical theologian (N.T. Wright) and a liberal theologian (Dom Crossan), along with some articles written by others. Here’s a few thoughts:
First: Liberal theologians claim they do believe in the resurrection… just not literally.Liberals would say the resurrection DID happen, but only in a metaphorical, symbolic, or parabolic way (171). It did not happen in a literal way. (Side note: there are lots of ways of defining “literal”. Is Jesus “literally” the Lamb of God? Yes, but this is a metaphorical title. So here’s how I’m using the word “literal” here - you can take a picture of it, it for-real happened).
Second: The meaning behind the resurrection is more important than the “literal-ness” of the resurrection.Liberals could say that the Good Samaritan story never literally happened, but it metaphorically happens all the time. I’m confronted with opportunities to help the needy all the time (173). As for the resurrection, it’s the final proof that Jesus’ way of doing things is more powerful than even the laws of nature. Jesus upended the establishment of Rome through peaceful defiance. And if he metaphorically beat death, then his followers can metaphorically beat anything (184).
My thoughts on this interpretationI appreciate how liberal theologians like Dominic Crossan take Jesus’ teachings seriously. No matter who you are, patterning your life after Jesus is a great way to live.
On the other hand, trusting in the literal resurrection of Jesus is THE significant belief of Christianity. Jesus taught some really great stuff, but he wasn’t a motivational speaker. He was God’s rescue plan for humanity, sent to take our punishment for sin, prove his ability to conquer death and hell, and secure the fact that his followers will rise again just like he did.
If you are someone who cannot believe in a literal resurrection of Jesus (or anyone for that matter), I’m not against you! On the contrary, I’d love to talk about it. And if you have respect for the teachings of Jesus and meditate on them, that is good too. However, you’re missing what it really means to be a Christian. As a follower of Jesus, the reason I follow is because he proved He was God in his resurrection and He demonstrated his power to resurrect and transform me someday. Without a literal resurrection, Jesus is not greater than Ghandi - great man, great moral teacher, but no God and no Lord of my life.