EDITOR’S NOTE: Jesus & Dawkins welcomes guests posts. Today’s entry comes from Michael Shenigo-Rudy, a senior at THE Ohio State University. He’s the president of Ratio Christi at OSU. I encourage you to submit a comment after reading his great piece!
Within the Christian faith, there are a formidable number of doctrinal beliefs that strike many intellectuals as false. The belief in Christian particularity, meaning not all persons experience salvation, is oftentimes considered barbaric and offensive. The theological doctrines of both the Trinity and Incarnation, with their vast history of creedal and metaphysical explanations, have left many thinking such enterprises are hopeless in advancing beyond overly complicated at best, and incoherent at worst.
Interestingly enough, the very core of the Christian Gospel itself—the resurrection of Jesus from the dead—is in fact one of the most commonly addressed and debated doctrinal elements.
From almost all the disciplines in academia these days, whether it’s professionals in the sciences or those doing historical inquiry, a reactionary lament has become tightly associated with the claim of Jesus’ resurrection. It can be roughly summarized as, “that never happened since we now know today that dead people do not rise from the dead.” A brief skimming of virtually any non-Christian historical study of Jesus will find such a sentiment clear and axiomatic in regards to understanding what happened on that Easter Sunday.
Yet this attitude permeates not just the halls of the academy. It’s also quite common amongst the culture at large—especially in the post-Enlightenment West, which lives in the wake of Hume and his endeavor to show the impossibility of knowing about miraculous events happening at all.
While it is not this author’s intention to provide a robust historical case for the resurrection, or to show the possibility and coherence of miracles, I do seek to challenge the idea that “we now know dead people stay dead.” From this argument, I reach a conclusion that will benefit how both Christians and unbelievers understand one another’s assumptions.
Contrary to several common assumptions about early Christian faith and practice, the idea of a dead person rising again to life was seen as being quite problematic for both the culture at large and even for some of those within the Christian movement. A thorough reading of Greco-Roman and pagan literature before, and contemporary with, the early Church is illuminating: it conveys a cultural milieu that found the notion of a dead body coming back to life again to not only be impossible, but downright unappealing, given the prevalence of Platonic dualism!
It wasn’t people’s prejudices against the supernatural that prevented ideas like resurrection from being plausible in those days. The commonly-held beliefs about the nature of souls and bodies ruled it out as ever being possible in the first place. The New Testament itself displays just how difficult it was for even Christian believers to swallow the idea that their bodies would be resurrected one day like Jesus’ body. Paul, in one of the most tightly argued passages within all the Bible, spends an entire chapter of 1 Corinthians trying to convince Christians that bodily resurrection is reasonable and possible.
The amount of literature pertinent to discussing and defending the resurrection’s coherence is vast. From pagan critics of the Christian faith, to the early Church Fathers, Christianity’s core doctrine has caused fierce debate since the beginning. In light of all this information, it becomes quite clear that the resurrection of Jesus has always been a controversial topic, not only because its many theological implications, but also for its very plausibility and coherence as well.
When the criticisms of today are compared with those of times past, we discover that the plausibility of Jesus’ resurrection has always been questioned. While several treatments about the historical veracity or metaphysical meaning of Jesus’ resurrection can inform both believers and nonbelievers, I do think this insight has been at times overlooked and underappreciated by both groups—to their own impoverishment.
Yet in acknowledging the presence of such a factor, I believe both groups can enrich their understanding of the other’s convictions.
For Christians, it is imperative to realize that despite several painstaking attempts to provide a rational basis for belief in the resurrection of Jesus, it will forever remain a counterintuitive explanation of how the world really works.
For nonbelievers, it’s helpful to realize that Christians do (or at least should) see just how extraordinary, and even implausible, their assertion of Jesus’ resurrection really sounds. For that is the way it has been, and always will be, seen.