How essential is the resurrection?


I was tempted to make popcorn as I scrolled through intense Twitter debates over Easter weekend about whether it’s necessary to have a literal resurrection of Christ- and whether those who see it as metaphor “count” as Christians.

I was under the impression that a literal resurrection was one of those “non-negotiables” when it comes to defining Christianity, considering it’s mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed and given Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:19: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Progressive Christian Twitter, however, had other opinions. In stating something I assumed was a given, I got called a “gatekeeper”: someone trying to shut people out.

My biggest question now is, how do we separate the vital doctrines from the not-vital ones? What are the “requirements” to be a Christian, and what can we agree to disagree about without compromising our faith?

It’s not just Christianity that has “gatekeepers,” so to speak. In Judaism, for example — the religion of my birth — rigidity is not a defining characteristic of its doctrines (at least, not if you belong to the Reform denomination). There are practicing Jews and non-practicing ones; Jews who keep kosher (some more strictly than others) and Jews who don’t; Jews who use electricity on the Sabbath and Jews who don’t. This is, generally speaking, not that big a deal. The appeal of Judaism for many is that no one has the right to tell you how specifically to practice it.

Until, of course, you get to people like me: Jewish converts to Christianity. In this regard, Jews of all stripes are in agreement: you’re not Jewish anymore, at least not in any religious sense.

Why is this universally agreed upon, whereas kosher laws are not? Because a defining characteristic of Judaism, a “non-negotiable” if you will, is its monotheism. Many Jews consider Christianity to be polytheistic in nature (no matter how many times you try to explain the “three in one” concept of the Trinity). The messiah also can’t be man and God in Judaism. So to maintain a Jewish religious identity with a Christian one is considered by most Jews to be an oxymoron.

Likewise, in Christianity, the literal resurrection of Christ is held with just as much rigidity as the “no man-God messiah” matter is in Judaism. If the resurrection is just a metaphor, or symbolic, that means the grave isn’t actually empty, and Jesus didn’t actually conquer death.

That’s not to say that I believe perfectly in the resurrection; I don’t. If we’re honest, it’s a tall order for thinking adults to wrap their minds around. But if Jesus is really God, then the ability to come back from the dead is not an impossibility. The event itself may be shrouded in mystery, but that is also a large part of its appeal. We aren’t meant to fully comprehend it; hence the need for faith.

Furthermore, this is the event I cling to in moments of deep depression: death does not have the final say. Darkness will not win. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead also lives in me.

Still, it’s worth asking what the role of divine mystery is in a religion that claims to also have divine truth.

And, at what point do we define and redefine words like “Christian” and “Christianity” to the point that they become meaningless?


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