'The Lord has risen indeed!'
Over Easter, I was intrigued to read an article in The Conversation by Jason Oliver Evans about the different views of the resurrection held by (American) Baptists: Christians hold many views on Jesus' resurrection – a theologian explains the differing views among Baptists (theconversation.com). He contrasts Carl F.H. Henry’s conservative view, that the bodily resurrection of Christ was a verifiable historical occurrence, with that of Harry Emerson Fosdick, who interpreted the resurrection as a persistence in Christ’s personality. A third position, attributed to Thorwald Lorenzen, is that the resurrection was real, but it cannot be verified in a modern, historical sense. Or maybe we should we see in the resurrection an expression of God’s commitment to liberating people from poverty and oppression.
How is it that Baptists hold such diverse views? The answer, as Evans observes, is that ‘Baptists believe that no external religious authority can force an individual member to adhere to the tenets of Christian faith in any prescribed way.’ In other words, it is not my place to tell you what to think or to believe; my role is to help you find faith and an understanding to go with it. And that faith and understanding may well vary from person to person. Some of us may have no difficulty in correlating the New Testament depiction of Jesus’ resurrection with a historical event: for us the physical resurrection of Jesus may simply be the best explanation of the evidence available to us. Others of us may be agnostic about what actually happened after Jesus was crucified, but we recognise the symbolic power inherent in the language of resurrection, and we welcome its potential to transform our lives and to shape and form our world view. So, which is more important: the history behind the text, or the way the text changes us here and now?
We need to acknowledge the dangers and the damage of polarisation, of dismissing each other, either as naïve realists or as faithless sceptics. One of the great strengths of Brighton Road is that people across the theological spectrum find a home with us, a safe place where they can find ways to integrate their faith and understanding and grow as disciples of the risen Lord. That does not make us a church full of relativists. Each of us is called to be fully convinced in our own mind about what we think, and we are also called to respect those with whom we disagree. What we believe about God and how we behave towards each other go hand in hand, and without love, we are nothing.
For the record, I personally believe that Jesus was buried and that he rose bodily from the tomb. But let me ask you, what do you think happened to the dead body of Jesus? And then, how do you react to those who hold different views to your own? The more confident we are in answering the first question, the more careful we need to be about how we answer the second…