In a recent interview with Sam Hailes for Christian.co.uk (see “People have very odd ideas about Jesus”) N.T. Wright was asked this question:
You’ve argued strongly that Jesus physically rose from the dead as a historical event. Do you have to believe this teaching in order to be a Christian?
He gave this answer:
“Anyone who is in any sense a Christian cannot with any consistency believe that Jesus stayed dead. I have friends and colleagues who I know to be praying Christians who worship regularly and lead lives of practical Christian love and service but who really struggle with the bodily resurrection. I would say that looks like a muddled Christian who needs to be put straight. Of course some of them would say exactly that about me!
“But if you say Jesus died and nothing happened but the disciples had some interesting ideas, then you have cut off the branch on which all classic Christianity is sitting. This generation needs to wake up, smell the coffee and realise serious Christianity begins when Jesus comes out of the tomb on Easter morning. This is not a nice optional extra for those who like believing in funny things.”
I agree. I am sympathetic to people like Marcus Borg who cannot find it within themselves to say the word “bodily” about the resurrection, but I think the whole thing may be a big waste of our time if Jesus has not been risen from the dead. When we read the Gospels, the Book of Acts, the Pauline Epistles, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and even the Apocalypse the resurrection remains central to how the church spoke of Jesus. The resurrection was his moment of vindication. Even more so, it was the beginning of the age to come in some mysterious sense. Jesus’ resurrection gives his followers confidence in his identity as Messiah and his role as the beginning (or “first fruits”) of the renewal of all things, including the cosmos themselves! What is Christianity without this event?
As I said, I am sympathetic to those who want to find Jesus, yet who cannot (or will not) confess that he has risen, physically. That said, I respect those who are consistent in the realization that if Jesus has not risen Christianity is quite useless. While I do not anticipate anyone convincing me that the resurrection did not occur (Wright himself as well as others like Michael Licona have made arguments that has established my intellectual conviction that Jesus is risen) I will say that if it were to happen you won’t see me in church next Sunday. If God has not acted in Christ then I am going to spend my weekends doing something a bit more enjoyable than singing about a man who is dead and listening to stories about that same man. If this is the only life to live and there is no resurrection I had better get on with creating existential “meaning” in a world that has none.