If You Do Not Believe in the Bodily Resurrection…

Yesterday was Easter Sunday, 2022. Christians around the world celebrated the bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ including the empty tomb. That event was the centerpiece of the gospel preached by the apostles and is a cornerstone doctrine of authentic Christianity.

Unfortunately, there are those who call themselves Christians who do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. They do not believe in the empty tomb. They are liberal Christians and their “Christianity” is a different religion than authentic Christianity and their “gospel” is a different gospel. Unfortunately, some of them teach in Christian seminaries and divinity schools and in some church-related colleges and universities.

Over the years I have been told by several colleagues (in Christian institutions of higher education) that they do not believe in miracles. I have always been tempted to ask them about the resurrection. It is one miracle one must believe in to be authentically Christian. I do not question their salvation as that is not my business, but I do question the authenticity of their Christian identity.

In my forthcoming book Putting the Brakes on Progressive Christianity (Zondervan, June, 2022) I discuss several liberal theologians’ view of the resurrection. In most cases it is a product of “symbolic realism.” That is, they believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a symbol-belief that expresses faith in the message of Jesus Christ. Most of them do not believe Jesus rose from the dead. I say there that they ought to join the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Churches which is where they belong—insofar as they wish to be religious and affiliate with a church denomination at all. But they don’t; all of them I quote in the book taught/teach in “mainline” (old-line) Protestant institutions of higher education or else pastor “mainline” (old-line) Protestant churches.

If I did not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the empty tomb, Jesus’s transformation to a new kind of bodily existence fit for heaven, I would stop calling myself a Christian.

Some of the liberal theologians, like one of the most famous and influential Protestant ministers of the 20th century, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Jr., who pastored Riverside Church (Baptist and Congregational) and whose face was on the cover of TIME magazine twice, equivocated/equivocate about the resurrection. It’s extremely difficult to know whether they believed/believe in the BODILY resurrection or whether they believe Jesus’s “soul” lived on after his crucifixion. Theirs is an “uncertain sound” rather than a clear Christian, gospel message that “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Years ago I took a class to an Orthodox (OCA) cathedral on Easter Sunday morning. After the benediction the priest offered the “bread of fellowship” to everyone—including us visitors. My students lined up to receive the bread of fellowship. A young female student was at the head of the line of my students and I was at the back of the line. All the students were in front of me. I forgot to tell them what to say when the priest offered them the bread of fellowship. The priest, a friend of mine, handed her the bread and said “He is risen!” She looked at him quizzically and replied “He sure is!” The priest laughed out loud—with joy. He later told my class he was delighted by her response because it was unusual and therefore he knew it was well-meant and not routine or by rote.

He is risen! He sure is! If someone cannot say that from their heart with true belief, even if without full understanding, I cannot consider him or her authentically Christian.

R. Olson

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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