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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Off message?

A few days ago in The New York Times, a blog post called "Mystery and Evidence" by Tim Crane opined:
When Christians express their belief that "Christ has risen", for example, they should not be taken as making a factual claim, but as expressing their commitment to what Wittgenstein called a certain "form of life," a way of seeing significance in the world, a moral and practical outlook which is worlds away from scientific explanation. (Bolding

What the... what? I mean, I'd agree when we make the claim we aren't trying to explain the event scientifically, since one of the many things Christ did in addition to justifying us to God Perfect and Eternal was to break the shell of human knowledge and show us, as Shakespeare so perfectly said, "There are more things in heaven and earth... than are dreamt of in your philosophy." But that doesn't change the fact that a huge percentage of Christians -- those who are orthodox -- are, indeed, making a factual claim when they say "Christ has risen."

When we fail to make it plain that this is, in fact, our claim -- when we stop placing emphasis on "Christ the firstfruits" of our eternal life in resurrected bodies perfect and outside the laws of physics, then we are reduced to discussing the relative merits of ethical systems -- are we correct in emphasizing that evil thoughts are the same as deeds, or are Jews correct that only deeds count? Which faith's rules of behavior do we like best? A paltry portion indeed compared to what God has actually prepared for us.

And more to the point, there's little in a discussion of ethics that can possibly captivate non-believers. The atheists claim "you don't need God to be good," and aside from the quibble that you can't be good 24/7 with or without God, any thinking person can go right down that road with them. The only problem being it's not the road that leads to factual eternal life.

It's imperative to be unequivocal in affirming the factual content of our belief, even when the facts stretch the boundaries of what we think we know. We don't need to get wound up in internal discussions such as that between Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong and the Rt. Reverend Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, in which Spong accused Williams of pretending to believe in the resurrection and Williams responding that he's really more conservative.

On the other hand it really isn't new news, is it? Even among the earliest Christians there was waffling and stumbling in this matter, according to St. Paul:

"How say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? ... For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, then your faith is in vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also who have fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." (I Corinthians 15:12, 16-19)

Let's do our best not to waffle or stumble when proclaiming the fact of Christ's bodily resurrection. Let's not cave before the demands or ridicule of those who adhere to the limited subset of human knowledge we call science. Yes, the resurrection is a "mystery" -- the Bible even says so. But it's also an awesome fact.

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