There are 2 dangers that threaten to derail those who believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Ironically, they are on the opposite ends of each other. Each emphasizing what the other downplays.
The danger of fact.
On the one hand you can err when you overemphasize the fact of the resurrection. This typically happens when you want to convince your audience of the historicity of the incident.
You get annoyed when people say: “You can’t know these things for sure. You just have to believe it”. Even more so when Christians utter this nonsense.
You know very well that there are ample compelling evidence to build a clinical, rational case for the literal resurrection of Christ. If people would only leave their flimsy faith behind and take the trouble of actually employing their brains, they would also come to the conclusion, that – as philosophers would say – the more reasonable explanation is in fact that Jesus conquered death.
The problem with this approach is that, if you’re not careful, it leaves very little appeal on one’s life. It is as if your theology boils down to: “Never mind that you live a life void of love. As long as you believe the fact of the resurrection, you are ok.”
The result is a church full of people believing on a cognitive level that the resurrection really occurred, but the claim has zero effect on their daily lives. It leaves them “cold”, so to say.
The danger of feeling.
The second danger comes into play when you overemphasize feeling. A typical example that all of us have heard is: “It does not matter if Jesus was raised 1000 times. If He has not been raised in your heart, He has not been raised at all.”
This kind of preaching is called “Experiential Preaching” and it started occurring during the Dutch Second Reformation, in reaction to the dry and lifeless preaching arising out of post-Reformation scholasticism.
Theologians such as Dr Klaas Schilder, wrote during the 1920’s through to the 1940’s about the imbalances of his time. He was critical of the tendency of individualism and inwardness, found in the sermons of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands. Schilder complained that the experiential preaching emphasizes the feelings of personal religious experience, rather than the facts of salvation history. He warned against psychologizing the Bible.
With regards to the resurrection, the pitfall would typically be to emphasize that Jesus’ resurrection must bring new life in yourself. Whether there is any historical basis for the claim of the resurrection is irrelevant. The important thing is that Jesus is “raised” in you.
Listening to Paul.
We would do well if we listen to Paul. He steered his theology safely between the two outposts.
For those of us who tend to overemphasize the fact of the resurrection, and neglect the the claim that it leaves on our lives, we need to hear Galations 2:20 …
“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”
For those of us who tend to overemphasize the spiritual resurrection and neglect the literal, we need to hear 1 Corinthians 15:17 …
“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile”
Paul manages to balance the two truths. Or rather, he emphasizes both – without neglecting the other.
My personal journey.
For three years, from around 1998 up until 2000, I found it increasingly difficult to believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead. For several reasons I just could not get myself to accept on a rational level, Christ’s bodily resurrection. I guess you could say I fell in “unbelief”. At a certain stage I distinctly remember considering myself as an agnostic.
Although some would say the period of unbelief was brief, it was dreadfully intense for me. Remember, I set out to become a pastor. And there I was losing my faith… It was gut wrenching to say the least.
In time I came across some world-renowned scholars, and I found intellectual answers for the most important questions that I had. Slowly but surely a renewed faith in the risen Jesus, started to grow. In my first pastorage, for the first couple of years, I only stressed the fact of the resurrection. I knew how easy it was to fall prey to cynicism. So, I stacked one fact on the other on why it is reasonable to believe in the resurrection.
I ministered out of my own wound. And in the process I totally underplayed that Jesus’ resurrection had a claim on our lives…
I think all my encounters in ministry with people who suffer from addictions – as well as my own inability in kicking bad (and sometimes sinful) habits through sheer willpower, brought me to the realization that Jesus’ resurrection, ought to mean something more practical for me.
And then, one specific day, I discovered a New Testament truth that was there all along. Although I’ve heard it before, it was as if a penny had dropped: I was not supposed to try and live for Christ. I was supposed to let Him live through me. Up until now, I had not allowed Him to be raised in me…
I was not supposed to try and live for Christ. I was supposed to let Him live through me.
Ever since this is my new story. Though the wound of my unbelief in the literal resurrection of Christ has since healed, the scar is still there. I believe this safeguards me against ever underplaying the historicity of the event. The scar will always be there as a reminder of how important the fact of the resurrection is.
But if we stop at the mere fact of the resurrection, we are spiritually poor. Jesus has so much more to offer. He wants to bestow His Life in us…
Perhaps your story is that you are currently stuck at the fact of the resurrection. Perhaps you find it incomprehensible that people in the 21st century can believe in a literal, bodily resurrection of Christ. And perhaps you are curious enough to read why intellectual people would want to do this. If that’s the case, then I will gladly recommend two resources.
The first is “The Resurrection Of The Son Of God” by N.T. Wright. Tom Wright is arguably to the 21st century what C.S. Lewis was for the 20th. He is a New Testament scholar who is held in high regard, both by believers and unbelievers alike . It dawned on me that if such an intellectual giant can believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus, I can too.
The second book is “The Resurrection Of Jesus” by Michael Licona. Licona follows a clean, clinical historiographical approach regarding the events surrounding the resurrection. After presenting the evidence, he draws a compelling conclusion which can withstand rigorous scrutiny.