This post is part of April’s Synchroblog.
What if Christ did not rise?
The stock answer, of course, is straight out of 1 Corinthians 15: in that case, our faith is futile and we are of all men most to be pitied. Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.
I have no difficulty with Paul’s answer there. It is born of Paul’s long reflection on Jesus and what He means, and there is deep wisdom in it. However, for many conservative evangelicals, quoting Paul’s answer is not an indication of deep wisdom and reflection. It has become a stock answer, a thing we can say that prevents us from thinking about the topic any further. It’s like looking up the answer to an equation in the back of a math book: you can know x=3.5 without being any good at algebra. However accurate the answer may be, though, just parroting it without thought is not the path to wisdom.
The path to wisdom is working through the problem yourself.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then He is not alive now. The last people to see Him before He died were the last people to see Him, ever; the thing He said before He died was the last thing He said, ever. He did not appear to the eleven. Not only did He not appear to various people in Judea and Galilee in the weeks following the crucifixion, He also did not appear to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road. Saul remained, to the end of his days, a devotee of Gamaliel in the school of Hillel. As he grew older, Saul wrote, of course, as brilliant rabbis are wont to do, and some of his works are preserved in the Jewish community to this day.
If Jesus is not presently alive, then He did not make His presence known to, for example, Anthony Bloom. Bloom recounts his conversion experience:
I asked my mother whether she had a book of the Gospel, because I wanted to know whether the Gospel would support the monstrous impression I had derived from this talk. I expected nothing good from my reading, so I counted the chapters of the four Gospels to be sure that I read the shortest, not to waste time unnecessarily. And thus it was the Gospel according to St Mark which I began to read.
I do not know how to tell you of what happened. I will put it quite simply and those of you who have gone through a similar experience will know what came to pass. While I was reading the beginning of St Mark’s gospel, before I reached the third chapter, I became aware of a presence. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. It was no hallucination. It was a simple certainty that the Lord was standing there and that I was in the presence of him whose life I had begun to read with such revulsion and such ill-will.
This was my basic and essential meeting with the Lord. From then I knew that Christ did exist. I knew that he was thou, in other words that he was the Risen Christ. I met with the core of the Christian message, that message which St Paul formulated so sharply and clearly when he said, ‘If Christ is not risen we are the most miserable of all men’. Christ was the Risen Christ for me, because if the One Who had died nearly 2000 years before was there alive, he was the Risen Christ. I discovered then something absolutely essential to the Christian message — that the Resurrection is the only event of the Gospel which belongs to history not only past but also present. Christ rose again, twenty centuries ago, but he is the Risen Christ as long as history continues. Only in the light of the Resurrection did everything else make sense to me. Because Christ was alive and I had been in his presence I could say with certainty that what the Gospel said about the Crucifixion of the prophet of Galilee was true, and the centurion was right when he said, ‘Truly he is the Son of God’. It was in the light of the Resurrection that I could read with certainty the story of the Gospel, knowing that everything was true in it because the impossible event of the Resurrection was to me more certain than any event of history.
But if Jesus is not alive, that didn’t happen. Bloom remained an angry young Marxist, and as angry young Marxists tend to, he found some problem or another in the Gospel of Mark and discarded it.
Of course, if Jesus is not alive, the last Mark ever saw of Jesus, soldiers were surrounding Him, and Mark was fleeing naked for his life. He never wrote the Gospel of Mark — what could he use for an ending?
If Jesus did not rise, He did not ascend to the Father, and if He did not ascend to the Father, He did not send the Holy Spirit. Pentecost never happened, and the signs Mark promised would follow those who believe did not happen, and we, today, do not hear God’s voice through the Holy Spirit or look to Him for intervention either.
If Jesus did not rise, biblical prophecy and proclamation is dead. Micah predicted the place, Daniel predicted the time, Isaiah predicted the manner of His coming. Jesus fulfilled every expectation…and then died prematurely, never to rise. The God Jesus called Father set the whole thing up, but then He couldn’t, or wouldn’t, get it done. Of course the gospels and epistles were never written. Why would God let the whole thing collapse like that? Maybe He ran out of power. Maybe He just lost interest in us — who knows?
Of course, this would not necessarily stop us from choosing to live by the principles of the Scriptures, such as they would be. We could still live our lives by a biblical moral code — or try to. We might have to gloss over some of the tougher bits, but that’s easy enough to do, isn’t it? We could still have church services with music and teaching about the content of the Bible, just like we do now. We would not be the Body of Christ, of course, because He is not alive. But we could still operate organizations and churches; there would just be no underlying unity that holds us all together. We could still give money to support pastors and missionaries. We could still have seminaries and Bible colleges. What would we study? What would we talk about? Plenty.
We could still talk about the great miracles of the past: creation, the Red Sea, the raising of Lazarus. We could still talk about how God spoke to great men in the past like Moses, giving him powerful principles for living well, or Samuel, helping him to lead Israel to victory over the Philistines. Once upon a time, God was really something; He really did act in the affairs of men. When He spoke, the fates of nations hung in the balance. Once upon a time.
But that was before He hung Jesus out to dry. That one failure changes everything. After that, how do you trust God to intervene in your life today? Why would you even want Him to speak to you today? After He set us up to expect the Messiah, and sent Jesus, in every way fulfilling our expectations, and then allowed Him to die prematurely and descend into the grave forever — well, if He could betray His own prophets, His own people, His own Messiah in that way, then we certainly couldn’t trust Him with our lives.
So we wouldn’t. With no Pentecost and no Holy Spirit, we wouldn’t even expect Him to show up, much less to do or say anything to us. We could not expect God to speak to us. We would not expect to feel His presence — or value it if we did. He wrote a book, once upon a time, and that’s as good as it’s going to get. We’d just go on living by the principles. Disagreements about the principles, of course, would balloon into huge fights — without the Body of Christ and the Holy Spirit, what have we got, besides agreement on some common principles? So we’d huddle up with some folks we agree with on the principles, and hope that as we grow in wisdom over time, we’ll get better at living them out, and that would be it.
But it would take God betraying us to make us live like that…right?
And the Synchroblog link list:
- Marta – On Faith Seeking Understanding, Truth, and Theology
- Carol Kuniholm – Risen Indeed? The Hermeneutic Community
- Tim Nichols – How Would Life be Different if Jesus did not Rise?
- Glenn – Kingdom Come or Kingdom Now?
- Sonja Andrews – The Resurrection and the Life
- Josh Morgan – The Role of the Resurrection
- Abbie Watters – What if the Resurrection were a lie?
- Minnow – Resurrection Impact
- Leah – Resurrection – Or Not!
- Hey Sonnie – The Resurrection Hoax
- Liz Dyer – The Resurrection I Firmly Believe In
- Ellen Haroutunian – Is There a Christianity Without the Resurrection?
- Jeannette Altes – What if…
- Christine Sine – If the Resurrection did not happen, how would the world be different?
- KW Leslie – Supposing Jesus is Dead
- Travis Mamone – If the Resurrection was a Hoax
- Kathy Escobar – Jenga Faith
- Jeremy Myers – What if Jesus Did not Rise?
to make us live like that…
Benny Hinn: “My, you know, whoosh! The Holy Ghost is just showing me some stuff. I’m getting dizzy! I’m telling you the truth-it’s, it’s just heavy right now on me…”
Thanks for your kind words.
A while back I invested quite a lot of time and attention in you, on the strength of some mutual friends assuring me that you weren’t a waste of time. Maybe you aren’t for them, but I’ve seen little reason to think the experience was productive for either you or me. I care about you, brother, but I have no illusions left about my ability to help you, and I’m through playing. If you have something cogent to say, get to it. If you’re going to start a fight, throw down. If you’re just going to shuck and jive, go away.
Living by the principles of scripture–or “If Jesus did not rise, biblical prophecy and proclamation is dead.” thanks for posting; Christ is risen, alleluia!
I think I’ve about exhausted anything more I could say here that would be cogent. But could you give me some advice? If one wanted, through prayer, to have a Close Encounter of the Seventh Kind (CE7) with God–I mean really “know” God in intimate existential relationship–what would be more conducive for such an experience? Prayer shawls? Labyrinths? Mandalas? Novenas? I don’t know much about Prayer Paraphernalia (PP), but since Anthony Bloom was such a renowned authority and pioneer in the means and methods of mystical experience, did he have any PP preferences or recommendations for enhanced CE7’s? Also, did Bloom use the hesychast method of Palamas?
If only I had been born more Orthodox I could be that much closer to my divinization! Little did I know that God’s faith in me never wavers. Blessed assurance!
Alright, I won’t bother you anymore. But if I think of anything cogent to say I’ll get back with you, okay? In the meantime may we all stay prayed up and use the right gear!
I know you’re not serious, but I’m going to go ahead and answer you seriously. I couldn’t answer your questions about Bloom specifically; I never met him and have only read a few essays by him. If he’s like the EO folks I know, he didn’t use anything more sophisticated than a prayer rope. He certainly would have sided with Palamas against Barlaam, as every good Christian ought to do — the crux of the controversy was/is whether it is possible to know God as a person (Palamas) or whether God is unknowable except as a thought experiment (Barlaam).
As to gaining personal experience relating to God, you might forget about the gear for a bit and just try humbly asking. It worked for me.
To all my conservative evangelical scholastic brethren who value the intellect above all and sneer at spiritual formation or anything else that embraces actual experience of God (I won’t name names; you know very well who you are): This is what your teaching produces, guys. People who desperately need to know God as a friend, and are utterly scornful of any path that might take them there, to the point of openly sneering at prayer [EDIT: and sneering at God’s provision for a man like Anthony Bloom, who probably would never have believed apart from the way God divinely intervened in his life – see below]. If you won’t repent for your own sakes, repent for the sake of people like Gary, who take your teaching more seriously than you do, and know far less of God because of it.
p.s., and to think, as you say, that “if Jesus is not alive, that (Bloom’s encounter) didn’t happen.”
Poignant words, Tim…a sobering thought indeed!
But since we know without a doubt it DID happen, we can be absolutely certain of the resurrection as well. Hallelujah!
Ah, Gary. Bloom knew, and that was the point. As did St. Paul, for similar reasons.
If you don’t mind, I want to clarify what I meant by my previous comment, lest someone misunderstand me. My fault–I should have spoken more plainly to begin with.
You said: “But if Jesus is not alive, that didn’t happen.”
But it depends upon what “that” really is, Tim. In your misguided and persistent attempt to validate mystical experience and make it the sine qua non of saving faith, you are making a false and VERY misleading statement here. As I’m sure you know, it’s a logical fallacy called “begging the question.” All we actually have here is a CLAIM to a mystical encounter with the risen Christ, and the truth is, contrary to what you say, Bloom (or anyone else) CAN make such a claim even “if Jesus is not alive.” So your statement is FALSE–it CAN and DOES happen all the time in this world that people make claims to subjective experiences that have no connection whatsoever to truth and reality. Benny Hinn is a great example of this very thing, and that’s why I quoted him above (yes, that’s a quote of something he routinely says). Hinn has made himself a fortune preying on desperate and gullible people. Spiritually speaking, he has committed heinous crimes against humanity on a scale perhaps unprecedented in world history–all in the name of Christ. And what are his means of deceiving and fleecing the sheep? False claims of of mystical experience and miracle working power from God, that’s what!!Using the same twisted logic you use regarding Bloom, we could just as well say of Hinn: “But if Jesus is not alive, Benny Hinn could not heal people and perform miracles in His Name”! But of course we know what Jesus said about that sort of thing:
“Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves…not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your Name, and done many wonders in Your Name?’ And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” Matt. 7:15, 21-23
Sorry Tim, but I just can’t let you slip that one by us.. If you are so determined to prove the validity of mystical experience and that it’s the true sine qua non of saving faith, you’re going to have to do better than that my friend. It was a good try though.
p.s., I just saw your last comment comparing Bloom to Paul. I’ll address that later when I have time, although I’ve already addressed the issue of Paul and your false claims that he had a mystical encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. I remember being very disappointed that you never even bothered to respond to my comments at that time. But I certainly understood why! One step at at time.
Glad to have you clarify. I appreciate it. Before we talk about Bloom, let me say that I don’t remember dropping out of an exchange about Paul, but if I did, please show me where and I’ll happily pick it back up. No sense in you re-writing an argument if you already wrote it somewhere and I just passed over it.
Regarding Bloom: Question-begging happens when one of the premises turns out to be the thing to be proved. Had I been attempting to prove the validity of Bloom’s mystical experience, and then assumed it without argument, I would have been begging the question. My conclusion, though, was a point about the way we live and how we fail to take advantage of our birthright in Christ — including such experiences, when God is pleased to give them. If you want the argument (loosely) boiled down to bare statements, how about this:
Premise 1: God continues to give direct mystical experience to people today (Bloom as a specific example).
Premise 2: Many of His children fail to listen, and therefore fail to experience Him.
Conclusion: Many of His children live impoverished lives with far less input from their Father than they could have.
You may not like one of my premises, but that doesn’t make me guilty of a fallacy. It just means you don’t find the argument persuasive because you don’t agree with one of the premises. You assumed without argument that Benny Hinn’s claims are false, then used that premise in an argument for your conclusion. Is that question-begging? Of course not. You have to start somewhere; that’s a place you chose to start. I assume you stand ready to back your premise, if I cared to challenge it. Same here.
Surely we agree that a real modern-day encounter with the living Christ could not have happened if Christ were still in the grave. The reasoning there holds up fine; you just don’t want to concede the validity of Bloom’s experience. Okay. So what’s your position here? Do you deny that Bloom met the risen Christ? If so, why? Or are you simply doubtful? And if so, again, why?
Your original statement: “But if Jesus is not alive, that didn’t happen.”
“Surely we agree that a real modern-day encounter with the living Christ could not have happened if Christ were still in the grave. ”
YES, we agree on this, but the key word here is “real.”
But the problem with your statement (from my viewpoint) is that it appears to make the subtle inference that the opposite is equally true, as in, “But, of course, since we know Christ IS alive, therefore it follows that Bloom’s encounter must have been “real”–it was a true experience of the risen Christ.” But obviously that conclusion does NOT “follow.” The fact that Christ is alive proves nothing in regard to Bloom’s claim of having a “real” encounter.
This is what I meant. But (whew!) this is a real mind-twister isn’t it? I’m starting to get a headache! 🙂
Is this clear to you? You would agree with what I’m saying here wouldn’t you?
1) If we knew Christ is DEAD it would PROVE that Bloom’s claim to a real encounter is FALSE.
2) But if we know Christ is ALIVE it would NOT prove that Bloom’s claim is TRUE.
–““But if Jesus is not alive, that didn’t happen”–
So my problem with your statement is that it has the effect of tricking the mind into thinking that if Christ is alive it somehow lends validity to the truth of Bloom’s claim, when, in fact, it does NOT. But that just means that Bloom’s claim CANNOT be validated or proven since mystical/subjective experience is NOT OPEN to EITHER verification OR falsification on ANY objective/rational basis–not even for the one having the experience. That’s always been the inherent problem of basing one’s relationship with God on subjective/mystical experience as opposed to the objection/rational word of God recorded in scripture. It all comes down to a question of final authority for a believer–experience or scripture? This is a fundamentally critical decision that everyone must sooner or later make.
Tim: “So what’s your position here? Do you deny that Bloom met the risen Christ? If so, why? Or are you simply doubtful? And if so, again, why?”
My position: It is in the very nature of mystical experience that there is NO RATIONAL BASIS for even DISCUSSING it, much less confirming OR denying it. Therein lies the problem with mystical experience, and therein lies the DANGER of it… “For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light…”
“Francis Schaeffer predicted that the “new theology” would lead to mysticism. Karl Rahner showed the truth in Schaeffer’s prediction when he wrote “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or he or she will not exist at all…By mysticism we mean a genuine experience of God emerging from the very heart of our existence.” But Schaeffer had a different definition of mysticism than Rahner’s: “Mysticism is nothing more than a faith contrary to rationality, deprived of content and incapable of communication. You can bear witness to it but you cannot discuss it.” (The God Who Is There–p 61)
Footnote on Schaeffer’s use of the expression “new theology”:
“Schaeffer seems to have used the phrase broadly to avoid clumsiness in his discussion of how modern shifts in philosophies have effected theology. The expression new theology as Schaeffer uses it, encompasses neo-orthodoxy, strongly rationalistic liberal theology, theologies following Kierkegaard’s leap of faith, and theologies following in the footsteps of the religious existentialism of Heidegger. Since Manning and the contemplatives drink from all of these fountains, I have used this expression.”
Perhaps Tim will forgive me for wondering if there’s any connection between all this and his claim that giving a rational and intelligible definition/explanation of saving faith is “like trying to explain a rainbow to a blind man.” Just wondering Tim. After all, you and Jim have both claimed that a complete change in epistemology is required before one can even begin to “understand” (=experience) your present views on saving faith, and that to even ASK the question of WHAT (=propositional content) a person must believe is not only “the wrong question”, but a question that “deserves a hearty rebuke.”
By goe on Unashamed of Grace, at Sunday, August 14, 2011 11:13:00 AM
Dude, you’re attributing to me a logical error that is entirely in your own mind. I just wasn’t arguing that Jesus’ resurrection validates Bloom’s experience. I just didn’t say that, or anything that even sounds like that. I said that if Jesus didn’t rise, then Bloom’s (assumed real) experience didn’t happen. That’s all I said. You wanted me to be arguing the point that you care about (the validity of present mystical experience), and are responding as though I were — but I wasn’t. I certainly have talked about that in other places, and we’re probably headed for another round of that, but that’s not the argument I was making there. If I argue for the validity of Bloom’s experience, you’ll know it — there won’t be anything subtle about it.
Re. mysticism, I just can’t figure out how you maintain your position. Either you have actual experience of God acting in your life, a real, personal relationship in which there is real two-way communication and discernible effect, or you don’t. If you don’t, then God doesn’t make a difference in your life — it’s just a thought experiment for you, however comforting it may be. In that case, you’re just a dude reading a book, and you’ve missed both the central promises and the whole point of the Christian faith. If you do, then what are you arguing with me about?
Regarding this: “Perhaps Tim will forgive me for wondering if there’s any connection between all this and his claim that giving a rational and intelligible definition/explanation of saving faith is ‘like trying to explain a rainbow to a blind man.'”
Now who’s building a straw man?
I’m sorry to say it , but ever since I’ve been involved with you, either here, at Sanc’s, or Unashamed of Grace, you’ve continually proven yourself to be little more than an utterly disingenuous and evasive cheap shot artist. I’m sick and tired of having to take so many XX BC powders for the migraine’s I inevitably get running in circles with you. When I have time I want to briefly address just a couple of your more recent and typical low blows and then I’m done with you. You make ludicrous, arrogant and empty promises of a “spiritual feast at your banquet table” and invariably deliver nothing but hot air and cotton candy laced with “pharmaceutical ether”–with a generous dash of arsenic thrown in for good measure. As Yogi use to say: “This is just deja vu all over again.”
Nothing disingenuous about it. I assumed the validity of Bloom’s experience without argument, because that was a premise in another argument I was making. You want to contest the premise, we can talk about that. Accusing me of evasion and logical fallacies is neither accurate nor the way to get us to the discussion you’re trying to have. You want to start over? We could start with “How are we to think about an account like Bloom’s?”
Hi Gary and Tim,
I have gotten into asking Gary why can’t there be mystical experience of God that compliments the truth of God’s Word? The problem with an example of Benny Hinn is that he uses “experiences of God” robbing discipleship with Jesus to take advantage of the simple. Can we pick a believer who has an agreeably high view of scripture? Someone who won’t interpret truth from experiences, yet validate experiences that accompany the believing of it?
Tim is trying to ask you Gary to select a more reasonable example. He is also assuming that most Christ-followers who have a high view of scripture usually don’t consciously suspect their own experiences of mystical oneness with God. Testimonies actually help spread the gospel, though they don’t replace it. Paul used his mystical experience with Jesus often in Acts to persuade his listeners about Jesus Christ and his ministry.
Tim: Gary is trying to ask if you understand how your post seems to him at least, to promote experience at the expense of truth. Is there any risk involved in making much of experiences? Could it ever lead the immature astray? What safeguards would you use from scripture to prevent someone majoring on experience at the cost of truth? How do we help an immature believer know in himself when he’s started to make that shift? The shift where experiences are no longer complimenting the truth about Jesus but dismantling it?
Christianity is a religion of profound experience, founded on experience. The three saw Jesus transfigured on Mt. Tabor, thereby confirming the prophetic word (1 Pet. 1:16-20). The twelve (and Paul) saw the risen Christ with their own eyes. The believers in the upper room experienced the outpouring of the Spirit, with the empowerment that conferred. When Paul wrote Scripture, he appealed repeatedly to experience — of the deep past, like Abraham’s and David’s experience (Rom. 4), and of the immediate present, like the Galatian believers’ experience (Gal.3:1-5).
Not only does Scripture appeal to experience, Scripture is regularly an account of experience. A sizable portion of the Bible was received in visionary revelation — Revelation, for example, is John reporting his experience of his vision. John’s and Matthew’s gospels are reports of their experience. Mark and Luke are reporting on others’ experience, as is Paul in 1 Cor 15:5-7 (and then his own experience in v. 8). And so on.
Now yes, it’s true that appeal to experience can be done badly, and often has been. But this is just to say that counterfeits exist — which ought not to surprise us. After all, we do have an enemy, and he does seek to steal, kill and destroy. Big deal — we’re called to be adults and exercise discernment to tell good from evil. That happens by doing it (Heb. 5:14), so let’s get cracking. Even if you don’t believe that visionary revelation and prophetic words occur today, they certainly did in the NT times, and people had to know how to tell whether it was from God or from a demon. Scripture gives us ways to discern what sort of experience we are having — which is where I am headed with my question (my last comment, above) on how we should think of Bloom’s experience.
I don’t agree with you that Gary is concerned with promoting experience at the expense of truth. My read is that Gary has a problem with promoting experience under any circumstances whatever — although I’d be happy to find that I’m wrong about that.
My concern is promoting “truth” apart from experience. If you have the Scriptures, but no experience, then you the same thing Saul of Tarsus had, the same thing the Pharisees had — which is not particularly helpful. These writings were founded in experience, testify of experience, and exist in order to change our experience and bring us into personal communion with God. If none of that is happening in a person’s life, then he simply doesn’t know the Bible. He may study the Bible, recite endless trivia about the Bible, have degrees in the Bible — all of that. But he doesn’t know the Bible or the God who wrote it.