The $20,000.00 question is, and always will be, “Did Jesus die and come back to life?”
To your right, you see a screenshot of Bishop John Shelby Spong. He’s an Episcopal bishop who’s made a name for himself by condemning much of what evangelical believers subscribe to as basic tenants of their creed; the Resurrection and the inerrancy of Scripture being among them.
Speaking about the Resurrection, he says:
At its very core the story of Easter has nothing to do with angelic announcements or empty tombs. It has nothing to do with time periods, whether three days, forty days, or fifty days. It has nothing to do with resuscitated bodies that appear and disappear or that finally exit this world in a heavenly ascension.1
In his book, “Resurrection: Myth or Reality,” he says:
If the resurrection of Jesus cannot be believed except by assenting to the fantastic descriptions included in the Gospels, then Christianity is doomed. For that view of resurrection is not believable, and if that is all there is, then Christianity, which depends upon the truth and authenticity of Jesus’ resurrection, also is not believable.2
Couple those statements with the substance of the interview featured in the youtube video to the right, and you’ve got a version of Christianity devoid of the virgin birth, the Resurrection of Christ and much of the miraculous dynamics communicated in Scripture.
What Bishop Spong wants to suggest is that the vast majority of Scripture is fiction which includes the whole gospel narrative. In short, Jesus’ Resurrection never happened.
If Jesus didn’t rise from the grave, then all religions are basically the same in that you’ve got your one principal character and a collection of various behaviors and expectations. They may differ to some extent, but it boils down to pretty much the same kind of thing.
If Christ did rise and come back to life, then He validated everything He ever said as being absolutely True and everything the Bible articulates in terms of sin, grace and redemption are now religious tenets that are as distinctive as they are unchanging.
This is why not all religions are the same. As a matter of fact, should you talk to an orthodox Muslim, they’ll let you know in no uncertain terms that Christianity is especially heinous because of the way they believe that Christ was another prophet and anyone who subscribes to the idea that He died and rose again is cursed.
“The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!” (sura 9:30) (see also Coexist…/)
So, again, if the Resurrection did happen, then that’s a gamechanger and you can’t logically subscribe to the idea that everyone’s headed in the same spiritual direction, they’re just using different maps. Either Christ is Who He claimed to be and proved it by dying and coming back to life or He didn’t. If He didn’t, then it doesn’t matter. But if He did, then nothing else matters.
…and that includes bogus doctrine coming from the mouths of guys like this. Look, if hell doesn’t exist then there’s really no need for Judgment (Heb 9:27). And if there’s no Judgment, then what’s the problem with sin? And if sin isn’t an issue, you certainly don’t need grace and if grace is off the screen then why did Christ die?
Granted, we weren’t there to take selfies of us standing next to Jesus as He emerged from the empty tomb. We’ve got to base our faith on 2,000 years worth of art, architecture, archeology, literature and history along with two millemiums of dramatically changed lives. All of that, of course, is based on Truth of Scripture. This gentleman doesn’t subscribe to the inerrancy of God’s Word. If He sees it as Inspired at all, he’ll assert that’s it’s been corrupted over the years, hence the substance of his argument.
Here’s the thing: If God went to the trouble of initiating all the content in Scripture (2 Tim 3:16-17), do you really think He would allow it to be dilluted or compromised? Do you really think He would be that careless? And if you want to believe that it’s just a big marketing campaign used by religious authorities to fool the masses, than it’s one pathetic recruiting tool. I mean, who wants to “deny themselves” (Lk 9:23)?
The Bible is the best and most well attested work of antiquity in all of ancient literature. When you hold a Bible in your hands, you can be confident that you’re holding the Word of God as it was dictated to the various authors over the centuries it was compiled. Whether you’re looking at the Old Testament and considering the extreme degree of diligence that was used to copy and preserve the text or the criteria used to identify the credibility of an apostle in the New Testament – taken together, it is truly phenomenal the way the Bible was written, preserved and championed. To read more about this see “The Accuracy of Scripture | Part One: The Old Testament” and “The Accuracy of Scripture | Part Two: The New Testament.”
All this to say, the “gospel” is a word that literally means, “good news.” It’s awesome! It’s not about guilt, it’s about grace. The emphasis is not so much the penalty of sin as much as it’s the fact that the penalty’s been paid. Do you smell that? That’s the aroma of something incredible! But it fails to resonate as such as long as you’ve got guys like this who want to reduce hell, heaven, grace, the crucifixion and the sobering realities of God’s Wrath to something that doesn’t exist. If it wasn’t real, then the whole point of Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection is moot.
But He was born, He did live, He did die, and He did rise!
1. Bishop John Shelby Spong, Resurrection: Myth or Reality? (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1994), p. 12.
2. Ibid, p. 238.
For more info about John Spong, click here.