Denying The Resurrection

Seattle St. D's - Resurrection - transformedphoto © 2009 Joe Mabel | more info (via: Wylio)

Occasionally I get emails demanding to know my stance on a particular piece of “historic orthodoxy”. People wonder about my view of hell, or who I think Jesus was or if I think there will be a second coming. Since the controversy over Rob Bell’s latest book (which happens to have the same name as our ministry), this has only increased.

To tell you the truth, I think it is a bit funny. After all, I run a ministry for homeless people. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to ask my views on homelessness? But I digress…

So, to answer the title of this entry – do I deny the resurrection of Christ?

I can do no better than to quote Peter Rollins on the subject.

Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…

I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.

However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.

As you might expect, this does not calm the questioners down. They accuse me of not understanding the question. I understand the question perfectly well. I think they are the ones who do not know what they are asking.

So let me be even more clear:

The ancient story is that the most powerful government the world had ever known,Rome, had done the worst thing it could imagine to this man Jesus. They beat him and killed him by the most brutal means at their disposal. Yet and still, the last words on his lips are reported to be his asking God to forgive his killers. On that Friday, the powers of the world said “No” to Jesus and the Kingdom of God he was preaching. If the tomb was empty on that Sunday morning long ago, that was God’s “Yes” to Rome’s “No”. If the tomb was empty, then love overcame power and vindicated Jesus. It means that Jesus was right – the Kingdom of God is at hand, and we are invited to live in it.

If I swear allegiance to this Kingdom, where apparently the dream of God is that it be on Earth as it is in Heaven, then that has implications for how I live. If I pledge allegiance to the USA, it means I should not sell secrets to China. If I pledge allegiance to theKingdomofGod, then I cannot see how I can lend aid and support to the powers that oppose it, such as consumerism, militarism, class disparity and xenophobia.

If I act hateful, or in fact, less than loving to my neighbor, I have denied the resurrection just as surely as my selling state secrets to China denies my allegiance to the USA. I can wave a flag all day, but if I am acting against my country, you can hardly call me a patriot. And I can believe whatever you want about what happened that Sunday morning, but if I am not using what power I have to help God bring the Kingdom into fruition, to help make it on Earth as it is in Heaven, I don’t expect you to call me a Christian.

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21 thoughts on “Denying The Resurrection

  1. RevBug

    Amen, Hugh. Amen. – might not be where you would go, but Paul’s words leapt to mind.
    “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love,” then I deny the resurrection.
    “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love,” then I deny the power of the resurrection.
    “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love,” then I most certainly deny the truest reality of the resurrection.

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  2. Mike

    I don’t understand this. Clearly you understand that they question being asked is “do you believe this doctrine?”. Why not just answer that?

    It’s clear that your position is that what you do is more important than what you believe, but I don’t understand the motivation behind hiding what you believe. What would you lose by telling people the truth?

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  3. Hugh

    Mike-

    Because I have no interest in pretending that God cares more about whether I intellectually agree to a historical fact than whether I love my neighbor as I do myself.

    And if I answer that question the way you want me to, then that feeds into the belief that those things are what matters to God.

    Jesus seems to think they do not.

    “You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said:
    ‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
    in vain do they worship me,
    teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”

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  4. Mike

    “I answer that question the way you want me to, then that feeds into the belief that those things are what matters to God.

    Jesus seems to think they do not.”

    It only seems that Jesus thinks that if you ignore the verses in scripture where Jesus emphasizes belief:

    Jhn 6:29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”

    Jhn 8:24 “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”

    Jhn 11:26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

    Jhn 11:40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

    There are plenty more, but there’s no use in blowing up the comment box. Clearly faith/belief without works is dead, but it seems odd to cherry-pick Jesus’ words to make it appear that what one believes is irrelevant. I sincerely hope that your ministry continues to grow and that you are able to have a positive impact on the homeless here in Raleigh, but I remain confused as to why you would obscure the gospel message along the way.

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  5. Hugh

    As someone who take scholarship seriously, I find it interesting every scripture you quoted was from John, but that is probably a discussion for another day.

    And I thank you for wanting that my ministry continues to have a positive impact.

    However, I question how I am obscuring the gospel message that the Kingdom of God is at hand… In fact, I am pretty adamant about it and have, in fact, given up pretty much everything I once valued for it. And, I am unsure how someone can know me and what I do and read my comments here and be unsure about where I stand.

    If your understanding of the faith is working for you, if it moves you to compassion and mercy and building a more just and peaceful world in which God is glorified, then by all means stay there. But in my experience, arguments like this pitches us into us vs them, which makes us feel better but does nothing to glorify God.

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  6. Mike

    “As someone who take scholarship seriously, I find it interesting every scripture you quoted was from John”

    This implies that John is not reliable, which truly would be another subject for discussion.

    “I question how I am obscuring the gospel message that the Kingdom of God is at hand”

    That one mostly answers itself. When I read the new testament the recurring theme is that God has redeeemed fallen man through the sacrifice of Jesus. I see the central message of the gospel is that man may be saved by calling on the name of Christ. We disagree on what the gospel is.

    “If your understanding of the faith is working for you, if it moves you to compassion and mercy and building a more just and peaceful world in which God is glorified, then by all means stay there.”

    This further demonstrates that we have different gospels. My understanding of the gospel includes an imperative for peace and justice, but it does not place them as the highest priorities. Also, my understanding of the gospel is not founded on personal efficacy.

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  7. Faith Neff

    Mike,

    Then what is your understanding of the Gospel? I do not need to quote the red letters to tell you that it was one of Jesus’ top priorities to call those who followed him into a life of radical peace and justice.

    It is something that is quite misunderstood in this current day and age, with the teachings of the church today, that the Gospel is only for getting to heaven. It isn’t. It is about manifesting the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, thus the very reason that Jesus gave us the prayer that begins with “Our Father”.

    What benefit is the Gospel to people if they cannot hear it over the rumble of their emaciated stomachs and the chill of their bare skin?

    Peace and Justice are exactly the very center and core of the Gospel and as Christians we are to do the works of peace, justice and mercy here on earth, the very essence of Heaven.

    Challenging someone’s understanding of the Gospel and lowering them to a place of misguidedness only serves to bring disunity, unrest, unpeacefulness. It is counter-gospel.

    God’s concern is with the heart of man, not with his mind or intellect.

    I can see how it can be good to have discussions and come to a better understanding of each other’s views and way of thinking, but it does no good to have these when the motives seem to come from a place that is not for any other purpose other than to create dischord.

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  8. Scott

    Mike,
    For me, the preoccupation with believing “that” the resurrection literally happened before one can be considered a Christian is one scary piece of theology. “Believing that” and “believing in” are two entirely different things.

    It seems to me that Hugh certainly believes “in” the resurection because he is inspired by the Gospel message to live out the resurection in his life. Does he believe “that” the resurrection literally happened, that the tomb was empty? Maybe, I don’t know. But how much does a person have to believe “that” a thing happened before his belief is considered enough? Does a person have to be 100% certain that Jesus rose bodily from the grave? I do not believe that kind of certainty is possible about such a distant event. Can a person be 80% sure, or 50%, or what about 20%.

    I contend we can live as faithful Christians by believing “in” Jesus even if we aren’t completely certain about our “beliefs that…”

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  9. Katie Z.

    Thanks so much for sharing Hugh! What a powerful witness to the simple fact that belief must be lived.

    I think what we often miss is that in the ancient world, belief was in no way separated from our actions… the two were one and the same thing. In order to intellectually assent to something, you had to be living it out. That is why the Pharisees were so hypocritical = they only had half of the belief down.

    That is why @RevBug’s reference to Paul is so dead on…

    Throughout the gospels (including the gospel of John) to believe means to change your life. “Repent and believe” – the two must be absolutely connected. Make a complete transformation in what you do as a part of your belief that a) the Kingdom of God is here, b) Christ has come to save us, c) the Resurrection is true… so that your life is aligned with that belief.

    Great discussion!

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  10. Anna

    “And I can believe whatever you want about what happened that Sunday morning, but if I am not using what power I have to help God bring the Kingdom into fruition, to help make it on Earth as it is in Heaven, I don’t expect you to call me a Christian.”

    I agree, but one must also have discernment. As C.S. Lewis said, “The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” Not that I am accusing you of anything of the sort. Just that I agree with your statement on principle, but the implications doesn’t necessarily lead to Heaven on Earth.

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  11. Susan Phillips

    If we do not live lives that reflect G-d’s love and justice, what does it matter what we believe? If we live as though the resurrection does not make a difference in our every day living, does it matter if it happened? How might
    G-d respond to folks who say they believe, but one wouldn’t know it by how they live?

    Peter Rollins has an incisive mind. This post on his blog inspired my Easter 2008 sermon.

    On that cross, the criminal next to Jesus asked to be remembered. Jesus responded, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Apparently Jesus didn’t check the orthodoxy (and didn’t know much of his orthopraxy).

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  12. Roger Smith

    Dear anyone who is on the quest to find out if Hugh believes in/denies the resurrection:

    I’m guessing you missed the earlier point he made (#2), where he rather eloq

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  13. Roger Smith

    Oops — damn “send” button. ;)

    Ahem, what I was saying was: I’m guessing you missed the earlier point he made (#2), where he rather eloquently said, “If the tomb was empty on that Sunday morning long ago, that was God’s “Yes” to Rome’s “No”. If the tomb was empty, then love overcame power and vindicated Jesus. It means that Jesus was right – the Kingdom of God is at hand, and we are invited to live in it.” or later (#5) where he referred to the resurrection as a “historical fact”. The matter-of-factness of those brief comments might be a good indicator of what you’re concerned about.

    Meanwhile, if I have all my theological ducks in a row, and have not love, then my ducks still leave a trail of duck poo. What good is spitshined, letter-perfect doctrine if it isn’t showing up in this world by loving people? Nobody cares if I have a sticker on my car that says, “I love Jesus”, but they do care if they see Jesus loving them through me; and they don’t need a sticker to confirm that.

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  14. Steve Pinkham

    Any version of Christianity which doesn’t take Matthew 25:31-46 seriously is just plain wrong.

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+25%3A31-46&version=NIV

    As Keith Green so clearly points out, “And my friends, the only difference between the sheep and the goats, according to this scripture, is what they did, and didn’t do!!”

    Yes, according to other passages in the Bible, faith is important, but it is equally clear that faith without works is dead, and that those works shouldn’t be limited just to serving other church members.

    Jesus spent much of his ministry railing against the Pharisees. If you don’t agree with Hugh, please consider if you and most of the American churches are more like Jesus or more like the Pharisees. It’s obvious to everyone outside the American church already.

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  15. Ron Amundson

    Are the comments legit, or are you trying to demonstrate how Jesus talked in parables and the Pharisee’s continually missed the point? If some of the comments are fake or folks just playing along, I applaud the creativity of using blog comments as a teaching tool. If they are from real people, and real beliefs, I dont even want to go there.

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    1. Hugh Post author

      Ron – those are real comments. I am not creative enough to come up with the idea of comments as a teaching tool…

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  16. Will

    Pretty powerful stuff. Your message–what we do tells us what we believe–goes straight back to James. The message of James, I don’t think, was that we must PROVE somehow that we love God, to Him, to ourselves, or to anyone else. But we can pretty much tell what we really believe–what we REALLY believe–at any given moment by how we are behaving. What happens in reality is more important than what happens in our heads (because it reflects what is happening in our spirit). We do not deny the role of the Spirit of God inside of us, and the reality of the life of Romans 7. But out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.

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  17. John Wagnon

    Folks, I don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ. Some might insist I am an atheist. But Hugh makes me wonder whether being a Christian might be worthwhile after all.

    This probably doesn’t help support Hugh with his Christian colleagues. Maybe quite the opposite. But I will say that Hugh reminds me more of Jesus than countless others who invoke his name.

    Where can I write you a check, Hugh?

    John.

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  18. Wayne Buckhanan

    Hugh,

    As I shared this post, I asked “Do you see the Bible in black&white, shades of grey, or full color? This post, and your reaction to it, will help answer that — if you understand the question(s).”

    There are definitely b/w parts, like love the Lord with all your heart/mind/soul/*strength* and love your neighbor as yourself and all have sinned and fallen short. These help to clearly mark out in broad, bold strokes the boundaries to be filled with the full spectrum of love in all its shades and hues.

    Thank you for your part in acting/ministering, being an example, and your part in prompting more Christian action through your words as well!

    Reply

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