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Cynicism about Jesus as an Easter 'treat'

By Spencer Gear - posted Wednesday, 4 April 2018

If you walked into an Aussie supermarket before Easter, what were some of the suckers to entice us to buy? They don't promote paintings, mosaics, murals, Bibles and Christian literature about Jesus' crucifixion or the empty tomb with a weeping Mary outside it. The bunnies, eggs and chocolate are big commercial business. According to News Limited, in 2016 Australians spent $3 billion at Easter. It was a similar figure in 2014.

You might say: Come on! Don't be so ridiculous as to expect Australian secular people to support the original meaning of Easter. We are into chocolate and not that religious stuff! Besides, religion is on the nose!

If writers want to nit pick at or condemn Jesus Christ and Christianity, they especially choose two seasons important to Christians – Easter and Christmas.


Days before Easter 2014, Kimberly Winston wrote an article that aimed at one of the core teachings of Christianity and was published in a religious magazine: 'Can you question the Resurrection and still be a Christian?' (The National Catholic Reporter, April 17). Then Winston proceeded to question the nature of the resurrection of Jesus.

Prophets of doom published this kind of information when leading to Easter 2015 and 2016:

  • Atheistic writer, David Fitzgerald, questioned the origin of Christianity, 'It appears that early Christianity managed to take the stories from these other faiths and incorporate them into the story of Jesus' (Daily Mail Australia, 3 April
  • The Sydney Morning Herald columnist, Elizabeth Farrelly, wrote, 'Could Jesus have actually been a woman?' In it she proposed, 'The familiar depictions of Jesus as a man could be, simply, wrong. I've argued before that God, if we're to have just one, should be un-gendered. Christ, however, is essentially embodied. Indeed, he could be hermaphroditic or intersex…. The church's exile of women is surely itself a heresy, exiling Jesus' (April 1, 2015).
  • 'Was Jesus really nailed to a cross?' (Conversation, March 17, 2016).

Are Winston's issues with the resurrection consistent with biblical and other evidence?

Her concern was that many Christians struggle with the literal versus metaphorical understanding of the resurrection. 'How literally must one take the Gospel story of Jesus' triumph to be called a Christian?' Is it possible to understand the resurrection as metaphor (or perhaps reject that it happened at all) and still claim to follow Christ?

1. Some issues with Winston's exposé of the resurrection

These are common targets for Easter debunkers of Christianity:


a. The one-sided agenda of this journalist

This is seen at the outset by the choice of authors of each view. It seemed to be balanced because Winston cited two people supporting each side.

However, (a) who are the supporters of the literal and bodily resurrection of Jesus? Light-weight people were chosen: Father James Martin, an author, and a youth pastor of a house church, Reg Rivett;

(b) To promote the symbolic / metaphorical resurrection, she chose two heavy-weight scholars in the field, Professor Scott Korb and controversial retired Episcopalian bishop, John Shelby Spong.

Where were resurrection scholars such as Wolfhart Pannenberg, Gary Habermas, N T Wright and Norman L Geisler to support the bodily resurrection?

Fr Martin is a New York Times best selling author who wrote, Becoming Who You Are (2006); Jesus: A Pilgrimage(2014); Seven Last Words (2016); and In All Seasons, For All Reasons (2017). However, he's not a resurrection specialist and no evidence for a bodily resurrection was presented by him in Winston's article. She merely said he was 'an author'.

Leading literal, bodily resurrection supporter, Professor Wright, provided 817 pages of research and discussion on The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003). Surely an interview with such a prominent resurrection scholar who is a Professor at the University of St Andrews, Scotland should be sound journalistic practice for a balanced article.

The following citations are from scholars who support the bodily resurrection:

  • Pannenberg: 'The proclamation of Jesus' Resurrection hardly could have developed and prospered at Jerusalem, the place of his Crucifixion and burial, if his tomb had not been empty, gains its full weight together with the absence of any insinuation in Jewish sources that his body remained in its tomb or that the tomb was not known' (Pannenberg 1987:131).
  • Habermas: 'In the New Testament passages that define the Gospel content, the Gospel message which we are told to believe for salvation and eternal life is the Deity, atoning death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus. If you have believed in Jesus in light of these facts, that's the Gospel (as in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2; see also verses 3-7; cf. Rom. 1:3-4; Rom. 10:9; or the Acts creedal texts in passages such as 1:31-36; 4:10)' [Habermas, Q&A Topics, 2005-2018].
  • Wright: 'The best historical explanation for the rise of the multi-faceted phenomenon we know as early Christianity is the combination of an empty tomb and the sightings of Jesus himself bodily alive (though in a transformed, not merely resuscitated, body) for a month or so after his crucifixion; and that the best explanation for the empty tomb and the sightings is the proposal that Jesus was indeed fully alive again and that his body had been transformed into what I have called a "transphysical" state' (NTWrightPage2018).

There is another issue with Winston's presentation.

b. Resurrection details were invented by scholars

This was Korb's interpretation of the resurrection: 'What I mean is that we can reach the lowest points of our lives, of going deep into a place that feels like death, and then find our way out again – that's the story the Resurrection now tells me. And at Easter, this is expressed in community, and at its best, through the compassion of others'. What has this change from literal to metaphorical understanding done? It has 'given the story more power' (in Winston 2014).

From where does this meaning of resurrection related to the low parts of our lives and finding a way out come? How do we know Easter is expressed in community and compassion to others? Who determines that this metaphorical meaning gives the story more power?

According to Spong, the resurrection says 'Jesus breaks every human limit, including the limit of death, and by walking in his path you can catch a glimpse of that' (in Winston 2014).

I have read the Gospel stories many times, including the passion-resurrection of Jesus, for about 50 years. Not once have I read these deconstructed details in the Gospel accounts, Matthew 27 and 28; Mark 15 and 16; Luke 23 and 24, and John 19 and 20and Paul's resurrection chapter of 1 Corinthians 15.

From where do Korb and Spong's ideas come?

c. Out of a postmodern mind

As a typical postmodernist, Spong admitted there is 'no such thing as "objective history"' (Spong 1992:37).

Their inventions about the resurrection come from postmodern, creative, free play interpretations. Postmodernists often use the term reader-response as the means of determining the meaning of a text. Thus, the writer of the text does not provide the meaning, according to this view. Instead, as Lois Tyson explains,

Reader-response theorists share two beliefs: 1) that the role of the reader cannot be omitted from our understanding of literature and 2) that readers do not passively consume the meaning presented to them by an objective literary text; rather they actively make the meaning they find in literature (Tyson 2015:154).

What is a postmodernist interpretation? It's a slippery term and the mere task of defining postmodernism violates its own principles. This is my brief attempt: Postmodernism is an outlook or perspective that is sceptical about society's metanarratives (world views) and looks for the underlying plot or storyline so that postmodernism can deconstruct it.

The theory of deconstruction began with French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, in the 1960s. He wanted to read texts or other documents not to gain the intended meaning of the original author but to contradict that meaning.

That's what we have in some of the writings of Korb and Spong. If Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism propose a world view (metanarrative) of how God deals with the world and how that is applied at the local level for persons and communities – an account of guilt, suffering, love and mercy – the postmodernist suspects this because it is an imperialising instrument (extending a country's power) that is not intended for local benefit (Thiselton 2002:234).

Postmodernism stretches the boundaries of interpretation. A postmodern view is that 'since interpretation can never be more than my interpretation or our interpretation, no purely objective stance is possible.' (Carson 1996:57). Objective truth is impossible.

2. Deconstruction of Korb & Spong's writings

I don't want you to read my article as a postmodern deconstructionist because you could make me say anything you choose. Please read it literally to obtain the plain meaning of the text. I can't imagine that Korb or Spong would want me to read their publications any other way than you read mine.

Their position is untenable because it is self-defeating. To show how irrational it would be to read these two authors as a deconstructionist, what follows is my deconstructed meaning of Korb and Spong.

Let's try my free play deconstruction of Korb. He rejects 'the miracle of a bodily resurrection' but this metaphorical resurrection 'has given the story more power'. Here goes:

Let's apply the methodology to this news story: Hugh Button is destocking his property at Muttaburra for the second time in three years.

What Korb means is that when people reach the end of their patience in the drought-declared outback affecting the Muttaburra countryside, they will rise with encouragement as they are about to receive cash from the government as a handout to relieve this cattle-rearing family from the death throws of drought.

The resurrection provides new hope for the family and the community of that small outback town of 88 people in Queensland (2016), 120 km north of Longreach. At Easter, the compassion from the government has reached that community and families.

This metaphorical, postmodern, deconstructed story of what Korb said is powerful in giving that town hope for a resurrected future – in spite of a continuing drought. Note: During March 2018, Muttaburra received 101mm of rain.

That is what Easter means to me, as told by Professor Scott Korb. Why should my deconstruction not be as acceptable as Korb's? Mine is a reader-response to Korb's statement as much as his was a personal reader-response to the Gospel accounts of Jesus' resurrection. This highlights the shifting sands and flawed theory of postmodern deconstruction as a method of interpretation of any document, including Jesus' resurrection.

Therefore, the biblical evidence confirms that Jesus' resurrection involved the rise of a dead physical body to become a revived physical body. After resurrection, people saw him physically, spoke with him, touched his body, and ate with him (Matt 28:1-10; 1 Cor 15:3-8; John 20:24-29; Luke 24:42-43).

How does one answer Winston's question: 'Can you question the Resurrection and still be a Christian?' I can question the resurrection (as N T Wright did as his starting point for research) but to be a Christian I need to conclude that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the authentic understanding. The apostle Paul links the future resurrection of believers with Jesus' resurrection:

If no one rises from the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, what we preach doesn't mean anything. Your faith doesn't mean anything either. 15 More than that, we would be lying about God. We are witnesses that God raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if the dead are not raised (1 Corinthians 15:13-15).

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About the Author

Spencer Gear PhD (University of Pretoria, South Africa) is a retired counselling manager, independent researcher, retired minister of the The Christian & Missionary Alliance of Australia, and freelance writer living in Brisbane Qld, Australia.

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