I Still Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus – Now More than Ever

 

Church in Nairobi, Kenya

42 years ago, almost exactly to this date, God told me – “I love you.” I had a William Jamesian-type “religious experience.” It stunned me. Never, ever before had anything like this happened to me. Not even when I was doing drugs. At that point I knew God existed, and I knew God loved me. And I knew this love was associated with Jesus.

So in the moment, I prayed. I was not a praying person. I did pray, in emergencies, as a little boy. But I had not prayed for many years. On that day, I prayed. I said, “God, if you are real, and Jesus if you are real, help me. If you can help me, I will follow you for the rest of my life.” He did. And I have.

Such is the persuasive power of religious experience. As W. James noted, it is existentially incontrovertible. Logically it may lack apologetic force. But by God’s Spirit, as I have traveled the world and spoke out my story, God has used it to convince the hearts of many people.

I see it this way. Logic is cool and useful. My PhD work in philosophy was heavy, big-time, in logic and rationality. I remember being intellectually persuaded by Cartesian “clear and distinct ideas,” and then being further persuaded as I followed the Cartesian path to things like Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations and the quest for epistemic certainty.  I’ve taught logic at our county community college for 15 years and love it. But life is not, essentially, logical. Or, as Philip Wheelwright once put it, human experience cannot be captured in the steel nets of literal language (rationality). I’m talking about the power of story.

I have a story. I come back to it all the time. I’m living out a story, even as I type these words. “Story” can convince where logic cannot. Logic, then, can be used to understand “story.” And God can convince where I cannot. Just tell the Jesus-story as experientially real, and see what God can do with it. If there is a method, that’s it. Credo ut intelligam.

I believed. Then I wanted to understand. The more I have understood, the more I have believed. Belief always births questions. Which have compelled me, not to abandon my belief (like it has for some who, in my mind, gave up on Christianity way to soon), but to seek more understanding. This growth-in-faith-and-knowledge process continues, proceeding dialectically in a quasi-Hegelian fashion. So today, now, the point of the whole thing appears clearer to me than it ever has. Q &  A. Which births Q1. Which quests for A1. Which births Q2. And so on…

At age 21 I believed. God encountered me. I changed my undergraduate major from music theory to philosophy. I was hooked forever! I got involved in two campus ministries at Northern Illinois University.  The pastors of these ministries were scholars (thank you John Peterson and William Lane Craig). Immediately I became interested in the resurrection of Christ as an historical event. I began to study it that way, and was mentored in how to do this. I came to believe that a person who was dead was brought back to life, and that this made all the difference in human history.

In theological seminary I dove deeper into historical Jesus studies and resurrection studies. I was introduced to all the reasons one might disbelieve in the resurrection. The two main objections at that time are still with us today. Some internet intellectual wanna-be’s think this is new information, but the current state of those who doubt the resurrection has been with us for a long time.

Objection 1 is: philosophical naturalism. I reject this, for logical and experiential reasons. I could never be a philosophical naturalist; indeed, I am not. I do not have enough faith for that. Objection 2 is: the Jesus-accounts are largely mythical. Again, this idea has been out there for a long time, and I studied it thoroughly a few decades ago. I rejected it then, and still do today. (Yes, I’ve heard of “Zeitgeist.” And no, scholars are not interested in it at all. Even atheist Richard Carrier finds it“absolute garbage.” If you want to really study the historical Jesus stay out of internet chat rooms and do some actual study, preferably university-level.)

I went deeper into historical Jesus and rez-studies in my doctoral work, writing a 400-page dissertation on Jesus’s resurrection. It took me six years to write and rewrite and rework and restudy this over and over and over and finally get it down in paper. You have to actually experience doing something like this to understand  the dialectics of Q&A. The outcome of what was for me, at least, a massive amount of historical and linguistic study, caused me to believe even more in Jesus’s resurrection as an actual, historical event.

After I graduated with my PhD in 1986 I did not lay aside my Jesus-studies. Every week (with few exceptions) I read in this area. I am so thankful for today’s state of historical Jesus research! I’ve combined this with an ever-renewing abiding in Christ. I know, in the Hebraic sense of *yadah, that Christ truly is Emmanuel, God-with-us!

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. Yay!

I still believe in the Resurrection of Jesus – now more than ever.

_____
*yadah – Heb., to know intimately

The $20 Wedding

 

Yes, I wore a tux…

In 42 years as a Jesus-follower and pastor I have officially performed one bazillion weddings. That is a lot of rehearsal dinners and wedding reception dinners.

1. I have done one bazillion weddings.
2. Therefore, I am overweight.

When I think of these weddings what I remember is not the food, but the people. The most beautiful weddings I have seen have to do with the marital couple, and who they are. All the money in the world cannot cover over two clueless people. But a groom and bride who submit their lives to God and then to the serving of the other shine like stars in the materialistic darkness. I am thinking of some of them now. They loved, and still do. Their love influenced others, without trying to.

It’s really about preparing for marriage and life together, not the wedding day. The more the former happens, the greater is that special day.

I present to you a wedding plan. Here are the costs, in my Monroe community.

Wedding planner – $0. (I charge nothing for this advice.)
Officiant – $0. (I charge nothing to officiate your wedding.)
Building rental – $0. (We can have your wedding outdoors. We’ve had weddings in our backyard, on the river.)
Groom’s tuxedo – $0. (The groom wears nice clothing that can be worn again.)
Bridal gown – $0. (The bride wears nice clothing that can be worn again.)
Flowers – $0. (From your mother’s garden.)
Food – cost per plate – $0. (Your friends bring finger foods. That’s what Linda and I did, and we had 350 people at our wedding.)
Miscellaneous costs – $0.
Marriage license in Monroe County – $20.
Pen to sign marriage license – $0. (I will lend you mine.)
Total costs – $20

Stress – less.

Relationship – more.

I have done some weddings like this. I remember them for the inner beauty of the couple and the presence of God.

(See, e.g., “Is Simplicity the Newest Wedding Trend?“)

Unitarian Universalists Argue for Polyamorous Marriage

 

My other office, in Monroe

The same-sex marriage debate is, at heart, about the definition of “marriage.” There are two competing views: 1) conjugal; and 2) revisionist. Revisionists want to revise the meaning of “marriage.”

The conjugal view is this: Marriage is a comprehensive union of persons. Marriage unites two persons in three ways: “First, it unites two people in their most basic dimensions, in their minds and bodies; second, it unites them with respect to procreation, family life, and its broad domestic sharing; and third, it unites them permanently and exclusively.” (Girgis, Sherif; Anderson, Ryan T; George, Robert P, What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense, Kindle Locations 378-379)

Further:

“Joining spouses in body as well as in mind, it is begun by consent and sealed by sexual intercourse. So completed in the acts of bodily union by which new life is made, it is especially apt for and deepened by procreation, and calls for that broad sharing of domestic life uniquely fit for family life. Uniting spouses in these all-encompassing ways, it also objectively calls for all-encompassing commitment: permanent and exclusive. Comprehensive union is valuable in itself, but its link to children’s welfare makes marriage a public good that the state should recognize and support. (Ib., Kindle Locations 103-107)

The revisionist view is this: “It is a vision of marriage as, in essence, a loving emotional bond, one distinguished by its intensity—a bond that needn’t point beyond the partners, in which fidelity is ultimately subject to one’s own desires. In marriage, so understood, partners seek emotional fulfillment, and remain as long as they find it.” (Ib., Kindle Locations 78-80)

Girgis et. al. point out that there is nothing specifically homosexual about the revisionist view of marriage. “It informs many male-female relationships. But it brooks no real difference between these and same-sex relationships: both involve intense emotional union, so both can make a marriage. Comprehensive union, by contrast, is something only a man and woman can form.” (Ib., (Kindle Locations 114-116). So to enact same-sex civil marriage would not expand the institution of marriage, but redefine it.

The revisionist view misconstrues the meaning of marriage. In its misconstrual it allows, for example, for the legality of polyandry. What if, for example, three men are in a romantic triangle? If two men can have their romantic relationship acknowledged as a marriage, why can’t three men do the same? Girgis et. al. write:

“Why is it not invidious discrimination to deny the state’s recognition to their relationship of mutual care and affection? For revisionists, marriage must be distinguished simply by emotional union and the activities that foster it. But why should these be limited to two people?” (Ib., Kindle Locations 319-321) Why can’t polyamorous relationships qualify as marriage? On the revisionist view of marriage, surely they can, as seen by some in the Unitarian Universalist Church today.

See the Washington Post, “Many Unitarians would prefer that their polyamory activists keep quiet.” A small but activist group within Unitarian Universalism supports polyamory. “That is to say “the practice of loving and relating intimately to more than one other person at a time,” according to a mission statement by Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness (UUPA). The UUPA “encourages spiritual wholeness regarding polyamory,” including the right of polyamorous people to have their unions blessed by a minister.”

Many committed Unitarians are telling the polyamorists to sit down and be quiet, because they are undermining the fight for same-sex marriage. But they are not. Indeed, on the revisionist view of marriage, why should they? For example, “In 2007, a Unitarian congregation in Chestertown, Md., heard a sermon by a poly activist named Kenneth Haslam, arguing that polyamory is the next frontier in the fight for sexual and marriage freedom. “Poly folks are strong believers that each of us should choose our own path in forming our families, forming relationships, and being authentic in our sexuality.””

Why not, on revisionist thinking? In 2011 Boston University sociologist Peter Berger wrote that once you legitimize same-sex marriage “you open the door to any number of other alternatives to marriage as a union of one man and one woman: polygamous (an interesting question for Muslims in Germany and dissident Mormons in Arizona), polyandrous, polygenerational – perhaps polyspecies?”

Of course, on the legal logic of revisionism. (Note: this is not a slippery slope fallacy, but simply the logical implications of the revisionist position. See Girgis et. al. for a more complete presentation of the two views of marriage.)

Same Sex Marriage: Address the Meaning of “Marriage” First

Detroit

For Christian theists concerned about the way the same-sex marriage discussion is going in America, I suggest there are now two debates going on: one legal, the other religious.

The Legal Issue
Regarding the legal matter, the real issue is about the definition of “marriage.” Might we in America have a civil discourse about this? The truth or falsity of the statement We should allow for same-sex marriage rests heavily on the meaning of the term “marriage.” Some of us, myself included, feel like our President is rushing forward to change the meaning of marriage, without discussion.
Please read the editorial in today’s CNN by Robert George (prof. of jurisprudence at Harvard and Princeton), Sherif Gergis (Princeton and Yale), and Ryan T. Anderson – “Gay Marriage, then Group Marriage?”
They write:
“Of course, if marriage were simply about recognizing bonds of affection or romance, then two men or two women could form a marriage just as a man and woman can. But so could three or more in the increasingly common phenomenon of group (“polyamorous”) partnerships. In that case, to recognize opposite-sex unions but not same-sex or polyamorous ones would be unfair — a denial of equality.” Please read this entire editorial. For a more complete version see their recent book What is Marriage? Man and Woman – a Defense
The Religious Issue
There is a second debate going on, this one within religions, and within Christianity. (Irreligous people [are there really any such?], of course, will be uninterested in this. It is over the statement:Does the biblical text condemn homosexual unions? I am certain that it does.
If someone says they are a “Christian,” then I reason as follows.
1. We are obligated to follow God’s will.
2. God’s will is given to us in the Bible.
3. The Bible forbids homosexual behavior.
4. Therefore, homosexual behavior is against God’s will, or is wrong.

On P1 (Premise 1): I find that virtually all Jesus-followers believe this is true.

On P2 – again, Jesus-followers have little problem with this. There may be discussion on the nature of biblical authority. That is another, and important, discussion.

Re. P3 – this is where the intra-Christian discussion lies. If you want to go straight to the heart of this discussion I can suggest nothing better thanHomosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, by Dan O. Via and Robert Gagnon. See, e.g., these reviews:

“Christians challenged by questions surrounding Scripture on same-sex relations will find an invaluable chart for navigating these confusing waters.” — Joel B. Green, Dean of the School of Theology and Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Asbury Theological Seminary (endorsement inside book)
“Gagnon’s brilliant condensation of his arguments should be a significant asset for clergy and laity, while Via opens new challenges.” — Catherine Clark Kroeger, Associate Professor of Classical and Ministry Studies, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (endorsement inside book)
“I know of no finer presentation of all the main issues.” — Graham Stanton, Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge (endorsement inside book)
“I know of no other work that so clearly illumines the biblical issues at the heart of the controversy.” — Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics, Duke Divinity School (endorsement inside book)
“Presents a vigorous, illuminating debate about the implications of scripture for contemporary attitudes toward homosexuality. I strongly recommend this book.” —James F. Childress, Hollingsworth Professor of Ethics, University of Virginia
Via is pro-gay marriage, Gagnon is against gay marriage. Both are New Testament scholars. But note this. Via agrees that one cannot interpret the biblical text as supportive of same-sex marriage. In spite of this he presents a loving principle that seems of God to him as a justification for allowing same-sex marriages today.
For Gagnon’s even more complete biblical argument against textual support of same-sex marriage see his The Bible and Homosexuality: Texts and Interpretation. Of this book reviews include:
“…In its learnedness, [Gagnon’s] book will…be in the vanguard of its position and cannot be ignored….” — Martti Nissinen, University of Helsinki, and author of Homoeroticism in the Biblical World (From the Jacket Flap)
“…the fullest and best presentation of the conservative position….expressing the case same-sex intercourse sympathetically and convincingly.” — I. Howard Marshall, Professor of New Testament, Emeritus, University of Aberdeen, Scotland (Blurb Inside Book)
“…the most thorough examination of the scriptural and theological…perspectives on same-sex relations….a tour de force.” — Marion L. Soards, Professor of New Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (From Jacket Flap)
“Gagnon has offered a learned, judicious, and comprehensive examination of the biblical testimony….fair and compassionate…a major resource….” — Brevard S. Childs, Sterling Professor of Divinity (Hebrew Bible), Emeritus, Yale Divinity School (From Inside Book)
“Gagnon’s book is an extremely valuable contribution to the current debate….I recommend this book wholeheartedly.” — C. E. B. Cranfield, Professor of Theology (New Testament), Emeritus, University of Durham (From Inside Book)
“Gagnon’s incisive logic, prudent judgment, and exhaustive research should make this book a dominant voice in the contemporary debate.” — Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, O.P., Professor of New Testament, Ecole Biblique, Jerusalem (From the Back Cover)
“I believe that this volume will become a classic in the ongoing discussion of the church’s…response to homosexuality.” — Duane F. Watson, Professor of New Testament, Malone College (From Inside Book)
“I know of no comparable study of the texts and interpretive debates that surround homosexual behavior.” — Max L. Stackhouse, Stephen Colwell Professor of Christian Ethics, Princeton Theological Seminary (From the Jacket Flap)
“No Christian concerned with homosexuality can afford to ignore this book.” — John Barton, Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, University of Oxford (From the Back Cover)
“This is a brilliant, original, and highly important work,…indispensable even for those who disagree with the author.” — James Barr, Distinguished Professor of Hebrew Bible, Emeritus, Vanderbilt University
I include these reviews for those to whom scholarship is important.
For those of us concerned that we are rushing over the cliff without discussion, I think the area we should be most concerned to address is the legal issue, and not the religious issue. This is because, overwhelmingly, we don’t legislate biblical morality. For example, biblically, gossip and gluttony are sins. Engaged in, they mitigate against human flourishing.  Ironically, the secular media seems to feed off gossip while being anti-overfeeding in the campaign to wipe out obesity in America. But I don’t think we should make a law against gossip, or a law against gluttony (in spite of New York Mayor Bloomberg’s attempts to do so).
Address the meaning of “marriage.” Focus on this now. Don’t let the bandwagon effect divert you.
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