Last Sunday was Easter, a special holiday for the church and a personal highlight for me. As one would expect, the internet was full of news and blog posts about Christ’s suffering and the resurrection. Much of it was encouraging to my faith. It was a good week, full of meaning and reflection about the Savior.
I saw something new this year in the mainstream religious media: pundits claiming the label “evangelical” who made a point of stating the resurrection of Jesus may – or may not – have involved his physical body and an empty tomb. That was new to me. Maybe it’s been around for awhile and I’ve just missed it. Maybe I happened to look in the right place at the right time to read it.
This is not a polemic blog and I’m not picking a fight, so I’m not going to post specific links. Those who care about this issue know where such posts are located (or they can find them). The big idea is that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead, but in a significant way it was a spiritual resurrection, not necessarily a physical one. Like a seed falling into the ground and dying, then coming to life, which is indeed a biblical analogy to resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15:35-37). Or like the annual rotation of seasons in which winter (death) gives way to spring (life).
In my younger days, we regarded such ideas as a liberal view of the resurrection, not an evangelical interpretation. Decades ago, someone espousing a spiritual resurrection might claim to be “Christian.” Today they are claiming to be “Evangelical Christian.” I was surprised at this discovery last week, partly because “evangelical” has negative play in the mainstream media. (Who really enjoys broadcasting their evangelical identity right now?)
Evangelicalism seems to be struggling to find its identity in a changing culture. For me, the issue which identifies an evangelical Christian is the gospel as the Apostle Paul declared it in 1 Corinthians 15: 1-8. There are two defining issues. First is the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross as a substitutionary atonement for our sins. Second is the physical resurrection of Jesus demonstrated by the empty tomb. Take either of those away and we don’t have an evangelical Christian. Other cultural issues such as abortion, homosexuality, poverty, environmentalism and racism may attract more attention as lightning rod issues. But the death and resurrection of Christ are the two watershed issues of Christianity.