Can you be a Christian and not believe in the resurrection?

Guest post from Michael Roberts (Anglican Vicar in the Blackburn Diocese)

Can you be a Christian and not believe in the resurrection?

Many years ago I had a long talk with a chap in his thirties about the Christian Faith. He had been brought up in a devout Christian home and as a child always went to church, involved in his church youth group and would be regarded as a model young Christian. He then went to university and his Christian faith volatilised and he had serious doubts. He became a university teacher but still thought about faith matters. Some of his doubts were over anything “miraculous” and he couldn’t believe that the resurrection of Jesus had actually taken place. (Scientific nonsense you know.) Like Gandhi, he respected Jesus’ moral teaching but not the “magic” bits. In the end he asked me;

Can you be a Christian and not believe in the resurrection?

When he asked that, I thought what many would say. Well, he believes in Jesus’ teaching and lives a good life, THEN HE IS A CHRISTIAN. My answer could be summed up in two letters;

NO

I did, of course, explain it a little. The reasons are several. First Jesus’ moral teaching is basically a slimmed down version of the Old Testament Law, with an emphasis on the commandments and especially on love. Secondly, Christianity is about forgiveness and a personal relationship with Christ and a looking forward in hope to redemption. This is not based on morals but on Jesus’ death and resurrection.

We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday, not with easter bunnies, eggs and daffodils, but by remembering what happened to Jesus. On the Friday he had suffered the standard Roman execution by crucifixion and then on the Sunday the women found Jesus gone from the tomb. He presented himself first to the women and then to the disciples in his transformed risen body. None of his followers expected this and the death of Christ for forgiveness and his resurrection became the essential features of this new faith. So if someone does not believe in the resurrection they cannot be a Christian.

This is why the whole of Holy Week are so important for a Christian as our worship is focussed on the wonderful and disturbing events of that week, especially Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I have never met that chap again and for long wondered what happened to him. A few years ago I discovered that he was speaking publicly about his Christian Faith and had returned to the faith of his youth. I wonder if he would have returned to his faith if I had been soft and nice and said, “Of course, you can, the resurrection is not important.”

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6 Responses to “Can you be a Christian and not believe in the resurrection?”

  1. Christian Images Says:

    I can relate to this article.

    I remember hearing about the resurrection but dismissed it. I thought “as long as I believe in God, He will save me. It doesn’t matter if He rose from the grave or not; that’s just another Bible miracle.” All this changed when I talked to my pastor and he gave me a blunt answer – “You will not go to heaven if that’s the way you think”. It scared me straight. I’m glad that Christians do not beat around the bush when it comes to the subject of redemption.

    I’m glad you scared that guy straight too.

  2. Yewtree Says:

    It depends on your definition of Christianity.

    How awful to tell someone that they won’t go to heaven if they don’t believe a particular thing, which let’s face it is pretty difficult to believe. If someone has honest doubts, they should be treated more gently.

  3. Jim Says:

    This is one of the things that I find so difficult about Christianity. The idea that you “must” believe in something incredible in order to be saved, even if you are trying be honest with yourself and with others and admit that you can’t believe something. Indeed some Christians can be downright abusive if one admits to this!

    If I understand the character of Christ correctly I can’t understand why living an exemplary life, always putting others before yourself, and always trying to do the best thing for your fellow humans and for the benefit of the World is not sufficient in the eyes of a benificent God?

    It’s at that point that I give up, and accept my life as a Humanist and my final death when this life ends.

  4. Yewtree Says:

    @ Jim – your understanding of Christ is the same as mine and other Unitarians’. But then there is a very large overlap between Humanism and Unitarianism. I think the whole salvation narrative was added on afterwards. This whole area is one of several where I part company with Christians.

  5. Joe Says:

    The evidence for the proof of Jesus’ resurrection by the best apologists in the world is impossible to accept for a rational skeptic who is educated in psychology and cult history.

  6. Jim Says:

    @ Joe. Would you say that being educated in psychology and cult history would make anyone a rational skeptic? If the answer is yes, then presumably if we were all educated in this way then we can infer that there would be no Christians. I guess there would still be people who called themselves Christians, although as I understand it belief in the resurrection is a crucial core belief.

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