In another vein, having preached yesterday on the Exodus account of God's parting the waters of the Red (or Reed) Sea, I found christian pollster George Barna's finding that, "...a substantial majority of Americans believes in the literal truth of six key Bible stories..." quite interesting. Here is how the percentages break down, according to Stan Guthrie's summary of Barna's research, "Taking Bible Stories Literally." When Americans are asked whether or not they believe a specific story in Scripture is "...literally true, meaning it happened exactly as described in the Bible...,"
Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection (75%);
Daniel in the Lion’s Den (65%);
Moses parting the Red Sea (64%);
David and Goliath (63%);
Peter walking on water (60%);
God creating the universe in six days (60%).
Guthrie goes on to note,
When you break down the numbers, it gets even more interesting. Several factors are correlated with less belief in a literal resurrection: high education, mainline vs. non-mainline Protestantism, Catholicism vs. Protestantism, and white vs. black. So, statistically speaking, a highly educated white Catholic or mainline professor from the Northeast would likely be more skeptical than a blue-collar African-American Protestant from the Midwest or South.
In a parallel piece entitled, "Ressurection of Jesus: So What?," Mark Galli opines,
The results are broken down by faith tradition, geography, race, and education. To take one overall finding, though: "The story of Jesus Christ rising from the dead, after being crucified and buried" was the story most widely embraced. Three out of four adults (75 percent) said they interpreted that narrative literally.
Yet polls and anecdotal evidence suggest that 75 percent of Americans are not living dedicated lives to the resurrected Jesus!
This should give us apologetic pause. A great deal of evangelical apologetics is about proving the historicity of the resurrection (or creation--intelligent design or 7-day--but nearly two-thirds of Americans already believe in a literal 7-day creation). The figures suggest that this is NOT the battle ground for most Americans. It is the relevance or meaning of the resurrection that seems to elude Americans. It is not a stretch for most people to believe that a God who created the universe could raise Jesus from the dead, among other miracles--Duh. What is a stretch is understanding what difference it makes.
Perhaps it's time for a new chapter in evangelical apologetics. Not "The Resurrection--Did it Happen?" but "The Resurrection--So What?"
Throughout history, the question and meaning of the empty tomb of Jesus have always been the central question of Christianity. As the Apostle Paul put it, according to Eugene Peterson's The Message paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 15:13-20,
"13 If there’s no resurrection, there’s no living Christ. 14 And face it—if there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. 15 Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ—sheer fabrications, if there’s no resurrection. 16 If corpses can’t be raised, then Christ wasn’t, because he was indeed dead. 17 And if Christ weren’t raised, then all you’re doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever. 18 It’s even worse for those who died hoping in Christ and resurrection, because they’re already in their graves. 19 If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot. 20 But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries. " (1 Corinthians 15:12-20 The Message)
It is only through a personal relationship with the one who came back to life after being put to death on a cross that any of us can live a holy life. That is one of the reasons the resurrection of Jesus is so important - and wonderful!
" 1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? 2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? 3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives." (Romans 6:1-4 NLT)