Culture At Large

Easter Stands at the Heart of Gospel Preaching

Paul Vander Klay

In an interesting blog post Chris Rosebrough pretty aptly captures the image of the mature Christian man offered generally by the seeker movement. It's a stunning description. He goes on to note that nothing in the description directly relates to any Christian profession or connection with Jesus of Nazareth. It's an important observation. At the same time we've seen evangelicals attempt to Christianize everything from mints to songs to businesses by slapping "Jesus" or a cross or a fish on them. We're still trying to figure out how to really apply "Christian" as a noun or a verb.

ThinkChristian's twitter feed recently posted a link to an article noting that many churches don't preach a Biblical "Gospel". "Gospel" has become a key code word for many in the renewed Reformed camp and it is defined by them usually with an emphasis on substitutionary atonement. RC Sproul's address follows this up more or less with the Apostle's Creed. While I don't want to diminish the value of substitutionary atonement I don't find it to necessarily locate the exact center of the Christian message.

I would like to suggest that we consider elevating the resurrection as the flagship element of the Christian confession. I'm not trying to dis an overt Christian confession nor the importance of substitutionary atonement, but it seems to me that the resurrection of Jesus Christ really is the central piece that both identifies Jesus as being unique in human history as well as illuminates the crucifixion to be something more than just another Roman execution. It was the resurrection as professed historical fact that launched Christianity as N.T. Wright argued convincingly in his book "The Resurrection of the Son of God".  Many preachers will turn to 1 Corinthians 15 this week and follow Paul in arguing that without the resurrection all of Christianity comes apart, period.

How might focusing more strongly on the resurrection begin to reshape Christian external identity and its self image in the broader cultural conversation? It might help us clarify what specifically Christianity is asserting as opposed to the other religious voices in our midst. Christianity isn't primarily attempting to give people good advice in order to enable them to live as happy, well-adjusted productive citizens for whom after their 80+ years of middle class existence they can say "I did it my way" or "what a nice trip it's been." Christianity is not fundamentally about sorting out who has been naught or nice or who backed the right religious faction to determine who gets the best after-life digs. Christianity is not fundamentally about offering a path for self-disciplined adherents to get in touch with a universal sea of being. Christianity is not primarily about trying to become a better person. Christianity IS about what will become of the history of the universe as it is currently ground down, tortured and twisted by the age of decay and the answer to that is Christ. It is an answer that both relativizes our present experience without gutting the significance of history. There is no other more hopeful answer in the smörgåsbord of religious offerings in the world spiritual market place.

Once the resurrection illuminates the rest of the Bible we begin to see that it draws to itself all of the hope and promise of thousands of years of human culture making. Only in the resurrection do we find the reclamation and perfection of the lost cultures, lost arts, lost lives, lost stories of planet earth. Only in the promise of this resurrection made secure by the firstfruits of Jesus' resurrected flesh can we justifiably follow him into sacrificial, substitutionary cruciform living where our historical offerings are both significant and yet expendable based upon Easter's assured transformation. Nothing else that I know of offers a claim anything like this.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Faith