Here’s why I think the project of “demythologizing” Christianity is misdirected.

Having studied many religions and the many difficulties that many people have with Christianity it strikes me that the deepest objections that most people have to the resurrection as history are not scientific … but philosophical.

What do I mean? Well just this, that I have come across numerous people who are otherwise accepting of magic, divination, ghosts, energy healing and all sorts of “unscientific” phenomena, who nevertheless find the resurrection of Jesus highly implausible. Quite simply, the resurrection is not compatible with the perennial philosophy – it is too exclusive, it is too unique.

While most scholars searching for the “historical Jesus” may think they are engaged in a scientific quest, the vast bulk of their readers are not, they are on a philosophical quest for Jesus who does not conflict with the Perennial Philosophy. Sure there are genuine atheists out there, but they are the minority. Whether Jesus does miracles or not is not the most significant concern for most, what is, is that any aura of exclusivity or uniqueness is neutralized. Jesus is perfectly acceptable to consumer society as one amongst many ascended masters or one amongst many gods or one amongst many gurus. What is NOT acceptable is a challenge to consumer sovereignty, to consumer choice.

If you accept that then it should become clear that Christians who think a “scientized” Jesus will renew Christianity are barking up the wrong tree. Science is a secondary issue here – it is merely a means to an end where any means will do. What people are seeking is a low commitment Jesus, one who demands nothing but does everything to satisfy consumer demands. Catering to such tastes will not lead to a renewal of Christianity. If we acknowledge that Christ is the centre of Christianity, then any marginalization of Christ represents the disintegration of Christianity. It’s like talking of Hinduism without karma or reincarnation, or Buddhism without the four noble truths and eightfold path, the conversation becomes meaningless.

What I think needs to be recognized is that, yes, Christianity is incompatible with any system that requires the marginalization of Christ. If that warrants its rejection by consumer culture, if that means Christianity will become increasingly marginalized in Europe, America and Australia as a consequence, well that’s just a consequence we have to live with. Allow people the option of rejection. Christian integrity is more important than Christian influence.

7 thoughts on “The Resurrection and the Perennial Philosophy

  1. “Christian integrity is more important than Christian influence.”
    This hits the nail right on the head. The content of the gospel is offensive to those who would champion consumer choice as the ultimate good. While we can engage respectfully in dialog with those who are interested in Christian faith (we do not need to be offensive in our presentation), we cannot “edit out” the offense without changing it into something other than the gospel.
    Nice post.

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  2. Yes Benjamin, when it comes to evangelism we need to distinguish between what is extrinsic to the practice (and therefore unnecessarily offensive to a culture like ours) and what is intrinsic to the practice (and therefore inevitably offensive to a culture like ours). The missional church is right to question the appropriateness of revival style evangelism and street corner evangelism for our culture IMO. What we need to stand firm on though is the gospel narrative and the challenge it represents to the consumerist narrative.

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  3. I believe in the resurrection – I actually do believe it occured.
    But I fail to follow the argument against the ‘perennial philosophy’.
    I guess what you’re saying is that the unique occurence of rising from the dead distinguishes Christianity from all other kinds of ‘religious’ philosophy.
    Is that what you’re saying?

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  4. Yes, what distinguished first century Christianity from first century Judiasm was not belief in the resurrection of the dead (for everyone at the end of the age) but belief in the resurrection of Jesus (alone, before the end of the age). This belief was not peripheral but foundational to claims that Jesus was messiah and God.
    Turning to other world religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Islam … all these religions acknowledge their leaders are dead … none of them claim their leaders ever defeated death and walked again. The resurrection of Jesus presents a fairly sharp challenge to claims of all religious leaders are the same.

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  5. Thank you for pinpointing exactly what the offense of the Gospel is, Matt. It is offensive to our self-centredness, but only if we actually take Jesus’ words seriously.
    Too often I hear people say that the Gospel is offensive in vague, general terms and I wonder what they are talking about. They read in Paul’s letters and John’s graphic imagery that the Gospel was offensive to monotheistic Jews and then generalise that specific offence to all people. However, it just doesn’t work like that, most people aren’t monotheistic Jews keenly awaiting a Messiah, so the offence of Christ crucified is not the same.
    It’s not like I have overcome my offence to the Gospel and hence why I now call myself ‘Christian’. No, the Gospel is and should be a daily offence to those who would follow Christ. It should disturb your self, but bring comfort in Christ.
    The sad reality is that the Jesus presented in pop culture and many churches isn’t at all offensive in regards to the self, hence why the figure of Jesus himself (but not the church) is still incredibly attractive to secularised people and nominal Christians.

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  6. Yes I think the offensiveness of the gospel needs to be carefully defined, lest in our sloppiness we offend for the wrong reasons.
    I think the unavoidable offense of the gospel is the way it challenges our loyalties. To make Jesus first is to make Moses second, to make Caesar second, to make consumer choise second, to even make church second.
    To know what the offense is going to be in a given context we need to look to where people’s loyalties lie.
    For example, I have found with Hindus that the offense is NOT the invitation to worship Jesus but the suggestion they cease worshipping other gods and goddesses. Witness which is true to its name must necessarily involve that suggestion in that context.
    With atheists and deists it has been the opposite. Any suggestion that Jesus is God has often hit the mark. That success, however, should not blind us into thinking all people find that equally challenging. Where loyalties are different, the challenge needs to be reframed so the challenge is appropriately contextual.

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