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Resurrection literal, or not? Easter beliefs tinged by nuance

Today, the majority of the Christian world is celebrating Easter.

The Easter story — Jesus' resurrection after death on the cross — is central to Christian doctrine, with a general understanding that without that long-ago event, there would be no Christianity as we know it.

There is disagreement, though. Some theologians and clerics question the traditional account of the Easter story. Among the best known is retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, a bane of Christian orthodoxy for suggesting that Jesus' resurrection might have been metaphorical rather than literal.

Spong perhaps is best known for his book Resurrection: Myth or Reality? A Bishop's Search of the Origins of Christianity. Over the years, he has questioned not only the Resurrection but the virgin birth.

Regardless of philosophy, a general consensus seems to exist about the transformative power of the Easter story.

Henry Blackaby, a well-known Christian author, addressed the topic in his latest book, Experiencing the Resurrection.

"You can easily tell the people who have been walking with the risen Christ by how they live their lives over time. ... These people are not anxious or worried about tomorrow,'' said the Southern Baptist, who writes with his son, Melvin Blackaby.

"And their lives are making a difference. & They're a joy to be around; they uplift everyone who knows them.''

Speaking from his home in Atlanta, Blackaby, a retired executive with the Southern Baptist Convention, said Jesus' death and resurrection are proven by more than 2,000 years of "radically transformed lives.''

"Without the Resurrection,'' he said, "there is no Christianity. Otherwise, you just have religion. Christianity is more than a religion. It's a relationship with the living Lord.''

The Blackaby book rebuts arguments that Jesus simply passed out on the cross and woke up in the tomb. It discusses Jesus' injuries and trauma: "After such an ordeal, can you imagine Jesus having the strength to loosen Himself from under a hundred pounds of burial spices & unwrap Himself from the linen strips that tightly bound Him & and roll away the stone that sealed His tomb?''

The details aren't important to followers of the Unity movement, says the Rev. Temple Hayes of First Unity Church of St. Petersburg. The "New Thought" organization believes in Jesus' bodily resurrection but interprets the Easter event as a lesson in individual rebirth.

The Easter story represents "the resurrection from old ideas to new ways of thinking. In Unity, we think to put more emphasis on the life of Jesus and his message rather than his death. We do not see his death as something that is sad and depressing,'' Hayes said.

"The compelling power of Easter presents a new vision for overcoming, reawakening and ultimately a change of mind about the meaning of the world. To rise above any experience of pain, limitations or lack or seeming defeat reflects the ultimate message of Easter.''

In Seminole, the Rev. Robert A. Wierenga is conducting a yearlong class based on the Apostles' Creed, which lays out the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith.

"According to the Apostles' Creed, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the central teachings of the Christian faith,'' said Wierenga, pastor of Lake Seminole Presbyterian Church.

Belief in the Resurrection sets Christianity apart from other faiths, some of which acknowledge Jesus only as a great teacher, he said.

"The Resurrection is an affirmation of the goodness of God,'' Wierenga said. "On Easter, we affirm that it is God's desire to bring healing and restoration and redemption to his creation & I believe that Christianity stands or falls on the biblical teaching of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.''

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or 892-2283.

Resurrection literal, or not? Easter beliefs tinged by nuance 03/22/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 21, 2008 7:21pm]
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