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Progressivism and the Resurrection of Jesus

Orthodox, biblical, historic Christianity does not stop at the death of Jesus. It goes straight from Jesus’ death to his resurrection—which is the flip side of the same redemptive coin. In the death of Jesus, we get our sins forgiven, and in the resurrection of Jesus, we get a new life.

Progressives often struggle with the resurrection as well as with the cross, but for different reasons. Typically, progressives push back against the atoning death of Jesus because they’re skeptical about the sinfulness of humanity, the justice of God, or the divinity of Christ. But the pushback from progressives against the resurrection has to do with their scientific metanarrative about the universe.

Progressives are dead serious about accepting the ideology of science. By this, I don’t mean progressives pay too much respect to science; it seems to me that science has earned its respect. What I’m talking about is not science per se, but science as ideology; that is, physicalism—the belief that physical particles are the ultimate explanation for everything.


“What I’m talking about is not science per se, but science as ideology; that is, physicalism.”


Since progressivism is largely a civic religion shaped by cultural expectations, respectability is crucial for progressives. And academic Americans frequently presume the myth of physicalism. To suggest that the miracles of the Bible actually happened violates the principles of physicalism, and therefore costs progressives respect in the eyes of physicalists.

But we should remember that physicalism is not science; rather, it is ideology. Even science knows that particles cannot account for the vast entity that is our cosmos; nor can it account for the broad range of experiences we humans have. Many progressives are beholden to physicalism (wrongly confused with “science”), and for this reason they simply cannot accept biblical claims about miracles. And so they turn the resurrection into poetry, metaphor, or myth—treating one of the most fundamental doctrines of Christianity as though it were a grade school Valentine’s Day card.

Mike McHargue (aka “Ask Science Mike” of “The Liturgists” podcast) explains that he doesn’t know if Jesus really was raised from the dead. Beholden to physicalism, McHargue then explains that it doesn’t matter anyway: “You can be skeptical about the Resurrection of Jesus and still have an encounter with Jesus that’s life-changing …. Jesus lives in my anterior cingulate cortex, the seat of compassion.”[1] McHargue is simply repeating, in cool-sounding language, the old beliefs of mainline Protestant liberalism.


“Physicalism is not science; rather, it is ideology.”


The Anglican Ambassador to the Vatican, John Shepherd, has come under fire for saying years ago that Christians should be “set free” from the idea that the resurrection was a physical event. Neither McHargue nor Shepherd seem aware that the apostle Paul explains that if Jesus were not literally raised from the dead, the Christian faith would be utterly irrelevant (1 Corinthians 15:14).

The resurrection constitutes the core of the earliest preaching of the gospel, and it constitutes the very reason Christianity has survived for two thousand years. Had Jesus’ death been the end of his story, you can be sure that nobody would have ever heard from his followers again. There would be no record of Jesus; he would’ve been just one more statistic from the Roman world of brutality.

Because Jesus was raised from the dead, appeared to his followers, then rose into heaven to assume a seat next to the Father, the Christian religion exploded onto the world stage to become the world’s largest religion. Missionary scholar Herbert Kane captures the significance:

“Although his untimely death at the age of 33 sent his disciples into confusion, His resurrection on the third day revived their Messianic hope, rejuvenated their flagging spirits, and sent them out to win the world. Their task was formidable. Their chances of success? Almost nil. They had no central organization, no financial resources, no influential friends, no political machine. Arrayed against them was the ecclesiastical power of the Sanhedrin, the political and military power of the Roman Empire, and the religious fanaticism of the Jews. Moreover, their leader, whose life and teachings were to constitute their message was unknown outside his small circle of friends. He had written no books, erected no monuments, endowed no institutions. The task looked hopeless.”[2]


“Because Jesus was raised from the dead, appeared to his followers, then arose into heaven to assume a seat next to the Father, the Christian religion exploded onto the world stage to become the world’s largest religion.”


Through the resurrection of Jesus, millions would come to faith in Christ—and they would change the world. This explains why Jesus himself spoke of his resurrection, why the early church preached it, and why any effort to be Christian must embrace it. Let these scriptures sink in:

Jesus predicted it: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 20:18-19).

The early church preached it: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with Scripture, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).


“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with Scripture.”


And anyone who wants to be Christian will embrace it. “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:16-19).

If you’re a member of a local church ministry or body, I encourage you to ask your pastor or leader (or maybe university professor) if they believe that Jesus was literally raised from the dead. You have a right to know what your leaders actually believe. Unfortunately, occasionally leaders who have used the language of resurrection in public have whispered to me in private that they believe the resurrection is more of metaphor than an actual historical event.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a non-negotiable for the Christian faith. And not as a metaphor or mere poetry. As history. For the Christian religion is not grounded in ideology, psychology, or philosophy. It’s rooted in historical fact: God in Christ became human, died to save humans, and literally rose from the dead to give life to humanity.


“The Christian religion is not grounded in ideology, psychology, or philosophy. It’s rooted in historical fact.”


And now, Christ lives as both Savior and Lord over all creation, and he will return to raise humans from the dead to judge them and to establish a new heaven and earth.


[1] Finding God in the Waves: Why I Left My Faith and Found It Again through Science (Convergent Books, 2016), 201.

[2] J. Herbert Kane, A Concise History of Christian World Mission, (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 1978), 7.


This article on progressive Christianity is an excerpt from David Young, A Grand Illusion: How Progressive Christianity Undermines Biblical Faith (RENEW.org, 2019). To check out the book, click here.

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