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Monday, April 9, 2012

Belief in a Bodily Resurrection?

My sense from chatting with mainline Protestant ministers about the Resurrection is that many, if not most, understand it metaphorically rather than literally, that they are more inclined to see it as an experience that the early Christians shared when they broke bread together, rather than as an historical event that profoundly altered their hearts, minds, and subsequent behavior. I also get the sense that many of these mainline Protestant ministers assume that the majority of their congregations' members hold similar beliefs.

That would be a mistake, however, for most Christians, including mainline Protestants, believe in Jesus' bodily resurrection:
  • In the 2008-2009 wave of the U.S. Congregational Life Survey, 94 percent of evangelicals, 91 percent of Catholics and 78 percent of mainline Protestants said Jesus was raised bodily from the dead after his crucifixion.
  • 75% of the more than 25,000 respondents to congregational surveys offered by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research from 2004 to 2010, most of whom were mainline Protestants, said that they believed that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was an actual event.
  • According to the Portraits of American Life study more than 2/3 of Christian respondents, including 84% of black and evangelical respondents and approximately 67% of mainline Protestants and Catholics, strongly agreed with the statement, “Jesus Christ physically rose from the dead” (15.4% of mainline Protestants and 13.4% of Catholics "somewhat" agreed with the statement).
Of course, just because a majority of Christians believe that something is true, doesn't mean that it is true (any more than a majority vote by the Jesus Seminar on a saying of Jesus is the final word on whether it is authentic or not). Nevertheless, it appears that a majority of Christians, including mainline Protestants, need a bit more to hang their hat on than a notion that the hearts of the first Christians were strangely warmed when they gathered around the table.

You can read more about these results and related matters at the latest post to the ARDA's "Ahead of the Trend" blog ("Belief in resurrection central to religious identity across Christian landscape").

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