"Not only do I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I base my life on it.”
A few months back the NBA Commissioner, David Stern, made news when during a heated interview with broadcaster Jim Rome, Stern suddenly asked Rome whether or not he still beat his wife. It was a jaw-dropping moment because Rome has never in any way been accused of beating his wife. I mention this story in light of an extraordinary post by the noted religion journalist Terry Mattingly. Terry has a theory about emergent evangelicals in general and Brian McLaren in particular. He believes that Brian is really a “liberal mainline Protestant” of the type who have questioned fundamental Christian creeds like the resurrection of Jesus Christ for decades. He even presents a list of three questions that he has used for years to determine if someone fits this “label”. The first and, by any historic understanding of Christian history, most important question Terry poses reads like this: “Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?” Terry says the reason he asks people a question like this is "to get the lay of the land on disputes inside various Christian flocks, on the left and right…to get information about doctrinal basics…to listen carefully as people answered or, on many cases, tried to avoid answering these questions.”
Now one would imagine that for a serious journalist to say that a person of McLaren’s stature deserves to have this question posed to him then there must be something in that person’s writing or speaking to make that question seem relevant. One might even expect that if the goal of raising questions about a person’s belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is “to listen carefully” then we would expect the interviewer to actually ask the person the question. The Brian McLaren I know welcomes questions, and in fact frames his ministry around trying to answer questions he hears in our culture. So, I picked up the phone to see if Brian had ever spoken to Terry and if Brian had ever said or written anything that would in anyway be construed as doubting the resurrection of Christ. Brian said he had never spoken to Terry Mattingly and answered without hesitation with the quote attributed to him above, that “Not only do I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I base my life on it.”
Of course, I knew that would be the answer to the question. I have never seen or heard anything from Brian that makes me doubt that he loves Jesus Christ and seeks to follow Him faithfully. Brian has never in his entire public ministry said anything that would lead one to wonder where he stands on a doctrine so central to Christian identity as the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now Brian has certainly said and written things that do raise important questions about his beliefs and interpretations of Scripture and he has never backed away from those questions. In fact, one of the things I have appreciated about Brian is that he listens to questions and tries to give thoughtful answers, something I saw in my recent interview with him for Patheos. In the course of his writing and speaking Brian has expressed beliefs that I disagree with, sometimes strongly. I know that many people will be deeply troubled by the New York Times story that Terry quotes that refers to the gay marriage of Brian’s son and Brian’s participation in the ceremony. It will require respect and a genuine willingness to listen if we are to arrive at answers to what these actions by Brian mean about his views on gay marriage and how he relates those views to Christian Scripture and Tradition. But this controversy will also be a moment that reveals the broader agenda of some who will raise those questions, and the broader character of those who would use this occasion to imply that Brian is doubting creedal Christian beliefs about the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the absence of any evidence to suggest it.
Terry Mattingly rather crudely raised the metaphor of “jumping the shark” in his post as a way of saying that it is obvious that Brian should no longer be considered an evangelical, but the manner in which he goes about explaining his conclusion makes clear that the shark that has been jumped is journalistic integrity and the person who has leaped it is Terry himself.