In 1777, a German writer, philosopher, and play-writer named Gotthold Lessing published a short article entitled, “On the Proof of the Spirit and of Power.” Lessing had already published many other writings arguing that there is no one correct religion, since religion is determined by man’s personal ability to reason. He looked at himself as one who trusted in a “Christianity of Reason.” He had also been publishing pieces of works written by a family friend, Herman Samuel Reimarus who argued that Christ’s resurrection was only a myth invented by Jesus’ disciples.
His position has become very popular, as he argued that Jesus was simply a zealot political leader. Two recent books, which argue along these lines, include Reza Aslan’s “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” as well as “Killing Jesus: A History,” by the pseudo-conservative pundit, Bill O’Reilly. These guys bring nothing new, and their claims are based on the same historical revisionism as Reimarus. Yes, they may cite the scholarship of many biblical scholars, but such scholarship assumes that the Gospels are later redactions based on earlier manuscripts. They claim that these manuscripts were themselves simply collections of stories coming out of the Christian community, reflecting their so-called Sitz im Leben, situation in life, or historical context. In other words, they were a bunch of individuals’ religious expressions and use of reason.
This all goes back again to Lessing. In his “On the Proof of the Spirit and of Power,” Lessing concedes that the biblical claims of Jesus, his miracles and resurrection, are as historical as any other history. They have the documents, which are even better preserved than most other historical documents. In view of the many manuscripts of the New Testament, the idea that they are historically unreliable is laughable. Even Lessing admitted this much. But Lessing still argued that he couldn’t accept their truths, even if they are historically reliable. He coined the following phrase: “Accidental truths of history cannot be the proof for necessary truths of reason.” In other words, while it cannot be denied that there is overwhelming historical evidence that the four Gospels are, as far as historical investigation goes, reliable accounts of Christ, and that Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of the prophets who predicted the coming Christ, they must be rejected. And this is because they contradict Reason. This has become known as the broad, ugly ditch of Reason, which sits between historical claims and faith.
Reza Aslan has recently argued that the resurrection of Christ is by definition an ahistorical event. Why? Because it is impossible to rise from the dead. Here Aslan goes even further than Lessing and many of the other leaders of the Enlightenment. They at least admitted that it was historical. They were just honest about who their god was. Their god was Reason. The resurrection blasphemes their god named Reason. Therefore, they reject it, despite its historicity. Aslan and others like him say that it isn’t history. But they say so because of their same devotion to their god. They worship Reason.
Our limited reason, while being able to acknowledge some kind of divine, is opposed specifically to God. This is because God is holy and we are sinful, and Reason wants to boast in her own wisdom. So in this season of our Lord’s Resurrection, we celebrate the fact that Christ, the Lord and Author of Life, has died for us, taking away the sin that sets Reason above God. He stands risen from the dead, victorious over all false gods, including Reason. As St. Paul says (1 Cor 1:18), “The Word of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” And again (1 Cor 1:27), “God chose the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise.” Dear friends, the Apostles and 500 other witnesses of Christ’s resurrection could not be silenced then, and they can’t be silenced now. None of the Apostles were willing to deny what they heard and saw, even in the midst of torture and execution. This puts us to shame when we don’t flock to hear it every Sunday. Christ is risen! It’s a historical fact! God’s Word is fulfilled, and it can’t be broken, not even by Reason.