God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

I’m not here to critique the new movie or poke fun at the popular Christian song (which was co-written by an old friend). But since the phrase “God’s not dead” is central to both and thus bandied around a lot by evangelicals today, I’d like to start there. You see, “My God’s not dead…he’s living on the inside” is not what the apostles said about Jesus. In fact, it might be the very opposite of what they said. The heart of early Christian preaching was that God raised Jesus from the dead. This is a hope that is better than you might have imagined.

So, what’s the difference? I mean, aren’t these simply semantics? If God raised Jesus from the dead, then God’s not dead, right?

Let’s a take a closer look.

“God’s not dead…he’s living on the inside.” This makes God a private reality. It says, “World, I’m sorry you think God’s dead, but he’s not to me.” It accepts the very premise of existentialism that reality is only real for the ones to whom it is real. It makes God my truth. It takes the cosmic Creator and shrinks him down to a wee, bitty “know-that-I-know-that-I-know” feeling in my heart. It makes the resurrection of Jesus not an historical anomaly — an event for which we have no pre-existing category — but a nice story that is real to me, true for me whether it happened or not. (Somewhere Rudolf Bultmann is rejoicing.)

But the apostles said something very different. They said, “God raised Jesus from the dead.” What they meant by this is that God has come at last. He has kept his promise. He is at work within his world to rescue and redeem it! Jesus came as Israel’s Messiah — their chosen representative — to fulfill their vocation to be a light to the whole world. He faithfully carried this out and, yet, he was crushed for Israel’s unfaithfulness — no, all our unfaithfulness. Jesus was not simply the True Israel; he was the True Human. He stood with us, as us, for us, carrying the weight of our sin and our brokenness all the way to the cross and down to the grave.

And then all of creation waited. What would God do now? Would he let Jesus stay there? Would he scrap this whole project, this world he had made? Would he forget the promise he made to use Abraham’s family to bless the families of the earth and make us whole? Would he abandon his people who were the chosen instrument of salvation but themselves needed saving? What would God do?

God raised Jesus from the dead!

This is not the grave not being able to “hold Jesus down.” This is not Jesus rising like a mythic conqueror over the enemy of death. This is Jesus fully dying our death and lying in the grave. This is God the Father being faithful to his promise — to Israel, to us, to the world.

The resurrection, then, is not a private reality — it is a public declaration! It is God announcing to the cosmos that he is not finished with us yet. As N. T. Wright has famously written, “What God has done for Jesus, he will do for the cosmos.”

A Great Easter Day is coming. The world will be set right. New life will spring up and swallow death whole. The heavens and the earth will be made new and we will be given bodies fit for such a world.

This gospel is, as British theologian Lesslie Newbigin wrote, a “public truth.” It is not an escapist claim that God is “living on the inside.” It is a triumphant shout that God is faithful to his word, that Jesus is reigning over his world…and that this faithful love and reign will result in the restoration of all things. Yes, there will be those who will refuse such news. But our task is not to defiantly insist on a reality that is true to us. It is to announce and embody this new resurrection reality.

God’s not dead? Sure. But the really striking news is that God raised Jesus from the dead. One is a protest; the other is a proclamation, an announcement of good news for the whole world.

 

Image via Shutterstock.

Glenn Packiam
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  • http://www.naturallyfrigid.com/ northern girl

    hallelujah

  • Steven Carr

    Of course, early Christian converts (eg in Corinth) simply scoffed at the idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.

    Paul calls them ‘fools’ and reminds them that ‘the last Adam became a life-giving spirit’.

    Fancy thinking that a resurrection involves a corpse being raised. Paul would have regarded that as like discussing how a fish could turn into the moon.

    Paul is very blunt – what goes into the ground dies.

  • Tom from North Carolina

    A careful reading of the resurrection story in the gospels is rife withe contradictions. Literally every aspect of the stories are filled with contradicting details as to make it obvious that there can be little truth behind them.

    • Doug

      Don’t be silly, Tom. Even if we accept the claim that there are discrepancies between the resurrection accounts (and there are good reasons not to accept this claim), minor discrepancies would not discredit their historical accounts.

      For example, when Ludwig Wittgenstien and Karl Popper met in the early 1900s, there were differing accounts of what transpired. Rumors circulated that Wittgenstein threatened Popper with a red-hot poker. Some witnesses said the poker was cool. Other witnesses said they couldn’t remember the temperature of the poker, but they were sure that Wittgenstein had waved it around to make his point. Still others say that Wittgenstein merely picked up the poker in anger, and stormed off with it in a rage. But what no one doubts, despite these minor discrepancies, is that (1) a meeting took place, (2) between two philosophical adversaries, and (3) a heated exchange occurred as a result, with Wittgenstein handling a fire poker at some point.

      That true story reminds us that it is commonplace for witnesses to disagree on minor details, but that doesn’t mean that nothing happened! On the contrary, the more witnesses we have confirming the central fact, the stronger the case for believing it, despite whatever small discrepancies may remain. Thus, even those who accept the claim that there are irreconcilable differences between the Gospel accounts all recognize their agreement on this central fact: Jesus’ tomb was empty on Easter morning. I suggest you begin with that reality (a fact that even Jesus’ enemies acknowledged, but had trouble explaining) and let the remaining details sort themselves out.

      Blessings to you.
      - Doug

      • W Maxwell Cassity-Guilliom

        There are also many people who have never met but will attest to remarkably similar experiences as alien abductees. Having a story repeated often by different people doesn’t mean it’s real, especially if none of those people were even eyewitnesses.

        • Evan Wickham

          W,

          But the stories you mentioned represent many different events, happening differently to different people in diverse places.

          The resurrection stories represent one singular event happening to one person in one place.

          You don’t see the difference? It’s massive.

          Evan

          • W Maxwell Cassity-Guilliom

            That’s not necessarily true, you can also find groups of people who will give you an account of their group-experience as abductees or witnesses to an alien event.

            On the other hand the resurrection stories in the new testament do not even come from eyewitnesses.

          • Evan Wickham

            Actually, eyewitness accounts are precisely what Matthew’s and John’s Gospels are. And Mark’s and Luke’s are transcriptions from eyewitnesses.

          • W Maxwell Cassity-Guilliom

            Authorship of the Gospel of Matthew is anonymous. It’s dated between 70-110 CE with scholarly opinion sitting in 80-90 CE, so about half a century after the supposed date of jesus’ death therefore not an eyewitness account. Within the original manuscripts themselves there is no signature or other sign of authorship, the phrase “according to Matthew” was added in the second century.

            The construction of the Gospel of John is layered and marked by many anonymous authors adding different things at different times. However, scholars reject the assertion that the disciple John was one of the authors.

          • Tom from North Carolina

            No resurrection story talks about Matthew or John being eye witnesses. There are huge discrepancies from one account to the other. There are discrepancies as to who went to the tomb, what they saw, when they saw it, who said what, where Jesus went to and on and on. Why would you believe an account that is obviously contrived or do you think the dead walked from their tombs, the sun was eclipsed for most of the day and every implausible statement described by unknown authors?

  • Pricilla

    With all due respect, Pastor,
    I think you are trying to overanalyze the song lyrics. You quote “God’s not dead… He’s living on the inside” but you skip a whole line. It actually goes “God’s not dead, He’s surely alive” which is one statement in and of itself, proclaiming it as a truth to the whole world. THEN the song moves into the next phrase and says “He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion” which is central to each individual and is true for those of us that believe in the Gospel, because the Holy Spirit lives inside of us. It seems to me like you are using the fame of this movie/song to draw attention to yourself or your blog, and negatively misconstruing the lyrics, causing dissent amongst Christians. This is something that the secular media does, don’t be sucked into it. Focus on the power and meaning of this movie, instead of reading into something that’s not there.

    • http://www.glennpackiam.com Glenn Packiam

      I hear you. I know the song– as I mentioned, it was written by a friend. I’m simply saying that even the notion that “God’s not dead, he is alive” is not yet the rich and powerful New Testament phrase that “God raised Jesus from the dead.” There is a difference and the difference can be life-changing for us as the church. I bring this up not to correct or to quibble but to show the beauty of our hope…something wider than that phrase. Please know that my goal is not to draw attention to myself or to bring dissent, hence my clear opening in this article that this is not about the movie or the song but about the idea. I hope a careful reading and pondering of what I’m saying will show that there is something much deeper and more meaningful that all of us as believers can be awakened to.

  • Michael Frost

    On this topic – the reality – the PHYSICAL reality of the resurrection of Jesus . . .
    Over the last two weeks I’ve been introduced to John Updike’s “Seven Stanzas at Easter”
    A really great poem – check out the first stanza –

    Make no mistake: if he rose at all
    It was as His body;
    If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
    Reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
    The Church will fall.

  • Mike

    So let’s make sure we’re not just being like the so many people today that like to take one verse out of the bible and quote it out of context and say that it represents the whole of Christianity. The rest of the chorus from the song that you have chosen to use is this, ”My God’s not dead, He’s surely alive, and He’s living on the inside
Roaring like a lion.” This does not seem to me to be something that is kept to yourself, as you would suggest. I mean how do you keep a roaring lion silent? 
 Also you kept stating that the apostles only stated that God raised Jesus from the dead, which is true, but let us not forget Galatians 2:20 “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” The words “Christ in me” are repeated over and over in the New Testament. I certainly agree that the gospel is not to be kept to ourselves and that we are to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth. I just think if you wanted to use the “God’s Not Dead” movie or song as your illustration then you should have maybe went with how when God is living inside of you he is not being kept in a box but rather he is a roaring lion that makes his presence known wherever you are. Or something like
    that.

  • Jim

    God raised Jesus from the dead? I thought Jesus was God. So Jesus raised himself from the dead.