A Titanic Challenge

Titanic director James Cameron’s claim to have found Jesus’ tomb just could be the biggest challenge to Christianity since the Scopes trial.

This is because, if his material is genuine, it will be used to attack the very foundations of the Christian faith. Initial reports of his find make it clear that there is no way it can prove or disprove the claims of the Bible, but it will be hailed as an attack against the virgin birth and ascension of Christ. It also adds archaological fuel to DaVinci interest in Jesus’ supposed marriage to Mary Magdalene (with a child), and Mary’s status as an apostle. However, the greatest challenge by far is the attack on Christ’s resurrection.

A perusal of web thoughts already demonstrates how this could be a lightning rod for all the frustration and hatred people harbor – not only against the gospel, but against what is perceived as an arrogant church that has offended people for centuries. While I believe most everyone will continue to think and speak respectfully about Jesus himself, I expect that this debate will be desperately muddled by a mass of spiritual baggage, meaning that how the church responds to this will be important.

The challenge for Christians is three-fold …

First is the direct challenge to our personal faith . Speaking for myself, I could not follow Christ if I believed the biblical gospel were untrue. Cameron is therefore attacking everything that holds my life together. If I were to believe that Jesus never rose, not only would I quit my church, I would quit my job and think about quitting life. This issue is personal in the extreme. Do I think Cameron’s find will disprove the Bible? No. But the nature of my faith demands that I take this issue seriously, and I expect that will be uncomfortable. I am not ashamed of this; in fact, I find it exilerating to discover afresh how central faith is to my life. I do not believe in a pretend Jesus just to make me feel good. I am committed to the Risen Lord Jesus. There’s no getting around it: if he’s dead, then so am I (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).

Second, the personal intensity of this attack challenges the practice of our faith. I must take care how I conduct myself in this public debate. For us, Cameron’s allegations are not only intellectual arguements; whether intended or not, they are intensely personal attacks on our faith. The temptation will be huge to react in anger. Frustrations may also mount as every fault of the church is used (however illogically) to tear it down, using this “proof” that the gospel is a fabrication. Will I be able to face these attacks with spiritual integrity, enabling me to press on in grace, glorify God and love my enemies?

Third, Cameron has joined over-the-top Gibson and novelist Brown in providing golden opportunities to discuss the gospel. Past movies have highlighted the suffering of Christ and the validity of the biblical narrative, and now a very bright spotlight has been thrown upon the resurrection. We must not lose this opportunity. I expect to see some non-Christians rejoice, some in the church decide they really don’t believe in Jesus after all, and whole branches of the church exposed for the theological heresies they have embraced for some time. But I also expect to see many people come to Christ.

As a result, we who are Christians had better:

* face the evidence squarely and rediscover the centrality of the resurection for our own faith,
* prepare to engage what may be an ugly and hostile debate with a good will that is prepared to turn the other cheek many times,
* and gear up to explain the true gospel clearly, boldly, lovingly and often.