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Where belief and history meet in an empty tomb

I have written this column for just over eight years, beginning the second week of February in 2009. Each year on Good Friday, I have written about the monumental significance of this weekend. As Time magazine noted in a survey a few years ago, Easter weekend more often than not ranks as the most important event in human history even among secular historians.

Whether one believes in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ or not, it is undeniable how impactful the first Easter weekend has been on the world. Though secularism is rising in the West, Christianity continues its spread around the world. It is the only religion unmoored from geography. Islam centers around Mecca. Judaism centers around Jerusalem. Buddhism and Hinduism are centered in parts of Southeast Asia.

One of the most influential secular theologians in the late twentieth-century is John Shelby Spong, an Episcopalian bishop. In his book “Why Christianity Must Change or Die,” Spong declared that Christians needed to reject a literal interpretation of the Bible to grow the faith. Liberal theologians and academics in America embraced his idea. Over the last two decades, major mainline denominations from the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. to Evangelical Lutherans to Episcopalians have taken up his cause.

The result? The mainline denominations that have abandoned biblical inerrancy and, in some cases, the physical death and resurrection of Jesus, are rapidly dwindling. A recently concluded academic study noted that the last Episcopalian in America has already been born. David Haskell, a religion professor in Canada, conducted a study of mainline churches and found “93 percent of clergy members and 83 percent of worshipers from growing churches agreed with the statement ‘Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb.’”

Only 67 percent of congregants and 56 percent of clergy at declining churches believed this. More notably, 100 percent of clergy and 90 percent of congregants at growing churches believe God performs miracles in answer to prayers. While 80 percent of congregants at declining churches believe that, only 44 percent of their clergy do.

It goes without saying that the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is a necessary belief to be a Christian, though it is amazing some find that statement controversial. This weekend is where belief and history meet in an empty tomb.

This Good Friday has added meaning for me. One year ago today, I was nearly dead and did not even know it. I had joined CrossFit only to drop out, unable to keep up. I just assumed I was too far gone — out of shape and across the threshold of 40. I could not catch my breath in exercises. But the situation grew more dire over time. A year ago today, my wife made me go to the doctor. By five o’clock a nurse began pumping me full of tissue plasminogen activator, a common treatment for stroke victims.

No, I had no stroke. But at some point in the preceding number of months, my lungs had slowly filled up with blood clots. My blood oxygen level had fallen below 89 percent. My lung capacity had been eviscerated. The poor technician who performed my CT scan freaked out. “You should be dead,” he said. A few weeks ago in the ER, yet another doctor told me I was supposed to be dead. But God gave me a reprieve.

This Easter weekend I take comfort that though God gave me a reprieve, 1,984 years ago Jesus had no reprieve. He died that I might live. Though one day all our bodies will expire, our faith in him ensure we live.

Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.

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