Americans accept historical reality of the Resurrection of Jesus, but struggle to make it personal

Opportunity to teach biblical message, say Catholic and Protestant experts

By Mark A. KellnerThe Washington Times – Thursday, April 6, 2023

Millions and millions of Americans will commemorate the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday, but many still struggle to connect an event that they affirm as historically true to their daily lives.

For many, it seems, the Easter miracle is compelling but not particularly relevant.

Lifeway Research, an evangelical Christian organization, said this week that two-thirds of Americans polled profess to believe that the Bible’s accounts of the physical Resurrection of Jesus “are completely accurate.” The number roughly corresponds with the percentage of Americans who say they are Christians.

Surveyed for the Ligonier Ministries’ 2022 “State of Theology” study, the respondents who accept those accounts “believe this event actually occurred,” the researchers said. Eleven percent of those surveyed said they are “not sure” about the biblical accounts, and 23% said they don’t believe them.

Connecting the Resurrection story to everyday life is proving more of a challenge, the researchers found. For the first time in the multiyear history of the survey, Lifeway said, a majority of Americans, 53%, said “the Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but is not literally true.” 

A high of 32% of those surveyed said God isn’t concerned with their day-to-day decisions, and 60% said religious belief is “a matter of personal opinion, not objective truth.”

Asked about these results, the Rev. Jeremiah Johnston, author of “Body of Proof,” a new book detailing the seven “best reasons” to believe in the Resurrection, said the survey is “especially reflective of the rife biblical illiteracy in the church.”

Mr. Johnston said, “You cannot disbelieve the Resurrection based on the historical accounts that we have. It is so well attested.”

He said some scholars believe the evidence for the Crucifixion and Resurrection “is the best-established fact of the ancient world.”

Mr. Johnston said that along with the biblical accounts, “we have 11 sources outside of the Bible within 100 years that speak to Jesus’s death, burial and resurrection.” He said research conducted during the refurbishment of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem shows that the tomb there dates from the first century.

“The written and archaeological sources overwhelmingly support the Gospels’ Resurrection narratives,” he said.

Bishop Robert Barron, who heads the Roman Catholic Diocese of Winona-Rochester in Minnesota, told The Washington Times in a telephone interview that it’s encouraging to see so many Americans profess belief in the Resurrection, but he is concerned that the falling-away from the church evident in numerous recent surveys will eventually kill off that belief.

“I think it’s higher than I thought it would be,” Bishop Barron said of the percentage who accept the Resurrection as historical fact. “At the same time, if you couple that with disaffiliation, the fact that so many are leaving the churches — that’s just the future because those beliefs, you know, in God and Jesus and the Incarnation, the Resurrection, etc., are grounded in the church. They’ll endure for a time, perhaps apart from affiliation with the churches, but over time, they won’t. They’ll fade away.”

Teaching opportunity

Mr. Johnston, also the apologetics pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, said the survey and its findings about the Resurrection offer opportunities for churches to teach what it means to be a Christian.

“We have to catechize our people to understand that the Resurrection is the center of a Christian worldview,” he said. “The death and Resurrection are the center of what we call a Christian worldview. The center of that worldview is the Resurrection of Jesus.”

Bishop Barron said that making a personal connection to the Resurrection is essential for Christians.

“If you don’t see what it means to you, then you’re kind of missing the point of it,” he said. “The Resurrection is the good news because it’s God’s answer to sin and death.”

The Catholic leader, whose Word on Fire ministry promotes engagement with the Scripture and the church’s teachings, said the Resurrection shows “that God is more powerful than anything that separates us from him. And that God is about the business of saving us.”

He said such a view could bump up against a traditional American understanding of faith.

“I think a lot of Americans, especially, we’re still kind of deist in our theology, meaning we think that God exists, but at a great distance, and [he is] not really all that interested in us,” Bishop Barron said. “But God is after us, God is saving us, God is going into what frightens us in order to rescue us from it. So that’s what Easter is all about. It’s God’s great rescue operation of the human race. And that’s why we should rejoice.”

Mr. Johnston, who said he hears “everybody’s worst story of heartache, evil, suffering and pain” when making hospital visits as a pastor, said the Resurrection is “the only way we ultimately make sense of the suffering in our lives.”

He said, “The remarkable thing about the Resurrection is it gives us hope that our life can still be poured out and have meaning in a God-honoring way. That’s why it’s relevant.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at

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