In an online article the Rev. David Jennings, canon theologian at Leicester Cathedral, says that he wants to allow the diversity of Christian interpretations of the resurrection to include the denial of its historicity so long as we affirm that “something significant happened which was of life-changing proportions.”
Jennings is keen that his minimalist version of resurrection should be allowed to count as a permissible Christian alternative in order to avoid the Church of England becoming a sect! A claim that echoes David Boulton’s comment in 1999 that clergy that are Sea of Faith members — many of whom were atheists — wish to remain as clergy within the Church of England because they “refuse to abandon it to fundamentalists.” But, contra Boulton, since when has believing in God been fundamentalist? And, contra Jennings, since when has belief in the bodily resurrection been sectarian? It is simply basic Christianity.
Whether Jennings’ minimalism is consistent with Christian faith very much depends on what he means by denying that the resurrection was a historical fact. His article is less than clear. He rightly points out that in the NT accounts “something else is going on than just the recording of an historical event” (italics mine). Indeed. He also rightly points out that the resurrection is not historical in the same way that the Battle of Hastings in 1066 was historical. It is a truly unique event and thus not “historical” in any mundane way. And yet Christians have always insisted that the resurrection of Christ was bodily — that is what resurrection meant — and this seems to be the very thing that Jennings wants to be allowed to doubt and even to deny. Now one may affirm, with Rudolph Bultmann and ex-Bishop of Durham David Jenkins, that something transformative happened in the hearts of the disciples after the crucifixion. Fine. But that claim does not amount to belief in the resurrection. To believe in the resurrection of Jesus is to believe something about Jesus — that he has been raised bodily from the dead — not something about the disciples. Jennings is welcome to doubt and to deny the resurrection (and I am unclear as to whether he is doing that) but in doing so he is doubting and denying Christianity. If that is what he is doing then his view should not be permitted within the Church of England. The Church of England may be a broad church — and I for one am pleased that it is — but it is also an orthodox church and reducing the resurrection to a transformation in the disciples (if that is what Jenkins is considering) is simply to step beyond "the faith once for all delivered to the saints."