First Things: The Motivated Belief of John Polkinghorne
Jul 17, 2009
Edward B. Davis
His view of the Resurrection, however, should raise no eyebrows among orthodox Christians. Many contemporary theologians doubt that Jesus was raised bodily from the grave—a startling state of affairs for the typical believer to grasp and impossible to reconcile with the Church’s celebration of Easter. In large part this reflects an exaggerated confidence in science and too easy an acceptance of the Enlightenment skepticism of David Hume. Polkinghorne, whose understanding of science is second to none, is unencumbered by either burden. He understands that the Resurrection is “the pivot on which the claim of a unique and transcendent significance for Jesus must turn,” and he does not turn away from embracing the risen Lord. It would be “a serious apologetic mistake,” he writes with typical British understatement, “if Christian theology thought that operating in the context of science should somehow discourage it from laying proper emphasis on the essential centrality of Christ’s Resurrection, however counterintuitive that belief may seem in the light of mundane expectation.” In an open-minded quest for motivated belief, Polkinghorne examines the evidence for the empty tomb, concluding that something truly miraculous actually happened—a foretaste of what will also happen to us, in the new creation that God will someday fashion from the dying embers of the old creation that has been our abode in this life.
In short, for Polkinghorne the universe is a created order, a beautiful and rational place that is also open to human and divine action—past, present, and future. The bold yet modest way in which he bears witness to orthodox faith has given him a certain notoriety and attracted many serious inquirers and interlocutors. the rest image by hoyasmeg