Theologians To Debate the Resurrection on Palm Sunday

On Palm Sunday, the day that Christians commemorate Jesus Christ's arrival in Jerusalem, two noted theologians will debate whether or not the Easter resurrection was a real, historical event or merely a spiritual experience of Jesus' followers.

Bethel College is hosting "The Great Resurrection Debate" Sunday, March 20, at 6 p.m. in the Everest-Rohrer Chapel/Fine Arts Center. Opposing views will be presented by Dr. William Lane Craig, research professor of philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, Calif., and Bishop John Shelby Spong, retired bishop of the Diocese of Newark (N.J.). Craig will defend the historic Christian view that Jesus literally rose from the dead after His crucifixion. Spong will assert that the literal version of resurrection is antiquated and that the future of the Christian faith hinges on a reformation of outmoded beliefs.

"Given the influence of Christianity on the history of Western civilization and the central role of Jesus' resurrection in Christian faith, the issue of the resurrection—whether the event actually happened as historical fact or is religious metaphor—is of fundamental importance," says Chad Meister, Ph.D., Bethel assistant professor of philosophy, who has spent the past two years putting together the debate, the first between Craig and Spong. "This is an opportunity for Bethel College to be on the cutting edge of the current debate on this topic."

Christians have historically held the view that Jesus' bodily resurrection is a historical fact and that salvation depends on it. This is the position followed by the Missionary Church and Bethel College. Recently, some in the Christian community, including Spong, have denounced the literal interpretation of the resurrection.

The debate will be televised live via satellite to more than 2,000 churches nationwide on the Church Communication Network (CCN). Award-winning journalist David Aikman will serve as moderator. A former TIME Magazine senior correspondent, Aikman is also a regular television and radio commentator on international affairs.

Craig and Spong are world-renowned for their works on the Christian faith, particularly their views on the resurrection. Craig has authored many books and articles related to this topic, including "Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus," "Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?" and "Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment?"

An Episcopal bishop for more than 20 years, Spong also has written many books and articles relating to the Easter event, including "Why Christianity Must Change or Die", "A New Christianity for a New World" and "Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture."

Tickets for the debate are $5 and are available in advance from the Bethel ticket office. Tickets can be purchased by phone, 574.257.7633, or at the ticket office, located in the Everest-Rohrer Chapel/Fine Arts Center, 1001 W. McKinley Ave., Mishawaka, from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.  For more information, contact the Bethel College public relations office at 574.257.3331 or e-mail

Bethel College is an accredited Christian college of the arts and sciences offering associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees in more than 50 areas of study. The current enrollment of 1,964 includes students from 34 states, 19 countries, more than 20 denominational affiliations and 16 percent from culturally diverse backgrounds. Scholarships are available based upon a variety of factors including academic achievement, talent in the arts or athletics, ethnicity and church affiliation. The Bethel campus is situated on 75 beautifully wooded acres in Mishawaka, Indiana.                                                                                                            

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Dr. William Lane Craig,

Bishop John Shelby Spong,