In a recent article for The New York Times, op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof asks pastor and author Timothy Keller if the belief in the virgin birth of Jesus and His Resurrection is essential to be a Christian.
The evangelical Christian leader answers the question thus:
"If something is truly integral to a body of thought, you can't remove it without destabilizing the whole thing," Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, wrote in the Times article, which featured both Kristof's questions and the pastor's answers.
"Tim, I deeply admire Jesus and his message, but am also skeptical of themes that have been integral to Christianity — the virgin birth, the Resurrection, the miracles and so on," wrote Kristof, who writes about human rights, women's rights, health and global affairs. "Since this is the Christmas season, let's start with the virgin birth. Is that an essential belief, or can I mix and match?" he asked.
"A religion can't be whatever we desire it to be," continued Keller, a New York Times best-selling author. "If I'm a member of the board of Greenpeace and I come out and say climate change is a hoax, they will ask me to resign."
However, the earliest accounts of Jesus' life, like the Gospel of Mark and Paul's letter to the Galatians, don't even mention the virgin birth, Kristof asked further. "And the reference in Luke to the virgin birth was written in a different kind of Greek and was probably added later. So isn't there room for skepticism?"
Keller responded by saying that Jesus' story isn't "simply a legend."
"(French philosopher) Luc Ferry, looking at the Gospel of John's account of Jesus' birth into the world, said this taught that the power behind the whole universe was not just an impersonal cosmic principle but a real person who could be known and loved," Keller added.
"And the Resurrection? Must it really be taken literally?" asked Kristof.
Jesus' teaching was not the main point of his mission, Keller pointed out. "He came to save people through his death for sin and his resurrection. So his important ethical teaching only makes sense when you don't separate it from these historic doctrines. If the Resurrection is a genuine reality, it explains why Jesus can say that the poor and the meek will 'inherit the earth' (Matthew 5:5). St. Paul said without a real resurrection, Christianity is useless (1 Corinthians 15:19)."
Kristof also asked why did Mary Magdalene and some of Jesus' disciples initially fail to recognize Him after the Resurrection? "So where does that leave people like me? Am I a Christian? A Jesus follower? A secular Christian? Can I be a Christian while doubting the Resurrection?" he asked.
Keller refused to draw any conclusion, saying he would need to talk to him at length first. "But, in general, if you don't accept the Resurrection or other foundational beliefs as defined by the Apostles' Creed, I'd say you are on the outside of the boundary."