This was the question asked for the end of the past week by the editors of The Washington Post and Newsweek for the "On Faith" conversation. Here was the question as stated by the editors: "Do you have to believe the resurrection is literally true -- that Jesus came back to life in his body -- to be a Christian?"
Let me express some thoughts of my own. In my opinion, the question is slightly misphrased. It is worded in a way a non-believer might pose it, as a sort of test, to a Christian. I think it reflects an unbeliever's rather adolescent view of Christianity. I think the question for Christians to ponder might better be, "Will a Christian believe in a literal, physical resurrection?" I think the answer to this question is, "Yes."
You see, I don't think the 'belief' is a matter of one's choice or will. A non Christian cannot believe it. But a Christian, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, I won't say, 'must' believe it, but I will say, 'will' believe it. Because that belief is from God Himself. We don't choose to believe it or not to believe it. Once God has revealed a certain truth to us, we cannot help but believe. We simply know it, and we cannot any longer deny it. In other words, to give what might be considered a frivolous example, once it has been shown to us, and we come to know, that one plus one equals two, we cannot ever again truly disbelieve it.
I may have mentioned this before, but I can remember quite clearly my first day of school. The teacher held up a card with some black markings on it and asked if anyone knew what it said. I didn't have a clue, but another young student knew and put up his hand. "Mother", he said, and it was absolutely true. Now, to me, the markings meant absolutely nothing at the time, but now, I cannot look at the letters, M,O,T,H,E, and R, in that order, without knowing what they say. I cannot not know what they say, ever again. But without someone telling me what they said, I would not know.
In the same way, without the witness of the Holy Spirit revealing to us the truth of the resurrection, one cannot truly believe it, to the point of the complete confidence that a true Christian has about it. But once we have been given that assurance, and have absorbed it as truth, we will come to the point where we cannot ever again truly deny it.
"The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthian 2:14)
"For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom..." (1 Corinthians 1:25a)