Dare we speak of the truths of the Christian faith as “myth”?
For some, especially those steeped in a literary background, referring to something as “myth” is not a denial that it really happened, but a statement about its significance. J.R.R. Tolkien is said to have drawn C.S. Lewis to the Christian faith by putting it in terms of “true myth.”
Yet it seems to me this is very dangerous ground. Perhaps Tolkien and Lewis can reckon in these terms, but to the vast majority of people saying something is myth means precisely that it is not true–though it may have some nice lessons. A myth is a fable or parable, perhaps. So attempting to play with this category of myth is very likely to communicate that what we are talking about has no place in reality except as metaphor or symbol for something else.
And even to someone with a more literary bent, who understands myth as a question of significance, there is a strong danger that we will bifurcate truth–that we will give the impression that truth as fact and truth as meaning are different things with no necessary relation to one another. Thus the blogger Christian Chiakulas can stake his claim that because of the mythological significance of the resurrection of Christ, it doesn’t matter if it actually happened. And, unsurprisingly, the end result is that the significance of Christ’s resurrection becomes an affirmation of Chiakulas’s ideologies. Should we be surprised if there is a connection between denying the fact of what Christ has done and turning the work of Christ into support for your own agenda?
The significance of what Christ has done cannot be separated from the reality of what Christ has done. Against error in the church at Corinth, Paul said “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve” (1 Cor. 15:1-5, NIV).
What was it the apostle thought so important? What did he pass on to the church as the core of his gospel preaching? What did they receive and build their faith upon? What was the foundation of their salvation, from which they must not deviate? What was the received teaching that the apostle passed on, the message of first importance?
It was the facts of the death and resurrection of Christ. Each is elaborated with reference to Scripture and the plan of God, each demonstrated by evidence, the burial that followed Christ’s death and the witnesses who saw Him after His resurrection. The significance of the work of Christ was rooted in the reality of the work of Christ. Without the reality of the work of Christ, there is no gospel.