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Christian Frustration

March 21, 2007

The whole “Family Tomb of Jesus” thing has stirred up the hornet’s nest in the Methodist blogosphere. It appears that the debate has taken a very predictable turn, hinging upon the assertion/assumption that if these are the bones of Jesus, then there was no resurrection.

And it has led us to, quite naturally, some degree of debate over the nature of resurrection. What exactly is a resurrection?

Having graduated from seminary, my first instinct is to ask my New Testament professor, Steve Patterson (no stranger to controversy), what he thinks.

In his article on the subject, he writes:

For many Christians, the literal physical resurrection of Jesus is the miracle that proves Jesus was the Son of God, and that we should therefore believe in Jesus. If this miracle were shown to be untrue—by the discovery of Jesus’ body, in this case—then Christian faith would itself be shown to be untrue. But for many other Christians, the resurrection of Jesus is not to be understood in this way. The earliest resurrection confession, reflected in Paul’s letter, First Corinthians, did not present Jesus’ resurrection as physical in this way. Paul argues that resurrection is only possible insofar as God gives to the dead a new body, which he calls a “spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44). “Flesh and blood,” he says, “cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Cor 15:50). Of course, Paul’s view is not the only one in the New Testament. The writers of Matthew and Luke, and possibly John, all believed Jesus’ physical body was raised from the dead. This is why many insist on it today as fundamental to Christian faith. But to insist on it, as so many do, is to ignore the diversity of the New Testament itself, which ought to authorize similar diversity among Christians today.

Hat tip: my friend, former classmate and controversial figure (and he likes it that way) Chuck Currie

To paraphrase, if we truly believe Paul’s confession in I Corinthians 15 (the earliest written explanation of resurrection, BTW) then even if these are the bones of Jesus that proves nothing about the resurrection itself. Of course it does challenge the witness of the Gospel authors or, more fundamentally, our understanding of the Gospel confessions.

Also, on the Damascus Road Paul did not experience Jesus as a flesh-and-bone human but rather as something resembling a theophany. Other theologians even argue that the body of Christ that is truly risen is the Church – again language and imagery courtesy of good ole Paul. Yet others will point out that the body of Christ present in the Gospel resurrection stories is fundamentally different or changed in some mysterious way – it can walk through locked doors and is unrecognizable to Jesus’ own closest friends until he chooses to reveal his identity.

My most significant problem with the whole debate is this: we base our theological claims on one fundamental assumption – that the resurrection is the beginning and end of the Christian faith. I agree that an understanding of resurrection is foundational to the faith, but doesn’t that go beyond what God does with a dead body? And doesn’t our faith also have something to do with how Jesus lived his life, what he taught and how he treated people? Isn’t it foolish to assume that all theology hinges upon how he was born, how he died and how the resurrection took place?

If all we are interested in is proving the assertions of the Apostles’ Creed to be historically factual, then the atheists are right about us – we’re nuts. Let’s focus instead upon being an incarnation of the risen body of Christ – the Church (capital C), loving God and neighbor, embodying mercy and grace, living out Matthew 25 (feeding the hungry and all that jazz) and walking humbly (not arrogantly or angrily) with God.

Instead of focusing on what it meant to say that Christ rose from the grave 2,000 years ago, let’s focus on living like Christ is risen here and now.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Wes Magruder permalink
    March 21, 2007 10:08 am

    Yes, very well put. I think a lot of people just have a very difficult time making nuanced, complicated distinctions. Some of us Christians think that we need to be rigid, clear, black-white on things. And the doctrine of the resurrection is tough, because it’s not something we can chart, graph or dissect. Anyway, I liked the way you said it.

  2. John permalink
    March 22, 2007 4:18 pm

    Instead of focusing on what it meant to say that Christ rose from the grave 2,000 years ago, let’s focus on living like Christ is risen here and now.

    Cart before the horse. If the divine nature of Jesus was a lie, we have no reason to live like him now.

    And what does it mean to even live like Jesus? If the NT writers were so massively wrong about him rising from the dead, then we have no reason to believe that they reported Jesus’ teachings correctly.

  3. Will Deuel permalink
    March 22, 2007 4:53 pm

    John,

    I refuse to debate with you so long as you misrepresent my positions and statements in order to make your arguments. I never said the NT writers were “massively wrong” about the resurrection or anything else.

    You would be better off debating someone who actually holds the views you want to dispute.

  4. Roadtripray permalink
    April 11, 2007 3:41 pm

    This is a very interesting post. I think John mischaracterized your post. I don’t think you’re trying to say the NT writers were “massively wrong,” so I support your decision not to debate on that premise.

    Yet I’m leary of retreating too easily from the traditional interpretation in Christ’s physical resurrection. Are we merely changing our interpretation to fit modern events? If so, it can weaken one’s faith in the other truths we have professed.

    But then I come back around to your point of view when you point out that if Jesus was walking through doors that He obviously was in a different physical state than prior to the resurrection. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    — Ray

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