The Speckled Mind

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Surprised By Hope Part 7: Resurrection

Well, friends, I'm afraid I'm going to have to end this series. Not because there's nothing more to say. Rather, these posts are pretty labor intensive, and I'm not sure I'm going to have the time to continue them any longer. To those that have accompanied me on the journey--both those who commented and those who did not--I owe you my deepest thanks. I wish there were more time to deeply explore some of the issues that have arisen in the past few weeks. Perhaps there will be at some point.

Part 7 seemed to be the perfect one on which to end this series (for those of you who are into Jewish numerology at least...). Also, it seemed right to post on this particular topic on Resurrection Sunday. Today, Christians everywhere rejoice in the fact that the tomb is empty, and that we worship the risen and exalted messiah, Jesus.

In terms of apologetics for the truth of the resurrection I will give only a few brief comments--here I am drawing heavily upon Wright's work. My hunch is that few readers of this blog doubt the historicity of this event, but these things are still worth mentioning. First, those that would doubt the truth of the bodily resurrection of Christ must explain the historical (and sociological) curiosity of the early Christian movement. If Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, why would his disciples have continued to proclaim him as the messiah? A crucified Jewish would-be messiah in the first century was a FAILED messiah. This point cannot be made too strongly, and there are plenty of historical examples to support it. The followers of that would-be messiah had two options: a) disband and forget the hope of liberation that the 'messiah' seemed to offer, or b) elect a new messianic candidate from within who would continue the cause of liberation. Curiously, the first Christians did neither of these things, instead proclaiming that Jesus had BODILY risen from the dead. Wright and others argue vehemently that such a proclamation is historically inconceivable unless Jesus actually did rise.

A second and very convincing argument for the truth of the resurrection accounts in the gospels is that women were the first witnesses of the event. In Part 6, I mentioned briefly the second class status afforded women in Jewish society. They were not allowed to testify in court--their recounting of events would have been worthless for legal purposes. Such a situation begs the question: If the evangelists were trying to author a convincing fiction and pass it off as history, why in the world would they have written women as the leading actresses of their accounts? It would have convinced no one. The only explanation for the gospel accounts reading as they do is that they are historically accurate.

So, having established the facticity of the gospel accounts, what can we say about how the disciples understood the event itself? What did it mean within the larger schema of Jewish eschatology? Here the road is a bit bumpier, and I will again recommend reading Surprised By Hope for yourself if you want to get a clearer picture. For our purposes, an all-too-brief summary will have to suffice.

First, most Jews expected a resurrection to occur (save the Sadducees); everyone knew that Yahweh would one day resurrect all people for judgment in anticipation of/preparation for the new heavens and new earth. Let me be clear, all expectation in this regard had an end of the world referent. For Jesus' disciples to claim that their Lord had been raised from the dead in the middle of history would have been a novel invention indeed (were it not true). So what did it mean? For Paul, the answer is clear.

It meant that death had been defeated; it meant that Yahweh's new creation had already been inaugurated in the person of Jesus.

Jesus was, in this sense, the "truly human one." He was the lone example of what human life in God's perfect new creation would look like. He was the person in whom the future was caught up in the present. Notice that there is nothing that can be 'spiritualized' about Jesus' resurrection. It was not another way of referring to life after death in another place. Nor was it an interesting description of an intense private spirituality. Rather it was the prototype for life after life after death on earth (this is Wright's way of putting the matter, and I think it's spectacular).

So what should we make of the fact that God's new creation has been set loose in the person of Jesus Christ? I suggest the most appropriate response is to find out how we can get in on the action. After all, if there are two types of creation going on all around us--one that is subject to death and decay and another that bears the beauty of the risen Christ--it would seem logical to shoot for the latter. It is, therefore, our privilege and pleasure to be "in Christ" in this way--that we reflect the agenda of God's certain and conclusive future redemption for the entire cosmos in the present.

Or, as Paul puts it, "If anyone is in Christ [there is] a New Creation!! Everything old has passed away; behold! everything has become new."


So what does all of this mean in terms of practical action? How does a belief in the present power of new creation affect the things that are said and done on an every day basis? I'd be lying if I said I had ready made answers to these questions. What I can do is offer some thoughts I've had about being a Christian in this generation--especially since reading this book. Much of this might not strike you as novel, but it is what it is....

I've thought long and hard about the ways in which being "in Christ" should make me different from any other person walking down the DC streets. What should set me apart? What would cause people to recognize the surprising and beautiful existence of new creation in the middle of history when it was on display in my life? What would cause people to be persuaded that a commitment to Christ is anything more than a personal spiritual add-on to the existing status quo?

First, I think my generation has stopped asking the question "is it right?" and replaced it with, "does it work?" It is the generation of the postmodern pragmatist, concerned more with the agenda of human advancement and advantage than the characteristics of new creation. Therefore, I need to remember that "Does it work" always serves the cause of the powerful (they define what 'works' and what doesn't) and to take up the cause of those who are casualties of that agenda. My operating paradigm for action must be rooted in "is it right?".

Second, I need to learn to be loving. I need to resist the tendency to redefine love in terms of what I consider to be possible--to remake love in my own image, if you will. I need to give up my self perceived need to be right as a matter of course, realizing that "the right" are not listed amongst the blessed in Jesus economy.

Like I said, nothing particularly new. These are just a couple of things I've been kicking around and trying to put into practice since reading this book. Feel free to add your own to the list of 'what new creation looks like in the 21st century.'

To all: Happy Resurrection Day. HE IS RISEN!

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  • Sad to see the analysis ending. Thanks for bringing me into reading this book.
    On Wright's historicity of the resurrection, I must say this was the only disappointment to me in the book. That Christ is risen is much more a statement Christians through out the ages have reasoned from rather than reason to. Though we live under a tyranny of reasoning only from observable truth. We must not subject the resurrection to the delusions of human history when we have something more sound than reason and more sure than the observable reality contained within the word and promise of God. As our pastor in Mpls said Sunday, "the risen Christ is more real than anything else". We subject the great risen king's deeds to the testimony of such poor witnesses as man's historical mindset and reasoning.
    I was quite surprised Wright went there.
    A far more fascinating topic shortly after this chapter was the one on Ascension of Christ. I'd love to hear more of your thoughts on that or on where else I may go to read on this topic. I found it fascinating that there is likely a connection between our image of Christ's Ascention and how we view resurrection, ecclesialogy, and esetology. (I should learn the right spelling)
    If I may offer a suggestion of continued reading; It seems much of Wright's thought is a more accessible/readable version of Theology of Hope by Jugen Moltmann. It is one of the most important theological works of the 20th century. So if anyone is up for a further endeavor along this topic, I would highly recommend it. (though not quite as highly as I recommend his second book The Crucified God... but that is a different topic) Thanks again for convincing me to read some Wright.

    By Blogger Post_Fidelitas, at 3:06 AM  

  • Hey Bro,
    Sorry I never called you back last night. I'm in the process of finishing up a take-home exam and a paper that I have to finish by friday so I can graduate this spring. I got working and just lost track of the time. I didn't think you'd appreciate a phone call at 11pm.

    By Blogger Aaron, at 3:19 PM  

  • 'In terms of apologetics for the truth of the resurrection I will give only a few brief comments--here I am drawing heavily upon Wright's work. My hunch is that few readers of this blog doubt the historicity of this event, but these things are still worth mentioning. '

    I have a debate on the resurrection at Resurrection Debate

    Comments are always welcome So far the Christians are getting hammered.

    As for Wright's arguments, there is a discussion forum at Discussion Forum

    The moderators could not answer my posts about Wright's 'logic', and so deleted almost all of them.

    That seems as good a way of winning a discussion as any....

    By Blogger Steven Carr, at 4:33 AM  

  • 'First, those that would doubt the truth of the bodily resurrection of Christ must explain the historical (and sociological) curiosity of the early Christian movement. If Jesus did not actually rise from the dead, why would his disciples have continued to proclaim him as the messiah? '

    Wright has to explain, (in his parallel universe), why the disciples proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah in the first place?

    Didn't they know that a Messiah who prophesied his crucifixion was no Messiah at all?

    So why did they proclaim him as the Messiah?

    And why did the enemies of Jesus think there was a very real possibility that some people would continue to claim that somebody was the Messiah, even after they had been crucified?

    If they had only read some of Wright, they would have known that there was ZERO chance of the disciples pretending that Jesus had been raised, and proclaiming him to be the Messiah.

    So why did they take precautions against something that Wright claims was impossible to happen - fake claims about a crucified Messiah?

    By Blogger Steven Carr, at 4:38 AM  

  • Mr. Carr

    If you want a convincing proof of the truth of Jesus' resurrection, I've got one for you:

    At one time, comments like yours would have provoked me to enter the apologetic fray. And, in the midst of the myriad of nameless, faceless internet personas, I would have said many things without love. Some of them may even have been convincing.

    But you know what?

    I don't feel that desire anymore. Because, what those with no faith in the risen Christ really need is not better information. Rather, they need a display of the resurrection's power to transform people into active kingdom participants. Words can't do that, but the Spirit of Christ can.

    Further, I have little interest in 'proving' that the resurrection empirically, historically happened. Do I think that it makes the best sense of the available evidence? Sure. But even more than that, it is a story without peer--that the God who created everything would enter human history and die for the sake of His renegade creation. And then, out of love for the creation, that God destroyed its biggest enemy--death--by rising from the dead. And now, the power of life trumps the power of death. The powers of this world do not have the last word. Christ does.

    If you can find a better story than that, I'd love to live in it. Until then, I am a man slayed by the power of Christ's resurrection.

    May the Spirit of the risen Christ be upon you.

    By Blogger timmer k., at 9:03 PM  

  • argh!

    So i was COMPLETELY frustrated at the Bishop's non-stance on hell. What in the world does "cease being human" even mean?!? he on the one side affirms the general resurrection, but doesn't give any definitive statement on those who have deliberately and consistently worshipped another god but GOD.

    i would have figured he would have come down and said that those who have walked away from the Lord in this life will be "allowed" to continue to walk away from him in the life to come. it seems to me that a most frightening aspect of God's wrath would be that he simply stops granting the common grace we all have. To me, the most wrathful thing God could do would be to allow the wickedness of my heart (and all of our hearts who deliberately choose to walk away) to come to fruition all the time.

    I do believe very strongly that the greatest example of God’s wrath won’t be eternal exile and destruction from an outside army (aka God and judgment in the OT sense) but rather the greatest example of his wrath will be shown in the eternal allowance (and consequence) of an eternal self-imposed exile.

    The scary thing about the way I view God’s wrath (aka judgment and hell) is that the gracious filter we’ve all been given (a conscience) will be removed. Furthermore, we know Satan as being “the accuser” and we hear his accusations always in the guilt we feel after we’ve sinned. The frightening thing about Revelation is that the Accuser is finally and eternally BOUND. Meaning, even the guilt we USED to feel, no longer will be present. Can you imagine the wickedness that will prevail when the judged people are allowed to live completely without a conscience AND the Accuser is bound? The limit of our self-imposed agony will be worse than any picture of fire or other pop pictures of hell. What is Hell? The unrestricted and unrestrained allowance of our own evilness to proliferate unchecked and unbound.

    I can think of no worse eternal existence than the unrestrained wickedness of my own intentions.

    By Blogger Aaron, at 6:56 PM  

  • long time no post...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:50 AM  

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