Posts Tagged ‘resurrection’

Why not bodily resurrection?

April 18, 2011

Peaking inside the empty tomb. (The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.)

I’ve been reading the Huffington Post’s Christianity page for about a month, and I like it. Even though I frequently disagree with its writers and bloggers, I appreciate that a relatively mainstream news and opinion website devotes serious attention to religion, and gives actual Christians and other practitioners of religion the ability to write about their faith. By contrast, Newsweek‘s religion coverage, for example, often treats religious questions with the seriousness it would devote to extraterrestrials and U.F.O.s.

I read this opinion piece, “Is a Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Necessary for Easter to Have Validity?” by author Steve McSwain, with sympathy. As I said in a recent sermon, “Heaven is not consolation for a life poorly lived,” and if we treat it as such, life after death begins to feel like pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by. It feels like wishful thinking. It feels death-denying.

As I’ve emphasized many times in sermons and on this blog, eternal life isn’t something we have to wait for. It begins now. True, we can’t experience it in all its fullness on this side of resurrection, but we experience some measure of it—by all means. I even preached a sermon on this very topic just a couple of weeks ago. McSwain says he came to this realization after reading his favorite French writer. Nevertheless, the present reality of eternal life (what theologians call “realized eschatology”) is deeply embedded in the New Testament itself—in John’s gospel and Paul’s letters especially. Both the Johannine Jesus and Paul speak of resurrection as both a metaphorical and physical event (e.g., John 11:17-27, Romans 6:1-4, Ephesians 2:5-6). The Bible isn’t either/or on the question of resurrection; it’s both/and.

While I’m sympathetic with McSwain, get a load of this paragraph, in which he gives his number one reason for denying bodily resurrection:
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Resurrection isn’t “floaty”

March 19, 2011

Popular evangelical author and “emergent” church pastor Rob Bell has written a controversial book about heaven and hell, and he’s getting some flak for it. As far as I can tell, Bell doesn’t say anything new, which is good, because all those old guys in the first several centuries of the church said things pretty well. And what he says probably isn’t anything, for example, that C.S. Lewis—beloved among those same evangelicals who criticize Bell—didn’t also say.

But Bell currently sells more books. Oh, well… You can’t make everyone happy, and why would you want to? (As Rick Nelson sang so long ago…)

(Or how about Sam Phillips?)

But this post isn’t really about all that. It’s about something that Bell said in an interview about the book—something yours truly has said in sermons and Bible studies many times. It’s in response to a question, in bold, about resurrection.

Resurrection is really central to this whole thing. There are those who would say that if you don’t believe in resurrection – and by resurrection they mean not some permanent essence existing in eternity but you, your physical body, that’s what happens at the end of the world. Your physical body joins your soul in the new heaven and earth. That’s the way it’s taught. So, it seems to me, it is for me, resurrection is the hardest part of the whole thing for me. I don’t really get how that works, and it sounds to me like you don’t really get how that works either.

Christians…this is why the discussion is so, sort of, great and interesting and compelling. What I do think is really important aobut resurrection is that resurrection says that this world matters. What’s so unbelievably crucial about resurrection is this, it says that this world matters and God has great value onthis world and has great desire to alleviate the suffering in this world.

So the resurrection as a sort of floaty – where we evaporate and go somewhere else – to me the resurrection is an affirmation of the goodness of this world. It’s about dirt and sweat and sex and vineyards. It is an earthy, affirmation of this world is good, it was created for you to enjoy it, and effort and the rescue thing is going on through Jesus to reclaim all of this. This has everything to do with how we actually live in the world. It’s not about evacuation.

We get letters (part 2)

February 9, 2011

The following is an excerpt from my lengthy response to someone in the comment section of this post. It’s about the difference between the resurrection of Jesus and some other miracles in the Bible.

It’s not going to shatter my faith if I’m wrong about whether someone named Jonah lived inside a fish for three days. I really have nothing at stake in the question. The Book of Jonah is at least great literature, employing humor and irony, which makes a powerful point about God’s grace and mercy, and God’s love for the outsider and enemy—the main reason it was written.

By contrast, I have a great deal at stake in the question of Jesus’ resurrection, because if Christ conquered death that means, among other things, that I get to share in his victory over sin, evil, and death. If Christ didn’t, I’m with Paul: I’m still in my sins.

Jonah and Noah have nothing to do with that, so I don’t get worked up about it.

Letter to an inerrantist

February 7, 2011

This little post on atheism a while back inspired a lengthy and interesting discussion on a friend’s blog. In the course of that discussion, I offered this very brief defense of Jesus’ bodily resurrection (with the understanding that while Jesus’ resurrection was at least physical, it was more than we can explain or comprehend). Later, someone chimed in his support for my argument and wondered if I—like him—believed that the resurrection of Jesus proved that the Bible is “inerrant” (a loaded word if ever there was one).

Here’s what I wrote in reply:

Thanks for the kind words. Nevertheless, I’m afraid I can’t go with you down this path. As to what I believe, I think the Nicene Creed captures it nicely—and this is part of the problem. The Nicene Creed is a statement of Christian faith that predates your view of the authority of scripture by about 1,600 years. When it comes to Christian faith, I’m automatically biased towards things that are older. In other words, your view of the authority of scripture is way too modern. The Church fathers (and mothers) knew nothing of inerrancy.

In my view, scripture has authority inasmuch as it bears witness to the Word of God, who is (I hate this word, but I’ll use it anyway) literally Jesus. I believe that God’s perfect revelation of God’s self is not words on paper (even in their original “autographs”) but a person. God is absolute; everything else, including scripture, is relative. By all means, we understand the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection in light of scripture—the overarching story of God’s plan to put the world to rights through Israel, of which Jesus’ passion/death/resurrection is the climax. The resurrection, contrary to what you argue, doesn’t vindicate the Bible, it vindicates God.

This might make our footing seem a bit slippery as we grope with the challenges of our lives and our world, but our faith is in God, not the Bible—which is not to say that the Bible isn’t inspired by God or isn’t essential for forming as Christians. I believe that we encounter God through scripture by the power of the Spirit. Isn’t that enough? Do I need scripture to do anything more?

Logically, your argument about how the resurrection “proves” the other miracles in scripture doesn’t hold up. For one thing, all of Jesus’ words about Adam, Noah, or Jonah are true whether or not these people were historical people. To say that Jonah was in the belly of a fish for three days is true: in the ironic and funny story of Jonah in the Old Testament. Jonah is, among other things, a great work of comic literature. In my view, you flatten the story if you insist on its being historical.

The good Samaritan or the father of the prodigal son aren’t historical people, yet who would argue that their stories are impoverished because of it?

Also, given my view of the Word of God, I don’t share your burden of believing that the historical Jesus corresponds in every detail to the Jesus that emerges in the words of the gospels. The gospel writers are themselves “reading” Jesus through the lens of resurrection, and that necessarily affects how they tell the story of Jesus. I don’t believe that Jesus was walking around with a self-understanding that he was God incarnate. I certainly don’t believe that Jesus shared God’s knowledge. I take the Christ hymn of Philippians 2 quite literally (ha!) when it talks about Christ’s emptying himself. To be human is necessarily to be limited in knowledge.

I believe Jesus understood himself in the context of a first century Jewish worldview. I believe that Jesus saw himself as Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. Even words about “son of God” has a more nuanced meaning in the context of Israel and Davidic kingship than simply “son of God=Second Person of the Trinity.” One of the great benefits of Jewish-Christian dialogue over the past 50 years or so is that we are better able to read Jesus’ life in the context of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish thought.

But I hope you see that how Jesus understood himself is less important than what God communicated about Jesus through the events of the cross and resurrection. The Church arrives at its christological formulations about Jesus Christ only after reflecting and elaborating on the implications of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection over time.

O.K., I’m now officially boring myself. Sorry. Anyway, thanks for your input.

More on last Sunday’s sermon and 1 Corinthians 15

April 9, 2010

I chose last Sunday’s Easter text, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, from the Revised Common Lectionary, an ecumenical list of scripture passages for each Sunday of the Christian year. Because I focused on the Adam/Christ analogy and the meaning of Christ’s victory over death, I purposely did not deal with this passage’s most intriguing verse: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

My Christian ethics professor in seminary respectfully disagreed with Paul on this point—out of an ethical concern: Eternal life means a new quality of life now, versus simply a quantity of life in an everlasting future. Obeying the law of Christ and loving God and neighbor with agape-love is its own reward. Whether or not we get heaven when we die is irrelevant. In fact, from his perspective, heaven-as-a-reward goes against the spirit of Christ-like love. Read the rest of this entry »

Easter sermon 2010: “A Future Worth Celebrating,” preached 04-04-10

April 6, 2010

Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Click here to download an .mp3 podcast of this sermon or click the play button below.

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

In his book Surprised by Hope New Testament scholar and bishop in the Church of England N.T. Wright complains that we Christians, in general, don’t celebrate Easter properly. He writes, “I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday… and then… we have a single day of celebration.”

He believes that Easter, the high point of the Christian calendar, ought to mark the beginning of a celebration that lasts for days—including champagne breakfasts at church! O.K., I’ve never had champagne for breakfast, and I’m pretty sure that a church that uses the “pure, unfermented juice of the grape” in Holy Communion would frown upon it. But I get his point. Read the rest of this entry »

“More grounded, more substantial, more real”

December 3, 2009

I’ve been thinking and writing a great deal recently about our understanding of resurrection and eternal life, both for sermon preparation and Board of Ordained Ministry work. The following essay crystallizes my thinking on the topic in what I hope is a concise and clear way. Maybe this will help you as you think about it?

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation of our Christian hope. I believe strongly that Christ’s resurrection is at least physical and bodily: hence the tomb was empty, the risen Lord is shown eating with his disciples, and he offers Thomas the opportunity to feel his hands and side. But it was also more than physical and bodily as we understand those terms. There was a Read the rest of this entry »

More thoughts on “resurrection of the dead”

November 5, 2009

As I said in my sermon, some of the most thought-provoking discussions I had in my “Questions” classes surrounded the phrase, “I believe… in the resurrection of the dead.” In more than one class I pointed out that the goal of the Christian life is not simply heaven when we die, and some people seemed surprised by that. There was an Indian woman visiting the class, who was Hindu, and she was intrigued. She grew up in India attending a Christian school, and she thought that heaven was our goal. She seemed happy and relieved to know that it wasn’t. She explained that for her, this emphasis on heaven when we die robs this present world—which,despite its sin and evil, is still very good—and our present life within it, of so much of its meaning. I’m sure that’s true. One point I argue in my sermon is that if we understand texts like Revelation 21, we see that it affirms the value and goodness of this Creation: God loves it so much that God wants to redeem and renew it, rather than hitting the reset button and staring over.

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Sermon for All Saints Day: “The Other Side of Resurrection”

November 5, 2009

Sermon Text: Revelation 21:1-6a

Earlier this year, as many of you know, I taught a Sunday school class entitled, “Questions You’re Afraid to Ask in Sunday School.” We began each class reading the Apostles’ Creed out loud, and using that as a starting point for questions. I would ask, “What do you hear in this creed that raises questions in your mind?” And some of the most interesting and thought-provoking conversation centered on the phrase, “I believe… in the resurrection of the dead.” A few people asked, “What do we mean by that? Is that a reference to Christ’s resurrection?” And I would explain that, no, the creed discusses Christ’s resurrection earlier; this is a reference to our own resurrection, at the end of history as we know it, on the other side of eternity. Both the New Testament and the early Church witness loudly emphasize resurrection—rather than simply “heaven when we die”—as our primary Christian hope.

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