According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Biologos - Three Resurrection Themes for Easter (NT Wright, The Resurrection)

Still Surprised by Easter

by Jim Stump
April 20, 2014

I grew up in a “low church” tradition. Our church calendar noted special days for revival services and potlucks, not the names of saints and liturgical seasons. We had choir cantatas and programs for the children at Christmas and Easter, and these were important events within the life of the congregation. But they were not really occasions for systematic and sustained reflection on the meaning of the events that are so central to Christian faith.

During graduate school I attended a church which paid more attention to the seasons of Advent and Lent, and I found my faith enriched by observing them. Even now—though once again I attend a church that doesn’t follow the liturgical year—I usually make an effort to incorporate something distinctive into my personal practice of faith during Advent and Lent to join with those in Christian traditions which recognize these periods corporately.

Whatever its origin, Lent has come to be the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter (excluding Sundays) during which believers more intentionally focus on the death and resurrection of Christ by engaging in distinctive practices—often fasting or other abstention. Since I’m not bound to any particular expression of this by my own tradition, I’ve interpreted it loosely. Some years I’ve given up something for Lent, e.g., ice cream, coffee, television. Abstaining from these caused enough of a disruption to the regular pattern of my life (yes, I’m afraid each of them occupies a relatively prominent place for me) that my thoughts would consistently be attuned with the reality of self-denial. Other years, instead of subtracting something from my normal schedule, I’ve added an exercise or discipline. One year it was the memorization of Psalm 51, David’s penitential song. The daily recitation of it over the period of Lent developed a habit of regretting my own sinfulness and rejoicing in the mercy of God.

This year I decided to read a book for Lent. That might not seem like much of a sacrifice for an academic type who reads books for a living. But I decided that both the length and content of the book qualified its reading as a legitimate Lenten practice. At about 800 pages of detailed and technical argument, N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God proved to be a weighty undertaking. Sometimes the 20 pages per day flew past when Wright unpacked the context of an otherwise familiar scriptural passage to reveal the hidden depth and sophistication of the author’s thinking about resurrection. Other days, though, it was work to plow through the massive amounts of historical detail Wright used to substantiate his thesis.

There are several important points about the resurrection I’ve taken away from this reading:

1 - Jesus' Resurrection involved both Body and Spirit

One is the overwhelming case for the reliability of the New Testament accounts—that their authors really believed that Jesus had risen bodily from the grave. Wright’s approach to the documents is not a naïve “the Bible says it, that settles it” kind of method. He is completely aware of, and engages with, the difficulties and puzzles presented by the different [gospel] accounts (e.g., how many and which women went to the tomb? When did Jesus appear to them?). But he shows conclusively (at least to my mind) that modern attempts to claim that the authors themselves were only putting forth accounts of a sort of spiritual  [and not bodily] resurrection are seriously off target. Far and away, the most reasonable explanation for the writings of the early generations of Christians was that they believed that Jesus had died and then came back to life, never more to die again.

2 - Jesus' Resurrection Inaugurated the "End of Times"

Secondly, I was struck by the development in thinking about resurrection in general throughout the Old Testament and into the first century. The Hebrew people of old seemed not to have a hope for personal resurrection. They would “sleep” with their ancestors and hope to see the continuance of the family line (through which God’s covenant with Israel would be kept). When resurrection language was used (think of Ezekiel and the dry bones), it was a metaphor for the national restoration of Israel. Only later did prophets like Daniel start speaking as though the metaphor might also have a literal application to the bodily resurrection of individuals.

By New Testament times, the Pharisees—but not the Sadducees—maintained that righteous individuals would be resurrected at the end of times. The Christian writers continued this literal interpretation of bodily resurrection for individuals. But because Christ’s resurrection seemed to inaugurate the “end of times” (though not yet bringing about its completion), there was a new metaphorical sense of the resurrection: individuals who align themselves with Christ and his kingdom could experience the new resurrection life here-and-now.

3 - Jesus' Resurrection Proclaimed Him as Messiah

Finally, Wright counteracts the argument that stories of Christ’s resurrection were just wish-fulfillment by showing that the story definitely did not turn out as expected. If the first followers of Jesus had understood his death to be the vicarious suffering and substitutionary atonement for our sins, they would have solemnly but gratefully celebrated during the crucifixion (or maybe they would have cheered?). If they had understood that he was going to resurrect from the grave on the third day, they would have been waiting outside the tomb on Sunday morning counting down the minutes. As it was, they scattered. Things looked like they were playing out for Jesus and his followers as they had for other would-be messiahs: after causing a commotion, they were put to death and their revolutions failed (see Gamaliel’s account of Theudas and Judas the Galilean in Acts 5). Even after the resurrection on the road to Emmaus, Cleopas lamented (to the incognito Jesus) that they had all hoped Jesus was the one who was going to redeem Israel (Luke 24). And of course Saul the Pharisee persecuted the Christian sect for continuing to believe in their failed messiah—there were no dead messiahs; then everything changed at his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. Jesus wasn’t dead! What Paul was expecting to happen to everyone at the end of time had already happened to Jesus. Jesus was the first-fruits of the resurrection and the time had come to extend God’s blessing to all people.

We now take for granted an understanding of this Christian story that was largely worked out by Paul and later theologians. Even though the Gospels were composed after Paul’s letters, they were concerned to tell the story itself in all its strangeness as it had been preserved by the first generation of Christians. And what we find in the stories themselves is the shock and wonder and surprise that the resurrection caused. We today are conditioned to read the stories in light of the developed theology (don’t the disciples sometimes seem daft in their inability to read the signs and see what is really going on?). But it took quite some time for the followers of Christ to sort out the Easter events so they could incorporate them into the grand narrative about God and his plans for the world.

I’m not claiming that later theologizing about these events somehow misrepresented them, just that theology tells a different kind of story. It is our attempt to make sense of what happened. Just like scientists who must incorporate new surprising data into theories they thought were perfectly good explanations, the early Christian theologians had to rethink some of the accepted theological explanations (like, the Messiah wasn’t going to establish a political kingdom) in light of the surprising death and resurrection of Jesus.

What This Means for Today for Science and Religion

Does the resurrection still surprise us today? We [Christian scientists] who work constantly at the intersection of science and faith might have a sort of propensity to rationalize away the miraculous. Our critics talk often about the slippery slope we’re on when we point out natural processes that explain some aspects of reality once thought to require special divine intervention. Once we start doing that, won’t we end up denying the resurrection too? Honestly, it would be a lot easier in our culture to say that Jesus was a just great moral teacher who taught us how to live. We might try to treat the resurrection stories as just some anomalous results mistakenly obtained from an experiment that was not controlled well enough. That would put us comfortably on the road to some watered down spirituality where God is kept safely cordoned off from the natural world that science investigates.

But intellectual honesty forces us to look carefully at the data again. When we do, we can’t just dismiss the fact that the first Christians believed in the real resurrection of Jesus strongly enough to give their lives for it. We can’t hide behind modern polemics masquerading as scholarship which claim to give a better more enlightened explanation of the Easter events. We can’t discount the reality of the resurrection life experienced by countless Christians over the centuries.

Still, God does not seem to be in the business of compelling people to believe if they are determined not to. Some will continue to see the data “as” constituting some other kind of story. It takes the eyes of faith to see the data as a confirmation of the Good News. But this is not blind faith that believes despite the evidence. Wright’s book convinces me that we who continue to believe and trust that Jesus is risen indeed, need not commit intellectual suicide in doing so.

And so we too might still be surprised by God’s dramatic entrance into the natural order of things at Easter, by God’s provision for the abundant life now, and by God’s promise to transform the present world at the final resurrection—including our bodies—into an everlasting kingdom of peace, joy, and righteousness for all who recognize Jesus as Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Jim Stump has served as the Content Manager at BioLogos since August 2013. As such he oversees the development of new content and curates the existing content. Jim's PhD is in philosophy from Boston University where he wrote a dissertation on the history and philosophy of science. He is the author (with Chad Meister) of Christian Thought: A Historical Introduction (Routledge, 2010) and the editor (with Alan Padgett) of the Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012). Jim is a frequent speaker at churches and other groups on topics at the intersection of science and Christianity.

Psalm 51

English Standard Version (ESV)

Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the
prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

51.1 Have mercy on me,[a] O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right[b] spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Psalm 51:1 Or Be gracious to me
Psalm 51:10 Or steadfast

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