Friday, August 20, 2010

Review of Ch 13 "The Reality of the Resurrection"

Keller follows three lines of support for the resurrection: the empty tomb and the witnesses; 1st century understanding of resurrection; and the immediacy with which Christianity was adopted. He seems to rely heavily on N.T. Wright for this chapter.

Keller cites Paul's recounting of post-resurrection sitings of Jesus found in I Corinthians. He notes that these witnesses to the resurrection would have still been alive and could have been questioned, so it's unlikely that the list is a fabrication. He also discusses the fact that the first witnesses were women, something unlikely to be made up as women's testimony was devalued and inadmissible in court. This line of reasoning addresses the idea that Christianity was intentionally fabricated, but what about ideas like the hallucination theory?

Keller states that it is also unlikely the concept of the resurrection was a human invention because it wasn't compatible with the Jewish or Greco-Roman worldview. He noted that many, but not all, Jews at the time were hopeful of a bodily resurrection when God came to renew the world. They had no concept of a resurrected Messiah. Most non-Jews regarded the physical body as corrupt and would view the resurrected body as undesirable, if not unbelievable. Death was viewed as a liberation from the bondage of a defiled prison.

Finally, Keller finds support in the fact that the idea of a bodily resurrection and subsequent worship of Jesus as divinity occurred so quickly in a culture not primed to accept a religion like Christianity. He stated that worldviews take a great deal of time to change unless there is some dramatic occurrence that causes a shift in thinking, such as a bodily resurrection. I'm always alittle skeptical of such arguments, when I consider how many other religions have sprung up and grown successfully. What about Mormonism for example?

Recently, a friend of mine (you know who you are) came to my home and we discussed many questions and concerns I have about Christianity. I shared that I think my acceptance of Christianity hinges on whether or not I believe in the resurrection. To me, this is what the apostle Paul repeatedly states in scripture. So, this is going to be where I spend my reading time for now. What do you think? Is there a way to salvage Christianity without a literal resurrection?

7 comments:

  1. I have not read NT Wright, and am certainly no expert in the material, but it seems to me that arguments like this for the historicity of the resurrection hinge on a number of relatively improbably assumptions, all strung together. Eg. early dating of gospels, relatively literal accounts provided by Paul and gospel authors, smooth harmonizing of accounts, counting symbolism used in gospel accounts as historic data.

    It seems the best one can get to is then a point of agnosticism, where one can't know the truth, but since it seems as likely as not, one can reasonably choose, in faith, to believe the accounts historically. I have evangelical friends that do that, I think largely based on Wright's work.

    I can't personally though, it seems too improbable. I think one can put together an attractive Christianity that does not hinge on a literal resurrection, and there is nothing wrong in doing so. But at that point it doesn't seem necessary to me. Nice and perhaps beneficial as a practice and community. But I have never been in a community that views the resurrection that way, and as long as they believe it historically and I don't, there is a huge disconnect.

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  2. "I shared that I think my acceptance of Christianity hinges on whether or not I believe in the resurrection. To me, this is what the apostle Paul repeatedly states in scripture. So, this is going to be where I spend my reading time for now. What do you think? Is there a way to salvage Christianity without a literal resurrection?"

    This is where I'm at in my journey as well, unless something changes. Faith of a Physicist has been the most expanded analysis I've read on the resurrection. NT Wright's book and Mark Roberts book are others that I have in my stack of books.

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  3. DoOrDoNot: Is there a way to salvage Christianity without a literal resurrection?
    .
    Not….really. I guess one can use the term “Christian” and not hold to a literal resurrection (there are some embracing what they call “Christian atheism” regarding utilizing Christian morals, but not Christian doctrine. I think it lessens both “Christian” and “atheist” to do so—but whom am I?)

    Perhaps the better answer would be: I certainly couldn’t do it. What, then, would make Christianity any different than morals learned through the stories of Robin Hood, or King Arthur, or Shakespeare’s plays?

    Keller’s arguments for the resurrection are tired, trite and have been addressed by various sources.

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  4. Is there a way to salvage Christianity without a literal resurrection?

    I suspect that it is more difficult when you are raised in a tradition where a cornerstone of the faith is exclusivity based on historicity.

    I went to Catholic schools post-Vatican Two so I was taught that Muslims, Hindu, Jews, and Buddhists could all get to heaven. Of course God revealed himself most completely through the Catholic Church, but devout believers in other religions communed with the same God that I did. During my late teens, I embraced Evangelical Protestantism for a couple years, but that didn't stop me from returning to liberal Catholicism later on because I was comfortable with the idea that authentic spiritual experience did not depend on the literal truth of what a person believed.

    On the other hand, if I had grown up believing that spiritual authenticity was only available to those who believed the right things because those things were literally true, I probably would have been much less open to the idea that Christianity had anything to offer without a literal resurrection.

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  5. Thanks for all the comments. I'm responding in reverse order for no particular reason.

    Vinny,
    I've thought about the fact that my particular religious background (church of Christ) makes me less open to a more liberal interpretation of Christianity. My initial reaction is more like what DagoodS wrote.

    At this point, do you adhere to a liberal Catholicism? If so, how would you respond to what DagoodS asked?

    DagoodS: "What, then, would make Christianity any different than morals learned through the stories of Robin Hood, or King Arthur, or Shakespeare’s plays?"

    However, maybe you don't have to argue that Christianity is better than (Robin Hood, King Arthur, etc) it's just what works for you in your given cultural context.

    DagoodS,
    Yes, I've seen people self-identify as "Christian Atheist." Part of me sees the attractiveness of it, perhaps in continuing to be part of a Christian community for the fellowship without adherence to the doctrines. I know I would hate to give that up as I'm in a connected and caring community where I've actually found some folks with whom I can be honest about my doubts. However, part of me wonders how an atheist could continue to tolerate worship service and Bible class and why they wouldn't want some distance from something they no longer believed. I'm having a harder time attending church here lately, and I still identify as Christian.

    Like a Child,
    Would you recommend the Faith of a Physicist book? Not that I have time to read anything else! While I'm waiting to make it to my library to get the next books on my list I'm reading Physics for Poets. I'm woefully undereducated in the hard sciences. I tend to run from anything that might involve math. When my kids were younger, I realized I wasn't even teaching them to identify numbers because I have such a math aversion! Thankfully they can now count, but it didn't have much to do with me.

    atimetorend,

    I identified with you when you wrote " I think one can put together an attractive Christianity that does not hinge on a literal resurrection, and there is nothing wrong in doing so. But at that point it doesn't seem necessary to me." That's what I'm wondering about. So, maybe not necessary, but valuable to a particular person for whatever reason (community, direction, spiritual authenticity). It seems like you attend a church, based on recent posts of yours, and yet it seems like you're an atheist. Is that correct? If so, what keeps you in a Christian community, if you don't mind my asking?

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  6. I am a functional atheist, though don't accept the label, don't like to be put into a box (not that you are trying to do so). I attend church because my wife is a Christian, and it is very important to her, and we went into marriage with church as a foundation, and I'm the one who has changed beliefs.

    The church we attend now is generally progressive evangelical. I can talk honestly with the pastor about what I don't believe, and he is probably closer in beliefs to me than to conservative/fundamentalist evangelicals. I do like church for the community. I have a lot more in common with Christians than with atheists in many ways (some Christians and some atheists that should read). Left to my own, I don't know if I would attend church. If I did, it would likely be somewhere more progressive.

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  7. DoOrDoNot,

    I became gradually more active in my local parish until a point eight years ago when I became irritated with certain policies that seemed to be dividing parishioners into tiers based on their financial support. Although I would have fallen into the upper tier at that time, I thought the whole notion was wrong-headed. When I first joined the parish many years before, I had been treated kindly. If I had been told at the beginning that I was a second class Catholic, I never would have stuck around long enough to get to the upper tier.

    I thought about seeking out a Lutheran or Episcopalian church where I might feel comfortable, but as time went by, I found that I was more and more agnostic about the whole matter.

    For several years until my mother passed away last winter, I took her to Sunday mass once a month at a very conservative parish. Although I found the homilies obnoxious, I still found comfort in the rituals and prayers in a way that somehow still seems real to me. I doubt that I will ever feel comfortable calling myself an atheist.

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