In an earlier post, I discussed my personal reaction to reading "The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and NT Wright in Dialogue." Now I will finally summarize their positions:
Wright's argument summarized:
"1. The striking and consistent Christian alterations of the Jewish belief in resurrection rule out the possibility that the belief in Jesus' resurrection was generated spontaneously from within its Jewish context; rather, the early Christians ascribe the origin of this belief to the facts of Jesus' empty tomb and postmortem appearances.
2. Neither the empty tomb nor the postmortem appearances are individually sufficient to explain the origin of the disciples' belief in Jesus' resurrection.
3. However, the empty tomb and postmortem appearances are jointly sufficient to explain the origin of belief in Jesus' resurrection.
4. The meaning of the term resurrection in its Jewish context was such that belief in Jesus' could not have emerged unless it were known that his body had disappeared and that he had been discovered to be alive once more.
5. Rival explanations of the origin of the belief in Jesus' resurrection do not possess comparable explanatory power.
6. Therefore, it is historically highly probable that Jesus' tomb was indeed found empty and that the disciples did indeed encounter him alive and well after his death.
7. The empty tomb and postmortem appearance of Jesus are best explained by the hypothesis that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead." p. 170
Crossan's view summarized:
Crossan agrees with points 1 and 2 above. However, he disagrees with point 3. He grants the empty tomb's discovery and risen apparitions but believes that was not enough to lead the apostles to the conclusion that Jesus was resurrected. He believes these events lead, at most, to the belief in Jesus being exalted to heaven. Crossan maintains that the resurrection faith came about due to a 3-fold combination of the empty tomb, postmortem appearances, and "Jesus' own proclamation that the kingdom of God was not just imminently future but already present, a proclamation that was not only individual vision but corporate program as his companions entered that kingdom by living as he did and thereby experiencing for themselves the power of its presence." Crossan thinks the apostles were compelled to make sense of both Jesus's kingdom teaching as well as the ongoing experiences of His continuing presence with them. This led to the radical belief that Jesus was resurrected bodily. The apostles believed that the general resurrection had begun with Jesus' own resurrection. The general resurrection was part of the "eschatological transformation of the world," or in other words, "God's Great Clean-Up of cosmic violence and injustice." The kingdom of God had arrived with power and would transform this world from one of injustice and violence to one of justice and peace.
In the end, Crossan is agnostic regarding Jesus' bodily resurrection, and believes the question of whether to view the resurrection literally or figuratively to be irrelevant to the Christian faith. He considers himself to be a Christian, though he views Jesus' resurrection as metaphorical. He is concerned with the meaning of the resurrection and how it compels us to live today. Crossan writes, "It means that God's Great Clean-Up of a world grown old in evil and impurity, injustice and violence has already begun and that it involves a period of human time from start to finish rather than an all-encompassing instant of divine time. It means this above all else: God's Great Clean-Up has begun (a first miracle!) and we are called to participate in it (a second miracle!)."
What I appreciated about both Wright and Crossan was that neither were content to let the resurrection be about future heavenly salvation of Christians. They were concerned that the resurrection has meaning about transforming the earth now through Christ's kingdom. One of the disasters in Christianity has been an exclusive focus on saving souls from hell. The result at times has been an increase in injustice and violence on earth, while saving souls at any cost. It has also decreased motivation to bring about peace and justice on earth, for the earth becomes a brief rest stop on our trip to eternity. The destination is all that matters. Who cares what the rest stop is like if you never make it to your destination?
It's another matter entirely whether the resurrection can have meaning metaphorically without the literal historical event to give it meaning. I suppose so, if one takes Jesus to be a prophet who taught spiritual truths about the kingdom of God being within us, transforming the world through our lives. The resurrection then becomes a way of understanding these teachings. However, I think Christianity loses it's exclusivity as The Way to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Crossan and Wright might both believe the kingdom of God is here, but they disagree on how and why one can come to participate in it.
Crossan continues to believe in the divine, though his studies no longer allow him to conceptualize the divine in orthodox Christian teachings. That is currently where I stand. I am attracted to Crossan's view, as it acknowledges limits in the historical data regarding the resurrection, while acknowledging a need and desire to transcend living for oneself to living for something beyond us, and for the world at large. However, I am aware that I can be criticized for not taking enough on faith as well as for taking too much on faith. I have criticized myself for doing both!
What do you think about Wright and Crossan's views? Is historical evidence what compels you to believe or disbelieve the resurrection? Is it personal experience with the divine? Can they both be valid ways of knowing? How do you know which form of knowing to use when these ways conflict?