Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review of The Resurrection of Jesus

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!)."

My view:
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?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Carseat Theology: Technology and God

My oldest son, age 7, and I often have interesting discussions about God and religion while driving. On Friday, as we were driving home from his chess club, he called out from the back seat, "I wish God would speak to us today, but I know He's very busy with so many people dying," "What's He busy doing?" I asked. "Getting heaven ready for all those people" my son replied.

We then began a chat about what my son wanted to talk to God about. And what I learned is this: he's looking for high tech solutions to more efficiently save mankind. He believes we could use an update from God about how to add more people to the church. Apparently, VBS, mission trips, and door knocking are "so yesterday," as he's begun saying. Technology is tricky. On the one hand, people embrace it as a way to share their faith to a broader audience, by using the Internet, for example. On the other hand, the Internet allows us access to a wide range of resources and viewpoints we never might have considered before, challenging our faith. There are so many aspects of technology we could contemplate. What do you think? Does technology help or hinder Christianity? Or is it a wash?

I'll leave you with my son's high tech solution:

"If God could speak to you today, what would you like Him to say?"

"I would like Him to tell us more about how to build the church. Like, he could tell me to invent a box for people to go in where a robot dunks them in the water (baptism). They could sign a form to go in the box. And if they don't have time to go to the box, they could sign a form and the box would just appear in their life and they could get dunked."

"Why would they be too busy to go to the box?"

"Well, in the future, everyone will be fat, like on that movie (WALL-E), so they'll be at the gym alot."

I don't know, would this increase the number of Christians? Sounds a bit scary to me :) However, it would be efficient and the robots would certainly appeal to many young boys!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hiddenness of God

Recently, my husband and I have been talking about the hiddenness of God. I alluded to it in my recent post on the resurrection, where I discussed my frustration over the ambiguous evidence regarding Jesus's resurrection. Did or didn't God perform the miracle of resurrection, the defeat of death, the sign of a general resurrection to come? My husband has struggled with the hiddenness of God in a different way. To him, it feels like a personal rejection. He says he feels like his prayers don't go higher than the ceiling. God seems to be ignoring him. He gave me permission to write this post, and wrote a summary of his thoughts for me to post:

Ayn Rand restated the “Law of Non-Contradition” from logic in her book, "Atlas Shrugged" in this way: “Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”

I cannot reject the fact that there is a God, but I cannot help but accept the fact that He has rejected me.

If God is the perfect model of what a father should be, how can I feel as if He has abandoned me for the last two years? Which of my premises is false?
1.) God is the perfect father.
2.) I am His son.
3.) I am rejected and ignored.
4.) A perfect father cares for, protects and has a relationship with his children.

I know that I cannot be seeing the whole picture. I accept that my perception has to be skewed, but I just cannot see my situation any other way. I am resolved to continue attending church and behaving as a “good Christian” should because I want my children to have the opportunity to have a relationship with God even though I feel He doesn’t want one with me.

How would you answer my husband's question about his premises? If you have had this experience, what conclusion did you reach?

Friday, February 4, 2011

God and the Superbowl

In honor of the Superbowl, check out this episode from the perpetually witty Mr. Diety series. It explains God's stance on answering the prayers of athletes and fans.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Resurrection: Win, Lose, or Draw

The resurrection of Jesus appears to be the cornerstone of Christianity. It seems that one has to make some sense of it in order to make sense of Christianity. I've just completed the book, "The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and NT Wright in Dialogue", which provides a transcript of a debate between Wright and Crossan on the resurrection as well as a series of essays by scholars evaluating the positions of Wright and Crossan. This is certainly not the first I've read on this topic. What I've come away with is this: it's a draw. Ultimately, belief or non belief in the resurrection rests more on one's worldview and a desire to believe or not, than it does in overwhelming evidence for either side. I think each side makes valid points. Crossan states that the the most logical position to take in face of the evidence is one of agnosticism toward the resurrection. However, I realize the Bible never promises hard evidence, rather, it points to God requiring belief and faith.

I realize the problems inherent in reaching a conclusion based on what we think God ought to do, but I confess it's difficult for me not to give more weight to disbelieving the resurrection for this reason: it seems that if God is using the resurrection of Christ to save all humanity, it should be practically a self evident truth that we all have access to, particularly if knowing that truth is what leads to salvation (in a broad sense of the word). Instead, we must rely on ancient texts, largely by non eyewitnesses, which have been redacted over time. For those not willing to accept what has been handed down to us by our tradition, we are left wading through a great deal scholarly work, which is not all in agreement. Should it be this hard? I find myself in sympathy with mystics or those who advocate an experiential knowledge of Christ, like the Mormons who pray to ask God if the book of Mormon is true. (Which I did during a study with them once: no confirmation given to me.) This way of knowing potentially gives everyone access to the truth. However, mystics, as far as I can tell, are not all in agreement.

I've given my emotional reaction to the book in an effort to disclose the lens through which I read the book, but in another post I'll discuss the stances of Wright and Crossan and summarize the strengths of their respective positions.

What is your stance on the resurrection and what has influenced your position? What do you think of my emotional objection to the lack of clear evidence?