Tuesday 20 March 2007

Ten propositions on the resurrection

by Kim Fabricius

1.     I got me flowers to straw Thy way,
    I got me boughs off many a tree;
    But Thou wast up by break of day,
    And brought’st Thy sweets along with Thee.
    (George Herbert, “Easter”)

The resurrection in propositions? May the poets forgive me!

2. The most prosaic of approaches to the resurrection are those apologetics modelled on courtroom drama: the authors invite the gospel witnesses to take the stand, elicit their testimonies, cross-examine them, explain away any inconsistencies or contradictions, dismiss the counter-evidence – and the defence rests: that Christ is risen is beyond reasonable doubt. But Rowan Williams objects – and the objection is sustained: “As far as the historical question goes, it is clear that the scholarly analysis of the resurrection narratives has not yielded a single compelling resolution to the numerous difficulties that the texts pose.”

3. And (to switch metaphors from the courtroom to the operating theatre) were the operation successful, the patient would be dead on the table. How so? Because the resurrection is “a paraphrase of the word ‘God’” (Karl Barth) – and God is ultimate mystery. God is no deus ex machina who, in raising Jesus from the dead, provides dramatic closure, or, for that matter, secures a happy ending.

    It was by negatives I learnt my place.
    The garden went on growing and I sensed
    A sudden breeze that blew across my face.
    Despair returned but now it danced, it danced.
    (Elizabeth Jennings, “The Resurrection”)

4. Am I saying that the resurrection was not an historical event? That depends. If your understanding of “historical” is based on the famous criteria of Ernst Troeltsch – probability, relativity, and analogy – then, no, it was not an historical event. But why, asks Wolfhart Pannenberg, accept these criteria? Why accept a definition of history that rules out, ab initio, the singular and unique (and its presupposition of an ontology incarcerated in immanence)? Why, pace Bultmann (who here follows Troeltsch), indeed. Yet Pannenberg also maintains that the conventions of modern historiography, including its procedures of proof, can successfully be applied to the appearances of the risen Jesus, such that we can infer the resurrection from the evidence. And this is where I part company with Pannenberg and join Barth. The resurrection is historical – i.e. it happened in space and time – but it is not historically demonstrable. The resurrection is, in principle, historically falsifiable, but not historically verifiable. With Moltmann, its verification can only be eschatological.

5. “The point of the appearances is precisely the arising of faith in the Risen One. He did not show himself to everyone, he did not become an object of neutral observation. Nor can one say that the appearances presupposed faith in him. Rather, those to whom they occurred became believers.” True, “in every case knowledge of Jesus is presupposed, and that means that the question of faith has already been raised…. But the witness of faith is recognised only when one accepts his witness in faith” (Gerhard Ebeling).

6. Was the tomb empty? Of course! Not least because “no Jew would have used the word ‘resurrection’ to describe an afterlife in which the physical body was left to the grave” (George Caird). The (liberal) notion of a “spiritual” resurrection is irredeemably docetic. It is the perishable, corruptible physical body that must put on immortality (I Cor. 15:53). Nor should we miss the gnostic understanding of creation – and the new creation – that is implicit in a Jesus who is risen only in our hearts – or, for that matter, in the kerygma (Bultmann). “Let us not mock God with metaphor”:

    Make no mistake: if He rose at all
    it was as His body;
    if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
         reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
    the Church will fall.
    (John Updike, “Seven Stanzas at Easter”)

7. I sense the same docetism in those who would elide the resurrection with the cross. It is quite true that the resurrection is not the reversal of a defeat but the proclamation of a victory, not the abrogation of the cross but its inner meaning. So Jüngel is quite right to say that “the message of the resurrection does not cancel the logos tou staurou but gives it its proper weight.” But he is quite wrong to conclude that the resurrection is not a discrete event subsequent to the crucifixion. Von Balthasar’s theology of Holy Saturday stands as a warning to such a collapse of Easter Sunday into Good Friday. And so too is I. H. Marshall’s recent insistence on the importance of the resurrection, as well as the cross, in a truly biblical theology of the atonement.

8. It is characteristic for the risen Christ to greet his disciples with the word shalom: “Peace be with you!” He calms their fear – of retribution, perhaps? After all, these were the men who, despite their protestations of loyalty, had abandoned their master to his fate. Perhaps now it was payback time for their betrayal? And what of Caiaphas and Pilate and all who had connived in the murder of Jesus – might we not expect a risen Terminator: “I’ll be back – and this time it’s personal”? Christian pacifists are often accused of arguing their case from the Crucified who refuses the way of violence. But the power of pacifism equally comes from the Risen One who refuses the way of vengeance. “Jesus is judge because he is victim; and that very fact means that he is a judge who will not condemn” (Rowan Williams).

    So let us love, deare Love, like as we ought,
    – Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.
    (Edmund Spenser, “Easter Sunday”)

9. The risen Christ meets no one without calling them to witness and service. The meaning is in the mission. In fact, the resurrection of Jesus leads to two missions. Did you ever notice that, according to Matthew (28:11), it is the soldiers, professional killers, who first bring news of the events at the tomb to Jerusalem – to the chief priests, who then bribe them and commission them to spread a lie about what had happened (28:12-15)? By contrast, in the closing verses (28:16-20), Jesus commissions the disciples to make more disciples, teaching them what they had learned from Jesus (in particular, Ulrich Luz suggests, the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount). Lies and violence, very lucrative – that is the one mission. Truth and peace, very costly – that is the other mission. On this mission, the risen Christ said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

10. Finally eschatology (of course!) – or doxology. “Jesus,” says Robert Jenson, “is risen into the future that God has for his creatures. What certain persons saw after his death was a reality of that future.” Which is another way of saying that Jesus is risen into the glory of God. The resurrection is, as it were, the coming attractions of the Coming Attraction, the human being fully alive who is the glory of God (Irenaeus).

         In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
    I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
    This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
              Is immortal diamond.
    (Gerard Manley Hopkins, “That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire”)


Halden said...

Now here's "10 propositions" that I can almost give an unqualified 'aye!' to.

I would be curious to hear a bit more about how the ascension plays into our understanding of the resurrection, though. I think a big christological question today is that of "where" the risen Christ is bodily located. For Jenson (and, Catholics I would think), Christ is bodily located in the Eucharist/Church, and indeed only there. For more reformed/calvinist thinkers there's much more emphasis on Christ's bodily absence and his session at the right hand of the Father ("wherever" that might be, cosmologically speaking).

Just curious where you'd place yourself on this issue. Because I do certainly think that the resurrection and ascension are but two "movements" if you will in one event.

Guy Davies said...

Thanks for that, Kim. Very helpful and stimulating. I agreed with almost everything you had to say, which makes a nice change.

But is it true that the risen Jesus will never condemn becasue he did not immediately avenge himself on his enemies? Will he not seperate the sheep from the goats and say "depart from me you cursed"?

Anonymous said...

Hi Kim,

Thanks again for wonderful way you package a whole lot of valuable content into a few words. I have two questions about point 4.

1) You ask: 'Why accept a definition of history that rules out the singular and unique?'. For me this calls to mind a similar question about Science: 'Why accept a definition of Science that rules out divine intervention?' I know that you are no friend of the ID movement, but would you agree with them that Methodological Naturalism is an arbitrary limitation on Science, as it is on History?

2) You assert that the resurrection is not historically verifiable. This seems to pre-suppose that there is a standard for deciding whether the evidence at hand does or does not add up to verification. But surely such decisions involve personal judgement, in History as in Science. Can't we legitimately say: 'I find the evidence for the resurrection convincing?'

Fred said...

I'm very much with you in assenting to these ten propositions.

As a Catholic, however, I wouldn't locate Jesus solely in the Eucharist/ Church. After all, there's a cosmic dimension to Jesus's incarnation and resurrection (which the poet Hopkins, for one, was greatly sensitive to). And let's not forget St. Stephen's vision recounted in Acts.

Perhaps the Eastern Christians say it best.

L. Christ is present!
R. He is and He will be.


Aric Clark said...

Well I hate to be the first to bring up a point of dissent, but...

You say, "It is quite true that the resurrection is not the reversal of a defeat but the proclamation of a victory, not the abrogation of the cross but its inner meaning."

This seems to me to be half a step away from glorifying the violence of the cross and proclaiming it good that Jesus was tortured and crucified - which is the normal mode of many in the church, but which I find repugnant. The cross is the result of human sin not divine glory and the resurrection is precisely God's negation of that event. God says NO! to the cross by saying YES! to Jesus' way of kenotic love in the resurrection.

Now, the meaning of the cross post-resurrection is changed somewhat the way a story of suffering is changed when it is set in the context of suffering redeemed, but it is not secretly the same as the resurrection. It is not as though the cross is the climax of the story and the resurrection is the narrator's voice coming in saying, "the moral of the story is..."

Anonymous said...

This is really an amazing post...thank you for sharing this...really enjoyed reading through it...and in the spirit of Easter also drop by my blog on Easter Wishes sometime and share some of the spirit and joy it's filled up with!!!

Anonymous said...

Just woke up, grabbed some coffee - and this! And some other blogs have already picked it up! I'll make a start.

Yes, for me Jenson goes much too far with his eucharistic/ecclesiological concentration/reduction of the risen Christ, as in "the church is the risen Christ's Ego." (If anything, according to John, it is the Spirit that is the risen Christ's alter ego!) His Catholic Lutheranism is clearly showing, though as Deep Furrows suggests, Rome itself may/does have a problem with this particular neo-Wittenbergian!

Exiled Preacher,
I am glad we are so close on this one, though I won't rise to your bait - or at least I'll proudly concede that I'm a universalist of a particular kind (not Origenist) and leave it at that.

My main principle here - I am reliant on Thomas Aquinas - is succintly put by Diogenes Allen as he states his objections to a "God of the gaps": "God, as creator of the universe, is not a member of the universe. God can never properly be used in scientific accounts, which are formulated in terms of the relations between the members of the universe, because that would reduce God to the status of a creature."
And here is McCabe on Aquinas on miracles as such: "Aquinas didn't see miracles as God intervening to interfere with the world. God, Aquinas thinks, cannot literally intervene in the universe because he is always there ... A miracle, for Aquinas, is not a special presence of God; it is a special absence of natural causes... So a miracle, in Aquinas's view, is an exuberant gesture, like an embrace or a kiss, to say, 'Look, I'm here; I love you.'" Which is a theology of the resurrection in poetic nuce!

And Miner,
The church calls Friday Good not because it glories in the torture of our Lord but because it is the beginning of the weekend focus of our salvation (I say "focus" because these three days cannot be separated from the previous year[s] of Jesus' minstry without serious - indeed again docetic - misunderstanding). The last thing I want to suggest with the statements of which you are suspicious is a blood-and-wounds theology or mysticism, which I also find repugnant. Again, sinful human beings arranged the death of Jesus, God did not directly plan it, and he certainly did not desire it (though we have been here before, dear readers, and I will not go there again in this particular post!). Nevertheless, while I understand your fears, I think you go too far in your disjunction of cross and resurrection. It certainly cannot accommodate the theology of Paul, for whom the cross is the soteriological, kenotic moment, or John, for whom the cross is the moment of Christ's glory. At the cross God says No but God says No. And in the Yes of the resurrection of Christ, "The wounds he shows neither heal nor fester" (Robert Jenson).

I hope these comments may be helpful. And thank you so much for yours.

Shane said...

i'm surprised that NT Wright's recent book on the resurrection didn't make it into the orbit of these props. You can't fault an author for not writing something other than he did, of course, but I thought you'd be into Wright.


Anonymous said...

Hi Shane,

I know Wright's work - or at least some of it, both on Jesus and Paul. I almost referred to Wright on the physicality of the resurrection, but deferred to my own NT professor at Oxford instead, the late great George Caird. And, of course, Wright has that interesting take on the resurrection as speaking not to life after death, but to life after life after death.

Anonymous said...

'The resurrection is, in principle, historically falsifiable, but not historically verifiable. With Moltmann, its verification can only be eschatological.'

Some questions about this verification: Does Christian theology have the right to form its own unique approach to historical study? Does our faith verify the resurrection (I'm assuming a Christian's faith is in some way eschatological)? Or does this eschatological verification refer to the Second Advent (he shall come to judge the quick and the dead)?

R.O. Flyer said...

The problem with N.T. Wright and others is that they DO think the resurrection is historically verifiable. The whole point of Wright's 700+ page book on the resurrection is to demonstrate this particular point. The whole thing is apologetic. On the basis of a modern historical-critical perspective Wright wants to argue for the historical reliability of the gospel accounts! This is simply dishonest. You cannot demonstrate the resurrection on the basis of historical-criticism, for no honest use of this method allows for such a thing. Of course, the gospel accounts are not credible documents for historical reconstruction, as they are written some 30-70 years after the events by confessors of the faith.

I agree with Kim on this topic; and I think it is extremely important not to "pace Bultmann" as Wright does. So many evangelicals are buying into Wright's historical-critical approach to the historicity of the resurrection. Ultimately, I think it is totally misleading.

Shane said...

why are the NT accounts not good material for historical reconstruction?

I'm not a philosopher of social science, but I'm not sure exactly why these texts (as opposed to other ancient texts) could not possibly fulfill the canons of historical research. Because they are about religious things? Because they have an ideological point? Well, so do most ancient texts.

Because they talk about a singular event that never happened before or again? well all historical events are singular and unrepeatable, so that can't be the reason?

or is it because we are afraid that if we make the resurrection possibly verifiable, we also make it possibly falsifiable and that very possibility is threatening?

I honestly don't know. I haven't gotten to this latest volume of wright's work. (loved the first 2 though).


R.O. Flyer said...

Yes, I would argue that the gospel texts (along with most ancient texts) are historically unreliable for all the reasons you mentioned.

Indeed, "all historical events are singular and unrepeatable," so there is always a degree of historical uncertainty in any account of a particular event.

What I am saying is that from a historical-critical perspective the gospel accounts are not "reliable" texts on the scale of reliability. For historians not all witnesses hold the same weight.

I am NOT saying that nothing in the gospels is historical. And I am not saying that historical-criticism is always unhelpful, but I am saying that it is important to be honest about the nature of the texts we have and the methods we use to understand them.

You said: "or is it because we are afraid that if we make the resurrection possibly verifiable, we also make it possibly falsifiable and that very possibility is threatening?"

I've never thought about it like this before. But yes. If you base a belief in the historical resurrection on the basis of historical-criticism (which I believe is dishonest and misguided) then your belief inevitably stands or falls at the whims of modern historical research. But you see- the categories of historical research do not allow for miracles or resurrection accounts, which it makes it difficult to maintain this view with any integrity.

Anonymous said...

The resurrection is, in principle, historically falsifiable, but not historically verifiable

I don’t see how the resurrection could be historically falsifiable in principle. Even if the tomb remained unempty, and the corpse was viewed throughout to rot.
To say that the resurrection is historically falsifiable in principle is to posit, in principle, an historically causal continuity of identity between the pre-risen and risen body of Christ. But to the extent that the risen body is causally determined, then to that extent death is not conquered. It is not theologically incoherent to deny that a last moment for the corpse had to give way to a first moment for the risen body; to deny that biological and chemical laws had to cease operating before the resurrection of the body can occur. The risen body may be historically conditioned by the pre-risen body (in the sense that chemical laws may condition the emergence of biological laws), but the pre-risen body can never be a cause of the risen body nor can any other historical thing, and so cannot be historically falsified.
For the same reason, to say that the resurrection of Christ’s body was an event that occurred in space and time is also incorrect. It is true that the risen body appeared in space and time, but only insofar as the consciousnesses of those who perceived it were spatio-temporally bound. All the gospel perceptions were first mediated, whether by extra-historic angels, or as with Mary when Christ’s word addresses her by name, or as with Thomas through Christ’s wounds, or as with the disciples at Emmaus through explication of Tradition and Sacramental expression.

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

When you say that you are against the "evidence in court" approach, I am unsure whether or not I agree. I have always found the Josh McDowell-type attempts to prove the resurrection to be both futile and boring. But what about more sophisticated looks at evidence such as that by the late Rabbi Pinchas Lapide or by Pannenberg?

I was surprised that a pacifist such as yourself (with a view of pacifism very similar to mine) did not more strongly connect various models of resurrection with discipleship, as with the Australian theologian Thorwald Lorenzon's Resurrection and Discipleship and the sequel, Resurrection, Discipleship, Justice. Because it seems to me that the "spiritualized resurrections" of Bultmann, Borg, Crossan, etc. end up undermining all real Christian discipleship--certainly anything radically against the stream like nonviolence, simple living and care for the poor, etc.

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

I'm also with the Miner on "Good" Friday. Kim, the Church does not call that Friday "good," or not originally. The modern English name "Good Friday" is a bastardization of "God's Friday" in the same way that "good bye" was originally "God be with you."

There is a sense in which God affirms what happened on that Friday, but NOT in any sense that would fit with penal substitution and God approving of Jesus' crucifixion. The resurrection is the resurrection of the Crucified One (so all theologies of glory are ruled out), but it is also God's judgment on that and all other acts of torture and capital punishment and God's vindication of Jesus' nonviolent Way. In that sense, it does negate, or at least, undermine, "Good" Friday--it exposes the myth of redemptive violence a la Wink and Rene Girard.

Anonymous said...

I'm sceptical about the value and even coherence of the notion of falsifiability. In the practice of Science (and it must surely be the same for History) the failure of a particular theory to predict or satisfactorily account for a single observation need not result in rejection of the theory. Usually, an otherwise successful theory can be salvaged by making a slight modification, allowing for a special case, attributing the conflicting observation to error or statistical variation, or otherwise neutralizing the observation. Whether such measures solve the problem in a plausible way often comes down to personal judgement. For this reason, I don't think that we need to concern ourselves about whether or how the resurrection can be falsified. This is not different to the way in which we form beliefs about any other event for which we have only limited evidence. Whether we believe in it as history will involve a personal judgement, influenced by, but not fully determined by, evidence, like any other belief about reality.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

I'd hoped #8 might speak to your point about pacifism, and, along with my answer to Miner above (not to mention my 10 Ps on penal substitution!), allay your fears about a "violent" atonement.

Pannenberg's approach to the resurrection is admittedly more sophisticated than demotic apologetics, but the essential point stands: the results of applying the historical critical method cannot bring one to faith in the risen Christ, only the Holy Spirit can do that. "Jesus is risen" is of a qualitatively different order of statement from "Caesar crossed the Rubicon".

Which brings me to falsification, Jonathan, the gist of my point being simply that if the body of Jesus were found, then faith would fall. In fact, however, for faith such a discovery is inconceivable, as inconceivable as the non-existence of God (cf. applying the so-called ontological argument to the resurrection). For the church, it would be a misunderstanding of the grammar of faith to take the statement "Jesus is risen" as a hypothesis.

Anonymous said...

The gist of my point being simply that if the body of Jesus were found, then faith would fall. In fact, however, for faith such a discovery is inconceivable

It may well be true that for faith the discovery of the pre-risen body of Jesus is inconceivable, but that has nothing to do with the question of historical falsifiablility. That question addresses the assertion that if the “body of Jesus were found, then faith would fall,” and asks why that is so. If there is an historical continuity of identity between the corpse of Jesus and the risen body of Christ such that the presence of one on the fourth day precludes the presence of the other, and if the corpse of Jesus was in fact present on the fourth day, then it would follow that Christ wasn’t bodily resurrected on the third day. However, for there to be an historical continuity of identity, it would have to be shown, at a minimum, that the risen body of Christ was/is historically determined. But what Christian believes this? Rotting flesh, viewed as historical presence, subject to the physical, chemical and biological laws in space and time has nothing to do with the risen body of Christ. We err if we imagine time-bound flesh morphing, in time, to a timeless body. The gap between any supposed last moment of the corpse and the first of the risen body cannot be bridged historically. The resurrection cannot be historically falsified as it could not have taken ‘place’ in history.

Anonymous said...

bop you are totally correct here.

Kim, 'Jesus is risen' is not a hypothesis simply because by faith we claim direct unfalsifiable knowledge of the Spirit who IS the risen Christ. Paul says this clearly enough I think. Archeology couldn't disprove it only modify our understanding of the historical events tied to it.

But the presence or absence of Christ's physical corpse is a historical hypothesis completely testable in the abstract but we just lack the quality of evidence needed. But any evidence about the body is irrelevant or would immediately become so to the claim 'Jesus is risen'. Paul's concern for Jesus being 'raised' shows no concern for Christ's body. Maybe even disdain or ridicule for fetishizing it. Even more if one considers his negative use elsewhere of 'Christ according to the flesh' and its significance for Christ's body vs. Spirit. Paul's opposition of flesh vs. Spirit (whatever else it means) had to originate in the contemplation of the two 'bodies' of Christ. The flesh is no longer important (or worse) and empty tombs are unknown or irrelevant to Paul.

Empty charges of gnosticism, be damned.


Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

Yes, "Jesus is risen!" is of a different order than "Caesar crossed the Rubicon," but Pannenberg's strength is to insist that they both happened in the same world of space and time. That's crucial and was obscured by others.

Anonymous said...

Yes, contra Bop and Anonymous, in "space and time" - the body of Christ is not "timeless" (though of course in "space and time" does not mean historically determined). What Bop and Anonymous say certainly sounds docetic to me. And I think Anonymous seriously misrepresents Paul.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kim,

You must be right to emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit in convincing us of the reality of the resurrection. But in conversation with someone who disbelieves or doubts it, I would like to defend the evidential basis for my belief. For me, Paul's testimony to an encounter with the risen Christ justifies the risk of belief, and I see that as a rational judgement. I agree that there are historical claims for which a more convincing evidential case can be made, but I do draw some of my own conviction from evidence, particularly testimony.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jonathan,

I agree with you about "evidence" - above all the evidence of the witnesses! - not least because the resurrection took place in space and time. But I do not believe that the resurrection can be demonstrated to have happened by historical method - any historical method - because the essential point is that Jesus was raised by God, and on that point history is mute, flesh and blood powerless to persuade. The empty tomb, for example, is evidence - and if it weren't empty, I believe, that would be conclusive counter-evidence; but from this evidence the resurrection can in no way be inferred.

Does that at least clarify my position?

Anonymous said...


Heraclitus here again. It seems you are granting nothing to the experience of the living Christ (his power, authority, life, freedom, etc.) in the faith of the believer. You are ready to dump all of this if a video appears of the tomb of Christ on Monday with a corpse in it(anachronistic, of course, yet only an accident of history that we don't have it.) Something like it is possible in principle. There can be no ontological argument against it because I just dreamed up a possible scenario of falsification.

So faith is no longer the experience of the living Christ which could not be shaken by his corpse, but instead it seems to be some ability given to the believer to be certain about the contingent historical details of Christ's dead corpse. Faith grants certainty about that? A historical detail which is constantly subject to falsification at the hearing of the next bit of evidence. I thought it granted immediate union with the person of Christ experienced as Spirit. Paul speaks of the 'present' power of God in his ministry and his churches' experience. He never refers them to the tomb to believe Christ is risen. Christ - the life-giving Spirit - confirms that. This makes faith rationalistic sounding.

This insistence about the body distorts 'Hope' as well. It is now not experienced as a confident disposition concerning the future but more of a backwards looking doubting as in "I sure HOPE I am right about the historical details of Christ's body, or this Spirit stuff is all fake". Oh well, I'm sure you intend nothing this absurd, but it strikes me as the inevitable outcome.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kim,

You're position is clear, and I'm on side. It's Historical Method that I'm uncomfortable with, for the same reasons that I'm uncomfortable about Scientific Method. There are methods in Science, and I'm sure in History, but much of actual reasoning in either field is heuristic, not procedural. I think it's rare that any fact is genuinely 'demonstrated', 'verified' or 'falsified'. Furthermore, some aspects of 'the Method', such as Methodological Naturalism, look suspect to me. I think it's important to recognize the role of personal judgement in deciding whether the evidence justifies the risk of belief. Such a recognition allows those are unconvinced to respect the rationality of those who are, and vice versa.

Anonymous said...

Hi Heraclitus,

How can you say that I am "granting nothing to the experience of the living Christ"? We can only know the living Christ through experience, viz. the experience of faith. But to dislodge faith altogether from history leaves faith looking suspiciously like wishful thinking if not downright superstition, the risen Christ as a ghost, a docetic Christ, to which, for example, Luke's resurrection narratives, with their emphasis on the physicality of Christ's risen body, present in time and space, is a polemical reply. And if you asked Paul if the tomb was empty, he would answer not "That is a meaningless question," but "Of course!"

Let me try again through Herbert McCabe: "If somebody holds a doctrine on faith and is totally indifferent to any evidence for or against it, we should think that he or she does not hold it on faith as true... It seems to me that there is a middle way between holding, on the one hand, that faith has absolutely nothing to do with reasons and argument, and, on the other hand, that it is nothing but a matter of reasons and argument. The first extreme makes the notion of truth inapplicable. The other makes the notion of faith inapplicable."

And specifically on the resurrection, after allowing the remote possibility that he is deluded in thinking that he is not in Oxford at the moment: "yet I am more certain that Christ rose from the dead than that I am in Oxford... I can easily envisage my argument for the resurrection being disposed of. I can envisage myself being confronted by what seems to me to be unanswerable arguments against it or that I would be justified in ceasing to believe it. All this is because, although my reasons may lead me to belief, they are not the basis of my belief. I believe certain things because God has told them to me, and I am able to believe them with cetainty and complete assurance only because of the divine life within me. It is a gift of God that I believe, not something that I can achieve by human means. It is important to see that faith is not an additional reason."

Anonymous said...

Ooops - delete the first word "not" in the third line of the last paragraph.

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

O.K., Kim, I think we are closer than I first understood in reading your propositions here.Because I would have to say that Pannenberg-like arguments played a role (at least in lowering my skepticism) in my coming to faith--though my faith in the Resurrection is NOT faith in arguments for it. So, I see a limited role in efforts like Pannenberg's and like Wright's work on the resurrection, a role that your initial polemic against "courtroom apologetics" seemed to rule out. Glad to be corrected there.

Anonymous said...

"to dislodge faith altogether from history leaves faith looking suspiciously like wishful thinking"

But the faith we have is a gift, an irrefutable present experience of Christ. It would only be "wishful thinking" if I were creating it. It is certain and immediate whereas the faith you suggest is somehow a gift and real and yet at the same time, if a corpse shows up, it is turns into wishful thinking, falsified by non-experiential evidence. So you have a faith that is not a "certain" experience of the living Christ but it must provide the believer with absolute certainty of the bodily resurrection. To me this is the wishful thinking, saying that we can have certainty about a detail of history. Faith becomes a big gamble about historical conjecture. It becomes then rationalistic and, I say, discounts the believers present experience.

As for Paul, I don't think if someone told him the tomb was empty that he would have said "Oh well, then the whole seeing him in the third heaven deal was all just me and my wishful thinking." He would have shrugged and said "Oh that's how it happened (or didn't), but he is alive. He talks to me."

I do think Paul deals with this somewhat in the later parts of 1 Cor 15 with his contrast of the earthy body of Adam and the heavenly (sun and moon) body of Christ. I think this is the origin of the Spirit/flesh dichotomy, the contrast between the bodies of the pre-fallen Adam and the resurrected Christ. He then states that flesh can't inherit the kingdom nor is it the same as what went in the ground. 2 Cor 5 he speaks of this tent we wish to be removed from, being in the body is being apart from the Lord. None of this means the resurrection is non-historical just less physical in history.

Jesus is alive...now. It is real. I don't need to tell you about 2000 years ago or posit certainty about historical detail. That is an experience I can't have access to anymore. All I can say is Christ "appeared" to some after his death as Paul relates. That was historical but didn't include his flesh according to Paul.

Now what to do with Luke....?


Anonymous said...

The assertion that Lazarus was raised from the dead is a falsifiable event in principle because it claims no more than that a dead man was brought back to life. Something which in this world would have an observable before and after. The assertion that Christ was resurrected is not falsifiable in principle because it does not assert that Jesus was brought back to life but that Christ was raised into Life. This raising into Life is not dependent on any observable preceding event. It is wrong to suppose that it had to leave any natural ‘trace,’ such as an empty tomb. In fact, a literal empty tomb would undercut the assertion insofar as it claimed to be evidence where no natural evidence should be expected.

The gospel resurrectional witness had to give witness to a new class of event, one that expressed the newly differentiated consciousness of those who experienced the risen Christ, as opposed to Jesus walking around again. Within this experience Jesus was really present, but not as an absent friend is really present in memory or as Joe Doe is really present when you shake his hand, but really present in another, really real sense.
The witnesses had no available language symbols with appropriately established meanings to readily express their new experience. They had to work with what was to-hand to express this new meaning. Symbols counter and balance one another in their account, and to latch on to one at the expense of the other is to distort what is being expressed. Luke’s angels (with their dazzling white bodies!) together with the empty tomb point to new, supernatural life, not to the suspending of biological laws. The disciples at Emmaus recognized Jesus not in his physical presence (he had vanished by the time they recognized him) but through personal encounter in word and sacrament. Etc. etc.

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