Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Church must stop trivialising Easter

One of my favorite theologians these days is Anglican bishop Tom Wright. I found this article that he recently wrote in the Times Online about the importance of faith in the physical resurrection of Jesus. What do you think? Do you argee with him? I am posting a paragraph from the article below ... to read the entire article, go here. JH.

Christians must keep their nerve: the Resurrection isn’t a metaphor, it’s a physical fact
Tom Wright

Private Eye ran a cartoon some years ago of St Peter standing in front of Jesus's Cross and saying to the other Disciples: “It's time to put this behind us now and move on.” It was a satire not on Christian belief, but on politicians and counsellors, and their trivialising mantras. It depended on Jesus's death being not just an odd, forgettable event - and that it was His Resurrection, rather than a shoulder- shrugging desire to “move on”, that got the early Christians going.

Easter was the pilot project. What God did for Jesus that explosive morning is what He intends to do for the whole creation. We who live in the interval between Jesus's Resurrection and the final rescue and transformation of the whole world are called to be new-creation people here and now. That is the hidden meaning of the greatest festival Christians have.

This true meaning has remained hidden because the Church has trivialised it and the world has rubbished it. The Church has turned Jesus's Resurrection into a “happy ending” after the dark and messy story of Good Friday, often scaling it down so that “resurrection” becomes a fancy way of saying “He went to Heaven”. Easter then means: “There really is life after death”. The world shrugs its shoulders. We may or may not believe in life after death, but we reach that conclusion independently of Jesus, of odd stories about risen bodies and empty tombs.

But “resurrection” to 1st-century Jews wasn't about “going to Heaven”: it was about the physically dead being physically alive again. Some Jews (not all) believed that God would do this for all people in the end. Nobody, including Jesus's followers, was expecting one person to be bodily raised from the dead in the middle of history. The stories of the Resurrection are certainly not “wish-fulfilments” or the result of what dodgy social science calls “cognitive dissonance”. First-century Jews who followed would-be messiahs knew that if your leader got killed by the authorities, it meant you had backed the wrong man. You then had a choice: give up the revolution or get yourself a new leader. Going around saying that he'd been raised from the dead wasn't an option.

To read the entire article, click here


Laurel Long said...

Thanks for this. It is what I had been looking for. I have printed the article and will read it with relish, and comment as soon as possible.
Without the "resurrection" our religion is as ridiculous as any other.
Why not believe it? we believe things much less worthy of our faith.

steve H said...

Wright is saying so many things that I wish I could say. You have offered one of them.

The truth he emphasizes that the resurrection is the beginning of the new creation is powerful!

Last Sunday I shared (drawing largely from Wright) that the new creation was first manifest in the resurrected Lord. It continues in our new birth, our continuing transformation (2 Cor 3:20)in personality and behavior, to be completed in the re-creation of our bodies -- along with the the re-creation of the cosmos, the heavens and the earth. Resurrection is happening!

This morning I drew from his material on the Lord's Supper to share some thoughts leading to our celebration "at the table." I mostly used "The Meal Jesus Gave Us" (written under the name Tom Wright) but also used thoughts from "Simply Christian" and "Surprised by Hope."

Also one of the brothers in our fellowship shared from Romans 4:25, "He was delivered up because of our transgressions and was raised because of our justification." ["because of" is the most accurate translation of the Greek.] Think on that a while: "He was raised because of our justification."

John M. said...

Amen! Good stuff, Joseph and Steve. I just ordered "Surprised by Hope" and am looking forward to getting into it. I've got about five books going at the moment...

joe 6-pack said...

Good morning everyone ... I spend a lot of time these days with people from a whole variety of spiritual viewpoints -- from complete atheists and agnostics to those who interact with the invisible world with a new age world view and who believe in god as a positive energy field.

Both the divine incarnation and the physical resurrection really are key defining beliefs of those who claim to love and follow Christ.

I would love to find more effective ways of publicly demonstrating and proclaiming these truths.

Probably the most powerful thing we can do is to genuinely and fervantly "love one another" from the heart -- so the world will know that we are his disciples.

Laurel Long said...

I have been doing some research on Rev. Wright. You probably know that he is the Bishop of Durham and has also, by that very appointment, obtained a seat in the house of Lords. He is a representative of the Church of England, his position is both political and spiritual. His bio is quite interesting and worth the time.
I have read the short excerpt Joseph posted and tried to make sense of it. There is quite a bit of high church sounding theology with its frame. The article should really be evaluated within the context of his Easter sermon (since the magazine was wanting to acknowledge the holiday) given at Durham Cathedral:the link to that message has been posted at the end of this comment. His sermon is full of the same
high church language and theological convolutions.
Because I am naturally suspicious of most theologians, I wanted to see if he really does believe that Jesus actually was raised from the dead. Billy and I spent a miserable year at Southeastern Baptist Seminary, and we learned to our very own sadness that familiar evangelical terms are usually redefined and transformed into eloquent sounding speech. I am not convinced that Rev. Wright is a believer in the Resurrection as we define it. He "seems" to believe it (the resurrection) but then morphs it into something more acceptable, ethereal, new age, etc. I can't tell, he does not speak clearly in the way we are used to hearing the central message of the gospel. His sermon blends the disparages of modern art and beauty with the Resurrection. Go figure.
Following are the links where you can further investigate this man's credentials and creeds. I am impressed that he is a bit of a rebel when he promises to take action against any diocese that ordains gay priests or sanctions marriages of the same. He is volubly pro life and anti euthanasia. I can give him respect for this without reservation.
I also want to retract my comment "that without the Resurrection our religion is as ridiculous as as any other." After thinking about that statement I realized that I had trashed the Jewish religion into which we are now grafted. I think you know what I mean. And, sorry Lord. Everything You did and said before Jesus came was not ridiculous. It was always pointing to our redemption.
This is a link to Bishop Wrights Easter sermon: You can also google his name and find an abundant of information about him as well as his messages in print and other forms of expression.
I still don't know if this man is a real believer or not. That is not the point of course, but, it would be good if he could say it in unequivocal terms.

John M. said...

Joseph, I agree that the Incarnation and the Resurrection are two of the major distinctives of Christianity -- along with Jesus' human/divine nature and the Atonement by the shedding of His blood on the cross.

Loving one another and loving God is the obvious starting point and we never supercede those two great commandments. But another charateristic of the early followers of Jesus was their willingness to suffer and even die for the reality of what they believed.

That the 12 were willing to endanger their lives and eventually die maryrs is one of the best arguments for the veracity of their proclamations and the emboldening and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. Because of their personal contact with the resurrected Christ and their being infused with the Holy Spirit's "power from on high" they were transformed from fleeing betrayers who hid in fear to who we see them to be in Acts and beyond the Canon of Scriptures.

Oops, sorry, I got carried away. I know I'm preaching to the choir.
Two points: We should be willing to demonstrate our love for God and others by being willing to sacrifice and suffer.

Secondly, at some point we need to engage those we're loving and living amony with the claims of Christ: His Incarnation, atoning death, bodily resurrection, and continuing presence through the Holy Spirit. I'm not sure how to do it well either. Maybe a discussion of ways to do it could be a new thread.

Laural, what do you mean by "real believer"? (As in, "I'm not sure that he [Wright] is a 'real believer'.) How would you define one?

steve H said...

I have read at least 6 books by N.T. Wright. To use labels (which I don't really find that helpful), everything I have read demonstrates that he is clearly a Bible-believing evangelical Christian and he is a scholar and an Anglican. Depending on the book he writes for several different audiences -- academics, pastoral leaders, the faithful of the flock, catechumens, and postmodern seekers -- and sometimes more than one audience in the same book.

For that reason he sometimes says things in a way meant to disarm objections in an attempt to reach his readers with his message. That can be disconcerting to the audience not being addressed at a certain point -- he may say things that seem to be at odds with someone's strongly held assumptions.

Concerning the resurrection, there is no doubt that one of his primary objectives is to show the errors in some popularly held views about the nature of resurrection and the life to come. And in everything I have read he has addressed the misconceptions in one way or another and then has come down strong in setting forth the Biblical understanding of the bodily resurrection.

Let me offer some statements from Wright's "Simply Christian":

"Christians believe that on the third day after he was executed -- on Sunday, the first day of the week -- Jesus of Nazareth was bodily raised from the dead, leaving an empty tomb behind him. That, primarily, is why we also believe that Jesus's death was not a messy, tragic accident, but the surprising victory of God over all the forces of evil....

"First, we are talking here about resurrection, not resuscitation....

"The best explanation by far for the rise of Christianity is that Jesus really did reappear, not as a battered, bleeding survivor, not as a ghost (the [gospel] stories are very clear about that), but as a living, bodily human being.

"But the body was somehow different... His body seems to have been transformed in a way for which there is neither precedent nor prophecy, and of which there remains no second example.

"Resurrection isn't a fancy way of talking about 'going to heaven when you die.' It is not about 'life after death' as such. Rather, it's a way of talking about being bodily alive after a period of being bodily dead."

Laurel Long said...

John and Steve,
Thanks so much for all of the wise and informative comments. I have learned a-lot from them.
I am so glad to know that Steve considers N.T. Wright to be a true believer. I would believe you, Steve, before I would believe him, at this point. Your comments come from a concerted effort to study his true beliefs as well. It took 6 books to convince you? You have given a powerful argument for both his methods and his message. I am certain, however, that I could never have come to know the Lord or understand the gospel if I attended his parish.
John, you asked me if I could define a true believer. If this is an "I gottcha question" then you probably will "get me." Because I have had think very hard about this question since I have been in an academic and worldly environment for the past 5 years, the question has been a challenge to me and my faith, as well as a challenge to those whom I have talked with: professors included.
For someone to be a true believer, I think it is necessary that one
For now, that is how I approach the lost, the saved, and those who are on their way.

John M. said...

Thanks Steve for the info on N.T. Wright. Very helpful and informative. My gut told me as much, but I was not equipped to state it objectively as you did.

Laurel, my question was not intended to be a "gottcha" question, but a thought question. As you have, I have also thought a good deal about the answer, and had conversations with others -- some on this blog.

So, I have another question. Which comes first, belief in the Orthodox statements you made, or calling on the name of the Lord? This one is not "gottha" either, but it is a vehicle for further thought.

Laurel Long said...


John M. said...

Good answer! I think you hit the bullseye. Don't think I could have answered my own question in one word!

joe 6-pack said...

hey Laurel,

are you guys ok? I saw on the news that there were serious fires within a few miles of your house.

Laurel Long said...

Yes, we are fine with the exception of a thin coating of ash everywhere. Yesterday it was difficult to breathe without the smell of smoke in one's nostrils and the hazy atmosphere was unmistakably from our close proximity to the flames. The fire is still burning just a few miles from here but is 90% contained. Thank the Lord.
Many people are affected and there is a huge humanitarian effort forged to help those in need.
We never know do we?
Thanks for asking,
We could very well have been the victims of this tragedy, but for now we are safe and will help those who are in need.

Brian Emmet said...

Glad you're OK, Laurel! I love NT Wright--next to Eugene Peterson, he's the guy who's helped me most over the last 5-6 years. His mangum opi (plural of "opus"??) is the three-volume "The New Testament and the People of God," "Jesus and the Victory of God" and "The Resurrection of the Son of God." Each runs to around 700-800 pages. The latter is about the best defense of the reality and historicity of the Resurrection you can find. He is a serious scholar AND a serious believer, so far as I can tell. He's a key figure in the "new perspective" movement, which, if my understanding of it is correct, is a reassment of the Reformation tradition that has gotten him into some trouble with some evangelicals (e.g., John Piper). To my mind, Wright gets the better of these exchanges. He's been a key theological resource for the "emerging church" folks, which to some will be the kiss of death... but he is hardly an "emergent" himself: how could one be "emergent" and an Anglican bishop (and reputed candidate for the next Archibishop of Canterbury) at the same time?

joe 6-pack said...

Important distinction: There is a significant different between "emergent" and "emerging". Failure to make that distinction has gotten a lot of "emerging" people into unecessary difficulties with some unfair criticism.

Also, most "emerging" churches and leaders are very oriented toward appreciation of the ancient faith, i.e., someone like Tom Wright.

Laurel Long said...

I am convinced that I must spend more time listening than commenting. It is obvious that this article was posted because N.T Wright is well respected and very familiar modern day theologian and church historian who has taken on the task of challenging the doctrines that have formed church behavior since the Reformation.(Brian) Maybe it is still the Dissenter side of me that is commenting.
Though all of this is way over my head intellectually, I will continue to tag along for the sake of the challenge and because I respect you guys and what each one of you is endeavoring to do.
I do have one question that is inspired by observation and from the cumulative affect of having engaged in conversation with you all. Remember I am a bleating sheep. ( I am not trying to be self effacing, I am totally secure with who I am).
My question is based on the understanding that historians must remain objective and detached from the implications of actual historical events in order present a dispassionate record of the same. Personally, I think this is impossible but historians like to flatter themselves that they are capable of this human trait.

Is it more important to study what theologians are struggling with in regards to current challenges of the Faith, exclusively in Western Civilization, or is it more important to study those who are creating those changes, approaches, and methods and producing fruit that is consistent with the message of the Gospel?
This is an honest question, one which Billy and I have often discussed.
Thanks guys,

joe 6-pack said...

hi Laurel: glad you guys were not harmed in the fires.

It seems to me that both issues you are posing are important to study.

just joe said...

why do you ask? What is the thinking behind the distinction?