Posts Tagged 'resurrection'

2,245 footnotes later…

rsgJust finished NT Wright‘s Resurrection of the Son of God, his massive argument for the historicity of the resurrection. One of the most interesting things about it is how Wright’s approach to the question of the resurrection is fitted to the theological content of the same.

In his first first chapter he outlines objections to a project of interrogating the question of the resurrection via historical study. One set is historical in nature and deals with whether it can be done — whether history has the tools or data to approach it. The second set is theological and questions whether it should be done — whether the ground of the Christian faith should ultimately be approached using anything but profession of faith.

Wright argues that history can approach the resurrection. He does so by, well, doing it… and doing it carefully, extensively (seriously, I counted up the footnotes) and strongly. And, in the course, a beautiful parallel between his method and the theological content of the resurrection emerges that answers the question of whether it should be approached using history. He is very concerned to argue that resurrection is not solely a cipher for a purely spiritual reality, having no place in the  physical or historical world. To grant that only faith and not history may access it is contrary to this. Further, approaching the resurrection historically, as Wright notes at the end of his book, is fitting in light of creation: “History matters because human beings matter; human beings matter because creation matters; creation matters because the creator matters”. It is also fitting in light of incarnation. Finally the resurrection’s ushering in of new creation parallels Wright’s suggestions towards renewed epistemology. The historical study of the resurrection inevitably brings one to worldview considerations, but out the other side of these, there is a new world accessible to renewed study.

All in all, an excellent book. Two questions about it:

  • Wright bases his argument in the belief of the early church. He notes that questions of authority and continuity still have to be addressed to draw conclusions for the modern church. How is this to be done, and will an approach with a foothold in history be able to do this, or does it require something else?
  • He approaches the Easter story via Paul first, then the gospels, which seems somewhat backwards, but is important in that his approach is via historical development, and Paul comes first. Where does this place him in relation to other theological approaches to the resurrection?

Don’t leave your post-Enlightenment worldview too far behind

A note for all those in the half-intellectual apologist wing of evangelical Christianity who the worldview wars above all else:

The challenge for any historian, when faced with the question of the rise of Christianity, is much more focused than is often supposed. It is not simply a matter of whether one believes in ‘miracles’, or in the supernatural, in general, in which case (it is supposed) the resurrection will be no problem. If anyone ever reaches the stage where the resurrection is in that sense no problem, we can be sure that they have made a mistake somewhere, that they have constructed a world in which this most explosive and subversive of events — supposing it to have occurred — can be domesticated and put on show … in the church’s collection of supernatural trophies. The resurrection of Jesus then becomes either ‘a trip to a garden and a lovely surprise’, a happy ending to a fairy story, or a way of legitimating different types of Christianity or different leaders within it. No: the challenge comes down to a much narrower point, not simply to do with worldviews in general, or with ‘the supernatural’ in particular, but with the direct question of death and life, of the world of space, time and matter and its relation to whatever being there may be for whom the word ‘god’, or even ‘God’, might be appropriate.

N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (712)

[To be true to Wright, nothing is special about post-Enlightenment worldviews as a foil to cozy comfort with the resurrection; as he often repeats, the classical and first-century Jewish worlds knew as well as we do that dead bodies do not come back to life, and resurrection was as theologically, epistemologically and politically explosive in the first century as it can be in the 21st.]