Archive for the ‘Resurrection’ Category

A Missional Paradigm for the Resurrection

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Over at Frederik Mulder’s blog, NT scholar Johnson Thomaskutty from India (also host of NT Scholarship Worldwide on FB) has some significant things to say about the resurrection as of Jesus as paradigm for mission. Among his comments:

The significance of the resurrection of Jesus in my Indian context is multi-faceted. When I’m talking about the resurrection of Jesus in our multi-religious, multi-cultural and pluralistic culture of India, I have to re-interpret the significance of Christ’s resurrection for our diverse communities. The salvific significance of Christ’s work on the cross, and his resurrection should first and foremost be taught and proclaimed, as the good news of salvation for the various religious and ethnic communities. As a second order to this, when I am witnessing Christ for instance to the Dalits, Tribals and the Adivasis (the poor and marginalized, also called the dust of the dust), I use Christ’s resurrection as a model for liberation out of the clutches of oppression and dehumanization. As Christ was humiliated on the cross, and was raised by the Father from the grave, so also, Christian mission should focus on the upliftment of the oppressed out of the bondages of poverty, casteism, sin and injustice.

Resurrection is therefore a unique missional paradigm, comprising the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection, its salvific significance as well as its social implications.

Easter: It is/is not about Us

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

Today, of course, is Easter. In my experience, there are two types of Easter sermons: those that are primarily soteriological–what Christ’s resurrection means for us–and those that are primarily Christological–what Christ’s resurrection means for Christ. The latter type is also the rarer, and the former tends to be rather lightweight, theologically speaking.

I would naturally tend to prefer the more theological, the Christological, but of course Christology cannot be separated from soteriology. Easter is is not about us, first of all, but is about us, finally, and about God’s entire creation.

Easter is part of the reality of Christus victor–Christ the conqueror, in his death, resurrection, reign, and return. And Christus victor is really a subset of Deus victor. Christology and soteriology have no possible significance apart from theology proper.

Let me put this in concrete terms. In the last two months, death has visited the wife of a student, an elderly uncle, and my wife’s sister, the last in a tragic accident that left her disabled husband the widower-father of four adult children who now need to care for him. If God cannot, or does not, ultimately defeat death, then death wins, and the resurrection hope of these three people of faith is, as St. Paul would say, vain, empty.

Before N.T. Wright published his book The Resurrection of the Son of God, he gave, at my invitation, a summary-lecture on the entire book. It was a stunning lecture (no surprise there), but the part I remember best is the conclusion, in which he recited, from memory, John Donne’s famous Holy Sonnet 10, “Death, be not proud”:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou’art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy’or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Happy Easter to all.

Resurrection Day: A Poem

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

If he rose

If he rose
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.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
eleven apostles;
it was as his flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that – pierced – died, withered, paused, and then regathered out of
enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a thing painted in the faded credulity
of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier mache,
not stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of time will
eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in the
dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not make it less monstrous,
for in our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour,
we are embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

– John Updike, “Seven Stanzas at Easter,” in Telephone Poles and Other Poems (London: Andre Deutsch, 1964), 72–3. (HT Halden Doerge)

On Holy Saturday

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Halden Doerge at Inhabitatio Dei has posted a great quote from Alan Lewis, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 431.

It is a very different God, and a very different power, that we have discovered in the story of divine self-emptying, God’s capacity for weakness, the ability – without loss of Godness – to suffer and perhaps to die. This is the triune God of Jesus, fulfilled, majestic, glorified through self-expenditure in the lowly ignominy of our farthest country. There is power here, resurrecting, death-destroying, Devil-defeating; but it is the power of love, defying human expectation, which flowers in contradiction and negation, allowing sin its increase and giving death its day of victory, but only the more abundantly to outstrip both in the fecundity of grace and life. To live in the face of death an Easter Saturday existence, trusting in the weak but powerful love of the crucified and buried God, is itself to be objective, turned outward, away from self-reliance and self-preoccupation, away from our own determination to conquer death, which is in fact self-defeating and destructive. Instead, we are invited bravely and with frankness to admit or own defenselessness against the foe and entrust our self and destiny to the love of God which in its defenselessness proves creative and victorious.

Abraham our Prototype of Participation in Romans 4

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Some thoughts…

1. The traditional scholarly and reigning interpretation of the role of Abraham in Romans 4 is that of exemplum of justification by faith. This sort of interpretation is often quite thin, focusing merely on the claim that Abraham’s faith—not, as most Jews would have said, his obedience or faithfulness, or as others might think, his works/works of the law (whether deeds or identity markers)—was reckoned to him as righteousness. This approach assumes that faith basically means a non-doing trust (e.g., in the promise), without exploring in any depth the meaning of either faith or righteousness in the chapter, much less in Romans or Paul more broadly. The strength of this view is its apparent basis in the very Scriptural texts, especially Gen 15:6, that Paul cites. But this view over-privileges the accounting metaphor (“reckoned”) and sometimes neglects much of the second half of Romans 4, in which the language shifts from the accounting metaphor to language of death and resurrection. In other cases this sort of interpretation is much thicker, stressing at least the rather full picture of faith that emerges from this chapter: its relation to hope and its theocoentric focus on God’s ability to bring life out of death.

2. Dissatisfaction with certain aspects of these two versions of the reigning interpretation has led some scholars to look for another dimension of Abraham’s role in Romans. They would argue that Abraham’s faithfulness is in fact the focus of Romans 4, and that the chapter serves as a means of connecting the faithfulness of Abraham to the faithfulness of Christ displayed on the cross. It is this kind of faith—that is, faithfulness—that is exemplary in Abraham and that is Paul’s desideratum for the communities in Rome. Other interpreters may focus less on the nature of Abraham’s faith and more on its universal role in Romans 4, that is, to serve Paul’s thematic argument that both Jews and Gentiles who have Abraham-like faith are part of the new covenant community in Christ.

3. As tempting and promising as the “faithfulness” solution may be for those of us who prefer the “faith of Christ” interpretation of pistis christou, or as self-evidently correct as the focus on universality may be, I think we also need to look at another dimension of Romans 4 that has been neglected. I want to propose that Paul wants us to see the actual content of Abraham’s faith and the experience of that faith as a prototype of death and resurrection with Christ. If this is correct, then Abraham serves as an exemplum of Paul’s unique participatory understanding of justification by faith as co-crucifixion and co-resurrection with Christ.

4. The basic argument here is very simple: Abraham’s faith was not merely an attitude of trust versus a doing of deeds or faithfulness or confidence in possession of a “boundary marker” (circumcision); nor was it merely a general theological belief in, or even a trusting posture toward, God as the one who can raise the dead or bring life out of death. Rather, because Abraham himself was functionally dead—along with his wife’s womb—his faith was that God could bring life out of his death, could transform his dead-ness into life. In other words, his faith was completely self-involving and participatory. That he was justified by faith means that he trusted the promise of life-out-of-death given to him, and that he was justified by faith means not merely that he was fictitiously considered just or righteous, but that he was granted the gracious gift of new life out of death, which was concretely fulfilled in the birth of a descendant—a very Jewish notion of life. In retrospect, from Paul’s own position of having died and been resurrected in Christ, Abraham’s experience is prospectively analogous to what Paul says about all baptized believers in Romans 6: their justification by faith means a participatory experience of resurrection out of death.

5. All of this helps us understand, in part, why the resurrection is absolutely essential to justification (Rom 4:25).

Any thoughts about this?

Paul and Violence?

Friday, July 17th, 2009

In my new book on Paul, Inhabiting the Cruciform God, I have a chapter arguing against the idea that Paul had a violent personality and for Paul as peacemaker and practitioner of nonviolence—which, I argue, is rooted in Paul’s gospel and especially in the resurrection.

A sympathetic and astute reader of the book, Brad, posed some very interesting and important questions.

One particular question keeps coming to mind and I was wondering if you would mind giving me your thoughts on it. You do a really nice job of showing in a succinct and compelling way how the kenotic view of God (and its non-violent implications) does not necessarily conflict with eschatological wrath/judgment, but I am left wondering what exactly Paul might have thought about the images of God as “Divine Warrior” in the OT, especially as this image is used for the sanctioning of nationalistic war (e.g. Joshua and Judges). How do you think Paul would have related these two images of God, kenotic and Warrior? A somewhat related point is that, while Paul does seem to leave the Phinehas understanding of zeal aside in favor of the model of Abraham, Genesis seems to think that a climactic expression of Abraham’s faith was in his willingness to sacrifice his own son (the “Akedah”). Paul apparently is comfortable appropriating the Akedah as a prototype of Christ’s obedience, but how do you think he would have thought about this act of violence as an expression of faith?

[More specifically,] I’m wondering is what Paul would have thought when, so to speak, he picked up Judges and read it: given its Scriptural status I don’t think Paul would have thought that God as Warrior who authorized and even demanded nationalistic military engagement was “not the same” as the God of Jesus Christ (as, e.g. Marcion) or that God had previously acted contrary to his character. So the question I’m thinking through is how would Paul have put together his view of God as fundamentally kenotic with the prior revelations of God as a (nationalistic, militaristic) Warrior who leads his people in battle. Or to put it another way, if God now approaches his enemies in restorative love, it seems that Paul also would have been compelled to acknowledge that in previous times and perhaps also in the future at the eschaton, God had acted on the principle of retributive justice (so sapiential literature, the Deuteronomistic History, etc.) and through the mode of military conquest.

Some of my response to these questions follows:

1. It is clear that Paul (and perhaps also the Pauline tradition, if Ephesians is not by Paul) can occasionally use various forms of military language and images for both God’s and (especially) believers’ life and activity. This language comes from the Scriptures, other Jewish literature, and Roman military life, etc. (Nijay Gupta, finishing a PhD in NT at Durham University in England and now teaching at Ashland Seminary is beginning a study of the last of these three, and that should be interesting.) This Pauline language is fully denationalized and is “theologized,” specifically “apocalypticized”: it is used to describe the conflict between God and/or believers on the one hand, and evil powers, Satan, false gospels and ideologies, etc., on the other. In some sense, believers participate in the divine apocalyptic battle, as in other Jewish literature. But this battle is in no sense actual military combat or physical violence. Nor is this battle a form of “soft violence,” that is, non-lethal coercion. The battle is waged with such weapons as proclamation, prayer, persuastion, and suffering. The use of military imagery may be a bit off-putting to us who are sensitive to its abuse, but it in no way justifies the use of violence. In fact, God is the kenotic warrior! God’s means of initiating and waging the apocayptic battle is to send into the world weapons of righteousness that embody the divine character: the Son, the Spirit, the church.

2. Paul’s rejection of violence is firmly rooted in his gospel, so the question of the Akedah/Abraham’s sacrifice, to which Paul alludes in Romans 8, is also significant. The key to this problem is how Paul views Christ’s death (itself a form of violence, with or without the analogy to the Akedah). For Paul, Christ’s death is both the donation of the Son by the Father and the donation of the Son by the Son himself—a self-donation. It expresses both the love of the Father and the love of the Son. Because of this close and inseparable connection between Father and Son, the Father’s giving of the Son is ultimately an act of self-giving. The Father gives the Beloved, Son, the One who shares in the very divine status of God. Although, of course, Paul does not state this interaction in specifically Trinitarian terms, he does indicate the deep self-involvement of the Father in the giving of the Son by the use of the reflexive pronoun iin Rom 8:3 and the parallel adjective idiou in Rom 8:32—God’s own son. To put it in theological language that Miroslav Volf and others have used, Paul sees the atonement fundamentally as a two-party “transaction,” not a “three-party” transaction. That is, God in/through Christ (one party) lovingly reconciles the world (second party) through Christ’s incarnation and death, rather than God (one party) sending and punishing Christ (second party) in Christ’s death so that the world/believers (third party) do not have to die.

3. I struggle theologically with the freedom of God/constrained by his own character of love. But I am very leary of the hint of divine change (e.g. from OT to NT) or the perception of divine change (e.g. “progressive revelation”). Paul would absolutely say that the “God of the OT” is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul is not Marcion. So, how might Paul read those bloody narratives? I think he would read them, and did read them (as seen in his “apocalypticizing” or “spiritualizing” [I hate that term] of the divine warrior tradition), allegorically, as did Origen, though Origen did so with a different allegorical strategy. I am not trying to say that Paul and Origen were thoroughgoing hermeneutical brothers, only that violence drew them both to some form of allegorical interpretation.

4. On the practical side, it seems to me that Rom 13:1-7 does not sanction believers’ participation in anything that contradicts the explicit exhortations in the context (all of Rom 12 and 13). That passage is a very Jewish nod to established authority, but the sword it approves is not the sword of the soldier. My point is primarily that, given all the interpretations of Rom 13 out there, no interpretation can be valid that allows Christians to violate the explicit command, for instance, to love enemies. So even if one concludes that 13:1-7 says God installs governments to carry out violence when necessary, Rom 12 and Rom 13:8ff prohibit believers from doing so. Which means either one goes the path of Luther (bifurcating the individual into two roles) or one becomes Anabaptist theologically if not ecclesially). Facing this heremeneutical and existential dilemma, I choose the latter, or perhaps it chooses me.

Unlocking Romans

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

Over at Euangelion, Mike Bird has a nice summary and review of Daniel Kirk’s book Unlocking Romans. The review and my skimming of the book confirm that this is an important book, and I hope to post on it later this summer.

Paul and the Resurrection

Monday, April 6th, 2009

An article I wrote for “The Priest” magazine that is valuable for priests and non-priests, Catholics and the rest of us (

St. Paul and the Resurrection

The Resurrection is the foundation of all we are

Whether we think of the first century or the 21st century, the resurrection is both a central and a controversial part of Christian theology and experience. Today we hear about those who challenge the possibility of resurrection — whether Christ’s or ours — both outside and inside the Christian church.

The situation was much the same in St. Paul’s day. When Paul preached about the resurrection of the dead to the intellectuals of his day, some believed, but others scoffed (Acts 17:32). And much to his chagrin, after he preached the resurrection to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:1-4), some in the Corinthian church began to say that ”there is no resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor 15:12). Paul then proceeded to write the text on the resurrection that has been foundational and formative for 2,000 years of Christian history, 1 Corinthians 15.

In our own day of skepticism and misunderstanding about many basic Christian convictions, what can we learn from the apostle Paul concerning the theological and spiritual significance of Christ’s resurrection and of ours? We may approach this topic from four angles, beginning with the critical importance of Christ’s resurrection.

For the apostle Paul, the resurrection of Christ was not merely one among many Christian convictions; it was the one that guaranteed the significance of all others and provided the rationale for the life of faith, hope and love expected of those who live in Christ. From Paul’s perspective, to deny or misinterpret the resurrection is to undermine the entire Christian faith.

In his response to the Corinthians who denied the resurrection of the dead, Paul argued logically that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, he says, ”your faith is vain; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). That is, Christ’s death on the cross for sins (see 1 Cor 15:3) has no saving significance without the resurrection. It is merely the Roman crucifixion of a false messiah.

Furthermore, the apostle asserts, if Christ is not raised,

Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all…. If the dead are not raised: ”Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor 15:18-19,32b).

In other words, the dead are dead, there is no hope of eternal life, and the idea of living a life of sacrificial devotion to God and others in the present is simply absurd. Instead, let’s party! Death is the end, and the only logical thing to do is enjoy this life to the max: Carpe diem.

It is unlikely that the naysayers of resurrection in Paul’s day or ours recognize the grave consequences of their disbelief. It is one of the tasks of Christian preaching and formation to make these consequences clear.

The Meaning of Christ’s Resurrection

Paul, to be sure, does not think Christ is dead or that the life of faith, hope and love is an existential mistake. Rather, he exclaims, ”But now Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor 15:20a). The way this is worded is critically important: ”Christ has been raised,” rather than ”Christ arose,” implies that someone has raised Christ from the dead. That someone, of course, is God the Father, and Paul almost always uses language about Christ’s resurrection that explicitly affirms or implies God’s raising of Jesus.

By doing so, Paul tells us that the resurrection is God’s vindication of Jesus and God’s stamp of approval on how Jesus lived and died. Jesus’ death, and the life that led to it, are neither misguided nor meaningless. His death was indeed God’s provision for the forgiveness of our sins and our liberation from the very power of sin itself. Moreover, Jesus’ life and death reveal the way that God operates in the world and the way God wants us as the people of God to live in this world, too (1 Cor 1:18-2:5).

Furthermore, in the resurrection of Jesus, God demonstrates that sin, evil and death do not have the final word in God’s world. We know that the twin enemies of the human race, sin and death, will be defeated (1 Cor 15:55-57). In fact, God’s resurrection of Jesus initiates a new age that is characterized by resurrection to new life (power over sin) in the present and bodily resurrection to eternal life (victory over death) in the future. We can participate in that new age by sharing in God’s resurrection of Jesus through the experience of death and resurrection contained in, and symbolized by, baptism (more on this below).

We must stress here one key point that contemporary Christians often fail to understand or try to avoid: that Christ’s resurrection was a bodily resurrection. Paul was a Pharisee, not a Platonist, and he did not believe in the immortality of a body-less soul. Bodily resurrection does not mean simply the resuscitation of a corpse, but neither is it merely a metaphor for Christ’s ongoing existence in the Church as His body, or something similar.

Paul’s Corinthian audience was apparently confused about the corporeality of resurrection, too, so the apostle develops some elaborate analogies to help the Corinthians understand that bodily resurrection means transformation, and thus both continuity and discontinuity with respect to our current bodily existence (see 1 Cor 15:35-57).

But resurrection is nonetheless a bodily experience. Paul would have agreed with later Christian writers who repeatedly urged that ”What Christ has not assumed [taken on himself], he does not redeem.” But Paul might have stated it as follows: ”Christ has in fact redeemed that which he assumed [that is, the body].” As we will see below, this has much significance for Christian ethics.

When contemporary Christians think of their own resurrection, they most often imagine the future reality of eternal life with God, however they conceive of that reality. Paul would certainly not deny the reality of our future resurrection to eternal life with God, but he also stresses the present reality of resurrection now.

In baptism, Paul says, we have shared in Christ’s death and resurrection (see Rom 6). Our old self was crucified with Christ (see Rom 6:6) and a new self was raised from the dead so that: ”just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Paul describes this ”newness of life” as dying to sin and living to God (see Rom 6:6, 11ff). The final outcome of this new life is future eternal life (see Rom 6:5, 22), but the main emphasis in Paul’s words about baptism is not on future resurrection but on present resurrection — ”living to God.”

Preaching about resurrection, whether at Easter or at baptisms and funerals, should reflect Paul’s emphasis much more than it usually does. We misinterpret resurrection and mislead both Christians and others if we convey the idea that resurrection is primarily about ”going to heaven when you die.” Resurrection is first of all about new life here and now. It is about putting on Christ in baptism (Gal 3:27) and then doing so every day thereafter (Rom 13:14).

The Spiritual and Ethical Consequences of Resurrection

The significance for Paul of resurrection to new life could hardly be overestimated. On every page of his letters, he is urging his congregations to embody the new life they have in Christ. We may briefly mention three dimensions of this new life.

First of all, the new life we live is in fact the life of Christ within us. If Christ has been raised, then He is not dead but alive, and He comes to inhabit His people, both individually and corporately, to infuse them with His very life, which is in fact the life of God: ”I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:19-20). Too often contemporary Christians underestimate and under-utilize the indwelling power of Christ.

Second, the resurrection to new life is, paradoxically, a life shaped by the cross. In being raised to new life, we do not leave the cross behind. Not only is our crucifixion with Christ an ongoing experience (again, Gal 2:19-20), but the very shape of the resurrection life is cross-shaped, or cruciform.

That is, the life that Christ lives in us by the power of His Spirit is an extension of the life of obedience to God and love for others that landed Him on a Roman cross. Christ’s self-giving generosity, service and hospitality (see 2 Cor 8:9; Phil 2:1-11; Rom 15:1-3) continue their life in the life of His people.

Finally, the resurrection life is a countercultural existence that values the body as God’s temple and is dedicated in mind and body to the service of God and others (see Rom 12:1-2). Unlike our culture more broadly, we Christians know (or ought to know) with Paul that our bodies belong to God (see 1 Cor 6:19-20) and that God will one day raise them (see 1 Cor 6:14).

Thus our bodies are to be offered to God (see Rom 6:12ff) in ways that reflect their dignity, purpose and final end. Good preaching and formation will consistently explore the implications of this kind of bodily resurrection existence on our sexual lives, our vocations, our use of time and money, and on much else. The resurrection, in other words, is the foundation of all we are and do.

The Crucified Christ or the Resurrected Christ?

Monday, May 7th, 2007

What/who was more significant for Paul? And what/who should be more important for us?–the crucified or the resurrected Christ?

An increasing number of people seem to be moving away from the cross and toward the resurrection in interpreting Paul, in part as a reaction to some interpretations (including mine) that strongly emphasize the cross. I think I would urge them to slow down just a bit. Not that the resurrection is bad, or someting to be soft-pedaled or footnoted as an appendix to the cross.

I have always stressed that the crucified Christ is the resurrected one and vice versa. In NT theology they are inseparable.  For Paul, we participate in both the cross and the resurrection, but the new life we experience–the resurrection life we have now–is always, paradoxically, imbued with the cross. It is cruciform. Because the resurrected Jesus is one with the crucified Jesus, when he inhabits us and we him, by his Spirit, we can expect the same kind of life-giving cruciformity in us that we see in him and that Paul wrote about (and experienced). Yes, we are empowered by the resurrection–or, better, by the resurrected One. But to separate the resurrection from the cross is an error with serious consequences.

As I hinted in my Palm/Passion Sunday post, this choice is a false (and potentially dangerous) one.

2007-05-07 20:59:20