Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Easter Reading

Easter is upon us on March 23rd. As a service to preachers who are trying to figure out ways to proclaim this mystery and as a service to churchgoers who dread attending another sermon in which the preacher berates people's intelligence by telling them that in order to be a Christian they have to believe that the corpse of the historical Jesus came back to life, I recommend for your Easter joy...



Jesus is Dead






Written by Robert M. Price, this is a collection of writings around the theme of Resurrection.

This collection of writings on the resurrection of Jesus (or lack of it) represents a selection of debate statements, books reviews, and critiques of internet papers, as well as research reports and original papers. Price considers the views of older apologists F.F. Bruce, John Warwick Montgomery, and Josh McDowell, as well as newer ones like N.T. Wright, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, James Patrick Holding, and Glenn Miller. The critical views of Andrew J.M. Wedderburn, Gregory J. Riley, and Jonathan Z. Smith receive scrutiny as well. Nor do quack books dealing with an alien Jesus or with the Templar Jesus escape notice.

Of all the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar, Robert Price is not only the most radical, but in my view, the most entertaining and thought-provoking. Price's view of the Jesus Seminar is that they were too conservative regarding the historicity of material in the New Testament Gospels.

Price is first and foremost a truth-seeker and a scholar.

You may wonder why I, a Christian minister, and an orthodox one at that, would recommend this book and Price's other works, and the works of other Fellows of the Jesus Seminar, and the works of other scholars of early Christian origins (I mean real scholars, not hacks).

Yes, you read me correctly. I am an orthodox Christian firmly rooted in the Reformed Tradition. Shuck and Jive is the most Reformed blog on the web. I make that extravagantly humble and unprovable assertion in part because our deeply rich, varied, and open-ended tradition is always in danger of being hijacked by those who lack adequate understanding of science, history, and theology.

For instance, if Christians want to make the theological claim that God creates the world, that claim will lack any credibility unless they also affirm evolutionary theory.

If Christians want to make the theological claim that Jesus is alive, that claim will lack any credibility unless they also affirm historical scholarship of the New Testament.

Thankfully, our Reformed Tradition fully embraces scholarship. Because of that our theology is always reforming.

Back to Robert Price. He shows throughout these essays that the "resurrection accounts" are fictions. It is really pretty obvious. The Jesus Seminar scholars concluded the same thing. The more bashful scholars, once you finally get them to move beyond their dissembling, also affirm that, yes, the accounts of the empty tomb are more indebted to creative storytelling than to historical reportage.

It is difficult for many Christians to accept that. A Jesus who is not "historical" cannot be real and worthy of Christian worship, so the argument goes. For some, that is true. Price is an atheist. That is his choice. I don't think one has to make that choice. I do not.

In a similar way, some scientists are atheists. Some are not. Whether or not one chooses to be an atheist or a theist, or a person of a particular covenant or not, is independent of science and history. I simply argue that the church is not served by bad science (ie. creationism) and bad history (ie. false claims for the historicity of the resurrection).

If the church can't take it, it deserves to die. Those of us who proclaim the theological mystery of the Risen Christ would do well to make that claim credible by appreciating true scholarship of Christian origins.

For a Reformed Theology of the 21st century, I think two claims must be held with respect and awe:

Jesus is Alive and Jesus is Dead.





17 comments:

Grace said...

John, God bless you. But, how can Jesus both be alive and dead at the sametime? This definitly makes little sense to me.

I agree that the resurrection of Christ is about more than the resucitation of a corpse, though, if that's what you mean to share. I'm not certain.

Also, why is it an insult to someone's intelligence to expect them to affirm that Jesus rose bodily from the dead?

John Shuck said...

Hey Grace,

"John, God bless you."

Bless you too, Love.

"But, how can Jesus both be alive and dead at the same time? This definitly makes little sense to me."

Yeah, you are right. Unless of course, you also affirm the orthodox Christological claim that Jesus is fully human and fully God.
This doesn't make logical sense either.

"I agree that the resurrection of Christ is about more than the resucitation of a corpse, though, if that's what you mean to share. I'm not certain."

At least that.

"Also, why is it an insult to someone's intelligence to expect them to affirm that Jesus rose bodily from the dead?"

In the same way that it is an insult to our intelligence that **we must affirm historically** that God created the world in six days, that Jonah was swallowed by a fish, and that Zeus turned into a swan to have sex with Leda.

Grace said...

John,

Have you studied anthropology, the whole concept of ethnocentricism. (Anthro was my undergraduate major.)

I think the difficulty is not so much one of intelligence or formal education, but is more a matter of cultural conditioning toward philosophical naturalism.

But, as Christians, should we be blindly conditioned by culture?? I mean can God be tied up in our box? To put it in another way to paraphrase Scripture, "Why should you think it impossible for God to raise the dead?"

For me, the sure and certain hope of the resurrection is awesome. It involves a new creation.

I love this passage of Scripture.

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Jesus the Messiah, from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Rom. 8:ll.

Praise God. (Get's up and dances around.: )

Blessed Easter.

Your friend,
Grace.

John Shuck said...

"I think the difficulty is not so much one of intelligence or formal education, but is more a matter of cultural conditioning toward philosophical naturalism."

If you are suggesting that I am conditioned toward philosophical naturalism and that is somehow my error, I would say that is not the issue. There are certainly many things in the universe that I do not know.

The issue, in part, is how we read texts, such as the resurrection narratives. Are they history or story? Because they are story, that does not make them less real or important.

"I love this passage of Scripture.

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Jesus the Messiah, from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Rom. 8:ll."

I love it, too. And I dance with you!

FranIAm said...

I am just reveling in the fact that Jesus is dead and Jesus is alive.

But hey that is just the way I roll.

How I love Easter.

Rastus said...

This scripture below addresses John's point, exactly. (Plus a little extra. Sorry for the length, but I didn't want to cut it off without the last line).

Paul says, independent of resurrection, the body dies. He doesn't say, but he as much as says, "then it rots." The thing that is resurrected is not the perishable body, but is the spirit, the identity, the uniqueness of the one who died.
I don't mean to be dogmatically scriptural, but this is so clear. I don't see how people can argue about physical resurrection.

Note that Paul is emphatic about this. He says, beginning verse 36, "How Foolish!" In other versions, it says, "Thou fool!"

1 Corinthians, 15:35-55.

"35But someone may ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?" 36How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
42So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. 48As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

50I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51L2isten, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."[g]
55"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"

Grace said...

John,

Praise God.

Rastus, yes, of course. We are going to be radically changed. But, there is still a concept of "body."

Hey, in real part it's a mystery,

Our lives are hidden with Christ in God.

Grace said...

Oh, I also wanted to ask if anyone has read anything written by the Episcopal bishop and scholar N.T. Wright.

He's written some really insightful material about the resurrection of Jesus that has been a blessing to me, and challenged my thinking.

Rob said...

Our deeply rich, varied, and open-ended tradition is always in danger of being hijacked by those who lack adequate understanding of science, history, and theology.

For instance, if Christians want to make the theological claim that God creates the world, that claim will lack any credibility unless they also affirm evolutionary theory.

What does it mean to say one has an adequate understanding of science, history, and theology? I would argue that there is an important difference between the need to affirm the fact of organic evolution (i.e., common descent with modification based upon genetic-epigenetic variation) and the statement we must affirm evolutionary theory. Why? Because there is an important difference between the two, and until this difference is clearly understood in the minds of layman and leaders alike, it is difficult to make intelligent progress towards a real understanding of the issues involved in this creationism-evolution debate.

Yet, John, it seems to me that you are insensitive to this difference. Why is that? Is it easier just to accept the dogma of Neo-Darwinism, with little understanding of what it actually says, or how the rising voices of many outstanding scientists are questioning this dogma with new scientific empirical evidence, which even now is called a "biological revolution" that will forever change our views of the theory part of the triad of fact, paths, and mechanisms (i.e., theory).

By consistently failing to recognize the importance of this distinction, one inevitably then affirms someone's dogma and ideology, rather than putting forth enough effort to grasp the real issues, the real fact opposed to theories about those facts. This, in my view, is how we fall into accepting the myths of modern culture, scientism, and other ideologies that permeate the popular mainstream understanding of science that really prohibits us understanding the true nature of science, so that we might better appreciate its power to reveal truth as well as its limitations.

We both agree that organic evolution is a fact. But do you really understand the "theory" part John? If it is important to lead the Christian church towards an enlightened understanding of the universe, based upon a reflective and thoughtful understanding of what science knows about evolution, then is it not important to know enough about the science of evolutionary biology (historically speaking) to be able to distinguish between the ideology of creationism as well as the ideology of ultra-Darwinism that every bit as much a "belief system" that refuses to face the empirical evidence as creationism, and whose adherents use many of the same tactics we find so deplorable in creationist tactics?

Does the truth matter? I guess for many, it doesn't. A simple assertion of ideological belief (pick your side) is all that matters. But surely, we can do better than that. William B. Provine, a Professor of Biological Sciences and historian of evolutionary theory, and by all accounts a staunch Neo-Darwinian (at least until recently, in light of the unfolding biological revolution) writes in the Afterword to his The Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics,

The evolutionary synthesis [i.e., Neo-Darwinian theory] came unraveled for me during the period since 1980. Historically, my examination of this period, after editing with Ernst Mayr "The Evolutionary Synthesis" (Mayer and Provine 1980), showed that it was not a synthesis, but rather a systematic diminuation of the factors in evolution, and I now call it the "evolutionary constriction" (Provine 1989). The unity of evolutionary biology inherent in the "synthesis" has been replaced by a much more interesting and fascinating complex of different levels marching to different drummers....

In 1970 I could see the origins of theoretical population genetics as being an unalloyed good for evolutionary biology, and thus obviously a great subject for an historian. Now I see these same theoretical models of the early 1930s, still widely used today, as an impediment to understanding evolutionary biology, and their amazing persistence in textbooks and classrooms as a great topic for other historians
. (Provine 2001: 203-204)

And Provine holds this distinction is important because, as he states clearly, hiding behind ideology and refusing to face the truth does not aid either science, philosophy, or theology in its struggle against creationism:

Natural selection does not act on anything, nor does it select (for or against), force, maximize, create, modify, shape, operate, drive, favor, maintain, push, or adjust. Natural selection does nothing. Natural selection as a natural force belongs in the insubstantial category already populated by the Becker/Stahl phlogiston or Newton's "ether." ....

Having natural selection select is nifty because it excuses the necessity of talking about the actual causation of natural selection. Such talk was excusable for Charles Darwin, but inexcusable for evolutionists now. Creationists have discovered our empty "natural selection" language, and the "actions" natural selection make huge vulnerable targets. (Provine 2001: 199-200)

John Shuck said...

Grace,

Thanks for the N.T. Wright reference. Yes, people should read widely! I did a good book study with a group on the book Wright and Marcus Borg did together, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions

Rob--a little intense there, buddy. I think you are reading into something, but maybe not. Thanks.

Rob said...

What do you seek to prove John.

1) That organic evolution is a fact?

Or

2) That natural selection is the true causal mechanism underlying all forms of evolutionary change (which is the dogma of Neo-Darwinian theory)?

These are two different claims, and if you don't know the difference, how does this server your goal of fostering an "adequate understanding of science"?

Ok, I am going to go drink a delicious beligium beer (whish I could offer you one) and lighten up ;-)

John Shuck said...

Rob,

"1) That organic evolution is a fact?

Or

2) That natural selection is the true causal mechanism underlying all forms of evolutionary change (which is the dogma of Neo-Darwinian theory)?"

In terms of this post, I wasn't really seeking to prove anything, except to say that Christians ought to affirm evolution. I meant as is taught by scientists, in say, public schools.

In terms of this post, I didn't mean to go any further than that. But you do mention something very important.

I do understand that there is a difference between, as you say, evolution as a biological fact of change through time and the mechanisms of evolution that scientists continue to discover and modify in light of new evidence.

In this post, what I mean in the broadest sense is that Christians need to affirm science and history rather than try to make their own science and history subject to their theological convictions.

In short: (Insert miracle here) is neither science nor history.

Jim Jordan said...

It's quite a remarkable assumption to say that today's scholars know more than the people who were living at the time about the events of that time. If you wanted to know what Gettysburg was like would you trust Dan Rather's reporting over General Hancock's diary?

In terms of this post, I wasn't really seeking to prove anything, except to say that Christians ought to affirm evolution. I meant as is taught by scientists, in say, public schools.

Evolution is extremely broad. Part of it is observable fact and part of it requires a miracle that the theory itself does not allow for. I was taught in public school as part of evolution theory that the first living cell was created when lightning struck the right set of proteins in a pond that happened to be next to each other. They even called it the "Franken-cell". 25 years later scientists are backing away from that claim. What once was part of "evolutionary science" is fading away.

I think what you are trying to say is that we should be humble towards science, which by definition is "what we know" (Note: God knows all; He's the omni-scientist) and I agree. I would add "for certain" to that phrase.

Flycandler said...

I'm not sure what we're getting into with "neo-Darwinist" and "ultra-Darwinist", and whether these are real distinctions (like when the creationists spout "I believe in microevolution, not macroevolution").

I do think that many Christians have a flawed understanding about what the theory of evolution actually means (e.g., "part of it requires a miracle that the theory itself does not allow for") and that John is on the right track by saying that the church needs to get its head out of the sand on this if it wants to have any input on the ethical and metaphysical implications of this scientific fact.

As far as Gettysburg goes, yes, I would rather have the reporting of a journalist (with modern standards relating to bias and slant--oh but that they would be practiced still but that's a whole nother rant) who would have access to a variety of primary sources, rather than the single written perspective of one man who had an obvious bias toward one side and had a necessarily limited view of the event in question.

Mystical Seeker said...

Since we have no eyewitness accounts of Jesus's life on earth, not to mention any alleged physical resurrection, the Gettysburg analogy doesn't apply. What we have are, as Flycandler points out, anything but journalistic accounts, written generations after Jesus died (the first Gospel mentions no post-resurrection appearances at all, and the second and third, which do, were written a half-century after the events they depict by people who were anything but disinterested.)

Flycandler said...

Circling back to Grace's first comment, the first thing that came to mind was what John said.

Christianity at its most honest is a faith that celebrates certain contradictions.

A Christ who is fully human and fully God.

A Christ who is fully human and fully God, but who truly died on the cross and who truly lives still.

A call to love enemies.

A call for the leaders to be servants.

A promise of the first being last and the last first.

A God who loves us because of and in spite of ourselves.

A God who is infinite and who is personal.

A God who is three and yet one at the same time.

A call to believe even when all the "evidence" seems to point to the contrary.

Worshiping the one who is the beginning (Alpha) and the end (Omega).

Mirabile dictu!

Jim Jordan said...

Flycandler,
Very good list. I had a pastor who used the word "preposterous" to describe God's reality. Pre and Post, the first is last and thus the last first. It describes a being that is not bound by time. I think those principles you list give us a glimpse of what that reality might look like.