6.4.10

Spong on the Resurrection

After being compared to Spong by one of Re vis.e Re form's contributers, I thought I better refresh my understanding about his views. He has some interesting things to say about the resurrection, with which my own position does not accord. I find I share few of Spong's theological positions.

"This is the first time in Christian history that the Resurrection is presented as physical resuscitation."

"... the resuscitated body of the deceased Jesus."

" Luke has heightened dramatically the physicality of Jesus' resuscitated body."

"In Luke, the resuscitated Jesus walks, talks, eats, teaches and interprets."

"...it was some fifty years before that transforming experience was interpreted as the resuscitation of a three days dead Jesus to the life of the world."
 
Spong repeats this idea of a "resuscitated" Jesus throughout his essay. I think this is where his argument is weak. Christians are not claiming a "resuscitated Jesus" and Tom Wright explains this carefully in his weighty volume "The Resurrection".

He explains why we should believe that it has a legitimacy in terms of a historicity. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 fails to mention the empty tomb. He has two reasons for this perhaps. Primarily there was no need to mention it, it would be like mentioning that it was your feet that you walked on as you walked to the shops, the feet we take for granted and they do not need stating. Similarly, the empty tomb did not need mentioning because with a resurrection, the assumption would have been made by 1st century Jews that this meant a tomb was empty. The first century Jews did not conceive of the idea of resurrection without it being a full bodily resurrection. They did not separate the body and the soul as we are prone to do in our culture. There was no separation - only a complete person dead and then a complete person resurrected.

The other reason why Paul failed to mention the empty tomb was because the first witnesses were women and he didn't fail to mention them because he was necessarily a product of his patriarchal culture, although he must have been to an extent but because his audience were conditioned by a patriarchal culture. The witness of a woman would not have been believed and it took two women to bring a charge against a man and the testimonies of women did not stand up in the courts of the day and so Paul knew that it would not help to deliver the message of the resurrection convincingly if he talked about these first witnesses being women.

That the resurrection actually happened is made even more convincing for us considering that the gospel accounts are about women witnesses, for surely if something like this was going to be made up, the last thing that would have been included in any retelling would be the stories of women, considering this culture's belief in the validity of women's testimonies.

Christ's body is not a resuscitated body, it is a new body. It is something that has never been before. It is a new creation. It is not like Lazarus' body, resuscitated to die again. This, is, I think where Spong's analysis is at its weakest. He accounts for the women, believing they are embellishments, but he does little to explain Christ's body. For him, like Borg and Crossan, it must be visionary or, as he concludes, resuscitated. Christianity is claiming that it is something else altogether. 


Spong is a liberal, I suppose, and there are many liberal theologians within Anglicanism. As I progress through Hooker and my research for an essay about him, I am grasping his generous orthodoxy but also realising that some prominent members of the Anglican communion have perhaps gone beyond this.

I am quite Barthian in that I believe everything starts with Jesus. God is over and above reason and science and rationale. I loved reading Justin Martyr who, in chapter 54: The origin of Heathen Mythology in THE FIRST APOLOGY OF JUSTIN, described how all the things that man-kind has ever expressed to know have their origin in Wisdom, Logos: the pre-existent Christ, it's just that humanity has not for most of time and history been able to understand from where their knowledge has its origins and it has become twisted by sinfulness. Some of the task of apologetics in proclaiming the Good News to people involves working with facts, history, reason - man's ways of ordering and understanding his world. Of course, these things will always fail to convince and indeed no-one can be convinced to believe. Faith works with something different but perhaps something not altogether opposed to reason, just different, nevertheless. Perhaps unlike Barth, we are not to feel overly worried about our apologetic method. Even Jesus met the sceptic half way, presenting facts. He met with Thomas the doubter (John, chapter 20) with such grace. As a people involved in apologetics, we can meet the skeptic half-way. Jesus met Thomas thus - touch my wounds he offered. Thomas doubted, we will too. The task is a little like Jesus in his engaging with Thomas where he was at. We need to meet people where they are at and welcome their questions and allow for our own questioning too. Jesus allows for it and provides for it. If we meet the resurrection with a renewed sense of wonder this Easter, we should ask Jesus to show us afresh the wounds in his hands so that we might understand anew the real fleshiness of his suffering and resurrection and therein understand all the better our own. If we meet those that doubt in the same way that Jesus met Thomas, perhaps we are starting from the better place. So I am not too concerned, after all, that I have been compared to Spong, whom I am sure would have a lot to teach me, even if my position on the resurrection is different to his. NT Wright, too big a book for the bank holiday break? Check out Rob Bell:

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.