Options for Resurrection: POB pt. 5

At this point in their argument Clayton and Knapp begin to move in a different direction. Up to this point their evidence for what they have called “minimally personalistic theism” (MPT) has been drawn from human experience in general. Now they begin examining the specific claims made by the Christian tradition in particular. Their focus is on the claim of Jesus’ resurrection. In essence they are attempting to make sense of this claim in light of their own view of divine action that they have been developing in the first half of their book.

The authors admit from the outset that the belief that Jesus rose physically from the dead (of course, this could mean many things but what I mean now is the idea that the resurrection could have been photographed) is impossible given their commitment to MPT. Causing a dead person to come back to life again would of course count as a firm break in the laws of nature.

So in what ways can a Christian who affirms Clayton and Knapp’s view of divine action also affirm the resurrection? There are a few options:

The Symbolic View: This view says that the disciples continued to experience the truth of Jesus’ life and teaching after his death and, because of their Jewish context, appropriated the notion of the bodily resurrection from the dead to make sense of their profound experience of Jesus’ postmortem presence. According to this view, what the disciples experienced after Jesus’ death had nothing to do with the actual person of Jesus but rather the with the disciples own interpretation of Jesus’ life and death.

The Exemplary View: This view is very similar to the symbolic view but goes beyond it by saying that Jesus was not merely remembered by his disciples but also served as an example for them in their own life and faith. Thus, Jesus lives on in those who choose to embody his teachings.

Both of these views are on the minimalist side of the spectrum because of the fact that they provide no role for God in the event of the resurrection. In other words, God didn’t actually do anything in this event but rather, the disciples merely realized something to be true about God in light of the life of Jesus. It is for this reason that neither of these views are satisfying for me. I want to be able to say that in the resurrection event God actually acted. Are there options available in which this affirmation can be made? Clayton and Knapp do indeed provide one:

The Participatory View: In this view “the disciples, after Jesus’ death, found themselves participating in a new reality in which their relationship with the ultimate reality (UR) had been transformed by the divine grace and freedom they had encountered in the teachings, the acts, and indeed the personal presence of Jesus.”

It’s easiest to let Clayton and Knapp explain at length:

What the life and death of Jesus accomplished, then, on this participatory account was the creation of a new possibility of interaction between God and human beings. Human beings share the “Spirit of Christ” insofar as they enter into the same relationship with God that was embodied in Jesus’ self-surrender to the one he called his “Father.” The heart of this theory, in other words, is that, in the event that came to be known as Jesus’ resurrection, his self-surrendering engagement with God became newly available, through the agency of the divine Spirit, to his followers, then and since, as the form, model, and condition of their own engagement with the divine. The event of Jesus’ self surrender somehow became central to “the mutual participation of divine and human agency” that we introduced in Chapter 3…. Through this event, the disciples saw themselves not only as experiencing a new human insight into the nature of God (the symbolic view), but also, somehow, as participating in God through their role as Jesus’ disciples.

Thus, this view does more than the first two theories in that it provides a role for both God and humanity (In other words, God actually did something in the resurrection event.) while avoiding the problems that come with saying that God made Jesus’ dead body come back to life again.

What are your thoughts?

Post Script:

I offer you the following video as a reminder of the fact that it is the way our beliefs function in our day to day lives (rather than the beliefs themselves) that is most important. I understand that resurrection talk can, because of the weightiness of the Christian claim of Christ’s resurrection, easily become polarizing and divisive.




5 responses to “Options for Resurrection: POB pt. 5

  1. Hey Garret,

    I was wondering how this view on Jesus’ resurrection sees Christ’s coming return. Especially passages like 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul is talking about the “resurrection body” from verses 35 to 58. Just curious.

  2. Hey Garret,

    Interesting post. Thanks for exposing me to some of the ideas proposed/expressed by Clayton and Knapp.

    I have a really hard time reading how the Gospel writers (particularly Luke and John) talk about the resurrection – with the details about eating food, walking and talking together, and multitudes seeing him – and come to the conclusion that they are speaking of it as non-physical in the sense that you could take a photograph of the resurrected Christ. The Apostle Paul makes it a necessary part of the gospel that he preached (1 Cor. 15:1-11). Furthermore, the Paul would go so far as saying that if Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead that we Christians are to be pitied more than anyone else (1 Cor. 15:12-34).

    I, like Micah, am interested in how this view on Jesus’ resurrection sees Christ’s return, especially regarding Christ’s (and our future) resurrection body discussed in 1 Cor. 15:35-58.

  3. Despite being relatively conservative (a somewhat enigmatic term), I think Rollin’s has a point. Many evangelicals fall prey to affirming the resurrection intellectually and denying it practically. Too bad.
    Although, as always I do find Tom Wright to be most convincing on the issue of resurrection.

  4. Thanks for the questions/comments, guys–they are good ones. I’ll respond to each in turn.

    @Micah, talking about the second coming within a framework that views divine action the way Clayton and Knapp do is really interesting. Of course, if God only acts persuasively then the idea of Jesus coming back in an instant, snapping his fingers and making all things right is not possible for such an action would be more coercive than persuasive. If God had the power to do that we must ask “Why hasn’t he already done so?” One would also have to ask themselves if a coercive second coming would really do away with evil the way many people think it would. Does violence/coercion not simply beget more violence/coercion? So that being said, it makes sense to me to speak of the second coming as more of a process that is taking place in the present and will last into the future rather than a single, future event. I hinted at this idea in my NT Survey devotional on Advent which I shared on my blog a few months ago.

    In terms of the resurrection body: I’ve found it helpful to remember that resurrection cannot be the same as resuscitation. What happened to Jesus was more than simply a reanimation of the atoms and cells that made up his body before his death. Those atoms and cells, of course, would have been well along on the process of decay and decomposition on Sunday. Rather, what happened to Jesus was new creation–something that we don’t have many words to describe or concepts to help us understand (it is new, after all!). So we could say that because of Jesus’ obedience to the Father–that is, because of his openness to the persuasive call of God–possibilities were available to God that would not have been otherwise available to him. And due to the degree to which Jesus manifested God’s will we could say that the possibilities that were indeed available to God go far beyond anything that we could ever think of or imagine (again, this was new creation). Thus, Jesus was, in some mysterious sense, raised from the dead and we can be sure that whatever happened to Christ will happen to all of creation. He was given a body that was, according to Paul, “animated by the Spirit of God” (soma pneumatikos in Gk.) instead of a body that “animated by our own soul or spirit” (soma psychikos in Gk.). I would argue that whether or not the tomb was empty, then, is irrelevant at this point. I’ve written a bit more about this in my post entitled “The Last Things: A Proleptic Eschatology” under the heading of “Resurrection.”

    @Greg, I think what we find at the end of the gospels is how the early church came to narrate the newly available presence of God that they experienced after Jesus’ death. What’s striking to me, rather than the similarities among the resurrection accounts, is the differences. It seems to me that something more is going on than merely a play-by-play retelling of exactly what happened in the resurrection event. Of course, to assume that premodern Palestinian peasants would write in a way that is satisfying to those of us with Western rationalistic standards of historiography would be anachronistic anyway.

    That being said, I still think it’s possible to conceive of some sort of resurrection “appearances” within a process framework. As I was attempting to explain above, possibilities were available to God because of Jesus’ obedience to him that allowed God to grant Jesus, in some mysterious sense, life after death. This would allow for some sort of appearances but I don’t find it necessary to go this far with the speculating.

    Moreover, I agree with Paul when he mentions the importance of the resurrection. What Clayton and Knapp are trying to do (and, by extension, what I’m trying to do) is simply re-imagine what the resurrection might have looked like.

    @Jimmy, Wright’s work on the resurrection is good stuff but I’m finding myself wanting to distance myself from him a bit on the issue of the empty tomb. I think the resurrection of Christ can still be affirmed and lived out whether or not the tomb was empty.

    My apologies for the length of this response. This stuff gets me excited!

  5. I am not familiar with the authors you have been summarizing the past few blogs so my response is only to your comments. I have been meditating on 1 Corinthians 15 lately so I can’t help seeing the connection to your blogs as Greg has already done. For me, the physical and historical resurrection is at the very core of walking in the resurrection in daily life, i.e. because Jesus was raised historically and physically, I as a follower of Jesus am called to walk in the resurrection on a daily basis in real time and in physical body. Without the resurrection it seems nonsense, more like a gnostic gospel which most of the NT is trying to confront. This is why Rollin’s challenge is so poignant, i.e. by not living it out physically and historically I am denying the physicality and historicity of the resurrection even if I might affirm it dogmatically. He knows how to use language provocatively but his message is pretty down to earth, just like the resurrection is! The two go together. Sometimes people believe in a physical resurrection but spiritualize its meaning which is a problem. It seems these authors are doing the opposite by spiritualizing the resurrection and “physicalizing” its meaning. It does not seem to be a solution to the problem.

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