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?
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.