Sing the wondrous love of Jesus, Sing His mercy and His grace.
In the mansions bright and blessèd, He’ll prepare for us a place.
Onward to the prize before us! Soon his beauty we’ll behold;
Soon the pearly gates will open; We shall tread the streets of gold.
When we all get to heaven, What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus, We’ll sing and shout the victory!
--Eliza E. Hewitt, “When We All Get to Heaven”
There is no political solution/To our troubled evolution
Have no faith in constitution/There is no bloody revolution
Where does the answer lie?/Living from day to day
If it's something we can't buy/There must be another way
We are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
—The Police, “Spirits in the Material World”

I. Introduction

“I’m not religious–but I’m spiritual.”

Anyone who has been in the practice of ministry has no doubt encountered this statement from someone who is explaining their current relation to the church, synagogue, or organized religion in general. But this statement is not simply confined to individuals explaining why they haven’t been to church in a while, it is symptomatic of a culture which has completely divorced spirituality from the material world, even as it places more and more value in the accumulation of material goods.

Screenshot 2016-07-02 15.10.43
Image courtesy

It is now almost 2,000 years since the events of the first Easter, that miraculous Sunday morning in Judea when history reached a critical turning point. It has been two millennia since the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and yet, at times that resurrection seems more remote than even those years can convey.

For we live in a world increasingly alienated from resurrection and from resurrection faith. The songs quoted at the outset of this paper make that clear. The second of those songs comes from the realm of popular music and betrays much of what is current in popular philosophy and theology: materiality is corrupting, we are at heart spiritual beings, trapped in physical prisons. 1 This belief is so pervasive that to profess the traditional Christian proclamation is to be as counter-cultural as one could imagine. [2]

The language of the first of the two songs clearly contemplates the abandoning of this material, earthly realm for the bliss of a heavenly realm. This song, however, does not come from the popular culture, but is a hymn of the church. [3] And therein lies the problem.

A. Changes within the Church: the Bishop of Newark

The spirit-body dichotomy is not pervasive in the secular culture alone. So pervasive has this attitude toward materiality become that the core of the Christian proclamation is coming under attack from sources within the Church. Nowhere is this more evident than in the work of the Jesus Seminar and their putative apostle, the Rt. Reverend Bishop John Shelby Spong. This Episcopalian Bishop has a made a career challenging traditional Christian doctrine and attempting to articulate Christian teaching anew for “believers in exile.” [4] In this enterprise, Bishop Spong has asked some very good questions about traditional Christian thought in the post-modern world. His questions are the kind of questions that are necessary if faith is to be relevant to every generation. The problems arise when he attempts to answer the questions he has posed. For in so doing, he often defers to contemporary secular thinking when it conflicts with a historical confession of the Church. [5]

Sadly, one of the areas with which he takes exception with traditional theology is regarding the resurrection of the body. He reviews the canonical witnesses and the way in which the resurrection is related in each. He notes that in the Gospel of Mark, the earliest gospel to be written, there is no account of the resurrection, per se. [6] The next gospel to be written is Matthew’s account, written in the early 80s. He makes much of the gap in time between Jesus’ ministry and the appearance of this narrative:

“If a physical resurrected body is an essential part of the Church’s Easter claim, then one must wonder why no story about such a phenomenon had entered Christianity in its first forty years of life, for that is a fact.” [7]

He continues:

“The first narrative of Jesus’ Easter rising that implied that the resurrection involved a physical body came in Matthew’s gospel (80 C.E.–85 C.E.). Even then it was not a convincing story, but was rather crude and contrived.” [8]

“Stories of a physically resurrected Jesus do not really gain popularity until the writings of Luke (85-90) and John (95-100), some fifty-five to seventy years after the conclusion of the earthly life of this Jesus.” [9]

But it is not Bishop Spong’s sloppy Biblical scholarship that is really the issue. It is what he does with it that poses such a problem for the Church and for the core of the Gospel message. He writes in Liberating the Gospels:

“I am convinced that, until these physical elements of the resurrection story are recognized as legends and dismissed as accounts of objective history, modern men and women will never understand, embrace, or even enter the power of Easter.” [10]

Here, the “power of Easter” is equated with a rejection of the idea of the resurrection of the body! How far we have come from St. Paul who wrote so eloquently and insistently on the resurrection of the body. [11] The bodily resurrection of Jesus, the “engine that drove early Christianity,” [12] is in danger of fading from the Church’s consciousness altogether in favor of some new ‘spiritual’ reality.

Before we can truly examine the impact of these changes in both the secular world and the church, we need to understand something about the history of thought on the resurrection. Before we can understand how we have comes so far from resurrection, we must understand how we first got there.

II. The History

A. Earliest Hebrew Thought

It does not appear that the earliest Israelites contemplated a life beyond this one. With one exception in the canonical witnesses [13] the Hebrew Bible is silent about the fate of the individual human after death. [14] It appears that death is a finality, a very real end: “Do not put your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no help. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” (Psalm 146:3-4). Death marks the end of everything for the mortal human, even a relationship with God. [15] The terse accounts of the deaths of the elders of the human race is surprising to modern readers for its seeming bluntness about death. One encounters a formula such as: “Thus all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred thirty years; and he died” (Gen. 5:5) that quickly transitions into the next narrative. Death is the end of the individual’s narrative.

It is at this point that the parishioner who has been paying attention will ask: “But what about Sheol? Don’t the Psalms mention Sheol as a place people go to after they die?” It is true that Sheol is often encountered in the Biblical text as the destination for those who have died. But an examination of those same texts makes it clear that this destination is not something to be looked forward to:

Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good. The eye that beholds me will see me no more; while your eyes are upon me, I shall be gone. As the cloud fades and vanishes, so those who go down to Sheol do not come up; they return no more to their houses, nor do their places know them any more. (Job 7:7-10)

Turn, O LORD, save my life; deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise? (Psalm 6:4-5)

Sheol, to the extent it is an existence after death, is not a whole existence. “Those who go down to Sheol do not come up” and in death “there is no remembrance of [God].” This is not a hopeful vision. It is not something that brings comfort to the bereaved. In this world view, there is no one comforting the grieving saying, “I’m sure your loved one has gone to a much better place.” In this ancient understanding, the better place is life on earth, where one lives an embodied existence and is able to praise and worship God.

There was a focus in the ancient Israelite tradition on the here and now and on the sanctity and importance of this life. This is not the Platonic worldview of immortal souls trapped in physical bodies. [16] Death is not liberation back to the primeval state. It is an end. The Israelites understood that the fullness of our human lives was lived out now, with union of body and soul: to live fully is to live embodied, incarnate.

B. Job and the Problem of Theodicy

Now, this understanding did not pose a problem for ancient Israel. For it was long believed that justice was meted out in this world. The righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished during their lifetimes. This was the prevalent view of the wisdom literature and can also be found in the blessing and curses sections of the law codes. [17] However, this view did not last forever. Human experience does not bear out the belief that rewards and punishments are perfectly meted out in this life. It is an observation that gives rise to a major question of theodicy as expressed in the Book of Job.

There are three implicit assumptions about the nature of God that Israel affirmed: God was good, God was omnipotent, and God was just. When Job begins to suffer, he cannot account for his sufferings. He knows he has done nothing wrong and can only assume that God, who is just, is unaware of his plight. His friends, also acting on the assumptions about God, assume that Job must have done something wrong, even if he does not realize it. When God speaks to Job from the whirlwind, there is no explanation for Job’s sufferings other than God’s declaration of sovereignty. Ultimately, for Job, his sufferings remain a mystery and the reader is left with a major challenge to the wisdom worldview and the understanding that there is always justice in this life.

C. The Necessity of Resurrection

Questions of theodicy forced a rethinking of things. Assuming that God is good, just, and omnipotent, then it is not a question of whether God’s justice will be manifest, but when. In order for God to set everything right, in order for the people to be brought into a new life where sorrow is no more, injustice, is no more, and where death is no more, God must restore us to new life–to bodily life. If God is to deliver all Israel, the living and the dead, then all those who had died must be restored to life in order to share in this final act of history. [18]

1. Enter the Persians

One is tempted to say simply that the Jews borrowed the concept of Resurrection from the Zoroastrian Persians. It is true that the doctrine of bodily resurrection is Persian in origin. [19] But there are a couple of problems with this kind of statement–the first being that in a dynamic, cross-fertilizing cultural setting, the development of ideas is never as simple as one group borrowing an idea from another.

But, a second objection is more to the point: simply stating that the Jews borrowed the idea from the Persians ignores the Jewish theological concerns that the resurrection addressed. Within only a few centuries the resurrection of the dead was listed in the Mishnah as one of three cardinal Jewish beliefs. [20] Whatever the origin of the idea, the fact remains that it found fertile ground in Judaism because it addressed some very real Jewish concerns.

Life is embodied. God is just. Had the Jews not borrowed the idea, they very probably could have come up with it on their own, because for faithful Jews who believe in a faithful God, the resurrection is necessary to vindicate God’s justice. That by Jesus’ day, resurrection was a major belief for a great many Jews, accepted by Pharisees and Essenes, and rejected only by the Sadducees, is evidence of the compatibility of such a doctrine with the fundamental teachings of Judaism. [21]

2. Resurrection in Scripture

Indeed, the idea of God’s giving new life to the dead is a theme that can be found in Hebrew scripture dating as far back as Isaiah: “Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead.” Isaiah 26:19. [22] It is likely that Isaiah’s language is poetic language meant to describe God’s power rather than an articulation of any particular eschatological hope.

Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones also speaks in language that suggests resurrection but speaks to the revitalization of the entire community. [23] Though Christians tend to see this a statement concerning bodily resurrection, the imagery is meant to address the return of Judah from exile to the land. [24]

The Isaiah and Ezekiel passages are written in language that will come to have definite theological meaning for the Jewish community. The first clear reference to resurrection as resurrection, rather than as metaphor for the rebirth of the community, comes in the book of Daniel: ” Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2). Explicit mention of the resurrection is also found in the Deuterocanonical Book of 2 Maccabees: “And when he was at his last breath, he said, ‘You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.'” (2 Macc. 7:9) It is clear that faith in the resurrection of the dead, though by no means universal, had developed strong roots in Judaism by the first century C.E.

D. The Resurrection and Christian Proclamation

This is an important point: resurrection faith was not inaugurated by Jesus’ resurrection–it was vindicated by it. Jesus’ resurrection–though an unexpected inversion of the crucified Messiah’s fate–did not occur without any context or explanation. The resurrection of Jesus Christ came amid a profound hope for God’s justice and God’s renewal of a broken world. This can be seen in the New Testament witnesses themselves, for example, in John 11:24: “Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.'”

Many Christians, and indeed many Jews, believe that resurrection is a Christian innovation, that it is something that was created by the early church and has been passed down. Losing sight of the deep roots of resurrection within Judaism not only undermines the power of the event for those of Jesus’ contemporaries who were hoping against hope for such divine intervention, but also makes Israel’s story nonsensical. For it is as though we leave Israel in the middle of its story, waiting to be delivered, and begin another story about the Church. Christians must recognize that Jesus’ resurrection is the vindication of the hope of Israel, a vindication that will be consummated fully at the parousia.

III. The Issue

A. The Contemporary Situation

1. Disconnect between Jesus’ resurrection and our own

Given the long pedigree which the resurrection had within Judaism, and the context in which Jesus’ resurrection occurred, why is it that it seems so distant from our present reality? As a child, I was always confused by Easter. ‘So Jesus came back from the dead,’ I thought. ‘Big deal. What does that have to do with me?’ I could not understand what the exact relationship was between Jesus’ resurrection and my getting into heaven. The two things seemed like such different phenomena. Indeed, I cannot remember ever really having the understanding that Jesus’ resurrection prefigured my own resurrection from the dead.

My own experience is part of a larger disconnect in the churches between Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection of the dead. Somehow, we have failed to hear the words of St. Paul: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. ” 1 Cor 15:20-23 (emphasis added).

2. Otherworldliness

The understanding of our fates in light of bodily resurrection at the end of history is so alien to most Christians that they are likely to think it is a strange doctrine, foreign to Christianity. Most Christians are likely to talk about heaven as their destination, rather than resurrection as their destiny.

Indeed, the most common understanding of life after death is of an otherworldly realm of rewards and punishments, where the Karmic distribution not realized in this world is finally meted out. One recent example from the sports pages illustrates this nicely:

There are those around Boston who swear the Curse of the Bambino is real. David Kruh, who has written several books and even a play on the subject, isn’t sure either way. “I think it’s just spurred when you have this legacy of coming so close and then not getting the brass ring — maybe it’s in our Puritan or Calvinist nature to think that in this life you have all this suffering for a better life later,” he says. “Who knows? Maybe up in heaven the Red Sox are winning the World Series every year.” [25]

I confess, as a lifelong Red Sox fan myself there is something comforting about the fact that somewhere those guys are winning the series. [Author’s Note: This paper was originally written in 2002, two years before the Glorious Triumph of 2004–an event whose joy was eschatological in proportions for the Fenway Faithful. A follow-up paper on Baseball and Eschatological Faith is forthcoming.]

B. How did we get here?

And perhaps, it is the element of time that is the reason why resurrection seems so distant. The early church believed that the resurrection was imminent. In fact, in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul is bold to write: ” Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” (1 Cor. 15:51-52) It is clear that Paul counts himself among those who will not die, but will be changed. There was probably no one more surprised by his own death than Paul.

However, since the days of the early church, the parousia and the resurrection have seemed like ever more remote possibilities. And as the expectation of resurrection has faded into the distant future, a desire for justice now has come to the fore. It does us no good to comfort ourselves with the knowledge that perhaps in a million years the innocent children who lost their lives when their plane crashed into the Pentagon will see new life. We want to know that they are safe and happy now. Similarly, we want to know that Adolf Hitler is suffering now. We can’t wait for an eschatological annihilation of the wicked à la Revelation at the end of history. On this level, the idea that rewards and punishments–like World Series trophies–are being doled out at this moment somewhere else is very satisfying.

Additionally, there is a suspicion of materiality that we have inherited from our experience. This world can be extremely cruel, cold, and even evil. Human institutions are subject to corruption. Human beings are prisoner to their own animal lusts. Even amoral impersonal nature is not above killing a few thousand people in earthquakes, mudslides, volcanic eruptions, and hurricanes. The average person is likely to balk at the idea that the best existence is bodily existence in this world. It is far easier to believe that there is indeed a ‘better place’ for us. Given the difficulties of the broken world, it is not difficult to imagine how we can feel like strangers in a strange land. It is not difficult to imagine how death can be seen as ‘returning home.’ Indeed, considering how much the resurrection resembles delayed gratification, rooted in the materialism of the world, it is not difficult to see how religious figures like Bishop Spong could downplay any notion of salvation as being both future and physical.

IV. The Consequences

But despite these objections, or perhaps because of them, belief in bodily resurrection matters. Faith in the resurrection of the dead is a corrective to defeatism and a challenge to the status quo.

A. The Body

In the spring of 2000, a friend of mine was murdered. She was stabbed to death by her neighbor who wanted her car to drive to a party. It was a brutal, senseless crime that snuffed out the life of a talented and well-liked individual. On the drive to the funeral, one of the people in the car remarked, “It’s good that they’re calling it a memorial service, not a funeral. That way we can celebrate, because it’s only the body that is dead–the important part still lives on.” I was apoplectic. If the ‘important part’ still lived on, why be sad? More importantly, why be outraged at our friend’s murder? All the murderer did, after all, was kill her body, he didn’t really harm her. Once again, Platonic dualism had reared its ugly head and the consequences were galling.

If the body is unimportant, why do we care about any bodily assault? Why care about spousal abuse, or rape, or other physical violence? If the human being is defined most centrally by a non-physical spirit, why do we care about physical crimes? Why not celebrate them: “At last our friend is free of her prison! Let us celebrate her ‘passing’ and reward her killer!”

Resurrection faith reminds us of the importance of the body. Far from being a prison for our immortal souls, the body is as much who we are as our consciousness and spirit. The title of a popular book from a few decades ago spoke prophetically when it said: “Our Bodies, Our Selves.” The connection between our bodies and who we are is being lost in our culture as popular culture turns to “spirit”-uality and the Church is lax about making its fundamental proclamation. At the heart of this fundamental proclamation is the importance of the body–an emphasis Christianity inherited from Judaism. As New Testament scholar Richard Hays notes: “Where Christian theology has remained most closely in touch with its Jewish apocalyptic roots, it has most firmly insisted on the value and importance of embodied existence, in contrast to forms of Hellenized piety that regard the material realm as evil or inferior.” [26] One Jewish scholar agrees:

The notion of bodily resurrection makes three important claims about
the human being: first, that redemption of the individual person requires
direct intervention by God; second, that what is redeemed is the entire
person, the familiar, concrete person, for the doctrine affirms the
inherent value of our bodily existence; finally, that by affirming the
value of our bodily existence, history and society also acquire ultimate
value, for it is in these contexts that we live our lives.[27]

This last point is crucial. Human life is not lived in a vacuum, but rather in community with other human beings. Restoration of human life to its fullest also includes restoration of all that that entails: individually, socially, and cosmically. As Moltmann notes:

Eternal life consequently embraces this person, and this person wholly, body and soul; and, beyond this person, it applies to all the living,
so that in the future world the creation that ‘groans’ under transience
will also be delivered, because there will be no more death. Hope for
the resurrection of the dead is therefore only the beginning of a hope
for a cosmic new creation of all things and conditions.[28]

Our connection with the world and with each other is broken without an understanding of resurrection as a shared destiny. Moltmann addresses this point when he writes: “If we were already to rise at our own death, we should then be redeemed from ‘this unredeemed world’, and our bodily solidarity with this earth would be broken and dissolved. But is not every grave in this earth a sign that human beings and the earth belong together, and will only be redeemed together?” [29] Indeed, the biggest problem with the dualistic, ‘ghost in the machine’ view of humanity is that it is individualistic. There is nothing about the individual soul’s liberation from its prison of the flesh that suggests any connection to anything else living. Life becomes like a World War II prisoner of war movie: the object is not to wait for the camp to be liberated and peace to be restored, it is to see how many individuals can escape and get to a better world. Just as in those movies, there is very little thought about those who are left behind, only about those who escape. [30]

B. Honesty about Death

Not long ago, I had occasion to participate in a memorial service for a young man who died unexpectedly. As the chaplain asked to give the homily at the service, I preached on the hope of the resurrection in the face of a tragic and untimely death. There was a point in the service when family and friends were to give remembrances of the deceased young man. His father began to speak about conversations he had had with his son. As he continued it became clear that these conversations had occurred after the young man had died. He was not describing the kind of one-sided conversation one has with a deceased loved one at a grave site, but a two-way conversation like any other one has during the day. There was nothing about the man’s talk that suggested in any way he was being metaphorical. I was overcome with sadness for this man, because the pain of his son’s death was so great, that he could not accept it. He was describing a continuing relationship with a son who now resided on another plane of existence.

He is not alone. There is a television show that is currently popular called Crossing Over. The host of this program has made a career for himself channeling the dead. He will begin by describing attributes of a deceased individual until he finds a match in the studio audience. He will then proceed to communicate on behalf of the departed with the living. In effect, he is playing the role of long-distance operator. He is connecting calls between this earthly plane and the spiritual plane. [31]

In neither case has there been an honest encounter with death. So long as the individual is at heart an immortal soul, then the person never really dies. Only the body, a mere physical shell, perishes. There is no cause for mourning, no need to come to terms with one’s own grief, no need to try to contemplate life without the deceased.

Resurrection does not afford us this luxury. By uniting body and soul, we can speak honestly about death. Death is a very real end. We can also speak honestly about injustice. The dead are not compensated in their deaths for the injustices they suffered while living. Those injustices remain and must be addressed by us who yet live, for the sake of the dead.

V. Conclusion: The Praxis of the Church

So, what do we do with all of this? The most common question that aspiring pastors ask when confronted by resurrection theology is this: “So, what do I tell my grieving parishioner when they ask ‘Where is my loved one now?'” This is an important question and addresses the issue of practical application of theology. For, it simply won’t do to answer such a question with a terse, “Well, your loved one is dead and in the ground, decomposing at this very minute, returning to the earth until the resurrection.”

Moltmann’s formulation that the dead are “in Christ” is extremely useful at this point. For it provides words of comfort without having to lapse into platonic dualism. We can also take a cue from St. Paul who had to deal with the issue of death in his Thessalonian congregation (1 Thess. 4:13-18):

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about
those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have
no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so,
through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.

But these are, ultimately, is short-term, situational solutions. Ultimately the church should prepare its faithful for confrontation with death in the light of the resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection cannot alone be the topic of Christian proclamation. It must be tied in directly with the resurrection of the dead that awaits us all. No more should parishioners be sitting in the pews on Easter Sunday asking themselves, “This is nice, but what does it have to do with me?” as I did as a child. The Church needs to be insistent that the fate of every individual Christian is tied in directly with Jesus Christ. Nor should a funeral be the first time that a parishioner should hear about the resurrection of the dead–it should be the cornerstone of our preaching.

How do we address the concerns raised earlier? Are we going to be able to change the attitudes of popular culture, and in many cases of the church itself, about the resurrection? Perhaps, but we can only do so if we take the concerns seriously of those who do not embrace this teaching.

We need to speak to those who need a sense of now in their hope. We need to say that in spite of our concerns about time, it is not our conceptions of time that matter. God’s time and God’s action happen in relation to our time, but are not beholden to our schedules. If we trust in God to be faithful, we trust in God to remember. We are designated to be the image of God; and “this relationship cannot be destroyed, either by the sin of human beings or by their death.” [32] Even in death our relationship to God remains because God remains and we need not doubt God’s faithfulness to remember us and to “call us by name.”

In spite of our concerns about materiality we can trust in God to be faithful to the creation he has created. When we look at a broken world we cannot say “This is not our home” as the Platonists would. Rather, the Resurrection challenges us to say, “This is not the way our home is meant to be.” Corrected and challenged, we begin the work of repairing the world, the Tikkun Olam, as we await its ultimate redemption by God.

This is not an easy life. It is a life full of hardship and suffering, of violence and cruelty, of injustice and pain. And yet, it is a life formed by God’s grace, sustained by God’s Spirit, and invested with God’s love. Rather than back away from its traditional teachings in the face of a hostile and challenging world, the Church needs to reassert those teachings more than ever. With a strong proclamation of our resurrection faith, the Church can lead a frail people through a broken world, and proclaim amidst the brokenness our hope in God’s justice.

And in all of this, we need not fear, for we know the one who has gone before us, who lived our life and died our death, who was raised from the dead, the “first fruits of those who have died”, goes with us into life, death, and resurrection. And we can trust that we too shall see the day when all will be made alive in him, even as we join in the words of the Book of Common Prayer: “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection unto eternal life….”


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[1] The album on which this song appears is entitled “Ghost in the Machine.”

[2] The idea of pure spirit and corrupt materiality is everywhere in popular culture. One is consistently told that spirit is good, and physicality is bad. At one point in The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda, the Jedi master instructs his pupil Luke Skywalker, saying, “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”

[3] “When We All Get to Heaven”, The United Methodist Hymnal, Carlton R., Young Ed., Nashville, Tennessee: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989, at 701.

[4] John Shelby Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998 (Hereinafter ” WCMCOD “).

[5] Many of the Bishop’s arguments–like those of the Jesus Seminar–are of the sort where he comes to a conclusion simply because it seems unreasonable to believe otherwise. The Jesus Seminar has made decisions about the authenticity of certain of Jesus’ saying solely on the basis that they do or do not sound like the kind of thing Jesus would say. Nowhere do they acknowledge that in order to make such a determination, one must already have in mind who Jesus was before making an examination of Scripture to find out who he was. Many of Bishop Spong’s theological conclusions are in the same vein: this understanding of God must be inaccurate because God would not be like that.

[6] The good bishop overstates the matter somewhat. Even accepting only the first 8 verses of Mark 16 as authentic and original, the women fleeing the empty tomb is clearly an account of the resurrection. It is an account that leaves it to the reader to fill in the blanks, but it is certainly an account.

[7] John Shelby Spong, Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996 (Hereinafter ” LTG” ), at 286. Here, too, the Bishop overreaches. Arguing that the absence of a written narrative account of the physical resurrection for 45 years is proof that such traditions did not exist is like arguing that no one knew how to play baseball until Abner Doubleday wrote down the rules. Such an attitude completely ignores the existence of oral tradition which can exist for decades, even centuries, before being transmitted in writing.

[8] Spong, LTG, at 286

[9] Spong, LTG, at 287. I am fascinated to know on what basis he determines the popularity of these stories.

[10] Id..

[11] See, 1 Corinthians 15. Spong maintains that when Paul spoke of Jesus’ resurrection, he meant that in terms of his “exaltation” by God to be in the presence of God. Spong, WCMCOD, at 76 (citing Phil. 2:5-11). Maintaining this position requires that one ignore pretty much everything else in the Pauline corpus.

[12] E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.

[13] Daniel 12:2, infra.

[14],Neil Gillman, Sacred Fragments: Recovering Theology for the Modern Jew. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1990, 195.

[15] Gillman, supra, at 195.

[16] See, generally, Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology. Translated by Margaret Kohl. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996, 58 ff.

[17] See, generally, Frank S.Frick,. A Journey Through the Hebrew Scriptures. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995, 486 ff.

[18] Gillman, at 236.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] E. P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief: 63 BCE-66 CE. 1992; reprint, London: SCM Press Ltd., 1998, at 333. See, also, Frederick J. Murphy, The Religious World of Jesus: An Introduction to Second Temple Palestinian Judaism. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991

[22] Arthur A Cohen. and Paul Mendes-Flohr. Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought: Original essays on critical concepts, movements, and beliefs. Edited by eds. New York: The Free Press, 1987, at 808.

[23] Bruce C Birch., Walter Brueggemann, Terrence E. Fretheim and David L. Petersen. A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999, at 359.

[24] Id.

[25] “From Woes to Whoa! In Boston, Where Suffering Is a Birthright, Fans Finally Have Winning Teams to Cheer,” Rachel Alexander Nichols, Washington Post Staff Writer, Sunday, April 21, 2002; Page D01

[26] Richard B. Hays “Apocalyptic Ethics”, The Faculty Lectures, Wesley Theological Seminary, 5 October 1999 [Lecture].

[27] Gillman, at 270.

[28] Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology. Translated by Margaret Kohl. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996 (hereinafter “TCOG”), at 70.

[29] Moltmann, TCOG, at 103.

[30] One might use this as an entry point to discuss the ethics of suicide, whose primary purpose is escape and whose primary victims are those left behind.

[31] Among my many suspicions about this whole process is the fact that no one is ever in hell. Everyone seems to be in the same saccharine spiritual afterlife.

[32] Moltmann, TCOG, at 72.

Copyright © 2002, 2006. Mark A. Schaefer. All Rights Reserved.

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