Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Wright's "The Resurrection of the Son of God"

This is volume 3 in Wright's series on "Christian Origins and the Question of God." I blogged a bit on it below. Overall, I didn't find it as thought provoking as the first two books in the series. That might be because I'm not exactly the book's target audience.

The big thing for Wright is arguing that Jesus was, and his followers will be, resurrected with physical bodies. He aims his argument at a two-fold target -- at both liberals and at a large strain of popular orthodoxy.

Different types of liberals and modernists have tried to minimize the foolishness of the resurrection by spiritualizing and internalizing "resurrection." Wright argues in detailed length (the book is over 700 pages long) that the Scriptures invoked for this purpose instead affirm the orthodox position that Jesus was raised bodily from the grave, and the Christian hope is bodily resurrection as well.

Against popular orthodoxy, Wright inveighs against the popular idea that the Christians' ultimate hope is "going to heaven" for eternity. The Christian hope is not to spend eternity as disembodied spirits in heaven, but rather it is to live eternally in God's presence as embodied creatures in the new creation. Indeed, the one place that Christians apparently will not be eternally is in heaven. John reports that the new Jerusalem where the resurrected will live comes "down out of heaven" to the new earth (Rev 21.10).

To be sure, I wouldn't want to literalize the locational picture here, nonetheless, it is telling that conservative Christians widely affirm an eternal location in heaven when the Scriptures expressly tell us our eternal city comes out of heaven back to earth. It would seem that heaven is a temporary abode that we will leave at the Resurrection of the last day.

All of this is just fine, but none of it is something I struggle with. (For years now I've been reminding my classes that the "resurrection of the body" in the Creed refers to our bodies, not to Jesus' body. And that our eternal hope is the new creation, not an eternally disembodied existence in heaven.)

And then there's the distinctive element of Wright's argument -- that "resurrection" means only physical resurrection. As I remarked below, while I appreciate that this greatly simplifies the lines of Wright's argument, I don't see that the Scriptures take this as the only resurrection and all the others as "metaphors." (Indeed, Wright at one point or another blinks as well.)

Not least as a problem for Wright is the reference in Rev 20 to the "first resurrection." While Wright, implausibly to my mind, seeks to limit this reference to those beheaded because of their witness for Christ (v. 4), the verse also lists those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the image on their forehead or hand. In light of v.6, I take this "first" resurrection to be the entire set of Christians, of whom martyrs receive the right of first mention. The "second" resurrection then is the bodily resurrection. This language seems to me to be entirely consistent -- and more consistent than Wright's -- with Jesus' unembarrassed teaching in John 5.25-29 that there are two resurrections.

To be sure, I don't think this quibble is a huge thing, but I think it's valuable to preserve resurrection language in application to our resurrection in baptism, as we once again come to life before God through Christ.

And in a sense, if I may be so cheeky, that "my" reading here seems more in line with one of Wright's emphases in the previous two volumes in this series: That the new age has already broken into the old creation means that we are now resurrected, not just metaphorically, but really. That we look forward to the ratification of this resurrection in the resurrection of the body and the revelation of the new creation does not diminish the reality that our resurrected life has already begun. By pushing the "real" resurrection into the future, I think Wright gives away a little too much.


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