[The following is a post I sent to Presbyweb. It will likely be published on its website later today or tomorrow. Presbyweb is a forum for Presbyterian clergy and laity to share their thoughts. The editor, Hans Cornelder, searches the web for stories regarding religion and what not each day. It is a subscription service. Although, you pay what you want or can. I think you can have it for a month for free, but I am not sure. Anyway, you can see some of the replies that folks have made to some of my postings. Not that this is about me, but if you search my name on the Presbyweb site, you can read stuff I have posted over the years. Presbyweb has mostly an evangelical following. So often there is difference of opinion between my colleagues and myself. Regardless, I think it is important to keep lines of communication open. There are a few letters posted there about this blog. I am interested in the claim of the church regarding the resurrection of Jesus and what that means for us. I do not pretend to have the answers, but I think it is critical to explore the question.]
I am grateful to Presbyweb for providing this forum to discuss theological issues. I wish that we could discuss these things without the constant barrage of name-calling, threats, and assumptions. Some have suggested that I have denied the resurrection. (I do not deny the resurrection). Others appear to be frothing at the mouth to take me to ecclesiastical court. Be that as it may, it is worth all of that to talk about important issues.
I offer further explanation regarding resurrection.
Theology and history are two different disciplines. Historical scholars of the New Testament and Christian origins are interested in reconstructing the events. They seek to determine how the texts were composed. The goal is to determine what is historically probable. For instance, what is the historical probability that Jesus walked on the water? What is the historical probability that the corpse of Jesus was resuscitated? What is the historical probability that Jesus as an infant stood up in his cradle and said, “I am indeed a servant of Allah” as the Qur’an states? Many tools are used including literary criticism, comparing the writings of the New Testament and extra-canonical literature to other literature of the period, and by reconstructing the social, political, and cultural background in which the texts were composed.
In all of these cases, historical probability suggests that these texts do not reflect historical events, but theological interests. The gospel writers did not write history, although some of what they wrote might reflect an historical event. The authors of the New Testament wrote theology. Theology is about determining the character of God. It is about purpose and meaning, among other things.
I affirm the resurrection of Jesus from a theological perspective. Resurrection and ascension are inextricably linked. Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God. This is not an historical statement. It is a theological statement. History seeks to discover why the New Testament authors made this statement. They can give us the cosmological view of the time (a three-tiered universe), the circumstances in which this claim was made, and what it might have meant to people who lived in that time and place. History attempts to keep us from imposing our world-view onto the text. Granted, it is not hard science. We are dealing with probabilities.
To confess that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father is intended to tell us the character of the Father. Who runs the show? What kind of God is ultimately in control?
Historians tell us that in the time that New Testament was written the authors lived in a context of Roman Imperial Theology. (See Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul ) In Roman Imperial Theology, the emperor or Caesar was lord. Caesar was the son of god. After his death, the deified Caesar took his place in the Roman pantheon. He sat at the right hand of the power of the universe. This imperial theology was seen everywhere from coins to structures. You couldn’t miss it. What is the character of God? You see it in the way the
The authors of the New Testament dared to claim a different reality. They said, “Jesus is Lord!” Jesus is the one at the right hand of the power of the universe. Thus, the scandal. The one that Empire crucified is Lord. What is the character of your God? You see it in the way Jesus and his followers acted in the world. Who is your god? Who is the one you will follow—Caesar or Jesus?
That is why the teachings and the parables of Jesus are so crucial to understanding the character of God. Jesus revealed a nonviolent God. He revealed that to follow this God was to love enemies, to speak on behalf of the oppressed, to share the goods of Earth, and to shun the system of domination that was Roman Imperial Theology. Jesus hung out with those who had no value in
What does it mean for Christians in the
We live in a country that consumes 40 percent of the world’s resources. We live in a country that spends more on its military than “the next twenty biggest spenders combined.”
We act a great deal more like Caesar than Jesus.
Those who claim that Jesus has been raised, has ascended, and is Lord need to make some choices:
Is capitalism lord? Is Jesus lord?
Are American corporate interests lord? Is Jesus lord?
Is American militarism lord? Is Jesus lord?
Is oil lord? Is Jesus lord?
Is the American way of life (unfettered consumption) lord? Is Jesus lord?
I challenge all my sisters and brothers in the clergy to preach with the boldness of Paul that Jesus is risen, not Caesar.
First Presbyterian Church