Monday, March 24, 2008

Why I'm Not a Fundamentalist -- Part 4, (Bodily) Resurrection

IT seems very appropriate to deal with this topic at this time of year. I was going to do it on Saturday or Sunday but put it off because, quite frankly, I am not always sure how best to express my understanding of resurrection.

In every source I have read fundamentalism calls for an acceptance of the Easter story as meaning the bodily Resurecction of Jesus of NAzareth, the one we call Christ. (OK, usually it talks about the bodily resurrection of Christ but that is not proper terminology in my book, but it sure is more succinct and concise).

Again, this follows fully from a Biblical literalism. The Gospels clearly state that Jesus was removed from the cross and laid in a tomb. The Gospels are clear that the tomb was empty. And in 3 (plus the longer, likely later, additional ending in Mark) the Gospels state that someone met with Jesus, either in Jerusalem or in Galilee or both.

But I don't see the Gospels as history or fact. They tell the truth, but that is not the same. Sometimes (or even often) in practice one needs to change the facts in order to tell the truth.

I remember being at a seminar where John Crossan was speaking. He suggested that the burial tradition could just as likely be a statement of love. As in "gee I sure hope this man I loved and admired was given a proper burial". But the reality could also be that there was NO tomb (remember that most of Jesus' friends had run far away, they could't claim to witness a burial). Think about medieval England. Traitors heads were often put on a pike as a warning/deterrent to others (or if they were quartered that quarters might have been sent around the country for the same reason)*. It stands to reason that crucified criminals might be left on the cross to rot for the exact same reason.

If there was no actual tomb than the empty tomb narratives are obviously literary devices, they certainly don't prove a bodily resurrection event.

Paul's wonderful discussion of resurrection in 1 Corinthians leaves open the door that the resurrection was not a body. Certainly both Paul and the Gospel accounts make it plain that the resurrected Jesus was not the same as the pre-crucifixion Jesus. Paul talks about a spiritual body and in the Gospels people have trouble recognizing who they are talking to.

Certainly something distinctive happened that we now call the Easter moment. Resurrection is what we call it but what did people experience? Was it a resuscitated body? Was it a spiritual vision, such as Paul describes? (I vote for the latter) WAS it right after death or some longer period later? (I hunch for longer than "the third day") Where did it happen? (a variety of places) How did the common meal of faith help in that revelation?

It is my opinion that focusing too much on the body morphs the Easter story into some kind of Divine CPR/crash cart event. The power was far more than that. The point of the story is about life beyond everything the "powers and principalities" can accomplish. Resurrection is not the reversal of death, it is a changing, it is a rebirth.

But still we are left with the Gospel accounts. It is obvious that the early Jesus movement had a strong understanding that there was a tomb and that it was empty. There is a part of me that has trouble totally discounting that witness. But in the end, like virgin birth, like much in Biblical study, I find that arguing over the historicity of the account leads away from exploring and experiencing the truth in the account.

* This is also part of the reason that for much of human history executions were conducted in public places. The current practice in the US of having them behind closed doors works against the claimed deterrent effect. It is also true that many crowds seemed to consider watching executions a bit of a spectator sport.


  1. I never ever call myself a fundamentalist, but I are one ;-) by your list. So we disagree about a lot of things (but I knew that already). But what I am really commenting about is to tell you that I appreciate the tone of these posts and the thoughtfulness with which they are presented. I think we can agree that these five things, contrary to what many of my fellow fundamentalists might say, are not the main thing. Jesus told us love was the main thing.

    Whew, can I stop being a fundie now? Eek.


  2. SO,
    THere is nothing wrong with being a "fundie". It is how one is in the fatih that matters no?

    SOme fundamentalists are open to discussion (say you for example). SOme are not. ANd the same goes for those of a more liberal/progressive approach to the faith. Nothing worries me more than a person, from any point on a spectrum (politics, religion, social norms) insisting that their position is the one and only right place to be.

    AS you say, it is about love, and only love. And love forces openness to the other.

  3. Yes, dogmatism is alarming. I can't stand it, even when I basically agree with the person's views. We can hold beliefs strongly, but to refuse to discuss things just leads to arrogance, pride--and worse.

    Nothing wrong with being a fundamentalist? Thanks. :-) But there IS something wrong with being a "fundie." If you know what I mean. It's why I never use the word "fundamentalist" any more. Too bad, in a way.

    Can one be a progressive fundamentalist? My husband says I am so middle-of-the-road that I'm just likely to get squashed. He's probably right.

  4. I guess I would echo Singing Owl- but have been stretched and challenged by this series, I need to return later to read properly, thank you for posting these.

  5. I only recently wandered upon this blog in my internet wanderings. I wanted to:

    1. Tell Gord how much I have appreciated this blog. I am a current seminarian and am always searching for like minded and/or open religious discussions.

    2. I think that is is absolutely possible to be a progressive fundamentalist. I think it is all in defining fundamentalism for yourself and not letting someone else determine the rules and boundaries.