Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue (reviewed November 2007)

Robert B. Stewart, Ed., The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue, 2006 [****]. This collection is the outcome of the inaugural Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Two prominent Christian historians came together to discuss their convergent views of the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, and then a number of other scholars presented papers on related topics. This work collects that discussion and those papers. N.T. Wright is the Bishop of Durham (Church of England) and the author of many works, most notably for the purposes of this discussion The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003)(which I have not read). His thesis is that in the context of first century Jewish and Greco-Roman thinking about resurrection, nothing can explain the birth of the church, nor the belief of the early Christians in Jesus’ resurrection, other than the empty tomb and the post-mortem sightings of Jesus reported in the Gospels. He considers and rejects other explanations, and therefore concludes that there is a high probability that the tomb really was empty, the post-mortem sightings really did happen, and that therefore Jesus really was literally and bodily raised from the dead. John Dominic Crossan is a former Catholic priest and a member of the Jesus Seminar, a group of historians seeking to discern who the historical Jesus really was. Crossan does not believe that dead people can be brought back to life, period. He argues that the Gospel accounts of the empty tomb and the post-mortem sightings of Jesus are the creation of the evangelists several generations later, and are not as reliable as Paul’s much earlier description of the resurrection, which Crossan argues is metaphorical-spiritual, and not literal-bodily. Unlike Wright, Crossan does not believe that a literal, bodily resurrection is necessary for Christian faith, but that resurrection faith is nonetheless about embodiment: “Justice is always about bodies and lives, not just about words and ideas. Resurrection does not mean, simply, that the companions or followers of Jesus live on in the world. It must be the embodied life that remains powerfully efficacious in this world. I recognize those claims as an historian, and I believe them as a Christian.” As one contributor points out, what is really at the heart of Crossan and Wright’s disagreement is not their historical analysis, but rather the sort of God they believe in: if one believes in a God who can and does enter human history and alter the laws of nature, than Wright has a pretty compelling argument (although I would LOVE to hear the response of a Jew who believes in that sort of God). On the other hand, Wright’s analysis, no matter how compelling, is just beside the point if you don’t believe in that sort of God. Most of the scholars contributing to the book seem to be of the former sort of believer, and are pretty critical of Crossan, both of his historical analysis and his theology. Some of those essays include “The Hermeneutics of Resurrection,” “The Epistemology of Resurrection Belief,” “Wright and Crossan on the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus,” and “The Future of the Resurrection.” Most of the essays are actually way more readable than their titles would suggest. This dialogue gets at a lot of the Big Questions at the heart of my own faith, but I don’t, unfortunately, have much to say about any of it except that it certainly has me thinking.

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