Sunday, 12 April 2009

Reduced Resurrection

Dawn.
Empty tomb.
Weeping woman.
Angels.
Angels? Supernatural 1.
Garden.
Woman finds gardener.
Hint: THE gardener,
Creator of heaven and earth.
Mary. He calls her name.
Teacher.
She reaches out to him.
He says no, don’t touch.
He is risen from the dead.
Supernatural 2. Mega supernatural.
I am ascending to my Father.
Supernatural 3.

- o - o - o -

Jesus is dead, laid in the tomb. And God does something utterly different. God brings the corpse back to life and transforms him, not just restoring life but making him different. This is a new creation, similar to but different from a human body, similar in some ways to the angels, but different again.

The Resurrection is not natural. The Resurrection is not normal. God breaks in and breaks all the laws. This is supernature. And it makes no sense in our disenchanted world. In our world, we have left no room for the supernatural. When we find it, we deny it and find all sorts of explanations to make it safe.

I have read all the arguments about the resurrection being about the new life of the early Christian community, or the way the evangelists chose to tell the story – so many attempts to conform to the spirit of the age.

But I don’t want to edit out or play down the supernatural – in my life or in my world or in God’s engagement with that, least of all in the Resurrection. To rationalise the Resurrection is to reduce it, diminish it.

Christ is risen! He is Risen indeed! Really He is. Alleluia!

(And yes, I have been reading Charles Taylor, A Secular Age.)

Posted by Meg Gilley on Sunday, 12 April 2009 at 6:45am BST | TrackBack
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Comments

So God brings back the corpse of a dead Jesus, so that (presumably on the level) it can walk unrecognised, and appear and disappear at will. Please send the chemistry, physics and biology for this.

While God was able and busy to do that, why did he not reanimate the corpses of 6 million Jews and others, and other thousands and millions unjustly killed?

As I preached this morning, it is unscientific and unhistorical. It is myth: myth that has a truth about tragic lives and going through tragedy to get to the other side, about all the death that leads to mutated better environmentally set lives, via small changes or catastrophes.

Posted by: Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) on Sunday, 12 April 2009 at 3:22pm BST

Much appreciated! Allelujia...Christ is Risen!

Posted by: The Revd Prof J M Day on Sunday, 12 April 2009 at 7:31pm BST

Wow. Tom Wright, Ms. Gilley, and even the Pope: everybody got the talking points memo this year, didn't they?

"The bodily resurrection of Jesus was/is a ***FACT***, dammit, a fact! Don't be threatened by those secularists: we've got our FACTS, too!"

All I can say by way of commentary, is that "Reduced Resurrection" is certainly in the eye-of-the-beholder. :-/

Me? I'll stick w/ FAITH, not "fact", thank you---and Alleluia! :-D

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 12 April 2009 at 8:27pm BST

I happen to know it is the ~Rev'd. Dr Gilley, not Ms.

As a historian to trade, as it were (hint - not Ms Hannah) I must conclude that whatever the Resurrection is, it is not unhistorical. Historically it is, in my best professional judgement, well attested.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Monday, 13 April 2009 at 9:31am BST

Wow, pluralist, what an amazing missing of the point! There is no chemistry, biology, or physics that can explain it. Of course it's unscientific. If you can look at the mythology of a redeemed Creation and see in it only a reanimated corpse, I really don't know where to start. All I can say is that the Resurrection was not about one man coming back from the dead. It was the most important part of something far larger, and was nothing less than the recreation of the universe.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 13 April 2009 at 12:47pm BST

What recreation of the universe?

Posted by: Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) on Monday, 13 April 2009 at 2:23pm BST

Interesting, and somewhat curious, comments. As JCF is saying (I think), it is important to separate the worlds of science and theology the two can complement each other, and can address each other's concerns, but they are not using the same intellectual methodology, nor should they be.

This kind of thing became particularly confusing when David Jenkins, then Bishop of Durham, made some of his statements on the Resurrection - for which he was fond of using rather sensationalist language (remember the 'conjuring trick with bones'?). This (maybe unfairly) prompted 'Private Eye' to refer to the Bishop's "annual Christ-is-not-risen Easter message".

If we do not believe in the Resurrection, I have no idea what we are doing here. If we do believe in it, it must have some meaning. But it's not physics or chemistry or biology.

Posted by: Ferdinand von Prondzynski on Monday, 13 April 2009 at 3:23pm BST

"'conjuring trick with bones'"

Didn't he say that the resurrection was NOT just "some conjuring trick with bones"? Which is to say it is not merely someone coming back to life, but something else entirely? I remember the outcry then, and was fascinated that some people so feel the need to be persecuted they will react with anger to what seems like a deliberate misunderstanding of what someone else is saying just to gratify that need.

"If we do not believe in the Resurrection, I have no idea what we are doing here. If we do believe in it, it must have some meaning. But it's not physics or chemistry or biology."

YESYESYES!!!!!

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 13 April 2009 at 4:08pm BST

"What recreation of the universe?"

Precisely. The cosmic understanding of the Incarnation is lost to most in the West, under the pernicious influence of a theology that sees the Crucifixion as punishment, the death of God as a bribe, and humans as nothing more than undeserving criminals let off with their crimes by a corrupt and sadistic God.

The day of the Resurrection is traditionally called "The Eighth Day of Creation" because it is on that day that Creation is complete, made new. All things are restored in the Resurrection. It is why we keep Sunday as a Sabbath, rather than Saturday, we rest on the day Creation was completed. It is NOT that someone who was dead is alive again, much less that someone was unjustly punished so that the guilty could get away with it. In destroying the Stronghold of Death, as the Real Orthodox put it, Jesus has defeated the last of the forces that held us in bondage. By definition, then, Christ must be alive again after His victory over Death, since Death no longer exists in any cosmic sense after Christ has destroyed it. Oh, our bodies die, but that's not quite the same thing.

The Creation that fell with us is raised with us. All Creation is made new, yet paradoxically, the "here and now" manifestation of that is not truly seen, only by those who have the faith to fully perceive it, which leaves out the vast majority of us. Theosis in this life is vanishingly rare.

Look at Orthodox icons of the Resurrection, and of Christ Enthroned in Glory. You won't see any courtrooms there. You WILL see Adam and Eve being led out of prison by Jesus, the shattered gates and broken locks lying under their feet, the angels singing for joy. How can there be any science to explain that to us?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 13 April 2009 at 5:25pm BST

FvP,

I think your response is very confused.

It is absolutely essential to promote a theology which is compatible with science. The reason religion (in the West) is declining is that few people believe it any more. And the reason for that is that most religious formulations hardly bother/don't see the need/ to accommodate scientific knowledge.

You misrepresent David Jenkins (a far more honest and far more profound thinker than the present incumbent). He was NOT saying the resurrection 'tout court' was a 'conjuring trick with bones'. He WAS saying that a traditional, highly physical, interpretation of it was tantamount to a 'conjuring trick with bones'. He believed/believes/ in the resurrection, but brought about in 'God's own special way' (quotes). I entirely agree with you that Christians have to believe in the resurrection. I entirely disagree with you that such belief can be separated from physics, chemistry or biology. As always, Keith Ward is one of the very, very few Christian theologians who dares to think rigorously about these things.

Posted by: john on Monday, 13 April 2009 at 6:37pm BST

Let's be quite clear about what Jenkins said. Here's a near-contemporaneous report (well only a decade after the event!)
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/durhams-next-bishop-eschews-controversy-michael-turnbull-believes-in-the-virgin-birth-and-in-hell-writes-andrew-brown-1391605.html

Dr Jenkins, 69, caused a huge controversy at the time of his own appointment in 1984 when he told an interviewer that the Resurrection 'was not just a conjuring trick with bones'. People began to think he had dismissed the Resurrection as a conjuring trick with bones.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 13 April 2009 at 6:50pm BST

"the resurrection was not a conjuring trick with bones"
Of course, it wasn't! Jesus of Nazareth, with God's help (or vice versa if you prefer), wasn't engaged in magic. The resurrection story has to be metaphor for people so transformed by the aftermath of Jesus' crucifixion that words failed them. So they used imagery to try to capture what happened.
But, ... in the literalist mind, it was a divine conjuring trick with bones. Jesus was physically and chemically resurrected, right down to the last finger bone, the last DNA molecule, the last bit of stomach acid.
I still shudder at all those hymns I once heard in a fundamentalist Christian church glorifying being washed in blood from Jesus' torso, a never-ending fountain of blood. That's not salvation, that's eternal agony.
What kind of message does that send to non-beliversd?
Jesus of Nazareth lives on! His message that "God is love" lives on! That is the Easter message and hope!
That's what transformed his followers. Not eternal agony. Not some re-animated corpse.

Posted by: peterpi on Monday, 13 April 2009 at 7:27pm BST

I just want to add that my views of the Resurrection resonate w/ those expressed by most here (possibly including Pluralist---whatever he or everyone else may think of seeing a consistency there! ;-/). "New Creation": hear, hear! :-D

***

I'm really not interested in title-dropping, though---and honestly, if you consider the Gospels "Historically ... well attested" (which, considering their common bias, must be considered a single source---and I trust you're not so naive to consider Josephus a second source?!), then I also question your "professional judgment", Dr. Hannah.

Posted by: (The only time you'll see me call myself Doctor) JCF on Monday, 13 April 2009 at 8:20pm BST

I contrast David Jenkins with this:

http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/1717

...if the bones of Jesus were discovered in Palestine I could not be a Christian in the way that I now am. I could not celebrate the Sacraments: I could not understand the life of the Holy Spirit as I do: I might still want to be associated with some of the insights and values of the Christian tradition but you would no longer have me as Archbishop of Canterbury (I rather hope you wouldn't have anyone as Archbishop of Canterbury!) because I actually don't think that the Church would be credible in its central historical shape.

Posted by: Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) on Monday, 13 April 2009 at 10:37pm BST

John said: "It is absolutely essential to promote a theology which is compatible with science. The reason religion (in the West) is declining is that few people believe it any more. And the reason for that is that most religious formulations hardly bother/don't see the need/ to accommodate scientific knowledge."

I preside over a university that has science as its main focus, and in some way I'd love to think you're right. But you're not, I think. Most of those who stay away from church haven't the remotest interest in science or rational judgements. An opinion poll taken a couple of years ago showed that a significant proportion of non-churchgoers do believe in horoscopes, witches, luck charms, etc etc.

As has been said by many significant theologians and scientists, the disciplines of science and theology are not trying to apply the same methodologies.

As for David Jenkins, I know what he said - and I also believe he knew exactly how it would be taken up.

Posted by: Ferdinand von Prondzynski on Monday, 13 April 2009 at 11:53pm BST

"What church you belong to?"

"Church of Christ," the boy said in a falsetto to hide the truth.

"Church of Christ!" Haze repeated. "Well, I preach the church without Christ. I'm member and preacher to that church where the blind don't see and the lame don't walk and what's dead stays that way. Ask me about that church and I'll tell you it's the church that the blood of Jesus don't foul with redemption."

"He's a preacher," one of the women said. "Let's go."

"Listen you people, I'm going to take the truth with me wherever I go" Haze called. "I'm going to preach it to whoever'll listen at whatever place. I'm going to preach there was no Fall beacause there was nothing to fall from and no Redemption because there was no Fall and no Judgment because there wasn't the first two. Nothing matters but that Jesus was a liar."

The little man hearded his girls into the picture show quickly and the three boys left but more people came out and he began over and said the same thing again.

Posted by: rick allen on Tuesday, 14 April 2009 at 12:27am BST

One side of the easter message is what you believe it to communicate - is it: a metaphor that tells us something about the triumph of love; or a change in the nature of physical reality, since a change in the being of God - who is more than the world we know - is more fundamental?

The other side of the easter message - or rather the whole narrative of the life of Jesus Christ, which reaches its necessary conclusion at easter - is: what kind of truth is enough for you to follow Him?

For me, the second question links to the first. Do I believe the resurrection is only a metaphor? No. However, if it was only a metaphor, would that be enough? Yes. So I take my part in His story, gladly, in faith. A faith that builds on nothing more than a compelling story that has beguiled people for 2000 years. It is enough; for I know - with every alternative that knowing offers me, from the precision of realism to the mutable insights of the postmodern - that my redeemer liveth.

So I say, with all my heart: he is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Posted by: Dr Paul on Tuesday, 14 April 2009 at 12:36am BST

Atonement is such an integral part of the Christian Gospel message that, for me anyway, it has an equivalence with the word sacrifice. It seems to me that the elements of the sacrifice, whether that of Christ himself, or of our own offering of the self (kenosis), to bring about a transformation in union with him at the altar; when offered at atonement, becomes a living part of the redemptive mission of the Redeemer.

The very thought of God offering God's-self as any sort of sacrifice for the sake of the Creation God brought into being defies all our human presuppositions about God. Such self-giving as was evidenced in Jesus' incarnation, life and death, if he were the Son of God, could only end in the vindication of God's Love and Mercy towards all God has created. This is what the Church has always enshrined in her teaching about Jesus and his Resurrection from the dead.

Resurrection, humanly-speaking, might seem impossible. To God, all things are possible. Faith is a gift, but we do need to ask for it.
After hearing my diagnosis from my doctor today, I am even more convinced that God is ultimately in control of my life - because I want God to be.
Christ is Risen, Alleluia! He is risen indeed, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 14 April 2009 at 10:56am BST

Ferdinand,

Don't agree with you on any of this.

It may seem implausible to assert that religion is declining (where it is declining) by failure to engage with science, because - obviously - most people know actually know little about science. but I think there is a steady, drip-feed, awareness process that penetrates pretty deep on essntial issues. One example: there's far too much emphasis in traditional Christianity on sin: very few people nowadays believe we are terribly, intrinsically, sinful from birth, or that the general 'sin' narrative, however, nuanced, can take the explanatory weight it is given by traditional Christianity. They sense - however inadequate their real knowledge of science - the intrinsic implausibility of these claims. They're right.

I'm aware that many brilliant (etc.) theologians and rather fewer brilliant scientists have asserted they're different disciplines/methodologies, whatever. OK up to a point. But if religion doesn't have some explanatory function it's redundant unless of course as a crutch. Take the constant refrain: science explains the how, religion the why. It's terribly lazy: the challenge in fact lies precisely in the fact that scientific explanations of the how often remove any questions of why. This is terribly obvious - but altogether insufficiently acknowledged by Christian apologists.

As for D Jenkins, he was being provocative. Of course, but the provocation was designed - at least in part (I accept he is a showman) to provoke thought. Often - manifestly - it didn't. Not his fault, however.

Sorry for my previous slightly intemperate tone. One's torn between the feeling that all this debate is terribly important and the feeling that it's all a terrible waste of time and one ought actually to be doing some work. Which I'll now proceed to do. But this schizophrenia explains why tone so often in these contexts goes wrong.

Best, John.

Posted by: john on Tuesday, 14 April 2009 at 11:12am BST

John wrote: "Don't agree with you on any of this" - and then proceeded to say a few things with which I agree entirely; so the disagreement may be one-sided :)

Of course our faith narrative includes many things that are metaphor or symbol. So for example, I do not believe that the first chapters of Genesis set out anything historical in a factual sense. What some have suggested is that either we should see the Resurrection in a similar light, or else that we should see it as a set of insights or spiritual experiences by the disciples that did not represent an actual bodily resurrection. And that's where I disagree. Nor do I think that this approach would attract the interest of the unchurched. Those who would find the physical resurrection unbelievable would probably find the symbolic one just uninteresting and irrelevant.

Posted by: Ferdinand von Prondzynski on Tuesday, 14 April 2009 at 1:58pm BST

Ferdinand wrote: 'the disagreement may be one-sided'.

One thing I do think: when people engage in debate in a forum such as this, they must do honestly and without pretence. I'm very surprised by your response: it's completely disingenuous.

Posted by: john on Tuesday, 14 April 2009 at 6:22pm BST

"there's far too much emphasis in traditional Christianity on sin: very few people nowadays believe we are terribly, intrinsically, sinful from birth"

Can I suggest this is because we have redefined sin to mean 'crime'? I would argue everybody today accepts Original Sin, they just don't know it. They affirm it every time they say "Nobody's perfect". But imperfection isn't a crime, so maybe we have to try to better understand what sin is.

"It is absolutely essential to promote a theology which is compatible with science."

Maybe it's because my return to religion was a reaction against the science of my profession, but I totally disagree with this. First, science cannot explain God, so any attempts to do so are destined for failure. Besides, what good is a scientifically provable God? If God can be encompassed by the human mind, He isn't much of God. I also believe the decline in faith in the West is NOT based on religion's "incompatibility" with science. Rather it is a combination of factors: society's denial of the spiritual, a particular interpretation of Christianity that makes sin into crime and all humans criminals by birth, the idea that we have to acknowledge ourselves as such before God will accept us, Christianity being made over into a religion of law, and a whole set of misunderstandings and capitulations to worldly power that have distorted the message of the Gospel and led us to compromise our principles in order to retain our "right" to rule hand in hand with the State, making the State's interest our own, and abusing our power over and over again in this pursuit. I think a more scientific religion would be disastrous, actually. There's not a lot of entities in society that encourage us to look to the spiritual side of our humanity, and even Christians jump on that bandwagon, especially those of us inclined to see the work of the Devil in anything that isn't written down in the Bible.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 14 April 2009 at 7:59pm BST

I don't think I can be called "unchurched": I’m Jewish, and I participate in the life of a local Episcopal church (I sing in the choir and attend services there).
But “I“ find the symbolic resurrection interesting and relevant. I am fascinated by the teachings, ministry, and life of the man Jesus of Nazareth. When I first heard Matthew 25:35-45, I was struck to the core, to my very being. Here in ten sentences is a call to action, a call for social justice, a summing up of one of the main teachings of virtually all the prophets of the Jewish Scriptures/Old Testament. I admire Jesus’ teachings, his life.
But, unlike what St. Paul says, his crucifixion isn't a stumbling block, the notion of his physical, bodily resurrection is. However, I feel "something" must have happened after that crucifixion to his disciples, his followers, that changed them from scared rabbits into enthusiastic, fearless, powerful teachers of his word and ministry. "Something" happened that allowed them to be willing to suffer torture and death. "Something" that made them feel that Jesus of Nazareth was still with them, was still very much alive in them. That "something", to me, was a symbolic resurrection.
There is a novel by Vassilis Vassilikos called "Z", a fictional account of a political assassination in Greece. The movie is one of my favorite movies of all time. Towards the end of the novel and movie, university students write large “Z”s in public squares all over Greece, meaning "He still lives!", referring to the assassinated politician. That is the message of the Gospels, that is the message of St. Paul: Jesus still lives! His words still live! His ideas are still alive and vibrant and transformative! Hallelujah!

Posted by: peterpi on Tuesday, 14 April 2009 at 9:14pm BST

The point is that it is downright sexist to refer to Tom Wright and Ms Gilley - either use a title for both or neither. Tom Wright and Meg Gilley is fine - and of course Dr Gilley and Mr Wright would be equally inappropriate. But I fear much less likely to occur, and not because Tom Wright is the better known figure, but because he is the bloke.

Academic titles are no use in daily life, no. When somebody starts a put down in areas where they are relevant, then yes, they are of use. I use mine professionally and not socially.

I don't consider Paul and the Synoptic gospels and John to be one source. The fact that all six writers come from one community does not make them one source.

You will perhaps forgive my saying that this is an issue where there is bias on both sides, only perhaps the accusation is more commonly raised against those who are Christian.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Tuesday, 14 April 2009 at 10:29pm BST

Well there are different possible resurrections.

First is bodily, which must be objective, as a consciousness is born again after having died, and wanders about in a physical body yet one capable of appearing and disappearing at will.

The second is spiritual, which can be objective, that there is still a consciousness but one that presumably appears to have a shape but does what ghosts can do.

The third is also spiritual, but is subjective, in the minds of the people impacted upon, being subjected to charismatic leadership, bereavement, expectation and the like.

The fourth is purely literary narrative, though you can't discount some subjective effects, so that in the context of last days and expectation resurrection narratives are drawn upon and recreated as part of the formation of experience, but Paul had the shakes and maybe one or two others (but more likely in the context of Jewish food rituals), and so the resurrection is itself fairly quiet and is followed by an ascension (to tell the community why he's not seen any more), and the real deal is looking back to Pentecost and a charismatic community looking forward.

Of all of these, I favour the latter. I don't underestimate human creativity, hope and story telling in the context of a primitive Jewish Christianity and the pregnant apocalyptic, primal man and dying and rising myths.

No, this may not appeal to many at all, but that's not the basis of favouring one explanation over another.

Posted by: Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) on Wednesday, 15 April 2009 at 12:42am BST

Ford quoted and then commented: '"It is absolutely essential to promote a theology which is compatible with science."

'Maybe it's because my return to religion was a reaction against the science of my profession, but I totally disagree with this. First, science cannot explain God, so any attempts to do so are destined for failure. Besides, what good is a scientifically provable God?'

I don't think your protest is a response to the assertion. The assertion that you quote is that our religion must be compatible with science. But that does not mean that it has to be a religion hat is explained by science, or that is the subject of a provable scientific hypothesis. Rather it means that our religion should not be obviously contradictable by science. The cientific method has, as we know, shown itself to be rather good at providing workable descriptions of the way that the world works, and are very plausibly extended back in time to within a very short time of the creation or forwards in time to the death of the universe. Our religion needs to exist in a world where quantum mechanics and evolution and believed to be true. If our religion, our spirituality, is true then it needs to be 'compatible' (not in contradiction) with such scientific theories.

If we believe this science to be basically true then our spirituality must build on this world-view. Most of us probably find that very easy to do with Genesis; and we are quite likely to do the same with Revelation. The hard bit is the Resurrection, a stumbling block to the Jews, and foolishness to the Greeks -- and 'Greeks' means those of us who hold a scientific worldview. Metaphoricalists have the advantage of greater consistency -- but at what cost?

Posted by: Simon Kershaw on Wednesday, 15 April 2009 at 10:18am BST

"I don't consider Paul and the Synoptic gospels and John to be one source. The fact that all six writers come from one community does not make them one source."

But what we have of them was all preserved and edited by that one community. We have no earlier versions that were not poured through the same sieve, as it were.

In a more modern context, if all our histories of, say, the Napoleonic wars were preserved and edited by the British government--even if written by many hands--would you treat them as separate sources?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Wednesday, 15 April 2009 at 11:15am BST

At the cost that it is not the one big thing in history, that no universe is 'recreated', that it is not the last miracle.

Posted by: Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) on Wednesday, 15 April 2009 at 2:42pm BST

"His words still live!"

So? His words aren't all that different from those of any other religion. And, if you take the Incarnate, Living, Dying, Rising, Creation restoring God out of Christianity, what do you have? To me, it's a rather insipidly spelled out message of "Be nice to one another." I don't need a religion to tell me that. I'm on the more liberal end of the scale on a lot of things, but that just doesn't speak to me at all. If that's all Christianity is, I'm off to be a Buddhist. I mean, we've spent the last 2000 years predicating our ideas on God Incarnate who rose and is alive. If that is nothing more than an ideological abstraction, meant to tell us that He lives on in His words, or some such, all that is upended. If I have to practice a religion that is devoid of Divinity, I think it'd be more profitable to practice the religion that has developed its entire philosophy ambivalent to the idea of God rather than to keep following one that negates its first 2000 years by changing its mind on the issue.

"At the cost that it is not the one big thing in history, that no universe is 'recreated', that it is not the last miracle."

I don't see that the last point is in any way necessary. The Resurrection has never been seen as the "last miracle". But, all the same, if the other two points are the cost, then it's far too high for me. What is there of any value in a Christianity without "the Christ Event"?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 15 April 2009 at 3:33pm BST

I don't think it is essential to have a theology that is compatible with science, but religion should acknowledge science.
Regardless of what the fundamentalists believe, regardless of what Genesis 1 says, there is no scientific proof that the Earth and the Universe were created in 6 days -- 144 hours -- 6,000 years ago. Genesis 1 is a masterful, orderly account of the creation of the Earth as understood a couple of thousand years ago by a specific group of people. It can be interpreted to say that the world is essentially good, that God is the master of all, that we are all created in the image of God, and therefore we are all equal in the sight of God. But Genesis 1 shouldn't be used to make scientific statements.
Regarding the Ascension, the people who wrote the original accounts held a world-view of a flat world covered by a transparent dome (the "fundament" in Elizabethan English) on which the sun, the moon, and the stars existed. There was a definite, concrete, absolute "Up" and "Down". But that world view no longer exists. Beyond the surface of the Earth, not only is there no definite Up and Down, there isn't even a definite Center of the Universe. The Center of the Universe happens to be wherever you are located.
To paraphrase an arresting image Bishop John Spong wrote in one of his books, if Jesus of Nazareth had a literal, corporeal, resurrection, and he literally, physically, bodily ascended, where did he ascend to? The troposphere? The Van Allen radiation belts? Into orbit? Religion has to acknowledge that certain concepts, taken literally, make no sense in the face of modern science.
But, taken metaphorically, taken symbolically, they are powerful testaments of the impact of God and God's prophets and word.

Posted by: peterpi on Wednesday, 15 April 2009 at 8:38pm BST

"if all our histories of, say, the Napoleonic wars were preserved and edited by the British government--even if written by many hands--would you treat them as separate sources?"

I would not consider them to be one source, no. My attitude would be varied, of course, by how heavily they were edited, and by how close to the Government view the writers had been.

In point of fact it is not at all unusual to find one is writing history depending on one set of letters ... perhaps just one side of a set of letters. That would not be true of, let us say, a major war which involved two or more governments. It is often true of something involving the interaction of private individuals. I dunno how much history you write but it is quite usual in research even in the modern period to find that letters about an issue just suddenly stop - leaving one little or nothing to say. Why? Well, the people involved met (so spoke) or lost the letters.... and one just has this hug gap in knowledge. Actually, it does not stop one writing history.

But I must also point out that we know the early church was not (in fact) simply and harmoniously able to orchestrate its responses as a 19c. government might. It was much more diverse. It did not have a single controlling body based in one place. We have the letters and four gospels and not Diatessaron, which comes later.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Wednesday, 15 April 2009 at 10:29pm BST

"Regarding the Ascension, the people who wrote the original accounts held a world-view of a flat world covered by a transparent dome (the "fundament" in Elizabethan English) on which the sun, the moon, and the stars existed."

Don't know about that....Hipparchus was teaching what we would later call a Ptolemaic system with a spherical earth in the second century B.C. Can't remember whether it was he or somebody else who made a pretty good estimate of the earth's circumference based on the lengths of shadows at noon on a given day at different ends of the Mediterranean world.

Posted by: rick allen on Thursday, 16 April 2009 at 12:38am BST

What is there of any value in a Christianity without "the Christ Event"? Ford asks.

Such is your hurdle, that has to be jumped. And you jump it.

There are creationists who say that if they are wrong, then there was death from the beginning, and so it makes a nonsense of Jesus taking away sin and death. They make a very high hurdle, the one that they continue to jump.

But then there are the Jonathan Edwards of this world (the athlete, not the preacher) who suddenly realise it ain't quite like it's written, and the hurdle is then hit and they come down.

However, some of us have a more moderate view of religion and what it is about. It is not about one thing recreates all, or history of the universe rewritten, but just a pathway of ethical insights (and, negatively, ethics to criticise) and a spiritual pathway. It is about people trying to get on better than they might have, using communities and the like. My view of Christianity is closer to Judaism, closer in purpose to Buddhism. I'm not setting up hurdles to jump, and happily dump all doctrines, mechanisms and miracles, including the last one.

Posted by: Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) on Thursday, 16 April 2009 at 2:05am BST

"To paraphrase an arresting image Bishop John Spong wrote in one of his books, if Jesus of Nazareth had a literal, corporeal, resurrection, and he literally, physically, bodily ascended, where did he ascend to?"

See, I found that image frustrating in the extreme. First of all, I doubt the purpose iof the Incarnation was to give first century Jews a crash course in modern cosmological theory, or modern concepts of pathophysiology, for that matter. So, if we accept for the sake of this argument the traditional Christian understanding of the nature of Christ, we have to ask ourselves, was the Second Person of the Trinity, Incarnate for the redemption of Creation, all that concerned about His audience's knowledge of such things? Would He just go along with their understandings of the Universe and of human illness, or would He concern Himself with setting them straight on these issues? I think there were a few more important agenda items than that!

So, the Apostles believed the earth was flat, and that heaven was "Up". Jesus could have spent a few hours on the mountain top explaining that that was not actually the case, then just winked out of perception, or He could bid farewell to His friends who had been with Him through it all and who were now nearly ready to spread the Good News, and then rise up into the air as they expected He would do in order to "return to the Father". Why is it necessary, if one is a believer, to just decide that because we moderns know better, the event couldn't have happened that way? That's the kind of thing I am refering to when I say that Spong's stuff seems to me too "scientific fundamentalist", too soulless, and it just leaves me cold.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 16 April 2009 at 2:27pm BST

"If Christ be not raised then is our faith vain"
said Saint Paul. (1 Corinthians 15:17)

However we view the resurrection happening, it was obvious from the gospels that those who encountered the Risen Christ: Mary of Magdala (when he spoke her name); the men on the road to Emmaus (in the Breaking of the bread); or on the beach (in today's Gospel where Jesus was cooking breakfast for the fishermen), none of the disciples actually recognised Jesus 'in the flesh', but in his characteristic act of loving regard for them, personally.

Each situation was one of active discernment on the part of those receiving a 'visitation' - which was taliored to their specific situation and experience of 'knowing' Jesus personally.

In Saint Paul's case, though, it was somewhat different - simply because, although aware of his amazing experience of the majesty of the Risen Christ, he had to ask him who he was. However, in that encounter, Paul came to realise that Jesus was the Messiah, and that he was indeed alive in some manner, enough to convince this former sceptic - of the veracity of Jesus as 'The One' whose coming the Scriptures had foretold.

I suppose that such a moment of conversion would be enough to convince anyone of the truth of the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of The Holy One of God. Our own conviction about this truth has its seed in our Baptism. We have the responsibility to nurture that seed, not only in ourselves, but in the lives of others by our loving actions towards them. "Christ in us, the hope of glory" can be as true for us as it was for any of those who met with the Risen Christ.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 17 April 2009 at 4:10am BST

Ford Elms, your comment was elegantly put. Jesus accepting people the way they are, not only spiritually and emotionally, but according to their world view as well. You make a wonderful counter-argument to Spong's "scientific fundamentalism". But, Jesus going into orbit as a counter-argument to a biblical literalist view of the Ascension I find captivating! I believe it's a form of reductio ad absurdum
rick allen, I don't know how much -- if any! -- Hipparchus or Eratosthenes (he's the Greek man you're thinking of who computed the circumference of the Earth -- hat-tip to Google) played a part in the world of the people who wrote the Bible. I am using Genesis 1 as written, incorporate into it certain passages of the Noah narrative and elsewhere, and that's how I conceive what the world-view of the biblical authors and redactors was.

Posted by: peterpi on Friday, 17 April 2009 at 6:24am BST

I think there is some confusion going on here between the scientific method of returnable reliability and a romanticism of what you would like to feel is the case.

Posted by: Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) on Friday, 17 April 2009 at 2:04pm BST

"that's how I conceive what the world-view of the biblical authors and redactors was."

peterpi, I suppose my point was that there is not a single "world-view of the biblical authors." St. Paul speaks of one who was caught up into the "third heaven"--what looks to me like an idea from a Helenistic cosmology. He apparently has no problem with any conflict between that and the older Semitic cosmology of Genesis, with its firmament dividing the waters. And if Paul has no problem with differing cosmologies, why should we?

Posted by: rick allen on Friday, 17 April 2009 at 11:10pm BST

Dear Pluralist. You really do have a problem wioth the salvific nature of the Christian epic, don't you? What ever was it, or is it, that makes you so very confrontational towarsds those of simple faith in Jesus Christ as Son of God, Saviour of All?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 17 April 2009 at 11:16pm BST

Fr Ron

Finding myself between you and Pluralist, I'd like to say that much of the exasparation we feel with "those of simple faith" is that they insist that theirs is the only way of understanding the Christian narrative, and that those who interpret more broadly or actually struggle with or reject some aspects of doctrine, are somehow not quite there.

I am sure that God is ultimately not interested in our theology and our intellectual beliefs, but in how we live our lives.

It would help our general Christian conversations a lot if we could start to say "I believe that this is so" rather than insisting that "it is so".

It must be preferable that even those who cannot subscribe to the core doctrines but who are still drawn in by the Christian narrative are included and encouraged to see themselves as part of the body of Christ, than that we keep telling them they get it wrong, they are soulless, they do not understand the truth etc... and push them out.

We don't have "the truth" either, we only have faith.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 18 April 2009 at 8:21am BST

Spong's argument there is really a straw man, isn't it? Not one of the Biblical writers, least of all Paul, imagined for one moment that Jesus had a normal body - he was not, as several on here have pointed out (including Meg Gilley) he was not a re-animated corpse. His body had been utterly changed. He neither kept on going up, nor did he go into orbit. He went. It is no harder than walking through walls. His 'going up' is as widely seen as a metaphor as his being the gardener.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Saturday, 18 April 2009 at 10:21am BST

Rosemary
Spong's argument is not with Paul, it is with the evangelical fundamentalists among which he grew up.
He is not telling us that Paul et all got it wrong, but that many of our contemporaries get it wrong.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 18 April 2009 at 8:07pm BST

"It must be preferable that even those who cannot subscribe to the core doctrines but who are still drawn in by the Christian narrative are included and encouraged to see themselves as part of the body of Christ"

Well, there's some issues with this, Erika. First, if one does not accept the core doctrines of the faith, what is the attraction of that faith? Second, if one does not accept the core doctrines of a faith, can one actually be said to be practicing that faith? Is that an honest claim? Third, if one cannot accept the core doctrines of a faith, does one have the right to demand that those who do accept those doctrines give them up so that those who do not accept them can feel comfortable and included? Fourth, of they DO have that right, can one accurately call the "new" version of the faith the same thing as the old one? Fifth, given that Christianity is a revealed faith, how much right does anyone have to challenge that revelation, especially if one is outside the faith to begin with and not taking part in the traditional methods used to discern the will of a God that, presumably, some of those who cannot accept the core doctrines have difficulty believing in at all? Basically, I have no problem including into the faith those who have difficulty accepting the core doctrines of Christianity. Faith is a journey, not a state, we all have our doubts. I have a huge issue with those same people then telling the rest of us that we have do away with the things they have difficulty accepting. Basically, we DO believe we have had truths revealed to us. If one can't accept all of them, one can still be a part of the fellowship. But, humility is one of the core values of Christianity. We are all called to practice it, even those who have difficulties with our core beliefs. It doesn't seem very humble to demand that one's personally difficulties with the core doctrines of the faith apply generally to all. And when I use the word "soulless" I am not referring to individuals as having no souls. I don't believe there is any such thing as a person without a soul. I am referring to not perceiving the spiritual dimensions of something in favour of a modern concrete understanding. Given that I see religion as more comparable with art than with science, it's kind of like saying "That's inartistic of you." That kind of soulless. Like the word "heartless" though with a very different meaning, obviously.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 20 April 2009 at 7:43pm BST

Ford

A lot of questions!
First: That as Pluralist said in a different context, is your hurdle, you jump it. If anyone finds faith attractive, then it IS attractive to them, even if it’s different to mine. You may not find it soulful or artistic, but that is merely your personal take on it.

The second and third questions go hand in hand. You would be right if there was one closely knit group of people all believing in exactly the same things, and if those who do not subscribe to all of those thoughts were outsiders.
That’s what quite a few of our fundies seem to be thinking, and that they decide who’s in and who’s out.
The problems with this are twofold, one is that it is not about us defining whether anyone else qualifies, but it is about all of us seeking God in our lives. The real focus is vertical, if you like, not a horizontal web of reference between us and our thoughts.
The second issue is that wherever I go in the Anglican communion, even within our own national churches or local parishes, there is a huge diversity in interpretation of what certain doctrines mean, how they can be understood in the 21st century and whether all of them are still as obvious as they once may have appeared. If I find that practicing priests ask the same questions I ask and that many have come to the same conclusions long before I did, then I no longer find it so easy to say “here’s a doctrine, like it or get out”. The church is too broad, and ultimately, if you count yourself in, you’re in, because there is no-one who can tell you that you’re not.

Does anyone have the right to demand that those who accept the doctrines give them up? I don’t know that anyone has ever tried to do that. I am not much interested in what my fellow worshippers think of the resurrection, if they kneel side by side with me at the Communion rail. I don’t see a huge movement to redefine salvation. There is no threat to you, at least not from the liberal spectrum. The narrow definers of doctrine and of what matters come from the other side – and they clearly and rightfully don’t get anywhere either.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 21 April 2009 at 6:46am BST

"...t just a pathway of ethical insights (and, negatively, ethics to criticise) and a spiritual pathway. It is about people trying to get on better than they might have, using communities and the like. My view of Christianity is closer to Judaism, closer in purpose to Buddhism. I'm not setting up hurdles to jump, and happily dump all doctrines, mechanisms and miracles, including the last one."

I'm truly puzzled, Adrian. Why bother with Christianity at all, when there are *already* groups like the Unitarian Universalists who have everything you seem to looking for? Why the apparent attempt to wash away Christianity's distinctive features?

Posted by: BillyD on Tuesday, 21 April 2009 at 12:49pm BST

"that is merely your personal take on it."

Indeed. But, as I say, Christianity without the Incarnate God and all that that entails seems to me pretty anemic and uninspiring. So I'm asking what about it IS inspiring for you.

"if there was one closely knit group of people all believing in exactly the same things"

No, because there are core doctrines, and then there are adiaphora. Marriage doctrines are adiaphora, for instance, doctrinal, but not core. I think one of the things that upsets conservatives so much is that they, and others of us, have always assumed that we ARE in agreement on the core doctrines, and many, myself included, are dismayed that we don't appear to be at all. And that's not just with liberals, either. I'm just as dismayed at the Anglo-Baptists.

“here’s a doctrine, like it or get out”.

I wouldn't say that either.

"there is no-one who can tell you that you’re not."

Yes there is.

"I don’t know that anyone has ever tried to do that."

Not entirely true. How many supporters of OOW would fall into this camp? Of SSBs? how many "raisin cake liturgists"? You have argued against the traditional date of Easter and pooh-poohed any arguments that I made that referred back to tradition, because that tradition wasn't important to you, and therefor, not important in the modern age. And, how can I trust that the Church has reliably discerned the will of God when a significant number of the people involved in that process do not believe in anything like the Catholic faith that we have received? If someone doesn't know what a priest IS, for instance, how can that person be expected to clearly discern the will of God as to who can be ordained to the office?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 21 April 2009 at 3:37pm BST

"I'm just as dismayed at the Anglo-Baptists."

Ford. I have never heard of this denomination. Are they the same as David Virtue, of V.o.L., who seems to rubbish the catholic idea of Infant Baptism? Or - are you accusing some Anglicans of classical Baptist theology?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 21 April 2009 at 11:40pm BST

Ford
We are in agreement about core doctrines... sort of.
I'd love those who claim full agreement to be in a position to conduct a genuine double blind experiment and to canvass all Christians everywhere how they fill those words with meaning.
I think we would soon find that "the church" is a far more organic and varied body than we assume.

Of course, there is no need to do any such thing, because membership of the church is not by exam, but by self selection.
And so I'm not going to be drawn into any "who's in and who's out" conversations. All are in if they want to be, provided they can live side by side.

I think you're falling into the same trap our fundagelicals are falling into. Just because the church as a whole may move towards SSB and women's ordination does not mean that any individual person is forced to believe that those things are right. And in these cases, it's the church as a whole that is moving - in the way all movement happens: at first a new insight is discerned by the few, later the many begin to see it too.
And the pattern is always the same. At first, the charge of selfish individualism or secularism etc, is used against those who discern the Spirit moving, then more and more are joining in, then the coin turns and the remainder is seen as using theology as a cover to keep things as comfy and unchallenging as they had been before.
Charges of following the values of the world or being reactionary grumps who refuse to listen to the Spirit are therefore pointless. It is in the nature of change that both extremes are always part of it, they’re the front and the back end of the caterpillar.

Just as people had to get used to the mind of the church changing over slavery, they may have to get used to the mind of the church changing over these things too.

And, in any case, neither of those are issues that affect anything you say in the Creeds. I repeat, there is no movement anywhere to force anyone to redefine the major Christian themes.

As for my personal faith - if you're really interested, let's have that conversation offline.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 22 April 2009 at 9:19am BST

"membership of the church is not by exam, but by self selection."

No, it isn't. Membership in the Church is by God's say so. That means I have no right to tell you you are not a member. But my citizenship in the Kingdom is something I can only claim by faith. Just because I THINK my particular take on Christianity is right doesn't mean it is, nor does it mean that I get to tell God He has to accept me or risk being accused of exclusivity.

"at first a new insight is discerned by the few"

Ah, but how do we know that what is being discerned by these few, whether it be about OOW or the Trinity, is an actual discernment of the will of God, and not just a small group putting God's stamp on their own beliefs? I side with the Orthodox on this: we know it when the laos accepts it. How do we know the first seven councils were actually Ecumenical Councils? There have been many others that called themselves such, but aren't recognized. Because the Church as a whole accepted them. It took a long time. It always does.

"As for my personal faith - if you're really interested, let's have that conversation offline."

I would love that Erika. And, if it's not too late, I'd like to return to the other discussion we were having, now that my life is no less hectic than it was:-) I think I need it.

"there is no movement anywhere to force anyone to redefine the major Christian themes."

Yes, there is. Spong's scientific fundamentalism and Tom Harper's pitifully rehashed Gnosticism to name but two such trends. And the Reformation was such a movement, something being pushed even now by the fundies among us.


Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 22 April 2009 at 2:00pm BST

'"membership of the church is not by exam, but by self selection."
'No, it isn't. Membership in the Church is by God's say so.' - Ford Elms, 22 April -

Ford, with no new postings to look at, I've just noticed your reposte to Erika about her statement that membership of the Church is by self-selection.

In the rarified atmosphere of semantics, it might be said that you each have something of the truth,
but neither of you the full truth. Surely, in the matter of membership of the Body of Christ; this is offered to all human beings who are of a mind to hear and take note of Jesus' claim to be 'Son of God' and, (this by tradition) 'Lord of the Church' Human beings are given the dangerous gift of free-will, surely, which means that active membership of the Church is God's gift (through Christ) but it needs to be accepted by the beneficiary? Otherwise, salvation is like a gift that is tucked away out of sight, remaining unused and therefore useless to the one to whom is has been given.

ergo: Membership of the Church is freely given by God to all who will accept it.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 2 May 2009 at 12:47am BST
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