Resurrection Spirituality

At the heart of Christian belief about the future is resurrection — the resurrection of Christ, the resurrection of the saints, and the power of God to make all things new. On this general idea we agree — and then the problems begin. What will a resurrection body be like? Tom Wright is not alone (Surprised by Hope, The Resurrection of the Son of God) in saying far too many Christians are Platonists: there’s something immortal in the soul that survives death and goes to be with God, and that if there is a body it’s so unlike the current body that we might as well be airy ghosts zipping around the vast spaces of God’s universe.

And this kind of eschatology leads to body image problems now, not to mention lack of care with creation and lack of concern with any sense of salvation having to do with creation and cosmos and new creation. Heaven is up there and out there while a more biblical view of resurrection is that it is bodily and new creation is the new heavens and the new earth and the new Jerusalem.

Tony Thiselton, in Life after Death, weighs in on resurrection. His chapter meanders a bit, stops for a long drink or two in areas that are already well-worn watering holes, but he draws some conclusions that are eminently valuable for a Christian understanding of resurrection. He makes five major points:

1. Resurrection life is not static; the living, ongoing God will create a new creation in which the resurrected will grow and develop and learn and … well… like God, explore deeper and deeper into who God is, who we are, and what love and justice and peace are all about. The Spirit brings communicative freedom (127), creation, etc, so we are to see in resurrection life an ongoing creative freedom into newness. LeRon Shults calls this “absolute futurity.”

2. Resurrection bodies is not what is all about; body is individuality and resurrection extends individuality into the kingdom of God — unique identities who are recognizable and who communicate and socialize. The body is about “visible expression” and “personal shape” (125).

3. Resurrection life is cosmic and corporate, and not just individual: it is a kingdom society.

4. Resurrection spirituality, or what Paul calls the “spiritual body” (pneumatikos), is animation and guidance by the Holy Spirit. The notion of “spirituality” at work in our culture has nothing to do — Thiselton observes — with how people talk about it today. The only kind of spirituality in the NT is Spirit-inspired and Christ-shaped. The “spiritual body” then is transcendent, christological and eschatological.

5. Resurrection entails contrast with now, entails continuity with now, and entails transformation.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Mark Edward

    I had a bit of trouble with 1 Corinthians 15 for a long while, because I always thought Paul was contrasting a physical body with a spiritual body, as in a body that is a spirit. But as I was looking a bit into the Greek of 1 Corinthians 15, I saw that while for ‘spiritual’ is pneumatikos, the word translated as ‘natural’ is psuchikos. If he was contrasting spiritual with ‘physical’, I would think he would have used the word phusikos.

    Pnuema is generally translated as ‘spirit’… but psuche is generally translated as ‘soul, mind, heart’. The vibe it gives off is that it is referring to a ‘person’ (X number of souls were saved), to a ‘self’ (my soul is glad). Paul isn’t contrasting a spirit body with a physical body… he’s contrasting a body that lives for the spirit (pneumatikos, spiritual) with a body that lives for the self (psuchikos, soulish/selfish).

    The selfish body will be transformed into a spiritual body. And this is what he encourages his churches to make into a present reality. They are to stop living for the selfish desires, and to instead live under the power of the holy spirit. That is the difference between the present life and the resurrection life, and he wants us to live as if we have already been resurrected: ‘Those who live according to the flesh / but those who live according to the spirit’, ‘those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires, but if we live by the spirit, let us walk by the spirit’, etc.

    Realizing this greatly pushed my sense of eschatology from something distant and far-off into something much more tangible and real. God’s spirit is in us NOW, so we should consider ourselves as having already begun our eternal life.

  • Susan N.

    I find it difficult (not my top priority at the present time) to speculate about future unknowns that are somewhat obscurely communicated in the Bible. On the other hand, I am aware that my mind is not a blank slate on these matters. Information that I’ve read or heard, which may or may not be right, has attached itself to my thinking… How important is the correct view to my practical theology, I don’t know.

    Mark Edward – I like very much your last sentence: “God’s spirit is in us NOW, so we should consider ourselves as having already begun our eternal life.”

    So, following along that line of thought, in terms of “resurrection spirituality” (#4), my partially-caffeinated brain can only think of a chemistry analogy! (RJS can correct me if I’m butchering this concept.) The product (resurrection life) is dependent on the limiting reagent (us). When the other reagent (Christ) is present in excess, the limiting reagent substance will be completely consumed in the chemical reaction. In the here and now (not yet enough excess reagent?), the Holy Spirit is our catalyst (add heat and stir). :-) Eschatologically-speaking, I imagine that maybe we will exist in a transformed substantive way that has been completely reacted with the excess reagent (Christ). Matter is neither created nor destroyed; it just changes forms… My mind is too limited, really, to properly envision the future God has in mind, but I’m sure it will be surprisingly better than I expected!

  • http://leadme.org Cal

    Yeah, as a christendomite (a pagan wearing a cross) I was heavily a platonist when it came to conceiving of the afterlife. In the end, Plato is all speculation; the Crito dialog is one of the most bogus assertions made by the lips of Socrates. How does he know?!

    The Resurrection fulfilled first in the Messiah and then to all, is a concrete hope. It is of unlimited possibilities of the full extent (all the Apostles could say was that it was a ‘glorified’ body). Yet it is familiar.

    And it is curious that Jesus still has wounds upon Him and many of the Prophets were said to have died rather than submit to authorities that were contrary to the word of God they received as for a better resurrection. I wonder what that means.

    Good point above about pneumatikos vs. psuchikos. It is not a matter of composition but of power. Are we driven by the ‘flesh’ or by the ‘breath’? A corpse is still made of flesh though there is no breath in it, so too the Spirit of Messiah is what gives Life and it more abundantly.

    Cal

  • http://collationes.wordpress.com Joshua Brockway

    We doth dichotomize too much. Or in other words I think Wright is wrong. Platonism is not to blame here. In fact many of the great early thinkers, such as Basil of Caesarea and even Augustine had no difficulty re-appropriating Platonism and affirming the “resurrection of the dead” as stated in the Nicene Creed and “carnis resurrectionem” or resurrection of the flesh in the Apostles Creed.

    The spirit/body dualism is more product of a gnostic thread in the history of the Church. In fact, Protestantism- especially North American Evangelicalism- has become more and more gnostic like. It is not so much what we do with the material things of our lives but what is going on in our hearts.

    To blame Platonism as the root cause of Christianity’s dualism, or even priority of the spirit over the, is a rough road. It’s becoming popular to devalue the Hellenistic influence on Christianity as if it corrupts the Hebrew elements of the tradition. Unfortunately, the very context of New Testament christianity is Greek- Paul cites the Septuagint not the Hebrew texts, and the beautiful Logos theology in the Gospel of John already brings Greek thought into conversation the Hebrew creation narrative. And for that matter, it is not just Greek thought, but kind of Platonism similar to what we find in Philo of Alexandria.

    All this is to say that Platonism is not to blame, but rather a 2000 year redirecting away from gnostic tendencies. To reclaim the fleshly nature of Christianity is to echo reaffirmations of these classic creeds- We believe in the Resurrection of the Body.

  • Amos Paul

    Joshua,

    Just because strains of Platonism find themselves echoed within Christianity does not mean that Platonism = Christianity. Augustine, who was heavily influenced by Plato with his Neo-Platonic background, did in fact utilize Platonic theology. BUT, even he recognized a distinct difference between the the Christian worldview and Platonic worldview. Elsewise, why would he have pursued that of the Christian?

    I agree with Wright that it is both necessary and correct to call out any concepts that we’ve begun to rely upon (as Christians) that we derived from the early Greek influences–but are not really compatible with our distinctly *Christian* (and Hebraic) Scriptures and worldview.

    Whether you want to label those concepts ‘Platonic’ or ‘Gnostic’ or whatever is irrelevant. The only reason we name them as those things is to identify where those ideas might have come from–and then more honestly ask ourselves if we were *right* to import these ideas.

    Mind/Body dualism in the sense that our ‘real’ selves are an eternal mind that is far more ‘spiritual’ than the Earthly body we are going to abandon is both Platonic and Gnostic. I could also label it many other things. But the fact of the matter is–many Christians rely upon this conceptual frameowrk, and that framework is not very compatible with Christianity.

  • robert landbeck

    Could theology have totally misunderstood the significance of Jesus Resurrection and missed the transformation that God has offered us? That is the case being made by the first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ is published on the web.

    Radically different from anything else we know of from history, this new teaching is predicated upon a precise, predefined and predictable experience and called ‘the first Resurrection’ in the sense that the Resurrection of Jesus was intended to demonstrate Gods’ willingness to real Himself and intervene directly into the natural world for those obedient to His will, paving the way for access, by faith, to the power of divine transcendence.

    Thus ‘faith’ is the path, the search and discovery of this direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power to confirm divine will, Law, command and covenant, “correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries.” So like it or no, a new religious teaching, testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment criteria of evidence based causation and definitive proof now exists. Nothing short of an intellectual, moral and religious revolution is getting under way. To test or not to test, that is the question? More info at http://www.energon.org.uk,
    http://soulgineering.com/2011/05/22/the-final-freedoms/

  • http://collationes.wordpress.com Joshua Brockway

    And there are distinctly Christian renderings of the Hebraic texts- which often is due to the synthesis of Hebrew and Greek categories. As we see with Paul, there are some Hebraic concepts/practices that no longer fit neatly within the Christocentric frame. Fact is Christianity is a synthesis of Greek and Hebrew categories and imaginaries. For Augustine however, he was quick to reject the Manichean (and Gnostic dualisms) and yet praised the work of the Neo-Platonists. Albeit, as you say with a Christian reading of those categories. Platonism, in this regard is needlessly the whipping boy. There are things identified as heretical very early on that it doesn’t seem to make much sense to pick out the Hellenistic systems that helped to articulate a number distinctly Christian conceptions.

    Now I agree that the dualism is a problem to be addressed as I said. However, the move among many Anabaptists today is to diminish the Hellenistic (Platonic) elements of the tradition in favor of the “more Hebraic”. The fact is though, that we do not read the OT as Hebrews but as Christians- which as I have said, is a combination of those two systems/imaginaries.

    More appropriate to today, we might level the criticism at the Cartesian elements that continue to reinforce the unnecessary dualisms that have re-emerged in contemporary Christianity.

    All I am saying in all of this is that “Platonic” thought is not to blame. Were there elements of Neo-Platonism left to the side, of course. But there were systems that were wholesale rejected.

  • http://kingwatch.co.nz/Books/times_seasons.htm Fred NZ

    The consummation of the Kingdom on earth will not be the end of all things. God will not go into retirement and rest forever. He started his action on earth by placing people in a garden, with instructions to push out and fill the entire earth. Having achieved the fulfilment of his Kingdom on earth, he will want to push out and fill the entire universe. The spiritual and physical dimensions will continue to be integrated and a few extra dimensions may be added. I presume that those who have learned to serve Jesus during life on earth will continue to work with him to fill the universe with wonderful worlds and kingdoms (Times and Seasons).

  • http://bodytheologyblog.wordpress.com Laura

    I loved this post. Thanks for sharing!


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