I am pleased to see that my response to Tony Jones has generated a thoughtful response from him and many thought-filled replies from others. At the risk of continuing the conversation too long, I offer the following.
I begin with a few additional and hopefully clarifying comments. Tony correctly reports what I said at an event that he attended. I am quite sure it was at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, a lecture event that also featured Brian McLaren and Diana Butler Bass. I did say that if I had to bet (a dollar or my life) on whether Jesus’s tomb was empty, I would bet that it wasn’t. What I object to is his reporting of what I said.
First, he didn’t report the rest of what I said on that occasion. Namely, I affirmed that Jesus was experienced after his death by many of his followers and by at least one adversary (Paul), and experienced as “Lord,” as vindicated by God. Thus, in the context of a question about the empty tomb, I affirmed that the resurrection was real, even as I am inclined to see the story of the empty tomb as a parable of the resurrection. Second, I object to his reduction of my view to “Jesus’ resurrection only happens in the believer’s heart” (italics added).
On the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus – that Jesus continues to be known and experienced and that he is Lord – we may agree, though I do not want to presume that.
I appreciate the replies that emphasized that Paul’s use of “body” (soma in Greek) means something different from the common modern meaning of “body.”
In I Corinthians 15 in which Paul not only affirms that the resurrection of Jesus as essential (……..), he also says near the end of the chapter that the resurrected body is not physical but spiritual – a glorified body. What that means I do not know – but Paul contrasts it to a body of flesh and blood. I think it is doubtful that Paul can be cited as an authority for a material physical bodily resurrection.
So also I do not think that the gospel stories of Easter require us to think of the resurrection in material physical terms. I see them as parables of the resurrection. Parables are about meaning. They are truth-filled and truthful stories, even as they may not be literally factual. Consider the parables that Jesus told. Their purpose is not to report something that happened. And yet we hear truth and meaning in his parables. So also in the Easter stories: whether they happened that way or not, they proclaim that Jesus is still with us, and not just as a ghost but as Lord, vindicated by God, at God’s right hand, one with God.
Tony and I will almost certainly continue to disagree about whether the tomb was empty and whether Jesus was raised in material physical bodily form. And once again, I press the question: does our disagreement matter? What’s at stake in also affirming that something spectacular happened to Jesus’s physical body after his death?