The Burial of Jesus: Deconstructing and Reconstructing

I tire of the modernist propensity to deconstruct the biblical narrative, reducing it to a pile of superstitious stories about a deity who does magic tricks, and “plays god” with creation. I tire of it and so I was grateful to have read to the end of Dr. McGrath’s book, The Burial of Jesus; What Does History Have To Do with Faith?. Grateful because, after Dr. McGrath did a credible job of deconstructing the fantasies he understands Christians of a more evangelical ilk believe, he did not leave it at that.

True there is insufficient historical evidence on which to base our faith, (liberal scholars who wish to appeal to the authority of a reconstructed “historical Jesus” take note), but McGrath says that resurrection faith “was not born from historical deductions regarding the whereabouts of a body, but from life-transforming religious experiences.. . . [faith is] what we can only speak of in symbolic terms as a life-transforming relationship to the ultimate. . . . [And so] if you ask me how (or in what sense) ‘I know he lives,’ the answer will be, as Ackley’s famous hymn says, ‘he lives within my heart.’”

All good stuff, maybe not exactly how I’d put it, but all good stuff. Still I find myself wanting to ask him, (just as I’ve been asking myself), “Who cares about the deconstructive enterprise?” Really, who are we writing for? Since the book methodically rips apart superstitious fantasies concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus, it seems to be addressed to more fundamentalist types who hold onto those ideas. But they are the people who aren’t going to read a book like this. The group more likely to read it are those who already think the mythic worldview is utter foolishness. In my experience that group reads a book like this just to reinforce their belief that the whole thing is stupid to begin with. Can’t you just hear them? “Can you believe those backwards evangelicals actually think that Jesus rose from the dead, when McGrath clearly shows that it is far, far more likely that his body was stolen?”

I’m just guessing, but I don’t think Dr. McGrath wrote the book to elicit that reaction. Which brings me to my question, or maybe it’s even a challenge for Dr. McGrath, for me, for those of us who accept the modernist deconstruction but do not believe that leaves us with a pile of irrelevant superstitions. It is time to do the reconstructive work in earnest, the work of describing Christian faith in terms intelligible to the modern mind. It will require us to dig deep into our tradition finding within its motifs, doctrines and narratives, a clarion call to living life in the presence of a love that calls us to ever increasing expressions of beauty and meaning in a world groaning in travail, seeking to resurrect the life of the human family. That, and not the deconstruction needs be the focus of our work.

About Sam Alexander

Sam Alexander is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael and also serves as Adjunct Instructor in Homiletics at San Francisco Theological Seminary.


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