Where Did the Resurrected Jesus Go? [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

This week’s Question That Haunts Christianity comes from Jason, and I love it so, so much:

Hello Tony, I’ve been reading your Questions that Haunt Series for a while now and I thought I’d submit my own. If I’ve understood what you’ve written correctly, you, like me, are a largely materialist Christian. “Souls” probably don’t exist, metaphysics is largely unfounded speculation, and heaven and hell seem more and more like abstract concepts than real places.

But also, like me, you seem to still affirm the bodily death and resurrection of Jesus, as well as most, if not all, of his other miracles. I feel a strong pull in this direction but I don’t know how I can honestly live there. It feels like straddling the fence to affirm the miraculous and yet denounce all the metaphysics around it.

Of all of the issues this might raise though, the one I keep getting hung up on is Jesus’ resurrection. If his resurrection was bodily and we believe that, yet we don’t believe in other “planes” of existence (a heaven where spirits and angels float around like glowing light bulbs) then where did the resurrected Jesus go? I suppose a similar problem crops up with all of his miracles but for whatever reason they don’t bother me as much. I suppose it is because I hold the resurrection so dearly that the idea of denying Jesus anywhere to lay his resurrected head bothers me the most. Thanks I really enjoy your work, -Jason

You respond in the comments. I’ll respond on Friday. See all of the past questions and answers here, or buy the ebook by clicking below:

  • Craig

    First a diagnostic question: what would bother you about the idea that Jesus resurrected with a body, but only in the minds/hearts/imaginations of true believers? (Compare: the monster under the bed bites with sharp teeth, but only in the child’s imagination.)

    • KentonS

      To answer your question with a question: what would bother you about the idea of Santa Claus? That if one *really* believes, then he lives at the North Pole, but not for those who don’t truly believe?

      • Craig

        I’m happy to treat Santa Claus in this way. He lives there with Rudolf and his elves, but only in the minds of young children. (But careful: it’s not that Santa lives there with Rudolf “if one really believes”; rather, if you believe it, then–in your mind–he lives at the North Pole with Rudolf.)

        • KentonS

          Uh, moving the conditional phrase to the end of the sentence doesn’t change the logic in any way shape or form. The two sentences in the parentheses are exactly the same – except you put “not” in the first one.

          One of the reasons sometimes given as evidence for the resurrection is that pretty much all of Jesus’ first followers died as a result of holding that belief instead of renouncing it. The history of the early Christians was one of martyrdom. It was the norm up until Constantine. I guess you could argue they were all delusional on the level of an adult who believes in Santa Claus, but to return to your original question, THAT would “bother” me. That something like that with no basis in reality – just one’s delusional mind – causes that much bloodshed… wouldn’t you find that troubling, Craig?

          • Craig

            You are mistaken on your first point regarding my parenthetical comment (perhaps you just misread it). Consider two claims: (1) If I really believe that P, then P. (2) If I really believe that P, then, in my mind, P. The first can be false while the second true (keeping P the same). Therefore, the two claims carry different meanings.

            Before proceeding, let’s first agree on this.

            • KentonS

              I think you’re splitting hairs. If the first one is false, then the belief – what is essentially the second one – is ipso facto false. Yes, one could believe in something that is false, and “in his mind” it’s true, but there’s an inherent contradiction when someone says “I believe that P is true” and “P is not true.”

              If you can’t see that contradiction, perhaps we shouldn’t proceed.

              • Craig

                Except you fail to see a rather obvious difference (obvious to most people, at least). To say that,”in the child’s imagination, Santa lives with Rudolf” is different from saying, “Santa lives with Rudolf.”

                Seriously, you cannot discern the difference? Is it such a fine one?

                Don’t worry. We can approach this apparently difficult distinction gradually. Can you first acknowledge the substantial difference between these two claim: (a) “Rabbits can talk”, and (b) “Within the story Alice in Wonderland, rabbits can talk”?

                • KentonS

                  OK, enough with the patronizing bullshit. Do you want to have a discussion or not?

                  • Craig

                    If you can’t acknowledge that the distinction I’m drawing isn’t bullshit, why should I try to engage you further? What would we do when we come to distinctions that are difficult, and to matters for which there is legitimate controversy?

                    • KentonS

                      “Legitimate controversy”? So then by contrast you’re tacitly acknowledging that this is a faux controversy! Hmm… Seems like that was what I’ve been saying.

                      What would we do? I’m guessing you’d continue your hairsplitting and condescension and I’d continue my exasperation. Disengaging sounds preferable to me. l8r.

                    • Craig

                      There is no legitimate controversy as to whether 2+2=4. Does that mean it is mere hairsplitting? Does it mean that it isn’t problematic if my conversational partner denies and disputes that bit of arithmetic in my effort to talk about more advanced theorems?

                      Keep digging in Kenton.

                    • KentonS
          • Andrew Dowling

            “pretty much all of Jesus’ first followers died as a result of holding that belief instead of renouncing it.”

            This idea is simply not backed up by any historical evidence. While there were clear sporadic persecutions of Christians in the 1st century (Nero’s Roman fire reaction, some actions under Domitian) and certainly there was some persecution by Jewish authorities, this idea that the early Christians, especially in the first century, were all in danger of being rounded up into lion’s dens and getting picked off left and right is popular myth.

            • KentonS

              I may be overstating it in saying it was the norm, but it was more than just “sporadic”. Even if it were just Nero and Domitian, isn’t that enough to ask why the first martyrs chose persecution instead of renouncing?

              • Andrew Dowling

                Well, a) Christianity was much more than an acknowledgment of Resurrection, especially for Jewish Christians (there is some evidence that Paul’s theology was more more “death and Resurrection” focused than his Jerusalem/James counterparts). It was about a new revelation of God and a new way of living. So to say martyrs “died for their belief in the Resurrection” is not really accurate, b/c Resurrection was only one piece of the puzzle
                b) Countless Muslims, Buddhists, and even Mormons chose persecution and death over renouncing their faith. Does that mean all of their faith claims are literally true as well?

                • KentonS

                  a) It was more, yes, but it all hinged on the resurrection (I Cor 15:14)
                  b) It means they too believed death did not have the last word. I don’t know enough about the hows and whys of these cases – and there are some faith claims they made that I would not affirm – but yes, I would affirm their claim that death does not have the last word also.

                  • Andrew Dowling

                    a) Again, you are quoting a Pauline passage. I don’t believe, and this point of course is arguable, that Jewish Christianity placed such a big emphasis on the Resurrection. It’s never even mentioned once in the Didache, Book of James, or the hypothetical Q document that Matthew and Luke used.They believed Jesus had defeated death but did not place the cosmological significance to it that Paul did.

                    b) I agree, they all believed that death was not the last word. And that belief is not contingent at all on believing in a literal bodily resurrection of someone who had died previously. Many Jews who revolted against Rome in the 60s didn’t believe death was the last word either, and they certainly didn’t believe in the claims of Christianity.

                    • KentonS

                      a) Christianity became what it was b/c of Paul. You can’t disregard his influence. And Luke place huge significance to it in Acts. Every time the apostles open their mouths they’re talking about resurrection.

                      b) I think you and Craig start from a premise that “people just don’t rise from the dead” and then conclude “therefore Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.” I get that. You can dismiss the apostolic story because it fails to jibe with your premise. I’m just saying the evidence you categorically dismiss I find persuasive. It’s truly a question of faith. And if the faith you have in your premise is unshakable, then I got nothing.

                      Am I right?

                    • Andrew Dowling

                      a) I agree Paul shaped what Christianity became, but that doesn’t mean Pauline faith was the faith of Jesus’s actual disciples who had known and heard Jesus during His lifetime. One can even see from Galatians that James was the defacto leader of the Christian church which was centered in Jerusalem. This changed after James’s death and Jerusalem’s destruction, when the Christian church became dominated by converted Gentiles. From the sources we have, Jewish Christianity saw Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God; akin to a new Moses. The emphasis on the cosmological effects of Jesus’s death and Resurrection is not present in the primary documents we have. As for Acts, it is a very Pauline document that also was written very late . . I think it plays very loose with some parts of history, especially in the speeches attributed to Peter and Paul (for starters Paul in Acts sounds nothing like the Paul of the Epistles).

                      b) My reasons for not believing in a literal Resurrection go beyond “it just doesn’t happen.” The first thing that really struck my belief was the brevity and inconsistency of the Resurrection accounts in the Bible. Mark doesn’t even have any appearances. Matthew and Luke have different Great Commissions, and Luke’s Road to Damascus story strikes me as describing much more of a “spiritual” Resurrection than a literal etc.

                      If we are talking about a “once in the lifetime of the Earth” event . .someone who literally ascended from the grave, would there not be more stories about this INCREDIBLE happening? Would they not be more consistent? If he had indeed been witnessed by 500 people concurrently, would that not have caused mass hysteria? Would the Roman government not have heard about reports of the dead walking the Earth? If Paul’s Resurrection experience was visionary in nature as described in Acts, why does he not differentiate it from the other Resurrection accounts? Indeed, he places his in the same league. But Paul had a vision, not an encounter with a resurrected corpse.

                      All of this combined, I struggle to see how one can believe this was all about a literal ascension from the grave. Not just because dead people always stay dead, but from the actual biblical reports of it we have.

                    • KentonS

                      Let’s make that the last word. We’re at an impasse, and I’m more interested in Tony’s later post on resurrection.

                    • Susan_G1

                      If I may barge in, I recently read about martyrdom. We only have sure knowledge of how two of the apostles died (one being Judas). However, it does seem that martyrdom in the 1st century was mainly for preaching a resurrected Christ, if we can believe indirect sources. Martyrdom does, in my statement, refer to the executions of believers in Christ as Messiah, not people following Theudas, Vespasian, or other ‘military model’ messiahs.

    • JasonDStewart

      Well, the idea of a “spiritually” resurrected Jesus used to be fine for me. But, as I’ve gotten older I’ve lost more people that I love and frankly, having some sort of “resurrection” in our hearts and minds doesn’t cut it for me anymore. I believe in resurrection/rebirth/new life of a living person, that transformative power of Jesus we love to talk about, certainly. But without a hope of dead people actually getting back up again, the world is simply a very dark place. Or, as Paul himself put it, if Christ is not raised our faith is in vain, “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

      • Craig

        I suppose this all depends on how you interpret “spiritually.” If it only means, “resurrected merely in someone else’s mind/imagination/heart,” then I think you’re right to sense disappointment (although St. Paul seems to misunderstand the implications here, taking them too far). If, however, we have immaterial souls that, though resurrection, continue to maintain consciousness after the death of the physical body, then I don’t see much reason to be disappointed with this kind of “spiritual resurrection.” Would you agree?

  • KentonS

    Tony-

    You’re really forcing me to think here. Does the concept of an “empty tomb” play into this? (To me the two go hand-in-hand.) If Jesus was resurrected, empty tomb and all, then either he still would have a physical body, or his body would have “decomposed” post-resurrection. (Third option: his body could cyclically “decompose” and “recompose”. The post-resurrection narrative would indicate something like that, yes?)

    N.T. Wright talks about how post-resurrection and post-ascension that Jesus is *still* human. That he didn’t cease to be human post-resurrection and post-ascension and become purely divine. I don’t know how to process that in terms of this question, but it is the hope that I cling to.

  • Rhema Boyo

    I know people here don’t like “apologetics” oooh so modern! But William Lane Craig offered a couple reasonable options in this video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNnuEU2XLz4

  • Rolland

    I know people here don’t like “apologetics” oooh so modern! But William
    Lane Craig offered a couple reasonable options in this video.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNnuEU2XLz4

    • Andrew Dowling

      “He exited our space-time continuum” aka he magically disappeared. I suppose that’s reasonable insofar as completely making up an idea out of thin air to answer an unanswerable question is reasonable.

      • Rolland

        It’s only reasonable if you believe that there is a God who exists outside of the space time continuum. In that case its reasonable to believe that Jesus reverted back into transcendence making him unable to manifest physical form. But if you don’t believe that concept of God, then its obviously unreasonable. I think his first response about Jesus ascending into a different dimension is plausible as well, though unlikely.

        • Andrew Dowling

          I guess I just don’t see it “answering” anything b/c it simply creates a possibility that is impossible to prove or disprove. Clearly much of Judeo-Christian thought for most of its existence believed God and the heavens dwelled in a physical area above the firmament . . thus Jesus’s ascension in Acts. Now that modern science has rendered that idea mute, Craig is simply inventing an answer that can’t be disproven. Sure, he “could” be correct but color me unimpressed.

          • Rolland

            Any answer as to where Jesus ascended to is impossible to prove, because there really is no way to know. The only answer we can say is true from scripture is that he went to God, to be seated at the right hand of the father, which is obviously all just biblical imagery to help us understand something that is a mystery. I don’t believe the Jews literally believed that God was in the sky any more than I believe the Greeks literally believed the gods really lived on mount Olympus. Again it’s all imagery to help us understand a mystery. What we can know is that if the apostles were right in saying that Jesus went to God (whatever that means) it is possible that he exited space-time.

            • Andrew Dowling

              That’s fine, although I disagree most ancients didn’t literally believe in those things. If I was not educated in science and had never been up in an airplane, I deem it highly likely I would imagine God ,amidst the incredible power of thunderstorms and the beauty of sunsets and night skies, to be literally somewhere either in or above the sky. Makes perfect sense in a pre-Enlightenment context.

              • Susan_G1

                Andrew, wouldn’t you say that God exists outside of the confines of linear time? If Jesus has gone to sit at His father’s side, He is no longer in our linear time frame. I think the same thing happened when He descended “into hell”. Why there will be one day of judgement. While I wouldn’t call it the space-time continuum, I would at least say it is outside of linear time.

                • Andrew Dowling

                  Susan,

                  Personally I don’t have an issue with the idea of God being in another dimension/outside of time etc. But Craig’s response is a direct “apologetic” answer to the question of what happened to Jesus’s body, and it strikes me as someone just making something completely up to fit their theology. If one is going to make a big deal out of a literal physical body resurrected, to say that physical body “disappears” into another dimension is to me a throw-away answer like a 2nd grader answering the question “how does Santa reach every good child’s house in one night” and the 2nd grader responding “because he has a supersonic engine assisting the reindeer . . .duh!”

                  • Susan_G1

                    interesting. I’m not up on materialist/metaphysics thoughts, but unless He’s walking among us still, He’s somewhere where we are not. So the most honest answer is, “I don’t know”, is that basically what you’re saying?

                    • Andrew Dowling

                      “I don’t know” is a fine and honest answer. I think the “spirit” of Jesus never went anywhere. Concurrently, I don’t believe his literal physical body ever left the grave to walk among us for a certain period of time after his death, so I think the basic premise of the question is flawed. I certainly don’t view the Ascension in Acts as being historical in the slightest.

          • http://ofdustandkings.com/ tehanna

            To be fair, Andrew, he isn’t exactly “inventing an answer”. The idea of God as timeless has been around for most of Christian history, and is rooted in certain Biblical descriptions of God’s relationship to time. In the fourth century, Boethius described time as a river and God sitting on the bank of that river, able to overlook the entire stream in an instant and enter into it at will. That Craig theorizes Christ’s return to a timeless transcendence aligns with modern notions of time and matter, but it also aligns with historical Christian orthodoxy and the precedent for it long preceded him.

  • Larry Barber

    If you insist on maintaining a strict materialism, maybe he went into one those 8 or so other dimensions that string theory posits? (This would also explain a lot of the post-resurrection sightings.)

  • Andrew Dowling

    This pinpoints something I’ve found in this blog; Tony’s take on this doesn’t follow logically and he seems to affirm a bodily Resurrection/miracles (and this probably comes across as condescending although I don’t intend that) because, and he can feel free to tell me I’m way off track, he doesn’t want to “disarm” his faith of those mystical/supernatural occurrences b/c he sees the faith resulting from that as lacking in power/unattractive. I understand that because I used to do believe the same thing. Genesis/Revelation/Noah’s Ark/Exodus etc. . .those were metaphorical/ancient stories with ancient storyteller’s knack for exaggeration and hyperbole. But Jesus . . that was more untouchable. You take away the literal Resurrection and miracles, and you are left with nothing but a 1st century do-gooder and dreamer.

    But overtime I found that the above view was hypocritical, and I also embraced the idea that unique God indwelling did not have to posit supernatural (as traditionally understood) powers or occurrences. For starters, what is the nature of the God described here? The healings described . . so if you were lucky enough to be stricken with a horrible disease and have lived actually where and when Jesus walked the Earth, you could have experienced a miraculous healing. What about the people who suffered right before or right after? Just tough luck on them? (let alone the billions well before and after)
    Notwithstanding the many arguments made about the Resurrection accounts having numerous issues, but again, for the sake of argument, if you happened be around Galilee (or was it Jerusalem??) around the year 32 AD, you could have witnessed a supernatural event that no humans before or after have witnessed . . .why do they get this clear proof of God and no-one else does? In the tens of THOUSANDS of years of human existence. If you accept the idea that God “intervened” with a literal bodily Resurrection, it seems to me you are making the problem of evil even worse.

    When you think about it, it makes no logical sense. The conservatives are right when they say either you accept a world in which material scientific boundaries are constantly broken (as do many in the modern 3rd world), or you develop a different idea of how God works that accepts natural laws. And the latter approach doesn’t have to deny the Holy Spirit moving and affecting the world, but it does have something to say about the mechanisms the Spirit employs.

  • http://www.twitter.com/tchambers TimmyC

    As a Christian I have found more of a struggle to believe in the Ascension than I do even the Resurrection. It comes across as such a “local” event — with Jesus rising into a cloud in the sky, seemingly literally flying up into a local Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, fitting well with the local cosmology of the time, that DID believe in a heaven in the sky, but fitting very terribly with what we know of the Universe and currently believe in the “location” of God and Heaven.

    We could say that it was a miraculous and mystical event, and perhaps it was surreal in reality. But it does haunt as a story that feels arcane and based on a “heaven in the sky” versus a “Heaven outside of time and space.

  • http://morechrist.blogspot.com K.W. Leslie

    Who says we don’t believe in other planes of existence?

  • Ric Shewell

    It’s a false dichotomy between materialism and metaphysics. I think we also have this weird fetish with harmonizing modern sensibilities with the biblical story. We just don’t need to do that. The story attests to phenomena that can’t be studied or reproduced. They just don’t fit into our sensibilities, and I think most attempts to do so diminish the story and the phenomena.

    As it is, the story definitely affirms the material with its insistence in a physical resurrection. However, it also affirms a metaphysical relationship between heaven and earth that is moving toward an end. For us, Christ’s physical body is in heaven, a place (according to Scripture) that God created next to the earth, where God’s reign is fully realized, and from where God interacts with the earth. We don’t have access to it.

    But just for crazy-sake, let’s try to imagine where heaven is. For the ancients, it was above. However, above was just a metaphor that worked. Good things are up, and bad things are down. So, saying heaven was up clearly indicated that heaven was good. Christ went to the best good place.

    Moltmann demonstrates that this metaphor doesn’t work for us anymore. He proposes that we use temporal metaphors rather than spacial metaphors. Salvation is not God calling us up to heaven, rather God is calling us into God’s future. Heaven is in front of us. Heaven is a time when God will reign, not a place where God’s Kingdom is. So if we want to use these metaphors (and I do), the risen Christ is in front of us, preceding us, calling us into his future.

    So for crazy-sake, I like to think Christ time-traveled. I definitely don’t teach this, but I think it’s fun to think about it this way. From the future, Christ calls us toward him. Leave me alone, I know it’s crazy. But it’s also fun, and we’re allowed to imagine.

    • Rolland

      I wasn’t sure where you were going when you said heaven is a physical place that God created next to earth (I don’t think that is true at all). But I like your time travel idea! Pretty creative thinking there!

      • Ric Shewell

        I don’t know if heaven is a “physical place,” but it is created right? Genesis 1:1? Throughout the Bible, God is in heaven, comes from heaven, we can see heaven or look at the heavens, rain comes from there, etc. I don’t know what heaven is, and I don’t want to say more than the place God made for himself, and from there God interacts with the earth. I think too much more than that, we get into some trouble.

        hehe. Time travel. Ridiculous, but I kind of like it.

        • Muzi Cindi

          How would you deconstruct “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you”? – I’m saying this because WE, humans are relative new comers here. The Universe existed for 13,7 billion years without our language. The KEY terms; purgatory, hell, ascension, heaven, fall, last judgement, angels, resurrection, holy trinity, and even GOD – remain words that came with the evolution of language; just recently. They have been very important words; a language that helped to create a meaningful world for those living within it. I regard your “time travel idea” as part of this evolution of language.

          • AlanCK

            This way, by rending it “The Kingdom of heaven is near,” which Jesus proclaims because he himself has arrived upon the scene.

            Question, do you not think that you have a preconceived weltanschauung by which you interpreting the phenomena that you listed? In what you’ve stated, even god isn’t free but subject to forces of time and evolution. Isn’t there a way we can affirm evolution without making it the ultimate authority in the world?

            • Muzi Cindi

              Even EVOLUTION is a word that came with humans when they invented language. What was there before the big bang? “ETERNAL SPACIOUSNESS” (a human language also). This could then be called “the ultimate authority”; this is what we access when we meditate.

          • Ric Shewell

            That’s really interesting. As far as Scripture goes, the Kingdom of God (heaven) is moving. It comes near. We can receive it. In the end, the kingdom of the world will become the kingdom of our Lord (Rev 11). I got no problem with the kingdom of heaven (a place where God reigns and where from God interacts with the world) being “in” us. I also think it’s in front of us. We are entering into the Kingdom, a time when God reigns fully.

    • NateW

      Rick, I don’t think you’re crazy at all. I’ve come to think of Heaven as the spiritual place/reality/time/experience that we enter into with each step into Self-emptying Love. It is the moment of transition from this present moment and the “age to come.” It is not a place in which we arrive, it is a place into which we arc always arriving, with each step taken in faith, avd ways leaving with each step taken for self. Heaven is not a place Jesus ascended to, it is a place to which he is ascending. It is not that which e find, it is that which is found in seeking with a humble heart. It is not the answer but the joy of the humble questioning. It is not the place inside the door on which e knock, it is the threshold through which we step.

      It is the present moment blissfully melting into the next for the one who is content to stay where he is, but choosing to leave that contentment in order to Give him/herself in love for another, stepping out fom what is known and comfortable and into what is unknown and uncomfortable.

      Heaven is not “now” but neither is it “later,” rather, it is the eternal moment between these to. The moment it is found it must be sought again, the moment it is entered into another step must be taken.

      The sad thing is that this moment of transition is also Hell. For the one who desires the security of having, of possessing, of certain knowledge, the unattainability of the goal is torture. or the one who believes that he already has, already knows, it is maddening to be torn out of the present and thrust into the darkness of the next.

      It is only the one who is able to be content with what he/she has, but who has faith And hope enough to give it all way and embrace the unknown, that this moment of transition is transformed from the moment of death to a place saturated with the pure joy of endless discovery.

  • Muzi Cindi

    THE ONLY JESUS I KNOW: LIVES IN ME – AS ME!
    - I honestly don’t KNOW any other Jesus! I don’t KNOW The Jesus of MYTH, who literally rose from a literal tomb and was literally seen in both Galilee and Jerusalem at the same time; by different people in different times (at the same time); doing different contradictory things and still assumed to be literal by literalists. I don’t KNOW a Jesus of any THEOLOGY (Catholic, Protestant, Barth, Reformed, Evangelical, etc).

    - I don’t KNOW a Jesus who literally ascended to a literal heaven on Sunday, or Monday, or after a few days or after forty days or came back from heaven and ascended again (depending on which Scripture one reads). If this Jesus did ascend to Heaven; according to science He must still be on his way there and still needs more millions of years before He arrives (assuming the speed of light).

    - I honestly don’t KNOW a literal Jesus sitting at the literal right hand of a literal God in a literal heaven “up there” or “somewhere”. I don’t know of a Jesus who is said to be literally coming back from a literal heaven; to be literally seen by people.

    THE ONLY JESUS I KNOW; LIVES IN ME – AS ME! – This is MY SILENT WITNESS that never slumbers no sleeps. This WITNESS walks with me, guides me, directs my path; is a LIVING PRESENCE WITHIN ME. This is THE PRESENCE that matters. It makes my life ABUNDANT. It fulfills me and leaves me wanting for nothing. This PRESENCE is what I call “THE POWER OF NOW”. I can access this Jesus anytime I want; Anytime I AWAKEN!!! — NOW I KNOW – YOU CAN KNOW ALSO!

    JESUS LIVES IN ME – AS ME!!!

  • Muzi Cindi

    BELOW; is a response from Sarah, writing 6 May 2009. I hope Tony, in his response on Friday, will not continue the usual trend of blanket generalizations & thereby enforcing his IDENTITY as “a basher of Liberal Christianity”:

    Tony -
    I’d like to call you to account for five mistakes that you made in this blog post:
    (1) You present a reductionistic description of Marcus Borg’s position that doesn’t honor the nuance of Borg’s understanding of the resurrection. This is uncharitable.
    (2) You present a reductionistic description of The Jesus Seminar’s position that doesn’t honor the nuance and diversity of their understanding of the miracles of Jesus. This is dishonest.
    (3) You present “the liberal” perspective as if they are a monolithic bloc who all agree theologically. This is disingenuous.
    (4) You present your own perspective in a way that isn’t intelectually honest – especially in regaurd to myth in the Bible. This is sloppy.
    (5) You present yourelf as a postmodernist, yet clearly have embraced foundationalism – especially the foundation of Moltmann. This is hypocritical.
    You simply don’t get to parade around and misrepresent all of these people and get paid for it. This is unethical.

    Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/tonyjones/2009/05/why-it-matters-that-jesus-real.html#ixzz2hDXJv4Fa

  • Jesse

    Let’s Ask Paul About This
    Jason,
    This is a good, tough question. Thanks for asking it.
    I think the best answer to this question, for me, comes from the distinguished theologian, John Cobb.
    Cobb makes a great point about how Paul thought about/viewed the resurrection. Basically, Paul’s belief in the resurrection, in general, did not depend on Jesus’ resurrection. Although Paul seemingly accepted the accounts of Jesus appearing to the apostles after death, this was not the most important thing for him, necessarily. For Paul, it seems that the transformation into glory is the destiny of the whole created order (Romans 8), and this was Paul’s emphasis.
    Remember, the Jesus Paul saw on the road to Damascus was the glorified version of Jesus in Heaven. Again, Paul does seem to emphasize the transformation from a physical body to a spiritual body (I Cor.15). Cobb asks:

    "Did he mean that the physical body ceases to exist when the spiritual body is raised? In that case, the tomb must have been empty, but Paul never mentions an empty tomb. We will not have to break much with Paul if we suppose that the person who once existed as a physical body now exists as a spiritual one. The physical body is dead and behaves as physical things do. The spiritual body is alive and behaves as spiritual things do."

    I agree with Cobb that Whitehead’s vision of how all events are included and transformed in the consequent nature of God is not so far removed from the glorification of the cosmos anticipated by Paul. We can say then that as believers, all people, and all things, are resurrected to a glory that we share with the Jesus whom Paul saw on the road to Damascus.

    • Craig

      Tony will have a hard time accepting the dualism here. I take it that you are not as bothered?

      Any thoughts on how you might characterize the spiritual (as opposed to the physical/mental/conceptual/emotional/psychological)?

      • Jesse

        Craig,
        I’m not sure what dualism you’re referring to.
        Keep in mind that in Romans 8, Paul identifies the believers as the first fruits of God’s saving work, in addition to his thoughts that the whole universe is to be liberated and glorified.
        As Cobb points out in that essay, Jesus’ message was about the coming of the Basileia Theou (Commonwealth of God ) on earth. In this sense, Philip Clayton’s participatory view of the resurrection comes to mind:

        “the disciples, after Jesus’ death, found themselves participating in a new reality in which their relationship with the ultimate reality (UR) had been transformed by the divine grace and freedom they had encountered in the teachings, the acts, and indeed the personal presence of Jesus.”

        • Craig

          Cobb is drawing a sharp distinction between the physical and the spiritual when he says stuff like this:

          that the person who once existed as a physical body now exists as a spiritual one. The physical body is dead and behaves as physical things do. The spiritual body is alive and behaves as spiritual things do.

          It is easy to interpret such words as appealing to the idea of an immaterial soul, whose new or continued existence doesn’t depend on a physical body. That, I take it, is the traditional, dualist conception of the resurrection (perhaps I’m mistaken?).

          Perhaps Cobb’s words can be given a non-dualist interpretation. But how would that plausibly go?

          • Jesse

            Craig,

            If you know anything about John Cobb (or process thought), you’ll know he is not a dualist. HA!

            The problem lies in the way one sees “the self.”

            Process thinkers claim that flux and change constitute the whole of reality. Events, not substances. Some of these events are human experiences.

            Here is a good intro into Whiteheadian prehension: http://processandfaith.org/writings/ask-dr-cobb/2005-11/prehension-self

            • Craig

              Where exactly do you find Cobb addressing the spiritual-physical distinction in this intro? Or, if not there, how does he interpret the distinction? He is, after all, making that distinction.

              • Jesse

                Try this one, Craig: http://processandfaith.org/writings/ask-dr-cobb/2002-03/process-sprituality

                Process Thought denies the existence of a an underlying, substantial self (similar to Buddhist thought). Again, events or processes are primary. But process thought does emphasize the distinction and integration of “soma” (body) and “psyche” (soul). They’re both important.

                Anyway, nature is filled indestructible polarities; that’s just the way things are. The problems (and pathologies) come when we start to emphasize one over the other, not leaving room for integration and synthesis.

                • Craig

                  In the piece to which you link, and in your comment, I don’t see anything that is inconsistent with dualism. Dualism, as far as I can tell, isn’t committed to any particular “emphasis” (physical over spiritual, or vice versa). Correspondingly, I still don’t see how any alternative to dualism has been offered to explain Cobb’s sharp distinction between physical and spiritual “bodies”.

                  • Jesse

                    The key is understanding the fundamental nature of reality as organic and event-oriented (as quantum physics would attest to). Descarte and Kant conceived of the nature as “matter in motion.” Hartshorne and Whitehead (Neo-naturalists) taught that reality at all levels was psychical in the sense that it is composed of experiences. He implied what Thomas Berry has made explicit, that the universe is a communion of subjects rather than simply a multiplicity of objects.

                    • Craig

                      But the task is to explain Cobb’s stated distinction between “spiritual bodies” and “physical bodies.” We’re not in any obvious way helped along in that task by saying that all reality is psychical (any more than by saying that all reality is physical, or “event-oriented,” or “organic”).

                    • Jesse

                      Just to clear up the dualism thing:
                      The typical way I think of dualism is in the Cartesian sense. Descartes believed that the universe was composed of matter in motion (Newtonian physics). Folks like Descartes assumed that the objects of touch and sight provided us with the basic paradigm of what is. These objects seem to exist self-identically through time. They are passive. They are related to one another only spatially and temporally. The mind, psyche or "soul", is a physical substance for Descartes, and it operates or acts upon the body (another substance). When the physical body dies, the substantial soul lives on in a supernatural sort of way.
                      We know now that this materialistic model breaks down in relation to the subatomic world.
                      Again, For Whitehead and Cobb, there is no substantial self (as far as I can tell). The connection between the body and the psyche or "soul," is better understood as a relationship. In fact, all of reality is better understood as a relationship, a series of processes. There is no supernatural/natural split.
                      As far as the part you’re hung up on–how does a spiritual body behave?–I’m not sure, I can’t speak for Cobb on that. Maybe an analogous question would be: how does an experience behave?
                      We do know, that there are aspects of reality that don’t behave like the physical parts of reality — thoughts, experiences, emotions, small wave packets of quantum energy–these are all parts of reality. They may not be "physical" but they’re very real. Some process thinkers speculate that there could be new experiences with considerable continuity with personally ordered ones that were closely connected to a physical brain. They would consist largely of integrations of hybrid physical feelings and the propositional and intellectual feelings to which they give rise.
                      So, I dunno. Physical bodies disintegrate. They pass away, back into the Earth. However, there is a real possibility that since since Human experiences are not the experiences of an underlying self–but they constitute the self–those experiences not only dwell in, but continue to generate and grow in the consequent nature of God.
                      Good chat, Craig. I’m out.

                    • Craig

                      Jesse, I don’t think we should leave it just there, without a few more clarifications.

                      The mind, psyche or “soul”, is a physical substance for Descartes, and it operates or acts upon the body (another substance).

                      This is not an accurate characterization of Cartesian dualism. For Descartes, mind and matter (physical substance) were fundamentally different. This, in fact, is the principle feature of Cartesian dualism.

                      Orthogonal to the issue of dualism is the issue of whether the self is best viewed as an entity that is independent of its experiences, or as a thing that is constituted (at least in part) by its experiences. (This might be confusing because the former view of the self can accurately be called “Cartesian.” But, naturally, Descartes’ views had many distinct and mutually independent facets.) The latter view of the self (a kind of Lockean one, I suppose) is perfectly consistent with both substance dualism and substance monism.

                      Here’s the larger point and why I take my questions to be relevant. The bit you extract from Cobb is essentially what any substance dualist could say to explain the afterlife. Until we explain the sense of the stated distinction between “physical bodies” and “spiritual bodies” the dualist interpretation will be a difficult one for many readers to avoid. So, if many readers are finding Cobb’s statement here plausible, I suspect it is because many readers still tacitly find substance dualism plausible. But, since dualism is not a view that Tony, and many others, are willing to accept, for them the burden of explanation remains in its entirety.

                    • Jesse

                      Good clarifications about Descartes, Craig. This will be my last comment on this.
                      Again (you seem to be missing this), for Descartes, yes mind and body are separate things, but they’re both OBJECTS! The soul was a substantial thing that made up the “real” self, right? The mind, for Descartes, may not have been a “physical substance” but it was a substance. Like I wrote before, Thomas Berry has made explicit that the universe is a communion of subjects rather than simply a multiplicity of objects.
                      Look, it is possible to have duality without dualism.
                      For Descartes’ the thinking was that certain concepts related in experience are not really related but belong to different categories, and that the apparent relationship of such dual pairs derives only from secondary connections. In contrast, a process-relational approach affirms the fundamental connection of such concepts as being/becoming, mind/matter, and symmetry/asymmetry, but does so in a way that avoids a simplistic symmetry of the dualities. Think of it as relational holism.
                      To quote T. Eastman’s great paper:

                      “In particular, contrasts are presented of the form “both A with respect to x and B with respect to y” instead of simple dualisms that set up some form of absolute “A versus B” opposition. In this way, a process framework grounds the “both-and” approach…which is embodied in the transition from classical to modern physics.”

                      I suggest you read the Eastman essay, Craig. Whiteheadian panexperientialism would be of interest to you. I’m not going to pretend I understand it all. You’re smarter than me, so you might ;)

  • Sven2547

    I feel like the “Questions that Haunt” series has moved away from its original premise somewhat. Let’s look at the original posting from September of last year:

    I, myself, am a doubter. But I consider a large part of my vocation as a Christian theologian to proffer intellectually honest answers to the big questions of faith.

    So this series is for everyone who doubts. It’s for your friends who are agnostic and atheistic. It’s a place for them to email me a question, and get an honest answer — even if the answer doesn’t necessarily show Christianity in the best light. It’s a place for you to submit the biggest hurdle you have to fully giving yourself over to the Christian faith.

    Now look at this week’s question. Jason is a Christian who believes in the bodily death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Atheist”, “agnostic”, and maybe even “doubter” are completely out the window on this one. Jason has a question and that’s cool. I think this is a great Q&A for someone like Jason who has a good question about Christian theology. But is this really a “Question that Haunts Christianity”?

    • http://blog.billsamuel.net/ BillSamuel

      Jason may not be atheist or agnostic, and if you read the whole paragraph in which that reference occurs you’ll see that Tony back then is saying this is both a place for “you” (in this case, meaning a Christian) as well as for “your friends who are agnostic and atheistic.” And I think the question of the resurrection is clearly one which haunts Christianity. So it belongs here. And, anyway, the more important thing is addressing serious questions people have about the faith.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/ Tony Jones

      It seems to me a fair question. The metaphysics of the resurrection surely keep some people from the faith.

      • Sven2547

        “Metaphysics” nothing. I think just the physics of the resurrection story is what would trouble agnostics and doubters. Have you really ever met someone who explicitly believes in the physical resurrection of Jesus, but doubts the existence of God or that Jesus was his son?

        And again just to be clear: I’ve got nothing against theological Q&A on your blog; you’re doing a fine job of it. Jason has a good and honest question and he deserves an answer.

        Out here from the non-believer’s peanut gallery, though, many (most?) of the “Questions that Haunt” have been anything but. I started reading your blog specifically because of this series. Finally, a Christian theologian is engaging in dialog with nonbelievers in a constructive, non-antagonistic way. But when the question begins with the assumed premise that Jesus was physically resurrected, where does that even leave the non-Christians and “doubters” I thought this was for? How is it any different from the intra-religious Q&A that already exists on almost every religious blog out there?

        The previous one (Was the Bible meant to be taken literally?) was a solid example of one where believers and non-believers alike can weigh in and get a better understanding. Biblical literalism, or a lack thereof, is also a major factor for people turning away from Christianity. It’s the kind of question that exemplifies what I thought the “Questions that Haunt” series is about.

        It’s easy for me to sit here and be a critic. If I misunderstood the premise of “Questions that Haunt” then it’s my fault, not yours.

  • CurtisMSP

    Nowhere. “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

  • Sven2547

    Right on.


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