The Resurrected Jesus Did Not Go Somewhere. He Went Somewhen. [Questions That Haunt]

This week’s Question That Haunts Christianity comes from Jason, and it’s a doozy:

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 responded in the comments. Thanks.

Especially with what’s gone on this week on the blog, answering this question is intimidating. Let me start by giving a couple caveats: 1) I had honestly never really considered this question before Jason’s question came in. Probably, I should have, but I haven’t. So my answer will be provisional, a first crack at a vexing question. And 2), as such, it will likely be disappointing to some of you. It seems that the pressure is higher than normal this week, since I have again professed how central I consider the material resurrection to be.

Jason, you’ve asked the question in exactly the right way, I think. I, too, am troubled by my own predisposition to accept Jesus’ miracles and his resurrection, yet harbor my own suspicions about all metaphysics. It seems inconsistent, even unfair to do so. Yet that’s where I currently sit.

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Shit Only Matters If It’s Matter

“To speak of the resurrection of dead is at the same time to speak of the transformation of heaven and earth. The preoccupation with our own personal and private destiny, so often encouraged by talk of the immortality of the soul, is radically thrown into question. The destiny of the soul is tied to the destiny of the earth. The doctrine of the resurrection, then, entails a profound solidarity with the earth.”
-Ted Jennings, Loyalty to God,

“The Christian dogmatics, which thought of the awakening of souls as coinciding with the resurrection of the flesh, was metaphysically more consistent — more enlightened, if you will — than speculative metaphysics; just as hope means corporeal resurrection and knows through its intellectualization that it has been robbed of what is best.”
-Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics

“Poverty means death. If we are conscious of that fact, we can find a language to speak clearly about the resurrection of Christ.”
-Gustavo Gutiérrez, “Church of the Poor”

“It was not just that God defeated death, but that God did so in human flesh, and this has profound implications for flesh itself. It bursts from the tomb, the same but different: a flesh no longer made for cleaving nor for oblivion. … For a Christian, death does not even threaten the end of bodiliness, but rather becomes a physical experience/encounter with the divine.”
-Elizabeth Stuart, “Queering Death”

“The resurrection was not for Jesus an exit from our brutal world into heavenly bliss above… The first witnesses identified the risen Jesus by the marks of his crucifixion. The body of the risen Jesus can be identified by us in the bruised and bleeding body of mankind with which he identified himself.”
-Carl Braaten, The Future of God

“So perhaps for us the resurrection of the body as new vegetation from composed soil might be the natural sacrament of a deeper transformation to which we point, but whose reality lies in the hands of God from whom all things came and are renewed.”
-Rosemary Radford Reuther, address to the Catholic Theological Society

“[The resurrection] did not take place in a heavenly or supra-heavenly realm, or as part of an intra-divine movement or a divine conversation, but before the gates of Jerusalem in the days of Tiberius Caesar and therefore in the place and time which are also ours, in our sphere.”
-Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4.3.298

HT for the idea and title of this post to Jonnie Russell

What’s at Stake in the Resurrection?

Let’s continue this conversation, shall we? Marcus Borg asked (and I answered) what’s at stake in the difference of opinion we have about the materiality of Jesus’ resurrection. My first four responses were regarding the church, the Bible, and the people. That made some think I should be moved to Patheos’s evangelical channel (I am listed there, FYI). But let’s go on to list some more ways that the resurrection has implications for Christianity.

Whatever you think (material vs non-material, historical or fictional, physical or spiritual), I’ll start the list, and I hope you’ll add to it in the comments.

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Dear Marcus Borg: Please Reconsider the Resurrection

Marcus Borg has joined Patheos as a blogger, which I think is great. He has put out some of the most solid biblical scholarship around over the past few decades. His more popular work I’m less fond of, in which I think he tries too hard to disabuse people of some important aspects of Christianity. Nevertheless, I consider him a very important voice, and I heartily recommend his work to people.

Last week, in my QTH answer, I referred to Borg in passing, writing,

When I read Marcus Borg arguing that Jesus’ resurrection only happens in the believer’s heart or Reza Aslan saying that it’s shocking to discover that Jesus didn’t really grow up in Nazareth or Bart Ehrman revealing that Jesus didn’t think that he was God, I honestly yawn.

I wasn’t trying to pick a fight. I was just honestly stating that those who take the historical Jesus to be significantly less than the Gospels portray him to be are not interesting to me. But Borg took exception to what I wrote, stating that I have thrice misrepresented his views:

I have never said or written anything remotely like that…

…I do not understand why Jones misrepresents my understanding of the resurrection. Perhaps it’s because the only two options he has considered are that it either happened in a physical bodily way or else it happened only “in the believer’s heart.”

Borg writes that I have also misrepresented him in a book. Here’s what I wrote about Borg in The New Christians:

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