Orthodoxy’s Postage Stamp

Orthodoxy’s Postage Stamp September 18, 2012

Christian orthodoxy’s postage stamp is that the resurrection occurred. What really matters, the letter or the envelope, is the crucifixion. We argue intelligently and vociferously and annually (at Easter) that the resurrection occurred, we denounce those who say it didn’t happen, and we applaud those who defend it in apologetics. And it matters enormously for our hope beyond the grave. But beyond the that the resurrection doesn’t seem to matter. It’s little more than a postage stamp.

In college a tongues-speaking charismatic friend of mine said to me “You Baptists say you believe in the Holy Spirit but if the Spirit vacated the house you’d never know it!” He had a point. Perhaps we could make the same point about the resurrection.

What would happen in the following areas if the resurrection was not at work: preaching? evangelism? parenting? vocation? forgiveness of sins? justification? reconciliation? kingdom of God?

Exploring beyond the that to the what and why of the resurrection is at the heart of Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson’s exceptional book, The Cross is Not Enough. They explore twelve zones of the impact of the resurrection in our life — in daily living, daily hope, daily obedience. The twelve zones where resurrection makes an impact on life are, and if you slide your cursor over these references they will show up. Let them wash over you to see the magnitude of the implications of the resurrection for discipleship.

1. Forgiveness: 1 Cor 15:15-17; Rom 4:25.
2. Whole person: 1 Cor 15:20; Gal 3:27-28.
3. Empowerment: 1 Cor 15:19; Heb 4:14-16; Phil 3:10-11.
4. Future hope: 1 Cor 15:19-23.
5. Eschatology: 1 Cor 15:24-25
6. Eden breaks in: 1 Cor 15:45 (second Adam)
7. Confidence: Rom 1:1-4; Acts 2:29-32.
8. Face of God: John 20:28
9. Ethics: 1 Peter 1:3 leads to 1:13-16 and 2:12-4:10.
10. Judge/justice: social justice folks ought to be more resurrection-shaped. Acts 17:31.
11. New Community: Col 1:18; 3:11; Gal 3:28; Acts 10:34.
12. Mission: Matthew 28:16-20.

“The zones of discipleship that we are called into demonstrate a newness of life that can only be lived out by the power of the spirit of the risen Jesus” (43).

What can you/I/we do to build a resurrection culture? What are its marks?

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  • Timothy

    I read somewhere that the resurrection is not the Bill of Sale; it is the goods themselves.
    This seems a good if slightly American way of saying it.

  • Scott Gay

    Western Church has a decided inclination towards a theologia crucis. Whereas Eastern Church inclines towards theologia gloriae. We are seeing a complement move by some westerners. There are marks of a resurrection culture that are to be avoided, as well as those that are good for a culture( same for cross cultures). One can be played off against the other, it happens, and is often…..(searching for polite)……unpleasant. For those that have greek philosophical roots, faith can lean toward intellectual ( and justification and sanctification lines sometimes intertwine.). The counterbalance becomes trust. For those with a more doing base, faith can lean toward right belief( and theosis and deification lines sometimes intertwine). The counterbalance becomes confession. Orthodoxy is a paradox………because opposites are at play, Chesterton’s description of orthodoxy as a wild ride for the church to keep its balance comes to mind. Or some westerners like Barth’s reminder that “there is no Easter without Good Friday, but equally there is no Good Friday without Easter.”

  • Kenton

    “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; s you are still in your sins!” (1 Cor 15:17)

    So… we file that verse under “Forgiveness,” implying to my soterian gospel upbringing that if Christ were not raised from the dead, then we’re still somehow unforgiven and separate from the Father, and cursed to some sort of post-mortem punishment.

    But what if we read that as “If Christ is still dead, then what’s the point? No need to love neighbor/love enemies/actively participate in the kingdom, because you’re gonna die anyway and that’s it. Might as well live for yourself, and the rest of the world can all go to hell.”

    Wouldn’t that be a valid understanding too?

  • Kenton

    (“all go to hell” in the figurative sense.)

  • Scot McKnight

    Kenton, methinks you’re swinging too far to find some balance. The fact is that “forgiveness of sins” is the aim of the gospel’s benefits in 1Cor 15:3-5 and in the implication of resurrection. So is justification. Why not expand “forgiveness” and “justification” to biblical proportions, where the former is surely connected to the new creation, new covenant, end of exile etc and justification has to be connected to declaration and being made right and God making things right, both including and beginning at being forgiven for the sins we have ourselves committed against God. That’s good news too!

  • MatthewS

    This is a great post.

    I sometimes ask this rhetorical question: If I could reach into your system (teachings, theology, whatever) and yank the resurrection out of it, what would happen? Would your system fall flat or would it continue to hold up as if nothing had happened?

    I believe that the more a system stands on its own apart from the resurrection, the more suspect it becomes.

    Am I overstating my case to say it like that?

  • Kenton

    Thanks for the reply, Scot!

    But to say “‘forgiveness of sins’ is the aim” here I think misses the point. I did a word count in the whole chapter and came up with the following:

    Sin, sins, sinning- 5 occurrences all tied closely to the word “death.” (as in physical “death”)
    Forgive, forgiveness, etc. – 0 occurrences
    Raise, raised, etc. – 20 occurrences
    Resurrection – 5 occurrences
    Justification – 0 occurrences

    I’m with you that forgiveness is important. In the immortal words of Allen Iverson “I know it’s important. I do. I’m not shovin’ it aside, you know, like it don’t mean anything.” It IS good news that God has forgiven us. But resurrection is the aim of I Cor 15. Death loses. Resurrection wins! WOW!

    And because Christ has been risen, our faith and leading our lives actively participating in the kingdom has “been declared right.” In other words, we HAVE been “justified”.

    But I just think that to put all the focus on forgiveness and justification is like “talkin’ ’bout *practice*, man.”

  • I’m sure this post and its comments are all very scholarly and everything, but Romans 4:25 provides the answer. The crucifixion dealt with our offences. The resurrection dealt with our justification.

    If that’s simplistic, so be it. It’s all I need to know.

  • Percival

    Bob, Bob, Bob, (#8)

    Why the dismissive tone? Surely you don’t think one verse is all we need to know about the importance of the resurrection? That just sounds silly, and it’s hard for me to believe you really mean it that way.

  • MatthewS

    This reminds me of Scot’s rejoinder that caused me to LOL a while back, “Well, Bob, you never seem to go away. I can count on your presence to point out something, if never positive.”

    Seriously though, I might push back a little against your comment, Bob – not that it is entirely invalid but perhaps overstated. Lots of men were crucified; one raised again. The cross without the resurrection is like the Mona Lisa painting with Mona Lisa rubbed out.

    A different tack might be to ask why the need for justification if the “crucifixion dealt with our offences”? It’s a package deal, it all works together. I don’t think it is fair to Romans 4:25 to try to neatly divide crucifixion from resurrection; Paul is working with an organic whole, seems to me.

    But all that aside, I do believe that the resurrection is too often assumed, therefore neglected. I believe that there are 20 passages in the original post that tie the resurrection into our Christian reality. Perhaps it would be better to attend to moving forward with this exhortation than to brush it aside for whatever reason.

  • The Resurrection has become merely a postage stamp for all of Christian orthodoxy or just for modern evangelical Christianity?

  • Dinah

    sorry …. the book’s title grates with me …. the Cross is ALWAYS enough! That said, the story of Christ is a seamless whole, so the life and the resurrection of course must not be neglected … but the Cross is always enough

  • Kenton

    Dinah (#12)-

    Then what do you do with I Cor 15:14?

    Doesn’t that fly in the face of this notion that “the cross is always enough?”

  • DRT

    MatthewS, I agree, as others have stated on recent posts, that the resurrection is often assumed. But I think that the message gets lost between teacher and pupil in many of those cases. The cross is used as short hand for many to encapsulate both, but when it is said out loud to and audience, a church, and what is heard is “the cross”, then the unstated resurrection is not longer assumed. So I strongly come down on the side that the resurrection is indeed neglected to the detriment of the body.

  • Re Perceval (#9) and Matthew (#10): I certainly didn’t intend to be “dismissive” or to “brush [the Resurrection] side”! Far from it. Actually, I think the Crucifixion/Resurrection/Ascension is one glorious whole that demonstrates who Jesus Christ was and is and shows the Father’s stamp (no pun intended) of approval on those events. If I’m saying this poorly, I apologize.

    It’s just that Scripture leaves some questions unanswered or answered fuzzily, and for other questions Scripture has very plain, direct and straightforward answers…like Romans 4:25 to the question of the purpose of the Resurrection. We needn’t flagellate ourselves into trying to discover it. It’s as plain as the nose on your face if you believe the Scripture.

    I suppose Scot will say I’m being snarky again. It’s just that for me, the old account was settled long ago. I can hardly wait until some of you younger whipper-snappers get to be 71.

  • And why does the Eastern Church celebrate the Ascension and the Western Church virtually ignores it? Huh? Huh?

  • Bob, and others, including the authors of this book: my primary text on resurrection has been Hebrews 2:14-15. The gist there is that man has been in bondage to sin because of the fear of death (as wielded by Satan) and by rising, Jesus destroyed the fear of death and thus the power of the devil, liberating the saints from the need to remain shackled to sin’s power. Could it be a slightly more detailed description of what Paul labels “justification” in Romans 4:25? It seems like they ought to be at least associated.

    I bring this text up a lot, cause I rarely hear it quoted, and because it made a profound impact on me in identifying the root of a lot (if not all) of sin, and gave me a meditation to work towards freedom.

    I am certain that there’s no reason not to preach Resurrection all the time, perhaps even more (not less) when the cross is preached. What you could say about it, and see in it, like the cross, is probably inexhaustible.

  • MatthewS

    Bob at #15: Actually, I think the Crucifixion/Resurrection/Ascension is one glorious whole that demonstrates who Jesus Christ was and is and shows the Father’s stamp (no pun intended) of approval on those events.

    Amen, brother!

  • Kenton

    for other questions Scripture has very plain, direct and straightforward answers…like Romans 4:25 to the question of the purpose of the Resurrection.

    Except for the fact that there’s a debate that’s been ongoing for a few years between Piper and Wright over what exactly “justification” means in that verse.

    Sometimes when one person perceives something as “very plain, direct and straightforward” someone else comes along and throws that whole understanding out of whack.

    Then again, if’n I were 71, I’d probably rather not bother with some young whippersnapper coming along and throwing everything up in the air either. 🙂

  • As co-author of The Cross Is Not Enough I want to express my thanks again to Scot for discussing the content/argument of chapter 2. I hope your readers take the time to actually read the book and not just append comments because your commentary prompts them. Readers might note that we do discuss Roman Catholic theologians Anthony Kelly and Gerald O’Collins who both lament the lop-sided emphasis on the cross within Catholic thought, and we briefly draw attention to Thomas Aquinas’ resurrection outlook that later readers have “forgotten”. Eastern Orthodox views of the resurrection (Gregory Palamas, Maximus the Confessor, Theodore Abu Qurrah) are also discussed. We remind readers of Bishop Kallistos Ware’s caveat against simplistically viewing the east as focussed on Christ Risen, and the west on Christ crucified. My co-author Ross Clifford and I are encouraged by the exchanges taking place here at Jesus Creed. Some readers of The Cross Is Not Enough might also like to poke around our author book-blog. Blessings.