The Resurrection Is REAL

The Resurrection Is REAL April 25, 2011
Peter Rollins and Tony Jones (photo by Courtney Perry)

That’s what Peter Rollins and I talked about last night at Revolution NYC, Jay Bakker’s church in Brooklyn.  In fact, Pete, Jay, and I had a rolling conversation about the meaning of crucifixion and resurrection throughout the weekend that we spent together, debating the differences between saying,

The resurrection really happened


The resurrection is real.

It was a fascinating dialogue, and it culminated with our time together at Revolution.  You can listen to the sermon below:

Revolution Easter Sermon (Tony Jones & Peter Rollins)


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  • Scot Miller

    Tony — I listened to your talk, and I read your blog post where you assert that Christianity is “impotent” or “meaningless” without a literal resurrection of the (glorified?) body of Jesus of Nazareth, and all I can say is I don’t buy your argument. Why is the bodily resurrection necessary for the potency or meaningfulness of Christianity? Why reduce the reality or significance of the Resurrection to some historical event?

    In your talk you assert that a bodily resurrection is necessary in order for the Son (the second person of the Trinity) to experience the abandonment of the Father (the first person of the Trinity), for whom such a divorce or abandonment would not have been possible. Why is a bodily resurrection necessary for this to happen? Even if the incarnation makes the divorce of God from God a possibility, I’m not so sure that the physical/bodily resurrection is so important?

    I’m with Pete… the Reality of the Resurrection is not contingent upon some particular (spatio-temporal) way of conceptualizing the event. While sometimes I think the Resurrection “really happened” and sometimes I don’t, shouldn’t make a difference to the reality of the Resurrection.

  • Tripp Fuller

    This was proof positive that you Dr. Jones are the most classically orthodox voice from the Village.

  • Nathan mahlum

    I haven’t heard your “sermon” yet (I will as soon as I get the chance). So I tend to believe that both views are important. Sometimes I find myself more with Crossan and Borg and other times I find myself with you. However, I always find both both essential.

    But to call it impotent is a bit of a stretch. I don’t know anyone who would call MLK’s Christianity “impotent.” As far as anyone can tell, he hela symbolic view of the resurrection.

    I think that reducing the resurrection to a majic trick, (not accusing you of this) as is most often done in contemporary Western Christianity, leaves it impotent.

  • Charles

    There is so much I like about the discussion held here and other blogs. Sometimes I think that the message(s) from Jesus will return to the center of post-post-modern Christianity. Then, as Tony has done here, the evangelical dogma becomes the point and I once again lose hope.

  • nathan

    I thought about this for a few more minutes. Paul does seem to be contradicting himself a bit on this, or at least how I’m understanding him.

    On the one hand he says early on in 1 Corinthians that “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

    Now this I get, and I love about the gospel. It’s the refuse and the innocent suffering that is our God.

    but then skip to 1 Cor 15, and he seems to be using Jesus’ resurrection as a “sign” (ie “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”) Is he conceding to the Jew “demanding signs” in himself?

    Also, what “scriptures” would he be referring to in verse 3?

  • ben w.

    Nathan – I don’t find Paul contradictory in those passages you mention. I think his point in chapter 1 is that his Gospel preaching is plain and simple: proclaiming a crucified and risen Messiah. And this message doesn’t contain the signs of power expected by the Jews (overthrowing the Romans, regaining full control of Canaan, etc.). So the Jews stumble not because Jesus had no signs, but because he had *unexpected* signs (death-resurrection).

    After all, I’m sure you would say that even though Paul criticizes the Greeks for seeking “wisdom” , Jesus is still the very wisdom of God. I think Paul makes this point explicitly in 1 Cor 1:24-25 – Paul calls Christ the power of God and wisdom of God – just not of the kind the Jews and Greeks were expecting. Their folly is stumbling over true signs and the true wisdom of God because they expected something very different.

    Paul’s reference of “in accordance with the Scriptures” in 1 cor 15 is very interesting. As you’re thinking, I assume it must be talking about OT Scriptures. I’d suggest a few might be in Paul’s mind (most are from the cross-references in my Bible): Hosea 6:2; Psalm 16:10; Isaiah 53; book of Jonah (matched with Jesus’ allusion to the “sign of Jonah”). Of course, you could also include the entire OT sacrificial system as a foreshadowing of the sacrificial death of Jesus, although those lambs didn’t rise… I’d be interested to consider more OT foreshadowing of the resurrection because I don’t feel satisfied that the above passages would be all Paul had in mind when he penned 1 Cor 15.

    A question to any of those who take the resurrection to be less-than material: So would you take the resurrection of humans at the final judgment to also be less-than-material? Does the material-ness of the after-life matter? I think believing that the life-to-come is “real” + material is substantially different from saying that it will simply be “real” and immaterial (whatever we mean by real…).

  • nathan

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment Ben. After further thought, I don’t think Paul is contradicting himself either. But I still don’t think he’s using the resurrection in this case as a convincing proof or “sign” to say “see what great miracle Jesus performed? He must be God!” I find that using it like that in any sense, reduces it to a David Copperfield-like magic trick.

    I may be one of those “both/and” people. I accept the belief that Jesus “materially” raised from the dead, but I don’t think you can fully “believe” in the resurrection unless you yourself undergo the process of resurrection, and participate in (as NT Wright puts it) “God’s restoring the world to rights.”

    So, I can appreciate what Pete is doing—trying to take this conversation out of an empirical context of “believe it or not” Foundationalism towards a more meaningful Truth that is life changing. As he, and many have pointed out, our notion of “belief” is extremely modern. A more traditional meaning is more akin to “love” or something you “hold dear.”

    I’d agree with you on the scripture that Paul is referring to. But I also think these passages provide further evidence of this evolving thought process-from God as Supreme Being (and often a jerk) towards God of the weak and oppressed, in the form of Jesus.* Also, Gabriel’s tablet (produced a few decades before Christ) alludes to the *unexpected sign* you refer to, while presenting God as one who throws in his lot with the oppressed, which further illustrates this transition in human consciousness.

    *IMO bring this us towards an atonement theory as presented by Rene Girard (A great book on this is by Mark Heim _ Saved from Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross_).

  • Kien

    Hi, Dr Tony Jones. First, congratulations on your dissertation defense. What an achievement. Thank you for sharing this news with us.

    On whether the resurrection is “real”, I am grateful to the many historical scholars who have sought to approach this question historically. That is, from the historical evidence, did Jesus actually rise after he died? If so, what kind of bodily existence did Jesus have?

    However, it seems to me that to consider this question historically, one must be open to all alternative hypothesis explaining the historical evidence. It would not do, I think, to just “believe” that Jesus resurrected. I find that a weak conclusion that “Jesus did really rise after his death” is the best hypothesis among other reasonable hypothesis (e.g., there was a mass delusion), is much more meaningful to me than a “strong belief” in the resurrection regardless of the historical evidence.

    Although my own conclusion is that Jesus did really rise after he died, I think the competing hypothesis that there was a mass delusion among Jesus’ followers is also a reasonable hypothesis that is not easily dismissed. It seems credible to me that:
    (a) Jesus’ physical body was lost along with the bodies of other rebels/criminals that the Romans crucified or killed on or around that day;
    (b) rumours of Jesus’ resurrection appearances begin to circulate among Jesus’ followers;
    (c) at the begining, theere are questions among Jesus’ followers about the exact nature of Jesus’ resurrection – whether in particular, whether it was a physical resurrection; and
    (d) under the influence of a highly articulate Pharisee (i.e., Paul), Jesus’ followers begin to believe in a “physical resurrection”, although Paul does concede that Jesus had a “spiritual body” that is different from the body Jesus had before he died. (However, as Paul himself was not an original follower of Jesus, I don’t think his own claim to have seen Jesus can be accepted as historical evidence. How would Paul even recognise Jesus if he was not with Jesus before Jesus died?)

    This alternative hypothesis rests on the following historical events:
    (i) Jesus’ body was lost;
    (ii) Jesus foretelling that he would somehow be vindicated by God after he died, and this forming the basis of rumours among Jesus’s followers of his resurrection appearance after his death;
    (iii) a well educated and articulate Jewish Pharisee preaching that the resurrection must have been “physical”, otherwise the gospel would be a fraud.

    Each of these three events are, by themselves, independently plausible. However, it does seem remarkable that all three events coincided in history. The chances of all three events happening in history seem quite low. (If each event had a 10% probability, the probability of all three happening is 10% times 10% times 10%, which is a probability of 0.00001.) Given this, the alternative hypothesis that Jesus did really rise after he died seems plausible (or at least not implausible).

    This conclusion seems weak. Yet, even a weak possibility that Jesus did really rise after he died is such a thrilling thought to contemplate. This isn’t a hypothesis that can be dismissed without reservation. I cannot be certain of Jesus’ physical resurrection. But a weak belief is enough for me, and I do not begrudge others for not believing.

  • nathan

    I find that the contradictions inherent in both forms of belief in the Resurrection are interesting.

    1) Tony Jones- Belief in the Resurrection = metaphysical (mental ascent) “belief” in a material reality.

    2) Pete Rollins-Belief in the Resurrection = material or life transforming “belief” in a metaphysical/ existential reality.

  • Chris

    Tony, I have to start by saying Pete is one of my all time favorite speakers, but I totally side with you on this debate. The characters in the biblical story made far too much of the empty tomb for it not to hold real significance in a literal sense. When we read the teachings of Jesus on the matter, it seemed in context to hold a literal value to him as well. I really like your insight regarding the Trinity and Godlessness that gets put back together through the resurrection. I found the talk to be very helpful. I spent some time reading the story from each gospel perspective this year noting the differences. The fact that you guys went over much of that material really made me smile. Thanks and Congrats Doctor!