I know I promised to post the second part of my thoughts on the resurrection soon, but life and work just tend to get in the way. Sorry. I'm not altogether sure who all is reading this anyway, but since this blog is a good place to organize my thoughts and get at least a bit of feedback, I suppose I will continue. So where were we? Oh, yes. The resurrection.
Was the resurrection of Jesus a literal, historical event, or something else entirely? My previous post suggested that Matthew argued specifically for a literal, historical, and bodily resurrection of Jesus. Matthew contended that the body of Jesus had not been stolen as some had reported. So in reckoning with the empty tomb, my previousus post concluded by asking, "What happend to the body of Jesus?"
Were the earliest Christians perpetuating a hoax when they preached the resurrection? If so, why would they have been willing to die for their belief in that event? Why would they, at risk of injury or death, continue to acknowledge Jesus as living Lord? The topic of the apostolic speeches and sermons in Acts is consistently the death and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2:23-39; 3:13-15; 10:39-40; 13:27-31; 17:2-3; 17:31-32; 23:6; 26:22-23). The goal of Christian preaching was to impart faith in Jesus by proclaiming his resurrection from the dead.
I've granted that the Scriptures were written to pre-modern audiences and at times communicated theological truth without overturning some pre-modern assumptions that can no longer be taken literally. But in the case of Matthew's resurrection narrative and the speeches in Acts, the very point of these texts is the assertion that the resurrection happened and that this makes all the difference.
The question "What does this mean?" does not always render the question "Did this really happen?" superfluous. In the case of the above texts the very meaning depends upon whether the resurrection really happened.
Since I've been looking at Spong's work, what does he say about the resurrection? He does not believe that it was a literal historical event. He follows Crossan who speculates that the church created comforting legends regarding the decent burial of Jesus, whose body likely (according to these authors) met the fate of most crucified men, thrown into a shallow grave and devoured by wild dogs.
So while neither the burial nor the resurrection was literal (according to these authors) some kind of turning point experience occurred which emboldened the followers of Jesus to go out and boldly proclaim him to the world. Spong identifies this experience as "Easter" but admits ignorance in identifying the particulars of this event. He does contend that it was not a bodily resurrection, but perhaps some kind of heavenly vision.
Whatever Easter was, it was a major turning point at which the earliest disciples were "able to stare into the reality of God" which now included Jesus as a part of that reality (Spong, 302). The resurrection narratives were simply the only way that the early church could narrate the God-presence that they continued to experience in Jesus and their conviction that death could not contain him.
Crossan suggests that the disciples might have seen an apparition of some sort. So what does this mean? Were the disciples hallucinating? Were the apparitions the wishful thinking of their wild imaginations?
For authors like Spong and Crossan, the resurrection might have been taken literally by pre-moderns, but honest thinkers living on this side of modernity simply cannot bring themselves to embrace with their hearts what their minds will inevitably reject. So it's argued that in this scientific age, the literalness of the resurrection must be jettisoned in order to make room for the rational thinkers who cannot force themselves to believe it. Spong argues that unless we can save the gospel from literal distortions that it will surely die.
The fallacy of this conclusion is that the real divide is not between pre-modern and post-modern. Even many pre-moderns to whom the apostles preached had difficulty believing the resurrection. But we never find the apostles making the gospel more palatable for unbelievers. They never changed their preaching to accommodate those who had trouble with it. The account of a man rising from the dead has never been met with total acceptance by any generation. But whether we believe it remains the dividing line between faith and unbelief.