The Burial of Jesus

This is the title of the newest book I read by Dr. James McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, Indianapolis. The full title of the book is “The Burial of Jesus: What Does History Have to Do with Faith?“.

I was motivated to read the book not only because the author was my New Testament professor during my BA theological studies, but also because of the latest ‘resurrected’ story about the Talpiot tombs where an archeologist claims to have found an ossuary with the inscription ‘Jesus Son of Mary and Joseph’ on it.

Could these be the bones of Jesus? This question seems to be emphatically asked especially now as we approach Easter. What if they were the bones of Jesus? Should I raise my arms in resignation and go find a real job? Is Christianity now in peril because somebody may have found the bones of the Jesus we believe to have been resurrected?

The author approaches the issue of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection from both a historical and a theological perspective, very helpfully indicating the limits of historical enquiry. The clarity of his thinking in regards to historical enquiry in the death and burial of Jesus makes the book very easy and captivating to read. The same clarity is evident in his exploration of what is generally understood by ‘resurrection’ and how this relates to ‘resuscitation’.

If Christian faith is so dependant on resurrection, we need to understand what ‘resurrection’ means. And we also need to understand what ‘faith’ means. Does faith require us to ignore historical evidence and blindly hold on to doctrinal statements? And how do we handle this evidence, especially when it threatens our assumptions? McGrath writes: “Faith may go beyond the available evidence, but if it contradicts it, it is at best wishful thinking and at worst a delusion or a lie.”

It seems to me that a lot of what we understand by ‘faith’ is about believing stuff (usually written or declared), rather than putting our trust in a living God. Whenever evidence comes to light that threatens to challenge our beliefs we tend to clench our teeth, close our eyes and refuse to engage, other than to say: ‘That’s clearly wrong. My faith says otherwise, and I’m certain I’m right.’

I found it refreshing to discover in this book both an enlightening historical perspective around the death and burial of Jesus, and an inspirational theological perspective on what resurrection means for us today and how it relates to what faith is about.

I leave you with this quote and encourage you to read the whole book: “Affirming the resurrection ought not to be an expression of absolute certainty, as though anyone alive today could claim either to have touched the resurrection body of Jesus, or to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that someone else had done so. It is more appropriate, not only in the light of historical inquiry but also in light of the core emphases in the Bible, to speak of resurrection faith, which does not mean believing without evidence in the resurrection as something that has happened and will happen, but rather means trusting in the God who is capable of rescuing even from death. This should be the heart of resurrection faith: trust and hope in God rather than arrogant self-assuredness.”

From faith to belief?

Here’s a interesting quote from Kevin Lewis, a Lutheran theologian, on the heresy of literalism:

“there are better, more legitimate, less blasphemous ways than this to affirm that the Bible is the Word of God. The Word is to be affirmed without the heresy of divinizing each word of Scripture as though it fell from heaven a perfect expression of the mind of God. The drive for certainty in a skeptical age is more dangerous to our faith than we might suppose. It leads away from “faith” to a calculating “belief” not satisfied with the promises of God but restless to prove, verify, and guarantee those promises with scientific precision.”

Source here!

The heresy of literalism

I’ve come across this lecture by Rev David Simmons, an Episcopal priest from the US, entitled Literalism: The Heresy of the 20th Century. I had never heard biblical literalism described as a heresy before, which is why it caught my attention. It is a very interesting overview of how the Scriptures came to be interpreted literally in modernism and what are the implications of such an approach to Scripture. See what you make of it.

Watch the following clips below:

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On Fundamentalism

Quote from John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism

‘The fundamentalists will appeal to the need for emotional security by trafficking in religious certainty. The system they create will survive momentarily – it might even flourish for a time – but it will not endure. Delusions can be immensely satisfying. For short periods of time people seem to enjoy turning off their brains and listening to those who assure them that all is well. […] Fundamentalism is both an expression of and an assisting cause in the terminal sickness that hangs over religious life today. When the depth of that sickness becomes obvious, it will leave in its wake disillusionment, despair, and pain. No seeds of renewal are contained in a literalism that is itself afraid of truth.”

I would have to add that there is also a form of fundamentalism present in Atheism – it’s trafficking not in religious certainty, but rather in an exagerated confidence in science, and particularly in the extent that theories such as evolution can explain all reality. I have to say that I don’t have a problem with the theory of evolution, except Darwin himself did not claim absolute truth, and he was open to other theories that may explain reality better.