Reflections on Easter – The Voyage Home

Reflections on Resurrection Faith

Like most people today, most people in Jesus’ time believed in some kind of life after death. The resurrection of Jesus, on the other hand, is not about life after death.

It is an encounter with the future.

The resurrection of Jesus is not about what happens to us after we die. It is not about life after death. We know little to nothing about that. The resurrection of Jesus is about what happens after that — what happens after life after death.

In other words, the resurrection of Jesus is the historical anticipation of a future event — the bodily resurrection of everybody for judgement. If Jesus is raised, then so shall we all be raised.

In the ancient world, according to New Testament scholar, NT Wright, while most believed in life after death, only the Jews believed in resurrection, and not all of them. The Sadducees famously did not believe in a resurrection and  tried to trip Jesus up with questions about what this resurrected life would be like.

Others, mostly the Romans, believed that some kind of disembodied soul would live on after death. (NT Wright believes this is one of the main misunderstandings of Christians today. This surprised me. I would consider faith in the resurrection to be a spiritual tattoo that distinguishes believers from nonbelievers).

Jews like Jesus believed in a general resurrection (presumably) at the end of time. In other words, they believed that everyone would be raised at the end, not that someone would be raised before the end.

So, if Jesus was raised from the dead, where did he come from? I suggest that Jesus came to us from the future.

This is weird because I don’t believe the future exists yet. So how can Jesus come to us from the future? On the other hand, I also know that the dead do not return. Yet, I am convinced Jesus rose from the dead.

So, there you go. The universe is not as I imagine it. It is much, much stranger.

In the future, we too will be raised like Jesus. That is, we are raised with a transformed physicality that has amazing new features and yet still continuous with who we are today.

So, Jesus is the first to be resurrected. He encounters us from the human future. Kind of like the crew of the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.Star_Trek_IV_1986

In that episode, James Kirk and Mr. Spock must lead their crew to travel back in time to save Earth from impending doom. “Time” in The Voyage Home is connected. In order to save the Earth of the future, they must return to the Earth of the past. Future Earth is imperiled by alien probes that presumably are responding to distress calls that came from whales of an earlier time in Earth’s history.

The crew return in time to transport the extinct whales to the future so that (again presumably) they will communicate to the probes that their species has been saved.

The resurrection of Jesus means that the future of us is already breaking in. We live in the space between the first to be raised and the rest to be raised.

The task of the people of the resurrection is to be a “signal” to the present world of this approaching future. The good news is that this world is rescued from destruction and transformed to fulfill it’s creative potential. And we, as part of this world, will not live as disembodied spirits in heaven. We will bodily inhabit the new Earth. And we can begin now to live out this new ending.

Happy Resurrection season.

What do you think?

Others posts in the Reflections on Easter series…
31 Days until easter 2015 — What Happened to the Other Guy?
The Walking Dead
One Thing We Know: The Dead Do Not Return

Series Blurb…
I write a lot about the future. As we approach Easter 2015, I wanted to write about the past, specifically the resurrection of Jesus and a few other directly related topics. As always these reflections may be slanted towards the future. After all, that’s where the resurrected Christ comes from.

Reflections on Easter – One Thing We know: The Dead Do Not Return

Reflections on Resurrection Faith

Originally published as “On Death and Resurrection” on March 27, 2005

Joyful Easter Season. Fifty thousand years of accumulated experience by the 70 – 100 billion Humans who have lived on this planet have led us to a certain knowledge of at least one thing:

The dead don’t return.

Oh, sure. Almost every culture that ever existed and almost every person who has ever lived believed in some form of life after death. This belief continues today. But while the dead may live on somewhere else, the dead stay dead. They may appear as spirits or ghosts, but they never return.

Accepted practices for disposing the corpse exist in every culture. In some cultures even the  almost  dead were buried to protect their transitioning spirits from the snares of demons. Imagine fearing the transition from this world to the next so much that you would bury alive those near to death. It was an act of love.

The journey from life to death, from here to there is universally understood to be irreversible. Once the living pass over, they are gone forever. The dead do not return. The whole world in every time and place have known the reality and permanence of the final transition.
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This universal knowledge binds all mankind together at a primal level. This is what we know. It is our common lot.

The story of Jesus is rooted in an event that defies that which we – the entirety of the human race – have come to know with certainty.

I love the understated conclusion of Mark’s version of the life of Jesus. After the crucifixion, some women go to tend to Jesus’ corpse. But something unexpected happens. The stone has been rolled away and they experience a theophany. They are told that Jesus isn’t there. He is risen. And here’s the conclusion that I love:

“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

That’s how Mark’s version ends.
So subtle. So terrifying.
So open to questions.
What if what we have come to know with certainty is certain no more?
Run, friends. Tremble.
Things are not as they seem.

Others posts in the Reflections on Easter series…
What Happened to the Other Guy?
The Walking Dead
The Voyage Home

Series Blurb…
I write a lot about the future. As we approach Easter 2015, I wanted to write about the past, specifically the resurrection of Jesus and a few other directly related topics. As always these reflections may be slanted towards the future. After all, that’s where the resurrected Christ comes from.

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Originally published as “On Death and Resurrection” on March 27, 2005

Artists (like Gungor) have much to teach theologians about scripture

Recently two Christian artists crossed my radar. The first is Gungor, who does not take the Bible “literally.” The second is evangelical recording artist, Vicky Beeching, who came out as gay.

This post is about Gungor. Now, I don’t know Gungor or his music. I’m listening to his music for the first time as I write this. My tastes tend more towards Thievery Corp, Zero 7, Bjork, Koop, Fau, Brae, Gypsy Kings, and Bebel Gilberto. But as I read this interview about Gungor’s “drift” from biblical orthodoxy as described by World Magazine, I was reminded that orthodoxy is the heresy that won.

Just about every week I read an article about how theologians wrestle with scripture in light of the science of evolution. Let’s be clear, this post is not about evolution as much as it is about scripture. And, for full transparency, I have evolutionary frameworks for understanding how the world came to be as it is. But I could care less if evolution were overturned or established tomorrow. Quite the contrary, I would be delighted by whatever new thing could be learned and discovered.

This post is about how we understand the scripture. Theologians wonder how we can understand the biblical figures of Adam and Eve in light of the fact that, given the evolution of our species, they had ancestors reaching back millions of years. They struggle with how there could have been death and suffering in the world for millions and millions of years before the “fall of man.” They struggle with how the creation story fits with what we know today about the emergence of life in the world, as if they were somehow parallel.

So many of us listen to theologians, academics, and other fundamentalist christians wrestle with these questions with the same incredulity we would if they were wrestling with how to understand cosmology in light of the church doctrine that the earth is the center of the universe.

The challenge for Christians is not that we don’t understand the science. It’s that we don’t understand the Bible… at least not the way millions of believers will understand it the farther we get into this century.

Enter the artist.

Michael Gungor reads the creation stories as a poem.

(This may also be a minority opinion, so far. In any case, majorities are overrated. After all, Christ was crucified with the majority in agreement).

The opening chapters of Genesis are a poetic saga. The creation story of Genesis is an epic myth thoughtfully and intentionally constructed from a multiplicity of sources including the babylonian poem known as the Enuma Elish.

Genesis does not record the chronological origins of the universe. It is the consolidation of stories from multiple sources (and cultures) which had substantial oral histories. These stories were brought together to express a particular and new faith that emerged four to five thousand years ago. This new faith is arrived at by a nomadic tribe whose patriarch, a man –whether a composite or an individual– named Abraham, had encounters with a guiding spirit in the wild. Their intention in pulling together these stories may have been to offer an apologetic for faith in Abraham’s God in a world full of gods.

For so many Christians it seems impossible to maintain this kind of point of view and still follow Christ. But Christians who have an evolutionary framework for understanding the world listen to Gungor and hear nothing but common sense. And they have fewer problems integrating new science with ancient faith than those who read Genesis like it was written by an ancient community that was somehow up to date with 21st century science. This may be one of the fault lines between Modern Christianity and the Christ-following faith of the 22nd century that is still in vitro.

To those within these frameworks, it is the theologians, academics, fundamentalists, and Christian organizations –especially the “watchdogs” of orthodoxy who are cemented in the past —  that seem biblically illiterate.

Are artists like Gungor, with or without intending, parting a theological sea? Are they, with or without knowing, raising a staff and prophesying the way of faith forward? Many who cannot understand the fundamentalist faith will run through these waters and begin to shape a tribe of faith that will populate the latter 21st century. They will read the scriptures with different eyes.

But, even fundamentalists can be saved. That’s the beauty of the courageous leadership offered by Gungor. (And, Im not saying here that he’s got it all figured out or even claims to have it figured out. Like I said at the beginning, I don’t know much about him.) After Israel left Egypt, things went back to “life as usual” in the land of the Pharaohs. The Egyptians probably didn’t even miss a step. But the narrative arc of the story followed the nomadic tribe who found their way across the desert and through the waters led by a guiding wind.

I suspect that the narrative arc of the story of scripture may be headed out into the wilds again and the artists may be leading the way.

By the way, Michael and Lisa, enjoyed your music.

Alex McManus

Author, Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future

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The Bible as Human Literature

Lucas and I read this text on Easter while in Kenya together

Photo: Lucas, my youngest son, and I read this text on Easter while in Kenya together

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The Bible is only human literature.

Breathe.

I have a question I want to consider, and I have asked this question at the end of this post. But let’s begin with this lesser question:

Why does embracing the Bible as human literature disorient some of us?

Perhaps it is because many of us are so used to being told that the Bible is a book written by God — The Bible is God’s word. But the Bible is not written by God. It is written by humans.

Having said that, does claiming that the Bible is only human literature mean the Bible is false? Continue reading

When it Comes to the Bible, Many Christians are disciples of Descartes

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It’s 1983.
I’m in a Baptist church.
That’s scary enough.

I’m sitting before a council of men who are testing my readiness to enter the ministry.

It isn’t going well.

First of all, I didn’t know that one had to “enter” the ministry.

But, in order to fulfill one of the qualifications to participate in launching a new church, something I was curious about, I “needed” to be ordained because soon I would be “baptizing new believers”.

I didn’t know you had to be ordained to baptize new converts. In reality, I didn’t even know you had to baptize new converts.

Secondly, they’re asking me questions and I’m getting all the answers wrong.
Continue reading