Resurrection-al

On today’s TNT podcast a well-meaning caller tries to close the gap between Tripp and my perspectives by appealing to Whitehead’s process view (minute 55).

Let me try to articulate my perspective as quickly and clearly as possible so that there are no misunderstandings – even if you disagree with me.

My 3-fold thought is pretty straight forward.

The gospel and thus the church are:
A) Incarnational
B) Resurrectional
C) Pentecostal

Incarnation means embodied and enacted. It is not abstract ideas, universal concepts or timeless truths … it is local, particular and timely.

Resurrection means the church is a new-life people with perpetual hope. Death is not the last word and we serve a God who vindicates the victim and unmasks the powers that be.

Pentecost means that God’s Spirit is at work in the world (ahead of us) in-filling us with power for a transformed life resulting in sanctification-holiness (within us) and opening us to the possibilities and opportunities for ministry (all around us).empty tomb

 

So let’s zoom in on the Resurrectional aspect more specifically.

An argument that I hear over and over is that the resurrection must have been real because
A) the disciples lives were transformed by what they experienced
B) they were so convinced that they were willing to risk –and ultimately give – their lives for it.

I don’t disagree with either one of those lines of reasoning.

 

My contention comes from Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).

Follow my concern:

1) Whatever kind of body that Jesus had after Easter Sunday BUT before the Ascension was the kind of body that allowed him to both walk through walls (John 21:19) and make breakfast for his friends on the shore (John 21:12). He looked enough like himself that Thomas could touch the wounds (John 20:26) but different enough to be mistaken for gardeners (John 20:15) and strangers (John 21:4).

Jesus has a kind of body that we can expect to have when we are resurrected (Romans 6:5) – it will have some relation to our present earthly existence but be glorified/improved as to constitute a new existence.

2) When Saul meets the Lord on the road and was blinded by the light … his life was transformed and he was willing to sacrifice and eventually offer his life because of what he had experienced.

 

But is anyone suggesting that the Jesus Spirit that Saul met on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:5-6) is the same bodied-one the disciples met after Easter/ pre-Ascension?

NO!

So apparently you don’t need a resuscitated corps or molecular/cellular consistency to result
A) a changed life
B) the willingness to give ones life for what they experienced.

Therefore, I am not interested in getting into arguments based on the certainty of THE resurrection – however one understands that.

THE resurrection is whatever it is/was. Understanding/articulating it is not my primary concern!
I want to know in what way the people of god are a resurrectional community that celebrates new life and offers perpetual hope because of what we have experienced … the presence of Christ.

 

 

Christianity Without A Cross?

On this week’s TNT I introduced an interesting thought experiment: take the cross out of the Jesus story and see what you can still do.cross-150x150

This this thought experiment appeals to me for two reasons:

  1. Modern Protestants have overdone it on the cross
  2. The incarnation and resurrection hold far more interest and power

 

I have started to get some great responses to my assertion that one could still come up with over 90% of Christianity without the cross.

I thought it would be good to give it more form here and open it up for conversation.

Keep in mind what I’m saying and what I am not saying:

  • Just because Jesus’ story went the way it did doesn’t mean that it had to go that way.
  • Just because things are the way they are doesn’t mean that they have to stay this way.
  • Jesus’ resurrection could have followed any death – not just the cross.
  • The incarnation is where the old formulation of divine/human or transcendent/imminent are breached or fused.
  • The Christianity that we have was formed in the aftermath of the cross and resurrection … that is not evidence of the cross’ necessity.
  • Had Jesus died some other way, he still would have died once for all.
  • The satisfaction, propitiation, expiation and reconciliation that so many focus on in atonement theories are still there without the cross.
  • The Christianity that would have emerged would have been slightly different but still largely the same.
  • Jesus’ jewishness, the incarnation, resurrection and Pentecost are the 4 things that still anchor the Christian church.
  • The cross really doesn’t play that important of a role – not like the previous 4 – it’s main purpose is decoration on our buildings, necklaces and t-shirts.

Those are some of my thoughts about the variable of the cross.

My final point is not included in the same manner as those above, but to be honest: once the Roman Empire co-opted christianity (the Constantinian Compromise) the cross has mostly been a hood-ornament on the machine of empire. Except for a few places on the periphery and during a few periods of severe oppression and domination … the powerful church has been better, as Tripp says, at building crosses than bearing them.

This point does not prove the thought-experiment, so I don’t want it to distract the conversation, but in the end … I’m not sure how much the cross really does for us.

This is one of the many reasons that I promote being an Incarnational Christian. That is where the power is – incarnation and resurrection!

  • Jesus could have died of sudden-infant-death-syndrome or of old age and still died once for all.
  • Jesus could have been stabbed or beaten to death and it is still the resurrection where God vindicates the victim.

I would go as far as to say what the cross was meant to expose – the scapegoating and victimization mechanism – is still firmly in place and actually still employed by those who sing ‘The wonderful cross’ and ‘on a hill far away’ on Sundays.

 

There ya go! I have tried to make a case with this thought experiment – I would love your feedback, concerns, and questions!

Let’s have some fun with this.

TNT: The Resurrection, Divine Knowledge, & Other Todd-Picks

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This is a very special edition of the Theology Nerd Throwdown.  Not only does the BoDaddy try to provoke me (theologically speaking) toward a rowdy defense of the resurrection but we have a very special guest – Todd Littleton.  Todd is the greatest Southern Baptist Minister on planet earth.  He is also the technical brains behind our High Gravity online classes, pastor to the HBC Deacon of the Year, & now officially an Elder.

Hence forth all ye Homebrewed Christianity Deacons shall know Todd Littleton as Elder of the Okie.

Over the course of the episode we discuss the nature of the resurrection, the divine attributes, the function of doubt in faith, atheism as a spiritual practice, the church and its obligations to the poor, the World Vision debacle, and a number of other goodies. Here’s the blog post where Bo provoked the first segment.  It was a blast to have a group of local Deacons in the room hanging out after we finished the High Gravity session on Mary Daly.  If you are ever visiting LA tweet us up & maybe we will have a recording you can join in on.

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Resurrection – whether physical, spiritual or poetic – Really Matters!

I awoke to a provocative text from my friend on the East coast yesterday morning. He had a 3 hour head start on me and I assume he was at an Easter sunrise service.

My friend knows that I now minister in a context where not everyone believes in physical resurrection, preferring a more ‘spiritual’ interpretation or even a poetic one.

He wanted to know how you preach hope without a physical resurrection. I informed him that it is was almost no different. For all the energy and effort we put into defending the Evidence That Demands a Verdict reading of the Easter story, the reality is that:

  1. You can say almost everything you used to say
  2. It has the same impact on how people live their lives either way

That was a sobering realization for me a couple of years ago.

Side Note: This is why I get into it with Tripp when he insists on THE resurrection and scoffs at my preference for Resurrection. [you can read about his disdain for my friend ‘Al’ here]

I thought it would be fun put my response here and compare notes with others who have been on both sides of this fence.

Here is what I said about preaching hope on Easter:Palouse2TreeSunsetFusion2_2

“In the same way that the disciples experienced the presence of Christ after Easter, we experience God’s presence with us.

Through the presence of God’s holy spirit we both re-member Christ and are empowered to obey Jesus’ teaching and as we do this we are the Body of Christ and the presence of God in the world.

We know that in Christ there is a life beyond death and the grave does not have the last word.”

It is strangely both encouraging and discouraging a the same time to realize.

  • Encouraging that living as Easter people, no matter your view of resurrection, means living out the life of God in the world and bringing/being good news to the world.
  • Discouraging that so much time and energy is expended on getting this right when in the end we all basically live the same way, serve with grace, and spend our time, talents and treasure in almost identical ways.

Living as Easter people is a privilege and joy! We proclaim good news in the Gospel of incarnation and emanuel.
We live into the new life and know that there is life beyond death! It is actually really good news that we have share – no matter if our view is physical, spiritual or poetic.

TNT: Easter, Cross, Songs & Demons

Tripp and Bo talk about Easter, the cross, bridging gaps and demons.TNT

First up is Bo’s blog on Blood and Easter – then they talk Concerns about the Cross.

They listen to an amazing song about differences and they tackle the topic of demons.

If you want to look into the background of these conversations, check out previous TNTs about

We appreciate all of the feedback on the speak-pipe! Keep the comments coming.

You may also want to check out the HBC interview with Michael Hardin about Easter, Jesus, the cross and the Bible. 

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Between Radical & Confessional Theologies: Whitehead’s God

Guest-post by  Austin Roberts.
He is a PhD student at Drew University, studying with the incomparable Catherine Keller.  
[listen to her podcast here
You should 100% follow his blog and you might want to read his book on eco-theology Process pairing Jürgen Moltmann and John Cobb

As a process theologian, I often find myself in the position of needing to explain or even defend the God that Whitehead affirms.  I have these conversations with fellow academics and intellectual types who just can’t see how some of us can still call ourselves theists after the ‘death of God,’ as well as fellow Christians who struggle to see how one could reconcile process panentheism with the God of the Bible.

While the former group tends to be extremely critical of any hint of transcendence (whether in reference to God or otherwise), the latter group gets uneasy with the process theologian’s special emphasis on God’s immanence.  For the former, transcendence is more-or-less relativized – if not entirely eliminated – by immanence.  For the latter, it is usually the other way around: God is infinitely transcendent and created everything out of nothing.

For those who care to go into this kind of discussion, the core theological question up for debate is this:
how immanent and/or transcendent is Whitehead’s God?

I’m certainly not going to try to answer this with any sense of finality.  What I primarily want to do here is to point out the difficulty of this issue when we have, broadly speaking, two types of theologians reading Whitehead in different ways today:

  • those who resonate with Radical Theology
  • those who are committed to Confessional Theology.

This is exciting to me, even as it brings new challenges to process theology.  I’m not claiming that there is a full-blown contradiction between these two approaches, and perhaps there’s a way to bring these two approaches closer together.  Even so, they are starting out with different assumptions and concerns that certainly shape their contrasting readings of Whitehead’s theism.

At the risk of oversimplifiction, there’s a sense in which Radicals tend to read Whitehead primarily through a poststructuralist lens (Derrida, Deleuze, Butler) while Confessionals read him primarily through the lens of tradition and scripture.

This makes for a rather striking difference between the two.

One could always follow the “Whitehead without God” approach (Bob Mesle, Donald Sherburne). One can also see Whitehead’s God as nothing more than a cosmic function – and therefore wholly “secularized” – that is necessary for a coherent process worldview but totally uninspiring for spirituality or religion (Steven Shaviro’s reading in his “Without Criteria”).

Personally, I think there are serious problems with these interpretations (that’s for another post) and they remain minority reports within the process community.

Let’s consider two streams of process theology, what I’m calling the Radical and Confessional paths.

On the one side are those who read Whitehead’s God in ways that strongly emphasize immanence – a kind of Radical theology, perhaps, usually with the help of Deleuze’s poststructuralist philosophy of immanence.  Few process thinkers go so far as to deny God’s transcendence entirely (although see Kristien Justaert’s process pantheism in “Theology after Deleuze”), but the concept as more commonly understood is very much relativized by a more immanent God.  This is rapidly becoming an influential way of reading Whitehead (I can confirm this based on my experiences at both Drew and Claremont where most students of Whitehead tend to lean this way).

My former professor Roland Faber, signaling a stronger shift towards immanence with his Deleuzean reading of Whitehead, argues for “trans-pantheism” as opposed to the more standard reading of Whitehead’s panentheism.  He digs deep into the Cusan paradox of God as “Not-Other” and places a stronger theological emphasis on Whitehead’s immanent creativity.  He interprets the later Whitehead as seeming inclined “to replace any remaining connotations of God’s transcendence with a totally immanent divine creativity” (Process & Difference, 216).  As with John Caputo’s radical theology, Faber will also say that God does not exist but insists as the interrupting event of the new.

For Faber’s radical process theology, God is always “In/difference”: the insistence on difference and relationality of all differences.  For the Radical approach, questions of Christian doctrine (Christology, Trinity, Revelation) tend to be secondary (at best) to the political and ethical implications of theology.  The thinking here is that an immanent theology is better equipped for this-worldly activism based on democratic practices, over against difference-denying oppressive forms of hierarchy that are rooted in transcendence.

On the other side are those who read Whitehead’s God in ways that try to maintain more traditional theological intuitions of transcendence.  I see this as a kind of Confessional trajectory for Whiteheadians that has been much more common for Christian process theology over the last fifty years.  Confessional process theologians are not necessarily Orthodox in their beliefs, but they tend to have a stronger concern than the Radical process theologians to maintain ties to the Christian tradition and to more thoroughly align their theology to the Bible.

John Cobb is an obvious example here, especially evident in his rather high Christology in which he intentionally remains close to the creedal confession that Jesus was “fully God and fully man.” By reading Whitehead’s God as a balance of immanence with transcendence, he can affirm that God is the most powerful reality in existence, that our existence is radically contingent upon God as our Creator, and that we depend upon God’s grace.  Attempting to do justice to key themes of the Bible and Christian piety, Cobb will claim that because God is always working for the good in the world and truly loves her creation, God can genuinely reveal herself in particular ways, our prayers can be answered, people might even sometimes be healed through God’s action in the world, and that death ultimately does not have the last word.

Unlike Radical process theology, Confessional process theologians unequivocally affirm God’s existence as a real being (e.g., David Ray Griffin’s cumulative argument in his Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism).  A neo-Whiteheadian approach, as in Joseph Bracken’s theology, pushes even closer to traditional commitments and asserts a stronger (“asymmetrical”) sense of transcendence than even Cobb.  Like Thomas Aquinas did with Aristotle and Augustine did with neo-Platonism, Bracken will use Whitehead as a general philosophical framework for special revelation in scripture and tradition, allowing the latter more authoritative sources to revise the former when necessary.  The doctrinal results for him are an orthodox view of the Trinity, creatio ex nihilo, and bodily resurrection.

Some of us might cringe at the Radical approach, others at a Confessional approach.  To Confessionals, the Radical approach might sound even more esoteric and complicated than Whitehead himself and irrelevant for practical or spiritual life outside of the academy.  To Radicals, the Confessional approach might sound outdated and naïve at best, or imperialistic and oppressive at worst.  Or some of us might instead be able to see the two as constrasting rather than contradicting and perhaps look for a way to learn from both, even if we share the more basic assumptions of one or the other.

If the Radical approach is helping to keep Whitehead relevant to postmodern intellectuals, religious skeptics, and academics – perhaps even effecting a “Whiteheadian revolution” or a “return to Whitehead” in contemporary philosophy and science – the Confessional approach tends to have much more traction for pastors and laypersons.

This distinction seems to me to exemplify the challenge of identifying the task of theology today: is it important to do theology primarily for the sake of the life of the confessing church, or can we (should we) move on and do theology primarily because of its continuing politically subversive and ethical power for society?  This is not a question just for those of us in the process community, but rather for any theologian who finds herself in this predicament, between the Radical and the Confessional.