Debating the resurrection
I was dismayed to read Dr John Frederick’s feature in the previous Journey (Autumn 2018 edition), especially if this is an example of the approach taken in the biblical education of candidates for the Ministry of the Word.
A literalist approach is taken to the Easter story and this is overlaid with a materialistic interpretation. There are many quite different ways to approach scripture, often the most productive being to look for the spiritual gems it contains in metaphor or story: look for what is hidden within and below the literal narrative and be rewarded with deep spiritual insight and ageless experienced wisdom. After all what makes these ancient texts into widely valued scripture is the depth of wisdom and spiritual experience they embody.
But we also need to acknowledge, as the mainstream churches do, that revelation is progressive: hence we need to learn to use scripture in the context of progressive development of our spiritual understanding and experience in the modern world. Looking at it only in a narrow literalist way will not do that; yet it is vital that our trainee Ministers of the Word are trained to use scripture in a progressive context. Only in this way will their training equip them to remain effective over the whole of their ministry.
For example: why is bodily resurrection, these days so highly questionable, so important? Wouldn’t it be more powerful to suggest that Jesus used his perfected spiritual power to appear in a form most suited to the needs of each individual? And, as his appearance to Mary Magdalene makes clear, they were in part a farewell so his followers could begin to focus on the Holy Spirit within rather than Jesus as a person.
There is such richness in the Easter story. It is a pity to see such an influential leader offer only a version so simplified that most of its spiritual
power is left hidden.
Dr Ken Davidson
Thanks very much for writing a response to the article in Journey on the Resurrection. The reading I take in my article presupposes that the gospels are eyewitness apostolic testimonies to the events and teachings of Jesus.
Thus, in concert with the overwhelming majority of biblical interpreters through the ages, in accordance with the historic creeds of the faith, and in conformity to the Basis of Union, I assert that the bodily physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is an indispensable component of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith. Still, if a student were to disagree with me on this or any theological point, they would always be respected, they would always have a voice in my class, and they would never be penalised for holding a different view.
It is too simplistic to label my approach “literalist” or “narrow”. Such a charge reveals something more deeply problematic in your own response, namely, that for you to be “progressive” means that scripture should never be taken literally, even if the genre calls for a literal interpretation! In truth—the Word of God presents itself in a variety of genres in the biblical text. These include poems, parables, letters, historical narratives, and apocalyptic literature (like the Book of Revelation).
Some of these literary forms present literal and propositional content, and some do not. In approaching a text, one must reckon with the text’s genre in order to rightly interpret the text.
Dr Davidson is concerned that by actually believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus we somehow lose “the richness in the Easter story.”
Yet, I would assert that there is nothing “rich” about a dead, defeated saviour in a tomb apart from the victory and vindication of the resurrection.
Rather, the good news of the gospel lies in the supernatural power of God to defeat death through the physical death and resurrection of his son, Jesus Christ. God’s power is evidenced by the stone rolled away from the empty tomb, not under an ahistorical, imaginary “spiritual gem” of our own creation.
Dr John Frederick
Lecturer in New Testament, Trinity College Queensland
Travel planning for 2020
Your article “Walking in the footsteps of Christ” (Autumn 2018 edition) was a fascinating insight into faith based travel, and Rev Dr Rob McFarlane’s four categories of travel was a useful way of thinking about the type of experience people are looking for.
In the category of worship based pilgrimage, it may be interesting to note that in 2020, the 42nd Oberammergau Passion Play will be on in the small German town. It only happens every ten years, and lots of tour operators, including Cross Country Tours, the family owned business where I work, are taking bookings now for this bucket list experience. The history of the passion play is fascinating, dating back to 1633 when the villagers bargained with God to spare their village from the Black Plague, in return vowing to perform the passion play every ten years. It involves more than 2000 people who live in the town.