Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Growing Assault on Physical Resurrection

One of the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith that is quietly under assault both in scholarly and popular opinion is the doctrine of the physical resurrection of the body. This is a distinguishing doctrine of orthodox Christian faith. 

Unfortunately, much of popular entertainment draws more from neo-platonic and neo-gnostic views of the afterlife than they do from the Bible. Even many believers speak of the afterlife as if our souls float off to heaven where they live forever in disembodied bliss. Or they talk as though separation from our material bodies is itself a form of spiritual liberation. I recently read that 55% of those who identify as Christian are either unsure of or outright deny physical resurrection. This erosion of confidence in physical resurrection is not only resulting from popular culture. It is also taking root among the teachers of the Church.

Not too long ago I wrote a series of posts to deal with this issue in response to a couple of local Bible Study teachers who were enamored with preterist interpretations. These teachers were particularly influenced by James Stuart Russell's preterist arguments in his book The Parousia published in  1878. Russell is a convincing writer and clearly an intelligent man but unfortunately his interpretive paradigm led to heretical conclusions. Even orthodox teachers such as R.C. Sproul have felt it necessary to address Russell's work (Sproul tried to acknowledge some of Russell's points while offering an orthodox alternative to his conclusion). In the age of the internet this type of material is resurfacing at an accelerated rate forcing the Church to re-address arguments it has long-ago resolved.

The assault on resurrection, however, is not only coming from preterists or the "people in the pews". Some scholars have also rejected the historical doctrine. The latest scholar to do so is David Bentley Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian who is no stranger to marginal theological opinions. I wasn't planning to mention his arguments because Hart isn't likely to be much of an influence in the thinking of many people in churches I know. Essentially, Hart argues that our modern assumptions prevent us from properly understanding what ancient people would have understood by the language of resurrection. That is a common tactic lately of those who wish to instantly establish their own novel positions against traditional interpretations. He then argues for his own unique view of what resurrection means.

I had no plans to ever mention Hart or his views but today I read a response to Hart by theologian Brian Mattson that I thought was excellent. I thought Mattson was effective in using very basic observations to punch a Volkswagen sized hole in Hart's assumptions. He does a very good job of showing that physical resurrection has been the doctrine of the Church since the beginning. 

If you are interested in the topic it is worth the read:

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