Continuing with a short series on Resurrection theology, another of the Revd James A Fowler‘s thought-provoking articles is called ‘A Call for Resurrection Theology’.

I would heartily recommend this artice in particular to all pastors and Sunday School teachers. Excerpts follow, but there is much more at the link above. Emphases below are mine.

The church throughout the centuries has often failed to recognize the significance of the resurrection of Jesus. Despite the fact that the Easter celebration has been regarded as the culmination of the Christian year of worship, the full meaning of the resurrection has often been undeveloped or diluted in Christian teaching and preaching. Christian theology has emphasized numerous legitimate Biblical themes, but has seldom made the resurrection the focal point or fulcrum on which all other Christian subjects depend

Because of this neglect and the common misemphases of Christian theology, I am compelled to write this article and to make “a call for resurrection theology.”

Historical emphases of Christian religion

As we evaluate Christian thought through the centuries, we note that different segments of the church have tended to emphasize different historical events in the life of Jesus. The two primary events thus emphasized are the birth of Jesus and the death of Jesus.

Roman Catholic theology has tended to emphasize the birth of Jesus in the theology of the incarnation. Emphasis is placed on Mary, the birth mother of Jesus, and upon the virgin birth of Jesus. This is not to say that Roman Catholic theology has neglected the death of Jesus in crucifixion, as is obviated by the crucifix symbol that is found in all Catholic churches and in many Catholic homes, but the primary emphasis to explain Jesus as the God-man has seemingly been on the incarnational birth of Jesus.

Protestant theology, on the other hand, has for almost five hundred years tended to emphasize the death of Jesus in crucifixion, focusing on the cross and the sacrificial blood of Jesus. The Reformation emphasis was on the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ as an expiatory action that propitiated God’s judgment on man and reconciles sinners to God so that they may be declared justified …

If the incarnation and crucifixion were the only historical acts of God on man’s behalf, then the gospel would cease to be “good news”. If the gospel narrative was only that “Jesus was born. Jesus died. God said to man: ‘There is the remedy! I came. I fixed the problem. Now you are fixed. The slate is wiped clean. Now, go and do a better job next time.'” That is not good news! That is damnable doctrine. That is tragic teaching!

The incarnation and crucifixion alone serve only to condemn man all the more. The story would go like this: “A man came who was God-man. He did not share the spiritual depravity of the rest of mankind. He did not develop the “flesh” patterning of selfish desires like other men. He lived life as God intended, allowing God in him to manifest His desire and character at every moment in time for thirty-three years. He was the perfect man! He did not deserve to die, but He was put to death unjustly. In dying undeservedly, He died in our place, as our substitute, and paid the price of death to satisfy God’s justice, and forgive mankind of their sins.” Is that the whole of the story? If so, He lived and died perfectly which we cannot do. If the incarnation and crucifixion were the whole of the story, then we would have been better off without Him! Why? Because He could live and die as He did; we cannot. And the fact that He did only condemns us all the more by His matchless example, for we do not have what it takes to live like that.

Only in the resurrection do we have the message that God has given us the provision of His life in order that we might be man as God intended man to be; in order that the resurrection life of the risen Lord Jesus might become the essence of spiritual life in the Christian; in order that we might live by His life and the expression of His character. The resurrection is the positive provision of life in Christ Jesus, around which all other theological topics must be oriented

Christian theology, in both its Catholic and Protestant forms, has failed to recognize the resurrection as the central feature of its theology, and has often thereby abdicated and defaulted in explaining the significance of the resurrection of Jesus.

Emphases of resurrection in Christian religion

When Christian religion has attempted to address the resurrection in its theological considerations, it has done so in a way that continues to short-change the significance of the resurrection. The resurrection in Christian theology has been relegated to apologetic arguments of historicity, defense of Jesus’ deity, and futuristic expectations of bodily resurrection …

On the basis of the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection and the theological establishment of His deity, Christian religion has proceeded to emphasize that the primary theological import of the historical resurrection of Jesus is to validate the assurance of the eventual resurrection of Christians’ bodies in the future. The historical, physical resurrection of Jesus is used as the foundational basis for authenticating the expected bodily resurrection of the Christian after death.

Is this not the argument that Paul uses in I Corinthians 15 in the “Resurrection chapter”? Yes it is, but this is not the entirety of what Paul had to say about the subject of resurrection. Though it is the most extended passage that he seems to have written on the subject, it is not the predominant or primary emphasis that Paul makes concerning the resurrection. The historical sitz im leben context of I Corinthians was that the Corinthians were so enamored with their present “spirituality” that they were eschewing or denying anything beyond the present. To counter this triumphalistic diminishment of hope, and to correct Hellenic concepts that deprecated embodiment, Paul ties the bodily resurrection of Jesus with the expected bodily resurrection of Christians.

In so doing, Paul does not necessarily imply that the resurrected physical body of Jesus is prototypical of the resurrected body of the Christian after death. The physicality of the resurrected body is not the issue Paul was addressing.

Secondly, it must be noted that the predominance of Paul’s references to the resurrection of Jesus do not relate to the future bodily resurrection of Christians. Paul’s primary inference from the resurrection of Jesus is that anyone who is receptive in faith to the living Lord Jesus can be spiritually raised to newness of life (cf. Rom. 6:4,5) by the resurrection life of the living Jesus. Paul emphasized the present availability of life in Christ, and avoided lapsing back into the Jewish framework of theology that he had espoused in the past.

Jewish theology was always a theology of future expectation. As can be noted throughout the Old Testament (the old covenant literature), the Jewish people were always looking for fulfillment in the future; the prophetic promise of that which was yet to come. Regrettably, Christian theology has often fallen prey to just such future expectations in a reversion to a Jewish paradigm of theological expectations.

New covenant Christian theology, as expressed in the New Testament, emphasizes that God’s promises and man’s expectations are realized in Jesus Christ. Christian theology looks back to the “finished work” of Jesus Christ (cf. John 17:4; 19:30). Christians are “complete in Christ” (Col. 3:10). Christian theology is a realized theology (cf. I Cor 3:21-23; II Pet. 1:3). The emphasis is not on “it is coming,” but on “it is done!” for the whole of God’s intent is in the risen and living Lord Jesus …

If Christian theology does not get beyond the cradle and the cross, the birth and the death of Jesus, then all we have to offer is a static history lesson with no contemporary consequence. If Christian theology does not get beyond apologetic defense for what “was”, and longing expectation for what “will be,” then it becomes an irrelevancy of temporalized “bookends” that fails to address what “is” and “should be” presently …

What a tragedy that the Christian religion has itself blockaded people from life in Christ by projecting the implications of the resurrection to an historical event of the past or to an anticipated expectation of the future. These are not the predominant emphases of resurrection in the new covenant literature of the New Testament as we shall proceed to note.

Present Dynamic of Life emphasis in Resurrection Theology

This is a call for a Resurrection Theology that emphasizes the present dynamic of life in the risen and living Lord Jesus. Such Resurrection theology will be a restoration of Biblical theology as previewed in the literature of the Old Testament and explained by the New Testament writers.

Everything in the old covenant (Old Testament) was but a pictorial prefiguring of what God was going to do in the resurrection of His Son, Jesus.

The resurrection was a replay of the Genesis account of “coming into being”, for the resurrection of the “last Adam” (I Cor. 15:45) allows for God’s breathing “the spirit of life” (cf. Gen. 2:7) into man again that he might once again become a spiritually alive soul. Mankind is re-genesised in spiritual regeneration, becoming a “new creature” (II Cor. 5:17) as part of a “new creation” (Gal. 6:15).

Resurrection is likewise the basis for the spiritual reportrayal of the Exodus story, bringing mankind out of the land of slavery into the promised land. Christ’s coming out of the grave can be seen to correspond to Moses and his people coming out of Egypt, wherein the resurrection becomes the liberating exodus of salvation history.

It is by the resurrection that we have the spiritual restructuring of the Torah as detailed in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The external codification of Law becomes an internal dynamic of “the law written in our hearts” (Jere. 31:33; Heb. 8:10; 10:16). Christ becomes “the end of the Law” (Rom. 10:4) as its completion and fulfillment, for the living Lord Jesus expresses the character of God in man as the Law required. The behavioral performance commitments of “we will do it” (Exod. 19:8; 24:3,7), are transformed by the dynamic provision of Christ’s resurrection life whereby “He will bring it to pass” (I Thess. 5:24) …

The entire Old Testament, (old covenant) was but a preliminary blueprint that pictorially pointed to the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection of Christ wraps up the physical prefiguring of the old covenant, and is the culminating and continuing action of God that makes all things new in the eternal new covenant

All four gospel narratives (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) culminate and climax with the account of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. But even prior to the historical enactment of His physical resurrection, Jesus had revealed that His resurrection would have an extended and eternal impact. He declared to Martha, “I AM the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). To the Jews in the temple, Jesus foretold that the temple of His body would be destroyed, but raised in three days” (John 6:19-22), indicating that by His resurrection the new center of worship would be in Him. Later He told the Jews that He would “raise men up in the last day” (John 6:39-44), the finalization of the new covenant

Paul wanted Christians to understand that they had been subjectively and spiritually “united with Christ in His resurrection” (Rom. 6:5) and “raised to walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4) in the mastery of death (Rom. 6:9). Based on our being “raised up with Christ” (Eph. 2:6; Col. 2:12; 3:1), Paul was desirous that Christians know “the surpassing greatness of the power” (Eph. 1:19) that is functioning with us as Christians, the very “working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ when He raised Him from the dead” (Eph. 1:20). This is the “power of His resurrection” (Phil. 3:10) that Paul continually longed to know and experience in a deeper way

Christianity is not a message of merely what “has been” (past) and “will be” (future); it is the message of what “is”, the vital dynamic of the resurrected “I AM” of God who restores the whole of creation. The Resurrection facilitates and is the personal dynamic of the restoration of humanity whereby God functions once again in man by the presence of His own divine life in the Christian …

Conclusion

Resurrection theology is necessarily Resurrection-living, the living manifestation of the life and character of the risen Lord Jesus in Christian behavior. As such, this is also a call for Resurrection-community, whereby the church functions as the Body of Christ by the interpersonal interaction of people living by the Resurrection-life of Jesus, loving one another and seeking the other’s highest good.

The Resurrection is the basis of everything that can legitimately be called “Christian.” It is only by the indwelling activity of the risen Lord Jesus that the dynamic life of Christ continues to effect Christianity.

Apart from the Resurrection there is no Christianity. Apart from the Resurrection there is no gospel. Apart from the Resurrection there is no spiritual life. Apart from the Resurrection there is no salvation. Apart from the Resurrection there is no righteousness, holiness or godliness. Apart from the Resurrection there is no Christian living. Apart from the Resurrection there is no hope. It is imperative that we articulate and proclaim Resurrection Theology.

Tomorrow: Christianity is Resurrection