I came across a copy of a new book from HarperCollins called Living the Questions by David M. Felton and Jeff Procter-Murphy. I got it from a friend who saw it at another book store. The subtitle is The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity. As I was looking through it I stopped to read the chapter on “Practicing Resurrection.” Here’s how the chapter opens:
“Even as Jesus’s virgin birth and healing miracles are embraced as metaphor, the resurrection remains for many the one core, nonnegotiable, and historical fact at the heart of Christianity. Yet the only way one can maintain an unquestioning and literal interpretation of the events surrounding the first Easter is by steadfastly avoiding the reading of the Bible.” (116)
The authors proceed to tell us that “[n]owhere does Paul speak of Jesus’s body having been resuscitated or of his postresurrection interaction with the disciples. It took another twenty to fifty years before those stories would become part of the Gospel narratives.” (116) Furthermore, they tell us that Paul never read any of the Gospels and that if he had “he would have undoubtedly written a letter of protest over their many inconsistencies.” (117)
Anyone familiar with the scholarship of the Jesus Seminar will recognize the material that follows. And as if to put the conservative out of his misery they write,
“Although painfully obvious, the inconsistencies of the Gospel accounts have proven oddly insignificant to generations of believers. Through willful ignorance or just plain not paying attention, the stories of this supposedly ultimate and defining moment of faith have been synthesized into supporting various notions of resurrection as a physically resuscitated body. Paul is now almost impossible to read without the influence of the later Gospels distorting and redefining his original meaning.” (118)
I continued reading,
“While there are those who limit resurrection to a miraculous event that happened to Jesus long ago and that will in some distant future be the fate of true believers, such literal interpretations have ceased to have meaning for many rational, faithful, and even mystically oriented Christians today. The followers of Osiris, Attis, Mithra, and the many other resurrected gods have recognized and celebrated resurrection in various ways over the centuries. Today, the metaphor of resurrection stands for many Christians as a symbol of the call to new life, as an appeal to practice resurrection here and now.” (121)
It’s hard not to miss that those of us who believe in a literal resurrection are not among the “rational” and “faithful.” The literal resurrection of Jesus is grouped with Osiris, Attis and Mithra. This association was abandoned by scholarship a century ago and it is sad to see it repeated here. The reader of this chapter is left with the impression that the only people who believe in a literal bodily resurrection are some primitive backwoods fundamentalists who have questionable intelligence or who simply don’t read the Bible because if they did they would see what is so “painfully obvious.” I guess N.T. Wright wasn’t quite reading the Bible when he produced his book The Resurrection of the Son of God. What a waste of 740 pages.
This belief in the literal resurrection has also produced a side effect which our authors think is “one of the largest stones in need of being rolled away” which is the notion of life after death which, they maintain, “has the slimmest of support in the New Testament.” (122) We need to banish this “simplistic notion” and focus on living the resurrection right here and now.
Most disappointing of all is to see the endorsements of Walter Brueggemann and Brian McLaren on this book. Brueggemann writes,
“A welcome book that is bold (without being contentious) and courageous (without needing to be triumphant), Felten and Procter-Murphy give voice to a faith that provides a profound alternative to the dominant ideology of ‘American Christianity.’ Attention should be paid!”
“I’m so grateful for Living the Questions. These progressive voices offer less rigid and more expansive approaches to Christian faith, and make room for people who practice critical thinking and question the gatekeepers. They help us see that questioning the gatekeepers is exactly what Jesus was all about.”
The views here are seen as “less rigid” and “more expansive.” Whatever happened to heresy? You’ll find it in Living the Questions. No doubt I will be numbered among the gatekeepers and the less informed for my rigid opinions.