Having grown up as a Christian, I would always have said I believed in the resurrection of the body. However, the doctrine of resurrection functioned as a kind of footnote in my thinking while my primary concern was focused on the immortality of the soul. Without giving it much thought, I simply assumed that the doctrine of resurrection was a shorthand way of referring to going to heaven when you die. Even though I had read the Gospel accounts of Christ’s resurrection many times, and even though I had read Paul’s lengthy discussion of bodily resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, I still unthinkingly assumed that the resurrection of believers would be non-physical.
My belief in a non-physical resurrection was part of a larger perspective which deemphasized the importance of the physical world. Some of my earliest writings had argued that during the Old Testament the Lord’s work had been focused on the material world but in the era of the New Covenant His work was purely spiritual (i.e., non-physical). What happened in the material world is unimportant to God; the best we can hope to do is prepare for the next. In the next life, the soul will be liberated from the body that now imprisons it.
During this season of Easter, as the Church celebrates the breaking forth of New Creation, I’ve had occasion to reflect on the relationship of God’s Kingdom to this world. In an interview with Uri Brito about my book Saints and Scoundrels, Uri asked me about Christ’s statement “My Kingdom is not of this world” and how this should inform our thinking about Christendom. Here’s a transcript of Uri’s question followed by my reply (to listen to the entire interview, click here):
Dr. Aristotle Papanikolaou
I don’t use this blog to attack other blog posts, but I feel compelled to make an exception in the case of an article written by Aristotle Papanikolaou.
Dr. Papanikolaou is the Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture and Co-Director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University, and the article in question was published on the Public Orthodoxy, under the title ‘Political Nestorianism and the Politics of Theosis.’ It was originally a talk delivered at the June 2015 Fordham/OTSA conference on the (then) upcoming “Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church.”
The sun was just going down as Maryām made her way through the narrow streets, trying to keep to back-alleys so no one noticed her. She had made this journey dozens of times before, always careful each time to do it slightly differently each time to avoid suspicion.
Her official name was Bushra, but after her secret baptism friends called her by the Christian name Maryām. She had converted from Islam to Christianity three years ago after her friend from work, Khadijah, gave her a Bible. This evening Maryām was headed to the house of Khadijah’s parents, who held secret prayer meetings every Tuesday.
As Erick Erickson and his wife face the reality of dying and leaving their children orphaned, he makes some moving observations about the ways in which Christ disrupts the present order of things. The following words are from his post “If I Die Before You Wake…“:
When Christ draws near, the systems of man and nature collapse. When faith grows strong, it conflicts more and more with politics and polite society. In Matthew 27, the very people who had cheered on Jesus as a king on Palm Sunday were suddenly yelling “crucify him.” He told them what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear and how quickly the crowd turn on him. The crowd always turns quickly.
Then before Pontius Pilate, Jesus is before the Roman legal system. That system is a system much of the Western world is still modeled on. But it collapsed as Christ drew near. The innocent man was handed over to death by a governor who knew he was innocent, but washed his hands of it. Even Pilate’s wife’s dreams collapsed into nightmare as Christ drew near and into mind.
Into the hands of the greatest, most disciplined military force the Christ was delivered only to see that discipline break down. They mocked him and tortured him. They ridiculed him. They divided up his clothes.
On the cross, the religious order broke down. The priests and rabbis mocked him. They showed no sympathy for a dying man. Then nature itself collapsed. The sun went dark. The ground tore apart. The graves came open and the dead walked out. The innocent man on the cross became the greatest sinner to have ever lived. The sins of the world, past, present, and future were piled on him so much so that the sun itself could not shine upon him and God himself turned his back. But Christ conquered death and set us free.
When Christ draws near, the systems we put in place collapse because they are the systems of sinners exposed by perfection. I want my children to know this. I want them to remember it. Because as they go through this fallen world there will be so much pressure on them, as there is on their parents, to conform to the world. And they must not be afraid to stand for the collapse of all things so that the one thing that truly matters stands tall.
Saint John Chrysostom Saint John Chrysostom has an excellent sermon titled ‘A Treatise to Prove that No One Can Harm the Man Who Does Not Injure Himself.’ In this sermon he shows from Scripture and logic that it is impossible for anyone to injure a person unless the person decides to injure himself. Every Christian should read this sermon once a year because the world would be a different place if all Christians truly understood that no one can harm us spiritually unless we let them.
In the spiritual life, is struggle a virtue or a vice?
“Let go and let God.”
“Human effort plays no part in the spiritual life.”
“If you’re struggling to be holy, that just shows you’re working in your own strength rather than God’s.”
Do these cliches sound familiar? Having spent most of my life in evangelical circles, I can’t begin to count the amount of times I was told that a spirit-led life should not be a struggle, but should come easy. One teacher told me that the Christian life should be as easy as a boy rolling down hill, while other mentors told me that frustration, confusion and struggle are the signs that someone is living in the flesh rather than the Spirit. One book that was recommended to me by almost all my evangelical friends said that will-power played no part in the life of someone surrendered to Jesus.
Over the years I’ve received some negative push-back for disagreeing with Watchman Nee (1903–1972) in my Colson Center article on will-power. I argued that Watchman Nee’s negative orientation to things like struggle, human effort and will-power, reflected Keswickian assumptions that were not in keeping with what Scripture has to say about will-power. In this post I want to revisit my earlier comments and then make some more general observations about the doctrine of cooperation.
In my Colson Center article ‘The Meaning of the Gospel‘, I have suggested that it is a mistake to use the phrase “the Gospel” as little more than a short-hand for the message of personal salvation. Scripture shows that “the Gospel” referred to much more than simply Jesus coming to offer a system of personal salvation. Although the Good News certainly includes that, in its original context the Gospel was the announcement that Jesus is Lord, that His Kingdom is being established on the earth. The ramifications of this broad understanding of the gospel (which is simply the scriptural understanding) are widespread and significant. To read my observations about this, click on the link below:
The Meaning of the Gospel
From ‘Peter Leithart on the End of Protestantism‘:
[The claims made by those advancing ‘Reformed Catholicity’ imply] that true catholicity is only realized by Protestants in the twentieth-century onwards, which is (historically speaking) a very small subset. However, to say that true catholicity is realized only by a small subset (as measured historically and not merely geographically) sounds very sectarian to me…. one can argue that ‘Reformed Catholicism’ is super-individualistic because it has never found corporate expression in any ecclesiastical body.