March 24, 2008
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Part 1 w/Bishop N.T. Wright
Could it be true, this startling claim of Christianity that Jesus rose from the dead after suffering the brutal execution on a Roman cross 2000 years ago? If this is true, what difference could it make to us today? I’m Charles Morris and welcome to Haven Today where we tell the great story that’s all about Jesus. This is a program called “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ”. Joining us in a few moments is Bishop N.T. Wright, a well known New Testament scholar and a leader in the Church of England. And while I don’t agree with him on everything, the Bishop of Durham is a world class scholar and considered the conservative authority on Jesus coming back from the dead in both body and Spirit. So stay tuned and before we go, I’ll share with you a special DVD we have of today’s guest, shot on location in Israel and Greece. One more thing, if you haven’t looked at our Easter present on our website, I would encourage you to do so by going to haventoday.org under the “Going Deeper” section. I want you to see the video of a 92 year old woman sharing Jesus with a thief. So many people have watched it just over this past weekend so we’ve left it up at haventoday.org. Now Laura Story opens Haven Today with a song that speaks of the life we have in the resurrected Jesus Christ, “Mighty to Save”.
Song: Mighty To Save
Performed by: Laura Story
CM: This is Haven Today and I’m Charles Morris and I want to welcome to the program Bishop N.T. Wright or Bishop Wright and may I call you Bishop Tom?
BT: Absolutely, yes, yes.
CM: Good, good. Thank you for being on the program.
BT: Thank you, my pleasure.
CM: Time magazine said that of all Christian scholars you are the one conservative out there that speaks for the resurrection and actually believes it happened. True or false?
BT: Oh, false, there’s lots of people out there who believe that the resurrection happened, whose scholarly credentials are impeccable. I would sight for instance, the present Archbishop of Canterbury Ryan Williams who’s undoubtedly the finest English Anglican theologian of our day or from any days. And he believes certainly in the bodily resurrection and so do lots of others.
CM: I suppose our audience, maybe if someone has never heard you, a listener to Haven Today, you’re actually a Bishop in the Church of England,
CM: Durham, where is Durham if we had a map in mind?
BT: Durham is, if you go up England on the right hand side, towards Scotland, the last bit of England before you get to Scotland as it were, our equivalent of Maine, is a county called North Umberland and the one immediately below that is a county called Durham and Durham City is right in the middle of that with, what, according to Bill Bryson is the finest cathedral on the planet. Who am I to disagree?
CM: Oh, absolutely, since you’re the bishop, right, of that area! You taught for many years at Oxford and Cambridge and also McGill University in North America too
BT: Yes, I was at McGill in Montreal in the early 80s and then I spent many years at Oxford after that before going into full time church work.
CM: OK. Well, here it is, right after Easter. Some people think you’re the expert on the resurrection. It wasn’t too long ago there was a television special about the supposed discovery of the tomb and remains of Jesus and some of his family members and the statement was made then that the bones don’t matter to our faith because Jesus was raised spiritually, not physically. Do the bones matter?
BT: Yes, of course the bones matter because the God in whom we believe is the Creator God who has promised to recreate the world. And the key thing about the resurrection of Jesus is that it’s the turning point where creation turns into new creation. And you don’t leave the good creation behind, it gets transformed. Now if you have a theology which says the body of Jesus stayed in the tomb and he went off somewhere else in a spiritual form, a so-called spiritual form, then you have a theology which says that the present world doesn’t matter, that it was not a terribly good thing that God made it and that really our destiny is to leave this physical world behind and go somewhere else. Now the New Testament is quite clear that physicality matters. God made it, God loves it, God will redeem it. It is, at present, heading for death because of sin and corruption and so on but God is going to make it incorrupt. Now that is hugely important. One footnote on that, Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 says that the body is sown in one sort of body and raised as another sort of body. Some translations, like the RSV and the NRSV translate that as it is sown a physical body and raised a spiritual body. That is simply a bad translation. The word Paul uses for physical doesn’t mean what we mean by physical. It means something that is animated by an ordinary human soul. And the word he uses for spiritual doesn’t mean spiritual as opposed to physical. It means something which is animated by God’s Spirit. It is, in other words, from our point of view, a physical body but it is going to be animated by God’s Spirit and therefore it won’t be able to suffer or die anymore.
CM: Let’s move that a little bit into church history. What was the significance of the resurrection to the growth of the early church?
BT: As far as the early church was concerned, the resurrection meant that God’s new creation had begun and the project, thus launched, had to be taken forward. It wasn’t, in other words, a very odd thing that God had done to rescue Jesus and God might do very odd things for us if we were lucky enough sort of thing. It was about here is a new moment in human history, cosmic history that just happened. A shock wave has gone through the whole world. Paul says the Gospel has already been preached to every nation under heaven and, “I, Paul became its minister,” in other words, this news has gone out into all the world and we now have to turn that news into speech.
CM: Well, I guess we could get on the theological side of this a little bit and we’ll make it more the practical but, when God raised Jesus from the dead was he making a statement about Jesus?
BT: There is certainly a statement about Jesus yes, according to Paul in Romans 1:4, the resurrection is God’s declaration that Jesus really is and was and would be his Son. In other words that was kind of secret or hidden before. The resurrection says, “Look, he really was my Son all along,” which then plays back and means, my goodness, that means that when this figure Jesus died, this was the Son of God that died and that then drives all sorts of bits of Paul’s understanding about Jesus it’s also a statement about the long purposes of God for creation and for Israel, they have come to fruition in the resurrection of Jesus.
CM: Now was he also making a statement about us and those of us who put our faith in him?
BT: Yes he was. He was making a statement that anyone now who is, as it were, attached to or belongs to this Jesus is themselves going to be, are themselves going to be vindicated, raised from the dead. That’s the beginning of justification after all, that because God raised Jesus from the dead, Paul says he was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification. In other words, God is passing a verdict on Jesus saying, “Yes he’s my son.” And when we belong to Jesus, Paul says in Romans 6, God says that same verdict about us, you have died to sin. You have been raised to new life.
CM: How did the resurrection become so important to you, a bishop in the Church of England? You used to, you’ve been an academic all your life but I’ve heard you speak enough and I’ve seen you interact with others, you’re also, you believe in prayer. You believe in the need for Christ to be living in someone. How did the resurrection, did something click in your life? Did something happen? Did you go to Africa on a trip? What happened to you?
BT: I grew up as a very ordinary middle class Christian in a very ordinary bit of northern England and I guess the people I was with all at least said they believed in the resurrection and at each point when I examined that or thought about it I was in the happy position of being given interesting books to read or whatever which helped me to understand what that could mean and helped me understand how I could believe it. I grew up in a family that was a praying family, not a particularly noisily devout family but just a typical old fashioned Anglican family who basically believed that stuff, went to church, read their Bibles, tried to live as God would have us live in an undemonstrative way, un-showy sort of way. One key thing for me was, somebody when I was 18 told me I should read C.S. Lewis’ book “Miracles” and how, that was because I was going to go off to university and study philosophy and theology and so on. And what Lewis does in “Miracles” which a lot of actually Christian apologists have not really done, is he sees the strangeness of the resurrection stories in the New Testament. So that it isn’t just a matter of saying, “We can prove that Jesus must have been raised from the dead, bang, bang, bang, a + b + c, there, you’ve got the answer.” He was saying something very peculiar is going on here which is like nothing else that has ever happened before. This is nothing other than new creation. I remember after I read that I remember hearing good Evangelical sermons saying things like, “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.” I remember sitting there thinking, “That’s true but that is the truth of the Day of Pentecost, not the truth of Easter Day. Easter Day is something that happens to Jesus.” Now what happens to me is a result of that but is not equated with that. And then for many years I was working on other things and was just sitting there with that theological position. I’ve always believed the resurrection but it’s only in the last 10 years or so that I started researching particularly what lots of other scholars have said about it. So I came out with the big book 5 years ago called, “The Resurrection of the Son of God” in which I’ve examined pretty well all the arguments that I could find about the nature of the resurrection and come back with that, very solid I hope, affirmation of the truth of the bodily resurrection. And then more recently I did some more work on where that impinges on our world view about how we look at the whole future, the second coming, the new world, resurrection, etc. and how that impinges on our mission today and that’s the newest book which is called “Surprised by Hope” which is just out.
CM: Yes, yes.
BT: And that is a “hat tip” to C.S. Lewis’ and fair enough –
CM: Right, “Surprised by Joy”.
BT: And credit where credit is due.
BT: But I’ve tried to explore that so for me it has been something that’s grown gradually over the years, that I’ve always basically believed but I’ve had to keep on coming back and putting another coat of paint on as new questions have been asked.
CM: We’ve just finished Easter and we’re living in the light of the resurrection. Many of our listeners went to church and they heard a message about the resurrection. They were at church, hopefully, on Palm Sunday as well. What’s the connection between the resurrection and the death of Jesus on the cross?
BT: The resurrection shows that the crucifixion of Jesus was a victory and not a defeat. Anyone looking at the crucifixion on Good Friday, without knowing what was coming next would think, “Oh, he was just another Messianic pretender and the Romans did to him what they do to all other Messianic pretenders.” The fact of the resurrection forces the very, very early church, from the beginning to say, “We have to think our way back through all that happened and realize that his death was actually what God had planned all along.” We see it in Luke’s Gospel (indecipherable)
CM: it wasn’t an afterthought then.
BT: No, of course it wasn’t an afterthought, no absolutely. So it works both ways because then you think forward from the ministry of Jesus, how is the kingdom which he is talking about going to come about? It can only come about by the powers of evil being defeated. And the powers of evil are the powers that are opposed to God’s creation. Jesus takes their full force on himself in the cross. And if nothing then happens then it means that nothing then has happened, but if he is raised from the dead he kind of retrospectively validates the whole kingdom project that he was always about.
CM: You’ve actually talked a little bit about Gnosticism, you’ve written some about Gnosticism. There’s a happy ending here isn’t there, in a physical sort of resurrection?
BT: It isn’t a happy ending, it’s a happy beginning.
CM: That’s good, yes
BT: One of the odd things, one of the odd things about the Gospel resurrection narratives is that they don’t basically say, “There it is, so we all lived happily ever after.”
BT: It’s, “Oh my goodness, a new world has begun and now we’ve got to scratch our heads and pray for the Spirit and see what we’re supposed to do in this new world which is very scary.”
Cm: You’ve written and said that the one place where we can see and touch the new heavens and the new earth is the resurrected body of Jesus, haven’t you?
BT: I’m not sure if I put it quite like that because I don’t know what it would mean to touch the resurrected body of Jesus for you and me but Jesus certain invites Thomas to touch and the disciples on the road to Emmaus and the disciples in the Upper Room and on the Mt. of Olives at the Ascension, they certainly saw Jesus and knew that he was as real as you and me and in fact a lot more so. So yes, the key thing about the resurrection is that God has promised to renew the whole world at the end and that he’s done that in the middle of history in the case of Jesus. The risen body of Jesus is the first little bit of new creation. That’s why Paul says, “Christ is raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who sleep.”
CM: It’s biblical. I’ve heard you use this at the end of John and you’re known as a Greek scholar. Tell us the charcoal fire story.
BT: Oh, when Peter denied Jesus on the night Jesus was betrayed, in John’s Gospel it says that it was a chilly night and Peter was in the high priest’s courtyard and there was a charcoal fire burning there in the hearth. And the word for charcoal fire is “anthrakian”. We have a type of coal in England that’s called anthracite which is a sort of charcoal which people burn. It has a particular smell. The only other time in the New Testament that that word “anthrakian” gets used is when the disciples, some of them, are going fishing in John 21, and Jesus is standing on the shore cooking breakfast and he beckons to them and they fish and they catch and they come in. There he is and the charcoal fire is burning. Now John doesn’t say, “And they all smelt it,” I mean he’s much too good a writer
CM: No, no, that’s right.
BT: You have to, like a good novel, you have to make those connections for yourself but it’s obvious what he’s doing
BT: Because immediately afterwards Jesus appears to take Peter on to one side and he asks him three times, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” corresponding brilliantly to the three denials that Peter’s made. And we can see it, feel the human drama there. It’s one of the most intense, emotional –
CM: Yeah and the word for love is brought in there too.
BT: The word for love is extraordinary because people have puzzled about this. John, when he says, “Simon son of John do you love me?” he uses the great love word “agape”, “Simon son of John, agape me? Do you love me with that agape, that total self-giving, self-devoted love?” And Peter can’t bring himself to say it and he says a softer word, it’s the word is sort of “philos”, you know that I’m your friend. I’m with you, I’m on your side, as it were. But Peter can’t seem to get the agape thing yet. He’s not up to that. And then it happens again, second time. And then the third time, Jesus comes down to his level. “Simon son of John, phileis me? Are you my friend?” And it says Peter was sad that he said on this third occasion, “Are you my friend?” “Lord, you know everything. You know I’m your friend.” But it seems to me that’s a wonderful thing there. Jesus is saying, “OK Peter, if that’s where you are, that’s where we’ll start.” And I was speaking about this the other day and a pastor who was in the congregation came up and said to me, he said, “That was wonderful to me,” he said, “because sometimes I think, you know, I’m not really up where I should be with God and the thought that Jesus comes and says, ‘Well this is where you are, this is where we’ll start,’ is hugely encouraging.”
Cm: When you think about a verse, like let’s take 2 Peter 3:13, “But in keeping with this promise, we’re looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, a home of righteousness.” What do you envision when you read that verse in the New Testament?
BT: It’s a tricky thing because imagination is quite difficult for us. The arts help us to imagine things, music, drama, whatever, but actually so much of our Western cultural life for the last 200 years has been conditioned by the sort of enlightenment scientism, not science, but scientism which says that really all you can imagine is the way the world is. It’s full of entropy, it’s running down. Eventually it will burn out or chill out or whatever. And the thought that it might be renewable into a new form is very, very difficult for us to imagine. One way I guess it is like this, you know if somebody’s been very sick, actually a friend of mine is very sick in hospital right now as I’m recording this. I’m praying for him regularly and the last time I saw him he had lost a lot of weight and I have to say he was just a shadow of his former self. It was very sad. The thing about the resurrection and then extrapolating out into the new creation is that if you are in Christ and indwelled by the Spirit, you are just a shadow of your future self. Now if that’s true of you or me because we are in Christ and indwelled by the Spirit, what’s it like for the whole creation? That this wonderful creation, full of life and sunlight and trees and birds and flowers and power of water and air and so on, now imagine that flooded with the new life of God’s new creation, the power which raised Jesus from the dead. The sad thing is, to be honest, all this is there in the Bible. It’s there at the end of Revelation. It’s there in Romans 8.
BT: It’s there in many places, Isaiah 11. And many Christians have allowed their imagination to be shrunk back from actually appreciating that promise. And so they’ve said, “Well, it’s a pity we’re going to leave this world behind and go and sit on a cloud and play a harp forever and ever and ever.
Cm: Right! They’d like to be doing something that might be exciting!
BT: Exactly. And while our likes will no doubt be themselves transformed and what we want to do may look very different in the new world, the new world will be more like, will be like this one only more so, as it were, more rich, more full, more vibrant. And that’s, music helps me get there, because you know, whatever you’re doing music will enhance it as it were.
BT: And it’s as though the music will, t.s. elliot has that lovely line, “You are the music while the music lasts.” A sort of sense of inhabited by a fresh Spirit, that’s something to look forward to.
CM: There’s a word it’s in the English Bible, groaning, this groaning of the creation plus in Romans 8, the groaning of the Spirit too, the praying of the Spirit. What is that groaning about?
BT: Well, and you missed the one in the middle
BT: which is the groaning of the church. It’s a triple groaning
BT: And Paul says the whole creation is groaning in travel and we talk about nature red and tooth and claw and we look at earthquakes and tsunamis and things and we shutter and we think this world is a strange and dark place. You know that tsunami a few years ago on Boxing Day that killed so many people in the Indian Ocean. That wasn’t anybody’s fault. It couldn’t be blamed on either the Chinese government, the American government or on nuclear exposure. It wasn’t any of those. A tectonic plate has just got to do what a tectonic plate’s got to do. And we see in Romans 8 that sense that the creation is still out of joint, it’s waiting to be liberated from its bondage to decay. Now, the key thing about Romans 8 is what’s the church doing in all of this? Is the church sitting on the sidelines, looking at the world in a mess, a moral mess, an ecological mess, whatever, and saying, “Well we at least have got our act together.”
CM: We’re right, yes.
BT: Yeah, God’s people, we’re alright – absolutely not! The answer’s no. The church is to be in prayer at the place where the world is in pain. And the way God shoves us into doing that is that we pick up the pain on our own radar screens. So that, just as one example, at the moment that the whole world is in pain politically, sociologically but not least for instance, in terms of the role and identity and behavior of men and women, of gender and sexuality and so on, where should the church be? Well, it would be nice if we got our ethics together and not have others work for that but the fact that many bits of the church are themselves in pain struggling with some of these issues doesn’t mean that we’ve taken a horrible wrong turning. It may mean that we are actually holding on to a place where the world is in pain in prayer and then the key thing: where is God in that process? Is God sitting over against us saying wish you’d go and get your act together?
CM: Yes, yes
BT: the answer is no. By the Spirit God is present within the groaning of the church, within the groaning of the world. And that is good news! When the world is in pain God is there. How is God in there? By praying with those inarticulate groanings within the praying church. To me that is an agenda for Christian living to be in prayer in the place where the world is in pain.
CM: Bishop N.T. Wright, thank you for joining us. The Bishop of Durham talking with us about the resurrection of Jesus Christ here on Haven Today. He’ll be back with us tomorrow to talk more about this key doctrine of the Christian faith. I should mention that Tom Wright has taught New Testament studies at Cambridge, McGill and Oxford Universities and while I don’t agree with him on everything he teaches, he’s considered one of the most significant scholars of our day. Time magazine has said that he is the conservative authority on the resurrection. Well, we have a DVD with Bishop Wright shot on location in Greece, Israel and England. It was produced by England’s Channel 4 and in this production he literally walks us through the political, social and theological issues at stake in Jesus’ day. And then also why it’s so important today that we believe what the scriptures teach to be true. He believes, and I agree with him, that the resurrection is the pivotal event in the Gospels. This is one of the most profound mysteries in human history and that’s why we’re making this special DVD available. You can make your gift and receive the DVD by just going to our website, haventoday.org. We’ve also put up a video clip with Bishop Wright and you might enjoy watching that as well. You can call is if you’d like to. Call us toll free in North America at 1-800-654-2836, that’s 1-800-654-2836. If you go to the website, haventoday.org, be sure to see that story of the 92 year old woman who shared Jesus with a thief. As I said, so many people have watched it already and if you haven’t you really ought to catch it. One other thing, if you are searching for a way to read the scriptures and pray every day, I’d like to send you a sample of our daily devotional guide called “Anchor”. Just call us or go online to the button that says “Anchor” on our homepage and we’ll be happy to send you a sample copy, or you may want to sign up for an entire year. And when you do contact us, thank you for letting us know the station you’re listening to. I’m Charles Morris, thanks for being with me and Bishop Tom Wright. Would you please come back tomorrow? We’re going to talk some more about the resurrection and we’ll do it with N.T. Wright but we’ll do it in light of the great story that’s all about Jesus. We’ll do it together here on Haven Today.
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The most startling claim of Christianity is that Jesus rose from the dead after being brutally executed on a Roman cross two thousand years ago. Could it possibly be true? And if it were, what difference could it make to us today? N. T. (Tom) Wright, in this 50-minute presentation, walks...
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