More on the Resurrection

Recently, I wrote about the Easter Message of the Dean of St George’s Anglican Cathedral in Perth, in which he strongly asserted that the resurrection of Christ need not be understood as physical. I reported that I’d asked the Archbishop of Perth whether this was an acceptable view for a senior Anglican clergyman.

I appreciate the kind tone of Archbishop Herft’s reply to me. One can only imagine how much correspondence an Archbishop must have to deal with. Presumably he received a number of letters expressing a similar concern. For this reason, I can partly understand that his reply appears to be a form letter.

My reason for thinking this is that his letter begins by saying that, “Journalists and newspaper editors, sadly, are not interested in reporting accurately on any subject”. Perhaps this is true of some journalists. But leaving aside this severe generalization, Herft goes on to imply that the problem in the current controversy is that we had a cynical junior reporter responding to deep matters of faith, and hence people reading the papers must have been misled.

It’s fair enough to warn people against relying only on media sound bites! However my own letter to Archbishop Herft made it clear I had consulted both the video version of Dr Shepherd’s Easter message and his full printed sermon notes made available on the Cathedral website. (Indeed, I did not read any media reports at all but heard about the issue from a colleague!) So it seems clear that Archbishop Herft did not closely read what I said at all.

He did not interact with my biblical critique of Dr Shepherd’s words. Nor did he answer my specific questions about whether Dr Shepherd’s views were in line with the Apostles’ Creed (and hence §1 of the Fundamental Declarations of the Anglican Church of Australia) and Article 4 of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.

Archbishop Herft did indicate that he was considering the Dean’s Easter message further with his Episcopal Team. One can only hope that I will receive a more specific answer then.

Archbishop Herft’s own comments on the resurrection are a studied effort in covering every base. Herft affirms that Jesus’ resurrection is “God’s mightiest act” and it is bodily: his risen presence appears to us in a way we can comprehend, i.e. with “the marks of history”. So sometimes the disciples can “recognise him through his physicality”.

But then he says that at times the risen Jesus is “beyond time and space”. Possibly this is an allusion to Jesus’ apparent post-resurrection supernatural ability to appear and disappear through walls, and so on. Yet it seems to imply something more. And to justify this suggestion that Jesus is beyond time and space, he simply cites 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:10 without further explanation. This leaves me uncertain of his meaning.

He also enclosed an article he wrote for his diocesan newspaper, the Anglican Messenger in March 2008, entitled ‘A Resurrection Faith—Analog or Digital?’ This article (which I could not find published online) traded on Paul Watzlawick’s work on communication, describing human relationships as consisting of the digital (the verbal yes/no, true/false, it is here/not there, binary format) and the analogical (feelings, body movements, expressions in voice/facial gestures and silence) where both are needed.

Herft then suggests there “appears to be a strident movement in religious belief that parallels the movement in communication technology towards a digital only system where everything is reduced to a binary formula”. He claims that “The events surrounding the cross and resurrection lose their power in content, meaning and application when we fail to see the digital and analogical as complementary forces”.

I know of few evangelicals who would deny any importance to emotion and body language in communication (although some of us perhaps downplay them). However, I am at a loss to know what the “strident movement” towards binary only that Herft criticizes since he does not say. I fear it may be a shot against people like me who want a simple answer as to whether or not it’s acceptable for a senior Anglican clergyman to deny that the resurrection of Christ is physical (as well as spiritual), even though that’s what the Bible teaches and that’s what our Anglican Thirty-nine Articles uphold as our standard of belief.

I don’t think this is a hard question to resolve, although it might be unpalatable for his Bishop to have to admit it: judging from his own publicly available words, Dr Shepherd is contradicting the official doctrinal standards of the Anglican Church.

4 thoughts on “More on the Resurrection

  1. Given that Archbishop Herft was previously in the Newcastle Diocese, and replaced the former Primate, Archbishop Carnley, one can only wonder at where the centrality of the crucified and risen Christ fits. 

    My 5 year old son loves to scream Colin Buchanan’s latest “Super Saviour” song: “Look, look, here comes Jesus, Up, Up and out of the grave”.  Thanks Col!

  2. Good for you Sandy. Heretics need to be both challenged and exposed. Contra the Dean, what is sown is a body (and we know what a “body” means – nothing less than flesh and blood!) and what is raised is still a body, but a body transformed, says Paul from one that is natural to one that is spiritual, ie one adapted for the life of the New Earth where God comes down from heaven to dwell among his people (Rev 21:3)

    I did a quick check of the Reformed Standards (Belgic and Westminster C’s of F, Shorter and Longer Catechisms, Heidelberg Catechism), and in the sections on the states of Christ, they are simply silent on the nature of Christ’s resurrection – ie any proposition that the bones of Jesus’ could have been left in Palestine would never have occurred to them and if expressed to them would have caused eruptions to say the least.

    Where resurrection of Jesus is dealt with is in the sections touching on last things: the fact of Christ’s physical resurrection is cited as the model for our own resurrection. Nothing can be clearer than the Heidelberg Catechism (LD 22, Q&A;57;) which can be found here:

  3. You’re lucky. At least you’re getting somewhere with your complaint. The Dean of Women’s Ministry in London, Rosemary Lain-Priestly, sat remarkably light to the notion of Jesus’ Resurrection in this interview with Roger Bolton on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Programme.

    Roger Bolton: […] Do you believe it doesn’t matter whether it was about a body or not, or do you believe it definitely wasn’t?

    Rosemary Lain-Priestly: The Scriptures tell us that the tomb was empty and it may well have been. Who am I to limit what God might choose to do? But my faith in the resurrection doesn’t stand or fall on whether there were human remains in Christ’s tomb. […] So perhaps it doesn’t matter whether or not Jesus took his [physical body] with him.

    RB: […] Would it matter to you, would it shake your faith if a tomb was opened up and the bones in it were confirmed as those of Jesus? Your answer to that is it wouldn’t matter at all …?

    R L-P: I don’t think it would matter because the resurrection that I believe in, I think has continuity with what we experience in this life but in some very profound sense is about transformation, its about something other than what we have already experienced.

    I wrote to one of the London bishops, whom I happen to know personally, to raise this issue. His reply was, “Yes, I heard her on the Sunday Programme. She’s a quite articulate and intelligent liberal. But she doesn’t speak for anyone apart from herself. And the guff about the resurrection was well countered by David Hilborn [the other person interviewed].”

    And that was it! ‘Job done,’ I suppose. Now if she’d planted a church in someone else’s parish, that would have been a different matter, I’m sure.

  4. Friends,

    not sure if anyone is still following this thread. I’ve had an llluminating email exchange with Archbishop Roger over the past few months,which is now available to read here or here.

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