Interacting with NT Wright’s book on resurrection, Dominic Crossan says that what’s important for him is not whether the claims of the resurrection are literal or metaphorical. Either way, the claims forced a clash with imperial Rome, and that’s what really matters. He wants to say that we should read the imperial claims about Augustus’s divine sonship and Christian claims about Jesus’ in the same way ?Eeither both are meant literally or both metaphorically. Yet, whichever we choose, we still have a clash. He also suggested that ancient peoples didn’t think in “post-Enlightenment” terms that distinguish metaphorical from literal.

A couple of observations on this: First, as Jim Jordan noted after the talk, the bodily resurrection is in fact necessary to support Crossan’s anti-imperial version of Christianity. If we are only talking about Jesus’ “spirit” or some diffused power, then that can always be “coopted” by political powers. Caesar can always say that the “genius” of Jesus is upon him. If Jesus is a risen Person, however, He really can confront Lord Caesar.

Second, liberalism of Crossan’s variety appears to be more concrete and this-worldly than earlier varieties of liberalism. That’s true, but it’s important to see that it’s still liberalism in the most fundamental sense. According to Lindbeck’s schema, liberalism has an “expressive-experiential” view of doctrine. Doctrine is a way of symbolizing religious experience. Myths and symbols tell visually and imaginatively about my experience with God. Crossan believes the same thing, except that what doctrine/biblical narrative symbolizes is not individual experience but community experience and community norms. This does make the system more concrete and this-worldly, because the actual historical community is what is being articulated in the symbols and stories. But it is still basically liberal. Crossan’s is a communitarian liberalism.

Third, Crossan’s viewpoint is fundamentally Pelagian. The preaching of the resurrection is a warning and an exhortation about how humans should live in the world. It tells us to live justly. But it is NOT God’s action that establishes justice. It’s left to us.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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