Life After Life After Death?

Since watching many of the videos from the Wheaton Theology Conference from last month, I have been pondering the issue raised by Markus Bockmuehl about “resurrection”. The question, if I recall correctly (which I may not be) is this: Is “resurrection” for a Christian what we experience/are led into immediately after our death (life after death)? Or is it, instead, something that the dead in Christ await, something that will be consummated on a final day of judgment (life that is given to us afresh after our life after death)?

N. T. Wright has made a lengthy case for the latter: resurrection is something that will be given to the faithful when the earth is fully and finally renewed. It is an embodied existence that comes to us after we have spent however long in heaven with Jesus after we die.

Bockmuehl was making the opposite point, namely, that heaven isn’t a holding tank where we wait in anticipation of something more, but the place where we go and immediately receive the gift of life in our new bodies.

What do you think?  Is resurrection life after death? Or life after life after death? Why?

Three things are rattling around in my head about this.

(1) In Bockmuehl’s favor is the fact that whatever this “heaven” is, where Jesus is, it must be the kind of place that can hold resurrection bodies–because Jesus has one and that’s where he is.

(2) It seems to me that Bockmuehl’s case is problematic for a couple of reasons. For one, it makes Jesus’ resurrection categorically different and unlike the resurrections of everyone else. For me, if Jesus’ body is found, the jig is up. His resurrection means that his body has been transformed and is no longer with us. “A ghost does not have flesh and blood as you see I have.” “Put your fingers in my hands and in my side.”

But, the people whom Bockmuehl says are raised, now, with Christ are still “lying dead in their tombs.” Whereas discovering Jesus’ corpse would invalidate his resurrection, MB wants to say that our ability to see the corpses of our dearly departed is no proof for their not being raised, now, with Christ. This disjunction is too much, in my opinion, for MB’s position to be correct.

(3) In addition to the problem of the analogy, I shared NTW’s dissatisfaction with MB’s method of argument. “The NT doesn’t teach NTW’s position, and we know this because the church fathers said something else.” This simply adds fuel to my fire that the early church is a dubious guide when it comes to understanding the New Testament.

For all that earlier generations overestimated the differences between Jew and Gentile ways of thought, I repeatedly find that the move of Christianity beyond the pale of Judaism creates an almost instant rereading of words and concepts such that the church fathers become witnesses to a very early recontextualizing and transformation of the Christian message into their own world’s idiom. This is not a bad thing, but it does add to the case that the early church is a helpful guide for understanding the history of interpretation, but that this is a different thing than helping us understand what the ideal authors of our texts intended their ideal readers/auditors to understand.

When the NT speaks of the resurrection of believers, the idea that the dead are transformed at a future, one-off moment seems to be almost the univocal position. Resurrection comes with the consummation of the eschaton, at the final judgment, when the heavens and earth are made new. To quote my beloved church fathers: “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

Those are my two cents. What about you?

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