Posts Tagged ‘resurrection’

I just received an e-mail from a friend of mine informing me that Todd MacDonald, a friend from seminary, passed away last week after battling cancer.  You can read his obituary here and see any other updates on his website.  This is obviously incredibly sad news for those of us who knew Todd.  For me personally it hit me because I had planned on e-mailing Todd this morning to see how he was doing.  Now I know.

I had highlighted Todd’s album, Pilgrims Here, a couple years back, and in that post I briefly mentioned the impact Todd had on my life.  I wanted to take a second and honor Todd again.

I e-mailed Todd way back in March of 2009.  I had been trying to find a way to contact him to tell him about how a random theological conversation at Brian’s (my coblogger) wedding had helped change my life.  While I was searching for contact info (on the internet) I discovered that he was battling cancer.  I’m grateful for the chance to tell him this before he passed away, and for the random e-mails we shared over the past 3 years.

This is a portion of the e-mail I sent him 3+ years ago:

Do you remember being at Brian Marchionni’s wedding a few years back (almost 5, now)?  You and I discussed theology for most of the reception, which was a pretty dorky thing to do.  But, you spent a lot of time convincing me of your reading of Romans 7, specifically that it doesn’t deal with a regenerate man but an unregenerate man.  Seems fairly innocuous, but it ended up being an important time of my life.

One thing that no one knew about me in seminary is that I struggled greatly with depression.  I felt hopeless in the face of it, and felt as if I could never overcome my sin that was largely responsible for my depression.  Basically, in my mind, in the battle between my flesh and the Spirit, I felt as if the flesh would always win.  But after our conversation, I went back and read the NT again to see what I thought about what you said.  It opened up a new world for me, one that actually had hope and I began to believe that sin actually was defeatable.

I’m not saying the change was overnight, but I can honestly say that our conversation that night was a major turning point for me in my battle with sin and depression.  It’s weird, seminary students have theological conversations on a daily basis, but only a small percentage actually make a difference.  This is one that has had a profound impact on me, and I’m grateful to you for your insight.  It truly changed my life.

I’m actually teaching on this tonight.  I’ve been telling people for years now that our conversation that night at Brian’s wedding changed my life, but about a month ago I realized that you probably had no idea; I had decided I needed to write you and tell you.  Soon after that, I found out you’re sick, and was heartbroken.  So, I’m writing to let you know how much I appreciate you and how thankful I am that God crossed our paths at just the right time.  Now that I’m on the “other side” of my depression battle, I can clearly see that you were an instrument in the hands of God, even without knowing it.  God truly is amazing!

Now that Todd has temporarily lost his battle with cancer, I reflect on that conversation (now almost 8 years ago) and can’t believe how far the Lord has brought me.  I don’t want to overstate things in the wake of his death.  Todd and I were not best friends.  He wouldn’t have put me on his short list of closest buddies.  That conversation was not the single most important event in my life.

But it would make the Top 10 major events in my adult life, truth be told.  It was a significant turning point, one, as I said, I frequently pointed to in my teachings about overcoming sin (even before I found out Todd was sick).  I know Todd was grateful that I let him know about this.  He even joked that he was probably fueled by pride in trying to convince me of his position (he didn’t even remember the conversation, as we probably had so many).  Whether or not that’s true, I’m grateful we talked.

So now we await the glorious future of Todd MacDonald.  I’m sad he’s passed, happy he’s not suffering now and excited that there is the hope of the resurrection to come.  Todd MacDonald will one day return, not in a cancer-ridden body, but one transformed into a glorious body like that of our Savior’s (Phil 3:21).  While I have no doubt his suffering was immense, and the suffering his family now endures is unquestionably heavy, I also know that those “present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18).  Amen and amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.

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In my last post, I showed that in Revelation, holding tightly to the “word of God” and the “testimony of Jesus” (or similar phrases) will possibly lead someone to death.  This was a reality for John and his readers, one they were encouraged to face with perseverance (see 13:10).

It would be wrong, however, to think of this message as lacking in hope, although it would certainly be hard to stomach.  So I want to look at the message of hope given in Revelation, lest anyone think Revelation is all bad news.  But let’s heap the grim realities a little higher, first.

Below is a chart showing the connection between faithful testimony/witness and the prospect of facing death because of it.  It’s important to know that testimony, witness and their related words come from the same Greek root.  So whereas we might not make the connection in English (or if we do, it’s purely thematic), there is a linguistic tie-in for these verses.  I’ve underlined the portion about the testimony and italicized the death/persecution references.


Following Jesus, the faithful witness, unto death

“Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead” (1:5; cf. 3:14)
“Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city” (2:13)
“the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained” (6:9)
“when they (2 witnesses) have finished their testimony, the beast… will attack them… and kill them” (11:7)
“they triumphed…by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (12:11)
“the dragon…went off to make war against the rest of her offspring- those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus” (12:17)
“the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.” (17:6)
“I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God” (20:4)


A couple things to notice.  One, Jesus is the faithful witness par excellence, who was killed for not turning his back on the truth.  And while Antipas is the only other person referred to as a “faithful witness,” the theme is seen clearly in these other references, where people are killed because they will not recant their witness.  You can’t get more faithful than being marched to death for what you believe and proclaim.

So, to repeat the point: if you remain faithful to your testimony about Jesus, there is a decent chance you will be killed for it.

But there is a message of hope in Revelation, and it shows up in places other than the final chapters.  Notice that Jesus is called the “firstborn from the dead.”  That is, he is no longer dead.  Jesus wasn’t just the faithful witness who paid the ultimate price for his faithfulness; he is the faithful witness who won the ultimate victory.  His resurrection guarantees that death does not have the final say over his life.

Nor does death have the final say over the lives of Jesus’ followers.  That is the message of hope.  Those who follow Jesus will participate in his victory over death on the last day.  All of the persecuted groups in Revelation (the souls under the altar; the 2 witnesses; the 144,000; etc.) await the day of their resurrection and the New Jerusalem.

Part of the goal of Revelation is to encourage its readers to remain faithful witnesses until the end of one’s life.  Of course, for John’s original readers and many other believers around the world being a faithful witness might cause that end to come sooner than it otherwise would.  But just as death is guaranteed (by one means or another), so is resurrection promised to those who belong to Christ.  Yes, the war waged by the dragon and the beast are real and terrible.  But it is temporary.  Resurrection- life in Christ- is eternal.  While Revelation presents a grim picture of the world, underlying the entire message is the hope of Jesus’ faithful witnesses experi

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The sermon I preached in late June on 1 Cor. 15 is available here.

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Wright on the Resurrection

Derek at Covenant of Love posted this video this morning.  Thought I’d steal it and post it here. 

Happy Easter!

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Special thanks to Connie of Crossway for a review copy of this book.

Whenever I hear about a book that deals with resurrection in some form, I get excited.  As I’ve been teaching the Bible in a local church context for a few years, I’ve encountered few people with much knowledge regarding the Bible’s teaching on resurrection.  Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but that’s about it.  When I ask what the implications are of Christ’s resurrection, I’m answered with confused looks and blank stares.  Every now and then someone will refer to Romans 6:4, “…raised to walk in newness of life,” in a discussion.  Almost no one has mentioned the resurrection of the body from 1 Corinthians 15.  Ephesians 1:18-19?  Silence.  You get the idea.

So naturally I’d gravitate toward a book like Adrian Warnock’s Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything.  Warnock, himself a local church preacher and teacher, has noticed a dearth of resurrection related sermons and books.  He notes that there has been such a strong focus on the cross, which is certainly central, that we might forget just how crucial the resurrection is to Christian faith and life.  Warnock helps us correct this neglect with this book.

In 260 pages, Warnock tries to cover a lot of ground.  He delves a little into apologetics for the empty tomb, though not enough to convince an unbeliever (nor do I think he was trying to).  His discussion on the central role of Jesus’ resurrection in the book of Acts was extremely helpful.  I’m not sure how anyone could not reference the resurrection in their evangelism after reading this chapter!  I’d love to see Warnock take advantage of the related website (see below) and post more thoughts on the importance of the resurrection to the book of Acts and our evangelism.

But have you ever been a little disappointed in a book, only you have to admit that you aren’t being entirely fair?  That’s my relationship with Warnock’s book.  I had an idea of what I thought the book would be when I started reading, only to find out that Warnock had a different idea.  Is it fair for me to critique a book based on how I would have written it?  Probably not.  But let me explain where I’m coming from.

What I had anticipated was a series of sustained expositions and focused reflections on relevant biblical passages.  Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of Scripture references included; they are sprinkled all throughout the book.  But I didn’t want to be sprinkled; I wanted to be immersed (baptist humor, sorry).

Even in his helpful discussion on the resurrection of believers, I felt like Warnock missed some possibilities to demonstrate how the biblical writers applied this doctrine.  For instance, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 contains a reference to God raising our bodies just like he raised Jesus’ (v14).  Warnock cites this verse once, and that at the heading of a chapter.  But Paul doesn’t mention this purely to teach about the resurrection of the believers (a topic he picks up in 1 Corinthians 15), he makes an important connection to how we should honor God with our bodies now.  If there were less prooftexting and more exposition, I felt like passages like this wouldn’t slip through the cracks.  Adrian doesn’t have to try to convince me that the resurrection “changes everything”- Paul does it for him!

I have a couple other smaller critiques.  First, and this is more for the editors than Warnock himself, but when did it become acceptable not to cite authors of articles contained in books?  For example, a footnote will cite the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, with the editors’ names, but not the actual article and writer quoted.  This happens multiple times.  I guess I’m just sensitive to it because this practice would have been ripped apart by my seminary professors.

Second, there were a few times when I was confused about why Warnock chose to include something.  There were a couple chapters on revivial, which included a number of good thoughts.  In fact, if Warnock is looking for a topic for a second book, he’d probably do well with that one.  But I kept wondering, what does this have to do with the resurrection?  Spending multiple pages on Elijah as an example of reviving prayer is all well and good, but I’m not sure how we got from “Jesus is Risen” to “Pray like Elijah!”

Along those same lines, Warnock devoted a couple pages to the idea that the theophanies of the Old Testament (Ezekiel 10, Isaiah 6, etc) were actually visions of Jesus.  Besides being a debatable interpretation, I kept wondering, what does this have to do with the resurrection?  And when this interpretation forces Warnock to conclude that Jesus is “both the Son of Man and the Ancient of Days” (152, italics original), I have to think he’s pushing it too much.  After all, how is this different from saying “the Son is the Father,” a theological position I doubt Warnock wants to convey?

I realize that these points will make it appear that I didn’t like the book.  In fact, I gained a lot from it.  Like Warnock, I care deeply about this subject and burn to make known the glory of Christ’s resurrection (hence a review over my self-imposed world limit).  I’m so grateful to have a book on this subject that I can turn to and learn from.  My guess is that this book will repay further readings.

There were a couple places where Warnock was simply outstanding.  I mentioned his discussion on Acts, but perhaps the most powerful place for me was in his discussion of experiencing the risen Savior.  As I read through quotes from the likes of Edwards and Spurgeon, I literally had to stop reading multiple times because I was so thoroughly convicted by my own apathy.  Keep in mind, this almost never happens with me.  If I truly believe that the same power that God used to raise Christ from the dead exists in me, I would not be so complacent.  Oh Lord, forgive me!

So as you read my critique of the book, keep in mind that I came into it with an idea of how the book would be written.  That alone can color how one reads a book, largely unfairly.  I think this book would be a wonderful resource for Christians and small groups, and it can even be complemented with Warnock’s website: http://raisedwithchrist.net/.  Most importantly, this book will inspire readers to search the Bible more deeply to understand what the resurrection means for us, and how it truly does change everything.

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Final thanks again to Connie at Crossway Books for this review copy.  Introductory comments here, part 1 here, and part 2 here.

For this final portion of my review of William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith, I will tackle Craig’s last major sections, De Creatione and De Christo.  The former section addresses the problem of historical knowledge and miracles.  The latter, the self-understanding and resurrection of Christ.

Craig opens De Creatione with a quote from George Ladd, “The uniqueness and the scandal of the Christian religion rest in the mediation of revelation through historical events” (p.207).  Indeed, anybody who has ever tried to share about the life of Jesus will be confronted with the problem of historical knowledge.  Can we be certain about anything in the past?  With popular books like The Da Vinci Code claiming (to general head-nodding) that “history is written by the winners,” how can we trust the historical accounts of Christ’s life?

Craig addresses this problem by following his standard formula, and taking a frank assessment of historiography.  The bulk of his writing is aimed at debunking the notion of historical relativism, that is, the notion that history cannot be objectively written, nor can historical facts be objectively known.  Historical meaning, postmoderns will say, is determined by the interpreter.  Craig deconstructs such ridiculous and impractical notions with his trademark attention to detail, and candid humor (e.g., “No one employs the postmodern hermeneutics in reading the instructions on a medicine bottle” (p.229)).  Craig’s treatment on the problem of miracles is similarly thorough.  Though he admits little practical evangelistic value for this material (p.278), he notes that it is often important because of the naturalistic tendencies of skeptics today.  Indeed, he notes, if one begins to consider Jesus presupposing naturalism, the reconstructed Jesus will not be “based on evidence, but on definition” (p.279).

De Christo serves as a strong finish to an already strong book.  Craig begins by examining the quests for the “historical Jesus,” which he divides into three phases.  His opening assessments of these quests is the first of many strong rebuttals to the fallacies therein:

Who did Jesus think that he was?  In asking such a question, I take for granted that we want to know what Jesus thought about himself.  The primary object of the quest of the historical Jesus is Jesus himself, not some abstraction manufactured by the historian (p.296).

So much for historie, geschichte, “the historical Jesus,” “the real Jesus,” “the total reality of Jesus,” etc.  Craig (rightly, in my opinion) keeps his focus on what we can know about Jesus, and there is no better place to start than to consider what He thought of Himself.  By the end of the chapter, Craig has laid out a very clear case that Jesus claimed to be everything orthodox Christianity has said He is for close to two millennia.

To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to reading the final chapter, which deals with the resurrection of Christ.  This is mainly because I, perhaps like many Christians, have already heard (ad nauseum?) the arguments for Jesus’ resurrection several times.  It is this bias that made Craig’s treatment so refreshing.  While it certainly does rehash many arguments heard before (e.g., why would the disciples fabricate a resurrection story with women being the first witnesses?), the text is far from “been there, done that.”  Craig develops the argument on evidences for three facts: the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith.

Throughout, Craig applies C. Behan McCullagh’s seven factors used in weighing a historical hypothesis (see p.233).  Craig applies these criterion to all of the theories regarding the empty tomb, resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith.  The result is a very powerful series of arguments.  Although I read Craig’s text as a believing Christian, I wonder if a non-Christian could read this chapter and (honestly) be unconvinced of Christ’s resurrection.

I was especially struck by the power of his argument for the origins of the Christian faith.  Typically, I had never considered this as an important point, but as Craig concludes,

The origin of Christianity ower itself to the belief of the earliest disciples that God had raised Jesus from the dead.  That belief cannot be plausibly accounted for in terms of either Christian, pagan, or Jewish influences…The origin of the Christian faith is therefore inexplicable unless Jesus actually rose from the dead (p.395).

Craig’s book closes with a few pages about “the ultimate apologetic,” viz. the life of the Christian, which adds a concluding ministerial touch to what was (by his admission and intent) a text focussed primarily on theory.

As a whole, Reasonable Faith is the powerhouse of Christian apologetics that one would expect from the powerhouse of apologetics that is William Lane Craig.  I would commend it highly to anybody interested in what I find to be one of the most exciting fields of Christian study.  I will restate my caveat that this is indeed a technical text, and the intended audience (seminary students) ought to be at least casually versed in various philosophical and theological terms.  Said audience should also be prepared to take their time (though maybe not a year…) to try to digest much of the heavy solids that are on every page.  Somewhat like a text in systematic theology, Reasonable Faith, after an initial reading, will at the very least serve well as a reference book.  I can hardly think of a better starting point for the serious student of apologetics.  It is worth the effort, head explosions inclusive.

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In recent weeks, I’ve been reading a lot of the Apostolic Fathers and other early church writers for a paper.  The more time I spend with them, the more I realize that they were a whole lot smarter than I originally thought and far better theologians than many give them credit for.

One of those eye-opening moments for me was reading Justin Martyr on the resurrection of the dead.  There were many who mocked the Christian belief that God would raise all people in bodily form.  One of the mocking claims was that if a person died blind or lame, they would be raised blind or lame.  Here is Justin’s counter (emphasis added):

Well, they say, if then the flesh rise, it must rise the same as it fails; so that if it die with one eye, it must be raised one-eyed; if lame, lame; if defective in any part of the body, in this part the man must rise deficient.  How truly blinded are they in the eyes of their hearts!  For they have not seen on the earth blind men seeing again, and the lame walking by His word.  All things which the Savior did, He did in the first place that what was spoken concerning Him in the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘that the blind should receive sight, and the deaf hear,’ and so on; but also to induce the belief that in the resurrection the flesh shall rise entire.  For if on earth He healed the sickness of the flesh, and made the body whole, much more will He do this in the resurrection, so that the flesh shall rise perfect and entire.  In this manner, then, shall those dreaded difficulties of theirs be healed.

While the language is somewhat difficult to sort, it’s easy to see Justin’s point: Jesus’ healings point to the day when God will raise the body in perfect form, in other words, the resurrection is the final and ultimate healing.

This stuck out to me largely because I originally had thought that this was a fairly unique insight belonging to Jurgenn Moltmann, “But in the framework of hope for the coming of God and his kingdom, Jesus’ healings become inextinguishable reminders of this future” (In the End, the Beginning: The Life of Hope p.65).  It’s fascinating to me to see the same observation made 1800 years apart, and makes me wonder if others have seen this and I just didn’t know it. It also leads me to think that there is more to Jesus’ ministry on earth, the resurrection and the Kingdom of God than I currently think.

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On Easter Sunday, many pastors around this country will preach about new beginnings.  They’ll draw analogies with the coming of Spring; the budding flowers and chirping birds show us that life begins anew and we can start a new phase of life.  Christ’s resurrection will be spiritualized and said to be significant because it shows us that our lives can be refreshed.

And they’ll all miss the point.

You see, Easter Sunday is the time to deal with the ultimate problem of our existence: death.  Death is the great equalizer.  No matter who you are, rich or poor, strong or weak, you will face death.  Death is the one thing no one can avoid, no matter how many anti-aging creams you buy or how many vitamin supplements you take.  All these things accomplish is prolonging the inevitable.

Death, as we know from Romans 6:23, is intimately connected to sin.  In the same way, Easter Sunday is intimately connected to Good Friday.  You can’t have one without the other; they are inseparable.  Just as Christ died in our place and paid for our sins, Christ is our forerunner in His resurrection.

On Easter Sunday, we celebrate Christ’s victory over death.  Not in some sentimental sense, but in a hard reality.  In His death, Christ experienced the ultimate problem of humanity.  But death, like all other enemies before the Almighty God, is defeated.  Death has been our enemy since the time of Adam, but it is an enemy that has its days numbered.  “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man” (1 Cor 15:21).  To put it another way, Easter isn’t about new beginnings, it’s about victory.

Jesus’ resurrection points forward to the day when His people will also be raised from the dead.  We know that death is not the end of our story because it wasn’t the end of Christ’s story.  Death was, in a real and true sense, defeated on that first Easter Sunday.  And because death was defeated in Christ, all those who belong to Christ will participate in that victory, both now (see the beginning of Romans 6) and fully when He comes back.

So, on Easter Sunday, we celebrate Christ’s victory, but we also look forward in anticipation of the day when Christ returns and we will participate in the ultimate victory over death.  As Paul says, “The last enemy to be defeated is death” (1 Cor 15:26).  Christ’s resurrection points towards the final resurrection, which means the restoration and redemption of what our sin has destroyed.  The final resurrection is the death of death.

Come soon, Lord Jesus.

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