As a part of Arts Week 2013, Ken Myers, president and executive producer of Mars Hill Audio Journal, shares how the resurrection of Christ confirms God's love for His creation and the order He established within.

Before Christ was raised from the dead, it would have been possible to believe that Creation was a lost cause, that sin had so undone God's handiwork that death and horror were more powerful than life and its beauties. When the modern West abandoned its orientation in light of the Resurrection, it also became skeptical about the possibility of beauty. But the resurrection of the man Jesus Christ confirms God's love for his Creation and the order he established within it. Our present delight in the reality of beauty within Creation anticipates our future delight in the new heavens and the new earth.

Good morning. So I’ve been trying to get through my notes for three days, today I’m going to get through everything, I plan to get through. As I said yesterday, there — when I was thinking about this talk, there’s so many things I wanted to address and I wanted to do a whole semester’s worth of talks but… and I keep reading things out and I stand up here and I keep reading things out. One of the things I haven’t talked about is beauty which is a huge emission and I have no — it’s a sad thing we don’t have time to do it but it would take so long to unpack — first of all to undo bad thinking about beauty that we observe from our culture and to reassert it so again, that’s a great omission in the work but I did decide I wanted to address what I think are the most fundamental theological concerns that undergird Christian thinking about and engagement with the arts particularly to confront the various dualisms that deter us from attending to the imagination and to the works of imagination in ways that we should.

And so I talked about creation, yesterday I mentioned the incarnation, today I’ll try to get to incarnation and resurrection and I’ll try to stick very closely to my notes so that I don’t deviate too far, we’ll get done on time. The incarnation, it’s been interesting to me to see how incarnation has grown in significance as a doctrinal center in my own thinking over the course of, I don’t know 30 years or so since I’ve been thinking more deliberately about theology and culture and it’s in part because I began to appreciate the remarkable miracle of the incarnation more deeply. In part because a Christian understanding of the incarnation really does stand as a rebuke to the kind of dualisms that I eluded to yesterday and thus the incarnation’s an important fact with consequences for our own assessment of our capacities of art.

In the section of the letter to the Colossians that we read on Tuesday and with Sandra reminded us of her prayer, the apostle Paul asserts that by Christ all things are created in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, all things created through Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together. All things find their coherence in Christ. The universe, all creation is logo centric. It finds its order in Christ, its rationality, its logic if you will.

And in that same letter, Paul writes that in Him, the whole fullness of the deity dwells bodily which is mind blowing. I’m convinced when St. Paul says that the gospel is foolishness to Greeks, it’s as much as the incarnation as it is the atonement that he has in mind. The most foolish thing is to imagine that the infinite God could somehow be fully present in a single human being. So Paul in Colossians links the Christian understanding of creation as centered in the logo as says ordered by the logos with the idea of incarnation. Those are two doctrines that I think get neglected more than I should and that’s the neglect of the logos tied to the creation and the full consequence of the incarnation. I think it’s the neglect that leads to our diminishing of the significance of life in the body, generally and             specifically the way imagination works through the senses more specifically.

And Colin Gunton has observed that the link between the creation and incarnation has consequences for our beliefs about the intelligibility and meaningfulness of creation. He writes, and this is a wonderful sentence, a world that owes its origin to a God who makes it with direct reference to one who was to become incarnate. I’ll pause there. The world is created with direct reference to the one who was to become incarnate. To become part of that world is a world that is a proper place for human beings to use their senses, minds and imaginations and to expect that they will not be wholly deceived in doing so. He’s saluting there the idea, the ancient idea that because the senses can be mistaken, we shouldn’t rely on senses for any reliable knowledge of anything and that suspicion becomes confirmed on steroids in modernity particularly with the work of Rene Decartes.

Gunton is saying if the world is created with the incarnation in view, the world is logos centered and the word becoming flesh is a central reality that we can use our senses, our minds and imagination without expecting to be wholly deceived. We’re not created in the image of a Unitarian and purely spiritual God, we’re created in the image of the one who became flesh, who entered his own creation, who experienced it, who enjoyed it, who talked about it from the inside.

We sometimes use the phrase “God’s eye view of things” meaning way up in the sky, looking down. A God’s eye view of creation is a view from a manger, it’s a view from a papa donkey. A God’s eye view of creation is a view from a place where the table with sinners and tax collectors from the top of the mountain and the surface of the dusty road and from the cross bars from a Roman execution. That’s a God’s eye view of creation. It was just not a view of creation but the sounds and the smells and the textures and the tastes of all of the particularities of the material world was experienced by a man living in a specific time and in a particular place in whom the fullness of the God had dwelt.

In Jesus Christ, God experience the world through human senses. That’s mind blowing to me and that’s why the incarnation is so important to a Christian understanding of imagination because imagination begins in sensory perception. The incarnation doesn’t just set an example for our making of concrete forms, it’s often cited in that sense but it also establishes a real continuity between us and God and the world that we inhabit. It’s on the basis of that continuity has gotten informs as both reason and imagination can properly and confidently take up with the world. And that the knowledge we require about the world need not be pure geometry or just a logical sequence of abstractions to be valid knowledge.

The work of Christ in redeeming us not only reverses our alienation from God, but because the work of redemption is accomplished by a man who in his resurrection and ascension is still a man, our salvation and union with God doesn’t require the repudiation of the physical realities of creation. If the whole fullness of the deity can dwell bodily in one man, then we can be assured that the material world is capable of mediating the meaning of super natural realities to us.

That’s a very counter cultural conviction that really flies in the face of most modern assumptions. Even as it flew in the face of the assumptions in the Greco-Roman world which the gospel was first preached. The mediation of meaning of super natural realities through the natural world is a work of the imagination and it’s most richly achieved in works of art. So in affirming incarnation and delighting in the reality of the incarnation, we take an important step in reclaiming a confidence in the capacities of the imagination.

The incarnation is a rebuke against Gnostic suspicion of the body. Early in its life, the church had to boldly affirm the full humanity of Jesus especially the unvarnished fact of his bodily life against various teachers who were more at home with mannequin dualism than they were in the idea that the word became flesh. And in some ways, it’s really remarkable that the church fought back against that dualism. GC Berkouwer in his book, On the Person of Christ observes that it’s easy to imagine the church could have neglected the question of the humanity of Jesus while vigorously defending his deity.

It would not have been surprising, he writes, if it had been content to establish that it was God himself who came to redeem us through Jesus Christ. The Church has resisted the strength however and the post docetism in whatever form refined or unrefined that it appeared.  And you all know docetism, right? Or do you pronounce it docetism here in Texas? Docetism, sorry. It’s been a long time since I was in seminary. I knew docetic, I knew the adjective form of it with the long o. Docetism is the term we give to what maybe the earliest form of dualistic heresy and it’s a term from a Greek verb which means to seem, to appear, right? Because Jesus only seem to be human, he only appeared to have a body.

It’s very interesting that the first major heresy and hence the first concerted counter cultural affirmation of the church had to do with the importance of Jesus’ body. I find it interesting because the fact that, again in modern times Christians and non Christians are confused about the meaning of the body. The earliest account we have with this false teaching and here I maybe just reviewing something you had at a class. The earliest account we have I think is in the work of a man named Cerinthus, lived in the late first early 2nd century and Asian minor and Cerinthus thought a very different framework of understanding who Jesus was. Cerinthus believed the world was not really created by God but from some lesser power separate from God. He believe that Jesus was not born of a virgin but the natural son of Joseph and he believe that the man Jesus of Nazareth was exceptionally wise and righteous person but merely human. After the baptism of Jesus, the Christ descended from the supreme ruler in a form of a dove upon him and then proclaimed the Father God performed miracles.

So it’s like possession, an occupation of this man Jesus by the Christ at the time of the baptism. And that before the crucifixion, before things got ugly, Christ departs from Jesus, leaving him to suffer and die but blessing him with resurrection as a mere human being for being such a faithful host, we could say. The Christ being who he was, was incapable of participating in suffering.

Now, Cerinthus had been influenced by some of the same body of Greek ideas that shaped later Gnostic movements, possibly shaped by mannequism which is Persian origin. And Cerinthus began teaching these ideas in churches throughout Asia minor and developed quite a following around the time of 100 AD. We have some evidence that the apostle John wrote his gospel and his letters in large measure to combat this heresy. Polycarp, an early of is Bishop of Smyrna knew the elderly apostle John when Polycarp was a young boy. And before Polycarp died, he told Aireneas, 2nd century theologian that John told him that he’d once been in a bath house and emphasis with some friends — I love the story, and John heard that Cerinthus was in the house. Cerinthus has not left the building and Polycarp tells us that John said to his companions, “Let us flee lest the bath house collapse because Cerinthus the enemy of truth is inside.” I love the image of apostle John, “Quick give me a towel, we’ve got to get out of here.”

Now that’s taking the allergy seriously. There’s internal evidence to confirm the claim that John was riding to combat docetism. In verse 14 of chapter 1 of John’s gospel, there’s dramatic assertion that the word became flesh and live among us is exactly the confident rebottle that docetism would have occasioned. And in addition to the prologue to the gospel, there are passages from the Johanni and Epistles that sound they were calculate to fight some form of docetism.

For example, in the first chapter of the first Johanni and epistle, we read just remarkable language, that which was from the beginning which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have to touched with our hands concerning the world of life. The life was made manifest and we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us. How many times do we have to underscore this? We experienced it with our senses, we experience life with our senses not the person who was telling us about life, he says we experienced life, we touched life.  That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you so that you too may have fellowship with others and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and son Jesus Christ.

The life was made manifest and we’ve seen it. The life that comes from God in our salvation was visible and audible and tangible in the body of Jesus which is a pretty high view of the capacity of senses. And then in Chapter 4 we read this, “By this you know the spirit of God, every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”

We’ve all read books about people trying to do who the antichrist is based on some alphanumeric code or something. John’s pretty clear, if they deny that Jesus came in the flesh, if they have a low view of the body, if they’re docetic or Gnostic, they’re anti Christian. That conviction about the importance of confessing the embodied reality, that Savior is also echoed in 2 John 7. And then finally in the fifth chapter of the first epistle we read this curious passage, this is He who came in the water of blood Jesus Christ, not by water only but the water in the blood and some commentators argued that the water and the blood refer here to the baptism and the crucifixion, that Jesus Christ experienced both. He didn’t showed up in the baptism and get out a dodge before the cross, he experienced the water and the blood. It seems to be a plausible interpretation given John’s concern for rebutting this docetic heresy.

Now, later Gnostic heretics were also offended by the idea that the second person of the trinity could take fully human and embodied form. Valentinas, 2nd century Gnostic was offended by the idea that the Savior might have been doing all messiness of pregnancy and childbirth. This is a singled out quite frequently among Gnostic. The idea that he went through all that ickie stuff to be born so he spoke of Christ passing through the Virgin Mary as through a canal. Valentinas doesn’t want Jesus to have a belly button just can’t deal with that.

And Christ is credited with a body but one that was non terrestrial effectively.  It was by his unremitting self denial and all things that Jesus attained to Godship — this is Valentinas, he ate and drank in a peculiar manner without any waste. Not only no belly button but no large intestine. The power of continence was so great in him that his food did not decay in him, for he himself was without decay. Valentinas’ contemporary Marcion likewise denied that Jesus had been a true man. The authentic Christ could not have assumed the material body that participated in the created world as we did for such a body would have been a here is his concern, he had been stuffed with excrement, we can’t have that. We would have a field day with this problem.

He  insisted if Jesus had become a man with the material body that would have meant the end of his divinity. This is a big problem that the church has to face early on and so suspicion of all the messiness of embodiment. Pelikan, the majesterial churches historian has summarized Marcion’s teaching on this. Pelikan writes, human nature or the condition of having a material body and participating in the change and suffering of the creation was that from which man had to be delivered. Not that by which he would be delivered.

It bound men to this world and to the creator and creator here’s referring — Marcion affirmed the existence of two Gods, there’s a creator God. There’s an Old Testament God and New Testament God, basically. There’s a creator God who made everything and he’s defective and deficient because he’s involved with matter and then there’s a father of our Lord Jesus Christ who is the good God and the pure God because he doesn’t have anything to do with the material world.

So involvement with the world of creation bound men to this world and to the creator but Christ came from the true God and therefore could have not been born in a woman. He was revealed full grown at once, his body was like the bodies assumed by the angels of the creator when they met with Abraham and Lot, ate and worked.

That’s interesting to note that Pelican points out that the separation of spirit from flesh and redemption from creation is linked with a stark separation of law and gospel, in Marcion’s work. In fact that’s a point first made by Tertullain who’s one of Marcion’s great enemies. Marcion thought that empelican words these inexpressible and comparable wonder of salvation was so overwhelming that it obscured all else in the world. Not only in the world as the kingdom of the devil but in the world as the creation of God. The salvation of man was more urgent cost than any other and transcends all others and its importance. It was the key proper understanding of other doctrinal issues such as the resurrection of the body which had to be interpreted in a manner consistent with the centrality of deliverance that is the resurrection of the body really had to be changed to the salvation of soul. 

For, according to Marcion, it was a purpose for the coming of Jesus to abolish all of the works belonging to this world and to its creator. Sun and moon constellations and stars, all were overshadowed by His coming. When He came, He did not come into that which was his own but into that which was alien to him. The natural world was made up of beggarly elements among which Marcion, especially included reptiles and insects — I find that fascinating, little detail, particularly repulsive to Him was the uncleaned, uncleanliness of sex and of childbirth, none of which could anything to do with the salvation of men.

Now, of course the New Testament is not at all apologetic about the reality of Jesus’ body. BB Warfield in his classic study, The Person Works of Christ comments on the fact that apostle John goes out of his way in the gospel’s prologue to emphasize the most human of Jesus’ human attributes, that is He became flesh. Warfield comments, “That is to say he entered upon a mode of existence in which the experiences that belong to human beings would also be his.” The dependence, the weakness which constitute the very idea of flesh in contrast with God would now enter into his personal experience. And this precisely because these are the connotations of the term flesh that John uses that term here instead of a more simple denotative term. He could have used a less metaphysically incorrect term but he chose deliberately to use the term flesh. What he means is merely that the internal God became man but he elects to say this in the language which throws best up to view what it is to become a man and it must include that.

I was  — years ago, when I first started thinking about the significance of the incarnation, really deliberately, I was speaking at Christian College in chapel, big, all the students are there and I asked them, “How many of you believe Jesus is still human?” And most of the kids’ hands went up and I said, “How many of you Jesus still has a body?” and none of the hands went up until the President of the school put up his hand and then all the kids put up their hands. Obviously, a firm conviction that they have their… Try that sometimes in the churches you minister in, how many of you believe Jesus still has a body. And there’s a wonderful — if you‘re not sure of this yourself, there’s a wonderful essay that JI Packer wrote sometimes ago in Christian Lead Today, I think you can find online. I think it’s called Incarnate Forever and it’s a wonderful summary of why the continuing reality then incarnation is such an important truth for us and actually a very comforting truth for us,

When I lecture on this, I often quote, there’s some wonderful 19th century hymns on the ascension which include lines like God with men is on the throne, that affirm very confidently the reality of continuance of the perpetual continuance of incarnation. The English poet Brian Wren wrote a hymn about the incarnation called Good is the Flesh and I want to read few stanzas of that poem and you can test yourself, see if you have any lingering Gnostic reactions to what he’s affirming here. You can talk to one of your professors afterwards.

“Good is the flesh that the word has become. Good is the birth thing. The milk in the breast, good is the feeding, caressing and rest. Good is the body for knowing the world. Good is the flesh that the word has become. Good is the body for knowing the world sensing the sunlight, the thug of the ground, feeling, perceiving within and around. Good is the body from cradle to grave. Good is the flesh that the word has become. Good is the body from cradle to grave, growing and aging, arousing, impaired, happy and clothing or lovingly bared, hood is the pleasure of God in our flesh, good is the flesh that the word has become. Good is the pleasure of God in our flesh, longing in all as in Jesus to dwell, glad of embracing and tasting and smell. Good is the body, for good and for God. Good is the flesh that the word has become.”

I first heard that actually I heard it sang in a remarkable musical setting. A friend of mine Jack Redford is a composer who has written a Christmas Oratorical  called Welcome All Wonders and one of the movements is this poem by Brian Wren. I would recommend Welcome All Wonders, it’s a wonderful celebration of incarnation. Now once the church following out implications of biblical teaching formally repudiated Gnosticism. It did not eliminate the tendency or the temptation toward Gnostic sections among believers. Nervousness about the body and the marginalizing of the importance of embodied action has been a tendency for the whole of churches’ history. Even when the church has formally affirmed the incarnation, suspicion about the material world which takes the form of assumption that the spirit is only important thing and that matter is a problem that we have to put up with until Jesus returns.

That has come into the church’s life from Pagan ideas. One of the things that makes Christian beliefs so distinctive is this belief in the goodness of the material world. For centuries, it’s been common for Christians to believe that despising the material aspects of life is a form of super spirituality. I would argue that it’s in fact a very worldly position and it’s not at all in keeping in the view of human life that’s presented to us in scripture. In 1988 Nigel Cameron, British theologian who has written a lot on bio ethics wrote a book called Our Christian’s Human, an exploration of two spirituality. And the book was essentially a rebuke of the tendency among Evangelical Christians, and the book’s first chapter is the challenge of the incarnation and in that chapter, Cameron observes that Evangelical Protestants have failed to give the amount of attention that they should to humanity of Jesus. And it argues that this impart because Evangelical — the agenda for Evangelical theological reflection, both academic and popular, tends to be shaped by Apologetics that is what do we have to argue against. And since secularist and liberals deny the deity of Christ, that’s what Evangelical have put a lot of energy into defending and reflecting on. Although someone would deny the humanity of Jesus and we could get down to business and have a lot of wonderful books on the humanity of Jesus.

Liberals have never denied the humanity of Jesus so Evangelical didn’t bother thinking about very much. That’s a little bit of an overstatement but not entirely. A lot of 19th and 20th century apologetics and theology were shaped by the necessity of combating the fashionable view of what BB Warfield called The Supernationalized Jesus. Liberal theology wants to explain the gospel     in more rationalistic and nationalistic terms so defenders of Orthodox went out on the way emphasizing the deity of Christ, not at the expense of humanity as was the case in some of those early Christological heresies but in the expense of a very much reflection about his humanity. But it’s not just because of apologetic and balance that the humanity of Jesus has been ignored. There’s still that deep suspicion about the goodness of embodied existence that has affected the church since the beginning.

FF Bruce, great New Testament scholar tells on the experience during his Evangelical upbringing in Scotland in the open brethren church and he tells his experience which was too typical of many strings piety. He writes, “In my youth, I remember the holy horror expressed by a ministering brother because someone else had in an address taken for granted that our Lord in his boyhood went to school. The very idea that he should have had to learn his letters from a human teacher was just an intolerable dispersion on his perfect knowledge.” “He owed nothing to earth,” said the speaker.

As I listen to him, I felt glad that Luke stated expressly that Jesus as well as in stature, for I suspected that if one of our contemporaries had made such a statement on his own then, should have the speaker would have been horrified at him too. Our Lord’s deity is not enhanced when men thinking to do it modern detract from the completeness of his manhood. And as Bruce insist later in his essay which was originally addressed on the humanity of Jesus, he says, “The gospel of our salvation depend upon the genuineness of our Lord’s humanity. And so does the value of his life as an example for his people to follow.”

The power of that example is weakened if we can say in extenuation of our own failure, well it was different or easier for him. Only as he presents himself to others as perfect man can we in turn validly encouraged to grow up, not only individually but corporately to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

The humanity of Christ has profound implications for how we understand both the accomplishment and the significance of the work of Christ. It is the obedience of a real human being, it is the death of a real human being, the raising from the dead of the real human being that accomplishes our salvation. It is a living example of a sinless human being that establishes model for our lives now. It’s the intercession of a glorified human being that is a source spiritual power as we struggle in our own lives and it’s the promise of the return of the God man, Jesus who will come back as a full human being. That is the blessed hope for the fulfillment of all things.

One of my favorite advent hymns is Low he comes in clouds descending which I would encourage you to review the text but one of the most powerful verses in that, those dear tokens of his passion still his dazzling body bares. And I’d sung that and there are other hymns that talk about the reality of the scars and the body of Jesus that’s ignored. It’s easy to ignore those things and not think about the consequence again of the continuance of the incarnation.

The incarnation is not just the practical prerequisite of the atonement. It helps to define what atonement accomplishes. It is our redemption as men and women, not as apprentice angels that is accomplished by Jesus. It is as embodied men and women that we acquire are knowledge of the world and of God through sensory experience, tasting honey, seeing the glory in the skies.

Contrary to the assumptions of modern philosophers, some of whom sound a lot like Valentinas, it is as fully embodied human beings that we know reality. Our minds cannot function without our bodies and not just part of our body that is the brain but the life of the senses that conveys to us a matrix of meaning.

I recently found a quote from Rene Decartes, 17th century father of modern philosophy that confirms us stark in trench dualism that has shaped so much of modern philosophy and modern culture, absolutely nothing else belongs to my nature or essence except that I am a thinking being and then later in that same passage, it is certain that I am really distinct from my body and can exist without it. It is certain that I am really distinct from my body and can exist without it.

I’ve heard people say that they were not simply souls with bodies, we’re not just embodied spirits. In terms of the chronology of the account of creation, we are in spirited bodies, the bodies are made first and then God breathes life into them. Fortunately, modern Gnosticism is being confronted by many Christian theologians and philosophers as well as by Christian thinkers and other disciplines and even oddly enough being challenged by various non Christian thinkers whose work has fruitful resources for Christians to appropriate.

James K.A. Smith’s recent book, Imagining the Kingdom which picks up on his continuous the arguments he was making in his earlier book Desiring the Kingdom relies on some of the work of philosopher Mark Johnson. And for years, Johnson has challenged the Cartesian assumption that we know the world apart from the experience of our bodies. In the first chapter of his book, The Meaning of the Body, which should be — I mean, it sounds it could be a really good book on theology, it’s a book on the nature of meaning actually. Johnson writes this, “Meaning grows from our visceral connections to life and bodily conditions of life, we are born into the world as creatures of the flesh and it is through our bodily perceptions movements, emotions and feelings that meaning becomes possible and takes the form that it does. From the day we are brought kicking, screaming into the world, what and how anything is meaningful to us is shaped by our specific form of incarnation.

Johnson co-wrote a book years ago called Metaphors We Live By which was with George Lakoff, I think was the name of the co-author, which deals with how many metaphors, almost all metaphoric speech which includes a lot of speech is tied to the experience of our bodies in space and time. I met years ago a woman who was involved with the Artificial Intelligence research at MIT, she was in the robotics lab and I was talking to her about some of the works she’s doing and then subsequently I’ve read articles about their work and they found out that they’re trying to build these expert systems that would approximate human knowing as closely as they could and they found out that the computers they were programming to know the world as much like the human being as possible, worked a lot better if they put them in bodies somehow, that they actually put them into mechanisms that were mobile. And they actually acquired an understanding of things better because of the fact that they knew in a virtual, a real embodied, I mean there were metal bodies.

There’s a huge amount of scientific research that confirms the absolute necessity embodied knowing. So we’re very grateful that we do believe in the resurrection of the body and not just in the immortality of the soul, that our embodiment is essential to our humanity. Johnson’s research in the meaning of the body      is very reminiscent of observations by CS Lewis that I mentioned yesterday, that imagination conveys meaning by finding in our embodied sensory experience, patterns and connections and likenesses.

I recently read an essay on Christian imagination by a philosopher named D.C Schindler and he said the imagination is if not the center of the human being then nevertheless that without which there can be no center for the imagination marks the point of convergence at which the body and soul meet. It is the place where faith in the incarnate God becomes self incarnate and therefore truly becomes faith. It is where reason becomes concrete and the bodily life of the senses rises to meet the spirit. It lies more deeply than the sphere of our discrete thoughts and choices because it is the ordered space within which we in fact think and choose.

Again, I would really encourage you to look at James K.A. Smith’s particularly Imagining the Kingdom where he develops this in terms of the function of Christian practices in our lives to convey theological truths to us. The incarnation is the ultimate warrant for our use of imagination, almost ultimate because I think the resurrection is in even fuller confirmation of the value and the virtue of imaginative life. The resurrection is the demonstration that God hasn’t given up on materiality. The resurrection confirms the incarnation is never over, the resurrection confirms God’s redemption of his creatures not by their escaping physicality but by having the possibilities of physicality fulfilled.

The resurrection has often been treated by theologians and layman alike just as an assuring epilogue to the crucifixion. The work of redemption is accomplished on the cross at the moment of Christ’s expiration and then the resurrection occurs to demonstrate God’s hand in the entire sequence of events or just as proof of Christ deity. But what if the resurrection is not an epilogue but it’s the climax of the accomplishment of redemption. And it’s the prologue to the fulfillment of God’s subsequent redeeming purposes.

In Paul’s teaching on the work of Christ, this is exactly how it’s portrayed. One of my teachers at Westminster, Richard Gaffin in his book on The Centrality of the Resurrection in Paul’s teaching has pointed out that in Paul the resurrection is not principally a proof of Christ’s deity. Gaffin says Christ’s resurrection is not evidential with respect to his divinity but transforming in respect to his humanity. Paul depicts Christ as a passive matter, it is the father who raises the son from the dead. In his resurrection, Jesus is viewed as entirely passive, it is strictly speaking not arising but a being raised. And Gaffin says that this matters because it links Christ’s experience with our own. This uniform stress on the passivity and solidarity with believers in the experience of resurrection points the conclusion that the significance of Christ’s resurrection does not lie with the differences between him and believers as most pronounce but in what they have in common, that we are men and women, that we are human, that we have bodies.

So Christ’s resurrection is very much about our destiny, not just about Christ’s identity and not just our destiny but the destiny of all creation. The resurrection is a sign that God’s redemptive work isn’t just            spiritual, not only our sins forgiven but the life of the world is restored. Theologian Michael Williams has written the deity of ancient Gnosticism was powerless to do anything but rescue the occasional soul from the corruption of the damned and damning material creation, scrapping the world because it was so ravage by sin that it was beyond rehabilitation. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, it was declared once for all and for all to see that Yahweh is the sovereign one and sovereignty means just this, God wins.

As Isaac Watts express in his famous Christian hymn Joy to the World, the grace of God in Jesus Christ extends far as the curse is found. God wins and our creative engagement with creation, our life in the anticipation of our resurrection bodies is confirmed in Christ’s own resurrection. Now I think that has profound consequences for a Christian affirmation of arts, in particular and for the broader cultivation of imagination in general. The victory is secured by the resurrection means that it is a fruitful and obedient vocation to encourage healthy and rich imagination which involve engagement with the material stuff of the world.

The antidote to the vain imagination is not the suppression of imagination but the cultivation of a well developed imagination. I can think of no better way to end this talk by citing some great prophet of imagination, George McDonald. You may remember CS Lewis once said that George McDonald sanctified or baptized his imagination. McDonald summarized his case for rightly trained imagination in a very dramatic exhortation or close with this, seek not that your sons and your daughters should not see visions, should not see dreamed dreams, seek that they see true visions, that they should dream noble dreams. Thank you very much.

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