Monday, February 15, 2010

How Important Is The Resurrection?

I recently received a review copy of Adrian Warnock's Raised With Christ (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2010). Here's how he describes the premise of his book, a premise I agree with:

Most of us are not intentionally neglecting the resurrection. We do appreciate its importance and value it highly. But the resurrection has not been explored as fully as many of the other doctrines and has not been given the attention it deserves. (p. 67)

He cites similar conclusions reached by other Christians, such as Charles Spurgeon (pp. 21-22) and Richard Gaffin (p. 61). He notes the prominence of Jesus' resurrection in apologetics (p. 61), but thinks it's been more neglected in other contexts.

For those who don't know, Adrian Warnock is a Reformed charismatic. The book reflects that perspective, as you'd expect, and I disagree with him on some points. But the large majority of the book is good, and it covers a broad range of topics related to the resurrection. He says that he writes "as an ordinary Christian, and not a theologian" (p. 15). He addresses his material at an introductory or intermediate level, but he's discussing so many subjects, and some of those subjects are so neglected today, that most Christians would gain a lot from reading the book.

He has chapters on the historical evidence for Jesus' resurrection, the prominence of the resurrection in the Bible, the role of the resurrection in justification, the resurrection and sanctification, the resurrection and prayer, the resurrection and revival, and many other issues. I suspect that the large majority of Christians have never thought so widely and in such depth about the resurrection.

In one of the chapters, he discusses a subject that's important both for understanding why the resurrection has been neglected and for appreciating its significance in Biblical theology. He writes:

I would go so far as to suggest that when he [Paul] referred to either the death or resurrection of Jesus individually, he usually intended to refer to both events, as a form of shorthand. (p. 73)

He gives examples of how we use such shorthand (synecdoche) in our everyday language (pp. 75, 77). When passages like 1 Corinthians 2:2 and Galatians 6:14 refer to something like the cross or Jesus' death, they're summarizing the gospel. Elsewhere, we're told that Jesus was "raised for our justification" (Romans 4:25), that we were born again "to a living hope through the resurrection" (1 Peter 1:3), etc. Yet, modern gospel presentations often don't mention the resurrection at all or underestimate it. I think Warnock is correct in seeing the summarizing language of Biblical authors like Paul, what he refers to as shorthand, as one of the reasons why the resurrection is neglected in some contexts today. Similarly, as I've noted before, Paul often summarizes the gospel without mentioning the foundational issue of the exclusion of works. Just as it doesn't make sense to use the gospel summary of 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 to neglect what Paul says about the exclusion of works in Galatians, for example, it also doesn't make sense to use a summarizing comment like 1 Corinthians 2:2 to neglect the resurrection. While the Biblical authors explain the significance of the resurrection in other contexts, even though they make summarizing comments that don't directly refer to the resurrection at times, we often don't do so today.

I think another factor is that we can more easily identify with Jesus' physical suffering than we can with His resurrection. The cross has a more immediate emotional appeal to people. We're often more interested in avoiding something negative, like suffering for our sins, than gaining something positive. We have more interest in Christ's substitutionary suffering than His substitutionary righteousness and His resurrection. Many theological liberals and others who don't believe in the resurrection have reason to put more emphasis on the cross while neglecting a resurrection that they don't believe even occurred.

Whatever the reasons for the neglect of the resurrection, I agree with Warnock that it has been neglected, and his book is helpful in addressing the problem. I also agree with his presentation of the risen Christ as a glorious, holy, and righteous God who's to be feared. There's a lot in this book that's commendable, far too much for me to mention here.

My objections are relatively minor. I'll just mention a few examples.

Like a lot of other Evangelical authors, Warnock has a tendency to go from the Biblical era to the Reformation and post-Reformation church history, without saying much or anything about the intervening years. He often cites Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Piper, and other more recent sources, and what he cites from them is useful. But many of his points could have been more effectively illustrated and strengthened if he had also said more about earlier church history and cited earlier post-Biblical sources. The prominence of the resurrection in Ignatius of Antioch, Aristides, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and other patristic sources supports Warnock's reading of the Bible. Aristides (Apology, 2) and Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 1:10:1), for example, mention the resurrection as one of the foundational truths of Christianity. The resurrection was also prominent in the thinking of Christianity's early critics, as illustrated in Athenagoras' treatise On The Resurrection Of The Dead and Origen's Against Celsus. See here for some examples of what the patristic Christians said about the resurrection.

Warnock is right to focus on the resurrection of Christ and His people, but I thought he should have said more about the resurrection of the creation in general (Romans 8:19-23). See here, for example.

I disagree with some of his views as a charismatic. I have problems with some of his exegesis. And I think he mishandles some of the issues related to the historicity of Jesus' resurrection.

It's a good book overall, however. Authors who address neglected subjects and attempt to address those subjects from a lot of different angles should be commended for doing so, even if they sometimes fall short in the process. Most readers should come away from the book with a broader and deeper view of the resurrection and the God who raises the dead.

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