THREE FACES OF DEATH:  EAST, WEST AND CHRISTIAN

'If Christ be not risen--then'

 

The Christian gospel affirms that death is serious but not fatal.  Yet, we are in an era well described by G. K. Chesterton.  He said, when men give up their belief in God, "they do not believe in nothing; they believe in anything."  In the midst of occult epidemic there are two dominate views of death:  (1)  There is no afterlife in a godless universe whose origin and destiny is determined by pure chance; (2)  Death is a mystical-leap to the other side of life.

 

The brilliant former editor of Punch, Malcolm Muggeridge, sums up western man's neurotic preoccupation with death and dying:  He says that

 

It is difficult to resist the conclusion that there is a death wish at work at the heart of our civilization whereby our banks promote the inflation which will ruin them, our educationalists seem to create the moral and intellectual chaos which will nullify their professional purposes, our physicians invent new and more terrible diseases to replace those they have abolished, our moralists cut away the roots of all morality and our theologians dismantle the structure of belief they exist to expound and promote. (Eternity. April 1972)

 

If true, how is this condition to be understood and then overcome?

 

WESTERN FACE OF DEATH:  DEATH OF GOD/DEATH OF MAN

 

One of the results of the scientific revolution was the presupposition that the scientific method alone could generate objective and universally true knowledge claims about physical reality.  Hume, Kant and Hegel were major heralds of the victory of naturalistic, secularistic humanism.  After this victory it was generally held throughout western culture that man could only feel what was right and wrong, he could never really 'know.'  Kierkegaard and his Existentialism put the finishing touch on this staggering and lethal irrationalism.  Barriers between the physical and the spiritual worlds were impassible.  Faith could have no rational justification based in any level of analysis of the world of science.  Faith became 'understood' as a blind leap into Freudian arms.  There the Christian faith was short-lived.  If there is no rational justification for faith, then one leap is as 'true' as another.  This new view of religious faith was unable to withstand the confrontation with either scientific technology or the recent and continuing Eastern occultic invasion.  Efforts to fuse physics, Buddhism, The Tibetan Book of The Dead, and the I Ching; are all but ubiquitous.  Into these turbulent waters of irrationalism the occult mysticism of Kubler-Ross and Raymond A. Moody (both M.D.'s) enters with unbelievable impact.

 

By the 1960's gurus of The Death of God were everywhere expounding their 19th century thesis.  By the 1970's, it was widely acknowledged that the Death of God entails the 'Death of Man'.  Naturalistic, functionalistic humanism is no match for reality.

 

Not only does Moody's being of light tie in with the Eastern system, but so does Kubler-Ross's view of who man really is, his true self.  In the concluding chapter of her book Death: The Final State of Growth, her beliefs emerge. Kubler-Ross chose to entitle the chapter "Omega," the well-known symbol for eternity in the Bible.  Christ says, 'I am the Alpha and the Omega," three times in the Book of Revelation.  I will quote Kubler-Ross liberally to solidify what I hope has become an obvious point.  Ask yourself whether this is the biblical definition or the Eastern mystical definition of who man really is.

 

For those who seek to understand it, death is a highly creative force. The highest spiritual values of life can originate from the thoughts and study of death. ...  It's not just a question of good and evil, heaven or hell, as you will see when you read the selection on Hinduism and Buddhism.

 

In the decades to come we may see one universe, one humankind, one religion that unites us all in a peaceful world. (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross) (Tal Brooke, The Other Side of Death (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1979) pp. 85,92)

 

MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY AND THE MYSTERY OF DEATH

 

Scientific breakthroughs in molecular biology have generated vast and complex moral and legal dilemmas over the nature of life and nature of death.  Brain research, (increased suicide) legalized abortion and infanticide all contribute to our agonizing trauma (see F. Schaeffer, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?)

 

EASTERN FACE OF DEATH

 

As western Stoic resignation could not still man's anguished soul in the face of death, he turns inward and eastward seeking the solace of narcotizing mysticism.  The Tibetan Book of the Dead became a best seller during the decades of rage and riot.  This eastern manual on different ways to enter death was reinforced by LSD experiences, The Bhagavad Gita, - and other systems of yoga--all of which help prepare for ego death as well as physical death.  In all Buddhist and Hindu thought death is an illusion.  Each in their own way provide "the path of devotion", i.e., as bhakti marga.  Here man encounters a spiritual Las Vegas from which he seeks liberation from fatalism.

 

Though eastern mysticism might sound strange to western man, how much stranger must it seem when one realizes that this same occult mysticism is at the very heart of the Raymond A. Moody/E. Kubler-Ross Death and Dying movement.

 

There is no need to be afraid of death. . .death is the key to the door of life. ...  It is essential that you become aware of the light, power, and strength within each of you, and that you learn to use those inner resources in the service of your own and others' growth. . . .  Through commitment to personal growth individual human beings will also make their contributions to the growth and development--the evolution-- of the whole species to become all that humankind can and is meant to be.  Death is the key to that evolution. . . .  The answer is within you.  You can become a channel and a source of great inner strength.  But you must give up everything in order to gain everything. . . .  When human beings "find a place of stillness and quiet at the highest level of which they are capable, then the heavenly influences can pour into them, re-create them, and use them for the Salvation of mankind.' (Kubler-Ross quotes The Quiet Mind) . . . There is no total death.  Only the body dies.  The Self or spirit, or whatever you wish to label it, is eternal.  You may interpret this in any way that makes you feel comfortable. . . .  You may be more comfortable and comforted by a faith that there is a source of goodness, light, and strength greater than any of us individually, yet still within us all, and that each essential self has an existence that transcends the finiteness of the physical and contributes to that greater power. . . .  Death, in this context, may be viewed as the curtain between the existence that we are conscious of and the one that is hidden from us until we raise that curtain. ...  It is our purpose as human beings to grow—to look within ourselves to find and build upon that source of peace and understanding and strength which is our inner selves, and to reach out to others with love, acceptance, patient guidance, and hope for what we all may become together.[1]

 

How difficult it is for some of us to remember the influence this movement had and has on Christians dealing with death. The Moody/Ross message is clear—the finite self transcends death because within it is the source of transcendent existence. The self is eternal and self-sufficient; perfection lies within; salvation is from within. Where does this eastern panentheism leave the gospel of our crucified and risen Lord? The nature and effect of human decisions are reduced to nonsense by both eastern/western occult. Man is always at the mercy of cyclical fatalism.

 

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. . . . There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, marry, snub, and exploit; immortal 'horrors' or everlasting splendors.[2] (See Tal Brooke, The Other Side of Death (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1979); Raymond A. Moody, Jr., Life After Life (Covington. GA: Mockingbird Books, 1975); Alien Spraggett, Arthur Ford, The Man Who Talked with The Dead (NY: Signet Books, 1974); Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying and Death; The Final State of Growth (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1975); James Strauss, The Lord of The Future (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1979) pp. 418-438.

 

DEATH IN THE FACE OF CHRIST

 

"Christ is God from everlasting; he became man under Caesar Augustus; he was an atonement for the world on the cross; he became a savior on his resurrection." (J. H. Newman, Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification (London, 1914), p. 222)

 

Death as the Radical Limitation of Human Arrogance

 

There are three fundamental claims on which the Christian Gospel stands or falls: Incarnation, Atonement and Resurrection. (1) Incarnational Model: Cross Cultural Communication; (2) Models of Atonement: Theology of the Cross; and (3) Models of the Resurrection: Resurrection as the hermeneutical center, victory over sin, death and the holistic meaning of the scriptures.

(See the indispensable works of Leo Scheffczyk, Auferstehung: Prinzip Christ-lichen Glaubens Einsiendeln, 1976; Bertold Klappert (ed) Diskussion um Kreuz und Auferstehune; Wuppertal, 1967; and Edouard Dhanis (ed) Resurrexit (Actes du Symposium International sur La Resurrection de Jesus Rome, 1970) Lebreria Editrice Vaticana, 1974—indispensable studies plus aprx 100 pages of bibliography on the resurrection.)

 

In his resurrection Christ is constituted Lord and son. . . . The resurrection of Christ sheds light backward and forward on all history, penetrating to the very origins of man and looking forward to man's ultimate fulfillment.

 

From that resurrection event directly spring in their uniqueness, Christian faith, Christian preaching, Christian theology, Christian worship and Christian ethics.[3]

 

Resurrection; Witness-Producing Event

 

The New Testament uses two terms to describe resurrection as a witness-producing event, (a) the transitive (egeirein - to awake from the dead) in the active and passive sense; (b) the transitive and intransitive (anastanai - to rise or to 2 make arise).[4] The resurrection is not an isolated event. The scriptures relate the resurrection and freedom. Lord's Table, Gospel, preaching, baptism, sin, death, consummation of creation, in fact the entire Christological and soteriological content of New Testament theology is inseparable from the time-space event of our Lord's resurrection--'He was risen for our justification.'

 

Christ—Risen and Transcendent

 

Neither a Hegelian immanent transcendent in process toward freedom from necessity, nor any species of Eastern mysticism can converse with both resurrection claims and the scientific enterprise as events in a rational universe. Contemporary cosmology requires that a universe, i.e., cosmos actually exist.  All forms of naturalistic reductionism are hopelessly inadequate in providing a rational explanation of how the private failure of Jesus on the cross, and the public catastrophe of his mission turned into a dynamic world-changing movement.  The 'initial ignition' was His resurrection in the time-space world.  Lessing's two edited essays "The Resurrection Story" and "The Purpose of Jesus and His Disciples" contain the essential arguments still advanced against the facticity of the resurrection.  But Lessing's 'ugly ditch' and Berger's 'Fiery Brook' can be transcended by overcoming the fallacies of his Leibnizian epistemology and philosophy of mathematics (two types of truths, i.e.. Truths of reason and Truths of experience.  Neither contemporary mathematical logic nor scientific cosmology give evidence against the necessary transcendence over the 'laws' of nature, history, and culture in order for a dead man to be called to life again.  After the Einsteinian/post-Einsteinian scientific revolution, only evidence determines what is or what is not historically possible, not apriori ontological judgments concerning theoretical possibilities.  Hermeneutical discussion of the resurrection continues along the humanistic method of 'understanding' developed by Schlelermacher and Dilthey in contradistinction to the scientific method of 'explanation.' No Christian truth claim can tolerate this arbitrary polarization.  According to the New Testament, the resurrection created 'witnesses' of an historical event that had eschatological implications for the entire cosmos (Ephesians 1:10 and Colossians 1:17).

 

Contemporary Models of Science and The Resurrection

 

The fact of Jesus' resurrection shatters all efforts to deny its reality and to control it by a single humanly structured model.

 

The crucifixion is not a defeat needing resurrection to reverse it, but a victory which the resurrection quickly follows and seals. . .so it is that the center of apostolic Christianity is crucifixion-resurrection; not crucifixion alone, nor resurrection alone, nor even crucifixion and resurrection as the final, but the blending of the two in a way that is as real to the Gospel as it is defiant to the world.[5]

 

In the 20th century world scientifically oriented man is preoccupied with models of explanation of reality; the Christian believer is armed with models of the resurrection.  Each model explains a different dimension of our salvation in Christ. As His trial was a model of human injustice, so the cross was a model of suffering freedom, justice and atonement (not to be understood in Schleiennacher's sense of merely an 'example').  Bertold Klappert has shown in his Diskussion urn Kreuz und Auferstehung (Wuppertal. 1967) that our Lord's resurrection both admits a 'pluriformity' of converging explanatory models and that is "transcends them all in its concrete reality."[6]

 

For more effective visibility of the incarnation and inscripturation, in a world often preoccupied with scientific explanation of reality (boundary structures), the Christian believer is armed with at least six models of the Resurrection:  (1) The Resurrection as History; (2) as Redemption; (3) as Revelation; (4) as Grounding Faith; as the Source and Content of preaching and teaching; (5) as a Promise which grounds Hope, and (6) Resurrection, the Imago Dei, and Creativity.  "If Christ is not risen then our preaching is empty and your faith is vain."  I Cor 15: 14,15.

 

Resurrection and Historiographical Revolution

 

The resurrection is a fully real historical happening, so real that it removes real happening and does not slip away from us, but keeps pace with us and outruns us as we tumble down in decay and lapse into death and the dust of post history, and even comes to meet us out of the future.[7]

 

The objective reality of the historical Jesus is the very foundation of the Christian faith, so we must be on guard against all efforts to detach from it.  Some sort of transcendentalized 'Easter faith' would disrupt the entire Christian enterprise.

 

Biblically, the objectivity of Christ's resurrection is both irrevocable and invincible character is powerfully sustained by the fact that we are unable to either overtake or transcend it within the boundaries of the subject-object structures--of our space/time world.

 

Resurrection;  (Creation and Redemption)

 

A second and equally crucial aspect of the facticity of resurrection is the magnificent inter-relation between redemption and creation (see Colossians, Ephesians, Romans for affirmation of the relationship of cosmology and Christology).  The incarnate-risen Christ is the biblical center which makes the consummation of creation both possible and actual.  The redemptive transformation of the fallen universe place only in Jesus of Nazareth.  God's integrative grace is revealed in the ultimate cosmic paradigmatic revolution--the resurrection as we wait between the times for a "new heaven and a new earth." The two fundamental problems in the universe, sin and death, are solved because of the inseparable interconnection between His crucifixion (atonement) and resurrection.  We believe in Jesus Christ not only because of His resurrection, but also because He is the hermeneutical center of the scriptures (I Corinthians 15—according to the scriptures; and Luke 24, 'He opened their minds to understand all that is written in Moses, the prophets, and the psalms concerning Him.')  He alone gives meaning to the purpose promise and presence of God in our space-time universe.

 

Resurrection in the Time-Space World

 

Any event which occurs--occurs within the space-time categories and is thus 'history.'  The key question is this:  How far can a critical historical inquiry take us in deciding not only how the basic documents about Christ's resurrection (I Cor 15; Lk 24; Acts 2, etc.,) were formed but also what events lie behind these texts?[8]   It is common knowledge that we are dealing with a range of scholars who are by no means unanimous in their judgments on the nature of history. Yet the presuppositions of many recent theologians (egs. K. Barth, R. Brown, S. Le'on-Dufour, W. Pannenberg) clearly reveal more than a modicum of consensus. Important but modest consensus is suggested by the words of R. Fuller.

 

It is generally agreed that the starting point for any investigation of the Easter tradition lies not in the narratives at the ends of the Gospels. But in I Corinthians 15, this establishes the earliest tradition of the appearances. These appearances are to be interpreted not as encounters with a resuscitated Jesus prior to an ascension, but as eschatological disclosure “from heaven” of an already exalted one. The empty tomb was not part of the kerygma cited by Paul, nor does Easter faith rest upon it, yet the empty tomb pericopes rest upon an ancient historical nucleus. Mary Magdalene, at least, found an empty grave. The resurrection itself, never witnessed or narrated, was an eschatological event between God and Jesus ('God raised Jesus from the dead') not merely something that happened to the disciples. Jesus was translated at his resurrection into an entirely new mode of existence, to be sharply distinguished from the kind of resuscitations alleged of Jarius' daughter, the widow of Nain's son, or Lazarus.[9]

 

Resurrection. Consensus. Coherence. Consistency and Rationality

 

The minimal consensus of which we are forcefully reminded is that we can never emancipate faith from its historical origins. Belief in the resurrection that in principle excludes all historical inquiry about the events immediately following the crucifixion would suppress a fundamental factor of the Christian faith. Faith in Jesus Christ is an illusion stemming from certain realities which took place prior to our commitment and independently of it. Many would-be witnesses of the resurrection leave the 'Easter event' as a type of Kantian Numenon veiled forever behind the historical data. From the 'deep' of Descartes, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Dilthey, Freud, Collingwood, Heidegger, Kung, historiography has been enslaved to radical ‘subjectivism’which has ensnared most students in the net of psycho-historiography, i.e.  there cannot be 'true-truth' within the confines of our time-space categories.  Three methodological models in the past century and a half have guided man through the maze of data and growth of knowledge:  1) History of Ideas; 2) Sociology of Knowledge; (i.e., Cultural Relativism) and 3) History and Logic of Science.  Each in their own way make telling impact on theological hermeneutics.

 

A most incisive essay written by R. C. Ware, "The Resurrection of Jesus, Theological Orientations" (Heythrop Journal 16. 1975), pp. 22-35, 1974-75) reveals how new perspectives on the nature of history have modified the study of the resurrection as history.  The emphasis has shifted from "a positivistic-minded historical approach" (which doggedly concentrates simply on concrete data and their causes) to "a more phenomenological perspective concerned with understanding 'facts' and their meaning." But no one model can exhaustively explain the resurrection.  It would be a disastrous error to adopt the principle that what is not historical is, therefore, unreal.  Everything that is historical is real, but not everything that is real is historical. Particle physicists offer a marvelous example.  They have 'discovered' many carriers of mass and carriers of energy:  electrons, protons, mesons, gluons, and quarks.  The discovery of an extra quark can rate as an historical event.  But the precise number of quarks is simply a fact, a matter of truth about the reality of nature.  Though there are many such examples that illustrate the difference between the real and the historical, the supreme example being God.[10]

 

Contemporary Cosmology and Christ's Resurrection

 

The pseudo-intellectual unbeliever in the resurrection because of science (and the believer as well) must be brought face to face with the implications of the post-Einsteinian era of scientific and cosmological thought.[11] The historical resurrection can neither be dismissed apriori, nor rejected via empirical-inductive premises. Evidence only determines what is in fact the case, even then full explanatory models are not available, e.g. resurrection. The space-time metrical field controls and regulates the orderly patterns of all that is observable in the universe, and to be sure of how events and processes are observable. Our four-dimensional space-time continuum is inseparable from constituent matter and energy of the universe and constitutes a profoundly objective dynamic structure; but since it is inseparably interconnected with the speed of light which is of such a velocity that our senses cannot cope with it, the space-time continuum is necessarily invisible to human perceptive instruments, but not to the mind.

 

This means that we must penetrate beyond the immediate and crude observation of things into the inherently non-observable structure of the space-time framework of the universe, if we are to grasp reality in its own objective depth.  The fact that space-time which embraces all our human experiences, is essentially an imperceptible, intangible magnitude, help to prevent us from restricting the nature and range of experience to crude and limiting conceptions of it such as we tend to acquire under the pressure of a materialistic (analytic-reductionistic) outlook upon the universe.[12]

James D. Strauss

APPENDIX: Two Resurrections: Christ's and Ours

 

The Biblical witness to our Lord's resurrection affirms the following to be historical facts: (1) The Death and Burial of Jesus; (2) The discouragement and disillusionment of the disciples; (3) Their sudden transformation to be witnesses to Jesus' resurrection; (4) The empty tomb; (5) Rise of the Church; and (6) Conversion of Saul. The ‘historical method’ must come up with a satisfying convincing "historical" explanation for this set of facts.  After two thousand years of affirmations and denials it is our contention that no such naturalistic historical explanation has yet been produced, and that the most rational explanation is the Biblical one that God raised Jesus from the dead in bodily form.

 

I.  The Resurrection Gospel and The Gospels:

 

A. The empty tomb discovered - Matt 28: 1-10; Mk 16: 1-8; Lk 24: 1-12; Jn 20: 1-10

B. The guard silenced - Matt 28; 11-15

C. Appearance to Mary - Mk 16: 9-11; Jn 20; 11-18

D. Appearance to Disciples - Mk 16: 12-13; Lk 24: 13-35

E. Appearance to Peter - Matt (I Cor 15:5; Lk 24: 34

F. Appearance to the Eleven - Matt (I Cor 15: 5; Mk 16:14; Lk 24: 36-43; Jn 20: 19-25

G. Appearance to Thomas - Jn 20: 26-31

H. Appearance to the Eleven - Jn 21: 1-23

I. Appearance to the 500, then James -Mk (I Cor 15: 6-7)

 

II.  The Resurrection in Apostolic Preaching:

 

A. Jewish: Acts 1:22; 2:31; 4:2, 33;

B. Greek: Acts 17:32; 23: 6, 8; 24: 15, 21

 

III.  The Resurrection and Our Salvation: Does It Really Matter? "If Christ be not risen, then is your faith aimless, or purposeless" (I Cor 15)

 

A.  Nature and the Purpose of The Church

B.  The Cross

C.  Resurrection and Resurgence of non-Christian Religions and Cult/Occult

 

IV.  Two Resurrections:  Christ's and Ours

 

A.  Raised with Christ: Acts 13: 33; I Cor 15: 12-14; II Cor 3: 117; Eph 2: 1-10; Gal 2: 19,20; Col 2: 12f; Titus 3:5; Rom 6:lf

B.  Resurrection and the Agency of the Holy Spirit (Person and Deity): Acts 13: 33, 17:31; Rom 1:4, 4:24, 8:11, 10:9; I Cor 6:14, 15: 43f; II Cor 3:8, 17f; Eph 2:5; Col 2: 12, 13; Phil 3:21; I Tim 3:16

C.  Preaching "in Power and in The Holy Spirit" Rom 1: 4; 2:7, 8:11, 15:13,19; I Cor 2: 4,5; 15:43f; I Thess 1:5; II Thess 1:9; Eph 1:18

 

1.  Resurrection and Adoption-Rom 1:3,4

2.  Resurrection and Justification-1 Tim 3:16

3.  Resurrection and Sanctification-Gal 5:13f.

4.  Resurrection and Glorification-Rom 8:29f.

 

"If Christ be not risen. . ."  Paul here affirms that the entire Christian faith is founded on the factuality of the resurrection.  Jesus was delivered up "for our sins" and was raised "for our justification" (Rom 4:25).  There is salvation in "no other name" (Acts 4:12).  If Jesus is not raised, we are misrepresenting God; as a matter of fact, the entire Bible is misrepresenting God. (Richard B. Gaff in, Jr.  The Centrality of The Resurrection. Baker Book House, 1978. George E. Ladd.  I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus.  Wm. Eerdmans Pub., 1975. Josh McDowell.  The Resurrection Factor. Here's Life. Pub., 1981).

 

James D. Strauss



[1] R.A. Moody. Jr. Life After Life (Covington, GA: Mockingbird Book, 1975) p. 103.

[2] C. S. Lewis, Screwtape Proposes a Toast (NY: MacMillan, 1965), p. 109.

[3] T. Colllns, Risen Christ (Paulist Press, 1967) pp. 1 and 2.

[4] See E. Fascher, Anastasis - Resurrectio-Auferstehung.  Eine programmatische Studie zum Thema "Sprache und Offenbarung," in ZNW 40, (1941), pp. 166-229; and A. Oepke, 'anistemi,' in TDNT, I, pp. 368-72; and 'egeiro,' in TDNT. II, pp. 334-6.

[5] A. M. Ramsey, The Resurrection of Christ (London, 1945), p. 19.

[6] See examination of Klappert by R. C. Ware, "The Resurrection of Jesus," Heythrop Journal 16 (1975) p. 27.

[7] T. F. Torrance, Space-Time and Resurrection (Eerdmans, 1976); see Gifford Lectures of S. L. Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God (Chicago; University of Chicago, 1978). Leo Scheffczyk's Auferstehung: Prinzip Christ lichen Glaubens (Einiedeln. 1976). (Resurrection: The Principle of the Christian Faith).

[8] James D. Strauss, "D. F. Strauss' Hermeneutical Revolution" and "From Historicity to Hermeneutics".

[9] See R. Fuller's review of G. O'Collins, The Resurrection of Jesus Christ.Valley Forge, 1973 in Interpretation 1975, p. 324; see also Gerald O'Collins, What Are They Saying About the Resurrection? (Paulist Press, 1978).

[10] See F. Torrance, Space-Time and Incarnation (London, 1969), pp. 22ff, reprinted in 1978.

[11] See Torrance, Creation. Christ, and Culture (Edinburgh: T & T dark, 1976); and S. L. Jaki, Science and Creation (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1974).

[12] T. F. Torrance, Space-Time and Resurrection (Eerdmans, 1976), pb, p. 187. Our

Lord's resurrection cannot be denied on the basis of contemporary scientific cosmology.