Thursday, 14 February 2008

Reply from John Twisleton 01/03/2008

Steven is getting value for money from James and I as we devote ourselves to holding him to address the facts of the matter. This in the face of a rhetorical flow that jumps all over the place and has, in some instances, appeared before on related blogs Steven has engaged with.

I was in Brighton this afternoon talking to some people who were handing out tracts on the resurrection and they’d heard of Steven all right.

I’m still in for this debate but I would appreciate a little more candour from Steven about his own presuppositions and motivation for engaging repeatedly in this debate.

I’m in for a resurrection debate because it points people to absolute love and absolute certainty. However Steven interprets St. Paul on the resurrection a third of dwellers on the earth concur with the apostle’s certainty that ‘neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:38-39)

If this debate is going to be effective and enriching, yes, we need to clarify the objective, historical basis - but we also need to get into one another’s shoes as best we can.

I have always admired Albert Camus for his protest atheism. It has a deep moral thrust to it. In the Myth of Sisyphus Camus affirms life as being like the continual rolling of a stone up a hill only to see it run back down again. Where is the meaning of suffering? For Camus it does not lie in the death and resurrection of the Son of God as it does for me but it lies in the voicing of protest at the meaninglessness of life. Camus addresses the worst things in the world and sees the resurrection as a terrible thing. It seems to minimise suffering by saying ‘all will be right in the end’. How can it ever get right again? Camus says.

A similar line of thinking can be found in Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov where one brother describes a child being torn apart by dogs in front of his mother. He says however wonderful heaven is he would refuse a place there so appalled is he at the thought of all ever being right in the end.

I’m doing Steven’s job for him in presenting what I see as the most powerful argument against Christian faith in the resurrection. I would accept it - if I did not know Jesus to be alive and yet still wounded by iniquity. In three weeks time I will be blessing the Easter Candle and will be sticking what are effectively nails in its side. As Charles Wesley wrote ‘Those dear tokens of his passion still his glorious body bears’.

Steven, what are the most powerful arguments you can see for Christianity or are you in no doubt at all that it is absolutely misguided? You rebuke James for his candour in admitting the various nuances of Christian allegiance but his humility and honesty rather commend him in my book. To refuse to admit the possibility at least of being mistaken is at the heart of the world’s woes and it is not just religious people who think like that. In my experience magnanimity is found all the more where the resurrection of Christ is acclaimed.

Back to your second response to me on the historical basis of the resurrection. I think you would find very few contemporary scholars rubbishing the solidity in history of the New Testament record despite its theological interest in Jesus.

I read that Tacitus’ Annals of Imperial Rome (116 AD) survive mostly in one manuscript from 850AD whereas manuscript testimony of the New Testament amounts to 5,000 Greek manuscripts that date from 100AD earliest.

The gospel narratives contrast with the apocryphal gospels rejected for their fancifulness by the early church in favour of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Yes, you are right strictly to query these as original authors, but the associated traditions eg. Papias (125AD) linking the gospels eg. to St. Peter (Mark’s Gospel) are never lightly dismissed.

One of the problems we have in this debate is that when you see Jesus is alive, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:16, you do not ‘see him from a human point of view’ any more. That being said I value the debate because Christians are not entitled to the sort of triumphalism Camus would abhor which forgets that the Lord who is raised is the one who expects nothing of us that he is not prepared to go through himself. As we read in 1 Peter Chapter 2 ‘Christ also suffered…when he was abused he did not return abuse…He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live…’

I want a debate on the resurrection that is as generous and accommodating and intelligent as Jesus himself would want!


  1. As a grammatical pedant, I have to point out that 'from James and I' is as wrong as saying 'from I'.

    It should be 'from James and me'.

  2. And as a pedant on historic credibility questions, I would like to add that the Papias here mentioned not only is an author but also object of some remark in St Irenaeus, as being himself along with Papias disciple of St Polycarp, who was disciple of St John who was the last Gospeller and knew the other three, writing his own account rather to complete than merely to confirm.