One of the key messages of Christianity has to do with death and hope. But popular notions of this seem to stand at some distance from Paul and the gist of the New Testament.
The idea of our souls going to heaven when we die has replaced the resurrection of the body and life on a renewed earth. Modern evangelicals have often replaced the resurrection of the body with the idea of being snatched away to heaven at the so-called Rapture. The resurrection is still out there somewhere, but the Rapture has replaced it as the primary hope of the believer. For theological liberals both the resurrection and heaven often become more symbols than realities.
With Easter coming up, I will take a look at Caroline Walker Bynum’s The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336. She traced thinking about that doctrine from the 2nd century patriarchs through Dante in the 14th century.
This is not a study of the Bible or Systematic Theology. It is a look at historical theology. Bynum’s interest is to see how views of the resurrection of the body reflect how society saw the human body. She sees this in terms of hierarchy and gender. In other words, she has interests that come from feminist theory (her book was published in 1995).
My interests are different. So I will be reporting what she says, and then interacting with it. My interest is to understand how we got to where we are.
She recognizes that an organic metaphor was central to Paul’s view. The body buried in the ground was like a seed. The risen body was like a plant growing from the seed. There was continuity in that the risen body arose from the buried body. But there was great discontinuity in that what grew up was vastly different from the seed. What she sees in church history was a downplaying of the discontinuity and a clinging to strong continuity between this body and the risen body. Medieval theologians seldom used Paul’s organic metaphor. Rather, they liked to say that the risen body was like a jewel extracted from the mire, a fallen and rebuilt temple, or a vessel destroyed and reassembled. Their images stressed that the new body would be materially and structurally much the same as the old body (pp . 8-9).
I wonder if the more recent trend to spiritualize the age to come is a reaction to this materialistic turn of medieval theology.