Reality of the Risen Christ
Book review of Believing in the Resurrection.
BELIEVING IN THE RESURRECTION
The Meaning and Promise of the Risen Jesus
By Gerald O’Collins, SJ
Paulist Press, 2012
225 pages, $24.95
To order: paulistpress.com
St. Paul reminds us that, without the Resurrection, Christian faith is in vain. Yet many modern "Christian" scholars since the 19th century have either denied or minimized the reality of Jesus’ bodily rising from the dead. They claim, "It would make no difference to my faith if they found the bones of Jesus."
Father Gerald O’Collins trenchantly asks: "Would such a discovery improve your faith?"
Father O’Collins, who taught 30 years at Rome’s Gregorian University, scores tendencies to "over spiritualize" Jesus’ resurrection. He writes, "We are not destined at death to lose consciousness forever and return our bodies to the pool of cosmic matter. The Resurrection promises us a glorious personal future beyond this life, a future that, in ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ will bring a radical transformation not only for our bodily existence, but also for our material world."
Author of more than 10 books on the Resurrection alone (not counting works on Christology and fundamental theology), Father O’Collins in his latest tome brings theological discussion about the Resurrection up-to-date, vigorously defending the reality of Jesus’ rising in his human body and forcefully denying that "in using resurrection language, Christians were not talking about Jesus, but only about themselves. In these terms, resurrection is not a fact about Jesus himself but simply a fact about the love of his disciples, past, present and future."
In the first chapter, Father O’Collins examines nine recent books about the Resurrection. He attacks views that "underestimate" the Resurrection, trying to write it off as scientifically impossible; as psychological "wish fulfillment"; as therapeutic; as a language issue; or as simply fraudulent.
In subsequent chapters, Father O’Collins discusses what Scripture teaches about Jesus’ risen appearances; the significance of the empty tomb; Easter as the definitive start of the final redemption of the world; and — most basically — what the claim "to be raised from the dead" really means.
He also explores and presents a solid defense of the possibility of Easter faith today, challenging the kind of worldview that excludes the possibility of God having any real role or effect in this world. At the same time, Father O’Collins also denies a kind of crude realism: Jesus’ resurrection is objective, but not "objective," in the sense that it’s just too bad a news crew wasn’t filming the tomb Easter morning.
If I had to take issue with anything, it is that he sometimes sympathizes with Teilhard de Chardin’s theory about the transformation of the world in Christ (which suffers from real philosophical and theological errors). That said, I recommend this book for readers interested this Easter in a serious theological grappling with "What are they saying about the Resurrection?"
In the end, Father O’Collins notes the key to understanding Easter when, quoting Wittgenstein, he observes: "It is love that believes the Resurrection."
John M. Grondelski writes from Taipei, Taiwan.
- March 24-April 6, 2013