The Biologos Foundation, which ‘addresses the central themes of science and religion and emphasizes the compatibility of Christian faith with scientific discoveries about the origins of the universe and life’, has come up with a statement of faith, shamelessly cribbed from 1 Corinthians 15:1-5:
Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
This is an elegantly subversive, if perhaps tongue-in-cheek, response to the fundamentalist inquisition that the organization has been subjected to on account of its willingness to take scientific accounts of cosmic and human origins seriously. What I find a little disappointing is Darrel Falk’s exposition of the significance of Paul’s ‘gospel’:
It is Christ’s life, death, and resurrection—the reality of the Creator who dwelt among us, died to show his love for us, and then victoriously overcame that death—which shapes our current existence, and provides assurance for a life to come.
The suggestion that the Creator, who dwelt among us, died for us seems confused and makes little sense of the resurrection: Christ is raised as new creation, at most as the one through whom all things are made and remade (cf. John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6), not as the Creator as such. The clause ‘died to show his love for us’ has more than a touch of a modern sentimental piety to it that can only contribute to the blurring of the underlying biblical narrative… which brings us to the more significant theological criticism – that the exposition finds the telos of resurrection in the life and hope of the individual.
There is only one passage in the scriptures that speaks of a resurrection on the third day and that is Hosea 6:1-2. Judah has been judged by YHWH, as though attacked and carried off torn and bleeding by a lion (Hos. 5:11-14). God says that he will withdraw to his own place until his people acknowledge their guilt and earnestly seek him. Then the prophet speaks on behalf of Judah:
Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.
Resurrection on the third day is here an image of the restoration of a people that has been judged by God. The gospel that Paul received, therefore, is likewise a statement about the restoration of a people. Jesus is understood to have suffered Israel’s punishment – that is the significance of the crucifixion, which graphically anticipated the Roman punishment of rebellious Israel. The symbolism gives us the proper foundation for any ‘doctrine’ of penal substitutionary atonement: Jesus suffered the judgment of destruction that Israel as a nation faced.
Jesus’ resurrection, therefore, represented, stood for, embraced the restoration of the people of God: ‘on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.’ Of course, this entailed the resurrection of individuals, though it seems to me that in the New Testament this prospect is restricted to those who suffer the same martyrs death as Jesus suffered. But the leading narrative is the communal or corporate one: a people condemned to destruction by the Law finds new life, the life of the age, in the resurrection of Jesus.
I would also suggest – tentatively – that by re-contextualizing its faith in the resurrection of Jesus in this bigger narrative of the renewal of God’s people as new creation Biologos would have a much better theological basis for its own programme. Without denying the ontological reality of Jesus’ resurrection, it becomes possible to frame the relationship between scripture and the natural order in rather different terms. I’m not quite sure where this line of thinking would lead us, but it ought at least to shift the focus away from the modern quasi-rationalist agenda of justifying scripture to the community-based, en-earthed task of embodying a viable alternative to the dominant cultural narratives. It gives us a different place from which to talk about creation.