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Beyond Resurrection Paperback – November, 1999
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About the Author
A.J.M. Wedderburn is professor of New Testament in the Protestant Faculty of the University of Munich.
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Coming off the heels of serious and articulate historical investigations into the subject with relevant lines of thought, heavy footnotes, and a commanding bibliography (like that of Licona [Christian], and Ludemann [atheist], Allison [deist] etc.), Wedderburn's contribution sounds largely New Age-ish and frequently comes off as Oprah Winfry exegesis. His relatively small bibliography is woefully lopsided, which is reflected in his almost absolute failure to interact with people who disagree with his controversial historical conclusions (ignoring altogether the most prominent opponents of his position [e.g. Licona, Habermas, Craig] and their arguments). As an enthusiast philosopher, I'd love to comment on Wedderburn's extensive but generally naive foray into philosophy and recommend reading material (particularly Claremont Professor of Philosophy Stephen Davis's "Making Sense of the Resurrection", for his resurrection continuuity complaints) but I didn't save enough quotes or page numbers. There are better books out there, here are links to the three above:
Mike Licona's "The Resurection of Jesus": [...]
Dale Allison's "Resurrecting Jesus": [...]
Gerd Ludemann's "What Really Happened to Jesus" [...]
(Note, also good is Ludemann's published debate with Craig "Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment?" [...]
His initial assumption is that "it is unlikely that the state of the evidence is often going to be such that the verdict upon it is ever going to be `beyond all reasonable doubt.'" He then limits the possible outcomes to being more or less probable. He concludes that one should not base one's life or faith upon a maybe. On the contrary, we routinely base our lives upon `maybe' when we drive on the freeway or fly. The real question regarding the resurrection doesn't concern certainty but probability.
Wedderburn's primary technique is to propose numerous questions to raise doubts about an issue, but he seldom develops answers or critically addresses a topic. He merely proceeds through the issue as if his merely asking questions prove his point. The standard he has established is that in the case of doubt one should not have faith. He presumes this is enough.
Through the use of historical criticism, he establishes doubts about the resurrection of Jesus. He questions whether the body was stolen, points out minor inconsistencies in the Gospel accounts, and questions whether we can believe in miracles. He fails to provide the answers which are readily available by such authors as N. T. Wright or Gary Habermas, but rather jumps to the conclusion that the biblical accounts are no longer reasonable in our modern world.
From there he proceeds to dilute the issue to one of `resurrection faith' rather than an actual bodily resurrection of Jesus in order to explain the actions of early Christians and beliefs of modern Christians. He concludes from this that "a historical investigation into the traditions of Jesus' resurrection seems to yield little that is of much use for Christian faith," yet this conclusion is reached solely upon "unsatisfactory uncertainty" by page 95 of the book.
It is at this point that the real purpose of Wedderburn's book becomes evident. Although he utilized his view of history to disprove not only the resurrection but also traditional Christianity, the objective becomes that of making Christian faith compatible with our modern world. This presumption is stated by him as a "necessity to refashion theology for another age and for a world that has become far vaster." He also finds that this is "a good reason for resisting the idea that truth is somehow encapsulated in those first-century writings." By removing the resurrection as a validation of a message from God and revelation of Truth through the authors of the New Testament, Wedderburn is free to modernize the message and translate it in light of human reason and empirical science.
Finally he raises more questions, such as the problem of the existence of evil in a world created by an omnipotent God, to discredit the foundations of Christian theology. He infers that theologians are dependent upon `satisfied customers', that pointing to "an after-life as a panacea" is not "appropriate or healthy", and hence we should restructure the Christian faith. This is his personal path and he thinks the only rational path given the historical evidence.
Wedderburn likes a `vulnerable' faith detached from the resurrection or the Christian God. He wants to modernize Christianity consistent with the worldview of science. He states that given his findings regarding Jesus' resurrection and life after death "if an agnostic `Not proven' is the most that we can say about either of these, then I think it better to acknowledge that clearly and unambiguously, and then to work out one's Christian theology and practice accordingly." However he has approached the resurrection, life after death, and the theology of Christianity superficially making and attacking straw men and has reached his conclusion utilizing a historical standard which needed only to establish doubt.
Wedderburn's problem with the Christian faith is a real problem faced in our modern society where truth can only be found in empirical science. He claims that history is a science and hence the truth of the resurrection cannot be established with certainty. Since many of the claims of Christianity, such as miracles, creation and sin, are not the subject of empirical verification they must belong to the realm of myth or fiction. The tension between free will and determinism, good and evil, and the laws of nature and the existence of God all drive Wedderburn to trust in human reason and scientific facts and hence deny the Christian God in favor of John Hick's `Real'. Based upon his assumptions he has created a god consistent with what he thinks is right.