The topic of Jesus’ resurrection plays a central place in current theological conversations. A recent ATLA search (keywords: Resurrection/Jesus) yielded over 2000 articles and books discussing the topic, including more than 10 reports on symposia and anthologies. The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T, Wright in Dialogue fits in this latter category, reproducing in part a symposium held at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 2005 as part of a series designed to bring together evangelical and non-evangelical scholars in conversation. The title of the book is somewhat misleading since the “dialogue” takes up less than 1/3 of the book. The majority of the book consists of a historical introduction, 8 papers/articles (written mostly by authors of an evangelical persuasion) and an essay by Crossan that was distributed to the conference participants and attached to the volume as an appendix. The reader who is not familiar with Crossan’s hermeneutical principles and exegetical methods might do well to read this essay prior to reading the edited transcript of his conversation with Wright.
The dialogue between Wright and Crossan was clearly intended to be the center of the conference and the volume. At the beginning each states his position briefly and comments on that of his conversation partner. Wright summarizes his argument (stated far more elaborately in The Resurrection of the Son of God), which is a very sophisticated presentation of a fairly standard apologetic argument to the effect that the Christian mutations of traditional Jewish apocalyptic/resurrection beliefs are so significant that they can only be accounted for by the fact the first Christian disciples believed that Jesus had been physically raised from the dead. The second stage of his nuanced argument is that the physical appearances of Jesus and the discovery of the empty tomb are jointly, but not individually, sufficient conditions for the emergence of this belief. They are not, strictly speaking, necessary conditions. However, since he believes that he has demonstrated the failure of all the currently available alternative explanations of the emergence of this belief, he argues that the facts of the empty tomb and the physical appearances of Jesus to the disciples are the best explanation for the origins of this belief, thus approaching the status of necessary conditions.
Crossan’s contribution is quite irenic. He rejects Wright’s argument that the two conditions that he specified are jointly sufficient to account for the belief but, instead of dismissing it in toto, offers a friendly amendment (which Wright accepts) that a third condition is required. In Crossan’s view only Jesus’ preaching that the Kingdom of God had been inaugurated in his healings and ministry sets the events of the empty tomb and the appearances in the appropriate eschatological context to account for the resurrection belief, as opposed to a more common-place belief in Jesus’ exaltation.
Crossan’s argument may not be quite as irenic as it appears. His important distinction between modes of language (e.g., literal, metaphoric) and its meaning (its implications for attitudes and behavior) makes it clear that his flexibility is strategic. In his view it seems to be virtually impossible for those who believe that the resurrection of Jesus was an event with physical implications and those who believe that the accounts are metaphoric to settle their dispute concerning the linguistic mode of the narratives. He suggests that the conversation move to a discussion of their respective accounts of its meaning, i.e., it soteriological and moral dimensions. It is clear that he prefers a metaphorical interpretation, rejecting, for example, the historical veracity of the empty tomb narratives. Wright does not join this issue and it seemed to me that some of the largest disagreements between them went unexplored.
This conference and volume were designed with both scholars and lay people in mind and the introduction and seven of the eight essays that follow the dialogue attempt, with varying degrees of success, to address both. (I am not able to discern the purpose of including Charles Quales’ exegetical essay on the Gospel of Peter.) First, Robert Stewart’s historical introduction to the volume, Craig Evans’ appreciative overview of the larger themes of Crossan’s and Wright’s conclusions and arguments, Ted Peters’ introduction of arguments from the larger conversation between theology and science, and Gary Habermas’ survey of what he sees as recent trends in theological discussions of the resurrection appearances, all provide historical and contemporary context for the Crossan-Wright conversation. These essays will be of most value to readers who are not specialists in this area. (It should be noted that Alan Segal, who appears to be the lone “outside” contributor to the proceedings, sharply disagrees with the assessment of current scholarship, particularly as offered by Habermas.) Second, philosophers William Craig, R. Douglass Geivett, and Robert Stewart press both Wright and Crossan to sharpen their positions. They wish them explore their hermeneutical and philosophical assumptions more clearly, to make their arguments more strongly (particularly in the case of Wright), and to engage more sharply on the historical issues from which Crossan moved the conversation.
I agree with these latter suggestions. When I read the dialogue between Wright and Crossan, it seemed to me that politeness had triumphed over substance. At Crossan’s suggestion, they had agreed to disagree over the historical questions and focused their attention on areas where agreement might be more possible. The evangelical philosophers who criticized that have a valid point. I am also sympathetic to Segal’s implicit critique of the conference and the conclusions of some of the papers. If larger philosophical issues are to be raised, then the dialogue between evangelicals and non-evangelicals should be reshaped somewhat to include naturalists, members of other religious traditions, and skeptics rather than just liberal Christian scholars like Crossan. That would increase the value of future conferences and future volumes at least if they are discussing topics that are so crucial to Christian apologetics.