Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Christ’s Resurrection as Unique Missional Paradigm – a Refreshing Dialogue with Rev. Johnson Thomakutty from India in Holland

One of my fellow PhD friends here at Radboud University Nijmegen is Rev. Johnson Thomaskutty from Union Biblical Seminary ( in Pune, India. He is in the third year of his PhD program in which he is focussing on The Nature and Function of Dialogues in the Gospel according to St. John. He will be leaving us soon, to return to his teaching position at UBS.

He kindly offered to drink a nice cup of Dutch coffee with me, and share a few thoughts about how he, as an Indian Christian theologian, understands Jesus’ resurrection. I will put a few questions to Johnson, then type his responses out, and afterwards get him to make sure that I got it right.

Question: Johnson, as a Christian theologian coming from India, and having two masters degrees in New Testament (one from Senate of Serampore University in India and the other from Princeton Theological Seminary in the USA), do you think it is important for the Christian faith that Jesus’ tomb was really empty following his resurrection, or not?

Answer: Yes, it is important. The reason? The resurrection appearances and the empty tomb are part of the foundational beliefs of the Christian faith. If any one of these two is nullified, then the basic tenets of Christianity are in question.

Question: But Johnson, some theologians would argue that Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual, therefore/as a result the empty tomb is not important. What does spiritual resurrection mean to you?

Answer: Jesus’ body could become spiritual even before his resurrection. In John 6 we find that Jesus walked on water, similar to John 20 where he came to the upper room where the door was closed. In both instances Jesus had the ability to appear and disappear, something which is beyond human comprehension. Thus, Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual in the sense that he could appear and disappear, but it was also material because the tomb was “really empty”. He rose with the same body, but it was transformed.

Question: If this is the case Johnson, what is the significance of the resurrection for your ministry in India where you teach?

Answer: The significance of the resurrection of Jesus in my Indian context is multi-faceted. When I’m talking about the resurrection of Jesus in our multi-religious, multi-cultural and pluralistic culture of India, I have to re-interpret the significance of Christ’s resurrection for our diverse communities. The salvific significance of Christ’s work on the cross, and his resurrection should first and foremost be taught and proclaimed, as the good news of salvation for the various religious and ethnic communities. As a second order to this, when I am witnessing Christ for instance to the Dalits, Tribals and the Adivasis (the poor and marginalized, also called the dust of the dust), I use Christ’s resurrection as a model for liberation out of the clutches of oppression and dehumanization. As Christ was humiliated on the cross, and was raised by the Father from the grave, so also, Christian mission should focus on the upliftment of the oppressed out of the bondages of poverty, casteism, sin and injustice.

Resurrection is therefore a unique missional paradigm, comprising the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection, its salvific significance as well as its social implications.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Believing in bodily resurrection and heaven doesn't make you a Platonist or Gnostic – N.T. Wright and Marcus Bockmuehl at loggerheads?

Today I had the opportunity of attending part of the Oxbridge New Testament Graduate Seminar held in Cambridge this time around. As always, the papers presented were exceptional.

Those who presented were Bruce Clark (Cambridge); Richard Kueh (Cambridge); Diane Hakala (Cambridge); Ben Edsall (Oxford); Alex Kirk (Oxford) and Nicholas Ellis (Oxford). Apart from my Cambridge friends, it was really good to see my Oxford friends Ben, Alex and Nicholas again!

In between sessions I had a fascinating talk with Professor Marcus Bockmuehl from Oxford about his paper: “Did St. Paul go to Heaven when he Died?” which he delivered last year at the Theological dialogue with N.T. Wright held at Wheaton College.

Having listened to both professor Bockmuehl’s and Wright’s papers, and after listening attentively to Bockmuehl’s further explanations, at some stage during our interesting talk, I tried to summarise what I thought to be the issue for him: “You don’t have to become a Platonist or Gnostic to believe in bodily resurrection and going to heaven when you die” – This is more or less how I understood professor Bockmuehl’s disagreement with professor N.T. Wright. Professor Bockmuehl reiterated that to his mind, all of the early church fathers believed in a heavenly after-life, without neglect of the resurrection of the body. It seemed to me that for professor Bockmuehl, professor Wright goes beyond Paul when it comes to a text like 2 Cor. 5:1-10.

It was a great privilege to meet professor Bockmuehl. He’s given me much food for thought.

Here is a link to professor Bockmuehl’s paper:

The conference papers have now also been published by IVP under the title Jesus, Paul, and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N.T. Wright. To order (in Europe) click here:

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Oliver O' Donovan on "Jesus is Lord" in the Belhar Confession of faith

The Dutch Reformed Church of Western and Southern Cape, South Africa, recently accepted the Belhar confession of faith as its fourth official confession. In it the christological confession Jesus is Lord is very important and directly linked to reconciliation and justice.

After world renowned Christian philosopher and ethicist - professor Oliver O' Donovan's paper called "Good without God?" tonight in Cambridge, I asked him whether Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection should be regarded as the background for the confession Jesus is Lord. In his response he made it clear that Jesus is Lord cannot be understood apart from Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection. He emphasised that it is through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross that we are reconciled with God. With regards to the resurrection, he emphasised that through Jesus’ resurrection, God shows us that this world will be restored.

Afterwards, I spoke to professor O' Donovan about his view of Jesus’ resurrection in particular. I informed him that over the years a few Jesus Seminar scholars have visited South Africa and propagated the view that Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead. I asked him whether he deemed it important that Jesus rose bodily from the dead or not. He answered something like this: “I believe the resurrection has to be an event in the world. It must be material”. He also said that he has a problem with the idea that it is the “mind” that is resurrected. As we continued to talk it became clear that the renewal of creation at the time of the resurrection is very important to him.

After our discussion I told him that much of what he had just told me comes close to what professor NT Wright taught me in Durham in 2009. He laughed and said they are old friends and that he can never part from what Tom Wright has to say about resurrection and new creation!

What a pleasant evening we had!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Oliver O'Donovan in Cambridge - Good without God?

Part of the motivation for my PhD project came from reading Oliver O'Donovan's fantastic book: Resurrection and Moral Order ( He is one of my favourite theologians. On Wednesday he will deliver a paper in Cambridge entitled: Good without God? Thank you to dr Jonathan Chaplin of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics who brought this to my attention. The whole program looks like this:

Good without God? A Christian philosopher probes the foundation for ethics
18 May 2011
Palmerston Room, Fisher Building
St. John’s College, Cambridge

What difference does Christian theology make to ethics?

Is a theological foundation necessary for ethics?
To what extent can there be a fruitful dialogue between Christian and secular ethics?

The Veritas Forum invites you hear Oliver O’Donovan probe the Christian foundation for ethics. Oliver O’Donovan is Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at the University of Edinburgh. He was previously President of the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics and Regius Professor of Moral & Pastoral Theology and Canon of Christ Church at the University of Oxford. Following Prof O'Donovan's opening lecture, discussion and Q&A will be moderated by Jonathan Chaplin of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics.
The Veritas Forum is organized by Christian students and faculty in the University of Cambridge in association with Christian in Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences; Christian Graduate Society; Kirby Laing Institute of Christian Ethics; Jubilee Centre; and Christian Heritage.

More information is available here:

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Honest answers to Tough Questions - 14 May London Conference

Premier Christian Radio presents an apologetics day conference for anyone who wants help in thinking through and responding to the tough questions on faith from atheists, Muslims and those of other world views. Building on Premier's popular faith discussion show and podcast 'Unbelievable?', the conference will focus on a number of questions commonly asked by sceptics and those of other faiths.

Monday, 2 May 2011

The Lost History of Christianity - Philip Jenkins in the Netherlands

". . . when Christianity is at its weakest in one area, amazing new opportunities open elsewhere." This quote comes from an interview conducted by Stan Guthrie for Christianity Today with Prof. Philip Jenkins, the influential American scholar with  double first-class degrees and a PhD from Cambridge University (1).

Prof. Jenkins will give a public lecture at Radboud University, Nijmegen tomorrow with the title: The Lost History of Christianity. On the Rise and Fall of Religions (2).

Prof. Jenkins is the author of more than twenty books including the well known The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (3).