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Was Jesus a Zombie?

When Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, CA was visiting Simpson University in Redding, CA last month, he recounted a story of a young man he met who seriously asked the question “Was Jesus a Zombie?” The youth was not being disrespectful – he was just trying to understand the resurrection. He had no background in Christianity and did not know what it meant that Jesus was “raised from the dead.” Kimball was using the story to illustrate how Christian jargon is often not understood in our post-Christendom world. Kimball has written several books including one in 2007 titled: They Like Jesus, but not the Church.

Oddly, our culture is saturated now days with zombies and vampires. Today’s New York Times Magazine had a silly article trying to build a case why Steve Jobs was like a vampire and Bill Gates a zombie. Lot’s of terrible stuff on TV too this Halloween season: Apocalypse Zombie; Zombieland; In Search of Zombieland; Zombie Chronicles; even Zombie Strippers! But I digress…

Among people who consider themselves faithful Christians, the resurrection is understood differently, so there is little wonder why Dan Kimball’s acquaintance was confused. Nobody I know thinks Jesus was a zombie; however, some of my fundamentalist friends, are sure that His same human body miraculously came alive again after the empty tomb and that doubting Thomas put his finger in the sword-wound in Jesus’ chest.

N T (Tom) Wright and Markus Borg both reject the notion of resuscitation (resumption of a prior existance) in favor of resurrection (something beyond the categories of life and death, space and time). In their delightful and important book The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, Wright and Borg both disagree as well as agree on several points, but what I find most endearing is their mutual respect, exquisite civility and obvious love for one another as challenging intellects and men of good will.

Borg makes what I believe is a valid point that in 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul speaks of the resurrection body as distinctly different from the physical body in the same metaphorical sense that a plant is very different from its seed. Incidentally, Paul’s letter actually challenges the popular conception of heaven as the place where some go immediately upon dying, in favor or resurrection of the dead referring to some future event many early Christians expected, or as Write put’s it “life after life ater death.”

N T Wright sees the resurrection as an event that actually occurred (however one describes this bodily transformation into a new sort of life). Importantly, it “means that the present time is shot through with great significance. What is done to the glory of God in the present is genuinely building for God’s future. Acts of justice and mercy, the creation of beauty and the celebration of truth, deeds of love and the creation of communities of kindness and forgiveness – these all matter, and they matter forever.”

Markus Borg sees the most important meaning of Jesus’ resurrection as the continued experience of Jesus as “a living reality after his death – a figure from the present, not simply a memory from the past.” Even though they see some things quite differently, both Wright and Borg still agree that the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection is twofold: Jesus lives and Jesus is Lord.

I also recommend Borg’s latest book Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words have Lost Their Meaning and Power – And How They Can Be Restored. I was thinking of it while I was listening to Dan Kimball speak last month at Simpson. Call me and let me know if you are interested in joining a Redding discussion group on this book beginning in November. The discussion will be lively!


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