A few months ago I spoke to a women's ministry about the importance of theology for women in the church. The event went well, and the women peppered me with many challenging questions. However, I was a little unprepared for a question I received after the event had ended. As I gathered my gloves and coat and prepared to head home, a woman escorted me to the door and asked, "Why is the Resurrection bodily?"
Although I had just fielded questions about theology for nearly an hour, this question surprised me because it was unrelated to any of the topics we had discussed. It came out of left field, and it is not a question I hear very often. I asked her to elaborate.
"I don't understand why the Resurrection is bodily," she continued. "To me, it seems like God would do away with the body. It doesn't seem like it matters as much."
Although the bodily resurrection is not discussed as frequently as other doctrines, such as the Trinity or the divinity of Christ, it is nevertheless a core belief of the church. Unfortunately, I suspect that a lot of Christians share my sister's confusion about it. And that confusion is obvious when Christians begin to talk about the physical body.
To provide a little history, the doctrine of the bodily resurrection refers to both the bodily resurrection of Christ, as well as the bodily resurrection of believers. This doctrine is affirmed by Scripture as well as numerous church fathers. Athanasius wrote that Jesus "accepted a decaying body so that decaying bodies might put on immortality." In Tertullian's The Apology, he responds to questions about how the bodily resurrection is possible if the physical body has been destroyed on earth. And in his Against Heresies, Irenaeus affirms the bodily resurrection as well (5:31:2). Finally, the Apostles' Creed, which dates to the 4th century, states our belief in the "resurrection of the body."
More recently, N. T. Wright's book excerpt in Christianity Today described the doctrine as more than "one odd bit of [our] hope." Instead, "It is the element that gives shape and meaning to the rest of the story of God's ultimate purposes." For Wright, the bodily resurrection is a sign of God's greater redemptive plan for Creation. Rather than discard and destroy the good Creation he birthed in Genesis, God aims to undo the effects of the Fall, producing a glorious new heaven and new earth. That work does not begin some time in the distant future, but was inaugurated with the bodily resurrection of Christ.
So what does this doctrine mean for us practically speaking? As John Piper once put it, "God is profoundly concerned with your body." He adds, "If he weren't, he would let it rot in the grave and tell you to say good riddance. But he never says that." Put another way, the body is not an afterthought or a mere shell to be discarded. It is not a lower, baser entity that houses the higher, more spiritual soul. The physical body is a good part of Creation that God designed with a purpose, and he plans to redeem it.
The doctrine of the bodily resurrection is important for all Christians, men and women alike. It protects Christians against a spirit-matter dualism that has occasionally cropped up throughout the history of the church. Although this dualism has manifested in extreme forms of asceticism that seek to deny the body, Wright also highlights its impact on thinking about the mission of the church. Wright argues that when the redemption of the whole creation takes a backseat to the redemption of souls, we betray the implications of the bodily resurrection. God is concerned with the redemption of both.
That said, our historical moment makes this doctrine especially important for women. About six months ago I wrote a post on modesty that elicited a variety of responses. Some pushed back against my assertion that the female body is good, suggesting that the female body is inherently distracting and tempting.
In my opinion, the latter perspective—and similar rhetoric surrounding Christian modesty—reflects an insufficient understanding of the bodily resurrection. Any language that ignores the body, devalues the body, or bestows it with an inherent shame is operating under a mistaken theology that is inconsistent with this doctrine. That is not to say that modesty is unimportant and does not have its place. It does. But we must encourage modesty for the right reasons.
As Piper noted, the bodily resurrection is evidence that God cares about our bodies. This standard should shape our thinking about the body and our language about modesty. Rather than fear the female body, Christians should care for it and participate in its redemptive end.
We live during a time when women are encouraged to detach from our bodies. Some women do this by putting on male behavior and dress in male-dominated workplaces, while other women detach by using their bodies as sexual power tools. In the face of this ungodly dualism that undermines the holistic self, the Christian response should be more than a defensive reaction. It should be redemptive. The doctrine of the bodily resurrection therefore compels us to ask, "How might we resurrect God's vision for the female body, and redeem the female body for his purposes?"
The answer to that question, I believe, requires far more study and conversation than the mere listing of immodest clothing can address.
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