Take for example, something blatantly obvious like the fact that salt and caramel are a powerful and wonderful combination. If you’ve not had salted caramel then you couldn’t possibly know. But the first time you put some in your mouth your taste buds, rapidly followed by whatever part of the brain it is that decides these things, goes through what can only be described as a paradigm shift and all of a sudden it makes sense – this is reality; this is the way God designed things to be.
As a pastor of a church I am constantly longing for the flock under my care to undergo these moments of the blindingly obvious as we read the Bible together. What is an obvious doctrine to some of us (whether we’ve had to write 3,000 word essays about it in theological college or not) can be unknown before it is properly explained. Our people walk around loving Jesus and His word and yet not clear on a whole bunch of important stuff. Part of this, of course, is that we all walk around with assumptions and preconceptions as to how things are, many as a result of deep philosophical currents that have influenced our culture for centuries, but we are as unaware of them as a first-time tourist standing on Bondi Beach is oblivious to a rip tide while seasoned veterans of the surf are far wiser.
Because of this I love those moments where people get it; where they see clearly what the Bible has to say. And because of that I love those means by which they get it. And because of that I love Rory Shiner’s raised forever.
Rory’s great ambition in writing raised forever is set out on the front cover. He wants us to grasp the connection between “Jesus’ Resurrection and ours”. It’s a noble task and one which Shiner more than accomplishes, albeit with a few minor bumps along the way (but more of them later). Shiner is a great communicator and this book succeeds in not only making its case well and Biblically (not necessarily the same thing among the contemporary glut of “Christian” books) but also with a style that draws the reader in. To channel my 11 year old daughter, I literally couldn’t put it down. It was, like, unputdownable. The review copy had sat on my desk for many many months, but when I finally opened it up it was all finished in a few days. It was a delight for me to read truths that I so long for others to grasp, and it was a delight to have them explained in the way that Rory explains them. This is a delicious book about a salted caramel doctrine.
raised forever flows well through an introduction and 7 relatively short chapters. In the introduction Shiner sets us up with the account of Jesus’ resurrection from John’s gospel, followed with a teaser of Paul’s preaching in Athens. He then launches into a well-sequenced series of chapters that develop his argument.
We begin in chapter 1, looking at the alien nature of the Resurrection claims of Paul amongst a sceptical Greek culture (including an excellent discussion of what modern idolatry looks like).
Chapter 2 embeds us within the Old Testament and shows us the resurrection hope of Israel and shows us how the Apostles saw its obvious fulfilment in Jesus.
Chapter 3 provides a solid apologetic for the reality and historicity of the resurrection. There will be nothing new here for those who have spent time examining these things and seeking to defend them but I did particularly appreciate Shiner’s closing remarks on the force of the evidence where he helps the reader understand that the major stumbling block in acceptance will not be so much the evidence itself but our presuppositions. For the record, I think I want to be slightly more bold than Shiner’s “I do not think the historical evidence forces your hand. I do think it is good. It clears the ground for the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead, but I don’t think it can push you over the line” but his line of reasoning is still powerful. There is a conflict here between evidence-based historical probability and the self-interest of the person who will reject that evidence which Shiner more than clearly sets out and he has a delicious way of teasing us into thinking a little more about these things:
It’s an intrusive sort of guest, one that starts rearranging the furniture – and eventually (if you’re not careful) you’ll wake up one day and find it doing major structural work on the whole house. (p.83)
Chapter 4 is where Shiner begins to unleash the shot that he has been so carefully setting up. With great care he lays out what it means for Christ to be firstfruits of a general resurrection. The chapter is essentially a detailed exposition of 1Cor. 15 taking us through Paul’s logic that ties Jesus’ resurrection to our own. Thankfully he also stops by Romans 8 showing us how the Resurrection is good news not just for humanity but for the entire Creation. The influence of Oliver O’Donovan’s Resurrection and Moral Order is clear to see but this is no bad thing. I particularly appreciated Rory’s polemic against our own culture’s “conservative” and “embarrassingly submissive” response to death (p.100). Jesus’ resurrection brings a new way of looking at everything as we wait for the final harvest.
Chapter 5 takes a brief look at the intermediate state. It starts well, with a thorough rejection of the “Christians go to heaven when they die” error. Instead we are carefully taken through the language of “seeds” in 1Cor. 15 and “sleep” in 1Thes. 4 to establish the point irrefutably. From there we move to a delicate discussion of what the intermediate state might look like. Where chapter 4 draws upon O’Donovan, chapter 5’s argument will be very familiar to those who are aware of Tom Wright’s “Life After Life After Death” argument and, again, this is no bad thing. Chapter 5 is going to be one of the major paradigm-busting salted caramel moments for many readers and Shiner has presented his main case very well. However, while there was much to commend here (especially a great handling of Jesus’ promise of “today you will be with me in Paradise” to the thief on the cross) the argument was let down by no mention at all of Jesus’ parable (or is it a parable?!) of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16. When I contacted Rory directly about this his response was,
I guess my answer would be that Lazarus and the Rich Man is not deployed to answer the question of the intermediate state. But I guess even saying that might have been worthwhile.
To my own mind, the interaction between Lazarus and the Rich Man in Jesus’ story provide some solid confirmation of Shiner’s argument that there is conscious enjoyment of the Lord in the intermediate state, even while we wait for our own resurrection. Nevertheless, chapter 5 is well worth your time.
Chapter 6 completes the logical chronology and takes us to the consummation of all things. One word courses through this chapter, “hope”. Shiner’s gift is in not only communicating the fact of a future resurrection of the entire cosmos but also drawing us into the deep confidence that the Christian ought to have as they contemplate the certainty of that event, grounded as it is in Jesus’ own resurrection.
“That’s why Christian hope – resurrection hope – is a particular kind of hope. It’s intense. It’s a weird mixture of excitement and frustration. Like a kid both enjoying and enduring the slow unfolding of an advent calendar. Like an overly long engagement. Like a fantastic meal the hungry guests at the table can smell, but not yet eat. The kind of hope, that is, that can make you groan with anticipation. (p.119)
What’s so masterful about this kind of writing is that it captures so well the emotion of the Scriptures, rather than simply the information contained therein. Reading this book makes you want to hear Shiner preach. Indeed there were moments when I almost felt myself being preached to. And not in a bad way! If preaching is the art of both faithfully exegeting the text and proclaiming it in a manner sympathetic to the original tone then it’s hard to look beyond raised forever for a good example. But I digress.
Along the way in chapter 6 we deal with that thorny line in the Apostles’ Creed, “He descended to Hades”. Shiner runs us briefly through the various possibilities before taking us (rightly, I think) to the answer that Jesus really did descend to Hades but that God did not abandon Him there (although I’m not at all convinced by the Scriptural buttressing that is provided from Rom. 10:6-7, Eph. 4:9 and especially 1Peter 3:18-20 – Rory will have to forgive me on this one but he got trampled underhoof of one of my personal hobby horses).
The chapter finishes strongly by echoing 1Cor. 15’s final call to pursue “the word of the Lord” which Shiner defines as “that sort of work that specifically promotes the gospel of Jesus” (p.134). By “gospel work” Shiner clearly has in mind the word proclamation of the good news about Jesus, not some of the wider “creation renewal” motifs suggested by other writers on this topic.
Finally, chapter 7 takes us to “The Resurrection Life Now”. Again, there’s great stuff here: the power of the Raised Christ poured out on the church (Eph. 1), our own conversion expressed as resurrection (Eph. 2) and the consequent call to the new life (Eph. 4&5). As before, the strength of this chapter is not simply the great description of scriptural truths but the way in which Shiner shows us how those truths are argued in larger chunks of Scripture. There is no proof-texting here. We are not shown a couple of key verses from Ephesians but, rather, the whole sweep of the argument in Ephesians.
All in all this is a great book and certainly one I’m going to be heartily recommending. It does, however, have one major omission. In his opening chapter Shiner states,
Paul does not give proof for the resurrection; for him, the resurrection is proof – proof of the coming justice of God. He argues from the resurrection, not for it. (pp.39-40)
While the flow of argument from resurrection is the book’s overwhelming strength, its weakness is that there is a shallowness when it comes to discussion of “the coming justice of God”, specifically with a view to God’s judgement of humanity. All too often this key theme is grazed over too lightly when raised (pun intended). This seems to be a major flow given the fundamental link that the Apostles’ preaching makes between the two (e.g. Acts 10:39-42, 17:31; Rom. 2:16; Rev. 20:12-13 etc.) and I would have loved to see more on this topic. The brief mention on pages 37-38 (looking at Acts 17:31) felt inadequate and we were moved on without fully feeling the weight of what that judgement would look like other than a general sense that God would right all things. In this regard I couldn’t help wonder if the influence of Tom Wright was evident, and not in the helpful way that he has informed so much of the later material in the book.
Responding to this claim that more is needed on judgement, Shiner told me,
Yep, I think that is far enough. I did try to draw out the implications of judgement at the end of chapter 1 on Acts 17. I think I do, but I don’t think I do it in a way what that helps readers (especially unbelievers) feel existentially that they might be on the wrong side of that judgement. That is, I think judgement theology is there, but not the sense of judgement urgency. A failure of execution rather than intent. (I wonder if more attention to John’s Gospel would have helped me there?)
Nevertheless for a book that seeks to adjust and correct the Christian’s understanding of the link between Jesus’ resurrection and our own, raised forever has gone to the top of my list. Not only is it almost all very, very good material, it’s also a delight to read. Shiner’s great strength is in not only teaching us truth from the Bible, but doing so in a way that helps us grasp how the Bible’s authors lay out their argument and, by virtue of his engaging style, leaving us wanting to read more. It’s a true salted caramel of a book, but one that won’t leave you with a sugar crash.
Let me put it like this: raised forever leaves you waiting with longing for what comes next. First and foremost the longing is for Jesus’ return, but if He holds off a little longer then Shiner will have time to write at least one more book. And that wouldn’t be a bad thing either.