Those who have followed my “career,” such as it is, for the last decade have surely noticed that I do not often engage in the heated theological debates of the day. There are reasons for this beyond lethargy or timidity.
I grew up and was nurtured in the Reformed tradition, where theological sparring is a spectator sport. I participated in the games, honed my wicked tongue (which was all-too-often genuinely wicked), and vanquished many foes.
I burned out.
It seemed to me (and still does) that the debates du jour formed an endless cycle of largely profitless disputation. Everything was a hill to die on, and yet we never seemed to die. No one ever “won,” yet we forgot one debate and moved on to another seamlessly. It was six-day creationism, Mosaic recapitulation, the efficacy of baptism and the “Federal Vision,” the “New Perspective on Paul,” and on and on it went. None of these matters are unimportant; but the Reformed amplifier dial has only one setting: ELEVEN.
So I turned the amplifier off.
Why, then, did I just publish a polemical essay in The Calvinist International responding to David Bentley Hart’s doctrine of the (non)resurrection of the flesh?
It was just over week ago. I had read Hart’s fascinating and dizzying article (regardless of his content, he is supremely talented), and thought that maybe somebody should write a response. It was one of those fleeting thoughts that quickly dissolves into “somebody else will do it.” I’m busy. I’m traveling this week.
On Tuesday I attended a funeral.
As I sat there with tears in my eyes looking at the handsome wooden box wherein the remains of my friend lay—after a rapid and sudden decline—a Christian brother so universally beloved the church building was bursting its capacity, the fire was rekindled. And it burned white hot.
This is not self-indulgent intellectual tiddlywinks. This is not a “hill to die on that isn’t really.” There is a man dead. And a very smug theologian of world renown has just proclaimed that the flesh and bones in that box will remain there forever.
It is a lie. A wicked one. It is a direct contradiction not only of the Word of God, but of the universal testimony of the church that has declared from ancient times, “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”
This is why Christians build boxes for our flesh and bones.
This is why we plant them in the ground.
This is why we face them toward the East where the sun rises.
Because someday the Son will rise.
This one is worth ELEVEN. This is a hill worth dying on. The goodness of our Creator and the scope of his redeeming love for his creation is not a fleeting matter, to be discarded next week for another silly controversy. This debate is perennial. It is necessary. And failure on this hill is not an option.
You can read Mattson’s response here.