Saturday, 10 January 2009

Dr. Denis Alexander in the ET - why Jesus had to die

McIntosh asks, 'Why did Jesus die physically if the wages of sin is not physical death?'

This is a question which also arose strongly in my own review. It is a natural consequence of Dr. Alexander's altered doctrine of the Fall – which he makes an invisible, spiritual event. He denies that it had any impact on the workings of the physical creation – a denial that he has to make because Darwinian orthodoxy will not allow that the creation suddenly came into bondage to decay only a few thousand years ago. According to Darwinism and hence according to Alexander, all those things that Christians have historically identified as being part of the deleterious results of Adam's sin (thorns, pain, suffering, death, etc.) are original parts of the cosmos, not later intruders. Hence the question arises – if the Fall was not a physical event, why is redemption (the incarnation, Jesus' sufferings, death and resurrection) so physical; has Alexander's Darwinism not made the essence of the gospel incoherent?

The answer is in Hebrews 9:11-28, and the fact that Jesus died to save us from eternal separation with God, the 'second death' (Matthew 1:28; Revelation 2:11).

Again (and as commonly done in the book as well as in this letter), Alexander simply ducks the question and answers a conveniently different one of his own devising. The question is highlighting the physical nature of Jesus' death; Alexander instead merely states why Jesus had to do something to save us. The answer may well be in Hebrews 9... but what is that answer, Dr. Alexander? How does it relate to the question you were being asked? Just how and why did Jesus experience physical death in order to liberate us from a fate that you see only in terms of the non-physical?

Paul in Romans (6:21-23 and other chapters) is speaking of spiritual death. As Jesus explained to Nicodemus in response to his question (John 3:4), rebirth is spiritual, not physical (v. 5).

Here in his letter, as in his book, Dr. Alexander introduces the strong dichotomy which he relies upon to evade the fundamental problem with his teaching – that between “physical” and “spiritual” death. He merely insists that this idea is what is being spoken of by this or that Bible passage. The point is, though, not whether you can super-impose this idea upon passages of Scripture as DA does... but whether it actually reads out of any passages themselves. Here's Romans 6:21-23:

What fruit did you have then in those things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now being free from sin, and having become servants unto God, you have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Where do these verses teach Dr. Alexander's particular distinctive doctrine, namely that the Fall was a non-physical event, and that physical and spiritual death must be sharply distinguished? Of course, they don't. Dr. Alexander is guilty of reading a text through his own pre-supposed hermeneutical grid. His doctrine does not read out of the text – it has to be read in.

The idea that Jesus, in John chapter 3, was teaching or even implying to Nicodemus that the Fall was an event without physical consequences is exegetical madness. The idea is not even in the remote horizon of the exchange. Here, DA has plucked a verse wildly out of context to suit his purpose. Nicodemus thought of redemption in earthly and political terms – Israel being liberated from the Romans, and a new kingdom like David's being established. He needed to see that the true enemies of God's people were spiritual – sin, Satan and death – not military. He needed to see that he was in bondage to sin and that this was a more ultimate reality than Israel's political subjugation. He stumbled at Jesus teaching of the need for inward renewal and cleansing. I don't personally think that his question about being born again from his mother's womb was intended by him to be taken literally – it was simply a way of expressing his surprise at Jesus' teaching and pushing him to clarify what he meant. Alexander, though, rips this all out of context and makes Jesus teach not merely that we need inward and spiritual renewal by the Holy Spirit, but into a denial that man dies because Adam sinned!  The fact that his doctrine can only be supported by ripping passages out of context in this way, and not by direct appeal to any texts where the subject is being addressed directly shows us the lack of Biblical support for the idea.

DA then proceeds to state his neo-Gnostic view of the resurrection and the future state:

We have to physically die to fulfil God's purposes, for 'flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable' (1 Corinthians 15:50).

In this verse, Paul gives one of the subsiduary reasons why our resurrection bodies must differ in some ways (whilst still having continuity – see earlier in the chapter) with our present bodies. The state of glory is of an order which we can hardly yet imagine. To enter it, we must be changed. This change, though, does not actually necessitate death; Paul makes that explicit by saying (emphasis mine): “We shall not all die, but we shall all be changed” (verse 51). Those who are still alive when the Lord returns shall not go through death, but shall be changed without it into a fitting state for glory. Hence there is no necessity for death for us to enter that state, contrary to what DA says. I label DA's view “neo-Gnostic” because his denial of a physical Fall leads him to effectively deny that Christ's physical death is related to our physical redemption which culminates in physical resurrection and transformation. He rather views this present mode of existence as being a classic Gnostic prison, and Jesus liberates us from it – he doesn't so much redeem and glorify a Fallen world as take us out of it into something else of a totally different nature.

DA's view makes no sense of the whole thrust and purpose of 1 Corinthians 15. There must, contrary to the deniers at Corinth, be a resurrection because without it Jesus' victory over sin would be incomplete. The first Adam through his sin caused us all to die (Romans 5:12-14); to reverse that, Jesus himself died and rose, and must raise us too. His physical resurrection is the great announcement, realisation and proof that the consequences of Adam's rebellion have been overcome. His physical resurrection is such a proof precisely because Adam's rebellion brought in physical death. Cut that vital link in Biblical theology, and you're left floundering around to explain all of this. DA never answers the pertinent questions raised by McIntosh's review. Why did Jesus physically die? Why did his punishment include physical sufferings if physical sufferings are not in fact in this world as a consequence of sin? Why would he endure such a penalty if it never was part of the penalty God imposed? Just why did Jesus endure physical death save us from a spiritual separation? He doesn't answer them because ultimately the truncated doctrine of redemption which his Darwinism leads him to... can't.

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