Olson's Resurrection | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | Catholic World Report | The Dispatch
“Resurrection doesn’t mean becoming a spirit but having one’s mortal body transformed into a spiritualized body, a bodily manner of existing wholly animated by the Spirit of God.” — Carl E. Olson, Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead: Questions and Answers About the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus(Ignatius Press-Augustine Institute, 2016), 172.
Grammarians, logicians, and other rare species that care about the meaning and accuracy of words in a language might wonder just what the title of these reflections might mean. First of all, just who is this “Olson”? Are we implying, as the order of the words can mean, that this Olson gentleman has somehow been “resurrected” among us? Just what does “resurrection” mean, after all? Is it just another word for medical “resuscitation” so that, like Lazarus, the revivified will live a while longer only to die again? Does the title refer to those “after-death” experiences that scientists these days are busily investigating? Would not this “resurrected” Olson mean, in logic, that he had been dead for some time so that he might need some assistance in getting back on his feet again? The currently living, after all, do not need to be “quickened”, as they quaintly used to say, though they may need to be incited into thinking accurately about these things.
Well, the “Olson” in question is none other than Carl Olson, the editor of this very Catholic World Report web site. He resides in Oregon, where no one, based on my numerous visits there, seems to possess, as yet, a resurrected body. I understand, though, that, if someone is in a hurry, the state’s pioneer “assisted death” laws can quickly dispatch anyone from this life into the great beyond. Once there, if he is not happy in his new digs, he might request a resurrected body sooner than he originally thought.
Olson is an unabashed fan of the Oregon Ducks, though I am not sure if this adds any further credibility to his well-articulated arguments about the resurrection. I have not yet consulted him on the new mandatory requirement at Oregon State University that every student must undergo “social justice training” to matriculate there. Given what this “training” probably means in terms of ideology, it sounds like a totalitarian mandate if I ever heard one. But Olson lives in Eugene, not Corvallis.
In any case, “Olson’s Resurrection” refers to his very readable new book Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead: Questions and Answers About the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, which examines, in question and answer form, the basic issues about the resurrection of Christ. A significant amount of literature, one accumulating over the centuries since the event itself, has denied the resurrection of Christ itself or one of its basic implications. Since this doctrine and fact of the resurrection, as St. Paul said in the beginning, are the stones on which the faith rests, the only real way to undermine Christianity is to deny, explain away, ridicule, or otherwise seek to show that such an event never did or could have happened. It was, it is often claimed, contradictory, unscientific, incoherent, unhistorical, or all of the above Many fancy and sophisticated attempts, on-going over the centuries, try to explain that Christ’s resurrection could not possibly mean what it is taken to mean, namely, that Christ did what He claimed that He would do, or what the Father would do for Him. He would rise from a very terrible death administered in Jerusalem at the hands of Roman and Jewish officials during the reign of Tiberius Caesar.
Olson recognizes that the only way that one can deal with the denial of something presented as a fact is to examine the reasons and evidence given for this denial. And the historical reasons given are legion. The history of theology and science has been filled with ingenious and fanciful efforts to show why the resurrection never happened. People, especially intellectuals, seem to realize that they must deal with this extraordinary claim that Christ did rise from the dead. For if it is true, it cannot just be passed off as if nothing important for the human race really happened in the cosmos. We could, for instance, maintain that Christ never existed. Problem solved. Olson goes through the evidence given against Christ’s historical existence. It turns out that there is just as much evidence, if not more, for the existence of Christ as for any other historical character of his time. To deny Christ’s existence is a dead end street, followed only by those who choose to be willfully blind to the evidence.
Well, let’s admit Christ existed. But He was not God, right?. Who was He then? A nice guy? A fraud? An imagination of the Apostles? A revolutionary? A madman? A deluded visionary? Each of these avenues has been tried again and again. None of them, on examination, squares with the evidence we have of what Christ was in the era in which He lived. A favorite line is that the risen Jesus was a mythical creation, or some projected spirit of the imagination of the Apostles who, in their disappointment at His death, projected this return. He was never really there. He was only “imagined”. From the evidence, the people who would be most annoyed by this thesis would be the Apostles themselves, whose testimony gives no indication that they ever thought the resurrected Christ was anything but real flesh and blood.
As Olson shows, the last people who really expected the resurrection were the Apostles themselves. Right up to the end, moreover, they kept thinking that He would restore the Kingdom of Israel in this world as a political entity. Interestingly, as I have sought to show in my book, The Modern Age, this effort to make a perfect kingdom in this world to be the mission of the collective human race is the principal alternative to Christ’s personal resurrection and what it portends to be the real and final destiny of each human being who ever actually existed in this world. The Apostles were themselves a bit slow to catch on to what Christ was teaching them. Christ was patient with them. He just kept correcting them about what He was talking about.
But Christ did what He told the Apostles that He would do—that is, He would suffer at the hands of the Jewish and pagan authorities, die, rise again, and finally return to His Father. This sequence, repeated over and over again in the New Testament, is what happened. After the events and the Ascension and Pentecost, the apostles looked back more carefully on what happened and how they were involved in the whole situation. They began to see that Christ died and rose “according to the Scriptures.” That is how they came to explain what had happened. They learned that Christ’s Incarnation, life, and death, was in fact the central point of the redemptive plan that the Father had worked out all along.
Olson examines each principal historical effort to explain why Christ did not rise as He said.