(Frederik Mulder is a PhD Candidate under Prof. Jan G. van der Watt at Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Netherlands. Previously, he studied in Pretoria and Durham. Currently, he lives with his family in Cambridge, UK)
One of my fellow PhD friends here at Radboud University Nijmegen is Rev. Johnson Thomaskutty from Union Biblical Seminary (www.ubs.ac.in) in Pune, India. He is in the third year of his PhD program in which he is focussing on The Nature and Function of Dialogues in the Gospel according to St. John. He will be leaving us soon, to return to his teaching position at UBS. He kindly offered to drink a nice cup of Dutch coffee with me, and share a few thoughts about how he, as an Indian Christian theologian, understands Jesus’ resurrection. I will put a few questions to Johnson, then type his responses out, and afterwards get him to make sure that I got it right.
Frederik Mulder: Johnson, as a Christian theologian coming from India, and having two masters degrees in New Testament (one from Senate of Serampore University in India and the other from Princeton Theological Seminary in the USA), do you think it is important for the Christian faith that Jesus’ tomb was really empty following his resurrection, or not?
Johnson Thomaskutty: Yes, it is important. The reason? The resurrection appearances and the empty tomb are part of the foundational beliefs of the Christian faith. If any one of these two is nullified, then the basic tenets of Christianity are in question.
Frederik Mulder: But Johnson, some theologians would argue that Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual, therefore/as a result the empty tomb is not important. What does spiritual resurrection mean to you?
Johnson Thomaskutty: Jesus’ body could become spiritual even before his resurrection. In John 6 we find that Jesus walked on water, similar to John 20 where he came to the upper room where the door was closed. In both instances Jesus had the ability to appear and disappear, something which is beyond human comprehension. Thus, Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual in the sense that he could appear and disappear, but it was also material because the tomb was “really empty”. He rose with the same body, but it was transformed.
Frederik Mulder: If this is the case Johnson, what is the significance of the resurrection for your ministry in India where you teach?
Johnson Thomaskutty: The significance of the resurrection of Jesus in my Indian context is multi-faceted. When I’m talking about the resurrection of Jesus in our multi-religious, multi-cultural and pluralistic culture of India, I have to re-interpret the significance of Christ’s resurrection for our diverse communities. The salvific significance of Christ’s work on the cross, and his resurrection should first and foremost be taught and proclaimed, as the good news of salvation for the various religious and ethnic communities. As a second order to this, when I am witnessing Christ for instance to the Dalits, Tribals and the Adivasis (the poor and marginalized, also called the dust of the dust), I use Christ’s resurrection as a model for liberation out of the clutches of oppression and dehumanization. As Christ was humiliated on the cross, and was raised by the Father from the grave, so also, Christian mission should focus on the upliftment of the oppressed out of the bondages of poverty, casteism, sin and injustice.
Resurrection is therefore a unique missional paradigm, comprising the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection, its salvific significance as well as its social implications.
NB: (1) In order to read the original form of the interview, visit the link: http://resurrectionhope.blogspot.com/2011/05/christs-resurrection-as-unique.html; (2) Also see an abstract of the same interview at Prof. Michael Gorman’s blog: http://www.michaeljgorman.net/2011/05/31/a-missional-paradigm-for-the-resurrection/