The Easter Jesus and the Good Friday Church: Reclaiming the Centrality of the Resurrection
Gregory S. Athnos
Outskirts Press (2011)
Reviewed by Rev. Dr. Michael Philliber for Reader Views (12/11)
For Christians there is a central set of defining, distinctive, unbendable, tenets. One crucial portion of those dogmas focuses on Jesus, who he is and what he has done. The chief assertion is that Jesus, after his crucifixion, rose from the dead. This becomes the event through which everything about Jesus is interpreted, from his birth to his burial and beyond. To lose or lessen this principal declaration is to undermine, and eventually, negate Christianity all together. That is Gregory S. Athnos’ point in his new work, “The Easter Jesus and the Good Friday Church: Reclaiming the Centrality of the Resurrection,” an easy to read, 230-page paperback, written for Christians and non-Christians alike.
Athnos begins “The Easter Jesus and the Good Friday Church” with three very strong chapters, explaining the reasons he wrote the book, why the resurrection of Jesus is crucial, and how it needs to regain a central place in the Church’s life and liturgy. The first chapter unfolds the author’s personal experience growing up in church, and the specific event that launched him into explicating the resurrection of Jesus. The second chapter challenges the Christian reader by asking if we really believe in the resurrection. It takes no faith to affirm death; we have seen it in our families, televisions, newspapers and magazines. But no one has seen someone resurrected from the dead, impossibly walking out of a tomb after being dead for three days. This requires faith! The third chapter is a convincing portrayal of how none of the original disciples expected Jesus to be raised from death; in fact, they were completely caught off guard by his death. The evidentiary value of this chapter is immense.
After making a good strong case for the resurrection of Jesus and why Christians need to give it equal air time, the author then marches his readers through the New Testament’s repeated proclamation that Christ has risen. The main point of these middle five chapters is to show that the cross without the resurrection is meaningless. Athnos does a fairly decent job working through passages of Scripture, opening up for his audience how deep and prevalent is the message of the resurrection of Jesus. There is a lot of indispensable work done here, and most Christians would benefit by reading their way through these chapters.
But I must qualify my statement above. In his zeal to stir up Christians to re-centralize the resurrection of Jesus, Athnos oversteps himself several times. Hopefully two examples will suffice out of several I could give. The first is in regard to “Witness.” The author makes the claim that in the Book of Acts, the word “witness” is solely “resurrection centered” (67). The problem is that in Acts 10.34-43, “witness” refers to bearing testimony to the life of Jesus (34-39), also to the resurrection of Jesus (40-42), and testifying that by believing in Jesus there is forgiveness of sins (43). Yes the resurrection of Jesus is central (without it the cross is meaningless), but “witness,” or martyr in the Greek, is about more than testifying of his resurrection. The word “witness” is Jesus centered; who he is, what he did, and what we gain by believing in him.
A second example arises from his use of the New Testament. When the author quotes passages of the New Testament he inserts bracketed explanatory phrases. Many of these are helpful and very useful, but there are several that go beyond and damage the passage. As an example, when Athnos claims that “Gospel” only means “the good news of the resurrection of Jesus.” He then quotes 1 Corinthians 15.1-4, and adds this phrase to the word “Gospel” there in verse 1. By doing this, he strips the Gospel to only the resurrection, when Paul is clearly emphasizing that the Gospel is about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. By shrinking the word “Gospel” down to only the resurrection, the author undermines his own position later of the fusing together of Death-Resurrection.
I have only given two examples of this significant overstepping that is done in “The Easter Jesus and the Good Friday Church.” But it happens numerous times, in ways that begin to damage the author’s credibility. I understand his zeal and I am wholeheartedly onboard with his point. But the overstepping and overstating was disappointing.
The final chapter tackles how the resurrection of Christ ought to affect and aid the believer. If the Father really did raise Christ from the dead three days after he was slaughtered on the cross, then that same power is available to believers in overcoming sin, living transformed lives, and bearing their own “cross.” The intent of chapter nine is to encourage and motivate.
“The Easter Jesus and the Good Friday Church” ends with five appendices where Athnos provides some alternative liturgical tools to turn the Lord’s Supper into a Resurrection Eucharist. The reasoning behind this resurrection Eucharist is laid out in the first appendix. There the author unfortunately builds his case on several “may-haves,” assertions of things that “may have” been true, that are nevertheless unfounded historically and biblically. These appendices were a bit of a let down.
The major, essential point of Gregory Athnos’ book “The Easter Jesus and the Good Friday Church” is spot on! The resurrection of Jesus must be affirmed, declared and announced in the church all year long. The author’s readable style makes the topic accessible to the untrained reader, whether Christian or not. With the qualifications mentioned earlier, I still recommend “The Easter Jesus and the Good Friday Church.”