“Son of God” more outrageous than “Messiah”?

In Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin in Mark, the high priest asks, “Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed?”

A commentary I’m reading says that this brings together a Messianic claim with a claim to “an even more outrageous status as Son of God.” This, of course, makes me want to #stabmyself.

In the question, “son of the Blessed” means the same thing as “Christ”. To be “the Christ” is to be “son of the Blessed,” the son of God. These are not escalating claims, but mutually interpretive. To flog the dead horse, “son of the Blessed” is epexegetical. The priest doesn’t say, “Not only… but also…” He doesn’t say, “Are you claiming that, as Christ, you are son of God.” He says, “Are you this, this?” They mean the same thing.

The statements by Christian scholars such as that “even more outrageous status” remark drive me batty. While the commentary would never say that Jesus is seen as “son of God” in the Trinitarian sense, it gives repeated knowing nods and winks to lead his readers to think that the later Christian consensus is what’s “really” what’s going on. “Son of God” is referenced with vague allusions, inviting the reader to assume that the idea as they confess it in Trinitarian circles is more or less what Mark has in mind.

Not it’s not! Let Mark be Mark before you make him into the voice of the later orthodox consensus.

Christian Sex? (Part 2c of 2c)

[Previous installments: Part 1, Part 2a, Part 2b]

Since moving to San Francisco two years ago, I have had and/or overheard several times over the same conversation about sex. The story goes something like this.

Context: San Francisco is the most single city in the U.S.

Characters: people who want to have sex, but are reticent to commit to marriage and/or long-term dedicated relationships.

Further implication for context: people are very lonely.

Plot: a quest for significant companionship. But this takes place through numerous sexual encounters that never lead to the desired end, leaving people as lonely and sometimes feeling more guilty than they had.

And, the most interesting thing to me is that I have heard this plot narrated as the story of traditional Christian communities / churches that are advocating sex within marriage as God’s plan for humanity and as the story of gay men in San Francisco. Two groups that would seem to be on opposite “extremes” of our culture’s understanding of sex are, in essence, playing the same script. And both are finding that it does not lead to the plot resolution they’re hoping for.

This highlights for me what is, perhaps, the most significant element of the Christian narrative of sex, and where the marriage analogy of Ephesians 5 gives us the severe grace of a call to repentance.

1. Self-giving Love

Ephesians 5 holds together Christ’s self-giving love on behalf of the church with the self-giving love that should define marriage in general and the sexual relationship in particular. When it invokes the creation narrative, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,” Ephesians 5 invites us to read and understand creation light of the story of redemption. That latter story is one of self-sacrificial love for the good of the other. The Christian story is cruciform, and Christian sex, too, must be cruciform.

This is where the issue of fidelity, of single-minded sexual oneness, comes to the fore. The pursuit of alternative partners beyond the one to whom we’ve clung to denies the story we claim as our own inasmuch as it makes us self-seekers of our own good, our own fulfillment, our own pleasure, at the expense of the other. This inverts the story of the cross. “Open marriage” is incompatible with the story of self-giving love.

I do realize that I’ve jumped from sex to marriage. I suppose I should apologize, and if there are dissenters out there I’m sure I’ll be charged with equivocating. But for all that our ideas of marriage are thoroughly modern and often assumed when we come to the text rather than being read out of it, I can’t get around the idea that marriage is the closest thing we have to creating a context that accurately narrates this story of complete self-giving.

What I’m getting at is this: the call for an “all-in” giving of ourselves is variously appropriate in different contexts. We give ourselves differently to people with whom we are in different relationships. Giving ourselves sexually to someone is a statement with our body that we are giving ourselves to them entirely. The Christian tradition has rightly insisted that if you aren’t willing to say to everyone as long as you both shall live, that such physical expression is a lie.

It’s probably important to say that sex isn’t the only way we can be inappropriately close to someone of the opposite gender. I know a guy who was best friends with a woman he wasn’t particularly interested in dating. The relationship developed an intimacy that was communicating to the woman a level of intimacy he wasn’t ready to stand by and express in other areas. That was a selfish use of a relationship.

Once upon a time I was at a men’s breakfast, and the pastor who was speaking encouraged us to process our responses to women using this grid: When you’re thinking about that woman, are you desiring her for your glory, or are you desiring God’s glory in and for her? If you can overlook the echoes of John Piper, that question can be a significant pointer toward which narrative we’re living out in our sex: either the world’s usually self-serving narrative of lust that seeks my own good even if, at times, at the expense of the other; or, the Christian narrative of self-giving love that seeks the other’s good even if, at times, at the expense of my own.

2. Union with Christ

Besides pragmatics and extrapolations, is there really any good reason to think that God wants sex to be reserved for one person to whom we are joined for life? (Or, if you prefer to build your theology from pop culture: Is Avatar right, that those who are best in tune with the world in which we’re created should mate for life?!) I do think so.

The union that we experience in sex is itself likened to the union we experience with Christ by the Spirit. Sex is an experience that joins us to another, changing both of our identities as we become one with the other. This is why Paul tells the Corinthians to guard against sexual immorality. Being joined “outside of Christ” means taking away the members of Christ and making them members of a prostitute.

It is not just official marriage ceremonies that make people “one flesh”–that is the function of sex itself.

The Christian story of salvation is one of being joined to another’s body, the body of the dead and risen Jesus. The “mystery” of sex, as articulated in Ephesians 5, is that an analogous kind of union is formed between sexually joined bodies on earth. The rich interplay between the God who is faithful to Israel like a husband, and the God who hates divorce, the Christ who gives up his body for his bride and calls the church to live in self-giving faithfulness, means that our sexual relationships provide a glimmer of the Christian story to those with eyes to see. We are joined to a body, we are one, to undo the union is to cut off the members of Christ. Am I talking about sex or marriage or salvation or church? Yes. That’s how sex works within the Christian story.

3. What is Suffering?

A few weeks ago I got to listen in on some thoughts on what God is up to in the world from Christians in New York City. They were wrestling with the question of what the story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and glory has to do with their professional and personal pursuits. One woman volunteered this: Maybe suffering for the Kingdom, dying with Jesus, looks like being committed to a place.

Commitment as participating in the narrative of the self-giving messiah? That sounds like the gospel to me. Replace “place” with “person,” and I think we’re up against the scandal of Christian sex that the world (inside and outside the church!) is so reluctant to hear: even sex is a realm within which we are called to deny ourselves. Even sex is a realm within which we are called to commit. Even sex is a realm over which the crucified Christ reigns–and in which he invites us to live out a paradoxically life-giving narrative.

Can greater life come from greater self-denial? Can greater glory come from walking the way of the cross? Do we believe that the crucified Christ is the resurrected Lord over all?

A Little Less Alone with My Legos, Please, Papa?

This from David Dark in an interview at Total Darkness vs. Blinding Light:

I have no doubt that many people are trading away (or avoiding) the possibility of living relationships through the time they devote to seeing if someone’s written them or gazing over photos of long lost friends while there’s a child nearby who’d like to be a little less alone with their legos. There’s a false urgency and a pseudo-intimacy at work in our interaction with electronic appliances. BUT these platforms can and do occasionally facilitate real connections. Nevertheless, I’m haunted by Jacques Ellul’s adage: “A computer isn’t a companion. It’s a vampire.”

Yet another reason why David Dark is my hero. Check out the interview. And then go read Dark’s latest book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything (quite possibly the best book to be published in 2009).

Only Worship God! Or the King, or…

From James McGrath’s blog:

1 Chronicles 29:20 depicts the Israelites worshipping/prostrating themselves before Yahweh and the king. One verb, two objects. The king is said a few verses later to sit on Yahweh’s throne.

To claim that in Jewish literature no agent of God ever receives the same kind of worship that Jesus is depicted as being offered in the New Testament is to ignore fairly clear evidence from the Bible itself, never mind relevant extrabiblical evidence. Most scholarly studies recognize that this primary terminology of worship, which has as its root meaning prostration, is not consistently directed only to God Most High in Jewish literature.

McGrath is spot on. We take too little stock in how closely tied together are the identity of God and God’s representatives on earth in the Biblical narrative. God is so “other” in our thinking that we miss the ways the biblical narrative show that God is bound up with the persons of Adam, Israel, and the kings.

Basil on the Spirit

Hmmm… the title of this post seems like something my wife would make for us to drink with appetizers. But that’s not what I’m on about.

On Sunday, the person who prepared our worship service introduced the Pentecost-inspired service with this:

Through the Holy Spirit we are restored to paradise, led back to the Kingdom of heaven, and adopted as children, given confidence to call God “Father” and to share in Christ’s grace, called children of light and given a share in eternal glory.
– St. Basil, De Spiritu Sancto

As we read that passage together, what struck me most of all is that the Spirit is the Spirit of the resurrected Christ.

Through the Spirit we are restored to Paradise. The restoration to paradise is a participation in the new creation. If anyone is in Christ–new creation! Those who are Spiritual are those to whom the world has been crucified, and vice versa. The Spirit who unites us to Christ in his death to the Old World is the same Spirit who unites us to Christ in his resurrection into the new. Through the Spirit of the resurrected Son we are restored to Paradise.

Through the Spirit we are led back to the kingdom of Heaven. The Spirit who anoints Jesus as king propels him forth to proclaim and enact the kingdom’s arrival. This same Spirit, poured out on Jesus’ followers, leads them out not to have the kingdom restored to them but to proclaim and enact the kingdom of which they have been made heirs. The resurrected Christ pours out the promise of the Father, and through the Spirit of this resurrected Christ we are led back to the kingdom of Heaven–the kingdom whose king has been enthroned, when raised, at God’s right hand.

Through the Spirit we are adopted as children. Jesus himself was the first adopted Son of God, by the Spirit of holiness, at the resurrection (Romans 1:4). We share in the Spirit of adoption as we share in the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8). Through the Spirit who appointed Jesus son of God we, too, are adopted as sons and daughters of God.

Through the Spirit we are given confidence to call God “Father”. The Spirit who leads us to call God “Abba, Father,” is the Spirit of Christ who himself cried Abba, Father in the garden. This is the Spirit who, in our suffering, draws us to God to find our deliverance and new life. Through the Spirit we cry “Abba,” and this is proof that we who are suffering with Jesus will also be glorified by the same spirit who glorified the firstborn of God’s large family. Through the Spirit of the crucified and risen Christ we, too, cry out “Abba, Father.”

Through the Spirit we share in Christ’s grace. We share in Christ’s grace as he becomes for us what Adam was for us all: the one through whom the benefits of the one act of righteousness abound to those whom he represents. We become sharers in his grace as we are joined to his body and participate in all the gifts that are given there. We share in Christ’s grace when the Spirit baptizes us into one body–the body of Christ who is enthroned above.

Through the Spirit we are called children of light. The God who said, in his original act of creation, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s own glory–in the face of Christ. We are children of light as we shine the light which is Christ’s; when we reflect the image and glory of God that is recreated in the firstborn, resurrected Son. We are called children of light as we reflect the visage of the Child of light.

Through the Spirit we are given a share of eternal glory. The Spirit who makes us children, as it made Jesus Son, makes us heirs also–heirs of God and fellow heirs with our older brother Christ, if indeed we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Our eternal glory is his eternal glory, the Spirit that makes us Son-heirs is the same Son that made Jesus Son-heir–heirs of the eternal glory of the resurrected son.

Question of the Day: How Do We Theologize?

Today’s question of the day: Agree or Disagree with the following statement?

…if the Bible not only tells us what we are to believe, but shows us how to faithfully articulate Christian belief, then reticence to imitate the creative contextualization of the gospel that we see occurring in the Gospels and Paul is as faithless to the Christian story as telling a new version that does not quite fit.

These sentences seem to be prying at the assumption that being less theologically or hermeneutically creative is safer, and inherently more faithful, than being more creative. (An assumption held more often on the right side of various theological spectrums, of course!)

But what do you think? Is there equal danger in both directions? Is it equally dangerous to be creative in one’s theology and to be a repeater of what’s come before? Or is one inherently more faithful to the Christian story because of the inherent dynamics of that narrative?

Life After Life After Death?

Since watching many of the videos from the Wheaton Theology Conference from last month, I have been pondering the issue raised by Markus Bockmuehl about “resurrection”. The question, if I recall correctly (which I may not be) is this: Is “resurrection” for a Christian what we experience/are led into immediately after our death (life after death)? Or is it, instead, something that the dead in Christ await, something that will be consummated on a final day of judgment (life that is given to us afresh after our life after death)?

N. T. Wright has made a lengthy case for the latter: resurrection is something that will be given to the faithful when the earth is fully and finally renewed. It is an embodied existence that comes to us after we have spent however long in heaven with Jesus after we die.

Bockmuehl was making the opposite point, namely, that heaven isn’t a holding tank where we wait in anticipation of something more, but the place where we go and immediately receive the gift of life in our new bodies.

What do you think?  Is resurrection life after death? Or life after life after death? Why?

Three things are rattling around in my head about this.

(1) In Bockmuehl’s favor is the fact that whatever this “heaven” is, where Jesus is, it must be the kind of place that can hold resurrection bodies–because Jesus has one and that’s where he is.

(2) It seems to me that Bockmuehl’s case is problematic for a couple of reasons. For one, it makes Jesus’ resurrection categorically different and unlike the resurrections of everyone else. For me, if Jesus’ body is found, the jig is up. His resurrection means that his body has been transformed and is no longer with us. “A ghost does not have flesh and blood as you see I have.” “Put your fingers in my hands and in my side.”

But, the people whom Bockmuehl says are raised, now, with Christ are still “lying dead in their tombs.” Whereas discovering Jesus’ corpse would invalidate his resurrection, MB wants to say that our ability to see the corpses of our dearly departed is no proof for their not being raised, now, with Christ. This disjunction is too much, in my opinion, for MB’s position to be correct.

(3) In addition to the problem of the analogy, I shared NTW’s dissatisfaction with MB’s method of argument. “The NT doesn’t teach NTW’s position, and we know this because the church fathers said something else.” This simply adds fuel to my fire that the early church is a dubious guide when it comes to understanding the New Testament.

For all that earlier generations overestimated the differences between Jew and Gentile ways of thought, I repeatedly find that the move of Christianity beyond the pale of Judaism creates an almost instant rereading of words and concepts such that the church fathers become witnesses to a very early recontextualizing and transformation of the Christian message into their own world’s idiom. This is not a bad thing, but it does add to the case that the early church is a helpful guide for understanding the history of interpretation, but that this is a different thing than helping us understand what the ideal authors of our texts intended their ideal readers/auditors to understand.

When the NT speaks of the resurrection of believers, the idea that the dead are transformed at a future, one-off moment seems to be almost the univocal position. Resurrection comes with the consummation of the eschaton, at the final judgment, when the heavens and earth are made new. To quote my beloved church fathers: “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

Those are my two cents. What about you?

NT Post: St. John’s Nottingham

This job advert came my way today. FYI:

St John’s Nottingham
TUTOR IN NEW TESTAMENT

Due to a significant growth in student numbers, we wish to appoint a full-time lecturer in New Testament Studies from September 1st 2010.

St John’s stands in the evangelical and charismatic tradition within the Church of England, and is committed to innovative and participative learning for mission and ministry through flexible courses for ordinands, lay people and youth workers. It continues to develop training which is
culturally sensitive, and is fully committed to the church’s agenda on Mission-Shaped Church.

The lecturer will join this developing, research-active team and work with colleagues to deliver the teaching of New Testament studies, up to and including postgraduate level. The person appointed will either have already completed a relevant research degree or be nearing completion and, as a practising Christian sharing our core values, will take a full part in our worshipping, learning community, including leading a student formation group. Applications are invited from lay or ordained persons.
Application pack from

Mr Spenser Turner
St John’s College
Chilwell Lane
Bramcote, Nottingham, NG9 3DS

0115 925 1114 s.turner@stjohns-nottm.ac.uk
www.stjohns-nottm.ac.uk
Applications close: Friday 11th June 2010

Christian Sexuality? (Part 2b of 2c)

In a nutshell, this is what I see going on in the Christian story: the economy of the world is turned on its head. Into a world of scarcity, want, and conflict, the kingdom of God dawns when Jesus brings abundance, free giving, and self-denial. The conditions that provoke conflict and grabbing for power are undone as Jesus turns the other cheek and submits himself to the power-grabbers unto the point of death.

This death of Jesus is not only Jesus’ m.o., it determines the shape of the communities he leaves behind. To be Jesus’ disciple is to deny oneself and take up the cross. Or, if you prefer Bonhoeffer, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Putting these two ideas together: to faithfully follow Jesus is to move from a posture of taking life for myself whatever it might cost someone else, and to seek life for the other even at the cost of my own. For this reason, I find the exposition of marriage relationships in Ephesians 5 to be one of the most profoundly Christian meditations on not only marriage but also sexuality as one component part of that.

It starts with love.

Love is a dangerous category to invoke, because the word itself is a wax nose that can be formed into whatever we find attractive at the moment. But a Christian definition of love is always tied to the cross. “God is love” is something we only know because “God loved us and gave his son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” “This is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us and sent his son.” “Greater love has no one than this, that a person lay down his life for his friends.” Christian love is cruciform.

So when Ephesians says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her…” we are invited to live out the cruciform narrative of love in that marriage relationship.

And the model of self-giving love is where, it seems to me, we so often go astray at the get-go when it comes to sexuality. The call to give up our lives so that another might live flies full in the face of our desires for sexual gratification. Whether it’s the stereotypical guy who’s looking for the physical pleasure or the stereotypical woman who wants to know that she’s desired and accepted–or the very real people who are a mash up of both of these and a whole lot more–sex is an activity in which we are seeking our own.

If we’re thinking about sex as one way we’re called to embody the Christian story, what sort of ramifications might there be?

First, sex is not to be had through use of coercive power. There are some obvious “exclusions” here: rape, pederasty, etc. But here I would also put the coercion entailed in having financial power. When people pay for sexual services, they are often (usually) entailed in a woman’s being compelled to sell her body against her will. In some respect most prostitution is sex slavery.

Second, if there is a “don’t do this” aspect to use of power for sexual attainment, then there is also a converse imperative to seek justice and freedom so that other people are not so coerced. Being a Christian is not just about getting our hearts in order before God, it’s about praying for and acting on the desire for the kingdom of God to come, God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Here’s an example of the kind of organization that, IMHO, we should be supporting in order to express redemptive love in the realm of sexuality.)

Third, issues of power, self-gratification, and self-giving point us away from pornography. Proliferation of pornography is directly and indirectly tied to the proliferation of sex trafficking. And in itself, both the production of pornographic material and the viewing of it creates a realm of sexuality that trades on the idea that people are objects to be conquered or possessed for our own ends and goods.

As I think about it, it’s weird that I’m starting out a “Christian” view of sexuality by talking about these abuses of power that we express through our use and abuse of sex. Surely the positive picture is more foundational than our reaction and response to deviations? Yes, indeed.

But we’ve also been so privatized and individualized in our talk of sex, and we’ve so little placed it within the larger questions of power and gospel, that I think we (=evangelicals) have made Christian sexuality merely weird rather than weird and strangely powerful and beautiful to the world in which we live. We have much more to say than simply, “Hold it until you get married.” We have a story of self-giving love, of setting aside the temptations of self-aggrandizing power, of giving up our lives so that others might be free and might truly live.

And even in the world of sex, I think Christianity has that to offer: not a taking of life but a more full giving of it.

We have a story that should have us howling as loudly against the Ben Roethlisbergers of the world (who “allegedly” has forced himself on two women in the past year or so [as if a professional football player needs to?--there are some serious power issues here, methinks]) as against the Lawrence Taylors of the world (who “allegedly” got himself a 16 year old “run away” girl/prostitute who ended up with a black eye from her pimp for the trouble) as against the traffickers and traders themselves.

Where I think we’ve gone most astray is not in claiming too much, but in claiming too little ground for the Christian story of sex. We’ve impoverished it by limiting our sexuality to “hold it until you get married.”

Next time: holding it till you get married.

Telling the story of the story-bound God