Tag Archives: resurrection

Apocalypse and Hope

This week I was listening to Philip Clayton debrief his book, The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, and Faith on the Homebrewed Christianity Podcast. Clayton is a progressive, Process theologian who refuses to give up on resurrection.

Real resurrection, it seems. Not the sort of “redefine resurrection such that happy things are happening in your heart” kind of resurrection.

In the podcast he says, in essence, that he can’t let go of resurrection because that would be to let go of justice. There is hope for true justice, true rectification, for the poor and oppressed.

This is what caused resurrection expectations to flower in the first place, and Clayton won’t give up on it.

It just so happened that the day I was listening to this podcast, I was also teaching on Mark 13. The chapter that begins, innocently enough, with Jesus’ prediction of the Temple’s destruction ends with the darkening of the sun and stars and the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, sending his messengers out to the four corners of the world to gather the elect.

In between?

Lots of bad stuff.

Wars and earthquakes, yes. But more significantly: persecution. Persecution as of such a kind as has never been seen before.

The story that begins with earthly calamity resolves with some sort of heavenly intervention, a intervention of divine glory through the person of the Son of Man.

Scholars have debated how much this passage intends to refer to A.D. 70 and how much it intends to refer to a future, coming arrival of Jesus. N. T. Wright, for one, has argued that the destruction of Jerusalem is a final act of vindication for Jesus, the prophet, and that this coming on the clouds is his enthronement.

Traditionally, of course, this language has been read as referring to Jesus’ return–perhaps to judge the world, definitely to set all things to rights.

Scholars who do not agree with Wright will sometimes argue that the entire speech of Mark 13 is a subject shift: an answer to the question about the end of the age, without tying that answer to the destruction of the Temple.

The context clues, however, are far too strong for this. Jesus is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem that was looming in the years when Mark was written.

And, Jesus’ vindication as a true prophet is tied up with this judgment on the “vineyard keepers” (Mark 12:1ff.).

And, I would not be at all surprised to hear that those who were wrapped up in the horrors of that war anticipated that the culmination of their time of trial would be a revelation that their pains were climactic labor pains, giving birth to the age to come.

In the face of suffering and injustice, we must not only work for justice (for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven), but also hope that this injustice will be reversed through the power of God who gives life to the dead.

Again and again we will find that no one knows the hour: not the angels or people or even the son. But we cannot give up on the hope.

Suffering cannot overcome hope.

Tears must be dried.

We continue to believe in resurrection, in final eschatological reversal, because we believe in the God who has bound Himself to the story in which all things are set to rights.

The God who authors this story, the God who stars in this story, will see to it that the story is brought to its promised culmination.

Even if that culmination, and its timing, surprise us all.

Easter’s Adam

It’s still Easter.

This is your regular reminder.

I know how it is: the lamb is long since gone from the fridge, the extra half pound you gained by eating Cadbury Cream Eggs has been shed in anticipation of that summer by the pool, so there aren’t very many reminders.

But it’s still Easter.

As long as the embodied, resurrected Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father, it’s still Easter.

This is a claim that demands faith. Ongoing faith. Faith in the most ancient and basic and important claim that Christians make: Jesus is Lord.

To sit at God’s right hand is to be charged with reigning over the world on God’s behalf. It is as though God has said on Easter Sunday: let us recreate humanity after our image, and after our image, and let them rule the world on our behalf.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn, resurrected son, over all creation.

The king.

And yet, we do not now see all things subjected to his rule.

“He must reign until all things are subjected to him.” It is Easter, but Easter’s dawn has not yet reached the full light of day, has not yet driven darkness out of every corner.

“He must reign until all things are subjected to him.” In the mean time, we must discern: is what we see the activity of God? Or is it the action of the powers that are not yet subject?

What is God up to in the world? There’s a question. But it also means we must carefully distinguish it from, What is happening in the world?

Some of us are too apt to lump all in the God basket. Some of us are too apt to lump all in the “against God” basket.

Jesus is Lord: God is at work in the world.

All things are not yet subject: not all that happens in the world is the hand of God.

As Barth says, power is not God; God is the one who is all-powerful.

More provocatively, he says, “Power in itself is not merely neutral. Power in itself is evil” (§31.2).

But there is power defined by God.

Better, there is power as defined by Easter. It is the power by which the crucified Jesus was appointed son of God by the resurrection from the dead according to the Spirit (Rom 1:4).

It is the resurrection power of God, at work to drive back the powers of sin and death and law.

It is the resurrection power of God, at work through the one who was raised from the dead and now sits enthroned at God’s right hand.

It’s still Easter.

Even Now, It’s Still Easter

Don’t let the resurrection of Jesus slip out of consciousness too soon. It’s still Easter, even now.

Having vanquished the Enemy, who had usurped authority over all the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4:5-8), Jesus reclaims for humanity its original purpose: to rule the world on God’s behalf (Gen. 1:26-28). This is one reason why we find Paul referring to the resurrected Jesus as the second and last Adam. But as the last Adam, Jesus also holds humanity’s destiny in his hands. (Read more here)

It’s Still Easter

Just a reminder, especially for all the self-inflicting faithful who suffered through forty days of Lenten fasts: it’s still Easter.

I know, it’s Thursday. But really. (Of course, in terms of cosmic reality, it really is always Easter and Lent is a sort of game we play to keep us from taking it for granted. But that’s another rant for another day.)

Easter lasts seven weeks in the liturgical year, so don’t leave behind the resurrection yet.

Resurrection means that God is invested in the world God created–not to rescue us out of it, but to transform it for us to inhabit forever.

Image: zirconicusso / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

New Creation is a transformation of the old, not creation out of nothing. Sort of like we, as new creatures in Christ, are transformations of the old, not creation out of nothing.

Of course, the two are related. It’s the God who calls into being the things that are not who is also the God who raises the dead (Rom 4). It’s that kind of power that God has at work in us through God’s Spirit. It is the power to create. It is the power to bring new life.

If there is a Church of God; if there is a people who are in Christ–it is Easter.

Of course, the trick in all this is that Easter comes by way of Good Friday. So our Easter triumph is the paradoxical triumphal-procession of the way of the cross. Ours is a resurrection through crucifixion.

But that’s just why we need the resurrection and its power. This is not a mere slavish existence to get to the end of our dreaded, drudging task.

Our participation in God’s commitment to transform the world is suffused with hope. We pour ourselves out in Christ-like, God-reflecting love. And we can only hope and trust as “I die daily,” the “life of Christ will be at work” in every corner of this world to which we give ourselves.

It’s Easter. We celebrate. We celebrate not the absence of scars, but their transformation and glorification. We celebrate. We celebrate new life from the old, new creation from the old.

And we make that new real in the present because the future has already begun.

Receiving Justice

Power.

Too often, power is the enemy of justice.

“Justice” is the cry of those who cannot make their own.

Power calls itself justice. It makes a thriving land a desert and calls it peace.

Power knows how to be rid of a nuisance. It knows how to excommunicate. It knows how to execute.

But Easter stands, will always stand, over against power in order to proclaim that there is a greater Power who cannot be escaped. Easter proclaims that there is a true justice that cannot be bought.

Resurrection says to the tyrants of the earth: you cannot take from me what is always in God’s power to give.

Resurrection faith looks like this:

“You, who are marked out for vengeance, may take our present life, but the king of the universe for whose laws we die will resurrect us again to eternal life.”

When it was demanded of the third brother, he put out his tongue quickly, extended his hands courageously, and stated with dignity, “I have received these limbs from heaven, and I give them up for the sake of God’s laws. But I hope to recover them from God again.”

When the end was approaching, the fourth brother said, “Death at the hands of humans is preferable, since we look forward to the hope that God gives of being raised by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life.”

The boys’ mother encouraged them, saying, “I don’t know how you grew in my womb, nor did I grant the breath of life to you or arrange what makes you who you are. For this reason, the creator of the world—who brought about the beginning of humanity and searched out the origin of all things—will again mercifully give you both spirit and life, since you disregard yourselves because of his laws.”

The last brother said to the king, “Just like my brothers, I give up both body and life for the ancestral laws. I call upon God to be merciful to the nation without delay, and to make you confess, after you suffer trials and diseases, that only he is God. Also I hope through me and my brothers to stop the anger of the almighty, who is justly punishing our entire nation.” (2 Maccabees 7, CEB [modified])

Resurrection means that justice matters.

Those who hunger and thirst will be filled with food and drink.

Those who surrender their hands and tongues will receive them back again.

The life-taking power of the tyrant, the love-shunning power of the zealot, cannot hinder the God of power and love.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ puts on display the previously hidden justice of God–from Christ’s faithfulness unto the faithfulness of God’s people. Just as it is written: the Righteous One will live because of His faithfulness.

Storied Reality

What’s the point of storied theology? At its best, storied theology taps into a fundamental dynamic of our humanness that other theological approaches miss. Human beings, inherently, are story tellers.

Story is a basic principle of mind. Most of our experience, our knowledge, and our thinking is organized as stories… narrative imagining is our fundamental form of predicting [and our] fundamental cognitive instrument for explanation. (Mark Turner, The Literary Mind)

Image: jannoon028 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
We connect the dots in such a way that we give meaning to the world around us. (Why did you answer the phone with excitement? Why did you let it go to voicemail? What story were you telling yourself about who was on the other end and what they might want to talk about?)

Storied theology not only recognizes the narrative dynamics that undergird the entirety of scripture; it beckons us to begin inscribing our own stories within God’s own. Or, better–to recognize that God is inscribing us into God’s own. I this Divine story, the power at work transforms every smaller story of pain and death, brokenness and failure in a movement from cross to resurrection.

Humans not only make sense of the world through stories, we make sense of the world through endings–especially, projected endings:

Humans, personally and collectively, are preoccupied with trying to understand their deaths. For life to have meaning, to amount to more than just a sequence of events, that meaning must be projected backwards from an ending that provides the key to interpreting everything that preceded it. (Sam Sacks, epitomizing Frank Kermode)

Ultimate moments in the stories have the power to reconfigure the entirety of what came before (cf. Till We Have Faces). And the storied theology pulls back the curtain on our future by showing us that ours is hidden in Christ. We believe that his ending is ours, that his ending is that of humanity, that his is the ending of the entire created cosmos.

New creation. The end that changes everything has been made known.

And so, our faith and hope are in God–this God: the one who raised Jesus from the dead. That is the ending that reaches back into the present to transform our now. That is the God who reaches back from our life yet to come and provides a present installment by God’s Holy Spirit.

Don’t underestimate the power of a good story (or a bad one) to change your life. This isn’t just theological wishful thinking, it’s the way of the world:

It’s painful to even consider giving up the narrative we use to navigate our life…

So we play it safe and go back to our story.

The truth though, is that doing what you’ve been doing is going to get you what you’ve been getting. If the narrative is getting in the way, if the archetypes you’ve been modeling and the worldview you’ve been nursing no longer match the culture, the economy or your goals, something’s got to give. (Seth Godin)

When we keep our theology in the realm of story, we keep it in the sphere within which we make sense of all of life, and therefore the arena within which all our decisions are made and all our affections cultivated.

Why storied theology? Because a story-bound people need a story-bound God to bring a story of salvation that makes God’s saving story our own.

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Personal aside: this is the 1,000th entry I have posted on Storied Theology. Thank you all for helping make this blog a great success by helping it become a place to learn in public alongside each other. Here’s to the next 1,000!

Theology as a Way of Life?

I hate to get too predictable, but you can imagine how I responded when I saw the following in a recent advert from Paternoster Press:

James McClendon is right to assert that Theology is ‘not merely a reading strategy by which the church can understand Scripture; it is a way—for us, it is the way—of Christian existence itself’.

Disclaimers: (1) I do not know where James McClendon says this, therefore I do not have a larger context for interpreting what “theology” means here. (2) I do not know who this “us” is of whom he speaks.

Image: dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Let me also say, first and foremost, that there are some ways that I can see myself affirming this sentence. If by “theology” you mean, “Jesus, the crucified Messiah, is resurrected Lord,” then I agree that this mini-narrative of Christian theology provides both the hermeneutical lens for making sense of scripture and provides us with the way of Christian existence itself.

If this is the life of Christ, after all, then we who are dubbed “little Christs” are called to renarrate this life in our own.

But of course, my concern is that this is not what the phrase means at all.

My concern is that it has taken a typical Evangelical mistake (relying on the Bible as though the Bible is THE thing, rather than Christ being THE thing) and pushed it back one further level from the appropriate target, landing on Christian theological articulations as THE things that determine faithful Christian faith and practice.

“The way,” of course, is Jesus.

The Bible testifies to Jesus as the way God has provided for the life of God’s creatures. It is one step removed from the person and his narrative, but is the access we have and the God-given interpretation of the saving story.

Theology in the traditional sense is a second step removed, as it reflects on what the Bible has said about Jesus who is the way and the God who provided Him.

If I’m reading the paragraph fairly, the claim that theology is the way of Christian existence is a door to a world in which theology forms the hermeneutic, identity, and praxis of a community. In such a world, articulating the correct theology becomes its own good–the very faithful practice God hopes for from Christians.

If theology is the way of Christian life itself, then mental constructions and statements of right belief become the markers of Christian life. And in so doing, following Christ along the way of the cross, being ambassadors of the message of reconciliation, feeding the hungry, caring for the parentless, embracing the outsider–all of these become second-order responses, and lie far from the center of faithful Christian practice.

But perhaps we can just agree (hard as it is for my inner 8 to say such a thing):

The theology by which we understand scripture is that Jesus is God’s messiah, given up on the cross and then raised and enthroned at God’s right hand.

This theology of the Christ is our way of life, because it means that all of our life should be a giving up of ourselves in order that all creation might live under the freedom of the risen Christ’s lordship.

Now that’s a “theology as the way of Christian existence” I can get behind–a theology in which theology itself is eclipsed by the Christ of whom it speaks.

Reimagining Faith: Into Christ

Yesterday we did a bit of thinking about the apparently strange juxtaposition of justification by faith and final judgment based on works.

I’ve been wondering if there are a couple of roads we might run down to reconceive what saving faith looks like.

The first facet worth exploring is the conjunction of faith with our union with Christ. Put simply: what if we started thinking less of “believing in Jesus” and more of “believing that brings us into Christ”?

How would this help? A couple of thoughts come to mind.

First, being “in Christ” is in part about occupying a certain kind of space. It is not simply the space in which we are united with others in the body of Christ–though that is true as well.

It is also about occupying the cosmic space that has been freed from the rule of sin and law and death (Rom 5-8). This means that faithing into Christ means being part of the new creation in which faithfulness to God is the only possible way of life.

Second, being “in Christ” here on earth entails not simply occupying space, but occupying a defining narrative. To be in Christ is to be united with Christ in his death and his resurrection.

To be united with Christ in his death entails a calling, a core identity, that demands a certain way of life: laying down our own lives so that others might live. Faithing into Christ means entering a story of salvific self-giving.

But it also means being part of a story that resolves in salvific resurrection life. If “occupying cosmic space” is part of the “already” aspect of being united with the resurrected Christ, what I’m talking about here is the “not yet” aspect. We will one day be united with Christ in full and final resurrection life.

But you see–this is the reward, extended at the final judgement, for those who have been faithful to God. Faithing into Christ means that the story we enter and live out in our communal and personal narratives will meet the same climactic conclusion as Christ’s own self-giving story of love.

When we think of “belief resulting in union with Christ,” we are speaking of a narrative of salvation rather than a one-off moment in the past that can be dissociated from what comes next.

There is a necessary way of life that results in a final judgment that affirms the cruciform story of the faithful.

Resurrection by Crucifixion

Today’s post is prompted by a confluence of two streams: teaching in the Corinthian correspondence and AKMA’s thoughts in review of my chapter on ethics, “Living the Jesus Narrative.” The question these two have raised to my mind is, “What does the in-breaking of resurrection into this life look like [according to Paul]?”

In both Thessalonians and Corinthians Paul uses language to speak of the reception of the gospel, the effect of his ministry, that seems to be anything but cruciform. When the gospel comes through Paul, it arrives with “power and Spirit” (1 Cor 2:4; 1 Thess 1:5). Paul can speak of the signs of a true apostle accompanying him: signs, wonders, and miracles (2:12).

Paradoxically, however, this power is shown to be God’s power precisely because it comes in the midst of suffering:

We know this because our good news didn’t come to you just in speech but also with power and the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know as well as we do what kind of people we were when we were with you, which was for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord when you accepted the message that came from the Holy Spirit with joy in spite of great suffering. (1 Thess 1:5-6, CEB)

How do you know that this joy, power, and Spirit are genuinely from God? Because they come in spite of your own suffering, says Paul; because they come despite the powerlessness of the messenger, and because in coming through such suffering they cohere with the gospel of Christ crucified.

I stood in front of you with weakness, fear, and a lot of shaking. My message and my preaching weren’t presented with convincing wise words but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. I did this so that your faith might not depend on the wisdom of people but on the power of God. (1 Cor 2:3-5, CEB)

Resurrection looks like the power of God being made known through, and in the midst of, the weakness, suffering, and persecution that are the embodiment of the cross. More particularly, Paul’s vision of resurrection life now seems to be most sharply in focus when he speaks of his own suffering bringing life, by the Spirit, to others: “We always carry about the dying of Jesus in our mortal flesh so that the life of Jesus also may be made known in us.. So, death works in us, but life in you.”

As the self-giving Christ brings life to the cosmos, so the self-giving Christians bring life to those to whom they speak.

AKMA pushes me on some important questions that I feel I have no good answers to. How do we do ministry like this? For one thing, cruciformity cannot be institutionalized. It is the antithesis of the institution, which must always live, at least in part, to perpetuate itself.

What happens if a good and lowly sufferer does well? What if her church takes off? What if she gets a PhD? What if, horror of horrors, her book sells?! What if we are filled? What if we are already rich? What if we have become kings–while the apostles are being exhibited last of all as people condemned to death?

I don’t have a clear or easy answer.

I suppose that persons more godly than myself can make myriad small decisions to embrace the way of the cross such that their success continues to be a manifestation of the power of God.

I know of a couple of godly, exceptional NT scholars who have made some self-sacrificial decisions in terms of career and public visibility in order to care for ailing family members. From the midst of their self-giving so that others might live, beauty and strength shines forth.

I know teachers who aren’t great communicators (cf. 1 Cor 2:1-5), but whose life and message transform the students who come across their paths.

That’s a start.

Akma has more questions, challenging questions on his page today. I’m guessing he wants to go some other directions with resurrection. I have a few more places I’d like to go with it as well. Maybe later…

Deep Hope

“I can’t write about the ending of the story, papa, because it doesn’t have an ending.”

My six-year-old was in the back seat, dutifully completing her reading log for school. But The Giving Tree had introduced an unexpected wrinkle into her plans.

“All the happy things happen at the beginning and the sad things happen at the end. So there’s no ending to the story and I can’t write about ‘the end.’”

There is something beautiful about her refusal to accept sadness as the end of the story. There is a sense of hope, a yearning for redemption and happiness, that defines for her what constitutes a true ending.

There is something profoundly right about that.

Until there are no more tears, the story is not over. We must hope deeply for the true ending to show itself, and refuse to write “the end” before it appears.