Tag Archives: resurrection

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.

Assumption and Salvation

“What Christ did not assume is not redeemed.”

That, or something like it, was a way that the early church fathers (Gregory? anyone help me out here?) reflected on the significance of Jesus’ incarnation and full humanity. Against the idea that he might not have had a human soul, for example, it was insisted that whatever we are must be what the Son became in order that we might become as the Son now is.

Advent is the perfect time to reorient ourselves to the fact that our savior was born truly human. Paul describes Jesus as being on earth “in the likeness of sinful flesh.”

This takes us back around to yesterday, and the question of hope and resurrection. The “assuming” part is crucial because it puts in place the pieces that are “redeemed” with the life, death, and resurrection.

With a human savior being raised from the dead, we are forever confronted by a proclamation of good news that refuses to be truncated by our favorite problems that need solving.

Yes, the gospel proclaims forgiveness from the guilt of sin. But if that’s your whole gospel you need to go back and ask yourself why this human was raised from the dead. Or, perhaps, what Mark 1-14 mean and why they qualify as the church’s good news.

Yes, the gospel proclaims freedom from oppressive powers. But if that’s your whole gospel, there’s a world of hunger and hurt that Jesus invites you to meet with healing and filling. The gospel is bigger than freedom.

Yes, the gospel tells us about the incomparable worth of humanity in the sight of God. But if that’s the sum total of your gospel, you need to keep asking questions: where are we, why does it matter, and what hope does creation have as it groans and waits?

Jesus did not only assume a human body, but the human situation as under God, under sin, under law; and as among other people, among sinners, and among saints; and as experiencing pain, experiencing hunger, and experiencing isolation; and as standing over the creatures, over the physical world, and over his disciples.

To be truly human is not only to exist as a soulish body, but to live on this world in this created order. This is the “assumption of human flesh” that Jesus entered into. And this is the extent of his redemption. And this is the extent of the hope that he extends.

He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found

Hope

“Hope is when you wish for something.”

“No, hope is when you really think something is going to happen.”

This conversation, overheard from the back seat of my car, embodies the dissonance many of us live in between hope as a powerful life-giving reality, and hope as a wishy-washy sense of desire.

I choose my words carefully: “live-giving” reality. “Life-giving” expectation.

Even when we’ve moved beyond the wishy-washy to something that might help us press forward, we are in danger of watering down hope. Hope is not simply a disposition. Nor is it simply the expectation that all things will work out in the end, if we just hang on long enough.

Hope, Christian hope, the hope by which the story of the world finds a hope that will not be disappointed, comes from the confession and belief that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead.

The story of resurrection tells us that humanity is heading somewhere–somewhere beyond the power of the grave, beyond the power of sin, beyond the power of law.

The story of resurrection tells us that the cosmos is heading somewhere–somewhere beyond the power of supernovas, beyond the power of entropy, beyond the power of corruption.

The story of resurrection tells us, for sure, that our world has been imbued by its creator with a certain, inalienable hope. Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. Humanity will be raised from the dead to its new-creation dwelling.

Hope for the future comes from the Event in the past that gives all history its meaning and its end.

Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. Therefore, we have hope.

The Lord Becomes the Lord (Again)

Luke loves to refer to Jesus as the Lord.

Elizabeth calls Mary “the mother of my Lord,” when baby Jesus is in utero. Those petitioning Jesus for help will defer to him as “Lord.” It is “the Lord” who appoints seventy-two and sends them out on their mission.

And it is “the Lord” who turns to look at Peter after Peter has denied him for the third time (22:61).

And then… nothing.

Throughout the trial before the elders, Jesus is not referred to as “the Lord.”

Throughout the trial before Pilate, Jesus is not referred to as “Lord.”

Standing before Herod, he is simply “Jesus.”

Before the crowd, he is simply “this man.”

Led to the cross, he is Jesus. Crucified, he is mocked as the would-be Christ or would-be King of the Jews. But he is not called the Lord.

Through the taunting of the one bandit and the petition of remembrance from the other, he is derided as “the Christ” or simply called Jesus.

It is “Jesus,” not “the Lord” who gives up his spirit, and “Jesus” whom the women watch from afar.

“Jesus’” body is buried.

But on the first day of the week, when the women come to anoint the body with their aromatic spices they discover less than they came to find. And also find out that they should have been looking for more.

They find that the body of “the Lord Jesus” is missing.

The risen one is the Lord once again. And so the two who come running back from Emmaus say to the rest, “The Lord has really risen!”

And so Peter can say on the Day of Pentecost, in reference to the resurrected Jesus, “God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

The resurrection is an enthronement. It is the heavenly reinstatement of what Jesus showed forth and then set aside while on the earth.

Peter says in that same sermon in Acts 2: “Jesus was a man testified to by God through signs and wonders.” The Lord Jesus was acting on the power and authority of the Lord God. And was rejected: finally rejected by even his closest followers, he walks through the passion narrative as simply “Jesus,” as the messianic pretender.

But God witnesses to him again by the resurrection, enthroning him as the Lord once more. The missing body is not simply the body of Jesus. It is, once again, the body of the Lord.

Christ is All: Entry and Continuing

Continue as you were called. This is the admonition in Col 2:6ff.

And it underscores how important it is that we get our story straight right from the beginning.

The way that we come to faith, the story about Jesus that we hear and believe and fall in love with, is going to exercise a considerable power over our understanding of what the rest of our life might look like. And rightfully so.

The portrait of salvation in Christ that Paul depicts in Col 2 is full of indications of how we might misstep in walking after Christ, ways that our following might depart from our embrace by God.

The first admonition to allow deep roots and growth in Christ to overflow with Thanksgiving. Paul will go on to describe roadblocks to faithful Christian life–roadblocks, in essence, to thankfulness. A thankful spirit arises from knowing that the story with which God embraced us is the reality of our life in the present.

When we’re confronted with traditions of people–be they God’s people such as Israel or our Christian theological traditions–or the philosophies of other people, we are not in the presence of something that must be mastered in order to be fully embraced in the family of God. God has accepted us in Christ. Full stop. Thus, it is only in Christ that we continue with God.

Not only are philosophies and traditions “of people,” they hinder our thankfulness for this very reason. They raise a specter that must be conquered before one can “really” know God. They vacate the truth of our identity as God’s beloved children.

Christ is great: greater than any ruler or authority. And, this greatness is the source of our own life. We are in this great one, and therefore not in need of anything else to be esteemed in the eyes of God. We continue in him as we have learned him: Jesus is the supreme Lord of all, the one in whom God receives people to Himself.

Co-crucifixion with Christ has marked us out as God’s covenant people. We are in him. This means that both the guilt and the power of sin are done away. “God made you alive with Christ and forgave all the things you had done wrong” (Col 2:13, CEB).

The positive life we need to embrace is ours in union with the resurrected Christ. The life of sin and guilt and shame we need to leave behind is left behind in that old humanity who died with Christ on the cross.

We come to God only in Christ; and thus we continue only in Christ.

And, with such a holistic embrace by God, our lives are stirred to thanksgiving. We already have all that we need.

Don’t let anyone hoodwink you.

Shema Christology in 1 Cor 8

The illustrious James McGrath has raised the question of how we are to take the allusion to the shema in 1 Cor 8.

Here’s the verse in question:

There is one God the Father.
All things come from him, and we belong to him.
And there is one Lord Jesus Christ.
All things exist through him, and we live through him.

The issue, then, is what are to make of its apparent use and transformation of the language of traditional Jewish piety in its affirmation of YHWH as the one God:

Hear O Israel! The Lord is God, the Lord alone.

Does the reference in 1 Cor to Jesus as “the Lord,” in a sense, write him into the shema’, such that he participates in the divine identity? In other words, is this an early Jewish way of indicating that Jesus is God?

The view that this so identifies Jesus with God that Jesus becomes identified with the works of the God of Israel has a couple of things to commend it. First, there is the calling of Jesus “Lord,” which was how Jewish people were rendering YHWH from the OT, how YHWH would have been rendered in the shema’ itself.

So the pairing of the Father and the Lord with this shema’ language might point in that direction.

Second, Jesus seems to be associated with creation: all things exist through him.

There is one major point against this theory, however, and in my estimation it is decisive: Paul says that there is one God–the Father.

For all the “identification” of Jesus with God, for all the acting in God’s name and exercising God’s dominion over the cosmos through his resurrection Lordship that Paul affirms, he consistently refers to the Father as God. It seems to be irresponsible exegesis to say that Paul was saying in a Jewish way what the later creeds would affirm.

The Father is God. He alone.

Jesus is the Lord over all things.

How, then, are we to take this “Lord, through whom are all things”?

First, there is no problem at all with a Jewish person referring to someone, a King, as Lord alongside YHWH who is the Lord. In fact, as Ephesians can say that there is one Father in heaven from whom all families on earth derive their name, a Jewish person would probably say that there is one kurios in heaven–which is precisely why this Lord’s people can have a king whom we call The Lord.

The Lordship of the Messiah is derivative of the Lordship of Israel’s God.

What, then, are we to make of all things existing through him?

This comports well with what Paul says elsewhere about the advent of new creation with the death and resurrection of Jesus as Messiah.

“One died for all, therefore all died… so then, if anyone is in Christ–New Creation! The old things have passed away, behold! the new things have come!”

To say that all things are through him, that he sustains all things, that all rulers and powers are for him and under him–all of this is new creation language. It is a new creation that comes about through the death and resurrection of Jesus, as he is enthroned as Lord at God’s right hand.

We exist through him–he died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who died and rose again for them.

If the shema’ is altered in 1 Cor 8, it happens through the Christ event per se rather than as a description or realization of Jesus’ pre-existent ontological identity.

Forgiveness and Resurrection

Yesterday I did a little co-conspiring with Mark Scandrette and the guys from ikon here in San Francisco. We recorded a podcast about forgiveness (stay tuned for download details).

The conversation generated a number of thoughts and questions, not all of them worked out in our short time recording. Perhaps one of the most important has to do with entrusting judgment to God. At some level, especially for people who have been badly wounded, abused, left behind after a loved one has been killed, forgiveness will be tied to a conviction that the God of all the earth will do what is right.

Is that really the God who composes the Christian story? Is that really the God who beckons us to forgive and even to bless those who persecute us?

In my estimation, we have too often surrendered a major resource for answering this question because we have built our theology of forgiveness so much around the cross that we have neglected the crucial place of the resurrection.

Resurrection means not only that God has accepted and forgiven us in Christ. This much is true. But it also means, more generally, that the economy of this world is not equipped to bring about the just judgment of God.

The God of all the earth will do what is right, but this mortal life and its systems of power and even of justice are not the heavenly court.

Resurrection promises that there will be reversal. Injustice cannot escape the righteous judgment of God.