Saturday, April 29, 2006

God-Intoxicated - The Humanity of Jesus

While I struggle with what it meant for a human to be divine (see below), I have an easier time grasping what it meant for Jesus to be human. I'm not talking about some huge theological treatise on how Jesus represents the whole of humanity, etc., but rather what is concrete about Jesus' experience as a man. Marcus Borg often uses the term "God-intoxicated" to describe the humanity of Jesus. Here is a man who walked the backwater of the Roman empire two-thousand years ago and was completely obsessed with God. Perhaps the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus' theological / pastoral fleshing out the concept of G-O-D. If Jesus was so God-intoxicated, what a dounting task to describe the Kingdom of God to an oppressed, desperate, and poverty-stricken people. Maybe we're not so far from that today. Maybe we, too, need to re-read the Sermon on the Mount. Here is my theological take on the Sermon...

Blessed are the people who can see beyond themselves and become obsessed with God. Blessed are those who care so much about their community (and not themselves) that they can see the face of God in the face of humanity. Blessed are those who can conceive of no other existence than that of unity with God. Blessed are those who realize that this humanity of ours holds us back, deprives our spirit, and demands confession of the things that separate us from God.

May you have a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Death of Death: Jesus Resurrected

"That Jesus Christ in calling man to be a Christian unites Himself with him means first from His own standpoint that He is unique as the One who is His life and death was humiliated and exalted in the place of all, as the One in whom the reconciliation of the world to God and the justification and sanctification and for the salvation of all were accomplished."

-- Karl Barth, CD IV, 3

Over at Faith and Theology, Ben Myers has recently sparred with Mike Bird on the resurrection controversy. I quote this from the (very) late Barth, who, as we all know affirmed bodily resurrection. Barth, called a neo-conservative (which is laughable at best), actually points the way to a post-modern reading of the resurrection. What do I mean? Let me try to flesh this out (no pun intended, ok, it might have been intended).

Like the Barthian/Calvinist/Augustian tradition, I too affirm that Jesus ontologically caused the death of death. This means that the biological/psychological effects of what we call death have been turned on their head. Not to enter the mind/body philosophical debate, but we do not lose our identity in death; we are valued persons encompassing all that is right and wrong with our lives. Death has been reversed in Jesus - the God who says "yes" to Jesus likewise says "yes" to me (how's that for a Barthian statement?).

But, the post-modern thinker rightly asks: how do we know anything beyond the face of death? Empirically, we can watch another die, experiencing his/her death indirectly. But, even though we all must undergo the death experience, we have no direct knowledge of the death experience. Like Myers says, everything changes at death. We not longer inhabit this body, this mind, this life - we are gone - forever. But, Barth answers the post-modern question: salvation is not some weirdly reconstructed life on earth - it is radically reshaped in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The reshaping of death means deconstructing what it means to die. No longer is death a simple sign of human finitude, it is an experiential thing with which none of us escape. The post-modern question of empirical knowledge is turned around: we die into the arms of God. Radical reconciliation means that a seemingly meaningless death now has all the meaning in the world: we die into complete and utter trust in the God of love and mercy. This is, concretely, the completion of the Gospel: Jesus is no mere corpse on a cross, but an "exalted" Savior who gives our death meaning through the meaningful experience of resurrection....

Blog Recommendations

While I think it's important to read as much as possible, I do think there are a lot of bogus blogs out there. Thankfully, most theo/biblio-blogs are pretty good. But, I'd like to draw your attention to two blogs of personal friends that I highly recommend. They are blogs that are representative of a small community in which I consider myself: future theologians currently in training.

I attended the University of St. Andrews with Daniel Driver, who posts a somewhat sporadic blog, but nonetheless is very insightful (who can blame him, he's writing his doctoral thesis!). This blog, as I understand it, deals with issues of OT midrash, and more specifically with the work of Brevard Childs. I also like reading his personal entries, as they remind me of our time in St. Andrews.

The second blog is by a graduate student at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Our paths crossed a year and half ago at St. Andrews when I was a graduate student and he was spending a semester abroad (with the undergraduate program at Elon). John and I are kindred theological spirits: we struggle daily with issues of faith, freedom, and grace. While we are both practicing Christians, we both also adhere to the credo faith seeking understanding. I highly recommend his blog.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Religion and the Media, Part II
The Gospel of Judas, The Translator Blasts Today's Church

This is a short entry, as this article is fascinating. Kudos to Jim West for finding this. Having read the Gospel of Judas myself, I cannot, for the life of me, see what all the fuss is about. The media is freaking out about this Gospel - have they read the plethora of other non-canonical gospels? There are plenty of more outrageous non-canonical gospels than this. Sure, it presents another side of Judas - so what? It's another point of view - not something that should shake your faith to the core. The Gospel of Judas may not have much theological value, but it has incredible historical value to the early Church. No one is proposing to add this document to the New Testament, there is simply an appeal to the recognition that there was not institutional church prior to, say, the Council of Nicea. Gnostic communities existed, and not necessarily as "fringe communities" (to quote the Archbishop of Canterbury).

I agree with the translator that there will be other documents unearthed in the years to come. We need to be more open to things that challenge the way we think; we need to be flexible to re-working the way we have thought about the early church. Why? Because we need to act in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters that have gone on to glory before us.

Oh, and to the media: get a life. There are plenty of documents like this, and there will be plenty more to come. One only needs to read Irenaeus to see how many more gnostic texts are out there.

Meaningful Dialogue

My post from yesterday, Religion and the Media I, attracted some attention to the age-old debate between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. I welcome such criticisms with open arms - that's what we theologians do! Please see the comments section after reading the entry. It is a complex argument that is, thankfully!, taking some new directions in the 21st century. Feel free to leave your opinion. As they say in Scotland, have a look...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Religion and the Media: Part I
Pope Benedict XVI



In this week's U.S. News and World Report, there is an interesting article on Pope Benedict XVI's first year in office. This piece is primarily reflective, spiced with a little theological insight. Tolson's main point is to show that "God's Rottweiler" has proven to be an effective Pope, surprising both "liberals" and "conservatives." While many feared that The Rottweiler would resurrect an Inquisitional catholicism, Benedict XVI has shown that there is far more diplomacy in the papacy than perhaps was fully realized. Tolson highlights the slight disappointment of "conservatives" like the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus and "liberals" like Hans Kung.

A Protestant myself, I realize that my comments are, at best, cursory. I am not Roman Catholic, nor have I been affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. But, I do respect it and the papacy. Regardless of what Protestants think about the pope, he still has incredible diplomatic and political power. While he leads a Church that claims one billion adherants, Protestants should keep up with the Pope to see what fellow brothers and sisters are learning from him. While the papacy has a sorted past, modern popes have the ability to spread peace through active diplomacy. This important feature of the papacy cannot be ignored. Indeed, we as Protestants should encourage the peace process whenever possible.

Back to the article. Tolson gives a good nuanced opinion of the new Pope. However, he does assume that his readers know what "conservative" and "liberal" mean. I think if we really delve into what the words mean (and I really don't want to go there today), I think we would find a deep discontinuity between what Roman Catholics view as "conservative" and "liberal" and what Protestants view as "conservative" and "liberal." My point is this: define your terms! Let the reader know what a "liberal" Roman Catholic thinks: birth control? condom use? female ordination? what?

One of the major themes in this article is the recent scandal involving priests and pedophilia. This is somewhat mixed with the issue of ordaining priests with "homosexual" orientation (I thought priests were celebate....). While Tolson does mention that there is little or no connection between homosexuality and pedophilia, he does tend to blur the issues together. Yes, the Roman Catholic Church is in need of some serious reform, but let's face it: there is something of a witch-hunt going on here. There have been just as many (if not more) convictions of Protestant ministers engaging in pedophilic acts as Roman Catholic priests. I'm not downplaying the seriousness of the issue; I'm simply stating that we need fair recognition of the real issue: pedophilia is real and we need to root it out. And, most importantly, the victims of such abuse need therapy and treatment.

Overall, I think the article did justice to the effectiveness of the new pope. I would have preferred to see more nuanced opinions and clearer definitions of terms, but other than that, it's worth a read.

Religion and the Media

I hope to never reduce theology to the popular media, but I do think it is important to keep up with current events (I'm thinking of Barth's comment that a theologian should hold a newspaper in one hand a Bible in the other). I'm going to post several posts regarding religious articles in the popular media - covering various subjects and, of course, my opinion of them.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Jesus and the Divine

I've been doing some thinking recently on whether or not we, as humans, can have knowledge of Jesus' divinity. What I mean is, if we are fully human and not divine (a careful distinction), can we "know" or "understand" what it means to be divine? If Jesus is (as the Nicene Creed has it) just as much divine as human, can we really understand what that means? Perhaps the only answer to believe in the divinity of Jesus, to place trust in the Biblical witness (though it seems at times that even this is a stretch, save that of John). I'm not denying or affirming the Nicene Creed, just questioning whether or not we can understand what it says.

I know this is no new question, and indeed it is one that every Christian must wrestle with; yet, I cannot help but feel a little lost in the whole issue. My humanity means limitations - limits of knowledge, understanding, and (of course) finitude. Somehow, though, Jesus' humanity speaks to my humanity - but where I can begin to "understand"?

As I get older, I really understand the old adage: faith seeking understanding.

Hiatus

Sorry for the recent hiatus this week, but my wife and I took a much-needed vacation. It wasn't very far, just to Washington D.C. to see the National Zoo and some of the Smithsonian museums. Daily/Semi-daily blogging will resume.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Out and About on Easter

Two of my favorite blogs have excellent contributions to the Easter holiday. Over at Faith and Theology, Ben Myers offers great re-blogging of several issues from times past. Additionally, check out Dr. Jim West for some Easter artwork. These recent blogs on Easter are truly a blessing - and of course, provacative, too!

Happy Easter everyone!

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Cross

It seems entirely appropriate to blog about the cross on Good Friday. This is the day when Christians remember that Jesus underwent bodily death - actual, physical, death. It is not a day of "celebration" per se, but a day of remembrance. But that is not to say that the day of celebration is not coming, for indeed it is. I've studied much about the cross in my time, many of the theological nuances, etc. Here is a short reflection of what the cross means to me: (this is an emotional treatise, not a theological exposition)

The cross is the symbol and, at the same time, the reality of God's love. It is the finite piece of wood that clearly shows us the love of God. God's love story, or His self-revelation in scripture, is made complete with the cross. The death of Jesus leads to the resurrection of the Christ, the Christ who loves us enough to die a criminal's death. The cross is a symbol for all of history to see what justice sometimes costs. The cross is Jesus' arms outstretched to each of us, saying, "I love you." The cross is the reversal of human norms and values, the questioning of authority, the price of justice, the break in human history, and the display of awesome love and grace. The cross is a reality for you and for me; it is what binds us together, it is what makes us one in the eyes of God, it is the disruption of the brokenness of human history. The final unity of Jesus' previously broken body on the day of the resurrection is the unity in which we experience God's grace.

God Bless.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Midnight Musings

"When Jesus blessed sinners, they were real sinners, but Jesus did not make everyone a sinner first. He called them away from their sin, not into their sin. It is true that encounter with Jesus meant the reversal of all human values." --Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

Powerful words. Yet, I can't help but think that to discuss "sin" and "human values" in Bonhoeffer's theological language is to assume certain given values. This means that "human values" are those things that make us persons, things that give us identity, freedom, and agency. And, dissimilarly, "sin" is the negation of these values, the negation of identity, freedom, and agency. But, I have to ask, who determines these values? God? The Bible? Tradition? Society? What is normal? What is abnormal? Do our assumptions of "human values" and their negations (sin) also assume a particular identity-value? Yet, amongst these questions, Bonhoeffer points to Jesus - the man who enacts the reversal of human values. Jesus is the question mark to "human values".


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

This last Sunday (April 9th) marked the 61st anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's execution at the hands of the Nazis. It is important to remember all those involved in the Abwehr plot who were subsequently executed. Not only was Bonhoeffer executed, but his brother, his brother-in-law and roughly 150 others involved in the complex plot. I'm not going to debate (today) the nuances of Bonhoeffer's chosen path, but we must remember the sacrifice he made for what he believed to be the best decision (and I think history, in hindsight, would agree).

Bonhoeffer's contribution to the theological world cannot be overstated. His development of "religionless Christianity" ushered in the next generation of theologians. We still struggle with his words today, and rightly so. So, Bonhoeffer, we remember you.

Gospel of Judas Part II

I've noticed quite an aweful misunderstanding recently: we need to see the difference between historically and theologically relevant documents from antiquity. Christians are all too willing to reject the Gospel of Judas outright - without even reading the text (which takes ten minutes). A document shown to be antique (i.e. authentic, not a hoax) is relevant to historical record whether you like it or not. No individual (or group for that matter) can determine if something has historical relevance: all documents make up the historical record, period. Now, something can be viewed as relevant theologically with different criteria. Will the Gospel of Judas have a theological impact on the contemporary church? Probably not. Most Christians are too close-minded to give it a read. I've read it - it will not destroy your "faith." If it does, you didn't have real faith to begin with. The gospel is historically relevant because it shows a different Christian community in antiquity. It reminds us that the early Christian church was ANYTHING but uniform. It also throws into question who has the right to determine what is "orthodox" and what is not. Has there ever been an "orthodoxy"? And more importantly - was Jesus orthodox? How did Jesus treat orthodoxy of his day? My point: open your mind and your heart.

The Birth

I'm sorry for not writing for the last few days, but my wife's best friend gave birth to a beautiful baby girl on Sunday night. We have been wrapped up in the absolute beauty of childbirth since then. I've been around babies/kids my entire life (I have three younger brothers), but the miracle of this really struck me. That God provides for a new life in such an emotional way is an aesthetic of its own. When looking into the eyes of this newborn, I saw the face of humanity, the hope of all generations: that no matter what this world brings in pain and strife, we survive, we grow, we love, and we take care of our own. Her face, besides being really cute (!), was the pinnacle of hope in a sometimes bleak world.
Besides reading, perhaps, too much into childbirth, I came to another profound theological conclusion: Augustine never held a baby. What I mean is that the doctrine of original sin is just pure fantasy. Sure, humans all have the potential to sin, but I outright reject the doctrine that teaches that babies are born into sin. Potentiality and actuality are two different things - and I'm convinced that Augustine never had close contact with an infant.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Gospel of Judas


The Gospel of Judas is the big news of our field this week, so I decided to give my two cents on the issue. I did watch the news coverage last night, including interviews with Bart Ehrman and (more importantly) Elaine Pagels. From the outset, I do disagree with Dr. Jim West who asserts that "there is really nothing historically valuable in this Coptic text." It all depends on how you see "history." If this Gospel is being compared to the New Testament Gospels, then perhaps there is nothing "historically" valuable in this text. However, if this Gospel shows the diversity of early Christians, the possible vindication of one of history's most cursed names, and that there really was more to the mystery of Jesus' teaching, this document holds important historical value. That said, I do agree with Dr. West that this whole issue has been blown up and sensationalized. Ancient documents are dug up all the time. In college, we had a guest classics professor from Northwestern visit my Greek class. One of the most exciting things he had to say was that there are too few people who can translate these ancient documents; there are plenty that are still untranslated! The fact that this Gospel has been unearthed is important, but I dare say it will be the last. I do look forward to reading and studying this text. Hopefully, in several years, there will be more scholarly work done on this document - where will Inside Edition be then?

Want to read it for yourself? Thanks to Jim Davila at PaleoJudaica for the link: The Gospel of Judas
Note: this is in PDF format. Happy Reading!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Augustine the Existentialist

Ridiculous you say? I found proof: =D

"...since nothing in existence could exist without you [God], does it therefore follow that everything exists must contain you? I too exist. Why then do I ask you to enter into me? For unless you were in me, I could not exist." --Augustine, Confessions Book I

Now, I know Augustine was not apart of the "existentialist" movement of the twentieth century, nor did his theology really have similarities with Tillich, Bultmann, etc. However, Augustine did have the existentialist spirit, or the search for what it means to "exist." This is important - Augustine saw a necessary relationship between existence and God. Is God pure existence (to use Tillich's language)? Or is God the necessary causal push behind the cosmos? Augustine's understanding of the Spirit of God is necessary to understand his theology of existence: the Spirit is what exists in us and gives us existence. So, without all of the philosophical and theological baggage of the twentieth century, I would say that Augustine had "existentialist" tendencies that are important to study today.


Emil Brunner (1889-1966)


Today marks the 40th anniversary of Emil Brunner's death. Dr. Jim West thinks that Brunner's legacy is greater than that of Barths; I beg to differ. While I do not discount the genius of Brunner's theological insight, I do think that he eventually falls short of Barth's theological vision. That should not keep you from reading Brunner! For my Barthian friends out there, just keep one word in mind: NEIN!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Radical Grace in the midst of Radical Nothingness



"The fact that the creature can fall away from God and perish does not imply any imperfection on the part of creation or the Creator. What it does mean positively is that it is something created and is therefore dependent on preserving grace, just as it owes its very existence simply to the grace of its Creator...Sin is when the creature avails itself of this impossible possibility in opposition to God and to the meaning of its own existence. But the fault is that of the creature and not of God." -- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/3

To really comprehend what Barth means by sin, I think is necessary to include what Barth thinks of nothingness. Nothingness is the realm in which sin is possible, in which we exercise our will in freedom. This is not to say that nothingness is a place, or a thing, or even (strictly) a realm. Nothingness is what God rejects; it is non-being. If God has rejected sin, then sin belongs in the abyss - in nothingness. Yet, curiously enough, we are allowed to taste nothingness in the capability of sin. Does that mean that every human has experienece nothingness first hand? I think so, if the logic holds true.

But here is where grace enters the picture. Grace is what keeps us from falling into the abyss - into the nothingness. Grace is what continually rejects what has been rejected. Grace is, therefore, a more powerful force than non-being. Grace lifts us out of our own nothingness. Barth's assertion of radical grace is no more clearly understood than in the awesome power of nothingness. Radical grace is what, finally, eliminates the power of nothingness. It is what restores communion with God.

To throw a wrench into the machine, what of freedom? Barth was a reformed thinker, well-educated in Calvinist and Lutheran protestantism, so what did he have to say about freedom? Like many before him, he rejected freedom of the will (in a strict, theological sense). Of course, there is freedom of action, mind, et. al. But what of freedom of the will? It would make sense from Barth's discussion of nothingness that human will is ultimately guided by the Spirit (in the theological tradition of Luther and Augustine). But there is something missing here - if God "allows" nothingness to impede upon the lives of his creation, then freedom of action simply does not do justice to human agency. If God's grace overcomes one's freedom of the will, then what is to be said for agency? That's not freedom. Rather, if we are allowed to taste nothingness in sin, then we have freedom of the will. I think the theological tradition of rejecting freedom of the will simply falls short of denoting human agency: we are capable of horrendous evil. We are also capable of repenting. The role of grace is, concretely, to engulf the spirit of the individual in meaningful repentence after experiencing radical nothingness.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Barth and Nothingness (Church Dogmatics III/3)


Much of my recent academic research has been in Barth's understanding of nothingness. Barth takes a very different view (positivist) from Sartre, Heidegger, et. al (negative). For Barth, nothingness is that which God negated from creation, the realm that is non-being, or in a strict sense, without God. Jesus is the negator of the negation - the One who reconciles all unto God, even that which God has rejected. In a sense, there is no such thing as non-being because Christ's action is reconciling the furthest reaches of creation.

This has always been difficult for me to understand. Like Sartre or Heidegger, I can sense real nothingness, real non-being. Perhaps in the form of evil, inhumanity, or cruelty, I do think there is nothingness pervading our reality of being. Barth does not downplay real evil, but he does downplay its final effect on creation because Christ destroys nothingness. Is that glossing over the reality of evil? Barth lived during the time of Hitler and the holocaust - he has an intimate understanding of large-scale evil. But Barth will not put anything earthly above the reconciling power of the cross. This is, I believe, Barth's final word on nothingness: there is nothing that the cross cannot touch - not even nothingness (count the negatives in that sentence!).

Perhaps this is true, but I'm not letting Barth get off that easy. I want to explore, in the coming days, the reality of nothingness, the power of negation, and what others have to say about it. Feel free to comment because these are provocative issues!

Read for yourself, then see my comments in the next post.

Higgaion: Publish nonsense, thrive on TV

Theories on the Death and Resurrection of Jesus

In a recent post, Christopher Heard reports on Michael Baigent's The Jesus Papers. You really have to read this blog entry yourself; a summary could not illuminate all of the particuar nuances. My opinion: the theory that Jesus survived the cross, faked his own death, and continued living (perhaps a full lifetime) is simply not new. The claim that there are "papers" that confirm this is, until proven, ridiculous. Produce documentation and we'll go from there. Until then, this should be published under fiction.

I have to take the same approach to this as Mark Goodacre takes to the Q theory: sure, it's entertaining, and perhaps even has a grain of truth, but until you can produce a text, it remains a theory. Even more, we have Roman documentation that records the crucifixion and death of Jesus of Nazareth. It would take a lot to refute this.

I remain unconvinced until I see a text.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Metaphor

"For the emerging paradigm, the Bible and the Christian tradition are understood as a giant metaphor through which we see God. Christian faith is about living within the Christian tradition as a metaphor of God."
--Marcus J. Borg, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith

This is a very powerful passage for me; it was one of those times when I was dumbstruck by the power of the words. What does it mean to live "within the Christian tradition as a metaphor of God"? I studied for a semester with Stephen Holmes, himself a student of Colin Gunton. As you may know, Gunton did seminal work in reading the Bible metaphorically. I'm not sure that metaphors are entirely appropriate as a holistic hermeneutic, but certainly think that metaphors can express what metaphysics cannot. This means that metaphors join the spirit world with the "real" world in a meaningful way.
I continue to ponder Borg's words, perhaps influenced by Gunton. They are, indeed, quite powerful.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

On Tobacco and Theologians

I once read somewhere that if you know what kind of tobacco a theologian uses, then you can tell what type of theologian he/she is:

Cigar smoker: conservative
Cigarette smoker: liberal
Pipe smoker: dialectical (or, more specifically, Barthian)

I find this rather funny; the theologians I know who indulge in tobacco products prove this formula to be almost completely opposite (save that of Barthians - Barth always lectured with a pipe in his mouth). Anyway, it'll be interesting to see if the 21st century's theologians change this formula...

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