Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Barmen Declaration for Today

(The “rejections” of the Barmen Declaration of 1934 updated for today)

8.10 - 1. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." (John 14.6). "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. . . . I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved." (John 10:1, 9.)
8.11 Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.
8.12 We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God's revelation.

No nation, leader, ideology, other force or power, or personal interest or preference other than Jesus Christ gives us our marching orders as God’s people.

8.13 - 2. "Christ Jesus, whom God has made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption." (1 Cor. 1:30.)
8.14 As Jesus Christ is God's assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God's mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.
8.15 We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords--areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

Our political, social, educational, economic, sexual, recreational, and any other parts of our lives belong to Jesus Christ and him alone. Direction from any other source must be critiques and reformulated in light of his gospel to determine what of it might be useful for the church.

8.16 - 3. "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together." (Eph. 4:15,16.)
8.17 The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.
8.18 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.

The form and content of the church’s ministry and message is that of the cross. Triumphalism, acting and speaking as if we have arrived or know the truth or are specially blessed with success or prosperity is never an expression of Christian grace or wisdom.

8.19 - 4. "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men excercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant." (Matt. 20:25,26.)
8.20 The various offices in the Church do not establish a dominion of some over the others; on the contrary, they are for the excercise of the ministry entrusted to and enjoined upon the whole congregation.
8.21 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, apart from this ministry, could and were permitted to give itself, or allow to be given to it, special leaders vested with ruling powers.

Those who lead in the church, follow. Those who rule, serve. The tokens of leadership and rule in the church are the basin and towel. That is all.

8.22 - 5. "Fear God. Honor the emperor." (1 Peter 2:17.)
Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the Church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The Church acknowledges the benefit of this divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to mind the Kingdom of God, God's commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things.
8.23 We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commision, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church's vocation as well.

Neither America, nor any other geopolitical entity is God’s nation, his chosen people. Only the church bears this privilege and responsibility and does so for the sake of the world, to spread God’s blessings everywhere.

8.24 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State.

Neither is the church an organ of the State to do its bidding, support its interests, or produce good citizens for it. Rather the church serves God only as sign, sacrament, and servant of God’s radically upside-down kingdom.

8.25 - 6. "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Matt. 28:20.) "The word of God is not fettered." (2 Tim. 2:9.)
8.26 The Church's commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of the free grace of God to all people in Christ's stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and sacrament.
8.27 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.

It is a blasphemous violation of the third commandment to harness the gospel to alien ideologies and purposes foreign to it.

8.28 The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church declares that it sees in the acknowledgment of these truths and in the rejection of these errors the indispensable theological basis of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of Confessional Churches. It invites all who are able to accept its declaration to be mindful of these theological principles in their decisions in Church politics. It entreats all whom it concerns to return to the unity of faith, love, and hope.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

How Stories Configure Human Nature

December 12, 2016

1. It is in our nature to need stories. We arrive “biologically prepared” for them. They were evolutionarily crucial. We feel and think in story-logic (story-causality configures our reaction-biology).

2. Like our language instinct, a story drive—inborn hunger to hear and make stories—emerges untutored (=“biologically prepared”).

3. “Every culture bathes its children in stories" (to explain how the world works, to educate their emotions). . .


How NT Wright Stole Christmas


by Peter J. Leithart 12 . 22 . 12

This piece was originally published at the Credenda/Agenda web site in 2009. Being in a Grinchy mood and of a generally Grinchy disposition, I thought it worth re-presenting.

Several years ago, when The Passion of the Christ was making headlines, I realized that N. T. Wright has spoiled every Jesus film. Once you’ve read Wright, you realize that none of the movies get Jesus right. Pharisees and scribes are reduced stock villains with caricatured Jewish features. Pilate has to make an appearance, and Herod, but we are given no sense that first-century Israel was the powder keg that it actually was.

No film ever gives us what Wright says we should be looking for: a “crucifiable” Jesus, a Jesus who does something so provocative to make the Jews murderously hostile. In the movies, Jesus is a hippy peace-child, a delicate flower of a man, a dew-eyed first-century Jewish Gandhi. Why would anyone want to hurt Him? Maybe because He’s so annoyingly precious; but that’s not the story of the gospels.

Just this year, I had another realization. N. T. Wright has spoiled Christmas too.

Red more at

It’s time we think of politics more like religion

Supporters cheer as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign rally in Sarasota, Fla., on Nov. 7, 2016.   Photo courtesy of Reuters/Carlo Allegri 
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-FARNSLEY-OPED, originally published on Dec. 7, 2016.
Supporters cheer as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign rally in Sarasota, Fla., on Nov. 7, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Carlo Allegri *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-FARNSLEY-OPED, originally published on Dec. 7, 2016.

(RNS) Students in my college classes start out thinking religious identity and behavior are primarily about ideas. When I ask them about differences between Catholics and Methodists, they respond with differences in beliefs: the pope, contraception and transubstantiation.
These theological differences are real, of course, but I learned long ago that ideas do not create religious identity: They follow from it. My students imagine we pick from a large menu of ideological options and then make decisions about which membership best fits our own ideas.
It does not take long to convince them this “decision” model is badly incomplete. We never start from a neutral position. Our thinking is shaped by where we are born, who raised us and the tribes we call our own.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

There is only one biblical way to transform society, and it’s not social activism

Thu, 15/12/2016 - 12:20 | Andrew Perriman

In his talk on Daniel 4 this week Barney made passing reference to the “biblical mandate to bring justice by changing the structures of society”. I forget exactly the point he was making, but it would have had something to do with Daniel’s words to Nebuchadnezzar after interpreting the dream about the tree that is cut back to the stump:

Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity. (Dan. 4:27)

The talk was excellent and stimulated good conversation. But I’m not sure about that throw-away comment. Is there really such a “biblical mandate”? Is it clearly taught in scripture that a central task of the church is to go and bring justice by changing the structures of society?

There’s no question that God’s people are expected to demonstrate justice internally, in the various forms of their shared community life.

The Law of Moses mandated for Israel distinctive patterns of righteous and just behaviour. It was a primary responsibility of judges and kings and other leaders-right down to the chief priests and elders of Jesus’ day-to uphold righteousness and justice. And when things got out of kilter, as they inevitably did, the prophets drew attention to the fact, called Israel to repentance, and warned of national disaster if those responsible failed to put their house in order.But it can hardly be claimed that the Jews programmatically engaged in-or were encouraged to engage in-social activism outside of Israel. The most that can be said, I think, is that if they had kept the commandments and walked in the ways of the Lord, they would have modelled righteousness and justice for the surrounding nations.


Monday, December 12, 2016

What Might a Faithful Advent Look Like?

Earlier today I posted this on FB:

“The only way to "keep Christ in Christmas" is to admit we've lost the "Christmas" battle to the culture which wipes out Advent and reclaim the Twelve Days of the Christmas Season (beginning Christmas Day running to Epiphany). If you can reclaim Advent in some meaningful way, great. Most of us cannot/will not. If you can't, partake of culture's "Christmas" in so far as you can with some degree of integrity/modesty/moderation intact. Then celebrate the heck out of the Twelve Days.”

A friend asked in response to this how I would like to see Christians celebrate Advent.  Very good question! Here is a first pass at a response.

1.    Recognize that the persecution of the American church grows most intense this time of the year. I don’t mean, of course, the facile and wrong-headed bleating about “Keeping Christ in Christmas” and all that crap. I mean it in the sense I expounded on here in 7.16.14 “Persecution in America – Really!” 

2.    Remind ourselves that Advent in lived under the anticipation of the End. That’s the vision we find in Rev.21-22. The first Sunday of Advent always has texts that point in this direction. Themes present there might be good guides to order our Advent by. If you use an Advent Wreath or Calendar this vision of how things will be when everything is as God wants it might be a good way to determine the values and visions we want to communicate to family and the world. 

3.    Advent is a time of listening for a divine call and casting a vision ignited by that call as horizon under which we are to live the rest of the year. 

4.    Listen to music and watch movies that express some of the Advent themes you have discovered. I suggest one make it a point to include at least U2’s “Peace on Earth” and Jackson Browne’s “Rebel Jesus” in our playlists.  Probably means cutting back on the staple of holiday favorites (“It’s A Wonderful Life,” etc.) for this kind of viewing. And not all of them will be “Holly Jolly” seasonal favorites ( has a list of films that more or less reflect themes of the seasons of the church year – good place to start). 

5.    Give a proportionate amount of time and/or money that you spend on presents to serve others. Look for things other than serving at a soup kitchen, preparing holiday meals for the needy, etc. Look for way to personally connect with these folks and in some way get a sense for life as they live it. Each person or family should decide what the proportional percentage should be for them, maybe with a commitment to increase that percentage by a certain amount each year. 

6.    Try not to allow busyness/business to crowd out relationships. This won’t “just happen.” It will require intention and forethought to maintain or extend relationships during Advent. A full round of Christmas parties doesn’t count. You might cut out some of those to do the relationship building I mention here. 

7.    I guess the guideline might be “keep looking forward and outward with a relentless focus on those ‘other’ or different than ourselves.” 

8.    I mean in all seriousness that we are under more intense and serious persecution this time of year. It’s a “iron fist in a velvet glove” kind of persecution to be sure. But as long as we allow cultural “Christmas” habits and traditions to sweep us along in the same ruts every year we have no hope of reclaiming Advent as a resource for faith.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Advent (12.18.16)

Matthew 1:18-25
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah[a] took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son and he named him Jesus.


          We have worked through the three panels of the second view of the Isenhiem Altarpiece. So we return to the main panel for our final reflection.

          This is obviously the crucifixion scene with John pointing his long bony finger at the agonized figure of the dying Jesus. Again we seem to be at the wrong end of the story. Where’s the manger? The holy couple? The infant? They’re all in Matthew’s story (well, not the manger but let’s not quibble). Why are we looking at Jesus’ crucifixion?

          Because Jesus’ cross tells us everything we need to know about the God who has promised to come and save his people from their sins.” This child, born to die, dies to save his father’s people and restore them to his good purposes for them. This is the point, the purpose, for which he came (reflect on the picture below). Forgiven and restored to our original vocation as God’s image-bearers bearing the cross becomes for us to all that it was for Jesus. Below, behind, and beyond the cuteness and sentimentality of the season stands the hard and gritty reality in our picture. I offer the brief reflection on the theology of cross below as a final Advent reflection for us.

A Theology of the Cross or Why You Gotta Look Good on Wood

This is a scary picture!  Not because Jesus is hanging on a cross; we’re used to that.  What’s scary are the definitions of Jesus hanging on a cross as victorious, obedient, blessed, lifted up, glorified, and miraculous!  And it’s not that all this is said of Jesus that scares us either.  What scares us is that Jesus (and Paul) seem to expect we will live this way too.

Nietzsche called this an anti-human slave morality.  Screwtape claims it is only the underworld’s “ceaseless labor” that has prevented this “theology of the cross” from taking root in the Church of England (C. S. Lewis’ church).  Here’s his full account.

We have quite removed from men's minds what that pestilent fellow           Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials—namely, that            the human without scruples should always give in to the human                with scruples. You would think they could not fail to see the applic-          ation. You would expect to find the low’ church-man genuflecting               and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his high brother           should be moved to irreverence, and the high one refraining from          these exercises lest he should betray his low’ brother into idolatry.               And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour. Without that           the variety of usage within the Church of   England might have be-           come a positive hotbed of charity and humility.”  (Screwtape Letters, letter XVI) 

But most of us do not want to live this way!  Some piece of all of us agrees with Nietzsche that a theology of the cross is not a promising, fulfilling, self-realizing way to live. 

Wasn’t this just Jesus’ thing to do?  And after he did it, didn’t he go back to all his glory and regal splendor, and angels serving him, and all that stuff?

I think the clue to our confusion is found in the first panel.  “This is what a life with purpose looks like.”  Maybe we just don’t get the purpose of life, Jesus, Christian faith.  What’s it all about?

Let me put it as simply as I can.  The life God intended humanity to live from all eternity is his own life (remember the “Tree of Life” in the Garden of Eden).  We funked out on this, but God never gave up on his plan to fill his creation with “loathsome little replicas of himself” (as Screwtape puts it).  Jesus came as he always intended to but now he had to resolve the sin problem we had created as well as embody and model the life we were supposed to live (remember, he’s the “second” or “last” Adam).  Coming into a world of sin and hostile opposition to God and his purposes meant that the life God intended us to live as incarnate in Jesus would be a contested, resisted, opposed, and hated one.  It was the life of God from all eternity lived under the conditions of fallen humanity and a fallen world (1 Pet.1:19-21). 

That’s what the picture is all about!  It shows the life God intends for us lived out: victorious, obedient, blessed, lifted up, glorified, miraculous – saving.  That’s why it’s got to be the same for us too.  This life is the life we are saved for, the only life God has to give us.  When God’s kingdom comes in its fullness, we will live just the same way – only without the conflict and resistance (check out Luke 12:35-40, esp. v.37, if you don’t believe me).

So Jesus is not asking us to do anything heroic, over and above what we would normally do.  It is the normal thing we ought to as followers of Jesus.  Basic Humanity 101.  Nietzsche might not like it.  The underworld certainly doesn’t.  But the reality is it is who we truly are and what we are called to be even amid the continuing falleness and resistance of the world.  To live this way in that world is not a natural possibility.  Only Jesus’ own life in us through the Spirit enables such a thing. 

This theology of the cross, which I summarize as “You gotta look good on wood,” is God’s life lived out in a fallen world.  Victorious, obedient, blessed, lifted up, glorified, and miraculous.  It’s what Paul says that if we suffer with Christ, we will also be glorified with him (Rom.8:17). It is salvation!  It is living for the purpose for which we were created.  It is living the life of the age to come in the here and now (what Jesus in John calls “eternal life”).  It scares us and we resist it at points.  But God will not give up on us.  “You gotta look good on wood”!  Yeah, baby!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Review of N. T. Wright's "The Day the Revolution Began" (8)

Ch.8: New Goal, New Humanity

The redemption Jesus accomplished (though unexpected and unfathomable to his fellow Jews) on the cross and at the resurrection was not “from” the world (as in an escape to elsewhere) but “for” the world back to God’s original design for it. Humanity is reclaimed and restore to play their creational role as royal priest in God’s creation temple.

          What is humanity’s roll in God’s new creation and how did God rescue us so we can take up that role again. Traditionally we have held a view that rests on a threefold mistake:

                   -We want to go to heaven
                   -But we sinned and need to be rescued
-Jesus offers the obedience we failed at and at the cross God punishes Jesus to pacify his wrath

          This way of thinking is infected with Platonism (valuing the spiritual over the material), Moralism (defining humanity in terms of its moral performance), and Paganism (the God who needs blood to be pacified).

          In the biblical picture heaven and earth are returned to the complete overlap they had at the creation. The spiritual (heaven) is co-existent with the material (earth) forever. Jesus came as God’s “true image” (Col.1:15) to restore humanity to original dignity and vocation as God’s image-bearers. He then dies as the representative and substitute as an expression of God’s love.

          Jesus came to regather and reconstitute Abrahamic Israel. He dies as the one faithful Israelite who won “forgiveness of sins” to fulfill God’s promises of blessing to Israel and as the way Gentiles will find their way into the people of God.

          That this “forgiveness of sins” was “in accordance with the Bible” (1 Cor.15:3) meant
“that the scriptural narrative of the restoration of Israel and then the wel-          come of the non-Jews into this restored people . . . had been launched            through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that the single-phrase                summary of all this, operating at both the large national scale and the                        small, personal level, was the ‘forgiveness of sin.” (153)

This forgiveness was the entre for people to “become fully-functioning, fully image-bearing human beings within God’s world, already now, completely in the age to come.” (155). It meant new creation, something new had happened, everything had changed. God’s longed for and long awaited new age was here, a “fact about the way the world was” (157). Personal experience and a new moral orientation were a part of this new condition of the world, but not the main part or the most important part.

The human vocation according to Acts is twofold: worship and witness. The former is priestly, the latter royal. That this is all about the ancient hope of Israel is indicated by the disciples’ question to Jesus about the kingdom of Israel of which they become witnesses (Acts 1:6-8).

Acts answers the three questions any Jew of the time would ask about how the kingdom was to be restored to Israel.

1.    Freedom from pagan overlords
2.    God/Messiah would rule the world with peace and justice
3.    God’s presence would return and dwell with his people

“Acts insists that the long-awaited liberation had happened through Jesus                         and the Spirit, that the powers had been overthrown by the power of the                            cross and the word of God, and that the powerful Presence of the living                                God had been unveiled not in the Jerusalem temple, but in the community of believers.” (161).

          The return of God’s presence is reflected in Acts by the ascension of Jesus. His going to “heaven” represents the reconnection of heaven (God’s space) with earth (God’s temple) and the wind and tongues of fire allude to the filling of the Tabernacle with cloud and fire in Exodus. This makes Jesus’ followers the new Temple of God and his dwelling with his people. And that people stand at the intersection of heaven and earth and serve as priests of God to the world and the world to Go.

          God’s rule over the whole world is evident in Acts in the sense that God is asserting his lordship through Christ over the whole world (from Jerusalem to Rome, Acts 1:8). Further, in Acts the “word of God” is sovereign over all other powers in the world and advances God’s kingdom against all of them.

          Israel’s freedom from pagan rule is declared in Jesus’ resurrection from dead. Death is every tyrant’s ultimate weapon and they have now been disarmed. The various escapes and rescues in Acts demonstrate the truth of this. “We should be in no doubt that Luke, like most other early Christian writers, saw the messianic community focused in Jesus as the liberated, redeemed people, those in and for whom the long-awaited promise of rescue from pagan overlords has been fulfilled” (165).

          Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension is the basis of all this talk of new creation and a new humanity. 

Third Sunday of Advent 12.12.16

Third Sunday of Advent 2016
Matthew 11:2-11
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’
11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
The far right panel of the second view of the Isenheim Altarpiece pictures Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  The brightly-colored Jesus triumphantly reigns over the grave, over the empire that crucified him (the dazed and ineffectual Roman soldiers), and even the sin-damaged creation (the stump).

It may seem odd to focus on resurrection in Advent. But that is the oblique direction Grünewald’s panel directs us. Matthew’s text invites reflection in this direction with Jesus’ answer to John’s questioning whether he really was the “one who is to come” (v.3).

We look for the “one who is to come” too, don’t we? We know his name is Jesus and something about his life and reputation. We know he’s coming to back to finally and fully establish God’s kingdom. At least that’s what we hope.

But then we look around our world. We know he did not seem like he was the “one” back then. Even John the Baptist questioned him and asked whether he ought to be looking for someone else (v.3). Jesus didn’t fit the profile many Jews had developed for the “one” (the Messiah).
-he’d run the foreign oppressors out of town,
-he’d make Israel chief among all the nations, and
-God would return to be with his people.
None of that was happening, though. Jesus taught noon-violent resistance to evil-doers, that the first will be last, and servant of all, and God never returned to the temple as promised. Jesus’ world did not seem markedly different when he was hoisted on the cross than it was before.

          When we look around our world, it doesn’t look like Jesus has made much of difference here either. Even his followers are distinguished more by the silly, ignorant, vile, and evil things they do than their righteous, holy lives.

          When asked to look forward to his return in Advent, we may be excused if we wonder whether Jesus is the one we ought to look for or someone else.

          Jesus gave John’s disciples an answer of sorts to take back to him. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” Okay . . . but what does that exactly mean? And it still doesn’t meet the standards they had for being a Messiah.

          What was it that made all this intelligible to the early Christians? What positive evidence, other than Jesus’ word, could be brought forth to show he was the “one who is to come”? Only one thing, really. Exactly one. His resurrection from the dead.

          The New Testament is clear that not until this event did the blinders begin to drop for them. In its aftermath they started to get clear on things. You see, Jews expected a general resurrection of the dead at the end of the age. For Jesus to be raised, even if by himself and in the “middle of time” (not the end), meant that the new age, the new creation, of God had dawned and everything had changed. Slowly they grasped that Jesus’ life and teaching was a redefinition, a true definition, of Messiahship. And the world had changed, fundamentally, even if not apparent on the surface.

          That’s what those signs Jesus gave John’s disciples meant. They appear in Isaiah 35, a passage that pointed to the change in the world God’s great act of intervention and rescue would cause. Jesus takes this identification with God’s great act of rescue for himself explicitly in Lk.4:18-21. And after his resurrection his disciples accepted and taught this about Jesus as well.

          Of course, the world rolled on after Jesus’ resurrection, seemingly the same as always. Similar ills, injustices, and tragedies kept on happening. Didn’t seem much like new creation. And some early Christians understandably got confused. Was he really the “one,” after all? Evidence for that is pretty light. The author of Hebrews addressed this concern in Heb.2:8-9:

“Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

God’s plan for human leadership of the creation on its way to maturity was not yet a lived experience. As it is not for us either. Major countries with unstable leaders, aggressive nationalism reasserting itself, climate change inexorably having it way with us, financial insecurity, divorce, drugs, loneliness, failure, and the like hunt and haunt us. Everywhere we turn crisis and potential catastrophe loom.

But we know that something has happened that changes how we see all that. The author of Hebrews counsel still holds good. “But we do see Jesus.” We see him “crowned with glory and honor.” For by the grace of God he “taste(d) death for everyone.” And as the writer of Hebrews says elsewhere in this letter that makes him superior to all but God.

And we know that his rule is real but hidden. He gives the world time so that more may come to know and love and serve him here (Rom.2:4). We look for it in signs of ecological restoration, physical and social restoration, the poor receive justice, and life blooms anew and afresh, often out of public eyesight. And we see those things because we see Jesus, the resurrected one.

That’s what we do when we wonder whether Jesus is the “one” or not. Temptations to trust other powers, causes, or movements that promise to set all things right abound. John the Baptist is the greatest of all before Jesus who had no chance to “see” him resurrected and “crowned with glory and honor.” But all who have the chance to “see” him are greater than he. 

And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Monday, December 5, 2016

On the fallacy of ‘Christian marriage’

 ‘There really is no such thing as “Christian marriage” as the term is commonly used. “Christian marriage” is a vain, romantic, unbiblical conception. “Christian marriage” is a fiction. There is no more an institution of “Christian marriage” than there is a “Christian nation” or a “Christian lawyer” or a “Christian athlete.” Even where such terms are invoked as a matter of careless formulation and imprecise speech, they are symptoms of a desire to separate Christians from the common life of the world, whereas Christians are called into radical involvement in the common life of the world. To be sure, there are Christians who are athletes and those who practice law, and there are Christians who are citizens of this and the other nations. But none of these or similar activities or institutions are in any respect essentially Christian, nor can they be changed or reconstituted in order to become Christian. They are, on the contrary, realities of the fallen life of the world. They are inherently secular and worldly; they are subject to the power of death; they are aspects of the present, transient, perishing existence of the world.
It is the same with marriage. Marriage is a fallen estate. That does not mean that it is not an honorable estate . . .