Browsed by
Month: July 2015

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture”: Ch. 6–The Problem of Evil

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture”: Ch. 6–The Problem of Evil

Surprised By Scripture

In chapter 6 of Surprised by Scripture, N.T. Wright tackles the problem of evil: how can you reconcile the reality of evil with a belief in a good God? That is a question that has challenged people for centuries. If you were an ancient pagan, you wouldn’t ask that question, because you didn’t believe there as a “good God” to begin with—all the gods were petty and violent, and you just lived your life in a perpetual “duck and cover” mode, trying not to tick any of them off. If you are a Buddhist or Hindu, you wouldn’t ask the question either, because you don’t believe in a singular “good God” either—all is one, and even what we call evil is still just a part of the ultimate reality, of which you are a part.

The problem of evil really only comes up in Christianity, because Christianity teaches that there really is a good God, there really is evil, and that God hates evil. If so, then why does God allow evil to exist in the first place? Hence, the problem of evil—a uniquely Christian conundrum.

In addressing this problem, Wright takes us back to the Enlightenment and points out that many of the major wrestling of Enlightenment philosophers had to do with the problem of evil. The “Enlightenment answer” that has dominated Western culture for the past 250 years, as Wright points out, is what he calls the “doctrine of progress.” Everything is slowly getting better, and science brings progress, and eventually we’ll make this world a utopia. If you have to break a few eggs to make that utopian omelet, well then, so be it—it’s for the good of humanity in the long run.

Well, WWI largely crushed much of that 19th Century Enlightenment optimism, but old habits die hard—despite the dreadful atrocities of Auschwitz and the Gulag of the 20th Century, many still view the world and people as “basically good and moral”—all we need is a little more democracy, capitalism, socialism…name whatever “magic pill” you put your faith in. It will all get better!

Wright points out the naiveté of such a mindset. In fact, he says that we pretty much ignore evil until it hits us in the fact, and then are completely surprised when it actually does. The result is predictable: we over-react and lash out in very immature and dangerous ways. Wright points to the reaction of Britain and America after 9/11 as a prime example. Let’s admit it, he’s right.

In light of all this, Wright makes three key points: (1) there are no easy answers to the problem of evil; (2) the line between good and evil does not lie between countries or political parties—it runs down the middle of every human heart and society; and (3) we need to distinguish between the evil of terrorists, for example, and the destruction of natural disasters.

Wright then turns to the Bible for answers and shows us that the biblical writers spoke of evil in a variety of ways—too many to detail in this post. But what should be noticed is that God chooses a family rife with evil (i.e. the family of Abraham) to somehow bring about an answer to the problem of evil. Try to get your brain around that—it’s tricky.

Furthermore, by the time you get to Isaiah, you find in chapters 53-55 a radical string of passages. Isaiah 53 is about the suffering servant who embodies God’s rescue operation for both Israel and the world; then in Isaiah 54 we have the concept of a new covenant; and Isaiah 55 ends with the concept of the new creation. What Isaiah prophesies ultimately gets fulfilled in the suffering of Christ, and a redeemed humanity that takes part in God’s re-creative salvation of the world through participating in the suffering of Christ.

Simply put, as Wright says, “To our amazement and horror, we see this renewal come into focus in the suffering and death of the servant.” So if you’re a Christian, guess what? That’s what you should expect in your life as well: suffering that brings about the salvation of the world, bit by bit.

The Cross and Evil

What this all means is that we need to refocus our minds on just exactly what the message of the cross is: it is not “Jesus suffered so I can be taken away from this world of evil.” Rather, it is “Jesus suffered to bring about the redemption of this world and the solution to the problem of evil; and that’s what I am to do as well if I follow Christ: offer up my suffering that has been brought about by evil, and by doing so, aid in the redemption of the world.”

Wright says, “God chose the appropriate and necessarily deeply ambiguous route of acting from within his creation, from within his chosen people, to take the full force of evil upon himself and so exhaust it.” That is the message of cross: that is how God deals with evil—he actually uses it up to bring about redemption.

And so, as Wright points out, we as Christians are called to implement that victory of the cross in the world. As he says, “The cross is not just an example to be followed; it is an achievement to be worked out, put into practice.” Suffering and martyrdom become the paradoxical means by which we implement the victory of the cross and the redemption and renewal of the world.

Now, before you marvel at how wonderfully poetic that sounds, think about it: that’s what it means to “take up your cross” and follow Christ. It’s not fun. If you’ve ever been the victim of true evil and suffering, you will understand just how hard and painful it is. Simply put, it sucks! And yet, that’s what we are called to do.

Wright doesn’t explain where evil ultimately comes from. But he does explain the cold, stark reality that the message of the cross is that God uses evil within his salvation plan. Instead of looking to avoid it, Christians are to take evil upon themselves, just like Christ did, and let it exhaust itself and die, so that resurrection and new life can come. “Evil is still a four-letter word,” Wright says, “but thank God, so is love.”

Thoughts on Planned Parenthood’s Harvesting of Organs from the “Least of These”

Thoughts on Planned Parenthood’s Harvesting of Organs from the “Least of These”

I want to take a break from N.T. Wright, and take some time to comment on the recent scandal involving Planned Parenthood and their harvesting of organs from aborted babies for profit.

Obviously, one of the key things N.T. Wright emphasizes is the idea of the New Creation and the redemption and transformation of human beings to fulfill their vocation to be image-bearers of God who care for His good creation. What that means is there is a sacredness to all of God’s creation, especially human beings who are created in His image. That is what lies at the heart of the abortion debate over the past 40 years: what should we as a nation value more, the right to choose to end the human life of the unborn, or the right to life of the unborn?

Now, it’s very easy to immediately get entrenched in one of two ideological views: that of the extreme Right that opposes all abortion of any kind whatsoever, and that would charge women with murder if they had an abortion, and that of the extreme Left that opposes any kind of restriction whatsoever on abortion. Most Americans, I believe, fall into neither of those camps, but it is the heated rhetoric of those two extremes that dominates the issue and prevents any kind of resolution from being achieved. A few weeks ago, progressive Christian Rachel Held Evans wrote about this very issue on her blog. I’m leaving a link to her blog here:

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/why-progressive-christians-should-care-about-abortion-gosnell

In it, Evans makes this very point: the extremes have made it impossible to address the issue in any meaningful way.

My view on the subject is basically this: in the past, before modern medicine and technology, nature had a way of, for lack of a better phrase, “killing off” many human lives that were conceived. Miscarriages, disease, etc. routinely wiped out probably half of all babies and children. With the advances in modern science though, we as human beings have been able to not only “fight back” against nature’s deadly agenda, we have the ability to actually prevent conception from happening in the first place. For the most part, through modern medicine, we have been able (to use Genesis terminology) to “gain dominion” over nature in this area.

As image-bearers of God, we have a responsibility and vocation to protect human life and hold it sacred—that would warrant against the extreme Left’s demand for abortion on demand. But at the same time, we have the ability, through birth control, to give women the right and ability to not get pregnant in the first place, and thus prevent the need for most abortions to begin with. Given the reality that we live in a secular culture, and that not everyone is a Christian and therefore should be expected to adhere to Christian morality, I’d like to propose this solution: make birth control, contraception, and even the “morning-after pill” readily available to everyone, and by doing so, eliminate the need for the surgical procedure of abortion completely, except in extreme cases such as when the life of the mother is at stake. Neither extreme position completely gets what it wants, but the very need for the abortion procedure is largely eliminated.

Regardless of the specific issue of abortion, though, what Planned Parenthood is clearly doing is beyond the pale. Regardless of your particular stance on abortion, you have to admit that the harvesting of aborted baby organs is bone-chilling. To hear doctors from Planned Parenthood talk so cavalierly about how they crush certain parts of the fetus to ensure healthy organs to harvest is Nazi-esque. And I’m not over-exaggerating: it is the chilling and logical conclusion to a mindset that completely devalues human life.

It does not surprise me at all that the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, was a militant eugenicist who wanted to use forced sterilization and abortion to “purify the race.” She was also a racist who wanted to have her clinics set up in black neighborhoods, so the “human weeds” could be dealt with. The eugenicist program she advocated was the same mindset that Hitler used, and it had the same goal: purify the race. In both instances, the blatant disregard for the sanctity of human life is nothing short of evil.

What is perhaps even more chilling is that, in light of the recent revelations about Planned Parenthood, there are those who actually are attacking Fox News for covering it, the group that got everything on camera, and are actually defending what Planned Parenthood is doing. “What they’re doing is perfectly legal,” they say. Even if it is, that doesn’t make is moral. The gassing of 6 million Jews was “perfectly legal” in Hitler’s Germany too. It still was the work of evil men. The same holds true for Planned Parenthood.

I believe that the majority of level-headed Americans, Christians and non-Christians alike, will eventually say to both extremes, “Enough is enough,” and resolve the issue of abortion. But when it comes to the harvesting and selling of fetus organs for profit, I don’t see how you can have a conscience and still endorse or defend such a practice. If we as a country look the other way and refuse to address such a horrible practice, we will be in the same position as the German people who looked the other way while the Nazis made soap from the fat of its Jewish victims.

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture” Ch. 5: Jesus is Coming—Plant a Tree!

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture” Ch. 5: Jesus is Coming—Plant a Tree!

IMG_20150729_165158672

If you do any amount of reading of N.T. Wright, you will quickly see that one of the biggest things he emphasizes about the original gospel proclamation of the early Church wasn’t simply to argue the fact that Jesus was resurrection—although they certainly did do that—but that what Jesus’ resurrection implied about all of reality itself. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the fundamental proclamation of the early Church was that the resurrection of Jesus signaled the beginning of the New Creation, and the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God into this present world order.

The resurrection, therefore, was not simply some sort of magic trick Jesus did to “prove he really was God.” It signaled the defeat of death and corruption, and it, as Wright says at the end of his chapter, “…is the reaffirmation of the goodness of creation, and the gift of the Holy Spirit is there to make us the fully human beings we were supposed to be, precisely so that we can fulfill the [creation] mandate at last.” Simply put: creation is good, yet because of our sinfulness, we have rendered ourselves incapable of being God’s image-bearers to the rest of His creation; through Christ, it is now possible to be re-made into God’s image bearers so we can be the kind of human beings He always intended for us to be: royal priestly caretakers of His good creation.

Unfortunately, as Wright points out, that is not the message your typical Western Protestant gets. Somehow the good news of God redeeming all of creation through Christ has been twisted into this bizarre dualism where we believe we’re going to “fly away to spirit heaven” when we die, and that eventually this icky, material creation will burn. Therefore, the purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection is to get us a ticket out of this dump—well, sorry, that’s not Christianity. That’s just a modern form of ancient Gnosticism.

Romans 8
Like the good Bible scholar that he is, Wright proceeds to prove his point about the New Creation being a central part of the proclamation of the Gospel by taking the reader through a number of New Testament passages. I will summarize them briefly.

First, read Romans 8, specifically 8:18-27. Romans 8 serves as the climax to Paul’s entire argument in the first half of Romans. When you read Romans 8:18-27, you should see everywhere that Paul is talking about the New Creation and the glorification of God’s children. That “glory” isn’t talking about how Christians will get to chill out an relax in a heavenly hammock for all eternity—it means that they will be restored to their original design and purpose: “to be God’s stewards, ruling over the whole creation with healing, restorative justice, and love.”

Furthermore, in 8:21, Paul says that creation itself will be freed from the slavery of corruption. What Paul is saying is, as Wright puts it, “When humans are put right, creation will be put right.”

And then there’s all the talk of “groaning”—the “groaning” Paul is talking about is precisely that of birth pains, and the expectation of the re-birth of all creation—not groaning until we’re whisked away to “spirit heaven,” but the groaning of the re-birth and redemption of God’s good creation—his material creation, once enslaved to corruption, but through the power of the resurrection of Christ, will be freed from that corruption and death: that’s the significance of the resurrection.

Wright then takes us back to Romans 8:12-17, where Paul talks about believers, being like Israel in the wilderness, have received the “Spirit of sonship,” and therefore as children of God, will receive the “promised inheritance.” Once again, Wright points out that this “inheritance” Paul is talking about is not heaven. It is the renewed and redeemed creation itself: God’s ultimate “holy land” is all of creation. And we are being remade into the image of God, to be like Christ, to be like a redeemed and transformed Adam…so that we can care for God’s good creation. That is who we were created to be. And even more importantly, Paul emphasizes that salvation has already begun—the resurrection and Pentecost have signaled the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. Therefore, as you are being transformed into the image of God’s Son, you at the same time take part in transforming and redeeming God’s good creation.

The Second Coming
Wright then has a section about the Second Coming. Why? Because most people mistakenly think that the Second Coming means that Jesus will whisk us away to heaven, while letting the material creation burn. But here’s the thing, although the New Testament is filled with talk of Christ’s Second Coming, it sometimes talks as if it is a future event, but then also as if it is a present reality. Stephen, right before he is killed, says he sees Christ standing at God’s right hand; Jesus tells the chief priest that he will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven.

Wright makes the point that if we are to better understand the concept of the Second Coming, we should give up the idea that heaven is “somewhere out there,” as if it in another place within our space-time continuum. He says, “Jesus is not far away; he is in heaven, and heaven is not a place in the sky, but rather God’s dimension of what we think of as ordinary reality.”

Let that sink in for a minute. I’ll be honest, I’ve thought that very thing for years. When Wright says that heaven is “a different sphere of reality that overlaps and interlocks with our sphere in numerous though mysterious ways,” I’ve got to say, it makes sense to me. But I’ll admit it, that’s a concept that will take some time to get your head around. The point is, though, when you think about the Kingdom of God and the Second Coming, you should be thinking about the reality of heaven “filling up” this fallen reality of ours, redeeming it, and transforming it into the likeness of God’s Son—you should not think of it as being whisked away to another place in the universe.

I’m Going Away to Prepare a Place for You
Wright also mentions the famous verse in John 14: “I’m going away to prepare a place for you.” He points out that the Greek word translated as “place,” specifically means “lodging house”—a “place to stay awhile and rest and be refreshed until it’s time to continue your journey.” Therefore, Jesus isn’t saying that you’re going to have a “mansion in the sky” after you die. He is saying that from the time you die until the time he comes again and creation is fully redeemed, there is a place prepared for you to rest, “where we can wait in the presence of Jesus until the final day.”

I Thessalonians 4: Not About a Rapture!
The most fascinating part of the chapter is Wright’s take on I Thessalonians. He argues that Paul is using an incredibly array of mixed metaphors to describe the Second Coming and the redemption of creation—but he isn’t talking about some “secret rapture” where Jesus literally flies down on a cloud, and then snatches the faithful away to heaven so that Nicolae Carpathia can unleash his antichrist “hell on earth” seven-year tribulation.

Wright breaks it down quite simply. Paul says five things will happen at the Second Coming: (1) those who are alive will be with those who have previously died; (2) the Christian dead will be raised, and the Christian living will be transformed, to a new transformed bodily life; (3) this will be the great day of vindication for those who have suffered for the faith; (4) Christ will be revealed as king of the whole creation—like Caesar, but a whole lot more; and (5) the reappearance of Jesus will be like Moses coming down from Mount Sinai, but a whole lot more.

The mixed metaphors Paul uses here are the “trump of God” (i.e. Moses on Sinai), the “coming” of Christ (i.e. the Greek word “Parousia” designates the victorious coming of Caesar after a military victory), and the “clouds of heaven” (i.e. a reference to Daniel 7—the day of vindication for God’s people). Then, when Paul says that we will “go out to meet him,” he is referring to the custom that the people of a city would go out to meet their victorious king and then usher him back into the city as a conquering hero.

The point of all this is that Paul is saying the Second Coming will be when Christ is revealed as the true Lord of God’s good creation. These are metaphorical images that are not to be taken literally.

Conclusion
Wright packs a few more things into this chapter, but I think this is plenty to cover. His ultimate point can be summed up as follows: [God] “…calls me and you to live in him and by the power of his spirit, and so to be new-creation people here and now, giving birth to signs and symbols of the kingdom on earth as in heaven. The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit mean that we are called to bring forth real and effective signs of God’s renewed creation even in the midst of the present age.”

Even though Wright doesn’t go where the title of the chapter suggests—he didn’t go into a full-fledged “ecological” message to save the trees—nevertheless, his focus on the new creation, and the goodness of God’s creation, and the purpose of salvation so that human beings can fulfill their vocation and care for God’s creation…all that helps us put into perspective and clarify just what we are called to do and be as God’s image-bearing stewards of creation. And caring for creation is certainly part of that, to say the least.

What I take away from this chapter in those terms is this: all our modern technological advances are certainly a good thing. And although ever since the beginning of the industrial revolution many of these advances have increased pollution, as stewards of God’s creation, we shouldn’t completely ditch those technological advances. Instead, we should (as we already are) continue to perfect and advance those technologies to make them not only pollute less, but perhaps even to aid in keeping creation clean. By doing so, we fulfill, however small, at least a bit of our vocation as God’s image-bearing stewards of His good creation.

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture” Ch. 4: Should Women be Ordained?

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture” Ch. 4: Should Women be Ordained?

Surprised By Scripture

Should women be ordained as ministers? Should women have leadership positions in the church? Generally speaking, your answer to that question pretty much pigeon-holes you into one of two political camps: if you say “no,” then you clearly are a conservative; if you say “yes,” then you clearly are a liberal. This is a good example, though, of just how too political we have let our Christian faith (especially in America) become. When Christianity is identified more with the political right or political left, than it is with what is actually said in the New Testament, that becomes a big problem—welcome to the American brand of Christianity in the 21st Century.

N.T. Wright, though, is not only British, he’s also a New Testament scholar, so when he tackles this thorny issue of “women in leadership positions in the church,” perhaps we should consider what he says. As with the previous three issues in his book, Surprised by Scripture, Wright goes rather in depth on this issue as well. The thing is though that he never directly answers the question regarding the ordination of women—but by the end of the chapter, it’s pretty clear what his view is: there is no biblical case against having women leaders in the church. But before we get to that conclusion, let’s look at what Wright brings up in his chapter.

Galatians 3:28
Wright’s first point is that the early Christian community made it abundantly clear that women are a part of the family of God in Christ, and were not, as was the case in the pagan and Jewish worlds, regulated to second-class citizens. He then points to what Paul says in Galatians 3:28: “Neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, no ‘male and female.’” Wright points out that many translations wrongly keep the same construct, and have “neither male nor female,” but in the actual Greek it reads, “no ‘male and female.’” Wright argues that the reason Paul does this is because he is purposely quoting Genesis 1:27.

Why does he do that? Because he actually responding to the synagogue prayer that Jewish men often prayed, which thanked God for not making him a Gentile, a slave, or a woman. Paul was a theologian of the new creation, and his point is that in the re-created people of God in Christ, everyone enjoys equal status. The Jews of his day often referred to Genesis 1 to justify their own male privilege. Wright points out that Paul’s response was “No…none of that counts when it comes to membership in the renewed people of Abraham.”

Other Areas in the Bible
Wright’s second point is that when you read the Bible, women play a prominent role, and were, in fact, leaders in the early church. Even though Jesus chose twelve men to be the apostles, it was Mary Magdalene and the other women who were “apostles to the apostles” when they brought news of the resurrection. Also, in Romans 16:7, there is the husband and wife team of Andronicus and Junia, who are “great among the apostles.” Then there’s the famous story of Mary and Martha, in which Mary, instead of doing the women’s work with Martha in the kitchen, was sitting at the feet of Jesus in the male part of the house, listening to and learning from Jesus as a student and disciple. Jesus clearly makes it known that Mary has every right to do so—and in that culture, that was quite scandalous. Finally, in Acts, we find that when Saul was out to catch and imprison the ringleaders of the new sect of Christians, he targeted both men and women alike.

At the very least, it is clear that in the early church, women enjoyed privilege, equality, and in some capacity were leaders.

I Corinthians 14:34-35
Wright then turns to other passages. We’ll summarize them quickly. First there is I Corinthians 14:34-35, which clearly says women are to remain silent in the churches. Another NT scholar, Gordon Fee has argued that these verses were not part of the original letter—I personally find it a very convincing argument, as does Wright. But he also says that the focus of the entire passage was on church order, not about requirements for leadership. And in that culture, apparently, women would often ask their husbands during the service about certain things, and it was causing a disturbance. Therefore, the point was 14:34-35 really was simply saying, “Don’t ask questions during the service—there’s a time a place for that.”

Wright then addresses the odd passage in I Corinthians 11 regarding head coverings. Without going into all the details, Wright argues that Paul’s point is that when worshipping, both men and women should maintain gender distinctions, and, as those being renewed in God’s image, they should celebrate the genders that God has given them. In addition, the only women in Corinth who probably didn’t wear any kind of head coverings were prostitutes. So what Paul was essentially saying was, “Don’t dress like a prostitute, and celebrate the gender you are.” So no, I doubt Paul would be impressed with Bruce Jenner, or a society that celebrates that sort of thing.

I Timothy 2:8-15
Wright finally addresses I Timothy 2:8-15, possibly the most seemingly-obvious “women-hater” passage in the New Testament. Wright points out a number of things though: (1) the passage does, in fact, state that women should be allowed to study (hurrah for the 1st century women’s liberation movement!); (2) the talk of “being in full submission” is actually about being in full submission to God and the gospel, not to men.

Wright makes a particular point in regards to 2:12, though. Whereas it is mostly translated as, “I do not allow a woman to teach or hold authority over a man,” Wright argues that it should be translated as, “I don’t mean to imply that I’m now setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way that previously men held authority over women.” Why would Paul say this? Well, in Ephesus, where Timothy was, the pagan cult of Artemis had women priests who exercised authority over men worshippers of Artemis.

So basically, Paul was encouraging women to learn and study, just like men, but he wanted to point out that the purpose of allowing Christian women to study was not to be like the cult of Artemis—he wasn’t trying to have women “rule the show” as men had usually done. The Christian proclamation was one of full equality between men and women.

What about the reference to Adam and Eve, though, in 2:13? Wright argues that Paul says this as a way of encouraging women to study and learn: after all, Eve was deceived! Women need to learn just as much as men do.

Conclusion
As you can see, Wright makes a convincing argument that women have every right to learn and study just as much as men; and he also makes convincing argument that women were in positions of authority in the early church. But as for the specific question, “Should women be ordained?” He never comes right out and says it, but it seems clear he has no problem with it. Historically and biblically, he makes a good case.

I personally think the entire debate is misguided, though. Back in the first century, they didn’t have seminaries—however you were gifted, you had a place in the Church to use your gift. Therefore, today, as it was back then, if your gift is teaching, whether you were a man or a woman, you should be allowed to use your gift. Within the Church, women and men are equal before God.

As an Orthodox Christian, I asked an Orthodox priest why only men were priests. His answer made sense to me. He said that the liturgy is essentially a re-enactment of the Last Supper, and the priest plays the part of Jesus. Since Jesus was a man, the priest is a man. That doesn’t mean the priest is more holy or better than women; it just means when it comes to the specific task in the Church regarding communion, that role has to be played by a man.

Besides, I think there is something wrong with this obsession some have over “authority” in the church. Should or should not women be allowed to have that position of “primary authority” in a church? My response would be, “Is that even a Christian mindset?”

In any case, my personal position is probably close to Wright’s. Women have every right to use their gifts in the Church, and have every right to have pastoral/leadership positions. It’s biblical. As an Orthodox Christian, I also support the Orthodox reasoning for male priests.

So what are your opinions, thoughts, questions, regarding the role of women in the church?

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture” Ch. 3: The Resurrection

N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture” Ch. 3: The Resurrection

38810011

In N.T. Wright’s third chapter of Surprised by Scripture, he asks the question, “Can a scientist believe in the resurrection?” In fact, this question does not need to be limited to scientists—it can easily apply to anyone who says, “How can any rational person be a Christian? We all know that dead people can’t come back to life. Science has proven it.”

To that mindset, Wright starts off by stating that the revered “scientific method” of the modern world, while certainly a tremendous method to understand how things work in the natural world, is not—indeed cannot be—the only way to understanding in all areas of life. Science obverses and strives to understand the repeatable facts of nature; historical events and occurrences on the other hand are essentially unrepeatable: there was only one Battle of Gettysburg, Waterloo, Destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 AD. Therefore, as wonderful as the scientific method is to understand the natural world, it simply is not possible to use the scientific method when trying to understand historical events.

And so, when we come to the resurrection of Jesus, Wright points out what should be obvious: (1) Jesus’ own disciples claimed he had physically come back to life, and (2) the early Christians were not under the impression that things like Jesus’ resurrection had happened elsewhere. Basically, it was physical, and it was unique and unrepeatable.

Wright then points out that the concept of resurrection was a thoroughly Jewish concept—it was the belief that when God returned to His people, that the righteous who had died would be resurrected. “Resurrection,” therefore, when hand in hand with the dawn of the new Messianic age. That being said, though, not all Jews believed in the resurrection. “Resurrection” was a  belief of some Jews.

But Wright points out that with the dawn of Christianity, there were seven “early mutations” of the traditional Jewish view of resurrection.

  1. Unlike within Judaism, all Christians held to the belief of the resurrection. There was no variation among Christians.
  2. Whereas with Judaism, resurrection was important, but not the most important thing, within Christianity, the resurrection took center stage. As Wright says, if you take away the birth accounts of Jesus, you lose four chapters in the New Testament; if you take away the resurrection, “you lose the entire New Testament, and most of the second-century fathers as well.”
  3. The third mutation concerned the Christian view of the resurrected body. Simply put, it would be like the body of the resurrected Jesus. It would be a “Spirit-driven body”—meaning, it would be incorruptible; it would “run,” if you will, on the life of God Himself.
  4. The fourth mutation was the Christian proclamation that “the resurrection” had split in two. It had happened with Jesus, but another “phase” was yet to come: the future resurrection of his followers at the renewal of creation. This concept is the bedrock worldview of the entire Christian worldview. It is what scholars call “inaugurated eschatology,” or more simply, the “already/not yet” understanding of the resurrection.
  5. The fifth mutation was what Wright calls “collaborative eschatology”: the Christian belief that “God had called them to work with him, in the power of the Spirit, to implement the achievement of Jesus and thereby anticipate the final resurrection, in personal and political life, in mission and holiness.” Remember was what said in the previous post about the “vocation” of Adam? This is it. We are God’s image-bearers, and we work out salvation in Christ throughout the world.
  6. There was now a new metaphorical use of resurrection: baptism was a living metaphor for dying an rising again, for example. Look through Paul’s letters, you’ll see the “resurrection as metaphor” everywhere when discussing living the Christian life.
  7. Finally, resurrection now became associated with messiahship. Nobody in Judaism expected the Messiah to die in the first place. He was supposed to defeat the Romans, not get killed by them. Yet the early Christians pointed to Jesus’ resurrection as proof that he really was the Messiah and Lord of all. Why? Because he had defeated a far greater enemy than Rome; he defeated death itself.

Wright’s point is that all these things are the object of a historian, not a scientist. We are not dealing with repeatable natural occurrences. We are dealing with historical claims, so what can we make of them? Wright points out four interesting features of the Easter stories:

  1. Throughout each gospel, there are hosts of Old Testament quotations and allusions; but strangely, the resurrection narratives are almost entirely void of any OT allusion. That is quite an odd thing, don’t you think?
  2. The fact that each account emphasizes that women were the initial witnesses of the resurrection. Given how women were held in such little regard in the first century, no one in their right mind, would simply make up a story involving women as the key witnesses.
  3. Then there is Jesus himself: he wasn’t some phantom or angelic feature—he clearly had a real physical body and was a real human being. But then there was something strangely different about it—it had been transformed into something the disciples recognized but didn’t fully understand. It was a “new physicality.” It seemed quite at home in heaven and earth, and it was no longer corruptible.
  4. Finally, in the resurrection accounts there is “the entire absence of mention of the future Christian hope.” The significance of the event was clear: Jesus had been raised, therefore he is the Messiah and the Lord of the world.

Wright points out that all these features are very, very early. If you want to know what the earliest Christians believed, this was it.

History, Science and Easter

Wright emphasizes that the best historical explanation regarding Jesus what that (1) the tomb really was empty, and (2) the disciples really encountered him in ways that convinced them that he wasn’t simply a ghost or hallucination. And more importantly, the kind of body that was raised seemed to be a new kind of physical body. Given that fact, Wright points out, “if something like this happened, it would perfectly explain why Christianity began and why it took the shape it did.”

What does that mean? Wright makes it simple: the New Testament proclamation, with Jesus’ resurrection as the bedrock foundation, is that of a new creation—not something merely symbolic or metaphorical, but a very real new creation. Therefore, as Wright says, the resurrection of Jesus “is not an absurd event within the old world but the symbol and starting point of the new world.”

Wright goes on to say, “If there really is a new creation on the loose, the historian wouldn’t have any analogies for it, and the scientist wouldn’t be able to rank its characteristic events with other events that might otherwise have been open to inspection.” So where does that leave us?

Wright concludes by saying that faith in Jesus risen from the dead both transcends but includes what we call history and science. It is something Wright calls “The Thomas Challenge”:

[With the scientific method] “…when something turns up that doesn’t fit the paradigm you’re working with, one option at least, perhaps when all others have failed, is to change the paradigm, not to exclude everything you’ve known to that point but to include it within a larger whole.”

The resurrection, as Wright argues is the lynchpin of an entirely new worldview that is not beholden to the corruptible reality of this age. He states, “…the resurrection sis not…a highly peculiar event within the present world, though it is also that; it is the defining, central, prototypical event of the new creation, the world that is being born in Jesus.”

And the way to know and understand that new creation is through faith and love. As Wright states,

“…although the historical arguments for Jesus’ bodily resurrection are truly strong, we must never suppose that that will do more than bring people to the questions faced by Thomas and Peter, the questions of faith and love.  We cannot use a supposedly objective historical epistemology as the ultimate ground for the truth of Easter. To do so would be like someone who lit a candle to see whether the sun had risen.”

So can a scientist (or historian) believe in the resurrection? Sure. But science and historical inquiry only can get you to the nature of the question, and the doorstep to a new reality. The old instruments, even though they get you to the door, will be found wanting once you walk through.

Book Review: N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture”: Ch. 2–Do we need a historical Adam?

Book Review: N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Scripture”: Ch. 2–Do we need a historical Adam?

Surprised By Scripture

The second chapter in N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Scripture tackles a subject that tends to be an extremely hot-button issue within American Evangelicalism today: the historicity of Adam. Now, the fact that it is even a hot-button issue might surprise some people. Ironically, some people’s response is basically, “How can there not be a historical Adam?” while others will undoubtedly response with, “How can anything still think that there could be a historical Adam?”

Now, that topic alone, with all the scholarly ink that has been spilled on it, could fill a book all by itself—and if you check Amazon.com, you’ll find that there are, in fact, many books on that topic. N.T. Wright, though, takes a rather different approach to the question—one that I appreciate.

He first points out that too often that in many western, Protestant/Evangelical traditions, even though they claim to be rooted in scripture, in fact “have by and large developed long-lasting and subtle strategies for not listening to what the Bible is in fact saying.” Translation? We Christian in modern western civilization often completely neglect even attempt to find out what any given biblical passage said to its original audience, and we simply assume that the Bible speaks directly to our 21st century questions and concerns.

Biblical Authority
If we want to truly let the Bible speak to us today, we first must make sure we understand the questions, answers, and worldview that the Bible was putting forth in its original context. Unfortunately, because we don’t often do this, what ends up happening is that well-meaning Christians simply rip completely de-contextualized verses out the Bible to that “support” their particular political or social views, and then claim that they are basing their political and social views on the “authority of Scripture.” In reality they aren’t.  They’re using the “authority of Scripture” as a way to mask their own agenda, and their cherry-picking of verses. This sort of thing happens all across the political and social spectrum.

In any case, Wright makes an incredibly important point when it comes to biblical authority: If we really value the authority of Scripture, we need to understand the original context. We need to make sure we are understanding the authoritative message that God and the inspired authors originally intended. Why? Because the “authority” of the Bible doesn’t rest in the Bible itself—it rests in the authority that was given to Jesus by the Father, and that he in turn bestowed on his followers. Therefore Wright points out that the phrase “authority of scripture” really is simply shorthand for “the authority of God in Jesus, mediated through scripture.”

The next thing Wright points out is a question: “What is God’s authority in the Bible there for?” Well, it’s not simply to give a lot of true information…even though the Bible certain does. Wright points out that the authority of God in the Bible has a purpose, and that purpose is to redeem His creation through an obedient humanity. Or as Wright says, “The Bible is then the God-given equipment through which the followers of Jesus are themselves equipped to be obedient stewards, the royal priesthood, bringing that saving rule of God in Christ to the world.” So what is the Bible “there for”? The very thing Wright just said.

Before he goes on to address the topic of Adam, though, Wright briefly mentions the value and role of the traditional Church creeds. I’ll make it simple: the creeds are indeed useful, but they are really just “Cliff Notes” to the much deeper truths of the Christian faith. The creeds are essentially guard rails that make sure you don’t get off track in your Christian faith. But if all you do is constantly inspect the guard rails, and never take off on the journey of faith, the guard rails won’t do you much good.

Paul, Adam, and the Next Testament
With all that in mind, Wright then sets out to illuminate his readers on the intended biblical message concerning Adam. He starts by addressing the common claim in ultra-conservative circles that “If you don’t believe Adam was a real human being, then you can’t believe anything else in the Bible.” Wright’s reply is a basic, “No, that’s not true. You need to first ask, ‘What is the intent of the talk about Adam in the Bible?’” Particularly, if you look at Romans 5, what was Paul’s purpose when he was referring to Adam? Was his purpose to make a historical argument?

Wright’s answer is, “No.” Paul’s point in not only Romans 5, but in Romans 1-8 as a whole, was to emphasize what the human vocation is. In other words, he’s not primarily focused on explaining how one gets saved (that would make little sense, given the fact he’s writing to Christians who are already saved!); rather, he’s explaining the goal and purpose of redeemed humanity that salvation has made possible.

For Paul, God’s holy land now is no longer just the “holy land” of Israel. Because of Christ, the entire world is God’s holy land, and through Christ and his followers, He is going to redeem all of creation, and thus bring the Kingdom of God to all of creation. If you understand that’s the complete “end game” that one’s individual salvation in Christ becomes a part of, then you’ll be in a better position to understand Paul’s use of Adam in Romans 5.

For Paul, the fundamental problem in creation is that, because of human sinfulness, “God’s project for the whole creation (that it should be run by obedient humans) was aborted and put on hold.” The answer to that problem, therefore, is found in Christ: through Christ, humanity can be redeemed, and thus become obedient stewards of God’s creation. Through Christ, human beings can become what Adam and Eve failed to be. In other words, the goal of salvation is not some individualistic “I get to go to heaven when I die” sort of thing; rather, it is, “I get to be part of a redeemed and obedient humanity (i.e. Christ, the second Adam), so that I can fulfill God’s purpose to have human beings care for His creation, where He will dwell with human beings.”

Does that sound a bit out there? Well, Wright points you to Romans 5:17 to prove it is true. Paul starts by saying, “If by the trespass of one, death reigned through the one (i.e. Adam)…” and then Wright says we expect Paul to then finish that thought with, “…how much more will life reign through the one” (i.e. Jesus).” If that was the case, then one could possibly argue that Jesus, a historical figure, is paralleled with Adam, who would then be also a historical figure.

But that’s not what Paul says. Instead, he ends with “…how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace, and the gift of covenant membership (i.e. righteousness) reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Wright’s point is that the focus of Paul’s argument isn’t on whether or not Adam was a historical person, or whether or not “Adam” represents all humanity. Paul’s focus is on the vocation of humanity—to fulfill our calling as image-bearers of God to reign in life over His creation. Through Christ that has been made possible. In fact, as Wright says, that is what it means to be a royal priesthood: “looking after God’s creation is the royal bit; summing up creation’s praise is the priestly bit.”

Wright’s Conclusion
NTWrightWright’s point is that one cannot go to Romans 5 (or I Corinthians 15 as well), and argue that since Paul refers to Adam in his theological arguments, that he must have thought Adam was a historical person. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Maybe Adam was a historical person, maybe the Adam in Genesis 3 is symbolic and archetypal for all humanity. The point is that that issue is not what is being addressed in Romans 5 or I Corinthians 15.

Wright further points out that when it comes to Genesis 1-3, that the Jews of Jesus and Paul’s day would have undoubtedly seen the story of their own nation in those chapters. Think about it: Adam is placed in a garden where God rests and reigns; Adam is to obey God’s commandment, or else suffer exile from the garden and ultimate death. Does that now sound much like the story of OT Israel as well?

Simply put, there is a whole lot more going on in Genesis 1-3, as well as the New Testament’s use of Genesis 1-3 than our modern “Was Adam a historical person?” debate. It certainly seems, Wright argues, that neither the Old or New Testament writers, not even Jesus himself, seemed all that concerned with “proving” this point. Their use of Genesis 1-3 often was to make other theological arguments, other than trying “prove” there was a literal Adam.

So what should this tell Christians? There might have been a literal Adam, there might not have been—it’s not spelled out in the Bible either way. Therefore, it is entirely okay to speculate on that “origins question,” as long as you keep in mind what the theological message of passages like Genesis 1-3, Romans 5, and I Corinthians 15 really is.

Some Christians view the Adam of Genesis 1-3 as a purely symbolic figure representing all of humanity, so that “Adam’s story” is “our story.” Some, like N.T. Wright speculate that at some point in the past, “God chose one pair from the rest of the early hominids for a special…vocation,” but that pair (call them Adam and Eve if you like) failed in their task. Obviously, Wright has no problem with the theory of evolution explaining the gradual creation of human beings from lower life forms. Others, of course, think that the Adam and Eve of Genesis 2-3 were the first two people in history, specially created and distinct from every other creature.

Regardless of your particular opinion, you should be honest and admit that that particular issue is not spelled out in Scripture. The thing to remember is whether you hold to the “symbolic” view, Wright’s view, or the literalistic view—they are all speculation, and none of them really have any bearing on the truth and authority of Scripture and what it is teaching about mankind state in need of salvation, or mankind’s fulfillment of God’s vocation in Christ.

So here’s a question for you: what is your view of Adam and Eve? Do you think Wright’s comments hold any merit? What questions do you continue to have?

Book Review: “Surprised by Scripture” by N.T. Wright (Part 1)…and why I don’t believe in miracles!

Book Review: “Surprised by Scripture” by N.T. Wright (Part 1)…and why I don’t believe in miracles!

Surprised By Scripture

Quite obviously, one very important part of a Christian’s life is learning about the Bible: what it is, how to interpret it, and what role does it play in the individual life of a Christian and the corporate life of the Church. It should also be quite obvious that people do not always agree on just what portions of the Bible say, particularly on a number of hot-button issues like the role of women, homosexuality, and the always ever-so-lovely “creation/evolution debate.”

What I have realized is that, although there will always be differences of opinion in regards how to interpret various passages of Scripture, the major reason why there is so much difference of opinion on certain subjects is that many Christians simply don’t know what the Bible even says, and they end up reading into the Bible their own prejudices and assumptions. It’s what scholars call “eisegesis.” When, therefore, you learn something new about the Bible, one that shatters a particular assumption you might have had, you have a choice: either admit you were wrong and reassess your understanding of that particular passage in light of that new truth, or refuse to admit you could be wrong, reject that truth, and continue to plunge headlong into further ignorance.

Here’s just one example: the term “apocalypse” doesn’t mean the future-telling of the end of the world. It literally means “uncovering”—and it was a genre of literature in which writers claimed to “uncover” (or “reveal”) what God was doing in the present situation of persecution. So yes, that’s right, John wasn’t writing about Nicolae Carpathia from the “Left Behind” series. What are you going to do with that?

In any case, over the next few posts I’m going to give an quasi-in-depth book review of N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Scripture, in which he goes through what the Bible has to say about a number of contemporary issues. The reason why this will take a few posts is because, quite frankly, I have a hard time writing short posts. If I were to review this book all in one post, it would be one quite long, and off-putting post. Instead, I’ll take bite-sized pieces, so we can all enjoy the banquet that N.T. Wright has cooked up.

NTWrightFor those of you who don’t know who N.T. Wright is, he is possibly the most influential New Testament scholar of our day. He was also the Bishop of Durham in the Anglican Church for a time. And for those of you who don’t know what that means, it basically means that he was the number two guy in the entire Anglican Church, right below the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In any case, Wright, in addition to having a perfect name for a New Testament scholar (NT Wright? Really? I want to change my name to O.T. Veracious!), has written an incredible amount of not only scholarly books, but also an equal number of books in which he takes his scholarly work and tries to make it digestible for the average, non-scholarly reader. At the end of this post, I’ll list a few of my favorite books by Wright.

Surprised by Scripture is one of those books aimed for the average reader. But don’t be deceived, the material he covers is still extremely controversial, so if you don’t like to be challenged, then forego his book. But of course, if you do have a backbone, read at least these next few posts.

Chapter 1: Healing the Divide Between Science and Religion
Yes…let’s start off with something easy! Here in Evangelical America, as soon as you hear “science and religion,” you also hear “evolution vs. creation: let’s get ready to rumble!” Well, I’m sure I’ll touch upon that topic in more detail in later posts, let me just share a few things Wright points out.

Instead of starting with the modern debate, Wright begins by taking us back to a very interesting time: ancient Greece. Why? Because there really is nothing new under the sun. Here’s the problem in a nutshell: the modern “creation/evolution debate” is not really about actual scientific claims; for that matter, it isn’t really even about philosophical worldviews. The modern “creation/evolution debate” is a debate that is thoroughly rooted in one philosophical worldview that actually goes back to the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus. The philosophy he started, quite obviously, was Epicureanism.

Epicureanism taught that “the gods” had nothing to do with our world. Life in the material world is life in the material world, and when you die, you’re done. The gods don’t interfere in any way, so go ahead and enjoy your life while you can. Quite obviously, with the rise of Christianity, and the proclamation that God is immensely involved with this world, so much so that he sent his Son to redeem and transform the world, Epicureanism fell by the wayside throughout most of Church history.

Then something—two things really—happened in the 16th-18th centuries. First, with the Reformation, Protestants rebelled against the Catholic notion that God was some sort of bully in the sky who longed to interfere with your life. Second, there was the Enlightenment, where philosophers latched upon the recent scientific discoveries, and then spun those discoveries to revive the long-abandoned Epicurean philosophy. “Science shows that the universe runs on ‘natural laws,’ therefore, even if there is a God, he clearly doesn’t have anything to do with the material world.” And voila! Deism was born! It was simply Epicureanism with the language of modern science…but it still was Epicureanism nonetheless. It regulated “God” to another corner of the universe, and insisted that there was no room for intervention in the natural world by the supernatural world.

This Enlightenment/Epicurean worldview is so imbedded in our modern world, that even well-meaning Christians have adopted it, not realizing just how unbiblical it is. Wright points out the very use of the word “miracle” betrays this Enlightenment worldview. The traditional definition of “miracle” goes something like this: “God set the world up to run according to ‘natural laws,’ but every now and then He decides to ‘intervene’ and thus temporarily suspend those ‘natural laws’—that’s how Jesus healed lepers, walked on water, and rose from the dead.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe those things happened—I just wouldn’t call them “miracles” because the very word “miracle” is a made up word that stems from the Enlightenment worldview that assumes that in order for God to act in the world, that he must “break natural laws” and disrupt the natural order of things. Ah, but you might say, “But wait! The word ‘miracle’ is in the Bible!”

Well…no it isn’t. The word translated into English with the word “miracle” is often one of two words in Greek, and proper translation of those word is “sign” for one, and “dynamic deed” for the other. The reason why that is important is because neither of those words carry with the false Enlightenment presupposition that the natural world is “here,” that God is “over there,” and that in order for “God over there” to affect the “natural world here,” that he has to violate some sort of natural law.

Simply put, the biblical worldview, and the proper Christian worldview, does not view God as a deity that only occasionally intervenes into the natural world via some sort of “miracle.” The biblical worldview sees God as intimately involved with His creation at all times. There never is a time when He isn’t involved. Therefore, what we have come to describe as “natural laws” are God’s consistent way of doing things that we can understand. But Christians do not limit God’s actions to “natural laws.” We admit that there are other things God does that we can’t understand. Enlightenment thinkers call those things “miracles,” and eventually regulate them to non-existence. Biblical writers called them “signs” and “dynamic deeds” that further testify to the power and mystery of God and his dealing with the natural world.

Another interesting thing Wright points out, particularly in regards to many Americans who reject Darwinism out of hand, on the grounds that it is “unbiblical,” is that these very people actually applaud the applications of “survival of the fittest” in many other ways: America should essentially impose its will on other nations in order to ensure our survival; if those poor people are too lazy to work, then why should the government help them to survive on the hard-earned income of other who do work? Does that hit a bit too close to home? It certainly made me do a double-take!

The Real Problem and Real Battle
Wright is essentially arguing that the real problem in the supposed “battle between science and religion” isn’t where most people think. The problem is that atheists like Richard Dawkins and young earth creationists like Ken Ham actually share the same Enlightenment worldview, and they both use Darwinism (albeit in vastly different ways) to justify their respective position on a variety of social and political issues. Does that cause a severe brain cramp? It should…I told you this book was challenging and good.

Both Dawkins and Ham’s fundamental understanding of God and nature is based on an unbiblical, deistic, Enlightenment worldview that is misleading and blinding both many atheists and well-meaning Christians alike. That fact completely blows my mind. Yet the older I get, the more I see that it really is true.

Genesis and Creation
So what is the biblical view of creation? Wright points out that New Testament writers like Paul inherited their doctrine of creation, not from modern science, but from the ancient biblical vision of Genesis, that described creation not in the terms of modern science, but in the highly poetic language of their day. And the point of the Genesis account, therefore, was to emphasize the “wisdom, goodness, and power of the God” who made creation.

Furthermore, Wright points something else out that is so obvious that we often miss it. God created “a world that will then make itself.” Everything in the world is commanded to “be fruitful and multiply,” and as Wright puts it, “be dependent co-creators.”

The point of Genesis 1 is to introduce a theme that runs throughout the entire Bible, both the Old and New Testaments: this world has been created to be God’s Temple, where He communes and interacts with human beings within His creation. It is to be the place that is filled with God’s glory, and that is cared for and ruled over by creatures that bear His image.

Simply put, Genesis 1 is not about process—it is about purpose. It is not about how creation came about—it is about the purpose for which creation exists. If you get that straight, then you’ll be able to see that all the claims both Dawkins and Ham makes, about how “if evolution is true, then the Bible is false and there is no God” are simply unfounded. Both are working from a deistic and Epicurean worldview and wrongly assuming that it is, in fact, the Christian and Biblical worldview…which it isn’t.

Wright ends the chapter elaborated on two more points. First, in light of the fact that Genesis 1 tells us about God’s purpose for creation (i.e. to be His Temple where he communes with human beings), Wright also points out that Genesis 3 (and the most of the Bible from that point on) tells the story about how human beings have failed to be God’s image-bearers, and how, instead of caring for and ruling creation, instead of offering it up to God as an act of worship to Him, human being ended up worshiping the creation itself, and thereby incurred death. The entire Old Testament is a “testament” to that very thing being played out time and time again in the life of Israel.

The Good News, though, is the second point: the Gospel is that Jesus, the true human being, who is the image of God Himself, has come to set creation to rights. He is God’s Temple, and those who put their faith in Him, become part of that Temple. It is what Wright calls “a new temple project.” In Christ, God’s original purpose for His creation is fulfilled—it is the New Creation. Yet things aren’t over yet. Those who are called in Christ—the Church—have a calling: to proclaim, bear witness to, and usher in the New Creation. We, in Christ, are the New Adam, and we, as image-bearers of God are called to care for, serve, and offer up to God His New Creation. In Christ, God’s glory fills His creation.

With that said, Wright looks back to the “religion vs. science” and “evolution vs. creation” battle over the past 100 years and shrugs: that whole thing is a sideshow, founded not on the Biblical worldview, but on the Enlightenment worldview, distracting everyone from trying to live out the Biblical purpose of creation and mankind. As Wright says, if we truly grasp the Biblical worldview, “it wouldn’t simply be a matter of finding a way to reconcile atheistic science with rationalistic Christianity, either by letting them live in separate spheres or finding some kind of awkward in-between accommodation. That simply perpetuates the split-level Epicurean worldview that I have been argued has been the problem all along….”

Simply put, Wright is saying this: The only way you get a “religion vs. science” or “creation vs. evolution” debate in the first place is if you jettison the Biblical worldview in favor of a re-hashed Epicurean worldview of Enlightenment deism, and then mistake that for a Biblical worldview.

So, here’s a question for you: What are your thoughts on Christianity, the Bible, Science, and the supposed “creation vs. evolution” debate? I’d love to hear your thoughts, or questions!

Christianity in the Modern/Postmodern World

Christianity in the Modern/Postmodern World

***This is a revised version of an early post I wrote for my earlier blog. I think it is still more relevant than ever.

We are certainly living in interesting times. Who could have thought 50, 100, or 150 years ago, for example, that a single man, living in northwest Alabama, could not only type his thoughts out on a machine and then transmit them to a worldwide audience with a press of a button, all without one single sheet of paper? Technology and scientific discovery has rocketed mankind far beyond what the previous ages could have imagined.

These advances in science and technology, though, have had a tremendous effect on religion. In fact, more people in Europe and America are becoming less and less religious, and more and more “secular.” Why has this happened? A standard answer that is given nowadays is that science and evolution somehow “prove” that we are simply evolving away from our primitive religious roots. A simple answer to that is, “No, science and evolution don’t ‘prove’ that. You can’t confuse statements about biology with philosophical assertions.”

Another answer that can be given is that, at least in America, Christianity is becoming more and more irrelevant to people’s lives. Be it the stale redundancy in mainline churches, the adolescent/ADD mentality of the more “hip” and emerging churches, or the glitzy commercialism of the mega-churches, there is just something missing…in all of them.

Nevertheless, I am a Christian. Yet I have come to realize that the only person responsible for my overall maturation and development, be it spiritual, emotional, or intellectual, is me. I cannot rely on anybody else to live my life. And so, in the course of my 45 years of life, as I have searched for truth, meaning, and purpose in life, I have come to the conviction that the claims of Christianity are, in fact, true. This is, though, very discouraging in an ironic way—equal to my conviction that Christianity is true, is the co-equal conviction that, for the most part, the “Christianity” I see in most Evangelical churches in America resides in a shallow grave. Attempts to “make Christianity relevant,” however sincere, seem to amount to nothing more than putting a little more make-up on the face, and a little more embalming fluid in the veins, of a corpse.

The essential Christian hope is that of a future resurrection of all creation. The basis for this hope is the resurrection of Jesus Christ—that is the central claim of Christianity. Unfortunately, most churches resemble the night of the living dead, and not a community living out the resurrection life that Christ promised to his followers. Now please note, I have met plenty of individual Christians who are, in fact, living out a resurrection life—they are sincere, thoughtful, rational, inquisitive, and are truly seeking after the truth. For some reason, though, get these vibrant believers in a typical church service, and all the life goes out of them. Why is that? Well, that is a question for another day…

Let’s face it, we are living in a new world—modernism has been the predominant worldview for the past 250 years, and currently we are experiencing what some call a “postmodern” turn. Simply put, postmodernism can be summed up as this: it looks at all the utopian promises that modernism has made of a brave new world, and it has given it the middle finger. Nothing demonstrates this as vividly as Green Day’s song, “Mass Hysteria/Modern World.” Without quoting the entire song, I will just quote a few lines:

I can hear the sound of a beating heart that bleeds beyond a system that’s falling apart

With money to burn on a minimum wage, ‘Cause I don’t give a shit about the modern age

I don’t want to live in the modern world

The challenge for anyone today is how to navigate between the “prophecies and proclamations” of sages of modernism that still hold the seats of power in today’s world and the rising rhetoric and revolution of postmodernism. And the scary thing is that some of these “modernistic sages” do, in fact, have positions of power in many churches. They’re saying the name of Christ, but they really are preaching a modernistic gospel from an Enlightenment worldview. If you’re asking, “What does that mean?” Well, keep coming back to the blog—we’ll tease that out over time.

True Christianity is neither “modern” nor “postmodern.” True Christianity is life—resurrection life. And the only way to live it is to first put to death the idols of our age that we find ourselves wanting to bow down to every day. They could be the “idols” of pop culture and the vulgarization and oversexualization of the human being, be it on TV, music videos, or the movies. They could be the “idols” of the political Left, beholden to such a progressive ideology that actually finds itself defending the practice of harvesting aborted baby organs and then selling them to the highest bidder. They could also be the “idols” of ultra-fundamentalist Evangelicalism, beholden to a literalistic (and ironically anti-biblical) interpretation of the Bible that says if you don’t believe the entire universe is 6,000 years old then you are “subverting God’s Word,” when in reality you are simply saying a man like Ken Ham is wrong.

All of these ideologies and idols, in fact, distract us from the real spiritual journey God is calling us to. You don’t have to think about the state of your soul when you’re too busy looking at bikini pics of Kendell Jenner. You don’t have to bother with picking up your cross when you’re too busy watching MSNBC and parroting the rantings of yet another Leftist website. And you certainly don’t have to think about what it actually means to be created in God’s image, when you’re obsessing over trying to prove that Adam and Eve had a pet stegosaurus.

That is why I’m starting this blog. It is my attempt to articulate a truly Christian worldview in the midst of the ongoing host of issues that rise up and challenge us every day. I will state my views in the hope that others will respond with their views, and hopefully, through a sincere, relentless, and respectful search for truth, our dialogue can help resurrect a true Christian Orthodoxy that can live, breath, and work throughout our world.

U2 and Faith…in Zoo Station

U2 and Faith…in Zoo Station

By the end of the 1980s, U2 had become one of the most, if not the most, popular rock bands in the world. Their Joshua Tree album of 1987 gave us songs like “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and “With or Without You.” Their next album, Rattle and Hum, although still commercially successful, just couldn’t measure up to Joshua Tree, and many thought that U2 would disband as the decade closed.

…and then in 1991, Achtung Baby hit the shelves, and a completely reinvented U2 proceeded to dominate pop culture for yet another decade.

The Reinvention of U2 in the Nineties

Much can be written, indeed much has been written, about U2, their faith and their music. The reason I bring them up in this post is because much of my faith has been shaped by their music. And although they have come out with incredible music for the past 30 years, their stuff from the 1990s strikes a chord with me more than anything else.

The reason for that is because of the artistic, and dare I say it, prophetic things they did in the 1990s. By the end of the 1980s, U2 had the reputation of being a serious, politically-minded, and socially-activist rock band. Yet they were getting more and more pressure to be the stereotypical “rock gods” that pop culture loves to worship. And so, what they decided to do, starting with Achtung Baby was to give pop culture what they wanted…sort of.

U2 decided they would play the part of the prophetic jester. Beginning with their Zoo TV concert tour to promote Achtung Baby, U2 marketed themselves as the biggest, most self-indulgent, egotistical rock band in history. As you can see in the video clip, they bombarded concert-goers with a litany of random, pop cultural images to the point of overload. The actual song starts about 4 minutes into the video, but those first 4 minutes…wow…prepare yourself for a little bit of cultural vertigo!

As one of my friends who went to one of U2’s concerts from their Pop tour in 1997 said, “It was like I was in Babylon.”

The twist of all this came in the fact that although on one hand U2 gave pop culture exactly what it wanted, namely over-the-top “rock gods” for society to worship, their music was laced with some of the most profound, serious, and wickedly ironic lyrics that mocked and condemned the very culture that was being taken in with all the overblown glitz and glamour.

U2 would have live TV hook-ups to war-torn Sarajevo, and in the middle of their self-glorifying concert, they would throw up on the big screens footage of people whose lives were devastated by war. In their encores, Bono would come out dressed as a red devil in a glitzy, gold suit, singing about how the devil would be the rock star you’ve always wanted. And the audience simply continued to cheer, completely oblivious to the fact that U2 was both entertaining them and prophetically condemning them at the same time. It was pure artistic genius—it was a kind of prophetic voice that Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah would undoubtedly applaud.

Faith in Zoo Station

The opening song of Achtung Baby, and the opening song of U2’s Zoo TV tour was “Zoo Station.” It was basically U2’s declaration that things were going to be a whole lot different. They were going to let go of everything they had been, embrace the uncertainty of postmodern world, and somehow, artistically, find a way to speak their Christian faith to a world bombarded with too much information. It signaled a very real leap of faith for the band.

By the same token, it is a song that still stands as a challenge to anyone to take that leap of faith into the unknown. For me personally, the following lyrics have always stuck with me:

            I’m ready for the gridlock

            I’m ready to take it to the street

            Ready for the shuffle, ready for the deal

            Ready to let go of the steering wheel

            I’m ready, ready for the crush

 

Let’s face it, most of us love talking about “faith” and “stepping out in faith,” but in reality, we very rarely ever actually do it. We prefer certainty, we’d much rather rest in security than step out where things are uncertain and insecure. We stay in that stifling job because we’re too afraid to act on the calling of our hearts; we stay in a toxic relationship because we’re afraid to be alone. And sometimes, when a job or relationship fails, we quickly jump into another similar situation because, even though it is toxic and deadly…at least it is familiar.

For that matter, especially for Christians, talking about stepping out in faith is often a clever defense mechanism that we use to excuse us from actually stepping out into that uncertainty that God is calling us to. We like our boat, despite the fact that the sea is about to capsize it anyway.

What I am starting to learn, really learn deep in my bones, is that the life of faith is dangerous and uncertain, and I really don’t like danger or uncertainty. But I do love Christ, and because I love Christ (and that doesn’t mean I particularly like him all the time!), I have to learn to embrace the uncertainty in my life. Why? Because sometimes, it seems that God doesn’t wait for you to “step out in faith,” into a raging sea. Sometimes he pushes you out of the boat, whether you like it or not.

That’s where I find myself now. The boat is gone, and it’s not a matter of “sink or swim.” It’s a matter of “sink or walk on the water.” There is no swimming, only strides of faith on a tumultuous sea—and the thing is, I don’t think I quite have my sea legs yet.

That’s what Zoo Station says to me. That’s what a life of faith is: that chaotic, insane, “I can’t take my eyes of this crazy spectacle” embracing of the uncertainty of life. It’s the realization, as you can see on the screen at the end of the song, that “Everything you know is wrong.”

Does that sound a bit too out there? Does that sound a bit too reckless? Perhaps a bit too obscene for our societal sensibilities? Does it make you want to quote some nice Bible verse, like “All who are weary, come unto me, and I will give you rest?”

If so, then watch out…the sea is rumbling and the wooden planks are about to give way.

 

 

And so it begins….

And so it begins….

Welcome to the inaugural post to my blog, Resurrecting Orthodoxy.

Six years ago, while I was still a teacher at a small Christian school, I had started a blog entitled Resurrected Orthodoxy, in which I hoped to write on how Christianity speaks to various issues that confront our society today. The reason why I started the blog was because I was a Worldview teacher, and it was my job to not only teach Bible classes, but to also introduce my students to the basics of Church history and the flow of Western cultural and philosophical thought, so that they would be in a better position to understand and address societal issues today.

In the course of those six years, I learned quite a lot by writing that blog. Nevertheless, due to a number of hardships that I have gone through, this past January I felt it was time to close down that blog. It had run its course.

It has now been seven months, and I am going to give it another go. I’ve changed the name of my blog, though, from Resurrected Orthodoxy to Resurrecting Orthodoxy. The reason for the change is something that hopefully will become evident in the course of my posts. For now, I’ll just say this. “Resurrected” implies that the hard part is over; it implies almost a sort of triumphalism. Well, the truth is that although Christ has conquered death, I haven’t yet. Therefore, “Resurrecting” speaks more to the process and journey that entails salvation. God has given me life, and I must find a way to live it out in the midst of a world where not only physical death is inevitable, but where we witness the death of dreams every day. It’s hard, because we are called to follow Christ while our wounds are still fresh. This blog is going to be my attempt to walk that journey once again.

Orthodoxy?

Although I am officially a member of the Orthodox Church, when I speak of “Orthodoxy,” I am not simply referring to Eastern Orthodoxy. I am referring to the fundamentals of the Christian faith that all Christians, regardless of their denomination, share. If you will, I am referring to the fundamental worldview of Christianity that has been there throughout Church history.

I grew up in the Assemblies of God church, and have been a Christian my entire life. The thing about growing up Assemblies of God, though, is that when it comes to Church history, there is nothing. I knew absolutely nothing about the history of the Church. Consequently, as I was growing up there were a number of things I heard in sermons and in youth groups that, for some reason I couldn’t explain, just didn’t seem right…but I had no frame of reference to articulate what seemed off, and certainly no context to even begin to gain clarity.

It was the summer after my junior year in high school that I picked up Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and How Should We Then Live? by Francis Schaeffer. My real Christian journey had begun. I eventually found my way to the Orthodox Church. I remember the first time I set foot in an Orthodox service, a voice in my head said, “This is home.”

The interesting thing, though, is that once I became Orthodox, I actually felt more at ease and “at home” in other churches as well. To be honest, I never felt “at home” in church while I was growing up, because something was missing—it was, as I now know, a basic understanding of the Church. Why Assemblies of God? Why Baptist? Why Lutheran? Why Catholic? What’s the difference? I simply didn’t know or understand, and that lack of understanding what the Church was caused me to not really feeling at home in any particular church.

In addition, I simply had a lot of questions about my faith, about the Bible, and about how I was supposed to live my life. But the thing was, as I suspect is the case with many Christians, all the answers I was given seemed pretty superficial and shallow: “You just gotta believe, even though you can’t prove it;” “Read your Bible every day, it’s God’s Word;” “Be a good person: don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t have sex until marriage.”

Sadly, doesn’t that more or less sum up the majority of what an Evangelical Christian kid is taught growing up? Does that really encompass all of Christianity, really? Of course not…but sadly, that’s the extent of what most churches seem to offer. Yes, that’s an over-generalization, but I hope you get my point.

That being said, my Christian journey has not only led me to Eastern Orthodoxy, but it has also led to me to many writers and thinkers across the spectrum of Christianity who have influenced me tremendously. They have enriched my faith and challenged me on a number of levels. And in doing so, they have given me a much better understanding of not only the Christian faith, but also of the world today.

My Christian faith, my resurrecting orthodoxy, cannot be compartmentalized into a separate sphere of “religious belief.” It is not “sacred,” as opposed to “secular,” because I’ve come to realize that everything, even the secular, can be made sacred when offered up to God. It informs my political leanings, although it should never be confused with politics. It helps me see the beauty of truth in all types of art, music, and literature. It challenges me and sharpens my mind as I study the Bible, theology, and philosophy. And all of that—all of it—make up my life, and I hope my life bears witness to the reality of the resurrecting orthodoxy of the Christian faith.

The Scope of Resurrecting Orthodoxy

Now what does that all mean? I’m not entirely sure! All I know is that I have to share, I have to speak of what I know…and hopefully that will strike a chord with others.

What I will cover in this blog is a variety of topics. I will share posts on Spirituality and Biblical Studies, as well as posts on Literature and Poetry. I will occasionally share my thoughts on modern culture and political issues, and I will also try to give some book reviews of some of the most influential books I’ve read in my life. Occasionally, I will go back in my Resurrected Orthodoxy vault, and re-post something from my previous blog, no doubt with revisions.

I also want to have an open forum, and answer any questions you may have about the Bible, Christianity, or current events. I want this to be a place where you can come to get intellectually challenged and spiritually enriched.

If that sounds intriguing, follow my blog, leave comments, and tell others. If that sounds like it might be a bit dull, all I can say is that if you could ever speak to any of my students over the years, they will testify to the fact that my classes were not boring! I do not intend for this blog to be boring either.

So please, make this blog a regular stop in your internet travels. I intend to post something 2-4 times a week.

Joel

%d bloggers like this: