Friday, April 30, 2010

Claiming Jesus as Lord and Savior

The Gospel reading in the daily Eucharistic lectionary for today is John 14:1-6. This passage includes a striking (and for some, a problematic or even offensive) insistence on the uniqueness of Jesus for saving access to God:

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

It's unfortunate that some Christians use this verse as a weapon to intimidate, harass, and bully those who do not believe in Jesus. But in response, it won't do to go to the other extreme by denying the uniqueness of Jesus for salvation (as though Jesus is just one of many equally valid ways to God).

The Orthodox Study Bible commentary on this verse puts it well:

The way, the truth, and the life is a Person, our Lord Jesus Christ. He is so because of His perfect union with His Father (vv. 9, 11). The way we reach the Father is forever established through the Son. Jesus is the truth because He is the unique revelation of the Father, who is the goal of our journey through life. Christ is the life, the uncreated eternal life manifest in the flesh, so that we might have life. Because of this, No one comes to the Father except through the Son. While aspects of goodness and truth are found among all people by virtue of their being created in the image and likeness of God, salvation comes through Christ alone.

An even earlier Christian confessional statement summarizes the uniqueness of the One through whom we find salvation, and that is: "Jesus is Lord." If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not. Indeed, if Jesus is Lord, then no one and nothing else can be. And like John 14:6, the confession that "Jesus is Lord" makes a truth claim that excludes other rival claims to truth.

Fr. Matt Gunter recently offered reflections on what it means to claim Jesus as Lord on his blog "Into the Expectation." He writes:

The earliest Christian creed was "Jesus is Lord," i.e., Jesus is trump. It had to be declared. It had to be lived. It had to be, if it came to it, died for. Because it was true. If Jesus was just one among many spirit persons, even though a particular favorite, he could not – cannot – be Lord. And there would be little point in paying him any more attention than Spartacus or Socrates. Nor would there be any conflict between worshiping Jesus and worshiping Caesar. To claim Jesus as Lord means that everything else – personal preferences, familial traditions, political ideologies, national loyalties, other religious teachings – everything is measured in light of what we know of God and life in light of the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

This does not mean that there is no truth or wisdom to be learned elsewhere. One can hold emphatically that Jesus is uniquely Lord and still believe that the Holy Spirit sings in and through the hearts and scriptures of those who do not know him as Lord. Listening carefully and respectfully to their wisdom can be edifying. But, we lose something essential when we abandon the scandal of particularity that is the declaration that Jesus is Lord. With reverence. With gentleness. With humility. With forbearance. But, it must be declared.

I am concerned that in our reaction to simplistic, heavy-handed fundamentalism, we not slip into a simplistic pluralism that has more to do with the intellectual agnosticism of modernity than with Christian witness to the mystery of God.

Fr. Matt is right: as Christians, we must resist heavy-handed, holier-than-thou proclamations of the Truth at the heart of our faith. But we must also resist the intellectual agnosticism that downplays or denies the Truth. For Jesus, and Jesus alone, is Lord and Savior. And no one comes to the Father apart from him.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

While it may be true that most millennials do not pray, worship, or read scripture, they are not devoid of "spiritual" or religious convictions. Indeed, in their book focusing on teenagers entitled Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, authors Christian Smith and Melina Lundquist Denton describe a discernible creed that unites America's teens. And it's thoroughly post-Christian.

Concerning Smith and Denton's research, Collin Hansen writes as follows in an article for Christianity Today entitled "Death by Deism":

Though they aren't journalists, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton broke one of the biggest stories in contemporary religion with their 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Conducting the most comprehensive study of religion and teenagers to date, the sociologists discovered a newly dominant creed that they dubbed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Rather than transformative revelation from God, religion has become a utility for enhancing a teenager's life. Smith and Denton lay out the five points of MTD:

1. A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Surely American teenagers did not invent this new religion. A quick scan of bestseller lists, television guides, or public school curricula will reveal MTD's appeal. Indeed, the God of MTD sounds like the "cool parent" teenagers adore.

"God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process," Smith and Denton write.

Read it all.

According to the Wikipedia entry for "Moralistic therapeutic deism," Smith and Denton maintain that "a significant part of Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously Christian in any sense that is seriously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but has rather substantially morphed into Christianity's misbegotten stepcousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism."

Meanwhile, some "progressives" continue to argue that Christianity must adapt or perish. But if MTD is the dominant new creed of the culture, then Christianity's adaptation to the culture's fundamentally post-Christian worldview merely aids and abets decline by leading the Church beyond anything recognizably Christian. As Matthew Lee Anderson of "Mere Orthodoxy" rightly notes, "The better slogan is, in fact, 'adapt and perish.'"

The accommodationist prescription for stemming Christianity's decline is itself symptomatic of that decline. Of course, it’s more complicated than that. But not less.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Doubting Our Doubts

"Unless we are willing to doubt our doubts, our doubts are just excuses to avoid the implications of believing." ~ Fr. Matt Gunter

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Most Millennials Don't Pray, Worship, or Read Scripture

According to a recent survey conducted by Lifeway Christian Resources, "Most young adults today don't pray, don't worship and don't read the Bible." Thom Rainer, president of Lifeway Christian Resources, observes that if these trends continue, "the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships."

Here's more from the article in USA Today:

Among the 65% who call themselves Christian, "many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only," Rainer says. "Most are just indifferent. The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith."

Key findings in the phone survey, conducted in August and released today:

•65% rarely or never pray with others, and 38% almost never pray by themselves either.

•65% rarely or never attend worship services.

•67% don't read the Bible or sacred texts.

Many are unsure Jesus is the only path to heaven: Half say yes, half no.

"We have dumbed down what it means to be part of the church so much that it means almost nothing, even to people who already say they are part of the church," Rainer says. ...

Even among those in the survey who "believe they will go to heaven because they have accepted Jesus Christ as savior":

•68% did not mention faith, religion or spirituality when asked what was "really important in life."

•50% do not attend church at least weekly.

•36% rarely or never read the Bible.

Neither are these young Christians evangelical in the original meaning of the term — eager to share the Gospel. Just 40% say this is their responsibility.

Even so, Rainer is encouraged by the roughly 15% who, he says, appear to be "deeply committed" Christians in study, prayer, worship and action.

Collin Hansen, 29, author of Young, Restless, Reformed, about a thriving minority of traditionalist Christians, agrees. "I'm not going to say these numbers aren't true and aren't grim, but they also drive people like me to build new, passionately Christian dynamic churches," says Hansen, who is studying for the ministry. He sees many in his generation veering to "moralistic therapeutic deism — 'God wants you to be happy and do good things.' ... I would not call that Christianity, however."

Read it all.

The Supreme and Primary Law of God

"Let us put into practice the supreme and primary law of God. He sends down rain on just and sinful alike, and causes the sun to rise on all without distinction. To all earth's creatures he has given the broad earth, the springs, the rivers, and the forests. He has given the air to the birds, and the waters to those who live in water. He has given abundantly to all the basic needs of life, not as a private possession, not restricted by law, not divided by boundaries, but as common to all, amply and in rich measure."

Monday, April 26, 2010

Holy Subversion

I find the video below intriguing, particularly in light of Walter Russell Mead's observation that "As a whole, the mainline churches are now making the transition from slow decline to progressive collapse."

The video features Baptist pastor Trevin Wax talking about his book Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals. At the website, the caption beneath the video says: "Challenges Christians to stop privatizing their faith and begin undermining the cultural 'Caesars' of our time by reclaiming the early church's radical proclamation: 'Jesus is Lord.'"

I was particularly struck when Pastor Trevin said this:

The bigger problem isn't that we don't have answers when people ask about the hope that is within us. To me the bigger problem is nobody seems to be asking about our hope. Why aren't they asking? And, I guess it's because people look at our lives and they see that we have the same hope, the same dreams, as everyone else around us. We're also hoping for a bigger paycheck, more cars, more time for leisure and entertainment, a better job, a bigger house.

Holy subversion calls us as churches to ground ourselves in the gospel that transforms our lives, the gospel that backs up our declaration as God's church, as God's called-out people, backs up our declaration that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord.

Previous generations heard that declaration and said, "Prove it." Our generation hears that declaration and says, "Show me."

Having written before about "failing Christianity," I cannot accept Pastor Trevin's suggestion that most Christians have answers to the questions of others when it comes to our faith. Too many of us - especially in mainline churches - find ourselves speechless and embarrassed when questions arise. However, I do think his concerns about the Church's accommodation to the prevailing culture, and thus the inability of our lifestyles to bear witness to the Good News of God in Christ, are on target.

But even if the diagnosis is mostly correct, the prescription may be a bitter pill to swallow. Note how one review of the book frames it:

Imagine interviewing for a church position today and saying, "I believe God wants us to be kingdom-focused and mission-minded. It could be that as we start to move into more intensive discipleship, we will shrink before we grow."

In most churches, you would be shown the door quickly. It's too risky. No one wants to hear about shrinking. Never mind that the concept is biblical. Never mind that Jesus talks about branches being pruned for the good of the tree. Never mind that shrinking actually happened in Jesus' earthly ministry.

Risky, indeed. But perhaps the alternative to shrinking before we grow is to shrink until we die.

Watch all of the video:

Holy Subversion from Crossway on Vimeo.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Mainline Decline and the "So What" Question

I've cited Walter Russell Mead's critical perspective on the Episcopal Church (and mainline churches more generally) in earlier postings. In a recent essay, Mead addresses the complex question, "Where Did the Mainline Go Wrong?" "As a whole," Mead writes, "the mainline churches are now making the transition from slow decline to progressive collapse."

It's typically easier to offer descriptive and pejorative criticism than it is to offer constructive proposals for what to do about a problem. And the problem of mainline meltdown is certainly no different. "
There is no one single solution to the problems of the mainline church," Mead observes, "or if there is, it has not been revealed to me." Nonetheless, Mead thinks that our tendency to undervalue the principle of sustainability is one of the major reasons for decline. Sustainability includes not merely sound institutional assumptions, a solid economic base, and a well-planned strategic direction. It also includes answering the "So what?" question in a way that inspires loyalty and (oftentimes counter-cultural) commitment to the path of discipleship. Mead is worth quoting at length about this:

The mainline churches do not seem to have thought through some of the basic conditions that allow religious organizations to thrive. Religion will not long prosper as a luxury good; it is not primarily a way that comfortable people who are basically happy with their lives can make their lives even richer and more rewarding. A sustainable religion must convince people that it is necessary to life, health and spiritual coherence. A church cannot be one club among many or one leisure activity among many; it must present itself as a bedrock necessity. Not all of its members will take the church at this estimate, but unless a critical mass of its members and leaders feel this way, a denomination (or a congregation) will be entirely dependent on outside cultural and economic forces for its health and even in the long run its survival. A successful church is not one whose pastors and other leaders think a life in church is one calling among many; a critical mass must deeply believe that this vocation is so critical that they would do it, if need be, for nothing — that they would do it if actively persecuted and flogged from town to town. ...

The great question for fundamentalist and evangelical religion is the relationship of revelation to modern science. The great question for modernist and mainline religion is the 'so what' question. If members are not sinners being saved from the flames of Hell, if Christianity is not the one path of salvation offered by a merciful God to a perishing world, if a relationship with God is not the only means to surmount the challenges of each day much less to meet the great tests of life — why go to church? Why pledge? Why have the kids go to Sunday school rather than soccer practice?

If all religions are more or less true (and, presumably, therefore, all more or less false), why pay particular attention to any one of them? If the churches develop their ethical standards (sex before marriage, divorce, homosexuality, racial justice, political ideas) from secular society and the general American consensus, why go to church for anything except weddings, funerals and Christmas carols? What do you learn in church that you can learn nowhere else? What kind of relationships do you form in church that you can form nowhere else?

Why is churchgoing so important to you that you will not only go there no matter what — but that you will do everything in your power to encourage your friends and neighbors to join you? Why is church the daily bread you must have, not a lovely garnish on an already full plate?

A sustainable religion must have answers to these questions. Otherwise it will slowly fade away.

The mainline churches don’t have to give the same answers to these questions that Billy Sunday gave. But they must answer them; at the moment, too often, they don’t even try. I do not say that it’s a simple thing to answer these questions under contemporary conditions — but I do say that the failure to keep this in focus as the most essential thing that a church must do is a key to the spiritual weakness and, therefore, the broader crisis of the mainline church.

Read it all.

I think Mead has rightly diagnosed a central problem in this passage. Add to it the politicization of the Church and the ways in which we increasingly think of the Church as an extension of our lifestyle enclaves, special interest groups, and political party affiliations and the problems get that much worse.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Central Miracle of the Christian Faith

I'll admit to not being a big fan of Frederick Buechner's work, but in the following reflections on the resurrection of Jesus from his 1966 book The Magnificent Defeat, Buechner hits the nail on the head.

We can say that the story of the Resurrection means simply that the teachings of Jesus are immortal like the plays of Shakespeare or the music of Beethoven and that their wisdom and truth will live on forever. Or we can say that the Resurrection means that the spirit of Jesus is undying, that he himself lives on among us, the way that Socrates does, for instance, in the good that he left behind him, in the lives of all who follow his great example. Or we can say that the language in which the Gospels describe the Resurrection of Jesus is the language of poetry and that, as such, it is not to be taken literally but as pointed to a truth more profound than the literal. Very often, I think, this is the way that the Bible is written, and I would point to some of the stories about the birth of Jesus, for instance, as examples: but in the case of the Resurrection, this simply does not apply because there really is no story about the Resurrection in the New Testament. Except in the most fragmentary way, it is not described at all. There is no poetry about it. Instead, it is simply proclaimed as a fact. Christ is risen! In fact, the very existence of the New Testament itself proclaims it. Unless something very real indeed took place on that strange, confused morning, there would be no New Testament, no church, no Christianity.

Yet we try to reduce it to poetry anyway: the coming of spring with the return of life to the dead earth, the rebirth of hope in the despairing soul. We try to suggest that these are the miracles that the Resurrection is all about, but they are not. In their way they are all miracles, but they are not this miracle, this central one to which the whole Christian faith points.

Unlike the chief priests and the Pharisees, who tried with soldiers and a great stone to make themselves as secure as they could against the terrible possibility of Christ's really rising again from the dead, we are considerably more subtle. We tend in our age to say, "Of course, it was bound to happen. Nothing could stop it." But when we are pressed to say what it was that actually did happen, what we are apt to come out with is something pretty meager: this "miracle" of truth that never dies, the "miracle" of a life so beautiful that two thousand years have left the memory of it undimmed, the "miracle" of doubt turning into faith, fear into hope. If I believed that this or something like this was all that the Resurrection meant, then I would turn in my certificate of ordination and take up some other profession. Or at least I hope that I would have the courage to.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Does Easter Resist Commercialism?

Jesuit priest James Martin addresses this question in a recent article for Slate. Here's a teaser:

So what enables Easter to maintain its religious purity and not devolve into the consumerist nightmare that is Christmas? Well, for one thing, it's hard to make a palatable consumerist holiday out of Easter when its back story is, at least in part, so gruesome. Christmas is cuddly. Easter, despite the bunnies, is not. ...

The Easter story is relentlessly disconcerting and, in a way, is the antithesis of the Christmas story. No matter how much you try to water down its particulars, Easter retains some of the shock it had for those who first participated in the events during the first century. The man who spent the final three years of his life preaching a message of love and forgiveness (and, along the way, healing the sick and raising the dead) is betrayed by one of his closest friends, turned over to the representatives of a brutal occupying power, and is tortured, mocked, and executed in the manner that Rome reserved for the worst of its criminals. ...

Even the resurrection, the joyful end of the Easter story, resists domestication as it resists banalization. Unlike Christmas, it also resists a noncommittal response. Even agnostics and atheists who don't accept Christ's divinity can accept the general outlines of the Christmas story with little danger to their worldview. But Easter demands a response. It's hard for a non-Christian believer to say, "Yes, I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead." That's not something you can believe without some serious ramifications: If you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, this has profound implications for your spiritual and religious life—really, for your whole life. If you believe the story, then you believe that Jesus is God, or at least God's son. What he says about the world and the way we live in that world then has a real claim on you.

Easter is an event that demands a "yes" or a "no." There is no "whatever." ...

What does the world do with a person who has been raised from the dead? Christians have been meditating on that for two millenniums. But despite the eggs, the baskets, and the bunnies, one thing we haven't been able to do is to tame that person, tame his message, and, moreover, tame what happened to him in Jerusalem all those years ago. That's one reason why you don't see many Easter cards, Easter gifts, and Easter decorations; why the stores aren't clogged with shoppers during Lent; and why the holiday is still, essentially, religious.

Read it all.

Empirical evidence supports Fr. Martin's contention that Easter is still an essentially religious holiday, but it also suggests that "fewer identify the resurrection of Jesus as the underlying meaning" of Easter:

In response to a free-response query, most Americans described Easter as a religious celebration. Two out of every three Americans (67%) mention some type of theistic religious element. Common responses included describing it as a Christian holiday, a celebration of God or Jesus, a celebration of Passover, a holy day, or a special time for church or worship attendance.

However, while a majority of Americans indicated some type of spiritual connection with Easter, the research also showed that a minority of adults directly linked Easter to the Christian faith’s belief in the resurrection of Christ. In all, 42% of Americans said that the meaning of Easter was the resurrection of Jesus or that it signifies Christ death and return to life. One out of every 50 adults (2%) said that they would describe Easter as the most important holiday of their faith.

Even within the religious definitions offered by Americans there is a certain degree of confusion: 2% of Americans said that Easter is about the “birth of Christ”; another 2% indicated it was about the “rebirth of Jesus”; and 1% said it is a celebration of “the second coming of Jesus.” Not included in the theistic category was another 3% who described Easter as a celebration of spring or a pagan holiday.

So while Easter remains a religious holiday that resists the crass commercialism of Christmas, increasing numbers of Americans have no idea what Easter means.

Read it all.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Throwing Easter Away

As the dust settles from Lent and Holy Week, and after blowout celebrations at the Easter Vigil and on Easter morning, I'm again struck this year by how difficult it is to generate comparable energy for observing the Great 50 Days of Easter. Actually, I'm struck by how many churches do not observe the Great 50 Days, at least with nothing quite like what we put into the 40 days of Lent. People are tired from participating in Lenten book studies, sticking to fasting and self-denial regimens, outreach and service activities, etc. Asking them to carry on for 50 more days - even if it's with things that are fun and joyful - feels like asking way too much. And so, after the last service on Easter Day, we all breath a sigh of relief, take a well-deserved nap, and go back to business as usual on Easter Monday.

No wonder a former parishioner (and a cradle Episcopalian of 70 plus years, no less) once remarked to me that Easter is "only a day." This gentleman had never heard about the Great 50 Days of Easter. Unwittingly, perhaps, the Church has helped to foster this misconception, which also plays into the Church's role in trivializing Easter.

So I resonate with the following passage from Bishop N. T. Wright's Surprised by Hope:

I have come to believe that many churches simply throw Easter away year by year; and I want to plead that we rethink how we do it so as to help each other, as a church and as individuals, to live what we profess. I am speaking here particularly from, and to, the church I know best. Those who celebrate in other ways will, I think, be able to make appropriate adjustments and take whatever they need to apply to their own situations.

For a start, consider Easter Day itself. It’s a great step forward that many churches now hold Easter vigils, as the Orthodox church has always done, but in many cases they are still too tame by half. Easter is about the wild delight of God’s creative power – not very Anglican, perhaps, but at least we ought to shout Alleluias instead of murmuring them; we should light every candle in the building instead of only some; we should give every man, woman, child, cat, dog, and mouse in the place a candle to hold; we should have a real bonfire; and we should splash water about as we renew our baptismal vows. Every step back from that is a step toward an ethereal or esoteric Easter experience, and the thing about Easter is that it is neither ethereal nor esoteric. It’s about the real Jesus coming out of the real tomb and getting God’s real new creation under way.

But my biggest problem starts on Easter Monday. I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday … and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration.

All right, the Sundays after Easter still lie within the Easter season. We still have Easter readings and hymns during them. But Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday. It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom? It’s long overdue that we took a hard look at how we keep Easter in church, at home, in our personal lives, right through the system. And if it means rethinking some cherished habits, well, maybe it’s time to wake up.

Maybe next year we should give up some of our Lenten activities and use that time to discern how we can do a better job of celebrating the resurrection during Easter season.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Archbishop of Canterbury's Easter Sermon & Easter Reflections

Here are some excerpts from the Archbishop of Canterbury's Easter Sermon:

With a bit of a sigh, we read about yet another legal wrangle over the right to wear a cross in public while engaged in professional duties; one more small but significant mark of what many Christians feel is a sustained effort to discriminate against them and render their faith invisible and impotent in the public sphere. One more mark of the curious contemporary belief that Christians are both too unimportant for their convictions to be worth bothering with and too dangerous for them to be allowed to manifest those convictions. ...

Why this strange mixture of contempt and fear towards the Christian faith? If you think of all the high-profile attacks on Christianity that have been published in recent years, you may wonder why those who shout most loudly about the irreversible decline of Christianity campaign so ferociously against something which, on their own account, is withering away. ...

But the New Testament suggests there may be something more at work when people fear the gospel and the cross. Our second reading today hints at this. As so often in these early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, St Peter underlines the fact that the resurrection of Jesus means that the one who was so decisively, annihilatingly, dismissed by the religious and political establishment of the time is the one who will decide the destiny of every human being. We shall all be judged by our response to him, to the divine and human person who has carried the cost of our mindless violence, our pride and self-satisfaction, our reluctance to face the truth. The court of final appeal in all human affairs is Christ; how we define ourselves in relation to him is a matter of life or death.

This is not about some fussy insistence on saying the right words and joining the right organization, as if St Peter were simply recruiting members for the Christian club. Jesus himself reminds us starkly in the gospel that we may be seeing him where we think we can't see him or don't know him – and that we may be failing to see him when we're making all the right noises about him. One day we are all going to discover in the presence of God who we are and how we stand with God, whether we can bear the presence of God for eternity; and in that moment of discovery, what will be crucial is how we have reacted to and understood the gift of God in the life and death of a man rejected and tortured to death.

Read it all.

And watch the Archbishop's reflections on Easter:

How Did the First Christians Understand Jesus' Resurrection?

New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado addresses this question in an article for Slate:

Easter Sunday represents the foundational claim of Christian faith, the highest day of the Christian year as celebration of Jesus' resurrection. But many Christians are unsure what the claim that Jesus had been raised to new life after being crucified actually means—while non-Christians often find the whole idea of resurrection bemusing and even ridiculous. ...

The ancient Jewish and early Christian idea of personal resurrection represented a new emphasis on individuals and the importance of embodied existence beyond the mere survival or enhancement of the soul, although there was debate about the precise nature of the post-resurrection body. ...

In the earliest expressions of their faith that we have, Christians claimed that Jesus' resurrection showed that God singled out Jesus ahead of the future resurrection of the dead to show him uniquely worthy to be lord of all the elect. ...

Historically ... how Christians have understood Jesus' "resurrection" says a lot about how they have understood themselves, whether they have a holistic view of the human person, whether they see bodily existence as trivial or crucial, and how they imagine full salvation to be manifested. Does salvation comprise a deliverance from the body into some sort of immediate and permanent postmortem bliss (which is actually much closer to popular Christian piety down the centuries), or does salvation require a new embodiment of some sort, a more robust reaffirmation of persons? This sort of question originally was integral to early Jewish and Christian belief in the resurrection. In all the varieties of early Christianity, and in all the various understandings of what his "resurrection" meant, Jesus was typically the model, the crucial paradigm for believers, what had happened to him seen as prototypical of what believers were to hope for themselves.

Read it all.

And watch Dr. Hurtado address the question, "How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?"

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Bells in Jerusalem

Hat tip to Scott over at Seven Whole Days.

Bishop N. T. Wright on the Resurrection

The following video is an excerpt from a DVD that "explores Tom Wright's critique of a popular theory in modern scholarship concerning the origins of belief in the resurrection of Jesus."

To learn more, read Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God.

Friday, April 2, 2010

In Our Place

The cross had to be carried and endured before it could be preached. Jesus came to be the sacrifice, not clarify the concept of sacrifice. He did not come to teach about the cross, but to be nailed to it. He came that there might be a gospel to preach.

Christianity proclaims not merely that Christ died, but that his death had significance for the otherwise apparently absurd course of human history. ...

Sin dug a gulf in a relationship. The cross bridged it. Sin resulted in estrangement. The cross reconciled it. Sin made war. The cross made peace. Sin broke fellowship. The cross repaired and restored it.

To atone is to reconcile a broken relationship on behalf of another. Atonement is viewed in Christianity not as a conceptual problem for human speculation, but an actual event in the history of divine-human covenant. The Christian teaching of atonement is not just about the general idea of dying for others, but about an actual, terrible, sacrificial death. It happened to a man from Nazareth on a particular hill on a particular day.

The significance of that death is not merely an expression of human violence and hatred, or of Jesus' moral courage. It accomplished an incomparable work of divine mercy for humanity.

The word the cross speaks is not a word we say to ourselves. It is a word that God speaks to us through an inescapably concrete, irreversible, disturbing event.

The heart of its meaning is confessed in the creed: he died for us. "He died" is a fact. "For us" is the meaning of that fact.

Thursday, April 1, 2010