Friday, June 17, 2016

The 2016-17 Horizons Bible Study "Who is Jesus? - a continuing review-"According to Luke"

from the catacombs of Rome fourth cent.

Reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s the Lord of the Rings, one finds many characters, such as Gandalf or Aragorn, who are not always who they seem. They are mysterious and multidimensional personalities, but if their whole being was not, eventually, revealed in the stories, the stories would not qualify to be truth as it is understood by Tolkien.[1] Jesus, who is Truth, is multidimensional, he is teacher and prophet and king. But above all he is God incarnate and Lord of the Church.

Judy Yates Siker, author of the Presbyterian Women’s 2016-2017 Bible Study, “Who is Jesus? : What a Difference a Lens Makes,” in the lesson “According to Luke” focuses mainly on Luke 4:16-30. This is the story of Jesus’ reading prophetic texts in the synagogue in Nazareth. He speaks of himself as the fulfillment of those words, which combine some of Isaiah 61 and 58.[2] Siker sees Luke presenting Jesus as God’s prophet.  And yet, although he is a prophet like Moses, (see Dt. 18:15 & Acts 7:35-37), in Luke, as in the other gospels, he is so much more.

Siker, looking at Luke 4:16-30 including Jesus’ rejection by the people of Nazareth, writes:

‘This, in a nutshell, is the story of Jesus in Luke, a prophet of God, rejected by his own, as so many other prophets of old had been rejected. What we see here, and what we will see throughout the Gospel of Luke, is a Jesus who comes in line with the prophets who have come before him and whose ministry reaches (eventually) beyond the Jews to the Gentiles. While this doesn’t happen in Luke’s Gospel as much as in Acts, Luke uses the story of Jesus as a prophet to carry the story from the Hebrew Bible to Jesus and the Church.”

Siker uses her focus on Jesus as prophet to emphasize his ministry to the outsider, the poor, the oppressed, the Gentile. This is not wrong. Jesus came to minister to broken people. He came to save sinners, But Jesus, in Luke, is more than the prophet of God. In fact, E. Earle Ellis in his commentary points out that in the ninth chapter of Luke, the transfiguration, God rebukes Peter because he equates Jesus with Moses and Elijah. Suggesting that they build a booth for all three.[3]

Instead, God states, “This is my Son, My chosen One, listen to him.”

These are the words that truly clarify “who Jesus is” in the gospel of Luke. Additionally, the prophet John, as his father Zacharias states, goes before the Lord, to prepare his way. (1:76)  The angel’s words to Mary should be added, “He will be great and be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and his kingdom will have no end.” (1:32-33)

Of the words that Jesus appropriates for himself in the Isaiah texts, at one point amid the skeptics at Nazareth who question why Jesus has not performed any signs among them, Ellis writes:

“The original perspective of Isaiah’s prophecy was deliverance from political oppression. Its messianic fulfillment has a much vaster scope. It is a personal and cosmic deliverance from the power of sin and of death. Demonic possession and sickness are visible manifestations of these powers. Therefore the ‘signs’ of Jesus’ ministry are pre-eminently exorcism and healing.”  

Siker ends her study with reference to a text with which she uses to begin that part of her study that focuses on the question ‘who is Jesus.’ It is part of Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:22-24; 32-36. It contains the reference to the Psalm where David states, “The Lord said to my Lord. ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”  It also contains the end of Peter’s sermon, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” This is who Jesus is.

Without commenting on Peter’s words except to say that Luke also uses this to answer the question of who Jesus is, Siker writes that she will return to the text at the end of her study. This is what she writes at the end of her study:

“Because we are able to see the rest of the story in the book of Acts, we have a picture of Jesus that is fuller in many ways than in the other Gospels. Here, as the disciples gather at Pentecost (Acts 2) we are able to see how, according to Luke, God keeps God’s promise to Israel and pours out upon the disciples (Now Apostles!) God’s spirit. This is the same spirit that came upon Mary, that animated Jesus throughout his ministry, that brought healing and compassion to the outcast, that Jesus gave up to God at his death and that now has been poured out by the risen Jesus upon his followers (and us).”(Italics mine)

Siker goes on to write of our continuing ministry to the outcast, as she puts it, “this prophetic ministry of preaching the good news of inclusion of the outcast, this challenging message to all insiders to be attentive to the outsiders among us.”

In these statements are several problems. The first is that Siker returns to the text that points to Jesus as Lord, but doesn’t comment on the identification. One problem may be editorial, but it is none the less a problem. If Siker is speaking of the ‘spirit’ as the Holy Spirit then Spirit should be capitalized because the Holy Spirit is one of the persons of the Trinity.

One problem is a muddle. Siker says the ‘spirit’ is the same ‘spirit’ “that Jesus gave up to God at his death.” That is where Jesus states, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” That is not the Holy Spirit.  It simply means that Jesus gave up his life. Augustine put it this way, “He gave up his life because he willed it, when he will it, and as he willed it.”[4]

The final problem is the dismal process of reducing the good news to news of inclusion and a wariness that insiders not neglect outsiders. It is certainly true that the good news brings the wanderer home. And it is true that we all must be attentive to those who are on the margins of society. But this is not the good news. The good news is that Jesus Christ, who is fully human and fully God, entered our human world to live for us, die for us and be resurrected. Because of his love we who had no hope, no forgiveness, no joy, now hope in Christ Jesus, are forgiven by him and live in his joy. We have the promise of forever in his presence.

 

 



[1] See J.R.R. Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Fairy-Stories
[2] E. Earle Ellis, The New Century Bible Commentary; The Gospel of Luke, reprint (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans  1991)
[3]Ibid.  Ellis, Century, 143.
[4] Found in Vincent’s Word Studies of the New Testament, Synoptic Gospels, reprint of 1886  (Mclean, Virginia: McDonald Publishing Company  no date) 145.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The 2016-17 Horizons Bible Study "Who is Jesus? - a continuing review-"According to Matthew"


AMatthias Stom's depiction of Jesus before Caiaphas, c. 1630.
If a biblical lesson starts off with a false assumption about the text the whole text is inadequately explained. The second lesson of the Presbyterian Women’s Bible study, Who is Jesus? What a Difference a Lens Makes, begins with a half-truth. The lesson, “According to Matthew,” written by Judy Yates Siker, is written around the assumption that the Jewish community and the Christian community were in conflict with each other because of the fall of Jerusalem.

 In the midst of the crisis Siker believes each community was attempting to find their identity minus the sacrificial system.  The Jewish community found their identity in the Law while the Christian community found their identity in Jesus and his interpretation of the law

Siker’s point is that Matthew and the community he was writing for were involved in a debate and the Christian side of the debate involved “derogatory remarks and venomous hate speech” which the author of the text placed in Jesus’ mouth. The words of the Jews at the trial of Jesus, that his blood should be on them and their children, is also blamed on the crisis of the community rather than the truth of history. Siker puts it this way:

 “As we noted at the beginning of this lesson, the Gospel of Matthew was written at a time when there was great turmoil among the Jews; the temple at Jerusalem had recently been destroyed for a second (and final) time, and the Jews were struggling to determine for themselves what it meant to be a good Jew in the wake of this disaster. There were those who believed that even without the temple (and thus the sacrificial system) it was possible to remain strong in their faith because they had the Torah and could not only survive, but thrive, by living in accordance with God’s revealed law. They did not believe that the messiah had come. We call them non-messianic Jews.[1] There were however, others who believed that the messiah had come—Jesus of Nazareth—and that he had fulfilled the Jewish law, he had offered the definitive understanding of the law; thus, through belief in him and his teachings, Jewish faith could flourish. We call these Messianic Jews.”

Siker goes on to explain that the non-messianic Jews evolved into rabbinic Judaism while the Messianic Jews became Christians. She writes that we are looking at an “in-house debate” and “sibling rivalry.” Siker’s explanation, “the mistake that many Christians have made over the centuries is to take the in-house Jewish debate from the first century, adopt its animosity and use it to denigrate the Jews across time. The misuse of our Scripture has resulted in centuries of anti-Semitism, culminating with the horrors of the Holocaust.”

While Siker’s concerns about hatred of the Jews are valid and compassionate, her understanding of the text and history is very confusing and wrong. It is a tangle that needs undoing.

First, while Rabbinic Judaism did evolve from the crisis of the loss of the temple, the conflict between Jew and Christian was really a conflict about who Jesus is, not about Jewish identity.

Second, Jesus’ words to the religious rulers of his day was in the long line of the Jewish prophets. Malachi, who was of the priestly line himself, shames the priests of his day insisting they despise the name of the Lord. He even tells them that God will spread refuse (manure) on their faces because they offer blemished sacrifices and do not honor God. Ezekiel, after God shows him the evil committed by the religious rulers in Jerusalem, including the priests, has him listen to the proclamations of their death by the hand of an angel. Isaiah and Jeremiah include the religious leaders in their prophetic judgments.

In the end Jesus wept over Jerusalem because of their rejection of his offer of salvation. The text is not hate speech but rather in the line of the prophetic word of the Jewish Bible.

Third, although too many people have misused the words of scripture against the Jewish people it was, in reality, those in the liberal tradition in Germany who combined their disbelief with a radical nationalism and helped to persecute the Jews to their death. They also, like many progressives today, did not uphold the authority of scripture. They also had texts that they tried to explain away.

All of this takes the focus away from who Jesus is. Siker rightly sees him, in Matthew, as a teacher like Moses. The book is written to the Jews. But there is so much more.

R.T. France in his Tyndale commentary on Matthew[2] writes of Matthews theological emphases:

“The essential key to all of Matthew’s theology is that in Jesus all God’s purposes have come to fulfillment. That is, of course, true of all New Testament theology, but it is emphasized in a remarkable way in Matthew. Everything is related to Jesus. The Old Testament points forward to him; its law is ‘fulfilled’ in his teaching; he is the true Israel through whom God plans for his people to go forward; the future no less than the present is to be understood as the working out of the ministry of Jesus. History revolves around him, in that his coming is the turning point at which the age of preparation gives way to the age of fulfillment. Matthew leaves no room for any idea of the fulfillment of God’s purposes, whether for Israel or in any other respect, which is not focused in this theme of fulfillment in Jesus. In his coming a new age has dawned; nothing will ever be quite the same again.”

And France sees in Matthew several answers to who Jesus is. Matthew uses Messiah, Son of David, Son of Man, King and Son of God. But he uses them carefully that they might be filled with the additional understanding of one who is crucified for the sins of his people. And so that they might be seen as titles connected to the one who fulfills God’s purposes which means that several of them such as Son of Man has been enlarged.




[1] This must surely bother any Jewish person reading the lesson because the Jews of the time, although they rejected Jesus as the messiah did look for a messiah.
[2] R.T. France, Matthew, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Leon Morris, General Editor, reprint,  (Intervarsity Press, 2008).

Monday, May 16, 2016

The 2016-17 Horizons Bible Study "Who is Jesus? - a continuing review-"According to Mark"


“… the high priest was questioning him and saying to him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed one? ‘And Jesus said, ‘I am, and you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.’” Mark 14: 61b-62)

Picture by Ethan McHenry
One of the causes of error in the church is an emphasis on one truth with neglect or rejection of other truths. This too often occurs because Christians fail to consider the paradoxes of faith. For example when we think of Jesus’ victory and the coming of the kingdom we rightly think of the words, ‘already—not yet.’ The kingdom has come because of Jesus’ death and resurrection but it is not yet fully here until the bodily return of Jesus. That is a paradox. Again the incarnation, Jesus fully human and fully God is a paradox.

The first lesson in the Presbyterian Women’s Bible study, Who is Jesus? What a difference a Lens Makes, looks at the gospel of Mark. There are beautiful truths here—that Jesus as the messiah is the suffering servant, and that as the suffering servant he is able to help us in our suffering. But there is a paradox that is ignored. The suffering servant, the messiah, is also the Coming Son of Man.

And, in fact, Judy Yates Siker writes:

“The Jewish expectations of ‘the messiah’ included one who would be king in a future age, when there was peace, and ranged from ideas about a political figure who would restore Israel to a position of power to a cosmic figure (as in Daniel 7) who would come in on the clouds of heaven, or a priestly figure. Clearly, for many Jews at the time of Jesus, Jesus did not fit any of these categories.” P. 17

While it is true that many Jews did not see the messiah as a suffering messiah and were horrified to think that the messiah would die like a common criminal, the gospel of Mark does not fail to inform the reader that Jesus is not only the suffering servant and Son of God. He is also the Coming One. The One who’s coming is glorious.

It matters not that Jesus’ family, disciples, and enemies did not understand him and often rejected him, Mark gives a complete picture of Jesus’ identity. A picture that does not contradict the other gospels.

Jesus, in the gospel of Mark often refers to himself as ‘the Son of Man.” In some cases his self-identity as the Son of Man clearly includes his divinity.

 Biblical scholar George Eldon Ladd, in his book A Theology of the New Testament, provides a whole chapter on the Son of Man texts in the gospels. He divides them into three categories. “The use of the Son of Man in the synoptics falls into three distinct categories: the Son of Man on earth serving; the Son of Man in suffering and death; the Son of Man in eschatological glory.”

All three are in Mark. The last category, the eschatological Son of Man in glory is found at Mark 8:38, “When he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels;” Mark 13:26, “They will see the Son of Man coming with clouds and great glory.”; and Mark 14:62—see above.[1]

Mark’s perspective does emphasize the suffering servant but it does not preclude Jesus as the coming Lord of glory. And the fact that Jesus the suffering servant is identified as Jesus the coming Son of Man enhances his identity and lifts up the Christian’s call to service and suffering. Jesus is always the Lion who is the lamb who was slain—who purchased, with his blood—people from every tribe and tongue, nation and ethnicity. (Rev. 5)

Siker, at the end of the first lesson, writes: “So, who is Jesus according to Mark? He is the suffering Son of God, and he will meet you in your suffering.” And so he will. But still in another place writing of Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane, Siker refers to Jesus as “The Jesus in this story …” But there is not a different Jesus for each gospel. There is instead Jesus, absolute, seen from different perspectives, yes, but always the same.   Trustworthy because he is the same, yesterday, today, forever.



[1] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, fourth printing (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 1979) See the chapter on The Son of Man 145-158.

 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The 2016-17 Horizons Bible Study "Who is Jesus? - a continuing review- the introduction


I am beginning a review of The Presbyterian Women’s 2016-2017, Bible study, “Who is Jesus? : What a Difference a Lens Makes. Although this is a study written and published by a women’s organization connected to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and I now belong to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, there are good reasons to do the review. A large group of ecumenical women use the study, in fact, there is a copy published, in particular, for women in other mainline churches. More importantly several years ago PW officially allowed those women whose churches had left the PCUSA to still maintain their PW status within their new denominations. If they do exist they may be studying this material.

This first review will entail looking at the introduction with its basic premises about Christology and what different ways of looking at Jesus involves and produces. I also will look at some of the suggestions for leaders worksheet found in the back of the study.

In attempting to look at—not answer—the question “who is Jesus,” Judy Yates Siker, the author divides the first four chapters into the four New Testament gospels. She then, in the following chapters, looks at some of the writings of Paul, extra biblical literature not included in the canonization of the New Testament, and views about Jesus within the Jewish community and within the Moslem Qur’an. Finally she looks at contemporary cultural interpretations. The final chapter is meant to apply to the cultural views within the church.

While there is good material in the study there are two errors that cause the study to be extremely problematic. The first is Siker’s understanding of Christology in its relationship to Scripture. The second error is a failure to accept that there is a revelation of Jesus Christ in Scripture that is, taken as a whole, complete and unchangeable.

Finally although it does not contaminate the whole study there is a theological error in one of the study worksheets which may not have been intentional but nonetheless kills any correct view of who Jesus is. I will return to that at the end of this review.

Christology: Siker explains Christology in the New Testament using her understanding of a High Christology versus a low Christology. She defines those terms in this way:

“High Christology is one in which the emphasis is on the divinity of Jesus; that is, Jesus is God in human form. Low Christology puts the emphasis on Jesus’ humanity; that is, Jesus is a human in whom God chose to dwell. Most of our definitions (if we attempt to define Jesus identity at all) fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.”

Siker applies her definitions to the gospels. The synoptic gospels have a low Christology and John a high Christology. Siker points out that the words high & low for this are not a matter of superior or inferior and yet, perhaps she should do so. Here is the problem:

A high Christology is a Christology that is superior in that it not only emphasizes the divinity of Jesus but also affirms the humanity of Jesus. It is a balanced account of the person of Jesus, fully God and fully human. Think of the creed of Chalcedon. A fence is placed around the person of Jesus Christ and there are some things that cannot be said. A low Christology does fail to uphold Jesus’ divinity.

While the Gospel of John and the writings of Paul give a more direct and straight forward picture of Jesus’ divinity they also are very clear about the humanity of Jesus.  Matthew, Mark and Luke give very practical understandings of Jesus’ humanity, but in terms of his miracles, wisdom and even his actions they clearly picture Jesus as God. Who can still the raging waves but God? (Matthew 8) Who can forgive sin but God? (Mark 2) Who can raise the dead but God? (Luke 7)

Larry W. Hurtado, author of Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, in a comment on his blog explains first that Mark was not writing a Christology, but then Hurtado writes these helpful thoughts:

“But certainly Mark reflects and presumes a very “high” view of Jesus. E.g., the opening lines effectively make Jesus the “Lord” whose paths are prepared for by the Baptist. And at various points Jesus is pictured as heralded by demons who (unlike the humans in the story) perceive his transcendent significance. And Jesus acts in ways that allude to YHWH in the OT (e.g., walking on the waves and calming them).”

One of the troubling aspects of Siker’s way of looking at Christology affects a worksheet in the back of the study. The worksheet divides up the four gospels under categories including “More human” and “More divine.” Readers are expected to decide which gospels see Jesus as more human and which as more divine. Nothing in this study is more troubling than asking Christian women to state whether a biblical gospel presents Jesus as more human or more divine. Jesus’ person is never divided in that manner.

The unchanging Jesus: The second error has to do with the whole biblical picture of Jesus. Siker in attempting to look at the different perspectives of the biblical writers fails to place alongside that the truth that there is a biblical picture that is whole and does not change with different perspectives. Yes, different New Testament writers did write from different perspectives but they did not change the absoluteness of the person of Jesus.

While Siker presents some very clear and devout pictures about what various writers teach about Jesus, she leaves open the possibilities of optional answers to the question “Who is Jesus.” Siker is loyal to each author she writes about, but seems to toss them aside with each new text and new author. In the last chapter on contemporary cultural interpretations Siker offers scholarship that questions Jesus’ sinless nature.   When presenting the lesson on the non-canonical gospels she praises them for their ability to teach about diversity.

The question “Who is Jesus” is never clearly answered.

Explaining Jesus: fully God, fully human:  In a worksheet meant to teach how one states the biblical understanding of Jesus as both God and human the author or perhaps the editors use poor wording. There is a list of statements one is to choose from. On another page all but one of the statements, the last one, is shown as being in error and the heresy it contains is named. The last one is meant to be correct—but this is what it says:

“Jesus is made of the same “stuff” as God the Father.”

The answer states “Yes. This is what the Nicene Creed says: “… being of one substance with the Father …”

But what else does the creed say, “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father …” (Italics mine.)

Yes the creed does go on to say that in His incarnation Jesus was made man but that is how and why he is fully human. We can say that in his humanity Jesus was made or in his divinity he was begotten of the Father. Or we can say that Jesus Christ was begotten of the Father and made man in his incarnation. But we cannot say that Jesus was made of the same stuff as God the Father.

There is one more problem. The sentence “Jesus is made of the same “stuff” as God the Father,” implies, unintentionally I know, that God the Father is made of “stuff.” This makes “stuff” higher then God. The creeds were worked out with great care. In most cases it is important that we simply use the words of the creed. “… being of one substance with the Father.”

In the continuing weeks I will review each lesson separately.

 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Paul Kivel and his challenge to the Church of Jesus Christ


In the early 20th century and beyond dark and atrocious tales were told about a people who intentionally controlled the world through various avenues such as banking and business. All evil was attributed to the Jews and their history was fictionalized. This led to genocide, the killing of 6 million people. But this posting is not about the Jews but about Christians. Paul Kivel, a workshop speaker, who continues to lecturer at the White Privilege Conferences, offers the same kind of scenario for Christians. He believes Christians are the cause of most existing evil. Kivel calls it ‘Christian Hegemony.’

Kivel in fact has a project called, “Challenging Christian Hegemony.”  On his site there are various articles and videos explaining his views. He writes about his definition of Christian hegemony, stating:

“I define Christian hegemony as the everyday, pervasive, and systematic set of Christian values and beliefs, individuals and institutions that dominate all aspects of our society through the social, political, economic, and cultural power they wield. Nothing is unaffected by Christian hegemony (whether we are Christian or not) including our personal beliefs and values, our relationships to other people and to the natural environment, and our economic, political, education, health care, criminal/legal, housing, and other social systems.

Christian hegemony as a system of domination is complex, shifting, and operates through the agency of individuals, families, church communities, denominations, parachurch organizations, civil institutions, and through decisions made by members of the ruling class and power elite.

Christian hegemony benefits all Christians, all those raised Christian, and those passing as Christian. However the concentration of power, wealth, and privilege under Christian hegemony accumulates to the ruling class and the predominantly white male Christian power elite that serve its interests. All people who are not Christian, as well as most people who are, experience social, political, and economic exploitation, violence, cultural appropriation, marginalization, alienation and constant vulnerability from the dominance of Christian power and values in our society.”

Kivel also explains his concepts in a video:




These videos of Kivel lecturing at the Pacific School of Religion are on his project site. In them he attempts to say that he is not attacking Christianity nor is his concern about Christian beliefs. And yet he attacks some of the most important biblical teachings of the Church. For instance, in one video he attacks the biblical view of humanity’s sinfulness and need for a savior. He adds to this his disdain for the Christian view that Jesus is the only way to salvation.

In several other videos he gives a history of Christianity touching on all the events he finds evil. Kivel points to some truly evil times in Christianity, such as the inquisition, but most of his “facts” are false. Kivel’s lecture on Christian history is filled with misunderstandings, misstatements and falsehoods.

One misunderstanding is that Christianity is related to Manicheism and holds to the same types of cosmic battle between good and evil. But no, the biblical God is sovereign and has already, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, won the battle. Biblically there is no concern about losing to an evil force; that idea belongs strictly to Manicheism.

Kivel speaks about the Crusades highlighting only the evil that various smaller groups caused. He fails to comprehend the whole history of the Crusades. They were, at first, a defense against a militant Islam which ruled much of the Middle East by means of war. A good comprehensive history of the Crusades has been written by Thomas F. Madden for Christianity Today. Madden is associate professor and chair of the Department of History at Saint Louis University. He has written The New Concise History of the Crusades.

In his 2005 article, “The RealHistory of the Crusades,” Madden explains the reason for the first crusade. He writes:

“With enormous energy, the warriors of Islam struck out against the Christians shortly after Mohammed's death. They were extremely successful. Palestine, Syria, and Egypt—once the most heavily Christian areas in the world—quickly succumbed. By the eighth century, Muslim armies had conquered all of Christian North Africa and Spain. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks conquered Asia Minor (modern Turkey), which had been Christian since the time of St. Paul. The old Roman Empire, known to modern historians as the Byzantine Empire, was reduced to little more than Greece. In desperation, the emperor in Constantinople sent word to the Christians of western Europe asking them to aid their brothers and sisters in the East.

That is what gave birth to the Crusades. They were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world. At some point, Christianity as a faith and a culture had to defend itself or be subsumed by Islam. The Crusades were that defense.”

Madden goes on to write about the terrible killing of the Jews by some crusaders and how both Pope, Bishop and preachers condemned it, in particular focusing on St. Bernard of Clairvaux. He writes of the tragic events that led to the misguided and horrific ruin of Constantinople by some crusaders which hardened the rift between the Christians of the East and the West. Unlike Kivel, Madden explains history from the biblical understanding that humanity is broken on everyone’s side.

Kivel suggests that the Holocaust was caused by Christianity, when in reality it occurred within the combined forces of German cultural paganism, extreme nationalism and a progressive Christianity that accommodated the culture of the time. In another place, Kivel, using a picture insert and one paragraph, attempts to use Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth as good examples of those who stood against Christian hegemony during the Nazi era.

What Kivel seems ignorant of is that Bonhoeffer, Barth and the Confessing Church stood against the secularism of the schools and the use of sports and other youth activities to draw young people away from church. They decried the various kinds of public pagan rituals that the Nazi government used to replace the rituals of the church. Kivel, undoubtedly, has not read the Theological Declaration of Barmen, with these words:

“We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but o other lords—areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him. (8.15)

Kivel gives a list of some of the parachurch groups that he believes are fueling Christian hegemony. And he doesn’t seem to make a distinction between a denomination and a parachurch organization. For instance, he lists World Vision and the Episcopalian Church, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Christians United for Israel, the Southern Baptist Convention and Christian Hospitals. As the reader can see he condemns anything that is Christian!

How does Kivel believe that Christian hegemony should be challenged? For Christian allies some of his suggestions are:

“* Examine how you may have internalized judgments about yourself based on Christian teachings. Have you cut yourself off from your body, from natural expressions of your sexuality or spirituality or from connections to the natural world?”

“* Work for religious pluralism, and support the separation of church and state.”

“* Avoid assuming other people you meet are Christian - or should be, and challenge missionary programs.”

The most I can find in writing or video about challenging Christian hegemony from the position of a non-Christ is this video:
 



Some of these ideas assume what is not true. Importantly, ideas about not bringing the good news to those of other faiths are anti-Christian. This is truly the great challenge that Christianity faces—evangelizing the lost peoples of this world. In the face of all opposition it most continue.

Of course the other challenge is learning how to live faithfully in the midst of a nation that is now rushing toward the scenario that Kivel and others are preparing. The promise is “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 38-39)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Church, monsters and the work of Jesus



… but a dreadful change was coming over her. Her body was writhing into curves and knots where she lay, as if cramps, convulsed her. Her mouth was open. But she could not scream: her hands were clutching at her twisted throat. In her wide eyes there was now no malice, only an agony, and gradually all her body and head were drawn up backwards from the floor by an invisible force, so that from the hips she remained rigidly upright and her legs lay stretched straight out behind her upon the ground, as if a serpent in human shape raised itself before him. …

He looked back, wordlessly calling on the Maker and End of all created energies.”
Friedrich Johann Justin Bertuch, the mythical creature dragon, 1806

Charles Williams, The Place of The Lion

 

Over the last two days I’ve seen links to an article about a man who at first attempted to make himself a woman and has now attempted to make himself a dragon.  First, blogger, Matt Walsh, linked to the article on Twitter with the sarcastic words, “So courageous. So beautiful. So inspiring,” and a link, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3524063/Transgender-woman-Eva-Tiamat-Medusa-ears-nose-removed-dragon-lady.html … But I didn’t catch the sarcasm and followed the link. Sad, scary and horrific. Then I saw it linked to at ChurchandWorld. I didn’t go there again it would still be sad, scary and horrific. Terribly in need of Jesus’ redemptive work since the person, and he is a person, has attempted, in reality, to erase the image of God within himself.

The road before the Church today has become lonely and dark. It is loaded with questions. Not only how do we keep men out of women’s bathrooms, how do we keep monsters away from children’s reality. And the more important question, how do we present the love of Christ to those who, in their own persons, are opening the door to the monsters. Greater still, how do we hold on to faith and integrity while at the same time withstanding the awful darkness of our culture and that for the sake of those who are caught in the culture.

The real enemies here are not so much the LGBTQ community, but governments, corporations and organizations. And of course leading them and urging them on are the powers, the world forces of darkness and spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)  Satan in all of his vileness wishes to damage the image of God in humanity. Against this Christians are called to stand.

Jesus Christ, in his life, death and resurrection offers transformations to such broken hurting people. One beautiful story, told by perhaps the greatest story teller of all, C.S. Lewis, is of the boy turned into a dragon, against his wishes, but because he acted somewhat like a dragon. In The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader,” it is Aslan, Lewis’ image of Jesus, who releases Eustace from his dragon captivity.

After attempting to scratch himself out of his dragon skin Eustace finally understands that it is Aslan who must take away the old skin and make him a new boy again. Aslan washes him and dresses him. And this is a clue, it is Jesus, only Jesus, who tears away the fallen-ness of our humanity. It is Jesus who washes us clean and sanctifies us by his grace. It is Jesus who will be with us on this lonely and dark road. Here is our calling and here is salvation for those who are so broken.

For consider your calling brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen the things that are not, so that he may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by his doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

One can see now, in the word of God, the worst sinner can be forgiven, given righteousness and transformation in Jesus. At the same time our calling is secure in the work of Christ. There is no darkness that can out run the graciousness of God for the repentant sinner. Nor is there any enemy who can cancel God’s work in his world or his Church. In these desperate evil days God will use even our weakness to glorify himself.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Jesus is risen!


 

He is alive and he is our life. Jesus has overcome death, and hidden in him, we also live. He is in the heavenly realm having authority over all that is created. And we are kept and protected within His authority. This is the morning—not the night—we may rejoice in our risen Savior!

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Col. 3:1-4)