whytheology

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Archive for the tag “easter”

The King has Come

Today we celebrate that the King has come.

Today we remember that his death was not the end.

Today we acknowledge that in his death we ourselves died, so that in his resurrection we ourselves will find life.

Today we reflect on the power and glory of his name.

Today we see the emptiness of the tomb.

Today we are commanded to “Make disciples” “through going, teaching, and baptizing.”

Today we marvel that God has become human.

Today we look forward to his arrival again.

Today, Yesterday, and Forever, the King is here and we praise his name.

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

Something that has really stuck with me about the account of the events of Good Friday was probably best summarized in a talk given by N.T. Wright. He begins talking about this question of authority that Jesus and Pilate had a conversation about (what amounted to his official trial). There’s quite a bit of background to this question that, in the talk I heard, Wright doesn’t really have time to get into. Essentially, Pilate is trying to ascertain whether Jesus is guilty of sedition, of trying overthrow the empire to establish his own Kingdom. It turns out, Jesus is 100% guilty of that charge, but not in the way that Pilate had suspected. The whole dialogue is spread of John 18 and 19.

Pilate asks if Jesus is a King. Jesus responds by asking why he would think such a thing. Heavily implied in Jesus’s response is that Pilate actually has no authority, but does as others ask him. Yet soon it comes about where we have a key line from Jesus “My Kingdom is not from this (ek tos) world.” This is not saying there is a kingdom and it exists somewhere, but not here. Instead, Jesus is boldly declaring that his kingdom does not arise out of this world. It comes from somewhere else. Because it comes from somewhere else, it will be achieved in a radically different way. Jesus is basically telling Pilate that the Kingdom is coming from God himself, and Jesus’s death will only accelerate its arrival. This is why Pilate tries to release him.

The crowd having none of it, Pilate tries to make him king, in a mocking sort of manner, and in the cruelest way possible. Pilate seeks to make him a king completely according to the ways of this world, through violence and insult. Yet it is to no avail. Instead the people remind Pilate of Jesus’s claim, he claimed to be “the Son of God.”

There is a heavy nuance we often miss today in our modern sensibility. Jesus’s claim to be the “Son of God” was not, exclusively, a claim to divinity. There are other, much more explicit passages about that (“I and the Father are one.” “Before Abraham was, I AM (ego eimi)”). Instead, it’s important to note that, by this time, the Roman emperor had taken on a very specific title: son of the gods. It is for this reason Pilate became terrified. This is a true and unmistakable revolution. It also leads Pilate back to touting his authority, rebellions must be squelched, after all.

It is here that Jesus reminds Pilate of what authority actually looks like. Pilate claims to have authority, but any authority he has “comes from above.” The dual meaning here is that it comes only from Caesar, who is in authority over Pilate, but also that it comes from God. That is if he has authority. As it turns out, Pilate does not act like one with authority. His wish, at that point, is to be done with Jesus and not to crucify him, yet he succumbs to the will of the people, those over whom he claims to have authority. Pilate wants to release Jesus, but that is in violation of his authority from Caesar. Still he wants to to release Jesus, but his authority is taken away by the crowds.

And it brings me back to this line from the lecture by N. T. Wright.

“Pilate and Jesus have this debate about authority and who has authority and where authority comes from. Pilate hands Jesus over to be crucified, and Jesus wins.”

Pilate cannot let it go, and must admit Jesus is King, because he acted with authority. And there, on the cross, he is inaugurated. The Kingdom of God has broken into our world. The sorrow of the Friday will turn to joy on the Sunday. But let us not skip over the sorrow too quickly.

The King is dead, long live the King.

The Cup

Today is Maundy Thursday. This is the day when the events of the “upper room” occurred. It is also the night of the Garden of Gethsemane and arrest of Jesus. Through this night the cup, used in passover, takes on a special significance. In this post, I’m going to attempt to briefly outline some of them.

Ancient Drinking Chalice

The Cup was a Marriage Proposal

In first century Jewish marriage proposals, wine took on a special significance. In the proposal, the tale end of it, after a marriage covenant was actually drawn up and agreed upon by the groom, father of the bride and the bride, it would be sealed with a toast between the groom and the bride. The groom would pour wine and offer it to his (hopefully soon-to-be) bride, with the promise that “This is a covenant in my blood” or something similar. To accept she would drink it. To reject the request (because hers was the final decision) she would simply return the cup.

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:20, NIV)

The Cup is a Promise

The groom, after such a proposal was accepted, would promise not to drink wine again until he saw the bride again, on their wedding day. He would then go to make a bridal suite ready, which was a room attached to his Father’s house. He would stock it and prepare it to make everything perfect, returning to take his bride for their wedding day at a time she would not expect, to foster a sense of expectation and excitement everyday that today would be the day she would see her groom coming for her. In the meantime, the bride to be was encouraged to regularly drink small amounts of wine, each time reminding her that her groom would be coming for her. Today could be the day.

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2-3, NIV)

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”
(Matthew 25:1-13, NIV)

29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. (Matthew 26:29, NIV)


do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19b)

The Cup is Also Tragic

Jesus directly prays that the cup he is to drink, the cup of death, will pass from him. This is an honest and human response. If there is ever any doubt that Jesus knows what it is like to be a human, here it is. It is only because he became incarnate as a frail, finite, person–the infinite in the finite–that we can have life in his name. Maundy Thursday reminds us to prepare ourselves for Good Friday. Without the death of the cross there is no resurrection of the dead. And in Christ’s dying, we ourselves die, so that by his rising, we may find life abundant.

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39, NIV)

The name “Maundy” comes from the Latin for commandment. We are commanded to love one another in the same way Christ loved us. Even when, or perhaps especially when, we don’t feel like it.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV)

Suggestions for a Lent study?

Last year, during the Lenten season, I developed something of a mini-bible study for weekdays on the book of Galatians (this despite the fact that I’m a Baptist and therefore don’t technically celebrate Lent). Anyway, many people told me they found it helpful or enjoyable or whatnot. While I am certainly praying about whether to do one this year, and what to do it on, I would like to open it up to suggestions. Galatians worked really well last year because it was small enough that it could be broken into manageable or bite-sized chunks, yet long enough that it could extend throughout the entire Lent season. So, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to do an entire study on Philemon (as that might be a bit thin), nor should we try to work through all of Isaiah (maybe part, or selections from Isaiah?). I’m open to possibly doing literature outside the bible, but am leaning toward another biblical study. These would likely just be added to what my regular posts are, and would likely appear in the morning, with the other posts showing up in the afternoon/evening.

So, with that in mind, do you have any ideas (or things you’d like to see) for a Lent time study (if you’re non-liturgical, just call it a Resurrection Sunday preparation study)? If so, please leave them in the comments.

Does the Resurrection provide an objective criteria for Christianity?

Let’s step right in with some heavy Science and Religion.

If you were following this blog before I left, you may recall a post (with a promised follow up that never happened until now) on the Resurrection. Specifically, I contest the claim offered by so many of the so-called “New Atheists” (and others like them) that Christianity has no clear objective criteria. The fact of the matter is that it does. What is more, the criteria is falsifiable: namely, the Resurrection of Jesus. The argument is simply this. If the Resurrection did not occur, I will–well not gladly– admit that Christianity is a lie, or a fool’s hope, or some combination of the two. If, however, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ did in fact occur as historical event, then the truth of Christianity, at least at its core message that Jesus was God who came to save us, cannot honestly be disputed. The question then becomes, is the Resurrection a satisfactory objective criteria?

Let’s look, briefly, at the history of science (which entails some philosophy of science) to possible help us out. In the early history of modern science (beginning, with Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, and Isaac Newton), scientists set about trying to prove that something was or wasn’t true with their own method. They would amass data and from that data put forth a theory that made sense of the data. If enough data was collected which conformed to the theory, then the theory was considered proven, and in some cases referred to as a physical law.

Karl Popper

This method was adopted until the beginning of the twentieth century. The first major problem was the failure of the positivist project, which I talked about here. The second major problem was a category mistake. If you’ve taken logic, you may recognize the scientific method as being primarily a form of inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning can never lead (validly) to universal claims, one needs deductive reasoning for that. Thus Karl Popper introduced (or re-introduced, depending on whom you ask) the concept of falsifiability. Deductively the observation of a number of white swans cannot move to the proposition that “All swans are white,” only that the number of white swans observed are, in fact, white. However, the statement “All swans are white” may be likely, and have a certain falsifiability to it. Indeed, when black swans were discovered in Australia (where else?), that hypothesis/theory proved wrong.

Later, the new criteria of reproducibility and the practice of verification were introduced to aid in other issues with different methodologies. However, it is a mistake to believe these other methodologies are universally applicable. There are certain historical events, which nevertheless are scientific or objective in the claims made about them, that are by their very nature non-reproducible and not subject to verification in laboratory experiment. One of the most discussed of these is the nature of the beginning of the universe. Evidence of it may be analyzed and even, with Super-Colliders (such as CERN) be reproduced. But the majority of what occurred is not subject to reproducibility. There are still other events, such as massive geological shifts, the history within evolutionary biology, and other such things that are not reproducible. Yet, they are not called “unscientific.” Instead, it is understood that they are objectively observable events that, due to their massive and historical nature, can only be analyzed today from the effects of them, whenever they occurred (or are presumed to have occurred).

Since the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a cosmic event upon which all of history turns (or rather, if it occurred it is of this sort), and it is necessarily historical in nature, it does not need to be reproducible to be objective (indeed such a claim is ridiculous). Instead it must meet two criteria to be objective. It must have effects and historical markers which can be analyzed, and it must be falsifiable. The historical markers are numerous, and there are many witnesses and writings which record the event, as well as the impact it has clearly made upon the world via the Church, an organization which the Resurrection established. It is also clearly falsifiable. Namely this: produce the body, or evidence that there was a body of Jesus that was not brought back to life and all of Christianity falls (well except that which follows in the line of Tillich or Bultmann, but that might scarcely be called Christianity). It was an historical event in the sense that anyone could have witnessed it, and it involved material things.

Note, though, that this is a different claim than one that says I can prove the Resurrection is true. Granted, I do believe the Resurrection is true, and even believe it can be shown to have likely occurred, but, as is the case with most historical events, I do not believe it can be absolutely proven until history ends (and Christ returns). That does not, however, change the fact that the Resurrection is itself either objectively true or false, and with it all of Christianity.

Also, this is not a claim, from the objective scientific/historical point of view, of whether God did or did not do it. That is a philosophical and theological claim (which does not mean it is not a description of reality, only that it is of a different sort). I am merely claiming that the objective claim of Christianity is that the historical person Jesus really existed, genuinely died on a Friday, and was genuinely brought back to life on a Sunday.

However, of all the possible interpretations of the resurrection event, if it occurred, the most likely is that God is the one who raised Jesus, and if so then the claims of Jesus could only be true. Rather than say that this aspect is unscientific, though, I would like to merely point out that the objective claims of science are often followed (usually immediately) by decidedly philosophical interpretations of those objective claims. If they did not, then nothing meaningful about the world could ever be made. For example, it doesn’t matter that 1 + 1 = 2 for the purpose of the world if it doesn’t have some correspondence to reality (i.e. that if you have one item and another item, putting them together yields two items). However, applying the mathematical concept of ‘1 + 1 =2’ to reality universally (and not just in this or that instance, but in all future instances yet to be encountered) is a philosophical, not objective, claim. However, because it is based on objective events, we consider it valid. My argument here is that the Resurrection functions in the same way as other scientific claims for the foundation of Christianity as a valid paradigm.

A Different Kind of…Everything

He is Risen!

This holy week I’ve been talking about how the events marked during this week change everything. Jesus instituted a different kind of revolution, a different kind of covenant relationship, and revealed himself as a different kind of king. The resurrection confirmed all of these things, and so much more. The resurrection, it turns out, changes everything.

I’m not going to take the time to argue about the historical veracity of the resurrection of Jesus. Those arguments have been made and will continue to be made. I will say a brief word about it, though (apologies if I get too technical, I’ll try to resist). Personally, I like the arguments for the historicity of the resurrection made by Wolfhart Pannenberg, but considering I’m doing my thesis work on him I’m probably not impartial. Nevertheless, Pannenberg seems to really understand the historical impact that the resurrection makes, and he makes two statements about it. First, the veracity of the Christian faith rises or falls with genuineness of the historical event of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Second, the resurrection of Jesus is the most historically verifiable event in all of history. Why is it thrown into question, then? Pannenberg astutely notes that the problem is not the evidence for the resurrection. Where the actual point of disagreement lies, whether acknowledged or not, is in the presuppositions. Simply put, there is a built in bias against the resurrection because it is assumed a priori (prior to any evidence) that people simply do not rise from the dead. If you have that as your starting point, then no amount of evidence will convince of the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. This, it seems, may have been the primary problem with the Jewish leaders and the resurrection.

To be clear, it is not that, aside from the relatively small group of Sadducees, the Jewish leaders denied that a resurrection would ever take place. Instead most Jews in the first century fully expected a resurrection of the dead to occur. They simply expected it to be an eschatological resurrection, one that Jesus himself preached. In fact, this may have been behind the early church’s anticipation that the end of the world was about to occur. If Jesus had been raised from the dead, along with certain other people, then the early church seemed to draw the conclusion that they were in the last days. This is also why it came as something of a shock when members of the congregation started to die and not immediately come back to life. What Pannenberg argues, though, is that the resurrection of Jesus is actually an eschatological event., despite the continuation of history long after it. In short, he says that at the resurrection, God interrupted the flow of time and brought the end of the world into the midst of our history. At the resurrection we see a glimpse of the world’s end, and it is overwhelming. The resurrection, then, means a number of things a few of which we can immediately identify and I will discuss, from this and from the gospel accounts.

He is Risen Indeed!

1) The resurrection changes death. While it is still appropriate to mourn for those who have died and to long to see them again, for the Christian, this mourning takes on a different meaning. In some ways mourning for a deceased loved one is more powerful and meaningful for the Christian, and in other ways it less brudensome for the Christian than the non-Christian. For the committed atheistic materialist, they may mourn for a loss, but their sorrow can only be selfish in nature (if they deny this, then they are not committed to materialism). In materialism there is no value in the person objectively, only in the value that the mourner perceives them to have selfishly. For the Christian, however, because a person’s death is not the end, it is appropriate and can be unselfish to mourn their death. Why? Because they are not temporary, but eternal, and they are valued by an eternal God. This can only mean that every person has objective value. Thus we can mourn out of a sense of longing, but in an appropriate manner (such as someone may long for justice or some other objectively valuable thing). And this longing will one day be fulfilled and so the sorrow felt at death is also somehow less burdensome.

On the flip side, our mourning isn’t as burdensome as the non-Christian because death does not have the same finality that it does for those outside the faith. As Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15, we do not mourn as those without hope. Instead death is “swallowed up in victory” and has lost its sting. This is very powerfully put, I think, in the final line of John Donne’s poem “Death be not Proud.”  Donne has said that despite the fact that death has many weapons in its arsenal and all people succumb to it, death is temporary. He concludes his meditation with the line: “And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.” There will come a day when death is no more and all will be life.

2) The resurrection changes life. Jesus said he came that we would have life and have it abundantly. This is a life that begins in the here and now. This isn’t for “someday” yet to come, but now. The truth is, until you meet Christ you are already dead. The majority of the world is walking around not living. They have not yet grasped the life that is truly life. They are still dead in the trespasses and sins, without freedom and without hope. But in Christ, who allows us to truly love, we are able to move from death to life. This is only possible because our deaths are somehow thrown on to his death. By uniting ourselves to Christ in his death, so we are united with him in his rising again. And that resurrected life begins now. We put to death our sinful nature, that binds and traps us, and put on the holiness that only comes from a resurrected and living God. The resurrection changes life here and now.

3) The resurrection changes the world. If the resurrection is the entrance of God’s future into the midst of human history, then the very nature of time is turned all around. That means that God’s future, is not only assured already, but is in some way already here. The kingdom of God has already been established. The time of us meeting God and having him as the light of our city is now. God in Christ has risen victorious over the grave not only to assure us of a final victory, but to actually win that final victory. As Jesus said multiple times “a time is coming and is now here.” The reign of Satan, death, and all kinds of evil is over. The reign of God has begun, and with it his transforming power. The resurrection is a call to take part in that transformation of the world and to tell others about its impact.

While the death of Christ may be met with somberness and quietness appropriate a personal encounter, the resurrection is too public to be ignored. The gospel account of Matthew leads directly into a commissioning. King Jesus is sending out his ambassadors into the uttermost parts of the world. There are given a single task: make disciples. It is an interesting juxtaposition to put the language of a royal commissioning up against the term “disciples.” Jesus does not say “make subjects” on one extreme or “make believers” on the other. He declares that true resurrection power is found only for the disciple, the one who follows, not merely agrees with a statement of facts, but one who does so willingly, not because they are somehow forced into it. This is the way that King Jesus will change the world, through his disciples. And it is a different kind of war, not one that tries to subjugate others, but seeks them as a friend to journey and learn alongside us as we follow Jesus. This is how the world is changed: through the church, through you and me, through the resurrection, and finally by the return of the resurrected Jesus. This is because Jesus, through the resurrection, changes everything. This post has only begun to scratch the surface of the lasting impact because Jesus’ resurrection is the point on which all history turns and on the other side of it we can see a different kind of everything.

What do you think? What other things does the resurrection change? Has the power of the resurrection been present in your life?

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