Preparing My Palate During Lent (Jeff Cook)

Whenever I look for a God, I encounter Jesus.

Many of my friends and colleagues will tease that when I believe, all I am doing is putting faith in an ancient book, but of course that’s not how I get there. When I scan the philosophies about God, when I look for a narrative driving history, when I encounter a personality in my prayers, when I simply ask, “If there was a God what would it look like?”—they move me toward Jesus.

My own conversion didn’t hinge on a bunch of religious experiences. I moved back toward Jesus when I studied, really for the first time, his personality—his magnetically keen personality and the kinds of decisions he made at the end of his life. When looking at those details I not only said, “Yes, this God is real,” but better still, “Yes, and I want this God to be real.”

That’s my move and I don’t apologize for my desires. In fact, I’m inclined to say that in both the search for God, and in our continuing sanctification, our desires matter more than anything else.

A common failure in most contemporary apologetics is the disregard of a person’s passions. Too often the philosopher in us wants to rationally establish the un-deniability of our position. We lay out our arguments in ways that cover any foreseen objections, and we pitch our worldview as the appropriate end to a long series of rational calculations. That’s not a bad thing, but it misses something vital.

The final events of Jesus life are a tour de force that cannot be analyzed like a Sudoku puzzle. They are much more like a symphony to experience with awe and unspeakable appreciation. Jesus of Nazareth mastered the art of transforming his world unlike anyone else before or after, and vital to becoming (and remaining) a Christian is the preparation of one’s self to appreciate and consume the unceasing brilliance of his life and methods.

Lent, among so many other things, ought to prepare our palate. We need to become the kind of person—the kind of people—who crave this reality, this kind of kingdom, this kind of King. An appetite for divine fare is not necessarily natural to any of us (who really wishes to pick up their own cross?). In whatever practices we choose during this new Lent, we ought to target becoming the kinds of people who can honor and enjoy and consume and live within the masterpiece our God offers.

I’m releasing a short book on the crucifixion today called King. It’s a dollar. I offer it as a brief Lenten reflection. When I became a Christian again, nine years ago, this material more than anything moved my heart and reminded me what kind of God Jesus is.

King: the Subversive Life and Death of Jesus (2012) is available on eBook. Physical copies will be available at amazon.com next week.

Jeff teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado. He is the author of Seven: the Beatitudes and Deadly Sins (Zondervan 2008) and the upcoming Everything New: One Philosopher Search for a God Worth Believing In (Subversive 5.27.2012). www.everythingnew.org

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • RJS

    Nice Jeff. Thanks.

  • Susan N.

    Jeff, you write and speak of Jesus and your faith in Him with such an honest and clear voice that it reads like poetry. Thanks for sharing your gift. It’s been a blessing here on Jesus Creed blog at various points in my participation.

  • http://www.novuslumen.net Jeremy Bouma

    Jeff,

    Now I know why Shane Hipps endorsed the book from which this ebook is comes…

    Do I understand your position, rightly, Jeff? That the cross, for you, is the ultimate symbol of love and the “everlasting kind of life”? That the power of the cross lies in showcasing Jesus’ cruciform life, the climax of his revolutionary, insurgent life? Jesus’ death showcases the love God has for humanity?

    If so, what does the death of Jesus actually *do* for humanity? Why is his death even necessary? Why was it necessary that Jesus was put to death, as opposed to simply dying of old age after living and modeling a life of love, like say, Ghandi?

  • CGC

    Thanks Jeff,
    This really spoke powerfully to me. Desire/s is something we need to reflect mroe deeply about and be more honest about. Shalom!

  • http://leadme.org Cal

    Jeremy,

    Though I haven’t read any of Jeff’s work; the two are not so far apart. Jesus’ was the atonement, the sin bearer who defeated sin’s power and the power of death. He was also lead to this by speaking the Truth of the True King and True Kingdom, which runs roughshod with the Powers and demonic forces in our world. Crucifixion is innevitable.

    Jeff,

    What do you mean when you ‘became a Christian again’ 9 years ago?

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (3) Jeremy. You asked, “Do I understand your position, rightly, Jeff? That the cross, for you, is the ultimate symbol of love and the “everlasting kind of life”? That the power of the cross lies in showcasing Jesus’ cruciform life, the climax of his revolutionary, insurgent life? … If so, what does the death of Jesus actually *do* for humanity? Why is his death even necessary?”

    I interpret the cross primarily as a throne, and the crucifixion as a coronation. On the cross, Jesus displays himself as both messiah and God, victorious over sin, satan and death. The cross itself is important (among many other reasons) because Jesus takes what is most disgusting in the whole world–the crucified man–and radical transform it. Because of Jesus, the cross is now the symbol and location of hope, life, and healing. The cross showcases–alongside everything else Jesus did–his intention as God to make all things new.

    Peace.

  • http://www.novuslumen.net Jeremy Bouma

    Hi Cal,

    Granted, God loved the world so much that he sent His Son Jesus Christ; God showed humanity His love by sending His sone to die. It is clear from Scripture, however, that that love-death is defined not as a model or middle-finger to Rome, but as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 Jn 4).

    The atoning death of which you speak—not to mention Scripture—seems to be missing in Jeff’s understanding of the Cross and Christ’s death. It isn’t clear that Jesus died for our sins (1 Cor 15), as a sacrifice for atonement through the shedding of his blood (Rm 3). Hence the question for clarification.

  • http://blog.ps1611.org Makala Doulos

    Glory to G_d Jeff! This faith beyond reason seems to be where truth begins in our lives. Reason and rationality fail when they try to comprehend the passion of Jesus during Passion Week. Thanks for taking us along on your journey!

  • T

    Jeremy,

    “It is clear from Scripture, however, that that love-death is defined not as a model or middle-finger to Rome but as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” I assume you realize it can be both–and more?

    As for Rome, I think there are lots and lots of reasons from Scripture to think that God was intentionally drawing a comparison of his “Son of God” with the “son of God” in Rome. First in my mind is the centrality of the Exodus narrative in Judaism. In that narrative, God intentionally picks the dominant power of the day as a foil, so that God can display his unique superiority to the whole known world. He turns all of the symbols of Egypt’s power, very publicly, into stories of Yahweh’s power. It’s just a devastating comparison, spreading the fame and glory of Israel’s God across the known world.

    Do you see any echo there with the cross? Rome, to this day, is nearly synonymous with “empire” because of its legendary dominance of the known world of its day. And once again, God intentionally climaxes a narrative that he wants to tell the world by turning the symbol and means of the dominant power of the day into a symbol of his incomparably greater power. The symbol intended by Rome to bring loyalty to its “son of god” became the symbol and story drawing people into submission and loyalty to God’s Son. The instrument of Rome’s propaganda of its power has become the central symbol of Christ and his power.

    All this can and is true even while he was given as an atonement for our sins, just like the passover lamb.

    And as for this cross not being a model, I think you only need to read Jesus’ own commentary about the cross to think otherwise. Jesus death is a model for us. His love (which is defined by his cross better than anything else) is to be the way we love. How can his washing of the disciples’ feet be an example, but not his cross?

  • phil_style

    @Jeremy, the traditional formulation you quote “It isn’t clear that Jesus died for our sins (1 Cor 15), as a sacrifice for atonement through the shedding of his blood (Rm 3)” has it’s own logical problems. It simply shift the question back one level. One still has the problem of providing a suitable answer for “Why is his death even necessary? Why was it necessary that Jesus was put to death?”

    The typical answer is “to atone for sin”, but that fails to explain why this mechanism was chosen, and fails to explain how it actually does any “atoning”. Why does killing one thing make the wrong of another somehow become innocent?

    If God is “forgiving” humanity by the act of killing Jesus (or more softly by allowing his death) why does Jesus clearly not understand this himself, when he cries out to god specifically for god to forgive those who are killing him?

  • http://www.novuslumen.net Jeremy Bouma

    @9 T—I’m not suggesting anything you say isn’t true nor am I challenging such formulations in Cook’s offering. What I”m asking is if anything happened on the Cross outside of 1) a model of love or 2) an anti-imperial middle-finger to prevailing imperial powers. It isn’t clear from Cook’s chapter that God dealt with sin on the cross.

    It’s clear from this chapter Jesus’ death is a *modeling* death; it isn’t clear Christ’s death is also an *atoning* death. It seems clear Scripture teaches both. It isn’t clear Cook does, and if he doesn’t, then we’re still screwed.

    @ 10 phil_style—I’m not simply parroting a “traditional formulation.” Scripture teaches Jesus “died for our sins.” That’s part of the gospel Paul himself testifies to in 1 Cor 15—which Scot brilliantly points out in KJG. Likewise, God Himself presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of His blood, as Paul says in Romans 5. And the love of God that peeps are so quick to point out is directly connected the blood-soaked boards of execution that held Christ’s limp, lifeless body: God sacrificed His Son as an atoning sacrifice.

    Atoning sacrifice is directly linked with the type of scene straight out of a Martin Scorcese film: blood…lots and lots of blood. From animals. Their entrails strewn about the altar. And blood smeared all over the inner temple. The Priest himself would have been absolutely drenched in blood. Sticky blood. For the sins of the people.

    So from the beginning God required death to atone for sins. As Hebrews says without it—the shedding of blood—there is no remission/forgiveness of sins. Hence Jesus’ death. Bloody death. *Atoning* death. Again, without it, we’re screwed. A modeling death does nothing for us—plenty of those to go around. An atoning death…no that’s another story.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Jeremy (11) Good thoughts. You said, “It isn’t clear from Cook’s chapter that God dealt with sin on the cross. It’s clear from this chapter Jesus’ death is a *modeling* death; it isn’t clear Christ’s death is also an *atoning* death. It seems clear Scripture teaches both. It isn’t clear Cook does, and if he doesn’t, then we’re still screwed.”

    The chapter is about the coronation of Jesus as King. Would you argue that that view and yours are mutually exclusive?

    Thanks for reading the chapter!

  • Luke Allison

    Jeremy – “It seems clear Scripture teaches both. It isn’t clear Cook does, and if he doesn’t, then we’re still screwed.”

    This may be an example of something NT Wright has lamented: Just because you don’t mention something in a lecture (or book, or chapter) doesn’t mean you don’t believe those things. It just means you didn’t talk about them.

    UNLESS you’re saying that the only thing going on in the story of the Cross is substitutionary atonement?
    Or, UNLESS you’re trying to uncover nefarious liberal leanings in Jeff Cook’s theological understanding?

  • phil_style

    @Jeremy yes I am aware of the sacrificial system and it’s demand for (innocent) bloodletting.

    My point is simply that this mechanism makes no sense.

    But there are mechanisms that do make sense.
    http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2141

  • http://www.novuslumen.net Jeremy Bouma

    @ 13 Luke Allison—”UNLESS you’re trying to uncover nefarious liberal leanings in Jeff Cook’s theological understanding?” :) you caught me! kidding…

    Are you suggesting that it isn’t important to talk about the Cross in substitutionary ways? I never said the cross is exclusively substitutionary. In fact above I said Jesus’ was both a modeling and atoning, among others. The idea that you can talk about the Cross, not mention atonement, and still believe in it is baffling. Considering that the *dominate* (not ONLY) language the NT uses to talk about the cross is in atonement language…I don’t see how you can talk about the Cross, neglect that language, and still claim some personal belief in it. If you believe Jesus’ death is an atoning death, why not say so? And if you don’t, then, well…that’s a whole other conversation, me thinks.

  • http://www.novuslumen.net Jeremy Bouma

    Above I meant…*Jesus’ DEATH was both a modeling and atoning, among others.

  • Luke Allison

    “If you believe Jesus’ death is an atoning death, why not say so? And if you don’t, then, well…that’s a whole other conversation, me thinks.”

    I see where you’re coming from. And a good point. I’m studying Hebrews right now, and it would be hard to come up with any other picture of Christ’s work on the cross based on that book (contextually, that’s the point of the book).

    But I do see you doing something that I’ll playfully call “heresy-baiting”. You’ve identified the lines, and then ask questions to determine whether a brother has crossed them. You allow the person to articulate their thoughts so that you can say: “See, he said it, not me!”.

    I would assume that Jeff Cook has studied theology enough to know that the cross is atoning in nature. And I would assume that he has reasons for not highlighting this particular aspect in his book: (mainly because it’s called “King”, not “Atonement”…two completely different facets of the Gospel story)

    I think that young reformed folks (or some variation on that title) are perhaps too concerned with determining who they approve of and who they don’t. I don’t know if that’s you (your blog would indicate some leanings in that direction), but I don’t think it’s a wise way to deal with humans. My opinion. Not backed up by Scripture. Just plain old me. But, maybe worth listening to.

  • http://www.novuslumen.net Jeremy Bouma

    @17 Luke Allison—your “heresy-baiting” words are certainly worth listening too! So thanks for the correction. That certainly wasn’t my intent, which was trying to clarify where he was coming from. I’m at the end of a ThM program in Historical Theology, my thesis of which was tracing the generational development of “Kingdom” grammar from Schleiermacher to McLaren, touching on major generational players in between. So after spending 4 months full-time on that thesis work, and reading Cook’s chapter on his interpretation of the Cross, I was interested in understanding his position better.

    And in light of my studies of the major players in theology, I’m not convinced that being well-studied in theology automatically assumes one’s belief in the atoning nature of the cross. I’m not saying Cook doesn’t—again it’s not clear. And when someone is schooled in theology it makes it all the more important to clarify someone’s words and ideas, because those words and ideas mean things And, perhaps, missing words and ideas mean even more things…

    Anyway, I’ve dominated this post a bit too much…probably enough to over stay my welcome :)

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Jeremy (18). You said, “I’m not saying Cook doesn’t—again it’s not clear.”

    I’ve responded to you twice, and you have yet to respond.

    However, you are posting comments here and elsewhere with loaded language. So question – what’s up? Did I offend you? Why are you wasting your time?

  • Paul D.

    Your link to the book is to Amazon Kindle. Is it also available in E-Pub and/or for a Nook?

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook
  • Richard

    Jeremy, I believe Jeff answered your line of questioning in his response @ 6:

    “I interpret the cross primarily as a throne, and the crucifixion as a coronation. On the cross, Jesus displays himself as both messiah and God, victorious over sin, satan and death.”

    If that’s not dealing with atonement and sin (as well as Satan and death), what is it that you’re looking for?

  • Luke Allison

    Richard,

    I believe this would be what Mr. Bouma is looking for:

    “God imputed the guilt of our sins to Christ, and he, in our place, bore the punishment that we deserve. This was a full payment for sins, which satisfied both the wrath and the righteousness of God, so that He could forgive sinners without compromising His own holy standard.”

    That’s just a hunch, though…

  • Richard

    @ 23

    You may be correct.

    Impressively enough, in addition to the endorsement from Shane Hipps that Jeremy highlights, Cook is endorsed by our very own Scot McKnight and Preston Sprinkle (co-collaborator with Francis Chan on Erasing Hell). I imagine this text is squarely in the center of orthodox understandings of the atonement.

  • Luke Allison

    “I imagine this text is squarely in the center of orthodox understandings of the atonement.”

    But I also imagine it doesn’t emphasize God’s wrath and the heinousness of sin and the necessity of blood and all that. Young reformed fellows love that stuff.

  • Cal

    Hey Jeff:

    What did you exactly mean “when I became a Christian again” after 9 years?

    And I’m wary of going off the feeling that “I want this to be God”. I agree with the sentiment but it must be retired because regardless of feeling, objectively the crucifixion and resurrection are historical statements. Back when I wanted to join the USMC and was not born-again, I’d rather have a god like Odin to spur on drinking and fighting (wouldn’t say it though) doesn’t make it any more true

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Cal (25) – Seriously. Thank you! You are the only one who actually commented on the topic at hand which I thought was valuable (seriously haven’t you heard enough about the wrath of God?)

    I walked away from Christianity because it was mind-numbing and failed to hit my heart. The kind of theology put forth by some in our culture is not appetizing at all–and that seems important to me.

    I came back to faith when I began to desire Jesus. I still believe the arguments all fail to be decisive. My conversion was about passion. Sure the intellect assess options, but the kind of theologies put forth in the post above are case and point. Some God’s are not appealing.

    Even if the resurrection and crucifixion happened, it doesn’t mean rationally I ought to be a Christian. You cannot derive an ought from an is.

    You have to want it.

  • http://leadme.org Cal

    Thanks for the response!

    The wrath bit was from Luke, not me. But I think it all comes from misunderstandings. I think the Wrath of God is legitimate, but what are we saying? It is also written that God’s wrath is not like man’s. I think the clearest understanding of Wrath is in Isaiah: “In my anger, I hid my face”. When God leaves, that is truly His wrath. One reason I’m supportive of what is commonly called annihilationalism (though I’m not a fan of labels), but that’s another story; but it makes sense of the wrath.

    Yeah I agree about not deriving ought from is. Still ‘is’ is still more important that ‘ought’ for one is prerequisite for the other. Anyway, I totally understand and agree; my heart groans more and more to be conformed to His image, not any idol that is or was (or possibly will be) in my life.

    Pax,
    Cal

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Good stuff, Cal. Be well.

  • Amos Paul

    So I’m guessing that the physical copies aren’t going to be one dollar as well? ;)

  • Luke Allison

    In regards to the wrath, I was simply pointing out that the reason the reformed types get angry at stuff like this ebook (which is simply fantastic, like everything else Jeff Cook has written) is because it doesn’t focus on the things they think should be focused on: foremost in these things is the wrath of God.

    I myself am a huge fan of Cook’s thinking of the cross as a new kind of throne. To me, this little book is a practical outworking of some of NT Wright’s (and others) thousand-foot-view scholarly work. We need more of this kind of stuff.

    Jeff,

    I wonder if you’ve ever read James KA Smith’s “Desiring the Kingdom”? The central premise of the whole book is “We are what we love” not we we believe, and not what we intellectually assent to. He’s a progressive Reformed guy, and has some great thoughts.

    I am reminded of NT Wright’s “epistemology of faith hope and love” when I read your post. There is something far more human and “hidden” going on in the love of Jesus than a mere philosophical problem or a way of integrating the divine into the world’s workings.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Thanks Luke! I will look for the Smith book. That’s a good way to phrase what is essential: we are what we love. Blessings on you.


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