Which Side of the Cross Are You On?

Scot McKnight made an interesting observation this week:

But the Abelardian and Girardian have an oft-missed sinister side, even if you may object to my saying so. In these theories we side with Christ and God and not those who put him to death. We end up being the good guys, the victims, while the bad guys — Roman and Jewish leaders, the gutless disciples, the whole damned human race — are the ones who put him there. We, on the other hand, know better. We’re innocent, they’re guilty.

Being that I’m writing a book on the atonement, this caught my eye. I’ve got chapters in the book on both the moral exemplar theory (Abelard) and the last scapegoat theory (Girard).

Scot is right, and wrong.

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God Is Not Outside of Time

One of the things I hear assumed by Christians all the time is that God is outside of time. It’s odd, I think, to make this assumption, because it’s not biblical, it’s Platonic. There’s a verse in 2 Peter that often gets cited — “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” — but that is a reflection on God’s experience of time, not God’s independence from time.

As human beings, we are hedged in on all sides by time, completely circumscribed by it. Our impending deaths remind us daily of this reality. Try as we might, we simply cannot conceive of being free from time.

That’s not to say that time isn’t fluid. In the 20th century, we became aware that time can be slightly bent, and in the 21st century, we’re starting to hear that maybe time can take place more complexly than we’ve previously known.

Nevertheless, time is a condition of our existence, and it’s inescapable.

In the book I’m currently writing, the questions I’m trying to answer have to do with where was God on Good Friday? What is God’s relationship to the cross? And what is God’s culpability in the death of Jesus? God’s relationship to time is implicated in all of these questions. And I’m coming to rest with the idea that God is voluntarily bound to time, that part of God’s longstanding story of humility and self-limitation is that God abdicated timelessness in order to have an authentic relationship with timebound beings. Because if God were outside of time, relationship with those of us inside of time would be impossible.

Humanize the Other, because That’s the Gospel

It’s long been my contention that core to the ministry of Jesus was that he re-humanized those who had been dehumanized by the religious forces of his day. It was not only unseemly but forbidden for a Judean to touch a leper or a menstruating woman, to share water with a Samaritan woman, to heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus did all these things, and he did them with such force and courage that the Gospel writers repeatedly tell us that the crowds were astonished (thaumazo, which means amazed, with a tinge of fear) at the power of his teaching and healing.

Always and everywhere, human beings are tempted to dehumanize other human beings. It was prevalent in the ancient world of Jesus, and it’s prevalent today. Recently, Rachel wrote, You don’t hate me, you hate my brand. Some were upset, saying that Rachel shouldn’t allow herself to become a brand, hoping that she would be more authentic so that her blog and her person would be one-and-the-same. Of course, Rachel is one of the most authentic and honest bloggers around, but nevertheless, she’s a brand. And that is so because 99% of her blog readers don’t know her. That is, they don’t know her in the flesh-and-blood sense.

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The Resurrected Jesus Did Not Go Somewhere. He Went Somewhen. [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

This week’s Question That Haunts Christianity comes from Jason, and it’s a doozy:

Hello Tony, I’ve been reading your Questions that Haunt Series for a while now and I thought I’d submit my own. If I’ve understood what you’ve written correctly, you, like me, are a largely materialist Christian. “Souls” probably don’t exist, metaphysics is largely unfounded speculation, and heaven and hell seem more and more like abstract concepts than real places.

But also, like me, you seem to still affirm the bodily death and resurrection of Jesus, as well as most, if not all, of his other miracles. I feel a strong pull in this direction but I don’t know how I can honestly live there. It feels like straddling the fence to affirm the miraculous and yet denounce all the metaphysics around it.

Of all of the issues this might raise though, the one I keep getting hung up on is Jesus’ resurrection. If his resurrection was bodily and we believe that, yet we don’t believe in other “planes” of existence (a heaven where spirits and angels float around like glowing light bulbs) then where did the resurrected Jesus go? I suppose a similar problem crops up with all of his miracles but for whatever reason they don’t bother me as much. I suppose it is because I hold the resurrection so dearly that the idea of denying Jesus anywhere to lay his resurrected head bothers me the most. Thanks I really enjoy your work, -Jason

You responded in the comments. Thanks.

Especially with what’s gone on this week on the blog, answering this question is intimidating. Let me start by giving a couple caveats: 1) I had honestly never really considered this question before Jason’s question came in. Probably, I should have, but I haven’t. So my answer will be provisional, a first crack at a vexing question. And 2), as such, it will likely be disappointing to some of you. It seems that the pressure is higher than normal this week, since I have again professed how central I consider the material resurrection to be.

Jason, you’ve asked the question in exactly the right way, I think. I, too, am troubled by my own predisposition to accept Jesus’ miracles and his resurrection, yet harbor my own suspicions about all metaphysics. It seems inconsistent, even unfair to do so. Yet that’s where I currently sit.

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