Essential Kenosis

I have always leaned toward ‘Open Theology’, ever since meeting Gordon Olson who taught in many YWAM schools in the 70s. I visited him in California in 1976, stayed in his house and used his library. He had in those days the best library on Charles Finney and many books on Open Theology. Clark Pinnock, who moved from being a Calvinist to being a key figure in articulating Open Theology likewise influenced my thoughts. However, for me, the best writings to date are from Thomas Jay Oord, and his articulation of God’s love as uncontrolling is both releasing and challenging (in what sense is ‘God in control?’).

Oord has made a short introductory video of ‘Essential Kenosis’. If it whets your appetite then his book ‘Uncontrolling Love’ you just know is the one you want for Christmas!

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Facilitate or be?

We are at a wonderful moment in our corporate body of Christ journey in Europe. In 2001, right after 9-11, Target Europe began to take shape with some focused prayer into the ’40-70 window’. It was at that conference in Hannover that I first understood the role of Spain was to re-capture some core elements of the Pauline Gospel. (Disclaimer: the strength of our faith is that it is ‘faith’. We seek to make sense of the world in the light of the belief in the resurrection. What I write in this post is my making sense of what is around. Others use a fear window to look at the world. So what follows is a perspective – but a considered on and it focuses on ‘politics’ in the sense of the world being re-constituted.)

We have watched political debates (elections are days away) and on Monday the two historic parties went head to head. It was so ‘old’. Insults, lack of respect, criticism. In the studio were the two leaders of the two young parties, one that worries us because of its leanings to the ****t (no give aways there then!) and the other for a reason I will come to a little later. So ‘politically’ they are poles apart but to see the two leaders of those parties embrace each other was a sign that maybe a new politics does not need be adversarial. (If you have not seen it check out the video from yesterday of Owen Jones and his enthusiasm for coming to Spain at this time – for Europe.)

So now follows some dots that I have connected.

  • Persecution in the history of the early church was not primarily because of being a new ‘religion’ but for being perceived as a new political movement. Here I am pulling on ‘gospel’ being the direct challenge to Imperial rule. There is something of a kick back to this view from some but I suggest that the Pauline gospel is not simply the good news of the kingdom to Israel (as was proclaimed by Jesus) but what was imparted to him in the Damascus and post-Damascus wilderness experience. The Jesus-to-Israel message had implications for the re-shaping of the world.
  • If there is something new happening in Spain that is pushing us beyond the old politics then I consider that this is part of the recovery of the Pauline gospel itself. (For those who follow this blog you might realise at the beginning of the year we eventually made a connection between a full square and a proclamation from heaven for Spain, and now at the end of the year we are making a similar connection.)
  • The rebirth of a new politics – forget the old definitions – that are taking place in Greece, and to some extent even the UK, are gathering momentum here in Spain. This election might well give us more of the ‘same old same old’ as before but something has shifted forever. This re-birth is part of the Pauline gospel – maybe even the core of its outworking. The challenge then for the body of Christ is to be present, for in her absence there is a vacuum to be filled, a ‘spirit’ to be imparted.
  • In the same way as I watch the new voices calling for a new Spain, a new country for the next generation, and see the tears flow as hope comes, I have all my memories kick in of the wonderful days from the late 80s and through the 90s of church movement conferences in the UK where proclamations of a new future were declared. I am reliving the experience.
  • And that gives me the lead in to the title of this blog and also the concern over the other new party I mentioned above. In those ecclesiastical days there was inevitably a view that had ourselves placed at the centre. We somehow would feature in the fulfillment. So the concern (maybe we have lessons from our past that can help those who are now, at least in part, carrying the torch of hope for the future?) is related to a belief that our call is always to facilitate what is rising, to be preparers of the way and not to become the way.
  • The early stages are not the most dangerous. Fluidity and a non-defensiveness are not too difficult to embrace. Even embracing the ‘opposition’ is not too difficult. It is in the stages beyond that the difficulties arise. The church is never meant to take centre-stage (sorry to those with the thought of the ‘highest mountain’ perspective!). Priesthood is the call. And ‘new’ political parties. Are they to take centre-stage? For me the jury is out on that, and what is more important is the release of a new politics, a facilitation of a re-shaping of the world. That brings me full circle – I think that was Paul’s vision. Blind for three days then with sight.

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Male redemption

A few posts ago I wrote about Jesus ‘crucifying’ Jewishness and maleness. I had an email from someone who both thanked me and suggested that all ‘ness-es’ that divide were taken to the cross.

Some 14 years ago I wrote a book For Such a Time as This, now out of print but available as pdf (and other formats if required: mobi and epub). If you wish to download the book click here.

I am going to reproduce the chapter here that looks at male redemption (click on the heading below), and why it was that Jesus himself was male. I propose that he is not simply human but male so as he can specifically redeem maleness – he has to deal with the specific sin of patriarchy.

CHAPTER 7

JESUS: THE MALE REDEEMER
JESUS: THE MALE REDEEMER

If we accept the equality of men and women, particularly when we take a Christological and eschatological viewpoint,1 we have not fully removed every difficult concept from the Bible relating to women as equal partners. Perhaps the most difficult is the apparentdominance of male imagery in Scripture. This apparent male dominance is evident when male terminology for God is predominantly used in Scripture, and when the Messiah appears, not simply in human likeness, but in male flesh.2 These two aspects will be considered for they have been taken to imply female subordination and inequality. I, however, suggest that it is important for these male images to be present in Scripture in order to reveal the redemptive nature of God for the human race, and will argue that they do not, at any level, imply inequality for women. Therefore my suggestion is that the weighting of male imagery, far from undermining the equality of the genders, is in fact necessary when interpreted from a redemptive viewpoint.

Modifying the imagery

The above imagery can be modified fairly easily. As is often pointed out, the male imagery of God is not something which is exclusive. Yahweh is portrayed in female roles within the Old Testament. He3 is someone who supplies water for Israel, feeds the people with manna, and clothes the human family. Other maternal imagery includes the carrying and care for the sucking child, or, even more poignantly, Yahweh is like a woman in travail who brings Israel to birth.4 Jesus also, by implication, likened God to a woman sweeping her house clean until she found the lost coin. Although other similar imagery could be added, we are still left with an overwhelming tendency of the Bible to use male imagery to describe God.

Noting that there is female imagery used to describe God within Scripture should at least restrain us from holding solely to a male concept of God. God is surely neither male nor female (but arguably both masculine and feminine) and therefore any reaction to describing God as ‘she’ needs to be weighed very carefully. If, however, we accept that there is considerably more male imagery and language5 than there is female in the Bible, is there a way that the material can be approached which does not point towards male supremacy?

When the time comes for Messiah to be revealed, the birth is through a woman but the child born is male. Jesus was clearly revolutionary in the way that he treated women within his culture. As seen in chapter 3, Jesus had women followers at one level or another, he performed women’s tasks and he gladly gave women time and counted them worthy of discipleship. However, we are still left with a male Messiah.

Proposed approach

I suggest that we cannot simply sweep aside the apparent dominance of the male imagery within Scripture, but that, perhaps, we can look for an explanation for this bias other than the concept of male superiority. The basic proposal will be that there is a redemptive principle at work which is underlined by the male imagery. We will look at applying this proposal to both areas beginning with the maleness of Jesus. We begin with Christ for he is the model for true humanity and the true revelation of God (to which Scripture bears witness). We can only understand God and humanity in the light of God’s self-disclosure in Jesus.6

Jesus- the Male Redeemer

Jesus was not one who endorsed ongoing patriarchal dominance, yet a crucial question remains which we can summarise as, ‘could the Messiah have taken on female flesh?’. Is it as simple as the issue that: for Jesus to appear in first-century Jewish culture and live as a female Messiah (the daughter of God) calling Yahweh her Mother would have been unthinkable?7 Or is it that there is more to it than this simple perspective?

If the witness of Scripture primarily reflects the story of God’s redemptive work within history, then we note that male dominance is part of the history of the fallen human race. Genesis 3:16 (‘but your husband will rule over you’) can be taken to speak of the sad state of affairs resulting from the Fall and to be an accurate record of male dominance throughout human history. To borrow phraseology and concepts from the Theology of Liberation: men have been the oppressors and women the oppressed throughout history. If this assessment is correct (both historically and theologically) we need to apply the theological principle of God’s bias toward the oppressed to the male/female relationship.8 Boldly, therefore, we can state that God has been on the side of women. This then I believe is the key to unlock the reason for God revealing Messiah in male flesh.

My own thinking on this issue began when I was gently challenged by a man in an audience I had been addressing on the subject of women in the Bible. He suggested that I was verging on hypocrisy by addressing the subject, and if I really believed what I was teaching I would be giving that particular session to a woman to address. The provocation coincided with some research into Liberation Theology which I realised was addressing this very situation. I perceived that they had rightly understood that God was on the side of the oppressed (the poor), but was not convinced that God addressed his word to them (the oppressed) in order that they might rebel. The word of the Lord seemed to come to the oppressors (the rich) and demand that they deal justly. His word came to those with the power and that had the voice so as they could repent, lifting up the broken and oppressed through servanthood, humility and the sharing of resources. This gave me a conviction that I needed to continue to speak out for those who were oppressed: to model a release of the powerless. It was this challenge that caused me to view Jesus in a new light and to gain fresh insight into his maleness.

For the powerless (in our study, women) to speak out for equality can soon be dismissed as coming from vested interest, or worse still as ‘rebellious’. It requires the one with the voice to speak up and make a call for the release of those that have been marginalised. It was this model that I then applied to Jesus and his maleness.

Jesus comes in the form of the oppressor but identifies with the oppressed. He come in the form of the gender who has power, but uses the position of privilege to elevate and liberate those without power and privilege.9 He models true redemption, for redemption does not begin with the oppressed throwing off the shackles of the oppressor, but with full and complete repentance being undertaken by the oppressor. When this repentance principle is absent, history records that the oppressed in a given situation tend to seek their own redemption-often through violent means. Although this cannot be justified, neither can the continuation of oppression, but true redemption surpasses any form of revolution, and it is true and full redemption that Christ came to bring.

So the only way for a female Messiah to bring about change would be to respond in rebellion. If, however, the female Messiah did not respond in rebellion but lived a self-sacrificing life, such as we see in Jesus, Stanley Grenz suggests that her life and ministry would merely have been interpreted as the ideal role for all women within society. There would have been nothing counter-cultural about such activity, and the status quo would have remained. But Jesus, as male, was counterculture and his maleness ‘was an indispensable dimension of his vocation’.10

Jesus identifies with the human race in its sinfulness,11 and specifically with males in their sin of oppression and exploitation, through taking on male flesh. He refuses to insist on his male prerogatives, but lays them down as the Servant-redeemer. In doing so he is not only redeeming humanity in general but is also redeeming maleness, for he demonstrates not simply the image for true humanity, but the image for true maleness. Gone is the image of one who dominates; centre-stage appears the image of a man who sides with the oppressed and becomes a voice for them. Gone is the image of the male who lives to exert his will; centre-stage is the true male who reveals that true identity is found in doing the will of God.12 Only in Jesus is true maleness revealed- he is the redeeming image for men.

Yet there is more to the redemptive imagery of the male redeemer, for Jesus is also the redemptive image for women. If men and women together are to fulfil the purposes of God,13 it is necessary for women to see in the new humanity a new model of maleness. In Jesus, who is the head of this new race, that model is clear. Those who have been oppressed (females) can now trust the oppressor (males) as they are conformed to his image. Only through repentance by the oppressor can trust be restored and the partnership of equals be truly initiated. Had Messiah come in the form of female flesh, vicarious ‘repentance’ by the oppressor would not have been possible. The giving away of privilege and power would not have been possible and equality could only have been restored through rebellion, which is not the way of our redeemer God. Jesus is (and indeed must be) male in order to redeem both males and females through his life as well as his death.

The quote from Grenz below is a helpful summary of the liberating impact of the maleness of Christ on both males and females.

Jesus liberated males from the role of domination that belongs to a fallen world, in order that they can be truly male… As a male, Jesus revealed that the way to life does not lie in acting the part of the strong, dominating and self-sufficient male.
The male Jesus liberated women as well, however. On their behalf he acted as the paradigm human standing against the male system. He brought them to participate in the new order where sex distinctions no longer determine rank and worth. As the author of their faith, the New Human, he provided resources to leave the past behind-to forgive and to be forgiven-and to seek the new order in which supplementarity is the rule.14

God as Male

Having begun with Jesus, let us now apply this redemptive principle to the male imagery of God. The male imagery of God, although not exclusive, is predominant in Scripture and therefore needs to be taken seriously.15 Before we look at the possibility of there being a redemptive principle involved in such language we can take an intermediate step of seeking to determine what such male imagery would have communicated within the early biblical (and patriarchal) culture.

It can be argued that male terminology would not have communicated maleness but transcendence.16 In the ancient Near Eastern culture the gods and goddesses promoted the fertility of all life – the crops, flocks and families. They were intimately tied in with nature and the seasons, but Israel’s God stood above nature. Goddess imagery would have communicated this intimate involvement with and even dependence on nature (mother nature?).17 Even a male god with a female consort would have tied deity to the cycles of nature. However a male God who stood alone communicated total transcendence and Yahweh as the ‘wholly other’. As Finger says:

But what about a “masculine” God without a consort, who created and changed things simply by his “word” and acts? Such imagery was almost unique, and well suited to the God who had begun transforming nature and society – including its patriarchal structures.18

Likewise Dale Youngs says,

The biblical message is clear: there is no multiplicity of divinities; God needs no female partner to perform the sex act with him, thereby giving birth to the earth and its creatures; God is above the condition of sexuality. When it some to goddess worship, the whole tenor of the Hebrew Scriptures is open hostility.19

Once the transcendence of God is established in the history of Israel, we find an increasing number of female imageries which come through in the later writings. This transcendent God is the One who has chosen to be involved in an intimate way with her people. Certainly the imagery related to the Holy Spirit might indeed prompt us to refer to God as ‘she’ whenever we speak of that aspect of the work of the Trinity.20

This leaves us with one important image of God as ‘father’. Jesus did not relate to God as an overpowering deity who needed to be appeased, and the deity with whom he had such an intimate relationship he revealed as ‘father’. Indeed the intimacy of the relationship was such that we can see that there are as many motherly aspects in the heart of God as fatherly.21 Jesus’ use of the term ‘father’ communicated the sovereign, liberating, compassionate dimensions of God, but in a way which was far from endorsing stereotyped male models of fatherhood. We could argue that indeed the term ‘father’ could well have been deliberately chosen by Jesus to combat sexism. He injected the term ‘father’ with new meaning and so revealed a picture of fatherhood that does not endorse male dominance and patriarchal hierarchy. True fatherhood contains as many feminine attributes as it does masculine ones.22

Theologically God is portrayed in male terms to communicate his transcendence. And from a redemptive perspective, God is portrayed as male, not to endorse continued male dominance, but to bring males in line with true maleness. Perhaps for males the Scripture, ‘Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect’, carries the added dimension of acting responsibly and redemptively in the area of male/female relationships.

Excursus: God, feminine imagery and male language

Alongside the male language we also have a considerable amount of feminine imagery applied to God that firmly prevents us from understanding God as male.

1. Yahweh is described as fulfilling roles that women had in ancient society: he provides food, water and clothing.23
2. Feminine images are used to provide comparisons to God: a mother bird and a mistress (in the sense of a woman in charge of servants).24
3. He is described in motherly terms: as a woman in labour; as a mother who will not forget her child; as a mother of Israel; and as a midwife.25
4. The compassion of God (Hebrew rachim,) is essentially a feminine term from the Hebrew word for ‘womb’ (rechem). Likewise the Hebrew word ruach (Spirit) is feminine.

The feminine imagery means we cannot think of God in male terms; however the Bible avoids using female language as the God of Scripture is not female. If God had been known as ‘mother’ we would not only have goddess theology, but creation itself would be divine, having been given birth to by this deity. If God is identified with creation in such a way, we finally make ourselves into gods and goddesses. The Scripture avoids the possibility of this error and the rejection of Goddess worship ultimately comes from understanding that Creator and created are separate.

Hence Scripture gives us the sensitive balance. It uses male language to communicate God’s ‘wholly otherness’, his transcendence and distinction from creation – the God of the Bible is not dependent on creation. Yet this language is beautifully balanced by the feminine imagery which enables us not to fall into the trap of seeing God as male. This imagery does not however slip over into making God female, as the ‘rejection of goddess worship ultimately comes from understanding that Creator and created are separate.’26 Thus we have a God that is beyond male and female, yet embraces the masculine and feminine in each of us.

End of Excursus

Excursus: Trinitarian theology

The doctrine of the Trinity has been advanced in a hierarchical way (God the Father as the initiator / source / head of Christ) and has been used in a way to underline the rightness of hierarchical relationship between men and women. Understanding the inter-relationships of the persons within the Trinity is a major task which theologians constantly seek to find fresh language to express, and I do not intend to suggest that I have any new understanding to bring. However, I want to indicate that there are other ways, that are not hierarchical, of expressing those inter-relationships. I recently came across, in Miroslav Volf’s outstanding book on the church, the following discussion.27 (The passage quoted is part of a larger discussion and given the nature of the book, contains considerable technical language. However, the important point to grasp is his suggestion that the traditional discussions on ‘being’ and ‘substance’ do not necessarily male any statement on the relational level of the Trinity.)

The constitution of persons through generation and procession grounds the distinctions among persons, who are simultaneously constituted as standing in relations; these distinctions then manifest themselves in the salvation-historical differentiation of the persons.
If this distinction between the “hypostatic divinity” (constitutional level) of the Trinitarian persons and their “intertrinitarian form” (relational level) is persuasive, then the unilinear hierarchical relations can disappear from the Trinitarian communion, since maintaining that the Father constitutes the Son and Spirit says nothing as yet about how the relations between them are structured. In any case, within salvation history they do appear as persons standing in reciprocal relationships to one another… Moreover, within a community of perfect love between persons who share all the divine attributes, a notion of hierarchy and subordination is inconceivable.28

Thus using theological language and models, Volf makes the appeal that we must not confuse the means of being (even here language presents us with difficulty, for such language can seem to imply that Son and Spirit become something they were not, which would be an enormous error) with modes of relating. The Son and Spirit are constituted by the Father, who is the source of their divinity, but the Trinitarian form of God is determined by the mutuality of relationships.29

Thus using such a model of the Trinity and making an application to humanity would be to emphasise the interdependence of the genders, and the need for mutuality to be expressed. Something less than this would be to deny humanity the possibility of imaging the eternal God.

End of Excursus

Conclusions and summary

Redemption takes place within history and includes the redemption of relationships. Jesus is a male redeemer because of the history of male oppression. God is a father because patriarchal society and male leadership need to be redeemed. A new model of leadership, which is neither male nor female, but both masculine and feminine (both fatherly and motherly) is necessary. The revelation of God as father redeems true leadership which is neither male nor female but partnership. If the husband as head means that he has a primary role of leadership within the family, then it would follow that he is the one who, in the area of his family, also has the primary responsibility to model redemption. Because of male language within Scripture and Jesus the male redeemer, men and husbands can uniquely begin to reverse the tide of history. This is true redemption.

God is a redeemer. Yahweh frees the oppressed but calls for the oppressor (males) to repent through describing the self-revelation of the God, who is beyond gender, in male terms (though not exclusively) Yahweh has led the way for liberation. Male terminology might be open to abuse and misunderstanding, but it is also part of the process of redemption. Yahweh and Jesus often appear in the outward ‘form’ of the oppressor (the male) but identify with the oppressed. Surely as male followers of Jesus, men and husbands need to do likewise.

Terminology can at times be unhelpful and perhaps it is time to seek for new language which will help communicate the truths of Scripture within our culture. Perhaps we need to be more open to using ‘she’, when appropriate, as the masculine pronoun often now carries exclusive connotations.30 Perhaps even new pronouns need to be coined which will help us communicate the transcendent God’s journey with us through life.31 Whatever our approach to the issue of terminology we must be committed to going beyond terminology to discover and then apply the redemptive nature of God’s revelation in all of our relationships.

Endnotes:

1. A Christological viewpoint means that we consider the revelation of God in Christ and how that impacts our perspective on men and women, who are both in Christ; and by taking an eschatological viewpoint this implies that we do not simply consider the new humanity in Christ as belonging to this creation but to the new creation. In Christ men and women are already experiencing the realities of the coming age in part, and their status and relationships must reflect that. (Return)

2. If we had not already covered the issue of the twelve male apostles and the ‘headship’ of men within the marriage relationship, we would have added those issues here. (Return)

3. Tempted as I might be to use the pronoun ‘she’ or to write ‘s/he’ I am aware that would be misleading. The feminine pronouns indicate a femaleness that would be inaccurate. We cannot bring correction by changing our concepts of God to a goddess. Although the masculine pronouns do not indicate that God is male, I will continue to use them. Such is the limitation of language. (Return)

4. See for instance the citations of feminine imagery for God in Leonard Swidler, Biblical Affirmations of Women (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1979), pp. 21-36; and in Mary Evans, Women, pp.21f. (Return)

5. We need to point out that a word’s grammatical gender does not necessarily denote the gender of the being it refers to. God and humankind are both masculine in the Greek and Hebrew languages and therefore any pronouns related to those words will be masculine. Nothing can be inferred regarding God’s actual gender simply because the pronouns used are in the masculine gender. (Return)

6. By so doing I am proposing a Christo-centric hermeneutic. In this particular sphere of superiority) I suggest that this must be the best hermeneutic. (Return)

7. See C. Norman Krauss, Savior, pp.95-96 for this suggestion. (Return)

8. The announcement of liberation to the oppressed comes to a climax in the ministry and work of Jesus (Luke 4:17-20), but is clearly traced throughout the Old Testament, and in particular with the denouncement of injustice in the prophetic writings. (Return)

9. This same principle is seen I other aspects of the life of Jesus. He was a Jew but did not exclude others. Rather he used his status in a redemptive way so as there might no longer be Jew of Greek in the new humanity. He was the Lord of all but used his lordship to become the servant of all so as there might be the end of the class barrier of slave and free. He laid aside wealth for our sake and did not avail himself of political power for his own ends. In short he never used his privileges to endorse any form of hierarchy. In different ways he had the opportunity to do so but at every turn refused to follow the cultural norms of his day. In this way he refused to submit to the sin of oppression but became theliberator of those who were oppressed. (Return)

10. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1994), p. 378. (Return)

11. Jesus was in ‘the form of sinful flesh’ (Rom. 8:3) and underwent the baptism of John to indicate that he was identifying with the human race rather than standing apart from it (Matt. 3:15). (Return)

12. Jesus clearly underlined that woman’s call was not in the bearing of children but in following God as a disciple (Luke 11:27,28). He stood apart from the rabbis of his day through the elevation of women alongside men. (Return)

13. The cultural mandate of Gen. 1:26-28 was given to humankind equally as male and female. This commission to rule was tied up with being created in the image of God. In the new humanity again both males and females are being conformed to the image of the Son, thus qualifying them together to fulfil the cultural mandate through the Gospel. (Return)

14. Theology, p.379. (Return)

15. A point that should not be overlooked is that the revelation of God’s essential being and character to Moses (Exod. 3:14) employs no noun, proper or common, but simply the first person (genderless) single verb (Return)

16. See Thomas N. Finger, Christian Theology, Vol. 2 (Scottdale: Herald, 1989), p. 485-490. (Return)

17. A female goddess giving birth to creation might lead to creation and the goddess being of the same substance. Creation would be deified (and therefore worshipped) by such imagery. The God of the Bible appears as committed to creation, but distinct from it. (Return)

18. Theology, Vol. 2, p.486. (Return)

19. ‘What’s So Good About the Goddess?’, Christian Today (August 16, 1993), p.21. (Return)

20. It has been argued that the work of the Spirit is one of bringing to birth and of nurturing and therefore feminine terms are more appropriate. The criticism from the feminist theologians that using exclusively male language for God conveys the impression that the human male is more God-like, than the female, needs to be taken seriously. (Return)

21. Kenneth Leech has suggested that once the motherly aspects of God are lost it can give rise to the Mother of God (mariolatry). See R. P. Stevens, ‘The mystery of male and female: biblical and Trinitarian models’, Themelios, Vol. 17.3 (April/May 1992), p.21. (Return)

22. See Robert Hamerton-Kelly, God the Father: Theology and Patriarchy in the Teaching of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979), pp.21-36 and 357-359. Bearing in mind that Jewish culture was patriarchal, it is natural for Jesus to present God in a culturally relevant way; however he also greatly modifies the common Jewish concept. (Return)

23. Food – Exod. 16:4-36; Ps. 36:8; Hos. 11:4; water – Neh. 9:15; Exod. 17:1-17; clothing – Neh. 9:21. (Return)

24. Bird – Ps. 17:8; 36:8; mistress in Ps. 123:2 (and also master in this verse). (Return)

25. Labour – Is. 42:14; mother and child – Is. 49:15; 66:13; Yahweh as Israel’s mother – Num. 11:2; Deut. 32:18 (also described as Israel’s father in this verse); midwife – Ps. 22:9; 71:6; Is. 66:9. (Return)

26. Youngs, ‘Goddess?’ p. 21. (Return)

27. After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998). Another example of a considerably less hierarchical model is found in Thomas Finger’s Christian Theology, Vol. 2, pp. 379-406, 433-456. Two quotes will not do justice to these chapters, but will have to suffice: ‘The divine “substance” is not a quantity handed down from one level to another. It is an energy ceaselessly flowing among, and continually revitalized by, different sources.’ (p. 448). ‘In itself, then the Trinity is not structured hierarchically. Thus this doctrine hardly implies that the church or society ought to be. On the contrary, it implies that the church and society should be structured as mutually as possible, with authority flowing back and forth among different but equally valuable persons and groups.’ (p. 450). (Return)

28. After Our Likeness, p. 217. (Return)

29. This mutuality is well summed up in the Greek concept of the perichoresis of the Trinity – the concept that the mutuality and interpenetration within the Trinity being likened to the Godhead being involved in an eternal ‘dance’, one which humanity and all creation are being asked to join in. (This theme is developed well by Clark Pinnock and undergirds his social Trinitarian view, giving his Spirit in Creation material a very creative (no pun intended) feel – see Flame of Love.) (Return)

30. Historically the masculine pronouns have had an inclusive use, unlike the feminine pronouns. However this is increasingly becoming less true and if we insist of continuing to use exclusively masculine pronouns we might simply be adding to the confusion. Unfortunately, simply changing from masculine pronouns to corresponding feminine ones does not bring a solution, for those feminine pronouns have been historically even more exclusive than the masculine one. (Return)

31. Thomas N. Finger, Theology, Vol.2, pp. 448-450, suggests the use of ‘Godself’ to avoid saying ‘himself’ or ‘herself’ when referring to God. (Return)

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At the Cross

Writing out loud is an excuse to put some things out there that might open up other ways of thinking. Theology that is biblical can also be expansive or experimental. After all we have to interpret why certain texts say what they say, we ask what is the world-view that is behind the text. So in the previous post I suggest that Jesus moved from a measure of compliance to non-compliance; from genial dialogue to pretty much opposition to the dominant Jewish system as found in the NT era. This re-alignment took place as he continually walked in obedience to God – yes, I am suggestion that his understanding grew (changed???) as he suffered. As he suffered through the knocks of life (did his father die when he was young and he carried much of the weight of the family?), his embracing of the call to be representative Israel (as evidenced in John’s acceptance of Jesus for baptism), his interaction with the many ‘others’, his betrayal… all shaped by his reading of the Scriptures that he had become familiar with. He appeared at the fullness of times to deal with issues of law:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Gal. 4:4,5).

No question he died for all, but the dying for all involved a ‘specific’ dying for the Jewish people. He died under the curse of the law so that they might be free, otherwise how could the blessing of Abraham come to those who were not by ethnicity children of Abraham?

So here then is where I wish to push. What if the death of Jesus is the death of all that had divided us (even the law can be described as analogous to the elemental spirits) and that his death is the death of… Jewishness and maleness?

Of course maleness continues post-Easter as does Jewishness. We live in the overlap of what continues, and I see no reason to suggest that such distinctivenesses do not continue into the age to come, so I am not suggesting the end of Jewishness or gender as a distinction, but as a marker of division, in the sense of advantage. Those two distinctions – Jewish and male – divide the whole human race in two. Either Jew or not; either male or not. One division stems from the covenants, the other from Creation.

So in dying to the powers I wish not only to include the demonic ‘principalities’ but also the ‘elemental spirits’ and am suggesting that ethnicity, gender, and all other divisions are encompassed. All previous advantages, to quote a certain biblical author, are but an enormous heap of crap.

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He’s where?

‘Not one stone will stay upon another’. ‘Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up…’ Jesus had many strong words to say about the Temple (and again following on from the issue of priests and kings I cannot see where it was plan ‘A’ from heaven); he was personally responsible for some extremely socially disturbing behaviour in the Temple; he warned about ‘the scribes… wwho devour widows’ houses’ then with his disciples immediately (as far as the narrative is concerned) watch as a ‘poor widow.. out of her poverty put in all she had to live on’ into the Temple treasury.

So it might be a little surprising that when he was 12 we read:

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:46-49).

Later in life he was not one who sat among the teachers and involved in some gentle dialogue. He seemed to warn people about such teachers, and was found in opposition to them. So age 12, just before the traditional bar mitzvah age, he seems compliant and set to become a good – maybe the best – Jewish rabbi. What happens from then to age 30?

We know he increased in wisdom and stature (v. 52), but what does that mean in the light of the trajectory from compliance to non-compliance? Of course the Scriptures are silent, but if at age 13 he becomes ‘a son of the commandments’ and takes on a new level of compliance to the requirements of heaven we can only assume – and backed up by Heb. 5:8 – that he had to learn what it meant to be in obedience to God that would take him beyond being compliant to the Law and the traditions of the chosen nation.

What if this process continued in his life and he continued to learn (as we do) with interactions with the ‘other’, such as the Syrophoenician woman who may be challenged him as much as he was challenging her? Could it be that increasingly he saw that the nation he grew up in was not the blessed nation, but one that was sitting under a curse (Paul’s Galatian thrust), and that the very institutions in the land were no longer tools in the hands of God, but blockages to the Abrahamic covenant fulfilment?

He might have been in a Temple when he was 12, but the Last Adam is found in the midst of a Garden with tombs with angels proclaiming that he is not found among the dead.

So in writing out loud I see a huge change between the Jesus of 12 and the Jesus of the resurrection. He has learned through what he has suffered and some of that learning is through his interaction with the ‘other’.

Jesus could have followed a career trajectory from the Temple at 12 to being established as a highly respected Jewish male leader. But no… he took those privileges representatively and opened up a new way. Where did he take them? Another post.

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A kingdom of priests

How we love what God calls us to be – when it fits with our foreordained ideas. ‘God has a perfect life for your plan’ almost made it in to those blessed four spiritual laws.

What if Israel had a tough call? A call on behalf of all others. Right at the start there is the call on Abraham – LEAVE. Leave security, provision, cultural centres. Yes we read of the favour of heaven over him and his descendants, but what are they called to be?

There is a popular split between ‘kings’ and ‘priests’. Wow to be called as a king to rule – come on does it get any better than that? However… Israel were never to have kings, nor even to have priests, they were to be a kingdom and the nature of that kingdom was to be that of a priesthood. The same comes round full circle in the last book of the Bible with a description of our destiny:

…you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites. (Exodus 19:6)

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth. (Rev. 5:10).

So they are to be a nation, but not as the other nations (requiring a king) and the setting of the Levites as a priesthood within the nation was a compromise. Not easy to end well when there is serious deviation from the original path that was set out. The Temple (another compromise) not surprisingly falls far short of being a house of prayer for all nations. Israel: a healing nation called into being for the sake of the nations.

Being occupied, overrun and carried into exile by other nations are clear signs of ‘curse’ but we should not assume that occupying the territory of others was a sign of ‘blessing’. Giving space to the alien, widow and orphan, maybe should have stood in contrast to making widows and orphans elsewhere and treating them as aliens.

What would a kingdom of priests look like? The choice of the Levites as priest was a compromise but maybe there is a sign in their lack of possessing territory that gives us a clue. Could it be that the priestly kingdom was destined to be seeded throughout the nations when they matured? This is what happened with the disciples of Jesus who were seeded throughout the Empire.

What if the ‘suffering Servant’ in the sense of voluntarily standing in the gap would turn out to be an apt description of the call on Israel? As per Jesus, not the victim being oppressed, but choosing to live for those oppressed and victimised by the powers.

None of the above is a criticism on Israel at any level, after all they are pre-Jesus who comes as the true Israel (son of God), the true human. Maybe though it comes as a criticism of the likes of me who claim to follow him who set out the pattern that we do not live for ourselves. What would a kingdom of priests look like?

Creation – fall – redemption. Redeemed to be what? Kings? Or a kingdom of priests. The power of true intercession.

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Writing out loud

Ever had crazy thoughts? Or thoughts that are outside of the box that had shaped your thinking previously? Well for a few posts I plan to explore where some such thinking might take us. I am, so don’t worry, pretty conservative so will not likely be straying too far outside of the boundaries that we evangelically-types tend to think within. This will hardly be a systematic approach, but I will try to stay inside the Creation and then wider OT narratives to begin with. So a couple of preambles then off we go at a gentle pace.

Gen. 1-11 are pretty much to the Hebrew scriptures what the Hebrew scriptures are to the New Testament. They provide an important backdrop for us to understand the call of Abraham and the ensuing ups and downs of the Jewish people.

They deal with a lot of pre-history and whether they were understood literally or not (people living to an extraordinary old age, towers being built, a garden with a talking serpent etc.), I do not consider the type of literature was intended to say ‘these are objective facts so you must take the literally or else!’, but rather they are wonderful vehicles for the communication of truth. They help us understand our world, how it relates to God, and where we fit into the scheme of things.

So I am open to:

  • creation being way old, or even eternal as God is eternally in his nature a creator.
  • Adam and Eve being figurative, and that there was not ‘an’ Adam.
  • no garden
  • no serpent
  • no fall

OK, I heard the shout… what no fall?

Remember I am simply writing out loud, but I am also not writing to shock. And what I mean is no actual historic fall. I am certainly not suggesting that humanity is not fallen. So with that understanding what am I suggesting by ‘no historic fall’.

Let’s start with something I am pretty confident on: humanity was not created perfect. The most we can say is that they are created innocent, with the potential for perfection. So maybe even in that we could suggest the fall is more a failure to develop in humility and obedience than it was to ‘fall’ from perfection.

But if there was never a historic fall, and the Gen. 3 narrative is a myth to communicate truth, and that humanity has always been fallen this could open up an exciting element. Without God, and without the suffering of God, dare I say it, without the death of God there never was going to be a destiny revealed. Could this be what the Scriptures are reaching for with the description of ‘the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world’? God’s commitment then would be to the salvation of humanity, the fulfilment of their destiny, and that he was not going to ever stand aloof from us but would partner with us to achieve that. His contribution to the partnership? Suffering and Death. WOW.

I am not suggesting that there is something dark in God whereby he created us fallen, but that without God and without his suffering added to our world there can be no perfection. That without God’s total outpouring of life destiny can never be fulfilled. If we are in the image of God then we have to see in God what we need to be. And that ultimately is love outpoured, through suffering, through death, solely so as others might live. Fulfilling destiny then is not about obeying laws (eat this but not that) and when we fail to do so God bails us out, but it is about the total outpouring of love for the other. Humanity has never lived at this level – we have always been fallen. (Stop writing out loud now but much more to explore!!)

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Can you say that about Jesus #5

The view that I am pursuing regarding the cross has been generally known as Christus Victor and it is possible to see that the emphasis on liberation from all oppression – whether that oppression be Jewish or Roman – falls out of favour post the conversion of Constantine for a reason. Once Christianity became the religion of the Empire a more authority-based legal view takes precedence. Offending the powers and not submitting to authority becomes the central understanding. God, as the ultimate power (Emperor) must not be offended, and so the cross is not about setting one free to be truly human but of forgiveness for rebellion. Walter Wink in his trilogy on the powers suggest that the shift in the centrality of the cross as being the means of dealing with oppressive powers was not due to some ‘intrinsic inadequacies, but because it was subversive to the church’s role as a state religion.’

The church was now there to support the state, and the message of empire is ‘comply and all will go well’. Authority, not freedom, takes centre stage. And if we are not careful in our communication the cross can be seen as the means to set us free from God’s authority to judge us, rather than the means to set us free to be who we truly are.

Reconciliation. Post-Eden the story is one of alienation, leading to hostility and enmity. Alienation that affects the whole cosmos, so much so that it continues to groan to come into the liberation of the glory of the children of God (Ro. 8: 20,21). The unfolding of the alienation and separation continues: God / human; male / female; inter-familial (Cain and Abel); angelic / human; land / people; nation against nation; with the hostility set between the seed of woman and the seed of the serpent.

Liberation. We find ourselves in captivity, subject to a yoke of slavery. And ironically Paul, the righteous Pharisee proclaims that in the same way that the nations are subject to the elemental spirits of the world so the Jewish world is subject to the Law. The relationship to the Law is complex. It is not evil, but a gift from heaven, and yet the cross is to set those under the law free even from it. The level of freedom in Christ is such that a submission to the Law, and certainly any dependence on it, will prove to be slavery. This is not a comment on the Law per se, but on the Law in the light of Christ. What the Law could not set any Jew free from, Christ has done.

In this way he comes under the powers:
– born from a woman, so we note that everything Christ came to be and do was as a human. He, as human, has come to bring liberation to humanity.
– as a Jew he is born under the Law. The Jews were to be the Light to the nations. Yet Jesus comes at the fullness of time: when the Jews are also under a curse, and Imperial power is clearly visible, using language and imagery that is but a parody of the kingdom of heaven.
– he enters Jerusalem, king and creator, yet on a donkey to be killed there as the prophets had been before. Some reputable scholars believe that on the same day the Romans enter Jerusalem at the opposite side of the city. The contrast is stark.
– he dies on the cross. Sentenced there by Rome. Proclaimed as an insurrectionist and shamed. His death called for by the Jews, thus publicly demonstrating that the One who claimed equality with God was a blasphemer and cursed as he hung on the tree.
– so that Paul can say Jesus became a curse for us, so that the blessing of Abraham might truly flow to the nations (Gentiles).
– the powers in all their manifestations have crucified Christ, who dies yielding to God, tasting death for everyone (Heb. 2:9), disarming them, putting them to open shame (Col. 2:15).
– this open show being in the triumph over death (1 Cor. 15).
– and the blessing of Abraham being that of the outpouring of the Spirit, the evidence that we who are in Christ are the seed of Abraham. The correlation between Acts 2 and Genesis 1 is remarkable. The concepts of ‘wind’, ‘over’ and ‘speech’ echoing from one to the other.

So whatever is necessary in the cross in order for God to forgive, can be questioned. That forgiveness comes through the cross is not questionable. But it is the overcoming of the powers that seems to me to be central to the theme of the cross.

The two paradigms of overcoming the powers or forgiveness are not necessarily in conflict, but the concept that Christ came in order to pay a penalty so as God could forgive I suggest does not sit easily alongside that of the One coming to subvert all false, oppressing authority.

With the penal view there is a focus on paying a penalty without which there is no forgiveness
With the (let me call it) Christus Victor view the focus is on confronting injustice, refusing to set up an opposite authoritarian response, and in being overcome, sucking up all oppression so that it is disarmed.

With the penal view there is focus on the perfection of Christ to be the perfect sacrifice, the ultimate / infinite payment.
With the Christus Victor view Christ is the true human, who is confronted by the powers (including Satan), but who refuses the enticements to dominate. Who lives as One among others, being a voice for those who had no voice.

With the penal view the Cross is the goal as payment is made there and through faith souls are saved.
With the Christus Victor the resurrection is essential to complete the life and death of Jesus, to demonstrate the reality of the coming age.

I suggest without significant nuancing the penal view is not compatible with the Christus Victor, and in the midst of the multi-faceted imagery surrounding the cross in the NT, that the Christus Victor approach serves well as a focal point that can be modified or added to.

The German theologian Jürgen Moltmann in his book The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ As the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology puts it this way:

God is not greater than he is in this humiliation. God is not more glorious than he is in this self-surrender. God is not more powerful than he is in this helplessness. God is not more divine than he is in this humanity.

Bold words, but totally consistent with the revelation of God that is in Christ. The cross does not change God from a God of wrath to a God who will forgive. It rather transforms our relationship to the power of sin.

And if we cannot say something about Jesus, we should not say that about God.

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Can you say that about Jesus #4

In the last post I looked briefly at some of the issues surrounding the penal view of the atonement. Springing from a central view of God as judge, the law court scene developed. Sadly alongside that of the judge comes with it, not only a fair and impartial God but an impersonal, non-passionate God. Jesus’ parables of the three lost items / people (coin, sheep and son) challenges such a view of God. God is like a woman sweeping a house until she finds the coin, a shepherd who cannot rest until the one lost sheep is safe, and a Father who breaks all Middle Eastern culture and runs to embrace the son who has shamed him. Jesus reveals God in terms of his teaching and particularly in his life. So the central planks that explain the penal view are somewhat suspect.

I suggest that at the root of ‘justice’ is not God dealing with everything that dishonours him through punishment, for Jesus was willing to take the shame and side with us. (Placing the word ‘shame’ here also represents a more Eastern view of humanity’s problem where typically ‘shame’ not ‘guilt’ is central and would modify how the atonement was presented. I wonder if in the Western world, we are moving away from ‘guilt’ to ‘hopelessness’ as a more central description of the problem and how that might open up new insights to the work of the cross.) Rather justice is putting things right, and the way things are put right is through love and compassion:

I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations… A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. (Matthew 12:18-21)

Justice is effected through the care for the marginalised not through what might be considered some heavy judging sword. The miracle of justice and mercy kissing is not because they are opposites, but because God’s way of exercising justice is through mercy. To make them into some kind of opposites is to fail to understand justice (understanding the outcome primarily as judgement – though there is a judgement), and to fail to understand mercy and compassion. Mercy and compassion is strong, so strong that they can take One to death – and through death.

Death is the result of sin, but death is also the enemy to be overcome. Putting things right (justice) means that death as an enemy has to be dealt with. If this is emphasised what opens up with respect to the cross is not the law court but the prison. We are held captive to sin and to death, and need to be liberated. I hope you can see where I am pushing – justice, forgiveness (release), helplessness, liberation, mercy are all expressed in and through the cross. The Saviour is not just the second Person of the Trinity, God is the saving God, he is the Saviour God.

Now liberation also indicates judgement. But this is a judgement made against the oppressors. Oppression takes place at three levels: human, institutional and ‘heavenly’. I consider those are the three powers Paul seems to identify:

‘flesh and blood’
‘powers of this dark world’ and
‘spiritual powers in heavenly places’

or maybe we could suggest: ‘the flesh, the world and the devil’.

Humans can be redeemed, institutions can be restored to serve but I do not see redemption for the demonic.

Aligned to the above is that ‘sin’ can be viewed as a hostile power that holds us captive, so a judgement is also made against sin in the NT Scriptures, rather than reducing sin to guilt, and seeking to hold to a view that God punishes the guilty.

The two central planks with regard to sin are those of captivity and alienation – I think that is born out by the early chapters of Genesis. For there to be a redemption these are the two central issues to be addressed. Coming into right relationship at all levels (reconciliation) and being liberated from serving all oppressive masters.

The death of Jesus is perhaps not primarily so that God can forgive (he can certainly forgive without repayment) but so as he can liberate. We are forgiven, our sins are remitted, we have no guilt nor shame… and we are free.

I think also that such a view also ties the resurrection closer to the cross. He rose as representative for us, becoming not a reformed Adam but the Last Adam, the eschatological human who demonstrated that death cannot hold him, showing that all dominion has been broken.

(More to come…)

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Can you say that about Jesus #3

‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God’ is the title of a very famous sermon by Jonathan Edwards, preached in 1741. There is no question that there is an angry God, who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not possible to read Scripture without realising he is angry, though we have to be so careful that we do not ascribe to God an enlarged version of human emotion. Scripture reveals God is love, not has love, so we have to see anger / wrath as a manifestation of that love, not as an emotion that temporarily overcomes his love.

At the end of the last post I mentioned the atonement, and it is to this I wish to turn. Strangely the prevalent view of the atonement that is presented in many evangelical circles is not the predominant early church view (unless of course it is argued that NT view differs radically from the early church and the Reformers pulled us back in line with the NT). There are a variety of early views but one of the main strands was of ‘recapitulation’, of Jesus retracing the steps of our ancestors, and being a ransom in order to liberate us. That ransom was at times understood to be paid to the devil. What was seldom ever central was the theme of God being angry, unable to forgive without a perfect substitutionary sacrifice. To that we owe mainly to the writings of Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), and on to the Reformers.

Anselm used the feudal system of the day to explain that we owed a debt, and as God was infinite, the debt is infinite… the Reformers moved more toward the law court scene and guilt. Infinite guilt – cannot be paid, other than by the infinite life of the Son.

Seeking to explain the atonement using imagery available is an honourable approach, provided we stay faithful to Scripture, and that the imagery does not dictate how we read the texts.

Now for me here are some of the difficulties with a view that makes the penal view central:

1. A God / Son split:
a) God (Father) = wrath to be appeased.
b) Son = loving, identify with humanity and experiences the wrath of God on our behalf.
So c) How do we avoid a split in the Trinity, with ‘a’ good, loving ‘part’ of God and a ‘not so good part’?

2. Infinite guilt committed by finite creatures who once they reject the cure will suffer eternal torment? Is this a just outcome? In what sense would that view of hell be just? The argument is that the eternal undending punishing is due sin being against the infinite Creator, but ignores that the sin was committed by a finite creature in a finite time duration.

3. God can only ‘forgive’ when there is a substitute. If I am owed (Anselm) £100 by John that I am not willing to release, but Peter pays the £100 then in what sense do I forgive John. His debt is paid – his debt is released but I have not forgiven the debt.

4. If Jesus died for all (not the ‘L’ of TULIP) then if the debt is paid perfectly in what sense is it just for God to not ‘forgive’ the debt of those whose debt has been paid. This seems to me to lead to either:
a) Universalism – the debt is paid. A believer is one who accepts the truth of this, an ‘unbeliever’ has not accepted the truth of this but their debt is paid, hence all will be ‘saved’.
b) Limited atonement. He only died for the elect, as all he died for will be saved, and the cross did not pay for the sins / debts of the non-elect.

Theologians have gone down the limited atonement route to get round this, or the Universalist route. (Universalism is not strictly ‘all roads lead to God’ as it is held that only through Jesus there is salvation.) Others have sought to nuance the above issues, and rightly there has been an insistence that everything springs from the love of God, and the cross becomes in history where the wrath of God against sin is expressed. So it is not that a penal view cannot be redeemed (a pun!!), and if ‘death’ is the penalty for sin / result of sin, then Jesus did indeed die the death of the sinner: judged so by Rome and by Judaism, and perhaps by God(?).

So I am not jumping up and down to say how wrong those Reformers were, but how central was their take? Sharper people than I have held and defended the penal view. I, however, struggle with it as the central motif. Another post to explore an alternative(s).

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Can you say that about Jesus? #2

Theology. Strictly the ‘doctrine of God’. Here is a great problem. What do we know about God? The theological question over the divinity of Christ… ‘Was Jesus God?’ Right answer = orthodox / wrong answer = unorthodox. But the problem is the question.

Jesus hit it head on. The Jews, and in particular the learned ones knew who God was, and could accuse Jesus of being a blasphemer, making himself equal to God. Think they had problems… well they certainly would have if they had really understood Jesus’ position and approach. He claimed that one could only know the Father through him, and that he was the image of the invisible God (to quote Paul, but this is what Jesus held to when talking with Philip: if you have seen me you have seen the Father’.)

If the Father and the Son are ‘one’, we cannot make statements about God that we cannot make about Jesus. This disturbs all kinds of theology. What does it do the ‘wrath of God’, the appeasement through the atonement. Yes, I am suggesting a follow on to the post about Jesus and the Scriptures, as so much that we discover about God is through the Bible, but that discovery has to be taken through the filter of who Jesus is, and I guess like al filters what comes through is pure and some stuff gets stuck in the filter.

So we really have to re-define God in Jesus-imagery. ‘Is Jesus God?’, needs to be replaced with ‘how Jesus-like is your God?’ as the only true God is Jesus-like. Of course if we have a Jesus who is a ultimate cage fighter then we might be in trouble, or we view the Incarnation as a temporary blip in the revelation of God then there is probably not so much to catch in the filter!

Wonderfully releasing to know that the Father is not in a bad mood and has to be appeased. That view is so un-Jesus like. But it does raise a big issue about the atonement. Wasn’t that about appeasing an angry God? Another post another day.

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Can you say that about Jesus?

Do you, like me struggle with the parts of the Bible that are way over the top violent? parts that call for the violent killing of children for example:

O daughter Babylon, you devastator. Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against a rock (Ps. 137:8,9).

Not pleasant and there are many more violent passages throughout the books. Certainly not too easy to reconcile with ‘love your enemies’!! We can talk about such Scriptures being pre-the cross, that they were to protect Israel’s identity as the carrier of destiny etc. However, such responses only go so far, and unless we can go further in our response we are likely to get to the point where we defend violence in the name of Jesus.

I love Revelation. On the surface maybe reads violently, but on closer reading it seems to completely undermine violence. The Lion is not the one we follow but the Lamb. The blood shed is his (and ours). And this is for me a good starting point. Images are re-interpreted Christologically. In a forthcoming chapter in a book I also seek to suggest that the ‘return’ of Jesus is not a different Jesus… but the one who left is the one coming back.

Let me push that further. We have to interpret Scripture in a radical Christological fashion. It demands that we do, for the scriptures themselves point to him. They point away from themselves so we cannot be first people of the book. Maybe that demands that we not only wrestle with Scripture but ‘reject’ Scripture in the name of Jesus. I do not mean remove texts, but allow the intra-canonical dialogue to take place, and turn the volume right down on the texts that cannot be applied to Jesus. Is that not what Jesus did with ‘You have heard it said, BUT…’ Such a strong contrasting word.

I am not sure how Moslems handle the violence in their texts. They can put one alongside another as we do, but thank God we can go beyond where they can go. We both want to honour our sacred texts. But we are not to be people of the book.

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