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    Entries in Jesus Christ (9)


    The Ascension and the Defeat of Shame

    One of the central ideas within Christianity is that of forgiveness. Christians proclaim the forgiveness of sins, and exhort disciples of Jesus to “forgive as they have been forgiven.” But it is not uncommon to encounter those within a congregation who cannot embrace the forgiveness that has been offered to them, or experience guilt because of their inability to forgive those who have wronged them.

    This is most often so because of the belief that our forgiveness is contingent upon our acceptance of forgiveness, or that an offer of forgiveness hinges on our ability to forgive.

    I am not denying that our acceptance of forgiveness lacks importance, nor that forgiveness is a responsibility and command that Christians should obey. But I am arguing that forgiveness received and granted are acts of faith given in response to the action of God accomplished in and through Jesus Christ. In forgiveness, the emphasis should first be upon what God has done. What we do then naturally follows.

    When we do not forgive as we ought, or when we fall prey to the belief that we are not worthy of forgiveness, we do well to consider Jesus. We consider his action upon the cross, where sin and death was put to death. We think of his great love for us, but also for all of humanity. We consider what he has done, and then find the grace we need to act.

    But we also do well to consider the ascension. On the third day, God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead. Our redemption was accomplished on Good Friday and established on Easter Sunday. And even now Jesus reigns.

    In The Face of Forgiveness, Philip D. Jamieson writes:

    The resurrected face of Jesus reveals the finality of God’s victory over sin and death. The empty tomb reveals that there is no return to the downturned face. The Father has lifted Christ’s face and we are now called to look to him. He is no mere example of a good man. He is the living Lord who has overcome all things that would harm us. His is the face that would not look away, even on Friday, and now we know on Sunday that we never will stop looking.

    A verse:

    Our guilt and shame no longer rule,
    We need not look away.
    His face of grace beholds us.
    Emboldened by atoning love, his truth it now enfolds us.
    Dying, rising, reigning now,
    It is Thee, Thou art the way.


    Book Review :: How God Became Jesus by Michael F. Bird

    Bart Ehrman is a boogeyman some evangelicals like to hate. Ehrman consistently takes positions that undercut Christian orthodoxy, and his scholarly positions often lead you to believe that most of what you have heard in sermons and all of what you have heard in Sunday School is erroneous. That is where he believes the evidence leads, and like any scholar, he wants to convince his students.

    That said, it is unfair to Ehrman and his scholarship to dismiss him out of hand or make him a heel. He is a human being, a hard working scholar, and  an engaging communicator. This is why each time Ehrman publishes a book like his last release, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, evangelical scholars respond in print or in lectures. He deserves to be answered fairly and with good scholarship.

    In How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus' Divine Nature---A Response to Bart Ehrman, Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans, Simon J. Gathercole, Charles E. Hill, and Chris Tilling respond to Ehrman's How Jesus Became God. On short notice, this team of scholars offered their rebuttals to Ehrman's presentation of the historical Jesus. Their work offers an apologetic, or defense of Christian doctrine. And I think it is well done.

    I am not current enough in New Testament history to provide a wholesale evaluation of the arguments of Bird, Evans, Gathercole, Hill, and Tilling in this volume, but I am familiar enough with the biblical material and a broad enough range of scholarly research on the New Testament to approve and recommend this collection of essays. How God Became Jesus addresses the key questions raised by Ehrman concerning first century Jewish cosmology, Jesus' self-perception (Did Jesus understand himself to be God?), the evidence pertaining to Jesus' burial, the beliefs of the first Christ-followers, problematic elements within Ehrman's interpretive categories and his exegesis of Scripture, and the implications for our understanding of the formation of a bounded, exclusive community centered on Christ (as well as the emergence of heterodox groups).

    This book is a helpful companion to Ehrman's How Jesus Became God for those seeking to evaluate his arguments, or for those seeking to become conversant with Ehrman from an evangelical perspective.

    I heard Bart Ehrman speak in Lawrence, Kansas several years ago, right after his publication of God's Problem, an examination of Job and what theologians call theodicy. He's engaging, a good storyteller, witty, and clear. I am also familiar with his written works. I happen to disagree with him. Often.

    I disagree with Ehrman not only because I am Christian who believes the historic teachings concerning the incarnation, the resurrection of Jesus, the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and other core doctrines are reliable and true. I also disagree with Ehrman because I find his arguments unconvincing and his methodology suspect. Whenever I have read Ehrman's works or listened to his presentations, I have thought something is amiss. Admittedly, I have also had a very different existential experience concerning God--I am a Christian. Ehrman is an agnostic. Of course we will disagree.

    Scholarly fads come and go. Whenever a book is published claiming a new or never-before-told version of the life of Jesus, or a supposedly revelatory account of the ancient evidence that undercuts established orthodoxy, it will receive buzz. These books will be placed on end caps in every bookstore. They will sell. People enjoy controversy, and gravitate toward conspiracy theories.

    In those instances, it will be up to responsible Christian scholars, and responsible Christians, to listen to the arguments, examine the evidence, and offer a measured, accurate, and winsome response. How God Became Jesus assists those who wish to offer an evangelical perspective on the historical Jesus, and to do so as respectfully as possible.


    The Long Trail and the Warm Hearth

    Photo by Óskar Steinn

    "Nothing gives rest but the sincere search for truth."
    -Blaise Pascal

    Pascal has give us a paradox: rest is found in the sincere search; the end of which is truth. Truth is journey, and destination. Truth has revelatory and restorative power; it is both propulsive and enticing. It is a walk and an abiding; a long trail and a warm hearth.

    If we pause long enough to consider it, truth is something we simultaneously avoid and desire. It is always bearing down upon us. We construct and reconstruct our perceptions of reality in a way that aligns with the really real, or the really convenient. We live in reality, we persist in fantasy. The human heart longs for truth, but bends toward deception. The person who is at rest has found truth, has discovered reality, and is coming to terms with the way of the world. The person who is not at rest deals in fiction, abandons the sincere search, and persists with the instability of unreality. Too often, we delight in our folly.

    The spokesperson for Christ, in many respects, has an immense responsibility. We give witness to truth. We believe that Jesus, in his life and teachings, showed us the really real, and through trusting him and becoming his disciples, we too may enter that reality. He called it "kingdom." Truth, according to Jesus, is public. Matters of the spiritual life are not relegated to the private realm of "faith" or "mere belief," but are instead matters of knowledge. Anyone wishing to have this knowledge may have it. Those who seek shall find, those who knock shall have the door opened, those who ask, it will be given to them.

    Jesus once said that those who hear his words and put them in to practice are like the wise person who built their house upon the rock. But for those who failed to heed his word, that too has a consequence. For Christians obsessed with truth telling, we must remember that truth well told is enhanced by the texture of life well lived. Our greatest witness to the truth of the gospel is given by those who walk in the grace given in Christ, and whose lives are humbly committed to putting his words in to practice.

    Christians believe, very simply, that truth is not a proposition or set of propositions, but a person. Knowledge of the person, Christ, leads us to develop a language about him, consisting of words and our actions, sometimes taking shape as propositions, but most fully taking expression in a life at rest in God, a rest so filled with grace that the sincere search is not frantic, but easy, threaded with trust and defined as friendship.

    If you are truly seeking, if your search is sincere, ask God to teach you that which is realiable, sound, and most of all, true. Look to Jesus. Consider his words and begin by doing what he says. Let your yes be yes and no be no. Pray for your persecutors. Welcome the stranger. Consider how his words expose the human heart, uncover our propensity toward wrong actions, or, for the disciplined, our mixed motives. Let your inquiry be marked by an openness to knowing, not merely believing. And see if the confidence you gain in God does not lead to a kind of rest, a letting go, an acknowledgement that God is indeed God, and that you are not. See if a smallness does not set in, and a realization that salvation is a present need which God has already met in Christ.

    Truth, and the knowledge of truth, leads to freedom. Spokespersons for Christ believe that truth became flesh and blood, bled and died, and was raised again. Even now, he reigns, and invites us to live in the light.

    Let the wise sincerely seek truth, and may all who seek, find, and rest.


    A Social Network Christmas

    Considering this has received over one million views, I'm late to the party. But this video has set the tone for our look at the Christmas story in the Student Ministry at UBC, and is incredibly well done. Take a look.


    Book Review :: Embracing Obscurity by Anonymous

    It isn't often that a book arrives by post penned by an anonymous author. The last time that happened? Well, never. So when I was asked to review Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing in Light of God's Everything (B&H Books), I was intrigued, for we exist within a Christian subculture in which those who produce media want to be noticed, whether we are wordsmiths (written or spoken), film makers, or musicians. Bloggers are not immune. In fact, in the blogosphere, vainglory reigns supreme. Platform building, audience, click-throughs, exclusive interviews, and "first reviews" take pride of place. Everyone wants to be famous. In this respect, we aren't much different from the world, and I must confess I know these pains firsthand.

    EO begins with a strong declaration of our problem, and a little bit of math. The author writes, "We're intoxicated with a desire to be known, recognized, appreciated, and respected. We crave to be a 'somebody' and do notable things, to achieve our dreams and gain the admiration of others. To be something--anything--other than nothing." Yet, the author notes, on a planet of "Seven billion, twenty five million, four hundred twenty thousand, three hundred ninety," it is difficult to stand out. We are all relatively obscure.

    The author names up-front that remaining anonymous in publication is not a gimmick or a hoax, but is a genuine effort to live in accordance with the primary message of this book: embracing obscurity. Humility and lowliness are supreme values for the author, as well as the intention of deflecting glory to a greater source, God himself. The author writes, "It's about making Him, not ourselves, look good." Yet this is a paradox, one that can be seen in the life of Jesus himself, who in his very life gave glory to God in all things, and in succeeding, was elevated to the highest place.


    Following a diagnosis of glory-seeking and a declaration of our relative unimportance concerning the broad numerical scope of humanity, EO explores our notions of identity and definition, and our understanding of Jesus as a humble, servant king. EO then expounds a liberating Christian approach to true significance, success, servanthood, and suffering. Lastly, the author examines important concerns such as the mysterious nature of Christian witness, a pastoral admonition for a humble posture if recognition does come, and a brief treatment of our ultimate hope in Christ. Throughout, EO illuminates every point through exposition of the Bible, and remains close to the text.

    The overall structure and primary theme of EO is sound and pastorally helpful. If I may borrow a medical analogy, if the diagnosis is obsessive glory-seeking and idol-worship at the altars of fame, success, financial security, beauty, or countless other false gods, this book has the ability to point to the cure of many ills. Why? Because this book points to God as the source of all we have, the one deserving all our glory, and the fount of all dignity and worth.

    God is great, and we are but bit-players in his grand drama. Granted, that is an overstatement. And perhaps this is where EO exhibits its shortcomings. In an effort to demonstrate just how obscure, how insignificant and how small we are in comparison the largesse of our world, EO whittles us down too far. When John the Baptist was approached by his disciples concerning the crowds that were leaving him and gravitating toward Jesus, he replied, "He must become greater; I must become less." Not nothing, less. And Jesus, by virtue of his "obedience unto death--even death on a cross" was not relegated to the obscure, but was instead lifted to the highest place, as Paul says in Philippians 2. These themes are explored by EO to a degree (Phil. 2 is a key text for Chapter 3), but the implications for us are not drawn out as well as they could've been.

    Human beings have dignity and worth not because of what we do or achieve, but because we are first created in God's image (Gen. 1:27) and are being restored by virtue of Christ's work on the cross (2 Cor. 5:17, amplified by the argument in 2 Cor. 1-4). We are being "made new" by virtue of Christ's life, death, and resurrection, and through the power available to us through faith in him. We are, therefore, of inestimable worth.

    We may be obscure in relation to the relative population of the earth, but we are not obscure to the One who really counts (a point made in Chapter 4, "Embracing Significance", but not carried strongly enough throughout). We are being redeemed and remade in to something that exceeds all we dare imagine. Instead of "embracing obscurity," we are called to embrace Christ, in whose eyes we are already famous, not because of anything we have done, but because of what he has done so that we might be made his possession (Hebrews 12:1-2). Embracing Christ leads to a life of humility, of lowliness, of service to others, for we have first been humbled and brought low in our calling to serve Christ the King.

    Humility, hiddenness, full commitment, service to others, secrecy, peace, and contentment are all needed in greater supply for those in Christ. The writer of EO and I are in agreement that those resources are available. This book points a way, and should be read critically and with care. As I said, many admonitions here can be helpful, but need further nuance.

    It may be that my differences with the author of EO boil down to semantics and rhetorical presentation, and are therefore differences of degree, not kind. As a charitable reader, I would like to think so. But in charity, I also must say the points emphasized above were not made strongly nor consistently enough. I believe that "becoming nothing" or "embracing obscurity" are themes that depart from robust thinking on what it means for us to be redeemed and sanctified, and thus are in need of redefinition, or a different scaffolding, if they are to stand.

    This does not mean that another book must be written, but that this book must be complemented by the witness of a community, a group of friends. Pick it up and discuss it with other Christians, and you will profit.