Monday, December 30, 2002

Christ Event

You asked about the Christ Event

You asked about the Christ Event. It's familiar theological shorthand or jargon and refers to the fullness and completion of salvation in Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. "Event" emphasizes Christianity’s claim that God acts most definitely and most definitively within the context of human history, and so emphasizes that our salvation's not just a vague religious generality but actually something quite un-religious, very un-otherworldly: God's invasion into the course of human history in order to fulfill all of his promises, in order to draw creation back to its Creator, all of this occurring in an actual "event" that happened within definable linear, chronological time and at a specific longitude and latitude, on a stage filled with human actors. You "wind event," "terrorist event," cardiac event"...I hope this helps!

"Jesus is 'myth'?" Gerhard von Rad points out that myth has a greater degree of density than history. I'd assume density makes myth truer than history, at least in some sense. But I also know Jesus was a human person, like you and me, one who lived and walked etc., on this earth in the course of human history – whatever meaning you choose to assign to that. And as Holy Spirit, Jesus does live within us, but (in my humble orthodoxy!) I also meet Jesus again and again not only in the scriptures as the "unique and authoritative witness to God's activity and God's word to me" ("divine revelation, human disclosure" again); I also meet Jesus as the Spirit indwelling me and I meet Christ Jesus in others, whether or not they specifically define themselves as Christians or as Jesus people of some kind or another.

What I'm saying here is I have a serious problem with your use of the word "myth," though clearly there's a whole lot about Jesus that's far larger-than-life, at least larger than life as I commonly experience it. In The God of Jesus, Stephen Patterson says Paul's Jesus gradually assumes gigantic (otherworldly?) mythic proportions.

Andrew Wyeth's John Wesley?

Your likening the John Wesley portrait to an Andrew Wyeth painting…

Your likening the John Wesley portrait to an Andrew Wyeth painting really appeals to me! I don't know all that much about Methodism. I know, of course, that John and Charles wrote 8,000–10,000 hymns that are very highly regarded by all Christians, and that Methodism began as a "heart" rather than as a "head" movement. That is to say they weren't frantically writing multiple volumes of theology the way Luther and Calvin were, though the later date of the Wesleyan movement may have been part of the reason for that – being further removed in time from Medieval scholarship. And the possibility of perfection through the work of the Holy Spirit originally was built into Wesleyan theology though it seems as if that's no longer emphasized: in other words, a theology of the "Third Article" (Sanctification) of the Creed rather than of the First Article (Creation) or of the Second Article (Redemption).

I know some Methodists are into glossalalia and they also have a strong tradition of lay testimony and lay preaching. And like the other mainline churches, Methodists in this country (as well as in the UK) have a powerful practice of biblically-based social and political activism.

Maybe I'm mistaken, but when you mention knowing Methodists in the 1940s and 1950s, do you think you were old enough and aware enough of religious styles to be able to discern all that much about Methodism? "…serious, sober sided, self disciplined, examples of the Protestant work ethic." With this I agree, though a lot of that "Protestant work ethic" actually is the government bureaucrat's work ethic. Although I'd rather not generalize, it's also true a whole lot of the more intellectual "head" theology these days still comes from the Lutheran and Reformed traditions. Those folks have such well-tuned minds and can turn out some exceptional material!


As you said, the concept of the progressive march of history is a Western one. But we now live in the interregnum between the Eternity that was before the dawn of “time” and the Eternity that will be after the end of “history,” when the Word of God, predestined in Eternity to the restoration, redemption and salvation of all Creation will prevail and linear, historical time will end.

A comment about doing biblical theology: as Christians we (I) run with some basic assumptions:

• God’s supreme, most conclusive self-revelation is found in Jesus of Nazareth – a human, born of human parents, who walked and lived on this created earth in historical, measurable space and time. Jesus’ person and work reveals the transcendent as immanent.

• The God and Father of Jesus the Christ is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the “I AM” of the Covenant on Mount Sinai.

• God is God of history, God of nature.

• Creation is a product of the will of God and therefore distinct and separate from God. Humankind is part of creation. God indwells all creation as Holy Spirit.

• (Therefore,) just as our own individual history in time, space and place reveals our identify, our corporate history reveals the Living God in ways understandable to us as human creatures.

• The outrage, the strange world the Bible reveals is the offense of a Holy God Who dares and risks his very Self, His reputation, by invading human history and living as one of us in order to re-reveal Himself to creation, in order to reconcile creation to its Creator.

Once people settle comfortable into a place and a space they often forget who they are, who God is: a God Who travels and sojourns with the people, a stranger and a sojourner with the people, God of History, “God of Great Surprises,” in Corita Kent’s words! Meaning is central to our lives as humans. And as you pointed out, the meaning of the Exodus is freedom, liberation, hospitality to the stranger and to the sojourner…I love that God tells Israel he is a stranger and a sojourner on the land with Israel – forever! And the many stories in which hospitality shown to the stranger equates with giving hospitality to God.

Comfortably settled in space and place, people often try to define God, the indefinable, indescribable One, and not only to picture and define God, the wholly Other but ultimately to objectify God and then also to deify objects. This is one of the many temptations of “civilization,” “citification.” The nomadic religion and way of Israel and of Jesus is a religion and a way of promise. Nomadic religion is religion of history. If only we’d observe the first commandment, life would be so easy. The first commandment is all we need!

You underlined and ?-marked “The Biblical Witness.” Maybe you’ve noticed the phrase is kind of a buzz word. However, your question was “…what does Leah mean here?” When I say “the biblical witness” I’m referring to the broad sweep of recorded revelation: myth, saga, history, prophecy, eschatology, apocalyptic, poetry – everything…but beyond that, I assume all these writings witness to God’s ongoing activity in human history and most definitively in the Christ Event. And as you probably realize, I trust in the essential inspiration of scripture and I also trust its canonization was Spirit-ed. However, I also believe a lot of human writing and human activity is Spirit-led, which means I see the compilation of the Bible as somewhat accidental – though an inspired accident! As always, I claim God’s most authentic and fullest self-revelation is found, seen, heard, touched, smelled, tasted, felt – in, with and under the everyday ongoing activities of human life. I read a taxonomy of the Christian walk someone had invented according to what they considered a biblical model. Its seven marks were kinda like Luther’s Seven Marks of the True Church. First was “the mark of the stable: begin where God says.” No, not true!!! God always begins where we say! It’s exactly as you wrote, “He meets us where we are in our understanding.” Jesus reveals a Servant God who continues to condescend, who serves us. We serve Jesus’ God most perfectly in serving one another. In meeting others where they are, in beginning where they say. As you often point out, most especially in welcoming and in serving the stranger in our midst. Jesus is our ultimate model, in every way.

You wrote, “Jesus…is God showing us Himself…” Yes!!! Amen!!! Jesus shows us a sym-pathetic, com-passionate God who suffers, grieves, rejoices with us. The God of Love who does not condemn. Do you know the song “Endless Love” that Diana Ross and Lionel Richie sang long ago? Mariah Carey and Luther Vandross recorded it more recently. I love the line in the song, “And love, I’ll be a fool for you.” Those words perfectly summarize God’s intervention in history – God’s intervention in each of our individual lives, our God’s passion for humanity.

Although I can’t quote the passage exactly, in I and Thou Martin Buber speaks of “primitive man” being asleep much of the time and says in effect, “most of his waking hours also are sleep.” Isn’t that what you’ve been saying about all of us? We need to awaken to, come home to, God who is beyond time-bound and space-bound history. In “that day” each of us will be found: no longer sojourners, no longer “resident aliens.” We’ll be at home and at oneness with ourselves, one another and with our God.

theodicy notes

How does Christianity explain this world of hurt?

As you may realize, the short version of Christianity’s answers are:

1. Creation suffers, struggles and grieves in pain with death’s agents and with death itself because creation is fallen. All of the incalculable manifestations of death point toward this fallenness. How did this fallenness, asunder-ness, this sin come about? By humanity’s not living in the image of the God in Whose image God created them; by abrogating their call to creativity and community and, paradoxically, by grasping the gift of freedom - which also means they’ve made a whole lot of mistakes and taken lots of missteps.

2. Christianity’s answer is a free and sovereign God of mercy and love, justice and life Who in freedom and sovereignty suffers, struggles and grieves with creation: a God Whose answer always is resurrection. This God, Who raised Jesus from death to new life, is manifest in all creation and present to every one of us, most specifically in the Church as the new Body of the Risen Christ. God is present in, with and under creation with the hope, the promise and the reality of redemption. BUT, the signs of God’s presence remain elusive – our Free God cannot and will not be contained: “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” Just as you said, God cannot be limited by time and space and, as I keep trying to explain, I agree. Even as revealed in the human Jesus, God cannot be contained limited or defined. In freedom God remains the One Who will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy…though still, response to creation's needs continues to be God’s primary passion.

3. My point about death’s agents and about death itself is that the sum of the parts not only is synergistic in being greater than the literal addition of the parts, but it’s also vastly different in kind from any of the individual parts and assumes a real liveliness and a dynamic of its own. Although at their origins the “powers and principalities” are practically inert, in combination they take off on their own with a cosmic presence and a cosmic influence far beyond anything they ever could have as discrete elements. They become real persons with personalities and with tremendous power to extinguish life. This gets back to what I wrote about the infrastructure supporting the epistructure. Possibly systems of all kinds begin with the individual? –Colossians 2:15; –Ephesians 6:12

Having said that. I remember your telling me you don’t go with the theology of the Servant God. Yes, it is one of Christianity’s main theological currents, and it’s also where we derive our Christian identity of a servant people. We know the God Who condescends to us and identifies with us in every way, ultimately in the death of Jesus of Nazareth, in Jesus’ death meeting us in the experience we all inevitably have in common. And God again meets us in the experience for which we hope in Jesus’ resurrection.

Theology/Theodicy Question

Originally posted in a slightly different version on Best Friends Animal Society Forums.

Trust me to jump in whenever there's a "theological question!" "Why God allows this" is the question of theodicy, and there's general consensus that none of the world religions or spiritual ways possess anything remotely resembling an adequate answer.

Some of you on these message boards know my perspective is Christian; theology is one of my principal passions! In the seminary classroom we learn about biblical content and sources and redaction and authorship and about scholarship and "higher criticism"; we learn responsible biblical interpretation (especially for preaching and teaching), church history, languages...but we don't get easy answers for all the hardest questions of life and existence.

As one of you wrote, "we flawed humans let God (and creation) down." Humans abrogated their charge, their stewardship over creation. That's one of the partial answers theologians often give; in other words, sin has inevitable consequences of brokenness, dysfunction and decay, and those consequential costs frequently escalate - or at times disintegrate - into something immensely chaotic, seemingly random and completely out of control. The sin, whether thought, word, or action, in itself is a sign of separation between humans, God and creation, and the sin also causes further disjunction between heaven and earth. A couple of you observed, "we disobeyed God in the garden," and that's another traditional and accurate but still incomplete answer.

Historically there have been a multitude of suggestions and ideas as to just what is this "image of God" in which humans, as the crown of creation (as a matter of fact woman is the chronological crown of creation) are made. To me one of the most credible ways we human creatures image the Divine is with our free will or agency: all so true about disobedience in that paradisiacal Eden of Genesis 2 and Genesis 3, but it's also true at the moment of violating God's authority that caused a such a rupture in the relationship among humans, creation, and their Creator, humans also seized the gift of agency or free will and therefore at the same time also took responsibility for their daily lives and their own well being, just as someone here mentioned. And as she says, free will also means "free choices." Sadly correct that at that same time humanity gave up the stewardship of creation God had charged them with as well, just as one of you already said.

In terms of "Why God allows this," although God's sovereignty is one of Christian theology's main spins on the biblical revelation, we always distinguish between God's perfect will and God's permissive will; that is to say, God never would plan suffering, grief, pain and brokenness, but since humans have the gift (=given) of free will, God doesn't force us to do good and avoid evil. Created in the image of our free God—God's freedom is another essential tenet of biblical theology—humans also are free to some extent.

Furthermore, God is watching and God does know when you pay kindness to animals or to humans or to the earth or to any part of God's cosmic creation, the total environment included! And as you suggested, prayer indeed is one of the most important ways we share responsibility with God.

And everyone, please remember: the day will come when all our enemies will be defeated, will be no more, including the enemy of death! Once again, my perspective is Christian, and the Bible claims Jesus' death and resurrection resulted in the death of death. Parts of the New Testament witness seem confused and confusing but the general Christian conviction is that although salvation/ wholeness/ reconciliation and all the rest of the promises of God already are "done deeds," in Jesus Christ, but there's still a sense in which creation remains fallen. We also have the indwelling Spirit, enabling our response in prayer, word and action to the many needs we see about us. And there will come a day we'll see, hear, touch and live totally within a redeemed and restored creation. That day will be the fullness of redemption. We talk a lot on these Furoms about "Rainbow Bridge." The familiar story begins, "Just this side of heaven..." When each of us and each of our animals leaves this temporary body, we go to the Rainbow Bridge, or a place that closely parallels it, where it's almost heaven. At the end time (the Eschaton in biblical Greek) all creation will be reunited and restored and in perfect bodies. No longer will we dwell "Just this side of heaven"; we'll live in the fullness and completion of heaven, the arrival of the Day of Jesus Christ, the world of a restored creation. What form will that take? Another subject of major speculation!

As the book of Job 12:7-10 reminds us all:
You have only to ask the cattle, for them to instruct you, and the birds of the sky, for them to inform you. The creeping things of earth will give you lessons, and the fish of the sea provide you an explanation: there is not one such creature but will know that the hand of God has arranged things like this! In his hand is the soul of every living thing and the breath of every human being!