Category Archives: New Testament

On Christian Fundamentalism’s Ongoing Effort to Win Custody of Jesus

Interesting take on responses to Reza Aslan’s Book, entitled Zealot. Her final sentences are most striking: “When a god begins to require the custodial protection of those who worship him, he is no longer a god. He becomes an idol. May we all find the courage and wisdom to never make ignorance the aim of religion, nor idolatry the replacement for faith.” There remains a careful balance between what Crystal St. Marie Lewis proposes and correcting error. Christians have a commission to proclaim the message of Christ, when this is compromised by others, correction of the message must take place. However, we many times are distracted by side-bar conversations about who retains the authority to write about Christianity. Seen in this way, Ms. Lewis has a point.

Crystal St. Marie Lewis

tug of warI’ve been watching the controversy surrounding Reza Aslan’s new bestseller fairly closely. The book is called Zealot and it’s the latest of many titles to argue that Jesus was a revolutionary teacher, a man of prophetic vision, a political rabble-rouser and a devoutly religious Jew whose only real claim to divinity is found in the identity imposed upon him after his death. The author of this book has done what a variety of scholars have attempted to do: Separate for us the historical Jesus (the pre-myth person who lived a natural life in a real time and place) from the Jesus of doctrine—the eternalized celestial figure identified for generations all over the world as the Son of God.

I was first introduced to Dr. Aslan’s book one Friday morning while getting ready for work with the television within earshot. I was distracted by the protest of MSNBC host Joe Scarborough

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Filed under New Testament, Theology

We are far too easily pleased

This C.S. Lewis quote struck me as an fascinating explanation of human desire.

We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.[1]

[1] Lewis, C. S. “Weight of Glory” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2001, 25-26.

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Filed under New Testament, Spirituality, Uncategorized

Messengers of the Advent

Pietro Perugino [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pietro Perugino [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Many things in the Christmas season stir the soul. Christmas brings us reminders of what was given for us and what we should give to others. When we think of giving to others, most think about the item purchased or craft made as gift given to another. However, we forget that sometimes gifts come in the form of information; gifts can be intangible. For example, some wait until Christmas to announce marriage plans, life plans, or the birth of a child. Perhaps one chooses to name a child in honor of a family member. Information or good news provides joy, an incorporeal gift, to the receiver. The angels of the Christmas story create a similar condition when they announce the advent of Christ. They played a prominent role in the proclamation of Christ’s advent. The angel announced the birth of Jesus to Joseph and later directed him to Egypt and back (Mt. 2:13, 20). The angel announced Christ’s birth to Mary (Luke 1:29-34). The announcement of Christ’s birth to the shepherds remains the most prominent for most (Luke 2:9-20). In all cases, the angel’s role was that of an evangelist, as Webster defines it, an enthusiastic advocate of something. A common understanding of the term angel in the New Testament is messenger. The Messengers were enthusiastic advocates of Jesus’ birth and all that would now become a reality because of his coming. Clearly Luke’s gospel reflects this as records that,

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” [Luke 2:9-14] [1]

We have an angel’s ministry in our time, messengers as enthusiastic advocates of Christ’s coming to earth. In fulfilling our role, we, like the angels that announced Christ’s birth glorify him. Origin summarized the role of evangelists well in this respect in his commentary of the gospel of John. He points out,

Now if there are those among men who are honoured with the ministry of evangelists, and if Jesus Himself brings tidings of good things, and preaches the Gospel to the poor, surely those messengers who were made spirits by God, those who are a flame of fire, ministers of the Father of all, cannot have been excluded from being evangelists also. Hence an angel standing over the shepherds made a bright light to shine round about them, and said: “Fear not; behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all the people; for there is born to you, this day, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David.” And at a time when there was no knowledge among men of the mystery of the Gospel, those who were greater than men and inhabitants of heaven, the army of God, praised God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men.” And having said this, the angels go away from the shepherds into heaven, leaving us to gather how the joy preached to us through the birth of Jesus Christ is glory in the highest to God; they humbled themselves even to the ground, and then returned to their place of rest, to glorify God in the highest through Jesus Christ. But the angels also wonder at the peace which is to be brought about on account of Jesus on the earth, that seat of war, on which Lucifer, star of the morning, fell from heaven, to be warred against and destroyed by Jesus.[2]

Christmas season reminds us to proclaim the good news of Christ’s advent to earth.

[1] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (3rd ed.; Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Lk 2:9–14.

[2] Origen, “Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John”, trans. Allan Menzies, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume IX: The Gospel of Peter, the Diatessaron of Tatian, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Visio Pauli, the Apocalypses of the Virgil and Sedrach, the Testament of Abraham, the Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena, the Narrative of Zosimus, the Apology of Aristides, the Epistles of Clement (Complete Text), Origen’s Commentary on John, Books I-X, and Commentary on Matthew, Books I, II, and X-XIV ( ed. Allan Menzies;New York: Christian Literature Company, 1897), 304.

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Walk the Talk: Ignatius – “Now I begin to be a disciple”

Ignatius of Antioch (35-98AD) reminds Christ-followers of a simple truth that is mostly hard to follow. He Says, “It is better for a man to be silent and be [a Christian], than to talk and not to be one. “The kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” Men “believe with the heart, and confess with the mouth,” the one “unto righteousness,” the other “unto salvation.” It is good to teach, if he who speaks also acts. For he who shall both “do and teach, the same shall be great in the kingdom.” Our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, first did and then taught, as Luke testifies, “whose praise is in the Gospel through all the Churches.” There is nothing which is hid from the Lord, but our very secrets are near to Him. Let us therefore do all things as those who have Him dwelling in us, that we may be His temples, and He may be in us as God. Let Christ speak in us, even as He did in Paul. Let the Holy Spirit teach us to speak the things of Christ in like manner as He did.”[1]

Ignatius finished well in his journey on earth and heeded his own admonition. On his way to Rome after his arrest, he expressed that, “From Syria even unto Rome I fight with beasts, both by land and sea, both by night and day, being bound to ten leopards, I mean a band of soldiers, who, even when they receive benefits, show themselves all the worse. But I am the more instructed by their injuries [to act as a disciple of Christ]; “yet am I not thereby justified.” May I enjoy the wild beasts that are prepared for me; and I pray they may be found eager to rush upon me, which also I will entice to devour me speedily, and not deal with me as with some, whom, out of fear, they have not touched. But if they be unwilling to assail me, I will compel them to do so. Pardon me [in this]: I know what is for my benefit. Now I begin to be a disciple.”[2]

The last sentence intrigues me: “Now I begin to be a disciple.” When all the talk is done and action is required, what will we do?

[1] Ignatius of Antioch, “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians”, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers With Justin Martyr and Irenaeus ( ed. Alexander Roberts et al.;Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 56.

[2] Ignatius of Antioch, “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans”, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers With Justin Martyr and Irenaeus ( ed. Alexander Roberts et al.;Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 75-76.

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Filed under Education, New Testament

But A Passing Moment – Nolan Price

“…my flesh that tells me that there are people who I feel just don’t deserve to die so suddenly, men who I see changing the world, men that have made the world a better place just by being put here on this earth, men like Nolan. But deep down the shaming truth that starts to sting my eyes is that we all have deserved death and it is the Lord’s intervening daily grace that atones for us all.”

Prayers to the Price family in the loss of their son. A tribute well-said by a fellow student ~Thanks Brittney

Faithfully Nomadic

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The Bible and the Dirty Projectors

The King James Bible’s ubiquitous fan base seems to be growing. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Inspiration in the Bible and the Beats, David Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors identifies one inspiration for his art as the Bible. In reference to the King James Bible, Longstreth suggests,

“I just like the stories. Clearly there are stories in there that animate some deep [stuff] in the human psyche. I don’t particularly relate to any of the superstitious aspects of it, like the religion per se, but as a collection of stories, as a collection of characters, tales, the quality of the language is beautiful.”

David Longstreth’s outlook on the Bible shouldn’t surprise anyone. He makes no claim to religion, which relegates the Bible to an apparatus for psychological exploration and a literary masterpiece. However, I’m not sure that Longstreth is that far off in his assessment of the function of the holy scriptures. First, in animating the deep stuff in the human psyche, we are attempting to answer deep questions about ourselves– questions such as why do I act the way I do or why am I here or what am I supposed to be doing. Are not these the very questions the Bible answers about humankind and God’s interaction with them? The three questions just posed can all be answered to some extent in the first book, Genesis. Why do I act the way that I do?– Moral evil entered the created world when mankind choose to listen to the words of the enemy of God instead of God himself (Genesis 3:1-7). This resulted creation being separated from God (Genesis 3:17-24). However, in the judgment of humankind, God provided a promise that would ultimately reverse the curse of humankind’s actions (Genesis 3:15). Why am I here?– Humankind was created in the image of God for relationship with other humans and with him (Genesis 2:18-25). Humankind was charged with creatively care-taking God’s creation (Genesis 1:27-31). Because of the presence of evil in the world, humankind struggles in human relationships and care-taking creation. We see this clearly in how we treat one another in this hemisphere and the carelessness toward other human beings’ plight throughout the world. We also see this in our disregard for God’s creation, many times using it as our personal trashcan. We fail in relationships and creational care.

The second function of the Bible, as defined by David Longstreth, gives us a collection of stories. Here too, it is hard to disagree with Longstreth’s assessment. The Bible was not meant to function as a set of propositions although it contains them. Propositions in the Bible are set within a story. For example the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) do not exist apart from the context of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt (Exodus 1-14). God explained that Israel’s motivation for obeying the Ten Commandments is rooted in his mighty act (the story) of deliverance (Exodus 19:3-8). The Bible is a collection of wonderful stories that relate God to his creation. They re-tell how God diligently pursues relationship with humankind throughout generations of the world. These stories also re-tell how humankind continues to wreck the relationship between God and humans because of the effect of evil that results in sinful choices by humankind. In the Christian faith, all of these stories point to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, where we find God entering the story in human form, in the person of Jesus, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves: Live a perfect life in relationship with God and restore the relational divide between humans and God (John 20). This brings us back to Genesis: curse reversed (Genesis 3:15). In time, God will completely restore creation to its perfect preeminence (Revelation 21:1-8). God will once again walk among his created in perfect relationship. All of these are stories that answer the thoughts that “animate the deep stuff in the human psyche.” So in this way, perhaps we should view the Bible similar to David Longstreth. But when we view it in this way, it becomes impossible to divorce the “religion” from the stories because the stories are the “religion” if by religion we mean relationship to God.

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Filed under Aesthetics, Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Spirituality, Theology

St. Basil: The mind and goodness, beauty, and truth

I found an interesting statement by St. Basil (330-379) about the operation of the mind. I liked how he employed the interrelatedness of beauty, goodness and truth.

The mind is a wonderful thing, and therein we possess that which is after the image of the Creator. And the operation of the mind is wonderful; in that, in its perpetual motion, it frequently forms imaginations about things non-existent as though they were existent, and is frequently carried straight to the truth. But there are in it two faculties; in accordance with the view of us who believe in God, the one evil, that of the dæmons which draws us on to their own apostasy; and the divine and the good, which brings us to the likeness of God. When, therefore, the mind remains alone and unaided, it contemplates small things, commensurate with itself. When it yields to those who deceive it, it nullifies its proper judgment, and is concerned with monstrous fancies. Then it considers wood to be no longer wood, but a god; then it looks on gold no longer as money, but as an object of worship. If on the other hand it assents to its diviner part, and accepts the boons of the Spirit, then, so air as its nature admits, it becomes perceptive of the divine. There are, as it were, three conditions of life, and three operations of the mind. Our ways may be wicked, and the movements of our mind wicked; such as adulteries, thefts, idolatries, slanders, strife, passion, sedition, vain-glory, and all that the apostle Paul enumerates among the works of the flesh. Or the soul’s operation is, as it were, in a mean, and has nothing about it either damnable or laudable, as the perception of such mechanical crafts as we commonly speak of as indifferent, and, of their own character, inclining neither towards virtue nor towards vice. For what vice is there in the craft of the helmsman or the physician? Neither are these operations in themselves virtues, but they incline in one direction or the other in accordance with the will of those who use them. But the mind which is impregnated with the Godhead of the Spirit is at once capable of viewing great objects; it beholds the divine beauty, though only so far as grace imparts and its nature receives.[1]

[1] St. Basil. “To Amphilochius in reply to certain questions” in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume VIII: St. Basil: Letters and Select Works ( ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace;New York: Christian Literature Company, 1895), 273.

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Filed under New Testament, Philosophy, Spirituality, Theology