Albert Nolan wrote brilliantly on how Jesus is not merely the object of our spirtuality, but was also a subject that stood in relation to God, and from whom we can learn about spirituality. The basic thesis of Jesus Today was the historical Jesus research has enough to offer that we can reconstruct the spirituallity of Jesus. Andries van Aarde built his book, Fatherless in Galilee, around the assumption that Jesus found a Father in God, since he didn’t have an earthly father, which also say something about Jesus’ spirituality.

But while this quest for finding Jesus, that prophet, the human guy, who walked around Galilee and Jerusalem roundabout 30 AD, goes on both in the academic world, and also with a growing group of Christians in pews, coffeeshops and slums, another group of Christians is opting for an extreme divinization of Jesus. As someone told me earlier today, in response to my saying that we can learn from Jesus how to live in relationship with God: “Jesus had an unfair advantage, he was divine”.

This is not a new idea, and probably we’ll find this underlying an interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) which says that the Sermon on the Mount was never meant to be followed, but to show us that we are unable to live as we should, only Jesus could follow that – it should remind us how sinfull we are so that we’ll turn to God, to Jesus. Out of fear that we’ll turn Jesus into just another moral teacher, we divinized Jesus up to the point where both the life Jesus had with God, and the way he lived, is something totally undervalued, ignored, and rather exchanged for a Jesus which is purely the object of faith.

I remember Tony Jones saying back in 2006 that our generation is the WWJD generation. Thinking back on my primary school days I could see where he was coming from. Although on the other side of the world, and definitely less extreme, Adam at Pomomusings probably did an accurate description of the WWJD culture of the time (I never wore more than one, but basically everyone in our school had one). Critique can be delivered against the idea, but in our 12-year old minds we were opposing the idea that Jesus was merely divine, that the way of Jesus couldn’t be lived, and that he’s teaching was impossible to follow.

How we’ve come to this point I don’t know. How we got the church so polarized I don’t know either, maybe it’s always been like this. But somehow I can’t seem to think that the early church ever thought other than that we were supposed to follow the example of Jesus. They talked about the son of God, and about us being children of God. They said that our minds should work in the same way as that of Jesus Christ, we should hold the same view (Phil 2:5). Trying to live life in the way of Jesus is not denying the divinity of Christ (oh how I hate having to qualify things like this, but I’ll do it since I know that some tend imply this), it is simply trying to reconnect with the thinking of the early church. I guess this is part of my attempt at a “Christology from the side“…

Words for how we view God is exceedingly complex constructs. The time where a simple division between Theism and Deism could do the trick is long over, and the list is growing as we notice more and more possible ways in which this can be understood. Theism, Atheism, Pantheism, Panentheism, Supernatural Theism (Borg). Andries van Aarde apparently now talks about Postheism, and he, similar to Albert Nolan rejects Panentheism although they don’t fit any of the words in the previous sentence. I myself struggle to get a word for how I view God, maybe we are all just Theists, but just realize more and more that this word can still lead to numerous understandings.

Marcus Borg talked about supernatural theism in his Heart of Christianity. The idea that God is not of this world, but part of the supernatural realm, and breaks into this reality from time to time, a type of wonderworker God, sometimes doing a wonder, sometimes giving a message. but this highly personalized God more and more seem to be missing when he (it’s usually a male God) isn’t breaking into the world.

Atheism in popular Western circles usually defines itself against this view. For them this god simply isn’t breaking into this world.

Somehow I’m starting to think that these two ends of the spectrum might be closer together than we at first would think. That maybe views of God is not a linear spectrum at all, but fits together more complex, with extreme closer together, and those within faith traditions sometimes further apart. Because these two perspectives both seem to work with a similar view of reality, where God is not part of reality, where everything that happens is just science, they just differ on the amount of times that God does wonders, for the atheist never, for the supernatural theist frequently, but in-between these times, what would be the difference between an atheist and a supernatural theist view of the world? Except that for the supernatural theist God has somehow breaked into the reality at some point, and he/she hopes that God will come into this world again.

Panentheism is not the only alternative, and more and more theologians (In South Africa Nolan and van Aarde) is pointing out that this might not be the best alternative. But we do need a view of God where God is part of this reality, part of everything that happen and that is. God would then at the same time become less and more. Less breaking in, but more here. Less in heaven and more on earth.

I haven’t really blogged on Easter this year, as I usually do (2007, 2008), but I’ll be preaching on the Easter events again this Sunday, since I know that most of the kids sitting in that service wouldn’t have been to church over Easter weekend. But my preparation is a struggle! I know the kids in this service: They know nearly nothing of the Bible. Many haven’t been to church for a number of years now. And they are very prone to fundamentalism. Their fundamentalism worries me. But broader than the fact that I need to preach to these kids, I also need to find a way of talking about the cross; for myself. This has obviously not started today, but I’ve been theologizing about the cross probably for at least 9 years now, since the first time I led a small group of 13 year olds at a camp.

In the American conversation I notice a lot of talk about atonement. I found the fact that I don’t share this love of talk about atonement a bit strange, untill I realized that the Afrikaans translation of this word wasn’t one I ever heard much in church. Rather, we talked about salvation. But similar issues seem to be at stake.

If I’d ask the question “Why was Jesus crucified?” to a group of informed church members in our church, I’d probably get something in the line of the following: “God intended it” and “For our sins“. But my change in talking about the crucifixion isn’t that much a critique against these answers, but rather a reading of the Bible which calls for something else. I try and find the answer to the question “Why was Jesus crucified?” in the gospels, especially the synoptics, and I use historical and social scientific research as a lense in reading this.

Piet Meiring always talk about chapted 13 of Transforming Mission as vintage Bosch. If you want to know what Bosch thought, read chapter 13, he says. There Bosch the theologian moves to the background, and Bosch the preacher emerge, so to speak. I was just reading the part on salvation in Transforming Mission, and here Bosch does something similar than in chapter 13. His argument in both these parts is that we need to understand salvation and mission within the comprehensive christological framework – “his incarnation, earthly life, death, resurrection, and parousia” (p399). He explains the need for doing this with saying that

  • the Greek patristic tradition was orientated to the incarnation (I’ll have to read on the Orthodox church again to be able to point to the implication of this)
  • Western mission was oriented towards the end of Jesus’ life, his death on the cross. That tend to get us into a purely early Pauline understanding of salvation which focus on an apocalyptic event in the future
  • a Third model focused on the eartly life and ministry of Jesus, it was an ethical interpretation of salvation. According the Bosch this made Christ redundant in the end.

I think there is value in this comprehensive approach Bosch propose. However I’m thinking more and more that we should reorder this comprehensive narrative.

I love the historical Jesus writers. I really do. I’ve been reading parts of Nolan and Crossan again over the past two days. Bosch also liked the historical Jesus research, as can be seen in his approach to Transforming Mission. In writing Transforming Mission, he started out with the historical research on Jesus and the early church, and then moved onto three paradigms of mission found in the early church, this he found in Matthew, Luke and Paul. The historical Jesus research  help us in understanding Jesus, the person who lived and walked and talked in Galilea and Judea roundabout 27-33 AD. Who was crucified. Historical research has difficulty talking about the resurrection, not because of unbelieve, but the sources really makes it difficult (please make sure you really understand this point before critiquing). Historical research can however help us in understanding what the early church believed about this event.

The reordering I propose is to start where the early disciples started, and work in the same order that the story developed for the early church theologians.

  1. Jesus lives, walks and preaches in Galilea and Judea.
  2. He gets crucified
  3. The disciples experience him as alive and develops a theology of the resurrection
  4. Parousia (Christ’s second coming)
  5. A high Christology develops which lead to thoughts on the incarnation

So I simply moved the incarnation towards the end of the story. I think a fairly good case can be made that of these 5 elements, that was the one that became important to the early church last. My reason for doing this, is that when putting it first, we tend to answer the quesion “Why was Jesus crucified?” from the intentionality of God, while reality is that Jesus was crucified because the Jews [UPDATE: meaning, certain Jewish leaders, certain members of the Sanhedrin.  Thanx to Hugo’s comment] were really reallymad at him, and probably some Romans weren’t that fond of him either. This is reality: Some people really didn’t like Jesus, they didn’t like what he said or did, he was a threat, so they killed him. And at least some of what he said would have given enough reason to label him a terrorist, whether rightly so or not, so they could give him the death of a terrorist, and not of a religious heretic, which was being stoned, as with Stephen.

OK, but if this is why Jesus was crucified, where do we go from here? Well, we can say quite a lot about what Jesus said and did, the resurrection must have at least had a first meaning that what he said didn’t end with his death. That crucifying Jesus couldn’t kill what he started! But obviously his resurrection also gave rise to thoughts on his divinity, which I think there is also good evidence for that his disciples didn’t consider him divine before the resurrection, and it even took a while afterwards for the idea to sink in.

Only now could thoughts on the Parousia and incarnation develop. Now we could go full circle, or work backwords, and sya that if Jesus was God, and God was crucified, and a few obvious links with Jewish sacrificial rites can be made, and Jesus was God incarnate, then God’s intention with becoming incarnate in Jesus was to be crucified. That wouldn’t even be theologically incorrect! But that definitely is not the only interpretation! And I’m sure that wasn’t the first interpretation made in an upper room somewhere in Jerusalem; maybe it was in the house of Marcus’ mother, who later wrote a gospel with no incarnation as part of the narrative.

So, how do I preach it? I think historically a good case can be made that Jesus expected his own death. He knew about the rizing tensions, and that the leaders wanted to kill him. But did Jesus have to die? Yes, because the message he brought was so at odds with the rulers of the world, that they couldn’t exist side by side. Either he had to kill his message, or be killed because of the message. But the resurrection tell the story of hope, what Jesus brought cannot be killed! If I now turn the narrative into it’s usual order, I’d say that this is so at odds with what God is bringing to the world, that it would even go so far as to try and kill it, but it cannot be killed! The world cannot stop what God is bringing about in it.

Maybe I’ll have some more thoughts on how to preach this before Sunday. If you’ve actually read all the way down to this point, thank you! Let me know, and please critique and add on.

war on the empire

September 5, 2008

It was Albert Nolan’s Jesus Today which first introduced me to the idea of America as empire. Ever since… well, ever since a very long time ago, like probably about 2700 or more, you find an empire ruling the world: Assirians, Babilonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Roman Catholic Church, Britian… Might be more complicated than this, since the Monguls would come into this at some point, only more to the east, so would the Chinese and Muslim empire. The empire want to rule everything.

In leftist jounalist John Pilger’s documentary War on Democrasy, this theme is taken up again. It talks about a number of instances where the American government has been involved, directly of indirectly, in coups against young South American democracies. Focusing especially on Venezuela, but also on a number of older stories. He talks about attrocities and human rights violations in the name of American National Security, in order that America can keep on controlling these countries.

Empires has always been overthrown in the end. Nolan point to the vast amount of social justice groups that appearing like mushrooms, and that the combined force of these people are stronger than any empire. Pilger talk about young governments in South America that are revolting against the American system, and starting something fresh, apart from mother USA. Both these people seem to find hope for change.

Within recent political events within South Africa this is also of interest. With the growing tension between America and China, as China build up it’s weoponry, and become the second superpower, China seem to be investing energy into Africa, and president Mbeki has built great relations with China. I’ve wondered in the past whether this mean that he has chosen against the American empire. But now Mbeki has made an arrangement to get oil from Venezuela, the country who has supplied America with 15% of it’s oil a few years back (I’m not sure whether Venazuela still supply oil).

In Old Testament thought we sometimes get the idea that new empires are used by God to destroy old empires. In the New Testament we find the idea that God is building a new empire, the empire of God.

To my American friends, just a note: Nolan also admits that some of the strongest voices against the empire is coming from America! Thanks!

words on God for today

July 26, 2008

I’m working on my sermon for tomorrow evening. I’m gonna attempt to ask the question: How do we speak about God?. But I find this extremely difficult, might even have considered backing out if it wasn’t for the fact that word is already out on the theme. OK, part of the problem might be the fact that I didn’t have time to prepare during the week.

So tonight I read Albert Nolan‘s chapter called “One with God” in Jesus Today. I will write more on this book in future, but for now I want to urge all people reading this to read this book! I seldom feel so positive about a book, and seldom would I so strongly encourage others to read it. But this time I must say: Read this book! I will also use this chapter extensively tomorrow evening.