Christ’s victory in the world’s eyes

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 22-25

What if Jesus were present today? What if he showed up in today’s world in a rerun of his first appearing? What if he came for the first time into today’s setting? Would things be different? Would he be well received by the world elites- governing and even religious?

Back when Jesus did come, the cross was the means and method of execution. Only enemies of the state were executed. Jesus ended up being counted as an enemy of the state. Why?

Well, to begin with, what Jesus did flew right in the face of the Jewish ruling authorities who were religious and wanted nothing more than God to come and remove the Romans and fulfill the promises they had long awaited. Jesus comes and proclaims repentance from their way of thinking along with the kingdom of God. Not only contradictory to what they anticipated, but actually in opposition to it. If a Roman soldier asks you to carry his baggage one mile, do it for two miles. Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you.

And then Jesus’s modus operandi: He not only spent time with the lowlifes, but even seemed to enjoy their company. Completely scandalous. And Jesus broke all the rules. He paid no attention to cleansing laws. What on earth was he up to?!?

Even though Pilate wasn’t on board with the Jewish leaders in their determination to put an end to what Jesus was about, it wasn’t long before he and the Jewish ruler in a kind of monarch position, Herod, previously enemies, had actually become friends. Why? Well possibly because of their incredulity over this Jesus. Not because of the hate directed toward him by the leaders of Israel, but simply because Jesus was not only a puzzle to them, but someone not to be taken seriously at all, in fact maybe even a threat since what Jesus seemed to be proposing as king with a kingdom was indeed preposterous to the world, and maybe even a danger of some sort that they would do well to get rid of. After all, you can’t run a nation or empire that way. Maybe somehow someway this even got under their skin a bit, even if they didn’t take it all that seriously. An enigma for sure. Of course Jesus’s way did indeed press the buttons of the religious elite.

Would it be any different today? Though it’s a different setting, the core or heart remains the same. To some extent even the church has taken on the spirit and attitude of the state, of governing authorities. Power is valued in terms of force and might. The cross is not about a way of life, but for one’s salvation so they can get on with the normal pattern here on earth with their ticket for what follows afterward in the next life.

So no, I don’t think by and large Jesus would be treated any differently today. In fact I don’t think he would be recognized as Jesus at all by many, even by those who today name his name. The question would be, do they have his spirit? If indeed they do have the Spirit, then, even with much difficulty, they would come to recognize him. But do we have his Spirit when we follow the pattern of this age, and fall in line with that? That in itself is not of the Spirit, but of the world, the flesh and the devil.

What is different about your faith in Christ? Is it just a matter of living a better life, even of love, yet within the system of this world, as a participant in that? Even imagining that with effort and the right people in place, the system can be Christianized? Or is it in the way of Jesus? A way which makes no sense to the world. Refusing to participate in the world’s way of power, but embracing the power of God’s love in a world of hate. Following in the way of Jesus. Not just about preaching the cross, but also about living it out. In love, the God who is love. In and through Jesus.

looking at the big picture (N. T. Wright’s work)

In a recent talk at Mars Hill Bible Church, N. T. Wright declared the need for more Christian scholars, who nearly inevitably nowadays will go after their doctorates, to do work which takes in consideration the big picture. Biblical or theological doctorate degrees are geared to specialization on small parts, knowing them thoroughly with the danger according to Wright that the big picture is missed altogether.  N. T. Wright went on to say (along with many other things, he could hold his own with the Apostle Paul and anyone else) that much of what is held to is true, but not seen in terms of the big picture.

Whether or not you accept “the new perspective,” or see in it anything which challenges the old, I think N. T. Wright’s challenge is good for us all. In my case I find myself in basic acceptance and agreement with it, from what I gather and understand. Of course “the new perspective on Paul” or in terms of Jesus, like other theological schools has adherents who disagree among themselves on various matters.

The big picture will have to take into account all of scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Fundamentally that can be enough for many of us, except that we never do anything at all in a vacuum, which points to a weakness in “sola-Scriptura.” The idea that scripture alone forms are view of truth has to be qualified to some extent to understand that we read it not in terms of what we understand, but in its own terms which includes ways of communicating and thinking we may miss altogether, given our own context. Yes, context as in philosophical and theological presuppositions will definitely play into our reading and understanding of scripture.

N. T. Wright is among those who argues that we need to do historical work around the texts of scripture, to help us understand. A well worn understanding within the new perspective is that Augustine and Luther were working on Paul more within their own contexts rather than in the context Paul lived in himself. And so, for example, they, especially Luther see a sharper dichotomy between faith and works than what is seen in scripture. Hence Luther’s complaint of James as a “right strawy epistle.”

The systematic theologian Kevin Vanhoozer, I take it without dismissing the new perspective, challenges N. T. Wright a bit on the insistence that history becomes a determining factor in arriving to the meaning of the text of scripture, saying that this could undermine the God-given role of tradition. From what I’ve read of N. T. Wright, he would want to maintain the role of tradition along with the need for ongoing historical studies. Wright within his Anglican tradition recites the creed daily, and sees it as something formed to respond to the challenges of its time, all of it being true. But that the gospels which in Wright’s view are essentially about how God became King in Jesus, in accordance with the promises fulfilled of the old covenant and through Israel, were filled in with details which the creeds skip altogether, zeroing in on Jesus birth, death, resurrection, ascension and return.

At any rate the challenge to see the big picture and to see it on its own terms is a good challenge for us all. We will end up seeing and understanding the parts that make up the whole much better if we can better understand the main point being made, or better put, the storyline of scripture. Not an easy undertaking, but one that can’t be shelved, even as we seek to understand the details of God’s great story fulfilled in and through Jesus.