A Very Hauerwas Christmas

“That the Holy Spirit is necessary for our recognition of Jesus as the Son of God is not surprising, given our presumption that it is surely not possible for God to be one of us. Our temptation is to believe that if God is God then God must be the biggest thing around. Accordingly we describe God with an unending list of superlatives: omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. God is all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere present, but these descriptions make it difficult for some to understand how God can be conceived by the Spirit in Mary. Yet that is to presume we know what it means for God to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent prior to God being found in Mary’s womb. Admittedly this challenges our presumption that we can assume we can know what God must be prior to knowing Jesus, but such presumption is just another word for sin. By Mary’s conception through the Spirit, our prideful assumptions that we are capable of knowing God on our own terms is challenged.”
– Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew, 33-34.

Natural Events and the Divine Nature

The following quote is from T.F. Torrance’s discussion of the virgin birth, but I think it highlights a broader view of the relationship science and theology (or perhaps even faith?).

In understanding any act in nature we have to ask two questions, What is it? and How is it? And these two questions belong together. But here in answer to the question what we are confronted with an answer which has no natural how attached to it, but rather a how that transcends the natural event altogether. That transcendent how is described as an act of the Spirit, as a creative act from above which breaks into our humanity and into our nature. It assumes form and process within our humanity, and therefore its what can be spoken of, but its how recedes into the divine nature of the Son of God and is beyond our observation and understanding.

Here in Jesus

Here in Jesus, as the very heart of God is laid bare in compassion and mercy for man, the human heart is laid bare before God, in such a way that men and women are plucked out of their isolation and estrangement and alienation, out of their hiding place in themselves, and are placed before the light of the majesty and love of God where they must acknowledge the divine judgment upon them. ‘If any man would come after me’, Jesus said, ‘let him deny himself, and follow me.’

Here then, is one who steps into our place, who claims to displace us, and demands that we renounce ourselves for him. Here is a substitution where the guilty do not simply shelter behind the innocent, but such a substitution that the guilty are faced with the light, that men and women are dragged out of their self-imprisonment and brought face to face with God in his compassion and love, for it is God himself who steps into their place and takes their status upon himself. Man is not sheltered from God but exposed to him and bound to him as never before in a bond of forgiveness and reconciliation.

T.F. Torrance – Incarnation (113)

The Christian God is Surprising

As a pastor, I often worry that some Christians do not seem to have a very Christian view of God.  My fear is that far too many people have never allowed the Triune God, revealed in the person of Jesus, to redefine their beliefs about God’s own character and nature.  Instead, we grasp on to our preconceived notions of what God must be like and struggle to understand how his actions fit into our already-formed theologies.  All this to say, I think we should learn to be much less surprised by God’s actions and much more surprised by his character.

For instance: Christians celebrate Christmas, the Incarnation, the act of God becoming man.  We are surprised to find God growing in a womb.  We are surprised to find God lying in a manger.  We are surprised to find God calling Mary his mother.

But what if the real surprise of Christmas is not that God did something extraordinarily out of character?

What if the real surprise of Christmas is that God’s character is extraordinary?

Perhaps the manger is not an anomaly in the life of God.  Perhaps the manger is an expression of who God is from all of eternity – the Triune One of self-sacrificial love, committed to the life of his creation regardless of the personal cost.  The One who stoops down in humility and gentleness to be with and rescue his people – perhaps this is who God has been revealed to be [John 1:14-18].

Likewise, Christians celebrate Good Friday, the crucifixion, the day when God died.  We are surprised to find God being spit on and mocked.  We are surprised to find God being nailed to a cross.  We are surprised to find God take his last breath.

But what if the real surprise of Good Friday is not that God did something extremely unusual by dying for his enemies?

What if the real surprise of Good Friday is that God is extremely unusual in that he recklessly loves his enemies?

Perhaps the cross is not an anomaly in the life of God.  Perhaps, as Philippians 2 states, he does not die “in spite” of being God but “because” he is God.  Perhaps the cross is an expression of who God is – The Triune One who, by his very nature, is committed to loving and offering forgiveness to his enemies even while they kill him? [Luke 23:26-34]

I wonder, have we truly let God define himself?  I’m not always convinced.  But I have developed a test to determine whether or not we have really let our view of God be shaped by his own revelation: what will Jesus be like when he returns?  Will he come to kill and destroy or will he come in the spirit of the manger and of the cross?  I’m not suggesting that we ignore Revelation, I’m just suggested we read it well, cognizant of its literary devices, purposes, and canonical context.  I’m suggesting we finally let go of our own dreams for a violent and tribal God so that we won’t be surprised when the Crucified One returns.

Christmas is over.  Good Friday is on the way.  And I am…  surprised.

JPEG

“An Ancient Heresy Incarnate” by Clarence Jordan

We would not accept (Jesus’) humanity if we could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was not a white man.” – Clarence Jordan

I recently bought a book that contains a series of sermons by Clarence Jordan entitled The Substance of Faith and other Cotton Patch Sermons. Clarence Jordan created an integrated farming community in Americus, Georgia at the height of segregation in the South.  He was an outspoken voice against racism and segregation and translated much of the New Testament in the vernacular of his day.  I would like to share part of a sermon that has particularly impacted me as I and many others have been dwelling on the incarnation this season.

“The greatest danger to Christianity was not when Jesus was a little babe in Bethlehem with old Herod trying to kill him.  That wasn’t the most dangerous point in the life of Christianity.  I think the most dangerous time was in the second century after Christ, with the rise of the gnostic heresy.

It was a heresy which did not, of course, begin in Christianity; but because it had much in common with Christianity, it sneaked in and almost took it over.  It came to its highest apex under the brilliant preaching and teaching of a fellow name Marcion.

The heart of Gnosticism is dualism- that is, the idea that God is all good and all-pure and that the earth and all matter is all-evil….They imposed this philosophy upon Christianity. God couldn’t really become one with us in this evil old world.  So they said that Jesus didn’t really come in the flesh, he just seemed to have flesh…He couldn’t become human because this body is evil and this savior from God couldn’t really have a body because it would be evil for him to have done so.

This fellow Marcion has raised his head time and time again and I think he is walking the streets of this nation daily.  People reject the incarnation by the deification of Jesus…Any attempt to make him human and embarrassingly present is angrily denounced as sacrilegious.  By carefully preserving our image of him as God, we no longer have to deal with hims as the Son of Man.  Preachers by the dozens who vehemently affirm his deity shamelessly deny his humanity if he is black and poor.” (“An Ancient Heresy Incarnate”)

I think we are still doing this to Jesus today.  Perhaps after the horror and genocide of World War II we have finally understood that Jesus is not white.  We get that he is not an American or a Republican or a Democrat.  But I see Marcion rising up again, and I think every generation is called once again to remind us that Jesus is not only fully divine, but fully human.  We also have to work out what that means.  To quote Clarence Jordan once more, “(The humanity of God) establishes that from here on out we can’t deal with God without confronting him in our brother.”  Jesus says as often as you do it to the least of these you do it to me!  He is saying this at the final judgment (Matt. 25).  Because God has now become human, there is no human who has not been affected or touched by this reality.  The image of God has become the image of Jesus.  When we look at our fellow men and women we no longer see simply that person but we should truly believe that we are to treat them as we would Jesus himself.  The incarnation then has some serious implications for how humanity must now interact each other.  To harm another person is effectively harming our creator who is now our brother, who seems to very much share in the sufferings of humanity.