Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Chicken or the Egg?

Jodie is back on the blog and there is a kind of blog-volley between her, DrMom, and Larry. Jodie has a simple theology, “Jesus lives.” She cannot seem to understand why Christians would want to complicate belief more than that. I don’t think that she is alone. Many people want a simpler faith than what Christianity really teaches. Its teachings aren’t that complicated, but it requires more than an affirmation.

At first glance, her view seems powerful in its simplicity. It is true that Jesus lives. But what does that mean? For some people it will mean that Jesus lives as a memory. For others it is a metaphor. For orthodox believers, it is that Jesus is literally alive.

While a simple statement is attractive, it is inherently insufficient. Jesus didn’t leave us with the option of such a simple, stand-alone statement. His last words to his disciples before he ascended back into heaven are clear:
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”
(Matthew 28:19, 20, New Living Translation)

Simply saying “Jesus lives” doesn’t begin to fulfill this order.

  1. We are to make disciples. This could happen with some people simply by saying “Jesus lives.” I think, though, that people might want to know a little more about this man. Why do we say “he lives?” What did he do to warrant our interest in him?

  2. We are to baptize them. Here, Jesus states that we are to do so in a very special way—in the name of the Trinity. How are people to know what this means if we just say “he lives?”

  3. We are to teach these disciples everything that Jesus has commanded us to do. This is why we need all of Scripture. The Old Testament establishes the nature of sacrifice, which will be fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus’ teachings on the Law start with the Old Testament before they expand in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ teachings are filled with encouragement, admonitions, and commands. Simply saying “Jesus lives” will not teach such things.

I hear from a lot of people who, for some reason, reject traditional Christian teachings for simplistic statements like, “Jesus lives,” or, more frequently, “all we need is love.” (sounds more like a song than a theology). In my opinion, such folk reduce faith to such things in order to avoid teachings of Jesus that are more challenging.

For example, most people hate the subject of hell. Yet Jesus, more than any one person in Scripture, speaks frequently about hell.
Matthew 5:29 "So if your eye—even if it is your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even if it is your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. "

Matthew 7:13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose the easy way."

Matthew 10:28 “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill you. They can only kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell."

Jody seems very concerned that people such as I (or DrMom) are believing men’s interpretations rather than Jesus. All we know about Jesus, though, comes from Scriptures. Jody has said,

Anyway, Dr Mom, you’ve asked me how I give meaning to “Jesus lives”. I don’t. That is what it means to be “irreducible”. Jesus gives meaning to me. He gives meaning to my life, and to my existence. He gives meaning to meaning itself. The only meaning I get from life I get through him. The only meaning I get from scriptures I get through him. He is the source of all meaning, the beginning and the end. All that there is can be reduced to him, and without him nothing that there is would even be. (humm… seems like I read something like that somewhere).
Anyway, an irreducible statement is one you can use to say other things, but one that cannot be further explained or simplified. It stands alone. It just is. It is like the smallest brick you can find to build a house. A cornerstone. Oddly, it is one that many people overlook. (I think I read that someplace too)
In thinking about it, you have put your finger exactly on the real question of our debate.
“Do the Scriptures give meaning to Jesus, or does Jesus give meaning to the Scriptures?”
The answer to that question tells us who or what we worship as our god.

With Jodie's philosophy we could simplify all knowledge. In mathematics we could say "pi is." in geography we could say "Darfur is." Psychology could be summed up as "the ego lives." There is a lot more to these fields than these simple statements reveal. it is the same with faith.

Jodie’s argument is a classic tautology: which came first, the chicken or the egg? We live in a world with both chickens and eggs, so the question serves no real purpose. So it is in our faith: Scripture is the account of Jesus. Without it we have no knowledge of him. With it we can actually discern what it is that we need to say in order to make disciples, and what we need to teach them.

Keep praying—keep the faith,
Tom

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Pastor Tom and All
Jodie , it seems to me, is simply stating the truth - and unless 'Jesus Lives' in her and any other person's life, none of the knowledge and explanations of Him really matter. Hang in there, Jodie - there are many who cling to what you know, 'Jesus Lives'. They depend on the Lord - the Lord has given them that assurance, and they will know more. He will surely send someone to disciple them, perhaps somone very different yet aware of their need.
Perhaps they do not expect well educated persons (seriously)to come along and explain it intellectually and to make it more 'real', usually to that person's satisfaction.
Many times it is that simple truth, like 'Jesus Lives', revealed to us that gives direction for that time. Be assured the Holy Spirit will give clear understanding and courage in what He reveals is to be done, even it is initially a clear 'Jesus Lives' should be in all that you, we, do in everyday life and relationships. He may even send a simple messenger - a discipler.
Just do not ignore it when He does reveal what He wants you personally to know.
As it has been pointed out, there is tremendous truth and direction to be found in the Bible for us all. The Bible, in fact, assures us that 'Jesus Lives'.
Wayne W(ard)

Mark Smith said...

Jodie,

Hang in there. I agree with you.

What folks are forgetting is that people inevitably change a story by telling it. In person, even if the exact words are used inflections, gestures, and unconscious body language changes the message. Sometimes it's subtle, sometimes not.

It's the same with the written word.

The Bible is written word. Worse than that, it's written and THEN translated - often multiple times. Each writer or translator who touches the document changes it - unconsciously or consciously.

Only through the action of the Spirit can we truly discern the correct meaning of the words.

Mark

Anonymous said...

All you have to do is start reading the Book of John and you know Who the Word is. Mark Smith, I am honestly surprised that someone with your intelect does not have more wisdom. And for Jodie, I am surprised someone with your wisdom does not have more discernment.

One marvelous fascinating fact about our Bible is the shear volume of "original copies", 5,000 manuscripts. There are mistakes in the translations but they do not all have the same mistakes so when you compare them you can obtain the original. Not only that but someone correct me if I'm wrong, I also recently understand that in Greek or Hebrew one, the order of the words does not matter so the meaning doesn't change just so long as they are all there. What a great divine plan for the viability of this document. Do you think God knew what He was doing?

John Shuck said...

Dear Rev. Gray,

Grace and Peace!

At the risk of being annoying...where is heaven to which Jesus ascended?

You wrote in regards to Jodie:

"At first glance, her view seems powerful in its simplicity. It is true that Jesus lives. But what does that mean? For some people it will mean that Jesus lives as a memory. For others it is a metaphor. For orthodox believers, it is that Jesus is literally alive.

"While a simple statement is attractive, it is inherently insufficient. Jesus didn’t leave us with the option of such a simple, stand-alone statement. His last words to his disciples before he ascended back into heaven are clear:

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”
(Matthew 28:19, 20, New Living Translation)"

Simply saying “Jesus lives” doesn’t begin to fulfill this order."

My point being: if we have to believe that his corpse resuscitated, then it would seem logical that we would have to determine where his resuscitated corpse actually went. And to whereever it went, is that the only place where Jesus lives?

Peace,
John

TomGray said...

Dear John,
I believe that heaven is a real place, and that its nature is as far from our understanding as is that of the Big Bang's origin.

My guess would be that it is extra-dimensional. This would also fit with post-resurrection descriptions of Jesus appearing suddenly in locked rooms. Recent scientific research into multiple dimensions, blanes, and the like have shown such a thing to be mathematically feasable.

If, however, one chooses not to believe what Scripture says, all this makes no difference.
Tom

Anonymous said...

to Wayne W and Mr. Smith:

Words cannot express the sadness "seriously" educated people feel when reading such comments.

Absolute truth?

Biblical authority?

FAITH?

Recognition of TOTAL depravity sans God?

It seems to some (myself included) that your thoughts and conjectures may be somewhat more appreciated and well-spent on a more "progressive" blog.

If you wish to speak candidly, please do so; simply respect the intellects that attempt (with sadness) to make sense of your individual interpretations, and how they could possibly trump that of God.

"Jesus Lives" in me as well.

My prayer is that He lives in your mind as well as your heart.

Andrew Strong

Paul Welch said...

Rev. Shuck,
I assume by your statements that you don't believe in the actual resurrection of Christ's body. If not, who did all those individuals in Acts see and touch? It is quite explicit that it wasn't a "ghost" per se. Is God not powerful enough to come back to life? Or the question may need to de asked if you believe Christ is one of the Trinity or not.

Concerning your statement:
"if we have to believe that his corpse resuscitated, then it would seem logical that we would have to determine where his resuscitated corpse actually went. And to whereever it went, is that the only place where Jesus lives?"

I think it is fair to say we just don't have all the answers. Sometimes we humans think that we are at the top of the intellegence ladder, but maybe we're not as smart as we think. My dog isn't capable of understanding physics and possibly...just possibly, we aren't capable of understanding how God works.

John Shuck said...

Dear Rev. Gray,

Grace and Peace!

The best way I can understand the literal ascension of Jesus is like this: He ascended that is "went up" from the disciples' vantage point on Earth. Then when he reached the clouds, his physical body transferred in some way into an extra-dimensional place. His body (or heaven) is not somewhere in the universe itself.

I think this literal view raises far more problems than it settles. For instance, what if say there are other life forms on a planet on the other side of our galaxy, or in one of the other billions of galaxies in the universe. Does Jesus need to go and die in some way, rise, and ascend on each planet, or did his activity on Earth do the job for the whole of the Universe?

Blessings,
John
http://shuckandjive.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

Posted by Reverend Shuck:
"The best way I can understand the literal ascension of Jesus is like this: He ascended that is "went up" from the disciples' vantage point on Earth. Then when he reached the clouds, his physical body transferred in some way into an extra-dimensional place. His body (or heaven) is not somewhere in the universe itself.

I think this literal view raises far more problems than it settles. For instance, what if say there are other life forms on a planet on the other side of our galaxy, or in one of the other billions of galaxies in the universe. Does Jesus need to go and die in some way, rise, and ascend on each planet, or did his activity on Earth do the job for the whole of the Universe?"

Wow! Please tell me you're kidding.

Anonymous said...

Posted by Reverend Shuck:
"The best way I can understand the literal ascension of Jesus is like this: He ascended that is "went up" from the disciples' vantage point on Earth. Then when he reached the clouds, his physical body transferred in some way into an extra-dimensional place. His body (or heaven) is not somewhere in the universe itself.

I think this literal view raises far more problems than it settles. For instance, what if say there are other life forms on a planet on the other side of our galaxy, or in one of the other billions of galaxies in the universe. Does Jesus need to go and die in some way, rise, and ascend on each planet, or did his activity on Earth do the job for the whole of the Universe?"

Wow! Please tell me you're kidding.

You're a pastor and you have issues with the resurrection?

Mark Smith said...

Anonymous #2 (in this thread):
Mark Smith, I am honestly surprised that someone with your intelect does not have more wisdom.

Ah, but understanding how people act and change whatever they touch IS wisdom. (and intellect is spelled with 2 L's). Also, if you intend to insult me, please do so openly. I gave my name, how about yours?

Andrew Strong:

to Wayne W and Mr. Smith:

Words cannot express the sadness "seriously" educated people feel when reading such comments.

It seems to some (myself included) that your thoughts and conjectures may be somewhat more appreciated and well-spent on a more "progressive" blog.

If you wish to speak candidly, please do so; simply respect the intellects that attempt (with sadness) to make sense of your individual interpretations, and how they could possibly trump that of God.


Perhaps what I say might be more welcome on a progressive blog. But not more necessary.

I don't believe I disrespected anyone in my statements. Unless you consider disagreement with your ideas to be disrepect.

All you have to do is start reading the Book of John and you know Who the Word is.

Oh, I know Who the Word is. What I'm questioning is whether or not today's translations of the Bible are The Word. Or to go farther - whether or not one sect's interpretation of those words (small w) are The Word (capital W).

Mr. Kierkegaard said...

Reverend Shuck,

From what I am reading of your comments, you appear to be suggesting that the literal resurrection of Christ is problematic because of the distances involved. Christ obviously did not have to die, rise, and ascend for every nation on Earth, so why would he have to do so for other planets? The question then becomes, if there is one Christ for the whole universe, how are we, mere humans, to spread this message to other planets? The other option you suggest is that there are multiple Christs. I think we might find an interesting answer if we take a more limited approach.

First, let's consider the size of the early Church in comparison to the Roman Empire. Pretty small, right? Maybe not infinitely so, but nevertheless, I am sure the prospect of spreading the Word to all the citizens of the empire seemed like an impossible task. Yet despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges involved, they succeeded! What is even more incredible is that their successors were able to spread God's Word to every continent on Earth.

My point is that despite all the obstacles involved, the Word has still spread. Though the distances and challenges involved seem large, they have been overcome. If there is life on other planets, I am fully confident that God will enable us to eventually overcome our present obstacles, as he has done in the past, to visit them and spread His Word.

With this option, there is always the question of what about people/aliens that we have not reached yet, what happens to them? As much concern as we have for these individuals, think about how much more love God has for them. I have faith that He can handle the job until the Word gets there.

The other option you presented was that there might be multiple Christs. Based upon the argument I presented above, this would only happen if God does not want humans to go to other inhabited worlds. The consequence would be that we would be unable to spread the Word to other worlds, thus presenting a need for God to step in. However, I see no reason why this would be the case.

If God did not want us to spread the Word to other planets, why would He limit it to our world? Why would He stop there, why not limit it to a single continent, or a single nation? If there is life on other worlds, God will enable us to eventually over come the current obstacles, just as He has done in the past, to spread the Word. Thus, I think the problems you have identified concerning the literal ascension have already been addressed and solved. I apologize for the lengthy post, but interesting questions deserve interesting answers.

Wayne W said...

Andrew Strong 12:30AM Sept 28 2006

Your response expressing sadness "seriously" educated people feel when reading such comments as Absolute truth, Biblical authority, FAITH, etc, got my attention.

Let's simplify things a bit: 'Bottom line' is I have Eternal Life as a gift from God through what Christ has done for me. I have it, but I have to finish this one on earth to enter into the fullness of Eternal Life even though I have it now. Although I 'choose' that 'Christian' lifestyle, I didn't earn Eternal Life, didn't work for it, nor in anyway do I deserve that gift. I have salvation through FAITH in Jesus Christ. That's an 'Absolute truth' we can rely on...

It is that simple.

I can spend the rest of my time on earth trying to understand that if choose to do so. Intellectually, I know this in my mind. Spiritually, I have that in my heart, in my total being. Jesus lives in both my mind and heart (your terms), and in all of us who will believe, as He does in you (you say as well).

My earned degrees in mechanical
engineering and metallurgical engineering, science in engineering are all in major universities, and registered professional engineering licenses in America, United Kingdom, Canada, China, Hong kong, etc, (that's a measure of intellect to some folks - not me)won't get me into heaven. FAITH in Jesus Christ does and will.

Although Dr Paul Welch questions that his dog understands physics, I doubt his dog would pick up a red hot bone without putting in down even more quickly. A law of physics: high energy (high heat as in thermodynamics regardless of source)can burn, cause discomfort. Some of us humans learn by mistakes, too.

I often recall: thank God for Jesus, a gift to us humans, the ultimate gift that provides Eternal Life to the uneducated, the educated, and the 'seriously' educated in spite of all our mistakes.

I don't think Dr Tom Gray really intended his blog site to be used in this fashion, but I do feel justified in responding to your observations.

Wayne W(ard)

Jodie said...

Dear Tom,

The only thing I know about chickens and eggs is that I like to eat them. No offense to the vegetarians among us.

All kidding aside, I am sure you got the meaning of tautology all wrong. “Jesus saves” is a pretty elegant tautology. Also, not to put too fine a point on it, but the last words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew were “I am with you always, even to the end of the age”. (NLT) (Not his last words altogether, just the last ones in Matthew.)

And so we have come to the center of our discussion. This is good, really. I am truly excited. Is Jesus truly with us, not just in our hearts and minds, not figuratively or metaphorically, but truly with us? I say he is. It is not even a matter of faith for me, but a matter of knowledge.

But that is not good enough for you. I spent a weekend building houses with Charlie Plumb once (“I’m no hero”). Ask him. He will tell you about standing in a cell in the Hanoi Hilton in the presence of Jesus.

Your angst with the knowledge that “Jesus Lives” is captured nicely by two quotes of yours.

“All we know about Jesus, though, comes from Scriptures.” And then towards the end,
“Without it [scripture] we have no knowledge of him.”

So that is the crux. You say that without Scripture you have no knowledge of Jesus, and I say that without Jesus you have no knowledge of Scripture. It would seem we have come to an impasse. You say tomayto, and I say tomahto. You say that since we have both, Jesus and Scripture, that there is no new information there. But then in the same breath you claim you have no knowledge of Jesus except from what you read in Scriptures. So by your own admission its not a chicken and the egg matter, it’s a buggy and the horse.

Which comes first makes a huge difference in how you read Scripture and in how you behave. And this is the problem. You started just with Jesus, then you discovered him in Scripture, and now years later you say that you can’t even know Jesus without it. Who has bewitched you? Having started in faith have you now fallen back to teaching the Law? Having first learned that the Scriptures were made for man, you now hold the man slave to the Scriptures?

That is not how it works.

I challenge you to this inner honesty. Did you, Tom Gray of the Kirk, not have the knowledge of the living Jesus before you had any significant knowledge of Scripture? Was it not this knowledge that first led you to the recognition of the Jesus you now find (present tense) in the Scriptures?

Have you really so forgotten your first love?

We do not worship a silent Jesus, or a missing Jesus, one who is away, about whom we know nothing more than what we can garnish from our limited understanding of Scripture. Rather we worship a Jesus who is with us here and now, who speaks and interacts with us, who in fact is the active general manager of his church, ruler of all nature, the rock upon which we stand, lover of my soul, now and in the hour of my death.

What is our affair with Scripture if he is truly present and speaking to us today, from outside of scripture as much as from within?

You are afraid that if you go there it will take away from Scripture. I affirm that it does not. Moreover, I affirm that unless you do, it is you who will inevitably take away from Scripture the very essence you are trying to preserve. You will end up worshiping it as an idol rather than eating it as food.

The irony is that the place from where He speaks outside of Scripture is the place you came from in the first place.

Going there is like going home. Come home, Tom Gray of the Kirk.

Jesus Lives,

Love, Jodie

Anonymous said...

Yes, hang in there Jodie. Don't quit yet. I'm still following this blog to see how much more convoluted you, Wayne and Mark get. I would like to join the discussion at some point, but so far see no logical points or completed thoughts among the three of you. To be blunt, I'm not sure exactly where you stand. Unless the point is relativism, and then I do understand. As for John Shuck, his arguments elsewhere in this blog in favor of staying with the PCUSA rather nicely coincide with many of our reasons for leaving. No insult intend. Just fact.

M.B.

jodie said...

M.B,

If you want to jump in, merely state the basis of your faith. Or failing that, the one thing or things that if hypothetically proven to be untrue would leave you without your faith.

Jodie

Anonymous said...

Mark: discussing any theological points with one who does not believe in the authenticity of the one Book from which we have constructed our view of God is most difficult, if not impossible; that is why I have not launched into a more intricate exaplantion: it would be lost on your disbelief. Matt. 5:18

Jodie: how did you learn of Jesus, if not from scripture? Was it from "oral tradition" as Mark has so tediously reminded us, or from THE BIBLE? Yes, He is in creation, but so are many other gods, as we see from other religions. How did you know you were worshipping the true God, if it were not authenticated by the Bible's standpoint?

Respectfully,

Andrew Strong