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Israel & Palestine: A Malacandrian Perspective

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Categories: Blogs, Current Affairs

out-of-the-silent-planet-pawel-klarecki[1]When issues are complex, made up of a tangled knot of international politics, sociology, and yes, religion—it is easiest to paint things in black and white. Take, for example, the current missile exchange between Israel (now occupying on foot) and her neighbor, Palestine. In many discussions, whether on social media threads, blogs, or other media, stances are depicted as either Palestine’s fault (initiating conflict, advocating genocide, permitting violent groups to work in and among them) or Israel’s (steady occupation, monopoly on resources, cruel and unusual retaliation, etc.), but any close examination of any fact of history will quickly prove such conflicts are always far more complicated than our either/or positions would typically suggest.

That said, those engaging the issue must be able to stand back and detach themselves from the situation (as much as this is possible) so that we can see more clearly where both sides can receive their due and necessary criticisms. To gain not a little distance from our current embroilment will help us to also be self-critical, to see where we have been so often blind to the validity of other’s positions and vice versa. For example, we lose nothing, by acknowledging that people often act violent when they are slowly herded into smaller and smaller specks of land (I’m looking at you Israel) and we gain nothing per se by condemning acts of terror against Israeli citizenry by the former (i.e. Palestine). You see, when we transcend this way we are no longer caught with something like having to choose between two teams in the World Cup final.

Now I’m no pacifist per se but my biggest quip with both sides is this notion that we must use “missiles” to overcome the current obstacle, as if any other answer is nothing more than dreamy romanticism because we all know that war is the only real feasible answer. In fact, I think countries should have military in order to defend themselves, particularly their people, from invasion and imminent attack from outside sources, but as I see it, this should always be the final resort, not our first as Iraq has hopefully taught us. The danger with preemptive and immediate retaliation is that you yourself can wind up being the criminal in an ironic twist of events.

Point being: there are other possibilities for dealing with international strife that doesn’t necessarily end in innocents living under the constant threat of mortar shells, and the children who ultimately succumb to them. In fact, the idea that all things must be solved by warfare might be what we could call a long held “earthly indoctrination.” A doctrine so long held that we can no longer see any other way, truth, or life. C.S. Lewis wonderfully portrays this reality in his little sci-fi book Out Of The Silent Planet; in the twelfth-chapter he details a conversation between Ransom (who has been taken captive and is now on the strange planet Malacandra) and Hyoi (a native of the planet and of the species known as the hrossa) about the relations between the three rational inhabitants of the planet, particularly the threat of conflict should it arise:

THEY WORKED hard at Hyoi’s boat till noon and then spread themselves on the weed close to the warmth of the creek, and began their midday meal. The war-like nature of their preparations suggested many questions to Ransom. He knew no word for war, but he managed to make Hyoi understand what he wanted to know. Did séroni and hrossa and pfifltriggi (the sentient beings of Malacandra) ever go out like this, with weapons, against each other?

 “What for?” asked Hyoi. It was difficult to explain. “If both wanted one thing and neither would give it,” said Ransom, “would the other at last come with force? Would they say, give it or we kill you?” “What sort of thing?” “Well – food, perhaps.” “If the other hnau wanted food, why should we not give it to them? We often do.” “But how if we had not enough for ourselves?” “But Maleldil will not stop the plants growing.” “Hyoi, if you had more and more young, would Maleldil broaden the handramit and make enough plants for them all?”

Though the story is fiction, Lewis is using his narrative to make a larger point, drawn as it is from principles within our world: that our answers, and yes our reasons, for war are not the only option, and that it is possible for beings, in this case the hnau to find alternatives to “com[ing] with force.” For the hrossa the answer to the séroni and pfifltriggi wanting their food (and presumably anything else) is to simply give it, because Maleldil (the supreme deity of sorts) has provided enough to sustain them all. On Malacandra, the initial response to need is to give, not hoard and defend.

 In fact, this current conflict is largely about two people refusing to give. Both people have needs—Palestinians and Jews—but the problem is that both refuse to give and share and so martial conflict becomes and appears inevitable. It seems, to me, we believe sharing instead of fighting is  only useful for the schoolyard but geo-politically speaking fighting is the official “grown-up” answer.

 But this is where Jesus comes in.

For Jesus, national conflict included a tense relationship between Jews and their in-house neighbors, the Samaritans. This is largely the context for his teaching concerning the gratuitous Samaritan recorded in Luke 10. N.T. Wright makes a similar point when he writes:

 The hatred between Jews and Samaritans had gone on for hundreds of years—and is still reflected, tragically, in the smouldering tension between Israel and Palestine today. Both sides claimed to be the true inheritors of the promises to Abraham and Moses; both sides, in consequence, regarded themselves as the rightful possessors of the land. Few Israelis today will travel from Galilee to Jerusalem by the direct route, because it will take them through the West Bank and risk violence. In exactly the same way, most first-century pilgrims making the same journey would prefer, as Jesus himself did, to travel down the Jordan valley to Jericho and then turn west up the hill to Jerusalem. It was much safer.[1]

Jesus’ answer about their conflict, reflected in the question posed by his interlocutor in the parable is that they are to be neighborly one to another. Jesus neither embroils himself in their conflict—blaming one and taking up the cause of the other—but re-directs their national conflict to that of giving and sharing. Apparently, being neighborly not only works on Malacandra, but on earth as well! I imagine, then, if we were to ask Jesus about potential violence between Palestinians and Jews over land and resources Jesus might answer similarly to Hyoi, “But YHWH will not stop plants from growing.”

Such an answer would not be science fiction for Jesus, because his Father was the type of God that “let it rain on the just and the unjust”—and who more importantly summoned his image-bearers to do likewise. Thus, our answers to national strife will and should be informed by Jesus’ answer to internal conflict for Israel within his own generation (remember, the conflict between Jews and Samaritans was politico-religious in nature and yes, social and geographical): neighborliness. As I see it, neighborliness is the meta-principle by which we should formulate all answers for Israel’s modern conflict—war being the final and solemn answers, lest we think Jesus a pious dreamer and the war mongering politicians then and now the true realists. I should think not, for Jesus is always standing in wings of history saying to future generations, “Go and do likewise.”

malacandra[1]

 

[1] N.T. Wright, Luke for Everyone  (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), pg. 127.

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The Victim & the Rebel: Or Why We Need Christus Victor & Penal Substitution

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Categories: The Atonement

IThirst006[1]Failure to appreciate the paradoxical (and unapologetically so) nature of Scripture and the all-too-human-tendency to band-wagon and carry things to their “necessary” logical conclusions (let’s call this “rationalization”) lead to unbalanced doctrinal and theological systems. Perhaps nowhere is this sort of thing more apparent than the setting of Christus Victor (that in Jesus’ death God destroys the power of evil, sin, and death over humans and the creation) against Penal Substitution (where God in Christ suffers the punishment for sin and rebellion); or as some tend to put it a “loving” and a “forgiving” God vis-à-vis a God “who needs to punish in order to forgive.”

Now, the rejection of Penal Substitution (in whatever form) is usually accompanied by the claim that it is a late articulation by Anslem who basically articulated the crucifixion within the conceptual framework of the feudal lord system and therefore should be rejected (though such a claim is open to a the charge of genetic fallacy). Now this true as it goes, but it doesn’t therefore mean we should reject all forms of this doctrine. There is plenty of divine punishment throughout Scripture, not least Romans 2:6-11, that to simply use Anselm’s particular model to reject any idea that Jesus suffers the wrath of God as punishment for our sins deeply problematic and unsustainable exegetically.

However, there is a correlate anthropological issue that is integrated with these two views of the atonement that mirror the discussion. The under playing of human guilt in favor of the very Scriptural notion that we are also victims of forces—Sin, Satan, death, etc.—greater than us; perhaps, and this is just a hunch, many of us grew tired of the over-emphasis of our guilt before an “angry God” that we wildly swung the pendulum in the opposite direction entirely in favor of the line of atonement that stressed our needing rescue and God’s accomplishment of that rescue in his own the death on the cross?

But should we not rather hold the two together paradoxically?

Namely, that we are both the victims of a force more powerful than us and yet we nevertheless are the responsible and willing participants in sin and evil. And that Calvary astonishingly deals with both sides of this human predicament: our helplessness and our guilt. Graham A. Cole said it well in his God the Peacemaker when he concluded:

We human beings are paradoxes: capable of both greatness and unspeakable evil. This is unsurprising if the biblical story is believed. We remain images of God (the glory) structurally and functionally—albeit damaged though we are. Yet we are sinners (the garbage). Any account that does not reckon with the paradox is flawed. We are not devils, even though we can act like them. Christians ought not to be misanthropes. But we are not moral innocents either…[1]

The choice between these theologies, let alone their antithesis, then, is a false one. Penal and what we might call divine conquest themes are, in fact, often interwoven in Scripture (e.g. Col. 2:9-15; Rom. 5:6-11; Rom. 8:1-4) and address two angels of the human condition before God. On Colossians 2 N.T. Wright adds:

In particular, the ‘handwriting that stood over against us’ has nothing more to say. This refers to the Jewish law, the law of Moses, which prevented Gentiles from getting in to God’s people, and condemned Jews for breaking its commands. When Jesus was nailed to the cross, Paul declares, this written code was nailed there with him. Now it has nothing more to say to those who belong to Jesus. ‘There is therefore no condemnation’, as Paul says in Romans 8, ‘for those who belong to King Jesus.’ He’s forgiven you all the sins and offences that might have counted against you. In dying with him you have come out from under them all, and from all the condemnation they might have pulled down on your head.[2]

Ironically, then, it precisely the legal or forensic guilt humans bear that the powers (both Caiaphas and Satan and Caesar) use to place God in a quasi-divine-predicament; think here of Zechariah 3:1-5 where the Accuser stands before God condemning Joshua the high priest before the heavenly court. Thus, if we are to have anything like a full orbed account of the human problem (and its divine answer) we must hold together the fact(s) that humanity is propelled and dominated by a force greater than itself,  that we are also willing accomplices in our actions great and small despite our weakness, and that the same forces, including God’s own judgment, are there to hold us all in the doc worthy and helpless before the divine judgment seat.

Enter the cross of Jesus of Nazareth…

The atoning cross, you see, deals with all of these integrated and paradoxical human issues. God had always intended to come in the person of Christ (this makes God’s act prior to the cross and thus reveals God is not the object of atonement but its own free and gracious satisfier) to both gain victory over the forces of sin and death in his own person and at the same time undergo his own verdict and judgment against guilty sinners; thus, disarming any legal/forensic claims made by God’s enemies. The bloody and awful death of Jesus—God with us—is God’s unexpected and yet foretold answer to all that ails us helpless-rebels and we should not take it upon ourselves to lessen the scope of the cross one jot or tittle, but rather do our best to not  separate what God has himself joined together in the person and work of Jesus Christ.



[1] Graham A. Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009), pg. 66.

[2] N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge,2004), pg. 171.

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What’s Killing Christian Blogging

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Categories: Current Affairs

rest-in-peace[1]What follows, as it pertains to particularly “Christian blogging” (this would, ironically, include Christian-anti-“Christian” blogging), will be terribly anecdotal, and so will not be provable in every regard; however, I think that there will be many who will nevertheless confirm and resonate with my frustrations, and we all know what Scripture says about “two or three witnesses.” Now, I know pure objectivity is impossible, but for this post I shall hope to take a step back (perhaps one after that) and do my best to make detached and fair observations (not to mention self-critical), knowing full well, of course, that I am guilty of much of what has so often hurt Christian blogging. So, without further ado here are some of the phenomena (both ones that bloggers themselves and the readers commit) which I see as currently crippling our blogging endeavors:

1. Party-line blogging: this is, perhaps, my foremost complaint about Christian blogging, that bloggers tend write pieces that merely confirm what their larger readership already expect, and yes, demand by way of response (i.e. views and shares). For example, I already know what many “progressive” bloggers are going to say about Penal-Substitution (i.e. “late invention,” “unbecoming of a supposed loving God,” “God didn’t abuse his Son,” etc.) and what Evangelical Conservatives will typically say about Inerrancy (i.e. “inerrant original autographs,” “God’s truthfulness,” “That’s just Liberal scholarship,” etc.). Most bloggers who’s reader base is one dominant worldview will not take the risks of noting complexity, acknowledging others’ valid points, choosing middle-grounds, much less changing their position to go up-stream within the largely agreed upon position in their camp. This leads to the second…

 2. Party-Line reading: when we, as readers, only share and view those blogs which basically confirm our preexisting positions on things we place a certain pressure on the bloggers to stay within those invisible boundaries. You see, when bloggers only post and reconfirm their readership’s mainline positions on any given subject we create a self-affirming and ideological circle where no one within the circle is allowed to break free and push against the flow. This is a great way to become blind to the validity of other views, fail at self-criticism, and miss out on expanding one’s worldview to be able to embrace other aspects of reality to which we are currently blind.

 3. Blogs are often too short: blogs are to books what tweets are to Facebook posts. Because most people won’t engage a larger argument, bloggers typically write in small one to two-sentence paragraphs, limit their posts to 500 or 600 character posts (most less), and avoid complex discussion and technical words. The problem with this is our topics are not usually simple! And bloggers (typically leaders of sorts) cannot really engage an issue in all of its complexity or with the argument required because we won’t read them, or worse, we cannot. Theology, politics, homosexuality, or whatever topics we typically address cannot be worked out in simple and non-complex posts. If we really want to make head way in these areas we must all push ourselves: the readers learning and growing and following the discussions, while the writers doing thorough and careful work to truly begin scratching the surface of our complicated discussions.

 4. We uncritically defend our favorite bloggers: this is a regular occurrence with the ardent followers of what I call the “mega-bloggers,” the bloggers who get more views on a single post than I have in my entire blogging career. I see many readers defend, at all cost, the author more than the author’s position and work, and its validity. The truth is, we aren’t called to defend a personality, we are summoned to articulate and search for truth as it is revealed in Christ Jesus. Of course, we may naturally identify with certain bloggers and their work, and this is fine as it goes, but this doesn’t get us off the hook of having to “test all things.”

5. Disassociation From Dissidents: We have all been there, and we have all done it: disassociated with a former friend or acquaintance (most likely one who shared your general position on things) because they either disagreed with you or switched to another worldview altogether or both. The us/them duality is emphatically not the sole property of the fundamentalist types but is a typical human reaction to those who don’t see things the way we do. In other words, we must all continue to practice love (Jesus meant more than “truth in love,” but not less than), especially with those whom disagree, or after we or others change views on a given subject.

 After all, our passion for blogging (reading or writing or both) was most likely because we saw something in that could positively change the world in the name and cause of the crucified King Jesus. But as with all attempts to do something bigger than oneself there are “besetting sins” so to speak. Therefore, let us dynamically chase and convey truth no matter the popular line or our dominant current theological or cultural or social association, let us be open to being challenged and changed by our favorite bloggers, let us together push for more nuanced and thorough posts, let us avoid defending our personal favorites “just because,” and above all, let us continue to love one another as God has so loved us in Christ Jesus.

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“No One Knows the Day or Hour”: You’re Reading It Wrong

6 comments

Categories: Apocalypticism

DESTRUCTION-OF-JERUSALEM[1]I am convinced, and on quite different  grounds other than Matthew 24.36, that it is impossible, nor are we commanded, to know the “day or hour” of the coming of the Lord Jesus. And though I am in general agreement with those who challenge parousial speculations, whether by Mayan calendrical cycles or astral phenomena (i.e. “blood moons”) or current sociopolitical events, I must reject any attempt which uses Matthew 24:36 (“But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows,” The Message) as a proof text to do so.

Again I refuse to entertain specific end-time calculations, but this saying of Jesus, I suggest, has very little or nothing to do with said bad eschatology. Remember, we must counter bad exegesis and theology not with equal and opposite decontextualized readings of our own, but with readings that are more sound and contextual.

In fact, when we take a closer look at the particular context in which the saying has its home we will discover that Jesus is alluding to the imminent destruction of the Temple and its city, Jerusalem. More pertinent to the whole “blood moon” theories is the cosmic imagery used to denote the fall of the Temple in 24.29-31. The chapter begins:

Jesus then left the Temple. As he walked away, his disciples pointed out how very impressive the Temple architecture was. Jesus said, “You’re not impressed by all this sheer size, are you? The truth of the matter is that there’s not a stone in that building that is not going to end up in a pile of rubble.” Later as he was sitting on Mount Olives, his disciples approached and asked him, “Tell us, when are these things going to happen? What will be the sign of your coming, that the time’s up?”[1]

Yes, Jesus goes on to employ cosmic imagery—“sun darkened,” “heavens shaken,” etc.—but this is his way, in line with the Jewish prophetic tradition before him, of expressing the universal significance of the desolation of one of Israel’s primary symbols. In fact, this chapter is part of the climax of confrontation between the priesthood and Jesus which ignited when he started forgiving sins, an action which circumvented the role of the Temple. N.T. Wright gets at the heart of the issue when he writes:

It is vital, therefore, to read the passage as it would have been heard by Matthew’s first audience. And there, it seems, we are back to the great crisis that was going to sweep over Jerusalem and its surrounding countryside at a date that was, to them, in the unknown future—though we now know it happened in ad 70, at the climax of the war between Rome and Judaea. Something was going to happen which would devastate lives, families, whole communities: something that was both a terrible, frightening event and also, at the same time, the event that was to be seen as ‘the coming of the son of man’ or the parousia, the ‘royal appearing’ of Jesus himself. And the whole passage indicates what this will be. It will be the swift and sudden sequence of events that will end with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.[2]

The “signs,” then, were not concrete, but were part of the descriptive and symbolic forecast by which Jesus’ disciples were to discern to imminent destruction of the city and its Temple. After all, the point is not so much that they should prepare for anything like a “rapture,” but that the moment Messianic claimants began their call to arms against Rome they should then head to the hills because Israel was soon to be going through a moment of intense-national suffering, one never seen before, not even under the Babylonians. In fact, warning Israel about the tragic consequences of a revolution against the imperial Eagle was a major part of Jesus’ mission, but when they refused his “way of peace” (kingdom through suffering love) all that was left was the climactic crises that would see Jerusalem and its Temple leveled in 70 A.D.

Such a loss for Israel would be “an end of an age.” Not in the actual Platonic-desolation of the world of space and time, but that in the wake of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection (which were viewed as Temple-like destruction and rebuilding, e.g. John 2.13-22) the destruction of the Temple would signal that one age was effectively finished and, more importantly, that one had now begun. Don’t you see?—the complex of the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus (and not least the sending of the Spirit in Acts 2.14-21) correlate with the fall of the Temple were the actual signs that the end of the age has come, has been “inaugurated”!

We are living in the “end times,” we have been since God struck a tent in human flesh. But this doesn’t mean we hunker down as social or political or environmental separatists, because this “end” is only so precisely because it is a new beginning. Jesus was and is the new-creation-in-Person. And because God’s new world is already under way we are all summoned not to speculate about the world’s demise, but rather to build with and for God’s kingdom until it is at last consummated on earth as it is in heaven. Perhaps, Martin Luther said it best, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still  plant my apple tree.”

Lord knows the world needs more trees.



[1] Matthew 24:1–3, The Message.

[2] N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), pgg. 126-127.

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Christians, Lighten Up: No, Seriously.

1 comment

Categories: Current Affairs

5_lightenup11[1]Now, by “lighten up” I do not mean refrain from declaring that total truth has been revealed in Christ against all other non-gods, I certainly mean nothing like “concede to secular culture” and its postmodern ethos, and [despite my Torrancian ways] nothing like halting all apologetic defenses for and on behalf of what it is we believe and why. Facts are, the church has been summoned by its nail-scarred Lord to herald his cosmic Messianic status secured as it is by his victorious death and resurrection. I’m convinced should the church ever relent here she would be effectively denying her own Raison d’être and will have been found to have been kicking against the goads.

In fact, my point is rather simple: that the church can indeed carry out her divinely appointed tasks without compromise and without having to be, well, jerks or constant social-annoyances while doing it.  We have not been summoned to turn everything that comes along in the news or culture as an absolute ‘cause-for-the-gospel.’ There is still much wisdom in being “wise as serpents and gentle as doves.”

Take, for example, the latest brouhaha over the Noah movie.

I saw it and sure, it deviated from the canonical text (don’t all adaptations do to one degree or another?) and sure the director, Darren Aronofsky, may not be a “Christian” (is there not another debate even here?), but there are some great elements in the movie that are commendable. In a time where most movies are just violence (there was this too, but it’s there in the original as well), violence, mindless humor we should be glad that anyone would use something we so prize as inspiration for something even remotely about the Creator/creature/creation reality.

It didn’t take a biblical scholar to note that creative license was taken and we—Christians—do not need to be so publically patronizing so as to actually believe that we are the only ones who noticed this and thus the only ones enlightened enough to not be convinced this was not a play-by-play retelling of the ancient narrative. A better alternative would have been to thank the director for reaching within our scared stories to make a movie out of it and get people thinking about the big ideas these narratives are all about anyway: God as creator, humans as creation’s stewards, mercy over judgment and not least, sin and salvation. Well, we can just do what St. Paul told us:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.[1]

The best, not the worst. We can still preach the supremacy of the crucified Servant King and see the best in all that the world has to offer. When I read the NT and the early history of the church it was Christ himself that was the stumbling block, not the church’s constant criticism of everything that fell in its path. In fact, like St. Paul on Mars Hill, we can elevate Jesus as the coming One and at the same time point to things in the surrounding culture, like the movie Noah, and say there, right there, is an “altar to the unknown God” now known in King Jesus. So, lighten up a little.



[1] Philippians 4:8, The Message.

 

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