Monthly Archives: March 2013

Tipping Point – Belief

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, a “tipping point” is “the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place.” In coming weeks I will propose some tipping points in our experience as believers – tipping points related to belief, practice, affections, and Biblical interpretation.

Today I begin with a tipping point related to the strength of our belief, faith, or trust in Christ (the same Greek word pistis is translated as belief, faith, and trust in English). Is there a specific catalyst that can help a person’s waning confidence in the truth of Christ regain momentum?

I believe that “the critical point beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place” in our struggle to believe in Christ is the reality of his resurrection.

First-century tombs - Church of the Holy Sepulcher

First-century tombs – Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Belief in the resurrection of Jesus is not a blind leap of faith. There is credible historical rationale for believing that Jesus was raised from the dead. As N.T. Wright and other scholars have pointed out, only the resurrection explains both the empty tomb and the disciples’ conviction that they had seen Jesus alive again.Jesus’ resurrection was a tipping point for Jesus’ disciples, who moved from confusion and uncertainty to assurance of faith when they realized that Jesus had been raised from the dead (of course, the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost made a big difference as well) . “Doubting Thomas” was able to confess, “My Lord and my God” when he saw the resurrected Jesus (John 20:28). Saul/Paul, who persecuted Christians, was immediately and dramatically changed after seeing the resurrected Jesus on the Road to Damascus (Acts 9). James the brother of Jesus was skeptical about Jesus as the Messiah before the resurrection but became a believer and faithful church leader after the resurrection.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith, and in 15:17, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Paul realized that Jesus’ resurrection was the linchpin of the Christian faith.

From a logical standpoint, if there was truly a man who died, was buried, and was raised on the third day (never to die again), then that changes everything about our world. Death has been conquered. Miracles are possible. The claims of this resurrected one suddenly become believable. His identity as Savior, Messiah, and Judge is validated: “God has given proof of this to all men by raising Jesus from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

When it comes to my faith in the Christian story, if Christ has been raised from the dead, the rest is details. Why couldn’t the resurrected one have died for my sins? Why couldn’t he have existed from eternity with God the Father? Why couldn’t he send the Spirit to inspire his apostles’ teachings? If Christ is risen indeed, it is OK if I can never fully resolve the problem of evil or grasp the mystery of the Trinity.

In my moments of doubt I always return to the resurrection. It is the tipping point for my faith in Jesus and the rest of the story of the Bible. Jesus is risen; He is risen indeed. Enjoy celebrating that truth this coming Sunday!

Sign inside Garden Tomb - Jerusalem

Sign inside Garden Tomb – Jerusalem

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Adding Books to the New Testament

16th Street Baptist Church stained glass

A group of scholars is publishing a book called the New New Testament (that’s right, that extra New is meant to be there). The work consists of the typical 27 New Testament books plus another 13 works selected by the committee.

Dan Wallace has a thorough response to the recent project here. He points out the blatant historical and theological problems with the project, along with the arbitrary nature of the results. In particular, the 13 new works would have failed the classic criteria used to identify New Testament Scripture: apostolicity, orthodoxy, and catholicity.

We could look at these criteria in the form of questions that the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th century churches would have asked about any religious work circulating in the name of Jesus or another well-known Christian figure:

1) Who wrote it? The question is who really wrote it, not just what name was attached to it. Obviously, if a respected eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry (or an eyewitness of Jesus’ resurrected glory – see Paul) wrote the work, it would stand to be valued as a credible and authoritative representation of Jesus’ ministry.

2) When was it written? Was it written during a time when eyewitnesses to Jesus’ ministry were still alive, so that the testimony could be affirmed by those who knew Jesus? These first two questions touch on the criteria of apostolicity.

3) Who else is using it? This question reflects the standard of catholicity. The early churches communicated with one another and were able to help each other evaluate the trustworthiness of the different religious writings they encountered. Some of these churches had Christian leaders who were known to have been disciples of the original disciples, or at least disciples of the disciples of those disciples. (OK, that was a mouthful!)

4) What does it teach? This question gets at the idea of orthodoxy.  The memory of Jesus was well-preserved in the early Christian communities. The early believers proclaimed Jesus to both “insiders” and “outsiders,” and they exalted him in regular gatherings for worship. Aberrant pictures of Jesus in later writings were easily recognized and dismissed by those who knew Jesus in spirit and in truth.

5) How did it originate – publicly, or secretly? As seen in the book of Acts, the early Christians spoke about Jesus in public. Their message about Jesus (the “gospel”) became widely known. Later writers who wanted to enlist the name of Jesus or his disciples for their religious agendas were forced to get creative by presenting their doctrines as secret teachings from Jesus (when these texts “surfaced” generations after the life of Jesus, Christian truth was widely known to be something other than what these documents were promoting).

Why would people both in ancient times and today want to embrace and advance ideologies that are so clearly non-Christian and yet still use the name of Jesus for these doctrines? Perhaps there is something about the power and beauty of Jesus and all that he represents that makes it difficult to discard him altogether, even when he is redefined beyond recognition.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

 

 

 

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The kingdom that Jesus topples

Wilderness of Judea, where Jesus was tempted by Satan

 

When we think about God’s kingdom in relationship to other kingdoms (see previous post on the question of whether the gospel is anti-imperial), the focus is only secondarily on visible political kingdoms in our world. The primary kingdom Jesus confronts and overthrows is the kingdom of Satan. How did Satan claim a kingdom in the first place, and what is Jesus doing about it?

1. Satan claims the kingdom that was rightfully ours, as humans. In Genesis 1:26-28 (see also Psalm 8:4-8), we read that God originally created man and woman in his image, with the authority to rule over the rest of his creation. God, the ultimate creator and king, appointed humans to reign on his behalf over the rest of the world. But in Genesis 3, the Serpent enters the picture and deceives Adam and Eve into taking their cues from Satan instead of from God. Ever since, humans rule the earth by answering to Satan and carrying out his plans instead of God’s plans. So in a sense, Satan has usurped the authority to rule that was given to us. He now acts as ruler of this world, because we surrendered this right to him.

2. But God promises that Satan will not have the last word in this matter. In Genesis 3:15, God declares that in the ongoing struggles that humans have with Satan, the offspring of Eve will ultimately prevail over the offspring if the Serpent: “He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

3. Jesus, the divine Son of God, arrives on the scene as one who is fully human. Would he too be subject to the rule of Satan, since Satan rules over the world and the people of this world? No – Jesus never surrenders his rightful rule, as the rest of humanity has. We see this most directly when Jesus is tempted in the wilderness by Satan. In Matthew 4:1-11 we witness a power struggle, with Satan striving to tempt and deceive Jesus into abdicating his right to rule the world. Satan wants to establish the same chain of command with Jesus that he did with Adam and Eve, with Satan calling the shots and Jesus following Satan’s lead (“tell these stones to become bread,” or “throw yourself down and let the angels rescue you,” or most directly, “bow down and worship me”). Unlike Adam and Eve, and the rest of humanity, Jesus resists Satan’s schemes and continues to carry out the Father’s agenda instead. The offspring of Eve strikes his first blow against Satan.

4. Satan’s wilderness failure is the beginning of his kingdom’s downfall. Because of Jesus’ ongoing resistance to Satan’s manipulations and his faithfulness to the Father, Jesus can affirm that “the ruler of the world has no hold on me” (John 14:30), and that “the prince of this world now stands condemned” (John 16:11), and that he “will be driven out” (John 12:31). Jesus also demonstrates his dominion over Satan every time he casts out a demon.  Satan tried to bring Jesus under his control, but Jesus carried out God’s perfect plan instead, which included a march towards the cross for the sake of all other humans, who were still captive to Satan.

5. In Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection he wins a victory for humanity as the Son of Man, the true image of God. Unlike other humans, Jesus never surrenders his God-given right to rule. But he doesn’t stop there. He makes a way for the rest of us to be delivered from Satan’s kingdom to God’s kingdom (Colossians 1:13). Jesus “disarmed” Satan and his minions, making “a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). His victory as the Second Adam and as our true representative secures our victory, when we are united to him, with him, and in him through faith.

6. The fatal blow to Satan’s kingdom has been struck. Through Christ, believers are released from slavery to Satan and his rule. We now answer to Jesus our King, the Head of the Body of Christ, no longer following “the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Eph 1:22-2:2). One day, Satan and his kingdom will be destroyed completely: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet,” says Paul in Romans 16:20, adopting the language of the promise in Genesis 3:15. The book of Revelation describes this dramatic downfall of the “ancient serpent” of Genesis 3 (Rev 12:9; 20:2). At that time, after Satan’s defeat, we as believers in Christ will “reign with him” (2 Tim 2:12; Rev 5:10; Rev 22:5), reestablished to our rightful place in God’s order – forever ruling on God’s behalf over the rest of his works of creation (this time, in a new creation, a new heavens and earth).

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