Archive for March, 2013

So @BoSanders has issued a great follow up to last year’s John 14:6 challenge over at Homebrewed http://homebrewedchristianity.com/2013/03/20/the-easter-call-in-challenge/. It basically goes like this;

We need to stop saying “God sent Jesus to die on the cross”.  The only place the New Testament even talks about God sending Jesus is in John 3:17 – Jesus was sent into the world, not to condemn it but to save it.

The danger of saying any more than John 3:17 says itself is that it distorts our image of God and our understanding of the mission of Jesus…

What would you say to that? Agree, disagree? Comments, questions, concerns?

Now I’m not in the running for one of the cool book prizes as I’m sure there are going to be some cool attempts to weave some Girardian memetic theory and some Foucauldian power-discourse theory that will leave me in the shallow end with my NIV Study Bible, Warren Carter’s John commentary and Bob Jewett’s Romans. Heck I don’t even know the right way to say Zizek, let alone spin his take on Paul into a funny little joke about Seamus from Derry.

So what I thought I would do  is lob my own little Johannine quote-bomb into the mix. Tripp started this one off with John 14:6 and I think we defused that one ok. Nobody got hurt, which in theology counts as a good day. Bo is now lobbing over John 3:17, which I heard he learned from reading some NFL player’s eye make-up, so I’m going to reach into the ammo box marked KATA IOANNHN and chuck one back. Duck and cover boys and remember there are no (a)theists in fox-hole, or a Vauxhall for that matter.

I understand Bo sojourned for a while in the lands of the Penties, which in my own experience were basically Fundamentalists with magical powers and Tripp knows an Evanjellyfish or two so they will both recognised the signifier “the completed work of Jeee-sus”. We used to hear it a lot, in songs, sermons, earnest (that means sweaty) prayers and passionate (that means angry) alter calls. We all know what people think they mean by that.

Ok hard hats on, here comes the quite bomb. John 17:4. Booooom.

I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given
Me to do. (John 17:4 NASB)

I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest
me to do (John 17:4 Jesus’ own KJV)

So when does John’s character of Jesus speak this prayer, “referring to the completed work of Christ”? John 17. That’s after the foot-washing, after the least evening meal with his students, after all the teaching and wonder-working, and after promising the comforter. There.

He has completed the work the Father gave him. And after that? Well after he had completed the work the Father gave him, after the completed work of Christ… the powers killed him. So we have a great tragic ending, but not one of mission interrupted, nor even one of a divine mission-to-die fulfilled, but perhaps a vindictive, unjust execution that narratively takes place AFTER the “completed work”.

That’s my John 17:4 quote bomb, now I just need to work out how to make this speak-pipe gizmo work.






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When we look at an image of the world we know what we are looking at. Generally in the west we expect to see the North Pole at the top of the page, the equator about half way down and the arrangement of continents centred on the Atlantic Ocean with Europe to right and above centre and the USA and Canada in the adjacent quadrant to the left. Its so familiar to us it looks right. So as soon as we see any other representation it just looks so wrong.

Of course we know that the Earth is an oblate spheroid hurtling through space on at least four vectors of velocity relative to any other point in space-time. There is no right way to conceptualise this movement. In space there is no "up". We have a deep sense of the "upness" of north, and the "levelness" of the Earth’s path of orbit around the sun, and to most purposes the "stationaryness" of the Sun with respect to our own galaxy and also other galaxies. This is a pre-cognitive sense. We look at an image and it feels wrong before we can articulate precisely what it is that is not right. Yet all of these "common sense" judgements are just humanly constructed, historically contingent and provisional. It could not be any other way. There is no Galactic Council to declare which way up the Universe "really" is, so we make knowledge up. Making knowledge is a jolly useful thing to, which enables Human Beings to do far more than other species who do not create artefacts of knowledge.

This is all well and good, but we often forget this when it comes to the Bible. I often hear people contrasting their "plain reading" of Scripture with some artful or creative reading that "strains the text" into lending support for a meaning that was not there. Of course this "plain meaning" is just as constructed, contingent and provisional as the "upness of North", and yet it has been repeated so often that we have this same visceral sense of familiarity that any other reading comes across for the first time as alien, strange or novel. Examples abound, whether you are looking at concepts such as submission, justification or election in the letters of Paul, or perhaps words such as "psyche", "pneuma", "ouranos" or "gehenna". Obviously the biggie is the word "Theos". Here we have a word whose meaning is strongly shaped by historical and personal contingencies. Some wonder whether it is even possible to get "behind" the constructions of human knowledge to a reliable and authentic meaning.

For me there are two moves which help. The first is Tom Wright’s Critical Realism. In which our partial, constructed and contingent knowledge of God is only half the story. The other half is God’s knowledge of us. This gives the space in which a progressive, and ever revising, relationship can emerge – a kind of epistemological agape.

The other is the Anabaptist move. We cannot really gain any worthwhile knowledge of the immortal, invisible God through abstract theological or philosophical conjectures, but if we accept (by faith) that in Jesus we see the fullness of God in a human body (Colossians 2:9), then we have something on which to build, something that will turn everything else we think or know upside down.

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