Tag Archives: Christology

The Liberating LORD of Peace, Part 3: the Revealer #TheNewPacifism

Reading the New Testament as a Continuation of the Hebrew Bible

Previous posts in this series-

The Liberating LORD of Peace, Part 1: Groundrules

And

The Liberating LORD of Peace, Part 2: Revelation

In order for me to argue that the New Testament is not that new in the sense of Jewish moral theology, allow me to review my counter-arguments to uninformed claims that advocates of Christian non-violence avoid the Old Testament.

On the contrary, it is several Old Testament theological claims that remain at the root of Christian pacifism and Christian peace-making efforts. 1. The Decalogue, specifically The Second and Fifth Commandments read together are calls to reject violence.  By knowing the name of God, we avoid linguistic violence towards God and are able to have inner peace that manifests itself outwardly in a peaceful relationship with our neighbors.  The negative command to avoid killing is a logical conclusion from the directive to love God. 2. The Image of God: If one understands the doctrine of being made in the image of God as where humanity’s worth is seen as immeasurable in the eyes of the Triune God, then it follows forth that all of human life is sacred because of the Creator, and second, only God has the right to take away life. 3. Blood as Sacred: Various legislation in the Torah informs readers that the blood of every creature is sacred, for the blood of the creature is its life. 4. The Wars of the Holy One: Rejecting the Holy wars in favor of the far more accurate term, Wars of the Holy One, one can see that theologically the God of Israel, the YHWH Armies is the lone sources of military victory.  Any prideful attempt on the part of the Israelites to take away God’s glory is to be rejected, as was with prophets such as Elisha’s rebuke of the king of Israel (1st Kings 6). 5. Diaspora Judaism: The Maccabee’s violent revolution was rejected, even excluded from the canon at one point.  Nehemiah and Ezra’s noble yet ethnically exclusive experiment should be viewed as a failure, and falling short of God’s command to “seek the peace of the city,” according to Jeremiah 29:5-7.

How Jesus and the Apostles Passed Down the Non-violent Jewish Ethic

Jesus embodies the entirety of the nonviolent morality as it relates to Judaism. It is in his life, death, and resurrect that he creates a new covenant, a better testament (Hebrews 8:6) through his obedience.  The New Covenant is a better one, not because of any principles are laws but simply because the Covenant has been made available to all nations for it was first to the Jew, but now to Jew and Gentile (John 4:22; Romans 1:16). The healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2) is part of the mission of God as well as the healing of the soul.  The incarnation and mission of the Logos points toward reconciliation God with humanity, as well as making possible a greater human fellowship.

1. Jesus as the Logos, or Word of God in many of the early Christians thinking was the Ten Words made Flesh or the Law Incarnate. Their understanding of John 1:1-18 was that God’s teaching had to take on a human body in order for God to teach human being holiness.  What the Patristics understood is that Jesus as revelation cannot be separated from understanding God disclosing God’s Will in the Decalogue.  When New Testament passages allude to the reality that all persons will confess Christ as Lord while every knee will bow, it does so because there is no other name by which human beings receive the gift of salvation (Philippians 2:10).  If one knows Jesus, one will know the God of peace, thus continuing the promise of the 2nd Commandment.  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew as well as his Sermon on the Hill in Luke are the re-iteration of the Ten Commandments as well as their Jubilee interpretations in Leviticus. These laws are not for a chosen few (ala Reinhold Niebuhr) but for everyone who wishes to follow the Lord Jesus. In Liberation Theology, as I have contested a number of times this year, the Exodus narrative is absolutely essential to understanding the whole metanarrative of Scripture. Without the story of YHWH redeeming enslaved Hebrew bodies from the wrath of Egypt, one cannot grasp a proper understanding of God’s Word. Jesus as the Incarnate Son of God partakes in the prophetic tradition of which Moses was the first human participant.

2. Jesus as the Image of God is the norming norm for human behavior (Colossians 1:15). As fully God and fully human, Christ is what it means to be a person. As Yoder articulates quite well,

“When Paul spoke of Jesus as image, or when the author of Hebrews , or the signers of the hymn cited in Phillipians 2 used similar expressions, they were practicing the opposite of freewheeling image making.  They were affirming the abiding normativeness  of the work and words of the man Jesus as revelatory of God’s being and will.”

(1) That the exclusive imagery of Jesus as some Nordic looking hippie is something that ought to be destroyed. Honoring Christ as THE Image of God means the destruction of ALL idols. In A Black Theology of Liberation (chapter 2, “The Norms and Sources of Black Theology”), James Cone criticizes those who would use the image of God as love as a ground for nonviolence. Theologies that are born out of whiteness (the powerful, the dominant culture) serve the interests of the majority including disingenuous calls for Blacks protesting injustice to be “peaceful” like Governor Jay Nixon last night. An AnaBlacktivist theological ethics would call for recognizing the Just Divinity from the Hebrew Bible as the impetus for religious peacemaking with Christ Jesus being that very Deity’s enfleshed self.

3. The Sacred Blood of Jesus: The author of 2nd Peter makes the death of Christ Jesus the reason for our righteousness, and because Jesus’s blood is sacred, we are called to a new life (much like Abel’s blood cried out for justice). Note that 2nd Peter 2:24 says that the two-fold reason for the death of the God-man is for human beings to turn from sin and live in cruciform holiness– both substitutionary atonement and moral exemplar. It is not an either/or when it comes to divine reconciliation. Jesus was victorious in his obedience, representing humanity and taking the punishment what we deserve; our act of worship should be the life of sacrifice, of self-giving, of living in humility, residing in solidarity with the crucified peoples of this world. In Black Christianities, Jesus’ bloodshed connects God in se to the history of blood that has been shed on U.S. American soil: African enslavement, the genocide of First Nation peoples, lynching, the death penalty, police brutality, the poor being sent to unjust wars ordained by the wealthy. While this idea may be offensive to many persons’ sensibilities, traditional hymns spirituals such as ‘Oh, The Blood of Jesus’ and ‘Nothing But the Blood of Jesus’ or ‘Were You There When They Crucified My LORD?’were/ are still sung in Black churches do NOT point to a retributive God. Rather, Christ’s atonement is at once salvific, sanctifying, and a symbol of solidarity with the oppressed.

4. Wars of the Holy One in the New Testament, i.e., Exorcisms: When one recognizes that it is not broken human beings who we are not struggling with, but what the Pauline/pseudo-pauline letter of Ephesians calls ‘the powers of this dark world” and evil from the heavenly realm, one must understand the testimony of the Gospels as they tell us of Jesus healing persons such as Legion [Mark 5; Luke 8] as well as other daemon-possessed persons as going to war. In fact, at the cross, Christ himself alludes to YHWH his Father as the YHWH Armies (Matthew 26:53). How God reigns is on the cross, and through suffering throughout creation. Christ fights our battles for us, and he has already conquered at his death and resurrection; God does not have a social strategy outside of these two events. Yoder puts it this way, “The church does not attack the powers; this Christ has done. […] By existing, the church demonstrates that their rebellion has been vanquished.” (2) The Johannine literature, such as the Apocalypse (the revealing), purposefully depicts Jesus as a warrior king. Specifically, it is the crucified Christ whose very words function as the sword that conquers the rebellious powers (Rev 19:21. Waiting upon the Lord, trusting in Christ’s teaching (Rev 13:10) is the key to victory, and not any human tradition. A possible reframing of this notion of Christus Victor is what Joerg Reiger, in Christ & Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times, calls a Christus Victor from the Margins. Rather than a CV that is from above, which can give into triumphalism and nationalism, this view of Christus Victor “stands a chance to be more real and push toward resistance” against empire (page 259).

5. Diasporic Jewish Christianity: The New Testament authors understand Christian existence as one being in exile, foreign to the surrounding nations in which followers of the Way resided in. Paul places Christian citizenship in the realm of God (Phillipians 3:20). In the midst of living in the violent and oppressive “Pax” Romana, the NT writers wanted to emphasize that we are in the world, but not of it, and our actions should show likewise. As I mentioned in part 2, Black communities have faced histories of alienation and systems of death. Part of learning how to navigate being Christian and Black as a descendent of enslaved Africans as well as a U.S. citizen meant being an actual “resident alien.” Living in exile is not just some metaphor that Christians from the dominant culture can appropriate just because they have a few less votes in the U.S. Senate. The experience of exile is first and foremost a material reality, wrought with feelings of human betrayal and Godforsakeness. If God has deemed it appropriate to show God’s universal love for all through God’s own preferential option for the marginalized, then what should a Christian ethic of nonviolence look like. For part 4 of this series, that is where I will turn, looking at ideas of community, revolution, and responding to Just War theorists.

(1) John Howard Yoder. The War Of The Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence And Peacemaking. Editted by Glenn Stassen, Mark Thiessen Nation, and Matt Hamsher. Brazos Press, Grand Rapids Michigan, 2009, 168

(2) John Howard Yoder. The Politics of Jesus : Vicit Agnus Noster. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.Carlisle, U.K.: Eerdmans ; Paternoster Press, 1994, 150.

Recommendations:

James Cone. God Of The Oppressed. 1975.

John Howard Yoder. The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster. 1972.

Do You Hate Your Enemies Enough To Love Them?

A VERY QUICK THOUGHT EXPERIMENT USING RIGHT WING CONTRARIANISM

In the latest edition of What Nonsense Is NeoCalvinism Preaching today, an employee for John Piper’s Desiring God, referring to Piper’s works, Do You Love Your Enemies Enough to Hate Them?| Desiring God, wants Christians to believe Jesus told us to hate our enemies. A hate, which in turn, will enable Christians to adopt a Crusader theocratic mentality to enact violence upon those we disagree. HATE IN THE NAME OF LOVE YALL. Enter Mr. Parnell:

“And when Jesus said “love,” we should be clear that he didn’t mean hollow good will, or some bland benevolence, or a flakey niceness that hopes our enemies stop being so cruel. Jesus never talks about love that way.”

Good will? Benevolence? Flakey niceness? “Surely now goodness and mercy will FOLLOW me all the days of my life” or “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you”; the concept of forgiveness means nothing but fire insurance? Oh Parnell probably just means any worldview that endorses nonviolence over bloodshed, and any man (literally) who isn’t a Just War Crusader is probably lacking in the area of masculinity. Did I get that right? Wanna know how many times Mr. Parnell quotes Jesus in his post? ABSOLUTELY ZERO! That’s right! Let’s talk about how Jesus discussed love without actually referring to the Gospels. Makes sense to me.

The one passage from John 5 that the author refers to is concerning the resurrection of the dead, and was completely irrelevant to the subject of Jesus “teaching hate.”

Parnell continues:

“Evil belittles God’s holiness and evidences that his name is not hallowed. We hate evil because it is wrong. But on the other hand, if this hatred is part of loving our enemies, we must hate the evil of our enemies because of what the evil means for them.”

If evil “belittles” God’s holiness, what an absolute puny god you must believe in.

HULK smash PUNY DETERMINIST GOD-LOKI!!

HULK smash PUNY DETERMINIST GOD-LOKI!!

Parnell’s theology (NeoCalvinism) is a god that remains distant, aloof, far above us, with a holiness that stresses separation rather than acts of goodness and redemption. What Piper and other NeoCalvinists are trying to do is to co-opt a set of harmful words usually geared toward the LGBTQIA community, and also apply them to radical Muslims. In both instances, they fail and will continue to fail. Love the sinner but hate the sinner is not only an unbiblical concept, but within the context of NeoCalvinist theology and its view of Total Depravity, it is incredibly harmful. Total Depravity is the extreme version of Augustine’s concept of Original Sin. If we are born inherently sinful, and that sinfulness is (as Original Sin argues) is passed down BIOLOGICALLY, then there is no separation between the sin and the sinner. Since then human fallenness is a natural phenomenon, a person who hates the sin also hates the sinner in Original Sin logic.

Now, not only does Jesus actually talk about what enemy-love looks like, the earliest followers of Christ like the apostle Paul did too. Let’s take a glance, shall we!

Jesus: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48 NIV)

I know Calvinists love Romans a lot, except for that 12th chapter thing. Ethics just gets in the way of everything. Here’s the apostle Paul, as recorded by his secretary, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[a] says the Lord” (verse 19). Say it isn’t so! Pauline Christianity also means really trusting in YHWH’s justice rather than our own. Looks like Paul takes his cues from Judaism rather than pagan practices. The living, sacrificial love that Piper and NeoCalvinists completely get wrong is not about calling evil good, (warmongering, violence versus Muslims as a necessary evil to bring about “the Gory Glory of God,” but it is overcoming evil with good. It is engaging the defeated powers of death with the awesome, life-giving peacemaking of Christ Jesus. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head”

Well, now, that’s awkward. Seems like the apostle Paul is saying we are hoping for our enemies’ wellbeing.

Lastly, let us never forget that God does not die for His enemies (the ungodly as Romans 5:6 says) in Calvinism; since the Elect are predestined, they were chosen to be God’s friends since the beginning of time. So God in Christ cannot exhibit love for his enemies in the least, especially since the reprobate have not a chance in hell of getting into heaven (it’s been foreordained, folks!). Enemy-love as defined by Christ and the Good News gets redefined as worldly acts of needless retributive violence in PiperCalvinism.

God loves the righteous and the unrighteous. I mean, if Romans 3 is understood to be saying that we are all sinners, the logic of “love the sinner, hate the sin” turns on itself. I love myself but I also hate myself, and yet there is not one Bible passage that tells us that we lose the Image of God in us during or after “the Fall”? Even in the context of Matthew 5 (verse 22), Jesus condemns his followers if they rely on namecalling (distorting the Image of God in others)to the pit of Hell. Jesus seems pretty intent on us loving others, yes in a BENEVOLENT, HOPEFUL manner. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that NeoCalvinists would prefer to affirm a god as hateful rather than any form of divine benevolence. They’ve held that error for well over five centuries, and they can keep it!

Christ in #Ferguson: On The Theological Failure of R.R. Reno’s Comments on Race and Criminality

A guest post

Timothy McGee is a doctoral student at Southern Methodist University, working in the area of systematic theology. His research focuses on 20th century political theologies, especially as they draw on Christological themes in their analysis and critique of the political configurations of life and death.

R.R. Reno, the main editor of the religious journal First Things, recently made a series of troubling posts on Ferguson (8/25, 8/26a, 8/26b, 8/27). Having commented on some of the false and prejudicial aspects his claims, I want to entertain the possibility that, at least on one point, R.R. Reno was correct. The moment when Reno was correct is, however, a complicated moment, similar in more ways than one to that moment in John’s Gospel when Caiaphas supported the plot to kill Jesus by saying: “You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed” (John 11:50).

The complicated moment in which Reno says something right as long as we read it against the grain is this: “We’ve all—black and white—decided to accept the fact that the culture of poor blacks is violent, dangerous, and dysfunctional. The best we can do is keep the violence under control with aggressive policing and incarceration (8/25).” The “we” is the point at which Reno is both terribly wrong and in another way, completely right. For this “we” is not the “we” of all but rather the respectable we—black and white—formed through the denunciation and exclusion of the “violent, dangerous, and dysfunctional.” Reno is completely at one here with his liberal opponents. They may offer different explanations for what causes the problems facing African-Americans: collapse of family values or past and present forms of racist discrimination. They may also offer different solutions: restoring nuclear family or providing governmental remedies for causes and effects of discrimination. But both agree—and the “we” of the nation is formed out of this agreement—that the cohesion and security of the nation depends on monitoring, separating out, and eradicating (civilizing/incarcerating)those deviant or delinquent black others here: for instance, recall how much effort liberals spent to identify “looters” as “outside agitators,” and thus not part of the respectable we.

It is also at this precise point that Reno begins, in a deeply troubling theological moment, to echo the logic Caiaphas expressed: the logic of sacrifice. Reno’s overall point is that the criminal culture of poor blacks necessitates the aggressive policing that targets them, thereby making the black community responsible for the racial disparities in who suffers the inevitable mistakes and shortcomings of police. Policing, therefore, always brings with it the sacrifice of some, but ultimately these sacrifices are what keep the whole nation from being destroyed by this criminality, until this criminal threat—“the culture of poor blacks”—is overcome.This logic of containment, control, management, and transformation through (cultural) death is the logic of the “we” of the U.S., a logic that, as we know, has simultaneously included and excluded—or included as excluded—black bodies ” (most obviously but not only in the three-fifths clause). Conservatives and liberals are at one in that the solution to “black violence” is to increase the inclusion of blacks into this “we,” into us, the respectable law-abiding and law-giving citizens. What Reno cannot imagine—which is, I think, the theological problem at the center of his troubling remarks—is that the Christian community is bound together as a “we” not through a “nobility of faith” that is placed equally alongside “the dignity of work” and “marriage and family.” Rather, the Christian community is formed as those whose lives are bound together in and through the body of the poor, marginalized, unwanted, un(re)productive, criminalized, and crucified Jesus of Nazareth. Christian community is not formed among those justified by the law but among those who are brought into the body of the one condemned by the law (Gal 3:11-14).

And so, with this failure of theological imagination, Reno is unable to imagine poor black bodies as the figure of Christ. At best, he can do so in the same way as liberals: only insofar as these bodies are docile and respectable—i.e., submissive to or tragically murdered by the law (of whiteness). What neither can imagine is black violence as figuring Christ for us (as Nyle Fort has recently argued). For neither can imagine the foundational anti-black violence—the simultaneous exclusion and containment—at the core of our national identity. Or, to put it in more traditional theological terms and from the other side: neither can imagine that only the rupture of our
national identity—the “death” of the we in which Reno speaks—can be a sign of our salvation through this God’s broken body (cf. Phil. 3:4-11).

By his refusal of this rupture, Reno cannot imagine the lives of those crossed out by this we as existing—living and loving and fighting—as a parable for how God comes to us in Jesus of Nazareth. Precisely at the site of exclusion internal to the production of the nation, God has identified God’s own life not with the respectable “we” but with those James Cone calls “the oppressed,” granting them possibilities for life that exceed a world structured by their containment and death. To put it again in more traditional theological terms, if Christ is for and with them in the Spirit, who can stand against them (cf. Rom 8:31-39)? And we—yes, I place my respectable white self clearly in Reno’s we—cannot imagine we have a future with this God without attending to and entering these ruptures created by the struggles and movements of black Americans. That Reno cannot imagine this possibility—the Christological work of joining—but instead rushes to excuse the inevitability of sacrifice while blaming black Americans for their suffering is the theological failure at the center of his deeply troubling remarks on race and Ferguson.