Tag Archives: logos 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.

Anabaptist Theology & Black Power: Christ the Center #Anablacktivism

The Emancipatory Pedagogy and Presence of The Logos

CONTENT NOTE: John Howard Yoder. see  tw: perhaps all theologians should come with trigger warnings

As I said in the introduction of this series, I am writing these posts this week as not only an #Anablacktivism / #Anablacktivist manifesto, but also as a clear rejection of the current popular stream of thought by Emergent Anabaptist leaders.  At the same time, I am making a departure from my own past dialectical reading of Black Liberation theology and Peace Theologies.  Rather than accept the narrative that these two are irreconcilably opposed to each other and that one of them thus must either be rejected or both held in tension, I have chosen the way of dialogue.  I must give credit to my friend Drew Hart for helping me to see the possibilities of this conversation.

Tyler Tully has discerned three historic Anabaptist distinctived: a Jesus-Centered interpretation of the whole Bible, a free confessing church of creative disciples, and Christians embodying the peaceable moral agency. The current essay will focus on Christ as the Center in Anabaptist and Black Liberation theology.

Nowadays when one reads the profiles of post-Christendom, millenial Christians as well as talk to them IRL, there’s a certain cynicism about the direction our culture is headed.  The story they tell is one of exile, that the U.S. American church is going into exile as punishment for its failure to win the White national culture wars.  For some, this God’s wrath.  For others, its a natural consequence of Christians adopting the politics of Emperor Constantine, where power, empire, and violence are carried under a Cross-decorated banner.

 

No one quite represents the model of the latter’s think than the late John Howard Yoder, a student of Karl Barth at Basel.  From the opening pages of The Politics of Jesus, Yoder changed the landscape of theological ethics by bringing us back to Jesus.

“The peculiar place of Jesus in the mood and mind of many young ‘rebels’ is a sore spot in the recent intergenerational tension of Western post-Christendom, and on of the inner-contradictions of our age’s claim to have left Christendom behind. It may be a meaningless coincidence that some young men wear their hair and their feet like the Good Shepherd of the Standard Press Sunday school posters; but there is certainly no randomness to their claim Jesus was, like themselves, a social critic and an agitator, a drop-out from the social climb, and the spokesman of a counter-culture.”

– TPOJ, page 1.

There are a few things I want to point out about this opening paragraph. When believers place Christ Jesus in his rightful place, the throne, the Center of our Thinking Being, and Doing, that act coincidentally places us in our place, disparate, on the margins, de-centered.  Particularly as Gentile Christians we enter the biblical narrative as the Outsider, the Alien, and the Enemy.  Already in the opening pages of TPOJ, Yoder has identified himself as a white Western male in a post-Christendom context.  Without this acknowledgement up from about his identity and place in the story of the Church, Radical Reformation and Black Liberation theologians would fail to see both the benefits and pitfalls of Yoder’s theology.  The unlimited reign of Yeshua the Messiah both operates as the subject of our theological conversation (confession) as well as the boundary that limits our task (awe).  

The purpose of Yoder’s writing was to  seek “to read the Gospel narrative with the constantly present question, ‘Is there here a social ethic?’  I shall in other words, be testing the hypothesis that runs counter to the prevalent assumptions: the hypothesis that the ministry and the claims of Jesus are best understood as presenting to hearers and readers  not the avoidance of political options, but one particular social-political-ethical option.”- TPOJ, page 11.  And there we have it.  Central to the message of the Anabaptists in the emergent church and beyond is that Jesus’ rabbinical teachings are superior to our own politics and context.  As members of the Body of Christ who wish to maintain faithfulness to the Son of God, this is staying with the tradition of the early church martyrs, and subsequently the Radical Reformation, and dare I add, the witnesses who gave their lives during the Civil Rights movement.

As part of the third edition of this work, Yoder goes on to further explain why the lack of discussion of the “historical” Jesus (page 15).  The skepticism of historical-critical method is right, for as others have reminded us ferverently sometimes the historical Jesus is shaped in our image.  Whether Jesus is a sage or a political revolutionary, historical critics disagree over what to make of what this 2nd century Pharisee actually taught. Enough has been said about the problems of the historical Jesus.  What I want to bring to the forefront, that will allow Liberation Theology to enter the conversation, is to problematize the notion of the neutral, objective “narrative Jesus.”  The rise of narrative theology and hermeneutics begins with a literary reading of Scripture.  The danger in narrative/ literary readings of the Bible, as Sugi pointed out years ago (see my Sugi On Narrative Criticism) is that it can lead to a quest for an idyllic past, and ahistorical, unrealistic visions of days gone by.

The idyllic past which I am referring to is the notion of a “Christendom” at all.  I am calling the idea of a “post-Christian” culture into question because, according to prophets such as David Walker and Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, this nation was never “CHRISTIAN” to begin with.  From the perspective of the margins, the U.S. has always practiced a Constantinian false version of religion, a history of bloodshed, white supremacy, and settler colonialism.  Relying simply on narrative theology and the teachings of Jesus is insufficient.  Telling God’s story (awe) is only one part of the theological task. The other part is praxis (confession).  Along with the Gospel narratives, we must also understand the historical locus of the Spirit of Jesus by first identifying the history and positioning of Jesus’ body.

Enter James Cone, the “Father” of modern Black Liberation Theology.  For Cone and LIberation Theologians, there is no division between the Historical Jesus and the Narrative Messiah.

“Without some continuity between the historical Jesus and the kerygmatic Christ, the Christian gospel becomes nothing but the subjective reflections of the early Christian community.  And if that is what Christianity is all about, we not only separate it from history, but we also allow every community the possibility of interpreting the kerygma according to its own existential situation.  Although the situation is important, it is not the gospel.  The gospel speaks to the situation.”- A Black Theology of Liberation, page 119

In agreement with the Council of Ephesus in the 5th century C.E., James Cone rejects both the Nestorianism of Evangelicalism and The Jesus Seminar as well as the Docetism of postliberal and narrative theologies.  In Christianity, there is not to be this neat separation between the Creed Christ and the Historical Jesus.  This severance leads to a disembodied theology more palatable with imperial, war-mongering, white supremacist religiosity.  

In the Gospels, Jesus taught that his presence will be forever and always with the least of these. He is the homeless person we do not provide shelter to.  He is the hungry person on food stamps we refuse to nurture.  He is the prisoner we avoid visiting in our criminal injustice system, with its prison-industrial complex.  “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:45).  Black Power theologically understood is compatible with Anabaptist theology because of its Jesus-centeredness.  Cone contended, “Being black in America has very little to do with skin color.  To be black means that your heart, your soul, your mind, and your body are where the dispossessed are” (Black Theology and Black Power,page 151).

 Now while critics feel that Cone’s work is exclusively for African Americans, this is simply not the case.  While he chooses to use examples from black history, one could easily include stories of the radical Quakers who in the colonial times opposed the enslavement of Africans.  The Radical Reformation tradition reminds us to place Jesus’ teaching as central to the Christian life, and in so doing, Jesus did teach us where he would be.  Liberation theologians rightly point to the communities of the oppressed as having the presence of Jesus, so that we can able to follow his teachings.  #Anablacktivism is a both/and synthesis of Liberation Theology and the Radical Reformation, stressing both Jesus’ presence as well as his words and deeds. By standing in awe in our worship and confessing Jesus with our praxis, resistance to Constantinian religiosity must always include resisting white supremacy and empire.  This is what it means to have a Spirit-filled life and a Christ-centered view of Scripture. 

This is the second part of 4 for  my contribution to the MennoNerds Synchroblog : MennoNerds on Anabaptist Convictions“As MennoNerds, we all have found certain distinctives of Anabaptism to be central in our expression of faith.  This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog in the month of May on Anabaptism. For the list of distinctives go here. For the list of articles, go here

The Parable-Driven Life: The Parable of the Shining Pearl (Matthew 13:46-47)

MERCHANDIZING THE GREAT PRICE OF CHRIST’S TWO NATURES

It’s been well over four years since we have continued our Parable-Driven Life series, but like all good things, I want to bring this series back from time to time. I have been inspired by reading excerpts of Clement’s take on the parables. I say in some cases they are brief glimpses, because we don’t have some of the full texts. They are citations from lost works. Unlike many commentaries today, Clement of Alexandria postulated allegorical interpretations of Gospel texts that were Christ-centered. I will quote what we have of his comments on The Parable of the Pearl [of Great Price] found in Matthew 13: 46-47, and then add some commentary on my own.

From Niceta’s Catena on Matthew:

“A pearl, and that pellucid and of purest ray, is Jesus, whom of the lightning flash of Divinity the Virgin bore. For as the pearl, produced in the flesh and the oyster-shell and moisture, appears to be a body moist and transparent, full of light and spirit; so also God the Word, incarnate, is intellectual light, sending his rays, through a body luminous and moist.”

For Clement, Jesus the Messiah is the Picture Perfect Image of YHWH. In The Educator (Pedagogue, Book II, Chapter XIII), Clement spends an excessive amount of time discussing beauty, fashion and the like, but here again he repeats his rendering of The Parable Of The Pearl Of Great Price:

“And the wretched creatures are not ashamed at having bestowed the greatest pains about this little oyster, when they might adorn themselves with the sacred jewel, the Word of God, whom the Scriptures has somewhere called a pearl, the pure and pellucid Jesus, the eye that watches in the flesh,–the transparent Word, by whom the flesh, regenerated by water, becomes precious. For that oyster that is in the water covers the flesh all around, and out of it is produced the pearl.

Now, if I may move on to further excursis, if Christ is the Reign of God, (the pearl), then the merchant who is searching for him must be the Elect, the chosen body of Christ that continues to live lives of repentance, seeking out to involves itself in the life of the Triune God. The illuminous Revelation that is Christ reveals God’s true nature perfectly in the person of Divine Wisdom Enfleshed. The Elect are those persons who are baptized first by water, as a sign of repentance and their accountability to the Body. The merchant is the community of believers who know and realize the Cost of Discipleship [Matthew  13:47 & 19:21 on the Jesus and the Rich Young Man].

What may be a little more interesting is that Clement’s interpretation of this Parable read a lot like early Church Baptismal formulas, and the Nicene Creed (in bold)

A pearl, and that pellucid and of purest ray, is Jesus  |

 JesusChrist, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light,

AND

whom of the lightning flash of Divinity the Virgin bore. For as the pearl, produced in the flesh and the oyster-shell and moisture, appears to be a body moist and transparent, full of light and spirit; so also God the Word, incarnate, is intellectual light, sending his rays, through a body luminous and moist. |

 

he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human. 

And

the transparent Word, by whom the flesh, regenerated by water, becomes precious. For that oyster that is in the water covers the flesh all around, and out of it is produced the pearl. |

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The theology of the Church, then, can never really be separated from its worship praxis.  The neat wall separation that we have created between orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxis  (right practice) should come tumbling down like the walls of Jericho.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

By Rod:

The Parable-Driven Life: The Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:11-28)

The Parable-Driven Life: The Parable(s) the Fig Tree(s) (Judges 9:10-11 and Luke 13:1-9)

 By Chad:

The Parable-Driven Life: The Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-18) 

The Parable-Driven-Life: Lazarus and The wealthy C.E.O. (Luke 16:19-31)