THE HOLY SPIRIT, PENTECOST SUNDAY

img_mouseover3Yesterday was Pentecost in the Western calendar. For me it was an enjoyable experience because I was able to play the role of theologian during the sermon, which is always fun for me. For the most part I gave an exposition of Acts 2:1-13. One of the things I didn’t do was go into a deep discussion on the imagesHoly Spirit in the context of ministry today. If I did, I would have used this amazing quote from theologian Hans Küng in his magnum opus On Being a Christian (p. 468–Doubleday 1984).

We cannot overlook the fact that any talk of the Holy Spirit is so unintelligible to many today that it cannot even be regarded as controversial.  But there can also be no doubt that the blame for this situation may be laid to a large extent on the way in which the concept of the Holy Spirit has been misused in modern times both by the official Church and by pious individuals.

When holders of high office in the Church did not know how to justify their own claim to infallibility, they pointed to the Holy Spirit.  When theologians did not know how to justify a particular doctrine, a dogma or a biblical term, they appealed to the Holy Spirit.  When mild or wild fanatics did not know how to justify their subjectivist whims, they invoked the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit was called in to justify absolute power of teaching and ruling, to justify statements of faith without convincing content, to justify pious fanaticism and false security in faith.  The Holy Spirit was made a substitute for cogency, authorization, plausibility, intrinsic credibility, objective discussion.  It was not so in the early church or even in the medieval.  This simplification of the role of the Holy Spirit is a typically modern development, emerging on the one hand from Reformation fanaticism and on the other hand from the defensive attitude of the great Churches, seeking to immunize themselves from rational criticism.

 

 

images from sharefaith.com and goodreads.com

ROMANS, CHAPTER FIVE–FROM THE GREEK TEXT

God proved–showed–demonstrated his love for us, because while we were sinners–unreconciled transgressors–enemies Messiah died for us–Romans 5:8

Every single time I read that verse it almost brings me to my knees.  The entirety of the gospel and the gospel way of life can be summarized in that passage.  It is also the easiest verse to translate in a chapter filled with rather complex grammar and ideas.

Translation Notes:  Many translations prefer the word “rejoice” and “rejoicing” (v. 3, for example), while I think that “boast” is a better rendering for the word.  There is another word for rejoice, and if Paul had intended to mean rejoice, he would have chosen that one.

Transgression is not a common word today, but the options for rendering it (v. 18) are limited.  I could have gone with violation, offense, or even crime.  The word, in my understanding, carries legal weight more than moral weight.  I decided to go with transgression because it feels more theological, but I came very close to choosing, “violation.”

Theological Notes:  Chapter five can boil down to one thought; Adam ruined everything by his one act, Jesus began the process of putting everything back together with his one act.  Most of this chapter is a compare and contrast between these two.  Two questions remain for modern interpreters.  First, is Paul again alluding to a kind of universalism with statements like those in verse 18.  I don’t think so, but it is a rather interesting verse and lends itself to dialogue.  A second question is how metaphorical is this contrast?  In other words, is Paul thinking of a historical Adam or of a type of literary Adam in the Hebrew Bible that gives us insight into what Jesus did?  Before you answer that question, just keep asking yourself why is Eve completely neglected in Paul’s working of the material?  Part of that answer might be that Paul has stylized the material so heavily that he is not thinking of historical figures as much as theological ideas.

Chapter Five
1. Therefore, having been made right by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Messiah,
2. by whom we have had access. We stand in this grace and should boast in the hope of the glory of God.
3. Not only this, but we should boast in afflictions too. We know that afflictions produce patience,
4. and patience produces character, and character, hope.
5. The hope does not let us down, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit he has given us.
6. For at just the right time Messiah died for us who are helpless, the ungodly.
7. Scarcely might someone die for a righteous person, or perhaps for a good person someone would dare to die,
8. but God proves his own love for us, because while we were sinners, Messiah died for us.
9. All the more then, having now been made righteous by his blood we will be saved by him from the wrath.
10. For if we were as enemies reconciled by the death of his son, then how much more after having been reconciled will we be saved by his life?
11. Not only this, but even boasting in God by our Lord Jesus Messiah, through whom we now have received reconciliation.
12. So it is through one man that sin entered the world, and by his sin, death, and from his death it spread to all people, for everyone sinned.
13. Until the law, sin was in the world but it was not counted, being as there was no law.
14. But death reigned from Adam until Moses, even upon those who did not sin the same way as the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
15. The gift is not like the trespass. For if by the trespass of one person many died, how much more will many flourish through the grace of God and the gift of grace from the one man, Jesus Messiah.
16. The gift is not like the one man’s sin either, the one from whom came judgment and condemnation, but the gift is for the many acquitted of trespasses.
17. If death reigned in the one transgression, then how much more will the excesses of grace reign as people receive the gift of life from the one man Jesus Messiah.
18. So then as by one transgression all people enter condemnation, so also through one righteous act all people have the righteousness of life.
19. Indeed, because of the disobedience of the one person, many were made sinners. In contrast, because of the obedience of the one person, many will be made as righteous.
20. But law intruded so that the transgressions might increase, but as the sin increased, grace super-abounded.
21. So that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness in eternal life through Jesus Messiah, our Lord.

Romans Four

Romans Three

Romans Two

Romans One

A THEOLOGY OF ZOMBIES (YOU READ IT RIGHT, ZOMBIES)

Dr. Zombie?
Dr. Zombie?

Zombies are everywhere.
Seriously, they are everywhere. I just read today that Dr. Who alumnus Matt Smith has signed on for a movie adaption of the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Yeah, that’s a real thing.
A couple of days ago I finally watched Brad Pitt fight zombies in World War Z, also an adaption of a book.  Oddly enough, when I turned the film off, the television news was on and it was about . . . the ebola virus. I thought the movie had started over again on me.
And those are just big budget ones. Go over to Amazon or Goodreads and search for zombie. You’ll be there a while.

What I’m want to know is why? A parallel question would be why are dystopian stories so popular now, but I’ll save that for another day.

First, let’s do the typical stylistic reasons, and then I’ll get to the real reason, or at least the reason I think zombies are everywhere.

1. For an action movie, there has to be an enemy that can be killed without remorse. This used to be the Nazis, the Indians, the other army, or whatever. You can’t do that too much now because we always put faces on those blocks of people. That leaves you with about three choices—aliens, robots, or . . . zombies. Those are really the only bad guys you can have in a film and let your hero/heroine kill on sight with no questions asked. I hear you saying, “What about Sharknado?” and I say, okay, but aren’t those really just aquatic zombies?

2. Zombies also can stand in as a symbol for “the system” or “the machine” or even “society.” That was the intention of the king of zombie flicks, Night of the Living Dead. The zombies represent the process by which teenagers grow up, take responsibility, and are consumed by the system into soulless cogs. The zombies in Star Trek, called The Borg, started off as stand-ins for communism but eventually turned into stand-ins for dictatorships. In Zombieland I think the zombies represent the pain the world inflicts on us. Although, I still don’t know why they had to kill Bill Murray.  Consider for a moment that The Matrix is really just a zombie movie, where machines steal the soul of people, but people fight back to regain their humanity.

3. One more artistic reason. Zombies are a ready-made template which require almost zero exposition. The reader/viewer knows what is going on, so the writer can spend most of the time on character development. Shaun of the Dead is a good example of this, so too is Warm Bodies. Those are both really just character movies that explore feelings and relationships. The Zombies are the canvas to work with. Take the zombies out of Warm Bodies and you just have Romeo and Juliet.

Locutus, Space Zombie
Locutus, Space Zombie

I think all of those are partial reasons why zombies are everywhere. They each have merits, and I don’t dismiss them completely. However, the over-arching reason zombies are everywhere is theological. There are three reasons why.

 

First, zombies (and that annoying dystopian predilection I mentioned earlier) are one way our culture is registering its comprehension that something is simply not right with the world. I got a root canal last week, and the dentist told me to raise my hand if I felt any pain. All these zombies everywhere is one way our world is raising its hand to tell us it is feeling pain, or at least, anxiety. Although zombies have been with us for a while, dystopia and zombies both emerged heavily after 9/11 . Click here to go over to Zombie Zone News and see the listings by year.  See how the list explodes after 2001. Think about it.

How is that theological, you might say. In literature/film zombies come from outer space, disease, genetics, food, mutation, radioactivity, etc… It is the problem of evil. It is the idea that the world is not right. It is original sin.  A perfect world was messed up.  Eden was ruined.

 

Second, as stand-ins, zombies are the ultimate ‘undead.’ They have bodies and bodily functions, but there is no higher cognitive power (metanoia). They represent those who are governed by their instincts and fleshly desires. Again, consider the movie Warm Bodies. What is it, in the end, that heals the zombie? Love. It doesn’t have to be romantic love, just love.

Is that not, in some way, connected to the gospel which teaches that while we were yet dead in our sins, Jesus loved us and died for us?  Buddy, that’ll preach.

 

Third, and last, zombies ask us what does it mean to be a human being? If a person is only a body, then a zombie, even after being bitten/diseased/possessed is still a human being. But in these movies, once a human ‘turns’ zombie, he or she is no longer human. That means, de facto, that in the zombie universe there is something about a human being that makes him or her different. In one way, it is art shouting, even if it doesn’t know it, that no matter what scientists and biologists keep saying there is no way that a human being is just another biological entity. There is something different. Artists rarely come out and say it, but Christian theology calls this difference the imago dei–the image of God.

 

Of course, reverse this thought and another interesting idea emerges. In the zombie universe, a human can lose the unique distinctive, turning into a violent animal.  Perhaps that is a fear of the future without a spiritual center showing itself up in our societal art.

I have argued before, and will continue to argue, that the human desire for stories, and the way we tell those stories is evidence of God and of the gospel. For all their yuckiness, that truth applies to zombies as well. The reason why zombies are everywhere is because the world needs the gospel, as it always has, but it is a patient who doesn’t want to take the medicine, and therefore keeps complaining about the symptoms.

 

 

image from junkee.com and wikipedia.

JUDGEMENTALISM AND THE WISDOM OF N.T. WRIGHT

I read this yesterday.  It is from N. T. Wright’s massive (and I do mean massive) new book Paul and the Faithfulness of God.  I am 500 pages into the first volume, still about 100 pages to go in this one, then I start the second volume, which I think is 700 pages.  I might get finished by Thanksgiving.

Me and N. T. Wright at his book signing on the U.T. Campus.
Me and N. T. Wright at his book signing on the U.T. Campus.

In the passage Wright described Paul’s grand narrative, which is really the Jewish narrative, of Yahweh as the creator of all human beings.  There is, in this creation, two time periods.  One period of time is the ‘everything is not quite right time’ when life is less than perfect, human beings are not living up to their ideal, and evil people seem to get away with their evil deeds.  Into this present age, a new creation is born in which Messiah reigns.  He hasn’t fully started this reign yet, but at some time in the future this new creation will come to fruition and everything that is wrong will be set right.

Okay, so I’ve caught you up to where Wright is headed.  Be advised, I am not as smart as N. T. Wright, so for a fuller explanation, buy his book.  But in this context Wright talks about God, in his role as judge, will set everything proper and in order.  It is then that Wright makes this marvelous point, that I share with you now.  The italic is his, the underlining is mine, because I thought that was the truly wonderful point.

All this is to say, in one way or another, that the large outer story is a story of judgment.  This theme is constantly bound up with the biblical idea of Israel’s God, the creator, coming to set up his rule.  The word ‘judgment’ has of course been allowed to slip into negative mode in the contemporary western world, with ‘judgmentalism’ one of the classic postmodern villains.  But even a postmodernist whose car has been damaged by a drunk driver wants a court to pass ‘judgment’ against the offender.  ‘Judgment’ is in fact a positive thing.  It is what restores health to a society, a balance to the world.  It replaces chaos with order.  The fact that it can be abused–that humans, whether or not in positions of authority, can take it upon themselves to ‘pass judgment’ on one another in negative and destructive ways–indicates, not that it is a bad thing in itself, but that like all good and important things it can generate unpleasant parodies.

The former bishop is probably right.  It is a lack of good judgment, sound judgment, biblical judgment in our world that has created so much chaos and disruption.