According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Confronting the End of Meaning: Crucifixion and the Critique of Signs and Wonders

Francisco de Zurbaran , Agnus Dei , 1636 - 40 , San Diego Museum of Art , California , USA

3 Reasons the Human Jesus is Important

by Peter Enns
March 31, 2015

Guest Blogger Jared Byas

This week Christians celebrate the crazy idea that God became human.

While affirming this in theory, my evangelical upbringing was very uncomfortable with the idea of  a Human Jesus. We had to admit Jesus was human but that didn’t mean we had to like it.

After all, the God Jesus is where the magic happens. Human Jesus sometimes muddles the important stuff, takes our eyes off the ball about heaven and whatnot. But here, I submit 3 reasons why Human Jesus is important to remember:

1. God gets that we are a mess.

Jesus experienced the love of his mother and the betrayal of his best friends. He felt the beautiful sensuality of getting his feet wiped with the hair of a young woman and the tortuous pain of getting his feet nailed to a cross.

In seminary it was through seeing Jesus as unapologetically human that I was able to see that God doesn’t want me to become superhuman but wants me to be a loved person.

Christianity isn’t an instruction manual for how to be perfect like God but a story about how God became like us. And that’s a crucial difference.

2. God is willing to join the mess.

God doesn’t mind “looking bad” for the sake of those God loves.

If you want to be in relationship with broken humans, you run the risk of looking broken yourself. God doesn’t seem to care. Why do we?

The streak I see in Human Jesus is the holy being so involved in the lives of the unholy that people are uncomfortable with how, from the outside, it’s hard to tell the difference. I see a God who, for the sake of love would risk reputation, trading in “omnipotent” for “glutton” and “drunk.”

3. Because of #1 & #2, I expect a very human-looking Bible.

If the same God that came to earth as an unimpressive carpenter from an underperforming people group also provided us a book, I would expect it to look very human. Would it run the risk of looking ordinary, unrefined, and altogether human?

Yes. Point taken. The Bible looks a lot like Jesus.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Confronting the End of Meaning:
Crucifixion and the Critique of Signs and Wonders

by Peter Rollins
March 03, 2015

Last night Tony Jones had a launch for his latest book Did God Kill Jesus. The book itself is an excellent and very readable overview of the various ways that the church has understood the meaning and significance of the Crucifixion. Partly motivated by Trip Fuller’s statement, “God has to be at least as nice as Jesus,” he goes further than simply describing the basic approaches and endeavours to find a way of understanding the Crucifixion that prevents it [from] being mired in a theology that justifies violence, anti-Semitism, exclusion, and political oppression.

In the book Jones views the incarnation as signifying a fundamental shift in the way God relates to human beings (shifting God from a place of sympathy regarding humans to empathy). The infinite lives into the finite and tastes the existential predicament of human subjectivity. Including condemnation by the law, oppression and a sense of alienation (Crucifixion).

The main problem I have with this approach is that Tony continues to see the Crucifixion as a meaningful event. It is an event that must be integrated into a certain apologetic system. An approach that generates so many of the problems that Tony brings up in the book… how to make an event that seems to defy everything we think of the Absolute, fit with it.

Below I have taken an excerpt from The Divine Magician that outlines a critique of this idea. It begins by referencing a previous argument concerning “freedom from the sacred-object” and closes before I go on to draw the consequences of the position I outline. Both of which are important to the position. But I hope it at least introduces the idea that Crucifixion might operate as a rupture in meaning.

This freedom from the sacred-object also spells freedom from the need to find an overarching meaning to life. Indeed, the apostle Paul directly attacks the idea of Christianity offering a system of meaning in his attacks on what he called “signs” and “wisdom.” Signs and wisdom represent two ways in which we seek meaning. Through either apologetic argument or the occurrence of unusual or unexplainable events, we want to find ways to justify our beliefs.

To the Jew a "Stumbling Block"

While the affirmation of signs and wisdom to justify a particular religious position is part-and-parcel of religious discourse, Paul sets his sights firmly against them when critiquing the Jewish community of his day for seeking the former and the Greeks for wanting the latter,

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

What’s fascinating here is the way Paul sets up the Crucifixion as the very opposite of a sign or wisdom. From the perspective of both, the Crucifixion can strike one as nothing but empty nonsense. Why? Because this method of execution symbolized a divine curse. More than this, the idea of an innocent man, let alone God, being murdered in such horrific terms strikes against the idea of justice, reason, or goodness.

It is a meaningless, absurd, and offensive event, something theologian Paul Hessert picks up in his book Christ and the End of Meaning,

Anyone executed by hanging was seen in Jewish tradition as cursed by God. The sign of such a death was taken as divine corroboration of the administration of human justice. In other words, God was seen as acting in this sign-event to give the victim “what was coming to him.”

As that which runs against the very idea of a sign, Hessert argues that what we’re confronted with is a type of profound offense to reason:

The affront is not merely the case of the ignominious, brutal death of Jesus . . . [it is] to the whole religious outlook that searches for signs. . . . Preaching “Christ crucified” is not merely saying that bad things happen to good people but that God’s approach to us belies our expectations.

In other words, the event of the Crucifixion is actually the very contradiction of our expectations. This contradiction is much more than the liberal concept that the cross represents the idea of a good person being killed because he stood up against injustice. It is rather a direct confrontation of all that we think religion and God is about—it is that which breaks apart “our sense of reality.”

To Greek Stoicism "foolishness"

In the scripture passage quoted previously, Paul connects the desire for wisdom with the Greeks and their development of classical philosophy (the “love of wisdom”). The Greeks were not so much interested in signs, but rather with the eternal realm of ideas. They sought an underlying rational structure that would make sense of the passing, decaying nature of the world and render it all meaningful.

The preeminent teachers of wisdom at the time of Jesus were the Stoics. Stoicism was the ancient Hellenistic philosophy that emphasized an emotionally balanced life based upon a will that was in accord to nature, a strong moral temperament, and a deeply rational outlook.

These teachers would often compete with Christian preachers for an audience and argued that behind the chaos of our lived experience there was a harmonious center, an order that could, in principle, provide a meaning for everything. The Stoics saw the brokenness and decay of the world as a type of illusion or temporary condition. While they had a strong moral theory, there was a broad acceptance of the status quo. In this way, Stoicism was able to become the philosophical outlook of the cultural elite in the Roman Empire without actually threatening some of the more barbaric and inequitable practices of the day.

The Stoics would have had little problem in accepting the liberal reading of Christ’s crucifixion as an example of one who faced injustice and suffering with [a kind of Stoic] peace and resoluteness. Indeed this Jesus would have fitted very neatly into their worldview.

For Paul, however, there was something much more profound and offensive taking place in the idea of “Christ crucified.” Indeed, Paul was reading the Crucifixion against this stoic vision of Jesus. For Paul, the Crucifixion was that which defied reduction to a sign or system of meaning. As Hessert notes,

“Christ crucified” makes no sense. Instead of linking God to the enveloping rationality that absorbs or even overrides the passing contradictions of goodness, it focuses attention on the contradiction itself. That is, “Christ crucified” is no key to the meaning of life and human events. It is a problem to meaning, a problem requiring explanation.



1. (in secular Judaism) a Hebrew word for holocaust (sense 2) See alsoChurban (sense 2)
Word Origin literally: destruction


[hol-uh-kawst, hoh-luh-]


1. a great or complete devastation or destruction, especially by fire.
2. a sacrifice completely consumed by fire; burnt offering.
3. the systematic mass slaughter of European Jews in Nazi concentration camps during World War II
4. any mass slaughter or reckless destruction of life.


Hessert notes that the Shoah operates in a similar way within Jewish thought. For the Shoah is that horrific, unspeakable event that ruptures and renders offensive any attempt to make it into a divine sign or element of wider rationality. This is why the term Shoah is often preferred over Holocaust. For the latter is derived from the Greek holókauston, a term that has connections with the notion of religious sacrifice and thus religious significance. In contrast, the Shoah simply means destruction and thus lacks any justificatory undertones.

The attempt to provide a cosmic meaning for the Shoah is not simply misplaced, it is a profound offense. The event stands as an affront to all such strategies. In terms of the European intellectual tradition, the First World War can be seen to act in a similar way. One of the features of this horrific event is found in the way that the war disrupted all our attempts to tie it into some deeper meaning or significance.

It is precisely this connection with meaning, religious or otherwise, that the Crucifixion of Christ cuts against.

Once we grasp this idea of Christ representing a break with [Jewish] signs and [Greek] wisdom, we can begin to perceive how the actual existing church has fundamentally betrayed the scandal of the Crucifixion, effectively making it into a type of Stoic doctrine that doesn’t challenge our world, but confirms it.

In contrast, for Paul, “Christ crucified” is that event that defies all attempts at being reduced to some system of meaning.

It is a type of antisign that fractures religious signs.

An antiwisdom that confounds human wisdom.

A nuclear event that blows apart all of our apologetic enclosures.

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