Mark 16: Easter

New Life
New Life

“And he said to them, Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6 ESV).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the most vivid memories I have as a young person was the experience of an Easter sunrise.  Easter is mysterious, earth-shattering news.  How could I sleep through it?

At my grandfather’s funeral, I was given a head of wheat which hangs now in my kitchen.  The wheat reminds me of Jesus’ saying:  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24 ESV).

The mystery of resurrection is everywhere in nature.  Sunrise is the resurrection of the day.  Springtime is the resurrection of the seasons.  The metamorphosis from caterpillar to cocoon to adult butterfly is a beautiful, dramatic resurrection.  The Apostle Paul writes:  “all of creation groans in anticipation of our redemption” (Romans 8:19-23).

Prophesies of Jesus’ resurrection start early in scripture.  Systematic theologians see salvation history as creation, fall, and redemption.  Because sin is the cause of death, eternal life requires forgiveness of sin which is brought about in Christ’s resurrection.  This transition is prophesied in Genesis:  “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15 ESV).

Other theologians see resurrection arising out of righteous suffering.  The prophet Job writes not only of Christ, but his own resurrection:  “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27 ESV).  At the birth of the church on Pentecost (Acts 2:27), the Apostle Peter sees resurrection prophesied by King David:  “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Psalm 16:10).

When asked to produce a sign Jesus himself spoke of the sign of Jonah (Luke 11:29-32).  In the belly of the whale Jonah prayed:  “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice” (Jonah 2:2 ESV).  And the whale spit him out on dry land, another resurrection story.

Resurrection did not start with Jesus.  Some see the story of the binding of Isaac as a resurrection account [1] and a prophecy of the cross (Genesis 22:1-18).  The prophet Elisha raises the Shunammite’s son from the dead (2 Kings 4:32-37).  In the valley of bones, Ezekiel prophesied about resurrection of the Nation of Israel (Ezekiel 37:3-6).  The exodus of the nation of Israel from Egypt and the return of the exiles from Babylon are both resurrection accounts where a dead nation rises to new life.

In the gospels, Jesus himself performed several resurrections.  He raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead (Mark 5:22-43).  He raised the widow’s son (Luke 7:12-17).  Most remarkably, after lying four days in the tomb he raised Lazarus from death (John 11:1-45).  Like other resurrections, Jesus’ healings and exorcisms brought hope where there was none.

Some scholars believe that John Mark’s gospel recorded Apostle Peter’s testimony while he was in Rome during AD 41-54.  Mark later traveled with Paul.  Mark’s role was to teach about the life of Jesus.  Later, Luke may have assumed this role in Paul’s missionary team.

Interestingly, Mark did no see the gospel ending with Jesus.  Neither did Luke whose gospel was followed by the Book of Acts.  Mark’s gospel starts with:  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1 ESV).  Scholars believe that Mark’s gospel ends with the woman going out from the tomb to relay the angel’s message:  “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee” (Mark 16:7 ESV).  Likewise, our part in salvation history is to pass on the story.  As the hymnist Katherine Hankey (1834-1911) writes:  “I love to tell the story, of unseen things above, of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love…” [2]

Christian hope starts with the resurrection: we know that death is not the end of life’s story.  And because we know the rest of the story, we can invest in life and live each day with boldness and joy.

[1] Did Abraham believe God would raise Isaac from the dead?  Why did the angel have to tell Abraham twice?

[2] www.hymnsite.com/lyrics/umh156.sht

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Peterson Writes About His Life as a Pastor

the_pastor_review_03032017Eugene H. Peterson. 2011. The Pastor: A Memoir. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the most dramatic appearances of God in the Bible comes in chapter 3 of Exodus when God appears to Moses in form of a burning bush. It is interesting to ask why God would appear in the form of a naturally occurring inkblot test. If the inkblots are properly prepared, they have no inherent structure so when a patient looks at them, the only structure seen is the structure imposed by the patient.[1] Is it any wonder that my kids, when they were small, used to confuse our pastor with Jesus? My kids are not the only ones; the inkblot image is a wonderful metaphor for how people today relate to their pastor and to God. The more enigmatic the pastor, the more fitting the inkblot image.[2]

In his memoir, The Pastor, Eugene Peterson captures this enigmatic character[3] when he writes:

“I can’t imagine now not being a pastor. I was a pastor long before I knew I was a pastor; I just never had a name for it. Once the name arrived, all kinds of things, seemingly random experiences and memories, gradually began to take a form that was congruent with who I was becoming, like finding a glove that fit my hand perfectly—a calling, a fusion of all the pieces of my life, a vocation: Pastor.” (2)

Peterson see the pastor as a particularly talented observer, much like God took animals to Adam to see what he would call them (Gen 2:19), as he writes:

“A witness is never the center, but only the person who points to or names what is going on at the center—in this case, the action and revelation of God in all the operations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” (6)

But, of course, naming is the creative act of a sovereign, not of a passive observer. For this reason, some theologians describe God as a Suzerain (King of Kings) and Adam as his Vassal (king), but Peterson would chide at the whole idea of being an authority figure, preferring the title of pastor, not “Reverend or Doctor or Minister” (2) even though he was all of these things.

Even if Peterson prefers business causal, he is not just causally present. He writes:

“Staying alert to these place and time conditions—this topos, this kairos—of my life as a pastor, turned out to be more demanding than I thought it would.” (8)

Peterson’s sensitive to matters of time and space comes as a surprise. As Christians, we think of God in terms of the omnis—omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent—all present, all knowing, and all powerful; but Christianity has no Mecca where we must worship or make a pilgrimage—God is not partial to a particular place and even Sabbath is not so much a day as a commitment to devote time to God. But for Peterson pastors must model themselves on God in his omnis in a sacramental sense:  For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom 5:6 ESV) And Christ did not die in some random place; he died conspicuously—in front of the whole world—in Jerusalem. Therefore, Peterson cautions that “the life of faith cannot be lived in general or by abstractions.” (12)

Do you get the idea that Peterson chooses his words carefully?

Peterson’s idea of the pastor call is wrapped up in a peculiar package. He describes a dog wandering around marking his territory in a manner that appears haphazardly to a human observer, but no doubt makes perfect sense to the dog. He then writes:

“Something like that is the way pastor feels to me. Pastor: not something added on to or imposed on who I am; it was there all along. But it was not linear—no straight-line development.” (26)

This sort of explanation, which is potentially quite demeaning, describes an image of the pastor as a Myers-Briggs personality type of ESFP:

“Outgoing, friendly, and accepting. Exuberant lovers of life, people, and material comforts. Enjoy working with others to make things happen. Bring common sense and a realistic approach to their work, and make work fun. Flexible and spontaneous, adapt readily to new people and environments. Learn best by trying a new skill with other people.” [4]

This postmodern concept of a pastor leaves me wondering what would happen if Martin Luther or John Calvin were to come before an ordination committee today? While I know that Peterson’s pastor has great appeal today, I am not sure that Peterson intended his vision of the pastor to be normative, as it has become.

One of the attractive things about Peterson to me as I read this book in seminary was that he had been a church planter. At a time when organized churches seem to be wandering off the rails, God’s presence appears most conspicuously in new churches that have yet to be coopted by our culture. Peterson writes about an old rabbinic story:

“Shekinah is Hebrew word that refers to a collective vision that brings together dispersed fragments of divinity. It is usually understood as a light-disseminating presence bringing an awareness of God to a time and place where God is not expected to be—a place…God’s personal presence—and filled that humble, modest, makeshift, sorry excuse for a temple with glory.” (100-101).

I can relate to this Shekinah image, having worshipped in so many different places, in so many different styles of music (or none at all), and in so many different languages.

Peterson’s final chapters begin with a story of a visit to a monastery where the cemetery was always prepared for the next funeral, having an open grave as a reminder (289). This is fitting end because Christianity is the only religion that began in a cemetery (Matt 28:1-7).  Citing Karl Barth, Peterson reminds us: “Only where graves are is there resurrection.” (290).

I have tried several times to review Eugene Peterson’s book, The Pastor, and flinched at the task, not knowing where to begin. Having written my own memoir, however, during the past year, his book started to make sense to me in spite of its nonlinearity. I think that I have read most of Peterson’s books, but this is a favorite, but do not ask me why. Still, I am sure that most pastors and seminary students will share my love for this book.

[1] What does Moses see? Moses sees God commanding him to return to Egypt and ask Pharaoh to release the people of Israel, something that had been on his heart for about 40 years (Exod 2:11-12; 3:10).

[2] This is at the heart of the psychiatric image of God and counseling model of the pastor. People have a lot of trouble with the transcendence of God. They do not want to be “fathered” with conditional love, they wanted to be “mothered” with unconditional love. For this reason, the postmodern image of God is more of a grandparent than a parent and people chide at the ideal that God is a father that actually requires anything at all of us. The code language normally used is to say that a pastor should be a “patient, non-anxious presence.”

[3] If you think that I am the only one to see an inkblot here, meditate a few minutes on Peterson’s book cover.

[4] http://www.MyersBriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics.

 

 

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Prayer of Rememberance

Blessed Lord Jesus,

We praise you for remembering us—

in our celebrations and joy,

in our loneliness and fear,

in spite of who we are or were or will ever be.

We confess that we forget you—

when things go well,

when pain becomes overwhelming,

when we ought to know better and do not.

We give thanks for Easter—

a time of resurrection, new life, and abundant possibilities,

a time when we know that we are not alone and are loved,

a time that begins a period of waiting for your Holy Spirit.

We ask for eyes that see and ears that hear—

that we might participate in your new life,

that the waiting may come to an end,

that we might transcend life constrained to the here and now

and see the Father in you. Amen.

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Jesus: Death Means Resurrection

Life_in_Tension_web“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, Where have you laid him? … When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, Lazarus, come out.”  (John 11:33-43 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When Jesus weeps, the dead are raised [1]; when Jesus dies, we have life. Our grief is redeemed, becomes godly grief, when we grieve over the sin that separates us from Christ [2].

The Apostle Paul framed our view of Christ in these words: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:10-11 ESV) Paul furthermore advises us to imitate Christ when he writes: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Rom 12:14-15 ESV) We are to place our emotions in God’s service so that the world might too be redeemed.

The hope of the resurrection permits us to look beyond grief to our future in Christ. The Prophet Jeremiah understood this point when he wrote:

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer 29:11 ESV)

Hope redeems our mourning. Paul talks about all of creation groaning as in childbirth [3] because a mother’s pain is overcome by the joy of seeing her baby. In fact, we can hear an echo of Jeremiah in Jesus’ next words in the Sermon on the Mount about anxiety when he says:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt 6:25 ESV)

Anxiety is a form of grieving over our daily challenges—what to eat or what to wear.  In Christ, even the ultimate challenge of death does not have the final word (1 Thes 4:13).

The Apostle Paul sees this inward tension as critically important in our spiritual formation. He writes: “For godly grief (θεὸν λύπη) produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Cor 7:10 ESV) Paul uses an entirely different word for grief in the Greek which means: “pain of mind or spirit, grief, sorrow, affliction” (BDAG 4625). In Paul’s analysis we see grief tinged with guilt and shame—a motivator for repentance.

In grief over sin we lament our brokenness and after we pour it all out, we are able to turn to God. For this reason, the Psalmist can write:

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psa 126:5-6 ESV)

Here we see Luke’s version of the Second Beatitude:  “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21 ESV)

Through grief God gently leads us to salvation.

 

[1] Also: Mark 5:38-41; Luke 5:13-15.

[2] Isa 6:5; 2 Cor 7:10.

[3] Jer 4:28; Rom 8:22.

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The Gospel as Divine Template

Life_in_Tension_web“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Christianity began with the resurrection in a graveyard (Ps 16:10). Without the crucifixion, the resurrection could not have occurred. Without Jesus’ life and ministry, the crucifixion could not have occurred. The Jesus story—life, suffering, death, and resurrection—is repeated over and over again in the New Testament [1].  Christianity began with God working miraculously in this world through Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection.

The Apostle Paul writes about the importance of the story of Jesus saying:

that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
(Phil 3:10-11 ESV)

In other words, Jesus lived, suffered, died, and was resurrected; therefore I should be willing to live, suffer, die, and so also be resurrected. The Gospel is accordingly lived out with the end in mind. Christian hope lies in the knowledge that we know the end of the story is in Christ.

Knowing the Gospel template (life, suffering, death, and resurrection), as Christians we pay careful attention to the words and life of Jesus [2]. We also know implicitly that our lives will be in tension with our own sinful nature, the world, and a Holy God. Every word in the New Testament should be read: because Jesus was resurrected, therefore…

The Gospel writers wrote with the resurrection in mind. Writing to a Jewish audience, for example, the Gospel of Matthew portrays Jesus as a new Moses. Early in Matthew we see Jesus giving the law of grace on a mountain (much like Mount Sinai) with the Beatitudes. Moses traveled through the desert with the people of Israel to reach the promised land; Jesus likewise travels with his disciples through Israel ultimately reaching Jerusalem—a representation of the promise land. When the Apostle John writes about heaven, [because Jesus rose from the dead] heaven is more than just a metaphor for Eden or a magical new Jerusalem (Rev 11:12).

Because the Gospel template requires that we live a life patterned after the life of Jesus, we are in tension with our own sinful nature, the world, and a Holy God. Our Trinitarian God assists with each aspect of this tension. The Holy Spirit works in us to break the power of sin, to keep us in communication with God, and to give us power for Christian living. Jesus Christ provides our example in coping with life in the world. God our father demonstrates love, grace, and power over all earthly powers.

Early readers would accordingly have read the Beatitudes as the new law of grace and in view of the resurrection. For example, [because Jesus rose from the dead] “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:3 ESV) As we reflect on the tension we feel in our distracted lives as Christians, the Beatitudes are especially important because in them Jesus responds to the tension in all three dimensions of our spiritual life: our tension with our own sinful nature (poor in spirit, mourning, and meekness),  the world (peacemakers, reviled, and persecuted), and a Holy God (righteous, merciful, and pure).   As Nouwen (1975, 15) observes:  in our inner life, we can move from loneliness to solitude; in our communal life, we can move from hostility to hospitality; and in our life with Christ, we can move from illusion to prayer.

Because Jesus rose from the dead, we can live into the law of grace in our lives knowing that the end of the story is in Christ. We do not expect perfection in our walk, but we know the Holy Spirit will guide us along the way;  we do not expect perfect community, but  we have the example of Christ in seeking reconciliation; we do not expect every day to be a mountain top experience, but we know that God loves us. Our faith walk starts with God, not us.

 

[1] After the Gospels themselves, consider, for example, the sermons by both Peter (Acts 2:14–41; 10:34–43) and Paul (Acts 13:16–41) which focus on Jesus’ life story.

[2] Smith (2006, 29-30) sees the church as a place where the Gospel is not intellectualized by rather lived out (incarnate).  It is a place where the story of Jesus is told and retold.  He writes:  “The church is the site where God renews and transforms us–a place where the practices of being the body of Christ form us into the image of the Son.” (30).  These practices include the sacraments, Christian marriage and child-rearing, radical friendship, and learning patience.

REFERENCE

Nouwen, Henri J. M. 1975. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. New York: DoubleDay.

Smith, James K. A. 2006.  Who’s Afraid of Postmodernizm:  Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Academic.

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Resurrection of the Body

RPC_tomb_03092014bBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

One big anxiety that amputees experience is that lost body parts embody their identity in ways that must now change. The pain is particularly acute when the body part is associated with a beloved activity. Our hearts go out, for example, to the runner who loses a leg or the brilliant researcher who develops Alzheimer’s disease. Our body is part of our identity.

God knows who we are and feels our pain—to be human is to be whole in body, mind, and spirit.

Jesus raised the widow’s son out of compassion (Luke 7:13) and he wept before raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:35). How compassionate would Jesus have been if he had raised the widow’s son from the dead only to have the son live on as a paraplegic? Or if Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead but left him mentally handicapped?

During my time as a chaplain intern, I knew a dear woman who had been resuscitated after her heart stopped for eight minutes. The resuscitation left her afflicted with dementia and forced to live in a lock-down, Alzheimer’s unit. The affliction left her family guilt ridden and torn over their decision to resuscitate her.

Resuscitation leaves scars. Scripture reports that the widow’s son and Lazarus were returned to health without scars. Consequently, Jesus did not resuscitate them; he re-created them as only God can. Meredith Kline (2006, 220–21) uses the term re-creation in reference to the flood narrative and sees this idea already present in 2 Pet 3:5-7. In other words, Noah was a second Adam even before Christ..

Resurrection is an act of grace—bodily resurrection completes the compassion.

Jesus was bodily resurrected. When the resurrected Christ appeared before the disciples in Jerusalem, he asked for something to eat; the disciples gave him a piece of broiled fish and he ate it (Luke 24:41-43). Furthermore, Christ’s compassion for his own disciples, who had deserted him, reveals that Jesus, in his perfection, did not harbor the deep emotional scars that might normally accompany the trauma that he experienced (John 21:17).

Consider the alternative. What if Jesus had been raised only spiritually, how long would he continue to empathize with us? Or what if Jesus harbored grievous handicaps or emotional scares? Would he still have pity on the rest of us? Would we really want to stand before such a scarred and potentially vengeful judge?

Christ’s resurrection was a re-creation, not resuscitation, event. Christ’s resurrection gives us hope because our judge is healthy and whole. He is still human and he harbors no grievances.

REFERENCES

Kline, Meredith G. 2006. Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Convenental Worldview. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.

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Prayer Day 1, A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

Almighty Father:  thank you for the person of Jesus of Nazareth; who lived as a role model for sinners; who died as a ransom for sin; and whose resurrection gives us the hope of salvation.  In the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire the words written and illumine the words read.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Padre Todopoderoso, gracias por la persona de Jesús de Nazaret, quien vivió como un modelo a seguir por los pecadores, quien murió como un rescate por los pecados y cuya resurrección da nos la esperanza de salvación. En el poder de Tu Espíritu Santo, inspire las palabras escritas y iluminar las palabras leídas, En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

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Resurrection

RPC_tomb_03092014b“The third day he rose again from the dead.” [1]

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Why should we believe in the resurrection?

The truth of the resurrection became the most important confession of the early church. In John’s Gospel faith consists, primarily, in believing in the resurrection (John 20:25–29). Paul’s letter to the Romans states it plainly: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). Paul knew this truth first hand because the risen Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus—a story recorded three times in the Book of Acts [2]. At one point, the risen Christ appears to more than five hundred witnesses in just one setting (1 Cor 15:6).

The resurrection event changed the Apostle’s lives forever. Ten of the eleven faithful apostles died a martyr’s death [3]. The fact that they were willing to die for their beliefs is strong historical evidence for the truth of the resurrection.

Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in Jerusalem speaks of both the prophecy of the resurrection and the eye witness accounts. Peter cites this prophecy: “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Ps 16:10). The original context of the Psalm points to King David [4], but Peter, as an apostle, correctly interprets the “holy one” as referring also to Jesus (Acts 2:27–31). Peter’s next statement is most telling: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” (Acts 2:32) Peter’s argument was both truthful and compelling because it convinced more than three thousand people to be baptized that day (Acts 2:41).

At least three reasons motivate us to believe in the resurrection. The first reason was given by Paul: “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor 15:17) We obtain forgiveness from God only because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice as the Lamb of God. A second reason follows from the first. Jesus’ resurrection makes our resurrection and eternal life possible. A third reason is that in the resurrection God attested Jesus as the Christ (Acts 17:31). Jesus’ path in life, death, and resurrection then becomes the template for our faith and the only source of our salvation (Phil 3:10–11).

[1] The references in this chapter to the Apostle’s Creed are all taken from FACR (2013, Q/A 23). Another translation is found in (PCUSA 1999, 2.1—2.3).

[2] Paul’s conversion was so powerful that he ceased being one of the church’s chief persecutors and he became one of the early church’s strongest evangelists (Acts 8:3). Also see: Acts 8:3–5, 22:6–8, and 26:13–15.

[3] The Apostle John was the only one of the eleven faithful disciples that did not die a martyr (Fox and Chadwick 2001, 10).

[4] The verse is a Hebrew doublet. The two parts repeat the same thought. Therefore, holy one refers to my soul.

REFERENCES

Faith Alive Christian Resources (FACR). 2013. The Heidelberg Catechism. Cited: 30 August, 2013. Online: https://www.rca.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=372.

Fox, John and Harold J. Chadwick. 2001. The New Foxes’ Book of Martyrs (Orig Pub 1563). Gainsville, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers.

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PC USA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confession. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.

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Schaeffer Checks the Pulse of Western Civilization

Shaffer_06172014Francis A. Schaeffer. 2005.  How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Orig Pub 1976).  Wheaton: Crossway Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

As a believer in the risen Christ, life sometimes resembles being stuck in a zombie invasion.  Zombies hate living people and desire their destruction.  Conversation with zombies can be challenging. Still, Christians are called to live sacrificially sharing their very lives with zombies on the hope that they too can live.  Jesus said:

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:24 ESV)

While we were still zombies, Jesus died on the cross for us [1].

How should we then live?

This question taken from Ezekiel 33:10 where Ezekiel reviews his calling as prophet.  In the original call statement, Ezekiel writes:

Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand… (Ezekiel 3:17-18 ESV)

Ezekiel must prophesy exactly as God instructs or his own salvation is at risk.

This watchman motif motivated Francis Schaeffer to write his book—How should we then live? (257-258) He outlines this motif in the final chapter addressed specifically to Christians.  The chapter begins with a warning against dichotomous thinking:  separating values (non-reason) from reason (255) [2].  This dichotomy has its origins in Greek thought (Platonic dualism; Gnosticism) where the mind (reason) was elevated over the body (values).

This re-emergence of dichotomous thinking in the modern era is a Christian heresy, in part, because it rejects the divinity of Christ who was bodily resurrected from the grave. The risen Christ is no ghost (spirit only) and no zombie (body without spirit).  Dichotomous thinking (a kind of schizophrenia) leads one to believe that God can only be approached through emotional experiences or, alternatively, only through theology.  By contrast, the New Testament teaches unity of mind and body—faith and action [3].  For example, James writes:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (James 1:22-24 ESV)

The splitting of mind and body (or faith from action) robs the Gospel of its power to transform lives and of its moral teaching. By contrast, the resurrection of Christ accredits Jesus’ divinity (Acts 17:31) and lays claim to the whole of us—both our minds and bodies.  Schaeffer especially sees dichotomous thinking leaving us to accept authoritarian rule because it facilitates manipulation (256-257).

Schaeffer’s point about the manipulative potential of dichotomous thinking is like a bad movie re-run.  During the Second World War, for example, economists of the Vienna School justified working for Adolf Hitler through the development of philosophical school called logical positivism.  In this paradigm, politicians set the goals and economists simply find the most efficient way to execute them.  The guard arguing that he was only following orders when gassing prisoners, for example, is applying logical positivism. In this manner, economists (and prison guards) tried to escape moral judgment by making no judgments at all [4].

Schaeffer’s book is a survey of key philosophical developments in history, politics, and art dating back to ancient Rome.  It is written in 13 chapters:

  1. Ancient Rome;
  2. The Middle Ages;
  3. The Renaissance;
  4. The Reformation;
  5. The Reformation—Continued;
  6. The Enlightenment;
  7. The Rise of Modern Science;
  8. The Breakdown in Philosophy and Science;
  9. Modern Philosophy and Modern Theology;
  10. Modern Art, Music, Literature, and Films;
  11. Our Society;
  12. Manipulation and the New Elite; and
  13. The Alternatives (7).

If you are one of those who think that this is a book written to justify positions of one generation over another, perhaps you should read with particular care.

For example, the Renaissance and the Reformation occurred at almost the same time—Renaissance thinkers accepted dichotomous thinking while Reformation thinkers refused to (79-81).  Reformation thinkers refused to accept dichotomous thinking and relied on the Bible to discern God’s truth—an absolute standard for ethics.  In some sense, the enlightenment simply revisited this same split.  Dichotomous thinking remains popular today because it supports humanism and relativism [5].

In all his writing, Schaeffer covers a lot of ground.  The details of his discussion are fascinating and provide context for understanding the vast changes occurring in our time.  Unless you are a student of Western Civilization, be prepared to be challenged.  How Should We Then Live? is a classic.  Thank you Crossway Books for keeping it in print.

 

[1] For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person– though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 ESV)

[2] Schaeffer felt so strongly about this topic of dichotomous thinking that he wrote an entire book on the subject:  Francis Schaeffer.  2006.  Escape from Reason:  A Penetrating Analysis of Trends in Modern Thinking.  Downers Grove:  IVP Press.

[3] An interesting  example of this integrative principle arises in the biblical idea of beauty.  “Our modern images feature surface and finish; Old Testament images present structure and character.  Modern images are narrow and restrictive; theirs were broad and inclusive…For us beauty is primarily visual; their idea of beauty included sensations of light, color, sound, smell, and even taste” Dyrness, William A. 2001. Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, page 81.

[4] Hannah Arendt studied this problem at great length.  For example, read her book:   1987.  The Life of the Mind:  The Groundbreaking Investigation of How We Think.  New York:  Harcourt, Inc.

[5] In Paul’s Letter to the Galatians he confronts the problem of false teachers who added the Gospel of Christ other teaching.  Paul writes:   I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Galatians 1:6-7 ESV)  In the Galatian context, the added teaching was over-reliance on the Law of Moses.  In our context, the added teaching is primarily philosophical or social.

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1 Corinthians 15: Resurrection Changes Everything

RPC_tomb_03092014bBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:3-6 ESV)

The Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth reaches its climax in chapter 15.  The first two verses of the chapter build up to a short confession recounting the story of Jesus (vv 3-6).  Scholars believe that this is one of the earliest confessions of the church. Several points are striking about this confession, including:

  • The confession refers to Jesus of Nazareth as Christ.  Modern critics often assert that titles such as Messiah or Son of God are confessions of the latter church.  Here it is immediately confessed by the early church within a couple years of the crucifixion.
  • The use of Cephas to refer to Peter hints at the ancient nature of this confession.  Cephas is Aramaic; Peter is a Greek translation.  Because the entire New Testament (NT) is written in Greek, Aramaic shows up in the NT mostly in quotations where authenticity is important.  Paul uses Cephas 8 times; the Apostle John is the only other NT author to use Cephas. John wrote:  John brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). (John 1:42 ESV)  By contrast, Peter is used 100 times in the NT.
  • Paul uses the word, scripture(s), 14 times in his letters.  The NT uses it 51 times.  This confession is the only place in his letter to the Corinthians where he uses the word, scripture(s).  Apparently, the early church felt that it was important to tie the Jesus story to Old Testament scripture.
  • This confession links the cross to forgiveness of sin.  This is called the doctrine of the atonement.  Some theologians have recently questioned the doctrine of the atonement because the existence of sin implies an absolute moral standard.  Yet, the confession makes it clear—Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (v 3).
  • The confession makes it clear that Jesus’ resurrection was witnessed by large numbers of people, not just the disciples. While a small group might have made up a resurrection story (or have been delusional), a large public crowd could not (v 6).  Paul’s account accordingly throws cold water on many modern theories disputing the resurrection.

Because Paul’s letter was widely circulated and there were many eye-witnesses to what he wrote about, clearly this confession was a keystone of the early church.

The resurrection was also the key doctrine that Paul taught.  He writes: …if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished (vv 17-18).  In other words, without the resurrection there is no salvation from sin, no victory over death, and no eternal life.  There have been many martyred saints, but only one resurrection.  We remember Jesus.

The resurrection speaks of the power of God and the divinity of Jesus Christ. Because Christ is divine, then scripture as understood by the traditional teaching of church provides a reliable rule for life.

Resurrection changes everything.  This is why it is called the Good News.

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