The hinge that turns the door

4 08 2008

This morning I had a couple of simple tasks to do.I had to ring the landlord and find out what time the Seminar started tonight. My home group was going to attend a seminar series entitled “Rethinking Heaven and Hell” hosted by Dr. Mark Strom.Mark is someone I greatly respect for his ability to expound scripture. We were all psyched and ready to go, until I called the college to check the time. They informed me that the seminar had been pushed back to September. It certainly took the wind out of my sails, but with a bit of last minute organising we managed to sort out a home group study. I hate getting the facts wrong. It is one of my pet hates.

Rewind back a little to last night. My wife and I were watching “The Da Vinci Code”. While it was entertaining, I would hesitate to call it thought provoking. Anyone with a knowledge of history would realise that its one of those “check your brain at the door” movies. It seemed that Mr Brown, who wrote the book the movie is based on, did not share my frustration with getting facts right. These two events gave me a good insight into our post-modern culture today. You see with the advent of post-modernism, facts are completely subjective. Too biased to be objectively true. Facts may mean one thing to you and another to me. But the problem originates much earlier in life. There are a distinct lack of “facts” in school curricula. Thirty percetn of Britains youth in school believe that the Holocaust never happened. They also believe that Conan the Barbarian is an actual figure from Nordic history. In our post modern culture we don’t teach facts because they are “divisive” and “exclude” people. I define a fact as an objective truth that holds true for everyone, which is a direct afront to any post-modern thinker.

Martin Luther once said “Christianity stands or falls on the doctrine of justification” and he was quite correct. But an equally true statement broader in scope would be to say “Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead”. This is exactly what the Da Vinci code lacked. It offered no substitute for the crucifixtion, death and resurrection of Jesus. While never explicitly attacking the fact, it implicitly offered something far more sinister.  Dan Brown is not the first to question the resurrection. Many have followed before him. The quest for the “Historical Jesus” goes back to first 50 years after Jesus’ death. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, knew the implications of such thinking: “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; And if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is in vain and so is your faith” (1 Cor 15:13-14). Bultman appealed to reason; clearly science  has shown us that people do not rise from the dead. The Jesus seminar concluded that Jesus’ body did not rise but rotted away. Browns rendition follows along the same vein, and again the circular arguments are clear “The resurrection cannot have happened because I do not believe in supernatural things”

Too often we buy into the latest trends while ignoring what has stood the test of time. The Bible is still the worlds best choice and best seller, with an estimated 6 billion in print. It has stood and continues to stand up to critical and historical evaluations. It has never been found wanting. The resurrection has yet to be disproved by any decent scholarship. Piper writes, in his book What Jesus demands from the world, that “no reliable or lasting portrait of Jesus has ever been reconstructed from going behind what the four Gospels portray” (p 30). It saddens me to see intelligent scholars giving in to conspiracy theories when the facts are plain and simple. Perhaps sin has more of strangle-hold on the human heart than we realise?

The Church has always been a peculiar group of people and has often been divided over issues. As a Calvinist I get caught up in debates about free will and the sovereignity of God. Others want to challenge me on eternal security or the nature of divine election. But there is one thing that unites us. The belief that Triune God put on eye brows, knee caps, saliva glands and a spleen, became a man, lived, died and rose again on the 3rd day, paying the price for our sins. This story is the hinge on which the door turns. It is precisely because of this that Christianity spread so rapidly. Mr Brown appeals to 2nd century Gnostic texts like the “Gospel of Phillip” or the “Gospel of Mary” to support his claims. Remarkably these texts depict an un-Jewish Jesus, and have a lot more in common with Plato than anyone else. Sorry Mr Brown but those were being fed to the lions or burned alive were not reading these texts but the four gospels.

Today we are no less fooled by fantasy. Like the Gnostics of old we are consumed with discovering the secret knowledge behind the facts. Secrets that will give us power, happiness, respect, and love. The seemingly never ending array of self help books tell us that if we could get back to our inner child, or discover who you really are then we would be happy. Somehow we bought into the belief that our lives are dull and ordinary. There is a  secret and exciting truth that lies within us, and if we pay enough we can have someone coax it out. The Bible presents a radically counter-cultural idea. Although we bear the image of God, the truth we seek is not found by introspection. Its found in God who is all truth. Instead of self acutalisation, we are unconditionally elected. Instead of finding our inner child, we are given a new heart and made into a new creation. Instead of struggling with self esteem we find our hope, calling and identity in Jesus.

Iranaeus wrote that “The glory of God is man fully alive” and I think he was onto something there. It is only through the life giving power of Jesus through the Holy Spirit that we are made fully alive and are able to give Glory to God. Remebering this truth is a continual process for me, and I have to learn to rest in it.  May God grant you the same rest as you continue to seek Him.




4 responses

6 08 2008
m slater

Enjoyed your post. You said of the DaVinci Code movie…

“While it was entertaining, I would hesitate to call it thought provoking. Anyone with a knowledge of history would realize that its one of those “check your brain at the door” movies.”

I thought the same for Brown’s historical accuracy, his portrayal of Nicaea and how Christians reacted to gaining power were not how things really went. I would have to say that the book, though equally flawed in its factual basis, was far and away better than the movie which failed to do much for me.
What truly concerns me is not so much the DaVinci code phenomenon, which most Christians look at and know to be off base, but rather the pervasiveness of Gnosticism in contemporary Christian thought. You said “Like the Gnostics of old we are consumed with discovering the secret knowledge behind the facts” and that is true enough, but I think Gnosticism also has a much broader affect. The way that so many conservative/fundamentalist Christians see soteriology and eschatology for example (where the goal is to save eternal souls for an existence in heaven after the earth is done away with), drips with Gnostic thought and seems to have little to do with the Biblical narrative.

“Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead”. This is exactly what the DaVinci code lacked. It offered no substitute for the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus. While never explicitly attacking the fact, it implicitly offered something far more sinister. Dan Brown is not the first to question the resurrection. Many have followed before him. The quest for the “Historical Jesus” goes back to first 50 years after Jesus’ death”

This is indeed one of the most difficult parts of Gnostic thought when it influences Christianity, the de-emphasis or denial of resurrection. I fully agree that (as Paul argues to the Corinthians) unless Jesus was resurrected we are to be pitied beyond all men and our faith is useless.
I would take exception to the idea that denial of the resurrection is necessarily something that is connected to “the Quest for the Historical Jesus” though. Certainly some questers have come to that position, as have many from a variety of areas of study, but that is not because of the nature of the Quest. Indeed, some of the best defenses of the resurrection of Jesus have also been done by questers, such as ‘The Resurrection of the Son of God’ by Wright (which is outstanding) and other writings by people like Witherington, Meier, and Dunn all affirm that as a part of their study of the Historical Jesus.
It would seem that Orthodox Christianity can best deal with skeptics challenges to the resurrection on historical grounds by also engaging the issue on a historically grounded level, as opposed to reverting to restatements of dogma, however true it may be.

6 08 2008

Yeah true, we cant write all Questers off as the ones who deny the resurrection. I havent read Wrights account but I’m sure its good, i recently read “New Testament and the people of God” and that was fascinating.

Last year I attended a series of lecture by Mark strom talking about Paul and Corinthian culture. That was the first time I honestly heard about the Christian hope of resurrection. No one had ever mentioned it to me before. The Gnostic or Platonic idea of a disembodied spook floating off to heaven is more pervasive than we realise.

7 08 2008
m slater

Yes it is. It would seem that those philosophies are quite likely to be impacting other areas of Christian thought as well, many that we are unaware of, but others (like how we see the creation as believers) I think are far to common.
I can not think of the exact title but Notre Dame professor Cyril O’Regan wrote a book called something like “The Spector of Gnosticism” which tracks how Gnostic thought was never fully purged from Christianity and the ways it has resurfaced throughout eclessiastical history. I want to read that at some point.

As for Mark Strom, you have mentioned him a good amount and he sounds quite solid, but I have yet to read anything by him. I saw an IVP book he wrote called ‘Reframing Paul’, is that worth reading or is there another book of his you would rather recommend.

7 08 2008

Reframing Paul is fantastic – its a great read. Just finished it a couple months back, but havent had time to post a review. I’d wholeheartedly reccomend it.
He places Paul back in his original context, among the Philosophers and Sophists of his time, and shows just how different he was. Its a critique on ecclesiology and a call to “the grace full” conversation.

He hasnt written much though- he’s got another book called Symphony of Scripture which is similar to Graeme Goldsworthy’s “According to the plan”. Its a great read, good reference material too.

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