Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, July 16, 2007

CWB: The Son of the Man


My conversation with Bob is generating some comments. Don't be bashful. The conversation is open to all, not just geeky theological types. Post a comment, a question, or something funny to lighten us up! However, like David Letterman will say, it is an exhibition not a competition. Please no wagering.

Some preliminaries in response to Bob's last post:

1) I really appreciate the way you summarize my comments and then respond, focusing on areas of agreement and then making your observations. It makes me feel good!

2) Are we not all five clicks away from Woodstock?

3) I dig the Kerygma series and have used it at both of my previous congregations.

4) I will never call you a conservative. You will always be Bob to me.

5) Didn't know about "beaten brass" as the literal translation of the firmament. Cool!

6) I agree and I didn't mention it that many of the titles for Jesus are found in the Hebrew scriptures as well. Jesus was a Jew, born, lived, and died a Jew. Yet, the early Christians also felt their message would reach the pagans. I think that language is in the Gospels, Paul, Revelation, and other New Testament works as well. Further, because the Roman Empire was so dominant and Roman Imperial Theology (Crossan's phrase) so pervasive, that much of the language attributed to Jesus reflected to the need to respond to that reality.

7) I should also point out (in agreement with you) that the language of cross and resurrection referred to personal transformation as well as social transformation. I find it valuable today. We pick up the cross, die to an old way of living, and are being transformed by the power of the resurrection into a new way of living. More on that below.

8) I really like the phrase, "radically biblical." That phrase reminded me of Walter Wink. I had the privilege of spending a week with Walter and his wife, June, at Kirkridge in the mid-90s. At that point he was working the phrase, "the son of the man." During that week he was wrestling over an adequate English translation for that phrase.

He eventually came up with "The Human Being" the title of his book on the subject, The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of the Man.

Wink was a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar. He parted ways largely over this phrase, the son of the man. Here is his view of his parting and his views about Jesus. The voting generally relegated all apocalyptic son of man sayings to the early church. They retained for Jesus, just those instances when it referred to human beings in general, or was a way of Jesus to say "yours truly" as in "Foxes have dens, birds have nests, but [yours truly] has nowhere to lay his head."

I am not sure exactly what to make of it. It could mean:

a) Human beings in general.
b) Jesus referring to himself, (ie. yours truly).
c) The restored Israel.
d) The ideal human being, revealed in Jesus, and who we are to become, individually and collectively.
e) A person, not himself, who would come at the end of the age.
f) As the church basically concluded, Jesus, coming at the end of the age.

Last night I perused a chapter in his book. Chapter 9: "The Human Being: Apocalyptic versus Eschatology." He offers this definition:

Eschatology is concerned about the goal of humanity and the world; apocalyptic is consumed with the end of the planet Earth as presently constituted. Prophetic eschatology is ruthlessly realistic, yet incurably hopeful. Apocalyptic has abandoned hope and looks for divine, miraculous intervention. p. 199
For the most part, I am an eschatological kind of guy. In fact, I would say that most human beings are. I think we can find this theology in the Gospels and in the rest of the New Testament as well as in the Hebrew scriptures. We also find in all of those places, including on the lips of Jesus, apocalyptic theology. What was Jesus really? I personally think it is impossible to know. There is evidence for both views within the New Testament itself.

Wink goes further. He writes:

"But even that characterization is deceptive. For there is a positive role for apocalyptic as well as its better-known negative. The positive power of apocalyptic lies in its capacity to force humanity to face threats of unimaginable proportions in order to galvanize efforts at self- and social transcendence. Only such Herculean responses can rescue people from the threat and make possible humanity's continuation....we move into an apocalyptic mode when we no longer find ourselves asking 'How shall we live?' and ask instead "Will we live?" p. 199

Wink believes that the positive role for the apocalyptic is the anti-apocalyptic.

Optimists want to believe that reason will save us. They want to prevent us from becoming afraid. The anti-apocalypticist, on the contrary, insists that our capacity to fear is too small and does not correspond to the magnitude of the present danger....that is why everything the anti-apocalypticist says is said in order not to become true. p. 160

We face real perils on Earth. Wink writes:

Luke warns:
"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the son of the man." (21:34-36)

It is not difficult to see real perils in that warning, perils that threaten the very viability of life on earth today. Global warming, the ozone hole, overpopulation, starvation and malnutrition, war, unemployment, the destruction of species and the rain forests, pollution of water and air, pesticide and herbicide poisoning, errors in genetic engineering, erosion of topsoil, overfishing, anarchy and crime, terrorism, the possibility of a nuclear mishap: together, or in some cases singly, these dangers threaten to "catch us unexpectedly like a trap." Our inability thus far to measure ourselves against these threats in an ominous portent that apocalypse has already rendered us powerless.
We are living in an apocalyptic time disguised as normal, and that is why we have not responded appropriately. (italics his) p. 160-1

He concludes the chapter with this:

To summarize, I see eschatology as a line stretching to the distant, possibly infinite, future. This is the horizon of hope, possibility, and becoming. I see apocalyptic as a detour, caused by an immediate crisis threatening whole societies. Negative apocalyptic paralyzes, positive apocalyptic energizes. When the crisis passes, normal eschatology is reinstated. Our situation today is unique in that, this time, the crisis may not pass. p. 165

My point in introducing Wink's work is your final question to me:

Frankly, John, I don’t see why you seem to feel the need to separate the New Testament explanation of the meaning of the crucifixion and the resurrection from the call to live for peace and justice. I suspect it has something to do with your ideas of the cosmology of the 1st century as compared to the cosmology of today and with your ideas about being a progressive. Maybe you can explain this to me because I just don’t see the contradiction.

1) I think the New Testament is diverse regarding the meaning of the crucifixion and the resurrection. At times it is eschatological, at times apocalyptic, and at times anti-apocalyptic. Their crisis was the War of 66-70. They viewed it variously.

2) I reject the negative apocalyptic which basically goes something like this: The Earth will end in a violent catastrophe. That is how God has planned it. Nothing to do about it except to put on my rapture bloomers and wait for Jesus to beam me up to that heavenly speedway. My goal as an apocalyptic Christian is to get everyone else to believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus so they can join me in my great escape.

3) The eschatological view goes something like this: The Earth is getting worse, but reason will prevail. It will all work out, God is control. The death and resurrection of Jesus is about coming to a new sense of consciousness and personal transformation. While I am usually here, I now believe that we are in a time in which the eschatological view is not enough to deal with the present crisis.

4) I am becoming more and more convinced that the church needs to be anti-apocalyptic. An example is Al Gore and his warnings about Global Warming as well as the Peak Oil prophets who are all telling us that civilization is toast perhaps in our generation. Not only that, but I live in a country that thinks it is perfectly normal to maintain 10,000 nuclear warheads, that if used would leave the planet desolate. Those who continue to warn us about nuclear catastrophe are anti-apocalyptic. In this view, God has not planned this destruction. It is not God's will. Yet, God is not going to save us from our stupidity if we continue to be stupid. If we decide that ecocide is a swell idea, God will shrug and say, "Hmmm. Human beings. That was an interesting evolutionary development." A dead Earth will continue to revolve around the sun for hundreds of millions of years with no humans to enjoy it. God wants us to wake up, face the reality and respond. God is speaking through the anti-apocalypticists in order that we might change. But if we do not change that is where we are headed. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the courage to take risks and speak the truth to the powers who continue to set a course for our destruction.

5) I have no need of living after I am dead. I really do not care if my consciousness, body, spirit, soul, or spleen survives my death. I reject fanciful notions such as eternal heaven and eternal hell as dogmas invented by the church to control its sheep. It is used today to keep us passive and to serve the powers of our destruction. I care greatly that my life will contribute in some way toward future generations having a life.

6) Where is my hope? My hope is in the remarkable story of Jonah. He was anti-apocalyptic and he knew it. He told the people of Nineveh to wake up and repent or God would destroy them. Surprise! They did repent and God did not destroy them. That was why Jonah was so grumpy. He was proved a liar! I want to be proved a liar. But that will not happen unless we wake up and change direction.

To answer your question, I do think that the stories about Jesus in the Bible, including his death and resurrection are about action for peace and justice, if we use them correctly.
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