Category Archives: Bible

The Resurrection of​ the Whole Cosmos

In yesterday’s post, titled “Seven Stanzas at Easter,” I said, “Jesus’s body was the first example of incorruptible physicality—the stuff of the new creation.” Jesus is the first, but not the last and only. As N. T. Wright puts it, in the quite biblical viewpoint of the early Christians, “God was [and still is] going to do for the whole cosmos what he [God] had done for Jesus at Easter.” [1] This is the ultimate end to which the biblical story points, this is the ultimate end for which we hope. We will be like Jesus, our resurrected bodies (and indeed all the new creation) will be made out of the same kind of incorruptible physicality that his was and is.


[1] N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 93.

Scripture as a Single Story

The Breakfast Club book study is gearing up for a discussion of Eight Life-Enriching Practices of United Methodists by Hal (Henry H.) Knight. Hal has a great penchant for explaining and summarizing. Here’s a great summary of the nature and purpose of scripture:

The Bible, for all its diverse components, can be seen as a single story, beginning with creation and culminating with a new heaven and earth, telling all that God has done in creation and redemption. Scripture shows us our world from God’s perspective, which is very different from our normal way of looking at things. It tells us who we were created to be, provides a diagnosis of our problem, and shows what God is doing to bring us and our world new life. — Hal Knight


Henry H. Knight III, Eight Life-Enriching Practices of United Methodists (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), 47-48.

 

Verses of the Day: John 1:45-46

I was recently reminded of this exchange between two of Jesus’s first followers:

45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” — John 1:45-46 (NRSV)

In the eyes of the powerful and wealthy ruling elites of the Roman Empire in the first century A.D., all of Judea was an impoverished, troubled backwater. But even among those living in Judea, the city of Nazareth had a bad reputation.* And that was Jesus’s hometown. There is a special place in God’s heart for the lowly and despised and God is about the business of turning the world upside down.


*I don’t want to be partisan or vulgar, but I do want to be clear, back then Nazareth would have been viewed in the same way that some in our own time view Haiti and Africa.

Genesis and Evolution

I’ve long been planning to preach on the intersection of faith and science this Sunday, but I don’t plan to preach on the two accounts of creation found in Genesis 1.1-2:4 and 2:4-25. For that reason, I want to share a few points with you here:

  • Genesis tells not one but two creation stories (Genesis 1.1-2:4a and 2:4b-25).
  • Taken literally as if they were scientific accounts these two stories are in conflict.
  • Taken non-literally (as intended) they mutually reinforce the understanding of a benevolent God who created all things, a good creation, and humanity’s special place in it.
  • Therefore, while they are true and they convey profound truths about God and humanity, these accounts should not be taken literally.
  • Therefore the hypothesis/theory of evolution and the creation accounts in Genesis are not necessarily in conflict.

Verse of the Day: Matthew 7:33

I’m doing my Lent and Easter reading of the Gospels in The Kingdom New Testament, a new translation by N. T. Wright. It always amazes me how a different translation can help me see scripture with fresh eyes. I’ve included verses 31-33 for context. This is in the part of Matthew’s Gospel known as the Sermon on the Mount, so Jesus is speaking:

“So don’t worry away with your ‘What’ll we eat?’ and ‘What’ll we drink?’ and ‘What’ll we wear?’ Those are all the kinds of things the Gentiles fuss about, and your heavenly father knows you need them all. Instead, make your top priority God’s kingdom and his way of life, and all these things will be given to you as well.” — Matthew 7:31-33. In The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation of the New Testament. Translated by N. T. Wright. New York: HarperOne, 2011.

4 Gospels, 89 Chapters, 90 Days

I want to invite and encourage you to join me in reading the through the four canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) during the upcoming seasons of Lent and Easter. There are copies of a Gospel Reading Plan available in the narthex and online at the church’s website. We invite you to pick one up and join us in this challenge. The Forty Days of Lent do not include the six Sundays that fall within the season, so there will be some slack in the reading for those who fall behind to catch up. There are only eighty-nine chapters in the Gospels, but the first chapter of Luke contains eighty chapters, so we split in two.

Link to the Plan: https://abilenefirstumc.org/downloads/

A Biblical Misunderstanding

I recently read an article on gun ownership among Christians by an evangelical pastor who quoted Luke 22:38 as an argument for limiting the number of guns a Christian should possess. In isolation, the verse would seem to support this view. It reads: “They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ He replied, ‘It is enough'” (NRSV). The problem is that such an interpretation ignores the context. Let’s take a look at the whole passage which occurs just before Jesus is arrested and taken away by the religious authorities:

He said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough” (Luke 22:35-38, NRSV).

I’m afraid that in the most plausible interpretation of this passage, Jesus is going much further than the previously mentioned pastor. In Jesus’ time, the Roman Empire did not go around crucifying people willy-nilly. It was a punishment reserved for special cases, the most prominent of which was insurrection. In order for Jesus to be charged and convicted of insurrection, he or his followers would need to be armed. Two swords were not enough for an insurrection, but they were enough for trumped-up charges of insurrection. This is why Jesus said, “It is enough.” He wasn’t urging his disciples (then or now) to arm themselves.

Evidence in support of this interpretation (that Jesus did not intend for the swords to actually be used) can be found when one of the disciples actually used one to strike “the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear” (Luke 22:50, NRSV). Jesus responded by saying “No more of this!” and then healing the man.

Please don’t misunderstand or misconstrue me. There are people who need guns. Not as many as our sinful nature might incline us to think, but there are people who need guns. Clear examples would include those in law enforcement and the military. There are pastimes, like hunting, for which owning a firearm is perfectly reasonable. But the difficult, unavoidable conclusion we must reach as followers of Jesus is that there is very little (if any) room for weapons in our relationships and interactions with one another. Jesus did not overcome the Roman Empire with brute force (though he could have called down legions of angels), he overcame sin and death by going to the cross and giving his life for many.

Inspirational But Not Canonical

Jenny and I just got back from seeing the movie “Risen” at the Great Plains Theatre. I’ll admit that I went reluctantly (there are so very many ways that movies about Jesus can go wrong), but I left the theater glad that I went. The movie is not always true to the letter of the four Gospel accounts (if there was a Roman Tribune among the disciples at the first breakfast and the ascension, then surely, Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John would have mentioned it), but it was true to the spirit of the Gospel message. It was inspirational but not canonical (authoritative). That is to say that it strengthened my faith, but it did so without adding anything to the content of what I know and believe about Jesus.

50 New Testaments

In preparation for Lent and Easter, we ordered 50 Rethink Church New Testaments. I’m happy to report that all 50 have been taken. Jenny and I are excited to have so many people reading through the New Testament for Lent and Easter.

The Danger of Being Rabidly Right

We had a wonderful, respectful discussion of the United Methodist Church’s position at our “Table Talk” last night. I don’t think anyone’s mind was changed (and I didn’t expect anyone’s mind to be changed). My goals last night are almost perfectly summed up in the following video interview below of Tim Otto, author of Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict over Gay Relationships. I haven’t read the book, so I’m not recommending it (at least not yet). I’m only recommending the video (and that with the caveat that the music is overly dramatic).

Link: https://vimeo.com/142254604?

An Open Source Gospel

I’ve recently finished The Story of Christianity, Volume 1 by Justo L. González. He presents a great summary of one of the reasons the early church was unfazed by the multiple witnesses of the canonical Gospels: the early church viewed it as a positive good. Here’s his summary:

“… the church at large sought to show that its doctrines were not based on the supposed witness of a single apostle or Gospel, but on the consensus of the entire apostolic tradition. The very fact that the various Gospels differed in matters of detail, but agreed on the basic issues at stake, made their agreement a more convincing argument. Against Marcion’s expurgated Gospel of Luke, the church offered the consensus of a number of Gospels—sometimes three, and sometimes four, since the Fourth Gospel was somewhat slower in gaining universal acceptance. Against the secret traditions and private interpretations of the Gnostics, the church had recourse to an open tradition, known to all, and to the multiplicity of the witness of the Gospels.” —Justo L. González.

At it’s best, Christianity is open source, and everyone has access to the data we’re working with.