Inspiration, Sub-creation and the Authority of Texts

Paul Vander Klay

November 12, 2010

I think your insight is consistent with Romans 8 where Paul tells us that all creation "groans and labors with birth pangs" as it waits to be "delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God."

Thanks also for the Podcast reference. I am a fan of Tolkien and am going to check it out.

Tracey Sheneman
November 13, 2010

"We will find books to love, to serve, to venerate, to guide even if we have to write them ourselves." Indeed. This hearkens to Voltaire: "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." And as we write our books about the One who loved us, God is continuing to write his never-ending love story in "jars of clay" like us.

I have come to appreciate a little book by Tony Campolo titled, "Which Jesus? Choosing Between Love and Power." In the book, Campolo artfully weaves a fictional (yet historically-based) narrative contrasting the lives of Jesus Barabbas and Jesus of Nazareth. The book is more authoritative and relevant for me than a thousand theology textbooks because it resonates with my own experience of the living Christ as the God who chooses to accept human limitations in order to more fully relate to us on our terms.

In Tony's book, Jesus is depicted as having to constantly choose between displays of power and acts of love. Jesus, of course, chose to set aside his power as co-equal with the Father, and the privileges associated with divine Sonship, and to love us instead (see Phil. 2:5-11).

It is ironic (the gospels teem with irony, no?) that the disciples, as well as the multitudes, though they witnessed genuine displays of Jesus' heavenly authority (feeding the five thousand in John 6, for example), usually failed to grasp the meaning behind such displays. The reason is simply that they, like us, were so oriented to the material, temporal, and physical aspect of existence ("tangible reality") that they just could not understand that the mission of Jesus was to fulfill, through physical means, humanity's deepest need: love. He had to die at the hands of those he came to save before we could begin to see our true need and face up to our spiritual predicament.

The crowd assembled in the courtyard shouted for the release of the man who took up the symbols of human power against foreign tyranny, Jesus Barabbas [as his name appears in the Syrian and Armenian versions of Matt. 27:16-1, and as a footnote in my copy of the RSV, more here: http://www.dcn.davis.ca.us/go/...]. Barabbas was the Jewish rebel who was tried and convicted for leading a violent uprising in Jerusalem, and he represents the way of the flesh, of humanity's inclination to attempt to control the flow of events and direct the course of history, through violence if necessary.

Note: the patronym, or family name, "bar Abbas" means "son of the father," or possibly, if "bar Rabbas," it means "son of the Rabbi." Campolo has rendered the name "son of God" in the third page of his introduction, possibly referring to the frequent use of the Aramaic term "Abba" for father by Jesus of Nazareth in addressing God. Technically, Campolo's translation of "bar Abbas" is incorrect.

This little tome, more than most "inspirational" books I've handled recently, while it may be not much more than an imaginative retelling of an obscure facet of the Passion, has really opened my eyes to see the fictions I've constructed in my own life as I attempt to "come and make [Jesus] king by force" (John 6:15), trying my damnedest to live the Christian life using Jesus Barabbas' methods. I fail miserably (far too often!) as Jesus withdraws his name from my misguided efforts to control circumstances, people, and events in my life, and he lets me taste the fruits of my own falsehood and self-deception. Then, as my shows of strength and daring fail to produce lasting or desired results, something like this book comes along, and I hear Jesus of Nazareth ask (and it's always the same question), "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matt. 14:31)

When we doubt Jesus' love and forsake the way of the cross (compassion) for power, we begin to sink under the weight of our circumstances as the reality of our limitations sets in. We buy into power plays and ego trips to try to seize what we claim is rightfully ours. We manipulate others, try to bargain, beg or steal our way into paradise. But, ultimately, the human "will to power" is the greatest fiction, the most deceptive and diabolical scheme ever devised, whereas, "love never fails." (1 Cor. 13:8)

Campolo's book is also helping me to see the Gospels (esp. John's) less as scrupulous literal records of historical facts and more as spiritual romance stories or epic poems. What to secular Bible scholars and atheists amounts to nothing more than the fanciful myth-making of a disheartened 1st-Century apocalyptic Jewish cult, we who believe are privileged to experience anew, generation after generation, as spirit-breathed love letters to the lover of our souls, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

I suppose, in the eyes of one like Nietzsche - famous for legitimizing a philosophy of materialistic determinism, and popularizing the motto, "God is Dead" (ironically translated in history to the Nazi's "Gott Mitt Uns,") - we who persist in falling for myths like sacrificial love and eternal savior-messiahs are destined for history's ash heap, figuratively, and too often, literally. Well, if I am destined for dust and ashes (who, of mortal substance, isn't?), as for me, "I know whom [not, 'what'] I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day." (2 Tim. 1:12, NASB)

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." (From the 'truthiest' gospel of all, Mark 10:45, NASB)

Bryan Fraser
November 14, 2010

The church should not expect those outside to accept the authority of its law. One my first pastors is a master at presenting the gospel clearly; artfully deflecting red-herring objections. One of his many strategies is to refuse to engage detractors over any controversial teachings found in the New Testament epistles. His response is, “These letters are written to the saints. What are you doing reading other people’s mail?”

This is a practical application of the principle that the gospel is for the world and the law is for the covenant community. Evangelicalism commits untold energy trying to explain and justify internal household matters to the neighbors down the street who have no business looking in our windows.

November 15, 2010

Thanks for the book recommend, the link and the comment. pvk

Tracey Sheneman
November 17, 2010

Your welcome, Paul. Thanks for encouraging us to engage our gray matter with your posts.

Campolo also has a full-length volume (I haven't laid my hands on a copy, yet)on the topic of love v. power in the book, "Choose Love Not Power: How to Right the World's Wrongs From a Place of Weakness," published in 2009. See it here: http://books.google.com/books?...

There's also a downloadable audio interview here: http://tonycampolo.org/sermons...


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