What are the best biblical studies blog posts that you’ve read/written this month?
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“God is thus revealed as omnipotent precisely in the fact that God stakes everything on the intelligence, free will, and trust of human beings . . . God attains the goal desired because in this world joy in God’s story is stronger than all inertia and greed, so that this joy continually seizes people and gathers them into the people of God.”
– Gerhard Lohfink
“His martyrdom has somehow muffled his message….
We deify him in death, but we demonized him in life.” – Tavis Smiley
Tavis Smiley has recently released a new book, Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Years, in which he argues that Dr. King’s death has overshadowed the subversive message that characterized the end of his career. In his last years, Martin Luther King Jr. came out strongly against the US war in Vietnam and called America “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” The world saw his concerns expand beyond civil rights as he turned a sharply critical eye towards the “triple threat of racism, poverty, and militarism.” And almost everyone hated him for it.
I can’t help but wonder if the same thing has happened to Jesus. If somehow his martyrdom has muffled his message. If perhaps we have deified him in his death while forgetting that we demonized (and continue to demonize) him in his life.
The Western world revels in Jesus as a martyr and embraces him as a sacrifice for their sins. But when it comes to his message of radical care for the poor and unrelenting nonviolence, we want none of it. This is not unlike Jesus’ first-century audience, who were so threatened by his message that they killed him for it. Make no mistake about it: Jesus wasn’t killed because the Jewish & Roman leaders knew that God desired a spiritual sacrifice for sin, he was killed for challenging the religious and political status-quo of the day.
Racism, poverty, and militarism continue to be the “powers of our age.” Thus, I fear that today Jesus’ message would poll equally as low as it did in the first-century … and I’m more scared that perhaps even western “Christians” who love Jesus the martyr have still not come to terms with his actual message.
Did Jesus, in the Gospel According to Saint Mark, have to die on a cross? Brian K. Blount, in his remarkable book Invasion of the Dead: Preaching Resurrection, doesn’t think so.
He argues that the real action of God through Jesus in Mark is the inauguration of God’s kingdom over and against the forces of the world. While his ministry and life does make suffering necessary and inevitable, he claims that:
“Theoretically speaking, God’s invasion could occur, and in fact does occur in Mark without a cross moment. To be sure, death is necessary – it is an obligatory prerequisite for resurrection – but death on a cross? Consider the narrative presentation. God’s invasion ignites in that striking moment when Jesus tears into the narrative world and engages John the Baptist at the Jordan. God’s invasion flares divine intent for the future when Jesus turns up missing from the tomb. If, theoretically speaking, Jesus had died from cancer, or old age, or a broken heart, the invasive realities of the incarnation and the empty womb would remain real and viable. The cross showcases more about us than it does about God. It confirms the deadness that writhes within us and fights desperately against the promise of future life that Jesus reveals in his present behavior. Given who humans are – the living dead – and who Jesus is, the representation of future life in the midst of a present age consumed by the influence and power of death, the cross becomes an apocalyptic inevitability. Because of us. Not because of God. Because of what we are. Not because of who God is. Who God is stands exposed the moment Jesus is revealed as God’s Son and God’s mission is revealed as Jesus’ ministry. Who God is stands clarified the moment the man in the empty tomb alleges that Jesus’ promise to rise from the dead and restart his ministry through his disciples was fulfilled. In Jesus’ coming, God is the one who breaks in on the powers of death who rule this present age. God is the one who offers a preview of future life to the living dead who populate this age in Jesus’ ministry. God is the one who raises up a working demonstration of that future life in Jesus’ empty tomb. In a desperate, futile attempt to counter all of these revelations of “life,” the living dead offer up a cross.”
Do you agree with Blount? What are your thoughts on this quote?
A witty (and terrifyingly accurate) description of the fear some Christians display towards critical biblical scholarship:
“There are those ardent Bible-believers who want to treat the Bible as if it fell down from heaven in 1611, written in ye aulde English, bound in pristine leather, with word of Jesus in red, Scofield’s notes, and charts of the end times. Such persons regard exploring topics like problems in Johannine chronology just as religiously affronting as worshiping a life-size golden statue of Barack Obama.”
- Michael F. Bird, The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus, 68. (Thanks to Eerdmans for the review copy – full review coming soon).