Archive for the ‘Jesus’ Category

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

March 17, 2008

It’s always a pleasure to recommend a book by a local author.  And I do warmly recommend Frederick Leahy’s book The Cross He Bore. It is a wonderful examination of the trial and death of Jesus. In 13 short bites Leahy takes us through these events with a sure hand. It is a  warm, devotional book (which never descends into sentimentalism) , full of astutely used quotes from writers in the Reformed tradition. It is a delight from beginning to end. It is very moving and full of wonderful insights on familiar and often easily overlooked details. Especially apt at Easter it is beautiful meditation on the death of Christ that can be read and re-read. At £5 it may be the best £5 you ever spend.

The End of History?

January 29, 2008

Monday night is usually library night for our house. Last night we quite unusually took our books back on schedule. My son wanted books on the Arctic. So we found few including a child friendly one written in the ‘Horrible History’ style of Terry Deary i.e. yuk bits left in, christmas cracker style jokes, cartoons etc. This style of history writing has been very successful, ‘Horrible History’ having spawned numerous books and imitators such as the ‘Dead Famous’ series, a series of magazines and a television series. Yet these child friendly books may convey a deeper message about the writing of history in general. Do they in fact reflect a wider trend that history is meaningless and not to be taken too seriously?

Growing up history, was as far as I could see, something very important. It conveyed to us, even at a young age, something about the meaning of the world we lived in, our sense of identity, people to be admired for their achievements and some sense of connection with the past. In our younger generation history is reduced to a series of vignettes enlivened by a series of schoolboy jokes. There is little sense of conveying to the young that history has significance and that since history has significance  our lives and our world have significance.

These new child friendly histories merely reflect attitudes such as Francis Fukuyama’s assertion that we have witnessed the end of history. That is that idealism has ceased. Or perhaps it is simply the outworking of the postmodern mindset that there is no metanarrative. History is not a place to look for significance but like our lives it is to be treated flippantly where the only meaning is to be found in hedonism.

It is a sad reflection upon our worldviews that life has been atomised and reduced to meaninglessness outside our personal pleasure. The one metanarrative that remains is the only one that brings hope to our world. It is the message of God’s plan being unveiled in history. It is plan that reaches its pinnacle in Jesus Christ and that brings significance to our world and to our planet. If we seek meaning in history we can look to Jesus Christ for we see in His life God breaking into history. We see in Him the pivotal moment that brings meaning to our world. To discover this is indeed a legacy to give to our children.

Jesus-The Missing Years

November 19, 2007

Well at last for all of you who were wondering what occurred during Jesus life between his visit to the temple aged 12 and his baptism around thirty you are about to find out the answer. Courtesy of Hollywood. A new $20 million dollar production, ‘The Aquarian Gospel’ is to go into production. The film seeks to tell how Jesus during this period went to India and embraced Indian religions including Buddhism and Hinduism. It purports to be based on scholarship. Suitably the film is being created by the team behind the film 300– a fantasy based on a comic book. Perhaps the whole enterprise is best summed up by the Guardian newspaper which describes it as ‘a fantasy action adventure account of Jesus’s life.’

I know lots of Christians will get hot under the collar about this historically inaccurate portrayal of Jesus. But it strikes me that Hollywood will once again do the cause of the gospel a great service- a bit like Dawkins does. For once again Hollywood- unintentionally- will bring the discussion about Jesus into the public arena. It will make the church interact with the surrounding culture. And it will get people reading the gospels. All in all it will be an instrument in the hands of the living Lord to bring people into His kingdom. Which is a far cry from the producers aims to fill a few cinema seats with a sensationalist misrepresentation of Jesus.

The Muslim Jesus

August 27, 2007

I finally got around to watching Melvin Bragg’s documentary ‘The Muslim Jesus.’ It was good, informative and well balanced. It of course inevitably raised the question of whether or not ‘Jesus’ was a bridge between Christians and Muslims or a barrier. In much the same vein last week a Dutch minister suggested that Christians should call God ‘Allah’ in an attempt to bridge the gap between Christians and Muslims. Whilst we have of course a shared vocabulary and share a common figure in Jesus the problems begin to arise when we come to definitions and understandings. As one Islamic scholar put it in this programme Christians had in fact a wrong view of Jesus as they had allowed tradition to colour their understanding. A Christian scholar laid much the same charges at the door of Islam.

Two particular issues were raised in my mind. The first was the issue of critical evaluation. There was it appeared to me little critical evaluation of the Christian tradition from the point of view of Islamic scholars. They naturally assumed that the Islamic view was correct but there seemed to me to be little critical evaluation of how the Christian view of Jesus emerged. Why from the 1st century onwards did Christians proclaim Jesus crucified and risen from the dead if these things did not happen? As those who emerge from a later tradition it seems to me the weight of proof is upon the Islamic scholars to show that the earlier view is incorrect.

The second issue that occurred to me was the theological one. If the Islamic view of Jesus is correct Christians are hopelessly misled. I am reminded of Paul’s words about the historical reality of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, ‘if Christ has not been raised, you are still in your sins and your faith is futile.’ As has rightly been said Christianity is Christ. So the issue of the identity of Jesus is one not simply of historic interest but huge theological significance.

One thing that perplexes me considering the debate it this- and I am no Islamic scholar by any stretch of the imagination. It seems to me strange that Islam can respect Christians as ‘people of the book’ if our book is fundamentally flawed. In Christian theology the whole New Testament is centred upon Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified and raised from the dead. This also determines our understanding of the Old Testament. So I’m not quite sure why Christians are honoured as ‘people if the book’ if both their book and their interpretation of it is so fundamentally flawed.

So is Jesus a bridge or a barrier? I suppose he is both. He is a barrier in that there is a radically different understanding of Jesus between the two faiths. But He may also be a bridge if Christians and Muslims can engage in a constructive discussion over the key historical and theological issues.

Luke’s Birth Narrative

August 2, 2007

I’ve enjoyed reading Robin Lane Fox’s Classical World where he takes the reader across five centuries of ancient history in about 600 pages. I take it however Fox is no friend of Christianity since he has another book sub-titled ‘Truth and Fiction in the Bible.’ In his book Classical World as he comes to consider the rise of Christianity he writes, Luke’s account of Jesus birth coinciding with ‘a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed’ means that the ‘first Christmas rests on a historical impossibility.’ He bases this contention upon the fact that there is no other evidence of this decree, that the gospel’s dating is contradictory and that Judea was responsible for its own taxation.

Fox’s statement is interesting for a number of reasons. The first is that he has no real reason for introducing the issue into his narrative- other than to have a swipe at Christians. Secondly, having introduced the problem he makes no attempt to explain it- is he constrained by space. Thirdly, as far as I can recall Luke is the only ancient source he subjects to criticism. Fourthly, and perhaps most extraordinary of all, he dismisses Luke’s account as ‘a historical impossibility.’ This is remarkable since Fox happily quotes the New Testament as a reliable historical source at other points in his book. Why all of a sudden has its historical detail become not only unreliable but impossible? It strikes me that Fox cannot resist having a go at Christianity.

Scholars have of course been aware of the difficulties surrounding this detail in Luke’s gospel for a long time. Indeed they have suggested several possible solutions, which in itself rules out the charge of ‘historical impossibility.’ Ben Witherington III offers what appears to me to be a good solution to the problem. He writes ‘it is more probable that Luke is referring to a census under Quirinius that took place prior to the famous one in A.D. 6–7. If so, we have no clear record outside Luke of such an action by Quirinius, though it is not impossible that it took place. Herod’s power was on the wane at the time of Jesus’ birth, and a census in preparation for the change of power could well have been forced on Herod since he had fallen into some disfavor with Augustus near the end of his life. We know also that Quirinius had been made consul in 12 B.C. and a person of his rank serving in the East frequently had far-reaching authority and duties. It is thus not improbable that, acting as Caesar’s agent, he had Herod take a census. It is also possible he was governor more than once in Syria, though the possibility also remains that Luke may be identifying him by his later and, to his audience, more familiar office. It is less likely that Luke means that Quirinius started a census in 6 B.C. and finished it in 6–7 A.D., for he says that this was the first census the governor took (distinguishing it from some later one). The upshot of all this is that Luke’s reference to the census does not suggest a different date for Jesus’ birth than does the Matthean evidence.’
Green, Joel G.; McKnight, Scot; Marshall, I. Howard; editors, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press) 1998, c1992.

Sadly once again the pretence of scholarship, which is more polemical than scholarly, has been used to undermine the reliability of the Bible.