Brown – The Gospel According to John (pt 3)

One of the best points that Brown makes in his commentary is that the author of John portrays Jesus as a “hidden messiah”, who only erratically and confusingly presents himself.

To make this claim, Brown first points to God, who is very much hidden – no eye can see him, no ear can hear him. Jesus claims to do only what he sees God doing, meaning that his actions will be mysterious, too.

Next, Brown points to Jesus himself, who was born to a working-class family, grew up in a backwater community, and had stinky fishermen for disciples, all of which are not messiah-like.  Only through interactions with people like John the Baptist does Jesus start to become un-hidden as the messiah. Even when Jesus performs miraculous signs, people misunderstand the point of the signs, and he remains hidden as the messiah.

Lastly, Brown points to the ways in which Jesus purposefully does “hidden” or “confusing” things. He turns the water into wine, and no one but his disciples and the servants at the wedding know about it. He clears the temple and says that if the temple is destroyed, he can rebuild it in three days, which confuses the people. He tells Nicodemus he must be “born again”, which clearly confuses him. He hides from the crowd after he feeds the 5000. He sneaks into Jerusalem for the feast of tabernacles, and on and on.

Even at the end, he appears to his followers in a “hidden” way, before he goes into heaven and is “hidden” in the clouds, taking on the hiddeness of God.

If you are like me, you were always taught that Jesus is plain and clear, and that people don’t come to him because they love their sin. Never once was I taught about the “hiddeness” of the messiah.

What were you taught about Jesus – was he the obvious messiah, or a hidden one?

Does the idea of a “hidden messiah” make Jesus make more or less sense?

It’s the end of the world (and I feel fine).

mayan_calendarThe year 2012 is passing into popular culture as the next Y2K. Essentially, as the theory goes, 2012 marks the end of the Mayan calendar, which signifies the coming again of their god Quetzalcoatl.

The “end of the world” mania is making its way into movies, such as the new Nicolas Cage movie, “Knowing”, in which Cage’s character finds a series of numbers that predict cataclysmic events throughout history, and then suddenly the number run out.

I’ve always been fascinated by the apocalypse as a cultural phenomenon, and why people seem to gravitate towards that which predicts their doom. I mean, you can’t fight the future – can you?

In any case, do you find apocolyptic predictions interesting? Why or why not?

The Shack: A Myriad of Impressions (pt 2)

Today’s guest post by Tracy P.

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In the comments on the last post, there was a reference to the church’s role in defining for believers who God is.  In The Shack, Mack and Jesus talk about the church within a broader conversation about society and its institutions. Mack’s frame of reference towards the church and the people in it is somewhat cynical. Jesus responds to him in this way (p. 181):

Mack, I love them. And you wrongly judge many of them.  For those who are both in (the world) and of it, we must find ways to love and serve them, don’t you think? Remember, the people who know me are the ones who are free to live and love without any agenda.

  • What do you think the church’s role is in defining who God is for the Christian?
  • What do you think is the individual Christian’s role in defining who God is for the body of believers?
  • Is there any overlap between the two?
  • Is it wise or even possible for the mature Christian who finds his/her definition of God differing from the definition put forward at church to love and serve the church without any agenda?

What kind of tea party?

boston_tea_partyThis blog is a new kind of thing for me, and I had hoped to have at least one interesting news report to talk about a week. Unfortunately, everything is centering around the financial collapse lately, which I find fairly mundane. If you see an interesting article, send it to me, or generate a guest post of your own.

There was an op-ed on CNN by Jack Cafferty that asked if the US taxpayers needed to have another tea party in order to show the corporations their place.  You can read the article here.

Cafferty doesn’t flesh out his position too well, but I find the thought interesting nonetheless.

In colonial times, part of the problem revolved around representation in the government – the people felt that they were being taxed unfairly. Thus the phrase “no taxation without representation”. Essentially the corporations were influencing the English government to get what they wanted. My understanding is that the Boston Tea Party was vandalism against those corporations that were making the situation in the colonies worse.

Now, though, the situation is different. The people have representation, so we are told, and yet it appears that the same situation is occurring – the government is giving the corporations what they want under the guise of looking after our best interest.

So, since we have representation, what is fueling our restlessness – what are we upset about? If there was another tea party, who would you vandalize?

The Shack: A Myriad of Impressions (pt 1)

Today’s guest post by Tracy P.

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Having heard a variety of responses from other readers of William P. Young’s novel The Shack, I finally picked it up and read it for myself last week. I have been amazed in the handful of days since then at how many people are eager to share either how much they liked it or disliked it. Hopefully some of those, and others, will stop by The Rewind over the next few days and explain why.

We will have several questions in separate posts in the days ahead to generate discussion.  Today’s discussion centers around Young’s portrayal of God. On pages 91-94, “Papa” and Mack have a discussion about Mack’s discomfort with the nature of this encounter.  The following quotations are excerpted from that conversation:

Mack says to Papa, “I think it’d be easier to have this conversation if you weren’t wearing a dress.”

Papa replies, “Mackenzie, I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature.  If I choose to appear to you as a man or a woman, it’s because I love you.  For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest that you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning.”

The text goes on to say of Mack,

“He believed in his head at least, that God was a Spirit, neither male nor female, but in spite of that, he was embarrassed to admit to himself that all his visuals for God were very white, and very male.”

  • What was your reaction to Young’s portrayal of God?  What about it was helpful to you, or what about it bothered you?
  • Have you ever had an experience that caused you to realize you envisioned God in a way that diminished or confined his true nature?

Note:  If this is your first visit to “The Rewind ”, you may want to click here for a quick orientation so you know how things work, and then discuss away!

Brown – The Gospel According to John (pt 2)

Since we will be following Brown’s commentary as I read, we’ll skip over the first 4 chapters of John (which I have already read), and jump right into Chapter 5, specifically, John 5:31-47.

This passage, however, deserves some background. John, like all good writers, is building into his main themes in the previous chapters. The theme of life, of the hidden messiah, and of the “prophet like Moses” are woven into chapters 1 through 4. In Chapter 5, they finally come to a head, because the Jews begin to persecute Jesus for healing on the Sabbath.

It is unlikely that Jesus gave the speech we find in Chapter 5 every time he was questioned. Instead, most scholars believe that the author of John (who might not be John!) compiled Jesus’ answers into this speech in order to reinforce the themes from the first 4 chapters.

In the last part of chapter 5, Brown points out how Jesus really unloads on his detractors.  As I read his commentary, I felt Jesus’ words sting me, too. In what ways do you see Jesus’ rebuke applying to Christians today?

In verses 31-35, Jesus points out that his testimony about himself is not enough. In Jewish law, a single testimony was not considered valid – testimony had to be corroborated by someone else to be valid. And, the more people, the more valid. So, Jesus points out that John the Baptist is his “second witness”, if you will. Jesus also points out that he has a third witness, God himself.

This is where Brown’s excellent exegetical work pays off. The Jews thought it was them alone who had ever seen God – through the experience that Moses had with God at Mt. Sinai. So, when Jesus points out in vs 37-38 that the Jews have in fact never seen God, it was greatly offensive. Any good Jew, Brown points out, would then retreat to the Torah, the law, to show how they have seen God and know him. It is the scriptures, the Jews would argue, that give them life before the whithering glance of God.

Jesus again counters – You Jews study the scriptures because you think that by them you can posses life, but these scriptures talk about me, and only by coming to me can you have life.

Interesting here that Jesus distinguishes between the scripture, which he obviously valued, and what it takes to have life. Do you think Christians retreat to the scriptures too often to show how they have life, rather than retreating to an experience of “coming to” Christ?

Ending the chapter, Jesus turns again to Moses. Brown points out that there is a lot of evidence that Jews believed that Moses went into heaven to constantly argue for their place as God’s chosen people. Without Moses’ intervention, it was thought, God would have destroyed them long ago. In this passage, Jesus boldly states that Moses is now switching roles to be their accuser – they have no double witness to confirm their testimony about themselves. The only retreat, then, is Christ.

Brown’s work here intrigues me, because it calls to mind the book of Hebrews, in which Christ now argues our place before God, taking the place of Moses. I’m left to wonder, though, two things. First, remember that two witnesses are needed to confirm a testimony. The thought was that an individual can lie, but truth can be discerned through the testminony of many. However, why should this apply to God? Why would God need an additional witness to discern truth? Second, I wonder about the role of scripture. If Moses was willing to abandon the Jews because they didn’t believe this stranger called Jesus, but clung instead to scripture which testified about Christ, what makes Christ less likely to do so when we cling to scripture as the rule of our faith? What is our alternative?

Economics and baby busts

It is well known that in times of economic upheaval, such as what the U.S.  is currently experiencing, birthrates decrease. Just a simple google search immediately turned up this article, for instance, and this applicable quote:

“I expect to see some wait-and-see attitude towards children-bearing,” says Carl Haub, a demographer at the Population Reference Bureau, a non-profit demographic organization in Washington, D.C. “But no one has a good idea what percentage it will be.”

According to the data I have looked at, this “wait and see attitude”  seems to come from people’s fear of the future, in which people are unsure of their ability to take care of themselves and their children.

Such thinking caused me to pause and reflect on my views on why people have children, and specifically the Christian view on such a situation. What do you think? All things being equal, is uncertainty about the future a good reason to not have kids? Does your Christian perspective add anything to your thinking on this?