The Meaning of Resurrectiion – I

On Easter Day this year the Owl posted an item entitled “Resurrection,” with reference to a saying of Jaroslav Pelikan, “If Christ is risen, nothing else matters, and if Christ is not risen-then nothing else matters.” Our friend Ken asked about this idea that Resurrection is all there is, or all that matters to the New Testament writers; and what is meant by “Resurrection” after all?

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Everything in the New Testament was written from the standpoint of Resurrection faith. Every description of Jesus, including the ministry of teaching and healing before his death, and every exhortation to the churches in the letters of Paul or others; all are set forth by people already steeped in the faith. Hence, they are “Resurrection appearances.”

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Exemplary Prayers – II

In our last  post we said any address to Jesus in the Gospels can be read as a prayer to God. Sometimes that will seem outrageous. For consider the question of Pilate: “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11) By this time, Jesus has had a night of abuse. He has been deserted by his disciples, condemned by false witnesses in a kangaroo court, slapped around, and bound over to the governor for judgment.

Pilate is traditionally treated as one of the greatest villains of history. Therefore, it may be offensive to speak of anything he says as a prayer. Still, which of us has not asked this question in one form or another? How can this man from a no-count backwater, with no following but a rabble of limping crazies, be a king? Even if he is a king in that desert, so what? Even if he is a very great king: say, king of England, or of wherever, so what? There have been kings all through history who have been able to refrain from theological claims about themselves. Those who could not,like  the late emperors of Rome, we simply call megalomaniacs, and let it go.

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Exemplary Prayers – I

Here is an experiment anybody can try. Read through any of the Gospels, paying close attention to things people say to Jesus. By one count, there are about 169 distinct passages in Matthew. In about fifty of them somebody says something to Jesus. If we know Jesus is God incarnate, then in effect each such passage is a prayer.

Not all of them are friendly. Nearly half are questions, not all questions sincere. There are confrontations with Pharisees trying to catch Jesus saying something foolish, to discredit him. There are taunts of Satan, and shrieks of demons. A large number are requests for healing, either for the suppliant’s self or on behalf of someone else.

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Funerals and Memorials

It has become the fashion when someone dies, not to speak of a funeral, but a memorial service, a celebration of the deceased person’s life. One is a liturgy of the church. The other is a deracinated version for the unchurched.

One of the most respected parishioners of my home parish died. She wrote insisting on that word. She did not “pass away.” She had not gone anywhere, but died. Hers was to be a funeral without euphemisms.

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Letters from Pop Culture

Here is an interesting experiment anyone can make: go through your collection of popular music favorites, listening for significant lyrics, allusions to scripture, and other oblique expressions of authentic faith. By now the Owl’s readers know some key words. They have to do with freedom, longing for righteousness, perseverance in work or love, courage in the face of death, and more.

We have written before about people whose faith is known to God alone. An example might be a self-proclaimed non-believer, a person who denies God, yet has strong opinions about what a true God would look like if there were such a thing: powerful enough to prevent absurd suffering, or to punish people who bring trouble on others; wise enough to construct a cosmos where nature need not be a chaos of predators and victims.

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Divide expressions

Divide expressions are ambivalent words whose meaning comes clear only when we know which side of a great divide the speaker stands on.

The End

There are several ways this word might be (mis)understood. A few years ago there came the book entitled in all seriousness, “The End of History.” In it, Francis Fukuyama tempted us to think of ourselves as the end, the culmination, the final product, the perfection toward which history has been striving.

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Contingency and Eschatology

Back in 2004, the Owl had occasion to address his mentor Harvey Guthrie:

Here is a question that lurks half formed in the back of my mind these last few months: Which is the truer understanding of the sheer contingency of our worldly lives? (1) to take hold of the world on its terms, grappling with its violence, cruelty, and dehumanizing culture; knowing that in spite of our best intentions we will often be in the wrong, and it will be others, not we, who suffer the consequences, as we now suffer those set for us by our predecessors? Or (2) to live withe our eyes on the prize in a heavenly world, in splendid isolation from the fray here below, ignoring the facts of our own and others’ deaths?

The first of these will require giving succor while we wait; taking care of each other in this crucible the best we can, improvising all the way, knowing that in spite of appearances God keeps faith with us. This is what I think Harvey meant by “living in the now.”

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Faith and Deconstruction

There is nothing specifically Christian about theological curiosity. Before there was Gospel there were Greek, Jewish, and other more exotic writings about the gods. The first recognizably Christian theology was anti-theology, that of Irenaeus against what he called vain speculation and superstition. The first constructive Christian theology, that of Origen, was greeted with profound distrust, and branded with the same epithet: speculation. To this day, the best Christian theology (Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer) is not an attempt to produce positive, orthodox teaching, but a critique of understanding. Its goal is the exposure of false and groundless pretensions. So it has been since Moses’ interview with the Unnamable at the burning bush.

It is ironic then, that certain writers who believe they are defending the Church and Christian values, are squeamish about deconstruction criticism. See for instance the “Houses of Worship” column in the Wall Street Journal. Deconstruction is supposedly iconoclastic, and therefore inimical to Christian belief, which is expected to be apodictic truth, backing constructive moralism. Writers in the more familiar mode apparently think old King Numa had it right at the beginning: the purpose of religion is to make a society cohere, and there is no distinction between religion and faith.

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Philosophy meets Faith

The Owl wishes to acknowledge a great debt of gratitude to one of his teachers, the Rev. Dr. Harvey Guthrie, erstwhile Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, MA, who generously took him under his personal tutelage and introduced him to Richard Rorty, of whom more below.

God’s being

Operating as a philosopher, let it be noted, not a theologian, Richard Rorty denies the necessity of a god who made the world with some intent of his own, which it is our task to discover. As philosophy, this is perfectly correct Down that path lie only the pretentious creations of human minds—in other words, idols. In Rorty’s famous dictum, truth is made, no discovered. As far as we think we have the truth of God in hand, we made it up. But God’s truth is a thing of a different order, wherefore we say—or rather, we hear God say he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. That is not a valid philosophical utterance; it is not philosophy at all.

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