Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

“Religious status”, or, Why I am a “Christian”

February 10, 2010

My Facebook profile has a field titled “religious status”. So do the profiles of a lot of my friends. Many Christian friends I know use the field to explain a little bit of their faith – “saved by grace” or “follower of Jesus Christ” or something similar.

In January’s Christianity Today there was a short feature on how Christians use this field:

Facebook asks users to define their religion with fewer characters than it takes Twitter users (who receive 140 characters) to say what they ate for breakfast. Some Christians identify themselves with their denomination, a Bible verse, or a phrase like “staggered by the grace of Jesus.”

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler identifies himself as “Evangelical Christian/Baptist.” Relevant editor Cameron Strang says he’s “Christian–Amish.” Former coordinator of Emergent Village Tony Jones says he’s “emerging.” Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll? “Religion Sucks,” he writes.

Mine says “Christian”. Quite deliberately. Without wanting to criticise others’ creative use of the “Religious status” box, I’d like to explain why.

By merely putting “Christian”, I am trying to identify with the whole people of Christ; not just my church or denomination. When I first joined Facebook I did put “Christian – Baptist”. I changed it after my first term involved in my university CU because I had come to recognise I shared a meaningful fellowship and unity in Christ with others who belonged to different denominations. I use a label which does not separate what God has brought together in Christ. 

By merely putting “Christian” I make clear my commitment to the Church, and not just to individualistic faith. I have a personal relationship with God; I know that Christ died for me. But I know also that I am part of something bigger than me and God – that I have been brought into the Church, the body of Christ. The Church is important to God (see Eph. 3:10!) and I want to make it clear that it is important to me also. I use a label which identifies me as part of this community.

By merely putting “Christian” I lay aside my right to pick-and-choose the content of my belief for myself. Today it is common, even fashionable, to choose what parts of a religion one will believe in; even to combine beliefs from different religions in a modern syncretism. I no longer want to do this. I want to believe that which God reveals about himself in his Word. Freedom of thought is great, but it is also an opportunity for us to be idolatrous. Instead, may I choose to believe rightly the faith given to us by God in the gospel. I use a label which is not devised by me.

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Come, see how he dies…

October 29, 2009

I think we don’t talk enough about the resurrection. I’m not talking about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, circa 30 AD – though the more we talk about that, the better. I mean we don’t talk enough about the one that’s going to happen – your resurrection and mine. The Nicene Creed has “I believe in the resurrection of the dead”, and we don’t explicitly deny this, but we much prefer to talk about “going to heaven when we die”. The problem is, most people hear that and think of the immortality of the soul. Pictures of people in heaven floating around playing harps on clouds doesn’t help.

heaven

Bad theology

We forget that the Bible doesn’t offer the solution to death of the immortality of the soul, but offers instead the resurrection of the body – at the return of Christ and the renewing of all creation. Daniel 12:1-4 gives voice to this:

But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Paul says the same thing in 1Corinthians 15:

the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

This is so different to the idea of the immortality of the soul. Christians should resist the sharp dualism offered by the idea of an immortal soul being released from a mortal body – that’s Platonism, not Christianity!

This affects our view of death, as well. Oscar Cullmann famously presented the difference between the Greek view of death and the immortality of the soul and the Christian view of death and the resurrection of the body by comparing the deaths of Socrates and Jesus.
(Oscar Cullmann, “Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? The Witness of the New Testament” in Krister Stendahl (ed.), Immortality and Resurrection, Death and Resurrection (New York: Macmillan, 1965))

Socrates faces death calmly. For him, it is insignificant because the soul is essentially deathless. Drinking the hemlock only sets him, the real Socrates, free from the prison-house of his body. Death liberates his soul, and he returns to eternity. “The destruction of the body cannot mean the destruction of the soul any more than a musical composition can be destroyed when the instrument is destroyed”.

By contrast, come, see how Jesus dies. In Gethsemane he struggles with his impending fate. He knows that his life can be entrusted to his Father’s faithfulness and love, but death is an all-too-real experience. He is in agony anticipating it. Death means being forsaken by God and being taken away from real, full-blooded existence, at least for a while. Jesus knows he is an embodied being, and that whatever existence there is in the grave, it is radically reduced from the fullness of life God intends for humanity. Death is a horror and a terror, beyond which we can only have hope because of God’s promised recreation: resurrection of the body.

Cullmann’s point should stop us from being careless in the way we express the Christian hope. It is not enough to say “I will go to heaven when I die” – death must be undone and the dead must be raised in new, perfect, incorruptible bodies. Death is ambiguous at best – an enemy which cannot ultimately harm us; inevitable, but not the final word. It will be undone – until then, we can recognize with our Saviour its horror and unnaturalness; in hope because God has promised to resurrect the dead, and God keeps his promises.

Charles Wesley’s Christology

June 16, 2009

I’ve heard it said that the early Methodists learned their theology through hymns, and particularly those of Charles Wesley. There’s a lot of theology to be learnt from his hymns, and I noticed this in my module on Christology and Atonement this semester. Almost every point of orthodox Christology is expressed in one hymn or another – a mark both of Wesley’s theological learning and tremendous poetic skill.

One of the favourite Christmas hymns of my pastor at my “home” church is Let Earth and Heaven Combine, with the line “Our God contracted to a span / Incomprehensibly made man”. As well as major bonus points for getting a six-syllable word into a metrical hymn, I think this is a brilliant and lyrical way of describing the incarnation. The same hymn goes on to summarise the theology of Athanasius’ On the Incarnation in a verse:

He deigns in flesh to appear
Widest extremes to join;
To bring our vileness near
And make us all divine:
And we the life of God shall know,
For God is manifest below.

The theologians of the early Church, particularly Irenaeus of Lyon and Athanasius, rejoiced in the parallelism of Christology – “God became man that men might become god (θεοποιηθῶμεν)” (Athanasius, On The Incarnation 54.3 – modern Western Christians might prefer to say “godly” or “Christlike” for the last word; in context this is what Athanasius means) and Wesley expresses this neatly and devotionally here. “We the life of God shall know, for God is manifest below” is (whether deliberately or not, I don’t know) exactly the thought of Origen in Against Celsus 3.28.

But perhaps better-known, the great-granddaddy of all Christmas carols, is Hark! the Herald Angels Sing:

Christ, by highest heaven adored;
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
late in time behold him come,
offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail th’ incarnate Deity,
pleased as man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new born King!”

I’ve heard it claimed (and indeed askeda few people myself!) if “Veiled in flesh” is a bad choice of wording and possibly docetic. Giles Fraser calls it “heretical“, but the following lines “pleased as man with man to dwell” essentially rule out doceticism. What I think Wesley is trying to do with “veiled” is to emphasise the hiddenness of the divine nature in Jesus (that glory which is manifested for a second in the transfiguration [Matthew 17]).

Many of Wesley’s hymns have too many verses to fit comfortably into a carol service or worship “sesh” so we usually pick three or four. Hark! the herald has some extra verses, one of which picks up on Paul’s image of Christ as the Second Adam (1Corinthians 15:45-49):

Come, Desire of nations, come,
fix in us thy humble home;
rise, the woman’s conquering Seed,
bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface;
stamp thine image in its place.
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new born King!”

Love it.

Of course, nobody is perfect, not even Charles Wesley – and unfortunately one of his best hymns (and my favourite Wesley hymn) does have an unfortunate Christological line in it. I refer, of course, to And Can It Be?

He left his Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite his grace!
Emptied himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race

The offending line “Emptied himself of all but love” isn’t great – as one of my lecturers says, “I don’t believe that!” Kenotic Christology has its devotees, who take the self-emptying of Philippians 2:5-11 to mean precisely this – that Jesus gave up the divine attributes (omniscience, omnipotence …) in the incarnation. I don’t believe that – and I don’t think the Bible teaches that (topic for another post, I think!). I thought it would be unfair to have a post on Wesley’s Christology without dealing with this anyway. Any suggestions for emending the verse? Use the comment box!

All in all, however, I think Wesley’s hymns show a great Christology and are jam-packed with theological truths, expressed in a way I find compelling and memorable – and that is why it’s great to sing them and learn some (biblically faithful!) theology from our hymns.

What sin isn’t, and why it’s important

May 30, 2009

To paraphrase Wolfhart Pannenberg, a misunderstanding of what sin is gives us a deficient and sometimes dangerous misunderstanding of the gospel. It is important to make sure we understand what sin is, and communicate it clearly, if the gospel is not to be misunderstood or even distorted. I realise this even more given a couple of discussions I’ve been in this week about whether certain actions are sinful or not without reference to what sin is, at the level of its essential nature.

The sunday-school definition of sin I learned was that sin was the bad things we do and the good things we don’t do – but I think this really is insufficient. In the Bible, sin is spoken of more often in the singular (“sin”) rather than the plural (“sins”) – the problem of human sin is not primarily ethical (in terms of some totting-up the actions we do or don’t do) but ontological – we are sinful at the deepest levels of our being and need a rescue from this. Sin is also relational – it has no meaning outside of the terms of relationship to or alienation from God. Perhaps Anselm was onto something when he defined sin as “not giving to God what is due to him”. Anselm was talking primarily about homage, but his point can be developed to include opposing idolatry, unbelief and self-worship in all of its forms. Sin is much, much more than our actions.

Ignoring this can lead to all kinds of deficient presentations of the gospel – if we imagine the problem of sin as primarily ethical then we are likely to end up with a moralistic gospel where salvation is primarily about us doing good works (or even where it is primarily about enabling us to do good works). It may lead to a legalistic approach to the Christian life where we judge ourselves and others based on our external actions, and end up in moral dilemmas when we find that certain actions we think of as inherently sinful are permissible or even necessary in some situations.

A different distortion of the gospel can be seen in the analysis of sin found in some Liberation theology: sin is seen as oppression or unjust social structures. This has the distorting effect both of locating sin outside of ourselves (sin is something done by other people, or impersonal forces) and thus failing to recognise that our own hearts are corrupted by sin; and of equating the defeat of the power of sin by Christ with social justice and political liberation. This is far too small a horizon within which to encapsulate redemption!

Both the legalist and liberationist definitions of sin also fail to be relational – in fact, they do not have to mention God at all to function as ethical or political guides for action. Our problem in these models is not shown to be as serious as it is – alienation from God and hostility towards him. We may be seen as moral failures, but not as rebels. Or we may be seen as victims only, rather than seeing God as the most aggrieved party in all human sin. When we do this, we minimize the scale of our problem and end up looking at salvation in correspondingly insufficient categories. What the proclamation of the gospel needs is a correct theology of sin which shows what it is. We need to be honest about how bad the wound of humanity is, and not attempt to treat it with moral or political first-aid kits. Only when sin is seen to be as serious as it is can the full glory and wonder of Christ’s rescue for us be seen.

Ascension Day

May 21, 2009

“So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.””
Acts 1:6-11

There are two great reasons for Christians to remember the ascension. The first is to remind ourselves that Jesus is coming back: just as certainly as he has ascended to heaven, so he will certainly return. This world is not all there is, or all there will ever be, and it is in this wider perspective that we are to set our lives as Christians. Paul sees this as a tremendously encouraging truth for Christians: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1Thess 5:9-11) .

The second is to remind ourselves of the mission given to the church – to be witnesses of Jesus Christ in all the world (Acts 1:8). Jesus’ disciples were to understand that Jesus’ kingdom was not the political, ethnic and geographic one they were expecting, but one that is not of this world (John 18:36) and which is to be proclaimed “to the ends of the earth”. Calvin commented on the disciple’s question in 1:6, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” that “there are as many errors in this question as there are words” and it remains a telling and valid point! It seems the disciples still need to be told that Jesus’ kingdom is not the materialistic worldly kind; but something much different and much better. The expansion of this Kingdom requires, however, that the disciples go from Jerusalem, outwards in the concentric circles the Book of Acts is structured around, to the ends of the earth. Their task remains the task of every generation of Christians since them – to be witnesses of Jesus Christ to all the world; bringing people into Jesus’ Kingdom, which will be fully revealed and realised at his return.

The Ascension reminds us of both of these elements of the Christian life, which is why celebrating Ascension Day is such a good idea (even if, like me, you’re not an Anglican!)

Is a sinless Jesus truly human?

May 13, 2009

In 451 the Council of Chalcedon declared that:

“We confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, composed of rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father as to his divinity and consubstantial with us as to his humanity; “like us in all things but sin.”…”

The quote “like us in all things but sin” is a direct allusion to Hebrews 4:15 = “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” The Bible repeatedly affirms that Jesus, being fully human, was without sin – he “committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1Peter 2:22); “in him is no sin” (1John 3:5) and he “had no sin” (2Cor 5:21) – and Jesus himself claimed that he always did what pleased the Father (John 8:29).

But is this a contradiction of Jesus’ humanity? It is sometimes claimed that, if Jesus is truly human, he could not have been sinless (or vice-versa). “To err is human…” and Jesus can be no exception – or, if he is, he is not really human. The implication is sometimes that those who affirm the sinlessness of Jesus don’t really believe in the incarantion; they don’t really believe in his true humanity and are in fact closet Docetists.

The same principle of sin (moral error) is sometimes also charged to Jesus in respect of his teachings – might he not also be fallible in some of his views and opinions (intellectual error)? For example, in his ascription of the Pentateuch to Moses, or his teaching about hell. Is an inerrant Jesus truly human? “To err is human…”

But this is, in fact, not the case. To claim that a person who does not sin is not truly human is in fact to claim that sinfulness is an inalienable part of human nature. But then, we must logically deny that humanity in the new creation is not going to be true humanity. There will be no sin in heaven… does that mean that we will not be entirely human in heaven? No – in fact, we will be more human in the new creation. Sin is not an essential part of human nature; and in fact, to assert that it is is to measure Jesus by our humanity rather than measuring our humanity by Jesus’.

The question shouldn’t be “is Jesus as human as we are?” but rather “are we as human as Jesus is?” (Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, p.737) The upshot of all of this is that we are right to read the Bible as affirming both the full humanity and the full sinlessness of Jesus – and that imitating Christ makes us more authentically human, not less. Ultimately, when we are no longer troubled by the presence of sin in the new creation, we will be human in the way God always intended for us to be. Jesus’ sinless life is an foretaste of what that is going to be like – amazing!

Scripture and Christology

April 20, 2009

I’ve been working on an essay for my Christology and Atonement module, and had one of the best, but broadest essay prompts ever: choose one particular doctrine of Christological controversy and show how it compels a particular reading of a text of scripture which could be read otherwise. Geeky, I know. I’ve also had a bit of trauma with it today, having found out the word limit is 500 words less than I had assumed, and therefore having to cut out John of Damascus and Leo the Great entirely from my essay, and paring Origen down to a soundbite. (Sorry, guys. We can chat more about your stuff in heaven!)

Anyway, I chose to look at the Arian controversy and Colossians 1:15, where Jesus is called the “firstborn of all creation”. In the fourth century, Arius taught that only God the Father was uncreated and eternal, and that therefore Jesus (the Word) was a created being who acts as a kind of demi-God – the agent through whom God creates and saves. His teachings were summed up – either by himself, his supporters, or his detractors – in the phrase “there was a time when he [Christ] was not”.  Arius claimed that his view was taught by scripture, and one of the texts he appealed to a lot (which is why I chose it) was Colossians 1:15:

 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation

Arius understood the genitive “of all creation” firstly as a partitive genitive rather than a genitive of subordination. A partitive genitive suggests Christ belongs to the set of things “creation”, as the firstborn. So an analogous genitive might be a student who is “top of the class” – the student is a member of the class, as the top of it. However, this is not the only way to understand “of all creation” – for example, the NIV translates the phrase as a genitive of subordination with “firstborn over all creation“. An analogous genitive would be to say someone is the “teacher of the class” – the teacher is not a member of the class!

Secondly, Arius understood the word “firstborn” to refer to Christ’s temporal status – that he preceded everything else, but had a beginning in time at some point. He also understood “firstborn” to qualify the Son’s relationship to the Father, as well as the Son’s relationship to creation.

One of the things that surprised me in looking at some of the early Church writers on Colossians 1:15 was that many of them also understood “firstborn” to qualify the Son’s relationship to the Father. Justin Martyr for instance:

…we know Him to be the first-begotten (πρωτότοκος – lit. firstborn) of God…
(Dialogue with Trypho 100.1)

Theodoret of Cyrus:

Thus is he the firstborn of creation: not because he has a created sibling but because he was begotten before every creature

Notably, Athanasius denies this:

Accordingly it is nowhere written in the Scriptures, ‘the first-born of God,’ nor ‘the creature of God;’ but ‘Only-begotten’ and ‘Son’ and ‘Word’ and ‘Wisdom,’ refer to Him as proper to the Father.
(Athanasius, Against the Arians 2.62)

And rightly so. To be fair to those who argued against Arius, a lot of them did do what seems to be the obvious thing and read on to the next few verses, which clearly distinguish Christ from the creation. However, I haven’t found a single ancient commentator who makes an appeal to the use of “firstborn” in Psalm 89:27 – “And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth” – which, according to Gordon Fee (Pauline Christology, pp.250-1) and Donald Macleod (The Person of Christ, p.57), had become a recognised Messianic title by the time Colossians was written. For Paul (or whoever – it is possible that Colossians 1:15-20 is a quote from an early hymn) to call Jesus the firstborn over all creation was to claim that Jesus was the Messiah and was the rightful heir and ruler of creation. It’s not a statement about coming into being or being “eternally begotten” at all.

So why is it that I can find this idea only in modern commentaries? Eduard Schweizer (The Letter to the Colossians, pp.251ff.) raises an interesting idea – it is because Paul’s world of ideas has been largely lost to Greek commentators by the 3rd/4th centuries; and so they were essentially unaware of the Jewish background of Messianic titles in this text (One might object that Paul may have been writing to a Gentile church – I’m with those who think it likely that Paul is quoting a bit of a hymn here that may well have been written by a Jewish-background Christian). This made it possible to interpret things like “firstborn of all creation” in a way that Paul didn’t mean. Of course, Arius had some other texts, and some philosophical presuppositions about what it means to be a monotheist as well, but it seems like a loss of touch with the world of ideas of the New Testament may also be partly to blame in allowing him to develop a heretical interpretation of this verse. A first-century Jew would never have thought of “firstborn of all creation” as referring to time, but to a position of honour and status promised to the Messiah in the Psalms.

Which brings me to a question I was chatting about on Saturday with another Christian theology student: How important is it to do the contextual and “critical” study of Biblical texts in terms of Christian reading of Scripture? We’d both noticed rather a lot of academic work that only seemed concerned with “What did this mean to the original writer/audience?” and agreed that this wasn’t a good approach for e.g. a sermon, or bible study; or even for doing systematic theology. We both agreed, too, that it was necessary to work out the implications for us, and that, believing the Scriptures to be God’s word as well, those implications are authoritative. But I think the close initial study of the text in terms of its historical context, and the world of ideas in which it makes sense, is important before we move on to applied or systematic theology. It doesn’t give us all of the answer, but maybe it can help prevent us from getting the wrong answer.

Mission and Abraham

April 18, 2009

God’s promises to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-2 are hugely significant verses in the history of the world, and in the story of the Bible. D.J.A. Clines famously demonstrated how they constituted the unifying theme to the whole Pentateuch (The Theme of the Pentateuch) and, actually, they have a much wider significance than that. Stephen Dempster (Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible) shows how God’s promises to Abraham are developed throughout the Old Testament, and point forward to Jesus Christ. It’s easy (and amazing!) to see the significance of this in terms of Jesus as the fulfilment of the Messianic hope, and see how Abraham’s promises are fulfilled in Romans 4. One aspect of the promise to Abraham I haven’t thought so much about, though, is that of blessing to the nations.

It’ve often found it easy to think that it is only with Jesus and the New Testament that God becomes interested in saving people outside of ethnic Israel. Not so. While Jesus’ death makes the inclusion of both Jew and Gentile in one new people possible (Ephesians 2:11-22), God has always intended to save people from every tongue, tribe and nation. This snippet makes the point perfectly:

…in Genesis 12:1-3 we also see the flowering of world missions. “In you, all the families of the earth will be blessed.” It is not only that Abraham is blessed, but that he is blessed in order to be a blessing to the nations. Joe Novenson says, “When God made his covenant promises with Abraham, Abraham went from being a guest on this planet, to a host.” Abraham had been a guest here until by grace he had been brought into God’s redemptive plan. Afterward, no longer a guest, it was his role to be a blessing, just as a host is to be a blessing to his guest. Now he is a blessing to all the guests on this planet … Here is Abraham going from being a guest to a host, and now his job is to be a blessing to the nations. This is the foundation of world missions right here. You don’t have to wait until Matthew 28:18-20.

(J. Ligon Duncan, “Preaching Christ from the Old Testament”, in Preaching the Cross, pp.53-54.)

Isn’t that great?

Mark’s Big Question

April 15, 2009

Today I’ve been working on an essay on Mark’s gospel. The question at the centre of Mark’s gospel is the identity of Jesus – and the gospel seems to turn on the episode often referred to as “Peter’s confession of Christ” in chapter 8:

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am? Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”

Jesus himself asks this question, and Peter answers that he is the Christ. Who is Jesus? Jesus is the Christ; the Messiah. But is this really the answer Mark is hoping we’ll get at? Are we supposed to applaud Peter’s statement here?

In light of what follows, and Mark’s wider narrative of the way to the cross, I’m not sure we should. Peter’s answer to the question “You are the Christ” (8:29) is true, but it’s not the whole story: before we can applaud Peter’s faith, Mark continues the same episode with a shocking exchange of mutual rebuking between Peter and Jesus, culminating in the suggestion that Peter’s denial of the divine necessity (δεῖ – “must” or, perhaps better, “it is necessary”) that the Christ will suffer means he is playing the role of Satan! Just before this, we have the account of the “botched” miracle (8:22-26), which serves as an “acted parable” of faith. Mark uses the restoration of sight as a metaphor for spiritual “seeing” things throughout his gospel. By placing this two-stage restoration of sight miracle just before Peter’s confession, perhaps we are supposed to understand that Peter’s confession and then rebuke of Christ show his eyes are only half open – that is, he only comprehends half of the truth about Jesus. Peter does not understand the necessity of Jesus’ death, and won’t finally understand until after the crucifixion.

Richard B. Hays points out in “The Moral Vision of the New Testament” that the whole “narrative strategy” of Mark “challenges the reader to… answer the question ‘Who do you say that I am?’ by acknowledging Jesus as the crucified Messiah” (p.79). This is an insight I’m becoming more and more convinced about. There’s just so much in Mark that points to the cross, and that Jesus isn’t the Christ the people are expecting, but the one they need, who must go to the cross. From the rest of the New Testament it is clear that both Jews and Gentiles had big problems with this idea – in 1Corinthians 1:23 it is a stumbling-block (σκάνδαλον) to Jews and foolishness (μωρία) to Gentiles, and an “offence” (σκάνδαλον again) in Galatians 5:11 and 1Peter 2:8. The idea that the Christ would be crucified was literally scandalous, and if you think about it – it still should be! The idea has become perhaps too familiar to us, and to our culture, if people aren’t shocked by this message.

So, if the answer to the question “Who is Jesus?” isn’t just “The Christ” but “The Crucified Christ”; “The Messiah who must suffer and die”, how do we get this across when using Mark’s gospel evangelistically? I think the Free gospel project UCCF are running at the moment touches on this scandalous theme a little – the ‘graffiti’ on the page with 8:27-30 raises the question of why Jesus has to die – but doesn’t major on it, concentrating more on affirming the divinity of Jesus. (Which is something Mark thinks is important, too, but which only intensifies the scandal that Jesus should die on a cross!) Maybe there’s room for presenting this more explicitly – because if the “real Jesus” we want people to find in Mark’s gospel is the crucified Christ then we should tell them about that – and also why Jesus died. “Free” does do a very good job of raising the “why did Jesus die” question in the comment on 10:45 and the endnotes, actually. But perhaps it tones down Mark’s emphasis on the cross, and on the corresponding need for those who want to follow Jesus to be prepared to suffer as they do so (8:34-38). If CUs are about “making disciples of Jesus Christ in the student world for the glory of God” then we don’t want to hide the nature of Christian cross-shaped living from those we reach out to. Maybe it’s possible to draw these two ideas together more that I have done previously, in evangelism using Mark’s gospel… something to try out anyway.