Do I need Christ? I thought the other day of the Scripture “and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleed in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:17-19).
If this is suppose to be true, does my life reflect this? No way. If I found out that Christ has not been raised, I would not be pitied above all men, I would be sorely disappointed, my beliefs would be shattered but my life wouldn’t. I would just change my beliefs and change my life direction and go on without hope. Have I come to a place where I no longer desire the American dream? Where I actually put all my eggs in one basket, I no longer try to keep one foot on this earth “just in case it isn’t true”. How is that faith? How is it faith to try and still have my life, the career I want and a family I want and things I want? I have failed miserably in this. I want to be in that very risky and terrifying place of knowing that if I have put my faith in the wrong God I am to be pitied above all men, that I have absolutely nothing left in this world, I am competely screwed because I have given it all to Christ. And by “given it all to Christ” I mean loving my neighbor and giving to those who need it most because that is what my savior has called me to. I have the Gospel, why do I keep trying to supplement that? Because I am scared of the question, “what if it isn’t true?”
“If you are a scholar, remember that if you do not read God’s Word in another way, it will turn out that after a lifetime of reading God’s Word man hours every day, you nevertheless have never read – God’s Word” (S. Kierkegaard).
As I study for finals, I realize how guilty I am of this. It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that what a text means is what a text meant, a poor hermeneutic of any text, much more so the Word of God. Why is this so easy? It allows for a disengagement of the text, the text no longer means anything to me; actually, only in some vague sense then can it mean at all.
It is also easy to defer a subjective reading of Scripture until ‘you have it figured out.’ However, Kierkegaard again reminds us of a stinging truth. “His point is that there are enough perfectly clear [texts] to keep one busy without having to wait for the conclusions of biblical research before one can live as a Christian” (R. Bauckham, James, 7). What then, I ask myself is the point of learning it in the first place? It is for the love of the Church. I agree that not everyone needs to be deep thinkers theologically, they only need to be deep doers Christologically. However, some do need to be deep thinkers theologically. I am certainly not ‘cut from the same cloth’ (as Dave D would say) intellectually as even many within my own institution but I don’t need to be more intellegent than others, only faithful.
But one thing is clear, the more I know, the harder it is to engage in the text in a subjectively meaningful way. Understanding redemptive-history is important, but Scriptures are also written to us and not just for us.
Once more, as Kierkegaard says,
when you read God’s Word you must (so that you actually do come to see yourself in the mirror) remember to say to yourself incessantly: It is I to whom it is speaking; It is I about whom it is speaking.
I thought it was about time to revisit the parable of the good Samaritan. There is a true point in this story, that we should be like the Samaritan. But before Jesus gets to make that point, he actually has to deal with all the garbage that is there before the point can be seen. The Lawyer (scribe) comes to Jesus in order to test Him. What must I do to inherent eternal life? Jesus turns it around and says “You’re a lawyer, you should know. You tell me”. And the lawyer answers right! But then the text says he had to justify himself. (The Law already defines neighbor as first Israelite and stranger living in your midst (who must obey public Jewish laws)). If Jesus answers “as the law says” then he will come back and say “why have you been eating with so and so” but if he redefines neighbor then we will seen as disregarding the law, so he only answers by telling a story. The man is half-dead which means someone that is out cold and looks dead.Why does a lawyer not come by in the story? Because Jesus is using this story to make a point about Torah-keeping and so uses the best and most applicable examples. First to come is a high priest and Levite. Neither of these men are permited by law to touch a dead body except by ‘corpse of obligation’ which only works in desolate places where no one is likely to walk by. Interestingly enough, Jesus puts it on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho which was a major road. The question that is raised in the story is, “will you love God at the expense of loving your neighbor?” It calls into question the law as ultimate. There is an antinomy. A Samaritan worshiped at the wrong temple and other things, but he fulfills the law of neighbor. The Levite and High Priest fulfills the ceremonial law but doesn’t keep the law of neighbor. And these cannot be brought together. Jesus is saying ultimately, you need me to bring the two together. I am ultimate, not Torah. [Courtesy of Steve Taylor lectures from Fall 2005]
Wrestling with Bultmann’s affirmation of “decision” as the main goal of the teachings of Jesus, I wonder if he is not mostly right in this observation. He did tack on the whole “therefore getting back to the Jesus of historie is not important nor obtainable” thing, but do we have to have all or nothing? Hardly anyone denies that Jesus’s teaching did bring some sort of bifurcating process (e.g. “You are either for me or against me”, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword, dividing…”, “you cannot serve God and money”), it often brought people to a point of decision.
I realize that Bultmann brings with his idea of “decision” a whole car full of baggage of theological existentialism and realized eschatology but I am also struck by Ridderbos’s words in The Coming of the Kingdom, “Jesus’ commandments not only place man in the crisis but also beyond it. The Sermon on the Mount especially, mentions, not only a continually repeated decisive moment of conversion, but even more, a continuous and persevering life proceeding from such a decision…” (248). So maybe we can’t agree with Bultmann’s end, but it seems that it can be a part of our process in obtaining the full nature of the Jesus’ proclomation of the Kingdom.
One more thing. Talking about this with fellow students one critique of Bultmann, viz., his focus on the individual’s relationship to God being ultimate as opposed to a community of faith, was well grounded. However, I think we also cannot go too far the other way but must have a balance. I think we should affirm the individual’s responsibility before God while also not negating the equally important relationship of the individual in community. This fundamentally brings us back to the two great commandments, Love God and Love Neighbor. It must be both.