To those of you who are Christians working in the complex tangle that is International Development (the primary audience for whom I created this blog in the first place!), friends, I salute you. N.T. Wright has written, perhaps more than anyone else in the last 30 years, regarding the robust meanings of resurrection. Below, is a short quote from him.
“…the Eastern Orthodox churches have always emphasized, when Jesus rose again God’s whole new creation emerged from the tomb, introducing a world full of new potential and possibility ….When Jesus emerged from the tomb, justice, spirituality, relationship, and beauty rose with him. Something has happened in and through Jesus…”
“Indeed, precisely because part of that new possibility is for human beings to be revived and renewed, the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t leave us as passive, helpless spectators. We find ourselves lifted up, set on our feet, given new breath in our lungs, and commissioned to go and make new creation happen in the world…. The music he wrote must now be performed.” (N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: 2006).
As we approach Easter, may the image of resurrection be a powerful driver in your work. The resurrection/ new creation is the template for reconciliation, restoration, redemption, healing. And may new creation in us make His Way and Goal (Omega) credible to the world around.
Saint Paul: “If anyone is in Christ – new creation!” (2 Corinthians 5: 17)
Sometimes a word has been firebombed so hard by mis-usage, I wonder if it can even be re-habilitated for usefulness without waiting a generation. I have often wondered this about the word ‘holiness.’ The Church of the Nazarene in the U.S. has wrestled for all of its history with the annoyance that when you define holiness with specific do’s and don’ts, these are tied to specific time-and-culture variations, and so when those two things change, the rules you set up often look petty and/or legalistic. (I don’t’ think all rules are bad, I’d love us to keep some – how about the Ten Commandments for starters!)
When the robust, powerful biblical word ‘holiness’ then gets defined with a strong attraction to specific rules that look largely legalistic to many of your own people, we lose the good things that word can bring to us.
So I was happy when I saw a couple of chapter titles in a recently published book put out by Nazarene Publishing House. One is by Tim Green and called Shalom: The End of Holiness and another is Thy Kingdom Come: Holiness and The New Creation by Carl Leth. Both of these titles make me happy, as I think wholeness, shalom, and God’s intention for humanity are three of our best images for defining holiness.
The book is called The Heart of Holiness: Compassion and the Holy Life.
I grew up in an era of evangelicalism suspicious of ‘the social gospel.’ We somehow felt this was not a real part of Jesus’ gig. Of course, personal conversion and allegiance to Jesus as Lord was what we were about. But how did we think ‘Jesus is Lord’ (which is what they said about Caesar!), could ever be limited to a private, individual sphere? What a truncated version of Lordship!
I was walking through a yardsale this summer and saw a stack of serious theology books. One was On Being a Christian by the magisterial Roman Catholic theologian Hans Kung. Kung stands among the most respected theologians of the 20th century (well, except for Christians who don’t consider Catholics to be Christians).
Randomly opening the 700+ pager, my eyes landed on this:
‘All theological talk, all Christian programs, about a “new man,” a “new creation,” have no effect on society and in fact are often calculated only to perpetuate inhuman social conditions, as long as Christians today fail to struggle against unjust structures and so to make convincingly clear to the world what is this “new man,” this “new creation.” ‘ He then quotes D. Solle at length:
There are living quarters which systematically destroy the mother-child relationship; there are ways of organizing labor which define the relations between the strong and the weak in Darwinistic terms and thus leave… as useless for production… helpfulness, sympathy or fairness – to atrophy. (Solle goes on to argue that living conditions should be made fit for human beings and co-operative forms of organization established, so that conditions match the offer of a different life – rather than an ‘offer’ with no change to the social conditions immediately affecting people).
Christians today must, Kung insists, ‘take seriously the political implications of the Christian message. ….Under no circumstances can it disregard society and the world.’ Christian theology and Christian ethics must be re-united, he says. ‘Christian faith and Christian action cannot be separated either in the individual or in the social sphere.’ The vocal part of evangelicalism would translate this into outlawing abortion and gay marriage and enforcing Christian morality by law, while allowing the world’s economic and military empires and systems to grind on un-critiqued. Kung reflects the robust, broader scope of social action historic Roman Catholicism believes the Gospel calls us to.