Jesus in the Old Testament

They did not destroy the peoples
    as the Lord had commanded them,
but they mingled with the nations
    and adopted their customs. (Psalm 106: 34-35, NIV)

I remember the day I was sitting in a Bible study and someone said God would never command the destruction of entire towns. The person was objecting to the Jericho story in Joshua. The argument boiled down to the claim that Jesus would never do that.

Here is the rub, though. We are Trinitarians. When the Bible refers to God, it is talking about Jesus. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all three-in-one, are God.

Jesus in the New Testament is not a filter that we run the rest of the God stories in the Bible through to strain out the parts that don’t appear to us to fit. Jesus is the incarnation of the God who commanded the destruction of Jericho. Jesus, the Son of God, was the same God who sent the angel of death to wipe out the first born of Egypt. Jesus the eternal Word rained fire on Sodom and Gomorrah.

In Psalm 106, we read of the mighty and terrible deeds of the Lord. Jesus of Nazareth knew those Psalms well. They tell his story.

Turning the question around

Marcus Borg asks a question about God and the cross as understood in satisfaction theories of atonement:

Thus the payment understanding sees the death of Jesus as ultimately God’s will. But one must ask: really? Was it God’s will that this remarkably good person, centered in God to an extraordinary degree, be killed? If so, what does that say about what God is like?

After reading this, my first thought went something like this: Is he not aware that Jesus is God?

But then my second thought went like this: You are asking the wrong question. The death of Jesus does not indict God. It indicts us.

The question raised here is “What could have been so wrong with us that only the death of Jesus could fix it?” What does it say about us that this remarkably good person — even more than that, the Son of God — had to die that we might live? Am I so far gone, that nothing else would have worked?

It was God’s will that we be freed. It was God’s will that we be let loose from death. It was God’s will that we be born from above. To do this, he lived among us and went to the cross.

That is how I understand satisfaction theories of atonement. I don’t think it is the only theory that makes sense, but I do not find it the horror that Borg and many others do. Indeed, I find it quite a powerful testament to God’s love.

What is Christian marriage?

Some disorganized thoughts about Christian marriage.

As it is Christian, Christian marriage must find its meaning in the Trinitarian faith. If the word “Christian” is central to the meaning of the word “marriage” then we cannot describe marriage without making reference to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In addition, being Christian means marriage is drawn up in the saving story revealed in the Bible. Marriage is tied to salvation. It cannot be necessary to salvation, as singleness is offered to Christians as well. But if Christianity is about salvation — however we are meant to understand that — then Christian marriage is as well.

This implies — and I’ve not worked this out yet — that marriage is inherently Christ-centered. Christian Marriage is grounded on Christ and an expression of Christ’s Spirit. As I say, I can’t yet explain the full implications of that.

Finally — at least for now — when I consider the nature of Christian marriage, I turn to Jesus’ own words. This does not include only his direct teaching about marriage and divorce, but also his use of marriage metaphors elsewhere in the gospels. But having said that, we do not want to dismiss what he said directly on the topic.

When I try to figure out what it means to say marriage is Christian, I follow the teaching of Jesus back to the story of Genesis where we are told that humans were created male and female and that they join in union to create one flesh.

These strike me as some of the first and basic affirmations and moves that constitute a theology of Christian marriage. I do not argue that this is systematic. It is offered only as the beginning of a conversation.

Who is growing?

In dialogue in his comments thread, Ben Witherington III made the following observation about where United Methodism is growing.

In any given year Asbury trains more MDivs than the seven smallest UM seminaries put together, or the 3 largest ones. In the past 20 years since I’ve been at Asbury, this has produced a large sea change in many conferences. For example, the bishop of North Alabama told me last year that all the church plants except one were being done by Asbury grads, and many of them are thriving. In fact, the only places we have noticable church growth are in Evangelical or Moderate UM churches, almost without exception. These are just facts. So no, it is unlikely there will be a mass exodus from all over church, especially when the financial ramifications of doing so become clear.

His claim makes me wish we had a way of identifying congregations by theological focus.