Monday, April 9, 2012


"Alas, I've been blinded by the
Golden Rule!"
In the early years of Christianity, as a converted Paul tread his way across the eastern Mediterranean world, he carried with him what the New Testament called "dunamis", the Greek word that we distilled "dynamite" from.  "Dunamis", very roughly translated, means "power" or "excellence" and referred to Paul's good news.  Now, this was not news of "I've found this great moral teaching!  This Jesus guy has some great ideas of how to live a moral life, you should all listen!"  No, the Jews seemed pretty content with their Mosaic law, and the Greeks with their philosophy and logic. Paul barely touched on the moral teachings of Christ.  To Paul, the true dunamis, the true power of this new Christian sect was in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Paul fascinated Jew and Greek alike with the message of Jesus's death and resurrection, something that baffled and confounded all who heard it.  It was this message that had him tread all across the Roman Empire and suffer much persecution, and eventually to die a martyr's death.

Follow Jesus! But only those parts
of him that are comfortable and
agree with current social norms.
So what's this all have to do with STARR?  Well, this morning, I found and interesting (and by interesting, I mean naive and misinformed) article by Newsweek columnist Andrew Sullivan regarding the fate of modern Christianity.  Sullivan, in the April 1 issue of Newsweek, argues that Christianity is on the verge of collapse, and attributes this to all the "supernatural" claims of Christianity, mostly the idea that Jesus is the Son of God, or that he actually resurrected from the dead, etc. etc.  Sullivan holds aloft Thomas Jefferson as his example, noting how Jefferson literally took a razor blade to his bible and cut out all the passages of Jesus's moral teaching and pasted them into a slimmer, more palatable New Testament while leaving behind the parts of the Bible that made claims of Jesus's nature and person.  What was left was a slim, easily digestible moral handbook that infuriated any self-respecting, God-fearing Christian.  Sullivan praises such a move, saying that Jefferson was ahead of his time and that we all ought to do such with our Christian beliefs until we've got the core moral teaching.

This idea is by no means anything new.  This kind of "neutered" Jesus has been espoused by all sorts of New Agers and progressive Christians, precisely because it is palatable and comfortable.  However, I hardly believe that Paul would venture around to most of the known world just to tell people some clever moral teachings.  Nor would he put his neck on the chopping block (literally) just to share some basic moral principles.  People don't get executed by the Roman empire for saying "Blessed are the meek."  No, you're much more likely to get executed saying "Iesous Kyrios" (Jesus is Lord!).

"How dare you suggest that people
should give unto Caesar what is

You see, Paul was subversive.  Paul carried a very dangerous message (dynamite typically is dangerous).  To say that a man put to death by the Roman Empire is now alive and victorious over the powers of the world is subversive to the highest degree.  Death was Rome's ultimate threat, and to say that someone bested it would be a direct challenge to the might of the Empire.  The Resurrection was powerful!  It IS powerful.  Sullivan, despite an undoubtedly earnest attempt, fails to understand the power of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Church thrived for 2000 years on this power, and on it the Church will continue to thrive.  Christianity has changed history with the news of Jesus Christ, not because he's a nice teacher with a pleasant message, but because he's a conquering hero, who without a word of hatred or stroke of the sword, has toppled the powers of the world and placed even death itself underfoot.

I'm a Christian and a servant because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  My mother is a good moral teacher, but I'm not about tread across the world and build a religion around her teachings.  I'm certainly not going to die for the sake of her advice.  Heck, I'm not likely to do more than the bare minimum for the sake of her advice.  However, if she managed to conquer even death, I'll be much more likely to spread the news.  I'll be much more likely to roll up my sleeves, more likely to get into the gutters.  If my mother conquered death for me and gave me a road out of perdition, I'd move heaven and earth to spread the news.

Sullivan, as well intentioned as he is, isn't doing Christianity any favors.  By domesticating and neutering it of its "dunamis," he's also neutering it of its ability to thrive.  If Christianity is on the verge of collapse as he claims it is, its because Christians have been too focused on the moral side and have lost sight of the roots of it all:  The Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Moral structures are nice and certainly necessary, but they're not dunamis.  Even Christian moral structures are good and necessary, but only when understood in the light of the Resurrection.  It is because Christ has conquered death and grave that I seek to be a good person.  Its because I have good news to tell that I serve the poor and hungry.  Morality, at least in the Christian sense, is not the dunamis of Christianity, but rather, its the shockwave of the dunamis.

And the world was never the same.
If you want to serve effectively, let your service flow from the Resurrection.  If you want to live wholesomely, let your life flow from the Resurrection.  If you want to be holy, let your holiness flow from the Resurrection.  Let the dunamis of the Church, which has shaped and formed the world for 2000 years,shape and form you today .

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing, Joe! Wow. Well done - interesting and well-written/argued. Maybe you could send this to Sullivan for a dialogue...