Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sorting out who we are devoted to

Sometimes something in a scholarly article that is otherwise dealing with rather arcane points of ancient history or Christian theology, leaps off the page and socks you between the eyes. It's a reminder that there is a close and vital link between academic study and Christian living.

I'm preparing a class on Christology, basing most of my reflections on the work of Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado who argue for a Christology of divine identity, derived from second temple Judaism. It's good stuff that helpfully moves beyond the rather arid discussion of ontological categories.

Towards the end of a review paper, where Larry Hurtado has assessed the impact that devotion to Jesus made on the first Christians and the surrounding society, he asserts 'In an understandable but probably misguided effort to make Christian faith as undemanding as possible, have churches by and large ill-prepared believers for anything in the nature of serious opposition, criticism, or worse? More positively, has the banal simulacrum that passes for Christian faith too widely today anything of the fervour and passion of the Jesus-devotion that empowered early believers to live, think, work, and even die for Jesus?'

And as we ministers are still smarting from that he adds: 'How well does the comfortable and low-demand Western Christianity of today (whether of ‘liberal’ or ‘Evangelical’ stripe) equip believers to engage their own social setting and political circumstances meaningfully and positively?'

Who says NT scholarship lives in an ivory tower, divorced from the reality of issues facing followers of Jesus today? Hurtado's observation that the power of the early church to leave a mark on its culture came from its devotion to Jesus. In a world of gods, the early Christians proclaimed that Jesus was the one through whom God had decisively acted, so God had shown him to be worthy of worship. And that devotion spilled over in their daily social, working and political lives. If Jesus is Lord, then no one else is. Such a profession cost many of these committed their livelihoods and even their lives. But from very early on, such a profession turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6).

If we want to do the same in our day, then maybe we need to sort out who we are really devoted to.

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