Saturday, March 31, 2007

Christian Unity: Defining the Essentials

That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (Jesus in Gethsemane on the night in which he was betrayed, from John 17:21)

The Living God
Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:8)
I think that Nietzsche must have gotten the idea that God was dead from reading certain theologians. In our study of doctrine, it's easy to speak as if we're discussing a certain type of theory, namely, a theory about a thing which will sit safely on a page and never challenge us, never change us, never take root in us and make us grow. We easily speak as if we study a subject that is mere information and systems. We speak as if our subject were passive rather than living, and rarely speak as if our Subject were more profoundly and deeply alive -- and wiser -- than we are ourselves. In that sense, merely dry theology is bad theology, both blasphemous and harmful to faith. We often behave as if studying our subject did not necessarily change both our minds and our lives; but knowing God necessarily changes both our minds and our lives. If this so-called knowledge of God does not change us, we are dead to God and he to us.

The task of unity looks impossible when we look at human efforts, since no human effort ever has been up to the task of uniting all humanity. Even to discuss Christian unity requires a certain amount of hope, a hope based on the Living God, and on the knowledge that the greatest things happen not by might nor by power but by His Spirit.

The Risen Lord
In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a Holy Temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:21)
There is no reason for being Christians except for Christ. There is no point in unity for its own sake; it must be for Christ's sake. Neither could we ever rouse ourselves to the necessary levels of humility, kindness, patience, and compassion without Christ. We are, first and foremost, his people. It is in him that the whole building is joined together, in him we are the Temple in which God Lives.

God's Holy People
... built upon prophets and apostles, with Christ Jesus himself the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:20)
Scripture compares us to a building -- one whose foundation is already laid: the prophets and the apostles, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. Time and again this analogy is used in Scripture, now Peter calling us a house of living stones built on Christ the cornerstone, now Paul saying that no one can lay a foundation other than the one already laid which is Christ. That is not merely to repeat what was already said: there is no basis for unity other than Christ. It is also to know our limits: we cannot overreach our foundations or we will not be on solid ground. As Scripture makes the comparison by way of image, I'll take an example: In my yard there is a heavy birdbath which at one time was moved off of the small foundation on which it stood. Every heavy rain that birdbath fell over, and kept falling over, until it was returned to its foundation.

If we are built upon prophets and apostles with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone, then a few things follow. The things that are required of us are the things taught by Christ and his apostles teaching on his authority, which he gave them when he commanded them to make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching everything he had made known to them. We cannot take away something which was required by the authority of Christ. Neither do we have the authority to require anything beyond what was required in this way, by Christ and his apostles teaching on his authority. In some places, the church is divided over things that are required; but in too many places it is divided over things that are not. Almost all Christian groups require some belief or other, or some practice or other, in a way which they have no authority to do. Almost all Christian groups teach things that were not received on Christ's authority. Some of these may be acceptable opinions or practices (while others contradict what we've received). But even the acceptable opinions and practices have no business being required in such a way unless they were originally required on Christ's authority. That is not to say that a church, or a church body, or even the Church Universal cannot manage its own affairs; it is to say that our authority managing our own affairs is a very different type of authority than that of Christ, and that confusing the one type of authority with the other is a mistake which has led to a host of unnecessary divisions.

What Are the Essentials?
There are different kinds of essentials. We can look at whether union is possible: the essential there is a living hope that brings action. We can look at methods: the essential things are loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us, returning good for evil, removing the logs from our own eyes first. The essential tools needed for unity are all in our hands already. We can look at the ground for unity: we are built upon prophets and apostles with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. Again, what we need is before us. I don't mean to imply that it's simple; only that it's within our grasp.
If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother. Then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)
While we're speaking of essential beliefs and practices, here's one: unity itself is an essential. It's been neglected too long.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Marius Victorinus and the teachings of James

Marius Victorinus was, in his day, a respected figure in the church. He wasn't really in the big leagues, and his writings would scarcely concern us today except for two things: the acceptance which he enjoyed in the church and his opinion of the teachings of James as recorded in his Biblical commentaries.

Marius Victorinus on the teachings of James
Writing probably in the 360's A.D., in the days when the canon of Scripture still had a few question marks (one of which concerned the book of James), Victorinus wrote:
Yet Paul could not have learned anything from James (obviously, because he has a different conception of the gospel), nor on the other hand from Peter. He was unable to learn from either man, whether because he remained with Peter for just a few days, or because James is not an apostle and may also be in heresy. But Paul did include that he saw James. Therefore, I saw the new thing that James was bandying about and preaching; but because that blasphemy was known to me and rejected by me, so too it ought to be rejected by you, you Galatians! (From Marius Victorinus' commentary on Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, commentary on Galatians 1:19)

Who Was Marius Victorinus?
The very fact that the man needs an introduction is testimony to the fact that he has not weathered the test of time as well as Jerome or Augustine. Yet it is precisely from Jerome and Augustine that we know of him. He was, for much of his life, a pagan (back in the fading days of the Roman pantheon); he was also, like Augustine after him, a professor. Late in life Victorinus became increasingly convinced of the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ and became Christian. It was a much-celebrated public event for the Christian community when this long-standing opponent of Christianity finally became a Christian and submitted to instruction in the Christian faith. Soon afterwards he lost his teaching position in one of the late Roman persecutions of Christians. He spent his time afterward productively, writing treatises against the Arians and some commentaries on the books of Scripture. Victorinus' commentaries on the epistles of Paul may be the earliest written in Latin; scholars debate the extent to which his commentaries influenced those of Jerome, Augustine, and Ambrosiaster (pseudo-Ambrose).

It is common to find comments that Victorinus' writing style was tiresome. The New Advent (on-line Roman Catholic) Encyclopedia calls his style "obscure and burdensome in the extreme." Jerome mentions that Victorinus' works were "written in dialectic style and very obscure language, books which can only be understood by the learned". (De Viris Illustribus, 101).

This, along with his unflattering remarks about James, may account for the fact that his writings had not been well-circulated, and had never been translated into English until quite recently. (In fact, researching this, I was nearly convinced I was going to have to find a Latin copy to work from until it came to my attention that just in the last few years his works have been translated. The English rendition of Victorinus quoted above is from the English translation that appeared in Marius Victorinus' Commentary On Galatians by Stephen Andrew Cooper, Oxford University Press, 2005.)

How Did Contemporaries View Victorinus?
I first met Victorinus in Augustine's Confessions. The example of Victorinus' conversion was held out as an inspiration to Augustine, and he received it as such. Further research shows that Victorinus was also included on Jerome's list of illustrious early writers from which one could learn about Christianity. If some would object that not everyone on Jerome's list was Christian (such as Josephus), it should be mentioned that Jerome made a point to indicate when a writer was not a Christian but had merely written something instructive about the history or practice of Christianity. Jerome nowhere brings Victorinus' Christianity into question. By Jerome's inclusion of Marius Victorinus and by his being used as an example by the early church, we must assume that he was a member in good standing. Likewise, from Jerome's inclusion of Victorinus' commentaries on the epistles, we must assume that Jerome was familiar with them and was in a position to recommend them.

Interestingly, while Jerome's list of illustrious men has a place for Victorinus and for his commentaries on the epistles, Jerome takes the occasion of his own commentary on Galatians to make an unflattering comment about Victorinus. He comments on him as one who was "busily engaged with secular literature and knew nothing of the Scriptures." The full text Jerome's commentary is difficult to come by; it's on my wishful "to-do list" to track down the context. Aside from this comment about Victorinus, the only other point of interest I've learned about Jerome's commentary on Galatians is that Jerome's commentary, in turn, drew opposition from Augustine.

What do we make of Victorinus' comments on James?
The meaningful task for today is to size up the importance of Victorinus' comments on James. Marius Victorinus was, in the final analysis, a minor writer: he had some importance to his contemporaries, but was not a timeless writer like Augustine, whose commentaries on Paul largely superseded Victorinus' commentaries. The point of interest is not whether Victorinus' views were universally held; the point of interest was that he could publish such views about James while remaining a church member in good standing. His views, while controversial now, did not prevent Jerome from him in his list of illustrious men and listing those particular works as the writings which gained him a place on that list. Victorinus' views, if not held by all, were at least within the realm of what was acceptable in the church of his day.

While the translation of Marius Victorinus to English is new, scholars have been aware of Victorinus' comments for some time. Victorinus, as one of the earliest commentary-writers to use Latin, was also one of the earliest to use "sola fide" in discussing justification, and Victorinus has gained some mention in studies of the history of Pauline commentaries. F.F. Bruce made mention of Victorinus' negative comments about James in The Canon of Scripture, and A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography (ed. Henry Wace & William C. Piercy) also makes reference to Victorinus' place in the sola fide discussions.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Christian Reconciliation #3: Call for Posts

Christian Reconciliation Carnival #3 will be hosted at Pacesetters Bible School News, where our kind host has put up this month's call for submissions. This month's special topic: defining the essentials.
I am proposing as our topic of the month “Defining the Essentials,” and inviting especially posts on the topic of what forms the core of our faith around which we can rally. There are different answers to this question, and sometimes discussion of Christian unity can derail just on the question of where the line is drawn.
All topics of interest to Christian unity are welcome. Submissions and nominations are due by March 31, 2007. The Carnival is scheduled to be up on April 3. Please send in your entries.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Luther and the Antilegomena

Update 03/26/2007: I had originally thought to include the material on which books of the canon had been questioned here as an update. But the more I've reviewed the material, the more I've realized that if I'd like to do a thorough job it will have to become its own post, and that if I want the material not to overwhelm this piece, likewise, it will have to be separated into its own post. That's aside from the fact that the material is useful for other reasons, not the least of which is reviewing the lists of books which "almost made it but didn't" to show that the books often quoted by the modern conspiracy theorists weren't even on those lists and simply never had any standing in the church. So as time permits I will put together a separate post on the books which were borderline (barely in or barely out of the canon).

Back to the original post:
I was going to save this post for next weekend, but as I'm already receiving questions on the material in the comments section to the post below, I'll set forward the post now. It's not quite as finished as I'd like, but it should get to the points in question. I've left in some parenthetical comments on the parts I'd intended to fill out before I published; I still would hope to get to those before the weekend.

What are the "antilegomena"?
The antilegomena are books that were disputed during the process of canonizing the books of the Bible. The majority of the books of both the Old Testament and the New Testament were never disputed. However, several of the books were disputed. For example, in the Old Testament, Esther is among the antilegomena, as is Song of Solomon. In the New Testament, Hebrews, James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and the Revelation of John were at times either spoken against, or accepted with reservations, or omitted from some canonical lists, or noted as accepted only in some localities in the early church. (Given time, I'd intended to add the history of which books had sustained which objections; in case of updates, check here.)

The Open Questions of Erasmus
Some readers may already be familiar with the translation work done by Erasmus, important as it was in the Middle Ages. His lasting legacy includes the decisions as to texts made during the course of the translation, most famously Erasmus' decision to include 1 John 5:7. Readers may be less familiar with the fact that Erasmus raised questions about the status of the books of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation in his Annotationes to his 1516 Greek New Testament. (Given time, was intending to chase down a more precise content of his comments.)

How did Luther treat the antilegomena?
Luther, like Erasmus slightly before him, took the witness of the early church very seriously. I wouldn't want to overemphasize Luther's dependence on Erasmus, since Luther did leave 1 John 5:7 out of his translation which most modern scholars believe was the correct decision; but Luther likewise had reservations about Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. It is fairly easy to find Luther making unfriendly comments towards these books, such as against James because the book does not proclaim the gospel as do Peter and Paul and John, and against Revelation because it reveals so little. In this, Luther used his characteristic "pull no punches" style, leaving friends shaking their heads and enemies with plenty of colorful quotes.

Those who wish to see "Lutheran biases" in his opinions of these four books have not carefully considered the evidence. The very first of Luther's "lesser books" is the book of Hebrews, containing the "Faith Hall of Fame" chapter which was friendly to Luther's own theological views. Still, Luther disputed it along with several others that had found opposition in the early church. Luther's grounds for treating these books was not a difference in his theology, but a difference in how the early church had received them. And, as we have seen, he was not the only translator of his era to have the same reservations.

However, as with the Old Testament Apocrypha, Luther did actually show some restraint when it came time to produce his translation. He included them in his translation of the New Testament and (unlike the Old Testament Apocrypha) did affirm their place in the canon. But he placed them last of the New Testament books, including a note, "Up to this point we have had to do with the true and certain chief books of the New Testament. The four which follow have from ancient times had a different reputation". Then followed Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. By the implication of his comment, these four books would then be less true or less certain, not the chief books of the New Testament, but still books of the New Testament, based on the fact that from ancient times they had a different reputation.

The Modern Church and the Antilegomena
Lutheran theologians, to this day, follow both Luther and the earliest church in treating the antilegomena with more reservation than the books which had always been accepted in the church. The Roman Catholic church today accepts the antilegomena without apparent reservation. This is, again, important to modern disagreements, in particular the faith/works controversies that fueled the Reformation.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Luther, the Church Fathers, and the Apocrypha

I've recently been talking to a kind Roman Catholic woman and noticed her repeating an often-told tale: the tale of how Martin Luther mutilated the Bible and removed books from it. It's a wonderful and widely-accepted tale; the problem is that it's not true.

Luther's Bible
Because Luther was fond of stating his opinion (fonder, possibly, than was wise, but I'm a blogger so who am I to find fault?), and because Luther was often forceful and hot-headed (again I feel a strange reluctance to criticize that bit of dust in his eye), people who want to find something with which to criticize Luther really have no shortage of material. It's easy to find people arguing that Luther really wanted to remove this, that, or the other book from the Bible. But the truest test of what a person wants is what they actually do, given the chance. When Luther actually published his translation of the Bible into German, it did contain the books now known either as Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical (depending on your preferences); they were included as sort of an appendix to the Old Testament. To argue that Luther removed books from the Bible is less than accurate; his translation included the books.

Still, the question of Luther and these books becomes more interesting when we look at the comment he placed in their preface in his translation of the Bible. Before we examine his comment on these books, it will help to review some comments of the early church which Luther seemed to have in mind, echoing their language as he does.

Jerome on the Canon of Scripture
Jerome, one of the fathers of the early church, is probably best known for his work on the standard translation of Scripture into Latin, a translation used by the western church for centuries afterward. In the so-called "helmeted prologue" to his early translation of Samuel and Kings, he lists the books of the Old Testament but his list does not include any of the books in question. He then makes this comment on books outside the list:
Whatever falls outside these must be set apart among the Apocrypha. Therefore Wisdom, which is commonly entitled Solomon's, with the book of Jesus the son of Sirach, Judith, Tobias and the 'Shepherd' are not in the canon. I have found the first book of Maccabees in Hebrew, the second is in Greek, as may be proved from the language itself.
Here Jerome lists the canon, and does not include Judith, Tobit, Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, and so forth in the canon.

But what did the separate division of "Apocrypha" mean for practical purposes? Jerome explains in his prologue to The Three Books of Solomon:
Therefore as the church indeed reads Judith, Tobit and the books of Maccabees, but does not receive them among the canonical books, so let it also read these two volumes (Wisdom and Sirach aka Ecclesiasticus - ed.) for the edification of the people but not for establishing the authority of ecclesiastical dogmas.
It is important to note that Jerome does not cite his own opinion here, but appeals to the practice of the church that these books are not received in the same way, or with the same status as the others, and are not suitable for establishing the authority of ecclesiastical dogmas. As you may already know, this becomes a topic of importance in church history, especially concerning Luther and which doctrines he contested, doctrines established on the authority of the books of Maccabees.

Athanasius on the Canon of Scripture
Athanasius, famed church father and defender of orthodoxy, was also patriarch of Alexandria and, as such, in charge of one certain function for the entire church catholic: sending a letter each year to announce the date of the following Resurrection celebration. The letters also tended to answer questions that had arisen during the year. In his 39th Festal Letter written to announce the date of the upcoming Resurrection celebration for AD 367, Athanasius wrote down the canon of Scripture, apparently in order to deal with people introducing other works as Scripture, and to make sure the limits were clearly set for which books were Scriptural. He lists the Old Testament canon with twenty-two books which is largely identical to the Protestant canon but lacks Esther and may contain some additional material of Jeremiah. He lists the New Testament canon with an identical list to that found in modern Bibles but in a different order. After concluding these two lists, his comments are worth quoting at length; emphasis added where I wish to call attention to certain portions:
These are the 'springs of salvation', so that one who is thirsty may be satisfied with the oracles which are in them. In these alone is the teaching of the true religion proclaimed as good news. Let no one add to these or take anything from them. For concerning these our Lord confounded the Sadducees when he said, ' You are wrong because you do not know the scriptures.' And he reproved the Jews, saying, 'You search the scriptures, because ... it is they that bear witness to me.'

For the sake of greater accuracy I must needs, as I write, add this: there are other books outside these, which are not indeed included in the canon, but have been appointed from the time of the fathers to be read to those who are recent converts to our company and wish to be instructed in the word of the true religion. These are the Wisdom of Solomon, the Wisdom of Sirach, Esther, Judith and Tobit, the so-called 'Teaching of the Apostles' and the 'Shepherd'. But while the former are included in the canon and the latter are read, no mention is to be made of the apocryphal works.
We should not assume that Athanasius and Jerome had the same status in mind in using "apocryphal". Jerome seems to have meant "outside the canon but permissible for reading in church". Athanasius also recognizes the category of books which are outside the canon but permissible for reading in church, but uses "apocryphal works" to mean things beyond that which are considered spurious and not approved for reading. It is worth noting that Athanasius does not list the books of Maccabees either among the canon of Scripture or among those useful to be read.

Luther's Comments on the Apocrypha
Back to Luther. He did include the disputed books in his translation of the Bible. He placed them in a separate section, as mentioned, as an appendix to the Old Testament. That section was titled as follows:
The Apocrypha: Books which are not to be held equal to holy scripture, but are useful and good to read.

Questions of Authority
Luther's comment introducing the Apocrypha raises several questions of authority. After Jerome and Athanasius had recorded the comments reviewed above, various local or regional church councils recognized additional books. This recognition never occurred at a church-wide ecumenical council such as the famous council of Nicea which gave us much of our current Nicene Creed. The lack of an ecumenical council to discuss the canon is one reason why the Eastern churches and the Western churches still have somewhat different canons of Scripture to this day, the Eastern churches generally having additional Old Testament books not read in our Western churches. Was Luther right to return those books to their more ancient status in the church, a status which affirmed they were suitable for reading but not suitable for dogma? Or when Rome later accepted these books into the Western canon, did their status change as far as their suitability for establishing dogma? If a status change like that were made affecting the whole church, why was there no ecumenical council? Could the unequivocal opinion stated by Jerome and Athanasius be reversed without doing violence to the idea of a continuity of teaching from the earliest days of the church? If the church, as an ongoing concern, has its own authority, to what extent can it reverse the earlier opinion of the church? To what extent does a reversal of opinion in some quarters cause a legitimate question about credibility, permanence of decrees, and claims to fixed and objective standards? Is a return to the more ancient beliefs of the church ever wrong? If so, what happens to apostolic origins? If not, is church authority limited and circumscribed by what has gone before?

I'm not going to pretend to answer those questions. It's likely obvious enough where I stand. It's also likely obvious enough why there is tension over this issue between the Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic churches. For today, if I have shown that Luther did not actually mutilate the Bible, that will do. But, as is typical of Luther, he does raise some important questions, whether or not you agree with his answer.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Faulty statistics? What are the odds?

BK over at CADRE Comments has an update on the Talpiot tomb. The first interesting fact is that the Talpiot tomb is not the only known tomb in the vicinity with the names Mary, Martha, Matthew, Joseph, and Jesus. This badly discredits the current claims that finding such names in combination would be incredibly rare, a claim which had already taken a pounding on statistical grounds.

Even more interesting is the fact that a write-up on this other tomb was referenced by Simcha Jacobovici in his works, so that this other tomb was known to the makers/financial beneficiaries of the current Talpiot tomb hype. This tends to discredit their scholarship, if not their honesty then at least their thoroughness.

I suspect that these further facts coming to light will not make much difference in the hardcore anti-Jesus circuit, as there are some who will hold onto their views against Jesus no matter the evidence. (Have I mentioned lately that 100% of the evidence about Jesus' resurrection is in favor, and 0% is against?)

Mary Magdalene as the Beloved Disciple?

Just as groundwork for rebutting future "Magdalene/Christ" coverup/conspiracy theories, I wanted to briefly review some of the current claims that the "beloved disciple" who wrote the fourth gospel was actually Mary Magdalene.

First, the fourth gospel identifies the beloved disciple as male.
Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?) When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?"

Jesus answered, if I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." Becasue of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?"

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. (John 21:20-24; the Greek consistently uses the masculine to refer to the beloved disciple, which is reflected in the translators' consistent choices of masculine pronouns to refer to him.)

Second, the fourth gospel identifies the beloved disciple as someone other than Mary Magdalene when Mary Magdalene speaks with the beloved disciple and is outrun by the beloved disciple and Peter the morning of Jesus' resurrection.
Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him."

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linene lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went intot he tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. (John 20:1-11)

More could be said from early Christian sources outside the Bible, but these should suffice to show that identifying the beloved disciple as Mary Magdalene is poorly researched if not outright dishonest, and that the theory is completely untenable.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Christianity in Tolkien: Compassion and Redemption

In the Lord of the Rings, one of the central relationships and conflicts revolves around Frodo and Gollum/Smeagol.
Frodo recognizes that he is not so different from Smeagol. He knows that the same temptation would destroy them both, so he knows that abandoning hope for Gollum also means abandoning hope for himself,
and that keeping hope for himself means refusing to give up on Gollum.
In Tolkien, several central teachings of Christ are shown most clearly in the relationship between Frodo, the most resilient against evil, and Gollum, long since conquered by it. Frodo knows humility, the inseparable link between the best of us and the worst of us, the commonness of sin even in the best, and therefore the commonness of hope for redemption, even for the worst.

All graphics from New Line Cinema's Lord of the Rings trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, presented under fair usage.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Bono's Acceptance Speech at the NAACP: Transcript

See the video at the Thinklings, it's much better as video than as transcript. But it's good enough to be quoted, so it needs a transcript. I typed the transcript myself so let me know if you see any corrections that need to be made. I numbered the paragraphs for just one reason: so I could tell you, maybe you can skip paragraph #1 (possibly) without missing too much, but by the time you get to #7 you'll be hearing one of the more stirring Christian speeches of our generation. If you don't have time for the video, you should at least know that the audience gave him an impromptu standing ovation. I've italicized the part that had the audience spring to their feet -- in case it wasn't obvious.

Bono’s Acceptance Speech 2007 NAACP Image Awards
Bono Accepts NAACP Chairman’s Award
March 2, 2007

1. Wow. Shee! Tyra Banks you are gorgeous! I was a finalist in Ireland’s Next Top Model. I look up to you. Literally. You’re beautiful. You’re beautiful too. I of course am so truly humbled to share the stage with the great Julian Bond. Just, wow. Cool customer. I’m also – you know, when people talk about the greatness of America, I just think of the NAACP, that what I think of – it genuinely comes to my head. And I’m also honored to be on the same stage as the other honorees, Sold Out, Bill Cosby, Prince. So cool, so cool.

2. See, I grew up in Ireland, and when I grew up, Ireland was divided along religious lines, sectarian lines. Young people like me were parched for the vision that poured out of pulpits of Black America. And the vision of a Black reverend from Atlanta, a man who refused to hate because he knew love would do a better job. These ideas travel, you know, and they reached me clear as any tune and lodged in my brain like a song, I couldn’t shake that. This is Ireland in the 70’s growing up, people like me looked across the ocean to the NAACP. And I’m here tonight and (?) feels good, feels very very good.

3. Well today the world looks again to the NAACP. We need the community that taught the world about civil rights to teach it something about human rights. Yeah! I’m talking about the right to live like a human, the right to live period. Those are the stakes in Africa right now. Five and a half thousand Africans dying every day of AIDS, a preventable, treatable disease. Nearly a million Africans most of them children dying every year from malaria. Death by mosquito bite. This is not about charity, as you know here in this room. This is about justice, it’s about justice and equality.

4. Now I know that America hasn’t solved all of its problems and I know AIDS is still killing people right here in America, and I know the hardest hit are African-Americans, many of them young women. Today at a church in Oakland, I went to see such extraordinary people with this lioness here, Barbara Lee, took me around and with her pastor J. Alfred Smith – and may I say that it was the poetry and the righteous anger of the Black church that was such an inspiration to me, a very white, almost pink, Irish man growing up in Dublin.

5. This is true religion. True religion will not let us fall asleep in the comfort of our freedom. “Love thy neighbor” is not a piece of advice, it’s a command. And that means in the global village we’re going to have to start loving a whole lot more people, that’s what that means. That’s right. “His truth is marching on.”

6. Two million Americans have signed up to the One campaign to make poverty history. Tonight the NAACP is signing up to work with us, and so can you. “His truth is marching on.” Because where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die.

7. And to those in the church who still sit in judgment on the AIDS emergency, let me climb into the pulpit for just one moment. Because whatever thoughts we have about God, who He is, or even if God exists, most will agree that God has a special place for the poor. The poor are where God lives. God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is where the opportunity is lost and lives are shattered. God is with the mother who has infected her child with a virus that will take both their lives. God is under the rubble in the cries we hear during wartime. God, my friends, is with the poor. And God is with us if we are with them.

8. This is not a burden, this is an adventure. Don’t let anyone tell you it cannot be done. We can be the generation that ends extreme poverty.

9. Thank you.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

I Know That My Redeemer Lives: From Apologetics to Evangelism on the Talpiot Tomb

Tonight, for the first time since the old news about Talpiot started to be trotted out again, I expect to be around a number of anti-Christians, folks who are likely to buy into the "Jesus at Talpiot" story simply because it fits their anti-Christian worldview. They probably won't be familiar with the reasons why even non-Christians shouldn't believe that Jesus' remains are in the Talpiot tomb, reasons that have already been reviewed around the blogosphere.

A Tomb Full of Red Herrings
It's easy to spend all the time on "reasons why even an atheists shouldn't buy this". It's a necessary part of the conversation, showing that rather than the Christians believing anything that suits their worldview, it's very much the other way around for those falling for this Talpiot nonsense. Mary Magdalene's name wasn't Mariamenon; she was buried elsewhere; Jesus of Nazareth wasn't married; Jesus of Nazareth didn't have a son. It's necessary to review all that so they can see why any rational can know this isn't Jesus of Nazareth: it contradicts loads of known facts. While it's a necessary part of the conversation, it cannot be the whole conversation. That's because it stops short of discussing the most important of all known facts: that God raised Jesus from the dead, six weeks after which he ascended to heaven.

I Know That My Redeemer Lives
When I picture myself in a conversation with anti-Christians tonight, I will be glad to let them make the opening move about Talpiot. But if they go there, I'd like to ask: Can we talk about Mary Magdalene? Do you know what she's most famous for? She's most famous for being the first person to see Jesus of Nazareth alive again after God raised him from the dead. It was Sunday morning, the third day after his execution. She had gone to the tomb where she had seen him be buried three days before. She went to help finish preparing the body; the preparations for burial had been interrupted by the Sabbath. The tomb was open, and nobody was there. In a panic, she ran and got some of Jesus' disciples. Peter and John came back with her to the tomb and found it empty just as she said. While Mary was waiting there, crying, she saw someone was there and assumed it was the gardener. She asked where he'd moved the body. "Mary!" he called to her, and she looked up and saw that it was Jesus. She ran to him, she held onto him, crying at his feet. He got her up and sent her to tell the disciples that she had seen him, very much alive. That is what Mary Magdalene is most famous for. She never married him and he never married; she never bore his child and he never had a child; she is famous for being one of the earliest people to have seen him alive again after God raised him from the dead.

That day he showed himself alive again to Peter and to two more as they walked on the road to a nearby town. That night while the disciples were eating behind locked doors for fear that they, too, might be executed, Jesus came and met with them. They were terrified. He stayed with them, talked with them, ate with them, very much alive. He met them again the next week, and over a period of six weeks after God raised him from the dead he would meet with them, eating with them, showing his wounds from his death, teaching them what the Scriptures taught about the Messiah. While they had thought as Messiah he would immediately bring restoration, Jesus explained from Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets that instead the Messiah had to suffer and die first, and the restoration of all things would not be until his return. David had prophesied that Messiah would die, and that the Holy One would not see decay. Isaiah had prophesied that the Messiah would be led like a sheep to the slaughter and would be laid in a rich man's tomb, but then would prolong his days. Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah's suffering and death would be a covenant, that it would sprinkle and sanctify the nations so that the Word of the LORD would go forth from Jerusalem into the whole world, the light of the Gentiles and the glory of Israel. After he had visited with them and talked with them and taught them for six more weeks after God raised him from the dead, he ascended to heaven just as Elijah had before him. But this time, instead of only Elisha seeing as with Elijah, many of Jesus' disciples saw him ascend to heaven. Now we await the promised restoration of all things, when the Messiah comes with power on the clouds of heaven, rather than humble and riding on a donkey; the prophets had foretold both comings of Messiah.

It's not merely that Talpiot is the wrong tomb and if only you find the right tomb it will have a body. It's that we can show you the right tomb, but he is not there. He is risen.

Apologetics and Evangelism: The Case of Talpiot
Apologetics accepts the anti-Christianity of a rational person and argues why Jesus isn't in this particular tomb. It's a decent opening move. But evangelism goes one better: it challenges whether a rational person can remain anti-Christian. Evangelism notices that, while Mary Magdalene being buried outside of Jerusalem is well-supported in the old histories, and Jesus having no children is well-supported in the old histories, that his resurrection from the dead is better supported in the old histories. Convincing an atheist that Jesus' body isn't at Talpiot should be easy enough; but the atheist will keep looking for another tomb until we show him the right tomb, which is forever empty.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Christian Reconciliation Carnival #2 Is Up

Christian Reconciliation Carnival #2 is up at Dr. P.'s blog. Many thanks to our kind host of the month! Go give it a read.