Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Jesus is Lord!

Hi Friends,

[The following is a post I sent to Presbyweb. It will likely be published on its website later today or tomorrow. Presbyweb is a forum for Presbyterian clergy and laity to share their thoughts. The editor, Hans Cornelder, searches the web for stories regarding religion and what not each day. It is a subscription service. Although, you pay what you want or can. I think you can have it for a month for free, but I am not sure. Anyway, you can see some of the replies that folks have made to some of my postings. Not that this is about me, but if you search my name on the Presbyweb site, you can read stuff I have posted over the years. Presbyweb has mostly an evangelical following. So often there is difference of opinion between my colleagues and myself. Regardless, I think it is important to keep lines of communication open. There are a few letters posted there about this blog. I am interested in the claim of the church regarding the resurrection of Jesus and what that means for us. I do not pretend to have the answers, but I think it is critical to explore the question.]

Dear Editor,

I am grateful to Presbyweb for providing this forum to discuss theological issues. I wish that we could discuss these things without the constant barrage of name-calling, threats, and assumptions. Some have suggested that I have denied the resurrection. (I do not deny the resurrection). Others appear to be frothing at the mouth to take me to ecclesiastical court. Be that as it may, it is worth all of that to talk about important issues.

I offer further explanation regarding resurrection.

Theology and history are two different disciplines. Historical scholars of the New Testament and Christian origins are interested in reconstructing the events. They seek to determine how the texts were composed. The goal is to determine what is historically probable. For instance, what is the historical probability that Jesus walked on the water? What is the historical probability that the corpse of Jesus was resuscitated? What is the historical probability that Jesus as an infant stood up in his cradle and said, “I am indeed a servant of Allah” as the Qur’an states? Many tools are used including literary criticism, comparing the writings of the New Testament and extra-canonical literature to other literature of the period, and by reconstructing the social, political, and cultural background in which the texts were composed.

In all of these cases, historical probability suggests that these texts do not reflect historical events, but theological interests. The gospel writers did not write history, although some of what they wrote might reflect an historical event. The authors of the New Testament wrote theology. Theology is about determining the character of God. It is about purpose and meaning, among other things.

I affirm the resurrection of Jesus from a theological perspective. Resurrection and ascension are inextricably linked. Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God. This is not an historical statement. It is a theological statement. History seeks to discover why the New Testament authors made this statement. They can give us the cosmological view of the time (a three-tiered universe), the circumstances in which this claim was made, and what it might have meant to people who lived in that time and place. History attempts to keep us from imposing our world-view onto the text. Granted, it is not hard science. We are dealing with probabilities.

To confess that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father is intended to tell us the character of the Father. Who runs the show? What kind of God is ultimately in control?

Historians tell us that in the time that New Testament was written the authors lived in a context of Roman Imperial Theology. (See Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul ) In Roman Imperial Theology, the emperor or Caesar was lord. Caesar was the son of god. After his death, the deified Caesar took his place in the Roman pantheon. He sat at the right hand of the power of the universe. This imperial theology was seen everywhere from coins to structures. You couldn’t miss it. What is the character of God? You see it in the way the Roman Empire acted in the world.

The authors of the New Testament dared to claim a different reality. They said, “Jesus is Lord!” Jesus is the one at the right hand of the power of the universe. Thus, the scandal. The one that Empire crucified is Lord. What is the character of your God? You see it in the way Jesus and his followers acted in the world. Who is your god? Who is the one you will follow—Caesar or Jesus?

That is why the teachings and the parables of Jesus are so crucial to understanding the character of God. Jesus revealed a nonviolent God. He revealed that to follow this God was to love enemies, to speak on behalf of the oppressed, to share the goods of Earth, and to shun the system of domination that was Roman Imperial Theology. Jesus hung out with those who had no value in Rome’s Empire and said “to the least of these belongs the kingdom.”

What does it mean for Christians in the United States of America in the 21st century to claim that Jesus is Lord? I believe it means to proclaim the reality of the God of Jesus over against the god of American Imperial Theology.

We live in a country that consumes 40 percent of the world’s resources. We live in a country that spends more on its military than “the next twenty biggest spenders combined.”

We act a great deal more like Caesar than Jesus.

Those who claim that Jesus has been raised, has ascended, and is Lord need to make some choices:

Is capitalism lord? Is Jesus lord?
Are American corporate interests lord? Is Jesus lord?
Is American militarism lord? Is Jesus lord?
Is oil lord? Is Jesus lord?
Is the American way of life (unfettered consumption) lord? Is Jesus lord?

I challenge all my sisters and brothers in the clergy to preach with the boldness of Paul that Jesus is risen, not Caesar.

In Christ,
John Shuck
First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee


  1. Way to go, John! I have never been more proud of knowing you. Thank you for being strong and bold and daring and courageous. Thank you for being a voice in the wilderness. Thank you for being our pastor and minister and friend.

    Daniel Barrigan, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Shelby Spong would be proud. Thank you for your voice.

  2. Johnny boy - you represent the death of reason and the death of the PS(USA). Of course, death is a mataphor, or is it? You may (must?) actually rot in hell. Those few (are there any?) who escape your apostacy, leave the congregation and discover the true and living (risen!) Lord will live.

    You are an ego looking for a stage - not the only one in the church mind you, just one more.

    There is an astonishing arrogance in those few progressive (regressive actually - heresy is an old habit) so-called "Christians" who believe that 2000 years of Christian experience missed the main point - that it was all made up!

    BTW, Dr King would be apalled. Spong would be thrilled, but he and you will share a toasty eternity with plenty of time to rue your intellectual inferiority.

  3. Dear anonymous,

    Firing from under a rock again, I see. Well, at least you are reading and commenting. You get points for that. Here's how you to put your name to your hate-filled attack: Click the "other" button below the "leave your comment" space, and type in your name. In that way, you can claim with courage your preemptive strike for God. Don't worry about any of that stuff in the Sermon on the Mount (like if you are angry, you have already committed the sin of murder in your heart or if you disagree with your brother, go get right with him before you present your gift at the alter). You are a knight in God's army. Be proud. Shout your name out to the Lord--or at least attach it to your comments so we will know it is really you.

    There's an old Irish salute that you may enjoy. I paraphrase, but it goes something like this:

    May those who love you, love you.
    May those who don't love you have their hearts turned.
    May those who will not turn their hearts have their ankle turned so we will know them by their limping.

    May peace be with you, brother.

    Jim Bitter

  4. Nicely said. Your essay, as well as much else that you have said of late, reminds me of two books that I read in a religious studies class in college titled "The Bible, Moral Values and Politics." As one might speculate based upon the title, the class was as hotly debated as many of your blogs.

    Anyway, the first book that came to mind is written by Leslie J. Hoppe and is titled "There Shall be no Poor Among You." It is the best kind of book. An easy read that contains not so easy things to say. Hoppe details the interest of the Biblical writers regarding the poor. From the Torah, to the wisdom literature, to the prophets, apocalyptic literature and of course the new testament, Hoppe gives example over example of how "economic poverty is an outrage, that it should not exist, that it is not in accord with the divine will." I concluding, he goes on to say that "poverty does not just happen; it occurs because people make it happen."

    Hoppe touches on an interesting subject which has bothered me for some time. Mainly, is living in the United States contrary to my religious beliefs? What will it take for me to say that this nation's very framework, from its Smithian economic system to its modern day war in Iraq, is antithetical to Christ's teachings (Notice Christ's teachings, not Christianity.) How can anyone who calls him/herself a Christian such a system. The only way I see it as being possible is if you remove the Christ from Christian. This is one of the most frightening of thoughts which I face on a daily basis. Am I a walking oxymoron solely because I am an American Christian?

    Wow, Such a tangent. To continue with my original intent, the second book which John's post brought to mind is Richard Horsley's "Jesus and Empire." The book focuses on the inseparability of Jesus as a religious figure and Jesus as a political figure. With modernity's tendency to separate religion from state, many modern Christians are unaware of the political aspect of the Jesus Movement. He speaks heavily of the overwhelming demands placed by the Imperial Roman Order upon the people of Palestine. Essentially, the people were being taxed to death. Jesus' movement came out of this political context and cannot be separated from it.

    The questions posed at the end of the blog are important to ask oneself everyday:

    Is capitalism lord? Is Jesus lord?
    Are American corporate interests lord? Is Jesus lord?
    Is American militarism lord? Is Jesus lord?
    Is oil lord? Is Jesus lord?
    Is the American way of life (unfettered consumption) lord? Is Jesus lord?

    I would wager that Jesus is Lord, period. Call it revolutionary, if you may but do so knowing that Jesus, and the movement that followed is death would say: Yes!

    On a side note: To those who would threaten eternal damnation, I ask… is there a more empty threat to one who believes that God is Love and therefore, logically, hell cannot exist.


  5. I'm enjoying your musings John. I used to think that you referred to God as "she" just for me. Of course now I realize that it was just your own progress and convictions.

    Having long been convinced of the truth, validity, and God breathed scriptures, I am having trouble seeing them as stories, traditions, and glipses of God's character. Elaine Pagels gives me trouble. I will read some Marcus Borg as soon as the public library delivers a copy to my local branch.

    As to anonymous, I think I was him (or her) 10 years ago. But reason prevails, and anon really doesn't make any points, just attacks. There are more useful things to point your rage at. Go change all of your lightbulbs to more energy efficient models and save the planet.

    Thank you for gifting us with your words. I will keep looking and considering and learning.


  6. That was a wonderful piece. I am glad to have read that.

    Instead of the Roman Empire that Jesus resisted, we now have the American Empire. Instead of a peasant society, we have capitalism. Instead of Caesar, we have George Bush.

    Jesus's message and live still represent an inspiration for us today.

  7. Thank you all for taking time to comment.

    Jim: Thank you! I am proud to be your friend as well!

    Anonymous: Your post reminds me of the God who never was and who I left behind.

    Whitman: Good thoughts. I will have to pick up the Hoppe and the Horsley books. Your question: "Is living in the United States contrary to my religious beliefs?" is a thought-provoking one. I think the reason that many Christians reduce the Christian life to beliefs in doctrines rather than following the path is that the path is hard--where ever we live.

    In the forward to John Dominic Crossan's book: Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (HarperSanFrancisco, 1994), Crossan imagines a conversation between the Historical Jesus and himself. Jesus speaks first:

    "I've read your book, Dominic, and it's quite good. So now you're ready to live by my vision and join me in my program?"

    "I don't think I have the courage, Jesus, but I did describe it quite well, didn't I, and the method was especially good, wasn't it?"

    "Thank you, Dominic, for not falsifying the message to suit your own incapacity. That at least is something."

    "Is it enough, Jesus?"

    "No, Dominic, it is not." (xiv)

    Andrew N.: Wow, it is great to hear from you again! No, I didn't call God "She" back in those old days just to bug you! But, yes I find I am changing and growing and hopefully will change and grow much more before Earth is done with me. Bless you and your family. Have fun with Borg--not everyone relates to him, I am not sure I am with him 100% but I have learned from him and from many others.

    Mystical Seeker:
    Thank you! Thank you for your other comments to other entries on this blog and for creating a great blog yourself! I haven't had the chance to read as much as you have read of mine, but I enjoy what you are saying and doing! The description you gave of yourself sitting in the parking lot of the church, wanting and yet not wanting to enter, I think reflects the experience of many of us.

  8. geez, I thought it was my job to write the funny stuff, but anonymous leaves me in the dust. "toasty eternity"? That would sound pretty good on a cold winter night. Do they serve hot chocolate in hell?
    By the way, I thought we are the PC(USA), not the PS(USA), although I suppose we are in danger of becoming a post script.
    Keep up the writing, John. The world needs heretics. Of course, the difference between heresy and dogma in the old days was who had the most swords. Now it is who has the most votes at General Assembly.

    Paul Peterson