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Recovering the Fullness of the Christian Story ©

Come with me back to a primordial time of deep cultural change where the supremacy of human rulers was challenged at its very core. Caesar ruled the Roman Empire which towered over the Mediterranean world. The Emperor Augustus Caesar had “declared that his late adoptive father, Julius Caesar, was now divine, thus conveniently acquiring for himself the title divi filius, ‘son of the deified one,’ or in the Greek simply huios theou, son of God.”  (Paul: A Biography by N. T. Wright, p. 11) It was considered proper, even patriotic to simply say “Lord Caesar” and to pray to Caesar. Christians (as well as our Jewish ancestors) refused to do so on principle. Our Jewish ancestors in faith and the early Christians who emerged from that soil refused as a matter of core identity. They would pray for Caesar. They were willing to pray for human rulers. They were unwilling to pray to human rulers. “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) Today the questions rise again before us in reference to party and position. Do we see our lives shaped primarily around the drama of today’s events, or do we understand our lives as a part of the divine narrative as it plays out in modern living? A concrete way to face the questions of identity in Christ is to simply ask yourself – Whose preferences?  Christ’s or my own?  Is it God’s will and desire which rules or my convenience? Answering such questions calls for a deep in embrace of the full story. I am arguing that only in a full recovering of the drama of the Christian story from creation to fall to Exodus/Covenant to Christ and to the life of the church pointing to final triumph of the Lord can we reclaim a centering in the good news of the gospel. Christian identity formed around distinct convictions (ardent beliefs put into practice) that the Lord God Almighty had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, God incarnate (in human flesh). This great divine drama challenged all other human points of identity and changed our allegiance at the deepest of levels. At the heart of recovery of a primary Christian identity is the recovery of the fullness of the Christian story (or narrative). Theological convictions are welded to practical application (more in a moment). Pause with me and look back over this series taken as a whole. This is the fourth in a multi-part blog series on the issue of Christian identity as it relates to our wider culture in America. My central contention is: “The days of casual Christianity are fast fading. This is a good thing, not something to be feared or fought. Painfully we are learning that the Christian faith cannot be subsumed under any political label. It is not something that adheres to the conservative wing of the Republican Party or the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. The challenge from the Master cuts across our conventions and finds its own identity in Christ and him alone towering above all pygmies pretenders (be they party, nationality, ethnicity, economic or anything else).” (taken from Blog Beyond Political Identity: Grounding Ourselves in the Word and Way of God ©)  I have asserted as strongly as I can that to confess Christ as Lord and Savior is to proclaim one’s primary allegiance to Him alone! The great trinitarian God – God in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit – will not accept anything but first place in our lives! Yet here lies the identity dilemma in our time. Often, given the current polarization in American culture. Our identity is formed as a political identity. The key word in my assertion is “primary.”  We all have multiple identities – through our marriage and family (I’m a husband, father and grand-father!), through our work, through our various affiliations (including political affinities), etc.   The issue profoundly at stake in our time is what issue rules, what is primary?  It is on this towering imperative that I wish to plant the flag of Christ. Last week I wrote, “In the name of politeness, tolerance and good intentions, we have given up much, too much. It is time to graciously – without rancor, intolerance or false defense of privilege – reclaim a Christian identity as our primary identity in our fractured and fractious world. I argued that the first concrete step we need to take in recovery of a primary identity as Christians (discipled Christ followers!) is in “a lived commitment to Christ as Lord and Master.” (see Blog Recovering a Christian Identity ©) In this blog I turn to a critically important second step – Recovering the Fullness of the Christian Story (narrative) from creation to fall to Christ (teaching, death and resurrection) and to the restoration of the divine image within us and through us to others. A part of the identity struggle for us in our time is that we have forgotten our foundational story (both biblically and theologically – the two always go together!)  We have often either moved into a secular narrative around politics (whether conservative or liberal or some other variant) or reduced the biblical narrative of faith to “a set of glittering fragments, snapshots of detached wisdom.” (Paul: A Biography by N. T. Wright, p. 18) Either or both moves are descriptive of our best sense of life shaped by the fullness of the Christian story. N. T. Wright, former Bishop of Durham, England, and Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, perceptively writes of the larger Christian story, “it was a narrative root in creation, and covenant and stretching forward in the dark unknown.”  (Paul: A Biography by N. T. Wright, p. 18) The Apostle Paul writes the infant new born church in bustling Roman regional city called Philippi, “Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. (Philippians 1:27) To the best of my knowledge only one other time does the Apostle Paul use the phrase “of most import” or “of first importance” or some other equivalent. The other occasion is found in 1 Corinthians 15, the third and fourth verses when he writes to a letter to the church at Corinth. “I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) On that occasion he writes of a central, core, cardinal doctrine (that means “teaching”) of the Christian faith – the doctrine of the resurrection of Christ. He spends a chapter arguing that if you don’t buy the doctrine of resurrection, you can throw the rest of this away; it is a waste of your time – “If Christ hasn’t been raised, then your faith is worthless;” he write a few short verses later, “you are still in your sins, and what’s more, those who have died in Christ are gone forever. If we have a hope in Christ only in this life, then we deserve to be pitied more than anyone else.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19) In 1 Corinthians 15 the issue is of critical belief – doctrinal importance (orthodoxy = right belief). In Philippians the issue is of critical practice – the way we live (the technical term is orthopraxy). The two – orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right practice) are inseparably linked. Break one and the other soon will fail. This then is at the heart of our calling from the resurrected and living Lord! For our time, the practical application lies in biblically and theologically reconnecting the Creation story of Eden (Act 1) with the Fall (Act 2 – the full understanding of a sin as “missing the mark of what we were/are created to be with both personal and institutional implications). It involves embracing the Exodus story of deliverance from God, Covenant, and the lessons of the people of God as they struggle to be faithful and look to the coming of the Messiah/Savior (Act 3 – covering much of the Old Testament. We are then called and claimed by the Savior as crucified and risen, our judge and our hope. Atonement – reconciliation to God and each other comes through the work of Christ; his life in teaching, serving, dying and rising for us and for our salvation! (Act 4)  The life of the church as it seeks to live in full faithfulness sharing the gospel of reconciliation with God and one another in love, justice and mercy. Unapologetically calling people in to a saving relationship with Christ as Lord and Master. All this as we look forward to the Savior’s coming again in final victory – where the prayer – one earth as it is in heaven – is enacted in the fullness of God’s redeemed creation. (Act 5) [All of this is written about extensively by a host of biblical scholars and theologians. I commend again the work of N. T. Wright, The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture.] All this is surely a mouthful and, in a sense, mind numbing, but it has enormous practical implications. Across the political spectrum and among those of us who claim to be Christian, the culture tugs at us. As I have noted in previous blogs, the temptation to pull pieces of our faith, life and morals out of context and apply them to the secular (often political) identity is immense! I repeat. A concrete way to face the questions of identity in Christ is to simply ask yourself – Whose preferences?  Christ’s or my own?  Is it God’s will and desire which rules or my convenience? Answering such questions calls for a deep in embrace of the full story. I am arguing that only in a full recovering of the drama of the Christian story from creation to fall to Exodus/Covenant to Christ and to the life of the church pointing to final triumph of the Lord can we reclaim a centering in the good news of the gospel. We have strayed far from our original identity in Christian. The reclaiming of a Christian identity necessitates the hard biblical and theological work recovering the fullness of the Christian story. Next week I will examine the critical role in of the spiritual disciples as a path forward.