Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Not just a theory: Reflections on Christ, culture and the gospel

One writer has argued that there are facets or layers to the gospel that deal with sin and guilt and others that deal with hope, the future, justice, compassion, individuals, humanity and politics, and that we should select appropriate facets suited to and depending on our particular culture. How are these facets and layers related to Jesus? He goes on to say:

All of these versions, facets, and layers center in Jesus Christ. If Christianity has anything to say at all, if it has a message worth repeating at all, then at the core is Christ. And not just a facet of Christ or an idea about Christ, not just a theory about Christ's birth or death or resurrection or teaching or deity, but Christ himself, Christ the person, Christ the figure who came to us in the story we call the gospel.

How can we speak of Christ apart from what we know about him? The Christ we are meant to know and who saves us is never an “uninterpreted Christ.” He is either rightly interpreted or wrongly interpreted. How can he be the object of saving faith unless we know things about who he is and what he accomplished? A false faith would be faith placed in a wrongly interpreted Christ. Isn't that Paul's point about the super apostles in 2 Corinthians 11? They preached “another Jesus.”

By a rightly “interpreted Christ” I mean that the Christ of the Bible and the apostles' proclamation is never separated for faith from what God has said about him (his person and his work). Take away God's interpretation of Christ from our experience of him and you are left with either a mystical Christ, of whom we know nothing and whose name serves merely as a religious word, or a false Christ (and there are many in history who have fitted this description). Detach right ideas from Christ and his work and you are left either with nothing, or with a false Christ. There is no uninterpreted Christ. We need God's explanation of him in order for us to call on him.

Precisely because the story in the canonical gospels explain and interpret Christ it makes no sense to speak of Christ himself apart from “facets,” “ideas,” or “theories.” Not that these are interpretations that we are free to create, evaluate, or embrace as we see fit according to our culture or location in history. When the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 records the apostolic testimony about the gospel that was universally proclaimed and believed, he stresses that this is the authorized interpretation of Christ. He gives the facts. That Christ died, was buried and was raised on the third day. He gives the meaning of those facts. That Christ died for our sins, and that without his resurrection from the dead we would still be in our sins. And he tells us where that meaning is authoritatively interpreted for us . Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.

There simply is no other Jesus than this one. And since that is the case what we may say about him in the gospel is non-negotiable. It cannot and must not change. It is certainly not amenable to the whims of human thought and cultural change.

No comments: