Monday, November 15, 2004

Belief and Death

My mother, Esther Piippo, died last Saturday, November 20, 2004, at 2:15 AM. My brother Mike and I and Linda were able to be with her just before she died. She was weak and frail, having struggled with a failing heart valve, an infection that did not go away for many months, an increasing inability to eat and drink, and with that the loss of desire to eat and drink.
In her weakness she found it excruciatingly tough to even open her eyes. I asked her once, "Mom, open your eyes - it's me. I'm here with you." And just for a brief moment there was a small window of visual opportunity as she opened her eyes, saw me, and I smiled at her.
Now she is with God. Now she is in eternity. This was her hope and is mine also.
I find this hope to be real and convincing intellectually. But also, experientially it works to give me inner peace. At a time like this I see that, yes, I am a believer.
All the needed words of love were said between me and mom. No bitterness, no unhealed wounds, no regrets. This is the way it should happen and it makes a huge difference in the aftermath.
So I give a final earthly tribute to you, mom. You were a faithful wife to dad and a loving mother to Mike and me. You still are the best cook I've ever known. You turned me on to nature early, and I still watch birds because of you. Your love for music and artistic creativity hooked me on to the guitar and songwriting. Your tenderness towards this world's "least of these" was Christlike. You prayed with me and held me and loved me even when I went astray from God as a late teen. You accepted my beautiful wife Linda and loved my three boys. Now you are in eternity with dad - see you very soon...

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Jesus the Logician

One of the many things I appreciate about Dallas Willard is his biblical integration of heart and mind. For a good example of this see his article Jesus the Logican. Here, e.g., is a nice quote from this article:
"We need to understand that Jesus is a thinker, that this is not a dirty word but an essential work, and that his other attributes do not preclude thought, but only insure that he is certainly the greatest thinker of the human race: "the most intelligent person who ever lived on earth." He constantly uses the power of logical insight to enable people to come to the truth about themselves and about God from the inside of their own heart and mind. Quite certainly it also played a role in his own growth in "wisdom." (Luke 2:52)
Often, it seems to me, we see and hear his deeds and words, but we don't think of him as one who knew how to do what he did or who really had logical insight into the things he said. We don't automatically think of him as a very competent person. He multiplied the loaves and fishes and walked on water, for example--but, perhaps, he didn't know how to do it, he just used mindless incantations or prayers. Or he taught on how to be a really good person, but he did not have moral insight and understanding. He just mindlessly rattled off words that were piped in to him and through him. Really?
This approach to Jesus may be because we think that knowledge is human, while he was divine. Logic means works, while he is grace. Did we forget something there? Possibly that he also is human? Or that grace is not opposed to effort but to earning? But human thought is evil, we are told. How could he think human thought, have human knowledge? So we distance him from ourselves, perhaps intending to elevate him, and we elevate him right out of relevance to our actual lives--especially as they involve the use of our minds. That is why the idea of Jesus as logical, of Jesus the logician, is shocking. And of course that extends to Jesus the scientist, researcher, scholar, artist, literary person. He just doesn't 'fit' in those areas. Today it is easier to think of Jesus as a "TV evangelist" than as an author, teacher or artist in the contemporary context. But now really!--if he were divine, would he be dumb, logically challenged, uninformed in any area? Would he not instead be the greatest of artists or speakers? Paul was only being consistent when he told the Colossians "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are concealed in him." (2:3) "

Monday, November 01, 2004

Mythology, "Dying & Rising Gods," and the Uniqueness of Jesus

Theolobloggy member Joe writes:

"I wanted to ask you what you thought about people who say that Christianity is nothing new in religion. I've heard people say that many religions have a "god" that comes to earth to save people, religions that are way older than Christianity. I kind of have a feeling that's not true, but I don't know how to discuss that with them.
Thanks John.

Thank you Joe for the question.

First, we can respond to this by pointing out that Jesus is an historical figure, whereas the gods of ancient Greece and Gnosticism are not historical.

Secondly, there is strong inductive evidence for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. See, e.g., N.T. Wright’s recent The Resurrection of the Son of God and the “Historical Jesus” section of William Lane Craig’s website.

Now note this:

  • Historical arguments cannot be made for mythological gods actually dying and rising from the dead.
  • Jesus, unlike all mythological figures, actually existed.
  • A strong inductive argument can be made that Jesus was crucified and later rose from the dead.
  • This makes Christianity radically different from mythological stories about dying and rising gods.
  • Even if there was one story about a dying and rising god that had a few similarities to the story of Jesus the existence of this story would not invalidate the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus any more than would the existence of an ancient story having similarities with the tragic 911 event invalidate that event's actual occurence in history.

But now, and most importantly, note also this: the "dying and rising gods" theory is outmoded and inaccurate, thereby false. Here's why:

  • For a more up-to-date study of dying and rising gods see: Tryggve Mettinger, The Riddle of the Resurrection: "Dying and Rising Gods" in the Ancient Near East. Such myths are themselves suspect as regards being at all analogous to the biblical claims of what happened to Jesus.
  • See David Frankfurter's (Univerity of New Hampshire) comments on Mettinger's work. Frankfurter writes: "It is precisely in this rigorous attention to differences and to the various meanings of gods' deaths and reappearances that Mettinger's work fractures the very usefulness of the category "dying and rising god." By the end of the monograph, the category emerges as a rather simplistic generalization for a very wide array of gods and a very murky range of rituals."
  • In other words, the "dying and rising gods" mythology has been called into question. The work of J.G. Frazer in The Golden Bough (from which this idea came from) has been and is being discredited.
  • And once more from Frankfurter: "Most recently, the historian of religions Jonathan Z. Smith and the semiticist Mark Smith have declared the myth of the dying and rising god a fantasy, the product of uncritical comparison rather than a close consideration of evidence. More to the point, J. Z. Smith has used the dying/rising god myth as an example of the kinds of errors that cripple the enterprise of comparative religion when scholars ignore the following principles: comparison must always be towards differentiation in regard to a general category ("dying/rising god") rather than in finding links across individual examples ("Osiris like Attis"); concepts of "myth" and "ritual" must be defined and regarded as fundamentally separate dimensions for narrative; one should avoid generalizing elaborate patterns across all religions; one should consider the evidence for a myth or a ritual as the product of a particular historical context, not as timeless outcrops of a widespread pattern; one should not take similarity as evidence for genealogy or influence; and finally, in the face of evidence for gods who "die" but don't "rise," one should not impose the total Frazerian pattern but accept that one transition might occur without the other."
  • So - one can answer someone who still says this sort of thing by saying: There really are no clear, adequate historical antecedents to the death and resurrection of Jesus.