Welcome to the Gospel Reverb podcast. Gospel Reverb is an audio gathering for preachers, teachers, and Bible thrill seekers. Each month, our host, Anthony Mullins, will interview a new guest to gain insights and preaching nuggets mined from select passages of scripture, and that month’s Revised Common Lectionary.
The podcast’s passion is to proclaim and boast in Jesus Christ, the one who reveals the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now onto the episode.
Anthony: Hello, friends and welcome to the latest episode of Gospel Reverb. Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from Scripture found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and Trinitarian view.
I’m your host Anthony Mullins. And it’s my delight to welcome this month’s Stephen D. Morrison. Stephen calls himself an “amateur” theologian who has authored 13 books including the Plain English series, for example Karl Barth in Plain English, T.F. Torrance in Plain English, James Cone in Plain English and other books like We Belong: Trinitarian Good News. You can find these books on Amazon or through his personal website at sdmorrison.org. That’s S as in Sam, D as in David, morrison.org.
Theology is the central passion of his life however he does have other pursuits and one in particular – coffee. He is a coffee roaster who appreciates the subtle delights of java including the tactile experience of roasting, brewing and drinking it. Stephen, you’re my kind of guy!
And I am learning to appreciate coffee. I didn’t start until I was 33 years old. I’m 51 now, but I’ve made up for some lost time through the years. And I’m glad to know that you really appreciate the delights of coffee. Thank you for joining us today and welcome to the podcast.
And for those in our listening audience who may not be familiar with you and your work, we’d like to know you. So, tell us a little bit about your story.
Stephen: Sure. Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate the invitation. Speaking of coffee, I am drinking a nice Burundi this morning, which I’m enjoying quite a bit, so can definitely relate to the shared love of coffee. So yes, appreciate that.
But yeah, my background, I grew up in Columbus, Ohio. I still live here with my wife. I’ve traveled around a little bit, but I am a writer and theologian. I’ve written, like you said, several books now. The Plain English series, being the main one.
For me, I grew up Methodist and charismatic and really started to find a passion for theology as I discovered the doctrines of grace. And for me, that was a big revelation, a big moment of really falling in love with the experience that theology can bring you to the depths that it has. And that was coming from reading TF Torrance, Karl Barth, and just opening up this whole new world of intrigue and interest.
And yeah, I love theology. I love reading. I’m a big reading guy. My wife and I also like to travel and watch good movies, stuff like that. So, we do all of that, but yeah that’s me a little bit personally.
I still love doing theology. I’m always reading something new and considered it a great adventure. Yeah, I love it very much.
Anthony: Let me put you on a spot, Stephen. Two questions. One book recommendation, maybe something you’ve read recently? And then secondly, one locale, location you’ve traveled to with your wife that you’re like, man, if you haven’t been, you’ve got to go?
Stephen: It’s hard. We lived in Europe for a few years. I actually lived with her in Tallinn, Estonia, which is where she’s from. And if people haven’t heard of Estonia, it’s a very beautiful country. I would recommend visiting there and traveling there.
Their old town is one of the best preserved in Europe. So, if you’re into history, it’s a very beautiful place to be. The nature’s really great. I would definitely say that’s the place to go visit if you have the chance, off the beaten path. People don’t typically plan trips there, but it’s definitely worth it.
As far as book recommendations I have a lot. It’s hard to say. I’m always read new things.
I recently reread parts of Gustavo Gutierrez’s Theology of Liberation. I always recommend that one. That’s a great book. For many reasons, that one’s quite good.
I always can go with some of the classics, some of the ones that are closest to me as well, like something like, Dogmatics in Outline from Barth.
But that’s recently one that I reread and enjoyed quite a lot.
Anthony: Yeah. I hear you. And it sounds like you’re a bit like me. It’s not that you’re reading one book at a time. It’s multiple and I’m a slow reader, so it takes me a while to get through them.
Listen, Stephen, I sometimes hear Christians ask why we need to listen to or read theologians since we already have the Bible. You’ve written several books about theologians we admire on this podcast Barth, Torrance, Moltmann, to name a few. And of course, you’re a theologian yourself. So, what would you say to those who push back on the work of theology and theologians?
Stephen: Yeah. I’ve heard this phrase a lot. The idea that, oh, I don’t need theology; I just have Jesus.
It’s a phrase I’ve heard thrown around and especially, I think it’s an ironic phrase because I do think that being, doing theology is unavoidable. And theology is just our God talk. And Barth talks about that. How theology is for the church. It is a critical reflection for the speech of the church when it, when we speak of God.
And so, this phrase that, “Yeah, I don’t need theology. I just have Jesus,” in and of itself is a theological statement. Cause I always want to come back with people who say that and say which Jesus? The moment that you’re talking about this Jesus person that you’re saying that you have – which whatever that means, a dubious statement – I would say, to say that you have Jesus, but you’re already making a theological claim when you’re saying these things.
And so, the question isn’t doing theology or not. Everybody is having a theology. It’s whether or not you have a good theology. And that’s why it’s necessary to have critical reflection on what it is to speak of God and why people like Barth are important.
Because what typically happens – Barth has this great kind of turn of phrase, where he talks about – he’s critiquing SLI marker. (I’ve written before where I think he’s maybe not doing the best job of critiquing SLI marker, but he’s critiquing S marker.)
And he says, “That one cannot speak of God by speaking of man in a loud voice.” And I think that’s such a great phrase because that’s a tendency that is very easy to fall back into, where if we just don’t critically examine what it means to speak of God, we’re going to just be talking about ourselves. And we’re going to be amplifying what it is to be human and think that’s what God is like. Or we’re going to project our own fears, our hopes, our own insecurities up into the heavens and we’re going to call it God.
And so critical reflection on theology is essential for understanding God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. It’s essential for proclaiming the gospel. And so, it’s unavoidable to do theology. Everybody’s doing it, like I said.
And then really the other point is that not everyone’s doing it well. And the existential side of it as well is that one of my favorite definitions of theology is from Anselm – and others have said it as well, of course – but he defined theology as faith seeking understanding. So, the moment that, you’re talking about faith and that you have faith, you are doing a theological act and it is a natural thing to pursue the understanding of faith.
And so, I think it’s unavoidable, and I think it’s just a part of what it is to be a people of faith in a community that’s trying to all speak of God. It’s necessary to have this critical reflection. And so, theology for me is an adventure in that sense.
I do think that there’s a Latin phrase [unintelligible], which means theology of pilgrims. And I think that’s an apt description of how I think about theology as well. Nobody’s arrived at perfect theology. And I think that’s some of the pushback people have with theologians. They see them as these kind of, snobby white, old guys telling you what to think about God.
And that’s not what it is. That’s not been my experience. Maybe you’re reading the wrong theologians, but it really is an adventure of discovery. It’s an adventure with God that he can take you on with, the help with other theologians. But really, it is this adventure and it’s a pilgrim – we’re always theologians still on the way.
I think for the rest of my life, I’ll be pursuing that question of what it means to speak of God. And I think that’s the task of theology, that any person of faith is going to still go on. And so, I do think that there’s a bit of that humility that comes into it, that sometimes is lacking for theologians.
Someone like Karl Bart, that was writing enormous amounts of work and still wasn’t able to finish it and still felt like there was still more to be said. It’s, I think, a good example of what a healthy theological approach is. And this is pursuit I think is beautiful and it’s essential to what it looks like to live out our faith in a practical way and to critically reflect on speaking of God.
Anthony: That’s well said, and I appreciate how you came at it from a posture of humility that there’s no perfect theology, no theology that is airtight, that has all the answers. And that’s why I appreciate what Barth said that no active man can claim to be more than an attempt, not even science. And theology, even though it’s the sweetest of sciences, it’s still just an attempt to talk about this God. Capon says, to try to describe God is like throwing analogies at a mystery. You just attempt. That’s all you can do.
Friends, it’s that time! Here are the four bible passages we are going to discuss:
Luke 20:27-38 The God of the Living
Luke 21:5-19 Opportunity to Testify
Luke 23:33-43 Father, Forgive Them
Matthew 24:36-44 Stay Alert!
The first passage of the month is Luke 20:27 – 38 from the Common English Bible. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 27, that is November the 6th.
27 Some Sadducees, who deny that there’s a resurrection, came to Jesus and asked, 28 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies leaving a widow but no children, the brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first man married a woman and then died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third brother married her. Eventually all seven married her, and they all died without leaving any children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 In the resurrection, whose wife will she be? All seven were married to her.” 34 Jesus said to them, “People who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy to participate in that age, that is, in the age of the resurrection from the dead, won’t marry nor will they be given in marriage. 36 They can no longer die, because they are like angels and are God’s children since they share in the resurrection. 37 Even Moses demonstrated that the dead are raised—in the passage about the burning bush, when he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living. To him they are all alive.”
Stephen, like the Sadducees, many people today deny that there is resurrection. Why does a sound eschatology, including the resurrection of the dead matter? And how should it impact our lives?
Stephen: Yeah. The resurrection’s the most radical claim of the Christian faith. I believe it’s such a –hope against hope is a phrase Moltmann uses to talk about eschatology. This eschatological coming of God is such a profound hope, that really it either doesn’t mean anything or it means everything. And I think it’s the latter.
And I think having this hope, having this faith in the resurrection of the dead is so important, not only for our lives here, but really for our engagement with the world. I think Moltmann’s theology of hope is something I immediately come to with a lot of this, where he stresses that from the beginning. Eschatology isn’t just a part of faith, but it really is the essence of what it is to be a Christian today — is to yearn and to hope for the coming of God in a profound way.
And yeah, the resurrection, that is such a radical part of our faith and it’s sometimes difficult. And so, I sympathize with the people that struggle with the resurrection. I think it is a hope beyond hope.
It’s something that transcends, it’s not something I would think of for myself, if I’m just relying back on myself. But that’s the reality of what faith is – it’s being pulled and compelled by something bigger than myself. And it very much matters for our daily lives.
I think hope for the future challenges our engagement with the world today. Moltmann talks about how this hope puts us in conflict with the present because we hope for the kingdom that’s to come, the justice that will be established through the reign of God.
We’re put into conflict with the situations of this world that contradict that, that aren’t kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. And so that prayer that Jesus taught us to pray is so essential for this. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, is really the orientation for much of what we do and how we engage with the world.
And so, it’s essential to be able to have this hope, not only on a personal level, but on a church level where we feel we’re not going to hide away from the world. We do believe that this world will be a part of the resurrection and the resurrection that comes, the new heaven and the new earth.
And so, I think sometimes eschatology can have a negative spin where we’re just escapists. We’re just hoping that, oh, everything’s going to burn and we’re just going to escape on the spaceship or whatever. And it’s very anti-human.
But I think there’s a way to believe in the resurrection of the dead that is very humane. And it brings us back to the hope that we have for this world and the hope that we have for the people in our lives and pushes us out into the world and out of our safe little Christian bubbles into, what does it look like to proclaim kingdom come in this situation?
And these sorts of social situations – political, whatever it may be – and impacting not only our lives and how we hope but giving us the courage to proclaim that kingdom anew and proclaim the fruit of Jesus’ words.
Anthony: Hope against hope. That’s well stated, when we come to scripture, Stephen it’s so important that Jesus is our hermeneutical principle, the lens in which we read, but often we’re reading through our fallen minds, and we need to recognize that. So, with that in mind, I want to ask you the next question in this passage.
It says, those who are considered worthy to participate in that age. Who are those people that Jesus describes in verse 30?
Stephen: Yeah. Like you said, any text, I think takes a bit of critical thought to analyze. And I think it’s important for something like this to step back and ask, who even are the Sadducees? Who’s Jesus responding to and could Bible [unintelligible] tell you that Sadducees are the elite class within Jewish society?
They were the privileged, landed, powerful, and rich of the time. And so, I think that helps contextualize this a little bit because a big motif of Luke’s Gospel is this critique of the powers that be, as you might say.
And so I think “those worthy to participate in the age,” it sets up this dialectic between those who have a hope in the material things of this world, that are fixated on these, as you said, human mindsets, fallen mindsets, and those who are anticipating and living in the kingdom that is to come and is still present in us through the Spirit, yet we still yearn for its full consummation in the coming of Christ.
And so, I think, the phrase (who are those who are worthy or considered worthy to participate in that age?) does reflect this sense of being those who anticipate in hope the resurrection and are obviously in Christ – is the key to, I think, understanding this. Like you said, Jesus is always going to be our hermeneutic lens.
But I think it does set up this distinction between those who have their hope in the powers of this world, the systems of this world, the riches of this world and those who have their hope in the kingdom that is to come. And so “the worthy to participate in that age” are those who that, that is where their hope lies.
That is, they are in Christ, in that sense, not just in this positional sense. Not just in this sense of being united to Christ, as we believe all Christians are. But in the sense of, I’ve actively put my hope into this coming of God and that’s my foundation.
And setting up this distinction, like I said, of, where is my faith? Where’s my hope? It’s not in mammon, it’s not the systems of this world, but it’s in the coming of God, the coming of justice in the coming of his reign.
Anthony: Verse 38 states, God is the God of the living and to him all are alive. What should we make of that statement?
Stephen: Yeah. God is living, and God is the one in whom all things have their being. And so even those who have passed have passed in Christ. And Christ is the resurrection and the life.
And I think that God, isn’t someone who I think, accepts the deadness that is in us, but is always calling us to life because that’s who God is. I think that “all those who are live in Christ,” I think is the cord in that. That the resurrection is the new creation of all things that begins in him. And being in Christ is life and being outside of Christ is not.
And so, I think that’s potentially one way to understand it, theologically. But yeah.
Anthony: Let’s transition to our next pericope which is Luke 21:5 – 19. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 28, which is November the 13th.
Stephen, would you read it for us please?
5 Some people were talking about the temple, how it was decorated with beautiful stones and ornaments dedicated to God. Jesus said, 6 “As for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.” 7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will these things happen? What sign will show that these things are about to happen?” 8 Jesus said, “Watch out that you aren’t deceived. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the one!’ and ‘It’s time!’ Don’t follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and rebellions, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen first, but the end won’t happen immediately.” 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other. 11 There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky. 12 But before all this occurs, they will take you into custody and harass you because of your faith. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will provide you with an opportunity to testify. 14 Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. 15 I’ll give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed by your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends. They will execute some of you. 17 Everyone will hate you because of my name. 18 Still, not a hair on your heads will be lost. 19 By holding fast, you will gain your lives.
Anthony: I don’t know about you, Stephen, but when somebody tells me not to be alarmed, guess what happens?
I immediately get alarmed, right? And Jesus tells us not to be alarmed when we hear of wars and rebellions. And he goes on to say, there will be earthquakes, food, shortages, and epidemics. This sounds very real and scary and relevant to us in 2022.
So, what should we make of it? And those who cry out, “these are the end time signs”?
Stephen: Yeah, very much so. I think the tendency to look at all of these and immediately cry out, “all last days, end of times” misses the point. Like you said, it misses the point of, do not have this fear. Do not have be alarmed by this. Because it sets people into this fear mentality of oh, but we should be afraid. It does the exact opposite of what Christ is saying.
I think you can look at the text a couple different ways. I think one would be to analyze it historically and recognize the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD being a big part of this passage. Potentially that it was a word of courage to those who would go through that.
But it does give witness to us today who will have these struggles. And I think as I look over the passage, rethinking about it, the big impression that I think is meant through it is really the courage that comes from being in Christ during these times and having the Spirit with us as that comfort and wisdom, and to know what to say in the right times.
I think looking in these passages for some sort of secret clue to when everything’s going to end or whatever – the end times fanaticism, I guess you could say, is missing the point. I think the emphasis of this is really that Christ will be with us even in the most tumultuous of situations socially and in the world.
But that not a hair on your heads will be lost. Even that it’s very interesting that phrase comes shortly after he says they will execute some of you, still not a hair in your head will be lost. And you’re like which is it?
And we’re like, in Christ, we are safe and comforted in him. Even if we die, in his death, we join him in death, but that’s the hope of being raised in new life with him as well. And it’s a very interesting parallel there.
But like I said, I think the main part of this is really just the comfort and hope that comes even in the midst of suffering and turmoil and trials and all these things. And the emphasis for this passage for me is that we find this hope because we are in Christ and not to be fixated on the things that happen or to be fixated on Christ.
Anthony: Right on. And you mentioned courage and according to our Lord, being harassed for our faith is an opportunity to testify or to speak courageously. But testify to what exactly, Stephen?
Stephen: Yeah. Testify to Christ and that he has overcome the world through his death and resurrection. He’s taken upon himself the suffering and the sin of human beings and has done away with it in his death and put it aside. And in the resurrection, there is hope for the new creation of all things.
And so, we testify to that by being able to not be overcome by the situations of the world. But to recognize that they have been overcome themself by Christ.
And we testify to the resurrection – we were just talking about the resurrection and that’s a big part of what we testify. But it’s not just a resurrection. It’s the resurrection of Christ which we take part in. Through the scriptures, through baptism as the sign of that, we were brought down in his death so that we’ll be raised in the new life in him.
And yeah, we’re testifying to that hope that’s within us to being able to have the courage to face these trials with hope, with joy even because of what Christ has done for us. And our hope of being in him. And I think that’s such a key phrase for the whole of the New Testament as well is (especially Paul’s letters) that we are in him and in Christ.
Those two phrases and that’s what we’re testifying to is our safety and our protection that our lives, ultimately aren’t ours to be worried about, but they’re God’s and they’re in his hands. And I think that’s a beautiful thing that we’re witnessing to. And it’s the source of our hope and our courage.
Anthony: Yeah, you mentioned that this should lead to joy. And I don’t know if it was Barth or maybe it was Eugene Peterson talked about how theology should lead to doxology. The work of coming to scriptures and reading a passage like this, even with all that surrounds us and the circumstances of this world, Jesus has overcome it. So, we rejoice! That is the response to such good news.
And while we do this work of theology, let me ask you this. What do you think it means that we’ll gain our lives by holding fast? What is that?
Stephen: A big question – if we go back a bit to ancient philosophy and Plato and Socrates and all these – was the question of, what is the good life?
And so, I think the question of what life is, is one thing. There’s the scientific fact of life, being alive, but then there’s that deeper question of, what it is to live? And I think really the Christian answer to this is quite direct: that to live is to be in Christ.
And to have this fellowship with God is what truly is life. And so, I think this phrase can be interpreted by this. The scriptures typically hold together this kind of two-foot understanding of life. There is a life of the current age which is fading away and is dying.
And then there’s the life and the age to come which is the true life, the life of participation in the fellowship of God, of Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and being lifted up into that life, the very source of life itself. And so, I think that’s how we can understand this phrase, that we gain our lives by holding fast.
Because what is it really worth to hold on so tightly to a life that’s rooted in the present age, that’s rooted in the things that are falling away? That’s rooted in the old man, the old Adam, whatever phrase or metaphor we want to use? What is that really worth if in trying to white knuckle, grasp the things that we consider valuable for this age, if we don’t recognize that the true life is the life of being one with Christ, participating in his fellowship with the Father and the Spirit?
And that’s what it is. We gain our lives by holding fast. Because we may lose our life in this age by doing so, but we gain the life that is truly life, the life that is actually the good life. And I think that answers that philosophical question: what is the good life?
The good life for a Christian is fellowship with God, is life in Christ, in participation, in the triune life of God. Life without God is just incomplete. It’s not that true life. It’s not that good life. And it’s seems paradoxical to make this claim that even in death, even in suffering and struggling, that we would find actually what the good life is.
But it’s a big, I think, motif for the scripture is that we hold onto the life that is to come.
Anthony: I like the illustration of white knuckling it. And I’ve got my hand in a fist right now and my knuckles are white. And I’m just thinking about what it looks like to try to hold on to the things that are not eternal, the things of this life that will fade away.
And when my fist is closed, I’m not able to receive, in a sense what God wants to so generously give to me. And I open up my hand and to me, that’s a metaphor of what it looks like in the Christian life. And that is, I can’t bring anything to God’s table. He has accomplished it in Jesus Christ and all I can do is receive. But that is active participation, receiving the good things that God has in store.
So, I appreciate that word.
Let’s transition on to our next pericope, which is Luke 23:33 – 43. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 29, which is on November the 20th.
33 When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing. 35 The people were standing around watching, but the leaders sneered at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he really is the Christ sent from God, the chosen one.” 36 The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him, offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? 41 We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”
Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing. I think it’s impossible to comprehend the magnitude of this statement. All we can do is try to apprehend it. So, I want to give you an opportunity to help us apprehend the reality contained within. What say you?
Stephen: It’s certainly one of the most beautiful and challenging statements in the New Testament, in terms of how it just really hits home. It hits us right in our heart.
And I think when I hear this, I typically think of how Barth understood the doctrine of sin and what even sin is. And I think he got it right when he said that we don’t even know the depth of our sin without first knowing the depth of Christ reconciliation, and that we have to begin with Christ.
And so, what sin is, what it is that we even need forgiven from, we don’t truly know it until we know it in the light of reconciliation. And so, I think Barth uses that to create this beautiful concept — he starts off with the humiliation of the Son of God, that God became humble and became a human being so that the human beings who try to become God see what it is to truly be human and all of these different things.
But I think that just helps us think about this in a different way where we truly don’t know sin. I think we’re very quick to label things in all of this, but I think we don’t know it in the sense where we don’t know the depth of how much it hurts, not only us, how much it hurts our society and the people we love. But how much it grieves God, most of all.
And so not knowing what we’re doing when we do these things is just what it is to be human. But I think we have a sense not only of what those things are, but more importantly, we know them truly as we are forgiven of them. And that’s the beauty of the gospel is that even the things that we don’t know that we’ve done, the sin that we are scarred by is healed and is reconciled in the power of Christ and of his death and resurrection and his life lived on our behalf.
It’s such a mystery as well. I don’t want to ever try to remove the mystery from scripture or from the beauty of what Christ has done for us. Because there is still mystery in this and there is still a sense of awe that we should always have for this.
And I think that’s the first impression that I have, and I would want to impress on everyone listening, is that this is a beautiful phrase, but it’s a terrifying and awe-inspiring phrase. And that we are forgiven in spite of not knowing what we do and the person on the cross with them received this promise of being with them today in paradise and how paradoxical that even feels.
But it really strikes to the core for me of what it is to reconcile to God. It’s not something that we do. It’s purely a gift of grace and how wonderful that is. It just really gets to the heart of how beautiful the gospel can be and how inspiring it is for us. And how challenging as well it can be for us.
Anthony: Yeah. You spoke of the mystery of this beauty. Let’s press in there a little bit more because the criminal asked Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. It just strikes me, isn’t this really the cry for all of humanity, whether we know it or not? And so, where is the hope for that criminal and all the rest of us criminals out here trying to do this thing called life.
Stephen: Yeah, that really hits it on the head. That is all of us. That’s our cry as human beings, that’s what we cry out.
The cross is such a – not only in this passage, in all the other words of Christ and the cross and the witness to that in scripture – is such a beautiful account of this sense of people crying out and having this, “my God, you forsaken me” for example, being one. And that sense of trust, “into your hands, I commend my spirit.”
All of these, I think have a reflection in what it is to be human. And I think it just is such a beautiful portrait of not only who we are, but really the depths of how far Christ went into our humanity and into the darkness of our fallenness and really met us in our rawness, in our in our ignorance and in our sin and in our evil and met us really at the depths of that.
Calvin has a great phrase where “he became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.” He truly met us where we are. And yeah, certainly a cry that is mimicked and echoed within humanity.
And I think the remembrance of God is the hope that we have that Christ does hold us in the remembrance. And I think there’s something really beautiful that I was reading recently about how in the Hebrew scriptures, the act of remembrance is such an important priority. Today, we overlook that. We just think, oh, just memory, it’s just something you have. It’s almost an object.
But, for them, remembering an event that took place was almost an act of remixing it and reliving it. And the remembrance of what God had done — particularly like in the Exodus or in other events of God’s acts in history with Israel — remembering it was almost as important as the actual event itself. The beginning of the 10 commandments states that, “I’m the Lord, your God who liberated you from the Egyptian captivity.” And then the commandments come.
And so, there’s this sense where remembrance has more of a power to it than just, oh remember me, remember that I exist factually, remember who I am. But it’s actually this sense of remember me and being revived and being in that remembrance.
And I think there’s a lot more to this than typically gets understood of just oh, remember me in your book, check me off on the list or whatever. The remembrance is this act of recalling and almost to some extent, more vital than just the factual checking of the box for us.
It’s a big source, a great source of hope for us that we will be remembered in Christ and that he not only has our name, one among billions, but that truly remembers who we are and that remembrance brings us back to back to him. And it foreshadows and points to the resurrection that’s the great remembrance that in Christ we are raised again to new life.
And the kingdom that is to come is that kingdom of new life. And yeah, it’s a very pregnant phrase for sure.
Anthony: Yes. Pregnant, indeed. The word even, remember – there’s so much you can unpack there with the resurrection and the way that Jesus and his Father. Remember us in the triune life. What a beautiful thing.
Now you mentioned the statement that Jesus made, why have you forsaken me? And I’d like to scratch that itch just a little bit more, if I may. Anything that you want to say about some of the atonement theories out there?
Just to let you in on some insight on the way I think. Things like punitive theories, like penal substitution, substitutionary atonement, has done a lot of damage in terms of the way that we see the relationship, the triune relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit, revealed at the cross.
Anything that you want to say about that?
Stephen: Yeah. I have a lot of thoughts on this. I think we could derail the whole full show.
But I definitely agree. I think penal substitution to is one of those things that for me, an early joy in discovery for theology was just the reality that’s not the only way of looking at the cross.
And I think tearing down some of those presuppositions that come with it, the idea of God being this angry father and then Jesus just being the nice guy that steps in takes the blow, the whole narrative of that. And so yeah, there’s a lot of ways where that divides the Trinity itself. Like you said, that’s extremely problematic.
I’ll throw a little plug in. I did do a long video series on penal substitution on my YouTube channel. That’s a good, I think, primer into some of these questions and how they can be addressed.
But yeah, I do think, like you said, the [statement] “my God, why you forsaken me?” I think the first way that I understand it is really it proclaims the depth of how far Christ went into our fallen mind, into our fallen situation. And that he truly touched the depths of what it is to feel forsaken.
Now did the father actually forsake the son? I don’t think that’s possible. The father and the Son are one. Even Jesus said a few verses before that everyone else will abandon me, but my father will be with me. And I think that’s confirmed with the word that “into your spirit or into your hands, I commend my spirit,” at the conclusion of that. And yeah, there’s a lot there.
Reflecting back on how it ties back into Psalms 22 – which is what Christ is actually quoting with this phrase – the end of that Psalm, ends in this triumphant realization that God did not abandon, did not forsake his servant; and so, there’s that aspect as well. Taking just that verse by itself without recognizing the context to it, and the fact that he was declaring something that had a very profound meaning to the listeners who would’ve known instantly, oh, I know that song. I know the way that ends and it’s not this hopeless, pitiful situation.
But it truly is one where even in that depth of feeling so god-forsaken, God has entered into that god-forsakenness and made it his own. And in that sense, redeemed it and found us even in that depth where even if I make my bed in hell, you were there.
And so that’s a beautiful insight too. Where even in the most pitiful in the depth of despair that we can find ourselves in, Christ has even penetrated into that depth and met us there and comforted us in that moment and brought us to a new life as a result.
Anthony: Hallelujah. Praise God.
Stephen, let’s move on to our final pericope of the month. It’s Matthew 24:36 – 44. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Advent 1 on November the 27th. Please read it for us.
36 “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the heavenly angels and not the Son. Only the Father knows. 37 As it was in the time of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Human One. 38 In those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. 39 They didn’t know what was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. The coming of the Human One will be like that. 40 At that time there will be two men in the field. One will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill. One will be taken and the other left. 42 Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know what day the Lord is coming. 43 But you understand that if the head of the house knew at what time the thief would come, he would keep alert and wouldn’t allow the thief to break into his house. 44 Therefore, you also should be prepared, because the Human One will come at a time you don’t know.
Anthony: Jesus said, Stephen, that nobody knows when the day or hour will come for his appearance, only the Father knows. So, tell me this. Why do so many groups get swept up in prediction addiction, trying over and over again, wrongly by the way, to proclaim Christ coming?
Stephen: I like that phrase prediction addiction. That’s an apt phrase. Yeah. I have personal experience with this. I grew up in a situation where that was pretty normal, to predict every big news event that happened, that was the was the line. Oh, this is a sign it’s going to happen this month. Or, the blood moon’s coming in, that’s the reason or whatever the prediction’s going to be.
And I grew up somewhat of a situation like that, and I think I also can speak to the scars that it leaves the kind of, almost celebration of devastation.
And I think that’s a big part of it that’s troubling to me now. Just how much it’s — you almost have this eager anticipation to see destruction happened because then that confirms Christ coming or whatever else. And yeah, it is very clear that nobody knows the time and the hour when Christ is going to come again.
And I think that there’s the dual sense of always being prepared, and this being in anticipation for Christ coming. I do think this prediction addiction — I think I’m going to keep that and use that for it, the phrase. It is a sense of our tendency to prefer escapism to the actual work of the gospel, where it’s easier for us to just say it’s going to all end, so why put in the effort to love our neighbor.
Why put in the effort to build a better world for the poor and for the lost and for the broken when it’s all just going to go up in flames. It’s an escape in that sense. It’s a cop out for the work that we’re called to do because you get hung up on these things and you get fixated on reading the times.
And what is Israel doing this month? That must be a sign, or what is this country doing this month? Or all that was a sign of this. And it really becomes almost an excuse just to occupy our mind with something else other than — as humans we are very much prone to extrapolating from incomplete data, some sort of grand mystery.
I think that’s the root of a lot of conspiracy theories. They talk about how when we look up at the stars, they’re just a bunch of dots, but what do we see? We see connection points between all of them. And so, I think we are wired to look for these connections, but at the same time, it can be that wiring can be turned back and against us and harm us where we are constantly searching for all these signs and constantly searching for this stuff.
We’re so fixated on some hidden mystery that we think we can solve. And we overlook the things that are clear and direct in the scripture. If you feed the hungry, you’re feeding Christ. If you clothe the naked, you’re giving clothes to Christ. And those commands, you don’t need months and months of study to understand what they mean. If you care for the least of these, you’ve cared for Christ.
And so, I think it is a tendency that is very problematic and very troubling, and whatever the cause I think there’s personal individuals will have different reasons for the cause. I think for me it was just a part of my upbringing. And it was a little bit fun. It added some sense of oh, I’m in on the secret kind of deal.
And I think the secret is not so exclusionary. It’s not devastating for other people. I think the secret is that God loves us and calls us to love our neighbor. And sometimes the simple things are — we have to think of something more complex to entertain ourselves, but that’s really just a distraction from doing the work that we’re called to do. And that’s why I think at the bottom, it really is this sense of desiring escape instead of taking ownership over what we’ve been called to do.
Anthony: Yes. Yes. I hear you. And I say, amen. You can keep prediction addiction. If I can use celebration of devastation, because that, to me, that’s a smoke screen. It’s a way for people to hide and not to engage. Like you said, whether it’s neighbor, justice issues, whatever the case may be. It is certainly not a — I don’t think — a faithful expression of the gospel and it’s not in fidelity with the Scriptures.
Some use this particular passage to construct a doctrine of rapture. And I’m just wondering, Stephen, from your perspective, will some be taken while others are left behind what’s going on?
Stephen: No, I, as again I was taught the rapture as some sort of fact that, I just don’t think the Scriptures have actual a concept of and it again is, an escapist mentality and a little bit sci-fi. It scratches that itch for some science fiction and, they made those movies however long [ago]. Those were part of my upbringing, the whole Left Behind movies.
And it does psychologically give us a sense of feeling important in elevation above other people. That we’re the ones that are going to be taken. And, oh, you’re just going to be left behind and you’ll see, you’re going to struggle.
And instead of, like I said, taking the ownership of doing the gospel work here and now you just anticipate leaving it all behind and being able to — it almost gives justification and permission to indifference and to apathy for suffering.
And almost gives you the permission to see people as enemies that you’re allowed to hate. Instead of as people that you’re called to love. And if there’s these people that are going to be left behind and you’re the chosen one, then you’re justified theologically in excluding them.
And you’re justified theologically in hating them and considering them less than. And it really puts that calling off yourself to do the kingdom work and to love those people. But it lets you demonize them. And yeah, there’s a lot I can say about this.
I did do a book at one point on the rapture that I’ve since pulled it off circulation just for various reasons, but I do still think that it’s a really problematic doctrine. I think scripturally there’s really no genuine justification for it. It is a kind of a modern concept. I think a lot of people don’t really understand that it’s something that really wasn’t on anybody’s radar until maybe the last few hundred years.
I think John Darby was the first one to propose it as an idea, and it really took off from the popularity of his commentary. And so, it’s a newer idea. Most of the church fathers had no concept to this. And it’s something I think has had a devastating effect on the Christian Church and on our witness.
And theologically, what does it say about God that God would abandon these people? That God would almost take joy in their destruction, in their fate? And I think one of the beautiful things about Barth’s theology especially is (I come back to) he makes such a point where, God does not will to be God without us.
And that’s the heart of God for the human race, not to leave us behind, not to celebrate destroying many of them. But that God does not define himself as the one who chooses not to be without us. God doesn’t need us. Obviously, God doesn’t need us. He’s not dependent upon us, but out of this greatness of God’s love, God chooses not to be God without us.
And that’s what the incarnation is, that now and forever within the triune life, there is a human being. Jesus Christ who bears the scars of our existence. And that’s the profoundness of God’s dedication to us.
And so, it [the concept of the rapture] completely denies that message and flips it on its head and said that, yeah, it’s for some people, but not for everybody else. That God’s perfectly happy just getting rid of these people and leaving them behind. And I think that just contradicts who God is.
So yeah, there’s a lot there. I’m very much think the rapture is one of those doctrines that has just kept around more because of how it fits already with our own thinking.
It’s not baptized thinking, I guess you could say. It’s not a way of thinking that corresponds to the greatness of God’s love and kindness. It’s something that fits very well within our own fallen approach to the world. And so, I think that’s the reason why it’s persisted for so long, I would say is because it isn’t something that challenges us necessarily to be more Christlike.
If anything, it pulls us away from that. And so, it’s an easy doctrine to accept because it speaks that we’re special. These other people aren’t, and it speaks to this very, like I said, exclusionist — it justifies hatred and all these things I’ve said. And so, I think it’s such an interesting belief that’s persisted.
And I understand that many people still do accept it, but I think I would challenge those people, scripturally and historically and theologically, to really question this. That’s not the way of thinking that Christ has called us to. Being renewed by our mind, doesn’t lead to this sort of approach.
And so that’s one thing for me growing up, it was one of those doctrines that has had a psychological effect more than it had a biblical or a scripture or a theological route. And so, returning to those, I think that can help relieve the doctrine itself.
Anthony: Yeah, well said. It’s rooted in fear. And James Cone wrote that if we cannot recognize the truth, then it cannot liberate us from untruth. And of course, the context in which he’s writing it is different, but I think it can be applied here. That we just can’t see it. And we have to first look at Jesus who is the embodiment and the fullness and totality of truth. And this just doesn’t align with who he’s revealed the Father to be.
Stephen, I’m so grateful for you saying yes to the invitation to be a guest here on Gospel Reverb. It’s been a delight to talk with you and to hear your insights. I think this is going to be a rich blessing to our listening audience. And certainly, we hope that the Father, Son, and Spirit continue to bless you to encourage you, to give you insight as you continue to write and speak that all would come to the knowledge that the truth revealed in Jesus Christ.
As is our tradition here on Gospel Reverb, we’d like to close with prayer. So, if you would be willing, would you please just say a closing prayer over our listening audience and the work of the Spirit in their lives.
Stephen: Yeah, absolutely. But yeah, I just say thanks again to you and appreciate it.
Yeah, happy to pray. We’ve talked about hope in the resurrection and the kingdom a lot, so I think can’t go wrong with the Lord’s Prayer. It’s really the center for me of what it is to pray. And so, I’ll conclude with that.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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