Tag Archives: n.t. wright

Why the World Hates Jesus of Nazareth (5 of 7)

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”  Jesus, Jn. 15:18

In the previous installment, I made the case that Jesus rejected materialism.

Jesus defended the poor and preached a word of warning to the rich. In his words and actions, Jesus rejected the idol of consumerism. Contrary to the economy of empire, King Jesus seeks to establish a Kingdom on the earth that is about giving and sharing, not taking and accumulating.

In God’s economy, the poor are blessed (Lk 6:20). This aspect of Jesus and his ministry especially threatens those in powerful positions of affluence and privilege. The gospel of Jesus undermines their way of life, and denounces their way of carving up the world for their own personal pleasure.

As I said in the introduction to this blog series, I’m using seven provocative statements as a way of summarizing the radical life and teachings of Jesus as recorded in the NT. It is my deepest desire that the Christian and skeptic alike will come to embrace the true beauty of Christ’s Kingdom, while being ever-mindful of the real cost of discipleship. We must count the cost.

For this is why the world hates Jesus and his good news. And why those who belong to the world system will hate those who choose to follow him.

5. Jesus Challenged Worldly Wisdom

The apostle John writes in his Gospel that Jesus is the logos (Word) of God.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  John 1:1-5 NIV

John has in mind two big ideas by referring to Jesus as the logos of God.

In Jewish perspective, Jesus is the Word of God (spoken & written) in human form. No doubt an idea that was (and is) unthinkable to Jews. From a Hellenistic Greek perspective, Jesus is the Wisdom of God—the perfect mind behind the universe. He is transcendent above the material world.

Jesus is also the Wisdom of Proverbs personified (Prov 1:20-33). He is Wisdom in the flesh! The apostle Paul testifies that in Jesus is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:2-3). He is the divine mind.

“Wisdom, God’s blueprint for humans, at last herself becomes human.” N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, pg. 120

The Gospel of John would have us know, from the very beginning, that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Creator of all that is seen and unseen. He came from God, and is God in human form—the invisible made visible.

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father [God].”  Jesus, Jn 14:9b

This is just the evidence you would think all religious people and skeptics would need to repent and believe in the One that God sent in order to make himself known. However, John tells us that Jesus “came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him” (Jn 1:10 NLT).

Why did the world not recognize him? Because God’s wisdom is foolishness to those who refuse to repent of worldly wisdom (1 Cor 1:18).

“Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” Paul, 1 Cor 1:20-21 NIV

The life and ministry of Jesus can certainly be viewed as foolishness.

  • Jesus was born of a virgin (Lk 1:26-38),
  • Lived in obscurity for most of his life (Lk 2-3),
  • He was single with no interest in marriage (Matt 19:29),
  • Took up the role of rabbi with no formal education (Jn 1:49; 7:15),
  • Rejected by his family and friends (Mk 3:20; Lk 4:14-30),
  • He was a wandering homeless man for three years (Lk 9:58),
  • Performed miracles and casted out evil spirits (Mk 5:9; Jn 2),
  • Forgave sins with the authority of God (Mk 2:5-7),
  • Proclaimed that he and God were one and the same (Jn 10:30),
  • Emphatically claimed to be the only way to God (Jn 14:6),
  • He raised Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11),
  • Crucified as a condemned criminal (Lk 23:33; Jn 18:30),
  • Followers said he was resurrected in a radical new body (Lk 24),
  • Believed he would return to consummate the Kingdom (Matt 24).

“Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Jesus, Matt 11:6

First and foremost, Jesus challenges worldly wisdom with his self-proclaimed divine identity, and heaven-born mission. Jesus’ self-awareness is most clearly expressed in The Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46).

It can’t be denied that Jesus sees himself as the son of the vineyard owner. The son (Jesus) is sent to the tenants (religious leaders) of the vineyard (Israel), after the tenants had already killed others (prophets) the vineyard owner (God) had sent to collect the harvest. The son will also be killed (crucifixion). Jesus then tells his audience that the Kingdom of God will be taken from the religious and given to others that will receive it (v.43).

Jesus not only claimed to be the only begotten (i.e. one of a kind) Son of God that comes to take away the sins of the world (Jn 3:16), he proved that his wisdom was from another place. This wisdom incited hatred.

The leaders of Israel believed Jesus and his followers were dangerous. They made repeated attempts to trap Jesus with their wisdom, but he always confounded them with his wisdom from above (Matt 22:20-22; Jn 8:6).

“Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God.”  Paul, 1 Cor 3:18-19 NLT

It wasn’t just his “new teaching” that intimidated the religious leaders (Mk 1:27), it was something more—something they couldn’t quite put their finger on. He seemed to have someone helping him. It appeared to be the power of God, but still they stumbled over their own wisdom and rejected him.

Even the folks back in Nazareth were mystified at his great wisdom and miracle-working. Nevertheless, they hated him for his claims to be the eternal, omniscient Son of God (Matt 13:54; Lk 4:28-30).

And that’s the thing about Jesus, isn’t it? He does not allow anyone to separate his “wise” teachings from his self-identifying claim to be the Lord of the universe. C.S. Lewis said it best in Mere Christianity, pgs 40-41:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” 

Worldly wisdom scoffs at the idea that Jesus is the Messiah—the savior of the world. Those who embrace the wisdom of the world have constructed a system that doesn’t allow for the Creator of the cosmos to make himself known in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

The world today sees faith in Christ as a threat to human progress. The wisdom of God, as expressed in Jesus, and now through his followers, can’t simply be left alone. Jesus challenges the “wisdom of the wise”—religious pluralism, scientific naturalism, and political imperialism.

And he calls for a Kingdom revolution of the heart and mind.

Therefore, God’s wisdom may have it that many of his peaceful followers walk a road of suffering, even death (Lk. 11:49; Rev. 5:10-11).

If they crucified the Son of God for challenging conventional wisdom and cultural expectations, what will they to do those who follow him?

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

Read the next post:  6. Jesus Was Loving and Intolerant.


Extreme Makeover: WORLD Edition

I don’t have a great deal of time to watch TV these days, but I will occasionally get drawn into shows like Yard Crashers or Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. There are several other shows like these that are fairly popular today. Do you ever wonder why they gain so many viewers?

I’m sure some folks may just like to covet nice things, as they find themselves wanting what they don’t have. But I think there is something else at work that attracts us to seeing old houses renovated and an ugly yard beautifully landscaped. So what is it?

There is a deep satisfaction that resonates within the core of our being when we see old, dead things come alive. I believe that it’s the mark of our Creator. The Lord stands opposed to death and decay in the world.

While death and decay exists for the moment, and even seems necessary for biological evolution, the resurrection of Jesus has expressed God’s true thoughts on the powers of decadence in our world (1 Cor 15:54-56).

We have been hardwired for hope in resurrection and renewal. We can feel it in our bones. Have you sensed it? Can you see it? The entire universe has been prefigured for a spiritual and physical metamorphoses (Rom 8:22-25).

“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” Isaiah 65:17

The truth is… we like makeovers. And why wouldn’t we? It’s built into us as a signpost of God’s activity in our lives. It reflects his heart for creation. It’s where God is guiding the space-time continuum.

At the end of John’s Revelation, where we see heaven coming to earth and God transforming the world as we know it, we hear Christ speak, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5). Let’s believe it.

If we will listen to the rhythms of the soul we will know it to be true. We caterpillars will one day be transformed into beautiful butterflies!

In the meantime, we are called to live and long for that good end as we work out our salvation. People who hope in the resurrection will celebrate art, beauty, music, and poetry. We will work for renovations, renewal, reconciliation, and redemption of all creation.

Wherever there is darkness, we proclaim in our living that the light has come. Wherever there is death and decay, we call for an extreme makeover.

And it’s not just for your house and mine. It’s for the whole world.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


N.T. Wright & Rob Bell on Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus wasn’t just to secure an eternal future for us beyond this life. It isn’t merely to give immortality to those who believe in Christ and his salvific work. Far from it. The resurrection signifies something much more, as it did for the early Christians.

See my article Heaven to Earth: The Christian Hope in the Resurrection

It’s in the resurrected body of Jesus that we see heaven and earth joined together. You will recall that Jesus’s resurrected body was numerically identical with his earthly body, but it had gone through a metaphysical, “spiritual” transformation (e.g. Lk 24:30-32; Jn 10:27; 21:10-151 Cor 15:12-58).

Jesus’ resurrection expresses God’s good intentions for all of creation. It affirms the earthly material world that is currently broken, and promises a renewal of all things. It means that God will not kick this world into the cosmic trashcan. Instead, he is guiding all of creation to “new” heavens and earth (Rev 21). And this has huge implications for Christian living.

In his book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (Feb. 2008), Wright says this about the resurrection:

“The point of the resurrection … is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die … What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it. What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future.”

In the following video, Rob Bell stimulates the mind and imagination as he describes the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus.

I hope this resurrection video adds to your Easter celebration.

What do you think of both Wright and Bell’s view of the resurrection? In what other ways do you see the resurrection of Jesus having implications for radical discipleship? Please share your own thoughts.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


How I View Christ & the Scriptures

I’ve recently been in conversations over many different theological and interpretive issues pertaining to the Bible. In discussing my interpretations with family, friends, students, and readers of my blog, the nature and authority of the Scriptures are always brought up.

While I’ve actually been asked several times, “Do you believe that the Bible is God’s Word?”, it’s usually just insinuated in their response to being challenged on the way they’ve always read or been taught the Scriptures.

I think this happens for one or more reasons: (1) the Scriptures are rightfully regarded as authoritative among Christians; (2) I’m challenging their interpretation which they mistake for disbelief in the Bible; (3) they simply do not understand my position; (4) they are entirely closed off to learning and they prefer to shut the conversation down by underhandedly claiming I don’t believe the Bible. This is also done by claiming the Holy Spirit guided their interpretation. So, of course they must be correct, making me wrong.

Therefore, in light of these recent conversations, and because it’s long overdue, I will briefly lay out my view of Christ and the Scriptures.

Biblical Inspiration

The Bible (Old & New Testaments) is the inspired, infallible word of God (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). I believe that the Scriptures are trustworthy in conveying God’s progressive revelation through the history of Israel, culminating in the life of Jesus of Nazareth—who is the exact representation of God in the fullness of divine, incarnational revelation (Matt 16:16, 21:33-40; Jn 1:1-14, 5:39, 8:58, 10:33, 14:9; Col 1:15-20; Heb 1:3).

Inspiration testifies to the Spirit’s activity in the lives of the prophets and apostles who penned what in time became celebrated as sacred Scripture (2 Peter 1:20-21). The testimony handed down to us in the text is reliable in its transmission, and it is trustworthy in what it intends to communicate to the ancient and modern reader about God in Christ.

I believe that saying the Bible is “inspired” (God-breathed) refers to the Spirit-revealed truth in the original, ancient context and literary genres.

It does not mean that all of the Bible should be read literally, or that your or my own interpretation is the one that’s inspired.

Therefore, interpretation requires a responsible handling of the biblical text, “rightly dividing” it in Christian community. This should be done in a spirit of grace and humility. As the church, we must recognize the difference between the inspired Scriptures and our interpretations.

Christocentric Hermeneutic

I believe Scripture should be read using a Christocentric hermeneutic (interpretation). This means that Christ is not only the center of the salvific story told in the Scriptures, but that all Hebrew perceptions of God in the OT should be understood in light of Christ, the final self-revelation of God.

To affirm that the OT is inspired isn’t to say that the Hebrews saw God in his fullness, or that all portions of Scripture are equally authoritative (e.g. Canaanite genocide, imprecatory psalms, nationalism, levitical laws, etc.).

All Scripture is subordinate to Christ. He is the reality of the OT shadows (Col 2:17). Jesus sorts out all misconceptions of God in the OT.

As Greg Boyd stated in my 3-part interview with him last year…

“The cross reveals what God is truly like and thus what God has always been like.” 

Wherever OT portraits of Yahweh do not look like Christ, I see God making significant concessions, taking the sins of Israel upon himself, and accommodating himself to their limited vision and partial revelation.

I think this fresh understanding of inspiration is found in a true Christocentric interpretation of the Holy Scriptures.

And I think this should be embraced by all Christians who affirm that Jesus is the full and final revelation of God. But instead there seems to be a bewildering confusion on this that actually makes what I’ve stated above sound dangerous, even heretical to some folks.

“Reading Scripture through a christological and theographical lens is more radical a move than we might think at first blush. In our observation, it’s rarely practiced today—even among those who claim to uphold the centrality of Christ. It’s one thing to profess to read the Scripture christologically or to agree with in principle. But it’s quite another to actually practice it.”  Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola, Jesus: A Theography, pg. xviii

How does it happen that so many in the church have failed to accept Jesus as central and supreme over the OT portraits of God?

I’m convinced that it has a great deal to do with how many Christians have learned to compartmentalize the life and teachings of Jesus, and reduced the Gospel to a “sinners prayer” salvation.

For some people, Jesus mostly said what he did for the next life, and lived the way he did to get crucified for our sins. Therefore, the incarnation as a way of setting the record straight about what God is like is lost in the midst of proof-texts and meshing the Old and New Testaments together.

It seems to have begun around the 4th century when Constantine merged the church and state. Christians began picking up the sword and justifying it in the name of the OT. Slowly but surely the church learned to ignore the negative contrast of God in the OT seen through the lens of Christ.

When this happens Jesus can be used as the cheerleader for the “Christian” state, and any other agenda that needs “biblical” justification. This method of using the OT to support anti-Christ agendas is still practiced today.

So, not only does this ignore the conflict, but in disregarding that Christ stands above the OT portraits of God, a person is short-changing, even diminishing, the cosmic importance of the incarnation.

That’s no small matter.

In other words, this implies that there is something about God that Christ doesn’t reveal to us. This seems to me to be the real threat to the inspiration of progressive revelation summed up in Christ, God in the flesh.

You may remember that Marcion (c.85-c.160AD) was excommunicated as a heretic because the way in which he dealt with the OT. Marcion went so far to say that the god of the OT was not the Father of Jesus, but a lesser deity.

While I grant that Marcion was a gnostic heretic, and wrong for the way he handled the Scriptures, he was right to acknowledge the conflicting portraits of God in the OT with Christ in the Gospels.

Therefore, I’m convinced that the Old and New Testaments cannot be fully reconciled without using a radical Christocentric hermeneutic.

The Word Made Flesh

The highest view of the Scriptures is not the one that seeks to make an idol of the Bible (biblicism), but the one that allows the biblical text to exalt Christ as the living Word over all creation. The Word became flesh, not ink.

“God’s truest, highest, most important, most authoritative, and most compelling self-revelation is the God/Man Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ—and not the Bible—who is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). It was in Jesus Christ that “God was pleased to have all of his fullness dwell” (Col. 1:19).” Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, pg. 117.

I believe it’s important to let the Scripture be Scripture, and let Christ be Christ. That is to say that we should view the Scripture as a sign-post and a pointer to the eternal Word of God, Messiah Jesus (John 5:39). He is the true Word of God, living and active (John 1:1-14; Heb 4:12). He is not bound by the written text or dependent upon any view of inspiration.

It is because Christ is revealed in the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation that I believe in the inspiration of the Bible. And this reminds me, and I hope you as well, that our confession and obedience to Jesus as the Word is the true arbiter of faithfulness. There is nothing else.

As the apostle Paul has written, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Phil 3:8).

May we be found in Christ and get all of our life from him, not from our differences of opinion on theology, our varying interpretations, or our nuanced views of biblical inspiration.  

For it is Christ above all things, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:2-3).

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

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