Sunday, March 23, 2008

Christ the Lord is Risen Today

The message of the resurrection is that this world matters! That the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won...

If Easter means Jesus Christ is only raised in a spiritual sense - [then] it is only about me, and finding a new dimension in my personal spiritual life. But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes good news for the whole world - news which warms our hearts precisely because it isn't just about warming our hearts.

Easter means that in a world where injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things - and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement victory of Jesus over them all.

Take away Easter and Karl Marx was probably right to accuse Christianity of ignoring problems of the material world. Take it away and Freud was probably right to say Christianity is wish-fulfillment. Take it away and Nietzsche probably was right to say it was for wimps.

N. T. Wright as quoted by Tim Keller in The Reason for God

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

A well-written review of Tim Keller's new book. Very timely too.

Reasons for Good Friday
By Michael Gerson

In a flood of bestsellers by skeptics and atheists charging a nonexistent God with crimes against humanity, Timothy Keller stands out as an effective counterpoint and a defender of the faith. His new book, "The Reason for God," makes a tight, accessible case for reasoned religious belief. And his national tour of college campuses has drawn overflowing crowds. "This isn't because I'm well known," Keller told me, "but because of the topic."

But Keller is likely to be better known in short order. His 5,000-strong Manhattan congregation is a model of outreach to 20- and 30-something artists and professionals. Keller's church symbolizes an emerging urban evangelicalism -- at a recent service, he recalls, a Republican speechwriter sat near a songwriter for Madonna. Many of Keller's parishioners are deeply skeptical of the religious right, untroubled by evolution and begin their complex spiritual journeys with serious doubts.

Keller explains that members of this rising generation are not so much relativists as they are philosophically rootless. "They have a deep morality, but they have no idea why." And they generally share some objections to religious belief: that traditional faith is exclusive and intolerant and that the existence of suffering is inconsistent with the existence of a loving God.

A centerpiece argument of Keller's response might be called the myth of secular neutrality. "Skeptics argue that they have the intellectual high ground," he says, "but they are really making assumptions as well." An absolute doubt -- claiming that all truth is culturally conditioned -- can work only if it exempts itself from doubt and assumes the cultural superiority of rationalism. Raging against evil and suffering in the world assumes a moral standard of good and evil that naturalism cannot provide. Keller argues that the main criticisms of religion require "blind faith" of their own, and he urges people to begin by doubting their doubts.

But while Keller argues that all worldviews contain assumptions of faith, reason is not futile. It may not provide proof, but it does provide clues. The fundamental regularities of the universe that improbably favor life; the artistic beauty that reaches beyond materialism; the sense of love and duty that seems so much more than evolutionary instinct -- Keller argues that only theism explains our lived experience and deepest desires. "God is the only thing that makes sense of what we love."

At the center of his book is an interesting case study: human rights. Some skeptics argue that the universe is an empty, impersonal void -- that life has no meaning or value beyond its material makeup -- and yet they try to maintain the importance of human dignity as if still living in a world of meaning and justice. "If morality is relative," Keller asks, "why isn't social justice as well?" Why isn't the rule of the strong -- the clear teaching of nature -- just as valid as a belief in the rights of the weak? A materialist, Keller argues, can only respond with sentiment.

The final part of Keller's book will be the most difficult for many readers to accept. He contends that the God of space and time is somehow uniquely found in Jesus of Nazareth. The earliest Christians knew this was a "scandal" often interpreted by others as blasphemy. Sophisticated, first-century Greeks and Romans were no more likely to believe in risen corpses than we are today.

Yet Keller argues for the reliability of the New Testament accounts. And he makes the case that the Christian message has an advantage: It is more than an intellectual theory. In his book, Keller quotes Simone Weil, the French mystic and social activist, who made a practice of repeating Christian poetry during her migraines: "It was during one of these recitations that . . . Christ himself came down and took possession of me. In my arguments about the insolubility of the problem of God I had never foreseen the possibility of that, of a real contact, person to person, here below, between a human being and God."

Good Friday calls attention to a final argument as to why the God of the philosophers, however useful, may not be enough. In the end, the problem of human suffering cannot be minimized or explained away -- but in the Christian story, that suffering has been shared. Perhaps, in our own darkness, we need the imprisoned God, the scarred God, the shamed God, the despairing God.

The poet Jane Kenyon grasped at this mystery of Good Friday:

The God of curved space, the dry

God, is not going to help us, but the son

whose blood spattered

the hem of his mother's robe.

Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Isaiah 53:4-6