Revised Catechumenate

From a Lent with much suffering and dying to an Easter with signs of new life and much hope:  this is the story of the catechumenate at Trinity Cathedral for the beginning of 2012.

Much of the story has been detailed in a previous post (“You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am”).  Lent was a time of discussion with Anne McKeever, the Director of Youth & Adult Spiritual Formation (ASF), Lynell Walker, previous Director of Adult Spiritual Formation & part time rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Sacramento. Lynell has ministered in the catechumenate for many years and truly understands the process of spiritual formation it strives to provide.  She is also excellent in giving people things to reflect upon after a meeting.  I met with Brian Baker, Dean of the cathedral and the person who baptized an adult on the 2nd Sunday of Lent.  In act, if not in theory, Brian advocates “easy grace” and minimal sacramental prep.  Recently he admitted to me that he does not have a good understanding or appreciation of liturgy.  But he did provide insight in getting me to admit that our current catechumenal process was ineffective.   After thinking through some possible revisions of Trinity’s catechumenate, I met with our team to get input.

My proposal is to join in with the rest of the ASF program by developing and offering a series of basic courses throughout the year.  Lynell’s insight was,  “Jerry, when I’m leading Lunch Bunch or The Writing Circle or any of a bunch of groups, I’m doing catechumenate.  Brian’s was, “I baptized because we don’t have a viable catechumenate.” and “The participants want answers.  We need to offer some ’101′ courses.”

How does all of this fit into a bigger picture?  The plan is to teach intro courses all year round so that people will have that to get into when they join or after they finish the Newcomer’s classes.  Then, in November, we start promoting the catechumenate for adults wanting to prepare for Baptism, Confirmation, Reception, or Renewal.  During Advent and Epiphany we will focus on “sacramental life.”  We will have a Rite of Commitment in there (probably right after Christmas/New Year’).   Two Sunday’s before Lent we will have a presentation of the Creed with a retreat on the Saturday before Lent begins. Enrollment on the First Sunday of Lent and go from there!  During Lent the focus of the meetings will be the baptismal covenant as embodied in the Apostle’s creed.  With a retreat on the creed as well, this might be too much emphasis. But the details still need to be worked out.  Maybe changing some of the meeting times so that the candidates can actively participate in Stations of the Cross and other lenten prayer activities.

I’m excited by the prospects.  It will be seen how well it draws.  The classes and set time frame for actual “preparation” may get better response.

 

 

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When to baptize?

The above question can be answered in numerous ways. All involve praxis because of the very nature of sacrament as visible action celebrating grace.

Most recently my experience is one in which there is a presumption that grace is alive and well in a person if/when they step forward and express an interest in celebrating a sacrament.  No further preparation or formation is deemed necessary.  The presumption is that celebration precedes growth in grace; that there is no need for the Christian community to voice expectations that the seeker act in ways that show sincerity of purpose and/or an understanding of what we are celebrating.

This model allows for baptism almost immediately upon request with 60 – 90 minute “instruction” being adequate for the formation process.  It allows for designated length “classes” for those who say they want to be confirmed (with suspicions that it is the parents who are acting upon parental wants for their children).  It allows for an open table where all are invited to communion when no attempt has previously been made to incorporate the new communicant into the community.

There may be a consistency in this model when we address other sacraments of vocation, i.e. marriage and orders.  The development I see is a lessening of the importance of seminary training and discernment by the local community that the person is indeed called and meets some set of criteria prior to ordination.  And that set is named.  We witness the current dissolution of marriage when this model is applied to that sacrament.  We witnessed the degradation of vocations during the middle ages with ordained clergy who were ignorant of theology and not infused with a prayer life and again recently in denominations where the emphasis was on getting ordained personnel “out into the field” rather than grace filled leaders of prayer.

The presumption is that there is a grace bestowed at baptism, at confirmation, in Eucharist through which the newly baptized, the confirmandi, the new communicant will continue to grow.  This may be the case.  However it is not the theology of the Church except in very recent times.

The theology of the early church and of the church reforming since Vatican II is that there is a need to recognize stages of initial growth in Christ through the rites of Christian initiation, including Eucharist.

During these last few weeks I thought that the praxis of “quick” baptism and confirmation, and of invitations to the table to those with little if no understanding of what they are celebrating,  might be part of emergent church theology.  I thought it might be seen as a response to the recognition that fewer and fewer people see Christianity as as a viable response to their quest for the Good or that any such quest is happening at all.  But, as I read material on the sacraments in our postmodern age, I see that a different praxis is encouraged.

This alternative emphasizse the need to discern where an inquirer is at, to hear their story, to guide them along a path that includes.  The recent work of Keenan Osborne, OFM (Christian Sacraments in a Postmodern Worl:…), Samuel Torvend (Flowing Water; Uncommon Birth) and others advocate for catechumenates that model that which Jesus exercised with his disciples.  Such a catechumenate is open-ended and usually takes a year or more to complete.  Celebration is at Easter.  Such a catechumenate extends to confirmation and celebration of Eucharist as part of initiation, not before it.  Both of these authors and others seek an answer in the postmodern world that is also named as the sacramental theology response as part of emergent church theology.

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“You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am” Mk 8:34 (Message)

This Lent is particularly difficult.  I have envisaged this portion of this blog as reflection on the gospel passages with a focus towards leading catechumenate meetings.  Today I find the focus on myself. Some would argue that that is the best way to prepare for such meetings.  Perhaps.

The context:  we have celebrated baptisms during the first two Sundays of Lent.  Such celebrations are allowed in the Episcopal church.  There is a provision in the BCP for this (page 299) but it certainly isn’t the customary practice of the Church from the time Lent first began in the Church through now.  In fact, with the reformation of the sacraments, such Lenten celebrations have been increasingly discouraged.   I don’t know what the circumstances are around today’s celebrations.  One of those baptized was an adult.

I did not have a voice in these decisions to baptize.  This is part of my frustration and anger.  This is where I hear the voice to deny myself and follow Christ. I am asking myself whether or not my disappointment with our liturgical practice so far this Lent is pharisaical?  Am I too concerned with the “Law” rather than with the Dean’s expression of faith that “many were brought to the Lord.”

Today’s passage from Romans (4:13-25) causes me to pause.  As does the Gospel verse “the Son of Man…[will] be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes…”   What many of us (including me) want to cling to as “Law” is the practice of no baptism during Lent.  Does it make a difference?

Perhaps the clinging to a practice doesn’t make a difference but the intent of the practice does.  What is the intent of a longer formation process leading to baptism?  Formation into discipleship.  So the way a Christian community celebrates baptism does make a difference in several ways:

  • Discernment–both the individual and the minister need to go through a process of discernment as to the readiness of the candidate (or of the parents & godparents) to live Christian lives.  The discernment process in and of itself takes more than a one-hour meeting (a common practice both here and elsewhere);
  • Celebration of the sacraments within the context of the Church year, which is intimately connected to those celebrations;
  • What we say (pastoral leadership and the entire community) as to what we believe baptism to be about.  If it is about new life in Christ and we are so close to celebrating that at Easter, then why not wait until then?  If baptism is about celebrating the sacrament when family members can make it, has the candidate or the community really reflected upon the Gospel  that tells us and shows us that following Christ often means leaving one’s current community, including family?  “Those who want to save their life will lose it.”

(There are numerous other differences that I may add in the future. These are ones that come to mind immediately.)

So my struggle:  I was a small voice who questioned the practice of us celebrating baptisms during Lent.  I thought I had at least that much of a responsibility as a leader in the catechumenate.  But I was not consulted about the practice.  All were done for “pastoral reasons.”  And, in order to get beyond both disappointment and anger, I must lose that part of myself that is pharisaical about such practices.

But this raises another question:  Are there standards for celebrations of the sacraments?  If so, what are they?  If one minimizes discernment regarding baptismal formation, then what about discernment and formation associated with marriage and/or ordination?  These are the other sacraments associated with vocation.  Trinity has a very good Commission on Ministry.  The members take their responsibility to discern readiness to pursue licensed and ordained ministries seriously.  But why, if we aren’t exercising the same seriousness regarding the initiation sacraments?

This includes Eucharist (also a sacrament of vocation):  Trinity does not “fence the table” (limit communion to the baptized).  We open communion to all present in the name of hospitality.  One indication I have of the readiness of a candidate for baptism is if/when that person tells me that they want to fast from communion until their baptism.  That’s when I know they are “getting” what the sacraments are about.

This Lent the Worship team decided that we would use communion wafers rather than baked bread for Sunday Eucharist in order “to simplify life during this season of Lent.”  If we’re going to be radically for Lent or against it, I suggest one or the other:

  • change from Eucharist to Morning Prayer during Lent to simplify life even more and to fast from the Eucharist

or

  • continue to celebrate baptisms during Lent and add the “Alleluia’s” back into the Sunday celebrations.

The current combination of practices is confusing, perhaps even scandalous to some.

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Advent and Beyond

We did what I said we wouldn’t do this year–we asked those involved in the catechumenate to join the parish in the ADVENTure series during Advent.  This is a series of outreach activities.  I stressed to the sponsors that they needed to go with the candidates and encourage them to participate.  This worked for the first week then it fell apart.

Meanwhile the team used the first week of Advent to reflect on the past year and to look ahead.  We felt pretty good about the focus on lectio but decided that we would try one session a month focused on “church” questions about the “what’s this?” and the “why’s that?” questions. People really yearn for that and don’t seem to think they are “learning” unless they understand these things.

We (I with the team response, “OK let’s try it”) decided to move the meetings to Sundays in 2012. We’ve done so but numbers have not increased.  They seem to have fallen off.    That’s because we have two meeting times:  9:00, during the 9am service, and one at 11:15, during that service.  Participation as been sporadic but  the 9 has been slowly growing.  It also seems like fewer numbers because of the two times rather than one.  Some weeks we have no participants at one or the other meeting.  Fortunately the leaders have faith and stick with me.

One member has left the group to take a Thursday eve class on the Episcopal church.  She is still in the catechumenate even though she doesn’t come to the meetings.  She is following her path.  Her sponsor is staying with her.

We do not have candidates for the Rite of Enrollment this year even though we do have a candidate for Confirmation.  She was baptized at the Vigil last year (the Bishop was not here).  My initial judgement at the time was that she was not ready.  She was.  As I have seen her involvement in the church this year, I am convinced that she is ready to celebrate confirmation.  I approached her about it at Christmas.  She wants to.  I told her I want her to meet with the Bishop prior to confirmation.  She will keep the same sponsor.

God continues to teach me what it means to honor the unique paths of each and how to coordinate all of these in the “church.”  Flexibility and openness are key.

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Mark

What a shift from Matthew to Mark!  We shift from the lengthy, sometimes awkward story that wants us to be sure we get it that Jesus is the Messiah of whom the prophets speak.  We shift to a fast story with a very low Christology.  Jesus is the Son of Man.  He goes around preaching and healing.  And we are left with many questions and uncertainties at the end of the story.  We are asked to BELIEVE despite the passion and death.

We’ve spent Epiphany in the first Chapter of Mark.  He’s established Jesus as healer and preacher so much so that it is difficult to get beyond the questions and discussion of “what are the demons in your life?” ” How is it that Jesus can heal you?”  “What does that mean for you?”  These are valid and wonderful questions and have led to and through some very powerful meetings.

This next week we hear Mark’s story of the Transfiguration and then into Lent.  My discipline:  to post during Lent (and beyond).

 

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Way too long

Been since before Advent, before Thanksgiving since a post.  Way tooooo long.  Hope to be back on a regular basis but no promises.

Spent Thanksgiving with John Riggs.  We met at Notre Dame.  John was in the liturgy track of the doctoral studies; I was in systematics.  John ended up teaching church history at Eden’s Seminary because they don’t teach liturgy and are, of course, sparse on “Worship.” But John has a profound sense of the ecumenical nature of baptism.  We share the puzzlement of why many involved in the RCIA seem to think and certainly write like baptism and initiation is into the Roman Catholic branch of the church.

My commitment?  To continue to reflect on rite process.  To start a dialogue that does NOT assume that initiation is the sole property of the Roman Catholic branch of the church.  Can’t do that with sporadic posts.

Will talk about Advent and beyond in the next “Catechumenate Process” post.

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N.T Wright, Part 4

I went to both of Wright’s lectures at Fremont Presbyterian Church.  At this point I don’t remember the dates.  The first lecture was followed by a panel of people from Fuller Theological and elsewhere, all Wright fans, who did not challenge Wright’s premises but rather raised incidental critiques of parts of his approach to Paul.  There was an opportunity for questions from the audience after that.  I stayed in my seat.

The evening lecture was on Wright’s perception of the gospels.  In this one he moved into how we are challenged beyond saying “The Second Coming is close at hand, so save yourself!”  We are stilled called to work for social justice.  Why, because we are in the period of “life after death (to sin), i.e baptismal life.  I agree with his message. We just come to it from very different perspectives.

In the end, I am reflecting on words by Brian Baker and Marcus Borg:  So what?  What if people believe different characterizations of the ‘Easter event’?  This is not the important matter.  What is important is what we do as Christians, as those who believe that the Lord is risen and live according to his message.

In the couple of months since my Wright saga, I have pondered this stuff.  I can’t say that I’m resolved about it, but it does help when working with those who’s perspective is more literal in terms of the scriptures.

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Tom Wright, Part 3

I shared the review with several people in the office whom I thought might find it of interest.  When I found Wright’s e-mail address, I sent a copy to him.  Much to my surprise he e-mailed back very quickly.  Here is the conversation:

October 18:

Professor Wright,

I send the attached review with some trepidation and much boldness.

The Very Reverend Dr. Brian Baker, Dean of Trinity Cathedral recommended that I read Surprised by Hope as a way to prepare for your visit to Sacramento, California in November.  I plan to attend both lectures on November 16 but suspect that I will have very little if any opportunity to express an opposing perspective on your work.  Besides others more qualified than I have already done so.  But I do want you to hear me so I send you the attached review.

The matter that continues to perplex me is your obscuration (at best) of the contrast of sarx and soma in St. Paul and in the subsequent distinct use of the two terms for  “body” in the New Testament canon, as well as elsewhere in primitive church literature.  I am also bewildered by your sense that there is the need for such language as “life after life after death.”  I agree with much of your material in the final section of Surprised by Hope about how Christians ought to live.  But I see no reason for your lack of hope that God through the Spirit can inspire us to advance the Kingdom without the “carrot” that you imagine and describe.

I have ministered in the catechumenate for thirty years.  I witness the miracle of new life in Christ through the Spirit every year and during the celebration of this at the Easter Vigil.  People being initiated and others participating in the initiations testify to the same.  This is not “life after life after death.” This is life after death to one’s old self, a life that can and will carry the transformed through the rest of their life on earth.  When Christians get discouraged, there is the community and the Eucharist to revive them.  This is real.  This is as it has been, is, and will be  to the end of time as humans know it.  As to the eschatological question, we can only see through a glass darkly.

Thank you for your attention.

I look forward to hearing and perhaps meeting you here in Sacramento.


Jerry Pare’
Catechumenate Director

 

Wright responded within the hour!

Hi Jerry, thanks for this.I appreciate your sending it though of course I think you have completely misunderstood what I’m doing.

Please, please, please before you let this one fly read the bigger book to which Surprised by Hope refers — ie The Resurrection of the Son of God. There you will find full and complete discussion of sarx/soma etc etc without confusion. I’m afraid the confusion, in fact is entirely in your own reading, not in my exposition.
  The article by Robinson, though famous, is entirely wrong-headed, and in RSG I demonstrate that in considerable detail.
  Your opening line about scripture, reason and tradition is actually abusive. I have spent my entire ministry insisting on the proper and Anglican relationship between all three (see e.g Scripture and the Authority of God.)
  Likewise your suggestion that I should work in the area of catechumenate/conversion etc is very puzzling. I have spent most of my ministry working with people, especially students, at exactly this point in their lives. As a bishop I have baptised and confirmed a great many. I am, I venture to suggest, as familiar with all this as you are. It’s puzzling to have someone suggest otherwise.
  In fact, it is Reason especially, in close relation with scripture (and, yes, tradition — but not all tradition, and not uncritically), that drives the argument of RSG throughout. The attempt to have something that looks like Christian faith but without a bodily resurrection is a major and serious category mistake, as all the early Fathers would testify. The more recent ‘traditions’ such as All Souls Day are simply based on misunderstandings, as again I show in considerable detail.
  I’m not quite sure where you are, as they say, ‘coming from’ in all this. You must know that the attempt to have a Christianity without bodily resurrection is a massive innovation in post-Enlightenment western culture. You may not, perhaps, realise the extent to which this view colludes with, and sustains, the modern western imperialism which has done so much to damage the planet, and the worldwide reputation of Christianity. But that’s another story.
  Good wishes and thanks again for the courtesy of sending me the review. I do hope you have a chance to read RSG and ponder again.
Tom Wright
Prof N T Wright

St Andrews

I then responded to him on November 19:

Professor Wright,

I do not plan to take any more of your time after this e-mail.  However I want to say several things.

First, thank you for responding to my e-mail and as quickly as you did.

Second, I apologize for the harsh words of the review’s opening.  I have no plans to publish it anywhere.  It is for local reading only for those at Trinity Cathedral who can understand such issues.  I also wanted you to read it for reasons I stated earlier.

Third, where I am “coming from” is an intellectual development that includes being in a seminary run by Benedictines in the heady days just after Vatican II.  I followed that with completion of my undergraduate work at the University of California, where I became strongly attracted to existentialism and phenomonology.  I then did graduate studies in Scripture at the School of Theology in Claremont, California under the tutelage of Rolf Knierim (Hebrew Scriptures), Marcus Borg, James Robinson & Hans Dieter Betz (New Testament).  (“Ah ha,” you say.  That is where he was corrupted!”)  The most influential course on my understanding of Scripture was Dr. Robinson’s course on the post-resurrection accounts, a course that led to his SBL paper.  I then studied Systematic Theology at the University of Notre Dame.  I came to appreciate Aquinas from the perspective of the neo-Thomists, especially Bernard Lonergan and Karl Rahner (who was hardly a conservative, as you describe him).  My mentor was Phil Devenish whom Schubert Ogden has chosen to edit and publish  his papers..  All of this education and formation was during my time as a Roman Catholic who takes the term “catholic” very seriously.

I describe myself as a post-Bultmanian progressive person who loves theology and philosophy and am blessed to work in the Episcopal/Anglican Church and to minister within that community as well.

Again,  I apologize for the harsh words in the review.

Jerry Pare’

This was the end of the short exchange.

The next event that occurred in this context was Brian and I having a couple of discussions on Wright’s work.  Brian kept a middle course:  both Wright and I may be correct and, in the end, it doesn’t really matter who is correct.  [It is enlightenment that matters.]   His other relevant point is that, in focusing on the sarx/soma issue, I seem as much a literalist as Wright.  Both may be correct but the issue does matter and can affect “enlightenment.”  How?  If one defines Jesus’ significance on the belief that he was physically raised, this is a single event that happened 2,000 years ago.  It is hard to see what that event has to do with me today.

On the other hand, if resurrection and new life is a matter of my resurrection into new life in and through Christ, we have a whole different matter that has everything to do with me.

 

(to be continued)

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Tom Wright Part 2

I decided to go to both of Wright’s lectures.  The guy is very intelligent and has had numerous debates with Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan on the issue at hand.  He has also written a considerable amount of biblical theology and is hard to dismiss.

During Brian Baker’s sabbatical he had spent time reading some of Wright’s works.  I asked him, if he had time to read only one of Wright’s books in preparation for Wright’s time in Sacramento, what would he recommend.  He recommended Surprised by Hope.  I read it during our vacation time in early September.  The first part drove me nuts because of Wright’s continued insistence on a physical resurrection and his lack of a valid argument for that.  I could not and cannot believe that, given his thoroughness in biblical exegesis as well as his discussions with Borg and Crossan, he could continue to play games with what he actually meant.  About half way through the book he did make it clear that he was talking about a physical resurrection.  (He used the word “physicality”!)  But he still did not address the sarx/soma distinction.  His justification of his position was weak.

I wrote a review:

Life After Life After Death and the Demise of Halloween

                    A Review of N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope

The combination of scripture, reason and tradition has long guided the efforts of Anglican theologians.  Unfortunately N. T. Wright throws out the combination of the first two and ignores the development of the third in his work.  And yet he remains the current hottest thing in Anglican theology.  It’s not difficult to understand; Anglican theologians are few and far between.

Wright has made his mark by falsely insisting on the evangelical scriptural interpretation of the Easter miracle as being about Jesus’ physical resurrection from a tomb.  Opponents of the Westar Institute’s work (their most infamous project is “The Jesus Seminar”) cheer him on.  Unfortunately his scripture work is obtuse and his reasoning leads to confusion.  This is clear in almost all of his work, including Surprised by Hope; Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church.

It all starts with Paul’s letters, as is meet and right.  Paul gives us the first words in the New Testament.    Wright argues that the Easter event is about a physical resurrection of Jesus.  A reasonable argument to cast doubt on this claim of physical resuscitation (Mark Borg distinguishes “resuscitation” from “resurrection” in The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, as well as elsewhere) is that Paul does not mention this supposed phenomenon.   He is silent about a physical resurrection and/or an empty tomb when he relates the tradition passed on to him (I Cor 15: 3-8).  That Paul just forgot to mention this claimed singular historical event of Jesus being raised from the tomb in all of his “physicality” (yes, sports fans, Wright actually uses this term [p. 154]) is very, very strange.

This argument is similar to that which, among numerous other things, supports the contention that Jesus’ virgin birth is a myth rather than a historical reality.  If, in that case, again, we have such a singular, physical unique event, why doesn’t the earliest gospel, The Gospel of Mark, begin with it or mention it?  Hmm.  Maybe there is something else going on in both cases.

Let us continue to focus on what Wright thinks we celebrate at Easter (and every Sunday, as he correctly notes [p. 261]).  Wright tries to distinguish his stance from that of the evangelicals (pp. 225; 271) but cannot.  However, he certainly is not a literalist.  But he glosses over some very important distinctions in his argument for a physical raising of Jesus’ body.  (Wright consistently and correctly uses the passive in talking about Jesus’ resurrection, i.e. Jesus was raised [by the Divine].  Many translations gloss over this important point about the Easter event).

Wright fails to mention that Paul makes a clear distinction between the flesh (sarx) and the essence (soma) of a person.  The references are too numerous to cite in this brief paper (see Sarx and Soma in the New Testament by Daniel Yordy for a clear start on this matter  [www.dyordy.com/PDFVersion/SarxandSomaintheNewTestament.pdf]).  Neither Paul nor the Gospel writers use the ward sarx in the resurrection narratives about the Christ Jesus.  In his discussion of Jesus’ physical resuscitation on Easter morning, Wright glosses over this difference.  Nowhere in Surprised by Hope does he deal with this New Testament contrast of the two types of “body.”

However Wright does mention that Paul and the Gospel writers do distinguish between sarx and pneuma (Spirit; Divine breath) (e.g. p. 135).  The latter, as referring to God’s spirit, is familiar to many scripturally literate Christians, including Wright.  But that’s a different matter.  That has more to do with the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christians and the Church than what happened to Jesus after his physical body was laid in a tomb.

I do not want to belabor this point even though it is critical to understanding Wright’s misunderstanding.  Others have dealt with it more expertly and more extensively (see works by Willi Marxson, Marcus Borg; Dominic Crossan, to name a few).

So what do we do with this physical Jesus who is now up and walking around with his disciples?  There are other REASONABLE explanations for the post-resurrection stories (see James M. Robinson, ‘Jesus from Easter to Valentinus (or to the Apostles’ Creed)’, JBL 101 (1982), pp. 5-37).  What Wright wants to do with this Jesus (as opposed to the “Christ Jesus” that St. Paul proclaims) is have him physically resurrected into heaven to be the first of many who will be part of the real physical heaven after life after death (pp. 109-186).  Wright’s arguments for the fleshly resuscitation of Jesus from the tomb are tried and false.  But, as far as I know, this post-Ascension “vision” is new stuff.  Wright realizes that he needs to develop the “So….what happens after that?”  In doing so he creates the double talk of “life after life after death.”

Wright’s response to this question of “What happens after that?” is that Jesus will come back for those of us who have been “good,” that is, those of us who have continued to work for the realization of the Kingdom of God.  If we don’t have this second worldly time, says Wright, we are likely to fall into despair, thinking that God has left us on our own to save the world.  Despite the witness of the saints, Wright claims that overwhelming despair is the likely outcome of the Gospel that proclaims a “love that is stronger than death” (I credit Rev. Brian Baker, Dean of Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento, CA for this version of the Christian proclamation).

Part III of Surprised by Hope, focuses on the post-Ascension task of building the Kingdom or, in Wright’s context “Building for the Kingdom (italics added).  Wright makes this distinction because of his previous assertion that Christians cannot be motivated by living in the knowledge that Christ is alive in each of us!  The Good News is this proclamation.  “The Kingdom of Heaven is here!  Rejoice and be glad!”  This is the meaning of Easter.  This is what Christ’s disciples who have gone before us as well as current disciples mean when they proclaim, “I have seen the Lord!” or, more formulaic, “The Lord is risen!  He is risen indeed!”  Non-believers from the first century onward have not understood these faith proclamations and, unfortunately, N.T. Wright does not seem to understand them either.

I suggest that Wright read and reflect upon the famous conversion stories of Saul of Tarsus, Augustine of Hippo, and Thomas Merton.  These and others struggle with the language to explain the miracle of new life in Christ.  Expression in action is not necessarily easier but rather clearer to the hearer/observer.  I can see faith in action and it does not include overwhelming despair.  I may not always understand the verbal proclamation but the active one is hard to miss.  “Why do you do what you do?” “Not because I am building for the Kingdom to come but rather because I see the Reign of God before me NOW!”

I invite Wright to minister to those adults who are preparing for baptism through the catechumenate.  Witnessing conversion through this ministry is witnessing miracle.  I recommend that Wright step out of the realm of academia and the institutional church to take part in an emerging church where the ministers do not fall into despair, because there is no despair in life with Christ.  I challenge Wright to leave his double talk of “life after life after death” in the university and proclaim the gospel in action and story as Jesus did in forming his disciples.

We need the correct understanding and use of scripture; we need a sound knowledge of the tradition and we need to be reasonable in our theology and, more importantly, in our efforts to evangelize.  Unfortunately, Surprised by Hope fails in all three guidelines for decent Anglican/Christian theology.

O yes, why the demise of Halloween?  Well, it is just wrong, wrong, wrong in Wright’s post physical resuscitation Easter world (p.23).  Do lament.  All Soul’s Day also needs to jettisoned (p. 168).

October, 2011

I wrote the review for several reasons:

  • Reading the book drove me crazy.  (My poor brother Etienne & his wife Kelly had to endure my rantings about idiotic theology.)
  • Making the “seeing of the Lord” (i.e. the Easter event) about something that happened to Jesus 2,000 years ago gives this entire, very significant part of Christian faith an aspect of “O well, that happened then; what does it have to do with me now.”
  • I knew I wouldn’t get much of an opportunity, if any at all, to ask my questions at the talks.  This way, I might be able to get the review to Wright and get his response.
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N.T. Wright Part 1

I first encountered N T(Tom) Wright about 10 years ago when Dan Williamson, the rector of St. John’s, Roseville, where we worshiped urged me to read an article that Wright had written.  The context was an ongoing discussion that Dan and I were having about what really happened at the first Easter.  Specifically, was the Resurrection of Jesus a phenomenon of Jesus being raised physically from a tomb or was it matter of his followers coming to a significant understanding of who he is?

Given my Bultmannian background, I advocate for the latter.  Dan is convinced Easter is all about the former.  He relies on Wright to make the case.

I read the article he gave me and responded with the following:

Dan,

             Thanks for the copy of Tom Wright’s Bible Review article on resurrection.  It is another example that Wright is moving to a position that the Bible texts support.  If that position does indeed express your view of the Resurrection, then you and I are closer than either of us probably thought!  However, I suspect that is not the case.

             In this article, Wright cites Romans 8:11 as a passage that indicates the early Christian significance of resurrection.  This verse is from a pericope in which Paul contrasts flesh (sarxos) and spirit (pneumatos).  “To set the mind on flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Verse 6).  Paul then goes on to talk about resurrection of the body (somata).  Part of what is interesting about this pericope (and Wright is well aware of this) is that it shows that Paul does not equate body with flesh.  Soma meant one’s essence, one’s self.  This was so for Paul and generally so in the ancient Hellenistic world.  Thus, Resurrection of the soma does NOT mean what many today assume it means, namely a resurrection of the flesh.  This, by the way coincides with Paul’s citing of the early testimony in I Corinthians 15: 3-8.  In this earliest written witness to the Easter event there is NO mention of an empty tomb!  Rather there is the testimony that Jesus was seen by Peter, by the 12, by 500, etc. (the passive voice of vision here is interesting too).

             What I dislike about Wright is that he refuses to come clean.  Wright expounds on the resurrection of the body but stops short of noting that “body” did not mean the same thing in the ancient world as it does for us Westerners.  Wright sights the various New Testament texts but does not show the development of the descriptions of Christ’s resurrection.  That development moves from mentioning that Christ “was seen” by disciples (i.e., they had visions of Christ) to stories that have him eating with his disciples on the seashore.  However the earliest accounts that we have do not mention an empty tomb or anything physical on the part of Jesus of Nazareth.  My sources are:

 John Alsup, The Post-Resurrection Appearance Stories of the Gospel Tradition

Willi Marxson, The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth

Norman Perrin, The Resurrection according to Matthew, Mark and Luke

H.J. Richards, The First Easter, What Really Happened

 Thus Dan, when we proclaim our belief in the resurrection of the body, I am with you.  When you start proclaiming a physical resurrection of Jesus, I am not with you because you have left the more profound significance of the Scriptures.

 The Easter event, the Resurrection of Jesus as the Christ, means that God raised and continues to raise Christ’s body (soma) in the life of those who become Christians.  That is why, when we celebrate the Easter event with the newly baptized now, it is as new as it has been under similar circumstances for nearly 2000 years.  We are not talking about a one-time event that happened to Jesus of Nazareth.  We are talking about a repeating event that happens to each one who finds new life in Christ.

 Again, thanks for the article.  It gives me continual hope that Marcus Borg is beginning to get through to his friend from Oxford.

 Shalom!

Dan and I agreed to disagree and life went on until Fuller Seminary, Sacramento sent notice that they were hosting Wright this November and he would give two talks. (see part 2)

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