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Does Jesus Make a Difference?

Well I’ve returned to Peter Rollins in the last couple of days, and it seems that I’m not quite done musing on this guy’s ideas (well-intentioned promises to the contrary). Forgive the overlap and repetition that will undoubtedly occur in what follows, but I do feel that it is important to wrestle with ideas such as the ones Rollins is advocating. He is a thinker who is certainly committed to taking the postmodern challenge to faith and epistemology seriously; however I wonder if he sometimes goes farther than either faith or philosophy requires him to.

In what Rollins terms the “Towards Orthopraxis” (“correct practice”) section, he outlines the themes and structures of a few actual Ikon services, attempting to show how his views on postmodern theory work themselves out in a faith community. Rollins spends a lot of time on subjects like how inadequate our concepts of God are, how we need to be prepared to love God for his own sake rather than for what he can do for us, how the need for a victorious Christ is selfish, how protest against God is a fundamental part of an authentic life of faith…

In sum, a few common themes for Rollins, at least as far as I can tell, are the radical “otherness” (for lack of a better term) of God and the limitations of human knowledge. Our faith must acknowledge these limitations and embrace the unfathomable, unspeakable, inexpressible character of God. Which is helpful…

…and not so helpful.

My course reading this semester has focused heavily on the nature of Jesus Christ (imagine that!) and the impact he has on our theologizing in particular, and the life of faith in general. I’ve just finished reading John Stott, and I continue to wade through the works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Both of these guys place a heavy emphasis upon the career of Christ as the defining point of history – one that fundamentally alters what a response of faith will look like. I find myself wondering where Jesus fits into Rollins’ concept of God and whether or not he sees him as introducing anything genuinely new into God’s redemptive plan and the corresponding life of faith. Rollins seems to admire his life and teachings, and certainly thinks that he provides us a worthy example, but it’s hard to say if he sees Jesus as objectively changing anything about the world.

On the one hand, I find myself appreciating Rollins’ commitment to take our experience of the world seriously, acknowledging the pain, ambiguity, and mystery that remain important features of the human experience. Yet I wonder if our faith claims require us to take a more defiant stance against what is given by our experience of the world. At times Rollins seems to border on advocating the embrace of mystery, suffering, emptiness, and ignorance as somehow virtuous things in and of themselves or, at the very least, indicators of authentic faith. And I’m actually inclined toward a more deliberate emphasis on the legitimate role of these things in a life of faith. Jesus did warn us that we would have trouble in this world…

But he also told us to take heart, for he has overcome the world (John 16:33).

It seems to me that if in Christ we have the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), then there are a lot of things that we can say about God, humanity, and the state of a world in which the kind of divine intervention we see in Christ is necessary. As I read the New Testament, I do not get the sense that Jesus wants to convince people of the “hypernonymous” nature of God, or of loving and following him with no thought to what he was achieving and would ultimately achieve. Jesus’ earliest followers were convinced that through this Galilean, the God of Israel was acting to vindicate his people and triumph over evil. These people had clear ideas about what their God had promised, what the fulfillment of these promises would look like, and the moral character of the one who made the promises. The fact that they held mistaken views about at least one of these ideas does not change the fact that they saw a clear linkage between loving obedience, and the divine redemption and vindication of their people

This idea that God wants us to abandon all of our conceptions of him and be content to dwell on that ambiguous Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday seems to disregard or ignore the fact that God has made himself known in the figure of Jesus, and that from this point on the world is a different place. Christians believe that in Christ “the hopes and fears of all the years” are met, which I take to mean “vindicated,” “provided for,” “honoured” or something like that. Of course we do not cease to be limited human beings, but part of what it means to affirm some of the ridiculously counter-intuitive claims of Christianity is having the courage and the confidence to insist that things changed when God became a human being.

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