Extracurricular Activities — December 14, 2013
The world reacted with shock when, on March 13, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was chosen as the 266th pope. However, through the opening months of his reign, he is proving to be exactly what the Roman Catholic Church needed, even if he wasn’t initially what many Catholics wanted. The church has been hit hard by scandal and by the perception that Catholicism is an ancient and obsolete faith with little ability to speak to modern controversies: homosexuality, female clergy, abortion, contraception, and the like. Francis has breathed life into the church and aroused the adoration of the people he leads.
Think about it, the two Big Ones in the church, baptism and eucharist, are participations and witnesses to the death of Jesus. Mike Bird is right, then, when he says “the first Christians preached, remembered, and ordered their lives around the story of the cross” (Evangelical Theology, 385). But how to understand that cross? How to understand atonement theology?
Begin with Chrysostom, who gives full scope:
O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel.
Christians often sing these words from the familiar hymn as Christmas approaches. The name Emmanuel (or “Immanuel”) literally means “with-us-God.”
With the advent of Jesus, God is with us dramatically as “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). And yet, the idea of God dwelling in the midst of his people appears in Scripture much earlier than Jesus. God walked with Enoch and Noah, he ate a meal with Abraham, and he wrestled with Jacob (Gen. 5:22; 6:9; 18:5; 32:28). Whenever God calls people into his mission, he gives them a promise of his presence (Exo. 3:12; Josh. 1:5; Judg. 6:16; 1 Kgs. 11:38; Jer. 1:8). Even the title “Immanuel” from the song goes back to the reign of King Ahaz of Judah, when God promised to be “with” even evil Ahaz and his people as they worried about the threatening kingdoms from the north, Israel and Syria (Isa. 7:1-17).
On Biblical’s faculty blog, I’ve been going through the Psalms for the past year and it wasn’t hard to find one which focuses on God being present with his people. The theme of a “with-us-God” dominates Psalm 46.
Perhaps you have seen his TV show— Snake Church, a reality show on Nat. Geo. Andrew Hamblin is a member of the Church of God. His church is on a gravel road in Campbell County, north of Knoxville. And recently he has gotten some attention he really didn’t want. The Law came and took away a bunch of poisonous snakes from his church. He sees this as a violation of church and state. They see it as a violation of the law of the state of Tenn. which does indeed regulate who can and can’t have such dangerous critters.
From what I can tell, Hamblin is indeed a devout low church Protestant Christian. He’s not a charlatan, not in it for the money or fame. He’s just a Christian with the mistaken notion that the Bible promotes, indeed even commands snake handling. The truth is, he is in all likelihood wrong about this view. And if Mark 16.9ff. is no part of the original inspired text of the Bible, then snake-handling cannot be protected under some freedom to practice Biblical religion, or separation of church and state notions.
So there you have it. Guys, we might have been excited about Christmas coming, but #SCIENCE has shown us that virgin births can’t happen, so if you want to celebrate, fine. Just trade in your nativity scenes for Santa and his flying reindeer, or realize they’re both just pleasant but impossible holiday myths. Right.
Now, to be fair, the guy didn’t strictly say this is about Christmas. Nor did he single out Jesus’ birth as impossible, or actually draw the explicit conclusion that it’s all a myth that pre-scientific believers swallowed whole because they didn’t know any better. Sure, it was titled “Could a Virgin Birth Ever Happen?” and had a painting of the Mary with the baby Jesus in her hands, but, you know, that could mean anything.
Still, were it the case that this little article was intended to imply something of the sort, in the way that popular Dawkins-style unbelievers, or old-school liberals like John Shelby Spong typically tend to, I’d like to point out a few key lines of Christian thought to quickly cut that off.
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