Politics: To Play or Not To Play…

If you have seen a few of my tweets or a couple Facebook statuses here and there, you would know that House of Cards has disrupted my focus. The devious Francis J. Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) puts the artist in “con artist”; craftily manipulating whomever he needs in order to exercise higher levels of power. If one were to stand in his way, Francis would then proceed to utterly obliterate their career in a heartbeat. Or he would utterly obliterate their heartbeat.

Those who have seen the first couple of seasons know just how true this is.

Yet there was an interesting moment during “Chapter 22″ (Season 2, Episode 9), where a particular person who causes problems for both Francis and his wife, Claire. His name is Adam Galloway and is a world-famous photographer who was approached by rivals of Underwood seeking to ruin their political careers. Galloway complied and released a couple of photos of Claire that would raise questions within the public about her marriage with Francis. Even though what Galloway says regarding the photos is actually true – that the photos reveal exactly what they appear to reveal; an affair between him and Claire – Claire asks him to humiliate his own public standing so that the Underwood name is cleared. Galloway responds with, “I am not a part of this world.”

Another figure whom I worship and study on a daily basis has said a very similar claim in a very similar situation: “My kingdom is not from this world.”[1] While the political atmosphere within Jesus’ time was vastly different than what the modern atmosphere is now, it still operated in terms of power. Considering the tension between the Jewish leadership and the Roman government, Jesus was a trouble-maker on all fronts. He disrupted the religious system, which of course caused a problem for Pontius Pilate. As all four Gospels depict, the crowd was creating quite an uproar about crucifying Jesus – even suggesting to Pilate that he would be against the Emperor if he didn’t grant them their wish. The religious leaders wanted to exercise power over their own people; Pilate did not want his throne of power to be removed.

There is, then, a political connotation to Jesus’ words; he is quite literally saying that he does not play the same political games to attain or exercise power in this world. And yet, Jesus is saying something so much more; that the power he truly has was given to him and no one of earth can remove it from him.[2] Even if Jesus would want to have played the political game, he was well aware that the power given to him from God was greater than any on earth.

No, it is not a new thing to say that Jesus subverted the systems of power in his own day, nor is it a new thing to say that we should follow his lead. All that came to mind when watching House of Cards was that we are entering a new election year. The peak of this political season is still a year and a half out, but the campaigns have already begun. This means that those who play the game are already devising strategies to use the most people‘s votes to attain the various levels of power they seek. So now – yes, even now – is a critical time for the reminder of Jesus:

“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”[3]

My hope with the upcoming political turmoil that our nation is about to endure is that I would not value people by whom they vote for, but because they are people. One of the biggest challenges to the church today is having a balanced relationship with modern political atmospheres – knowing when to challenge or reject political opinions and when to listen for whatever wisdom that might be gleaned from them. This is not to say that our favorite politicians either replace the teaching of Christ or never have anything of value to say at all. Rather, it is to say we must exercise wisdom when listening to them – to make sure that all their promises and plans operate under the commandment of neighborly love.

It is my hope and my challenge. Our political atmosphere does a great job of pitting those who care about how the country is run against each other – categorizing them into one camp or another with no concept of “both/and” thinking. Our world operates by polarized views, “us vs. them” rhetoric, and fusions of God with patriotism – that to vote for their particular political candidate is almost to vote for a representative of God.[4] If we are to follow Jesus at his word, then we are not to play the political games our country demands of us.

May we all seek to love our neighbor as ourselves – even if they are on the other “side” of the political spectrum.

God bless.

[1] John 18:36, NRSV. A more explicit resemblance comes from John 8:23; “You are of this world, I am not of this world.”

[2] Cf. John 5:36; 6:37, 39; 10:28-29; 12:49; etc.

[3] Mark 10:42-45.

[4] Roger Olson points out that “Deism quietly filtered into the fabric of North American religious and political life, and the God of Deism and natural religion became the ‘God’ of civil religion in the United States (‘In God We Trust’),” The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1999), 532.

Spring Break Refreshment…

Spring Break, for many graduate students, is not much of a break. Even though the weekly assignments are somewhat put on hold or reduced to a moderate amount, there are still the semester papers, projects, and countless hours of course reading to catch up on. With this in mind, I took a quick trip to Eugene yesterday with my girlfriend – both for a mini-vacation and to show her where I spent seven years of my life.

We first parked on Agate St. just outside of Hayward Field. From there we walked up 15th, past the turf fields, through the dorm halls (passing my own Morton Hall of the Earl complex along the way) toward the EMU (now being rebuilt). After taking a quick stop inside the EMU, we walked down 13th, paused a bit in front of Fenton, and then wandered over to Deady, so she could see the first building built on the University of Oregon’s campus. We continued on to McKenzie, then crossed the street to the Duck Store. She was amazed by the enormity of a school bookstore and I was amazed by the renovations they had made (I used to work for the company and it did not look like that the last time I was there). We then stopped in Café Roma for a coffee with my former pastor, Tony. After a quick photo at the Starbucks next door (where I had met Jenna’s sister, Sierra, who introduced me to Jenna), we hung out at the Knight Library.

There is a song from the U of O’s acappella group, On the Rocks, called “Call Me a Duck” (a remake off of Maino’s “All the Above”). In that song, which is all about being a student at the university without a football focus, there is a portion of a line that goes “Picture you studying Greek…” At the time I first heard the song, I did not think much of it. But when I sat down at a window seat in the top floor of the Knight Library to do a little Greek homework, it was the first thing I could think of.

Top floor, far left corner from the stairs.

Taken after finished transcribing Col. 3:9-11, a passage about renewal.

It was a poetic moment that encapsulated the journey from the University of Oregon up to George Fox Evangelical Seminary, where I am now two years into a Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) degree. At a point in the semester (and even in the degree pursuit altogether) when exhaustion is beginning to hit me, it was a refreshing reminder that there was a point when I did not imagine seminary. And as I am now beginning to plan what to write for my Master’s thesis as well as studying for the GRE to move on to a PhD program in a year and a half, it is a nice motto of what I hope to study and teach after I have left George Fox.

No, it is not as if Greek is my primary area of interest, but it certainly is a part of it. It certainly is a fascinating language all its own. It certainly has opened up my understanding of the Biblical text. And I certainly would not be studying it had I not gone to the U of O. As I plan for the upcoming academic year and prepare myself for what may (hopefully) follow, remembering where I have come from and all of the transformative processes I have gone through will be what drives me forward.

Even in seminary, God can seem a little distant. When that happens, one’s future looks a little blurry and confusing. But every now and then, God – on God’s own timing – sends little reminders that God is still there, refreshing you and your passions like rain to an Oregonian.

All that God wants in those moments is for us to simply soak it in.

God bless.

Half-way Done…

During last semester, I was required to do my candidacy assessment for George Fox Seminary – where a team of professors come together, review my work, read my reflection of how life is going for me in seminary, and determine whether or not it is spiritually healthy for me to continue. I think every student goes through this assessment, so it is basically part of the routine. When I wrote the reflection essay, though, I became aware of something: I miss church.

It may be a shock for some to imagine how a seminarian could go through the majority of their classes without being “plugged in,” as the Christianese phrase goes. But that has been me; I have not been a part of a church community since I left Eugene. There are a number of reasons as to why I have not joined with any community, but a major one is that I no longer feel comfortable in the evangelical, “Reformed” settings. Why? Because in many of these environments, to extend critical thought on a particular matter – especially a theological matter that has long been tightly held (e.g. inerrancy) – would bring about shame, as if I were heretical for even asking the questions.

Seminary has changed me, but while I see all these changes as great, many in some of my former environments would not. Instead, they would likely give me the “You are walking dangerously close to that slippery slope” type of stuff and encourage me to read another book by a white, heterosexual male pastor with an “authoritative” perspective – as if I were going to simply agree with everything this person wrote because he’s a pastor and, well, a “he.” And it is not at all too farfetched to imagine these types of statements being made to me, either; after all, many have already said these things to me (especially about inerrancy).

My seminary education has given me wonderful lenses through which to view not only Scripture, but church traditions, customs, and spiritual practices as well. I have been introduced to feminism, womanism, and indigenous spiritual practices – all of which have shaped how I approach modern issues like yoga pants, Ferguson, and the “anomaly” of the gay Christian. Being taught lenses that challenge my previous understanding of how the world works in an environment that provides the space for me to think alone and formulate my own ideas has changed the way I think completely. I simply have a hard time – based upon previous experiences – imagining my own acceptance into the evangelical church setting.

And yet, I know that seminary will not last forever. The beginning of this semester marks my halfway point; this time next year will be my final semester in seminary. The reality of this is beginning, already, to settle in. My hope is to be somewhere pursuing a PhD, but who knows what kind of environment that will be like? Assuming the best, that I get into a great and fully-funded program, will it be conducive to a healthier faith? Will I be challenged in constructive ways rather than warned against the dangers of the “slippery slope”? I know for a fact that it will be a difficult task; PhDs are nothing to scoff at. But will the environment be conducive to a healthier, stronger walk with God? Will the challenges and difficulties be worth it?

Thus the need for a community outside of school.

No, I am not asking people for church recommendations. I am in no hurry right now to find a place. Instead, I want to go about this carefully so that I can find a community who loves God and their neighbors without judgment, shame, or the need to operate “as has always been done.” I need a community that seeks God, but also diversity within the congregation as well as the leadership. I need a community where we are asked to help our neighbor with what they need rather than telling our neighbors what they need to believe. No, I will not need for this community to be full of Master’s and PhD students. But I will need this community to accept me for all of me.

For those reading, what, if anything, has your community done to create an environment more conducive to the critical thinker/skeptic types? For those like me, what have you done to find and/or build a like-minded community? Has that gone well for you or are there serious setbacks that you are discovering?

Thank you for reading and God bless!

A (Sort of) Review of Peter Enns’ The Bible Tells Me So…

In 2008, I had difficulty with the Bible. Okay, it wasn’t really difficulty with the Bible, per se; more so with outside pressure about the Bible. That is, I attended a church whose pastor didn’t affirm inerrancy – the belief that the Bible is perfect – and received confrontation after confrontation regarding why I chose to keep going there. “There are too many red flags,” a friend told me. “If I were you, I’d leave,” another pastor of another church advised.

Yet what no one stopped to consider – not even myself – was whether or not the doctrine of inerrancy was a healthy way of viewing Scripture. At the time, only my pastors from that church were the ones to suggest that it wasn’t. It didn’t stop the confrontational conversations, which carried the aura of my salvation being on the line, but it did help quite a bit as I waded through for myself. Ultimately I kept going because my pastors proved to be more critically engaged with the Biblical text than those who advised me to leave. Questions were explored, not shunned.

With all of that said, I now turn to Peter Enns’ latest book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It. As the title suggests, it targets the whole concept of defending the text as perfect, especially when it comes to spiritual matters. This is the kind of book I wish I had back in ’08 because it would have assured me that 1. My salvation is not at stake when it comes to reading Scripture as an imperfect text and 2. We begin to understand the authors of the text when we remove that presupposition (or an “essential belief” as that other pastor described it) of a perfect text.

Of course, removing such a prominent belief in a good majority of Christianity (at least from the Protestant side of things) might mean chaos for someone. It might mean they begin to question the existence of God altogether. Such chaos is evidenced by that pesky “slippery slope” one must walk down before unbelief or doubt. And yet, as Enns highlights, such a slope is not a problem. In fact, faith oftentimes seems like nothing but slippery slope after slippery slope, which makes one wonder whether or not the peaceful, level plateau where everything is certain and coffee is cheap is nothing but legend.

Here is a passage from Enns’ book that speaks of such chaos:

An unsettled faith is a maturing faith. Christians often get the signal from others that if they doubt or struggle in some way with the Bible, their faith is weak. They are told that their goal should be to ease the stress somehow by praying more, going to church twice on Sunday (and Wednesday if need be), or generally just stop being so rebelliously stubborn and asking so many questions.

But one thing we see in the Bible is how often people’s trust in God was shaken – and not because they were weak, but because life happens. Whether we read books like Job and Ecclesiastes (as we’ve seen) or the dozens of psalms that cry out to God for some reason or another, life does not move along smoothly.

You get the feeling from the Bible that being unsettled is almost a normal part of the process.

Not that we should go looking for it – it will find us soon enough – but struggling in some way seems like something we should expect on our own spiritual journeys. True struggling in faith is a stretching experience, and without it, you don’t mature in your faith. You either remain an infant or get cocky.

Feeling dis-ease and challenged in faith may be God pushing us out of our own safety zone, where we rest on our own ideas about God and confuse those ideas with the real thing. God may be pushing us to experience him[1] more fully, with us kicking and screaming all the way if need be.

Feeling unsettled may be God telling us lovingly, but still in his typical attention-getting manner, it’s time to grow.[2]

My walk with God has been this unsettled path – sometimes of whether or not God exists, other times of whether or not homosexuality is a sin (or other topics). But such an unsettled-ness has compelled me to listen more, trust more, and step out in an act of faith more. Sure, there were a lot more questions once I chose to go the route of my own pastors at that church, but such questions compelled me, more than ever before, to seek God. These questions forced me to uproot my own foundations to see what was there and upon doing so I realized that those foundations were full of sand and not bedrock. And, strangely enough, the more questions I asked, the fewer answers I received, but the stronger my faith became.

It is almost like asking more questions is kind of the point.

All in all, this is a great book that I wish I had had back when this issue was much more prominent in my life. I highly recommend this book to anyone considering seminary as a potential path because it is a great introduction to the way that seminary beckons one to rethink the Biblical text. And of course I recommend this book to anyone who believes in God, but isn’t sure about the Bible. One other thing I noticed about following my pastors was that my interest in the Bible increased exponentially. There was so much I was missing (and still am, in some ways).

If you’d like to read more stuff from Enns, here’s his blog: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/. Only one word of caution: he is a Yankee fan…

God bless.

[1] Enns has a footnote wherein he discusses the gendered pronouns: “I do not believe that the God of the universe is male or female, but, following the biblical convention, I will use male pronouns when speaking of God. We will be looking at a lot of passages from the Bible, and adjusting the language at each point could get distracting and become the unintended focus. I realize – and respect – that not all would agree with me in this decision, but I just want to be clear about what I am doing and why.”

[2] Enns, The Bible Tells Me So, 238-239, boldface is mine.

Halfway Assessment: Reflections on How Seminary Has Changed Me…

A little over a week ago I found out that I am now up for candidacy assessment, which all (or most?) at George Fox Seminary who are reaching the midway point of their programs must undergo. It essentially evaluates how well or not well I’m handling my courses, whether or not I’m growing in a healthy way spiritually, and then ultimately it decides if I’m up to the task of finishing. From all of what I have read about it thus far, it’s a simple means of determining whether or not my degree program is benefitting me and those around me. It is such a weird feeling to be nearly halfway done with a pursuit that I began a little over a year ago.

Part of the assessment asks how my theology has changed over the duration of my time at George Fox. This was a tough question to answer mostly because we’re supposed to keep our words few and our meaning specific, but also because I am not sure whether it is better defined as a theological shift – a change in what I believe – or as a coagulation of things that I believed in part – undercurrent beliefs or questions long held, but merely affirmed throughout my time in seminary.

For example, I believe that women can and ought to be on the forefront of ministerial leadership, which includes being the head pastor of a church, but is not limited to that. Even if Adam and Eve were truly the first humans, Eve – as the supposed model for all women – is the co-helper with Adam and vice versa. Women being placed beneath men is a consequence of humanity’s break with God, which was then mended in and through Christ, rendering there to be “no longer Jew or Greek, … slave or free, … male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”[1] When we treat and value women as equally capable leaders and thinkers, we are ushering in the new creation that Christ has established.

I believe that calling God “Father” is not a terrible thing to do, but that there are plenty of shortcomings in taking this label – as really with any label – further to attribute “masculine” characteristics back onto God. There are also shortcomings with calling God “Mother” as well, which only means that any label we would like to give God that depends solely on modern terminology (or even dated terminology) will only wind up leaving us with a God in our own image – or the image we would like God to be in. This is not to say we create God in our own image when we call God Father or Mother, but to say that we must always allow God to be God – transcendent beyond gender, time, and material, yet embedded deeply and relentlessly active within each. God is much larger than our simple regurgitations of our pastors’ favorite theologians.

I believe our understanding of sexuality from the lens of Scripture is exceedingly limited – particularly with homosexuality. Declaring heterosexuality the norm based on a text from a time period where loving, caring, homosexual relationships were practically non existent (at the very least, not attested for) – where in fact homosexual acts were a means of expressing dominance – is stifling the voices of the LGTBQ community before they’re even given a chance to speak. At that point, we are no longer bullying them; we’re dehumanizing them.

Lastly, and not at all of least importance, I believe that racism is still alive and manifests itself in many realms and on many levels. The people of Ferguson, Missouri and their reaction to the killing of unarmed Michael Brown is but a taste of what many marginalized races have been feeling for God knows how long. And, most importantly, this is not to harmonize all races – that because they have the same struggle, they must have the same story. This is profoundly not true. The story of the Native American people – my own heritage – is not the same as the African-American people nor the same as the African, Korean, Afghan, Palestinian or any other marginalized people’s story. Loving one’s neighbor, particularly in this context, is not standing idly by while fellow siblings are trampled on and dehumanized without being given a chance to speak for themselves. And yet at the same time, it means not taking up their cry for justice as one’s own and further muting their voice. Inasmuch as I can claim the Cherokee people as my own heritage, I cannot claim their struggle as my own; I was raised by a successful, white family (my mother is white). But I can certainly help.

One must pardon the matter-of-fact nature with which I write all these; there has been an exhausting amount of controversy revolving around each of these lately and I am simply fed up with the lack of neighborly love shown from fellow Christians (and of course, myself). In many ways, those who have been marginalized, whether Christian or not, have displayed greater Christ-likeness than many of the Christians arguing against them. Rather than responding in kind, they’ve chosen to love their neighbors as themselves (similar to what Paul describes in 2 Cor. 6:1-10). In many ways, I have been challenged to follow their example.

By and large the biggest challenge of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self is listening to one’s neighbor and allowing them to define themselves in their own terms. I have no right to tell the gay Christian that she is not really a Christian because she is gay; I am not God, therefore, I am not omniscient. Furthermore, Jesus teaches that we will know the false believers by the fruit they bear; are the predominately-white police officers in Ferguson, Missouri truly bearing Christ-like fruit when advancing on peaceful, unarmed gatherings (which is a right granted to all by the 1st Amendment) or are the protestors – who have shown a greater wherewithal to protect their own community peaceably – showing bad fruit by crying out for justice for Michael Brown and his family (and the families of many other black men and women killed and demonized within white communities)?

Seminary hasn’t changed me, really. It’s simply helped me refine things I have already been believing for some time and then challenged me with opportunities to live out those beliefs. And as I have said, these beliefs are quite simple: loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving my neighbor as myself – valuing them as equally as I value myself despite the drastic differences there may be between us. If I am only at the midpoint of my seminary experience, I have a lot of work ahead of me.

God bless.

[1] Gal. 3:28, NRSV. Paul here repeats “there is no longer” to further emphasize the break from “the way things are.” Richard B. Hays writes, “Paul is echoing the language of Gen. 1:27: ‘male and female he created them.’ To say that this created distinction is no longer in force is to declare that the new creation has come upon us, a new creation in which even gender roles no longer pertain.New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Vol. XI, p. 273, emphasis mine.

The Real Reward of Persistence…

During dinner the other night I decided to watch an episode of How I Met Your Mother. I’ve been cycling back through very slowly for the past year or so. If you haven’t yet watched through season 6, avert your eyes from this blog post until you do… unless you don’t mind spoilers, in which case, please keep reading.

It was a couple episodes after Marshall’s father passed away and Marshall was going through some serious self-reflections. He realized that his job wasn’t meaningful and he was upset that his dad never got to see “how he had turned out,” as Marshall put it. Marshall had wanted to become an environmental lawyer – something that had always made his father proud. But when his father passed away, he was just another corporate lawyer doing meaningless work for a decent amount of money. Marshall wasn’t okay with that.

While watching this episode, it sort of hit me: my grandpa has only seen me as the college or grad student, occasionally working a part-time job here and there to make ends meet. My grandpa will never get to see me realize the ambition of becoming a professor – something that I already know is a long shot in the field of biblical studies, but something I want nonetheless. After all, part of the decision to go to seminary in the effort of becoming a professor was to make my grandpa proud.

I think I felt quite like Marshall over this past summer. In between the end of summer semester and the beginning of fall, I started questioning the purpose of continuing on with more school, debt, and stress, especially if he wasn’t going to be there to see me achieve something. It felt like a waste of time to keep trying for something that has a slim chance of success anyhow, especially if my grandpa wouldn’t get to see it if I succeeded anyway.

Yet as the fall semester enters its third week, I’m beginning to realize that the real reason I had felt this way wasn’t because of my grandpa passing away; it was because of that little voice that tells me I have to earn acceptance, love, and value – things that my grandpa freely gave to me, even when he didn’t agree with the route I had chosen. Him not being able to see any future accomplishments is a huge bummer. But that doesn’t mean that he (or anybody else, really) had to be around to see it happen for it to have meaning. It doesn’t mean that the pursuit itself is worthless. And if I’m honest with myself, he wouldn’t want me to give up now, anyway (he didn’t want us to give up in anything we started, really).

Yesterday was spent doing nothing but Greek and Phoenician homework. While I was testing myself with the new vocab and memorizing all the consonants, I started to feel the sense of fulfillment I had in my first year. It wasn’t as intense, sure, but it was there. And I highly doubt that I’ll feel it every time I sit down to do homework, but to get a dose of it this early in the semester is a great feeling. At this point, all I can really do is keep going at it; keep checking off assignments one page at a time.

When it comes to achievements of really any kind, I don’t have to prove my worth to anyone. It’s there already. What I do have to do is prove that there are certain values my grandpa raised me with that I don’t want to let go of: doing all that I do to the best of my abilities, especially the things I enjoy. One of my favorite Proverbs carries a similar tone; “Do you see the one skillful in their work? They will stand before rulers; they will not stand before obscure ones.”[1]

My point here is not to work as hard and as well as you can in order to be rewarded, but to do so because the work itself is the reward. The things we take joy in, the things that require our time and energy – those are the things that shape us, in addition to hardships, losses of loved ones, and pain. To give up in any regard, to quit before you’re really tested, that is to cheat yourself out of an opportunity like no other to be developed in a certain way – a way that God may want you to be developed.

For Marshall, as I already know what happens, this means leaving his corporate job, but in order to do what he’s most passionate about: environmental law. For me, it means keep going with what I’m doing because, as I’m rapidly discovering again, this is what I’m most passionate about doing – even if I never become a biblical studies professor.

To make one more analogy, my favorite musicians aren’t the ones with the catchiest lyrics or the biggest fan bases; they’re the ones who lose themselves in their music – who cast aside all worry and just have fun with what they do. I can bet it’s hard work, sure. But I can also bet that it’s worth every bit of it.

The real reward of a joyful, ambitious persistence isn’t money, fame, or anything material.

It’s who you become in the process.

God bless.

[1] Prov. 22:29: Actual, literal translation of the Hebrew reads with the masculine pronoun, but the meaning is gender-neutral.

Thoughts From Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God…

I finally got around to begin reading Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God and so far, it’s okay. Ehrman draws comparisons of Jesus to other god-man figures around the same time period of Jesus and essentially, as far as I can tell, makes the assertion (among other related assertions) that Jesus never believed himself to be God incarnate. And as ridiculous as this may sound, that actually doesn’t bother me.

Saying that Jesus didn’t believe himself to be God isn’t the same as saying he wasn’t actually God – that is, simply because Jesus may not have believed himself to be God doesn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t. Jesus’ divinity need not have relied upon his self-awareness as God. John’s gospel would stand out as a little odd if Jesus didn’t actually believe himself to be God, but even so, he still could be God without believing it.

There are quite a few passages in the New Testament that instantly become more interesting with this understanding of Jesus’ self-understanding. When Jesus references the “Son of Man” or the “Human One” (as the CEB has it), who is Jesus talking about if he isn’t talking about himself?

One passage that comes to mind is Mark 8:27-33:

Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’

They told him, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.’

He asked them, ‘And what about you? Who do you say that I am?’

Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ.’ Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: ‘The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.’ He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: ‘Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.’

As I said, there are many others, but most of them seem related to this one: predictions of the “Son of Man’s” torture, death, and resurrection. Now I know that Peter calls Jesus “the Christ” and then Jesus goes into a mini-lecture about the “Human One” or “Son of Man,” but to my understanding these were hardly indistinguishable terms. To reference one is to reference the other. If this is the case and Jesus did not believe himself to be the “Human One,” then perhaps we are seeing a bit of Jesus’ humanity – much more than we anticipated or even wanted.

If you hadn’t guessed it by now, Ehrman’s book is one about Christology (the study of Christ). Under such a study is the question of the divinity of Jesus: Whether he was God incarnate or an ordinary man who was later deified (as is Ehrman’s contention in How Jesus Became God). And after reading the hundred-some pages of Ehrman’s book, I am beginning to wonder if it isn’t a mixture of the two; that perhaps Jesus believed himself to be an ordinary man, yet was God incarnate, dwelling “among us.”

In passages like the one above, we find what we thought was a confident God-man testing his disciples about their faith. Yet if Jesus is the ordinary God-man, then might this be a scene of Jesus discovering who he actually is? When he’s asking what others think of him and then what the disciples think of him, perhaps he’s seriously wondering if he might be the Christ? And with his teaching about what the Son of God/Human One must suffer immediately following his discussion with the disciples, might this be Jesus fully realizing his fate? “He said this plainly,” half terrified and yet half mesmerized as to what was unfolding.

Although mostly to keep up with what’s popular, I am eager to read the rest of Ehrman’s book as well as the response, How God Became Jesus, from Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans, Simon J. Gathercole, Charles E. Hill, and Chris Tilling – an endeavor I wanted to take up months ago. But for now, I would love to hear what others think about the idea of Jesus not knowing he was God: Do you think it’s plausible or ridiculous? What does it mean for our faith in Christ if this were true – what changes and what stays the same?