We are four weeks into our series, “Who is Christ for Us for Us Today?” I recently shared with the OC how roughly fifteen years ago, my image and understanding of God essentially fell apart. The chasm had opened, and like Jonah and Esteban, I was swallowed whole (partially “chewed”). But in the midst of a financial, family, vocational, and faith crisis, I decided to launch a desperate “hail Mary” pass to the endzone. I enrolled in a graduate seminary program, and my wife and I packed up our old broken down van and moved from sunny So. Cal. to rainy Portland Oregon.
I arrived at seminary eager to begin my quest for theological answers. But I was running out of time – my personal faith crisis was rapidly escalating into full-blown enmity and alienation. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The painful feeling of betrayal could no longer be assuaged and I began to understand how people lose their faith. God was no longer friend and he was no longer father, for the differences between us had become irreconcilable. The time had come for the old god and I to part ways. So, reluctantly, and unofficially, I called it quits with the old god. But, how on earth was I going to complete a graduate seminary degree as a partially lapsed Christian?
The old god was someone who, if I was honest, I had difficulty relating to on a personal level. And yet, for all my adult life, I have desperately felt the need to gain the old god’s favor. Deep down, I had always hoped that the old god might see fit to give me an advantage in this world and provide me with a “better life.” But the old god and our conditional, quid pro quo relationship, was finally over. The experience of breaking up with my old god was both radical and painful, for it meant mourning the loss of the old while opening myself up to the terrors of uncertainty and the feelings of abandonment. And while I would eventually discover a new Image, a crucified Image, the process is an ongoing, work in progress.
the old god
As I gradually came to terms with the fact that life as I once knew it was over, I began to dedicate myself to a new cohort consisting of faithful friends and scholars, some living and some dead. This cohort, along with my wife Maylannee (and a steady diet of brandy, PNW ale, cigars, Spotify, and my favorite films) would help me navigate through this “Valley of Dead Bones.” The other critical thing I did during this time (it turned out to be the most crucial move of all) was narrow my theological focus to a particular field of study, Christology. Christology is just what it sounds like, the study of the one called, Jesus Christ.
Back in 1933 Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught a seminar at Berlin University on the theme of Christology. “Christology as the study of Christ is a peculiar discipline because it is concerned with Christ who is himself the Word or Logos, from which we also derive the term for study.” In other words, Christology, or Logology, is quite literally the “beginning” of study itself (i.e. “In the beginning was the Word . . .”). The following quote from New Testament scholar, Tom Wright is, without a doubt, among the best theological advice that I have ever received:
“There is a certain kind of modernist would-be orthodoxy, which uses the word God in something like the old Deist sense. He’s a distant, absentee landlord who suddenly decides to intervene in the world after all, and he looks like Jesus. But we already know who God is and now I want you to believe that this God became human in Jesus. The New Testament routinely puts it the other way around. We don’t actually know who God is… But until we look hard at Jesus, we really haven’t understood who God is…In other words, don’t assume that you have got God tapped, and fit Jesus into that. Do it the other way. We all come with some ideas of God. Allow those ideas to be shaped around Jesus. That is the real challenge…” N.T. Wright
Bruce McCormack, professor of systematic theology at Princeton, was lecturing on the subject, “Why Should Theology Be Christocentric?” and was explaining why we must resist the temptation to abstract from the stark claim that “God is what Jesus does.” McCormack paused to say, “Because the church should not stutter when it says, ‘ Jesus is Lord.’” Another notable voice in our Christ-centered cohort is the man with arguably the most impressive Christology of all – he is the author of no less than one-third of the New Testament, the 13th member of Christ’s 12 disciples, and the apostle to the filthy gentiles, Paul of Tarsus. The following passage from the letter to the Colossians is one of the notable examples of Paul’s robust Christology:
“We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.
He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross” (Col. 1:15-20 – The Message).
Now, in light of the above passage, author and theologian, Baxter Kruger writes, “It is simply impossible to make too big a deal about this one, Jesus Christ.”
I will now share with you two quotations that have profoundly shaped my Christology, and are the inspiration for the title of this current post. The first quote is from one of my beloved proffs, Dr. Al Bayls, who referred to Paul of Tarsus as a “full-blown Christoholic.” That phrase really stuck with me, but it wasn’t until I saw the film and scene above with Morton Downey Jr. and Ben Stiller, that I finally understood what the phrase “fool for Christ” actually meant. A “fool for Christ” or a “Christoholic” is not the same as a “saint” or a “committed Christian.” A “fool for Christ” is someone who is guilty of making too big a deal about this one, Jesus Christ. In the word’s of Kirk Lazarus (“a dude, playing a dude, disguised as another dude”) a “fool for Christ” is someone who has made the most grievous mistake of “going full retard.”
The painful process of deconstructing so much of what I once believed, so much of what had shaped and guided my life, has been a harrowing experiencing. But now twelve years later, by the grace of God, I can gratefully report to you that I have found a new place to live, with my family, friends, and fellow Christards. This isn’t to say that I have arrived in any sense of the word, but only that the long years of deconstruction, has finally given way to a rebuilding process. Now, with all this in mind, this Sunday, we will continue our series, “Who is Christ for Us Today?” Our next installment is called, “Whachoo Talkn Bout Jesus?”, for we will be looking at some of the unusually hard sayings of Christ. Hope to see you then!