The Paradox of Christ

“Above all, he is unselfish. Perhaps nothing strikes us more than this. Although he clearly believed himself to be divine, he did not put on airs or stand on his dignity. He was never pompous. There was no touch of self-importance in Jesus. He was humble.

It is this paradox that is so amazing, this combination of the self-centeredness of his teaching and the unself-centeredness of his behavior. In thought he put himself first, in deed last. He exhibited both the greatest self-esteem and the greatest self-sacrifice. He knew himself to be the Lord of all, but he became their servant. He said that he would one day come to judge the world, but he washed the feet of his friends.”

~John Stott, Basic Christianity

Nothing struck me quite so strongly as I read Stott’s Basic Christianity as the bolded sentence above. As someone who has believed since she was a young child, I have never really considered the “self-centeredness” of Jesus’ teaching. Of course he was self-centered – he’s God. He ought to be talking about himself. But if he weren’t God, were simply styling himself as God, he would be quite pompous.

Yet his actions aren’t pompous at all. He cares for the poor and needy, embraces outcasts, visits sinners in their homes. He served.

“…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

~Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)

This is the paradox of our faith – the God who is so High stooped down so low. He is indeed exactly what every person needs and does not shy away from proclaiming it: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” “I am the bread of life.” “I am the living water.” “I am the Good Shepherd.” “I am…” “I am…” “I am…” But, despite being God’s gift to man, he did not act as though he were.


Who can you trust?

Greg Boyd (author of The Myth of a Christian Nation) espouses open theism. John Stott (author of The Cross of Christ) has written in support of annihilationism (which denies an eternal hell). Ergun Caner (author of Unveiling Islam) lied about the extent of his Muslim upbringing.

It seems I can’t read anyone without uncovering a theological skeleton in their closet.

What’s an armchair theologian like myself supposed to do? Who can I trust?

Should I take Beth Moore’s tack?

“She does not show much interest in theology or tradition, distrusting the way the academy has, at times, handled the Bible.”

“Moore is primarily self-taught. She uses commentaries and concordances when writing her studies, but she relies primarily on her own intuition when interpreting and applying Scripture.”

Maybe I should just throw out the academics, throw out theology, throw out tradition, throw out the scholars. I can be my own scholar.

I don’t really like the hubris of this approach. I’m not a Greek or Hebrew scholar–and it doesn’t matter how many times I look up the Greek or Hebrew word that the scholars translated as such, I don’t have the intimate knowledge of the language that allows me to determine which of the many translations of the word is the best. What’s more, I’d be foolish to suggest that I don’t have blind-spots in my theology–underlying assumptions that may or may not be based on Scripture which inform my interpretation of Scripture. Reading a variety of scholars can help me to identify and correct those blind spots.

So maybe I just need to find the perfect teacher. I can read all of his books and become a groupie. Let’s see. I could choose John Piper–he’s a favorite among the young Reformed, and I like him quite a bit. The middle-aged Reformed folk of my acquaintance really like John MacArthur–he’d be an option. N.T. Wright is a popular fellow among my book-club friends. Or I could do the really hip Reformed thing and find myself a good Puritan pastor to go ga-ga over. And then there’s always Beth Moore :-P

The problem with this approach?

There’s no such thing as a perfect teacher (except Christ Himself). Each of these men (or women) have something useful to say, certainly–but they also have blind spots, things they overemphasize, things they underemphasize. They’re humans, they’re fallible, and so is their understanding of Scripture.

I’ve said I can’t trust myself to do theology alone. I can’t trust an individual to do my theology for me. So who can I trust?

I don’t really have an answer. Instead, I have a reminder.

Remember the Bereans.

They were said to be fair-minded because they a) “received the word with all readiness”, and b) “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”

I urge all armchair theologians (and if you’re not one yet, you should become one!) to do the same. Gladly hear what the scholars have to say–and then search the Scriptures daily to see if what they say is so.

Some bloggers I’ve enjoyed for quite a while have recently started a new blog called Southern Baptist Girl, which encourages women to critically evaluate what they hear and read in light of Scripture. Those who want to know what critical analysis of teaching looks like might want to follow along to see how Lisa, Melissa, and Leslie do it.

I could never myself believe in God

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 13: Suffering and Glory

“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross.”

This quote is found on the back of my library’s copy of The Cross of Christ. I’ve seen it every time I grab the book to read it–and, quite frankly, it has always mystified me.

Sure, if it were not for the cross, God would be a very different God than the God of the Bible, since the cross is the crux of all Scripture (pun partially intended!) But does that mean that I could not believe in Him? I don’t know. I mean, He would still be powerful and in control and creative and so on and so forth. Surely I could still believe in Him. Couldn’t I?

As I said, that quote puzzled me.

But then finally, in the very last chapter of the book, I found the quote’s origins. And then I understood.

“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross’. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples…and stood respectful before the statue of the Buddha…a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering.”
~John Stott, The Cross of Christ

Stott is not speaking of whether or not he could believe that God exists without the cross but of whether or not he could believe in Him–that is, whether he could place his trust in this God.

A God who is incapable of pain, who is merely a detached observer, cannot be trusted. A God who cannot be touched by suffering is a God who can heedlessly cause all sort of suffering. And we would be right to rail at Him: “What are we,” we might say “but pawns in a game, moved about to suit your purposes without any regard for our suffering.”

But the God of the cross is ultimately worthy of trust. For He has experienced our pain, has borne our pain, has drunk the full dregs of God’s wrath. He has suffered at man’s hand and at His own father’s hand. And it is He, who has for our sakes experienced pain beyond our comprehension, who now calls us through the pains of this world to take heart for He is using these light afflictions, which are but for a moment, to work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (II Cor 4:17).

I could never myself trust in God, if it were not for the cross.

Yet because of the cross, I can make no better choice than to entrust my all to Him who bore my suffering.

(See more of my notes on The Cross of Christ.)