Is Christianity unfair to women?

John Ortberg, Is Christianity Unfair to Women?I wanted to share this last week’s sermon from John Ortberg at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. MPPC is going through a series called FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), and I know this question is one that I’ve had conversations about so I hope it’s helpful! (You can click here or on the image to watch the video.)

It’s also an excuse to repost one of my favorite — and, personally, most regularly challenging — quotes about Jesus’ relationship with women, from Dorothy Sayers:

Perhaps it is no wonder that women were first at the cradle and last at the cross. They had never known a man like this man. There never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made sick jokes about women; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took women’s questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out a certain sphere for women; who never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took women as he found them and was completely unselfconscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its point or pungency from female perversity. Nobody could get from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything funny or inferior about women.

– Dorothy Sayers, Are Women Human?

“Zealot”: A response

Zealot coverJust (yes, belatedly) picked up Reza Aslan’s bestselling book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Not only is Reza a well-known and well-respected scholar, he’s also the brother-in-law of one of my good friends from seminary, and a connection through a couple other avenues as well.

I thought about writing a response, but several others have done so already; instead, I’ll just point you to John Ortberg’s recent response at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. You can watch/listen to the full message here.

A few snippets (emphasis mine):

Now the central claim of the book Zealot is that Jesus was just one more wannabe Messiah, that he was essentially nothing more than a product of his time, that he cried out against the cruelty of oppressive Rome and led a noble but doomed revolt, as they all were, and died on a cross, an admirable failure, another “not the Messiah” guy, and that some people might claim to believe in the resurrection by faith but that there is nothing in history or knowledge to support it.

I don’t think that’s true. I think there are a lot of problems with that particular claim that’s central to the book, but I want to focus on what I think are the two main problems with the central claim that Jesus was really nothing more than a failed political zealot. The first problem is Jesus did and said a multitude of things no zealot leader bent on military victory would ever do.

Jesus was constantly saying things like, “Bless your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” No zealot would say that. Jesus would say, “Don’t resist an evil person. If somebody strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one also.” Jesus said, “Forgive people, not just seven times but seventy times seven.” Jesus was widely known for loving his enemies. Zealots wanted to kill them.

The Jesus of the New Testament Gospels is clearly not a zealot revolutionary aiming at a military forced overthrow. That’s really clear. So what Reza has to say in his book is that virtually all the material in the Gospels got made up from scratch decades after Jesus lived by people who did not know Jesus.

There’s absolutely nothing in the book that’s new. Scholars have been talking and arguing about this kind of stuff for a long time, and books like [Richard] Bauckham’s [Jesus and the Eyewitnesses] are much more grounded (whatever you think about it) in New Testament scholarship. Part of the deal with Reza is he’s just a very good writer. His job is teaching creative writing at a university. It’s a really compelling book.

So I think a big problem with the book is the thesis that Jesus’ life and message is filled with things a zealot political figure would never say and never do. And they don’t read as made-up add-ons. They reflect a profound understanding, a coherent picture, of God and life and reality and the nature of love and the importance of forgiveness that simply took the ancient world by storm.

In this case, Reza ends up with a Jesus who is opposed to imperial oppression (that’s a good thing) and demands economic justice (that’s a good thing). It turns out that’s exactly what Reza himself admires. But there’s no particular godward, transcendent dimension to Reza’s Jesus. The thing about the “love your enemies, lose your own life, embrace the outsider” Jesus of the Gospels is that his face is so disturbingly unlike my face or your face or anybody’s face. It’s that face that has gripped the imagination of the human race for 20 centuries.

Another big problem with the thesis is … How did a dead Messiah spark an unstoppable movement?

2,000 years after Jesus, Richard Bauckham writes, “Two billion people today identify themselves as Christians … Such followers of Jesus are now more numerous and make up a greater proportion of the world’s population than ever before. It is estimated that they are increasing by some 70,000 persons every day.”

How did that happen? The only explanation that will get you from deflated followers of a crucified Messiah to courageous followers of inextinguishable courage is that they actually believed a resurrection happened, even though nobody expected it, and the best, simplest explanation why they believed Jesus actually rose from the dead is Jesus actually rose from the dead.

Again, you can watch/listen to the full message here.

When Hell Prevails

Every time a little child is unwanted, unloved, uncared for, no dream, doesn’t think it’s worth it to finish an education—hell is prevailing. That’s a lie of hell.

Every time a marriage—that began with a man and woman making a promise as they looked into each other’s eyes—ends, crashes and burns—that’s hell prevailing. That’s not the way God said it’s supposed to be.

Every time racial differences divide, make ugly, a street, a neighborhood, a city, a church, a community, and there is this distrust, suspicion, oppression—that’s hell prevailing.

Every time money gets idolized, worshiped, allowed to determine somebody’s worth, someone’s value, somebody’s security, somebody’s dream—that’s hell prevailing.

Every time a lie gets told and truth gets trampled on—that’s hell prevailing.

Every time generations of people get separated, isolated—that’s hell prevailing.

Every time a workplace becomes dehumanizing or fear-based instead of releasing the potential of the image of God in every human being—that’s hell prevailing.

When families get broken up, when virtue gets torn down, when sinful habits create a life of hidden shame or a culture of shamelessness, when faith gets undermined and lost, when hope gets trampled on, when people get trashed, hell is prevailing.

And it is not acceptable to Jesus that hell prevail; it is not okay. And our job is not to meet a budget, it’s not to run a program, it’s not to fill a building, it’s not to maintain the status quo, it’s not to keep any traditions perpetuated.

Our job is to put hell out of business.

That’s why Jesus went to the cross on Friday, that’s why he lay in the tomb on Saturday, that’s why he was raised to life on Sunday. It is why we proclaim Christ, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom so that we may present everyone mature, redeemed, complete, whole, healed, in Christ.

– John Ortberg, “One From the Heart,” Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, May 28, 2011.

Easter messages

If you’re wanting to listen to one sermon series this Easter …

… go listen to The District Church podcast. 🙂 I preached this past (Palm) Sunday, on expectations and reality–“What are you expecting?” And Aaron will be preaching this coming Sunday. (We’ll have a Good Friday service tomorrow evening, but won’t have recording capacity.)

But I also highly recommend this short series from John Ortberg and Menlo Park Presbyterian Church–“Friday, Saturday, Sunday.” John’s a pastor and author I respect greatly, and the first two messages of this series have really hit home for me. Go listen to 1) Friday and 2) Saturday.