John, the Fourth Gospel, and Jesus

I am not sure that John wrote the Fourth Gospel. Scholars attribute the gospel to one person who knew Jesus and then to a redactor or two. The information written in the gospel was passed down through oral tradition and then written and revised.

Whoever the source may be, the understanding of Christ is that he is God and that God can be seen in him. Kysar writes in the "Anchor Bible Dictionary" that "the evangelist" strove to describe Christ through a series of metaphors, or "images" to "articulate the unique function and identity of Jesus “(section G1).

For instance, Jesus is the Word, or logos. He is the wisdom and movement behind creation. He is the "self-expression" of God (section G 1a). Jesus is "I am"--the same name that God revealed to Moses. Because he is God, Jesus is the source of everything. He is the bread of life, the living water, the light of the world. The words of Jesus are equated with the very words of God. Accepting Christ's testimony is the same as accepting God's will.

According to Kysar, the Johannine community referred to Jesus as the “Son of God”, “The Son”, “Son of Man”, “only Son”, “only Son of God”. All of these titles express Christ’s deity and the “unique bond of both identity and function between Jesus and God” (Section G 1c). The title “Son of man” is associated with the cross and “Son of God” is associated with “what he is and does” (Section G1c)

From my reading so far, Johannine Christiology is wrapped up in the nature of Christ and his relationship with God the Father. Because Christ is God, he is the source of humanity’s deepest needs; he is our food, our water and our light. Through Jesus we see the Father. Through Jesus we understand what God’s will for humanity is and that God loves us.

Would contemporary Wesleyans be comfortable with Wesley’s views of worldliness?

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world: if any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the desire of the flesh, and the desire of the eye and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the desire thereof; but he that doth the will of God abideth for ever.” John Wesley's translation of the 1st Epistle of St. John

According to Wesley’s notes on the New Testament, worldliness is when we seek pleasure in “visible things” instead of God, who is unseen. Anyone who pursues pleasure in what is visible does not love God. Wesley says that what is visible is not permanent and will “pass away.” God, however, is eternal and by loving God we will therefore spend eternity “in the enjoyment of what (we) love forever.”

Wesley wrote that the “desire of the flesh” was related to “taste, smell, or touch” or the “pleasure of the outward senses; “the desire of the eye” meant taking great satisfaction in things. “The pride of life,” or as the NRSV says “the pride in riches” was what we now call materialism. If we have the pride of life we acquire things in order to please ourselves and to get approval from others.

I am quite familiar with Wesley’s definition of worldliness on a personal level. As an American (and I am not blaming it on my culture, I am blaming it on my carnal nature because it responds to my culture), I love to go shopping for clothes. I love to go to Hobby Lobby and purchase new equipment for the crafts I enjoy doing. As a woman I want my house to look a certain way and I want my kids to look nice. Perhaps once in a while these activities are alright. I just don’t want to pursue them to the point where I have to have the latest thing no matter what. I also do not want to clutter my house with unneeded things and waste a bunch of money that could be used to help others.

I think that modern Wesleyans may be uncomfortable with Wesley’s view of worldliness, especially if they are into “keeping up with the Joneses.” Because we are surrounded and inundated with this mindset, it would be difficult to tell if we were involved in this unless we spend some time in contemplation, in fasting or if we went on a mission trip.

In the Church today there is a segment that is very attentive to the poor. They do not seem to be caught up in materialism and they are into social justice. Nazarenes used to be this way more so than they are now. To me it seems like we are more concerned with helping people who live half a world away than we are in helping our neighbors. I think that there needs to be a better balance in this.

Is there a possibility of "being formed by the wrong spirit"?

In I John 3:24 and 4:13, the Spirit provides assurance that we are God’s if we abide in God or “live in him” (Marshall, 202). 1 John also provides other conditions to abiding: believers will 1) “walk as Jesus did;” 2) obey God’s commands; and 3) love one another (Marshall, 202). If we are not living according to any of the aforementioned criteria then we will not sense that assurance. In this case we need to examine ourselves and ask God to show us where our spiritual lives are “in jeopardy” (Marshall, 202).

Some people, however, have an overdeveloped sense of guilt, or perhaps they are just tired or having a bad day and feel that they are not walking with God because of these negative feelings. In this case it is good to weigh our actions against what we are feeling. The writer of 1 John says: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 Jn 3:18-20).

Marshall adds to this by saying “…it is important to recognize that the grounds of Christian assurance and the tests of the reality of Christian experience are multiple: one cannot say that simply because a person professes true belief, or loves his fellow men, or claims to have charismatic experiences, he is a true Christian: it is the combination of these features in a harmonious unity that makes up true Christianity” (219). In other words, we should not depend on fleeting feelings to assess our relationship with God. The significance of the Spirit is that s/he balances everything and assures us despite our emotions.

We can safely surmise that it is possible to be formed by the wrong spirit because right after 3:24 in 4:1, the writer tells us to not believe every spirit. The writer then gives us a test to see whether or not a spirit is from God: every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God (4:3). I guess this is a Christian version of a litmus test.

Three questions

There are three questions that are foundational to spirituality:

“Who am I, and what is the meaning of my life?” is the central question of humanity’s existence, according to Barbara Bowe in her book Biblical Foundations of Spirituality. Bowe affirms that the purpose of humanity’s existence rests in its growing relationship with God and that the Bible provides the answers to our questions about meaning. Bowe states that the Bible tells us that men and women were created in God’s image, that they find meaning in their relationships with each other and that human beings are “touched to our very core” by sin and grace (36). Because of sin, our relationship with God, each other and the earth has changed. Bowe says that the well being of humans deepens as we recognize these truths and begin to practice them.

How does God interact with creation and with us; where can God be found? Bowe states that these answers are largely dependent on our lot in life. If we are rich, we might view God as one who blesses. If we are poor, we cling to God in hope. Bowe asserts that there are many theologies from which we view God, but two—saving and blessing—are dominant and complimentary to each other. Saving theology views God’s “very name and identity … synonymous(ly) with … saving deeds” (47). Blessing theology is the view that God is the primary source of blessing and care (48). Saving theology’s goal is “liberation and freedom” and the goal of blessing theology is “the fullness of life,” a sharing in God’s work. Bowe says that by integrating the two theologies in our spiritual life we view God as one who rescues us from time to time and also as a friend who is with us constantly.

What are we to learn from the biblical stories (66)? In Chapter 5, Bowe shows readers spiritual truths that can be learned from the primary salvific event—the Exodus. From the story of God’s deliverance of the Israelites we learn about the challenges and demands of freedom, trusting in God and about the “intransigence” of evil in our hearts. We also learn about the slow struggle of deliverance.

Bowe presents a meaningful discourse on how people view God and how the basic questions of human existence are answered as we contemplate biblical stories—what it meant to the first readers and what it means to us now. I thought it was interesting that God’s “name” YHWH “preserves God’s utter freedom and namelessness” and how God will not allow himself to become “domesticated” by giving anyone his/her name (60, 61). Yet, when God came to earth in human form, his name Jesus meant the LORD is salvation ( “Through the lens of saving theology, God’s very name and identity are synonymous with these saving deeds.” In this way God becomes more tangible or knowable. God becomes the one who saves and the one who walks beside us.

Bowe and the prophets

Once the people of Israel left Egypt and began their desert wanderings, the wilderness became a time of testing for them and a place to figure out their relationship to God. Barbara Bowe in her book “Biblical Foundations of Spirituality” wrote that it was at Mount Sinai that the Israelites entered into a new relationship with God (69). Through the giving of the Law and the Ten Commandments, God laid out his/her expectations of the chosen people. Bowe says that they were to be a holy people because God was holy. They were to follow the Ten Commandments because these laid out how they were to live with one another. They were to follow certain rituals so that they could remain holy in God’s presence.

We often hear the phrase “chosen people” connected to Israel, and in the Bible we see that the people considered this to be a privilege. However, Bowe states that the people were chosen for responsibility, not privilege (74). They were to live faithfully and show the world who God was. More often than not, however, they lived as though their chosen status exempted them from disaster even though they were not following the God who chose them.

After leaving Egypt, the people had lived in a tribal arrangement without a common leader. As conditions changed in the land, and their enemies became more formidable, the people began wanting a king. Once they were given a king, the nation was no longer a theocracy. Instead, “religion and cultic practice were now the servants of the state” (79).

Monarchy, unfortunately, helped lead the people of Israel away from God. To bring them back, God sent prophets “read the writing on the wall” and speak to the people about the consequences of disobeying God. (83). Bowe writes that the prophets were women and men who dared “to challenge the status quo and who served as essential agents for social change” (84).

The prophets had unshakeable faith and they stood as mediators between God and the people.
The role of prophets declined after the exile, when the people of God began to take the covenant more seriously, but their role still exists today. They are still people who are uncomfortable with the status quo, who hate sin and who encourage people to hope in the midst of trouble.

I felt like Bowe’s chapter on prophets was excellent. Her description helped me understand people who fulfill that role in my life and she also challenged me to take that role more seriously in my own life. Sometimes I notice that I get stirred up about issues and when they are not solved, I let them go and move on. Bowe encouraged me to live in that passion for God’s word and for righteousness, to lift up the cause of the poor and the distressed. She encouraged me to become more of a poet and a dreamer (105), one who can see possibilities rather than resting in the status quo.

The 'wisdom writers'

In her book, “Biblical Foundations of Spirituality”, Barbara Bowe writes about the wisdom writers of the Old Testament, saying that they are part of the “blessing” tradition discussed in an earlier chapter. The blessing tradition pursues wisdom. It is not as concerned about the historical acts of God, but in the “daily ordinariness of life” (110).

“In wisdom’s view,” Kathleen O’Connor wrote, “the struggles and conflicts of daily life are not to be escaped but embraced in full consciousness of their revelatory and healing potential” (110). In other words, we are to “play the hand we are dealt” (124).

The wisdom books include the books of Proverbs, Job, Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes), Song of Songs, Sirach, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Psalms. According to Bowe, there are several common features in the books of wisdom. The ones that stand out to me are the way the books explore “universal human concerns,” not just those prominent in Israel, and how humans should behave in the midst of life’s complexities (111). Bowe writes that wisdom avoids the “easy” or “rote” answers about life because life is too complex and God is bigger than “pat” answers (111).

In the chapter called “That Man Jesus,” Bowe discusses the life of Jesus and how each gospel portrays him in a unique way. In John’s story, Jesus is portrayed as “the human face of God” (148). In Luke, Jesus spoke about discipleship, the daily taking up of one’s cross “for the long haul” (142). Luke also writes about Jesus’ selfless giving, which carries on into the book of Acts as the disciples proclaim the message of Jesus through the Spirit’s power (145).

Matthew portrays Jesus as the fulfillment of the law and how he “intensifies the demands of the Torah” (139). Jesus’ call to discipleship in Matthew is all about doing what one hears. Bowe writes that Matthew concentrates on how Christ’s example is lived out in the church.

In Mark, Jesus is a strong, compassionate and holy man (133). He was crucified and “shattered” preconceived notions of the Messiah. Though Jesus is portrayed as powerful, he is crucified. Though he rises from the dead, Jesus leaves earth. His followers have to keep on living; Jesus did not conquer the earth (133 & 134).

Each of these portrayals of Jesus helps add to our understanding of who Christ is. The wisdom books and the chapter about Jesus seem to blend well together because wisdom concerns itself with living a godly life despite life’s complexities and the chapter on Jesus demonstrates how the “human face of God” lived under the mantle of wisdom. While the wisdom books help us explore how we will respond to life’s turmoil, Jesus shows us that he is the answer to life’s problems (146). Following Jesus’ example and depending on the power of his Spirit will help us live the way the books of wisdom tell us to live. It all ties together rather well.

Some thoughts on Bowe's "Biblical Foundations of Spirituality"

In her book “Biblical Foundations of Spirituality,” Barbara Bowe writes about the apostle Paul and brings his writings down to two essential elements: life in the Spirit and life together in the Spirit (163). Ever since Paul’s dramatic meeting with Christ, his life was dedicated to spreading the gospel. According to research, Bowe said that during his ministry, Paul traveled over 3,100 miles—1,800 by land and 1,300 by sea (155). He died a martyr’s death in Rome at the hand of Nero, but his writings take up over half of the New Testament and have influenced millions of people (153). Though an imperfect human, Paul’s example of life in the Spirit and his writings give Christians hope in Jesus and in his power to help us live the Christian life.

Bowe then moves into the book of Revelation and explains a little of the relational history between Christians and Jewish peoples. She writes about the differences in the letters before Revelation and how their differences create a tension that become a debate between the “voices of pragmatism, boundary maintenance and social order … and the voices of prophetic visionaries, boundary breakers and imaginative risk takers …” (168). This tension is between “embracing citizenship in the world” as stated in 1 Peter and “resisting the beast,” as stated in Revelation. Bowe says that keeping this creative tension alive and paying attention to it is essential in our “religious quest” (169).

Bowe’s last chapter addresses the importance of exegesis in the quest for Biblical spirituality. We are to “eat” the word of God, to “ingest slowly” and reflect on what we have eaten (177). The words of Scripture require serious thought and if we are to grow spiritually, Bowe says that exegesis is a must (178). In closing, Bowe explains the elements of a renewed spirituality, which include recognizing the mystery of God and “knowing who we are before God with our finitude and human limitations” (178). She concludes by writing that we will live a life of peace if we integrate the elements of Micah 6:8 into our lives: acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God (181).

My favorite chapter this week was the last chapter. It is a perfect ending to our course work in Spiritual Formation because Bowe encourages thoughtful exegesis. Through our study of the Johannine books and in our other classes, I have realized how important Bowe’s words are in our own quest for spiritual formation and in our endeavors to guide others in the process. I appreciate Bowe’s words on the creative tension that we all face in our spiritual quest—the tension involving how deeply we are to be involved in the world and in God’s kingdom. If we are to live an effective Christian life in which we help others grow, we must address this tension and depend on the Holy Spirit to guide us and strengthen us for the task at hand.

Do women belong in ministry?

Over the last few weeks I have been writing articles about women who serve as pastors in our Valley. This was in response to a number of articles I've seen regarding the opposite view: that women shouldn't serve as pastors.

I must confess that the "shouldn't serve" view makes me a little hot under the collar because the prevailing attitude behind this view is that men are superior and women belong in the kitchen. At church women should only serve on the missions board and with children. Oh yeah, and keep the coffee coming at the potlucks, dearie!

But what about women who are not gifted in working with children. What about those women who enjoy studying and teaching adults? Where do they fit in the church?

Fortunately, there are enough denominations that accept women as ministers and I was fortunate enough to interview five such women. Each woman I interviewed is outstanding in her own right and takes the call of God in her life seriously. These women are blessings to their congregations and to our community.

I know that many people have already dismissed what I have said in this column as unscriptural, but that is not true. I have studied the issue and have talked to women who are involved in ministry. My conclusion is that any male preacher worth his salt will tell his congregation not to base an entire opinion, philosophy or theology on one or two Scriptures.

One must also remember that back in the time that Paul - presuming that it was in fact Paul of Tarsus - was writing, most women were not educated. It would have been improper for an uneducated woman to teach an educated man (Hmm...I wonder if that works the other way around?). And, in Titus, Paul was writing to a specific church that was experiencing specific problems. In today's world, it would have probably been one of those church-killing arguments over the color of the carpet in the sanctuary.

As John Wesley advocated each Scripture should be examined in light of the context of what the entire Bible says. With this in mind we can see Paul's admonition for women to be silent in church for what it is, situational. In Romans, Paul referred to Phoebe who was deacon and had a position in authority over men. Priscilla was a house church leader (1 Cor. 16:19) and don't forget that women were the first to carry the news about Jesus' resurrection. There are other women I could mention, but it would take too much space. Suffice it to say that Jesus' attitude toward women did not relegate them to second class status, and there is plenty of Scriptural support for that statement.

Before putting a woman down for serving God, think about the church. Most churches would have closed their doors long age if women hadn't filled all of the various positions that men didn't want or had vacated. If you don't believe me, take a look around your church next Sunday and see who does what.

Balance is the thing that is needed. In writing this column, I am not calling for discrimination against men. People should be allowed to use the gifts given to them by the Spirit inside the church and outside the church. The church is the one place that should be perfect for this.

Peter Marshall, the famous Scottish preacher who served as the chaplain for the U.S. Senate once said that Christianity had done more for the liberation of women than any other religion. Is what he said true today?

Washing feet: the task of every Christian

I've been thinking a lot about the role of a Christian over the last few years. Frankly, I've been confused by the whirl of activities in churches and the mentality of staying within the four walls of the church and inviting people in so that they can "meet Jesus."

During the last few months, and especially in my last class on Johannine theology, the role is becoming more clear. Christians are supposed to wash feet.

With Easter approaching, some may have already perused the story in John 13 where Jesus washes his disciples' feet. In Palestine during the first century when everyone wore sandals, washing feet was the most distasteful job in the house. Because it was a necessary part of hospitality, the task was given to the lowest ranking servant. It was certainly not a job for a teacher of Jesus' status, yet Jesus did it anyway. In that society and time, it was a very significant sign of humility and in the case of Jesus serving as foot washer, love.

When Jesus came to Peter, the disciple developed a case of foot-in-mouth disease, telling his master that he would never allow him to wash his feet. Jesus responded by telling Peter that until he washed the feet of his disciple, Peter could have no part in him. To Peter's credit, he quickly complied.

Since this episode, Christians have debated whether or not foot washing should be considered one of the sacraments. Many churches do have a foot washing ceremony; this is the basis for Maundy Thursday, just before Easter. All that aside, most of my class agreed that foot washing is more symbolic than literal. So then, asked our professor, what are some contemporary examples of washing feet?

For me, there is no better contemporary analogy to washing feet than taking care of someone who is incapacitated either due to injury, age, or because of the approach of death. There are some tasks that are extremely distasteful, but which must be accomplished for the individual’s health and dignity. It does not take much imagination to think of what some of these tasks might be, but doing these things for someone is the ultimate sign of love.

And like any labor of love, the act itself changes the one performing it.

In his commentary on the Gospel of John, Francis J. Moloney said that foot washing was a “symbolic action of the limitless love for Jesus' own." Jesus even did this for Judas, who betrayed him that very night. A writer named Thomas associated foot washing with the forgiveness of sins. In a contemporary setting, this might play out in the act of taking care of someone, like an elderly parent, who has abused the caregiver in some way. If there is animosity between the patient and the caregiver, the acts of love shown by the caregiver may soften the hearts of both sides resulting in forgiveness, compassion and spiritual healing.

Moloney also writes that foot washing points to death. Through this act, Jesus was presenting a “self-gift." Now Jesus was not selfish, but I sure am. Whenever I do something that is distasteful to me, yet necessary for someone else, a part of me dies. This act of compassion becomes part of the death of my inner selfishness. It then becomes a beautiful act in which God is glorified.

And so, I think that we Christians must think of how we can "wash the feet" of people in this community who will never darken a church door. What can we do for them? How can we bring them to Christ outside of the four walls?