Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Jesus, Peter, and Theological Precision

One of Jesus' most bizarre statements in the gospel of Mark comes in its eighth chapter. He has just finished feeding the four thousand, has rebuked the Pharisees and the disciples for their unbelief, and has healed a blind man at Bethsaida. While on his way to the villages of Caesarea Philippi with the disciples he asks them the loaded question, "Who do people say that I am?" They answer with a litany of venerable, but inferior spiritual leaders. Immediately, Jesus narrows his focus. The disciples are now forced to account for their understanding of the identity of Jesus. Peter, always a tad bit impetuous, gladly answers for the whole. He declares Jesus to be the Christ, the Messiah. Jesus then says the unthinkable. Something that would no more be said from an American evangelical pulpit than a Hillary Clinton campaign endorsement. "He strictly charged them to tell no one about him."

Most likely, Jesus knew that the disciples' presuppositions about the nature, and mission of Messiah were so skewed that propagation of them would be disastrous for his ministry. In the next verses Jesus demonstrates that the Son of Man would not lead another Maccabean revolt, this time one with eternal sustenance. No, the Son of Man would not only not end imperial control of the people of God, but he would even be rejected by Israel itself. Peter, once again in flagrant grandiosity takes Jesus to school on the historic, orthodox doctrines of Jewish messiahship. Abruptly then, Jesus silences him on this once and for all.

It is clear that the disciples' theological imprecision was caused by the burden of their presuppositions. This was completely unacceptable to Jesus, and limited their participation in his cause. They did not remain in this state, though, by the sixteenth chapter Jesus gives the go-ahead for the eleven to “proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Therefore, in the time between the eighth chapter of Mark, and the sixteenth the disciples had gained enough theological accuracy for Jesus to grant them the privilege of proclamation.

Is there then possibility for theological precision? In measure, yes. Although, it comes almost always gradualy, and almost always (because of sin, and pressupositions) includes a significant paradigm shift. The Spirit, in the divine discourse that has been discussed, must help us take our minds off the things of man, and set them on the things of God, just as Jesus did for his disciples. That, I am assured, comes to us often accompanied by abrupt, and unsettling rebukes when we realize that we have come to Jesus trying to force him through our own rubrick. It seems that after this, though, we are left with a measure of truth.

If this is true, it is not presumptuous for our ministers to tell those outside the covenant that they must be born again. It is not presumptuous for us to encourage one another to specific forms of love, and good deads. It is not presumptuous for us to come boldly before the throne of God in prayer. We have the mind of Christ, and this of all things secures for us the potential for accurate theological reflection.


Paul-David Young said...

Well said, I must ask the question... Is there a reckless Gospel? (enter Jon Furst stage right)

Jon Furst said...

I have come to see more and more that the gospel really does begin where Ecclesiastes ends:

"The conclusion, when all has been heard, is fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. for God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil." (12:13-14)

It is not until we can admit that God's ways are indeed higher than our ways–– that is, that His commandments are better than those we set for ourselves–– and that we must fear Him that we will really know His mercy and then grace. This includes yielding our presuppositions to Him.

Kenny said...

John, not trying to miss the point but what the heck is the deal with the big text man!? Did you think you'd be overlooked...? Haha

david said...

You know what they say, 'big text, big...'

Paul-David Young said...

yeah i thought i was reading old Thompson's blog...