He lives!

Have you ever heard of Rudolf Bultmann?

Bultmann was a liberal theologian who lived in Germany during World War II and Nazism. His biggest contribution was a belief that the Gospels needed to be “demythologized,” meaning that the stories of Jesus were filled with myths and it was our job to separate the myths from the truth and split history from faith. For example, one of the biggest myths Bultmann saw in the Gospels was the resurrection of Christ, simply because people do not come back from the dead. He would say something like the following: even though I might not believe in the literal resurrection of Christ, Christ is raised in my faith, in the preaching, and in my heart. (Bultmann is much more complex than this, but I have to summarize here.)

So maybe you never heard of Bultmann until now but maybe now you can recognize his impact on the academy, church and believers. Let me focus on one example of how, if not careful with our words, we can fall into Bultmann’s trap.

There are two Christian songs you probably have heard and even sing. Although these songs can help us worship, the choruses are worrisome to me in light of what I have told you about Bultmann above.

One is an older hymn called, “I Serve a Risen Savior,” and the other is a recent song by the Newsboys called, “God’s Not Dead.”

“I Serve a Risen Savior.” Chorus: “He lives; He lives; Christ Jesus lives today. He walks with me; He talks with me, along life’s narrow ways. He lives; He lives, salvation to impart. You ask me how I know He lives. He lives within my heart.”

“God’s Not Dead.” Chorus: “My God’s not dead. He’s surely alive. He’s living on the inside. Roaring like a lion.”

  • Problem #1: The question put forth in the hymn is, “How do you know He (Jesus Christ) lives?” The answer the song gives is, “Because He lives in my heart.” The Newsboys’ song is very similar. The way we know God is alive is because “He is living on the inside.” The first problem, then, with these answers is that they are not biblical. When the apostles were asked how they knew Christ is God and is alive they said, because He was resurrected from the dead! Peter, in the sermon at Pentecost, said, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. … This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” (Acts 2:23-24, 32) When Paul preached Jesus he said, “But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the father, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus… .” (Acts 13:30-33) Nowhere do you find the apostles saying we know Jesus is alive because He lives in our hearts. How is it that the Spirit of God, of Jesus, lives with us? Because Jesus was raised from the dead! One of the purposes of the Spirit is to testify to the resurrection of Christ. In Acts 1:8, Jesus said the Holy Spirit will come and enable His disciples to be His witnesses. Witness of who, of what? Of Christ resurrected from the dead! In John 13 and 16, Jesus tells His disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit, who will, yes dwell with them, but will be their Helper and testify to Truth.
  • Problem #2: The theology found in both these songs makes it all about ME! The reason I know God is alive is because “He walks with ME. He talks with ME. He lives within MY heart.” “I am lost in your freedom. And this world I’ll overcome. I need a resurrection somehow.” These songs are meant to testify to the world that the God we serve is alive and has conquered death. But instead they promote a self-centered view of worship and of God. According to the choruses of these songs, this God is a God for my purposes and I will testify only what He has done for me. It is not a bad thing to testify to God’s faithfulness in your life; it’s biblical. But if it is done apart from the witness of Scripture, apart from a historical Jesus who was raised from the dead, then your testimony won’t stand. It will crumble.
  • Problem #3: The theology of these songs sounds more like modern day spirituality or mysticism than they do about faith in a risen Christ. I think Bultmann would have gladly sung these songs because he would not have had to claim that Christ was literally raised from the dead. Instead, he would sing these songs gladly because it is about a faith that you make it to be; it’s internal. What does it mean that, “Christ lives within my heart?” What does it mean that, “He’s living on the inside?” Think about it. I could take the hymn to mean that Christ only is alive in my heart, in my faith. He’s not necessarily alive anywhere else in a literal way or in a literal place. Or, I could take the Newsboys song to say that God and I are one. There is a spirituality belief that says each one of us is part of the “divine” and we each have the “divine” living within us. In fact, if I held this belief, I could sing, “God’s not dead,” gladly with no understanding that the song is meant to refer to the Holy Spirit, the resurrection of Jesus or the Trinity.

I have sung these songs with a joyful heart before, and I encourage you to do the same. I also encourage you to proclaim the literal resurrection of Christ in your preaching, teaching and singing. If your only answer is that Christ is alive in your heart then someone could take that to mean He lives in your wishes, your dreams, your hopes and your aspirations.

Ask me how I know He lives and I’ll tell you because there were disciples of this Jesus who left Jesus when He was taken to be crucified and hid in an upper room scared that they too would be put to death. Only after seeing Jesus three days after being crucified, after touching His wounds, watching Him eat and drink, and after watching Him ascend to the heavens, did they come out of hiding and risk imprisonment, exile and death. Because there was a man who was leading in the imprisoning and execution of Jesus’ disciples and followers only to become a follower and preacher of Christ because He encountered Jesus, resurrected from the dead. It is because of the testimony of these and many others who saw Jesus in the flesh after death that I say with faith, “He lives.”

Humble Pie

One day last Spring my husband and I were driving home having a heated discussion on who knows what. At one point in the conversation I said, “You don’t have to get so mad about it.” He said, “I’m not mad; I’m Hispanic.” What he meant was that he was passionate and for him being Hispanic (or Caribbean Hispanic at least) means being passionate.

Anyone who knows me knows I am a very passionate person. It’s part of my DNA. In fact I joke that I too must be Hispanic. Passion isn’t a bad thing, and in fact everyone is passionate about something. And everyone shows their passion in different ways. My husband and I just happen to be vocal and animated with our passions.

Politics and religion seem to be topics that stir up our passions. We’re passionate because we care, because we strongly believe in something, and because we think something is at stake. In the midst of this political season, we have already seen people’s passions come to the center stage.

Being passionate isn’t unbiblical. I think of Jesus who was so upset about the business taking place in the temple that He overturned the tables. He was passionate about the sacredness of the temple and authentic worship. Read any of Paul’s letters and you’ll find a very passionate individual who wasn’t afraid to confront the church and call out specific members on controversial issues.

But as I was kindly reminded last night by some of my best friends, if we are not careful to bridle our passions they may lead us to a place of sin. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Colossians 4:5-6 says, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

So here are three reflections on how we are to handle our passions.

First, Cover your passion in prayer. Often I am too quick to speak and too slow to pray. It should be the other way around. Prayer acknowledges that God is the One who is in control, and through the discipline of prayer we submit to the Holy Spirit transforming our will to His. Sometimes my passions get so stirred I become angry. And sometimes when I get angry I sin. It’s OK to be angry (see Eph. 4:26), but it’s not OK to sin in your anger. I have noticed that when I spend time in devoted prayer, I am not as angry anymore, I am not as keen to react, and I have a peace that God is in control.

Secondly, Be sensitive in your passions. Last night God used my friends to bring to my attention that a recent reaction of mine was just as insensitive as those whose comments made me want to react. I have recently heard speeches and comments on the media and social media celebrating abortion. There’s no mention of loss of life; there’s no mention of sadness that abortion brings. Instead the issue of abortion is all about a woman’s right to end life and to be control of her own body. These remarks hit a button with me and my anger and passions were aroused. I thought, in that moment, the best way to make my voice heard was by saying something in 140 characters or less on Twitter. Although I believe in everything I said in that tweet, I did not show any sensitivity to those who may have had an abortion against their will or who were told that their baby was going to die no matter what. In fact, I heard about a woman through a friend of mine whose ultrasound revealed that the baby’s brain was growing outside of the skull. She ended up having an abortion. Did I change anyone’s mind about abortion by my tweet? Did I react with the same insensitivity as those who I was reacting against? Were my comments “gracious and seasoned with salt?” As I was personally reminded and as I remind you, let’s be sensitive, gracious and careful in our speech when it comes to those things we are so passionate about, especially in this political season.

Third, Do not let your passions hurt the cause of the gospel but rather help it. I believe we need to be passionate about salvation that only comes through Jesus Christ, about confronting sin that destroys the Church, about holiness, about missions, about Scripture and about gospel-centered social justice. But how I go about making my passions known and implementing them can point others to Christ or away from Christ. As I am constantly reminded, social media, for the most part, is not the way to go about it. It is so easy to get pulled in; I am so guilty of this! But God has constantly reminded me it isn’t the way. Arguing is not the way. Screaming is not the way. Bullying, having a one-sided argument, and labeling are not the way. James 3:5-6a, 13 says, “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. … Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” How are we going to win the world and to demonstrate our passions in a way that wins others to Christ? Through gentle words, compassionate hands, pure actions and loving hearts.

I will pray for you and please pray for me that we don’t shriek from making a stand; but as we make a stand about those things we are most passionate about that we will do it with grace, love, forgiveness and a piece of humble pie.