Review: Fight Like Jesus

Fight Like Jesus, Jason Porterfield (Foreword by Scot McKnight). Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2022.

Summary: A study of the accounts of Holy Week through the lens of how Jesus chose peace amid his ultimate confrontation with power.

For someone who has been following Christ over fifty years, Jason Porterfield helped me look at the accounts of Holy Week with fresh eyes. He believes that a key to understanding the actions of Jesus throughout this week is found in Luke’s account of the “triumphal entry” at 19:41-42 where it is written:

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes” (NIV)

Porterfield sees the whole week as Jesus’ campaign of peace, that corrects our mistaken notions of making peace.

Each chapter takes one day of Holy Week (except for combining Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday) and looks at the peacemaking way of Jesus.

Palm Sunday; Confronting the religious and Roman power, people herald him as king but he rides in on a donkey, not a charger, entering the city through the gate where sacrificial lambs would enter. Peacemaking doesn’t evade conflict but moves toward it but extends peace to all. He bids us to follow the way of the Lamb.

Monday: The clearing of the temple seems a most “unpeaceful” action. Porterfield makes some interesting observations. The whip of “cords” may be understood as rushes braided together, primarily used to shoo animals. The te and kai language of John 2:15 (Porterfield conflates this with the synoptic accounts) indicates that “all” references the sheep and cattle, and not people. Jesus concern is the radical inclusion of the Gentiles, repulsed by turning their court into a marketplace. The lack of violence is evident in the lack of response of Roman authorities standing by to keep peace.

Tuesday: It’s the day of confrontations, of traps, and truth-telling, of giving Caesar his coin but calling on people to render their whole lives to God. He speaks truth to the hypocrisy of those plotting his death and in his “little apocalypse” warns his followers to flee rather than indulge in violent revolt, to feed the hungry rather than fighting in an insurrection.

Wednesday: We see the chosen road of the Sanhedrin in Caiaphas words that one should die for all; the beautiful act of the woman and Jesus’s defense of attempts to marginalize her; and finally the betrayal of Judas. Porterfield sees two diverging roads, toward and away from Jesus. Which will we choose?

Thursday: The focus here is on the new command to love one another, forming a new community where love is given and received. We call it Maundy Thursday because of Jesus “mandate.” He also deals with the “two swords” of the disciples and sees this not as a license for bearing weapons but to fulfill prophecy. He says two will be enough. Enough to fulfill prophecy about Jesus among the rebels; certainly not enough for any real defense!

Friday: The two forms of peacemaking–that of Jesus and the violent one of Barabbas stand side by side. Instead of the message of vengeance, Jesus speaks a word of forgiveness, and by refusing retaliation breaks the cycle of violence with forgiveness of all through his death.

Saturday/Sunday: Drawing on the illusions of scripture to the “harrowing of hell,” Porterfield points to the call to trust God in the darkest places. Then we have resurrection Sunday and the appearance of Jesus to the disciples bidding them “peace” even as he commissions to be his ambassadors of peace.

The book is designed to be read and discussed through the Sundays of Lent, taking one day each week. Of course, it may also be used for a series of Holy Week readings. Questions for personal reflection or group discussion are also included. The chapters include “peacemaking” applications drawn from the narrative.

I found that the lens of peacemaking takes disparate events and and weaves them together in a powerful and compelling narrative, one where we see the contrast between how God makes peace with the world’s attempts, often violent, to “make peace.” Porterfield combines exegesis that pays attention to often-overlooked details with pastoral applications that call us, not to passivity, but the active peacemaking of people following Jesus. This comes at a time where a robust peace witness of the church in a world fraught with violence has rarely been more needed.

____________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program.

“The Dogma is the Drama”

Dorothy sayers

Dorothy L. Sayers

Is contemporary Christianity in America on the ropes? Have Christians engaged in culture wars and lost? Why are increasing numbers of people identifying as “nones” religiously? And if this is indeed so, what might be done to recover and re-engage, if not in culture wars, in an effort to capture the hearts and minds of the rising generation.

As I’ve written elsewhere, Rod Dreher has stimulated a national conversation with his new book, The Benedict Option, which advocates a kind of strategic withdrawal of Christians into a counter-cultural communal life with practices that shape the beliefs and behavior of their people. James Emery White writes in Meet Generation Z of reaching those born after 1993, and believes the church must embrace a similar counter-cultural model that combines savvy communication with integrity of life and belief. He argues that the faith of the church must be translated, but not transformed into something different. Gregory Alan Thornbury, in Recovering Classic Evangelicalism, contends for those who embrace the evangelical label, that the task is not to try to distance ourselves from our roots in order to be relevant but to recover them. In particular, he considers Carl F. H. Henry, and the model of his carefully argued work on epistemology, biblical authority and cultural engagement as worthy of reconsideration.

One thing each of these writers put their finger on is a contemporary uneasiness about or even active movement from central doctrines of the Christian faith. We associate dogma with dogmatism, which seems to be a cardinal sin–an intellectual rigidity about certain beliefs that seem to be “out of step” with modern times. The image is often of a sterility of belief divorced from a life of compassion. And what often seems now to be advocated is a life of compassionate concern for people and for the creation that mutes discussion of ideas and doctrines that may be “disagreeable” or “cause offense.”

The concern of these writers seems to be that when we make this move out of concern for relevance and not to cause offense, we run the risk of losing our “saltiness.” Salt in a wound may sting, but it also kills bacteria and preserves. The danger of moving away from dogma is that we move away from the faith altogether. Conversely, these authors would argue that it is the dogma that provides life and vibrancy and energizes Christian faithfulness.

Dorothy L. Sayers would agree. The title for this post is drawn from an essay by the same title. In her essay she writes about reaction to her play, The Zeal of Thy House:

“The action of the play involves a dramatic presentation of a few fundamental Christian dogmas — in particular, the application to human affairs of the doctrine of the Incarnation. That the Church believed Christ to be in any real sense God, or that the Eternal Word was supposed to be associated in any way with the work of Creation; that Christ was held to be at the same time Man in any real sense of the word; that the doctrine of the Trinity could be considered to have any relation to fact or any bearing on psychological truth, that the Church considered pride to be sinful, or indeed took notice of any sin beyond the more disreputable sins of the flesh: — all these things were looked upon as astonishing and revolutionary novelties, imported into the Faith by the feverish imagination of a playwright. I protested in vain against this flattering tribute to my powers of invention, referring my inquirers to the Creeds, to the Gospels, and to the offices of the Church; I insisted that if my play was dramatic, it was so, not in spite of the dogma but because of it — that, in short, the dogma was the drama.”

What I think Sayers is saying is that the real story of the Christian faith, embedded in the Creeds and Confessions of the Church, is indeed far more dramatic than anything she, or we, can come up with. True, these things may be presented in a “dry as dust” fashion. But Sayers would argue that the alternative to this is not relevance but chaos. Rather than mere religious sentiments, or inchoate beliefs we affirm, “I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth.”

I wonder if the contemporary aversion to doctrine comes in part from either the actual experience of, or more likely, media portrayals of orthodox and yet loveless believers, or the argumentativeness that is a theological form of chest-bumping. Far less common, it seems to me are the models of those who have thought long and deeply and wonderingly on such statements as, “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hell. On the third day He rose again.” Such things can turn a life upside down, or right side up.

As I write, we are approaching Holy Week, where the Church remembers and re-tells the story of Christ’s most amazing week, from the Palm Sunday entry to Jerusalem to the Last Supper to arrest and trial and crucifixion, the Saturday of waiting and the incredible news, shared first with the women at Jesus grave, “He is not here, He is risen!” It is the story we summarize in the Creed. But it probes us as we wonder, “why did Jesus die? And what do I do with one who undoes and conquers death?” When has anything occurred with greater significance? What could be more dramatic?

The dogma is the drama.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Holy Week

Entry Into Jerusalem by Pietro Lorenzetti, 1320.Assisi-frescoes-entry-into-jerusalem-pietro lorenzetti" by Pietro lorenzetti - http://www.aiwaz.net/panopticon/lorenzetti-pietro/gc58p0. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Entry Into Jerusalem by Pietro Lorenzetti, 1320.Assisi-frescoes-entry-into-jerusalem-pietro lorenzetti” by Pietro lorenzetti – http://www.aiwaz.net/panopticon/lorenzetti-pietro/gc58p0. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I write on the eve of Holy Week. And because Youngstown was a city of churches, I’m reminded that Holy Week observances shaped the growing up years of many of us, whether we continue to embrace the beliefs behind those observances or not.

Holy Week began with Palm Sunday. In many of our churches palm branches were distributed that celebrated the triumphal ride of Jesus into Jerusalem in which the crowds made a carpet of cloaks for him to ride on and everyone waved palm branches and threw them down before him crying “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” I often wondered (and still do) how a city could give him such acclaim and then crucify him five days later.

We lived in the tension between Palm Sunday and Good Friday throughout the week. My wife describes how each year, she would take the palm branch she received and plait it into a cross. Holy Week was the final week of Lent and the fasting of this forty day period continued. In my wife’s house, it was lots of pierogies and boiled cabbage, especially on Wednesday and Friday. In my Protestant household, we abstained from meat on Good Friday. My wife recounts taking time out from classes to walk the stations of the cross, remembering the events and encounters of the Via Dolorosa and the cross itself.

IMG_1572

A Station of the Cross, Cenacle Retreat House, Houston, TX (c) 2015, Robert C Trube

Many of our churches had a Maundy Thursday service or Mass. Thursday evening was the night of the Last Supper. After the homily, some churches would have a foot washing. At the end of the Mass or service, the altars would be stripped to prepare for Good Friday.

Then came Good Friday. I often wondered at the name “Good”, considering the focal point of the day was the crucifixion of Jesus. The only thing that seemed good was that we had the day off from school. My mother commented that often the skies would cloud over during the afternoon of Good Friday, reminiscent of the darkness that descended over Jerusalem as Jesus died. Many churches had services at 3 pm commemorating the hour of Jesus death. I also attended services where “the seven last words” of the cross were remembered. In some churches, the cross was draped with a black cloth.

I think for many of us from Youngstown, this space between Palm Sunday and Good Friday reflected a tension in which we lived. We celebrated whenever we could because we were aware that life brought suffering (“crosses”). Lent ideally kept any of us from an inflated view of ourselves as we were reminded of our flawed and finite existence on this earth and that there was a hope of redemption for all of us. Even the criminal who died at Jesus side would be with him that day in Paradise.

As Good Friday came to an end, the waiting and anticipation of Holy Saturday began. As kids we looked forward to Easter baskets, but also to new clothes, and the celebration of Easter. More on this next week…

Interested in reading other posts in this “Growing Up in Working Class” series. Just go to my home page and click the “On Youngstown” link under “Categories”.

Review: A Glorious Dark

A Glorious DarkSummary: An exploration of living in the tension of the glorious hope of Christian faith and the dark, unsettling realities of our lives through reflections grouped around the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the Triduum of Holy Week. A great book to read reflectively during Holy Week.

A. J. Swoboda opens this book with the image of a frozen river, apparently dead and still on the surface, but beneath the ice, flowing and alive–“a glorious dark”, he calls it, which he sees as an image for our faith, lived in the tension between our surprising and glorious hope and the struggles and questions and failures of our own lives.

The book is organized around the three days of the Triduum: Good Friday, Saturday, and Easter Sunday. Friday is the time when we are faced with the reality that “the monster at the end of the book” (reprising his childhood hero Scooby Doo is us. He explores our struggles with God’s “Fatherhood” and how Jesus discloses something of the kind of Father we have in God. He explores how God journeys with us in life, making the map as we go. Perhaps the most striking chapter in the Friday section is titled “Numb” where he describes his own struggle with alcoholism and the striking moment where Jesus refuses to numb the pain of the cross with alcohol and myrrh. And he concludes with the striking moment where God seems to forsake God on the cross.

Saturday is about waiting in uncertainty. We want to move right from suffering to triumph. In some sense, our whole lives right now are lived between Good Friday and Easter in Holy Saturday and it is there we must sit. Saturday tells us we can’t pick and choose our life in some kind of “faith boutique”. We must learn to rest in this day which for the Jews is “sabbath” before the Sunday of new creation.

And then there is Sunday–beginning for Swoboda with the amazing vindication of Mother Mary in the Resurrection–the woman who as a pregnant teen, claimed she was yet a virgin, visited only by an angel of the Lord. If resurrection is true, then all the other incredible things in the narratives of Jesus beginning with this virgin conception make sense and Mary can say, “told you so!” It confronts us with surprise, a different kind of super-hero, and gives us a community that eats together, even as Jesus ate with his disciples on the shore of Galilee before being taken from them.

What I so appreciated about Swoboda was his ability to “tell it slant” (in the words of Emily Dickinson)–to help us see afresh the surprising and wonderful character of the Christian story as it breaks into our flawed and sometimes dark existence. In place of stories that have become routine and seem not to have the power to keep us awake let alone raise the dead and transform life, his writing helps capture the startling character of what we call “the good news”. One example of this comes early in the book when he writes:

“Certainly God is holy–holy beyond all perceivable knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. But Hosea throws us a curveball in our understanding of how a holy God deals with unholiness. Perhaps in other religions the deities deal with evil through finger-pointing, shouting matches, or even the silencing of a perpetrator. But in Hosea, God not only looks upon evil–God takes evil on a honeymoon. How does God deal with evil?

He puts a ring on it” (pp. 19-20).

I found myself pausing again and again in thankful wonder at the glory that pierces our darkness that Swoboda explores in these reflections. It has helped prepare my heart for Holy Week and I wanted to post this review today so that others might find this resource for their own Holy Week reflections.

_____________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”