Monday, March 2, 2015

"You Are Quite Wrong"

I used to celebrate that the emergent church has gone the way of the buffalo. With Rob Bell jumping the shark and Brian Mclaren's "marriage" of his son to another man it had outed itself as at best a reincarnation of old-school 20th century liberalism and at worst another vehicle for moving large numbers of people out of the church. But the reality is, the ethos and theologically unorthodox impulses haven't disappeared. Even more nefariously these impulses have been incorporated as a part of modern evangelicalism's already sickly emaciated theological assumptions. Perhaps the greatest lasting rhetorical aspect of the emergent methodology was its constant insistence that it was only asking innocent questions.

A few months ago one defender of emergent theological experimentation claimed that one of the godfathers of the emergent movement was publicly crucified. His sin?
  • "He deviated. He dared to ask questions. He challenged the status quo. He moved against the grain."
  • "He asked a ton of really natural questions about reconciling eternal punishment with a loving God."
  • "In the now infamous and pivotal volume that caused the Church to break-up with him, Bell didn’t give many answers. He only asked people, to ask the questions."
  • "He’s admitting the real questions that surface in the excavation of deep faith."
In all of these propositional assessments of how Bell was treated, of course, the author seems to assume that mere questions without propositions can be benign. Is it possible for mere "question" asking to be totally innocent? Certainly. You could be asking someone a genuine question and seeking an actual answer. But there is another kind of question-asking that is intended to expose absurdity and turn people away from a particular belief or series of beliefs. Jesus dealt with this exact method of questioning, and he saw right through it.

Near the end of the book of Mark during his confrontation with the leaders in Jerusalem Jesus is confronted by a series of adversaries, each with their own agenda. In the middle of this series of challenges, the Sadducees come to him and offer a challenge of their own (Mark 12:18). They want to argue that the resurrection is an absurdity, and they do it by means of narrative, telling the story of a woman who, for various reasons related to the levirate law (Deut. 25:5) has married a series of seven brothers, each of them dying and leaving her childless. The Sadducees ask Jesus whose husband she will be at this supposed resurrection that is coming. This is a hard question with a great deal of emotional and rhetorical force.

Notice the structure of the rhetoric employed by the Sadducees. They never once make a propositional statement (except when setting up the background of the story they're telling). Everything that they say is either story-telling or question-asking. They're just daring to ask "the real questions that surface in the excavation of deep faith," aren't they? They're only asking "a ton of really natural questions." And yet Jesus says to the Sadducees, "Is this not why you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?"

The Sadducees might just as well respond, "How can we be wrong? After all, we're just trying to start a conversation. We're just asking questions. How can a question be 'wrong'?"

It is also obvious to Jesus what the story is meant to accomplish. It's meant by these people who are "just looking for a conversation" to illustrate in vivid fashion just how silly or problematic the idea of someone being resurrected actually is. Of course, they have underlying assumptions (unstated) that Jesus has to deal with, and he does so first by reminding the Sadducees that heaven is not a place of marriage, and second by reminding them from the Scriptures that "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (12:27). Their problem, according to Jesus, is that their underlying, unstated theological assumptions are wrong and that they don't know their Bibles (v. 24). A truly deadly pair of problems that afflict far too many. Some even find it embarrassing that churches today still employ Jesus' methodology of quoting 2,000 year old Scriptures to settle theological and ethical disputes.

In spite of the supposed 'innocence' of such questions, Jesus responds to them that they are wrong. Contrary to the insistence of many, you can set forth a series of mere questions and stories and still be "quite wrong" (v. 27).

1 comment:

  1. Well put. I could not have said it better. My favorite encounter between Jesus and His accusers.

    I love how Jesus answers by asking THEM a question, and wording it so perfectly that they cannot respond in any form without exposing themselves to be the fools that they are.


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