Jesus is in the news again.
Film director James Cameron and others have been working to identify some remains found that hint at being Jesus and his family. Of course, all of this will be explained in an upcoming movie... Now, setting aside the truth or provability of that claim, it’s curious to me that this would be interesting to a largely secular audience. Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion has been on the New York Times bestseller list for more than six months, and there is a general sense among many that the Christian church has run its course—or at least lost its way, depending on who is doing the talking. Mark Steel, writing in The Independent, pokes fun at Christians for seeing signs and wonders in all manner of things (‘...they get so excited about an aubergine that’s cut in half revealing a pattern that sort of nearly says GOD’). But he also notices the brazen ignorance in Cameron’s belief that Christians would be happy to know that Jesus’ bones could be found. What would that say about the Resurrection? Good theology spoils the fun again.
Not that such gaffes are going unchecked anymore. Peter Steinfels in the New York Times has noticed that some scientists and atheists are coming out with strong critiques of Dawkins and others for their lack of knowledge of the theological concepts they seek to debunk. Terry Eagleton, a Marxist literary scholar, is quoted by Steinfels as saying: ‘Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.’ Rough indeed. Cameron, Dawkins and others would do well to understand the development and impact of the Christian faith before they make their contributions to the discussion. Similarly I would expect a Christian commentator to be well prepared before entering into any debate.
Still, I come from a town that is at the center of the entertainment industry, and one thing you learn there is that almost any publicity is good publicity. I don’t want to treat the threat to the foundations of our faith in this new film too flippantly, but I’m happy nonetheless to have another opportunity to tell a different side of Jesus’ story.
The Scriptures teach that God in his love and generosity sought to make himself known to his people. He revealed himself through creation, the prophets, and the writings of the Bible. When humankind continued to ignore the message, God himself came in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, who preached and healed, and was killed for his trouble. On the third day he rose again and showed himself to hundreds of people. This Easter Sunday we’ll celebrate once again the mystery of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ—proof once and for all that God had power even over death, and that he offers that hope to all who believe.
Well, not really. I understand that this is not just difficult, but also impossible for us to know in the way that we know other things. And yet, in each of our lives, as Christ moves in and transforms us into the people he has called us to be, the truth of the gospel is confirmed in ways that are as unique as each individual person. The church strays when it pretends that it has all the answers, and that its doctrines are airtight artifacts of closed discussions. The ongoing discovery of God in each of our lives is a fluid process, within the boundaries of what has been revealed to us in Scripture. That’s why I welcome any intelligent or authentic challenge to the doctrines of Christianity. Each time we are forced to engage these ideas and learn again how to explain them in our own words, we grow in our faith and maturity as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Cameron’s film and the attending media attention are timed to coincide with our celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. As we move into that time of joy and remembrance, we should renew our understanding of that miracle in our own lives, and be prepared to share that Good News with anyone who wants to hear it. Even the odd film director.