The Ahistorical Jesus or, How the CIA Gets a Christian Pass

Two young friends suffer church leaders/members who give allegiance to an ahistorical Jesus. I am guessing those whose Jesus takes this shape did not come to their position all by themselves. In fact, I am doubting they even know it.

Evidence of following a Jesus disconnected from history takes the form of siding with torture as a means to procure information. Jesus was tortured.

It shows up in the shortsighted tirade that claims a transparent report will make things worse for soldiers. Can it be worse for soldiers required to support an ideology that fails to understand you cannot make your Country secure by taking away the security of others/Others?

What does this have to do with torture? No, it is not waterboarding or rectal feeding as a means to extract information. But, it does turn one blue, make it hard to breath, and certainly feels like your internal system is out of sorts. Disorientation follows. If the condition persists it turns to dis-ease.

Some of us interested in political theology find the CIA report an Irruption of the Real. Our forbears past sins seemed covered by the notion that all things are justified in the pursuit of freedom. Apologies to Native Peoples. Even more when economic prosperity becomes the end game it seems human beings get treated  as commodities in the process, little more than collateral effect. Apologies to Black people.

We have long passed ourselves, the U.S., as more civilized, more advanced. Then we learn of our own barbarism. We attempt to give it a pass under the rubric of a “War on Terror.” What is revealed is that we used methods to provoke terror. Our real values rupture our purported sensibilities.

3c5a01d9ceae31c7e0b22884e618a92aHow is this possible? What would lead Jesus people to throw support behind such actions? Jon Sobrino considered it a result of sublime abstractions. That is, thinking about the love of God in Jesus fell prey to notions of the transcendent, the decidedly different realm than we mere humans toil. Notions about God eventually worked away from the Incarnation and to the Sublime. Now we find ourselves more interested in abstractions about God.

Recently I read where a pastor held an event to answer all questions about Heaven. I do not know what sort of crowd turned out. But, frankly, this plays into a preoccupation with what we cannot know with certainly so as to avoid what we do know concretely – the world is broken. Why not spend an evening plotting goodness for a broken world instead of longing for another? Advent is evidence God plots goodness for the world. Christians who plan for the next world undermine the evidence of Advent.

Sorbino wrote,

The “powerful” Christ and the “almighty” Lord who were above made us ignore and reject Jesus, whose power is service and whose place is below, in the power of truth and love. They made it seem right that the place of power has to be above, because above is where Christ is. The consequences are to reinforce the sinful tendency to understand power in terms of effectiveness, as imposition sliding into oppression and so to justify, in Christ’s name, all sorts of authoritarianism and despotism in state and church. (Jesus the Liberator, p.15)

Support for a State whose values we adopt because of the life we love conflicts with Jesus who said, “Love not the world nor the things in the world.” Yes, the same Jesus who said, “For God so loved the world.” Maybe we could put the two together and it would read something like this, “Love not the way the world is as it is, nor the things the world produces as it is, for I love the world and in my way you will not perish but experience life as it will be.” (HCSB) Or, in another place he said, “I came to give life with joy and abundance.” (The Voice)

Christian support for these, and other, tactics of the State, become an Irruption of the Real in another sense. Rather than hypocrisy, it is a betrayal.

An overplay of transcendence, according to Sobrino, results in “abstractions without specificity, reconciliation without conflict, and absoluteness without relation.” (p.17) That summary comes after this,

The practical consequences of this have been to produce an image of Christ devoid of the real conflict of history and Jesus’ stand on it, which has encouraged quietist or ultra-pacifist ideologies and support for anything going by the name “law and order.”

This criticism may seem shocking . . . For this reason, Jesus’ transcendent trinitarian relatedness has to be supplemented by his historical relatedness: the fact that Jesus did not exist for himself, but had a reference point in the Kingdom of God and the God of the Kingdom, a Kingdom which, even after the resurrection, is attributed to the Father, until he is all in all (1 Cor. 15:28) I shall analyze this historical relatedness in detail later, but I want to say here that this reminder is important because of the consequences drawn from an “absolutely absolute” image of Christ, that is, when Chris the mediator is made absolute and there is no sense of his constitutive relatedness to what is mediated, the Kingdom of God.(p.16)

And, here are the two consequences that produce the Christian pass for the CIA, and any other action by person or system, that results in allegiance to an ahistorical Jesus,

One consequence is to make possible a personalist reduction of the faith, which has led, again, to an abandoning of the historical world to its wretchedness. . . . The ideal of being for Christ, loving Christ “alone,” and to regarding this as the only thing that really matters, it becomes something dangerous, as is shown by the life of perfection and the religious life, since in the name of the highest love for the “mediator” it is possible to undervalue love for one’s brothers and sisters and the oppressed – paradoxically, the love Christ demanded on earth for building the “mediation,” the Kingdom.

The other consequence, is to provide a religious symbol to legitimize historical absolutes that, obviously, are not absolute: particular socio-political structures, Christendom and its modern successors, the church itself. For the powers of this world, in state and church, it is important to insinuate into the minds of their subjects the idea that the absolutely absolute already exists in the “mediator,” so that they can pass themselves off as “mediators” who can demand absolute submission, when the only thing that is absolutely absolute is the mystery of God. (p-16-17)

Back to my two young friends. The way to subvert an ahistorical Jesus, is to live out in real life and real time Jesus’ stand on this world and his love for all things, all people, in it.

As for the CIA, Christians loving for a different world, should follow Jesus in shaping the world differently, not making excuses for it as it is.

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Sublime Abstraction

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

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