Archive for August 25th, 2010

Treasure in a Box

August 25, 2010

Suppose you had a great treasure and placed it in a box – locked tight – and kept the key to yourself.

Others could desire the great treasure. The treasure could be given to them – though still in the locked box.

Suppose, as well, that the content of the treasure is described in writings of those who have seen the treasure. But the box is locked.

And now lets add about 2000 years since the treasure was placed in the box and the description written.

How do we deal with the treasure in the box?

It would be possible, of course, for some to be extremely loyal to the description left in the writings of those who were witnesses to the treasure. Those who questioned their conclusions would assail the veracity and reliability of those who gave the description of the treasure in the box. Very quickly the arguments would become about the witnesses to the treasure (and the reliability of a 2000 year-old testimony) and the box itself would become secondary.

It would be possible for some to be loyal to the idea of the treasure in the box, but sceptical of the exact details given in the description of the witnesses. This would give rise to a community of discourse in which the discourse about the contents of the box would quickly replace the contents of the box.

Of course there would be others who would contend that there is nothing in the box – the testimony of those who say there is something in the box completely discounted and even a growing industry of debunking the ideas of those who believe in treasure in the first place.

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My short parable is about the problem of history and the Christian witness.

For many Christians, the essential elements of the Christian faith are completely historical in nature. As such, the Christian faith is made problematic. For history, like the box in the parable, is something that is locked and largely inaccessible to us under normal circumstances. For some, the witness of those who bear the original witness to the treasure, is the key to the Christian faith. Their writings, the New Testament, is considered sufficient witness to the contents of history.

Of course, such a faith quickly becomes faith in the witness of the book, and not the contents of the box – Scripture comes to replace Christ as the central figure of faith. Others, such as modern liberals, question the contents of the box, and the reliability of the witness. Again, the argument remains outside the contents of the box.

History, as a collection of past events, remains are largely closed box. The further removed from us in time, the more mysterious the contents. Within this metaphor we cannot say that we bear witness to the contents of the box – only that we have faith in a written description of its contents. Little wonder that those who do not share that faith have less and less comfort in the authority of that witness or its reliability as a guide for modern life.

In such a scenario, Christianity becomes an argument about a book within an argument about books. We move ourselves onto the same ground as Islam and its claims of an inspired text, Mormonism and its claims of an inspired text, etc. The faith of Christians in such a context is just one more text.

Reducing the Christian faith to a belief about certain historical events is a mistake that has the unintended effect of placing the very essence of our faith out of reach and at the mercy of our enemies. It can be devastating to those who are young in the faith and an unnecessary stumbling block for all. The Christian faith is more than a belief about certain historical events – it is a living participation in those events and a life lived in union with them. We do not bear witness to a witness, but also a witness to what we know.

The death and resurrection of Christ are not locked in a box.

There is a historical captivity to which much of modern Christianity has acquiesced. The events of Christ’s death and resurrection are treated in a historical fashion and thus made subject to all of the limits imposed by historical study. All of His teaching is made subject to the same historical restrictions. Thus it has not been unusual that the 20th century saw such books as The Search for the Historical Jesus (Schweizer) and the gradual disintegration of agreement concerning the person of Jesus. Today, the most liberal of Christian Biblical scholars have no certainly about Christ whatsoever.

The most conservative (particularly Protestant) Christians continue to simply assert the inerrancy of the Bible and avoid the obvious problems raised by historical limitations, and thus become more and more marginalized within the context of modern discourse. They also have the added problem of relating only to the text – and thus reduce Christianity to a historical text, a book among books.

The Orthodox understanding of these matters is deeply important. The death and resurrection of Christ are not locked in a box, for, though they historical, they are not merely so. That which occurred within history is also that which is Alpha and Omega and thus transcends history. As transcendent of history it remains available to the present and can be known now – even as the witnesses who first saw it.

The content of the Christian faith affirms certain things about certain historical events, but it also affirms that those events have shattered space and time and that the God who entered into space and time is also the God who is outside of space and time and can be known everywhere and always.

Such a witness that transcends space and time is also the basis of a Christianity that is sacramental and bears witness to the continuing reality of a living encounter with the resurrected Christ.

The classical Christian witness is to events that are evidence of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. God has entered our world, utterly disrupting the limitations of space and time. Those who bear authentic witness to Christ offer more than a rational acceptance of the authority of Scripture – they bear witness to the continuing presence of the Risen Christ and His lordship over all things.

Scripture itself teaches such a transcendent view of the events of Christ.

Get out of the box. Christ is in our midst.