Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Brief Thought on Christology

I was rereading James Barr's Fundamentalism (1977) and came across these quotes, which I have long been struck by (warning: it's two longish paragraphs, and the stresses are mine):

"Conservative evangelical faith asserts, with traditional orthodoxy, that Christ was both God and Man; but the actual emphasis is heavily on his being God. It is because he is the Son of God that his suffering makes atonement...the story of the virgin birth shows that Jesus was more than merely human; and a Jesus who was merely human, however sublime and noble a man, could not have functioned in atonement as conservative evangelicals understand it...He is never merely teacher or leader or perfect man...Conservatives are nervous about any tendency which would understate the divine character of Christ; they are not equally sensitive about any tendency which would understate his humanity. 'Liberalism' and 'humanism,' as they imagine them, tend towards a human Jesus, and they in opposition tend towards a being who not only comes from God but is God..." (p.28)

and this:

"While traditional orthodoxy holds that Christ is both God and man...the emphasis of fundamentalist religion falls heavily on the deity of Christ. He is indeed man, but the essential thing to affirm is that he is God. This becomes stronger when one turns away from informed conservative apologetics and looks at the ordinary fundamentalist believer. He has probably never heard of Athanasius and knows nothing of the idea that Christ is equally God and man. What he believes about him is that he is God. He is God walking about and teaching in a man's body. Everyone knows that Jesus is a man, no virtue and no value is to be got from recognizing that he is a man; it is the recognition that he is God that put it negatively...any approach to Jesus that starts out from Jesus as man falls under suspicion and has to be rejected, unless it is immedaitely qualified with an even stronger assertion that he is God." (p. 168)

I was thinking about this and I remembered how shocked I was, in one of my religious studies classes, when Father Burns asked us, "If Jesus was human--'like us in all things except sin' [Philippians]--does that mean he maybe didn't know what he wanted to do with his life? That he could screw up a quote? That he was confused and discouraged at times? That he had wet dreams?" Getting comfortable with that idea made me realize that I had never really grappled with the idea of Jesus being intellectually and emotionally human. Not really.

The evangelical Jesus is about as minimally human as Jesus could be and still have a human body--if I may put it bluntly, he's sort of God with meat on top. (Well-behaved meat, too; I never pictured Jesus with so much as morning wood.) He's a God who (temporarily) gets thirsty and tired and killable and that's pretty much all. And it just now struck me that there's an interesting theory you can get from this: The more difficulty you have picturing Jesus as geniunely human, the more likely it is that your theology thinks of humanity as contemptible. (And while I'm not ready to stand behind this next statement fully, it quite possibly follows from this that the more contemptuous of humanity your theology is, the more likely it is to have a punitive, potentially cruel model of holiness.)

I'm not ready to fold this observation into a chapter yet, but I thought I'd toss it out there in case anyone wants to think about it or discuss it.



Blogger Rhu/nmHz said...

Coincidentally, I just read an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post by Shmuley Boteach. I disagree with much of what Rabbi Boteach writes, but what he had to say about the late Lubavitcher Rebbe is a striking contrast to what you write about evangelicals' approach towards Jesus:

Indeed, what made the Rebbe great was that he was a mortal man. Like us, he was fallible. Like us, he wrestled with the limitations of his humanity. But, unlike us, he transcended the human predilection to selfishness and led a life of staggering altruism.

Unlike Christianity, which insists that Jesus was either divine or an impostor, we Jews have no patience for god-men, so distant as they are from our struggles and tribulations. What really turns us on is imperfect people who wrestle with their nature and contribute vastly to the perfection of the world.

Had the Rebbe been more than just human, his greatness would have been intuitive and consequently unimpressive.

1/27/2008 7:22 PM  
Blogger Cowboy Dave Dickerson said...

Hey, thanks! That's a wonderful quote!

1/28/2008 2:04 AM  
Blogger Cowboy Dave Dickerson said...

By the way, I have no idea what Schmuley Boteach writes, but I gotta say: I love pronouncing his name!

1/28/2008 2:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way, you'd like my friend Real Live Preacher ( when he gets back online (technical difficulties this week). He's a Christian, but he has a sense of humor, isn't hiding his eyes on the big questions, and doesn't suck. Impressive in a pastor. Gives me hope enough to avoid becoming a Hitchins.

1/28/2008 10:26 PM  
Blogger Chad E Burns said...

Incredible post. I completely agree (I think :) ) to your conclusion on humanity and religion. In fact while I was reading it it occurred to me as to how "divine" it would be to focus on the human-ness of Jesus and it is in the human-ness that mankind is really redeemed--the divinity is just a diploma that allows access--it was the humanity that was the internship. AND--why not up-play G-d's greatest creation and the miracle that entails; instead of always relegating humans to "oiginal sin" and other such "contemptuous paradigms".

1/30/2008 2:36 PM  

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