Filtering Through the Theological Spam
The Internet was supposed
to be a vast array of free-floating ideas and information enhancing our
lives by improving communication and increasing our productivity. Unfortunately,
it has become a back alley of get rich schemes, pornography and unbridled
advertisements. The information highway is jammed with unwanted e-mail,
not-so affectionately known as spam. Messages that promise us health, wealth
and prosperity invade our mailboxes throughout the day. Almost weekly,
I receive a request from Nigeria promising more than a million dollars
if I help them transfer $10 million dollars. All that I must do is supply
them with my bank account. The most galling are those unwanted solicitations
for anti-spam software.
Spam is not only irritating,
a time waster and offensive, but it also holds the potential for unwanted
viruses. Some software companies have expended large amounts of money and
time to designing software that will filter out these unwanted messages.
There are two requirements for anti-spam software. First, it must detect
spam e-mail. Secondly, it must not filter out legitimate e-mail. That may
sound rather obvious but in the world of computers, it is not a simple
I tried developing my
own system. I set my messages filters to look words usually found commonly
found in spam mail. That tactic brought temporary relieve until the spammers
realized what people were doing. This last week I resorted to more desperate
measures. I deleted the spam filters and directed all my e-mail to the
Trash folder except for the e-mails from people in my personal address
book. This has reduced the flow of junk e-mails to my Inbox but I now must
check my Trash folder before I empty it to make sure that an e-mail was
not accidentally diverted.
Filtering unwanted messages
is a problem in cyberspace and in the church. Anyone who can type on a
keyboard, use a pen or speak can litter the religious landscape with distorted
ideas and beliefs. Over the years, books have been published that qualify
under the heading 'theological spam.' The Passover Plot, suggested that
the disciples might have given Jesus a hallucinogenic drug just before
the crucifixion swooning him into a death-like trance. Assuming that he
was dead, the Romans allowed him to be entombed. A few days later the disciples
returned to the grave, resuscitated him with a narcotic and proclaimed
The brother of Jesus,
James, was given the lead role in another theory presented by Professor
A. N. Wilson. According to this idea, James showed up on the road to Emmaus
and was mistakenly identified as Jesus. And more recently, The DaVinci
Code has offered its own set of suggestions that reinterpret the historical
The latest theories have
several common themes. Creativity replaces academic credibility. The historical
authenticity of orthodox beliefs succumbs to speculative imagination. For
the uninformed layperson that lacks a sophisticated filter, the arguments
may appear quite plausible. The untrained theologian may become confused
and assimilate these 'new' ideas even though they contradict the basic
tenets of the faith. To prevent the adoption of heretical teaching we must
learn to develop filters that sort through the theological spam. In his
letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul demonstrates how to analysis
ideas to determine their validity.
Pluralism marked the
theological climate of the ancient world just as it does today. Several
different streams of philosophy influenced the thought of Greek society.
Most viewed the body and soul as separate components. Some believed that
the soul perished at with the cessation of life. The soul was consumed
in the pile of fire when the body was burnt. Another school of thought
advocated for the eternal existence of the soul but both denied the resurrection
of the dead although they were willing to accept that the resurrection
Paul directs his rebuttal
at the logic of this limited view by using conditional clauses. He states
that if their position is true then we must draw certain conclusions. If
the dead are not raised than how can you be sure that Christ is not raised?
For Paul, the two events have an inseparable link. One cannot take place
without the other. If God is not able to resurrect one man, than he is
not able to resurrect anyone. Or to reverse the argument, if God is not
able to resurrect us, why would he resurrect Jesus.
Paul does not provide
scientific or historical evidence for the resurrection to prove his argument.
The Corinthians were already convinced of the historical event. They would
have joined Paul in defending its reality against attack by the skeptics.
But they failed to see how the philosophy of the culture had influenced
their thinking. They had taken one statement of truth and combined it with
a falsehood. Paul states that those two ideas simply cannot coexist. They
are logical opposites. Before we accept a new idea, we should consider
the logic of its premise to what we already know to be true.
After exposing the illogic
of the variant argument, Paul then uses another filters through the consequences
of its teaching. What if we do not have a risen Christ? And what if we
do not have a resurrection, what consequence does it have in my day-to-day
living? Paul tells them that a resurrection-less theology has enormous
consequences because without a resurrection we are still dead in our sin.
Last fall Carol and I
decided to brighten up our yard by planting daffodils, tulips, hyacinths
and crocus along the borders of several of our flowerbeds. Bulbs are amazing.
Before they are planted, they appear lifeless and dead. They will lie dormant
for years, even centuries. Through the cold winter months they will remain
inactive until the warmth of spring resurrection them to life. Then they
absorb water and nutrients from the soil and grow, push their stems through
the soil and spread their beautiful array of blossoms. The resurrection
of Christ is our spring. Without his triumphant exit from the tomb, we
would remain lifeless and dormant entombed by the enslaving grip of sin.
His resurrection breaths life into us just as the change in weather brings
bulbs to life. That historical event becomes the most effective filter
for detecting the orthodoxy of religious teaching.
Without the resurrection,
the work of God in Jesus would have ended "...in the cul-de-sac of a Palestinian
grave.... Death [would have remained] stronger than God.... [and] God's
acts [would have] proven futile...."1 Those that deny that historical event
remove the last chapter of God's salvation history. Stripped of resurrection
power, the believer is forced to live out ethical teachings of Christ through
human effort. The Sermon on the Mount becomes a legalist code of conduct
impossible to emulate even for a brief moment.
The filter of futility
removes many of the speculative theories that may appear attractive but
prove powerless and ineffective.
Having dissected the
illogical and exposed the futility of the teaching offered by those who
deny a resurrection Paul applies the filter of hope
But Christ has
indeed been raised from the dead the first fruit of those who have fallen
asleep... (I Corinthians 15:20)
Paul employs the
term first fruits to remind the Corinthians that the resurrection of Jesus
was not a solo event. "Christ is never without his people"2 He represents
the whole harvest that is to come but until that great day they must wait.
WAITING TILL MORNING
The pastor took his
seat as the airplane prepared for take off. Sitting beside the pastor was
a well known theologian. Thrilled by the opportunity to talk with such
a distinguished scholar, the pastor initiated a conversation. After a few
minutes the scholar talked about his family. He told the pastor that one
day his young son came home from school with a fever. They gave him some
aspirin and sent him to bed thinking it was just one of those childhood
things. Before the night was over, they were in the emergency room. The
boy had a very virulent form of meningitis. The doctors had to tell the
professor that his son was going to die. Shocked by the news, the seminary
professor assumed a seat beside his son to wait.
By mid-afternoon, the
little boy's strength was depleted. With his vision becoming cloudy, he
said, "Daddy, it's getting dark isn't it?" The professor replied, "yes,
son it is getting dark, very dark." A few minutes passed and the boy said,
loving his son as he
did, sat by the bed side to watch this death I guess its time for me to
go to sleep isn't it?"
He said, "Yes, son, it's
time for you to go to sleep."
The professor said that
his fixed his pillow and put his head on his head just as he had done every
other night and said, "Good night Daddy. I will see you in the morning."
He then closed his eyes and took his final breath.
The professor looked
out the window of the airplane for a long time as the pastor sat in silence
grieving for his new friend. Eventually, the professor turned, looked at
the pastor and with tears streaming down his cheeks said, "Pastor, I can
hardly wait till the morning."3
We can only wait till
morning if we have a hope that is not shaped by creative imagination or
vain speculation. Our hope rest in the assurance that just as God raised
Jesus of Nazareth from stone grave, he will one day resurrect us to eternal
1 George Eldon Ladd,
I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans
Publishing Co., 1975), 144.
2 F. W. Grosheide, The
First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B.
Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1953), 362.
3 The story was first
told by Dr. Criswell, Pastor of the First Baptist Church, Dallas TX cited
by Brett Blair, www.eSer