The New York Times is no bastion of conservative, Christian journalism, and they set out to reinforce that Easter 2019. Nicholas Kristof published an opinion article interviewing Serene Jones about the resurrection of Jesus. Below I walk through the interview point-by-point, but in case you don’t have the patience for that, I decided to front load this blog with what would usually come at the end. Here is some important points of analysis.
Serene Jones is not a Christian. She can claim that, but she is objectively unsaved. She is a liberal, open-theistic deist. A person cannot deny the resurrection of Christ, the virgin birth of Christ, the penal substitution of Christ, Heaven, Hell, and maintain the Christian title. Those are the elements of almost any Christian creed. These are not peripherals, these are not debatable, these are aspects of Christian essentials. These are Gospel issues. Serene Jones is a non-Christian.
Serene Jones is also not a pastor deserving of the Reverend style. The reason is simple, by biblical definition, women cannot be reverends.
Lastly, Jones is the president of a seminary. Read that again and let it sink in for a moment. This article must remind us that we need to be very discerning in regards to who we read and promote. Do not assume that a person is a reliable theologian because they have an MDiv or PhD by their name. Not all seminaries are created equal.
Happy Easter, Reverend Jones! To start, do you think of Easter as a literal flesh-and-blood resurrection? I have problems with that.
When you look in the Gospels, the stories are all over the place. There’s no resurrection story in Mark, just an empty tomb.
The stories are not all over the place, but are entirely consistent. Along with that, every Gospel has a clear resurrection account. Matthew, Luke, and John could not be more clear about the resurrection, and neither could Mark.
And [the angel] said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you'” (Mark 16:6-7).
If all Mark had was an empty tomb, that would still be a resurrection account. However, Mark has more than that. Mark includes an angel at the empty tomb announcing that Christ has risen and informing the disciples Jesus was going to meet with them.
Likely what Jones was getting confused with is the controversy over the famous textual variant, the longer ending of Mark. There is good evidence for rejecting Mark 16:9-20 as being original to Mark’s Gospel. However, I quoted from verses 6-7 which are not disputed. If the longer ending of Mark is original, then Jones’ claim is even more embarrassing,
“Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:9-16).
Those who claim to know whether or not it happened are kidding themselves.
This means that every single New Testament author is “kidding themselves.”
But that empty tomb symbolizes that the ultimate love in our lives cannot be crucified and killed.
No passage of Scripture gives warrant for this ambiguous, vague, metaphoric reading of the resurrection.
For me it’s impossible to tell the story of Easter without also telling the story of the cross. The crucifixion is a first-century lynching. It couldn’t be more pertinent to our world today.
It is true that the cross is inseparable to the resurrection. However, the attempt to deduce the meaning and purpose of the cross to satisfy a political agenda is beyond absurd.
Additionally, notice how quickly Jones wants to back off the historical and biblical reality of a literal resurrection to instead talk about the cross.
But without a physical resurrection, isn’t there a risk that we are left with just the crucifixion?
Crucifixion is not something that God is orchestrating from upstairs.
Pay careful attention to the fact that Jones completely side steps the question (although he rephrases it later.) She is asked about the bleak, depressing Christianity that has a cross an no resurrection, and Jones answers by rejecting what the cross was to her. That’s avoiding the question. And she needs to avoid it because, biblically, a resurrection-less Christianity is no Christianity at all, and it does leave us in a dreadful, depressing reality.
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).
That aside, Jones proves she is again at odds with the biblical testimony. Luke makes clear that Peter certainly believed the crucifixion was “orchestrated from upstairs,” although Peter uses words far more respectful.
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:22-24).
I added the emphasis to prove that Peter certainly believed the crucifixion was planned by God, and that Christ rose from the dead.
Luke informs us that the early church all listened to their pastor and believed this very theology, for they prayed this in their corporate prayer:
“[F]or truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place (Acts 4:27-28).
Again, the emphasis is added to make clear that the cross was planned by God. And these are only two examples of what could be a mountain of texts.
The pervasive idea of an abusive God-father who sends his own kid to the cross so God could forgive people is nuts.
The New Testament (NT) authors could not be more clear that Jesus paid for our sins, The Bible could not be more clear that Christ was satisfying legal demands on the cross. She can call it nuts, but it is biblical, divine justice. She will answer for calling the Father abusive and nuts if she never repents.
For me, the cross is an enactment of our human hatred. But what happens on Easter is the triumph of love in the midst of suffering. Isn’t that reason for hope?
How is Easter a triumph of love if Christ is dead in the tomb? Love lost in that view. And if love lost, how is there reason for hope? That is exactly opposite Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 15.
You alluded to child abuse. So how do we reconcile an omnipotent, omniscient God with evil and suffering?
At the heart of faith is mystery. God is beyond our knowing, not a being or an essence or an object.
i.e. She has no idea what to do with the cross. However, if God is so beyond our knowing and mysterious, how was she able to make such bold claims about His idea of justice as it pertains to substitutionary atonement?
But I don’t worship an all-powerful, all-controlling omnipotent, omniscient being.
That’s right, she doesn’t.
That is a fabrication of Roman juridical theory and Greek mythology. That’s not the God of Easter.
Apparently this “reverend” has never read a systematic theology book in her entire life. These qualities have deep historical attestation, along with solid biblical exegesis. This is a throwaway claim lacking justification.
The God of Easter is vulnerable and is connected to the world in profound ways that don’t involve manipulating the world but constantly inviting us into love, justice, mercy.
This sentence is difficult to even understand; it has almost no discernible meaning. In what sense is God’s invitation to love, justice, and mercy “vulnerable?” And how is that somehow opposed to Him being omnipotent and omnipresent? Clearly, “vulnerable” is a euphemism for “weak,” “impotent,” and “fallible.” That is her pathetic god.
Isn’t a Christianity without a physical resurrection less powerful and awesome? When the message is about love, that’s less religion, more philosophy.
For me, the message of Easter is that love is stronger than life or death.
What does that even mean, “love is stronger than life or death?” How does the Gospel in the Bible support that? Apparently love is strong; yet, has no discernible manifestation. Love is stronger than life and death, but not strong enough to conquer death and offer life. Love wasn’t strong enough to raise God from the dead. Thus, how is it stronger than death? Love is not stronger than death unless Love Himself rose from it.
That’s a much more awesome claim than that they put Jesus in the tomb and three days later he wasn’t there. For Christians for whom the physical resurrection becomes a sort of obsession, that seems to me to be a pretty wobbly faith.
We are obsessed with the resurrection because the Bible is. Ironically, the Bible’s obsession with the resurrection puts it as a centerpiece for assurance in the faith. The apostolic message is that a Christianity without a resurrected Messiah is more than wobbly, it’s a faith that cannot save you.
What if tomorrow someone found the body of Jesus still in the tomb? Would that then mean that Christianity was a lie? No, faith is stronger than that.
Actually, that is exactly what it means. If Jesus’ body is found, Christianity is a lie. That is exactly Paul’s message already quoted above in 1st Corinnthians 15,
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
What about other miracles of the New Testament? Say, the virgin birth?
I find the virgin birth a bizarre claim. It has nothing to do with Jesus’ message.
What is bizarre is that a self-proclaimed Christian reverend and seminary president could know nothing of Biblical theology. The virgin birth is not bizarre, and is entirely important to Jesus’ life and message.
First, the Messiah was prophesied to be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). Therefore, if Jesus were not virgin born, He was not the Messiah.
Second, the virgin birth is why Jesus was sinless (Luke 1:35). His miraculous conception is the reason Jesus had no sin, and was able then be new Adam ()who could give us life where Adam failed (Romans 5:12-21).
If Jesus was not virgin born, He was a sinner. And if He was a sinner, He could not be our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:26), and if He could not be our High Priest, He could not die for sins. Without the virgin birth, we are all going to hell.
The virgin birth only becomes important if you have a theology in which sexuality is considered sinful. It also promotes this notion that the pure, untouched female body is the best body, and that idea has led to centuries of oppressing women.
As seen above, this is entirely false. It is a straw-man and a lie.
Prayer is efficacious in the sense of making us feel better, but do you believe it is efficacious in curing cancer?
I don’t believe in a God who, because of prayer, would decide to cure your mother’s cancer but not cure the mother of your non-praying neighbor. We can’t manipulate God like that.
This is hardly an answer. Does God not heal anyone, or is He willing to heal everyone? Putting that aside, a God who answers prayers is absolutely throughout Scripture, and never once is it called “manipulating God.” Certainly God does not answer every single prayer as we ask, the Bible is bursting at the seems with answered prayers.
What happens when we die?
I don’t know! There may be something, there may be nothing. My faith is not tied to some divine promise about the afterlife.
Again, the Bible answers very clearly and very often what happens to Christians and non-Christians alike when we die. This is a woman who has no care in the world what the Bible says.
People who behave well in this life only to achieve an afterlife, that’s a faith driven by a selfish motive: “I’m going to be good so God would reward me with a stick of candy called heaven?”
What she just spoke of is a false-gospel, and it’s nothing close to what Christians believe. The idea that if we believe in heaven and hell, we must also believe in justification by works is both the non-sequitur fallacy and the bifurcation fallacy. It also exposes embarrassing biblical illiteracy, proving this woman does not know the biblical Gospel.
Lastly, how immature and sacriligious is it to refer to heaven as a “stick of candy?” Paul considered it something far more incredible:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
For me, living a life of love is driven by the simple fact that love is true. And I’m absolutely certain that when we die, there is not a group of designated bad people sent to burn in hell. That does not exist.
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell (Matthew 5:29).
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28).
[A]nd the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10).
But hell has a symbolic reality: When we reject love, we create hell, and hell is what we see around us in this world today in so many forms.
Said no NT writer ever.
I’ve asked this of other interviewees in this religion series: For someone like myself who is drawn to Jesus’ teaching but doesn’t believe in the virgin birth or the physical resurrection, what am I? Am I a Christian?
Well, you sound an awful lot like me, and I’m a Christian minister.
No, Jones is not a Christian or a minister.
I often feel like we are in the middle of another reformation in a 500-year cycle. John Calvin and Martin Luther had no idea they were in the middle of a reformation, but they knew that church structures were breaking down, new forms of communication were emerging, new scientific discoveries were being made, new kinds of authorities and states and economic systems arising — all like this moment in time. This creates a spiritual crisis and a spiritual flexibility. Christianity is at something of a turning point, but I think that this questioning and this reaching is even bigger than Christianity. It reaches into many religious traditions. This wrestling with climate change, and wrestling with the levels of violence in our world, wrestling with authoritarianism and the intractable character of gender oppression — it’s forcing communities within all religions to say, “Something is horribly wrong here.” It’s a spiritual crisis. Many nonreligious people feel it, too.
We are in the middle of a new reformation; there is a spiritual crisis. However, Jones is on the wrong side of it.
We need a new way entirely to think about what it means to be a human being and what the purpose of our lives is. For me, this moment feels apocalyptic, as if something new is struggling to be born.
We do not need a new way to think about humanity or purpose. We need a biblical, apostolic, 2,000 year old way of thinking about these things. This reality makes the next question more than ironic.
Like 2,000 years ago?
Yes. Something was struggling to be born on that first Easter. It burst forth in ways that changed the world forever.
Jesus was not born on Easter; He rose from the dead on Easter.
Today I feel that spiritual ground around us shaking again. The structures of religion as we know it have come up bankrupt and are collapsing. What will emerge? That is for our children and our children’s children to envision and build.
And we know, by God’s grace, they will never ultimately build what Jones’ is trying to construct.
Praise the Lord for that. But also, pray for Serene Jones. She hates God, and is lost. But because Jesus was born of a virgin, died for sin, and rose from the dead, all according to the Scriptures, she can be saved!