Kneeling to the "Lord"

While on a spiritual retreat at a Franciscan friary, reading about the Lordship of Jesus in N.T. Wright’s “What Saint Paul Really Said”, I noticed time after time worshippers enter the sanctuary and then bow on one or both knees before sitting to pray. And they would bow again before leaving.

The Lordship of Christ is an affirmation or our fundamental allegiance to Him, a politically charged proposition, making a claim on us above all other rulers (economic/political/social/class). As a good evangelical I’ve been raised with an apolitical, ahistorical, individualized and privatized gospel. So why physically kneel when Jesus loves me and lives within me?

I didn’t kneel when I entered, but I did when I left.

the Justice of God by james d.g. dunn

Here is a collection of my three posts summarizing this book

Intro

In this short book james dunn briefly outlines how part of our understanding of “justification by faith” was obscured during the Reformation, becoming to individualistic and overly focused on legal aspects, rather than communally and relationally focused. He trace some missteps of the Luther’s recovery of the doctrine of “justification by faith” and then walks us back into the more relational world of Paul’s original formulation, and then back into the OT expression of justice/justification/righteousness

Martin Luther and the Individual Conscience

The first chapter explores the story of Luther’s dramatic recovery of this very important doctrine, and two of its wrong turns.

The Recovery

While an Augustinian monk, situated within a Roman Catholicism of indulgences and purgatory, Luther’s conscience ached with guilt over his sin before “the justice of God,” i.e. that God punishes all unrighteousness. God, for Luther, was to be feared, not loved. But under a prolonged reading of Roman, grappling with the strange manner in which Paul refer to “the justice of God” as a means of salvation, Luther saw the light. It’s not that God is merely a “just God,” but He is also the “justifying God.” The decisive (f)act of God is not that he is just (condemning the wicked), but that He is the one who justifies (acquits the wicked). And much more could be said about the positive aspects of this recovery…

The Wrong Turns

But Dunn then points out two problems with how Luther explain Paul’s doctrine of justification. First, Luther assumed that Paul had gone through the same agonies of conscience and guilt over sin before a blameless and just God, that Luther had been through. He assumed that Paul had been striving to know and please God through ‘works of the Law’ before making the discovery that he is “justified by faith” in Christ. But the problem with this is that Paul nowhere sounds like had a guilty conscience before God. Instead he says he was blameless in regards to righteousness within the law (Phil. 3:6). So, Luther was projecting his situation back into Paul’s, thereby creating distortion is his understanding of the doctrine.

A second distortion was cause by another retojection made by Luther. Quite naturally, he assumed that ancient Judaism must have been similar to mediaeval Catholicism by focusing on “justification by merit” or “by works.” For Luther, Judaism was a legalistic religion of human striving. And this view has been perpetuated to this day in most Protestant traditions. But, again, this is not really the case, but a caricature. The Judaism of Paul’s day, and the one we can read about in the OT. Yes there is the Law, but God grace is choosing Israel, dwelling with Israel in the midst of their sin (allowing for repentance and forgiveness), and the continual prophetic recalling of God’s righteous act to an unworthy nation should reveal the caricature of Judaism as merely a religion of works righteousness.

Justice for Gentiles: Paul and Justification by Faith

In the second chapter Dunn outlines the contours of Jewish faith at the time of Christ and what exactly Paul was converted to (or rather, commissioned to), shedding light on his resultant doctrine of “justification by faith.”

the Shape of Judaism

At the time of Paul, two tenets of Judaism were taken for granted: 1) God is one; and 2) God had chosen Israel to be His special people. The second aspect, the theology of election, meant that Israel was different than the other nation, and had to sustain that distinctiveness at all costs. And this distinctiveness as marked out through the Torah, or Law. The foundation of this for Israel is not that they had to earn God’s favor and stay in His good graces, but that they were chosen to be God’s people and instrument among the nations. This election of Israel through the giving of the Law meant that the Gentiles were extremely disadvantaged, being “outside” the Law, and therefore outside God’s favor.

So, what was Paul converted from? He was converted from a ‘zealous’ attachment to Israel’s distinctiveness (separated from the Gentiles) and step up by the Law (as a boundary marker b/w Jew and Gentile, particularly circumcision and food laws). He was converted from a rigid nationalism which had forgotten that the election of Israel was meant for the benefit of the Gentiles also, not to their exclusion.

Commission, not Conversion

So, what was Paul converted to? A better question is to ask about his commission , not his conversion. On the Damascus road Paul was commissioned to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. And it is this commissioning that changed everything. Being confronted with the risen Lord Jesus Messiah, Paul had to come to grips with theses Christians who being so friendly to Gentile, because now he was commissioned to preach to them. As we will now see, “the Christian doctrine of justification by faith begins as Paul’s protest not as an individual sinner against Jewish legalism, but as a protest on behalf of Gentiles against Jewish exclusivism” (p. 24).

the Shape of Justification

Dunn now shifts gears to see what light can be shed on the Luther’s formulation of this doctrine. Justification by faith, for Paul, was not merely the conviction that sinners cannot rely on their own merit to earn God’s favor (although Paul would certainly agree with this). Rather, it is the conviction that God grace is not limited to a particular people (defined as those who follow the Law), but that God’s goodness and mercy is open to all people through Faith. One of the main points (and the one forgotten by the Reformation) is that one doesn’t have to change cultures to be accepted by God (i.e. change from a Gentile into a Jew to be saved). Rather, through Christ, all are justified by faith, b/c God’s grace is not locked into a certain people, but mediated through a certain person, our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Messiah, Savior.

the Justice of God

The last dimension of this subject that Dunn examines is the Old Testament concept of the Justice of God. For this concept lies beneath and is assumed by Paul when he speaks of “justification by faith.”

Righteousness in relationships

Righteousness is not an ideal to be grasped or approximated, but the manner of a relationship. Dunn points out that justice/righteousness in Greek and Roman thought is an ideal but which we evaluate individual to be just or righteous. Justice/righteousness is an absolute ethical norm by which we measure particular instances. “‘Justice’ was like a divine principle of order which had to be sustained and appeased lest disorder and anarchy prevail'(33). But in contrast to this, justice/righteousness in the OT is not an ideal for individual to strive after, but in Hebrew thought it is a concept of relation, “something one has precisely in one’s relationships as a social being'(33). So, “people are righteous when they meet the claims which others have on them by virtue of their particular relationships”(33).

Concerning God, then, He is righteous toward His creation b/c He sustains it and causes it to thrive. God is righteous toward Israel b/c He sustains His people (even when the act unrighteously toward Him) and he causes Israel to thrive. Because God undertook a relationship with Israel by His own free act of Grace (the doctrine of election we talked about before), God is acting righteously when He continues that relationship, even when the people sin/rebel. According to Greek/Roman ideals of justice, God must punish sin/wickedness and should therefore cast off his rebellious people. But this has no room for forgiveness or a relationship based in Love.

Concerning Israel, they are not righteous merely by observing the Law (a works righteousness), but b/c through the Law they maintain a relationship with God, one started and renewed through God’s grace. This places justice/righteousness more in the category of God spontaneous act of Love, rather than a punitive act of judgment.

Horizontal and Vertical

While I don’t have enough time to explain this more, the last section of Dunn’s little book focuses on the intimate link b/w our righteous relations with each and a righteous relationship with God. The link, esp. for the major prophets, is through worship. One cannot worship God truthfully/righteously when our relationship with others are oppressive, esp. against the poor and marginalized. We cannot be righteous with God if we are perpetuating/participating in unrighteous relationships among people.

Summary

“To sum up then. The biblical understanding of justification/justice/righteousness is all of a piece…Righteousness as essentially involving relationships, arising our of relationships, expressed in relationships; and righteousness, as both horizontal and vertical, as involving responsibility to one’s neighbor as part and parcel of one’s responsibility towards God”(42).

Concerning “justification by faith” and somethings I’ve been learning, here is my second of three post summarizing the Justice of God by james d.g. dunn

Justice for Gentiles: Paul and Justification by Faith

In the second chapter Dunn outlines the contours of Jewish faith at the time of Christ and what exactly Paul was converted to (or rather, commissioned to), shedding light on his resultant doctrine of “justification by faith.”

the Shape of Judaism

At the time of Paul, two tenets of Judaism were taken for granted: 1) God is one; and 2) God had chosen Israel to be His special people. The second aspect, the theology of election, meant that Israel was different than the other nation, and had to sustain that distinctiveness at all costs. And this distinctiveness as marked out through the Torah, or Law. The foundation of this for Israel is not that they had to earn God’s favor and stay in His good graces, but that they were chosen to be God’s people and instrument among the nations. This election of Israel through the giving of the Law meant that the Gentiles were extremely disadvantaged, being “outside” the Law, and therefore outside God’s favor.

So, what was Paul converted from? He was converted from a ‘zealous’ attachment to Israel’s distinctiveness (separated from the Gentiles) and step up by the Law (as a boundary marker b/w Jew and Gentile, particularly circumcision and food laws). He was converted from a rigid nationalism which had forgotten that the election of Israel was meant for the benefit of the Gentiles also, not to their exclusion.

Commission, not Conversion

So, what was Paul converted to? A better question is to ask about his commission , not his conversion. On the Damascus road Paul was commissioned to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. And it is this commissioning that changed everything. Being confronted with the risen Lord Jesus Messiah, Paul had to come to grips with theses Christians who being so friendly to Gentile, because now he was commissioned to preach to them. As we will now see, “the Christian doctrine of justification by faith begins as Paul’s protest not as an individual sinner against Jewish legalism, but as a protest on behalf of Gentiles against Jewish exclusivism” (p. 24).

the Shape of Justification

Dunn now shifts gears to see what light can be shed on the Luther’s formulation of this doctrine. Justification by faith, for Paul, was not merely the conviction that sinners cannot rely on their own merit to earn God’s favor (although Paul would certainly agree with this). Rather, it is the conviction that God grace is not limited to a particular people (defined as those who follow the Law), but that God’s goodness and mercy is open to all people through Faith. One of the main points (and the one forgotten by the Reformation) is that one doesn’t have to change cultures to be accepted by God (i.e. change from a Gentile into a Jew to be saved). Rather, through Christ, all are justified by faith, b/c God’s grace is not locked into a certain people, but mediated through a certain person, our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Messiah, Savior.

(So, what does this mean for preaching the gospel and discipling the faithful? What implications does this have? what do you all think?)

Concerning “justification by faith” and somethings I’ve been learning, here is my first of three post summarizing the Justice of God by james d.g. dunn

Intro

In this short book james dunn briefly outlines how part of our understanding of “justification by faith” was obscured during the Reformation, becoming to individualistic and overly focused on legal aspects, rather than communally and relationally focused. He trace some missteps of the Luther’s recovery of the doctrine of “justification by faith” and then walks us back into the more relational world of Paul’s original formulation, and then back into the OT expression of justice/justification/righteousness

Martin Luther and the Individual Conscience

The first chapter explores the story of Luther’s dramatic recovery of this very important doctrine, and two of its wrong turns.

The Recovery

While an Augustinian monk, situated within a Roman Catholicism of indulgences and purgatory, Luther’s conscience ached with guilt over his sin before “the justice of God,” i.e. that God punishes all unrighteousness. God, for Luther, was to be feared, not loved. But under a prolonged reading of Roman, grappling with the strange manner in which Paul refer to “the justice of God” as a means of salvation, Luther saw the light. It’s not that God is merely a “just God,” but He is also the “justifying God.” The decisive (f)act of God is not that he is just (condemning the wicked), but that He is the one who justifies (acquits the wicked). And much more could be said about the positive aspects of this recovery…

The Wrong Turns

But Dunn then points out two problems with how Luther explain Paul’s doctrine of justification. First, Luther assumed that Paul had gone through the same agonies of conscience and guilt over sin before a blameless and just God, that Luther had been through. He assumed that Paul had been striving to know and please God through ‘works of the Law’ before making the discovery that he is ‘justified by faith’ in Christ. But the problem with this is that Paul nowhere sounds like had a guilty conscience before God. Instead he says he was blameless in regards to righteousness within the law (Phil. 3:6). So, Luther was projecting his situation back into Paul’s, thereby creating distortion is his understanding of the doctrine.

A second distortion was cause by another retojection made by Luther. Quite naturally, he assumed that ancient Judaism must have been similar to mediaeval Catholicism by focusing on “justification by merit” or “by works.” For Luther, Judaism was a legalistic religion of human striving. And this view has been perpetuated to this day in most Protestant traditions. But, again, this is not really the case, but a caricature. The Judaism of Paul’s day, and the one we can read about in the OT. Yes there is the Law, but God grace is choosing Israel, dwelling with Israel in the midst of their sin (allowing for repentance and forgiveness), and the continual prophetic recalling of God’s righteous act to an unworthy nation should reveal the caricature of Judaism as merely a religion of works righteousness.

So, what was Paul getting at, and what was he protesting against?

Dunn’s aswers to those questions will wait until next time.

my recent summary of up/rooted’s december gathering

“Is God a Capitalist?” and why it matters

Mike Budde’s main purpose was to explode any presumed congruency between God and Capitalism. He started by connecting God and the Church. Assuming that our theology of God is connected to our ecclesiology (the doctrine/practice of the church), whatever practice we then see the church doing we can imagine what kind of theology of God lies behind it. In other words, whatever the Church looks like, so also does it believes God to be.

So, “What does it mean that the Church is acting like a for-profit corporation?” is Mike’s question for us.

(Now, for those who might not think that the Church is acting like a for-profit corporation, Mike came with a dizzying display of examples: i.e. the Catholic corporate underwriting of events and the marketing of their mascot, the Pope, to soda companies; listening to market research which cautions against the cross during Easter because it is a downer; Anglican Bishops talking about “customers” instead of congregants; to a Catholic Bishop arguing from corporate law, instead of canon law, that the Church is not responsible for the actions of their priests because priests are really “independent contractors”; to the insanely successful Jesus: CEO which tries to figure out how Jesus made the Disciples into lean, mean, strategic marketing machines.)

The assumed answer to this question is that the Church believes God is a Capitalist, or is at least not opposed to the idea. But, as Mike shows, this answer is not consistent with the character of God, nor the portrait of Jesus. Jesus’ labor practices are horrible (pathetic disciples and unproductive followers like prostitutes and leper; but he did have lying/stealing tax-collectors, so that was quick thinking by Jesus!), his location planning was poor (backwater Judea instead of Rome), he didn’t partner with the powerful (made enemies of both the Romans and the Pharisees), and his strategic/long-term planning needed to be thought through better (he just takes off and leaves it all with people who barely understood what was going on). And most of his parables reveal bad capitalistic practices as well. Also, much of the Old Testament reveals that God is a bad businessman: rewarding bad behavior; choosing insignificant business partners (former slaves of Egypt), etc, etc.

Now, of course, just like in a major corporation, after some successes, the founder may go soft and grow a conscience or something. But it is our job, as middle managers to keep this company going at full steam, even it the founder in his old age and idealism would run into the ground. We must give him a dose of reality and practicality. And Mike’s main point is just this. That we as pastor/lay leaders (the Church in general) have looking at God’s vision of the world and said, “Yes, that’s great and perfect and ideal, and certainly You mean well, but we have really problem here (like a budget to balance),” and so we go about business as usual.

Mike ended with a general statement that Capitalism presumes scarcity and needs, while God presumes plentitude and fullness. These are fundamentally different mentalities by which to see the world.

From here our discussion ranged far and wide: from how has a needs orientation effected how we do church, and how has Capitalism effected our time management, and how have we lost our humanity by becoming consumers? to how do we then live in, but not, of Capitalism and what is the “economy of the Church?”

Two books and two beauties.

Having just finished reading the Justice of God (by James Dunn) and The Fragile Absolute (by Zizek) I am continuing to shed my old evangelical understanding of “justification by faith”, having it revitalized by a New Perspective on Paul theologian and a Marxist/Psychoanalytic atheist.

I’ll be offering a short summary of Dunn’s book soon, since my summary here will double for the one I’ll give to our justice/mercy ministry. And I should write about Zizek b/c it will help me understand him (b/c i barely do).

Also, two beautiful things:

1) last week Tim White (our Liturgist) put together an amazing Advent piece for our worship service (a slideshow accompanied by music/monologue) which drew me into the very Reality of the Second coming. One of the few truly artistic uses of projected images in church.

2) the art piece by Brian Christiansen (our arts director), called the “waiting room,” sitting within our sanctuary, inviting us into our existence between the advents.

and these are just some of the beautiful things i have with me…

breaking from the solipsism of this blog, a posting by joe myers prompted me to reflect…

he asked “I can’t help but wonder if we, those of us who participate in the postmodern conversation, are looking for ‘Woodstock.’ As we struggle for the future, will there be a defining moment that marks the beginning of the end?

We all desire for this—a place to say, “this is where it happened, this is where ‘it’ took place.” Or do we?

This “defining moment” all too often happens in the past, rarely in the present. It is only when we are telling our story, our own history, that we can adequately see those moments, events, or places for what they are. Our backwards gaze through time teaches us their true value.

And those ‘moments’ which occur in the present are generally not fully understood until the future. Adding layer after layer of meaning, time propels them, and us, significantly through our lives. The ‘love’ of a high school sweetheart expands into the ‘love’ of courtship/marriage. And this ‘love’ grows as marriage continues, and augments toward a ‘love’ encompassing children, which then reflects back and grows the ‘love’ for one’s own parents. So when is the ‘defining moment’ for the love between husband and wife? Where is the ‘moment’ without reference to all these other moments? Our forward glance through time ensures that each ‘moment’ is really more than it actually is. And again, in backward gaze the ‘love’ of a high school sweet heart is properly placed and appreciated.

And isn’t the hope for such a “moment” a longing for certainty and stability, a longing we have cast off as postmoderns? The stabilizing moment, the clearing in the forest, where everything is revealed, and our course/direction is verified. Isn’t this navigating by modern apparatuses? Are we hoping for a collection of moments by which our ‘progress’ can be judged? When does one age end and another begin? For “one does not leave the epoch whose closure one can outline. The movements of belonging or not belonging to the epoch are too subtle, the illusions in that regard are too easy, for us to make a definite judgment”(Derrida of grammatology p.12).

So what is our ‘time’? What is our ‘moment’?

Should we look any farther than the birth of Christ (the Incarnation), or his death and resurrection? Are these events in the past not definitive enough to shape our present?

Should we look any farther than the future Coming of Christ (the Consumation/Recreation)? Is this event not enough to gather all our present ‘moments’ into itself, preparing them all for a final revelation?

So no, in the midst of our postmodern conversation, there will never be a defining moment, we have already been given ‘moments’ enough to navigate by. Time (the collection of moments) has been invaded by Eternity (the Moment) and that is enough.

(but of course, we will continue having “definitive” experiences/moments/event in our lives as Jesus draws us into His Moment, and let him be praised for it. but let’s not hope for them too much)

brief outline/reflection on Marxism (via a selective reading of Marxism: Philosophy and Economics and the Marx-Engels Reader).

my purpose for this: having just read through Zizek’s The Fagile Absolute, I realized that I knew very little about Marxism, or Marxist cultural analysis, so I thought that I ought to learn a little bit, providing myself with a tool to understand “where” we culturally—this “where” being the cultural line intersecting with the “when” of our religious tradition positioning our identity. (see my posts on media/cultural studies below for this-and really I need to explain this better) anyway…I think Marxism will be one tool among many we attempt to de-westernize the Church here in America, which has to lead through a critique of capitalism, so that we can live in, but not of, capitalism.

Evaluation-

helpful: 1) Theory of ideology/oppression can lead to ridiculous conclusion, but is a helpful way of understanding the world. Christians are constantly doing ideology critique of culture (i.e. looking for sin, pointing toward the true “spiritual” understanding of history, claiming certain practices as idolatrous.) 2) As a critique of capitalism- we too often assume that capitalism is God’s gift to humanity, but capitalism forms us into certain kinds of people with desire/passion/inclination which are opposed to God’s Kingdom. So we need this critique. But Marxism has the same anthropology and telos as Capitalism, it is really just parasitic, not able to move beyond capitalism. But more on that with Zizek. Only the church can over-come, or properly augment capitalism. 3) Marxism opens our eye to class conflict as relationship, rather then just through wealth. 4) Marxism thinks historically, from past to future, helping us move beyond an ahistorical modern perspective. (although of course there are many others who help us do this.)

flaws: 1) law of progress through revolution too modernist. The dialectical approach seeing metamorphic change in culture for the better is destroyed in Leninism. 2) While flaunting a communalism, it is only for the purposes of “actualized the potential” of every individual. Therefore Marx is an individualism, just like Nietzsche and Keirkegaard. 3) Collectivized industry stifles technological “innovation” and innovation leads toward the betterment of masses, which is the goal of Communism, so it goal (the actualization of individuals) is contradicted by its means (collectivized industry). oops…4) Marxist anthropology is based in pleasure seeking of individualists.

directions: 1) how can Marxism address a post-industrial society with a financial/creative/service economy? 2) I need to look more into the coupling of Marxism and psycho-analysis as a tool of ideology critique.(again leads back to Zizek) 3) Look into the shift from ‘alienated’ laborer to ‘alienated’ consumer (this will lead through Baudrillard).

Existentialist: Marx wrote just after Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky, and just before Nietzsche. I mention these authors/thinkers b/c Marx is very existential in his outlook, i.e. the existing individual is the point of reference, particularly the laborer. This is especially seen is his “Thesis on Feuerbach” where he briefly positions himself between idealism (Hegel) and his retooled materialism. “The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism…is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as human sensuous activity, practice, not as subjectively.” This sounds similar to Kierkegaards ‘truth is subjectivety’ and the general “existentialist” concern to overthrow the privileged position of contemplation, replacing it with involvement/practice as the place of truth.

The method of investigation is “dialectical.” The world is conceived as a complex process, not as a complex grouping of things to look at. This method never looks at the “appearance” of things, but their “essence”, b/c the appearance lacks the understanding of what came before, and where the process is going. (An acorn can’t be properly comprehended without reference to the oak). Or as Thomas Sowell comments, “The dialectical approach rejects uncritical acceptance of existing empirical appearances, and seeks instead the inner pattern from which these appearances derive and evolve.”

Ideology:

This methodology lead into the buzz word “ideology” because ideologies keep people fixed on the appearances, rather than the essence. So there could be the ideology that “technology makes our lives better.” But this is a myth because really the whole pursuit of technology is make production more efficient and faster, so that produce can be made faster, and therefore cheap, which will lead toward more profits. But this increase efficiency is not passed onto the laborer (instead of working 8 hour, you can just work 6 everday). Rather, we are all expected to work the same amount of hours, just producing more. So really, technology doesn’t make our lives better, or more leisurely, just fast and fast. Anyway, that’s what a Marxist might say. The point is that “ideologies” legitimize the rule class’s control/power. This Marxist theme has been coupled with Nietzsche’s will to power, and generalized to just about every situation these days. Recently this theme of uncovering the hidden meaning of history/culture, and it’s hidden ideologies, has been linked with psycho-analysis for the obvious similarities of trying to uncover/lay bare the unconscious. I’ll probably get back to this linking when I read through Zizek again.

Value

A very useful distinction: use-value and exchange-value. use-value is inherent in an object, or product; a chair for sitting in, a light for reading by. They have uses for man connected to their physical properties, such that if they lost them, they would no longer be useful (i.e. if a chair lost a leg, it would be use-less). exchange-value is only a “relationship” between objects or produces, i.e. what can it be equally exchange for? (50 light bulbs for one chair). So, an apartment building has a use-value to all who live there, it is their house and home. But to the landlord it only has exchange-value, a means of income. So if he can increase his income but jacking up the rent or by evacuating the building and selling it, then he will, not matter what the effect to the use-value. (example taken from Urban Fortunes: A Political Economy of Place). This might have implication for how we evaluate our practices in church: is what we do actually useful, or does it just have some sort of exchange-value. Is discipleship happening which is useful, or just an exchanged of pleasantries to make us feel better?

(if you made all the way to the bottom the you are awesome or totally crazy, and you are certainly someone who I should engage with…post a comment)

Now I feel somewhat ready for “is God a capitalist?”. and I probably won’t post until after that.

“The philosphers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.”

Karl Marx, 1845 (Thesis on Feuerbach)

Just switch theologian for philosopher…, but of course, interpretation in half the battle (or the whole battle depending on how postmodern you are…)

I’m still doing some reading on Marxism, so I’ll post something when I’m finished with my little research. I’m beefing up for the next up/rooted gathering, “Is God a Capitalist?”

back to the matrix

now, just focusing on the themes of sacrifice and self-giving, esp. on Neo’s part, let’s see what the Matrix has to say about itself. In the second movie, Matrix Reloaded, the Architect tells us the matrix always needs to be balanced, all the variables taken care of. The need of free choice for humans create written into the matrix which created a problem for the Architect b/c it create a variable that could only be contained by allow “the one” to appear from time to time. But when this “one” appeared he would bring balance back to the matrix, equalizing the equation.

Now, at the end of the second movie we see that Neo does something that no other “one” did through his free choice, throwing everything off. So we might conclude that he transcended the “logic” of the matrix, throwing it permanently out of balance. A vindication of free choice and human potential? But in the last movie the Oracle tells us that Neo created Smith and that Smith was really the “negative” of Neo, his mirror or double. This double in Smith is reeking havoc, not just for the humans, but all the machines/programs.

So while all the humans are fight the machines, Neo is fighting himself, i.e. Smith in the Matrix having made a deal with the Machines that if he gets rid of Smith the machines will make peace. Skipping to the end, we see Neo stop fighting and is assimilated into Smith, a “self-giving sacrifice” of one so that the many might live, right? Well yes, because somehow Smith is kill, and the Machines let up there fight. But this is not the logic of the Cross at all.

From the account given by the Oracle, Smith is the double of Neo—if Neo is yin then Smith is yan—and the given what the Architect said about balancing the equation, we see that Neo never really transcended the logic of the Matrix, he just displaced out of the program, into the really world. But the logic is the same, there must be balance, and since Neo created the imbalance initially by killing/creating agent Smith, his sacrifice is the reinstatement of the logic of Balance (Karma?), not the breaking free from it. So, yes sacrificed himself, and created a tentative end to the war, but he did not fundamentally change the rules of the war. And this is really the problem with using Neo’s sacrifice as an allusion to Christ’s b/c Christ’s sacrifice changed the rules of war, and transcended the logic of balance through his self-giving for others. and really the flipside of this self-giving is the “incarnation” of the totally Other for man, from outside the system, which is totally absent from the Matrix. given all this, Christians should not go about claiming this as example of Christ because 1) it totally devalues what Christ actually did, 2) it totally misses the point of Balance, which is more Eastern than Christian. (I would claim Memento as a Christian movie way before i did the matrix)

now all that to say that I actually really liked the matrix for what they are, esp. the first movie. The multicultural integration of characters, the empowerment of women, a critique of hyper-reality and consumerism (these movies really lend themselves to a Marxist reading of liberation/revolution than a Christian one of salvation) are all great and appreciated. But could we please move beyond superficial moralizing of a movie (art in general) or an equally superficial “gospelizing” of art. We to be able to understand and appreciate a work of art according to its own terms before evaluating according to Christian ones. This will keep us from doing violence to the “creation” of others, valuing them as co-creators with the Creator.