Saturday, March 03, 2007


Acts 1: 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

There’s a new boycott in town. The American Family Association is calling for all Christians across the United States to stop watching the Discovery Channel. This is because the network is due to broadcast a documentary tonight about the bones of Jesus being found. It’s another attempt by media personalities to discredit the New Testament and it’s something that we shouldn’t treat lightly.

Why? Well, read the passage again from the Book of Acts (Acts 1:1-9). Luke tells his readers that after Christ’s work was completed, He ascended into heaven. There’s nothing about continuing His life on earth, or of marrying Mary Magdalene, or of having a son called Judah. Luke is very clear about what actually happened: Jesus left the earth and went back to be in heaven. His purpose was to let the disciples begin a new faith and that with the promised help of the Holy Spirit, the Church of Christ would commence.

If we allow ourselves to be duped into doubting Luke’s account because of wild theories by movie directors and questionable archeologists, then we lose our faith in the Scriptures, which in turn means we lose our faith in Christ. There’s no gray area in this situation: we either accept the Ascension or we reject 2000 years of what the Disciples of Christ experienced.

So, should we boycott the Discovery Channel? It produces a lot of interesting and intriguing shows, but when it meddles with the Christian faith at this level, then I guess Christians should think twice about watching it. If it was broadcasting child pornography, everyone would avoid it and seek to have it banned; but because it’s only tampering with our historical faith, we may not think that it’s that serious. The trouble is this: if the bones of Christ exist, then Christianity is false. If the Ascension actually happened, then the Discovery Channel is making the biggest mistake in all of its network history.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us to make good and godly decisions in our lives. We know that we are far from perfect and fall into sin far too easily. Grant us the gift of discernment, so that we may not be taken in by those who have an agenda to discredit You, usurp the Scriptures, and destroy the Church. Show us where the Truth can actually be found – in Your Holy words and deeds. In Your Sacred Name, we pray. Amen.


John Shuck said...

I plan on watching it for sure! Are Christians so fragile? Here is the website

Jim Jordan said...

Fragile has nothing to do with it. This was a mockumentary that no self-respecting archaeologist wanted anything to do with. Mr. Shuck, a Presbyterian senior pastor no less, thinks it cute and edgy to sniff the throne of every anti-Christian "snuff film" and book. With shepherds like him, we need to go astray. What is PCUSA's motto? "Honey, I Shrunk the Church"?

Pappy McVulgar said...

Does John's position threaten you? Why the attack on his call? I may not agree with the light heartedness John displayed. I do support his call and yours. Brother when do we accept each other in difference and rely on Jesus to bind us. It is this posture that shrinks the church. A plant withers and drops its leaves prior to winter and then spring a new growth. There is a season for all things.
Blessings to you, Pappy McVulgar

John Shuck said...

Hi Pappy, Jim, Stushie and all the rest of my fellow presby bloggers:

If you go to a PCUSA seminary, you are exposed to higher criticism. We have learned critical ways of reading the Bible. We learned about the synoptic problem and the two-source theory and so forth. We learned that the Gospel writers were writing theology not history. While there is certainly disagreement, most critical scholars affirm that Mark is written around 70, Matthew and Luke after that and that Matthew and Luke have a source in common independent of Mark. We know Acts is written by the same author of Luke. The writers are retrojecting back to the time of Jesus their current concerns, struggles, and views.

Yet, clergy are reticent to introduce higher criticism to their congregations via preaching or teaching. Why? Do we really view our congregations as bleating sheep who need protection? I certainly do not. I view them as intelligent, interested people who want to know what is going on the world of scholarship and want to have an informed faith.

Boycotting films that challenge our presuppositions does no one any favors. Neither does withholding scholarship that challenges our creedal or theological views. Put it out there. Let them wrestle with it.

I think it would be good for us at Presbyterian Bloggers to wrestle with some of these questions on-line. Since Stushie started this process, I will respond. He wrote:

"Well, read the passage again from the Book of Acts (Acts 1:1-9). Luke tells his readers that after Christ’s work was completed, He ascended into heaven. There’s nothing about continuing His life on earth, or of marrying Mary Magdalene, or of having a son called Judah. Luke is very clear about what actually happened: Jesus left the earth and went back to be in heaven. His purpose was to let the disciples begin a new faith and that with the promised help of the Holy Spirit, the Church of Christ would commence."

The author of Acts is likely writing in the late 1st if not the early 2nd century. Very little in Acts is historical. It is more like a theological saga or mythical history. It is an idealized retrojection back onto the Jesus movement in large part to establish authority for Luke's community. This is not news, friends. This is the result of the historical-critical method of reading the New Testament.

This scholarship is in the hands of our parishioners. They are asking these questions. Don't give them answers. Don't try to protect them or the theological traditions. Ask these with them.

By all means, be critical of films like the Jesus Family Tomb. Let's use it as a teaching moment.

My sermonette.

John said...

"We learned that the Gospel writers were writing theology not history"

From whom John, and how do their credentials compare to those of the original Gospel writers?

John Shuck said...

Ask any NT/early Christian origins scholar at a mainline (including PCUSA) seminary. Go to UT in Knoxville and ask any classics, religion, history, or humanities professor.

Your second question. Modern historical/critical methods did not emerge since the modern period, the Enlightenment. The ancients' view of history and our view of history are worlds apart. Higher Criticism is an attempt to understand their world.

John said...

You still haven't answered my questioned, but let me put it more simply: how do we know what the original Gospel writers thought they were doing: writing theology or history?

We can believe in Higher Critcism if we choose to, but no one of us was actually there when Matthew, Mark, Luke or John actually put ink to papyrus - so how do we know what they thought they were doing at that time?

John Shuck said...

Take John 20:30:

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

John wants us to believe, to have faith, to get our "theology right" so to speak. That is why we call these gospel writers evangelists. They want to convince us of something. It isn't history, especially as we write history, or even as Josephus wrote history.

That doesn't mean there are not historical kernals in the texts, but we have to sift for them.

John said...

Good point, John, and I love your use of scripture to valid what you wrote. Which brings me to the original point I was making in the devotional: the Ascension: did Luke write it as historical fact or theological fiction?

John Shuck said...

Hi John (Stushie?) what is your preference?

The Acts passage. I am not sure what word or phrase to describe the literature, but I will say this:

I don't think it is journalistic. What I mean is that it is not something CNN would have recorded on their cameras. The author of Luke/Acts was not reporting on an event as such.

It has the feel of legend such as the legend of Moses splitting the Reed Sea or Elijah ascending to heaven. But it is legend with a message. One message being that Jesus for Luke has the qualification/character/authority of God. In a three-tiered universe the heavens would be where the gods ruled the world. Jesus is as the right hand of the Father ultimately in control of Earth etc.

I have no idea what could have been in Luke's mind as he wrote this story. My hunch is that if you asked him if it happened or didn't happen, he wouldn't understand the question. That is our question. He would know in some sense that it didn't happen literally but that it was true in the sense that Jesus fits this story pattern of one who has the authority of God which I think is the meaning of ascension.

It is also possible that the author of Acts really did think Jesus "went up." But that going up would have importance theologically not as a miracle or something. Ascension meant authority.

John said...

My approach to this incident John, is that Luke was recording something he thought was historically accurate and definitely real. Because he was a physician, he wanted to get as many details as possible from the witnesses. I'm not saying that he did a theological CSI on the whole incident, but based upon the following experieinces of Peter and Paul in later passages of Acts, Luke is wanting to tell the story of Jesus authentically.

You are right when you talk about authiority - the Ascencion was a kerugma vehicle for ascendency to heaven to be at the Father's right hand.

And because of this ascendency, James Cameron's documentary is pure bunkum.

John Shuck said...


Fair enough. We approach the New Testament from quite different approaches. I am exploring the issue of the Talpiot Tomb on my blog. I think it deserves exploration rather than dismissal.