In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete and Jared talk with Tripp Fuller about how we connect the figure of Jesus to our current context as they explore the following questions:
- What does Jesus have to do with our lives today?
- What does it mean for Jesus to be called “Christ”?
- Is Jesus in a historical context important?
- What did “Christ” mean in the First Century world?
- What is the difference between the Jesus of history and the Christ of theology?
- When you call Jesus “Lord,” what does that mean?
- What is the big question posed in the Gospels?
- What is Christology?
- How does open and relational theology connect to Christology?
- What did it mean to be a disciple?
- What does existential register mean to constructive theologians?
- Why doesn’t Tripp like giving Jared compliments?
Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Tripp Fuller you can share.
- “When we say Jesus is the Christ then we’re not just talking about Jesus as a historical figure or a way for us to understand and encounter God; we’re talking about how we situate ourselves in the world.” @trippfuller
- “It’s actually real good news that there’s a whole bunch of people that call Jesus Lord if the way of Jesus is actually liberatory and live giving and can invite us to address a lot of the problems facing the world.” @trippfuller
- “The identification of Jesus as the Christ – when you look at the multiplicity of ways it shows up in the Biblical tradition – it means something socially, culturally, politically, and religiously.” @trippfuller
- “What it means for him to be Lord, metaphorically, is to go to face the perverse expression of politics, society, culture, and religion in Jerusalem all the way to the cross.” @trippfuller
- “The conflict between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith is a conflict that emerges with historical consciousness.” @trippfuller
- “So many Christians are confident they know Jesus is Lord, but they haven’t wrestled with the actual content of the ministry of Jesus.” @trippfuller
- “Existential register is when you call Jesus the Christ, you recognize the value you have before God and then you live out of it.” @trippfuller
- “Once you look at the world scientifically, it gets a lot harder to preserve a picture of God that hasn’t been dramatically shifted and changed by our scientific worldview.” @trippfuller
Mentioned in This Episode
- Course: How the Bible Actually Works
- Podcast: Homebrewed Christianity
- Book: A Secular Age
- Book: Divine Self-Investment: An Open and Relational Constructive Christology
- Book: Homebrewed Christianity: Lord, Liar, Lunatic…or Awesome?
- Film: The Road to Edmond
- Patreon: The Bible for Normal People
Powered by RedCircleRead the transcript
Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People – the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.
Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.
[Jaunty intro music]
Jared: Welcome, everyone. Before we get started, we did want to mention that we have available a six-week video series that we’d really like for this to be a resource for groups. So, get your friends together, get people from your church together, and go through this six-week video series or six-part video series. You don’t have to do it over six weeks.
Pete: No!!! No.
Jared: You could do it over, you could binge it!
Pete: You could do it before breakfast if you want to.
Jared: You could binge it if you wanted to.
Jared: The whole day! But it’s on How the Bible Actually Works, which is the popular book by Pete Enns where we take a deeper dive, well, “we.” I mean, I say we; I mean Pete.
Pete: You’re always a part of this, Jared, in one way or another. You know that.
Jared: Do you want to say a word about this series?
Pete: Yeah, I just, it was fun to do. It was a fun book to write, and I think, you know, I think there are some important things that I talk about in that book that I think are really great for thinking about the Bible differently and thinking about our faith differently. And, yeah, excited to have maybe groups use this. I think it’ll be a lot of fun and good time of community.
Jared: So, there are six about 10-15 minute videos and then a discussion guide that you can use for conversation. So, just go to thebiblefornormalpeople.com/biblevideo and you can learn more, pick up a copy, and give us some feedback! Let us know how it goes. We’d like to have more of these resources for groups coming out. But for today –
Pete: We also have a podcast today, don’t we?
Jared: We do!
Pete: We do.
Jared: And we are going to be talking about “Thinking About Jesus Today.”
Jared: And I think it’s an interesting topic.
Pete: With our buddy, Tripp Fuller, right?
Jared: Who is, I think we call him affectionately the godfather of podcasting.
Jared: I mean, he’s been doing this since I was a toddler. No, not that long.
Pete: I mean, at least ten years.
Jared: At least ten years.
Pete: I haven’t looked, sorry Tripp. We should’ve checked. But a lot longer than we have, yeah, and he’s got 100’s and 100’s of episode on Homebrewed Christianity.
Jared: Homebrewed Christianity.
Pete: Yeah, so our topic is “Thinking About Jesus Today.” We’ll just let the episode speak for itself because you really can’t summarize it in a tweet. It’s just not going to happen with Tripp Fuller.
Tripp: When we say Jesus is the Christ, then we’re not just talking about Jesus as a historical figure or a way for us to understand and encounter God. We’re talking about how we situate ourselves in the world. A disciple, when they show up in the world, is informed and shaped by Christ.
Jared: The question that I would have to just, to start this, is how do we connect this Jesus figure to us today? Like, that’s a, it seems like a perennial challenge of the Jesus of history and connecting it with this person that we call the Christ.
Tripp: Mm hmm.
Jared: So, how do we do that?
Tripp: Well, I mean, in one sense, people are doing it all the time. Right? So, if you just think of how many Christians there are in the world and the way they connect Jesus to all sorts of stuff. They can be really ugly, violent. You can even have people think they’re on team Jesus and they’re anti-Semitic, and you’re like, I don’t know if you’ve noticed the New Testament recently. But the question of Jesus and, in the present day, is, is twofold – one, he’s a person of history, a person of interest, a person of influence. Right, so there’s historians, biblical scholars and things trying to understand not just Jesus in his history but then the interpretation and meaning and power for Jesus in shaping in the world. But I think for people that are within the Christian tradition when we say Jesus is the Christ then we’re not just talking about Jesus as a historical figure or a way for us to understand and encounter God, we’re talking about how we situate ourselves in the world. A disciple, when they show up in the world, is informed and shaped by Christ. So, I think it doesn’t set aside those historical questions and the big questions around God and how all that stuff works out, but I think for our lives today what if our fidelity as disciples in the version of Jesus we’ve been given is wedded to principalities and powers? Say white supremacy, Christian nationalism, there’s just a few of the top of my head.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Tripp: And then if you use the gifts of historical research, and you discover that the one we call Lord, second person of the Trinity, Eternal Son, an image of the invisible God is diametrically opposed to those top-down totalitarian cross building powers –
Pete: That’s a problem.
Tripp: Well then, it is a problem!! And it’s actually real good news that there’s a whole bunch of people that call Jesus Lord if the way of Jesus is actually liberatory and live giving and can invite us to address a lot of the problems facing the world.
Pete: So, the historical angle is important.
Tripp: Mm hmm.
Pete: You know, historical figure. You look into Jesus in context. But then you said, how about the Christ part? What does that even mean? Jesus the Christ, you know? I got my own answers, I want to hear your answers. But you know…
Tripp: Well first, it’s obviously his last name.
Tripp: You know?
Pete: And “H” is his middle initial, right? Okay, got it.
Of course. I’ve read that on the internet. The, you know, I think the word Christ is important just because it so often is used as if it’s an immediately obvious title, right, but it has a history. You know, it connects to the Messiah in Jewish tradition, the Anointed One. And if you just start paying attention to Hebrew scriptures, even by, you know, my friend like Pete, he’ll even point out that there been a bunch of people that they are anointed ones of God and they are not God from God, the source of all creation, and things like that.
Tripp: So like, even the identification of Jesus as the Christ, when you look at the multiplicity of ways it shows up in the Biblical tradition, and in particular I think for Jesus in its historical moment. Second Temple period Judaism, eschatologically informed, in the face of Roman oppression, then we call Jesus the Christ it means something socially, culturally, politically, religiously, and it’s about how we as disciples identified Jesus as the Christ show up in those spheres – in the social, the political, the cultural, the religious.
Pete: Mm hmm. But the Christ doesn’t take us outside of history, if this is getting too abstract but, because it does mean something in the first century world.
Tripp: Mm hmm.
Pete: Let’s, can we throw in the word here Lord Jesus Christ? Is that sort of another angle to take on this? I sort of see both Jesus and Christ as very much historically anchored in situated ideas. I guess what I’m working at here, and Tripp, and again, correct me if I’m just going off in a way different place, but I hear, you know, the Jesus of history and the Christ of theology. Right?
Pete: That seems to be sort of an angle that a lot of people are taking in talking about Jesus and not, not to get off on this rabbit trail, but is that, I mean, is that is that a good way to think to make kind of distinction of, you know, the Christ what we talk about when it’s more the heavenly, you know, post-resurrection thing rather than the earthly thing?
Tripp: Well, the conflict between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith is a conflict that emerges with historical consciousness. Like, once we started noticing ourselves as agents of history and then thinking about history as an object of study and then trying to get back to the source of events. Right, like, once you started talking about a historical Jesus and the people that were doing it also went to churches that read the New Testament and thought the conclusions were the Apostolic Creeds, then the Jesus of history seems a bit foreign to the Jesus of wherever that church is at any moment. Because it’s our natural tendency as people to project on things we love the best version of ourselves. Now, if part of who you are is ugly, then you can project on Jesus and love Jesus and you’re like, Hitler has a point. You know?
Pete: Yeah. Right, yeah.
Tripp: And so, the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, that tensions exists and it could be fruitful for both people of faith today to help us figure out in what ways of our own projections and ideologies been thrown on Jesus. And also the Jesus of history, if you pay attention to much of the history of it, that even happens with historical Jesus, right? So, there’s multiple stages of the quest for the “historical Jesus.” I used scare quotes, and even those quests, we understand that different historians at different times went back and found someone that was compatible to their world. And so, I feel like there’s this dynamism that we miss if we, you know, opt for one versus the other, especially as Christians. But the first thing you said when you added the Lord part on –
Pete: Mm hmm.
Tripp: The most annoying thing for me as a theologian –
Pete: This isn’t gonna to go well. Go ahead.
Tripp: That has written two books now on Jesus and a bunch of other things on Christology and historical Jesus research and all this kind of stuff is how popular CS Lewis is. Not for like, Narnia. Great. That’s fine. Not as good as Middle Earth, but nonetheless. But that trilemma – Lord, liar, or lunatic. And that’s what I always hear when I get the Lord thing. And the problem with that is it assumes you understand what the content of Lord is.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Tripp: And so, then you look at your friend, because obviously you’re witnessing to them because nothing says good friendship like threatening them to throw your Savior under the bus. And you look at them and you say, “Pete, you know I love the Lord, but is he a lunatic? Are you saying that the one I love is crazy, made this stuff up? Are you saying he’s a liar or is he Lord? Right? Like, that trilemma assumes that the Jesus of history, you, in the early church meant the same thing by Lord as we do and claimed identity with God and that you either have to call him crazy or a liar or you don’t agree. And I don’t I don’t know New Testament scholars that, and early church historians that think that’s the case.
Tripp: And the crazy thing is, the Gospels themselves, what are their, what’s the big question? It is not whether or not Jesus is Lord. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John – very clear, Jesus is Lord. Where they are pointing at throughout is that the content of what it means for the person, the disciple, and the community of disciples when you call Jesus Lord, what does that mean? And so, you know, like Jesus, the Mount of Transfiguration. Elijah and Moses show up and, you know, and Peter and company are like, “Oh, this is great! Let’s build some booths, son! We’re hanging out with the OG’s. We got Moses, got Elijah, got Jesus, we got glowing Holy Father and stuff.” They say, God says listen to him, and Jesus walks down, and it says he turns to Jerusalem. What does Peter do? It’s like, “Have you thought about this? They’re going to kill you.” Right?
Pete: Mm hmm.
Tripp: And, “I think you need a new PR agent because you’re about to get axed,” and Jesus resisted! Because what it means for him to be Lord is, metaphorically, with Moses and Elijah behind him, like the Torah and the prophets behind him, is to go to face the perverse, the perverse expression of politics, society, culture, religion in Jerusalem all the way to the cross.
And so, if we just get the label right, “Lord,” we miss the real-life question for discipleship – what it means for him to be Lord. And so many Christians are confident they know Jesus is Lord, but they haven’t wrestled with actual content of the ministry of Jesus and because we do that, because we don’t face down the principalities and powers that are death-dealing institutions and systems in our day, then people roll their eyes and are like, “so much for that.”
Jared: Well, I just want to clarify, because it didn’t, are we saying, when someone uses the word Christology, because it’s a word that we, we hear quite a bit and in the context of these conversations. Christology is this wrestling with what this historical person in the context of the New Testament and what that means for us today. How do we make sense of it? What’s the relationship between this Jesus and God? And what’s the relationship between this Jesus and us today? That sort of is what we’re talking about when we’re talking Christology.
Pete: And that you used to be an easy question to answer, relatively. I mean, it was never easy. It’s been complicated in the modern period.
Tripp: Yeah, yeah. So, I mean, I think the simple…simple. We’ll find out if you think it’s simple. But when putting it as Christology, historically, in the church has been around two questions like how does the divinity and humanity in Jesus relate, and that’s called the person of Christ in theology nerd circles, and then the other half is the work of Christ. What did God do in Jesus? Like atonement, salvation, that kind of stuff.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Tripp: When, in our contemporary context, there’s a difference because we don’t exist in a world where basically everyone, you assume most people believe in God and they’re some variation of Christian. Right, but for a large portion of church history, like theological diversity was, the kind of diversity I had growing up as a Baptist preacher’s kid in rural North Carolina. Religious diversity was I had a friend that was a Missionary Baptist. Now, I don’t know if you know about them –
Pete: Hm mm.
Tripp: But they’re very suspect.
Tripp: And so, now, that’s just, it just doesn’t work. Briefly, I’ll put it this way, like when you asked the very same questions – how was God in Christ and what did God do in Christ – we can’t not acknowledge kind of the broadly postmodern consciousness –
Pete: Post-Christian consciousness.
Tripp: Yeah, yeah, but I think the, it’s post-Christian in that you can’t like, assume, right, like Christendom. But you know, when you think of like philosophical postmodernism, there’s pluralist consciousness. Right, like, we live on streets with people of multiple religious traditions and some of them are better humans than us, really hard to think that a homeless 1st century Jew is the image of the invisible God. It’s not immediately obvious.
Cosmological consciousness – when you make the same statement – the eternal Word of God was made flesh in Jesus. That’s already striking when the Earth is the center of the cosmos. Now the cosmos is 13.8 billion years after a fluctuation in a vacuum and the idea that this one little bitty spec at this one little bitty moment, that was the eternal reason of the divine made flesh? Not as immediately obvious these days. You know, and there’s social consciousness and historical consciousness, false consciousness is also a fun one, like, we don’t, we don’t know why we believe what we believe. You and I, the three of us – we have podcasts, and we try to get into intellectually curious and an integrity filled accounts of the Christian religion and we think we’re just trying to be honest and blah blah blah. Well, what if we just have a mommy issue and don’t want our very devout mother to be disappointed with us, so we’ve used our intellectual wit and reason to do this because we don’t want to disappoint her, but we can’t be honest about that. Right? False consciousness. Marx, Nietzsche, Freud –
Pete: You’re talking about Jared, aren’t you?
Tripp: I didn’t, Pete!
Jared: Take this offline.
Tripp: I thought –
Pete: We’ll have to cut that part out.
Tripp: All right, but this episode sponsored by “Better Help,” where Jared can indeed find someone that he has to pay to talk to him about his mommy issues.
Tripp: But you see what I’m saying? Like, even the statement “Jesus is the Christ, when you put it in pluralist consciousness, cosmological consciousness, social, historical, false consciousness, we, you can’t have the same security again. It begs you to no longer begin with the conclusion, but to take those questions and challenges in the act of constructing and working it out as you process things.
Pete: So, that is part of our, you know, let’s say “doing theology,” which we all do on some level. Everybody does theology.
Pete: It’s part of our doing of theology to work out even those most fundamental questions like what is God like? and who is Christ? and etc., etc. What does it mean Lord and what is, you know, what does Christ mean and things like that.
Tripp: Mm hmm.
Jared: So, we’re not inheriting a structure as much as it is we’re creating and recreating structures that we’ve inherited.
Tripp: Yeah, like in a sense, after the downfall of Christendom and essentially the priesthood of the believer gone awry, culturally, now everyone has a kind of responsibility on them that is anxiety-inducing because human beings were not evolved to have to wrestle with the big questions of meaning, purpose, and value and have to build everything up and figure it out for themselves.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Tripp: Right, and it’s kind of gotten to that point. Charles Taylor, I think, makes that point really well (Canadian philosopher) when he talks about the Secular Age. The biggest threat isn’t that like, oh, we’re all secular or whatever. It’s that human beings don’t have all these same ginormous questions and yet you aren’t born into a community with the shared narratives, rituals, languages – all these types of things that are meaning rich. You’re now in a multiplicity of those stories and you’re left to the filter them out. So, it’s not surprising people cling to whatever they were born into because when you walk out of it, this ginormous eruption of anxiety and fear and stuff come up. Just, I mean, I’m sure y’all get these type of emails from people when they start deconstructing, whatever that means, and they realize like, “Oh, my God. I haven’t stopped asking all the questions humans have asked around campfires for ages, it’s just I don’t know anyone that understands my questions and I don’t know if I even know the answers.”
Pete: Mm hmm.
Tripp: And that feels so lonely.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Tripp: It can be really heartbreaking. And so, part of –
Pete: So, just don’t mess with Jesus at least.
Pete: You know what I mean? At least give me that, but that’s also part of the theological inquiry.
Tripp: Yeah, and I think that’s why, you know, in the book I talk about the difference is, you know, of the difference between the existential register, the historical, and the metaphysical -these three registers for thinking as a constructive theologian – because a lot of times people think they have to have explanations for everything about history and then work at all the religion, science, and pluralism things in their metaphysical picture and then they’re allowed to finally engage again as a disciple of Jesus.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Tripp: And one of the things that’s a really important, for me, is that the disciples don’t even have good answers to all those questions. The entire, they even get Jesus wrong. But what did it mean to be a disciple, was you said I’m figuring out what these questions mean and asking them in a community of people that have given themselves to the one who called us to love the least of these, the one who proclaims forgiveness of sin when no one even asked for it.
That’s the one I’m following and I’m figuring these questions out because whatever is happening in the story of this person resonates deeply with me. And it’s not different, right, then what it, what happens every time a couple gets married. I mean, I’ve done lots of weddings and premarital counseling and they look at each other and they think they’re getting to the climax of some beautiful breakthrough and then you have to let them know, “Did you know you’re signing up know who’s going to hurt you more than anyone else in the world?”
Tripp: “But don’t worry. If you just say, ‘I was wrong, I’m sorry, I forgive you…’”
Pete: You’re a ball of laughs over here, I’ll tell you that much. But, you’re right. You’re absolutely right.
Tripp: Because that evidence that demands a verdict style of style of thinking about Jesus, was like, let me line up all these Hebrew Bible passages no Jew ever thought this meant this way except the few who joined team Jesus and then brought the Gentiles in, and then act like this evidence demands this verdict. And, what’s it turned, Jesus is Lord into a syllogism, like a logical syllogism.
Tripp: But what if it’s more like love poetry? I think that’s true and that’s what the existential register is. This is so beautiful, it must be true! This is what I’m giving myself to, but you give yourself to another person in marriage not because you know them completely, but because the mystery that they are seizes you, and you don’t want to know who you are without it. And that’s what the disciples are doing.
Pete: Let’s get back, because I think those three things that you mentioned are very, very important and then I’m hoping we can throw some open and relational theology into this as well at the end, but before we go there, Jared, you had something that you wanted to say here.
Jared: Well, I mean, I think what you’re saying, actually, is really valuable for people who are going through what you said, is this deconstruction idea. Which is, we thought that we had to know all the answers to have this vibrant communal religious experience, if we want to call it that, or faith filled sort of life, and now that those foundations have been pulled out from under us and we feel like we’re in this freefall, we don’t, I think, I think we don’t recognize that we can just live this life without needing those basic foundational certainties. Is that kind of the, what you’re saying about this existential register is that you know Kierkegaard would say like, this working out of our salvation with fear and trembling. It’s this every day stepping out and, or, I think it’s Brian McLaren that says we make the road by walking. We’re short of creating this path and this existence. It’s not that we have to have all of the pieces together in our heads in some abstract sense before we can just follow it, follow this Jesus in this communal way.
Tripp: No, I think that’s really well put, Jared, and I don’t like giving you compliments.
Jared: That’s fair, that’s fair. I’m used to it.
Tripp: Yeah, the two things –
Pete: It really gets out of hand when you do, you just don’t hear the end of it. It’s days and days…
Tripp: Yeah, I’m not even going to give you another compliment because Pete told me not to. He has to ration them out. The two things pop in my head – one is that scene where you get the famous, where Jesus says, “Who do people say I am?” Right, and the disciples are like, “Oh! You’re like Elijah! You know, he didn’t die, went back up, came back down. Time to rock, you know?” And the others are like, “Maybe you’re John the Baptist. Your head got stitched back on, you got a beard and stuff, we didn’t notice.” Right, like they give these responses that are completely viable responses to the actual historical person Jesus.
Pete: Right. They’re not dumb answers.
Tripp: Right! And like, today, you can get like N.T. Wright, and he’s like, “well, if you understand 2 Enoch and all this kind of stuff, you build this historical Jesus stuff and he was self-consciously internalizing the vocation of Israel with deep fidelity.” Or you get like, the Jesus seminar. It’s like, a wondering cynic saved because we date Thomas, the Gospel of Thomas, earlier then he has his insights the kind of privilege open table commensality and he functions more as a wisdom teacher. Right? And these are historical Jesus things that are completely possible today. Plenty of scholars, like, that’s high-quality material, you know? And then Jesus says, “Who do you say I am?” And Peter says, “You are the Christ, son of the Living God.” And Jesus doesn’t say, “Thank you. The evidence of me demands that verdict. True/false question. You passed it. Well done.”
Right, right. Okay.
Tripp: He says, “my heavenly Father revealed that to you.” That’s what I’m getting at, the existential register. It’s like, he’s looking at Jesus and he understands how people could see it this way, but for him, you are the Christ, Son of the Living God! Right?
Pete: Mm hmm.
Tripp: And he goes, “the heavenly Father reveled that to you.” Whatever was getting itself done in that response of faith, wasn’t demanded from history, it was a gift of God, a gift of faith.
Pete: Yeah, it’s not something to prove, it’s something to experience and have be, okay.
Tripp: Mm hmm. And, you know, when you write academic books you never tell people where the real ideas came from because it was probably with real life and that doesn’t always show up in academic treaties?
Tripp: But when I was in Los Angeles, I did my Ph.D. and then stayed there for a while, worked at a very large UCC church. So let me, you know, for mainline Protestants if 800 people go to your church, that’s a big one.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Tripp: We did that without threatening hill, you know? But there I got in charge of adult confirmation and what do you do when you’re doing confirmation largely with adults that have never been religious before? And I created a confirmation class built around what we just called “Experiments in Truth”, like, we’re literally like what Jesus did with the disciples, let’s just practice these things and then see if the world makes more sense from there. And I would let the group come up with them based on whatever the liturgical texts were for that year and stuff. But twice I had a group choose, like, “do not judge.” And what we decided was, oh, well, if we judge in the week, we’ll group text with everyone in the group. So, you know, there was like, 12 – 20 people and you’d text just the name or initials if someone might be able to locate it and you can fabricate it because Jesus can translate. But when you get the text from someone in the group like, Jared, recently, because Pete said Jared shouldn’t get affirmations, just texted me “Pete.” And I get Pete on the text and I say, oh, Jared just texted “Pete.” He’s judging Pete. And I say, “God, you made and know and love Pete completely. Give Jared eyes to see him as you see him and the faith to love him as you intend him be loved.” Right? And you do that throughout the week, and you’ll get, you know, seven or eight texts a day. By week three, someone text their own name. So, now Jared texts, he’s like, “Jared.” And we’re all like, oh, junk. Did Jared text “Jared?” That is Jared texting “Jared.” What is up with this? And then you pray, “God, you made and know and love Jared completely. Give Jared the eyes to see you, see him as you see him and the courage and faith to love him as you intend him be loved,” and then you process that when you get together. Now, if you do that for a month, adults do not, they’re wonderfully gifted at not being open, honest, and vulnerable with people. But if you do a practice like that and then you ask yourself – do you want to be a disciple of Jesus? Is he the Christ for you? Did this community practicing in this way open up the world in a way that is so beautiful it must, should, could it be true? And I think that is what you see in the Synoptic Gospels with what Jesus is doing with disciples. He empowers them and sends them out. He’s teaching them, he’s bringing them along on a journey and showing them what a community of the faithful looks like. And from there, when you say, “ask if you’re the Christ.” Like, do you want to be confirmed that the identity of your baptism becomes your conscious decision? It’s not about answering the questions I was trained as a philosophical theologian to answer.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Tripp: And that’s okay. But I did write a philosophical theology book about it.
Pete: Well, that’s okay. I mean, we can live in that, but you’re saying that there’s more. There’s this, I mean, you used the term existential register. Can you say that, can you put a different term on that for people for whom existential means nothing?
Tripp: Yeah, it’s like speaking from the bowels.
Tripp: Like when you, you know when you’re sitting there and you’re like, I have to tell this person I’m sorry. I really hurt them. And like, all of your insides are twisted up? Or you’re going to ask someone to marry you, or whenever you get in those places where your whole being is present and you’re like, on the precipice – that’s like an existential decision. Your finitude’s before you, the possibilities are before you, and you’re like ahhhh!!! Those are when like, humans are more human-ing. Eye contact when you make love, symphony in your resonating with all the people, that kind of thing. And so, when you call Jesus the Christ, then it’s about how do I locate myself and my most human moments in the world?
Pete: Mm hmm.
Tripp: And for me, I think that means something like God’s at least as nice as Jesus, God’s desire is not just for you to understand yourself as love, but your neighbor, and your enemy, and all creation.
And that we’re to order our lives and our communities to those ends so that we participate in God’s work for the liberation and life giving well-being of all things. And you do that, not because you have to, but because you get to because you’re in love. It’s like when you wash the dishes because you know your partner values it, or you hear, you smell the baby poop and you’re like, “I got it.” Right? You could be told to do that because you have to, and that’s different than doing it because you get to.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Tripp: And I think that existential register is one where when you call Jesus the Christ, you recognize the value you have before God and then you live out of it. And Jesus has mediated that to me and to plenty of others, but I don’t think, that doesn’t mean everyone has to come to Jesus to have this encounter, but it does mean that, like, it doesn’t happen outside of real relationships and in communities and this is the one that I’ve been blessed with and I’m happy to invite people into it, but I don’t think it’s like, I don’t have some monopoly.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Jared: So, is this experience that you’re talking about, is this what you mean by open and relational? Because I think this phrase “open and relational theology,” or “open and relational Christology” is just going to get more and more popular over the coming years and decades as we think about, like you said, how do we think about God and Christ in a universe that’s 13 billion years old, I think this is going to be more and more. So, how is what you’re saying connected to this open and relational understanding?
Pete: Okay, so open and relational theology kind of has three big parts. You have relational part, like, it’s all –
Relational. And I say it, there’s some expressions of Christianity where because of how they understand divine perfection, God can’t change or a number of different things where relationships are kind of less than the fullness of God. Then openness means that when you’re, that the future is genuinely open. So, like, one version of Christianity sees history as a book. Like, the eternal God before the world made it, wrote it, and our experience of history is like, your finger running across the page, but it’s not like it’s really happening, per se, right? Because it’s already written and settled, we’re just experiencing the flow of a text, like, you know, I guess the Heavenly Father in the sky is reading to us of sorts. An open perspective doesn’t see God’s sovereignty and divinity because God wrote the book and holds it completely. It’s more like God is the ever-loving parent who holds our hand with a flashlight. And so, the openness of the world, the temporality of the world is internal to God, it’s just God is the infinite God of love that’s faithful with a flashlight shining it forward. So, God knows more of what’s immediate and less of further out because the future genuinely involves creaturely cooperation and participation or resistance to God’s desire. But the sovereignty part, the God being God is that no matter what happens, the one who goes with the world into the future is the infinite God of love who’s holding the flashlight, inviting us to participate in the loving relationships, the loving relationship of the divine life. And so, the third part of open relational theology is that God is love and there’s no remainder. Right? There’s nothing outside the fullness of love. There’s no dark side of God or whatever.
Pete: So, connect that to Christology, this idea of an open relation, that is a different way of thinking about God than probably many people have grown up with, but let’s connect that to Christ and the incarnation and that kind of business.
Tripp: Yeah, so an open relational Christology, well, then ask yourself, well, if God is incarnate in Christ and you don’t have a picture of God outside the world writing, you know, writing a book outside of time and then inserting, right, Jesus in it, then how is the eternal logos and spirit of God participating in the temporal open process such that Jesus is indeed the eternal son, the incarnate one? You see, like, these images that are in scriptures –
Pete: Very complicated.
Tripp: Right, because a certain part of the church assumed a vision of God where history is a book and these type of things. You develop a theology, but the actual language that exists in scripture and such, the images are there so how do you rethink it if you have a different metaphysical commitment? And you know, part of –
Jared: Hey, hold on. What do you mean by metaphysical commitment? Explain that.
Tripp: Yeah, so, there’s two sides of it. One is open relational theologians along with a lot of their Jewish friends who are biblical scholars, say, the classical Christian God has attributes that sound more like Greek philosophers than Yahweh. And y’all’ve had plenty of Pete’s Hebrew Bible for –
Jared: So, like the omni’s? Omnipresent, omniscient…
Tripp: They’re very overrated in the Greek form. Especially omnipotence, whew. But the other side of the biblical witness God seems imminent and involved in participating in the flux of history and creation. Like, even the prophets are like, if you do this I’ll do this, but if you do this I’ll do this or I repent, I change my mind, all that type of stuff. God has pathos, right? That’s like below God’s paygrade for certain parts of the church history’s vision. But the other side is, like I mentioned earlier, the cosmological consciousness. Like, once you look at the world scientifically, it gets a lot harder to preserve a picture of God that hasn’t been dramatically shifted and changed by our scientific worldview, the kind of big history picture that comes from science. So, both of those reasons and the problem of evil, about omnipotence, kind of led for a group of different theologies that grouped together as open and relational. And some of them that are more evangelical tend to make exceptions on some of the open and relational rules to make sure you keep certain Christian doctrines like the incarnation, the resurrection, that kind of stuff. And others are like, let’s rework what those things mean such that we probably don’t really mean them anymore. What I was trying to do in my book was get as high of Christology as possible and read the biblical testimonies as robustly and intensely as I could without breaking the open relational rules, like, with intervention for the incarnation for example. So, it’s then you ask, well, why didn’t you intervene -insert the time- like, any time there’s unjust suffering and death. But also, that you don’t relativize the claims to basically just being, you know, one group’s poetry. So, that was kind of the task of the book.
Pete: That is a struggle.
Tripp: It is! It is. I don’t, and every time I, you know, look back at what I said, I can’t decide if I was good at it.
Tripp: But I’m not gonna tell you what the bad parts are ‘til after everyone purchases multiple copies for their friends.
Pete: [Continued laughter]
Jared: Well, what’s the, what’s the import of a lot of this? So, for the person who’s really wrestling with those questions that you said. You know, who is Jesus? Because for us, in my tradition, to answer the question “who is Jesus historically?” was the only, the only answer to that that mattered. So, there wasn’t this existential where it wasn’t, who is Jesus to you? How is this an embodiment in your life? It really was, the only question is the historical question. And that, once it gets ripped out from under us, it’s, it has to be a reframing altogether. So, you know, for the average person who’s trying to figure out what it might mean to be a Christian now that the bottom has been taken out in some ways. How does this all apply?
Tripp: You know, I actually think that’s a real, I mean, it’s a real important question, and I’ll put it this way – the New Testament has canonized a whole bunch of Christologies. And I mean, like, the conclusions you get to the big questions like who is Jesus? and what did God do? And for so long, you read Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the letters of Paul and company, Hebrews – but you always read them from some particular tradition where they kind of give you glasses and you learn how to interpret this multiplicity of testimonies to the risen Christ in the body of the believers through your tradition’s conclusions, be it the ecumenical councils or, you know, John Wesley or Luther or Calvin. And I think that we’re at a place where because people have encountered the tradition, and more and more parts of the church are narrow. Narrow in what you’re allowed to believe because they’re insecure about, you know, once you get rid of finality and closure and certainty, people jump out the room. Well, interesting enough, the early church was brilliant on this move! We like, canonized a whole bunch of answers that don’t line up!
Pete: Mm hmm.
Tripp: Jesus doesn’t even die on the same day in all the Gospels. Did you realize that? That’s, I mean, I realized this when I was in 5th grade. Because I was a Baptist, we charted out Bible verses. Not for foreign policy, because I was an edgy Baptist, but I charted it out and I realized the passion, he didn’t die on the same day, he says different stuff in each Gospel from the cross, you know? And all of those are canonized and it wasn’t a mistake. That, underneath it theologically and each of those authors of the four Gospels and then the other authors in the New Testament have different answers to who Jesus was and what God did and they’re all in scripture. And I think that is a helpful thing for us to acknowledge when a whole bunch of us are more or less confident and have very divergent answers for the who and the what about Jesus today. But what if the New Testament itself is like, some of you, you’re rolling deep with John, right? When you show up at church and they’re like, “Who’s Jesus?” You’re like, “Woah! Jesus! Why even start there? How about the eternal logos, can you handle that today?” Like, “in the beginning was the Word.” Yeah! Eternal word. Principle of reason for all existence. You wanna know what it looks like? Jesus. You’re welcome, I’m the Gospel of John. And then the guy next to you in the –
Bam! Mike drop. Okay.
Tripp: And you’re like, I hope you all believe that because hell sucks. And then the guy next to you is like, I kinda like Gospel of Mark, you know? Jesus is kinda angry and frustrated the whole time, thinks the world’s about to collapse, not sure his disciples are worthwhile, and he dies feeling God completely abandoned him and some people tacked on a thing for the resurrection, but it says they didn’t tell anyone. And you’re just like, “Woah, that’s a very low Christology, you know? I’m not sure that’s acceptable.” You’re like, “yeah it is! Y’all canonized it!” I’m a member, right? Like, and just think of how the New Testament includes a multiplicity of answers. The I’m here even though I’m not sure I’m going to tell anyone, and Jesus felt like God left him out (Mark), to eternal God (John), and things in between.
Tripp: The beautiful thing about that decision not to harmonize and synthesize all the Gospels is you have very deep, you could say, conservative biblical reasons for making space for people to give testimonies for how they encounter Christ in their doubts and their struggles, in their questions about history and science and pluralism and all that kind of stuff. And if all you can manage is – I don’t really know if God is real right now, but I’m here – then someone says, thank you Mark. Right?
Tripp: Like, I think that’s such a gift. And the guy who tried to harmonize everything in the early church, Tatian?
Pete: That guy…
Tripp: Yeah, heretic! He was condemned as a heretic.
Jared: Well, that, you know what? That’ll preach. So, now with the every eye closed and –
Pete: Oh wow.
Jared: And every head bowed.
No, but you know, I think that is a good way to end our time because I think it gives people a vision or a space where our doubts and our questions and you bring such an energy, Tripp, to this, that it’s an exciting possibility that that multiplicity is welcome in this community of faith, and I think for a lot of people they feel that they are now outside because they may have more of a Markan faith right now that says, “You know what? God seems to have abandoned me and I’m not sure about all this resurrection stuff,” and yet, here we have it in our Bible. Or then there’s the space for these other groups that we might be kind uncomfortable that they’re in because they seem to be pretty dogmatic and philosophical about all this stuff, and yet here we have the community of faith that can contain all of that. And that just seems to be a great vision for us to end our time on, but is there anything else you would want to share for people, again, I think a lot of, I think a lot of people will resonate with some of the things that you’re talking about because of the space they’re in. But any final words as your benediction here for these folks?
Tripp: I mean, I would just say if you’re interested, like, you can just Google me on the internet and plenty of things will show up. But the thing I think about Jesus that I find really compelling and really the reason I stayed a Christian when I went through my, you know, philosophically postmodern deconstructionist phase, and I was a bad atheist because I was a Baptist atheist, so I still read the Bible every day.
Tripp: I just didn’t think there was anything there, and it was a week before Easter and I was in my senior year, I think, of college and I was reading the Bible like, one in the morning, slightly inebriated, and I read the sermon, or Jesus from the cross in Luke where Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And I mean, it’s hard to describe one of those moments where you feel like you get swallowed up in like, a big divine envelope of lovingness, but it happened and I remember revolting from feeling like, fully embraced. And I was sitting there thinking about this line from Jesus from the cross, and like in one part, obviously, like, the “Father, forgive them” bit, like, if there is an ultimate reality, I hope it’s as loving as the one Jesus called Abba. Right? Able to forgive even the people murdering Jesus at that moment. But the part that lingered with me the most was “they know not what they do.” And it’s that tension between the eternal parental picture of love that exists even for the one torturing someone unjustly, like everyone gets this eternal love. And what does it mean to recognize we don’t know what to do? Human beings have like, a beautiful side and a really sucky side. And we do all sorts of things that we don’t understand why and it hurts and harms people. And having both of those there, like, I know we don’t know what we’re doing and it’s ridiculous. But if I’m going to lean into something, give myself to something, I want it to be as beautiful as “Father, forgive them,” because they’re dumb! And it’s like, from that place that I kind of reawakened or, yeah, came to own that what we talked about earlier, that existential register, again, and like, I don’t, if you’re in one of those places, there’s no need to hurry it. Just realize that what you’re waiting for isn’t a list of answers to your questions. It’s like, another first date. Another moment, or experience where you get to lean into something so beautiful you want to chase it to find out if it’s true.
Pete: Yeah. Thank you, Tripp.
Jared: Tripp, it’s always great talking to you. You’re just so, just brilliant.
Jared: Weird, I mean. Yeah. No. No, just –
Pete: But I mean that in a good way.
Pete: And I mean that in a Christian way.
Tripp: Okay, I thought so.
Jared: It’s great to have you here, and yeah, I think people are really going to get a lot out of this conversation. So, thanks so much for hopping on and joining us from overseas.
Tripp: It was fun.
Pete: Yup, thank you Tripp.
Jared: See ya.
Pete: See ya.
[Music begins, plays in background behind speaker]
Megan: All right, everyone, that’s it for this episode. Thank you so much for listening and supporting our show. We hope you enjoyed this episode. A big thank you to our producer’s group, who support us over on Patreon. They are the reason we are able to keep bringing podcasts and other content to you. If you would like to help support the podcast, head over to https://www.patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople where for as little as $3 a month you can receive bonus material, be a part of an online community, get course discounts, and much more. We couldn’t do what we do without your support.
Dave: Thanks, as always, to our team: Executive Producer, Megan Cammack; Audio Engineer, Dave Gerhart; Creative Director, Tessa Stultz; Marketing Wizard, Reed Lively; transcriber and Community Champion, Stephanie Speight; and Web Developer, Nick Striegel. From Pete, Jared, and the entire Bible for Normal People team, thanks for listening.
Pete: Well, we sort of like, you know, we want to have people talk about their passions, you know? That’s part of it.
Jared: I mean, the reality is we know nothing about Jesus, Tripp.
Pete: Yeah, we don’t even believe anymore…
Tripp: I’ve read the internet; I know that you know nothing about Jesus.
Tripp: They’re like, “the only God-ordained podcast on the internet.”
Tripp: I don’t know what god…
Tripp: Not our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He isn’t a part of that!
Jared: [Continued laughter]
Clearly. Well, you’ve come to put us on the right path, on the straight and narrow.
Tripp: That’s right. I’m here to witness. People should tell me thank you.
Pete: You are.
Tripp: At the end of this, I’ll ask you to close your eyes and bow your heads, but I won’t know if you are, so –
Jared: Well, we have an aisle right here. People can walk down the aisle.
Pete: You’re an old Baptist, aren’t you?
Tripp: Oh, I’m ordained Baptist married to ordained Baptist.
Pete: You’re still a Baptist!
Tripp: Oh, hell yeah, I am!
Pete: That’s coming through a lot.
Tripp: If you need, when was the last time someone asked to give, like, a call to faith on your podcast? You need it to happen, you just tell me. If you’re like, I need someone to help my street cred. So, if Tripp manages to identify with every Christological heresy, but with passion, and we need to help his PR at the end, we’ll just ask him to give an invitation.
Tripp: But we won’t ask them to close their eyes, they might be driving.
[End of recorded material]