I have been working on a sermon on John 21 for a few weeks for both my Preaching class and also my Gospels class. I wanted to just be done with the Gospels’ class but our teacher is determined to find new ways to torture us to the very last.
Meanwhile, to lift my spirits, I started listening to other sermons today on John 21 – to get some “pointers” from the BIG BOYS – and one guy from a big church with a logo like a Super Bowl started in on the “153 fish” saying that it “represented the elect who had been chosen by God.” He forgot to mention that previously those fish were alive and well in the Sea of Tiberias and were now simply dead and tabulated.
I left a note to that effect on his Youtube channel. Just trying to “hep” a brother out.
This text (John 21:1-17) is a funny one. My first mentor popularized it. He was a popular national speaker for Campus Crusade for Christ. It is noteworthy that he essentially skipped the harder parts of the text entirely (Peter’s failure) and made it all upbeat. I would break with him early over two incidents. One was his insistence that all of us leaders “move with the movers.” While I had never been a popular kid and this was my one shot to be with the “In-Kids” this was not the Jesus who had barged into my existence** in Estes Park, Colorado months earlier or I had read in the Gospels. “Christopher, son of Fred, do you love me more than these?” had not been articulated yet; but it was true. I did. And I loved people more too. I wasn’t leaving anyone behind.
The second incident was when he ordered me to go and get all his love letters back from a local girl he was interested in. I was no moralist (and still am not). It didn’t bother me in the least that she was so much younger. It just wasn’t my deal. “Go get your own letters.”
“I’m ordering you as my disciple to go and get them.”
I nearly laughed my ass off. We we’re done. (Go sell that somewhere else Pal.)
I learned Greek and had an awesome N.T. Professor: Dr. Leonard Wallmark. I had enrolled in a Fundamentalist Bible College simply because I had no idea Fundamentalism existed. They proved me wrong. I was there to study anyway. I did 40 units in one year, and survived by working out a lot and doing 200 practical jokes in one year. When we had both had enough I left inoculated for life. I had my exegetical heroes (like F.F. Bruce, Donald Guthrie, Gordon Fee and Joel B. Green (who was my Luke/Acts Prof in the 90s). I had an immediate distaste for anyone with an obvious agenda (still do). But they are all pretty conservative guys on the social spectrum and I have been very liberal socially for decades. Someone in the 90s called me the “Hunter Thompson of Christendom,” – I pretty sure it was not a compliment. Liberals hate my bedrock in Christology and Middle Eastern exegesis (which gets utterly away from the myopic issue-driven “eisogesis-of-the-month” club agenda). Conservatives hate my Boots-On activism (I was running a Homeless Tent City under the Nimitz freeway when I started seminary in 2015). In the Bush Jr. years I was on “The List” because I wrote funny editorials. It delayed me at airports – but that’s all. I write in secular publications a lot and use a lot of carnal words like “Beef” and “Chicken.”
As our professor will attest to, I don’t do well with systems, especially ones that change all the time in a long body of text where it’s like finding Waldo and you are not sure he is even missing or shown up. In my defense I read a LOT of Kierkegaard at 19 and 20. No one in power has ever liked me. They suspect I may respectfully speak my mind at any moment. They are all pretty smart.
If there is one trait that makes me odd, it is that I have an absolute fearlessness with the text. I call it (now) “passionate disinterest.” I go where the text goes come what may. Where it goes? I really DO NOT CARE. That is the FUN of it.
I find that I am fairly solitary in this. I think “systematic theology” is a silly idea. Is God systemic? I tried ordering one systematic theological help from Amazon, but they sent me a laminated Wayne Grudem. He was not happy. I sent him back. Identifying with any fully worked out “theology” is a mistake. What did people do ten minutes before it was fully worked out? As is, I am free to move across all thinkers and exegetes. I have been reading Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant thinkers all along (and others). This has also given me a sense of the historical. I am not much impressed with current theology. It has some nice correctives. New advances? Peh.
Do I think the Word is revelation “from outside?” Yeah, I’ll own that. If you can buy God becoming flesh how hard is it to believe God’s Word has veracity? What kind? Who really cares? More than our words that is for certain. That should be enough (this reminds me of that textbook-ripping scene from Dead Poet’s Society which I have been tempted to re-enact with sections of Aymer, but it’s tough to tear things out of a Kindle.
If I put the Word up next to the best literature or poetry Eliot, Oliver, Rumi, Merton— it is comparing two things of a kind which are still different. It is why it is offensive when someone mishandles it. I was listening to sermons today on John 21 and one guy got on the “153 fish” saying that it “represented the elect who had been chosen by God.” He forgot to mention that previously those fish were alive and well in the sea and were now dead and tabulated. But I quibble…
Imagine a world without the Calvinist/Arminian argument wasting valuable air to no possible ends. There – I did it. Took four seconds. World peace didn’t happen but a lot more got done and James White had to get a real job. Why was I chosen to come up with the solution? Just predestined to be smarter. That and more poor. It all evens out.
Does John 21 happen to align with my current interests? Yes – for I feel that in a world that is grasping aimlessly for new programs and trying to build new anthropocentric systems (which are always doomed) the simple answer lays waiting as it always has: “Simon son of John do you love me more than these?”)
Initial trajectory is the essential problem.
If you launch your solution from the wrong place at the wrong trajectory…well, it really does not matter how well your rocket functions, does it? I mean, jolly good for you if it doesn’t explode..but you will still end up nowhere. And that is where every major theology that started from an anthropocentric center point has landed the last 40 years of my observing – dead in some field. Forgotten or adrift in some odd orbit somewhere. But worthless.
The current ones (name any) so based? The same destiny.
Put more simply. If the Universe is Christocentric (i.e. made “in, through and for Christ” as Colossians 1:15-23 suggests) and our truest destiny is to be conformed to Christ’s image (which by the way – is beyond gender); then any and all anthropocentric models (theologies with their tiny human gravitational fields) and other destinations start from the wrong place (thus the wrong trajectories) aimed at the wrong target.
What a mess. And the Church is not helping that much arguing about numbering the fish as “elect” or making the passage into a new series called “Firestarters.” (Just club me to death right now like a baby seal*).
* My apologies to baby seals everywhere and those who love baby seals, and to Greenpeace and to the late Jacques Cousteau who filmed baby seals. One of the questions was about what mode of being aren’t you “using in this class,” and that would definitely be humor but unfortunately it has come out in utterly inappropriate baby seal-related ways, although in my own defense it was a metaphor, and I the intended victim).
** I did not “find Jesus.” In fact I had just “made a decision” to definitely pass on Christianity, it’s loser/hypocritical followers and all its accompanying “stuff” when, alone in a room the place was flooded with such a heaviness I thought I might drown without any water present. Got my attention. Negotiations followed.
Him I love. The religious enterprise? Nope. Christendom? I’m Kierkegaard with a sense of humor. Seminary wasn’t my idea. I laughed at the suggestion – aloud. then said “sure, You’re deal.” No different than doing duty under a freeway (actually that is more straight up.)