Love him or hate him, Bill Clinton spoke the language of this generation. And no where did he do so more profoundly as when he famously dodged a flat question with the reply,
“It depends on what the meaning of the words ‘is’ is.”
I remember how shocked I was when I first heard him say that. When I look back at that quote it takes me right back to that shock. And it reminds me of the tortured way some people, even some ministers, talk about the resurrection of Jesus and whether Jesus is alive.
On that last point, I want to say one thing before the obvious central point of this post. I’ve learned some great things from “liberal” Christians, some of whom would no doubt launch into a Clinton-esque tortured exploration of “is” if asked if they think Jesus “is” alive. If my learning from such folks shocks you, let me briefly say there are several theologies in conservative Christian circles that tend to undervalue the power and genius of Christ’s teachings and example, while there are some on the left that do the opposite. Search this blog for my “Don’t call it grace” posts to begin to see what I mean. It’s not just his blood, but also his words that give (and are) life; and sometimes Christians, ironically, miss this.
But my second point is this: People who say they are Christians but want to talk about what the meaning of the word “is” is when confessing that ‘Jesus is Lord’ look just as silly as Bill Clinton when he tried that tack. There ain’t no debate about what “is” means when the scriptures say “Jesus is Lord.” In a word, we’re talking about, and affirming, the resurrection. Interestingly, Jesus himself actually makes the argument that the dead are raised by the usage of the “is” concept. The fact that Jesus “is” as opposed to merely “was” is absolutely central to the Christian faith, and a big part of what it means to confess that Jesus is Lord. I’m okay with folks having honest questions about that as they peruse the faith and even as they are on the long journey of the Way. But let’s be clear what the “is” means in the original Christian creed and in any Christian creed worth having: ‘Jesus is Lord’ means in no small part that Jesus is alive.