Thanks, Chris, for the great resources for Holy Humor Sunday
A Brief Systematic Theology
F. Christopher Anderson
(Previously published in
PRISM:A Theological Forum for the United Church of Christ,
Volume 22 no. 2 Fall 2008
& excerpts published in
THE JOYFUL NOISELETTER
Volume 24 # 7 Aug-Sept. 2009.
It is available in printed form in
GOD IS STILL LAUGHING VI:
A GOOD AND DIRTY THEOLOGY OF HUMOR)
“Letzter Ernst ist nie ohne eine Dosis Humor.”1
(“Ultimate seriousness is not without a dose of humor.”)
“Mr. McCabe thinks that I am not serious but only funny, because Mr. McCabe thinks that funny is the opposite of serious. Funny is the opposite of not funny and nothing else.”2
Q. What is theology?
A. The course in seminary where you unlearn
all you learned in Bible College.
(I Corinthians 3:2)3
Q. What is a theologian?
A. A person who knows a lot concerning
how little we know about God.
(Romans 11:33-36/Augustine, De Trinitate V. 1.)4
This first essay seeks to answer the question, “Is humor a major element in the narrative of the Christian faith?” I contend that if G.K. Chesterton were alive he would say that this is a serious work on humor and theology that at least attempts to be funny. As he said once writing one joke for Punch was harder than writing one article for the London Times.
This essay was originally an article for the Fall 2008 edition of PRISM: A Theological Forum for the United Church of Christ. The editors of that journal, Lee Barrett and Elisabeth Nordbeck, thought that it would be a worth while project. (Yes, they have made others mistakes but I am too much of a Christian to point them out.) Excerpts from that essay were then made into an article in The Joyful Noiseletter, Volume 24 # 7 Aug-Sept. 2009 by Cal Samra. The essay you are reading is largely the same essay that appeared in Prism. (The difference is that I have rewritten the beginning of the essay to play down the UCC insider jokes.) I wish to thank all three editors for publishing my work. Now I hope to actually make money on it!
Though there have been a number of good books of theology on humor I have yet to find a systematic theology on the subject or a book that answers the question in the first paragraph. (BTW have fun trying to find the word “humor” in any index for the standard systematic theology texts. Even Tillich let us down here.) In my attempt to fill this void I decided to use the rubric that Gabriel Fackre used so well in The Christian Story to argue that humor is basic to the Christian Faith. Fackre’s rubric is God, creation, fall, covenant, Jesus Christ, church, salvation and consummation.
For those who have read my other books you will see that GOD IS STILL LAUGHING II: Aid to the Revised Heidelberg Catechism Joke Book uses Fackre’s same rubric. It places 19 Holy Humor Sunday Sermons on the rubric to give a Systematic Theology in under 60 pages! (Seminarians, if you can convince your systematic theology professor to allow you to use GISL II as your systematic theology it will cut your reading down by at least 80 %!) That book used humor to teach a version of Evangelical Catholic Theology and provide material for preachers on Holy Humor Sunday.
When one reads the two books (II & VI) together they do what every good theological text does. They confuse the reader. Though I would hope that after one has read the two books one can recite the eight parts without using cheat sheets. (See, how easy it is to learn theology.)5
This essay is more specific in nature than GOD IS STILL LAUGHING II. It uses the same rubric to show how humor is deeply imbedded in the whole narrative of Christianity. The following analysis reveals that humor is much more than a method of evangelism or pre-evangelism but a very central part of our faith. The basic premise of the book is that humor is deeply Christian and that humor has a place in God, creation, fall, covenant, Jesus Christ, church, salvation and consummation. I believe that I prove this thesis in this work.
Astute readers of the other five volumes have complained that I have repeated jokes in the various books. I do have an explanation for this. This stems from seeking to actually work like a theologian. Catechism questions are quoted and quoted again in the theological works of Barth, Berkouwer, Brunner, Bloesch, Bonhoeffer, Braaten, H. Berkhof, L. Berkhof, Bucer, Bavinck, Bullinger, Balthasar and even theologians whose names do not begin with the letter “B.”
A good example of how this is done is to read the series of 19 wonderful books entitled, Studies in Dogmatics by G.C. Berkouwer. In the 19 works the Dutch theologian may have referred to Question # 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism twenty times. No one complains when he uses this question or other questions again and again to prove various points. Therefore do not get all bent out of shape when I do the same thing with my various Catechism Joke Books time and time again.
Yes I am padding the works but it is not without theological precedent. Besides maybe the first time you really didn’t get the joke! Also look at all the cool footnotes I get to use by referring to jokes in the other books!! It makes you think you are reading actual theology!
Q. Why are there three persons in one God?
A. God knows. But any card game is better than solitaire for eternity.
(Matthew 28:19, HC Q. # 25)6
Q. Why is the doctrine of the Trinity important?
A. Those who abandon it begin prayer with the words “To Whom it may concern.”
(Luke 11:2, Acts 7:59, Acts 5:3)7
Q. “Does God believe in God?”
A. “No, God is not that dumb.”
(“Man believes, not God.” Karl Barth, CD I.1 p. 245)8
Q. Which verse teaches that God is female?
A. Genesis 28:16 states: “Shirley, the LORD, is in this place.”
(Genesis 1:27/Luke 15:8-10)9
Dr. Fackre’s book does not actually begin with creation but with what is before creation, God. Psalm 2:4 states: “He who sits in the heavens laughs.” (NRSV) This would at first appear to make it clear that before creation and before the fall God had a sense of humor but this is not the unanimous opinion of all theologians. There are good Christian theologians who believe that humor is not found in creation but that it is a result of the fall. These theologians appear to be saying that there is no humor in God before creation. This needs to be addressed before we look at creation and the fall.
Perry H. Biddle, Jr. states it this way: “Humor arises out of seeing what is and comparing it with what ought to be. Thus, humor is based on humanity’s fallen condition. If there were no sin, no brokenness of human nature, no distortion of humanity and nature, there would be no humor as we know it.”10 This opens up the long and ancient debate.
I disagree with this statement if it assumes that there was no humor in the Godhead before creation or the fall. Such a belief would wipe out the belief that there is humor in the dance (“perichoresis”) of the Trinity. I find this diminishes the biblical picture we have of God.
Biddle’s statement helps us see that much of the debate comes out of the presupposition that humor exists only because of “incongruities.” Bob W. Parrott puts it this way: “Heaven, lacking incongruities, needs not laughter in the earthly sense. Joy accompanies that complete sense of well-being. Any laughter there would be an expression of joy rather than incongruities.”11 Those who believe that that there was no humor in God before creation assume that humor depends upon being finite and/or being sinful. I disagree and believe that only parts of humor are dependent upon incongruities.
Joy and play are a great part of what we call humor. Joy and play existed within the Trinity before creation. I do not pretend to be able to give examples of such joy and play in the “perichoresis” of the Trinity but the English translation “dance” does point in that direction. C. S. Lewis writes: “Dance and game are frivolous and unimportant down here – for ‘down here’ is not their natural place. Here they are a moment’s rest from the life we were placed to live. But in this world everything is upside down….Joy is the serous business of Heaven.”12 I conclude that there was joy and play within the Trinity before creation and that humor involves joy and play.
I would classify the argument that there is no humor in the Godhead because God is above humor along side the argument that there is no personality in the Godhead because God is above personality. That which is above personality includes personality and that which is above humor includes humor. A rock is not above personality and a humorless God is not above humor.
Theologically there would also appear to be a problem with the idea that there was a time when God did not laugh. For clearly the psalmist says: “He who sits in the heavens laughs.” (Psalm 2:4) Now a Process theologian could argue that God changes over time because of God’s involvement with creation but I do not see where this line of argument could be used by Eastern Orthodox, Augustinian, Thomist, Reformed or even Open Theism theologians. Malachi 3:6a states: “For I the LORD do not change.” Psalm 102:27 states: “…but you are the same, and your years have no end.” James 1:17 states concerning God: “With whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” If there was a time when God did not laugh the incommunicable attribute of unchangeableness would have to come off the list.
Let us return to Perry Biddle’s statement. “If there were no sin, no brokenness of human nature, no distortion of humanity and nature, there would be no humor as we know it.”13 The last four words “as we know it” could lead this sentence to be interpreted in one of two ways. Either that there would be no humor at all without the fall or that humor would be quite different if there never was a fall.
I will grant Biddle’s statement some truth if his words are to be interpreted in the second manner. Obviously without creation or the fall there would be no actual evil humor such as the evil laughter of the landlord trying to marry the poor woman who could not raise her rent. If taken in this limited manner Biddle’s statement has truth in it. Bob W. Parrott’s phrase about humor in the “earthly sense” leads us in the same direction. “Heaven, lacking incongruities, needs not laughter in the earthly sense.”14 I think it would be rather obvious that without the earth there would be a drastic reduction in the amount of earthly humor. But it does not follow that there would be no laughter in God, the dance of life or in creation.
The theory that there would be no humor in the Godhead before creation contains a hidden assumption. That assumption is that God has no imagination. The argument that the type of humor that involves “incongruities” could not be within Trinity assumes God would not be able to imagine a fictional created world that could fall. Do certain theologians actually believe that God would have been unable to imagine Snidely Whiplash, the landlord, laughing at Nell Fenwick’s situation before actually creating the universe? This line of thinking would make God less gifted than a human author of fiction or literally less gifted than the writers for Rocky and Bullwinkle!
“He who sits in the heavens laughs.” (Psalm 2:4) Here the French Taunter in Monty Python and the Holy Grail might say to such theologians “I laugh in your general direction.” (Okay the French Taunter appeared, oddly enough, to have a Lutheran background since he used a verb (or a phrase reminiscent of John 3)
that was very popular with Luther. You can check the word out on U-tube though I recommend the entire film.)
Q. Where do atheists come from?
A. God created them.15
Q. How do we know God is a Trinity?
A. It is common knowledge that a committee must have designed the camel.16
Q. Why was Eve created second?
A. The second model is always new and improved. (Genesis. .2:18)17
Q. What were Adam’s second words to Eve?
A. “Where did you learn to kiss like that?”18
Job 40:20 states: “For mountains yield food for it where all the wild animals play.” (NRSV) Psalm 104: 26 states: “There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.” (NRSV) Ecclesiastes 10:19a states: “Feasts are made for laughter.” (NRSV) In Genesis 21:6 Sarah states: “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” (ESV) The Christian doctrine of creation has a wonderful sense of play in it. Laughter is basic to humanity. Humor was basic to creation before the fall.
Creation is not utilitarian. God says to Job: “Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?” (Job 38:18) Conrad Hyers writes: “Can we look at the vastness of space, with its prodigious display of millions of galaxies and their billions of stars, its pulsars and quasars, comets and black holes, and not see God at play?”19
One of the most beautiful expressions of this playfulness in creation is a translation of Proverbs 8:30-31 by Ronald Knox. From a Christian point of view Lady Wisdom (or Sophia) gives us a picture of Jesus Christ. This is because St. Paul teaches us, in I Corinthians 1:30, that Christ is our wisdom. What follows therefore gives us a picture of the Second Person in the Trinity playing with God and creation. Knox translates the passage: “I (the divine Wisdom) was at his side, playing continually in his presence, playing in this world of his, because it is my delight to be with the sons of men.”20
C.S. Lewis seems to capture this playfulness and humor when Aslan, the Christ figure, is resurrected in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. “‘Oh children, catch me if you can!’ He stood for a second, his eyes very bright, his limbs quivering, lashing himself with his tail. Then he made a leap over their heads and landed on the other side of the Table. Laughing, though she did not now why, Lucy scrambled over it to reach him.”21 Terry Lindvall defends this playfulness with a reference to Aquinas. “The Christian, as St. Aquinas argued, play and romp to the glory of God as much as he can work and eat to His glory.”22
This humor, this playfulness, this laughter was not the invention of humanity. This humor comes from God and is present in creation. Take some time to look at the rhinoceros, the giraffe, the anteater, the kangaroo, the platypus or my personal favorite, the walking stick, to enjoy the humor of creation. Abraham Lincoln said “God must have meant us to laugh. Else He would not have made so many mules, parrots, monkeys and human beings.”23
Though I would argue that there might be humor in animals the last quote in this section does defend the idea that there was humor before the fall and before creation. Daniel L. Migliore wrote that Karl Barth “…wondered why the modern apologists for the uniqueness of humanity, who had forgotten the meaning of the creation of men and women in the image of God, had never mentioned the fact that apparently human beings are the only creatures who laugh.”24
Q. Do you believe in sin?
A. I not only believe in it, I have seen it and done it myself.25
Q. What are cemeteries filled with?
A. People who thought that the world could not get along without them.26
Q. Isn’t the doctrine of Original Sin only believed by dead people like Augustine, Calvin and Teresa of Avila?
A. No, listen to ‘shock jock’, Howard Sterns; “You’re warped. I am warped. We are all warped.” (7-11-1997/ HC Q # 5)27
Q. What do you call someone who does not believe in sin?
A. An easy target. (Proverbs 22:3)28
In 1973, D. P. McGreachy, III wrote published the book The Gospel According to Andy Capp. Since McGreachy had totally ripped off Robert Short’s work on Peanuts, Short was somehow obliged to write the foreword to McGreachy’s book. (This will be hard for those who are secular to understand. This kind of action is required in the Christian publishing world. If these were not religious authors trying to look good to their public their lawyers would obviously have been involved. For those New Testament scholars who are having trouble understanding this just think of the absence of lawyers involved in the Two Source Theory.) Short points out immediately the insight that an Andy Capp cartoon has concerning Original Sin:
“FLO (on her way out of the house): I’m off t’ the Institute, Pet –There’s a lecture on social relations.
ANDY (in front of the telly with a ‘pint’): Yer wastin’ yer time, Kid—People are ‘opeless.
FLO (shouting): What yer talkin’ about—YOU”RE people!
FLO (Stops and considers. Then returns, removing her coat): Anythin’ decent on telly?”29
Arguing that there was humor before the creation and the fall is not the same thing as arguing that humor is not connected with the fall. Malcolm Muggeridge stated: “It is only believers in the Fall of Man who can really appreciate how funny men are.”30 It is very easy to see where humor comes into play in the fall of creation. This is one of the reasons that certain theologians (mistakenly) believe that humor had its beginning after the fall. The basic biblical term used for sin involves “missing the mark.” The usual explanation of this involves an archer who aims at a target but does not get a bull’s eye.
A standard Vaudevillian bit of humor involves slipping on a banana peel. In slap stick humor someone seeks to walk in a dignified manner but he or she falls and the dignity is seen to be very fleeting. Lee Barrett found this insight in theology. “Similarly, Kierkegaard observed that the funniest thing that he ever saw was a Lutheran bishop, complete with ruff and cope, slipping on a discarded rotten herring while processing up the main street.”31 The point is that a lot of humor we enjoy while we are visiting this planet involves an incongruity between the dignity of humanity and the fallen nature of humanity.
We laugh at Charlie Chaplin when he walks on screen. He is the picture of a gentleman who has fallen on bad times. We see him adjust his hat and clean himself off after a fall and realize that he is struggling hard to keep a certain amount of dignity in very difficult situations. Reinhold Niebuhr has stated “What is so funny about us is precisely that we take ourselves too seriously.”32
Christianity teaches two equally important things. Humanity is made in the image of God and, on the other hand, there is not part of this wonderful creation that has not in some way been defaced by the fall. These two things form the basis of a great deal of humor. Merely recall both the nobility and the sad ineptness of Jackie Gleason’s “the poor soul.” Reinhold Niebuhr wrote: “Laughter is a sane and healthful response to the innocent foibles of men; and even to some which are not innocent.”33
Q. Why was Isaac under 13 when Abraham went to offer him?
A. If he was a teenager it would not have been a sacrifice.34
Q. How can we prove that Jesus did not start Congregationalism?
A. Congregationalism was started many years earlier
when Lot said to Abraham, “Please separate from me.”
(Genesis 13:9, NASB)35
Q. What the most amazing thing about the parents of Moses?
A. Though they were slaves in Egypt they were still able to make a little prophet36
Q. Why was Solomon so wise?
A. He had so many wives to advise him. (I Kings 11:3)37
Deuteronomy 7:7 & 8 gives us the basic reason for the election of Israel. “It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you – for you were the fewest of all people. It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors.” (NRSV) I am planning a sermon on this verse, “Israel as Alfred E. Newman.” Israel was not the star quarterback in high school. Either was Alfred. Israel was not popular with the ladies. Either was Alfred. Israel did not make the pyramids. Alfred didn’t even pass geometry! Yet God loved Israel and we love Alfred. (By the way I am also preparing the sermon, “The Church as Alfred E. Newman.” The text for that sermon is I Corinthians 1:26.)
People unfamiliar with the Pentateuch are shocked when they hear some of the actual biblical stories that have not been filtered through Sunday school. The musical, Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat, points out the humor involved in ten of the twelve brothers getting rid of the spoiled son, Joseph, and explaining it to the father through a corny country and western song. The richness of the humor of these stories in Genesis has not been thoroughly explored. (The overlooked Dick Gregory’s Bible Tales does deal with a lot of them.)
Genesis 21 teaches us that the son of the promise that was given to Abraham and Sarah is named Isaac, which means “laughter.” People think that the stories in the Bible will be like the very religious and serious stories of saints that we find written by Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Protestants. Instead we are comforted and get a laugh as we read of the imperfections of God’s chosen people. Yes, they are Homeric, that is they are a lot like Homer Simpson of The Simpson’s.
If anyone should happen to think that I went too far in the last sentence please take time to read Genesis 38. Who was Tamar in relation to Judah? What did Judah do with Tamar? What resulted from this action? What was Judah going to do to her because of the result of his action? Did Homer Simpson ever do such a thing? Therefore whose family was more dysfunctional, Judah’s or Homer’s? Yet Judah is honored as one of the patriarchs, the progenitor of the tribe that bears his name and is honored in the genealogy of the first chapter of Matthew. Case dismissed! God’s chosen people are Homeric and even beyond Homeric!
Terry Lindvall, in Surprised By Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis, writes: “Lewis viewed the opposite of seriousness, not as humor, but as triviality. (The opposite of the comic is likewise not the serious, but the tragic.) To treat someone or something trivially was to not take them seriously.”38 God does not treat the elect in a trivial manner. God takes them very seriously. This is one of the reasons that the Bible has those long boring lists of names. Everyone is important. In addition to this God does not cover up their humorous humanity.
IV. Jesus Christ.
Q. Why was Jesus born in a manger?
A. Carpenters have historically had poor health insurance.39
Q. What is the wrong way to explain the Baptism of Jesus?
A. “And Jordan baptized Jesus in the John.” (See Matthew 3:13.)40
Q. What is Jesus saying here that seems to give us hints again that he lacks humility?
A. He allows people to call him “Lord, Lord.”41
Q. Where in the Bible does it say Jesus was divine?
A. John 15:5 states: “I am da vine and you are da branches.”
(John 1:1, Romans 9:5)42
In this section we need to recall the work of Elton Trueblood in his book, The Humor of Christ: A Significant, But Often Unrecognized Aspect of Christ’s Teaching. The common opinion among those who have read this book is that it is the least humorous book that has ever been written on the subject of humor. Willis Elliot has personally told me that the topic was recommended to Trueblood because they thought it would help his sense of humor. Willis also stated that the strategy seemed to fail.
But the book is still a wonderful study. The Appendix contains thirty humorous passages in the Synoptic Gospels.43 A brief reminder of some of these passages will help us see that Jesus used humor in much of his teaching. How silly would it be if on Faulty Towers John Cleeves tried to get a speck out of his wife’s eye while he had a log in his own? She would have clocked him! (Matthew 7:34 & Luke 6:41) Wouldn’t it fit into The Addams Family to have dead undertakers carrying the body to the backyard cemetery? (Matthew 8:22 & Luke 9:60) Couldn’t Monty Python do a sketch about the blind leading the blind that would be as funny as “silly walks” or “upper class twits?” (Matthew 15:14) Couldn’t you see Mr. Bean trying to get a camel through the eye of a needle if he thought it was one of the loopholes that W. C. Fields sought to find in the Bible? (Matthew 19:34, Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25) Couldn’t you see Cartman from South Park straining for a gnat and swallowing a camel? (Matthew 23:24)
The above examples tell us about Christ’s teaching methods. Even if humor was only seen in the methods Christ used to teach we obviously would find humor important. Yet humor is more than a method for evangelism or teaching. How would you have work out the incarnation? How would you have planned to have the Messiah come into the world? I would have had The Second Person in the Blessed Trinity born in a royal palace, to wealthy parents, in the capitol of the known world and then shown immediately to those who wielded the greatest power in the world.
Yet the Messiah was born in a small backwater village, to poor parents and was first seen by the dregs of society. Conrad Hyers writes: “Instead of a royal entourage and red-carpet treatment, we are shown peasants and straw beds and the back door. Such is comic surprise.”44
It was much more than Christ’s methods of teaching that was humorous. The whole incarnation and redemption was labeled correctly by St. Paul as “God’s foolishness.” (I Corinthians 1:25) Who in the world would believe that Christ’s first miracle would be to make 120 gallons of the highest quality wine for a wedding reception? (John 2) Sadly for fundamentalists John 2 is the chapter that comes right before John 3.
Since we are an ecumenical church we could learn something from our Peace Church brothers and sisters about the importance of following Christ.
“Q. What is most important for Mennonites in making up a baseball batting order?
A. Following Christ.”45
Q. Who are Christians?
A. People who follow Jesus, though often we think he went in different directions.46
Q. Why do some families think that the Sunday worship service is like a convention?
A. They are represented by only one delegate.47
Q. What is the difference between “5:21 Churches” and “5:22 Churches”?
A. “5:21 Churches” believe in mutual submission. “5:22 Churches” believe that only the wife submits. (Ephesians 5)48
Q. What many people in the UCC think is “The Great Commission?”
A. The amount of money their real estate agent got for selling their house.49
This section could be skipped immediately and instead we could take a half hour to see The Vicar of Dibley. Anyone who has attended a church council meeting of any denomination must be able to see the humor in the incongruence between the church as “…the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints…” (I Corinthians 1:2) and everything else in the letter. The letters to the Church at Corinth show us a terribly dysfunctional church that, along with Judah’s family in Genesis 38, outdoes the dysfunctions of Homer Simpson’s family.
Luther seemed to see this incongruity as well as anyone. Eric W. Gritsch, the author of The Wit of Martin Luther, states this: “Humor is thus anchored in a self-knowledge that indicates one’s limitations.”50 Luther’s understanding of the church is linked with his understanding of Justification by Faith. We will discuss that in more depth in the next section. The basic point is that Ecclesiology is deeply affected by the doctrine of “simul iustus et peccator.” If it is true that Christians are simultaneously justified and simultaneously sinners, then there is no perfect church.
God Is Still Laughing: The Revised Heidelberg Catechism Joke Book contains this section of catechism:
“Q. What happens when you join the perfect church?
A. You ruin it. (Matthew 13:24-30/HCQ # 114 & 115)” 51
I have heard, but have not proven, that it was Luther who compared the church to the ark by saying “If it weren’t for the storm outside, you couldn’t stand the stench inside.”52 Gritsch does not use this quote in his book so I am worried that Luther might not have said it. But the point is the same no matter who said it. The ark is a symbol of the church and the ark was no perfect place to live. It was sad that Noah’s family had to take the trip before the invention of nose plugs.
It is at this point that I want to recommend Monty Python’s movie, The Life of Brian. First of all the movie is about Brian and not about Jesus. Secondly the movie’s humor does teach us the fallen nature of religious groups and religious interpreters. Merely taking the time to view the section where Brian accidentally loses his sandal gives us some great insight into St. Paul’s statement that we “see through a glass darkly.” Brian does not even want followers but they not only continue to follow him but they continue to give meaning to things that actually had no meaning. Such humor can help us engage in self criticism.
Tony Campolo brings out another humorous element that concerns the church.53 He was in a diner at 3:30AM in Honolulu when he heard a group of prostitutes talking. One of them, Agnes, said that tomorrow was her birthday. The other prostitutes laughed about the thought that anyone would give her a party. When the women left, Tony talked to Harry, the owner of the diner. Together the owner, his wife and Tony got a cake and had a party for Agnes the next evening.
Agnes cried when she was given the cake. She even asked if she could take it home before they ate it. She wanted to show her family that someone cared. Harry then asked Tony, “What kind of church do you belong to?” Tony answered “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning.”54
The whole of the scriptures teach that the kingdom of God is a marriage feast between Christ and his bride, the church. Tony merely says it more simply, The Kingdom of God is a Party. Humor is an integral part of any good party. It should be made clear that though I am defending humor that does not mean that I do not see the wisdom in Ecclesiastes 3:4 which reminds us that there is a “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Thomas C. Oden wrote in his Pastoral Theology: “The experienced pastor will recognize to which situation humor belongs and to which belongs sobriety.”55
Q. What can Mae West teach us about our salvation?
A. “Goodness had nothing to do with it.”56
Q. Where do we see the Rev. Dr. Alfred E. Newman’s deep Christian commitment?
A. His motto was “What me, worry?”57
Q. What didn’t the angels say to the shepherds at Christmas?
A. “Behold I am bring you bad news of great sorrow for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)58
Q. Will robots go to heaven?
A. Concerning machines my experience is limited to knowing that all cars go to hell.
Q. What did Kierkegaard get excited about?
A. “God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful, he makes saints out of sinners.”60
Gristch states that “Luther chose to make his first appearance as a reformer in the guise of a court jester.”61 This statement is not unrelated to Luther’s teaching of Justification by Faith and St. Paul’s teaching about “the foolishness of God.” Parishioners still have problems with the parable of Jesus where the worker who only comes in for the last hour of the day gets the same wages as those who have been there through the heat of the day! Yet this parable teaches what St. Paul taught, we are not saved by works but by the grace of Christ through faith!
One should take time to see the portraits of Luther as a monk seeking to unburden every sin from his anguished mind and the later portraits of him as a happy husband, father and doctor of the church. He was emaciated in the early years because he fought hard by fasting and discipline to be perfect. In the later years he had both gained weight and a smile. Justification by Faith changed this man.(On the practical side this should also teach us that justification leads to weight gain and therefore might not be helpful for evangelism in Hollywood. )
Gritsch writes “According to Luther, poetry, music, and humor are better means to express God’s love of the sinner in Christ than logic.”62 One of Luther’s great jokes does not get much air play. He states: “But I resist the devil, and often is with a fart that I chase him away. When he tempts me with silly sins I say, ‘Devil, yesterday I broke wind too. Have you written it down on your list?’”63
Luther discovered the great truth that we see in creation and in redemption. God does not want us to pretend to be someone we are not. God does actually love us as we are. Our problem is that we think God wants us to be certain stereotypes of what it is to be religious. But God loved and blessed the thin nature-loving Francis, the silly and not so smart Juniper, the fat philosophical Aquinas, the fart joke making Luther, the sickly Calvin, the political aware nun St. Catherine, the humorist Charles Schultz, and you and me.
Bob W. Parrott gives us a solid theological look at the relationship between justification and humor. “This humor helps us see the futility of all efforts of self-justification and urges us to look to another source for justification. That source is God’s grace.”64 Krister Stendahl points us in the same direction when he says: “Humor, together with irony, forms a safeguard against idolatry.”65
Salvation is not learning through a lot of struggle to be someone else. It is the forgiveness of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit allowing us to fully be the people God created us to be. John Wesley stated: “A sour religion is the devil’s religion.”66
Q. What is a millennium?
A. 1000 years of peace that Christians fight over.67
Q. Will the meek inherit the earth?
A. Yes, but will they be too shy to claim it?68
Q. Why will our church be the first in the resurrection?
A. I Thessalonians 4:17b states: “…the dead in Christ will rise first.”69
Q. I sort of understand premillennialism, postmillennialism and
amillennialism but what is panmillennialism?
A. The belief that it will all pan out in the end70.
Christian Comedy assumes the second coming of Christ. By this I mean that Dante’s Divine Comedy is a comedy because everything ends well. Comedies end, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with weddings. Tragedies end like Hamlet with dead bodies everywhere. The Christian Hope is that there will be a consummation that involves the resurrection of the body. The Bible uses the image of the Wedding Feast to symbolize this ending. Revelation 19:9 summarizes this: “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (NRSV) No wonder Jesus made 120 gallons of wine for a wedding reception! He understood the ending of this comedy.
We have seen in the section on the church that Tony Campolo has translated the biblical teaching of the kingdom of God being a wedding feast into his book, The Kingdom of God is a Party. This does not come across in the teachings of many Christian leaders. Parties are seen as frivolous or evil. Theologically we know that the Kingdom of God includes both a “now” and a “not yet.” Therefore not only is there an aspect of “the party” in the church there is much more than a mere aspect of “the party” in the consummation.
It was Jesus who was invited to tell his stories at parties while the Pharisees stayed outside. John the Baptist received no invitations to parties during his ministry. I am not making this up. Jesus himself said this: “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine and you say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Luke 7:33-35) In order to ingratiate myself to the Rev. J. Bennett Guess I must say that the title of his article, “Would Jesus Do Stand Up?” is an excellent question. 71
Eric W. Gritsch points out how this teaching of the consummation speaks to us now. “Anticipating a future of never-ending life with God in Christ, Luther could endure the mean meantime between Christ’s first and Second Advent with eschatological humor.”72 St. Paul wrote: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (I Corinthians 15:19, NRSV) Charles Schulz understood this eschatological side of humor when he said: “Humor is proof that everything is going to be all right with God nevertheless.”73
“Q. How do we know that heaven will be fun?
The Creed says that we will have ‘ever-laughing life.’ (John 3:16)”74
The Last Words.
The purpose of this essay was simply to present a brief systematic theology of humor. “It is finished.” I have shown that humor is not a minor, a secondary, an unimportant, a trivial nor an ungodly element in the narrative of our Christian faith. Humor fits into all of the seven rubrics of basic narrative theology. It even fits
into the rubric that goes before the seven. The basic premise of the essay has been proven. Humor is deeply Christian. Humor has a place in God, creation, fall, covenant, Jesus Christ, church, salvation and consummation.
Finding the right last words in any scholarly essay is very important. It is a tradition that such essays end with a quote from a seminary professor or a doctor of the church. Since we are a “united and uniting” denomination, I will end with the last words of the Methodist, Dr. Halford E. Luccock, former professor at Drew Seminary. Some of those who were around his deathbed thought he was already dead. One of them said “Feel his feet. No one ever died with warm feet.” Dr. Luccock replied, “Joan of Arc did.”75
1 Manfred Weber, ed. Worte fur Jeden Tag (Deutschland, Gutersloher Taschenbucher, 1995), 40.
2 G.K. Chesterton, Heretics/Orthodoxy, (Nashville, Thomas Nelson), 115.
3 F. Christopher Anderson, God is Still Laughing I: The Revised Heidelberg Catechism Joke Book, Second Edition (York, Pennsylvania: Self-Published @ 38 S. Newberry St., 2005), 29
4 God Is Still Laughing I, 29.
5The Shameless Commerce section of God Is Still Laughing would want you to buy Theology in One Hour Through Jokes: A 'God Is Still Laughing' Meta-narrative. Learn all you need to learn from your theological professor for two dollars! After that all you need is the $15 T-shirt.
6 God is Still Laughing I, 18.
7 God is Still Laughing I, 18.
8 F. Christopher Anderson, God Is Still Laughing II: Aid to the Revised Heidelberg Catechism Joke Book (York, Pennsylvania, Self Published @ 38 S. Newberry St., 2007), 11.
9 F. Christopher Anderson, God is Still Laughing III: The Young Person’s Catechism Joke Book (York, Pennsylvania: Self Published @ 38 South Newberry St., 2008), 8.
10 Perry H. Biddle, Jr., Humor and Healing (Palm Beach, FL, Desert Ministries, 1996), 16.
11 Bob W. Parrott, Ontology of Humor (New York, Philosophical Library1982), 3.
12 C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm Chiefly on Prayer (San Diego, CA, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1963), 92-93.
13 Perry H. Biddle, Jr., Humor and Healing (Palm Beach, FL, Desert Ministries, 1996), 16.
14 Bob W. Parrott, Ontology of Humor (New York, Philosophical Library1982), 3.
15 God is Still Laughing I, 19.
16 F. Christopher Anderson, God is Still Laughing III: The Young Person’s Catechism Joke Book (York, Pennsylvania: Self Published @ 38 South Newberry St., 2008), 9.
17 God Is Still Laughing I, 20.
18 God Is Still Laughing I, 20.
19 Conrad Hyers, And God Created Laughter: The Bible as Divine Comedy (Atlanta, Georgia, John Knox Press, 1987), 22.
20 Ronald Knox, The Pastoral Sermons of Ronald Knox (New York, Sheed & Ward Inc, 1960), 360.
21 C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (New York, Collier Books, 5th printing 1971), 160.
22 Terry Lindvall, Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis, (Nashville, TN. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), 155.
23 Leslie B. Flynn, Serve Him With Mirth: The Place of Humor in the Christian Life, (Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan Publishing Company, 1960), 21.
24 Daniel L. Migliore, “Karl Barth: Theologian With a Sense of Humor,” The Princeton Seminary Bulletin 7/25/2006.
25 God Is Still Laughing I, 10.
26 F. Christopher Anderson, God is Still Laughing IV: The Sermon on the Mount Catechism Joke Book, (to be published in 2009.)
27 God Is Still Laughing I, 11.
28 God Is Still Laughing I, 10.
29 Robert Short, foreword, D. P. McGeachy, III, The Gospel According to Andy Capp; (Richmond, Virginia, John Knox Press, 1973), 5.
30 Terry Lindvall, Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis, (Nashville, TN. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), 223.
31 Lee Barrett, foreword. F. Christopher Anderson, God Is Still Laughing II: Aid to the Revised Heidelberg Catechism Joke Book (York, Pennsylvania, Self Published @ 38 S. Newberry St., 2007), 5.
32 Terry Lindvall, Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis, (Nashville, TN. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), 33.
33 Reinhold Niebuhr, Discerning the Songs of the Times: Sermons for Today and Tomorrow (New York, Scribner’s, 1946), 115.
34 God Is Still Laughing I,, 16.
35 God Is Still laughing I, 23.
36 F. Christopher Anderson, God is Still Laughing IV: The Sermon on the Mount Catechism Joke Book, (to be published in 2009.)
37 God is Still Laughing III, 19.
38 Terry Lindvall, 141.
39 God is Still Laughing I. 21.
40 God Is Still Laughing I, 34.
41 F. Christopher Anderson, God is Still Laughing IV: The Sermon on the Mount Catechism Joke Book, (to be published in 2009.)
42 God Is Still Laughing III, 22.
43 Elton Trueblood, The Humor of Christ: A Significant But Often Unrecognized Aspect of Christ’s Teaching (New York, Harper and Row, 1964), 127
44 Hyers, And God Created Laughter, 55.
45 F. Christopher Anderson, God is Still Laughing IV: The Sermon on the Mount Catechism Joke Book, (to be published in 2009.)
46 God Is Still Laughing I, 29.
47 F. Christopher Anderson, God is Still Laughing IV: The Sermon on the Mount Catechism Joke Book, (to be published in 2009.)
48 God Is Still Laughing I, 31.
49 God Is Still Laughing I, 38.
50 Eric W. Gritsch, The Wit of Martin Luther (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2006), 1.
51 God Is Still Laughing I, 12.
52 F. Christopher Anderson, God is Still Laughing II: Aid To The Revised Heidelberg Catechism Joke Book (York, Pennsylvania: Self Published @ 38 South Newberry St., 2007), 26.
53 Tony Campolo, The Kingdom of God is a Party. (Dallas, Word Publishing, 1990), 3-9.
54 Campolo, 8.
55 Thomas C. Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry (San Fransico, CA, Harper & Row Publishers, 1982), 257.
56 God Is Still Laughing I, 16.
57 F. Christopher Anderson, God is Still Laughing IV: The Sermon on the Mount Catechism Joke Book, (to be published in 2009.)
58 God Is Still Laughing III, 22.
59 God Is Still Laughing I,,17.
60 God Is Still Laughing V, 50.
61 Gristch, 16.
62 Gritsch. 83.
63 Gritsch, 74.
64 Bob W. Parrott, 45.
65 A. Roy Eckardt, Sitting in the Earth and Laughing: A Handbook of Humor (New Brunswick, New Jersey, Transaction Publishers, 1992), 173.
66 Terry Lindvall, Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis, (Nashville, TN. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), 397.
67 God Is Still Laughing I, 26.
68 F. Christopher Anderson, God is Still Laughing IV: The Sermon on the Mount Catechism Joke Book, (to be published in 2009.)
69 God Is Still Laughing I, 26.
70 God Is Still Laughing I, (a future third edition of The Revised Heidelberg Catechism Joke Book)
71 J. Bennett Guess, UCC News, Volume XXII, No. 1, February-March 2006.
72 Gritsch, 112.
73 Robert L. Short, The Parables of Peanuts, (New York, Harper& Row, 1968), 151.
74 F. Christopher Anderson, God is Still Laughing III: The Young Person’s Catechism Joke Book (York, Pennsylvania: Self Published @ 38 South Newberry St., 2008), 31.
75 David A. MacLennan, Church Chuckles: Jests by Parsons and Others, (Lima, Ohio, C.S.S. Publishing, 1978), 108.