I love Sojourn Community Church, I love Sojourn Music, I love Isaac Watts and I love this video.
Saturday, April 30, 2011
I'd want to say more, but this is well put:
[the modern theologian or ordinary Christian] is not justified in comporting himself in relationship to those [biblical] witnesses as though he knew more about the Word than they... Still less is he a high-school teacher authorized to look over their shoulder benevolently or crossly, to correct their notebooks, or give them good, average, or bad marks. Even the smallest, strangest, simplest, or obscurest among the biblical witnesses has an incomparable advantage over even the most pious, scholarly, and sagacious latter-day theologian From his special point of view and in his special fashion, the witness has thought, spoken, and written about the revelatory Word and act in direct confrontation with it. All subsequent theology, as well as the whole of the community that comes after the event, will never find itself in the same immediate confrontation... For this reason theology must agree to let them look over its shoulder and correct its notebooks.
(pp. 31-32, Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology)
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
It may sound strange, but I think Tim Keller preaches the best law/Gospel sermons I have ever heard.
He is a great preacher in many ways, not least because most of his sermons take you on a journey. What is not obvious is that this journey is often law/Gospel. It is not obvious because he does it better than the simplified version preached by many who would explicitly say that they are preaching law and Gospel (particularly in including the power as well as the penalty of sin, the attractiveness of the good life that 'the law' describes, deeply rooting everything in our cultural and existential experience, climaxing in Christ but in a way naturally connected to the topic and all without jargon).
The theme of friendship in the book of Proverbs is probably the last place you would expect to see the law/Gospel structure, but that is an indication that we haven't really realised the depth of it. Keller's sermon on a selection of proverbs (17:17; 18:24; 25:17,20; 26:18-19; 27:5, 6, 9, 14, 17; 28:23; 29:5) is excellent for its content alone and I would encourage you to listen to it just for that. But if you do listen to it, consider also the law/Gospel journey he takes you on.
I'll attempt to outline his sermon using his own language in black and then show what lies behind what he is doing in my words in blue:
[THE LAW - describes the way life ought to be. The law is good as it shows the creation standard of how we should live. Therefore we should delight in it and live it out]
1. The Uniqueness of Friendship
Friendship offers something different to other relationships (familial, romantic) but in most societies is pushed out. Particularly in our busy and mobile culture.
2. The discovery of a friendship
Friendship requires a common foundation which is a common object of love. Friendship cannot be forged alone, but must be discovered.
3. The forging of the friendship
Once discovered the friendship needs to be forged (i.e. strengthened)
The 4 marks of true friendship are:
- Constancy - availability, even in the difficult times
- Carefulness - emotional connection given voluntarily meaning you mourn when they mourn and rejoice when they rejoice
- Candour - we love our friends enough that we say difficult things for their own good even though it costs us
- Counsel - Two way: Openness about yourself as well as rebuking and advising them
Conclusion of points 1-3
discovery + forging + time = friendship [the law is nothing if not logical, input the works and out comes the result]
[THE TURN - most good narratives have a 'turn' (I think the term exists in plot analysis, although wikipedia refers to it as 'the climax'). I can't think if I have heard this term anywhere talking about law/Gospel, but I think it is helpful to distinguish this moment when the Law ends and the Gospel come in. Keller is a master at this. At this point the law is fully understood and its weight felt. Up to now it has been presented as advice and a model. What this deeply attractive model has been doing to us is then brought to the surface and spelt out.]
Introduction to point 4
Having painted this picture of a perfect friendship two things happen:
- [Firstly the law reveals the power of sin, and shows us how we suffer under Sin in contrast to the way the world ought to be] We have a feeling of longing - Friends are taken away faster than we can make them so we do not have all the friends our hearts need.
- [Secondly the law reveals the penalty that is due us because we are part of the problem as we don't just suffer but cause suffering] We find the profile crushing - One of the reasons we don't have friends is because we fail to be great friends ourselves. We find it difficult to be transparent and we are reluctant to give the gift of emotional connection.
[THE GOSPEL: the solution is Christ and his substitutionary death and resurrection for us]
4. The power of friendship
Where then do we find the power to be the friends we need to be to have the friends we need to have?
[Jesus fulfils the law as he lives the perfect life, and he does it all for us:]
John 15: Jesus calls us his friends. But he is the perfect friend who lays down his life for us.
Genesis 1-3: We walked with God (a Hebrew way of describing friendship) but we turned our back on him. Most friends we do this to would turn on us in response but God didn't do that.
[Jesus died suffering the power and penalty of sin so that we could be freed from both:]
The cross: Christ lost his friendship with God so that he could have friendship with us. He went to hell for the sake of his friends.
[As he took our death now he gives us his life to us so that we share in all he has - inc his friendship with God:]
As we now have friendship with God, all our friendship eggs are not in the human basket so we are liberated to be the friend that we ought to be.
[In the church we taste the new creation that he has bought for us:]
God, in Christ, also creates the church where we share a common object of love, and yet are different so have 'constructive clash' (iron sharpening iron), so we can experience rich friendships in the church now.
[Only bit I think Keller is missing is a pointer to the future hope of perfect friendships with God and other people]
Lutheran spirituality, properly speaking, is not some static state of bliss, but a dynamic oscillation between lows and highs, knowledge of sin and knowledge of forgiveness, repentance and assurance.
(p. 28, Gene Veith, The Spirituality of the Cross)
I often have trouble explaining Lutheranism to other Christians. This is probably mainly my poor verbal communication skills, but I think it is also because most people have a static view of the Christian life.
Perhaps they see one movement at their conversion, but even that is a transfer from one static position to another. In contrast Lutheranism always sees God doing something to us with a purpose.
This law-Gospel dynamic is one of the fundamental features of Lutheranism and something I bang on about so much because I now also see it as fundamental to how the Bible works and my whole existence. However, I now prefer now to talk about death-life, because it emphasises God's purpose in the law/Gospel, is more comprehensive, avoids confusion about biblical v. systematic theological terminology, is more clearly storied and most importantly also roots it more in union with Christ.
One thing I want to clarify from the quote though is that it is not a circular motion, where high leads to low before low leads to high. The 'low'/death happens as a consequence of the experience of sin and suffering in this old creation. The 'high'/life is eternal with no dark side to it. The constant oscillation is a result of our current situation as simul iustus et peccator living in the now/not-yet. One day the dynamic will change.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
God desires all people to be saved (1 Tim 2:4).
But this is not a dispassionate or passive 'wish'. God is active. The God who desires all to be saved is "God our Saviour" (v.3). We see that in the flow of the whole chapter:
v. 5: It all begins in the reality that there is one God. He is Lord of all the earth, Jew and Gentile, those in authority and those under authority, rich and poor, male and female (cf. both Rom 3:30, Eph 4:5 and Gal 3:20).
v. 5-6: Then it moves on to what God has done in Christ, "who gave himself as a ransom for all".
v. 7: Then Paul moves on to what Christ has done in appointing Paul to be an apostle (cf. Rom 1:1, Gal 1:16).
v. 8-15: Then he moves onto the church's role in spreading the mission. They are to pray, be unified (like their God, cf. Eph), they are to live holy lives.
So for Paul there is a narrative of God's actions in bringing about his desire. But is a narrative that flows from the sending of the Son, to the sending of the Apostles to the sending of the church. There is no unmediated way of salvation. There is one mediator, Jesus Christ, who we know through his body, the church.
[With thanks to Dave and Chris, for reminding me of the pursuing desire of God, and my housemate who is preaching on 1 Timothy 2 in a few weeks.]
Sunday, April 24, 2011
"Rejoice in the Lord always...
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Phil 4:4,8)
I don't think Paul is speaking directly about the Lord in verse 8... but he could have been. It's certainly worth meditating on that list and rejoicing in how Christ fulfils it all:
- worthy of praise
[PS in case you have ever wondered, this blog is named after Philippians 4:8. I can't say that I have always listened to Paul as I should, but it is my aim, so feel free to hold me to account when I fail.]
faith...is no blind leap in the dark. Far from it. The Bible teaches that faith is an exercise of reasonable trust in a God who is really there and has proved himself to be completely trustworthy. In fact, it would be utterly unreasonable and irrational not to trust in someone who has proved himself to be infinitely dependable. The whole Bible bears witness to the reality that God has been, is now, and will always be truthful and worthy of our trust. We may not always understand what God is doing or why he is doing it, but we have no good reason to doubt him.
(p.73, Do I Know God?, Tullian Tchividjian)
Now, our Scholastics and papists have taught an external piety; they would command the eyes not to see, and the ears not to hear, and would put piety into our hearts from the outside. Ah, how far this is from the truth! But it comes in this way: When the heart and conscience cling to the Word in faith, they overflow in works, so that when the heart is holy, all the members become holy, and good works follow naturally.
(Easter Sunday Sermon: Of Christ's Resurrection, on Mark 16:1-8)
Martin Luther criticised an ethics which taught that by doing good things you could develop good habits that would filter down into your heart. He saw this ethics in Medieval Scholastic theology, but originating in Aristotle ("Virtually the entire Ethics of Aristotle is the worst enemy of grace. This in opposition to the scholastics" [Disputation Against Scholastic Theology, 1517]).
But that does not mean that he thought that personal change was a simple case of inside->out.
Our hearts are not changed spontaneously but in response to the external word, which could only be understood correctly by prayer, meditation and experience (Or Anfechtung, see his three rules).
Therefore, Bonhoeffer was standing in Luther's line when he explained that:
only the believers obey, and only the obedient believe.
It is really unfaithfulness to the Bible to have the first statement without the second. Only the believer obeys - we think we can understand that. Of course, obedience follows faith, the way good fruit comes from a good tree, we say. First there is faith, then obedience. If this meant only that faith alone justifies us and not deeds of obedience, then it is a firm and necessary precondition for everything else. But if it meant a chronological sequence, that faith would have to come first, to be later followed by obedience, then faith and obedience are torn apart...
space should be kept and had to be kept for that external deed required to enable faith - the step, in this case, to the church, where the word of salvation is preached... You can leave your house on Sunday and go to hear the preaching. If you do not do it, then you willfully exclude yourself from the place where faith is possible...
it is not the works which create faith. Instead, you are given a situation in which you can have faith.
(italics original, pp. 63-67, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship)
[Note that as well as this 'religious work' he also gives examples of an alcoholic giving up alcohol or a rich man giving away his money]
[Note also that Bonhoeffer is not saying that the 'first step' is a 'good work', but that is a work, which allows space for faith, which leads to good works.]
the Word of God is so weak that it suffers to be despised and rejected by people...This weak Word, which suffers contradiction by sinners, is the only strong, merciful Word, that can make sinners repent from the bottom of their hearts. The Word's power is veiled in weakness. If the Word came in full unveiled power, that would be the final judgment day.
(p.173, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship)
It would be an interesting question to ask Rob Bell, whether it makes any difference that post-mortum repentance would be in response to the glorified and strong Word of Christ.
I think that when Paul says that he preached "the word of the cross" (1 Cor 1:18), he wasn't just referring to the content, but the form of Gospel he preached. It was weak and foolish, carried by jars of clay, just as Jesus seemed to so many in first century Judea.
At his second coming the Word will be much more a "word of the resurrection", and will be carried by angels blasting trumpets. Glory will be unveiled and strength exerted.
If Rob Bell sees people repenting, and trusting, in response to that Word then is there something quantitatively different to our repentance and faith?
Saturday, April 23, 2011
It is significant that Jesus did not invite the disciples to tea, but rather said ‘Follow me’. Augustine found the idea of an effectual call in other biblical examples. So, Jesus commands, ‘Lazarus, come out’ (Jn.11:43), a speech act that literally wakes the dead. For Augustine, something similar happens each time God summons a person to new life.
(p. 343, Kevin Vanhoozer, "Effectual Call or Causal Effect? Summons, Sovereignty and Supervenient Grace", Tyndale Bulletin 49.2 (1998): 213-251)
There are so many things that we read in the Bible that are difficult to stomach. The obvious things to say when that happens are:
- If it is the truth, it doesn't matter how you feel about it; and
- God is God, and he is the one who gets to decide what is true and what is good. Get over it.
However, I think more can be said about why it is actually not just necessary but also good to swallow what the Bible says, even if we don't like the way it tastes.
1. Not a Stepford God
Firstly, it is an indication that we are dealing with an independent person. And a new personal relationship with our Heavenly Father is what makes the Gospel attractive. Tim Keller says this better than anyone I have read:
“If you don’t trust the Bible enough to let it challenge and correct your thinking, how could you ever have a personal relationship with God? In any truly personal relationship, the other person has to be able to contradict you.
“For example, if a wife is not allowed to contradict her husband, they won’t have an intimate relationship. Remember the (two!) movies The Stepford Wives? The husbands of Stepford, Connecticut, decide to have their wives turned into robots who never cross the wills of their husbands. A Stepford wife was wonderfully compliant and beautiful, but no one would describe such a marriage as intimate or personal.
“Now, what happens if you eliminate anything from the Bible that offends your sensibility and crosses your will? If you pick and choose what you want to believe and reject the rest, how will you ever have a God who can contradict you? You won’t! You’ll have a Stepford God! A God, essentially, of your own making, and not a God with whom you can have a relationship and genuine interaction.
“Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage!) will you know that you have gotten hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination.
(Tim Keller, The Reason for God, pages 113-114)
2. True Truth
Secondly, as Keller mentions in that final paragraph, it is also an indication that we have come up against true truth. In his brilliant address, The Weight of Glory says the same thing:
The natural appeal of [the imagery of 'glory'] is to me, at first, very small. At first sight it chills, rather than awakes, my desire. And that is just what I ought to expect. If Christianity could tell me no more of the far-off land than my own temperament led me to surmise already, then Christianity would be no higher than myself. If it has more to give me, I must expect it to be less immediately attractive than “my own stuff.” ... If our religion is something objective, then we must never avert our eyes from those elements in it which seem puzzling or repellent; for it will be precisely the puzzling or the repellent which conceals what we do not yet know and need to know.
3. The way to find new vistas we could not conceive
Thirdly, we trust God from experience and his promises that if we go through accepting these difficult truths we will find that actually it opens up even more beautiful and awe-inspiring vistas than we would otherwise have seen. Lewis, having taken us on just that journey in The Weight of Glory, explains how pushing through his initial distaste with the concept of glory led him to discover something that is richer and more satisfying than if he had just rejected it out of hand:
If I had rejected the authoritative and scriptural image of glory and stuck obstinately to the vague desire which was, at the outset, my only pointer to heaven, I could have seen no connexion at all between that desire and the Christian promise. But now, having followed up what seemed puzzling and repellent in the sacred books, I find, to my great surprise, looking back, that the connexion is perfectly clear. Glory, as Christianity teaches me to hope for it, turns out to satisfy my original desire and indeed to reveal an element in that desire which I had not noticed. By ceasing for a moment to consider my own wants I have begun to learn better what I really wanted.
Today I have listened to Rob Bell quizzing Adrian Warnock whether he is happy with the idea of God condemning people to hell. The doctrine is difficult for both to swallow, but Adrian Warnock choses to swallow and Rob Bell doesn't.
But I have also listened to Jack Miller, saying "cheer up, you're a lot worse off than you think." Original sin is a difficult doctrine for many to swallow, but Jack Miller movingly shows how it is only through fully absorbing it that we find freedom and adoption.
Finally, I would say - bring your concerns and questions to God. Wrestle with him, but with the hope that he and not you will prevail.
I have just received a package from Amazon containing a book I have bought for a friend. In intention this book is for my friend, but nobody knows that yet. I didn't tell Amazon, I haven't told anyone else and there is no indication on the book itself that it is for my friend.
Does the book belong to me or is it my friend's book? I think you could argue both ways at the moment.
However, when I wrap it up and give it to my friend saying 'this is for you,' then it will be clear that it is now his book. The act of giving, with the words accompanying it, achieve something. It is a speech-act which acomplishes what it says.
Jesus' death and resurrection can be like this. He died and was raised for us, but the event itself does not tell us that.
Jesus' own words and the Bible as a whole interpret the meaning of the event, but it becomes deeply personal when, as Christ's ambassadors Christians say 'you are forgiven,' and just that thing occurs. Forgiveness actually happens in that moment. It has already happened in the cruxifiction and resurrection of Christ, but it is applied in the declaration of absolution that Christians make on their Lord's behalf. Modern evangelicals may baulk at the weight of Jesus' instructions to his disciples, "if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld" (John 20:23), but there is no more fundamental part of Gospel-ministry.
Under English law I cannot give a house to someone with only spoken words. It is considered that land is such an important asset that for it to be given away additional formalities have to be observed. So land can only be legally given by way of deed. A deed is written document signed by both parties, which until recently had also to be sealed (e.g. with impressed wax). This deed gives certainty to all the parties that the gift really happened and was not just empty words.
Baptism corresponds to this. It is a binding, visible promise of God that we have died and been raised with Christ and it achieves what it promises. If later in life we have doubts about our true identity or whether we have been forgiven, we point to the cross and resurrection of Jesus but through the word and sacrament that we have already received as a personal address to us. This is what Paul does in Romans 6, and what Luther did when he responded to the devil's acqusations by crying out "I am baptized!"
I may have been given a beautiful house but it is another thing to receive it and live in it.
There are a number of different ways I can respond to the gift:
(i) If I believe that this house is now both mine and more beautiful and solid than the house I currently live in I will joyfully move in all my possessions, explore every room, make myself at home and invite others to share in my joy by inviting them to stay.
(ii) But while I may believe that this house is mine I may doubt that it is really that nice a house. My heart may remain in my old house, and I may want to live there most of the time. When the floods come then I will finally realise that this house I have been given is the best, but in the meantime wise friends will warn me of the dangers of living in my old house, and extol the beauty and security that the new house offers. They won't spend time persuading me that the house is mine, but they will spend time persuading me that the house is a uniquely wonderful place to live.
(iii) Sadly, I may love the house but even with the deed in my hands not believe that it is really mine. Perhaps I think that past or present sins disqualify me from such a gift. I might feel I need to earn the house and start sending the giver cheques out of my wages - even though he never asked for them. To this person wise friends will point to the promise; the words and the title deeds. 'This house is yours, enjoy it!' 'You have been baptised, the promise is yours free of charge, live out that reality!'
(iv) Finally, I may doubt that the house exists at all and the house I live in is the only house there is. I may have heard the promise and been given the deeds but concluded that they are worthless pieces of paper. Wise friends will explain how they have seen the house, how it is attested by reliable witnesses and fits with the rest of our experience. To this person you may give Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ.
Friday, April 22, 2011
I. THE FALSE VIEWS OF CHRIST'S SUFFERINGS
1. In the first place, some reflect upon the sufferings of Christ in a way that they become angry at the Jews, sing and lament about poor Judas, and are then satisfied; just like by habit they complain of other persons, and condemn and spend their time with their enemies. Such an exercise may truly be called a meditation not on the sufferings of Christ, but on the wickedness of Judas and the Jews.
2. In the second place, others have pointed out the different benefits and fruits springing from a consideration of Christ's Passion. Here the saying ascribed to Albertus is misleading, that to think once superficially on the sufferings of Christ is better than to fast a whole year or to pray the Psalter every day, etc. The people thus blindly follow him and act contrary to the true fruits of Christ's Passion; for they seek therein their own selfish interests. Therefore they decorate themselves with pictures and booklets, with letters and crucifixes, and some go so far as to imagine that they thus protect themselves against the perils of water, of fire, and of the sword, and all other dangers. In this way the suffering of Christ is to work in them an absence of suffering, which is contrary to its nature and character.
3. A third class so sympathize with Christ as to weep and lament for him because he was so innocent, like the women who followed Christ from Jerusalem, whom he rebuked, in that they should better weep for themselves and for their children. Such are they who run far away in the midst of the Passion season, and are greatly benefitted by the departure of Christ from Bethany and by the pains and sorrows of the Virgin Mary, but they never get farther. Hence they postpone the Passion many hours, and God only knows whether it is devised more for sleeping than for watching. And among these fanatics are those who taught what great blessings come from the holy mass, and in their simple way they think it is enough if they attend mass. To this we are led through the sayings of certain teachers, that the mass opere operati, non opere operantis, is acceptable of itself, even without our merit and worthiness, just as if that were enough. Nevertheless the mass was not instituted for the sake of its own worthiness, but to prove us, especially for the purpose of meditating upon the sufferings of Christ. For where this is not done, we make a temporal, unfruitful work out of the mass, however good it may be in itself. For what help is it to you, that God is God, if he is not God to you? What benefit is it that eating and drinking are in themselves healthful and good, if they are not healthful for you, and there is fear that we never grow better by reason of our many masses, if we fail to seek the true fruit in them?
II. THE TRUE VIEW OF CHRIST'S SUFFERINGS
4. Fourthly, they meditate on the Passion of Christ aright, who so view Christ that they become terror-stricken in heart at the sight, and their conscience at once sinks in despair. This terror-stricken feeling should spring forth, so that you see the severe wrath and the unchangeable earnestness of God in regard to sin and sinners, in that he was unwilling that his only and dearly beloved Son should set sinners free unless he paid the costly ransom for them as is mentioned in Is 53, 8: "For the transgression of my people was he stricken." What happens to the sinner, when the dear child is thus stricken? An earnestness must be present that is inexpressible and unbearable, which a person so immeasurably great goes to meet, and suffers and dies for it; and if you reflect upon it real deeply, that God's Son, the eternal wisdom of the Father, himself suffers, you will indeed be terror-stricken; and the more you reflect the deeper will be the impression.
5. Fifthly, that you deeply believe and never doubt the least, that you are the one who thus martyred Christ. For your sins most surely did it. Thus St. Peter struck and terrified the Jews as with a thunderbolt in Acts 2, 36-37, when he spoke to them all in common: "Him have ye crucified," so that three thousand were terror-stricken the same day and tremblingly cried to the apostles: "0 beloved brethren what shall we do?" Therefore, when you view the nails piercing through his hands, firmly believing it is your work. Do you behold his crown of thorns, believe the thorns are your wicked thoughts, etc.
6. Sixthly, now see, where one thorn pierces Christ, there more than a thousand thorns should pierce thee, yea, eternally should they thus and even more painfully pierce thee. Where one nail is driven through his hands and feet, thou shouldest eternally suffer such and even more painful nails; as will be also visited upon those who let Christ's sufferings be lost and fruitless as far as they are concerned. For this earnest mirror, Christ, will neither lie nor mock; whatever he says must be fully realized.
7. Seventhly, St. Bernard was so terror-stricken by Christ's sufferings that he said: I imagined I was secure and I knew nothing of the eternal judgment passed upon me in heaven, until I saw the eternal Son of God took mercy upon me, stepped forward and offered himself on my behalf in the same judgment. Ah, it does not become me still to play and remain secure when such earnestness is behind those sufferings. Hence he commanded the women: "Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children." Lk 23, 28; and gives in the 31st verse the reason: "For if they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" As if to say: Learn from my martyrdom what you have merited and how you should be rewarded. For here it is true that a little dog was slain in order to terrorize a big one. Likewise the prophet also said: "All generations shall lament and bewail themselves more than him"; it is not said they shall lament him, but themselves rather than him. Likewise were also the apostles terror-stricken in Acts 2, 37, as mentioned before, so that they said to the apostles: "0, brethren, what shall we do?" So the church also sings: I will diligently meditate thereon, and thus my soul in me will exhaust itself.
8. Eighthly, one must skillfully exercise himself in this point, for the benefit of Christ's sufferings depends almost entirely upon man coming to a true knowledge of himself, and becoming terror-stricken and slain before himself And where man does not come to this point, the sufferings of Christ have become of no true benefit to him. For the characteristic, natural work of Christ's sufferings is that they make all men equal and alike, so that as Christ was horribly martyred as to body and soul in our sins, we must also like him be martyred in our consciences by our sins. This does not take place by means of many words, but by means of deep thoughts and a profound realization of our sins. Take an illustration: If an evil-doer were judged because he had slain the child of a prince or king, and you were in safety, and sang and played, as if you were entirely innocent, until one seized you in a horrible manner and convinced you that you had enabled the wicked person to do the act; behold, then you would be in the greatest straits, especially if your conscience also revolted against you. Thus much more anxious you should be, when you consider Christ's sufferings. For the evil doers, the Jews, although they have now judged and banished God, they have still been the servants of your sins, and you are truly the one who strangled and crucified the Son of God through your sins, as has been said.
9. Ninthly, whoever perceives himself to be so hard and sterile that he is not terror-stricken by Christ's sufferings and led to a knowledge of him, he should fear and tremble. For it cannot be otherwise; you must become like the picture and sufferings of Christ, be it realized in life or in hell; you must at the time of death, if not sooner, fall into terror, tremble, quake and experience all Christ suffered on the cross. It is truly terrible to attend to this on your deathbed; therefore you should pray God to soften your heart and permit you fruitfully to meditate upon Christ's Passion. For it is impossible for us profoundly to meditate upon the sufferings of Christ of ourselves, unless God sink them into our hearts. Further, neither this meditation nor any other doctrine is given to you to the end that you should fall fresh upon it yourself, to accomplish the same; but you are first to seek and long for the grace of God, that you may accomplish it through God's grace and not through your own power. For in this way it happens that those referred to above never treat the sufferings of Christ aright; for they never call upon God to that end, but devise out of their own ability their own way, and treat those sufferings entirely in a human and an unfruitful manner.
10. Tenthly, whoever meditates thus upon God's sufferings for a day, an hour, yea, for a quarter of an hour, we wish to say freely and publicly, that it is better than if he fasts a whole year, prays the Psalter every day, yea, than if he hears a hundred masses. For such a meditation changes a man's character and almost as in baptism he is born again, anew. Then Christ's suffering accomplishes its true, natural and noble work, it slays the old Adam, banishes all lust, pleasure and security that one may obtain from God's creatures; just like Christ was forsaken by all, even by God.
11. Eleventhly, since then such a work is not in our hands, it happens that sometimes we pray and do not receive it at the time; in spite of this one should not despair nor cease to pray. At times it comes when we are not praying for it, as God knows and wills; for it will be free and unbound: then man is distressed in conscience and is wickedly displeased with his own life, and it may easily happen that he does not know that Christ's Passion is working this very thing in him, of which perhaps he was not aware, just like the others so exclusively meditated on Christ's Passion that in their knowledge of self they could not extricate themselves out of that state of meditation. Among the first the sufferings of Christ are quite and true, among the others a show and false, and according to its nature God often turns the leaf, so that those who do not meditate on the Passion, really do meditate on it; and those who hear the mass, do not hear it; and those who hear it not, do hear it.
III. THE COMFORT OF CHRIST'S SUFFERINGS
12. Until the present we have been in the Passion week and have celebrated Good Friday in the right way: now we come to Easter and Christ's resurrection. When man perceives his sins in this light and is completely terror-stricken in his conscience, he must be on his guard that his sins do not thus remain in his conscience, and nothing but pure doubt certainly come out of it; but just as the sins flowed out of Christ and we became conscious of them, so should we pour them again upon him and set our conscience free. Therefore see well to it that you act not like perverted people, who bite and devour themselves with their sins in their heart, and run here and there with their good works or their own satisfaction, or even work themselves out of this condition by means of indulgences and become rid of their sins; which is impossible, and, alas, such a false refuge of satisfaction and pilgrimages has spread far and wide.
13. Thirteenthly. Then cast your sins from yourself upon Christ, believe with a festive spirit that your sins are his wounds and sufferings, that he carries them and makes satisfaction for them, as Is 53,6 says: "Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all;" and St. Peter in his first Epistle 2, 24: "Who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree" of the cross; and St. Paul in 2 Cor 5,21: "Him who knew no sin was made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him." Upon these and like passages you must rely with all your weight, and so much the more the harder your conscience martyrs you. For if you do not take this course, but miss the opportunity of stilling your heart, then you will never secure peace, and must yet finally despair in doubt. For if we deal with our sins in our conscience and let them continue within us and be cherished in our hearts, they become much too strong for us to manage and they will live forever. But when we see that they are laid on Christ and he has triumphed over them by his resurrection and we fearlessly believe it, then they are dead and have become as nothing. For upon Christ they cannot rest, there they are swallowed up by his resurrection, and you see now no wound, no pain, in him, that is, no sign of sin. Thus St. Paul speaks in Rom 4, 25, that he was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised for our justification; that is, in his sufferings he made known our sins and also crucified them; but by his resurrection he makes us righteous and free from all sin, even if we believe the same differently.
14. Fourteenthly. Now if you are not able to believe, then, as I said before, you should pray to God for faith. For this is a matter in the hands of God that is entirely free, and is also bestowed alike at times knowingly, at times secretly, as was just said on the subject of suffering.
15. But now bestir yourself to the end: first, not to behold Christ's sufferings any longer; for they have already done their work and terrified you; but press through all difficulties and behold his friendly heart, how full of love it is toward you, which love constrained him to bear the heavy load of your conscience and your sin. Thus will your heart be loving and sweet toward him, and the assurance of your faith be strengthened. Then ascend higher through the heart of Christ to the heart of God, and see that Christ would not have been able to love you if God had not willed it in eternal love, to which Christ is obedient in his love toward you; there you will find the divine, good father heart, and, as Christ says, be thus drawn to the Father through Christ. Then will you understand the saying of Christ in Jn 3, 16: "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son," etc. That means to know God aright, if we apprehend him not by his power and wisdom, which terrify us, but by his goodness and love; there our faith and confidence can then stand immovable and man is truly thus born anew in God.
16. Sixteenthly. When your heart is thus established in Christ, and you are an enemy of sin, out of love and not out of fear of punishment, Christ's sufferings should also be an example for your whole life, and you should meditate on the same in a different way. For hitherto we have considered Christ's Passion as a sacrament that works in us and we suffer; now we consider it, that we also work, namely thus: if a day of sorrow or sickness weighs you down, think, how trifling that is compared with the thorns and nails of Christ. If you must do or leave undone what is distasteful to you: think, how Christ was led hither and thither, bound and a captive. Does pride attack you: behold, how your Lord was mocked and disgraced with murderers. Do unchastity and lust thrust themselves against you: think, how bitter it was for Christ to have his tender flesh torn, pierced and beaten again and again. Do hatred and envy war against you, or do you seek vengeance: remember how Christ with many tears and cries prayed for you and all his enemies, who indeed had more reason to seek revenge. If trouble or whatever adversity of body or soul afflict you, strengthen your heart and say: Ah, why then should I not also suffer a little since my Lord sweat blood in the garden because of anxiety and grief? That would be a lazy, disgraceful servant who would wish to lie in his bed while his lord was compelled to battle with the pangs of death.
17. Behold, one can thus find in Christ strength and comfort against all vice and bad habits. That is the right observance of Christ's Passion, and that is the fruit of his suffering, and he who exercises himself thus in the same does better than by hearing the whole Passion or reading all masses. And they are called true Christians who incorporate the life and name of Christ into their own life, as St. Paul says in Gal 5, 24: "And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof." For Christ's Passion must be dealt with not in words and a show, but in our lives and in truth. Thus St. Paul admonishes us in Heb 12, 3: "For consider him that hath endured such gainsaying of sinners against himself, that ye wax not weary, fainting in your souls;" and St. Peter in his 1 Epistle 4, 1: "As Christ suffered in the flesh, arm ye yourselves also with the same mind." But this kind of meditation is now out of use and very rare, although the Epistles of St. Paul and St. Peter are full of it. We have changed the essence into a mere show, and painted the meditation of Christ's sufferings only in letters and on walls
Listening to: Mozart: Violin Concertos
[This is an attempt to explain why only those with faith are saved by putting it in the context of the nature the salvation itself. I'm a bit torn whether I've succeeded. Let me know your thoughts if you have any]
1. God lays on a meal for everybody, no matter who they are
In the Parable of the Great Banquet, Jesus begins by encouraging generosity to all types of people. He says that ““when you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:12-13).
It is obvious why Jesus needs to say this isn’t it?
We are nice to those people that we want to be nice to us in return. Who among us can say that we treat the shop attendant with the same attention we do someone interviewing us for a job? We will buy a round for someone who we know has a record of buying rounds for us, but we won’t do the same for someone who never offers to get us a drink.
Or we can be prejudiced against whole classes of people who we don’t identify with. Historically we have treated those of a different race as second class citizens, but perhaps now are more likely to express contempt towards those both above and below us on the class ladder. Paul seems to be combating just that attitude in 1 Timothy 2 when he encourages the Christians to pray for their political leaders, because God cares for ‘them’ as much as ‘us’. Although for them it may have been even tougher given the oppression they would have experienced from their leaders.
Like Paul, Jesus sees that how we treat other people will mirror how we believe God treats people. Often we are tempted to feel that God loves people like ‘us’, not people like ‘them’, and we think that justifies us in our lack of love to those people. Where we do that we need to be sorry and change because God should be our model and is not like that. God loves “all” people, as Paul says.
Jesus illustrates how God loves all people in this Parable of the Great Banquet. He compares “the Kingdom of God”, or as Paul would say it “salvation”, to a great banquet. It is not a bring-your-own meal and it is not beans on toast, instead it is a lavish feast provided entirely at God’s expense.
And this feast is not just for God’s friends or those who have something to offer him. He has “made everything ready” for “many” people, even those who we read later in the parable don’t like him very much.
God models just what Jesus says that we should do. Love everyone and happily share what we have with everyone.
2. The meal is Jesus and he gives life
But what is the banquet that God puts on? The disciple in verse 15 talks about “bread”, which doesn’t sound all that lavish. But in John 6 we learn what type of bread is on offer.
Jesus explains that he is “the bread of God” (v.33) who gives “life”. When we eat food we are nourished and sustained in life. The difference with this bread is that Jesus gives not just “life” but “eternal life”. Normal bread fills us up for a little while but then we need more to keep on living, but in contrast if we eat “the bread of God” then we shall “never hunger” (v.35).
I often feel it is a bit weird and disgusting that Jesus is talking about himself as food to be eaten. When it says that the disciples said in response that “this is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (v. 60) I have to sympathise with them.
It is pretty offensive that a lamb is slaughtered so we can eat it, but it is even more offensive that Jesus is crucified so that we can eat him. There is no getting round that. You cannot prettify death, but Jesus’ death is the major event of the Gospels and Christianity as a whole so you cannot avoid talking about it.
But as well as an offensive image, there is a sense in which this is the most beautiful image you could imagine. It is a beautiful thing when someone empties their fridge to lay on a meal when you visit. It is an even more beautiful thing, although also more tragic, when a single mother goes out to work all the hours she can manage to put food on the table for her family. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever heard of that Jesus died so that everyone can have eternal life. That is why it is at the centre of what Christians believe.
It is interesting how Jesus defines life in John’s Gospel though. The image of food suggests that Jesus is just the source of life. However, later in the same Gospel he also says that he is “the life” itself (14:6).
Jesus explains that “eternal life” doesn’t mean just existing for a long time, living a life of leisure or having lots of stuff. Instead he defines it in terms of a relationship: “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ” (17:3).
If Jesus stayed dead to give us life, then that would be no kind of life at all. One of the best things about life is the people, but the very best thing, and source of all other good things, is knowing God and his Son, Jesus. The reason that Christians celebrate Easter is that Jesus was raised from the dead after 3 days being dead, so that we could have a relationship with him and his Father by his Spirit.
Jesus Christ is the feast that God the Father has put on for us, and his company at the table is what makes it worth looking forward to.
3. God invites people to the meal through people speaking about it and eating bread and drinking wine
God has provided a feast which he wants every single person to come and enjoy. But how will people come and enjoy it?
In the first place they need to know that there is feast to enjoy.
In the Parable of the Great Banquet Jesus says that the host sends out his servant to tell everyone that the banquet is ready to be enjoyed (14:17). In a similar way at the end of every Gospel Jesus says that the invitation to him is to go to all the nations. It is not just for the Jews, because God wants everyone to come, so the disciples will have to pass on the message to people all over the world (Matt 28:18-20, Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-48; John 20:21).
This message is passed on by preaching and by the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, all of which have a fundamental role in the life of all Christians. When Paul preached he said he aimed to preach “Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:22). Not advice, not rules on how to live and not philosophy, but an offer of a death to give us life. Jesus’ death is also prominent in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper which originates from when, the night before he died, Jesus told the disciples to regularly eat bread and wine as his body and blood given for us.
When the bread is broken in two at the front of a church meeting, or when we hear someone talk about how Jesus died so that we could live knowing him, then we are invited to come and eat at the feast. We will only get tasters now, but when Jesus comes again then we will sit down to a great feast (as many other Bible passages talk about).
It is a sobering thought that if people do not receive the invitation they will not come to the feast. If we love people like God loves them then as his servants we will carry out the task Jesus gave to his disciples at the end of each Gospel and go to every corner of the earth to tell people invite people along. And that is what thousands of Christians have done, even if like Jesus it cost them their life.
4. Eating the meal by faith
This odd concept of eating Jesus, even though it is rich and meaning-packed, begs an important question: ‘how do we eat someone who is alive but we cannot see?’
Jesus makes clear what he means by eating in John 6:35-40. To eat him is to come to him (the feast) and we do that by believing in him.
In the Parable of the Great Banquet the invitation goes out to lots of people who come up with excuses not to come. But why would someone not want to come to a free party?
You only don’t accept an invitation because you believe that the alternative is better. If you don’t think you will enjoy the company, or that the food won’t be that good you make your excuses and don’t come. That is what lots of people do in Jesus’ parable. They thought that staying at home has more to offer than Jesus.
As any host the Father is offended by this. He has been the great giver, but people refuse to receive the gift. It is irrational and morally reprehensible, but people do that to other people and they do that to God. God is angry with those who despise his beloved Son.
The offer still stands until Jesus comes again though. Jesus says that he is offered “so that one may eat of it and not die” (John 6:50). It is important to remember that the reason people will die in hell is because they have chosen to refuse the invitation to eat. This seems mad, but people do have their reasons. They refuse the gift of salvation in Jesus because they that they have a better offer of salvation somewhere else.
That people do not hear about this great feast is a terrible tragedy and the fault of the church. That people hear about this great feast and yet believe it to be a poor offer not worth taking up is also a tragedy, but it is their fault not God’s.
The truth is stark, but if you don’t believe you don’t eat and you don’t live. But if you do believe Jesus is the bread of life he promises and you do eat of him visibly at the Lord’s Supper and by invisibly by listening to the Bible taught, then you will live and feast with him when he comes again.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
The church is a gathered people.
It gathers in order to receive from God by faith.
From the whole world it comes to hear the Word preached and administered in the sacraments and so to receive Christ.
The church is a scattered people.
It scatters in order to give to the world by works.
It sends its people in every direction to preach the Word and administer the sacraments and so to offer Christ, all in the context of practical care.
I would encourage anyone with a spare couple of hours to read the Gospel of John looking out for what Jesus, through John, wants us to know about “life”.
Jesus calls his Father “the living Father” (6:57). Like all beings that have life he is not inactive but outgoing and like human fathers he gives life to his child, Jesus (6:57). However, unlike human fathers who give life in the act of conception and maybe through loving nurture, God the Father is always giving the Son life by his Holy Spirit. It doesn’t say that he “gave” life to Jesus in the past tense because from the very beginning the Son has been with the Father (1:1-2). As the early Christian church taught, the Son was “eternally begotten of the Father”. The alternative would mean that there was a time when the Father was not giving life - which would actually mean that he was static, dead, and not “the Father” because he didn’t have a Son!
So, God the Father and Son are living and always have been.
But, what does it mean to be living?
Clearly, until Jesus became a man God did not have a pumping heart or electricity pulsing through his brain. But we all know that there is more to life than organic mechanisms. Relationships are at the heart of what it means to be living, so Jesus shows the depth of his understanding in describing life for human beings to be found in knowing him and his Father (17:3). Within God the Trinity, Jesus lives for his Father, and his Father lives for him. As parents often say that their children are their “life”, God the Father could say the same for his Son.
But we recognise that while there is something good about someone looking for their life in other people, whether children or lovers, there is also something self-destructive. Jesus saw that clearly in the woman that he met by a well in Samaria (4:1-45). She had married five times and was now living with a sixth man. We don’t know the details but it is clear that by her fault, their fault, or perhaps nobody’s fault she was not finding in men the life that she wanted. When Jesus offers her “living water” that won’t just quench her thirst for a while but satisfy forever she longs to have it (4:10-15). We are just the same as that woman. Looking for life in other people or things we may be satisfied and feel ‘alive’ for a while, but as time passes we either find they don’t satisfy as they used to, or they’re taken away. Nothing lasts, but everything seems to die in the end. We are all thirsty for lasting life - or as John’s Gospel calls it, “eternal life”.
But the Son doesn’t experience this thirst for life when he lives for his Father. His Father is God and has infinite resources of life and joy that leave the Son eternally and infinitely alive. If we want to have our thirst quenched we will have to receive from this heavenly well too.
Thankfully Jesus is his Father’s Son. As the Father has life in himself, he has given it to his Son to have the same (5:26). And as he loves to give life to his Son, the Son also loves to give life to us (4:14, 4:50, 10:28, etc). So with the Father and by the Holy Spirit, God the Son made the world (1:10). A world reflecting the character of its maker and teeming with life.
But as well as life, we sadly also experience death in this world. In the book of Genesis, God teaches us that the reason for this is because he cut us off from the “tree of life” - that is from a close relationship with himself - because we chose to rebel against him. Humanity didn’t trust him to provide us with life, so we tried to take over the world so we could provide for ourselves. Like the woman at the well we started looking for life somewhere other than God. God had only ever done us good and had unfailingly given us life but we were ungrateful and disobedient because we didn‘t trust him to keep on providing and we thought we could do better on our own.
This is the world we all find ourselves in now. There is life and goodness, but there is also death and evil. The Bible is clear that the death and evil is our fault, but that God has lovingly kept on giving us some life and goodness to keep us going. But this imperfect and short life that we know by experience is not the end of the story, because God did not just create, but became a creature. That is the story we find in the Gospels. God the Son became flesh (1:14)!
But why would God who is life and light come into the darkness that we know all too well (1:5) and die as we die under judgement?
Jesus says that he came into this world scarred by death to give us “abundant life” (10:10). All through John’s Gospel Jesus is explaining how he gives life (4:14, 4:50, 10:28, 11:43, 17:2).
God is a god who just keeps on giving, despite our ingratitude! That is truly amazing. But what is even more amazing is how he gives and how much he gives.
Jesus does not just dole out life from heaven, or just give us what he has to spare. He gives us all the life that he has because that is the only way that the death in our world can be overcome. As I have said the Bible teaches that death is in the world because of the rebellion that we have staged against the giver of life. This rebellion and lack of trust is what the Bible calls sin. To get rid of death so that life can be given again sin has to be got rid of first. So right at the beginning of John’s Gospel, John the Baptist recognises that Jesus came to take away the sin of the world by being “the Lamb of God” (1:29).
To twenty-first century Britons, “the Lamb of God” is a strange title to give Jesus, but to the Jews of Jesus’ day it was loaded with meaning. Being a lamb to the Jews meant being a sacrifice. So John was saying that Jesus came to be a sacrifice of a life that would take away our sin and death. Strikingly, right at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry John the Baptist was pointing to Jesus’ death. This was not just a prediction but was Jesus’ own intention from the very beginning (10:18). As a consequence all four Gospels are dominated by Jesus’ deliberate journey to death on a cross.
But from the larger context of John’s Gospel it emerges that John the Baptist had in mind a particular lamb sacrifice. Once a year, at Passover, Jewish families killed a lamb in the place of their eldest son. John the Baptist understood that Jesus, the Son of God, had come to die as the ultimate lamb in the place not just of one person, but of all the world.
In order to benefit from the Passover sacrifice the Jews used to eat the lamb that they had killed in the place of their son. Shockingly to the Jews that he met, Jesus says that those who want to benefit from his sacrifice have to do something similar. They have to eat him (6:51-58)!
Why does Jesus say something so disgusting?
In the first place, he says it because food is how we live. Without the energy we get from food we would die, and Jesus is saying that without him we will also die.
Secondly, by referring so starkly to his “flesh” and “blood” he is pressing home that in order for us to live he had to die. This food didn’t grow on supermarket shelves but cost him dearly.
Although it may not have been clear to the Jews listening to Jesus, it was clear to John the Gospel-writer that Jesus didn’t mean that his body was going to be carved up for the disciples to eat after he died on the cross. As we find out later in the Gospel, although Jesus died he was laid in a tomb and raised to new life in his own body, so we must “eat” him in a different way.
But how can we eat Jesus?
Many people think that in order to get eternal life we have to do something like exercise. We have to work hard at being the best person we can be and if we finish in the top few we will win a prize. But when Jesus says that to get eternal life we have to eat then that should make us realise that this is entirely the wrong way to think about things.
Instead of impressing, we get eternal life by receiving Jesus as a gift. Right at the beginning of the Gospel, John writes about people who “receive” Jesus by believing him (1:11-12). Throughout the Gospel John says that those who “believe” in Jesus have life (3:15, 4:50, 6:47, 11:26). Then at the end of the book John explains that the whole reason that he wrote it was that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life” (20:31). To eat Jesus you have to believe that he is good to eat, which means believe that he is who he says he is and that he can give life.
Jesus may be drawing a parallel with the story of how humanity lost life in the first place in the Garden of Eden. In the Garden of Eden God provided a “tree of life” which Adam and Eve ate from in order to live. They distrusted God’s promise that this tree would give them life and thought they would do better eating from another tree. Similarly we have a choice. Do we believe that Jesus can give us life by his death, or will we believe the promises of the advertisements we see, or the advice we hear, that we can get life somewhere else?
Jesus gives us his own life for free. There is nothing we have to do to enjoy it, simply take and eat and enjoy. But there are other things we can trust to give us life. Careers take our time, possessions take our money, religions take our good works, but none of them give us what they promise. Jesus said that he is “the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [him]” (14:6). As we have mentioned at the beginning “life” and relationship “to the Father” are the same thing. Without believing the Son that he is “life” from the Father we will “perish” (3:16), and be judged by the God the Father (3:36, 5:29) who will not tolerate us calling his beloved Son a liar. Without his sacrificial death to take away our sin, we remain stuck with the consequences of the choice of humanity from Adam to the present day to disbelieve God and chose the wrong meal. So like Adam and Eve, we will remain hungry and thirsty, dissatisfied, and ultimately we will decay and die.
How much better to chose life? To chose a relationship with God the Father who is more awe-inspiring than the universe he created and more loving than anyone we have ever met. To chose to know Jesus as our brother who was willing to die for us even when we disregarded him. To chose to receive God the Holy Spirit to live with us (14:17). God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit united in giving us themselves at such great cost!
It may seem odd that Jesus presents himself as a free gift which we just need to receive. Jesus predicts that believing his offer for life may mean that people mock you or worse (15:18-20). Believing Jesus also means we will trust him when he says that the best thing for us to do with our lives is to love people to the extent that he loved us (13:34). That cost him his life, so if we believe him we will seek to give up all that we have for the sake of other people, including our money, time and care.
In some ways this is a ‘cost’ of believing in Jesus. But as when a husband gives himself to his wife she shares his possessions along with him, we will one day also share in all that he possesses. As the bride of the owner of the universe the church will be given the whole earth to share with him. All those things that we may end up giving up when we believe Jesus’ radical promise to provide all we need to live, we don’t really give up because we will receive them all back when we are married to Jesus when he comes again (cf. 3:29, 2 Cor 11:12, Eph 5:29-32, Rev 19:7). Jesus gave up everything, even his life, and yet was given everything including his life back again from the Father as a gift. As followers in a similar way we may lose everything but we will also receive everything, and more, back from the Son when we are raised from the dead (4:14, 4:50, 5:29, 10:28, 11:43, 14:19, 17:2). As Jesus says, whoever “loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (12:25).
So if you want to have the life Jesus promises, in relationship with his living Father and by his Spirit, then we must come to him (5:40), look to him (6:40), listen to him (5:25), and believe him. There is no other place to find eternal life (6:68), and there is no better life to live than one of perfect relationship with God and each other (Chap 17).
“Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8).
Robert Jenson points out the need to read the Bible as narrative to see the persons of the Trinity as dramatis personae in the Old Testament:
The church has its own way of reading Scripture. There are others. By way of putting the contrast let me say a word or two about the other most important way - Rabbinic Judaism...
Rabbinic Judaism reads the Old Testament fundamentally as Torah - guidance for life. The narrative simply provides the context. Now, this is obviously a perfectly possible way of reading the Old Testament, but it is not the Church's.... The Church's second volume, the New Testament, is fundamentally narrative, with comment on the narrative. The Church then reads the Old Testament from this viewpoint. From the viewpoint of this new volume and accordingly reads the Old Testament basically as narrative, with Torah and Wisdom and Prophecy providing the moral and spiritual context...
The narrative is of God's history with his people from creation to fulfilment...it is an obvious question, but one too often not asked, 'how would a narrative display the reality of God?'
How for example would a narrative show that God is merciful? Not primarily by pronouncing the proposition 'God is merciful', though it can do that too. Rather, by telling and pondering his merciful behaviour. Or by recording prayers uttered by his people on the way, prayers for mercy that are answered. Or by telling stories of heroes of Israel who found mercy with God...
So how would a narrative tell us that God is one God and three persons? It would not do it primarily, or perhaps even at all, by saying 'God is three persons' a proposition that indeed never appears in Scripture, but rather by telling a history of God with us which displays three actors, or as David Scaer put it 'three performers', of that history. Each of which is indeed other than the other two, and yet is at the same time the same God as the other two.
(10:00-14:50, MP3 lecture, Confessions - The Bible and the Trinity)
Richard Bauckham stresses that we should consider the concept of "divine identity" when reading the New Testament to find out the true identity, and not the nature, of Jesus Christ:
The God of Israel had a unique identity...the biblical God has a name and a character, since this God acts, speaks, relates, can be addressed and, in some sense, known...
personal identity [is] a concern with who God is. The value of the concept of divine identity appears partly if we contrast it with a concept of divine essence or nature. Identity concerns who God is; nature concerns what God is or what divinity is...That God is eternal, for example - a claim essential to all Jewish thinking about God - is not so much a statement about what divine nature is, more an element in the unique divine identity, along with claims that God alone created all things and rules all things, that God is gracious and merciful and just, that God brought Israel out of Egypt and made Israel his own people and gave Israel his law at Sinai and so on. If we wish to know in what Second Temple Judaism considered the uniqueness of the one God to consist, what distinguished God as unique from all other reality, including beings worshipped as gods by Gentiles, we must not look for a definition of divine nature but for ways of characterizing the unique divine identity...
Once the category of divine identity replaces those of function and nature as the primary and comprehensive category for understanding both Jewish monotheism and early Christology, we can see that the New Testament's lack of concern with the divine nature of Christ is by no means an indication of a merely functional Christology. We can see that, throughout the New Testament texts, there is a clear and deliberate use of the characteristics of the unique divine identity to include Jesus in that identity. Once we have rid ourselves of the prejudice that high Christology must speak of Christ's divine nature, we can see the obvious fact that the Christology of divine identity common to the whole New Testament is the highest Christology of all. It identifies Jesus as intrinsic to who God is.
(pp.6-31, Richard Bauckham, "God Crucified" in Jesus and the God of Israel)
- The gift of generosity (HT: God So Loved He Gave, website of the book - check it out)
- Fred Sanders: Soteriology (no it really is sitting down for an hour and watching this - really it is!)
- Tim Chester recommends Therefore Go by Andrew Baughen. I second that!
- Peter Leithart has some interesting comments on NT Wright and justification.
- MP3 of Robert Jenson on the Trinity in the Bible (particularly in the OT, best stuff in the first half I think)
- Have I told you to read this book yet? :-)
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
"Jesus is... Israel condensed into One. The obedient and faithful Israel... Matthew emphasises that Jesus is to be seen as Israel. Jesus recapitulates and and fulfils Israel's history. As for example he is called out of Egypt and tested for a period of forty in the wilderness"
(Paul R. Raabe, 31:20, MP3, Delighting in the Good Law of Yahweh: An Old Testament Perspective)
Saturday, April 16, 2011
`But for all this, I feel not Christ so to me,' says the smoking flax, `but rather the clean contrary. He seems to be an enemy to me. I see and feel evidences of his just displeasure:
Christ may act the part of an enemy a little while, as Joseph did, but it is to make way for acting his own part of mercy in a more seasonable time. He cannot restrain his bowels of mercy long. He seems to wrestle with us, as with Jacob, but he supplies us with hidden strength to prevail at length. Faith pulls off the mask from his face and sees a loving heart under contrary appearances. Fides Christo larvam detrahit (Faith pulls away the mask from Christ).
"O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?" (Ps 88:14)
TF Torrance, and others, critique a Christianity with a "God behind the back of Jesus Christ" (p.248, The Christian Doctrine of God). Rightly, Torrance is concerned that for many people Jesus is the friendly face of God, but behind the mask they believe that there stands the more fundamental, more true and more complete God who predestines some to salvation/damnation and causes earthquakes etc. Torrance and others therefore reject the long-standing theology of the "Hidden God".
But there is better option and that is to understand the Hidden God is God wearing the mask of his wrath and not the God behind the mask. I.e. the Hidden God is not the God behind the mask, but the mask itself. Jesus Christ is where that mask is removed and we see God as he truly and completely is. As far as I understand it that is what Luther (and others) mean when they vigorously teach the Hidden God. For someone so saturated in both the Psalms and experience as Luther this is understandable. In several Psalms we read the Psalmist addressing the Revealed God, asking why he is the Hidden God in their experience. As Oswald Bayer notes, the Hidden God "does not allow himself to be addressed directly" so the prayer of the Psalmist is always addressed the Revealed God. They appeal to the Revealed God to act consistently with who he has revealed himself to be in his past works, promises, and supremely in Jesus Christ.
Why does God hide himself? The only answer we ever get is because of our sin. It was because of our sin that he hid himself behind the curtains of the Tabernacle and the walls of the Temple. It was because of sin that he refused to listen to prayers of rebellious Israel. But in the Gospel we are promised that the hiding is over, the curtain has been torn.
There are still experiences and even doctrines where he is hidden to us. To deny that is to walk by sight and not by faith, over-realise our eschatology, and cut us off from any point of contact with non-Christians living in this present evil age. But for Christians we know there is a time and place where we can see God and address him. Through Jesus Christ we can see through to the future, the Most Holy Place and God the Father. To those with intellectual and heartfelt questions about the God who is hidden to them we point them to Jesus Christ where we can really see who God is.
Friday, April 15, 2011
'...preaching in its essence is an authorized human being speaking the words of God to listening human beings; and every culture understands that.
An interactive Bible study is not culturally-neutral. To sit around drinking coffee with a book open, reading and talking about that book in a way that forces me to keep looking at that book and finding my place and showing a high level of mental agility, functional literacy, spoken coherence and fluency, that is something that only some of the human race are comfortable doing. Not everyone feels comfortable when the bright spark in the corner pipes up, "Ah, yes, but I was wondering about the significance of the word "However" in verse 3b. What do you think about that?" Some of us love that kind of seminar interaction, but many do not. For those who can do it, it may way be profitable; but many people can't, and just feel daunted or excluded by the exercise.
In some churches we have slipped into assuming that personal Bible reading and one-to-one Bible studies and Bible study groups are the normative way for Christian people to hear the Word of God. This, we say, is what a healthy Christian life looks like. But in redefining the Christian life like that we may unwittingly have alienated the illiterate, the functionally illiterate, the less-educated, those less confident in studying a text. I wonder if, quite unintentionally, we may have contributed to making some of our churches more monocultural than they might otherwise be. Paradoxically it is not that preaching is culturally outmoded, but rather that the study of written Biblical texts is culturally narrow.'
(HT Ed Shaw, Christopher Ash, The Priority of Preaching, p.28)
Sunday, April 10, 2011
A doctrine of salvation that pits God’s justice against God’s love and mercy — what Karl Barth called a theology of "God against God" — is bad theology. This posits a rift in God's being and preaches a God that is inauthentic to the "good news" of Holy Scripture. This is not to deny that wrath and judgment are vital aspects of Christian soteriology. But we have to make sure that (in Barth’s words, again) we are not proclaiming that the No of God is the first word or the last word to men and women.
This is really at the heart of what I read as many Lutheran critiques of Barth. Many Lutherans seem to see in Barth a denial that we are always in relationship to God, even before the preached word. This is a relationship with what Forde calls the God-not-preached, or the hidden God. The God-not-preached is the same loving Creator God, but his primary word to a sinful world is "No". The God-preached however is the God of the Gospel who says "Yes" to us.
I'm not 100% convinced by either Barth or Forde but it is KEY that the God-not-preached, is NOT the God we should be preaching. On this both Barth and Forde agree, although Forde recognises the importance of acknowledging the experience of the God-not-preached.
But experientially, I do appreciate what Forde (and other Lutherans in the same line) has to say, even if it causes me more headaches:
From Luther's perspective, the question about whether we in our Angechtungen wrestle with God, and do not solely experience God as gracious, is quite plausible. Believers and non-believers deal with this hidden God in their various life experiences, precisely in their attempts to master the world and their fate. It is the role of the gospel to turn us to the "preached God," who through Jesus Christ as sacramentum gives us assurance with regard to God's disposition toward us. The person of faith holds this "hidden God" accountable to the promise, even appealing to God against God!
(p. 40, Mark C. Mattes, The role of justification in contemporary theology)
This post is a bit of a 'first thoughts' post. It is really a marker for future discussion. If I ever get time to read some proper theology again, I would like it to be Barth and Lutherans on just this topic.
Mike Bird explains how he sees Penal Substitution and Christus Victor as interconnected:
CV and PSA go together because Jesus is only Christus Victor because he is also Agnus Dei. PSA deprives the Satan of his key weapon: accusation against the saints!....Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 15 both start off with the sacrificial nature of Jesus' death, but then climax in affirmations of divine victory! PSA is the basis for CV, but CV is then the goal of PSA.
He explains that of the two he thinks that CV is more "comprehensive". I think I prefer when he says it is the "goal", in the same way that the Resurrection is the climax of the one work that included the Crucifixion.
Friday, April 08, 2011
Why be good?
The objective existence of a good creator means there is a universal meaning of goodness.
What kind of good?
God, pre-eminently in Jesus in his cross-centred mission to the world, as a demonstration of what good is.
How is it possible to be good?
The Gospel as the only way in which change can happen so that people become consistently good.
[Seems a good structure for presenting the moral argument in it's fullness - inspired by Michael Green's approach]
I've been dipping into a old book by Michael Green called Runaway World. Very stimulating and well written. He explains that to many people:
Christianity is the religious man's form of escaping from reality; it is his private way of 'getting away from it all'.
I believe this charge to be largely though not entirely false. Certainly we live in a runaway world, but for the most part it is not the Christians who are running away from reality. We have our escapists in the churches, no doubt. But this book is written in the conviction that the Christian faith itself is the very antithesis of escapism. It provides us with the most credible account of the universe and man's place in it, with the motive and the dynamic for serving our fellow men, with the ability to face the harshest of situations with realism, and with a message of urgent relevance to the many who suspect Christians of escapism but are themselves running away from truth. The issue before us in this book resolves itself into this question: 'Who are the escapists?'
The chapter titles are:
- Running away from history
- Running away from science
- Running away from reality
- Running away from adventure
- Running away from Christ
In each chapter he explains the charge that people level at Christians and shows how Christianity in comparison to many other worldviews is actually the least guilty of that charge.
It is the first time I've read a Michael Green book and I love his style, approach, knowledge and heart. It won't be the last.
Sadly, it is out of print, it assumes too much knowledge for many, and is very of-its-time, so is not the kind of book you can give away (feast your eyes on the cover). But someone else loved it enough to put online (probably illegally but I suspect Michael Green doesn't mind) so you can read it if you like.
I mention it because I think this is really good apologetics. Escapism along with immorality are two of the biggest charges people level against Christianity in my experience. Engaging with the questions and acknowledging their weight, turning the questions back on the questioner, and presenting Christ as an answer of truth and beauty seems the way to respond.
Again, a friend showed me part of what is going on in Romans. Romans 3:1-20 is saturated in talk about talk.
v. 2: The Jews have the Oracles of God, God's word in the OT.
v.4a: People speak lies, but God is true.
v.4b: God's "words" will be "justified" and shown to be true.
v.5: Our lies actually serve to show the truthfulness of God, because God has previously declared us liars.
v. 7: So, through my lying "God's truth abounds to his glory".
v.7: But we don't take this easily and still we question why we being condemned. We continue to question God, to put him in the dock and charge him with claiming to be just when actually he is not being. We call God a liar.
v.8: This is slander against God and is mirrored in slander against his apostles. But as has been said, that person is condemned by their own words.
v.11-18: In the OT God speaks judgement, particularly against the use of the mouth ("throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceives. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness")
v. 19: Why does God speak like this? "so that every mouth may be stopped."
No more questions.
Actually, genuine questions are good...
Why should we celebrate the justification of God in his contention against humanity? The answer must be Jesus. It is because God's justification is in the incarnate Christ it is also the justification of sinful humanity too! Our justification is God's justification.
In faith, one takes the side of God in his claim against one's self, giving God justice. At the same time, one takes hold of God's gift in Christ, whom he has 'put forward' as an atonement and in whom he has taken the side of the sinner. In Christ and in faith, the justification of God the Creator meets the justification of the godless.
(Mark A. Seifrid, p. 18, 'The "New Perspective on Paul" and Its Problems', Themelios, Issue 25-2)
Thursday, April 07, 2011
How can we know that God hates evil? How can we know what hell is like? How can we believe that justice is done in this universe?
- Romans 1:18-32: It is seen in our experience - just look around, and you can see hell.
- Romans 3:1-20: It is declared verbally in the Bible which repeatedly shows that we are in the wrong and the consequences of that.
- Romans 3:21-31: It is executed to the full on Jesus Christ
It is important to see that each is clearer than the one proceeding it.
There is a crescendo as the ugly theme becomes louder and louder, so that it is tempting to cover your ears.
Irreligious folks block their ears early in the crescendo when they suppress the knowledge of God in their experience.
Religious folks hear what their experience says, but when things become sharper and more personal when God addresses them in the Bible they put a different kind of ear-plug in. They say the Bible isn't really addressed to them because it was for a different era, or that it was for the younger son living immorally far from home.
But Christians listen to the full crescendo despite the unpleasantness. This is not because they rejoice in the oppressive noise but because they want to have their ears utterly unblocked for the crash at the end which ends that discordant note and marks the beginning of a new and beautiful melody.
Saturday, April 02, 2011
Listening to: Sovereign Grace: The Cross-Centred Life
We tried to cut God out of the picture...
- We were still running away when God took the initiative.
rescued us from God
- We have many secondary things we need to be rescued from, but our ultimate problem is God and his wrath.
- We are powerless to save ourselves, but God in sending his Son and pouring out his Spirit has rescued us.
- We are brought to receive many secondary gifts (good works, wealth, health, heaven, etc) but the ultimate gift is a relationship to God himself.
- Our happiness is not the end of this story. It is all to, and for the purpose of, the glory of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I was reflecting this evening about where in the story I tend to cut God out of the picture... probably all over the place:
- I don't celebrate that God has predestined the gathering in of his people and think that it is down to chance and human decision.
- I don't show the full depth of the seriousness of our plight, as I describe our unsatisfied longings, or even death, as the worst consequence of sin.
- I don't trust that the cross achieved our salvation, but think that it just made it possible. I doubt that the Spirit can do anything without our permitting him to first.
- I don't treasure God himself, but love the gifts far above the giver.
- I see myself as the end of history. God was acting to save me - end of story. Even if I see God throughout the story, I see myself at the centre.
Where do you cut God out of the story you tell yourself and others?
"For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." (Rom 11:36)