Not to Be ‘Liked’ But to Love the World

Do we want to be liked so much by the world, our peers, that we are willing to not love them? That is a question I am currently wrestling with. As I engage the world in a new context, through new employment, I am confronted with this reality all over again. We are created as social creatures, in the image of a God who is a community of persons in the Triune life. I think it is quite natural to want to be accepted, to have the opportunity for socialization among our peers; whether that be in our families, at church, at school, or work. But Christians have a different perspective about social engagement, it is never an end in itself, at whatever level. Our calling is to be set apart even as we are the most worldly people on earth; most worldly in the sense that Christ became one of us, and all of us in the Incarnation. So not only do we have the challenge of being in the world, and not of the world (in one sense), we have the challenge of being lights in the world, and for the world, in a way that always keeps the love of God in Christ as the frame of reference through which we engage others; whether that engagement be at the level of home/family life, or whether that be among our non-believing peers who hate Jesus by their lifestyle, if not their words.

After I had cancer, and made it through what should have been a terminal cancer (statistically), it only reaffirmed what the Lord had already been working in my life for many years prior; that I am not my own, that I have been bought with a price, the price being the precious and imperishable blood of Jesus Christ. And in this possessing of my life, on his part, I have been impressed over and again that whether I live or die, I am the Lord’s, and it is for him and from him and his resurrected life that I have the resource and perspective to press on as one ‘sent out’ as I participate in the sent out life of God in Jesus Christ through his heavenly priestly session that he lives in for those who not only have but who will inherit his life eternal. I have come to realize, even though the shadows of this world system impinge upon the clarity of my realization, that I am only here for a short time, and in this short time I can only be an ambassador for Christ, I can only do good for him and from him in this particular moment, if indeed I redeem the time now; since today is the day of salvation!

If I am going to live with a perspective that is outside of myself, that is alien to my own ‘down to earth’ perspective, that flows from Immanuel’s veins, I will be more concerned with loving others, and losing myself, that I might find myself with Christ as I serve others through proclaiming the Gospel in and through every inch of my body and tongue. I will not be concerned with being liked by others, even if that happens, I will be more concerned about other’s well-being in Christ; since I realize, by faith, even if they don’t that they have been given an abundant life that the enemy continually is seeking to rob, kill and destroy. I will understand that the things of this world grow faintly dim in the light of Christ’s glory and grace; and at the same time realize that the things of this world are the very things that Christ came to redeem. My mission then, in Christ, is to tell the world what has happened to it; to invite it to a repentant life, and to begin to enjoy the abundant life that God in Christ desires for all, for the many.

Christianity from the Culturally Infused

There are so many perceptions of what Christianity represents, and folks out there, in the “world” often attempt to understand what Christianity is, as a religion, from whatever their personal encounters with it has been. In newsweekfact today, I had an experience like this, an experience with a new co-worker who is realizing that I am different; different not because I am a weirdo, per se (although my wife thinks I am), but because I don’t run with the crowd, and I have a certain morality that is at odds with the one adopted by so many in the world (like hedonism). And so this represents one example of how a person “out there” might perceive Christianity; i.e. by reducing it to a certain moralistic position that he has built up based upon his own past experiences with Christianity.

Beyond these kinds of somewhat simplistic perceptions of Christianity as a religion, there have been more sophisticated constructions, or deconstructions of Christianity based upon certain types of criteria that Christianity’s critics have developed based upon their commitments to naturalism, or a certain kind of Kantian dualism, expressed, even still, through positivism. It is this kind of approach to understanding what Christianity is that I want to engage with throughout the remainder of this post; and yet as I engage with this (maybe somewhat outdated approach to Christianity, although I don’t really think it is), what should emerge is how in fact people’s perceptions of Christianity, even simplistic ones, have developed from a certain understanding of what ‘faith’ and ‘pietism’ entails.

Herman Bavinck, a Dutch Reformed (and I mean a genuine Dutchman) theologian from the late 19th century has this to say about some of the critics of his day, in regard to developing critiques of Christianity, as well as demonstrating just how Christianity has come to be understood (especially in North America) as a privatized-subjectivized thing. Here Bavinck writes how “experience” was understood among the critics that he himself is criticizing:

But in this way the word “experience” is made to play an ambiguous role. When used in religion and theology, it has a wholly different significance from that which it bears in empirical science. In the latter what is meant is, that, by consistent application of the empirical method, personal interest in the inquiry is to be excluded as much as possible, and that the phenomena are observed and explained in their purity and impartially; empiricism even calls to its help the experimental proof. But when men speak of experience in religion, they mean it to be understood, on the other hand, that religion is, or at any rate must become, a personal matter through and through. Religion is, according to this interpretation, no doctrine, no precept, no history, no worship, in a word, not a belief on authority, nor a consent to truth, but arises from within, when the heart is touched and a personal fellowship established between God and our soul….[1]

It is really easy to see how what Bavinck is describing above has played out in North American evangelical Christianity; how a piety and in-ward individualistic religion has developed that no longer has the capacity to contradict and shape it by the Word of God. Christianity for so many has become whatever the particular North American evangelical wants it to be for them; if that means a legalistic Christianity, then so be it!; if that means an antinomian loosely lived Christianity, so be it; etc.

I wonder, honestly, if North American evangelical Christianity has the theological resource to repent of such sordid inwardness and self-centeredness, and come back to her first love?! My friend at work has every right to read Christianity the way that he does; it has been modeled for him, in spades, all over our American society.

The critics of Bavinck’s day helped to develop the intellectual space for pietistic Christianity to develop; unfortunately, so many Christians (myself included, at points) have helped to concretize this space into a foundational cornerstone of what it means to be a Christian. And not just for the Christian who lives this way (i.e. a personalized Christianity), but for those who we live with, day in, day out; we have the extra burden at points, of educating folks about such things.
[1] Herman Bavinck, The Philosophy of Revelation, loc 2786 kindle.

Rambling About my Blogging and Theological Slump

I have almost lost all motivation for blogging, it isn’t what it used to be when I started back in 2005 (wow! over 9 years ago now)! Life has gone on, things have been changing in my life, and my time is almost totally used up for other things at the moment (primarily training with the railroad, which is ongoing for another 4 months, at least!). But it is more than that, in some ways my urge to even read theology is almost totally dried up for some reason as well. I think the primary reason for that, at the moment (I don’t see this is a forever reality), is that I have no personal outlet. I have no one to disciple (which I have been doing in the past in informal and formal ways with various guys etc), I am not around anyone who is really interested in fellowshipping around the truths of Scripture and theological reality. I have attempted to do stuff at a couple of different churches we have attended over the years, as far as teaching etc., and it just has never gotten off the ground; even if I was approached to do so more than once at one particular church. I don’t really no what it is, but nothing has ever opened up for me at church. Part of my problem, that way, is that we have largely been affiliated with denominations that are low church, anti-intellectual (and use this for lack of better term), and who don’t place a high premium on theological education for church people and/or discipleship and Christian education. But really, I have been deeply motivated in the past to read and think theologically because of the community of God, the church, and my connection with them; and with folks within that community who are thinker types, or just types who are on fire for Jesus and can’t get enough insight on him, and who can’t get enough of their questions answered.

Anyway, I am just venting right now, and being real. I can never really imagine a time when I won’t be theological in my orientation, it is how the Lord has wired me for sure (I’m just a Christian really)! And even when I don’t feel like reading theology, per se, I always do, because I know that even in these slumps  I need to keep pushing forward and growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ; and I need to be prepared for whenever the Lord might want to use me next (even if that means primarily at his coming, I don’t know).

Images of the Image of the Imago Dei, The Vicarious Humanity

I love thinking about this reality, it is life-changing! Check out the following, something I posted quite awhile ago, originally.

Here is a good quote from Greek Orthodox theologian Khaled Anatolios on the vicarious humanity of Christ and Incarnation:

A helpful way to synthesize the argument of Against the Greeks—On the Incarnation and to integrate it with Athanasius’s later and more explicitly polemical work is to focus on the trintarian-christological-athanasiusanthropological nexus that forms the guiding motif of the work: only the One who is true Image can renew humanity’s being according to the image (kat’ eikona). The trinitarian ground of this nexus is the immediate relation (though we do not find the later technical vocabulary of “relation” in this treatise) whereby the Son is the Image of the Father. The soteriological consequence of this immediacy is that the Son is uniquely able to grant direct and immediate access to the Father. The statement that humanity was created according to the Image is simultaneously anthropological and christological: to be created according to the Image is to be granted a participation in the one who is the true and full Image of the Father. When humanity lost its stability, which depended on remaining in the state of being according to the Image, the incarnate Word repaired the image of God in humanity by reuniting it with his own divine imaging of the Father. Jesus Christ is therefore both eternal divine Image and restored human image. The saving union of divine and human image in Christ is characterized by immediacy. One foundational principle of Athanasius’s theological vision is this stress on the continuity of immediate connections between God and humanity and a corresponding abhorrence of obstacles and opaque mediations. As perfect Image, the Son is immediately united to the Father and transparently reflects knowledge of the Father; anything short of this immediate and transparent relation would deconstruct our immediate connection with the Father through the Son from the divine side. Through his incarnation, the Son repairs our human participation in his imaging of the Father from within the human constitution; anything short of a full incarnation would leave humans disconnected from both Father and Son. Thus, incarnation and the full divinity of the Son are both integral to the immediacy of our contact with the Father. Far from indicating inferior divinity, the human life and death of Jesus Christ extend the efficacy of is divine imaging of the Father in the face of humanity’s loss of the state of being according to the image. It is a wonderful display of the loving-kindness that belongs to the divine nature as such, the philanthrōpia that is equally shared by Father and Son. [Khaled Anatolios,Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine,(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011), 107-8.]

So we are images of the Image in the Son as we participate from His life for us. He is the Image of God, and the recreated image of the image that was originally created in the garden in Adam and Eve. So Christ was the human image of God whom Adam and Eve reflected as the image of the image first. It is only as this image is recreated and restored through the ‘firstborn status’ of the Son (Col. 1.15ff) that salvation and reconciliation is realized for us in Christ. This fits well with Thomas Torrance’s understanding of Theosis, and his ontological theory of the atonement; and something that is central to what Myk Habets and I consider to be the grist of evangelical Calvinist soteriology.

 

Talking About God on Facebook from ‘The Faith of God’ instead of ‘The Faith of Man and Woman’

Recently I’ve been having some encounters with a former classmate of facebook-iconmine from my last two years of high school, apparently he no longer believes in the existence of God, and for that matter the existence of Jesus Christ. We’ve been having these encounters on Facebook (where else?!), and it has involved a bit of rough-and-tumble exchange about the points I just mentioned above (God’s existence in general, and Jesus’ in particular). What these encounters have illustrated for me personally is that my knee-jerk responses, in default mode are to refer back to evidentiary arguments (historical as well as philosophical) for the existence of God. It is this mode of engagement, and this style of apologetics and evangelism I  became very used to from my past, which involved training in philosophical apologetics as well as doing so from the analytical, even classical tradition (at least classical in one prominent stream of things). Indeed, many of my responses to my former classmate might even fit into the kind of ‘faith’ that B.B. Warfield helped to shape back in early 20th century North America Christian Fundamentalism; note what he communicates about the faith he was so committed to:

It is the distinction of Christianity that it has come into the world clothed with the mission to reason its way to its dominion. Other religions may appeal to the sword, or seek some other way to propagate themselves. Christianity makes its appeal to right reason, and stands out among all religions, therefore, as distinctively “the Apologetic religion.” It is solely by reasoning that it has come thus far on its way to its kingship. And it is solely by reasoning that it will put all its enemies under its feet.[1]

But you know what? In reality I am really not an advocate of such an approach. I do still believe there is value to historical work in Jesus studies, and even value in employing philosophical tools for helping to provide precision in articulation of the Christian faith. And yet, what I have become an advocate for is more of a fideistic approach, an approach where Christ is the key, and his reality as the second person of the Trinity is presumed upon (without the burden to prove it to unbelievers) without argument; presumed upon to fund the categories, the ‘revealed’ categories by which we know the Christian God. Here is Thomas F. Torrance commenting on what I see as the boundary for how we approach talk about God, in general; in this quote Torrance is summarizing how Karl Barth understood the boundaries and order of theological engagement and talk:

Because Jesus Christ is the Way, as well as the Truth and the Life, theological thought is limited and bounded and directed by this historical reality in whom we meet the Truth of God. That prohibits theological thought from wandering at will across open country, from straying over history in general or from occupying itself with some other history, rather than this concrete history in the centre of all history. Thus theological thought is distinguished from every empty conceptual thought, from every science of pure possibility, and from every kind of merely formal thinking, by being mastered and determined by the special history of Jesus Christ.[2]

The Impact

So how should the above, and my approval of what Torrance and Barth are talking impact the way I approach apologetical, theological, and evangelistic talk in general? I think that, one way evangelistic talk is impacted by my commitment to a ‘revelational’ approach requires explanation, and definition about what I mean by ‘faith’, and ‘revelation’ in contrast to what most people mean by faith and revelation. I think my engagement with my friend should have involved less posturing in regard to the power that historical evidence has, and more emphasis upon who God has revealed himself to be in Jesus Christ; and then allow the force and power of that within the narrative of God’s own revealed life to shape my responses.

Sometimes it is better to reframe questions instead of attempting to answer questions on their terms, especially when those questions are not being informed by the categories provided for by the Self revelation of God in Jesus Christ. So I am still learning, eh! Aren’t we all?

 

 

[1] George Marsden citing B.B. Warfield, Fundamentalism And American Culture, 115.

[2] Thomas F. Torrance, Karl Barth: An Introduction to His Early Theology 1910-1931, 196.

What is Federal or Covenant Theology?

The following is a post I wrote just over two years ago, buried at another blog of mine, so it should be fresh for all the readers here. I think it is important for people to understand what Federal or Covenant theology is, because it impacts almost all North American evangelical theology to one extent or another. Even many dispensationalists imbibe many of the themes (as far as salvation history etc) of Covenant theology, and maybe to the surprise of some, one of the most prominent biblical theologians of our day–N.T. Wright–follows the covenantal scheme or trajectory of Covenant theology in pretty robust ways. Anyway, I thought I would repost this for anyone interested in engaging with this issue once again. 

Heinrich_Bullinger

Heinrich Bullinger

It is something that T.F. Torrance rejected, and it is something that I have written about elsewhere, here. It is also something I often critique in various ways here (in various ways, to one degree or another). So to add to my online interactions with the venerable (for some) Federal Theology of strains of classic Calvinism, let me provide another definition by Dewey D. Wallace, Jr. from his book Shapers of English Calvinism 1660-1714. He writes of Federal Theology:

[A] second development in English Calvinist thought, also international in its scope, was the rising importance of federal theology. Federal theology built upon the covenant theology of the Reformers, especially that of Heinrich Bullinger, Zwingli’s successor of at Zurich, and also of Calvin. For Bullinger, God had made one covenant with humanity, the covenant of grace, known by anticipation in the times of the Old Testament and by remembrance after the coming of Christ. For Calvin too there was but one covenant, that of Grace, but he stressed its testamentary character whereas Bullinger spoke of it as more conditional, although for both the covenant was the means in a history of salvation by which God unfolded his purposes. At the end of the sixteenth century, the Heidelberg Reformed theologians Zacharias Ursinus, Caspar Olevianus, and Franciscus Junius shaped the idea of a covenant of works distinct from and preceding the covenant of grace. Important English Calvinists, beginning with Dudley Fenner and including many later Puritans, adopted this double covenant federal theology with its covenant of works made with Adam, the federal head of humanity, to be followed, after the fall of Adam, with the covenant of grace, which was anticipated in Moses and fulfilled in Christ, the federal head of redeemed humanity. This federal theology was not only a pedagogically useful and biblically warranted scheme for organizing theology but also “a useful vehicle of the gospel message,” closely related to the flowering of Calvinist piety. [Dewey D. Wallace, Jr., Shapers of English Calvinism 1660-1714: Variety, Persistence, and Transformation,(New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 16-7]

So more of a sketch here rather than a definition.

Myk Habets and I, as Evangelical Calvinists, affirm one covenant of grace as I have posted one of our Theses from our soon to be released book, here. In light of my belief in one covenant of grace (notice Dewey underscores Calvin’s belief in ‘one covenant’ of grace too, I obviously think expanding this covenantal framework into a so called ‘bi-lateral’ or ‘two-winged’ understanding constitutes a deleterious move, but one that is natural to how classic Calvinists conceive of their doctrine of God. Without getting too deep into the weeds on this, and especially the respective doctrine of God behind Federal Theology; the biggest problem I see with this double covenant schema, propounded by Federal theology, is its placement of creation over against Creator. There is a dualist wedge placed between humanity, for example, and Creator; such that the unity of Christ’s person in the incarnation becomes disjointed—I digress.

One of the bigger pastoral and soteriological problems I see with Federal Theology, and its dualistic conception of salvation, is that a bridge outside of the unitary person of Christ is needed to bridge the gap between a sinful humanity and a holy Creator. It is this bridge that then shapes how Jesus must act in his saving act (or the conditions of the Covenant of Works), and thus the person of Jesus as the God-Man is decoupled; the Man part trying to meet the conditions of uniting sinful humanity to God, thus impinging on the shape of the God part in Jesus. With the consequence being that the Divine Person, Jesus Christ becomes subservient to his creation, all in the name of bridging the gap between part of humanity (the elect) and God. Matt Frost, a Barthian-Lutheran theologian and friend, provided a critique of this kind of stuff in a recent comment that I think is apropos for my own critique; Frost writes:

[...] I find classical Calvinism lacking in its doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ because it becomes an extension of the division of God from creation, up into the godhead. If the vicarious humanity of Christ is a perpetual intercessory appeasement of the Father, we have a broken doctrine of God. There is only part of God in Christ, and part of God to be appeased by him. The vicariousness becomes Jesus doing our actions for us, and correctly, in order to please God. “Our great high priest.” The whole cultic mechanism of appeasement elevated into the heavens and done for us. [see the full comment here]

Federal Theology introduces a division of God from creation, as Matt puts it, so that Jesus in seeking and saving the lost actually ends up losing his identity as the eternal Logos because he is no longer the Word over creation, but the Word subservient and under creation.

Practical Takeaway

Federal Theology is a historically situated scheme of thinking, but, unfortunately, there are some today who seek to repristinate or redress this schema for contemporary Christianity (I have friends who have been taken captive, to one degree or the other). I am only left to wonder why? Why do people today seek to re-present this scheme of theology when we have moved in constructive ways (and even through constructive retrieval) into constructive Trinitarian theology. Theology that emphasizes God’s unity in his diversity, and theology that emphasizes God’s loving and gracious way amongst us. Why would we want to go back to a theological construct that has obvious and fundamental flaws relative to how it thinks about God, and then how God must relate to his creation? I think a lot of this simply has to do with cultural forces, and lack of exposure to sound Trinitarian theology (the kind that EC tries to imbibe); more than it does with blatant disregard for thinking according to said Trinitarian theology. Which continues to provide impetus for me to write about such things online. amen.

Reformed Theology Rocks!

Reformed theology rocks, for a variety of reasons. I am currently reading Jan Rohls book Reformed Confessions: Theology from Zurich to Barmen. Columbia Series In Reformed Theology, which is a resource I briefly referenced in a chapter I wrote for our edited book Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church. As I have been reading this book I have been getting encouraged again about why Reformed theology is such a boon for the weary theological soul.

Primarily the thing that has attracted me most to Reformed theology over the years is of a dogmatic interest; i.e. the Sovereign reality of who the Triune God is, and the primacy of grace serve to shape the Reformed theological trajectory in ways that other theological approaches do not, in my view. Truly, there are different ways to emphasize this reality within the Reformed approach[es], and we as evangelical Calvinists have our own unique way of emphasizing who God is for us in Christ, but in the main there is a common thread that unites all instances of Reformed theology; that common theme, again, is an emphasis upon who God is, and the primacy of grace in a God-world/Creator-creature relation.

For example there is something very comforting that arises from the words found in the Heidelberg Catechism, in regard to who God is, and what our relation to him is. When you are reading the Heidelberg Catechism you will immediately be confronted with question 1 that says this:

Question 1.

What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer.

That I with body and soul, both in life and death, (a) am not my own, (b) but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; (c) who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, (d) and delivered me from all the power of the devil; (e) and so preserves me (f) that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; (g) yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, (h) and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, (i) and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him. (j) (a) Rom.14:7,8. (b) 1 Cor.6:19. (c) 1 Cor.3:23; Tit.2:14. (d) 1Pet.1:18,19; 1 John 1:7; 1 John 2:2,12. (e) Heb.2:14; 1 John 3:8; John 8:34-36. (f) John 6:39; John 10:28; 2 Thess.3:3; 1 Pet.1:5. (g) Matt.10:29-31; Luke 21:18. (h) Rom.8:28. (i) 2 Cor.1:20-22; 2 Cor.5:5; Eph.1:13,14; Rom.8:16. (j) Rom.8:14; 1 John 3:3.

This is a perfect example of the kind of riches available for the Christian person who takes advantage of the heritage provided for in the Reformed Christian faith. There is a hope and a warmth in knowing God as Father, and that we are related to him as a result of his love for us in the dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ, and that our relationship to this Father-Son God is assured and guaranteed to us by the person and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is this Triune reality that Reformed theology, from a Protestant vantage point, does such a good job of emphasizing.

On a personal note: One reason I find this so encouraging is that this heritage is such a harbinger to my weary soul as I engage with the world who rejects, by and large, thoughtfulness about life, and greater reality such as God represents. It is encouraging to know that I have somewhere to go to quench my thirst, theologically, and in a way that there is a depth dimension provided for in an through the people that God was ministering to centuries ago in his church in the Reformation period.

These are some reasons why I think Reformed theology rocks (there are many other reasons), and why I would like to commend it to you for your consideration, if you have never taken advantage of the deeper theological realities provided for in the Reformed angle of the Christian faith. soli Deo Gloria!