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Karl Barth was a theologian who understood the most important thing about theology; he understood that if the theologian is going to speak about God, that he or she will only be able to do that after God has spoken (Deus dixit). As a Reformed theologian, and thus as a theologian of the Word, Barth knew that the primary witness, the primary means by which the theologian, the pastor might speak about God was as he encountered the living God in the Apostolic Deposit of Holy Scripture. This is something that many of Barth’s detractors don’t appreciate about him; they don’t make themselves aware of the reality that Barth was fully committed to the ‘Scripture principle’ of the Reformed churches.

In the following these things become apparent as Barth waxes eloquent about the centrum that Scripture just is in the process of proclamation and bearing witness to God from God.

We might illustrate this impression by an example that is very dear to me, namely, by the strange process that led especially to the formation of the Reformed churches in the 16th century. I call them strange because the most positive impulse accompanying the many negative and from a Christian standpoint very dubious things that were also at work was to us the amazingly passionate rediscovery, acknowledgment, and assertion of the ancient canonical literature, because in a way that was acute, sudden, and revolutionary the Bible again became the marching orders and direction to preach, because it was understood as the cannon not merely in the critical sense but also in the imperative sense. In this field the ancient book — and much more distinctly than in the Lutheran reformation, the book itself — the whole Bible and not just a specific truth in the Bible as in the case of Luther, commanded with an almost uncanny dynamic a new attention, respect, and obedience. To a degree and with an intensity that are almost intolerable to us today, people had to speak again about God in the light of this historical datum as though it could be done and had never been attempted before. Read some of the sermons of Calvin with this in mind. How this man is grasped and stilled and claimed — not too quickly must one suppose by his experience of conversion, or by the thought of predestination, or by Christ, or even, as is commonly said, by passion for God’s glory —  no, but in the first instance simply by the authority of the biblical books, which year by year he never tired of expounding systematically down to the very last verse! How this man, moving always along the uncrossable wall of this authority, copying down what he finds copied there, as if the living words of God were heard there (as he himself says in the Institutes), becomes himself wholly voice and speech and persuasion, and can never exhaust or empty himself, as though nothing were more self-evident than this torrential talk about God in spite of all the objections which might be urged against it, and which he himself knew well enough! Why was this? In the first instance we can find no other reason than this: Because he heard Moses, Jeremiah, and Paul speak about God, because he heard there the trumpet that summoned him to battle. In something of the same way 1400 years earlier, in the historically obscure early period when the old book as not yet old, the oral and written witness of the same prophets and apostles affected the people of the second generation and brought about the rise of the early church, that is, the rise of Christian preaching.[1]

Barth believed Scripture, the preached Word was the whence from which the Christian could speak God. May we imitate Barth as he imitated Christ.

As an aside: I often get this sense that us Christians think we own the Word of God, and as such we feel the burden to make it relevant to the church and the world. But this is not our prerogative; God has called us to stand on the rooftops and proclaim the living Word of God as if our lives and the lives around us depended upon it. As Moses says in Deuteronomy ‘the word is not a vain thing, it is our very life’ (my paraphrase). I’ve noticed a slippage in my own posture lately. I used to be much bolder about evangelizing the Word to anyone and everyone around; on the streets, in the market-places, and backwaters of wherever I find myself in this fleeting world. I’m reminded as I write this post about the Word, that the Word of God, its reality in the Gospel, is indeed the very power of God. I don’t need to apologize for it or shrink back as I’m confronted with the words of others throughout the days; I need to submit to God resist the Devil and do what I was put on this earth to do: bear witness to the risen God in Jesus Christ! I need to press into the Word and allow it to press me back and out towards a world and a church that needs to live in the sober realization that would lead the Apostle Paul to yell this “let God be true and everyman a liar!” I need to allow the passion of the Christ, the passion that underwrites the very writ that Scripture is, the passion of Christ that looks out on an unbelieving world and an unbelieving church and causes him to weep, to cut me. This is the reality of the Word that I need to let compel me into a life lived from Christ’s searing holiness which leads to a serious com-passion for others. When I come to recognize my own deep need for the living God, as he sanctifies me in this recognition, and meets me with his purifying eyes, I come to have a burden for others; as my burden has been shouldered by Christ. All of this and more comes from the realization that Barth had about the Word; it comes from the staggering realization that the written Word is powerful and earth-shattering precisely at the point that it brings its readers and students into encounter with its living reality in the risen Christ.

[1] Karl Barth, The Göttingen Dogmatics: Volume 1 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 54-5.

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I often come into these self-reflective moments; do you? Well I’m in one right now, and want to write about what’s on my heart. It isn’t actually a tangible thing or idea; it is more of a sense of awareness that I am being hit with—almost like an out-of-body experience, but not really. Moments like this, I take it as a Christian, come from the LORD. I am being hit with the reality of life—which I take as a I gift; being hit with this reality that is—what I mean is that there is a type of awareness wherein it is almost like you are given a chance to stand back and simply look out at all that stands before you. There is this constant drip of movement and unfortunately chaos in the world, and without knowing it I get caught up in it. In other words it just seems like as a people all across the globe we are all caught up in this drama that gets called ‘life,’ and life doesn’t like us to slow down and realize what we are part of; I mean the phenomena or experience of daily life. I wake up (usually at about 4pm because I work the graveyard) feel compelled to get as much reading that I can get done prior to going to work; alongside other things, important things like see my wife and kids—and eat dinner of course! Then it’s off to work. This process happens over and again on a daily basis; before you know it your kids are both in high school with one of them heading into their senior year. With all that is good in this life, particularly as I think about my wife and kids and the blessings that they are to me, you also begin to realize that we are seemingly in a rush to get somewhere; but where?!

I read theology books, as you know, lots of theology books! But I read the Bible more, and always have; this has led me to reading lots of theology books and other books about the Bible. I’ll finish one book of the ten I have going at one time, and feel a sense of accomplishment; I’ll also wonder how that particularly book, whatever it might be, has edified me and helped me to grow deeper into the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Sometimes after I read theology books—historical, constructive, Dogmatic—I’ll put it down and feel this sort of emptiness. And this is what I mean about the ‘constant drip’ of daily life itself; I seem to be chasing after something that I can never really attain or grasp. I’ve tasted and seen that the LORD is good, and I’ve experienced what it is to be in his presence where all is still and yet bursting with the greatest excitement and sense of wonderment that one could encounter. When I read theology books I’m constantly looking for something deeper and greater, in regard to growing in knowledge of God that heretofore I hadn’t yet encountered or experienced. I have a great desire to know and hear God’s voice, and I will not stop seeking that no matter what; it’s my reason for living! And yet I’ll put a theology book down—even good ones sometimes—and almost feel let down. This sense like: okay, that was amazing it was stellar, but now what? I guess I’ll pick up the next theology book and see if that will help slow my life down and bring me into the stillness of God’s life in even greater depths; but then I’ll finish that book, and often have that same empty feeling. There is only one book that actually satisfies the deepest longings of my soul; the Bible. I am about to finish my thirty-ninth time through the whole Bible having read through the New Testament concurrently over the last twenty-three years hundreds and hundreds of times. I read it so much because the God I have encountered there in Christ is the God my soul longs for; he is the God where my life touches down and finds its greatest meaning and telos. And I’m not talking about doing critical bible study—God knows I think this is important as well, I have two degrees in such endeavor that illustrates the importance I see in that—but what I am referring to is just reading the Bible. I see the Bible as the Holy Ground surrounding the Burning Bush where the living presence of God in Christ encounters me in and through the fire of his inextinguishable life. When I read the Bible, it doesn’t matter what book of the Bible I’m reading, I always have this sense that I am in a place where I should at least take my shoes off and begin trembling. Not that this is always that conscious or visceral, but in the back, if not in the front of mind it is this reality that attends my reading of the Bible. I want to be still, like all the time, and just know that he is God and I am not. I find peace and tranquility in the posture that brings in these moments of self-awareness. And really, it isn’t self-awareness, but it is God awareness, and in that awareness I come to have a genuine sense of self-awareness; self-knowledge. Maybe this is why I am having this moment right now.

As I look around at the chaos and noise of the world, because of my life in Christ, I can step back in the Holy Spirit’s spaciousness and simply be still and know that he is God. This is what my soul longs for, it is something that theology books can help provide some important ways to imagine things by their ability to bear witness to Christ; but really, it is only Christ in his mediated immediate confrontation of me that reality becomes illumined in such a way that even the noise and chaos of ‘life’ is seen from the reality of his life; his life and reality that has invaded the deep spaces, the noisiest and most chaotic sectors of this world system and ultimately reversed it with his indestructible life. This is the God that I want to, I need to encounter over and again, afresh and anew or I don’t think there’s much worth living for. I often feel empty, as if I am just going through the motions, almost a sense of depression; but then I encounter the living Word of God in Jesus Christ once again, over and over again on a daily basis and he brings to light the nourishment that my starving soul needs each and every day.

There is so much drama going on out there. I see people going through, what I take to be the motions of what the world tells us life is supposed to be, only to miss what it really is in the stillness of God’s life for us in Christ. I see identity politics, and suffering, sickness and death and the way cultures attempt to mitigate or cope with that; I see this as the motions of life. There is no rest in the motions of life, there is only rest in the motion of God’s life for us in Christ; a life, again, that has penetrated the motions of daily life and imbued it with a cruciform reality that ultimately has brought and is bringing new creation and reversal the likes of which most people never slow down enough to contemplate. I know that God is real, and that he tastes sweet. He wants us to be able to step back and look at all the noise and chaos—particularly as that is present through the churches—and for us to slow down and begin to participate in the motion of his life; a life that is grounded in the interpenetrating reality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He wants us to rest in the sabbath of his life, and out of this rest bear witness to who he is in a world that cannot extricate itself from itself; in a world that has no rest, but only a noise and chaos that drowns out the reality as that is in God’s life for us and with us in Jesus Christ. amen

I really struggled with a false sense of guilt and condemnation for particular sins from my past for years upon years. The enemy of my soul kept me living under ‘a yoke of bondage’ that Jesus said I ‘would be free indeed’ from. The Lord did not leave me as an orphan though, by the Spirit he ministered to me through a sort of rigorous exercise of training me to think rightly about reality as declared in the evangel of His life as borne witness to in Holy Scripture. After many years of anxiety and depression, particularly stemming from living under this false yoke of condemnation the Lord used the reality of creation and recreation to bring the freedom that I so desperately desired. I am sure that I am not alone in this walk, and so I thought I would share a little bit of how this ‘training’ from the Lord looks; at least the way it looks for me.

As I just intimated a doctrine of creation and recreation, along with God’s sovereign providential care of all reality, played the required roles for me to finally see that I truly was and am free (for God and others). As already noted this sort of education from God was motivated by a crisis—we might refer to it as a theology of crisis—a crisis that brought the realization home that I did not have the resources in myself to bring the freedom that God alone could bring.[1] So how does this relate to God being Creator; and not just in an intellectual sense, but how does that reality relate to these real life spiritual issues in a existential felt manner?

In order to help explain what I’m attempting to detail let me offer a very brief definition of the theological concept creatio ex nihilo (‘creation out of nothing’). Keith Ward offers this definition:

Creatio ex nihilo (Latin for “creation from nothing”) refers to the view that the universe, the whole of space-time, is created by a free act of God out of nothing, and not either out of some preexisting material or out of the divine substance itself. This view was widely, though not universally, accepted in the early Christian Church, and was formally defined as dogma by the fourth Lateran Council in 1215. Creatio ex nihilo is now almost universally accepted by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Indian theism generally holds that the universe is substantially one with God, though it is usually still thought of as a free and unconstrained act of God.[2]

There are many important theological implications we could explore simply based upon this brief definition, but for our purposes I wanted to inject this definition into this discussion to elevate the idea that God is the Creator, and thus all of creation is contingent upon his Word. It was this idea that God started to use in my life, years ago, before I ever had any understanding of ‘creation out of nothing’, that I could have freedom from my past. This concept, before I knew the theological parlance was captured for me in this Bible verse, “3And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high….” (Heb. 1.3). Interesting how even in this verse the concept of being purified from sins and God’s ‘upholding all things by the word of His power’ are connected. It was this connection that God used to bring freedom for me. The lesson took many years, and was full of ‘anfechtung’ (trial-tribulation). The Lord allowed me to existentially feel the weight of what this world might look like without him as the One holding it together. It is very hard for me to verbalize the sense that I experienced, but it was as if I was questioning all of reality; even physical reality. I would look out at the world and based upon the sort of nihilistic logic that had infiltrated my mind (as a Christian!) over the years I would have this excruciating condition of feeling the transitoriness of all of reality. It was living in this reality, accompanied by ‘intellectual doubts’ (not spiritual) about God’s existence, that of course!, threw me into great pits of despondency and despair. But it was also through this that my perception of reality was transferred from one contingent upon my word—and this world system’s word—to God’s Word. It was this process, ironically, that allowed me to finally understand that “If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” (Rom. 8.31–32) Again, like with the Hebrews passage, we see here in Paul’s theology that a connection is made between freedom from condemnation and the creational reality of God’s Word; except here what is emphasized is not creation in general, but creation in particular as that is particularized in the re-creation of God in Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Once I’d been schooled enough with the reality that ‘reality’ is God’s reality based alone upon his given and sustaining Word; once I could ‘feel’ that weight, not just intellectually, but spiritually-affectively, the resurrection and re-creation therein had the real life impact I personally needed to be ‘free’ and stand fast in the freedom that the Son said I would be free within (Jn. 8.36); his freedom in the re-creation; the resurrection; the new creation; the new humanity that is his for us.

So I had this doctrine of creation out of nothing in place, in a ‘felt’ way; with the emphasis being upon the reality that God alone holds all of reality together. It was within this conceptual frame that the doctrine of re-creation and resurrection came alive for me; in an existential-spiritual-felt and lived sense. This is why Karl Barth’s doctrine of resurrection has resonated with me so deeply. It is tied into the type of ‘primordial’ thinking that creatio ex nihilo operates from—as part and parcel of God’s upholding Word—and then explicates that from within a theology of God’s Word wherein the primacy of Christ’s life is understood as the telos the fulcrum of what created reality is all about. Robert Dale Dawson really helped me to appreciate this sort of connection between creation out of nothing and Barth’s doctrine of re-creation as he wrote this:

A large number of analyses come up short by dwelling upon the historical question, often falsely construing Barth’s inversion of the order of the historical enterprise and the resurrection of Jesus as an aspect of his historical skepticism. For Barth the resurrection of Jesus is not a datum of the sort to be analyzed and understood, by other data, by means of historical critical science. While a real event within the nexus of space and time the resurrection is also the event of the creation of new time and space. Such an event can only be described as an act of God; that is an otherwise impossible event. The event of the resurrection of Jesus is that of the creation of the conditions of the possibility for all other events, and as such it cannot be accounted for in terms considered appropriate for all other events. This is not the expression of an historical skeptic, but of one who is convinced of the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.[3]

Threading out the academic technicalities (that are important in their original context), and focusing on the concepts that serve our purposes, what I draw from this is the significance of what Dawson identifies in Barth’s theology as ‘the primordiality of the resurrection as the singular history-making, yet history-delimiting, act of God.’ Can you see how all of this might provide the sort of apocalyptic freedom we are in need of in order to live the sort of ‘free’ life that God wants us to before him? It does seem rather mechanical and academic; I agree. Let me try to summarize and draw together the themes I’ve been attempting to highlight in order to provide you with a maybe-way forward in your own spiritual walk and life as a Christian.

The Conclusion. It is actually rather basic, but deeply profound; at least for me. What is required is that we ask for eyes of faith to see what God sees in Christ. He will school us in his ways as we seek him first in the Scripture’s reality in Christ. He will work things into our lives that will shorn away the accretions of the ‘worldly-system-wisdom’ with his wisdom; the wisdom of the cross. He will allow you to ‘feel’ the existential weight of his life, and the reality that that upholds, and within this, this apocalyptic reality of his in-breaking life into ours, the reality that the God who could rightly condemn us has broken into the surly contingencies of our sinful lives and become the ‘Judge, judged.’ If the God who holds all reality together by the Word of his power in Jesus Christ invades this world in the Son, takes his just condemnation of our sins (no matter what they are!) upon himself for us, puts that death to death in his death on the cross, and then re-creates all of reality in his resurrection; then there remains no space for condemnation. The One who could condemn me stands in the way and has eliminated the sphere for condemnation insofar that he has re-created a world wherein only his righteousness reigns and dwells in his enfleshed life for us in his Son, Jesus Christ. What I just noted is the key to grasp. There is another world in Christ; a world accessible by the eyes of faith, provided by the eyes of Christ, in his vicarious humanity which we are enlivened into by the Holy Spirit. This is the real reality that Christians live in and from; and it is this reality that I cling to whenever the enemy of my soul wants to bring me into a life of bondage that belongs to the world that he is king over; a world that is dead and no longer real by virtue of the reality of God’s new world re-created and realized in the primacy of Jesus Christ.

I hope this small reflection might help provide some liberation for some of you out there as well. I realize this all might seem pretty academic, but I don’t really see things that way; I’m hoping you’ll see as a result of this post why I don’t see things in terms of the ‘academic.’ I think good theology, whether people think it is “academic” or not can begin to see that at spiritual levels these ideas can have real life impact and consequences, and that God can use them for the good; he did so, and continues to work this way for me. Just recently, as recent as yesterday, the devil tried to bring me back into a sense of false condemnation and guilt, and I found relief in the very ideas I’ve just outlined. The process, in the head, can be somewhat mechanistic, when working through things this way, but, at least for me, it is what is required for to live a life of freedom that God wants me to live in and from his Son, and my Savior, Jesus Christ. Soli Deo Gloria.

 

[1] This might also explain why I have so much resonance with Karl Barth’s theology. Early on Barth was known as a theologian of crisis. Martin Luther’s theology was spawned by deep angst, and his theology is often related to what is known in German as Anfechtung (trial/tribulation). This is why I have found these theologians, among others, as some of my most insightful teachers; they understand that the ‘wisdom of the cross’, that a theologia crucis and a theologia resurrectionis are the key components for knowing God and making him known to others. This is where God meets us; it’s where he knows we must be met if we are going to meet him.

[2] Keith Ward, Creatio Ex Nihilo (Encyclopedia.com), accessed 05-18-2018.

[3] Robert Dale Dawson, The Resurrection in Karl Barth (UK/USA: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007), 13.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” –John 17.20-26

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. –I John 4.7-21

These passages are very important to me. Jesus wants the unity that he has shared with the Father and the Holy Spirit to characterize the way I relate to others in his body. Beyond that, he wants the Triune love of his life to be the bond through which this unity is made known; he wants the multiplicity of the body, and its various members, to hang together in the type of unity that defines his inner life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I want to make clear that even though the bulwark of my posts are involved in a type of internecine struggle between others in the body of Christ; even though I name people like Michael Allen (most recently in my last post), or the classical Calvinists, the post Reformed orthodox, et al. that this does not mean I don’t love these folks as my brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, I do have strong theological disagreements with them—disagreements that I think impinge upon real life spirituality—but this does not mean that I don’t love them. Disagreement can be done in a spirit of animus, and even hatred, or it can be done out of love and a heart that desires to strive together with the saints till we all reach the unity of the one faith of Christ once for all delivered to the saints. This is what I pray my striving is characterized by; by a spirit of God’s love in Jesus Christ with the hopes of iron sharpening iron as we hold each other to the high standard and reality of the Gospel itself.

I will say that I often fail; in fact almost always. But what I want to relay through this post is that I don’t see any of these types of engagements (i.e. theological disagreements) as simply a matter of academic debate; I see things as spiritual (and spiritual understood not in a mystical sense, per se, but in and from the concrete spirituality that is grounded in the real life priesthood of the Lamb of God who literally sits at the right hand of the Father). If my cancer taught me anything it is that everything is real in God’s Kingdom; he’s not a fake God, and his ways are ever present and immediate in our daily lives (more than we could ever imagine). In light of this, even though I do like to add some levity to certain things I write, and I do like to have good heated engagements sometimes, I don’t want any of that to detract from the sobriety that is resident in my heart in regard to the realness of the whole endeavor. I also realize that I am just a blogger, at least here on the blog, and so I don’t want to take what I do too seriously; but at the same time, I do take what I do, when I write, with seriousness. I don’t know how else to be before a Holy God, and with the stakes so high. I realize that people “out there” in the body of Christ and the world are actually hurting, struggling, and confused about many things related to God and his Self-revelation in Jesus Christ. A way for me to demonstrate the love of Christ, I think, is to attempt to engage issues with the seriousness that these realities require of me as a disciple of Jesus Christ. I want people to come to experience the unity that Jesus spoke of in regard to the glory that he has shared with the Father and the Holy Spirit; I want people to know the love of God that this unity in multiplicity engenders in each of our hearts by the fellowship of the Holy Spirit as we repose together in and from a participation in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ; and what that means in regard to the type of life we have been invited into through the broken body of Christ which is the torn veil that allows us to enter into the Holy of holies of God’s inner life.

Yet the reality is that I fail. I write about so many amazing things; things that I can really only bear witness to, and hope that by God’s grace and mercy I too might live into them moment by moment. I am a dad and a husband, and I don’t live up to the expectations I so often write about; in many ways I am a hypocrite. This is what I mean about these things not being academic. I have a family, in real life, who I am to model the love of God in Christ to; who I am to give my life sacrificially for; who I am to be there for; who I am to be pointing to Christ every moment of every day. This is my aim. But I fail so often at this sobering charge. And yet this is my second calling only after my first calling to constantly be in love with my first love over and over again. It is only out of this resource that, out of this everlasting fount of evangelical love that I can love my family through. Even now as I write this it makes me even a hypocrite that much more. I will face tomorrow with a whole new set of expectations as a dad and a husband, and I will fail again. Nevertheless I will strive by the resurrection power of Christ to not allow my writings to simply be empty platitudes that I wax eloquent upon, but I will seek the mercy and grace of God in Christ asking him to give me the strength to love the way I ought to; the way he does. I will ask God in Christ each day to allow me to live into the unbelievable reality that “as he is so also are we in this world.”

One of my biggest fears is that I spend all the time that I do reading theology books, reading the Bible, and then walking away from it all relegating it to some level of academic glee or seeing it as some sort of hobby; God forbid it. My real desire is to participate in the love of God in Christ each day, to participate in the glory that the Son has shared with the Father for eternity, and allow that to spread into every aspect of my life. My desire is for all of my interactions online and real life, with people I only know electronically, or people in my own immediate family, to be characterized by the love of God in Christ and the glory of God revealed in the cross of Christ. Without this as the characteristic and reality of my life I can have all knowledge but without love it will mean nothing; it will mean that I had built with wood, hay, straw and stubble. My desire is for the love of Christ to characterize my life to the point that my own wife and kids will be able to see that on a daily basis; anything short of that will negate anything I’ve ever come to know—at least personally. And this is the point I am really driving at, it isn’t about what I’m coming to know, but who I know and am growing in the knowledge of as I encounter the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ over and over again by the Holy Spirit’s fresh and perduring work of sanctification into the sanctification that Jesus Christ is for me.

*A post I wrote about a year ago, but never posted till now.

 

Do you ever get the sense that the theology we do, and the God we pray to are seemingly distinct from the other? Here’s what I mean: Doesn’t it seem that the technical language used to talk about God, theologically, like Simplicity, Immutability, Impassibility, Omni ________, is disjointed from the God we meet in the Bible, in Jesus Christ? Jesus says this to Mary just after he resurrected from the grave:

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. – John 20:11-18

And yet when we come across a pivotal Confession for the Protestant churches it says this about God:

There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.[1]

Don’t get me wrong, when we are attempting to think about God in a deep way we are bound to clumsily posit things about him, and ways to talk about him that seem ajar from how we encounter him in Scripture. But this has been my struggle for years. I am, by disposition, believe it or not, very traditional and conservative when it comes to Christian theology. But as I was exposed more and more to what stood behind the theology I only tacitly had been inculcated into as a young Christian person in my growing up years, I realized that the God I was being taught about in my theology classes sounded very little like the God I had been praying to, and then reading about in my Bible for all the years prior.

When I think of God, and the way I know him most intimately, it is as my Father. If I was introduced to Him through the God I encounter in the Confession above, I would actually be in some pretty dire torment; particularly when faced with all the various trials and tribulations that this life offers up on a daily basis. Do I want to know that God is a Rock, unchanging in His ways, as a reality that just has always been? Yes! Do I think in order to fortify this type of knowledge of God that I need to turn to the philosophers in order to supply me with the categories I need to think of God in these ways? No, I don’t. Andrew Purves and Mark Achtemeir write in this vein:

The center of the New Testament is the relationship between Jesus Christ and the One he addresses as Father. The communion between Jesus and his heavenly Fatherly is an utterly unique relationship, of which we can know nothing apart from Jesus’ own testimony. . . . God is thus Father not by comparison to human fathers, but only in the Trinitarian relation, as Father of the Son. Whenever Father is used of God it means “the One whom Jesus called Father.” The paradigm text is John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” In Greek, the word for “made him known” is exegesato. Jesus “exegetes” or “interprets” the Father. The term does not denote a generic title for God outside of the Father and Son relationship. Father thus functions in Trinitarian language not as a descriptive metaphor but as a proper name, whose home is the relationship that exists from all eternity between the first and second Persons of the Trinity.[2]

Clearly, at some level, philosophical grammar will be involved in the doing of theological essaying. But at what level is this type of ‘grammarizing of God’ successful; and is there a better way to ‘evangelize the philosophers’ vis-à-vis other ways?

I think the best way forward is to go with Occam’s Razor, and be as minimalistic as possible when it comes to engaging with the philosophers. I think this is what the quote from Purves and Achtemeir is getting at, and indeed, is working from. To think of God as ‘my Father’ is to think of Him, conceptually, in much different ways and tones than to think of Him as ‘infinite in being and perfection,’ so on and so forth. And personally, I find this to be the fundamental flaw with so much of what counts as Christian theology today, and yesterday. It is the “Confessional” styled theology that is being retrieved by theologians in the evangelical and Reformed worlds today, but at what cost?

I’m not suggesting that within the history there is no good theology, even using and overly using some of the philosophical language. But what I am suggesting is that the lens through which the resourcement is being done is not expansive enough, and more importantly, is not sensitive enough to the reality of who Scripture discloses God to be in Christ. Jesus reveals God to the world as the Son of the Father in the bond of the Holy Spirit’s love. The Bible speaks of God as the ‘lover of our souls’, the Great Shepherd, the Lamb of God, the One who is, as the God with a name (e.g. Yahweh), as the Bridegroom, so on and so forth. I have not found these descriptors concordant with the God I have studied in the theologians (in the majority tradition of Post Reformation Reformed orthodoxy). There is a piety, and relational reality that gets lost in thinking of God through overly philosophical terms on a constant basis. And it is wrong to attempt to foreclose on who God is by overly privileging categories about God that themselves are not determined by God’s Self-Revelation in Jesus Christ as mediated through Holy Scripture.

This post is not an advertisement to be a Barthian, or Torrancean, or anything else in that mood. This is simply my reflection on why I have approached the things that I do, in the way that I do. My experience of God, as a result of various personal trauma, sometimes in ongoing ways, has driven me not to think of God as some of the Confessions would have me think of Him, but instead to come to Him as My loving Father, who cares for me like the Great Shepherd of Israel that He is. Some might say that I am making a type of disjunctive category mistake because I am drawing a line between how the ‘theologians’ must speak of God in their “craft,” and how the broken believer wants to speak of God because of the trauma and need of their daily life. But if this was the charge, I would suggest that the problem just might be with those who presume that we can make this type of artificial distinction between the Biblical language and the philosophical language ostensibly used to unpack the perceived implications of the Biblical God. Or obversely, the problem might be with those who too quickly equate the philosophical language with the Biblical God, categorically. Why not just allow the Biblical God and the Biblical categories to stand as the determinative categories that they are for thinking God, and teach the church how to resource the past from this vantage point? Why this compelling need, for many evangelicals, to “retrieve” the past in ways that really is more of an attempt to replicate the past for the present?

This will continue to be a rub for me, and maybe you can better see why. I need to rely upon God as my Father, and I can do that in a canonical rather “confessional” way. I think this is the best way to be evangelical in the 21st century, or in any century.

[1] Westminster Confession of Faith.

[2] Purves and Achtemeier, Union In Christ, 34–36.

When we read the Bible as Christians we are doing so from a certain disposition, or we should be. When we read the Bible as Christians we aren’t primarily doing so in order to map out all of its ancient near eastern context, or figure out where all the chiasmus and inclusios are, or to understand how this syntax matches up with that syntax, or reconstruct a ‘historical Jesus’ and/or ‘Apostle Paul’ who fits within all of the historicist apparatus we can avail ourselves of; no, when we read Scripture alongside the rest of the saints, presently and in the history (and in the heavenlies) we are scriptureribbonseeking to hear from God, to hear His living voice viva vox Dei. Christians, if they do in fact read Scripture at all, need to get back to this confessional Christian approach and reading ethic; one where God’s voice in Christ has the primacy and not our biblical studies guilds, or our personalist and individualist postures.

Thomas Torrance, along with John Webster (elsewhere) articulates the importance of approaching Scripture as if it is the holy ground upon which, indeed, we move beyond reducing it all down to manageable propositions, and instead allow the wild nature of Scripture to reign supreme in our lives as it mediates God’s Word to us by the Spirit’s activity in our lives in the event of justification and process of sanctification. Here’s what TF Torrance writes:

In a faithful interpretation of the New Testament we many not treat the words employed in it as if they were no more than transient linguistic symbols detached from any objective content in divine revelation, and as if they were not lively oracles through which God speaks to us in Person. Rather must we treat them as words which the incarnate Word of God has deliberately assimilated to himself in communicating and interpreting himself to us in the course of his reconciling activity. That is to say, in the words of the Bible through which the Word of God’s trinitarian self-revelation reaches us, we have to do not with some divine Word detached from his Being and Activity, but with the very Being of God speaking to us and acting upon us in an intensely personal way. In and through them we encounter the living Word who is identical with God himself, the Word in whom we have to do with the Person and Act of God, the Son made man in Jesus Christ, and are thereby summoned to personal commitment of faith in Christ and through cognitive union with him to have knowledge of God the Father. Thus we interpret his human words as the direct personal address of God in whom he communicates to us not just some information about himself but his own divine Self, and therefore interpret them not from a centre in the man Jesus detached from his Deity, but from the organising and controlling centre of his divine-human reality. To indwell the words of Christ, therefore, is to participate in the mutual indwelling of God and man in him, or the mutual indwelling of the Father and his incarnate Son. And so through union with Jesus Christ we are drawn by the Spirit of the Father and of the Son into the Communion of the Father and the Son.[1]

I think this challenges the typical evangelical and Reformed way of approaching Scripture; it is less about epistemology and gaining information about God, and instead more about ontology/soteriology and having a personal encounter with the risen Jesus as he’s given spiration by the Spirit’s resurrection. It is about participating in the triune life through Christ, and understanding that there is no rupture between the person and work of Jesus; and no rupture between the consubstantial being of the Son with the Father, and the Son with humanity as he mediates that in his consubstantial life of being both God and man in his singular person as the eternal Son (Logos).

Reading Scripture in this frame, then, is a dialogical exercise. In other words, it pivots on prayerful relation to God through Christ, and understanding that He has freely chosen to meet us as we meet him in the intersection of His life as human, in Christ, and realize that the communicative context for that, for us, takes place primarily in the triune speech act known as Holy Scripture. Practically, the way this works itself out is by simply prayerfully and consistently reading Scripture; or as Torrance said it ‘indwelling’ Scripture, allowing it to wash over us over and again, and understanding that its context cannot be detached from its giveness in the incarnation of God in Christ.

None of this is to intimate that understanding the linguistic realities of Scripture, its cultural situadedness, so on and so forth have no place; it’s just to recognize that none of that should have primacy of place. Scripture has a context, and it is God’s triune life in Christ for us. When we read Scripture it shouldn’t primarily be an intellectualist activity (as I fear way too many Christians think), but instead a devotional and doxological activity where we are set apart  (Jn. 17.17) ever amore ever afresh as we encounter the living voice of God in the christological context of His life found in and throughout the pages of Holy Writ. Scripture and its reality in Jesus Christ should act upon us ever before we attempt to act upon it.

 

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Pesons (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016), 42.

I just want to write from the heart, and reflect on what I have come to learn of God in Jesus Christ over my life; and in particular over the last twenty-one years. This reflection will range from the intimate to the intellectual.

As a Child

I first heard the Lord’s voice when I woke up in the middle of the night, and knew that I was ready to ask Jesus into my heart—I was three and a half. I woke my parents up, and they led me in lookingatstarsprayer to Jesus. That same voice has continued to speak to my heart and at points wake me up (metaphorically) in moments when I need that, even now. He has never left or forsaken me; whether that be through depression, anxiety, doubts, or an incurable cancer diagnosis. The Lord of life has always been there; just as a faithful shepherd never leaves his sheep. He has laid his life down for me over and over again, as he always lives to make intercession for me. He has captured my heart with his heart of Triune love; a love that is not of this world, but has come into this world in the eternal Son. I have come to know that his love is not just for me, but for the whole world; that his love is bi-partisan and crosses every-and-any line humanity might attempt to draw—he transcends all lines.

As a Theologian

What theology has taught me is that God is Triune; that he is eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that his oneness is shaped by his threeness/his threeness by his oneness. I have learned that it was just this life, because of who this life was, is, and will be in itself, that the world was created; it was created so that the plenitude which is God’s life of self-given love and fellowship, could participate with the other—with us. I have come to learn that this Triune God is purely holy, that he can have no part in evil or darkness; but beyond that his holiness is defined by his just “isness,” it is because he is who he is in himself that he is holy—that he is set apart unto himself. The beauty of God’s holiness, I’ve learned, is that it is in his holiness that he is most open for the other; first in the Father-Son-Holy Spirit relation, but concordant with that, with us as his creatures.

As a Sinner

I’ve learned that as his creatures we have no life apart from him; apart from him we can do nothing. But because of sin, and our un-holiness we lost our way; we have separated from him. In this separation we wander aimlessly like wandering stars for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever; but he does not desire this for us so he sent his Son. His Son, Jesus, freely chose to be for us, to be God with us, Immanuel, and to bring reconciliation in himself for us, between us and God. Christ alone has been able to bridge the breach, that outwith his selfless work and wound for us, we would still be aimlessly fluttering around the universe with no hope. I’ve learned, and am learning that Jesus is the Gospel, he is the Good News that this world needs; that I need.

As the World

I’ve also learned that this world hates Jesus; that it would rather serve and worship itself. I’ve learned that the world, if it could, would crucify Jesus all over again; and that that spirit dominates this world system. I’ve learned that people would rather listen to their own voices, even in the church, rather than the voice of the living God in Jesus Christ. I see people every day, in this world, consider the blood of Jesus a vain thing; as if the shed blood of Jesus Christ is as common as the next fad. I see people every day walk passed the face of Christ as if his face is the face of just another religion. I am surrounded by people, in this world, who hear the Gospel, and count it as just one more power-play over their lives. I see people rushing to and fro never able to find rest; crowding their lives out with noise; self-medicating themselves with pseudo-intellectualism and entertainment; self-therapizing themselves with drugs, alcohol, and sex—the usual vices. I see people who look up into the sky on a dark starry night and only see a cold, black, empty space with no meaning behind it. I experience a world that is always learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth; because they don’t love the truth, they love the lie. I see a world at war, a world bludgeoning itself into oblivion with hopes of exalting itself as God. I see a world with no peace.

As a Disciple, As a Witness

I have come to learn that Jesus is the peace that this world is looking for, but that it doesn’t ultimately want. But I want that peace, and by the graciousness of God in Christ I experience that peace every day; I want the world I am surrounded by to experience that peace, but they will not. I want the world I come into contact with every day to know that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; that God is love, and he comes with healing in his wings as the Sun of Righteousness. I want people to know that when they see the cross of Jesus Christ that this is God’s answer to the chaos in the world; this is where God’s Kingdom breaks into the hearts of men and women, boys and girls. I want the world to know that by God’s poverty in Christ, they have been made rich by the wonderful exchange that has taken place in the person of Jesus Christ; that the crooked has been made straight, the darkness made light. I want the world to know that Jesus has risen indeed! That the governments of this world rest on the Son’s shoulders, and that in Christ there is freedom indeed. I want the world to know that God has spoken, that he speaks in his Son; and that all who will can participate in the very life of God. I want the world to know that the holiness of God’s inner life has been opened up for them in Jesus Christ; that Jesus is the mediator between God and humanity, and that in him they can escape into the very sanctum of God—so close as to be at the very right hand of God. I want the world to know what it’s like to look up at the heavens, and the starry night, and see the majesty of God; to know that there is the theater of God’s glory, and he wants to share it with them. I want the world to know that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all; at his right hand are pleasures forevermore. I want the world to know that God’s heart breaks for them as a Father’s heart breaks for his prodigal son; he wants them to come home. I want the world to know that there is no suffering so deep that God in Christ hasn’t gone deeper; that he can meet us at the deepest point we could ever go. I want to be a testimony of this grace and mercy to them, to the world that wanders around as if existing is simply what life is.

As one Resurrected

I’ve learned that there is urgency about the Gospel, and that this life is but a vapor; cancer taught me this the most. I learned that we as a people need to be ready to die, literally. But people don’t want to think like that, they don’t want to think they could die; but the fact is, they are. I’ve learned that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and though we die yet shall we live. amen.

 

Sometimes it is good to reflect upon what the Lord has done for you, for me, personally. It is good to reflect upon this great salvation God in Christ has wrought for us! I am in the state of mind to do just that, and so for the rest of this post I am going to get a bit personal and reflect upon what God has done for me, and how He has worked His life into my life through some really rather hard shepherdJesusthings.

I was in Las Vegas with friends, it was somewhere around 1994 (I was out of high school for around 2 years), and my walk with Jesus, even though I had grown up in the church, was a pastor’s kid, and had a sweet walk with Jesus prior, was now in a lukewarm state. We were in Vegas for a week, and every night as my friends were getting ready to go out and hit the casinos, every night around the same time, 7pm or so, I would get hit with a heavy hand of oppression and anxiety; I’d never had an anxiety attack before, but that’s what hit me at those times every night we were there. It kept me from going out with my friends, and eventually led me to leave Vegas, early ahead of my friends. It was through these circumstances that the Lord got a hold of me; when I got home I continued to experience these anxiety attacks, and it got worse. It was spiritual, spiritual warfare, depression, oppression, and it actually lasted for years, probably 7 or so! It is hard to describe exactly what I was going through, I shared it only with my parents at that time, and they walked with me through this. It drove me to God, it drove me to Holy Scripture, and caused me to commit myself to reading through the Scriptures over and over again (and that has lasted ever since); the Scriptures became my sanity, the mind of Christ had to become my mind by the Holy Spirit, my own mind was betraying me. This pushed me to despair of life itself, but to the point where I didn’t trust myself, but in the One who raises the dead. This pushed me to enroll in Bible College and finally Seminary. This pushed me to evangelize anyone and everyone I could; Christians and non-Christians alike! This pushed me to devour Bible commentaries, to read theologies, and this continues to be a fruit. This pushed me to have sympathy for people, in general, Christian and non-Christian alike; which I knew wasn’t me, but Christ in me, the hope of glory!

Then in late 2009, early 2010 I was diagnosed with an incurable, terminal cancer for which there was no protocol, and no real treatment; I was faced with my mortality, and the reality of life like I had never been before. The Lord walked with us, me and my young family through that valley of the shadow of death in such tangible ways that it is hard to describe. I was scared, and my life was narrowed down from having dreams and hopes for the future, to having dreams and hopes simply for each day. The Lord showed Himself to me in ways that transcend understanding; when I would wake up in the middle of the night full of fear of death, and feeling a sense of utter darkness and despair I would cry out to the Lord and He would lead me to just the right places of Scripture, the Bible would literally fall open to places where it was as if He, the Lord was speaking directly to me; and He was! When I would wake up in the morning and for a brief moment forget that I had cancer, but then only to quickly be confronted with that dire reality that indeed I really did have a terminal cancer, with all the attendant fear and anxiety that came along with that, the Lord would quickly rush to my heart and tell me it was going to be okay, that He was with me and that He would never leave me, or my family, and that He would never forsake us, I had just enough hope to get up and push on.

There is so much more I could share from both of these seasons of my life that I just covered, but that will have to suffice. The result of all of this is that when faced with life circumstances that seem overwhelming I have this deep and abiding confidence in my God, in my Father that it is all going to be okay! That even though I can’t see how something is going to work out, and there seems to be these huge mountains, these insurmountable mountains facing me, I can look back at God’s faithfulness and have real living hope. Because of the anguish and sorrow that has come in all of this, there has been a deep and abiding hope and joy pushed into my heart; and I know without a doubt that God is faithful even when I am faithless. I know that the provision I think I am providing for my family is really provision that God is providing for me and my family; I know that my sustenance, both physically and spiritually is not contingent upon what I do, but it is contingent upon who God is and what He continuously does in accordance with that. I know that God is a God of grace, and that He truly is Lord, that nothing in this world is greater than He is, that He has overcome this world! I know, and am continuing to learn that there is nothing too difficult for the LORD (Jeremiah 32:17).

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. ~Psalm 23

 

I was first introduced to Martin Luther’s theologia crucis, or “Theology of the Cross,” in seminary, in my Reformation Theology class. Once I heard of it, I was hooked! It is absolutely brilliant, and represents the best of Martin Luther’s theological offering for the church. My previous post was a tribute to Rory Wheeler, who just went home to be with the Lord as a result of the effects of cancer. Death, even for the Christian, presents lingering questions; the primary one being “why dear Lord, cannot you just vanquish this curse, right now?” It is obvious to all of those with eyes of faith, that the Lord works in ways that would appear “hidden.” He became man, a babe
christcrucifiedwrapped in swaddling cloths in a manger. He was born into a poor-man’s family from ridiculed Nazareth. The list of God’s hiddeness (Deus absconditus), of course, can be enumerated over and again. Indeed, this is where Luther’s theology of the cross finds its footing; that God works in ways that to the naked eye seem foolish (see I Corinthians 1:17-25, the passage of my Master’s thesis, and motivated by Luther’s theology of the cross). Randall Zachman provides one of the best descriptions of Luther’s theology of the cross that I have ever read. I am going to quote it in full, it is worth it; in fact if you want to continue to read my blog, your ticket 😉 is that you have to read this whole post because what Zachman has to say is that good! Here we go:

In the context of theologia crucis, faith means believing with certainty that God’s Word is true even when the whole world, the heart of the believer, and even God himself contradict the truth that is revealed in the Word, particularly the Word of promise. Thus, when God begins to show mercy, God does so by first revealing wrath (in law); when God makes alive, God does so by slaying. The same contradictions apply especially to those who have already come to faith. God promises the forgiveness of sins, yet our conscience feels nothing but sin and wrath; God promises life, yet we see nothing but death. Faith, therefore, is the art of believing the Word while experiencing, seeing, and feeling the opposite. We believe that Christ is the Son of God, even though we see and abandoned man on the cross; we believe that God cares for the church, even though we see nothing but a church persecuted by the world and apparently abandoned by God; we believe in eternal life, even though we see and feel nothing but death.

However, the primary locus of the theology of the cross is the experience of trial or tribulation (Anfechtung), when the very heart and conscience of the believer sense that God’s promise of grace and forgiveness is a lie. The believer must regard the promise of forgiveness as true and certain even though the conscience testifies to the contrary.

But under the cross which we experience, eternal life lies hidden. . . . We, too, experience the cross, and death appears to us, if not in fact, yet in our conscience through Satan. Death and sin appear, but I announce life and faith, but in hope. Therefore, if you want to be saved, you must battle against your feelings. Hope means to expect life in the midst of death, and righteousness in the midst of sins.

This is the very meaning of being simultaneously righteous and a sinner (simul iustus et peccator): to believe that we are righteous coram Deo even though we feel like condemned sinners.

Within the context of the theology of the cross, the grace of sanctification and its attestation in the testimony of a good conscience would necessarily be subordinated to the grace of justification and the promise of the forgiveness of sins. This is because the testimony of the good conscience confirms one’s faith in the promise, whereas the theology of the cross emphasizes that testimony of the conscience that contradicts faith in the promise; that is, Anfechtung. Therefore, although Luther continually insisted upon the necessity of sanctification and of the testimony of the good conscience, within the framework of theologia crucis he could not help but consistently subordinate the grace of sanctification to that of justification.

Luther’s concentration on the theology of the cross also accounts for his refusal to involve the Reformation directly in the external reform of the church. The Word of God does not deal with external, temporal things, but rather with invisible, eternal things; and such invisible things are revealed under an external appearance that contradicts what is being revealed. The theology of glory, in contrast—such as Luther found in the papacy—emphasizes externals to the point of neglecting the invisible truths revealed by the Word: indeed, to the point of calling God’s Word a lie. Thus, those in the Reformation who would introduce concern for externals—such as Karlstadt with his rejection of idols and the papal mass—misunderstanding the whole nature of the Word of the cross, and divert the attention of believers from the invisible, eternal things of God’s promises to the visible, temporal things of human reason and senses. Yet it is precisely reason and the senses that must be mortified if we are to believe that the Word of the cross is true.

Luther’s theologia crucis also explains his suspicion of those, such as the Anabaptists, who emphasized the external holiness and moral behavior of the church. If the Word of the cross reveals the truth of God under a contrary appearance, then one would expect the true church not to look like the church at all, but rather to look like God-forsaken sinners. The “synagogue of Satan,” on the other hand, with its theology glory, would look like the true church of God and would demonstrate a superior holiness externally—as in the monks and friars—but inwardly it would be rejected by God. The theology of the cross would therefore lead one not to stress the conformity of the appearance of the church with its faith, but rather stress the ways in which the appearance of the church denies its claim to be the people of God. The church looks like a gathering of sinners rejected by God and the world, whereas it is in truth the beloved people of God. The church cannot be judged by its appearance, but only by whether it has the Word of Christ crucified. Hence the primary task of the church is to preach the Word of God, while letting externals take their course. [Randall C. Zachman, The Assurance of Faith, 9-10]

How can that not bless you?! There is a lot in this, too much to talk about in toto; as far as the implications and applications, let me grab just a couple. But first I should also notice something else for us. You see Zachman refer to Luther’ “theology of glory,” this was in contrast to the theology of the cross; and it refers to (oversimplified) focusing on doing things for the praise and glory of men, instead of God (just do a word study or theology of glory study in the Gospel of John, you’ll see how this plays out) [Luther attacked the scholastic theology of his day as based upon the “theology of glory” instead of the “cross”]. Now to my applications.

1) It seems like a loving God would vanquish death so that humanity would no longer have to endure the torment of it. Indeed, he has, but it is only with eyes of faith that we understand the significance of the cross and resurrection and ascension. To the world if God is all powerful, and loving (David Hume) why doesn’t he do something about it now? The wisdom of God is displayed in hiddeness, in the unexpected; God is the God whose ways are not our ways, but the way of the cross, the unexpected! Why did the holocaust happen? Why do little kids die from cancer, or starvation? We have to interpret these kinds of questions through the hidden ways of God, through the cruciformity and cross-shaped work of God’s life. That’s the answer to Luther’s theology of the cross; the wisdom and knowledge of God is only penetrated by those who are wedded to him, in Christ, by the Spirit. And it is when we are pressed up against the most dastardly things of this life—tribulations—that we quit depending on ourselves, and throw ourselves on God’s mercy that we enter into the kind of life that God gives himself in his inner-life of mutual and interpenetrating love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is when we are pushed beyond ourselves that God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ is just waiting to smile on is in the midst of our thlipsis, tribulation! Here is the wisdom of God, to take what is intended to destroy, and bring resurrection life out of it!

2) The second application here is a quicker observation. This one has to do with Luther’s/Zachman’s point about how the church should look vis-á-vis the theology of the cross. Frankly, it shouldn’t look like what Western, and in particular, American, upward mobile churches strive to look like. It shouldn’t look like people who have it all together. It should look like people who are broken, needy, and beggarly. When did Jesus do his greatest work of atonement? What was the crescendo of his work? When he went to the cross. When he was most broken. It was here that he brought life to all of humanity, through his death; by rupturing the bonds of self love (homo incurvatus in se), with the unbreakable bond that he shares consubstantially with the Father and Holy Spirit. That is, a life is given shape, by self-giveness; between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is through this kind of brokeness, in the mirror image of the cruci-shaped Son, that we can be the church for the world. That we have something to offer them; only when we are broken, and realize that we receive life as gift from the Father, in Christ, by the Holy Spirit.

Much more to say, but this has run long enough. I think I will talk more about the theologia gloriae “theology of glory,” in the near future.

*This is a repost, I really like what Zachman has to say on Luther’s ‘theology of the cross’; I hope you’re blessed by it today as well! Blessings.

I just was listening to an interview with an actress from a new grunewald_crucifixion_phixr-2.jpgfavorite mini-series of mine on TV; i.e. The Walking Dead. She was talking about the sweetness and excitement of first-love relative to her in-story relationship with ‘Glenn.’ Anyway, this interview and the idea of ‘first-love’ made me think of Jesus; who else? In particular it made me think of what Jesus called the church of Ephesus back to, her ‘first love.’ The revelator writes of this encounter:

I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Revelation 2:2-4

I remember when I first met my wife-to-be, there was that spark, that newness and freshness, that excitement about being in that first-love with her. Everything seemed as if time was just suspended and nothing else mattered except being with her. And even though real life was happening all around us, even during that time, nothing else took priority to this love, this first-love that I began to share with her.

Similarly, analogically, I can remember the pure rush of excitement of falling in love with Jesus. A passion brewed in my heart for him in ways that were unharnessed from anything else but being with and knowing him. He consumed my every waking thought, and determined my every step each day. All I wanted to do is share this first-love that I was experiencing with him with others, with everyone! It was this ‘first love’ that took priority over everything else; it was all that mattered!

This experience, whether between human beings, or between God and humans in Christ should take priority over everything else. We should keep returning to this love. Notice, when Jesus is attempting to woo his church at Ephesus, he isn’t necessarily calling them back to certain feelings (although those are there and should not be diminished intellectualistically), he is calling them to a life of repentance; of coming back to him and renewing their vows with him over and again, afresh and anew every day.

First love is sweet! I pray everyone gets to experience that with the lover of the world, Jesus Christ!

 

 

 

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Hello my name is Bobby Grow, and I author this blog, The Evangelical Calvinist. Feel free to peruse the posts, and comment at your leisure. I look forward to the exchange we might have here, and hope you are provoked to love Jesus even more as a result. Pax Christi!

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A Little Thomas Torrance

“God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.” -T. F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ, 94.

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