God is Love: The Purpose for The Brevity of Our Lives

What is the Christian’s telos? It is to love God, as He first loved us in Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul has written (as inspired by the Holy Spirit): ‘without love it all means nothing’ (my paraphrase). Who is love? According to the letter writer, John: ‘God is love.’ God is love because God is a triunity of persons in singular interpenetrative subject-in-being bliss. So, the Christian’s life is one that is shaped by the participatio Christi that Christ is for us in the resplendence of His eternal relationship with His Father by the Holy Spirit. The Christian has no existence apart from this reality of the fullness of God, as that has been made concrete for us in the skin and bone of the Son of Man, Jesus Christ. The Christian’s life, because of this always already reality of triune love, is one of relational koinonia one with the other; and for the other. We have no being apart from God’s being for us; or being is first imaged for us in the imago Christi, who indeed, from glory to glory, has always already been the image of God for us. It is in the mirror of His election for us, that we might come to reflect His image to each other, in the churches, and to the pagans outwith the Church’s reality. We reflect this type of existence, one foreign to the way of the world, by abiding in Christ, the Vine of God for us. It is as we receive His sustenance, through Immanuel’s veins, through His life-giving blood, charged with the ineffable life of God, the indestructible life, that we have something to offer each other and this world. This love offering has been actualized for us, for the world, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, in the ascension of the Son of Man now seated at the Right Hand of the Father. The Church and the world, both, need to be confronted by this other-this-worldly reality as that is presented to them in the face of Jesus Christ.

This life is short. It is important to be focused on what lasts. I am impressed this way as I reflect on my dad’s recent passing, as I reflect on the terminal cancer I survived, as I see so many people losing their lives all around. Our mortality is in our faces every moment of everyday. We attempt to quarantine that reality as much as possible and cultivate lives of wantonness in its vacuum. But it’s better to live in reality and understand that we are constantly being given over to the death of Christ that His life might be made manifest through the mortal members of our bodies. In other words, the brevity of life, and surely this is a real brevity, ought to cause the person to focus on what ultimately matters and allow the details of God’s life of love to inform our daily moments as if but a vapor in comparison to His eternal life. We ought to focus on who God is as our Father, and from there live lives that have the purpose of God as its anchor.

I remember what it was like to wake up every morning and for a split second forget that I had an incurable/terminal cancer, and then the shock and horror of the reality would hit me all over again. I haven’t lost this perspective. It haunts me at levels. But the LORD uses this perspective, this inescapable reality that we are dying to remind me that I have life in and from His life; a life in Christ that has already passed from death to resurrection life, of which there is no end. And all of this hopeful purposeful reality is because God is Love.

A Talking-Theology Rather Than A Thinking-Theology

Photo credit, Mikhail Shankov circa. 1995

I am a proponent of what we have called Dialogical Theology. This form of theology is given its most pointed development, as far as I’m aware, by Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance. There are different aspects of this type of theology, but the primary point of interest for me, at least in this post, has to do with the conversational nature of theology. For Athanasian Reformed types doing theology as if God has spoken (Deus dixit), and continues to speak with us, is the basis for all subsequent theologizing. We are not theologians of an artifact; we are not archeologists seeking relics to serve as means of grace between us and God; we are theologians first and foremost because we have come to personally know the living and triune God as we have been confronted by Him, and continue to be, afresh and anew, through the voice of the living Christ.

Contrariwise, my sense with much that passes as Christian theology these days doesn’t start with this dialog between the theologian and the LORD in the way I have been describing. This stems, I’d argue, from a theological methodology at odds with the biblical way of engaging and/or encountering God in Christ therein. That is, classical theology tends towards starting with God as object rather than subject; to think What God is rather than Who He has personally revealed Himself to be by the Spirit in Jesus Christ. As such, classical theology, or neo-classical theism, because of its awry taxis vis-à-vis God, starts with their thoughts about God, and bring those to the God revealed in Christ. Once they synthesize their thoughts, or that of the god of the philosophers, with the God revealed to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in Jesus Christ, they feel that they have established a solid foundation from whence the conversation between them and God can get started. This is not the way of the Man from Nazareth.

Jesus, the Son of Man, didn’t approach God through the god of the philosophers prior to starting discussion with His Father. He simply worshipped, praised, lamented, petitioned, and con-versated with the Father, by the Spirit, from the get-go. This is the model of dialogical theology. It is one that starts from within the center of God for us in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. The dialog is an evangel-shaped discussion that starts from the within the mysterium Trinitatis, as that is given for us in God’s Self-revelation in the Logos ensarkos, Jesus Christ. This is the condition, the basis of dialogical theology; it is the simple, but profound notion that we have an immediate audience with the triune God through the torn veil, the broken body of Jesus Christ. It starts from the premise that we are co-heirs with Christ, adopted sons and daughters of the living God, and that God is thus our Father. As such, dialogical theology is a talking-theology, it isn’t a “thinking” theology, per se. That is, it isn’t the theology of the schoolmen, but instead the theology of the paideia, the children of the living God.

The above might sound ‘more-pious-than-thou.’ But that isn’t my fault, I am simply pointing out that the theology of neo-classists is not the theological way revealed in Jesus Christ. Dialogical theology is a theology of immediacy before God as that is supplied for through the mediatorial humanity of Jesus Christ. Neo-classical theology, or the speculative way, is a theology of mediacy that comes through abstract human speculation about God, which then becomes the self-proclaimed holy ground upon which the theologian must think God; and at some point, gets around to talking with God. Some might call what I’m referring to as neo-classical theology, as foundationalism, if we were having a discussion about postmodernity; but we aren’t. My suggestion to all, as Christians, those would-be theologians: just start talking to the God revealed in Jesus Christ, and authoritatively borne witness to in Holy Scripture. In this discussion, the theologian will be transformed from glory to glory, able to behold the Glory of the living God with that much greater clarity and intimacy. Soli Deo Gloria 

 

 

Dying in Defeat, But Rising Eternally in the Victory of Christ: A Reflection on My Dad’s Death

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. —I Corinthians 15.20-28 

It has been just over seven months since my dad, Ron Grow, went to be with the Lord. He died a death of despair; he suffered immensely, in particular, the last two years of his life. My dad was an evangelist, church planter, pastor, and hospital chaplain over his career (along with other jobs, including a manager at a car lot). He was an extrovert, who in his good times, was exceedingly fun to be around. He would share Christ with whoever would listen; this was his orientation even as a pastor, always an evangelist. Some of my first memories of my dad are when we would go through a drive-thru at a fast-food restaurant. He would share Christ with the person taking our order, and then finish up at the window when we received our food. This sort of evangelistic mode shaped my dad’s life right up until the end; even when he was broken and defeated. 

But this was also the tragedy. My dad had many struggles (I won’t share them here). He died a bruised and broken reed. He was alone when he died in the rest-home, because of COVID restrictions. He didn’t die from COVID, he had COVID and fully recovered from that. He died because he was in total despair, and gave up. But the GoodNews, the news that he shared so frequently through his life, was that God in Christ never gave up on my dad. The Lord carried my dad into the heavenly regions the second he took his last breath on January 11, 2021 at 4am (pst). In that moment, in a twinkling of an eye, my dad slipped the bonds of his drudgery, and experience of hell on earth, and literally stepped foot into the presence of the risen Christ, the triune God, where there are God’s pleasures forevermore. My dad did not enter the heavenly realm in victory, but in defeat; nevertheless, he had someone standing in victory for Him in Jesus Christ. And so he finally knows the peace that surpasses all understanding; the peace that escaped him for so long on this earth. This was his only hope, he had given up on finding peace in the anguish of his life here. It is a tragedy that will forever break my heart; that is, until the tragedy is swallowed up by the beatific vision of the revealing of the sons of God. At that point I look forward to entering into the life my dad now knows as a translated child of God. I look forward to hugging my dad, and once again kissing him on his head; but this time, not while he’s suffering in agony, this time in the glorified fellowship that we will share together in the participatory bliss of being included in the perichoretic life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

The Apostle Paul, by the Holy Spirit, knew that there was one last final enemy to be dealt with for Jesus. Not that Jesus hasn’t dealt with it, but that we only experience that dealing by the faith of Christ; not by sight, yet. Death is genuinely an enemy, and to experience it, the loss it produces, is full of grief and overwhelming feelings of absence. This is the experience I continually have as I think about the loss of my dad. He was a complex. He was often a rascal, and hard to deal with. Nevertheless, of course, I love him. We all experience the loss produced by the ‘last enemy.’ This is what Jesus came to save us from. It isn’t a loss that lasts, it is a loss that has been redeemed and its absence has been given the presence (parousia) of the risen Christ. This is why when I grieve my dad, and the loss of others, I can do so with the certain hope that the sting of death has lost its venom. It hurts, but only temporarily. The eternity set before us, as that has been secured by the flesh and blood of the Son of Man for us, is as stable as God’s life is in itself for the other. This is the anchor of our hope as we feel the ravages of the last enemy pressing its ugly face against us. ‘Though we die, yet shall we live.’ My dad knows this actualistically now. His pain and anguish have indeed been swallowed up by the eternity of God’s everlasting refreshment; a refreshment that is like a well-spring that bubbles over with the living water of God’s eternal life.  

In the meantime, we feel loss and absence. The last enemy is still lurking like a roaring lion seeking who it may devour. But it is only like a lion, the actual Lion of God, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, has defeated death, triumphing over it, making a public spectacle of it at the cross. The absence of loved ones, and even those we don’t know, but know of, is tempered by the reality that death now is only temporary; but only for those who have given their lives to Jesus Christ. My dad knew so well, even in his most defeated moments, that his only hope was Jesus Christ. Even in his despair he would call out to Jesus, he would cry out in ‘Jesus’ name!’ He knew that this was the hope of God for him, and that Christ alone would break the seemingly bronze plate pressed upon him; that Christ alone would come and save him again and again, till finally that coming would result in being in His risen presence. This is the hope all people have been provided with through the Incarnation and Atonement of God in Christ; through the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lamb slain before the foundations of the world. To be in His life, is to be in the life that death cannot ultimately touch. It might touch us in the moment, but compared to eternity it does not in fact compare to the eternal weight of glory God has won for us in His humanity in Jesus Christ. My dad lives drenched in this Christ-gained reality, along with the fellowship of the triumphant saints. He lives in this reality, just as all the saints do, not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the living God; by the grace of Christ, as that eternally crescendos in the courtroom of God for all who will (Jn 3.16). Hurry up; come Lord, Jesus; come quickly!  

On Being Dead, Then Alive: The Christian Feeling

The following from Karl Barth encapsulates what I was attempting to get at in my recent post on Colossians 2.20. He writes: 

In the eternal election of the one man Jesus of Nazareth, God, merciful in His judgment, appoints for man a gracious end and a new gracious beginning. He makes him die in order that he may truly live. He makes him pass in order that he may acquire a real future. The purpose of the election of this One is God’s righteous and saving will to deal with man’s need at is very root and to show this man the supreme favour by taking his place in the person of this One, taking away from man and upon Himself the bitterness of man’s end, and bringing upon man the whole joy of the new beginning. Thus the election of this One is His election to death and to life, to passing and to new coming.1 

There is a primordial, an apocalyptic reality to this that needs be felt in the Christian’s daily life. The Christian existence is one that is ‘constantly being given over to the death of Christ, that the life of Christ might be made manifest in our mortal bodies.’ I want to impress this upon my brethren and sistren in the most stringent of ways possible; for without grasping this, the Christian life only remains an anemic formalism wherein the power of God is only known in name only. The Christian, definitionally so, is ‘in Christ’; they are ‘one spirit with Christ’; they are ‘dead and hidden in Christ, who is their life.’ This cannot remain an intellectualism, but must be pressed into by an ongoing dialogue with God as we participate in the intercessory session of the Son of the Right-Hand. We are creatures of the ‘new-coming,’ who is the eschatos of God’s life for us, Jesus Christ.  

An aside: My appreciation for Barth, just as with my appreciation for TF Torrance, is that they are dialogical theologians. They are not analytic theologians, and thus resist being categorized within analytic or scholastic categories. And yet I see many attempting to do this with them. This practice ought to be shuttered post-haste! This passage from Barth, and many found in TFT’s works, illustrate the sort of theologians they were. They were theologians engaged with the speaking God. 

1 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §34-35: Study Edition (New York, New York: T&T Clark, 2010), 64. 

A Reflection on Colossians 2:20: ‘As if you were still alive in the world’

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. —Colossians 2.20-23 

I have shared the whole pericope, but I want to focus on verse 20. In particular, I want to reflect (so this isn’t proper exegesis) on this clause: “as if you were still alive in the world . . . .” I have literally read Colossians more than a thousand times over the last twenty-six years, and yet as I quickly read it last time this clause stood out to me in deep ways. The thing I like so much about the epistle to the Colossians is its eschatological and creational motifs, and how the Apostle Paul (by the Spirit) masterfully draws those motifs in and from Jesus Christ. What is striking to me about this clause is the conditional ‘as if.’ Because of God’s disruptive grace for us, as that confronts us in the Logos ensarkos (the Word enfleshed), we have been brought into a whole new realm of concrete existence. Even as if we live in this worldthe world that is passing away like a shadow—we are no longer strangled by the bonds ‘this world’ order is.  

I think what strikes me so much about this is the primal idea regarding the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. It is the sui generis non-analogous nature of the whole event that causes me to fall prostrate on my face before God. It is the announcement from God alone in Christ that declares that I am no longer alive in this world; that I am a citizen of heaven, and as such I am no longer encumbered by the wiles of this evil age. The notion that I am genuinely free, just as our Triune God is eternally free in His inner-life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, causes me to place my hand over my mouth in awe-struck. Because of what Christ has done by freeing us from this evil age, and transferring us into the ‘Kingdom of the Son’s love,’ we are no longer citizens of this world system; the one that is travailing under a futility it cannot begin to grasp.  

I have an apocalyptic excitement about the reality that I am no longer ‘alive in the world’; that I am only alive in the world of the Kingdom whose foundations can never be shaken. The fact that as Christians we have been transferred to another Kingdom, of the sort that comes with God’s creatio ex nihilo power, says to me that I no longer need to fret and wane along with the rest of this world. In other words, I can have a genuine witness to the world, of which I am no longer alive in, because I am alive from another world whose foundations are the Lord Himself. This goes beyond ethereal platitudes; indeed, this is the concrete reality of all reality. And so, as Christians we walk by the vision of the world from whence we find our lives and orientation; our vision is the faith of Christ for us. In this world we can see from the eschatos of God’s life, who is Jesus Christ. We can see from a world that does not require insight from this world system. And because of this we can genuinely be witnesses to this world, the one we inhabit from day to day, because we see the grandeur of what in fact real life entails. This world, the one that has been triumphed over by the cross of Christ, needs to see the real world through those of us who are its ambassadors. I cannot think of a time in world history where this has been more urgent than today. Maranatha 

A Reflection on Galatians 6:14-16: The World Crucified to Me, and I to the World

14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. –Galatians 6:14-16

This has got to be one of my favorite passages of Holy Scripture. The idea of the world being crucified to me, and I to the world could not underscore the Primacy of Jesus Christ more! The amount of concrete hope this gives me is unsurpassable. When I look at the world, like the Psalmist, there is nothing of this world [system] that I desire. To know that the very ground of my life is rooted in the new creation of God’s vicarious humanity for me in Jesus Christ gives me hope inexpressible. To know that this ‘Israel of God,’ Jesus Christ, is the ground of all reality, and that His life, ever anew and afresh, breaks into the surly bonds of this dying creation is more hopeful than anything this world has to offer. And that’s precisely the point: this world has nothing to offer me except pain, suffering, and death. It is only the new creation, the new humanity of God for us in Christ wherein this old world under an unwanted futility springs to life. It is as the hope of tomorrow disrupts the anguish of today, that today comes to be in-spired by its full redemption in the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This primal reality, that is the resurrected and ascended humanity of the Theanthropos, Jesus Christ, gives this weary soul a hope and power to live life from that is unsearchable in its wonder.

None of this reality is contingent upon what I have done for God; it is purely dependent upon what He has unilaterally done for me, for us in Jesus Christ. Again, this is the hope; that is that this old world has already been put to rights; that this world of old has been put to death and raised anew in the re-created humanity of Jesus Christ. This is the hope, the reality that this world could never imagine; and even if it could start to it would never have the power to make it real. At base, it is this primal event in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection that puts the world on notice that the only place where real human life happens is in its death, burial, and resurrection in Jesus Christ. It requires eyes of faith to see this; for the Christian walks by the faith of Christ, not the sight of the heart that is darkened beyond feeling. I live my life by this faith; its touchstone is the smiling face of Jesus Christ shining through this broken vessel that I typically know as my body. ‘For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ’ (I Corinthians 3:11). The Christian life is purely about God’s work for us, and none of our works for Him; this is God’s grace, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God’s work for us, just as He is God’s eternal Logos who freely elected our humanity for Himself that we might come to participate in His Divine Life of Triune intimacy. This is what the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world comes to: that is, the indestructible life of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah; the eternal Son of the Father in the bond of Holy Love breathed over by the koinonial refreshment of the Spirit. This is my inhabitatio Dei. To God Alone be the Glory 

Christology is the via for My Theological Existence

Christology is the via for my theological existence. If the Spirit’s ministry is to point to Jesus; if Jesus thinks Holy Scripture is all about Him; if the very beginning of the Bible has Jesus (‘seed of the woman’) as the protagonist of the whole thing; then it is Christology for me all the way down. I see no other way for actually coming to know the living God, if in fact the Word enfleshed (Logos ensarkos) has come exclusively for that very purpose. If the Son, the One who has always already been in the womb of the Father for us (Deus incarnandus) is said to be God’s ἐξήγησις (‘exegesis’) for us, then who am I, little ole’ Bobby Grow, to impose any other strictures on that. As a Christian, as one who says that Jesus is Lord by the Spirit, I have already acknowledged that I take God at His Word; and His Word, is of course the Father’s Son; it is He who is the res, the reality of the hidden God made visible pro me/nobis. I am willing to be naïve, and take God at His Word; to participate in His second objectivity in His economy for me as that is given ad extra in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. My life knows no other orbit than the one that keeps me in the pull of God’s Son. If He is the ‘firstborn from the dead,’ the ‘firstfruits’ of God, then I am bound to His life as the origin of it all. If Jesus is the reason for all of creation, if ‘the earth was made so that Christ might be born’ (Fergusson), and if I’m part of that creation, my reason for being is grounded in Christ.

My point is simply this: there is no theological theology outwith the Christology of God for us in Jesus Christ. He is the fundamentum of every molecule and atom, even proton, even the invisible elements; as such, I am eternally at his behest. He is Lord, and I am not. I am at His gracious mercy; indeed, I’d rather be a doorkeeper at His pearly gates than a wandering star for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. When a theologian pontificates about grace perfecting nature all I can think is: no, God in Christ disrupts nature to the point of putting it to death, and re-creating. This must be the warp and woof of my theological way, or I have no way; I am like a wandering star at that point.

Solo Christo 

On the Emptiness of Theological Reading

I am a voracious reader, but I cannot simply read to just read. When I first started reading the Bible and theology in earnest it was because of my deep need for knowledge of God, and thus confidence in Him. This started to have the overflowing effect of pushing me to be a witness to the world and the Church that Jesus is Lord. Indeed, I was involved in evangelistic ministry, formally and informally (and still am in the latter) for many years. What pushed me to read was the questions and challenges I would receive in those sorts of evangelistic encounters. Often, I was challenged to the point that I would enter levels of existential crisis, and so I would read to assuage such crises. As a result of this I learned, and was refined. I came to know God in Christ in ways that were meaningful as a result of concrete experiences in my personal Christian existence.  

Similarly, when I entered Bible College and Seminary, I was challenged by the community therein to push deeper and further into a knowledge of God in Christ. There was a constant push of theological ideas that challenged me to read, and gain understanding in ways that outwith such community I wouldn’t have been pushed. The point I am driving at though is that I need to have direction for my reading. I cannot simply sit in the middle of a bunch of book stacks, which is exactly what my side of the bedroom looks like, and read read read with no telos in mind. This is why I’ve come to write so much. The blog hasn’t been a place for ‘theological activism,’ but a place that helps provide a meaningful rationale for my reading. Some would say, get a PhD then. Write a book then. Do something meaningful that way. And maybe I will yet do that. But the blog hits multiple notes all at once for me. It provides a place for public witness; it gives me a space to drop significant ideas I come across through my readings; and it works logistically given my lame-life schedule (I work graveyards).  

Currently, I am at a crossroads in a certain way though. I am starting to feel a bit burnt-out. I have probably fifteen books going right now, and I feel like I’m reading them simply to read them. I have no reason for reading them, per se. Part of that is my reading project of Barth’s Church Dogmatics, but even that is losing some luster (although I will finish). The problem, I think, is that I have no real meaningful reason for doing all the reading I do. I am at a point where the level I read at, theologically, only has a niche community that could potentially have interest in what I am learning; and I have somewhat alienated myself from that (academic) community for a variety of reasons (and that’s fine too).  

I am not looking for advice, not really. I am simply doing what I do: outletting. But I think it does highlight an important point. There must be an ethic and telos to our theology reading, other than serving as an occasion to promote ourselves to others; that is, by saying: “oh yeah, I read two hundred books last year, look at me!” Reading needs meaning, it needs an audience. For me, as a Christian, it needs to have points of contact with Church people. Writing for a CV has zero appeal to me. A CV does me no good. What will last is my witness to others in the Church. A CV can be rationalized as career-necessary, and that career can be rationalized as meaningful for the Church. But in reality, and at bottom, I think that is mostly just a rationalization. If people write essays and books that only ten people (tops) will ever read, and typically only see as a means to promote their own careers by, then what does such writing and living have to do with actually edifying the communio sanctorum 

I will keep reading, but I have to slow down and write as I read; because “I write to learn.” That’s about the extent of why I read at this point; it is to write. And I write with hopes of bearing witness to more than ten academics who are mostly only interested in promoting themselves and their respective careers. I’ve been in the academic game long enough to know that it isn’t ultimately a meaningful enterprise, at least not for me. The game that motivates me is the long-eternal game, and thinking about the meaningfulness of being a participant in the Church catholic. If I can keep that frame in mind, my reading gains traction and meaning insofar that I can imagine that what I am learning might in fact make contact with people in the churches.  

Holy Communion: Remembering that Human Life is in Christ’s Blood

The late, John Webster, wasn’t just a Christian theologian par excellence; he was also a pastor. The following comes from part of a sermon he gave on Maundy Thursday. A major thrust of his sermon was to remind the parishioners that Holy Communion is not something that re-enacts or re-presents the death of Jesus Christ; indeed, as Webster presses, the Eucharist is a memorial event wherein we, as the Church, remember the already finished work (in the perfect tense: my insight) that Jesus alone accomplished once and for all in the givenness of His life for the world. As Webster presses this point, and rightfully so, he offers a beautiful description of what, in the history has been called: the mirifica commutatio (‘wonderful exchange’). Here Webster is underscoring the idea that what God in Christ has done, has been done; indeed, what has been done God alone could accomplish on our behalf. I found Webster’s rendition of the ‘wonderful exchange’ edifying, and so I want to share it with you now. 

What was done there and then? What is it about the Lord’s death that the Eucharist proclaims or testifies? Isaiah, whose Servant Song provides the bass line of our thoughts this Holy Week, tells us that the wounding and bruising and chastising of the Servant is “for our transgressions” (53:5). The cross of Jesus, celebrated in Holy Communion, is the climactic event in which God acts to win the world back from the darkness and misery of sin. In some way, the death of this one changes the entire course of human history; it intercepts and breaks the whole course of human wickedness; henceforth, because of what this man does and suffers, nothing can be the same. Why not? Because in this little scrap of an event one Friday afternoon, this unremarkable bit of human evil, God takes our place. He enters without reserve into the reality of our situation—into our situation, that is, as those who have damned ourselves, who have cut ourselves off from life and put ourselves into hell, all because we made up the lie that we can be human without God. 

But God does not leave us in the hell we have made for ourselves. In the person of Jesus his Son and Servant, he comes to us; he takes on his own back the full weight of our alienation and estrangement; he freely submits to the whole curse of our sin. He takes our sin upon him, and in so doing he takes it away, fully, finally, and conclusively. And of all that—of that miracle of grace on Good Friday—this evening is a memorial, the memorial of that his precious death. 

That was what was done. It was done not by us, but by God himself in the person of his Servant and Son. And it was done by God alone. Because reconciliation is thus God’s work, God’s exclusive work, then this sacrament in which we remember the cross of Christ is also God’s work. Here, in this assembly at this table, God is at work. And God’s work here is to present to us, to make present to us, what took place on Good Friday. We don’t make Good Friday real by re-enacting it, or by thinking and feeling about it. God in this sacrament declares to us what Good Friday made true: that he is our reconciler; that sin is finished business; that we can repent because God has forgiven; that the promise acted out in the death of Jesus stands for all time and for each human person. In this memorial, God turns us backward; but he also makes present to us the limitless power of what the Son of God suffered. The God who was at work there and then is at work here and now, proclaiming to us his promise of cleansing, acceptance and peace.1 

The Apostle Paul describes the ‘wonderful exchange’ this way: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (II Cor. 8.9). Webster brings out so many rich insights in his telling of what in fact unfolded in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The following clause, in particular stands out to me: “as those who have damned ourselves, who have cut ourselves off from life and put ourselves into hell, all because we made up the lie that we can be human without God.” This is the depth dimension of the Evangel. What it genuinely means to be human is to be human before (in and from) God. To declare that ‘we’ can be human devoid of God, devoid of a coram Deo life, is indeed: Hell!  

Holy Communion is to remind us, moment by moment, that we are not our own; and that if we persist, indeed, perdure in the lie that we can be our “own man or woman,” that we will only dissolve into an abyss of hell. But Christ has entered into that deep abyss, and by the life which is in His blood, we can truly experience what it means to be human before God; indeed, to be human is to be in union and fellowship with God. This is who Jesus is for us, and what the Eucharist is to continuously remind us of until it is finally consummated in the eschaton as that finally comes in the Eschatos of God’s life for us in Jesus Christ. Maranatha  

1 John Webster, Confronted by Grace: Meditations of a Theologian (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), 61-2, Kindle Edition.

The Finality of Every Breath in Jesus’ Name: Orthodoxy Leads to Orthopraxy

What does it all matter? To have all knowledge, but not have the triune God in view; means nothing. Polemics, while a necessary evil, and if done from a big perspective, can end up being fruitful, but it is not the end. The end always already is Christ alone. The Christian’s aim ought to be about magnifying Jesus; this is the Fruit of the Spirit; this is what the Spirit came to do, to magnify Jesus and His teaching (cf. John 14—16). And yet there remains this tension. Without orthodoxy there cannot be orthopraxy. So, when we discern crooked teaching, because we love one another, we need to identify it and call it out. But when we call each other out there is inevitable rupture between the two or multitude of parties involved; especially when this is done between brothers and sisters in the online context. Nevertheless, error must be called out; error that is identified to the best of our lights. I know too many people, even family members, myself included, who have suffered from bad teaching. Bad teaching can literally be deadly, and I am not speaking metaphorically; bad doctrine can lead to bad thought patterns, and other things, that can ultimately lead someone to an untimely death.

People, in Calvin’s day, understood this. Remember the infamous Servetus? He was executed for teaching bad doctrine; for being identified as an unrepentant heretic. Was his execution by the Genevan magistrates justified? No, especially by our standards today. But the reason they saw heresy—and this was common practice among Protestant and Catholic Cantons alike—with such gravitas was because they believed that heretical or bad teaching would have eternal consequences one way or the other; so, the heretic was seen as worse than a murderer. They were seen as eternal murderers, as such, at that time, the magistrates and church leaders believed that capital punishment was justified. I only bring this up, not to reintroduce this damnable practice itself (ie the execution of heretics), but to simply illustrate how important some of our Christian heirs viewed mal teaching. In light of that though, I think we would do well to remember the gravity of what is being handled when we proclaim the eternal Gospel of the living God. How we disciple people following their ‘conversion’ can lead them in the ‘more accurate way,’ or instead potentially lead them into shadowy paths of darkness that might have really serious and even deadly consequences for the person.

This is why I take theology so seriously. It is not about being approved by my peers; it is about being approved by the living God. Indeed, in Christ we have all been approved by God, but this doesn’t mean we aren’t responsible for our own circumspection in regard to what we teach others; particularly when we proclaim ourselves as teachers in the Church. Indeed, we are all teachers, as Christians, one way or the other in the Church. Even if we aren’t ‘bishops’ or ‘shepherds’ or ‘elders’ so to speak, per se, our Lord commissioned us to go out and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the Christian’s charge, one and all, and so we are all responsible on a varying range, before God with reference to what and who we are bearing witness to as Christians. As John says, and this is sobering and cheering, “as Christ is so also are we in the world.” I am hit with this sort of sobriety quite frequently. Even so, I just as easily as anyone else get caught up in the antics of the internecine theology battles, and lose sight of what is at stake. Winning an online theology battle for my ‘position’ isn’t ultimately what is at stake, per se. What is at stake is whether or not we are doing our darndest to wrestle with God for the sake of pointing the world, and the Church alike, to the risen Christ. When we wrestle with God, or when I bring that reference up, that isn’t intended to be taken as a trite bible reference so you know that I know ‘my Bible,’ it is to point up just how serious this whole situation we are in is. Peter states it better than anyone I know:

13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. -I Peter 1:13-21

What we are doing now, as disciples of the risen Christ, and disciple makers of others, has eternal heft. I am writing this as much for myself as anyone else.

I am being convicted tonight about things. Yesterday was my 11th year anniversary for becoming cancer free from a cancer that should have statistically killed me (like it is in the incurable/terminal category with no known actual chemo protocol of its own, per se). And then my dad just entered glory only 4 months ago. And then I am looking out at all of the insanity, chaos, death, deception, and destruction in the world, and I am reminded that what we are doing right now is for keeps; there is a finality to every breath we breath in the name of Jesus Christ. And so, I felt compelled to put my convictions to paper, and maybe allow what the Lord is convicting me about, once again, to be a catalyst that might convict others to Holy sobriety as well. Kyrie eleison / Maranatha