Dedicated to Sean Mathison: A Reflection on Suffering and Jesus Christ

seanmathisonThis short essay is dedicated to a brother who I know through a mutual friend (Pastor Carlos Velasquez a  la Redondo Beach, CA), Sean Mathison. Sean just underwent a cancer resection surgery today (March 24, 2014) to remove a cancerous tumor from his brain; he still has one tumor that remains inoperable. Sean is just a young guy (mid-thirties) who loves Jesus, and serves the Lord at church through music-worship and other ways (I am sure!). Sean was only diagnosed with this condition just last week as he became symptomatic; so this is all happening ever so fast. I dedicate this post to Sean Mathison for the primary purpose and call on all of you who are reading this to keep him and his family in prayer. His prognosis is bleak (humanly speaking)–but then so was my cancer diagnosis–but we do not serve a God who is bounded by the ‘bleak’, but who is all powerful, and who is all loving! I will reflect on human suffering throughout the remainder of this essay.

Karl Barth in his short book Dogmatics In Outline, which is his explication of The Apostles’ Creed, offers a deep and rich reflection upon suffering, the cross of Christ, and how we ought to approach suffering in the light of God’s wondrous grace demonstrated therein. Let’s here from Uncle Karl:

But the present time of His life is really suffering from the start. There is no doubt that for the Evangelists Luke and Matthew the childhood of Jesus, His Birth in the stable of Bethlehem, were already under the sign of suffering. This man is persecuted all His life, a stranger in His own family—what shocking statements He can make!—and in His nation; a stranger in the spheres of State and Church and civilization. And what a road of manifest success He treads! In what utter loneliness and temptation He stands among men, the leaders of His nation, even over against the masses of the people and in the very circle of His disciples! In this narrowest circle He is to find His betrayer; and in the man to whom He says, ‘Thou art the Rock . . .’, the man who denies Him thrice. And, finally, it is the disciples of whom it is said that ‘they all forsook Him’. And the people cry in chorus, ‘Away with him! Crucify him!’ The entire life of Jesus is lived in this loneliness and thus already in the shadow of the Cross. And if the light of the Resurrection lights up here and there, that is the exception that proves the rule. The son of man must go up unto Jerusalem, must there be condemned, scourged and crucified—to rise again the third day. But first it is this dominant ‘must’ which leads him to the gallows.

What does it mean? Is it not the opposite of what we might expect from the news that God became Man? Here there is suffering. Notice that it is here for the first time in the Confession that the great problem of evil and suffering meets us directly. Already, of course, we have frequently had to refer to it. But according to the letter this is the first time we have an indication of the fact that in the relation between Creator and creature everything is not at its best, that lawlessness and destruction hold sway, that pain is added and suffered. Here for the first time the shadowy side of existence enters into our field of view, and not in the first article, which speaks of God the Creator. Not in the description of creation as heaven and earth, but here in the description of the existence of the Creator become creature, evil appears; here afar off death also becomes visible. The fact that this is so at least means this: that discretion is demanded in all descriptions of wickedness and evil as being to some extent independent. When that was done later, it was more or less overlooked that all this enters the field only in connexion with Jesus Christ. He has suffered, He has rendered visible what the nature of evil is, of man’s revolt against God. What do we know of evil and sin? What do we know of what is called suffering or what death means? Here we get to know it. Here appears this complete darkness in its reality and truth. Here complaint is raise and punished, here the relation between God and man is really made clear. What are all our sighs, what is all that man thinks he knows about his folly and sinfulness and about the lost state of the world, what is all speculation about suffering and death beside what becomes manifest here? He, He has suffered, who is true God and true man. All independent talk on the subject—that is, talk cut loose from Him—will necessarily be inadequate and imperfect. Unless talk on this matter goes out from this centre, it will be unreal. That man can bear the most frightful strokes of Fate and comes through untouched by anything as through a shower of rain: that can be seen by us to-day. We are simply untouched either by suffering or by evil in its proper reality; we know that now. So we can repeatedly escape from the knowledge of our guilt and sin. We can only achieve proper knowledge, when we know that He who is true God and true man suffered. In other words, it needs faith to see what suffering is. Here there was suffering. Everything else that we know as suffering is unreal suffering compared with what has happened here. Only from this standpoint, by sharing in the suffering He suffered, can we recognize the fact and the cause of suffering everywhere in the creaturely cosmos, secretly and openly.[1]  

As usual there are a diverse amount of rich threads ready to be pulled upon by this tightly packed précis on suffering by Barth, but I want to focus on the dominant thread. The thread which dominates Barth’s indomitable commitment to a Christ-centered reading of everything; in this case, suffering. What Barth develops is the idea, as we just read, that we do not really understand suffering and its purpose within the grander scheme of things apart from understanding it in Christ. When we suffer, according to Barth, it is not part of some sort of random, abstract thing fragmented from other things and other people; but it is part of the grand narrative that God in Christ has entered into for us, and where our understanding, as with everything else, becomes informed by God’s life which sustains and undergirds all of reality; including the foreign reality brought on by the atmosphere of evil, sin, suffering, and a host of other attendant things.

Personal Application

When I was living through my own experience of cancer I had moments where something like what I just wrote might have helped me and my perspective, but most days, it would not have. And so this kind of thinking about suffering (above) might be more for people around Sean, in particular, and those of us praying for him in general.

One of the scariest things for me, when I first found out that I had cancer, was this idea that some sort of alien force had entered my body, and that it was running around in my body in an insidious way as if it was totally out of control. I remember, specifically one night, when I was at work (Toyota Logistics Services at the time), driving around in new Toyotas (at this point I only knew I had a large mass in my body, presumably cancer, but we did not know what kind it was yet), and thinking about this invasive monster in my body. And as I was just beginning to think this way, and give way to the fear that came with it, the Lord broke into my heart and contradicted this kind of demonic inspired thinking; he said to my heart: ‘that He is the Lord of my body, and that He is even Lord of this mass in my body,’ and this instantly brought peace to my heart, at least in regard to this line of fearful thinking.

We are all different, and respond to trauma inserted into our lives in different ways, and even as Christians, based upon where we are at with the Lord, etc. But whatever way we respond, whatever kinds of fears we entertain or rebuke, the Lord suffered first. He is the touchstone of all suffering. He places it into its proper and intelligible order within the economy of his life, and thus provides us with the conceptual capacities to know how to think about suffering when we are able. When we are faced with tragedy upon tragedy like this (like Sean’s cancer), we don’t do so independent from God’s life, but right from the center of His life for us in Jesus Christ.

I am praying for you, my dear brother, Sean, and for your family and friends as the days and nights continue to unfold for you and you all within the domain of God’s life in Jesus Christ for you. amen.  

 

[1] Karl Barth, Dogmatics In Outline (London: SCM Press, 1949), 102-04.

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Responding to Eboo Patel on Interfaith Action and Pluralism

I just posted the following to my group blog for a program I am a part of through Princeton Theological Seminary. One of our assignments was to listen to the following podcast by Eboo Patel, and the following is what I wrote in response to what he had to say. Patel is a Muslim, and yet he promotes an inter-faith approach to things. As you will be able to infer from what I wrote in response, I don’t agree with him, even if I think his desires are noble (which I do think they are). Click here to listen to the podcast if you want (it is approx 18 minutes). Here is my response:

ghandiI just finished listening to the assigned podcast for pre-session #4 class work which was a short lecture given by Eboo Patel on interfaith interaction and ecumenical and inclusive engagement between various faith traditions; in particular, for him, between Christians, and his faith tradition, Islam. And yet as I listened to Patel’s very articulate and winsome talk, what stood out to me was that he seemed to be ameliorating the substantial differences and distinctives inherent between Islam, Christianity, and other ‘faith’ traditions. And that he places a higher premium on our shared human and earthly situation, and in the process diminishes the ‘eternal’ realities that give each of our faith traditions there actual distinctiveness; that is, I see Patel diminishing the significance and thus importance of what we think about God. It appears that Patel holds to the an idea that the concept ‘God’ is actually an ‘eternal’ reality, who in the end ends up being the same reality, and thus in the present what is important in the ‘earthly’ experience of ‘God’ is to focus on our shared experiences and various, but shared expressions of ‘faith.’

Interestingly, what Eboo Patel is doing, and the way he is emphasizing a ‘pluralistic’ approach to inter-faith cooperation sounds very similar to the way that theologian John Hick approached his expression and understanding of Christianity through his ‘pluralist universalist’ approach. Christian theologian Christian Kettler describes Hick’s approach (and quotes Hick in the process); notice, as you read this, how well Hick’s approach (as described by Kettler) dovetails with Patel’s approach. I think there is more than coincidence going on between Patel’s informing approach, and how Hick approaches things; here is Kettler on Hick:

Hick responds to this challenge by stressing 1) the structural continuity of religious experience with other spheres of reality, and 2) an openness to experimental confirmation. “Meaning” is the key concept which links religious and mundane experience. “Meaning” for Hick is seen in the difference which a particular conscious act makes for an individual. This, of course, is relative to any particular individual. Verification of this experience is eschatological because of the universal belief in all religions that the universe is in a process leading towards a state of perfection.

The epistemological basis for such an approach is found in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Hick’s soteriology is based on “Kant’s broad theme, recognizing the mind’s own positive contribution to the character of its perceived environment,” which “has been massively confirmed as an empirical thesis by modern work in cognition and social psychology and in the sociology of knowledge.” The Kantian phenomena in this case are the varied experiences of religion. All have their obvious limitations in finite humanity, so none are absolutely true.

In contrast to Kant, however, Hick believes that the “noumenal” world is reached by the “phenomenal” world of religious experience. “The Eternal One” is “the divine noumenon” experienced in many different “phenomena.” So the divine can be experienced, but only under certain limitations faced by the phenomenal world. Many appropriate responses can be made to “the divine noumenon.” But these responses are as many as the different cultures and personalities which represent the world in which we live. Similar to Wittgenstein’s epistemology of “seeing-as,” Hick sees continuity between ordinary experience and religious experience which he calls “experiencing-as”.

The goal of all these religious experiences is the same, Hick contends: “the transformation of human existence from self-centeredness to Reality-centeredness.” This transformation cannot be restated to any one tradition.

When I meet a devout Jew, or Muslim, or Sikh, or Hindu, or Buddhist in whom the fruits of openness to the divine Reality are gloriously evident, I cannot realistically regard the Christian experience of the divine as authentic and their non-Christian experiences as inauthentic. [Kettler quoting: Hick, Problems of Religious Pluralism, 91.][1]

Even if Patel is not directly drawing from Hick’s pluralism (which I doubt that he is not), it becomes quite apparent how Patel’s ‘earthly’ vis-á-vis ‘eternal’ correlates with Hick’s appropriation of Kant’s ‘noumenal’ (which would be Patel’s ‘eternal’), and ‘phenomenal’ (which would be Patel’s ‘earthly’). What happens is that the actual reality of God is reduced to our shared human experience of what then becomes a kind of ‘mystical’ religious experience of God determined to be what it is by our disparate and various cultural, national, and ‘nurtural’ experiences. In other words, God and the ‘eternal’ becomes a captive of the human experience, and our phenomenal ‘earthly’ experiences becomes the absolutized end for what human flourishing and prosperity (peace) is all about.

Beyond this, Patel, towards the end of his talk uses a concept of ‘love’ that again becomes circumscribed by and abstracted to the ‘earthly’ human experience of that; as if the human experience of love has the capacity to define what love is apart from God’s life. But as Karl Barth has written in this regard:

God is He who in His Son Jesus Christ loves all His children, in His children all men, and in men His whole creation. God’s being is His loving. He is all that He is as the One who loves. All His perfections are the perfections of His love. Since our knowledge of God is grounded in His revelation in Jesus Christ and remains bound up with it, we cannot begin elsewhere—if we are now to consider and state in detail and in order who and what God is—than with the consideration of His love.[2]

In other words, for the Christian, our approach and understanding of ‘love’ cannot be reduced to a shared and pluralistic experience of that in the ‘earthly’ phenomenal realm. Genuine love for the Christian starts in our very conception of God which is not something deduced from our shared universal experience, but is something that is grounded in and given to us in God’s own particular Self-revelation in Jesus Christ.

In conclusion, I would argue that Eboo Patel’s ‘earthly’ pluralist approach is noble, but his approach is flawed because 1) ‘God’ cannot be adumbrated by our human experience (because for the Christian that our understanding of God is revealed from outside of us); and 2) ‘love’ is not simply an human experience that transcends all else, but instead is the fundamental reality of God’s Triune life. If love is the fundamental reality of who the Christian God is, then the object of our ‘faith’ as Christians, by definition, starts in a different place than all other religions and their various conceptions of God. If this is the case, then Christianity offers a particular (not universal) understanding and starting point to knowing God, and thus to understanding how love relates to truth (and vice versa). And yet, Christianity remains the most inclusive ‘religion’ in the world, because God loves all, and died for all of humanity; but this can only be appreciated as we start with the particular reality of God’s life in Jesus Christ.

None of what I just wrote means that we cannot work alongside or with other ‘faith’ traditions; it is just important, I think, to remember that who God is remains very important, and in fact distinguishes us one from the other. And that while we can and should befriend and conversate with other faith traditions, in the midst of this, we should not forget that there still is only one ‘way, truth, and life’ to the Father, and that way comes from God’s life himself, in his dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ. If we don’t want to affirm what I just suggested, then what we will be left with is something like John Hick’s ‘anonymous Christians’ with the notion that all ways are ‘valid’ expressions towards the one God ‘out there’ somewhere.

 


[1] Christian D. Kettler, The Vicarious Humanity of Christ and the Reality of Salvation (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publications, 1991), 65-6.

[2] Barth, CD II/1, 351.

Cancer, The Sick, The Outcasts, The Dying: Don’t Forget!

I wanted to take a moment and call us to remember a certain sector of people, of whom I was once apart (not too long ago), that are currently living in a reality that is worlds apart from the daily, mundane reality that ‘healthy’ jesusjairuspeople experience on a day to day existence. As Arthur McGill aptly notes of our society in relation to life and death:

[A]s we observe our lives in this country, we cannot help but be struck by the effort Americans make to appear to be full of life. I believe this duty is ingrained deeply in everyone. Only if we can create around us a life apparently without failure, can we convince ourselves that death is indeed outside, is indeed accidental, is indeed the unthinkable enemy. In other words, the belief that death is outside of life is not a fact to be acknowledged; it is a condition to be attained. Consider the American commitment to nice appearances. We often speak of the suburbs in terms of neat and flawless appearances. When we look at the lawns and the shrubs and the solid paint of those homes, who can believe the human misery that often goes on within them? And given the fine appearances of the suburbs, who can tolerate the slums of the inner city? After all, there we see life collapsing and going to pieces. Urban renewal is required, not to improve the living condition of the people, for they are simply moved elsewhere to less conspicuous slums. It is not to increase the tax revenue, because so much of urban renewal involves tax breaks, subsidized construction, and government office buildings. Rather, urban renewal is required in order to remove from the city that visible mark of the failure of life. [p. 18]

And following a little further on from this:

[W]hat about the people who do fail in America? And what about those who collapse of life? What about the sick and the aged and the deformed and the mentally retarded? Do they not remind us that the marks of death are always working within the fabric of life? No, because in the United States, deliberately and systematically, with the force of the law itself, we compel all such people to be sequestered where we cannot see them…. You’ll visit few homes where a very aged person is present and where that person’s imminent dying is integrated into the rhythm of family life. As for the insane, they are hidden in such well-landscaped institutions, behind such beautiful lawns and trees, that when we drive by in our shiny automobiles we cannot imagine the suffering that goes on within those walls. [Arthur C. McGill, Death And Life: An American Theology, (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1987), 18-9.]

portlandtramI used to drive by that tall and shiny glass plated building with the sky tram connected to it in downtown Portland, OR, and not give that building a second thought—the building that had OHSU stamped on it; I just thought it contributed to the picturesque skyscape of the Portland metroplex. Before 2009 I never would have imagined the kind of death and suffering I was driving by; I never would have contemplated the kind of human suffering that was being experienced, the reality of life-together dreams being snuffed out as spouses, siblings, nieces, nephews, grandparents and grandchildren were slowly dripping away as each drop of poison fell into the veins of those hoping that somehow this magical cocktail would resurrect instead of quench their shared dreams and hopes. But my experience changed. Once I was diagnosed with my statistically terminal cancer, I broke through that glass house, and saw what it looked like from the inside looking out, looking out (literally) on all the cars and people driving by aloof to the fact that I, along  with a host of others, was sitting there dying (of course I generalize to a degree, I am only referring to those driving by who themselves are generally healthy and not on their way to a glass plated building of their own).

Anyway, I thought I would just offer this (cheerful) post by way of reminder. There is a universe next door (as James Sire has used in another context), and people, even in America, are suffering untold misery (even self imposed as it might be sometimes). As you drive by the freshly waxed luxury car today, or you drive by the shiny glass palaces of veneer,  just remember that everyday life looks entirely different from the inside (of those glassy buildings) looking out.

As Christians (and McGill gets to this in the second half of his book), we embrace death, the death that Christ took for us, that His life might also be made manifest through the mortal members of our bodies (II Cor. 4.10). And we glory in weakness, because God’s strength is made complete in our weakness, as we understand that we ec-statically and continuously receive our life as gift from the Son’s life for us. So we don’t hide behind glass windows, and well manicured lawns; we look past the mockery of all that, just as Jesus did when he walked past all of the window dressing and false-mourners at the little girls death. Jesus confronted death with His life, and gave life by absorbing her death through His spoken Word Talitha koum! (Mark 5:35-42). We need to penetrate through all the falsity offered by the worldly crowd, those who mock death, by not genuinely dealing with it; and remember the sick among us.

PS. I would appreciate your prayers, I have my next CT scan at the end of May (just to make sure the cancer is still gone).

The Trinitarian Love Knot: Don’t try to love, without Christ that is.

Let’s talk about love. Not just any love, but true love; the kind of love that shapes who the Christian God is, my God (and your God if you’re in Christ). There are all kinds of popular and sentimental parodies of love at work in our world today; mostly lust is mistaken for love in our day and age. There is also a more developed conception of love amongst people in the world that believes that there is some sort of creaturely independence about love that is shared between two people (like in a marriage or boyfriend/girlfriend relationship). Indeed, there is this kind of bond, and a created one, that ought to inhere between a man and a woman (by way of God’s good creation and recreation, in Christ). But is it enough to say ‘I do’ to another, if the ground of that ‘I do’ is not intentionally and consciously centered in the love of Christ as the Son of the Father in and through the communion of the Spirit?

The divorce rate in America (and the world, but I will focus on America since I am an American) does not suggest that a kind of independent creaturely love (and I mean one that is not shaped in the ‘bosom’ of the Father of the Son) has any kind of committal force or dynamis to it. Instead the statistics on marriage in America suggest that a love without the cross of Christ and cruciform shape (which is the kind of sacrificial other focused love that shapes God’s intra-Trinitarian life love) has no staying power. At bottom this kind of love, devoid of the Spirit as it is, can only and always seek it’s own good; it cannot, definitionally, seek anything else because it loves the darkness rather than the light (according to John 3:16ff).

So I will simply make the assertion and thesis statement: That there is no true ontology or conception of love apart from its ground in the Triune life of God in Christ. Further, that human love has no purpose (or telos) if it is un-tethered from the life of God through the Spirit anointed mediating gracious humanity of Jesus Christ. The conclusion, then, is that human love as an end in itself has nowhere to finally look but back at self (homo in se incurvatus); because human love was always already intended to find its verve and slide in and through Christ’s Spirit empowered love of the Father.

Thomas Torrance provides a helpful description of what God’s Triune love is; he writes:

The fact that, as St John tells us, God is Love, who has manifested his love to us in sending his only Son into the world so that we might live through him, does not meant that God is Love in virtue of his love for us, but that God is in himself the fullness and perfection of Love in loving and being loved which out of sheer love overflows freely toward others. It means that the Love that God is, is not that of solitary inactive or static love, whatever that may be, but the active movement of reciprocal loving within the eternal Being of God which the one ultimate Source of all love. That God is Love means that he is the eternally loving One in himself who loves through himself, whose Love moves unceasingly within his eternal Life as God, so that in loving us in the gift of his dear Son and the mission of his Spirit he loves us with the very Love which he is. In other words, that God is Love as this loving One in Christ and in the Spirit, means that in their interpersonal reciprocal relations the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the Communion of Love which the One God eternally is in himself, and indeed is also toward us. It is as this ever living and acting Communion of loving and being loved that God is who he is, the perfection and fullness of Love that will not be confined with the Godhead but freely and lovingly moves outward toward others whom God creates for fellowship with himself so that they may share with him the very Communion of Love which is his own divine Life and Being. [Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons, 5-6]

As Torrance highlights, and in agreement with what I have been sketching previously, God’s Triune life is the only category of love available. We have been created and recreated in Christ to participate in God’s life of Triune life of love which as revealed in Christ is cruciform in shape. If we are not actively participating in this life of love, we cannot anonymously claim to be actually loving. A relationship without being grounded in participation in God’s life through Christ will only spin hopelessly and endlessly back to self. It won’t find its true orientation, as Augustine noted when he wrote: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” Hearts that are seeking union and communion, one with the other; hearts that are not the new ‘fleshy’ hearts (II Cor. 3) that we have in and through the heart of Christ cannot find rest and true union, but only disarray and destruction (ultimately).

God is Love. Amen.

The Special Nature of Scripture, is only Special, First, Because of Jesus: The Order

Let me quote a friend of mine, Darren Sumner (a PhD student at Aberdeen, almost done) on Karl Barth’s understanding of Scripture—I will be getting into what Darren is sketching further, as I provide some quotes and reflection from T.F. Torrance on Scripture and its humanity later today — all of this is in continued response to a friend whom I work with, who still seems quite skeptical about the Special witness of Scripture amongst the range that a pluralistic world and society and cultures provide relative to other books that claim to be Holy … so his concern continues to be, ‘okay, but what makes the Christian Bible most holy, or exclusively holy?’; and of course my answer has to do with what Sumner highlights below—relative to Barth’s view and usage of Scripture—that is, the centrality that Jesus Christ is to the whole of Scripture. As Carl Henry underscored for us the other day, Jesus himself and his personal view of Scripture ought to be determinative for how others (Christians and non-Christians alike) seek to understand and engage the authority and formative role of Scripture. So the problem for the higher critic or plain old non-believing person is not ultimately with the Special nature of Scripture, but instead; it is with the Special reality of the personal-work of Jesus Christ—who is the reality of Scripture’s witness. So this ultimately becomes an issue of first order V. second order consideration; Jesus and who he is is of first order importance, if you reject who he is, then it will only make sense that you will reject the second order and derivative specialty of Scripture—sense Scripture, for the Christian, is not an self-enclosed book of aphorisms and ‘historicisms’, but instead it is a book that like John Calvin’s spectacles is opened up towards it reality, Jesus Christ. So my friend from work (who is reading this 😉 ), we need to talk about something even that much more basic and fundamental; that is your rejection of Jesus as the Self-revealing, Self-interpreting personal loving gracious God who became fully man (and remained fully God) in the man from Nazareth, Jesus Christ. Our discussions are always, at least from me, going to be conditioned by this central reality. Without further ado then, let us hear from Darren on Barth’s view of Scripture; and then later today or tomorrow I will follow with some dovetailing (and even a bit more pointed for my friend) comments from Scottish born (and student of Karl Barth) theologian Thomas Forsyth Torrance. Sumner writes:

[B]arth is often criticized for having a low view of the nature of Scripture — that it is “mere” witness to God’s revelation, and not revelatory itself. (See this post for a bit more on this topic.) What we see here is that Barth’s view of the function of Scripture (read: its authority for believers) is, in fact, quite high. From its sermons and teachings to its theology, from its worship to its sacramental practice and its mission in the world, the church stands under the authority of Holy Scripture. It cannot do an end-run around the Bible and appeal to Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit in any form other than the one in which they present themselves to us.

But the church’s speech, including its historic creeds, is derivative of this.  In short, the church only speaks truth in the formulation of dogma insofar as it is faithfully explicating the Word of God in Scripture. The standard by which the rightness of doctrine — or “orthodoxy” — is to be measured is ultimately not the creeds but the Scripture to which they point. This was the view of the Reformers. The creeds and confessions of the tradition do play a regulative role, of course, but this role is largely sociological. [Darren O. Sumner, see full post here]

So this is rather self authenticating, which is the point, about the nature of Scripture. This doesn’t get into what has been called ‘Text, Canon, & Transmission’ issues of Holy Scripture, but it does get us to the premise from which those issues (of Scriptural formation) ought to be understood; again, that is relative to the central role that Jesus Christ himself has as the ground upon which these other issues of canonization take their tenor and form. Without Jesus taking up the Old Testament promises as their New Testament fulfillment, and without his self-conscious understanding of all of this; the Scriptures we have today would never have taken shape or form, there would have been no Church and no Apostolic witness to give something form in the first place. In other words, the Church and Scriptures must of necessity presuppose upon the fact that Jesus is & was both their author and finisher. So my friend from work 🙂 … we are going to have to talk more about Jesus before we can talk about canon. If you’re concern is that we wouldn’t have Jesus without the canon of Scripture, as I just noted, that would be to fail to recognize the proper order that must be present in order for the conditions of the canonization of the Scriptures to be present in the first place. So there is a self-authenticating sense to the formation of the Scriptures, but only insofar as that self-authenticity is given its reality through its special witness bearing capacity towards its subject matter; that is the person of Jesus Christ. More to come …

The Form of God's Love Letter

When I was a kid, my Sunday school teacher called the Bible “God’s Love Letter” to us; that stuck with me ever since. You know, as I peruse the theoblogosphere and look at all the different postings on various foci of Christian doctrine; it makes me wonder, and ask the LORD: “Lord, why didn’t you just give the Apostles a Systematic/Dogmatic theology; with every single point covered (like on issues surrounding salvation [e.g. election, predestination, etc.]), that way we would know exactly what we’re supposed to believe, and there would be unanimity and unity in the Church of Jesus Christ?” And this question made me think about the Bible itself, and the “form” it took under God’s inspiration; the Bible is an occasional book, all of its parts are shaped by certain historical and even theological situations (like Covenant unfaithfulness, immorality, Pseudo-Apostles, etc.) which each book (in its parts and whole) seek to speak into. So what this leads me to think is that the Bible does reflect what’s important to God in our understanding of him; 1) He is concerned with relationships, 2) And He is concerned with us realizing that our relationships find their ground in Him, His Son! So what’s important is illustrated by the form the Bible has taken itself — it’s not the scholastic points of doctrine, it’s loving relationship with a loving God. And the fact that He has left “doctrine” enthymemic (unstated, explicitly) in the Text, illustrates the importance of working out such things in the context of dynamic relationship (which is interesting, because our God — who is Trinity — is dynamic and relationship by nature).

Just a thought . . .