An Invitation: Battle to Be a Theologian of the Cross

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Staying alert theologically can be an outright spiritual battle. There is an array of things thrown at us in our daily lives that would seek to thwart the work of the Holy Spirit in a way that would cause us to revert back to the ‘flesh’ (see Galatians 3:1ff). We are born theologians, as we first enter this world through our mother’s womb we are conceived in sin, and so it takes the unilateral and gracious work of God in Christ to take our hearts of stone from us and give us hearts of flesh (see II Cor. 3:1ff) that are soft and malleable to His ways and not ours. If we quench this work of salvation, this work of reconciliation between God and humanity that has taken place in and through the vicarious humanity of Christ for us then we will be theologians of glory. We will seek out ways and systems of thought that take shape in the ‘idol factory’ of our minds and hearts (pace Calvin); we will construct civilization in a way that caters to our god, to ourselves and our desires; we will worship the creation rather than the Creator (see Romans 1), this world is always attempting to subvert and quench the work of the Spirit in our lives – the work that would make us to be theologian’s of the cross who take up our crosses daily and follow Christ (see Matt. 16:22ff). So being a theologian, a Christian theologian, a deep thinker who contemplates upon the depth realities of all that we are and have in Christ is a battle; one where we are required and implored to take every thought captive unto the obedience of Christ and to cast down every thought and imagination that would seek to elevate itself over God (see II Cor. 10); one where we are to cultivate a posture of gratitude and nourishment from the simplicity of the Gospel, in simple devotion to Jesus Christ (see II Cor. 11) submitting to God and resisting the devil (see James 4:7-8) who would attempt to make us into theologian’s of glory worshiping the angel of light rather than the Son of His glory (see Col. 1:13).

I am in this battle, so are you. We live in a world system that is busy. It is busy with “good things,” like making money at all costs, sacrificing our families for Mammon, and subsuming our time under the banner of lust and lampoon, but not under the banner of His love (see Song of Songs). I am in this battle. I have been working really hard at my new job with the railroad. I have been in Railroad school which requires all of my time (literally everyday), and yet I am a theologian, I am a Christian who worships the Triune God of life and hope. It is a battle to not give in and simply become a theologian of glory; not because I have rejected the cross of Christ, but because I simply have no time to devote to my Lord. Not that I can’t do my railroad school work and job as unto the Lord, I can and I will by God’s grace, but I want to do so with understanding. It is important to have the capacity to feed the soul with the depth reality of who God is in Jesus Christ. Otherwise the things of the world, even if they might appear necessary and “good” can lure us into patterns of life that subtly lead us away from the cross, and ultimately lead us to ourselves. Remaining a theologian of the cross is a battle. I can attest to this, as I am sure you can.

I am dedicated, to my dying breath to being a theologian of the cross! There are Christians suffering and being killed all over the world simply because they love Jesus Christ. The least that I can do is press on in the resource and circumstance the Lord has given me, and on their behalf, and as a member of the body of Christ I can and will (Lord willing) grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ; I will pray with understanding (by God’s grace) on behalf of my brothers and sisters who cannot (see Hebrews 4; 7:25). I will bear their burdens (see Galatians 6), and hurt when they hurt (see I Cor. 12), and cry out as if in prison with them (see Hebrews 10), and I will do so (by God’s grace) through studying and research and writing as unto the Lord, and from the Lord. I will be a theologian of the cross, not so I can be smarter than you, or more knowledgeable than you, but in service to God’s body in Christ, in service to his sacred Church.

I invite you to fight this battle with me, and I further invite you to rebuke any thought that would allow you the role of apathy; you are not allowed to do that, and neither am I! We are soldiers for Christ, and part of that, in our part of the world and circumstance in particular means that we avail ourselves to study of God’s Word which includes availing ourselves to the riches that God has given to us in his body in the past and into the present. I could say more, but I will stop. I invite you to the battle, take up your cross daily and follow Christ before it is to late to do good, there is opportunity yet (see Galatians 6).

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On Being a Regular Christian

Mind you, this is completely off the top, and very probing on my part (remember this is a blog, not an essay-engine).

billygrahamWhat does it mean to be a Christian? I mean a real life, kicking and screaming Christian. As a North American evangelical Christian, let me share with you a few observations that I have had over the years of what being a ‘regular Christian’ looks like to me:

  1. It seems like most North American evangelical Christians (NAEC) aren’t all that motivated. There is a genuine piety, usually, but more often than not it seems as if being an NAEC ends up being more about going through the motions, and staying pretty surfacey—unless maybe a tragedy hits or breaks into someone’s life (then the relationship with God gets ratcheted up one way or the other).
  2. It seems like most people use lack of time and the busyness of their lives as an excuse for not spending time or prioritizing time with the Lord on a daily basis; moment by moment. What I mean is that there is a culture of bible study and prayerfulness that permeates (again at a surface level) the NAEC sub-culture, but on a real life level, more often than not, people seem to give in to certain kinds of rationalizations (like the busyness of life) that allow them to justify (even if they still feel guilty about it) spiritual apathy and laziness.
  3. I would say that most NAEC’s stay at an infant level and depth of spirituality. Again, there is a genuine love for Jesus, but there really is never any growth. Everything remains simple, me and my Jesus me and my Bible (that I hardly ever read) spirituality.
  4. There is an emphasis on conversion, but not necessarily on conformation into the image of Christ.

My observations may well be off, but I don’t think so (in general). What saddens me is that there is a level and depth available for Christians to enter in to—in regard to growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (as the Apostle Peter exhorts us to do)—that I don’t think most Christians in North America ever enter in to. Most often Christians reserve that level of depth for their pastors or Christian leadership and theologians, but they see no responsibility in growing deeper themselves. And so most North American evangelical Christians remain in a toddler state.

In my mind Christian growth involves a variety of things. It involves a growth in personal holiness before God; it involves a growth into a lifestyle of worship; it involves learning about God in Jesus Christ (so spending significant amounts of time prayerfully reading scripture, and reading good and deep theology); it involves being obsessed with Jesus Christ, and allowing that to penetrate into the family-life of said Christians; it involves being ready to share and proclaim the Gospel to all of those you have contact with, and as the Spirit leads; it involves fellowshipping around Jesus with other Christians; it involves ministering to the outcasts and the least of these among us; it involves sacrifice; it involves much more. In general, I just don’t see this happening for many North American evangelical Christians. Instead there is a pseudo-spirituality at play, and more of a pandering to the culture around us than the Lord over us.

I am not an advocate of a legalist spirituality, whatsoever. I guess I just get confused when people say they love Jesus, and then in an habitual way (even with good intentions), so many of us end up never growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ; or for so many of us, being a Christian becomes ‘regular’, normal, and pedestrian. That’s too bad …

PS. I write this with myself in full view as well; I understand there is a spiritual battle involved in this, I am just hoping to challenge someone to stand up and fight the good fight. There are so many deep riches available for us Christians, I hate to see so many miss out on them!

Why I Have Passion. Jesus.

I was going to write two posts on aspects of Karl Barth’s theology, and one post on why I am Post-Tribulational instead of Pre-Tribulational (in response to a question my Aunt had on this); but instead I am just going to camobobby1flow a little on what is driving me, what impassions me, on the love of Christ. (I will still be writing on these other things in the next few days)

Karl Barth and Thomas Torrance (along with Martin Luther and John Calvin, Irenaeus, Athanasius, and Cyril of Alexandria et al in the background) have really helped to revolutionize my walk with Jesus Christ. I know some people think this is problematic, but I don’t really care. The reality is, is that Jesus Christ is alive, and he is alive in the life of the Father and the Holy Spirit, and I (we) have been invited to inhabit this life, the Godself life, through special invitation, in and through Christ. There is nothing mundane about that. There is nothing academic about that. This is rich. At some point it ought to emote some sort of response from, at the least, the faithful, and it ought to cause the un-faithful to become part of the bands of the faithful. I look around at the heart-ache, the crap of life (and there is a lot of it, right!), and to realize that all of this crookedness has been made straight for every single person on this earth is an overwhelming reality; of the kind that causes the heavens to erupt in great joy and cheer! I know we get focused (I mean I am right now, well I have been at moments today) on all of the real life minutia of our daily lives and thus responsibilities, but seriously, this focus usually is idolatry; it is idolatry because it stamps out and quenches God in our existential moments, and replaces them with or Him with our own fears and worries. And you know what? It is the wisdom of God, the wisdom of the cross, to penetrate into all of this and reverse it all to the glory of God.

As of late I have been really burdened by the lost. I am an evangelist at heart (if I showed you my resume you’d see). I don’t care if a person is a upwardly mobile materialist, a down and out downtrodden materialist, a homosexual, a heterosexual, a skater, a druggie, a pimp, a prostitute, someone who has nowhere to lay their head at night; Jesus is there, He is the God who is the Father’s yes in every part of this world. He underwrites all of reality with his gracious life, and makes sure that all is reconciled to Him. This is why, as of late, I am bursting with hope. Maybe you or someone dear to you has cancer, or some other terminal sickness; there is genuine hope. Maybe someone is going through absolute torment, and anguish, on the verge of suicide; there is hope. God in Christ has already reached down into that situation and met it. Even if the most tragic thing you could imagine happens (and it often does … even more than we could imagine); Christ crucified is there.

Anyway, I’ll still post on Barth and Torrance some more; and even NT Wright. People need Jesus. I need Jesus. This gives me passion.

Jesus, For Us; Not Jesus, Who Ostracizes Us

The Lord has really been working on my heart again, in a fresh way. In a way that makes it break for people who are tragically lost without Jesus in their daily and lived lives and reality. I am not talking about a Fundy or eleisonany other version of Jesus, I am talking about the real Jesus in whose presence we all live, move and have our breath. The Jesus who is for us. I wrote this on my Facebook wall just now:

Jesus is not a politic, he is not a mechanism of a theological system, he does not belong to one tradition or church; he is a person for us, with us, he has chosen to not be God without us because he is love.

It is possible for real encounter with this God, particularized in the man from Nazareth, Jesus Christ. I am impressed with the idea that there are broken hurting people all over in this world, and they need a fresh encounter with this God; a God unconditioned by his political domestication, his denominational co-opting, etc. etc. People need to know that this God will meet them right where they are at, and that this God will not ask them to be conformed to a particular para-Jesus representation, or into a Fundamentalist or Liberal mold from on high; but that this God will ask them to simply be liberated through con-formation into his image, where there is finally liberty. Liberty not to be for a particular sub-culture in the name of Jesus, but liberty to be for the Father, by and from the Son, through the Holy Spirit. This God is able to penetrate whatever part of the sub-culture, whatever political identity we have been imbibed with. He does not ‘save’ us to be a Republican, a Conservative, a Liberal, a Libertarian, a neo-Puritan, an Antinomian; he saves us to participate in his life, which is what he created for to begin with.

I am tired of mentally ostracizing people simply because they are not fitted to my born reality. Jesus loves every person of every stripe; indeed, he became every person of every stripe, and by his stripes we have been healed. The Gospel, the good news, is good news for everyone; and the Good News does not call us to be for a particular church denomination, or a particular evangelical sub-culture. We have been called to be for God, in Christ—and this looks exceedingly different than the way it has often been painted in North American evangelicalism, or any evangelicalism.

I was really pressed to express this because I just finished watching one of the most tragic love stories I have ever watched (it was a true story). The context was Nazi Germany. I don’t need to share all of the details from that movie, but suffice it to say, it broke my heart, and caused me to cry out to Jesus (literally!).

Being a Pastor is Serious Business: The Breast of God in Christ

I’ll come back to NT Wright, how can I not? But I wanted to highlight something—briefly again—I want to highlight the important impact pastors have. I grew up as the son of a Baptist pastor man (which I have recounted jesuslovemore than once), and so I was always present to the ministry of the church, and part of pastoral life at an intimate level. But just out of high school (in 1992), I went through a lukewarm lull in my walk with Christ; suffice it to say the Lord radically turned my lights back on while I was with some friends in Las Vegas. This brought about a long prolonged season of life where I began to experience crisis, theologically, in my life and Christian spirituality; but crisis in the kind of way of the Apostle Paul, where he had the sentence of death written upon him so that he wouldn’t trust himself, but in the one who raises the dead (II Cor. 1.7ff). And it was in this period, in this season of crisis (by the way I continue on in a theology of crises, but in a different mode than in these initial stages) that the importance and significance of pastors became prominent for me. I needed them; I needed them to point me to Christ in an informed, biblical, and theological way.

By God’s grace I had the opportunity to be directed to Christ through the ministries and pastors of various Calvary Chapels in Southern California (my home church became Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa at this point in life). The Lord providentially used these ministries and pastors to provide an anchor for me which gave me a counter-voice to the pagan voices and ethos I was surrounded by, day to day, in day to day life. At a point, though, these pastors weren’t enough; they weren’t going deep enough, they weren’t providing me with the intellectual and devotional/theological resource my soul was really crying out for. And so I had to enroll in a Bible College and Seminary with trained theologians and pastors at its helm.

And now, though, as I reflect on other people out there, so many of them in crisis in the way that I was, I am concerned! And once again I realize how important and serious it is for pastors to take their jobs very seriously. They need to be men who are drinking deeply from theological pools that become an overflowing fount out of which they might minister to these thirsty souls. They need to remember how lonely and desperate many Christians are ‘out there’ in the world, and how they represent the only tangible point of contact and resource that many and most Christians have available to them. Being a pastor is serious business; it is exceedingly overwhelming, of the kind that the pastor must ever anew, everyday be pushed into and rest upon the breast of God in Jesus Christ—by so doing, they can genuinely provide rest for their parishioners upon that same breast.

 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. ~John 15:5

1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judgedmore strictly. ~James 3:1

Those Stupid Theologians, What Do They Know? ‘The Shepherd’s Voice’

Sixteenth century Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza didn’t like Christian Dogmatics or her theologian’s very much; in fact he sounds, unfortunately, very much so like many today—of course his reasons were a little different from many today, but not that much, at least not in the way that Matthew Levering describes it. Here is how Levering describes Spinoza’s relationship with the theologian:

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Yet, as Spinoza sees it, the salvation of these common people is seriously impeded by the nonsense taught by theologians. As Spinoza argues, with much evidence on his side, “people in general seem to make no attempt whatsoever to live according to the Bible’s teachings. We see that nearly all men parade their own ideas as God’s Word, their chief aim being to compel others to think as they do, while using religion as a pretext. We see, I say, that the chief concern of theologians on the whole has been to extort from Holy Scripture their own arbitrarily invented ideas, for which they claim divine authority.” Theologians not only do not live piously, loving their neighbor, but moreover their work, motivated by greed and lust for power, simply fosters controversies that result in the common people equally displaying hatred of neighbor. In their passion to be believed and followed, theologians claim that the most profound mysteries lie hidden in the Bible, and they exhaust themselves in unraveling these absurdities while ignoring other things of value. Having invented these false complexities in the Bible, theologians insist that others must follow their ideas, and “the bitterest hatred” and contention results among the common people. In light of the peril faced by the common people, Spinoza seeks to outline better principles for interpreting “what the Bible or the Holy Spirit intends to teach.” [Matthew Levering, Participatory Biblical Exegesis, 114-15.]

Wow, this hits so close to home. Being a student of Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance and other such theologians I have been accused more than once of the same kind of gibberish that Spinoza accuses theologians from his day of. In fact, this kind of accusation was actually just made toward me today.

There are speculative theologians around, but then there are also revelational theologians (of which tribe I am); theologians who follow what historically was identified as the via positiva (positive way)  and the kataphatic approach instead of the via negativa (negative way) and the apophatic approach. Revelational theologians, by and large, seek to work a posteriori from what has been given in God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ, who exegetes or explains (John 1.18) His life with the Father by the Holy Spirit. Thomas Torrance has identified this kind of positive way as theological science, something that he picked up from Karl Barth. Torrance describes this kind of mode in Karl Barth this way:

[. . .] Barth found his theology thrust back more and more upon its proper object, and so he set himself to think through the whole of theological knowledge in such a way that it might be consistently faithful to the concrete act of God in Jesus Christ from which it actually takes its rise in the Church, and, further, in the course of that inquiry to ask about the presuppositions and conditions on the basis of which it comes about that God is known, in order to develop from within the actual content of theology its own interior logic and its own inner criticism which will help to set theology free from every form of ideological corruption. [Torrance, Theological Science, 7 cited by Bobby Grow, Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church Chapter 4, 102.

If only Spinoza would have been around later, he would have understood that the best of theologians think from Christ, and that Scripture is not a mystery waiting to be un-locked, but a hymn book waiting to be sung to its glorious reality, Jesus Christ.

It is this aspect that I would love to see many Biblical Studies folk and Theologians embrace; that is, that reading Scripture must be understood from its ultimate center (methodologically and in every way), in Jesus Christ (Jn. 5.39). And that doxology (worship) is the mode by which Scripture is most appreciated, as if the living voice of God in Christ can be encountered every time we crack its pages. This does not ignore that involving ourselves in this kind of koinonial (fellowshipping) exercise requires toil and hard work (II Tim. 2.15), and that there are critical tools available to engage in this process of encounter and sanctification; but it is to highlight that the purpose and aim of reading Scripture is only given shape by its Revealed reality and continual giver, God in Christ by the Spirit. And thus contra, Spinoza, and anyone else of like mind, approaching Scripture as a theologian is not intended as some sort of mysterious exercise of abstract speculation, but it is to repentantly and obediently to seek to hear from the Teacher and reality of Scripture in dialogical form. Because the sheep know their Shepherd’s voice and we listen!

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).

Pastoral Pause: An Introduction

I am going to try and do a post like this once a week, they will be entitled Pastoral Pause. These posts will be moments where I pause and attempt to summarize all that I have been writing on throughout that particular week, and where I will seek to explain why I think whatever I might be writing upon in that week has important pastoral and real life implications and consequences. Recently I have had an unnamed person tell me that they have (basically) been observing my blog posts (and Facebook posts) over time, and that what I am doing is fine as a hobby (like academic theology is what they said), but that, in the end, all of my musing about deep theological things really is too abstract and aloof to have any value for real life daily Christianity; for affecting real life change in the lives of real life people, who are broken and hurting. This person suggested that I ought to abandon my writings, readings, and thinkings in the regard that I usually do; and instead, they suggested, that I engage in real life Christianity, by loving people, ministering to their needs through showing care and concern, and meet people’s real needs, spiritually. This person thought I should simply relegate all of my theological musings, etc. to an abstract category known as Hobby. 

Let me be very real and frank and personal (if I cussed, I would right now). I make absolutely NO apologies for being who I am (insofar as that magnifies Jesus, and comes from Him), and who the LORD has created me to be (in Christ)! Where I am, and who I am (and am continuing to become) are a result of years and years (now) of going through dire and deep stuff (and I’m not just referring to the cancer). Without getting into all of the details of my life, I think deeply and have deep concerns for God’s people (Christ’s church), because that is who the Lord has created me to be; so to deny this part of me (which is my whole part), would be to deny myself, and to deny myself, would be to deny Christ in me, the hope of glory! There are thousands and thousands of other Christians out there who think deeply (and/or who want to), and who are groping to find answers to their deepest theological questions. It is neither loving or caring to force these people into a mode where they suppress their deepest questions, and end up living their Christian lives in Fundy fear. In other words, it makes absolutely no sense to me to divorce thinking from loving. I have tried to live like that, and it (almost) literally drove me crazy (and I mean that!). The best I know how to do is to show God’s love to people, by surely, being sensitive to them, by listening to them, by praying with and for them, and then by pointing them to Christ (which is profoundly given shape by deep heartfelt thought and thus love of Christ).

This post has turned into something more than I had anticipated when I started writing it. I am not going to be solely doing these posts once a week because of this one person’s comments from Facebook, but they do represent an attitude that needs to be corrected (drastically) in many quarters of the American Evangelical church (if not elsewhere)! I want people to see how so called academic theology and pastoral theology (and Christian spirituality) are not equivocal, should not be divorced from each other; but instead these two realities ought to be understood as one and the same. Pastoral theology is simply the applied side of Academic theology; Pastoral Theology is akin to Principalization and Application in Inductive Bible Study, as is Academic Theology with Observation and Interpretation—and all of this is given regulative value through the only proper and Christian ‘rule of faith’ who is Christ Himself. And so this series of posts will be an attempt to draw lines between what is usually academic theology here on the blog, to its application and implication in Pastoral Theology; and just an attempt to make the connections that are often hard to make for some people (and I mean seeing how and why understanding the Covenant of Works or Perichoresis or whatever is significant for our daily lives).

So stay tuned …

My Theological Rhythm For Today

Sometimes I just feel like doing some theological flowing. I get this “burning in the bosom” 😉 that seems to be fueled by a sense of utter worship, and love of Christ. So the following represents my theological throw down for the day (very stream of conscious).

isuzuThis life is full of continual angst, and grist, of the kind that makes no sense; not really! I was just a boy driving in my low rider from the LBC (Long Beach, California), bumping to the beats of the world, resting in my ecclesial and Christian heritage as the son of a Baptist preacher man. Sure, I loved Jesus, but I thought (with Snoop Dog bumpin’ in the back ground), that I had experienced all there was to being a Christian. You see, I grew up as a Christian, I came to Christ (for real) when I was three and a half, something like God’s call to Samuel (I awoke early in the morning, and knew that I wanted to receive Jesus), and began to grow from that point. But as I said, after high school, in my early twenties, feeling pretty august among the world (I was trying), I thought I had exhausted knowledge of God in Christ. But as I was rolling in the hood, God once again encountered me in the blessed name of His Son, He rattled and shook, till all that was left was my utter dependence on Him! He set my life to a different beat, one He was orchestrating, one that He was turn-tabling. He hasn’t stopped. He still shakes, and strangely (to me), there is still stuff falling from me all around. There is still nowhere to look but Jesus.. Now I read the Bible from dust cover to cover, I read theology, high and low, and I seek to proclaim this reality wherever I go. I work among the bluecollar, as a theologian to the lost; I preach the same Gospel that found me,  and His name is Jesus Christ. I have constructed (and am) a personal theology that is grounded in Jesus, but in reality Jesus is doing His personal theology that is grounding me in Him. And yet I fear, I fear that I spend all this time reading and thinking about God in Christ, only in the end to find out that I have been missing Him all along. But then I am comforted, the Lord speaks, and I hear His Shepherd voice; He says that I didn’t seek Him to begin with, He sought me in His Son, and He found me! He speaks to my heart, He says ‘Bobby, teach my people … stay in my Word’, and I tremble. I am full of inadequacy, but He reminds me that He is my adequacy. I sin, and He says that He forgives 70×7, that He is my advocate and there is no condemnation because I am in Him, and if He is for me who can be against me? I am overwhelmed, I worship, and I think about where I once was, where I now am, and where the Lord will take me to be; and I worship! After all of this, God has reminded me that my life is but a vapor, and so while there is opportunity I need to do good! I continue to fail, but I know the God who is in the bosom of the Father, and He explains the Father to me; He has told me to cry out to Him, to call Him ‘Abba’, to come into His throne room of grace boldly in time of need, which is where I find myself continually. I am broken, but Jesus is my fix, every morning His mercies are brand new to me. All I can conclude is that I love Jesus—I love You, Jesus!—you are my life, Lord; you alone speak the words of eternal life, where else can I go?! You are God, I am not! You are my Father.

PS. Picture in post is not my truck, but looks almost exactly like mine, except for the color.

The Freedom and Refreshment of Grace as Person Instead of as Thing

Is grace simply an attribute that can be abstracted from its source, and thus paulgracebecome a quality that we can manipulate or manage under our own resources? Or is grace only really conceivable as an activity rooted and personified in the life of God in Christ for us?

I have grown up, as maybe you have, in a Reformed/Arminian-shaped Thomism that thinks of grace as a quality, a thing, depersonalised stuff that has been dropped into my humanity just waiting to be activated and worked out in my life as an elect Christian person. And through habitually activating the power of this created grace in my life, I can reach beatific vision and acquire eternal life (or so the tale goes).

To be honest as I write this, I am actually wondering if people even think like this anymore? I am wondering if the Evangelical life has enough pause in it to even reflect on such things? Does it really matter to anyone anymore whether or not grace is a quality, a thing versus being a person whose name is Jesus? I’ll just assume this still does matter, and offer what a young Thomas Torrance thought of this as he wrote his PhD dissertation on The Apostolic Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers. He wrote:

[I]n the New Testament charis (χáρις) becomes a terminus technicus. While other meanings are still current, there is a special Christian sense of the word coined under the impact of Revelation to convey something quite unique. No doubt existing ideas are caught up within the word, such as kindness, gift, etc., but charis is such a new word (in fact a καινη κτíσις) that it cannot be interpreted in terms of antecedent roots or ideas. Rather it is to be understood in the light of a singular event which completely alters the life of man in basis and outlook: the Incarnation. God has personally intervened in human history in such a way that the ground of man’s approach to God, and of all his relations with God, is not to be found in man’s fulfilment of the divine command, but in a final act of self-commitment on the part of God in which He has given Himself to man through sheer love and in such a fashion that it cuts clean across all questions of human merit and demerit. All this has been objectively actualised in Jesus Christ, so that Christ Himself is the objective ground and content of charis in every instance of its special Christian use. Typical passages are [Torrance here offers these passages in the NT Greek, I will offer the NIV translation of these in its place]:

Romans 5.15: 15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!

Romans 5.21: 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I Corinthians 1.4: I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 2.1: You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

Romans 16.20: 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

Thus in its special New Testament sense charis refers to the being and action of God as revealed and actualised in Jesus Christ, for He is in His person and work the self-giving of God to men. Later theology thought of charis as a divine attribute, but it would be truer to the New Testament to speak of it less abstractly as the divine love in redemptive action. Grace is in fact identical with Jesus Christ in person and word and deed. Here the Greek word charis seems to pass from the aspect of disposition or goodwill which bestows blessing to the action itself and to the actual gift, but in the New Testament neither the action nor the gift is separable from the person of the giver, God in Christ. Even apart from the other characteristics of the word in the New Testament, this basic fact means that the Christian charis completely outdistances its etymological roots. There is doubtless a linguistic but no theological point of contact with charis in classical and hellenistic Greek. [Thomas F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers, 20-1.]

In typical Torrance form, he argues from his methodological commitment that genuinely Christian thought was/is so apocalyptic and ground breaking in mode that it breaks in on (Greek in this instance) concepts in such a way that the word, ‘grace’, is taken from its original contextual usage, pretexted and retexted in a newly given (i.e. Revealed) conceptual universe of Christian jive. In other words, there is no lexical analogy in the Classical or Koine period of Greek that can be appealed to in order to unpack the theological and conceptual force that charis takes on as it is commandeered by the in-breaking Self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ. So we look to Jesus as the key for understanding its Christian (versus Greek) meaning.

The impact of thinking of grace in this way is that it is not viewed from a starting point found in humanity by itself; instead God’s freely Self-determined life is allowed to shape how we ought to understand grace. Not as a thing that we can control, but as a person who stoops down in accommodating love and gives his very life (Godself) for ours (which is what original creation itself comes from). This presupposes a conception of grace that by way of theological order (and just chronology for that matter) places God prior to us, and grace/covenant prior to creation (instead of vice versa). If we place creation (and thus Law) prior to grace/covenant (God’s life), then God’s free life of love shaped sovereignty is placed at our self-determined whim, and he becomes a thing who we can manipulate by our self-conceived form as a ‘pure-humanity’ of sorts (i.e. a humanity that is not logically conditioned by its necessary relation to the image that it bears/mirrors in Jesus Christ Col. 1.15ff).

The liberating thing about conceiving of grace as someOne who is outside of us (extra nos), and non-contingent upon us (and our appropriation of Him) is that the burden of salvation is lifted from our shoulders and placed on the shoulders of His Self governing life. We are free to look away from ourselves, and our works/peformance; and thus opened up to peer, as it were, into the holy of holies of God’s life. Thus through this gracious Spirit created unioning of divinity with humanity (ours) in Christ’s we are free to participate in God’s life, and thus be poured out as drink offerings on the sacrifice and faith of others. If we think of grace as a quality (the classical view), or attribute, we are again brought under the bondage of performing (through the enablement of “grace”) our salvation, and persevering in our good works.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. ~Galatians 5:1 (NIV)