image“This affirmation of human agency in Genesis 1 [namely, that human beings are created in the image of God and given rule and dominion over creation as God's royal representatives in 1:26-28] gives new significance to the notion of divine rest in 2:1-3.  Thus, when the creator ceases work on the seventh day, it is not the abdication of a petty deity from a burdensome task, as in some Mesopotamian creation accounts.  Rather, God’s rest in Genesis 2 represents the delegation to humanity of the royal task of administering the world on his behalf.  Humans are entrusted with nothing less than God’s own proper work, as the creator’s authorized representatives on earth.  Whatever other meanings God’s rest has elsewhere in the Old Testament (for example, justification for the Sabbath, as in Exodus 20:11), in the context of the Genesis 1 creation story it appropriately symbolizes the beginning of the rule of the human race, their coming into their true power as makers of history, as representatives and emissaries of God, called to shape the world in imitation of the creator’s own primordial activity on the first six days of creation…

[We need to] take into account the structural relationship between [Genesis] 1:1-2:3 and what follows.  Whereas God grants humans the power of agency on the sixth day of creation, setting the stage, so to speak, for the drama of human history-making, the actual exercise of human agency does not begin until the paradise/fall story of Genesis 2-3.

There…[is a] highly significant absence of the concluding ‘evening and morning’ formula on the seventh day, an absence that Augustine noted sixteen centuries ago.  Each day of creation is concluded by the line ‘and there was evening and there was morning,’ day one, second day, third day, and so on, until the sixth day.  But when creation is complete and we would expect a final formula, ‘There was evening and there was morning, the seventh day,’ there is none, which leaves the attentive reader hanging and suggests that the seventh day is open-ended or unfinished.

In the literary structure of the book of Genesis, the seventh day has no conclusion since God continues to rest from creating, having entrusted care of the earth to human beings.  Thus the paradise/fall story of Genesis 2-3 takes place (as do all the events narrated in the book of Genesis and, by extension, in the rest of the Bible) on the seventh day, when God rests, having delegated postcreation rule of the earth to humanity.  God’s rest does not here mean cessation of all divine action, only that the initial conditions of a meaningful world are completed…As Henri Blocher comments: ‘God’s sabbath, which marks the end of creation, but does not tie God’s hands, is therefore coextensive with history’…

Reference to the Sabbath [of Israel's later history] would not make sense in the present context.  Since the opening biblical creation story applies royal-priestly functions (originally derived from only one elite segment of the human population) to the entire human race, it would be strange if this same text limited God’s blessing and sanctification of time to only one segment of the human temporal continuum.  If the text universalizes or democratizes the imago Dei (and especially if it treats the entire created order as a cosmic sanctuary), it would stand to reason that the seventh day is not likely to refer to the exaltation of one particular day of the human week, but rather to God’s sanctification of the entirety of human history.  This would simply be in keeping with the universalistic thrust of the text…

It is because the text [of Genesis 1] sets up the normative conditions for creation–and not because it portrays God as having all power–that no human activity is reported in the Genesis 1 creation story.  This intepretation is corroborated by a notable asymmetry within Genesis 1 between God’s acts of separation (acts 1-3, on days 1-3) and filling (acts 4-8, on days 3-6), which further contributes to the text’s portrayal of God’s primal generosity.  The asymmetry consists in the intriguing detail that while God names the various realms or spaces that have been separated, God does not name any of the inhabitants of those realms.  Why does God refrain from naming these creatures?  Perhaps because the creator does not want to hoard his prerogative, but, on the contrary, wishes to give space for humanity to complete this privileged task.  However, humans do not name anything in Genesis 1.  We have to wait for Genesis 2, where the first human indeed names the animals, as an expression of human rule as the image of God.

Genesis 1:1-2:3 thus portrays God as taking the risk first of blessing human beings with fertility and entrusting them with power over the earth and the animals and then of stepping back, withdrawing, to allow humans to exercise this newly granted power, to see what develops…Genesis 1 depicts what is precisely a loving, parental exercise of power on God’s part.  Indeed, God in Genesis 1 is like no one so much as a mother, who gives life to her children, blesses them, enhances their power and agency, and then takes the parental risk of allowing her progeny to take their first steps, to attempt to use their power, to develop toward maturity.  That this maturity is radically different from the unlimited exploitation of the world that [Lynn] White and others are so worried about is indicated by the central fact staring us in the face: the text itself states that God’s action and rule are paradigmatic for human action…Given the portrayal or rendering of God’s power disclosed by a careful reading of Genesis 1, I suggest that the sort of power or rule that humans are to exercise is generous, loving power.  It is power used to nurture, enhance, and empower others, noncoercively, for their benefit, not for the self-aggrandizement of the one exercising power.” (J. Richard Middleton, The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1, pp. 212, 290-95)

Wright“Sophisicated Christians will quickly say [about the claim that Jesus ascended into heaven] that all that sort of language is simply metaphorical.  It doesn’t mean that Jesus has literally gone to some place in the solar system millions of miles away.  But an awful lot of people on the edge of the Church, and outside looking in, still imagine that Christians are committed to believing something like that, and they of course find it incredible…

‘Heaven’ is, in fact, one of the misused religious words around today, with the possible exception of ‘God’ itself.  The biblical notion of heaven is not of a place far away ‘way beyond the blue.’  Nor is it simply, as some have said in reaction to that older notion, a state of mind or heart which some people can attain here and now.  Heaven is God’s space, which intersects with our space but transcends it.  It is, if you like, a further dimension of our world, not a place far removed at one extreme of our world…The Christian hope is not, then, despite popular impressions, that we will simply ‘go to heaven when we die.’  As far as it goes, that statement is all right; after death those who love God will be with him, will be in his dimension.  But the final Christian hope is that the two dimensions, heaven and earth, at present separated by a veil of invisibility caused by human rebellion, will be united together, so that there will be new heavens and a new earth…

The ascension of Jesus, then, is his going, not way beyond the stars, but into this space, this dimension.  Notice what this does to our notion of heaven.  The Jesus who has gone there is the human Jesus.  People sometimes talk as if Jesus started off just being divine, then stopped being divine and became human, then stopped being human and went back to being divine again.  That is precisely what the ascension rules out.  The Jesus who has gone, now, into God’s dimension, until the time when the veil is lifted and God’s multidimensional reality is brought in all its glory, is the human Jesus.  He bears human flesh, and the marks of the man-made nails and spear, to this day, as he lives within God’s dimension, not far away but as near to us as breath itself.

This means, contrary to what some might suppose, that a doctrine of heaven focused on the ascension can never be used as a way of oppressing people, or of diminishing the value of their humanness.  On the contrary, it affirms the true and lasting value of being human.  The risen Jesus was more human, not less, than he was before: his risen humanness is the affirmation of his previous humanness, only now without the frailty and the dying which before then he shared with the rest of us.  His resurrection is thus God’s way of saying that there is such a thing as genuine humanness, that human life is not a Sartrean sick joke, promising everything and giving nothing.

But, if this is so, the ascension is the affirmation that God has taken that fully human, deeply and richly human being Jesus, and has embraced him to himself within his own dimension, his own space, making him indeed Lord of the world.  God always intended that his human creatures should inherit the world, the created order, to rule over it with wisdom and gentleness, to bring it order and to enhance its beauty.  In the ascended human Jesus that vision is in principle realized.  There is always a risk that by talking of Jesus ‘going to heaven’ we allow a false picture of heaven to color the image we now have of Jesus.  What I am suggesting is that, instead, the true image of the human Jesus, the very Jesus we are called to follow, should subvert our false pictures of heaven, and should become the center of the true picture instead.” (N. T. Wright, Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship, pp. 99-102)

Fake Pastors

peterson“I don’t know of any other profession in which it is quite as easy to fake it as in ours [i.e. pastors].  By adopting a reverential demeanor, cultivating a stained-glass voice…we are trusted, without any questions asked…Even when in occasional fits of humility or honesty we disclaim sanctity, we are not believed.  People have a need to be reassured that someone is in touch with the ultimate things.  Their own interior lives are a muddle of shopping lists and good intentions, guilty adulteries (whether fantasized or actual) and episodes of heroic virtue, desires for holiness mixed with greed for self-satisfaction.  They hope to do better someday beginning maybe tomorrow or at the latest next week.  Meanwhile, they need someone around who can stand in for them, on whom they can project their wishes for a life pleasing to God.  If we provide a bare-bones outline of pretence, they take it as the real thing and run with it, imputing to us clean hands and pure hearts.  The less personal and more public aspects of our lives are just as easy to fake…

For a long time I have been convinced that I could take a person with a high school education, give him or her a six-month trade school training, and provide a pastor who would be satisfactory to any discriminating American congregation.  The curriculum would consist of four courses.  Course I: Creative Plagiarism.  I would put you in touch with a wide range of excellent and inspirational talks, show you how to alter them just enough to obscure their origins, and get you a reputation for wit and wisdom.  Course II: Voice Control for Prayer and Counseling.  We would develop your own distinct style of Holy Joe intonation, acquiring the skill in resonance and modulation that conveys an unmistakable aura of sanctity.  Course III: Efficient Office Management.  There is nothing that parishioners admire more in their pastors than the capacity to run a tight ship administratively.  If we return all telephone calls within twenty-four hours, answer all letters within a week, distributing enough carbons to key people so that they know we are on top of things, and have just the right amount of clutter on our desks–not too much or we appear inefficient, not too little or we appear underemployed–we quickly get the reputation for efficiency that is far more important than anything that we actually do.  Course IV: Image Projection.  Here we would master the half-dozen well-known and easily implemented devices that create the impression that we are terrifically busy and widely sought after for counsel by influential people in the community.  A one-week refresher course each year would introduce new phrases that would convince our parishioners that we are bold innovators on the cutting edge of the megatrends and at the same time solidly rooted in all the traditional values of our sainted ancestors.

(I have been laughing for several years over this trade school training for pastors with which I plan to make my fortune.  Recently, though, the joke has backfired on me.  I keep seeing advertisements for institutes and workshops all over the country that invite pastors to sign up for this exact curriculum.  The advertised course offerings are not quite as honestly labeled as mine, but the content appears to be identical–a curriculum that trains pastors to satisfy the current consumer tastes in religion.  I’m not laughing anymore.) (Eugene H. Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, pp. 6-8)

peterson“American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right, and at an alarming rate.  They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs.  Congregations still pay their salaries.  Their names remain on the church stationery and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays.  But they are abandoning their posts, their calling.  They have gone whoring after other gods.  What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn’t the remotest connection with what the church’s pastors have done for most of twenty centuries…

The pastors of American have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches.  They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns–how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.  Some of them are very good shopkeepers.  They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sums of money, develop splendid reputations.  Yet it is still shopkeeping; religious shopkeeping, to be sure, but shopkeeping all the same.  The marketing strategies of the fast-food franchise occupy the waking minds of these entrepeneurs; while asleep they dream of the kind of success that will get the attention of journalists…[But] the pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God.  It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades…

Three pastoral acts are so basic, so critical, that they determine the shape of everything else.  The acts are praying, reading Scripture, and giving spiritual direction.  Besides being basic, these three acts are quiet.  They do not call attention to themselves and so are often not attended to.  In the clamorous world of pastoral work nobody yells at us to engage in these acts.  It is possible to do pastoral work to the satisfaction of the people who judge our competence and pay our salaries without being either diligent or skilled in them.  Since almost never does anyone notice whether we do these things or not, and only occasionally does someone ask that we do them, these three acts of ministry suffer widespread neglect.

The three areas constitute acts of attention: prayer is an act in which I bring myself to attention before God; reading Scripture is an act of attending to God in his speech and action across two millennia in Israel and Christ; spiritual direction is an act of giving attention to what God is doing in the person who happens to be before me at any given moment.

Always it is God to whom we are paying, or trying to pay, attention.  The contexts, though, vary: in prayer the context is myself; in Scripture it is the community of faith in history; in spiritual direction it is the person before me.  God is the one to whom we are being primarily attentive in these contexts, but it is never God-in-himself; rather, it is God-in-relationship–with me, with his people, with this person.

None of these acts is public, which means that no one knows for sure whether or not we are doing any of them.  People hear us pray in worship, they listen to us preach and teach from the Scriptures, they notice when we are listening to them in a conversation, but they can never know if we are attending to God in any of this.  It doesn’t take many years in this business to realize that we can conduct a fairly respectable pastoral ministry without giving much more than ceremonial attention to God.  Since we can omit these acts of attention without anybody noticing, and because each of the acts involves a great deal of rigor, it is easy and common to slight them.  This is not entirely our fault.  Great crowds of people have entered into a grand conspiracy to eliminate prayer, Scripture, and spiritual direction from our lives.  They are concerned with our image and standing, with what they can measure, with what produces successful church-building programs and impressive attendance charts, with sociological impact and economic viability.  They do their best to fill our schedules with meetings and appointments so that there is time for neither solitude nor leisure to be before God, to ponder Scripture, to be unhurried with another person.  We get both ecclesiastical and community support in conducting a ministry that is inattentive to God and therefore without foundations.” (Eugene H. Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, pp. 1-4)

Spirit“The Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, played a most significant and extremely important role in the life of Jesus, in every part and at every phase of his life [i.e., according to the Gospels, these events in Jesus' life cannot be understood without reference to the Spirit: conception and birth, baptism, temptation, public ministry, resurrection, ascension].

If all of this is so, if indeed Jesus was God having become truly human, if indeed Jesus really experienced the same kinds of things that all other human beings experience, suffered the same kinds of pains they suffer, felt the same emotions they feel, knew the same lure of temptation they know, and so on, and if indeed Jesus stood strong against all the kaleidoscopic adversities of human existence and resisted all the many pressures to cave in, quit, giving up the cause, and go his own way, and if indeed Jesus finally brought his God-given mission to a triumphant completion–and all of this because he was a person filled with the Spirit–then the followers of Jesus are faced with a stupendous fact: Not only is Jesus their Savior because of who he was and because of his own complete obedience to the Father’s will (cf. Heb. 10:5-7), but he is the supreme example for them of what is possible in a human life because of his own total dependence upon the Spirit of God.  Jesus is living proof of how those who are his followers may exceed the limitations of their humanness in order that they, like him, might carry to completion against all odds their God-given mission in life–by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus demonstrated clearly that God’s intended way for human beings to live, the ideal way to live, the supremely successful way to live, is in conjuction with God, in harmony with God, in touch with the power of God, and not apart from God, not independent of God, not without God.  The Spirit was the presence and power of God in Jesus, and fully so.  Thus the life of Jesus was the realization on earth, perhaps for the first time, of God’s ideal for human beings, the fulfillment of the divine intention for them when God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, and after our likeness’ (Gen. 1:26).  But Jesus’ life was not only the realization of that ideal, it is the pattern to follow, the source of hope for every succeeding generation of Jesus’ followers.” (Gerald F. Hawthorne, The Presence and the Power: The Significance of the Holy Spirit in the Life and Ministry of Jesus, pp. 233-34)

Wright“Kasemann’s insight–that Israel is paradigmatic for humankind in general–may yet have something to teach us, even if not exactly in the way he imagined.  And when the church really turns to face this task [i.e. unveiling and embodying God's righteousness to the world], as it must if it is to be true to its vocation, it will find (as Paul saw in 2 Corinthians particularly) that its role is Christ-shaped: to bear the pain and shame of the world in its own body, that the world may be healed…The church is called to do and be for the world what the Messiah was and did for Israel.  All that has been said so far must therefore call into question a good deal that is done in and by the church in pursuit of its own security and self-importance.  The church must find out the pain of the world, and must share it and bear it.

When that task is done, then Paul’s theology suggests that what we call ‘natural evil’ will also, finally, be undone.  God’s covenant purpose was to choose a people in and through whom the world would be healed.  That purpose, reaching its climax in the Messiah, is now to be worked out through his people.  The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and come to share the liberty of the glory of the children of God; and in the meantime the Church is to share the groaning of the world in the faith that her own groanings are in turn shared by the Spirit.  The Spirit thus accomplishes within the church what, mutatis mutandis, the Torah accomplished within Israel.  Just as the sin and death of the world were concentrated, by means of Torah, on Israel, so now the pain and grief of the world is to be concentrated, by means of the Spirit, on the Christos, the family of the Messiah, so that it may be healed (Romans 8:18-30).  This is the very antithesis of all Christian triumphalism or imperialism.

Paul thus offers in Romans…not only a theology of israel and her paradoxical fate and future, but also a theology of and for the world in its pain and longing for justice, and of and for the church in her vocation to share that pain and to work for that justice.  It is a theology which, based on a clear view of the transcendent God now made known in and through Jesus of Nazareth and the Spirit, calls and drives the church towards the twin goals of mission and unity, that God may be all in all:

And though the last lights off the black West went,

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs–

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

(G. M. Hopkins, ‘God’s Grandeur’)

N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology, pp. 256-57

Lord Over All

hood“Jesus’ humanity is often neglected and unexplored when Christians focus exclusively on his divinity. But the Christian faith stands or falls (1 Tim. 3:16; 2 Jn. 7) on the truth that Jesus ‘is man as man was meant to be.’ If the significance of Jesus’ humanity is often not fully appreciated, his status as a human king is also underplayed. Terms like Messiah (Christ), Lord and Son of God tend to be used without regard for the royal status those terms originally carried. But the gospel and the Gospels show us that God has not abandoned his plan to have humans rule the earth. His kingdom now as at the beginning is tied to his plan to fill the earth with his royal image. The great drama in Scripture revolves around the question, when will humans be the rulers God intended them to be? Because of humans’ inability, the Messiah is the substitute, the true human and true king. The arrival of the reign of God is the reinstatement of the originally intended divine order for earth, with man properly situated as God’s vice regent (number two ruler). In other words, what is new about God’s kingdom when Jesus is enthroned is not that God is on the throne in a new way, but that a human is finally enthroned with him…A human is now enthroned over all according to God’s original plan for his world.” (Jason B. Hood, Imitating God in Christ: Recapturing a Biblical Pattern, p. 63)


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 26 other followers