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Harvey“To follow the example of Christ, that is to say, you need to read the story as a whole, to look at the pattern of his life and death, and find there a paradigm of sacrificial self-giving.  No Christian doubted what the motivation of this pattern, this paradigm, had been.  It was, quite simply, love…

By this route we come to the very heart of the Christian ethic.  The story of Christ—his coming into the world, his death and resurrection ‘for us’—was seen by his followers to be of profound ethical significance.  It was the definitive expression of God’s love for his human creatures, it laid upon them the obligation to respond with a similar love, indeed it gave to the ‘old commandment’ (love of God and love of neighbor) a depth of meaning that made it seem ‘new’ (1 John 2:7f.).  The essence of the Christian ethic was response to and imitation of God’s love as manifested in Jesus Christ…

It was, and has remained, the single distinctive factor which the Christian religion has added to the general moral analysis of human conduct; it is the point at which the cold discipline of law and precept is totally transcended by the warmth of a divinely-enhanced human motivation.  Yet its inspiration was not any new system of moral demands or a new example of consistently loving behavior given by Jesus, but the theological perception that the very fact of Jesus’ appearance on earth as Son of God and his carrying out of his destiny through suffering, death and resurrection revealed a love of God for his creatures such that only an answering love towards God and neighbor could be the response of those who took the story of Jesus seriously.” (A. E. Harvey, Strenuous Commands: The Ethic of Jesus, pp. 182-83)

Election.jpg“This approach to the doctrine [of election] seeks to follow the implications of the scriptural witness, both in maintaining election’s exclusivity in denoting one clearly defined community set apart to be and to do what no other can be and do, and also in the suggestion that this very ‘being and doing’ of the elect is radically and intrinsically for the sake of the other, as the chosen means by which God’s purpose of wider blessing unfolds in human history…

In turn, this points to the possibilities for a positive re-appropriation of the doctrine in the wider life of the church…Outside the sphere of academics there seems to be an unspoken agreement that it is not necessary to revisit the doctrine [after endless conflicts and disputes over it throughout church history], and indeed, that to mention it at all would be a fearful breach of etiquette in polite church company…It seems, then, that the doctrine of election has often been either an all-too-powerful and profoundly damaging force, scarring the ecclesial landscape, or that the subject is rarely mentioned, as one too arcane and divisive to be allowed to deflect attention from the task of being the people of God in the world.  The irony, of course, is that here we have a central doctrine for that very purpose, and every time the church attempts to reflect on such matters it is already working with an implicit understanding of the concept.  As has been clear throughout this undertaking, election is an inescapable and supremely important scriptural category for shaping the self-understanding of the people of God, and for discussing the nature of God’s dealings with the created order as a whole.  Therefore while the reality that the church at times uses the doctrine to wreak havoc is a scandal, it is also a scandal if the alternative is a conspiracy of silence.  Driving my undertaking has been a refusal to allow this doctrine to be relegated to a theological optional extra, and instead to set election in its rightful place at the heart of an attempt to speak of the purposes of God in and for the world…

On the one hand, as we have seen, election to representation entails a strong affirmation of the church’s singular particularity, in its unique identity as the elect people of God in Christ…On the other: the representational dynamic of election is the means through which God’s wider purpose of blessing unfolds in the face of human sin.  To be elect therefore means to be set apart to be for the rest of humanity, as the elect one set apart for the sake of the alienated many…Election to representation insists that the elect are those through whom God’s purpose of blessing unfolds, partially and proleptically, in the sphere of human history…The representational shape of the church’s election, following that of Christ and Israel, means that it exists as the community through whom that which God has made known and accomplished in Christ is to be worked out in the world.  God’s purpose in electing a people for himself is that God’s loving justice and salvation might reach to the ends of the earth…Moreover, as N. T. Wright reminds us, Paul insists that we cannot think only of the human sphere when we consider the church’s election.  The wider creation awaits its own liberation in the consummation of the redemption of the people of God [Romans 8:18-25, Ephesians 3:7-11].” (Suzanne McDonald, Re-Imaging Election: Divine Election as Representing God to Others and Others to God, pp. 195-201)

Bonhoeffer“To those who have heard the call to be disciples of Jesus Christ is given the incomprehensibly great promise that they are to become like Christ.  They are to bear his image as the brothers and sisters of the firstborn Son of God.  To become ‘like Christ’–that is what disciples are ultimately destined to become.  The image of Jesus Christ, which is always before the disciples’ eyes, and before which all other images fade away, enters, permeates, and transforms them…For disciples, it is not possible to look at the image of the Son of God in aloof, detached contemplation: this image exerts transforming power…

The puzzle of human existence remains unresolved.  Human beings have lost their own, God-like essence, which they had from God.  They live now without their essential purpose, that of being the image of God.  Human beings live without being truly human…

But God keeps on looking for God’s lost creature.  For the second time, God seeks to create the divine image in us.  God wants to be pleased with the creature once again.  God seeks the divine image in us, in order to love it.  But God cannot find it except by assuming, out of sheer mercy, the image and form of the lost human being.  God must conform to the human image, since we are no longer able to conform to the image of God.

The image of God should be restored in us once again.  This task encompasses our whole existence.  The aim and objective is not to renew human thoughts about God so that they are correct, or that we would subject our individual deeds to the word of God again, but that we, with our whole existence and as living creatures, are the image of God.  Body, soul, and spirit, that is, the form of being human in its totality, is to bear the image of God on earth…

This [Jesus] is God in human form, this is the human being who is the new image of God.  We know, however, that the marks of suffering, the wounds of the cross, have now become the signs of grace on the body of the risen and transfigured Christ; and we are aware that the image of the crucified will forever live in the glory of the eternal high priest, who in heaven intercedes for us before God.  On Easter morning Jesus’ form of a servant was changed into a new body of heavenly form and radiance.  But whoever, according to God’s promise, seeks to participate in the radiance and glory of Jesus must first be conformed to the image of the obedient, suffering servant of God on the cross.  Whoever seeks to bear the transfigured image of Jesus must first have borne the image of the crucified one, defiled in the world.  No one is able to recover the lost image of God unless they come to participate in the image of the incarnate and crucified Jesus Christ.  It is with this image alone that God is well-pleased.  Only those who allow themselves to be found before God in the likeness of this image live as those with whom God is well-pleased…Christ does not cease working in us until he has changed us into Christ’s own image.  Our goal is to be shaped into the entire form of the incarnate, the crucfied, and the risen one…He became like human beings, so that we would be like him…In community with the incarnate one, we are once again given our true humanity…

Since we know ourselves to be accepted and borne within the humanity of Jesus, our new humanity now also consists in bearing the troubles and the sins of all others…The form of the incarnate one transforms the church community into the body of Christ upon which all of humanity’s sin and trouble fall, and by which alone these troubles and sins are borne.  The form of Christ on earth is the form of the death of the crucified one.  The image of God is the image of Jesus Christ on the cross.  It is into this image that the disciple’s life must be transformed.  It is a life in the image and likeness of Christ’s death.  It is a crucified life…It is the new creation of the image of God through the crucified one…

But now the final word about those who as disciples bear the image of the incarnate, crucified, and risen Jesus Christ, and who have been transformed into the image of God, is that they are called to be ‘imitators of God.’  The follower of Jesus is the imitator of God.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, pp. 281-88)

Berkhof“The fundamental shape [of the Spirit’s] movement is mission…During many centuries and even today, the mission [of the Spirit] has hardly played any large role in dogmatical thinking.  Though this fact cannot be excused, it can be explained.  During many periods of history, there was hardly any such a reality as mission; the church controlled the whole of society and what was beyond this Christian culture was almost unknown…

We began to understand that mission belongs to the very essence of the church and that a theology which would speak about God’s revelation, apart from the fact that this revelation is a movement of sendings, would not speak about the biblical revelation…The bad consequences of this [longstanding neglect of mission] are most keenly felt in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.  In Roman Catholic theology, the Spirit is mainly the soul and sustainer of the church.  In Protestant theology he is mainly the awakener of individual spiritual life in justification and sanctification.  So the Spirit is either institutionalized or individualized.  And both of these opposite approaches are conceived in a common pattern of an introverted and static [existence for the Spirit-filled church].  The Spirit in this way is the builder of the church and the edifier of the faithful, but not the great mover and driving power on the way from the One to the many, from Christ to the world…In neglecting rather than reflecting the great movement of the Spirit, it distorts the whole content of faith and is an accomplice to the individualistic and institutionalistic introversion and egotism still found in the churches of today…

Spirit and speaking belong together.  This connection [in the New Testament] is far more dominant than we are inclined to believe.  Most of us, consciously or unconsciously, are still deeply influenced by what I am almost inclined to call ‘the myth of the inner, individual, spiritual life.’  The New Testament does not know this myth.  In general, the Bible is less pious than we are: with striking frequency we are told that the main fruit of the Spirit is that he opens our mouths and encourages us to speak…The Spirit, in bestowing his gifts upon men, is from the beginning aiming at their equipment for the great work of transmission [of the gospel to the nations]…

The relation between the two [the church and God’s mission to the world] has more aspects.  The church is at the same time the provisional result of the mission.  The movement of the Spirit has an end–it is not an end in itself.  That end is beyond the church; it is that ‘the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’ (Isaiah 11:9).  Insofar, the church cannot be an end in itself; it is the instrument of the ongoing movement.  But as a provisional result, the church is a kind of result in which the movement came to its end.  Insofar, it is a little bit of realized Kingdom, a prophecy of the [form] to which the Spirit is pressing forward.  We can therefore speak of the double aspect of the church: realization of the Kingdom and instrument of the Kingdom.  Both aspects lose their character as soon as they isolate themselves from one another.  A static and introverted church, which refuses to be a servant, is for that reason no longer a realization of the Kingdom; however impressive her doctrine, liturgy, and organization may be, she has lost the heart of the matter.  A church which would be a mere dynamic, extroverted, activistic movement would not be the divine instrument, because it would not preach by its own existence: it would have no winning force; it would offer no home…

During almost the whole of church history, personal salvation has been considered the main goal of the Spirit.  For innumerable Christians that is still the case.  They consider participation in the missionary movement [of God through the church] as being a job for official missionaries or for higher-level Christians, but not as an essential element of all Christian life.  In recent years we are beginning to discover how heretical this static image of Christian life is.  It is even more than static–it is egotistical.  Christians are so busy with their eternal salvation and their private edification that they have no time left for their neighbor who has not yet been reached by the movement of the Spirit…If personal salvation becomes the goal of Christian life, then Christ would only be a means to that end, and the Christian would become a mere consumer….The goal of Christian life is not personal salvation but being a witness…Only in the active participation in this movement of the Spirit can the certainty of personal salvation come into being and be tested…We witness to that which we have received in order that the other may also receive it.  What we have received is the communion with God, through Jesus Christ, that is our salvation.  At the same time communion means communication, participation in the blessings and in the tasks of the Kingdom.  In that Kingdom we are neither mere consumers nor mere laborers.  We consume in order to work, and we work in order that others may consume.” (Hendrikus Berkhof, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, ch. 2, “The Spirit and the Mission”

Sex and Religion

Botton“Only the religions still take sex seriously, in the sense of properly respecting its power to turn us away from our priorities. Only religions see it as something potentially dangerous and needing to be guarded against. We may not sympathize with what they would wish us to think about in the place of sex, and we may not like the way they go about trying to censor it, but we can surely — though perhaps only after killing many hours online at [porn websites] – appreciate that on this one point religions have got it right: sex and sexual images can overwhelm our higher rational faculties with depressing ease…

Religions are often mocked for being prudish, but insofar as they warn us against sex, they do so out of an active awareness of the charms and the power of desire. They wouldn’t judge sex to be quite so bad if they didn’t also understand it could be rather wonderful. The problem is that this wonderful thing can get in the way of some other important and precious concerns of ours, such as God and life.” (Alain de BottonHow to Think More About Sex, pp. 134-35)

McKnight.jpg“If we ask what faith looks like when it ‘works’ [Galatians 5:6], the answer is quite simple: it looks like Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ comes alive in the lives of his followers.  Paul articulates the point by using various images.  For instance, he likens being ‘baptized into Christ’ to being ‘clothed with Christ’ (Gal. 3:27)–almost thespian imagery of an actor consumed by the character being performed, to the extent that the role imprints itself onto the actor’s own identity.  Paul imagines that Christians can ‘act out’ Jesus Christ within their daily lives, with the whole of life being the stage in which their Lord continues to be evidenced.  Elsewhere Paul tells the Galatians of his desire that Christ would be ‘formed in you’ (Gal. 4:19), or tells the Corinthians that they, as a community of Christians, are ‘being transformed into Christ’s image’ (2 Cor. 3:18).  For Paul, in a sense, when others look at a follower of Jesus Christ, they are to see nothing other than Jesus Christ himself.  Jesus is, in essence, what faith looks like when it works.  But this throws us back onto the question of how this transpires.  Can Christians simply pull themselves up by their spiritual bootstraps to look like Jesus and perform him in character?  Paul takes a different route.  Performing Jesus Christ requires the transformation of moral character, which itself flows from the character-forming influence of the Spirit.” (Bruce W. Longenecker, “Faith, Works, and Worship: Torah Observance in Paul’s Theological Perspective,” in The Apostle Paul and the Christian Life: Ethical and Missional Implications of the New Perspective, pp. 50-51)

SchweizerIn the remarkable book I cited from earlier, Eduard Schweizer’s Lordship and Discipleship, the author goes on to provide a very helpful and concise summary of what exactly is entailed in the Gospels whenever Jesus “calls” a person to “follow” him as a disciple.  After exhaustively overviewing every call scene in the Gospels, Schweizer traces a five-fold pattern of discipleship for us today; this is what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

When Jesus calls his followers to discipleship, the following characteristics are invariably present:

1.) Jesus has called people to follow him; this allegiance to his person he regards as a decisive, indeed as the decisive act.

2.) His calling is the beginning of something new, changing all things.  It takes place in sovereign liberty and can at once assume the character of an act of divine grace.

3.) Following Jesus means togetherness with Jesus and service to him.

4.) It entails giving up all other ties, to boat and tax-office, to father and mother, in short, to one’s own life, to oneself.

5.) As Jesus’ own way, by divine necessity, leads to rejection, suffering and death, and only so to glory, so also the way of those who follow him.

Here’s my one word description of each point: loyalty, grace, relationship, priority, crucifor
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