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Archive for April, 2013

Kingdom and Unity

blomberg“[Jesus’ parables of the kingdom] depict a future celebration by those who will spend eternity with God in a setting which cannot easily be equated with the church as it now exists or with what the church could hope to create apart from God’s supernatural intervention at the return of Christ…The kingdom is therefore neither just God’s rule in the lives of Christians today nor simply his coming millenial reign on earth, but his dynamic activity in history, powerfully displayed in the ministry of Jesus, then present in the church which he founded, and ultimately climaxed by Christ’s coming earthly kingship.

This climactic manifestation of the kingdom will bring together those who have truly served God in every epoch of human history, not merely to worship him and to experience unending bliss, but to do so in the context of the intimate fellowship of all believers one with another.  To the extent that the church today creates meaningful spiritual unity among its members, it experiences the reality of the already-present kingdom and foreshadows that coming perfect community which is the goal of history…It is arguable that the creation of such visible (though not necessarily institutional) unity among Christians is the single most important task of the church in any age.” (Craig Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, 1st ed., p. 304)

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Newbigin“We need to attend to what we have learned from the sociologists of knowledge about what Peter Berger calls ‘plausibility structures.’  Every society depends for its existence on patterns of accepted beliefs and practice which determine which beliefs are plausible to members of that society and which are not.  These plausibility structures are of course different at different times and places.  Thus when, in any society, a belief is held to be reasonable, this is a judgment made on the basis of the accepted plausibility structure.  In discussions about the authority of the gospel, the word ‘reason’ is often used as though it were an independent principle of authority to be set alongside revelation and tradition.  But clearly this is a confusion of categories.  Reason does not operate in a vacuum.  The power of a human mind to think rationally is only developed in a tradition which itself depends upon the experience of previous generations.  This definition of what seems reasonable and what does not will be conditioned by the tradition within which the question is being asked.  Within an intellectual tradition dominated by the methods of the natural sciences, it will appear unreasonable to explain things in terms of the exercise of personal will, of purpose.  But if God exists, and if He is capable of revealing His purpose to human beings, then the human reason will be required to understand and respond to the revelation and to relate it to other experience.  But it will always do this within a tradition which determines whether or not any belief is plausible, in this case the tradition of the community which cherishes and lives by the story of the revealing acts of God.” (Lesslie Newbigin, Signs Amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History, p. 64)

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Dogma

Newbigin“However grievously the church may have distorted and misused the concept of dogma in its history, and indeed it has done so grievously, the reality which this word tries to express is present from the beginning and is intrinsic to the gospel.  Something is given which cannot be demonstrated from the general truths of experience and reason available to all people.  It is a new fact to be accepted by faith, a gift of grace.  And what is given claims to be not just a possible opinion but the truth.  It is the rock which either will bethe rock on which one builds, or the stone on which one stumbles and falls to disaster.  Those who–through no wit or virtue of their own–have been entrusted with this message cannot demonstrate its truth; they can only live it and announce it.” (Lesslie Newbigin, Signs Amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History, p. 63)

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Parenting Advice from Kant

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“Since there cannot be known in early youth what ends may be presented to us in the course of life, parents especially seek to have their children learn many different kinds of things, and they provide for skill in the use of means to all sorts of arbitrary ends, among which they cannot determine whether any one of them could in the future become an actual purpose for their ward, though there is always the possibility that he might adopt it. Their concern is so great that they commonly neglect to form and correct their children’s judgment regarding the worth of things which might be chosen as ends.”

-Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysical of Morals, section II

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“While political action is obligatory [for Christians], it is not the only means, and probably not the most fundamental means, by which society will be changed.  I think it is historically true that the biggest social consequences of Christianity have originated in movements which did not begin by aiming at social reform at all.” (Lesslie Newbigin, Signs Amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History, p. 54)

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Newbigin“Our faith as Christians is that just as God raised up Jesus from the dead, so will He raise up us from the dead.  And that just as all that Jesus had done in the days of his flesh seemed on Easter Sunday to be buried in final failure and oblivion, yet was by God’s power raised to new life and power again, so all the faithful labor of God’s servants which time seems to bury in the dust of failure, will be raised up, will be found to be there, transfigured, in the new Kingdom.  Every faithful act of service, every honest labor to make the world a better place, which seemed to have been forever lost and forgotten in the rubble of history, will be seen on that day to have contributed to the perfect fellowship of God’s Kingdom.  As Christ, who committed Himself to God and was faithful even when all ended in utter failure and rejection, was by God raised up so that all that He had done was found to be not lost, but alive and powerful, so all who have committed their work in faithfulness to God will be by Him raised up to share in the new age, and will find that their labor was not lost, but that it has found its place in the completed Kingdom…

In that day it will all be found to be there raised up, transfigured.  It will be seen that all the labors of faithful souls to create true human fellowship have been not lost, but taken up and consummated in the perfection of God’s Kingdom.  That is the proper object of hope.  Whoever is faithfully seeking–whether as an engineer, an economist, a politician, a craftsman, a teacher, or a friend–to overcome that which militates against true human fellowship and to create such fellowship in great ways or in small, may be assured that even though all the visible results of his labor perish before his eyes, it is no more lost than is he himself if he dies in faith.” (Lesslie Newbigin, Signs Amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History, pp. 47, 50)

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Newbigin“So far from superseding the idea of divine punishment, the cross itself requires it.  The piercing quality of what happened on Calvary is that the Son of God died the death proper to a criminal.  If it had been that He died for men only in the sense that a scientist who gives his life in dangerous medical research dies for men, the death of Jesus would have been quite other in its meaning from what it is.  What is central is that the kind of death which we instinctively feel to be proper to the most brutal and callous murderer was suffered by the sinless and spotless Son of God…

We know that sin and suffering belong together, not as an accident, but by a necessary connection.  They ought to belong together–and that is another way of saying that God punishes sin.  That is not an Old Testament doctrine abrogated by the gospel.  It is taught by Jesus in the Gospels with an absoluteness that is nowhere exceeded in the Old Testament.  But it is just because we know and cannot escape from that fundamental certainty, that the cross is what it is to us, the demonstration that the God against whom we have sinned and who rightly punishes sin, Himself drinks to the very dregs, deeper than even the foulest sinner has to drink, the cup of punishment.  The paradox reaches its climax when He whom we know as the Word made flesh cries out, ‘My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’  God bereft of God that He might save those who have sinned against God.  I know it is sheer paradox, but I firmly believe that the heart of the gospel is there, and that if you remove one side of the paradox, and say that in the cross belief in divine punishment was shown to be an error, I think you both undercut all real moral experience and also take the power out of the cross itself.” (Lesslie Newbigin, Signs Amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History, pp. 42-43)

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Newbigin“All talk about eschatology as an element in Christian thinking is a mere beating of the air, unless it be really the case that some day there is really going to be an eschaton.  Only if there be real belief that an end is coming, will that end qualify what goes before it with the peculiar beliefs and feelings which we call eschatological.  The eschatological in Christian experience is the shadow of the eschaton cast backwards across time, but if the eschaton is itself non-existent, then the shadow must disappear.  Belief in eschatology without belief in a literal eschaton is life belief in religion without belief in God–because ‘religion stands for certain valuable principles and therefore should be preserved’…

I do not think that if hope were really removed, if you really convinced men that this life as we know it is really God’s last word for the world and that there is nothing to look forward to, the resulting life would be recognizable as Christian at all…I do not think the conflict between what is and what ought to be is spiritually bearable unless we believe that somehow, sometime, it is going to be resolved.  And I think the word ‘ought to be’ has in it also, as an undertone of meaning, ‘ultimately shall be’…

To say that the final judgment is that of God is to say that at the end of the temporal process God will judge and that after that there will be no appeal.  Now if this time reference is taken literally, it is understandable that the certainty of this future fact should become a factor in every present decision.  In that sense judgment is a present spiritual reality: the eschaton is present in that sense, at every moment.  But if we deny that ‘final’ means, literally, at the end of the temporal series, I confess I do not see what kind of reality is left at all.” (Lesslie Newbigin, Signs Amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History, pp. 34-41)

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Newbigin“The hope set before us in the gospel is fundamentally corporate, not individualistic.  To imagine that the individual soul may, so to speak, simply quit the whole travail and labor of God’s purpose in the world and enjoy a merely individual experience of heaven seems to be untrue to the spirit of the gospel.  We can certainly believe that there is for the individual a higher and more blessed sphere of service beyond death, but I do not think we can believe that the individual can enter into the full blessedness of God’s Kingdom apart from the full consummation of that Kingdom as it concerns all men, and all creation.  It is of the essence of that Kingdom that its joy is the joy of communion.  That joy cannot be complete till the fellowship is complete.  It awaits, therefore, the full completion of God’s purpose.  We know that it is one by one that men must yield their obedience to God.  But the full end of the obedience, the entry into the joy of God’s perfected family, must necessarily be the act and experience of all together, and not one by one.  The Kingdom cannot be enjoyed in full till all share it, because it is the Kingdom of love…That perfect society, the fully accepted and accomplished rule of God in men’s hearts, therefore is the object of a Christian’s hope and longing.” (Lesslie Newbigin, Signs Amid the Rubble: The Purposes of God in Human History, pp. 24, 50)

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Image and Kingdom

dumbrell“There would be general agreement among expositors that the older notions which viewed the divine image as something innate, i.e. as original righteousness forfeited as a result of the fall, or similar positions which regarded the image as natural reason or some other intrinsic property which identified man as man, did not do justice to the biblical terms used (i.e. ‘image’ and ‘likeness’) in Gen. 1:26.  Insofar as such approaches failed to take account of the ‘visibility’ of man to which the concept of [the Hebrew word behind ‘image’] most certainly refers they were unsatisfactory.  Man, moreover, is defined in Ps. 8:5 (with obvious reference to Gen. 1:26) in terms of his relationship to God, and in kingship language.  There is much therefore to be said for the view that the notion of the image of God in Gen. 1 is primarily to be understood in terms of function and as referring to the whole man.  By creation, man is then the visible representative in the created world of the invisible God.  If we may anticipate the course of later Old Testament development, we may say that man stands over against God in terms of the function that man will exercise in the world in almost the precisely analogous representative sense that the Messiah or king of Israel does as the national representative of divine rule.

If man in the image is thus being viewed in terms of a representative but derived kingship role in Gen. 1, then standing behind the representation, and being the reality of which the image is but the shadow, is the kingship of God.  It has often been noted that the mode of expression in which the creation account of Gen. 1 proceeds is that of royal fiat (cf. ‘Let there be light!’).  This is simply a further allusively associated indication that it is with the theology of God’s kingship that the Bible so transparently begins.” (W. J. Dumbrell, Creation and Covenant: A Theology of the Old Testament Covenants, pp. 33-34)

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