Archive for December, 2014

cosgrove“Although ‘sharing Christ’s sufferings’ is essentially an expression of obedience to God (participation in Christ’s ‘obedience unto death,’ Phil. 2:8), Paul never formulates ethical participation in Christ’s death as an imperative. He comes closest in the summons, ‘imitate me,’ which often includes sharing Christ’s sufferings. But this imperative is not a command to suffer, but a call to ‘be receptive to the fullness of God’s power which never is to be separated from weakness and suffering.’ As Philippians 1:29 puts it, ‘What has been granted to you for the sake of Christ is not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him.’ To that extent it [suffering with/for Christ] is not an action that can be performed but something passive in the radical sense of the word. The active (ethical) side of this suffering is the obedience that exposes one to suffering, but the experience of suffering itself is something that overtakes believers.

It is the essentially passive aspect of existential participation in Christ’s cross that prevents a Pauline slogan like ‘When I am weak, then I am strong’ from becoming a formula for power or success. Although Paul celebrates his weakness (‘that the power of Christ may rest upon me’), he never says that he makes himself weak, as if weakness and suffering in Christ could be acted out or orchestrated, so as to promote the operation of God’s transcendent power on the stage of Paul’s frail flesh. Existential participation in Christ’s death happens to Paul; witness his passive formulations (2 Cor. 1:6; 4:11; cf. 1 Thess. 2:14).

Paul’s letters to Corinth suggest that the Corinthians tended to resist again and again—and under various theological conceptions—the idea that being in Christ involves ongoing participation in the cross. To put it generally and at the risk of oversimplification, where 1 Corinthians suggests that the community accepts Paul as a suffering apostle but fails to see that the weakness of the cross applies to them, 2 Corinthians 10-13 (together with other letter sections or fragments in 2 Cor. 1-9) suggests that they eventually come to reject Paul’s cruciform weakness as well, his apostolic participation in the cross. In both cases the Corinthians sever the link between the ‘death’ and ‘life’ of Jesus by rejecting the cross as a constitutive symbol of existence in Christ. Paul’s argumentative projection of the problem at Galatia suggests that the Galatians also violate the unity of Christ’s death and life, but in a different way. By attaching the life-giving Spirit of Christ to ‘works of the law’ they in effect replace the cross with the law as the fundamental reality by which the Spirit is mediated. It is not that the Galatians spurn the cross as a symbol of Christ’s identity or refuse to share in his sufferings. The problem is that they have lost sight of the meaning of the cross. ‘Oh foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you—you before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?’ What the Galatians are to understand about the cross is that it alone mediates the Spirit, a fact that has both a positive and a negative significance. Negatively, the cross as the death of the cosmos to the believer (and vice versa) means that life in the Spirit depends on nothing in the present world order, since being in the Spirit lies on the far side of death to the world. Therefore, nothing belonging to the present cosmos, however good or righteous, can mediate the life of the Spirit: ‘I through the law (Christ’s death under the curse of the law) died to the law (as part of the present world to which I have died with Christ—6:14-15) that I might live to God’ (2:19). Positively, the cross itself is the beginning of new creation and life in the Spirit, which means that life in the Spirit belongs to those who are crucified with Christ. Just as Jesus’ death ‘occasioned’ the coming of the Spirit upon both Jews and Gentiles (3:13-14), so participation in his death ‘occasions’ eschatological life in the Spirit as ‘living to God’ (2:19) or ‘Christ living in me’ (2:20).

The preceding reflection leads us to a final, more nuanced answer to the question of how the Galatians might promote the powerful presence of the Spirit in their lives. We have seen that every ground of the Spirit’s advent, on both the epochal and the existential planes, lies decisively in the believer’s past, where it is therefore beyond the scope of any human willing or doing, except one: crucifixion with Christ. Paul expresses this conduit of the Spirit’s arrival in the perfect tense (2:20 and 6:14), which suggests that dying with Christ has a present dimension that ‘occasions’ life in the Spirit…[However,] existential crucifixion is not something that can be acted out in life, hence it does not lie at the discretion of the Galatians to make it a reality in their own lives. What does lies at their discretion is the active dimension of the cross, which entails the risk of sharing the sufferings of Christ. That active dimension is the love, sacrifice, or self-giving that meets with assault from the powers of death. This love is weak in the world, for it is subject to death (‘He was crucified out of weakness,’ 2 Cor. 13:4), and as an ethical act Paul calls it ‘obedience unto death, even death on a cross’ (Phil. 2:8). In Galatians he expresses this ethical act of Christ as ‘love’ and ‘self-giving’ (2:20). These considerations reveal that for Paul existential participation in the cross has its occasion in obedient to Christ. Hence, if there is any action that can be construed as promoting the power of the Spirit, it is obedience to Christ’s lordship (walking by the Spirit), since obedience to the crucified Lord draws one into the sphere of Christ’s sufferings, where God is always at work bringing life out of death…

But this link between obedience and blessing is a decidedly unstable one, since the cross, which constitutes it, is a symbol of both death and life. As far as the eschatological future is concerned, Paul is prepared to assert unhesitatingly that ‘those who sow to the Spirit shall reap eternal life from the Spirit’ (Gal. 6:8). For present existence in Christ, however, no such formula holds, since the ‘location’ of eschatological life in the present is the cross, which represents not only the birth of that life but also the assault on its bearers by the powers of death that crucified the Lord of glory. It may be a universal logic to think, despite every contradiction, that blessing must somehow follow upon the heels of righteousness in this world. Paul has a different understanding. In his view righteousness (in Christ) finds itself subject more often than not to powers of death, and the life of Jesus sustains those who share Christ’s sufferings in both manifest and powerful workings of the Spirit as well as in hidden and paradoxical ways. ‘Life’ is firmly attached to the Crucified, but for that very reason the form this life will assume in any given moment in the church’s existence, as well as the fate of that life in the world, lies outside the control and calculation of believers.” (Charles H. Cosgrove, The Cross and the Spirit: A Study in the Argument and Theology of Galatians, pp. 191-94)


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“The author who benefits you most is not the one who tells you something you did not know before, but the one who gives expression to the truth that has been dumbly struggling in you for utterance.” (Oswald ChambersMy Utmost For His Highest)

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O'Donovan“Christian ethics, then, is distinguished from obedience to the law of the Old Covenant not only by its subjective moral power but by its content, because the believer shares in the authority realized in history by Christ himself…The coming of Christ is the coming of adult sonship for mankind, which puts him in a different relation to the natural order, no longer subservient but humbly and proudly in command (Gal. 3:23-4:7). Not that the created order has changed, or was ever anything other than what God made it, but that in Christ man was able for the first time to assume his proper place within it, the place of dominion which God assigned to Adam. Thus Christian freedom, given by the Holy Spirit, allows man to make moral responses creatively. He has the authority to designate [name!] the character of the reality which he encounters, not merely to adhere to certain designations that have already been made for him. As a moral agent he is involved in deciding what a situation is and demands in the light of the moral order. As a moral agent in history he has to interpret new situations, plumbing their meanings and declaring them by his decision. This kind of authority is not a challenge to the authority of God; it is a restoration of Adam’s lordship in the natural order, the lordship by which he calls things by their names (Gn. 2:19).” (Oliver O’DonovanResurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics, p. 24)

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mystery“Throughout Christianity’s history there has been a tendency to understand following Christ as the extinction or suppression of our desire.  But Jesus seems to have been more interested in unlocking our desire, breaking it loose from the anxious, fearful, obsessive desire we see in the world around us, and setting it ablaze with God’s own desire.  A particularly famous and beautiful example of this inflaming of our desire as the re-creation of our personhood comes from a passage in Augustine’s Confessions.  Augustine is lamenting how easily he was hoodwinked into trying to satisfy his desire with the things of this world.  But then he praises God for arousing him to an even greater desire:

‘You have called to me, and have cried out, and have shattered my deafness.  You have blazed forth with light, and have shone upon me, and you have put my blindness to flight!  You have sent forth your fragrance, and I have drawn in my breath, and I pant after you.  I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst after you.  You have touched me, and I have burned for your peace.’

God’s outpouring of the divine life initiates a reciprocal yearning in Augustine.  But notice how God does this–not by simply giving Augustine a gift to possess, albeit a divine gift, but rather by awakening all his senses, all the structures of Augustine’s self.  God, we could say, re-creates Augustine by awakening an ‘I’ who lives by the desire for God.  Augustine describes himself as one whose senses have been restored to their true functions; he is more alive than ever as a person because he is alive in response to and in relationship with God.

As I have suggested before, this desire that the Father pours out and the Son opens our hearts to receive is none other than God the Holy Spirit, becoming the soul of our soul, the spirit of our spirit.  But this does not happen to us privately; it takes place in and through the communion of new relationships we call the church.  Why?  Because God’s life is a communal even of loving, the Trinity, and therefore it cannot come among us without taking a communal form.  Indeed, the Father loves Jesus into being by giving him others to love in turn–disciples to teach, the brokenhearted to comfort, and the world to save.  It is precisely by going out of himself in love toward all these others that Jesus is most himself, the Beloved of God.  In the same way we become most ourselves through participation in Jesus’ relationship with the Father, and that relationship takes the form of a glorious, struggling, comically (and sometimes tragically) inept community of disciples.” (Mark McIntosh, Mysteries of Faith, pp. 155-56)

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mystery“Through sin the drama has become clumsy and forced, its meaning emptied out and long forgotten, its potential unrealized, its hopes trivialized. How little we know what the world is for…We are increasingly unable to give the world its true meaning because sin has warped and enfeebled our performance. We do not have the freedom and loving authenticity to act out that divine drama in which the world’s true meaning and purpose would come to light. In the repetitive and increasingly violent routines we have been reduced to, God’s beautiful creation becomes either a rag bag of objects for our own exploitation or a collection of idols before which we prostrate ourselves, which comes to the same thing. We are not like actors who understand their role and the transcendent purpose of the play. An actor who is really living the part is able to turn what was a mere stage prop into something significant and meaningful: a wet, bedraggled bit of felt becomes a hat; the hat, worn with a certain elan, becomes the image of someone’s courage or hope. A good actor can invest a mere item with the life that comes from playing its own particular role in the play’s unfolding…

To bear the creation up into the crucible of God’s plan, where its meaning and significance can become radiant and transforming, requires the authority of one who knows what the play is all about. If we do not know how to grow into true persons, how can we turn the matter into meaning and let it shine, illumined by the divine purposes into which we might have brought it?…Because we no longer know how to be persons, how to live as the children of God by offering ourselves, each other, and our world into the divine life of eternal giving and receiving love, the world around us is no longer free to grow into all that it could be…

But the drama of God’s cosmos will not be dissolved into meaningless squeaks in a darkened, emptied theater. No, the whole creation, the whole drama must be made new—not by simply obliterating the old, but by drawing it into the new. And so the central meaning of the drama, the Word whose relationship with the Father undergirds the very existence of every creature, is reenacted in the midst of the chaos we have made. Jesus enacts for us the relationship with God by which we are all drawn into true personhood. It is in finding our particular, unique share in his role, in living into his mission, that we begin to unfold and blossom as persons once more ourselves…We are to be reborn and completed as human beings not in terms of biological necessity or the willful distortions of sinful human society, but as true persons.” (Mark McIntosh, Mysteries of Faith, pp. 148-50)

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The Spirit of Jesus

More fantastic insights from James Dunn on the intimate connection between the story of Jesus and the religious experience and character imparted by the Holy Spirit:

Dunn“As soon as the exalted Christ is separated from the crucified Jesus, charismatic experience loses its distinctive Christian yardstick. As soon as charismatic experience becomes an experience only of the exalted Christ and not also of the crucified Jesus, it loses its distinctive Christian character. In Paul’s view, religious experience for the Christian is not a matter of Christ taking him out of his weakness and leaving it behind in experiences of inspiration and ecstasy; on the contrary, Christ is present in his weakness—his weakness is part of his experience of Christ. This theme, that in his own sufferings the believer is somehow sharing in Christ’s sufferings, runs consistently through Paul’s letters.” (James D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, p. 331)

“In this complex experience of life experienced as a gift from beyond, and his death as the compound of his own physical and moral weakness, the sufferings inflicted on him by others and his own self-mortification, Paul sees the Spirit of Christ the Crucified and Risen, and he recognizes the image of this Christ taking shape in him.” (James D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, p. 338)

“If man chooses to live his own life, then he will die his own death—and that will be that. But if by the power of the Spirit he dies Christ’s death now, then he will live Christ’s life both here and hereafter. Thus the antithesis of Paul’s anthropology and his Christology find their resolution in his pneumatology.” (James D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, p. 338)

“Christian experience can and must be called to account, tested and measured against the event of Jesus Christ, against the character of the man Jesus, of his relationships and ministry, of his life and death. It is by the criterion of Christ the Crucified and Risen that Paul judges religious and charismatic experience; and his verdict is clear cut and emphatic: all religious experience, charismatic or otherwise is in the end of the day worth nothing if it is not at the same time the manifestation of love, that is, the love of Christ, the love of God in Christ.” (James D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, p. 341)

“So far as Paul is concerned, his religious experience as a whole is characterized by a dependency on Jesus as Lord: it is not merely the experience of sonship, but the experience of Jesus’ sonship, made possible by the Spirit of the Son; it is not merely the experience of grace, it is the experience of the grace of Christ; it is not merely the experience of Spirit, of life and death, it is experience of the Spirit of Christ, the experience of the death which Jesus died, of that life which Jesus lives. In short, it is experience of Jesus, consciousness of Christ, that is, the recognition of the impress of Christ’s character in Paul’s experience and its outworking—a shaping of life and death which reproduces Jesus’ death and life, not just in an accidental way, but as the purposeful action of divine power. Consequently, Jesus is not merely the first Christian, he is the Christ; he is the archetypal man, the last Adam. In the end of the day the religious experience of the Christian is not merely experience like that of Jesus, it is experience which at all characteristic and distinctive points is derived from Jesus the Lord, and which only makes sense when this derivative and dependent character is recognized.” (James D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, p. 342)

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Dunn“At several crucial points in his letters Paul characterizes Christian experience of Spirit in terms of Jesus. When he wants to mark off the religious experience of himself and his converts from that claimed by his opponents or from a less than Christian experience, it is what we might call the Jesus-character of Christian experience which he seizes upon…In Paul’s view the Spirit has been limited or has limited himself in accord with the yardstick of Jesus. The power of God has become determined by its relation to Jesus…In Paul’s view experiences of God’s Spirit can be more narrowly delimited in the light of Jesus’ own experience of God and relation to God. The Spirit of God can be more precisely defined as the Spirit of Jesus’ own relationship with the Father and as the Spirit which both brings about the same relationship for believers and makes it existentially real. In short, we might say that for Paul the character of the Spirit has taken its ‘shape’ from the impress of Jesus’ own relationship with God…

Paul expresses [in his letters] what is for him the distinctive work of the eschatological Spirit as experienced by Christians: viz., the Spirit transforms believers into the image of Yahweh. Now, by ‘image of God’ Paul is clearly thinking primarily of Jesus. That is to say, the distinctive mark of the eschatological Spirit is an immediacy of relationship with God which makes the believer more like Jesus…Only that power which reproduces the image of Jesus Christ is to be recognized as the power of God. This ‘transformation into the image of Christ’ motif is a characteristic feature of Paul’s thought, and he usually expresses it in terms of the Spirit…To experience the Spirit’s working is not only to experience sonship but also to become more like the Son, to take on increasingly the family likeness…

[In his pastoral ministry] Paul was looking and longing for the time when the life of Christ would come to full expression in them—that is, the characteristics of Christ’s life would be reproduced in them…[Likewise], Paul intends the ‘hymn to love’ and the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ (1 Cor. 13:4-7; Gal. 5:22) as ‘character sketches’ of Christ. In that case it follows that for Paul the distinguishing and defining mark of the Spirit is again the image or character of Jesus; to be spiritual is to be like Christ…The Spirit is recognizable only where the community of the Spirit manifests the character of Christ.

In short, Paul in effect looks round at all the various manifestations of the Spirit claimed by his converts and his opponents and says firmly, ‘The yardstick is Jesus.’ The character of the Christ event is the hallmark of the Spirit. Whatever religious experience fails to reproduce this character in the individual or community, it is thereby self condemned as delusory or demonic; it is not the work of the eschatological Spirit…

From the resurrection [of Jesus] the Spirit is to be recognized as that power which conforms men to the family image of the last Adam…The Spirit not only creates the character of Christ in believers, but also the Spirit has himself taken on the character of Christ. In short, if the risen Jesus is experienced now only as life-giving Spirit, so Spirit is experienced now only as last Adam. Notice what Paul is doing here [in 1 Corinthians 15]. He is both describing the mode of existence now enjoyed by Jesus, and he is specifying the character of Christian existence, and all at the same time…So far as the religious experience of Christians is concerned Jesus and the Spirit are no different. The risen Jesus may not be experienced independently of the Spirit, and any religious experience which is not in character and effect an experience of Jesus Paul would not regard as a manifestation of the life-giving Spirit…The identification of Spirit and risen Jesus in experience means that Paul can clearly mark out the limits of charismatic experience; only that experience which embodies the character of Christ is experience of the Spirit…The distinctive mark of the Christian is experience of the Spirit as the life of Christ…[Paul] experiences the Spirit as a power which owns the Lordship of Jesus, which reproduces for the believer Jesus’ own relationship of sonship with the Father, which creates the believer’s character afresh after the pattern of Christ…

The rationale of Paul’s conclusion seems to be as follows. In his life on earth Jesus was a man determined by the Spirit-he lived ‘according to the Spirit’ (Rom. 1:3); but in the resurrection the relationship was reversed and Jesus became the determiner of the Spirit. In a sense we may say that Jesus was so wholly determined by the Spirit of God that the character of Jesus became the clearest possible visible expression of the Spirit—not merely his actions and words, but Jesus himself because the charisma of God. And so the character of Jesus became as it were the archetype which the eschatological Spirit filled, the ‘shape’ which the Spirit took on as a mould, the shape which the Spirit in turn stamps upon believers. To change the metaphor slightly: in Paul’s view the man Jesus became a sort of funnel or nozzle through which the whole course of salvation history flowed—whatever passed through that nozzle came out at the other end in the shape of Jesus, transformed into his image…

In Paul then the distinctive mark of the Spirit becomes his Christness. The charismatic Spirit is brought to the test of the Christ event. The touch of the Spirit becomes finally and definitively the touch of Christ.” (James D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, pp. 319-25)

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