Archive for April, 2016

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”

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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)

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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)

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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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Schweizer.jpgI found this opening “parable” in Eduard Schweizer’s Lordship and Discipleship to be quite profound in describing the essence of the Christian life as participation in the story of Jesus.  At the heart of being a Christian is not an ethos of substitution (“Jesus did this for me, so that I don’t have to anymore”) or moralism (“Jesus sets a nice example that we need to now reduplicate in our own will power, pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps”).  Rather, Christ died and rose for us, so that we might now die and rise with him in the power of the Spirit (participation!).  This is what Hebrews means when it describes Jesus as our “forerunner” who has gone before us to make the way:

“When in a valley in the mountains there is a sudden heavy fall of snow, a child visiting his grandmother may not be able to reach home again.  But when father comes home from his work he will fetch him, lead the way and with his strong shoulders make a way through the snowdrifts.  The child follows, step by step, in the footsteps of father, and yet in an entirely different manner.  If the father wanted to be just an ‘example’ to the child, then the child would have to make his own way ten yards away from the father and merely imitate the manner in which the latter makes his way.  If the father wanted to act ‘vicariously’ for the child, in the strict sense of the word, then the child would stay with grandmother and think: Father is going home in my stead.

This example cannot have the intention of emphasizing that the child ‘too must do something.’  He certainly does do something, and something very concrete at that…He is involved in what father is doing, involved ‘after the event,’ but yet involved step by step; so much so that he learns to see what father is doing before his eyes and step by step practices what he sees.” (Eduard Schweizer, Lordship and Discipleship, p. 11)

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Allison“While foundational theological convictions may encourage some large generalizations about the human telos, [my argument in this book] has been to insist that the Bible and the interpretative traditions parasitic upon it, when scrutinized closely, don’t offer details.

Paul, although an apostle, confessed that the future remained dim to his sight [1 Cor. 13, 2 Cor. 4, etc.].  The author of 1 John agreed: ‘what we will be has not yet been revealed’ (3:2).  Our tradition has been at its best when it’s gone along, when it’s conceded how little we know.  In this connection I recall some words of Luther, or at least words that my imperfect memory attributes to him: ‘We know no more about heaven than a child in its mother’s womb knows of the world into which it is about to be born.’  Some Eastern icons offer a visual parallel: souls exiting the mouths of the dying are depicted as infants.  Here death is birth, or as in the catacomb inscriptions, the day of one’s death is dies natalis, one’s birthday.

Although some may find this a tad morbid, part of me, with a sort of reverent curiosity, now looks forward to it.  Most of the time, to be sure, life is full, and I’m all for staying with the familiar as long as possible.  On the usual morning I eagerly anticipate the coming day, and on the usual evening I return thanks for most of what’s happened.

On occasion, however, the adventure seems stale, and it’s not so easy to feel grateful.  The world, which is ever full of wonder, isn’t the problem.  It’s rather me.  I repeatedly resolve to do better, and I fail.  I set out to pursue the good, the true, and the beautiful, and my attention wanders.  I aspire to love God with all my heart and soul and mind, and my neighbor as myself, but I get distracted.

My incessant failures are more than frustrating, and sometimes I grow weary of myself. My fatigue can become such that I long to quit this stage for some other stage, to wake up in a new and different world, to swap my current self for something better, to undergo whatever will turn Romans 7–‘I can will what is right, but I cannot do it’–into nothing but a bad memory.  As it became evident long ago that this isn’t going to happen in this world, I don’t always mind the aches and pains and the memory glitches that attend aging.  They remind me that night comes.  My hope is that light shines in the darkness.” (Dale Allison, Night Comes: Death, Imagination, and the Last Things, pp. 149-50)

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