Archive for January, 2018

See the link below for three handouts I’ve put together for a talk delivered at Columbia University on “The Story of God’s Spirit.”  The first traces the role of the Spirit in the story of Jesus.  The second lays out a number of biblical passages that strongly associate God’s Spirit with the experience of life (both in creation and redemption)in the memorable phrase of the Nicene Creed, the Spirit is “the Lord, the Giver of life.”  The third and final handout lists texts that connect power and the ministry of the empowering Spirit in the existence of God’s people.

Holy Spirit HANDOUTS


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Calvin“The Lord commands all men without exception ‘to do good’ [Heb. 13:16].  Yet the great part of them are most unworthy if they be judged by their own merit.  But here Scripture helps in the best way when it teaches that we are not to consider that men merit of themselves but to look upon the image of God in all men, to which we owe all honor and love.  However, it is among members of the household of faith that this same image is more carefully to be noted [Gal. 6:10], in so far as it has been renewed and restored through the Spirit of Christ.  Therefore, whatever man you meet who needs your aid, you have no reason to refuse to help him.  Say, ‘He is a stranger’; but the Lord ahs given him a mark that ought to be familiar to you, by virtue of the fact that he forbids you to despise your own flesh.  Say, ‘He is contemptible and worthless’; but the Lord shows him to be one to whom he has deigned to give the beauty of his image.  Say that you owe nothing for any service of his; but God, as it were, has put him in his own place in order that you may recognize toward him the many and great benefits with which God has bound you to himself.  Say that he does not deserve even your least effort for his sake; but the image of God, which recommends him to you, is worthy of your giving yourself and all your possessions.  Now if he has not only deserved no good at your hand, but has also provoked you by unjust acts and curses, not even this is just reason why you should cease to embrace him in love and to perform the duties of love on his behalf.  You will say, ‘He has deserved something far different of me.’  Yet what has the Lord deserved?  While he bids you forgive this man for all sins he has committed against you, he would truly have them charged against himself.  Assuredly there is but one way in which to achieve what is not merely difficult but utterly against human nature: to love those who hate us, to repay their evil deeds with benefits, to return blessings for reproaches.  It is that we remember not to consider men’s evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels out and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.7.6)

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Exodus 32:30-34The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”  So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold.  But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.”  But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.  But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.”

2 Samuel 12:15-23Prophet–“And the LORD afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick.  David therefore sought God on behalf of the child.  And David fasted and lay all night on the ground…On the seventh day the child died…Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes.  And he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped.  He then went to his own house.  And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate.  Then his servants said to him, ‘What this thing that you have done?  You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.’  He said, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?‘  But now he is dead.  Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again?  I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.'”

Amos 5:14-15–“Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said.  Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate–it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious the remnant of Joseph.”

Jonah 1:4-6--“Then the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.  Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god.  And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them.  But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep.  So the captain came and said to him, ‘What do you mean, you sleeper?  Arise, call out to your god!  Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.'”

Jonah 3:8-9–“Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God.  Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.  Who knows?  God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.

Joel 2:12-14–“Yet even now, declares the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.  Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.  Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him?

Jeremiah 21:2–“Inquire of the LORD for us, for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is making war against us.  Perhaps the LORD will deal with us according to all his wonderful deeds and will make him withdraw from us.”

Jeremiah 26:2-3–“Thus says the LORD: ‘Stand in the court of the LORD’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the LORD all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a world.  It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds.‘”

Daniel 4:27–“Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

Zephaniah 2:3–“Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD.”

Esther 4:13-16–“Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish.  And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?‘  Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, ‘Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day.  I and my young women will also fast as you do.  Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.'”

Cf. Isaiah 55:6-7 and Psalm 32:6 for what is, it seems to me, the deeper moral logic behind these strange prophetic sayings.  Also relevant, perhaps, are the statements in Scripture that imply there is a “cut off line” for sin before God’s judgment finally falls (as in Genesis 15:16 and the various “unforgivable sin” passages in the Gospels, Hebrews 6:4-8, 10:26-31, and 1 John 5:16-17), as well as the frightening occurrences when God forbids a prophetic leader to pray on behalf of the unfaithful covenant people.

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Karl Barth“We must realize that the Christian message does not at its heart express a concept or an idea, nor does it recount an anonymous history to be taken as truth and reality only in concepts and ideas.  Certainly the history is inclusive, i.e., it is one which includes in itself the whole event of the ‘God with us’ and to that extent the history of all those to whom the ‘God with us’ applies.  But it recounts this history and speaks of its inclusive power and significance in such a way that it declares a name, binding the history strictly and indissolubly to this name and presenting it as the story of the bearer of this name.  This means that all the concepts and ideas used in this report (God, man, world, eternity, time, even salvation, grace, transgression, atonement and any others) can derive their significance only from the bearer of this name from His history, and not the reverse.  They cannot have any independent importance or role based on a quite different prior interpretation.  They cannot say what has to be said with some meaning of their own or in some context of their own abstracted from this name.  They can serve only to describe this name–the name of Jesus Christ.” (Karl BarthChurch Dogmatics, 4.1, pp. 16-17)

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MacDonald“Jesus is a king because his business is to bear witness to the truth. What truth? All truth; all verity of relation throughout the universe — first of all, that his father is good, perfectly good; and that the crown and joy of life is to desire and do the will of the eternal source of will, and of all life. He deals thus the death-blow to the power of hell. For the one principle of hell is — ‘I am my own. I am my own king and my own subject. I am the centre from which go out my thoughts; I am the object and end of my thoughts; back upon me as the alpha and omega of life, my thoughts return. My own glory is, and ought to be, my chief care; my ambition, to gather the regards of men to the one centre, myself. My pleasure is my pleasure. My kingdom is — as many as I can bring to acknowledge my greatness over them. My judgment is the faultless rule of things. My right is — what I desire. The more I am all in all to myself, the greater I am. The less I acknowledge debt or obligation to another; the more I close my eyes to the fact that I did not make myself; the more self-sufficing I feel or imagine myself — the greater I am. I will be free with the freedom that consists in doing whatever I am inclined to do, from whatever quarter may come the inclination. To do my own will so long as I feel anything to be my will, is to be free, is to live. To all these principles of hell, or of this world — they are the same thing, and it matters nothing whether they are asserted or defended so long as they are acted upon — the Lord, the king, gives the direct lie.” (George MacDonald, “Unspoken Sermons”)

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O'Donovan“The conflict in which Jesus engaged and which led to his death was not the conflict of dualist myth between two independent realities, the ultimate principles of good and evil, but a conflict between the true and false forms of the one reality…The death of Christ shows us the outcome of the encounter between the true human life and the misshapen human life, between the order of creation as God gave it to be lived and known and the distorted and fantastic image of it in which mankind has lived.

The outcome of the encounter is that the false excludes the true.  The true participation of man in creation is brought abruptly to an end as the Son of man is put to death, deprived of the basic form of participation which is the precondition for other forms, his physical life.  We should not allow our shock at this wrong outcome to be dulled by what we know of its subsequent putting-right.  We confess that God reversed the crucifixion of the Son of man and vindicated the true against the false; but that does not alter the fact that the corrupted order had in itself the tendency and the capacity to destroy the uncorrupted, and so to defend itself against all correction or amendment.  We confess, too, that even in this destruction of the true by the false there lay in the counsel of God a deeper mystery, the mystery of representative judgment, so that man’s rebellion did not outrun the divine purpose even for the three days that Jesus lay in the tomb.  But that does not alter the fact that it proved impossible for the true to live alongside the false within the one world.  The meaning of the cross in itself, the meaning which is presupposed by all further meanings which it assumes in the light of the resurrection, is that joyful and obedient participation cannot continue freely in the world but must conflict with disobedience and so be driven out.  Apart from the further word of God in the resurrection, this hopeless word must be the last word.

When that further word is spoken, however, when the Son of man is vindicated and even his sufferings are shown to have served the divine purpose of setting right man’s wrong, that penultimate word is not simply forgotten.  We are not invited now to live in the created order as though there had been no cross.  The resurrection body of Christ bears nail-prints, and the life of those who follow him means taking up the cross.  The path to full participation lies through being excluded.

Discipleship, then, involves us in the suffering of exclusion from various forms of created good which are our right and privilege as Adam’s restored children.  This exclusion may be at the hands of others, who do not wish us to participate in those forms of life except on their terms; or it may be that our own fallen humanity does not equip us as it should to participate in these goods without compromise…They are called to accept exclusion from the created good as the necessary price of a true and unqualified witness to it…[The church] has not done its work unless it has learnt that the cross of Christ may demand a self-denial which no social norms, not even those of the church, can demand.  That moment of self-denial, when we prefer to forgot the created good which is our right rather than enjoy it on terms of compromise, is also a moment of knowledge, at which the good becomes clear and conspicuous to us as rarely ever besides.” (Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics, pp. 94-97)

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“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…The movement of the Spirit has an end; it is not an end in itself.  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, pp. 39-41)

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