Easter is Fathers Day

This week I spoke with a friend who, this past Sunday, was able to celebrate fathers day with her husband for the fist time. They had been trying to have a baby for a long time.

For all that our Hallmark holiday is a celebration of the parent, for the parent the day conjures up all the memories of the child–especially the birth.

When I saw my firstborn, I thanked her for being the one who made me a father. She thought I was weird, but got over it.

In Ephesians 3:15 speaks of God as the father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. God’s own fatherhood is not simply about an eternal begetting of an eternal son. His is a fatherhood that has moments of celebration as new children come into the world.

When God creates humanity, God fashions for Himself his firstborn children upon the earth. That’s part of what “image and likeness” means:

This is the list of the descendants of Adam. When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them ‘Humankind’ when they were created.

When Adam had lived for one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. (Gen 5:1-3, NRSV)

Do you see how God’s relationship to Adam & Eve is the same as Adam’s to Seth? The father has a child in his own image and in his own likeness.

Now, for God’s children, that originally meant, as well, that these children should rule for him (Gen 1:26-28). That will be important to bear in mind.

Of course, in the unfolding story, God has other children as well. He says to Pharaoh, “Let Israel, my firstborn son, go!” Israel plays the role of God’s child which is “originally” the job of all humanity.

But the focalizing continues.

Within Israel, God chooses a particular son who will fulfill that primordial vocation of ruling for God. It is the Davidic King:

Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
‘I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.’

I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, ‘You are my son;
today I have begotten you. (Psalm 2, NRSV)

When the king is enthroned, the one who was already God’s son because part of Israel, which was already in a sense God’s son because part of ‘Adam, becomes God’s son afresh. It’s a new day of begetting or adopting.

It’s father’s day all over again.

Easter is the consummation of this recurring story of the God who begets children, sons and daughters to rule the world on God’s behalf.

Paul says, “He was appointed son of God, with power, according to the Spirit of Holiness by the resurrection from the dead.”

Jesus becomes the representative, ruling king, the son of God, as he is raised from the dead.

Jesus, at the resurrection, becomes a second Adam embodying within himself a destiny of life, even as the first embodied a destiny of death (1 Cor 15). As the first Adam was created son-ruler, Jesus at the resurrection is re-created son-ruler.

Easter creates a new, eternal Fathers Day–the one that enables God to claim fatherhood over an eternal family of those who will be God’s children forever.

At the resurrection, Jesus becomes firstborn brother of a new, large family, such that we all are conformed to his resurrection-likeness (Rom 8).

Easter initiates an eternal Fathers Day as Jesus becomes the eternal king, inheriting the throne of David:

And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm,
“You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.”
As to his raising him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,
“I will give you the holy promises made to David.” (Acts 13, NRSV)

As long as the church must say, “Jesus is Lord,” it must also say “Jesus is Messiah, the son of God.” And this means that it is still Easter.

And, as long as it is Easter it is the Day on which God became father of Jesus, and of the eternal humanity that is joined to him.

Jesus Christ v. Eternal Principles

At the beginning of Unlocking Romans, I reflected on how Christians have, at times, defined God. Scrolling through Augustine, Anselm, and the Westminster Confession, I summarized thus:

Not only do these Christian definitions, like their Greek philosophical counterparts, all focus on a g/God who is wholly other, they also define God in universal terms without reference to the story of Israel.

In the Scriptures of Israel, however, God’s identity is inseparable from a particular people and from certain actions performed on behalf of that people. God is not known in universal abstract qualities but in limiting and particular actions.

Little did I know at the time that this insistence that God be understood from with the particulars of the outworking of the story of Israel would be the heart of Karl Barth’s call for a massive overhaul of the doctrine of election.

When Barth talks about the “Foundation of the Doctrine of Election” in Church Dogmatics §32.2, he means to call us back to Jesus Christ as the foundation.

Where the history of doctrine points to the church going awry in its articulation of what it means to say “God elects” is at the point when it says, “God elects [full stop].”

If it is going to be the church’s doctrine of election, Barth calls us to say instead, “God elects in Jesus Christ.”

In step with Barth’s overall theological program, for something to be known as true in Christian theology, it can only be known because God has made it known in Jesus Christ.

When it come to election, this means placing front and center Paul’s claim in Ephesians 1: God chose us in him before the foundation of the world.

The problems with the church’s talk of election have risen, in Barth’s estimation, from principles such as power or majesty or omnipotence or sovereignty becoming the determining factors in the confession that God elects. This puts the whole idea within the realm of a God hidden behind the God who is known in Christ, and makes election a secretive eternal act that is not disclosed, as such, in Christ.

Such a doctrine can never be gospel, because the good news is revealed in Jesus Christ.

When we first started talking about Barth and election last week, someone commented on my FB Wall that Barth’s position puts him out of step with all the great theologians of the church, Augustine and Aquinas no less than Luther and Calvin.

Barth acknowledges this. He does it with some trepidation. But he parts company with them as he pinpoints the place where they leave “in Christ” behind, seeking an electing God hidden behind. For Barth, this simply will not do.

Get Low: Story-Telling and Forgiveness

It styles itself as a film about an eccentric old man, planning his own funeral party so that he can participate. But the funeral is just an excuse.

In “Get Low,” the point is not the party. And the point is not the funeral. The point is the story. Not the story of the movie itself, but the story of the old man’s life. Well, the story of the old man’s past.

Robert Duvall plays Felix Bush, a hermit who has been holed up in his cabin in the woods for forty years.

When we first see him go to town, there’s an air of mystery about him–the hermit whom no one has seen, but whom everyone seems to know.

At first it seems that this is a point of umbrage for Bush, everyone thinking they know him. The people he meets allude to the “stories everyone’s heard,” and he keeps asking what stories those might be.

But as the film develops we realize that this is not a taunt, it’s his driving desire. He has a story, a dark and terrible story, that needs to be told. Funerals are places where stories of the dead are told. The funeral party is the invitation to come and tell–in hopes that someone else will reveal the truth.

Because Bush feels that he can’t do it himself. The pain is too much. The shame is too much. And he’s not all that sure that he could live with the forgiveness that might come if the truth were disclosed.

Recently I’ve been in several story-telling venues. In whatever context these occur, the telling of stories is powerful for both the speakers and the hearers. There is often a freedom that comes in the telling and in the hearing.

I wonder how much of a therapist’s, or a pastor’s, job might be framed as getting people to tell their stories and, perhaps, to reframe them in a way that enables them to continue participating in that narrative with a more healthful engagement?

Bush had to discover that no one else would tell his story for him. He needed to say to the others who were wounded on the terrible night in question what had really happened.

To his own surprise, it seems, he found peace.

While I would not say that “Get Low” itself does a great job with story-telling (I wasn’t happy with the characters, by and large), it does do a great job with telling us about stories. For that display, it’s worth the slot in your Netflix queue.

Forsaken on Easter?

It’s still Easter.

As long as Christians confess that God showed Himself faithful in raising up the Christ who faithfully went to death on the cross, it’s still Easter.

When God raises Jesus from the dead, God declares that divine fidelity will be the end of the story. When God raises Jesus from the dead, God demonstrates a commitment to finally do what is right–even for those who in this life would seem to be wronged by a God who claims to delight in justice.

When Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he was interpreting truly the event by which he was afflicted.

This is no mere spiritual abandonment.

For the Messiah of Israel to be crucified, handed over to that King’s enemies, and put to death is, itself, the very epitome of Israel’s king being abandoned by God.

When faithful, God’s people were to be protected. They were to put their enemies to flight. They were to triumph.

But he abandoned Jesus into the hands of his enemies.

And yet, it’s Easter.

Because it is Easter, we know that this abandonment, this “why have you forsaken me?” is not the last word. It is overcome by the return of God to deliver.

Because it is Easter, we need do not need to squirm or explain away when confronted with, “Why have you forsaken me?”–either on the lips of Jesus, or on our own.

God has staked a part for Himself in the story: the part of the faithful deliverer. When we are not delivered, we can join our voice to Jesus’.

God has staked a part for Himself in the story: the part of the one who will be with us always. When we are abandoned, we can and must join our voice to Jesus’.

Easter tells us that the end of the Story must be faithfulness and deliverance. It therefore tells us that being forsaken is a failure of the story to manifest the final, eschatological fulness that lies ahead.

Easter thus summons us to call out to God. It demands that we not make excuses for a God who has not yet made this world what it will someday be. Instead of making excuses, we must join our voice to that of Jesus and thereby summon God to be who God Himself has claimed to be in raising Jesus from the dead.

In the on-going drama of our salvation, God claims the role of the one who is faithful and sets all things to rights. But there is also a role to be played between crucifixion and resurrection, the role of the faithful righteous summoning God, reminding God, demanding of God a saving presence.

Because it’s Easter, we can name our forsakenness. And we can have hope that it is not the last word.

Cambridge in Late June

Next week I’ll be heading to Cambridge (the U.K. version, not the Massachusetts version). In addition to a couple days in London beforehand for Laura, here’s what’s going on.

Cut and pasted from the newsletter of the Institute for Biblical Research:

*New Program for Beginning IBR Scholars. The Board of IBR is excited to announce a new initiative in partnership with the International Reference Library for Biblical Research Board (hereafter IRLBR). IRLBR had funds to propose an annual meeting to help nurture “junior scholars” to further their careers in research and writing. They suggested an annual meeting where beginning scholars under the leadership of a senior scholar would discuss a controversial topic of relevance to the academy, and very importantly, to the church. The hope then is to have the work of these scholars published for public benefit. IBR’s role is to help chose the topic and also provide names from our membership for senior scholar and participants.

Plans have recently been completed for what we are calling the Summer Summit this sum-mer. This first meeting will provide the basis for both boards to decide whether to make this partnership more permanent and the meeting an annual one. The Summer Summit for this year will be held on June 22-29 in Cambridge at Tyndale House. The focus will be “What is the Gospel: Cross or Kingdom?”

This year Lynn Cohick (Wheaton College and Secretary, IBR) will be the Senior Scholar (the IRLBR has requested that initially the senior scholar be an IBR Board member), and the three scholars will be Daniel Kirk (Fuller Theological Seminary), Joel Willits (North Park University), and Paul Hoskins (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary). This group of scholars represents work in the Synoptics, Pauline and Johannine areas. Dan Fredericks (Belhaven University), from the board of IRLBR is directing the Summit. In late September the IBR Board will report on this meeting to the membership.

Needless to say, I’m excited about this opportunity–not least because Joel W. claims to have the inside scoop on all the awesome pubs in Cambridge! I regret, however, that my presence at the summit may impede my blogging. Stay tuned.

And steel yourselves.

Election and Grace

The history of the doctrine of predestination has at times viewed humanity as the recipients of a stark dual decree of God: some are predestined to life, others to destruction.

As Karl Barth lays out his project for a revisionist assessment of the notion of election, he demands that the focus of election be the electing grace of God in Jesus Christ. In other words, predestination is not about God creating two categories of salvation and reprobation and populating those before all time (Church Dogmatics §32.1).

Instead, predestination is God’s free choice, from all eternity, to enter into an eternal relationship with humanity through the election the one man, Jesus of Nazareth.

Opening his discussion of election, Barth can even say that election is the gospel. Why? Because it is conceived as God’s free act of love toward the creature, the choice God makes not to allow the “No” that humanity perpetually flings at God be the last word, but instead to overcome it with a divine “Yes” that is mediated through the Man who himself said “Yes” to God throughout his life.

When Barth moves to discuss three facets of God made known in election (freedom, mystery, and righteousness) the exposition seems to fall into the sort of topical theologizing that Barth overcomes at his better moments.

However, the stage is set for a reimagining of what the Bible never hesitates to affirm (but which we all too often feel skittish about embracing ourselves): the people of God are, also, the elect of God.

It’s Still Easter–So Read and Understand

It’s still Easter.

The recollection of long church services and family celebrations may have started to fade, the kids might not remember what they found on their egg hunt, but it’s still Easter.

But as long as Jesus is raised from the dead, as long as Jesus is seated at the right hand of God–as long as the most basic Christian claim of all, Jesus is Lord, still reflects reality, it’s still Easter.

And this means that we can, and must, read with new understanding.

At the end of Luke, it is the resurrected Jesus who sits down his disciples for a course in Biblical interpretation. As the Resurrected One, he calls to mind what they have not yet been able to hear and invites them to read with new understanding.

Only after the resurrection is there understanding that “all things written about Christ” entails suffering and death, resurrection and exaltation, mission and worldwide proclamation. And, after the resurrection, no other understanding of what “Christ” might entail is viable.

Because it is still Easter, we must still read the Old Testament as writing about, predicting, entailing, and even demanding, a Christ whom we simply are not capable of seeing until the Crucified is raised.

We look for a prophet like Moses, but not one whose life and people is defined by Torah.

We follow a second Joshua, but not into fields of military engagement.

We follow great King David’s greater son, but not one whose reign is secured by war or marred by the sins that disintegrate the royal family.

We confess a fulfillment of the promises of restoration, but without the removal of Romans from Judea.

We confess a new and glorious temple, even now, while the building in Jerusalem still stands in ruin.

The only reason to say, “No matter how many promises God has made, in Christ they are ‘Yes,’” is to know already that this particular Christ is the One anointed of Israel’s God.

It is Easter wherever the Bible is read as though Jesus is the point. Easter creates a new memory of scripture, what it says and what it means.

You may have forgotten that killer mint aioli I made for the lamb on Easter Sunday, but the measure of Easter’s presence is a different memory. It’s Easter, and therefore we remember that the Scripture God breathed is the sacred writing that makes us wise for the salvation that is found in Christ Jesus.

Important Survey!

As I embark on Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics 2.2, I want to know what you think will be results of my delving into Barth’s creative reimagining of the doctrine of election. Please take the one-question survey below!

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

**UPDATE**

After 26 hours, the poll indicates a high level of anticipation that Barth’s handling of Election will strengthen my man-crush:

Story within the Story

If approaching the Bible as Story, and God as a story-bound God, opens up our interpretation of scripture, and Christianity, how does this not become a free for all?

Today I have a guest post up at Peter Enns’ site wrestling with just this issue:

if we open ourselves up to the idea of “story,” we are opening ourselves up to a Christianity, and a God, that cannot be easily controlled or pinned down. We are opening ourselves up to embracing the plurality of Christian expression and practice that we find even in the pages of scripture itself.

I was recently challenged on this. A perceptive reader of my work asked, “You’re talking about plurality and openness, and yet you speak quite confidently about any number of issues–where does that confidence come from within this more open narrative?”

Read the rest here.

Telling the story of the story-bound God