Peace

“When Jesus said, ‘Love your enemy,’ he probably meant don’t kill them.”

The bumper sticker puts things starkly. It undermines political pretensions to go to war in the name of Jesus.

But the question circles back around: to what extent can a Christian ethic such as, “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,” and “Do not be angry–much less kill!” guide a nation?

And yet, the question comes around again: is God’s plan for his beloved world simply that the various persons who may or may not be killing each other, biting and devouring one another, have “peace in their hearts,” or does the Prince of Peace intend to make peace known, truly, far as the curse is found?

We cannot escape the cosmic vision of peace that scripture holds out as creation’s future. Nor can we escape our calling to make that future a present reality.

The danger of the annual advent cycle through peace in my corner of the world is that we will look to inner peace as something on offer and, to a certain extent, attainable through the gospel. Turning our eyes to the world around we will see peace as an impossibility short of the second Advent, and so we will leave our musings on peace without being moved to participate in the peace- bringing mission of God.

Nation states will never be pacifist. They cannot be. They must operate in protection of their citizens, wielding the power of the sword when appropriate.

And this is why our commitment to peace is also a commitment to a power that is greater than the nation-state and is not confined to its channels. The great king over all kings has a different way to be at work, a different vision for how to establish peace–the reconciling work of self-giving love has conquered hostility between humanity and God, between God’s marked-out people and those beyond its pale.

And this power of peace is the power of the Spirit who empowers us to be at peace with one another and with all people, being not only peaceable but peacemaking people.

As we light our candles and celebrate the peace that we have already laid hold of, on this second Sunday of Advent, we should also find ourselves summoned to a peace that is the good work people might see and thereby glorify our Father in heaven.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

Everyman

Since my somewhat iconoclastic Trinity post from Thursday ruffled a feather or two, I figured that I would move into a post that has a little something for everyone today.

You see, at heart I want everyone to have something to grab onto that really works for them. And so, to celebrate this everyman spirit that I hope will define Storied Theology, here is a celebration of “something for everyone.”

First, for those of you with a sweet tooth, or who are theologically committed to the vision of a land flowing with honey, we have a celebration of mead:

Land Flowing with Milk and Honey Mead

But I realize that on the other side of the spectrum, many of you are simply not going to be happy with anything you can see through. In the slightest. But this doesn’t mean that your life is filled with bitterness, no matter how dark things might be. So for you, a celebration of chocolate oatmeal stout:

Man of the Cloth Choc-Oat-Chip Stout

Still others of you celebrate neither honey nor chocolate but rather the natural fruits of the earth. And so, with all its citrus overtones and the copper color of that is Americana, behold the celebration of the American Pale Ale:

Nipples of Mary Pale Ale

But I understand that still others need to remember that God is at the center of all things. In honor of the life devoted to God, we remember how our brethren in the abbey devoted themselves to cultivating the good gifts of the earth. And so, the Belgian Abbey style dopple red:

Stigmata Abbey Red

Bitterness and gall defines not a few of my loyal readers. And it would be remiss of me not to celebrate your place in the body as well. Wife put a heart on top to underscore that the heart is as bitter as the IPA:

Bitternes and Gall IPA

Finally, there are those of you whose high Christology is only going to be honored by a beer named after the eternal Logos himself. And so, the beer whose name we might imagine is so derived. Behold the Lager!

Not-So-Eternal Logos Lager

The point, as I hope you have noticed by now, is that at heart my desire is that we all find something to celebrate together. I realize that the body had many members, and all do not offer the same things, nor do all receive the same things. And so, a celebration of a little something for everyone. Let’s not bicker and argue.

But just in case these creations of mine have left you still wanting more, I have one other creation lying around the house that we can all enjoy, whatever we might drink alongside of it.

Norming Theology

Yes, I’m a week behind in the Barth reading, but come on–only 40 pages left and we’re done for the year!

Today we get to digest Barth’s section entitled, “The Dogmatic Norm” (§23.2).

How is Dogmatics “normed,” how is it judged, what is its basis? 1. Scripture. 2. Confession. 3. Current-Day Church.

This chapter contains so much of what I love about Barth, and also so much about what I think needs to be reevaluated as we think about doing theology in a postmodern context.

Barth’s insistence that theology must listen, and be part of the church, not standing over it or over scripture, continues to summon us to a humble posture in how we articulate and hold our theology. Dogmatics is always a church dogmatics: it works within the church, building on the given of Jesus Christ as the Word of God.

Thus, it will never make the mistake of trying to say things generally true about God, will not deny that God has revealed himself, will never attempt to make up a theology to God “from below.” We receive the grace of God, and this posture of reception from God that lies at the heart of the gospel continues to define our posture as we enter the world of theologizing.

Biblical dogmatics witnesses to Jesus, just as the biblical writers did. Barth is correct here that dogmatics is not simply exegesis, but moves beyond exegesis to say what we must say today based on what the apostles and prophets said back then. Biblical dogmatics is a response to revelation.

The confessional attitude is where I start getting uneasy.

On the one hand, I like that Barth demands that we take what we actually believe with utmost seriousness.

It is only where adversaries are opposed with genuine dogmatic intolerance that there is the possibility of genuine and profitable discussion. For it is only there that one confession has something to say to another.

And, I confess to enjoying his pot-shot at the conservative Reformed tradition that treated him with such disdain:

I betray no secret in alluding to the fundamental (and, if I may say so, mutual) aversion which exists between the “historical” Calvinism that follows in the footsteps of A. Kuyper and the Reformed theology represented here.

But that pot-shot actually brings us to the problem.

Barth insists that true dogmatics must be Evangelical Dogmatics, and that it must be Reformed Evangelical Dogmatics.

He will not allow that there is a general Christian dogmatics that is not, at the same time, an Evangelial Dogmatics. While he concedes that Lutherans and Anglicans are also Evangelical in this sense, he sees their positions as errors within the true church, while he sees Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, no less than Neo-Protestantism, as heresies to be condemned.

Barth goes on, “we cannot be indefinitely content with doctrinal differences in the Church, for every difference of this kind has the character of a defect” (835).

So here’s the rub:

(1) Barth displays some of the arrogance that so often makes me wary, now, of the Reformed tradition. The notion that we have the truth in trust for the rest of the world to come around to, is exceedingly arrogant, and I think betrays Barth’s better theological instincts. But this is related to…

(2) I’m not sure that we can continue to say that every difference is a defect. The God who is One is also the God who is Three. The one gospel is depicted for us in four different gospels. The Bible that tells us that none can pluck any from Jesus’ hand also tells us that those enlightened by the Spirit might fall away never to return.

Diversity is an inherent part of Christianity, and has been from the very beginning. From the time that Jewish Christians were keeping Kosher while gentiles celebrated their feasts with bacon, Jesus has been worshiped in sundry manners.

Barth rightly concludes with an insistence that we cannot continue to simply say what has been said in the past. Dogmatics is for the church today. But once we’ve said this, we may also find ourselves saying that the dividing lines of old, and the fortresses of old, are not the ways to best answer the question, “Who do you say that I am,” or to respond to the summons, “Take up your cross and follow me.”

How Important is the Trinity?

Warning: What follows is merely the latest in a long line of grumpy posts about how Christians talk about the importance of our fully developed theologies of God. Continue reading at your own risk.

Recently I was alerted to a press release which contained this quote from Kevin Giles:

“The doctrine of the Trinity is the foundational doctrine of the Christian faith. No other doctrine is more
important.”

Wrong.

The foundational doctrine of the Christian faith is “Jesus is Lord.” No other doctrine is more important than that the crucified Messiah is the resurrected Lord over all things.

Look, I’m as Trinitarian as the next guy. And, because of that, I do think that there are certain dynamics of Christian faith that will be impoverished if we do not allow our understanding of God to be shaped by this confession.

But we should not confuse the important conclusions at which the church later arrived with the foundations upon which the Christian faith is built.

People were Christians with a faith built on the foundation of the crucified and risen Christ long before there were Trinitarians. New Testament books were written, indeed, the whole New Testament–the foundational documents of the Christian faith, without much if any idea that God is triune as the “foundation” that has to be laid.

You can deny the Trinity and still follow the crucified and risen Christ.

You cannot deny the resurrection and still submit to the Lordship of the risen and enthroned Jesus.

You can deny the Trinity and still give all that you have to the poor, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.

You cannot refuse to follow the way of the cross, confess the Triune God, and expect that you should be welcomed into mansions of glory.

A vast amount of time can be wasted pondering the marvels of the Trinity and in coming up with all sorts of fruity ideas about the implications of the Trinity for the structure of the universe, humanity, language, and the rest (footnote: all of church history since Augustine).

But no time spent laying down our lives in self-giving love for our neighbor is ever wasted; it is the kingdom seed that seems menial only to then bear fruit 30, 60, and 100 times.

Let’s be careful about sending our doctrines to the front of the line in terms of what’s important for Christians to believe, and what is foundational for the Christian faith. That pride of place belongs to the Jesus who is storied in the New Testament and the call he issued and continues to issue through its pages: follow me.

“I am” Not What You Think

The “I am” statements in John are crucial indicators of Jesus’ identity: I am the door; I am the way and the truth and the life; I am the bread of life, and the like.

It is often treated as a truism that these statements contain encoded references to divinity. Jesus uses the phrase, “I am,” which we know from Exodus 3:14 is tantamount to claiming to be YHWH: “God said to Moses, ‘I am what I am.’” And he said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’”

Or is it?

There are a couple of problems with this reading. First, it is not entirely clear that “I am” is a better reading than “I will be.”

But what would someone think who had read and heard the passage from the Greek Old Testament?

God says to Moses, “I am the one who is”: ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν. So there’s an apparent argument in favor of reading the “I am” statements, ἐγώ εἰμι…, as allusions to Exodus 3:14.

But this brings us to the second, and more significant problem with the common assumption.

When God then goes on to give Moses the name to speak to the Israelites, he does not use “I am,” ἐγώ εἰμι, in the Greek (LXX) but instead, “the one who is,” ὁ ὤν: “Tell them that the one who is, ὁ ὤν, has sent you.”

So when Jesus says, “I am _____,” what’s he saying? He’s making important claims about his identity and the function he performs in the story of Israel.

But is he claiming to speak to his people as the YHWH who spoke to Moses? Maybe not.

He is using language that may not have the tremendous freight behind it that we often assume. Jesus may simply be saying, “If you want to know what role I play, it’s this: I’m the good shepherd (in fulfillment of the promises to David); I’m the true bread that comes down from heaven (fulfilling the life-giving function that the mannah only dimly shadowed); I’m the light of the world (bearing the fulfillment of the promise that God’s glory would shine in the darkness).

Big Gospel, Transforming Grace

I know that this will come as a shock to many of my loyal readers, but there has actually been a point to talking about hope springing form resurrection, an all-encompassing gospel generated by the incarnation, and cultivating a posture of hopefulness and largess with regard to God’s reconciliation of the world in Christ.

The point is that so reframing our understanding of the gospel is crucial for Christians recognizing that our calling entails moving out beyond the walls of the church to engage and even transform the world around us. When our gospel is bigger than just forgiveness of sins, our actions in service of the gospel can entail more than simply preaching that people should repent.

It is just such an all-encompassing understanding of the redeeming work of God that would seem to stand behind the various stories that fill out Christianity Today’s focus on Portland for its “This Is Our City” project.

When Christians believe that actual physical freedom from bondage to other human beings is part of God’s purpose for humanity they are empowered to create movements to stand against anti-sex trafficking.

When Christians recognize that Christ goes before them and that the world in all its created beauty is God’s, they are empowered to pour their lives into after school art programs that transform the lives of kids in the seemingly destitute system.

Forgiveness of sins is important, but when Jesus went out proclaiming the good news of repentance for forgiveness of sins, he enacted an all-embracing kingdom message that offered healing, hope, restoration, and wholeness of all kinds.

When we live into such a wide-ranging gospel, we can actually live in this world in such a way that we catch glimpses of the advent of the reign of God. And we can even live in such a way that those outside the church are capable of seeing our good deeds and glorifying our Father in heaven.

Christ Redeems the Psalm?

Over at the Biblical Seminary faculty blog, Steve Taylor has a post about the place of Psalm 89 in the Christian canon.

Besides inventing the word “christotelicity,” the post offers food for thought inasmuch as Steve argues that it takes the whole canon to resolve the tension we find in Psalm 89: the faithful God is, in the end, accused of faithlessness to the Davidic covenant.

What do you think? Does the psalm/psalter need Christ in this diachronic fashion? Does Christ, in fact, help? Are the other options Taylor mentions to be eschewed?

Discuss!

Steve Taylor was an NT prof at Westminster before the Dark Days, before the Empire. He was my professor and mentor, and is almost single-handedly responsible for sowing the seeds of a majority of the off-center notions I harbor about how to read the Bible. Even where he disagrees with me, it is still his fault that I think the thoughts that currently fill my brain.

Hope, Resurrection, Posture

On Sunday, I posted some thoughts about hope–Christian hope as resurrection hope, followed yesterday by some reflections on the significance of Jesus’ full humanity.

Taking hold of the far-reaching implications of Jesus’ restoration project is something I continually harp on because it can play an important role in transforming the posture with which we hold the gospel.

My experience within evangelical Christian circles has often been one in which followers of Jesus envision themselves as the small, minority truth-holders, struggling to cling to what it right, and ever cautious and even fearful about fully engaging in other “worlds” that might be tainted by godlessness, or liberalism, or the like (since those to are “alike,” right?! *ahem*).

Image: markuso / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last night I had the opportunity to participate on a panel that was responding to questions posed by a group of college students. We fielded questions such as, “What are Christians supposed to do about evolution, especially science majors?” “What should Christians think about environmentalism?” “What about people who never hear the message of Jesus?”

The questions are important ones in many respects. But the overall sense I got from the questions was that Christian faith is a small fortress to be guarded carefully. And I wondered if we didn’t need to start reimagining a capacious vision of the reign of God as our gospel.

I think the problem of a small, carefully guarded fortress starts early. In youth group we learn that the gospel means: (1) Jesus died for your sins; (2) you shouldn’t sleep with your boyfriend or girlfriend; and (3) drinking is bad.

There’s not much good news in that, except in the hope that if you can control your hormones you get to be with Jesus drinking grape juice one day.

But what if we begin, instead, with, “God was, in Christ Jesus, reconciling all things to himself”?

Then the world of nature and science does not stand as a looming threat to our faith, but as a witness to the breadth of the saving care of God.

Then the preservation of the environment becomes not merely a fleeting liberal hobby-horse, but a crucial pillar in the eternal plan of God. You think you care about the environment? Well, you’ve got nothing on the creator.

Maybe even questions about sex and sexuality can be received, gratefully, as gifts, rather than fearful lands to be trod, if at all, with extreme caution.

Paul talks about the reception of the Spirit as a transforming moment that moves us from slavish fear to the freedom of the glory of the children of God. It moves us into the realm where we know ourselves to be members of God’s family and instruments in the turning of the ages.

Posture, it seems to me, is as important as details. If we cannot posture ourselves with arms wide open to the cosmos that God has reconciled to himself, then we are not so positioned as to come to faithful answers to the questions that plague us. And we might not even be in the position to be plagued by the right questions.

Assumption and Salvation

“What Christ did not assume is not redeemed.”

That, or something like it, was a way that the early church fathers (Gregory? anyone help me out here?) reflected on the significance of Jesus’ incarnation and full humanity. Against the idea that he might not have had a human soul, for example, it was insisted that whatever we are must be what the Son became in order that we might become as the Son now is.

Advent is the perfect time to reorient ourselves to the fact that our savior was born truly human. Paul describes Jesus as being on earth “in the likeness of sinful flesh.”

This takes us back around to yesterday, and the question of hope and resurrection. The “assuming” part is crucial because it puts in place the pieces that are “redeemed” with the life, death, and resurrection.

With a human savior being raised from the dead, we are forever confronted by a proclamation of good news that refuses to be truncated by our favorite problems that need solving.

Yes, the gospel proclaims forgiveness from the guilt of sin. But if that’s your whole gospel you need to go back and ask yourself why this human was raised from the dead. Or, perhaps, what Mark 1-14 mean and why they qualify as the church’s good news.

Yes, the gospel proclaims freedom from oppressive powers. But if that’s your whole gospel, there’s a world of hunger and hurt that Jesus invites you to meet with healing and filling. The gospel is bigger than freedom.

Yes, the gospel tells us about the incomparable worth of humanity in the sight of God. But if that’s the sum total of your gospel, you need to keep asking questions: where are we, why does it matter, and what hope does creation have as it groans and waits?

Jesus did not only assume a human body, but the human situation as under God, under sin, under law; and as among other people, among sinners, and among saints; and as experiencing pain, experiencing hunger, and experiencing isolation; and as standing over the creatures, over the physical world, and over his disciples.

To be truly human is not only to exist as a soulish body, but to live on this world in this created order. This is the “assumption of human flesh” that Jesus entered into. And this is the extent of his redemption. And this is the extent of the hope that he extends.

He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found

Hope

“Hope is when you wish for something.”

“No, hope is when you really think something is going to happen.”

This conversation, overheard from the back seat of my car, embodies the dissonance many of us live in between hope as a powerful life-giving reality, and hope as a wishy-washy sense of desire.

I choose my words carefully: “live-giving” reality. “Life-giving” expectation.

Even when we’ve moved beyond the wishy-washy to something that might help us press forward, we are in danger of watering down hope. Hope is not simply a disposition. Nor is it simply the expectation that all things will work out in the end, if we just hang on long enough.

Hope, Christian hope, the hope by which the story of the world finds a hope that will not be disappointed, comes from the confession and belief that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead.

The story of resurrection tells us that humanity is heading somewhere–somewhere beyond the power of the grave, beyond the power of sin, beyond the power of law.

The story of resurrection tells us that the cosmos is heading somewhere–somewhere beyond the power of supernovas, beyond the power of entropy, beyond the power of corruption.

The story of resurrection tells us, for sure, that our world has been imbued by its creator with a certain, inalienable hope. Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead. Humanity will be raised from the dead to its new-creation dwelling.

Hope for the future comes from the Event in the past that gives all history its meaning and its end.

Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. Therefore, we have hope.

Telling the story of the story-bound God