Archive for the Theology Category

Burn Baby Burn…

Posted in Theology, World with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2011 by stephengardner
Sunday 5th June saw some 45,000 Australian’s join GetUp in rallying for a carbon tax. What should the church do with this level of interest in the environment? Get funky I reckon…
Its a bit of a characterisation, I know, but it never ceases to amaze me how many Christians assume that the world will one day be burnt up-destroyed-done away with. What worries me is that many, well meaning Christians use this as a justification to say things like climate change don’t really matter, after all, ‘why polish the brass on a sinking ship?’ Lets just get out there and save souls.
So, here’s why I don’t think the world will end…
Creation
The biblical view of creation is that it is good, very good. It is not opposed to God and his eternal purposes, he loves material things and he sustains material things. Humanity being made in the image of God is given the role of reflecting God’s rule and glory to the world. This includes consuming but also maintaining and sustaining. God, in his freedom entrusts humanity with responsibility and authority to do this. This doesn’t make God any less sovereign – all throughout the Scriptures he works through humanity, chiefly he does this by taking on the fullness of our humanity in Jesus – the true man. God’s sovereignty is not a reason to do nothing about the environment, if that were so we should stop doing evangelism. 

New Creation
We hope for the renewal of this earth, not to escape it and flee to some immaterial ‘heavenly existence.’ The hope of new creation is of an earthy place much like the place we now live- in fact the same place we now live, albeit radically redefined. The picture we have in Revelation 21-22 is of the ‘new Jerusalem’ coming down from heaven to this earth. The new creation is the fulfillment of the creation we currently live in.
Jesus 
Any theological reflection on the environment must be centred on the person and work of Jesus because he is the culmination of God’s self-revelation. The resurrection of Jesus is a reaffirmation of the goodness of the created order and a renewal of it. He is ‘the first fruits’ of the great final Resurrection when everything will be made new. The resurrection of Jesus therefore, is the key to the debate over whether the world will be destroyed or not – his body is transformed, renewed, glorified, but never destroyed. Oliver O’Donovan speaks of the resurrection of Christ as ‘the vindication of the created order.’ It is his body that is the bridge between creation and new creation. 
2 Peter 3
But doesn’t 2 Peter 3 say the opposite, that the world will be destroyed? Good question, but no! 
1) The passage is apocalyptic in style and should be read that way. Peter employs familiar apocalyptic formulas; referring to judgement as a day of fire and destruction, and making parallels with OT e.g’s of judgement.  The final judgement will be like  the judgement in Noah’s day (2 Peter 3.5-7). What happened to Noah’s world? It was profoundly judged but never destroyed.

2) The word for ‘destroy’ (katakaio) in v.10 is unreliable and most probably a latter addition to the text. The earlier, and far more reliable manuscripts use the word ‘to discover/find’ (heurethesetai). This fits the apocalyptic tone of 2 Peter 3, and also a great deal of apocalyptic language in Scripture that uses fire language to refer to God’s judgement. Here, as in 1 Cor 3, I think, the fire of judgement is a revealing or a discovering of the true nature of the earth. 

3) If we take the later manuscripts and go with the destruction language and interpret it literally, then there are further problems. 2 Peter 3.7 uses the same word again to refer to the ‘destruction of ungodly men’ – that sounds a lot like annihilationism  to me. Something most advocates of the ‘destruction of the earth’ view wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole! 
(for a much more sustained and thoughtful reflection on these vv check out Byron Smith’s series from 2006).
So what?
If Scripture speaks more about a renewal of the earth rather than a destruction of it then we have a real responsibility to care for it. We too often diochotomise evangelism and acting on a concern for the world, be that social justice or environmental action. This is dangerous territory, not taking into account the holistic nature of Jesus’ physical resurrection. If Christians don’t fulfill the role of humanity to reflect God’s rule over the earth, as it is reaffirmed in his risen body, who will? 

Augustine on Mary, Martha, work and joy

Posted in Theology with tags , , , , on May 24, 2011 by stephengardner

Our Lord Jesus Christ, then, will hand over the kingdom to God and the Father (1 Cor 15:24)–and that phrase excludes neither the Holy Spirit nor himself–insofar as he will bring believers to the direct contemplation of God, in which all good actions have their end, and there is everlasting rest and joy that shall not be taken away from us. He points this out himself when he says, I shall see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one shall take away from you (Jn 16:22). A sort of picture of what this joy will be like was sketched by Mary sitting at the Lord’s feet, intent upon his words; at rest from all activity and intent upon the truth, in such measure as this life allows of, but thereby nonetheless foreshadowing that joy which is going to last forever. There was Martha her sister, busy doing what had to be done–activity which though good and useful is going to end one day and give place to rest. She, meanwhile, was already taking her rest in the word of the Lord. So when Martha complained that her sister was not helping her, the lord replied Mary has chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her (Lk 10:38). He did not call what Martha was doing a bad part, but this which shall not be taken away he called the best part. For the part which is played in ministering to need will be taken away when need comes to an end, and in fact the reward of good works that are going to come to an end is a rest that will endure. In that contemplation, then, God will be all in all (1 Cor 15:28), because nothing further will be desired of him; to be illumined and rejoiced by him will be enough. (Saint Augustine, De Trinitate, I.20)

I love Augustine’s perspective on this story. A life of inactivity and rest is not what Jesus advocates, rather, a life spent longing for and anticipating the fullness of our joy and desire in the Lord, when he will be all in all. As long as we wait for that day there will be needs to meet and work to be done and keeping busy with those things is a good thing, but let it never be that we forget the fullness of joy we anticipate when Jesus returns to be with us.

The Atonement: an introduction to an introduction

Posted in Theology with tags , , , , , on November 12, 2010 by stephengardner

During study for my end of year doctrine exam today, at Moore Theological College, I did some thinking about the atonement and thought I might blog some initial thoughts. I have (at this stage) seven introductory aspects of the atonement I want to explore – but I’m open to your suggestions too.

But, to kick off, as a kind of introduction, I thought I would post some helpful words from T.F. Torrance. Having argued that the atonement is, firstly, a profound mystery, he concludes that there is ‘no logical relation’ between the cross of Christ and our experience of forgiveness of sins.

There is of course a mighty continuity between the death of Christ on the cross and the forgiveness of our sins, but it is a continuity that God himself achieves and makes through his atoning act and the intervention of his own being. And therefore the cross provides a wisdom that ‘the Greeks’ or humankind in general know nothing of. Thus we cannot begin to understand the atonement by bringing to it principles of formal rational continuity or by adopting an abstract theoretic explanation. In seeking to unfold the meaning of the death of the Son of God, therefore, we must have recourse to putting together conjunctive statements based upon the inherent synthesis to be found in the person of the mediator and not in any logical or rational presuppositions which we bring to interpret what he has done for us. Here above all, then, in seeking to understand the death of Christ, we must follow Christ, and think only a posteriori, seeking throughout to be conformed in mind to Christ himself as the truth. That is the only way to understand and at the same time to reverence the infinite mystery and majesty of this atoning deed on the cross which by its very nature reaches out beyond all finite comprehension into eternity.                                                                                                                              ( T. F. Torrance, Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ. 2-3)

Taking on board Torrance’s encouragement to follow Christ as a first and foremost outcome of ‘studying’ the atonement, what would you included as a must have in introducing the idea of the atonement?

Reconciliation: the beginnings of a reading list

Posted in Theology with tags , , , , , on November 4, 2010 by stephengardner

Alrighty, I need your help! I’m hoping to do some summer reading on reconciliation: with God and with others. So I need your help in compiling a reading list. What’s the hottest book on reconciliation you’ve read? Who are the people to read? etc…

Below is something to start with:

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.1. London: T. & T. Clark, 1961.

Desmond Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness. New York: Doubleday, 1999.

Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: a Theologigcal Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996.

_____. Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace. New York: Zondervan, 2005

_____. The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006.

John Webster. Barth’s Ethics of Reconciliation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Barth on the Two States of Christ

Posted in Theology with tags , , , on October 29, 2010 by stephengardner

In His Godhead, as the eternal Son of the Father, as the eternal Word, Jesus Christ never ceased to be transcendent, free, and sovereign. He did not stand in need of exaltation, nor was He capable of it. But He did as man – it is here again that we come up against that which is not self-evident in Jesus Christ. The special thing, the new thing about the exaltation of Jesus Christ is that One who is bound as we are is free, who is tempted as we are is without sin, who is a sufferer as we are is able to minister to Himself and others, who is a victim to death is alive even though He was dead, who is a servant (the servant of all servants) is the Lord. This is the secret of His humanity which is revealed in His resurrection and ascension and therefore shown retrospectively by the Evangelists to be the secret of His whole life and death. It is not simply that He is the Son of God at the right hand of the Father, the Kyrios, the Lord of His community and the Lord of the cosmos, the bearer and executor of divine authority in the Church and the world, but that He is all this as a man – as a man like we are, but a man exalted in the power of His deity. This is what makes Him the Mediator between God and man, and the One who fulfils the covenant. (Barth, Church Dogmatics iv.1, 135)

Webster on Theological Method II

Posted in Theology with tags , , , , on October 29, 2010 by stephengardner

In the last post I outlined how Webster argues that theology is an exercise in ‘holy reason’ practiced within the context of the Church. This can only be the case, however, because theology is firstly done within the context of revelation – i.e. the Holy God’s self-giving presence.

Theology is reason appointed to the service of revelation, and as such its first task is to remember that in talking of God’s nature it must cease to be ratio ratiocinans (speculative reason), and learn – painfully, contritely – to be ratio ratiocinata: reason which receives its matter from the self-giving of God. (Holiness, 17)

This means that theology , firstly, is not creative but rather, receptive. It is bound to its object and therefore must speak of him in confession and proclamation. Because of this theology has as its purpose, the edification of the Church, sitting under the Word which gathers together the Church. And because theology sits under the Word with the Church it can never rival Scripture in its authority over the Church.

Theology is not inspired; it is not a sacrament of the gospel; it does not have the authority of the teaching office in the Church. It is not a means of grace, but the human work of thinking and speaking about the holy God. Because it is always a human work, it participates in the frailty and fallibility of its practitioners and of their times. Theology’s reference to revelation does not raise it out of the stream of all other human rational endeavour. Yet in – not despite – its very human character, theology can be holy reason. It can serve the Holy One and the congregation which gathers around him, wrestling with him, beseeching his blessing, and then like Jacob limping on its way. (Holiness, 30)

Webster on Theological Method

Posted in Theology with tags , , on October 26, 2010 by stephengardner

John Webster’s Holiness is, amongst other things, a defence of the trinitarian nature and ecclesial context of dogmatics. Theology as a practice belongs within the Church because it is an effect of the saving presence of God. He writes; ‘Revelation is the self-giving presence of the holy God which overthrows opposition to God, and, in reconciling, brings us into the light of the knowledge of God’ (Holiness, 14). This, being-brought-to-the-knowledge-of-God makes theology not only possible but an exercise in ‘holy reason.’ The effect of this saving knowledge of God is that human reason, along with the entire self, is renewed and redeemed in the gospel.

To speak in this way is to fly in the face of some deep intellectual and spiritual conventions of modern culture. Modernity has characteristically regarded reason as a ‘natural’ faculty — a standard, unvarying and foundational feature of humankind, a basic human capacity or skill. As a natural faculty, reason is, crucially, not involved in the drama of God’s saving work; it is not fallen, and so requires neither to be judged nor to be reconciled nor to be sanctified. Reason simply is;  it is humankind in its intellectual nature. Consequently, ‘natural’ reason has been regarded as ‘transcendent’ reason. (Holiness, 10)

This conception of reason as transcendent, extracts reason ‘from the economy of God’s dealings with his creatures (11). Rather, ‘Holy reason is eschatological reason, reason submitting to the process of the renewal of all things as sin and falsehood are set aside, idolatry is reproved, and the new creation is confessed with repentance and delight. And if what Paul calls the renewal of the mind (Rom. 12.2) is to be visible anywhere, it has to be in Christian theology, in which holy reason is summoned to address the great matter of God and of all things in God’ (12).