Archive for Jesus

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? 

Inclusive Church Communities

Posted in Church, Life with tags , , , , , , on June 10, 2011 by stephengardner

Christian Blind Mission has launched a fantastic new initiative called Luke 14 (See the video below). The purpose of Luke 14 is to help churches to care for disabled people.

20% of Australian’s live with a disability – is that reflected in your church community? I’m assuming its not and so, Its worth asking why not? Is your building wheelchair accessible? Does the service exclude those who live with a particular disability? They’re the more obvious questions to ask, but what about at the level of personal contact. How are people with disabilities welcomed by others?

I was part of a church community of around 120 people some years back. One of the people from the congregation, lets call him Brad, had a profound disability. Brad was wheelchair bound and had great difficulty speaking. It was hard work to hear and understand Brad. Perhaps thats why out of a church of 120 people only 3 people would speak with him. Perhaps thats why Brad stopped coming to church after persisting at it for a number of years.

Last night I stumbled upon these helpful words from Jurgen Moltmann:

The first thing that people discovered in Jesus, according to the synoptic gospels, was the healing power of the divine Spirit. That is why people who come into contact with him are revealed not as ‘sinners’ (as they are in Paul), but as ‘the sick’. Out of the corners into which they had been forced, out of the wilderness to which they had been banished, out of the shadows into which they had crept, the sick and possessed emerge, and try to be near him. In the neighbourhood of Jesus men and women reveal themselves, not as people who fulfil the Greek ideal of the healthy mind in the healthy body, but as sick, suffering and in need of help. In the vicinity of Jesus, people do not show themselves from their sunny side but from the sides that are dark and shadowed (Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 189).

O that our churches were free of superficiality. O that the divine Spirit would change God’s people that we would look at the world with the same paradigm shifting eyes of Jesus. O that God would forgive us of excluding other image bearers of communion with their Maker.

Atonement I: The person and work of Christ shows us who God is

Posted in Reconciliation with tags , , , , , on March 17, 2011 by stephengardner

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. (Phil 2.5-8 NRSV)

Way back in November I introduced an introduction to some thoughts on the atonement. This is the first post, in what I hope will be a series of ‘around seven’, exploring the atonement, what it is and what it achieves. The next couple of posts will focus more on what the atonement actually is, but for now let me describe it as this: the saving significance of the person and work of the Incarnate Son of God.

Initially I was going to use this post as a way of finishing off my reflections on the atonement, but I’ve become convinced that this should be the first port-of-call for any consideration of what God has done in Christ. In a nutshell the point of this post is this: the atonement is not contrary to who God is, in fact it is God in his most Godness.

This seems to be what Paul was getting at when he penned his exhortation to the Philippians that they be a community of humility precisely because God has shown himself to be humble in the death of Christ. The NRSV unhelpfully adds the word ‘though’ in v.6 implying that the work of Christ is contrary to who Christ is – God in his fulness.

Speaking of the limitations and weaknesses Christ takes on and what they mean for him ‘being in the form of God’, Barth writes this:

We will mention at once the thought which will be decisive and basic in the section, that God shows Himself to be the great and true God in the fact that He can and will let His grace bear this cost, that He is capable and willing and ready for this condescension, this act of extravagance, this far journey. What marks out God above all false gods is that they are not capable and ready for this. In their otherworldliness and supernaturalness and otherness, etc., the gods are a reflection of the human pride which will not unbend, which will not stoop to that which is beneath it. God is not proud. In His high majesty He is humble. It is in this high humility that He speaks and acts as the God who reconciles the world to Himself. It is under this aspect first that we must consider the history of the atonement. (Barth, CD IV.1 s59, 159)

 

 

 

The Church Needs to Get Scandalised!

Posted in Church, Reconciliation with tags , , , , , , on January 24, 2011 by stephengardner

One thing that will sell a newspaper is a scandal. One thing that will sell a newspaper and incite mobs of angry people is a scandal within the church. However, Miroslav Volf, in his book, Exclusion and Embrace,  argues that the Christian community needs to a scandalous one. A community that is willing to get scandalised because that is exactly what God has experienced in event of the gospel:

At its core, however, the scandal of the cross in a world of violence is not the danger associated with self-donation. Jesus’ greatest agony was not that he suffered. Suffering can be endured, even embraced, if it brings desired fruit, as the experience of giving birth illustrates. What turned the pain of suffering into agony was the abandonment; Jesus was abandoned by the people who trusted in him and by the God in whom he trusted. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15.34). My God, my God, why did my radical obedience to your way lead to the pain and disgrace of the cross? The ultimate scandal of the cross is the all too frequent failure of self-donation to bear positive fruit: you give yourself for the other – and violence does not stop but destroys you; you sacrifice your life – and stabilize the power of the perpetrator. Though self-donation often issues in the joy of reciprocity, it must reckon with the pain of failure and violence. When violence strikes, the very act of self-donation becomes a cry before the dark face of God. This dark face confronting the act of self-donation is a scandal. (Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 26)

Volf goes on to say that ‘there is no genuinely Christian way around the scandal’ (26). Volf explores such practices of self-donation in the political sphere but his challenge, I think, is just as valid for the way our church communities relate to one another.  Getting scandalised, in this sense, is a non-negoitable for our churches. He goes on to write:

the only available options are either to reject the cross and with it the core of the Christian faith or to take one’s cross, follow the Crucified – and be scandalized ever anew by the challenge. (26)

I love it when different thoughts from different books collide. I find Volf’s challenge resonates deeply with much of the work of the brilliant Christian psychologist Larry Crabb. When it comes to thinking through how the Christian life should be expressed in relationship with others, there is no one sharper than Crabb. In his book Encouragement, he argues that too often we are motivated by fear to serve others, or that we hold back from serving because we are self-protective and anxious that we must first have our need for encouragement met by others before we can give of ourselves, or ‘self-donate’ as Volf would say.

What radical a call the cross makes on our communities, and yet isn’t it odd how few of our churches come close to resembling  such radicalness. Imagine the difference it would make if we actually believed that our security and significance was found in Jesus Christ alone.

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?

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)

O’Donovan on the resurrection

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 5, 2010 by stephengardner

This is a beautiful quote from O’Donovan on the power of the resurrection to rescue what was lost, to give life to what was dead and to recreate what had been uncreated:

It might have been possible, we could say, before Christ rose from the dead, for someone to wonder whether creation was a lost cause. If the creature consistently acted to uncreate itself, and with itself to uncreate the rest of creation, did this not mean that God’s handiwork was flawed beyond hope of repair? It might have been possible before Christ rose from the dead to answer in good faith, Yes. Before God raised Jesus from the dead, the hope that we call ‘gnostic’ , the hope for redemption from creation rather than for the redemption of creation, might have appeared to be the only possible hope. ‘But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…’ (1 Cor 15.20). That fact rules out those other possiblities, for in the second Adam the first is rescued. The deviance of his will, its fateful leaning towards death, has not been allowed to uncreate what God created.

(O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order, p. 14)

ps. The pic is of the roof of  The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. Over the next little while I’m going to try and use pics from our recent trip…