Archive for Paul

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)




Friendships must be messy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 4, 2009 by stephengardner

What makes Christian friendships particularly Christian? Is it their ‘other -person centred-ness’? Their focus on love? Or, is it actually their messiness that  makes them distinctly Christian? Recently I attended a  lecture on Paul’s friendship language, by Prof. Laurence Welborn of Fordham University, New York.


Prof. Welborn used 2 Corinthians to show that Paul’s ‘letter of reconciliation’ was ‘an audacious attempt to subvert the Roman paradigm of friendship.’ This is because Roman ideas of friendship were deeply influenced by Greek philosophical thought, with a particular value on firmness and permanence in relationships. Paul’s writings show a vulnerability and openness to messiness that offered a new paradigm in his cultural context. He often uses words like pain, sorrow and grief which reveal much of what he valued in his friendships (see 2 Corinthians 2.1-3, 2.7, Romans 9.2, Philippians 2.27).

The desire to have clean, tidy, neatly defined friendships directly clashes with the language Paul uses to speak about his relationships. Sure, loyalty and faithfulness are key in friendships, buts its when loyalty happens in the midst of pain, sorrow or even awkwardness that makes it distinctly Christian.

Recently, I spoke with a woman who has found herself increasingly isolated from Christian communities. Her friends have all but deserted her, unable to stick with her through various painful situations, perhaps finding her issues too much to bare themselves, too awkward or even too time consuming.

What stops us from opening ourselves up to sharing messiness with friends? Tell me what you think. Because its a total shame when we fail at this point,  its a missed opportunity to show to the world a distinctly Christian belief – that God dives into these moments, getting his own hands messy in our pain and sorrow. Paul might have been offering a subversive paradigm of friendship, but this is precisely because he had experienced the subversive message of a crucified God.

Tell me, what do you think makes Christian friendships distinctly Christian?