Friday, January 30, 2009

The Religion and Relationship of the Atonement

As I think about the people I've talked to, heard speak, or read their writings on Christ's atoning works, I realize that there are distinctly two approaches to the cross, and most of us are dominated in our thinking by one or the other. Even when we hear one perspective dripping all over a message, we may filter it through our lens on the cross and apply totally different points. Neither perspective is wrong, and neither is fully right, but they're two sides to the same coin.

First, there is the religious thinker. Theologically minded and committed to analyzing doctrinal nuances, the religious thinker is quick to identify the liturgical beauty of Christ's death. Typically this is flows from a modern mindset, very scientific and ordered. We see definite links being built between the sacrificial requirements and Christ's death. We find significance in the semantics of God's holiness, righteousness, justification, imputation, propitiation, etc. The religious thinker is able to explain the unquestionable validity of our justification by faith according to the religious codes that God Himself has established. And he's right.

Next, however, is the relational thinker. Emotionally guided and driven by the reality and impact of God's love, the emotional thinker finds solace in the wonderful act of mercy and grace that God bestowed on us in order to adopt us as His children. Typically this flows from a post-modern mindset, very compassionate and socially minded. We see emphasis placed on the suffering of Christ, the magnificent sacrifice of God to send His only son, and the heart-melting love story that the Gospel narrative unfolds. The relational thinker finds it impossible to contain his passionate response of love to the Father who first loved us. And he's right.

I've heard it said that "Christianity is not about religion." That's a relational (post-modern) fallacy. As our society swings more and more toward an outright hatred of religion and absolutes, I want to emphasize that Christ died to satisfy the very absolute realities that God had set up in His religious Law delivered through Moses. The substitutionary and sacrificial aspects of the atonement are meaningless without the context of the Law.

Yet, the power of the Gospel doesn't end there. In fact, we must remember why the Law itself was ever bestowed upon Israel, "it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers" (Deut. 7:8, emphasis mine). God is not bashful of the fact that He wants to relate to men and women at the deepest level of emotion. He shares His emotions with us in His word—love, joy, anger, and sadness. There is deep emotion and desire for relationship (note, His desire is not a need born out of weakness as the human desire often is) that surrounds Christ's atoning death. Without the expiation and reconciliation that comes through the cross, the religious context of the atonement is also meaningless.

Doctrine is nothing without grace, and grace is nothing without doctrine.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cosmic Child Abuse: The Atonement Under Attack

In his book, The Story We Find Ourselves In, Brian McLaren introduces a not-so-new concern about the atonement as his fictional character observes the atonement calling it "divine child abuse." McLaren, however, is not necessarily the front runner of this position. Steve Chalke has openly defended the atonement as "cosmic child abuse" in his papers and the book The Atonement Debate. The fact is, this line of logic does not stop with abandoning merely the idea that God intended to inflict His wrath of Christ, but leads many thinkers on the path toward total denial that God would have wrath in the first place.

I would submit to you that not only is this logic unbiblical and heretical, but it leaves one with a host of unanswered questions. Why do we commemorate and revere Christ for His death after all? How can one adopt the Christian faith in a true sense and deny the very reason for Christ's death? Can you really "follow Christ" with merely a set of moral imperatives and "love thy neighbor" ideologies? Is it true, as the world has tried so desperately to affirm, that Christ was merely a good man whose death bears no theological ramifications that would dare to impose a set of propositional truths on our convenient world of relative reality? Will we profit the human race if we can but succeed in defining God according to our ideals—with no wrath, discriminatory judgments, or sovereignty over this world?

In my last post, I posed the rhetorical question "Who Needs an Atonement Anyway?" The answer, if Mclaren and Chalke are to believed, would be nobody at all. But, praise God that we can see plainly His plan in scripture to redeem His people by the very intentional means of substituting His son in our place to expiate the Father's wrath.
"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us." — 2 Corinthians 5:21

Not only that, but the plan was not a mystery to the Son. This cannot be considered child abuse as the Son fully understoods the will of the Father when he emptied Himself in order to carry out His purpose.
"The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." — Matthew 20:28
Substitution is at the heart of what the atonement means. It is the very reason that Christ can now be king over an everlasting kingdom (Heb. 1:3). It is the perfect fulfillment of God's plan, not the ugly mark of some disgraceful temperament that we should be ashamed to proclaim. God is rightfully wrathful. He is just and righteous in His judgment. I find it rather laughable that the flawed, sinful human would render judgment on the legitimacy and fairness of God's own judgment.
"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God... Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age?" — 1 Corinthians 1:18,20

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Who Needs an Atonement Anyway?

As we reach the mid-way point in our series on The Person and Work of Christ, we are at the pinnacle of Christ's past work: Atonement. Sadly, however, the very need for an atonement has been abandoned by some in exchange for a much less offensive picture of God. Without a proper understanding of Why the atonement was required, we can never fully appreciate What the atonement was and is. The seemingly "unfriendly" attributes of God—His wrath and justice—cannot be denied without also defaming His glorious love and mercy.

There are four bases on which the full beauty and praiseworthiness of Christ's work of atonement rests. Ironically, the first two are anything but beautiful. The first basis for an atonement is the existence of sin itself. Even this core principal of the Christian faith has been dismissed of recent by pastors who desire to preach a less offensive gospel. But, my friends, we cannot preach a gospel that is altogether unoffensive to a people who offend God most severely. Without an understanding of sin, who needs an atonement anyway?

Second, I'm afraid, is even far less popular than the first: God's wrath. The Biblical truth that God is wrathful toward sinners is a fundamental basis for the atonement and crucial in understanding the splendor of what Christ did for us. As far back as Genesis 2:17, "when you eat of it you will surely die," we see God's ordained retribution for disobedience. Nahum 1:3 assures us that, "the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished." Elsewhere we read, "the wages of sin is death," (Rom. 6:23) and a host of other verses that I couldn't even begin to count or cite. The fact is, as surely as you and I have sinned, we deserve to have God's wrath executed upon us, causing eternal death and torment in total separation from Him. If there were no wrath—no imminent punishment for sin—then who needs an atonement anyway?

Third, and often overlooked, is God's righteousness. Not only does God possess wrath, but He possesses wrath in tandem with a perfect righteousness that requires His justice be fulfilled. He cannot dismiss the verdict, death. He cannot merely brush off and forget the wrongs we have done. I refer to this as "grandpa in the sky" theology, or GITS, as I've come to call it, somewhat tongue in cheek. God's wrath and His righteousness (i.e. justice, see BSL - Righteous) together exclude any option of an acquittal. He will not simply lighten up in order to help some failing students pass. He will not write pardons just to boost his popularity. God will prove Himself to be a righteous Judge. If He were to abandon strict justice, then who needs an atonement anyway?

But finally, just as it seems all hope is lost, the fourth basis for an atonement is equally as certain as the first three: God's mercy. In His mercy, God determined a plan by which our sin, His wrath, and His righteousness could converge in one act of mercy on His children and provide a means for our salvation. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (Rom. 5:21). After all, without God's mercy, who could be atoned for anyway?

Over the next two weeks, I'll be diving deeper and deeper into the aspects of the atonement. I pray that through a greater appreciation for what Christ did, we may develop a deeper sense of worship for who He is.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Love the Sinner by Hating the Sin

This article comes in response to a question posted by anonymous on my open question forum, askscripture.com. Anonymous writes:
"As a born again christian mother, how do I respond to my 24 year old daughter who has announced that she is in a relationship with another female, who is 18 years old? What do I say, what limits if any, do I set? Do I accept this other female into our home and family celebrations? I am overwhelmed with heartache and don't do much but cry. Just before she announced this, she had a boyfriend for 6 1/2 years."

This is indeed a difficult situation to be in for any parent, or any friend of a dearly loved fellow sinner. People do horrible things. We call them mistakes, judgment lapses, learning experiences, etc. God, however, calls it by an altogether less popular word: sin.

Whenever we talk about dealing with the sin of another within the body, and especially within our own nuclear families, it's an important first step to confess and realize that we ourselves are also sinners. That said, the distinguishing factor between our anonymous mother and her daughter is that (presumably) that the mother confesses her sin and is not embracing a lifestyle of sin. Meanwhile the daughter shares no such humility and repentance.

The oft quoted verse by liberals and relativists who despise the concept that one human can rebuke another is Matthew 7:3, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" But remember that I've already mentioned we are looking to the plank in our own. What do confessed sinners do to deal with the specks in their brother's eye. To continue the metaphor: once you finally did remove the plank from your eye, would you then go on pretending as though your brother or sister had no speck in theirs? No. Jesus warned against hypocritical judgment, but He by no means disallowed accountability within the body.

For the dilemma that anonymous finds herself in here I believe the most applicable passage is 1 Corinthians 5:11, which reads, "you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral.... With such a man do not even eat."

Oh, but there must be some other way. Surely there must be some more kind, gentle, unoffensive way to deal with a daughter, of all people. We long to see the cuddly image we've developed of our "grandpa in the sky" type of god simply dismissing the sin and saying, "I love you anyway."

The discomfort we feel, however great or little, with this proposed scenario arises within us for one simple reason: far too mild of an attitude toward sin. If we saw sin for what it really is, what God sees it as, then we would revile the thought of sharing a meal even with a child, sibling, or parent who marked themselves proudly and unashamedly with such a repulsive spirit. Sin is death. It should be to us the stench of rotting flesh. Would you dine and be merry with a ripe corpse in the room?

The purpose, of course, of taking on such an attitude and carrying forth the action prescribed is not to elevate ourselves in some manner of self-righteousness. That is the abuse and misuse of such teaching that has led our modern culture to reject the rebuke and even the mere concept that there exists such a thing as sin. But God is not fooled. The purpose and heart behind this course of this action is to love the sinner—as we no doubt realize anonymous loves her daughter—by hating the sin.

I prefer to rephrase the old adage, "Love the sinner but hate the sin," into a more Biblical application of the concept: "Love the sinner by hating the sin." If we do not show our neighbor the speck in his/her eye, how is that loving? If we spare one's potential angst over realizing sin in their life by allowing them to persist believing they are ok, that will prove to be most unloving on the day our Lord returns. As difficult as this action seems in our worldly wisdom, the most loving thing a mother could do for this daughter would be to love her by hating her sin. As a believer, we should hate such outward rebellion to God so much that "with such a man [we would] not even eat."

As an encouraging conclusion to this thought, jump to Paul's second letter to Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 2:6-7 we see the result of this course of action. The sinner repents and Paul instructs the church to forgive him, welcome him home, and celebrate with them. "I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him," Paul writes in verse 8. We have here a real example of the church discipline having the desired effect and we are witness to the joy it brings to all involved, not only the sinner but the entire church.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Who Else but Christ?

I have been reviewing miles of commentary and articles published on messianism and messianic prophesy and have found an amazing amount of varying theories. Most pertinent to the Christian faith is the messianic beliefs of God's covenant people, Israel, at the time of the appearance of our Christ, Jesus.

It is no secret to most Christians that the Jewish contemporaries of Jesus' day were anticipating somewhat of a prominent political and military leader to arrive, overthrow the imposing power (Rome as it were), and re-establish the Davidic throne, borders, etc. This is clearly the root of much of their skepticism that we see depicted in the Gospels. But, knowing this fact, are you keenly aware of why they believed so? Or, more importantly, why are we believers so convinced of another picture of the Messiah?

Jewish messianism is rooted most fundamentally on Daniel 9 as the lens through which other messianic prophesy is viewed. Daniel 9 describes the Lords anointed as just the political leader we described earlier. Likewise, texts such as Isaiah 9:6 seem to support this view. So, where do we get off thinking there's another interpretation?

First, it is of chief importance to realize that the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (namely, to have a king on the throne) is only one aspect of the Messiah promised to Israel. But, I also want to stress that the Jewish anticipation of an Anointed to take the throne and rule assertively was not at all wrong, as some have thought, but merely incomplete and out of sequence.

Before the Davidic covenant, God promised Israel a future prophet. This future prophet would be like Moses. Deuteronomy 18 tells us that He will speak the very words of God (verse 18) and failure to heed those words will invoke judgment from God (verse 19). With that in the background, consider then how often Jesus says in Matthew, "You have heard it said... but I say." He quotes Moses and the Law, offering new revelation and illumination into the Word of God.

Then, in the Davidic covenant, there is evidence that the true fulfillment of the covenant could only come from God incarnate. Who else could sit on the throne forever. As Peter exegetes in Acts 2, "David said about him: '...because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.'... I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne." Consider also the Isaiah 9:6 passage mentioned earlier: "His name shall be... Mighty God." Who else could this Messiah be but the God incarnate Jesus Christ?

Finally, Christ was anointed not only as king and prophet, but as priest. Hebrews chapters 4-9 detail the splendor of God's plan to make the old covenant obsolete with a new high priest who no longer has to sacrifice for Himself. Only by the permanent sacrifice of Christ can our sins be truly forgiven forever as God had promised in Jeremiah 31. By what means could this promise have come true under the Old Testament Law?

But as I mentioned earlier, the Jew's anticipation of a ruling king is not wrong, merely incomplete. The Son will return to take His throne. In that day, Israel will see and believe. God has reserved for Himself a remnant. In a sense they are correct: their Messiah is yet to come, we simply (by faith) have had the privilege of a sneak peak.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up?

I'm going to go ahead and admit it: I love Wikipedia. Although I'm not always assured of it's accuracy, it offers an excellent resource for a cursory introduction to any topic, as well as cited resources where one can find primary research. I was digging on the subjects of Christ this week (which, by the way, offer great examples of how the world in wiki-collaboration will defame Christ and distort the truth), when I stumbled upon this article: Jewish Messiah Claimants.

In a word: fascinating. First of all, of the five so-called messiah claimants prior to Jesus, two were emperors who would have likely claimed the title "Anointed" for political reasons. There is no evidence to support that these men were believed to be, or believed themselves to be, the Jewish Messiah in the covenant sense. Next, Judas son of Hezekiah was himself in the royal family of Judah and would have likely claimed the title "Anointed" for similar political reasons--to emphasize his claim to the throne of David. Finally, Asthrongs and Simon were men of more humble origins, yet their claim to the title "Anointed" was nonetheless political. As they endeavored to lead their Jewish brethren in rebellion, they needed to make strong claims to their authority. What better way than to profess a direct anointing of God?

It should be clear to you by this point, if it was not already, that the term Messiah has not always born such a weighty religious definition as it does in modern context. It has gained a more mystically slanted definition in today's culture as a direct result of a widespread misunderstanding of the term's application to Jesus, and of course, a widespread misunderstanding of who Jesus Himself is.

If you continue down the list of claimants in the Wikipedia article, you'll soon realize that in fact nearly all of the men listed were leading a rebellion of some sort. In order for their plot to succeed, they would need the trust of the people. What better way to trust the people than to call yourself by the same title as the ancient kings?

So did any one on this list really mean "Messiah" in the way we think of the term? Were any of them ever thinking of themselves as more than a temporal king or leader of Israel? Did anyone on the list actually use the word mâšîah to mean the ultimate fulfillment of God's covenant? Well... there was this one guy. You know His name. Jesus!

That's right. Jesus the Christ, the Anointed, the Messiah, was and is the Anointed in a unique way. "Anointed" became a political term in Judea because of the implication of kingship, but Jesus knew that He was Anointed as much more than that. He is King in the line of David. He is the prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-20), and even greater than Moses (Hebrews 3:1-6). He is our high priest, even greater than Aaron (Hebrews 4:14-16).

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Abba Father: The Cry of God's Humble Children

In my spare time, I've been working on a second book—one that will take much longer than the first to compose and even longer for me to dare to publish. I've tentatively titled it, "Thy Will Be Done," as a follow-up to my last book, "Thy Kingdom Come." The theme of this book will (Lord willing) be about living life as ambassadors of a totally sovereign God. During some of my recent times of reflection and study, I've come to appreciate and understand new perspectives about the Abba cry that I felt led to share. Consider it a pre-release preview.

There is no shortage of proposals put forth on the real meaning of "Abba" in the New Testament. Some have considered the term to mean little more than father, while others believe it renders a more intimate meaning, a sort of Aramaic form of "daddy". The exegetical task is formidable, with a mere 3 instances of the term found in the whole of the New Testament. Here's what we do know:
  1. In all three instances, the term ?ßßa is immediately followed by pat?? (pater, or father)
  2. It is derived from Aramaic, whereas pater is purely Greek
  3. Although similar in meaning, pater is not a direct translation of abba, which indicates there is additional significance in abba beyond just "father."
  4. Most importantly, in all three instances, the use of the word abba arises out of a humble and submissive heart. In Mark 14:36, Christ is submitting (with pain and turmoil) to the will of the Father for Him to suffer. In Romans 8:15, Paul explains how we as believers cry out to God in the context of fear and suffering. And in Galatians 4:6, Paul describes the believer's confession that he/she deserves nothing under the Law, but is made alive in Christ alone.

So, what does this tell us? The abba cry is indeed a cry! This is not the gentle coo of a son resting peacefully in his father's arms. This is the cry of a toddler getting his first shot at the doctor's office, screaming in pain and looking at his father who stands by watching. Innocent and ignorant of what is truly in his best interest, the child is confused and terrified.

How can he just stand there watching his child in pain? "Dad," the son cries out, "make it stop!" But he won't. Can this be love? "Can this really be what's best for me?" the toddler might ask (if a toddler could reason... bear with the analogy).

After all, isn't that what Christ Himself cried? "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me." How often do we cry that? We pray for things that we do not understand. Lord heal me. Lord find me a new job. Lord bring my loved ones to repentance and salvation. "Yet not what I will, but what you will" (Mark 14:36).

Are we much different? Just a few verses following the abba cry in Romans 8, Paul continues, "We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express" (Romans 8:26). Here we stand in the midst of a fallen world, enduring pain and suffering for God, all the while knowing (just as the toddler knew) that our Father is fully capable to make it all stop in an instant. "Abba! Help us! Oh, Lord, won't you make it all stop!"

But we already know the answer. "Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening" (1 Peter 4:12). So what do we pray for in times like these? How do we groan to our Abba Father? I don't know. The Spirit knows.

This is the picture of the life we live as ambassadors of the sovereign King. We struggle to understand His power. We cannot begin to understand His will. Yet as Christ cried out to God, His sweat even turning to blood under great distress, He submitted Himself humbly to the will of the Father, and so must we.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Impeccability: Could Christ Have Sinned?

In this week's class, as I had somewhat expected, the discussion of Christ's humanity led directly to the question of whether or not it was possible for Christ to have sinned. The Impeccability Doctrine (for those of you who may not be familiar with the debate) hinges on the dilemma that if Christ could have sinned, then we are at risk of implicating His divine nature in sin as well, and yet if he could not have sinned, then how was He truly tempted? It's no trivial matter and one that is hotly disputed in the study of Christology.

Could Christ have sinned? No. How can we know? We know today that He could not have sinned becayse we know today that He did not sin. Confused? Allow me to explain.

I'd like to begin by reducing the debate to it's core. To posit that Christ could not have sinned on the basis that He was God assumes the fact that God Himself is impeccable. So I ask: why is God unable to sin. As I consider the truth of His sovereignty, it's become more and more troubling to me to resolve that He cannot sin simply because He is moral. Can some outside moral structure of existence impose upon God the limitations of His action? As gravity dictates our abilities as humans, is God dictated to be sinless by some moral order of the universe? No.

This view is known as voluntarism, which is a deeply entangled term that can have many implications. For this topic, I simply mean to present that God is sinless because God has willed to be sinless. God, being omnipotent and omniscient, determined and willed according to His good pleasure to be sinnless, moral, faithful, and the host of other communicable attributes that we identify in God.

As we consider this, the question of Christ's impeccability becomes invariably clear. Could Christ have sinned? No. Why? Because God the Father ordained it. In the same way that He ordained that the pharisees would reject Him, that Peter would deny Him, and that Rome would Crucify Him, God ordained Christ to be sinless.

Now, as surely as we recognize this exhibition of God's sovereignty we must also recognize the mysterious reality of compatible free will. Inasmuch as we each have the genuine choice of what to eat for dinner tonight, that choice is no less real to us in the present despite the reality that God already knows what we'll eat. In the same way, Christ's temptation was no less real to Him during His life on earth. In fact, to all of creation—Jesus' human form included—the impeccability doctrine was yet undecided prior to Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension. However, to the only God the Father, it most certainly was. He was not sitting on the edge of His seat for some 30 years, hoping like mad that His plan would come true. No, the sovereign Father says:

"I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is
still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I
please" (Isaiah 46:10).
So, what can this possibly mean for us? How can I take this philosophical proposition that appears to be nothing more than an extension of the age-old free will debate and actually apply it to my life? First, take heart: we have a mediator who was indeed tempted in every way we were. Not only that, but rejoice in the confidence that we have. The child of God is predestined to be conformed to the likeness of the Son, not because he can stand sinless in his own power, but because "the Lord is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4). This power of God has been evidenced for us in Christ's life that He might be the firstfruits among many brothers: the second Adam, our glorious Head.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Exegetical Fallacies: D.A. Carson's Passion for Truth

I recently received this book as a gift. Three pages into the first chapter I thought (with tongue in cheek), "I hope my students never read this." Carson's straight talk about the common exegetical fallacies (and, take heart, he does mean common) will make any teacher of the word swallow hard. But, for the teacher of scripture who seeks to honor God, I would consider this a "must read."

First, as Carson points out, exegetical fallacies happen in all facets of doctrinal realms. Calvinists are no more immune than Arminians. Baptists no more immune than Presbyterians. As we struggle to understand the grammar, vocabulary, and syntax of two ancient languages, the margin for error is great. However, the cost of error is even greater.

Exegetical fallacy can mean the difference between a trial from God and a temptation from God. It can be the difference between a virgin birth and the pregnancy of a young woman. It can be the difference between giving God the glory He is due and defaming His name with exegetical fallacy.

The stakes are high. Doctrinal wars and the wide dispersion of Christian denominations create increasing skepticism in the world today. And yet, for those of us passionate about seeing truth proclaimed, certain debates are worth the effort. If you, however, seek the wisdom and illumination in Scripture to both know that line—that threshold of the utmost theological importance—as well as the side on which you stand, I highly recommend D.A. Carson's "Exegetical Fallacies."

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Hero of the Hudson: A Lesson in Narrative Theology

The recent heroics of Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III on US Airways Flight 1549 are growing in fame. His hero status has (in under 24 hours, mind you) topped the national news with titles like "hero pilot," and has even spawned a facebook group honoring the "The Hudson River Hero." And, not to downplay Sullenberger's heroism, he clearly deserves our accolade for his obvious selfless acts, preparedness, and perfect execution of a crisis plan under crisis circumstances.

But all the hype makes me wonder, knowing the forgetfulness of our society, what the activity of that facebook group will be in a week... a month... or a year. Will Sully's phone be ringing off the hook with interview requests, book deals, and crazed fans after a few months have gone by? Only a rare few heroes of even the last century are still household names today.

After God had brought plagues on Egypt, parted the red sea, delivered manna and quail in the desert, and was preparing to drive out the Canaanite nations before Israel, He expressed His concern for the same forgetfulness in the hearts and minds of His people. "When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers," He warned, "be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery" (Deut. 6:10-12).

God understood that, just as the heroics of Mr. Sullenberger, no matter how great, are at risk of being forever forgotten, so are the mighty miracles of God that demonstrate His character and His love for His people. How could Moses ensure that the children and grandchildren of the generation who witnessed all these things would not forget their God who did them? Just as we tend to forget the heroics of a crisis after the crisis is over and we rest comfortably in our armchair, so would Israel grow complacent as they rested comfortably in the land of milk and honey where God would establish their borders and bless them.

Herein lies the importance of narrative theology—the story behind the doctrines! About such "doctrinal" beliefs God told Moses to instruct the people: "In the future, when your son asks you, 'What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?' tell him: 'We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.' (Deut. 6:20-21). Tell these stories! God wants His fame to never be forgotten!

Fortunately, God is not a God who delivered us once and has left us be ever since. He is present with us, active in our lives. What stories will you tell your children about God? How has He been a hero in your life? How will they learn to revere His name and proclaim His fame?

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Christ the Mediator: the Westminster Confession of Faith

In my continued study of the Person and Work of Christ, I come to this—perhaps the most comprehensive and clear description of the Hypostatic Union:
"The Son of God, the second Person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man's nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof; yet without sin: being conceived by he power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man. " (Westminster Confession of Faith, VIII.II)

Where do I begin! Well, I suppose I'll begin by saying, "no, I'm not a Presbyterian." That said, I do respect the work of the learned men of England from 1646, but that should not implicate me in agreement with their every statement. Which ones with which I differ is a topic for another time.

Let's begin with the first clause. I have spent the past three weeks writing about Christ's deity and the implications of Christ's deity. However, in this first clause of the confession's statement about Christ and the hypostatic union, we see clearly the cost of taking on human nature: infirmities. Not merely servanthood, but a weakness not worth comparing with God's omnipotence. Not merely sickness, but mortality. He did not, however, take on the sinful nature that is the weakest part of us all. How?

Christ's link to Adam was broken. Being made of the substance of Mary, He was not conceived of Adam (Joseph). Whether you believe in seminal or federal original sin (or have no decided position), one thing is certain: sin is passed on via the male of our species, a necessary contributor to each new person... except for Christ.

Finally, at the heart of the Hypostatic Union, these two natures were joined "without conversion, composition, or confusion." Without conversion: neither nature was modified to fit the other. Without composition: the natures did not combine in such a way so as to compose a new nature. Without confusion: the two natures did not blend together, each taking attributes of the other. Jesus was both fully God and fully Man.

So, what does this mean for us? In short, it means that when we read that we were called to emulate Christ, we should first understand that we were called to emulate God. However, the truth does not end there. See, it was not until the New Testament, when God was revealed in the flesh as Christ, the Son, that He commanded His followers to imitate Himself. We aren't called to the impossible task of imitating the Almighty God the Father, but the prototypical man Jesus Christ. In imitating Jesus, we reflect God's glory on earth as He did. Jesus lived His life as a man—learning as we do, feeling as we do, and even tempted as we do—and yet was without sin, the exact representation of the Glory of God (Heb. 1:3). That is a model we can follow if we face life as Christ did—a student of the scriptures, devoted in prayer, and submitted to God's will.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

An Attitude the Same as Christ: Learning from the Kenosis

I read an article this week related to the topic at-hand: Jesus is Fully Human, from the Desiring God blog. In it, the author walks through a simple progression of concepts from the simplest to grasp to the most profound. Jesus had a human body. Jesus had human emotion. Jesus had a human mind. And finally, Jesus had a human will. While the mystery of the last statement is certainly an inviting topic for anyone seeking a stimulating whirlwind of thought and study, I don't want to move on too quickly from the first. That God Himself would take on a human form is, second to Christ's death on the cross, is the most astonishing manifestation of His love we could ever imagine.

Theologians often use the term "kenosis," and while I don't want to puff myself up with fancy vocabulary and 5-dollar words, the roots of this term should be meaningful to us all. the Greek ?e??? (kenoo) means to empty out, like pouring out a pitcher until it's entirely empty. It's a total dispelling of all that one has. Christ emptied Himself in order to be found in the likeness of a man so that He might die the death that we deserve.

But how did He empty Himself? What is it that emptied Christ of His equality with the Father and His glorified state? Not the subtraction of a divine nature, but the addition of a human one. Subtraction by addition... much in the way that adding new paint on top of the Mona Lisa would empty it almost entirely of it's value.

I must give credit for this "Emptying by Adding" interpretation to Gerald Hawthorne, professor at Wheaton College who has published commentary on Philippians. To affirm that Christ was emptied of His deity is called the Kenotic Heresy. Scripture and Church History both affirm that Christ is both fully God and fully Man. So, what does that mean for us?

First, your attitude should be like that of Christ. He sacrificed so much to be our savior... to be our God who would tabernacle among us. What can we withhold in our worship? What do we have that we do not owe Him?

More than that, what excuse do we have as we continue to fail in our obedience to God. Living in His totally human nature, albeit not sinful nature, but nonetheless susceptible to temptation in every way that we are, Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, resisted temptation entirely. He was not spared from sin because He was God. No, indeed He endured by the same strength that we now have available to us through the indwelling Counselor, the Holy Spirit.

Peter offers a daunting charge for all of us, yet it was not Peter who charged it first. Inasmuch as we have been called, we are called to this: perfection.
"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth'" (1 Peter 2:21-22)

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

We Beheld His Glory - Part II

In my last post, I discussed the deity of Christ and His praiseworthiness as such. As believers, we find so much joy and inexpressible awe before God at His good and perfect plan to take on flesh for our sake. But, this linchpin belief of Christology is often at the center of Satan's attack and the world's attack on our faith in the very God who saves us. Why is Christ's deity under such scrutiny? More so than the doctrine of scripture, the mere existence of God, or even the seven-day creation, the world seeks to deny that Christ was God in the flesh.

The reason is simple: If Jesus was God, then we must believe what He said. Christ brings a simple message that God is in control. Christianity is a faith of submission, of confession, and of reliance upon one that shows us for who we really are. "If we can but show that Christ is not God," the world says, "then we can continue to be god to ourselves."

To receive Christ is to cast out the tattered being that we are and accept from God the promise of redemption by His power and not of our own. How distasteful to an enlightened people! How humiliating a thought to a society that has evolved from ape to this higher being. How ridiculous a discipline to deny one's self in light of all we as men are capable of.

That's certainly what the Jews must have thought in their seemingly "perfect" execution of the religion they thought was Judaism. But Stephen told them what Christ revealed, "You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts... you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it" (Acts 7:51-53). When Stephen looked to heaven he declared aloud what he saw: Christ with God as the eschatological Son of Man figure from Daniel 7. It was a convicting statement that, if they were to believe Christ, would require that they admit their frailty and failures and humbly ask forgiveness. Instead, they found murder to be an easier resolution.

But, I do not wish to conclude this thought with the harsh convicting power of Christ that damns those hardened in unbelief. We do well to recall who it was that presided over this rage-filled murder of Stephen: the young Saul. As we see evidenced in Saul's conversion, the power of Christ is not merely the power to judge, but the power to save. Jesus is Lord! By His power—the almighty power of the only true God—Jesus saves us! Praise Jesus for being God. Amen.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

We Beheld His Glory

As we get ready this week for the second installment of a 9-week course on "The Person and Work of Christ," I've been working very hard to consider not only the theological and doctrinal study of Christology, but also to see the truth anew and reconnect with the deep impact it had on me in the times when God first revealed Himself to me in scripture. There comes, I'm sorry to admit, a staleness to knowledge when we disconnect it from it's implications. I'm thoroughly enjoying a new discovery of how profound this simple truth really is: Jesus is God!

Jesus is God! He is the one and only omnipotent God, full of mercy and faithful to His covenants. He came down, took on our desperate condition in order to "tabernacle" among us, and suffered the worst of our physical and spiritual depravity as He suffered on the cross—all because of His faithfulness (and not ours) to fulfill His covenant.

Jesus is God! He is exalted with the names of God alone: Theos, Lord of Glory, Son of Man, Son of God, Beginning and End. It is praiseworthy for us to recognize Jesus, not merely as a man, but as God. The world wishes to pay lip-service to the Christ by some seemingly well-intentioned acknowledgment that He was a good teacher or an exemplary model of loving sacrifice, but how can anything less than the glory He is due be anything more than insulting? He is God!

Jesus is God! As we consider this fact and continue to renew our commitment to the Gospel day after day, let's stop to consider that through Christ and Christ alone we can behold the glory of the one and only true God. Not only that, but we also glorify God through meditation and proclamation of God the Son:


"every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:11).

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