Archive

Monthly Archives: June 2011

There’s a fairly large Christian denomination that posted a link on their Facebook group with these words: “Have you checked out what God has been doing around Canada in response to our prayers?”

Is there anything peculiar about that statement?

There are, I think, a whole lot of assumptions being made here (not necessarily negative). But it’s revealing in terms of their view of prayer.

Does prayer “flip a switch” with God, so to speak, that releases Him to act? Are our prayers generative? Do they make things happen? Are our prayers responsive?

Does God respond to our prayers or are our prayers a response to God?

Our words are never the first word. God speaks and then we speak in response. God’s word comes first. Our word comes second. Thus, prayer is always responsive.

Perhaps then it would be more apt to say: “Have you checked out what we are praying in response to what God has been doing around Canada?”

“Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise,” (Ps. 51:15).

Thoughts?

Premise: Judgment as “speaking the truth in love” is the way we discern together what the Spirit is doing in our midst so that we can be a people shaped by the truth living together in such a way that we may witness to Christ Jesus in the midst of a world of untruth.

Read 2 Samuel 11:27b-12:14

A Word About Babies and the Cosmos.
It’s no secret that Christina and I are expecting our first child in a little over a month. We are both extremely excited and overjoyed at the prospect of meeting little Charlotte and at the very same time utterly terrified! At first she will be this fragile, delicately beautiful little girl, totally dependent on us for her survival. But, time will pass, the days will turn into months and years and Charlotte will grow. She will become a toddler that runs around on her chubby little legs awkwardly bumping into things and falling over. She will become a young girl and go to school where she will learn amazing things and wonder at the world. She will become a teenager and dye her hair and slam doors and, at some point, dabble in romance. She will grow into a young woman full of a healthy dose of both optimism and wisdom. As her parents we will, of course, have dreams for our daughter. Not short sighted goals such as a university education and a stable but respectable income. But goals related to her person: that she would know what it means to love and be loved, that she would treasure relations and see them as fundamental to who God made her to be, that she would rejoice in the Lord and nurture and respect his good and beautiful creation, that she would live simply and know the abounding richness of life with God, with other human creatures and with the rest of creation. However, the road will not be smooth. As she grows she will make mistakes. She will falter and go off track. As her parents, this will require us to discipline her at times. It may be a smack on the bottom or perhaps a stern but graceful “no”. None of this will be because we despise her, no, it is because we love and cherish her and we want her to grow up into a mature and graceful woman.

This is a bit like creation. In fact, it’s similar to an analogy of sorts that one of the early Church Fathers, Irenaeus, used. Irenaeus started to talk about the idea that while creation was made good it was not made perfect. Creation had a telos, a goal. In this view, creation is not a static enterprise. Rather, it is dynamic and mobile. Creation is made to go somewhere. Genesis starts in a garden but Revelation ends in a city. God’s plans and purposes for creation are very good. The problem with all of this, of course, is sin. Because God is not coercive but genuinely desires a reciprocal relation of mutual giving and receiving with his human creatures the door was left open to the possibility of us saying ‘no’ to God’s good ways and choosing to go our own way instead. God’s way leads to life. Our ways, to death.

And so, in the midst of a world that has gone astray, God choses a people. This may seem odd. Why did God seemingly arbitrarily chose one people over another? I’m not sure that’s the right question. I think rather our question must be “why did God chose a people, period?” When God calls Abram he says to him, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3). God did not chose a particular people because he preferred them. He chose a particular people so that “all of the families of the earth” could know his blessing. In a world that had gone astray Israel was to live in such a way that they pointed to the goodness of God. Their life together was meant to scream “God has blessed everyone”. As such, Israel was called to live a peculiar sort of life together.

Nathan & David.
But, here we are in 2 Samuel with a king who is in many ways the idyllic king of Israel and in other ways a total train-wreck. In chapter 11 David says “no” to God’s way and choses his own way: “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war…David remained in Jerusalem”. Already we see that David is in a precarious position, he’s not where he should be. The rest of the chapter tells the tragic story of David, Bathsheba and Uriah. To make a long story short, David rapes Bathsheba. She becomes pregnant so David sends for her husband Uriah. Who is out at battle. Where David should be. Uriah returns from battle but refuses to go home and sleep with his wife while the other men are out sleeping in the fields and fighting (David even tries to get him drunk). When Uriah refuses David sends him back out to war and has him placed on the front lines where he is killed. Murder is added to rape. David then takes Bathsheba as his wife. The chapter ends with these words: “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord” (11:27). This was not God’s way. This was not the way of life. God did not create David to be this sort of king. God intended David to be a different sort of king and because God’s intentions were different than David’s actions David’s actions were rejected. They had to be. David had so rejected the word of God that Nathan accuses him of despising the word of the Lord (v9). Rape and murder, the destruction of relations, has no part in God’s good created order. So then, God must judge these death-dealing actions and this, my friends, is good news.

Because David’s actions displeased the Lord, “the Lord sent Nathan to David”. Nathan tells David a parable about a rich man who took advantage of and stepped upon a poor man. David is outraged at the rich man. The NRSV says that his “anger was greatly kindled”. Anger just bubbles up within David until he cannot contain it any longer: “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” David is fuming. Then comes the truth: “You are the man!” David’s actions come to light and the truth is revealed, he is the rich man. Nathan continues on to pronounce judgment on David for his actions. Notice the contrast between what God has done and what David has done. God: “I anointed you king, I rescued you, I gave you your master’s house, your master’s wives, and the house of Israel and of Judah…Oh, and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.” In other words, everything you have is from me and it’s way more than you need. David: “You despised the word of the Lord, you have struck down Uriah, you took his wife for yourself.” Here, David is confronted with the truth about himself. When he looks at the rich man in the parable he hates what he sees. He becomes outraged and cries out to the Lord for justice. But what David does not realize is that when he sees the rich man he is really seeing himself. When he looks at the rich man he is looking into a mirror and he hates what he sees.

About one year ago I was confronted with my own sinfulness. I had someone who was courageous enough and humble enough to speak the truth to me in love. For a long time I had justified my sinful action but it only led me deeper into lies and deceit, into insanity. Then one evening, when this person confronted me, it clicked. I saw the pain I was causing. I saw the damage I was doing to my relationships, to myself. And I remember having a surreal out-of-body type of experience. It was as if I saw myself as a character in a movie. I saw a man who was living my life, who was living the lie that I was living, who was rejecting the truth of God for his own insane lie. And when I saw this character, I hated him. He was not a character that I wanted to root for. He was not a character who I wanted to see win. He was a character who I looked at and mourned. I became angry at him and wanted justice. Suddenly the surreal out-of-body experience ended and I was back in the real world, and it clicked. The guy in the movie was me. I was looking at myself. If we could step back and see ourselves as a character in a story, what would we think? What kind of character would we be? What sort of story are we writing with our lives? And, more importantly, does our story line up with the one that God is telling?

You can almost sense David’s stomach drop when the truth about him is brought to light, can’t you? Suddenly going from a sense of righteous anger and a longing for justice to guilt and shame. And it doesn’t stop there. Nathan continues on to name the consequences of David’s sin. Because he murdered Uriah by the sword the sword will never leave David’s house, his family will experience the same pain only it will come from within his own house. His wives will be taken and given to someone close to him (Absalom). The son that he had with Bathsheba will be killed. And all of this will happen in the open “before all Israel.” David’s sin will bring upon him real consequences. He will experience great shame because of what he has done. This shame and humiliation are, for David, inescapable. There is no going around it, only through it, and here’s why it is unavoidable. Because judgment is God’s “no” to sin. Judgment is God’s “no” to that which would seek to thwart his good purposes for creation. Judgment means that sin and death have an expiration date. The world will not continue on forever in this pattern of death and decay. Humans will not forever reject God for their own ways and continually bring death upon their relationships with one another and with the non-human creation. Judgment means that there is a point beyond which sin and death cannot venture. Judgment means that sin and death will not have the last word. Judgment means that God’s good purposes for his creation will not lose out to the powers of sin and death. Judgment means that one day the truth will be spoken and all things will be set right. Because God has particular purposes for his creation, whatever does not resemble these good purposes must be rejected. Judgment is rooted firmly in the abundant love of God for each and every square inch of that which he has made.

A Choice.
But judgment is not the end of the story. At this point David has two options. He can, on the one hand, deny the truth once it is brought to light. But what would this mean? What would it mean for David to be confronted with the truth about himself and to deny it. As king he could have Nathan killed, reject the truth and continue on in the lie. Surely though this would lead him further down the death-dealing spiral that is denial and insanity. Further, to reject the truth would be to reject life with God which can only be truthful. One cannot rejoice with the Lord in a lie. To embrace a lie is to reject God. To reject the truth is to freely chose insanity and damnation in the very grip of mercy. David, if he were to chose this path, and it would be his own choosing, would surely end up like Saul who came before him, rejected by God and without the Spirit of the Lord. On the other hand, David could accept the truth and confess what he has done. This would be to embrace judgment rather than reject it. This would be to live with God rather than reject life with God. It is here, in verse 13 that we are presented with David’s response, what has to be one of the most humbling lines of scripture: “David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” There it is. David is confronted with the truth about himself, it all comes out into the light and there can be no denying it, there can be only a rejection or an embrace of the truth. But David cannot deny the truth. Rather, he humbly submits himself to the prophet Nathan and to the word of the Lord. Psalm 51 was written by David in and around this time. As I read the Psalm pay attention to David’s tone [Read Psalm 51]. Wow. When God’s word confronts us and the truth is told about who we are, are we the sort of people who justify ourselves, do we reject the truth, or do we embrace it and call out to God for mercy?

Notice Nathan’s response: “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.” There can be no skirting the matter here, sin brings with it real consequences. There are consequences to choosing our death-dealing ways over God’s life-giving way. Nathan is clear on this. David will experience public shame. He will experience great loss. His cry in Psalm 51 alludes to this. Notice v8 and v17 in particular: “Let the bones that you have crushed rejoice…the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit.” David’s bones are still crushed, his spirit is still broken. Yet, in the midst of this come the words, “the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.” You shall not die. Repentance means that David choses to accept the truth rather than a lie. It means that he choses to live with God in the truth rather than live without God in his own twisted reality. To be the sort of community that God intends us to be will require that we humbly submit ourselves to the truth and embrace it.

The Church.
Just as Israel were meant to be a particular sort of community so too the renewed Israel, the Church, is meant to be a particular sort of community. One which lives in the midst of this dying world in such a way as to point towards Christ Jesus and God’s redemptive work of salvation in and through him for the whole world. By God’s great mercy through the gift of the Spirit we are empowered to be a witnessing community, one which lives now in anticipation of God’s future reality which is indeed bursting forth into the present. In order to be this sort of people, in order to live as a faithful witness to Christ Jesus for the sake of God’s mission in the world, we need judgment, we need the truth.

Paul writes in Ephesians: “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (4:14-16). Speaking the truth in love. We must reject the one unless it is coupled with the other. Truth without love can be devastating. Love without truth can be confusing. If we are to be the people that God desires us to be then we must cultivate a culture here in Toronto, Ontario where love means a commitment to the growth of the other in Christ.

David Fitch, pastor, writer and teacher wrote in a recent blog post, “We start by admitting we are incapable of telling the truth to ourselves apart from a community of the Spirit.” Apart from a community of the Spirit we are incapable of telling the truth to ourselves. We see this in our passage in Samuel: “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David.” Who sent Nathan to David? The Lord did. Nathan did not come to David from a position of power and superiority but from a position of humble submission to the Lord, and submission to David. The church can often be a place where the truth is spoken in judgment but there is no love. We must never claim that this is from the Lord. Likewise, the church can often be a place where love and acceptance are preached at the expense of truth-telling and submission to one another and the Spirit. This also we must never claim is from the Lord. To speak “the truth” “in love” is a work of the Spirit not a human work. Without a community of the Spirit we are incapable of telling the truth to ourselves. We need one another. We need to be committed to the growth of one another in Christ Jesus. We need to speak truthfully to one another in love so that we can discern what the Spirit is saying in our midst and be built up in love so that we may be a community of truth in the midst of a world of untruth.

Grace goes all the way down.
Now perhaps at this point there are some of us who are sitting here thinking to ourselves, “see, I was justified in what I said to her. I knew it!” Maybe we think we now have a card to play that enables us to freely judge others. To these folks I would lovingly say, “You are the man!” Perhaps there are others of us who are sitting here thinking to ourselves, “I don’t know JT, this language of judgment still sounds sketchy to me. It’s just so darn unfriendly.” To these folks I would lovingly say, “You are the man!” See, God has good and beautiful plans for that which he has made and we are hurtling through history towards the fulfillment of these plans. However, while God invites us to join him in his mission in and for the world our hands are dirty. I am like David, “I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me” (Ps 51:5). I had no choice in the matter. I did not ask to be born. I am a victim of sin and death. Sin has had its way with me and with my mother before me. But like David I am not only a victim of sin and death, I am a perpetrator of sin and death. My hands are dirty. They are complicit in the rebellion against their Maker for I too have sinned and said “no” to God’s way. For me to be “born again” and enter into a new reality I must first face the truth about myself. I must embrace judgment.

I’d like to finish with a word about the Last Word. Jesus is, for us, both Nathan and David. Jesus is Nathan in that to be confronted by the truth is to be confronted by Jesus. To be confronted by Jesus is to be confronted by the truth. The gospel is confrontational. It is an affront to our modern sensibilities. It insults our evangelical piety.  When Christ confronts us the truth about ourselves is brought to light. Nothing is left hidden, all is exposed. We cannot avoid this. To embrace the truth about ourselves and to call out for mercy as David did is to embrace Jesus. To reject the truth about ourselves, to chose instead a lie, is to reject Jesus. Christ Jesus is he who lovingly and compassionately sees us in our mess and death and speaks to us the truth, beckoning us to live.

Yet at the very same time and paradoxically without conflict Jesus is for us David. Jesus is he who, as the Apostle Paul writes, was made to be sin even though he knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). As he hung on a Roman cross, the God-man Jesus of Nazareth suffered the shame, humiliation and exclusion of the sin of the world. If you were to somehow add up the total amount of sin in the world and could somehow bottle up all of the shame and humiliation and exclusion that this sin could cause Jesus suffered infinitely more shame, was infinitely more humbled and infinitely more excluded than that. He hung there, naked and utterly forsaken. Shamed. Humiliated. Excluded. For the sin of the world. Not only that, but in this act he took the powers of sin and death all the way down with him. In his death Jesus utterly exhausted the powers of sin and death, drawing them to the point of breathlessness and then, in his resurrection from the grave he destroyed them once and for all, shattering them beyond recognition, and sealing their fate once and for all. Jesus is he who experienced the full weight of judgment. God’s “no” to sin, his “no” to that which would seek to thwart his good purposes, was the nails that held the Son to the cross. The cross is the ultimate act of truth telling. For there the truth is told about us and there the truth is told for us and we are made new. The shame and despair that we feel when the truth is told and our sin is exposed and judged for what it is is not the last word. The last word is the word spoken to you in Christ Jesus. The last word is Christ Jesus. So may this always be our last word to one another, and the word by which all our other words are measured.

Just as there is no Messiah without a people there is no Jesus without a community, a Body. We are that Body and as we humbly submit ourselves to one another and to the word of the Lord we are gifted to discern what the Spirit is saying and empowered to embrace the truth. May we be a community that embraces judgment. May we not resist the truth. May we submit to one another and be committed to one anothers growth as the Body built up in love. And may we know, that Christ our head is for us what we cannot be for ourselves and that we need only embrace him. Amen.

I recently posted the following status update on facebook:

“Thinking of infant baptism. Evangelical arguments against just don’t sound as convincing these days. What say you?”

It didn’t take long for people to chime in with their responses. There were all sorts of opinions on the matter and, not surprisingly, most evangelical leaning folks argued against it. You can read some of the responses here.

The Evangelical argument against.
Most folks I know who argue against infant baptism do so on the basis of “believers baptism”. As I see it there are 3 main points which make up the argument for believers baptism: 1) A focus on the individual believer, 2) the importance of a cognitive “decision for Christ”, and 3) baptism as symbol.

1) Focus on the individual.
Believers baptism is the decision of a particular individual who has made particular choices and confessions. The decision to be baptized into the Body of Christ is one that cannot be made by others on your behalf. You must make that decision, consciously, on your own. Folks must “own their faith”.

2) The importance of a cognitive “decision for Christ”.
This is closely connected with the first point. Here, the focus is on the individual’s confession. The individual must “believe and be baptized”. First there is belief, then profession, then baptism. Of course, central to belief in this sense is a cognitive assent to the fact that “Jesus is Lord” or whatever. And, in order to chose one must properly understand. As one commenter put it, one must have “the ability to thoughtful choose Christ” before they can be baptized. This is common sentiment among evangelicals. Baptism must “mean something”. What is important is that the individual has chosen Christ. Baptism signifies this choice.

3) Baptism as symbol.
Once the onus is placed on the individual to believe and make a decision for Christ then the door is open to view baptism as a mere symbol. And, indeed, this is what we see happen in evangelical churches across the globe. Baptism, we are told, is a public act that signifies an inner faith. The public act isn’t all that important. The waters of baptism aren’t all that significant. They simply point to something else. They point towards the inner faith of the individual. A faith which they have “made their own” and now desire to publicly demonstrate in front of others. It is a “declaration of faith”. And, since infants cannot publicly declare their faith, it would be inappropriate (or, meaningless) to baptize them. Finally, since baptism isn’t really all that significant in and of itself we are free to either chose to be baptized or not. Water or no water, what is important is the individual proclamation of faith towards which baptism is said to point.

Of course, I think this is all rather problematic. In my next post I want to put forward an argument for infant baptism, an argument that I believe counters the 3 points laid out above.

In the mean time, what do you think? Have I accurately summarized this? Is this fair? Of course I’ve probably missed some things. What other arguments are there for “believers baptism” and do you think they are problematic at all?

Peace.

Read part 1 of this series of posts here.

Read part 2 of this series of posts here.

———-

The Soteriological Question
The problem with all of this of course is sin. The futile reign of sin in the world distorts our relation with other humans, with the non-human creation, and with God. If to be human is ‘being in communion’ and sin disrupts our communion then our being as humans is fundamentally altered. I say altered because I do not believe that the image of God in humanity can ever be obliterated. If the image is ontologically constitutive of human being then a loss of the image would be a loss of humanity. A human that does not bear the image of God is no human at all. The Fall certainly negatively impacts our humanity but it cannot, however, alter the ontology of human being. So then, while we cannot speak of the image as ever being wholly obliterated in humans we can and certainly must speak of that image as being tarnished.

In light of sin then, communion depends on atonement, upon the reconciliation of relations ruined at the Fall (32). Since, in the limitedness of our humanity this is impossible, there needs to be some other way in which the image is set right in human creatures. According to the New Testament Jesus is the perfect and untarnished image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15) (33). He is this image perfectly for us in fulfillment of Gen. 1:26-27 as he redeems humankind. So then, for Paul salvation means to be made ‘like [put on] Christ’ (Eph. 4:23-24; Col. 3:10). Or, as the Lutheran theologian David Yeago puts it, salvation is the word for what it means to gather around Christ and His community (34).

For Irenaeus, human creatures are created in immaturity with the goal of maturing or journeying further into the fullness of relation with God in himself. Humans are created for a particular being. The Spirit’s peculiar office is to realize the true being of each created thing by bringing it, through Christ, into saving relation with God the Father (35). The Spirit is the perfecter of creation by bringing it to its telos and offering it back to God perfected. Western eschatology tends to see the end as a return to the beginning. Irenaeus on the other hand “has a dynamic teleological drive which conceives the end as something more than a return to the beginning,” (36).

In light of this and in light of the economy of God, salvation also then includes not just human creatures but the non-human creation as well (which of course has all sorts of implications for ecology and economic life). Since the created world is what it distinctively is by virtue of its createdness, it reflects in different ways the being of God in communion. However, human creatures, made in the image of God, reflect most directly the divine being in communion. Yet, “by virtue of its relation to both God and man, the rest of the created order, too, is brought into the relation of one and many that all this entails,” (37). Irenaeus was one of the earliest Christians to stress this. For Irenaeus, the physicality of creation is of vital import in light of God’s creating it so. Humans, as God’s “trinitarian mediators of creation”, exercise dominion over the rest of the non-human creation in order that the world might “achieve perfection through time and…return completed to its creator,” (38). Part of the benefit of the “immaturity” of creation is that it maintains a link between creation and redemption for the work of Christ and the Spirit are one. In the loving freedom of God, creation is given space to journey towards perfection in relation.

The danger here is a failure to recognize the differences between humans and the non-human world, while simultaneously respecting the proper being and status of the natural world (39)  Theories of evolution have called into question, and rightly so, the model of humans as essentially mind/will and therefore essentially different from nature (dualism). However, they have at the same time, and perhaps in reaction, encouraged an identification of the human with nature. In light of a proper understanding of what it means for humans created in God’s image to have dominion both of these views of the human person must be rejected. The human person is not essentially an embodied soul nor are they identical with nature. They are rather essentially material creatures in God’s image who are given a particular distinct role amongst creation, namely, to have dominion.

Conclusion
To be made in the image and likeness of God is ontologically constitutive of human being. There can be no separation of the image from human creatures. A human creature lacking the image would be no human at all. To be human is to be fashioned “in our image”. To be fashioned “in our image” is to be human. If we humans are created in the image of God then the fact that we would in some way be perichoretic beings should be of little surprise. Indeed, everything in the universe is given space to be what it is and not another thing, but it is also what it uniquely is by virtue of its relation to everything else (40). A trinitarian view of creation and the imago is important as a means of being able to articulate the way things are able to be themselves in distinction from other persons and things by virtue of the relation they have with their creator and indeed with all of creation. Thus, it is only a thoroughly trinitarian understanding of the imago that allows us to avoid the modern pitfalls of an ever poisonous and alienating individualism on the one hand and an egalitarianism in which the particularity of the individual is lost on the other hand, and instead allows us to maintain a distinction-in-relation, or, an understanding of “being as communion”. To be human is to ‘be’ in relation not only with God but with all of creation. Only a trinitarian understanding of creation and the imago can secure both unity and plurality, intellect and material for trinitarian love has as much to do with respecting and constituting otherness as with unifying (41).

———-

Notes:

(32) Gunton, 217 (footnote 5).

(33) See also Grenz, 209ff.

(34) David Yeago, Apostolic Faith: Part 2 (unpublished), chapter 14.

(35) Gunton, 189.

(36) Gunton, 160 (footnote 5).

(37) Gunton, 217.

(38) Gunton, 120.

(39) Gunton, 173.

(40) Gunton, 173.

(41) Gunton, 206.