Thoughts on grace

“Since he who saves already existed, it was necessary that he who would be saved should come into existence, that the one who saves should not exist in vain.” – St Irenaeus


That is to say, we begin with the Savior. After all, despite some apologetic attempts, one knows nothing of sin until they are confronted with Christ the Savior. Apologetic attempts to convince folks that they are sinners in need of a Savior tend to hold creation and salvation apart as two separate events. However, when we look backwards at creation from Christ the Savior we see that creation and salvation are anything but two distinct actions, they are rather “the continual process of God’s activity in his handiwork, bringing the creature, when he allows himself to be skillfully fashioned, to the stature of the Savior, by whom and for whom all creation has come into being,” (John Behr, The Mystery of Christ, 86).

St Athanasius extends this to the very being of creation. He affirms that creation has been brought into being from nothing; but the creation with which he is concerned is that of the cosmos and of human creatures by the Word of God, “our Savior Jesus Christ”. The world and everything in it was created by our Savior. Furthermore, the reason for the coming of the Word to created being shows us, “that things should not have occurred otherwise than as they are.” Athanasius pushes this to its limit when he asks what God was to do in the face of human apostasy:

“Be silent before such things, and let humans be deceived by demons and be ignorant of God? But then what need would there have been for the human being to have been created in the image from the beginning?…And what advantage would there be to God who made him, or what glory would he have, if humans who had been created by him did not honour him, but thought that others had made them?” (as quoted by Behr, 87).

Athanasius begins with the fact of the revelation of God in Christ and on this basis develops a theology in which Jesus Christ is very truly the beginning and the end. Thus, Paul can speak of our election “before the foundation of the world”. If these statements were to be made in any other way other than retrospectively it would make God into an arbitrary despot, who before creation decides who will be saved and who will not (unfortunately, based on a misunderstanding of God’s providence, there are those who see no problem with this). But when we begin with the fact of the Savior Jesus Christ what else can we conclude but that it is by him and for him that we have been brought into being?

Thus, we are able to see human sinfulness embraced within the whole scriptural economy of God, “in a simultaneous movement of conviction and forgiveness, revealing our fallenness…and yet in the same movement offering us the means by which our brokenness may be healed,” (Behr, 89). Retrospectively then, we can speak of the “Fall” as being “blessed”, and see the “curse” of Adam and Eve as a “blessing”.

When we encounter Christ, the one who called, and calls, us into being and life, we encounter ourselves as sinful creatures. Christ provides the diagnosis of our condition and simultaneously provides the remedy: “The proclamation of the crucified and risen Lord brings together all the brokenness of our life, unifying it, as it were, so that it can now be seen as a whole, recapitulated in a single vision, as our own salvation history in which he has led us to himself,” (Behr, 92).

So, it’s Advent.

In light of the season I thought I’d post a few of my favourite carols/hymns from this time of year. I want to start with my favourite, Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing. This hymn was written in 1757 by a young English pastor and hymnist named Robert Robinson, at the age of only 22 (geez, what was I doing at 22?!).

See the video below, a live rendition by Sufjan Stevens followed by the lyrics (so you can follow along while you watch, duh).

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let that grace now like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

I’m not sure why exactly this is my favourite hymn for the season. I think though, it’s because it has so much to do with God and so little to do with us (unlike much of what passes for praise/worship music these days). We call that grace.

Grace isn’t easy though. It’s very difficult, I think because it means admitting that there is absolutely nothing we can do to merit or deserve anything from the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But we so desperately like to think there is something we can do. Some action or word that can give us some sort of meritorious standing before God (or that we’ve already earned it simply by being good folks). To this grace says, ‘no’.

The fact that our hearts and minds are turned inwards and downwards (as T.F. Torrance might put it) by sin only makes this matter all the more difficult and our need for grace all the more pressing. In this hymn, we begin with the words, “Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.” Then again, “Teach me some melodious sonnet.” What? You mean my heart cannot “sing Thy grace,” all by itself? You mean I don’t already know the words to this “melodious sonnet”? Not an easy pill to swallow, for most. No, indeed, our hearts need to be tuned. We need to be taught how to sing. And just how are our hearts tuned? How do we learn the words? I think, by allowing the unceasing streams of mercy to flood our hearts and minds so that “songs of loudest praise” are called forth.

Oh what grace, that tunes our hearts and teaches us to sing. Indeed, may we recognize and daily confess our debt to such grace so that our wandering hearts may be bound to Christ Jesus our Lord.


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).


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.


Some like to yell about it. Others can’t stand the thought of even mentioning it.

But what’s the deal exactly? Who the hell (pun intended, hey-o!) am I supposed to listen to? Obviously different theological traditions will come at this differently but what are some things that we can all agree on? What are some things that, in light of revelation, we can say about that God awful topic, damnation (the reason I say “can” is because it’s my opinion that both extreme’s, those that yell about it and those that are silent, are saying things that we can’t say if we’re to be faithful to the whole of the Biblical narrative)?

It is here, yet again, that I must turn to a gentleman that is quickly becoming one of my favourite living theologians, David Yeago. In the final chapter of Apostolic Faith, ‘The Four Last Things’, Yeago highlights 5 constraints that our teaching on damnation should be bound by. I found these immensely helpful so I thought I’d take the time to share them and expound just a wee bit. If we are to be faithful to the apostolic legacy then these must guide what we say/don’t say in regards to damnation.

1. We have no right to teach with certainty either that some will be damned or that none will be damned, that many will be damned or that few will be damned.
A most important point about the Last Judgment is that it is yet to come. It has not yet happened. When this happens it will happen in the utter freedom of God, who is the judge, not us human creatures who are most certainly not the judge (we are, rather, the object of this judgment!). So then, to assume with any degree of certainty and detail the way in which God will execute his judgment is to “usurp his prerogative”, as Yeago says. Just as the coming of the Messiah totally surprised and subverted Israel’s expectations so too the course of God’s judgment is sure to surprise us. We must say then that all people everywhere are in God’s hands and that whatever happens to them/us will, in the end, prove to be entirely consistent with God’s character. This is all we can say about outcomes.

2. We cannot deny with certainty that the God who has conquered death has ways of bringing the gospel to the dead.
Once in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (4:7-10) and twice in 1 Peter (3:18-20; 4:6) reference is made to Christ descending to the place of the dead to preach the gospel: “For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does,” (1 Pet 4:6). The result of Jesus enduring death and descending to the place of the dead is not only that he was able to preach there but that he, in fact, defeated the powers of sin and death utterly exhausting them beyond their last breath. And so elsewhere in Scripture Jesus is described as he who holds “the keys of death and Hades” (Rev 1:18). Jesus’ preaching to the dead is in no way portrayed as a one-time event. Like the crucifixion, which transcends time and confronts each and every person, it is possible that his descent into Hell may transcend time and confront each and every dead person. Given that Jesus holds the keys of death and Hades (the door is open) this is entirely possible.

3. We can and must say, however, that no human being will find a final fulfillment of his/her existence apart from Jesus of Nazareth and those who gather round him.
In Yeago’s words, “the Church does not claim simply that Jesus is a meaningful symbol; it claims that this particular person, as a particular person, is in reality the Lord of all, the one whom all go to meet, the active centre of meaning for the whole universe. He is in person the fulfillment of human destiny, and there simply is no other fulfillment than participation in his risen life. Indeed, the fulfillment is his risen humanity, into which he gathers his brothers and sisters.” Salvation, then, is not something which God has “attached” to Jesus which is unattainable unless you “believe in Jesus”. Rather, salvation is simply the “name for what it means to gather around Jesus and share in his life.” To be sure there is, nor can there be, any human fulfillment apart from Jesus the Christ.

4. If Jesus is the fulfillment of human destiny, then the way to that fulfillment for every human being must be the way of repentance and faith.
“Repentance” simply means to turn from a life without Christ and “faith” means to join our lives with his. So then, repentance and faith are of ultimate importance for each and every human being. Since he is the fulfillment of human destiny then turning to him and entering into shared life with him matters infinitely. Therefore, any sort of “wider hope” or “universalism” must be the hope that those who do not know Christ in this life will nevertheless be brought to repentance and faith in him (This is important to note. Proponents of a “wider hope” or “universalism” are all too often accused of pluralism. However, to be sure, one can hold to a “wider hope” and not be guilty of pluralism if they maintain that it is only in Christ that salvation is possible).

5. We must confess that in all God’s dealings with creatures, in mercy and in judgment, his aim remains the same: communion in love.
God’s aim always and everywhere and in every situation with regard to his creatures is “communion in love”. However, God is not coercive, so his love is nor forced upon anyone, now or after death. So then, because God is not coercive we cannot exclude the possibility of damnation even though we may hope it never becomes an actual reality. We cannot say that Jesus’ warnings are simply empty threats rather than real life-or-death warnings. However, before hurling these warnings at anyone else we must realize that they are first directed towards us.

Well then, what are we to do? On this basis, the most appropriate way in which to entertain a wider or universal hope is in prayer. “If it is not impossible that those who have not believed in Christ in this life may nonetheless be received into his fellowship in death, then it is certainly permissible to pray that it may be so”.


*The image featured above is a painting from the Chora Church in Istanbul depicting Christ’s victory in the place of the dead. I believe that is Adam and Eve whom he is pulling up out of Hades.

They said they found you on the 20th floor, sleeping in the hallway. By the time I saw you I was stepping out of the elevator in our building’s lobby and there you were, sprawled out on the floor. The lobby was packed with firemen and paramedics, building security (4 of them, you must have posed a real threat) and curious onlookers. As I walked past you on my way out the door I heard you mutter something incoherent. It sounded agonizing.

By the time I came back 10 minutes later you were in the same spot. As I stood and waited for the elevator I overheard a couple of the firemen chuckle to one other. To them you were probably just another Aboriginal junkie, worthless, equivalent to the pigeons that defecate all over the sidewalk outside our building. Perhaps equivalent to the shit itself. But as security scribbled furiously in their notepads and the paramedics tried to ask you questions (“So, whatcha been drinking tonight?”…really?) I couldn’t help but wonder how you got here.

Not how you ended up here, in the lobby of an apartment building, but how you ended up here on the streets of Toronto fucked out of your mind. I cannot begin to imagine how you’ve suffered. Born into a people that have been marginalized and shit upon, some of whom still do not have access to clean drinking water or nutritious food (in a developed country in the 21st century?! But this is no time for a rant against the capitalist Empire). I cannot imagine the toll that your addictions have taken on you, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. I cannot begin to imagine the sort of dehumanizing things people have made you do, how you’ve been taken advantage of and used for others gain.

I’ll be damned if your Creator does not look upon you with the greatest amount of dignity. I’ll be damned if to Him you are not infinitely valuable and beautiful. I’ll be damned if He is not with you in your suffering and, hell, if He’s not on your side then He’s not much at all.

I guess I don’t know what to say. I didn’t say anything after all. But if there’s one thing I know it’s that this suffering which you now endure (this suffering which could very well end in death) is a suffering that is fulfilled in Christ Jesus, and one day you will know that glory.

Anyways, the elevator arrived eventually. I got on, hit the button to my floor and the doors closed. I went home and you went, well, I don’t know where you went.

*The featured image above is Henry Ossawa Tanner’s The Annunciation (1898).

With regard to sharing the life of God, there is no significant difference between the greatest of geniuses and a fetus, a Down’s Syndrome child, or a sufferer from senile dementia. If some human bodies and souls are so damaged that human capacity is never able ever to flower, or if that capacity is at some point destroyed or collapses, the God who is able to raise up the dead will not in the end be frustrated by such contingencies.

– David Yeago.


The following is a short homily that I delivered during a class @ Wycliffe College on Wednesday, February 2, 2011. The short paragraph highlighted in asterisks was not in the original sermon but was later added to clarify any concern that people may have had about me given my opening example.


When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom,* but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

6 Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9But, as it is written,
‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him’—
10these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.

What is it to be wise? I am part of a community of recovering addicts that meets every Tuesday evening. While in many ways we resemble a traditional 12-step program the goal of Spiritual Journey is not sobriety. “Foolishness!” “How can a 12-step program not have sobriety as its end?” Rather, the goal of Spiritual Journey is to connect with God, to know and be known. Sobriety may be a result of this. Now, the point of me raising this here is that the wisdom of Spiritual Journey is quite unlike the prevailing wisdom of our modern Western culture. The wisdom of the 12-steps begins with Step 1: “We admitted we were powerless over our addictions-that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Success is impossible in Spiritual Journey if our first utterance is not “I am powerless.” In a culture where power is coveted and respected, where imperfections are blasted with UV rays, injected with Botox or rectified by getting a good education and satisfying career, we proclaim that we are powerless. In a culture where we manage our lives with day timers and iPhone’s, and where busyness is akin to success, we proclaim that our lives are unmanageable. In a culture where dependance is weakness and “you can make it on your own”, we proclaim that we are indeed weak and unable to make it. For 12-steppers this is the beginning of wisdom.

*Now, before you go worrying about me I should let you know that I myself am not actually in recovery from any particular narcotic. While I would argue that everyone is an addict (including myself), I am not part of this community because I myself am struggling with matters of substance abuse but rather because I seek to journey with those who do. I should also note that this is a community of mutual transformation and is for me one of the more formative communities that I am a part of.*

Paul confronts us in the second chapter of 1 Corinthians with the “mystery of God”. Life is full of mystery. At the moment my wife and I are in the midst of our second pregnancy. Within the last few weeks we have seen the ultrasound and listened to the babies little heartbeat. The fact that there is a human being developing in Christina’s womb right now is something I can hardly comprehend. Life’s mysteries – birth, death, love, beauty and more – often point us towards a deeper mystery yet, God. Paul is writing this letter to a community of believers many of whom were Jews, not far from Athens the centre of Greek philosophy and thought. Greeks had very particular ideas about how to access this deep, divine mystery. Jews already understood themselves to have been invited into the life of God so they saw no need to get to the heart of the divine mystery, yet they wrestled with this in other ways.

Jesus, says Paul, is the clue to history. In the particular person of Jesus of Nazareth God’s past, present and future collide and are unveiled. The mystery of God is revealed in Christ crucified, an odd claim to be sure. According to popular human wisdom the gospel, Christ crucified, is utter foolishness, void of wisdom. But this is the wisdom of God: That the power of God is hidden in the foolishness of the cross. In the unjust suffering and death of a poor first-century Palestinian Jew, in the naked body of yet another “failed” Messiah figure hanging on a Roman cross, the One True God of Israel and the nations is hidden. Who would ever think to look for the secret to all things, the mystery of God, hanging on a hill outside Jerusalem? Paul realizes the foolishness – the utter absurdity – of this claim. Near the beginning of the letter he has already said “the message about the cross is foolishness,” (1:18). Paul realizes that their proclamation sounds absurd (1:21) and so he comes not with eloquent words and a charismatic personality, but in weakness, fear and much trembling.

Yet this is powerful. Paul did not have to rely on charisma and talent. He did not have to rely on a rigorous apologetical ministry or a fashionable means of presentation. Inherent to the gospel is the power of God that is able to penetrate our hearts and minds and bring about real transformation. When peoples lives intersect with the gospel something happens. As folks who are being trained for ordained ministry in traditional parishes, or to be involved in development work around the globe, or to go out on a limb with a Fresh Expression of church may we resist the temptation to place our hope in our own gifts, abilities or education. For as talented and educated as we may be we will never be talented or educated enough to present the foolishness of the gospel to the world as wisdom. May we trust rather that the gospel contains within it the power of God to bring about His purposes in and for the world. As a result of this, when we see people come to faith their faith will not rest on us and our abilities and wisdom but on the power of God which raised Christ Jesus from the dead.

The gospel is foolishness to the world, yes, but to the mature, to those with eyes and ears to see and hear, it is wisdom. To be sure, this is not the wisdom of modern Western culture. No, that is a wisdom that would have all-together avoided suffering and death. That is a wisdom that would have come in full force to overthrow the oppressors. No, this is the wisdom of the Triune God and the world doesn’t get it for if they did they would not have “crucified the Lord of glory,” (2:8), says Paul. Left to our own devices our eyes are unable to see, our ears unable to hear, our hearts unable even to conceive the wisdom of God. Left to our own devices we might think that wisdom lies in getting a rigorous theological education or learning how to preach a solid sermon. Left to our own devices we might prefer the path of comfort and security that comes from the privilege of being well-to-do educated folk. Surely, this is a better road than one marked with suffering and oppression. Surely us educated elites and the Bay St. power-brokers are wiser than the poor and oppressed who look for hidden treasure in dumpsters in downtown Toronto, or who huff gasoline and glue on northern reserves, or who struggle to feed their children and live in aging high-rise apartments on the outer suburbs of the downtown core where they once dwelled but became homeless due to gentrification. If God is hidden there in the suffering of Christ then surely He is present with those who suffer now. In our work and ministry we are not only accountable to God but to those who suffer and are oppressed, those who bear the marks of Christ’s suffering this day. But to travel this road in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, this is not wise. There is nothing in it for you or I. There are no pay raises or glamourous award ceremonies, none of that worldly wisdom.

It is only by the Spirit of God that the foolishness of God can appear as wisdom, and it is just that, true wisdom. The Holy Spirit, being fully and beautifully God, reveals to us the deepness of God’s own wisdom: that Christ crucified is the wisdom of God, that Christ raised is the power of God. I remember one day when I was younger my mother discovered my sisters journal. Let’s just say there was some incriminating evidence written in there that my sister had not intended for my mother to behold. There were secrets hidden there. The Holy Spirit is a bit like God’s journal, for it is by the Spirit that we are “let in” on the mystery of God. This very same Spirit which raised Christ from the dead in power is now ours. Having been poured out upon us we are able to understand the “mystery of God”: That hidden in a life of suffering and an agonizing death there is a God who is for us. There is a God who has done for us what we were powerless and unable to do for ourselves. There is a God who made all things from “no thing” and refuses to stay at a distance. This is a God who gets His hands dirty, who ends up on a cross by the hand of His own creatures. This is the God of not only Jews but of Greeks. This is a foolish God. “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” (1:18). There is no distinction, “the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him,” (Rom. 10:12). In Christ we are no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, straight or queer, but we are all one in Christ Jesus our Lord and all who call on His name will be saved.

Over the last 2-3 years there has been a particular theme that has had a tremendous amount of impact on my thinking and has/is (I hope) shaping my life accordingly.


Grace is hard to pin down, though we often think we have is sequestered. Then we begin to talk and in our attempts to describe grace we begin to realize it’s out of our grasp. Describing grace is a bit like Barth’s description of theology as tracing a bird in flight: as soon as you have a particular image of the bird it has already flown off and the image has changed.

Grace is surprising. If there is one thing I can be certain about when it comes to grace it is that. It’s surprising because it’s big enough to include those we would rather not include (We look around the banquet table only to realize we’re surrounded by folks we never would have invited!). And yet, it’s also surprising because it’s elusive enough that we’re never really able to lay claim to it (grace is not something you own, like an iPod or a Costco membership).

Grace is a gift given. It is God’s doing. As my professor Joseph Mangina said, grace can be “summed up with a verb that has God as its subject. God creates. God rules. God overcomes evil and sin. God calls the church into being. God justifies and sanctifies. God makes all things new.”

I can hear the objections already. But what what about us? What about our responsibility? A gift cannot be enjoyed unless it is first received! We humans are so quick to want to have something to do with grace. We so desire to be able to claim some sort of responsibility for it (“I responded and thus received God’s grace!”). I can’t help but think this is putting the cart before the horse. Grace is much bigger than the forgiveness of sins (although this is certainly an important, if not central, aspect). Grace is the fact that you’re breathing right now. Grace is the fact that you’re able to participate in this strange mystery we call life: “God is gracious all across the board. It is all grace,” (Mangina).

Now, to be sure, grace beckons us to respond, as Mangina stresses, “While grace does not depend on our response (if it did, it would not be grace), it certainly cries out for our response–it demands to be “lived into,” to be inhabited, so that it more and more comes to define who and what we are.” Grace demands our response because it is only by grace that we are able to be shaped and formed into the sort of humans we are meant to be. If God is the potter then grace is the potter’s wheel, and thus we are formed. In fact, part of God’s graciousness is that His kingdom, as He has so chosen, can be furthered here on earth by our participation and obedience to His will. And so, becoming human is a process. We must learn to be God’s creatures.

I am still learning to respond appropriately. I often chose death rather than life, my own way rather than the way of grace. Yet, I think I am becoming more thankful. Surely, as Mangina notes, this is where we ought to be led: “The Christian life, in short, is radically marked by gratitude–a continual discovering of how our lives are constituted by gifts.”

I will leave you with the following quote from The Peaceable Kingdom by Stanley Hauerwas:

Not only is knowledge of self tied to knowledge of God, but we know ourselves truthfully only when we know ourselves in relation to God. We know who we are only when we can place our selves–locate our stories–within God’s story.

This is the basis for the extraordinary Christian claim that we participate morally in God’s life. For our God is a God who wills to include us within his life. This is what we mean when we say, in shorthand as it were, that God is a God of grace. Such shorthand can be dangerous if it is mistaken for the suggestion that our relationship with God has an immediacy that makes the journey of the self with God irrelevant. Grace is not an eternal moment above history rendering history irrelevant; rather it is God’s choice to be a Lord whose kingdom is furthered by our concrete obedience through which we acquire a history befitting our nature as God’s creatures.

To learn to be God’s creature’s, means we must learn to recognize that our existence and the existence of the universe itself is a gift. It is a gift that God wills to have our lives contribute to the eschatological purposes for creation. As creatures we cannot hope to return to God a gift of such magnitude. But we can respond with a willingness to receive. To learn to be God’s creature, to accept the gift, is to learn to be at home in God’s world. Just as we seek to make a guest feel “at home” in our home, so God seeks to have us feel “at home” by providnig us with the opportunity to appropriate the gift in the terms it was given–that is, gratuitously (p.27).

I’m part of a community of addicts that meet on Tuesday evenings here in Toronto. This has already been one of the most formative experiences I’ve had and I’m looking forward to (and terrified of) the next 20 weeks or so. The difference between our room and other 12 step rooms is that our room is centred on the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, this week we began step three which is traditionally worded, “[We] made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” In our room we have intentionally changed the wording of step three to, “[We] made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.” We dropped the “as we understood Him” because we’re not just interested in submitting our lives to any old deity. Rather, we’re interested in submitting our lives to the One True God of the Gospel as He has revealed Himself in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. And so, the name of our group is Spiritual Journey. The goal of Spiritual Journey is not sobriety, but rather, to connect with Jesus (sobriety may or may not be another result of this). This is a place where the gospel is planted and takes root.

There are folks in our community that are at all different stages of life. Some have come through their substance addictions and are now professing Christians (although many have mentioned they wouldn’t feel comfortable in a church…Tuesday evenings are church for us). Others are in detox centres right now. However, there is one thing that everyone one of us in there has in common and that is we have all reached the end of our ropes, so to speak. Everyone in our community is there because we are desperate. Some of us have been in an out of treatment centres. Others have been in and out of jail. Some have lost everything. Others have attempted to take their own lives. Many have committed unspeakable acts and have reached the pinnacle of dehumanizing behaviour as slaves to various substances. In fact, this is a theme that has come up over the past number of weeks, that in the insanity of our addictions we become less human.

Perhaps you’re reading this and you wouldn’t identify as an addict. The reality is, we’re all addicts. There are very real things in each of our lives that we have lost control of, that we are powerless to. It may not be crack cocaine or alcohol maybe instead it’s lust (of all sorts) or anger or pride. I’m not trying to trivialize substance addictions here, rather, I’m suggesting that there are real ways in which we are all powerless.

The first step in 12 step is, “we admitted we were powerless over our addictions – that our lives had become unmanageable.” The language that we use in Spiritual Journey is that of sanity. Addictions literally make us insane and unreasonable. “Powerless”. “Unmanageable”. These are things we generally hate to admit. Humans are the sort of folk who would much rather think they have their shit together. One of the reasons why submitting our lives to Christ is so difficult is because we must first admit that we are “powerless” and that our lives are “unmanageable”. We have a hard time with this because most of us live bourgeois lives and like to think we’re really not all that “powerless”. That we sort of do a pretty good job of life. But in reality, each and everyone one of us is corrupted to the core. We engaged in activities each day that are dehumanizing, to ourselves and others. We have no idea what it means to really love another because our ideas of love are so utterly bastardized.

Last night I sat and listened as my friend who is currently in detox shared that just 8 weeks ago he had no idea God had any interest in speaking to him (or having anything to do with his life). But today, 8 weeks later, my friend is truly a different man. He shared how he now realizes that all along God was trying to speak to him in different ways but that he just “never had the ears to hear Him” (his words). Now, he is devouring the scriptures and anything else he can get his hands on. His desire for the knowledge of God is unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time and just 8 weeks ago he was at the end of his rope, checking himself into detox.

Another man who has submitted his life to Christ shared that most of the people he meets in 12 step groups are becoming “born again Christians” (his words). Yet, many of these folks you probably won’t see in your church on Sunday morning singing sentimental songs to Jesus. Rather, these are people who have *actually* realized that they are powerless and insane. Our middle-class Christianity actually works against ever coming to this realization in many ways. I would venture to say that most folks in churches on Sunday morning never come to know each other “as sinners” (Bonhoeffer). Most of us struggle with admitting we’re utterly powerless and helpless (and I’m not talking about the condescending bullshit we spout off that we’re [theoretically] “sinful” and “depraved”. No, I’m talking about coming to the realization of just how utterly messed up we all are). However, until we come to this place we can never truly follow in the way of Jesus. And so truly, the crack addicts and prostitutes, the heroine junkies and the hustlers are entering the kingdom of God ahead of Christians. Why? Because they know the way of righteousness. They have come to the end of themselves.

And so we end with a parable of Jesus (Matthew 21:28-32):

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.