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Archive for May, 2009

Ok, so the bible is not God.  But then, what is the relationship between God and the written word?

I’ll devote quite a big proportion of next week to that question as I blog about preaching.  But for now let me explore an analogy with the sacraments.  Marc can shoot me down – he’s doing a lot of work on this subject.  But let me have a go anyway.

Here’s my thought – we tend to veer between two mistakes: a Catholic and a Zwinglian view of the bible.

The Catholic view is to see my bible reading working ex opere operato (by doing it, it’s done).  I advance the book mark and it is has worked.  The words go in (sort of), my reading plan gets ticked off – job done.

My response?  Disengaged duty.

The Zwinglian view is to see my bible reading as memorialist.  Christ is essentially absent from these words, but they’re a jolly good reminder of Him.  And if I employ my imagination and proper meditative techniques, if I think these words into moral, pastoral and theological categories then my thoughts will carry me to Christ. 

My response?  Pietistic duty.

On the first understanding, I don’t need to do anything but go through the motions.  The second understanding is a reaction to the first in which I take the spiritual task into my own hands. 

But what if Christ is really and already present through the words of Scripture.  The words aren’t Christ Himself.  But neither are they separate such that I must bridge the gap.  Instead, the words are carrying me to Christ who they constantly proclaim (John 5:39).

It’s not just reading comprehension.  But neither is it my job to make an otherwise dead letter living and active.  Instead the bible is already a living and lively word ever proceeding from the mouth of God and ever offering to me the Bread of life. 

The bible works on me.  Not apart from faith.  But not by my works either. It is His work – His spiritual work – that is ever offered to me.

Here’s what I say to people from the Book of Common  Prayer as I give them communion:

The body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for you preserve your body and soul to everlasting life.  Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on Him in your heart by faith, with thanksgiving.

And you say – typical Anglicans, straddling all the positions!  Well – Jesus does say ‘This is my body.’  And He does say ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’  It’s just that this is not the centre of communion.  Feeding on Him in our hearts by faith as we feed on the bread between our teeth – this is. 

So as we read our bibles we acknowledge, this IS the word of God.  And we acknowledge that this reading will cause us many subsequent thoughts that bring us to Jesus in manifold ways.  But essentially as we read the Scriptures we are being fed spiritually there and then with the Bread of life.  

My response?  Believing expectancy. 

 

Does that work as an analogy?

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Last night I caught the end of a wonderful documentary about Marlie Casseus from Haiti.  She suffers from a rare disease called Polysostotic Fibrous Dysplasia.  A 16-pound growth overwhelmed her whole face to point she could barely breathe and was about to go blind.

She was ostracized by her community – many considering her to be demon-possessed. (Some websites I’ve read have made much of this “primitive” reaction to her).  But, by contrast, she has been well loved by her family and her church.  And Marlie loves Jesus – she was able to speak about her faith a number of times.  It was very moving.

A Christian charity arranged for her to fly to Miami to receive life-changing if not life-saving surgery.  Here are the results:

Marlie's new face

 

Here’s what I found so incredibly awful though.

In the commercial breaks there were adverts for the show that went on immediately prior to this documentary. The title of this other show was: “My Body Hell”, suggesting a similarly sobering subject.  Not so!  This other programme dealt with the ‘living hell’ of nipple hair and relative breast size. Apparently such concerns can have devastating implications for one’s date-ablility index. 

It was indeed truly hellish. But not in the way the programme makers intended.

It got me thinking about those ‘primitive’ Haitians who demonized Marlie for her physical deformity.  They’ve got nothing on the body Nazis of the West.  We’ll demonize anyone’s physical imperfections, beginning with our own.

A sense of perspective please.  And a sense of hope that the Christian community can be different.

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Have you heard about this guy Paul Blackham?  Apparently he’s into the whole Jesus in the OT thing too.

;-)

Check out the body language as he switches between talking about the two views.  The first half is a brilliant impression of Kurtz in Apocalypse Now

The horror…  The horror…

Watch here.

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There are many problems with saying that the pre-flesh Word of John 1 = the Scriptures.  Here’s one of them…

h/t Bobby.

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These are my concluding thoughts for a blog discussion here

So for the three of you who know what I’m referring to…

 

Here’s what the discussion is not about:

It’s not about progress of knowledge.

It’s not about trust in Messianic prophecies.

Those are important questions for another time.

 

Here’s what I am not saying:

I am not by any means saying that the Angel is the only title by which Christ is known in the OT.

Neither am I saying that every divine Person of the OT is Christ (the Appearing LORD reveals God Most High in the power of the Spirit).

I am not saying that Christophanies are the only or even the main way by which Christ was present to the OT saints (there were also the promises and types).

I am not saying that everyone who had true faith had to have met the pre-incarnate Christ.

I am not saying that conscious faith in the Mediator stands or falls on an identification of the Angel as Christ.

 

 

What I am saying:

The Angel who is both of the LORD and is the LORD was correctly identified by OT authors and saints.  This shows that they had a trinitarian conceptuality able to identify the distinct, divine Person of the Mediator. 

The Angel – the Sent, Appearing God from God – can be none other than the Image of the invisible God, the eternal Christ.

Reticence to identify the Angel as Christ betrays a quite different conception of revelation, mediation and doctrine of God.

There seems to be two interdependent presuppositions informing this reticence:

1) OT saints could not grasp a divine, distinct Mediator

2) OT saints did not need to grasp a divine, distinct Mediator.

1) remains stubbornly opposed to the plain sense of the Angel texts.

2) is what’s really worrying me…

 

What I am worried about:

I still think solus Christus is threatened here.

While-ever the ‘anonymous Christian’ position is entertained…

While-ever the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures are considered as pre-incarnate Son (a truly bizarre and worrying proposition)… 

While-ever mediation is considered a broader concept than the concrete Person of the Mediator…

While-ever phrases like ‘ultimate’, ‘final’, and ‘par excellence’ dominate the discussion (as opposed to ‘eternal’, ‘universal’ and ‘only’)…

While-ever the history of interpretation on this issue is set aside, driven as it has been by solus Christus

While-ever such stubborn resistance has been put up to the obvious meaning of the Angel texts…

While-ever it is considered that even if the Angel was a divine Visitor, He needn’t be Christ…

‘Christ alone’ is patently under threat.

 

Some might feel I insist on a particularly strong version of ‘Christ alone.’  In my opinion ‘sola’s stop being ‘sola’s when they are weakened.

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I’ve discussed many times on this blog what real masculinity looks like.  Here it is…

I’m not even joking.

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John Owen’s masterpiece On Communion with God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost was written at a time when Socinianism (a form of Unitarianism) was infiltrating England.   Their belief (as expressed in the Racovian Catechism) was that Jesus was essential for salvation.  He was manifestly predicted and prophesied in the OT.  The Hebrew Scriptures were indeed a word about Christ.  But, for the Socinians, Christ existed before his birth only inasmuch as God always had a plan (or ‘word’) which Christ fulfilled in the NT (‘was made flesh’).  Christ’s pre-existence then was not as a distinct, concrete Person in the Godhead, but as a saving/revealing disposition belonging to the one God of Israel.  Thus Jesus was not the eternal word/wisdom/revelation of God but only the ultimate word/wisdom/revelation of God.

John Owen considered this to be a foul assault on the divine Person of Christ.   This was a re-incarnation of Arianism – the great heresy of heresies.  Perhaps his major response was Christologia in which one of his key arguments is that the OT also reveals Christ as a ‘distinct Person within the deity.’ (a repeated phrase).   Perhaps we’ll look at that book another time.  But for now let’s look at Communion with God penned 20 years earlier.

His main premise is that there is a distinct and distinguishable communication of grace coming from each Person of the Trinity.  The saints should therefore have distinct communion with each Person of the Trinity individually.  The rest of the book unfolds the ways in which we hold communion with the Father, the Son and the Spirit.

What’s interesting for our current purposes is that Owen argues for this distinct experience of each Person from both testaments.  According to Owen the OT also reveals the distinct Persons in their distinct roles.

I will list his OT Scriptures regarding the distinct Person of the Son.  I am not including his verses on the Song of Songs or verses teaching more general truths about God’s character.  But these, according to Owen, are specific verses about the Son :

Gen 3:15

Gen 49:8-12

Psalm 2

Psalm 21:5,6

Psalm 22:1

Psalm 25:14

Psalm 40:7,8

Psalm 45

Psalm 110

Prov 1:22

Prov 3:13-15

Prov 8:22-31

Prov 9:1-5

Isaiah 4:2

Isaiah 6:2

Isaiah 11

Isaiah 28:5

Isaiah 35:8

Isaiah 40:11

Isaiah 42:16

Isaiah 45:22

Isaiah 49:15-16

Isaiah 53

Isaiah 54:5

Isaiah 61:1,2,10

Isaiah 62:3,5

Isaiah 63:3,4,9

Jeremiah 23:6

Ezekiel 16

Daniel 2:44

Daniel 7:9,27

Daniel 9:24

Hosea 2:19-20

Zephaniah 3:17

Micah 5:4,7,8

Zechariah 3:9

Zechariah 6:13

 Zechariah 13:7

Malachi 3:1

Malachi 4:2

I hope you see the importance of these verses.  Owen uses these as proof texts that the Son is distinct and known as distinct from the Father and Spirit.  Owen’s argument doesn’t work if they’re just verses about ‘God’ in general and ‘hey, Jesus happens to be God too!’  It’s about proving from all of Scripture that the Son is revealed in His deity and distinction.

I maintain that it’s this kind of biblical theology that will protect us from unitarian pressures in our own day.

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