Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘salvation’ Category

…continued from here

To know Christ is to know the ‘one Lord… through Whom all things came and through Whom we live.’ (1 Cor 8:6).  Therefore, without a Christological doctrine of creation, it is not simply that Christ’s work will be incomprehensible, Christ Himself will be blasphemed.

Thus, against the heresies of the sub-Apostolic era, it fell to theologians such as Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 200) and Athanasius (c. 297 – 373) to uphold the continuity of creation and redemption.  They were able to do so precisely because, for them, Christ and His work was not a metaphysical conundrum to be solved – how can the Creator-Word become flesh? Instead, the Word-become-flesh was the Rock upon which they built (cf Col 2:8f; John 14:6; Matthew 11:25-27; Colossians 1:15; John 1:18)

Trevor Hart makes this analysis of Irenaeus:

[he made] the person of the Incarnate Son his dogmatic starting point, rather than the dualistic framework provided by the categories of Greek thought.

(T. Hart, ‘Irenaeus, recapitulation and physical redemption’, Christ in Our Place, Ed: Trevor Hart and Daniel Thimell, Paternoster, 1989. p.179)

Athanasius’ starting point is similarly Christocentric:

The first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word who made it in the beginning.  (De incarn. 1)

These men were not concerned to hold creation and redemption together in an abstract sense (so as to keep a balanced theological ledger).  Rather their commitment to Christ as Beginning and End of all things forced them to think through creation and redemption as the one divine work of the One Divine Word.  The Bishops of Lyon and Alexandria were therefore able to maintain the coherence of creation and redemption in Christ and therefore to guard the gospel that still speaks powerfully today into our confusions.

To begin with, we will look at the confusions of their day as the context for their theology.

Heresies

The early Church was assailed on all sides by those who divorced their understanding of Christ and His work from their understanding of the creator God.  Those heresies which were most pernicious were precisely those which insisted on the centrality of Christ to redemption.  Yet immediately the question must be raised ‘Redemption from what? And to what? And by Whom?’

The answers given by Marcion (c.80 – c. 160) were disturbing.  Christ saves us from the Creator God of the Old Testament who is bad (viz. involvement with creation), capricious, legalistic and not the Father of Jesus.  The death of Christ purchases salvation and His soul’s rising from death gives hope for our own soulish afterlife.

The Gnostic, Valentinus (in Rome from c. 136-165), provided Irenaeus with his chief ‘whipping boy’.  He taught that the creator is not the Supreme Being but, as Irenaeus caricatures, ‘the fruit of a defect’ existing in a long chain of deity (the pleroma) which kept the created order at a great (almost by definition, unbridgeable) distance.  Christ is simply one emanation from this pleroma (lit. ‘fullness’) as opposed to the One in Whom all the fullness of God dwells (Col 2:9).  He came to save the true pneumatikoi (the ‘spiritual’) from this material world through imparting secret gnosis (‘knowledge’).

Arius (c. 250 – c. 336), was perhaps the most serious threat to orthodox Christianity because his account of Christ’s saving work was so apparently Scriptural.  The ‘what’ of the cross was set forth plainly.  Yet the ‘Who’ of the cross proved the decisive error.  Arius committed the fundamental mistake outlined in the introduction – that of deciding his doctrines of God, of man and of creation in advance of considering the God-Man Creator.  For him, the Divine Being is unitary and without distinctions, must be un-begotten, can have no contact with creation and can never partake in human (i.e. changeable) existence.  Of course he could subscribe to none of these views if Christ were his dogmatic foundation. Thus it fell naturally to Athanasius, whose Christocentricity we have noted, to defeat this terrible heresy.

All of these heresies fail, not only on the point of Christ’s identity but also on the goal of His redemption.  And such failures have contemporary echoes.  If God and the created order are necessarily incompatible then you may have an earthy salvation but not true fellowship with God (think of Islam where paradise is exceedingly carnal but a place from which Allah is conspicuously absent).  On the other hand you might have a spiritual future but only by escaping the creation (think of Buddhism or the new age movement).  But how do you have both?

You need to affirm what Irenaeus and Athanasius saw so clearly: creation and salvation are part of the one divine work of the one divine Word.

More to come…

.

Read Full Post »

Famously Adolf Von Harnack asserted in the History of Dogma that much of Christian theology betrayed the “work of the Greek spirit on the soil of the gospel.”  Now to be fair, the old liberal didn’t have much gospel himself but the observation has something to it.

On the one hand we have the Scriptures beginning with a very good creation, full of promises of land and seed and a Saviour taking flesh to renew heaven and earth.  On the other we have a Hellenizing spirit which pits body and soul, earth and heaven, time and eternity against each other.   When this spirit meets this gospel – and Harnack was right, this is a perennial danger – it always yields bad fruit.

But in this series I want to look at two towering exceptions in the history of theology – Irenaeus and Athanasius.  In their day they resisted ‘the Greek spirit’ and called the church back to the fertile soil of the gospel.  There they found the Fountainhead of those unities which escaped the philosophers of this age.  In Jesus Christ they saw creation and salvation held together as one work performed by one Word.  And from there flowed a unified account of all reality.

In our own day we would do well to hear their voices.  Because we too find it completely obvious to fall for the old dualisms.

In the realm of the body, we see self-harm and eating disorders, promiscuity and confusion over sexual identity, compulsive dieting and body-building, cosmetic surgery and gender re-assignment.  These are problems commonly found in the world but also in our churches.  We seem deeply uncomfortable with our bodily existence.

In the realm of the environment, we see the extremes of those who simply consume the earth and those who worship it.

In worship there are the ritualists who consider their sacramental practice to work ex opere operato and there are the low church minimalists running scared from anything physical.

And theologically, as we consider the relationship of creation and redemption, some mistake political harmony, social justice or economic liberation for salvation.  In reaction, some cut loose creation from salvation with an anti-physical gospel and an escapist eschatology.  And some will dissolve any final distinction between creation and redemption and opt for universalism.

In view of this, the proper co-ordination of creation and redemption (and its attendant co-ordinations of body and soul, time and eternity, etc, etc) is a vital task for us all.

Irenaeus and Athanasius are going to help us massively.  And they will help because they put Jesus Christ at the centre of their thinking.

More to come…

.

Read Full Post »

Mike Reeves talks about Adam and Christ in these great audios on sin and evil.  Once we frame creation and salvation as the story of two men we see things much clearer.

For one thing we’re able to honour Christ not only as Substitute but also as Representative.  And we need both.

You see Christ drinks the cup so that – in one sense – we don’t have to (Mark 10:38).  But in another sense we do drink the cup He drinks and are baptised with the baptism with which He is baptised (Mark 10:39).  He does die for us so that we do not face that same judging fire – this is His substitution.  But we also die in Him experiencing it as a purifying fire – this is His representation.

We tend to be good at ‘substitution’ talk but not so good at ‘representation’ talk.  Consider this fairly common way of conceiving salvation and judgement…

salvation-judgement1

Here the key players are the saved and the damned.  Christ is not in the picture.  But of course once we’ve set things up like this, Christ becomes extremely necessary.  But He’s necessary in that the cross becomes the accounting tool required to balance the justice books.  Without the cross the story doesn’t work.  So in that sense Christ is central.  But in effect, He’s a peripheral figure only required because other factors are calling the shots.

When things are viewed like this, Christ is very much thought of as ‘substitute’ but not really ‘representative’.  And, when the details are pressed, even His substitution will start to look very unlike the biblical portrait.

We need a better formulation.  We’ll think of 1 Peter 4 and then tie this back to Adam and Christ.

In 1 Peter 4:17 it says that judgement begins with the house of God.  It doesn’t say ‘Judgement avoids the house of God.’  It begins there.  It begins with Christ, the true Temple of God.  It continues with the church, the temple of God in another sense.  But then it flows out to the world – God’s house in yet another sense.

salvation-judgement2

Here humanity is judged.  And this is where Adam and Christ will be so helpful for us.

The LORD pronounces His curse on Adam.  And all humanity is in him.  “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Rom 5:12)  It is a universal judgement.  No exceptions.  The only path to salvation is the path through judgement.

But Adam is a type of the One to come (Rom 5:14).  He was only ever setting the scene for Christ to take centre stage.  And He does so, assuming the very humanity of Adam as substitute and representative.

salvation-judgement31

Here centre stage is not occupied by the two bodies of people (the damned and the saved).  What’s driving everything is the two humanities (Adam and Christ).  And the former is expressly a type of the Latter.  And the Latter expressly assumes the fate of the former.  So that in all things Christ will have the preeminence! (Col 1:18)

These diagrams were originally used in a blog post on judgement and salvation in Isaiah and for a sermon on Isaiah 2:6-22 (listen here).

.

Read Full Post »

We’ve thought a little bit about how glory language is introduced in Exodus.  Of course John’s Gospel makes for a fascinating study in ‘glory’.  But it would be too easy to camp out in John and refuse to engage the other ‘glory’ Scriptures.  So let’s think about three other key texts in the glory debates: Isaiah 42; Ezekiel 36 and (in the next post) Ephesians 1.  If you’ve got others on your mind, raise them in comments:

Isaiah 42:1-8

“Here is My Servant, whom I uphold, My Chosen One in Whom I delight; I will put My Spirit on Him and He will bring justice to the nations. 2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise His voice in the streets. 3 A bruised reed He will not break, and a smouldering wick He will not snuff out. In faithfulness He will bring forth justice; 4 He will not falter or be discouraged till He establishes justice on earth. In His law the islands will put their hope.” 5 This is what God the LORD says–He who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, Who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: 6 “I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness; I will take hold of Your hand. I will keep You and will make You to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. 8 “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give My glory to another or My praise to idols.

Usually it’s only verse 8 that’s quoted in the glory discussions.  But the context is crucial.  Here is the Beloved, Spirit-filled Servant of the LORD.  And He Himself is a covenant for the people.  The love of Father for Son spills over to the whole world and this is all a part of the integrity of the Creator.  The Maker of the ends of the earth will bring reconciliation through His Servant.  Therefore – verse 8 – He will not accomplish His creation-reconciliation project through anyone other than His Beloved, Anointed Son.  And this very commitment is the commitment to be the over-flowing, self-giving God of redemption.

So, no self-centred glory here.

What about, Ezekiel 36:16-32

16 The word of the LORD came to me: 17 “Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds. Their ways before me were like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual impurity. 18 So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it. 19 I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them. 20 But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the LORD, and yet they had to go out of his land.’ 21 But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came. 22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God…. 32 It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.

You will notice here that the issue is the ‘name of the LORD’s holiness’ which is not exactly the same as ‘glory’ – but they’re pretty connected I think everyone will agree.

The “name” of the LORD has always been the gracious, saving character of the Gospel God (Exodus 34:6-7; see also Num 6:23-27).  It’s the name that is in His Divine Angel and, again, is expressed through His deliverance of the people (Exodus 23:20-23).  This name dwells in the temple (Ex 20:24; Deut 12:5) and just as the priests are to put the name on the people (Num 6:23-27), the people are meant to reflect the name out to the nations.

In Ezekiel, the LORD’s Glory (Christ) has departed from the physical temple (ch8-10) because the Israelites have profaned it (5:11).  Yet He Himself has been a sanctuary for the people (11:16) – in exile with His people!  And He promises that He will return as the LORD’s Servant – the True King David – to make His sanctuary with His people forever (Ezek 37:21-28).

But here in chapter 36, the Israelites have not ‘sanctified’ but rather ‘profaned’ the name of the LORD’s holiness.  God’s people – as the priests He has made them to be – ought to be reflecting out to the world that same out-going goodness of God which they themselves have received.  Instead they do the very opposite.  And the thing that really profanes the name is that the saved people of God have become the wicked and exiled people of God (v20).  The LORD has tied His name so closely to His people that when they are profaned – He is profaned.  He has chosen to be so at one with His people that His destiny and reputation is bound up in their destiny and reputation.

And so He makes them know that this salvation He is about to work is His gracious initiative and not something they’ve provoked either by their goodness or their badness.  It’s certainly not that the Israelites have cleaned up their act enough for God to save.  And it’s not even that they are now so pitiable that God goes soft on them.  What moves Him to act is His fierce determination to be this kind of saving and forgiving God.  His gospel name will be vindicated because that is simply who He is.

And in fact verse 23 says the LORD will vindicate His holiness by saving a wretched people!  What kind of holiness is this that is expressed when renowned offenders are treated with extravagant grace?  This holiness is not the holiness of ‘splendid isolation’ but of gospel grace.

So again, these verses are not proof that God is, after all, self-centered.  The very opposite.  All that He does is motivated by a gospel character that will not be thwarted even by the worst opposition of His own people.  His name, His glory and His holiness are not considerations that would keep Him from engaging His wrath-deserving people.  They move Him out into costly, shame-bearing, sacrificial redemption.  Because His grace is His glory.

UPDATEDave Bish has some great thoughts on Ezekiel 36 just posted.

Next post: Part 5


Read Full Post »

I love the story Cornelius Van Til tells about  hearing an Arminian preach (sorry, can’t remember where).  The Arminian likened salvation to a bus driver coming into town and preaching in the public square through a megaphone, “I’m off to Fort Knox where there’s gold enough for everyone.  Whomsoever wishes may come aboard my bus and we’ll receive the gold together.”

I’m trying to remember the details – it’s a while since I heard the lecture.  But as I remember it Van Til went up to the preacher afterwards and thanked him for a brilliant illustration.  “I’d make only one change to it,” he said.

“Instead of pulling up at the town square, I’d have him preaching at the cemetary.”

Evangelism is basically Ezekiel 37 – prophesying to dry bones.  The people are dead.  Whomsoever may come.  But the star of the show is the Spirit, giving life through the word.

Read Full Post »

A Sermon on John 3:3 – Audio Here

Mum and Dad bring their newborn baby girl to church to show her off.  Everyone gathers around and sighs and makes faces and says things like “What a beautiful baby!  What a gorgeous little nose!  How soft her skin is!  She’s just adorable!  She’s just perfect!”  One woman calls her husband over and says “Jim, what do you think of the newborn baby, isn’t she just perfect.”  Jim looks her up and down, frowns and asks the mother – “When was she born?”  The mother says “10 days ago.”  Jim says, “I think she needs to be born again.”

Isn’t that the most offensive thing to say?  You need to be born again.  Her mother would be likely to say – “What was wrong with her first birth??!  How dare you say she must be born again!”  It’s very offensive isn’t it?

And it’s no better if you say it to a grown-up.

I was once speaking to a woman at a bus stop.  And we started talking about Christian things – she was a Roman Catholic and told me that she loved the teaching of Jesus.  I said, “Me too, I was reading just last week John chapter 3 – do you know the story of Nicodemus.  She said, ‘Of course.’  I said, well it’s interesting that Jesus says to this very religious man: ‘You must be born again’.”  I asked her – “Have you been born again?”  Instantly she frosted over.  She turned her shoulders 15 degrees to the left and raised her chin 15 degrees in the air, and that was the end of the conversation.  It made for an awkward few minutes before the bus came.

But that’s what happens when you start talking about being “born again.” It is dynamite.  It is offensive.  But Jesus is unrelenting.  He says it again and again.  Verse 3:

3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

Verse 5:

5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.

Verse 7:

7 You should not be surprised at my saying, `You must be born again.’

You must, you must, you must be born again.

[SLIDE – You must be born again]

Jesus says “Don’t be surprised at this”.  We are surprised though.  Perhaps we’re like Nicodemus, coughing and spluttering in amazement, v4:

4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

Is that what you’re suggesting Jesus?  Going back into my mother’s womb?  I don’t think I’d like that, and I’m pretty sure she would object.

No says Jesus – not that.  But nonetheless, you MUST be born again.

Are you born again?  I look out on a room and there’s one thing I can safely assume about you.  I assume that you have been born once.  That’s a fair assumption – everyone in this room has been born once.   But I don’t assume that everyone here has been born again.  I imagine there might be quite a few here who have been born once, but not born again.

And Jesus says, v3, unless you are born again you can’t SEE the kingdom of God.  Or again, v5, unless you are born of water and the Spirit which is another way of saying unless you are born again – you can’t ENTER the kingdom of God.  You MUST be born again.

Are you born again?  Jesus says “You must be born again.”  What about your family members.  Bring to mind family members – they must be born again.  Bring to mind friends – they must be born again.  Bring to mind neighbours – they must be born again.  Bring to mind work-mates – they must be born again.  Everyone you pass in the street today – they must be born again.  As we approach the mission next week, may that shape our prayers and our inviting.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Dev’s glorious blog is here. His last Exodus offering was here.

Exodus 20:2  “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

The land of Egypt, the iron furnace, is well-known as a picture of the slavery to sin and the dominion by the wicked snake-prince of this world. Under the illusion of creating a glorious empire, the people are subject to a harsh reality of brutality and despair.

Yet the reason the people of God are in the land of Egypt does not seem to be the same as the one they end up being sent to Babylon. In the latter scenario, it is very clear that the people have been willfully engaging in rebellious behaviour against the Living God, participating in every possible sinful activity – until sin reached its full potential – and the consequence of that gestation was exile – being cast away from the presence of God (represented by His dwelling in the holy temple).

However, no such obvious rebellion has occurred for the people to end up in Egypt. Why are they there – what did they do to deserve such harsh treatment for this prolonged period of time? We know that slavery in the spiritual sense is indeed because of sin, and Satan then is given full authority over those that would allow his whispers to enter into their hearts.

The reason for Israel being in Egypt seems to be one of famine.

Genesis 41:57   Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.

Indeed a global famine, such that all the earth comes under the dominion of that old Pharaoh. But perhaps the famine was instituted by God so that the whole world would come under the reign of Joseph, God’s Elected Prince.

Now if we then back-track to the reason Joseph is in Egypt, it is because of the murderous intentions of his brothers –

Genesis 37:20-21   Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.”

Thus there is one sin that has indeed in some sense caused their ‘exile’ from Canaan to Egypt – and it is the murder of God’s Elected Prince.

John 3:18   Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

The sin of Adam is the same sin of all of us, the sin that we will all be judged for on that day – and it is the rejection, or the murder of the Christ.

Genesis 50:20   As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

The rebellion of a few against the Messiah was commuted to all, so that all may have life an provision in Him, the new prince of the world.

Now as our champion who we once crucified, He holds it not against us and declares:

Genesis 50:21   So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Isaiah 55:1-3   “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.  Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »