Saturday, August 27, 2005

If you are the (a) Son (Child) of God....

Jesus shared water with us--he was baptized with sinners. He followed us into the water, but by so doing enabled something new to break into the world. He was filled with the Spirit, baptized in the Spirit. And declared to be the Son of God.

But this Son of God was no docetic theophany. This Son of God, conceived of the Holy Spirit, was also son of David, son of Abraham, son of Adam. He was the new Adam and the new Israel. He is a new beginning for humanity: "son of Adam, Son of God."

This new Israel is led to a place of testing for 40 days (whereas Israel was 40 years). Unlike the first Adam, however, his place of testing was no garden or paradise. Rather, it was the wilderness. Adam was tested in the garden--where he was placed by God--by the serpent. Jesus is tested in the wilderness--where he is led by the Spirit--by Satan. The serpent and Satan seek the same thing--to inculcate doubt, a desire for more, and mistrust.

The wilderness temptations are an identity test. "If you are the Son of God...." Are you really? Is that what you want? The wilderness is where Jesus learns obedience. The wilderness is identity-formation through identity-testing. God intends a test.

This wilderness experience is God’s design—Jesus is led by the Spirit. The presence of the Spirit does not mean the absence of testing, but rather the power to endure it, live through, and overcome it. Jesus is full of the Spirit. This is not some superior divine identity, but rather Jesus, the human being, filled with the Spirit. God will pour out his Spirit on all flesh and fill his people with his Spirit. Jesus lives as a human filled with the Spirit he will share with his people in his triumph. He baptizes us in the Spirit and fills us with the Spirit. In the wilderness Jesus is empowered by the Spirit just as we are empowered by the Spirit.

Jesus is the true human who is authentically tempted. Filled with the Spirit, he models for humanity how to live obediently, how to live an authentically human life. To be human is not to sin; that is to be less than human. True humanity is one living in complete dependence upon and in relationship with God. Humanity has a new start in Jesus, the new Adam.

In the wilderness Jesus deliberately empties himself of his power and faces temptation as a human being. He is Adam. Milton described Adam’s disobedience in Paradise Lost, but the subject of Paradise Regained is the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

The temptation is the struggle of two kingdoms—the powers that reign in the world (ruled by Satan through Rome in Luke) and the kingdom of God. Satan seeks to divert the humanity of Jesus—seek his own interests rather than obedience; seek his own rather than God’s or the interests of others. What does it really mean to be about God’s kingdom business? Which kingdom will the Son of God serve? The three temptations of Jesus are counterparts to the three denials by Peter. Jesus does what humanity fails to do and thus shows humanity a different path.

Temptation One: Will Jesus follow the leading of the Spirit or will he exercise his power toward his own ends? Should we should cater to our every whim (note the function of fasting), fulfill our every desire, and embrace what we want rather then submit to self-denial for God’s sake. Do we use power for our own sake or for kingdom interests? Are we willing to deny ourselves something (anything or everything) for God's sake, for the sake of his kingdom?

Temptation Two: Will Jesus seize power by yielding to idolatry, following other gods? Will we achieve success, fame, reputation or goals by virtue of aligning ourselves with other powers than God so that we take the easy path to success rather than the path of suffering and self-denial. Will we submit to the ruler of this world and the powers of this world for the sake of our own interests, or--worse--construe the kingdom as best served through submitting to worldly powers? Will we seize political control—or whatever control (control of church, family, business, culture)—for the sake of the kingdom? Will we violate the principles of the kingdom for the sake of the kingdom? Will Jesus take up a new identity—the servant of Satan rather than the Son of God?

Temptation Three: Will Jesus force God to prove himself? Will he put God on trial to test God rather than trust him. Can God be trusted? Why are you in the wilderness? Doesn’t God care—do you believe he cares? Do you believe his promises? Should not faith leap blindly from the temple heights? The temptation is to prove our faith by testing God's promise. Or, perhaps, in the midst of the wilderness to declare our allegiance to God only on the condition that he rescue us from the wilderness. God must prove himself before we believe. The temptation is to try God rather than trust him.

The temptations about our own temptations—whether in a 40 day fast, or in the wilderness of loss--whatever loss. We are Adam, we are Jesus. He followed us into the water, and went into the wilderness to share it with us. He entered our wilderness in order to lead us out.

But the wilderness is important. It is tests our identity. It shapes our identity. The wilderness is where we learn to prioritize—we see what is really important and upon whom we truly depend. The wilderness is where we learn obedience—we seek out God’s way rather than our own; we follow his path to kingdom goals rather than our own. The wilderness is where we learn to trust—rather than demand, prove or test.

We are baptized. We are filled with the Spirit. And we are led into the wilderness to test our identity. The wilderness tests our identity—who are we? Whom will we serve? Whose interests are most important to us?

If you are a child of God, depend on God rather than your materialism, seek his kingdom rather than your own, and trust him rather than prove him. This is the path that leads out of the wilderness and to a cross but also to an empty tomb.

Luke 4:1-11

Friday, August 26, 2005

This is Funny

Look at this to see what happens when one ordains a Teutonic Pope.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Performing the Fifth Act

Since we lack a script--a detailed "say this, do this"--for living out the gospel in our lives today, how do we "perform fifth the act"? This is the function of theological hermeneutics. It is a way of thinking, reflecting and seeking the will of God. It is imaginatively entering into world of Scripture to draw analogies for living in the present. We seek the mind of Christ to be Christ in the present.

Theologically, I use a short-hand model for this reflection process. It is only suggestive as it moves us along the trajectory of biblical theology. It is four-fold (and, of course, this would not be the only way of saying this).

1) Creation as divine intent--God created community, intended humanity represent (image) him in the world, and to fill the earth with his glory (humans who image him in caring for the cosmos).

2) Community--whether in Israel or the Church, God intended a kind of community where there are no poor or needy; a community that shared life together and shared the task of imaging God in the world, a redemptive community in a fallen world. Through Scripture--through his messengers, prophets, etc.--God sought to shape his community into that redemptive community which bore his image.

3) Christ--God entered the world as flesh and lived among us. He is the image of God; he is the true human just as he is truly (authentically) human. He is what humans are supposed to be in a fallen world. The incarnation answers the question what would God do if he were one of us.

4) Consummation--the divine goal. What is God's kingdom climax? This is the world that God will ultimately recreate. It is the kind of world that should intrude into the present--the eschatological reality should be present in the church. The church should be shaped by the divine eschatological goal.

Each of these perspectives bear witness to the character of God. They say something about God, and thus say something about us since we are called to image God, to be like God.

Consequently, these models offer a way to enter into the story of God so that, discerning who God is, we can imaginatively and creatively embody that character in the present. We are thus enabled and empowered--by the Spirit of God hermeneutically and morally--to be the presence of God in our world.

Performing the fifth act is living in a way that embodies the divine intent (creation) and goal (eschaton), guided by how God sought to shape his historic redemptive communities (Israel and Church), and definitively demonstrated in Jesus (incarnation).

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

An Increasingly Common Analogy

I've read it in various books and heard it in several lectures. N.T. Wright has used it. Stan Grenz has used. Keith VanHoozer has used. John Franke has used it. Michael Horton has used it. And others as well. And I like it.

It usually runs something like this.... Living out biblical theology is like performing a drama. Our life in Christ is analogous to a group of Shakespearean groupies who have newly discovered a five act play by Shakespeare. It was previously unknown. But the problem is that the last act is missing. We only have the first four acts. The last act is lost. Suppose, however, these scholars, actors, etc., want to perform this play. How can they perform it without the last act? They will have to improvise. In order to do so, they have to "live and breathe" the works of Shakespeare. They will know all his other works, thoroughly know this present play, understand how his mind works, etc. With their "Shakespearean mind" they write and perform the final act as they imagine Shakespeare would have written it.

The analogy is.... We have Scripture which bears witness to the mind of God in Christ. We have the first act-Creation. We have the second act--Israel. We have the third act--Christ. We have the fourth act--the early Church (Acts & the Epistles). We are the fifth act. And we currently perform that fifth act as best we can imaginatively enter into the mind of God in Christ. We live out that mind--we perform the fifth act on the basis of the first four acts.

I like the analogy. I think it is quite useful. There is a sense in which we do not have a script for living in the 21st century as Christians. We don't have a script that tells us how to deal with gene therapy, nuclear war, software ethics, etc. We encounter many issues in the contemporary world that are not addressed in Scripture. Consequently, we seek the mind of God in Christ, and then seek to live out of that "mind" in the present.

But I would like to adjust the analogy a bit. While we are living out the fifth act, we do have the sixth act. What we are missing is not the end, but the time between Christ and the end. We know what the ending of the story is. We know how the drama climaxes. The act we are missing is the one between the fourth and sixth--between Christ in the Early Church (Acts and Epistles) and the Eschaton (the New Heaven and New Earth).

Consequently, we learn how to peform the present story of God through drawing on the mind of God in the past and the future. We know God's intent (creation) and we know his goal (eschaton). We know his acts in history (Israel) and we have seen him in Jesus. Knowing God in Christ, we perform his story in the present. We are the fifth act. We are the body of Christ in the world peforming the drama of God in a way that is consistent with divine intent (creation), goal (eschaton) and history (Israel and Church)--consistent with the one who embodied God in our midst, Jesus Christ.

Theology is only significant if it is performative. We must "do" the truth rather than simply intellectualize about it. The goal of theology is practical--to shape a people into the image of God, but not just in their thinking, but in their life. The trandformed life is the performative truth of the story of God.

Systematic Biblical Doctrine

That's the title of a course I teach at the undergraduate level at Lipscomb University. I don't particularly like the title. Here's why.

"Doctrine" rings hollow at best for most students and creates hostile suspicion for many. The word has a polemical ring in the ears of many such that it conjures up images of dueling antagonists engaged in heated debate where the loser goes to Hell.

"Systematic" sounds, well, too systematic. It sounds like we are going to put the Bible into its "proper" order--an order that we impose through a preconcevived "system" (an order perhaps borrowed from some philosophical construct). This prioritizes "system" over text; it postulates an "order" to which the text must conform. This is the discipline of onto-theology so that theology is shaped by a prior commitment to an ontology. Theology then becomes a form of philosophical anthropology, which means it is not theology at all but "anthropology in a loud voice" (so Barth's critique of classic liberalism).

So, "Systematic Biblical Doctrine" sounds like a code word for imposing my system upon the biblical text in order to draw boundaries that define the "right" group. Consequently, I don't like it. It is not what I think theology should do.

Rather, I would rather proceed with a more narrative approach where theology is the exploration of the biblical plot--to trace the redemptive-historical work of God through creation, Israel, Christ and Church into the Eschaton. It follows the plot line. Theology tells the story and seeks to absorb the contemporary world into the plot of the story.

Is there something systematic about theology? Well, of course. There is an order. But, it seems to me, that order is best understood as redemptive-historical plot, or drama, or story, or narrative. The order is not that of a "system" or a philosophical/metaphysical grid, but the order of a narrative plot in which we live or a drama that we perform.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Theodices in the Stone-Campbell Movement

Another essay I just submitted for publication that will appear in December concerns the various "theodices" that were prominent in the 19th century Stone-Campbell Movement. It was interesting to me that there is no "Theodicy" heading in the new Stone-Campbell Encyclopedia though there is some discussion of the idea under the article entitled "Providence."

Essentially, they were all theologically Arminian with an Augustinian understanding of the Fall. What I mean is this, they all located the origin of moral evil in the free agency of creatures (whether human or angelic). That is the Arminian part. At the same time, they all located natural evil in the "Fall" of humanity--either a punishment or consquence of sin within the cosmos. That is the Augustinian part. One can see both of these in Alexander Campbell and Robert Richardson early on and both affirmed a kind of "meticulous providence" over the world.

However, the North/South conflict and the cultural/theological developments of the late 19th century shaped theodicy in different ways within the movement.

On the one hand, the North embraced a more rational, scientific approach to theodicy. Emphasizing the embedded order within the cosmos, natural law regulated natural evil. Nature functioned independently--by divine design--of God's specific will or intent. God did not and does not intervene within the cosmos except for redemptive-historical purposes (e.g., Exodus, Incarnation, Resurrection). This created a kind of Deism within northern thinking that denied any kind of "special" or "meticulous" providence (though all did not deny it and continued the tradition of Campbell and Richardson).

On the other hand, the South (particularly in the deep south of TN, MS and AL, etc.) the cosmos was engaged in a radical spiritual conflict. It was the kingdom of God versus the kingdom of Satan (e.g., Lipscomb and Harding). God was involved in his world directing nations and individuals toward his ends, including the idea that God punished the South because of slavery. God is meticulously involved in his world and engaged in this cosmic conflict. Humanity is free to choose which side it will serve, but God will win in the end and even now sovereignly conducts the world according to his goals and interests. Lipscomb's response to the overwhelming experience of evil in the Civil War was to acknowledge God's sovereignty. Lipscomb does not "defend" or "justify" God. Rather, he submits and trusts.

Some in the South rebelled against this construal, particularly in Texas. They embraced a Newtonian natural law understanding of natural evil and advocated a practical Deism. This is evidenced, in particular, in the "word only" theory of the Holy Spirit. God is self-constrained by natural law and Scripture for his own action in the world. This response to life is to protect God from involvement in the specific events of the world. God does not get his hands dirty in the daily functions of life, but regulates the world through laws (laws of nature and laws in Scripture).

In the context of opposing a deistic understanding of prayer, Harding asked: “Does the Holy Spirit do anything now except what the Word does? Do we get any help, of any kind or in any way, from God except what we get by studying the Bible?... Does God answer our prayers by saying, 'Study the Bible…’?” (“Questions and Answers,” The Way 4/16 [17 July 1902]: 123.)

Theodicy is too often encumbered by metaphysical assumptions, too driven by hermeneutical harmonization, and too distant from the affirmations and particularities of the text. Theodicy must arise out of the story we have been given, and perhaps it is not so much "theodicy" as "kergyma" that is our task. I find myself much more in line with Lipscomb/Harding than the Northern Disciples and the Southern Texans.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Eschatological Table

The eschatological horizon reminds us that the root metaphor of the Eucharist is neither tomb nor altar, but table.

In some ways that sentence is sort of the thesis of my book Come to the Table. However, one dimension of the book that I wish I had emphasized more--and it is present in the book, but deserves a chapter devoted to it--is the eschatological horizon. In other words, through the Lord’s Supper disciples experience the eschatological joy of the risen Christ as he hosts our communal meal.

The link between the Supper and the second coming of Christ is acknowledged by all in light of 1 Corinthians 11:26. However this link is sometimes reduced to either a (1) temporal terminus; (2) a promised fact; or (3) a pledge of the future. In each of these, eschatology is wholly future.

This furturist theology exists alongside a memoralism and somtimes a present spiritual feeding (communion) on Christ (and thus, the past, present and future dimension of the table). The spiritual dynamic of the Lord’s Supper remains either memory and/or nourishment. There is no eschatological dynamic in the present but only an absent Christ whose return we await through memory and spiritual sustenance. Fundamentally, this lack of eschatological “alreadiness” engenders a solemn and funerary atmosphere that is more consistent with the metaphor of altar than table.

When the eschatological dimension of the table is neglected, the Supper is easily reduced to a singular purpose. The chief purpose of the Supper becomes to remember the death of Christ. Even "Eucharist" becomes a negative term because the Supper is about memorialism rather than thanksgiving.

When we reclaim, however, the "alreadiness" of the eschaton, and understand that the risen Christ is present at the table with us, joy and thanksgiving envelope the table. It is a place where we experience the already/not yet tension--Jesus is absent, but he is present. The Lord's Supper is a continuation of the post-resurrection meals with his disciples but in a post-ascension situation. Our joy is already here, but is not yet fully realized.

When I visualize and experience the risen Christ at the table with us, a pleasant smile appears on my face. It is a smile that sometimes annoys those sitting around me in "church." But it is a smile produced by the sense that I am already at the eschatological table with Jesus....and with Joshua, Dad, Sheila and with all the saints.

I have just submitted these perspectives in an essay for publication in a new book by IVP that extends the discussion begun in Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

My Absence

I apologize that I have been absent from my blog. It seems that having a blog creates a guilt trip for not keeping up with it, but that may be a function of the legal framework that shaped my early life. :-)

However, I have been busy. Grading papers for the summer, but also completing and finalizing two essays to be published in December. One essay is entilted "Theodicy in Early Stone-Campbell Perspectives" and the other is entitled "The Lord's Supper as Eschatological Table."

I will offer a preview of each without giving away the store over the next two days.


John Mark