Thoughts of a Living Christian

Musings of an amateur theologian and hopeful writer

Archive for the month “September, 2011”

Church as a Missional Society

The Church is being-driven, in that “its purpose and activity flow forth from the church’s identity,”[1] (i.e. ‘being’) and “its being is identified as that which turns upward, outward, and downward in communion with God, its own members, and the world.”[2] The Church’s entire purpose is rooted in its identity with the Triune God, who is “communal and co-missional,”[3] who has named the church, and of whose Kingdom the Church belongs – not to the kingdom of this world. The basis of the Church’s mission is relationship, and, finding its identity in a relational God who desires the Good News to be spread to all nations and all people, the Church step beyond the comfortable and prioritize outreach, aiming to have a tangible impact upon today’s society.[4] As “God relocated from heaven to earth to reach a lost world…So too we must relocate, living among those who do not confess Christ.”[5]

One thing in particular that stands out in this chapter is how uncomfortable it makes me feel while reading it. The theology and argument is sound and passionate, but it presents a difficult lifestyle for the Church to follow. The Church must step beyond what is comfortable in order to reach out to those who do not know Christ. We should not expect them to come to us, but rather, we should we going to them. This is certainly not easy. To an extent, it is troubling that something that is absolutely rooted in our identity in the Triune God is so uncomfortable. It is not usual, however, for people to enjoy intentionally stepping out into the uncomfortable. Hence, it must only be through the power and love of the Spirit that the Gospel can be spread to all peoples.[6]

References

Grenz, Stanley J. Theology for the Community of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994.

Harper, Brad, and Paul Louis Metzger. Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2009.


[1] Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger, Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2009). 237.

[2] Ibid. 237.

[3] Ibid. 238.

[4] According to Grenz, “As those who have responded to the gospel call and acknowledge the lordship of Christ, we seek to model what it means to live under the guidelines of the divine reign. Kingdom principles include peace, justice, and righteousness. But above all, the divine reign is characterized by love. Consequently, by being a true community of believers, we indicate what the reign of God is like; it is the community of love.” (Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994). 503).

[5] Harper and Metzger. 245. Further, we must recognize our sin before we can reach out to others. Harper and Metzger note, “Only when we see that apart from Christ we are as desperately lost as the prostitutes, demon-possessed, and tax collectors to whom Jesus ministered will we experience full redemption. Only then can we bear witness to Jesus as the good news so that others might experience redemption too.” (p.249).

[6] Harper and Metzger note, “May the coming kingdom of the nonhomogeneous and downwardly mobile God inspire us to hew out of those towering building programs of despair cornerstones of living hope to bear witness to God’s triune name.” (p.273).

Christology in the Fourth Gospel

Introduction

The Fourth Gospel presents a more explicit Christology than do the Synoptic Gospels, with several unique contributions to New Testament Christology, and, having the background of the historical presentation of Jesus, John expounds and furthers theological themes. As shall be seen throughout this essay, a major concern for John is the identity and origin of Jesus, who is presented as having the very identity of God, as emphasized in his “I Am” sayings and reference to the “Word” in the prologue. Titles given to Jesus, such as “Son of God” and “Messiah” infer both his messianic and divine characteristics, and John’s emphasis on Jesus as envoy, sent from God further discusses Jesus’ identity and messianic mission. Also, John portrays Jesus as having the right to prerogatives reserved to God alone. This essay shall analyze each of these major themes,[1] discussing the significance of this Christology, as well as its significance in comparison to the Synoptics, discussing major differences between the two traditions.

The Christology of the Fourth Gospel

Keener states that John’s Gospel presents a “radical Christology,” which “enabled the Johannine Christians ‘to undertake their radical commitment to God in the face of dire risk.’”[2] It was so radical, in fact, that the evangelists’ Christology is virtually inseparable from his theology.[3] Barrett further notes that when in looking at or hearing Jesus, you see and hear the Father.[4] In John’s missionary purposes to present Jesus as Christ to the Jews, he used familiar themes (Messiah, “Son of God,” “I Am,” etc.) before applying a Christocentric theological evaluation of these, in light of the new covenant, in which Jesus is savior and way to God the Father. Furthermore, through doing so, Jesus is presented as the glory of God (1:14; cf. 2:11; 11:4; 12:23).[5]

The prologue, the first eighteen verses of the Gospel, often called a hymn, present a unique Christology. The logoV (logos) is unique to this passage, not mentioned elsewhere,[6] and carries several connotations. In Jewish literature, it represented God’s creative self-expression,[7] in Greek philosophy, the Word often referred to divine truth, and also linked to Jewish Wisdom traditions. Wisdom, commonly personified, was present in creation, and in the Wisdom of Solomon, this Wisdom labors alongside humanity to bring them toward God.[8] Hence, by labeling Jesus as the Word, John argues that Jesus’ identity is not to be found in creation itself, but in the very identity of God, and thus does not contradict Jewish monotheism.[9] Furthermore, where Genesis’ account of creation states that in the beginning was God, John states that in the beginning was the Word, and that Word became flesh.[10] Whilst this logoV is unique to this prologue, the themes presented in these initial verses are present throughout the Gospel,[11] and Mlakuzhyil argues these themes are repeated in the conclusion, thus “all the other theological themes must be seen in relation to the Christocentric themes given in the introduction and the conclusion.”[12]

Several titles are ascribed to Jesus through the Gospel, such as “Messiah” (or “Christ”), “Son of God,” “King of Israel,” and “Lord.” Where the Jews were expecting the Messiah to come as a powerful warrior and political leader to relieve them of oppression, Jesus’ messiaship is presented as the Suffering Servant. It was only in light of the resurrection that the disciples could remember and discern the spiritual power of his earthly ministry, and spiritual anointing.[13] Carrying messianic implications, “Son of God” connoted intimacy.[14] This phrase was not unique to Jewish tradition,[15] but John presented Jesus not as a son of god, rather, the Son of God, uniquely begotten of the one, true God.[16] “Son of Man” and “King of Israel” carried both messianic and eschatological overtones, and “Lord” (KurioV) was used in the LXX to translate titles referring to God alone.[17] However, Kӧstenberger argues that the titles themselves are not as important as the idea that Jesus has come as the fulfillment of these titles. He is the Messiah and promised King, i.e. rather than simply bringing bread, he is the heavenly bread (John 6).[18]

Another very prominent theme in John’s Christology is that of envoy and divine messenger. The verbs pempein and ajpostellein (lit. “To send”), are used 42 times in the Gospel, and is thus an important Christological element, detailing Christ’s nature as having been sent from God. In Greco-Roman culture, an envoy carried full authority of the one who sent him, a theme brought through.[19] As messenger, Jesus:[20]

  • Show’s God’s intentions (4:34; 7:28-9; 8:29).
  • Is the human equivalent of divine sender (10:36; 12:45; 17:3).
  • Will return to God, upon completing his mission (7:33; 16:5).
  • Acts not on his own initiative, but on that of God (5:30; 7:16; 8:16; 12:49).
  • Comes from above (3:31; 8:23), heaven (3:13; 6:33, 41, 42) and from God (3:2; 8:42f; 13:3; 16:27, 28; 17:8).
  • Is not of this world (8:23; 15:19; 17:14).
  • Makes the Father known (3:32; 8:38; 1:18; 5:37; 6:46; 15:15).
  • Speaks as though he has been taught, told and commanded (8:28; 7:16; 12:49, 50).

Furthermore, to respond to Jesus was to respond to the Father (5:23-24, 38; 12:44; 13:20).[21] Loader states,

The Son has come as revealer, sent by the Father and authorized by him to speak and act in accordance with what he has been shown and been commanded. He does this in the power and authority given him by the Father and in unity with him.[22]

Two other prominent themes prevalent in the Fourth Gospel, regarding Christology, are the “I Am” sayings and the divine prerogatives. There are two sets of seven “I Am” (ejgw eijmi) sayings, those followed by nouns (6:35; 8:12; 10:7; 10:11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1), and those without (considered “absolute”, 4:26; 6:20; 8:24; 8:28; 8:58; 13:19; 18:5).[23] This links back to the prologue, in that Jesus’ identity is within God – he bears the name of God.[24] McGrath comments that “I Am” does not equal “I Am Yahweh,” but asserts that Jesus bears the very name of the one God.[25]

Regarding the divine prerogatives, there are instances where Jesus acts, receives or says he participates, in what is reserved for God alone. For example, the man born blind and is then healed by Jesus (ch.9) returns to Jesus, and worships him. Jesus, then, did not stop nor rebuke him. Bauckham asserts that worship was intimately connected with a monotheistic recognition of the one, true, divine identity.[26] Thus, he states, “the worship of Jesus indicates his inclusion in the identity of this one God.”[27] In the prologue, Jesus is called the “life” and “light” (1:4), of which Kӧstenberger interprets, “Being “life” puts Jesus on par with God, who alone is the life-giver; and being the “light” has both messianic overtones and sets Jesus against the dark moral backdrop of a reprobate, rebellious world that has rejected God’s law and therefore will also reject his Messiah.”[28] Furthermore, Jesus says he is the giver of life and judge of all (5:21, 22, 26).[29] What is important to note, however, that the issue the Jews had with Jesus’ activity was not with his actions per se, but with his claiming to be more than simply God’s agent. According to McGrath, “God could appoint agents, who would represent him and bear his full authority…It was only when someone had not been appointed by God tried to put himself on a par with God (like Adam, Pharaoh or the king of Babylon in the Jewish Scriptures) that equality with God became problematic and even blasphemous.”[30]

One traditional view of John’s relationship with the Synoptics is that John relies on the historical portrayal of Jesus prevalent in Matthew, Mark and Luke, using this as a presupposition for his more theological approach to Christology.[31] This view was criticized in 1938, by Percy Gardner-Smith, who received much support at the time.[32] However, it seems most contemporary commentators agree John advanced the presentation of the Synoptics, and thus the Fourth Gospel did not develop completely independently.[33] Three unique contributions John’s Christology make to New Testament Christology include Christ’s pre-existence, exaltation (even in his humanization) and Christ’s relationship to the Father.[34] His pre-existence is a major contribution, unique to John’s Gospel.[35] Furthermore, John makes explicit reference to Jesus’ divinity (1:1; Thomas’ confession), whereas the Synoptics do not.[36] Robert Kysar coined the phrase “Maverick Gospel” when referring to John,[37] yet subtle similarities abound. For example, some miracles are common to both traditions, as are titles,[38] and Kӧstenberger discusses “interlocking connections,” where John’s Gospel fills in details in the Synoptics.[39] In sum, John’s Christology relies on the historical portrayal of Jesus in the Synoptics, but fills in details, and then further develops theological themes, as discussed above.

Conclusion

In summary, John’s Gospel presents a rich theological narratological and biographical sketch of Jesus that neither contradicts Jewish understanding, nor the historiography of the Synoptics. The Gospel’s poetic prologue asserts Christ’s pre-existence and identity in the very nature of the monotheistic God of Israel, present and active in creation. The titles further assert this and his messianic characteristics, but rather than focusing on the titles, one must recognize Jesus’ fulfillment of these titles. Jesus is the messenger of God, sent from the Father to present the Father, and Jesus’ “I Am” sayings further portray his identity. Jesus’ identity, a major issue for John, is then further discussed in relation to Jesus and the prerogatives of God, such as giving of life and judging of sins, both of which Jesus claims authority to. John’s portrayal of Christ’s pre-existence and referring to Jesus as the logoV are unique to the Fourth Gospel, but similarities, such as some titles used of Jesus, have drawn the gap between the two traditions closer. John is written, presupposing the historical presentation of Jesus in the Synoptics, adding detail and advancing theology. His Christology is radical and drastically advances New Testament Christology.

References

Barrett, C. K. Essays on John. London: SPCK, 1982.

Bauckham, Richard. The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007.

deSilva, David A. An Introduction to the New Testament. Nottingham: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Harrison, Everett F. “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel in Relation to the Synoptics.” Bibliotheca Sacra October (1959): 303-309.

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003.

Kostenberger, Andreas J. A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.

Kysar, Robert. “Christology and Controversy: The Contributions of the Prologue of the Gospel of John to the New Testament Christology and Their Historical Setting.” Currents in Theology and Mission 5, no. 6 (1978): 348-364.

Lincoln, Andrew T. The Gospel According to Saint John. London: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2005.

Loader, William. The Christology of the Fourth Gospel. Germany: Verlag Peter Lang, 1989.

McGrath, James F. John’s Apologetic Christology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Mlakuzhyil, George. The Christocentric Literary Structure of the Fourth Gospel. Rome: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1987.

Smith, T. C. “Christology of the Fourth Gospel.” Review & Expositor 71, no. Winter (1974): 19-30.

Sundberg, Albert C. Christology in the Fourth Gospel. Chicago: Chicago Society of Biblical Research, 1976.


[1] These themes are not a conclusive list of Christological motifs in the Fourth Gospel, but are, arguably, the major themes. Much literature has been written on this Gospel, and a complete discussion on these motifs would, due to the great richness and theological depth of this Gospel, take much more space than is permitted for this essay. When approaching a discussion on the Fourth Gospel, one can easily sympathize with John’s feelings in 21:25. The purpose of this essay is to give a brief overview on the more prominent Christological themes, particularly in relation to the Synoptics.

[2] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003). 280. Keener further states that this radical Christology is the focus of the Gospel, and that, contrary to common ancient biographies, expounded no negative perspectives of Jesus.

[3] Cf. Andrew T. Lincoln, The Gospel According to Saint John (London: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2005). 59. Also, Andreas J. Kostenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009). 316. Lincoln states,

“As would be expected from an ancient biography, the Fourth Gospel’s focus is on the subject, Jesus of Nazareth. What would not necessarily be expected from an ancient biography, but what immediately becomes clear, is that its subject is so closely related to the God of Israel that the focus on Jesus of Nazareth also becomes a focus on God. What are reflected in the narrative’s actions and symbols are convictions not only about Jesus but about God, so that Christology and theology are intimately interwoven.” (p. 59).

[4] C. K. Barrett, Essays on John (London: SPCK, 1982). 16.

[5] Kostenberger. 294. Also, T. C. Smith, “Christology of the Fourth Gospel,” Review & Expositor 71, no. Winter (1974). 23.

[6] Richard Bauckham, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007). 241.

[7] Lincoln. 60.

[8] David A. deSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament (Nottingham: InterVarsity Press, 2004). 418. Sundberg states that the Gospel, having “developed in more intimate, personal terms, this material has as its background the heavenly servants-of-God and Wisdom motifs of the Jewish scriptures. It features full, total obedience and subservience to God but with such personal intimacy as is totally lacking from the more sedate, heavenly throne-room of the Jewish literature.” (Albert C. Sundberg, Christology in the Fourth Gospel (Chicago: Chicago Society of Biblical Research, 1976). 29.)

[9] Bauckham. 240. There would only be a contradiction if Jesus was neither associated with the same God of Israel, nor associated with creation (i.e. was not himself created). John presents Jesus as having the very same identity of the one, true God.

[10] Kostenberger. 316.

[11] Ibid. 167-7.

[12] George Mlakuzhyil, The Christocentric Literary Structure of the Fourth Gospel (Rome: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1987). 244.

[13] Smith. 23-4.

[14] Ibid. 25. Also, Lincoln. 65. Lincoln further notes the contrast with “Son of God,” and “children of God” when referring to believers, emphasizing Jesus’ unique sonship, and our adoption.

[15] In Greek literature, warriors were often called “sons of god,” the 70 Canaan gods were “sons of the chief god,” and in the Zhou dynasty in China, kings were called “sons of heaven.” (Keener. 291-2.)

[16] Ibid. 295.

[17] Ibid. 297. Thus, Lord was often reserved for divine titles. The vocative kurie was used elsewhere, usually translate as “Sir” or “Master,” but when nominative, was generally reserved for recognition of divine authority.

[18] Kostenberger. 316-18.

[19] According to Lincoln, “later rabbinic literature can speak of a person’s agent as the equivalent of that person.” (Lincoln. 60).

[20] Ibid. 60. And, William Loader, The Christology of the Fourth Gospel (Germany: Verlag Peter Lang, 1989). 30-32.

[21] Lincoln. 60.

[22] Loader. 33. He goes on to argue that “the most important and outstanding feature of the author’s Christology is the dominance of the pattern of the revealer envoy, the coming and going of the Son, from and to the Father,” (205). In light of the Father, Mlakuzhyil notes that pathr (father) is used 120 times, and, hence, a very prominent theme. (Mlakuzhyil. 243). As Loader further argues, the Father sends the Son, and authorizes the Son (Loader. 30-31).

[23] Bauckham. 243-44.

[24] Lincoln. 68. Cf. Exodus 3.

[25] James F. McGrath, John’s Apologetic Christology (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001). 106.

[26] Bauckham. 243.

[27] Ibid. 243.

[28] Kostenberger. 317.

[29] Cf. Bauckham. 241.

[30] McGrath. 78.

[31] Lincoln. 60.

[32] Smith. 20.

[33] Cf. Kostenberger. Kostenberger states,

Indeed, the strategic decisions made by John in relation to the Synoptic pattern are bold. They represent a conscious and theologically sophisticated effort to interpret for the reader the significance of Jesus’ coming and ministry in a way that builds on and is compatible with the Synoptic portrait, but yet advances beyond it and thus is able to deepen the reader’s understanding of Jesus’ mission in many ways…it is hard to imagine John’s gospel apart from the Synoptic pattern, which looms large and remains discernible in the way in which John has chosen to interpret, develop, and supplement it. (p. 563).

[34] Robert Kysar, “Christology and Controversy: The Contributions of the Prologue of the Gospel of John to the New Testament Christology and Their Historical Setting,” Currents in Theology and Mission 5, no. 6 (1978). 356.

[35] Everett F. Harrison, “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel in Relation to the Synoptics,” Bibliotheca Sacra October, no. (1959). 306.

[36] Ibid. 309.

[37] deSilva. 409.

[38] Harrison. 304.

[39] Kostenberger. 551.

Church as a Serving Community

This argument is summed up in the first two sentences of Harper and Metzger’s ninth chapter: “The life of the church in the world is always meant to be incarnational. As such, the church is to represent in its service to humanity the incarnation of Christ, who came not to be served but to serve.”[1] Philippians 2:5-11 serves this very point. They continue, quoting Galatians 6:10, to say that Christians must serve all people, especially each other and that service “builds community in its fullest sense.”[2]

Our attitude should be the same as that of Christ, who took on the nature of a servant and became obedient to the most gruelling of tasks. Honestly, the church does not look like a collection of people who have taken this Pauline command of humility seriously. But then again, only the one most deserving of glory can take on the most undeserving of punishment. By this I further mean that only the manifestation of the triune God could be so fully selfless. Sinful man could not possibly follow suit.

Yet, as human beings, we are still called, as a church, to this selfless servitude; “The service of the church flows out of the self-giving love of the Trinitarian God who gives himself as a servant to humanity…To be human in the image of the Trinitarian God means to love others with a love that is costly and self-sacrificing.”[3] Harper and Metzger’s chapter portrays a seemingly impossible idyllic example of the church. To live as a serving church seems remarkably difficult, and arguably impossible for sinful humans to attain, but yet we are still called to such humble service. We are called to this service, yet only Christ can fulfil it.

Funny how everything returns to our dependence on Christ![4]

References

Grenz, Stanley J. Theology for the Community of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994.

Harper, Brad, and Paul Louis Metzger. Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2009.


[1] Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger, Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2009). 155. I posed the idea of Christ coming not to be served, but to serve to a small group of teenagers I lead a bible study with, who were relatively confused by this notion, causing a hesitance in discussion – especially in regard to our imitation of it!

[2] Ibid. 155. While not disagreeing with this point, in his analysis of ecclesiology and service, Grenz notes that service is largely found in evangelism and outreach, and that this is at the root of the purpose of the church; “The mission of the church includes inviting others to make the “good confession” and thereby enter into the fellowship. Our task, however, is not limited to the expansion of the church’s boundaries. Rather, it includes sacrificial ministry to people in need. Outreach, therefore, entails service.” (Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994). 505-506).

[3] Harper and Metzger. 156.

[4] Much, much more can be said, especially in regards to an incarnational ecclesiology and the use of the word ‘especially,’ referring to our service of other Christians. However, in my opinion, the more poignant question is how, and if, the church should attempt to imitate such humble service.

Church as an Eschatological Society

According to Harper and Metzger, “the church is a community both of fulfilment and of hope, realizing the blessings of the future while yet awaiting the fullness of these blessings to be revealed at Christ’s second coming.”[1] Essentially, the church is a vehicle of the blessings of the Kingdom to come, in the world today. The Kingdom of God is present within the church, a future reality in present time. The Kingdom is here and not here, now and not yet; “it has arrived, but has not yet brought this age to an end.”[2] Grenz notes that Jesus’ perception of the Kingdom “was both present and future – already and not yet – and it was both an event and a sphere of existence.”[3]

The church is a community waiting for the Kingdom to come in totality, yet is, paradoxically, the Kingdom on earth. The church, thus, is the doorway to the Kingdom, it bears witness to the Kingdom,[4] and the instrument of the Kingdom, bringing the blessings of the Kingdom into the world. The eschatological church is a community of restored relationships, a messianic community of the Holy Spirit, and a community of social righteousness which disarms Satan. The Church exists “with one foot in this world and one foot in the next,”[5] waiting for the coming Kingdom, but represents and seeks to implement the Kingdom values in the mean time.[6]

References

Grenz, Stanley J. Theology for the Community of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994.

Harper, Brad, and Paul Louis Metzger. Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2009.


[1] Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger, Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2009). 48.

[2] Ibid. 52.

[3] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994). 475. Grenz’s mention of “both an event and a sphere of existence” refers to the eschatological coming of Christ and the Kingdom involves all of creation. Not only will God’s people be redeemed, but the entire world and universe. Harper and Metzger refer to this in their fourth chapter, stating, “the Kingdom of God is about the redemption of not only the church, but also of the whole creation.” (Harper and Metzger. 80).

[4] They further note, “How the church understands its relationship to eschatology, to the Kingdom of God, has a significant effect on how it understands its relationship to the culture in which it exists. To depart from the dialectic of the scriptures and to opt instead for a view of the kingdom as either radically present or radically future will always affect negatively the church’s ability to bear witness faithfully the kingdom. When the church works to live in the tension of the dialectic of the now and not yet, it will always be a more faithful witness.” (Harper and Metzger. 63). In other words, to effectively bear witness to the Kingdom, the church must embrace the now and not yet nature of the Kingdom.

[5] Ibid. 77.

[6] Grenz succinctly states, “The kingdom of God comes as that order of peace, righteousness, justice, and love that God gives to the world. This gift arrives in an ultimate way only at the eschaton, at the renewal of the world brought by Jesus’ return. Nevertheless, the power of the kingdom is already at work, for it breaks into the present from the future. As a result, we can experience the divine reign in a partial yet real sense prior to the great eschatological day.” (Grenz. 477).

He further states that the church “is a foretaste of the eschatological reality that God will one day graciously give to his creation. In short, it is a sign of the kingdom.” (ibid. 479).

Lennox on Faith

Ephesians six tells us to put on the armour of God, to protect ourselves as Christians. One of the pieces of armour is the shield of faith. However, these days, ‘faith’ has come under attack. Often the word faith is used in conjunction with the adjective, ‘blind.’ The New Atheists attack the idea of faith, saying that children are brought up being brainwashed into believing. This faith requires no evidence or proof, and is, thus, ‘blind.’

I recently went to a conference in Sydney, where a man named John Lennox spoke. This man, a professor of mathematics at Oxford, a three-time PhD writer, and lecturer in Christian apologetics, has debated Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. One particular area he debates against is this idea of ‘blind faith.’ He says the only faith that is blind faith, is dangerous faith. True Christian faith is not blind, but is built on evidence.

Watch these two videos…

Some points I wanted to mention are that Lennox says that blind faith is condemned in the bible, there is only absolute proof in mathematics, there are only pointers toward facts elsewhere, religion actually encouraged science, and the early Christians were not stupid, but believed because of the evidence in front of them.

Lennox recently brought out a new book, in which he discusses this topic. The book is called “Gunning for God” and I recommend it! In it, he mentions a common dictionary definition of ‘faith’ which can include a belief in something for which there is no proof. He thoroughly disagreed with and spent a while on this very topic. His argument is that faith is built on evidence. So go get the book. And actually read it. Don’t be like so many people who get books…and don’t read them. Jesus calls us to love him with our minds – according to Jesus, thinking is vitally important. Thus, reading is important as a Christian. Either reading Christian books like Lennox’s or a C. S. Lewis, or read the bible, read! A Christian not reading is like a soldier going into battle without weapon.

Anywho…

A bit further, Lennox quotes a distinguished British literary critic – Terry Eagleton – who criticized Dawkins of saying that Christian and Muslim children are brought up to believe, unquestionably. Eagleton says, “Not even the dim-witted clerics who knocked me about at grammar school thought that (referring to blind faith). For mainstream Christianity, reason, argument and honest doubt have always played an integral role in belief.”

In the second video, Lennox talks about a bank manager. He also uses this analogy in his book. The bank manager will not lend you money unless he trusts (or has faith) that you will repay that money.  It is impossible for him to have absolute faith that you will repay the money, but there are pointers towards this faith. There is evidence towards this. What is your history of repaying money like? Have you payed it back in time? Or have you not? Do you have a job that will allow you to eventually pay back this money? Etc. etc.

In the first video, Lennox gives four categories of evidence that gives us reason to have faith in God. There is objective, science, history and subjective which can include experience. But he emphasizes the fact that these are only pointers towards faith, not absolute proof.

His big point, and the point I am trying to emphasize is that faith is not blind. Faith is not irrational or dumb, but is built on real evidence. When you look at a kayak, we can look at it from a scientific, objective perspective, that it is built in such a way that it can float, there are no holes in it, it can hold a person, and shield that person from water flooding in. We always know from experience and history that kayaks usually float and allow people to float down rivers.

When we turn to the bible, we don’t see people with blind faith. Look at Thomas, who demanded proof, and upon seeing the holes in Jesus’ hands, believed and declared him to be Lord. John, in his Gospel, says “these things are written that you might believe.” He wrote the Gospel to give you reason to believe, as Thomas did. Luke wrote at the very beginning of his Gospel that he investigated everything carefully, in order that he could write an orderly account so that you might believe. And, again, at the beginning of Acts, ch.1, v.3, Luke says, “After his (Jesus’) suffering he presented himself alive to them (the apostles) by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days.” Luke didn’t base his faith on nothing. He investigated and gave proofs, in order that we might believe.

A couple more points that Lennox makes:

  1. If God does not want us to reason (as the New Atheists suggest), why does he call us to love him with our minds?
  2. If, as the theory of evolution argues, our brains came about from an irrational, unguided process, how can we trust anything that our brains tell us? Can rationality come from irrationality?

In fact, one of the greatest proofs for God’s existence is not in the complexity of the universe, but in the fact that we can understand this complexity. Whereas evolution does not allow for rationality, theism does, because God gives us that ability to reason. This isn’t necessarily saying evolution isn’t true (many theists would profess to a progressive creationism, or similar). Perhaps God guides the process. But a non-theistic, or atheistic, approach to evolution, to me, doesn’t make sense.

And we reason in order that we may have faith. Faith comes from reason and rationality. Faith is built on evidence. Peter tells us to be able to give an answer for the faith that we have, which presupposes the fact that we can give a reason for our faith.

My intention for this blog is to encourage you. If you’re like me, at this time of year, you’re swamped with study, reading and either writing, or thinking about up-coming essays. You’re stressed and you’re burning the candle at both ends. But what I wanted to remind you of is that your faith is not stupid. You’re not going through all this for nothing. Also, in today’s world, the charge of hostile atheism keeps coming at you. But remember that your faith is not stupid, irrational and delusional. It is in fact, built on evidence, real evidence, that we are called to use as a shield in order to protect who we are, our relationship with Christ and our mission in this world.

And, lastly, remember what Jesus says at the end of Matthew’s Gospel. He will be with you always. Even until the end of the ages.

Lennox and Dawkins – Has Science Disproven God?

 

One of the most incredible things I find about Lennox is how gracious he constantly is. This debate would have been a very difficult one to keep composure in, and yet he keeps it! I saw him speak recently, and he said tone and posture is vital, remembering that your opponent is the image and likeness of God. However, he also admitted to nearly snapping a few times, one such time is in this debate. Keeping your composure against such a frustrating argument presented by Dawkins would have been very difficult!

Another note I wanted to make on this debate is in reference to a particular observation I have made of the New Atheists such as Dawkins and Hitchens. A major tactic employed is intimidation and discreditation. People such as Dawkins dance around and side step the real questions, while arguing ferociously against small points. This happens a few times in this debate, and is very often marked by comments such as “I don’t know of the historians you have been talking to,” etc. They attempt to discredit Christians, backing them into corners in which it is difficult to get out of and to intimidate them, hoping for another small, unrelated comment on which they can pounce on and again belittle the Christian. Lennox, however, is remarkably capable of avoiding being backed into corners, and – despite Dawkins creating what to seems to be a grand campaign, arguing Lennox is a ‘Liar for Jesus’ – remains, at least seemingly, unintimidated.

Hope you enjoy!

The Church as a Trinitarian Community

Harper and Metzger[1] essentially argue one point – that the church, in the image of a triune God, is entirely one body, the Body of Christ, made up of many individuals. Thus, the church is relational and communal at its very core.

They state, “the church is being-driven – driven into the world by the communal and co-missional God who reigns and dwells in its midst as the one to whom the church belongs.”[2] Man is lovingly made in the triune God’s nature, Christ is the ultimate image of this God, man bears God’s name, are children, the household and temple of this God, and the body and bride of Christ. Each of these images reveals that the Church is entirely dependent on others, and on God.[3] Furthermore, paradoxically, the church is righteous yet sinful, one yet many, now and not yet.[4] This is neatly summed up in their second chapter:

When Christianity places undue emphasis on the individual, it reduces the church to a group of believing individuals or, worse, sees Christian identity as separate from participation in Christian community. But the church is greater than the sum of its parts, and the parts do not stand alone. We are only who we are in relation to others.[5]

The Trinitarian community of the church is relational, and finds its being in communion with others.

 

References

Grenz, Stanley J. Theology for the Community of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994.

Harper, Brad, and Paul Louis Metzger. Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2009.

Sarot, Marcel. “Trinity and Church: Trinitarian Perspectives on the Identity of the Christian Community.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 12, no. 1 (2010): 33-45.


[1] Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger, Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2009). 19-46.

[2] Ibid. 20.

[3] Cf. Marcel Sarot, “Trinity and Church: Trinitarian Perspectives on the Identity of the Christian Community,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 12, no. 1 (2010). Sarot states, “The relationship between God and humanity is not a relationship between two individuals…but a relationship between a community and a Trinity: the triune God.” Sarot thus similarly asserts that the Church cannot exist in isolation, but needs communion.

[4] Stanley Grenz notes, “as Christ’s people we are to show forth the divine reality – to be the image of God. To be the people in covenant with God who serve as the sign of the kingdom means to reflect the very character of God. The church reflects God’s character in that it lives as a genuine community – lives in love – for as the community of love the church shows the nature of the triune God…God calls the church to mirror as far as possible in the midst of the brokenness of the present that eschatological ideal community of love which derives its meaning from the divine essence.” (Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994). 483).

[5] Harper and Metzger. 42.

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