Thoughts of a Living Christian

Musings of an amateur theologian and hopeful writer

Archive for the tag “God”

Jesus – God and Man

Introduction

Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Jesus – God and Man[1] set a Christological precedent. He approached the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity with rigorous rational thought and historical-critical methodology, contemporary philosophical enquiry and sensitivity to tradition and ecumenacy, concluding that the majority of the core tenants of Christian orthodoxy are, in fact, sound doctrine, whilst placing high importance on Jesus’ resurrection. This latter point is what makes Pannenberg’s Christology distinctive: the resurrection must be the point of departure and the central concern for any discussion regarding Jesus’ divinity.

This essay shall analyse the theological landscape from whence Pannenberg’s Christological triumph emerged, through the turbulent responses to Enlightenment thinking, differing historical-critical arguments, philosophical, existential and eschatological speculation, to the theological positions that influenced Pannenberg’s Christology ‘from below,’ his desire to go behind the New Testament texts and assertions that Jesus’ resurrection is the key to unlocking the mystery of Jesus’ being. First shall be discussed the several broad categories of differing Christologies, before analysing the first two “historical quests for Jesus” and then how these have influenced theological approaches to Jesus’ resurrection in recent history. The essay shall conclude with a discussion of how Pannenberg emerged out of this theological landscape as a distinctive theologian in his own right.

The Theological Landscape

‘Types’ of Christology

Hans Frei broadly categorizes Christian theology into five ‘types.’ The first places theology within a purely philosophical discipline; the second gives weight to Christian self-description, but remains predominately a philosophical discipline; the third ambiguously merges the disciplines of philosophy with Christian self-description; the fourth gives Christian self-description superiority, but includes philosophical reflection; and the fifth has solely to do with Christian self-description, rejecting any other influence.[2] Ford expands these categories into a Christological context, and provides the following examples:[3]

  • Kant falls into the first Christological ‘type,’ arguing Jesus was a prototype for human morality.
  • Bultmann is an example of type two, who, engaging with the distinctive elements of the proclamation of Jesus, argued Christology has more to do with immediate and present experience of Jesus than anything else.
  • Schleiermacher fits into type three, for whom Jesus was both an historical person and the mediator of Christian experience.
  • Barth falls into type four, giving precedence to Christian self-description, arguing Jesus was both a particular human and God, and thus beyond normal human experience.
  • D. Z. Phillips, arguing there is no place for philosophy in the discussion about the biblical Jesus, is an example of the fifth type.

Apart from these five types, there are two distinct methodological approaches, commonly labelled as either Christology “from above,” and “from below.”[4] The former are exponents of traditional Chalcedonian Christology, insisting that the basis of Christological understanding is Christian kerygma, not historical-critical analysis, nor upon rational argument. Occasionally caricatured as Docetism, examples include Barth, Bultmann, and Brunner. Those who fall into the latter approach assert a necessity upon historical research, that the possibility exists to arrive at the divinity of Jesus as a conclusion rather than a presupposition. Käsemann and Pannenberg are examples of a Christology “from below,” and have received criticisms of reviving elements of Nestorianism.[5]

Historical Quests

A precursor for these two approaches to Christologiy is what has been labelled the “historical quest” for Jesus. The Enlightenment thinking of the 18th century began to question with unprecedented vigour the historicity (or lack thereof) of the Gospel narratives. A succession of authors in the 19th century sought to reconstruct the life of the ‘historical Jesus’ through stringent historical-critical scholarship, most concluding that the Jesus of the Christian faith was an invention of Christianity. Feuerbach (1804-1872) argued Christianity was mere introspection and Strauss (1808-1874) argued the supernatural elements in the gospel were myth, primitive expression of spiritual ideas. Strauss’ work demanded objectivity in historical research of Jesus, for the Gospels were not historically reliable. Strauss’ work influenced many others, including Renan’s Life of Jesus in the 1860s. Drews (1865-1935) argued the historical Jesus was a myth and hence the quest for the historical Jesus was pointless, and then Schweitzer (1875-1965) wrote The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its progress from Reimarus to Wrede in 1906, tracing the history of this quest, and insisted these attempts at the historical Jesus should stop, for they domesticate Jesus and had become more about the historian than the history. Schweitzer’s attack on the historical quest effectively stopped this first ‘quest.’

Kähler also had a significant role in the cessation of this Quest through his critique of its methodology in The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ, in 1896. He argued it was impossible to separate the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith; the only Christ academics should be interested in is the one preached through the ages. Searching for the historical was not only unsuccessful, but counterproductive. He also, however, argued faith should not be dependent on historical research, this latter statement greatly influencing Tillich and Bultmann who focussed not on the historical events of Jesus, but on the faith and teachings of the church, wherein meaning is found in existential encounter.[6] Witherington argues this separation causes problems, for Christian faith is based on historical events and thus separating the Jesus of history from the Jesus of Christian kerygma leads to a form of Gnosticism.

Until the second half of the 20th century, the academic quest for the historical Jesus was nonexistent. However, in 1953 a gathering of Bultmann’s former students launched a new revitalized quest for the historical Jesus, particularly in Käsemann’s (1906 – 1998) work. He argued against Bultmann’s assertion that the Gospels had no historical credibility and that Bultmann was too extreme in his scepticism about what could be known of Jesus. Bornkamm (1905 – 1990) had an influential role in this second quest. His publication, Jesus of Nazareth in 1956, argued that by applying critical scholarship we can know something about the historical Jesus.[7] This paved the way for Pannenberg, who insisted that, in fact, we can know something about Jesus only by applying critical scholarship.

The Resurrection

Fergusson begins his historical analysis of the doctrine of the resurrection with the simple question: “Is the resurrection an event in the life of Jesus or an event in the life of the believer?”[8] He argues the different doctrines can be divided into three broad positions: radical, liberal, and traditional. The ‘radical’ and ‘liberal’ positions argue there was no historical resurrection; the former posits the resurrection is a reference to faith itself, the latter that it is myth emerging out of faith. The ‘traditional’ position claims the resurrection was an historical event in Jesus’ life which gave rise to that faith. Bultmann and Marxsen are examples of theologians who fit into the ‘radical’ position, Küng and Schillebeeckx into the ‘liberal’ position, and Barth and Pannenberg into the ‘traditional’ position.[9]

According to Schleiermacher (1768-1834), the only support for the resurrection of Christ comes from Scripture, which is historically unreliable. After a detailed historical analysis of the Gospels, he concludes that much of what was said during Jesus’ life, pre- and post-resurrection, were the result of redaction. He then questions why Jesus would devote his time after his resurrection strictly to a few, rather than many, which would clearly have a greater impact. Furthermore, he argues the resurrection has no significance for Christ or the individual, for the cross itself has no redemptive significance.[10] However, he does not deny the historicity of the resurrection, for that would mean Jesus chose his disciples poorly as unreliable testimonies, or that he intended to deceive humanity. The resurrection is therefore a kerygmatic tool arising out of the disciples’ faith who “recognized in Him the Son of God without having the faintest premonition of His resurrection and ascension.”[11]

There seems to be some tension present in Schleiermacher’s understanding of Scripture. On the one hand he refuses to acknowledge the reliability of the resurrection accounts, but on the other does not question the disciples’ statements about Jesus. Furthermore, while the biblical accounts attest to the disciples’ acknowledgment of Jesus as Christ, none of them addressed Jesus as God until Thomas did so after the resurrection. Hieb details a further inconsistency within Schleiermacher’s theological schema, in particular regards to his positivistic nature-system which inherently disallows supernatural miracles. His doctrine of reconciliation denies the need for resurrection and his nature-system denies the possibility of resurrection – yet he refuses to deny Christ’s resurrection.[12] As is evident, there is ambiguity to Schleiermacher’s interpretation of the resurrection and unresolvable tensions. His doctrine is thus irrevocably untenable.

Strauss interpreted all stories through the lens of myth and thus any hint of supernaturalism was denied from a historical perspective. He “regarded the Gospels as a hopeless conglomeration of mythical stories from which no trustworthy picture of Jesus could ever be won,”[13] arguing that either Jesus had not really died, or he had not really been raised. The resurrection was, rather, a primitive myth. Similarly, Tillich (1886-1965) rejected the notion of Christ’s bodily resurrection and insisted it was a metaphor, a reference to the return of Jesus to Christ in the minds of the disciples.[14] For Troeltsch (1865-1923), historical-critical methodology threatened traditional dogmatics. If certain traditions or ‘facts’ did not correspond to present experience – such as the resurrection – it is deemed improbable. His aim was to present Christianity purely as an historical phenomenon compatible with historical-critical methods.[15] Ruling out any supernatural explanation, he concluded that “Christianity is in actuality the strongest and most concentrated revelation of personalistic religious apprehension.”[16] While viewing Christianity as the highest religious truth, in regards to morality, the resurrection must be denied on a historical basis – we do not experience people resurrecting today, therefore we cannot say that anyone has in the past.

Bultmann (1884 – 1976) believed that what is significant is the ongoing, existential meaning of the cross and resurrection. More important than any historical evidence is the individual’s experience of Christ in the present. Like Tillich he viewed the resurrection as metaphor, but insisted that the resurrection should not be understood as an event of past history, nor can its saving significance be proven historically. Instead, it represents “the elevation of the Crucified One to the status of Lord,”[17] a belief arising out of the early Christians’ proclamation to be prepared for his imminent return. According to Bultmann, “The resurrection of Jesus, Pentecost and the parousia of Jesus are one and the same event, and those who believe have already eternal life.”[18]

For Barth (1886 – 1968), the resurrection was entirely a work of the Father, and it was unnecessary for redemption. Reconciliation occurred in and through Jesus’ obedient life and death, and so Christ’s resurrection was a sovereign act of God’s free grace as an entirely new act – as was the creation of the cosmos. However, the resurrection functions epistemologically; “In His resurrection He reveals Himself as the One He is – the genuine, true and righteous man, the real man, who kept the covenant which all others broke.”[19] It does not alter who Jesus is, yet there is definite transformation. He is “the same whole man, soul and body,” who “rises as He dies,”[20] yet it “crowns this event [of Jesus’ ministry on Earth] as its disclosure and revelation.”[21]

For Barth, “The resurrection is an event in the life of Jesus that gives meaning to the disciples’ faith and to ours today through the power of the Holy Spirit and thus through faith.”[22] Furthermore, “It is…an objective event within history whose meaning is always tied to Jesus himself as subject and object and thus requires faith in him to be understood.”[23] Jesus was a particular man in a particular time, and is saviour only so long as he, his incarnation and resurrection, are historical events. However, understanding these events cannot come through normal historical-critical methods, rather can only be understood through faith, given through our unification with the risen Jesus by the Holy Spirit. He argues that his death and resurrection “must be understood in the flesh, as a real event, yet not as a single event or as many single events, but as the totality of the event of the existence of Jesus.”[24] For Barth, the resurrection is an historical event but is unlike any other historical event; it is God’s history with humanity, more than it is empirical human history.[25]

Rahner (1904 – 1984) attempts to hold the resurrection as both an event in Jesus’ life and as an event within the faith of the disciples. He insists the resurrection be linked to the cross, arguing it is “the manifestation of what happened in the death of Christ,”[26] and in his resurrection, the transfiguration and renewal of the world has begun; in his death and resurrection, Christ is the fulfilment and consummation of all of creation.[27] According to Rahner,

The resurrection of Christ is essentially…the event in which God irrevocably adopts the creature as his own reality, by his own primordial act, as he had ‘already’ done in the incarnation of the Logos. It is likewise the event in which God so divinizes and transfigures the creature that this glorification is accomplished as the total acceptance of this divine assumption by the freedom of the creature itself.[28]

The resurrection was an actual, historical event that gave rise to faith, but without faith there would be no resurrection, as Molnar notes, “The resurrection of Jesus is not a historical fact existing independently of the disciples’ faith and ours.”[29] While it was an historical event, it cannot be understood as any other historical event, for it does not exist within our normal realm of experience of empirical and recurring data. The resurrection cannot be separated from faith for “it is only in this faith that its own essential being is fully realized.”[30] In this faith we receive and experience Christian hope, for since Jesus has been raised, we can hope for our own resurrection, which shall be a resurrection into Jesus himself.[31]

Where Rahner links the resurrection to hope, Schillebeeckx (1914 – 2009) links it to Christ’s glorification: “Jesus’ resurrection is directly associated with his exaltation.”[32] The empty tomb tradition did not lead to the belief in Christ’s resurrection, rather God exalted Jesus to the heavenly places after his death, which in effect was his resurrection, and thus resulted in the tales of the empty tomb as a consequence. He argues the early Christians would have reflected upon Apocalyptic texts such as Wisdom of Solomon, and concluded that upon his death, Jesus lived on in God. Therefore, the resurrection of Christ is merely a reference to his exaltation into the heavenly places, and not a literal historical event. Yet through this exaltation, “God’s definitive saving action has been accomplished.”[33] Macquarrie, reflecting upon this position, concludes that simple contemplation upon a passage would not result in the dramatic turnaround in the disciples’ lives – something had to have happened to cause them to insist, to their deaths, that Christ was risen.[34]

For Moltmann (1926 – present), the resurrection represents the antithesis to Christ’s crucifixion. The former represents death and the absence of God, the latter represents life and the presence of God. Despite this contradiction, Jesus remains the same man, though in his cross he is identified with sin and death and in his resurrection is identified with God’s promises. The Christian hope arises out of this resurrection, wherein the general resurrection, the coming of the Kingdom of God, and the new re-creation of all, are ensured.[35]

Conclusion: The Arrival of Pannenberg

This essay has attempted to outline the major theological currents that paved the way for Pannenberg’s Christological publication, Jesus – God and Man. To be noted, of special interest, is the sheer diversity of Christological assertions and how these conclusions have been influenced by an even greater diversity of factors, including philosophical presuppositions and approaches to the role of historical research. The essay began with an overview of Ford’s five ‘types’ of Christologies; with Bultmann, Pannenberg fits into the second type, in that his study of Jesus had as its foundation a rigorous historical-critical methodology. He refused to accept, without question, Christian self-description and kerygma, seeking to go behind the early church proclamation to find the real, historical Jesus. He insisted that “the task of Christology is to establish the true understanding of Jesus’ significance from his history,” and thus “all statements…are to be tested in the light of Jesus’ history.”[36] Emerging out of the ‘Second Quest’ for the historical Jesus, Pannenberg argued that it’s not just possible to discover the real Jesus through historical-critical methodology, but, in fact, we can discover the real Jesus only through historical-critical methodology.

Evidently, Pannenberg approaches Christology from below and provides three reasons why a Christology from above is not feasible:[37]

  1. It presupposes Christ’s divinity. Determining who Jesus was and is is the primary task of Christology, and thus nothing can be presupposed or assumed.
  2. It does not fully recognize the distinctive elements and attributes of the historical human figure. For example, if a universal nature is presupposed in Christ’s being, Jesus’ relationship with historical Judaism loses importance.
  3. It assumes a position any human interpreter cannot inhabit: the position of God himself. We can only ever think from a humanly, historical perspective.

While he would fit into Fergusson’s ‘traditional’ position on the resurrection, with Barth, Pannenberg’s position is very different to Barth’s, due to Barth’s methodology being a Christology from above. Where Barth placed emphasis on the epistemological significance of the resurrection, Pannenberg prescribed it a greater ontological significance, arguing,

Only because in Jesus’ resurrection the end of all things, which for us has not yet happened, has already occurred can it be said of Jesus that the ultimate already is present in him, and so also that God himself, his glory, has made its appearance in Jesus in a way that cannot be surpassed. Only because the end of the world is already present in Jesus’ resurrection is God himself revealed in him…[and] in Jesus, God himself has appeared on earth.[38]

In other words, the resurrection – and the eschatological significance inherent within it –ontologically determines Jesus’ divinity. McClean expands,

[Pannenberg] argues that the Easter event ‘determines’ the meaning of Jesus’ life and his relationship with God. That is, the proper understanding of Jesus’ life and his identity depend on the resurrection, not simply for their being known, but for their being what they are.[39]

Pannenberg’s Christology in Jesus – God and Man is progressive and groundbreaking. Though his thought didn’t change dramatically as he aged,[40] it did develop and thus there are evident differences in his Christology in his later publication Systematic Theology, where a greater anthropological emphasis leads to slightly different conclusions regarding Jesus’ humanity and our relation to him.However, the purpose of this research is on his early work and as such, such discussion is best left elsewhere. Though technically falling into Fergusson’s ‘traditional’ position, he clearly is anything but.

 

References

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. Ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Trans. H. Knight, G. W. Bromiley, J. K. S. Reid, R. H. Fuller. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1960.

Bauckham, Richard. “Jürgen Moltmann.” In The Modern Theologians, edited by David F. Ford.2nd ed. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1997.

Bloesch, Donald G. Jesus Christ: Savior and Lord. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

Bradshaw, Timothy. Pannenberg: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: T&T Clark International, 2009.

Bray, G. L. “Christology.” In New Dictionary of Theology, edited by Sinclair B. Ferguson, and David F. Wright. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988.

Bultmann, Rudolf. Jesus Christ and Mythology. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958.

Edwards, Denis. “The Relationship Between the Risen Christ and the Material Universe.” Pacifica 4, no 1. (1991)

Eitel, Adam. “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Karl Barth and the Historicization of God’s Being.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 10, no 1. (2008)

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998.

Fergusson, David. “Interpreting the Resurrection.” Scottish Journal of Theology 38, no 3. (1985)

__________. “Barth’s Resurrection of the Dead: Further Reflections.” Scottish Journal of Theology 56, no 1. (2003)

Ford, David. “Christology.” In The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought, edited by Adrian Hastings, Alistair Mason, and Hugh Pyper. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Ford, David F. and Mike Higton. Jesus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Frei, Hans W. Types of Christian Theology. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

Gilbertson, Michael. God and History in the Book of Revelation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Grenz, Stanley J. and Roger E. Olson. 20th-Century Theology. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Haight, Roger. Jesus: Symbol of God. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999.

Harris, Horton. David Friedrich Strauss and his Theology. London: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

Hieb, Nathan D. “The Precarious Status of Resurrection in Friedrich Schleiermacher’s Glaubenslehre.International Journal of Systematic Theology 9, no 4. (2007)

Janssen, Claudia. “Bodily Resurrection (1 Cor. 15)? The Discussion of the Resurrection in Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Dorothee Sӧlle and Contemporary Feminist Theology.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 79. (2000)

Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospel. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.

Macquarrie, John. Jesus Christ in Modern Thought. London: SCM Press, 1990.

McClean, John. From the Future: Getting to Grips with Pannenberg’s Thought. Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2013.

McGrath, Alister E. The Making of Modern German Christology. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell Inc., 1986.

Molnar, Paul D. Incarnation and Resurrection: Toward a Contemporary Understanding. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Jesus – God and Man. Translated by Lewis L. Wilkins and Duane A. Priebe. London: SCM Press, 2002.

Rahner, Karl. Theological Investigations. Vol. 4. Trans. Kevin Smyth. London: Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd., 1974.

__________. Foundations of Christian Faith. Translated by William V. Dych. London: Darton Longman & Todd Ltd., 1978.

Schillebeeckx, Edward. Jesus: An Experiment in Christology. Translated by Hubert Hoskins. London: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., 1979.

Schleiermacher, Friedrich. The Christian Faith. Ed. H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1968.

__________. The Life of Jesus. Ed. Jack C. Verheyden. Translated by S. Maclean Gilmour. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975.

Schwӧbel, Christoph. “Wolfhart Pannenberg.” In The Modern Theologians, edited by David F. Ford.2nd ed. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1997.

Smith, J. W. D. “The Resurrection of Christ: Myth or History?” The Expository Times 72, no 12. (1961)

Thiselton, Anthony C. The Two Horizons. Exeter, UK: The Paternoster Press, 1980.

Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology. Digswell Place, Great Britain: James Nisbet and Company Ltd., 1968.

Troeltsch, Ernst. The Absoluteness of Christianity. Translated by David Reid. London: SCM Press Ltd., 1971.

Witherington III, Ben. The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth. 2nd ed. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

 

Footnotes

[1] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man, trans. Lewis L. Wilkins and Duane A. Priebe (London: SCM Press, 2002).

[2] Hans W. Frei, Types of Christian Theology (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992). 28-55.

[3] David F. Ford, “Christology,” in The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). 116-118.

[4] G. L. Bray, “Christology,” in New Dictionary of Theology, ed. Sinclair B. Ferguson, and David F. Wright (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1998). 137-140. He argues this splits Christology into two opposing camps.

[5] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998). 684. Cf. Pannenberg. 1-11.

[6] Ben Witherington III, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997). 6-11. Also, Michael Gilbertson, God and History in the Book of Revelation (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003). 11-16.

[7] Witherington. 11. Though the second quest was largely a reaction to Bultmann, his influence remained, portraying Jesus as an existentialist philosopher (p. 11).

[8] David Fergusson, “Interpreting the Resurrection.” Scottish Journal of Theology 38, no 3. (1985). 287.

[9] Ibid. 287-305. Cf. Paul D. Molnar, Incarnation and Resurrection: Toward a Contemporary Understanding (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007).

[10] It is not within the scope of this essay to detail and critique Schleiermacher’s understanding of redemption, but in short the satisfaction of sin is found not in the suffering, but in the active obedience of Christ throughout his life. If humanity’s sin is infinite then the punishment must equally be infinite. Christ’s death, having occurred within time and space, is not infinite and thus cannot satisfy the punishment for sin. Reconciliation comes through Christ’s obedience, and that obedience is transmitted to those who have fellowship with Christ (Cf. Nathan D Hieb, “The Precarious Status of Resurrection in Friedrich Schleiermacher’s Glaubenslehre.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 9, no 4. (2007). 401-03).

[11] Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith. Edited by H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1968). 418. Cf. Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Life of Jesus. Edited by Jack C. Verheyden. Translated by S. Maclean Gilmour (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975). 392-465.

[12] Hieb. 399, 407-14.

[13] Horton Harris, David Friedrich Strauss and his Theology (London: Cambridge University Press, 1973). 272.

[14] Stanley J. Grenz, and Roger E. Olson, 20th-Century Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992). 129; Paul Tillich. Systematic Theology (Digswell Place, Great Britain: James Nisbet and Company Ltd., 1968). Cf. Alister E. McGrath, The Making of Modern German Christology (Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell Inc., 1986). 37-38.

[15] Gilbertson. 3-4.

[16] Ernst Troeltsch, The Absoluteness of Christianity. Translated by David Reid (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1971). 111-12.

[17] Grenz and Olson. 95.

[18] Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958). 33. Cf. J. W. D. Smith, “The Resurrection of Christ: Myth or History?” The Expository Times 72, no 12. (1961). 372-73.

[19] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics. Ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Trans. H. Knight, G. W. Bromiley, J. K. S. Reid, R. H. Fuller (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1960). III/2, 214. Cf. Adam Eitel, “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Karl Barth and the Historicization of God’s Being.” International Journal of Systematic Theology 10, no 1. (2008). 38. Cf. p.40 – “Barth understands Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead as the event in which God the Father acted unnecessarily and graciously.”

[20] Barth. III/2, 327.

[21] Ibid. III/2, 337.

[22] Molnar. 1.

[23] Ibid. 6.

[24] Barth. III/2, 337.

[25] Ibid. 8-14. Cf. Claudia Janssen, “Bodily Resurrection (1 Cor. 15)? The Discussion of the Resurrection in Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, Dorothee Sӧlle and Contemporary Feminist Theology.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 79 (2000). 64.

[26] Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations. Vol. 4. Trans. Kevin Smyth (London: Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd., 1974). 128. Furthermore, the death of Christ was “the imposed and enforced handing over of the whole bodily man to the mystery of the merciful loving God, by the concentrated freedom of Christ as he disposes of his whole life and existence,” (p. 128).

[27] Denis Edwards, “The Relationship Between the Risen Christ and the Material Universe.” Pacifica 4, no 1. (1991). 11-12.

[28] Rahner. Theological Investigations. 128-29.

[29] Molnar. 63.

[30] Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith. Translated by William V. Dych (London: Darton Longman & Todd Ltd., 1978). 267-68.

[31] Molnar. 45-66. Cf. Rahner. 267-68 – “Jesus is risen into the faith of his disciples…that faith which knows itself to be a divinely effected liberation from all the powers of finiteness, of guilt and of death, and knows itself to be empowered for this by the fact that this liberation has taken place in Jesus himself and has become manifest for us.”

[32] Edward Schillebeeckx. Jesus: An Experiment in Christology. Translated by Hubert Hoskins (London: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., 1979). 533.

[33] Ibid. 543.

[34] John Macquarrie. Jesus Christ in Modern Thought (London: SCM Press, 1990). 311-312.

[35] Richard Bauckham, “Jürgen Moltmann,” in The Modern Theologians, edited by David F. Ford. 2nd ed. (Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1997). 210-213.

[36] Pannenberg. 12. Emphasis mine.

[37] Ibid. 17-18.

[38] Ibid. 59.

[39] John McClean. From the Future: Getting to Grips with Pannenberg’s Thought (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2013). 99-100.

[40] It should be noted at this point that his earlier work is marked but a focus on methodology, as seen in his works Revelation as History and Basic Questions in Theology, thereby establishing his theological schema for healthy growth and development. Hence his overall direction taken in his theological work remained true and did not change or wave.

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Positive Positivism?

What is Positivism?

It’s not a way of life that insists you remain happy all the time. It’s got nothing to do with magnets and electricity. And it doesn’t have anything to do with chemistry or physics, per se.

Positivism is a philosophy that insists that the only true statement is a statement that can be proved through empirical evidence. You’re probably aware of this way of thinking, even if you didn’t know what it was called – or that it even had a name. The insistence upon measurable evidence based proof comes from a Positivistic methodology.

This way of thinking is extremely pervasive in the world today, even in an increasingly postmodern world…whatever that may mean.

There are many good things about this philosophy, things I think make an extremely large amount of rational sense. However, there are aspects of this philosophy that I think are irrational and perhaps harmful.

If the only things that can be considered true are those things that can be measured, our science is restricted. We are limited by what we already know, or are at least restricted to a short field of view. What I mean by this is that we are restricted by rules that we have constructed based on recurring patterns that we have observed in the observable, material universe.

However, I have two concerns with this:

  1. In the world we live in, occasionally things happen that defy these rules. Events occur that are un-explainable because they are outside the rules we have created.
  2. Science is continually updating with new evidence, and old rules become obsolete. If we restrict ourselves to the rules we have already created, we deny ourselves further scientific development. Any development is restricted to a very limited field of view before us, constrained by observable and measurable rules.

Let’s take Jesus’ resurrection for example. Our experience of this material universe tells us that dead people do not come back to life. The 19th century philosopher and theologian David Strauss argued that because we don’t experience resurrections today we cannot say there ever has been any. This is a very Positivistic way of thinking.

But just because resurrections don’t regularly occur doesn’t mean we should insist they don’t happen at all.

Just because something lies beyond the rules we have constructed doesn’t mean we should believe them to be false. If we were to insist on this, we would never make any scientific progress at all. There will always be things lying outside of our observable rules; we will always revise old rules and expand our present knowledge. But to do so requires that we do not immediately reject those things that defy our present rules.

Hence I believe we should construct a revised Positivism.

I do not wish to reject Positivism outright, for I believe there must be precedence given to recurring patterns. Earth gravity will always cause things to fall down, not up, and will always stop me from floating into space. One plus one will always equal two. Applying enough heat to plain water will always cause it to heat up enough to make my coffee. Drinking too much of my 15 year old Glenfiddich in one night is never a good idea.

There must always be space for measurable rules.

But there must always be space in our understanding for those things that defy our present understanding. We must always leave space for those things that are un-explainable, confusing, bewildering and surprising. We must always leave space for mystery.

Yes, apply a reasonable amount of critical skepticism to these things that lie beyond our rules, but do not immediately reject them.

A revised Positivism encourages measurable evidence without immediately rejecting the immeasurable. It encourages skepticism but leaves space for the mysterious.

A revised Positivism allows reason and faith in God to coexist in harmony. It allows a belief in Jesus’ resurrection, as well as our own future resurrection. It allows scientific progress to stand side by side with a belief in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Let us not deny what God has done, but let us not deny God all together.

The Church’s Kingdom-Oriented Mission

Introduction

According to the German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg, “the central concern of the Church, and the primary point of reference for understanding the Church, must be the Kingdom of God.”[1] He elsewhere states,

In this way the church is related to the coming kingdom of God: the kingdom of God is not the church; it is the future of the church, as it is the future of all mankind. But the church is the community of those who already wait for the kingdom of God for Jesus’ sake and live from this expectation.[2]

Pannenberg insists upon a proleptic understanding of the function of the Church as a sign of the future fellowship believers will experience with the coming Kingdom of God, which has, paradoxically, already arrived with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Kingdom has indeed arrived in the proclamation of Jesus as Messiah, and thus the values of the Kingdom, predominately love which results in perfect peace and justice, are to be central in the Church’s mission. The Church will never permanently implement these values, or any lasting positive social change, for it is merely provisional until the Kingdom arrives, which will bring the final consummation of humanity.

This essay seeks to analyze Pannenberg’s ecclesiology, with particular focus on the role of pneumatology, which he argues is a core aspect of any ecclesiological discussion, and the relationship the Church has with the Kingdom of God. Discussion will begin with analysis of his ecclesiology, before moving to the Church’s function as proleptic sign of the Kingdom. The essay will then assess the way in which, according to Pannenberg, the eschatological realization of the Kingdom influences the Church’s mission in contemporary society, with critical reflection before concluding with an assessment of the viability of this theological perspective.

The Church and The Kingdom of God

Pannenberg begins his ecclesiology with discussion of the vital role of the Spirit in the formation of the Church. He argues the Church is a continuation of God’s creative work, the Spirit eschatologically unifying believers with one another and with the Son, empowering them to continue God’s work of creation. Hence, the Spirit and Son work closely in forming the Church; Spirit enables and Son fashions.[3]

The Spirit is gift in our lives producing fellowship with Jesus, who is criterion for entering the Kingdom of God. This communion with Jesus brings people into the Kingdom, giving us a taste of our final eschatological humanity, precisely because Jesus is himself the Kingdom of God. According to Grenz, “Pannenberg describes the church as the anticipation of a new eschatological humanity,” and “the Spirit grounds not only the individual assurance of faith but also the fellowship of believers.”[4] Furthermore Pannenberg states,

The gift of the Spirit has a soteriological function as an anticipation of the eschatological outpouring of the Spirit and is defined as a gift by the fact that Jesus Christ has given him to believers, the eschatological future of salvation having dawned already in his own person and history, so that they are aware that the Spirit they have received is the Spirit of Jesus Christ.[5]

The Church is the eschatological people, gathered for mission, unified as the Spirit witnesses to, and reveals, Jesus in believers. The Spirit reveals the eschatological nature of Jesus’ resurrection as the future eschaton itself, breaking into the present, promising the resurrection of the dead to come for believers. Thus it is only by the Spirit’s work that Jesus is the foundation of the church, leading believers to the Father.[6] Pannenberg hence appropriately labels the Church as “the field of activity of the Spirit of Christ.”[7]

The Church, as the new People of God, has as its vocation the reflection of the light of the nations: Christ. This does not mean, however, the Church possesses light and authority to force a sense of superiority over this world.[8] Believers are bound together with Jesus through the knowledge that in Jesus the consummation of humanity has come, revealed by the Spirit, enabling us to see Jesus as Messiah. However, distinction must be made between Jesus and the church, and the kingdom of God and the Church; the church anticipates the future fellowship of humanity in God’s Kingdom. Jesus is the consummation of humanity, but this consummation is yet to find total actualization in the arrival of the Kingdom of God. The church must therefore educate believers for the Kingdom.[9]

Pannenberg asserts that the Church’s existence finds its origin “when the first step was taken to proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation,”[10] referencing Pentecost as this decisive moment. However, the resurrection and Pentecost were merely partial aspects of the consummation of the Kingdom, as was the formation of the primitive community which would find realization in the fellowship in the Kingdom of God.[11]

The rule of Christ is…already present in the church’s proclamation. For the rule of Christ can have no different goal from his earthly ministry, where it was to call men into the kingdom of God and to proclaim the coming of that kingdom. Through the continuation of the mission of Jesus Christ in the church’s proclamation of Christ, the rule of Christ shows itself to be present within it. And yet the community of Christians in the particular historical form which its life takes at any given time is not identical with the kingdom of Christ.[12]

Jesus’ earthly work was the formation of a church and the proclamation of the nearness of the Kingdom, for the immanence of Jesus means no less than the immanence of the Kingdom. The calling of the 12 disciples was less the formation of a core community, and more a symbolic eschatological action, representing the restoration of Israel. With the rejection of the Easter message by most of the Jewish population, this core fellowship transcended the bounds of the Jewish people, becoming a representation “of the destiny of all humanity as a new and definitive society in the Kingdom of God.”[13] The 12 were thus “a provisional sign of God’s dominion, although in such a way that in it the future of this dominion was present already, even if not fully so.”[14] Furthermore, Pannenberg argues that Jewish eschatology had always included recognition of the inclusion of the Gentiles; “In Israel expectation of God’s rule developed as the hope of a future in which God’s just will would be done without break or limit, both in Israel itself and also among the nations.”[15]

Jesus’ ministry was the proclamation of this coming Kingdom and thus, Pannenberg argues, any who dedicates their life to Christ inevitably dedicates their life to the Kingdom. Jesus points the Church toward the Kingdom and reigns where people acknowledge the Kingdom and live accordingly.[16] This was Jesus’ Messianic function, to enable others to participate in the Kingdom. Jesus was exalted to exercise God’s power, and as one with the Father, he serves the Kingdom of his Father, who exercises his power through Jesus.[17]

He argues that the Church is a proleptic “sign of the future fellowship of humanity under God’s reign,” seen particularly in its liturgical life and specifically in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.[18] It functions as an eschatological community, thus as a sign of God’s coming rule, but must be distinguished from this coming rule. It must proclaim this provisional nature, ever moving towards God’s lordship which is already present as a sign. The Kingdom was therefore present in Jesus’ ministry and presently in the Church, by the Spirit, through proclamation.[19] Bradshaw explains,

The future remains the future in our historical continuum, and the kingdom of the Father remains in the future, however it has arrived proleptically in Christ…The kingdom of God is present as the future of God’s final reign proleptically arrived in Christ, and yet the future holds the fullness of this reign and our participation in it.[20]

The Church is, therefore, the “sacrament of the kingdom.”[21] It is, in Christ, both the mystery of salvation and has the function as sign. Jesus is the revelation of the mystery of salvation, and the Church is a sign of the Kingdom by participation in this salvation. Pannenberg argues that “the church has its end not in itself but in the future of a humanity that is reconciled to God and united by common praise of God in his kingdom.”[22] The Church, as sign, witnesses to this end, but is not in itself this end, nor can her work be undistinguished from that of Jesus’.[23]

Pannenberg rejects the chiliastic notion of a distinction between the Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdom of God, a notion resulting from the Jewish-Christian expectation of the millennial reign of the Messiah. There should be no separation between the two, for the Kingdom of Christ is the Kingdom of God, for, as Pannenberg argues, there is unity between the Son and the Father as the Son participates in God’s Lordship; “There can exist no competition between the Son and the Kingdom of the Father.”[24]

Because the Kingdom is an all-encompassing event, the consummation of all humanity, justice and peace will reign supreme. As the fulfillment of this justice and peace, it will be perfect communion, for without justice and peace, this communion is broken; it is clear that the Kingdom is not yet realized precisely because of the injustice and brutality in the world.[25] It is clear, therefore, that the Church is merely a partial realization of the Kingdom. To remain faithful to Jesus’ message of salvation, the Church must keep the Kingdom of God as the central concern in its proclamation, which points toward the future of the world and of humanity. Pannenberg argues against the Protestant emphasis on individual salvation as the goal of the Church’s mission, rather arguing that the purpose of the Church must be directed toward the Kingdom of God.[26]

Eschatological Peace

Pannenberg argues that the Church is a proleptic sign of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom breaks into the present from the future, revealing love and true peace and justice. He states, “In the work of Jesus the kingdom of God, and therewith the eschatological future of the world, had already broken into salvation.”[27] This was particularly revealed through his resurrection, which was revelation of the end. He also argues, “The hope of the coming of God’s kingdom necessarily goes hand in hand with the expectation of a cosmic renewal of the world,” extending beyond the temporal to the inclusion of eternity into the present; “Eternity will no longer have to be in antithesis to time but must be thought of as including time.”[28] Bradshaw clarifies,

At the eschaton the kingdom of God enters time, eternity being the future perfection of everything. Everything that occurs and perishes in time is preserved in God’s eternity, which embraces all temporal events and identities and brings them to their final destiny, that of praising the Father with the Son in the Spirit.[29]

Invariably, the general resurrection of the dead is anticipated. Only this can lead to all individuals participating in the perfect society of the Kingdom, for this resurrection implies transformation, with the believers being transformed into the light of God’s glory. This transformation, however, cannot occur in the present, rather in the future return of Christ.[30] He states, “It is only because the full advent of the kingdom of God occurs together with the general resurrection of the dead, that all individual members of humankind will have a chance to participate in the final consummation of human destiny in the kingdom of God.”[31] The Kingdom, the perfect society, will be realized in history, thus in time and not outside of or beyond time. This realization will be simultaneous with the new heaven and Earth as eternity breaks into history. Schwӧbel observes that for Pannenberg the end of history does not mean transition into void, but rather that history is included into God’s eternity, the consummation of humanity finding fulfillment in eternity.[32]

This eschatological renewal, wherein the Church’s reality is included into God’s eternity, finding realized and complete actualization, impacts upon the present. Hence, the Church is called to enact these Kingdom values into the present. The future realities of the Kingdom of God are present only through faith, not through the Church enforcing these values onto this world. There are functional implications as the sign of this reality, but the Church cannot cause the Kingdom into this world.[33] When the Kingdom does come, there will be no need for the Church to remain, for the Church exists only as long as the political orders do not provide the ultimate human fulfilment, which is found only in the Kingdom of God. This should not result in despair, but in hope, for this provides us with the strength needed to accept these limitations.[34]

Panneberg argues that the Kingdom will bring true fellowship between all people; this unity only comes in the present through the reign of God amongst those who are subject to its authority. This unity cannot be enforced or coerced, but only through loving and caring for one another, advocating for justice.[35] Political order is, also, connected to the Kingdom of God and God’s reign. Politics establish peace and justice in society, but any stable political order requires a foundation that transcends the world, appealing to a higher authority. However, the goal of politics will only find actualization in the Kingdom. The difference between the spiritual and the secular in the political realm, is in the eschatological awareness of Christianity. Hence, “Christians and their churches must act as advocates of our rational autonomy in awareness of our own finitude and hence also of the divine mystery that constitutes our finite existence.”[36]

Christians must not keep silent on matters of injustice, but must remember that full and final justice comes from the Kingdom of God which is still to come. Christians should enact Kingdom values, but these values will only ever be a partial reconciliation. Only God can definitively bring the Kingdom into actualization. The Church must remind the State of this fact.[37] Hence, the Church is essential in society, pointing others toward the Kingdom, primarily in two ways: 1) preventing humans from claiming ultimate significance, and 2) encouraging social action.[38] He argues,

While we must not despise the legal forms of life, neither should we think that, by themselves, they can provide ultimate justice for the individual. Laws cannot achieve the justice we seek precisely because they are abstract and general. Only care for the individual achieves true justice; legal formulations must be subordinated to this justice…Love effects that unity among men which expresses itself in legal forms but which is always more than those forms. Love fills the legal forms with life and thus achieves true justice.[39]

The actualization of this love and true justice is realized only in the Kingdom of God. Hence, the Kingdom speaks to these legal forms and is thus “pointedly political.” Pannenberg’s view of the Kingdom is indeed political, but, contrary to liberation theology, this Kingdom comes neither through political agenda, nor through human action.[40]

He states, “In the light of the futurity of God’s Kingdom, it is obvious that no present form of life and society is ultimate.”[41] But this does not disqualify the need for political activity. The future Kingdom of God demands obedience in the present. In fact, any recognition of God’s future reign and obedience to God as ruler requires a change in the present situation, for the future of God’s reign has a reality of its own, one which includes and revises the present. Yet any political forms of peace and justice remain provisional and preliminary and require an awareness of this temporality. We must engage in politics, inspired by a transcendent ideal that we will only ever see realized provisionally, striving towards history’s destiny and fulfillment in the realization of the Kingdom.[42]

This view of human political orders as provisional is likely influenced by his history, being exposed to both Nazi Germany and Stalinist Eastern Europe; “His firsthand exposure to the evils of two human social orders…forms a part of the background to Pannenberg’s conclusion that no human political system can ever fully mirror the perfect human social structure that one day will come as a divine gift in the kingdom of God.”[43]

Human laws can never actualize a perfect society of peace and justice. Only God can bring this justice because his law is perfected by love, reconciling individuals with one another. However, a totally new heaven and Earth is required before this love can reign, “for human conflict, on account of the dominion of sin in human relations, is deeply rooted in the natural conditions of existence as it is now.”[44]

The Church, as constituted by both Spirit and Son, proleptically reveals the fellowship that is to come in final fruition in the actualization of the Kingdom of God, which constitutes the consummation of humanity in Christ, found particularly in his resurrection. This future reality which the Church reveals is one of perfect community, wherein God reigns supreme through love, and perfect justice and peace is enjoyed. The Church represents this fellowship, albeit merely partially. The Church’s essential nature is living in this world, showing Christ’s death and resurrection to the world and is thus missional in nature. The Kingdom of God constitutes this mission, being a sign of God’s reign over all humanity. The Church is not a means to salvation in itself but points to Jesus Christ, who is.[45]

Pannenberg argues, “The truth is that the Church can only be understood in relationship to the world…the connection between Church and world is by no means accidental; the Church’s relationship to the world is determinative for her authentic vocation.”[46] He asserts that the Church must always gaze outwards toward humankind.[47] He further argues that there is no distinction between a ‘horizontal’ love and a ‘vertical’ love. In other words, loving God is loving others and vice versa. Therefore, in loving one another and the world, in being unified through love, we are participating in God’s rule, anticipating the future fellowship between all in the perfect society of the Kingdom of God.[48]

Critical Reflection

Pannenberg’s theological understanding of the relationship between the Church and the Kingdom is not without criticism. According to Grenz,

Some remain skeptical concerning the practical working out of his proposal, specifically how modern pluralistic society, in which many truth claims are competing for adherence, can nevertheless appeal to a religious understanding of reality for the legitimation of its political order.[49]

In other words, Grenz is questioning the place of Pannenberg’s political theology in contemporary pluralistic society. He observes that religious pluralism is the result of humankind’s innate knowledge of God, but Christians must demonstrate the truth of the love inherent in Christian theology, built around the proclamation of the immanence of the transcendent Kingdom. While Pannenberg rejects a religious plurality as sufficient for salvation, he asserts the inclusiveness of the Gospel, while further arguing that other religions have their place in revealing Christ.[50] Hence, Pannenberg is seemingly unperturbed by these criticisms, for he asserts that while other religions may reveal Christ in a partial way, Christianity is the one true faith and hence the Kingdom values must be implemented in any human political society. But he stresses that ecumenical unity must be formed, and that Christians must demonstrate the truth of these Christian values to the world; the only way the world can acknowledge the truth of the Kingdom is through demonstration and proof of its efficacy.

Activist theologians have criticized Pannenerg for not providing a theology for social change, arguing his political theology is too conservative. They focus on his claims that no political order will provide lasting positive change, which can only come with the actualization of the Kingdom of God. However, this criticism is unfounded, for he argues not for a disengagement from the world but rather that the Kingdom causes the Church to engage with the world, without overestimating the Church’s ability to bring about significant lasting change.[51]

Another area of criticism pertains to Pannenberg’s tendency toward determinism. If the future is not already determined, how can it influence the present? How can the Kingdom function retroactively unless it is determined already? Hence, Pannenberg’s theology, argues Grenz and Olson, presupposes a strict determinism.[52] These are fair concerns, and highlight a major area of tension in Pannenberg’s eschatology. He denies this determinism, but argues, “God creates his creatures as they are, which means in the case of the human creature that human freedom itself is to be conceived as God’s creation.”[53] In other words, human freedom is in itself a divine determination. The future impacts upon the present not in removing freedom, but by providing that freedom.[54] The tension, however, is still left unresolved.

Conclusion

In sum, Pannenberg’s ecclesiology seeks to incorporate a greater pneumatological – and, arguably, eschatological – aspect than had been allowed in much evangelical theology. The Spirit’s vital role is in leading humans to Christ, who in turn leads to the Father, and in whom the Kingdom is made present. Pannenberg insists upon, however, a distinction between the Church and the Kingdom; the Kingdom is made present by Christ, through proclamation, but the Kingdom can only be experienced provisionally until Christ returns and the rule of God is actualized in totality. The Church thus functions proleptically. It is a sign of the Kingdom, albeit a provisional sign, and hence the Church’s mission is intricately linked with the Kingdom.

The Church’s Kingdom-oriented mission is to represent the peace and justice that will come with the actualization of the Kingdom. The fellowship to come with the resurrection of the dead, when eternity breaks into history and a new heaven and earth will be formed, will have love as its foundation. Therefore, the Church must represent these Kingdom values of love, justice and peace, by loving and caring, and being involved in social action, whilst remembering than any system or political order will always remain provisional. She must remind society of its temporality and finitude, pointing to the future fellowship in the Kingdom as the hope that strengthens the Church’s mission.

Despite the tension of the tendency toward a strict determinism, of which Pannenberg denies, his ecclesiology and his understanding of the mission of the Church as being determined by the future Kingdom of God is comprehensive and on the most part, agreeable. His argument is intricate and logical and is difficult to find fault with. It is impossible to escape tension within the bible itself in regards to the eschatological bend in its portrayal of the Church and the “now – not yet” of the Kingdom of God which Christ proclaimed. Pannenberg seems to play on this tension, and rather than simplifying this tension so as to remove the paradoxical eschatological mystery of the Church, he returns focus to Christ, and through Christ the eschatological proclamation of the consummation of humanity in the Kingdom of God.

Pannenberg’s ecclesiology and understanding of the relationship and tension between the Church and the Kingdom is an important contribution to missiological ecclesiology, for it places the Church’s mission upon a transcendent ideal. The promise of the perfect fellowship to come with the Kingdom, that has come and has been revealed through the resurrection, places the Church in something much bigger than itself. This understanding will – and must – cause the Church to recognize the fact that it is God alone who builds his Church, but he builds his Church through his children. The Church must therefore not remain static or inactive but must seek to fulfill the Great Commission by loving and seeking the implementation of the Kingdom values. The Kingdom will always invariably orient the Church toward love, and anything other than this will cause the Church to cease to be the Church, for it will cease representing Christ and his Kingdom.

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[1] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God, ed. Richard John Neuhaus (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1977).  73.

[2] Wolfhart Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions, trans. Margaret Kohl (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1972). 154 – 155.

[3] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. 3 (London: T&T Clark International, 2004). Cf. Christoph Schwӧbel, “Wolfhart Pannenberg,” in The Modern Theologians, ed. David F. Ford (Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 1997). 198.

[4] Stanley J. Grenz, Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (New York: University Press, 1990). 150 – 152. Cf. Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 82 – 83. Cf. Timothy Bradshaw, Pannenberg: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: T&T Clark International, 2009). 88, 102.

[5] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 7. Cf. Phil. 1:19; Rom. 8:9.

[6] Ibid. 13 – 16. Cf. Don H. Olive, Wolfhart Pannenberg, ed. Bob E. Patterson (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1973). 63; Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man, trans. Lewis L. Wilkins (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1968. 107.

[7] Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 145. Cf. Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 107 – 108.

[8] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 75.

[9] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 17 – 21. Cf. Wolfhart Pannenberg, “The Present and Future Church,” First Things, www.firstthings.com (accessed 28/05/2013). 4.

[10] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 28. Cf. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Ethics, trans. Keith Crim (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1981). 181 – “The Kingdom of God…became present reality for his hearers in and through that proclamation.”

[11] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 28.

[12] Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 153.

[13] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 29 – 30. Cf. Bradhsaw. 90; Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 153 – “The church, as the community of the end-time, is now the company of people who are already united in expectation of God’s future for mankind.”

[14] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 31. Cf. E. Frank Tupper, The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1973). 231 – 232; Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 193, 212; Wolfhart Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology,” in The Last Things: Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Eschatology, ed. Carl E. Braaten, Robert W. Jenson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002). 5, 10; Bradshaw. 77 – “Jesus is clearly the bringer in of the kingdom of the universal God, the one who is to come has come.” Cf. Luke 11:20; John 12:31, 48.

[15] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 30. Cf. Zech. 9:9-10; 14:9, 16-17; Mic. 4:1-4; Deut. 33:5; Num. 23:21; Ps. 47:7; 1 Chron. 28:5; 17:14; 29:23; 2 Chron. 9:8.

[16] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 76 – 77, 83. Cf. Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 3.

[17] Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 218. Cf. Pannenberg, Ethics. 181; Bradshaw. 138.

[18] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 31. Cf. Pannenberg, “The Present and Future Church.” 5; Grenz. 151; Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 152 – “The church is not the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is, rather, the church’s future as it is the future of the world.”

[19] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 32 – 38. Cf. Pannenberg, Ethics. 19; Grenz. 180; Pannenberg, “The Present and Future Church.” 4 – “The kingdom of God is not something that we can bring about, nor is it identical with the life of the church…The church’s mission is to be a sign of the kingdom.”

[20] Bradshaw. 102. Cf. p. 166 – “God’s kingdom is still to come, while being proleptically here.” Synder argues similarly, “In a very real sense, the church is not only a sign but also (when faithful to Christ and led by the Spirit) the agent of the kingdom on Earth. The church is not the kingdom; neither is it unrelated to the kingdom. It is the witness to the kingdom and, when anointed and animate by the Holy Spirit, becomes in a partial though not unambiguous way the sign, prototype and pilot project of the kingdom on earth,” (Howard A. Snyder, Kingdom Lifestyle: Calling the Church to Live under God’s Reign (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1985) 80).

[21] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 42.

[22] Ibid. 45.

[23] Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 219. Cf. Tupper. 241.

[24] Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 369. Cf. Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 152 – 153. Furthermore, “The Father establishes his Kingdom precisely through the Son, not apart from him, or beside him, or after his Kingdom…The Kingdom of the Son is also that of the Father and vice versa,” (Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 369).

[25] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 80. Cf. Pannenberg, Ethics. 181; Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 5.

[26] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 73. Cf. Grenz. 153.

[27] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 581. Cf. Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Future and Unity,” in Hope and the Future of Man, ed. Ewert H. Cousins (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1972). 65.

[28] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 584, 595. Cf. Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 61, 193.

[29] Bradshaw. 167.

[30] Pannenberg, “Future and Unity.” 70 – 71. Cf. Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man. 106 – 107; Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 6 – 7. Cf. Isa. 26:14, 19; Mark 12:26f; 1 Cor. 3:13-15; 15:50ff; 2 Cor. 5:10.

[31] Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 11.

[32] Schwӧbel. 201. Cf. Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 76.

[33] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 48.

[34] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 83. Cf. Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 2, 6.

[35] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 78 – 79.

[36] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 49 – 54. Cf. Grenz. 179.

[37] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 55 – 56. Cf. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Human Nature, Election, and History (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1977). 101.

[38] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 85. Cf. Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 6 – “Hope for the kingdom may inspire and direct our human efforts in this world, but its achievement is for another world and puts an end to our antagonistic history of human action.”

[39] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 79-81 – “Love is the final norm of justice.” Cf. Bradshaw. 91.

[40] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 79 – 80. Cf. Grenz. 180.

[41] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 80. Elsewhere Pannenberg states, “The expectation of the Kingdom of God implies that only when God rules and no man possesses dominating political power any more, then the domination of people by other people and the injustice invariably connected with it will come to an end,” (Pannenberg, “Future and Unity.” 70 – 71). Cf. Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 1 – 2.

[42] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 81. Cf. Ulrich Wilckens, “The Understanding of Revelation within Primitive Christianity,” in Revelation as History, ed. Wolfhart Pannenberg (London: Sheed and War Ltd., 1969). 61; Olive. 87.

[43] Stanley J. Grenz, Roger E. Olson, 20th Century Theology: God & the World in a Transitional Age (Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992) 186 – 187.

[44] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 584. Cf. Pannenberg, “The Task of Christian Eschatology.” 11. Cf. Rev. 21:1; Isa. 65:17.

[45] Pannenberg, Systematic Theology. 45 – 47. Cf. Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 75 – “The Church is true to its vocation only as it anticipates and represents the destiny of all mankind, the goal of history.”

[46] Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God. 72-74 – “Since every conception of the Church that disregards its relatedness to the world remains one-sided, and since only the vocation of the Church for the Kingdom of God explains theologically the essential character of her relatedness to the world; therefore, the whole of the ecclesiological thematic can be brought into perspective only from the viewpoint of the Kingdom of God.”

[47] Pannenberg, The Apostles’ Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 147.

[48] Ted Peters, “Pannenberg’s Eschatological Ethics,” in The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg, ed. Carl E. Braaten, Philip Clayton (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988). 242, 247.

[49] Grenz. 170-80.

[50] Steffen Lӧsel, “Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Response to the Challenge of Religious Pluralism: The Anticipation of Divine Absoluteness?” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 34:4 (1997). 499-519.

[51] Grenz. 181. Cf. Peters. 248-49 – “God’s future has had and continues to have an impact upon our present situation. The direction of force comes from the future.”

[52] Grenz. 198-99.

[53] Wolfhart Pannenberg, “A Response to My American Friends,” in The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg, ed. Carl E. Braatan, Philip Clayton (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988). 322.

[54] Gijsbert van den Brink, Almighty God: A Study of the Doctrine of Divine Omnipotence (Kampen: Koh Pharos Publishing House, 1993). 220.

Be the Pulse of God!

Intro

Last week my car broke down. I went to pick Amy up from her house to come to church on Easter Sunday, we get in the car and it would not start. How very frustrating. All the more frustrating for someone as mechanically illiterate as myself. We took Amy’s car instead and on Monday a mechanic from the RAC had a look at it and made it work again. What the problem was was faulty wiring – the battery was fine, but the electricity was simply not getting to the starter motor.

I asked the mechanic to do something and he did. Imagine if I asked him to fix my car and ten minutes later he came back to me saying, “I didn’t fix the car, but guess what – I memorized what you told me!” That doesn’t help my car work, I’m still stuck. I ask him again to fix my car, but 10 minutes later he comes back saying, “I got together with some other mechanics from the RAC and we’ve made a song.” My car is still not working! I asked him to do something and I wanted him to do it! Fortunately in reality, he actually did fix my car.

But what if God asks us to do something. Are we going to do it? What has he asked us to do? He has asked us to love him, to be united to fellow Christians, and to go to the ends of the Earth proclaiming his Gospel. Are we going to do that? If not, are we any more useful than a mechanic that won’t fix a car?

Passage – John 17

So this is a prayer prayed by Jesus and is his last extended dialogue before going to the cross. And it is virtually John’s version of the Lord’s prayer.[1] This passage tells us that the Church should be characterized by love, unity and mission. I’ll add some thoughts on how the Church can practically live out these three elements near the end of the message.

Firstly, it talks about love.

Love

This theme comes up in verses 1-5; 9-11; 26.

We read of a great deal of love from the Son toward two people, or two groups of people.

1. We first get a sense of Jesus’ love toward God the Father.

In v.1, when he begins praying, he says “Father.” For a Jewish context, this is a big deal. No one had that sense of familiarity with Yaweh. Underlying that word patēr which means father (which is where we get the word paternal), is the Aramaic word “Abba” which was a very intimate word, something a child would say toward a father, meaning “Daddy” or “my dear father.”[2] Elsewhere Jesus uses this word “Abba” directly. Jesus is expressing the intimate relationship between him and his Father, God.

But also Jesus says “glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” What I find fascinating here is that again in the Jewish context, to ask for God’s glory is blasphemous, Yahweh alone is glorious. Again he is showing that close relationship with God. They honour one another by sharing glory, by giving one another glory.

2. Secondly, we get a sense of Jesus’ love toward us.

He says “you have given [the Son] authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal live, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” There are three things in this which I think are important for us to understand if we are to understand this concept of love.

a.  First is this idea of “Eternal Life.” What does this mean? Is that referring to simply living for a long long time? Have we been given some sort of longevity that will be given to us in the future? What this refers to is not about quantity, but about quality. And eternal life means to know God. To know God is not just a mental activity, rather the idea of “knowing” someone expresses deep intimacy. In Genesis we read that Adam knew Eve and she became pregnant. That’s pretty intimate.

Hence, eternal life is not about going somewhere or achieving something, but is about experiencing deep intimate relationship with our Creator. Furthermore, it’s not about something in the future that we could experience after we die or once the Church gets bigger or when Jesus returns, but is something to be experienced right here, right now.[3]

b. Jesus then prays that God would protect us. Jesus cares about us and cares about what will happen to us. So he asks that God protect us. And notice that he says, “Protect them in your name.” You see in Hebrew tradition, someone’s name has great significance and reveals something of their character. God’s name in this instance means love and power. Protect them because you love them; in your name, because your name means power, you are able to protect.[4] This word tērō means to guard, watch over, preserve. God’s protection means he is constantly watching over us.[5] No one can offer better protection than God himself!

c. Jesus is thinking about us today. In v.20 he says “I ask…on behalf of those who will believe.” He’s not just thinking of the immediate 12 disciples, but is looking beyond the cross, beyond the years, to Christians today. How amazing is it to think that our Lord prays for us, and he is still praying! Hebrews 7:25 says he is always praying to the Father on our behalf.

To summarize:

Jesus loves the Father. They have an incredibly close relationship. And this love is the same love that we are loved with. God pursues relationship with us. He gives us eternal life which means intimate relationship with God, love which can be experienced right here and now. Because of this love we are protected and watched over and prayed for.

Paul says in Romans 8:37-39: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Chris Jesus our Lord.”

Unity

Where a mechanic is characterized by his ability to fix a car, the Church is characterized firstly by love, and secondly by unity. This refers to both unity with God, and unity to one another. As we are loved by Christ, we are united to Christ; as we are united to Christ, we are united to fellow Christians.

This theme comes up through most of this passage, but prominently in verses 11; 20-24. Verse 21 says, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” Jesus says elsewhere, “if you have seen me you have seen the Father,” so all along there has been a very close connection between the Father and Son, and in fact they are united as one. John says, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God and then became flesh and made his dwelling amongst us.” In Philippians 2 Paul says that Jesus was in the form of God and didn’t regard equality with God something, as my NRSV translates it, to be exploited. So the unity between the Father and the Son is literally as absolutely one being. Two persons, but one being. The Father and the Son, both the one God and yet individuals.

And this is the unity we are taken up into. Just think about that for a second.

We’re not absorbed into God that we become literally God ourselves, but we are welcomed into that same unity between the Father and the Son. Jesus prays, “Holy Father, may they be one, as we are one.”

Jesus also prayed that believers would united to one another. Verses 22-24 say, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I them and you in me, that they become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

We are united to God as the Father is united to the Son. This same unity overflows into our relationships with other Christ-followers. We become united to one another, we become one, as we become one with Jesus, as Jesus becomes one with the Father. Paul says that the Church is the Body of Christ – one body.

This unity is not caused, nor can it be created, by any human effort. It is entirely God’s work. As the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are united as one, one God and one Lord, yet three distinct persons, so we are taken up into that unity together. We can add nothing to this perfect unity, nor can we do anything to achieve it. It is only God who can unite us to himself; only God who can unite us to one another.

Looking at the Church today, I’m not sure if we can be seen as one body. There are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations in the world, from Roman Catholic, to Orthodox, to Baptist, to Seventh Day Adventist and so on. I personally don’t think different traditions means disunity, just because people have some varying beliefs, does not necessarily mean we are divided. But when these different traditions bicker and argue and even go to war with each other – which has happened – I think that is when we have a problem.

When the world sees the Church they must see a Church unified in love, and when they see that unity they will see Christ.

Mission

So the Church is characterized by love, unity and we’ll now look at the third aspect: mission. What I mean by mission is basically being proactive. Scriptural clearly teaches that God is proactive and  missional by nature. The sending of his Son, the election of Israel, the promise of redeeming the world at the end of the age. God didn’t just wait for us to get to him, he proactively came to us. He proactively seeks social justice, promising redemption to a broken word. God clearly at his core is concerned about mission.

This passage talks about us going out into the world. V. 18 says “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Hence, the Church needs to reflect God’s missional heart by being missional in this world. We cannot wait for non-Christians to come to us, we have to go to them. We have to go out into this world to reveal the Good News of Jesus Christ. The word Gospel literally means Good News. Christians in this regard are meant to be like journalists. Journalists with news will not be quiet – they will tell the news! So Christians who have this news – the best news – must tell others!

John uses the word, kosmos, which means world more than any other New Testament book, and mostly in this very chapter, so it’s a big theme for him.[6] However, he was it was never meant to be easy for a Christian in this world.

Jesus said, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” (vv. 14-16)

We are not of this world. Because of our unity with Christ we have swept up into something far more significant than anything in this world. So the world reacts against Christians. In this passage Jesus is saying that we have inherited his mission, it is not our mission. We are merely continuing his mission.[7] But we know how Jesus’ mission ended. It ended on the cross.

Matthew 16 tells us that we must take up our cross and follow Jesus. Is this a simple action? No! It takes all of who we are. We have just finished a sermon series where Ian taught us about the cries Jesus made upon the cross, which ended with Easter last week. The cross was as far opposite to fun as I can possibly imagine. Nothing could be further away from a pleasant situation than being on a cross. There is nothing worse. But that is the sort of faith that is required of Christians, of each one of us.

We hang a cross around our necks, but do we carry it on our backs?

If it were meant to be easy, why would Jesus pray for protection over us?

He also prays that we be sanctified, he says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (Vv. 17-19)

That word, hagiazō, meaning “to consecrate,” “cleanse, purify, sanctify,” essentially means to be set apart for a particular use.[8] To be sanctified means to be set apart. But this does not mean to be removed entirely. We are to be salt and light in this world, positively influencing the world from the inside. The Church has been set apart from this world to go into the world, taking up the cross, facing hatred and persecution to preach the Gospel.

But I want to make something clear: We cannot do mission without unity, and we cannot have unity without love. See how they all fit together?

We are loved by God, united to God, and so we love each other and are united to one other. But we must also love the world and go into the world to bring more into this unity we have with God. Jesus says in verse 21-23, “so that they may be one…that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

The third characteristic of the Church is radical unity. The world will see the Church and see unity, and because of this unity will see Christ’s love.

So what I’m trying to emphasize is this: there needs to be something different about the Church. When people see the Church, what will they see? Will they see another group of people, or will they see a people marked by love, unity and mission?

Back to the story of the RAC mechanic. There were certain things that characterized him as an RAC mechanic. Firstly, he turned up in an RAC car, he was wearing RAC clothes, he knew what he was doing with cars, he knew how to fix my car, and then he fixed it! I asked him to do something, and he did it.

There are also meant to be certain things that make the Church recognizable as the Church. These things reflect the very heartbeat of God. The Church must be characterized by love, unity, mission.

How do we do that though?

How can the Church be recognizable?

1. We must first love God. There is no point in doing anything unless we respond to God in love. This is not just a happy feeling sort of love. As I said before, it’s not meant to be easy as a Christian. To respond with love to God means willing to die for God, giving your life over to God.

But I can tell you that it is the single greatest thing you can do. When you give your life entirely over to God, you experience such joy and peace, such relationship with God. It’s incredible.

We do this by praying to God, “God take it all, help me to dedicate all I am and have to you.” This means repenting. Repenting simply means turning. We turn away from our earthly, human, sinful ways, and we turn towards God and God’s ways.

2. We also love God by loving others. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbour as you love yourself. This means placing others before ourselves. Paul says that we should be like Christ, who though being in the very nature God became human and became servant to humanity, even dying for humanity. Jesus tells us to love one another as he has loved us. He has loved us by dying for us. Hence, the world will see love when we love one another by being willing to serve and even die for one another.

The Church must be characterized by love and unity. Jesus says in John 13 that our love for one another will prove to the world that we are Christ’s disciples. So the Church must be recognizable by our love for one another. This must be a radical love for one another, this is willing to die for one another.

3. Another way of being unified is removing discrimination. Paul says in Galatians that there is no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female. Rather, there is Christ. When we see one another, we see Christ. That means we must treat one another with absolute respect, complete forgiveness, total acceptance. This is not always easy. But the Church is recognizable by welcoming and accepting each and every single person for who they are.

Philip Yancey once told a story of a prostitute who had just hit rock bottom. When asked if she had considered going to church, she responded by laughing and saying, “They’ll just judge me more.” I think that’s a very sad story. The love and unity given to the Church by Jesus Christ means loving everyone no matter what.

4. The Church must be characterized by being proactive and missional. It is by loving the world, not by fearing the world, or separating one’s self from the world, that we can witness to the world.[9]

If we are too much a part of the world, the world does not see Christ; if we are too distant from the world, the world does not see love. It is in loving the world while not becoming too much a part of the world that the world can be emancipated.

This means seeking the prosperity of the nation we’re in, it means seeking social justice – there are more slaves today then they’re ever has been in history – and chasing the end of poverty, it means helping your neighbours when they need it, working your hardest at work despite a grumpy and unpleasant boss, it means living the Gospel, proclaiming through your actions and through your words. It means having integrity to stand up for what you believe.

To be the Church is radical.

Conclusion

The Church can be no less, nor any more, than the pulse of God, reflecting his very heartbeat: love, unity, mission….love, unity, mission….love, unity, mission.

Being loved by God, we must love God and others. Through doing so, we will be united with God and with fellow Christians. We then go out seeking to fulfil Christ’s commission on this Earth, praying that the Church may grow and permeate society, and through our love and unity, the world will see eternal life and that many will seek that life and devote their lives to Christ as we devote our lives to Christ.

God has asked us to do something – are we going to do it?


[1] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007). 322.

[2] Bruce Milne, The Message of John (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993). 239.

[3] Andreas J. Kostenberger, John (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004). 487 – 88.

[4] Kostenberger, John. 490 – 491.

[5] William D. Mounce, The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1993). 450.

[6] Minear, “John 17:1-11.” 178.

[7] Milne, The Message of John. 245.

[8] MacArthur. 323.

[9] Minear, “Evangelism, Ecumenism, and John Seventeen.” 12.

Deuteronomy 7

Introduction

Deuteronomy 7 is a difficult passage to understand. Its themes and exhortations seem initially shocking. The command to destroy the Canaanites totally, and the labels ‘detestable,’ and ‘abhorrent’ imply a terrible genocide. Contemporary readers would find difficulty in seeing God as a God of love in this passage. However, this essay seeks to argue for this very understanding. The essay argues that this passage does, in fact, teach God’s love. The allusions to war and genocide do not contradict this core message. The essay shall initially exegete the passage, dividing the passage into three sections: vv.1-5, 6-15, 16-26. The focus of these sections will be analysing such things as the understanding of the seven nations and their destruction, the removal of idols and religious paraphernalia and treaties. Following this exegesis will be a theological reflection, wherein the essay shall probe the difficult question pertaining the purported justification of a ‘holy war.’ The essay shall conclude with a discussion on how this passage should be discussed within a contemporary, post-modern culture.

Exegesis

On a brief reading of this chapter, it is easy to come to the conclusion that it is callous. However, with the surrounding chapters is an admonition to remember God’s love and to cherish his gracious election. Furthermore, as Brueggemann asserts, “The intention of the chapter is to take deliberate steps so that the coming generation will choose covenant with YHWH.”[1] God has chosen his people, who must give themselves totally to him. Thus, idolatry is prohibited.[2] The chapter must be read as one unit, due to literary and conceptual themes and is carefully structured, centred on vv. 11-12, reference to the commandments, and is bordered by reference to Israel’s distinctive nature.[3] The emphasis of this passage lies in relationship; YHWH’s love toward Israel, and Israel’s response to YHWH.[4]

An area of exegetical contention lies in the specifics of the nations. Brueggemann argues this text was written no later than the eighth or seventh century, hence these seven nations are long extinct, “Thus the list of seven nations is an archaic slogan that represents, in context, any alien culture with its religious temptations for Israel.”[5] This seems, in some way, a scapegoat. However, his thesis is supported by Rofé who, after a long analysis of the text, concluded a second stratum of Deuteronomy was added during Josiah’s time, which includes this passage.[6] Furthermore, Kline and Cairns argue for a metaphorical reading; “The seven specified here possibly is a figure for completeness.”[7] Hence, it is likely these were not literal nations, but simply an allusion to God’s requirement of total purging.

This purging, known as the ban, was intended to keep Israel safe from idolatry. However, these nations were not simply ‘cleared away,’ but “stayed and became integrated into Israel…In this theological retrospect, the Deuteronomic writer is tacitly acknowledging that fact and tracing Israel’s apostasy to these indigenous influences.”[8] In other words, this purported later author, perhaps around the Exile, has accredited Israel’s present apostasy with this earlier influence of Pagan nations. Vv. 2-3 include prohibitions of treaties and marriages, which casts doubt on the command to annihilate all the Canaanites. Furthermore, Exodus 23 and Leviticus 18 reveal a different portrait of the entrance into the land; the Canaanites ‘disappearing’ in the former, and being ‘vomited out’ by the land in the latter. Thus, Brueggemann’s argument for an allegorical reading of the nations seems most likely.[9]

Brueggemann further regards this text as “articulation of Israel’s distinctiveness,” which begins with destroying “seductive alternatives.”[10] The alters, sacred stones and Asherah poles in v. 5 refer to Baal worship. The pillar identified a locale where a deity could be contacted, and often had male associations, even portraying a phallic symbol. The Asherim was the corresponding female symbol representing the fertility goddess. Hence we can surmise these images represented a setting for fertility rites.[11] Thus, as Miller argues, “the ban is grounded in the insistence on no accommodation to the religious practices of the inhabitants of the land.”[12] This is further insisted by the prohibition on marriage or treaties. Craigie helpfully states,

The Israelites were bound primarily by the berîṯ (covenant, treaty) with the Lord, and though this was a religious bond, it was also a political bond, for it set aside Israel as a distinctive nation among other nations. To make a treaty with other nations would indicate a lack of faithfulness on the part of the Israelites to their suzerain God. Likewise, the Israelites were forbidden to undertake a marriage alliance them; although there may be a prohibition of mixed marriages between Israelites and non-Israelites implicit here, the specific prohibition probably has in mind the forging of political treaties by means of marriage. This course of action, as with the making of a treaty (v. 2), would be an indication of compromise and could lead to a disruption of the covenant faithfulness to the one God…Thus both prohibitions (vv. 2-3) have in mind the preservation of the covenant relationship with the Lord by forbidding any relationship that would bring that first and most important relationship into danger.[13]

Involved in marriages was commonly the acceptance of one another’s religion. Hence, the need for covenantal faithfulness to YHWH is paramount. Israel’s relationship with YHWH certainly is the “most important relationship,” and thus they must respond in absolute obedience; exterminating other religious options and cultic installations ensured chaos would not swallow up this relationship and other religions did not tempt them away.[14]

Verses 6-15 make up the core of this passage, the focus being the Holy God’s election of Israel for covenantal relationship. The people are called to be “holy to the Lord your God,” which “here means separated for and belonging to” YHWH.[15] In other words, as holy people, they are YHWH’s exclusive property. Furthermore, they are not called to be holy, but are holy.[16] This separated them from other peoples and practices, further reflected in the assertion that “God has chosen you out of all the peoples of on the face of the earth” (v. 6).[17] They are also called YHWH’s “treasured possession,” meaning they are more valuable than all the other nations. As Brown states,

Moses knew that the only true God had made a unique covenant with his Israel, his greatly valued people. It was not that God lacked compassion for other nations or cared nothing for them; his universal sovereignty and unlimited love are amply illustrated elsewhere in this book. He deliberately chose Israel, however, to be a special instrument of his purposes in the world.[18]

The phrase “set his affection (v. 7) comes from the verb implying a strong physical desire a man would have for an attractive woman. Thus, YHWH’s intimate love is evident.[19] This intimate love is, however, not based in any excellence on Israel’s part; there is nothing about the people that would cause YHWH to choose to love them. In fact, they were “the fewest of all peoples.” Why then does YHWH choose them of all people? Because he loves them. Cairns labels this a “wonderful tautology: God loves because God loves!”[20] They are holy people, not because of inherent merit, but because of divine election.[21] Hence, this passage is warning against pride.[22]

The passage then includes requirements of the people; God’s chosen nation is to be obedient in response to his gracious election. According to Brueggemann, “The relationship is grounded in free grace, but it operates according to symmetrical expectations in which there is no easy, assured forgiveness.”[23] Continual obedience, however, does not imply achieving merit, but rather maintains the proper covenant relationship. Their health and prosperity depended upon such obedience. YHWH would be their ‘fertility God’ over and above the Canaanite gods, and would provide no agricultural setbacks. The terms ‘grain,’ ‘wine,’ ‘offspring,’ and ‘young’ are also names of Canaanite deities, but, as Chritsensen argues, the people were likely unfamiliar with these terms.[24] The point is that there is no other god who the Israelites need; YHWH can and will provide everything. However, the people must reciprocate this covenantal faithfulness. The “horrible diseases you knew in Egypt” is likely a reference to diseases such as elephantiasis, skin boils, eye and bowel afflictions, among others, which were common in Egypt.[25]

Verses 16-26 then return to the command to destroy everything in Canaan, and to destroy the land’s inhabitants. Israel is threatened by these people and their religion, “because they will talk Israel out of the obedience that is the prerequisite to its prosperity in the land of promise.”[26] Yet the focus is not on Israel’s strength, but on YHWH’s. They cannot allow their enemy’s strength to cause them to forget their Lord’s power, who should be their focus. They were to remember the miraculous signs and wonders that YHWH performed in Egypt and expect a repetition of such marvellous events, so long as they trusted him. This same God who rescued them from Egypt is to war on their behalf.[27]

Furthermore, verse 20 implies that YHWH has many possible courses of action, thus emphasizing the totality of his might.[28] The exact meaning is unclear however, particularly in reference to the ‘hornet’ (Cf. Exodus 23:28). Craigie argues it should be understood to refer to the inability of the Canaanites to find a hiding place from God.[29] Kline, alluding to it being understood as a symbol for Pharaoh’s power, argues it should be read as a reference to “the terror of God which, descending on Israel’s foes, produced panic and rout.”[30] Cairns argues for a reference to nature itself fulfilling YHWH’s purposes.[31] Of the three it is difficult to discern which is correct. It is likely the phrase is deliberately ambiguous, simply referring to YHWH’s absolute faithfulness to and power to achieve his promises. Thus, it could be one of these three, or it could be none, something which only YHWH knows.

Verse 22 reveals a slow conquest, wherein gradual growth and control will occur, while the Canaanites become less and less numerous and powerful. This avoids the danger of the “land returning to a primitive state of natural anarchy.”[32] To destroy a name completely, furthermore, was a common ancient Near East curse, meaning total annihilation, even out of history annals. The reason for this is to avoid idolatrous worship and contamination. Israel was to stay away from and remove anything abhorrent that would eventually destroy Israel.[33]

Theological Reflection

This chapter has certainly been seen by many as an abhorrent affront to modern sensibilities. Today, especially in a post-modern society, tolerance and acceptance are a must and anyone demanding genocide is deemed inhuman. One needs only look at Hitler to see brutal nationalism. According to Christensen, “The command to ‘utterly destroy them’ (7:2), without showing any mercy, is simply more than most people today can accept. Such language suggests fanaticism and intolerance.”[34] Furthermore, Millar regards, “These chapters have been dismissed as indefensible, vicious nationalism, which can have no relevance in the modern world. This is a pity, because such sentiments do justice neither to the wider Deuteronomic context nor to the passages themselves.”[35]

It is important to note that this is not historical recounting, but theological preaching. The author is urging Israel to obedience. However, this obedience is not “brutal free-for-all” but carefully controlled and “a unique command of the God who owns not only the land, but the whole earth.”[36] The command to destroy nations is not primarily a reference to warfare, but rather a recognition of the temptations of the Canaanite lifestyle and culture will face the Israelites, temptations which the author clearly believes will lead the nation to absolute destruction – the exact opposite reason YHWH saved the people from slavery in Egypt. The influence of this pagan nation must be purged.[37] Earl furthers this argument,

Deut 7 is concerned with the preservation of Israel’s distinctive identity in a way that encourages the transparent manifestation of the relationship between YHWH and Israel that is characterized by love. The preservation of this identity is developed in terms of the separation from idols and of the avoidance of relationships with non-Israelites, relationships that are assumed to lead to idolatry, since relationships of this sort entail allegiances that compete with allegiance to YHWH, compromising Israel’s relationship with YHWH, leading to diminishment and death.[38]

Furthermore, as Christensen argues, the text is to be read poetically. It is an expression of YHWH’s holiness. YHWH’s holiness – then, as today – demands an absolute avoidance of evil.[39] Thus, the call is to Torah obedience and the author admonishes avoidance at all cost of any cultural accommodation.[40]

In today’s society, pluralism is often not merely accepted, but applauded, observes Mann.[41] The concept of a single religious authority, let alone one brought about through genocide, is obviously one that causes many to shudder. This is especially so in an age where secularism and atheism is growing rapidly. Firstly, as this essay has argued above, the passage does not command absolute genocide. Rather, it is exhortation that the nation avoids any temptation that will lead to apostasy and thus destruction. Secondly, pertaining to religious pluralism and tolerance, how a Christian relates to a post-modern world is particularly difficult. How should one convince others that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, when they may simply respond by saying their truth is their truth and entirely up to them. This is a digression, but the point is clear, should we take the avoidance of temptations as seriously as this text argued the Israelites should?

Cunliffe-Jones argues,

Apart from the question of humanity, the issue which it raises for us is the relation between principle and human relationships in daily life. Loyalty to God is of course of the greatest importance, and we cannot expect never to give offence in doing this. But it is possible to offend against the corporate life of mankind by insisting unnecessarily on religious principle, and by failing to recognize that Christ and non-Christian share a common life in which both must, within limits, work together.[42]

In other words, sole loyalty to God and preaching the need for loyalty to this one God will cause offence in today’s culture, but the offence should not be in the way we present the Gospel, but from the cross of Christ itself. When we focus on religious principle that we become judgmental and separated from the world, we fail to see that we are, in fact, in this world and thus must work with the world. Cairns, quoting Matthew 5:43-45 implores that what is required is not a total elimination, but a transformation, of the enemy.[43]

Conclusion

In conclusion, Deuteronomy 7 is a magnificent exhortation for the Israelites to recognize YHWH’s holiness and to obey by keeping his commands. Inherent in keeping these commands is the rejection of all other possibilities, hence these temptations must be destroyed. This chapter, bordered by the admonitions to destroy these temptations is centred on the loving and gracious election of Israel. Initially, this passage may seem callous and harsh, but is a poetic recounting of YHWH’s love, and the covenantal relationship between the two. God is mighty to save a nation that is not great by any standard. He faithfully keeps the promises he made to the Fathers. He demands faithfulness from his people; obedience will result in blessing, but disobedience will result in curse. To avoid this curse, the people must remove any temptation.

In today’s culture, it is vital to teach this passage of not justifying any form of war. Though the passage may have been used historically to justify such wars as the Crusades, but the focus should remain on the Lord. We must understand God’s faithfulness through a Christological lens to the cross. God still loves his people absolutely faithfully, enough that he would send his Son. This passage can so easily be misinterpreted. But it absolutely must be read in terms of God’s faithfulness and gracious love.

Bibliography

Brown, Raymond. The Message of Deuteronomy. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993.

Brueggemann, Walter. Deuteronomy. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.

Cairns, Ian. Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.

Christensen, Duane L. Deuteronomy 1:1-21:9. Nashvill: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001.

Craigie, Peter C. The Book of Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976.

Cunliffe-Jones, H. Deuteronomy. London: SCM Press Ltd, 1971.

Earl, Douglas. “The Christian Significance of Deuteronomy 7.” Journal of Theological Interpretation 3, no. 1 (2009): 41-62.

Kline, Meredith G. Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy: Studies and Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963.

Mann, Thomas W. Deuteronomy. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995.

McConville, J. G. Deuteronomy. Leicester, England: Apollos, 2002.

Millar, J. Gary. Now Choose Life: Theology and Ethics in Deuteronomy. Leicester, England: Apollos, 1998.

Miller, Patrick D. Deuteronomy. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990.

Miller, Patrick D. The Way of the Lord. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.

Rofe, Alexander. Deuteronomy. London: T&T Clark Ltd, 2002.


[1] Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001). 93.

[2] Patrick D. Miller, Deuteronomy (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990). 111; Thomas W. Mann, Deuteronomy (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995). 64. Evidently, this is an extension of the second commandment.

[3] J. G. McConville, Deuteronomy (Leicester, England: Apollos, 2002). Contra. Duane L. Christensen, Deuteronomy 1:1-21:9 (Nashvill: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001).

[4] Douglas Earl, “The Christian Significance of Deuteronomy 7,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 3, no. 1 (2009). 43 – “Deut 7 gives content to Deut 6:4-5, understood in terms of the preservation of this relationship and thus of the identity of the “elect” community. This is expressed here primarily in terms of unswerving allegiance to YHWH as life is lived with reference to torah.”

[5] Brueggemann. 94.

[6] Alexander Rofe, Deuteronomy (London: T&T Clark Ltd, 2002). 6.

[7] Meredith G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy: Studies and Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963). 68. Cf. Ian Cairns, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992). 89.

[8] Cairns. 89. Cf. Rofé. 125.

[9] Cf. Earl. 44; Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976). 177.

[10] Brueggemann. 94. Cf. Craigie. 179; Christensen. 156 – “The paraphernalia of worship among the foreign peoples in the land was to be totally destroyed, so as to remove all temptations to follow pagan religious practices.”

[11] Cairns. 89.

[12] Patrick D. Miller, The Way of the Lord (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007). 85.

[13] Craigie. 178-179. Cf. Mann. 65; Raymond Brown, The Message of Deuteronomy (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993). 105.

[14] Brown. 106; Rofe. 13; Brueggemann. 95; Mann. 65; Kline. 68. Cairns. 90.

[15] Brueggemann. 95.

[16] Brown. 103-104 – “They must be what they are.”

[17] Cf. Craigie. 179.

[18] Brown. 107. Cf. H. Cunliffe-Jones, Deuteronomy (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1971). 64; Miller. Deuteronomy. 111 – “To be God’s special possession is to be holy to the Lord, set apart from others for the Lord’s service.”

[19] Miller, Deuteronomy. 112. Cf. Cairns. 90.

[20] Cairns. 91. Cf. Miller, Deuteronomy. 112.

[21] Craigie. 179. Cf. Cunliffe-Jones. 64.

[22] Cairns. 90. Cf. Brown. 104; Kline. 68-69; Christensen. 156 – “God chose them not because of any inherent superiority, but because he loved them. It was a matter of grace.”

[23] Brueggemann. 97.

[24] Christensen. 164. Cf. Brueggemann. 98; Cairns. 91-92; Craigie. 180.

[25] Craigie. 181; Christensen. 164. Furthermore, Rofe argues, “Deut 7.15 hints that God redeemed Israel from Egypt where they knew ‘all manners of illness and evil diseases’…But the text is a promise for the future, not a resume of benevolent acts of the past,” (p. 227).

[26] Brueggemann. 98.

[27] Kline. 69; Craigie. 181.

[28] Cf. Brueggemann. 98-99.

[29] Craigie. 182.

[30] Kline. 69.

[31] Cairns. 94.

[32] Craigie. 182. Cf. Christensen. 164-165.

[33] Christensen. 165; Cunliffe-Jones. 66. Cf. Brueggemann. 99.

[34] Christensen. 157.

[35] J. Gary Millar, Now Choose Life: Theology and Ethics in Deuteronomy (Leicester, England: Apollos, 1998). 156.

[36] Ibid. 156.

[37] Ibid. 157.

[38] Earl. 46.

[39] Christensen. 157, 166 – “The strong language of the concluding verses (Deut 7:25-26) bears witness once again to the demands of holiness in our relation to God. We must shun the very appearance of evil.”

[40] Brueggemann. 100.

[41] Mann. 65.

[42] Cunliffe-Jones. 63-64.

[43] Cairns. 92.

Poverty and God?

Observe the following:

Here are my thoughts:

The reason for poverty is not caused by God. Extreme poverty was caused by humans. Humans are the ones who pillage and exploit; greed is what causes this extreme unbalance. Why does God allow it? Well I think he asks that exact question of us: why do we allow it? We have enough food in first-world countries to feed to the rest of the world and live happy and healthy lives, but instead we have obesity problems. What we throw away is more than what most people in the world could dream of. The problem is not why does God allow it, but why do WE allow it?!
But God helps solve the problems we create for ourselves. A Christian missionary named Robert Pierce from America experienced this poverty first hand, in 1947 when he travelled to China and Korea. He came back with a great desire to fix this, and he began World Vision. This one Christian man began a company which would become a company that pours billions of dollars into poverty-stricken communities and countries. Just one man. Imagine if the entire world decided to fix the problem!
Christian beliefs cannot be the cause of these issues, for Jesus himself said, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matt 25:40). Jesus commands us to be the solution to the problems humans have created. He tells us to feed the poor, help those who have suffered from wars and terrorism, bring justice to those who have suffered from injustice, because doing so is like looking after Jesus himself. And he tells us he is with us as we spread these Christian values (Matt 28:18-20). He helps us fix these problems, just as he helped Robert Pierce – one man who established a multi-billion dollar charity organization.
We ask, “God, why do you allow this suffering?” Jesus aks, “Humans, why do you allow this suffering? I gave you everything you need to fix the problem and I’m offering to help…and you sit there and let people starve. You let me starve.” There have been many things comitted in the name of the Christian God which have been horrific, but that is not Christian. Jesus commands us to love one another as he has loved us, to love our neighbour more than ourselves, to spread love and grace, to forgive, to carry forward and to love justice and to hate injustice. Anything contrary to this is disobedience, and is thus, not Christianity.

But the values of Christianity are absolutely stooped in love and it would be impossible to argue Christianity is bad for the world.

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