Blessings of Future Past

Today’s thought is on Jesus’ command to constantly ask for forgiveness. This appears all throughout many gospels, and this can seem a bit odd in light of certain considerations, such as: what about the cross?

What I’m asking is that, how many might teach it, on the cross, Jesus atoned for the sin of the world. There a forgiveness was brought about that, in its ultimacy, blotted out all crimes and wickedness. This might be tempered with considerations about the unforgiveness for the blasphemy of the Spirit. But then, this teaching came before the crucifixion. Now some have posited that the forgiveness that accompanied the healing was in light of the future event. Which is interesting for my point.

Consider also the Pauline emphasis on the once-and-for-all nature of what Jesus had done in light of the very, seemingly, contingent nature of what Jesus teaches. Paul preaches a forgiveness wrought within an event, Jesus talks about the constant need to turn towards Heaven. Is there a divergence? I do not believe certain interpretations that there were different schools of the Gospel, rather modern people might be jamming the thoughts of the Apostles into false categories.

What I’m getting at is a certain question of time and the Jesus event. There is a reality of an ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ at work in the Gospel. There seems to be a couple definitions of time, between Chronos and Kairos. The former is the regular linear progression, whereas the latter has to do with ‘age’ shifts. This is not something we’re not accustomed to consider, with the Modern age flattening out time to be a straight line. There are no breaks, there are no parallel lines, there is no intervention of timeless eternity shattering the mold.

Time is a strange concept. We can’t really ever see it. As Augustine would comment: we recall and draw up the past, we speculate about the future, but we flip in and out of the present without the slightest awareness. This is very true, time is a slippery and strange thing, if we can even call it a ‘thing’ in the first place. However, even with such impossibilities in handling time, which has rightly been likened to stand, sliding right out of our grip, it doesn’t mean time is merely subjective.

Kant would posit that time is an imposition of the Human mind upon things. This is wrong. Even if we can’t catch time, we’re effected by its passing. Despite sci-fi movies where memories are implanted, I’m skeptical about the validity of this happening. The imprint left from real, past, events is different the ethereal remains of dreams. External realities have a certain gravity to them, and though minds are involved, the mental worlds we build lack permanence. I won’t get into the epistemological knot this might pose, that’s for another day.

However, time is a creational ordinance, even if we’re promised an ‘age’ or a ‘world’ without end. It’s immortality, perhaps like our resurrected bodies and souls, is conditional upon the Creator who made such realities. While some philosophers, akin to the Greek fables of old, posited time as eternal, that old man Chronos sat with his hour glass alongside Terra Firma. The Pagans, whether ancient or modern, believed created things to be gods. Yet the Truth would still have its day, and Einstein, among others, would posit and show proofs that time, while real, was conditional and flexible. Time was not universally the same. I’m not really sure what this even means.

Why I’m talking about time is how it links up with how we consider the events of Golgotha for ourselves. Why do we ask for forgiveness if we’ve already received it? Or have we? Or are we?

The question revolves around how God interacts with time, and the reality is we haven’t even a clue. It’s like a fish trying to describe what being in outer-space is like. Perhaps the swirling repetitions in John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ can give us a glimpse. Time seems to repeat the same story, through many different angles, stopping to explain this, speeding up to the next point, going backwards. It sounds rather authorial, an art of sculpting. But we don’t know, not really.

One of the major themes for Paul, and even the whole of the Scriptures’ writers, is that the Messiah changed everything. In Jesus Christ, there is a whole new world, a whole new creation. This is a break in the Human times we’re used to. The death, resurrection, and ascension of the Christ, which did indeed occur in our chronos, was the Time, the kairos, where something new began. Yet things keep on going. This is the already/not-yet I mentioned.

But are they really just going on? Yes and No. In Christ, there is a new world, a hope for reconciliation, whereas those living beneath the aegis of the Old continue on. For the New, there is everlasting life, boundless love, and the increasing growing into our Lord. For the Old, there is alienation and obliteration; the Creation disintegrating into the formless mass that it began as. In Jesus, we see the New at work, but all around us, the Old screams that it is all that it is.

However, as we see Jesus, we see that we’ve not received what He received. The dead still lay dead. However, perhaps, in Jesus, the promise is so sure, we live in hope, in confidence, of things we do not have, but are promised to us. We are not yet justified, but because Christ was justified, declared not to be the guilty blasphemous worm that the powers that be marked Him as, we who are with Him will be as well. The Future has not yet come, but it has come. In Christ, the Future for us has reached back to all our Presents.

But it has not yet come. We ask the Lord to forgive us, because we are not yet forgiven. But in confidence, in asking for forgiveness, we know it is bestowed upon us. Christ is the forgiveness of all sins. We ask because we know. In such a forgiveness, we will be justified and sanctified. But such hasn’t happened yet, but the Holy Spirit has placed such a mark. The Promise is carved into our new hearts, hearts cut from the same Holy Heart of our Lord, not made of stone.

Many times our prayers seem uncertain, and we must ask in humility for God’s will to be done. But in the cosmic sense, we know God’s will. His name is Lord Jesus. We can continue to utter muddled prayers for this and that with confidence. His life is our future.

Plato was a Thief

Through a couple conferences I’ve been to, through my congregation’s ecclesial network, and the conversation with a couple others, the phrase ‘metaphor’ has come up more than once. The context of this is in describing God’s designations throughout the Bible, some of which are ‘Healer’, ‘Warrior/Lord-of-Hosts’, ‘Judge’ etc. The following will be some of my thoughts, without any real conclusion on this mental knot.

At first, I was a little disconcerted with the idea of ‘metaphor’, but I wasn’t quite sure why I had issue with it. In fact, in the past, I might have been comfortable and used this term in arguments and disputations. However, recently, I was able to put my finger on my growing discomfort with this phrase. It puts the weight of importance upon Human reception and articulation, and less on the Divine Revelation Himself. At one conference, the constant refrain was “God is like a Warrior…God is like a Judge”.

Is it too much to wonder if they’re putting the burden on the Human reception of God’s Word? This has certainly happened, and is a hallmark of christic Liberalism. This religion teaches the Biblical witness is Man’s attempt to make sense of God, which they might put in quotations to denote even this word’s fleeting use. The Scripture contains no infallible, Spirit-writ, Truth, but a fallible approximation. It’s a fumbling in the dark instead of harkening to the Light.

Now, the group I’m referring to are not adherents to Liberalism, though I think their pool has been tainted by certain assumptions, but I’ll come back to that. Let’s, instead, allow Liberalism’s stance, including the fleeting use of the term ‘God’. It is true that the word ‘god’, in the Hebraic/Near-Eastern context, was not all encompassing phrase. It had to do with judgement and reign. That’s why there could be varying degrees of god in the Canaanite pantheon, just as in the Hellenic and Norse pantheons. Some gods were enthralled to others, some could be wounded, some had narrow roles, while others were more managerial. This was the world which the Biblical witness operated within.

But even if the word ‘God’ is conditional, this isn’t the problem. The issue is the starting point of the entire conversation. The inherent assumptions in the use of ‘metaphor’ are in the operation of the Scriptural witness. What we are saying is that Human interpretations are coming first within Revelation. It means the Human author, and Human reception, are taking precedence within the act of Revelation. God’s revelation is conditioned by the Human audience.

This does not mean Liberalism, where man is poking and pondering about the divine. Liberalism promote the view that all religions are grasping at the same reality, none of it divinely ordained, and some of which are closer to reality. However, ultimately, we’ve progressed beyond the limitations of earlier times. Liberalism’s project may be found in a combination of Hegel’s systematics and Kant’s skepticism of metaphysics. It’s all in a Christian shell, but it’s a totally different nut. When I read about Hegel’s triune modeling of reality, I could only shake my head. This is a completely different religion.

This isn’t what my compatriots are doing. They’re not denying Biblical inspiration or Christ’s exclusivity. The ‘metaphor’ language is, perhaps, an attempt to maintain the multiplicity of revelations and self-descriptors that the Lord of Glory uses. It’s not allowing one to run-over all the others. It’s keeping in check our human propensity to control the Divine Word by vain imaginings. I’ve certainly read some very odd theological thoughts regarding the Lord as Husband and sex. The mystery of God is maintained, and all we have is Divine stooping.

However, is that how the Scripture testifies? I’m all for suspending man’s arrogant speculation, and trying to build our little intellectual towers of Babel. But consider the example of the priesthood, written in Hebrews, involving the institution of the Aaronic High Priest, the Tabernacle, and both of their fulfillment:

Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man.

For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle.

This frame puts everything backwards than the language of ‘metaphor’ and ‘stooping’. Instead, the Humanly is the copy, the shadow, of the Heavenly reality. Moses and the Israelites were not commanded to make sacrifices based upon ANE culture-induced assumptions of sacrifice and the holy. The Lord wasn’t reacting to what was, but setting a strict copy-based reality that unenlightened Humans fumbled about with. The human institutions of government, priesthood, marriage (and many others) are not autonomously invented, they’re copies of reality. At their best, they’re shimmering reflections of God’s Reign and Reality, at their worst, they’re imposters and distorted and twisted corruptions.

I suppose this question gets at the philosophical distinction between Realism and Nominalism. How much stock are we putting in the things around us? Are their names really real, or are they convention? Or are they some sort of middling? But this is a little too far off scope.

Instead, let’s consider the writings of formerly Pagan, and philosophically inclined, Justin Martyr. One of his major arguments, and accusations, was that Plato stole from Moses the idea of the ‘Forms’. This defended the Church from accusations that they were a novel cult, and had no root in history, but also turn the argument around on the critics. They were heirs to a plagiarizer, and their ideas had shorter roots than the Christians.

Despite the title, I doubt Plato ever read Moses. However, he was heavily influenced by Pythagoras, who spent many years learning in Egypt. This is a red herring, and we’ll get nowhere trying to hunt down what exactly happened, and how Pythagoras, and Plato, developed the forms, both mathematically and ethically respectively.

Now it is popular to talk about the Hellenizing of Christianity over the centuries. I don’t doubt that it happened, but generalizations are misleading (I’m aware of the irony of this statement). We have to take each writer, and each voice, in their own place, and not lump them all together. Some Christians attempted to synthesize with the prevailing currents to gain intellectual respectability. Others might have seen the use in pulling certain phrases and insights and repurpose them. Even more, language and grammar might be inherited without active consideration for its origin.

There is no doubt Plato had a major influence in the early Church, but we might exaggerate this. We have to ask where the overlap with observance and mere grammatical similarity occurs. Where is the difference between using Plato and following Plato? An example, I would argue, might be between Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria, or even between Ambrose and Augustine(!). It’s my contention that Augustine was not a Christian Platonist, though he certainly borrowed grammar and concepts. At least, not as he matured. He certainly found much to use amongst the neo-Platonists of his day.

The point is not what Augustine, or anyone else thought. I wouldn’t lose any sleep if I was wrong. The point is how we go about receiving God’s self-revelation, which truly and fully is in Christ Jesus. None of my friends would ever say “God is like Jesus Christ” at the expense of confessing “God is Jesus Christ”.

In fact, in Christ, all of the shadows of the Old came to fulfillment. Jesus was, is, and will be, the Real which all of the other shadows stood as copies. Jesus is the King, not merely like a king, though David, and his line, were copies of the divine reality. The mark against Kingship, in Samuel’s dialog with his Lord, was not Israel having a king, but denying God as their King.

It may seem crude to some, but we can, and should, talk about Heavenly realities in the terms the Bible gives. Paradise will be a city, the Heavenly Jerusalem. In fact, it’s not a city, but the City. It will be more City than any other city has ever approximated, yea, even Jerusalem, which was the God-ordained copy. Even more importantly, our lives and existence are not not metaphors, but copies. We won’t be something else, but more us than we could ever conceive of.

However, this also raises questions of other earthly realities. Here-and-now, there is marriage and sex, but in the resurrection there will be no more marriage. Is this a case of a metaphor in action? Maybe there’s a mix employed, where some of creation is a copy or shadow of the Reality, where others are creaturely ordinances to be enjoyed, and point away from themselves, as differences to the Reality. Thus, there is no sex in the resurrection, but because this was employed as a metaphor to true unity and life-creation.

Whatever is the truth, the point of these considerations is too take the Lord seriously on His own terms. He set the boundaries of peoples and sustains all things. He was not limited by the appreciations and understandings of His people, though the means He employed were not perfect, and were to be replaced by the better. Maybe our assumptions that the Almighty would work this or that way need to be questioned. Regardless, His Wisdom surpasses our attempt at cultural analysis and apologetic defenses.

May we seek the Truth in reverence.

The Cursed Middle Way

I came across this while re-reading Petr Chelcicky’s Net of Faith

[M]an is not as bad as to want to deny God and relinquish Him; on the other hand you will find very few who want to cling to God with their whole heart.  It is this accursed middle way that offers a relaxation to both [priest and layman].

Here Petr points out a rather interesting insight, one that is rather damning for our christic American religion complex. He is revealing how mankind’s tendency to be lulled into apathy, lukewarmness, and general self-indulgent approach becomes part and parcel to demoniac religion. How much more in America where the slothful and self-absorbed is the way of life, and the norm.

Chelcicky is not downplaying man’s rebellion toward his Maker, rather this comes across through a different path way. It is by far the rarer for a man to openly be hostile and hate the Creator, to despise and scorn his rightful Lord. Especially in our liberal climate, most have high ideas and thoughts and want the best for this world. It’s a much darker reality that man would snicker at his King, than out rightly attack him.

Of course, this sort of cultured-dispiser attitude, which might characterize the Athenians who attended Paul’s preaching at Mars Hill, was not what Chelcicky was attacking. His invective was not directed at these tepid peoples. In fact, the tone of this passage is one of pity. Petr was describing poor, uneducated peoples who were at the behest of the clerical authority in Medieval Europe. These priests, who were many times just educationally a rung higher above the common people, would teach and maintain man-made traditions and quench the Gospel. It became about liturgical routine instead of life in the Spirit. It was about Latin formulae, and not peace, joy, love, and righteousness.

The peasant and lay peoples wanted to honor God in some capacity, but in another, never wanted too much demanded of them. It was perhaps a reason why the Medieval Sacral Complex arose, with the common people left to the ministration of the clergy, and the monks to live out the heroic demands of what was so-called “perfection”.

It’s apart of the flood of the church by the half converted, and ambitions in newly minted Christian empire. How many joined the church out of desire to be apart of Constantine’s, and his progeny’s, new nobility? And many were welcome to rearticulate the Truth so it was palatable for everyone. There was no shock or demand from the Gospel. God was not the Resurrected Lord, revealed completely in His Incarnation, Jesus Christ. Instead vague notions of God being the Governor, the supreme ruler, who was reflected in the ministration of the Emperor, became the norm. Jesus was never cut out, but the Scripture’s narrative was trampled beneath half-Pagan notions.

Today, there are many who are essentially the same. Notions of God, whether christianly defined or not, are conformed not to the Spirit of God but the spirit of the times. So many a preacher are willing to accommodate the Truth, twist and morph it, and present some other gospel than the King of Glory being nailed to a tree.

Many could point out this or that preacher or church for their faults. Some have banished the concept of sin, and man’s radical corruption. Others have domesticated the Jesus of Scripture, either robbing Him of His holy and fierce divine love, or stripping Him of His humanity, and making Him mythological and shade-like. Others have introduced entertainment and crowd-pleasing as the ethos, investing in the modern methods of mass-media and propaganda that our news and advertisement industries do so well. It’s almost beautiful, in a sickening and hideous way. We don’t need to burn books anymore, the American mind is so diluted and unfocused, the Truth could be standing right in front of us, and we’d merely yawn. But I digress.

The point isn’t the above, these are just symptomatic. What’s at root is generally putting man at the center, and God is the major supporting actor to our individual dramas. So we are fed accordingly, but not even so. The disordered desires that afflict us, including me, are not “natural” but sculpting of twisted seedlings within. As an example, we may be born with broken sexualities, but our minds are sculpted by our society to be thoroughly pornified.

Our religions thusly accommodate, allowing people to feel ok. In contradistinction, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ calls everything into questions. Our whole way of life and being is called into question. Whatever we were doing, Jesus intervenes and commands: “Follow Me”. There is no time to bury the dead, or to plant fields, we must immediately run to Him, wherever He takes us. This is not to deny struggles with the flesh, the world, and the Devil. But there is a shift, a changing of loyalties.

But this religion of Christ is too much, so it’s watered down. Instead of being free, in light of the power of Christ, we’d rather dream that everything is smooth sailing. Instead of seeing all our wickedness nailed to the cross, we’d rather it just not be there. We’d rather have a means to deal with it, and excuse ourselves of the implications.

The clerics of Chelcicky’s day, and ours, many times would sell us whatever it is that we want to hear, whether masochistic writhing from a fundamentalist, a coma-inducing balm from the legion of Oprah, a patriotic oeuvre to America, or a humanistic call to social justice in the best of the Liberal tradition. People want to feel like they’re doing right by God, without the taking to bearing our crosses, as Jesus commands us.

Now let it be known, I’m not calling to a heroic life. Chelcicky may be wrongly thought to be saying that man can love the Lord with all his heart, and maybe that is what he said. But I understand him rather that our calling, our religion, is the want to love God with all our heart. That’s not saying that man will even want that love all the time. Instead, it’s the Spirit within us that stirs us to want that want of the Love of God, to follow Him all the closer.

The difference is that our hearts have become flesh, and live on a rhythm of repentance, as our lungs live on a rhythm of breathing. It’s all in the little things, following the Faithful One, even as we fall short. Such is hard in a milieu of the cursed middle.

Sin and Life

I write a lot of criticisms about many evils that people call good, and sometimes worship. However, may it never come off that I somehow hold myself exempt. I have whored around, I have been vicious. I struggle with colossal pride, and an “only the strong survive” internal ethic. Everything I write about, I struggle with in some capacity. Yet there is a higher calling at work in Scripture, that in following Jesus, one is born into His life. This can be a confusing dynamic, no longer in sin, yet always struggling with it.

Without further ado, here is a quote from P.T. Forsyth on this topic. I found it helpful and worth meditating upon:

The difference between the Christian and the world is not that the world sins and the Christian does not. It suits the world to think that it is; because it offers a handy whip to scourge the Church’s consistency while resenting its demands. But such a distinction is no part of the Church’s claim. Nor does it mark off the Christian’s worldly years from his life in Christ. A difference of that kind is merely in quantity—all the sin on the one side, none of it on the other. But the real difference (I must say often) is not in quantity; it is in quality. It is not in the number of sins, but in the attitude toward sin and the things called sin. It is in
the man’s sympathies, his affinities; it is in his conscience, his verdict on sin, his treatment of it—whether the world’s or his own.

The world sins and does not trouble; it even delights in it. In sin it is not out of its element; it may even be in its element and most at home there. The fear and hate of sin is not in the least its temper. But with the Christian man there is a new spirit, a new taste, bias, conscience, terror, and affection. His leading attitude to sin is fear and hate. His interest, his passion, is all for good and God. He himself is different from himself. He is renewed in the spirit of his mind. He may indeed lapse. The old instinct, the old habit, breaks out, and surprises him off his guard. The old vice fastens on him in a season of weakness. The old indifference may creep back. Mere nervous exhaustion may make him feel for a long time as if the spirit had been taken from him.

But these are either interludes, or they are upon the outskirts of his real nature. The loyalty of his person is still true, and his course in the main is right, whatever deviations the storms may cause, or however the calms may detain and irritate him. What is the thing most deep and assertive in him? I mean, what is most continuous in him? I do not ask what asserts itself oftenest, but what asserts itself most persistently on the whole, and in the end most powerfully and effectively.

What is the real and only continuity of his life? Is it a sinful temper and bias, a sinful joy or indifference, broken only occasionally, and ever more rarely, by spasms of goodness, glimpses of holiness, freaks of mercy and truth? Or is it the sympathy and purpose of holiness, clouded at times by drifts of evil, and cleft, to his grief, by flashes of revolt? That is the question. And it is the way the question will be put at the last. It will not be, How many are your sins and how many your sacrifices? but, On which side have you stood and striven, under which King have you served or died? A man may abide in the many–mansioned, myriad–minded Christ, even if the robber sometimes break into his room, or if he go out and lose his way in a fog. You stay in a house, or in a town, which all the same you occasionally leave for good or for ill. The question is, What is your home to which your heart returns, either in repentance or in joy? Where is your heart? What is the bent of your will on the whole, the direction and service of your total life? It is not a question settled in a quantitative way by inquiry as to the occupation of every moment. God judges by totals, by unities not units, by wholes and souls, not sections. What is the dominant and advancing spirit of your life, the total allegiance of your person?

Beethoven was not troubled when a performer struck a wrong note, but he was angry when he rafted with the spirit and idea of the piece. So with the Great Judge and Artist of life. He is not a schoolmaster, but a critic; and a critic of the great sort, who works by sympathy, insight, large ranges, and results on the whole. Perfection is not sinlessness, but the loyalty of the soul by faith to Christ when all is said and done. The final judgment is not whether we have at every moment stood, but whether having done all we stand—stand at the end, stand as a whole.

Perfection is wholeness. In our perfection there is a permanent element of repentance. The final symphony of praise has a deep bass of penitence. God may forgive us, but we do not forgive ourselves. It is always a Saviour, and not merely an Ideal, that we confess. Repentance belongs to our abiding in Christ, and so to any true holiness.

The Nihilism of Utopia

My dad would, after having listened to Michael Savage or Rush Limbaugh, reminisce about the golden days of the 50′s, against the supposed griminess of our modern world. This world was the the crystal days of Eisenhower. These were the days of an America at peace. These were the days of economic boom, where every family owned a house in Levittown and an automobile. These were days of religious fortitude, unswerving faith, and good moral backbone, standing against the godless Soviet hordes. These were the days of blue skies, apple pie, and the American way. These were the days of happiness.

Of course, this is sheer propaganda, but much of the Conservative agenda will harken to this as an era worth returning to. It was certainly apart of Reagan’s rhetoric, where he promised to turn the Nation out of the chaos of the 60′s and 70′s. It was to be morning in America again. Just as it was with the Puritans, with the Founders, with the Greatest Generation. This is a fabrication based upon the foolishness that there is some Golden Age worth returning to.

America had no golden age. The Massachusetts Bay Puritans massacred Indians and were so paranoid and fearful that they sowed the seeds for their destruction. Their dream to rebuild a pure society, an Israel of Englishmen, would force them to whip up the necessary constraints. External conformity was demanded, apostates would be scourged. Of course this social draw would command a reformulation and articulation of the vision in solid, infallible, logical deductions. This would lead from Protestant Orthodoxy (which is not completely biblical either) to the Unitarianism of the Revolutionary era, all the way to the idyllic utilitarian and polite agnosticism of 20th century New England. That was the engine that would drive America to be the nation of faith, for its own sake. That’s a kind of insanity for another discussion.

Within the supposed idyllic era of the 50′s, there was rampant wickedness of all sorts and kinds. The boilingpoint of the sixties was not from nowhere. It was a generation fed up with the plastic smiles and the absurd mannerisms of an empty bourgeoisie. It was a world that was founded upon the rapid ascension of the United States as supreme, while the old Western Empires were collapsing into the mud. England and France were rapidly deteriorating, exhausted and bankrupt from two prongs of a global bloodbath. Germany was a smoking wreckage. The United States, relatively untouched by the conflict, had only to gain. Its titanic industrial engine was rolling ahead full-steam, and the people had only to prosper.

With Eisenhower, a war hero beloved by all, at the helm, the economic and geo-political boom paved the way to happy days. Of course, the rampant racism and segregation were part and parcel to this order. One can only look back favorably upon this era as a white man. But with subtle racism aside, this is done quite frequently. Perhaps these little doses of wickedness are excused in comparison. Perhaps today, with its crudity and explicitness, are infinitely worse. Better to have foibles amidst civilization, than the gutter culture today. So they say.

I’m late to the conversation, but I recently started watching the show Mad Men. There are many things to commend about this show. However, the one I want to appreciate is how the show exposes the nihilism lurking beneath the world of Americana, and how today is little different than the 1950′s.

America during this era has been conceived as being a god-fearing nation, as bearers of the good in humanity, as being the faithful. This was in comparison to the atheistic and totalitarian Soviet Union. But as I mentioned briefly above, this was a nation of belief. We believed. Of course, this was wrapped up with Christianized language, but it had everything to do with our particular civil religion. This had to do with freedom, democracy, capitalism, the American way. All of these, more idealistic than concrete, were imbued with sacred function and holy language. It was for these that men would fight and die for, it was for this cause that the United States stood, and why we would cheer and wave the flag.

But this religious vision, which is hardly about Jesus, only produced white washed tombs. Behind the fake smiles were adultery, alcoholism, abuse, lies, gossip, and idiocy. The following generation, which would bring about the sexual revolution, drug culture, acceptable public atheism or agnosticism, wanted to live up to the reality in the shadows. They wanted to stop faking all the nonsense that no one believed anyway. They wanted to be able to articulate the way they wanted to live.

In the end, the attempt to conserve the old civilization ended up redefining terms and allowing the wide net for the old ways. Fox News is a pericope for this phenomenon. The old christianized civil religion is rebuilt to allow for things formerly taboo, such as divorce, modern psychology, and immodesty. It wouldn’t surprise me that if in 50 years, many taboos for today, including nonmarital sex, homosexual sex/marriages, use of marijuana, would also go. Every generation will produce a new set of conservatives that will make room for the liberalism of the day. Tillich’s thought is the cornerstone to the complete identification of church and culture.

Behind all the material and ideological clutter lies nothing but the void. The redefinition of a conservative vision to maintain the old ways in speech, but adopt the new in action, is the survival mechanism of civilization and culture. I’m thankful for this reflex, it keeps a semblance of order. However, it doesn’t mean that it has any substance or hope.  It’s a mask.

In the first episode of Mad Men, the main character, Don Draper, broadsides the notion of love and companionship. He says: “You’re born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one”.

As far as I can tell, he’s the only honest man in his business. He has no time for a soul, or some floating, after-death paradise. While he attacks the concept of Valentine’s Love, and how it is really a creation to make money, this is an unmasking of all these fantasy visions our culture provides. Of course, Don makes his money creating wants and filling them, building fantasies to profit off them. It’s not as sinister as it sounds, it’s only apathy. But Don, knowing what it is that he does, isn’t going to get high off his own supply.

Ecclesiastes is a book that ought to be read often. The oft repeated phrase is “under the sun”, and I think this ought to color how we understand it. That is, Ecclesiastes teaches us what this world is like without Heaven’s intervention. That’s why the conclusion is to obey God’s Law. In a similarly mysterious conclusion to Job, the reader is redirected to a promise, God’s righteous faithfulness. But for those who are pledged to the Messiah Jesus, it is a reminder that Don is right.

What I mean is that resurrection changes everything. It’s not resuscitation, but a cataclysmic event where the ‘world to come’ has broken in. ‘This world’ stands under judgement, it will return to the abyss from which it was called. From the dust we come, and to it we return. All golden age ideologies, especially the conservative 1950′s idyllic, are just putting plastic smiles over top Oblivion. They are trying to build something over top the reality we are born in alienation, and death will swallow up whatever remains of us.

But Jesus’ resurrection from the dead changes everything. The belly of the Beast, Death, is split open. It’s why the demonic powers that be, both spiritual and temporal, seek to subdue the Christian witness. This has many, many forms, too many to name. However, Jesus becomes an ideal, a platform, a childish fable. But this is Satan appearing as an angel of light. These may have provided moral, technological, and civilizational progress, but this means nothing to their credit. The Lord brings goods from many kinds of evils.

Resurrection is the final word, striking the world as an otherworldly hammer falling from the heavens. Don Draper’s comments reveal the nothing behind the masks, and they are to be appreciated. They are a reminder that, as Paul said, if Jesus did not rise, our faith is just another mask over the void. That’s why some confused Paul’s message for proclaiming two gods, Jesus and Resurrection.

Either Jesus was raised, and there is a tomorrow, or there is no resurrection, and there’s no tomorrow. No fantasy can change that.

The Veil Betwixt Life and Death: Jesus, Frankenstein, and Life After Death

What is life? This simple, and yet unendingly deep, question is foundational to understanding and framing what we are and what our purpose in being is. It determines what we choose to do, even in the most mundane, and why we do it. It shapes the fabric of reality, even as life is a tiny, glowing ember in an inorganic universe.

Many will take this to mean that life, as it were, is an abnormality and a sort of fluke in the course of lifeless matter. Now, there are the extreme and the nihilistic, who take this as a sign that life really ought not to be. It is a passing flicker on the wall of a generally hostile universe. Actually, hostile bestows too much personality, and thus, they might say, it is a backdoor to our self-importance as the living. Instead, the Universe merely is. It is apathetic and uncaring. The Cosmos crushes life beneath its unbreakable heel in the same way most people kill ants. They step on them without even knowing, and move on.

But as I said, there are few who would accept the nihilistic fatalism that our fragility implies. Instead we concoct speculations regarding other life-bearing planets, though none have been found. We all assume that life is a good thing and that it has a place in this world, though only Earth supports it.

However, there is also a love of Death at work in humanity. We slaughter each other mercilessly, and have done so through almost all of our time present as a race. We exploit, manipulate, rape, mutilate and distort. In a sense, life is at the same time very precious and utterly worthless and devoid.

Amongst some, this might be given a cheery and smiley wheel-of-life explanation. We all had a chance at life, we must enjoy it, and then get out of the way. There’s a time for us under the sun, and then we need to accept a return to the inorganic majority. We need to rot back into our primordial condition of non-entity. Animals do it, why can’t human?

However, no one really would accept such a premise. It’s why Humanity’s propensity to murder and mutilate is ever-present and always present. While our chest may be moving up and down, we spend most of our days looking for life. It’s not enough to have food in our bellies, we need a drive, a purpose, a future. It’s interesting that in Latin, the verbs for breathing and hoping are separated by a single letter.

As we breathe, we must hope. There must be a way forward.

At one level, this is primarily about the biological. We must sooth ourselves in the wake of a death. We speak pious fictions of seeing our loved ones again on a far away shore. Or perhaps in some happy land made from cloud and sunshine. Our bodies may expire, but we must believe that we survive.

The Ancient Greeks would mourn wildly and women would lacerate themselves in sorrow for the dead. For them, unlike our sheltered society, death was a tragic and utterly depressing affair. There was no good in the afterlife. The dead would fall into an abyss, led to a kind of rest of huddle and confused masses. The living would be terrified that an escaped shade would come back to haunt their neglectful or disrespectful relatives. Eventually, it was believed, the dead would drink of the River Lethe, whose waters brought forgetfulness. From there, they would mindlessly roam Hades for eternity. As the shade of Achilles put it: It’d be better to be a slave on Earth than be king in Hades.

As the upper classes of Hellas developed, and were less in terror of being ripped from this world, there were mystery cults and heroic paens that promised something more substantial. Eventually the small thought of existing by your progeny’s reverence gave way to more substantial ideas. Plato would posit the immortal soul ascending to a realm of Ideas, Pythagoras argued for a karmic cycle of reincarnation, and Stoics would have an eternally recurring universe. But the masses would, in general, remain content to the existence in Hades. While Socrates might have been fine with his death., most people weren’t and it was tragic.

Perhaps the Greeks were not as self-deceived as us, but perhaps also much has to do with conceptions of our weightiness. The Greek aristocrats would indulge in mystery, contemplation, and philosophy. They could not merely pass into the abyss, there was greatness to be had. In our modern world, this self-exaltation has been democratized and given to all. There is a popularly conceived idea of the worth of all people, intrinsically.

Therefore, as we breathe, we must hope. But Platonic dreaming and culture-christianity have gone under heavy fire. Marx would call this distant and whispy hope the “opiate of the masses”. However, he was blind that his own middling class and nobility shared the same neurotic hope for an afterlife, and perhaps even more so than the proletariat. All of it drugs us to the miseries of this life, most especially the poor who have no ability to partake of material blessings. They have no access to fine wine, tasty food, comfortable bedding, and workless leisure.

The advances in technology and applying the scientific method to our own biology has done much damage to our vain imaginings. While the Mind and the Soul are beyond the complete power of the magnifying glass, our urges and desires have root in chemical equations and electrical charges. This does not damage the value of life, but for materialists like Marx, it removes the baseless blindfold of much of bourgeois philosophy and religion.

Again, this was not new. Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher, believed that we, as men, were what we saw. There was no indissoluble, indestructible immortality. Hades was just a myth for the uneducated. We are only to return to the dust. Therefore, life ought to be about being happy, that is, to flourish.

While his namesake is attached to debauchery and indulgence, he would posit that philosophy, inquiry and contemplation, was the greatest joy for men. Life was precious for the time that we had it. Thus, even though Julius Caesar was a Roman General and Patrician, he was also a devotee of Epicurean philosophy. It was for this reason that he objected to the execution of Catiline, convicted of treason and revolution. Even for a traitor, he was a Roman, he didn’t need to be banished to oblivion.

When Life is seen for what it is, fragile and fleeting, its importance skyrockets to the top. Dreams and fantasies are way to cope with the power of death’s imposing rule. When divested of this kind of hoping, new methods and manners are passionately engaged. When we awaken from our saccharine dreams, we are beset with dread. What horror to hear the ticking of a clock or the falling of a leaf. It’s a reminder of what is coming.

Therefore, the banishing of culture-christianity’s promise of pie-in-the-sky from modern discourse led to a different obsession. This is most prominent in the story of Dr. Viktor Frankenstein. His obsession, and the creation of his ‘monster’, was due to a hope for life. He wanted to know what it is that separated the veil between the organic and inorganic, the living and the dead. He wanted to ascend beyond our doom.

Frankenstein is an example of eyes wide open desperately searching for a hope. If life could be understood, if we knew how to pass through the veil that separates us from the void, then we could transcend it. This is a prominent theme in our modern science-fiction. There’s even a movie called Transcendence about uploading a human mind into a computer mainframe!

This isn’t just fiction but the hope of some who are working, day and night, for the technological capability to transfer our humanity into something more lasting than our mortal coil. If our brains could be preserved, and new bodies could be built, than immortality is only limited by the power of the machine. Our life could stretch beyond what it is limited by, so we must strive!

Of course, this may end up exactly like Frankenstein’s eponymous monster. He was not the secret to Humanity, he was confused, enraged,  and beast-like. Dr. Frankenstein had not unlocked the key to saving Mankind, only butchering our humanity. This is part of what drove Nazi experimentation, though it never reached the level of how fiction portrays it. They searched for ways to improve, purify, and sustain the “master-race”.

Now a days, everyone is looking for more life. Even for those devoid of intellectual brilliance, Oprah, and the guru-industy, have made billions off the pop attempts at life renewal. Whether it be through yoga and zen meditation, or eating and exercising, it’s all apart of the neurotic quest to survive a little longer. Plastic surgery is the attempt to attain youth, carving our bodies into a recycled shape.

Israel was no different. Yet Israel’s God did not conjure fantasies like the false gods. Instead He gave a promise of life restored. Culture-Christianity, conditioned for state-craft and  the use for the powers that be, had abandoned the radical doctrine of resurrection.

Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Promised One, is not one more mystery cult figure or philosopher trying to reason out the meaning of life. He pointed to Himself, which confused the hell out of His disciples. But on the 3rd day, when He rose from the grave, what he had been saying finally made sense. Finally, their ears were unstopped and they could hear Him bellow: “I have come to bring life, and abundantly”.

Jesus came to bring Life, but it is more than we could even imagine. For Him, as it really is, life is not just about the small flicker of the biological, or the movement of the mind. It is holistic. The entirety of Man needs life, in body, mind, soul, strength, emotions, spirit.  But we are already dead and dying, what of those who perished? Jesus is Resurrection. In His Body, He rose. That is the Promise we stand upon. He welcomes us to Him.

What separates this faith, this trusting in this story and idea, from everything else? Simply because it is real. It is not something that occurred somewhere else, but on Earth. It was not something taught, received from another realm, it happened before the eyes of men. In the fullness of time, a world-changing event occurred. What Frankenstein sought for happened in a singular, cosmos shattering event.

As sons of the Earth, we scurry and dig in vain for a way to prevail over Death, but we cannot. Instead, the Man from Heaven, God with us, in the flesh, dwelt with us and fulfilled all the promises of Israel, the promise given to our ancestor in the Garden. The Messiah brought age-abiding life in His own body, and He has come to give, and give to the fullest.

We spend our days juggling the many problems of our existence. We try to stop our bodies decaying. We try to keep our minds from becoming inept and decrepit. We seek to give our spirit a purpose and drive. We yearn for a future. All of these are the workings of Death, and as we try to fix the one, the ones fall to pieces. We’re disentegrating day by day, we’re perishing moment by moment.

Jesus comes for man as he truly is. Our Maker promises, and fulfills such a glorious thing, to make all things new. Resurrection is the victory of Life over all kinds of death.  Resurrection brings the whole man to life. While our bodies will not be raised until that last day, resurrection is now. Jesus brings Life in this age and the age to come.

In His Death, He killed the Beast. Death died. This is a stunning paradox. In walking through Death, He destroyed Death. It is in this way that we, as men who follow our Lord, can do the same. We may boldly face our death, in all ways, and see death die. This happens now! We put our ways of life, zombie-like means to survive, to death. Only in that may we rise from the dust, here and now. Yea, we may even face bodily death boldly. The whole man will be brought to life. He will make all things new!

Unlike the phantoms of some and the neurotic hurrying of others, we may live life to the fullest now. We can enter death, and in so doing, destroy its power. We can live beyond the Fear of Death in the Truth. The pit, the return to the inorganic, does not have the last word. Jesus does:

“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

Unless One is Born Again

The insights for this post come from the night-time conversation between Christ Jesus and the Pharisee Nicodemus. Here’s the relevant section:

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus sneaks away from his fellow councilors to approach this wonderful, and powerful, teacher named Jesus of Nazareth. That is, this is what Nicodemus thinks as he approaches Jesus. He begins with a mix of flattery and recognition. Despite what other Pharisees have said, and the majority of the Sanhedrin, not everyone is against Him. Nicodemus wants Jesus to know that His miracles are clearly signs of God.

Or are they?

The first time I heard this passage preached, the explanation for Jesus’ instant, and bizarre, response was His single-minded dedication. Jesus, being cryptic, just changed the conversation from where Nicodemus wanted it to go. I think the Messiah was intentionally cryptic, and have no problem with that, but it’s too simplistic to merely attribute this was an out-of-left conversation shift. Jesus’ response was intentional to what Nicodemus had said.

Jesus’ teaching, that one cannot see the Kingdom without being born again, is intentionally playing off Nicodemus’ statement. Nicodemus makes it clear that it is obvious to the teachers of Israel, so-called, that these signs mark out Jesus as sent from God. But, I don’t think Jesus agrees. In fact, it’s not the miracles themselves but the Spirit behind them that reveals where they are from.

In fact, apprehending the Spirit within Jesus, His Holy Spirit, is what reveals that Jesus is indeed God’s Face. If we cannot see, and blaspheme in ignorance, we could, like the Pharisees, see God’s finger and proclaim Satan’s kingdom. We could hear a Divine Voice and think it only thunder rumbling in the clouds. Yea, we could see the Red Sea part and think that only a strong gust had blown the waters apart. The plagues of Egypt are viewed not as the Lord’s judgment, but the work of the magicians named Moses and Aaron.

How do we enter this? Jesus tells us, and we, like Nicodemus, should be taken aback. Just as flesh births flesh, so does Spirit birth spirit. We can’t perceive the Finger of God unless He opens our eyes. And yet, there seems to be the very real reality that, once seen, the cross is scorned, forgiveness of sins rejected, and the Holy Spirit is blasphemed. This, above all, is the unforgivable sin, because it rejects that God indeed brings about the resurrection from the dead, the forgiveness of sins. The two are spiraled around each other, since Adam both sinned and died in the very same moment that he dragged his race into the chains of the abyss.

This does not result in some kind of fideism, where trusting the Son of God is this irrational act. Perhaps in the eyes of a blinded and dead world, following Jesus into death, bearing our crosses, does seem irrational. However, reason has a place within this new trust, just as all our reasons are grounded upon certain trusts we decide to make. If we trust our minds to accurately report sensory data, then we will be able to empirically observe. If we trust the universe somehow polices itself, then we act knowing unseen crimes somehow find a kind of recompense. Whether or not what we trust is true, it is what we act upon.

Yet, to see God’s Kingdom, a supernatural awakening occurs. Supernatural is perhaps the wrong word, because it makes it seem unnatural, or that God speaks outside of created means. No, Heaven and Earth are not so separated. The Word of God appears in Human dreams, speaking Human words, and is understood by Human minds. Regardless, we must be born from on high to truly see the Kingdom, built through the redemption by the Son of God’s blood.

Thus Jesus responds to Nicodemus in such a way. No, it is not apparent from the miracles that Jesus is the Teacher, since these same men reject Him as God’s Word. They are not born again through the Only One who has come from the Throne. They are not seeing clearly, they are blind leading the blind.

It is why Augustine, when he could finally see the Lord, would talk of his eyes being opened, his lungs being filled with breath, and his heart burning with love of Peace. It’s why CS Lewis could speak of his conversation not as a radical existential experience, but an awakening from sleep. Like the sun lighting up the world, so too does the Truth enlighten all things to be seen.

To see God’s work in the world, we need to be awakened. Only then will we see, and rejoice, in the little things, the small reconciliations, the acts of repentance, the fastings and prayers for complete redemption. That is the Kingdom at work, and only those with open eyes see it.

Son of God, lead us into greater vision. Selah.

The Almighty is Meek

A theological fad these days, especially those of liberal sensibilities, is what is called kenotic theoogy. This comes from a Greek word for “emptying” and the basis is from a song/poem that Paul recites in the second chapter of Philippians:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The message here is simple, and yet utterly deep and unfathomable. The very Creator and Word of God made Himself nothing, bearing the totality of shame that His form brought with it. He became Man, and so was obedient through man’s cursed life beneath the Sun.

If you’re looking to understand what it means that He became a slave, read Ecclesiastes. This depressing piece of eyes-wide-open wisdom wreaks havoc upon the stupidity and aimlessness of our lives. Treasure, sex, hobbies, wealth, progeny, honor, and, yes, even wisdom, do nothing but heap up continued frustration. The best intentions are foiled by one slip of folly. The best attempts are scrapped by designs of the clever, the malignant, and unscrupulous. The virtuous are not spared a single thing, despite the moralisms of Karma preachers. Everyone ends up dead, and yes says the preacher, perhaps it’s better to be not born at all.

This is radically out of bounds of much of American religion, but that’s because most of American religion is self-serving and for the purposes of Empire and therapy. Alas, I digress.

This is the world that Christ entered in, and He did so honestly. That is why He was born in humble Bethlehem, a little shoot of the tribe of Judah, and not amongst Hasmodean line of princes and priests. He is a Prince and Priest of the highest order, but this is what this Pauline song is getting at. His majesty is in the very fact that He was born in the dust of a trough. He wanted to play the Man, not masquerade as something else. That is why He counted no home, no kin, no luxury. His reliance would be His Father, through Him Jesus would be provided a much deeper country, a much deeper family, a much deeper joy.

It was in His death, even death on the cross, that He’d see victory. The curse of dying on the tree, interated in Deuteronomy, might be the horror of Adam’s destructive signing away of life. The way through Death would take our Champion back to Death’s root of power over the creation. Adam invited sin into the world through the tree, Christ would end it by being nailed to it. The Tree of Life would be joined to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and re-form it.

And in Jesus’ resurrection, His Name, HaShem in the flesh, would rise above all names, and upon that name the whole of creation would bow. The Cornerstone of the new Cosmos would either be stumbled over, breaking chains and bringing redemption, or it would crush the enemies of Life, and blow them back into the dust, eternally. But this ought not to be melancholic or gloomy. Jesus is not the Dread-lord of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Jesus is the slain-yet-living Lamb, who alone is worthy to sit upon the Throne and bring about God’s Judgment.

The Slain-yet-Living Lamb is, in the Revelation to St.John, the Lion of Judah. The Wrath of God is the Wrath of the Lamb. The Judgment of God is the destruction of Babylon and the unending joy and praise of the Wedding Feast.

Jesus is Lord!

Nothing I’ve said is terribly controversial to the general thrust of the Biblical narrative. Yet the implications tend to be worked out in ways that deny their functional reality. For some reason, many people divide theology or preaching into scholastic and rigid doctrinaire proclamations and practical insights and applications. The division is ridiculous. All doctrine is practical, significant in the commonness of life. If it’s not, then it’s fantasy and the bickering of school boys.

In the beginning I mentioned what is called Kenotic theology that is capitalized by much of liberal theology (but not exclusively) in an attempt to banish the Almighty from working in His creation. It’s all attempts for man to try and assume the reigns out of the Lord’s hand. I use to find this approach attractive, and I maintained it in many different guises. At some points I was a semi-Pelagian/folk-Arminianism along the lines of John Cassian of Erasmus. In this, the Freewill (poorly defined) was what kept out the Lord from acting decisively. At other points, I opted for open theism and the cosmic-warfare model of Greg Boyd. It made sense of the constant confusion in life.

Both of these, like all things (including Marxism, Atheistic Existentialism, and Nietzsche), have valuable things to contribute, and their complaints and questions help focus and guide one to the truth. Let it be said, I love Greg Boyd, I have benefited from his sermons, and love his vision for community and discipleship beneath the Lord Jesus. I’d instantly stand up and call him a brother. He’s not even really a theological liberal. However, both the approaches listed make nonsense out of, what may be called, Providence and the guiding hand of the Lord. Certainly, if not a sparrow falls without the Lord’s permission, then the evils, even the worst, are beneath the Lord’s hand.

Yet, early in my conversion, I found Boyd’s message so attractive. It was because he repudiated the war-mongering, blood-drunk, chicken-hawk preachers who flooded to support Bush’s imperial expedition to clean up a left-over from the Soviet days, and stick a flag in the land of two rivers. What he fought against was a Jesus-less god of Anglo-American values. TF Torrance once said that there is no god, or godness, behind the back of Jesus. There is no god outside of Jesus. Before Abraham, Jesus is. The Christ is the Fullness of Godhead.

Therefore, Providence is cruciform.

Sadly, many who adhere to biblical theology, and call themselves conservative defenders of the gospel,  really throw this song out. That is, they recast this hymn, where Jesus’ complete and total identification as the Word from which all things are made and are sustained, into something else.

The major problem is a two-dimensional, flat, univocal definition of power that limits the Almighty into the box of an oriental despot. For all attempts at sophistication, many defenses of political regimes and imperial adventures and power plays are at the level of “can God make a rock so big He can’t pick it up?” Paul’s proclamation that the Lord chose the weak things of this world to reveal His power is lost on deaf ears. Many heads nod along, but are functionally wagging in scorn and mockery.

The Kenotic theologians, who proclaim a weak god, end up in the same place. Whether its defense of the status-quo and Empire, or liberational theology, both advocate humans take up the sword to butcher and slaughter and showcase the strength of their Molech. They all say, some with suit and tie, others with AK-47 in hand: kill them all, God will know His own.

Romans 13 is vomited up as quick, instinctual parry, but ignores the context of the preceding Romans 12. Again, with a univocal understanding of the Almighty’s power, they can’t conceive that God uses these powers and principalities, subverting their arrogant and selfish goals, and exerts His authoritative reign over them. All the while, He is calling a people together, setting hearts ablaze with a vision of an eternal city tucked away in the Heavenlies, waiting to descend behind her King when the Trump is blown.

The mysteriousness is even in the very life of Jesus. The Son of God reveals the Face of God, and how God brings His authority in a godforsaken world. He tells the ‘Sons of Thunder’, James and John, that their cry for fire from heaven had nothing to do with Him. Jesus denied His disciples, including us, the sword.

And yet, He also cryptically speaks of how even the Powers That Be are beneath the moving of Providence. Caiaphas is an icon of all self-preserving religion, yet even he foretells the significance of the Christ. Pilate begins the trial of the Messiah, but he can’t do anything that the Divine had not decreed. The betrayer would come, such was in the prophets, but woe on him! Better if he be not born.

Yea, even Christ’s Spirit, after His ascension, brought both life and death. Ananias and Saphira are struck dead in the midst of thinking that the Kingdom was one more system to scam. They lost their lives in the lie of self-progress. It had nothing to do with giving, but in distorting reality. The disciples did not rejoice, or seek out other liars. They trembled.

There is a multiplicity to the movements of the Lord, and it’s not visible, but murky. Even the revolving of the cursed world under the sun is still maintained by the Creator. Yet He moves in quite a different way to bring about liberation. Those Constantinians can’t understand this, and so, when given the choice, Christ is reshaped. God is either weak or dead, or a self-absorbed tyrant. Again, this is not preached formally, generally speaking, but embraced functionally.

Let the Gospel of our Lord Jesus shape our understanding of how we live as His people. We need to worry about being faithful. We’re not weak, but strong through His weakness, and taking up our cross, and following Him. This is what shapes how we live our lives in the fullness of true humanity, imitating Christ. The Lord will Judge, and He is Almighty, but He is the One who took on His own Judgment for our sakes.

So whatever you do, remember this. May it lead us into being peacemakers. May we understand we are in the power of the Most High, but it is not the same as the ways of this world. May we resist such a temptation to get drunk on conquest, and seek after orgasms of Babylonian victory.

Sit at His feet and listen. Be conformed to the Matchless King.

What is the Gospel?

Amongst some of my friends, we enjoy talking about all sorts of things pertaining to philosophy, faithful daily living, relationships, social and cultural realities etc. Of course, we work from a view that theology, or metaphysics, or the very of who we call God is at the root of all of these discussions. Christ is the center and foundation of speaking. And yet we end up short-handing this very core as “the gospel”. So examples might be: “When I’m with x, the Gospel really proves y and z…”, “I have to remember the Gospel when x…”, “I’m glad the Gospel reveals x, y, z…”.

Now, I’m perfectly fine with this language. However, sometimes I want to pause and ask “what exactly do you mean by gospel?” Not in the sense that they don’t understand what they’re talking about, but in terms of clarification. Maybe I’m not sure completely what it is when I want to use that word.

Another inspiration for this was when I briefly skimmed a modern evangelical book, devoted solely to this question. While the book is somewhat useful as a tool, it promoted what I think is a rather restrictive definition. The Gospel, primarily, was defined in terms of Penal Substitutionary Atonement, and everything else, outside of this core consideration, was a helpful, even biblical, appendage.

Now I have no problem with Penal Substitution as a facet of the Gospel, but, despite the efforts of some, it is a novel articulation that puts itself in the very center of what was happened when the Christ hung on the cross, and three days later, rose from the dead. It truly only began to take on such prominence in Calvin’s theologizing, and further systematized by the Reformed, his readers, and others in the wake of his influence.

What this articulates is that, given that the Lord is Judge, and we are lawbreakers, there needs to be a reckoning. But, in Jesus Christ, we secure a pardon by being united to the Just One. He accepts the condemnation, so we might be go free. Again, I think Calvin has many good insights, and that his understanding of the legal dynamics are not to be flippantly disregarded.

However, this particular interpretation was not promoted until the Reformation. The closest came in Anselm’s writings. I’ve not read Anselm, and there is further debate on all he was talking about, but, as I understand it, the atonement completes a debt of honor. Humanity dishonored their Lord, and satisfaction was to be made. This has the distinct tinge, in such form, of seeing things through the lens of Feudal Europe. However, lest it’s merely hand-waved as barbaric, it is God, incarnated, who both is rightfully wrathful and who atones.

Yet, the other wrong direction to run is, like Gustaf Aulen, to deny that this approach has any merit at all. The early Church, he rightfully points out, conceived of the atonement in a much different fashion. Some stated it in ransom terms, based on a verse in Mark’s gospel, that Jesus was ransomed to the Devil so that humanity could break free, but the Devil couldn’t hold the Son of God and lost all. Others put it in the assumption of the sickness and infirmity of human-kind, our slavery to death, and that Jesus, in His incarnation, took it all to Himself. In His death, and resurrection, He paved the way out of the Pit, and into eternal life.

What remains the same, and what Aulen promoted, was that both involved the defeat of a particular enemy, and when collided together, Jesus stands as the Victor over the power of Satan, Sin, and the Devil. It was this cosmic victory mode of thinking about the atonement that was taught until Calvin. Then it became merely forensic, and the scope of universal victory became a matter of relieving guilt before a Just Judge and reductionized the biblical account. Christus Victor was the Gospel.

While there are those who adhere to the strawman, that was not what any fleshed out or thoughtful Penal Substitutionary Atonement advocated. Yet, I’m not satisfied with the either-or approach. Nor am I quite satisfied with how Scott McKnight, in one of his books, attempted to reckon this. Aulen is right in constructing the historiography of the teaching. But, like myself, McKnight doesn’t believe in the either-or attack either. Instead, the centrality is the atonement itself.

McKnight would point out that the central event (death, burial resurrection) had many descriptions throughout the Scripture. Some were in terms of law, others were cultic (i.e. sacrifice), others were cosmic-war, still more were in terms of restoring humanity. The metaphor he put it as was that the atonement was a golf-bag, and each theory was a club. Each had a place and a time for use. None ought to monopolize the bag, otherwise there’d be distortion.

Yet this collage approach doesn’t do justice to the consistency in which Paul proclaims the gospel. There are multiple understandings throughout Scripture, but there is something more unifying than the very act itself. The Apostle would constantly go back to the theme that Jesus, who is the Christ, died, was buried, and, on the third day, rose. Yet there is one more consistent statement: for the forgiveness of sins.

In the Biblical witness, sin is a rather mysterious concept, and one that lacks any precise definition. Sometimes it’s pegged in terms of law-breaking, yet Paul will also talk about the presence of sin without the giving of Torah. In fact, the Torah would reveal such sinfulness, and would make it utterly sinful. Sin is at time personified, waiting to grab a hold of Cain, in his bitterness and envy. Sometimes sin is an action one commits, othertimes, it’s something woven into the human-being.

In semantics, sin merely means ‘missing the mark’, an archery terms. But don’t let such a commonness mislead. It is the same word that would describe the flaw that would destroy the Greek tragic figure. It is something insidious, yet lacking precise articulation. But this, is the very thing for which Christ brought about, it’s destruction. Sin was forgiven, wiped out, in the death and resurrection of the Son of God.

What is similar between Penal Substitution, Christus Victor, or any of the other approaches?

The key is Substitution.

Where we were lawbreakers, still under the penalty, Christ stood in as the Just, and took our lawbreaking to death, in order that we may rise. Where we were powerless under the rule of the devil, Christ the King took up among the slaves of darkness, and killed the dragon that none of us could. Where we were sick unto death, He plunged into the Abyss, and brought renewal and life. The key is that Christ stood in where we could not, so we might partake of what He truly is.

If this is understood, this abolishes such restrictiveness and sectarian understanding, and yet puts the Atonement into something more intelligible than a mere bag. It includes the objective and the subjective, it includes the individual and the corporate, but retains the form of the Apostolic Witness. It is able to unite the differences between Patristics and Moderns in one catholic Body. It doesn’t require a reductionist approach, or a bad historiographical accounting for the past.

Christ is Humanity’s Substitute, as the Second Adam, and paves a new way. Where we were lawless, in Him we have hearts inscribed with the law, that is the good-life, living humanly. Where we were sick and dying, in Him we have life and it abundantly. Where we were slaves to concupiscence and demonic powers, in Him we are free. Of course, this is all understood in terms of participation, which keeps the dialectic of already/not-yet in play. Here is Paul, who speaks thusly in terms of the blessing and curse of the law:

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”]), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3: 13-14)

If Gospel is understood thusly, and it truly is Good News, then maybe we’ll be able to discern better whether one really understands the Good News.

This can be applied elsewhere, it is this understanding that is Gospel. If Christ be not substitute, our advocate, our champion, our doctor, then something or someone else will. It’s the root of such a blasphemy that justification by works proclaims. Be it bloodline (as the Apostle dealt with) or charity, pain, family, whatever. If it is other than Christ that stands in for us, we’ve denied the Good News, and sunk back into the shadows. There is much to explore, this is only the first step.

To conclude, I’ll quote Melito of Sardis, a 2nd century bishop, who articulated the Good News thusly:

This one is the passover of our salvation. This is the one who patiently endured many things in many people: This is the one who was murdered in Abel, and bound as a sacrifice in Isaac, and exiled in Jacob, and sold in Joseph, and exposed in Moses, and sacrificed in the lamb, and hunted down in David, and dishonored in the prophets.

 This is the one who became human in a virgin, who was hanged on the tree, who was buried in the earth, who was resurrected from among the dead, and who raised mankind up out of the grave below to the heights of heaven.

This is the lamb that was slain. This is the lamb that was silent. This is the one who was born of Mary, that beautiful ewe-lamb. This is the one who was taken from the flock, and was dragged to sacrifice, and was killed in the evening, and was buried at night; the one who was not broken while on the tree, who did not see dissolution while in the earth, who rose up from the dead, and who raised up mankind from the grave below.

“The Glory of God is Living Man”: The Purposes of Redemption

The title of this comes from Irenaeus of Lyons who, as one fully immersed in the Scripture, understood the mission of God in Jesus Christ. That is what he called ‘recapitulation’. And this is a drum I cannot beat loud enough, as evinced in a prior post. I’m going to build and elaborate more on this theme in particular.

That theme is that, fundamentally, Christ Crucified Over Adam's GraveChrist truly is the second Adam. If this is seemingly small statement is not a bedrock of Christ’s person and mission, everything else will be misunderstood and abused into something that is not gospel-truth. That is, if Christ’s work as Priest, King, and Prophet (which He surely is) does not find it’s root in Christ’s reconstitution of Adam’s initial rule as the same, then He can be none of these.

Adam’s work, in being the image of God, was commissioned from the very beginning. He was to rule and reign over the creation. Adam was to name (which I take as an act of preaching, which finds its place in the Prophet) the animals and things of the world. He was to be as head over his wife, interceding for her.

In all of these things he was an abject failure. He handed the keys of his throne, his mantle, and his altar over to Satan. Adam’s humanity was shattered. Sin, a parasitic nothingness, was woven into the core of Adam’s line. And lest Adam continue on, the Lord banished Adam from Eden, cutting him off from the Tree of Life.

This is certainly an odd story, and one that remains a mystery outside of the Promise fulfilled. If God is Lord of Life, then why did He remove Adam from it’s very source? The answer, perhaps too quickly given, is the presence of sin. It is facile to simply say that a Holy Lord cannot bear the presence of sin. This makes a mockery of both the fact that the world is not somehow outside of the presence and purview of the Lord, and that Jesus, the same Incarnate Lord, would convene with sinners of the worst kind.

It’s actually the other way around: sin cannot tolerate the Holy.

When Isaiah, like all the other prophets, is given a vision of the “inner-workings” (I lack a better phrasing), seeing the throne of the Lord of Hosts, it is he, not the very King, who begs purification. It is Peter, not Jesus, who reels with disgust. When poor Simon realizes who it is that he beholds, he collapses. It will lead to hatred, loving the dark more than the light, or to repentance and embracing (i.e. faith) the Christ. Which occurs is only in the benevolent working of the call of Christ Jesus.

So perhaps it is a form of mercy that Adam is not allowed to remain. For in his failure, and his dooming the entirety of his race, another way is proclaimed. While the exile is truly a lamentation, he is not left bereft of hope. His wife will be named Eve, for she shall be the mother of the living. I take this not to mean, as it is sometimes translated, as the mother of all living human beings, biologically speaking. That may be a side meaning, the truth is that it coincides with the promise given to her: she will have an offspring, a son, who will crush that serpent’s head. For the rest of the creation, as the biblical account portrays, the covenant people, those holding the torch of the promise, will be constantly warred against by the Serpent. Yes, even Israel is in the thrall of demons, but typologically, not so.

The promise is in receiving a Son of Life in, now, a world of death. That Holy One, that Anointed One, the Messiah, came in the person of the Nazarene Jesus. When Jesus came to Jon the Forerunner (or popularly known as the Baptist), some puzzle over what the purpose of this was. Jon himself was confused. Isn’t He, this Jesus, the Holy One? The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? Why would He ask for baptism? Jon needed it!

Yet Jesus’ response, still elusive, is to fulfill all righteousness. That is: Jesus, who is Humanity’s substitution, identified with the Human condition. He sanctified the waters with His own sanctity. By joining with us, He is Humanity’s full representative. He was born under the Law in order to fulfill the Law.

What that means is not how some may interpret it. Jesus is fully Human, He is the Son of Mary, the Son of David, yea, He is, like Adam, even the son of God. This last has two meanings, but the less prominent (i.e.God’s recapitulation of Adam in Christ) I stress. The Christ is not a non-Human, a condemnation of humanity, across the board, or a mere completion of the good humanity that already is. All of these confuse all sorts of things, and Christ is relegated to something merely religious. What utter slander.

What I mean, in two extremes, is that Christ is not the abnegation of humanity nor it’s mere completion. Both have truth, but miss the essence. To this I turn briefly.

Christ being only a shade is the heresy of Doceticism, and, when read in light of the Gospels, it is clearly an absurd proclamation. It is built on Gnostic presuppositions that accord all matter is inherently evil and lacking worth. The Lord of Heaven would never stoop so low, thus the seeming Humanity must be explained away. This is a soft-ball for a history class. What is really at stake is that Jesus is not really representative of Humanity, and comes not for the redemption of Humanity.

There is no name to such a movement, but it’s pervasive. Whenever the explicit resurrection, of body, soul, spirit, is denied for some immaterial, bodiless, existence, then Jesus as the denier of creation comes into being. That’s why I dislike the phrase “going to Heaven”. The connotations are plain, when considering that Heaven is the abode of unseen. It’s very clear that the Resurrection, and the Judgment, are relegated to an individualistic experience of afterlife. It is more in line with Deepak Chopra than the Scripture. The Gnostic demand for a self-surviving immortal soul are met in this articulation.

All this becomes an ascetic trek into trying to fill up the denial of humanity. When I say ascetic, do not imagine men in a desert. I mean those who think that facts of creation can be merely cut off and thrown away. It’s in some Temperance thought, or the Victorian moralization of sex. I’m clearly not saying the command of Christ doesn’t speak to this. What I am saying is that these are regulated in such a way that they are nearly marked evil.

The strange irony is that the obsession with drink and sex, found after the overthrow of these moral programs, is the flip-side. As Fouccault would point out, the Victorians thought all the time about sex. The era was marked by strictness and rampant prostitution, just as Temperance America was marked by the prevalence of bootlegging and speak-easies. Sexual liberation was the other-half, with a re-historization of the repression before. They’re one and the same movement.

The implications of all this is two-faced hypocrisy. The heroes of the Will somehow maintain the course of denying creation, and the rest live in the shadows. It’s in a college boy who is cut to pieces in a false dichotomy between living (as he sees it), and being faithful to Jesus. Sadly, Lady Wisdom shouts to deaf ears and many fall in with Misstress Folly.

Yet what they emphasize is the disconnect in Christ living in this world as it is. The opposite, now, posits a humanity, generally well-off, but requiring a certain dosage of perfection, grace, imparted in order to acquire salvation. While I’ve not read Thomas, this is what I understand of his nature-grace dynamic, and find it repulsive. Aquinas took sin seriously, as he had to being a reader of Augustine, but Aristotle drew him otherwise. That there’s a certain amount of virtue, in the hands of men, that can get you close to finish, but not over the line.

That’s where grace comes in, and where the very evil of another false dichotomy comes in. There is not a division between men and perfected men, or men and religious men. Yes, Thomas would say, the former was not enough. He didn’t expect to see Aristotle in paradise. But that was a trivial formality dependent on the fact that Aristotle didn’t live in Medieval Christendom. If he had some water splashed on him, then he would eventually work his way out of purgatory and join the saints. I’m being reductionist and polemical at this point, but purposely.

It’s why people can honestly look at me, while trying to tell the gospel, and tell me “I’m not religious”. In my post-talk zeal (usually inflamed by the fact that I’m not staring them in the face), I wish I had grabbed them and yelled, “No, you fool, this is about being human!” Of course, everyone operates with a certain metaphysic, whether it’s Biblical testimony, or a manichaean good-evil nationalism, or a half-baked conception of karma, or the nihilistic ‘life’s a bitch, then you die’.

Humanity, though broken ikons, still retains a sensus divinitatis. Though deaf, the creation still preaches the Creator Word of God, though this is suppressed and mutated into all sorts of gods. Sometimes this is crude, sometimes philosophical, othertimes cultural. Thus it might be Hegel’s Spirit, or the Egyptian Anubis, or perhaps just good ol’ Fortuna, but men look to gods. Or perhaps, like the poem goes, men thank whatever gods may be.

The point is, the nature-grace divide only allows Humanity to foolishly operate under the illusion that everything’s ok, but in need of a tune-up, a couple bandages, a good education, and a dash of pixie dust. That, really and truly, the Son of God was not needed to reshape the cosmos. That the Son of God needed not to bring resurrection.

That’s where the two provide slight help, but the truth is beyond both. Indeed, there is a certain denial required of living humanly in a Fallen World. And yes, while grace is not a supernatural topping off of nature, grace renews what was lost. That’s the primary point: Jesus tells us a New Way, a New Humanity, that does not abnegate the former, but re-news it. It’s not about being a religious man, finally getting up that ladder of perfection. It’s being told that that ladder is all wrong. We need to be raised from the dead, and find new life elsewhere.

In Christ, the Second Adam, the New Humanity, there is a recapitulation of our humanity. In this fallen world, this may take the form of sacrifice, deprivation, bearing up the infirmities of the other. Indeed, this is what Christ does and calls us to. This is not in order to deny humanity, or the creation, but the call to restoration. Behold! He makes all things new.

Yet while there is rejoicing in this, we’re not now the heads. Christ has taken up the mission, He is the new Adam.He is the One ruling over Creation. He is proclaiming truth to us as the very Word of God that touched the Prophets. He is interceding for us at the Right of Majesty. As He did, does, and will do, we follow suit. We’re to remain faithful, wherever we are, and spread such good news and expand such a kingdom. This is not in conquest or cultural takeover. The Apostles do not provide such. Instead, we have new hearts, ones set on the City of God, and in such a light, we’re to do all things to the glory of God. If we drink, drink to such! If we do not, do not to such!

We’re free, and more properly, we’re now finally human. In a dead world, it may look like being martyred for the truth. But we’re alive, and thank God, we’re alive. A living human, found only in Jesus Christ, is the glory of God. Such is the path of life, such is the path of wisdom. All else is death. Go forth, and live humanly.