Monday, December 17, 2007

Grace and Christology

My time at Erskine Theological Seminary has been well spent. Several professors have made my experience very worth the time, energy, money, late nights, etc. But easily one of the "surprises" of my time here is Dr. Don Fairbairn. I say surprise only in the fact that I did not know him or of him until I was actually already here and getting ready for classes. Fairbairn is the Patristics professor at Erskine. I confess that I already had a predisposition for liking Greek and Latin and the early Church fathers, but Fairbairn has succeeded in impressing me on numerous occasions with his knowledge of the early church, his grasp of the theological-political terrain, and his ability to present and explain key themes and developments in profoundly understandable ways.

Perhaps one of the great blessings of Fairbairn is his ability to sympathetically present many of the practices, positions, and developments of the early church and yet remain wholly comfortable and thankful for his historic reformed heritage. This is one of the great strengths of all of my favorite professors at Erskine. They have the ability to appreciate, study, discuss, give the benefit of the doubt to, and even borrow from the riches of Christendom throughout the ages without feeling threatened, becoming discontent, and remaining thoroughly committed to serving the brothers and sisters right in front of them.

I've just finished Dr. Fairbairn's doctoral thesis which was published in book form as Grace and Christology in the Early Church published by Oxford University Press. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in early Christian studies and particularly those folks interested in such relevant issues as 'union with Christ', 'participation in God,' as well as the various paradigms for understand the nature of grace and the person of God. There is much here to digest, enjoy, and continue to study.


The House of Bread for the Hungry

Each year at this time we remember the fact that Joseph was required to return to the city of his fathers for the Roman census. Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem by order of Caesar Augustus. But this is not the first time Bethlehem has appeared in the Bible. You’ll remember that Naomi and her husband and sons left Bethlehem at the beginning of the book of Ruth. They left the city of Bethlehem because there was a great famine; there was no bread in the land. This is highly ironic because the name “Bethlehem” means “house of bread.” The “house of bread” had become empty and barren. This symbolism is pushed even further by the fact that shortly after Naomi’s relocation, Naomi’s husband and two sons die. Naomi has become literally barren. She has no husband and no sons. It is in the midst of that barrenness that Naomi returns to Bethlehem. Just after John the Baptist is born, Zechariah regains his speech and sings out, “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” A similar phrase is used in the book of Ruth; at the height of Naomi’s barrenness, she hears that the Lord has visited his people by giving them bread. And of course the rest of the story bears this out to fullness. Naomi is given not only bread but a daughter and a son and a grandson. The same is true here: God raises up salvation and visits us in the midst of our barrenness. When we were powerless to do anything, he saved us. When we were lost and guity, he came and forgave us and declared his love for us. In other words, this is the house of bread, the true Bethlehem, where God feeds the hungry and the empty and the barren. What do you see in your life that is missing, that aches, that burns, and that you are completely powerless to change? What seems utterly impossible to you? This bread is God’s oath to you, it is his solemn word that He is the God who visits his people. He gives children to the barren. He has given a son to a virgin. For with God nothing is impossible.


Third Sunday in Advent: Exodus XX.12: Sixth Commandment

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, as we consider the sixth commandment this morning we ask that you would empower your word by the Holy Spirit. And wherever we have made any peace with sin and death, grant us the strength and courage to take up the fight. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!

We consider the Sixth Commandment again this Lord’s Day, and in particular its application to warfare and unsolved murders. As we celebrate Advent, it is necessary to consider the Lord Jesus as the warrior who comes to destroy death.

The Priority of Living
Moses says that the prohibition against murder does not preclude lawful warfare (Dt.20:1). Not only will this warfare be permissible, but Yahweh will go with them into battle. This means that Israel may not be afraid because Yahweh will fight for his people and save them (20:2-4). Because this is the case, God does not need every able man. Men may return who have not yet dedicated their homes (21:5), eaten of newly planted vineyards (21:6), are betrothed and not yet married (21:7), or even fearful (21:8). This also implies the fact that warfare is for the establishment of peace and life (21:10). Those who have not tasted of those elements of life are sent home to enjoy them. Likewise a proclamation of peace is made to those cities which Israel goes to war with. These guidelines also make the significant distinction between combatants and non-combatants (20:13-14). There is also a distinction made here between the typological holy war that Israel engaged in to conquer the Promised Land and those cities that are far off which are more normative for us today (20:15). The priority of life is even revealed here in that the “utter destruction” of the nations of Canaan is required so that Israel may not learn their abominations and sin against Yahweh and fall under his condemnation (20:18). This protection of life is to extend to the rest of creation as well: Israel was not to destroy food-bearing trees during military campaigns and sieges (20:19-20).

Putting Away Innocent Blood
This love of and protection of life even extends to someone who has been found “slain” and it is not known who “killed him” (21:1). The atonement for this guilt is provided by the elders of the city nearest to the event (21:3). Moses says that when murder occurs it brings guilt not only on the one who performed the act but also on the whole land and the people (21:8-9). This is surely why Abel’s blood cried out from the ground to the Lord (Gen. 4:10). This establishes the fact that God has designed the world with more than one kind of gravity. This is the gravity of guilt. Guilt demands blood; and when humans do not accept the blood that God provides, they seek out other blood instead. A new heifer’s neck is broken by the elders in “living water” while they take an oath before the priests declaring their innocence of the matter (21:4-7). This oath includes the prayer that God would not “set the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of your people” (21:8). This is at least one reason why Christians ought to be busy erecting a witness against various forms of legalized murder; we plead with God not to place the guilt in our midst.

Conclusions & Applications
As we celebrate Advent, we celebrate the coming of the Living One, the One who came to destroy sin and death. We celebrate the fact that our God has come with us into our warfare. Yahweh has come with us into battle, but notice that instead of only sending a few of us home, he has sent us all home to live. He has gone into battle alone in order that we may build homes, plant vineyards, and love our wives. When sin and the flesh and the devil were laying siege to our lives, our hopes, our world, Christ our King came as our champion, our hero to fight for us and send us home to live and rejoice in life. He came to chase away darkness and death. This is the gift of salvation.

But since God has won this gift of life for us, since Advent celebrates the gift of God’s life breaking into history, we need to remember what this life is for. Remember that Yahweh brought his people out of Egypt in order for them to worship him. Life is for worship. The Psalmist says “ I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord,” and “Will the dust praise you? Will it declare your truth? (Ps. 118:17, 30:9). Or, “all my bones shall say, “Lord, who is like you…?” (Ps. 35:10). Murder fundamentally robs God of worship that he rightfully deserves. And when we refuse to worship, we are refusing to fully live, we are at war with life.

In an ultimate sense, Jesus our Champion sends us home to build His house, the Church, to rejoice in the produce of His vineyard, with wine at his table, and to rejoice in our families, in His family. In the midst of the sin and death and darkness that surrounds us, worship itself is an act of war. But ultimately it is a kind of defiance against war itself. Because God has come and fought for us, our warfare has ended. He sends us home to live, to rejoice in the gifts of life because he has removed the guilt of our sins. He has provided the blood, and therefore our guilt has been atoned for. God has not allowed the guilt of our sins to remain in our midst. Your sins are forgiven. Therefore go home and live and rejoice.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Closing Prayer: Almighty God, you sent your Son to destroy the darkness of death and sin. You sent your light into the world in order that we may live. You have redeemed us and given us life. You are our champion, our defender, and our king, and therefore we declare your praise. We worship you, and we glory in your wisdom.


Suicide vs. Martyrdom

Suicide, many have pointed out, is one of the most selfish acts a person can do. When a person takes their own life, they are not only despising God’s gift of life, despising God’s image that is in them, but they are effectively refusing to serve anyone else but themselves. They have decided that their own feelings, worries, hurts, pains, and suffering is the most important factor in life. At the same time, we know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in order to grow up and die. We might even point out that Jesus had the power to prevent his own death; if wanted to he might have called down legions of angels to protect him. But this is the point: Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for sin. Jesus came to forfeit his life for the life of the world. Jesus was conceived in the womb of a virgin and grew up in order to destroy death. Suicide is retreat from life, an acceptance of defeat, a refusal to fight. The martyr, by contrast, also dies, but he dies still at war with sin and death. The martyr dies, but with the very blood she spills, she expects vindication and justification and resurrection from the Lord. Suicide is murder. It is self inflicted murder, and God hates it. But martyrdom is the call of every disciple. If you are a disciple, you have a cross to carry. Your cross may be health needs, financial concerns, family struggles, sins of the flesh, or a myriad of other possibilities. But your cross was designed specifically for you. It is exactly what you need in order to do battle with sin and death. But we are not called to this self-sacrifice, this martyrdom as though going to defeat. We are called to take our crosses as acts of defiance, acts of war, as soldiers who see that the only way to find life is to lose it, the only way to be great is to become the least, the only way to live is to die. Christ did not come on a suicidal mission; Christ came as a King who leads his people into life. And in order to secure life, he has even defeated death, even the death of a virgin’s womb.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Life is for Worship

J. Douma, in his Ten Commandments, says that life must be understood fundamentally as for praise. Yahweh brough Israel out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage in order that she might worship him at the holy mountain. Pharaoh's genocidal dealings with Israel were not merely wicked in themselves, they were actions which resulted in fewer Israelites to worship Yahweh. Life is for worship. Living is for praise. Thus the psalmist, "I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord,” and “Will the dust praise you? Will it declare your truth? (Ps. 118:17, 30:9). Or, “all my bones shall say, “Lord, who is like you…?” (Ps. 35:10). Murder is not merely taking the life of a human being; murder is destroying one who has the ability and calling to worship the God of the universe, to declare his wonders, to sing his praise. To (unlawfully) take human life is to rob God of worship and potential praise.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Advent Homily: 2 Peter 3

Advent is a little bit of a mysterious season to celebrate. Historically, as the season emerged in the Christian Calendar there were two strands, one emphasizing joy and festivity and the other penitence and fasting. Interestingly, both of these emotions have continued to mark the celebration of Advent down to the present. Because of this some liturgical scholars complain and ask, ‘well which is it?’ But the idea that this season would be both joyful and yet filled with some penitence and some tension seems exactly right if we consider what it is we are celebrating.

Advent is the season that leads up to the Feast of Christmas, the celebration of the birth of our Lord. But it is important to point out that the Church calendar is not elaborate play acting. We are not acting as though God has not yet come to us in Jesus. Rather, the Christian year teaches us how to pray and how to think and live as disciples. In Advent, we consider the many ways in which God has come to the aid of his people all culminating in the birth of Emmanuel. But as we survey these various comings of the Lord, it is immediately obvious that when God draws near it can be a terrible and exhilarating thing. When God comes to his people there is generally a good bit of fear and trembling. Even the “good guys” are fearful and filled with awe and wonder at the power and majesty of God. And the “bad guys” are usually not only terrified and ashamed, their wicked deeds are brought to light and they are destroyed.

Peter’s letter was written to first century Christians (probably Jewish converts in particular) who were being hounded by false teachers. These false teachers were probably various sorts of Judaizers, Jews who were pressuring Christians to cling to the old Jewish laws, temple, and the city of Jerusalem. But Peter warns these Christians of the coming “destruction” (2 Pet. 2:1-6, 12, 3:16). He has already insisted that the prophecies of Scripture are not of “private interpretation” and that the “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (1:20-21). His epistle is meant to remind his readers of the prophets and the apostles (3:1-2). Likewise, Peter commends the writings of Paul to his readers (3:15-16). When Peter refers to the Scriptures, he includes the writings of Paul and very likely the gospels themselves. Given the historical context of this letter, the specific “prophecies” that Peter has in mind are those which foretell the coming of Jesus to judge Jerusalem (Mt. 24, Lk. 21, Mk. 13). And Paul wrote extensively concerning the Judaizers. The whole point of being circumcised and keeping ceremonial laws was to be able to draw near to God in the temple. Paul, Peter, and the apostles insist that baptism and faith in Christ is all that is necessary to draw near to God. And if King Jesus is planning to destroy the temple, turning back to that place is sure destruction (2 Pet. 3:16).

Peter references other great “advents” of the Lord (the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, 2:4-9), and calls upon his readers to be steadfast in the promises of God even as they wait for the “promise of his coming” (3:4). He says that the destruction of Jerusalem will be rather like those events of fire and water. When God comes it won’t be easy, but if believers cling to the promises of God and keep the commandments of God in holiness and godliness (3:12), they will be saved. Even though heaven and earth will pass away, the word of the Lord Jesus will not pass away (2 Pet. 3:10-13, cf. Mt. 24:34-35). Therefore Peter calls upon his readers to be diligent to be found in Him in peace, without spot and blameless (3:14) and to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior (3:18). Since we have been brought into the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells (3:13), we are to pursue living that life, making our calling and election sure (1:10).

Even though Peter is addressing a particular historical circumstance, his words have great bearing on our lives. We might apply his warnings and admonitions to our historical and cultural situations. Do not merely think that going back to the “good old days” will save you or your children. Do not think that our country is exempt from the judgments of God; America is not the “kingdom of God.” Beware of false teachers. These “wells without water” are political idols, celebrities, military might, and everything that promises greater security than the Word of God.

Advent is both a joyful and penitential season because when the Lord comes, he comes in glory and holiness. Our God is a consuming fire. God is at work building his house in you and in his church, and when the glory of God comes and fills the house, it consumes and tests the materials of that building (1 Cor. 3:9ff). Just as Peter called his readers to faithfulness to the Scriptures, keeping the commandments of the prophets and apostles, in steadfastness and purity, so too Paul promises that our works are tested and revealed by the fire of God’s presence. When God comes into the presence of his people in worship, when he comes in judgment in families, in nations, and in entire cultures, he destroys the wood, hay, and straw which can be burned up. But those who are faithful and build on the foundation of Jesus Christ will build with the silver and gold and precious stones which will endure to the end. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). All the advents of God are but small pictures of the Last Day, the great and final judgment where we will appear before the judgment seat of Christ. That will be a great and terrible and wonderful day. Therefore confess your sins, turn away from every sin, whatever entices you away from the grace of God, and rejoice in the sure salvation of Christ. Advent is a call to confession and repentance, and Advent is a call to believe the sure word of God that he is longsuffering toward us not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. That we may be found in him, not having our own righteousness but having the righteousness of faith in Jesus Christ, all the glories of a life marked by the work of the Spirit. This is good news indeed.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!


Fairbairn on Cassian on Christ

Don Fairbairn, in Grace and Christology in the Early Church, cites the church father Cassian's reponse to Nestorious, saying, "If it seems unreasonable to you that Mary could give birth to God who was anterior to her, how will it seem reasonable that God was crucified by men? And yet the same God who was crucified himself predicted, 'Shall a man afflict God, for you afflict me? [Mal. 3:8] If then we may not think that the Lord was born of a virgin because he who was born was anterior to her who bore him, how could we believe that God had blood? And yet it was said to the Ephesian elders, 'Feed the Church of God, which he purchased with his own blood' [Acts 20:28]. Finally, how can we think that the Author of life was himself deprived of life? And yet Peter says, 'You have killed the Author of life' [Acts 3:15]. (p. 186)


Thursday, December 13, 2007

God Became a Zygote

John Jefferson Davis, in his book Evangelical Ethics, points out that the incarnation of Jesus Christ has an important role to play in affirming the value of human life (p. 158). He points out that the Creed places the beginning of the life of Christ not at birth but when "he was conceived by the Holy Spirit." Likewise, he references Hebrews 2:17 which applies the efficacy of the incarnation to the fact that “in all things He had to be made like his brethren.” Many of the early Church fathers understood the significance of this in terms of their Christology. The early maxim was 'whatever is not assumed is not healed.' Thus, God became a zygote in order to heal all zygotes. God became a morula to heal all morulas. God became a blastocyst to heal all blastocysts. God became an embryo to heal all embryos. God became a fetus to heal all fetuses. God took upon himself the entirety of human nature from conception on. God became human to heal humanity. Thus, abortion, at any stage of pregancy, is an implicit attack on the incarnation.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Philosophical Water into Theological Wine

Nicholas Lash notes that the image Aquinas uses for the use of philosophy in service of theology is drawn from the wedding feast at Cana. Aquinas says: "Those who use philosophical texts in holy teaching, by setting them at the service of faith, do not mix water with wine, but turn water into wine."


Aquinas on Being

Thomas Aquinas, in his explanation of his doctrine of Analogy in Summa Contra Gentiles I.28, points out that "perfection" must be understood at least somewhat differently when applied to God than when applied to creatures. Yet, he recognizes that Jesus calls his disciples to nevertheless aim to close that gap (Mt. 5:48). Thomas says that the fundamental divide between how we would use the word perfect differently between God and creation is found in the fact of creation. Existence is itself the most foundational prerequisite for perfection, and because God has always, eternally existed (as opposed to all other things which had a beginning), He is by definition "most perfect."

I was initially a little skeptical about this description of God as "most perfect." Was he trying to put God and creation on some kind of continuum? But as I considered what Thomas is up to, it rather appears that he is trying to figure out how and in what ways creatures are like their Creator. He seems to conclude that the act of creation is where we find the first likeness of creation to its Creator. Because God created the world from nothing and thereby brought being from non-being, he has in the most basic sense made the world to be just as he is from all eternity. The gift of being is fundamentally a sort of likeness that all of creation has with God who always and eternally exists.

Thomas knows that in order for language to work it must find its origin and meaning ultimately in the person and life of God. Creation must be like God in various ways in order for words to have meaning. And he recognizes that in the most fundamental sense, a leaf is like God because it exists just like God exists. It participates in the life of the Triune God if only as a result of the Word of God which spoke and pushed certain nutrients up through the veins of a particular Oak tree and eventually burst out of some happy petiole on the end of some branch waving at the world. Existence is itself a wonderful gift, and it is the gift of being, tasting if only briefly what God knows in eternity.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Glad Hearts

We have said many times that this meal is a feast, a celebration of victory, salvation, and life. At this meal, the Lord Jesus gives us two elements: bread which is an every day sustaining sustenance and wine which is a special, royal, and celebratory gift. If the bread is the strength and sustenance for living, the wine is the joy and vigor for living. And the two go together. Not only does Christ give us life, he gives robust, vigorous life. He gives us his own life which is always overflowing. It’s no accident that throughout history there have been attempts to separate the two and only give the bread to the congregation. It’s dangerous to give the people the wine; wine makes people’s hearts glad. It makes them sing and dance and laugh. Satan does not want the people of God rejoicing before him. Satan wants the people of God to stay tamed and brow beaten and guilty. Satan wants God’s people to be timid and worried. But the Lord Jesus is a warrior who calls his people to his table to feast. And he says you need bread and wine for the battle. You need life and you need boldness. You need vigor and gladness. You need a heart that is overflowing with joy. The joy of the Lord is our strength. Our nation is filled with churches who celebrate this feast as infrequently as possible and when they do, they do it like a funeral as though Jesus were still dead and we were still in our sins and often enough they serve grape juice because they’re afraid that the Triune life might suddenly break out in their midst. No wonder the church is so weak and anemic. But we must not hold back. We serve the God of overwhelming life, the God who overflows with joy and invites us to his feast, into his gladness, and he gives us his life as the strength of bread and the joy of wine. Come and rejoice. Your sins are forgiven. God rejoices over you.


Second Sunday in Advent: Exodus XX.11: Sixth Commandment

Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, you have given your only Son for the life of the world, and yet so often we complain when we have to wait a few extra minutes for dinner or become angry when our spouse or children do not conform to our expectations. You disrupted your eternal glory and honor and majesty by giving us life in Jesus Christ who was even murdered for our sins. Give us grace to hear your Word now, continue that great work which you have begun in us, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!

As we approach the celebration of the birth of the Life of the World, it is completely fitting to consider the Sixth Commandment which sets forth our duty to preserve and defend life according to the law of God.

That He May Live
Moses, in his exposition of the sixth commandment, calls Israel to erect cities of refuge for the protection of those who commit manslaughter (19:2). Manslaughter is defined by God as killing that takes place which was not occasioned by “hating the victim in time past” (19:4, 6). Thus the prohibition against murder means protecting the lives of those who may be in danger of being murdered (19:2-5). They are to build roads giving easy access to these cities of refuge (19:3), and as the land expands they are to add more cities as necessary (19:8-9). This command is also intended to protect the “avenger of blood” from committing murder (19:6). Finally, the sixth commandment requires that intentional, first degree murder is to be punished by death (19:11-12). This includes not pitying murders and being lenient with them (19:13). The prohibition against murder is the command to love and protect life.

Loving Life
Loving and protecting life means observing due process. Two or three witnesses are necessary to convict (19:15), and false witnesses must be held accountable for their lies (19:19). This means that a testimony may not be anonymous. God requires that false witnesses not be pitied, and that they receive equitable punishment for what they intended to do to their neighbor. At the heart of the prohibition against murder is the sin of hatred. Ultimately, hatred is the sin of hating life in some way. Proverbs describes a false witness as one who hates his own life (Pro. 29:24). This is what distinguishes intentional and unintentional murder as well as the punishment of false witnesses (19:4, 6, 11, cf. 19:19). Of course this is exactly what Jesus explains (Mt. 5:21-22), and John says explicitly that he who hates his brother is a murderer and does not have eternal life within him (1 Jn. 3:15). To have the life of God within us means loving our neighbor and giving up ourselves for their good just as Christ laid down his life for us (1 Jn. 3:16ff).

Conclusions & Applications
Hatred is ultimately a fashionable way of loving death. Proverbs says that those who hate wisdom love death, and those who sin wrong their own life (Pr. 8:35-36). Loving wisdom is the love of life; despising wisdom is the love of death. It is no accident that a culture that rejects the wisdom of God’s word is busy inventing ways to look like the Night of the Living Dead. The tattooing, piercing, everything black-torn-and-disheveled look is a cultural expression that results from the cultural guilt of abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, and popular ways oppressing of the poor, the weak, and the disabled. When people have blood on their hands they try to make it look cool. But we must love life.

Jesus said that the entire law is summarized as love of God and neighbor. The entire logic of the gospel is that reconciliation with God means the reconciliation of all things. If God has come down to us in all our grime, in all our sin, in all our weakness, then how can we not bestow this same kindness upon our spouses, our children, our neighbors, and yes, even our enemies (Mt. 5:43-48)? As you celebrate Advent, celebrate the great mercy of God in bestowing his life upon us in the person of Jesus. But God did not just come as a great “force.” God came to us with hands and feet, eyes and ears, and a mouth. He came as a crying infant. So much hatred and bitterness is built on a false sense of justice – if-I-don’t-who-will kind of justice – but God became a helpless baby for your justification.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Closing Prayer: Almighty and most merciful God, who has come to our aid and given us life through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, we ask that you would make us people who rejoice in life. Teach us to delight in our children and families, grant us grace to love our enemies, and give us the love of wisdom which delights in your justice.


A Theology that Dies

It has been said that theology always comes out your fingertips. Theology is not just a big word pastors and teachers use. Everyone practices theology. When you speak to your wife, you are practicing theology. When you drive in your car, you are doing theology. When you eat at your dinner table with your family, you are doing theology. When you teach and discipline your children, you are living out a certain theology. All of this is based upon the fact people are created in the image of God. We are all little pictures of God walking around in the world, saying and doing things that are either true and faithful representations of what God is like or false and slanderous pictures of our God. But this is made even more tangible in the Incarnation. As we celebrate the season of Advent, remembering that we serve the God who has come to his people, we are celebrating the God who came and dwelled with us as a human being, a God who took on flesh and blood in order that the image of God might be restored in us. In Jesus Christ we behold the glory of the only-begotten of God, fully of grace in truth. In Jesus we see the perfect image of God, we see and hear and touch the God of the whole universe. Therefore, you are without excuse. When you speak to your wife, as you dwell with your husband, as you teach your children, what kind of theology are you living? Is the gospel you are living cranky? Is the theology you are doing bitter? Does it complain? Is it lazy? Does it demand to be served? You are living out your theology. And God calls us to Christ-like service and sacrifice. God came to us as in weakness, as a baby, only to give his life away for his people, even to the point of death on the cross. You are called to this kind of theology, a theology that gives itself away, a theology that serves, a theology that dies.


Eco on Aquinas on Origen

Umberto Eco, in his Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, points out that Origen's original motivation for proposing his allegorical hermeneutics was a defense of the Old Testament. Since the OT was attacked as being nothing but Jewish fables and traditions, Origen set out to show that the OT was the letter of which Christ was the Spirit. The New Testament was the unveiling of what the OT had always been about. Eco says that the real problem with Origen's system was its "nebula of all possible archetypes." For Origen, the Scirptures "were in the position of saying everything." It was the reduction of this "everything" by the descendants of Origen to three and then four senses of meaning that sought to give more rigid guidelines to faithful Scriptural interpretation. The four-fold sense of Scripture, far from being the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants interpretation of the un-enlightened medievals was an attempt to discipline and codify the basic hermeneutical committment of Origen that the Scriptures are all about Christ (cf. Lk. 24).


Monday, December 03, 2007

A Bad Chapter

My three year old son is sitting in a chair staring intently at the little book in front of him.

It's a pocket-size Webster's Dictionary.

He turns pages, he concentrates, and then closes the book and looks up at his mom and says, "That was a bad chapter."


The End of the World Every Week

One of the great themes of Advent is the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus. With the Church throughout the ages, we not only confess that the eternal Son came and became the man Jesus and was born of a woman, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven, but that this same Jesus will come again with all his angels to judge the living and the dead, to raise up the faithful from the dead to everlasting life and to raise the wicked from the dead to release into eternal darkness and torment. In Revelation 19, St. John writes, “Blessed are those who are called to the Marriage Supper of the lamb.” Likewise, St. Paul uses similar imagery in Ephesians 5 where he describes the love of Christ for the Church, his bride, having given himself up for her, he is sanctifying her by the water and the word in order that he may one day present his bride to himself without spot or wrinkle. The end of human history is pictured as a great wedding, a glorious wedding feast. Likewise, Jesus tells the parable of the wedding feast particularly against the Jews who thought that God had to keep them as his people no matter what. Jesus says that when the Groom’s closest friends refuse to come to his wedding, he extends the invitation to the whole world, whoever is willing to come (Mt. 22). All of this imagery makes it easy to understand why the Church has always understood the Song of Songs to be, at least in part, a typological picture of God’s love for his people, described in the language of the marriage bed, the joyful lovemaking of a bride and groom described as a feast. And of course one cannot speak of weddings without recalling that the first miracle of Jesus was to turn the water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana. Thus, it is no accident that Jesus has given us this simple feast to celebrate week after week. Here, he invites us to begin to partake of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb now. Here, he invites his bride to feast upon him, and he rejoices in his bride considering her to be without spot and without wrinkle. Here, your husband gives you wine (and not water, not grape juice); he gives you wine to make your hearts glad. This is the great wedding feast. Here, we enter into the end of the world. Here the Lord assures us of what is without a doubt sure to come. This is what we’re working toward. We’re working toward a great wedding feast. So come enter into the joy of your Lord.


The God Who Comes

When God delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt, he commanded them to keep the Passover, to kill a lamb, eat unleavened bread, and prepare to the leave the country. Thereafter, God commanded them to keep the Passover feast every year so that they would not forget what God had done for them. When Joshua and the people of Israel crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, they took 12 stones from the Jordan and set them up as a memorial of God’s great kindness to them. When God delivered the Jews from the plots of wicked Haman even when they were a foreign land, the Jews celebrated the feast of Purim so that they would never forget God’s faithfulness. When Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, the first Christians knew exactly what to do, and ever since the Christian Church has met on the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week so that we would always remember that we are here because of the resurrection. But historically, the Church has recognized the need to remember a lot of other things too. And following the pattern of God’s people of old, the Church has established numerous memorials in time: days and weeks and seasons in order to remember God’s faithfulness to us in the past and to call us to faith in this same faithful God in the present. As we begin the Advent season this morning, I want to particularly encourage parents to use this season and the church calendar throughout the year as an important opportunity to teach your children. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of you minds. But do this through not only celebrating these days and seasons here at Church but do so with your families at home. Sing psalms and hymns as families, establish family traditions, and of course talk about the wonderful events that these celebrations point to. Parents cannot complain that their children are mesmerized by the world when they refuse to place before them a robust Christian culture. This is the season of Advent, we are celebrating the fact that we serve the God who comes to his people, who draws near to us, and who gives us life. How can you not celebrate such good news?