Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Life Spent Waiting (Advent Series, Part 4)

We have dedicated this series to the memory of those who waited on the Lord. We considered Zechariah, Mary, and Simeon, each of whom entered a time of waiting. Some waited better than others, but they all waited for the right thing: God himself. Let us take this fourth and final Sunday in Advent to consider one more waiter: Anna.

It is fitting that we conclude with Anna, for of all these waiters she is the one who waited the longest. According to Luke, she was "very old" (2:36). She spent between fifty and sixty years as a widow, waiting on God in the temple. Anna's was a life spent waiting.

Consider this life spent waiting. She could easily feel spent, useless, forgotten. She was surely tempted to become bitter, angry, or simply paralyzed. Is a life spent waiting a life well spent?

Many of us spend our lives waiting. Waiting for the next thing: to succeed, to graduate, to get a job, to mature, to have children, etc. And it is easy to feel spent, useless, forgotten--tempted to become bitter, angry, or simply paralyzed. Is a life spent waiting a life well spent?

Others of us spend our lives hurrying. We believe that spending a life waiting is not a life well spent, and so we rush through life. It is the same struggle as those who wait: the fear of being spent, useless, forgotten. It's just a different coping strategy. Is a life spent hurrying any better spent than a life spent waiting?

But consider again Anna. In her we see and hear the good news that a life spent waiting on God is a life well spent.

Note well: not just any waiting, but waiting on God. Some of us wait because injustice blocks our way. Not all waiting is right. Some of us need to hear the good news that now is our moment for action--that God is calling us to resist those who make us wait for their gain. But all of us are called to wait on God. Only then, when the time is right, will we know we are acting in good faith.

Not only did Anna wait on the right thing (i.e., God); she also waited on God well. In fact, she waited on God the best of all our characters in this series. Consider how well she waited on God.

First of all, she waited on God the longest. The text goes out of its way to indicate her age. There may be some symbolic significance to these numbers, but at the very least they highlight the length of time she spent waiting. Hers was a life spent waiting. And since she was waiting on God, her life was well spent.

Second, she worshipped while she waited. She "never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying" (v. 37). She knew that waiting well does not mean simply going about her business till God does his thing. No! Waiting well is an active practice of hastening the Lord's coming by seeking him worship. Worship is not only thanking God for what he has done but also anticipating God for what he is about to do. Waiting and worship belong together. A life spent waiting in a posture of worship is a life well spent.

Finally, she testified to what she saw. She waited a long time, and so when the fulfillment came she burst forth with thanksgiving to God and proclamation to others: "Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem" (v. 38). Unlike Mary, who "cherished these things in her heart" (waiting to tell Luke many years later), Anna joined the Shepherds in proclaiming the good news of the coming the Lord immediately. She waited till the time was right. But when it was, boy did she let loose. Her testimony was greater because she waited for it. She understood fulfillment because she understand the waiting that necessarily precedes it. These words of testimony at the close of her life render the whole of her life as a testimony to the faithfulness of God. A life spent waiting for an opportunity to testify is a life well spent.

More could be said about Anna. And much more could be said about the theme of waiting. More Christmas characters could be added to the mix. And many more characters from the whole of Scripture could be considered. But my hope is that you might this season embrace the occasions of waiting in your life as opportunities to answer to call to wait on the Lord. May these lives spent waiting inspire you to wait well, to find a manner of waiting that brings joy both to you and the Lord. At the very least, may you join Israel and the Church in the great act of waiting on the Messiah's coming. For a life spent waiting on God is a life well spent.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Waiting with God (Advent Series, Part 3)

[Cross listed at the Seminary's blog]

This advent series has focused on the act of waiting. I have been asking what it means to wait well. The most important thing about waiting is the one for whom we wait. If we wait for God, then we are waiting for the right thing. Just simply waiting does not necessarily have any inherent value.

But how we wait matters too. In the first installment of this series, we saw that Zechariah waited for the right thing (i.e., God), but did not wait well. Last week, we saw how Mary not only waited for the right thing, but also waited in the right way.

However, one might wonder if Mary waited well because she did not have to wait long. How hard is it for a young girl to consent to the Lord. She has not waited long enough to have tasted disappointment. Zechariah had been waiting a long time. No wonder he demanded assurance. He didn't want to get his hopes up, just for the to be dashed like they have so many times before.

Is waiting well simply something the young and naive can do? Must the old and mature merely wait for the Lord with begrudging obedience?

As we read on in Luke, we encounter two more people who waited on the Lord, both of whom were old: Simeon and Anna. And each one waited well. They demonstrate that a life spent waiting well is a life well sent.

Let's take a look at Simeon this week, saving Anna for next week.

In the brief story of Simeon, we catch a glimpse of one who waited well. Again, the crucial factor is the object of his waiting: "He was waiting for the consolation of Israel" (Luke 2:25). Note that he was waiting for the saving action of God, not merely for himself, but for all of Israel. Simeon waiting for the right thing.

But Simeon also waited well. The text goes on to say that "the Holy Spirit was upon him" (v. 26). Waiting was not an empty activity. He was filled with the Spirit even as he waited for the fulfillment of the promise. Even in his waiting, God was present to him. Simeon not only waited for God; he waited with God.

Such a manner of waiting makes all the difference. For one who waited on the Lord without waiting with the Lord can so easily become confused, anxious, bitter, and/or afraid, so that even when the promise is fulfilled they might miss it. We see in the story of Simeon how waiting in the Spirit makes all the difference. A life spent waiting for God with God is a life well sent.

First, we see that Simeon is open to the Spirit's revelation. "It has been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah" (v. 26). One must wait on God to hear from him. One who waits for God with God is open to hear the Word of God.

Second, we see that Simeon is sensitive to the Spirit's movement. "Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts" just in time to see Mary and Joseph bring in the child Jesus (v. 27). To see the promise he had to be in the right place in the right time. The Spirit guided him there, and he was apparently waiting calmly enough to sense the Spirit's movement. One who waits for God with God is sensitive to the Spirit's movement.

Third, we see that Simeon is ready to praise God. "Simeon took [Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying… you now dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation!" (v. 28-30). By his long anticipation of the saving work of God, Simeon stored up his praise. He knew what he was looking for, and so knew what to do once he saw it. One who waits for God with God is ready to praise God.

Fourth, we see that Simeon is ready to bless others. "Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother…" (v. 34). He does not get to directly participate in the great events to come. But he indirectly serves God's larger purpose by speaking a word of blessing to the right person and the right time. He spent his life waiting, and so has nothing left to give but his blessing. But that is enough, for his purpose was to deliver this Spirit-inspired blessing. One who waits for God with God is ready to bless others.

If you in a hurry, running from your past and rushing to create your own future, then see in Simeon the promise that a life spent waiting is a life well spent. And if you find yourself already in a state of waiting, embrace it as a calling from God. Either way, be sure it is in fact God you are waiting for. And seek to wait well, like Simeon, who waited for God with God, i.e., in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let your moments of waiting be an opportunity to hear God's voice, be moved by his Spirit, to ready yourself to praise God and bless others. For a life spent waiting well is a life well spent.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Waiting Well (Advent Series, Part 2)

[Cross listed at the Seminary blog.]

The call of Advent is to wait. This is a call we all need to hear. For those of us who do not wait on God must repent of our attempts to create our own future. Those of us who already wait on God must learn how to wait well, i.e., in joyful obedience rather than angry bitterness. And we all must learn to wait not just for ourselves but truly to wait on God.

The question of this series as introduced Click last week is What does it mean to wait on God? This question has two aspects: (1) for whom we are waiting and (2) how can we wait well. Last week we considered Zechariah, who waited for the right thing (i.e., God) but did not wait well (i.e., in his doubt he demanded assurances). This week we consider Mary, who not only waiting on God but seems to wait well. Let's take a look at Luke 1 and consider how Mary waited.

As I read this passage with the theme of waiting in mind, three things jump out at me. The first is that while we wait it is okay to be troubled and confused. When God sends Gabriel to her, Mary is greatly troubled by his words. Interestingly, his words are of divine favor and presence. Though in hindsight these are obviously positive words, Mary was surprised by them. She did not know what they meant. Gabriel lets her know that she will be with child, and she is further confused: "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" Recall the contrast with Zechariah: they both have their doubts, but whereas he asked for gurantees, Mary simply asked to see the plans. It seems to me that there is nothing wrong with Mary (or Zechariah's) confusion and fear. They are surmountable obstacles to the work of God, not sins against God. When we wait on God, it is okay to be troubled and confused. Waiting can be troubling and confusing. Share your troubles with the Lord. Ask him questions in your confusion. Just don't stop waiting.

The second thing that jumps out at me is that Mary consents to waiting out her identity. At the end of her conversation with Gabriel, she declares, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." A lot is made of her consent in the second clause, and rightly so. But it is easy to miss the first clause: "I am the Lord's servant." Her consent to the Lord's will is rooted in her identity as the Lord's servant. What is a servant? One who waits on another. Hence the term "waiter" for one who serves you dinner. To be the Lord's servant is to be one who waits on the Lord. Mary consents to the Lord's promised action because she is one who waits on Lord. When we are called to wait, let us wait because it is who we are. Waiting need not be a burden--one more moralistic duty. Waiting can be simply an expression of who we are, or at least who we are becoming. When the Lord asks you to wait on him, to wait for him to do something he plans to do through you, you may wait with joy because you are already a servant of the Lord. He is just giving you a chance to do your thing. While you wait for an opportunity to consent, say: "I am a servant of the Lord. May it be to me whatever he may say."

The third and last thing that jumps out at me is that Mary waits with others who wait well. Immediately after hearing this news, Mary hurries down to Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth. There is much that goes on in this famous scene. But there is a little fact that is easy to miss, on which I want to dwell. At the end of this scene, it says that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months. Now this might seem a random fact, except that earlier the text notes that Gabriel spoke to Mary about six months after he prophesied the birth of John the Baptist. In other words, Mary stayed with Elizabeth for the duration of her pregnancy! Now this is not particularly out of the ordinary. It is the sort of thing family members do. And Mary had her own reasons for slipping away for a bit, given what was happening in her life. But I think it worth noting that Mary immediately began to wait with others who wait well. Waiting can be very lonely. But Mary knew she was not the only one who was waiting on the Lord. She joined another who waiter, one who had waited a much longer time than her. Mary had a lot to learn about waiting on the Lord. She may have declared that she was the Lord's servant, but that doesn't mean she knows what that looks like. So she waited with others who wait well. Let this be both a promise and a command to us. When we are called to wait, we are free to wait with others; we needn't wait alone. When we are called to wait, we are called to join others who wait on the Lord--especially those who we know wait well.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Waiting for God (Advent Series, Part 1)

Cross-posted at Wesley Seminary at IWU blog:

I hate waiting. I especially don't like waiting in lines. That's why I avoid Black Friday. I don't care how great the deals are--they aren't worth the lines.

Perhaps you feel the same way. You might not mind lines, but you probably can't stand some sort of waiting. Our modern culture forms us for immediacy, and so waiting is perceived as aberrant. Waiting is out of step, out of date, out of touch. Waiting is so last year.

I suppose this is why the modern church's experimentation with Advent is so awkward. Advent is a time to celebrate waiting. During Advent we are called to remember what it meant for Israel to await the first coming of Christ, and learn from Israel how to wait for Christ's second coming. But is waiting really something worth remembering, let alone celebrating? Is it not a condition to be avoided, a problem to be solved? We don't really wait during Advent. We rush, we hurry, we eat, we plan. But we don't wait. Or at least we don't wait well.

This Advent I invite you to wait with me. This is the first in a series of four Advent posts, each of which will explore what it means to wait. I am going to try to overcome my distaste for waiting. I am going to try to identify what makes waiting good and explore how to wait well. Please join me in searching the Scriptures for guidance on what to wait for and how to wait well.

Let us begin with the story of a man who was waiting for the right thing, but who did not wait well.

The man's name was Zechariah. He was a priest. He and his wife were very old. But they were also infertile. So they had been waiting a long, long time for a child.

At this point in the story they were both waiting well. The Scripture says they were upright in God's sight and that they followed all of God's commandments. They were waiting for the blessing of God, but they were not waiting to obey God. They knew that while we wait, we can still obey. The Scriptures also say that they had been praying to God, asking for a son. They knew that the best thing to do while waiting is praying. So while they waited, the obeyed God and prayed to God.

So, at the beginning of the story, Zechariah was waiting for God, and he was waiting well.

One day, while it was his group's turn to serve in the temple, the lot fell to him to burn incense. While waiting for the incense to burn, the angel of the Lord appeared. It turns out Zechariah was waiting in the right place at the right time! The angel told Zechariah that his prayer had been heard: Elizabeth will bear a child! And not only that: he will be great, for he will bring many people back to God, preparing the way of the Lord!

But here is where Zechariah's waiting went awry...

Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in year."

It is clear from the text that this was not a good question. The angel strikes him mute because of it. But what's wrong with this question? It seems a perfectly reasonable point to highlight the fact that his age is a significant obstacle to the fulfillment of this prophecy. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but Mary points out a similar obstacle (namely, her virginity) to a similar prophecy to the same angel, yet she is favored by God and blessed by all generations. What gives?

I think it helps to contrast their two questions -- a contrast which the text invites with its juxtaposition of two similar stories. Both identify an obstacle to the angelic promise. But the questions differ ever so slightly. Mary asks, "How can this be?" whereas Zechariah asks, "How can I be sure of this?" Mary believes the promise; she just wonders how it will happen. Zechariah wants to believe the promise, but he asks for a sign to shore up his faith. He asks for some assurances, so that he doesn't get his hopes up. Mary asks how God will work. Zechariah asks whether God will work.

This is our constant temptation when waiting on God. We ask for a sign. We ask God to make waiting easier by giving us assurances that we do not wait in vain. We are willing to wait, but we want the waiting to be a little easier. Now God gives signs from time to time. In fact, Gabriel offers the case of Elizabeth as a sign to Mary that nothing is impossible for God. But demanding a sign from God is a different matter. When we demand signs and assurances while we wait, we are not waiting well. We may be waiting for the right thing but we are not waiting in the right way. Zechariah waited on God, but he did not wait well.

Moralizing moment: don't demand signs! It just makes this worse! He looses his voice and so is barred from sharing the prophetic promise with others. Zechariah is a warning to us of the consequences of not waiting well: when we try to make waiting easier, it just gets harder.

The grace in this story, however, is that Zechariah still received the promise. God did not take it away from him -- for to do so would be to take something away from Israel. God had a bigger plan in place. But Zechariah was kept from sharing the prophecy with others. Unlike Mary, who signs her song before her promise is fulfilled, Zechariah has to wait to sign his song. But he still got to sing!

If you have demanded a sign, if your waiting has gotten worse not better, God still has something for you. The most important thing about waiting is for whom we wait. We wait for God, for his will and his blessing. When we wait for God, waiting is worthwhile. What makes waiting good is when its object is God. Zechariah got this most important thing right.

Of all the many things we await this Advent, be sure you are waiting for God above all else. We will explore in the next few posts how to wait well. We will see some other figures in Scripture who waited better than Zechariah. But at the very least we can join Zechariah in waiting for the right thing. When we wait for God, our waiting is worthwhile.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Barth on Hegel: An Unfinished Collection of Quotes


"Why did Hegel not become for the Protestant world something similar to what Thomas Aquinas was for Roman Catholicism?" (370)

"Is it not in Hegel that the man who is free from all the ties of tradition and from all conflict with tradition, who rejoices equally in reason and in history ... has for the first time achieved complete, clear, and certain self-awareness?" (371)

"In turning away from Hegel the age acknowledged that, having reached the summit of its desires and achievements, it was dissatisfied with itsef, that this was after all not what it had intended." (374)

"It was only in the course of centuries that Thomas Aquinas acquired the position at present accorded him in the Roman Catholic world. It may be that the dawn of the true age of Hegel is still something that will take place in the future." (376)

I. Hegel's Philosophy of Self-Confidence

"It was in him to ridicule the demand for a theory of knowledge by saying there was as much in it as the demand of the Gascon who did not want to go into the water before he could swin. The interests of the theory of knowledge, he said, were best served in the act of a truly rational knowledge." (379)

"Hegel's direct, independent linking-up with the Enlightenment was done in this way: the confidence in the right and power of rational thought was naive, untested and therefore unsecured, stuck fast in half-truths and open to all kinds of counter-blows. Hegel called this confidence in the right and power of rational thought to self-awareness, worked out and defended its deepest truth vis-a-vis its own weaknesses as vis-a-vis its attackers, and in so doing exalted it from the level of a one-sided view of the world to a comprehensive world principle." (380)

"And this makes for the peculiar momentum of Hegel's philosophy of self-confidence; it does not allow itelf to be surpassed in cold-blooded rationalizing by any worldling, nor in any depth of feeling by the most pious. It is Titanism to the highest degree and at the same time to the highest degree humility. The self-confidence it proclaims and to which it summons is at once and as such confidence in God." (381)

All quotes taken from Karl Barth, Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century (Eerdmans, 2002).

Thursday, June 02, 2011

To Hell and Back: The Ascension of Our Lord (Easter, Day 40)

So, my hopes and dreams for writing a blog post everyday for forty days between Easter and Ascension didn't exactly work out as planned. I kept a weekly blog for a few years and then I quit for a couple years, so trying to get back into by blogging by doing it daily was a bit of an overcommitment! Oh well. Let me at least bring this series to a close with a Day 40 reflection on the Ascension.

The Apostles' Creed has a nice symmetry to it with regard to the death and resurrection of Jesus:
He ... was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven.
The pivotal event in the story of Jesus -- and therefore the pivotal event in the story of God with us -- is his death and resurrection. This pivotal event is a genuine event, i.e., a movement, a history, a happening. Hence it is twofold in structure: first he died, then he rose.

Furthermore, each of these two moments in the story of Jesus is itself a movement, a history, a happening. Hence each has its own twofold structure: he died and so descended into hell, then he rose and so ascended into heaven. The death and resurrection of Jesus both involve a movement with a direction. His death is aimed toward hell. And his resurrection is aimed toward heaven.

The point of this line of thought is that Christ's ascension relates to his resurrection as his descent into hell relates to his crucifixion.

crucifixion : descent :: resurrection : ascension

So, then, let's ask how this analogous relationship might illuminate the event of ascension.

At its most straightforward level, the descent and the ascent of Christ both answer a spatial question. Where did Christ "go" after his death? Well, wherever dead people usually go, i.e., Sheol, the dead, hades, hell, etc. And where did Christ "go" after his resurrection? Well, wherever one goes to be in living fellowship with God, since that's the point of resurrection. Hence it fits that the descent and ascent of Christ each involve spatial terms in the creed: He descended into hell; he ascended into heaven.

However, we must acknowledge that hell and heaven are not "places" the way my office and my house are places, i.e., they cannot be located on a map. This is not to deny that they are real spaces, but to affirm the unique character of their spatial reality. "Hell" and "heaven" name the two final forms of creaturely relation to God. "Hell" names a final relation to God as one who is absent, one who has abandoned us. "Heaven" names a final relation to God as one who is present, one who has welcomed us into living fellowship with him.

Note well: these are final forms of relating to God, not just ways of relating to God in general. Certainly one can speak of hellish and heavenly forms of everyday existence by way of analogy. But it is insufficient to say that hell and heaven only name ways of being in the present without any reference to our final destiny before God.

Why does this affirmation matter? Because Christ's ascension into heaven is not about absence but presence! We all too often regard the ascension as initiating a time of Christ's absence. But absence and abandonment is the meaning of hell, not heaven. Treating the ascension as simply the removal of Jesus is to put him back into hell. The point of Christ's ascension is not his absence from us but his presence with God. And since he's one of us, he shares with us his fellowship with God. We are welcome at the great banquet of God because the one who eats with sinners now sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty. The ascension does not mean Christ has abandoned us to go hang out with his Father alone. Christ's ascension means that he has come home to his Father's house and that we have been invited to join the party rather than pout in the field.

So, the next time you partake in the means of Christ's promised presence (the preaching of the Word, the breaking of bread, fellowship with believers, serving the poor and persecuted, etc.), do not think of these means as substitutes for an absent Lord. See and hear in them the promise of the risen and ascended Christ: "Lo, I am with you always."

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

God the Creator, God the Resurrector - Part Two (Easter, Day 25)

Earlier this week I noted that I've been thinking about creation and its relationship to resurrection. My claim is that, according to the New Testament witness, faith in God the Creator is bound up with faith in God the Resurrector. I already discussed this claim with reference to Romans 4:17. I'd like to continue to reflect on it with reference to Colossians 1:15-20:

“He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation
He is also the head of the body, the church;
the beginning and firstborn from among the dead…” (Colossians 1:15, 18a)

The parallelism of this passage is so striking to me. There are two ways of thinking of Jesus as the Son of God. The first is that he is the first of all God's children in general, i.e., his creatures. Prior to creating all that he creates, God first had his Son. And so he is the firstborn (prototokos) of all creation, the elder brother to all creation. Now Col. 1:15 on its own won't get one beyond the Son as highest creature. But even if we need to say more than this, we must not cease saying this too. Jesus Christ is the prototokos of all creation, and as such is its prototype.

The second is that he is the first of all God's children in particular, i.e., his church. Prior to constituting the church, God first raised his Son Jesus from the dead. And so Christ is the firstborn (prototokos) from among the dead, the elder brother to all those who will be raised at the end of time. Now Col. 1:18 doesn't tie up all the loose ends. And it certainly doesn't conceptualize the relationship between these parallel appellations. But it seems appropriate to suggest that Jesus Christ, the double prototokos, is the prototype of both the first creation and the final creation. Therefore, to know what it means to be truly human, we may and must look to the risen Christ. That's the implication of the claim that faith in God the Creator is bound up with faith in God the Resurrector.

Any thoughts?

Monday, May 16, 2011

God the Creator, God the Resurrector (Easter, Day 23)

I've been thinking about creation lately. I just posted why that's so over at the seminary's blog. Check it out. But there's also a connection with the theme of my current series commemorating the Forty Days after Easter.

According to the New Testament witness, faith in God as Creator is bound up with faith in God as Resurrector.

There are two passages that stand out in this regard: Romans 4:17 and Colossians 1:15-20. I'll discuss Romans today and Colossians tomorrow.

Romans 4:17 speaks of Abraham's faith in "the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not." Now, in the near context, this is speaking of God's capacity to fulfill his promise of a son even through a barren woman. But in it's wider context it points to God as the one who raises the dead, i.e., "gives life to the dead." The resurrection of Jesus comes up later in the passage, so we're not just filling gaps here. Then, in an even wider context, it points to God as the one who creates out of nothing, i.e., "calling into being things that were not." Here we are filling in gaps, but the witness of Scripture as a whole points in this direction. What is so striking is that, once we put it all together, we have a picture of God who doesn't just happen to create and happen to resurrect, but that the one God is the Creator and the Resurrector for one and the same reason, i.e., to keep his promises!

Any thoughts?

[To be continued...]

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Forgiven Sins, Restored Fellowship (Easter, Day 17)

It is a commonplace to point out the contrast between Peter's triple denial and Jesus's triple restoration in the form of the question, Do you love me? What I'm thinking about today is the cosmic context in which this very personal event takes place: i.e., that Peter denies Jesus during his passion, and that Jesus restores Peter during the forty days. It seems to me that this suggestions something about the meaning of the cross-and-resurrection as the one twofold event of God's reconciliation of the world to himself.

It seems to me that both the words of Jesus ("forgive them for they know not what they do" etc.) and the teachings of the apostles ("he died for our sins" etc.) confirms the notion that forgiveness was actualized in the cross of Christ. As a fan of the resurrection, I understand the temptation of those who might recoil from this cross-centered "atonement" theory. But it seems to make sense to me, so I'm not going to give up on it just yet.

Hence the sin of Peter, his denial, is in a certain sense already forgiven on the cross. But he doesn't know it yet, and so it does not yet make a difference in his life.

For what we do not yet have in the cross of Christ is a restored fellowship with God. The barrier to fellowship, i.e., our sin, has been removed. Hence the cross is the decisive event, the turning point in the story of God. But the aim or purpose of removing our iniquities is to welcome us into fellowship with God.

And this restoration takes place in Christ's resurrection.

Objectively, Jesus is our elder brother, the firstborn from the dead, whom the Father has welcomed into eternal living fellowship by raising him from the dead. Subjectively, Jesus comes to his own, breaks bread with them, and welcomes them into his fellowship so and also into fellowship with his eternal Father. He comes to Peter, puts the question of love to him, and commissions him for his missionary task. He restores fellowship with Peter, and sends him to the ends of the earth as an ambassador of the reconciliation achieved in the cross-and-resurrection of Jesus.

So, in a word, God forgives our sins in the cross of Christ and restores us to fellowship in the resurrection of Christ.

Perhaps too clean and simple. But I think that gets at least some of what needs to be said about the good news of the forty days!

Any thoughts?

Monday, May 09, 2011

Strength for Today, Hope for Tomorrow (Easter, Day 16)

Easter is an event about Jesus. But it is also an event about us. This twofold refrain has rung out throughout this series, and is repeatedly attested in the words and deeds of Christians. Easter includes both faith in Jesus and hope for us and our world.

I want to keep reflecting on the connection between Easter faith and Easter hope. I pointed out earlier that Easter faith in Jesus's resurrection points not only to a past event but has present and future dimensions. Jesus not only was raised but is risen and lives eternally. In the same way, Easter hope in our resurrection is not just directed to a future event but also a present reality. Yes, the resurrection will happen to us at the End, just as it happened to Jesus at Easter. But we already live in the presence of the risen, living Jesus. He is with us.

The power by which the risen Jesus is present is the Holy Spirit. As Romans 8:11 puts it, not only will God the Father raise us by the same Spirit by whom he rose Jesus, but already that same Spirit dwells within us now!

So, it is not just a sentimentality to say "Strength for today, bright hope for tomorrow." The two go together in the New Testament. They must properly distinguished, ordered, and unified. And they must be grounded in the Easter event that is prior to, above, and beyond our own personal needs and desires. But, with all that said, Easter hope really does speak to the power of the Spirit in and among us now. That should give us not only hope that endures but hope that strengthens.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, May 05, 2011

We too shall be raised (Easter, Day 12)

It is standard Easter fare to point out that our hope for resurrection is tied up with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If that is so, then it seems to me that more sustained reflection on the original Easter event might have something to say about us and our destiny too.

For example, I said earlier that, in the first instance, the Son only receives new life from his Father. Jesus Christ was raised by God the Father. If our resurrection hope is tied up with his resurrection, then it seems that, in the first instance, we will receive our new life from God. In other words, our final resurrection will be an act of God upon us, an act of sheer grace.

At a minimum, this qualifies our talk of human persons as in some sense naturally immortal. We tend to think of life-after-death as a foregone conclusion, with the only question being where each of us will end up. But the grammar of grace indicates that immortal life is itself a gift to be received rather than a possession to be taken for granted.

It seems to me that this adjustment in our conversation about human personhood and human destiny would have some significant impact on how we live our lives, especially with reference to how we face death. I'd love to explore those with you in the comments, or perhaps in further posts. For now I will just leave you with the thought: if even Jesus was the one who received his resurrection life, then who are we to think that our resurrection is an inevitability or personal possession. It is a gift. Our hope for it is secure in Jesus. But it is nevertheless hope, and so is the openness to receive rather than the certainty of possession.

Any thoughts?

Monday, May 02, 2011

Raised for our Justification (Easter, Day 10)

The resurrection happened. It was an event concerning Jesus. I've been exploring this lately by reflecting on the language of the Easter gospel and what it implies about the subject of the Easter event.

But Easter is not a spectator sport. The resurrection of Jesus Christ took place for us! So let's take a moment and reflect on what the resurrection means for us.

When reflecting on Easter's significance, there are two tendencies of which we must beware.

The first tendency is to say that, since our reconciliation was accomplished on the cross, the resurrection has no saving significance. It is perhaps the revelation of Christ's identity, an inevitability on account of his deity, the transition to the Spirit's work of applying salvation to us, etc. But it cannot be a saving event because that was completed on Good Friday.

The second tendency, at least in our time, emerges primarily as a reaction to the first tendency, which has been so dominant in the Western Christian tradition. This second tendency is to divide up the work of salvation so that the cross accomplishes one thing and the resurrection another. In order to emphasize the saving significance of Easter, this approach downplays the finished character of Christ's death.

I have deep sympathy with both of these approaches.

The first rightly emphasizes that in some sense our reconciliation with God was accomplished in the life of the incarnate Son, which was fulfilled in his death on the cross. As we have already discussed, in the first instance the resurrection is not a work performed by the incarnate Son, but a work performed on him by God the Father. So Easter is not just one more miracle, the last in a series of saving works. It is the sequel to his finished life.

The second rightly emphasizes that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a saving event. The New Testament is emphatic about this from beginning to end. To empty the resurrection of its saving significance in order to "protect" the finished work of the cross is a fundamental error, and wreaks havoc on our biblical interpretation. If we can end the story on Good Friday and be perfectly satisfied, then something is terribly wrong. Something must be done to articulate the saving significance of Easter.

I have no quick fix to this dilemma. But I do have a brief thought that may speak to it. And it comes from a striking little verse at the end of Romans 4: "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification" (Rom 4:25).

Here the death and resurrection of Jesus seem to be placed together as one saving event with two sides. And the two sides are not two "halves," so that each does 50% of the work of salvation, accomplishing two different things that together make up a composite work. No! The two together accomplish one thing, i.e., the justification of sinners.

How are the two sides related? It seems to be that there is a "negative" side and a "positive" side to the justification of sinners accomplished in Jesus Christ. The negative side is Christ's death: "He was delivered over to death for our sins..." The positive side is Christ's resurrection: "...and was raised to life for our justification." These are not two different works, but the negative and positive sides of one powerful work of salvation.

The analogy that comes to mind is a battery. A battery has positive and negative poles, both of which are necessary to conduct electricity. It's not that you get half the power if you touch one. You got to have both. They each perform different functions within one act of conducting electricity. The analogy breaks down quickly, but you get the idea.

These 40 days I commend you to rob neither the cross nor the resurrection of their saving significance, but see both as two sides of the one event of God's justification of sinners!

Any thoughts?

The "Livingness" of Jesus (Easter, Day 9)

As I suggested last week, there seem to be three different ways of bringing to speech what happened at Easter: (1) Jesus was raised, (2) Jesus has/is risen, and (3) Jesus is alive.

Let's treat that third one today, but without leaving behind the previous two. In fact, we'll see that this third way helps to fill out and clarify the meaning and purpose of the raising and rising of Jesus.

(3) Jesus is alive.

If find it intriguing that the New Testament does not only use cognates of "resurrection" (i.e., raised, risen) to express the Easter gospel. From time to time it also says that Jesus is alive. Whereas the other ways of speaking are verbs, this one is a noun. It is the result of being raised from the dead, i.e., to be alive again. It is the direction of his rising, i.e., he arose unto new life.

Hence it fills out the content of the Easter event.

As we saw, the raising of Jesus by God the Father and Jesus own rising were two ways of speaking of the same event. God raised Jesus; Jesus arose. The first speaks to the initiating act of Easter, whereas the second speaks to an ongoing reality. But the resurrection also has a future: the eternal life of Jesus Christ. The trajectory, telos and goal of the Easter event is that Jesus would be alive forevermore. So, whereas raising and rising point back to his death (i.e., raised/arose from the dead), being alive points forward to his future (i.e., eternal life). On account of his resurrection, the future of Jesus Christ is life.

This not only fills out the content of the Easter event, but also fills out our understanding of the subject of the Easter event.

Who acts in Christ's resurrection?

Our first answer was that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. The initiating act of Easter, i.e., the raising of Jesus, is appropriately attributed to God the Father.

Our second answer was that Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus is not only the object of resurrection, but also its subject. As the Father raises him, the Son also rises.

Now a third answer must be added: Jesus was, is and will be alive in the Spirit. The Spirit gives life to the Son, and the Son gives his Spirit of life to us!

In the New Testament, the Spirit is consistently associated with the concept of life (John 6, Rom 8, 1 Cor 15, 2 Cor 3, Gal 6). The Church has enshrined this association in her creeds: "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life." Christian piety takes this language for granted: we talk of life in the Spirit, etc. And there's just a commonsensical connection, i.e., that which is spirited is lively, and that which is dead lacks spirit. So the Easter livingness of Jesus is aptly attributed to the Spirit.

But this third answer requires that we restate our first two answers. For just as the livingness of Jesus fills out the content of his raising/rising, so the life-giving Spirit fills out the subject of this act.

So, again, who acts in Christ's resurrection?

First of all, God the Father raised Jesus by the Spirit. "The Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is in you" (Rom 8:11a). The initiating act of Easter, i.e., the raising of Jesus, is enacted by God the Father through the Holy Spirit. The life-giving Spirit is not only the result but also the means of the Father's act of raising. The Spirit is the one by whom the Father raised the Son.

Secondly, Jesus rose from the dead by the Spirit. "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Cor 3:17). The Spirit is the freedom, power, and authority of the Son to arise. (Note: this is how I would interpret John 10:18.) The Spirit is the very livingness in which Jesus arose from the dead.

Now we have come full circle. We have discussed the three ways of speaking the Easter gospel: Jesus was raised, Jesus has risen, and Jesus is alive. And we have seen how these three ways correlate with a threefold way of speaking of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In a word, the God of Easter is the triune God.

Any thoughts?

Friday, April 29, 2011

The "Rising" of Jesus (Easter, Day 6)

As I said yesterday, there seem to be three different ways of saying what happened on Easter morning: (1) Jesus was raised, (2) Jesus has/is risen, and (3) Jesus is alive.

Let's talk about the second one today, keeping in mind that Jesus was raised by God the Father, and that we will have more to say later about Jesus being alive.

(2) Jesus has/is risen.

Jesus not only was raised by God the Father but also arises. He himself rose from the grave, and so he is risen. Talk of Jesus' risenness is especially prominent the Gospels, where angels and apostles declare, "He is risen." Here's some quick thoughts:

First of all, I find it interesting that the rising of Jesus can be found both in the past and present tense. Jesus rose and Jesus is risen. It also appears in the perfect tense: he has risen. This combines both senses, i.e., he arose (past event) with the result that he is risen (present state).

I think this is important, because Easter is not just a past event but also a present reality. The Resurrection is both historical and personal; it happened and it is. Unlike Lazarus, who was raised only to die again, Jesus arose and is risen. Resurrection does not just something that happened to him resulting in a temporary condition. It is now his eternal identity: Jesus is the risen one. As Jesus himself puts it, "I am the resurrection and the life."

Now it must be said that Jesus's rising is not a different thing altogether from the raising of Jesus. To raise and to rise are two verbs whose content is nearly identical. The only difference is that the former is a transitive verb while the latter is intransitive. You can't just say "x raises" without a y who is being raised. But you can say "y rises" and have a complete sentence.

So, the raising and rising of Jesus are two different ways of speaking of one and the same event, i.e., the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It think this helps us get at the question raised by the previous post. In what sense was Jesus the acting subject of his resurrection? When we think of resurrection as a singular moment, then we must think of God the Father acting upon the Son. Yet Easter is not just a singular moment, but a movement with a purpose and result, i.e., that Jesus is risen. So the Father initiates the resurrection, but he does not act without his Son (for they are one!). The Son also rises. As the Father raised him, he arose. And he is risen as the one who the Father raised.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The "Raising" of Jesus (Easter, Day 5)

From my reading of the New Testament, there seem to be three different terms used to speak of what happened on Easter morning: (1) Jesus was raised, (2) Jesus has/is risen, and (3) Jesus is alive.

Let's talk about the first one today. Stay tuned for the rest!

(1) Jesus was raised.

The raising of Jesus is especially dominant Acts, though it occurs quite a bit in Paul's letters too. The turning point of each of Peter's and Paul's sermons is that "God raised this Jesus from the dead." Here's two quick thoughts and question.

First, note that this way of speaking is consistently put in the past tense. This fits its context in Acts, where the apostles are recounting the events concerning Jesus. One could say, "Jesus is raised." Perhaps there are instances in the NT that I've missed. Please point them out to me. But it is certainly not the dominant pattern. And I think there's a reason, i.e., the raising of Jesus is an event in the past, something that happened at a specific time and place.

Furthermore, it something that happened to Jesus. Which brings us to my second point.

In the first instance, the resurrection is not an act performed by Jesus, but an act performed on Jesus. To raise is a transitive verb, i.e., one that requires an object. You can just say "x raised." You gotta say "x raised y." Hence the recurring phrase, "God raised Jesus." The passive construction also works: "Jesus was raised." But here the subject of the act is implied, i.e., Jesus was raised by God. Sometimes the subject is supplied, and often further specified as God the Father.

This way of speaking the Easter gospel raises a theological question: if God raised Jesus, but Jesus is God, then shouldn't we also say Jesus raised himself? There are hints of such reflexive constructions in the New Testament (esp. in John), though they are by no means dominant. This way of speaking, however, has became quite central in the Christian tradition, and for good reason (i.e., the deity of Jesus and the unity of God).

My question is whether this reflective construction obscures the theological payoff of the NT's talk of raising: that Jesus Christ died and then was raised by another, i.e., his Father. Jesus Christ in his divine-human unity was dead, and afterwards was raised by God the Father, and act which he received by did not directly perform. In other words, the initiative of the Easter event lies wholly with God the Father. When we speak of the initiating moment of Easter, i.e., when we speak in the past tense, we must speak of the Father acting upon the Son. How to make this point without denying the deity of Christ or the unity of God is not easy. But I think it's a point that needs to be made.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Recognizing Jesus (Easter, Day 4)

I find it striking that people in the NT often don't immediately recognize the risen Jesus. Does he look different or something? Is it because of unbelief (i.e., you can only recognize what you think is possible)? Is it something else? Is it just a peculiar feature of the narratives and we should leave it at that?

This recurring pattern seems to suggest that Jesus hides his identity until he wills to manifest himself. The language in Luke 24:16 implies this: "their eyes were kept from recognizing him." It is as though Jesus, who quite clearly wills to be known, does not always will to be known immediately.

As the risen Lord he has every right to do this. I am just wondering why he does it. Maybe there is no rhyme or reason to it. But if there is, it is certainly worth inquiring. If not, we will not have wasted our time as reflecting on his actions can bring us closer to him.

One way to get at the reason for this delayed recognition is to note the ways in which people do not recognize him. Consider the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

First, he speaks. He asks them a question.

But they do not recognize him by his voice.

Second, he speaks again. After listening to them share the rumor of his missing body, he rebukes them and begins to teach them, walking through the whole bible and its witness concerning the Messiah.

But they do not recognize him by his teaching.

Third, he speaks a third time. He offers a blessing for their bread, breaks it, and offers it to them. In other words, he prays for dinner and passes the serving plate.

But now they recognize him. They recognize him by his meal.

Now we can overplay this. But it seems to me that Luke is inviting us to see a recapitulation of the Lord's Supper, which was itself the fulfillment of Jesus' table fellowship with sinners, tax collectors, disciples, etc. In his ever-renewed fellowship with us around his table, the risen Jesus is recognized.

We recognize the risen Jesus by his meal.

This is good news! Why? Because the forty days came to a close. Upon his ascension, we for a time do not directly hear his voice and teachings. We continue to hear his voice through the mediation of his Spirit. We can hear and read his teachings through the Spirit-inspired mediation of the apostolic witnesses. And we can recognize his presence in his meal. But these are all indirect forms of communication. They are not direct and immediate, but indirect and mediated.

Perhaps this has troubled you. Perhaps you wished you could walk and talk with Jesus during his forty days. If only we had an immediate encounter with the risen Jesus, then we could believe, be bold, be transformed, etc.

But the good news is that we do not need a direct encounter to recognize Jesus. He can be really and truly known in his chosen intermediary forms. The road to Emmaus story shows that even a direct encounter with the risen Jesus is no guarantee that we will recognize him and so enter into genuine fellowship with him. Even they had to really on a indirect mode of communication: his breaking of bread and sharing it, and thereby reestablishing his table-fellowship with them.

The original forty days were unquestionably an amazing time. It is an utterly unique stretch of time: definitive, unrepeatable, glorious. But we should not think of the time we are now in as a time of absence. For during those forty days, Jesus shows his people that they do not need his direct and immediate presence to recognize him, know him, fellowship with him and declare him to the ends of the earth. His indirect fellowship with us through the Spirit, the church, and the sacraments is sufficient. We do not settle for this as a lesser form of presence, for even the disciples who walked and talked with him did not recognize him without his act of self-mediation at the table. The presence we have today is just as genuine, real, and powerful as what they experiences there and then. It is different in form. But it is the same Jesus.

May you recognize Jesus today in and through his appointed means.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Blessed are those who mourn..." (Easter, Day 3)

Easter is a time of joy. He is risen! Alleluia!

But we must admit that not all are joyful on Easter morn. The joy of Easter does not grasp them. And some who were joyful this Sunday are so no longer, as we returned to business as usual. The joy of Easter doesn't always stick.

This condition is not to be dismissed. The problem is not just joyless people. We must ask hard questions about the form of our Easter proclamation. We must ask whether our Easter talk is more than talk, but the gospel and its power to save.

Easter joy is too often experienced in a vacuum. For many of us, life is good. So Easter is just a little bit better. Perhaps the best. But still just on a continuum of the good life we define it.

For others, life is not so good. But we've learned to say that it is good despite our circumstances, for he is risen. That's faithful thing to say. But I it's not enough, for the Easter message is really for us and our lives. It is true. But it must come to us to be true for us.

For Easter joy to grasp us and stay with us, it must meet us in our mourning.

According to John's gospel, the first witness of the risen Jesus was in mourning (20:11). Some angels asked why she was weeping. Interestingly, she doesn't say she's weeping because Jesus died. She says she's sad because Jesus' dead body has gone missing: "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him" (20:13). Surely she was mourning his death too, but I find it striking that she weeps because she's lost her Lord.

I doubt she's the only who can find the Lord.

Then she turns around (note: with the tomb behind her!) and sees Jesus, though she does not recognize him. She asks if he took the body (note: the answer is yes! cf. John 10:18) and, if so, if she could have it (note: the answer is no, see below). But not until he speaks her name does she recognize him. Jesus knows his sheep by name, and Jesus' sheep know his voice.

Jesus comes to those who mourn.

Peter ran. He got to see inside an empty tomb.

John ran too. He saw some folded linens and was to the first to believe.

Mary wept. And she got to see Jesus.

Jesus comes to those who mourn.

"Blessed are those who mourn..."

You know how the rest goes: "for they shall be comforted." I find it striking, however, that Jesus does not comfort Mary. He's actually quite curt with her: "Don't hold on to me." He did take his body, but she can't have it. She seeks the comfort that comes from holding on to Jesus. She came to the tomb to hold on to him in his death. And now she wants to hold on to him in his resurrection. But Jesus says, "Don't hold on to me." He is not willing to be an object she can control, i.e., an idol. For he is a subject, a person, a living being who acts and who calls us to act. Jesus is alive.

But Jesus doesn't ignore her. He doesn't disregard her mourning. He calls her out of mourning and into his service: "Go and tell my brothers!"

Blessed are the who morn, for they shall be ... sent!

The joyful message of Easter may not comfort you in the way you seek to be comforted. But it does call you. You are called--in the midst of your mourning, then out of your mourning and to other who mourn.

And the message with which you are entrusted is a message of comfort: "Go and tell my brothers, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" The joy of Easter is that in the risen Christ we have God as our Father. The one who is by nature the Son of God makes us God's children by grace. We are adopted in him. The one who sits at the Father's right hand is our brother. He is the firstborn from the dead, and so we may be bold before the Father. We can seek the comfort we need in the name of Jesus Christ. That's the joy of Easter.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter, Day 2 (The Forty Days Series)

Why is it that low-church protestants can commemorate 40 days of Lent with a straight face, but not the 40 days of Easter?

I don't know the answer to this question. My hunch is that it is because we understand the crucifixion but not the resurrection. We believe Christ was raised from the dead. If you deny it, you are in trouble. Many of us even think you could prove it like any other historical event.

But we don't spend much time seeking to understand it.

Thankfully, we are not alone in believing but not understanding. The disciples were in the same boat:
Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. (John 20:8-10)
Even those who saw the empty tomb didn't really grasp what was going on. They bought it, but they didn't get it. They believed but did not yet understand.

The empty tomb is an indispensable sign that evokes our faith in the truth of Christ's resurrection. But in itself it does not manifest the meaning of Christ's resurrection.

What does?

The manifestation of the risen Christ himself. When he appears, the disciples not only believe but begin to understand. In fact, he manifests himself again and again over a period of forty days, during which the disciples' eyes were opened: "Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures" (Luke 24:45). Luke indicates that the 40 days were a time not only of "convincing proofs that he was alive" (Acts 1:3) but also of "spoke about the kingdom of God" (Luke ).

The 40 days of Easter are time for faith that seeks understanding.

Join me every day for the next 40 days. I'll post some thoughts on the meaning of our Easter faith.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I've been thinking about … Resurrection!

I've got a new post up at the Seminary's blog. Here's an excerpt to wet your appetite:

I've been thinking about …


I know, I know. It's not Easter yet. But I think about what I think about. Those of you who know me know I think about the resurrection a lot: I preach about it regularly it's a recurring theme in my writing, and it's the topic of my dissertation (personal indulgence alert: which I defend this Tuesday). But I've just been bombarded by resurrection talk lately. Allow me to relay three such instances. They sparked some truthful and useful reflections for me, especially concerning the delicate interplay between past, present and future in resurrection faith. Perhaps these will spark something in you as well.

(1) A student in the Seminary's Worship course selected the following topic for her Integration Paper: "What acts of worship/sacraments ought to be performed for the dying/dead?" What a great topic! Together we built a bibliography that engages the relevant biblical texts, the history of last rites and other acts associated, and theological debates over immortality of the soul and resurrection of the body. Especially intriguing were the biblical text she selected: Ezekiel 37:13, John 5:28, Romans 8:38-39 and 2 Corinthians 5:8. All of the NT texts, but especially John 5:28, speak of resurrection as both a future hope and a present reality. Yes, Jesus Christ was raised at Easter. And yes, we will be raised at the End. But in the meantime resurrection life is at work among us. Our future is already present, for Christ himself is present. So resurrection hope is not just hope deferred, but a new way of perceiving and living in the present!

(2) Last Thursday I went to a concert with Nate Lamb, my friend, fellow music-lover and seminary recruiter extraordinaire. The artist's music and lyrics were just resurrection-saturated...

For more, click here to visit the seminary's blog.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

18 Theses on Eschatology (so far)

I've been tweeting out Theses on Eschatology this week. Here's the first 18. If you want read these and other thoughts as they come, click here:

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Thesis #1: The leading motif of a Christian eschatology ought to be the parousia of Jesus Christ.

Thesis #2: Eschatologies that are overdetermined by concepts of divine justice or love and/or human destiny or decision are sub-Christian.

Thesis #3: The telos of God's love/justice and humanity's decision/destiny occur in the one God-human, Jesus, and so are known only in him.

Thesis #4: The telos of Jesus Christ in his divine-human unity is his living presence as the one who died and rose for us.

Thesis #5: In the first instance, the telos of Jesus' life is his death. The one who will return at the end is the one who died for us.

Thesis #6: But Jesus' death was not his final end. He also rose from the dead. So the one who will return at the end already LIVES for us!

Thesis #7: Therefore the one who died (#5) and rose (#6) for us not only will be present at the end but is already present with us now.

Thesis #8: Eschatology is not futurology. It is knowledge of the risen Christ who was and is and will be present (i.e., parousia, cf. #1).

Thesis #9: Eschatology is possible ONLY if the Jesus who will return at the end is the SAME as the one who came before and is present now.

Thesis #10: JESUS IS RISEN! So resurrection hope conditions all eschatological concepts--immortality, the soul, judgment, heaven, eternity, etc.

Thesis #11: Hope for the resurrection of the dead embraces the individual, communal, and cosmic dimensions of Christian hope.

Thesis #12: Christians aren't obligated to believe in the immortality of the soul.

Thesis #13: Christian are permitted to believe in the immortality of the soul as long as it does not render resurrection hope superfluous.

Thesis #14: Immortality of the soul is not the object of hope. It's just a theory that addresses questions raised by resurrection hope.

Thesis #15: Only the living God is by nature immortal. Human immortality is a gift, given for the sake of fellowship with the risen Christ

Thesis #16: Since for living beings death and time are existentially intertwined, immortality is functionally synonymous with eternal life.

Thesis #17: Eternal life IS fellowship with the risen Christ in his self-attestation. Eternal life is therefore irreducibly social.

Thesis #18: Sociality is mediated bodily, so resurrected bodies are indispensable to eternal life.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

I've been thinking about...

Check out my lastest post at the Seminary's blog.

Here's a preview:

The individual and the community.

The topic was inspired by some reading, some conversation, and a student’s integration paper.

The reading came from my favorite theologian, Karl Barth, who, after making a strong case for the priority of the community in the Christian life, turned around — in his typically dialectical fashion — to make a very strong case for the significance of the individual standing before God (cf. CD II/2, §35.1). An emphasis on the Christian community must not result in an overcompensation that forgets the freedom and responsibility of the individual before God. There’s a sort of modern collectivism (which Barth witnessed firsthand in Naziism) that is a sort of demonic inversion of modern individualism. In our zeal for the church as community we mustn’t overreact, constructing a communitarian ideology that crushes the individual.

The conversation was with some colleagues discussing the costs and benefits of infant baptism...

Click here for the rest.