What is more…

an excercise in getting to the point

Tag: God

Three-Word Gospel…

"Shalom" - Makoto Fujimura

A couple months ago, I saw a good buddy of mine at a wedding, and during the course of events, we got to talking about God. He wanted to know about what I was learning at seminary and how that was influencing my faith life, and so we talked about that for a while. Being the thoughtful guy he is, he challenged me on some of my views on what salvation means and what the Christian life is all about. A few weeks later, I got an email entitled “Can you beat it???” with the following quote in the body:

“Were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that.”

—J.I. Packer, Knowing God (214)

This is indeed a rich and pregnant summary of the gospel. I have been thinking about it alot, on and off, over the last couple months. Adoption through propitiation. There is so much to this definition that must be unpacked. Packer means by “propitiation,” the means by which two things happen: (1) the barrier to a “propitious” (i.e. favorable) relationship with God—our sin—is wiped away/eradicated, and (2) because of this, God’s wrath is turned away. He contrasts this with the alternate translation of hilasterion/hilasmos (i`lasth,rion / i`lasmoj): “expiation,” which indicates only effect (1), not effect (2). There is a debate between the two definitions, but it doesn’t seem to be very important to me, for the simple reason that if effect (1) doesn’t happen, it doesn’t really matter if effect (2) does. Whether God has wrath that need be satisfied or not, our sin must be dealt with or we are hopelessly lost.

For Packer, this propitiation, takes place in Jesus Christ: “by his sacrificial death for our sins Christ pacified the wrath of God” (184, emphasis original). Through this, we (more precisely Christians/the elect) become adopted sons (and daughters) of God. This sonship is not a natural birthright, according to Packer, but is a divine gift, offered freely to those who receive Jesus (cf. John 1:12-13). Not until we properly understand adoption will we understand Christianity (202). To be an adopted child of the Father radically changes our identity: we carry God’s name, we are assured of a place in God’s heavenly household, our Redeemer is also our brother, and the whole Church is our royal family whom we are called to love. As someone who has experienced adoption, I can personally testify to the radical way in which it has shaped my identity. In this way, I can appreciate the depth of meaning of the Biblical language of adoption.

I am pretty sure that I cannot beat J.I. Packer’s three-word gospel (although I am also sure that any three-word summary of the gospel will necessarily be reductionistic and will leave much unsaid, as Packer’s does). That being said, just for fun, I thought I would try out some different options. Here are a few that I came up with… please leave some of your own in the comments section.

God’s Kingdom Come

(Colossians 1:13, Matthew 12:28, Luke 17:21)

Christ Reconciles Everything

(Colossians 1:20, 2 Corinthians 5:19)

Elected in Jesus

(Ephesians 1:4)

New Heavens [&] Earth

(Revelation 21, Isaiah 65, 2 Peter 3)

Creation (shalom) Regained

(Romans 8:18-23)

God’s Love Revealed

(1 John 4:10)

The Curse Reversed

(Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 55, Revelation 21-22)

Recapitulation in Christ

(Ephesians 1:10, esp. St. Irenaeus)

—or, how about a one-word Gospel?

Jesus

(The Gospel is a Person, and He has a name)

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Semester in Review…

I went to bed last night at 7:30pm. That was after taking a nap yesterday afternoon from 3:30-4:30 pm. I believe that my body is in Recovery Mode after an intense week of writing final papers (55 pages and a take-home final!). Not only that, I believe my body is in Recovery Mode after what was, perhaps, the hardest semester of my life. Nevertheless, the exhaustion I feel is like the exhaustion at the end of a good work-out or a competitive game of basketball; not like the exhaustion of being tossed overboard and swimming for dear life. There is a sense of accomplishment and growth, and for that I am truly thankful.

Two classes in particular have challenged me this semester, though in different ways.

The first was Ethics and the Problem of Evil. From the beginning, the professor made it clear that it was not going to be a Theodicy class [i.e. how to justify God in light of the existence of evil]. Rather, it was an ethics class, meaning that our main objective would be to think about how we ought to respond to evil in practical ways. That being said, it quickly became apparent that there is a constant tension between practical responses to evil and theoretical concepts about evil. Our view of who God is and what the world in which we live is really like, affects the way we respond to evil and suffering. But! to think and wonder about God and the world in a detached way [i.e. from the relative safety and comfort of a seminary classroom] tends not to lead to a sufficiently deep description of the very real ambiguities that evil and suffering occasion. In the end, every attempt to “answer the problem of evil” with a tidy system did not do justice to reality and left one [me] feeling unsatisfied. And yet, and yet… one cannot simply avoid the problem altogether. The problem of evil, it seems, from an intellectual point of view is un-answerable. From a faith point of view, however, the most satisfying approaches we covered were the ones that were utterly realistic about the existence of evil and suffering, yet somehow found a way to confess the goodness of God in the midst of it [I’m thinking, especially, here of Nicholas Wolterstorff’s short-classic Lament for a Son].

The oddest thing that I found while taking this class, was that everywhere I turned, in all of my other classes, the subject material overlapped considerably. Recently, it dawned on me that there is a very simple reason for this. So much of what is done in theology and philosophy is an extended reflection on the following fact: life is often unimaginably difficult. There is a reason that the Bible calls Satan “the prince of this world” (John 12:31). If we take the time to be honest, and reflect upon the suffering all around us, and within our own lives (not something that I am very good at… optimism is far safer), we will see that something is terribly wrong. Thank God, however, that is not all there is to that verse: “the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (vv 21-22). After a semester of wrestling with the objections to the [all too easy] answers to the [all to often wrong] questions about evil and suffering, I am left with two things: hope and the conviction that hope is more important than answers.

The other class that challenged me was The Theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher. Before I took the class, all that I knew about him was that Wikipedia said he was the “Father of Modern Protestant Theology” and that Karl Barth tried “to overturn his influence.” Given the way that St. Karl seems to be venerated here at PTS, I was sure that this class would teach me how to dissect Schleiermacher’s harmful theology, showing particularly how far we have come since he messed up Protestantism during the Enlightenment. Much to my surprise (and probably chagrin) the professor (a renowned Barth scholar) taught Schleiermacher with grace and respect, never critiquing him based on criteria that were alien to Schleiermacher’s day, and more often than not, finding some way to affirm and even appropriate Schleiermacher’s intentions and instincts in a generous fashion. While I doubt that Schleiermacher will ever become a central figure or influence in my own theology [although who knows?], what I learned most in this class was not contained in the books we read. All semester I have described the task of reading and understanding Schleiermacher as “wrestling with a big-hairy monster.” Every time you think you have a handle on him, he breaks free and shows you that you do not. He will not be tamed by simple explanations or surface-level reading. But I am only stronger for having tried, and will only be made stronger the more that I do so. I suppose this is the case with any theologian worth his/her salt. They must be taken on their own terms. We must allow them to challenge our own presuppositions. Otherwise the playing field is not even and the game is pointless. The more honestly, vulnerably, and winsomely we play the game, however, the more God may use others to press us farther up and further in.

All in all, this has been the hardest, and best, semester of my life. The hardest part about it was the difficulty of the subject matter and the isolating nature of the work [lots of research in the library, not so much time to hang out with friends and wife]. The best parts, on the other hand, were the lessons learned about honesty and vulnerability, and the great conversations with classmates generated by the challenging material.

At this point I am almost half-way done with my seminary career. And while it has by no means been easy [especially the living in Jersey part], life is a gift, and today it feels that way. The words of Sheldon Vanauken come to mind: “If its half as good as the half we’ve known, heres hail to the rest of the road”

Batter My Heart…

johndonne

BATTER my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to’another due,
Labour to’admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely’I love you,’and would be loved faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie:
Divorce mee,’untie, or breake that knot againe;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

The language of Donne’s Holy Sonnet No. 14 is disarming. Donne deals with the anguish of loving God, yet being bound to sin. To do so he uses graphic, violent language: “break,” “batter,” “o’erthrow,” “imprison,” “ravish.” This language is juxtaposed with the language of redemption: “mend,” “make me new,” “free,” “chaste,” and “love.”

In my Ethics and the Problem of Evil class this week, this poem caused quite a stir. The class seemed to be divided into three camps. (1) Those who thought the language was inappropriate when used of God, completely irrelevant for pastoral settings and/or just plain shocking. (2) Those who defended Donne’s language and sought to explain what he was trying to say, and (3) Those who were shocked and yet intrigued, who were divided inwardly and reserved judgment

I am currently writing a short paper arguing for my own reaction (which you will have to read to know). In the meantime, however, I would love to hear from anyone out there who may happen to read this entry. What do you think about Donne’s poem? What was your initial gut response? Or, what can this poem teach us about life with God?