Archive for the ‘Christology’ Category

I recently had a very thought provoking class on the destiny of the unevangelized. It was our last class for Soteriology through Reclaiming the Mind Ministries. Have you ever been asked the question, “Is Jesus the only way to God?” “Is it necessary to believe in Christ to be saved”? “What about those who have never heard the Gospel of Christ? Can they make it to heaven?”  Now let me ask another question, have you really thought through the implications of your answer? The following will be an overview of what we covered in class. Is Christ necessary ontologically (what he did) and is Christ necessary epistemologically (knowledge of what he did)?

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Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola have teamed up to write “Jesus Manifesto”. I am reviewing it for the www.BookSneeze.com program. The book sets out to call the church to recommit to the supremacy and centrality of Christ. Beginning reading the book, I had to keep setting aside my preconceived ideas about Viola, since I have strong disagreements with a lot of the work that has brought him into prominence as a writer and speaker.

Of course, a work that seeks to uphold the centrality and preeminence of Christ is one of value. The text focusses a lot on the epistle to the Colossians and calls that text “the high-water mark of divine revelation in all the New Testament” (p.24) which is a great example of one of my main hesitations in recommending “Jesus Manifesto”: Sweet & Viola are guilty of stating their strong convictions as inescapable, all-encompassing fact. It is not their desire of the church to return to Jesus alone that troubles me, but these little asides, along with the sweeping condemnation of the church in America/the West that causes me to balk somewhat. I agree with the authors’ passion, but I don’t agree with their evaluation of the church at large. No doubt, there are many who are focussed on anything but the glorious Son of God, but the tone they take seems more elitist than engaging – I fear that the very people they need to encourage and correct will reject the book for that reason.

One other point of contention I have is the ongoing attitude towards the Law. “The One who nailed to His bloody cross every law, every rule, and every regulation that would condemn the beloved people of God” (p.33) is good sounding, but seems to imply that God is sad about the Law. But God is not sad about the Law, He’s sad about sin. There’s an antagon

istic attitude towards the Law, without a recognition that, as it was given by God, it was good. It’s sin, and man sinning, that is bad! God didn’t send Jesus to save us from the Law, but to save us from our sinfulness.

The current trend seems to be one of distrust of the Old Testament, as though it was God’s mistake, but that certainly does not seem to be Jesus’ attitude, nor the early church’s, and so we have to be careful with our theology of the Cross that we focus on being redeemed from the bonds of sin, not the bonds of the Law. The Law cannot save us, I agree. But it does serve a purpose – through the law comes knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20).

To the more general aspects, the writing is fast and conversational, not overly technical but not dumbed down. Sweet & Viola are certainly gifted authors, and their hearts scream off the page. I disagree with some of their theology, and I probably won’t be recommending this text to anyone I know, but in their conviction about the centrality of Christ they have served to help me look and evaluate all that I do to be sure that the Lord of All is indeed in the Lord in all I do!

My Commute With a Mormon

Posted: April 12, 2010 by Greg Burkheimer in Apologetics, Christ & Culture, Christology

I have recently had the opportunity to discuss spiritual matters while carpooling to work with a co-worker who is Mormon. We do not always carpool but from time to time her normal ride is not available. At some time during our commute, the conversation usually turns to spiritual things. We have discussed matters such as, “where is God in natural disasters?”, “why do some not believe in a God?”, and the seriousness of sin. Our conversations have taken a turn where we now tend to discuss particular aspects of our faith. She has talked to me about how other “Christians” have mistreated her. She has also given me her testimony about how she came to be Mormon and why she believes Mormonism is true. She has even invited me to come to church with her and to watch the 108th General conference which was recently on TV. So, how should I respond? I do know some things about the teachings of the Mormon Church. Do I play dumb? Just tell her I am happy with my own religion and move on? Or, do I have a responsibility? Do I confront her with teachings of her church that go against what the Bible teaches? Where should I start? The following are some things I have found helpful.  I hope this will be an ongoing post as our conversations continue.

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Kevin DeYoung has noted before that people talk a lot about the Kingdom of God, but don’t always have a fully biblical view of this issue.  Last week, he posted some thoughts on this issue, cautioning people who want to bring the kingdom to earth.  DeYoung argues instead that the kingdom is closely identified with the Church:

If the kingdom of God is heaven breaking into earth, Eden being replanted, the New Jerusalem nailing in stakes, then we should expect to see the kingdom almost exclusively in the church. Of course, the church, living in the world, ought to embody the principles of the kingdom. Likewise, we will be pleased when the world around us reflects many of the values of the kingdom–forgiveness, compassion, mercy, and justice. But we will not expect the world, in this life, to become the kingdom.

Here’s the problem: when people talk broadly about bringing heaven down to earth on the culture writ large, they can’t help but be selective about the nature of the kingdom. So some Christians will argue for dismantling of nuclear weapons because in the kingdom swords are beaten into plowshares. True, but in the kingdom everyone also sits under their own vine and fig tree. The vision of the kingdom/garden/city is one of extravagant opulence and prosperity. So should we try to be as rich as possible as a sign of the kingdom’s in-breaking? Well, no because the kingdom is not the full reality yet. As a result we must temper the notion of kingdom-living prosperity with the reality that some people don’t have enough to live. In the same way, we must temper the notion of kingdom-living pacifism with the reality that there are lots of bad guys in the world who don’t want us to live.

In other words, when we think of the kingdom as what we are trying to build in this world we will be severely disappointed, potentially dangerous. But when we see the church as the presence of the kingdom in this world then the theological pieces start falling into place. The oversight in some recent conceptions of building the kingdom is that the kingdom is only thought of in terms of social services. But where Christ reigns, wickedness is expelled too. If you want to build the kingdom in your town, if you want heaven to come down to earth in your city, then you must not allow unrepentant sinners to live there. For Scripture is clear that they share no part in the kingdom. (more…)

Dr. James Shelton was gracious enough to share some thoughts in response to my earlier blogpost.

Rick,

I am honored that you looked at Mighty in Word and Deed.
We are dealing with a mystery here. A mystery revealed but not a mystery completely explained. Jesus was completely human and completely divine. The hypostatic union of his humanity and divinity means that he did nothing apart from either nature. So in one sense one could say that his union with divinity would preclude his sinning; like we avoid sin only by the presence of his bountiful grace.
Yet, in his humanity he was like us in that he depended on the Holy Spirit to help him overcome evil. In one sense the doctrine of perichoresis says that Jesus as God the Son does nothing without the Holy Spirit and the Father. But he was a real human and therefore empowerd by the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:48; Luke 4:18). Like the hymn, Veni Sancte Spiritus( Come Holy Spirit) we say to the Spirit “Come fill our hearts; for without your grace all turns to ill. Veni Sancte Spiritus.”
Jim Shelton, Ph. D.
Prof. of NT and Early Christian Literature
Oral Roberts University

In my reading of James B. Shelton’s volume, “Mighty in Word and Deed: The Role of the Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts”, I offer the following quotes and thoughts.

There is much discussion if the Spirit, for Luke, was primarily an empowering agent for ministry and witness, or also an agent of renewal and transformation. I think that Shelton (1991:57-62), in his chapter, “The Holy Spirit and Jesus’ Temptation”, shows that there is adequate Lukan material to suggest that Jesus’ triumph over temptation is paradigmatic for believers’ today as well. Shelton (1991:60) states:

Luke’s use of “full of the Holy Spirit” and “led by the Spirit” makes it doubly clear that Jesus’ temptations were real and that he was truly human. He relied not on his own power and resources but on God’s.

Shelton (1991:60) elaborates:

While Luke maintains that Jesus experience as God’s Son through the work of the Holy Spirit is unique, he also shows that in his humanity Jesus is dependent upon the Holy Spirit to overcome temptation and carry out his ministry. this is why Luke use the same terms to express Jesus’ relationship with the Holy Spirit and that of believers. This is good news to Luke’s readers. The temptations of Jesus are real, as real as anyone else’s dilemmas. Jesus does not rely on the uniqueness of his Spirit-generated birth (LK 1:35) or his office of Messiah to win over temptation. He overcomes evil as God expects all people to triumph—through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Shelton (1991:61) concludes the chapter by the following summary:

Thus for Luke enduring the temptations is not merely a staged act by a divine being incapable of being tempted, but it is a lifestyle of a human being endowed by and dependent upon the Holy Spirit. Luke’s emphasis on the Spirit in the temptation narrative is simultaneously sobering and encouraging for the followers of Jesus in their struggle with evil.

I hold to the impeccability of Jesus, meaning that He could not have sinned. Even so, I sometimes think the debate on the issue a vain thing as it only speaks to hypotheticals. The fact is that HE DID NOT SIN. That’s what matters in the whole enchilada. Having said that, I don’t think that taking a position of the impeccability of Christ is contradictory towards Shelton’s emphasis on Jesus’ dependence upon the Spirit to overcome very real temptations.

The fact is that God ordains “means” to fulfill His purposes. Jesus dependence upon the Spirit, His prayers, and learning of the Scriptures were all “means” which enabled Him, in a very real way, to live a life fully devoted to the Father, thus fulfilling all righteousness.

While we aren’t Christ, we are encouraged to employ the very same means in our own sanctification. We are to learn the Scriptures, pray, and walk in the power of the Spirit. While our faith is built upon the foundation of Christ’s righteousness as being ours, He does also serve as an example for our sanctification. After first answering “What Has Jesus Done?”, are we then able to answer “What Would Jesus Do?”. In fact, we answer the latter question by first understanding the former.

Christ’s Triumph over Earthly Powers

Posted: July 3, 2009 by Scott Kistler in Christology, History, Politics

Scholars have begun to think about the way that Jesus and Paul called the Roman Empire into question.  I think that it was this Christian Century article from 2005 that turned me on to the trend.  Peter Leithart’s article in First Things also explored the idea of Paul’s assertion of Christ’s triumph over earthly powers:

Paul taught Christians to expect a lot from the gospel, politically as well as personally. He taught that the crucifixion of Jesus had a direct impact on the powers-that-be. He told the Colossians that Jesus went to the cross as the firstborn—the only-begotten of the Father, the new Israel, the heir, the Passover sacrifice—to pacify the powers. The same Son who created the powers (Col. 1:16) has “made peace through the blood of His cross” by reconciling powers in heaven and earth to Himself (Col. 1:20).

Paul borrows from the propaganda of the Roman Empire to make his point. According to Roman imperial ideology, the emperor was a cosmic “peace-maker,” bringing to earth an image of heavenly peace. The apostle says, on the contrary, that God has his own peace-maker, another Lord who reconciles all things. As Paul says later in Colossians, Jesus renovates all things and unites Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, slave and free (Col. 3:10-11), extending his empire even to “barbarians” (Col. 3:10-11).

Scholars have debated inconclusively about whether the powers are angels or demons or social “forces” or human authorities, but in the end it doesn’t matter for Paul. If there are visible powers and authorities, the Son who made them subdues them (Col. 1:16). If there are invisible angelic or demonic powers, or more abstract forces in the human world, their fate is the same. The key thing for Paul is not to identify the powers, but to say that they have all been created and they have all been conquered. It’s a universal truth: Whatever rules over humanity has been tamed by the cross of Jesus.

Paul reiterates the same point in more extreme terms in the following chapter. Jesus, he claims, has “stripped” the rulers and authorities and made a public display of them (Col. 2:15). Paul is making an ironic reference to the actual event of Jesus’ crucifixion. If CNN had captured the crucifixion, the film clip would have shown Jesus Himself stripped, crucified naked and exposed. According to Paul, what actually happening was the opposite: Jesus stripped the powers. Paul again borrows from Roman imperial custom in saying that Jesus makes a “public display” of the powers, having triumphed over him in the cross.” By his death, Jesus leads the powers in a triumphal procession, displaying them as the trophies of his conquest, the plunder of Egypt.

Leithart believes that this has indeed happened, and discusses the Christian Church’s victory over Rome’s tyranny and the polytheistic religions of the ancient world.  At the same time, he writes that governments and cultures can be not only defeated, but reconciled to God’s rule, rejecting the Anabaptist idea that Christians must always be opposed to power.  Of the times where the Church has sinned in its triumph, he writes,

Paul also means that through the cross the Church is delivered from everything else that dominates and distorts human life. The true man Jesus redeems slaves to tradition, slaves to blood and nation, slaves to fashion, slaves to public opinion, and forms a community of free citizens, of truly human humans. If the Church has often bowed to the idols of nationalism, traditionalism, or trendiness, it is because we have too often forgotten our exodus and returned to Egypt.

Leithart believes (in my understanding) that the Church can bring Christ’s kingdom here on by baptizing nations and bringing the world under God’s rule, fulfilling the Great Commission.  I believe in the Great Commission, of course, but I’m not yet convinced of the Christendom model that he embraces.  I’m not sure that the Bible teaches that Christians are to set up an earthly kingdom, but I haven’t done a lot of study on the topic.  Nevertheless, I found his reflection on Christ’s victory edifying and the historical context in which he places Paul’s writings to be quite helpful.

Leithart also posted a couple of really deep reflections here and here on the meaning of worship within the last month, which I mostly want to link to so I can recall them.  I hope that you find them helpful as well.  Thanks, Joel, for putting me in touch with Leithart’s writings!