Archive Page 2

24
Jan
15

christianity, coercion and charlie

The recent slaying of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists as a jihadic response to Charlie’s satirical and irreverent cartoons of Mohammed has shocked the Western world. It has again pushed to the fore of western consciousness pressing questions regarding Islam that most in the West would prefer to avoid and it has led to a tsunami of support for what most in the West believe is an inalienable right, namely freedom of speech and expression. Recent marches in France and Spartacus cries of ‘Je suis Charlie’ express this surge of support.

How should Christians respond? For Christians it’s all too easy to give unqualified support for Charlie. In the face of atrocity, and the slaying of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in retaliation for blaspheming Mohamed is patently an atrocity, it is almost instinctive to give unqualified support to the cause of the slain. But gut reaction is rarely trustworthy for it is rarely considered; it is visceral rather than judicious. This post will argue that Christianity neither approves retaliation nor ill-judged provocation; it supports neither religious coercion nor untrammelled freedom of speech.

coercion

Let me repeat, Christianity is not coercive. When reviled it does not retaliate. Its model is Christ who when reviled did not retaliate and when threatened did not threaten in return. Peter the apostle writes plainly to some Christians being persecuted for their faith.

1 Peter 2:21-24
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

Peter’s instruction is the uniform teaching of NT Christianity informed both by Christ’s actions and his words (Matt 5:10,11, 38-45). History shows that Christians have not always followed this instruction. Christian history has all too many examples of the sword being employed in the defence and advance of the Christian faith. There are various reasons for this. Many who did so in the name of Christ were not Christians at all. Others used the battles of OT Israel to justify the NT church engaging in holy wars (the crusades) and the OT law to rationalise a Christian State that employed the power of the state to enforce Christian belief (consider the Inquisition, the Salem witch hunts, Calvin had a citizen, Servetus, burned at the stake for heresy). Both were a (culpable) failure to understand the proper relationship between OT Israel and the NT church. Such corruption of Christianity is a terrible stain on its history and makes it difficult for Christians to claim the moral high ground in any criticism of Islam.

However, here an important distinction must be made and it’s this: when Christians used force they did so in contradiction of authentic Christianity , whereas, when Muslims employ force they are consistent with their faith. Islam, despite protests to the contrary, advocates the use of the sword on behalf of the faith. In Christianity, the State and the Church are properly separate, while in Islam they are one. Islam believes in a theocratic State and where this is approved violent coercion is never far away.

The West tries desperately to dissociate Muslim terrorists and oppressive governments from Islam. It is a foolish and forlorn endeavour. Arguably these terrorists are truer to the spirit of Islam than more moderate westernised Muslims whose moderate views are more a product of secularisation than their Islāmic faith. Both Islam and Christianity are engaged in holy wars. The difference is that Muslims conquer by slaughtering others whereas Christians conquer by sacrificing themselves (Revelation 12:11). Both Christianity and Islam call for submission (Islam means submission) but there the similarity ends. The gospel calls for submission to Christ but the choice to do so or not lies completely with the individual; it is entirely voluntary. Islam demands submission and arrogates the right to impose it, by force if necessary.  Islam wants to rule the world. Christianity, however, is radically apocalyptic; it hopes to reign not in this world but a world to come.

As an addendum, it’s worth pointing out that atheism has no better a record than religion in tolerating alternative world views. In fact, in the last century atheistic States murdered more people in their pursuit of a pure atheistic State than any religion in history. Atheism has no reason to be smug. Its track record is horrendous ( consider the Soviet Bloc, Red China, North Korea, Cuba, Revolutionary Mexico, the French Revolution).

charlie

It is Voltaire who said, ‘ I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’. It seems a noble ideal and is much-lauded but it is not one any buy into; at least, not absolutely, not if they are responsible. Christianity, let me be up front, does not defend total freedom of speech and nor can any responsible worldview. No government has ever supported unfettered freedom of speech (there is no freedom in the UK to slander, libel, incite hatred etc). All draw lines and rightly so. The question is only where lines should be drawn.

Christianity is clear that Christians have no personal freedom of speech or expression; their speech is captive to Christ. They must always speak and act in ways that honour God. They must speak the truth and not lie but they must do so in love and with respect. They should choose words wisely and seek to be winsome. As much as is humanly possible they should seek to live at peace with all men. The wisdom of Proverbs is clear,

Proverbs 16:23-24

The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Gracious words are like a honeycomb, to the soul and health to the body.

Further, the Christian Faith does not condone unnecessarily inflammatory language. Proverbs again reminds us,

Proverbs 16:27
A worthless man plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire.

The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness we are warned, ignited by hell itself (Jas 3:5-9). It’s vitriol sparks raging fires. It tempts the turned cheek to head-butt. Therefore it must at all costs be bridled (Jas 1:26; 1 Pet 3:10) for every careless word will be brought into judgement. By a man’s words he is justified or condemned (Matt 12:36-37). Praise God, the new life Christians have in Christ and the indwelling Spirit of Christ enable gracious speech (Ephesians 4:20-30). Far from encouraging uncensored speech it is clear that the highest standard of speech is demanded by God and required of a Christian. Paul says,

Colossians 4:6
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

However, it is one thing to say what speech God demands of his people, even that he will call all humanity to account for on the day of judgement but that does not address the level of freedom of speech society should tolerate; what God requires and what a society may allow are two different things. What does Scripture teach is an acceptable level of freedom of speech for society? It doesn’t. It is silent on this question. It gives no specific guidance at all and there is a simple reason for this: the Bible never envisages a this-worldly Christian State. We are back to the sharp distinction between State and Church that Christianity affirms.

In the OT, God’s Kingdom was an earthly theocratic State with laws that reflect this but in the NT this Kingdom morphs into a heavenly theocratic State; is spiritual not physical. It is a spiritual realm entered by spiritual birth (Jn 3), enjoying spiritual life, and spiritual blessings (Eph 1:3), engaging in spiritual warfare (Eph 6:12-20) employing spiritual weapons (2 Cor 10:3-6) to win spiritual battles. It’s only weapon is the Word of God. It is not seeking power in this world it is content with weakness. It’s ambitions do not belong to this world at all for It does not belong to this world but a world to come (Jn 17). God’s throne, for now, is not located in any geo-political locale but in the hearts of those who trust in Christ.

Thus God’s Kingdom does not impose its values on those who do not belong to it. The UK, the USA, or any other earthly State, is not God’s Kingdom on earth. The OT Kingdom of Israel is not a paradigm for any present nation State; its present counterpart is the Church. The Church, and only the Church, is God’s holy nation (1 Peter 2:9) and there, among his people, his standards are honoured and upheld. That is not to say that Christians do not commend their values in the public square. They may well do, but they do so if citizenship gives them such rights and not because Christianity insists on influencing government; it doesn’t for, I repeat, it is not of this world (Jn 18:36-38). Here it embraces a cross and does not aspire to a crown.

What kind of freedom of speech and expression will Christians advocate? Certainly not that which promotes moral filth. Much that is tolerated even vaunted by modern liberal States under the pretext of freedom of speech is repugnant to Christians. The liberal arts are awash with what is little more than soft pornography. It is irresponsible, degrading and destructive of society. Christians, in all conscience, cannot approve such toleration.

What of satire?

For Christians all satire will be controlled by speaking the truth in love. Satire is intended to wound. Its aim is to make others look ridiculous. It is a sharp sword that cuts to the bone. If, as we have been regularly told in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo atrocity, the pen is mightier than the sword, or the sketch more potent than the semi-automatic, then the pen and sketch must act responsibly. Ridiculing just because we can and openly mocking what another values should not be lightly undertaken. It is not normally the way to win friends and influence people. It hardly promotes peace and dialogue. It is possible to criticise without caricaturing and treating with open contempt; this must be the better way. It is certainly the Christian way. We should treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. As John Stevens wrote,

Just as Paul called the Corinthian Christians to renounce the worldly methodology of sophistic rhetoric, we are called to renounce cheap and offensive satire. In relation to Muslims the use of such satire is entirely counter-productive. Our goal is not just to win an argument, to disempower a rival or to bolster our own fragile self-esteem in the face of a competing world-view, but to win others to faith in the Lord Jesus.

Christians cannot in all conscience say Je suis Charlie.

There is, of course, a great deal of hypocrisy in the shrill calls for freedom of speech and the apparent championing of it, for as already observed, no one supports full freedom of speech. Not even Charlie Hebdo. Try getting Charlie Hebdo to condone racism or the mocking of homosexuality. Speak intemperately about colour, race or gender in Western societies and see how quickly freedom of speech is stifled. Indeed, many seem to understand it as ‘freedom to screech’, for when Christians seek to express their views reasonably and quietly the screeching of the liberal left soon drowns them out… So much for freedom of speech.. As Dinesh D’Souza has said, ‘somehow freedom for religious expression has become freedom from religious expression’. Christianity is fine as long as its voice is not heard is the freedom that a liberal secular State is keen to grant. Freedom of speech is a myth. Only speech which enshrines the values of a culture at that point in time has freedom to express itself, anything that seriously challenges these will be anathema.

Christians, like many others, value freedom to express their views. They do not regard such freedom as an inalienable right. They understand that freedom of expression is never absolute, nor can be. To the degree they enjoy it they are thankful that God has granted it to them. But they do not take it for granted and Christians in the West recognise that for them the era of Christian privilege seems to be fast coming to an end. Yet this will not deter them for the authority to proclaim the gospel comes from God and not governments.  As in the early church and every previous century of Christian witness, Christ’s followers will go out into the world preaching all that he has commanded, confident that all authority in heaven and earth is given to Christ who has promised to be with them always even to the end of the age (Matt 28 cf Acts 4:20).  Je suis Christ.

See also.

http://www.john-stevens.com/2015/01/are-we-really-charlie-what-is-christian.html

http://andyatgreenview.blogspot.co.uk/

31
Dec
14

all things new

all things are new

The NT is clear that there is a relationship of promise and fulfilment between the OT and the NT; what is promised in the old is fulfilled in the new. Fulfilment implies both discontinuity and continuity.  However, we should note that when the NT discusses aspects of continuity hard on its heels is normally a stress on discontinuity (Cf. Roms 5:12-21).  The reality is the NT writers are far more anxious to stress the ‘newness’ in fulfilment than the similarity; for them the new eclipses the old.  Indeed the very fact of ‘newness’ (we speak of a New Testament which is a  reference to the biblically referenced ‘new covenant’) suggests there is something, imperfect, inadequate, inferior about the old; the new renders the old passing and obsolete.

Some NT writers like John scarcely mention continuity at all.  After all if the ‘new’ has as its focus, basis and heart, a divine person, the Word who was with God and was God and has become flesh, then here is glory without parallel.  Here is something that was never here before,  the glory of the only Son of his Father full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14). 

There is nothing in the past that matches this.  Here God is introducing something breathtakingly new.  In the past God had spoken in shadows but now he reveals himself in his Son, he reveals himself in full glory, as he really and truly is, for to see the Son is to see the Father. 

No man has seen God at any time but the Son who is in the bosom of the Father has declared him (Jn 1:18).

And so John writes, with radical discontinuity, ‘the law came by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ’ (Jn 1:17).  Of course, in one sense there was grace and truth in law, after all the law was God’s truth and it did make gracious provision for sin, but John will brook no rival with Christ.  When the true light shines all lesser lights disappear.  He, and he only, is the way, the truth, and the life (titles some may have conferred on law).  He is the fulfilment that eclipses the promise, the new that replaces the old so that the old gladly says, ‘he must increase and I decrease’.  Thus when John the Baptist’ s disciples see Jesus they rightly leave John and follow Jesus; the new had come (Jn 1:35-44).

And it is the ‘newness’ in Christ, the ‘fullness’ that resides in Him that John invites us to receive, the irrepressible joy of eternal life, which is nothing less than shared fellowship with the one true God and Jesus Christ, whom he sent.

water becomes wine

Ch 2 makes this new joy to be found in Christ clear.  It is Jesus first miracle.  He is at a wedding in Cana.  It ought to be an occasion for joy as weddings are.  But the wine, a biblical symbol of joy, had run out.  All they had were empty stone water-jars kept for ritual purification.  Judaism was redundant.  The old had no joy to give.  It was lifeless, powerless, joyless.  Mere ritual.  Only in Jesus could new wine be found and wine that was (paradoxically) better than the old.

His mother knew this.  Instinctively she knows the solution lies in Him. She tells the servants to follow his instructions and entreats her son.  But she is mistaken, for it can be no longer be as a mother asking her son she must beseech but as one who asks her Lord for he is now anointed for his messianic mission and it is as Messiah she is inviting him to act.  Here she can only entreat on the same basis as everyone else; she must come apart from blood relationship and acknowledge him as Lord.  She must come not as one who gave him birth but as one born again through him; one who has received him, believed in his name and been given the right to be called a child of God.  And so he addresses her as ‘woman’ (a title of respect) but not ‘mother’.

His time to be revealed as Messiah had not yet come but Messiah is full of grace and out of that fullness all receive.  He commands the empty jars of (empty) Jewish ritual to be filled with water and served to the guests.  The water flowed as a fully matured wine.  Judaism was powerless to bring up for joy, fullness of joy, lies not in the ritual water of the old but in the rich wine of the new; it lies in Christ.  This is his glory.

John at every point stresses this newness that lies in Christ.  In him will be found a new power, through a new baptism, the baptism of the new covenant, the eschatological  baptism in the Spirit (in 1:33,34).  In him will be found too that eschatological life, the life that Ezekiel saw when dead bones lived, new life in the Spirit (Jn 3:3-10).  In him, God finds a new dwelling place on earth, a tent or temple, where his glory is not hidden but revealed (1:18;  2:19-22).  In him, a new centre of worship is created, a new sacred space, for in his ascension men will worship neither in Jerusalem, Gerazim, nor Mecca, but will worship in spirit and in truth through Christ (4:19-26).

In Christ, old things have passed away and all things have become new.  Day by day believers live in this newness.  Each day the Spirit of the risen reigning Christ bubbles up inside us like a fresh mountain spring, living water, refreshing, renewing, re-invigorating, realizing within us the life of the living triune God.  Filling and flooding our hearts with Christ.  We know even in troubles, especially in troubles, what it is to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

The old is gone: the old self we once were; the old sin we once served; the old master who once duped us; the old world we once loved that hates us.  All are broken cistern that hold no water… empty jars that contain no wine.  The new is come.  In Christ we daily live and have our being.  We look to him and in Him have everything.  Every day is a celebration of all he is.  Every day is Christmas, Easter, Pentecost. We belong to the Eschaton.  The Fulfilment.  The rich wine of New Creation.

Each day belongs to the new, not just January the 1st.

15
Dec
14

christ the end of the law

 

 

Romans 10:4-13

 

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.  5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Some debate exists whether by ‘end’ Paul means ‘goal’ or ‘terminus’.  Which it is, in the final, analysis, probably doesn’t greatly matter.  Both are true.  However, that being said, in my opinion in this text Paul’s focus is on the law as a terminus rather than goal.  He is not focussing on the prophetic nature of the law (3:21) but on its explicit principle; the law as a means of righteousness (v4) or life (v5).   

With the arrival of Christ any possibility of life or righteousness by the law (always a hope doomed to failure anyway) was now past.  With the arrival of Christ  God’s righteousness and life are located in Him.  The law is now redundant.  No longer is it offered by works, as in the OC, since it is now revealed as available only by faith, in the NC; and what was immeasurably beyond reach on the principle of works is now within easy grasp on the principle of faith.

This is precisely the point in 10:6-13.

At first blush this text throws up some problems for the OT text that undergirds these verses is Deut 30 and appears to apply to the OT law.

Deut:30:11-14

11 “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14 But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

We seem to have a double conundrum.  

Firstly, Moses appears to be saying that keeping the law is a relatively easy matter, a view with which both Old and New Testaments are at odds.  Secondly, Paul, in Romans 10, clearly understands this Deut 30 text to refer to the gospel and not the law? 

What is the solution to these difficulties?

The solution lies in doing what we must always do when we see the Old Testament cited in the New – we must look carefully at the context of the OT citation.

In Deut 29, 30, immediately prior to the above text Moses gives a prophetic history of Israel.  The nation will sin grievously under the OC.  It will prove a covenant impossible to keep.  As a result of their sin, Israel will be exiled from the land.  In exile God will begin to turn the hearts of the people to himself (there they had no law and so could not look to it for righteousness; they were entirely dependent on God’s promised Deliverer) and in time he will deliver them from exile, give them a new heart, and bless them.

Deut 30:6-10

6 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. 7 And the Lord your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. 8 And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today. 9 The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, 10 when you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Moses is describing the NC.  He is describing in OT language the gospel age, the age when God Himself would do for Israel what they could not do for themselves.   The impossible, acquiring righteousness and life, would no longer be an unrealistic pipe dream,  for God in Christ would achieve it.  They would not need to try to reach into heaven in obedience (a metaphor for the impossible) for heaven would come down to them in Christ.  Nor would their pursuit of righteousness take them into the depths of the sea, the abyss, for Christ has descended there and risen from it in glorious redemptive power.

Instead of demanding the impossible, superhuman works, the NC of grace would be a near word, within easy reach, a word in their mouth and heart….  as they confess with their mouth Jesus as Lord and believe on their heart God raised him from the dead.  It would be a word of faith in all that God achieved in Christ.  Faith proved to be sincere by confessed allegiance to him. 

And thus the law for righteousness came to an end for a righteousness of God (not of man) was revealed, a righteousness that is by faith in Christ, unto all, but only upon all who believe.  For those thirled to law-righteousness, as Isaiah predicted, Christ would be a rejected stone over which they would stumble, but for  those who believe he is the foundation stone of all God’s promised security and blessing.  Either way, his arrival signalled the end of the law with its premise of ‘this do and live’.

This Gospel Word, is the heart of the NC, a covenant not limited to the nation of Israel but one that invites in gentiles too, for ‘all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’.

In this way, by the introduction of God’s righteousness in Christ heralding the redundancy of law-righteousness,  it seems clear that ‘end’ refers principally to ‘terminus’, however, for those who insist in squeezing in ‘goal’ I shall not demur.

01
Dec
14

definite atonement

I know some will disagree with the contention in this post.  That’s fine.  Christians may disagree agreeably over lots of things.  I wish to simply lay out the basics of why I believe the sacrifice of our Lord was not only universal in extent but also specific in intent.  My focus is not on the universal but on the specific.  It is for me a cause for great wonder and gratitude that God not only loved the world of rebellious humanity but in a specific sense the Son of God loved me, and gave himself for me.

In this snapshot of the atonement then the universal aspects of Christ’s sacrifice are assumed.  The Bible is clear that the sacrifice of Christ had a cleansing effect in heaven itself.  I have no doubt that Christ loved the world -the whole world –  and gave himself for it.  My focus is not on these, nor Is it to deny or diminish these, but to demonstrate that there is a specific focus in the atonement that is more than merely a subset of the whole but is tied in some way to purpose and intent.  In a word, there is clearly a sense in which the atonement is because God loves the world but there is just as clearly a sense in which it is because he loves his own.  If we as humans are capable of such different kinds of love it would be strange if God were not.  If we are capable of making sacrifices that have the potential to benefit many while having a definite intention to benefit our own, why not God.  

covenant

So where is specificity taught?  The best place to begin is with the idea of covenant.  In OT  times covenants were made between specific parties.  Major covenants were often ratified by a covenant blood sacrifice and covenant meal.  Both sacrifice and meal were exclusive to those bound in covenant relationship. The specificity of the sacrifice was underlined by its blood being sprinkled on the covenant people.   In the OT these features can be seen in various significant covenants between God and those with whom he chooses to enter into covenant.  When we come to the NT we see the same covenantal features in the New Covenant.  The covenant sacrifice of the NC is the death of Christ.  In the Upper Room as Jesus eats the Passover Meal (associated with an old people and an old redemption and an old covenant) with his disciples, he introduces a new meal commemorating a new redemption associated with a new covenant with a new (or renewed) people.  We read,

Luke 22:20

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

Specificity is stamped on the sacrifice.  It is for the covenant people guaranteeing the covenant promises to them.  The covenant people are not indeterminate. They are not nebulous and undefined, a mere potentiality.  They are specific and concrete, those who have faith in Christ.   It is specifically for them the sacrifice is made, upon them it’s blood is sprinkled (1 Peter 1:2),  and it is they who participate in the covenant meal.  They are ‘the many’ of Isaiah 52, 53.  Those who shall be astonished and understand.  Those with whom he shall share a portion and divide the spoil; his offspring (53:10).

In Hebrews this specificity is enhanced.

Hebrews 9:15

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins commiintted under the first

Notice the new covenant sacrifice guarantees salvation blessings for the covenant people. Those in covenant relationship will receive the promised eternal inheritance, the mediator will ensure it and the certainty rests on what his sacrifice achieved.   It didn’t merely potentially ransom them, it actually ransomed them; it set them free from sins.  The sacrifice effected the salvation of the covenant people.

While it is true that the new covenant people are those who believe, in Hebrews it is not their belief that is the focus it God’s call.  The NC people are ‘the called’.   This is of course consistent with how the main covenants work.  It is God (the greater covenant partner) who is sovereign.  The covenant and the covenant partner is always his initiative.  He chooses those with whom he will enter covenant and he decides the terms.  In the NC the divine initiative could not be clearer.  The covenant is monergistic; its his will and power that accomplishes it.  It is a covenant of ‘I will’ (Jer 31:33,34; Ezek 36:22-32).  In this covenant faith, as with all else, is itself a covenant gift (Eph 2:8,9; Roms 12:3; 1 Tim 1:14,14; Phil 1:29; 2Thess 1:3; Luke 22:31,32; Mark 9:24; Luke 17:5).  In the NC God meets its obligations.  Thus those ‘called’ will receive the ‘promised inheritance’ – the death of Christ secures it.

flock

This specificity in the death of Christ is seen elsewhere too.  We see it in John 10 where the shepherd’s death is specifically for the sheep.

John 10:11-15

 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.  14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

The death of the shepherd arises from his love for his sheep.  The sheep are a defined flock. They are those known by the Shepherd and who know him.   They are those the Father has given (10:29).  They are his ‘own’ (10:3, 14). It is for these sheep he dies.  He cares about them in a unique way.  They are the focus of his death.

marriage

Special  love also lies at the heart of the next example; Christ’s love for his bride, the church.

Eph 5:25-27

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

It is impossible to view this love is just part of the general love that God has for the world.  The whole image demands a discriminating, choosing, and bestowing love.  It is the wonder of an  inexplicable love for a moral Cinderella; a purposeful love that intends to transform her into something more wonderful than any fairy tale ending. It would be perverse to muddy this image with injecting the bride’s choice of her lover.  The whole focus is the love of the lover.  It is his delight in someone who is now ‘bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh’.  In a patriarchal culture the selecting love is the initiative of the male.  In this unique, undivided, exclusive love the bride is called to luxuriate and delight.  In it she finds security and dignity.   

And this exclusive love is the reason Christ dies.  Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.  Hallelujah.

The high priest, Caiaphas, declared (albeit unwittingly) the targeted nature of the atonement when he said ,

John 11:52

50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

Likewise the redeemed in heaven understand that the blood ransom of the cross was designed not to ransom every tribe and language and people and nation but to ransom from among every tribe and language and people and nation.

Revelation 5:9

9 And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation.

Thus as one writer well says, ‘though Christ died for all men in some sense, he didn’t die for all men in the same sense’.  While the atonement is designed to be sufficient for all it is intended to be efficient for the many.

In the words of Romans 3,  

22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all (universal) and upon all them that believe (specific).

15
Sep
14

should christians vote?

For most Christians (in the West) their freedom in Christ to vote is axiomatic. However, there is still a significant rump who believe that voting is wrong.  I know quite a number of Christians who so believe.  In my view, this is a mistaken belief and I thought I would outline why in the hope that I may free some consciences to vote.  I write this in Scotland and in the week the country votes on whether or not to leave the UK.  In temporal terms this is a hugely important vote and Christians ought to be best placed to vote wisely and responsibly. It will be a great pity if many desist owing to a mistaken belief.

The (mistaken) belief arises from wrong thinking in a number of issues.

christians shouldn’t vote because involvement in politics is worldly

Now it is not my intention to advocate whole-scale Christian political engagement. In my view, this belongs to a few who have such a calling and gifting (just as some have callings to medicine, teaching, law, science etc). It is even less my intention to give the impression that Christians can greatly change (much less redeem) a culture through socio-political action, especially since Christianity is increasingly a minority and unwelcome voice in the democratic West.  Yet this does not mean we should not play a responsible part in our culture and seek its welfare. Jeremiah’s God-given instruction to Israel in exile seems germane:

Jer 29:7 (ESV)
Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 

Taking civic responsibilities seriously seems to me an axiom of Christian living. Surely, at a bare minimum this means exercising the (hard won) vote we are given and urged to use; it is one small (but significant) way of promoting just and responsible government and democratic government itself.  Yet we are told by some that Christians ought not to engage in the political process because politics belongs to the world that crucified Christ and the world from which through Christ we have been delivered.

Two questions lie begging here: what does the Bible mean by ‘the world’ and what should be the nature of the Christians interaction with it?

The ‘world’ in Scripture means a number of things.  Sometimes it means simply the material world, the earth.  At other times it means the mass of humanity since Adam in opposition to God.  Still further it may mean the whole system or culture that this rebellious humanity has created.  When Scripture and Christians speak negatively about the world they mean a combination of these latter two definitions. John seems to include all three within a few lines when he writes:

John 1:9-10 (ESV2011)

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world (earth). He was in the world (earth and perhaps human culture), and the world (earth) was made through him, yet the world (humanity in opposition to God) did not know him.

The essential nature of this rebellious human culture (the world) is humanistic; its root impulses are ‘the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life’.  That was its nature at the fall in Eden: Eve saw it was good to eat (lust of flesh), delight to the eyes (lust of the eyes) would make one wise and they would become as God (pride of life… Gen 3:6).  Since the fall in Eden its essential impulses have never changed.

So, yes politics is part of ‘the world’ for politics is part of fallen human culture.  But it is no more part of fallen human culture than medicine, education, law, music, science, commerce, industry, etc.  All belong to a civilization that has rebelled against God and crucified Christ and we need only be involved a little in any or all of these to see the rebellious nature of humanity in action; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life pervade all.

How then are Christians to relate to this ‘world’ from which we are delivered (Gals 1:4) and to which we are crucified (Gals 6)?  Well, we are not to love it (1 Jn 2:15), be conformed to it (Roms 12:2), or wish for its friendship (Jas 4:4).  We are to keep ourselves unstained by it (Jas 1:27).  Does this then mean we are to withdraw from it?  No it doesn’t.  Jesus’ prays in John 17 for his disciples.  He states that they are not ‘of the world’ (17:14,16), nevertheless, Jesus does not pray that they be ‘taken out of the world’ (17:15a) but that they ‘be kept from the evil one’ (17:15b).  It is within this tension of being ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world’ we are called to live and can do so with confidence because we have the intercession of Christ our heavenly advocate to enable us to so do (Jn 17).

So what am I saying? I am saying that it is true politics is part of the world but it is wrong to limit ‘the world’ to politics or any other single aspect of its culture (the arts, for instance).  Many do this and as a result their concept of ‘the world’ and of ‘worldliness’ is far too constricted.  The world includes as we have noted, all the other aspects of culture such as medicine, law, industry, commerce, education etc.  Do we withdraw from these?  Do we say, because they are part of the world we must have nothing to do with them?  Of course we don’t.  Neither, in principle, should we withdraw from the political realm.  After all, government is God’s idea.  Human governments are ordained by God and have a good and honourable purpose – they are to promote good and punish evil (Roms 13).  Their function is to engender a fair, just and safe society.  Whatever we may say about other aspects of society the political (government) has God’s explicit sanction.

So what is to be our approach to the world and it’s ‘polis’?  We return to Jeremiah and God’s instruction to Israel living in an alien country… we are to care for the welfare of the city while refusing to embrace the wrong attitudes and actions that are endemic to it (the lusts of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life).

Worldliness is not political involvement: worldliness is political involvement that embraces the sinful values, actions and attitudes that are rife in politics.  To embrace these means we are not merely ‘in the world’ but ‘of the world’. Worldliness is engagement in the affairs of life motivated by the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life rather than by the fear of God and the desire for his glory. This distinction is vital to grasp. Other-worldliness isn’t a monkish refusing to engage in the structures of civil life but a holy refusing to collude in the way these are misused and idolised.  Involvement in politics is not worldly in itself, nor is it friendship with the world, though the way we do so may well be, as it may be in every other area of life in this world.  On the other hand we should remember that if our engagement in politics or any other aspect of life is from the standpoint and standards of faith rather than that of the world we will face opposition.  We will be hated as Christ was hated but we will please the Father and it is his love and love for him that must be our motive (1 Jn 5:4; 3:13; 2:15,16; Jn 15:18).  It is, in fact, this standpoint of faith, as we engage in the various spheres of life, that will enable us to overcome the world as Christ did (1 Jn 5:14).

We are called as Christians not only to share the gospel but to live the gospel by doing good to all men and part of that doing good may legitimately involve seeking to ensure good or best government (i.e. through voting). We do not do so, I repeat, with any vain pretensions of greatly improving culture, far less of ‘redeeming’ culture or bringing about the kingdom of God through socio-political engagement (for that kingdom is spiritual and cannot even be seen apart from the new birth). Rather we hope simply to show mercy and alleviate hardship where we can in a world under judgement. In this surely we share the heart of Christ.

jesus didn’t get involved politically

It is true that Jesus did not get involved politically, at least directly.  His message concerning the kingdom of God was of course in its own way an assault on all human kingdoms but be that as it may.  However, if he did not get involved in politics neither did he get involved in other civic aspects of society.  He did not engage with medicine, education, science, industry, commerce etc.  When we meet him in adulthood in his public ministry he is a rabbi with followers and lives outside of all these spheres.  If his non-involvement politically means that we must distance ourselves from politics then his non-involvement in the other spheres of life presumably means we must distance ourselves from these too.  But we don’t and rightly so.  Jesus is our model for Christian living but this does not mean we are all to be itinerant preachers, culturally Jewish, celibate etc.  In Scripture, it is his loving self-sacrifice for others, his self-humbling, his perseverance in faith, his non-retaliation, his suffering, his holiness, his obedience to his father etc that we are called to emulate not those aspects which were specific to his calling.

the slogan, ‘Our ‘Man’ is already in’

This is a rather supercilious slogan and beneath comment were it not for the fact that many apparently believe it expresses a genuine reason for not voting. Of course, all Christians believe that Christ is the Ultimate Ruler in the kingdoms of men. We find security, peace and confidence in this and rightly so. But this does not mean that the role of earthly rulers in the present is redundant or irrelevant. Again Roms 13 gives the lie to this; they are ordained servants of God. Government is God’s (good) idea for the temporal well-being and ordering of humanity.

Christ is our great Physician, yet this does not mean we do not visit the doctor when we are ill believing simply the Lord will heal. He is our divine Teacher but we do not boycott the education system and consider it redundant. He is also our cosmic Advocate but we do not diss the judiciary and refuse to use the law in our defence when we are threatened (as Paul did in Acts). The Builder of all things is God but this does not mean we smugly ignore the wisdom of the architect and builder when we are planning to build a house. Why should politics be an exception? Why should Christ’s cosmic rule mean that engagement with temporal political structures is worldly while engagement in these others is not?  Why should we refuse to support or use the support of government when we do not refuse to support or use the support of these other spheres of ‘the world’?

It may seem wise and other-worldly to declare ‘our Man’s in’ but in actual fact it has no bearing at all on whether one votes or not. Our citizenship is indeed in heaven and our hopes and aspirations belong there for it is home but this does not mean that we do not value and engage with the structures of this present world in which we live as pilgrims though it does mean we will hold them in perspective and neither fear them nor lose our hearts to them. As Christians, we seek to do good and influence for good in all ways we can, including the political. We do not pass by on the other side refusing to help but we show the compassion and care of Christ wherever we have the opportunity to do so.

we should not vote for we may find ourselves voting against the will of God

This seems to be a genuine concern for some. The problem here is a confusion of God’s secret and revealed will (Deut 29:29). We are not expected to know God’s secret will or second-guess it; it is ‘secret’ after all. What we do know is God’s revealed will for he has given it to us in Scripture and the Spirit of God enables us to grasp and understand this will. It is this will we are expected to obey and it is this revealed will that should guide us when voting. We ought to vote for those who champion policies that are fair and just and beneficial for society, those that best reflect God’s expectations of government.

We apply this secret will/revealed will distinction in other walks of life without a second thought. For instance, if we become ill we do not ask whether it is God’s secret will that we should recover before we call the doctor. We rightly and responsibly do what we reasonably can to improve our health and leave the ultimate outcome with the Lord. Exactly the same process is at work when we vote. In the coming Independence debate it may be that God has decided to punish the UK for rejecting Him. He alone knows whether his patience has run out. However, we vote on the principle of what we believe is best for the future of the country (Scotland and rest of UK) and leave matters about judgement with God, where they rightly belong. What he delights in is our obedience to his revealed will while he will carry out his secret mysterious will according to his own wisdom and ways.

conclusion

There are other aspects of political involvement that deserve to be discussed. For example, even if we decide to vote it is not always clear for whom we should vote. Are there sufficient differences between the parties to make a vote meaningful?  Party manifestos are a mixed bag making voting for any party difficult.  Politics of course is always the art of the possible. It always involves living with compromise; again in this it is no different from any other job or walk of life.  There is the question too of how best to use our limited time and resources.  We cannot do everything and we must be wise in our use of time. We must prioritise needs and not let the good get in the way of the best.  But these and other questions and complexities must be left for this post is not exhaustive.

In the coming Scottish Independence vote, the issues are above party politics and more momentous (in a temporal sense).  I hope that if you have doubts about the propriety of voting as a Christian these comments may help free your conscience and empower you to make a considered vote informed by revealed Christian values and wisdom. Such responsible voting will know the favour of the Lord and will be a benefit to our needy world.

12
Jun
14

an apology…

You may well think, and with justice, that my apology is for my long absence.   I do apologise for this and take the opportunity to thank those who have encouraged me to get in gear again. This is my first effort at doing so.  I felt it fitting to begin with an apology, not in the conventional sense, but in the more theological or philosophical sense – an apology for my faith, that is, why I am a Christian.

why I am a Christian?

Why am I a Christian?  I suppose deterministic sociologists may insist I am the product of my upbringing.  My background was staunchly evangelical.  I was reared by devout Christian parents, and it is true that this influenced me.  I thank God it did.  Yet it would be untrue to infer that I am a Christian merely because I was raised in a Christian environment.  After all many are raised in Christian homes yet turn away from the faith in which they were nurtured in later life.  So Christian parents were a significant influence but not determining and defining in my faith.

There are of course wider influences on a boy growing up.  For me, my wider circle of family and friends was a fairly balanced mixture of Christian and non-Christian though, in retrospect, I am not inclined to think there was any marked influence from either, certainly in terms of personal influences.  Formal church influence however, well that’s another matter.

An undoubtedly strong influence was the preaching I regularly heard.  I was taken to church services from as far back as I can remember.  One of these was the ‘gospel’ service.  Each Sunday evening the preaching (forty-five minutes or so) was specifically evangelistic.  It was unambiguously directed at ‘unsaved’ folks, and being a non-covenantal Church (we did not believe in covenant children but that all from birth are ‘children of wrath’) the young from the earliest were in no doubt they were part of the ‘unsaved’ and should understand the message to be directed at them.  The message was simple: we are all sinners before God heading for a well-deserved hell who must look to a crucified Christ for salvation and trust in him.  I heard this message in various forms week in and week out.   I knew Christian parents, though a God-given privilege didn’t make me a Christian. Rather, with privilege came responsibility; judgement would be worse for those who, knowing the truth, turned from it.  Often the realities of hell were graphically described and, for young impressionable minds, frighteningly so.

My view now is that  ‘hell fire and damnation’ preaching directed at the young was, if not wrong-headed in principle at least over-zealous in its intensity.  I say this with some diffidence because I believe divine judgement is necessary in a moral universe; if God is a moral God and we are moral creatures then judgement and punishment follow and the destruction of hell (conscious punishment) a necessary moral reality.  Our western world, of course, does not really believe in punishment but that is more due to a soft-bellied liberal sentimentality born out of a cushioned and self-indulgent existence than out of any true moral perspective.  Ask the parent of a murdered child whether he believes justice involves punishment and you will get a different answer.  Ask those who have suffered atrocities at the hands of murderous regimes for their view.  Indeed, ask your own heart, and free from ideological notions, it will affirm the need for justice and punishment.

Punishment is integral to moral outrage and I find no difficulty with this biblical emphasis.  I also believe it is important to preach about hell – who did so more graphically than Jesus (Luke 16).  He stood in the stream of prophets who warned their contemporaries of coming divine wrath (Lk 21:23; Jn 3:36).  He warned men to fear not those who could destroy the body and do no more but he who could destroy body and soul in hell forever (Matt 10:28); end time wrath was also eternal wrath. Indeed, he went further and asserted that all judgement had been given to him; he not only prophesied judgement he claimed to be the judge (John 5:22, 27).  Nowadays fear is popularly understood as a negative and unhealthy emotion.  It is not always so.  In a world like ours we must inculcate fear.  Fear of danger, moral or physical, is wholesome not harmful.  We warn of strangers… roads… fire, and so on. The question for me is how early and heavily the fear of divine judgement (or for that matter other threats in life) should be impressed on young minds not whether it should so be.

Children today are viewed differently than a generation ago (when they were to be seen and not heard).  They are unhealthily molly-coddled.  They are romantically regarded as innocents to be protected at all costs from the uglier realities of life.  To speak to them of an eternal hell is considered monstrous and criminal.  The truth is children are not innocents and as soon as they are able to assert their will we find out just how selfish (like ours) it is.  They need love but they need discipline.  They need freedom but they also need boundaries. They need security but they also need to learn fear if they are to live securely. Fear is part of true knowledge, indeed, as the Bible makes clear ‘the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom’.  How true!  Where God is held in awe humanity will find true wisdom and children should learn that God is to be held in awe and is not to be trifled with. Thus a compelling case exists for warning of coming wrath. The only question is at what age this wrath should be impressed.

Yet, having said all of this, I suspect the Lord who said ‘suffer the little children to come unto me’ may have stressed upon them his holy love more than his holy judgement, he may have drawn them more in their tender years by the beauty of his grace than the horror of his wrath.  All that being said, coming wrath wonderfully concentrated my young mind and led me at the age of nine to cry out, ‘what must I do to be saved’.  The psychology of fear had its due effect and in some ways it still (rightly) does (Hebs 10:26-31; 12:25-29).

What of human psychology?  Is there a psychology predisposed to faith?  Is there a ‘religious gene’?  Is my faith simply the product of my psychology?  I am quite sure it isn’t.  For one thing Christians reflect every kind of human psychology.  There is no Christian psychological ‘type’?  Among Christians just as in the wider society can be found all personality types.  What distinguishes Christians and non-Christians is much deeper than personality type and goes to the heart of our being – our nature itself, our fundamental spiritual core.  Non-Christians have a core naturally opposed to God whereas Christians have,  by God’s grace, been gifted at conversion with a new heart that naturally loves God and is drawn to him.

But if (God’s )grace first taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved then grace has since that early lisping of faith consolidated it in so many ways.  Firstly, and most importantly, this faith has been consolidated intellectually.  I am a Christian today because my faith-foundation intellectually has been simply deepened and reinforced over the years.  I could write a taxonomy of considerable length enumerating the ways my faith has been intellectually reinforced/confirmed.  I will mention three that for me have been particularly foundational.

the question of origins

I find existence compellingly argues a Creator.  To me it is a slam dunk. I cannot see the vagaries of naturalistic evolution, even allowing for time and chance being moderated by ‘evolutionary intelligence’, producing our world as we know it.  This seems to me utterly incredible, far more incredible than a Creator. The most natural, reasonable, and instinctive conclusion is that creation argues powerful, creative, moral intelligence, a Creat0r.  The Christian faith maintains just this and adds that God-consciousness is also innate (Roms 1:18-26).  My heart concurs.

the nature of existence

It is an enigma to me that some Christians are embarrassed by the Christian claim that the human heart is intrinsically evil for this seems to me one of the most concrete and unassailable facts of Christian belief.  The Christian faith insists that humanity although initially made upright has fallen from how it was created and is now morally and spiritually broken. The human heart is now viciously self-regarding and opposed to God; it is sinful.  I find this description of the human condition compelling.  Human evil is axiomatic.  The Bible’s description of the human condition is a powerful concrete apologetic for the Christian story.

Of course, it is a big step from believing God exists, and even man is evil, to believing in the Christian God, which brings me to the third foundation I find convincing.

the phenomenon of Jesus

Why am I a Christian: I am convinced by Jesus.  Christians trust Jesus.  Ultimately my ‘faith’ is ‘in’ Jesus.  He is my ‘apology’, my foundation of foundations. I observe him and believe. I observe: he fulfils OT expectation albeit in a way unexpected; the Kingdom signalling miracles he performs, attested by people no less cynical of the miraculous than we are; the wisdom of his instruction, prophetic, authoritative, and profound, has the unmistakable ring of truth and is authenticated by later events; the character authority he exudes carries the weight of someone truly human but not merely so – full of grace and truth; his resurrection, prophesied by him and verified by many, sealing his claims – the extraordinary beyond-category outcome of an extraordinary beyond-category life.

The unique phenomenon who is Jesus is why I am a Christian.

Of course, I could add all sorts of other reasons for my continuing faith.  I could point to the ongoing influence of Christian friends, various experiences of life, a Christian wife, books I’ve read and so on but these, important as they are, are secondary rather than primary, part of the superstructure rather than the foundation.  Yet all aspects foundation and superstructure contribute to the building – the fortress – that is my faith.  These are all the influences, the stones, that God has used in the building of my life for I have no delusions that my faith is sourced in me.  No, it is sourced in God’s grace.  He has shaped my life.  He has brought me (sometimes it seems against my will) to where I am now.  His grace has brought me safe thus far and his grace will lead me home. My own small life is an apology for gospel grace; I have known God.

Why am I a Christian?  Because God has made me so.  I am a creation of his redeeming grace.  All is of God.  This is the baseline confession of all intelligent Christian faith and experience, and it is mine.  By the grace of God I am what I am.

26
Feb
13

i am crucified with christ (3)… dead to world

(This is the third and last in this small series.  Unfortunately, it was the tail-end of a talk and I have not had time to expand/develop it.  We are in the process of moving house at the moment and will be in transit for a couple of months or so.  As a result there will be no further posts for a few months. However, normal service will (D.V.) be resumed as soon as possible. :) )

Finally, we are in the cross,

Dead to the world

Questions

  • How should Christians approach secular education, entertainment and enterprise?
  • Can Christians change the world and should this be our aim?
  • Should Christians try to impose Christian values on a non-Christian world?
  • Is Christendom a biblical concept?
  • Is new creation simply the original creation restored?
  • Does new creation mean we can dismiss the structures of the original creation?

When a man dies he ceases to live in this world.  Its influence and authority in his life comes to an end.  We were once alive in this world, following the course of the world, following the prince of the power of the air’.   That is how unbelievers are.  They are dead too, not to sin, not to the world, but to God.  God has no authority or place in their lives.  They are blinded by Satan, the god of this world and follow him. The whole world lies in the Evil One.  All who are part of it are willing, if wilfully blinded, followers of the fashions and fads that Satan orchestrates.  They are what Revelation calls ‘earth-dwellers’; their horizons are limited to this earth and life on it.

But believers are not like this.  We are not captives to Satan.  Our horizons are not bound by this world.  We have died to the world and to all the authorities and spirits that hold sway in it.  Thus Paul says,

Col 2:20-22 (ESV)
 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations- “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)-according to human precepts and teachings?

What are these elemental spirit of the world to which we have died?  We saw that surprisingly they refer, at least in part, to the OT law, but that is not all they refer to.  They refer too, to the thought forms of the world itself.

Col 2:8 (ESV)
 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
 

These Christians had believed the gospel.  They had accepted Christ.  They needed to understand grasp what this really meant.  It meant that all that was necessary for life (spiritual) and godliness lay in Christ.

Col 2:6-7 (ESV)
 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

The problem is they were beginning to add to Christ.  They were introducing to the gospel, not only Judaistic law, but aspects of contemporary philosophy (all the errors that have plagued the church are simply some combination of these).  They thought in some way worldly wisdom could further enlighten, further enhance and further elucidate what they had in Christ.  They did not realise that human philosophy belonged to the world and neither they nor Christ belong to this world.

Philosophy was fallen human wisdom and not infallible divine wisdom.  It was wisdom from below and not from above.  It was mere empty deceit and human tradition.  It had nothing to do with living the Christian life.  It added nothing to the gospel instead it detracted from it and subverted it.

We must recognise that the wisdom of this world in whatever shape or form it comes is ‘of the world’ and not of God.  We must never make ourselves subject to its authority.  We must never treat human wisdom as if it were revealed divine truth.  We may (like Paul himself) be educated in its wisdom and learn from it but we must never be controlled by it or trust in it.  The world at core is opposed to God.  This is true of all of it: its philosophy, its arts, its science, and every other area of human culture; all come through a corrupt and flawed prism.  We must never let these define and shape the gospel or define and shape us.  Philosophy has never been a friend of Christianity.  The world’s wisdom never revealed God it was the foolishness of preaching that is,the preaching of Christ crucified, that did this.

1Cor 3:18 (ESV)
 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.

Philosophy is humanity trying to find answers to the questions and problems of existence apart from God; it is utterly humanistic.  It is a substitute for revelation in Christ. When introduced to faith it has always subverted it. Science too, all too often pretends to certainties it cannot claim.  Nothing is neutral.  All human learning and culture is shaped by a world that hates God and crucified the Lord of glory.

If my faith is shaped by philosophy or science, or cultural norms rather than by what is revealed and known in Christ then it is slipping away from the gospel.  We can see these human wisdoms everywhere trying to impose on faith.  Philosophy has ever tried to impose authority on the church and often successfully. It was seen in the Gnosticism of the first few centuries.  It was seen in the philosophical rationalism of the C19,20 liberals who denied the miraculous and supernatural.  It is seen in the postmodernism of many emergents who are on a journey of faith that never arrives at conclusions and for whom absolutes and dogmas are arrogant.  It is all the mixing of philosophy with Christianity. 

We see the imposition of science in theistic evolution and in the denial of an historical Adam. 

We see the imposition of cultural norms in the present pressure on patriarchal distinctions in leadership in Church and the home; in the move to accept the legitimacy in church of same-sex relationships.  It is all according to human tradition, the wisdom of this world, and not, to use the words of Paul in Colossians 2:8,  ‘according to Christ’.

No, the person who belongs to Christ, seeks the things which are above where Christ is and not things on the earth.  Of course this means much more than not embracing egalitarianism nor endorsing homosexuality.  It means that we will not live for careers, for possessions, for money, for social position, for mere earthly pleasures – for all these are ‘things on the earth’ we will not place value on them or be enslaved to them.  If we grasp that we have died and our life is hid with Christ in God we will not give power to these.  The cross means we are crucified to the world and the world is crucified to us.  We reject the world and the world rejects us.  Our life, our hope, our happiness, lies in an unseen world and is enjoyed by faith not by sight…  nothing draws our affections away from this world like affections focussed on Christ in heaven.

We need to recognise we are pilgrims here.  We are citizens of heaven living as foreigners on earth.  In this tent we groan longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.  We belong to the Jerusalem that is above.  Our true position is not here at all but in Christ in heaven for as he is so are we in this world.

We belong ultimately not to this creation at all but to new creation.  We need to see that the church is God’s people ‘not of the world’.  Now this does not mean we must live in a monastery.  Nor does it mean we must avoid engaging in the normal activities of life, but it does mean we will have no illusions about the world.  The world (of men and culture) is opposed to the Father and always will be.  We are called to act as salt and light and as foreigners to care for the welfare of the city but not to have any romantically unbiblical (and unrealistic) notions like Clement Atlee that we can build the new Jerusalem on England’s green and pleasant land.  It means too we will engage with caution in life’s activities keeping our bodies under lest we be enticed to indisciplined living and the things that are seen and passing blind us to the things that are unseen and eternal.  We will live as those dead, as those crucified – the world will not hold us in its grip.

The effects of this radical otherworldliness are far-reaching.  Listen to Paul’s words in 1 Cor 7.

1Cor 7:26-35 (ESV)
 I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.
 
This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
 
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

Such are the priorities of new creation that even those things which God has declared good and created for our blessing in this life must take second place.  The calling of the new creation supersedes the privileges of the old creation.  Now notice these are privileges are good and Paul’s language is guarded here.  Our death to the old order does not write-off nor rewrite that order itself.  The cross does not give us freedom to reconfigure God’s creational order.

We are told today that the ‘trajectory’ of new creation means the creational order is superseded.  In Christ there is neither male nor female.  There is of course truth in this.  When new creation is consummated at the coming of Christ the norms of the old will be radically transformed.  There will be no more marriage for example and this itself signals a community we cannot imagine.  But despite this we are never called while living in this world to subvert or change what God has ordered in creation.  We are still male and female.  We still marry.  We are still called to uphold creational roles and distinctions.  Despite all the claims of the so-called ‘trajectory’ hermeneutic we are not called to move beyond patriarchy and God’s model of marriage as heterosexual monogamy.  These are upheld and honoured in the NT.  They are upheld on a new basis – we do all we do now ‘as unto the Lord’.  Thus we may be free (as those dead)  but we subject ourselves to the authorities for the Lord’s sake.

1Pet 2:13-17 (ESV)
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
1Cor 9:19-23 (ESV)
 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
2Cor 4:7-11 (ESV)
 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
 

We may be kings and all things may be ours (which should keep us from lusting after things we presently don’t have) but presently our calling is that of our Lord while here on earth – to live as a servant of all.  Our calling is to live in the place of death, or to say the same in the pre-cross language of Jesus,

Luke 9:23-24 (ESV)
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”



the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.

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