Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Culver Quotes

Before the quotes, however, I want to bring attention to another encouraging post from Bob Robinson at Vanguard Church. After identifying popular, contemporary evangelicalism's misuse of Scripture (yet again), Bob closes his latest post by reminding us of the cosmic significance and scope of the work of Christ in the Gospel. Why do we continue to force the Scripture to speak from the perspective of American Nationalism? After reading his latest post, scroll to the post entitled: American Patriotism and the Bible and read Greg Boyd's review of the latest "gimmick Bible" that has hit the shelves. This "Bible" would be absolutely ridiculous if it wasn't so potentially dangerous.

Christopher Culver quotes from his book, "Speak Lord: Learning to Listen to the Bible".

God’s self-revelation is historically framed and conditioned. The Bible is not a collection of religious, doctrinal, and theological statements; rather, it is an inspired record of and commentary upon God’s ongoing interactions with the world through the movement of human history. The Bible is an historical account, spanning all of history from the point of creation to the end of the present world and into the eternal state.

At the same time, it is not a haphazard and disconnected collection of historical events and people, as one might expect to find in a classroom history text. The Bible has a cohesive and purposeful storyline: From the opening verses of Genesis, it has a specific destination in mind, and everything it contains is recorded precisely because it contributes to the development of its “story” as it advances toward its predetermined goal (pg. 12-13).

The biblical text demonstrates that divine revelation is incarnate in history. It doesn’t simply occur in history. It has its identity and lives, grows and matures in history. Indeed, history is itself revelatory, for it is nothing except the observable outworking in time and space of God’s eternal and sovereign purposes (pg. 13).

To paraphrase Vos, Biblical Theology is the theological discipline concerned with God’s self-revelation in the Bible, but specifically from the vantage point of the organized and harmonious process by which God progressively unfolds it within the upward movement of human history (pg. 15)

…Biblical Theology seeks to examine God’s self-revelation in the Bible according to the structure and form in which the Bible presents it. Systematic Theology is concerned with categories of theological truths and the content that belongs in those categories; Biblical Theology is concerned with theological content as the Bible reveals and develops it within the movement of its own inspired storyline (pg. 15).

Monday, June 22, 2009

How Are We To Live? Part 5 (conclusion-end)

So, the answer to the question, “How Are We To Live?” is this: according to our (new) nature as "image-sons". We are to live into the reality of who we were created to be as “sons”(children) of God. But only Christians are who they were created to be by virtue of the “new birth”. Unbelievers are also called to live out the reality of who they were created to be, which means they must come to Christ by faith and be “born again” by the Spirit. Our lives are to reflect and express our very being as “image-sons”; and this can only happen when we come to Christ by faith and are made “new creations” by the Spirit. We are “sons” of God in the Son of God; and we’re to live out this reality not by doing but by being (by being conformed to our new nature as God’s “sons”). And how do we live out the reality of who we are? We "be who we are" not by doing anything, per say, but by walking in the Spirit, by yeilding to the Spirit and being led by Him as He conforms us into the image of Christ. If we’re led by commandments, then we’re simply walking according to the flesh; and this does not please our Father. If we’re directed by duty, by rules and regulations, then we are simply finding our identity back in “law”, not in Christ by the Spirit; we’ve placed the yoke of the Pharisees back on our shoulders. Our lives are not to be directed by the "imperative" but by the "indicative". Remember: "to do" is a pragmatic concept, but "to be" is an ontological concept. "To do" is the imperative and "to be" is the indicative. But if our doing, as Christians, is not a direct result or extension of our being, if what we do is not the product of who we are (as the Spirit continues His work of transformation in us), then our doing is at best, worthless (because it testifies of “me”, not Christ) and at worst, blasphemous (because it supplants the work of Christ with “my work”). If our “obedience” comes from duty (pragmatism) rather than love (the expression of who we are ontologically as God’s Children), then our “obedience” is simply another manifestation of sin—we are living as if we don’t believe God.

Are we called to obey God, to obey Christ? Of course we are. If our lives aren’t characterized by obedienc, then we are illegitimate “sons” who will take our place alongside the “moralists and legalists” (the “religionists”) who did the deeds of “obedience” but will be told by Christ, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.” The issue is this: “What is nature of our obedience?” If our obedience is not the product and expression of our very being, of who we are as New Creations in Him; if it’s not the outworking of the Spirit within us as He transforms our lives from the inside, then our “obedience” is of the flesh and is another expression of sin. Do we obey because of commands? Or do we obey because it is an expression of our very nature as “sons” of God who love Him and are growing increasingly like Him through the work of the Spirit?

Jesus was always perfectly obedient to the Father; He even spoke often of the unity between Him and the Father: “I and the Father are one”, “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father”, etc. Now because we know that Jesus is the second Person of the Trinity, we don’t always consider the human element of this “oneness”. Jesus’ “sonship” was on display in His humanness. He showed Himself to be God’s Son as much by His obedience to God (as a "son") as He did by His miracles (and I would argue, more so). But, as I’ve said over and over again, His obedience was Him simply being who He was. He was “one” with the Father in His humanness in the sense that He was like His Father—He always did the will of the Father because the Father’s will was also His will. Jesus lived out the idiom, “Like father, like son” completely. He didn’t have to set out to be obedient; He was obedient because He had the mind of His Father—Jesus was like His Father. And because Jesus was like His Father in His humanness as a "son", we should recognize the Father in Him. Likewise, when we are true to who we are as "sons" of God in the Son, if we are simply being who we are as "born again", Spirit-filled Children of God in Christ, then when people see us they will see Christ--not necessarily because of what we do but because of who we are!

And this is our calling! We’re called to have the “mind of Christ” so that everything we do is an expression of the united will of Christ and us! And this is the work of the Spirit in us as He progressively conforms us into His likeness. Paul goes on to say that “…it is God who is at work in (us) both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” When Jesus prayed that we would be one with Him as He is with the Father, He wasn’t speaking about some mystical absorption of our very being into God; He was praying that we would so find our identity as “sons” of God in Christ, as the true, fully authentic “son”, that our lives would testify of Him because the world will see Him in us. As Jesus rebuked Philip for not recognizing the Father in Jesus (a son reflects his father), so our lives should be a continual rebuke to the world for not recognizing Jesus in us. And, of course, this rebuke can be turned on us, can’t it? If the world doesn’t see Jesus in us, what does that say about the character of our lives? We are “sons” of God in the Son of God, and for our lives to testify of Jesus, we must do what Jesus did—live into the reality of who we are. He didn’t do anything but be who He was. We don’t do anything; we be who we are.

I close with a caution against the trite refrain that I just allude to above, “What Would Jesus Do”. I feel that this directive (as it’s popularly understood) misses the entire point of how we are to live our lives in this world. We don’t simply imitate Jesus in the things that He does. I’ve said it numerous times: anyone (with or without the Spirit) can simply imitate the behavior of someone else or follow a bunch of rules if he thinks it is in his best interest. We are not called to imitate Jesus (or Paul, for that matter) in their behavior; we’re to imitate them as they lived out their lives in integrity as authentic human beings. To have integrity and to be “authentic” is to simply be true to who you are. As I mentioned early on in this series of posts, God’s “perfection” is His authenticity—He’s always true to who He is. Jesus is the only authentic human being because He is always true to who He is as the true Man. And we are authentic human beings only as we yeild to the Spirit and live out the reality of who we are in our very being as New Creations in Christ, as those who have partaken of the new humanity that has come in Christ.

Christ was fully God and fully Man. He was truly God’s Son in His humanity as much as in His divinity. In fact, the best argument for the authenticity of His divinity is that He was fully conformed to who He was as a human being as He lived out His “Sonship”. His life as a human being looked as it should if He was who He claimed to be. Our obligation to “live like Jesus” is our obligation to live out the reality of who we are as God’s “sons”. We don’t simply do what Jesus did; we, pardon the grammar, be what Jesus be. He was God’s Son—and He lived as God’s Son. He didn’t set out to do anything, per say; He simply was who He was. We are God’s “sons” in Christ—and we’re to imitate Jesus by living authentically as God’s children. We shouldn’t set out to do anything, per say; we are simply to be who we are. We imitate Jesus by living by the Spirit as authentic human beings, by "being who we are" as God’s “sons”. The refrain WWJD should be changed to WWID (What Would I Do) or WWYD (What Would You Do) as a child of God.

Similarly, Paul (and the rest of the Apostles/Disciples) gives us direction in the same way. While not “perfect” (remember our definition) because the work of the Spirit is not complete, we’re to imitate them only as they express their integrity and authenticity as children of God. Again, as with Jesus, we don’t do what they do, we 'be what they be" as children of God, as authentic human beings. They inform us of how we are to live our lives by reminding us of who we are. Every instance of “imperative” in the NT is based on and grounded in the “indicative”. We’re to follow Paul’s example (and the example of Peter, James, etc.) by living out the reality of the New Creation, by living out the reality of our “sonship”. We don’t do it perfectly in this life, of course; but unless we’re living our lives as a natural expression of who we are as God’s children (albeit in the power and under the direction of the Spirit as He continues His work of transformation), then all of our doing is just Pharisaical (hypocritical). Doing deeds is not the call of the Christian—being authentic children of God (human beings) is the issue. And we are only being authentic as we “walk by the Spirit”. If we are doing instead of being, then I fear that we haven’t really understood the power of the Gospel or the power and work of the Spirit in us.

Let's quit worrying about our doing and concentrate on being who we are! This is freedom! And this is the only freedom that will always manifest the life of Christ in us and testify to the world of the power of the Gospel. So, to borrow another popular refrain, "Just do it"! Be who you are!!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

How Are We To Live? Part-5 (Conclusion: Part 2)

...continued from previous post.

Most believers will readily agree that Christ is the fulfillment of the Law (after all, He says so Himself, doesn’t He?), but generally they fall short in understanding the fullness of this fulfillment. We generally speak of Christ as the fulfillment of the Law in what He did rather than in who He was—sound familiar? Jesus certainly did do the works of the Law; He obeyed the Law fully. But He didn’t prove Himself to be God’s Son because of what He did in “obeying” the Law; rather He did the works of the Law in “obedience” because of who He was as God’s Son. Do you see the difference? The distinction between the doing of Jesus as God’s Son and the being (ontology) of Jesus as God’s Son in fulfilling the Law is understood more easily when we consider that Jesus came as the definition of the Law and the definition of “Israel” as God’s “son”.

The Scripture presents the Law as defining what it means to be God’s “son”. Remember, God called Israel His son based upon His choosing them as Abraham’s offspring. First Isaac, the promised “begotten” son and then Jacob, later to be named “Israel”, were initial fulfillments of God’s promise to Abraham that he would have a son and that through his son, God would bless the nations of the earth. Jacob (“Israel”) fathered twelve sons (tribes) who collectively became “Israel”. Over and over again in the Scripture as God speaks to His people He refers to Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He does this to reinforce their understanding of their heritage as the collective “son” (seed) of Abraham and their relationship to Him as His “chosen people”, unique among the nations of the world by being called out of the world as His “son”. When YWHW sent Moses to deliver His people, He told him to say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn. Let My son go that he may serve Me’” (Ex. 4:22-23).

God calls “Israel” His son, though they had forgotten (and continued to forget) Him. So, in the giving of the Law, God defines for them what it means to be His “son”. God is not giving the people a bunch of hoops to jump through. He’s defining for them what it means to be “Israel”, His son. They are His chosen “son” consecrated to Him. They are not as the other nations; they are uniquely called “out of the world” to be Yahweh’s “peculiar” people. They are separate from the other nations and they are to find their identity solely in their relationship to God. In the giving of the Law, God is showing them that everything about their identity as His “son” is defined by Him—not themselves, not the nations around them, and certainly not the “gods” of the other nations. Israel was God’s “son” and they knew it because God gave them the Law which told them who they were. And the fact that they continued to fail to be who they were called to be as God’s “son” (evidenced by the institution of the sacrificial system, which also testified of Christ) showed them (and us) that their very existence was not ultimate, that “Israel” as “son” of God would be fulfilled in another Israel, the true “Son” of God (which I’ve written about elsewhere).

As with everything else in the Scripture, “Israel” and the Law were types of Christ and prophesied of Him. So when Jesus and the N.T. writers testify that He has fulfilled all of the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (the entirety of the Scripture), they are testifying to the fact that Jesus, as the definition of the Law and Israel, has fulfilled these types in His very Person. The fact that He was obedient to the Law in His practice was due to the fact that He was the definition of the Law; He was the “Israel” that the Law defined. Jesus is what the nation could not be (and was never intended to be): the true “son” of God. And that’s because He is the true Son of God in His very nature. He obeyed the Law not because that’s what He did, but because that’s who He was. Jesus lived out the reality of who He was...that’s all. The things that He did were simply manifestations of who He was.

"To do" is a pragmatic concept; "to be" is an ontological concept. To do is the “imperative”; to be is the “indicative”. Jesus did the things that He did (He obeyed His Father, He obeyed the “Law”) not because He was commanded to but because He was perfectly conformed to His nature and simply lived out the reality of who He was as God’s Son. He could say of Himself that He came to do the will of the Father because as the Son of God it was His will as well.

So…what does that mean for us? We “obey” the Law by coming to Christ and finding our identity in Him. We are “sons” of God in the Son of God. As Paul stresses throughout his writings (and in agreement with Christ and the rest of the Scriptures—N.T. and O.T.), the requirement of the Law is fulfilled in us because we are joined to Christ who is the fulfillment of the Law. We have no obligation to the Law as such. If we look to commandments to direct our relationship with God, then we are refusing to believe Him when He declares that we are His Children in Christ, born by the Spirit to new life. We have been “born again” and now have a new nature; we have been restored as His “image-bearers”, His “image-sons”.

As those who have a new nature, we don’t find our identity back in “law” (we’re not defined by what we do)—our identity is found in Christ. It’s the Spirit’s work to conform us into the likeness of Christ, not ours; and He doesn’t do so through the Law or commandments! Our sanctification does not rise or fall with our “obedience” to some code of ethic. Though we still struggle with sin (unbelief that manifests itself through the “flesh”), our sanctification is sure and progressing by the work of the Spirit in us. The promise of God in Christ (the New Covenant) is the promise of the Spirit. And we are “sons” of God in the Son only by virtue of the presence of the indwelling Spirit (Rom. 8) who will complete His work in us. Why would we walk according to commandment when we can walk according to the Spirit? The flesh profits us nothing; it is the Spirit who gives life! Let’s listen to Paul: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you (we) now being perfected by the flesh?” We’re called to walk by the Spirit. Our calling is not to do but to be. We are Children of God because we’ve been joined to Christ by the Spirit who now indwells us. We’re not called to do anything, per say, but to be who we are.

To be continued...(the final post!).

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How Are We To Live? Part-5 (Conclusion...finally!)

Well...almost. This post has become a monster that even I'm tired of looking at; the more I go over it, the more I add to it. So, I'm done. Any modification can come as a result of dialogue. And since this has become so huge, I've decided to post it in installments--hopefully only three.

But before I begin, I'd like to point you all to a wonderful sermon by my friend Chad Knudson over at "The Road to Emmaus" which you can find here (and on my sidebar). Chad delivers an excellent treatment on Hebrews 12:1-11 entitled, "Living as Sons of God". This is an important message that helps us understand the role that God's discipline plays in our lives. Our Western Chritian Culture has lost the sense of what it means to be children of God and how it is that our Father "perfects" His children. For a number of reasons, not the least of which is the influence of the (false) Prosperity Gospel, it is assumed that suffering is antithetical to being a Christian, that as God's children we are to be Healthy, Wealthy and...well...if not Wise (with all apologies to the heretic Mike Murdoch), then at least smart enough to "name it and claim it". Because of this "anti-Christ" self-idolatorous mind-set, we in the West assume that suffering is the work of satan and betrays a lack of faith on the part of the person who is suffering (or even more heinous, a Christian lacks faith if he doesn't have absolutely everything that he wants); that God has nothing to do with the suffering of His people. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Chad powerfully, yet with grace (an attribute I know I can work on :-), establishes the Biblical Theological foundation for the suffering of the Christian and provides for our encouragement by presenting Christ to us. I encourage you all to download the sermon, put it on your iPod or on a CD and plug it in. This is a message that all of us need to hear because it brings our focus back where it needs to be--on "Jesus, the author and perfector of faith."

Now, on with conclusion...the answer we've all been waiting for! Well, maybe not the answer that the Legalists and Moralists were looking for, but the answer, nevertheless, that I believe the Bible itself teaches: Be Who You Are. That’s it—simply be. If we are to live our lives to the glory of God, if we’re to “be perfect as He (our Heavenly Father) is perfect”, then our calling is not to do but to be! If “perfection” is conformity to something’s created nature, and if glorifying God is the natural response of a being that is “conformed to it’s created nature”, then simply doing what we think is commanded of us is not the answer—we must be what we were created to be. And what were we created to be?—sons of God who bear His image.

And what is it to be an image-bearing son of God? Is it something that we do? The Bible emphatically answers that question with a resounding, “No”! We can never do anything that would make us sons of God. Even if we were to obey the Law completely, we would not become sons of God. Why?—because, as I’ve mentioned previously, created humanity is incomplete apart from the True Man, Jesus Christ. We need a new nature. Jesus is the fountainhead of a new humanity and as such we are only fully (truly) human when we are joined to Him by the Spirit (see previous posts, esp. “Part-3 continued and Redemption Part-2). Christ is the destiny of humanity and we find our fulfillment as human beings who bear God’s image in Him.

So, to simply do commandments or “works of the Law” (Torah—“doctrine”, the whole of the Scripture) is not enough. Even if a person were to theoretically “keep” the Law, he would still not be what God created him to be. He would still be estranged from God, creation, humanity and himself because he would still be defined by his sin nature. Of course, no person can ever keep the Law because no one ever loves God with “all his heart, soul, mind and strength” or his “neighbor as himself”. Even as Christians who have the Spirit indwelling us, we often fail to “keep the Law”. But as Christians, we’re not called to keep the Law but to come to Christ (who is the fulfillment of the Law) by faith and then to walk by the Spirit. The Law points us to Christ because He is the very definition of the Law (which we’ll see later); and when we come to Christ, we’ve “kept the Law” because we believe in the One of whom it prophesies. Anyone with a sufficient amount of motivation can keep rules and regulations. To paraphrase Paul, law-keeping means nothing...the only thing that matters is a “New Creation”.

Paul says that the Law is a “tutor” to lead us to Christ because He is its fulfillment. The Law was never intended to give life. And this is not simply because it could never be obeyed, but because it spoke of Christ who is the One that the Law defined. This reality is evidenced throughout the life of Israel and the reason for their condemnation. The “sons of Abraham” failed to keep the Law time and time again. They did not keep the Law because they could not keep the Law; first, because it was non-ultimate, (it prophesied and served as a type of Christ, e.g. Luke 24:13-32; Matt. 5:17-19; John 5:39-47; Matt. 11:13; Hebrews, etc.) and secondly, because of the “sin nature” (Rom. 8:3-8; cf. Jer. 31:31-34, Eze. 36:25-27, 37:1-14, John 3, John 6, Rom. 8, etc.). In fact, for a person to do the works of the Law to endear himself to God in any way apart from the promise of Christ or in the light of Christ’s arrival only brings condemnation to himself because it is Christ Himself that is the fulfillment of the Law (not anything we do); a person fulfills the Law only in Christ (with respect to Christ) by being joined to Him by the Spirit. (For example: Matt. 5:17-19ff. where Jesus explains that it is He Himself, in His person, that is the fulfillment of the Law; so for a person to see in the Law his duty rather than his Christ is to defile and annul the Law; John 3:1-21 the great “born again” passage where Jesus explains to Nicodemus the “law-keeper” that it is those who do not believe in Him, though “obeying” the law, that are under judgment because their “law-keeping” was actually considered to be “evil-doing”; John 5:37-47 where Jesus chastises the “law-keepers” for not understanding their Scriptures which didn’t teach them to obey the law to have life, but to see in the law the Christ who is and gives life; and Romans 8:4 in context where we see that in our union with Christ by the Spirit, the requirement of the Law is fulfilled in us already by the indwelling Spirit who applies Christ’s atonement to us. These relatively few examples of the overall teaching of the Scripture provide ample evidence that “by the works of the law shall no man be justified before God.”).

Now some may argue that of course our salvation is not determined by our doing, but our sanctification is. If we don’t purpose to do the “moral law” (or whatever “command” we see in the Scripture), then we are, at best, stunting our growth and, at worst, not a Christian at all. To have our sanctification or maturity governed by the “moral law” is Reformed Theology’s so-called “third use of the Law”. It is assumed that now that we are Christians, we must purpose to obey the “moral Law” for our sanctification. This idea doesn’t fully appreciate how it is that Christ has fulfilled the Law and what has transpired in the New Birth that has fundamentally changed our nature.

To be continued...

Previous posts in this series:
How Are We To Live? Part-1 (Introduction & Creation)
How Are We To Live? Part-2 (The Fall)
How Are We To Live? Part-3 (Redemption-Part 1)
How Are We To Live? Part-3 (Redemption-Part 2)
How Are We To Live? Part-4 (Consummation)