Archive for the ‘Gospel’ Category

In his chapter ‘Refashioning the Clay’ Samuel Wells acknowledges the huge contribution the Big Bang and evolutionary theory have made to science, but cautions against turning them into theology, for “you get a single word answer: survival. The whole dynamic of history mutates into survival; and adaptation that enables survival is called progress. Conflict is at the heart of every encounter, and survival is the reward for those who win the battle.

“But Christianity has a very different answer.

“Christians believe the logic – the logos, or word – at the heart of the universe is not about survival. It’s about death and resurrection. The ultimate future doesn’t belong to those who have fought and prevailed, it belongs to those who have laid down their lives for others.

Samuel Wells, in Learning to Dream Again


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On 1 Corinthians 1.26-29:

At Corinth – and Paul certainly does not mean only at Corinth – God singled out the poor and the powerless, choosing to begin his work with them, not because God’s love does not extend to the cultural and social elite, but actually for the sake of the wealthy and the powerful as well as for the poor and the humble. God’s love has to reach the strong via the weak, because the strong can receive the love of God only by abandoning their pretensions to status above others. Only when they see in God’s choice of those without status that status counts for nothing in God’s sight can they abandon the arrogance and the vested interests that prevent their right relationship both with God and with others. …

In this passage and its context Paul does something rather remarkable. In the first place, by echoing the Old Testament, he identifies a consistent divine strategy, a characteristic way in which God works, to which the origins of the church at Corinth perform. … This is the God who habitually overturns status, not in order to make the non-elite a new elite, but in order to abolish status, to establish his kingdom in which none can claim privilege over others and all gladly surrender privilege for the good of others. … God raises the lowly and brings down the exalted. God himself not only inhabits the highest heaven, but comes among the humblest of his servants on earth (cf. Isaiah 57.15)

Paul not only sees this as God’s usual strategy in human affairs; he also recognises it paradigmatically in the cross. The claim that God is to be encountered and salvation found in a crucified man – a man stripped of all status and honour, dehumanised, the lowest of the low – is the offence of the cross. This is the real scandal of particularity – not just that God’s universal purpose pivots on one particular human being (though that was stumbling-block enough for the philosophically educated in Paul’s day and the Enlightenment rationalists of our own), but, much worse, that God’s universal purpose pivots on this particular human being, the crucified one

No wonder the rulers of this age did not recognise him. …For those who see God in the image of their own power and status there could be no recognition of God in the cross. And yet the Christ who thus demeaned himself to the depths of human degradation, as Paul says in Philippians 2.6-11, is the one God has exalted to the throne of the universe so that every knee should bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord…  God defined his own kingdom when he exalted the crucified Christ. …

This means that as well  as the outward movement of the church’s mission in geographical extension and numerical increase, there must also be this (in the Bible’s imagery) downward movement of solidarity with the people at the bottom of the social scale of importance and wealth. It is to these – the poorest, those with no power or influence, the wretched, the neglected – to whom God has given priority in the kingdom, not only for their own sake, but also for all the rest of us who can enter the kingdom only alongside them.

Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission, pp.50-54

[Sorry for the long excerpt – I just thought it was excellent stuff]

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[Fairy-stories] strike deeper truth than other literary forms precisely because of their happy endings – not in spite of them. True fantasies end happily, thus providing consolation for life’s tragedy and sorrow. But their endings are not escapist. Their felicitous outcome is always produced by a dreadful disaster, by a drastic and unexpected turn of events, which issues in surprising deliverance. Tolkien calls this saving mishap a eucatastrophe: a happy calamity that does not deny the awful reality of dycatastrophe – or human wreck and ruin. …

Like C. S. Lewis, Tolkien regards many of the world’s myths and fairy-stories as forerunners and preparations of the Gospel – as fallible human attempts to tell the Story that only the triune God can tell perfectly. The Gospel is the ultimate fairy-story, Tolkien concludes, because it contains ‘the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe.’ …

Here is God’s own Story wherein the Teller of the tale becomes its chief Actor. Rather than canceling all other stories, however, this one is what they have all been stumbling and pointing toward. The Gospel is the fulfillment and completion of all other stories.

Ralph C Wood, The Gospel According to Tolkien, 2003

The Gospels contain a fairy story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits.

J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories

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I liked this section of Raffi’s response to John Piper’s book ‘The Future of Justification’:

…when we ask ourselves why an individual sinner would ever hear the message that “Jesus is Lord” as euangelion, “good news,” the answer, I believes, lies in where you place the emphasis of the proclamation. If you hear the proclamation, as I believe Piper is stating it, as “Jesus is Lord” then you would rightfully see how a sinner would be terrified rather than elated. But look at it like this: “Jesus is Lord.” Given that the early Christian pronouncement of the gospel would have certainly contained a detailed description of the nature, the character, the vision, the vocation of this person whom it was proclaiming as Lord, I think that proclamation, with that emphasis, would lead even the most egregious sinner to indeed say: Euangelion!!

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One theory which would go against this conclusion [that the rise of Christianity is best explained by Jesus’ bodily resurrection] was very popular a few years ago but is now widely discredited. Some sociologists suggested that the disciples had been suffering from ‘cognitive dissonance’, the phenomenon whereby people who believe something strongly go on saying it all the more shrilly when faced with contrary evidence. Failing to take the negative signs on board, they go deeper and deeper into denial, and can only sustain their position by shouting louder and trying to persuade others to join them.

Whatever the likely occurrence of this in other circumstances, there is simply no chance of it being the right explanation for the rise of the early church. Nobody was expecting anyone, least of all a Messiah, to rise from the dead. A crucified Messiah was a failed Messiah. When Simeon ben Koshiba was killed by the Romans in AD 135, nobody went around afterwards saying he really was the Messiah after all, however much they had wanted to believe that he had been. God’s kingdom was something that had to happen in real life, not in some fantasy-land.

Nor was it the case, as some writers are fond of saying, that the idea of ‘resurrection’ was found in religions all over the ancient Near East. Dying and rising ‘gods’, yes; corn-kings, fertility deities, and the like. But – even supposing Jesus’ very Jewish followers knew any traditions like that – nobody in those religions ever supposed it actually happened to individual humans. No. The best explanation by far for the rise of Christianity is that Jesus really did reappear, not as a battered, bleeding survivor, not as a ghost (the stories are very clear about that), but as a living, bodily human being.

From Tom Wright’s ‘Simply Christian’, p.96-97

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One of the problems in this discussion is when a necessary element in a theological system is made central to that system even if, it is barely, if all mentioned in the Scriptures themselves. I am thinking for example of the notions of either irresistible or prevenient grace. These of course are not Biblical phrases, and indeed they are quite difficult to demonstrate on any straightforward exegesis of any particular text. And yet, whole theories about salvation are based on these two different notions (see my The Problem with Evangelical Theology). Now in my view passion should be reserved for things we can talk about with more certainty and clarity and which more nearly seem to be major themes or emphases in the Scriptures themselves. I demonstrated at length, in the Problem of Evangelical Theology that it is no accident that it is precisely where a theological system tries to say something distinctive is where it is exegetically the weakest. This should have told us something. For example, the rapture theology is precisely the least exegetically defensible element of Dispensationalism. 

What we should get fired up about are the major repeatedly emphasized theological themes in Scripture, not what at best are mere implications of a possible Biblical theology.

A comment by BW3 in the discussion following his post John Piper explains why Calvinists are so negative.

I’m very sympathetic to this view, but systems are so beguiling…!

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As I said in a previous post, I keep thinking about Jackie Pullinger-To at Revive this year, crying out ‘There must be justice!’

Like Gary Haugen at the GLS, she forced us to look at the pain and injustice of the world.

“Look at the world,” she cried, “there must be justice! There is so much pain that must be accounted for, retribution that must be made.”

And with that she confronted the questions that every person asks about mercy and forgiveness: How can I forgive? How can we show mercy? Where is the justice in that? There is a price to be paid!

In Deuteronomy 32.35, God famously says “Vengance is mine and retribution” or, as Hebrews 10.30 and Romans 12.19 put it, “Vengance is mine; I will repay.” (NASB)

In fact, as Paul tells us in Romans 12.19, this is why we are not to take revenge ourselves. Because we know that God will judge rightly. And who has the right to judge but God? In fact, God must judge. For otherwise, evil wins. Injustice, pain and suffering cannot have the final say. God will call all things to account. There will be justice, for we have a good God.

But hold on, there’s a problem. What about forgiveness? God loves the slave driver as much as the slave, the rapist as much as the raped. He offers forgiveness to the slave driver, but where is the justice for the slave? Who will pay the debt for her pain and loss? The murderer may be forgiven, but blood is spilt and the deed cannot be undone. The blood defiles the land (Numbers 35.33), crying out for justice (Gen 4.10).

John Dickinson, in his book The Widow and the King offers this (ironic) observation:

“And as for forgiving – it’s not free, not even for a king. It’s like taking on debt. And a king who forgives too much pays with his life. Remember that.” Aun to the boy-prince Ambrose.

There is a price to pay. Where there is justice, there must be retribution. And when the King forgives, as the quote says, he takes on that debt. The Old Testament law stated that nothing could erase the stain of innocent blood, but the blood of the one who had taken the life (Numbers 35.33). Justice requires a payment for wrongs done.

So God forgives, but it is not without cost. The God of justice cannot let the debt remain unpaid, so he pays it himself. He becomes a man, allowing the world to do its worst, feeling the full force of its injustice and shedding his own blood on the cross. Of this man alone can we ask ‘why do bad things happen to good people?’ This was the truest injustice of all to serve the ultimate justice. Somehow – we don’t understand how – in Jesus, God took on himself the punishment we all deserve and retribution was made, for ever.

“There is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood,” says the writer to the Hebrews (9.22). God did not have to wait for Jesus in order to offer forgiveness. He has always given it when he pleased. But only on the cross was the debt finally paid. Jesus paid the price so that there might be justice and mercy.

When we read those words in Deuteronomy, “Vengance is mine and retribution” we understand it as saying that God’s enemies should watch out because he will have vengance and seek retribution on those who do evil. That he will punish justly. And this is true. But let’s hear another sense in those words, which comes out more clearly in the NT version: “Vengance is mine; I will repay.” We know that every sin, every evil deed, every injustice – God will repay. And every person should tremble because, as Hebrews 10 continues, “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God”. But every person can also rejoice, because this massive debt of sin and injustice has indeed been repaid! Retribution has been made for everyone – if they want it. “I will repay” said God, and he did.

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