Thursday, April 21, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Sunday, August 29, 2010
J. Barrett Wernlund
Senior Credo Paper
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Who Do I think I am?............................................................................... 3
Chapter 2: Who is God Anyways?............................................................................ 13
Chapter 3: Who is Jesus Christ?.............................................................................. 23
Chapter 4: Who is the Holy Spirit?.......................................................................... 35
Chapter 5: Who are the People of God?.................................................................. 47
Chapter 1: Who Do I Think I Am?
Chapter 1 Outline
- Introduction: Where do I get off writing a Credo?
- I am not my own… My Personal Life of Faith
- God’s Revelation: General & Special Revelation
- Interpreting God’s Revelation
There I was, a twenty-two year old Wisconsin boy in Chino, California standing in front of thirty high school students who could give a rip that I was a preacher’s son. It strikes me, as I am standing there to tell them about the Bible, why would they listen to me? They don’t know me nor do I know them. At the time I could not come up with a good reason why they would listen. If I am honest I probably just thought that it was up to me to earn their ear. If I could relate to these kids just enough and earn their trust, then they would listen to my advice and be transformed. Five years later I have realized something much deeper about why anyone would listen to what I have to say. The reason is simply because “I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.” It is true that I cannot expect a student to actually listen to me without first gaining their trust, but I can gain someone’s trust and still tell them a lie! That happens all the time. It is only because I am Christ’s own that I know that I actually have something of value to share with people! It only makes sense then to share with you a little bit about my journey as Christ’s own, so let me tell you a little story…
I am not my own…
On March 1, 1983 I was born in the Cook County Children’s Hospital in the Chicago area. I was the second son to Paul and Becky Wernlund in an eventual trio of boys (Joel, me, and Corey). My Dad, a pastor in a midsized congregation in the RCA and my mother would eventually go back to work several years after my little brother was born. My Dad is a strong man, both slow to anger and speak out and my Mom is an independent woman who will always speak up for those she loves. This is the family I have been given and I feel so blessed to have them all in my life. I am not my own…
Shortly after I was born my parents had me baptized in our church in Alsip, IL. I obviously cannot recount the events of this day since I was far too young, but since coming to seminary, it is a day I remember often. It was on this day that God brought me into his family under the covenant he first made with my parents. God will be faithful to this covenant throughout my life, which I hope you’ll see as I tell my story. I am not my own…
It was shortly after my baptism that I gave my parents quite a scare and God was faithful. When I was one I came down with a very high fever and ended up in the hospital to undergo a variety of tests. It was found that my left kidney had been destroyed and my body was slowly being poisoned because of urine that was backing up. The only cure was an incredibly dangerous surgery to remove the atrophied kidney. Talk about some earth shattering news for some young parents! When the day came for surgery I had gotten chicken pox from my older brother, Joel and the anxious waiting had to continue another couple of weeks. On the day of my second scheduled surgery my dad walked into the hospital holding his baby boy. This time he had a limp in his step because of a sciatic nerve in his back. Both of my parents were terrified and incredibly anxious. They handed over their son to the doctor for a last round of testing before surgery. A short while later the doctor handed me back to my dad. He told my parents that they could take their son home; he no longer needed this surgery! The problem had “corrected itself” and surgery was no longer needed. I am not my own…
Throughout my childhood I have had people from my home church that taught, loved, and supported me in this spiritual journey. I remember flannel graphs in Sunday school and I remember learning about the parables in children and worship. Some of my earliest memories are with my parents and of them praying with me. We would have family devotions after dinner and I remember both my parents praying with all of us kids before bed. My parents and my church taught me about Jesus and because of this God was always in my framework of reality. . It was during this stage of my life that I asked Jesus into my heart. I am not my own…
As I entered junior high my faith was still pretty simple. I knew I had Jesus in my heart and soon I fell into this pattern of thinking that I had to keep making sure he was in there! I would recommit my life to Christ anytime I was given the opportunity because I wanted to make sure Jesus was with me. Later on someone told me this idea of having a relationship with Jesus. This was so helpful at the time because Jesus became a person instead of a possession to hold on to. In all of this God was at work in my life keeping His covenant promise he made at my baptism. I am not my own…
As I entered high school it didn’t take long for me to figure out that it was when I was with other people that I most felt alive, especially spiritually. It was during youth group, during worship, mission trips, and camps that I felt most alive. During this stage in my development, friends, family and pastors played a huge role. It was then that I realized that my relationship with Jesus Christ was not merely a private matter. This relationship had to impact my entire life. I am not my own…
Then during my senior year of High School I learned that my parents were not indestructible. I learned that tragedy can strike a household such like mine. My dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer and although he survived and is now cancer free, I can never forget when I saw him after surgery needing morphine every several minutes to drive away the pain. The man I saw as superman now I realized was only a man. The world was no longer black and white even though I fought to keep it that way. This event rocked me because I had to hold it in due to my dad’s position as pastor our church. So I denied it and kept living life as it if it were normal. Even still, I remembered that my dad could actually die! Then it all came spilling out during a boys Bible study. These guys were there for me and just let me weep there and express all the emotions I was holding inside. God taught me to cherish those people I love in this life and he was faithful. I am not my own…
Even after all this I still was not really grasping the reality that I cannot control my own destiny. It was not until college that God taught me about my own finite nature. This was a huge humbling step toward understanding that I am not my own…
During these college years I began serving in a youth group as the worship leader. I loved leading worship and they offered some compensation that this poor college student desperately needed, so it made sense. It was in this time that I started to more fully realize the passion God had put in my soul to serve youth in a pastoral role. After a full year of helping out I went on the group’s summer mission trip to Montana. It took 40 hours to get their while riding in a school bus that could barely make it up steep inclines. I found rest by sleeping on the luggage rack, but also had the chance to talk with many students. I realized the call God had place on my life to serve in ministry on this trip and I shared with the group that I would become a youth pastor. When I shared this with my parents they were supportive despite the fact that I had already paid for two years of Hope College with a focus on the natural sciences. I changed my major to religion and continued to serve as the worship leader at this same church. God put a passion for youth in my heart and called me into the ministry. I am not my own…
When I graduated from Hope College, this same church was looking for a new youth pastor and I thought it would be the perfect spot to start to serve out this call to ministry. I knew them, they knew me, and it would be a perfect transition. God had a different plan though, and a month later I found myself in Chino, CA, as the youth intern at a church with a thriving community focused youth program. I had never been to California before! I am not my own…
Now we are back in Chino, CA and I have recently become the youth pastor at the church. I am standing in front of these students and I am trying to figure out why they should listen to me. It did not take long for me to experience severe doubt about my ability to lead and pastor these students. Most of them were from the community and several had behavioral problems that stemmed from a harsh environment at home. I had some leaders call me out and question my authority and ability. In some ways I felt beaten up and inept. Then a friend and youth pastor hinted to the greater reality. He said to me, “J.B. you are here because God has brought you here to be the youth pastor at Oaks Community Church. God has called you here and doing his work through you!” The only reason I could be these students’ youth pastor; the only reason I could come to seminary and be minister at a church is because “I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.” He has called me to this joyous and difficult work and I will be faithful to his call. The only reason I feel confident enough to write this credo is because I believe that God is gracious enough to reveal God’s self to me by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who has been and continues today to actively reveal God’s self to people throughout human history. This work of revealing is called revelation.
God’s Revelation: General and Special
After coming to seminary I was a little bit surprised when I got to know John Calvin a little bit. Granted, my positive experience probably had something to do with the fact that I attend a Reformed seminary but still I realized I had gotten the wrong impression of the man. One of those things that actually surprised me was his view of God’s revelation to humanity. I thought that the obvious location of God’s revelation would be through the Bible, but John Calvin leaves room for the Spirit to reveal God’s self outside of the divine book all while holding the book on a very high level. Calvin writes,
He not only sowed in men’s minds that seed of religion of which we have spoken but revealed himself and daily discloses himself in the whole workmanship of the universe. As a consequence, men cannot open their eyes without being compelled to see him. Indeed, his essence is incomprehensible; hence, his divinenss far escapes all human perception. But upon his individual works he has engraved unmistakable marks of his glory, so clear and so prominent that even unlettered and stupid folk cannot plead the excuse of ignorance.
Calvin is saying that there is evidence of God’s glory in throughout the universe in a way that every person on earth could not open their eyes without taking notice. He goes on later to talk about how we cannot fully see God’s glory because sin clouds our vision. It is only by grace that we can take notice of what is clearly God’s glory that is all around us. Furthermore we need the Bible as an inspired word by which we interpret all that we see by the power of the Holy Spirit. In short, God’s glory is all around us but we must understand it through the guide of scripture and we cannot see God’s glory in either scripture or nature, except by the grace of the Holy Spirit’s revelatory action and power.
The evidence of the Spirit’s work is found throughout history and the Spirit continues to be active in Christ’s church and in the world. The two-fold work of the Spirit in the revelation of scripture is the first gift of grace I would like to explore. As the Biblical authors were writing and the patriarchs were compiling the canon, the Holy Spirit was intimately involved in this sacred process. Then as a person reads the scripture it is the Holy Spirit who offers revelation to the reader that allows them to see some truth about God in their reading. This is what has allowed believers to continually read the scriptures for ages and still find truth and revelation. It makes this book something unique in its forming but also in its reading. All the truth of God that believers need to know or can know are found in the Bible, but only the Spirit can reveal this truth.
Another activity of the Spirit occurs in the Spirit’s work in a person’s heart. People on earth experience God in real and often life-changing ways through what Jonathan Edwards called religious affections. In fact, Edwards argued that experiencing God through the Holy Spirit is required if one should claim they have true knowledge of God. However this does not mean that any emotional, “spiritual” experience is necessarily the work of the Spirit. Edwards notes the important work of discernment when trying to determine if an experience is gracious or inauthentic. One way of knowing whether the Spirit is at work is that fruit will be evident. In the book of Galatians Paul outlines what this fruit looks like when he writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5: 22-23)
It is important to also note the Spirit’s work continues to reveal and point to God’s glory in places other than the scriptures or the church. Wherever these fruit are evident it is by God’s grace through the power of the Holy Spirit. When people act in patience or kindness it is the work of the Holy Spirit. When a truth of God is revealed it is the Holy Spirit who reveals. The Spirit is intimately connected also to creation. It is only the power of the Holy Spirit that can empower the creation to give praises to their King. Isaiah 55:12 says, “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (NIV) Furthermore, Genesis 1 gives a beautiful image of the spirit of God “hovering over the waters.” (Genesis 1:2) This shows that the trinity, including the Spirit, was involved in the creation of the world and continues to be deeply connected to creation today. This is the one true God; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All praise and glory to you, Amen.
Interpreting God’s Revelation
Interpreting this revelation from God is not always an easy task. Whether it is the book of nature or the book that we love, Christians have been wrestling with how to interpret each book’s meaning for centuries. If it snows on my birthday and it’s May does that mean God is mad at me? Or does an earthquake mean that God is judging a certain people group? In junior high school a couple of friends and I, along with my brothers built this amazing fort in the woods behind our house. We had several possible locations for the fort but finally we settled on a sweet hidden location just outside the woods where some drainage ditches had been dug years prior. The ditches were roughly 5 feet deep and maybe 10 to 12 feet wide. The field in which these ditches were located had long grass so from any distance away you could not see the ditches or our fort. We took weeks bringing over branches, tree, and anything else we could find in the woods to build our fortress. The design was simple. We would lay branches over the ditch for our framing. Dug out the sides of the ditch for seating. Used stones and mud to seal up the opening of the ditch and then used chicken wire, tar paper and sleeping bags to cover our roof. By the end of our build the fort was complete with a stone oven, skylight, carpeted seating, a linoleum floor, steel door and my very favorite outdoor bench.
As winter got closer two of my friends thought it would be great to have a Christmas tree for the fort. A noble thought for two thirteen year olds. I suppose they wanted to fort to feel more like a home. So they did what any normal person with no fluid income would do, they prayed for a Christmas tree. We were in the woods but there were only deciduous trees, no Christmas trees. When they finished their prayer, they started walking and looking for signs from God to show them where to search. The signs were a variety of things including hearing movement in the leaves or a gust of wind. Then suddenly they saw a rabbit and one said, “Follow that rabbit!” They did and finally when they lost the rabbit, there in front of them was a perfectly sized pre-cut, green Christmas tree. They picked it up and brought it to the fort and our fort became a home that day. The prayer was answered and the book of nature spoke to us! Now, I do not know if that was truly God’s intent in that instance but he sure impressed a group of kids. The point is, how we interpret even the book of nature is important. I would suggest that we should not make such grand conclusions based on natural disasters. It is poor pastoral care, in poor taste and based on even worse theology. However I do believe that you can see the glory of God in the mountains, or his artistic mastery in the brush strokes of a sunset. It’s also true there might be something of God’s wrath in the crash of thunder or his devotion and companionship in a family dog. I do not doubt any of this, but it is important that the only tool used for interpreting this book is the book that we love, the Bible. The book of nature cannot teach us something beyond or outside of the living book of scripture.
This raises an important question then. How do we interpret the Bible? Or do we read with pure objectivity like some have suggested? As a teenager I remember gravitating toward the letters of Paul because I just read his letters like they were written to me. This was an easy way for me to apply it to my life. Paul was giving me an instructional guide on how to live my life and it was pretty straight-forward. Today after three years of seminary my understanding of scripture has shifted some and now I love reading the narrative of scripture. I believe that God accommodated the words in the Bible to the people. God did not include lessons in organic chemistry in the book of Genesis because that would have been beyond comprehension to ancient people. God helped them understand who God was within their own social context. If this is true, then when we interpret scripture we must take that accommodation in account to get at the deeper meanings of each text. Those deeper meaning and deeper truths then can applied to our own context, which then should shape, challenge and form our way of life today. This, I believe, is a deeper understanding of scripture and interpretation. Truth then becomes something broader that the modern definition that limits it to something that is factual. There is something profound that we can learn from the parable of the Good Samaritan even though it is a parable. This is not to say that events in the Bible are not historical in nature. The truth in many of these stories, however, is not found in their historicity but rather from some deeper truth that can penetrate into our lives today. We would be much better off spending our time in search of God in these stories than trying to prove their historical accuracy.
In college, I had the privilege to take New Testament ethics with a renown scholar in the field of biblical ethics. This is when I heard the word hermeneutics for the first time. I just kept thinking of the word hermit or hobbit or something in that nature. To be honest, I did not even know what it meant till about mid-way through the semester. Most simply hermeneutics is “the theory and methodology of interpretation, especially of scriptural text.” I soon began to understand hermeneutics similarly to putting on a pair of glasses. When I put on glasses the lenses change how I see; things become clearer assuming I have the correct prescription. When reading scripture I always begin with a prayer so that the Holy Spirit, my optometrist, can provide me with the correct prescription. The hermeneutical lens I use changes how I interpret what I am reading on the pages of my bible. I take my cues for my hermeneutical lens from a conversation Jesus had with the Pharisees,
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
This is the lens I look through when I read scripture and it also guides how I live my life. When I read a passage of scripture I seek to understand how this passage is telling me “The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord!”
Why do I feel comfortable writing this credo paper? Because I trust God to reveal just what I need to see in order that I might understand the grace he has offered. I have seen God work in my life and I trust that his hand will continue to move in my future. I will continue to draw on my life experience throughout this paper because I truly do believe that God teaches us things throughout the course of our lives. It is through these experiences that we will engage a variety of topics regarding God and God’s deep love and involvement in the world. After all, it was through these experiences I learned more about myself and about God. Something Calvin said is still true, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”
Chapter 2: Who is God Anyway?
Chapter 2 Outline
- Introduction: God was always just a fact of life
- Who is God Anyways?
- God is One but there are three persons? (Trinity)
- Describing an infinite God with a finite language (Attributes)
- What is God up to in this world?
- How did this whole world come to be? (Creation)
- Is God still involved in this world today? (Providence)
Introduction: God was always just a fact of life
The question of who is God is one that has brought about a wide array of reactions throughout history. Some become repulsed by the idea of a higher power, some are comforted, some become defensive about a certain religious perspective, and then there are some who are left in awe, pondering this question at its deepest levels. I think there have been times in my life where I have had many of those reactions, and yet today I believe on my best days, I more resemble a position of awe and reverent humility in trying to answer this question. Part of the reason for this humility is that I truly believe that fully and completely answering this question is impossible. How could I know who the infinite creator of this universe is? I really do not think I can ever truly answer this question. The good news is I do think we have a window into the reality of God so we are not completely in the dark. The only reason I believe I can even begin to consider this question is through the gracious revelation of the Spirit, through whom God actually seeks after his chosen people to reveal God’s self to us. God has given us a Holy and Living Scripture, which we discussed in the previous chapter and through these words and the Spirit’s work a glimpse of the divine is revealed. In describing this divine glimpse, I do not I intend to limit or bind up the infinite God whom, on my best days I try and love with all my heart, soul and might.
Who is God Anyways?
This is the big question that we’ll reverently explore briefly (considering the impossible task). Together we will look at some of the core images, doctrines, and words with which that I can best begin to comprehend and then try and explain God. Before we get into that I would like you to travel back in time with me to a time when I was much younger and much more innocent.
As you already know I was raised in a family where I found one of my many designations as a child included the title of “PK,” which fondly stands for “preacher’s kid” or “pastor’s kid.” If I close my eyes and think of some of my earliest memories and try and imagine a time prior to my belief of God, I draw a big, profound blank! There is not a time in my life when I did not have some concept that God was real to me. God was just part of my reality. One time in Sunday school class we were asked to drawn a picture of God. So as a nine-year-old fairly comfortable with advanced tools of my trade, I grabbed a Crayola crayon and began to draw a picture of God. In my innocence and with little thought of whether I might not get it right or toe the line of heresy I just went for it. In my depiction of the divine I drew a picture of an older looker man in a cloud with rays of light shooting outward with all the brilliance a nine year old wielding a crayon can portray! This is how I pictured God: a man, similar to my dad, who was in heaven, maybe on a throne, and for whatever reason he was glowing like shiny gold. Now my picture would look much different and would be far more abstract, mostly because I do not think my artistic skills have changed much since I was in 3rd grade! Therefore instead I will use words to shed light on who God is and the first word that I can think of that most encompasses who I believe God to be is Trinity.
A Lesson in Poor Arithmetic and Good Christian Theology: God is three in One (Trinity)
The central confession of Ancient Israel is this, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is alone.” Literally the Hebrew here could be read simply as; the Lord (is) God of us, the Lord (is) one. This means that one of the central confessions of the ancient Israel is that God is one; or that there is only one God. This is what many would refer to as classic monotheism. This same monotheism gave rise to Christianity in the first century in the man Jesus Christ. Christianity, in turn has a new twist to traditional monotheism; Trinitarian Monotheism. Jesus Christ prayed to his Father in heaven, which is what he called the Lord that all other Jews also worshipped in his time (spoken of in Deuteronomy 6:4). As a Christian I not only confess that the God of Judaism is Lord but I also confess (by the power of the Spirit) that Jesus is Lord. Then to make matter a little more confusing, there is one other thing; Jesus speaks of the Advocate whom the Father sends in Jesus’ name to the earth. This is the Holy Spirit who I also confess as Lord. It only takes some basic elementary arithmetic skills to realize that to confess Jesus as “my Lord and my God,” and to confess the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 seems to bring about a mathematical contradiction. Can Jesus be Lord and the Father be Lord and the Holy Spirit be Lord? The Trinity became the language the church formulated in order to try to understand how the answer to this seemingly contradictory question could be YES! Trinity was a new word to describe God. It is not in scripture and yet when we read scripture it best captures what the testimony of the living word describes.
The Trinity tells me that the God whom I love is in God’s very nature relational. God is defined by the relationship within the God-head. A perfect divine relationship best described by our limited language by the word love. Love in its purest sense always involves more than one. Love is given. Love is received. This means then that love happens in relationship; therefore, since God is love it makes sense for us to view God as a relational God. God desires to be in relationship to us and yet his relational nature is not dependant on us since there is relationship within the God-head. Ok, that was exciting, but let’s take a moment to ponder and wonder. As a young person I just accepted the idea of the Trinity. It was not until seminary that I really began to ponder this idea and investigate how scriptures testify to this truth. One concept really stood out for me as I began to better understand the Trinity. The balance of three characteristics of the Trinity that include; unity, equality, and distinction.
The Trinity is the belief that God exists in divine relationship characterized by perfect unity, equality and distinction in three persons most often referred to as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The idea that these three characteristics are all crucial in Trinitarian belief was transformational. Sometimes Christians begin to lean toward one or two of these characteristics and thus fall into lesser truths about the God to whom we belong. For much of my life I did not recognize the distinction characteristic and found myself practically thinking of God through a lens of Modalism. This way of viewing God believes that there is one God who “throughout biblical history, has revealed Himself in three modes, or forms” This perspective may solve the mathematical puzzle of the Trinity but it denies the persons of the Trinity’s unique roles and distinction throughout the Biblical testimony and today. It is important in my opinion to keep all three of these characteristics in equal balance as much as my fallen nature will allow. There are also several analogies and illustrations that are often helpful whether trying to get a grasp on the Triune God of love.
These illustrations or analogies are helpful to a point and yet like all analogies they break down at a certain juncture. There are two main kinds of Trinitarian analogies; psychological and sociological analogies. Psychological analogies start with one and try to explain the three parts, while sociological analogies start with the three and try and explain how they are one. An example of a psychological analogy would be the idea that one woman could be a daughter, a mother, and a sister. It is easy to see however this can easily evolve into a kind of Modalism, where it is one singular being fulfilling three different roles in life. An example of a sociological analogy would be the idea that all (or three individuals) the people of the earth are all members of one humanity. This obviously can lead us to over-look the characteristic of unity, and we slip into a kind of polytheism.
Again it is so crucial to keep in mind that when discussing, debating, and learning theology, we should do so on bended knee. This posture will help us to remember our place in this world as the creature and not the creator. I love how God reminds Job of this, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements - surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?” We must remember our place in the order of the universe. When we try to understand and deduce God it is comparable to a colony of ants undertaking organic chemistry; it’s quite laughable. Lucky for us God gives us enough knowledge and faith to be in welcomed into this divine communion of the Trinity! More on that later!
Describing an infinite God with a finite language (Attributes)
Drawings done by 3rd graders in Sunday School class or the doctrine of the Trinity obviously are not the only ways in which we can describe God. The Bible also gives us words in order to better capture who God is. These words are commonly referred to as the attributes of God. In a similar way, analogies and even the Trinity are ways in which we can better understand God, but they are not perfect. God, because of his loving grace, has given us these means (attributes and doctrine) by the revelation of the Holy Spirit through the Holy Scriptures in order that we might have a comprehendible glimpse into who God is. Language has its limitations but the Bible gives us the best language to use when referring to God. There are many attributes that I could discuss but I have only selected a couple that have been enlightening in my life.
The first words that stand out when I think of the Triune God are holy, righteous, and sovereign. God is holy and righteous. In other words God is pure and set apart. I think of a number of Psalms and the chorus of Revelation 4:8 which sings, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." God is set apart and God is good and righteous in a way that demands our worship and praise. It is a gift to be able to delight in the name of the Lord. Since the Triune God revealed in scripture is Holy, righteous and good, we can find comfort in his Sovereignty and power. We will discuss this more in depth when we explore God’s providence over the earth.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son”… “The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord”… “And these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”… “God is love.” In my opinion love is the attribute of God that stands above all others. It is so crucial in fact, that all other attributes flow from this one attribute that cannot be contained in this four letter English word. Out of God’s love for this earth and his people comes forth other attributes including God’s justice, wrath, salvation, faithfulness, peace, redemption, and hope. God’s interaction with the world can be best understood through the lens God’s love for the world.
What is God up to in this world?
Now that we’ve explored how I understand God, the question quite naturally moves to “What does this mean for us here on earth?” So many people have the perception that God is in heaven on a chair watching the earthly theatre from his heavenly box seats. I completely reject this notion of a God who wound up the earth and set it in motion for just to see what would happen. This image not only does not align with what I read in scripture, but it also does not fit with my own experience with God. I cannot believe that God in some fatalistic sense just watches the tragedy on earth un-fold like a sad independent film. I believe God is near. God is present. God is actively involved in and with his beloved creation.
When I look back at my life, I cannot help but see God’s hand guiding and sometimes carrying. It only takes serious pondering over the question, “How in the world did I get here today?” I know it is not an accident. I know and I believe that God’s hands have left their mark all over my life. This is not to say that God’s involvement in this world only involves me or other Christians. I believe it all started before the foundations of the world. God’s continual involvement in this world starts at the beginning of this created universe.
How did this whole world come to be? (Creation)
During a span of three years I became incredibly passionate about the apologetics of creation science. I whole-heartedly rejected the theory of evolution and I even wrote a paper in High School arguing for this position. I read books and went to bible studies that sought to prove that God created the world. I used the research of creation science and sought to refute evolutionary theory. This passion was a huge part of my faith journey even though today I do not hold this same vigor towards the subject surrounding the same issues. My love of the sciences created an easy entry point for igniting a desire to read the scriptures. Years later I can look back and appreciate this time of my journey.
During my time in college I helped out with a high school Christian organization, called Intervarsity and during one lunch time session I recognized a similar fervor in a student presenting on creation science. A very intelligent young man was giving a thorough presentation on creationism and laid out convincing arguments that bashed Darwin’s evolutionary theory. For him, biblical chronology was a high priority and at one point he taught that Genesis’ literal accuracy was the foundation of the entire Biblical story; if it was not true than the validity of the entire scripture was in jeopardy. These assumptions made me nervous as a young religion scholar at Hope College but there was another creation science tendency that I also soon would reject. The emphasis turns to proving the Genesis account to be the exact way in which God created the earth. This causes some to draw the conclusion that God created the earth in seven days and then went back to heaven for all history. This implies a God who is far away and far too passive to put in him, all my trust and hope.
Today I fully believe that the connection between creation and Creator is intimate and dependant, for all time, because I believe all life comes from the hand of God. God did not create the earth in seven days and then leave, only to watch his drama unfold; nor did God set up a world with an evolutionary inkling only to leave and watch species adapt to eventually bring about human life. I believe all life comes from and is sustained by God. Apart from God, without his constant outpouring of grace I believe that I would die along with all else in this world. Here is the shift that has occurred in my belief. I used to think that the earth was placed on its perfect axis. Today I believe not only that God place the earth at the perfect angle circling the sun, but God holds it there. Not only did God know me before the foundations of the world, but it is only because of God that my heart beats and my lungs fill with oxygen. All life flows from God. What I mainly reject is that God is passive in creation throughout time. I maintain that God is actively involved in creating, sustaining and holding life. Psalm 139: 13 says, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.” Psalm 147:8-9 reads, “Who covers the heavens with clouds, Who provides rain for the earth, Who makes grass to grow on the mountains. He gives to the beast its food, and to the young ravens which cry.” This is not a picture of a God who is passive in relation to his creation but rather a God who carefully, and actively provides for all of creation; a God who knows what creation needs and provides it.
Is God still involved in this world today? (Providence)
As I mentioned in the previous section I whole-heartedly believe that God is in no way passive and just lets things happen by chance. God is not sitting in heaven, looking down as the drama of the earth unfolds. In fact I love how the Belgic Confession states this, “We believe that this good God, after creating all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to the holy divine will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without God’s orderly arrangement.” This means that I am not left to cruel chance/fate but rather I rest in the arms and providence of my creator God.
There are points in life when the loving guidance of God seem so apparently clear. Mostly this is true when looking at life. I know when I look back at my life and see how God brought me to the place where I am today it is a miracle. Even when I think about how I met my wife Evonne, it is a miracle! I can tell you that a flippant descision to try-out for an improvisational comedy team, my sophomore year in college eventually led me to California 3 years later where I met my wife, Evonne. It wasn’t like we were going to bump into each other in a local grocery store! God brought us together and was working to make that happen years before we even had a notion of one another. When I look back at these moments where God has blessed me with good gifts, it is natural and easy to remember and trust in his providence, but I will be the first to admit though that this is much easier to believe at some moments in life than others.
When I was in 3rd grade my teacher had us practice our writing skills by keeping a journal that she would respond to everyday. I can only imagine the work and time this took her every not, but this was why she was an excellent teacher. I remember specifically when she asked us to start writing three sentences and on some days I would manage this feat in under 10 words (pretty impressive lethargic tendencies). Aside from practicing my penmanship it offers a beautiful lens into my 3rd grade mind. When I read through bits of it with Evonne some moments were more memorable than others. About half-way through there is an entry that says, “There were ambulances at my neighbor Tiffany’s house last night. She went to the hospital. I think she will be ok.” The next day I wrote, “Tiffany died last night. She committed suicide.” I will never forget this moment in my life because Tiffany was my friend. She had a terrible time in High School but in my 3rd grade mind, she was a princess! Yet something made her take her own life…how could this be?!? “In such a way that nothing happens in this world without God’s orderly arrangement.” There are times when this is hard to believe and yet it is a far better option that to consider to alternative.
The Belgic Confession makes it very clear and I would agree that God is NOT the author of evil. This is a huge point of tension that I recognize and embrace. I believe that God is sovereign over all the earth. This means then that God is all powerful and in control of everything in heaven and on earth. Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” This means yes that nothing can happen outside of God’s providence! It may make us angry at God and question God, but he can handle that. The point is that even when loved ones are dying and things seem to be spinning out of control; the truth is they are not. God is in control. The God who loves us is in control and with us. The Christian hope is not that God will never allow evil to happen, but rather the Christian hope is that God’s children are never alone.
When we explore such matters it is crucial to again remember our place. We are creatures pondering the infinite creator God. Much will not make sense to us. Belgic speaks on this as well in the same article, “We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what God does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend.” This doctrine of God’s providence, which at times is incredibly difficult to believe also is a source of unspeakable comfort for me, “since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father.” I must take a humble approach to God who is beyond my understanding and at the same time I trust that God’s good purpose in my life will always prevail.
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
Chapter 3: Who is Jesus Christ?
- Who is Jesus Christ
- Dual Natures—incarnation!!
- Prophet, Priest, King
- Human Beings and Sin
- Theological Anthropology
- Problem of Sin
- Story of Salvation
- What is Salvation?
- How does it happen
Introduction: Jesus Christ…More than an Awesome Swear Word!
Several years ago I was a young 22-year-old serving a congregation as their Pastor of Youth and Outreach. Fresh out of college, I was full of energy and excited to share the hope I had found in Jesus Christ. I thought myself a young, slightly edgy youth pastor who was “cautiously rebellious” to the traditional church. Some of my cautious rebellion included wearing jeans to church, attempting skateboarding, and assist in thinking of ‘edgy’ Christian T-shirts. These T-shirts would in a backhanded sort of way point out something in culture or the western Church that the group of us thought was backwards in those cultures. One of my favorite shirts at the time just simply said, “Jesus Christ… More than an Awesome Swear Word!!” This pointed out how so many people flippantly use the name of Jesus Christ without even acknowledging whose name they are using. Today you could hear Jesus’ name and not be sure if it was in a sermon or during a game show. The point is, I hear people use his name all the time but who is this Jesus Christ anyways?
Who is Jesus Christ?
When I was young, things were simpler, so let’s start there. As I mentioned previously I had a certain image of God that I could draw with a box of crayons and a blank piece of paper. My visual image of Jesus was largely influenced by Old European Art; a tall brown-haired, bearded, European man wearing a white robe. As a little boy I thought this was Jesus and he was God’s Son in a same way I was my Dad’s son. Then I remember specifically one night when my Dad came into my bedroom and knelt at my bedside while I lay there comfortably under the covers. He told me how Jesus loved me (This I knew) and then asked if I wanted to ask Jesus in my heart. I said I did and then repeated a prayer that he prayed first. I knew then that I believed in Jesus and he was in my heart, but didn’t really think much about what it meant. I just knew it to be true. Jesus was also the reason that someday I could go to heaven when I die, because he died on the cross to save me from my sins. As I got older, however I started to slowly learn about what all that meant and by middle school something was added to my simple understanding.
It was in middle school when I found out that when Jesus was in your heart, you could have a relationship with him. In other words, I realized that I could interact with Jesus like I did with a friend. I remember closing my eyes to pray and imagining that Jesus was sitting next to my bed and I would just talk to him. This made a lot of sense to me and it explained why everyone kept telling me I had to pray and read my Bible; Jesus wants to talk with me and this is how it’s done. Then things got really complicated when someone explained to me that Jesus not merely God’s son but was actually God. I think I had to ask them to clarify, “You mean Jesus is God?”
Today I look back at my Christian journey and I am thankful for these milestones in my understanding. I want to affirm all of these and also suggest that these ideas about Jesus become more clear when the greater context of the Biblical story gets brought to the table. This story also becomes our story as we put our faith in Jesus Christ. Everything in the Biblical story directs us to a life of a man, Jesus Christ, that begins in the gospels.
Fully Human and Fully Divine… Some more illogical arithmetic
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This is the first line in the gospel of Mark and it mentions the good news of Jesus (the Lord’s Salvation) Christ (the anointed or Messiah), the Son of God. Jesus was sent by the Father in order to bring God’s salvific plans for the world. John 3:16-17 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” In our cultural context if someone were to ask who Leonardo DaVinci was most people would probably say that he was an artist. If someone asked who Jay Leno is, most people would respond that he is a talk show host. What I am getting at is this: in our culture we define who people are by what they do. Using this definition of identity then I can say that Jesus is the Messiah who came to save the world. We might then explore what that means and how that happens. This is a crucial question and topic to explore but here I want to reframe our understanding of identity. In the ancient world identity had more to do with whose you were, meaning people would identify themselves with their parents and family of origin. As we explore Jesus Christ in this section I do not want to focus on what Jesus does (we will do this later), but rather what makes Jesus worthy of the title Lord!
I have to admit that as I wondered how I would best fully depict what I affirm and believe about my Lord Jesus Christ, I was a little overwhelmed. There is so much I want to say and yet this paper has to have some kind of limit. Threfore, I will not try and reinvent the wheel but instead borrow something from our tradition to guide us in this noble task. The Nicene Creed says,
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father, through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
One of the most powerful words for me in this statement is incarnate or incarnation. The word incarnation comes from the Latin from “in- ‘in’ + caro (gen. carnis) ‘flesh,’” that is, “to make flesh” In the Christian tradition that I hold to, incarnation describes how the second person of the Trinity came to earth and took on the fullness of human flesh and dwelt among the people. Jesus the man was also divine, the Son of God. It seems we have another case of bad arithmetic when we add up the percentages. Jesus was 100% man and he was 100% divine! I was actually on the Math Team in high school and I know that one hundred percent plus one hundred percent equals two, not one! Both Christ’s oneness with the Father and his full humanity make it possible for us to be united to God. Next, I want to explore just how illogical the incarnation actually is according to our standards.
Imagine for a second that you are the most powerful person on planet earth. You not only have more money than you could even attempt to spend, but you also literally have power over most people on the planet. In this dream/nightmare you have the power to promote life or the power to kill and destroy. How quick would you be to give that all up and become the most helpless, vulnerable, dependant person on the entire planet? I can tell you that personally I rarely allow myself to get even the slightest bit uncomfortable or inconvenienced in any way. Yet, this, in a small way, is what the incarnation represents. God, who is all powerful, all knowing, all sustaining came to earth and took on flesh as a baby! Our Sovereign Lord became a helpless baby!
“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him with bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
I think I have heard this story so often that sometimes the gravity often gets lost on me. Think of this simple passage and imagine an infant. They are born naked, fragile, and dependent on their mother for food. If Mary had abandoned baby Jesus, he would have died. God put God’s self in the most vulnerable circumstances – as a baby in a barn! God did all this because of his self-sacrificing response and love for what he has made. God came to earth to live with us, to suffer just like us, and to die in our place in the person of Jesus Christ. This is so remarkable that I can’t understand how I so often take it for granted. Throughout the entire world people are in a search for meaning and truth. The world’s religions do this and even science is seeking after truth. The beautiful reality is this; Truth came down from heaven in a person, Jesus Christ.
As powerful and amazing as the concept of Jesus’ Incarnation is, the Nicene Creed has a lot more to say about Jesus Christ. The first part of the Creed talks extensively about Jesus as the co-eternal second person of the Trinity, the Son of God. It emphasizes Christ’s oneness with the Father and then speaks of his involvement in creation. We talked about this a little in the Trinity section of the paper but an important thing to remember is that the second person of the Trinity was not only present at the creation of the world but “through him all things were made.” In the second movement of the creed it shifts focus to Christ’s life and ministry on earth as the man Jesus of Nazareth. I affirm, along with the Creed, these points of Jesus’ ministry, death, resurrection and ascension, all told in the scriptures. Finally the third movement of the Creed speaks of where Jesus is now (seated at the right hand of the Father) and how he will return to bring forth his eternal Kingdom. This is why I along with Christians through the centuries have confessed, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”
Now that I have affirmed what I believe about Jesus, I want to take a moment and make this a little more personal; tug on our heart strings if you will. I do not affirm this Creed like I would affirm some historical fact or a scientific theory. This affirmation/belief has had deep life-changing meaning in my own life. I believe I am who I am because I have experienced Jesus’ love in my life on a personal level. I see Jesus all around me in my wife, in my friends, in a man on the streets. Christ’s body is present in Christ’s church! Jesus isn’t just present in my personal prayer life but he is present in all of life as I talk, listen, laugh, and cry with those I love and loathe in Christ’s body. I confess openly that I fail daily to remember this fact. There are moments when Christ’s presence by the power of the Holy Spirit becomes more apparent and sometimes it is in the most normal things in life. Sometimes this happens in Church during worship but it also has happened in my darkest moments of despair or in the most intense moments of love. Today, I also recognize Christ’s growing presence at the Lord’s Holy Table. The gathering of God’s people to partake together with the Lord Jesus is a special place. It is in Christ’s body that I experience oneness with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Human Beings and the Sin Problem
The name Jesus literally means ‘salvation.’ If Jesus came as a savior then it stands to reason that something or someone needs to be saved. That is where God’s creation, particularly the ones responsible for its broken state, come into the story. Human beings have a serious problem in our spiritual DNA – a sin problem. If we take a hard look at the world it does not take long to realize that something is not right. Sin has become infectious and pervasive. I look around the world and see genocide, terrorism, campaigns of hatred, and the list could continue. In our own country we have an “anything goes” perversion of sexuality, rape, murder, and drug use. Our children are exposed to all kinds of violence and evil at younger and younger ages. Society doesn’t help, pushing almost any agenda in the name of making a few bucks. When I look at my own life things don’t look much better. I am a materialistic, greedy, self-serving punk with moments of God’s grace on my best days (on my worst days I think I am just a jerk). Our sin has overflowed into God’s creation as well. I remember being a young child growing up on the north side of Milwaukee, WI. At least once or twice every summer we would go to Bradford Beach on beautiful Lake Michigan. It was a beautiful beach where people would gather in large numbers to swim and play volleyball. If you went to that same beach today I could almost guarantee it is barren with very small number of brave souls even getting near the polluted shores of the lake. That is sad to me and I think it saddens God to see what poor human care has done to a lake that was at one time, pristine. Sin is a problem and it has been a problem for sometime now.
Theological Anthropology… Are we accidental or intentional?
Anthropology is the study of human-kind. In this paper I do not wish to go much into human history or start talking about the origin of species and mention fossils of homo erectus. Here I want to address a very important theological point: “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” How profound to think that God created us in his own image! It is clear the human race has certain capacities that are beyond any other living creature. Intellectually we are leaps and bounds beyond even the smartest chimpanzee. As we look a little closer at the creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 three themes jump out regarding theological anthropology.
The first is this: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” God’s intention for the creation was good. In this way human beings were made good and bear the image of God. This is an honor and privilege. This does not mean we should regard the rest of creation as less than good, but it also does not mean we should sulk in our own sinfulness. Sin was not the original intent nor will it have the final word.
The second theme I want us to get at is this: “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” God took care in forming the man in the garden. There is an intimacy being described here between creation and Creator. In the same way we hear echoes of this intimacy with human creation throughout scripture, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” God’s intimacy shows his care and love for us and shows the deep value he holds towards his creation. Furthermore, all life comes from God (breath of life).
Human beings have a special relationship with the creator that is unlike any other living being. Bearing the image of God, human kind has a responsibility to God’s creation. This brings us to the third theme: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” Since God has made us in his image we are chosen as the keepers of the garden. This includes the whole of creation. We have a responsibility to love and care for one another and the earth, and it is easy to see how we fail in this everyday.
Problem of Sin…This one is easy to see
I am reminded of a time in my life when I took advantage of a relationship and place of leadership. I was a senior in High School and was a passionate young believer who happened to be student leader in my youth group. That summer before my Senior year, we took a trip to Six Flags Great America, a theme park on the Wisconsin-Illinois border. I had become quite close with the youth pastor, Craig and he trusted me with a lot of responsibility in the youth group. For this trip he gave us a time of eight o’clock sharp to meet at the entrance of the park to leave for home. Since we needed to be home by 10 pm I thought this was a little extreme and ended up strolling up to the group at around 8:30 pm with an ice cream cone in my hand. Let’s just say Craig was not happy with me and he let me know how selfish it was to make all these people wait because I had a craving for dairy. He had handed over responsibility and leadership to me. He trusted me to follow through and I had failed him. This story is a small example of sinfulness, but the fact is, this same disregard for other people has led to far worse behavior! God trusted Adam and Eve in the garden and they failed him as well. It does not matter how righteous we might try to portray ourselves to be, the truth is we all are affected by this same sinfulness of the garden that pushes us toward self-preservation. We do not need to look far in our world to see how the human race is infected with sin. What is a more beneficial and important exercise is to look into our own lives and see how sin has pervasively infected our entire beings.
As we begin looking at salvation, it is crucial that we not only look toward the good future we have in Christ but to also look back at the salvation story. It starts in the Garden when we remember that God created us good for a good purpose. We remember this because this is where God is taking us, to a place and time where the sin problem is no more, because “he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” Salvation is in Christ, and this was God intention since the beginning. The Old Testament is the story of God’s redemption of the world through his chosen people of Israel. These people were fallen and sinful just like us today. Full redemption could only happen when he sent his Son, Jesus Christ to save the world. It took the death of his Son for God’s redeeming work to finally be made complete, and when Jesus comes again this Salvation story will enter its final chapter as we spend eternity with our Creator and Lord. This new/old reality of salvation is prophesied in the book of Revelation when the words of the prophet Isaiah are echoed,
See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.
What is Salvation? More than future real estate!
When most people in evangelical circles speak of salvation they are usually referring to a place – heaven. This description of salvation falls short on many levels. Salvation is life in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is more than a future reality. It is a present reality that someday will reach its fullness when Christ comes again. Salvation is already, but not yet. Christ’s death and resurrection is sufficient in its saving power and yet the fullness of restoration for all creation is pending Christ’s return.
Atonement Theory…More than a magic prayer!
Ever since praying the prayer to ask Jesus into my heart with my dad at my bedside I have learned more and things have in some ways have become more confusing. We talked about who Jesus is and now it is time to explore what Jesus did/does. This brings up the idea of Atonement, what did Jesus do in order that our own sinfulness would not condemn us! When I was a child it was simple and I just believed in this; Christ died on the cross so that when I die I can go to heaven. Now that I am older I wonder how does this work? It is crucial to remember that we may never fully understand but let us explore briefly some ways the faith has best understood Christ’s atonement. The atoning work of Jesus Christ can be understood under the three-fold office of King, priest, and prophet; and is the means by which God’s people receive salvation and live it out.
As the task of exploring these three theories of atonement gets underway, it is important to make clear that no theory has received ecumenical approval. These “theories” cannot fully grasp what happened on the cross but they do force believers to take a serious look at the amazing thing that did happen. All theory should take into account not just Christ’s death on the cross, but also his entire life. The first of the three most common theories can be understood under the context of Christ’s Kingly office. This is often called the Christ as Victor theory. In this theory, atonement is found in the struggle between God and the evil forces in the world. Jesus defeats the evil powers and principalities, which hold humanity captive because of our sin. Freedom for humanity is found in the “foolish wisdom of the cross.” This theory shows that God does not fight evil with evil but through the power of love. The danger of this atonement theory comes when believers misconstrue its meaning to think that the fight of evil is completed in the sense that human beings have no responsibility. Yet it does recognize that there are forces in this world greater than we might realize. Another office in Calvin’s three-fold Christology is Christ as Priest.
The second atonement theory, which can be connected to Christ’s office of Priest, is commonly referred to as the satisfaction theory. This theory is rooted in the Middle Age context of the feudal system. In this theory, human beings owe an infinite debt to the Lord because of our sin, and this debt must be satisfied or the punishment carried out. Migliore sums this up well when he writes, “While humanity must provide this satisfaction, only God can provide it.” What Migliore is saying is that humans owe an insurmountable debt to God because of our sin and yet only an infinite God can pay it off. Therefore God was incarnated as a human being to pay this debt. This theory emphasizes Christ’s humanity and the severity of our own sin, which are both important truths. However, a huge problem arises when one follows this logic to deduce that grace is conditional on satisfaction. This is a big problem because then it contradicts the idea that grace is freely given out of love. This leads us into the third theory of atonement, which is best seen through Christ’s office of prophet.
The third common theory is called the moral influence theory, or the “subjective” theory. This theory hinges on the fact that Christ’s love shown on the cross for us is so compelling that “we are constrained to respond in wonder and gratitude.” Atonement is only completed then when a person’s life is transformed by faith. This theory emphasizes the unconditional grace of this atonement and the importance of human response. Its weaknesses are that it imposes blindness to the sinfulness and brokenness of the world. It seems then that each theory has something valuable to offer but each alone somehow lacks in full revelation. I believe this has to do with the fact that humans are trying to describe the infinitely awesome work of Christ with words and will always come up short. This is why the Bible uses a variety of metaphors for atonement in different parts of the New Testament. This is also why I think Calvin, Barth, and I prefer to use all three of these theories (under the framework of Calvin’s threefold office Christology) as an inclusive way of describing the atoning work of Christ. Humans need all the help they can get to even begin to grasp at the inspiring greatness of God’s love.
It is important to note that each of these add up to a better understanding of how atonement works, but none of them can capture how it works fully. I would say that the value of these theories comes from the fact that they force Christians to pause and ponder the infinitely painful, costly, and loving gift God has given. Humans have this insatiable need to try and understand how things work, and I do believe, for the most part, that this is a good thing. At the same time, I would argue that trying to understand exactly how Christ’s work of atonement “works” is not as important as the fact itself that it actually does “work.” I love how C. S. Lewis puts it in his well-known book Mere Christianity,
The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work.
This is the good news of the gospel – that Christ is the atoning sacrifice for all believers and allows us to come before God. It makes me want to get up and rejoice because this gift of grace is so amazing. We should rejoice in the fact that atonement “works” and allows believers to live out salvation.
Now that we have looked in depth at the person of Jesus Christ, I would like us to get back to the heart of this discussion. The last thing I want is for theological inquiry to turn Jesus into a theory or a topic of study. Jesus is still my savior, Lord, and friend. Jesus is why I am who I am and why I am writing this paper today. God came to earth to be with his children in the form of an infant, "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" - which means, "God with us.” Through Jesus, God is with us!
Chapter 4: Who is the Holy Spirit?
2. Who is the Holy Spirit?
3. Grace Abundant: The Spirit’s work in the World…
4. The Spirit’s particular work in the community of Faith.
a. Tickets not for sale: Salvation
b. Why Try? Predestination
c. Sacraments Re-imagined: As Thin Places
In a previous chapter I talked about how I remember drawing a picture or God when I was young. I can also say that I can close my eyes and picture some image of Jesus Christ in my head. However, when it comes to the Holy Spirit I do not think I have ever had a good mental picture of the Holy Spirit. Interestingly enough I think the only image I can remember ever using to represent the Holy Spirit would be that of a dove. A great friend of mine has a tattoo on his arm, which consists of an outline of a dove in black ink. As the lines from the wings flow toward the back of the dove towards the tail they intertwine and form the image of a fish. It really is a cool looking tattoo and has become the only visual image for the Holy Spirit in my life.
This is probably not a surprise since I grew up in a tradition that has not always been very conscientious of the third person of the Trinity. Part of this is because I think my tradition has a strong emphasis on logical history and academic theology as means to know the living God. Other traditions put greater emphasis on the mystic experiences as window into the presence of the divine. As a young high school student this pocket of the Christian faith made me uncomfortable. I remember while working for a hotel in Brown Deer we had a chance to witness a charismatic church group’s weekend event. Most people do not realize that the doors on these banquet halls have peep-holes and neither did this particular church group. My friends and I watched as different members of the church were shaking, falling, and weeping as spirits were cast from them. Then they were covered with a white sheet as they lay on the floor. We were baffled and slightly disturbed. It was not much longer when my dad was accused of hindering the Spirit because he would not promote tongue speaking in our small reformed church. As a son this angered me. Later on as I reflect on this it made me wonder what this congregant was thinking and it made me ponder how else the Holy Spirit was at work in my church home.
In this chapter we will explore not only who the Holy Spirit is, but also look at what the Holy Spirit does in the world. Does the Spirit work in the church through tongue speaking and prophesy today? Are their other ways that the Spirit works in the church outside of the recent charismatic phenomenon? What is the Holy Spirit’s role in the world and in the church?
Who is the Holy Spirit?
Again I think it is first a good exercise to explore together who the Holy Spirit is before we get into the roles of the third person of the Trinity. This is a hard task for me personally because I identify the Holy Spirit more than either of the other two persons of the God-head by what the Spirit does (economically). Some of this we addressed in Chapter 1 in the revelation and inspiration of our Holy scriptures. It is for this reason that I want to take a look back at both the Scriptures and the confessions of our reformed tradition as the guides for this conversation.
The Bible mentions the Spirit of God throughout the Old Testament scriptures but the specific references of the explicit third person of the God-head are most notably in the Christian New Testament. It is important to note that although there may be implicit evidence of the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity in the Old Testament this is a distinctly Christian doctrine. Ancient Jews would not even have a category for this when they looked at their Bible and therefore I will not spend much time addressing this implicit glances at my Christian belief in the Old Testament. There are several places in the New Testament where a Trinitarian language occurs in a benediction, baptism or baptismal liturgy. Here the Holy Spirit is named as a distinct person in the Trinity (Matt 3: 16-17; 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14). Most helpful is probably the gospel of John, which gives us the promise of the Holy Spirit to the disciples spoken by Jesus. This dialogue occurs in John 14,
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live… I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
Jesus tells his disciples and also the church to come that he will be leaving to return to his Father but we shall not be left orphaned. The Advocate will come and reside in us! This Advocate Jesus speaks of is the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. This Spirit of truth will continue to teach and be a presence on earth after Jesus’ ascension. The Holy Spirit is God’s very real, particular presence with us through the church and that is the most amazing gift. The only way the Spirit could take Jesus’ place as our advocate is if the Spirit is fully God, which is what the Reformed confessions affirm.
Article 11 of the Belgic Confession states, “We believe and confess also that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son—neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but only proceeding from the two of them. In regard to order the Spirit is the third person of the Trinity—of one and the same essence, and majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son. The Spirit is true and eternal God, as the Holy Scriptures teach us.” It is this last line of that I wish to focus on. The Holy Spirit is “true and eternal God.” I believe this to be the case because if this were not true; if the Spirit were in actuality a member of creation, how could we as believers be united to the Son of God by a creature? I do not believe it would be possible. The Spirit’s effectiveness depends on this distinction – the Holy Spirit is true and eternal God! Now it is about time that we explore more deeply the Spirit’s role on earth as our advocate.
Grace Abundant: The Spirit’s work in the World…
Throughout a person’s life they have these moments when some new/fresh truth hits them in a particularly enlightening way. In the seminary institution where I am currently studying we refer to this moment as the “Aha moment!” If we are lucky there might be a handful of these moments where the Spirit is opening our eyes to some major truth. Although I do believe that true “Aha moments” are part of the Spirit’s work in the world, it is a specific “Aha moment” I wish to discuss right now. This moment occurred my first year in seminary during a Theology and Worship class my first semester at Western, when I finally wrapped my mind around the words of the Nicene Creed, “we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.” Suddenly something became very clear to me while at the same time a piece of my enlightened modern self began to slowly dissolve away – confidence in my own autonomy. For most of my life, I took for granted the fact that my heart was beating and I had oxygen to fill my lungs. I believed God created life but I did not really consider that God might hold all of life as we discussed in Chapter 2. What I realized during that class was that God gave this body of mine life. God’s providence holds my life up just as my skeleton gives my body structure integrity. Without God, life would cease to exist. Where it really hit was when I realized that the Spirit of God that hovered over the waters in Genesis is still present in the world today. Furthermore this same breath of life in Genesis 2 that filled Adam’s lungs fills my own lungs. Interestingly enough, Spirit and Breath come from the same Hebrew word Ruah and I believe it is not an accident! What this means is that all of life begins from the Creator and can continue because of the Sustainer. Since all of life is upheld by God’s hand in the world, then all of the world experiences God’s grace in every breath of air and drop of water. God’s abundant grace extends to all of the earth every moment of everyday and the fullness of this grace comes through in the particular person of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit’s particular work in the community of Faith…
As I have stated throughout this work, I am only a finite human being with very limited understanding of the divine. Considering God’s infinite, sovereign nature, this attempt at logical expositions seems at best laughable. I want to state clearly that I do not know all the ways in which the Holy Spirit works within Christ’s church, nor do I pretend to know the limits of the Church’s reach. However, I do believe God accommodates God’s self to people so we shall continue in our venture and explore three areas where I do believe the Holy Spirit is continually at work in a particular way. The Holy Spirit works in people’s salvation, their election, and in the Holy Sacraments.
Tickets not for sale: Salvation
In the previous chapter we discussed Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Atonement is the reason why followers of Christ can receive the precious gift of salvation. Without Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection, salvation would not be possible. When I was a young man, the predominant view of Christian salvation was simple; after one dies she/he will go to heaven if he/she has asked Jesus into her/his heart. I was taught heaven was somewhere else and the main goal here on earth was to get there someday. Passages like Mark 16:19, which say, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God,” reinforced this reasoning. This view can be dangerous because it tends to lead believers down the road of devaluing creation and under-appreciating this life here on earth. In my experience, this idea of salvation as my ticket to heaven led me to fall into an elitist mindset. I thought more of myself because I had made the right decision to follow Christ. This is when it got dangerous for my life, because this sort of thinking is counter to the teachings of Christ and in many ways is counterproductive to God’s coming Kingdom. These temptations combined with what I read in scripture, tells me that a fuller understanding of salvation should somehow include my life here on earth.
Salvation is a gift from God through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. It is living abundant life through communion with Christ through the Holy Spirit for all eternity. The main switch in my understanding occurred with the realization that such communion begins here on earth as my relationship with Christ develops. I could begin to experience this life abundant here and now amidst the despair and pain of this broken world. The best way to put this into words is by understanding salvation as justification, sanctification, and vocation.
Earlier in this paper I talked a lot about atonement. I believe God reveals to us through faith the forgiveness of sins by Christ’s death, and in this way God makes the godless to be just! This is called justification. As Migliore puts it, “We are justified by grace through faith.” Justification is the moment we confess that Jesus is Lord of our lives. In this moment of ultimate God-given grace we are justified. What follows is what is called sanctification and vocation.
Sanctification means “to make holy,” and Migliore further defines it as “the process of growth in Christian love.” The term growth has become a popular term in Western Christianity today, but I like the point Michael Yaconelli makes when he writes,
I don’t believe in spiritual growth. Maybe I should clarify. I don’t believe in what most people mean by spiritual growth. Spiritual growth has become an industry, a system, a set of principles, formulas, training programs, curricula, books, and tapes which, if followed, promise to produce maturity and depth… …Authentic growth doesn’t happen overnight. It can’t be reduced to a formula (take some verses, wash down with a couple of prayers, and call me in the morning).
We have reduced Christian growth in America to some 12-step program, when really it is something more complicated and beautiful. Sanctification is about growing closer to Christ through prayer, the Word of God, and the work of the Holy Spirit. As a person allows Christ into their lives more and more, God forms that person to look more and more like Jesus. A person cannot get close to God without it affecting them in a serious way. As the Holy Spirit continuously forms and sustains us, we more fully begin to live out our salvation here on earth. This living out of our salvation leads us to ask, “What does this life work toward?” This leads to the Christian vocation, which is the third aspect of salvation through Christ.
Vocation is a Christian’s duty in working toward God’s goal of restoring all creation back to him. Ever since the Fall God has been patiently suffering alongside His people as both people and God work to restore a broken world and humanity. Part of salvation in the present is working toward that near future when Jesus Christ returns and the fullness of God’s Kingdom is restored. This is not some passive sort of waiting for God to do God’s thing. This is an active privilege. Christians are chosen to be a part of this restoration of God’s Kingdom on earth. True followers of Christ are the means by which God reveals himself to humankind in the present. Furthermore, they have a responsibility to bring forth God’s Kingdom on this earth. We ask for this in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Thus, salvation changes from a place we go after death to an amazing gift that we begin to experience now. This is how salvation fits into the model of the “already but not yet.” We begin to experience the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ here and now, but the fullness of this gift will be completed in the near future when Christ returns.
God’s gift of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection by the power of the Holy Spirit is a gift of grace that is bigger, wider and broader than our categories of heaven. Through this gift of love we are able to experience unity with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ holds us in a fiery, loving embrace that not only comforts but also changes us to become people who begin to resemble Christ. All of this happens because God is in the business of restoring God’s people back to him. Talk about ridiculous love for a broken world! This will continue until someday when Christ returns and his Kingdom will be restored on earth. It will be a “day” of unexplainable joy and perfect love. A day when tears will only come out of gladness, a day when death and hate will no longer be a part of our vocabulary, and a day when perfect union with our triune God will finally be possible.
Why Try? Predestination/Election
Throughout history, Christians have debated whether God’s sovereignty chooses and wills people to have faith in God through Jesus Christ or if it is by their own free-will. In our daily human experience, it is plain to see that we have a very real sense of freewill. At this very moment I am drinking a soda and typing the words on this page. I chose to drink the soda by my own freewill. However, it is funny to also note that the Dean of Students (a greater power) made the decision that I would write this paper if I wanted to graduate from Western Theological Seminary! Sure, that is a silly example of two opposite sides of the debate between sovereignty and free will but it many ways I think the debate itself is silly. Christians have debated for centuries between predestination and freewill, but I think they are better held in tension. Such a tension illuminates our limited human capacities, because we cannot reconcile how these two realities coexist: A Sovereign God and Experienced Human Freewill.
What I have always liked about Calvinist theology is its emphasis on God’s sovereignty. This was a significant concern for Calvin himself and I think we must remember this as we do theology, especially concerning Predestination. This means we need to approach the issue with great humility and maybe even some trepidation. Here is what I want to affirm: I believe God is Sovereign. This means I believe God has supreme authority and power over all creation. This does not mean that I deny the perceived reality of freewill. I know we all experience choice in everyday life and I want to affirm this reality. What is beautiful though is to look back at one’s life and see how these seemingly meaningless, free choices were key in bringing one to the place in life where they find themselves. These choices are construed by God into his will for our lives, and I think we only see this when we look back. For example, I can tell you that if I would not have chosen to try out randomly for a college comedy team I would never have met my wife Evonne three years later! It is crazy how God works in the seeming randomness of life that is our choices! I wish to hold both these realities of free will and sovereignty in tension because I believe they are both true.
This is especially true when we think about how God’s chosen people confess Christ as Lord. The church cannot be something that is outside God’s sovereignty. I do believe that God calls and seeks after his children to come to faith in Jesus Christ. We do not have the ability to seek out and find God on our own, but rather God is seeking after us. It is just that God’s seeking occurs through the seeming randomness of our daily choices, which are then beautifully woven into God will for our lives. The call then is to strive to be faithful in all of our choices, not because God’s will depends on them, but because God does choose to work through each choice we make. I do not fully understand this but I do think it is a beautiful dance of Divine Sovereignty and human choice where God takes the lead.
What does it mean that God has chosen a people to be his own (the Elect)? This is a question that will have to wait till chapter 5… get excited!
Sacraments Re-imagined: As Thin Places
For most of my life I saw the sacraments as tools of remembrance – relics of our Christian tradition that have endured for centuries. They were mere symbols of a deeper truth – the love relationship between God and Christians. In all honesty I thought a church could continue even if these tools and symbols were not used regularly. After all, I believed we still had praise music and the Bible, and they were in many respects better avenues to enter into the presence of God. Today this weak view of the sacraments is drastically changing. It started in seminary when I finally began to entertain and then embrace the idea that maybe there was something more going on during these ancient Christian rituals.
Franz Wright puts this beautifully when he says, “A sacrament both represents, in a graphic and dramatic way, the state of grace it conveys and also creates an event-situation that predisposes the person receiving the sacrament to experience grace.” I think this statement gets at where I currently am when it comes to the sacraments, because it holds the mystery of the moment. I cannot fully describe what it means to “create an event-situation that predisposes” a person to experience grace. If I am honest with myself, I also cannot claim that I have experienced some euphoric, mystical moment while I participated in the supper. All I can say is that I believe the sacraments do create an event-situation that predisposes the participant to experience grace. The Holy Spirit is the key player in this event-situation.
I believe baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the two sacraments of the Christian faith, which all Christian communities have been participating in for almost two thousand years. Christ ordained future followers of the Way to continue living out these sacraments as a testimony of the Holy Scriptures. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.” In Luke 22:19 after breaking bread Jesus says, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." Additionally in the words of institution Paul writes, “do this in remembrance of me." Both of these Holy Sacraments are commanded to us and yet there is something more to be said about the Sacraments. There is something unifying and mysterious found in the promises offered and the gifts of grace received in the sacraments.
I believe there is much going on in the sacrament of baptism. I previously believed that this was a time when parents and a congregation make a promise to raise the child in the faith. I now see it as a time when God makes a covenant promise to the infant and the community. The covenant promise once sealed in circumcision is now signed and sealed in baptism. (Col. 2: 11-12) It is because I believe that God is making a covenant promise and is therefore the “primary mover”, in this sacrament I believe that infant baptism is a proper Christian practice. Anyone who is not baptized as an infant and therefore wants to become baptized when they come to faith in Christ should also be baptized. I believe someone should only be baptized once (Eph 4:5) because it is a sign that only needs to be done once. To baptize a second time would in a sense be saying that the first baptism did not count or that God’s promise was not fully given in that baptism. I believe God’s promises are true and faithful. In baptism, a person is initiated in the body of Christ. By the power of the Spirit and by God’s initiative, we are united to Christ and therefore united to the body of believers. This offer is only received by faith, which is given appropriately and in grace by God. I do not believe salvation is found in the act of baptism. Salvation is found by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8). Baptism is the visible sign of the covenant promise of God.
This gift of grace initiated in baptism is continually offered at the Table in Christian communities. A tangible gift, it reminds us of the sacrifice of Christ offered once and for all on the cross. It is also a means of grace in and of itself. The promise here is the promise that Christ gave when he said, “this is my body…” and “this is my blood…” Christ is present by the power of the Holy Spirit in this Holy Supper and when we feast on the bread and drink of the cup we are united to him and to each other! We receive this gift and are united by the power of the Spirit through faith. This union is mysterious and my modern logical self gravitates toward a feast of remembrance. However I see value and consistency in viewing this feast as a gift of grace where the Spirit through his grace and my faith unites me to Christ. In this Supper, the church is accessing the Word Jesus Christ and it is through the gospel message and the sacraments that God reveals the Word of truth to us. I believe human beings are simple beings who need tangible means of grace, and the sacraments are a way that God offers such tangibility because God knew we needed it. Communion is not in itself a ticket to salvation, but Christ is present in this feast and believers who receive it in faith are united to Christ by the power of the Spirit. Communion is therefore a sign and foretaste of God’s kingdom!
In many ways the Holy Spirit is a mystery to me because I still cannot logically identify nor picture in my mind a clear image of the third person. In many respects I could echo the pop band U2 and say, “He moves in mysterious ways,” but of course that would be cheesy to do. The truth is I see the Spirit at work through the people of God, in the Word and Sacrament, and in other less definable ways in my own experience. My belief in the Holy Spirit then is not contingent on my complete understanding of the Spirit but rather only more encouraged by my continual experience with the Spirit in my life. It is the Spirit that ensures me that I am not alone but Christ dwells within me and I in him. Thanks be to God for sending us this Advocate. Alleluiah!
Chapter 5: Who Are the People of God?
II. Who are the People of God
a. Covenant People - the Elect (Covenant/Election)
b. Modern Ecclesiology- The Church (Ecclesiology)
i. What makes a group of people the church/a church? (Christian Practices)
ii. How the church lives crucially matters! (Ethics)
III. Where is the Spirit Leading them?
a. The Final Lord’s Day: A Christian Eschatology of Redemption
b. What does that mean for the Church right now? Ushering in the Kingdom…
It was a warm summer night and my friends and I decided we would have a campout in my buddy’s backyard. We were in high school and so some would think that was a little childish, but we embraced our nerdy tendencies and decided to go for it. I remember envisioning the night going a certain way. Much of this included getting a television outside, staying up late, eating tons of junk food and talking about the latest crush. Turns out the only aspect of my vision that came to fruition was the “staying up late.” Four Sophomore boys in a tent ended up staying awake till 4 in the morning talking about faith and life. There are few moments in my life where I remember the obvious moving of the Holy Spirit in such a transformative way! This one night truly changed my life! We talked about how we believed in Jesus Christ and then started exploring the consequences of this expressed faith. We recognized that we were not living in ways that showed we had any Christian convictions – mostly in how we had treated peers at school. From this one night of juvenile conversation I realized that how I live my life as a Christ follower really mattered. How I treated others was a reflection and an expression of my faith.
In a way that is what this chapter is all about – how does the Church live into her call as the body of Christ? First, we will explore together who this community is that Christ affectionately calls his bride. Second, we will discern the implications of our devotion to Christ with regard to our role in the redemption of the world. It is important to remember that we will in no way be able to compile some comprehensive list of “tasks for redemption” nor should we. Instead, the goal of this chapter is to first identify the people of God and then try to figure out as best we can what it means to be faithful in a world that is frail and broken.
Who are the People of God
For almost two thousand years the Christian faith has followed Scripture’s lead in giving the people of God the title of the Church. “Church” in the English language has a few definitions. The title is used for gatherings of Christ followers in a specific location, or it can be used to refer to the entirety of confessing Christian believers. This section will predominately be referring to the latter definition, which is also referred to as the “Church universal.” A recent trend in American Christian culture has been this tendency to hate on the church and love Jesus. Now, I will be the first to admit that the church does not necessarily have the greatest track record, and often it can be quite ugly. That being said, this new American Christian trend has some fundamental flaws. The Bible calls the church both Christ’s bride and his body. We cannot love Jesus and hate his bride, much less his body! If we take this seriously, which I think we should, then the church is Jesus! God chose the church as his instrument of redemption on earth in much the same way God chose Israel for this purpose before Christ. Is it true that the Church is broken and seemingly covered in warts? Yes, and more often than I would like to admit. Isn’t it also true though that a child can greatly disappoint his parents but he nevertheless remains their child? Yes! We are not the church because we always act in a way that reflects and glorifies our divine parent. We are the church because God has chosen us and he calls us his children! We are Christ’s own.
Covenant People – the Elect
The doctrine of election has been a hotly debated issue because it often addresses the question of how God deals with our eternal destiny. Throughout my seminary career, I have come to a greater appreciation for John Calvin, who, for many is synonymous with the doctrine of election (often in a negative way). I believe Calvin was wise when he wrote in his preface to election,
Human curiosity renders the discussion of predestination, already somewhat difficult of itself, very confusing and even dangerous. No restraints can hold it back from wandering in forbidden bypaths and thrusting upward to the heights…when they inquire into predestination they are penetrating the sacred precincts of divine wisdom. If anyone with carefree assurance breaks into this place, he will not succeed in satisfying his curiosity and he will enter a labyrinth from which he can find no exit.
Calvin recognized that the discussion of predestination is a dangerous path to tread but I think Daniel Migliore took a wise path when he discussed Election in his book Faith Seeking Understanding.
In Migliore’s opinion, using the Doctrine of Election to justify how some individuals do not accept the gospel as truth misses the point of the Doctrine itself. The Doctrine of Election is God’s gracious, loving choice “to share with others God’s life in communion.” This is a communion that is perfectly present in the triune God. This election involves God’s creation of community of people who join in communion by his grace and love. Too often we reduce this rich doctrine into two simple categories: the elect who are saved, and the not elect who are damned. As people attempting to be faithful followers of the one true God it is important to step back and take a deep, humble, God-given breath of air. This Doctrine of Election is a very deep, complex, and seemingly paradoxical doctrine of the faith. Followers of Christ need to be humble as they explore his wonder, might, and infinite nature. Trying to understand God’s character is good as long as one remembers their limitations. To me the good reflex to privilege God’s Sovereignty has led us to hold to the Doctrine of Election and yet too often we tend to ignore the very real experience of human freewill. The important shift that Migliore makes is that Election teaches we are chosen and so we must ask ourselves what does it mean to be God’s chosen?
This new framework of how we think of God’s elect is not a foreign concept. In the Bible the people of Israel were God’s chosen people. In the same way that Israel was chosen, the elect or the church is God’s chosen people today. For the people of Israel, this was rarely a position that meant a privileged earthly existence, but rather it meant they had a deep responsibility to live into God’s call for them. It is no different for the church today. Election is not be a doctrine that should further promote the distorted idea that we who believe are somehow better than the rest, but rather it is a doctrine that should force believers to bow down in worship and praise. The fact that God chose to be in communion with His people is reason for thanksgiving and humble adoration. God’s grace should spur believers on to showing grace and living the gospel of Jesus Christ. Election is not merely an issue of salvation, as if to say that once one realizes their election, she/he may breath a sigh of relief because she/he has ‘made the cut.’ Election has to include pondering why those who follow were chosen. Our reason is because God has chosen us to be the means by which he redeems this world. Followers are chosen as Paul puts it, “so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles.” Just as God chose Israel for this task through Christ, Christians are now the elect who are chosen to bring God’s kingdom to this world. Migliore has a beautiful way of summing up this doctrine when he writes,
The content of this doctrine is not the “dreadful” news that the purpose of God from all eternity is to save a certain number of elect and condemn a certain number of reprobate. The mystery of election is the mystery of God’s will from the foundation of the world to share with others God’s own life in communion to the praise of God’s glorious grace.
The world would benefit if faithful followers of Christ would keep in mind that God’s gospel of grace and love is more important than our need to be right or understood. God has chosen to accomplish his purposes for earth through the church. Now it is time to explore how we can identify the church on earth.
After speaking about our calling and election as God’s people, it is appropriate to begin to explore what this chosen people do together. The first aspect of what the church does is occurs during the time on Sundays (or Saturdays) when Christ’s body gathers for the specific purpose of communal worship through Word and sacrament. This particular gathering/community of faith meets to worship the One who has called them together. This communal worship is one of the essential practices of the Church because it forms and shapes how the people of God live in this world. Therefore, it is only appropriate that we start our conversation about the church talking this particular gathering of the local church.
The local church in America has traditionally has been defined as a building with specific architectural features. People go to “church” in order to learn how to ride a bicycle in the parking lot. In many cases there is not much that would differentiate a church building today from an office park or a storefront. But I believe that what defines the church has to involve something much deeper. Our forefathers were well aware of this reality and that is why our confessional statements include the Marks of the True Church. In Article 29 of the Belgic Confession it states, “The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: the church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults.” The Belgic Confession gives us three marks of the true church – Preaching of the Word, Sacraments, and church discipline. Although the first two marks are fairly straight forward, I want to quickly make a comment about church discipline. I believe church discipline is something that goes beyond punishment or chastisement. Church discipline can be summed up as sanctification in community. Walking with and growing in Christ is not something we do alone but rather something we do together. The Christian church community sharpens one another, encourages one another, and teaches one another in order that we better reflect Christ in this world. That is church discipline. When a gathering of people includes Word, Sacrament, and discipline then a simple gathering of people becomes the body of Christ incarnate in the world. Such marks are what distinguishes the local worshipping body from other gatherings of people.
Where is the Spirit Leading Us?
Where is the Spirit leading us? I have often wondered at this question, especially when acting in a Christian leadership role. As a youth pastor, I wanted to know where this youth group was going. What was the point of all these weekly meeting and weekly headaches? I think many church leaders ask this same question. Rick Warren asked it, and he ended up writing a book called The Purpose Driven Life. Now I might not agree with every premise in Warren’s book but I do believe he is onto something. Finding purpose is important for our lives, because our purpose will impact how we live today. This question that we are asking is much bigger than what either I was asking or Rick Warren. What I want to talk about is the purpose or end goal of the church. In fact, I want to ponder the question of where the Spirit is leading the people of God and all of creation. I believe the church the world is moving toward a final Lord’s day when the whole world will be redeemed.
The Final Lord’s Day: A Christian Eschatology of Redemption
In high school after returning from a mission trip to Juarez, Mexico I decided that I wanted to learn to play the guitar. If I am really honest with myself I think there were two driving motivations to this desire. The first was that I noticed this kid on the trip who was playing his guitar and all these cute girls would flock to him. Pretty pathetic motivation I realize, but for a high school punk it made some sense. The second reason was that this trip was actually very formative and I really wanted to play guitar in order to lead people in worship. Leading God’s people in worship turned out to be the real motivating factor in this musical journey and has been what really stuck. I taught myself to play guitar and the only tools I used were a chord book, some worship songs with the guitar chords listed, and some assistance from my youth pastor. With in a year, a couple friends and I were leading worship for our youth group on Sunday nights. One of the songs I started to learn in high school was a song by DcTalk entitled I Wish We’d All Been Ready. In essence, the song was based on the Left Behind novel series or the rapture. I have never read one of these books but the song talked about how two people would be laying in bed or working in a field and one would get sucked up into heaven. Then the tag line would be “I wish we’d all been ready.” I learned this song; sang this song; and pretty soon I began to believe it. Today many Christians believe this is an accurate depiction of the end of days, but I have since changed my eschatological vision.
Eschatology is a fancy way of saying, “the study of the end times,” and we in academia like to throw these words around because it makes us feel smart. That being said, eschatology is an important area to explore and I would like to propose that instead of using Christian novels or pop songs, we use the Bible as our source for this study. There are several prophetic visions of the last days throughout the Bible. One such vision that has been influential in my life is from Isaiah 2: 1-5
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
Isaiah is giving us a vision of the final Lord’s day when all people will stream to the house of the Lord! This is a Kingdom vision. The Lord is finally recognized as the Sovereign King by the entire earth. Furthermore, in this vision, the Lord is the Judge and arbitrator of the peoples in a way that peace shall reign on all the earth. Revelation 20 and 21 can give additional insight into this final day when the Lord Jesus returns.
I have not thoroughly worked with these passages in Revelation in order to determine what is allegorical or literal. In many ways I do not know if I ever can make that determination with confidence. I do believe that the details of events that will occur when Christ returns are a mystery. What I can take from Revelation is that Jesus will come again, the devil will be bound up, and evil destroyed. A judgment will occur before our Lord who is seated on a throne. At the culmination of this judgment, the fullness of God redemptive plan will be realized. It’s beautiful. The brokenness, the pain, the stuff of misery will be made new – healed and restored. The perfection of the garden will return in the form of a city. Listen to John’s account,
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away."
And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children
What does that mean for the Church right now? Ushering in the Kingdom… (Missiology)
This idea of God’s Kingdom is the central theme of Christ’s ministry here on earth as told by the gospels in the New Testament. Christ’s message during his ministry, the good news he was announcing was the coming reign of God.  In the book of Acts there is a shift in understanding, this reign of God has begun in the sending of Jesus Christ who lived, died, rose to redeem all of creation. “Believing in Jesus Christ also means believing Jesus Christ about the reign of God.” Jesus message about the reign of God came to be in his death and resurrection, but will come to fruition in his coming again. This is the tension that we must hold in balance as Christians: this concept of “already but not yet.” Although we cannot give a clear definition of what the kingdom of God will look like, the Scriptures give us an idea. It is the idea of shalom, or peace. The Jewish concept of shalom is a kind of peace that goes beyond a ceasefire. It is peace represented by newness, redemption, justice, and oneness. “The prophetic vision is…joined now to the presence of the Holy Spirit, who enables it.” This coming reign, through Christ’s death and resurrection, “breaks in ahead of time as a harbinger of the world’s future to be fully and finally reconciled to God.”
The church then needs to find where it fits into this story of God’s coming reign in the future Kingdom. This idea should frame how the church sees itself as a people of mission. The reign of God is “a gift one receives and a realm one enters.” The church receives this gift in Jesus Christ and participates in its fulfillment. The church’s mission for this world is “to represent the reign of God.” The church represents the reign of God as “a sign and foretaste” as the “agent and instrument.” Guder gives an idea of how this representation takes place in the church being the community, servant, and messenger of the reign of God. Under the umbrella of God’s coming kingdom I believe these three ideas can give a good look at what a church of mission can look like. There is a focus on community, not the individual. The people of God were never meant to live this life alone, but rather in community. Furthermore the church “is called and sent to be the unique community of those who live under the reign of God.” As servant we are to serve those in our midst and bring love and justice to this broken world; as messengers we are to announce the coming reign of God and share the hope found in God alone. All of this can only be done through the power of the Holy Spirit who is with us, in us, and works through us in this mountain of a task. This emerging vision of missiology is interconnected with the people of God as the church of Jesus Christ.
The ecclesial and missional models that are currently emerging in North America are married and intertwined as one model: the Missional Church. This is the direction the church needs to go if it is going to survive the changing religious culture in America. The religious demographic in America is changing and becoming more pluralistic and therefore this old model will no longer work. No longer can churches be built and then Christians automatically come, because no longer can it be assumed that the community is completely Christian. As Guder puts it, “the churches of North America have been dislocated from their prior social role of chaplain to the culture and society and have lost their once privileged positions of influence.” There needs to be a shift in how we view the church. This shift centrally has to move from thinking of the church as a “place where certain things happen” to seeing the church “a people sent!” Many people in America do not know the hope that is found in Jesus Christ and the church needs to be the vessel that God uses to spread his hope, love, and justice. I truly believe that mission has the power to unite church bodies under a common goal. This goal is to share the hope we have in Jesus Christ by sharing the faith we’ve been given and showing the love of God the Father. The Missional Church will need to be “communities of communities, standing under and shaped by the same missional mandate that is normative for the church in all time and in all places: ‘You shall be my witnesses.’”
Ever since that warm summer night in high school I knew that my faith in Jesus Christ had to influence and shape how I live my life. It is no surprise that I came to this in conversation with close friends because this is how I believe the Christian life should be lived – with one another! It is will be through the unified work of Christ through his chosen people that the hope and healing found in him will be realized on earth. That will be a beautiful day my friends when the fullness of Christ’s resurrection will come to pass. On that day I wonder if we will exclaim, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ has come again!
 Heidelberg Catechism, Answer 1
 I remember my baptism as a way of remembering the covenant promises God made to my parents and me. You will hear more about this in Chapter 4… Call this the teaser J
 This was not the exact quote but it was the gist of what he told me and it was one of the things that helped me through that first year.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion; 1.V.1, Library of Christian Classics, ed. John T. McNeill, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975) p. 51-52.
 These are generous descriptions of specific elements of our fort. Our “oven” had a radiator from a car as a chimney. Pretty gross. My favorite bench just consisted of branches wedged into the ditch at specific depths to form a bench with back and foot rests. It was awesome!
 Matthew 22: 34-40 (NRSV)
 Psalm 33:5 (NRSV)
 Ibid, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion; 1.I.1, p. 35
 Deut 6:5 (NRSV) You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
 Deuteronomy 6:4 (NRSV)
 In Hebrew class we spent a semester in this passage memorizing it and putting these words on our hearts. The word in Hebrew [dj2a6], which is translated in the NRSV as alone is literally the word for the number one.
 Romans 10: 9 and 1 Corinthians 12: 3 (NIV)
 John 14: 26 (NRSV)
 John 20:28 (NRSV) This is the same confess Thomas declares after the resurrected Jesus appears to him at the end of the fourth gospel.
 This language is used purposefully because this trinity conversation was birthed out of a confession found in scripture and out of the worshipping life of the early church.
 In later chapters we will explore more in depth the person’s roles within the Godhead.
 Polytheism is the belief that there are many Gods and of course is contrary to the strict monotheism at witnessed to throughout scripture.
 Job 38: 4-5 (NRSV)
 Ps. 30; 33; 99 (NIV)
 Revelation 4:8 (NIV) and also remember Isaiah 6:3 - “And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’” (NIV)
 John 3:16 (NIV)
 Psalm 33:5
 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)
 1 John 4:8 (NRSV)
 Jeremiah 1:5 (NRSV) "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." Cf. Matt 25:34 (NRSV)
 Acts 17: 28 (NRSV) For In him we live and move and have our being,
 Psalm 139:13 (NRSV)
 Belgic Confession [Article 13]
 Matthew 10: 29-31 (NIV)
 Belgic Confession [Article 13]
 Romans 8: 28 (NRSV)
 “Traditional Church” is so vague that it doesn’t really have meaning and that is intentional because my intent is not to point out a segment of the Christian Church and start labeling but rather point out something going on inside of me.
 Mark 1:1 (NRSV)
 John 3:16-17 (NRSV)
 Nicene Creed, Copyright Ó Reformed Church Press.
 Online Etymology Dictionary, Incarnation. Accessed February 11, 2010. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=incarnation.
 2 Corinthians 5: 19- God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.
 Luke 2: 7 (NRSV)
 John 14:16 (NIV) I am the way, the Truth, and the life.
 Homo erectus is an extinct species of hominid that Evolutionary theory suggests was a pre-cursor to modern human beings.
 Genesis 1: 27 (NRSV)
 Genesis 1: 31 (NRSV)
 Genesis 2: 7 (NRSV)
 Psalms 139: 13 (NRSV)
 Genesis 2: 15 (NRSV)
 This idea of our sinfulness needs to be balanced with God’s intention for us in Christ as his children.
 Salvation is about being in perfect relationship with God as in the garden before Sin caused a cosmic rift between creation and creator. This was the original plan of God and that is why we use language like restore and redeem.
 Isaiah 25: 8 (NRSV)
 Revelation 21: 3-4 (NRSV)
 Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004) p. 182
 Ibid. p. 183
 David Stubbs, Class Lecture. October 25, 2007. This connection can also be found in Migliore p. 186. The reason I like this connection Stubbs made is that to me it shows that not any one theory is in itself sufficient or complete. In Calvin’s Christology not one office can fully describe Jesus role but in both cases the three together can give a fuller picture.
 Migliore. p 184
 Ibid p. 184
 Ibid p. 185
 Ibid p. 186-187
 Even saying it works seems to minimize the important and incredible thing atonement really is!
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1943) p. 57
 I suppose in a very real way this is just another place where theology and worship meet in a very real way!
 Matt 1: 23 (NIV)
 It is not my intent to cast judgment on this church group or others but merely to point out how I did not have any experience of the mystical side of the Christian faith. It is a foreign world to me in many ways even today.
 There is also some of this in the Luke/Acts tradition.
 John 14: 15-20; 25-26 (NRSV)
 Belgic Confession, Article 11. 1561.
 In no way is this to be an exhaustive analysis of the Spirit’s work in the world. I am but a man and I recognize that the Spirit is at work in ways that go far beyond my understanding in this world. This is simply one way I have recognized God’s grace extended to the entire world and I wanted to share this moment of enlightenment.
 Nicene Creed. Emphasis added.
 Mark 16:19 (NIV)
 This has been the easiest way for me to understand this idea of salvation, the inclusion of justification and sanctification. Migliore makes vocation a third piece to the idea of salvation and I really appreciate that addition.
 Migliore. p. 236
 Ibid. p. 239
 Michael Yanonelli. Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002) p. 88
 In Leanne VanDyk’s lecture on the Word of God she outline several meanings which included Jesus, the Scriptures, preaching, and the sacraments. (November 8, 2007).
 The church’s vocation will be addressed in more detail in Chapter 5 of this work.
 In Carol Bechtel’s Old Testament Life and Witness course at Western Seminary (Fall 2007) she frequently referred to human history as the “patient long-suffering of God” with God’s people. I have found that imagery helpful.
 This is not to say that God cannot work in people’s lives apart from Christians, but we do know that God does chose to work through believers.
 This is the end of the Lord’s Prayer as I have memorized it since early childhood.
 Leanne VanDyk, Lecture on Faith, Salvation and the Christian Life. November,15 2007 - In this lecture Leanne described God’s saving embrace that not only saves us but also changes, shapes and forms us. She described it as fiery and I found that imagery useful.
 Franz Wright. I wrote this down in a class with Tim Brown Ancient Future Preaching at Western Theological Seminary on March 4, 2010.
 Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)
 Luke 22: 19 (NIV)
 1 Corinthians 11: 23-25 (NIV)
 Col. 2: 11-12 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
 Matthew 26: 26, 28
 John 3: 27-30 (NIV)
 Romans 12: 4-8 (NIV)
 This is why I have left the section on our election for chapter 5. Our chosen-ness is what makes us the church and this election was to a specific purpose!
 John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill (Westminster Press: Philadelphia, 1975), pp. 922-923.
 Ibid. 89.
 Galatians 1:16 (NRSV)
 Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding, 91.
 When I use the word “local” referring to the church it is not my intent to limit my context to the West Michigan context that I currently find myself. I mean to include all the local gatherings of God’s people around the world. From underground house churches in China to rural churches in Iowa!
 Many churches today in fact have renovated old shopping space into a worship facility.
 Belgic Confession Article 29
 Revelation 20 - Notice the echoes from the Isaiah 2 vision.
 Guder, p. 89
 Guder, p. 88
 Guder, p. 88
 This phrase is used often in the seminary setting I currently find myself and has become crucial to my understanding of our current situation in history. Therefore it has become part of my theological vocabulary.
 Guder, p. 90-91
 Guder, p. 91
 Guder, p. 91
 Guder, p. 95
 Guder, p. 102
 Dr. Roland Kuhl, Weekend 2: Mission, Church, World, and the Reign of God. (Lecture at Western Theological Seminary, October 17, 2008) slide 14
 Guder, p. 102-109 This by no means is meant to be seen as exhaustive, in fact it is just one aspect of the conversation but one I have chosen to focus on.
 Guder p. 103
 Guder, p. 78
 Guder, p. 83-85
 Guder, p. 268