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Miniaturizing the Gospel

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An early evangelical ministry was the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International. By “full gospel” they meant the charismatic gifts. Whatever your view of those gifts, this ministry did get one thing right: the gospel is full, not partial. The full gospel means that the gospel is designed to touch and redeem every area of life — our minds and hearts, family, church, education, music, architecture, politics, technology, law, science, economics, and everything else.[1]

Evangelicals or soterians?

One problem is that too often evangelicals have been soterians, not really evangelicals.[2] That is, they have reduced the gospel to personal salvation, soteriology. So, when we hear “gospel,” we immediately think of people “getting saved” and little else. But in biblical terms, this simply isn’t the entire gospel. The gospel is much fuller. To be evangelical in the full sense is to stand for the gospel. To be a soterian is to stand for personal salvation. We should be evangelicals in the biblical sense.

The Un-Full Gospel

How did we get off track? How did we start declaring an un-full gospel? There are numerous factors, including developments in the surrounding culture that propelled the church toward an un-full gospel. Those would include the Enlightenment, Romanticism, Darwinism, existentialism, scientism, and, more recently, postmodernism. But here I’ll mention just three reductive developments within the church or Christianity itself.

The individualized gospel of the Reformation

First, the Reformation individualized the gospel. The Protestant Reformation restored to the church the gospel of the grace of God. The medieval church had gradually lost sight of salvation by grace.[3] It had begun to bury grace under rites and ceremonies and sacraments. The church itself began to obscure Jesus Christ as the only hope of salvation. Martin Luther launched the Reformation in his rediscovery of the gracious God exhibiting himself in Jesus Christ.[4] He recovered the truth that it’s by faith alone that we appropriate eternal life. The Roman church had taught that you could encounter the saving work of Jesus Christ only by joining the corporate body of the church (their church, of course). The Reformation correctly saw that the individual gets right with God by trusting in Jesus, not the church. Over time, however, the Reformation churches so identified the gospel with the individual and his relationship to God that they lost sight, at least partly, of the comprehensive, biblical gospel.[5] Why is this?

 

Luther’s rediscovery of the gospel came at the long end of a personal struggle. For Luther, the gospel was all about getting a clear conscience on account of our Lord’s death on the Cross. In time, Luther’s struggle became a paradigm in many evangelical churches for the individual’s salvation. Man’s chief problem is that he is weighed down by sin, and he can be liberated, and get great relief, by trusting in Jesus. Appropriating that grace (by justification by faith alone) became a hallmark of biblical soteriology. Luther saw in Paul’s view of the gospel his own existential struggles.[6] Many Christians later imported Luther’s experience and consequent understanding of the gospel back into the Bible. This meant a reduction of the biblical gospel. Luther was not wrong in what he affirmed, but his evangelical successors were mistaken in what they omitted.

 

The gospel can’t be limited to how the sinner gets right with God on the basis of our Lord’s death and resurrection. The gospel is how God is using his Son’s comprehensive work to comprehensively overturn sin in the world. Personal redemption and justification by faith alone are two critical dimensions of the gospel, but the gospel is much bigger than both. Because many Christians in the last two and a half centuries have embraced this truncated, individualized view, they have shrunk the gospel.[7]

The dualized gospel of dispensationalism

Second, dispensationalism dualized the gospel. The 19th century saw the rise of dispensationalism.[8] It constituted a comprehensive hermeneutics (way of interpreting the Bible), but for our purposes it’s important to understand that it divided the Bible into two separate messages:[9] one message to the nation of Israel, and another message to the Gentile church. The Jews were considered to be God’s earthly people, and the church his heavenly people. God’s promises to the Jews were for this world, and his promises to the church were for the eternal world. The Bible itself was deemed a dual book. The OT and parts of the NT were given to Israel. Much of the NT, and particularly Paul’s epistles, were given to the church. Among other things, this meant that the NT promises to the church, which assumed the OT promises to the Jews, had to be cut off from the OT, which was a Jewish book. The gospel promises are for personal victory and our future home in heaven. They have nothing to do with God’s redeeming the entire creation by his Son’s death and resurrection. This earthly victory could only happen by the enforced kingdom during the centralized government of the future millennium during which Jesus literally rules in Jerusalem over the Jews.[10] The Gentile church by that time would be far away in heaven, having been raptured away from the earth.

 

The dispensational gospel is the Gentile gospel, and the Gentile gospel saves individuals from sin and prepares them to meet the Lord. The Jewish gospel includes restoring ethnic Israel to her God-given land of Canaan and overspreading the earth and its nations with Jewish blessings. This will all be delayed until the future millennium.

 

This dualistic hermeneutic divides what God unites. The Bible teaches the unity of God’s purposes.[11] God’s gospel and the law and covenant and promises come to their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. All of those who trust in Jesus Christ are the heirs of the biblical promises, both the OT and NT (Eph. 2:11–13; Gal. 3:25–29). But if you believe the dispensational, dualized gospel, while you might understand the basics of our Lord’s death and resurrection and our future home with the Lord, you won’t understand the unified, comprehensive gospel of the Bible. And this misunderstanding is precisely what has dominated much of evangelicalism for the last few generations.

The privatized gospel of evangelicalism

And then there’s the privatized gospel of evangelicalism. Christianity pervasively influenced both the United Kingdom and the United States late in the 18th century, even if it was sometimes weak. The United States broke away from the idea of a national church (the Church of England) because each of the colonies, which became states, already had their own established churches or religion (Christianity).[12] Over time, under the influence of secularism, this separation from a national church came to be interpreted secularly, as a separation from religion in general and Christianity in particular. This is what the American idea of the “separation of church and state” means today. The United States Constitution says nothing of the kind. With the growth of secularism, “separation of church and state” came to mean that Christianity may be practiced in the individual life and the family and most of the church, but it has little or no place in the public sphere. The theology of much of evangelicalism in the 20th century implicitly assented to this divorce between public and private.[13] A reduced piety limited the Faith to otherworldly concerns, except for personal evangelism.[14] This theological approach was well suited to the strong public/private divide of American secularism.

 

If during Christmas you display a manger scene on a statehouse lawn, you might be violating the separation of church and state. If a Christian teacher sets a Bible or her desk in the government school, she’s unlawfully intruding religion into the public space. In social debates over same-sex “marriage,” so-called, opponents may speak of “traditional” marriage but are considered totally out of line to quote the Bible. Religion is about one’s personal life.

 

This was also the Marxist approach. One of its maxims was, “[R]eligion is a man’s private concern.”[15] And it has increasingly become the Western democratic approach: your religious convictions regarding human sexuality (and anything else) are fine, just as long as you keep them in church, or, more preferably, between your two ears.

Conclusion

By contrast: Paul tells us that the goal of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection is to bring all things in heaven and earth and under the earth into worshipful obedience to him (Phil. 2:4–8). In other words, the gospel is God’s way of peacefully subduing the world to God’s will. But the privatized gospel, under pressure of a radically public secularism, keeps that gospel Lordship bottled up in the church and family. It fences in the good news. It says that it’s all right if individuals and churches trust in Jesus, but going out in the public square and declaring the full truth of Christianity is frowned on, and in some regimes, criminalized. But, by and large, the church in the West hasn’t preached that comprehensive gospel. It’s preached a private gospel and thus put it’s light under a bushel (Mt. 5:15). This isn’t the full gospel of the Bible.


[1] P. Andrew Sandlin, The Full Gospel (Vallecito, California: Chalcedon Foundation, 2001).
[2] Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 12, 29.
[3] This drift started very early, even in the patristic church. See Thomas F. Torrance, The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 1948, 1996).
[4] Alister McGrath, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 37–59.
[5] Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel, 71.
[6] Krister Stendahl, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West,” Paul Among Jews and Gentiles (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), 78–96.
[7] The Reformed wing of the Reformation was less inclined to follow Luther’s individualized gospel, particularly the neo-Calvinists influenced by Abraham Kuyper. See his Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1931), 22–23.
[8] For a sympathetic treatment, see Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965).
[9] For a refutation, see John Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth (Brentwood, Tennessee: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991).
[10] For a comprehensive dispensational eschatology, see J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958).
[11] Roderick Campbell, Israel and the New Covenant (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1954).
[12] M. Stanton Evans, The Theme Is Freedom (Washington, D. C.: Regnery, 1994), 270–288.
[13] See George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980).
[14] For an evangelical reaction, see Carl F. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947).
[15] Owen Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind in the 19th Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 81.
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Biblical Anthropology: Neither Dualistic Nor Materialistic

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Dear ——-,

 

These are great questions, and I’m so glad you are studying these anthropological issues. They are not ivory tower topics but have serious implications for the real world.

 

Strictly speaking, the Bible advocates neither naturalism nor dualism. Much of the Christian church historically has been dualistic in that it has defined the human soul as an independent component in contrast to the body and/or the spirit. In some quarters today, there’s a strong push toward a renewed Christian dualism in reaction against our secular culture of naturalism, the idea that man is comprised simply of chemicals and electronic impulses. Obviously, that latter idea is atheistic and unbiblical. But Christian dualism as it is usually understood is not biblical either. In the Bible, “soul” in both the Old and New Testaments is roughly the equivalent for “life,” or “living being.” It is not what is today called “The Ghost in the Machine,” as though the “real” you is inside your body looking out. For instance, in Genesis 2:7 we read that after God fashioned man from the dust and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, he became a living soul or being (nephesh). God did not insert a separate, constituent part into Adam and Eve.

 

Unfortunately, Christians have been influenced by the Greek idea when they encounter the English word soul, and they understand it to be a separate, potentially independent part of man, the ghost inside looking outward through the human body, which is an external shell.

 

This is to say that the human without a body is not fully human as God intended. Nor, conversely, is this to say that man cannot exist in some sense apart from the body. There certainly are biblical examples of disembodied human consciousness (Mark 9:2–4; 2 Corinthians 12:2). It seems clear that consciousness is not inextricably tied to the human body. However, disembodied existence is not fully human, and you can see in 2 Corinthians 5:1–5 how the apostle Paul regards with horror the idea of being disembodied.

 

The biblical anthropology, it seems to me, includes the idea that the immaterial and material parts of man are tightly woven together. At death, they’re temporarily unwoven, and the person retains his consciousness, but he regains full humanity at the resurrection.

 

Providentially, I dealt with these issues somewhat in a couple of the recent Holy Week articles, and they are here and here:

 

I could say much, much more, but I hope this makes sense. Let me know if I need to answer more.

 

I’m so eager to see you in a couple of weeks.

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Easter: Bodily Resurrection, Not Soul Immortality

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And when they [the Greeks] heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked (Acts 17:32a)

 

In late November 2001, the Arts and Entertainment Television Network carried a special by popular rock singer Billy Joel. Among other inane comments, he said, “I believe that when people die, they go to live in the hearts of the people they love.”   This is a manifestly pagan idea; and it should not surprise us, because Billy Joel is a manifest pagan.   Unfortunately, it is only a somewhat secularized notion of a heresy too commonly held by many Christians today — that the “release” of death is the joy of a disembodied “spiritual” existence.

The Greeks’ “Immortality”

The ancient pagan Greeks were proponents of the inherent immortality of the soul (I’ll elaborate below).  The Bible, on the other hand, stresses the resurrection of the body.   While we do not cease to exist at death (“soul sleep” until the Final Resurrection), the Bible has little to say of this “intermediate” existence (2 Cor. 5:6-8).   In the Bible, personal eschatology is inextricably linked with the resurrection of the body.   First Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4 (among other Scriptures) make this abundantly clear.   As G. I. Williamson wrote several years ago,[1] one of the big defects of many Christian funerals is all of the talk about the deceased’s being “with the Lord” (which is blissfully correct) but no talk whatsoever about the resurrection.   This, in fact, is to reverse the Biblical emphasis and to revert somewhat to Greek paganism.   In the Bible, the emphasis is on the resurrection — not “being with the Lord,” in a disembodied existence.

 

To the ancient Greeks, however, man is made up of several distinct, and potentially independent, parts.   The soul is the principal part of man — it is his insubstantial existence, which conforms to eternal, super-temporal “Forms.”  It existed before his body did, and it will exist after the body is gone.   The body, in fact, is simply the house of the soul.  In fact, it is the prison of the soul. According to the Greeks, the body is unnatural for man.   It is an alien part that prevents him from realizing what he could if he were not imprisoned within it.   The body was a troubling vexation to the pagan Greeks — it constrains man to time and space, subjects him to sickness and weariness, and gives him all sorts of fits.   Therefore, the Greeks saw death as a pleasant, delightful, joyous experience.[2]   “The human soul,” writes Charles MacKenzie of Greek humanism, “is a virtual prisoner within the body, and a true philosopher lives to die.  Death is not an enemy, but a friend because it releases man to inhabit the eternal world of ideas.”[3]   At death, we finally get rid of this old constricting baggage we carry around.   Death is man’s Great Emancipation.

 

This is why the Athenians (Ac. 17) rather politely listened to Paul (their perspective was, “After all, isn’t everyone entitled to his own point of view?” [v. 21]) until he mentioned Christ’s resurrection (v. 32).  To the Greeks, resurrection was silly.  After all, the whole goal of life is death, so that man may escape the limitations of the body and join the eternal Forms.  Why would he want to be re-embodied after death?  That defeats the whole purpose!  Both the preaching of both the Cross and the resurrection were foolishness to the Greeks because these Christian realities centered salvation in redemptive history.[4]   The Greeks, by contrast, wanted a salvation from history.  They wanted an escape.  They didn’t want to be “Left Behind.”

The Goodness of Creation

This is as far removed from the Christian teaching of the body set forth in the Bible as the East is from the West.   The contrast, as Thomas Oden suggests, is unmistakable:

The Greek tradition held that the soul existed before and after earthly life, hence one’s true life is the life of one’s soul, the body being ancillary to the human person.  The Hebraic tradition viewed the human person as a single composite reality of inspirited mud, grounded in the earth yet capable of transcendence, in an interface so closely woven that it was unthinkable that one could be a person without a body of some sort.[5]

This latter idea was seemingly incomprehensible to the Greeks.  They surely did not deny an afterlife.  The problem was resurrection, which was simply not a tenet of ancient thought apart from many Old Testament Jews and the Christian church.

The Body’s Goodness

The main impetuses behind the Greek’s general denial of the resurrection were (a) the low value they placed on the human body and (2) their firm belief in man’s inherent immortality, i.e., that his soul was naturally imperishable.  We one day (fortunately) lose the “bad body” but we retain the inherently imperishable soul.

 

According to the Bible, however, the body is good because God makes it.   It is a good work of divine creation.   When Adam led the human race into sin, this sin affected his body, just as it affected every other aspect of his being (Gen. 3:16-19). But this act of sin did not undo the goodness of God’s creation.   Man’s body succumbs to illness and death because of sin, but these are not natural.   In particular, death is not natural.   It is unnatural. God threatened Adam with death if he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:15-17).   Death is the result of sin, not the result of humanity.   Had Adam never sinned, he never would have died.   Just as sin is unnatural, so death, its consequence, is unnatural.

 

This is why death is described as an enemy in the Bible.   In fact, we read in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s great chapter on the resurrection, that death is the “last enemy” that will be “destroyed” (v. 26).   Similarly, we read in Hebrews that Jesus came to turn back men’s fearfulness of death (Heb. 2:14-15).  Death is man’s enemy that our Lord vanquishes.

“Body Sleep”

As I noted above, none of this means that the Bible teaches what some (like the Seventh Day Adventists) have called “soul sleep.”   It does not teach that we completely lose existence between our death and the time of the Final Resurrection.   But it does teach what we may call “body sleep.”   In fact, the Bible uses this very expression to refer to our bodies.   Paul speaks of those who are “asleep in the Lord” (1 Thes. 4:14).   Jesus Himself spoke of the dead child as one who “sleepeth” (Mt. 9:24).   The reason the Bible refers to Christians who have died as “sleeping” is that their bodies will one day wake up!

 

The great war on things material is a largely pagan conviction, deeply pessimistic, which has infected the church as heresy.   The greatest proof of the inherent goodness of creation is Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection — and ours.   Our hope is not a Casper-the-Friendly-Ghost existence, but an existence on a renovated earth (2 Pet. 3:10-12; Rev. 21:1-3) in a resurrected body.

 

The resurrection hope should shape our consciousness as Christians and animate the Church, most visibly in its Lord’s Day meeting on the first day of the week.


[1] G. I. Williamson, “Resurrecting the Resurrection,” New Horizons, April, 1998, 5.

[2] Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind (New York: Ballantine Books), 43.

[3] Charles S. MacKenzie, “Classical Greek Humanism,” in ed., W. Andrew Hoffecker, Building a Christian World View (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1986), 1:39.

[4] Herman N. Ridderbos, Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed [1963], 1988).

[5] Thomas C. Oden, Life in the Spirit (Peabody, Massachusetts: Prince Press [1992], 1998), 397.

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Easter Against the Gnostics

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The earliest heresy afflicting Christianity was Gnosticism. The followers of our Lord, committed to the Bible, believed that God created a good world but that man’s sin had corrupted it, and yet God sent his Son in human flesh to die on the Cross for man’s sins and rise again to redeem man and all creation. We celebrate these latter momentous events this Holy Week.

Gnosticism Yesterday

The Gnostics had an entirely different worldview.[1] They believed that the Evil God of the Old Testament (the Demiurge), the God of law and cruelty and capriciousness, was countered by the good God of the New Testament, the God who sent Jesus Christ to deliver a fallen humanity from the Evil God and his evil world. Obviously, the Jesus of the Gnostics was (and is) not the Jesus of the Bible and of the Christians, and the Fall recorded the Bible is not the Fall as interpreted by the Gnostics. The Gnostics believed that the Fall was from spirit and secret knowledge (“gnosis”) into matter and the material world. Salvation is by knowledge by means of which man escapes the material world. Jesus, therefore, only appeared to be human, and his sufferings on the Cross were not physical sufferings. Man’s real problem is creation, and his body, not sin. Jesus brought the secret knowledge of liberation from the enslaving created order. The specific knowledge by which man is delivered is the knowledge of the true, inner person: the Gnostics “believed that if they could look into the best side of themselves, they [could] discover the nature of God and of existence.”[2] The Gnostics were the world’s first champions of “authenticity.”[3] Therefore, Jesus came to lead people to salvation by showing them their true selves, which are obscured by creation and by the human body.

Unlike other heresies, Gnosticism was not about this particular false doctrine or that. It was an entirely alien worldview. In fighting Gnosticism, Irenaeus and other early church fathers were preserving the Christian worldview against a false interpretation of reality.[4] Had Gnosticism won, Western culture would have been radically different from what it has been. Christian culture would never have developed.

The Gnostic heresy is at root an Easter heresy. If humanity’s great problem is creation and the body, then the central tenet of the Christian Faith, our Lord’s resurrection, is a farce. If creation is inherently evil, it does not need to be redeemed; it needs to be rejected and transcended. This is precisely what Gnostics believed. Gnostics must constantly war on Easter, and Easter must constantly war on Gnosticism.

Gnosticism Today

Gnosticism is alive and well in today’s culture.[5] It is a chief plank of the Leftist ideology, which sees material reality as a barrier to autonomous human imagination: “Nothing actual can be authentic” was the sentiment of Marxist existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre,[6] and Leftists’ inner dreams of the perfect world intentionally bypass God’s created reality to impose their inner “authenticity” on it. A chief example is the entitlement of offspring for a same-sex “marriage.” Creation itself must bow before the dictates of the Gnostic dream of equality. Same-sex unions are just as entitled to children as opposite-sex ( = natural, God-created) unions. Since nature ( = creation) does not afford this possibility, technology must engineer the fulfillment of the Gnostic dream. Michael Hanby writes:

[W]e must first understand that the sexual revolution is, at bottom, the technological revolution and its perpetual war against natural limits applied externally to the body and internally to our self-understanding. Just as feminism has as its practical outworking, if not its theoretical core, the technological conquest of the female body — “biology is not destiny,” so the saying goes — so too same-sex marriage has as its condition of possibility the technological mastery of procreation, without which it would have remained permanently unimaginable.

Pop culture is rife with the Gnostic dream of overcoming creation. The current movie Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson, is about a woman whose body was saved from a horrific terrorist attack and whose brain is inserted in a hyper-upgraded cybernetic body for the purpose of serving in an anti-terrorism squad. Humanity must be reengineered to effectively combat terrorism.

In the 2014 movie Transcendence, starring Johnny Depp, a brilliant technologist died but his surviving consciousness is uploaded to a computer and eventually allowed to impact the world and even create a utopian society via the Internet. The human body is disposable and man transcends creation to recreate himself and humanity. This is the ancient Gnostic dream adapted to technological culture. Creational reality is the enemy of human freedom.

In addition, Gnosticism afflicts today’s church. Note this quote by openly gay United Church of Christ (Norman, Oklahoma) pastor Dwight Welch:

I used to say no, I didn’t believe in the resurrection. And I still don’t believe that the laws of biology can be suspended in our favor, that a dead body can be physically resuscitated. I don’t believe religious faith can be the suspension of our critical faculties nor a requirement to believe things we know aren’t so. That is credulity, a form of magic, not an expression of faith.

But my answer has changed now. Today I do believe in resurrection. It is a kind of resurrection that happens when there is a transformation of our lives such that our old self dies and a new self, a more authentic and real self emerges….

When I consider my own coming out story, when I hear the coming out stories of others, the process is a kind of resurrection, an affirmation of life, one that struggled to be born against the odds, against the death dealing ways of our communities and those still in the grips of fear and prejudice.

This apostate clergy denies that God can sovereignly overrule his natural laws to raise his Son and his people from the dead, but he embraces resurrection (redefined) as a dream of ethical reengineering: God cannot govern man’s biology, but man may transform his divinely given biology and fulfill his inner dreams of escape from God’s external ethical standards: “[The] old self [this is, the God-given self] dies and a new self, a more authentic and real self emerges….” In short, God’s creation imposes limitations, but these limitations render man “inauthentic.” To be his authentic, “real self,” man must transcend the God-imposed limitations. He then is resurrected as the New Man, the Authentic Man, on whom nature, creation and God have no claim. One reason that even conservative Christians have been impotent to combat this heresy is that they, like the Gnostics themselves, have tended to separate creation from redemption.

Easter Yesterday, Today, and Forever

In radical contrast, Easter glories in creation. Creation fell under God’s curse because of man’s sin, but creation is not inherently evil. It is “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Our Lord died and rose to redeem not just man, but all of creation (Romans 8:33). Whatever sin polluted, Jesus Christ redeems. Creation is not and never has been a barrier to man’s salvation. It is the resplendent arena of man’s salvation.

Despite what many Christians, tinged with Gnosticism, seem to believe, Jesus did not die to save us from creation. He died to restore man and man’s body and all of the rest of creation to its proper, God-honoring status. The popular idea that Jesus died to “take us to heaven” is more Gnostic than biblical. It is true that those who’ve trusted in Jesus Christ will be forever with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17), but we will be forever with him on a resurrected earth, an Easter earth, we could say, as the heavens descend and the Triune God lives eternally with his people (Revelation 21:1–4). We do not die and “go up to heaven.” God comes down to Earth to dwell with man and his creation.[7]

All attempts to transcend or bypass creation constitute a war on the created order, a war on God himself. Creation is already inherently very good, and to attempt to transcend creation is to try to overthrow God. Gnostics, both ancient and contemporary, are not satisfied with God’s created order. They’re convinced that their inner imaginative dreams are superior to creation. But this is a self-frustrating notion. If anybody knows about “human flourishing,” it is God. Since he is man’s Creator, he knows precisely the conditions under which man flourishes. He created those conditions. Man is most full of joy and peace and hope, indeed, holy revelry, when he conforms to God’s creational purposes in the Bible. The redemptive work of Jesus Christ is designed incrementally to restore man to those purposes.

This Easter, in celebrating our Lord’s bodily resurrection, we are not celebrating that we will go to heaven when we die. We are celebrating, in Michael Reeves’ memorable phrase, “a pinchable reality.”[8] It is true that we will forever be with the Lord and that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:31–39). We are, however, celebrating the life-bestowing, creation-renewing, world-affirming redemption accomplished by the Father in the Son 2000 years ago just outside Jerusalem. We are celebrating the fact that God’s verdict over the Fall is No!, and his verdict over creation is Yes!

We’re celebrating at Easter that in creation and in human life and in the future, Satan does not get the last laugh. God gets the last laugh.


[1] Martin Seymour-Smith, Gnosticism, The Path of Inner Knowledge (New York: HarperCollins, 1996).
[2] Ibid., 9.
[3] On the authenticity rage today, see Andrew Potter, The Authenticity Hoax (New York: HarperCollins, 2010).
[4] Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 81–97.
[5] For an introduction, see Peter Jones, The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1992).
[6] Roger Scruton, Fools, Frauds and Firebrands (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), 83.
[7] N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 104–106.
[8] Michael Reeves, Rejoicing in Christ (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015), 43.
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Holy Week: No Greater God than Jesus

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To his disciple Philip who demanded that Jesus show him the Father, Jesus replied, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John. 14:9). We learn from the writer to the Hebrews that Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3, emphasis supplied).

 

To know Jesus is to know God.

 

A subtle subordinationism infects many Christians (subordination is the heresy that the Son is not equal in his being with the Father). In (rightly) affirming the Trinity, they seem to believe that there is some “Godness” deeper or more profound than Jesus Christ. They must “get behind” Jesus Christ to know God even better. We can learn only some things about God from Jesus. We need more from God than Jesus can offer. This is false — and dangerous.[1] Jesus declares in Luke 10:22, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

 

If you want to know more about the Father than you can learn from the Son, you’re on a fool’s errand.

 

Once a young woman who had suffered sexual abuse as a child and had been battered by evil men and was living in squalor and poverty finally made her way as a last resort to a faithful church. After the service, she talked to the pastor and summarized her harrowing history and declared that this church was her last attempt at life. She had given up on God and was almost hopeless and was contemplating suicide.

 

The pastor immediately related the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, that would not only birth her into God’s family and heal her brokenness but would one day turn back all evil in the world and make everything right.

 

Slowly she said, “I imagine that if I believed God were like Jesus, I could believe in God.”

 

“Well,” the pastor responded, “I have the most wonderful news in the world for you. God is exactly like Jesus, and if you want to know God, simply trust and give your life to his Son. In Jesus you will learn everything about God that you need to know.”

 

The poor, downtrodden young lady became a Christian that very day.

 

This Holy Week, know this: in the life and, in particular, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we learn everything about God we need to know — his creative power, his love, his justice, his tenderness, his hatred for sin, his longsuffering, his perseverance, his sovereignty, his commitment to utter victory. We learn all this and more by learning of Jesus Christ.

 

If you want to know God, know Jesus Christ.


[1] Michael Reeves, Rejoicing in Christ (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015), 15.
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