Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Here's the thing: the Newest Year

Everyone enjoys a new start.  I don’t need to tell you that it’s New Year’s Eve; and the interwebs are a-buzz with resolutions, reflections, suggestions, plans and lots and lots of hope.  So many chirps, statuses, and instapics waxing poetic on a variation of

                This is the year I ___{fill in the blank}_______.

I am not immune to this excitement.  I refuse to act as if I have nothing in me that needs changing.  And yes, I am pinning quite a few expectations on the first day of 2014. 

While it is fun (and useful, according to “the experts”) to set a date on which you plan initiate change, I am reminded that for those made alive in Christ, this is the reality of every day.  And for those who are not, it is the offer of every, single, breath-drawing day.

Followers, you are a new creation in Christ.  The old has gone and the new is made alive in you -- through the glory of God, the resurrection of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit.  God’s mercies are new with every dawn.  You have living in you the power of the God of the universe; and you are given the grace to shake off that which fetters your soul.  To unhook the moorings that hold you back from being the best, most beautiful, most glorifying version of you.  I pray that 2014 is the year that we, each, can embrace and embody this truth. 

Fellow sojourners, you are offered, every moment of your beautiful and precious life, the chance to be made new.  To be filled with hope and promise and possibility and change.  To be made alive so that even death has no hold over you.  To let go of the worst parts of your past, and to grab hold of the best parts of who you are and who you might be.  Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the grace and glory of Almighty God.  If you would only believe and accept this gift of sacrifice.    
Dearest reader, you have the chance to live as if every day is 
          New Year’s Day. 

May you take this opportunity, so freely and lovingly given, to be whom you were created to be.  For the glory of the Father, the witness of the Son, and the honor of the Holy Spirit.

May 2014 be your NEWEST year yet.    

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Broken: the nature of sin

        I had, repeatedly, cautioned my firefly to be careful while hanging the heirloom ornament on one of the highest branches, so it wouldn’t be disturbed later by excitable and boundless puppy energy.  She hesitated, turning the treasure over in her hand, and assured me that she would be.  Stretching, she reached for a sturdy perch; but the desired branch proved too flimsy.  She pulled it back from the tree, ornament outstretched toward me, and humbly asked that I put it on in her stead.  I lauded her wisdom, smiling while grouping three branches together to support the weight of her prize.  When, without pretense, the ribbon unwound and my haughty hold was compromised.  The ornament fell; six feet, with the sickening, slow-motion plummet that foreshadows the loss to come.  And clattered on the wooden floor.  Pieces fled hither and yon, under the tree skirt and into the living room.  Mouth agape, I turned wide eyes to the firefly.  Hers, shimmering with disappointment, answered my disbelief. 


        We had just discussed the inherent irreplaceability of particular things.  We had talked, this ornament nestled safely in its box, about how you can’t go back to certain times, can’t redo certain events, can’t relive certain memories.  The best we can do is try to fix them in the present, mending to the best of our abilities, and learning to muddle through with the cracks and dents our hands have caused.  Or to live without that which was formerly so precious. 

        The firefly’s tears in check, we comforted, and then we did the best we could.  The Officer went into town the next day to procure the right kind of glue.  I adhered flesh to flesh, skin to counter, and dermis to ornament in the process; but eventually the ornament held.  Nonetheless, it remains broken.  The cracks, not visible unless you know where to look, are there.  And they are fragile.  It will require extra care every year, in both packing away and hanging.  There will likely be times that it fractures again, so prone because of the fissures already there. 

For there is nothing I can do to make it all the way whole again.

        It is the condition of human being to live thus.  We are each broken.  Our cracks sometimes visible in the right light, other times, they remain hidden deep within.  We are especially fragile and prone to break in specific, familiar ways.   

        Yet, we were not created so.  Bruce Demarest and Gordon Lewis assert that the Imago Dei remains ontologically[1] “undestroyed” in “all persons, however dominated they may be by the works of the flesh…all humans in their being remain constitutionally image-bearers.”[2]  However, these two learned men assert that all people inherited depravity or hereditary corruption and guilt for Adam’s sin.[3]  They utilize Jesus’ statement in John 8:34 to accommodate their belief:

I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”

And they affirm that Paul says in Romans 7:5 “in our fallen condition, [human being is] ‘controlled by the sinful nature.’”[4]  Thus, Demarest and Lewis articulate that all of humanity’s slavery to and control by sin illustrates that the sin nature is transmitted from Adam, generationally, to all of human as members of the same race.   

Ray Dunning, though agreeing that all of humanity is sinful, does not agree that in a fallen and sinful state, humanity can retain the Imago Dei.  He points out that the entire New Testament is devoted to the process of salvation, which is the restoration humanity, through Jesus Christ, to the image of God because “man is ‘essentially good but existentially estranged.’”[5]  If this restoration is necessary, then humanity is assumed to have fallen away from rightly bearing the image of God.[6]  Prior to the Fall, there existed between human being and God a filial relationship [a son or daughter relationship].  It is in this unbroken relationship that Adam could reflect the image of God.[7]  However, after the Fall, humanity became sinful, because “sin does not exist independently of human beings,” nor is it “to be regarded as some flawed or defective part of human nature.”[8]  Sin is the perversion of the natural drives within material creation; in action, it is the misuse of the created order, a moral condition of a personal being.[9]  Thus, while sin thwarts God’s purposes, it does not ontologically change the nature of human being. 

                In the end, Demarest, Lewis, and Dunning all agree that the sin nature inherent in each human being does not change his or her ontological composition.  This premise can be extremely important in the communication of the gospel, so that no matter what sin a person has engaged in, nothing makes him, or her, an inherently bad person.  This also translates into the realm of spiritual development; for many Christians continue to struggle with certain temptations or sins after conversion and would likely benefit from the knowledge that they are created “good.”  Finally, for our treatment of fellow human beings, we have to recognize that a person’s sin is not the sum of his/her identity.  Rather everyone should find their identity and worth in Christ; and those who call themselves His followers, ought to see the Imago Dei in the lost, even if the lost cannot.     

                We are all broken; we are all estranged.  But we can be mended.  We can be healed.  We can be made whole.  All by the finished work that started with an infant in a manger.  A Creator God, having made inherently good beings who chose evil and self over relationship, put aside the gravitas of heaven to be born into this fallen world, to live among sinners, to die to restore humanity and all of creation to what it was meant to be. 

This is the truth of Immanuel, God with us.       

Want to know where we've been in this series?  Click the links below for more. 

[1] Existentially
[2] Demarest, Bruce and Gordon Lewis.  Integrated Theology: Knowing the Ultimate Reality of the Living God. vols 1 & 2.  Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1987.  Volume 2, page 237.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Dunning, H. Ray.  Grace, Faith, and Holiness: A Wesleyan Systematic Theology.  Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1988.  Page 160.
[6] Ibid., page 151.
[7] Ibid., page 157.
[8] Ibid., page 275
[9] Ibid., pages 246, 275.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Imago Dei ~ in the image of God

It is difficult even for professional theologians to quantify how God’s image is expressed in human being, particularly as separate from the rest of creation.  Ray Dunning, as an example, does not support to the idea that the imago dei is a collection of created characteristics that differentiate human being from the lower orders of creation; rather, Dunning suggests that the “ontic” qualities [real or factually existing] such as freedom, rationality, capacity for self-transcendence and immortality do not necessarily speak of an “essential orientation towards the Divine.”[1]  Instead, Dunning posits, that the imago is an irreducible quality or essence within the very substance of human being, in relation to standing with God.[2]  To explain this further, Dunning employs the metaphor of a mirror, with human being as the mirror to God’s glory.  When a mirror, human being, is properly oriented to its subject, God, the image is reflected within the mirror; when the mirror is improperly related to its subject, the image is not reflected.[3]  The mirror exists solely to reflect the image of its subject.  Through this metaphor, Dunning asserts that the primary function of human being is the reflection of the glory of God to the rest of creation.  This allegory also takes into account both the Fall and the subsequent sinfulness of human being.  A human being who is not properly oriented towards God will not reflect his image to creation; a human being who is in proper position before God will.  Thus the imago dei, according to Dunning, exists within every human but is not expressed by every human; it is an essence within human being that has been present since the beginning and is the result of divine purpose.       

Bruce Demarest and Gordon Lewis present the imago dei as the apex of the created order, the crescendo to God’s creative activity;[4] and they state that “the most important matter in Christian anthropology concerns the meaning of the proposition that God created the human person in his own image and likeness.”[5]  Those belonging to the human race are different and separate from the rest of creation because in making human being, God endowed each with “special dignity and honor.”[6]  This distinct standing comes by “by virtue of [the] ontological status as [bearing] God’s image,” because “the person is divinely entrusted with the special function of dominion-having.”[7]  Therefore, a primary facet of the imago, according to Demarest and Lewis, is the authority given to human being in relation to creation.  Demarest and Lewis suggest another key component of the imago dei is relationship; the premise for this is the fact that God created male and female because it was not good for man to be alone.  Demarest and Lewis refer to the Triune nature of God, through the Father, Son, and Spirit in continual, perfect relationship with each other, as the basis for this presumption.[8]  However, the most significant characteristic which evidences the imago dei, Demarest and Lewis propose, is not only that a human being resembles God in a metaphysical, intellectual, moral, emotional, volitional, and relational sense, but that human being is the only creature created as having a soul.[9]  Demarest and Lewis find the creation narrative in Genesis 2 to be most telling on this point.  Scripture speaks of God breathing life into Adam, which is assumed to represent the origin of the human soul.    

This assumption, however, leads to what theologians call “traducianism,” which refers to a quasi-Augustinian theory that only Adam was given a soul by God, and therefore every soul after is an offspring of the original, implanted only in male.  However, when examining the Hebrew text of Genesis 2, one finds that the adjective ay-yîm; [of life/living/alive] has 85 occurrences in the Old Testament.  Most often it carries with it the meaning of being alive or living; however, it is also used to refer to running or flowing water [which is highlights why Jesus refers to himself as the “living water” in the exchange with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well – harkening all the way back to the creation narrative!].[10]  These usages negate the possibility that this word speaks of the human soul, as in all other occurrences it refers to an existential state of being alive.  Thus we look at the word niš-ma [breath/spirit] which is definitively more specialized, occurring only four times total in the Old Testament.  Of the four times it is used specifically, once it refers to the breath of life in humans, once to the breath of God, once as the spirit of human, and once to the breath of life in every living thing.[11]  The extremely small number of times this particular word is used, with a different object each time, means that we cannot normalize it’s usage to reference the human soul, as each time it occurs, it refers to something different.  Thus we cannot prove with the text that the breath that God breathed into Adam’s nostrils is the originating soul from which all others were derived.  Which means that even in the creation narrative we cannot find reason to separate out male and female into hierarchical categories.  Because
God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.
This is why so many find the imago dei as one of the most redeeming qualities in scripture.  It gives women equal standing with men because they each carry within themselves the very image of the God who created them.  It is why Paul could assert to the Galatians that

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.[13]

In the imago dei, and through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, all men and women, all races, all humans are ontological and existentially equal.

With all the nuanced minutia of differences in the theologies of Lewis/Demarest and Dunning, the common theme is that the imago dei is the apex of creation, expressing itself in the human soul.  That humans are created in the image of God is paramount to understanding what it means to be human.  This theology, and one’s orientation thereto, directly influences many critical issues in the world today.  Abortion, the willful destruction of human life, marketed as the elimination of a cluster of microscopic cells becomes bearable, if human being is not ontologically different from virus-causing microbes.  Slavery, particularly sex slavery involving young children, is conceivable if human being is not separate from chattel.  When the truth that every human being is made in the image of Almighty God becomes obscured or is forgotten, these issues are tolerable, even palatable in pursuit of a nihilist utopia.  Thus the doctrine of imago dei is paramount for the care of people, the very created beings for whom God sent and sacrificed his only Son. 

Want to know where we've been in this series?  Click the links below for more. 

[1] Dunning, H. Ray.  Grace, Faith, and Holiness: A Wesleyan Systematic Theology.  Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1988. Page 154.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., page 155.
[4] Demarest, Bruce and Gordon Lewis.  Integrated Theology: Knowing the Ultimate Reality of the Living God. vols 1 & 2.  Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1987. Volume 2, page 123.
[5] Ibid., page 124.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., page 135.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid., page 134.
[10]  Accessed 12/11/13 at 09:30 MST
[11] Breath of life in humans: Genesis 2:7 | Breath of God: Isaiah 30:33 | Spirit of human: Proverbs 20:27 | Breath of life in every living thing: Genesis 7:22  -- Hebrew found at: Accessed on 12/11/13 at 09:48 MST

Monday, December 9, 2013

God and humans, how we relate

                As we enter the second week of Advent, it is so fitting that we are beginning our foray into the theology of God and humanity.  Why relationship?  Why do we even need Jesus?  What’s the big deal about God coming to earth as a baby, growing into a man, and dying so that humans could “have a relationship” with Him? 

So many questions that find their genesis in the theology of human being and God’s relation to us.  Existential questions.  Ones that drive at who we are, what our purpose is, and the point of our otherwise futile lives.  Some that even question God’s existence. 

If God is so good, why did He create humans

                (who have great propensity towards violence/destruction/malevolence)?

If God is so perfect, why does He need humans to worship Him?


                To answer all, we begin with the premise that God is a relational being.  As a perfect, benevolent being it is better [e.g. more perfect and more benevolent] to be relational than not; therefore, because God is absolutely perfect and absolutely benevolent, He is relational.[1]  Scripture teaches us that He exists, eternity past through eternity future, in 3 persons all in perfect communion with each other.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are perfect and complete in love and relation unto themselves.  They lack nothing.    

                And yet, the Godhead desired to express an outpouring of His perfect and unending love through the creation of human being.  Not because God was lonely.  Not because He needed to be worshiped.  Not because He needed to create.  Not because He needed to have a relationship with something He created.  God needed nothing.  Unto Himself, He is perfect. 

                Conversely, God didn’t need to create human because His love was too big to be contained.  The Triune God contains and expresses infinitely perfect love all the time, eternally.  There is not an over-abundance of love, uncontainable by the Trinity.  There merely is the Godhead, expressing infinite and perfect love, in eternity past, present, and future. 

                Rather, God chose to create human being because of His infinite and perfect love and benevolence.  Because as an absolutely perfect and benevolent being, it is more benevolent to create human than it is to not.  And God is always the most loving, most benevolent, most perfect of all given possibilities. 

                And so, the Triune God created human being. 

                As a perfectly loving and benevolent Creator, God’s plan for His creation includes, dare I posit hinges upon, relationship.  Relationship with God, relationship with one another, relationship with the rest of creation.  Thus tomorrow, we will examine why God elevates human being over the rest of His creation as we explore the theology of the Imago Dei.  And next week, we will consider how humanity broke relationship with our creator, and why we are in need of that baby in a manger to make it right.                

Want to know where we've been in this series?  Click the links below for more. 

[1] I am purposefully omitting a few premises here because I am not engaging in an ontological argument for the existence of God, rather introducing how and why God is relational with His creation.  If you are curious as to the missing premises, please comment below or message me and I will provide these.   

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

JESUS: an unvieling of GOD

As part of our new family devotionals, the minis have learned their first Koine phrase:

Egw emi.

It is found in Luke 4, and is the first and most efficient time Jesus tells someone who He is.  His audience, a woman at Jacob’s well in Samaria, would have recognized the God language, the utter audacity, of this statement.  Particularly because she had just referenced the messiah’s impending coming.  She did, of course, believe this bold and clear statement; and subsequently became the first foreign evangelizer.   
At our house, we say it in hushed tones.  Unless, of course, you’re the eight-year-old boy; in that case you shout it so that everyone in the canyon can hear.  Jesus’ proclamation that He is the messiah; He is God.  So much beauty and eternity in four syllables.  Which is why I subjected the minis to memorizing it, so that they can have it etched on their hearts.  This simple and beautiful truth, that Jesus is the Christ, and He is God.    

               But what do we do with this God-language today? 
               What does it mean to us that Jesus says, “I AM?” 
As it has since that day at Jacob’s well, it means that Jesus is the revelation of God – His life on earth illustrates perfectly for us, so much as we can comprehend, who God is and what God is about.       

In Matthew’s gospel, as Jesus is teaching in Galilee, he very clearly asserts that he is a special revelation of God by crediting the Father as the source of his miracles, power, and knowledge of the kingdom of heaven; and then telling his followers that no one can know God the Father without the Son revealing him to them (Matt. 11:27).  As with his declaration to the Samaritan woman, Christ’s statement is concise and effective.  Jesus Christ is the supreme and sufficient, specific revelation of God the Father to his people Israel, to the Gentiles, and to us these 2,000 years later. 

Bruce Demarest and Gordon Lewis make a strong case for Jesus Christ as the pinnacle special revelation of God in volume 1 of Integrated Theology.  Citing another segment of Matthew (16:17), they note that the verb Jesus uses to commend Peter’s confession of him as the Son of God is “apokalypto, which occurs twenty-six times in the New Testament, [and] signifies the removal of a covering and hence the disclosure of what was previously hidden or unknown.”[1]  Demarest and Lewis also note that in infancy narrative in Luke the noun form apokalypsis is used by Simeon when he is “filled with the Holy Spirit, cradl[ing] the infant Jesus in his arms and described him as ‘a light for revelation [apokalypsis] to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel’ (Luke 2:32).”[2]  For the eighteen times this noun appears in the New Testament, it consistently carries with it the connotation of a divine revelation. 

Ray Dunning agrees with Lewis and Demarest, in that the incarnation of Jesus is a revealing of God.  Dunning asserts that “If general revelation leads one only to knowledge of the law, then special revelation must carry us on to the gospel.”[3]  Dunning sees prevenient grace {grace that comes before, is expectant or anticipatory}  as the expression of general revelation; thus Jesus Christ is how God is known through special revelation.[4]  It is the incarnation and propitiation of Jesus for the sins of the world that most specifically reveal God to his creation.  For Dunning, God is best seen and most deeply known through the person and sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Where Theology Can Go Wrong     
Feminist scholars[5], such as Pamela Dickey Young and Radford Ruether, agree with Dunning that the incarnation of Jesus is a unique event in the special revelation of God, for “in Jesus [Christians] see God’s presence, God’s love and care exemplified.”[6]  However, they do not consider Jesus to be the final or ultimate revelation of God.  In fact, some such as Ruether attribute to the person of Jesus a “’messianic humanity’ who is disclosed…in many times and places.”[7]  For Ruether, saying that only Jesus embodies the “timeless revelation” of the Christ closes the revelation of this messianic humanity, which she believes is “continue[ing] to be disclosed to [the Church] in our sisters and brothers.”[8]  If the revelation of the messianic humanity were closed, the only way to apprehend the truths revealed therein would be through the apostolic teachings, which feminist theologians feel “leaves no more room for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, no room for [the Church] to hear God speaking to us in the present.”[9]  Therefore, feminist theologians like Ruether acknowledge the special revelation of God through the incarnation of Jesus Christ; however, they do not hold that it was a specific, one-time revelation that was separate from the revelation of God through his Holy Spirit, and is closed to further revelation.

The danger in this theory is that it while the Holy Spirit does inspire men and women, and believers after Christ’s heavenly ascension have heard from God, neither of these examples equate to the eternity-altering reality of the Divinity Incarnate in Jesus Christ.  No other event in human history can so singularly and efficiently illume who God is and what He is like.  Even inspired by the Holy Spirit, we are gazing through a mirror darkly, unable to adjust our finite human eyes to the glory of Almighty God.  Thus, just like Christ’s simplistic declaration to a Samaritan woman, His incarnation boldly proclaims who God is and how He interacts with His creation; and He does so in a concrete way that finite human being can understand.  Secondly, holding to the doctrine of open messianic revelation, the position suggested by the feminist theologians, allows for subsequent messiahs to reveal more about God.  This is dangerously similar to the claims made by Islam and Mormonism.  It directly undermines the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ, which is outlined in the opening chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  Christ is all.  And that is enough.   

Instead, we must forward a gospel-driven doctrine of special revelation in the person of Jesus.  As Dunning suggests, this means that God’s grace was eternally present and available to creation, but finds its specific culmination in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, once and for all who so choose to follow him.  Thus, only Jesus reveals more about who God is and how He relates to human beings and all of His creation than any other event in human history.      

Want to know where we've been in this series?  Click the links below for more. 

[1] Demarest, Bruce and Gordon Lewis.  Integrated Theology: Knowing the Ultimate Reality of the Living God. vols 1 & 2.  Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1987.  Volume 1, page 105.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Dunning, H. Ray.  Grace, Faith, and Holiness: A Wesleyan Systematic Theology.  Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1988. Page 171.
[4] Ibid., 162
[5] Again, though I am a Christian Feminist, I do not identify with the branch of Theology currently labeled “feminist theology.”  A Christian Feminist is defined as a Christ-follower who seeks gender equality afforded through the Incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as it was part of the pre-curse, original creation, and is opposed to vaulting one sex over another.  See Christians for Biblical Equality for further definitions and the scriptural basis for this view.     
[6] Young, Pamela Dickey. Feminist Theology/Christian Theology: In Search of Method. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990. Page 99.
[7] Ibid., page 38
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.