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.

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