Friday, September 28, 2007

A whole new world...

No, I haven't gone all Disney. This issue has come up again in some of my classes this week. Is the new creation a totally 'new' creation (i.e. God throws this one in the bin and gets a new one 'off the shelf' to take its place so to speak) or is it this creation but (perhaps radically) renewed?

I for one am convinced it's 'renewed' rather than totally discontinuous from this one. And the clincher passage is probably Romans 8: 19-21

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

This creation, the same creation that was put in bondage to decay when humanity fell, will be liberated from that bondage and enjoy all the glory of being governed, tended, inhabited by God's resurrected children. I don't know about you, but being annihilated and replaced doesn't sound too much like a liberation to me!

I'll maybe try and post some more on this over the next few days. It might not seem it at first, but I think this is quite an important thing to get clear on.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Christians and Human Authorities

What is the proper Christian approach to non-Christian authorities? How should Christians relate to pagan governments? A key passage is found in Peter's first epistle.

1Pet. 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

The commentators disagree - is Peter advocating conformity (because he says to submit) or non-conformity (because he says Christians are to live as free men, with a primary identity as slaves and servants of God, not of Caesar).

For my part I think I'd want to talk about Peter proposing a policy of subversive conformity.

Christians are being told unambiguously that they must submit to the created authorities. To do less would be to do evil and to invite the negative sanctions at the disposal of the authorities – in other words, to suffer for doing evil. In this sense then, Christians are to conform, to obey the human authorities above them.

However, such conformity is subversive both in its basis and in its intent.

a. Christians must yield to the authorities in service to the Lord, as a part of their more basic submission to and service for God. They are in reality free, though free slaves of God, willing to serve him by living exemplary lives that serve his purposes in the world (of which more in b. below). The different levels of responsibility commanded in 2:17 suggest that where obeying the state conflicts with fearing God (or indeed loving the brotherhood) the Christian is under no obligation to comply.

b. Christians must yield to the authorities in order that the reign of God through the gospel might be furthered in the world. This is the inevitable conclusion from the hope of Gentiles converting in 2:12 as a result of the believer’s visible good works. It is also implicit in 2:15 where the criticisms against God’s people can be silenced by their civil obedience. Plug this into an eschatology of hope (e.g. Daniel 2:44-45) and you get the picture that as Christian's obey pagan authorities it contributes to their ultimate downfall (as pagan authorities anyway).

Christians submit to the authorities because Jesus, and not the authorities, is Lord. Civil obedience (i.e. conformity) functions within the more basic requirement to fear God and serve the Lord’s purposes, including the conversion of the nations – as part of ultimately bringing all authorities to find their rightful place under Christ’s overarching Lordship (i.e. it's subversive).

Of course, if we had time, we could discuss how 'subversive conformity' could be part of a wider picture we find in the new testament of power through weakness, victory through suffering, rule through service, resurrection via the cross, glory in jars of clay etc.

Some people did exegetical papers on this passage in my NT class, and I'm grateful for the way their careful work got me thinking. Any exegetical insights have probably come from them, any examples of bad thinking come from me.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Gospel Optimism 8: The Covenant with Abraham

We read Genesis 22:15-24 in chapel today. Here's the first few verses (emphasis mine)

And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, "By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice."

And I thought of 1 Corinthians 15:22-25 (again, emphasis mine)

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Christ, the offspring of Abraham, will possess the gate of his enemies - he will subdue them all, such that when he returns it will be to a conquered earth (with all the nations of the earth blessed under his rule) with only death left to deal with. This 'last enemy' is then swallowed up in victory.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Gospel Optimism 7: Kuyper and Creation

Gospel optimism is about the gospel being deep and wide. We should expect the gospel to penetrate and conquer with geographical breadth (to the ends of the earth) but also with personal and social depth. After all, the gospel says (among other things) that Jesus is Lord, the judge and saviour, the rightful king of our world, the one in whom humanity and in fact all of creation is reconciled and transformed.

A while ago I posted on this. Then yesterday I found a quote by Abraham Kuyper.

It is not that there are two worlds, a bad one and a good one, which are fitted into each other... it is one and the same world which once exhibited all the glory of Paradise, which was afterwards smitten with the curse, and which, since the Fall, is upheld by common grace; which has now been redeemed and saved by Christ, in its center, and which shall pass through the horror of the judgment into the state of glory.

Kuyper goes on to explain the 'cash value' for Christian living of viewing the new creation as a renewal of the present earth rather than an entirely new thing.

For this very reason the Calvinist cannot shut himself up in his church and abandon the world to its fate. He feels, rather, his high calling to push the development of this world to an even higher stage, and to do this in constant accordance with God’s ordinance, for the sake of God, upholding, in the midst of so much painful corruption, everything that is honourable, lovely, and of good report among men.

Thus gospel optimism means that none of our labours done in Christ's name (not just our evangelism) are in vain because of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

What am I studying this semester?

For those interested, here is what I'll be doing for a lot of the time between now and sometime after Christmas. It's the big, bad, 3rd year so modules are big and bad (in a good way) too - consequently there's only room for three a semester.

Hebrews and the General Epistles in Greek: Final attempt to do serious CPR on my Greek, taking in the scenery in Hebrews and 1 Peter along the way.

The Doctrine of God: A whole module simply trying to read, understand, digest, compile and apply what the bible has to say about the One it's really all about in the first place. After all, the chief end (i.e. main goal) of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Evangelical Public Theology: So, what does believing 'Jesus Christ is Lord' mean for engagement with public life (politics, education, media, art etc.)?

Pretty good huh?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Gospel Optimism 6: Vision of the UK from an American Pastor

Gospel optimism, precisely because it is gospel optimism (as opposed to e.g. humanistic optimism), doesn't mean burying your head in the sand and pretending things are better than they are. Rather, it means having a realistic hope for the long-term future based on faith in the promises and purposes of God revealed in the bible and the power of God in the gospel. It is entirely compatible with facing up to the (in many ways) dire situation Christians find themselves in much of western europe.

That sort of faith in the gospel's breadth and power (and eventual victory) can be found here (thanks to David Field) alongside critical engagement with the present state of affairs here in the UK.

Other posts on Gospel Optimism

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Summer Reading

September has arrived and the summer is drawing to a close (meteorologically it never arrived of course). As usual I have achieved a lot less than I hoped I would, though my 'to-do' list was particularly ambitious this year. I have read a few books though, which I list and describe briefly here for your delectation.

Against Christianity (sample online here): Peter Leithart thinks the Church is a new city. That means he's against 'Christianity' (a private/unsuccessful gospel and Church) and for 'Christendom' (a public/successful gospel and Church). And who wouldn't agree? Leithart also writes with considerable wit and style, which makes his book enjoyable as well as provocative.

Tested by Fire: Suffering in the lives of Bunyan, Cowper and Brainerd. John Piper has served us well with his brief (but not shallow) reflections on various Christian figures from history.

He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillenial Eschatology. Kenneth Gentry Jr.'s comprehensive and mostly persuasive book on the ultimate in gospel optimism. Seems to be the book that other-millenialists must contend with, both exegetically & theologically.

All Families are Psychotic. Hardly Douglas Coupland's finest moment. Some interesting commentary on consequences of actions, and of course on families and relationships. Less-than-believable ending doesn't really help things. Okay as beach reading.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Satisfactory and enjoyable conclusion to the series that has been disproportionately lauded (not J.K. rowling's fault I stress). Won't change your life, but then it isn't meant to.

Pierced for our Transgressions: Necessary, scholarly, readable. More (but brief) comments here.

By Faith, Not By Sight. Richard Gaffin helps us understand justification and sanctification, showing how the forensic and the renovative aspects of the salvation of individuals flow from the same basic reality - union with Christ.

The Radical Reformission. The unique Mark Driscoll on modern mission that doesn't sell out. All that needs to happen now is for someone to write the same kind of book for the UK but in a style that won't immediately offend and repel the conservative evangelical constituency here.

I've also started reading 'City of God' by St Augustine. Man, was that guy thorough (long-winded). I'm enjoying the ride but it might be some time before I blog on that one.