Two Gospel Witnesses

Two premier English theologians passed away last month — Nicholas Lash and J. I. Packer. Through their writings both men played outsized roles at key stages in my theological education, and I remain grateful for their instruction.

May we long remember them both and the gospel to which their labors witnessed.

  1. Nicholas Lash

There are, in my opinion, few more succinct summaries of the Gospel than this: We have been made capable of friendship. The ‘we’ is unrestricted, it refers to everybody, past and present, near and far and, by analogy, to every feature of that web of life of which we form a part. We ‘have been’ made: the passive voice protects the primacy of grace, the givenness of things. Made ‘capable of’ friendship, rather than ‘made friends,’ for it is as duty that we hear the Word’s announcement of the way all things are made and made to be.

from Theology for Pilgrims (2008), 49.

2. J. I. Packer

“were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that.”

from Knowing God (1973), 214.

Joseph Minich on the purposiveness of revelation

Could God be more obvious than He is? Could He erase all atheism? Yes. … But He doesn’t. Why? Because God is only interested in His revelation being clear enough for the purposes He has in revealing Himself. That is to say, God’s revelation is about God’s rather than man’s goals. And it is not man, therefore, who determines how clear He must be. Man’s purposes are often at odds with those of God. As it turns out, God is actually not that interested in people simply believing that He exists. Consider the parallel of Jesus in the Gospels. How often does Christ actually conceal His teaching and His identity precisely because He knows that people will simply abuse His teaching or seek to manipulate His identity for their own ends? Christ is most clear to those who pursue, who hunger, who thirst—and he satisfies them, as in the case of the woman at the well (John 4). This does not mean that His identity was, as such, unclear. It means that He was not interested in maximal clarity. His clarity was fitting to His own purpose in coming and revealing Himself and His Father. … Why would He then ‘fix’ what isn’t, by His standards, broken?

from Enduring Divine Absence: The Challenge of Modern Atheism (2018), 68-69.

Out of Egypt

Hans Boersma on Matthew 2:13-15

“Out of Egypt I called my son.” Why does God tell Joseph to take the child and his mother into Egypt? Why does he tell Joseph to flee from Bethlehem? Why does he tell Joseph to stay in Egypt until Herod’s death? Obviously, you say, to save the child! Sure, but why Egypt? Why not any other place? Isn’t it because you and I so often return to the fleshpots of Egypt? Isn’t it because you and I are just like the Israelites, and our misdirected desires often lead us back to Egypt? There “we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full,” we say to ourselves, while here we are in the wilderness, starving to death (Ex 16:3). The amazing grace of the gospel, the astounding love of God, is this: not only does the eternal Son of God take on human flesh, not only does he go to Bethlehem so that we can have a place alongside him in Bethlehem; no, he goes all the way to where we are. He goes all the way to Egypt. He goes all the way to the very place of slavery and oppression. He goes all the way to our country of exile. He goes all the way to the objects of our misdirected desires. he goes all the way to the center of our darkest labyrinths. “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

from Sacramental Preaching: Sermons on the Hidden Presence of Christ (Baker Academic, 2016), 75-6.

P.S. Martin Copenhaver on “He descended to hell.”

“The Apostle’s Creed contains this affirmation about Jesus:  “Jesus Christ was crucified, dead and buried. He descended to hell.” The last part of that statement always used to trouble me, until one day someone told me that, for her, it is the most treasured part of the creed. When I asked why, she answered, “Because hell is where I spend much of my life.” Hell—a sense of being forsaken, the absence of God, a place of despair. We have been there. And Jesus has been there. And having been there, Jesus transformed it.”

from Jesus Goes to Hell

Andrew Purves on Christ’s vicarious humanity

a failure to give appropriate attention to the vicarious humanity of Jesus means that everything, the whole of the Christian faith, life and ministry are now cast back on us to do. At this last moment, it turns out, we are dependent on our faith, our worship, our obedience and so on, rather than on Jesus’ response for us. While our responses of course have their valid place, they are not the axis on which the gospel turns. Rather, Jesus is the axis on which the gospel turns. The resurrection of Jesus is the assurance that Jesus not only stood in for us while he lived, but that he stands in for us still, today and tommorrow and forever, offering  us—who we are and what we do—in himself to the Father. Our lives, our worship and our ministries, as well as our prayers, are given to the Father “through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

from The Resurrection of Ministry (IVP, 2007), 101.

The Christology of Prayer

He is our mouth by which we speak to the Father; our eye by which we see the Father; our right hand by which we offer ourselves to the Father. Save by his intercession neither we nor any saints have any intercourse with God.

Ambrose, On Isaac or the Soul, 8.75

It is one Savior of His Body, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who both prays for us, and prays in us, and is prayed to by us. He prays for us, as our Priest; He prays in us, as our Head; He is prayed to by us, as our God. Let us therefore recognize in Him our words, and His words in us.

Augustine

Because He prays, we pray too. … We do this because we are partakers of His life: ‘Christ is our life;’ ‘No longer I, but Christ liveth in me.’ The life in Him and in us is identical, one and the same. His life in us is an ever-praying life. When it descends and takes possession of us, it does not lose its character; in us too it is the ever-praying life—a life that without ceasing asks and receives from God. And this not as if there were two separate currents of prayer rising upwards, one from Him, and one from His people. No, but the substantial life-union is also prayer-union: what He prays passes through us, what we pray passes through Him. He is the angel with the golden censer: ‘UNTO HIM there was given much incense,’ the secret of acceptable prayer, ‘that He should add it unto the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar.’ We live, we abide in Him, the Interceding One.

Andrew Murray

Let us not forget this—and Luther was right when he said it—it is Jesus Christ who prays, and we join in his intercession. It is he whom God hears, and his prayer is heard since the beginning of the world, from eternity to eternity.

Karl Barth, Prayer, 51

If he takes us with him in his prayer, if we are privileged to pray along with him, if he lets us accompany him on his way to God and teaches us to pray, then we are free from the agony of prayerlessness. … Only in Jesus Christ are we able to pray, and with him we also know that we shall be heard.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible, ch. 1

Prayer is God’s communion with God.

It is God who prays. Not just God who answers prayer but God who prays in us in the first place. In prayer we become the locus of the divine dialogue between Father and Son.

Herbert McCabe, God Still Matters, 217; and God Matters, 221

All Christian prayer is first the prayer of Jesus Christ, then the prayer of the community, and last of all our own individual prayer.

Deborah Hunsinger, Pray without Ceasing (2006), 15.

In the fellowship of prayer Christ is truly present; he prays “in us”, “with us” and “for us”. It is he who leads our prayer in the Spirit-Consoler whom he promised and then bestowed on his Church in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, when he established her in her original unity.

JP II, Ut Unum Sint (1995), 22

So, for the Christian, to pray—before all else—is to let Jesus’ prayer happen in you. … That, in a nutshell, is prayer—letting Jesus pray in you.

Rowan Williams, “Prayer” in Being Christian (2014), 62-3.

the real agent in all true worship is Jesus Christ. He is our great high priest and ascended Lord, the one true worshipper who unites us to himself by the Spirit in an act of memory and in a life of communion, as he lifts us up by word and sacrament into the very triune life of God.

James Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace (1996), 17.