Jesus Himself

What it’s about is Jesus Himself

Herbert McCabe

Jesus did not offer a new social theory, or a new religion, he did not offer even a full analysis of the contradictions of his society, he did not provide an ideal for a new kind of human community. He offered himself.

Austin Farrer

God does not give us explanations; we do not comprehend the world, and we are not going to. It is, and it remains for us, a confused mystery of bright and dark. God does not give us explanations; he gives up a Son.

Ephraim Radner

Jesus’s response to the sacrificial calling of the law is to present his own body: “Lo, I have come do to thy will,” something accomplished “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

David Yeago, unpublished notes

for Luther and other early Lutherans, it is not quite adequate to say that Christ lived, suffered and died long ago so that we might be saved now. It would be more precise to say that Christ lived, suffered, died, and rose again so that fellowship with him might be salvation. What he has done and suffered renders him the present saving person, or salvation in person.

Bruck McCormack, personal lecture notes

The theme of the Bible is not a doctrine but a person.

Telford Work

the bedrock of our tradition is not some mystical experience, archetypical figure, or compelling idea, but simply the apostles’ testimony to Jesus’ death and resurrection and the powerful outpouring of his Holy Spirit.

The body of Christ is the instrument God has chosen to rescue his reputation in the world.

Gregory Clark, The Nature of Confession (1996), 217

Worldview philosophy brings its practitioners out of fideism and naiveté, while Scripture points us to One who can bring us out of death, darkness, unbelief and falsity.

Deborah Hunsinger, Pray without Ceasing (2006), 51, quoting Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology (2004), xviii.

All ministry is Christ’s ministry, in which the church is privileged to participate. As Andrew Purves explains, “Pastoral theology is understood properly first of all as a theology of the care of God for us in, through, and as Jesus Christ. …Only secondarily, derivatively, and above all, participatively…is pastoral theology an account of the pastoral work of the church.”

Hallowed Be Your Name

In Petition of the Self-Sanctification of God’s Name

Deploying theological categories as credible and capable resources for addressing any number of questions that vex our society and/or our subjectivity is an uncertain proposition. In the post-Christian West it’s taken for granted that religious discourse, if not yet altogether meaningless, is certainly in want of a raison d’être. So what is the theologian and pastor to do in times when talk of God, the church, and the gospel are heard as impotent to save? When the fear of the Lord and the obedience of faith constitute neither the beginning of wisdom nor the rule of virtue? When it seems religious discourse itself stands in need of, well, redemption?

When I rehearse questions like these to myself I admittedly feel caught between two lines of response, and I’m not yet sure how to correlate them. Both are on to something, but how to account for their respective contributions? This is my standing question. So without further ado:

SET 1

When words lose their meaning, it is not the words that are at fault, but the people using them.

  • from R. G. Rollefson Thinking with Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein: The Philosophical Theology of Paul L. Holmer (Pickwick, 2014), 67.

It is not that…words are mistaken, or that they are — in the glib modern sense — irrelevant, so that we need clearer and simpler ideas. Far from it. The problem lies in…speakers. There is not enough depth in us for [certain] words to emerge as credible; they have become external to us, tokens we use while forgetting what profound and frightening differences in the human world they actually refer to. …[T]he point of traditional doctrinal forms is…, we could say, to create a depth in us.

In the world as it is, the right to be heard speaking about God must be earned.

  • from Rowan Williams, On Christian Theology (Blackwells, 2000), 40.

SET 2


That prayer [hallowed be thy name] is not, we must note, first and foremost a prayer that the Church itself somehow establish the sanctity of God’s name. Quite the opposite: it is a prayer that God himself hallow his own name. … The prayer of the Church, its trustful cry that in this matter God will take up his own cause and demonstrate his holiness, is thus rooted in the “sanctifying of God’s name by God himself.”

  • from John Webster, Holiness (Eerdmans, 2003), 75-76.

A world enslaved to mistaken, idolatrous, and even murderous theological apprehensions seems to be too great a challenge for such a frail, divided, compromised community as the Church of Jesus Christ. And it is! That is why the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer! We disciples do not accept the hallowing of God’s name as a mission we can make ourselves able to accomplish. We beg for it as a gift we can receive in faith by grace. God’s reputation may be in tatters today among the nations and even among his own people, but God’s reputation is eternally secure among the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and that is what really matters.

  • from Telford Work, “The Reputation of God,” in Ain’t Too Proud to Beg: Living Through the Lord’s Prayer (Eerdmans, 2007), 45.

Ezekiel 36:16-38

Synthesis?

Insofar as my disjunction has set divine and human agency in contrastive terms, Webster and Work have to be right, as a matter of fundamental theological grammar, to accord what I’m calling the redemption of religious discourse to God’s agency. Quoting Barth, Webster is able to speak of “an act [of God] that cannot be ours” (76). This line would seem to leave Williams and Holmer’s thesis without any work left to do. But we know Webster and Work would not endorse an account of competitive, zero-sum agency between God and humanity. So, first, that does leave me wondering what could count as an action of God that’s unmediated by human action. What might Webster cite as an example? Second, I’m wondering whether Williams and Holmer’s claim could be reimported through a back door (so to speak) on the basis of some Thomist-style model of double agency. It seems to me axiomatic that the concrete lives of Christians contribute in some way to the credibility of their claims. Something about having to earn the right to be heard speaking about God (however that’s imagined) rings true. Yet how doesn’t that concession put the onus squarely back on Christians and once again eclipse God’s agency in just the way Webster censures?

In Closing

if the word ‘God’ (with a capital ‘G’) has today become so burdened with inappropriate use, why don’t we simply discard it, and speak in some other way about the holy mystery which the word misnames? After all, it is not on a three-letter word that our hearts, identities and hopes are set. The short answer, I suggest, is that the long, and complex, and conflictual history of humankind’s engagement in the educational process of learning non-idolatrously to worship, learning wholeheartedly and without reserve to give ourselves to the truth, and flourishing, and freedom, to which we have been called, is simply too bound up with the history of the uses and misuses of this little word. However difficult it is to use appropriately, there is no other word which similarly signals that the truth and destiny and healing of the world infinitely outstrip the world’s capacities.

  • from Nicholas Lash, Holiness, Speech and Silence (Ashgate, 2004), 20-21. Cf. Theology on the Way to Emmaus, 55.

The body of Christ is the instrument God has chosen to rescue his reputation in the world.

  • from Telford Work, “The Reputation of God,” in Ain’t Too Proud to Beg: Living Through the Lord’s Prayer (Eerdmans, 2007), 45. In context, by “body of Christ” Telford is primarily referring to the Church, but given the drift of his essay it might be permissible to leave it ambiguous (either Church or Christ), or perhaps even take it in a conjunctive totus christus sense.

Telford Work on science, religion, and reality

Telford Work on science, religion, and facing reality

Literalistic creation science must disregard or distort the massive and accumulating credible evidence of humanity’s evolutionary origins and character as well as the signs that the Bible’s creation accounts are not literal chronologies. Intelligent Design theory, already unattractive to scientists as a “science stopper,” cannot match its rival’s elegance and explanatory power. Likewise, naturalistic accounts of “religion” misrepresent traditions such as historic Christianity that do not fit their scientific paradigms. [Daniel] Dennett’s and [Michael] Shermer’s learned speculations on the rise of religious ideas and experiences uncannily ignore two thousand years of insistent Christian testimony that the bedrock of our tradition is not some mystical experience, archetypical figure, or compelling idea, but simply the apostles’ testimony to Jesus’ death and resurrection and the powerful outpouring of his Holy Spirit. In other words, neither side can really afford to take the other side’s evidence seriously. Both of these camps of imperialists are fighting for what all empires treasure: its vision of reality, whose most stubborn enemy is not disbelievers but reality itself.

from “What Have the Galapagos to Do with Jerusalem? Scientific Knowledge in Theological Context,” in Eds. James K.A. Smith and Amos Yong, Science and the Spirit: A Pentecostal Engagement with the Sciences (Indiana Univ. Pr., 2010).

when your enemies AREN’T God’s enemies

Link: Radner on the gospel and the perception of enemies

Just over a month ago Ephraim Radner, professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College @ the University of Toronto, preached the following sermon. I hope it reaches a wide audience — it deserves one. You can find it here: “Hope for Our Enemies.” His text was Acts 9:1-20, Ananias’s healing of Saul.

For those who’d prefer an abridged edition, Radner speaks to how “No one is beyond the work of the Living Lord. No one. [Even our enemies.]”

Don’t let this preview prevent you from reading the text in full, though; it’s worth the time to see how Radner reaches this point. It’s both a convicting antidote to self-righteousness and an eye-opening account of the scope of God’s mercy.

(P.S. for extra credit)

For another solid treatment of what the gospel has to teach us about our perceived enemies, consider the following sermon from Telford Work: “Bible Stories You Didn’t Outgrow: Jonah.”

Telford Work on Christian Resilience

Telford Work on Christian Resilience

The Christian thing to do when things seem askew is not to reject the God of Israel as king of the universe or set ourselves against him, as skeptics do. It is not to retreat into wishful thinking, selective memory, forced biblical interpretation, or revised theology to construct more palatable positions, as some liberals do. It is not to dismiss the problem stoically or fatalistically under the guise of “faith,” as some conservatives do. It is not to turn away in bitterness or pout and wish that things were better. It is to pray.

from Ain’t too Proud to Beg, (Eerdmans, 2007), 25.

 

Telford Work on scripture

Telford Work on scripture as the church’s language

There is perhaps no adequate way to condense the main dimensions of Scripture’s relationship to Jesus Christ. But since twentieth-century philosophy’s linguistic turn, the term language has acquired a richness that makes it an appropriate term. Scripture is Jesus’ heritage, his horizon, his formation, his practice, his authority, his instrument, his medium, his teaching, his crisis and vindication, his witness, his confession, his community and his glory. The Bible is the very language of the Messiah.

[…] In describing the relationship between Scripture and Christ, we have all along been describing the relationship between those in Scripture and Christ. Holy Scripture is also the Church’s heritage, its horizon, its formation, its practice, its authority, its instrument, its medium, its teaching, its criterion, its witness, its confession, its community and its glory.

No other institution pervades the Christian life like the Bible. […] It is the language of the Triune God, the language of Israel, the language of Messiah, the language of the Church, and the language of salvation.

Living and Active, Eerdmans, (2002), 212, 269, 315.

Telford Work on 2 John

Telford Work on the Second Epistle of John

“What use is this tiny little letter? Is it in the New Testament by accident? Not at all. Rather, it’s a sign – a sign pointing to the kind of community that could have authored it. It greets us as beloved cousins in an extended family: “The children of your sister, who is chosen by God, send their greetings” (2 John 13, cf. 2 John 1b). It is a call for us to be the kind of community that can say, and not say, the same things, share the same joy, and know the same truth. It calls us not only to make our churches that kind of church, but also to make our college [Westmont] that kind of college.”

Telford Work, “Less is More: The Joy of Preaching About Almost Nothing.”

Available in full here