Posts Tagged With: john calvin

My Story, Gods Story, & My Theology

One of my biggest mistakes I believe that I was making as an early bible student was assuming that scripture was all about how to ‘get saved and go to heaven.’

To my pleasant surprise, (as it turned out) that was not what Featured imagescripture or God himself was concerned with trying to reveal. I’m so glad that the year I had decided to do the SBS in YWAM, a Chronological SBS was starting in Los Angeles and that happened to be the place where I was planning to go. I spent the first 6 months of the bible school trapped in the Old Testament. I was just nineteen years old when I began the CSBS and I struggled with the violence in the OT but for the first time was struck by the goodness and mercy of God. Instead of being fixated on his wrath or anger It became clear that though God interacted with violence at times mankind was constantly prone to violence, murder, lies, cheating, stealing, and many other violent and destructive behaviors. God not man is the hero of the OT.

Often people struggling with God, fixate on specif instances of his judgement. But the consistent story of the OT is about the ongoing and worsening behavior of man. Yet the primary theme emerges. Scripture when given a chance and looked at as a unified whole reveal a good God, a loving and patient God, a just and right God who does not gleefully destroy anyone or anything that he lovingly created.

The emerging theme is what we sometimes call the theme of Gods Redemptive Plan. It is evident from book one that he had a plan to turn everything around. To reverse the curse that began with mans rebellion from God. Abraham was the man God chose and his family to undo the sin of Adam and bring blessings instead of curses onto the earth and to every family in it. Just as God planned in Adam and Eve to fill the earth with Adam seed and nurture Eden until it consumed the whole earth. God wanted for Abraham to continue in that great vocation though sin and its curse had already begun to have its effect on the earth and on all the families of the earth including Abraham’s family.

The overarching story of those first 6 months of bible study told us that this chosen family was failing. Though there were many bright spots, many shining examples of faithfulness, the people of Abraham failed. They again, like Adam faced exile from their home, from the place which in Gods design they would spread out from and bless the world. When we arrive at the gospels in the New Testament Jews believed that though the had been preserved they were still in an exile of sorts. Still awaiting the day when God would act on their behalf. The day when God would restore their fortunes and make the world notice that God was for Israel.

Interesting for me that after about 5 years in the CSBS I had not developed a strong appreciating for the New Testament. I did not dislike it. But I was intrigued and drawn to the Torah and to the story of Israel and their God. But after 5 years I finally fell in Love with the gospels. In particular I fell in love with the the Gospel of Matthew. This makes a lot of sense to me since Matthew is the most Jewish Gospel. Written to Jews no doubt, Jesus engages a lot with Pharisees (with the lament of the pharisees in particular), Law (with the Sermon on the mount in particular), and Temple (with the Olivet Discourse in particular). It is a master piece seeking to convince any doubters that Jesus really is the Messiah that the Jewish people have been waiting on. But its going to be tricky cause he is a little different than expected. I found it more exciting because Jesus was not simply telling people ‘this is how you get to heaven or get saved.” It was more rich than that. He was teaching what his kingdom was like, how those who were a part of his kingdom must live, think, and feel about the world that they live in and will inherit. Only after I really grasped some of these essentials about Jesus and his kingdom, about the ongoing use of the Jewish Narrative and their Law was I able to appreciate the work of Paul the Apostle.

For many Christians, I believe, their “Christian” Theology is actually a “Pauline” Theology. Whether they worked for it or inherited it from sermons and popular teaching people understand the OT through Paul’s lens, and people understand the Gospels through Paul’s lens. Not that there is anything wrong with Paul’s lens in itself. Its just not the way Christians, I believe, should go about study and compression of the Canon of Scripture. I have heard it pointed out that our “Theology” is often based on creeds rather than on Canon. That theology is inherited from the teachings, the sermons, the songs, the liturgy, and the creeds, of the church. This is a valid point that Reformers themselves fought against. We tend to think that the reformers had a great victory in riding the church of allegiance to creeds and bring the people of God back to the whole witness of the Canon of Scriptures. But they did not once and for all rid Christianity of allegiance to creeds over Canon. They simply set an example to follow. It remains a task of Christians to follow in their footsteps and not allow Tradition to overtake fresh engagement with the Word of God. Even if that means that we challenge some of the traditions developed in our post reformation christian world. Of course I am not suggesting to throw out doctrine of John Calvin, Martin Luther, and the like. We should work with their readings and commentaries and go back to the text and have fresh insights that derive out of careful exegesis.

One of these Post-Reformation ways of engaging with the Canon is to read through the lens of Paul rather. As inductive bible students who seek to establish a context for each book, its author, its audience, and its occasion we should not approach Genesis for instance simply with what Paul said, though we do not dismiss him. It helps, I believe, to approach these text fresh, with as much knowledge of the context as possible. To work through the unfolding story, in context, to arrive at Jesus and the Gospels still engaging with their context, and then arrive at Paul and his letters to see how he engaged with the Old Testament and the Gospels and add on to what we have already learned and perhaps adapt it where it needs to be adapted. The thing I’m not suggesting is a a sort of either or, that we either go with what Paul said about the OT or we just do it on our own. Instead we do a little of both. I believe if we learn to work with the OT in context then instead of forcing Paul to say what we want him to we become familiar with how he may have actually come to think about the OT and Jesus.

In other words, what Paul says about the use of the Law is not extensive and final. Most come away from Paul with clarity that the Law brings condemnation. He says that it does, but for those who are “in Christ” the law does not bring condemnation. Therefore the Law becomes simultaneously; condemnation for those who are not “in Christ”, a tool for those who are to know God better, to look more like God, and to bear a greater witness to those who are not “In Christ.” Multiple uses for the Law abound when we look at Paul’s explanation of the Law from the angle of how Jews in the first Century struggled with the Law and how to actually go about observing it. Paul now has the key, Jesus and the Spirit. All of these uses are evident if we study the law in context. Paul becomes more clear when we see for ourselves that the Law is about humbling the people of God, revealing God to the people of God, and making the people of God a greater witness to those around them.

It is the issue of the Law that brings me back to my own story. Just as I had mistaken all scripture to be about Salvation, or how to get saved and go to heaven. Jews in Paul’s day had mistaken the Law for a formula for assurance of their own future vindication. If they were circumcised, if they ate right, observed holy days, and followed the rabbinic teachings of the day then they would have some assurance of their Salvation. In others words for many Jews in Paul’s day they have mistaken the Law for a way of salvation. Saul of Tarsus certainly must have believed in some form of this, until his conversion, and maybe some time away in Arabia to sort things out a bit. The new Paul was able to clarify that Law on its own brings condemnation, that without Christ there is no hope of future vindication of the righteous, no matter how righteous, without Christ and also the spirit there is not hope for the people of God. So for Paul, if he were asked directly, “How do I get saved?” He might respond with well really its not about how you get saved but about how you have been saved, or better, how salvation has come into the world for the world by way of those in the world. It is a story that in Romans Paul actually decided to tell from Creation, Fall, Judgement, Law, Sacrifice, Atonement, Adam, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Pharaoh, Prophets, exile, and Messiah. This is the story not of how you can get saved and go to heaven but about how God has brought salvation into the world that he loves and to that which he loved the most, mankind.

It would be silly of me to completely leave out what Paul says about “Justification by Faith”. Some might say well actually Paul answers the quest more basically. He says, to those who ask, You get saved by faith in the Messiah. But that I believe is sometimes the answer we give a bit to soon. Paul labors heavily to tell the story of how Salvation was provided for us by God  throughout history climaxing in Jesus the Messiah. Then when it is heavily evident Faith in the messiah becomes a reaction, and a work of the spirit, through the telling of the story of Gods Faithfulness. In other words, we are saved by the faithfulness of God. By Faith for Faith as Paul says in Romans chapter one.

Some Suggested Reading on topic

Conversion of the Imagination – Richard B. Hays

Ancient Near Eastern Thought Relating to the OT – John H. Walton

The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah – Alfred Edersheim

Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N.T. Wright

How God became King – N.T. Wright

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Categories: Bible, CSBS, Doctrine, New Testament, paul, Romans, Theology, YWAM | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Church History: Recovering Kingdom Heritage

9thSinaiAscensionChristian History begins in Acts with the ascension of Christ. Right before he is seen by his disciples going back into the clouds his disciples ask him, “Are you going to establish the Kingdom of Israel now?” Whenever I read this I laugh out loud. But I also recognize its rich significance. That was a question any person in their sandals would ask. After all that was what it was all about for the Jewish people. They had a great story about their origins as a nation and where it was all heading. For them it was the reestablishment of the Davidic Kingdom. A new era that would surpass all the wonders of Solomon’s Kingdom in all of its glory.

But then Jesus was so patient with his friends. After he makes them aware that they are not to know the time or periods they were asking about he speaks of the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. He spoke of a time when they would begin in Jerusalem, being filled with the spirit, they would bring that same message Peter spoke at Pentecost, and the same spirit that fell, to the ends of the earth.

The beginning of the church saw multiple types of persecution. They were as Christ spoke of in Matthew 10, to be dragged into the synagogues and before the government of Rome. This persecution lasted long into the 3rd century until the conversion of Constantine. The shift that took place may be understood by referring to the early church as the apostolic age, and then from Constantine until the fall of Rome as the Imperial era of the church. There were various blessings and damages done by this new era of the church. The church benefited from the ceasing of persecutions and began gathering for important decisions about the nature of heretical text and sacred inspired text that the church used from the earliest times. Given that these gatherings of Bishops began in the time of Constantine the major consensus was that the large amount of Gnostic text had been something done within the lifetimes of those present at the gatherings. Gnostic gospels distorted the eyewitness accounts of those 1st century apostles who recorded and shared the message of what they had seen and heard. These early gatherings did not give the church the bible, they merely guarded what for centuries had already been regarded as authoritative and true accounts of historical eyewitnesses.

conThe untold stories of the Cannon Communities of early Christianity are now being hijacked by the resurgence of gnostic belief in pop-culture movies and books. Common people have begun to get their education of history from the History Channel, Youtube videos, facebook timelines. New Gnostic text are constantly being discovered though near not as often as apostolic texts. The new finds are published and added to the growing “evidence” for a new narrative about the origins of the Christian faith. That story begin told can be summarized as something beginning with Constantine, who is responsible for the growth and widespread popularity of Christianity because he made it so by his own conversion and the subsequent conversion of the entire empire to the new faith. Actually this is not true. If anything his conversion and acceptance of Christianity may have been more of a political move to protect his own power. The growth trend happening in the apostolic age was reaching its height by the time of Constantine. Also his conversion may also begin to be seen as something sincere. But lets not get overly sidetracked with Constantine.

When Rome fell the church did not. It remained. So even if Constantine did help get the church going, (which is a garbage theory) It was not dependent on the state. Many of the the damages brought about by the imperial church effected the church negatively throughout the middle ages. However the new era of the church was not “dark” as many have suggested. It most obviously can not be seen as “dark” simply for the sake of Augustine of Hippo who lived in the 3rd and 4th Centuries of the church. He was influenced heavily by the monastic movement that began before his time, as a response by those who despised the new damages done by the Constantine era of imperial power behind the church. Augustine is just a bit of glue aiding us to see the benefits of the devote monastic communities. But then on the other side Augustine is the rise of medieval education. Augustine is really a primary origin point for the creation of Universities as we know them. It was not the Greeks, though they did schools.  No lasting universities give evidence for any actual universities existing and Greek and roman times.

Saint_Augustine_PortraitNot only did men like Augustine, influenced by the monastic communities begin to have a profound effect on the development of European culture. But “the high church” can also receive some credit. They were not always corrupted by power and greed. The monastic communities had occasional victories in the church at large when men like Gregory the Great were elected Pope. The church began as early as the 5th century seeing many reforms. If anything the Reforms begin here rather then the 14th century. Even the reformer John Calvin recognized Gregory as a good Pope. These illustrations point out that this new era was again, not something “dark”. Though it had its share of issues, calling it “dark” robs us of understanding that it was the church that assisted all of Europe in recovering their own multiculturalism lost under the Roman empire. No longer were peoples creativity bound by a ruling elite who sucked up all the production of the lower cast. Rome had fallen, along with it the ruling elitists. Feudalism is often looked as evidence of a “dark” era rather then an era of state rebuilding and individual progress.

This bring us up to about the 10th & 11th century. The bridge between the early medieval period and the later are the events of the  Muslim Empire and the Christian Crusades. The rise of what many Christians regard as the cult of Mohammed did not shy away from its involvement in the state. The expansion of the Muslim empire came by force and had stretched deep into Spain before the Europe’s response. Of course in order to get Europe to respond at all some campaigning needed to be done. Petitions had already been sent to Rome for aid to be sent to those seeking safe access to the Holy Land. The desire for Christian tourism or pilgrimage was very common and encouraged. Just as it is today very important to many Christians to one day go to the place where God was made incarnate. There was a flurry of responses over the following centuries. Again, Europe was not a centralized government as it would have been under the Roman empire. It was necessary for someone, somehow, to promote the war against the Islamic empire before it took control of all of Europe. The church was at that time the most centralized source of public influence and took it upon itself to organize feudal Lords, Barron’s, Kings, and Knights to take up the call to defend Europe and reclaim territories as far as the Holy Land. It is unfortunate for the Christ-like reputation of Christianity that the church needed to use its influence to help organize armies to go up against the Muslim Conquest.

There were no doubt troubling elements within the church of the middle ages. Though this era can not either be refereed to as dark because the situation as a whole was very dark and called for a drastic step for the sake of all of secular Europe. Though it is often referred to as the “Christian Middle Ages” most common people remained pagan and superstitious. There also at this time remained a devote remnant. The era of the Crusades was not simply Europe vs. Islam, but Church Tradition, and Papal Authority vs heretical movements such as the Waldensian’s or Catharians. These “heretical groups” were also on the receiving end of a holy war influenced by the power of the church to organize armies. All of these events are unfortunate for the reputation of the church as something following the example of Christ. Though Europe’s response to the growing Islamic Invasion has found justification by many.

This brings us to the dawn of the “Reformation era”.

Many wonderful characters illuminate the 14th-16th century; Jan Hus, John Wycliffe, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Ulirch Zwingli, and a good many more. There men of the reformations fought valiantly for the minds and lives of Europeans. Their influence is massive, so much so that when people think of church history these names are often the first that any good protestant would think of.

Ijohn-wycliffe-oprea-nicolaef you are Catholic however then these names, though they are known, are not hero’s. After all they themselves were not successful in bringing a reform to the Catholic church. When the protestant movements began to break forth from the church the Catholic church went on later to make some necessary reforms. But the reformation era was crucial.

What was at the core of the motives of men like Luther, Calvin, Hus, Wycliffe, and Zwingli was to see scripture in a place of higher authority then tradition or papal authority. It becomes clear when these human authorities of mans tradition and mans hierarchy become corrupt that something else needs to be the source of authority. For the reformers it was not their version of truth, or in other words, their own traditions regarding scripture. The work of Luther, and Calvin did later become tradition that led to later schisms with the Lutheran and Reformed churches. But for the actual lives of the reformers, their aim was to see the church with the bible at the center, and Christ’s sacrifice at the central event of theology. No further mass was needed to bring propitiation for sin.

The reformers did more for Europe then challenging the church and creating the protestant movement. Their influence in the church touched much more then the church itself. Remember that the church was for more engrained in the public life. The church had in fact helped to rebuild the entire civilization of the west after the fall of Rome. So the reformers challenge of the church was in part  the beginning of a reform to the state. Overlords and Kings began to face new challenges. If the people of Europe were willing to see the hierarchy of the church challenged and its influence undermined by scripture then maybe following the OT model, Kings and overlords could be challenged with the rule of Law.

Retracing our steps we can see that the church was a growing and thriving source of education and social reform capable from the earliest days of the church to step out and lead a broken civilization. The middle ages saw many such advances, the whole modern enlightenment principle of ‘human progress’ was already in full swing long before the “enlightenment” or “modern era” began. In fact the whole idea of moral or human progress was not something disconnected from those who could be considered religious. The church faced the challenge of helping rebuild Europe, and they gave it universities, science, many new technologies, the rule of law, capitalism, implemented democracy, and abolished slavery. All of this developed long before the enlightenment or modern era.

What many Christians do at this point in their grasp of history accept that the reformers did a great thing and now we move on to today and try to implement their passion for truth in our own pursuit of it. But that would be to dismiss the enlightenment altogether as something that does not have any effect on the modern christian mind. It is however, very important to realize that we moravian_sealare all children of the enlightenment. Much of what we may think is common sense is actually accepting for better or worse what began in the enlightenment era. I have already written a good deal on the enlightenment. But here I wish to show how the church behaved in the modern era. Early on among the Lutheran community there developed another schism. Just as many Philosophers such as Descartes, Hume, or Kant had discussed the importance of reason as a means of discovering truth versus experiment so the Lutheran community did. The early schism was an attempt to get away from the head and into the heart of things were man may touch and feel his way toward the truth of God. This lead into the Moravian and eventually Wesleyan missionary movements and churches. These movements also saw schisms on the issue of public versus private outer-workings of the faith. Not only that but the modern era working all around the church was more and more scary for those who drowned themselves in theology but had nothing to say about the new work of Charles Darwin. The church had turned inward and became a private sphere only concerned with theology, gospel, and saving souls for heaven. They lost touch with bringing the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven. The missions movement has been massive and the world is being evangelized with the message of salvation for eternity in heaven. But not here on earth, not bringing sense to the mess we are facing here and now. The current missions movement and evangelicalism we find ourselves in today has also developed another schism. Instead of working to convince men and women of the soundness of our gospel we have bought into trying to entertain, give a good speech, and proclaim the gospel and call it a day. There is very little persuasion in our proclamation.  And today we have a kingdom of God theology where our faith is all heart and no head, all private and not public, and all proclamation and no persuasion. We fall short because we have given in to the modern tide and have a fractured Christian inheritance.

Knowing history may help us begin to recover what true nature of Christ centered Kingdom living is. It is not something in the heavens we might one day escape to, nor is it a utopia on earth were man is the center of all things. But it is Gods redemptive rule of all of his creation.

 

Categories: Authority, Bible, Church, Culture, Enlightenment, Faith, History, Medieval Period, Modern, Modernism, Philosophy, Science, Society/Culture, sociology, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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