Sunday, August 25, 2013

Why Do We Hate Authority?

"Our legacy has led us to read authority as authoritarianism, and seriously to be misled in requiring unconditional freedom in every legitimate human act. We bristle at the word authority. That's why often in this chapter I have opted for the words directions, guides, coaches. But we must see that our actual dependence on authority remains.” Esther Lightcap Meek from Longing to Know, page 103

From the beginning of our lives, we are set under authorities. Our parents teach us who we are in regards to position in our family. They feed us, hug us, talk to us, and love us (hopefully). Teachers instruct us in reading, math, science, history, and Bible. We are born under a government which enforces laws and allows for a peaceful life. If we are Christians in a good church we are under the authority of elders and deacons and pastors.

In the same way that our parents and teachers were given wisdom by their parents and teachers and pastors, we are caught under the umbrella of authority whether we like it or not. It is inherent to the human experience of life, and no desire of trying to rid ourselves of authority can work itself out. Considering yourself as the ultimate authority for truth is stupid and naïve and does not fit into our life experience, as we trust a doctor to tell us what’s wrong with us medically, a plumber to know why our pipes are clogged, and a referee to coach a fair basketball game.

So why the problem when it comes to one of the most inherent parts of being human: our religious nature? The question is not so much of authority as whom or what a trustworthy authority is. We have all experienced bad authority in our lives whether it be the Umbridge-like prinicipal on the power trip, the police officer who loves to hand out tickets, the father who rules with an iron fist, or the drug addict mother who cared more about getting high than loving her child.

Really, what we despise is authoritarianism, not authority. We despise bad authority, and we have had so many terrible teachers and authorities in our lives that we become skeptical of any authority at all. In reality, we truly desire to be led. We desire our teachers to be faithful and loving and gracious, and we are drawn to people who show themselves to be trustworthy. We desire fathers who disciplined us, showed us the path of life, and we desired mothers who loved us beyond our sinful tendencies, who nursed us as little children and taught us about Jesus.

I realize that I am less skeptical of authority because I had good parents. Upon hearing someone say recently that women in the church don’t know their Bible’s well enough to train up the younger women I exclaimed, “Ya’ll need to meet my mother!” My father taught me and constrained me to work hard as working for the Lord, and taught me to fight for truth of the gospel no matter who stood in front of you.

Our experience can tell us that some authorities are untrustworthy, but it cannot tell us that all authorities are untrustworthy. As Esther Meek states, “The move to reject authority was warranted but not justified” (103). We all look up to someone.  Whether we like it or not, we trust people who commend themselves to us as trustworthy. Why else would we pay more money for the family doctor we trust and who has seen us grow up, rather than the new doctor who doesn’t know us at all? Why would we go to the barber down the street who knows exactly what haircut we desire and has cut our hair for years, rather than going to a new haircutter who doesn’t know us at all? It’s because we know who the true authorities are and we trust them!

My friend told me recently about a conversation he had with an unbeliever who said that he couldn’t believe in the Bible because the New Testament writers were all about control. Now this is a true and false statement. He meant that the New Testament writers were desirous of controlling people’s lives in a self-centered way. This comes from someone who has obviously not read the New Testament.

The Christian religion is about control in a sense. I’m constrained by the grace of God to love him and know him and enjoy him and glorify him. Control is inherent to our lives as humans: If we want to play basketball, we have rules. If we want to talk to someone we don’t know, there are certain unspoken social rules (i.e. personal bubble or power distance). If we want to drive our car on government roads, there are rules of the road and cops to give you tickets if you break them. In every area of human existence there are rules, certain controls we live by. Do we expect that this is somehow different in regards to religion? Without control, we simply can’t have a semblance of the lives we live.

Now God has shown himself to be utterly trustworthy. He was never broken a promise. Jesus came, lived, died, resurrected, and ascended to heaven. Upon reading the Apostles one sees that their authority is justified because of their proximity to Jesus. I think it is telling that Paul, when writing to Philemon, said that he could command him to release Onesimus on the basis that he was an Apostle. But Paul prefers, he writes, to appeal to Philemon for love’s sake. Why would Paul do that if he were only about control?

I heard the late Christopher Hitchens say once that Christians have good evidence for believing the resurrection, but who cares? A lot of crazy things happen in this world, and it doesn’t mean that Jesus was the son of God.

This statement logically makes sense (a lot of crazy things do happen in the world!), but it cannot be proved scientifically, just as the resurrection of Christ cannot be known or proved scientifically (I mean it is historical but cannot be scientifically verified for us). The question is, is Jesus a trustworthy authority? Are the Apostles writing as men who are trustworthy? And can we trust their message today?

That answer is yes, Jesus and the apostles are trustworthy. Can we know truth in the modernist sense, 100% no doubt about it? Well, human experience is not lived that way, meaning we don’t come to know that way. We don’t believe in historical facts because they are 100% verifiable. They could be lying to us! We believe in things because the facts line up, the evidence shows itself commendable, and our lived experience proves that certain things are true and others are false. We simply have confidence in trustworthy authorities and guides, through whom we come to see the world. Jesus gave us ears to hear his call, and he gave us eyes to see who he truly was (and is).

We believed his call when he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Learn from Jesus. He is trustworthy. Have we not found rest for our souls? Have we not been freed from sin’s guilt and power? Have we not found the joy of living in light of Jesus presence and indwelling Holy Spirit? Take him as your authority, over and against all other false authorities who boast arrogance and pride. Muslim’s have no surety, no anchor or trust that they will be saved when they die. “Perhaps Allah will have mercy on me.” Would you trust your parents if they said, “Well, maybe I’ll pick you up from school today. We’ll see.” Or what if they said, “If you get and A today I’ll pick you up from school?” Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses have no surety, for they must work for their salvation as well. They believe contra the trustworthy Apostles, that Jesus is a mere man. What an untrustworthy authority must their god be! All other religions are self-made religions. No surety.

But on Christ our surety stands! Jesus (God and man) is the authority that frees us through grace. I trust that God will be true to his promises because he has never been otherwise. He says, “You are forgiven, you are justified” in a similar way that my parents say “I’ll be there for you." But God, king over heaven and earth, tells me I am forgiven to the nth degree, far and above the trustworthiness of my parents. King David trusted God, and God proved through David's life that he was faithful and able to accomplish all his purposes, despite David's sins and failures. And this is how it has always been. With Abraham, with Adam, with Enoch. They believed and God was faithful. The promise of God is inherent in his name “I am who I am.” God will be because he will be. He loves us because he loves us.

Let’s not throw off authority, for “Bad use of authority, we should see, does not entail the rejection of authority, for the rejection of authority is impossible” (103). Let’s place our trust in the most trustworthy authority we can find: God himself. Always true, always faithful. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…”

***All references are from Esther Lightcap Meek’s book Longing to Know. The thoughts of this blog post were born and fleshed out of that work.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Six Things I Learned From Dr. Scott Swanson

My Bible professor at Providence Christian College was Dr. Scott Swanson. These are six important things I learned from him (although this is by no means an exhaustive list).

      1.      Sanctification is as important as justification. At the same time, the two doctrines cannot be conflated or we lose the basis of our salvation (justification) and the basis of working out our salvation with fear and trembling (sanctification). Because of justification we have a right standing with God (we are “accounted righteous”), and the fuel for our sanctification is the new birth in the Spirit. When we get to heaven, the only reason we are there is because of the imputed righteousness of Christ, but this in no way makes us antinomians. Jesus saved us for good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. These works are not optional, but neither do they add anything to our right standing with God. Our justification and sanctification are both works of God in our hearts. There is a logical order to the two doctrines (justification comes before sanctification), but they are both necessary for the Christian.

      2.      When Paul talks about the ‘mystery’ of the gospel (i.e. Ephesians 3:4,6), it is meant in the sense of ‘secret’. The Greek word μυστήριον should be conveyed as ‘secret’ because the gospel was kept hidden in the Old Testament (in types, antitypes and shadows) and then set forth in the fullness of time in the New Testament teaching of the Apostles. The gospel “…has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God…” (Romans 16:26). As Dr. Swanson wrote to me recently, the better translation of the Greek word as ‘secret’ is “…full of implications for our exegesis and theology.  First of all, we thus see that the point being made has nothing to do with "mysteriousness," but rather in fact that this amazing content of the gospel and God's redemptive plan is revealed/made known to us.  And also of course, it warrants for us finding this plan in the OT, where it lay in some sense hidden until the revelation in the NT (thus especially the Rom. 16 passage, which specifies that through the apostolic teaching/preaching, this message is now being made known from the OT prophets).

      3.      We cannot take an English cognate of a Koine Greek word and assume the English meaning back into it. For example, it is popular for pastors to say that the Greek word  δύναμις (meaning ‘power’ in the Greek) is where we get the English word dynamite. Therefore, when Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel “…for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16, emphasis mine), many pastors will say that the gospel is the dynamite of God. The obvious problem is that we have taken our English word and read back in a meaning that was never in the mind of Paul. We can be sure Paul did not know what dynamite was!

      4.      The meaning of Romans 8:1-4 can be defended as either talking about our justification or sanctification. If one pays close attention to the context and flow of the passage, we find that it is actually talking about our sanctification. The key to this understanding is verse 4, which talks about the righteous requirement of the law being fulfilled in us. Since justification is extra nos, that is, outside of us and not based on any change in us, then Paul must be referring to sanctification. In verse 3, when it says that Jesus condemned sin in the flesh, it means God did what the law could not do. The law actually aroused sin in us and could not make us obey. By God sending Christ in the flesh he killed the power of sin  in us so that we can achieve real victory over sin in our lives, and actually begin to obey God’s law (albeit not perfectly). Because we are in the Spirit, the implication of the passage is that we can now submit to God’s law (although we do not rely on the Spirit perfectly). This reading of Romans 8 has profound implications for our obedience to God.

      5.      The church has three purposes. The worship and praise of God, the nurture of believers, and evangelism. You can see the problem if one of the latter two purposes is set higher than the others. In churches where only the nurture of believers is focused on, you have a church not worried or caring about the lost, and not fulfilling Jesus’ own purpose of coming to seek and to save that which was lost. If you set evangelism as the goal over and above the nurture of believers, then you have a whole church that is satisfied on milk, and not on true gospel and spiritual meat, not growing in the knowledge of God and his ways.

      6.      The hermeneutical spiral means that as we learn things about Scripture, we are constantly correcting our presuppositions about the world. It also means that as we learn about and find truth in the world, we are constantly correcting our faulty views of Scripture. This allows us not to make the same mistakes the church made in thinking that everything in the solar system revolved around planet earth, contra the findings of Galileo who said (rightly) that the earth actually revolved around the sun. We are called to find truth in both general and specific revelation, because Jesus is Lord of every square inch. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

How Much Did Paul Really Know About Jesus?

It is popular to say today that Paul knew very little about Jesus Christ of Nazareth. According to an article on, Paul knew only about eight things.  According to the Bible, however, Paul knew quite a lot about Jesus. Paul Barnett, in his book Paul Missionary of Jesus, comes up with a more biblically thoughtful and extensive list. This is the list from his book and can be found on pages 18-20.

Paul Knew:

1.  Jesus was a descendent of Abraham the patriarch (Gal. 3:16).

2. Jesus was a direct descendent of King David. This is critical to the belief that he was the     Christ, the Messiah of Israel (Rom. 1:3; 9:5; 15:8; cf. 1 Cor 15:3).

3. The mention of Jesus being “born of a woman” (Gal 4:4-5) suggests that Paul knew of and confirmed the virginal conception of Jesus… Jesus was born of a woman, Mary, not of her husband Joseph.

4. Jesus was born and liven in “poverty” (2 Cor 8:9).

5. Jesus was “born under” the and lived under Jewish law (Gal 4:4).

6. Jesus had a brother named James and other brothers, unnamed (Gal 1:19; cf. 1 Cor. 9:5).

7. Jesus had twelve disciples, to whom the risen Lord “appeared” (1 Cor 15:5; cf. Mark 3:14 pars.).

8. Peter was the spokesmen of the Twelve… a role that developed, postresurrection, into his leadership of the mission to the circumcised in Israel (Gal 2:7-8).

9. Jesus’ manner was one of humility and weakness, agreeing with his words recorded in the Gospel, “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (2 Cor 10:1; Matt 11:29).

10. He was externally “transfigured” on a mountain (Mark 9:2; Matt 17:2), as Paul expects to be “transformed” inwardly (2 Cor 3:18; cf. Rom 12:2).

11. Jesus called God “abba” (Gal 4:6; cf. Rom 8:15).

12. He ministered primarily to Israel/Jews (Rom 15:8).

13. He instituted a memorial meal on the night he was betrayed (1 Cor 11:23-25).

14. He was cruelly treated at that time (Rom 15:3).

15. He was killed by the Jews in Judea (1 Thess 2:14-15).

16. He testified before Pontius Pilate (1 Tim 6:13).

17. His “death on a cross” (Phil 2:8) implies execution at Roman hands for treason (cf. Gal 3:1; 6:17).

18. He was buried (1 Cor 15:4).

19. He was raised on the third day and was seen alive on a number of occasions by many witnesses, most of whom were still alive, able to confirm this (1 Cor 15:5-7).

So Paul knew a lot about Jesus. We’re in safe hands. Paul met the risen Lord on the way to Damascus and had a basic knowledge of Christ’s life and mission. Of course, he wasn’t one of the Twelve and never claimed to be, so we can’t expect that Paul necessarily knew all of Jesus parables and events of life that the disciples knew. At the same time, because of Paul’s acquaintances with such Apostles as Peter and James, there shouldn’t be doubt that he was filled in on much of it. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Emergent Church (Part 3)

           Authors note: This is the third installment of a four part series on the Emergent Church. To read the first installment, click here.  

           The Emergent churches slippery ideas about propositional truth and theology in process lead to the idea that God is practically unknowable. This is true because for Emergents, any attempt to put God into language is futile. “Since language is inherently ambiguous in its attempts to describe all external, abstract realities, and therefore unable to express unequivocal truth, how can we refer to any truth as absolute” (Tomlinson 102)? Because only God is absolute, words cannot be (Bell 23). Later in Velvet Elvis, Bell writes that language fails because the Christian faith is mysterious, and it is idolatry to put God into words definitively (32). These ideas however did not stop Bell from writing that “God has no shape or form” (23). Is Bell committing idolatry in saying this? Lack of belief in definitive language has not stopped Bell from writing an entire book concerning what he believes the Bible and Christianity are all about (or, rather, what they are not about).  

            Ideology, according to Peter Rollins, is actually idolatry. Ideology is understood as making God conceptually evident (Rollins 12). The Bible is contradictory, fractured, and full of variances (Rollins 13). According to Rollins, the Bible is so vibrant, so dynamic in nature, so full of different genres of writing that it is simply a mixture of different voices that cannot be harmonized. “…any systematic attempt to master the text [is] both violent and irredeemably impossible” (Rollins 13). McLaren, like Rollins, disdains the idea of systematic theology:

“At the heart of the theological project in the late modern world was the assumption that that one could and should reduce all revealed truth into propositions and organize those propositions into an outline that exhaustively contains and serves as the best vehicle for truth” (McLaren 152).

Christian words like omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient are, for McLaren, simply “theological” jargon (152).

          Emergent writers dislike certain words that conservative Protestants use about the Bible; words like inerrancy, objective, and absolute (McLaren 164). The implication of the Bible making no claim of inerrancy about itself, is that it is not inerrant (Tomlinson 110). On the more liberal (for lack of a better term) side of the Emergent conversation, Kester Brewin writes that the Old Testament is about people getting to know God and Israel’s spiritual maturity (62). This is apparently Brewin’s explanation for how the God of the Old Testament can be compassionate, inclusive, and gracious, as well as a God who desires plunder and slaughter (62). It was not God’s problem, but rather the God’s people’s ever growing knowledge of him and their growth in spiritual maturity.

            Throughout church history, theologians have constantly said that God is indeed incomprehensible. God is inexhaustible, the finite cannot encompass his infinity, and he is beyond human imagining.  Isaiah 55:8-9 states,

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The Christian is faced with a dilemma. How much can one claim to know about God? Christians are overcome, like David, with God’s loving knowledge of everything they do and exclaim with the Psalmist, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139: 6). No Christian can count the thoughts of God: “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you” (Psalm 139:17-18). “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3). God’s understanding is beyond measure (Psalm 145:4-5). “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty” (Job 11:7)?

            Taking all these passages into account, one might think that Emergent writers are on to something. Can Christian’s say that they know God with him being so high and far above them? The answer is explicated in Romans 11:33-36 which says:

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are   his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

At first glance, this passage seems to reflect what all the other passages were saying above. But one is prompted to ask the question, what led Paul to pen this doxology? The answer lies in all the things that Paul set forth throughout the entire book of Romans before hand, especially the explication of God’s redeeming work to the Gentiles. So what brought Paul to extol the unsearchable riches and wisdom of God was based on what had been revealed to Paul. Elsewhere, Paul refers to this message as the secret of the gospel, or the “[secret] of Christ” (Ephesians 3:4). In striking language, Paul says that this “…[secret] was made known to me by revelation…” (Ephesians 3:3 emphasis mine). A secret is something that is kept hidden, but Paul says that it has been made known to him. Apparently this Apostle of Christ is as arrogant as the evangelical Christians who claim that they know the things of God! What is the secret that was made known to Paul? “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6). It was Paul’s desire that Christians would, “…have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18). How is this possible? How can one have the strength to know that which is unsearchable and that which surpasses knowledge? Because Christians have been let in on the wonderful plans and secrets of God laid out in Christ Jesus for their salvation!

            Christians have been given the Spirit of God! In another letter of Paul, perhaps something the Emergent writers have missed, Paul says, “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7). “…these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything even the depths of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10). In the next verses, Paul outlines the reasons that Christians can now comprehend the thoughts of God:

For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:11-13).

This is the key the Emergent church has missed. Despite the fact that they love mystery, paradox, and the mystical/poetical, they seem to miss the work of the Spirit who imparts real spiritual wisdom and brings believers into a relationship with God, so that Christians experience him by the Spirit, and so they understand the things given to them by God. Paul clearly spells out that Christians have the Spirit who is given from God, and so understand those things given them by God.       

            The Emergent arguments about language defy God’s immanence, his ever present-ness. If putting God into definitive words equals idolatry, then God himself is idolatrous, for he is the one who told the Moses, “And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33.19). While Kester Brewin spells out his ideas about humankind’s spiritual maturation, Peter has a different idea about what we can say about the Old Testament prophecies. Though Peter and the other apostles had heard the voice from heaven confirming that Christ was the son of God (another example of God’s use of human language), he says something incredibly striking: “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19 emphasis mine). Not only were the Old Testament prophecies useful in confirmation of faith, but they were more sure. “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). In direct contradiction to Brewin’s statements that the Old Testament Scriptures are all about mankind’s getting to know God, Peter writes, “…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20).

            Words that Protestants use to describe the Bible are simply in relation to who they believe God is, namely inerrant, absolute, and objective. If “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), then certainly it would contain no errors and present objective truth, because what proceeds from God’s mouth can be no less! Evangelicals believe he has the ability to speak in these ways, and that he does so clearly. The logical consequence of saying the Bible is not objective and inerrant is to say that God makes errors, and cannot express himself in objective ways. Are words like omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent really theological jargon, or do they actually express biblical truth? The Bible presents God as everywhere present (Psalm 139:8), as perfect in knowledge (Job 37:16), and as all powerful (Ephesians 1:19).

            Rollins says that any systematic attempt to harmonize the texts is impossible. But ff Rollins cares about the Jesus of the Bible he should care about “it is written” statement.  He should care about the Jesus who used the Bible to defend himself against the temptation by Satan (Matthew 4). He should love the Jesus who said to the disciples on the Emmaus Road:
O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27).

Jesus is the hermeneutical key to the truth found in the Old Testament. Evangelicals firmly believe that we have received much of this teaching through the writings of the Apostles, indeed, all things necessary for salvation and for the equipping of good works.

            Reformed theologians like Bavinck and Michael Horton have held that all human knowledge of God is analogical, that is, based on analogy. At the same time that they have said this, however, they have also held that that knowledge is not wrong knowledge. All knowledge of God is incomplete, but that does not mean that people do not know truly, just not in totality.

A Theology of Food: Why We Eat: The Jewish Feasts Fulfilled (Part 4)

                 Authors note: This is the fourth installment of a five section series on the theology of food. It is written as a guest post by Karolina Beveridge, who holds a BA in Liberal Arts from Providence Christian College and runs her own gluten free health blog. To read the last installment, click here. To start from the beginning of the series, click here.  

        In the book of John the Jewish feasts are more pertinent than they are anywhere else in
the New Testament (Hoskins 160). It appears that the reason for this is that in John’s Christology, Christ is the fulfillment of all the institutions of Jewish history. John’s original audience was Jewish, and the context was just post the Temple destruction in circa AD 90. The Jewish people were devastated by this catastrophe upon their primary religious institution. John’s gospel pointed to Christ as fulfillment of Judaism (Brown, Hoskins, 160). One of the primary motifs in John is also the new messianic community of Jews and Gentiles (Wirzba, 9). Due to the fulfillment in Christ as Temple, and the designation of the people of God also as the Temple, the identity of the people of Israel, the kingdom of God, was being expanded in a way they had
never expected (Jer. 31). Christ’s work had ushered in the new creation, their new identity.

             The gospel of John distinctively links the miraculous signs of Christ with his Christological claims to the Jewish feasts (Yee 27). They were significant acts with deeper meanings to those who had eyes to see and ears to hear (Bauckham 1).The first sign of Christ, from which the theme begins of Christ as the living water, was at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12). When the wine ran out Jesus directed that the six stone jars used for purification rituals be filled with water (2:6-7). When the master of the feast tasted the water it had become extravagant wine, and this was a manifestation of the glory of Christ (2:9, 11, Bauckham 2). The transformation of water into wine at this wedding feast recalled the prophesy of Isaiah, in which a feast of well aged wine and rich food was served for all nations on the Mountain of Zion in the new age (Isaiah 25:6-9). It was a sign of the salvation of God that Israel hoped for, at which they would state, “This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:9). In Psalm 104, amidst praising God for his provision evident in creation, comes a statement full of eschatological significance, and fulfilled by Christ as shown in the gospel of John. The Psalmist states that God has given, “wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen man’s heart.” (Psalm 104:14-15) Jesus turns the water, a symbol which anticipated everlasting life of the new age, into wine, which was a
sign of life enlivened with abundance, indicating the arrival of this new age (Bauckham 2). He fulfilled water, turned it into wine, designating the sign of life furthermore into a sign of rejoicing.

            In John 5, Christ traveled to Jerusalem and performed more Christological signs. The arrival of Jesus to Jerusalem for the festival came at a time of high messianic expectations and diverse opinions regarding his identity. In John 5, Jesus had healed the lame man on the Sabbath causing much controversy, and then performed the miraculous sign of the feeding of the 5,000 in John 6 (Brown, Kostenberger, 215). When Jesus boldly claimed to be the source of the living water, Jews reacted saying that he must be the Messiah (7:41, 42) or the Prophet (7:40), and the Pharisees asked why they did not arrest him (7:45) (Kostenberger, 217). Such strong reactions from his listeners were due to the rich Messianism these statements implied, due to the Old Testament typologies that were regularly recalled through the Jewish practices (Hoskins, 163).
These were Christological claims of divinity.

            In John 6 Jesus multiplied the barley loaves to feed the five thousand, another remarkable sign that recalled Old Testament typologies of manna and unleavened bread. The crowds had followed Jesus to the mountain after crossing the Sea of Tiberias. This in itself has rich theological tones to it in the language. The mountain recalls the Old Testament theological theme of the Mountain of Zion or Mount Sinai (Brown 232). The crowds, who in verse 2 and 3 were already with Christ, in verse five are described as coming towards him, expressing the theological theme of coming to Jesus (Brown 233). Jesus then asks Philip “Where shall we ever buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 5:5).This question parallels that of Moses to God in
Numbers when he led the people through the wilderness, “Where am I to get meat for all these people?” (Numbers 11:13) (Brown 233) Another similarity is when a servant came to Elisha with twenty barley loaves which he commanded be fed to the soldiers, and there was plenty for all and extra (2 Kings 9, Brown 246). In Ruth also, Boaz gives her a small bit of grain and she eats and has plenty (Brown 246). These Old Testament miracles were typifying the work of Christ, to be the bread of life for all. Jesus tells everyone to recline and he gives thanks, (εὐχαριστα in John, not εὐαγγέλιον as in the Synoptics, Brown 233), breaks the bread and then he himself passes the bread which he would do again at the Last Supper (Brown 234). Then the fragments are gathered up when everyone has had enough. The Greek for fragment was a word used in early church to describe the bread in the Lord’s Supper. The root of the word for “gather” in the Greek was also later used to describe a gathering of believers for the Lord’s Supper (Brown 234). There were twelve baskets left over from the five barley loaves, showing the miracle of transforming and fulfilling from incompletion to completion.

            The next day the crowds seek him on the other side of the sea (John 6:24-25). Though amazed by his signs, the crowds were blind to the bread symbolism and rather, simply wanted more bread. Jesus, as the one sent by God, rebuked them for working for the food that perishes, pointing them instead to the food that endures to eternal life (John 6:27, 29). He then states that this bread is his flesh which he will give up as the source of life for his people, followed by the metaphorical eating and drinking of his flesh and blood language in anticipation, again, to his death on the cross (John 6:51, 53-56; Hoskins 177). Still they do not recognize the significance of the feeding of the five thousand, and ask for yet another sign to confirm his messianic claims (John 6:30). They refer to manna, the sign of Moses. Christ corrects them stating, “Truly, truly, I
say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (6:32)

            The bread of life discourse ensues and Christ makes one of the seven, “I Am” statements recorded in the gospel of John stating, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). The “I Am” statements of Christ paralleled the Shema, “I Am the Lord YHWH your God”, so in saying this, Christ was claiming that he shared in the divine identity, which to the monotheistic Jews, was a title belonging to God alone. He offers that they partake of this bread that they may never die (John 6:35, 50). His invitation here parallels and fulfills the eschatologically framed statement in Proverbs 4:5, “Come, eat of my bread; drink of the wine that I have mixed.” After the miracle of the five thousand loaves the Israelites had proclaimed and seemingly recognized the true identity of Christ stating, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (6:14), yet during they still did not fully grasp the signs because their eyes were blinded (John 12:39-41). Jesus, as
the manna from God, is the Messiah, the true bread of life and manna fulfillment (Brown 269).

            Closely corresponding with the wine/water fulfillment of Christ, is the fulfillment of light. Later in John, in correspondence again with a sign, Christ claims to be the light of the world... Jesus proclaimed, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me…will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). This statement has baptismal overtones of new life and rebirth, pointing also to the Holy Spirit soon to indwell God’s people (Brown 329). Soon after his light discourses in the synagogue, Christ performs the sign of healing the blind man with the mud, showing in a tangible, physical way, the triumph of light over darkness that his work was to accomplish (John9:1-41). Light in the Old Testament was connected to the pillar of fire theophonies that led the Israelites by night in the wilderness, or the glory of God when he appeared to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Light was also seen as the manifestation of God when his glory returned to the Temple and the eschatological glory in Jerusalem (Ezek. 1:4-28; 4:1-17 and Isaiah 60:3-17) (Hoskins, 168). Jesus proclaims to be both the light and the source of light for his people, replacing the other sources of light such as the Temple (Hoskins 169). The claims of water and light fulfillment occurring chronologically at the same event fulfilled Psalm 36:8-9 which states, “you gave them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” Therefore when Jesus made proclamations of living water, he indicated that the new age
was at hand and that he was the source of fulfillment of all the symbolism entailed in the light rituals (John 7:37-39, 8:12; Hoskins 160).

            The greatest number of references to feasts in John’s gospel was Passover, since by its fulfillment, the other Jewish feasts and the Temple were fulfilled (Hoskins 176). The Passover fulfillment follows a theme throughout John. The first time Passover is mentioned, it is the occasion for Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple, anticipating the death of Christ as the fulfillment of both the Passover and the Temple (John 2:13, 23) (Hoskins 176). The next mention of Passover is in the context of Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand, at which Christ was himself, “true bread from heaven.” (John 6:32). The final Passover coincided with the coming of the hour of Jesus’ death, at which the main emphasis was Jesus as the Passover lamb fulfillment (Hoskins, 178). For example, the fact that the soldier did not break Jesus’ leg despite the fact that it was customary to do so, showed that Christ fulfilled the requirement that the Passover lamb be unblemished and roasted whole, without a single of its bones broken (Ex. 12:10). Instead the soldier pierced the flesh of Jesus’ side and the blood and water poured forth as the climactic expression of his sacrificial pouring out of Christ as the final Passover sacrifice (Hoskins 179). At the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus tells his disciples that drinking of the cup is to their advantage (Bavinck 457). The public testimony of friendship and shalom made when a communal gathering shared a meal applies to us in the New Covenant as sharers in the body of
blood of Christ (Schaeffer 126). This is why in the New Testament the betrayal of Judas was so shocking just after he had eaten, with Christ and the disciples, of the Last Supper (Fujimara 149). No less shocking was the fact that Christ announced that one among those sharing the meal would betray him. The meal between Christ and his disciples was a Jewish meal of haberim, one between close friends, often sharing a banquet within a home (Smith 651). A betrayal was antithetical to all the connotations of covenantal closeness that meal sharing implied.

            At the Lord’s Supper, Christ furthers the theology that he is the bread of life and the food of eternal life. The sacrifice of Christ’s death fulfilled the necessary requirement of the gruesome sacrifices of the various Jewish feasts, but is directed by Christ to be participated in with rejoicing. These realities are given the reinforcement of the sacramental signs of baptism and the Lord’s Supper to reinforce them (Clowney, 271).At the Passover meal, Christ institutes the New Covenant in which he states, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20; I Cor. 11:2, Clowney 284). The bread was the replacement element for the Passover lamb in the post-exilic period, but Christ not only claims to be the Bread of Life, but also the Passover Lamb. Passover was seven days long, plus one more day. Seven is the number of completion but the added one anticipated something further to come by its incompletion.
When Christ rose on the third day, it was this eighth day of Passover. By his resurrection this day was transformed to becoming the Lord’s Day, fulfillment of the eighth day of Passover. The Passover Sabbath on the seventh day, being followed by the eighth day expected fulfillment. This is the reason why in the New Covenant the Old Testament seventh day Sabbath was changed to the Lord’s Day on the first day of the week as we celebrate it today. The eighth day became the first day, the beginning of the new creation.

            In the New Testament, the Last Supper, the crucifixion, and the resurrection, all events by which believers were secured with the gift of eternal life, all occurred at Passover With the death and resurrection came the ultimate turning point in history, where the people were given the gift of the Holy Spirit who dwells in believers. Due to this, in the New Age of post-Passover fulfillment, the church has perfect communion with God having been released from the bondage of Satan who has been dethroned from his previous place as ruler of the earth. Believers now have every Spirit blessing (Eph. 1:3). So great is this reality that according to Paul, believers dwell in the heavenlies with Christ who is on the throne. Throughout John’s gospel this theology is made clear.

            The convergence shown in the blood and water flowing from Christ at his death is significant (John 19:34). This merging of symbolic imagery expresses the uniting of many biblical, anticipatory themes of fulfillment in Christ (Hoskins, 180). For example, with the shedding of the sacrificial blood, came the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which is symbolized by water in Scripture (Hoskins, 179). In Isaiah, the water from the rock was not only an occasion celebrated of the past, but an image of the new age connected to the outpouring of the Spirit (Isaiah 12:3, 30:23-25, 33:16, 21; Hoskins, 164). Furthermore in Zechariah, it was prophesied that the living water would flow eternally from the New Jerusalem in the age to come (Zech.14:8, paralleled with Ezekiel 47:1-12; Hoskins 165).

            When we feed on Christ we draw our life from him (Clowney, 287). “Remembrance” in the Old Testament was thought of as the past event actually becoming a part of the present. (Klauck, 363) This connection is vital to recognize as it happens now through the eating and drinking of the blood and body of Christ every time we partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Christ is the true manna, to partake of him is to receive life (Clowney, 286). The Spirit is this life, who opens the heart so that we can believe and receive this life. Christ calling the bread his “body” and the wine his “blood”, and then telling us to partake of it he is telling us to have union with him and in a sense “become him” (289). When we have union with Christ, we are no longer under the dominion of sin. Satan is dethroned by our act of partaking of the feast. We are
joined to one another in this meal as well (290). Just as in Judaism, to partake of a meal was a communal act of shalom and fellowship, the Lord’s Supper does the same thing. We partake of “one loaf” (1 Cor. 10:17). It is the seal of the promise of union with Christ and his body in the present, with eyes to the future where it will be fully realized (290). When his people took the sacrifice they were accepting his messianic claims and his sacrifice for them (289). Christ is the perfect sacrifice, which we are to remember each time we partake of the Lord’s Supper, with enjoyment, for it is the sign and seal until the time of Christ’s return at which complete fruition will occur at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Bavinck, 549).

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Five Reasons I Wouldn’t Trade my Providence Christian College Degree

My undergraduate learning took place at a wonderful Reformed liberal arts college in Pasadena California called Providence Christian College (PCC). Here are five reasons (in no particular order) I wouldn’t trade the education I received there for the world.
1. The Learning Community

The intimate atmosphere of classes led to provoking discussion and opened up time for direct questions with professors before and after class. I learned as much during classes as I did outside them, from professors and students alike. It was a safe atmosphere to question my presuppositions, break down faulty presuppositions, and keep the right ones. Did amazing conversations happen every day or after every class period? No. But they happened often. 

2. The Avodah Program (and So Cal)

The Avodah Program allowed students to really breathe the culture of Southern California. Not only did we talk broadly about the cultures of cities themselves, but we also got to see and study important sub-cultures first hand. We went to a Jewish Synagogue, a Mormon Temple, a Muslim Mosque, and a Buddhist Temple. We went to little Tokyo, Chinatown, and Olvera Street. We went to important musical concerts (both classical and popular), saw important landmarks, tasted food from different cultures, went to sports games, went to conferences, went to Broadway musicals. And we didn’t just do them. We talked about them. How did they relate to our Christianity? How do we respond with a biblical and Reformed worldview? How do we enjoy the good gifts of God while being in the world but not of the world? These are such important questions. And they were discussed. 

3. The Bible’s Key Role:

Forgive me for focusing on only one aspect of my academic education, but I was a Bible Major, and the biblical training I received at PCC was second to none. How many times did I come out of classes with little less to say than “that was awesome"? A lot. And so did other students. I am forever thankful to Dr. Scott Swanson for his consistently edifying biblically based teaching, which made me realize the significance (historically and personally) of the Christian Faith.

4. Reformed Perspective

PCC is unique in that it is confessionally Reformed but does not affiliate with any single denomination. Finally there is a confessionally Reformed liberal arts school on the west coast! One where students from all over the world can come and learn about Reformed distinctives and why they matter (they do matter).

5. Lasting Relationships:

The best friendships I’ve ever experienced had their inception at PCC. These friendships find their basis in the work of God, experienced through Christian fellowship and brotherhood. At PCC I found friends that truly and deeply cared about the Bible and God and Christ and love. These relationships, Lord willing, will last far into the future.

The purpose of a Reformed liberal arts education is to make you a well rounded human being. The best is yet to come, as the alumni go out and work in God's world, for God's glory, for Jesus Christ. One does go to college to get a job, but that is not the loftiest goal. The loftiest goal is to have informed thoughtful Reformed Christians who are firmly grounded in biblical truth, thoroughly educated in the liberal arts, and fully engaged in their church, their community, and the world for the glory of God and for service to humanity. This is the goal of Providence Christian College, and I hope you'll consider it an option for yourself, your children, and your friends.