At-home-ment: Born Again in the Bible

We need to change our understanding of being born-again. And we need to change our emphasis on atonement.

“You’re a ‘born-again Christian’, right?”

I was asked this while at O’Mei, a fine dining Chinese restaurant I worked at through college.

My first thought was, Aren’t all Christians born-again?  But I said, “I don’t know. What do you mean?”

There, in the back room of O’Mei my religious understanding of Christianity in America changed.  My co-worker had just taken a sociology class on “Born-Again Christian Religion in America.”

But I didn’t know what a “Born-again Christian” was. I thought every Christian emphasized the need for adult conversion, the deep spiritual crisis brought on by consciousness of sin, resolved through faith in Jesus who died to forgiveness our sins.

In those years of college I was slowly learning that was an evangelical, a ‘born-again Christian’ who believed I needed to made a decision for Christ and believe with my heart in order to be saved.

Born-Again Atonement

Being ‘born-again’ roughly consists of two major movements (depending on which evangelist or tradition you come from).

First, you need to become aware of your sin and the consequences of sin.  This usually entails fiery illustrations used to scared the hell out of you, or to put the fear of hell in you.

Second, you needed to have faith in Jesus to forgive your sins because he had paid the penalty for your sins. He paid the penalty by dying on the cross as a substitute for us.

This is the “penal-substitutionary” view of the atonement (a theological word I wouldn’t learn until seminary a couple years later).

Atonement = At-one-ment

Atonement is a funny word.

It is an English word created—yes, it was created—in order to translate the Greek words for sacrifice for the King James Bible.

People often break up the word “atonement” as “at-one-ment” to emphasize how the sacrifices bring people into relationship with God. They are now “one” with God.

We usually think this is just a cute preaching device to teach a concept. But funny thing, this is EXACTLY what the word means!  It was created to mean coming to be “at-one” with God.

Trouble with Atonement

The trouble with focusing on the idea of atonement is that the process of often overwhelms the purpose.

We now have so many atonement theories, so many mechanisms for explaining what Christ’s death accomplishes, and so many disagreements about what is “most important”, that we often forget the goal of atonement.

And the goal of atonement is union with God, it is to live with God.

Born again into a new family

To be “born-again” is a fairly rare concept in the New Testament (though you might not know this in certain conservative circles).  It shows up in John 3:3-7 and in 1 Peter 1:3 and 1:23.

From use in evangelical circles “born again”, one might think it means individual salvation from the consequences of sin. But this is wrong.

Being “born again” is a family term.  It emphasizes one entering into a new family and living in a new household, a new home.  To be “born again” is to enter God’s new home and live with God.

At-home-ment

John H. Elliott says that one of the main themes in 1 Peter is the “at-home-ment” accomplished by God. In Jesus we can now approach God, live in God’s home, and call God Father.

Through God’s at-home-ment we live with God and God lives with us. 

Now, if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you know that “God with us” is a major theme for me.  In fact, I think it is the theme the holds the entire Bible together, and indeed, it is the fabric of salvation itself—and the cosmos too.

(In fact, if you Subscribe to the blog I’ll send you the first chapter of a book I’m writing with my wife about all this “God with us” stuff.)

Two Things

So I submit before you two things for consideration.

  1. Being “born-again” is all about salvation, but not salvation through some atonement theory.  It is salvation through entrance into a new family and a new home.
  2. We should focus less on theories of atonement and more on practices of at-home-ment—”at home” with God and “at home” with one another.

How would a focus on at-home-ment change your understanding of the Gospel, of life, and the church? (Non-rhetorical question. I would love to hear your thoughts).


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Being the Temple for the World #3b

god-resting-on-7th-day-granger

Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.

(SNARK: I’m hoping to answer, “Everything you didn’t know you didn’t know about it about God resting.”)

Yesterday the post was getting long so I cut it off and will pick it up now (see this for the beginning of the series).

Yesterday we talked about “The Cosmic Temple of Creation: A Dwelling…”, in that heaven and earth were made to be a dwelling place for God to rest.  But what exactly does this means.

The Cosmic Temple of Creation: …For Resting (which is Productive)

If a temple is a place for a god’s dwelling and ruling, then this is what we need to understand by a god resting in a temple.  “Rest” is not a cessation of work, but a sitting down from all the preparatory work to engage in the real work of ruling.  Let me explain.

Rest from enemies

“Rest” in many texts indicate God giving Israel deliverance from their enemies.  When they come into the land they will have “rest” when their enemies have been defeated, and they no long have to worry about them. The “enemies” were making the kingdom disorder and unproductive

Joshua 21:44 (also Josh. 23:1)

And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their ancestors; not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands.

Deut. 12:10-11:  

When you cross over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lord your God is allotting to you, and when he gives you rest from your enemies all around so that you live in safety, then you shall bring everything that I command you to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and your donations, and all your choice votive gifts that you vow to the Lord.

This second one is notable because after “rest” is achieved then they are to go to the place “God will choose as a dwelling” and worship there.  So we have “rest from enemies” linked with God’s “dwelling” in the land. Interesting.

Also, let us turn to a key passage in 2 Samuel 7:1-17.  There we hear that after God had given David “rest” from all his enemies, and David was settles in his house (a palace), David thought about building God a house (a temple).    This is important because it shows us what “rest” from enemies means.  In David’s “rest” (in his house) he didn’t do NOTHING. Rather he was active in the “rest” of his kingdom in a productive manner (desiring to build God a house).  Now that David’s kingdom was secure from external threats he was able to move toward more productive activities.  In a sense, David was now ruling his kingdom rather than just securing it.

God’s Resting Place

What does this mean, then, for Genesis 2:1-2 where it talks about God resting? We usually think this means God finished his work.  But is this the case?  Could it be that God was not read to start his work, the work of ruling the cosmos?

Before we get to this let’s look at Psalm 132: 7-8, 13-14.

7 “Let us go to his dwelling place,
let us worship at his footstool, saying,
8 ‘Arise, Lord, and come to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.

13 For the Lord has chosen Zion,
he has desired it for his dwelling, saying,
14 “This is my resting place for ever and ever;
here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it.

John Walton (The Lost World of Genesis One, 73) breaks it down this way:

“Here the ‘dwelling place’ of God translates a term that describes the tabernacle and temple, and this is where his footstool (the ark) is located.  This also shows that the text is referring to his dwelling place as this throne roon and the place of his rule (because of the footstool).  I verse 8 the “footstool” is paralleled by the ark, and the temple (“dwelling place”) is paralleled with “resting place” (menuha). This demonstrates that the tmple is the place where he rests.  In verse 13 the text again refers to his dwelling in Zion, thus referring to the temple.  Then verse 14 uses “resting place” (menuha) again identifying it as the place where he is enthroned.  Thus, this Psalm pulls together the ideas of diving rest, temple and enthronement.  God’s “ceasing” (sabat) on the seventh day in Genesis 2:2 leads to his “rest” (nuha), associated with the seventh day in Exodus 20:11.  His “rest” is located in his “resting place” (menuha) in Psalm 132, which also identifies it as the temple from which he rules.  After creation, God takes up his rest and rules from his residence.”

There you have it.  God takes up his rest (the rest from a disorganized and unproductive state of the world in Gen. 1:2) inside the cosmic temple of creation so that God can now rule in his residence (which, again, is the temple—cosmos).

As Walton notes, “This is not new theology for the ancient world—this is what all peoples understood about their gods and their temples.”

Results

So, to sum up.

1) Creation in Genesis 1 and 2 is best thought of as God’s cosmic-temple in which God dwells and rules. In this temple heaven and earth are united because God’s presence is there.

2) “Resting” on the seventh day is not so much the ceasing of work but rather the ability to productively rule and reign.

So, God rested on the seventh day of creation not because he was tired, or ran out of things to do, nor as an example for us overworked people, but because he had finished organizing and giving purpose to a disorganized and unproductive world (in a sense he defeated the enemy).  And when God rested from this work it was so that God would enter into the productive work of ruling (enjoying) his creation. 

Our Rest?

So, to close this off, what does this mean for our own understanding of Sabbath Rest?  How does this change your ideas of what “rest” is?  How can your life be ordered for “rest” and what enemies to you need defeated so you can enter your “rest”?

Add your thoughts in the comments.


Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.

BEING THE TEMPLE FOR THE WORLD #3a

 

Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.

So I’m getting a little behind on writing up my class notes for “God With Us: Being the Temple for the World” at Life on the Vine.  Today I’ll be summarizing what we talked about two weeks ago.  Hopefully on Friday I’ll post what we did this week.

The overall goal of our class on Sundays (and these posts) asks, “If Jesus told us to pray ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,’ are there other examples of heaven coming to earth? The answers will be definitely, YES.

Last time we talked about a different way to think about God creating in Genesis One by looking at the functions of created things rather than their materials.  We ended with the questions, “If creation has a function, then what is its overall purpose?”  I hinted that “Day Seven” held the key to this in regard to Divine Rest.

The Cosmic Temple of Creation: A Dwelling…

But before we come to God resting on the Seventh Day we have to ask about where God dwells, where God lives.

In the ancient Near East if you asked, “Where is your god?” they would point to a temple.  In one sense everyone knew the god does not actually lives in the temple like a material being, but in another sense, the god was especially available in the temple.  And not just this, but the god ruled its kingdom from the temple.  So the temple is a place of dwelling and ruling.

The question for us is this: Is creation itself thought of as God’s temple?

Creation: God’s Temple

Well before we turn to Genesis we hear God saying in Isaiah 66:1-2: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?  2 Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” Heaven being a throne and earth being a footstool indicate the royal aspect of God’s dwelling place.  The allusion to a “house” always refers to a temple when in connection with God (we aren’t talking about a vacation home or anything).

And in Is. 6:3 we hear that the whole earth is full of God’s glory (the same glory that filled the tabernacle [Ex. 40:34] and temple [1 Kg 8:11]).  Given these and other passages it seems clear that heaven and earth, and therefore all of creation, is in some sense God’s temple where he dwells.

In the Garden of Eden we also see indications and allusions that God has created a temple.  Gregory Beale has summarized the material of his massive The Temple and the Church’s Mission in an article called “Eden, the Temple, and the Church’s Mission in the New Creation” (Download).  There Beale outlines how God walking in the Garden, the lights of the heavens, the flowing rivers, the vegetation, the eastward facing entrance, and many other examples are all aspects mirrored linguistically and structurally in the Jerusalem Temple and other temple visions.  This indicates that readers of Genesis 1 and 2 would have thought of creation/Eden as a temple-like place, full of God’s presence.

Creation: God’s Rest?

Lastly, when ancient readers see that God rested on the seventh day they would have immediately thought that everything preceding was a description of a temple-like structure because gods always rest in a temple.

That gods always rested in a temple is not something we would normally think of because in our post-industrial world we are so busy that when we think of rest we just thing of the ceasing of activity, so we can recharge and get ready for another burst of work.

But ancient readers would have known immediately that for God to rest means that he had taken up resident in his temple, and therefore the preceding 6 days refer to the creation, or more likely, the inauguration of his temple.  The number seven is especially associated with temple construction: Solomon took seven years to build it. Gathered the people on the seventh month to inaugurate it.  The celebrated it for seven days, and then seven more.

But to say that creation is temple-like still doesn’t exactly answer what this temple if for, and what the resting of God has to do with us.
That will be for the next post tomorrow.


Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.

Mastering Objectivity? Or Subject to the Bible

Tim Challies ended a recent post criticizing the practice of Lectio Divina by saying, “This, then, is a danger in Lectio Divina, that it may teach us to approach the text subjectively rather than objectively.”

But what is the big deal about reading the text subjectively as opposed to objectively?

man-inserting-memory-card-in-brain3 Subjects of Scripture

It is a typical concern of those defending expository or expositional preaching that they are seeking “objectivity” in their study as opposed to others who are succumbing mere “subjectivity”, but beyond the concern that such a simple opposition is wildly naïve philosophically and practically, this dichotomy often does the reverse of what it hopes to do (secure the authority of scripture from human manipulation).  

To understand this we need to remember the three ‘subjects’ of Scripture.

1) The subject matter = the text of Scripture.  This is the written word which is often equated with the “Word of God” without further reflection.

2) The subject (as person) = God who spoke and speaks through the text.

The true subject of Scripture, toward which our study ought always to lead, is God, who in Christ through the Spirit, is making all things right.

We read the first (subject matter = Scripture) so that we can encounter, know, and experience, the second (subject/person = God).

And all this leads to the third subject:

3) The subject = the reader, who is made subject, or is subjected to, or subjugated by, the text to God so that as to become slaves to God rather than to our own passions, desires, and deaths.

I believe those advocating for the ‘objectivity’ in study and preaching desire that we would be slaves of the text, and God, rather than masters of the text, but through this opposition of objectivity and subjectivity, which all to often relies on faulty philosophical assumptions, this perspective ends up becoming masters of the text rather than slaves of it.

“Although I wouldn’t have known how to talk about it then, slowly but surely the Scriptures were becoming a place of human striving and intellectual hard work. Somehow, I had fallen into a pattern of using the Scriptures as a tool to accomplish utilitarian purposes rather than experiencing them primarily as a place of intimacy with God for my own soul’s sake.” Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms

So perhaps we should stop striving for a mythical “objectivity” through which God will speak to us, and instead embrace all the processes which we might become “subject” to the text, especially the meditative practices that lead to our own subjective un-mastery of God.  Indeed, this is to understand Scripture within the God’s power to save rather than just God’s information to teach.

And tomorrow, on the Missio Alliance Blog, I’ll be posting about why I’m “Against Revelation” because it obscures the power of God behind the desire to know stuff about God. Stay tuned.

And see Mark Moore’s great response to Challies in his “Is Lectio Divina Really Dangerous?