I’ve recently become friends with an Emergent coordinator from England who is working on his Doctor of Ministry: Leadership in the Emerging Culture. This essay writen by Jason Clark’s focuses on our need to recover the doctrine of creation in relation to redemption, Being Human: The Nature of Spiritual Experience

after reading it, hear are some of my thoughts (which I also sent to Jason). If you have any thought to add please do, even if you just have to catch the drift from my comments, although jason does a good job historically, worth reading.)

the turn back toward creation is great, absolutely necessary. Reading Webber’s ancient-future faith set me on the track of creation-incarnation-recreation rather than creation-fall-redemption. It has been shaping my thinking ever since. Also, your outlining of the debilitating effects of a narrowly defined “substitutionary atonement” are also right on the mark. I have been struggling with that similar gospel of “sin management” ever since high school. The eschatological aspects of creation and redemption are also very helpful. The focus on creation and redemption make much more sense of OT prophecies than Dispensationalism ever did to me.

I have two comments, not really critiques, just suggestions for further exploration…

1) Your link between creation and spiritual formation is definitely worth discussion/recovering, but it seems that this question is really one of justification and sanctification. If we are forensically, legally justified before God (through Christ’s substitutionary atonement which you alluded to) then why do we talk about sanctification? So while a recovery of creation (a doctrine of creation) certainly goes a long way to rectify this situation, we must focus on God’s plan work this redemption through a particular community, His covenant people. We only have a dichotomy b/w justification and sanctification b/c of the Reformation misunderstanding of Paul and the Judaism’s relationship to the Law. As N.T Wright says in What Saint Paul Really Said, “The purpose of the covenant was never simply that the Creator wanted to have Israel as a special people, irrespective of the rest of the world. The covenant was there to deal with the sin, and bring about the salvation, of the world.” And most of what Paul was talking about in his doctrine of “justification by faith” concerned not how people get saved (soteriology), but do we know people are part of the covenant community (ecclesiology). Anyway…I agree with you that most Churches aren’t read to work through these issues. I’m teaching a pre-baptismal class in our small church plant and I’m trying to work through all these creation/salvation/redemption/conversion issues as we go.

2) the turn back toward creation is also a turn back toward the Creator, implying the question, Who is the Creator? Which then bring us to what man is, or “Being Human” as you but it. As many might do, we could start from ontology, discussing God impersonally as the ground of being. We could start from ethics, discussing God impersonally as the standard of the Good, or we could start from the perspective of Uncause Cause, etc,etc. But this doesn’t begin where Scripture begins, with as a personal God. In relation to theology, if YHWH is personal, and the theologian is a person, then theology is a conversation, a dialogue, a disagreement, or even a misunderstanding between persons, toward which practice is it ultimate goal and expression, elevating prayer and worship as ground of theology/izing. And as you said, being human then is a question of being like Christ who is human to perfection, rather than just being divine. But more could be said about all that…

Living into Your Baptism

At a conference about 3 years ago, I heard Robert Webber say that he was still trying to live into his baptism. At the time I didn’t quite get it what he meant. Now, however, while teaching through our churches pre-baptismal class (partically making it up as we go) Webber’s statement is becoming much clearer. Unlike the Evangelical tradition I come from which puts all stock in the conversion experience, making baptism optional, I now see baptism as the culmination of conversion, as the only reference point really worth talking about. (our church already counts baptisms instead of “decisions.”)

Many of the concepts covered by our “conversion” seem to be related to baptism in the new testamt. In the NT it seems baptism is the definitive symbol of crossing over from death to life, from sin to forgiveness. Baptism is the definitive symbol/statement of our union with Christ, our participation in his life through our own death. Baptism symbolizes our spiritual death and resurrection, our identification with Jesus, through our bodies, physically, materially, particularly.

Baptism is a shifting of alligiences, a changing of identities. Only through death can we become something else, and God in his wisdom did not leave it up to our inner subjectivites, our private psychological experience as this definite moment, but physically enacts this death and resurrection on our bodies, or our little pieces of the universe, the only thing that I can really call my own, my own body. Conversion is great, a decision to repent is great, but let us live into our baptism. Let us be marked into a new life. It marks our bodies and our psyches, a reference point we can look back at, a landmark to lead us. Let us put off the old self and put on the new. Let us live into our baptism.

my wife, syd, just took the theologian test. Seems we should have a pretty interesting marriage…

“It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is.”

You are Desiderius Erasmus!

You have great love for others and will do just about anything to show it to them. You are tolerant

and avoid confrontations, so people generally are drawn to you. You are more quiet and reserved in

front of strangers, but around some people you open up. When things get tough, you like to meditate

alone. Unfortunately you often get things like “what a pansy,” or “you’re such a liberal.”

What theologian are you?

A creation of Henderson


“God will not suffer man to have the knowledge of things to come; for if he had prescience

of his prosperity he would be careless; and understanding of his adversity he would be senseless.”

You are Augustine!

You love to study tough issues and don’t mind it if you lose sleep over them.

Everyone loves you and wants to talk to you and hear your views, you even get things like “nice debating

with you.” Yep, you are super smart, even if you are still trying to figure it all out. You’re also

very honest, something people admire, even when you do stupid things.

What theologian are you?

A creation of Henderson

thanks for the tip, cleave.

a very helpful post about the emerging church from a semi-orthodox perspective by Clifton.

belonging before believing, and Beyond Sectarianism

Many understand that evangelism and discipleship is more than getting someone to say/understand/know certain doctrines. As the saying goes, “belonging before believing,” the turn toward community. But many churches who embrace this have not really gone this to re-evaluate the rest of theology from a non-individualized, privatized perspective. So, when we reach that point of belonging and also believing, we are still rehearsing a doctrine of salvation which is individaulistic, a discipleship focused on person piety, and a lack of social concern. (i’m probably just preaching to the choir on this one, but the next part is better.)

even in those churches which share this perspective insufficient attention is given to the community (i.e. ecclesiology). Too often there is the being or doing dichotomy, with the “modern” church as only concerned with doing (program based) and the “emerging church” as being (relationally based). This distinction misses the point. Those who focus on just “being” end up doing nothing and scorning those who have “structures” (those evil things). We ARE through what we DO, and vise-versa. Rather we should inquire into what “practices” a church has. Only since the enlightenment have we been able to distiquish between “being” and “doing,” and this is because we have forgotten where we are going, we have no goal. The modern church forgot that the practices we engage in form us, even against our intentions. So, creating a program around needs created religious consumers, rather than disciples of Christ. Effectiveness, technique, and efficiency are values which may be against the gospel.

lastly, if we really believe in “belonging before believing,” we have to embrace a type of sectarianism (or rather, that which gets disparaged as sectarian by those preoccupied with “engagement”), we have to move through Anabaptist theology, a movement beyond relevance. We can’t really be “relevant” if someone has to join the community before you understand.

Conformity and Autonomy: Baudrillard and Emerging Leadership

In our world of imploding meaning, of information saturation, of media manipulation, Jean Baudrillard outlines our double bind, the dual demands of the system. The example is that of Children: they have the dual demand to be 1) autonomous individuals, conscious and free, or Subjects; and to be 2) submissive, inert, obedient and conforming, or Objects. Children are not yet Adults; but are not meant to stay Children.

Baudrillard explains that we have the same double bind in our society. 1) It demands that we conformed to its ways, manner, goals, and desires. Our resistance is expressed by becoming free-spirits, autonomous and emancipated; we become Subjects. He notes that this demand and its effect are universally valorized in our society. 2) But, our society also always demands that we constitute ourselves as liberated, democratic/consumer subjects, choosing our own destiny (products). We resist this by not becoming anything, by choosing nothing, through inertia and meaninglessness; we are Objects. This, according to Baudrillard is our consumer society situation.

What does this drive toward conformity and its resulting of autonomy, and the drive toward autonomy and its resulting conformity, have to say about our postmodern condition as emerging church leaders?

We have to recognize the dual bind of our situation with the post/modern church (within modernity and beyond). The first is the pressure of conforming modernity (fill in your favorite definition), the pressure of subjectivity (meaning both bias/personal/partisan, and subjugation/subjected). This results in an anti-modern reactionary perspective, a movement beyond, crashing through the self-important posturing of the powerful; or a Revolutionary Subject. The second is the pressure of liberating postmodernism (in all its colors and flavors), the pressure to express yourself, be yourself, be outside the box. This results in a conforming expression of individualism (even of the communal type) in which to be like no one else, we become no one, become nothing, and in our “like no one else-ness” we become like everyone. “I want to be different, like everyone else” becomes our motto; or a Replicated Object. So we are our worst conformity. (This is why much of the emerging/pomo church reads all the same books, links to all the same blogs, and have all the same big ideas, even me.)

Revolutionary Subject or Replicated Object: What is beyond this opposition? How can we release the pressure? How can we relieve the tension? Well, just as a child does, by growing up. We must grow beyond this tiring binary opposition, this reactionary operation, incising the old from new, the liner from loop, etc. from etc. As children, however, we can’t really grow up if we are only with other children, which is what we are. We must listen to more adult voices and follow more mature models. This means the mostly white emerging church movement (and really we are basically still children learning to talk—note all our discussions about words and language) needs to start listening to global voices and languages (Latina/o, African, Asian, African-American) as a means toward breaking out of the post/modern double bind (the binding of our tongues), as a means toward learning how to talk about/to the Word.

These thought brought to you by “The Implosion of Meaning in the Media” in Simulacra and Simulation.

Kneeling to the "Lord"

While on a spiritual retreat at a Franciscan friary, reading about the Lordship of Jesus in N.T. Wright’s “What Saint Paul Really Said”, I noticed time after time worshippers enter the sanctuary and then bow on one or both knees before sitting to pray. And they would bow again before leaving.

The Lordship of Christ is an affirmation or our fundamental allegiance to Him, a politically charged proposition, making a claim on us above all other rulers (economic/political/social/class). As a good evangelical I’ve been raised with an apolitical, ahistorical, individualized and privatized gospel. So why physically kneel when Jesus loves me and lives within me?

I didn’t kneel when I entered, but I did when I left.

the Justice of God by james d.g. dunn

Here is a collection of my three posts summarizing this book

Intro

In this short book james dunn briefly outlines how part of our understanding of “justification by faith” was obscured during the Reformation, becoming to individualistic and overly focused on legal aspects, rather than communally and relationally focused. He trace some missteps of the Luther’s recovery of the doctrine of “justification by faith” and then walks us back into the more relational world of Paul’s original formulation, and then back into the OT expression of justice/justification/righteousness

Martin Luther and the Individual Conscience

The first chapter explores the story of Luther’s dramatic recovery of this very important doctrine, and two of its wrong turns.

The Recovery

While an Augustinian monk, situated within a Roman Catholicism of indulgences and purgatory, Luther’s conscience ached with guilt over his sin before “the justice of God,” i.e. that God punishes all unrighteousness. God, for Luther, was to be feared, not loved. But under a prolonged reading of Roman, grappling with the strange manner in which Paul refer to “the justice of God” as a means of salvation, Luther saw the light. It’s not that God is merely a “just God,” but He is also the “justifying God.” The decisive (f)act of God is not that he is just (condemning the wicked), but that He is the one who justifies (acquits the wicked). And much more could be said about the positive aspects of this recovery…

The Wrong Turns

But Dunn then points out two problems with how Luther explain Paul’s doctrine of justification. First, Luther assumed that Paul had gone through the same agonies of conscience and guilt over sin before a blameless and just God, that Luther had been through. He assumed that Paul had been striving to know and please God through ‘works of the Law’ before making the discovery that he is “justified by faith” in Christ. But the problem with this is that Paul nowhere sounds like had a guilty conscience before God. Instead he says he was blameless in regards to righteousness within the law (Phil. 3:6). So, Luther was projecting his situation back into Paul’s, thereby creating distortion is his understanding of the doctrine.

A second distortion was cause by another retojection made by Luther. Quite naturally, he assumed that ancient Judaism must have been similar to mediaeval Catholicism by focusing on “justification by merit” or “by works.” For Luther, Judaism was a legalistic religion of human striving. And this view has been perpetuated to this day in most Protestant traditions. But, again, this is not really the case, but a caricature. The Judaism of Paul’s day, and the one we can read about in the OT. Yes there is the Law, but God grace is choosing Israel, dwelling with Israel in the midst of their sin (allowing for repentance and forgiveness), and the continual prophetic recalling of God’s righteous act to an unworthy nation should reveal the caricature of Judaism as merely a religion of works righteousness.

Justice for Gentiles: Paul and Justification by Faith

In the second chapter Dunn outlines the contours of Jewish faith at the time of Christ and what exactly Paul was converted to (or rather, commissioned to), shedding light on his resultant doctrine of “justification by faith.”

the Shape of Judaism

At the time of Paul, two tenets of Judaism were taken for granted: 1) God is one; and 2) God had chosen Israel to be His special people. The second aspect, the theology of election, meant that Israel was different than the other nation, and had to sustain that distinctiveness at all costs. And this distinctiveness as marked out through the Torah, or Law. The foundation of this for Israel is not that they had to earn God’s favor and stay in His good graces, but that they were chosen to be God’s people and instrument among the nations. This election of Israel through the giving of the Law meant that the Gentiles were extremely disadvantaged, being “outside” the Law, and therefore outside God’s favor.

So, what was Paul converted from? He was converted from a ‘zealous’ attachment to Israel’s distinctiveness (separated from the Gentiles) and step up by the Law (as a boundary marker b/w Jew and Gentile, particularly circumcision and food laws). He was converted from a rigid nationalism which had forgotten that the election of Israel was meant for the benefit of the Gentiles also, not to their exclusion.

Commission, not Conversion

So, what was Paul converted to? A better question is to ask about his commission , not his conversion. On the Damascus road Paul was commissioned to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. And it is this commissioning that changed everything. Being confronted with the risen Lord Jesus Messiah, Paul had to come to grips with theses Christians who being so friendly to Gentile, because now he was commissioned to preach to them. As we will now see, “the Christian doctrine of justification by faith begins as Paul’s protest not as an individual sinner against Jewish legalism, but as a protest on behalf of Gentiles against Jewish exclusivism” (p. 24).

the Shape of Justification

Dunn now shifts gears to see what light can be shed on the Luther’s formulation of this doctrine. Justification by faith, for Paul, was not merely the conviction that sinners cannot rely on their own merit to earn God’s favor (although Paul would certainly agree with this). Rather, it is the conviction that God grace is not limited to a particular people (defined as those who follow the Law), but that God’s goodness and mercy is open to all people through Faith. One of the main points (and the one forgotten by the Reformation) is that one doesn’t have to change cultures to be accepted by God (i.e. change from a Gentile into a Jew to be saved). Rather, through Christ, all are justified by faith, b/c God’s grace is not locked into a certain people, but mediated through a certain person, our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Messiah, Savior.

the Justice of God

The last dimension of this subject that Dunn examines is the Old Testament concept of the Justice of God. For this concept lies beneath and is assumed by Paul when he speaks of “justification by faith.”

Righteousness in relationships

Righteousness is not an ideal to be grasped or approximated, but the manner of a relationship. Dunn points out that justice/righteousness in Greek and Roman thought is an ideal but which we evaluate individual to be just or righteous. Justice/righteousness is an absolute ethical norm by which we measure particular instances. “‘Justice’ was like a divine principle of order which had to be sustained and appeased lest disorder and anarchy prevail'(33). But in contrast to this, justice/righteousness in the OT is not an ideal for individual to strive after, but in Hebrew thought it is a concept of relation, “something one has precisely in one’s relationships as a social being'(33). So, “people are righteous when they meet the claims which others have on them by virtue of their particular relationships”(33).

Concerning God, then, He is righteous toward His creation b/c He sustains it and causes it to thrive. God is righteous toward Israel b/c He sustains His people (even when the act unrighteously toward Him) and he causes Israel to thrive. Because God undertook a relationship with Israel by His own free act of Grace (the doctrine of election we talked about before), God is acting righteously when He continues that relationship, even when the people sin/rebel. According to Greek/Roman ideals of justice, God must punish sin/wickedness and should therefore cast off his rebellious people. But this has no room for forgiveness or a relationship based in Love.

Concerning Israel, they are not righteous merely by observing the Law (a works righteousness), but b/c through the Law they maintain a relationship with God, one started and renewed through God’s grace. This places justice/righteousness more in the category of God spontaneous act of Love, rather than a punitive act of judgment.

Horizontal and Vertical

While I don’t have enough time to explain this more, the last section of Dunn’s little book focuses on the intimate link b/w our righteous relations with each and a righteous relationship with God. The link, esp. for the major prophets, is through worship. One cannot worship God truthfully/righteously when our relationship with others are oppressive, esp. against the poor and marginalized. We cannot be righteous with God if we are perpetuating/participating in unrighteous relationships among people.

Summary

“To sum up then. The biblical understanding of justification/justice/righteousness is all of a piece…Righteousness as essentially involving relationships, arising our of relationships, expressed in relationships; and righteousness, as both horizontal and vertical, as involving responsibility to one’s neighbor as part and parcel of one’s responsibility towards God”(42).

Concerning “justification by faith” and somethings I’ve been learning, here is my second of three post summarizing the Justice of God by james d.g. dunn

Justice for Gentiles: Paul and Justification by Faith

In the second chapter Dunn outlines the contours of Jewish faith at the time of Christ and what exactly Paul was converted to (or rather, commissioned to), shedding light on his resultant doctrine of “justification by faith.”

the Shape of Judaism

At the time of Paul, two tenets of Judaism were taken for granted: 1) God is one; and 2) God had chosen Israel to be His special people. The second aspect, the theology of election, meant that Israel was different than the other nation, and had to sustain that distinctiveness at all costs. And this distinctiveness as marked out through the Torah, or Law. The foundation of this for Israel is not that they had to earn God’s favor and stay in His good graces, but that they were chosen to be God’s people and instrument among the nations. This election of Israel through the giving of the Law meant that the Gentiles were extremely disadvantaged, being “outside” the Law, and therefore outside God’s favor.

So, what was Paul converted from? He was converted from a ‘zealous’ attachment to Israel’s distinctiveness (separated from the Gentiles) and step up by the Law (as a boundary marker b/w Jew and Gentile, particularly circumcision and food laws). He was converted from a rigid nationalism which had forgotten that the election of Israel was meant for the benefit of the Gentiles also, not to their exclusion.

Commission, not Conversion

So, what was Paul converted to? A better question is to ask about his commission , not his conversion. On the Damascus road Paul was commissioned to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. And it is this commissioning that changed everything. Being confronted with the risen Lord Jesus Messiah, Paul had to come to grips with theses Christians who being so friendly to Gentile, because now he was commissioned to preach to them. As we will now see, “the Christian doctrine of justification by faith begins as Paul’s protest not as an individual sinner against Jewish legalism, but as a protest on behalf of Gentiles against Jewish exclusivism” (p. 24).

the Shape of Justification

Dunn now shifts gears to see what light can be shed on the Luther’s formulation of this doctrine. Justification by faith, for Paul, was not merely the conviction that sinners cannot rely on their own merit to earn God’s favor (although Paul would certainly agree with this). Rather, it is the conviction that God grace is not limited to a particular people (defined as those who follow the Law), but that God’s goodness and mercy is open to all people through Faith. One of the main points (and the one forgotten by the Reformation) is that one doesn’t have to change cultures to be accepted by God (i.e. change from a Gentile into a Jew to be saved). Rather, through Christ, all are justified by faith, b/c God’s grace is not locked into a certain people, but mediated through a certain person, our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Messiah, Savior.

(So, what does this mean for preaching the gospel and discipling the faithful? What implications does this have? what do you all think?)