New Creation

Pessimist or optimist?

Why I am not an optimist: the world is not as it ought to be, as seen in the cursed nature of the creation and the corrupt state of human nature and the eventual judgment on the godless world of unbelief for all who reject Christ as Lord and Savior.

Why I am not a pessimist: the world is not as it shall be, as seen in the glorious nature of the creation and the image of God in all humans and the eventual renewal of the earth and the resurrection of the body to life eternal for all who belong to Christ who is Lord of lords and King of all kings.


Pascal captures this Gospel sentiment so beautifully:

  • Knowing God without knowing our own wretchedness makes for pride.
  • Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes for despair.
  • Knowing Jesus Christ strikes the balance because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness. Pascal, Pensées, 192

“Jesus is a God whom we can approach without pride and before whom we can humble ourselves without despair.” Pascal, Pensées, 212

paradigms and poems for pilgrims

“Without memory we don’t know who we are or where home is or what home looks like.” (Steven Bouma-Prediger & Brian Walsh in Beyond Homelessness, p. 297-298)

Paradigms for Pilgrims[1]:

  1. The Plowman-farmer is a deeply rooted and settled dweller who clings to his place as  eternal home.
  2. The Pilgrim-dweller is a wayfaring dweller who dreams always of a homeland, yet while dwelling in a place they are not yet home.
  3. The Passing (wayfaring) stranger is a traveler who is an eternal nomad never at home and seeks no place as home, since indifferent to all places.
  4. The Sojourner is a provisional dweller whose home is incomplete, though rooted in a place, a home that is loved, it is not final since sojourning is toward a final eternal homecoming.

To build a home as a sojourner, there must be memory, community, and love. As Christian sojourners, “we are not immigrants or refugees, exiles or migrants, tourists or postmodern nomads. If we understand ourselves properly, then in contrast to all of them we are, in a real sense, at home. But this being at home is a posture, a way of being in the world. It is a journeying homemaking characterized by all the things revealed by that phenomenology: permanence, dwelling, memory, rest, hospitality, inhabitation, orientation, and belonging.”[2]

Poem for sojourners and exiles

Home is permanence,
dwelling, memory, homemaking, boundaries,
rest, habitation, orientation, hospitable,
belonging, a space, sojourn, community,
homecoming, a place of return, an axis,
homeland.

Homeless is deprivation,
alienation, estrangement, transience, borderless,
displacement, uprooted wandering, unknown, dislocation,
nomadic migrancy, disorientation, restless,
inhospitable, vagabond mobility, no place,
exile and impermanence.

[1] Based on Steven Bouma-Prediger & Brian Walsh in Beyond Homelessness, p. 294-297.

[2] Bouma-Prediger & Brian Walsh, Beyond Homelessness, p. 297.

Christian Responsibility Towards the World: Withdrawal or Involvement?

_DSC0430Oftentimes, I have been blindsided by attitudes in the Christian community that react to Christian efforts to seek justice, or to right wrongs in this world; it is an attitude opposed to those who work for righteousness and truth and love in the various avenues of social, political, educational, artistic, medical, and economic concerns of people in the world. On one hand, it may be from an understandable fear of diluting the gospel of Jesus to a “social gospel,” and on the other hand from a culturally separatist (otherworldly) attitude that believes we are only supposed to “preach the gospel” and get people on the bus to heaven. In both cases, I think there is a failure to understand the nature of the gospel-promise along with the gospel-responsibility: the promise of a new creation shows God’s love for his creation, that Christ is presently Lord of every atom, every grain of sand, and every galaxy in his creation, and that he is going to restore his entire creation at his return. Thus, all our activities and responsibilities in this world have spiritual significance; we are not just preparing people to get on and off the bus! We are to make disciples (of all the nations); that is, people who live in this world as the light and salt of this world, bearing good and lasting fruit, preparing us to live on the earth renewed forever. There is no such dichotomy between do we “preach” the gospel and/or rescue people from trafficking/slavery, brutality, or injustice in the courts . . . , etc. Rather, the gospel rescues us from both spiritual darkness and the darkness of human injustice and cruelty. Christ is deeply concerned with both the salvation of the soul and the body, he redeems the whole person within the entirety of his creation. “God so loved the cosmos . . .” (Jn 3.16). As Paul tells us, “The whole creation groans in travail . . .” and yet, “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Rom 8.21-22).

In regards to this question of the relationship of Christ to the world, Christ and culture, John Stott summarizes most beautifully and profoundly the confusing tendencies in the Christian community to “withdraw from the world,” in what he calls various forms of modern Pharisaism.


CHRIST THE CONTROVERSIALIST. Responsibility: Withdrawal or Involvement? John Stott, IVP, pp. 182-188. To read the whole selection go to Stott, John.CHRIST THE CONTROVERSIALIST.
Christ’s fraternization with outcasts was interpreted by the Pharisees as an inexcusable compromise with sin; they did not see it for what it really was, an expression of the divine compassion towards sinners.

The attitude of Christian church
Leaving the first century and entering the middle of the twentieth, it is necessary to ask what the attitude of the contemporary church is towards outsiders, outcasts. Is it Pharisaic, or is it Christian? I fear that it is often Pharisaic. That is, the church tends (has always tended) to withdraw from the world and leave it to its own devices. Evangelical churchmen have by no means been free of this tendency, although indeed it is a denial of their true character. Many examples could be given, illustrating different causes of the same general attitude. Let me try to enlarge on what I think are the four commonest.

  1. “plain, unvarnished, Pharisaic self-righteousness”
  2. “the withdrawal of the church from the world is a genuine if mistaken fear of contamination”(a monastic type of self-absorbed isolationism)
  3. an unbalanced understanding of the relation between evangelism and social concern that can go in to both extremes: “The ‘evangelical’ thesis in its extremist form is that God’s chief concern is the salvation of individual souls; that the church’s sole responsibility is the proclamation of the gospel; and that therefore social action being the first cousin of the ‘social gospel’ must be firmly eschewed.”
  4. that “we stand aloof from the world is plain laziness and selfishness. We do not want to get involved in its hurt or dirt”

“Underlying these four causes of withdrawal there lurks a false view of God. The God revealed by Jesus Christ is a God who cares. He loves people who do not deserve to be loved. He makes His sun rise on the evil as well as the good, and sends rain on the unjust as well as the just. He made us body-souls and cares for us as body-souls. And He has taken action — sacrificial action — to supply a remedy for our sin. He has got Himself deeply involved in our predicament. So Jesus Christ Himself did not remain aloof, or refuse to get involved, or hide away in the safe immunity of heaven. He entered our world. He assumed our nature. He identified Himself our humanity. He exposed Himself to our temptations, sorrows and pains. He made friends with outcasts and was nicknamed ‘a friend of tax collectors and sinners’?13 He humbled Himself to serve people in their need. He washed His disciples’ feet. He never drew back from any demanding situation.”

To read the whole selection go to Stott, John.CHRIST THE CONTROVERSIALIST

Who is This Man? Reading Biblical Narratives

See the whole essay at Who is this Man and the Whole Story of Redemption

 Who is This Man?
How To Read Biblical Narratives

Stephen Hague
June, 2016

Table of contents

I.___ The fragmentation of the biblical text by liberals and conservatives 2

II.__ The antidote to fragmentation: Biblical Theology_ 2

  1. To illustrate this definition of Biblical Theology, consider an analogy in music 3
  2. To illustrate our definition of Biblical Theology, consider the analogies found in art 5
  3. To illustrate our definition of Biblical Theology, consider the analogies found in  literature_ 8
  4. To illustrate our definition of Biblical Theology, consider the story of Elijah, a prophet of God: 1 Ki 17:1-24_ 9
  5. To illustrate our definition of Biblical Theology, consider the story the Storm on the Sea of Galilee:  “What kind of man is this?_ 14

III.                   In conclusion, some of the problems with exemplorizing and spiritualizing biblical narratives: 15

IV.___ Biblical Theology bibliography_ 16

V.__ Illustrations 18

See the whole essay at Who is this Man and the Whole Story of Redemption

 

For the [ordinary] beauty [of our old screen door]

For the beauty of the world
is unparalleled in anyone’s imagination
as the old screen door slammed behind us
and we raced madly to the sea
and the brown-bread baked
and the worn, straw broom
and its smooth, wood handle
kept watch along with the water-urn
for brewing our coffee
continued to wait
as we rushed head-long into the breakers
and the paint-palette began to dry
in the sun beside the cats
sleeping out their afternoon
until the clock ticks to gong
at three and they stretch
and yawn awhile in peace
and the yarn on the pine loom
is thick in blues, browns, yellows,
greens, and vermillion
while the tide rising pushes forward
the gulls and shells
ticking as the clock does
and we dry our feet
and faces in thick towels
made of Egyptian cotton
when the whole earth seems at rest
and the dust settles on the mantle
above the stone fireplace
where we so often sat together
and sang of worlds we once knew
or wanted to know
with a glance of shared hope
and put down the book
to whisper in awe
that ‘all shall truly be amen . . .’

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“The time has now come, and is coming”: who we [are] we [are] becoming


DSC1460“The time has now come, and is coming”: who we [are] we [are] becoming
Stephen Hague (thoughts shared in the FTS chapel, Spring 2015)

What do you want to become? Who do you want to be?

I now am old enough to know that many people we meet in life have very definite ideas about who and what we should, or should not, be. That is, who and what they want us to be! Do we try to be or become this person or that person, this rock star or that actor, this philosopher, or the latest sport’s phenomenon? Do we try out this idea or that idea?

Listening to these many voices that mold us, may seem incidental and insignificant, as though they may even be the path to acceptance by others, and success in this world. But these voices and forces are of no small importance, because their cumulative effect can change, or impact, the course of our lives . . .  forever. Even the smallest of such voices can eternally redirect a person’s life.

  • The question is, whose voice are we listening to?
  • The question is, who are we presently becoming?
  • The question I want to consider is simply do we really want to be disciples of Jesus? If we do, then do we really want to become what he desires us to become?

To consider that we must ask:

  • Is it possible to be a Christian without being a disciple of Jesus?
  • Is it possible to be a Christian without being like Christ?
  • Is it possible to become like Christ if we are not his disciples?

We all know the expression, “What would Jesus do?” Dallas Willard thinks that this is an inadequate, and even fatal, guiding principle since it is “not an adequate discipline or preparation to enable one to live as he lived.”[1] Indeed, as it stands it can become nothing more than another burden to our success. Jesus told his disciples that his burden is easy and his yoke is light. According to Willard, the secret of the easy yoke, then is to learn from Christ how to live our total lives, how to invest all our time and energies of mind and body, as he did. [2]“What would Jesus do” can make our “spiritual life” just a series of “special deeds.” That is, we try to be loving by acting loving, but we fail! We try to act like we think Jesus would, but we widely miss the mark.


As Dallas Willard writes with remarkable clarity of insight on this:

 “Spiritual formation is, in practice, the way of rest for the weary and over-loaded, of the easy yoke and the light burden (Matthew 1 1:28-30), of cleaning the inside of the cup and the dish (Matthew 23:26), of the good tree that cannot bear bad fruit (Luke 6:43). And it is the path along which God’s commandments are found to be not “heavy,” not “burdensome (1 John 5:3).
     It is the way of those learning as disciples or apprentices of Jesus “to do all things that I have commanded you,” within the context of his “I have been given say over everything in heaven and earth” and “Look, I am with you every minute’ (see Matthew 28:18, 20).}
      But—I reemphasize, because it is so important—the primary “learning” here is not about how to act, just as the primary wrongness or problem in human life is not what we do. Often what human beings do is so horrible that we can be excused, perhaps, for thinking that all that matters is stopping it.  But this is an evasion of the real horror: the heart from which the terrible actions come. In both cases, it is who we are in our thoughts, feelings, dispositions, and choices—in the inner life—that counts. Profound transformation there is the only thing that can definitively conquer outward evil.
      It is very hard to keep this straight. Failure to do so is a primary cause of failure to grow spiritually. Love, we hear, is patient and kind (1 Corinthians  13:4). Then we mistakenly try to be loving by acting patiently and kindly— and quickly fail. We should always do the best we can in action, of course; but little progress is to be made in that arena until we advance in love itself— the genuine inner readiness and longing to secure the good of others. Until we make significant progress there, our patience and kindness will be shallow and short-lived at best.
    It is love itself—not loving behavior, or even the wish or intent to love—that has the power to ‘always protect, always trust, always hope, put up with anything, and never quit” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8, PAR). Merely trying to act lovingly will lead to despair and to the defeat of love. It will make us angry and hopeless.
      But taking love itself—God’s kind of love—into the depths of our being through spiritual formation will, by contrast, enable us to act lovingly to an  extent that will he surprising even to ourselves, at first. And this love will then become a constant source of joy and refreshment to ourselves and others.  Indeed it will be, according to the promise, “a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:14)—not an additional burden to carry through life, as  acting loving” surely would be.[3]


Do we believe that being a Christian is first and foremost about being forgiven for our sins? Do we believe that the primary reason we become a Christian is to get to heaven? Do we believe that human beings are fundamentally spiritual and that our life in the body is just a temporary, necessary evil? Perhaps if we do believe these things, it might explain why we prefer to be saved and born-again Christians, struggling to do what Jesus would do, but just not as his disciples living in this world as he taught us to live and love.

We thus sometimes tell the world through our bumper stickers that “we are not perfect, only forgiven.” But is this to be true of us; that we are only forgiven? Can we imagine the apostles saying such a thing as part of their message? Rather, they insisted, as did Jesus, that if we love him, we will do as he commanded. That means we will not just be people who are only forgiven; we are people who are new creations, and living as such (not just in actions, but in heart, mind, soul). 

Who we [are] we [are] becoming in Christ 

Someone (Woody Allen?) humorously once quipped that “by the time we are forty, we have the face we deserve.” I think the element of truth here is that our hearts and persons are becoming what they are going to be forever . . . (and that perhaps our face may reflect that). Dallas Willard also writes that “We are becoming who we will be forever.” Do we want to become like Christ? Do we really think that we can be Christians without being disciples? We are very adept at being “Christian” without being “Christ-like.” But, is it possible, if we are new creations, to be anything but his disciples? Do we suppose that we could ever do what Jesus did, or would do, without actually being as Jesus is?

         2 Cor 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone,
the new has come!

But what does it mean to be a new creation? Is it a passive, “Let go and let God” as some might say? Rather, Paul writes in 1 Jn 3:2 — Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears,a we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

Sometimes people watch a great baseball player or musician and say, I can do that, but how often they fail because they are not prepared to do what it takes! How often we say, I am going to do as Jesus would do but we fail! Rather, is not being a disciple more like being an apprentice to a master builder or carpenter? This is the life of the disciple of Jesus; it is training to become like him in every way possible.

Jesus’ often said that “the time is coming and now has come.” What do such expressions mean? In part, they mean that we do not need to, and must not be , conformed to all the many things people in this world expect us to be. We do not have to be burdened to be what we are not now becoming, nor ever will be. Rather, in Christ. we know this in our new birth as disciples of Jesus:

  • We have NOW been rescued from the darkness and brought into his glorious light (Eph 5:8; 1 Pet 2:9).
  • We are NOW a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 5:17).
  • We have NOW been “made new in the attitude of our minds, and have put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:22-24).

This has begun now. As Jesus said, “The time has now come . . .” We see this in the church of all true believers. You and I together have already become “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet 2:9)  for “The time has now come . . .”

  • We ARE NOW tasting of the tree of LIFE: “like living stones being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:5). “The time has now come . . .”
  • The new creation is seen in us, the body of the church who are in Christ, a present spiritual reality, a spiritual house, our present home in this world: we are a holy people of God who form a new priesthood that offers spiritual sacrifices to God.
  • We are now the one people of God in the world who together wait that great Day of the Lord. Most importantly, we are those who love one another in such a way that we ‘live in harmony with one another, are sympathetic, loving each other as brothers, compassionate and humble. We do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing . . .’ (1 Pet 3:8-99). Are we living this way? As his disciples, we are expected to, since “The time has now come . . .” And Jesus is calling us to be who we are becoming in Him.

Why would we ever want to be, or become, anything less? As Paul wrote to the Galatian church:

My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you . . . Gal 4:19 (NIV)

Willard adds, “A fundamental mistake of the conservative side of the American church, and today much of the Western church, is that takes as its basic goal to get as many people as possible ready to die and go to heaven. It aims to get people into heaven rather than to get heaven into people.”[4] Such a project is self-defeating, since it creates people who may be ready to die, but are not ready to live. Rather, presently, now and increasing to fullness in time, as new creations, we live because . . .

  • To conclude: we have certain eschatological hopes that what we are and are becoming is and will be glorious:
    • As Jesus repeatedly said, “the time is coming and now has come.” What do such expressions mean for us?
    • Jesus taught a great deal on the kingdom of God, and he is telling us that in his coming the kingdom of God had come in a new way, and yet was also going to continue to come. Indeed, his parables often illustrate the progressive and expansive nature of the kingdom come and coming. But, what does it mean to say that the kingdom of God has come, and that the new creation has begun?
    • We presently have hopes of the kingdom that are rooted in the promises of God to the patriarchs. We have hope because we know the promises have already begun to be fulfilled. We have a clear testimony in the scripture to this fact. (This is one reason we so treasure the scriptures.)
    • We also presently have hope of the kingdom, since with Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we have greatly escalated eschatological realities of the kingdom of God advancing in our midst. Yet, we also have hope because, as new creations, we presently see and experience the eschatological realities of the kingdom coming:
      • We see these in our new birth; we have been rescued from the darkness and brought into his glorious light. We are a new creation in Christ Jesus. We have been “made new in the attitude of our minds, and have put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:22-24). This has begun now! “The time has now come . . .”
      • We see this in the church of all true believers. You and I together have already become ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that we may declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light’ (1 Pet 2:9). Are we declaring his praises?, for “The time has now come . . .”
      • The new creation has certainly begun and we are now tasting its fruits, though we have yet to sit at the table of the great Banquet Feast of the Lamb. We have foretastes, but they are real tastes of true life in God through Christ. We are now tasting of the tree of LIFE: “like living stones being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:5). “The time has now come . . .”
      • The new creation is seen in us, the body of the church who are in Christ, a present spiritual reality, a spiritual house, our present home in this world: we are a holy people of God who form a new priesthood that offers spiritual sacrifices to God. We are the one people of God in the world who together wait that great Day of the Lord. Most importantly, we are those who love one another in such a way that we (as we read in 1 Pet 3:8-99): ‘live in harmony with one another, are sympathetic, loving each other as brothers, compassionate and humble. We do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing . . .’ Are we living this way? We are expected to, since “The time has now come . . .”

In sum, our eschatological hopes and our eschatological realities enable us to walk by faith through the battles of this life. Because we have no doubt, we believe that the One who rescued us from darkness will also one day raise us up bodily. The One who has given us a new ‘heart of flesh’ is going to prepare a new body for us, an undying one, when “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:19-21). Are we embracing this hope as we should?, since “The time has now come, and is coming.”

“In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Pet 3:13) at the “renewal of all things” that Jesus promised (in Mt 19:28). “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:1).

We pray to live with these eschatological hopes and to have these eschatological realities in our lives and among us, for
“The time has now come, and is coming . . .”

Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus. Come.

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[1] Willard, Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 9

[2] Willard, Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 9.

[3] Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p. 24.

a Or when it is made known

[4] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, pp. 238-239

On Mocking Creation Ex Nihilo and the Global Flood

IMG_1349

Remarkably, many (even professing Christians) today mock the view that God created the world by his word (out of nothing) and that there was a global flood of judgment on the earth, as 2 Peter 3:3–6 so clearly predicted thousands of years ago that this would be indicative of the end of the age when people would ridicule our hope in Jesus’ return, the final judgment, and the restoration of the creation:


IMG_1481

On our trip down the Canyon in 2013.

Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” 5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.

2 Peter 3:3–6  (New American Standard Bible: 1995 update, 1995, LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation).