It is not we who can sustain the Church, nor was it our forefathers, nor will it be our descendants. It was and is and will be the One who says: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” As it says in Hebrews 13: “Jesus Christ, yesterday, and today, and forever.” And in Revelation 1: “Which was, and is, and is to come.” Verily He is that One, and none other is or can be.
For you and I were not alive thousands of years ago, but the Church was preserved without us, and it was done by the One of whom it says, ‘Who was’, and ‘Yesterday’.
Again, we do not do it in our life-time, for the Church is not upheld by us. For we could not resist the devil in… the sects and other wicked folk. For us, the Church would perish before our very eyes, and we with it (as we daily prove), were it not for that other Man who manifestly upholds the Church and us. This we can lay hold of and feel, even though we are loath to believe it, and we must needs give ourselves to the One of whom it is said, ‘Who is’, and ‘Today’.
Again, we can do nothing to sustain the Church when we are dead. But He will do it of whom it is said, ‘Who is to come’ and ‘Forever’. And what we must needs say of ourselves in this regard is what our forefathers had also to say before us, as the Psalms and other Scriptures testify, and what our descendants will also experience after us, when with us and the whole Church they sing in Psalm 124: “If the Lord himself had not been on our side, when men rose up against us,” and Psalm 60: “O be thou our help in trouble, for vain is the help of man.”
Wait, what? Wasn’t Jesus already fully divine? As the eternal second person of the Trinity, didn’t he already experience full and intimate communion with the Spirit, unhindered by the taint of sin? Why would Jesus need to receive the Spirit?
This is one of the questions that Steve Guthrie tackles in Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human. And he addresses this one by showing how Athanasius responded to this very question when his opponents used the anointing of the Spirit to suggest that Jesus was somehow less than fully God. And Guthrie points out that in actuality Jesus’ anointing has to do with his being fully human; or, even more, it’s about him living the spirit-empowered human life for which we were all created so that we can be restored to our own full humanity.
Why did Jesus receive the Holy Spirit at his baptism? He did it for us.
As someone who greatly prefers dialog over discourse, I can only say a hearty amen to Karl Barth’s view of the need for “conversation” in theology.
I believe that the time of long lectures, when someone spoke for an hour and the audience was condemned to sit and listen to whatever they were given is…perhaps over–not ust for me but for everyone. What we need in theology and in the church is–Oh, I don’t want to use that wretched word again– ‘conversations’. What I mean is simply that we should talk together and try to arrive at answers together, instead of someone trying to present something to other people as though the Holy Spirit had dictated it to him in person.”
Quoted in Eberhard Busch, Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Texts (Wipf & Stock, 1975), 464.
“Matter matters to God. It’s what the sacraments teach: bread and wine and water and oil and hands matter to God.”
That’s one of the better quotes in this beautiful video on the fact that matter and flesh matter to God, and why that should matter to us. Other great lines include “God cares about your nostrils” and “Our souls have fingerprints all over them.”
Check it out and let me know what you think.
Sometimes silence is the best you can do. Maybe you want to pray and just don’t know how. Maybe the press of life is so bad that you’re not even sure you want to pray. Either way, the prayers won’t come. You’re stuck. Now what?
According to Alan Torrance, this is where we need to understand the priesthood of Christ. That’s the core argument of a paper he recently presented at the first Los Angeles Theology Conference. Torrance argues that we focus too much on the priesthood of all believers, shifting attention away from Christ as the one mediator between humans and God, and placing the individual at the center of his/her own spiritual life. As he says early in the paper:
The priesthood of Christ was replaced by a quasi-democratic focus on the priesthood of all believers. The impact of this on the shape of evangelical worship…has been immense. As a result, the focus in the practice of worship and in our understanding of prayer was transferred to the individual, to the self. I become my own priest, the sole mediator of my own worship.
In other words, when I am my own priest, I am solely responsible for making sure that my offering of worship is adequate, leaving me wracked with questions about the quality of my own spirituality: did I pray earnestly enough? did I worship sincerely enough? did I repent contritely enough? And what about those times when I’m not even sure how to pray and worship, those times when I’m overwhelmed by the tragic realities of living in a broken world, shattered and unable to serve as my own priest. What then?
Did you know that you can get better at playing the piano just by thinking about it? That may sound like the beginning to a bad infomercial for a self-help seminar on the power of positive thinking, but according to recent research, it’s true. Thinking about an activity triggers the same part of the brain used when actually performing that activity, thus strengthening the neural structures associated with that activity and actually improving performance when you finally get around to doing more than just thinking about it. And you do have to perform the activity eventually, of course. Just thinking about it will only take you so far. But the fact that just thinking about the activity has any impact on performance is a testimony to how much we can impact our own brains through our thoughts.
I guess it really is the thought that counts.
Check out the video below for a nice introduction to the research. Although the video focuses specifically on using imagination to improve performance of specific tasks, it seems to have pretty obvious implications for how thinking about pretty much anything for extended periods can affect our brains. This could be quite positive (e.g. meditating on scripture), but similar research documents the negative impact that prolonged exposure to pornography can have on the brain. So this is just another reminder that our thoughts matter.
Some ideas never go away. They just circle around and attack from a new direction. One of those is the idea that theology is only for the specialists, the academics, those privileged few who have enough leisure time that they can sit around drinking coffee all day arguing about things that don’t really matter. Everyone else is too busy doing the real work of ministry to bother with such arcane issues. Focused on the pressing realities of everyday life, they don’t have time to hide behind a book.
On this view, ministry is a little like surgery. There’s a person dying on the table, and you have to get to work quickly if you’re going to save a life. Are you really going to go out for coffee with your surgeon friends and discuss the philosophical intricacies of various models of medical practice while that person’s life bleeds out? Of course not. That’s what you do during your leisure time, if you ever get any. Right now, real work demands your attention.
Do evangelicals have anything to learn from universalists? That’s the question we’ve been exploring for a couple of weeks now. And we’ve been using Karl Barth as our conversation partner along the way. Although we’ve seen that he rejected the label “universalist,” there are good reasons for thinking that Barth’s theology leans pretty strongly in that direction. So that makes him a useful test case for whether evangelicals and universalists can hang out together and have interesting conversations.
In the last post, I argued that there are at least four lessons we can learn from how Barth approaches the question of universalism. And they are important lessons. In this post, however, we need to turn the page and ask where the problems are. A good conversation doesn’t mean that we have to just nod our heads politely at everything the other person has to say. That may be appropriate when the person next to you at the dinner party says something particularly stupid, and you decide that it just isn’t worth the time and effort it would take to explain why. So you let it pass. But a real conversation is one in which both the other person and the topic matter to you. And that kind of conversation requires a more meaningful kind of engagement.
Waiting. We’re not very good at that anymore. Maybe we never were. But in this instant-everything modern age, we get frustrated if we have to wait for any length of time. Just the other day, I complained to my wife about a package I’d ordered from Amazon that hadn’t arrived yet. After all, it had been three whole days. And, according to a recent New York Times article, “People will visit a Web site less often if it is slower than a close competitor by more than 250 milliseconds.” That’s .25 seconds. Way too long for any sane person to wait.
Waiting feels like time wasted. And who can afford to waste time these days? We have too much to do. Every second counts.
But the advent season is all about waiting. During advent, we’re reminded of all those centuries when God’s people awaited the fulfillment of God’s promises, the years of uncertainty, the time of doubt. This side of Christmas, it’s easy to think that this season is all about arrival, the birth of Jesus. And that’s partly true. The story does find its fitting climax in the coming of the Messiah. But let’s not forget the waiting that preceded Christ’s advent, the waiting that marked the time before Christmas, the waiting that God forced his people to endure.
Maybe a little waiting is a good thing. I know that’s a heretical thought for some of us, but bear with me. Here are five things that I think we can get from waiting. They probably won’t help much the next time that you’re stuck in a traffic jam on your way to an important event, but I still think they’re worth reflecting on.
Here’s an interesting animated video from Neil deGrasse Tyson on whether the universe has a purpose. Unsurprisingly, the answer is no. But it’s still a creative way of presenting an argument for why an atheist like Tyson thinks that religious arguments for a purposeful universe are unconvincing at best. Check it out and let us know what you think.