Made to Rule

I read through N.T. Wright’s After You Believe late last year, but I’m revisiting it this week in preparation for an upcoming sermon on the parable of the talents in Matt 25. I’ve been thinking about the connection between the response of the master to the wise servants (“You’ve been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things.”) and the original human vocation as described in Genesis 1:26-28 (“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”) This connection is what Wright is getting at in After You Believe, helping us see the developing of Christian character/virtue through our union with Christ (the truly human being) as the recovery of our human vocation to be rulers/priests in God’s world.

“Creation…was designed as a project, created in order to go somewhere. The creator has a future in mind for it; and Human–this strange creature, full of mystery and glory–is the means by which the creator is going to take this projet forward…The point of the project is that the garden be extended, colonizing the rest of creation; and Human is the creature put in charge of that plan. Human is thus a kind of midway creature: reflecting God into the world, and reflecting the world back to God.” (After You Believe, p. 74)

‘[The] wise rule of humans over God’s world is, in fact, what “being in God’s image” is partly about…The “image” does not refer principally to some aspect of human nature or character which is especially like God…it points to the belief that, just as ancient rulers might place statues of themselves in far-flung cities to remind subject peoples who was ruling them, so God has placed his own image, human beings, into his world, so that the world can see who its ruler is. Not only see, but experience. Precisely because God is the God of generous, creative, outflowing love, his way of running things is to share power, to work through his image-bearers, to invite their glad and free collaboration in his project.’ (After You Believe, p.76)

Obviously, we need to be careful to delineate just how it is we’re to exercise this rule wisely, but I worry that, for a variety of reasons, we oftentimes hold an inadequate view of our glorified nature in Christ. And as a result we fail to act/live out of our calling as rulers/priests in the new world that God is bringing, and that has already begun in Christ.

Do you agree that we need to take this more seriously? Its a pretty consistent theme throughout the Bible. Check out some of these other passages–Ex. 19:4-6, Psalm 8, Matt 19:28-30, II Tim 2:8-13, Rev 5:9-10; 22:3-5

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Miroslav Volf on Christian Difference

This is taken from a paper titled “Soft Difference” by Miroslav Volf, professor of systematic theology at Yale Divinity School. He’s discussing the relation between Christ and culture using the metaphor of being “aliens and strangers” from 1 Peter. He says that our birth into a new and living hope through Jesus’ death and resurrection creates a certain distance between Christians and their social environment, a distance that is both eschatological and ecclesiological. The whole essay can be found here: http://www.yale.edu/faith/downloads/soft-difference-church-culture.pdf

ESCHATOLOGICAL DIFFERENCE:

“People who are born into the living hope take part in the eschatological process which started with the coming of Jesus Christ into this world, with his ministry of word and deed and with his death and his resurrection. Christian difference from the social environment is therefore an eschatological one. In the midst of the world in which they live, they are given a new home that comes from God’s future. The new birth commences a journey to this home.

“Notice the significance of the new birth for Christian social identity. Christians do not come into their social world from outside seeking either to accommodate to their new home (like second generation immigrants would), shape it in the image of the one they have left behind (like colonizers would), or establish a little haven in the strange new world reminiscent of the old (as resident aliens would)…Christian difference is therefore not an insertion of something new into the old from outside, but a bursting out of the new precisely within the proper space of the old.”

“As those who are a part of the environment from which they have diverted by having been born again and whose difference is therefore internal to that environment, Christians ask, “Which beliefs and practices of the culture that is ours must we reject now that our self has been reconstituted by new birth? Which can we retain? What must we reshape to reflect better the values of God’s new creation?”

ECCLESIOLOGICAL DIFFERENCE

“[Christian difference] is lived in a community that lives as “aliens” in a larger social environment.”

“The new birth is neither a conversion to our authentic inner self nor a migration (metoikesia) of the soul into a heavenly realm, but a translation of a person into the house of God (oikos tou theou) erected in the midst of the world.”

“Communities of those who are born anew and follow Christ live an alternative way of life within the political, ethnic, religious, and cultural institutions of the larger society.”

“We get no sense from 1 Peter, however, that the church should strive to regulate all domains of social life and reshape society in the image of the heavenly Jerusalem. One could argue, of course, that it would be anachronistic to expect such a thought even to occur in the Petrine community…Whatever the reason, the Petrine community…did not wish to impose itself or the kingdom of God on the world, but to live in faithfulness to God and to the values of God’s kingdom, inviting others to do the same. It had no desire to do for others what they did not want done for them. They had no covert totalitarian agenda. Rather, the community was to live an alternative way of life in the present social setting, transforming it, as it could, from within. In any case, the community did not seek to exert social or political pressure, but to give public witness to a new way of life.”


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Bonhoeffer on Dualism

“In Christ we are invited to participate in the reality of God and the reality of the world at the same time, the one not without the other.”

“Thinking in terms of two realms understands the paired concepts worldy-Christian, natural-supernatural, profane-sacred, rational-revelationsl, as ultimate static opposites…and fails to recognize the original unity of these opposites in the Christ-reality.”

(Bonhoeffer, Ethics, 55; 58-59)

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Bonhoeffer on Prayer

It [intercession] is God’s most powerful means for organizing the entire church-community toward God’s own purpose; in it the church-community recognizes itself as an instrument of God’s will, and accordingly organizes itself in active obedience. That is, therefore, the point of its major thrust, and the devil is more afraid of a thatched roof under which a congregation prays, than a magnificent cathedral in which many masses are said.

In the church each one bears the other’s burden and only by recognizing that intercession is a God-given means for realizing God’s purpose can we acknowledge and practice it as meaningful. In intercession the nature of Christian love again proves to be to work ‘with’, ‘for’, and ultimately ‘in place of’ our neighbor, thereby drawing the neighbor deeper and deeper into the church-community. Thus, when one person intercedes in the name of Christ on behalf of the other, the whole church-community–which actually means ‘Christ existing as church-community’–participates in that person’s prayer.

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio, p. 188-189)

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Bonhoeffer on the Church

I don’t read many biographies, but I’ve been reading the new Bonhoeffer biography by Erik Metaxas before going to bed. Its gotten excellent reviews, and rightly so. I think Bonhoeffer must have lived one of the most compelling Christian lives of the last century in witnessing against Hitler’s Third Reich and prophetically calling the German church back to faithfulness. The quotes below are from Bonhoeffer’s dissertation called Sanctorum Communio. They give  a nice glimpse into his thinking about the church as the revelation of God’s will through Christ.

“The church is the presence of Christ in the same way that Christ is the presence of God.  The New Testament knows a form of revelation, ‘Christ existing as church community’.

“The church is God’s new will and purpose for humanity. God’s will is always directed toward the concrete, historical human being. But this means that it begins to be implemented in history. God’s will must become visible and comprehensible at some point in history. But at the same point it must already be completed. Therefore, it must be revealed. Revelation of God’s will is necessary because the primal community, where God speaks and the word becomes deed and history through human beings, is broken. Therefore God must personally speak and act, and at the same time accomplish a new creation of human beings, since God’s word is always deed. Thus the church is already completed in Christ, just as in Christ its beginning is established.

The crucified and risen Christ is recognized by the church-community as God’s incarnate love for us–as God’s will to renew the covenant, to establish God’s rule, and thus to create community.

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My Year in Books

Apparently I decided to take a little break from blogging in the second half of 2010, so to catch you up on my life by way of my reading list, here are a few of the titles I was carrying around over the last year. Maybe you’ll notice some themes? Let me know if any of them peeks your interest. I’d love to tell you more.

  • Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation – James K.A. Smith
  • After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters – N.T. Wright
  • Let My People Grow: Reflections on Making Disciples Who Make a Difference in Today’s World – Mark Greene
  • The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work and Ministry in Biblical Perspective – R. Paul Stevens
  • Letters from the Land of Cancer – Walter Wangerin
  • Sexuality & Holy Longing: Embracing Intimacy in a Broken World – Lisa Graham McMinn
  • What Are People For? – Wendell Berry
  • Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty – Mark Winne
  • Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity – Lauren Winner
  • The Essential Agrarian Reader: The Future of Culture, Community, and the Land – Norman Wirzba
  • The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice from the Civil Rights to Today – Charles Marsh
  • Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible – M. Daniel Carroll
  • What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng – Dave Eggers
  • In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto – Michael Pollan
  • Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner – Frederick Buechner
  • The Community of the King – Howard Snyder
  • Introducing the Missional Church: What It Is, Why It Matters, How to Become One – 
    Alan J. Roxburgh, M. Scott Boren

  • Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work – 
    Matthew B. Crawford

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    John Perkins on Loving Our Neighbor

    John Perkins is probably one of the most important Christian leaders that most of the white evangelical world has never heard of. He was beaten and nearly killed during the Civil Rights movement, he is a champion for the cause of the poor (and more specifically, living among the poor) and he’s created space for interracial healing and dialogue through ministries like CCDA and Voice of Calvary. I had the chance to attend the CCDA conference in Miami a few years ago, and John Perkins’ morning devotions/reflections were one of the highlights for me (you can get a taste here). While I was there, I picked up a few of his books, and this week I’ve been looking through one of those books called Beyond Charity: The Call to Christian Community Development and came across these words:

    “Most of us don’t see the commandment to love our neighbor as having anything to do with dealing with physical needs. But this is primarily because we have allowed the culture in which we live to redefine the word love for us. The love that we talk about now is a lollipop; its a smile and a “God bless you!” The love of Jesus, the love he intends for us to show our neighbors is much tougher than this. In his first epistle, the apostle John says that our love should be of the same quality as Jesus’ love for us, that we get our dfinition of love not from our feelings or our culture but from the cross. “We know this, that He he laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16 NASB).

    When it comes to loving people, we hedge. Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). People say, “Sure, I’m willing to die for you.” But are we willing to live for our neighbor? To love people is to spend energy and resources and time to serve them. To love people in practical ways that have impact on their whole being–their spirits, their economic situation, their health, their minds–that’s God’s will.

    (Beyond Charity, p.141)

    FYI: Switchfoot has a song on their latest album inspired by John Perkins and a phrase he uses–“Love is the final fight.” There’s a great music video to accompany the song.

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