Your Christian Life

I’ve been re-reading Mike Reeves’ brilliant little book on the Trinity called ‘The Good God, enjoying Father, Son and Spirit’ (just check out the reviews on Amazon for proof).  His conclusion is short and succinct enough to warrant popping it here, in the hope that people will be inspired enough to get his book, read it and enjoy God afresh.  I’ve added the pictures.  When the book launched, Mike allowed me to take thirty copies back to my church in the hope of selling a few – they all went….

goodgodConclusion:  No Other Choice

“What is your Christian life like?  What is the shape of your gospel, your faith?  In the end, it will depend on what you think God is like.  Who God is drives everything.

So what is the human problem?

 Is it merely that we have strayed from a moral code?

Or is it something worse:  that we have strayed from him?

What is salvation?  Is it merely that we are brought back as law-abiding citizens?

Or is it something better:  that we are brought back as beloved children?

What is the Christian life about?  Mere behaviour?  Or something deeper:  enjoying God?

And then there’s what our churches are like, our marriages, our relationships, our mission:  all are moulded in the deepest way by what we think of God.

In the early fourth century, Arius went for a pre-cooked God, ready-baked in his mind.  Ignoring the way, the truth and life, he defined God without the Son, and the fallout was catastrophic:  without the Son, God cannot truly be a Father; thus alone, he is not truly love.  Thus he can have no fellowship to share with us, no Son to bring us close, no Spirit through whom we might know him.  Arius was left with very thin gruel:  a life of self-dependent effort under the all-seeing eye of his distant and loveless God.

The tragedy is that we all think like Arius every day (my emphasis).  We think of God without the Son.  We think of ‘God’, and not the Father of the Son.  But from there it doesn’t really take long before you find that you are just a whole lot more interesting than this ‘God’.  And could you but see yourself, you would notice that you are fast becoming like this ‘God’:  all inward-looking and fruitless.

The twentieth-century Russian theologian, Vladimir Lossky, put it like this:  ‘If we reject the Trinity as the sole ground of all reality and all thought, we are committed to a road that leads nowhere; we end in an aporia (a despair), in folly, in the disintegration of our being, in spiritual death.  Between the Trinity and hell there lies no other choice.’

However, starting with Jesus, Athanasius found himself with a God who could not have been more different from the God of Arius.  It wasn’t that he found himself with some extra small-print in his description of God (‘the Trinity’):  Athanasius had a God of love, a kind Father who draws us to share him eternal love and fellowship.

The choice remains:  which God will we have?  Which God will we proclaim?  Without Jesus the Son, we cannot know that God is truly a loving Father.  Without Jesus the Son, we cannot know him as our loving Father.  But as Luther discovered, through Jesus we may know that God is a Father, and ‘we may look into his fatherly heart and sense how boundlessly He loves us.  That would warm our hearts, setting them aglow’.

Yes it would, and more:  it would bring about reformation.

 z1dUrF3wMichael Reeves, The Good God, pg. 106-7

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Realistic expectations of what the church is and will be

Realistic expectations of what the church is and will be

In a really well written article in Themelios by Uche Anizor that draws together various ecclesiological strands of Colin Gunton’s thought from multiple sources, we see some really practical outworkings of what the church is and should be and will be in the light of a robust doctrine of the Trinity.  Anizor writes, “Gunton’s relentless attempt to root the nature and calling of the church in the being and action of the triune God opens up a way for a more concrete and realistic perspective on the church than is common, while offering a potentially more fruitful starting point for ecumenical dialogue regarding the nature of the church.”

“a more concrete and realistic perspective on the church than is common.”

We all know things could and should be better; some are disillusioned to the point of desertion; others remain but function in a spiritual wilderness akin to the effects of Ritalin; whilst yet many more recognise a “concrete and realistic perspective” is the only way to live in reality and eschew fantasy.

Thus Anizor opens with these words,

“Conflict in relationships is often rooted in inappropriate or unmet expectations. This commonplace wisdom regarding everyday relationships is no less true of one’s relationship to the church. Our conduct and feelings toward the church are governed largely by our expectations of what the church should be. These expectations, furthermore, are rooted in our understanding of the church’s nature. Ministers who weekly find themselves disappointed with the failings of their congregations would do well to attend to their understanding of what the church is. Laypeople who find themselves regularly frustrated with their community’s shortcomings are advised to do likewise. Disappointment (among other negative feelings) often flows from unrealistic expectations, which sometimes betray an unbalanced view of the church. Therefore, a healthy understanding of the nature of the church is of utmost practical import. Is the church the kingdom? If not, what is it? In what ways, if at all, is the church (and actual churches) a sign of the new Jerusalem? How can we theologically describe this imperfect reality we call the “church”? Colin Gunton provides one helpful response.”

The way forward is offered positively thus,

“First, we examine three related areas that contribute to a fuller understanding of the trinitarian heart of his ecclesiology: (1) the ontology of the church, (2) the place of pneumatology, and (3) the role of a proper Christology.  Then we provide a constructive appraisal. The hope here is that Gunton’s contribution might help free pastors, teachers, and congregants to live and serve in the church with a love and compassion rooted in realistic expectations of what the church is and will be.”

The essay really weaves a fantastic theological tapestry integrating the Pneumatological, Christological and Ecclesiological threads.  We need to know who this God is before we build on ecclesial foundations.  That is why I enjoyed the comments right at the end just before the conclusion, aimed at those pastors and lay people who are tempted to disillusionment at the ontology of the Church:

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Something about Heaven (a world of love)

Something about Heaven (a world of love)

“Heaven, fellowship with the Trinity is…the end for which all human beings were created” so says Jerry Walls in The Logic of Eternal Joy.

He’s right.

Today I attended the funeral of a couple who lost their beloved daughter to a premature birth.  I have rarely witnessed such Godly grief, such dignity in mourning.  In fact, I never have.  They were quite remarkable.  Why?  Because they know who they are in Christ.

All pettiness of daily living was exposed for the sham it is.  Reinhold Niebuhr expressed it well when he wrote that we were not to be preoccupied with  “the furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell.”  Such is much of our lives.  We are so preoccupied, that when tragedy strikes, we’re surprised!  It is a perverse irony that doesn’t see the pathetic blasphemy of such a state!

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Captured by Love

Captured by Love

This wonderful “Confession of Faith” can be found here at Michael Hardin’s ‘Preaching Peace’ website.

We confess we have been captured by love –
the constant source of the universe,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Jesus has captured us for freedom.
In his truly human life
he was God among us, crucified by us.
God raised him from death
for the forgiveness of our sin
and the re-creation of our life.

His Father is our Father –
The source of his life and ours,
the God of Israel,
in whose gracious purposes
all creation is drawn to fulfillment.

His Spirit gives life to all
transforming our life from the inside out
by worship, scripture and sacrament
into the community of Christ and of the future
for the sake of the world.

In this triune God we bear witness
to the love which has captured us.
Our vocation lies in God’s mission –
to communicate it here in Aotearoa New Zealand,
to embody it socially
and to care for God’s glorious creation.

In this new-given unity
we live in confidence and hope;
anticipating the healing of creation
and the final flourishing of peace
in Christ.

Rev. Dr. Bruce Hamill
Coastal Unity Presbyterian Parish
Dunedin, New Zealand

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Near Redgate Beach, Torquay (c) Gralefrit 2016

Mission and Bosch

Mission and Bosch

Below is a brief refelction I wrote a few years ago of David Bosch’s outstanding Transforming Mission – paradigm shifts in theology of mission.

transforming-mission-bosch-david-j-9780883447192Bosch’s work has been given the highest praise, with such eloquent descriptions as immense, great, comprehensive, magnum opus, summa missiologica and magisterial, among others, for his book Transforming Mission.  This is worthy praise for the work of a man held in such high regard for his loyalty and commitment to mission in the church and the mission of the church.  It is very important to understand that these nouns and adjectives of praise for his book do not in any way suggest that all is well with the world of mission, or that Bosch has in fact covered every angle and said all that needs to be said about mission, and especially about what he calls “Elements of an Emerging Ecumenical Missionary Paradigm.”  This sentiment was well expressed in an article by Bevans and Schroeder when they compared the theological genius of Aquinas with the outstanding missiological contribution of Bosch, suggesting that as theology ‘need always to be done after Aquinas,’ likewise, missiology need always ‘be done after Bosch’ (Bevans & Schroeder 2005:69-72).

Some of Bosch’s most insightful critics are among his closest friends and colleagues, and it is within these critiques that we discover areas that Bosch may have overlooked or been completely blind to in the first place.  We will return to some of these voices in due course, but first a broad brush stroke is in order.  Bosch’s insights, written in the late eighties and published in 1991 reflect a profound and well thought out view that many Christian authors and missiologists especially in the West are still struggling to define, namely post-modernism.  For Bosch to elucidate this slippery concept at such an early stage in the way he does has really set the scene for much discourse on this subject.  We observe this because it is inevitable that with any description of a culture in flux, which is essentially what a paradigm shift is, and attempts to fully explicate at such an early stage, at least earlier than many other cultural analysts were writing, would surely be frustrated, even assertions that it could be fully comprehended would surely be naïve.  Bosch does not presume to have done this primarily because he knows he is referring to something that is happening now, it is in a sense live, and subject to unpredictable change.  Since this is still the case in our day, how much more in his day?

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A Prayer

Merciful and loving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we open our hearts before you now.
We repent of our sins.
Our praise and worship make no sense unless we are repentant.
We confess to you faithful God, our sins in thought, word, deed and nature.
We confess freely and boldly.
We are a redeemed and sanctified people.
Not by our own righteousness. As if.
But by your righteousness, and the righteousness you give to us.
We are so blessed to be called your people.

For you do not treat us as our sins deserve.
Neither do you leave us wallowing in them
You lift us up. You crown us with love and compassion.
You declare us sons and daughters; heirs and co-heirs.
We acknowledge we have been bought at great cost.
We are not our own; but belong to you, in relationship with each other.

You have sent your Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus to live in us.
Not to be religious but righteous.
Not to live in piety but in power.
Not to be aloof but to be a saint.
Not to be sanctimonious but to be a servant.

Father God,

May your heart for us ever shape and heal our own hearts.
May we see you not as an insurance policy but as you are: Holy, Holy, Holy.
May we share your love in real, genuine ways.
May our evangelism be empowered and Spirit led, courageous and fearless, yet wise.
May our witness be authentic, natural, loving, sacrificial.
May our service to others be beautified.
May our giving cost us more than the cost of giving!

Meet with us Father God. Meet with us in a vast and complex world of fear and pain.
Meet us in our own pain and sickness. We pray for healing in the name of Jesus.
We also pray not just for healing, but encounter. An encounter with the resurrected Jesus.
And Father, if we fear that our prayers have not been answered, as is the repeated testimony of the Psalms and of your people through the ages;
Assure us that if in our praying, our prayers have not been answered, we have.
So we do not lose hope; we do not despair. You are the Rock on which we stand. You alone.
You – Jesus, are faithful and true. All sufficient in life and eternity. Bread for body and soul.
May we ever feed on you, Lamb of God. May we ever seek you, Pearl of great price.
Lord Jesus Christ, you do have mercy on us. Build your church through us we pray.

Amen

IMG_6748Steps in Torquay on my daily dog-walk.

The Holy Spirit

“The Spirit of God has various roles, and it is a mistake to magnify one of these over all the others.

The Spirit is active in creation, as is also the Word or Logos.

He is at work in revelation, opening our eyes to the significance of what God has accomplished for us in Jesus Christ.

He is the principal agent in our regeneration by which we are born anew into a life of service and freedom (cf. Ezekiel 36:25-27; John 3:1-15; 2 Corinthians 3:17).

He preserves the people of God and indeed all of humanity from the destroying powers of sin, death and hell.

He convicts people of sin and drives them to Christ for mercy and compassion.

He empowers the people of God to bear witness to Christ and triumph over the principalities of the world.

Together with the other members of the Trinity the Spirit is responsible  for the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.

In addition he plays a unique role in the inspiration or supervision of the writing that bears testimony to God’s saving act in Christ, the writing that now forms the canon of Holy Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).”

Donald G. Bloesch in his excellent ‘Christian Foundations’ series The Holy Spirit – works and gifts, p.73

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