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Something I wrote for a community blog I’m a part of.

The Fullerton Files

Preamble: What follows is a brief reflection on prayer, as informed by personal experience, seminary studies, and a Master’s Thesis I wrote on the nature of prayer and attention. It interacts with prayer in ways that are likely unfamiliar to many, but which are, I assure you, quite orthodox (as in “theologically acceptable”). My intent in writing this was to create space for certain questions or curiosities in the reader’s prayer life that may have the potential to lead one into something… more than what present experience may allow for. If you find this to be the case for yourself, please feel free to connect with me. I would love to discuss it with you.



*Breathes in: “Lord Jesus…”
*breathes out: “…have mercy.”

*Breathes in: “Lord Jesus…”
*breathes out: “…have mercy.”

*Breathes in: “Lord Jesus…”
*breathes out: “…have mercy.”

This has been the largest portion of my prayer…

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Not Entertained

Back in the day, “the weather” seemed to be the default filler for casual conversations and small talk. Nowadays it seems to be the latest show on Netflix (queue Stranger Things reference; no, I haven’t watched it). I’m not sure when the last time was that I went to church and didn’t hear about some show or episode thereof. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this; I’m just pointing out the pervasive nature of the entertainment industry in everyday conversation. There’s much to see and be entertained by and quite frankly it’s generally a great deal more interesting than the weather. Still, I can’t help but feel a little disconnected when someone talks about such and such a show and I honestly have little to no reference by which to appreciate their experience.

I visit Netflix about once or twice a month these days and my visits tend to be quite short. They generally consist of me logging on, filtering through the various lists of stuff to watch, checking a few on IMDB, and then giving up and moving on to something else. There have been a couple times when I’ve actually started watching something, but the last few times I ultimately stopped several minutes into it and logged off. Today I tried going to back to one I used to watch all the time: House. Turns out I left off in the middle of an episode toward the end of season 1. If I logged back in now I would still be in the middle of that episode.

Truth be told, I’m just not entertained by what I find on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or whatever other site there is to watch stuff on. (Okay, I still watch short clips here and there on YouTube, but even so my primary draw to YouTube is the music I find on there.) Sure, I’ll watch movies and stuff with other people, but it’s for the time with others that I do it (and the snarky comments I get to make on the side), not because I want to be entertained by what I see.

So, no, Maximus, I’m not entertained. A few moments of distraction, a little time of being drawn away from the world in which I live to some other realm of fantasy, a brief reprieve from the worries and concerns and to-dos of this life, these are all meaningless for me. They serve no purpose for me; they fail in their intent. I am not entertained; I am bored. It’s not for any lack of trying on your part; no, it seems to be something with me. If there’s any fault it’s mine.

No, I do not think anything really is at fault. It’s just that I am no longer so easily drawn away from what’s real and important to me. I kind of wish I was, but such is not the case, which means I’m left to myself quite a bit. I’m not always the most interesting fellow to keep around so this can be quite taxing at times. I’ve wanted to find that new show that captures my attention and fascination and draws me away from myself, but my searches have thus far been fruitless.

So I pause, and reflect, and wonder. The great existential questions of life flit through my head one after another. The answers are unchanged; no new questions come to mind. So I sit there and sigh, I run my fingers through my hair or stroke my ‘stache. I eventually move on to some other activity; there’s always another book to read or some school project to work on, but the desire–perhaps it’s a need?–for something more usually persists. Every once in a while, when the right thing comes to mind, I find a certain satisfaction for that desire. That right thing is prayer (more specifically the “Jesus Prayer”, but explaining that would require its own post).

I honestly had no idea this is where this post would lead, so don’t blame me if you think this is a cheesy ending to an otherwise vague and slightly boring post. And no, I don’t intend to sermonize on this or come across as critical and judgmental of those who are indeed entertained by what’s on Netflix. I’d much rather point out my own flaws in this (if there are any) than anyone else, but I think it better if I don’t point out any at all. No, I think this is just a part of the relationship with culture that God has called me to.

I think we’re all called to have a certain relationship to the culture around us and what that looks like for each person will be different (I highly recommend H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture as a source for exploring this further). Of course, we are all called to evangelize those in the culture and this requires some degree of familiarity with it, but this does not require full immersion. Some people, perhaps even most, can handle a great deal of interaction with the culture and I think this can be very beneficial.

For me, I think a greater level of “familiarity” is not what I need right now. It’s not that I’m better; no, I think I’m more susceptible. I wish I wasn’t, but reflecting back I can see how it has taken me away from God at times when I needed to be close. I tend to be more deeply affected by what’s going on around me than I let on and so I have found the need to be more guarded. Obviously, God is aware of this and I suspect it is his work that has led me to this point. So I am not entertained, but because of this, I find myself ever more confronted by my need for Him Who can do so much more than entertain.

Finding Assurance

Several years ago, I found myself in a community that seemed to be experiencing a pretty consistent level of spiritual revival, complete with rather remarkable prophetic words, miracles, the tangible presence of God, and emotional highs out the wazoo.  I personally experienced only a small fraction of this, and much of that was likely either by osmosis or through my subconscious responding to how much I wanted to fit in and be accepted by that community.  For the most part, however, God seemed pretty distant and I feel like I experienced rejection from that community because of that fact.

I don’t know what all God was doing in that time, but I know He was at work there and that the [perceived] distance was His doing and not due to some “issue” on my part (i.e sin struggles, spiritual sloth, or other issue that may cause interference between oneself and God).  I won’t go into all the details of that experience, but there came a point when I finally reached the end of myself.  It was the closest I have ever come to walking away from my faith.  God did not seem to be showing up in my life (at least not as I was implicitly led to believe that He was supposed to) and I was done trying to get Him to do so.

It was during a time of prayer (in which I was doing all that I knew to get God to manifest in some way) when I came to this point and so of course I informed Him that I was, indeed, done with this whole Christian enterprise.  It wasn’t working; God was just not there; and so I was leaving.  Initially, this was more of a reverse-psychology approach to manipulating God into action on my behalf, but as God apparently would have none of that (and till won’t no matter how many times I try), it didn’t work and so I tried to leave.

I really did try; I’m quite sure I did.  But ultimately, I could not follow through.  God didn’t try to hold me back (at least not that I could perceive), I simply found the idea of disbelieving in God untenable.  Having spent a fair amount of time studying Christian apologetics and knowing that in times past I had indeed had experiences of God in the way I so desperately wanted in that moment, I just could not force myself to believe anything other than what I had believed for most of my life.  I found myself wondering, “Where else could I go?”  There was no other option; I was stuck.

And so I had despaired of God, but there was nothing and no one else I could go to.  So I stood there in the midst of my despair and knew that somehow it was God that I was standing on.  I could not see God, I could not hear God, I could not feel God, but God was there.  Whatever means of acquiring data I had available to me were telling me that God was nowhere to be found, and yet still I knew that He was there and had been all along.  I call this faith.  Real Faith.  Faith that stays.  Faith that sits beneath one’s knowledge and survives when knowledge fades.  It’s faith that can only ever be the work of the Holy Spirit.

On that day, I met my faith.  I came face to face with the fact that I’m stuck, that I have nowhere else to go.  This experience has become my assurance of salvation.  If someone where to ask how I know I’m saved, I would tell them of the experience described above.  I would not give them a theology of the assurance of salvation or of the “perseverance of the saints” because those to me are irrelevant.  It’s not theology’s job to tell me I’m saved or that I will stay saved, that’s God’s job.

I eventually came out of that time of darkness and certainly had no desire to go through it again (although God had other plans, which I may explain in a future post), but can hardly express how grateful I am that I went through it.  There’s something about reaching the end of yourself and finding God there that just cannot be achieved any other way.  It changed my understanding of Who God was and it changed how I though He was supposed to act and interact towards me.  More importantly, it changed me and how I see myself in relation to the world around and in relation to God.  It taught me that, as that old hymn says, “On Christ the solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

Hello

So, it’s been a while since I’ve been on here and honestly this post should not be taken as any indication that I will be returning on any significant level, or even at all.  I really just sort of found myself here unintentionally and thought I’d just mention that I’m still alive and may, in fact, post some stuff again in the near future.  Then again, maybe not.

Actually, the fact that I’ve gotten this far and am still typing with some intention of publishing this post rather than deleting it and moving on to some other less public form of time consumption is probably a pretty good sign.  There have been a few key reasons why I haven’t posting in a while and although I’m not going to get into those at present (they may be good fodder for future posts, if any end up being written), I will say that I’m starting to move beyond those and I take this to be a vague form of health, at least in an emotional and psychological sense.

That said, if you’re reading this you may find more to read later on.  Again, I’m not guaranteeing anything, but I dare say it’s a very a real possibility that I will post more.  One key thing to add: part of what’s making this post possible is the fact that I’m starting to care less about other people’s opinions.  This includes yours, whomever “you” may be.  Thus, you may very well find yourself disturbed or even insulted by what you read on this blog.  I’m not going to apologize; you’re here of your own free will.  I will say, however, that I am an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs, which means that I am a verbal processor and so much of what appears here will be in-process material.  This means that what I say should NOT be taken at face value, but rather should be appreciated for the unfinished product that it is.  Much of what appears here will be some of my own ranting or confusion on certain things that my mind is just not able to wrap itself around at the time.  Comments and other feedback may be helpful in the process and I may even ask for them on occasion.  They may also be ignored or deleted.  Interact at your own peril.

Finally, I do appreciate people’s indication that they’ve read what I’ve written and if you think it’s good enough to share with others that’s totally cool with me.  What I appreciate more, however, is space to be in process and that be okay.  Sometimes, silence says more than the lack thereof.  Also, some lessons are best, and sometimes only, learned the hard way.  In writing on this page, I am taking full responsibility for what is published and I don’t need anyone else to help me with that burden.  In other words, I am not trying to provide any “teachable moments” for those who look for such things.  I am not looking to be taught here; I’m looking to grow.  Don’t try to rescue me; if I need help, I’ll ask for it.  I could write more, but as I have a tendency to over-explain things I think I’ll stop here and let you figure the rest out.  Let the posting begin (again)!

My first semester of grad school ended yesterday. It was (and still is) a rather surreal experience. In fact, the whole program has been that way. I’ve been reading a lot, praying a lot, writing a lot, experiencing a lot, meeting a lot of amazing people, etc. etc. It’s been intellectually challenging, emotionally challenging, and spiritually challenging. So it’s only natural that I would want to relax a bit by grabbing a treat from Panera, an eggnog latte from Starbucks, and my hefty collection of writings by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (because that’s what normal people do in their free time, right?). Apparently God had other plans.

I only got a little ways in to “Life Together” before a gentleman in the chair across from me (at Starbucks) asked what I was reading. I told him what it was and so began a very interesting conversation that went on for at least an hour or so. We started (or rather he started) by talking about Hitler and his apparent involvement in satanic cults (apparently April 30th is the satanic equivalent of Christmas or Easter, at least according to this guy). From there he went into military conflicts against Russia and then ended up talking about theology.

The gentleman (I think he said his name was Kelvin) did the vast majority of talking with only occasional comments from yours truly. Much of what he said seemed a little weird, a great deal of it I already knew, and nearly all of it was being carefully sifted through my truth system as I looked from some element of heresy in what he was saying. I think I kind felt insulted at many of the things he said too because I mentioned that i was in seminary and yet he tried explaining things like the hypostasic union (Jesus as the God-man) and the finer point of crucifixion among other things. At some point I’m pretty sure I prayed that could would rescue me from the situation.

After a while, however, Kelvin began talking about his life in his early days as a Christian and how he would spend hours of his time at Biola’s library, reading through the Puritans. I suddenly came to realize that this man was a whole lot more educated that I originally gave him credit for (I knew he knew a lot, but I assumed it was largely conspiracy stuff). He talked a lot about the different books and authors that made an impact on him and some of their ideas and practices.

Eventually he began talking about how we need to read the Bible, specifically from the perspective of many of the people who heard Jesus’ teaching and said that “no one had ever spoken like that before”. He spoke very excitedly about how we so often just read the Bible like any other book or as a purely academic exercise, when we really need to expect to be blown away with each time we open to the scripture. I suddenly realized that I was no longer filtering, but rather just receiving and actually being convicted by what he was saying. My own devotional life has been somewhat dry lately…

Finally, Kelvin began explaining one of the most beautiful presentations of God’s providence that I have ever heard. He spoke about the paintings of Michelangelo and Da Vinci and how our own lives are like those paintings, but rather than ours or some artist’s signature on our “painting” (life story), we have God’s signature. From before we were born until eternity, God has been painting our picture and in the end we will bear His signature. I was floored by this man’s eloquence and passion in all this and I listened with full attention. When he finished, he found that he needed to leave and so he packed his things, made a few further comments and then left. I remained there for a few moments in stunned silence.

Eventually I got up and left for my car feeling very convicted by what had just occurred. There I was, confident in my knowledge and skill in articulation, judging that man and every statement he was making. I spent most of that time looking for an error and expecting to school him on some deep intellectual subject. Instead, I was the one schooled and in error, especially in my arrogance and failure to listen. I had heard the man, but was not listening until the end. I’m not sure that I needed to listen in the sense of receiving everything he said as pure truth, but to assume that he had nothing new to say to me or was somehow undeserving of my full attention (as opposed to looking for error) was entirely wrong of me.

As I walked to my car, however, I find that that is my routine habit. I don’t listen; I analyze. I don’t seek to add to my knowledge in conversing with others, I seek to pull their presuppositions apart and add to their knowledge. This is not to say that that is necessarily wrong, only that that should not be my default position. I am only a student, so why do I always try to assume the teacher’s position? I honestly don’t know, but I’m glad that I’m finally more fully aware that that’s what’s going on.

The great thing about the program I’m in (Spiritual Formation) is that it teaches you how to spot these things and begin the process of dealing with them with God’s help. Thus, a new journey has begun for me tonight. A journey of discovery as to what drives me to interact with others as I did with Kelvin. I expect there will be a great deal of humbling going on in the near future and very likely I will be dealing with this for most (if not all) of my life, because I know that it’s set in my heart pretty deep. Nonetheless, I’m grateful to God that He used this time to point out my “hurtful way” (to quote Psalm 139) and begin the process of healing.

So much for being on break….

Feeling Alone

There’s something to be said for finding yourself alone in a strange place.  The amusing part is that all my online accounts think something’s weird and are making me plug in verification codes to make sure it’s me.  The less amusing part is that I find myself doing the same thing in terms of who I am and why I’m here.  My brain knows why I’m here and is itself here with me.  I’m pretty sure my heart is still over on the east coast.  So now I have to continually verify that I am where I am supposed to be.

In a lot of ways I think I know how Abram felt.  “Go forth from your country and from your relatives and from your father’s house to the land which I will show you” (Gen. 12:1 NASB).  At least he had company and a promise; I just have myself and the current chapter of life that I’m in.  I can’t say that I’m really complaining right now though; I just haven’t experienced the life and joy that I expect to find here.  They say that the hardest journey to make is the 14 inch journey from the head to the heart.  That journey feels like 3,000 miles right now.  I guess I’m just waiting for my heart to catch up.

I know I’m in the right place.  That much was established for me yesterday when I was having a harder time dealing with the newness of this place.  Yesterday was the New Student Luncheon for the Institute for Spiritual Formation (ISF) where I got to meet faculty members and students in the program and get a brief taste of what to expect in the course of my studies.  I must say that it’s looking to be even better than I was anticipating when I first applied to the program.  The best part, however, was the dedication prayer we read together.

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.  I have my mission – I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the nest.

I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.  He has not created me for nothing.  I shall do good, I shall do His work.

Therefore I will trust Him.  Whatever, wherever I am.  I cannot be thrown away.  If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.  He does nothing in vain.  He knows what He is about.  He may take away my friends, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me – still He knows what He is about.

Cardinal Newman

It was as if God was saying, “It’s okay, you’re in the right place; what you’re feeling is normal.  It will be okay.”  My mind never doubted that I was in God’s will in moving out here, it was only my heart that was unsure.  In that moment, however, both were aligned.  It’s still a struggle right now, but I know I’m in the right place.  A lot of it has to do with stepping out of my comfort zone, but I would be a fool to forget all the stories I’ve heard of God doing amazing things for other people who did the same.

OUR EXAMPLE IN LIFE AND AFTER DEATH:
EXPLORATIONS OF THE HUMANITY OF CHRIST BEFORE AND AFTER THE RESURRECTION AND ASCENSION WITH SOME DISCUSSION ON THE KENOSIS

Stephen Kornhaus
BIBL 332 (01): Systematic Theology II
April 20, 2014

 

INTRODUCTION

Among all the great debates of Christian history and thought, one in particular stands out as perhaps the most extensive of them all, namely the hypostatic union of the God-man Jesus Christ: fully God and fully man.  The great Creeds of the early centuries of Christianity ultimately rest on affirming this truth, calling anathema upon all who deny it.  Within the realm of conservative evangelical thought, the upholding of this truth is necessary in order for any individual to be welcomed as a fellow Christian.  This, at least, is the case for the incarnation of Christ.  What is interesting to note is that this debate, while thorough in describing Jesus’ two-nature state during His earthly ministry, does little to describe what Jesus was like after His resurrection and ultimately His ascension.

It is evident that a detailed description of Jesus’ two natures while on earth is necessary to understand His life and work during that time.  Yet it is obvious that this was not the fullest extent of Jesus’ ministry.  Rather, He is seated at the right hand of God interceding for His church[1] and therefore still in a ministerial role for the church.  If, then, He is still ministering to humanity, it follows that He maintains at least some element of His humanity.

One final note of introduction before the argument begins regards the Kenosis, otherwise known as Jesus’ “self-emptying” of certain divine prerogatives (explained in detail below).  Jesus Himself stated, “All authority has been given unto Me” (Matt. 28:18) and therefore the Kenosis must, in some sense, be altered.  This altering may either be a simple undoing (Jesus having all divine attributes available to Him), or a reversal (an emptying of His humanness).  Considering the numerous appearance of Jesus after the resurrection wherein He does specifically human actions, the former must be the more likely of the two.  Thus, it is the purpose of this essay to show that while Jesus Christ has indeed had His divine prerogatives restored to Him in the fullest sense, He nonetheless also maintains His humanity in equal measure.

BEFORE THE RESURRECTION

First, I will describe the hypostatic union of Christ.  Wayne Grudem defines it as “The union of Christ’s human and divine natures in one being.”[2]  This is the simplest definition, but the debate that surrounded it lasted for generations and bore much controversy.[3]  Thomas Oden further describes the hypostatic union by stating, “Christ’s personhood is as singularly unified as any one person can be, yet in a profound, mysterious union of humanness and deity…  The personal union is not a conflation or mixture of two composite things so the person could be said to be part human, part divine.”[4]  Suffice it to say, Christ is fully human and fully divine; he possesses all aspects of each nature.

The above definition is necessary for it gives the initial premise that Christ was, at one point in time, fully human.  The question now turns to why He became so.  The best source to consult in this matter is Anselm of Canterbury, the author of Cur Deus Homo (Why God became man).  In the second part of his work, Anselm discusses the issue primarily from the human angle and writes, “The obligation rests with man, and no one else, to make the payment referred to.”[5]  In other words, it had to have been a man who paid the debt of sin.  The problem, however, is that Anselm had already made the argument earlier in his book that man cannot pay for the sin himself and that it was necessary for Christ (as divine) to do so.[6]  Thus, Christ, who was already God, had to take humanity upon Himself in order to make due recompense for sin.

The “Great Doctor of the [Roman Catholic] Church” Thomas Aquinas added two other reasons for why Christ took on humanity.  While the first of these (Aquinas’ second, the first being the same as Anselm’s above) has to do with mankind being able to believe in the incarnation and is worth considering in its own right, it does little to assist this essay.  It is the final reason given by Aquinas that needs consideration.  Aquinas wrote that Christ became human “in order to show us an example of patience by valiantly bearing up against human passibility and defects.”[7]  Augustine of Hippo gives an even broader picture of Christ’s example for humanity in his “Sermons or Tractates on the Gospel According to St. John”: “In everything that He did as man, He was showing an example to them who were to believe on Him”[8]  The key phrase here is “in everything that He did as a man…”  This is to say that in anything Christ asks or intends humans to do, He first set the example Himself.

Of course, one cannot discuss Christ’s humanity without addressing His divinity in some way.  Thus at this time it is fitting to describe the Kenosis and how it affect the discussion at hand.  The term and its description is based in the hymn transcribed by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:6-11, specifically the phrase in verse 7, “but emptied himself [of His equality with God (v.6)].”  A rough understanding of the Kenosis is given by Stephen T. Davis who describes a kenotic Christological theory as, “One that explains the Incarnation in terms of the Logos ‘giving up’ or ‘laying aside’ or ‘divesting itself of’ or ‘emptying itself of’ certain properties that normally belong to divinity.”[9]  Needless to say, the Kenosis is not necessarily one of the best-defined concepts in Christology, but the principle remains.

There has been some significant argument surrounding the various kenotic theories in Christianity and these arguments cannot be fully entertained here.  Therefore, to support the use of the Kenosis in this essay some support will be drawn from an essay by Gordon Fee found in the same work as Davis’ (see citation).  Fee states in his essay that “Many of the pertinent texts [from the Synoptic Gospels] seem to express some form of self-limitation of divine prerogatives on the part of earthly Jesus.”[10]  Fee also pulls from the book of Hebrews in addition to the synoptic gospels to make a very convincing argument in favor of the Kenosis.  Based on Fee and Davis’ work, this essay will proceed under the assumption that the Kenosis is a valid and orthodox theory of Christology and is functionally true for the arguments herein.

One final point made here is in regards to Christ’s death on the cross.  More specifically, what happened in Christ’s death?  To answer this question, Sergiĭ Bulgakov lends from his work The Lamb of God to say:

The Savior’s soul was separated from His body, and His divine spirit was received by the Father: abiding in pre-eternal being in the supramundane or “immanent” Holy Trinity, “on the throne with the Father and the Spirit,” but nevertheless in His kenotic humiliation being received by the Father as a spirit leaving its body, the Spirit of Christ at the same time remained unseparated from His soul (as is the case for every man in death) but also remained connected with His body.[11]

It’s vitally important to point out that Christ’s death here very much imitates what is commonly taught about what happens to people in death, wherein although the spirit of each person seems to locate itself elsewhere (either with God, some sort of holding place, etc.), it nonetheless maintains a certain affiliation with the physical body that is reestablished with the raising of the dead on the day of judgment.  Thus, here too, Christ’s work in relation to His humanity is an example of what humans will experience in their own death and final resurrection.

THE RESURRECTION

That Christ was resurrected is a virtually uncontested fact in terms of evangelical Christianity.  What exactly the resurrection involves is a significantly less well-understood fact, but hardly negates the previous claim.  As John Webster puts it, “Jesus Christ lives.  Whatever further claim may be made about the resurrection of Jesus, and whatever consequences it may be necessary to draw from the primitive Christian confession that ‘God raised Him from the dead’ (Rom. 10:9), they can only be a repetition, expansion, or confirmation of the primary reality, namely that Jesus Christ is ‘the living one’ (Rev. 1:18).”[12]  Christians and non-Christians alike believe that Jesus died.  The difference between the two parties is that Christians believe the resurrection of Christ is as equally valid a fact as His crucifixion.

This resurrection, however, has a unique nature to other resurrections attested to in the Bible before Christ’s (cf. 2 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 4:18-37, John 11:38-44, etc.).  Hans Schwarz affirms this in his work on Christology when he writes, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a singular event which defies any correlation with preceding events.”[13]  Perhaps the most significant element that stands out is the fact that the resurrection did not occur through the efforts of faith from a human being (such as Elijah, Elisha, or any of the apostles).  As Schwarz further states, “By a process of reflective interpretation they [the witnesses attested to in 1 Cor. 15:5, 6] arrived at the statement that ‘Jesus has been raised by God, He is risen.’”[14]  This resurrection was not an act of faith; it was an act of God.

The most critical point to make here is that Christ was (or rather is) risen; this is to say that His body was reinvigorated with life, rather than receiving a completely new body.  Several passages in the New Testament are evidence of this, but one in particular stands out that attests to this fact in John 20:24-29 when Jesus revealed Himself to Thomas and allowed the disciple to touch His wounds.  Augustine’s words on this passage are particularly moving.  “And the Lord who could have risen again without any vestige of a wound, kept the scars, that they might be touched by the doubting Apostle, and the wounds of his heart be healed.”[15]  In other words, Jesus did not just rise again to life in His original physical body in perfect form, but even kept the markings of His suffering and crucifixion in order to restore Thomas to faith.

Another key passage to consider in proving the physical resurrection of Christ is from Luke 24:36-43 where Jesus makes every effort to convince His disciples of His physical presence.  After trying to convince them through touch, He finally asks for food and eats it before them.  This was an unprecedented level of proof.  As Alfred Edersheim in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah puts it, “Elijah, who is so constantly introduced in Jewish tradition, is never represented as sharing in meals or offering his body for touch; nay, the Angels who visited Abraham are represented as only making show of, not really, eating.”[16]  Jesus was clearly going out of His way to demonstrate his physical existence to the disciples.

It must be stated however, that although Christ was restored to life (at least in terms of His physical body), His body had one key alteration.  It was a glorified body.  R. C. Sproul gives a powerful picture of what happened at the moment of resurrection:

With cataclysmic power, God rolled the stone away and unleashed a paroxysm of creative energy of life, infusing it once more into the still body of Christ.  Jesus’ heart began to beat, pumping glorified blood through glorified arteries, sending glorified power to muscles atrophied by death.  The grave clothes could not bind Him as He rose to His feet and quit the crypt.  In an instant, the mortal became immortal and death was swallowed up by victory.”[17]

Of course, this helps little if there is no clear definition of what ‘glorified’ means in this context.  Kendell Easley, in his book 52 Words Every Christian Should Know, defines glorification as the process of the removal of the effects of sin, thus allowing eternal life.  He further states that Christ has been the only person to be ‘glorified’ in this sense, but that the same process is available to us.[18]

In referring to the Apostle Paul’s writings on the subject, Easley writes, “Paul maintained that there is continuity between our earthly body and our resurrection (“spiritual”) body, just as there was continuity between Jesus’ earthly body and His resurrection body.  The continuity is like the connection between a seed planted in the earth and the plant that grows out of the seed (1 Cor. 15:34-44).”[19]  Thus, while it may be that Christ’s resurrected body is in some sense altered from the original, the basic nature of the original remains.  It should be noted here too that this is one more circumstance where Christ serves as an example that Christians can expect to follow in due time.  Having given a thorough description of the resurrected Christ, this essay will now turn to the Ascension of Christ as well as His return as foretold in scripture.

THE ASCENSION AND ANTICIPATED RETURN OF CHRIST

Following the resurrection and some final instructions by Jesus, the account of the early church in Acts records, “After He (Jesus) had said this, while they (the disciples) were watching, He was lifted up and a cloud hid Him from their sight” (1:9).  It remains a sorrowful fact that human beings are unable to fly.  What then does this mean for the ascension of Christ?  In the first place, it does not appear to be a deception as J. W. McGarvey writes in his commentary on the book of Acts:  “The cloud which floated above formed a background, to render the outline of the person more distinct while in view, and to suddenly shut him off from view as he entered its bosom.  Thus all the circumstances of this most fitting departure were calculated to preclude the suspicion of deception or of optical illusion.”[20]  Here too, Jesus takes care to ensure the reality of the occurrence, just as with the resurrection.

There is far too little an amount of research to make any kind of assertion as to how Christ ascended, but this bears little on whether or not He actually did so.  McGarvey makes the claim that Christ would either have had to have ascended or else have left earth by way of the grave,[21] but in either case, Jesus had to leave.  As He told Mary Magdalene, “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father” (John 20:17).[22]  The reasons for Jesus’ departure are many and various.  For the sake of brevity and conciseness, discussions of only a couple follow below.

The first reason that is relevant to this discussion comes from Grudem’s work where he writes, “Since we are united with Christ in every aspect of his work of redemption, Christ’s going up into heaven foreshadows our future ascension into heaven with him.”[23]  In addition to this, Grudem stated before the above comment that “the ascension of Jesus into heaven is designed to teach us that heaven does exist as a place in the space-time universe.”[24]  Thus, heaven is as physical a place as is earth, albeit without in the corruptions of sin and death.  More important than this evidence of the physicality of heaven, however, is the fact that Jesus left for our benefit.  The benefits are manifold but only a one specifically aids the present discussion and this one comes from Aquinas.

Aquinas makes the claim that “Christ’s Ascension into heaven, whereby He withdrew His bodily presence from us, was more profitable for us than His bodily presence would have been.”[25]  Aquinas gives several reasons for this, one being in agreement with Grudem’s argument: “by placing in heaven the human nature which He assumed, Christ gave us the hope of going thither.”[26]  Yet again, Christ as our example is evident.  As He Himself said in John 14:3, “And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too” (emphasis added).  At some point in time, those among the elect will go to dwell with God, whether this is in heaven or on earth is difficult to tell, but what stands out is that this will be a physical place.

The last issue of discussion in this section is in regards to Christ’s return.  The purpose of His return is almost universally recognized as the time when he comes “to judge the living and the dead” (cf. 2 Tim. 4:1), but it is the manner of His return that applies to this essay.  Just after His ascension, two angels appeared to those witnessing the ascension and stated, “This same Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).  Oden quotes the Roman Catholic Doctor, St. Bede to say, “He will come to judge in the same form and substance of body in which He had come to be judged [by Pilate].”[27]  Although there is little supporting argument, it seems unlikely that Christ would put off His human form after the ascension and then resume it prior to His descent; therefore, it seems fitting to assume that the anticipated return in the same form as the ascension is further evidence of Christ’s continued physical substance.

FINAL ARGUMENTS AND A DISCUSSION ON THE KENOSIS

At this time, there remain a few final points to make to support further the thesis of Christ’s continued humanness.  The first of which is in relation to communion as Luke records it:

And he (Jesus) said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves.  For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  Then he took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:15-20).

Here, we have the initiation of one of the universal sacraments of the church,[28] this one having a very physical element to it, namely the consumption of food and drink.

There has been much controversy around this subject and what exactly the Eucharist means.  There is however, a key aspect that is worth considering and David Brown explains it best.  In referring to the Roman Catholic understanding, Brown writes, “Transubstantiation is, admittedly, by any reckoning an implausible abuse of Aristotelian metaphysics.  It did, however, have the merit that it thereby preserved some sense of it being important that we relate to Christ as having had and continuing to have a bodily identity like our own.”[29]  Brown further writes that although other traditions have avoided the metaphysical discrepancies of the Roman Catholic Church (he references Luther and Calvin), they nonetheless continue to “guarantee the believer’s continuing engagement with Christ’s humanity.”[30]  Brown understands the Eucharist to be a direct link between Christ’s humanity and ours.  It is the means by which we share in Christ and therefore, in a sense, participate in the Divine, a process known as “theosis”.[31]  This “theosis” was an often-used term in contrast with the “Kenosis” referenced above and therefore a return to that subject is necessary.

As stated above, the Kenosis is the process whereby Christ set aside his divine prerogatives to complete His mission while on earth.  It is through Christ’s Kenosis that humans participate in theosis.  While all this is well and good, the Kenosis cannot be understood as a continuous process for as Christ said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18).  Thus, what He set aside He also reclaimed.  What then does this mean for His humanity?

In answer to this question, Graham Ward who wrote in response to Brown’s work referenced in this paper makes a contribution worth considering.  Ward writes first of all that “the human nature of Jesus Christ is not assumed into the Godhead.”[32]  This is perfectly true, but then Ward goes on to argue that this implies a certain continuous separation within Christ if He maintains His humanity and therefore although Christ maintains His personhood, this must be in absence of any human qualities.  Otherwise, Ward asserts, this would open the door for humans to participate fully in the divine, in essence becoming God.  Ward instead argues that we move on from humanity as our starting point and reach perfection through Christ in terms of personhood, not in terms of humanity.[33]  It seems that Ward argues for a kind of reversal of the Kenosis (although he makes no mention of it himself) wherein Christ empties Himself of His humanity, thereby cutting us off from becoming God, but still allowing us to partake in some form of theosis.

Ward’s efforts are commendable, but sadly lacking in their effectiveness as a valid explanation.  Of particular note here is the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb” in Rev. 19:9.  Jesus asserted that He would eat and drink again with His disciples (cf. passage from Luke above) and this makes for a clear implication of His continuing humanity.  A better argument comes from Walter Horton’s book, Our Eternal Contemporary, where he writes, “The one to whom we cry seems to be at the same time our living contemporary and our eternal link with the unchanging God.”[34]  Further still, He states, “He is with us, because the eternal world where He dwells is immediately present to every moment of time; and He is with us, because His Spirit has never ceased to walk the earth and share our human vicissitudes, since first He looked with compassion upon the woes of men in Nazareth.”[35]  In other words, Christ continues to act in capacities that involve both His divinity and His humanness.  The two are inextricably linked in the continuing ministry of Jesus Christ.

CONCLUSION

In the preceding paragraphs, efforts were taken to show the humanness of Christ in all His acts on earth and in heaven following from the initial incarnation.  Considering theology across the spectrum of various traditions and eras, a thorough argument has been made that Christ has been and continues to be both fully human and fully divine.  It also has been shown that His work, both on earth and in heaven after the ascension, require that He continue to sustain and operate in a form that includes and involves the entirety of His person in the hypostatic union.  Although Christ has resumed His divine prerogatives and thereby canceled the Kenosis that He placed Himself under during His ministry on earth, stepping out of that state has not in any way negated His humanity.

This essay is, in many respects, a primitive product of only cursory research in its present field.  Much more remains to be studied and applied in mapping out the continuing humanity of Christ.  Likewise, how it applies to human race in the present day as well as how it will apply in the coming age when the consummation, particularly in reference to the remaking of the earth, is fully realized remains to be explored.  Nonetheless, the arguments here presented should serve as a basis for further study and any reader who wishes to research further is welcome to do so.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anselm of Canterbury.  “Cur Deus Homo.”  In Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works.  Oxford World Classics.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.  Amazon Kindle edition.

Aquinas, Thomas.  Summa Theologica.  Complete & Unabridged.  N.p.: Coyote Canyon Press, 2010.  Amazon Kindle edition.

Augustine of Hippo.  “Sermons or Tractates on the Gospel According to St. John.”  In The Collected Works of 46 Books by St. Augustine, 23951-52.  N.p.: Amazon Kindle, 2011.  Amazon Kindle edition.

Brown, David.  God and Grace of Body: Sacrament in Ordinary.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Bulgakov, Sergiĭ.  The Lamb of God.  Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.  Co., 2008.

Davis, Stephen T.  “Is Kenosis Orthodox?”  In Exploring Kenotic Christology: The Self-Emptying of God, edited by C. Stephen Evans, 112-38.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Easley, Kendell H.  52 Words Every Christian Should Know.  Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2010.  Amazon Kindle edition.

Edersheim, Alfred.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.  N.p.: LifeWay, 2012.  WORDsearch eBook Edition.

Fee, Gordon D.  “The New Testament and Kenosis Christology.”  In Exploring Kenotic Christology: The Self-Emptying of God, edited by C. Stephen Evans, 25-44.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Grudem, Wayne A.  Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Theology.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub.  House, 2004.  LOGOS eBook edition.

Horton, Walter Marshall.  Our Eternal Contemporary: A Study of the Present-Day Significance of Jesus.  New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1942.

McGarvey, J. W.  A Commentary On Acts of the Apostles with a Revised Version of the Text.  7th ed. Lexington, KY: Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co., 2004.  WORDsearch eBook edition.

−−−.  The Four-Fold Gospel: A Harmony of the Gospels.  N.p.: Standard Publishing Company, 2012.  WORDsearch eBook edition.

Oden, Thomas C.  Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology.  New York: HarperOne, 2009.

Schwarz, Hans.  Christology.  Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1998.

Shelley, Bruce L.  Church History in Plain Language.  3rd ed.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008.  Amazon Kindle edition.

Sproul, R. C.  John.  St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary.  Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2009.  Amazon Kindle edition.

−−−, R. C.  Who Is Jesus?  Vol. 1.  The Crucial Questions Series.  Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2009.  LOGOS eBook edition.

Ward, Graham.  “After Ascension: The Body of Christ, Kenosis, and Divine Impassibility.”  In Theology, Aesthetics, and Culture: Responses to the Work of David Brown, edited by Robert MacSwain and Taylor Worley, 197-210.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Webster, John.  “Resurrection and Scripture.”  In Christology and Scripture: Interdisciplinary Perspectives.  2007, edited by Andrew T. Lincoln and Angus Paddison.  Vol. 348.  Library of New Testament Studies.  Reprint, 138-55.  New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2008.


[1] Cf. Romans 8:34, all scripture references from the New English Translation.

[2] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub.  House, 2004), 558, LOGOS eBook.

[3] Cf. Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 3rd ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008), Kindle locations 2146-2198, Amazon Kindle edition.

[4] Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 1.

[5] “Cur Deus Homo,” in Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, Oxford World Classics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 320, Amazon Kindle edition.

[6] Ibid., 303-314.

[7] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Complete & Unabridged.  (n.p.: Coyote Canyon Press, 2010), Kindle locations 78246-47, Amazon Kindle edition.

[8] “Sermons or Tractates on the Gospel According to St. John,” in The Collected Works of 46 Books by St. Augustine (n.p.: Amazon Kindle, 2011), Kindle locations 23951-52, Amazon Kindle edition.

[9] Stephen T. Davis, “Is Kenosis Orthodox?” in Exploring Kenotic Christology: The Self-Emptying of God, ed. C. Stephen Evans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 113.

[10] Gordon Fee “The New Testament and Kenosis Christology” in ibid., 29.  Italics original for emphasis as Fee’s working definition of Kenosis.  The same definition will be used in this present essay.

[11] Sergiĭ Bulgakov, The Lamb of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.  Co., 2008), 315.

[12] John Webster, “Resurrection and Scripture,” in Christology and Scripture: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, ed. Andrew T. Lincoln and Angus Paddison, Library of New Testament Studies (2007; repr., New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2008), 348:139.

[13] Hans Schwarz, Christology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1998), 260.

[14] Ibid., 262, italics added for emphasis.

[15] Augustine “Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament” in Collected Works, loc. 14418-21.

[16] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (n.p.: LifeWay, 2012), 1272, WORDsearch eBook Edition.

[17] R. C. Sproul, Who Is Jesus?  The Crucial Questions Series (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2009), 1:91, LOGOS eBook edition.

[18] Kendell H. Easley, 52 Words Every Christian Should Know (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 110-11, Amazon Kindle edition.

[19] Ibid.

[20] J. W. McGarvey, A Commentary On Acts of the Apostles with a Revised Version of the Text, 7th ed. (Lexington, KY: Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co., 2004), under “Comm. on v.1:9,” WORDsearch eBook edition.

[21] Ibid.  The latter being a preposterous notion by itself as it would imply a second death of Christ.

[22] Perhaps “touch” is a poor word choice here, this author believes “cling” as in NASB, ESV, HCSB, etc. is better as it implies an unwillingness on the part of Mary to let Jesus leave again at any point, plus He had a mission for her which was to go and proclaim His resurrection to the brothers.  For further notes on this, see R. C. Sproul, John, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2009), Kindle locations 5040-53, Amazon Kindle edition; also, J. W. McGarvey, The Four-Fold Gospel: A Harmony of the Gospels (n.p.: Standard Publishing Company, 2012), under “Comm. on John 20:17,” WORDsearch eBook edition.

[23] Grudem, 619.

[24] Ibid., 618.

[25] Aquinas, loc. 86641-42.

[26] Ibid., loc. 86648-49.

[27] Bede “Commentary on Acts 1:11” in Oden, 494, brackets original from Oden.

[28] The other being baptism, these two are universally accepted across Christianity as opposed to certain other additional sacraments that are recognized within various denominations of the church, cf. Grudem, 950 ff..

[29] David Brown, God and Grace of Body: Sacrament in Ordinary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 390.

[30] Ibid.

[31] This is in reference to numerous early church fathers’ writings, particularly Athanasius.  This essay is too brief to engage this issue fully, for more on this, see Oden, 653 ff. and references therein.

[32] Graham Ward, “After Ascension: The Body of Christ, Kenosis, and Divine Impassibility,” in Theology, Aesthetics, and Culture: Responses to the Work of David Brown, ed. Robert MacSwain and Taylor Worley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 207.

[33] Ibid., 205-210.

[34] Walter Marshall Horton, Our Eternal Contemporary: A Study of the Present-Day Significance of Jesus (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1942), 15.

[35] Ibid.

I write this with the hoping of helping people.  The idea has been on my mind for a while and may in fact turn into a book someday (I have even had one of my theology professors encourage me to do so) as I continue to ponder and think it through.  The applications are remarkably vast, as I believe they apply to many different areas in people’s lives.  I think a big one is evangelism (explained in more detail in the actual post), but even discipleship, missions, and other major elements of Christianity could do with an understanding of this, assuming of course that it isn’t all hogwash.  In any case, the following is still a work in progress in many ways, but I decided to get the idea out and maybe fish for some feedback to help with the process.

The reason why I post it now is actually because of the situation with World Vision and all the flak I’ve spotted in the midst of the discussions.  There’s a whole lot of anger going around and whether or not some of it is “righteous” anger, a whole lot of it isn’t, regardless of who is or isn’t right.  I think what I am about to write below may help a little, at least in the fact that it will hopefully help people understand other people a little bit better.  After the basic idea has been conveyed, I will bring it back around to the World Vision situation and how/why I think it will help.  Without further ado, here’s the actual subject of this post.


 

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who split people up into two different kinds of people, and those who don’t.  I am happy to report to you that I am in the latter group.  The bad news is that my number is actually three.  I believe that there are (in one sense anyway) three different kinds of people.  There are “Way” people, those who are driven by stories and aesthetics; there are “Truth” people, those who are driven by arguments and knowledge; and there are “Life” people, those who are driven by pleasure and experience.  My definitions may require some further refinements and qualifications, but I’ll wager I’m pretty close to the mark if I’m not there yet.

If you haven’t guessed it already, my terms come from John 14:6, “Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (NET).  Of course, the first thing to emphasize is that Jesus is the only means by which we have access to the Father.  I firmly believe this and nothing I say further is contrary to that.  The next thing to notice is that Jesus gives three different names for the same method.  I believe that these are not so much referring to three different aspects of each person’s life (which is true), but rather three different motivations, or languages if you will, for finding God.

I would place myself more in the “Truth” category.  I am motivated by what is true.  I don’t care if I don’t like it, I don’t care what I have to do when or after I find it, I don’t even care what will happen to me when I find it; all I want is what’s true.  Another thing worth noting comes from my considerations on heaven.  The whole heavenly rewards thing is largely a non-issue for me.  I honestly don’t really care about storing up treasures in heaven (or even here on earth for that matter).  I don’t follow a rewards program (not even John Piper’s Christian hedonism); I just want to know God.  Heaven is where God is in His truest form (to the best of my understanding anyway), so that’s where I want to be.  You can have my treasure, I want to know God; that is treasure enough (more than enough rather) for me.

Another example I would use is Michael Ramsden, who is an apologist for RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries).  In some of his lectures on YouTube, he tells the story of his conversion.  I won’t go into all the details here, but basically he states that he arranged his own conversion.  He had come to believe that Christianity was the truth and even though he wasn’t particularly thrilled with the idea, he got everything in place himself to become a Christian.  He even states that he thought his life would not be fun anymore and that he would be more or less miserable for the rest of his life.  Nonetheless, he believed Christianity was true and so he became one.  The evangelistic application here is that apologetics (defense of Christianity through arguments and reason) is probably the best means of leading these people to Christ.  This is their “evangelistic language” (in both how they are evangelized and probably how they best do it themselves).

Because I fall in the Truth category, it’s easy for me to articulate it well.  The other two are more difficult but I think I’ve developed a fairly good description of each.  As long as I’m already out of order, I’m going to go to the “Life” people, which I defined above as being people who are primarily driven by pleasure and experience.  These are the kind of people who are all about that heavenly treasure.  These people handle the difficulties of life best by anticipating the future; they are likewise probably your most willing martyrs because they know where they’re going and are eager to get there (although they may want to hang around down here a little while longer to build up that treasure in heaven a little more).  These people are probably also some of your most eager worshipers.  It’s in that place that they are able to experience God in a more real and tangible way than everyday life (not to say that you can’t experience God tangibly elsewhere, but there’s an expectation of that that comes through worship that doesn’t seem to come in any other way and it is likewise fulfilled differently during worship than in other ways).

An example of this would be from a guy I worked with for several months in the ER in Sicily.  I had all kinds of interesting conversations with him, but he never seemed to really care.  I remember talking about the truth of Christ to him and his completely apathy to the whole thing completely stunned me.  It’s only now in retrospect that I understand that truth was not a big deal for him.  He was focused almost exclusively on living it up and having a good time.  His thought process was likely something along the lines of, “Who cares if God is real, all that matters is having a good time.”  I failed to show that Christianity provides a better life than the one he currently had, and so he was not interested.  The evangelistic language for these people is probably a lived out confession of one’s faith, a showing of your walk with God through action and being a living demonstration that life with Christ is better with Him than it is without Him.

As far as the “Way” people go, my best means of describing them would be to mention that old question of which is more important: the destination or how you get there?  The Way people would be those who are more focused on the journey, rather than the destination.  Now, this may seem more to go with the pleasure and experiences of the “Life” people so let me explain (and of course keep in mind that I’m trying to explain people who are different from me so perhaps I’m all off on this).  The point of the journey is how one grows; it defines what they will be like when they reach the destination (assuming they even reach one, I expect these people will always be on some kind of journey, with only an occasional respite).  It’s about the character or spiritual formation; it’s about being and creating a story.  These are the kind of people that are hardy through hardship because they best understand that it is only a stage in the journey.  These are the people that best appreciate the beauty in the lives of others as they develop through trials.  They best understand how the pressures of life turn people into diamonds.

They say that forgiveness is easier to get than permission, so I’m going to borrow one of my sisters for this example and repent later if need be (but hey, it’s all a part of the journey so it’s all good, right?).  The most obvious thing I can say to show that she fits this category is that she has eaten a live crayfish, a live worm, and various other “delicacies”.  This does not sound like fun to me, nor can I imagine the slightest truth-value of it; nonetheless, it makes perfect sense that the experience (not to mention the bragging rights that follow) is fulfilling all by itself for my sister and other Way people.  I know this isn’t a particularly “spiritual” example, but it still serves its point.  Just think of all those people with the crazy stories of their lives that ultimately led them to Christ.  Not a lot of them are immersed in pleasure seeking (though that certainly plays a part); it’s about their lives, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  The main truth they are concerned about is that Jesus came and changed their life for the better.  Almost needless to say, the evangelistic language for this group of people is your testimony.  Through sharing your story, you can tell about your journey to Christ and how He redeemed and gave meaning to your life and each of the experiences therein.


 

Okay, so now you have a brief description of each type of person and what I think is probably the best way to evangelize them.  It’s undoubtedly imperfect and worth being applied in countless other areas but that’s the gist of it.  I would now like to apply it to the World Vision situation.  As best I understand it (and I confess that I haven’t been following it very closely, it’s just too big to ignore) we have a Christian missions organization that supports children in impoverished communities around the world that announced few days ago, that they would be hiring homosexual employees who are in same sex marriages to staff their organization.  As you might expect, a massive controversy sprang up around the issue and so a couple days later World Vision retracted their new policy.  From what I understand, the main reason was that people began to cancel their support for the children because of the policy (and even now that the policy has been reversed, many people have declined to renew support).  Now people are angry because of all that has happened and because so many children are suffering the consequences.

So then, how does the main topic above apply?  I would like to argue that different people are taking up different positions based on their “spiritual motivation type”.  In the first place, you have the Truth people.  These people are probably more focused on the homosexuality issue.  Homosexuality is a sin (yup, I just said that on the blogosphere, but it’s true so I’m sticking with it); the Truth people recognize this and because their focus is truth, this is a nonnegotiable for them (a key point is that these are openly homosexual people and open sin in the life of a Christian is not cool; Paul had a guy literally given over to the devil for open, unrepentant sin).  Next, you have the Life people who are probably more focused on what the children must be going through.  Because of this issue, many of them are being returned to that place of suffering from which they had been rescued through World Vision and their supporters.  The fact that the decision has been reverse and people are still refusing to support the children makes it all the worse.  I’m not entirely certain where the Way people stand on this, but I’m guessing most of them are regretting that this whole issue has taken place at all.  They probably think this is a dark spot on our record and regardless of World Vision’s decision, people need to grow up and be the church, not argue over who to hire and who not to hire.

I recognize that a lot of the above is generalization and likewise no categorization is perfect.  All the same, I think people too often fail to realize where others are coming from or what their primary motivations are for what sides they take on different issues.  This issue with World Vision is obviously no exception.  Each type is right in some ways and wrong in others.  I think we need to recognize these vital differences in each other’s “spiritual motivations” and learn not just to appreciate each one, but also recognize that we all have elements of each and all three need to be developed in every person’s life, not just our primary one(s).

 

Trusting God

One of the greatest agonies of my spiritual walk is figuring out whether or not something is from God.  It’s remarkable how often a hunch can be misinterpreted as the Holy Spirit and vice versa.  Confirmation is a helpful tool for discernment, but it is by no means a fail-safe.  I have often kept asking for “just one more sign” until I’ve finally missed my opportunity.  While I grant that it’s safer to not say something that was from God than it is to say something as if it’s from God but isn’t; there’s nothing quite like realizing that it really was God and you’ve missed your chance to minister to someone in need.

It’s at times like these that I wonder why God doesn’t just take over my mind or at least make things patently obvious.  I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve prayed for God to speak to me in more than just hints and whispers.  The fear of man and the fear of failure are formidable enemies and I must confess that I have yet to master them.  I’ve gotten better, but there’s much that I lack in terms of trust and confidence.

Fortunately, God knows my struggle and tonight He decided to give me a little clue to help me along.  It came as I was reading through some of the Davidic Psalms.  When I read Psalm 32, verses 9-10 really jumped out at me.  “Do not be like an unintelligent horse or mule, which will not obey you unless they are controlled by a bridle and bit.  An evil person suffers much pain, but the Lord’s faithfulness overwhelms the one who trusts in him” (NET).  Of course, this came right after I was complaining to God about not being clear enough.  I couldn’t help but chuckle a little.  It’s not often God pretty much tells you “Don’t be stupid” (in a loving way, of course).

God does not want to put bridles in our mouths and force us to do things for Him.  He chose to work through free agents (sorry, Calvinists) and He’s not going to change His mind.  He’s big enough to fix us when we stray and the church is a safe place to receive correction.  I am blessed to have many people around me who are willing to correct me and provide guidance when I’m a little off.

More often than not, it will be after I have stepped out in faith that I find out it was really God.  That’s what that last statement is saying.  If we are willing to step out in faith and trust God, He will be faithful.  It may be that He gave you something to tell someone else and He will be faithful to make sure that you have the opportunity to share it.  It may be that there is no word and you made a mistake.  In such cases, God will be faithful to provide correction.  Of course, you have to receive and respond to that correction, making sure to do better next time.  After that, God will still prove His faithfulness by providing another opportunity to do better.

Whatever you find yourself doing, whether or not it’s “spiritual”, whether or not it’s clearly from God, trust in Him.  He will be faithful.  The most encouraging part of this passage is that His faithfulness is not equivalent to you trust in Him.  It is an excessive form of faithfulness.  It is a literal surround or enveloping kind of faithful, such that every part of you is covered by his faithfulness.  Likewise, His faithfulness is not just about holding up His end of the deal, but is also a demonstration of His goodness and kindness to us.  All we have to do is trust Him and He will be faithful.

The Unfelt Presence of God

Growing up and living in several different Pentecostal/Charismatic spheres throughout my life has been a great blessing in my life and to be honest I wouldn’t want it any other way (recent literature notwithstanding).  Yet there’s one thing that I have noticed quite often of late that has me wondering.  I will attempt to express it here along with some of my thoughts on the subject and hope for some constructive responses.

The issue in question is the incessant desperation for the manifest presence of God or a felt experience with God, whether physical or emotional.  Don’t get me wrong, I have had these experiences myself and I wouldn’t wish them away for any reason; I recognize both their value in my life as well as the biblical support for them.  What bothers me is the high level of dependence on them that I see in the hearts and minds of many people around me.

It seems to me that there are those who act, speak, and pray as if the manifest presence of God is not one indication of God’s favor but the only indication.  Thus, if God is not felt in some way then the individual in question must be in a place of disfavor.  Such a person becomes incapable of doing anything but pursuing some indication of His presence until he or she finds it, no matter the cost, no matter how long it takes.  It’s a like a child learning to walk who cannot take a single step without feeling the hand of the parent.

Granted, there is a place for importunity in our prayers, but God’s manifest presence is not a constant and should not be considered as such.  His presence in general is certainly a constant, but the Valley of the Shadow of Death would be a misnomer if we could tangibly recognize God’s presence.  How can we experience the growth that such experiences apart from His immediate, felt presence bring us?

Perhaps C.S. Lewis says it better is his description of the “Law of Undulation” according to the infamous demon Screwtape:

He [God] will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation.  But He never allows this state of affairs to last long.  Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives.  He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish” (emphasis added).

It’s a simple fact that we can’t always expect to know that He is tangibly with us.  Sometimes we have to be willing to keep walking without feeling His hand, taking each step with faith in the simple fact that He will either catch us when we fall or else pick us up afterwards and set us aright.

The same thing applies to prayer.  There will be times in our prayer lives when it feels like we’re pounding on a locked door hoping desperately for but not receiving an answer.  This does not mean that we stop praying; rather, we keep praying and trust by faith that we are being heard whether or not we can feel or otherwise sense it.

As I said above, I’m not in any way against experiencing or hearing directly from God, nor am I against seeking such things.  Yet I think an obsession with such a search, one upon which everything else depends, is both unrealistic and unhealthy.  It’s not about being independent from God; it’s about being willing to keep walking when we can’t tell for sure that He’s right there next to us.

The disciple Thomas gets a lot of flak (unnecessarily, I think) for doubting Jesus’ resurrection.  Even though Jesus met his challenge, He said afterwards, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  I think the same applies for those who are willing to keep going without feeling God’s presence. 

Granted, I believe we should continue to seek God’s tangible presence on a regular, perhaps even habitual, basis.  Nonetheless, I also think we should be more willing to move forward when such a search comes up empty.  I think we need to be more willing to recognize, appreciate, and move forward with the unfelt presence of God.

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