Sunday, 30 August 2009

Quote of the day: WWJD is not gospel

I've never found WWJD bracelets particularly inspiring - rather, I think if I wore one I'd find it a bit depressing! The gospel says not, "What Would Jesus Do? Go and do likewise." No, the gospel says, "What has Jesus done? Rejoice and live in Him!"

So I was interested by this snippet of discussion in the White Horse Inn broadcast from last week:

Michael Horton: So, "What Would Jesus Do?" is not the gospel?
Retired Episcopal Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison:
It is contemporary adoptionism. ... It's an ancient and classical heresy in which it reduced the work of Christ to giving us a good example. ... Jesus was baptised and we heard the Father say, "This is my beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased,"... according to the adoptionists, He did what none of the rest of us have ever done, which was to be perfect. And therefore he's like a kind of Roger Bannister, breaks the 4-minute mile, and he becomes the image by which if we just try harder, if we are scolded enough, then we will run the 4-minute mile: we will be like Jesus. And it ignores the complete OT presentation of a Messiah who came to take away the sins of the world: that God did something that we were unable to do. The Messiah came and made it all right by his actions. It leaves out 2/3 of the whole meaning of the gospel.
And yet, let's get this: neither is the gospel, "God has accepted the unacceptable: so now go and do likewise - accept yourself."
Horton, summarising Allison: It is law to tell people, "Accept yourselves," it is gospel to tell people, "This is how God has made you acceptable to Him."

So what isn't law? What is gospel? Allison says the key is imputation - not known or loved as a word because it's so awkwardly and variously translated into English (account, credit, reckon, etc.): we have no good translation for it. Of this, Allison says,
The word itself, λογιζομαι (logizomai),... is the verb form of λογος (logos). ... It's not merely that God by His action in Jesus Christ has made it possible for us to have mercy, but I am imputed as righteous, even though I am not righteous, and by that wording of me as righteous, I begin to become the kind of righteousness that we see in the second person of the Trinity.
Horton: So it is actually a speech-event: God has declared us righteous.

Christ the key and cornerstone

I've been pondering lately a couple of key critiques, which are actually one. A friend in church said of a children's talk of late, that a Muslim would've been happy with it. My Mum would sometimes critique a service, that a (non-Messianic) Jew would've been happy with it. It may sound extreme rhetoric, but passing over whether or not these critiques were true in those instances, it is the key critique. What does our service, what does the talk, what does our church life, make of Christ? If the good news of Jesus Christ weren't true, would the talk still hold? It shouldn't! The hymn below is a new one to me, and I know I shall enjoy singing it with church this morning!
All praise to Christ, our Lord and King divine,
Yielding His glory in His love’s design,
That in our darkened hearts His grace might shine: Alleluia! Alleluia!

Christ came to us in lowliness of thought;
By Him the outcast and the poor were sought,
And by His death was our redemption bought: Alleluia! Alleluia!

The mind of Christ is as our mind should be –
He was a servant, that we might be free,
Humbling Himself to death on Calvary: Alleluia! Alleluia!

And so we see in God’s great purpose how
Christ has been raised above all creatures now,
And at His name shall every nation bow: Alleluia! Alleluia!

Let every tongue confess with one accord,
in heaven and earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord,
and God the Father be by all adored: Alleluia! Alleluia!

(by F. Bland Tucker, 1938, alt. ©The Church Pension Fund)

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Quote of the day: Christian counsel

David Powlinson, interviewed by C.J.Mahaney, made the following comment on his exploration / teaching of the dynamics of Biblical change:
"It makes the high truths that we confess walk on the ground where we live."
That could be said of any one of the books recently written from that school - Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands, When People are Big and God is small, Seeing through new eyes, You Can Change, The Ordinary Hero, etc. It could also be said of the New Testament... Given that the Bible is about Jesus, whom we confess as Truth, who walked on the ground where we live. That's Christian theology.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

I belong to a Master

A hymn to go with my previous post on being Slaves of Christ - by Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-79):
Jesus, Master, whose I am,
purchased yours alone to be,
by your blood, O perfect Lamb,
shed so willingly for me:
let my heart be all your own,
let me live to you alone.

Jesus, Master, whom I serve,
though so feebly and so ill,
strengthen hand and heart and nerve
all your bidding to fulfil:
open now my eyes to see
all the work you have for me.

Jesus, Master, will you use
one who owes you more than all?
As you will! I would not choose;
only let me hear your call.
Jesus, let me always be
in your service, glad and free.

Jesus, Master, I am yours;
keep me faithful, keep me near,
shine on all my days and hours,
all my homeward way to cheer.
Jesus! at your feet I fall;
be my Lord, my all-in-all!
It occurs to me what a privilege it was to grow up singing this, and other beautiful hymns. It lodged such truths and expressions in me, so that reading them, they didn't seem strange to me, but right and familiar. Challenging, yes, but not perculiar or alien. Praise God for His gift to His church, of hymn-writers!

Friday, 7 August 2009

Slave of Christ

On recommendation, I read Harris' Slave of Christ on holiday, and now heartedly recommend it also. In our culture, we tend to be wary of using slavery to describe our relationship with God: when we think of slavery, we think of non-personhood and of dreadful mistreatment of humans by others.

Harris examines the Biblical evidence to show that the imagery of slavery is pervasive in Scripture, and that ultimately, we are slaves of Christ. Most of our English translations have softened it to servants, but the idea of slavery is very much there. Why slavery? It denotes complete ownership, command, protection and dependence (rather than autonomy). The slave must obey his Master's commands, and also seeks to please his Master.

I once attended a seminar taken by a leading Christian apologist to Muslims, who made the case that while in Islam the primary man-God relationship is that of slave, in Christianity we don't see ourselves as slaves of God. But this isn't the contrast that the NT makes. We are slaves - in fact, everyone is a slave to whatever masters him, as Peter wrote. So becoming a Christian is gaining a new master - Jesus is Lord! The difference with Islam is not that we do not see ourselves as God's slaves, but that we are slaves of the living and true God who revealed himself in Christ,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [Phil.2]
As Horatio Bonar's hymn asks, "It is the way the Master went: should not the servant tread it still?" We are not slaves of an arbritrary and capricious despot who only insists at length in writing that he is merciful: we are slaves of the one who came and was among us as one who serves, to give his life to purchase us for God. And that makes all the difference!

There are Scriptural limitations in the metaphor of slavery: Harris considers being friends of Christ, who are given revelation of his business, and adopted co-heirs of Christ. But we mustn't simply reject the image because it's not comfortable to us. As Christ's, we are his slaves, owned totally by Him, to obey Him fully and to live to please Him.

This may be despised by men, as if we might as well be dead, as live in slavery to a Master, following His will and living to please Him. But that's the point: I have been crucified with Christ: it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh I live by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. [Gal.2] What a joy and privilege!