The God who speaks

“The importance of God’s speech as a fundamental means of his self-disclosure cannot be overestimated. Creation itself is the product of God’s speech: God speaks, and worlds leap into being (Gen. 1). Many of God’s most dramatic deeds of revelation would not have been understandable apart from God’s accompanying speech. Moses views the burning bush as a curiosity until the voice tells him to remove his sandals and assigns him his new responsibilities. Abraham would have had no reason to leave Ur were it not for God’s revelation in words. Again and again the prophets carry the burden of ‘the word of the LORD’ to the people. Verbal revelation is essential even in the case of the Lord Jesus: during the days of his flesh, he was, first of all, the teacher. Moreover, apart from the explanation of the significance of his death and resurrection, preserved both in the gospels and in the letters, even these momentous events would have been unbearably and tragically obscure. So central is God’s speech to his own self-disclosure that when John the evangelist casts around for an encompassing way to refer to God’s ultimate self-disclosure in his Son, he chooses to refer to him as ‘the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … The Word became flesh’ John 1: 1, 14).”

D. A. Carson in the New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. Edited by D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham,  IVP (1994).

The essence of Christianity is Christ

[According to some, the Sermon on the Mount] is the essence of Christianity, and Christ is the best of human teachers and examples. But he is not divine, for his function is only a human one, to teach and exemplify ethics. Christianity is essentially ethics.

What’s missing here? Simply the essence of Christianity, which is not the Sermon on the Mount. When Christianity was proclaimed throughout the world, the proclamation (kerygma) was not “Love your enemies?” but “Christ is risen!” This was not a new ideal but a new event, that God became man, died, and rose for our salvation. Christianity is first of all not ideal but real, an event, news, the gospel, the “good news.” The essence of Christianity is not Christianity; the essence of Christianity is Christ…

The Sermon on the Mount not only comes from Jesus but also leads us to Jesus. It does not divert us from Jesus to a set of abstract ideals, but its ideals lead us to Jesus. who alone can fulfill them in us, if we let him. The sermon is an arrow and Jesus is the bull’s eye, not vice versa.

Peter Kreeft, Back to virtue: traditional moral wisdom for modern moral confusion, Ignatius Press, 1992.

 

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Jesus among the historians

“While it is perhaps inappropriate to offer sweeping criticisms of scholars whose work I respect and from whom I have learned a great deal, I must say that [many portraits] of Jesus are unfair in that each presentation limits the evidence of the Gospels to a handful of sayings or events and builds an entire picture of Jesus primarily from one strand of the Gospel tradition. Yes, Jesus was a wise sage and a deeply religious man, and his teachings were undoubtedly more socially revolutionary than many evangelicals imagine; each of these portraits says something truthful about Jesus. At the bare minimum, they need to be combined for a fuller presentation.

My fundamental disagreement with each of them is that such a Jesus would never have been crucified, would never have drawn the fire that he did, would never have commanded the following that he did, and would never have created a movement that still shakes the world. A Jesus who went around saying wise and witty things would not have been threatening enough to be crucified during Passover when he was surrounded by hundreds who liked him. A Jesus who was a religious genius who helped people in their relationship with God and was kind, compassionate, and gentle would not have been crucified either. A social revolutionary would have been crucified (and this partly explains Jesus’ death, in my view), but it is doubtful that such a revolutionary would have given birth to a church that was hardly a movement of social revolution. And if in the process of surviving, this movement had to shave off the socially revolutionary bits of Jesus, it is amazing that they decided to connect themselves, even root themselves, into a person who was a social revolutionary at heart. No, these pictures of Jesus will not do.”

Scot McKnight, Who is Jesus? An Introduction to Jesus Studies in Wilkins and Moreland (eds), Jesus under Fire (Zondervan 1995), pages 61-62

The Christian eschatological hope

Christian hope is not about wishing things will get better. It is not about hoping that emptiness will go away, meaning return, and life will be stripped of its uncertainties, aches, and anxieties. Nor does it have anything to do with techniques for improving fallen human life, be those therapeutic, spiritual, or even religious. Hope has to do with the knowledge of “the age to come.” This redemption is already penetrating “this age.” The sin, death, and meaninglessness of the one age are being transformed by the righteousness, life, and meaning of the other. What has emptied out life, what has scarred and blackened it, is being displaced by what is rejuvenating and transforming it. More than that, hope is hope because it knows it has become part of a realm, a kingdom, that endures. It knows that evil is doomed, that it will be banished.

David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008).

The Two Cities

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, “Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all. The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, “I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength.” And therefore the wise men of the one city, living according to man, have sought for profit to their own bodies or souls, or both, and those who have known God “glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened; professing themselves to be wise,”–that is, glorying in their own wisdom, and being possessed by pride,–“they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” For they were either leaders or followers of the people in adoring images, “and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.” But in the other city there is no human wisdom, but only godliness, which offers due worship to the true God, and looks for its reward in the society of the saints, of holy angels as well as holy men, “that God may be all in all.”

Augustine, Of The Nature Of The Two Cities, The Earthly And The Heavenly, Book XIV Chap. 28.

Proclaiming what God has done in space and time

This is why those churches that have banished pulpits or are “getting beyond” the truth question are going beyond Christianity itself. The proclamation of the New Testament is about truth, about the truth that Christ who was with the Father from all eternity entered our own time. As such he lived within it, his life, like ours, marked by days and weeks and years. He lived in virtue of his unity with the Father, living for him, living as the representation of his own people before the Father, his very words becoming the means of divine judgment and of divine grace. But in the cross and resurrection the entire spiritual order was upended, his victory reached into and across the universe, and saving grace is now personalized in him. The world with all its pleasures, power, and comforts is fading away. The pall of divine judgment hangs over it. A new order has arisen in Christ. Only in this new order can be found meaning, hope and acceptance with God.It was truth, not private spirituality, that apostolic Christianity was about. It was Christ, not the self, who offered access into the sacred. It was Christ, with all his painful demands of obedience, not comfortable country clubs, that early Christianity was about. What God had done in space and time when the world was stood on its head was Christianity’s preoccupation, not the multiplication of programs, strobe lights, and slick drama. Images we may way, entertainment we may desire, but it is the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen that is the church’s truth to tell.

David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008).

Faith and Knowledge

There is no faith relation with Christ free of doctrinal content. The knower must have some knowledge of the known, or no relation exists. That seemingly redundant and self-evident statement should underlie the issue. Jesus Christ and our knowledge of Him are not in any sense coextensive. But one cannot have a relation with Him without knowledge, and that knowledge represents incipient doctrine…

If one does not believe the truths concerning the Christ as revealed in Holy Scripture, one cannot have any authentic relationship with Him. Doctrine, we eagerly concede, does not in itself save . . . But, on the other hand, one cannot truly worship Christ and seek to live as an authentic disciple and deny, denigrate, or neglect in any sense the biblical teachings concerning Him.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “Response,” in Beyond the Impass? Scripture, Intrepretation, and Theology in Baptist Life, ed. Robison B. James and David S. Dockery (Nashville: Broadman, 1992), page 249.

The primacy of God’s revelation

“One thing is for sure. God has said something about everything. He has told us that all things are created and that all things are sustained by him. He has told us that all things are to be done to his glory and that all things work according to the counsel of his own will. These notions have sweeping ramifications for any thing that we pursue, and so the revelation of God about that thing and his relationship to it is crucial for our understanding…. It is likely true as well that philosophy can be most helpful in helping us clarify and explain the truths that are gleaned from God’s revelation. It is revelation, however, as God’s revelation, that must be used, consulted, pursued, mastered, and heard if we are to begin to address the problems (both intellectual and otherwise) that confront us.”

K. Scott Oliphint, Reasons for Faith (2006).