Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Holy Spirit and the Sending of the Christian Community

1. The People of God in World-Occurrence (History)
Just as there is no Church without Christians, so we must now emphasize there are no Christians apart from the Church. And, just as we become Christians when Christ calls us, so Christ’s call is also what binds us together as Church.

We shall begin our reflections on the existence of the Church in the world by considering theologically the history of the world in which it exists and into which it is sent. To begin with, although world history as such differs from salvation history (which includes the Church), Jesus Christ governs both as King. So even though world history differs in its darkness from salvation history, it is not secular history because God has not abandoned it to its own destruction.

The Vocation of Man

1. Man in the Light of Life
Life is the justifying and sanctifying grace of God present in Jesus Christ. Light is witness to this grace by Jesus Christ. This light of life shines on us as sinners and liars. It shines through us in the event of our vocation. Our vocation is the event in which Jesus Christ establishes fellowship with us. He does this as he calls us into the service of his truth and therefore into the service of God and neighbor as witnesses to the truth.

The Falsehood and Condemnation of Man

1. The True Witness
Our being and action as sinners is exposed without exception by Jesus Christ. Our sinful falsehood in particular is exposed by Jesus Christ as the one true witness to God’s justifying and sanctifying grace. Sin as falsehood is the absurd obstacle we place between ourselves and the prophetic work of Jesus Christ as the one Mediator between God and us. Sin as falsehood is the darkness we oppose to the light of Christ and in which we attempt to conceal ourselves from God, from others, and most of all from ourselves. Falsehood includes all our efforts to conceal our pride and sloth but is not exhausted by them. It is our own false word by which we oppose God’s Word. Jesus Christ justified us, sanctified us, and reveals that reconciliation to us through his Word. In ridiculous imitation, the devil attempts to falsify these in pride and sloth and to cover over that falsification with lies.

The Glory of the Mediator

1. The Third Problem of the Doctrine of Reconciliation
Jesus Christ is not only our reconciliation with God but also its revelation. Our reconciliation with him is not only real but true. So Jesus Christ is not only our justification and sanctification but our vocation as well. In contrast, our sin is not only our pride and sloth but our falsehood as well. But in spite of ourselves as sinners, Jesus Christ gathers and edifies us as his community to send us out as his witnesses. And so as Christians our faith and love include our hope.

The Holy Spirit and Christian Love

1. The Problem of Christian Love
Just as justification and sanctification are inseparable yet distinct, so too are faith and love. Faith and love are not the same, but there is no love without faith and no faith without love in any of our acts as Christians.

Christian love, or agape, is distinct from all other forms of love in that it regards others as ends in themselves and not as means to its own ends. This other love, or eros, in all its forms is finally only a self-serving love which reveals itself sooner or later as such. We can never harmonize these two types of love. They move in opposite directions. If we as Christians love in both ways, it can only be as we move in conversion from one to the other, from eros as our only past to agape as our only future in Christ. As long as we continue to experience the tension between the two, the movement of conversion and Christian love continue. As soon as we attempt a synthesis, we abandon Christian love.

The Holy Spirit and the Upbuilding of the Christian Community

1. The True Church
There is a Christian community only when the Holy Spirit is at work. A Christian community is visibly the true Church only when, in the power of the Holy Spirit, it shines and so is distinguished from the darkness of both the world and its own sinful tendency to proclaim itself. But the being and visibility of a Christian community as the true Church are seen only with the eyes of a faith graciously awakened by that same Spirit.

The Sanctification of Man

1. Justification and Sanctification
In our justification, God turns to us despite our sin. In our sanctification, God turns us to himself despite our sin. In our justification, God tells us, “I will be your God.” In our sanctification, God tells us, “You shall be my people.” Like justification, our sanctification is God’s work. Other words which describe this work of God include regeneration, renewal, conversion, penitence, and discipleship. But the term sanctification, which means being made holy, reminds us that the work of reconciliation in all its aspects belongs to God because only God is by nature holy.

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Sloth and Misery of Man

1. The Person of Sin in the Light of the Lordship of the Son of Man
We are shameful before God because our holiness cannot compare with the holiness of God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. We might do well when compared with others or when judged according to some abstract moral code. But our shameful existence as sinners is exposed as such when we compare ourselves with Jesus Christ who was the one truly human being in his freedom for God. We are shamed by Jesus Christ whether or not we know it or respond to it by being ashamed or not. Both Pharisee and tax collector were equally shameful before God, but only one humbly asked God for mercy (Luke 18:9f.). We are shamed by Jesus Christ and ashamed of ourselves when the light of Christ’s lordship shines upon us, when his Spirit critically directs us, when we participate in knowledge of him and therefore of ourselves.

The Exaltation of the Son of Man

1. The Second Problem of the Doctrine of Reconciliation
In the first part of the doctrine of reconciliation, we looked at the atonement from the top down, at Jesus Christ the Lord as servant, at the God who humbled himself to reconcile us with himself. We will now look at that same doctrine from a second point of view, reflecting on the atonement from the bottom up, on Jesus Christ the servant as Lord, on the person exalted and therefore reconciled by God.

The Holy Spirit and Christian Faith

1. Faith and Its Object
Faith is certainly an event in which we participate. But it only occurs in a relationship with Jesus Christ established by him. The Jesus Christ of this relationship is neither a remote heavenly figure, nor a set of beliefs, but the Lord actively ruling in our midst. He has established such a relationship with every single person. The disadvantage of non-Christians is that they do not yet acknowledge this relationship, so do not yet participate in it.

The Holy Spirit and the Gathering of the Christian Community

1. The Work of the Holy Spirit
To speak of the Christian community and of the Christian faith is to speak of people for whom reconciliation with God is real not only objectively but subjectively. But as sinners we are unwilling and unable to participate in this reconciliation on our own. So for us to be members of the Church and Christians, God must free us for himself. This God does through the Holy Spirit.

The Justification of Man

1. The Problem of the Doctrine of Justification
In the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God condemned and executed us as sinners, yet he also pardoned and raised us to life as new creatures. We now live in a state of transition between our past life as sinners and our future life as new creatures, between our past rebellion against God and our future freedom for God. Our existence in this transition is our justification by God in Christ.

The Pride and Fall of Man

1. The Man of Sin in the Light of the Obedience of the Son of God
We cannot know sin and ourselves as sinners by looking at ourselves because we are sinners. We can only know the sinfulness of who we are and what we do by hearing the biblical witness to Jesus Christ.

Through the biblical witness to Jesus Christ, we learn first that sin exists. In the various human responses to Jesus Christ, from the blindness of the Pharisees to the treachery of Judas, our nature as sinners is revealed. Against Jesus Christ we see the sin we do expressed plainly in its three forms as rebellion against God, hatred of neighbor, and self-destruction.

The Obedience of the Son of God

1. The Way of the Son into the Far Country
The atonement is not a conceptual abstraction but an historical event. It is the history of Jesus Christ and as such takes precedence over all other histories. The first aspect of this history with which we will concern ourselves is God’s grace in Christ. In Christ God graciously goes into the far country, into our world in its perverse rejection of him, in order to take upon himself our situation in all its horror. This extravagant willingness to stoop so low to be with us distinguishes the one true God from all the false gods who only reflect our pride.

The Doctrine of Reconciliation

1. The grace of God in Jesus Christ
Between holy God and sinful man stood a chasm. God freely chose to cross it and, in doing so, judged man but also received him as his child. In Jesus Christ we became God’s people as much as God is our God. Even if we confess our reconciliation to God with uncertainty, that reconciliation nonetheless remains indestructibly present. In Christ, we have been reconciled to God, we are at peace with God, and we have been given a new and truly human being. If we sin, our new and proper being judges us. If we walk in faith and love and hope, we give provisional expression to this new being which is ours solely by grace. This grace is the grace in which God from all eternity chose to elect all human beings in union with Christ. Jesus Christ manifested this election and introduced this new being in time. Our privilege as Christians is that we know this new being is ours in Christ and we get to celebrate and share this good news with others.

The Work of God the Reconciler

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21, English Standard Version). Our reconciliation with God is this exchange which takes place in Jesus Christ. Christ takes our whole sinfulness upon himself and in exchange makes us the rightful covenant partners with God.

Freedom for Life

1. Respect for Life
When God addresses us as our Creator and Lord, he reveals that we are his creatures and servants. In acknowledging this, we recognize that we are not the masters of our own existence. Our life is given to us as a loan by God for us to serve God and neighbor. So with whatever other command God addresses us, God also tells us that we shall will to live. To live means to live freely as a particular person for God and in fellowship with others. It also means, for God’s glory and the sake of others, to give back to God the life loaned to us when he asks for it.

The Covenant as the Internal Basis of Creation

In the first creation saga (Genesis 1:1-2:3), we learned about creation as the context of the covenant. The second creation saga (Genesis 2:4-25) does not simply repeat this or tell another story. It looks at the same story from the opposite point of view, at the covenant as the goal of creation.

Creation as the External Basis of the Covenant

God brought creation into existence to serve as the context for his covenantal relationship with man. God created man in his own image to fulfill the purpose of creation. Genesis 1 describes creation as the context of the covenant. Genesis 2 describes the covenant as the purpose of creation. In this subsection we will reflect in detail on the first creation saga (Genesis 1:1-2:4).

Genesis 1:1

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (English Standard Version, here and following).

Creation, History, and Creation History

1. Creation, History, and Creation History
The distinct dignity of creation is that it is the first work of God. This first work of creation, however, does not stand alone. God makes it to serve him as the context in which the history of his covenant of grace with man will take place.

Faith in God the Creator

Only through faith in Jesus Christ may we confess that God the Father Almighty is Creator of Heaven and Earth. To begin with, we only learn about the Father and Creator through the Son and Reconciler by the power of the Spirit and Redeemer. Furthermore, God the Creator is God the Father of Jesus Christ. God the Father begets the Son and with the Son posits the Holy Spirit. God the Father as Creator posits creation, or all that exists which is not God, in an analogous way. Conversely, it is only as the Father of the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit that God reveals himself to us as Creator. Finally, God acts as Creator, not only once in the beginning, but every moment ever since. This action too is analogous only to his eternal begetting of the Son.

The Proclamation of the Church

Jesus Christ is the revealed Word of God. Holy Scripture is the written Word of God: the written human words witnessing to God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the form of the Bible, the Word of God manifests and maintains his absolute authority and freedom in relation to all other powers. In that form he also creates and sustains the relative authority and freedom of the Church by becoming the object of Church proclamation. Jesus Christ, then, is the one living Word of God in three forms: revealed, written, and proclaimed. When Church proclamation remains subordinate to the biblical witness, just as the prophets and apostles remain subordinate to Jesus Christ, preaching becomes by God’s grace a living Word spoken by God himself.

Freedom in the Church

1. The Freedom of the Word
The Word of God in Scripture by the Spirit for the Church means not only authority but also freedom. The prophets and apostles were the first to recognize the authority and participate in the freedom of the Word. Jesus Christ graciously called and enabled them to follow him in obedience as witnesses. They gratefully affirmed that gracious Word by freely choosing to witness in obedience.

Authority in the Church

1. “The Authority of the Word”
To the Church, and to the world through the proclamation of the Church, Scripture bears witness to Jesus Christ. Scripture does this by the power of the Holy Spirit. By his power, those who hear Scripture hear Jesus Christ and those who hear Jesus Christ do so by listening to Scripture.

The Word of God for the Church

1. “Scripture as a Witness to Divine Revelation”
In the doctrine of Holy Scripture, we recognize the Bible as our normative witness to divine revelation. This statement indicates a distinction between the Bible and revelation. However, there is a unity between the two as well. As the normative witness to God’s revelation, we not only hear of God’s lordship in the Bible, but that lordship becomes real for us through the Bible. This is because our Lord, even as the primary subject of the text, remains sovereign in relation to both the text and us. God can and does reveal himself to us through the written human words of the Bible when he so desires. In doing so he restrains our desire to dominate the text. He keeps us from falsely determining for ourselves the relation between the witness of the text and his revelation of himself through the text.

The Life of the Children of God

1. “People as Doers of the Word”
We are confronted by God. In this confrontation, God frees us from sin and death by setting them behind us. Made new by the Holy Spirit, we live as seekers—and so as lovers—of God in Christ. As such we live also as doers with others as Church. As people set free for God, we live to praise God with others as his witnesses.

The Revelation of God as the Abolition of Religion

1. “The Problem of Religion in Theology”
Only God can establish the reality and even the possibility of objectively and even subjectively revealing himself to us. But God really does reveal himself to us in concrete forms which we may experience. We may even compare these forms with other religious forms. But when we do so, the question we must ask ourselves is this: do we understand God’s revelation in terms of universal religious phenomena or do we understand all human religions, including Christianity, in terms of God’s revelation? In Latin Christendom during the 1500s, freedom in theology meant freedom to understand Jesus Christ as Lord. By the 1800s, freedom in theology came to mean freedom from confessing Jesus Christ as Lord. With this came the substitution of ourselves for Jesus Christ as the starting point of our talk about God. But if we are rightly to understand both revelation and religion, we must again begin with Jesus Christ and understand religion in relation to him.

The Freedom of Man for God

1. The Holy Spirit the Subjective Reality of Revelation
Jesus Christ objectively reveals God’s freedom to be for us. Our freedom to be for God is a reflection of this. We are free for God when we faithfully obey him. Yet according to Scripture our faith and obedience are both God’s gift to us.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Mystery of Revelation

Jesus Christ is the object of both Old Testament expectation and New Testament recollection. Christology is the Church’s attempt to summarize faithfully the biblical witness concerning who Jesus Christ is. In a way which expresses the mystery of God’s revelation without trying to solve it, the Church confesses that Jesus Christ is wholly divine and wholly human, that he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary or, as John tells us, that “the Word became flesh” (1:14).

The Time of Revelation

In the beginning, when God created Heaven and Earth, God created time as well. We first knew that God-created time. Then came the Fall and with it our lost time as sinners—what we now know as history. But with Jesus Christ we may know a third time, revelation time, fulfilled time. Revelation time is real time because it is a real present with a real past time of expectation in the Old Testament and a real future time of recollection in the New Testament.

God's Freedom for Man

1. Jesus Christ the Objective Reality of Revelation
The New Testament makes a twofold confession concerning Jesus Christ: first, the Son of God is called Jesus of Nazareth; second, Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. The biblical witnesses did not have a prior understanding of divine sonship by which they judged candidates until they found Jesus. Instead, God’s presence in Jesus impressed itself upon them and then, on the basis of Jesus the person, they came to understand the meaning of divine sonship. In this way they avoided the danger of ignoring his humanity as unimportant.

God the Holy Spirit and Redeemer

1. God as Redeemer
Jesus Christ is Lord. For us to know this, two things must occur. First, Jesus Christ must objectively confront us. Secondly, we must subjectively acknowledge his lordship. In the New Testament, most people objectively confronted by Jesus Christ did not subjectively recognize him as Lord. The people who did were brought to him by the Father (John 6:65). They were empowered by the Son (John 1:12-13). It was and remains the Holy Spirit who enables us to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3). Only this presence of God’s Spirit within us makes us capable of opening up to God’s revelation. God becomes present to us, then, not just objectively from outside us but also subjectively from inside us. He not only comes from outside of us to encounter us but also from inside of us to encounter himself.

God the Son and Reconciler

1. God as Reconciler
Just as God the Father is Lord, so too Jesus Christ is Lord because he is the Father’s only-begotten Son. But Jesus Christ exercises his lordship in a way which differs from the way in which it is exercised by God the Father and Creator. The way Jesus exercises lordship reveals that God does not understand lordship as the power to control us like things. Instead, the activity of Jesus Christ reveals that God is with us and for us and wills that we be with and for him. This is a miraculous act on God’s part because he speaks to us, and expects us to respond freely to him, even though we are his enemies as sinners.

God the Father and Creator

The apostles testify that Jesus Christ is Lord. But Jesus Christ understands himself as the one sent by God the Father to represent and manifest his lordship. Contrary to all others who claim control or to be in control, God the Father alone is truly Lord because he alone is free over the power of death. God the Father exists as Creator because he alone initiates our existence, he alone sustains us in life at every moment, and he alone decides at what moment to carry us through death to eternal life.

The Triunity of God

One critical affirmation of Scripture is that God is one. The name of the one God revealed in Scripture is Yahweh or Lord. God's divinity or nature is this lordship. There is only one God, and God alone is truly Lord, because only God is absolutely free in relation to all else.

God in His Revelation

Because Scripture witnesses to God’s revelation of himself, it confronts us with three related questions: (1) Who is this God who reveals himself? (2) How does God reveal himself? (3) What impact does God’s act of revelation have on the person involved? Consistent with Scripture, the Church’s answer to these questions has been the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Knowability of the Word of God

We know something when we make what it is enough of who we are, by giving enough of who we are to it, that we may bear responsible witness to it. This is how the Church may know the Word of God. But we do not know God’s Word in this way by nature. We know it only by God’s grace. We know it only when, with his Word, God grants us sinners the ability to hear his Word in spite of ourselves.

The Nature of the Word of God

2. God’s Word as the Speech of God
The Word of God in its three forms always exists with a physical aspect—the sound of preaching, the page of Scripture, the body of Jesus Christ—or it could not come to us as physical creatures. But God’s Word is primarily spiritual because it is primarily a form of rational communication between God and us. Consequently, we do better to focus on understanding and obeying God’s Word than on how it sounds or makes us feel.

The Word of God in Its Threefold Form

1. Preaching
As Christians, we may say much about God, but all these words are not the Word of God. For our words to become God’s Word, God must first actively command us to speak them. Second, God must freely choose in love to make himself the object of our talk. Third, God must judge our talk to be true both in relation to him and in relation to ourselves. Finally, our words become God’s Word in the miraculous moment that God chooses to make them so. When this divine command, objectification, judgment, and event occur, we render true service in freedom to God and our words become the Word of God to be heard and obeyed.