on John 1:14

I was looking at John 1:14 the other day:

Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν, καὶ ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαναὐτοῦ,

δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός, πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NIV)

I know this is the central point of the passage, the center line in the chaiastic structure of the passage as it well should be.  It also forms an inclusio with Jn 1:1.  We also refer to this verse when speaking of the Incarnation.

I noticed three things about this verse in relation to the Incarnation that I thought were interesting.  I call them “elements of the Incarnation.”

First I noticed  ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο.  The Word became flesh.  God became one of us.  This is significant because there were those in the highly pluralistic audience whom John was writing to who had issues with the flesh and notions of divine incarnation.  There were those who saw all matter, especially bodies as evil and too limiting for divinity to take on.  They believed the spirit was good and matter was evil so how could God become man?  Why would he do that?  John is siding with his Jewish roots and taking a highly affirmative view of both humanity and the human body.  Because Genesis 1 tells us God saw all the he made (including man and woman) and called it good.  The human body, though effected by sin, is good.  Human bodies, however limiting, are are good things and Jesus becoming human, taking on human flesh, fully embodying himself in the world and walking among us, is a very strong affirmation of this truth.

The second thing I noticed was ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαναὐτοῦ.  We have seen his glory.  In Exodus 33: 18 Moses says to YHWH, “Now show me your glory.”  Then YHWH went on to show him his glory in a limited way since he said in the next verse (19) “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”   Whereas in the past one was only able to “see”  God’s glory in the form of the cloud (hence, the shekinah glory), now we see it in it fully in the person of Jesus Christ.  Glory in the Bible includes notions of beauty, splendor, magnificence, radiance, and rapture (Dict of Biblical Imagery).  In other words, it. is. ah-ma-zing!!  It is a quality primarily attributed to God and places of his presence including places of worship and heaven. The glory of the God is an image of his greatness and transcendence.  It is seen in things like the might waterfall verse the small stream; the Sun or the Moon; it is seen in the thunder and lightning verse the rain.  The glory of the Lord is awesome.

Jesus Christ is the glory of God come down in all its fullness – and that in bodily form, a human body.  This is the awesomeness of the incarnation and a huge affirmation of σὰρξ as part of God’s creation.  Glory was associated with Jesus’ birth in Luke 1:14.  He is the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8) and the glory of God is seen in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6).

Finally, there is πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας.  Full of grace and truth.  John says later in this passage that “we have all received grace in place of grace already given.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (TNIV) Jesus Christ is full of grace and truth.  He is the way the truth and the life (Jn 14:6).  Romans 3:24 tells us we are all justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came [through] Jesus Christ.  It is through grace and truth we are saved.  Jesus is the fullness of God’s grace and truth.  I think too it is fair to say the incarnation was an incredibly gracious act on the part of Jesus.  He left the glories if heaven and came down to become one of us – he knew it was the only way.  He is full of grace too.  He came not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him (Jn 3:17).  Though he has the right to judge he has graciously withheld his judgement that we may come into the light of truth, that he is.  He is full of grace and truth.

So those were some “elements of the incarnation” I saw in that verse I think it is pretty cool really.  Powerful too if you think about it.  And I think too it is something we are called to emulate in our discipleship to Jesus.  We too are to take on an incarnational approach to our relationships with other and as an expression of the People of God in this world.  As we go about our lives and as we go about pursuing God’s salvation to the ends of the earth, we are to be incarnational, living in with and among this world, though not of it, we are to live in it, full of grace and truth.

Merry Christmas

I hope and pray you all have a blessed Merry CHRISTmas and a Happy New Year!  Here is an email I sent out to friends when I was still in seminary (2003-2007) I come across looking for something in my email that I wanted to share with you.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

When I think if Christmas…

I think of being with my wife!

I think of being with family!

I think of being with friends!

I think of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ!

There is a phrase out there in theology and missiology
called “incarnational ministry. What does it mean to
be incarnational?

Incarnation is a theological term that attempts to
explain the mystery of the merging of the divine and
the human in the real person of Jesus Christ.  He was
fully God and fully human.  John 1:14 says it best,
“And the word became flesh and lived among us.”  That
Jesus became human and lived among us is a reference
to the tabernacle in the wilderness that symbolized
the presence of God among his people.  Moses and the
prophets prophecied that one day God would come and
live among men much as YaHWeH had done in the
wilderness.  Just as the shekinah glory of the Lord
came down and rested upon the tabernacle in the
wilderness and so God was present with his people, so
Jesus the Messiah came down from heaven, became human,
and “tabernacled” among us so he could be present with
us.  He was, and now is more so as he lives in us and
through us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The point is that Jesus came to be present with us, to
teach us how to live and how to love.  He made himself
like us so that we could be like him.  He came
ultimately to give his live as a ransom for many that
we could be reconciled with God our Father in heaven
and be in a righteous relationship with him.

Incarnational ministry then is being present with
people, it is stepping out of our comfort zones and
reaching out to people and being present with them, so
that in turn they can experience the presence of the
Lord Jesus and come to know God our Father who is in
heaven.

So, during this Christmas season as you take time to
celebrate the miraculous birth of Christ, take time to
be incarnate with people; be present with them.  Make
them feel important and valuable so they too may
experience the presence and love of the Lord in you
and through you!

Blessings!

-Brian

Book Review: T.F. Torrance’s Incarnation

It is with much thanks to Adrianna Wright of IVP for her graciousness in allowing me to read (in part) and review T.F. Torrance’s Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (IVP, 2008).

This is a long overdue review (over a year) and for that I sincerely apologize.   I have to say at the out set I have not yet read this book in its entirety so there is just no possible way I can offer a full and complete review – so it will only at best be an inadequate partial review – why have I not read the whole thing? Well, its a big book from a theological standpoint.  It’s not light reading by any means, so though it is only 371 pages including endnotes, appendices, index and so on, there is a lot to read and chew on. It’s going to take me a while to really get through it – so instead of delaying I am writing a partial review.

In this book on Christology, Torrance “addresses both the heart and head through a deeply biblical, unified, Christ-centered and trinitarian theology.”  He “presents a full account of the meaning and significance of the life and person of Jesus Christ, demonstrating that his work of revelation and reconciliation can only be understood in the light of who he is – true God and true man united in one person.”    Torrance contends that the whole life of Jesus Christ from his birth through to his resurrection and ascension, even to his second coming are of saving significance.  (quotes from the inside cover).

One question I want to address is what is the value or purpose of reading such a deeply theological work such as Torrance or even Barth and others for the pastor and preacher? The primary value lies in nature and purpose of church dogmatics.  The editor writes “Christian dogmatics is that discipline which which attempts to express the essential content of Christian faith and doctrine as an aid to the church in her teaching and preaching” (xxii).  In sum, the purpose of reading this particular work on Christology or even a work like Barth’s Dogmatics (even if one does not agree with all the finer points being discussed), is it allows the preacher to proclaim Christ and the Scriptures in a richer and deeper way.

Essentially, it adds theological depth to the sermon or teaching.

You want to be a strong pastor/theologian?  Read Torrance, Barth and the like!  :-)

Both Torrance and Barth (Torrance was for a time, a student of Barth) sought to put forth a dogmatics of Christian Theology for the help of the pastor so he or she could faithfully proclaim the Scriptures in an articulate and unified way that was line with faithful interpretation, historical Christian teaching including the Fathers (“all the saints” xxiii) thus proclaiming Christ and bringing glory to him.

Some of the leading features of Torrance’s theology are as follows:

The heart of Torrance’s theology is the Trinity and deity of Christ…. The truth of the Trinity, ‘more to be adorned than expressed,’ and the deity of Christ belong together (xxx-xxxi).

The deity of Christ is the guarantee of reconciliation.  Because Jesus Christ is God, he not only makes God known, but what he does is the work of God.  The words and acts of Jesus and of the Father are identical.  The deity of Jesus is therefore the guarantee that the reconciliation we see and receive in his the reconciliation of God himself (xxxi).

The full humanity of Christ is of equal importance with his deity.  If Jesus is not God then it is not God that has saved us, but equally, if Jesus is not man then man has not been saved.  The deity and the humanity of Jesus are equally important and neither without the other can bring salvation (xxxii).

The humanity of Jesus is the guarantee of human reconciliation and forgiveness.  In fact, the very act of incarnation is an act of reconciliation because now in the person of Jesus Christ, there is a permanent union of God and man (an act of reconciliation or re-union) (xxxiv).

The hypostatic union of God and man in the one person of Christ needs to be understood dynamically – not statically.  It needs to include the whole life of Jesus from his birth through to his resurrection.  This ‘hypostatic union’ had to be maintained throughout the life of Jesus not just at his birth.  “Throughout it all, the hypostatic union held fast as Jesus clung to the Father in utter and obedient dependence in prayer.  And the hypostatic union emerged victorious and unscathed in the resurrection as the eternal union of God and man in Christ Jesus” (xxxvi).

The hypostatic union is at the heart of the gospel.  “The doctrine of the union of God and man in Christ is the absolute heart of the gospel.  it tells us that the full reality of God in his love has come all the way to suffering and sinful humanity and has united himself with us. It tells us that we have been accepted in the fullness of our humanity and brought as we are into union with him in Christ. It tells us that because Christ is the permanent union of God and man, his person is the indivisible and living center of our salvation for all time”   (xxxvi).

There is much much more to this work than can possibly be reviewed here – so this will have to suffice!  I highly recommend this as a work for pastors to read and consume and integrate into their thinking and theology and preaching/teaching ministry.

Great book on Pastoral Care

While dealing with the various crisis that come up in life and ministry are never easy – I want to share with you all a really good book I have found quite useful in helping address such issues as dealing with situational crisis, suicides, hospital emergencies, illness, death and dying, marriage issues, dealing with mental illness issues along with knowing when to refer someone to professional counseling and so on.  I was introduced to it when I went through an introductory part-time Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) unit to fulfill a counseling requirement for Seminary. 

The book is David K. Switzer’s Pastoral Care Emergencies (Creative Pastoral Care and Counseling) (Ausburg Fortress, 2000).  Switzer writes from a Lutheran perspective but how the issues are presented and the theological basis for pastoral care are hardly objectionable.  He rightly sees pastoral care as both an attitude and an act. It’s not just something we do, it is also based on how we approach the matter.  In essence, pastoral care (or Christ-likness-care as Dave Black puts it) is rooted in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and is the primary expression of what it means to be the Church.  It is an expression of the whole life and purpose of the Christian community.

So, the questions come up, how do we deal with a suicidal person and how can we be one step ahead of them?  How do I relate to a dying person?  How do we comfort the bereaved?  What about mental illnesses and divorce and what do I do when I get to the hospital for a visit or an emergency?  Switzer deals with all this and gives good and useful information for what to do and what not to do, what to say and what not to say.   Really, it’s’ good book and one that any Christian should think about having as a resource for ministering to others.

T. F. Torrance on John 1:14

From his Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (IVP, 2008), 61:

(ii) The meaning of ‘flesh’

“The Word was made flesh’ – but what is meant by flesh? John means that the Word fully participates in human nature and existence, for he became man in becoming flesh, true man and real man.  He was so truly man in the midst of mankind that it was not easy to recognize him as other than man or to distinguish him from other men.  He came to his own and his own received him not.  He became a particular man, Jesus, who stands among other men unsurpassed but unrecognized.  That is the way he became flesh, by becoming one particular man.  And yet this is the creator of all mankind, now himself become a man.

He has a lot more to say about John 1:14, and it is heavy! You might want to get the book!  ;)

my top books of 2009

since its the end of the year and we all like to and try to read as much as we can here are the one ones I read that had an impact on my in different ways.  please know too that beacause I am a pastor my reading will not be limited specifically to biblical studies or theology. 

Eugene Peterson’s Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Eerdmans, 1994). 

David Alan Black’s Linguistics for Students of New Testament Greek: A Survey of Basic Concepts and Applications, 2nd ed (Baker Academic, 2000). 

Howard Snyder’s The Community of the King, Revised Ed. (IVP, 2004).

Micheal Wittmer’s Heaven is a Place on Earth: Why Everything you do Matters to God (Zondervan, 2004). 

Jerry Cook and Stanley Baldwin’s Love, Forgiveness, Acceptance: Equipping the Chruch to be Truly Christian in a Non-Christian World (Regal Books, 1979) (reprinted, 2009). 

Anderw Purves’s Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation (WJK, 2004). 

T. F. Torrance’s Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (IVP: 2008).

Tony Merida, Faithful Preaching: Declaring Scripture with Responsibility, Passion, and Authenticity (B&H Academic, 2009).

T. F. Torrance on the task of Christology

Beginning in chapter one of his book Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (pages 1-2) it reads:

christ31Our task in christology is to yield the obedience of our mind to what is given, which is God’s self revelation in its objective reality, Jesus Christ.  A primary and basic fact which we discover here is this: that the object of our knowledge gives itself to us to be apprehended.  It does that within our mundane exisitence, within our worldly history and all its contingency, but it does that also beyond the limits of previous expereince and ordinary thought, beyond the range of what is regarded by human standards as empirically possible.  Thus, when we encounter God in Jesus Christ, the truth comes to us in its own authority and self sufficiency.  It comes into our experience and into the midst of our knowlege as a novum, a new reality which we cannot incorporate into the series of other objects, or simply assimilate to what we already know….

And yet Jesus Christ gives himself to be known as the object of our experience and knowledge, within our history and within our human existence – but when we know him there, we know him in terms of himself.  We know him out of pure grace as one who gives himself to us and freely discloses himself to us.  We cannot earn knowledge of Christ, we cannot achieve it, or build up to it.  We have no capacity or power in ourselves giving us the ability to have mastery over this fact.  In the very act of our knowing Christ he is the master, we are the mastered.  He manifests himself and gives himself to us by his own power and agency, by his Holy Spirit, and in the very act of knowing him we ascribe all the possiblity of our knowing him to Christ alone, and none of it to ourselves.

But let us note: it is only when we actually know Christ, know him as our personal saviour and Lord, that we know that we have not chosen him but that he has chosen us; that it is not in virtue of our own capacity to give ourselves the power to know him; that it is not in virtue of our own power or our own capacity that he gives us to know him, but in virtue of his power to reveal himself to us and to enable us to know him; that is, faith itself is the gift of God.  Or let me put that in another way; when we know God in Christ, we do not congratulate ourselves on our own powers of intuition or discovery, and pat ourselves on the back because we have been able to see that there is more in Jesus than meets the eye, that God is there himself.  No, we do the exact opposite: we acknowledge that in knowing God in Christ, we do so not by our own power, but by the power of God.