Suffering and the Christian life

In present day USAmerican (and especially Charismatic) Evangelical Christianity – suffering can often seem like a four letter word – those who suffer in life are often seen as either just not together with it or perhaps victims of their own selves or even victims of faulty ideas or theology.   Even so, for many who suffer, they wonder, why?  What have I done to get into this difficult place  Why must we suffer?  I thought it was God’s intention to bless us and to have us walk in his blessings – so we wonder, what place as suffering in the Christian life?

But, the simple reality is, suffering is central to life of the Christian.  Only through suffering can we really come to know God; to know Christ.  The Apostle Paul says this pretty plainly in his Letter to the Philippians:

1:29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him… (NIV).

He also talks about it later in chapter 3 where he shares his desire to know Christ:

3:7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (NIV)

According to Gordon Fee, this is quintessential Paul through and through – if we want to know the heart of the Apostle Paul – this is the essential passage to read.  Here we see his desire to know Christ above all else such that nothing else matters to him, not his past accomplishments, not his present sufferings, not anything really – nothing stands between Paul and his passion for Christ and the gospel.   Again he says,

10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (NIV)

Here we see what it is to truly know Christ – to know the power of his resurrection and to participate in his sufferings – becoming like him….  To know Christ we must grasp the power and reality of his resurrection from the dead  and we must learn to embrace suffering, which in so doing, we become like Christ.

The key to embracing and participating in the suffering of Christ is to have a proper understanding of his resurrection life.  It is to have the right perspective – an eschatological perspective on the past, the present, and the future.

It’s a matter of perspective; an eschatological perspective.

An eschatological perspective on the past is to realize it lies behind us and really has no power over us.  Because of the cross and resurrection what lies behind really is of no serious effect.  If we hold onto the past, our advantages become our disadvantages.  in the context of the letter, reliance on Torah observance for right standing with God is unreliable at best. Instead, because of Christ, righteousness is now in the basis of faith, not works or our own efforts.  This is not to downplay Torah observance so much as it is to say it’s never saved anyone or made them right with God.

Now comes the question of suffering and its role in the Christian life – what is it? An eschatological view of the present realizes that the ultimate goal of the Christian life is not avoidance of the fires of hell, or guaranteed entrance into heaven and eternal life and such.  The ultimate goal of the Christian life is Christ and knowing him.  That the resurrection life of Jesus guarantees our own resurrection life in him gives us the power or enablement to endure suffering – even participation in the sufferings of Christ.  What kind of suffering is being talked about?

I think the suffering Paul is talking about is that suffering which is part of the process of becoming like Christ and any suffering that is brought about as a result of our living for the sake of Christ and the gospel.  Why is becoming like Christ, being found in him, a kind participating in his suffering?

Because of our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, we have a disease called “Adam-itis.”  We have a sinful nature and we have the flesh that continually lives in opposition to the ways of the Lord (cf. Gal 5) – so in seeking to be like Christ (and especially in this letter to the Philippians with the Christ Hymn being the ultimate model – learning to be like him, the humble obedient, servant, can be cause for some degree of suffering.  We may say we love Christ and desire to know him – but that can often be a painful thing in the process.  Suffering in the Christian life then, is the process of our being transformed by the renewing of our minds and actions and attitudes into the mind, actions, and attitude of Jesus Christ.

Part of the suffering is learning to be like Jesus in his actions and attitudes, but it is also in learning to live a life fully devoted to him; fully consecrated to him – it is learning to say “no” to the things, and practices, and attitudes of the world, and “yes” to the way of the Lord.  Saying yes to the Lord can be costly – it can cost friendships, relationships, livelihood, and even life itself.  There is a high cost to following Jesus but the return is knowing him and some how attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

The eschatological perspective on suffering then lies not in the past, not in the present, but in the future – for in the future lies the resurrection and the life – Christ himself – we may know and experience him in the present but in the sense of “the already but not yet,” – we have yet to fully know him.  Paul makes this affirmation in 1 Corinthians 13 when he says that when we see him, we shall be like him, for then we will know even as we are fully known.

So, suffering in the Christian life is the necessary ingredient in our “likeness training” (via Dave Black) in our knowledge of Christ.

Blessings,

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.

more on pastor theologians

From Marc Cortez:

Give us some examples of university theology that has no ecclesial value or some ecclesial theology that reveals how this can be done better by pastors. I’m ready to be convinced but I want to see what is actually involved here.

I have to say this is a pretty great response by Scot – someone who is in the academy but also, like he says in the article about other scholars, is deeply involved in his local church community.   Perhaps the disparity isn’t as great as Hiestand suggests?

I was thinking about this today and want to say, I think it is perfectly fine for one to be a pastor and perfectly fine for one to be an academician – and perfectly fine if one manages to have a foot in both worlds –  just don’t disparage each other but instead encourage one another in each other’s vocations and calling as we pursue together a life in Christ.

Too much Bible Science?

I am getting back in to reading Ross’ book The Genesis Question to finish it and carry on with the rolling review I started on it a while ago (when I got blasted for supporting the changes to the AG paper on the doctrine of Creation).   Here is a passage I came across:

That so many Christians today believe the Bible is largely devoid of scientific content is, at least in part, a reaction to the last two hundred years of dialogue between science and theology in which Christian theology appears to have been bested repeatedly by secular science.  The Bible, unlike any other book, is intended to be read and understood by people living in eras spanning at least 3,500 years.  This places some serious constraints on the quantity and kind of science it can contain.

For the Bible to adopt the scientific paradigms or language of any age would compromise the ability of the text to speak to earlier or later generations.  But, because the Bible does have the capacity to communicate to all generations of humanity, many Bible interpreters are tempted to read into the text far too much of the science of their time.  For example, I have received more than ten unsolicited manuscripts from individuals who are convinced that Genesis 1, properly understood, gives a detailed exposition of the origin and structure of the various families of fundamental particles even though no word in the text even hints of particles.

from Hugh Ross’ The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis (Navpress, 2001), 14-15.

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So basically, the Bible isn’t a scientific text so quit trying to make it out to be one.  If it happens that modern science can support some aspect of the Genesis creation narrative, cool!  If not, don’t try to wedge it into the text and make it fit.  Let the text be as it is and let it speak for itself!

$5 for 48 hrs. – A Portrait of Paul at WTS Books.

Yup, that’s right five smackers for the latest work on Paul called: A Portrait of Paul: Identifying a True Minister of Christ. You can read the introduction here.  and learn more on the product page (you can hear a sermon from the authors there too). I won’t go into the potential merits or demerits of the book.  lol!  Too bad I cannot get it right now – maybe some of you might look into getting it?

The best part of the introduction reads as follows:

Is there an ideal pastor? There is one: His name is Jesus Christ. He sets the standard for all who would follow in His footsteps. But do not forget the interwoven and full-orbed perfections of the Lord Jesus: no one was gentler than He or consumed with such holy zeal.  No one spoke with such tenderness to those in genuine need or with more bite to those who bitterly opposed the will of God.  He was a true friend of sinners and a fierce enemy of hypocrites.  He could call a child to Himself and embrace him; He could make a whip of cords and drive thugs from the temple of God. He was loved with profound attachment by His friends; He was hated with deep loathing by His enemies. At times thousands hung upon His words; He died a deserted and forsaken man.  Those who follow in the footsteps of a crucified Christ partake of His character, though always imperfectly.  Would you want such a man to shepherd you?

Well, would you want such a person to shepherd you?  I think most if not all of us would find that quite challenging.

the sermon: more than just preaching

it can also be expressed through art and drama and all sorts of other ways! It’s more than just the sermon that disciples people – it is involving them in the process as well allowing them to use their giftings from the Spirit to edify and lift up the body and glorify Christ – this is one reason why I believe spiritual gifts Paul mentions in his letters were first and foremost “ad hoc” lists and so do not have to be limited just to Pauline lists – their are many ways the Lord gifts his people!

Mark Stevens, Aussie pastor exemplar, does exactly this when they had “Creative Sunday” at their church where art pieces were put up and all sorts of other expressions of the congregation’s understanding of God and love for him, so far as I could tell from what Mark wrote:

Today has been a very different Sunday for our church. Sometime ago we formed a creative team to look at ways in which we could help our congregation harness their creativity and mine! I felt it was important to help people engage with certain aspects of the gospel story; whether it be Easter, Christmas or the book I am preaching through, using means other than just the sermon. I feel preachers can easily make preaching the only means by which teaching or revelation can occur.

Anyway, over the past 18 months we have had many special events and exhibitions. This morning we decided to shake things up a little and held our first “Creative Sunday”. We asked people to allow themselves to be creative around the theme of “In Christ” which has been the overarching theme of our journey though Ephesians. We had many people come forward with paintings, poems, photography and much much more. People sat at tables and served themselves communion and we planted seeds as an expression of growing together in Christ. We have installed proper photo gallery railing so that we can keep the artwork hanging in our church permanently. As the photo-slide below indicates, it was a great morning and people of all ages said how much they loved it and were touched by people’s sharing.

Well, I thought it was a great idea and so should you!  lol!  Head on over and see how things went with the slide show put up over on his blog.

I agree with Eugene Peterson

Pastoral ministry in America is being ruined.  With all the over-focus on leadership development and such, the church is creating CEO type pastors and not shepherd-pastors – little actual direct soul care takes place from the pastor to the parishioner anymore.  Additionally, with the CEO style leadership focus this leads to a focus on measures of “success” – the implication being that a successful church is one that is a numerically growing church (this isn’t necessarily all bad but we need to break ourselves from being too over-concerned about it).   More important to a strong pastoral ministry is a strong focus on following Jesus – living a faithful and obedient life and long (and short) term spiritual formation/growth of all in the congregations.

Of course we are to be evangelical and work faithfully at sharing the gospel with all in our communities and those we come in contact with – and then seek to integrate them in to the larger congregation – yet this is not all there is to it.

One thing I think I have been “getting” since learning pastoral ministry here at the Grand Canyon is that our congregations are “living communities of faith.”  Through simply being and living as a faithful congregation that too is a kind of witness to the community we live in – but also being a Christian doesn’t mean we can just stay in the same place spiritually all our lives. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that “we all are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory…”  So at the heart of a solid pastoral ministry I think isn’t going to be “strong leadership” so much as it is going to be strong spiritual formation.  Hopefully I am not confusing the two (I am still new to pastoring and learning what it all means).

This is why I need to make Peterson my pastor/mentor by way of his books – I want to learn to be a true pastor and not just some corporate style leader – I want to learn what it means to lead in the Jesus way and style and teach others to do the same.  This is something that connects with me – I knew there was a reason I was not comfortable with the whole “you have to be a strong leader” approach to ministry – who says and why for?  All you have to do is follow Jesus faithfully and lead his way and it’ll all be good.

Thanks to Derek Vreeland for sharing his thoughts on his blog.

good article on healing

from one of my professors from Seminary, Ben Aker is out in the AG’s Enrichment journal – a journal sent out to all licensed and ordained ministers in the US AoG. I think it is worth reading and considering on the issue of healing in relation to Pentecost and the New Covenant.

Here is a brief comment:

It is important to note that Acts 3:1 begins with such distinction of matters and people. Flowing from the summaries of chapter 2 about the beginning of the new age of the new covenant, chapter 3 serves as a distinct model for ministry in this new eschatological age of Jesus and the Spirit.  Luke slows down and blows up a picture of one of these wonderful incidents to begin to show how believers should go about doing ministry in this new time.  Because it is the first descriptive incident in the scheme of Acts following the epochal coming of the Spirit, it becomes typical;  that is, it provides a model indicating the nature of new covenant ministry — the age of Jesus and the Spirit.  From this account we learn what God deems important.

It’s an excellent piece!  Do let me know what you think.

will you run with the horses?! (or, how to live your best life now)

Eugene Peterson has a book by this title based on his thoughts on the life of Jeremiah that I think is a much better approach to “your best life now” than Joel Osteen’s approach (or even Warren’s Purpose Driven Life) – probably because there is a world of difference between how these to men approach pastoral ministry.   Peterson writes in the first chapter:

Life is difficult Jeremiah.  Are you going to quit at the first wave of opposition?  Are you going to retreat when you find that there is more to life than finding three meals a day and a dry place to sleep at night?  Are you going to run home the minute you find that the mass of men and women are more interested in keeping their feet warm than in living at risk to the glory of God?  Are you going to live cautiously or courageously? I called you to live at your best, to pursue righteousness, to sustain a drive toward excellence.  It is easier, I know, to be neurotic.  It is easier to be parasitic.  It is easier to relax in the embracing arms of The Average.  Easier, but not better.  Easier, but not more significant.  Easier, but not more fulfilling.  I called you to a life of purpose far beyond what you think yourself capable of living and promised you adequate strength to fulfill your destiny.  Now at the first sign of difficulty you are ready to quit.  If you are fatigued by this run-of-the-mill crowd of apathetic  mediocritics, what will you do when the real race starts, the race with the swift and determined horses of excellence?  What is it you really want, Jeremiah?  Do you want to shuffle along with the crowd, or run with the horses?

This is enough to think about as it, but he goes on.

It is understandable that there are retreats from excellence, veerings away from risk, withdrawals from faith.  It is easy to define oneself minimally (“a featherless biped”) and live securely within that definition than to be defined maximally (“little less than God”) and live adventurously in that reality.  It is unlikely, I think, that Jeremiah was spontaneous or quick in his reply to God’s question.  The ecstatic ideals for a new life has been splattered with the world’s cynicism.  The euphoric impetus of youthful enthusiasm no longer carried him.  He weighed the options.  He counted the costs.  He tossed and turned in hesitation.  The response when it cam was not verbal but biographical.  His life became his answer, “I’ll run with the horses.”

I think this is the key question for all of us as I believe God has called all of us to a life of excellence in one form or another.  That question is this:

Are you going to run home the minute you find that the mass of men and women are more interested in keeping their feet warm than in living at risk to the glory of God?  Are you going to live cautiously or courageously?

And his is right, we are called to live our best and he is right, it is easier to live below the level of excellence than to press forward to whatever it is God has called us to do and live.

I called you to live at your best, to pursue righteousness, to sustain a drive toward excellence.  It is easier, I know, to be neurotic.  It is easier to be parasitic.  It is easier to relax in the embracing arms of The Average.  Easier, but not better.  Easier, but not more significant.  Easier, but not more fulfilling. I called you to a life of purpose far beyond what you think yourself capable of living and promised you adequate strength to fulfill your destiny.

What about you, are you willing to run with the horses of excellence?  I look forward to reading the rest of the book and learning to run with the horses!

so I might have a new pastor/mentor

who is he? He is Eugene Peterson.  How will I be pastored/mentored by him?  Through his books.

one book of his I picked up recently is: Run With the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best

though I have read one other one (that I think others should think about reading too) and have another in that series I need to get too, I am also still fairly new to pastoral ministry (2 1/2 years) so I have time and mentoring takes time anyways so when I need training/insight/mentoring, I’ll be turning to his books.  Does that mean I’ll agree with everything he says?  Not necessarily but that is not as a big a concern as having someone to go to to get insight in being a pastor/shepherd to the congregation we presently oversee and in our relationships with others.

so, yup, Eugene Peterson will be one of my pastor/mentors.