Saturday, April 19, 2014

Good Friday

I have been reading Hilary of Poitiers and Gregory Nazianzen, both early church greats (Hilary in the West, and Gregory in the East).  What strikes me is the way each of these brothers are so completely consumed with the incarnation of the Father’s Son, and the anointed One.  Any, and every, hint of insult to the shocking union of Jesus with us in our fallen existence catches their quick scrutiny.  They never pretend to explain how this most beautiful union came to be; they simply defend it with a vengeance.  For both of these men, and for other great leaders of the early church—Irenaeus, Athanasius, Cyril, Basil, and Gregory of Nyssa, to name a few—the whole work of Christ is bound up with his union with us.  For me, this is the fundamental difference between the early church and us today in the ‘modern’ West.  Within the legal framework, which is normal to us, the incarnation gets a mere nod, as it is perceived as essential to having a pure sacrifice for the cross.  The incarnation, like the ascension of Jesus, is orthodox as we all know, but when is the last time you heard a sermon on the ascension, or on the incarnation for that matter?  For these men, however, the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus are all of a piece, all part of the same stunning act of the Father, Son and Spirit working to unite us as we are in our brokenness and sin with the trinitarian life.  What could be more beautiful?

It is here that my understanding of the crucifixion of Jesus has changed over the years.  As a young boy I was taught that Jesus suffered the wrath of his Father on the cross, the wrath that was intended for us—and I was to be grateful.  Such an interpretation made sense to my Western mind, but it never made sense to my heart.  When I read Athanasius over 35 years ago my heart heard another message, with a different God, and a different issue.  Some years later I heard the same message in T. F. Torrance, James Torrance, John McLeod Campbell, Thomas Erskine, George MacDonald, and C. S. Lewis, and not least Karl Barth.  Without being too complicated let me say that how we frame the problem that Jesus came to ‘fix,’ or what we assume about the problem, determines the way we interpret what happened on the cross. 

In the modern West, generally speaking, at least on the right, the problem is that God is holy and we have sinned.  Since God is holy; he cannot simply forgive us.  Thus, there must be some kind of satisfaction (Anselm) or punishment (penal substitution).  Hence, Jesus steps onto the scene of history as the pure, spotless lamb who gives himself to suffer the punishment due to fall on us as guilty sinners.  In this framework, and its extreme versions of a fiery, angry, furious God, Jesus suffers from his Father.  His sufferings are on our behalf and for our salvation, but the suffering is afflicted from his Father.  The cross, on this reading, is about satisfying the Father’s (rather different from the Son’s) holiness.

When I read the brothers mentioned earlier, the frame is different.  For them the fundamental issue is not ‘how can a just God forgive sinners’ or be legally satisfied to forgive (not to concede that penal substitution is forgiveness, for there is no forgiveness in this theory at all, only justice, and a non-relational, abstract justice at that).  For these brothers the question is ‘how can God unite himself with us in our fallen humanity.’
Anything less than this union—real, personal union between the Father’s Son and the anointed One with us as broken, sinful, shame-riddled sinners—is for these men unworthy of the word ‘salvation.’ For it leaves us outside of the divine life.  So the question is not so much as to the satisfaction of divine law as it is the uniting of the divine life with us in our death.  This distinction, to me, constitutes two different pair of glasses through which to read the story of Jesus’ death.  It may well be that both pair need to be honored, in some way, but at the moment I am simply contending that the ‘union’ pair be brought back into the conversation.  This perspective has been disastrously lost in the modern West.

The discussion comes to this: Is the cross about Jesus’ suffering wrath from his Father or about his suffering wrath from us?  If the goal is to satisfy his Father’s justice (leaving aside how this could possibly be different from his own) then the death of Jesus will be interpreted as his suffering the righteous wrath of his Father against sinners in our place.  If the goal is to unite himself with us as fallen sinners (and with his Father and the Holy Spirit in shared life) then the goal is to reach the real, sinful us.  And how does the Father’s Son, and the anointed One unite himself with us in our iniquity?  How does Jesus connect with us in our estrangement and alienation?  All four Gospels shout a straightforward, simple message.  He willfully submitted to our rejection.  We crucified Jesus.  Nothing could be more clear.  The wrath poured out on Calvary’s hill did not originate in the Father’s heart, or in the Holy Spirit’s, but in ours. It was the Jews and the Gentiles (us), not his Father or the Holy Spirit who mocked Jesus, ridiculed him, unjustly condemned him, beat him, and tortured him to death.  (See Matthew1:21, 23; 16:21; 17:12, 22, 23; 20:18-19, 28; 26:2-4, 45, (53) 59, 66; 27:1, 25-26, 31, 35, 46; Mark 8:31; 9:12, 31; 10:33-34, 45; 14:1, 11 (27) 41; 15:24-25; Luke 9:22, 44; 17:25; 18:31-33; 19:47; 20:13-17; 22:2, 53; 23:18-23, 33; John 16:32; 17:26; 18:35; 19:15-16, 18; Acts 7:52; Heb 12:3; 9:28; IPet 2:24; 3:18; Gal 3:13, not to mention the rest of Paul).

How does the blessed Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit find a way to unite themselves in their unutterable oneness and love and life with us in our iniquity, and sad, broken, hellish destitution (and what is ‘salvation’ without this union)?  This is the question, to me.  Anything less than this union (with the sinful us) may get us forensically ‘declared’ legally clean, perhaps, but the broken us is still outside of the abounding life of God.  What exactly is ‘salvation’ if it does not include our real place in the trinitarian life? 

The shocker, as Scripture is at pains to shout, is submission, divine submission—to us in our sin.  Far from being the place where he poured out his wrath on his beloved Son, the cross is about the human race pouring out our wrath on the beloved and anointed one.  And the cross is about the Father using our treachery as his way of finding us in our iniquity—in his union with Jesus—and accepting us as we are, embracing us, including us in his own relationship with his beloved.  Who saw this coming?  Yet what could be more obvious?  On this day millennia ago Jesus submitted himself to us in our loathsome pain, in our collusion with the dastardly one’s vile hatred of the blessed Trinity and of all things living and beautiful. We were trapped in the darkness of the evil one, lost to life in the Father’s arms, without light, life, and hope.  Jesus submitted his life to us, and we—in the madness of evil’s spin—crucified him.  He died in the arms of our disgust.  He bowed before humanity in our great darkness.  In his submission he made contact with Adam hiding in the bushes.  Therein he reached us, the real us.  Submitting to our diabolically schemed, murderous betrayal he found his way inside our iniquity—and he brought his Father and the Holy Spirit with him—uniting all that he is as the Father’s beloved and faithful Son, and all that he is as the One anointed in the Holy Spirit with us in our sin.  This is the at-onement.  Jesus is the mercy seat, the place where heaven and all it contains meets all that we are as sinners in divine, inconceivable mercy.  This Jesus is real hope.  He is Good Friday.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Perfect Knight

"A King does not need a perfect knight."--from the movie, The Kingdom of Heaven

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Open Table Conference

Last year I got to participate with John MacMurray and Paul Young at three Open Table Conferences across the country.  Each was an amazing gathering of eager and diversely gifted people.  I was thrilled and honored to be in the middle of it all.  These conferences are designed for us to slow down and get to know one another, hear the truth of all truths, and experience real healing. In each, though in different ways, the Holy Spirit was at work doing what only the Holy Spirit can do.  How beautiful.  My favorite part was meeting folks from around the world and listening to their stories, and to their questions.  It became clear the the Lord has had many of us on a journey of struggle and liberation, and these events were moments when he drew us together for real encouragement.  Each time I had this joy within me that smiled, and whispered, "the cat is out of the bag, and the cat is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah!"  It is not an understatement to say that there is far more going on here than we ever dared to dream.  

So I am thrilled to announce that this year we will be offering two more.  One on the West coast, and one on the East.  You will have to ask John why Oregon gets a second OTC, while the middle of our country has not had one....yet!  It is a joy to me to invite you all to join us.  We will surely be discussing  the stunning reality that we have all been included in the beautiful relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and how the Holy Spirit is at work healing our inner worlds so that we can participate in the trinitarian life with free, restored, and open hearts, and renewed minds.

Open Table Web Site    

Open Table Conference “West” 
June 20-22, 2014
Multnomah University, Portland, OR

Open Table Conference “East” 
Oct 24-26, 2014
North East, Maryland - Sandy Cove Ministry Center

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

We Believe

"Our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his transcendent love, became what we are to bring us to be what he is himself"  — St. Irenaeus

Holy Spirit, on this day of shocking divine humility and salvation, reveal to us the agreements that we have made with the darkness concerning the Lord Jesus Christ.  We want no more darkness.  In our culture of unbelief, we declare that we believe in Jesus Christ, the beloved, eternal and faithful Son of the Father (Homoousios to Patri), the One anointed in the Holy Spirit, incarnate, crucified, resurrected, and ascended Lord of all Creation, the Vicarious Man, Immanuel.

Merry Christmas to all.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Crisis of the Western Church

We just posted on our web site a lecture I gave several years ago, "The Crisis of the Western Church and the Way Forward" that I suspect needs to be revisited.

Here is the link.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Isaiah 53

Heather Celoria forwarded me a simple, but fascinating article on Isaiah 53.  The title is "Punished 'for' or 'by' our sins — The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53," by Santo Calarco.  Here is the link.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

From Gregory Nazianzen

“We needed an Incarnate God, a God put to death, that we might live.  We were put to death together with Him, that we might be cleansed; we rose again with Him because we were put to death with Him; we were glorified with Him, because we rose again with Him,” Gregory Nazianzen, A Select Library, The Second Oration on Easter,” XXVIII.