Friday, December 25, 2009

He Became

"Our beloved Lord Jesus Christ became what we are to bring us to be what he is in himself" (Irenaeus, not an exact quote, but very close). Merry Christmas to all.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Grace

If you haven’t read the comments from the ‘dead fly’ post you are missing something exceptional, especially bdfwinn’s poem, and 2lb2’s off the charts oration—what a stunner. 2lb2, you need to visit more often. Your comments are welcome here.

Now back to the incarnation. I have written of the incarnation as the Lord’s acceptance of us as fallen creatures, and in terms of His determined identification with us in our fallenness. The Father, Son and Spirit are not in denial about the disaster of the fall, nor do they react with neutrality or indifference, and certainly not with rage. The dream of our adoption stands, but now this dream includes dealing with our profound darkness. The one thing that the Father, Son and Spirit counted on from us—the single divine expectation—is that we would reject Jesus and put Him to death. It is here that we see the incarnation as grace.

I have heard grace defined as ‘God’s unmerited favor’ and as ‘God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.’ There is something to be said for both ideas, notwithstanding the latter’s assumed and dreadful split between the Father and the Son. The love of the Father, Son and Spirit is certainly unmerited, and it is costly, but more must be said about the pain of grace. To be gracious is to hurt, for it is not merely to wink at a problem, but to enter into it and bear it personally, to endure it, in love and mercy and patience. The incarnation involved and continues to involve Jesus’ entrance into our fallen world and broken lives, and it involves his personal suffering from our blindness. Grace is the freedom to bear another’s scorn, for their salvation.

Many years ago I read Rudyard Kipling’s great poem, “If,” and was struck by one particular line. “If you can keep your head, when all about you are losing theirs, and blaming it on you, you will be a man.” It is the blaming part that reveals the deep heart of grace. Keeping your wits about you, maintaining your balance and orientation can be difficult, but how much more so when everyone else is flying off the handle, so to speak, or losing the plot, as the Ozzies say, and in their fear and pain making you the scapegoat for their trauma? ‘That is what you call ironic,’ as the one-eyed pirate said. And the grace of the blessed Trinity involves terrible irony. Either the Father, Son and Spirit were caught by surprise when we humiliated and murdered Jesus, or they saw it coming, and deliberately incorporated it as the way of incarnation and reconciliation.

We killed the solution. The blessed Trinity expected it, and used our rejection of Jesus as the means to establish a real relationship with us as we are in our brokenness. Such is grace. But as shocking and beautiful as this is, more must be said. For the death of Jesus was not an act of detached, clinical justice. We murdered him, and the act was full of contempt, and disdain, bitterness, mocking, and hatred. The Father’s Son himself was patronized by his own creatures as a blaspheming, demon-possessed, cursed of God liar who mislead the people and deserved to be spit upon and crucified. Jesus deliberately and willfully submitted himself to suffer our patronizing contempt, even to the point of death by public humiliation. The whole world sneered. Part of his grace toward us was the fact that he did not vaporize the human race, and part was his astonishing heart of submission to our profoundly bizarre and cruel judgment. But there was no other way for the dream off the Father, Son and Spirit to be fulfilled. Grace is the freedom to bear the scorn of another’s enlightenment, and Jesus did it, thereby proving himself a Kipling man, gracious, and truly divine.

‘No room in the in,’ was the first hint of the human enmity on Jesus’ horizon. He never batted an eye, and “instead of the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). Think about this: in Jesus himself, in his own person and experience, the world of our darkness, contempt and disdain met the world of his relationship with his Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the place where these two worlds met and are united. By bearing our bitter, patronizing cruelty, Jesus has united his life with the worst of ours. That is acceptance, and identification, real forgiveness and reconciliation, and that is grace. And it is real. And we are included in Jesus’ relationship with his Father and the Holy Spirit, because, as Athanasius said, he is a gracious and merciful Lord who loves the human race.

“What love, what care, what fearless joy
has found us in the night
that we may know as he has known
the everlasting light”

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of his Papa, and the free flowing fellowship of the Holy Spirit overwhelm us all, this season in particular.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Dead Fly

A new post is in the works on the incarnation and grace, but I could not help but relay what just happened. As I was writing I paused to reflect on a point when I noticed a dead fly in the window seal. If a picture paints a thousand words, a dead fly in the window seal speaks volumes. Vintage Holy Spirit.

Here are a few of the thoughts that filled my mind as I stared at the dead fly.

• He left it all on his field of dreams.
• Effort exhausts without truth.
• A false savior will kill you every time.
• We can’t invent freedom.
• It’s not up to us to make it.
• Things are not always what they seem.
• It’s okay to stop and rest.
• Listen
• Universalism?

I made a little banner with a post-it note and a tooth pick. On the banner I wrote “I did it my way.” Then I took some small rocks and hoisted the banner above the fly in honor of his Herculean effort.


Post your own comments and I will place them in the main text after a few days.

Thank you Lord Jesus that you found a way to meet us in our darkness.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Expectation

The incarnation is about the Lord’s acceptance of us as we are as fallen creatures, and about the stunning move to so identify with us as to see things the way we do. A third lesson on the incarnation has to with divine expectation. Read the Prologue of John with the following questions in mind. What does God expect from us in the incarnation? What is He counting on us to do to make the incarnation a success? Most of us, I suspect, would say that the Lord is expecting us, or counting on us to believe. But think of this statement: “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him (John 1:10).

If the Lord was counting on us to believe in order for the incarnation to happen, then bitter divine disappointment lay on the horizon. For our response was to crucify the Father’s Son.

Let me share a lesson from the deer stand, a book I have been reading, and a story from a friend, all of which may help us understand that the only expectation that the blessed Trinity had of the human race is that we would murder the Father’s Son.

Sitting on my deer stand, reading James Hollis’ The Middle Passage, I heard the fabled snap of a stick. It sounded like it came from straight in front of me, maybe at 11:30, if you imagine 12:00 being directly in front of me. I began to stare at every tree, branch and twig. The more I stared, the more I was convinced that I could see a deer, a buck, large and in charge. It took me a full minute to grab my gun and get it pointed in the right direction. As I looked through the scope I could not see the buck at all. So I moved my eyes away from the scope and scanned the area. Nothing. But as I stared I began to see the buck again. Shouldering my rifle, I looked through my scope but there was no buck. This back and forth went on for over ten minutes before I finally accepted, as all deer hunters know, that in the woods our minds can play tricks on us.

On the way home I phoned my friend Ken Courtney and he relayed a lesson that he had learned many years ago in his training in the National Guard. His team was being taught how to spot things in the woods in the dead of night. Never, he said, stare at the object. When you hear or see something, look at it, then turn away and focus on something else, then come back and look again, then look away. When you stare or focus on something for very long your mind’s eye will create something that is not there.

I was amazed at the apparent coincidence of Ken’s lesson and my experience with ‘seeing’ the buck, with what I was reading in The Middle Passage. One of Hollis’ main points is what he calls “the Magical Other.” It seems that in our dating days we so stare or focus upon our new found beloved that we create an image of them that is not actually there. Our minds (or hearts, or brokenness) play a trick on us. We create the Magical Other who will be our life, our security, our completion, our salvation, our wholeness, and they do the same with us. Unearthly expectations run high, hope abounds, and all is well in never never land.

It is disappointing enough when the buck turns out to be a figment of our own imaginations, but it is an altogether different matter when cracks appear in our Magical Other. It is inevitable. Think about it, two broken people make gods and goddesses out of each other. How long can that last? At some point the incongruence between the real person and the image we have plastered over their faces—an image conceived in the dungeons of our own brokenness—becomes very apparent. Given the intensity of our investment in our Magical Other, and given how deep and dear the dream is to us, its shattering is catastrophic. A new world of bitter disappointment and venomous blame, of frustration and anger, of withdrawal and manipulation, among other things, burst into being. The relationship dies. Couples split up, and each one goes out and does the same thing all over again, plastering his or her dreams of life onto the face of a new, true love. ‘This one is different, special. I just know it.’

Was it ever a real relationship to begin with? And has it really died? After I realized that there was no buck, I had the opportunity to go back to real hunting. When the dream of the Magical Other is shattered, the simple truth is that we then have an opportunity to get to know the real person, and to accept them as they are, to identify with them, and have real relationship, and who knows, maybe even find the companionship and communion we have longed for all along.

It is a glorious truth that the blessed Trinity is not into projection. There is no dungeon of brokenness in the basement of the Trinitarian life of God out of which dreams for us are born. The dream of the Father, Son, and Spirit for our adoption, for our inclusion in their shared life, love and fellowship carries no expectations for our contribution. We are not the Magical Other of the Trinity, upon whom the Father, Son and Spirit project their hope of one day becoming whole.

In shocking grace and humility, the one expectation of the Triune God, the one thing that the Father, Son and Spirit counted on from us in order to make the incarnation a reality is that we would pour our scorn, our anger, our wrath, our judgment onto Jesus, humiliating him publicly by cruel crucifixion. And Jesus deliberately and wonderfully endured it all. In bearing our scorn, and submitting himself to our bitter anger, Jesus met us where we are in the dungeon of our brokenness. He accepted us. He identified with us, and through having no expectations from us other than that we would reject him, he has established a personal relationship with us at our very worst. Now, Jesus lives in our dungeons, and he brought his Papa and the Holy Spirit with him. In the very place where our disastrous dream of the Magical Other (and its poisonous demands) is born now dwells the life and fellowship and love of the blessed Trinity.

Discovering Jesus in the dungeons of our brokenness means that we do not have to dream of a Magical Other or plaster our dream upon their face and demand that they live up to our unearthly expectations. And it means that we do not have to impose our agendas upon the lives of our friends, or of creation. Discovering Jesus in the dungeon means we are free to live in and out of the real dream of the Father, Son and Spirit, for now our adoption is no dream at all, but the simple truth. We are included in their shared life. The Father, Son and Spirit have pitched their tent inside our dungeon. Such a discovery is the beginning of faith and repentance (a radical change in the way we see), and it is the beginning of the freedom to accept others and to be accepted, to know and to be known, to love and to be loved, to delight and being delighted in.


Lord Jesus forgive us for what we have done to you and to one another in our pain. Holy Spirit help us meet Jesus in our dungeons.


References
James Hollis, The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Middle Life
James Hollis, The Eden Project: In Search of the Magical Other.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

From Dirk Vanderleest

Dear Friends of Perichoresis,


Now that we finally figured out how to send emails through our web site, let me introduce myself. My name is Dirk Vanderleest. I am the CEO of the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority. I have been a part of the ministry of Perichoresis since its beginning back in the early 90’s, and now serve as the Chairman of its Board. It is one of the highlights of my life to be involved in such a ministry.

Yesterday I Googled “Baxter Kruger” and discovered over 6 million results. I was shocked and thrilled. Then I checked the numbers on Baxter’s blog. To date his blog has been accessed over 44,000 times from over 70 countries. Again, I was shocked and thrilled, and then perplexed. As a businessmen I could not help but wonder, how can a ministry with this kind of impact be financially strapped every month? As you know, Baxter is a theologian for the masses and a great communicator of the real gospel, but he is not good about communicating how our ministry survives, or about asking for money to support it.

Here are the business facts. Book and lecture sales make up about one tenth of our annual budget of one hundred and fifteen thousand dollars. The rest comes from private donation, people like you and me, who have been blessed by this ministry and want to see it touch the whole world. There is some contribution from churches, but not much. As one of our Board members put it, ‘there are a lot of folks feeding from our trough and not even leaving a tip.’ I think the problem is that many people who of have been blessed by our ministry simply don’t know that their help is sorely needed. So I am asking you to help support this ministry. A contribution of $20.00 or more a month would go along way. If you can do more we would be thrilled. I realize that we are all struggling these days, but I also realize that Perichoresis has helped millions of people around the world. A small contribution from a large number of people will help stabilize the financial part of our ministry, and it would help us expand our outreach so that many more folks can find real healing and hope.

• You can contribute by making a tax-deductible check payable to Perichoresis and by sending it to:
Perichoresis
P. O. Box 98157
Jackson, MS 39298

• You can contribute anywhere in the world through our web site (perichoresis.org). If, like me, that word is to hard too remember, visit and it will guide you to our main web site. Once there look for the word “Donate” between “Free Resources” and “Subscription,” just under the black Perichoresis banner at the top of the page. Click on “Donate.”

• In Canada send tax-deductible check payable Incarnation Ministries to:
Incarnation Ministries
P. O. Box 11168
2620-1055 West Georgia Street
Vancouver, BC V6E 3R5
Canada
(Be sure to write Perichoresis on the check memo line)

Thank you for your help and contribution.


Sincerely,


Dirk Vanderleest

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Identification

The last blog was focused on the incarnation as an act of divine acceptance of the human race as we are in our profound confusion. Without approving of what happened in Adam, and without being in denial about it, the Lord, in His everlasting commitment to share His abounding life with us, became what we are. Before creation the Father, Son and Spirit dreamed of our adoption. Unto this end the universe and humanity were called into being, and the Lord entered into real relationship with Adam and Eve. Believing the lie of the evil one opened the door for darkness and alienation to enter Adam’s world, ruining all possibility of relationship between Adam and the Lord.

The first response of the Lord was simple acceptance (without approval) of what had happened. Then came His clothing of his terrified creatures. And recall that I said the clothing of Adam and Eve was never about God and some divine need to be appeased. The clothing was about the afflicted and terrorized conscience of Adam and Eve. For there can be no real relationship, and thus no real sharing of life, when fear and hiding dominate Adam’s fallen mind. For John, the incarnation involves the Lord’s acceptance of the fallen world, and it involves a stunning move toward real identification. “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” That is to say, the Father’s son not only became human, but so entered into our fallen world as to establish relationship with us as fallen creatures. He entered into Adam’s fallen mind, identifying with the way Adam, and the human race at large, see things.

The sharing of life is the point, which necessitates real relationship, which in turn necessitates that we must find a way into God’s life, or the Lord must find a way to into ours. Acceptance is the first step. Identification is the next. We are capable of neither. So the Lord is his abounding grace, as Irenaeus said nearly 19 centuries ago, became what we are (Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of John, the disciple of Jesus).

Identification, like acceptance, does not mean approval. It means that one person so desires to share life with another (which is the trinitarian way of being) that she or he is willing to enter into the other person’s way of thinking, seeing and believing (without necessarily approving of them at all), even into the other’s way of seeing themselves. For John, that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” means that the Father’s Son has identified with us in our profound darkness, especially with our grotesque confusion about his Father. There are few words more terrible than “He came unto His own and His own received Him not.” Yet that is exactly what the Father’s Son did. He entered not only into our world, but into our darkness and dastardly broken way of seeing, believing and thinking, and there he was terribly rejected, exactly as He knew He would be. Think about it. This is not na├»ve divine denial. Jesus and His Father and the Holy Spirit knew what we would do—reject Jesus—and Jesus embraced our rejection, deliberately and astonishingly allowing Himself to be cursed and damned by His own creation. And—and the existence of the universe hangs on this and—in allowing Himself to be cursed by His own creation, He met us in our sickness, and He brought His Father and the Holy Spirit with Him.

So then, the Father, Son and Spirit (and their shared life, love and fellowship) have not only accepted us in our terrible sin, but have so made their way into our craziness that their shared life now dwells in our brazen, wrongheaded rejection. Jesus’ way of seeing and believing and thinking has set up shop inside our darkness. His own relationship with His Father, and His own relationship with the Holy Spirit have—through His enduring of our bitter scorn—pitched their tent inside our hell. Acceptance. Identification. Determined love. Real relationship. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Acceptance

The incarnation means that the Father’s one and only Son became a human being, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. He who is face to face with the Father became what we are. Such staggering humility is a theme in itself, and we will come back to the Lord’s humility, but for the moment, the focus is upon the hidden acceptance involved in the coming of the Father’s Son.

In the Genesis narrative (and excuse me if I refer to something other than John and Ephesians) Adam and Eve’s fall left them hiding from the presence of the Lord. Terrorized and overwhelmed with guilt, they were not about to come out and face the Lord. And the Lord, in beautiful and astonishing grace, met them where they were in their new found darkness. He clothed them. Most of us in the West, subject as we are to the trauma of legalism, would assume that the Lord clothed them so that He could look at them, given that He is so holy as to not be able to look upon sinners. Such a notion is the product, in my opinion, of the fallen mind. The act of clothing Adam and Eve is not about the Lord and His supposed need to be appeased, but about Adam and Eve and their afflicted conscience. They have believed the lie, and doubted the very heart of the Lord. In believing that the Lord is not really for them they have adopted a profoundly alien paradigm. How could they possibly react to the presence of the Lord, given what they now believe about Him. The Lord, however, has set His heart upon Adam and Eve, and in them upon the race at large, to do us good beyond our wildest dreams. But now that Adam has bought the lie such relationship is beyond possibility.

I submit that the clothing of Adam and Eve had no Godward direction at all. It had nothing to do with the fallen notion that we must pacify and angry God, or that God needs to be pacified. The clothing of Adam and Eve was an act of concession on the Lord’s part, accommodating Adam’s fallen imagination, in order to establish a real relationship with Adam and Eve in their fallenness. In His astonishing love, and in determination to fulfill His dreams for our adoption, the Lord stoops to meet Adam and Eve where there are, to relate to them as fallen creatures. He accepts the situation. He accepts the fall as reality for Adam and Eve. He does not approve of their debacle, but neither is He in denial about what has happened. Adam and Eve have bought the lie. Their basic cast of mind is now terribly skewed. They believe terrible things about the Lord. They are hiding. The Lord meets them in their darkness and clothes them so that their conscience can be somewhat quieted, and perhaps a new relationship can begin.

The incarnation is the same love and determination writ large. The Lord comes in person. He comes to us. He enters into our world of darkness. He comes to His own. He not only becomes a human being; He becomes flesh. That is to say, He enters into the bushes with Adam and Eve, stepping into their terribly wrongheaded frame of reference and way of thinking. Why? To meet us where we are. To establish a real relationship with us as we are in our brokenness.

The incarnation is an act of divine acceptance of the human race as we are in our profound confusion. Without approving of what has happened, and without being in denial about it, the Lord, in His relentless love and determination to live in relationship with us and to share His abounding life with us, becomes what we are.

There is a lesson here about the power of acceptance. To accept someone is not necessarily to approve of what they are about, or even of what has happened. To accept them is to say that we recognize that what has happened is real, and that we intend to meet them where they actually are. The incarnation is the determination of the love of the Father, Son and Spirit to establish a real relationship with us as we are in our darkness. It is a costly move, as John announces in his prologue. ‘He came unto his own and His own received Him not.’ This rejection on our part will lead to the terrible shout, ‘Crucify, Crucify Him!’ And this shout, which is more than mere words, is where the incarnation finds its ultimate fulfillment. As we, as the Jews, as the Gentiles, the Romans, and the race at large nail the Lord to the cross of Calvary in utter rejection, He submits Himself to our brazen wrongheaded judgment, thereby meeting us at our utter worst, thereby establishing a real relationship with us as we are in our fallen, broken, judgmental craziness. And He brought His Father and the Holy Spirit with Him.

Acceptance leads to real relationship, and real relationship leads to real relationship.

May the Holy Spirit give us more light.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Notes on John's Prologue 1

Over the next few months I will be sharing some of my thoughts on John’s famous prologue (1:1-18). Much like Paul’s opening statement in Ephesians, which runs from vs. 3 to vs. 14, John’s prologue is packed. Each and every word and phrase are chosen deliberately. I suspect John wrote his prologue last, as a shorter version of his gospel at large. For the gospel is the prologue expanded.

John begins and ends with a revolution in human thought about the very being of God.

In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was (face to face) with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning (face to face) with God (1:1-2).

No human has ever seen God. The one and only Son of God, who dwells in the bosom of the Father, he has made Him known (1:18).


As a good Jewish man, John believes that God created the heavens and the earth, and all things. And while John affirms the opening verse in the Hebrew bible, (In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth) he wants to fill out our concept of God by adding relationship. So John starts before creation itself, and places the Word, or the Son, there before the beginning with God.

John has met Jesus, and in meeting him, in knowing him, he has concluded that Jesus belongs to the divine side of things. Jesus is everything that God is, the one and only Son, who dwells in the Father’s bosom from all eternity. And he became human.

John’s thought is a revolution in human thought about the being of God, a revolution which took over three hundreds to reach formulation in the doctrine of the Trinity. But for John, the implications are staggering, and form the heart of his message. The one who is face to face with the Father from before the beginning, the one who dwells in his bosom, and knows the Father inside out, this one has become a human being (1:14) to be with us. The Father’s Son himself has come. He has become human, what we are, and the Father’s Son has become one of us so that he could share with us all that he is and has with his Father in the anointing of the Holy Spirit. That is the staggering sequence. Divine relationship. Incarnation. Sharing of divine life. And nothing less.

Before the beginning, the Son was face to face with his Father, dwelling in his bosom. He became one of us, to dwell among us, so that we could receive of his own fulness and life. Herein lies the heart of John’s message, and he writes so that we can come to see who Jesus is and who we are in him, and what stunning life has been given to the human race in him.

Put your big boy britches on and deal with it. This is what has happened. The Father’s Son himself has come. And he has established a real relationship with us in our darkness, so that we could share in, taste and feel, and experience, all that he is and has in his life with his Father.

Everything in John’s gospel is calculated to help us, who live in the great darkness, to come to ‘know’ Jesus for ourselves, so that believing in him, we may begin to experience his own life, rather than our own. So John’s gospel is both the announcement of the coming of the Father’s Son in person, and the news that summons us to believe in him, rather than in ourselves, so that we can know what he knows—the Father, and experience life in his embrace.

Friday, October 9, 2009

On Evil

Dualism says that good and evil are equal powers, with Jesus and Satan squared off for the prize of humanity. But in the Christian tradition, Satan is a creature whose opposite is not Jesus at all, but the archangel Michael. Jesus is the Creator, Satan a creature, apparently an angel, now fallen. In his incarnate life, death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus has overcome evil, disarming the rulers and principalities and authorities in the heavenly places. Jesus’ lordship, however, is not yet completely manifested. He instructs us to pray for his Father’s will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven, and for us to pray to be delivered from the evil one. Moreover, we are constantly called to participate in Jesus’ life and lordship.

The sticky bit lies here, between the completeness of Jesus’ victory in himself, and yet the continued presence and work of Satan and his cronies on earth. The presence and influence of evil, of course, seem to argue that Jesus’ victory is not real. It may be, however, a little more complicated than that. For me, Jesus’ victory is absolute, a non-negotiable. But his victory, and this I think is critical, includes us, and us not as robots, but as real persons. Jesus has included us in his own life with his Father, and in his own anointing in the Holy Spirit, and in his own relationship with all creation. For the most part, I have always focussed on the sheer, stunning beauty of such an act. We are included in the Trinitarian life of God. But the other side is equally beautiful and stunnning. The Father, Son and Spirit have included us in their life. They take us seriously. As Barth so wonderfully put it, “God does not want to be God without us.” And the fact that we are included in the Trinitarian life means that the Father, Son and Spirit are not doing end runs around us. As shocking as it may seem, the Triune God does not operate as if we are not included in the Trinitarian life.

It is here, I suspect, and who knows, that the evil one finds a temporary toe-hold in Jesus’ world. These days, especially in physics, we have come to understand that the human mind is not simply a detached observer of the world around it. What we ‘observe’ actually impacts the thing or things we are observing. The human mind is powerful. But not in itself. That is the mistake the self-help, and the faith folks make. Jesus is the One in and through and by and for whom all things were created, and are sustained. He is the One connected to all things. The cosmos is wired, so to speak, to respond to his thoughts and observations. Having been given a real place in Jesus’ life means, among other things, that we have been given a real place in His connection with everything in the cosmos. While we do not have any power in ourselves (because we do not have any real connections with things in ourselves), our inclusion in Jesus means that we have the plivelege of participating in his powerful connections. What we think, or believe, or observe matters, because of who we are in Jesus.

I suspect, and again, who can really say, that this is what the evil one knows about us that we don’t. He has found a way, for the moment, to hijack, to borrow a great word from Ken Blue, the goodwill and life and power of Jesus through us. Satan exploits and misuses us, and our place in Jesus. It is not that Satan has found a way to reprogram our hard drives, for that would be to violate our wills. He has found a way to deceive us so that we unwittingly, yet willingly, bring his poison into our ‘observations’ of ourselves, others, and life.

If we were not connected to Jesus, then our ‘observations’ would not impact a single particle, even in our own minds, no matter how we strained get our faith right. But we are, and they do. Diabolos exploits Jesus’ relationship with us and our relationship with Jesus through his lie. That is all that he has. Even his own existence comes from Jesus himself. His time is limited because he has been defeated by the Lord Jesus, and because the Holy Spirit himself has been sent to us to teach us the truth. As we come to know the truth, the truth of who we are in Jesus, and as we learn by experience that Satan’s lie is a yoke, grievous to be born, (Thank you, J. B. Torrance) and we cry out to be delivered from his deception, he will have no place in the life of humanity. Toto will have pulled back the curtain of Satan’s confusion, and we will be shocked at the mere creature who has deceived the nations. Then the Lord of all creation will speak to him.

Meantime, we cry out to the Holy Spirit for light, for understanding, for the freedom and life that is ours in Christ to be manifested in our ‘observations.’

“These things I have spoken to you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the cosmos (John 16:33).

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Image of God

Sorry for the long delay in posting another blog. I have been working around the clock on a new book. One part of the book deals with ‘the image of God,’ which has a long and storied history of debate and discussion. For the most part in the West we have thought of the image of God in terms of the human mind, or our capacity for self-reflection and intellectual or rational thought. To be created in the image of God means that we are ‘rational’ creatures. Karl Barth, as he was want to do, opened a new world when he proposed that the image of God had more to do with being created male and female. Irenaeus, in the early Church, set forward a distinction between ‘the image’ and ‘the likeness’ of God, such that we were created in ‘the image of God,’ but were to grow into ‘the likeness of God.’ This distinction gives a real place for relationship and human personhood. The Greek Orthodox tradition has followed Irenaeus with considerable fruitfulness.

It would seem obvious that whatever it is that we believe about God will shape what we think about being created in God’s image. And here it gets interesting. Note this classic definition of God from the Westminster Larger Catechism.

Q. 7. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection, all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.


While one could find biblical support for each of these ideas about God, this definition is shockingly abstract and non-relational. There is no mention of the love of God, or of the relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit, or of their communion together. It is, as T. F. Torrance says, ‘not essentially or distinctively Christian’ (The Mediation of Christ, p. 101). What would being created in the image of this non-relational deity look like?

In my study of John’s gospel, it has gradually dawned on me that whatever else ‘the image of God’ may mean, it surely involves being wired, as it were, relationally. If we start with the faceless, nameless omni-being, who watches us from the infinite distance of a largely judgmental heart, then our basic ideas of the imago dei will naturally follow suit. But, if with John, and the early Church, we start with the relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit, then to be created in the image of God means, at the very least, that we are designed to be relational, open, not closed or self-contained.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Greek preposition translated ‘with’ in John’s opening statement, ‘and the Word was with God,’ means far more than ‘with’ as we would use it today. We could say that we sat 'with' Heather on the train, but that only means that we were there, in the same place, side by side, with Heather. ‘With’ in John 1:1 means ‘turned towards, open to, face to face.’ So we are immediately thrown into the world of intimacy, fellowship, sharing, and communion. John ends his famous prologue by bringing us back to this foundational point, but this time with an even more intimate image when he speaks of the Son as being ‘in the bosom of the Father’ (v.18)

So John, in a deliberate play on the opening words of the Bible, “In the beginning, God created…” fills in the notion of ‘God’ with intimate, face to face fellowship. This sets our thoughts on a relational trajectory from the beginning. For John, the very being of God involves love, sharing and fellowship. To be created in the image of this God is thus to be designed for personal interaction, intimacy, and communion. We were never made to be isolated, self-contained, vacuum sealed like a coffee can.

The implications of this foundational notion are incalculable. But let me make a few quick points. First, at the deepest level of our being we are open, not closed. Created in the image of the Trinity means that we were designed to receive the life of the Triune God, and to share this life with others. Second, being wired for relationship, we can never ‘find ourselves’ in isolation from others. Neither the Father, nor the Son, nor the Holy Spirit exist alone. As fellowship lies at the heart of the being of God, so life and meaning for us comes in relationship. But, so does the greatest pain. Since we are made for relationship, there is nothing quite as traumatic as a broken one. There is profound pain in being alone, isolated, cut off from others, whether by our own mistakes, or by the vicissitudes of life. To feel rejected hurts like hell because it is a violation of our very being.

Like it or not, we live between the ‘rock’ of being wired for relationship and never finding fulfillment without them, and the ‘hard place’ of giving ourselves to be known and possibly being rejected. I would hazard a guess that most of us compromise by presenting what we think will be an ‘acceptable’ version of ourselves, thereby securing something of the life that comes in relationship, without running the risk of being known and thus opening ourselves to possibly experiencing the hell of personal rejection.

The fellowship of the blessed Trinity is not based upon their achieving good marks against an external standard, which stands above the Father, Son and Spirit, keeping constant vigil on their behavior. The communion of the Triune God is rooted in the freedom to love. For us to move from being created in ‘the image’ into ‘the likeness’ of the Triune God, (or to become what we are, and thus experience life) involves our accepting that we are broken people. In being honest with our own brokenness, we are opening ourselves to hear (within the dark world the lie) the truth that we are known and loved as we are. We always have been, and always will be. This is the world of the Triune God of love. Knowing that we are loved and accepted as we are opens us to know and to be known, to love and to be loved, to care and to be cared for—intimacy, fellowship, communion, which leads to life and fulfillment.

Holy Spirit, help us to receive forgiveness, and take baby steps into the freedom of being known.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

First Perichoresis podcast series on iTunes

One of my flat-bellied friends with YWAM has been after me to put some of our stuff on iTunes. So I told him to take one of my favorite series and go for it. So the six lectures from the series "You Are the Child the Father Always Wanted" are now available here and on iTunes. Share them with your friends.

You know you can visit our web site www.perichoresis.org for more audio downloads, books, prayers, and more. Also, since 'perichoresis' is too hard to spell for some folks, we have a new link site, thegreatdance.org.

Do your thing Holy Spirit.

Baxter

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Escape the Ordinary

The separation of Jesus from his creation, and the human race from Jesus is disastrous. This dualism leaves us assuming that our human existence is merely human, with, at best, a random, whimsical influence of the Holy Spirit. And if our fatherhood and motherhood, our work and play, laughter, music and romance are all bereft of the Holy Spirit, we are forced to look beyond our humanity for the Spirit and for real spirituality. But the Son of God became a human being, and in his ascension he did not discard his humanity as an old and useless robe. The incarnation and the continuing existence of the Son incarnate means that the Trinitarian life is now thoroughly human. Jesus spent most of his time not preaching, but working as a carpenter. Was his carpentry outside of his relationship with his Father and the Holy Spirit? To be sure, Jesus was anointed with the Spirit for his messianic work at the river Jordan, but that could never mean that the Holy Spirit or his Father were absent before that event. Jesus is the one who knows the Father and he is the one anointed in the Holy Spirit. The incantation means that he lived out his relationship with his Father and his relationship with the Holy Spirit as a human being, and he continues to do so now and for all eternity. The sphere of the Holy Spirit’s work is Jesus Christ, and the relationships that he has established (or reestablished) in his incarnate existence. To put this the other way around, Jesus has included the human race, and all creation in his own relationship with his Father and in his own anointing in the Holy Spirit. It is in our humanity that the Holy Spirit is bearing his fruit.

A while back there was a billboard not far from my home. It was an advertisement for a local Church. It read, “Escape the Ordinary.” There it was, Plato, Greek dualism, non-incarnational spirituality (in Jesus’ name) plastered for all to see. Jesus has been thoroughly disassociated from our ordinary humanity, the Holy Spirit is at work in some invisible, non-human sphere, so come to our Church to experience non-human spirituality. Why would we want to escape the ordinary when Jesus has embraced it and brought his Father and the Holy Spirit with him? My heart hurts for the carpenters in that Church, and for the mothers and fathers, the teachers, cooks and nurses, the ‘ordinary’ workers who give themselves everyday to help make our world function. They have been duped into believing that they must come to Church (and who knows what else) to experience the Holy Spirit, when they should have been lead by the Church to see the blessed Trinity at the florist, or the gas station, or in the music, the laughter, the love and joy and service all around them.

When we don’t see it, we invent it. When the human race is ripped out of the embrace of the Triune God (in our fallen, Greek-infested imaginations), we are forced to invent a non-human spirituality, and then forced to convince people that what we have invented is indeed the real dingo. And then forced to believe that it is so, or that our boredom with this dance in the darkness is the fruit of our lack of commitment. Our humanity, our relationships, our loves, joys and burdens, our work, our play are all minimized, devalued and made to be second rate.

A pastor once came to me in tears because the Holy Spirit had ‘fallen’ on a Church across town, and left her and her congregation behind. She could not understand. They had fasted and prayed for months, yet the Holy Spirit fell on another congregation.

“Do you love your husband and children? I asked.

“Of course.”

“Do you serve them, care for them? Wouldn’t you give your life for them?”

“Of course, I would,” she said with considerable intensity, and a quizzical look as if to ask ‘what has this got to do with the Holy Spirit?’

“Well,” I asked, “are you telling me that your love and care and service for your family, and your willingness to lay down your life for them, if necessary, all originate in you? Did you create that love? Are you that good? Or could it be that the love you know and experience for your family and for others is actually the super-natural, extraordinary love of the Father, Son and Spirit already at work within you?

Jesus said, “I am the light of the cosmos. The one who follows me shall never, ever walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). To follow Jesus means, at the very least, that we raise our hands and say, ‘Jesus, I do not want to see things the way that I see them any more. I want to see your Father, and the Holy Spirit, myself and others and all creation with your eyes, the way you see them.’ As the light of Jesus shines into our darkness, we will not be yearning to escape the ordinary, we will be stunned and full of wonder at the ordinary presence of the blessed Trinity in our humanity. Heaven is not a bodiless state in an invisible place. Heaven is the life of the Father, Son and Spirit coming to full and abiding expression in our human existence, and the earth and the cosmos are filled with the life and love and fellowship of the blessed Trinity. Meantime we grieve over the self-centeredness, over the lust and greed, the social and racial, environmental and political and religious injustices that run wild around us, wreaking such havoc in our lives. And we fast and pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to us in our darkness. We pray for people to be given eyes to see and that the way things are in Jesus Christ would indeed emerge more and more in our human existence.

Thank you, Holy Spirit. Without you our lives would be a miserable mess of dark sadness. We are grateful for your presence and for the fruit you produce in our lives. Help us to see Jesus and his life in others, in work and play and music, in relationships, laughter and ordinary life. We are grieved that our world is so lost in the dark imagination of the fallen mind. We feel helpless to make any difference. Shine the light of Jesus.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Farming and the Holy Spirit

Ten or so years ago I was traveling through the Midwest to speak at a conference. A young man had picked me up at the airport and we were driving through farmland country. I liked him immediately, and we jump straight into conversation. As we drove through the flatlands everywhere we looked there were farms, tractors and men plowing. I asked the young man what he was planning to do when he gradated from college. He quickly replied, ‘I am going to seminary.’ ‘So you want to be a pastor?’ ‘Yes,’ he replied. So I asked if he had ever thought about how the Holy Spirit related to all those farmers plowing their fields. ‘No, not really,’ he said, ‘I have never thought about that.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘it would be a good idea for your think on that, as almost all of your parishioners will be farmers, or from farming families. These men spend 60 plus hours a week farming, and their families are right with them. So if you don’t know how the Holy Spirit relates to what they do, you are essentially saying that most of their lives fall outside the realm of the Trinitarian life of God. As their pastor, what exactly are you going to urge them to do to be spiritual?’

After a moment of awkward silence, I asked him if he prayed before he ate supper in the evening. ‘Of course,’ he said, ‘I always thank the Lord for the food we are about to receive.’ ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Why thank the Lord?’ It was one of the first times that the utter craziness of the sacred-secular dichotomy was so clear to me. The young man looked at me like I had grown a third eye. ‘How is it that you thank the Lord for the food that these farmers and their families grew with such great care, and yet you do not know how the Lord relates to their lives as farmers? And what exactly is the good news that you will be proclaiming to these farmers and their families?’

One of the great disasters of Western deism here stares us in the face. These farmers and their wives and children give their lives, day after day, month after month, year after year, to grow food to feed thousands of people. And I would hazard a guess that for the most part they love what they do. On Sundays they do their religious duty and go to Church, or at least they used to. I wonder if they have ever heard a single sermon on the way their lives and farming are a participation in Jesus’ anointing in the Holy Spirit, one of the ways they are a part of the kingdom of the Triune God. And if not, what then have they heard?

What do we say to the man who drives the bread truck six days a week, or the teacher who gives her heart for children with little recognition of her real value and less money? What do we say to the fishermen, the firemen, the oil workers and architects, the nurses and mechanics, the sanitation engineers, social workers and business men and women, to the fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers about what they do with the vast majority of their time on this planet? ‘Sorry, what you do is nice, but second class, just on the edge of the Holy Spirit, but still outside?’ I have seen preachers do the lip quiver asking for money to support people who are in ‘full time’ Christian ministry, as if the farmer and his family, the nurse, the grandmother are not.

I think this is one of the great issues of our day. If the ‘modern’ Christian message is incapable of affirming people in their humanity, in their work and play and relationships, then we don’t have anything much to say to them, other than ‘do your duty now so you can go to heaven when you die’? Why should they come to Church? Why would they be interested in anything we have to say. The modern message is irrelevant to their lives here and now.

But what if we told people who they are? What if we told them that they were included in Jesus, and in his relationship with his Father, and in his anointing in the Holy Spirit? What if we told the bread truck driver that his work was inspired by the Holy Spirit himself? What if we treated him as if it were true? What if we told the teacher that her burden for her students did not originate in her at all, but in the love of the Father, Son and Spirit, and that her participation in their love was as beautiful as it was critical? What if we told the farmer and his family that the Lord has no intention of being the Lord without them (to borrow from Karl Barth) and that their farming was the fruit of the Holy Spirit? What if we began to relate to people and to what they do with the honor and respect that belongs to Jesus himself and the Holy Spirit?

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Spirit's Presence

Last night my wife Beth and I had a fantastic meal at a local restaurant called Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be Will Be—and no, I did not miss the irony). I had redfish, one of my favorites, topped with an assortment of peppers and crabmeat, and an unearthly seafood cream sauce. Beth had fried green tomatoes with crabmeat—a Southern delicacy. It was awesome. As we bowed to thank the Lord for such a meal a series of thoughts raced through my mind, and then two very distinct memories of similar moments of insight (forthcoming in another blog).

The first thought regarded all the time and effort that went into making the dish. Being a fisherman, I thought of all the folks involved in catching that redfish, which to my knowledge is not commercially available, so someone had to sacrifice for Jesus and go red fishing, and someone had to make lures, fishing line, reels, anchors and a boat and motor. Then they had to get the fish from the Gulf to Jackson and to Que Sera in a hurry. Then I thought of the hours and hours that had been spent by many people perfecting the sauce, and of the cooks, the waiters, the English brewers of New Castle Brown Ale, and even of the architect who designed the building, the men who built it, the painters, the decorators, and of the beautiful fans that kept the outdoor area fairly cool. And right behind my chair was a wonderfully conceived flower garden, full of color and obviously loved and nurtured. Our waitress told us she was new, but she worked hard to make our evening as wonderful as she could—and she did.

As we break through the veil of Western Deism and think of the Holy Spirit’s presence and work in the light of the relationship Jesus has established with the human race, and indeed with the cosmos, we are ready for a simple question of enormous significance.

Why do we thank the Lord for the food?

Don’t get me wrong. Of course we thank the Lord for food and beauty, for life and relationships, for breath, for our wives and husbands and families, but is it not the case that when we thank the Lord for a meal, we are in fact speaking volumes about the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit, as well as the ‘ordinary’ people who are involved in the meal?

When we thank the Lord for our meal we are instinctively or intuitively operating out of a reality that scarcely makes the front page of our rational theological discussions. In our prayers are we not acknowledging the participation (perhaps unwitting) of each and every person in the Lord’s lavish gifts to us? Our heart theology is way better than our head theology. As my friend Ken Blue says, “Thank God, most people live better than their theology.”

I will probably never meet the men or women who got up at 5:00 am to go red fishing, (if you read this, I am ready to participate) or the people who designed and built the reels, line, boat and motor they used, or the truck to haul the fish to Jackson, or the designer and manufacturer of those cool fans. And I will never meet the chef whose great great grandmother created that awesome seafood cream sauce in her kitchen on the bayous of Louisiana, and handed down its secrets to be tweaked through the generations. But before I was conscious of what I was doing, I was thanking the Lord for this beautiful moment and this great food—praising Him for His gift given to us through the time and effort and heart, and perhaps blood, sweat and tears of hundreds of people.

We all do the same thing every day. Yet, theologically we cannot, or perhaps will not, see it. We have so separated Jesus Christ from His creation that we swim in the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence and blessing, oblivious to everything but ourselves and perhaps a few friends. Our shrunken, distant Jesus forces us to live with the assumption that there is no Holy Spirit in the ‘ordinary’ moments of our human existence. While our hearts betray our blindness when we thank the Lord ‘for the meal we are about to receive,’ we are left to look over and beyond our humanity to find the Holy Spirit and a spirituality in another world—usually one of our own devising. All of which means that we look over and beyond people, devaluing their existence and participation, as we chase the ‘supernatural.’ This is the revulsion people feel when we in the Church act as if we are ‘in’ and others are ‘out,’ and as if we are onto ‘the real thing’ whilst others a ‘just people.’

In Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is present, not absent, and He is present with all of the life and beauty, creativity and music, burdens and joys and loves of the blessed Trinity, whether anyone sees it and believes or not. My yearning is that we would be able to see each moment in the light of Jesus, to perceive and enjoy the Holy Spirit’s presence, and participate in His fruitfulness with complete awareness. And what will happen when we do? If the Holy Spirit is able to do so much everyday around this planet through a human race that is as blind as bats, what will happen when we begin to see? What will happen when instead of imposing our own ideas and agendas, our pride and prejudice upon the Holy Spirit’s presence and work, we actually stop and pray, asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten us so that we can participate as those who understand what is going on in and through and around us? What will happen when instead of unwitting opposition to the Holy Spirit, we give ourselves whole heartedly to participate in His life-giving, fruit-producing presence?

We either see ourselves and others as merely human, with an occasional dash of ‘supernatural’ inspiration, or we see ourselves and others as those included in Jesus Christ and in His anointing in the Holy Spirit. The former will produce pride and incessant striving, followed by more pride, then boredom and burnout, and the divisive minimization of our human existence as we chase the spirituality of the non-human god. The latter will produce dignity and hope, and a regard for one another beyond race, religion, and all prejudice. For we will see ourselves and others as brothers and sisters (blind as we may be) equally included in the Trinitarian life of God. We will look for the Trinitarian life emerging in and through the ‘humanity’ of others, and we will cherish, celebrate and do what we can to encourage its emergence. Seeing ourselves and others included in Jesus’ anointing will give us the freedom to embrace our fishing and cooking, our mothering and fathering, our relationships, our burdens and joys, our ideas and designs as not our own at all, but as our participation in the presence of the Holy Spirit in person.


Holy Spirit, we are blind lot. Thank you for your patience with us and for the wonderful way you share the life of Jesus and his Father with us. Thank you for your utter determination to bring about the full emergence of the Trinitarian life in and through us, until the whole cosmos is alive with the Great Dance of the Triune God. We pray for and give you permission to reveal Jesus Christ in his glory, and our place in him.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dualisms and the Holy Spirit

It is not always what you don’t know that hurts you. More often than not the real problem lies in what we don’t know that we don’t know. In speaking of what we don’t know that we don’t know we are moving into the realm of presuppositions, assumptions and paradigms—those invisible ideas and hidden categories that shape what we see and don’t see. This is the fundamental issue in all areas of human knowledge, and nowhere more so than when we attempt to think about the Holy Spirit.

It is critical that we reflect on how we are to go about understanding the Holy Spirit. Do we simply amass all the verses in the bible that speak of the Spirit, distill them into one or two or more general categories and call this the biblical doctrine of the Spirit? While we neglect what the scripture says to our peril, this approach could quickly fall prey to the problem of what we don’t know that we don’t know and how that shapes what we see and don’t see in the scripture.

For theologians such as Irenaeus and Athanasius in the early Church, and Karl Barth and T. F. and J.B. Torrance in our own time, the way forward is to stick closely to Jesus and to the light shinning in his very identity. Part of what these theologians mean by following the light of Jesus is that the very existence of the Father’s Son incarnate speaks volumes about God, humanity and the divine-human relationship, and not least about the Holy Spirit. The identity of Jesus Christ gives us a fundamental, a starting point, and an inner logic and framework for our thought. It also exposes deadly assumptions built into the Western mind, and these assumptions (which happen to be dualisms) dramatically affect the way we read the scripture and go about theological thinking.

To speak of Jesus Christ biblically is to speak of the Father’s Son incarnate, and of the One anointed in the Holy Spirit, and of the Creator—in and through and by and for whom all things were created and as sustained. Jesus has serious connections, to say the least. And unless we are going to posit that Jesus divorced himself from his Father, unanointed himself of the Spirit, and split away from being the Creator—in and through and by and for whom all things were created and are sustained—then his very existence proclaims to us that the Father, and the Holy Spirit, and creation are not separated but bound together in very real relationship. Indeed, Jesus is himself the relationship. Jesus’ identity, his very existence in relationship with his Father, the Holy Spirit and all creation is the light of life, the secret, the key to God, to creation, to history and human existence within it.

“ I am the light of the cosmos. The one who follows Me shall never, ever walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).


This vision of the identity of Jesus as the One who lives in relationship with his Father, and the Holy Spirit, and all creation exposes several dark spots in our Western mindset. First, our presentation of the gospel typically begins with the announcement of our separation from the Father. We sinned. We are separated from God. But the very existence of Jesus, as the Father’s undivorced Son incarnate, and as the One who did not undo his relationship with humanity when he became human, proclaims to us that all forms of separation from his Father, whether mythological, theological or personal, have been overcome by Jesus himself. The gospel is not the news that we can be reunited with a separated god. The gospel is the news that the Father’s Son himself has come, the Creator, and he has overcome whatever separation from God we have created, and he did so in his own being and existence. We don’t make Jesus part of our lives. He has made us part of his.

Second, while a split or dualism between the supposed ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’ dimensions of human existence is built into the fabric of the Western mind, and of Western religion, Jesus’ existence exposes such a notion as nonsense. He is the Creator, the One in and through and by and for whom all things were created and are sustained. This Creator became a human being, and in doing so he joined the Father, the Holy Spirit and all creation in relationship.

“All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3).

What part of creation has come into being behind the back of Jesus? And what part of creation manages to continue to be without him? What part of creation is not included in his relationship with his Father and the Holy Spirit? The ultimate dualistic disaster is ripping the Father, Son and Spirit apart, such that we could possibly encounter one without the other. Given the beautiful and utter oneness of the Trinity, the fact that the Son is the Creator and sustainer of all things means that he has a relationship with all creation, and in him so do the Father and the Holy Spirit. What part of our human experience is therefore ‘secular,’ without Jesus, devoid of the life of the Father, Son and Spirit? Motherhood? Work? Play? Romance? Gardening, golf, teaching, doctoring, governing, loving our neighbors?

Third, to go back to Irenaeus and his insight that the Father and the Holy Spirit were ‘accustoming’ themselves to dwell in the fallen human race through the life of Jesus—and over against our own ideas and assumptions—we are to proceed on the assumption that the Holy Spirit is present and at work in the relationships that Jesus himself has established with the fallen human race and with all creation. For in Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit found their way, so to speak, into real relationship with us in our fallen worlds.

What we don’t know that we don’t know is that we come to the scripture and to the discussion of the Holy Spirit and his relationship with us with a mindset riddled with dualisms, which keeps us from even suspecting that the Holy Spirit may be present, at work and producing his fruit everywhere. I once heard a young man say, ‘our job is to get the Holy Spirit into people.’ To begin with, only the Father’s Son and the anointed One could ever accomplish something as staggering as uniting us with the Holy Spirit. If you take Jesus Christ out of the equation of creation, the cosmos instantly vanishes. Not a single molecule survives a second without Jesus. And if the Holy Spirit decided that he would evacuate human existence, the cosmos would become utterly fruitless, void of life. It seems to me that we are giving ourselves far too much credit, assuming that ‘ordinary’ things like laughter, fellowship, caring, working, giving ourselves for others, being parents, making music, creating things are simply 'human' and have no Jesus or any Holy Spirit in them. Our dualisms have blinded us, and we don’t even know it.

When we finally meet Jesus face to face, I don’t think we will ask his forgiveness for giving him too much credit, and for overestimating his place in the whole scheme of things. I think we will be stunned silent by the sheer centrality of his very existence to the whole cosmos and to every moment of our entire lives. And I think we will be overwhelmed when we see the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit everywhere.

Where we are in our understanding and in our believing in the Holy Spirit is another matter, and is never to be confused with the Holy Spirit's presence, work and fruit-producing.

Holy Spirit give us Jesus’ eyes. Help us to see you in our lives and living, in our work and play, in the extraordinary ordinariness of life.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Irenaeus' Vision of the Incarnation

Reading the early Church Fathers always jerks me out of our Western deistic legalism back into the relational world of sharing in Jesus’ relationship with his Father and in his anointing in the Holy Spirit. Mark it well sisters and brothers, Jesus became human to share with us nothing less than himself and all that he is and has with his Father and the Holy Spirit. Only the blessed Trinity could dream of such a gift. And only the Father’s Son incarnate, anointed with the Holy Spirit himself without measure could make such a dream a living reality. Here are a few classic quotes from the great Irenaeus, disciple of Polycarp, disciple of St. John.

“…the Son of God being made the Son of man, that through Him we may receive the adoption—humanity sustaining, and receiving, and embracing the Son of God” (Against the Heresies, III.16.3).

“For [God] promised, that in the last times He would pour Him [the Spirit] upon [His] servants and handmaids, that they might prophesy; wherefore He did also descend upon the Son of God, made the Son of man, becoming accustomed in fellowship with Him to dwell in the human race, to rest with human beings, and to dwell in the workmanship of God, working the will of the Father in them, and renewing them from their old habits into the newness of Christ” (Against the Heresies, III.17.1).

“Therefore, as I have already said, He caused man (human nature) to cleave to and to become one with God. For unless man had overcome the enemy of man, the enemy would not have been legitimately vanquished. And again: unless it had been God who had freely given salvation, we could never have possessed it securely. And unless man had been joined to God, he could never have become a partaker of incorruptibility. For it was incumbent upon the Mediator between God and men, by His relationship to both, to bring both into friendship and concord, and present man to God, while He revealed God to man. For, in what way, could we be partakers of the adoption of sons, unless we had received from Him through the Son that fellowship, which refers to Himself, unless His Word, having been made flesh, had entered into communion with us? Wherefore also He passed through every stage of life, restoring to all communion with God” (Against the Heresies, III.18.7).

“For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and receiving the adoption, might become the son of God” (Against the Heresies, III.19.1).

“…the Word of God, who dwelt in man, and became the Son of man, that He might accustom man to receive God, and God to dwell in man, according to the good pleasure of the Father” (Against the Heresies, III.20.2).

“And for this reason it was that He graciously poured Himself out, that He might gather us into the bosom of the Father” (Against the Heresies, IV.2.1).

“Now this is His Word, our Lord Jesus Christ, who in the last times was made a man among men, that He might join the end to the beginning, that is, man to God. Wherefore, the prophets, receiving the prophetic gift from the same Word, announced His advent according to the flesh, by which the blending and communion of God and man took place according to the good pleasure of the Father, the Word of God foretelling from the beginning that God should be seen by men, and hold converse with them upon the earth, should confer with them, and should be present with His own creation, saving it, and becoming capable of being perceived by it, and freeing us from the hands of all that hate us, that is, from every spirit of wickedness; and causing us to serve Him in holiness and righteousness all our days, in order that man, having embraced the Spirit of God, might pass into the glory of the Father” (Against the Heresies, IV.20.4)

“He might easily have come to us in His immortal glory, but in that case we could never have endured the greatness of the glory; and therefore it was that He, who was the perfect bread of the Father, offered Himself to us as milk, [because we were infants]. He did this when He appeared as a man, that we, being nourished, as it were, from the breast of His flesh, and having, by such a course of milk-nourishment, become accustomed to eat and drink the Word of God, may be able also to contain in ourselves the Bread of immortality, which is the Spirit of the Father” (Against the Heresies, IV.38.1).

“It was for this reason that the Son of God, although He was perfect, passed through the stage of infancy in common with the rest of mankind, partaking of it thus not for His own benefit, but for that of the infantile stage of man’s existence, in order that man might be able to receive Him” (Against the Heresies, IV.38.1).

“…our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself” (Against the Heresies, V. Preface).

“But we do now receive a certain portion of His Spirit, tending towards perfection, and preparing us for incorruption, being little by little accustomed to receive and bear God…” (Against the Heresies, V.7.1).

In these quotes several themes emerge with passionate clarity. First, the goal of the incarnation is not to appease an angry god, but to reach us with the very life that the Father’s Son experiences with his Father and the Holy Spirit. Adoption—being included, fellowship, the sharing of life, union, not legalities and accounting—is the point. Second, in the incarnation there is a two-way movement of ‘accustoming.’ In Jesus, due to his unbroken relationship with his Father and the Holy Spirit, the Father and the Holy Spirit are accustoming themselves to dwell with and in us, and in his life and death, Jesus is accustoming human nature to receive and share in nothing less than the life of the blessed Trinity. There is in Jesus a stunning stooping on the part of the Triune God, and an equally stunning transformation or conversion of our humanity to bear the life and glory of the Trinity. Jesus is and will forever be the mediator, the One in whom the life of the Trinity and the life of humanity are together in real fellowship and union. At the heart of the incarnate life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus lies this two-way movement of togetherness, which forever calls us to give ourselves to participate in Jesus. Third, and this is not a new point, but one that surely needs to be emphasized; it is the Father himself and the Holy Spirit himself who come to dwell in us in Jesus.

Over the next few weeks I will be writing about the Holy Spirit’s relationship with us and with all humanity. St. Irenaeus, with his vision of the Holy Spirit accustoming himself to dwell with and in us through Jesus’ incarnate experience is surely the proper foundation for any discussion of the Spirit’s work in our lives. Meantime, let go of the distant, unapproachable, disapproving Judge and ponder the early Church’s vision that the purpose of the incarnation was bring us to share in, to taste and feel and experience the very life of the Father, Son and Spirit. While it may not appear to us in our dark times that these things could possibly be so, the fact that they are warrants us to pine, and to expect, and to pray for more. For we have been given a place in the relationship that Jesus has with his Father and the Holy Spirit.

Friday, May 22, 2009

This Man Receives Sinners

One of the most beautiful truths about Jesus is the way he received people and the way people felt comfortable with him. In Luke 15:1-2, we see this played out in a rather dramatic way. First, the outcasts, the failures, especially the religious failures, were coming to Jesus, and not only listening to Him, but actually straining to hear what he had to say. Something about Jesus made them feel at home not condemned, accepted and welcomed not scrutinized. Jesus treated broken people like old friends. They wanted to know more. Second, the Pharisees seized Jesus’ love as their longed-for proof that Jesus could not possibly be from God. “This man receives sinners, and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). You can almost hear the Pharisees’ gnarling, sardonic whispers, ‘Ha! Some man of God you are.’

The assumption of the Pharisees and of their whole religion is that God could not receive sinners, and certainly never eat with them. For eating with someone is an act of intimacy, fellowship and solidarity. Thus Jesus could not possibly be connected to God in any way. The Pharisees of every generation cannot cope with Jesus’ oneness with the Father. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). For such a oneness and unity simply means that what Jesus does, the Father does, and what the Father does, Jesus does. “Truly, truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing…” (John 5:19-20).

So the act of Jesus, summed up by the Pharisees’ accusation, “This man receives sinners, and eats with them,” is either the living expression of the Father’s heart and being, (the ultimate truth about God and humanity, and thus the gospel) or it is a glitch in the otherwise ongoing oneness between the Father and Son, a sort of momentary act of independence, dissimilarity and disunity on Jesus’ part, and thus an act that cannot be trusted as a reliable expression of the Father’s heart at all.

It seems to me that while confessing the oneness of Jesus and his Father, almost all of Western Christianity operates with the Pharisee’s assumption that God could not possibly receive sinners and eat with them. Hence we cannot see that the presence of Jesus is in fact just that, the act of God in person receiving sinners and eating with them. Jesus is the Father’s Son standing in the far country of human brokenness and religious pride. He is the living embodiment of the Father searching the cosmos for us, finding us and receiving us into his life.

Just like his Father, this man receives sinners and shares life with them. Indeed this man’s very existence as the Father’s Son incarnate is the living embodiment of the Father receiving sinners, pharisees, and the lost children of Adam to himself. In Jesus we are received and embraced by the Father forever.

We either live with the assumption that this embrace cannot be so, and thus doom ourselves to the emptiness of religion, the pride of the Pharisees, or the sadness of the failures, or we believe Jesus and learn to live embraced by his Father.

Come, Holy Spirit, Spirit of truth and adoption.

Friday, May 15, 2009

His Presence

I woke up in the middle of the night with this sequence of thoughts running through my mind. We are wrong about God, dead wrong. We create religions out of our dead wrong views of God. We impose the religions that come from our dead wrong views of God upon God, ourselves, others and creation, seriously damaging our inner and outer worlds, poisoning marriage, family and relationships, work and play. We are deeply committed to our wrong views of God, their religions and damage. We slander, vilify and even murder those who disagree with us and our dead wrong views of God, and the religions we have created to go with them, or point out their damage.

Jesus came to show us the truth about God. We killed him. He knew we were going to kill him. He deliberately allowed us to abuse and crucify him. In submitting to our abuse and murder Jesus entered into our darkness, bringing his knowledge of the Father inside our wrong views of God, and bringing his own sonship inside the religions that we have created, and bringing the life he shares with his Father inside the damage our wrongheaded vision has produced for ourselves and others and the cosmos.

Jesus is never going away. His presence is salvation from ourselves and the hell we create, and it is inclusion in his world and freedom to live in it with him. Life is the time and space and freedom given to us to learn the difference between the worlds we create and Jesus’ life with his Father.

“Experience is a brutal teacher,” says C. S. Lewis in the movie, The Shadowlands, ‘but we learn. By God, we learn.”

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On Atonement

Last week someone asked me for a brief statement of my view of atonement. “Sure,” I said, “How about one word—Jesus.” Of course, I was being slightly cheeky, but in the end I was also dead serious. Jesus is atonement. While I knew the man wanted a little more, just not a whole tome, I expanded a little. For me, atonement is not so much a thing that Jesus did as it is Jesus himself. For Jesus Christ is the Father’s eternal Son incarnate, and the One anointed in the Holy Spirit, and the One in and through and by and for whom all things were created and are sustained. Through his incarnate life, death, resurrection and ascension he has brought his Father, the Holy Spirit and all creation together in real relationship. This real relationship is atonement, and it is inseparable from Jesus. So for me atonement, adoption, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, reconciliation, the kingdom, eternal life, new covenant and salvation are all of a piece. They are all different ways of describing who Jesus is and what has happened to the Triune God, the human race and all creation in his very incarnate existence.

Adoption speaks to the fact that we have been included in Jesus’ own relationship with his Father. The baptism of the Spirit speaks to the way he has included us in his own anointing in the Holy Spirit. Salvation speaks to the fact that in his life, death and resurrection our sin was overcome and we were placed in a new relationship (covenant) with the Father. Eternal life speaks to our inclusion in Jesus’ own knowledge and communion and fellowship with his Father. And the kingdom of God speaks to the fact that Jesus has included us in his relationship with his Father, and in his relationship with the Holy Spirit, and in his relationship with the whole human race, and in his relationship with all creation. When we pray for ‘the kingdom to come’ we are asking for Jesus’ own life in this four-fold relationship to come to personal and abiding, corporate and international, environmental and cosmic expression in and through us.

The ideas of atonement and reconciliation speak to the way Jesus, in his own experience as the incarnate Son, through life and relationship, through death at our hands and resurrection in the power of the Spirit, brought everything in the cosmos together. Whatever else we say about the nature and means of atonement, it must never be separated from Jesus himself, and must never lose sight of the stunning fact that right now and forever the incarnate, crucified and resurrected Son of the Father sits at his right hand—as a human being. Our great hope is the fact that he has us with him and the Holy Spirit is determined that the breathtaking at-oneness established in Jesus would come to real and personal expression in us, and in our relationship with Jesus’ Father, with one another and with all creation.

In Jesus Christ a new cosmic order of real togetherness has been established forever. We all included, and we all stand called to a radical change of mind, called to rethink everything we thought we knew about God, about ourselves and others, about our planet, our future and life itself. Because of Jesus and of what he has made of the cosmos, we are all called to give ourselves to participate in his world. We are called to let his Father love us. We are called to walk in his Spirit. We are called to love one another with his love for each person. And we are called to participate in his relationship with all creation. And we are promised abounding life in the process. We are free, in a manner of speaking, to live in our own worlds, and free to try to impose them upon Jesus and his world, but such will only produce ever increasing pain. For it is a violation of atonement, of the way things really are in Jesus, of the togetherness that he has established between the Triune God, the human race, and all creation in himself. And such violation necessarily hurts like hell.

In an age when the idea of truth seems anachronistic, the togetherness and at-onement that Jesus Christ made real in himself is and remains the truth—reality—God’s reality, our reality, cosmic reality, reality that sets us free for life in his world.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Resurrection

The great Irenaeus said that our ‘beloved Lord Jesus Christ became what we are that he might bring us to be what he is in himself.’ Athanasius said much the same, ‘the Son of God became son of man to make us sons of God.’ For both of these early Church theologians the incarnation was a staggering fact, which shouted to the world that the Father, Son and Spirit wanted real relationship with us, fellowship, communion, shared life. As Karl Barth said, God has no intention of being God without us. The gift given to us is Jesus himself, and all that he is and has with his Father and the Holy Spirit—adoption. As astonishing as it is, the eternal purpose of the Triune God was to give the human race a real place and share in the very Trinitarian life itself.

But how do you reach the human race in its terrible blindness and wrongheaded resistance and rebellion? How do you include people who want nothing of you, and indeed want you dead? And what good is the incarnation if Jesus does not penetrate Adam’s fall? Such would not be a real incarnation, and neither Jesus nor his life would actually reach us in our brokenness.

In the shocking love of the Triune God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit deliberately embraced us in our sin and darkness, willfully submitting themselves to our bizarre anger and judgment. The incarnation proclaims that the Triune God is passionate about sharing the Trinitarian life itself with us, and nothing less. The submission of Jesus, and in him the Father and the Holy Spirit, to our brutality, rejection and murder shouts a determined, astonishing love larger than the cosmos. And the resurrection declares that he did it, that in Jesus, and in his suffering from our hands the Trinitarian life itself has set up shop inside death and darkness and evil forever. Dying in the arms of our scorn, the Father’s Son made contact with Adam, recreating relationship with him and all his wayward sons and daughters from inside the fall—resurrection.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit forgive us for the way we have twisted your amazing, determined love, and tried to force your passion and character into our blind legalities. Father, forgive us for what we have thought of you. Jesus, forgive us for the way we have denied your oneness with your Father. And Holy Spirit forgive us for minimizing your constant witness to the truth.

Thank you Jesus that though we rejected you, you did not reject us, but embraced us in our foul blindness, bowing to our rage that you might reach the real us—and bring your Father and the Holy Spirit with you. Hallelujah. Blessed be the Holy Trinity.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered up to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will deliver Him up to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up” (Matthew 20-18-19).

Many years ago I studied the four gospels very carefully with one question in mind. Why did Jesus die? What do the gospel writers actually say about the reason for his dying? Being from a conservative background, I had always been taught that Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sins, and that on the cross he suffered the wrath of God in our place. Although most of the Western world has been taught a variation on this theme, it is utter nonsense, if not blasphemy against the sheer oneness and love of the Father, Son and Spirit. The clear teaching of the gospels is that it was the human race, not the Father, who cursed Jesus. It was the Jews and the Gentiles, not the Holy Spirit, who abandoned him. We rejected Jesus. We condemned him. We poured our wrath upon him and made him a scapegoat. The astonishing fact is that instead of retaliating, which he could have easily done, Jesus deliberately submitted himself to our profoundly broken judgment. He, the Father’s Son and the anointed One, willfully bowed to suffer our disdain and contempt. We ridiculed him, mocked him and murdered him.

Either our bitter rejection and condemnation of Jesus caught the Father, Son and Spirit by surprise, or it was part of the reconciling plan all along. Jesus did not come to balance a legal ledger, but to reconcile us. He came to establish a real relationship with the human race in all of its sin and terrible brokenness. And how did Jesus establish a real relationship with us in our sin? First, he became one of us, a human being, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. Second, he accepted and bore our darkened, abominable condemnation. Jesus did not die to suffer from his Father. Jesus died to meet us at our absolute worst, and dying in the arms of our scorn he did just that. Jesus bore our sin, not figuratively, but literally. We despised him, as Isaiah prophesied. We hated him and crucified him. As he accepted our derision and hatred, as he suffered our sin personally, as we beat him, spit upon him, cursed him and crucified him, he was meeting sinners in their dark, gnarled and twisted world—and he brought his Father and the Holy Spirit with him. This is real reconciliation.

Hallelujah. What astonishing and determined love.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Identity and Experience

In the plethora of responses to my last blog I could not help but notice that one of you cited a few verses, but did not explicitly counter the Christological affirmations. In citing these verses are you suggesting that Jesus is not the Father’s eternal Son incarnate, and not the only one anointed in the Holy Spirit without measure, and not the Creator in and through and by and for whom all things were created and are constantly sustained, and not the reconciler of his creation? Do these verses disprove the central affirmations of the Christian faith? As far as I am concerned these affirmations were non-negotiable for the early Church, and functioned as the heart of the apostolic and patristic hermeneutic, or mind. The Christian community was and is called to take ‘every thought captive to the obedience of Christ’ (See 2Corintians 10:5) and to “see to it that no one takes us captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made full…” (Colossians 2:8ff).

The first order of business in taking these commands seriously is to answer the question, who is Jesus Christ? The second is to rethink everything we thought we knew about God, about creation, about ourselves and history, the past, present and future in the light of Jesus. He is the truth. The ministry of Perichoresis is committed to these two callings, faltering as we may be.

Or, in citing these verses are you wrestling with the biblical witness? Are you asking, given who Jesus is—the Father’s Son, the anointed One, and the Creator, sustainer and reconciler of all things, and as such the One who has included the human race in his own life—what are ‘we’ to make of verses which, as they are translated in certain translations, seem to contradict the fundamental affirmations? This, I take, to be what you were asking, and rightly so. It is a biblical issue. Any self-respecting bible scholar has to wrestle with how the meaning of a specific verse fits into the larger meaning or ‘scope,’ as Athanasius called it, of holy scripture. First, we ask the Holy Spirit to give us the eyes and perspective of Jesus himself. Second, we need to go back to the early Church fathers, for I suspect they have already answered all of these issues, as the Arians in particular were not shy about highlighting ‘problematic’ verses. Third, it is always a good idea to study the original languages, and then read several different translations.

For example, 1Corinthians 2:14 in the NASB reads, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually appraised.” This happens to be a verse that I use all the time. Your quoted translation says, “the man without the Spirit.” This is a great example of how the translator’s own theology figures into the translation, and an affirmation of the need to read different translations. Another example is Ephesians 4:17ff. “This is say therefore and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart.” I think this is a great translation, with the exception of the word ‘excluded,’ which should be ‘alienated.’ Paul is saying, because of the futility of their minds and because of their darkened understanding, they are alienated from the life of God, which is shared with them in Jesus. Bringing their confusion into Jesus’ relationship with them poisons their participation in the life of God. So don’t be like the pagans, give up your own vision, and let Jesus teach you about his Father, receive His love and live.

Luke 11:13, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven "give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" The context here is about the goodness of the Father, and thus the admonition to ask and seek and knock, and not just once, but as an ongoing relationship rooted in Jesus’ Father’s goodwill toward us. If we, being evil, know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more does my Father (the fountain of all goodness,) know how to give the Holy Spirit himself, to those who ask Him? Apparently, in citing this verse, you are troubled by the word ‘ask,’ as if to assume that unless we ask Jesus’ Father we will not have the Holy Spirit. Yet without Jesus sharing himself and particularly his parrhesia (freedom, courage, boldness, assurance) with us, and without the Holy Spirit bearing witness in our innermost beings that we are children of the Father in Jesus, we would never come out of the bushes and asks the Father for anything. This is about relationship. Pentecost is first. In and through Jesus, the Father has poured out the Holy Spirit upon all flesh. As my friend Ken Blue says, our response to the Holy Spirit is to say, ‘thank you Holy Spirit, we will have more please.’ This is also our ongoing response to the Father and all his gifts in Jesus, and to Jesus and all that he is sharing with us. How thrilled the Father is when we takes sides with Jesus and the Spirit against our own darkened notions, and thus dare to say ‘thank you’ and ask for more.

Romans 8. The argument in the first part of Romans 8 parallels Galatians 3 and revolves around the question as to which way are we going to live, according to the flesh (kata sarka), or according to the Spirit (kata pneuma). The way of the flesh leads to death and misery. The way of the Spirit leads to life and peace. Paul is assuming that the Spirit is at work through Jesus in the Romans, and in us. The question is not who has the Spirit of Christ or who doesn’t, but which way are we going to live. Eugene Peterson, in The Message, has a take that is worth pursuing. “But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we are talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms.”

Likewise Peterson’s translation of Jude 17-19 is worth careful reflection. “But remember, dear friends, that the apostles of our Master, Jesus Christ, told us this would happen: ‘In the last days there will be people who don’t take these things seriously anymore. They’ll treat them like a joke, and make a religion of their own whims and lusts.’ These are the ones who split churches, thinking only of themselves. There’s nothing to them, no sign of the Spirit!”

Acts 2:38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will "receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." When Jesus was baptized in the Spirit at the river Jordan did that mean that he did not have the Spirit prior to that moment? The coming of the Holy Spirit to Jesus at Jordan was not a movement from absence to presence, but from presence to another kind of presence. It is relational, not spatial. I think we are safe to begin here and see where this leads in wrestling with this verse.

Here are a few other thoughts about the Holy Spirit. First, it strikes me that we need to think about the Holy Spirit’s relationship in and with us relationally. He accustomed himself to dwell in us through Jesus, and that means through Jesus’ suffering from our bizarre blindness. So the Spirit knows how to relate to us, the real us, the broken us, but being so profoundly blind we cannot cope with the sheer weight of his goodness and beauty. So he walks with us relationally, giving us space to make fools of ourselves, all the while addressing us in ways that reach us, and thus calling us to relate to Him as a person, and to give ourselves to participate in Jesus’ life—step by step, moment by moment. Second, most of what I hear or read about the Holy Spirit is all but completely devoid of real relation to Jesus himself. It is as if Jesus died and did his part, and then went back to heaven. Then, on the basis of Jesus’ death, the Holy Spirit comes to do his. But apparently they don’t talk much, so the Holy Spirit has his own thing happening with us, instead of taking of the things of Jesus and relating them to us. There seems to be a remarkable devaluing of the fact that Jesus is the anointed one. He and he alone is anointed with the Holy Spirit, and without measure. Because we seem to have missed this, many seem to crave an anointing in the Spirit independent of Jesus’ relationship with them, and seem to be craving something from the Spirit altogether different from Jesus’ own life. As if it would ever cross the Holy Spirit’s mind to operate independently of Jesus or to give us a gift other than Jesus himself. The gift given is Jesus—and all is and has in his relationship with his Father and the Holy Spirit. When you see this Jesus and see yourself included, you don’t stop at a second or third blessing. Be bold. Live with expectation. Ask for more.

For serious study of the Bible, I recommend the New American Standard Bible, the Jerusalem Bible, the King James, the New English Bible, The Message, and J. B. Phillips’ translation.

One person said, “He will not have an answer for those verses as most Perichoresis messages are taken from passages in the books of John, Ephesians, Colossians and a handful of other books. It seems the whole perichoresis message is built on a select few passages and many other 'difficult' passages are just never mentioned or ignored.”

You speak as an authority on my references, but what you said I take as a high compliment. John, Ephesians and Colossians are reliable references. But you forgot Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Hebrews and 1John and Romans, and Irenaeus, Athanasius, Hilary and the Cappadocian fathers, Calvin, Luther, Thomas Erskine, John MacLeod Campbell, George MacDonald, Karl Barth, C. S. Lewis, J. B. Torrance and T. F. Torrance. If these brothers have an issue with me then I should be hanged. Either way, it is always wise, as Proffessor James Torrance used to say, to read widely.

Another response, “However, the question I hear behind the original post regarding "the Holy Spirit is in the little girl" was NOT addressed.

Here is the question I hear: What about those who do NOT take "small steps of faith"? What is the eternal destiny (and present state) of those who reject the light?


Please do not use all caps. And it would be better, in my opinion, if you would have said, however it did not ‘appear to me’ that the original question was addressed. I have addressed this question ad nausem, including in my blogs, so part of me wants to say read the blogs and the books and then we will talk. The other part of me never tires at answering one more time.

If one understands the distinction between ontology and soteriology a great many quibbles go away.

I have said repeatedly and in all of my lectures that the whole human race is included in Jesus Christ—and in his relationship with his Father, and in his anointing in the Spirit, and in his relationship with each person, and in his relationship with all creation. Jesus accomplished this inclusion in the power of the Holy Spirit in his incarnate life, death, resurrection and ascension as the fulfillment of his Father’s dreams for the human race. This is our ontology. It is our identity. It is who we are. It is what Jesus calls truth or reality. Our ontology or identity is distinct from our experience, because our experience is shaped by what we believe in our darkness (see Ephesians 4:17ff). We do not know the truth. We are in the great darkness. “I have come as light into the world, that everyone who believes in Me man not remain in darkness (John 12:46). So we bring into Jesus’ relationship with us, into his sharing life with us, profoundly broken notions of God, of Jesus, of his work, of others and of ourselves, and of the Holy Spirit and the future. Like trying to drive backwards in Los Angeles, these broken notions create brokenness in our relationships, in our attitudes, in our outlook, forming pain and chaos in our ‘experience.’ Such that we are a long way from ‘experiencing’ the abounding life that Jesus shares with us all. We are not being true to ourselves. It is our bizarre, wrongheaded beliefs, and our acting out of those bizarre notions that keep us of from ‘experiencing’ Jesus’ anointing in the Holy Spirit, which is constantly shared with us. So in terms of our identity (our ontology) we belong to the Father, Son and Spirit. Jesus has made this a reality forever. In terms of our experience, we live out the Trinitarian life shared with us, through our own beliefs, which are rooted in the darkness, and thus are profoundly at odds with reality. There is truth, reality, ontology. Then there is what we believe, and thus impose upon the truth, experiencing the consequences of such violation.

When Jesus says, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” (John 8:31-32) he is saying first that there is something real whether we believe it or not—the truth—the real world that he and his Father and the Holy Spirit have established. And second, that by our not knowing (in the biblical sense) the truth, we are in bondage.

The Father, Son and Spirit have embraced us forever in Jesus. They walk with us relationally, not spatially, always treating us as persons, never as distant objects. Jesus has included us in his own life. The Holy Spirit works to give us eyes to see the real world in Christ. As we see ourselves love and embraced, as we take baby steps in saying our ‘Amen, to the glory of the Father,’ more relational room is opened in our darkness for the light to operate, and for us things get richer, deeper, more beautiful. John 14:20.

If one is really interested in my thoughts on these matters read my book, Across All Worlds: Jesus Inside Our Darkness.

As to what happens to people when they die, my answer is that they meet Jesus (see previous blog on judgment), and in meeting Jesus they will see themselves in his light. What they do with the revelation of Jesus Christ and of themselves in him, I cannot say, and neither can anyone else. Hopefully they will all say hallelujah. But it is entirely possible, as I have said repeatedly, that they may continue in their darkness and obstinate wrong belief, thus continuing to suffer the miserable brokenness of believing in themselves and their own marred vision, and continuing to suffer the non-peace and terrible self-centered sadness and anxiety that arise from not knowing (biblically speaking) Jesus so as to be set free from themselves and the darkness.

So, ontologically we are all in Christ and Christ is sharing himself and all he is and has with us, including and especially the Holy Spirit. Because of Jesus Christ our ontology never changes. Our identity is as strong and stable as his own relationship with his Father and the Holy Spirit. Thus we have something to believe in that is solid, not dependent upon what we make true, or create by our faith. It is this reality, this ontological truth in Jesus Christ that the Holy Spirit reveals in us, thereby creating the crisis of faith. Soteriologically (or experientially) we are all caught between our ontology and our blindness.

It strikes me that because many ‘modern’ evangelicals cannot see this distinction between our identity and our experience, they come across sounding like existentialists, whose faith and decision, actually create ultimate meaning in the universe.

Who is Jesus Christ? This is the question. I have put my answer on the table and tried to think clearly in his light about every jot and tittle of theology. Granted I am blind, and thus inevitably bring my own darkness into this life-long process. The premise, however, that Jesus is the light of the cosmos and thus we are to bring every thought captive to him, seeing to it that no one takes us captive…. stands. It is painful when the revelation of Jesus exposes cherished notions that are not faithful to him. He calls us to repentance, to a radical recasting and renewing of our fallen minds that we may live.

When we finally meet Jesus face to face we will not say to him, ‘Jesus, I overestimated your place and prominence in the whole scheme of things. I gave you too much credit.’ As we see him we will know how embarrassingly blind and obstinate we have been. We will understand that our greatest sin has been our insisting that Jesus repent and believe in us. That is what sin is at its heart, it is declaring ourselves to be right and Jesus to be wrong, wrong about his Father, wrong about himself, wrong about the Holy Spirit, wrong about life and history, and it is the unrelenting determination to impose upon Jesus and his world our own vision, and insisting that he join us in our darkness. And guess what? He did.