Friday, March 20, 2009

From 'With" into "In"

One of the responses to our discussion of Papa’s touch goes as follows:

Hi Baxter,
I was wondering what do you base your statement ~"the Holy Spirit is in the little girl"? The little girl who has never heard of Jesus and this can be applied to adults who have do not believe/worship Jesus. Would it not be more accurate to state that the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Jesus)is WITH the girl but not yet indwelling her? As I understand it, the Holy Spirit indwells believers and unites us to Christ. And the Holy Spirit is with everyone else drawing us all to Jesus. (This comes from Dr. Gary Deddo, your classmate)
We are connected to Jesus now in the same way we WERE connected to Adam. So that is why Jesus says that "whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me." I'd appreciate your comments. Thanks.

To my mind there are several critical issues here that need to be addressed, although who is competent to speak about such things. The first concerns the basis for saying that the Holy Spirit is ‘in’ not merely ‘with’ the abused little girl who allegedly has never heard of Jesus? Presumably there is an invisible line somewhere that the Holy Spirit cannot cross without our faith. The second has to do with the question, does the Holy Spirit unite us ‘to’ Christ? The third concerns the statement that ‘we are connected to Jesus now in the same way we were connected to Adam’?

The fundamental issue here is the identity of Jesus Christ, for his very identity is the light of the world, and as such speaks volumes about the Father and the Spirit and their relationship with us, among thousands of other things. While we cannot possibly begin to cover all that needs to be said here, I will give you what seems to me to be the three foundational realities about Jesus. First, Jesus is the Father’s one and only and eternal Son, who for us and for our salvation ‘came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man,’ as the Creed says. Second, Jesus is the only one who is anointed with the Holy Spirit as an abiding reality and without measure. Third, Jesus Christ is the Creator and sustainer of all things. As the apostles testify, he is the One in and through and by and for whom all things were created and are constantly upheld (John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:16ff; Hebrews 1:1-3, and see earlier blog). Contrary to what many of us have heard all our lives, we do not make Jesus part of our world; he has made us a part of his.

In the deistic West, however, if we ever think of Christ as the Creator (and I wonder how many of you have actually heard a sermon on Christ as the Creator) we think of Jesus as the ‘source’ of our existence, but not as the one who ‘constantly sustains’ us. It is as though Jesus created us and gave us something akin to a life-battery, then he stepped back leaving us to live like an Eveready Energizer Bunny. Creation, in this framework, is like a soap bubble blown into the wind by a child. We could say that the child created the soap bubble, but once the bubble detaches from the wand there is no ongoing relationship with the wand or the child. It is this disconnect, which seems to be etched into the Western mind, that is the problem. In such a scenario Jesus creates us, gives us the life-battery, and then steps back, and he could theoretically die and we would all keep on going and going until our life-battery runs out of power. What happens to Jesus after creation and the giving of the life-battery is of no necessary consequence to us or to creation. Such a notion is a far cry from the New Testament which contends that Jesus is not only the source of our existence by way of a past gift (the life-battery), but he is the ongoing source and sustainer of our continued existence, so much so that if he withdrew himself from us, the human race and indeed the cosmos would vanish in an instant.

Note carefully these words from John Calvin’s Commentary on the Gospel of John, as he comments on John 1:4 and the phrase, “in him was life.”

So far, he has taught us that all things were created by the Word of God. He now likewise attributes to Him the preservation of what had been created; as if he were saying that in the creation of the world His power did not simply suddenly appear only to pass away, but that it is visible in the permanence of the stable and settled order of nature–just as Heb. 1.3 says that He upholds all things by the Word or command of His power. Moreover, this life can either be referred at large to inanimate creatures, which do live in their own way though they lack feeling, or expounded only of the animate. It matters little which you choose, for the simple meaning is that the Word of God was not only the fount of life to all creation, so that those which had not yet existed began to be, but that His life-giving power makes them remain in their state. For did not His continued inspiration quicken the world, whatsoever flourishes would without doubt immediately decay or be reduced to nothing. In short, what Paul ascribes to God, that in Him we have our being and move and live (Acts 17.28), John declares to be accomplished by the blessing of the Word. It is God, therefore, who gives us life; but He does so by the eternal Word. (John Calvin, The Gospel According to John, translated by T. H. L. Parker, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 1988, pp. 10-11).

Following the apostles, Calvin is at pains to point out that the creation and the continued existence of all things are completely dependent upon the Son of God. What then are we to make of the fact that it was this Son who became human? What happened to his relationship with his Father and the Spirit? Did he break ties with his Father and the Holy Spirit when he became a human being? Did he dissolve his relationship with the human race and all creation in his incarnation? Of course not.

This is a point of capital importance. For already in the very identity of Jesus Christ—the Father’s eternal Son, the One anointed in the Holy Spirit, and the Creator, in and through and by and for whom all things were created and are sustained—we are speaking of One in whom the Father, the Holy Spirit, the human race, and all creation are not only connected, but are together in relationship. For St. Athanasius, the deepest problem of the fall of Adam was the way it threatened this relationship, not the relationship between Jesus and his Father and the Holy Spirit, but the relationship between Jesus, the human race and all creation. As Athanasius said, creation was on the road to ruin and was lapsing back into non-being.

Into this perilous situation the Father’s Son became incarnate through the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary to do the very thing that was impossible for us—reestablish relationship. Through his incarnate life, death, resurrection and ascension Jesus lived out his own sonship as a human being inside the fallen world of Adam, therein reestablishing real relationship with fallen humanity. As he lived out his own sonship, and as he reestablished relationship with fallen humanity, he was at the same time including us in his own relationship with his Father and the Holy Spirit.

Astonishingly, Jesus intentionally used, as T. F. Torrance says, our sin against him as the way to establish deeper relationship with us. It was not the Father or the Holy Spirit who rejected, cursed and abandoned Jesus; it was the human race. We condemned and damned him. As we cursed Jesus and damned him, and as he deliberately accepted our condemnation and bore our scorn, he was entering into the deepest possible relationship with us in our sin and odious brokenness. In suffering from us, in bearing our bitter rejection, in dying in the arms of our judgment and condemnation, Jesus met us at our absolute worst.

Such a relationship, it seems to me, stretches any notion of ‘with’ into ‘in.’ Even on a purely human level it is difficult to imagine a person being ‘with’ another person and not being ‘in’ them in some sense. It is even more unimaginable when we are speaking of the One in and through and by and for whom all things were created and are sustained becoming a human being and being ‘with’ us to the degree that he became what we are, and deliberately, astonishingly and graciously bore our scorn and rejection.

What is left outside of this relationship? Did Jesus leave something of himself behind? Is there something of us, some particle of sin, some dimension of our brokenness that was withheld as we crucified him? The cross, or better yet, Jesus on the cross, accepting and bearing our bizarre judgment and its bitterness is nothing short of Jesus making contact with and overcoming the original sin, thus reestablishing or recreating his relationship with us and his rightful place as the One in and through and by and for whom all things were created and are sustained. Put another way, as Jesus allowed the human race to place our sin upon him, to reject and curse him, he was translating ‘with’ into ‘in.’

Now, it must be emphasized that as Jesus became what we are, and as he lived out his own sonship and anointing inside our fallen world, and as he deliberately accepted being condemned and damned by us, he was bringing into relationship everything that he is as the Father’s Son, and the anointed One, with everything that we are in our fallen brokenness. In Jesus Christ, the incarnate, crucified, resurrected and ascended Son of the Father and the anointed One, the very life of the Trinity has set up shop ‘in’ the very core of our fallen human existence. Adoption is not a theory. It is the real world—even if we cannot see it or believe it, yet. For when Jesus accepted us as we are and bore our bitter judgment, he was not alone—he brought his Father and the Holy Spirit with him. As St. Irenaeus said, in Jesus’ life and death the Holy Spirit “accustomed” himself “to dwell in the human race” (Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 1 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Erdmann’s Publishing Company, reprinted 1987), III.17, 1, see also III.20.3).

Jesus is thus the One in whom his Father, the Holy Spirit, the fallen human race and all creation are not only related, but rightly related, and rightly related in the most profound way imaginable. “In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:20)

Is the abused little girl, who has theoretically never heard of Jesus, included in Jesus? Of course. Is she included in Jesus’ relationship with his Father? Of course. Is she included in Jesus’ anointing in the Holy Spirit? Of course. What is the basis for saying that the Holy Spirit is ‘in’ not merely ‘with’ the abused little girl? Jesus Christ. For he has included her (and all of us), and Jesus never travels alone. So unless we are prepared to posit some kind of breach between Jesus and his Father and the Holy Spirit, or that some level of our humanity and its fallenness was absent as we damned Jesus, then he has included the fallen world in his relationship with his Father, and in his relationship with the Holy Spirit. 'With' simply does not have the depth to describe such a relationship.

Now, is it accurate to speak of the Holy Spirit as uniting us to Christ? My answer is ‘Yes,’ as long as we understand that this union happened in Jesus’ life and death. The Holy Spirit united us with Christ, or better, united Christ with us, or better yet, worked in and through Jesus to reestablish his union with us in Jesus’ own existence. To be sure, the union was the fruit of the Spirit, but it happened in Jesus, not at some subsequent stage in us and in our history, and certainly not by our faith. Where a given person is in his or her understanding Christ’s union with us is another matter, but our blindness or enlightenment has nothing to do with the fact of Christ’s relationship and union with us in the Spirit.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit is not an external event, for in Jesus, the Spirit has made his way into the living room of our blind souls. It is in the very center of our created and fallen being that the Holy Spirit witnesses to our innermost beings and begins to free us to live in the inconceivable world of our adoption in Christ. For while it is impossible for us to push the weeds of our fallen minds to the side, and thus to believe in anything other than what we perceive through our blindness, Jesus has penetrated our darkness and brought the Spirit of truth with him. The Holy Spirit is not a spectator, watching from the outside, giving abstract and external instructions that he hopes that we will apply to our lives. He meets us in the corridors of our fallen souls, bearing witness to the ‘unbelievable’ world of Jesus and his Father. He works within us to help us see through our own blindness to know who God is in Christ and who we are in him, and in this way to help us take baby steps against our own judgment and alienation.

Inside, at the core of our being, the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirits (See Romans 8:16.) that it is true, that we are sons and daughters of the Father himself in Jesus, crying the exclusive words of Jesus, “Abba! Father!” within us. “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:4.).

On the basis of Jesus Christ, and in the truth of what he has done for and with and to the human race in his own incarnate life, death, resurrection and ascension, we proclaim to every person that they have been adopted, included in Jesus’ relationship with his Father and in his relationship with the Holy Spirit. And in Jesus’ name we call them to walk in the light of Jesus, promising joy and peace in believing, and warning of continued misery in unbelief. We pray to the Holy Spirit, who in Jesus, has accustomed himself to dwell in the fallen human race, to reveal Jesus ‘in’ every person so that they may know the truth and be set free by it.

The Holy Spirit united Jesus with us and us with Jesus in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. And in Jesus’ life the Spirit accustomed himself to dwell in us. Both, I take to be living realities established in the grace of the Triune God prior to our faith and repentance. Within us the Spirit works to bring us to hear Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, to see and encounter Jesus himself within our own brokenness, so that we can begin to discern good from evil, light from darkness, life from death, and heaven from hell. In such encounters we are summoned and freed to take baby steps of faith in Jesus and his world, and to turn from our own darkness. Such baby steps give more room for the Spirit’s life and power to operate within us. It frees us to relate to and to participate in Jesus’ anointing in the Holy Spirit. It is all an ongoing relational reality, which began in Jesus’ incarnation and continues throughout our lives, and one would assume throughout eternity.

As to whether “we are connected to Jesus now in the same way we were connected to Adam” let me say that Jesus is the Father’s eternal son, not a creature like Adam, and Jesus is the one in and through and by and for whom all things were created, and are sustained and reconciled. According to Paul, Adam was a mere type, a foreshadowing of the One to come (see Romans 5:14). As a creature, not the creator and sustainer of all things, Adam’s connection with the human race, whatever it was, falls under the heading of this foreshadowing, and points ahead of itself to the real connection in Jesus Christ. So, no we are not connected to Jesus in the same way we were connected to Adam. Adam’s connection hinted at the real union coming in the incarnate and crucified Creator-Son and anointed One.

Please give Gary Deddo my regards. He is one of the most brilliant theologians I have had the priveledge of knowing.

For more on these issues see my essays, “Bearing Our Scorn: Jesus and the Way of Trinitarian Love” and “The Truth of All Truths” and “The Light of the Cosmos,” available at, and T. F. Torrance’s books, The Mediation of Christ, and The Trinitarian Faith, and J. B. Torrance’s great book, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It All Goes Back in the Box

My friend Gary Arinder told me about a sermon that he heard some years ago. The main character in the sermon was a young boy who would visit his grandparents every summer during his teenage years. Late at night he and his grandmother would play monopoly, which she would inevitably win. Over the years he dreamed of finally beating his grandmother at their favorite game. At length, I think it was the summer before his Senior year, he won. He, of course, was gloating as they put the pieces back in the box, having achieved the cherished victory after so many years of games. As they put the game away, the grandmother turned to her grandson and said, “Monopoly is like life, in the end it all goes back in the box.”

When Gary told me the story, my mind raced with thoughts and questions. Chief among them was, ‘what do we take with us, if anything, as we move from this life to the next?’ What is really important? Our answer is dictated to us by what we believe about God. I have heard sermons, even recently, when the preacher proclaimed that the chief concern of God was his own glory. Plato would be proud. If God is concerned with his own glory then what we take with us—what counts—are those moments when we glorified God, whatever that may mean. But if we, with the early Church, throw Plato and his in-turned, self-centered God out of our minds and focus upon Jesus, and thus his Father and the Holy Spirit, then we are at once in the world of relationships.

The doctrine of the Trinity means, among other things, that God is not self-centered at all, but profoundly and beautifully other-centered. The Father is not preoccupied with his own glory, but loves his Son and the Spirit. And the Son is not bound in narcissism. He loves his Father with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength, as every page of the Gospels shout. And the Holy Spirit is not burdened with the revelation of his own significance. He glories in shining his light upon the Father and Son and their relationship.

My friend Bruce Wauchope of Adelaide, Australia likes to say that 'the currency of heaven is relationships.' The value system of the blessed Trinity is markedly different than ours. In our world money, position, power and prestige matter. But—even as we are learning again in the United States—these are mere illusions which are no more real than the Jolly Green giant. What difference does it make if you are the richest person in the world? For a while you are ‘somebody,’ maybe even ‘the’ somebody, but then you die and your money, and the opinion of your peers goes back in the box. At that moment you find yourself in another world, a world where money and its prestige and power are not valued at all. Your investments prove foolish. You have nothing with which to commend yourself. What really matters? When the game is over and it all goes back in the box, what is left? What do we take with us?

It is beautiful how the blessed Trinity has designed life and history. Everything goes back in the box. We are free to dream our dreams, free to invent our own value systems, free to define and then crown ourselves with glory, but then we all die and face the real world and the real value system. And what do we meet on the other side? What is valuable in heaven? What is the only thing the blessed Trinity favors?

Clive Staples Lewis, in his breathtaking sermon, ‘The Weight of Glory,’ talks about how we all crave fame. What we all want, according to Lewis, is to be famous. But here is his wrinkle, it is not fame with others, not fame with our peers for which we so dearly yearn. It is fame with God. We want to be famous with God. While part of us would never dare to dream of such a thing, another part could never deny that a hint of the Father’s smile is worth more than a thousand dreams fulfilled? So what makes the Father smile? What makes us famous with the blessed Trinity? Preaching? Missionary passion? Money? Power? Prestige?

Could anything thrill the heart of the blessed Trinity more than seeing their own other-centerd care and love and giving expressing themselves in us? Today I was on the receiving end of such fame. An old woman brought me a glass of ice water. It was hot. I was thirsty.

In fifty years she will have moved on and so will have I, and all that we had, made, possessed and valued will have vanished, as well as all the things possessed and done by the grandmother and her grandson. It all goes back in the box—all that is, except relationships. How Trinitarian.