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.