All posts in “The gospel”

Herr Barth, “Is Hell Part of the Gospel?” (Barth in Conversation)

“Should teaching about hell be part of the proclamation of the gospel?”

Karl Barth’s response to this question has been recorded in the recently translated volume, Barth in Conversationwhich I am currently reading (and will soon be reviewing). It is often stressed, especially in evangelicalism, that we must proclaim the “bad news” of hell before we can properly explain the “good news” of Jesus. But is this how the great theologian from Basel thinks we must preach the gospel?

To this question, Barth offers a fierce Nein! He writes:

Should teaching about hell be part of the proclamation of the gospel? No! No! No! The proclamation of the gospel means the proclamation that Christ has overcome hell, that Christ has suffered hell in our place, and that we are allowed to live with him and so have hell behind us. There it is, but behind us! … Don’t fear hell, believe in God! Believe in Christ! 1

But lest we think Barth takes hell lightly, he continues by saying:

So please understand me. I would not take a light view of hell: it is a very serious thing, so serious that it needed the Son of God to overcome it. So there is nothing to laugh about, but there is nothing to fear, and there is nothing to preach. What we have to preach is fearlessness and joy in God, and then hell remains aside. 2

Whenever we proclaim the gospel—and especially this week, for Holy Week—Barth’s response acts as a timely reminder: we do no proclaim hell, but Christ, who overcame it! Hell is serious only in its defeat. It should never be used as a manipulative tool for scaring people into belief.

In Church Dogmatics II/2, on the doctrine of election, Barth takes up a similar line of reasoning that explains his point a bit more clearly. He writes here about Christ as both the electing God and the one elected man, and therefore as the one rejected man in our place. (For more on Barth’s doctrine of election, see chapter 5 in my book, Karl Barth in Plain English.) Thus, there is only one person whom we can say suffered the fate of hell: God Himself in Christ bearing our rejection on the cross. Barth writes, “[W]e must not minimise the fact that we actually know of only one certain triumph of hell—the handing-over of Jesus—and that this triumph of hell took place in order that it would never again be able to triumph over anyone” (CD II/2, 496). Barth continues:

Jesus Christ is the Rejected of God, for God makes Himself rejected in Him, and has Himself alone tasted to the depths all that rejection means and necessarily involves. From this standpoint, therefore, we cannot regard as an independent reality the status and fate of those who are handed over by the wrath of God. We certainly cannot deny its reality. But we can ascribe to it only a reality which is limited by the status and fate of Jesus Christ in His humiliation, His descent into hell, on the basis of the handing-over which fell on Him. We can thus ascribe to it only a reality which is necessarily limited by faith in Jesus Christ. In this faith we shall never cease to leave wholly and utterly to Him the decision about us and all other men. In faith in Jesus Christ we cannot consider any of those who are handed over by God as lost. We know of none whom God has wholly and exclusively abandoned to himself. We know only of One who was abandoned in this way, only of One who was lost. This One is Jesus Christ. And He was lost (and found again) in order that none should be lost apart from Him. 3

This further clarifies Barth remark about hell and its exclusion from the gospel proclamation. We do not deny the reality of hell, but we must limit everything we say about its reality under the greater reality of Christ’s descent into hell, and of Christ’s bearing our rejection and judgement. We only know of one person who suffered hell, Jesus Christ, and only in the light of his rejection and election can we understand and proclaim hell as truly overcome. 


So far I have been thoroughly enjoying Barth in ConversationLike I said, I will eventually write a full review of the book, but I also plan to publish a number of shorter pieces from the book. So stay tuned for more insights from the frank conversations in this volume. Buy a copy yourself by clicking here.

Like this article? Share it!

Notes:

  1. Barth in ConversationKindle loc. 1948-57.
  2. ibid., loc. 1957.
  3. CD II/2, 496.

Billy Graham and Karl Barth

graham and barthBilly Graham and Karl Barth are two monumental figures of 20th century Christianity. Though upon their meeting, it became clear the contradictions between both men, especially in their understanding of the Gospel.

Eberhard Busch writes in his biography of Barth entitled Karl Barth: His Life from Letters and Autobiographical Textsabout Barth meeting Billy Graham and the impressions he had of him:

(Thanks goes to PostBartian for this quote)

The same frontier was evident in a conversation Barth had with Billy Graham, in August 1960. His son Markus brought them together in the Valais. However, this meeting was also a friendly one. ‘He’s a “jolly good fellow”, with whom one can talk easily and openly; one has the impression that he is even capable of listening, which is not always the case with such trumpeters of the gospel.’ Two weeks later Barth had the same good impression after a second meeting with Graham, this time at home in Basel. But, ‘it was very different when we went to hear him let loose in the St Jacob stadium that same evening and witnessed his influence on the masses.’ ‘I was quite horrified. He acted like a madman and what he presented was certainly not the gospel.’ ‘It was the gospel at gun-point . . . He preached the law, not a message to make one happy. He wanted to terrify people. Threats–they always make an impression. People would much rather be terrified than be pleased. The more one heats up hell for them, the more they come running.’ But even this success did not justify such preaching. It was illegitimate to make the gospel law or ‘to “push” it like an article for sale . . . We must leave the good God freedom to do his own work.’

Preaching the Gospel

Evangelical Christianity in many ways learned how to preach the gospel from Billy Graham. And therefore Evangelical Christianity often has this ring to it that Barth points out. This attempt to terrify people into believing. But, as I’ve written in my book We Belong“The gospel is not a threat, it’s an announcement.” For too long the church has followed the pattern of sin, with hell and the threat of damnation, and then Christ. But what is sin other than that which Christ has defeated? Sin does not come before Christ, Jesus Christ comes before sin. We can only know sin in the light of Christ’s victory over sin. When we preach sin first we are left with a threat-filled gospel. When we preach Christ and Him crucified first and above all else, then and only then can we rightly understand sin as a defeated enemy.

Barth argues this in CD IV.1 saying, “The reality of sin cannot be known or described except in relation to the One who has vanquished it.” Sin cannot be defined in a vacuum, in the absence of Christ. Sin, hell, and judgement must only be understood in the light of the One who has born our sins, entered into our hell, and taken upon Himself our judgement. Sin, hell, and judgement understood abstractly apart from Christ will always lead to a gospel of fear-mongering.

Classically, the doctrine of sin came after the doctrine of creation. The fall of man was understood as the prerequisite for our salvation, the issue that Jesus came to solve. But Barth argues that we must instead only place sin within the context of Christ. Because we truly cannot know sin apart from the undoing of the fall. Just as light reveals darkness by vanquishing it, so sin is known only in it’s downfall. It therefore must fall after Christology, and not before.

So as much as we in American owe a great debt to Billy Graham, I feel it’s important that we honor him while at once going beyond him into a better understanding of the gospel. The gospel is not about fire and brimstone, judgement, hell, or sin. The gospel is good news of great joy about the God who is so for man that He will stop at nothing to undo our corruption, defeat our sin, and adopt us into His life as His beloved children! To focus more on the minor issue of sin, which is minor only because now Christ has defeated it, is to turn the good news into okay news. But the gospel celebrates the gracious will of God in Jesus Christ to win the human race back to Himself. And this is what He has done! My prayer is that in the coming days of the church we will once again learn to preach good news: the happy announcement of what God has done for mankind, and not the sorrows of sin and death which He defeated.

Like this article? Share it!

Jesus Christ: The Future of Mankind

Resurrection_(24)I’ve been re-reading one of the first things I ever read from Karl Barth, which remains to this day my favorite of all his writings. This is volume IV.1 from the Church Dogmatics. It’s amazing now after coming full circle, after studying many other aspects of Barth’s theology, I find myself back at the center with the doctrine of reconciliation (atonement).  It is a dense volume, but also a very devotional, even worshipful volume in praise of God’s grace.

Today I wanted to share a delightful section that outlines one of the most important aspects of the gospel. This is the death of Christ as the end of the old man, the resurrection as our new beginning, and the resurrection to come as our future and God’s. (All references are to the Hendrickson edition of 2010.)

The Death of the Old

In and with the man who was taken down dead on Golgotha man the covenant-breaker is buried and destroyed. He has ceased to be. The wrath of God which is the fire of His love has taken him away and all his transgressions and offences and errors and follies and lies and faults and crimes against God and his fellowman and himself, just as a whole burnt offering is consumed on the altar with the flesh and skin and bones and hoofs and horns, rising up as fire to heaven and disappearing.

In virtue of this word, i.e., in the power of this event, the existence of man as a sinner and all his transgressions are now behind him. Whatever else he may be, he will no longer be this man, the transgressor. (CD IV.1 P. 93-4)

The death of Jesus Christ as the forgiveness of sins is not an abstract transaction of legal fiction. The death of Christ was the destruction of the old man with all his sin. The gospel says not only that our sins are wiped away, but the sinner we used to be as well. God in Christ joined Himself to mankind, reaching the root of our existence, to undo our fallen nature by destroying it and giving us new life in Him. This is the accomplishment of the cross. It belittles the cross to make it purely an act of forensic, legal exchange. It is much, much more profound and significant to see that in Christ we have died, and now in Christ we live (Gal. 2:20).

Continuing this though, Barth writes as well about the state of mankind after the cross, that we are no longer transgressors of the law. To deem ourselves as sinners is to live an illusion, to be self-deceivers.

In Him a new human subject was introduced, the true man beside and outside whom God does not know any other, beside and outside whom there is no other, beside and outside whom the other being of man, that old being which still continues to break the covenant, can only be a lie, an absurd self-deception, a shadow moving on the wall–the being of that man who has long since superseded and replaced and who can only imagine that he is man, while in reality he is absolutely nothing. (P. 89)

The old man is gone. Any shadow of this man is an illusion, an absurd self-deception. Such a man has been forgotten, and lost forever in the death of Christ.

The New Life of Mankind

But God has not left mankind to live in this nothingness, to live in non-existence. Instead, God has claimed man as His own, as His possession. We belong to God.

By the grace of God, therefore, man is not nothing. He is God’s man. He is accepted by God. He is recognized as himself a free subject, a subject who has been made free once and for all by his restoration as the faithful covenant partner of God. (P. 90)

God has chosen not to be without man, to exist for mankind as His partner, Father, Lord, and friend. As such God has upheld the covenant in Himself through the grace of Jesus Christ.

We now are a new creation in Christ Jesus. Our old life has been removed and Christ has become our life. In Him we live and move and have our being. We have been reconciled to God.

Whatever we have to think and say of man, and not only of the Christian man but of man in general, at every point we have to think and say it of his being as man reconciled in Jesus Christ.

We speak of man reconciled in Jesus Christ and therefore of the being which is that of man in Him… The grace of God in which it comes and is made over to us is the grace of Jesus Christ, that is, the grace in which God from all eternity has chosen men (all men) in this One, in which he has bound Himself to man–before man even existed–in this One. He, Jesus Christ, is the One who accomplishes the sovereign act in which God has made true and actual in time the decree of His election by making atonement, in which He has introduced the new being of all men. (P. 91-2)

In CD II.2 Karl Barth brilliantly argues a new understanding of election as election in Jesus Christ. (See this article for more.) Here Barth shows how God from all eternity elected mankind in Jesus Christ, and in time Jesus Christ has enacted this election through reconciliation. From all time God desired mankind, longed for our participation in His life. The resurrection has made way for this in that God has created a new being for man in Jesus Christ!

Opening Eyes to See

But how does all this work together? Is this universalism? No! Because while it is true that all mankind has been reconciled to God, that the transgressions of man have been taken away, or, as John put it, ‘Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’, this does not mean universalism. Because, simply, not all people are awake or aware or thankful for this reconciliation. All our included, yet not all are taking part.

I used an analogy of a dance in my book, We BelongIt’s an analogy that I first learns from Robert Capon, but that Karl Barth here implements as well. Essential, although mankind has been included into the party, into reconciliation, not everyone is truly enjoying the party or taking part in the dancing. Some are blind to it, others are rebelling against it, but all are included. Again, this doesn’t mean that all will be saved. But this does mean that all have been reconciled, whether they know it or not, feel it or not, believe it or not.

Jesus Christ is God’s mighty command to open our eyes and to realize that this place is all around us, that we are already in this kingdom, that we have no alternative but to adjust ourselves to it, that we have our being and continuance here and nowhere else. In Him we are already there, we already belong to it. To enter at His command is to realize that in Him we are already inside.

…That is why we use the word direction–we might almost say the advice or hint. It is not a loud and stern and foreign thing, but the quiet and gentle and intimate awakening of children in the Father’s house to life in that house. (P. 99-100)

An Eschatological Note

The way of mankind has been altered and taken up into the way of Jesus Christ. Our future is not our own. Our future belongs to this Man Jesus Christ. It is His future and it is our future in His.

The future of mankind is not found in mankind, in our failings or potential for destruction. The future of mankind is found in Jesus Christ, the one who in becoming man has taken up our cause as His own and altered our history and our destiny. He is our Lord, our Savior, and our Future.

Like this article? Share it!

A Vision of Christ (Podcast)

A Vision of Christ: This message was shared on May 21st, 2014 at Hope:Tallinn church in Estonia. 20 minutes long, on “what makes the Gospel good news?” Enjoy!

 

 

Notes:

New English Bible, John 1:1-5, 14: Who is Christ? He is the eternal Being, He is the one through Whom all things come to be, He is the Word of the Father to man, and He is the Word became flesh.

Hypostatic Union: Jesus Christ is fully God of God, and man of man. He holds both natures in Himself.

In His Divinity He has laid hold of our humanity, healing our humanity and reconciling us back to God. In the incarnation we can say that God has truly reached us. He has found us in our darkness. Adam and Eve hid in the garden and Christ has come to find us once again.

In His humanity He has enacted a new covenant between God and the human race by taking up our cause and fulfilling our side of the covenant before God. He therefore is at once the God-manward motion and the man-Godward motion. In His vicarious humanity He came and did as us what we cannot do in and of ourselves.

In our union with Christ we partake of this covenant relationship that has been established in Christ.

Christ’s death: Jesus dies our death, undoing death and destroying sin, setting us free from both.

Christ’s resurrection: We have died with Him, and we raise to life with Him. We are new creations in Christ, as we partake in His divine nature and in His resurrection life.

Christ’s ascension: When Christ ascended and seated on high, He took us up with Him, seating us in heavenly places with God in Christ.

The Gospel is the stunning announcement that we have been included into the very Trinitarian life of God, that we now live in the heart of the Trinity. We share in the Great Dance of God. That is what makes the Gospel so astounding.

What is the gospel in one sentence? My sentence: The Gospel is Jesus, the Son of God, Who has become man in order to bring us home to His Father. 

Like this podcast? Help me expand my reach by sharing:

Holy Week Meditation: The Love Dream of God

photoWhat drove Jesus to the cross?

In the stunning words of St. Catherine:

You, high eternal Trinity, acted as if You were drunk with love, infatuated with Your creature.. 1

Love.

Jesus became a man, lived a life within our fallen existence, fought back against the Adamic nature, bearing the totality of our sin, death, and corruption on the cross in one seamless movement of a Trinitarian passion.

Jesus was driven by reckless abandonment, an unwavering commitment to the infinite love of God.

The eternal Godhead, the Triune Being, the Uncreated Light, became one with our fallen humanity, and in one movement of ecstatic love, defeated death.

The cross echoes the eternal love dream of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This love-dream is that we may be One with God, that we may belong in His heart; that we may be included in the very life of God.

In essence, adoption. We were “predestined for adoption.” 2 Before the world was made, God had a dream: you, me, and the whole human race. Predestined to belong.

This passionate drive within the heart of our Triune God is the driving force behind the life of Jesus. Jesus died because the Father loves you. Jesus died because the Trinity has a dream for the human race, and nothing, not even death itself, will separate us from that dream.

Jesus died because we are loved, because we belong; because God is good.

What a stunning reality.

What a beautiful Gospel.

God became a man, dwelt among us, and died our death. The eternal dream of God is made fully manifest in the act of the Son. He loves us, and in that love, He cannot leave us to our corruption. He must, with reckless abandonment, save.

It’s a mockery of the cross to say that Jesus died because the Father needed blood on His hands to forgive us. It’s a shame that what is meant to be the most beautiful message the world has ever known, has been transformed into a highly pagan message that insults the very nature of God.

Jesus died because the Father hates the world, and needed to be appeased? Jesus died to satisfy some legal requirement within the heart of God?

Absolutely not.

Jesus died for love.

Jesus died because the Triune God has an unbreakable dream for the human race. This dream didn’t change when Adam fell. This dream burns on without diminishing for a second.

God’s mind is made up. It always has been.

His love is eternally set on the human race.

Jesus died because of an infinite love-dream of the Trinity to have us, to include us, and to adopt us into the Life of God.

His passionate pursuit is set on the human race. He is wildly in love with us, and it is because of this reckless love that He came, lived in our world, and died our death.

The cross…

This isn’t paganism. This is the Gospel.

Jesus didn’t die to appease an angry God. Jesus died to reveal a God of infinite love.

Jesus recklessly ran to the cross, for love.

Like this article? Help me expand my reach by sharing:

Notes:

  1. Full quote
  2. Ephesians 1:5

I Will Not “Should” on Myself Today

Should on myselfThe Gospel invites us to join in the rest of God, to sit at the feet of our Father, and to savor the warmth of His love and embrace. The Good News of God’s outrageous love for us produces rest.

Are you living in rest?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself recently. Am I resting, or am I striving?

I’ve found that a good test for whether or not I’m living in rest, is to measure how much joy I have. If I feel joyful and content, there’s a good change I’m living in rest. If I feel worn out, tired, and frustrated, there’s a good chance I’m not living in rest.

Paul writes that we are “seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” 1 That reality is the dominate reality of our existence as His beloved children. We are more in heaven, where our Father is, than we are on earth. 2

The product of resting in Christ is joy. So I often have to ask myself, “am I living in joy?” If not, I need to pause for a minute and figure out why.

Recently I’ve been coming to find that I am less and less living in rest. I’ve been busy over the last few months: I’ve published a book, started a business, and I’ve continually worked to improve this website. With all that I’ve been doing, if I’m honest, I sometimes find myself not living in rest. I am always thinking of what I should be doing. “I should write a blog today. I should improve the business today. I should…”

I’ve been should-ing on myself!

I’ve put pressure on myself to perform, instead just being. I’ve started realizing this over the last few weeks: I need to rest!

Maybe you’ve found yourself in a similar position. Maybe you feel stressed out, burnt out, of just plain tired. Just rest! 3 Productivity is important, but there’s a difference between being productive from rest, and being productive from performance.

The truth is that rest = more productivity not less. The difference between resting and striving is where you start from. Rest starts from contentment; unrest works for contentment. The later works to earn something, the former works from something.

We should be productive and active in our lives, but not outside the context of resting in Christ. The writer of Hebrews talks about entering into God’s rest, making clear just how important it is. Rest is so important that even God does it! 4

Are you resting? Are you living in the Joy of Christ?

It’s easy for me to slip into a performance mentality. To combat this, I’ve decided to change the way I talk to myself.

stopshouldingI will not “should” on myself today. 

I will no longer judge my acceptance with God, or my contentment in life, on what I am or am not doing. Productivity doesn’t determine my worth, my Father does.

I will no longer beat myself up whenever I don’t do the things I think I should. I will be intentional with my rest. I will take joy seriously! 5

May we enter into the Rest of Christ, and live a life flooded with joy!

Will you join my in my journey of no longer “should-ing” on myself? Let me know in a comment below!

Like this article? Help me expand my reach by sharing:

Notes:

  1. Ephesians 2:6
  2. Which is of course not to say that earth is in any way void of God. The two are inseparable. It’s a false Aristotelian idea that says heaven is “somewhere else” apart from the earth.
  3. I know we all have responsibilities, rest doesn’t mean ignoring our lives, but rather, we should be able to manage our responsibilities while living in rest.
  4. See Hebrews 4:10
  5. I always love the C.S. Lewis quote: “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” It absolutely is!

Good News! You’re a Bad Person Doomed to Hell!

Good-Bad newsThis title is obviously meant to be ironic, but it also highlights something that’s been on my mind lately.

I read a great quote from C. Baxter Kruger the other day. He said, “We make a mistake when we start the Gospel with, ‘we are sinners separated from God,’ instead of starting with Jesus–Who is the Father coming after us to embrace us.”

When we preach the Gospel in Christianity, why do we feel the need to start so terribly? Why can’t we just start with grace? (Actually, why can’t the whole presentation just be grace, period?)

I guess I understand why we often preach the Gospel the way we do. I used to for several years! I used to believe I couldn’t preach the Gospel of grace properly until I had first preached the law of sin and death! (Those were my fire and brimstone days!)

But I’ve come to realize that people don’t need to hear what’s wrong with them. They also don’t need to hear about a (mythical) god who is angry at them! 1 The world needs to hear about God’s grace, love, and acceptance!

I don’t think our message should be “this is what’s wrong with you, and this is how you can get better.” I think our message should be “this is how much value God see’s in you, and this is how great His love is for you.”

Conditional Grace

I don’t think we preach an unconditional Gospel. I think, especially in the west, we preach a conditional Gospel. In doing so, I believe we make salvation something we can earn, not something we are freely given through grace.

It’s common to hear the Gospel like this: “God is a (legally) holy God who hates sin. You are sinner, separated from Him, and under His wrath. BUT! Jesus stepped in and took that wrath for you. Now, if you repent, believe, and confess your sins you can be saved from hell.”

1904195_608978255845050_394686722_n

We say God has done all this great stuff for you, but it doesn’t work until you do something. Yes, we give lip service to grace, but we act like salvation is kind of up to you! If you don’t do the right things, you go to hell! (Right? Isn’t that a fair assessment?)

But the Gospel is the astounding message of what God had already done for the human race in Jesus Christ! It is the good news of God’s unconditional acceptance, love, and grace for all mankind!

The Gospel is an unconditional message! Add a single condition to the Gospel and you are no longer preaching the Gospel!

The Gospel is not “God accepts you if…” The Gospel is “God accepts you, period!”

My Proposal

So here’s my proposal. Let’s stop preaching “You are bad, and God is far from you, here are all the steps you can take to get right with God.”

Instead, try this out for a change:

“God loves you! He is for you! Jesus has reconciled you back to His Father! He is no longer holding your sins against you! You are forgiven! Therefore, repent (change your mind) and believe the Gospel! See the love of God, and be astonished at what He has done for you! You are His child and He loves you. He wants you to know that love!”

That, my friends, is good news! 

What do you think? Leave me a comment!

Like this article? Help me expand my reach by sharing:

Notes:

  1. God has NEVER been angry at ANYBODY! For my thoughts on this, see this article.

“Sin Separates You From God” – Disgrace to Grace #1

I’m excited to announce a new series: Disgrace to Grace. Disgrace to Grace is about debunking several disgraceful ideas that spit in the face of the Gospel. I hope to boast in the outrage of Grace, and set you free from bad beliefs. Here’s #1. Enjoy!

Disgrace to Grace #1- Sin Separates You From God

Disgrace to Grace #1First of all, separation from God is an impossibility. Seeing that it is actually Christ who sustains you, and upholds your very existence (See Col. 1:17 and Heb. 1:3) any sort of separation from Christ would mean complete annihilation.

If Christ left you, you, as you know you, would cease to exist.

Additionally, if sin truly separates us from God, you are going to have to theologically do away with the omnipresence of God (which is a fancy way of saying “God is everywhere”). If sin separates us from God then our sin is more powerful than His omnipresence. In other words, if our sin separates us from God, then our sin changes the unchanging God. 

I’ve heard this idea a lot growing up in church. Whenever I would sin, I felt like I had to re-earn my way back into relationship with God. I believe this Disgrace to Grace is detrimental to our relationship with God. It can’t go on any longer!

Where did this horrible idea come from? This Disgrace to Grace comes from two scriptures: Isaiah 59:2 and Habakkuk 1:13.

In Isaiah 59:2 we read “..your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God..” (NASB)

Doesn’t this clearly say sin separates us? Not necessarily. Think about it like this: Separation from God is an illusion that infiltrated our mindset after the fall. The illusion of separation was a by-product of the fall. It is the Adamic mind that believes this illusion, but it has always been just that, an illusion. There is no separation.

Paul says this very thing in Colossians 1:21: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” (Emphasis mine) Our alienation from God was always an illusion, not a reality.

Remember, it was Adam and Eve who hid from God after their sin, not the other way around.

Onto the next verse then..

Habakkuk 1:13 is where we get the whole “God can’t look a sin” idea. But I challenge you to read this verse in its proper context.

This verse is in the middle of a dialogue between Habakkuk and God. He is essentially saying this: “God you are so holy and pure. You can’t look at sin. So why are you? Why do you let sin run rampant in the world?” 

Habakkuk is not saying that God actually can’t look at sin. He is talking to God, and implying the exact opposite: that God does look at sin.

The Truth

Sin cannot separate you from God! You have been eternally joined to the inescapable presence of God. He is in you, and you are in Him. You have been joined in union with Christ. You can’t go anywhere or do anything to change that fact!

This Disgrace to Grace is often taught to invoke a fear of sin, and in doing so, sin is often given more precedence than God. We think sin is bigger than grace!

But if the Gospel tells us anything, it’s that sin can’t hold a candle to grace. The grace of Jesus Christ is far greater, and far stronger than even the worst of sins.

Stop fearing sin! Absolutely nothing can separate you from God!

“..Though sin is shown to be wide and deep, thank God His grace is wider and deeper still!”

(Romans 5:20 J.B. Phillips)

What do you think about this weeks Disgrace to Grace? Share your thoughts below!

Like this article? Help me expand my reach by sharing:

Sorry, but Jesus Wasn’t a White Guy.

White Guy“The scholarly consensus is actually that Jesus was, like most first-century Jews, probably a dark-skinned man.” (Source)

Sorry Charlie, but Jesus wasn’t a white guy from Utah. He wasn’t an American individualist. He came from the middle eastern country of Israel, as a Jew. He most likely had brown skin, spoke Aramaic , and if you saw Him in the airport, you might take a second look.

Aramaic is a semitic language of Arabic, which means the two languages sound alike. Most Americans would feel slightly anxious if they heard it spoken on an airplane. (Which is not to say there’s anything wrong with Arabic, but that the American perspective of the language has been skewed due to 9/11.)

But does it really matter what color Jesus’ skin was? Not really. It’s irrelevant to be honest.

But it does matter when we westernize Jesus and create Him in our cultural image. When we divorce the person of Jesus from the historical backdrop of ancient Israel, we run the risk of misunderstanding the gospel entirely. Ancient Israel, the Jewish people, and the eastern culture that Jesus comes to is the only context in which we can properly understand the gospel.

As T.F. Torrance writes, “To detach Jesus from Israel or the Incarnation from its deep roots in the covenant partnership of God with Israel would be a fatal mistake.” (The Mediation of Christ, page 23.)

A Gentile Jesus

Gospel_of_Matthew_Chapter_19-10_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)My fear, and Torrance’s fear, is that we have “gentilized” Jesus, and thus removed Him from the backdrop of Israel’s history with God. The proper context for who Jesus is, is the history of Israel, and the cultural mindset of the people. We can’t separate Jesus from the history and culture of Israel, because Israel is the context in which God’s self-revelation is actualized in the life of Jesus.

Think about it like this. When God decided to come to the earth, and when He decided to revel Himself to humanity as a whole, He didn’t come as a Greek, or a Roman, or as an American. He trusted the self-revelation of His nature in Jesus only to the Jewish people. He actualized His revelation within their mindset, and their culture.

For whatever reason, God chose that Israel would be the backdrop for His self-revelation in Jesus. Israel is the canvas for the gospel. Therefore, to divorce the person of Jesus Christ, and His work on the cross from the backdrop of Israel is to ultimately misunderstand both.

I believe Christianity has been hijacked by Western ways of thinking, and Western perceptions of God. We have interpreted the nature of God on our terms instead of on His. His terms are the culture, and context of Israel, not any other culture or nation.

West vs. East

714px-Icone-jésus_christIsrael is an eastern nation, and Jesus was an eastern thinker. Therefore, Christianity, fundamentally, is an eastern belief. It’s not that there is anything wrong with western culture, but there is something wrong with understanding Jesus through Western ways of thinking instead of Eastern ways of thinking.

There is much that can be said about the differences in western and eastern culture and mindsets. However, here are three areas where I feel we often misunderstand God and the Gospel because of our western lens:

Western mindset: Focused on the individual, on intellect, and on legal structures.

Eastern mindset: Focused on the community, on mystery, and on priestly structures. (Especially in Jewish culture)

These cultural focus differences have, I believe, caused us to misinterpret the gospel.

Due to the influence of western thought, which is rooted in both Roman, and Greek cultures, our theology has been developed by these cultural distinctions. I believe that we have taken Christianity and made it far too individualistic, intellectualistic, and legalized.

Because this is such a massive topic, hardly one that I can fully express in a 1,500 word post, I will focus in on these three areas and on how I feel they have influenced our understanding of the Gospel.

Penal Substitution

One of the most striking effects that our western thinking has had on Christianity is the legalization of the Gospel. Due to Roman ideas of law and order, we have made the Gospel a message of judicial satisfaction instead of properly understanding the Gospel as a priestly and mediatory announcement.

Jesus did not come to fulfill some abstract legal requirement from God. He did not come to die in our place, standing before a justice-driven judge hell bent on punishing us. God the Father is not a blood thirsty deity that needed appeasing.

The Gospel is not a court case, it is a love affair! 

640px-3D_Judges_GavelWe have misunderstood the Apostle Paul, and we have turned the Gospel into a court case where God settles His legal issues with humanity. This idea is often referred to as Penal Substitutionary Atonement. Which is simply a theory of atonement that says Father God has wrath that must be satisfied, and therefore Jesus stands in and takes that wrath for us. Jesus get’s punished (Penal) in our place (Substitution) in order to satisfy a legal requirement of God.

But this is a disastrous error. The cross doesn’t condition God into being gracious towards us. That flips the whole gospel on it’s head! Making the cross change God, instead of changing us. If the Gospel is about satisfying God, then the reason for Jesus’ death was to fix God, not to fix us.

But the Gospel is not the news of how Jesus has fixed God. The Gospel is the announcement of how He has fixed us, and freed us from the slavery of sin! The cross changed us, not God. Jesus didn’t die in order to twist God’s arm, and make Him forgive you.

The cross is about love, not law!

We have failed to see that Jesus was acting not as a legal replacement for humanity, but rather as a priestly and mediatory substitute for humanity! The former is rooted in western law and order, while the later is rooted in the Jewish temple. Jesus came as the high priest, and the mediator between God and man. He did not come to fulfill some legal duty before an angry judge. He came to perform a priestly and mediatory work!

Penal Substitutionary Atonement is a western idea that has hijacked the Gospel. It is rooted in Roman ideas of law and order, instead of the Jewish concept of priest and mediator.

Mystery and Community

Additionally, another way in which the gospel has been hijacked by western thought is through the over-intellectualization of it’s mystery. Simply put, we haves sought to removed all traces of mystery, and unknowing from the Gospel. Due to the western focus on intellectual understanding, any gospel idea that is mystical or supernatural is often intellectualized out of mystery.

For example. The Gospel announces the absolutely beautiful reality and mystery of our union with Christ. Paul calls it “the mystery of the ages” which is “Christ in you.” (Colossians 1:25-27)

Andrej_Rublëv_001Our mystical union with Christ is one of my favorite gospel realities. The utter nearness of God, and oneness of our spirit with His, is what makes the Gospel good news! However, this reality is far to often underemphasized in western Christianity because it intellectually makes little sense. But this reality remains mysterious and supernatural. It can not be solely intellectually understood. Mystery belongs in the Gospel, and our western intellect should be held back from trying to remove it.

The final distinction that remains between western and eastern understandings of the Gospel, is that of community vs individual. In eastern societies, the community, the “we”, is greater than the individual “I.” We have taken our western lone-ranger ideas, and plastered them onto the Gospel. Making the emphasis on our individual decision, or our individual relationships with God. However, the Gospel is a corporate message. It is universal in it’s scope, effecting the whole world. Jesus died for the whole world, not just the individual.

Karl Barth once said that Theology is best worked out within community. We need one another’s perception and ways of thinking to understand God and life. My relationship with God is very personal, but it should also be corporate. We are all on a journey together, and I am on a journey personally. Both ideas are important to remember.

Perception

We need to see that the Gospel is not an eastern message, and God is not an American God. Our lens of perception should change from the American ways of thinking into the Jewish ways of thinking. Jesus came to the Jewish people. The Gospel is rooted in Jewish culture. Our perception needs to change to understand it, and Him, correctly.

798px-Reading_glassesJewish was a Jew, but does this mean that God is Jewish? No. Instead of defining God by our terms, we should see that God is expressing Himself through our terms. When Jesus came as a Jew, it wasn’t because God is a Jewish person. Rather, God chose Israel and entrusted it with His self-revelation. Jewish culture is the language God has chosen to express Himself in.

This is why we need to learn how to speak the language that God is speaking. We need to see that Jesus came within the context, the language so the speak, of the Jewish people. Instead of westernizing Jesus, we should learn how to understand Jesus on His terms by understanding the culture He came to.

Jesus was not a white guy. His culture, and His ways of thinking are foreign to us. In order to understand Him properly we must see Him through a Jewish mindset, not a western one.

Like this article? Help me expand my reach by sharing it:

You’re In, You’re Not?

24092006I should have know better, but I did it anyways. I went and commented on a Facebook post, hoping for a thoughtful discussion in return.

Boy was I wrong.

I commented on a sponsored post on how “God controls the weather.” Yes, it’s a serious post somewhere out there in internet land. Somebody felt like it was so important to not only share this thought, but also to pay and advertise it.

I made a comment because I believe God does not control the weather. I don’t believe He’s in control at all. (I spend a whole chapter explaining why in my book.)

So I commented to join the discussion, hoping for the best. I even offered a free copy of my book to anyone who might be interested in a different perspective.

I got no emails for the book, but what I did get shocked me: I got attacked.

One man went so far as to say that I am “a man outside of the church.”

Really? I’m not a Christian, or part of the body of Christ any more? And who has decided this? Did The Lord sovereignly tell you to kick me out?

I’m not offended. I’m sure he’s a great guy, and that he truly loves The Lord.

But I think it underlines something that is extremely screwed up in Christianity.

We think we’re an exclusive club.

Phil DrysdaleDespite the fact that Jesus lived a life of including people not of excluding them. He ate with sinners, and tax collectors. He spent time with the rejects of the world.

Do we do that? Are we quick to include people, or are we quick to exclude people?

What about homosexuals? I’ve heard of churches that have banned homosexuals from their services.

Does that sound like something Jesus would do?

Is it really our job to say who’s “in” and who’s “out?”

For my money, the moment Christianity starts excluding those whom God has included- we will find ourselves no longer preaching the good news of free-Grace, but the bad news of conditional-Grace.

“Oh you foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?”

As soon as we make a list of conditions for acceptance with God, we are no longer preaching the Gospel. We are preaching religion.

Grace has no conditions. Grace is free-for-nothing. Grace is extreme, and Grace is for all.

Grace is the astonishing announcement that the cross has included everyone. There are no outsiders! Everyone is accepted and embraced in the love of Christ.

“God so loved the world..”

Like this article? Help me expand my reach by sharing it:

(Image credit: Phil Drysdale. He’s awesome, check him out.)