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Paul and the Law

January 19, 2009 2 comments

Some folks have requested that I write a few more posts about the “10 Commandments” or “10 Words.” I think once you begin to see the rhythm of the commands, you can see how a variety of images in the Scripture continue pointing back to these essential commands. As a quick reminder, when I talk about the 10 Commandments, I am in one sense referring to the whole of the Law.

I see two extreme responses to the Law based on Paul’s letters that I think are not helpful. There is a tendency to read Paul as rejecting the commandments. As a result, some people suggest that as people under grace the Law has passed away. Thus we disregard the Law. Other people decide that Paul is wrong and reject Paul instead. I’ve seen several strange websites that try to reduce or eliminate Paul’s inspired writings. Both of these extremes are problematic.

This is a problem because the commandments do not pass away. Jesus references them and says that He has come to fulfill the law. The commands are still present in the New Jerusalem and lawbreakers cannot enter the city.

So how do we deal with Paul’s references to the Law? Now I am not going to delve into a deeply technical response here. Rather, just consider the letters by Paul. In almost all the letters, Paul includes an ethical component where he gives guidelines for behavior. These guidelines offer direction in marriage, the community, the government and more.

So to think that Paul is saying there are no correct behaviors is absurd. He continually writes about how to behave and even offers strict penalties for the man whose sinful sexual activity is being condoned in the church. It is unquestionable that Paul has expectations about how we act and treat one another.

At the same time, He offers a theology of justification and sanctification rooted in the cross of Christ. Paul realizes that the sacrificial system in Judaism was pointing toward a fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The action of God in the cross ripples out in many directions across space and time.

The cross fulfills and/or transforms the sacrificial system, which ripples out in ways that transforms the application of the Law. The rituals have no power outside of Christ Jesus (either before or after the cross). Paul is very clear that once the cross fulfills the Law, circumcision is fulfilled in the heart. And that one could be circumcised in the flesh while not really being circumcised if their heart remains unchanged.

Who better to write on the Law that a Pharisee of Pharisees? When creating and calling Paul from the womb, YHWH raises up the greatest of Pharisees. Just as John the Baptist was the greatest of the prophets, Paul becomes the greatest interpreter of the Law, because by God’s grace He realizes and reveals that Jesus Christ is the heart of the Law. And once Jesus is revealed, the Law cannot be understood or interpreted outside of Jesus.

If we can begin to grasp this, then we can begin to see that Paul is not at odds with the Law but he is at odds with a legal system that is rooted in human behavior outside of God’s redeeming action. The legal customs offer no redemption and no power. To practice outside the light of Christ is to waste your time with dead rituals. In Christ, the relational laws do not change but the way ritual laws (from Sabbath to circumcision) do change.

This doesn’t mean we ignore them. We must wrestle with the text. We must listen to the Spirit of the text. As the Lord gives wisdom, we begin to understand how Sabbath, circumcision, unclean and clean laws, and so on are expressed in the community of faith. James Jordan has wrestled deeply with these questions and has certainly been helpful for me as I think about what some people call the “ceremonial law.”

With that little intro about the heart of the Law (Jesus) and the constancy of the Law, I will proceed to write a few posts on how I see references to the Law showing up all through the Psalms and other passages in Scripture.

The Year Has Known Conversion

November 21, 2008 Leave a comment

As I gaze out upon my leaf-covered lawn, I am reminded, “the year has
known conversion.” Bobi Jones wrote those words as he stepped out into
a springtime bursting forth into new life, confessing, “energy is
everywhere.” As he celebrates that “winter has gone to its fathers,” I
watch winter return and begin overtaking the golden autumn afternoons
with freezing breath.

And once again, I think about the phrase, “the year has known
conversion.” Nothing remains. Oh that the glory of trees raining
colored leaves might last just a bit longer. But the gentle wonder
gives way to barrenness. And the season is left behind.

My world has known conversion this year. As most of you know, our
building caught fire last February. The Living Room that had hosted
weddings and movie nights, retreats and a weekly liturgy, caught fire
one Thursday morning. I got a call after lunch. We recovered boxes of
books for future cleaning. Then a few of us began meeting in the home
again as we left that season behind.

More recently, my job ended. One Thursday. And in true literary style,
I got a call after lunch. After months of dropping sales, our company
began cutting jobs. I packed up a few boxes for future sorting. Then I
came back home to work and left that season behind.

Even as I write these words, I realize that I am addressing many other
people who have known conversion this year. Some of you lost your jobs
in the midst of this struggling economy. Some of you have lost loved
ones to death. Some of you have known the death-like agony of
separation and divorce. And some of you have watched your savings
almost disappear as the stocks keep tumbling down.

Much like the barren trees, our lives sometime reflect a season of
stripping away. A time of loss and death. We know the uncertainty of
conversion that feels like the world has come to an end. Almost
weekly, I hear some preacher declaring the end of the world is at
hand. And in some ways they are most certainly right. The world has
ended for some people.

Listening to a survivor of the Rwandan genocide recently, I was
transfixed by the sudden and horrible devastation that can bring a
family, a nation, a world to an end. It reminds me of the insulation
lives that most Americans live. Tragedy happens to the other guy: the
person on the other side of the world. When it comes close, people cry
out, “Why me?”

In other ages and times, people have wondered, “Why not me?” Why did
it pass me by? Earlier this year, I read Barbara Tuchman’s revealing
account of the 14th century in the “The Distant Mirror.” The century
knew conversion. Darkness descended across Europe in ways that no 13th
century person could have anticipated.

The dramatic progress of the 12th and 13th century came crashing down
as famine, black plague, war, raiders, and other natural and man-made
disasters brought the Western world to the brink of destruction. And
in the midst of this devastation, some towns prospered. One town fell
victim to complete annihilation by the black plague and another town
didn’t experience a single case, leaving survivors to wonder, “Why did
I survive?”

As I think about the chaos of the 14th century and I consider the
chaos that ripples across the world in the 21st century, think of the
Spirit of God who hovers over the waters of the deep. Again and again
in Scripture, the Lord shows up in the midst of flooding, fire, wind,
and death.

The Bible doesn’t present a world free of problems and suffering and
pain. Rather, we are confronted with a disturbing portrait of man’s
inhumanity against man. We see evil expressed in violence, war, and
all manner of human suffering. We behold people who face the same pain
and anguish and barrenness that sometimes comes close to our lives and
into our homes.

And yet, we also see God in the midst. The ocean of chaos that
threatens all order cannot threaten God. He consistently enters into
the midst of his suffering people. In the gospels, we behold the Lord
of Glory entering in to our frailty, our suffering, our pain, our
death.

And what does he do in death?

He creates a new man, a new world. All things are made new. The chaos
doesn’t threaten him. When the world seemed be coming apart in the
14th century, His Spirit brought winds of change in the 15th and 16th
century that opened new possibilities for people throughout the world.

When it seems like our world is colliding to an end, His grace can
heal and renew and revision and recreate our lives, our families, our
world. Whether we suffer sickness or job loss or financial problems or
relational strains. He has not abandoned us in this season of winter.

This brings me back to Bobi’s line, “The year has known conversion.”
When Bobi uses the word conversion, he is drawing from a deeper well
than just change. He is called upon this conversion that our Savior
reveals in His resurrection. He brings life out of death. He writes,

“Winter has gone to its fathers.
It was sharp; alive. And look at them here:
Life has triumphed over life, and death death
On this everlasting meadow that is
A Cross for the year.
Spring came through the mouth of the morning
Its tongue clamouring hotly on the petals of sunrise
Like the boots of a soldier coming home.”

His poem stirs my heart, as I continue gazing at the barren trees in
my yard. Even as the coldness of winter sometimes to grip our world
and our homes and our lives, He is coming. The Soldier who harrowed
hell is coming. And even in the midst of our endings, He is a
beginning. Let us rejoice at the newness of His grace that surrounds
us even now, and look expectantly for the new shoots to spring forth
in the midst of the old.

Christian Action springs from a communion of love

October 8, 2007 1 comment

“Let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:18

Von Balthasar lays out a vision of Christian action based upon the revelation of Jesus and fully revealed in his self-emptying devotion on the cross. This action is rooted in a completely free communion of love between the Father, the Son and the Spirit.

Christian action outside this revelation of love becomes pure ethics and is drained of the relational content of love’s revelation. Without this relation, action can become subject to necessity because it is not free in love. Think of Jesus action in the cross. It proceeds from the love of the Father and returns to the love of the Father. His action is an incarnation of Lover and Beloved. Just as the Son lives in this pure relation of lover and beloved with the Father, He reveals this love to a world at enmity with God.

His incarnation reveals God’s intention to relate to His people as Lover and Beloved. Von Balthasar references the Song of Solomon to emphasize that Lover and Beloved are complete within their mutual reciprocation of love. This love is not dependent upon producing children but is free of necessity and complete in itself.

The love between the Father, the Son and the Spirit is a complete love that needs nothing outside the relation to bring completion. Creation does not make God’s love more real. God’s love does not necessitate creating. The love between the Father, the Son and the Spirit is complete (completely fulfilling and fulfilled).

There is no unmet longing within God. While human happiness necessitates a longing beyond ourselves, the love of God is free of necessity. This is difficult for us to grasp because we do not live in this reality. As result, without something new outside the circle of reciprocal love, we might tend to think this love, this relation will growing tiresome, boring. That reveals our own incapacity for complete love that is free of necessity.

With this idea of a completely fulfilled love within the relation of the Godhead, Von Balthasar continues to lay out a picture of love that has no motive, no unfulfilled eros, no longing beyond the mutual reciprocity of love. For images of this among humans, Von Balthasar turns to Mary when she pours out the costly vial on Jesus’s feet. Her act is pure response to love, thus it appears as useless to outside eyes. (This useless outpouring of love makes me think of Chuang Tzu’s useless tree.)

Christian action springs from the freedom of a loving communion between Lover and Beloved. Enveloped in the ongoing communion of lover and beloved, the Christian moves from love and toward love. Only now can Von Balthasar begin to discuss dogmatic theology and offer his definition that “Dogmatic theology is the articulation of the conditions of possibility of Christian action in light of revelation.”

Thus all Christian action is a secondary reaction to the primary action of God as Lover and Beloved. Taken up into this communion by the Holy Spirit, the Christian simply responds and acts in this self-emptying love as most fully revealed in the cross. In the cross, God reconciles his enemies. When the enemy is not even on speaking terms, God acts to bring reconciliation.

In Christ, He enters into the gulf of sin and suffering that ripples across our world. Entering into the very gulf of death created by such violations of love, God both both judges and offers complete rectitude by taking the division, the suffering, the separation into Himself. The cross is both historical (occurring at a fixed point in space and time) and ahistorical (anticipating the revelation of love’s ultimate triumph when all creation is reconciled to God).

Thus the Christian acts (incompletely and partially) in love at a fixed point in time and space while still anticipating the triumph of love in that action (complete and absolute). Von Balthasar calls this action parousial. The act of love that anticipates the sudden revealing of complete love in all creation.

The Christian also acts in faith. While not ignoring the faults of others in the world around him, the Christian is to look with eyes of faith at Jesus’ action in the cross. By the grace of the Spirit, the Christian is taken up into the communion of suffering found within the cross. Only in the place of the cross, does the Christian begin to behold the knowledge of the love of God. Thus loving action cannot be separated from a loving communion that is rooted in self-emptying love.

Von Balthasar offers many points for consideration and reflection: a love without necessity, loving action that is both universal and particular/historical and ahistorical, action rooted in the communion of self-emptying love, and a knowledge rooted in loving communion as revealed in the cross.

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Dogmatic Theology and the World of Algebra

October 7, 2007 Leave a comment

Hans Urs Von Balthasar writes, “Dogmatic theology is the articulation of the conditions of possibility of Christian action in the light of revelation.” Reflecting on Balthasar’s idea, it seems to me that revelation is a lot like algebra. Unlike like the simple math of 2 + 2, which corresponds directly with the natural world, Algebra creates a seperate world of logic. Within this world formulas like a + b -c are used in a world that does not directly correspond to the natural world but has implications for the natural. As mathmatics continues to move further into theory and speculation, we discover a seperate world that becomes further and further abstracted from the natural.

Within this speculative world, one does not abandon logical consistancy. There is a logic within the mathmatical world that is self-containted within the argument. In Balthasar’s statement above, I see at least two worlds. First, I see the natural world where Christian action takes place. Then there is the world of revelation that is not discovered through natural observation.

The gospel makes the audacious claim that Jesus is God in the flesh. Some people may like the story but refuse to listen to logical claims within the context of the world of revelation created by the Bible. There are actually two arguments to explore here: one, the logical continuity of this world of revelation, and two, whether this world of revelation corresponds to this natural world. In other other words, is the archetect of the moral universe with the gospel story, the same architect of the natural in which we live.

Obviously, for Balthasar this world of revelation does correspond to the natural world. Working from a theology of analogy, Balthasar is wrestling with the question of a transcendence and immanence. How can man who is limited by time and space speak of a Creator outside of time and space? Space doesn’t provide a place to work through his analogy of being here, but bascially man does learn of the transcendent God through analogy.

As author of time and space, God creates a world of analogy with pointers to his character in all of creation. Man himself is created as the image of God. Yet, at the point of analogical connection, creation’s dissimilarity with the Creator is greater than its similarity with God. Without expanding on this idea further here, I suggest this idea provides the basis for that this world of revelation directly corresponds with the natural world.

Using the Bible and the Tradition of the Church, Balthasar works through the logic of revelation, which ulimately suggests that Jesus’s self-emptying act in the cross is God’s absolute expression of love. The first question one asks when facing this world of revelation might be, “Is the story of revelation satisfactory?” Does the story work? When someone says that they like the story of Jesus or that they find the story appealing, they are on some level responding to the logic of this world.

While not all Christians work through the logic of this world, they do begin with a belief in the story. As faith seeks understanding, this belief may work through the logic of the world on some level. As one makes a connection between the world of revelation and the natural world, one begins to discover the historical claims of Christianity. Thus revelation is seen as historical. It is not reached through reason but through faith. Yet working from faith, reason wrestles with the claims of revelation and the implications of revelation for action.

So for Balthasar dogmatic theology articulates how this world of revelation both creates the possibility for action and the implications for that action within the natural world. This is where it becomes difficult. In wrestling with the claims of revelation, theology explains the implications for actions in ideal terms. For example, the Christian is called to love as Jesus loved. The self empyting act of the cross is the pattern for behavior.

Yet as real human beings seek to act out these implications, their adherence to the challenge of Christian action is always less than ideal. Some people outside the world of revelation look at Christians behavior. Seeing actions that fail to reflect the image of love, they reject or challenge the claims proceeding from the world of revelation.

How does a Christian respond to this unbelief, scorn and even strong rejection and even hatred of the world of revelation? I think we continue to listen to the claims of dogmatic theology. We continue to observe the pattern of the cross. We continue acting by the power of the Spirit who helps us to translate this revelation into the natural world. In spite of our flaws, we continue seeking to embody self-emptying love revealing in some small measure that claim of revelation that love alone is credible.

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Can Christians and Atheists Make Love and Not War?

May 14, 2007 2 comments

After several years of quiet, the atheists have found their voice again. Every other day I see another article where atheists are mad and their not gonna take it anymore. Then again, every other day I see articles where Christians are mad and their not gonna take it anymore.

This vitriolic exchange seems more pronounced on the web as bloggers and commenters discuss Dawkins, Harris, Falwell or Robertson. At Newsvine, Washington Post’s On Faith discussions, and a host of other places, I observe two angry groups lobbing verbal grenades back and forth. On occasion, there is a bit of kindness, but most of what I’ve read is lacking any true dialogue.

I long for the intellectually rigorous, yet highly entertaining debates between Chesterton and Shaw. While I’m waiting, it’s nice to know that some Christians and atheists have decided to put down their swords. A friend pointed me to this interesting article about Christians and atheists declaring a truce by listening and learning from one another. At least two books have resulted thus far from the discussion: Jim and Casper Go to Church and I Sold My Soul on Ebay: Faith through an Atheists Eyes.

I haven’t read either book so I can’t comment on them. As a Jesus fanatic myself, I am not much for fighting. I am simply trying to learn what it means to follow Him and proclaim Him. I think that has something to do with love…and a cross.

Update: Check out Jim Henderson’s Off the Map site and  Hemant Mehta’s Friendly Atheist site.

Categories: dialogue, faith, Jesus Tags: , , ,

Jesus at the Margins

May 10, 2007 Leave a comment

People like to make Jesus the spokesman for their cause. From politics to health care to environmental concerns, I’ve seen his visage commondeered for unending causes. Many of these causes may be just and good and we should do them. But if you’re looing for Jesus, he often shows up in disrespectable settings.

The Call of Lent

February 25, 2007 Leave a comment

During Lent, I’ll post a series of reflections over at Floydville. Here’s the first:

Something, someone is stirring. A voice is calling. In the deep of the night, we awake, feeling the voice inside of us. Gently, yet incessantly pressing, provoking, speaking. “Come away with me.” In the fullness of time, the Spirit calls and we can only follow.

We call this time “Lent.” By naming a time, we give it shape, we give it focus, we create space. As Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy suggests, “Time creates space.” We name our moments. The moments of my current waking hours, I call “today.” I awake today and join my voice with the voices of millions of Christians who have lived before me. We call this day, “Lent.”

Lent is a time for remembering.  continue reading at Floydville

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