Reconciliation and the Lack Thereof (pt 4)

(Continued from Part One, Two, and Three. Full essay here.)

Ecclesiological Relevance

If the atonement theory I propose has theological and exegetical merit, then the church is obligated to respond to the truths therein by bringing these unifying atonement realities to bear on the here and now.

A divided and divisive church denies in praxis the gospel it proclaims.

In recognition of God’s uniqueness, we must cast down our idols and worship him alone. As the Shema urges, complete and total devotion is the only appropriate response to the one true God.

Although physical idols may not be as universally common today as they once were, invisible idols are as prevalent as ever, especially within the context of Western materialism, where money, possessions, influence, and power are the modern-day Baal. Is the church, especially the affluent segments of the North American church, willing to eschew these idols in order to worship the one true God with heart, soul, and strength?

“We believe in biblical separation from all forms of ecclesiastical apostasy.”

In demonstration of God’s simplicity, we must seek unity with ourselves, each other, all of creation, and God himself. In doing so, we must reject false unities in favor of true ones.

Although the redemptive mode of God’s unity in the presence of sin seems to give distance an appropriate place within the life of the church, we must be extremely careful when presuming to exercise this righteous act of separation ourselves, for the idolatrous desires of our own hearts tend toward a false, absolutized unity which demonizes otherness. The fundamentalist doctrine of “biblical separation” is too often claimed when the real problem is not heresy, but diversity – which is not a problem at all given the inherent otherness within the Trinity.

Furthermore, God exercised redemptive separation for the sake of achieving true unity through Christ, not to keep himself pure and unstained from a creation he wanted nothing to do with.

Ecumenism and catholicity are to be embraced, not feared.

In other words, if God did not completely separate himself from a truly sinful creation so that he might one day have robust unity with it once more, what right do we have to separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ for what often amounts to legitimate differences of opinion in secondary matters of doctrine and praxis?

Peter Enns Wants Children to Reject Genesis - Around the World with Ken HamIn light of God’s oneness and his redemptive, unifying mission, we must watch out for and avoid the most dangerous heretics: those who cause divisions in opposition to the unifying missio Dei (cf. Rom 16:17).  That is, Christians should only separate from one another for the gravest divisive offences in doctrine and praxis. Even then, this separation should only be partial and temporary.

If sin is divisive schism and the saving work of Christ is that of at-one-ment with God, each other, and creation, then claiming the pursuit of righteousness and doctrinal purity at the expense of unity is a shameful undoing of the work of God in the Messiah to reconcile all things to himself.

Instead, we must seek to be one as God is One, heeding the exhortations of the apostle Paul to

“live worthily of the calling with which [we] have been called,with all humility and gentleness,with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. [For] there is one body and one Spirit, just as [we] too were called to the one hope of [our] calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6).

We must prefer true, robust unity to false, forced homogeneity.

Nevertheless, this pursuit of robust unity is rarely easy. Volf rightly notes: “As God does not abandon the godless to their evil but gives the divine self for them in order to receive them into divine communion through atonement, so also should we – whoever our enemies and whoever we may be.”

That is, our demonstrations of oneness should not only prompt us to encourage it where it already occurs, but to engage areas of division and strife as ambassadors for unity and reconciliation, reaching out to both victims and aggressors when it comes to schism and discord. We are called to show humility, gentleness, and patience to even the most divisive and argumentative types of people, extending the oneness of God to the darkest, divided corners of his creation.

Conclusion

It is theologically and exegetically legitimate to view the atonement as the act in which the One God fulfills his creative purposes by bringing his incomparable uniqueness and undivided simplicity to bear on our sinful, divisive condition through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah in order to save a people to robust unity with himself, each other, and the entire creation.

If our proclamation, our gospel, be true, then the global church of Jesus Christ has the responsibility and privilege of bringing these unifying atonement realities to bear on the here and now, honoring God’s uniqueness and demonstrating his simplicity in fulfillment of his redemptive mission.

Then, and only then, will the high priestly prayer of the One who faced exile in our stead be answered: “[I pray] that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).

My brothers and sisters, may the God of incomparable and undivided oneness give you unity with one another in accordance with Jesus the Messiah, so that together you may with one voice glorify God and carry forth his redemptive mission throughout creation. Amen.

Reconciliation and the Lack Thereof (pt 3)

(Continued from Part One and Two. Full essay here.)

SIN

With God’s robust oneness in mind, sin is divisive schism, a corruption of the primordial vocation for unity with the creator. Sin drives against the grain of the universe, alienating us from God, each other, and from our very selves. Sin ignores and profanes God’s uniqueness through idolatry. It also twists God’s robust, simple unity into schism, the demonization of otherness, and the construction of false unities.

Instead of welcoming the other, we are far more likely to crucify her. We gather like-minded people around us to construct our own “unified” kingdoms, to build up thick walls between “us” inside and “them” outside, losing sight of God’s uniqueness and making a mockery of his simplicity.

When sin enters the created order, infecting and affecting it on every level, God responds with distance until true unity can be achieved. Just as God’s righteousness takes the appropriate redemptive mode of wrath when confronted with sin as unrighteousness, in the face of these aforementioned abominations, God’s unity takes on the righteous character of distance and separation, through banishment and exile.

We see this first in Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden and the creation itself is cursed as God “pushes it away,” so to speak, from his shalom and presence. According to Walton, “the biggest problem of the Fall was…the loss of access to the presence of God…the overwhelming loss was not paradise; it was God.”

Nevertheless, God remains merciful in his strong reaction to schismatic sin, for he patiently refuses to sentence human sin with the full and permanent exile it deserves. He calls the nation of Israel back from the partial exile into full fellowship with himself through the covenants and Torah.

However, their hardhearted divisiveness leads them to eschew repeatedly the loving faithfulness of their God. In a righteous response, God distances their schismatic sin from his perfect unity once more through the exile of the nation.

Yet God is still merciful to them in the Diaspora. He promises to make a new covenant with his people, fulfilling his creative purposes through the True Israelite, the Son of God, Jesus the Messiah.

CHRIST

The saving work of Christ is that of re-unification, of reconciliation, and of at-one-ment. Continue reading “Reconciliation and the Lack Thereof (pt 3)”

Reconciliation and the Lack Thereof (pt 2)

(Continued from Part One. Full essay here. Part Three here.)

God is One: Unity Defined

Barth makes the bold statement that “If we understand it rightly, we can express all that God is by saying that God is One” (CD II/1, 442). However, understanding this divine perfection rightly is crucial, for Barth always cautions against the abstraction or absolutizing of the divine attributes.

“The relation between subject and predicate is an irreversible one when it is a matter of God’s perfections” (CD II/1, 448).

“Necessarily, then, we must say that God is the absolute One, but we cannot say that the absolutely one is God” (CD II/1, 448)

…“when the unity of God is turned into the divinity of unity there can only result what are actually caricatures of God” (CD II/1, 450).

God defines his perfections, not vice versa. With this caution in mind, to define the divine perfection of unity we look to God himself.

Most succinctly, God is One.

This oneness, however, has both an external and an internal dimension. Continue reading “Reconciliation and the Lack Thereof (pt 2)”

Reconciliation and the Lack Thereof (pt 1)

(This series of blog posts is a truncated version of my senior seminar: “Reconciliation and the Lack Thereof: Atonement, Ecclesiology, and the Unity of God” (pdf) Consult the essay for full bibliographical information.)

Introduction

The impetus for this study is a seemingly unanswered prayer. “[I pray] that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me.” (John 17:21 NET). Ever since Jesus of Nazareth first uttered these words, his followers have done what appears to be an increasingly-worse job of being one.

A simple count of the various denominations and factions within Christianity reveals the troubling truth that, although claiming to follow the same Lord, Christians around the world are often divided. In fact, it could be argued that the modus operandi throughout church history has been to pursue unity in orthodoxy through division. Whether in 1054, 1517, or 2012, the followers of Jesus the Messiah have often judged it more important to be correct than to be one.

As a presupposition to my argument, I posit a link between the lack of ecclesiological reconciliation and the doctrine of reconciliation, that is, the doctrine of the atonement. As McKnight questions:

“Could it be that we are not reconciled more in this world – among Christians, within the USA, and between countries – because we have shaped our atonement theories to keep our group the same and others out? I believe the answer to that question is unambiguously yes.”

In search of the theological resources to address the problem of church unity through the nexus of ecclesiology and atonement theology, I turn to the doctrine of God and the divine attribute (henceforth “divine perfection”) of unity.

In this essay, I endeavor to demonstrate the theological and exegetical legitimacy of viewing the atonement as the act in which the One God fulfills his creative purposes by bringing his uniqueness and simplicity to bear on our sinful, divisive condition through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah in order to save a people to robust unity with himself, each other, and the entire creation.  Continue reading “Reconciliation and the Lack Thereof (pt 1)”

Taking the Bible Seriously

I’ve chosen to devote myself to the study of the Christian Scriptures. As I prepare to finish my undergraduate studies and move on to the graduate level, I’m trying to collate the lessons I’ve learned so far, to distill them into a few key principles, if only for my own personal benefit and clarity of thought.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned (or have begun to learn) involves the necessity of humility as we approach the biblical text. If we’re not careful, we’ll miss the rich complexities and beautiful truths of Scripture. At best, we’ll walk away with a shallow understanding of God and his world. At worst, we’ll do serious damage to others and ourselves.

To assume that the biblical text was written primarily for me, a 21st-century Caucasian middle-class American Christian, to immediately answer my questions, is both prideful and naive.

The Bible, like Jesus, is both divine and human. As God’s Word, it contains timeless truths and, I believe, the answers to life’s most important questions. As a compilation of human writings, it was directly written to a variety of audiences spanning both several years and cultures. We must hold both in tension. This can be a difficult and time-consuming process, but I believe it is worth the effort.
Continue reading “Taking the Bible Seriously”

Creation

This is the first post in a series. It’s very straightforward. I’ve simply quoted a doctrinal statement and then pasted the biblical text used to support the statements in italics beneath each statement.

The question behind each of these posts: Do these statements flow from the texts? Or are they imposed upon the texts? If you so desire, leave your answers in the comments.

We believe in the literal 6-day account of creation, that the creation of man lies in the special, immediate, and formative acts of God and not from previously existing forms of life. 

Genesis 1:26,27; 2:7-9,16,17; 3:1-19.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Continue reading “Creation”

An Explanation

**If you haven’t read my previous two blog posts, “Cedarville, Let there be Light. (pt. 1 and pt. 2),” please go do so before reading this post.**

Summary: I’ve been blogging in order to raise awareness of Cedarville University’s recent dismissal of Dr. Michael Pahl from his teaching post. Using the University’s statement on Dr. Pahl, I’ve raised some uncomfortable questions that I believe need to be asked in this situation. For example:

  • Why were the five accolades attached to Dr. Pahl above (in the statement, orthodox, gospel, Scripture, scholar, teacher) not enough to keep him on the teaching faculty of Cedarville University?
  • Don’t we want promising scholars and dedicated teachers who are committed to the gospel, to Scripture, and to orthodoxy at Cedarville University? If not, why not?

I’m writing today because the responses I’ve gotten to those posts and questions have been mixed. Some think I’m doing something that is both righteous and necessary, respectfully raising awareness and asking uncomfortable-yet-necessary questions. Others think I’m being un-biblical and disrespectful in my approach, and that I should handle these matters privately (cf. Matt 18:15-22 and such).

Clearly, I’m a bit biased toward the first reaction. It’s always more pleasant to think of your actions as both righteous and necessary, after all. However, that doesn’t negate the careful line to walk in this situation. Several things must be held in Christ-honoring tension, such as boldness and respect, honesty and love, persistence and patience, a hunger for justice and an even stronger craving for God’s perfect shalom peace. Continue reading “An Explanation”

Cedarville, Let there be Light. (pt. 2)

Read Part One

Further Questions, All Relating to the University Statement on Dr. Pahl’s Dismissal:

  • If Dr. Pahl’s book, The Beginning and the End, was controversial enough to lead to his dismissal, why was the book allowed to be used as a textbook last school year?
    • Shouldn’t we trust the Bible professors’ judgment in their selection of the book as a text?
    • If we should, then was it worth firing Dr. Pahl over a book which other CU professors approved of enough to require as a text for their courses?
    • If not, why not? Why don’t we trust these highly-trained men and women as an institution? Shouldn’t they be a resource instead of a feared danger? Does this potential fear have anything to do with Dr. Pahl being dismissed?
  • Do all members of the Board of Trustees agree with “each and every position of Cedarville University’s Doctrinal Statement” in the way Dr. Pahl was expected to in order to still be allowed to teach?
    • If he was dismissed, despite the apparent alignment of his personal views and those expressed in his writing to the Doctrinal Statement, is there a possibility that some of the trustees should also be dismissed according to such strict standards?
  • Was Dr. Pahl dismissed for something that wrote which contradicts the Doctrinal Statement? If so, what was it exactly that he wrote? (I have been unable to find anything in The Beginning and the End)
  • If Dr. Pahl was not fired for something he wrote, was he fired for something that he didn’t write? Again, if so, what was it exactly that he didn’t affirm?
  • Furthermore, is firing someone for not affirming something fair? Are all professors required to affirm the Doctrinal Statement in its entirety in everything they write and/or publish?
  • What is the administration’s vision for the future of the Bible Department at Cedarville University?
  • How does firing an orthodox, promising scholar who is committed to Scripture and to the gospel help to achieve that vision?
  • Has Dr. Pahl been cared for by the University in any way during this process? As our brother in Christ, have we dismissed him in a way that is honoring to God and helpful to him and his family?
  • What explanation has been given to the students who have been affected by Dr. Pahl’s dismissal (i.e. the ones registered for his classes)? Has that explanation been accurate and forthright?
  • Are any other professors currently being considered for dismissal by the University for things they have written and published?

(CONTINUED: An Explanation)

Cedarville, Let there be Light. (pt. 1)

The Statement:

“Dr. Michael Pahl has been relieved of his teaching duties because he is unable to concur fully with each and every position of Cedarville University’s doctrinal statement.  This decision was made following a review by the University administration and trustees prompted by Dr. Pahl’s recent book, The Beginning and the End:  Rereading Genesis’s Stories and Revelation’s Visions.

Dr. Pahl’s orthodoxy and commitment to the gospel are not in question, nor is his commitment to Scripture’s inspiration, authority and infallibility.  He is a promising scholar and a dedicated teacher, and he will be missed by his colleagues and students.  Nevertheless, the University has determined this decision to be in the best interests of its constituency at this time.”
Continue reading “Cedarville, Let there be Light. (pt. 1)”

Sacrificing Scripture on the Altars of Our Own Agendas

Undoubtedly the title of this blog post could be taken in hundreds of different directions. However, given recent developments close to home, and the Answers in Genesis conference coming to Cedarville University on Sept. 23-24, I’d like to get people thinking about Ken Ham, his organization’s agenda, and how Scripture might very well be getting abused for the sake of Young Earth Creationism.

I say this as someone who used to be a zealous defender of everything that Answers in Genesis stands for. I viewed the Creationism vs. Evolution debate as central and foundational to the Christian life. I would sit for hours on end and listen to guys like Kent Hovind and their defenses of Young Earth Creationism…

…and then I learned more about how to study the Bible.
Continue reading “Sacrificing Scripture on the Altars of Our Own Agendas”