Category: Other

Barth on incarnation

“God goes into the far country so that man can be brought into the history of the three persons.. He becomes what He had not previously been. He takes into unity with His divine being a quite different, a creaturely and indeed sinful being. To do this He empties Himself, He humbles Himself. But, as in His action as Creator, so in the incarnation: He does not become man apart from a basis in His own being, in His own inner life. What He does by going into the far country corresponds to the history in which He is eternally God. He does not need to deny, let alone abandon and leave behind and diminish His divinity to do this. He does not need to leave the work of reconciliation in the doubtful hands of a creature. He can enter Himself, seeing He is in Himself not only the One who rules and commands in majesty but also in His own divine being, the One who obeys in humility.”
In short, in going to the far country and being obedient to the Father as the Incarnate Son, the Son “does not change. He simply activates and reveals Himself in the world for what He truly is. He is in and for the world what He is in and for Himself. He is in time what He is in eternity, and He is what He is in time because of what He is in eternity. He is in our lowliness what He is in His majesty, and He can be what He is in our lowliness because His majesty is also lowliness. He is as man, as the man who is obedient in humility, exactly what He is as God. This is the true deity of Jesus Christ, His obedience in humility, in His unity and equality with the One who sent Him and to whom He is eternally obedient.”

Finding Rest: Identity and Belonging in Authentic Community

A recent article by Donald Miller (which can be found here), urged me to see the movie The Way Way BackAnd, it did help to see that a favourite of mine, Steve Carell, plays a major role in the film. Miller writes about the difficulty and messiness of relationships — the coming to terms with the fact that “life and love aren’t perfect” and that “choosing to be lonely over a bad relationship is radical self-help.” These are good thoughts, and are helpful in directing us to finding the main thrust of the film.

This is a movie about identity. About self-perception, and how one views him/herself in the world.

In the opening scenes, Trent, (a part played by Carell, and whom we soon discover is the antagonist throughout the story), asks his girlfriend’s son how he views himself on a scale from 1 to 10. “I want to know how you think of yourself,” he states, with his eyes glaring in the rear view mirror. Duncan, the boy, only 14, disapprovingly frowns at this question, and reluctantly gives himself a 6. Trent disagrees, snobbishly declaring him a 3. All this is happening in a station wagon; Duncan is seated in a back seat facing the rear of the vehicle – he is sitting in the “Way Way Back,” looking into the [perhaps?]  past, and with unrest not looking forward to the future.

The future doesn’t look too appealing. Duncan, his mother, Trent, and his daughter, are off to Trent’s summer cottage, with the hopes of–in Trent’s words–“becoming a family some day.”  This is the second major theme in the film: family/community.

Duncan’s transition from socially awkward to socially confident occurs as he finds his place in a family/community. Duncan finds a community — at a water park — where his gifts and abilities are discovered and put to use. Ultimately, he claims that “this is the only place where I am happy.” The filmmaker juxtaposes the organic and pure (though imperfect) community life at the water park with the abnormal and artificial attempt to “being a family” amongst the four who are actually related (or have the potential to be through marriage). The water park family has fun, they laugh, play games, have parties: they celebrate life. The four don’t get along when they’re together, they argue and fight over a silly board game: a failed attempt at family. Ironically, the relational friction and unrest grows at the summer cottage, the very place intended for rest.

The film does not end with any ‘happily-ever-afters’ but it does end with a sense of hope. It ends with a drive back home, and Duncan is back where he was at the opening scene, sitting in the “Way Way Back” of the car and sadly realizing that he is leaving the community that helped him find himself. This time though, his mother jumps over to the back seat to sit with her son, and wordlessly, she lets him know that it will be okay. 

Miller is right to say that “life and love aren’t perfect” – but more curiously it seems that the creator of this story is aware of the inherent human longing to belong. The place of belonging requires commitment to the imperfect community, thus creating the space for individual flourishing. It is not perfect, but the community provides a space where one finds his/her identity, and is empowered to not only receive but to give himself to the cause of that community.

More crucially, for my purposes, it seems that community/family cannot be artificially and programatically created. Authentic community matters greatly, and for it to happen it requires truth, commitment, giving,  and receiving. In these things one can hope for the flourishing of the individual and the community, potentially reaching a place of inner and outer rest – attaining in some degree the human calling to make shalom. 

Self-Rejection and Being Beloved

“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”


― Henri J.M. Nouwen

Humble Hermeneutics

His [Paul’s] letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
2 Peter 3:16

We’re given a good reason to avoid reducing Scripture to pithy little (universal) principles (that I keep seeing on Facebook, more than anywhere else). The way it happens, is that people read a Scripture, quote it, then draw out a principle from it. And it’s done so confidently, so ‘as-a-matter-of-fact’ -ly. That, I think, is dangerous.

Peter, in this epistle, notes the difficulty in properly interpreting Paul’s letters. The basis of his warning is, Scripture + ignorance = distortion and destruction.

I can hear listeners say, “well I guess we can’t read Scripture then.” You think that way simply because you, like every human, (including myself), have a tendency towards extremism; like a pendulum swinging from right to left. In other words, we are either too confident in our interpretation of Scripture, or, give up the hope for better interpretation.

I like what Paul tells Timothy in his second epistle: “Think over (or reflect) what I am saying, for the Lord will give you understanding in all these things” (2 Timothy 2:7). Something similar is said by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow (1 Corinthians 3:6).  Two things I note from these passages. First, is the need for work. Hard (intellectual) work is underrated in some  denominations. It is treated as an optional add-on; the proverbial third plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet: have some if you can fit it in. It is ironic and quite sad that the average Christian (and I’m speaking in my North American context) is progressively getting less thoughtful in a context that is progressively more resourceful with regards to Bible study. Thinking well and thinking hard needs to be emphasized for all ages again – the Church must rediscover the riches of Catechesis, and that sola scriptura always meant, ‘now you can read/study the Bible for yourself’ – a very prominent theme during the Protestant Reformation! Secondly, God is the Engineer in this whole process. He creates, he sustains, he brings growth, he multiplies. He is the One who gets the glory.

The answer, I think, is the need for humility.

It doesn’t mean that we do not attempt to interpret Scripture, but quite the contrary. We work hard, we attempt, and we maintain an attitude that is willing to be wrong, willing to jump in and make a mistake – because lets face it, we all make mistakes in all areas of life. This won’t apply to all things biblical hermeneutics, but it does provide a framework by which one can explore the treasures of Scripture. With learning, humility, and discernment (that is of course, empowered through communion with the Resurrected Lord), one can learn to hear Scripture, and hear the Lord speaking through it.

Lord, help us come humbly to your word, knowing that it bears witness to You, not a principle, but a person who is part of a grand story: the story of salvation, of rescue, of love and grace and beauty, a beauty that has been revealed, is being revealed and has yet to be revealed in its fulness. We are created and you are Creator: all glory is yours.

Amen.

Cruciform Life: Faith, Hope, Love

I grew up hearing the language of “inviting Jesus into your heart.”

It is very cute, and I’m sure Jesus appreciates it, but it’s not exactly biblical.

What we see most commonly in Scripture is not that we invite Jesus into our hearts, but that HE invites us into his story. The language of being “in Christ” is a recurring theme throughout the New Testament (appearing an approximate 83 times in the Pauline Epistles alone), pointing us to the reality that Christian humans (I think I prefer being identified as such, since I am primarily a human, then a Christian), enter into the story of Christ; a story marked by the cross and the resurrection, and resulting in a new life.

Conformity to Christ crucified, which one authors calls ‘cruciformity’ (‘cruciform’ literally means ‘shape of the cross’), is an ongoing reality in the life of the believer, beginning at the first moment of faith, expressed in baptism, and continues on throughout life. About baptism, Paul writes,

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Romans 6:3-4.

So what does the cruciform life look like? It’s characterized by faith, hope, and love. Faith is fidelity and loyalty to God, patterned after Jesus’ life of faithful obedience. Hope is the confidence of God’s future glorification in the life of the believer despite present suffering and tribulation. Love, patterned after the cross, is the costly covenant fidelity toward others within the ekklēsia; also taking the shape of cruciformity.

This life is only possible through the empowering of the Spirit; which enables fidelity to God by connecting believers to the cross and thereby creating individual and corporate newness.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

1 Cor. 5:17

This points us to an even grander story: the story of God’s plan for New Creation. God promised, through Isaiah that God would one day re-create creation: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth” (Isa. 65:17; cf. 66:22). For Paul, this has already begun in the resurrection of Christ, but will only finish in the future. The community who is “in Christ” (Romans 8:1) has the “first fruits of the Spirit” (Romans 8:23), and exists and lives as result of and anticipation for the New Creation (8:23-25).

Like an author who loves his story so much that he will include himself in it, God enters into his story as the Rescuer – inviting us, and our story, to join his, into the cruciform life of faith, hope, and love, looking to the promise of a New Heaven and New Earth.

Amen.

Psalm 1 & 2: The Already and Not Yet of Blessing, Worship, & Hope

I love the Psalms. Here’s a reason why:

Structured like the Pentateuch (on purpose), it is 5 books into one. We’re given a doxology to mark out the end of one book and the beginning of the next (24, 72, 89, 106). The individual books were particular collections (i.e. “From Korah”), and eventually put together into one.

The Psalms, in the format that we have them, were probably not completed until Israel’s post-exilic period. They represent many centuries of Israelite worship.

We shouldn’t encounter them as a loose collection but as a book. They aren’t randomly scattered, but it seems clear that in the compilation, there is a consciousness of what is going on.

Psalm 1 is a great case study.

What’s is curious about this psalm is that it is not a prayer but a blessing; a blessing for those who go on the right way in contrast with those who do not. The reader is greeted not as a worshiper but as a journeyer, an individual not as a group. Private mediation on the law is commended. It implicitly provides an important point of entry for the whole book; inviting the reader into blessing by lawful mediation, guiding the reader on how they are to read.

Chapter 2 seems to be read in continuity with chapter 1.

Chapter 2 is kingly. As mentioned, what is interesting about the whole book, this anthology was only put together after the exile, yet there were no kings in Israel at that time. This raises the obvious question, why include psalms in an anthology closely tied to the king when there is no king? Here’s why: language of Kingship in the prophets often point to the eternal kingdom established by God’s Messiah. Conclusion: Psalm 2, and the other “royal” psalms are understood to refer to a king to come, and in that way they become messianic texts. In fact, Qumran writings interpret them as such.

Eschatological hope becomes the context for worship.

Psalm 1 outlines 2 ways for individuals and psalm 2 outlines 2 ways for nations. This is about messianic future and righteous government, with a here and now dimension while holding in tension the future hope; the already and not yet.

The Psalms provide a place of identification with the post-exilic people of Israel. We, like them, are in a state of tension, experiencing our own Exodus journey, and like them we can proclaim in hope that “we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14).

He is faithful.

Calling

The idea of calling/vocation has recently been bubbling up in my thinking. A very deeply crucial, and yet astoundingly simple truth, buried deep in my subconscious–probably due to a lecture, book, conversation or some other source–has resurfaced before my eyes. Simply, that I, Matteo, am called to be Matteo and no one else can fulfill that calling.  Every activity, every prayer, every act of faith, every moment of decision that I am faced with; all of it has been providentially formed to fit who I am, in order for me to fulfill God’s calling for me.

Please note, I am not advocating a Christ-less self-fulfilment ‘be the best version of yourself’ individualism. What I am saying, though, is that there is no room for self doubt in the Kingdom. Instead, I propose that in being emptied of myself, embracing the cross,  and being marked as God’s own by his Spirit, can I then fulfill God’s very specific calling to be Matteo.

 

Attending to Jesus

I’m observing Lent for the first time.

Again I am reminded of Paul’s prayer, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3:10).

From a devotional I am using, Lent is described as

“a season of preparation and repentance during which we anticipate the death (Good Friday) and resurrection (Easter Sunday) of Jesus. It is this very preparation and repentance – aimed at grasping the intense significance of the crucifixion – that gives us a deep and powerful longing for the resurrection, the joy of Easter.”

The purpose of Lent then, is to meet with Jesus. My prayer is that he would meet with me, so I’ll be attending to Him. Not simply when I have devotionals or time set apart for prayer, but my hope is that I will be attending to him wholly, fully, as I study and research for school, as I spend time with friends, as I work, that I would be attending to Him, waiting on Him to meet with me.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24). 

Power of His Resurrection

I’ve been thinking of a lecture I heard recently, given by an Eastern Orthodox Father. I’m a Protestant, and I don’t intend on changing that, but I think that if we are to take our historic faith seriously, then we should engage in conversation with our fellow Christian siblings (or maybe cousins).

The lecturer proposed that the Western Church (Protestants and Catholics) have placed much more emphasis on the cross – a Christology from below; a meek, humble and human Jesus. The Eastern Church has placed much more emphasis on the resurrection – a Christology from above; Jesus the pantocrator; the “All-Mighty”, the transcendent Lord. I realize that this is an over-generalization, but, it should be considered, especially if we (westerners) have emphasized

the cross at the expense of the resurrection – since, without the resurrection, “our preaching is useless and so is [our] faith” (1 Cor. 15:14).

There may be some truth to this. If you walk into a Protestant or Catholic church, you will mostly find emblems of the cross. In an Eastern Orthodox church, you will likely find icons of Jesus that emphasize his Lordship and divine nature. Obviously, both emphases are needed, but I am wondering, have we neglected the Resurrection?

I feel as though I rarely hear a sermon on the resurrection, except for on Easter Sunday. That’s problematic to me because Every Sunday should be a reminder of the Resurrection.

The Eastern Church do a really good job with this, and they do it by means of the sacraments. For them, the Church is fundamentally a sacrament. The sacraments and liturgy on Sunday are not just a means of grace or remembrance, but an expression of the entire life.

Each sacrament is a pascha – a ‘passage’ –  a transformation. You come into the church to have  a shattering encounter with Jesus Christ. The Pascha is analogous to the Exodus – you come in a sinner and go out a saint.  Taking the Eucharist is something like an ascent – going up to the kingdom – participating in the resurrection of Christ.

This is mind blowing to me. I’m not too sure what to make of all this yet. Though I have given much more thought to the importance of the resurrection and its implications with regards to newness, life, hope, and the Kingdom of Heaven = what we at Regent like to call “shalom”.

I keep finding myself praying Paul’s words:

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead”

Philippians 3:10-11.

 

christsinai

 “The iconic image of Christ Pantocrator was one of the first images of Jesus developed in the Early Christian Church and remains a central icon of the Eastern Orthodox Church.” (Wiki)

 

 

Music and Bach: Rethinking Spirit Led Worship

hands-music-musician-piano

I’ve been wondering about the musical mechanisms we have employed in Christian Evangelical circles. I’m thinking of the two very different modes of musical worship – one which hold’s thoughtful and systematic planning in high regard, and the other which hold’s spontaneity in high regard.

I’m trying to think this through objectively, though of course, as a critical realist, I never reach strict objectivity because I, we, can’t escape our context and the biases and presuppositions that come with them. So then, for me to be “critically realistic,” I must take into account my subjectivities and interpretive lenses that have formed my thinking.

I will say that as a musician involved in leading worship and playing drums, I’ve experienced both: spontaneous and planned.
I’ve heard it said, that strictly planned worship simply does not allow the work of the Spirit; unless there is room for spontaneity. I understand the concern. My question is: what assumptions are intrinsic to this thinking? Why is it that Christians in my tradition (not all of them of course, but many), have equated spontaneity with some higher work of the Spirit?

Yesterday, in Christian Though and Culture class @ Regent, we looked at The Enlightenment and its effects on Christendom. The lecture was titled: ‘Lord of Reason: The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative in the Modern Era’. What resulted from this self-explanatory title, was a fundamentalist escape from culture. The Fundamentalist movement, which Mark Noll describes as being “intellectually sterile,” had absolutely nothing valuable to say about or contribute to culture:

“As a result of following a theology that did not provide Christian guidance for the wider intellectual life, there has been, properly speaking, no fundamentalist philosophy, no fundamentalist history of science, no fundamentalist aesthetics, no fundamentalist novels or poetry, no fundamentalist jurisprudence, no fundamentalist literary criticism, and no fundamentalist sociology” (The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 137).

Thankfully, prior to the rise of Fundamentalism, there were leaders within the Evangelical movement that were quite different. Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, and George Whitefield are those often mentioned, but the one who has stuck out to me, was Johann Sebastian Bach.

I am no expert on this man (or anything really… except maybe eating), but I do believe that those who have equated spontaneous, unplanned songs of worship with a greater move of the Spirit can learn a thing or two from Bach.

He is known for many things, he is known for his incredible ability to have very “rational” and mathematical music. More importantly, he was able to fuse this rationalism with his theology. This may seem normal for us today, but back then, rationalism and mathematics were seen as causes of “the eclipse of the biblical narrative” within society. His music, what I would like to point out, was far from spontaneous. But if something is Spirit empowered music, it’s his. He teaches us that, as James Macmillan has written, “abstract complexity and spiritual joy are not mutually exclusive.” He is sometimes called the “fifth evangelist,” and that for a reason.

Surely, most readers will not understand the latin in his music, but one must ask, what have we done with music?

I’m not trying to speak against spontaneous music, since many believe that in it, there are greater forms of art (which is probably also questionable).

To get back to the question, what assumptions are intrinsic to this thinking – the thinking that spontaneous music is more spiritual? Maybe we can’t answer that definitively, but we can at least re-think what really is “Spirit-led” music.

This brings up other questions: God has given us many gifts; Scripture, reason, art, experience, tradition. How are we using them? Is the idea that a spontaneous “letting go and letting God” mentality in music really a means of the Spirit of God being ‘allowed to flow’? Could that be just laziness? Could it be that with all the gifts that God has given us, and if we consider that since our fundamental calling is to be Human, and that as Human, we are called to Cultivate (essentially, to Create Culture), should we not be making the best of what we have with our God-given skills ? Would not these things bring greater glory to God? I think these are important questions that need evaluation.

Here’s one piece Called “Agnus Dei in G minor” – Paul Hofreiter sums this piece up:

“The most intense solo in the entire work is the Agnus Dei in G-minor. This angular music makes strong use of imitation between the alto voice and the violins, creating a bridge between humanity and divinity as Christ offers his body and blood for the salvation of humankind. The jagged and chromatic nature of the music in the aria demonstrates the profound reality that Christ has, indeed, participated in our humanity in all its anguish and death. There is no mistake for Bach in the understanding of the purpose and reason for Christ’s death.”

Also, for more info on this subject check out http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/tas3/musicon.html