GCU Study Updates

Fall 2019 Romans: The Search for Our True Home

Romans is the uncontested most important letter of Paul the Apostle to the early church. It has impacted many great thinkers over the centuries:  for example, Augustine of Hippo in North Africa, Martin Luther of Wittenberg Germany, John Wesley of England, and Swiss theologian Karl Barth, to name a few. As N.T. Wright says, it is a peak of philosophical thought/theology, a majestic articulation of the central focus of God’s plan for humanity. Both dense and rich, it draws on the history of Israel with extensive  reference to ancient Hebrew text, following a strong trajectory of hope. Touching on Adam (Genesis 1-3) and Abraham (Genesis 15), the Exodus, Deuteronomy 32, Psalms 2, 8, 44, 110 and Isaiah 40-55, Paul draws together various themes to show how unique Jesus of Nazareth really is. He is the long awaited Messiah for Israel and for the whole world, through whom God has revealed himself, his purposes and  intentions. He is the one through whom all believers discover true identity. Jesus is the focal point, central to understanding the depth and breadth of God’s love and grace, God’s purposes, God’s justice, God’s people, God’s future.

What You Can Hope to Get Out of This Study

  • friendship, collegiality, dialectical thinking skills
  • get to know the gospel at a deeper level–see how radical it is actually in terms of its implication for life and culture
  • get to know the God of the Bible better (as opposed to a lesser god, an idol or some kind of syncretism or gnosticism)
  • get to know yourself better: your humanity, your calling, your identity, your fullest vocation
  • experience the existential momentum of Paul’s argument for Jesus as Israel’s long promised Messiah–but for the whole world
  • a strong sense of how God can help you flourish as a whole person, and how you can experience transformation
  • the eschatological thrust of the book: future hope brought alive in the present–the glory of God to fill the whole earth
  • learn how justice and mercy embrace within the covenant: righteousness means right standing within the covenant
  • learn how Paul’s doctrine of justification works hand in hand with his idea of transformation by the Spirit



In our pluralistic age, sometimes we feel disoriented, lonely and depressed amidst a myriad of choices. We feel the angst of intellectual, spiritual, and existential homelessness. We are in search of a vision for life. Romans offers a profound discourse, a moral footing, that can empower our lives, fill us with identity, hope and purpose. Playing the infinite game, it points us in the direction of home and meaning, grounds and centres us, raises the deeper questions of the human condition, and reveals a solid way forward for contemporary culture, offering prospects for healing our broken world. As with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christianity as participation in the new humanity established by Christ is all about becoming fully human by becoming ChristlikeWoven throughout is a robust worldview or social imaginary, one that moves our universe and reshapes our imagination. One might call the book a great symphony, one that has inspired much human creativity over the centuries.


Background: In terms of political importance, geographical position and sheer magnificence, Rome as capital of the empire stood out. Built on seven hills, east of a bend in the Tiber River, Rome was celebrated for its impressive public buildings, aqueducts, baths, theatres and thoroughfares. Most know of the great coliseum where the famous games with brave gladiators and animals were held. The most prominent features were the Capitoline hill, with temples to Jupiter and Juno, and the nearby Palatine, adorned with imperial palaces. Both hills overlooked the Roman Forum, the hub of the entire empire.  Rome was both the centre of great architecture and the location of great social problems like any large city today. It was the heartbeat of the empire (like London in the 19th Century).
The apostle Paul entered the city from the south, the Via Appia. He first lived under house arrest and then, after a period of freedom, as a condemned prisoner in the Mamertime dungeon near the Forum. He was able to speak into the lives of people of all classes. He was also executed here according to tradition in 68 A.D. Paul wrote this long letter from Corinth at the end of his third missionary journey, around 55 to 57 A.D. He had never yet visited the church in Rome, but obviously thought it a very important location to connect with and to encourage. He hoped to visit them on his way to Spain–after an important visit to Jerusalem. Paul was a well educated Jew and would be able to communicate in Greek, Aramaic or Latin. You could call him preacher/scholar.
Culturally, Rome was Greco-Roman, meaning that Greek thought, culture and architecture dominated, while Roman law and engineering were strong. The Romans over a period of one century, especially since the Battle of Corinth in 146 B.C. gradually took over the Greek City States with the final conquest in 27 B.C. under Augustus Caesar. The language of business was Greek. Society was structured as a hierarchy, the households were paterfamilias, meaning run from the top by the father and then the oldest brother. The only people who had rights were male citizens. Women, children, slaves were seen as property, not as individuals. There was a massive number of slaves which did much of the manual labour, but also tutored the children of the aristocracy. Reason (logos) justified this structural pyramid from the emperor down to slaves. Grand titles were given to the emperor such as ‘Lord of the Universe’, Benevolent Benefactor, often giving him divine status. The military was ubiquitous throughout the empire, always a strong presence to keep law and order. The empire was indeed militant and aggressively imperialistic in its conquests of other peoples and territories. Romans added their religious pantheon to the Greek pantheon, so there were many gods to choose from and each family had religion as a central feature.
The Roman Worldview: (Keesmat & Walsh, Romans Disarmed, 2018, 72) Worldview is storied vision of life. It gets at the implicit depth of orientation that gives meaning and directs our lives. Our communal orientation involves habitual ways of experiencing the world: these habitual ways are constitutive of all human life and shape our understanding of what the world is, and how we should comport ourselves in it. As an imaginative construal of reality, a worldview tells us what is of ultimate significance at the heart of human life. This is true especially in terms of a grounding  and directing narrative or  myth that is encoded in symbols and rituals and embodied in a way of life. In the book of Romans, we see a clash of worldview, a conflict of gospels at the heart of the discourse. Biblical faith has always been shaped in the shadow of empire, and Paul is fully conscious that he is writing a subversive letter to young believers, to help them grow into their new identity in Christ. It is reshaping both their consciousness and their very lives.
Where are we? We are at the centre of the universe, the heart of the empire, the apex of civilization. All roads lead to Rome, because Rome is the destination, the goal of all things. The world is a cornucopia of natural blessings wherever the empire’s rule reaches.
Who are we? We are the Romans, blessed by the gods with virtue and abundance. We bear the historical weight and responsibility of empire to spread civilization, law and justice. WE are subjects of the divine Caesar, son of god, saviour of the world. We are grateful children of Pater Patria, The Father of the Fatherland.
What’s wrong? There are recalcitrant forces of resistance to the good news of the empire. There is barbaric and impious resistance to the lordship of Caesar. And there are resources that need to be liberated to the service of the empire.
What the remedy? The triumphant good news of the empire must be spread throughout the world, brining more and more peoples and lands to bow the knee and confess that Caesar is Lord. Barbaric resistance needs to be defeated, military control needs to be established, and the seaports and roads to Rome must be filled with goods and resources and bounty coming to the heart of the empire.
What time is it? We are at the climax of the world’s story, living the Golden Age of Augustus and his successors. It is time of the  Pax Romana. It is time for the peace of Rome to spread its nets and encompass more and more people. And now, with Nero on the throne, we have entered a new golden age, a time when it is no longer necessary for Rome to be ruled by the sword.
Romans Chapter 1 is on a clear trajectory from chapters 1 to 8 (8 is the climax of a crucial journey or pilgrimage), an exodus, from darkness to light, from human brokenness and corruption to wholeness and truthfulness, from homelessness to home-fulness. It is a movement towards a robust, resilient identity, immersed in grace. Read Romans 8 several times and let it transformative message seep into your consciousness. It is a magnificent pillar in the book of Romans, like you might find in the Parthenon in Athens. Paul feels the need to start his letter by articulating the basic human (Adamic) condition, with its need for rescue (See Laren Daigle’s song Rescue). What went wrong in the Garden? How is it that this rebellion against our creator continues to recur in the ancient world and today? Humanity is in a state of denial about its blindness to the raw truth revealed in creation, and in the existential depths of the human heart–the conscience/the self/the psyche. What occurred is a great loss of a sense of wonder and a strong desire for control and dominance. In chapter 8, Paul outlines the battle between the work of the Spirit to transform us and set us free, and the rebellion within the human spirit (fleshly attitude) against God’s best intentions and design: i.e. covenant-making versus covenant-breaking. The faith journey of Romans 1 to 8 is from one of slavery to lusts, lies, autonomy and pride (various forms of sociopathy), to one of humility, obedience and a change of heart, from corruption to integrity, from hatefulness to love or compassion.
One could also say that Chapter 1 is a statement on a four-fold alienation of humans: psychological alienation from self; sociological alienation from others and from society; ecological alienation from the natural world (creation); and theological alienation from God (the divine or transcendent). These are formidable problems that require attention from the most brilliant, wise and nobel minds in the world. Paul is deeply in touch with the repercussions of the fall. He knows what is at stake.
Philosophically, it involves a transcendent turn to agape love via the Spirit. Grace is actually known to grow in the face of human rebellion and death-dealing behaviour. Ultimately, it is God alone who is faithful to the covenant. In sending Jesus as Messiah, he offers help to frail, flawed humans to move towards covenant faithfulness. Romans 1:17 is a key verse introducing the polyvalent nature of God’s covenant righteousness/justice (generosity, mercy and love mixed with judgment). God is calling us out, but not to crush us; he has a plan, through Jesus, to move us forward to healing, hope for a better future, a ‘new creation’. At the end of the day, we all get in touch with reality through reason, revelation and the light of creation with all its wonders. We see this articulated throughout the Psalms. If we are to hope to get on the right track with God, we must learn trust in the divine, and recognize that we are not God. Then perhaps we can be transformed by the Spirit and have impact for the good in our world as its custodians. The unfaithful  children of Adam can become the faithful children of God, and creation itself will issue a huge sigh of relief. This means we can move beyond our disfunctionality.
John Piper’s Dramatic Reading of Romans 8 brings it to Life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i867dGtkIFo
Romans Chapter 2
We often want to justify ourselves (exert some sort of self-righteousness), measure ourselves by our own standards/justice, to have things on our own terms. Then, of course, we tend to look down upon or judge “lesser beings” that struggle with life. But Paul claims that the just will live by faith, not self-glorification; we could never fully measure up to God’s standards whether we possess the law (Jews) or not (Gentiles). We can only be justified through faith in Jesus’ power to save us from ourselves and from a broken world. On our own, we are powerless to find our true north, our true home. We need God’s wisdom and guidance, his rescue. This, my friends, is an entirely new paradigm than the one we are taught throughout much of our education. It touches on a deeper reality. It is significant that Christianity brought four new virtues into culture in the ancient world: humility, charity, chastity and patience. These were not part of the world of Plato, Socrates, Aristotle or the Stoics. But they were endemic to the teaching and life of Jesus, they were Christocentric. Thus, Paul is making a direct challenge to both Jew and Gentile, Greek and Roman, who might think they have all the ethics and law they need for the good life, who think they can save themselves. This is a whole new ball game that Paul is introducing to them.
Romans Chapter 3
The primary note in this section is verse 28, God’s faithfulness, which is the key to covenant integrity. There were three ages in Israel’s history: a. The period before the law; b. the Age of the Law (Sinai and following); and c. The Messianic Age (John the Baptist and Jesus). Paul assumes in this writing that we have entered the Messianic Age with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. No longer can we gain God’s favour through law keeping or observance. Paul (formerly Saul) had been very much a zealot of law keeping, protecting orthodoxy from false messiahs and heretics before his epiphany and conversion on the road to Damascus. The law, delivered by Moses to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai, was their teacher, showing people how to live and also where they did not measure up to God’s expectations. Everything, for instance, in the Ten Commandments contributes to a flourishing society. But ironically, their failure to live up to God’s standards gets them in trouble with God. For the most part, it also excluded the Gentiles (non-Jews) and gave the Jews a sense of moral and spiritual superiority–we hear from God. Some Greeks (aka God Fearers) at this time admired monotheism and actually converted to Judaism. There was a whole process to do this. The Jews after all had the very oracles (words) of Yahweh/God and his prophets [The Greeks had the Delphic Oracle that one could consult on a very rare occasion]. Torah (law) was central to Jewish identity. Jesus respected the law/teachings of old as well: Matthew 5: 17-20 says “I have not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.” The Greek word (nomos) for law can refer to a. Just the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Pentateuch), or b. Law and the Prophets, c.The Law, the Prophets and the Writings (whole Hebrew Bible including the Psalms). In Hebrew, law meant the entire teachings for human wellbeing, or Torah. The law was a sign of God’s righteousness and his covenant faithfulness to his people; he gave it to help them flourish within the Old Covenant which went back to Abraham’s day. The blessings and curses consequences of law keeping or law/God defection, all came in love from God’s heart. Babylonian Exile was an act of God’s love to bring them back to repentance and to the faith, to discipline Israel for their unfaithfulness, their moral and spiritual failure. They had broken covenant and it was serious. They had become lawless and godless, straying from home base in terms of their morality, spirituality and identity. But even in the midst of this disaster, there was always hope for prodigal Israel to return home.
This affirms that there are two testaments, but one Bible, one grand narrative that ties it all together.
Paul knew from experience, as a dedicated Pharisee, that religion based on a code can be twisted into legalism–a merit-seeking obsession. It can produce a form of elitism. This ironically is a position of insecurity. There is no way of conning God, or bending reality to suit oneself, or working hard enough to please God. It has failed again and again. In Jesus, Paul was offering a new relationship with the divine. Only on the basis of the faith-principle (Romans 8: 2-4) can law’s true purpose be achieved: i.e., to order human lives in conformity with God’s will and intention for their flourishing, their God-intended vocation and destiny. This is what he intended from ancient times. In that sense, Jesus became God’s new law of love, the good man, a law incarnate. This idea is expressed in the story of Jesus and the rich young ruler: He got the law, and was a diligent law-keeper, but he missed the core–compassion for the poor. His wealth proved his Achilles heal. When Gentile and Jewish Christians took Jesus as their saviour and Lord, following him, they entered a whole new paradigm, a new social imaginary. So it is the faith of Jesus (his example) and faith in  Jesus that makes the transformational shift. Jesus shows the way forward, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to become faithful sons and daughters once again, to come back from exile, to come out of the desert and into the promised land. He blazes a new moral-spiritual-identity trail rooted in grace and executed through his life, death and resurrection. It is a gift. This is the way to get right with God and live under grace and mercy. At the end of the day, law never was the enemy of spiritual wholeness. We were, in our rebellion. We all fail to measure up (3: 23), to show the glory of God, to represent him well on earth as his Imago Dei. We miss the target, Jew and Gentile, Greek and Roman, people around the world today–trapped by guilt and shame and self-destruction, caught in a self-defeating loop. But now a new way forward is open, enticing for these young believers. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life that they have been searching for, spiritually longing for, and it is deeply rooted in the ancient Shema: robust love of God and neighbour. Fantastic, liberating news.
Romans Chapter 4
Faith and the Law seem to be in competition for how we are justified. Romans 1-8 shows a trajectory that corrects the record: righteousness comes through faith, not works of the law. It is the covenantal and eschatological teaching of justification. It is a gift, not a right, not genetic. This challenges both the Roman Empire and the Jewish establishment of the time. And yet this faith path is inclusive of the Gentiles (non-Jews). The drama now turns to Abraham, one of the great exemplars of faith and integrity of standing with God. Three great religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) look back to him as their source of inspiration and spiritual identity. He is a key patriarch. Genesis 15 records the story of how he made a covenant with God rooted in a big promise that he would be the father of many nations, that his offspring would be in huge numbers, and that they would become a blessing to the whole world. Abraham was both a covenant-maker and a covenant-keeper. He trusted God implicitly, took him at his word, knew the gravity of this relationship. As a lifestyle, he has become a friend of God. One could also refer to Hebrews 11: 8-19 for a big picture of the Abrahamic narrative. God makes covenant with him 400 years before the law comes down from Mount Sainai through Moses.
For the patriarchs, the order of priority is a. faith-fulness, b. justification, and finally c. circumcision. Later Jewish practice reversed the priorities: a. circumcision and Torah, b. justification, c. faith. But for Abraham, who prefigured Jesus as the faithful covenant-keeper, circumcision was only a sign of something greater (Genesis 17: 1-14, Acts 7:8)–his robust faith and the covenant, which was entwined with God’s great Promise and Abraham’s obedience to God’s call. It was an existential I-Thou encounter and engagement, a tremendous epiphany. 2 Peter 1: 1 reiterates this path to righteousness: “to those who through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.”  Righteousness is gift all the way down. George MacDonald captures it: “When a [person] truly and perfectly says with Jesus, and as Jesus said it, ‘Thy will be done.’  he/she closes the everlasting circle. The life of the Father and the Son flows through him/her. He/she is part of the divine organism. Then is the prayer of the Lord in him fulfilled: “I in them and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.” Paul looks at Sinai through the lens of the promise. Faith wins.

Romans Chapter 5

As an old saying goes, “Where two or three are gathered round to study Torah, God’s presence is in their midst.” In this section, justification by faith is taken a step further. Paul notes that it is always followed by sanctification, or transformation into a life of holiness. They are existentially inseparable. We are saved from ‘death of every sort’ (corruption, vice, oppression, injustice. lies) to be launched into life of every sort (joy, peace, patience, perseverance through suffering, godliness, strong character). Paul is hinting that presently we are only a shadow of our future self, the one redeemed by Christ. A whole new relationship with God, self and the world is made possible through justification and reconciliation.  Once we get right with God, a whole new drama unfolds, one filled with gift and grace. It is the journey of faith about which many contemplatives like Thomas Merton have written. We get stronger with each new experience, as we climb the ladder (or sometimes summit the mountain) of faith. Justification and sanctification open a new level of access to God’s presence and his love. II Peter 1: 5-7 speaks of the momentum that our lives can have through consistent practice of good habits. John 14 offers another affirmation of this dynamic.

What are the qualities, the appropriate posture of the sanctification journey? By the agency of the Holy Spirit, the believer has access to God’s love, inspiration and empowerment. Patience and humility stand out as qualities of such a resurrection lifestyle (see Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection), living in light of the resurrectionHumility and suffering work together for good to those who follow Jesus, to bring them to full maturity. This experience of the power of the Holy Spirit is the first fruits of this new kingdom living, a promise like a wedding ring to a marriage. He provides the inner fire and motivation to pursue good deeds. The polyvalent nature of righteousness results in this new covenant of: generosity, love, mercy, repentance, correcting corrupt practices, bringing social transformation. Just like Abraham, we are called to bless the whole world, to be a daily blessing to our colleagues and the students we teach and mentor.

In verses 12-21, Paul outlines and contrasts two different heads (icons) of the human race:

  1. Adam represents Paradise Lost, our human fallenness, our alienation, our mischief, anarchy, the broken Imago Dei. This is where we begin to project blame (she made me do it), fail to take responsibility for, and even murder, one another (Cain and Abel). Adam is a channel of sin into the human race, resulting in a failure of stewardship, a failure to flourish to our full potential, corruption of all sorts, a failure to honour God as God, to accept our limits as humans. It results tragically in guilt and shame, pride, anger, greed, narcissism and violence, societal breakdown, war and oppression.
  2. Jesus represents Paradise Regained/Humans Redeemed, God’s cosmic gift, the true Imago Dei, the faithful covenant-keeper, the one who is like Abraham. He is the head of a new creation, author of a new covenant (Jeremiah 31), so much more than the old creation and the old covenant. Jesus was able to break the curse of Adam and the Fall through grace which took on our sin, through his obedience and his righteousness. His death on the cross broke the back of evil—disempowered it. This results in a new order of harmony, a new relationship with the Trinity. The church, in solidarity with Jesus, is placed in the broken places that God wants to redeem and heal. Key to Jesus’ foundational stance is the rock of obedience (Matthew 7: 21-27; also the cup in Gethsemane). He adjures us to take responsibility for the Other (Lévinas), to show compassion and hospitality, welcome the stranger. He saves us from death of every sort, from addiction, corruption, guilt and shame. He restores us and brings us home from alienation with respect to: God, creation, others, and self.

Adam can get you down; Jesus is keen to build you up into a person of integrity, to map a new trajectory of life-enhancing servanthood. In many ways, we are paradoxically both Adam and Christ in this spiritual journey (as we will see in Chapter 7) but with a strong basis for hope to follow Jesus’ trajectory (as in Chapter 8).



Romans Chapter 6  

Paul ends Chapter 5 by contrasting two kingdoms, two realms of kingly rule, two conflicting sovereignties—the dominion of death identified with Adam and the dominion of righteousness or covenantal justice through Jesus…. Now in Chapter 6 Paul asks the question of identity, but he begins with the question of where we will dwell. (Keesmaat & Walsh, Romans Disarmed, 121)

Hang on a minute, someone might ask:  “Does justification by faith mean we can be careless, amoral or purely subjective, acting on the basis of how we feel on a particular day?” Does it mean we should be unconcerned about doing the right thing, about justice and fairness? Is it a formula for licence or lawlessness? In verses 1-14, someone seems to be asking the outrageous: Should we sin big so that grace can abound? This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would call ‘cheap grace’, a quite perverse understanding of the all-important biblical concept caritas.

Indeed it does not mean licence, rebuts Paul. In this discussion, he affirms that sanctification (transformation towards holiness) is part and parcel of justification. They are twin moves joined at the hip. Change of life and lifestyle is expected within justification: faith ought to lead us into love for our neighbour. Obedience and faith are expressed in works of mercy, compassion and hospitality. Using the familiar illustration of baptism, Paul shows that we must die (turn out back) to our past life, the false self, and live forward in solidarity with Christ into a new life outlook. Baptism was meant to be a moral as well as a spiritual and identity turning point. Justification automatically leads to sanctification or spiritual formation (faith-deeds as James puts it). Baptism speaks of the finality of death to sin and lawlessness—repentance. Jesus’s death broke the back of sin and evil (René Girard), destroyed the game it was playing with humanity, exposed its sociopathic machinations. Keesmaat and Walsh (120) capture it:

We could sum up the heart of Paul’s theology by saying that while Rome made peace by shedding the blood of others, Jesus made peace by shedding his own blood…. Jesus welcomes all home through his outstretched arms on a cross. All are welcomed home by his blood. Sinners, enemies and all other kinds of home wreckers are welcomed and reconciled in this restored home…. If Adam’s sin is the primordial moment of home-breaking, then it is the obedience of Jesus Christ, his faithfulness and free gift, that births the kingdom rule of life. It is the Messiah’s righteousness, his justice and his grace, that opens the door to the household of life…. Baptism is homecoming.

God’s robust, costly grace means: a. we are no longer slaves, addicted to our passions and desires, to the self-indulgence of negative freedom and irresponsibility. Righteousness now has a new hold on us as liberated sin-slaves; b. We are called to re-submit our minds, our body, our time and talents to God’s service, as instruments of righteousness, as living sacrifices (Romans 12: 1-3);  c. We are released from bondage to our own narcissism and violence (15-23). Paul uses the image of the ancient Roman/pagan slave law, where a slave could save up and buy his freedom. He would pay the temple and the temple would pay his owner. We are no longer locked into the madness of shame and the culture of death of Adam. Now we are on the road to an eternal kind of life (heavenly values come to earth as in the Sermon on the Mount), following Christ upward into authenticity, dignity and nobility, intimacy with God, carrying Jesus’ yoke.

For a prayer that fits with Chapter 6, read Psalm 51, David’s classic of radical repentance. His goal is to restore the joy of his salvation, but he has to get really honest with God first on his face in humiliation. Lord, lead us in the paths of righteousness and justice.

Below are three axes of human flourishing. They offer parameters for being at home in the world, for a posture that is fruitful for both self and the Other.

  • Beliefs about the value of human life, the respect that is due to others, and what this will cost us, and how it places a demand on us.
  • Beliefs about what kind of life is worth living, the Noble/Good Life. This set of ideals permeates all our choices and actions.
  • The dignity we afford ourselves and others, which is based on how we understand our role and usefulness to society, and our place or calling within the larger scheme of things.

An insight into Paul’s thought here comes from Oxford political science scholar Larry Siedentop. He astutely shows how agape love changed the identity of ancient Christians and gave the church the fortitude to thrive amidst the fall of the Roman Empire. Here’s a thoughtful:

Now, through the story of Jesus, individual moral agency was raised up as providing a unique window into the nature of things, into the experience of grace rather than necessity, a glimpse of something transcending death. The individual replaced the family as the focus of immortality…. Paul spoke of the Christ as offering salvation to all humanity. ‘The Christ’ stood for the presence of God in the world…. Paul felt he had discovered something crucial—the supreme moral fact about humans—which provided the basis for reconstructing human identity, opening the way to what he called ‘a new creation’…. In Paul’s eyes, the Christ reveals God acting through human agency and redeeming it…. Through an act of faith in the Christ, human agency can become the medium of God’s love—which Paul sometimes calls ‘faith acting through love’. The faith accepting that love amounted to an inner crucifixion, from which could emerge a transformed will, embodied in the person of Jesus. For Paul it was a personal transaction, the creation of another, better self…. It is an invitation to see a deeper self, an inner union with God. It offers to give reason itself a new depth. Rationality loses its aristocratic connotations. It is associated not with status and pride but with a humility which liberates. (Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, 2014, 58-60)

Romans Chapter 7

Someone once wrote: “Scripture is not just something to be quoted. In order to grow, we must wrestle with it.” In this discussion, Paul wrestles at a deep level with the complex relationship between sin, the law and grace. It is not easy to disentangle. How do we get to the new life in Christ/the Spirit (the covenant of grace) when we feel chained by sin, the law and an exhausting, deadly works salvation? How do we set our hearts right with the love of God towards  wholeness? Tragically, some have been known to literally worship the law, to make it an idol. There is a deep, deep honesty about the struggle of the Christian journey in this meaty chapter. Something has to die in order for the release of the new life to emerge. What are the contours of sin, law and death?

  1. We can be naïve about our sin without knowledge of the moral law, but it is still sin, destructive of human well-being and societal health, offensive to God, self-destructive. We are still accountable though simple minded about ethics.
  2. Law exposes sin (7, 8), acting as a mirror, an interrogator of the soul and its motives. It brings the still cobra to life and attack mode—it agitates sin. Sin has made the good law a base of operations to do its worst. When someone says, “Don’t be greedy, covetous, don’t try to be God” we want to indulge more. The law gets our back up in pride. Why is it that rules or norms make us want to test them? Our ego and will to autonomy rises up within us. The law will always leave us feeling defeated, guilty and ashamed at the end of the day. Covetousness leads to all kinds of other sins—very secret and yet very destructive. If we accept the exposure of our sin and repent, there is no problem with law. The prophet John the Baptist saw that repentance was required to really see who Jesus was and what he offered. Just stop lying and tell the truth to get started on this journey.
  3. Sin has a way of being a mischief, twisting the good in the law to evil effect (14-17). Evil is often the twisting, corrosion or perversion of a good thing or a good gift, the corruption of a good life (for example, rot in an apple). Law and sin forms a toxic, deadly admixture. It is insidious, pernicious, weaving its way into our very bones, the matrix of our motives, attitudes and relationships. Sin messes with us, goads us, tempts us, seeking to take us down in anger and resentment, rob us of joy. Blessing is turned into a curse, a poisoned chalice. Sin is like an invasive species, choking out the good life and good fruit. It is irrational and sometimes like an addiction, it is very hard to get free of it.

This is part autobiography for Paul and part the experience of the average believer. He went all in with the law and used it for death-dealing: to arrest and kill Christians in his previous life as Saul the terrorist. It included a mania of hatred for these young believers; he literally wanted to wipe them off the planet. Perniciously, he saw this as protecting the Jewish religion, orthodoxy was everything to him. He was hard core and he had made law into an idol.

Even now as as a missionary Apostle, just when he feels he is making progress (soaring with the eagles), sin pulls him to the ground. He starkly realizes that the spiritual journey involves a struggle which only God can win in us and through us (Philippians 2: 12, 13). We will constantly require spiritual renovation and recharging. Martin Luther as a zealous monk and theologian in the 16th century, also attempted to deal with guilt by leaning into the law even harder, but it failed him. Self-righteousness and works of the law could only frustrate him and make him more aware of his guilt. Then he read the book of Romans and a light shone in his inner being, and the rest is history. He learned that no amount of effort would bring success, justification or access to God.

One is ultimately defeated spiritually if one depends on oneself alone to obey the law as a self-justification, self-righteousness. ‘Enough is never enough’ in regards to law-keeping. One will always end up a failure, no matter how obsessed with quoting or defending the moral law. We can never fully meet its demands–we stand condemned. It easily becomes oppressive, not liberating. My rational brilliance, creations or accomplishments can be just like the law—a form of self-justification, an idolatry. The entire sin-law-spiritual death mix has to be deconstructed in order for the new vision to be visible, accessible through grace. It involves an unapologetic radical shift.

Horns of a Dilemma: the schizophrenic/divided self/ divided consciousness (14-25). We are caught in a dialectic between our true/authentic/higher/organized self, Christ-like discipleship and holy living; and our lower/false self (chaos) with out-of-control desires such as dangerous thoughts, gossip, greed, hostility or carnal lust. We move back and forth between feeling noble on one hand, and wretched on the other—a bitter and discouraging experience of inner conflict. We see clearly the better life (the moral high road) but follow the lower path as a default implosion into selfishness. Chapter 8 shows us how life in the Spirit can help us escape the horns of this dilemma and move forward in the faith journey towards fruitful lives, the extraordinary love that he speaks of in Ephesians 3.

Grace Changes Everything! Good news. We can refuse sin’s domination in our lives. Law is no substitute for grace (see the Rich Young Ruler), but can be a barrier to the release of grace. The only way a Christian can truly flourish is through joining in the communal support of the transformed body of Christ; grace is experienced most powerfully through vulnerability in a group. Jesus is head of this body and the new law of love. Once we recognize we cannot do it on our own, we turn to God for grace which is abundantly available. Thank God we are not left to ourselves to figure everything out–a Gnostic death spiral. As we come to see and feel the beauty of holiness, the more we will want to clean out the remaining crud in our lives. The desire  to obey increases as we cooperate with the Spirit, walk in step with, live in the power of the Spirit of Christ. The grace and love of Jesus Christ is the deliverable agency that helps us root out sin at the core of our being.

Romans Chapter 8

Epic Reading of this chapter by John Piper

https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-war-within-flesh-versus-spirit John Piper on The War Within: flesh versus Spirit
Romans 9-11 Jews & Gentiles can Reconcile and Co-operate in the Kingdom

Please pray for our next speaker Ray Aldred and his talk on March 18: Can We Handle the Truth and Work Toward Reconciliation?

As you know from the news and your reading, this is  a very sensitive issue today. We need God’s grace and wisdom to carry this off well, to be fruitful in our dialogue together. Restoring relationships is so fundamental to our faith.

On this same note of reconciliation justice, one is reminded of the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his  “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. (August 28, 1963). For MLK, there was no separation between Christianity and social justice as highlighted in a recent issue of Time Magazine. We very much need someone with such a dream to inspire and unite us today. It is a significant wager that both men offer, one rooted in a deep faith with the cross held out in front of them. Location of the full MLK speech is here:  https://www.npr.org/2010/01/18/122701268/i-have-a-dream-speech-in-its-entirety

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

~Martin Luther King Jr. from Washington “I Have a Dream” speech.

I am working on a thought experiment on hospitality inspired by such lives and some people that I have been reading lately. It applies to the thrust of the above two talks. Hope you find it encouraging.

Hospitality to the Stranger: a Wager on Transcendence

Hospitality bears witness to the meeting of grace with nature, and eternity with time. In Jesus, God demonstrates what  humans are like when they are truly and fully alive. He is the great gift of self-giving compassion to the least of these (Matthew 25), the bread of heaven broken for us, the cup of self-sacrifice showing the way through Gethsemane. It may come as a stark realization that we mere humans are created to be hosts of the divine in this world, living out the calling  of Creation Day 7. In this light, we host the Son in every act of service, love and care. We make him present to our friends and neighbours.

If we reject the quest for power and self-interest, reject the pride of ego, triumphalism and radical individualism, along with the fear of lacking more wealth and power, we will entertain angels (I Corinthians 13). The cross itself offers a meta-critique of contemporary power-interests, an alternative vision of ‘power through weakness’, the humble fruits of the Holy Spirit. Biblical Christianity promotes a renunciation of privilege and entitlement in favor of servanthood, gratitude and generosity. Instead of self-assertive power, we identify our weaknesses, only to realize that God the Father by his grace loves to work through such honest and fragile vessels (II Corinthians 12: 9) who have identified with his Son. This recapitulates the ancient ways of wisdom (James 3: 17-18), promoting righteousness and justice to facilitate the empowerment of others: the poor, vulnerable, sick, homeless and broken. This is the Good Samaritan story. In poetic brilliance, the book of Proverbs  reverberates with the song of this outlook.

This intentional will-to-life celebrates a dynamic, vibrant economy of grace, the transcendent in the immanent, the divine Word in human flesh, the cup of cold water for the thirsty soul. We gladly purge ourselves of the illusions of power and greed, in order to recognize our responsibility/obligation/call in the face of the other (Lévinas), in relation to the biosphere of God’s beloved creation. This posture leads us into a moment of epiphany, a breakthrough or illumination; it can even involve a divine encounter. We see the world through refreshed eyes, accept a change in the calculus of life, and deepen our identity by caring for the distant stranger, the outsider, the other, the alien. It is a true conversion/reconfiguration/redirection of self and its passions. As we learn this art of hosting, the sacred shows up dramatically within the context of the secular, kairos within chronos, as we commit to self-giving agape in the name of our trinitarian God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Paul writes about Christ in Philippians 2, we must first go down (self-empty) in order to go up. The hermeneutic of this posture in life is superabundant grace all the way down. Within this economy, this stance, we naturally become the resistance to radical evil: by becoming whole, complete human beings, building our capacity to love, honoring the sacred in the everyday, casting off the mask of the false self, building bridges across difference. This is the pinnacle of human existence and the solution to the angst/despair/inequality/desperateness/alienation/tribalism of our age.


Fall, 2018 Theme  Investigating the Power of Agape Love: a Wager on the Deepest Meaning, the Highest Human Quest, a New Identity
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Can such a love show us the path to the heart and depth of meaning, an exit from despair, an entrance to a whole new stance towards self and the world, through a strong transcendence?

Could this be a light at the end of a tunnel that we humans have been seeking for a thousand years, the Holy Grail, the pearl of great price, the powerful troika of faith, hope and love? Yes, love surpasses all other values, includes all the best goods.

Can such love wrestle our fears, anxieties and insecurities to the mat? Can fear be banished by love?

Is this the space in which we can discover the truth, overcome alienation from the truth, address the root of our restlessness, and discover a resolution to our current crisis of identity?

Is agape the hub of all virtues and values, the preeminent virtue in our hierarchy of values?

How does gift love, agape, fit within a whole economy of God’s grace?

Can it heal our broken relationships and meet us existentially at the centre of our pain, the heart of our angst?

Loyola Philosophy Professor Paul Moser thinks and writes profoundly on the subject: “God’s agape love directed at the human conscience is a deep invitational call to an existential depth.”

To be or not to be in agape love is the ultimate, preeminent question–urgent, new, ever relevant.

Agape is a prophetic love. It refuses to equate anyone with his immediate observable being. A human being is not deeply and essentially the same as the one who is visible to the employer, neighbour, salesman, policeman, judge, friend or spouse. A human being is destined to live in eternity and is fully known only to God.  Agape is about the spiritual destiny of the individual; destiny is a spiritual drama. My destiny is my own selfhood given by God, but given not as an established reality, like a rock or a hill, but as a task lying under divine imperative…. Agape is simply the affirmation of this paradox and of this destiny underlying it. Agape looks beyond all marks of fallenness, all traits by which people are judged and ranked, and acknowledges the glory each person—as envisioned in Christian faith—gains from the creative mercy of God. It sets aside the most astute worldly judgment in behalf of destiny. (Glenn Tinder, The Political Meaning of Christianity, p. 25, 28)

See also on GCU Blog:  https://ubcgcu.org/2015/03/22/is-agape-love-a-source-of-the-good/

Agape and the Book of James (Summary)

  • Christians begin with a stance of faith and confidence in God’s mercy and goodness.
  • When we lean into God’s mercy, it has radical implications: we cannot speak of faith without actions of benevolence towards others in need. We become God’s hands and feet of mercy in a restorative process. There is no point in faking it.
  • Christians have a revolutionary stance, instinctively committed to treating everyone equally (wealth, beauty or public power does not offer special status in the kingdom). All are loved by God equally. Agape levels the playing field of life: equality before God, the law, and one another.
  • Mercy triumphs over judgment. We should never try to become the law for other people, or pontificate over them, or condemn them. God is the only legitimate lawgiver in the universe. We should not usurp his role and try to play God. Adam and Eve tried, and failed, to discern good and evil in their own strength, on their own terms; look where it got them. Such behaviour leads to conflict and vice. It is not constructive.
  • The new law is the law of love, which is Christ in us, flooding our lives and hearts with compassion and care, taking responsibility for each other. This is something to apply in daily life.
  • We are encouraged to follow a passion for righteousness/just relationships and a life of holiness. When we take responsibility for all of our relationships, we begin the process of healing and hope for a better world. We are all community builders or developers as we learn to handle his grace.
  • This is the formula to bring peace and harmony to community. Agape humility unites; the demonic/hedonic/proud divides, shows contempt. We are called to resist the demonic and repent of our part in arrogant and divisive behaviour and attitudes. See two kinds of wisdom in James chapter 3: 13-18.

Solutions for the Problem of Fragmentation:

  1. Self-examination–Jame’s word, properly applied, will move people to cut through self-justifying claims and accepted patterns to look beneath the surface. We will scrutinize our way of relating. How are our relationships functioning? What are the underlying attitudes and motives toward each other?
  2. Evaluation by God’s standards–Jame’s emphasis is being doers, agents of change, including purity, peace, submissiveness, mercy, impartiality and sincerity. These will be taken seriously as practical standards of holiness and transform a whole community.
  3. Change–In repentance, people will turn their back on conflict, deconstruct it, grow and apply love principles towards harmony and mutual flourishing instead.
  4. Grace-reliance–God’s grace gives wisdom from above, therefore our fights and quarrels are unnecessary, harmful to community and evil. They raise hell. The principle of humility before God and one another is repeated throughout Scripture. Grace-reliance is the most far-reaching, life-changing, radical stance we need to learn in daily life.

Cognitive Barrier to Agape Love


Do something good for someone today; then do it again tomorrow; build a trend. Expand yourself. ~ Simon Sinek

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Let us explore for a moment some of the political implications of agape. The world’s major faiths do not provide warrant for stark opposition between “moral man” and “immoral society”. Nor do they suffer the corrupt idea of the primacy of political or economic power over ethical or moral considerations. Political institutions must be held accountable. For Indian intellectual and reformer Mahatma Gandhi, love and self-respect were central to his project of transforming India into a more just society during the mid-twentieth century, as it gained independence. He saw an important connection between virtue and power. Inspired by Gandhi’s commitment to non-violence, American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew intimately this political language of suffering love. It changed him personally and transformed his social activism, helping him decide on a posture of non-violent education for equality. He was the foremost American public intellectual of the late twentieth century and has inspired millions. “Love was the supreme unifying principle of his life”, writes Dr. Timothy Jackson (Political Agape, 2015, 381-408) in a splendid articulation of how this played out in his extraordinary public influence. He knew agape as the prophetic stance against white rage to bring equality and mutual respect between races and people groups, necessary to heal some of the dark narrative of slavery and racism in America. The revolution began with Rosa Parks revealing her dignity on a bus.

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I Corinthians 13: Love is the highest, the greatest. Nothing has more durability.

James K. A. Smith writes that “we are what we love/desire”. We posit that love, agape love is a solution to a major crisis, a dilemma in the West: we are torn between self-hatred and spiritual lobotomy. We cannot seem to affirm both self and the world at the same time, because the world is so broken. It is called the crisis of affirmation, a demon that haunts us. Two choices seem open to us: a. We can blame the world for evil and suffering and tragedy, in order to preserve love of self–try to keep ourselves pure, blameless and above the fray. This posture/choice leads to hatred, terrorism and violence. b. We can open ourselves to grace. Because we accept a God of love, we can love self and the world despite its problems. And we can accept that we are also part of the problem of the world, but that is not the end of the story. There is forgiveness and possibility of transformation that makes the world better. Our moral choices, our spirituality and our identity are intertwined; thus the consequences of our stance are substantial.

Biblically, the theme of love is throughout the entire narrative, from Genesis to Revelation: from the fire of creation, to covenant love of Abraham in shaping a community of love, to the prophetic love that turns straying people back to God’s love and care, to the exultation of God’s love in the Pslams (139), to the incarnate unparalleled love of Jesus of Nazareth (John 14: 16-18), to Paul’s teaching on love in his letters to young churches (I Corinthians 13; Rpmans 8: 31-39), to the promise of the new creation to come where our work on developing the language of love really pays off in eternity, face to face with Love Itself. Agape (Ahavrah in Hebrew) is the lingua franque of heaven. We have evidence from thousands of years of human history to prove its veracity (David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions).

Agape creates infinite value in life, as the heart and soul, the hub of all values/virtues. It speaks of excellence. It is the end game, the ultimate purpose, of all life’s struggles and endeavours. It has big impact, enduring power, transforming society as well as self. Practice agape; turn into love; open yourself to God’s love. It will add so much quality to your life; it is the path to joy.

Below, Peter Kreeft resonates with Psalm 139, which speaks of how God holds our lives in his love.

One day everything will be made of agape. All those things that you made of agape in this world will last…; but nothing else. In fact, the only thing that will not be burned up in the Last Judgment is the one thing stronger than the fire of destruction: the fire of creation. For love is the fire of creation; God created sheerly out of love. Just as the only way to control a passion is by a stronger passion; just as the only way to conquer evil is by a stronger good love; so the only way to endure the world’s final fires is not by any water that tries to put it out, but by the only fire that is stronger still: agape, the very fire of God’s being. Only love is stronger than death. ~Dr. Peter Kreeft, Philosophy Professor, Boston College


Recovery of Meaning Amidst Suffering Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, author of The Great Escape from Nihilism.   (slides)




Psalm 139, one of the most popular in the Book of Psalms, is an intimate picture of God’s love for each individual. The Psalmist reflects on just how interested God is in every detail of his life, his being. As Paul states in Romans 8: 31-39, nothing can come between us and God’s tender care and concern. Love’s fire starts with God and our ability to receive love from God and others. Knowing this total love, we can step into a new level of confidence. There is every reason to trust God and lean into his love, whatever our circumstances. It is clear from verses 1-6 that God knows us far better than we know ourselves. His commitment to our wellbeing, to our protection from harm, is clear as crystal. Then we can love ourselves in the light of God’s love for us.

Where is God extensively?, asks the writer in verses 7-12. He is ubiquitous, everywhere we could possibly exist or travel; he is inescapable, unfathomable–height, depth, breadth, history, future beyond measure. The poetry is rich and beautiful. Even the darkest spaces cannot keep God out; his Spirit can seek us out and find us anywhere we go, even the depths of our struggles. God can reach us in our brokenness as Henri Nouwen writes in The Wounded Healer. That’s comforting for someone who loves God, but intimidating for someone who is trying to escape him. Give up, you cannot run from God as you might hide from the police. That is almost impossible to fathom in our understanding.

In verses 13-17 we reflect on our created roots. There is hardly a more intimate passage in Scripture of God’s loving, careful attention to creation detail. He creates the cosmos and us out of love, not need. The image is of a parent interested in every square inch of their child’s body, every breath, every aspect of their growth and development, every first step or word. God knows us psychologically, biologically, spiritually, socially. He is all in. His thoughts about us and of us are very precious, very special indeed. He has good thoughts of us and plans for us. One thinks of Psalm 119 where the writer exults in every precept of God, every aspect of his will, every hope for redemption of humanity, every good intention of God’s heart.

The tone then turns in 19-22: anger against injustice, unrighteousness, trickery, lies and deception, all manner of skulduggery. His walk of intimacy with God, like Adam’s conversation in the Garden of Innocence, leads him to indignation against evil. But he finishes in a state of fulsome humility: Search me too Lord, and see if wickedness in any way has me by the throat, or in its trap. Lead me along those eternal, well-trodden paths of the saints of yore. Agape is for eternity. To move beyond cynicism, we must embrace God’s love, step into his river of love, believe it in our existential experience, live it as if it were the truest truth possible. This will result in epiphany and personal transformation, freedom and life more abundant. Love is grounded in God, not human desires.

We all live and long for a social vision of what we think society should look like: some vision of the good life, some picture of flourishing. Our most fundamental orientation to the world is love. We adopt ways of life that are indexed to such visions—it captures our imagination. This is the weight of our love. ~ James K.A. Smith

Listen for the call of love

Jean Vanier, Why Love Matters

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDnfdHQu-rg Love and Belonging (50 Years of L’Arche; a Documentary)

Matthew 5: 1-20 Jesus Love Sermon on the Hill
Jesus uses agape love to divide selfishness from self, sin from the sinner. This section in Matthew, called The Sermon on the Mount, lays out the parameters of discipleship in the kingdom of God. It is a prophetic statement on what we need to internalize God’s will, God’s posture toward the world. It deals with the deep things of the inner person and shows how love can transform us from greed to radical generosity, from pride to deep humility, from violence to peacemakers, from narcissists to kingdom values servanthood people. It involves a whole new posture of radical freedom in Christ. It sets the tone for the entire teaching ministry of Jesus. He welcomes new marginalized players to the game of life: the poor, weak, meek, downtrodden, addicted, broken, wounded, hurting. It is a counter-cultural stance compared with the Roman Empire, which is all about power and control, dominance, enslavement, crushing the weak. This is their best new opportunity, a way to become more fully human. You are to be congratulated (blessed) says Jesus; I want you to be my people, my friends, my co-conspirators for bringing heaven to earth, in real time. It’s a live option, a calling. The kingdom of God is yours, here and now! Come join my new world order, a new way of seeing everything, a new way of being human, my way of self-giving, sacrificial love. You will be called the children of God, not human refuse, not untouchables. It is a phenomenal turn-around story. Jesus offers a restoring, rectifying, healing of relationships, a new narrative, a re-ordering of power and wealth and status. You are welcomed, included, celebrated in your giftedness; you are officially the centre of God’s interest. You have a high purpose, a new identity with cosmic significance. It is so good. Allow God to make you into beatitude people, beautiful people, salty people, spicy people, light and life-giving people. You are being offered friendship, communion with the Lord of the Universe, the God who is love. He wants to bless you as you are transformed into the image of Christ. What the world needs is people just like you, citizens of the kingdom of heaven, ambassadors of his grace and agape love on earth. Are you willing to wager on this being true? Can you throw your weight into it? What are the brilliant missed opportunities if you do not?
In this moving and inspiring book, compiled by John Sentamu, 22 people, including Jean Vanier and Richard Taylor (the father of Damilola Taylor), explain how an experience of God’s agape love gave them hope and changed lives. These are stories which stand as inspiring demonstrations of Christian faith in action. Among the contributors are people who have lost loved ones to murder and natural disaster, some who have overcome extreme personal challenges and some who have devoted their lives to a God-given calling to the service of others. Their stories, with accompanying words of wisdom and encouragement from John Sentamu, are witness to the life-transforming power of God’s love.
Motivational Speaker, Simon Sinek, on Becoming and Belonging to a Community
Love is our work; we should watch out for each other; we’re all lonely and inadequate to face life’s challenges by ourselves. I’ve learned much from time spent in US Marine boot camp. At first, everyone is a show-off individual, flexing their muscles, talking match. They eventually becoming a community, helping each other, cheering for each other after they get over their head in the challenges as an individual. They are willing to risk for each other, spend time on the good for the other. We humans are essentially cultural animals and we need to spend effort, time and energy on each other’s needs, making each other better. Eventually, the new recruits learn to help others realize their strengths–to build confidence, build a sense of team. Money is no substitute for this effort–spending ourselves on others is worth it. This does involve vulnerability and risk, but here is the centre of personal growth.
Romans 12: Agape the Mark of the Believer–Overcome Evil with Good
Help us to put away all evil things.
Silence the evil word;
Forbid the evil deed;
Break the evil habit;
Banish the evil thought;
Take away the evil desire and the evil ambition;
and make our lives to shine like lights
in a dark world.
Help us to live in purity
Make our words so pure
that you may hear them;
Make all our deeds so pure
that you may see them;
Make all our thoughts and desires so pure
that they may bear your scrutiny.
And so grant that we being pure in heart
may see you.
Help us to live in the truth.
That we may never speak or act a lie;
That we may never be misled by false or mistaken beliefs;
That we may never evade the truth,
even when we do not want to see it.
Grant to us at all times
To seek and to find;
To know and to love;
To obey and to live the truth.
~From Prayers for the Christian Year by William Barclay
How do we overcome evil with good? Paul sincerely believes that agape love has the power to accomplish this. The first two verses of Romans 12 set the stage, the groundwork, for personal and cultural transformation. Douglas Moo, a New Testament professor from TEDS in Chicago, recently in a talk at Regent College underlined that this idea of presenting oneself as a living sacrifice is the foundation of all ethics. Renewed minds and hearts bring a paradigm shift in outlook and results in personal empowerment, stronger moral fibre and agency, a powerful moral trajectory. We enter the economy of grace, adopt kingdom values, pursue God’s good will. We are thereby set free to embrace the good and renounce evil (diabolos), as the discourse continues in Romans 12: 9-21. This is in DNA continuity with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: sincerity, devotion, honour, spiritual passion, faithfulness, humility, generosity, harmony, hospitality, compassion, reaching out to those with a need. It is a call to bless others, as Abraham was called to do in building a family, a legacy of blessing the whole world. Pride and conceit is the source of all vice and evil in culture: superiority, elitism, arrogance, putting others down, tribalism, division, racism, greed, misogyny (verse 16). This is diabolos, the spirit of divisiveness.
Paul goes further in 117-21, as does Jesus in Luke 6: 22, 27-36. Love your enemies–those who exploit you, put you down, disagree with your values, lifestyle and worldview. This is one of the great challenges in Christian discipleship; many back off at this point and say it is just too hard. But Paul believes we can win through and make peace, make our enemies into a friend. Forgiveness has the power to unite. “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with all people.” Don’t hit back, yell back, return the insult. Stop evil at your reaction. God can take care of the justice/unfairness of that situation. This reminds us of Jesus’ statement in Luke 6 to go the extra mile: this is the living sacrifice, the person of peace and mercy, working towards the common good. This is at the core of the agape principle, servant-empowered, Spirit-filled leadership. Hate evil and embrace the good, the true/authentic with all your capacity. Perhaps thereby we can sort through some our human paradoxes, grievances and discontents. This is the courageous life.
Agape is the foundational language of our humanity, the root of all human languages. It is the language of creation, of  the prophets and apostles, the language of Jesus and the early church, the language of eternity, heavenly speech. It is the language of human flourishing. It is articulate, wise, fruitful, life giving, full of promise.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other. ~Jesus of Nazareth to his discipleship, A Lesson on Love

John 15: 1-17  and John 17 Making a Home in God’s Love, Communion with the Trinity

These are two amazing passages of Scripture, the first part of Jesus last teaching on the vine and the branches, the second his prayer for himself, his disciples and the future community of believers. It forms a profound and life-changing invitation into the very heart of God.

I John 4: 7-21

Excerpt from The Great Escape from Nihilism read by Dr. Gordon Carkner

This book is a beautiful statement on the big picture of agape love. Love is used 43 times, 32 times in this passage alone weaving a tapestry of beauty. We stand on our tiptoes and peer into eternity. It is core to the worldview of the Apostle John. Love is the epicentre of reality. It starts with the incarnation. Jesus embodies love in the flesh, heaven come to earth. We are encouraged that love does not originate with us and our feeble attempts. If that were true, it would surely fail. It is sourced in God; love is his very essence–God is love. George MacDonald writes:

The God himself whom we love could not be righteous were he not something deeper and better still than we generally mean by that word—but alas, how little can language say without seeming to say something wrong! In one word, God is Love. Love is the deepest depth, the essence of his nature, at the root of all his being. It is not merely that he could not be God, if he had made no creatures to whom to be God; but love is the heart and hand of his creation; it is his right to create and his power to create as well. The love that foresees creation is itself the power to create.

He is just that kind of God. His love for us is foundational to creation, to our identity. We gather close to it for life, warmth and nourishment as in a campfire. His love averts his wrath. But if we say we believe in God and love God, we must reckon with our fellow humans who are made in his image. For this, we often need supernatural help and support of others. The second great commandment, according to Jesus, is to love our neighbour, including our enemies. As we walk out of darkness and into the light, his love becomes more a part of our ethos, our lifestyle, our posture. There is no assumption in the New Testament that this mandate is easy. It is courageous, involving a prophetic stance. Love reaches its full expression when we love one another. Cain is the counter-example, the antichrist. We have to be honest about our tendency to violence, greed and selfishness, confess our sin and receive Christ’s redemption.

We are encouraged to love one another because love comes from God. Jesus exemplifies, coaches us how to swim in and with the eternal current of his kingdom purposes. This is foundational to our calling. We are called to love, to hope, not to fear. Love dissolves fear, disempowers it. As we invite his presence, he moves our universe with his love; it is existential, meaningful:

  • death to life
  • lies to truth
  • slavey to freedom
  • shoulder of the road to a strong highway
  • alienation to inclusion in his great purposes

Eugene Peterson builds the point:

God is love. Love is the core of God’s being. Man and woman, made in the image of God, are also, at the core, love. This is who we were created to be, persons who love, persons who receive love. Whenever we love we are most ourselves, living at our very best, mature.

His presence is found in history, in his body, in Scripture, in our flesh, via the Holy Spirit. The socio-cultural implications of moving closer to the such a fire are many:

  • more love in our hearts
  • less hatred in the world
  • reconciliation and forgiveness
  • stronger families and marriages
  • healthier civil society
  • better goals, constructive politics
  • healing for individual angst, anger and resentment, cynicism
  • servant leadership

It is only a personal, loving God who can be asked for an answer to tragedy, evil and suffering, or who has enough depth and history with the human narrative to field the deepest questions of calling, meaning and purpose. In an impersonal world, we desperately need the knowledge that a personal God has our back. Contemplative Thomas Merton writes in Man is Not an Island:

The man who is not afraid to admit everything that he sees to be wrong with himself, and yet recognizes that he may be the object of God’s love precisely because of his shortcomings, can begin to be sincere. His sincerity is based on confidence, not in his own illusions about himself, but in the endless, unfailing mercy of God.


The Apostle Paul Contributes to a Moral Revolution: notes from Larry Siedentop, The Invention of the Individual.

At the core of the ancient world, there is the assumption of inequality. Whether in the domestic sphere, in public life or when contemplating the cosmos, Greeks and Romans did not see anything like a level playing field. Rather, they instinctively saw a hierarchy or pyramid…. Reason or logos provided the key to both social and natural order. It was an aristocratic model, rule by the citizen class.

Jesus followers very soon perceived his crucifixion as a moral earthquake. And the aftershocks of that earthquake continue into our own time. Followers of Jesus began to claim that his sacrificial life and death amounted to a dramatic intervention in history, a new revolution of God’s will. Understanding that revelation would, in due course, provide crucial underpinning for what we understand as the nature and claims of the individual. It provided the individual with a hold on reality. (58)

Now, through the story of Jesus, individual moral agency was raised up as providing a unique window into the nature of things, into the experience of grace rather than necessity, a glimpse of something transcending death. The individual replaced the family as the focus of immortality…. Paul spoke of the Christ as offering salvation to all humanity. ‘The Christ’ stood for the presence of God in the world…. Paul felt he had discovered something crucial–the supreme moral fact about humans–which provided the basis for reconstructing human identity, opening the way to what he called ‘a new creation’…. In Paul’s eyes, the Christ reveals God acting through human agency and redeeming it. (58-9)

Through an act of faith in the Christ, human agency can become the medium of God’s love–which Paul sometimes calls ‘faith acting through love’. The faith accepting that love amounted to an inner crucifixion, from which could emerge a transformed will, embodied in the person of Jesus. For Paul it was a personal transaction, the creation of another, better self…. It is an invitation to see a deeper self, an inner union with God. It offers to give reason itself a new depth. Rationality loses its aristocratic connotations. It is associated not with status and pride but with a humility which liberates.  (59, 60)

Paul wagers on human equality. It is a wager that turns on transparency, that we can and should see ourselves in others, and others in ourselves. It reveals the universal availability of a God-given foundation for human action, the free action of love…. Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus amounted to the discovery of human freedom–of a moral agency potentially available to each individual. (60)

Paul grafts a new abstractness onto Jewish thought. It is an abstractness that would foster Christian understanding of community as the free association of the wills of morally equal agents,… the ‘body of Christ’. The metaphor conjures up a mystical union which moralizes individual wills by relating them to the source of their being. (61)

What Paul did, in effect, was to combine the abstracting potential of later Hellenistic philosophy–its speculations about a universal or ‘human’ nature–with Judaism’s preoccupation with conformity with a higher or divine will. In order to do so, Paul ceases to think of that will as an external, coercive agency. For him, the death of Christ provides the symbol and the means of an inner crucifixion, of leaving behind the life of ‘the flesh’ for the life of ‘the spirit’, that is, leaving behind inclinations and desires that will die with the flesh…. Paul overturns the assumption of natural inequality by creating an inner link between the divine will and human agency…. That fusion marks the birth of a ‘truly’ individual will, through the creation of conscience. (61)

Paul claims to have found this standard and force for individual agency. Now the identity of individuals is no longer exhausted by the social roles they happen to occupy. The gap marks the advent of the new freedom, freedom of conscience. But it also introduces moral obligations that follow from recognizing that all humans are children of God…. Paul creates a new basis for human association, a voluntary basis–joining humans through loving wills guided by an equal belief. In his eyes, the motivating power of love is the touch of divinity within each of us….Love creates what Paul calls the mystical union in the body of Christ. (62)

Paul thus attaches to the historical figure of Jesus a crucial moment in the development of human self-consciousness…. Paul’s Christ carries a revolutionary moral message. The Christ is a God-given challenge to humans to transform their concept of themselves and reach for moral universality. Through faith, they can achieve a moral rebirth…. It provided an ontological foundation for ‘the individual’, through the promise that humans have access to the deepest reality as individuals rather than merely as members of a group…. The self can and must be reconstructed…. It called for human relationships in which charity overcomes all other motives. (63)

Spring 2018 Theme: The Incarnation and the New Covenant, a Study in II Corinthians

Take Every Thought Prisoner, and Rethink it

Christians rightly approach the world with faith, hope and confidence, rather than anxiety, alienation and emptiness. The reason is that, as we experience deeper alignment with God and his higher purposes, we will be honoring the truth, and speaking more sincerely into reality. This grounds us emotionally, morally, spiritually, socially, and empowers our articulate voice to speak prophetically, winsomely, constructively, to map a better future. Our fruitful words will be more genuine and powerful, fine-tuned by the divine logos. There is no room for cynicism or despair amidst the uncertainty, fragmentation and confusion of geo-politics. Paul writes in II Corinthians 10 and Ephesians 6 that we are fully equipped with just the right weapons containing special power, so that we can demolish fantasy-driven narratives. These false alternatives (obfuscations) keep many from seeing and experiencing the good, the beautiful, the pure and the true. They rob people of their joy and wellbeing. Indeed, a kind of spiritual blindness, deficit consciousness, or sleepiness emerges. The multidimensional wisdom of God gives us a special capacity to expose and demolish such pretensions in the light of Christ and the gospel of the kingdom.

The new covenant, sealed in Christ, provides a healing stream of fresh water for our friends, neighbors and colleagues. Once we get our head around this gospel, it can transform our entire outlook. We are immersed in a new paradigm, we become captivated by the fullness/robustness of our calling and mission within our sphere of service and influence. We are freed to move towards our best self, reconnect with the other, bring peace to society. We can make good plans, promote the good, model integrity of life as the higher definition of the ‘good life’.

From this vantage point, we can have the transcendence we require to manage the chaos and promote order, shalomand agapelove. It is no small thing to put on the mind of Christ. In fact, it can be painful when we rid ourselves of fantasy and dead wood, die to the old self and put on the new self. But we must pursue it with every fibre of our being. This will bring a deep coherence to our fragmented lives, we will discover ourselves to be fruitfully engaged with the world. No longer do we need play the role of victim or live a lie, we can play the hero and build capacity in others. This is the path beyond our dysfunctional addictions to wholeness, and onward to mission effectiveness.


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Changing the Narrative:

From Dialectic to Dialogue, Conflict to Collaboration, Estrangement to Engagement

II Corinthians: the Story of the New Covenant

The letter was written by Paul around 55 CE from Philippi in northern Greece, Macedonia. Paul first visits them during his second missionary journey and returns his third as well. The record of his founding the church is in Acts 18. His second visit was a bit tense because of elements of divisions and quarrels, and even some sexual sin. The theme of this letter is “Unity and the Lifestyle of the New Covenant”. It is a rich and insightful letter.  Corinth was a key trade and travel route to the Mediterranean, famous for the great wonder of the Corinthian Canal, which was dug by hand. There were roughly 250,000 free citizens and 400,000 slaves. The city was very big on Greek philosophy, and very religious with 12 temples, plus a Jewish synagogue. It was a very pluralistic society even though dominated by Rome politically and militarily. Greek philosophy and culture held intellectual sway. Alexander had left his mark on the whole world at that time. Paul would have worked all the angles of speaking in the synagogue, working among the business and trade people and speaking in the larger auditoriums to win over the Greeks.  Christianity had to find its way in a Greco-Roman context–with many traps, persecutions and troubles on the path. How could Jesus be Lord when everyone knew that Caesar was Lord? What was this new upstart gospel/religion when we already have Judaism? See Jeremiah 31: 31-34 for the background to the idea of such a New Covenant.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkcjFHYIugY How Paul Invented Christian Theology with St. Andrew’s Professor N.T. Wright

Some Key Points from Tom Wright: At the very epicentre of Paul’s worldview, is the church as a united and holy community, a people of God. This was new, radical and different in the ancient world, an entity that would embody the manifold wisdom of God. It is a ‘new creation’ made up of new human beings (Imago Dei) as per Romans 8. They had a new task, to live into God’s story, to learn to think “in Christ”, or think Christianly. The Holy Spirit helps instantiate the values of the kingdom into their very lives, through prayer, worship and scripture. In Jesus, Paul contests, we have the full expectation of all Jewish hopes, of the famous shema. We are to worship only God and to love him above all else, and to love the stranger and the neighbour as ourself. I Corinthians 8: 6 shows how Jesus does this as he establishes a new covenant as per Jeremiah 31: 31-34, a covenant that includes Jews and Gentiles. In II Corinthians, Paul is able to blend this theology into the everyday life of the young church, including addressing their problems or challenges. He wants them to think it through with him and make it theirs. Some of the major themes of this book are the following:

  • the God of comfort (1: 3-11)
  • a call to unity (2: 12f)
  • glory of the New Covenant (3: 7f)
  • God’s strength and light shown through human weakness and imperfection: jars of clay (4)
  • the powerful mandate of reconciliation (5: 11f)
  •  celebration of the art of generosity and gratitude(8)
  • sowing/investing in righteousness, the moral high road, setting strong goals (9: 6f)
  • suffering as a sign of commitment to go all out for God (11: 16f). The paradox of triumph through hardship and testing.
  • Paul’s lesson of sustaining grace amidst his thorn in the flesh (12)

Take prisoner every thought, and rethink it. (II Corinthians 10: 5) Christians should approach the world with faith, hope and confidence, rather than anxiety, alienation and emptiness. The reason is that, as we experience deeper alignment with God and his higher purposes, we will be honoring the truth, and speaking more sincerely into reality. This grounds us emotionally, morally, spiritually, socially, and empowers us to speak prophetically, and to map a better future. Our fruitful words will be more genuine and powerful, fine-tuned by the divine logos. There is no room for cynicism or despair amidst the uncertainty and confusion of the geo-politics of our day.

Paul writes in II Corinthians 10 and Ephesians 6 that we are fully equipped with just the right weapons containing supernatural power, so that we can demolish fake or fantasy-driven narratives. These false alternatives keep many from seeing and experiencing the good, the beautiful, the pure and the true. The multidimensional wisdom of God gives us a special capacity to demolish/expose such pretensions in the light of Christ (the gospel of the kingdom). It can provide a healing stream of fresh water for our friends and colleagues.

Once we actually get our head around this gospel, it can transform our entire outlook; we are immersed to become captivated by the fullness/robustness of our calling and mission within our sphere of service and influence. We are freed to move towards our best self, reconnect with the other, bring peace to society. We can make good plans, promote the good, model integrity of life as the higher definition of the ‘good life’.

From this vantage point, we can have the transcendence to manage the chaos and promote order and agapelove. It is no small thing to put on the mind of Christ. In fact, it can be painful when we rid ourselves of fantasy and dead wood, die to the old self and put on the new self, but we must pursue it with every fibre of our being. This will bring a coherence to our fragmented lives, and we will discover ourselves to be fruitfully engaged with the world. We no longer need play the role of victim; we can play the hero and build the same capacity for others. This is the path from addiction to wholeness.


Some Key Verses

2 Corinthians 1:5:For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow toward us, so also our comfort through Christ overflows to you.

2 Corinthians 1:9:Indeed we felt as if the sentence of death had been passed against us, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.

2 Corinthians 2:7:so that now instead you should rather forgive and comfort him. This will keep him from being overwhelmed by excessive grief to the point of despair.

2 Corinthians 2:14:But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and who makes known through us the fragrance that consists of the knowledge of him in every place.

2 Corinthians 3:2:You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone,

2 Corinthians 3:6:who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

2 Corinthians 3:18:And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 4:3:But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing,

2 Corinthians 4:4:among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God.

2 Corinthians 4:6:For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:7:But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.

2 Corinthians 4:10:always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our body.

2 Corinthians 4:16:Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day.

2 Corinthians 4:17:For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison

2 Corinthians 5:1:For we know that if our earthly house, the tent we live in, is dismantled, we have a building from God, a house not built by human hands, that is eternal in the heavens.

2 Corinthians 5:8:Thus we are full of courage and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:10:For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15:For the love of Christ controls us, since we have concluded this, that Christ died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised.

2 Corinthians 5:17:So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away – look, what is new has come!

2 Corinthians 5:19:In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:20:Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His plea through us. We plead with you on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God!”

2 Corinthians 5:21:God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 6:2:For he says, “I heard you at the acceptable time, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” Look, now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation!

2 Corinthians 6:10:as sorrowful, but always rejoicing, as poor, but making many rich, as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

2 Corinthians 6:14:Do not become partners with those who do not believe, for what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship does light have with darkness?

2 Corinthians 6:17:Therefore “come out from their midst, and be separate,” says the Lord, “and touch no unclean thing, and I will welcome you,

2 Corinthians 7:1:Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that could defile the body and the spirit, and thus accomplish holiness out of reverence for God.

2 Corinthians 7:6:But God, who encourages the downhearted, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus.

2 Corinthians 7:10:For sadness as intended by God produces a repentance that leads to salvation, leaving no regret, but worldly sadness brings about death.

2 Corinthians 8:9:For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although he was rich, he became poor for your sakes, so that you by his poverty could become rich.

2 Corinthians 9:7:Each one of you should give just as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver.

2 Corinthians 9:15:Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

2 Corinthians 10:5:and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:17:But the one who boasts must boast in the Lord.

2 Corinthians 11:30:If I must boast, I will boast about the things that show my weakness.

2 Corinthians 12:7:even because of the extraordinary character of the revelations. Therefore, so that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me – so that I would not become arrogant.

2 Corinthians 12:9:But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me.

2 Corinthians 12:10:Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 13:4:For indeed he was crucified by reason of weakness, but he lives because of God’s power. For we also are weak in him, but we will live together with him, because of God’s power toward you.



The Birth Narratives of Jesus (Old and New Testament)

Luke 1: 26-56 One thing that pulls our lives together is an optimal challenge. In fact, my life has been a series of such challenges, and this has given great meaning. It is very worthwhile to strive for and advance the good. Mary hears from an angel that she is to become the vessel of a most profound turn of events in history. She is in awe, quite overwhelmed. It is an epiphany, an encounter with the radically Other. Her story is punctuated by the incursion of the eternal into the temporal. Mary raises her eyes and opens her heart to God and said Yes Lord. Her Magnificat Song in Luke 1:46-55 is one of the great prayers of all time. It has been put to music in many forms over the centuries.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0y67GDT2kwU


Messiah Comes: The prophetic voice has spoken and we benefit from centuries of faithful believers who have passed the torchlight of the gospel to us. His presence in our world makes all the difference; his kingdom has come, is coming. As Carlo Carretto says,
God presents himself to us little by little. The whole story of salvation is the story of the God who comes. It is always he who comes, even if he has not yet come in fullness. But there is indeed one unique moment in his coming: the others were only preparation and announcement. The hour of his coming is the Incarnation. The Incarnation brings the world his presence. It is a presence so overwhelming that it overshadows every presence before it. God is made human in Christ. God makes himself present to us with such a special presence, such an obvious presence, as to overthrow all the complicated calculations made about him in the past. The invisible, intangible God has made himself visible and tangible in Christ. If Jesus is truly God, everything is clear; if I cannot believe this everything darkens again. (from The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto)






Summary of Colossians and its Articulation of the Incarnation

The book of Colossians is a phenomenal statement, a dialectic/dialogue between the fullness of God present in Jesus Christ, and the fullness of God’s grace available to Jesus’ followers. It is both a vision of God and a vision of life. Such is the incarnation, more than mere knowledge to contemplate. It is also something to be lived large, to be grappled with and embodied, to change the world.


Paul begins by celebrating with this young church: their faith, their inheritance in Christ, their fruitful lives of hope and love. Thanksgiving/gratitude is the mark of the believer and Paul pours it on these Christians in the most loving way. He has so much confidence in them as they fully mature in Christ, moving into the kingdom of light, gaining knowledge of God’s good will for them, being strengthened by his power. They are truly courageous in facing down evil and moving towards the good. As they are filled up with God, they can see a purposeful future. Once they were messed up, alienated from God, but now they have become Christ’s friends, sharing in both his suffering and glory. Great pastoral pitch, Paul. When we know that we are loved, we are more open to teaching and encouragement, even correction.


Who is the Christ in his fullness?

(1: 15-20) Nothing and no one is more comprehensive, all-encompassing, more capable than the incarnate Jesus. He represents the fullness of the trinitarian God, more powerful than all the spiritual powers in the cosmos, including earth. He makes the invisible God visible for us in a staggering mystery revealed in history, in a particular culture and time. He is Alpha male, there before the beginning of time and space, before the Big Bang itself. And yet he is also the goal or trajectory of all creation, the logos or reason of it all (Omega male). Even more, he holds the whole cosmos together, sustaining order out of chaos by his power. This same person died for our redemption and he was the pioneer of resurrection to a glorified body. He reconciles and heals all things and brings people of diverse backgrounds into one community. Wow, that is impressive. He is the full wisdom of God, representing all of ancient Hebrew wisdom in his person. This is one massive revelation or insight into our full reality. God wants to gather up all things in Christ, and bring heaven and earth together—into dynamic connection. Jesus is therefore God’s greatest speech act.

Who are We?

Jesus fullness of identity makes it possible for us to participate in this fullness as well, to progress towards a greater good, to flourish. He was no second-class deity or angel. Chapter 3 encourages us to move into, and take hold of, our full identity in Christ, to leave behind the dead wood, the unnecessary things that drag us down. We are invited to die to the arrogant, greedy, entitled, cynical self, the angry, divisive, resentful self that blames our troubles on others or the system (3: 5-9). Sin need not rule us; guilt and shame are not the final word about us and our destiny. The cross has broken the back of such oppression, and it exposes evil’s dark games. But we don’t stop there; we are called to put on the new, or renewed in the image of God, self (3: 10-17). We can set some pretty high goals because it is God’s grace at work within us to move towards the new virtues of: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, peacemaking spirit, pursuit of wisdom, practice of gratitude, help the stranger. They are all encased in agape love, a revelation that heaven has come to earth. We have set a different course for our lives. Christ is our life now! His promises define us and our potential.


We are no victim, but free in our new self to do everything in the name of Christ, to be attentive, prayerful and watchful, thriving in doing God’s will in his way. This is a real breakthrough for people around the world. We are offered the prestige of being a light to the nations and the tribes. We find new courage, a desire for truth and the common good. The whole thing is backed up with God’s highly credible signature. Tom Wright spoke last week about how we are God’s poem, his art piece for the world to read: fruitful, innovative, effective, unique, impactful. We descend in humble obedience, only to ascend to fullness of life; we suffer on the way to glory (compare Philippians 2). This is how we become resilient believers in covenant partnership and take a positive stand in the world. This is how we find meaning in improving our world just a bit, and watching out for each other.


Colossians Chapter One: Paul opens this letter from Rome (60 AD/CE) with much celebration of the fruitful work going on in the Colossian community of faith. Epaphras, a colleague of Paul, is their local church planter and pastor. Paul sees how the three great virtues/forces of faith, hope and love are at work among them as they begin to grasp the full implications of the gospel. He is doing theology with a strong pastoral Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Paul believes in the transforming power of Christianity as people grapple with who Jesus is and what he has accomplished. He wants them to capture the full poetry of the narrative: the Creator and the Redeemer are one person, Jesus Christ, and he wants to renew everything towards kingdom values. Incarnation  of the Christ is God’s greatest speech act on earth. We wrestled with what it would mean to really be living sacrifices (Romans 12: 1-3) and let God have his way with our lives, to allow him to transform us, and shape our future.

1: 15-23 Jesus is shown to be preeminent in all things: the created world/the universe, time and space, first to rise from the dead with a glorified body, the head of the church and God’s redemptive plan for humanity. He has made the invisible God visible in the most colourful fashion. The deep human longing to know God is fulfilled in the Son who is the representative of God on earth. Logos, the Word made flesh for us, speaks volumes about the nature of us and the universe. This is the greatest possible news to the human race: you are loved by God and you are welcomed into dialogue with your creator, welcomed into communion with the divine. All the fullness of the godhead dwells in Christ your friend and Lord; he can do anything that needs to be done to get you through life and to flourish even amidst suffering.

1: 24-29

Paul is not ashamed to let the young believers know that he suffers for them and their growth like a father. He is living the cruciform life in order to bring them to full maturity in Christ. He has a powerful vision for them.

How will we produce real depth versus superficial, consumer discipleship, which often just sets believers up for recruitment by cults, New Age spirituality or prosperity gospel charlatans? How do we protect believers from becoming drones in a technological matrix? The church needs resilient believers who view creation and the world through the prism of the cross, who see sacrifice for the other as a great aspiration and a holy calling. We must encourage them: Do not escape the world; do not worship or possess the world, but cultivate a life of love for others. This puts the value, the very meaning of life in the other and gives life to the other. In giving oneself away, it is much easier to discover the deeper meaning and joy of life. We need a Christological-incarnational hermeneutic for discipleship. How do we make Christ as suffering servant present in the world, through his disciples? Raymond Gawronski has captured Hans Urs von Balthasar’s focus on suffering at the heart of the incarnation:

It is the real, incarnate, suffering man Jesus who by what he is gives glory to God far greater than any suffering–free schemes of the Gnostics. Other religions all seek to free man from pain and death through liberation or at most great indifference: for Christianity, Christ taking on himself the world’s guilt and sin on the cross becomes the greatest proof that God is love.… The Cross is God’s last word about himself. (R. Gawronski, 2015, 180)

Gnostics seek glory without suffering, strive to go around suffering or drown pain in pleasures, adventure, consumerism, social media, or binge television watching. In contrast to idealistic thinking, Christianity is more about obedience than knowledge, or a knowing that only emerges through obedience. The posture alternatives are either Promethean arrogance or the greatness of humble obedience. Christian faith is primarily a listening obedience to a Person and the service of the sister for whom Christ died (not a quest for a light that is greater than God). Love and obedience are one at the core (John 14: 21). On topic, former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams writes:

At its center and permeating its relationships is the conviction that truth can only be shown and spoken in compassion—attention to the other, respect for and delight in the other, and also the willingness to receive loving attention in return. (R. Williams, 2005, 123)

Gnostics can be brought out of their fantasies and isolation into sacrificial community where people flourish as their best communal self. They rediscover self within this dynamic and learn the skills of listening, empathy, patience and compassion. This can provide a home where belonging, trust and servanthood grow. The passion of Christ is a statement that God is love through the deepest darkness. The cross is the unsurpassable  goal of the incarnation, the final stop in the descent of the Son (Philippians 2). The Logos becomes incarnate in the man Jesus in a selfless act to redeem mankind, giving up part of his freedom. It is a move from above. This is the opposite of Gnosticism which seeks to rise from beneath to become one with the Absolute, destroying the person in the process. Christ Incarnate displays the perfection of the self-giving of God.

In Part III of The Physical Nature of Christianity, Brown and Strawn (2012) write about complex dynamical systems and how this relates to Christian spiritual formation. It is the key context in which people change and are transformed.  We often assume that preaching to individuals is the key or highest component of discipleship. Of course, it is very important, but in fact our significant relationships heal us, as most every counsellor will corroborate. These authors encourage leaders to pay more attention to entities like social networks, mutual shaping experiences, clusters of relationships, and mutual imitative reinforcement, ideas that they draw from research in the social and behavioural sciences. This book, especially Part III, is vital advice for pastors and Christian educators. In church, we often focus too much on the individual believer or potential believer, focus on feeding him the right information or challenge. That’s all good, but not enough attention is paid to group dynamics, or group discipleship. Are we catering to the Gnostic mood of today when we are so oriented to enticing, or pitching to, the individual with all their desires, quirks, and sense of entitlement in order to build a congregation. Social formation of people within networks and clusters begs for more attention in our discipleship, as we seek to imitate Christ. Millennials could be encouraged, motivated and mobilized to contribute through such groups, to learn the art of sacrifice and love that endures. Ghosts could be transformed into givers and lively covenant participants. It is much easier to ask for help to heal one’s woundedness in a group where there is mutual trust and commitment.

Colossians Chapter 2: 1-15

How is Christ the source of  all the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge? How do we become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, making the reality of God visible and manifest everywhere we go and in everything we do? How is this wisdom mediated through our lives? If the fullness of God is in Christ, how is that same spiritual fulness revealed through our feeble lives? Christ offers an interpretive structure for our lives, so that we can live large and love larger. Like the Word at the beginning, we too are called to bring order out of chaos in our world, to bear the burden of being, resist evil and aim for the good, the truth and the beautiful.We too like Paul are willing to suffer towards a redemptive trajectory, to live fruitful lives. This means that, in Christ, there is much more to us than meets the eye. We are not the playthings of the gods or of secular culture. We are called to carry forward the Image of Christ in our flesh and bones, our robust, embodied existence. This puts our faith to work in practical ways. We shed the false assumptions, the false self, that we don’t need and become new, pursuing virtue, light and life. Indeed, it takes courage but is supported and backed up by heaven itself. Christ has revealed the trickery of evil on the cross, so that we don’t have to be Satan’s victims. Jesus, in his death for sin, has broken its back. What can we do to set things right today in one of our relationships this week, to reduce suffering in our world, to enhance love, healing and community?

The whole wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible gave spiritual life to Israel. It was their heart and soul. We all need such wisdom and discernment for our lives today. Jesus captures that wisdom in his person and offers it to us. This is one exceptional gift! Here there is depth of identity and meaning in life. I am reminded of the beautiful and inspiration song by Lauren Dangle called Come Alive (Dry Bones). 

Colossians 3

My thought or question for this week is “How do we build moral capacity in our own lives and our community of UBC?” Colossians 3 gives us some hints about conduct and character, virtues and setting high (eternal) goals for the good to strive for. There is the more fundamental question of a moral vision and how to exchange vice for virtue, alienation for reconciliation. How is Christ involved in setting our moral compass, and sourcing our moral motivation? How does the communal interface/or conflict with individual ethics? Jesus is a meta-hero in the quest for the good.
Is it possible to become better/stronger over time as a moral being, and what are the ingredients of such transformation? How do we avoid saying and doing things that make us morally weak? At a Harvard graduation, famous Russian writer Alexandr Solzhenitsyn claim that “if were born to be happy, we would not be born to die. So life must be more about a quest for moral growth than happiness.” Another psychologist-educator  suggests that life is about alignment of our values, efforts and goals with our true self, with the core of our being. When we find this alignment our lives get empowered in ways we cannot imagine. I find this intriguing.
How do we negotiate the academic marketplace, the town square and the powers that govern us (ruling elite)? Lots to ponder as we master our various skills. One psychologist at new York University Jonathan Haidt talks about the vertical coherence of a meaningful life. How can the Holy Spirit help us to align our desires and goals towards God and the values of the kingdom? How can my life-view and my work-view act in synchrony? What positive habits and virtues are we cultivating every day in order to become better and the best self I can be?

See N.T. Wright on Colossians 1: 9-23 Revolution https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ci-P0CLCiGM

Great Song by Amanda Cook (So Will I, 100 Billion X) to contextualize the Incarnation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgRSMa4eaJQ

Thanksgiving Reflections: Many of us share a fall festival which drew the family and community together. Thanksgiving started in a religious/Christian context of harvest celebration as well. But when we look at the span of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, there is a strong emphasis on gratitude or eucharisteo. One author suggested that we continue giving thanks (for three things every day) throughout the year as a way of life. There is a strong correlation between a regular thanksgiving practice and personal joy in life. It is a recognition that all of life is a gift.

Reasons to Give Thanks: Psalm 34: 1 “I will glorify the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.”

Creation and its wonders

God’s daily provision

Holiness and love of God

His grand redemptive plan for humanity

The Incarnation

Superabundant grace and the patience of God

The faith of other believers who are making an impact

Hope in the future despite tough circumstances

Freedom in Christ

Trials and challenges that test our faith and draw us closer to God

Finding a solid ground for meaning, purpose and mission

The body of Christ to support us and to encourage us to follow our calling

Check the following passages: 2 Chronicles 5: 13; Psalm 9: 1 and 11; Psalm 33; Psalm 100: 4; Isaiah 12:4; Philippians 4: 6-7; Colossians 3: 16-17; 1 Corinthians 1: 4-5; Ephesians 1: 15-16; James 1; Hebrews 12: 28-29.

To become fully human means learning to turn my gratitude for being alive into some concrete common good. It means growing gentle toward human weakness. It means practicing forgiveness of my and everyone els’s hourly failures to live up to divine standards. It means learning to forgive myself on a regular basis in order to attend to the other selves in my vicinity. It means living so that “I’m only human” does not become an excuse for anything. It means receiving the human condition as blessing and not curse, in all its achingly frail and redemptive reality. ~ Brené Brown, Sociologist


This week: Romans 12

Our theme this fall 2017 term is an intriguing investigation into the biblical narrative about incarnation, probably the most important distinction in the Christian faith. We will drill down into a variety of passages, Old and New Testament, to discern the big picture. I have been researching this issue over the summer, took a course on the subject from a very bright Chicago professor, Daniel Treier of Wheaton College. My thinking has been enriched and expanded as well as empowered. I have also been writing about the contrast between Gnostic religion versus the incarnation. All this was striking and quite informative, and it put al lot of things into perspective. The full implications are staggering and far reaching for many disciplines, not just theology. So I invite you to join GCU in this vital dialogue and help towards writing a book on the subject. There indeed are exciting possibilities for the road ahead in 2017-18. Here’s a key quote from Dr. Jens Zimmermann, a strong advocate of incarnational thinking and living:

Christ the creative wisdom of God, and God’s active Word in creation, is enfleshed in the temporal-historical dimension of our world as the concrete Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ…. This is the Word through whom all things were made, and the Word hid in the eternal bosom of God, the Word who spoke through the prophets, the Word whose mighty acts defined the history of Israel. In Jesus the Christ, this Word has become flesh, and the eternal has become temporal, but without ceasing to be eternal…. In Christ temporality and eternity are conjoined…. In the incarnation, creation, the world, time and history have been taken up into the God-man, who is the center of reality…. Faith and reason are inseparable because their unity is in Christ. (J. Zimmermann, Incarnation Humanism, 2012, 264-5)

One more scholar, University of Virginia noted sociologist James Davison Hunter, clarifies how it impacts our lives:

If, indeed, there is a hope or an imaginable prospect for human flourishing in the contemporary world, it begins when the Word of shalom becomes flesh in us and is enacted through us toward those with whom we live, in the tasks we are given, and in the spheres of influence in which we operate. When the Word of all flourishing—defined by the love of Christ—becomes flesh in us, in our relations with others, within the tasks we are given, and within our spheres of influence—absence gives way to presence, and the word we speak to each other and to the world becomes authentic and trustworthy. (J.D. Hunter, To Change the World 2010, 252)

We have discovered in the incarnation a new transcendent-immanent horizon of vast and deep meaning as servants of the Word made flesh. This opens reality to us in fresh and amazing ways to a new fullness.

All the fragments of reality, all the words, are drawn to him as metal shavings are to a magnet. He is the primordial Word before all words—the Urwort—who as sharing in the divine essence is also an Überwort [super-word], the alpha and omega…. In the flesh he speaks words, fragments themselves which are cast out like a net to gather the original fragments, turned away from their telos by misused human freedom, leading them not to destruction, but to fullness. But it is a new fullness, one that will pass through the ultimate purification of the Word’s entering the dead silence which knows none of the creative tension of word-silence, that mutedness which is death. All of the words of His life, all that he would express of the One Who sent him, are gathered into that inchoate cry from that fixed point at which life’s speech collapses into silence…. Yet the Father raises this now formless Word to transformed life, sending the Spirit through this silent Word to begin to transform this silent Word back into the words that will transform all creation…. And so the Christian life begins after all the words of creation have been gathered up into the one Word Jesus Christ. (R. Gawronski, 2015, 188)

Looking forward to a great year of discovery and growth,


Teaser Question: Was Jesus Just a Good Moral Teacher?

What are we to make of this man? The joys and hardships of two thousand years of western history have been pinned on him. Controversy has constantly surrounded his claims. Religious life in the West has been dominated by allusions to his teachings. No self-aware, intelligent person should avoid this intriguing individual and his impact on society, in fact his shaping of history and culture.

Few people doubt any more that Jesus actually existed historically (N.T. Wright). Most people also agree that he was indeed a great moral teacher. Religious and political leaders throughout the world, including many of the great opponents of Christianity, hail the moral superiority of his life. Mohandas Gandhi aspired to the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount, a monument of justice combined with mercy,a trajectory of peace. The philosopher John Stuart Mill thought Jesus a genius and probably the greatest moral reformer who ever existed. Even Napoleon Bonaparte considered him a superior leader of men (although these two men were very different in character and ambition). Islam heralds him as a prophet.

The New Testament documents record the radical servant·like attitude which lent power and credibility to Jesus’ teachings. He has truly led humanity in the expression of compassion and humility , as well as in anger against evil, corruption and hypocrisy. Jesus combined a realistic understanding of human nature with a robust vision for what human beings could become by following him. His words have tested and challenged the minds and hearts of millions for centuries. He is today an international hero, a lighthouse for the good and true.

Of course, this isn’t the whole story. When we begin to consider Jesus’ claims about his identity, the controversy opens up. This is where people (including the world’s religious leaders) have problems and begin to back off, or even become aggressive. This where the label “moral teacher” is put to the test. It begins to sound inadequate and shrill, if not naive.

A thirty year old peasant carpenter turned itinerant teacher/rabbi, Jesus laid claim both by word and action to be much more than a mere man. He operated on the assumption that he was God himself, in the flesh. How do we know this? From his explicit statements and the very way he lived. His self·disclosed identity is interwoven in the very fabric of the New Testament. He claimed equality with God. He said he had lived before Abraham. He assumed the right to forgive sins. He accepted worship. There seems to be no escaping the controversy. His claims and his life are one fabric.

Jesus of Nazareth could not be simply a harmless moral teacher or philosopher. He cuts too deep and steps out too far from the crowd of moral teachers and philosophers. We can accuse him of fraud. We might even dissect his mental stability. But the tag of “mere great moral teacher” doesn’t have plausibility. It was not an option in first century Palestine. Some of his contemporaries thought him quite mad and dangerous; others loved him. He was regarded with disdain and sometimes even hatred by many authorities, or alternately with amazement and adoration. But he never garnered mild approval.

Neither it seems is it an option for today. We have to either shut him up or hear him out. What are we to make of this man? What of his moral integrity? His fulfillment of centuries of aspirations? His prediction of death and resurrection? His healings and his compassion for the poor and the marginal Other? What are we to make of his claims to be the one and only God-man (God Incarnate) of history? What are we to do with this very wise moral teacher who makes such tedious, radical and impossible claims? How do we grapple with such an unfathomable life?

Further Investigation: The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey; Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis; The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright (see Wright on YouTube “Search for the Historical Jesus”); John Dickson DVD “The Life of jesus”; Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way.

Jesus as the Yes and Amen to it All

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 1: 3-8)

In II Corinthians 1, the Apostle Paul writes that Jesus is the Yes and the Amen to it all. What does this mean? Below are some reflections from our Study Group. Much more could be added.

  • Colossians 1: 15-20 speaks of Jesus as the source and “glue” of creation and the purpose or end (telos) of creation, both the alpha and omega. He is more than 13.8 billion light years of time. He is above all things in creation and at the same time the ground of creation (the very ground of being itself), without which nothing would exist. All the fullness of God dwells in him (he is God with us–Emmanuel). He is God incarnate (fully God and fully man as per the Athanasian view); in him, God’s eternity connects with creation’s temporality. It is through Christ that all things are reconciled to God—providing the source and basis of healing relationships, both divine and human, the prince (champion) of peace. He is the cornerstone or foundation of the church, through which he is present to the world by means of the Holy Spirit.


  • He is the fulfillment of all the promises made to the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Israel, etc.) and the prophetic utterances and longings of the Old Testament, the Jewish Messiah, fulfilling the promise of redemption, renewal, justice and reform. He is the mysterious Son of Man spoken about in ancient Hebrew discourse. Jesus is prophet, priest and king. His is the final priestly sacrifice for the sins of mankind.He is also a poet, firing the imagination with his life-giving, inspiring teaching, causing us to rethink our identity and purpose. His represents both unique and universal story, real story, an anchor for a powerful human narrative. He calls humanity to a new level of existence, a journey upward, calling us to a new level of responsibility for the Other and for creation.
  • He is the wisdom of God and the power of God, the nexus of faith and reason. As logos(John 1), he is the divine word made flesh, the underwriter/guarantor of all human thought and all language. He is the raison d’etre of it all, the meaning of it all, the answer to the key question: Why are we here? Where are we going? We are called to take captive all thought to his Lordship, his oversight. He is the end point of every spiritual, moral and philosophical aspiration. He has renewed and healed the current broken semiotic relationship between word and world (James Davison Hunter). He is public truth (Newbigin) and this truth leads out into wider truth about all of reality. He makes sense of life itself revealing its purpose and telos. This wisdom provides a framework and a profound motivation for our thinking and reflection, our deeper calling.

Humanites Scholar Jen Zimmermann at Trinity Western University captures it:

Christ the creative wisdom of God, and God’s active Word in creation, is enfleshed in the temporal-historical dimension of our world as the concrete Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ…. This is the Word through whom all things were made, and the Word hid in the eternal bosom of God, the Word who spoke through the prophets, the Word whose mighty acts defined the history of Israel. In Jesus the Christ this Word has become flesh, and the eternal has become temporal, but without ceasing to be eternal…. In Christ temporality and eternity are conjoined…. In the incarnation, creation, the world, time and history have been taken up into the God-man, who is the center of reality…. Faith and reason are inseparable because their unity is in Christ. (J. Zimmermann, 2012a, pp. 264-5)

  • He is the complete human, a fullness of humanity, the true imago dei. He is a master exemplar, a gift to us to direct our passions and show us the way to live robustly. He came to take us higher, to show us the infinite goodness and agape love of God and to transform culture by it. He is this infinite goodness enfleshed in (communicated by) a human body, a bridge to divine goodness (D. Stephen Long). He is the renewed image that we long for in our honest moments, the most excellent representative of God on earth.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer broadens our relationship to culture:

To be realistic, to live authentically in the world and before God, is to live as if the whole of reality has already been drawn up into and held together in Christ…. [It is] a fundamental hermeneutical claim to participate realistically and responsibly in the reconciliation of humanity in Christ. (Bonhoeffer, DBWE, 6: 55, 223)

  • Jesus is perlocutionary speech act, God’s most powerful communication to human ears and lives (Kevin Vanhoozer). He addresses us, calls our name, calls us forward into an adventuresome life. His words (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount) are a phenomenal culture driver that has helped to shape the West. His compassion for the needy and broken is a sign that God has not given up on us. His resurrection is a starting point, a singularity that cannot be explained by anything else; it stands as a huge revelation, an epiphany, a new beginning. Through him, we have been identified and called into a new community, given a new identity as royal priests (I Peter) and the people of God. He is the hermeneutic of a new reconciled humanity, drawn from all the nations of the globe, committed to bless and make peace, to be compassionate, to live with integrity (shalom).
  • He is the Suffering Servant who empathizes with our human struggles, brokenness, alienation and pain, the wounded healer (Henri Nouwen). He has suffered and does suffer for individuals, society and the world (I Peter); it is a redemptive, deeply meaningful suffering. This suffering has deep and profound purpose. He is compassion, shedding tears for the city and the university. His Lordship is our home, our safe space or refuge from the challenges and transitions of life. His way will help make sense of, interpret, and exegete life; it will give us courage to live authentically on the moral high ground, to contribute moral capital to society, to the common good.

Marquette theologian D. Stephen Long wraps up this thought:

Jesus reveals to us not only who God is, but also what it means to be truly human. This true humanity is not something we achieve on our own; it comes to us as a gift … The reception of this gift contains an ineliminable element of mystery that will always require faith. Jesus in his life, teaching, death and resurrection and ongoing presence in the church and through the Holy Spirit … orders us towards God. He directs our passions and desires towards that which can finally fulfill them and bring us happiness … [and] reveal to us what it means to be human. (D.S. Long, 2001, pp. 106-7)

James Davison Hunter highlights its human implications of Jesus as Yes and Amen to it all:

Pursuit, identification, the offer of life through sacrificial love—this is what God’s faithful presence means. It is a quality of commitment that is active, not passive; intentional, not accidental; covenantal, not contractual. In the life of Christ we see how it entailed his complete attention. It was a whole-hearted, not half-hearted; focused and purposeful, nothing desultory about it. His very name, Immanuel, signifies all of this—“God with us”—in our presence. (J.D. Hunter, 2010, p. 243)

We commend to you this Jesus, this Christ, this Hope of the world, this Metaphor of robust, meaningful life, this Conduit of truth, this means to know and glorify God, this True Humanity, this Ultimate Reality, this Strong Purpose.


Isaac Wimberly, Spoken Word Poem on the Incarnation: Jesus as the Word

If there are words for Him then I don’t have them.

See my brain has not yet reached the point where it could form a thought that could adequately describe the greatness of my God.

And my lungs have not yet developed the ability to release a breath with enough agility to breathe out the greatness of His Love.

And my voice, see my voice is so inhibited , restrained by human limits that it’s hard to even sing the praise up, you see, if there are words for Him, then I don’t have them.

My God, His Grace is remarkable, mercies are innumerable, strength is impenetrable, He is honorable, accountable, favorable.

He’s unsearchable yet knowable, indefinable, yet approachable, indescribable, yet personal

He is beyond comprehension, further than imagination, constant through generations, King of every nation, but if there are words for Him, then I don’t have them

You see my words are few to try and capture the ONE TRUE GOD, using my vocabulary will never do, but I use words as an expression, an expression of worship to a Savior, a Savior who is both worthy and deserving of my praise, so I use words.

My heart extols the Lord, blesses His Name forever. He has won my heart, captured my mind, and has bound them both together. He has defeated me in my rebellion, conquered me in my sin, He has welcomed me into His presence, completely invited me in. He has made Himself the object of my sight, flooding me with mercies in the morning, drowning me with Grace in the night, but if there are words for Him, then I don’t have them.

But what I do have is GOOD NEWS, for my God knew that manmade words would never do, for words are just tools that we use to point to the truth.












Brooks, D. (2015). The Road to Character. New York, NY: Random House.

Brown, B. (2015). Rising Strong. New York, NY: Spiegel and Grau

Brown, W.S. and B. D. Strawn (2012). The Physical Nature of Christianity: neuroscience, psychology and the church. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Carkner, G.E. (2016). The Great Escape from Nihilism: rediscovering our passion in late modernity. Infocus Publishing.

Crawford, M. (2016) The World Beyond Your Head: on becoming an individual in an age of distraction. Toronto: Penguin.

Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance. Toronto, ON: Collins.

Furedi F. (2002). The Culture of Fear: risk taking and the morality of low expectation revised edition. New York, NY: Cotinuum.

Gawronski, R. (2015). Word and Silence: Hans Urs Von Balthasar and the Spiritual Encounter Between East and West 3rd edition. Kettering, OH: Angelico Press.

Gilbert, E. (2007). Eat, Pray, Love: one woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia.  New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Hunter, J.D. (2010). To Change the World: the irony, tragedy and possibility of Christianity in the late modern world. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Levitin, D.J. (2016). Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in a Post-Truth Era. Toronto: Penguin.

McDonald, D. (2017). The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, the Limits of Capitalism and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite.

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GCU Study in the Psalms: The Pursuit of Wisdom
Jesus knew the Psalms. Paul knew the Psalms. In fact, the entire early Christian community was steeped in the same Psalms that have served as the central prayer and hymnbook for the church since its beginning until now. Reading, studying, and praying the Psalms is God’s means for teaching us what it means to be human: how to express our emotions and yearnings, how to reconcile our anger and our compassion, how to see our story in light of God’s sweeping narrative of salvation. Our intent this Spring Term is to help provide the tools for understanding and incorporating these crucial verses into our own lives by exploring the key samplings from the books of the Psalms.

Psalm 25 (paraphrase by Gord Carkner)

Dear Lord, my inspiration, I know I can count on you

Don’t let dark forces of division and conflict overwhelm me

There is absolutely no shame in following you

But shame on those arrogant, deceptive and cunning liars–proud narcissists who think they are God and centre of the universe. They don’t care about anyone

Show me your mountain and I will climb up into your truth, your light and your integrity

I know I can make it with your help, even when I get tired, distracted, impatient and grumpy

OK, I’ve sown my wild oats but now I want to settle down, live under the gaze of your agape love and your amazing goodness.

Awesome, invigorating, captivating.

Thanks for being my mentor and friend; I am in process of transformation and sometimes it hurts, but I’m all in

I really want you to show me the way forward, because I’m lost on my own–hopeless really

Thanks for your eternal promises and your commitment to us and our flourishing. Your compassion just melts me

I want to step into your economy of grace because it resonates with me at a deep depth. Life is about gift and gratitude

Thanks so much for revealing your plans for my growth into wholeheartedness, and for our life-giving covenant community

I see now the brilliant story that I share with many others; meaning rises out of it and fills me up

I want to model my expectations on your will and wisdom; everything else will disappoint and trivialize life

I see now that you are the ultimate true north; everything else is relative to your infinite goodness

Life is hard sometimes and I struggle with my shame, doubts and failures

And let’s face it; some people are really hard to cope with

They really irritate me and discourage me by their bad attitudes and selfishness; they seem to want to destroy my vision of a good God

Keep me on track and help me to keep my integrity, because you are my map and hope for the future

It’s all about you, not me and my challenges, hangups and worries

Help me to stay focused and on topic, to know your empowering creativity to write a fresh outcome in this story of my life.

Background Notes on the Psalms

The Psalter is a collection of collections which was written over several/probably ten centuries. It is part of what is known as the Writings (OT/Hebrew Bible is composed of Law/Torah, Prophets and Writings/aka Wisdom Literature). Earliest thought to be composed by Moses in 1300 BCE. It is the most popular book in the Bible for Christians. It was the first book of the Bible made more available to the public by the Gutenberg Press. Often a bishop would be asked to memorize the whole of the Psalms before taking office. The Apostles were quite familiar with the Psalms. Jesus knew the Psalms well and quoted them regularly.

It is broken down into five sub-books: Psalms 1-41; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; 107-150

Types of Psalms: Petition, Prayer, Praise, Teaching, Protest, Liturgical (Temple Processions). It strikes a chord with a huge range of human emotions/the heart, motivations, conundrums, angst. These were all seen within the context of covenant.

Detail  Imprecatory, Confessional, Prayers or Praise by the Individual, Prayers or Praise by the Community, Hymns of Praise for God’s greatness and mercy, Confession, Confidence in the Lord (23), Songs of Zion the City of God, Royal Psalms, Pilgrimage Songs, Didactic

Nurture of the Psalms although complex and sometimes difficult, their spiritual food has nurtured the believing church for two thousand years. It teaches a dialogue between God and the human self, a reframing of the self and society. One might call it existential theology, theology in the trenches of life. People return to these texts for hope, peace, vision, healing, correction of perspective, restoration of their faith in a sovereign God, a liturgy for repentance. These brilliant poems raise tough questions for us as well. They teach us the “way” to live in God’s light, the way of eternal life. They teach about righteousness/just living and wisdom (fear of the Lord) in contrast to wickedness, violence and narcissism.

Great Discussion on Psalm 23, a hopeful poem on God’s care and providence within covenant relationship–much promise for human flourishing.

Wonder (awe) rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge. Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement … get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed. ~Abraham Joshua Heschel

Psalm 24, a Psalm of Ascent

This beautiful psalm was often read or sung on Ascension Day in the Church calendar. It is also appropriate to Advent when we think about an inbreaking of presence of the divine. One could read it along with the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel’s Messiah. The chief metaphor is the  temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, with perhaps the restoring of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. It is cast in a procession of people coming to worship their creator. The album by Hillsong United captures the them in their piece “Welcome Zion”. This is a wonderful, super creative set of songs. The Psalm begins with creation. The temple was often seen as a microcosm of the universe. God is celebrated as Lord of Creation, then Lord of Goodness, then Lord of the believer’s life.

We are drawn into opening up the gates of our hearts to the fullness and transcendence of God. The key posture for worship during our entire lives is seeking God. We are called out of our petty concerns to the great concern to honour God with our whole lives. Morally and spiritually we need to wash up in preparation for this encounter with Truth itself. It is Lordship that makes all the difference. Durning this week, let the King of Glory flood your heart and help you see life in fresh terms. It is the transformative path, true to the ancient ways of wisdom. Allow yourself to be surprised by grace. Open the gates!


Psalm 8 Creation and Humankind Tom McLeish’s Medieval Big Bang talk at St. John’s College, UBC November 4, 2016: https://youtu.be/JFFt0kUIlWA 

Tom McLeish GFCF Talk at UBC https://youtu.be/m5cmTFPCzt4

Discerning Texts: the Late Modern Self & Judeo-Christian Scripture. How do we relate ancient text to our contemporary world?

This is not a simple or straightforward reflection; it proceeds more by way of an upward spiral. It draws on the school of thought that looks at the self as text, beginning with Wilhelm Dilthey. Nietzsche also loved the language of text; perhaps to an extreme, he claimed that interpretation goes all the way down—there are no facts, only interpretations. That seems too extreme. There is a sense in which we humans are a text, that is, open for interpretation and self-interpretation. We are not reducible to mere factuality. How do we read our life experience, we the self-interpreting creatures who are obsessed with making sense of our lives? Do we not interpret ourselves as we tell our story even as we share with a colleague or a friend?Journaling is one vital way to grapple with our lives as text; amazing lessons and patterns emerge from this writing one’s life and thoughts. One PhD student filled ten large journals with his thoughts and ruminations during his program. One might challenge one’s colleagues that the un-interpreted life is not worth living (allusion to Socrates).

Drawing his line of thought from Dilthey, the brilliant English New Testament scholar and hermeneutics philosopher, Anthony Thiselton (Interpreting God and the Postmodern Self, pp. 63f), shows how the written text of Scripture interprets and shapes us. The objective pole or backdrop against which the self is interpreted, for Dilthey, is the text that is the public domain or institutions and patterns within society. For Thiselton, the Bible offers a text to mirror and encounter the text of the self. Both recognize the uniqueness of each individual self and the need for a larger context by which to illuminate the self and build one’s identity. Thiselton mentions five ways in which selfhood and self-identity reaches understanding through encounter with biblical Scripture, the interface where meaning comes alive. It is not totally under our control. We are drawn into the awe and the epiphany (discovery) of this experience through a dialectic.

A) Firstly, there is illumination of the life and selfhood (theology, perspectives, experience, character and context) of the biblical author as one attempts to interpret the text. There is indeed a genuine authorial encounter, which is a form of inter-subjectivity. We are privileged to have fellowship/dialogue with the ancients; the Apostle Paul is to some degree our interlocutor, our mentor. The horizon of the biblical author offers us a challenge to our identity; we don’t know it all nor are we necessarily the wisest people who ever lived; the ancients can teach us through dialogue from the horizon of their life context and experience of the Living Word. I am aware that Foucault and Barthes announced the death of the author, but I want to resuscitate  the importance of the author. I find their views too cynical as does Kevin Vanhoozer at Wheaton College. Yes there is mediation, but the whole weight of ancient scholarship is connected to the author. It makes all the difference that we are in dialogue with Plato or Virgil, Cicero or Moses; we want to lean in and see what they have to say to us.

B) Secondly, as Word of God, the biblical text potentially has the ability to give identity and significance to the self through connecting it to the voice of the divine, the voice of its Creator. The self is animated and invigorated by being addressed by a loving God who is presence, one who approaches us and invites us to reason or dialogue. What occurs here is a naming of the self, a calling into meaningful existence in some sense; this borrows from John Searle’s speech-act theory. The Word of God through the biblical text refuses to leave us alone, to our own devices; it addresses, confronts, and challenges the reader’s and the reading community’s selfhood. The attentive, humble reader cannot get away with mere empiricist scrutiny of text as object of inquiry. The text of the self is confronted by a Transcendent Text or real presence of the divine. We have much to grapple with here; we begin by entering into a study of Scripture and suddenly the tables are turned on us and the Word of God begins to interrogate us: we do not come out of this encounter unscathed, resting in the comfort of our self-perspective.

C) Thirdly, the encounter with text is necessary to reveal (put in relief) what would otherwise remain opague or hidden in the self, including those deceptive sub-texts, or twisted motives, the shadows of the false self which theologians identify as sin. We are called out on our deceit, our games, our lack of authenticity. Thiselton employs French intellectual Paul Ricoeur with his interpretation of Freud, and Roland Barthes with his critique of mass culture and its double-layered meaning at this point. Ricoeur, while realizing a level of deception and the existence of sub-text, urges that we work with a hermeneutic of suspicion alongside a more constructive hermeneutic of retrieval (Thiselton, p. 68). It need not all be negative, but there is a definite mirror-effect. The biblical text has a way of exposing the falseness of self in ways that are often uncomfortable, however healing.Thiselton shows how this approach is compatible with the biblical vision of the deceitful heart in Jeremiah. The possibility here is to recover responsibility together with freedom under a restored relationship to norms, virtues and goods. This does the effective work of redemptive exposure of the false self with a view to liberating robust living in one’s true self for the common good.

D) Therefore, the ways in which different people interpret the Bible can reveal much more about them than the texts they interpret (their manipulative purposes or blind biases, refusal to hear). Think of how texts were manipulated by Apartheid ideology or racist superiority in some corners of the world. This is sensitive to the insights gained from reader-response theories of hermeneutics. The state of the reading or interpreting community has a lot to do with the way text is allowed to engage it, and therefore the fruitfulness of such a reading. In their midst, a lone reformer/dissident might be able to point out their reading brokenness and introduce a healthy self-critical attitude (e.g. a Mandella or Martin Luther King Jr.). One thing that happens in an interdisciplinary community like GCU is that people ask you tough questions from another discipline that you have never before imagined. As part of an interpreting community or sometimes communities plural, we need to choose our fellow readers carefully, so we don’t get in a loop of self-fulfilled, one-sided or self-deceptive interpretation.

E) Finally, most significant for Thiselton is that encounter with biblical text has the effect of transformation. This is also a major theme in his book, New Horizons in Hermeneutics. “Transforming purpose entails a hermeneutics of the self, a new understanding of self’s identity, responsibility, and future possibilities of change and growth” (Interpreting God and the Postmodern Self, p. 66). He also records the David Kelsey and Frances Young comment that “when biblical writings function as ‘Scripture’, they shape the identities of persons and transform them”. Transformation offers a much superior answer to the problems of today’s  fragmented, deconstructed or de-centered, protean self. There can be the newness of self without mere radical self-determination approaches to freedom (Jean Bethke Elshtain agrees). Biblical text has a way of rethinking us, healing our false perceptions and renewing our narrative self. Bishop Lesslie Newbigin in his Gospel in a Pluralistic Society (Chapter: “Bible as Universal History”), encourages us to find our home in Scripture, to so indwell the biblical story and text that it shapes our whole outlook on life, fires our imagination, and gives us fresh eyes to see the world, fresh motivation to live out its promise for life—to shape our very lifestyle within a richer textured  horizon of meaning.

See also Charles Taylor’s new book: The Language Animal.

We will also draw on themes from Gord’s new book The Great Escape from Nihilism.

The Genius of Philippians: Key Questions
1.What is their formula for culture? Compassion, joy, gratitude, unity, creativity and generosity.
2. What is the basis for individual hope? Transformation that helps them step into the light. Their entire identity is in Christ from beginning to end. This has the biggest consequence, he the best example of how to live. Covetousness, rivalry and squabbles melt in light of his sacrifice.
3. What is the ethos of the Philippian social imaginary? Equality, agape love, opportunity, giftedness. Love in abundance.
4. What is the secret to their progress? Respect, unity, servanthood, mutuality, commitment to community. All of our relationships can be redeemed. The small church is a microcosm of a new society.
5. What is the answer to Lucifer? Pride, rebellion, narcissism, disunity, scapegoating others and infighting is not the answer; humility is the secret to living and leading well (Jesus). They are leaving evil behind for the good. There is no god but Jesus, no Lord/Caesar but Jesus at the end of the day. They must descend in order to ascend, die to self in order to flourish in life. Satan has no power over them since the resurrection, because they are free from his deceptions, propaganda, fear mongering and spin-doctoring tricks. II Corinthians 4:8-12
6. What is their connection to heaven/the transcendent? They have discovered how to bring heaven to earth in the light of the incarnation. Paul prays for God’s presence among them. It is a deeper way of seeing, keeping their eyes and minds on eternity. The resources of heaven are available to us here and now.
7. What is the ground of their identity and calling? Live worthy of the gospel. To live and die is Christ first (chapter 2), above all their pedigrees, ethnic background, wealth or social status. When we are grounded in him, all else takes its place (chapter 3). We must decrease so that he might increase (John the Baptist).
8. What will calm their anxieties and fears and give them perspective? Gratitude meets grace and changes the paradigm to Joy. The shalom of God reigns in their hearts through gratitude.
This Incarnational Humanism (Jens Zimmermann) is also liveable today in 2016: it results in new literature, poetry, plays, storytelling, music, painting, film and photography, new science and invention for the common good. Language is recovered in its thick dimension, its full power. The Great Escape from Nihilism holds out this trajectory for life and liberation through celebrating God’s coming among us and calling us to be suffering servant community. The meta-narrative is creative and life-giving. We move from cynicism and pride to service of the other and responsibility for the other, for the common good, through faithful presence (James Davison Hunter, Jim Wallis).
Philippians 4: 1-9        Why Do We Worry and What Can be Done about It?
Darrell Johnson gives a pressing message from Jesus in a passage from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6: 19-24): Stop worrying! Just stop it. Easier to say than do, you might rebut. Perhaps this follows from Chapter 3 and its examination of what counts in our credentials for life. Where does real credibility lie? What is really important in the long run? What is the true ground one’s identity? If we build our lives on an unsure foundation, it will cause us to worry, to feel insecure, anxious. Our values are misplaced and thereby our vision is clouded. “Every worry is a vote of non-confidence in God”, declares Johnson.
         Perhaps our focus or attention is off a bit when we put career, wealth, another significant person, a political leader, our credentials and influence, our genetics or blood line, even our own children as the ultimate thing in our lives? They can never bring us to the final peace or fulfilment that we long for, and sometimes we can become a slave to them. They are capable of twisting or distorting us. Why does the game of life often seem to be rigged against us? We work so hard for these credentials, this pedigree, this expertise, these accomplishments, that publication list, tenure. What was all this effort for?
               Are we perhaps not too horizontal in our focus? Jesus calls this the phenomenon of mammon. Good things in our lives are out of place or appropriate priority. We become obsessed with success at a human level–enough is never enough. Jesus calls us to be more realistic, to shift our focus and our energies, to look at nature: the birds and the flowers. That’s a bold move. Is there something to it? Durham Biophysicist Tom McLeish talked about this in early November at UBC–he called us to look more deeply with Job into creation in a all its splendour and wonder, to seek wisdom. What is this search for wisdom?
         If we are to find a stabilizing trajectory, it must be by way of the goals of the kingdom: justice, righteousness, reconciliation, joy, forgiveness, love, and peace, self-sacrifice. This is the wager he suggests to us in order to get over, and past, our worry. We must look below the surface of things. This involves re-channelling our energy toward the vertical, the transcendent. “The narrow way is the broad way, only in the opposite direction.” writes Howard Skinner. This is the way to become more human, to find peace with ourselves and a healing relationship with the cosmos. This is the fork in the road for happiness, to see everything more clearly, in focus, to get proper perspective. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (love God and practice the will of the Father), and everything else will fall into place. Then we will see and feel life in its depth, flourish at a new level of existence. Can we really live by Jesus words, stake our lives and our future on them? That’s the wager put to us.
          The Apostle Paul seems to be saying in chapter four of Philippians that we can and ought to do just that. He is underlining this word/insight from the Sermon on the Mount: Rejoice in the Lord! Put him first. Celebrate his grace. Give thanks for all that he is. Live with humility and serve others. Build your identity in Christ. Bathe in prayer and worship and love from God. Your anxieties and fears, the storms of life, will melt in the face of his goodness and glory, his truth, beauty and righteousness. Make him your centre, your pride and joy, your hope and purpose. Call him Lord, not Caesar. This is the really real, the ground of our being, the path to wisdom. Here is the joy we have been seeking for so long. In this space, we will find a peace that stands guard over our hearts, one that instructs worry to move on. This section (verses 4-7) is rooted in ancient Hebrew worship in the Psalms (64:10; 95:2; 100: 1-4; 61: 1-4; 84:1-8). Joy, prayer, gratitude, peace are solid companions and God the Holy Spirit is the glue that binds them together in the life of the believer.
            Paul then proceeds with a Greco-Roman touchstone in verses 8-9. He sees good in the cardinal virtues of that ancient culture: courage, temperance, justice and prudence. These believers were heavily influenced by Rome, being a colony. They were also heavily influenced by Greco-Roman philosophy, by Plato and Aristotle and they knew something about the good, about the virtues. Learn from it yes, but they also had to transcend it with their Christian virtues of faith, hope and love/charity, holiness, righteousness, wisdom. Our aspirations to virtue is worth attending to; they are a response to grace, and this pursuit of virtue is also the way to peace.
         Virtue is a form of excellence (arete) in another person that is recognizable and admirable. Paul is encouraging them to practice  this and follow any good they observe in the culture or in his life example, as he patterns his self-sacrificial life after Christ, builds his identity solidly in Christ. He is going for depth and leaving worry behind through his passion for Jesus and all that he represents. This is an excellent faith and culture paradigm which can affect our academic work. We look for truth wherever it can be found, goodness and beauty wherever they can be found. This is the way of wisdom and discernment. But at the end of the day, God must remain our first priority above all else–this will lead us towards true humanity, to deep and fulfilling life and lifestyle. This is where meaning is to be found and stabilized for the long run, not just a short sprint. This seems to be confirmed by the UBC Okanagan Project Happiness  led by David Holder. http://www.ubc-happiness.com
Philippians 3 Find What is Central and of Ultimate Value and Build your Meaning, Identity and Calling  on That.
Philippians 2.  Unity and Community through Humility and One-another Thinking
Paul encourages these young believers that they must see each other as ambassadors of unity. But we are often surrounded by divisive forces in our world, even within ourselves. Which trajectory will we follow and where will that take us?
A. Things, attitudes, behaviour that cause tension, fragmentation, polarization, and division: Toxic Relational I-It Influences.
-rivalry, arrogance, dogmatism and radical self-interest, individualism, superior me-first outlook, rights and entitlement thinking, perfectionism, blaming others for my problems,  disconnection, disengagement, fear and suspicion of others, apathy towards the needs of others, pride, self-assertion, power-driven goals, accumulation mentality, unwillingness to listen to other views, cannot admit a mistake, complaining, comparing, calculating, lose discernment of good and evil, succumb to anger, hatred, bigotry. All these attitudes are part of a flight from adulthood.
Eugene Peterson writes about this attitude in culture: “We depersonalize God to an idea to be discussed. We reduce people around us to resources to be used. We define ourselves as consumers to be satisfied. The more we do it, the more we incapacitate ourselves from growing up to a maturity capable of living adult lives of love, adoration, trust and sacrifice…. In our identity-confused society, too many of us have settled for a pastiche identity composed of social security number, medical records, academic degrees, job history, and whatever fragments of genealogy we can salvage.” (E. Peterson 2010, 66, 79)
B. Things, attitudes, behaviour that promote unity and community, build towards the common good: I-Thou Sensibilities of I Corinthians 13, The Road to Maturity.
-humility, grateful heart, appreciation of others, dialogical, going the extra mile, go lower as servant to get higher (win-win), discern the body of Christ, living in the economy of grace, personal sacrifice, Romans 12:1-3 offering oneself and one’s giftedness as a living sacrifice to God, building a community culture, practicing agape love, sharing wisdom with others sometimes between generations, finding our bond in Christ and his model of life lived sacrificially, practicing vulnerability or living wholeheartedly, focus on the common good, life taken as a gift, knowing the depth and presence of others in their vulnerability. Timothy and Epaphroditus were these kind of people to Paul.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams writes: “What is it to be human: to be a creature, a part of the world, a moment in a pattern, dependent on others, others dependent on ourselves, called therefore to contemplation, without which there is no growth or fullness. Isolation is the refusal of humanity; and that includes the isolation of my or our needs from those of the human world. Beyond it stands the Luciferian impulse to destroy reality for my sake, the impatience with the weary burden of creatureliness. Creatureliness means never having ‘done with’ people or the world or God. It means the risk of response, decision, listening and answering, attending to a constantly shifting environment.”

More on Chapter Two

What does it mean to work out one’s salvation with fear and trembling? In part according to Paul, it means developing the mind of Christ. This is the narrative that carries the day in 2: 1-11. A quest for unity and an application of the virtue of humility within their community must be grounded in something bigger than us, something more transcendent. There is a certain trinitarian texture (dynamic) to this call to unity and reconciliation. They need each other to face the challenges in front of them and so it is an urgent call. Within the Trinity, there is a communion of love, a dynamic of tenderness and compassion, mutual submission of one anotherness. God provides the grounding for the Philippian community, the qualities of their relationships and unity of goals.  Their witness is at stake, and they must deal with the toxic trinity of complaining, comparing and competing. They are called to peace as a colony of heaven within the Roman colony. They are asked to put the needs others first through self-sacrifice. This of course is counter-cultural in a Greco-Roman context where power is used as domination–a brutal, nihilistic world.

How does Jesus example of humility work for these Philippian believers? Paul articulates in Christ a two stage humiliation: a. the incarnation as he starts from scratch as a human; b. death on a Roman cross. We see what kind of God we are dealing with through the lens of Jesus’ life and teaching and attitude towards the marginalized. He shows us what it is to be truly human. Christ is the best evidence of a Christian mindset. This section is the centrepiece of the New Testament, in fact the centrepiece of the whole biblical narrative. The Jesus story ties together the whole biblical narrative and all that is anticipated; he is the suffering servant that Isaiah the prophet anticipates. He took the position of a slave (doulos) in order to reach us. He intentionally does not assert his power. God lived out a truly human life in Jesus. He reveals what it means to live in God’s image: he pours himself out for people.

The second level of humiliation is his submission to the death on a Roman cross, a punishment saved for insurrectionists and rebellious slaves. His humanity is expressed in humbling himself all the way to the cross (which is now a symbol of redemption). What is God doing in this fallen world? He is God on a cross: a divine scandal. He has humbled himself before Lord Caesar. This is God’s contradiction to human wisdom–this is foolishness to the Greeks. He is the suffering servant that accomplished what Israel could not because of corruption.

This humiliation finally ends in his exaltation as the ‘Name above all names’, unsurpassable, all sovereign (Isaiah 45: 18-24). “There is Power in the Name of Jesus” sings Kim Walker Smith “to break every chain”. Paul resonates with, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain”. This is a well rooted identity. As the mind of Christ is shaped in us, as he is recreating us in his image, we imitate God the suffering king We bear his image in our attitudes and relationships within Christian community and beyond. This is the deepest depths, the deepest truth, real freedom, redeeming goodness, a powerful human narrative.  All we can say is “Lord I am your servant waiting for your call.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaG8EpEJxgA Kristene Dimarco Take Courage

Philippi was an ancient Greek city (Roman colony at this time) in Macedonia. It official Roman name was Colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensis. It was named after Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. The area was known for the mining of gold. We see Paul’s encounter with the young church in Acts 16: 12-40. It was quite a dramatic church planting experience, including jail time. This was one of the first churches in Europe. Lydia, a fashion businesswoman, was one of the first convert–who became a pillar of the church. Paul wrote the letter under house arrest in Rome, so he could receive emissaries like Epaphroditus and send such a letter (~61 CE).
Paul loves these believers, and they have been steady partners in his work. The theme of the letter is all about eucharisteo (thanksgiving). If joy is our goal in life, gratefulness for God’s graces is the means. We get some great poetic insights on the quest for joy from Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts: a dare to live fully right where you are. Zondervan, 2010). Philippians is often known as the epistle of joy.
Some thoughts from Ann’s Hermeneutic of the Spirituality of Everyday Life 
The root word of eucharisteo is charis meaning “grace”. Jesus took bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks.
The mystery of life is giving thanks for everything. Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes to his grace.
That has always been the goal of the fullest life–joy. The heights of my joy are found at the depths of my thanksgiving.
Grace, thanksgiving, joy. Eucharisteo. Thanksgiving always always precedes the miracle.
“Humbly let go. Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control, let go of my own way, let go of my own fears. Let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy’s fire. Leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love and whisper a surprised thanks. This is the fuel for joy’s flame. Fullness of joy is discovered only in the emptying of will. And I can empty. I can empty because counting His graces has awakened me to how He cherishes me, holds me, passionately values me. I can empty because I am full of His love. I can trust.”
How do we seed/invest our days appropriately, so we can have a harvest of wisdom? We all want our lives and our work to count for the long run. We long to leave a legacy, to make a real contribution. We want to find our calling/our passion and go deep with it. We want to be grounded rather than superficial, like sagebrush blown across the desert. Moses seems to be praying (and saying) that it requires that we have a robust understanding of God and the big picture, to operate with eternity inner hearts. Our lives are very contingent and fragile, but we want to be relevant, productive.  We need God’s perspective on our lives and on our motivations in order to flourish. Lord show us your presence, your gifts and help us to live with gratitude and joy. In the long run, it is God who establishes us as we are faithful to his ways and his wisdom. We need to shed anything unnecessary for the journey: Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy, for I am a sinner and I need your grace. Make this year ahead count for your glory.
Philippians 1:
Examine Your Assumptions; Get Equipped to Think Clearly and Deeply; Don’t Settle for Stereotypes; Go for the Deeper Insights; Ask the Big Questions; Allow a Renovation of Your Imagination and Motivations
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Choose your window on the world (worldview) carefully.
Thursday Evenings @ 7:00 pm
You are most welcome to join us! This Fall, we begin in the book of Ephesians, an amazing statement on what is possible given the right perspective, the right way of seeing. Our companion text is Eugene Peterson’s Practice Resurrection. (Eerdmans, 2010) This promises to be a great adventure. Join fellow grad students to open your horizon.
Ephesians 5: The Way of Wisdom, Freedom, Love, Life, Joy
How is our identity, morality, spirituality, freedom, life trajectory and meaning interwoven? This is the core of a human being, our soul. What do these metaphors of Light, Life and Love, Wisdom and Gratitude have to do with our human flourishing? What is the difference between forming our whole existence autonomously as a work of art or science, and being formed by God the Holy Spirit? Or how does self-shaping relate to God-shaping? These Greek believers didn’t have a rich moral tradition like the Jews. They didn’t have Moses and David (Psalm 24), Solomon (Proverbs) and the prophets (Isaiah) to guide their language of the good, the wise, the righteous, the holy life sourced in God as Trinity.
Late in chapter 4 and in the early part of 5, Paul is gently helping them to learn to say No to certain things and behaviour (the old self) in order to say a resounding Yes to God and his social ethos (the new recreated self). They are encouraged not to take up all the air in the room, and make way for other people, other being. Just say no to self-indulgence, violence, greed, slavery, oppression, imperialism, capricious behaviour, tyranny, workaholic extremism, narcissism, waste and relational abuse, idolatry, promiscuity, delusions of grandeur, racism, false pride, sexism, bigotry, murder, rape, lust, will-to-power attitudes, deception, laziness, cheating, sex trafficking.  Their former gods and goddesses were quite the colourful characters, with stories and quests rich in religious imagination but poor in moral content. Zeus and Hara oversaw a pantheon of sexually profligate and murderously rapacious deities. Ancient Greece was a brutal society where women and slaves were treated like property. Negatives don’t define these believers anymore. God’s positives do.
Time to set new precedents in the way of wisdom, a whole new lifestyle, to develop a new culture. Paul encourages them to say Yes to love, compassion, peace-making, covenant faithfulness, respect for rights and sanctity of others, fairness, diligence, justice, communal openness and vulnerability, hospitality, giftedness, self-restraint, moral good, wholeness, respect for children, care for the poor, respect for women, good stewardship. Live in the Light of Christ, the Servanthood of Christ, the Wisdom of Christ, the God-oriented life of holiness. It is not a brittle set of rules, of ‘dos and don’ts’, permitted and forbidden. It is a whole different outlook and they are truly asked to follow the way to freedom in the truth of Christ. Yahweh is a God who recreates his character in us. It takes humility to learn the new way to flourish as the Holy Spirit does his gentle work in us. Peterson writes, “These moral acts are art forms for arranging and giving expression to resurrection, the way of redemption.”
In the three persons, there is a versatile and dynamic oneness, yet there are also roles and primary actions that proceed uniquely from Father, Son and Spirit. God the Father: God bringing everything into being and holding everything together by his word. God the Son: God entering our history, showing God in action in human terms that we can recognize, accomplishing salvation for all. God the Spirit: God present with and in us, inviting us, guiding and counselling us, wooing us into participation in all God’s ways of being God. All these operations of God are in evidence as Paul directs and accompanies us in the process of growing up in Christ. (E. Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 197)
Everything in Scripture is eminently liveable because of God’s empowering presence. We become forms or vessels for the creative energy of the Holy Spirit, vessels of holiness and righteousness/just living. For this we must discern the Spirit who is the essential guide to our spirit. There are new stories for new believers to feed on and  take nurture. They become insiders to something radically hopeful at the heart of history. It requires vigilance to nurture this organic connection.  Andy Crouch captures the idea that God doesn’t stifle, but gives space for abundance of being:
All true beings strive to create room for more being and to expand its power in the creation of flourishing environments for variety and life, and to thrust back the chaos that limits true being. In doing so it creates other bodies and invites them into mutual creation and tending to the world, building relationships where there had been none: thus they then cooperate together in creating more power for more creation. And the process goes on.There is a kind of being that delights in sharing space and a deeper, truer being that is able to create more than enough space–room for more being. (A. Crouch, Playing God, 51)

In the resurrection the original power of creative love displaced sin and death. Sin and death, and the twin systems they create, idolatry and injustice, are already unmasked and have lost the critical battle. Creative love was always stronger and more real—and in the community of the resurrection, the first and latest followers of Jesus find that reality living, breathing and working powerfully through us. (A. Crouch, Playing God, 53)

Left to ourselves, most of what we imagine God to be and do is wrong. Nearly all of what our culture tells us that God is and does is wrong. Not dead wrong, mind you–there is an astonishing amount of truth and goodness and beauty mixed into it–but enough wrong that if we swallow it whole, we risk “sickness unto death” (Kierkegaard’s diagnosis). Revelation is a radical reorientation of reality–God reality, church reality, soul reality, resurrection reality. We require a continuously repeated immersion in the revelation of God in Scriptures and Jesus as protection against the lies of the devil. They are such affable lies: lies that smilingly seduce and distract us from the cross of Christ, lies that genially offer to show us how to depersonalize the living God into an idol customized to our use and control. (E. Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 205)
Ephesians 4: Worthy of our Calling
 This is a profound section of Scripture giving a vision of the gift of community and the giftedness within community. Individuals find their identity within a community, a commonwealth of diversity, a communion of love. God is daring us, calling us out, to try this vulnerable, wonderful experiment. It is all rooted and bathed in grace. We are invited to step up to the full potential of our existence. It re-maps our existential situation.
God’s word to us is essentially a call, an invitation, a welcome into his presence and action. When we respond to the call, we live a calling. The calling gives us a destination, determines what we do, shapes our behaviour, forms a coherent life. We live into the world and the relationships into which we have been called…. Vocation, calling, is a way of life, comprehensive…. God’s call and our calling fuse into church. The call and calling are the systolic and diastolic heartbeat of the body of Christ. (E. Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 169-70)

We need discernment, wisdom to parse life, to apply what we know to the nuances of our everyday existence.

Discernment (paraclesis) is conversation directed to the insights and decisions, the behaviours and practices, that emerge from hearing the preached good news and learning the truth of the Scriptures as they then get prayed and embodied in my life where I am just now. These insights are not always obvious given my emotions, history, parents, baggage from old sins, and misunderstandings accumulated from secular culture. The gospel message that seemed so simple and straightforward in the sanctuary on Sunday develops severe complications when I enter into my workplace on Monday. Our families muddy the waters that seemed so clear, outlined, and in order on a chalkboard while we were sitting in a classroom…. Paraclesis is language used with men and women who already have received the word of preached salvation and have been instructed the teaching of the law, but who are in need of comfort or encouragement or discernment in the muddled details of dailiness. It is otherwise called ‘cure of souls’ or spiritual direction…. This is the kind of language that pays attention to the way the preceding languages of preaching and teaching enter into the personal particulars of each person while in the company of  brothers and sisters, strangers and neighbours…. Listening, which requires silence, is a substantial element in the language of paraclesis. (E. Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 172-3)

The Christian life involves re-understnding our entire lives and the whole world in the light of God’s revelation…. Creation and covenant map our existence, and we need to learn how to read the maps and use a compass to find our way through the territory. (E. Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 172)

Paracletic language is only credible if it is spoken from a paracletic life, a life Paul describes as “with all humility and gentleness, with gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4: 2-3) This is the path to grow up into the full stature of Christ.

The moves that Paul makes in chapter four are: Discern your fullest calling–>Discern one another within the body; build towards unity–>Discern your God, the transcendent source of all physical and spiritual life, all meaning and motivation–>Discern your gifts within the larger body of giftedness–>Discern your moral worth, authenticity and moral agency/power–>Implement the virtues, the goods, the imagination of the kingdom. It is not just about feelings. This can move your universe. Ephesians articulates, cultivates our thinking and invites us into a new dynamic of life.

How do we help people rediscover their spiritual imagination in a cynical age? Amidst secularism the ideology, disenchantment, scientism, New Atheist shrill voices, the failure of Fascism, Stalinism, Maoism, Rationalism, Consumerism? David Crowder sings, “Your love is the remedy for the sickness in my heart. Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t cure.” Indeed, what if Prayer and Faith are the deep structure of the universe? What if Christ is the core of the really real? What if we are gift all the way down? What if we could become better at living the good life, growing in maturity? What if I don’t have to continue the fakery of acting like the centre of the universe, our default setting? What if gratitude and hospitality could change things?

Matthew Crawford has some brilliant insights for us in his recent insightful book, The World Outside Your Head. He suggest that our quest for radical individualism and autonomy is leading us into a unhealthy moral autism. We are losing our moral skill and agency. Matthew calls this the ‘cult of sincerity’, i.e., that you yourself can be the source of the norms by which you justify yourself–a radical responsibility for which we were not designed. It offers too much sovereignty. He says that we actually need others (friends, family, colleagues) to check our own self-understanding–through triangulation–to tell us we are doing OK, that we are good or excellent. One thing that sets us apart as humans is our desire to justify ourselves; we never act without moral implications. We need this web of people we respect and normativity. Charles Taylor agrees (Sources of the Self).

Here’s the rub: In times of cultural flux, where it is unclear what the rules are, how to value things or behaviour, it is difficult for us to understand ourselves socially. This leads to an existential crisis. So we become victims of the values of the marketplace–productivity, performance, usefulness, cash-out value. Matthew’s friend, psychologist Alain Ehrenburg (Weariness of the Self), notes that this is leading to epidemic levels of depression in our current culture of performance. Enough is never enough:

Depression presents itself as an illness of responsibility in which the dominant feeling is that of failure. The depressed individual is unable to measure up; he is tired of having to become himself. In a culture of performance, the person reads the value and status of her soul in her worldly accomplishments.

We are ever guilt-ridden and stressed. We are always faced with the raw issue of making things happen, our capacity, leading to this new pathology of weariness. The weariness of having to become one’s fullest self is leading to depression. On top of this, it is difficult to mitigate this depression in an age of performance, because weariness comes to equal weakness. So we turn to quick fixes, stimulants like Prozac or Adderall (an amphetamine) to keep us high-performing. This is an epidemic among students and also young faculty in high-performance universities. All the students in the room strongly affirmed this problem.
All the while we seek liberation through this autonomy, we are discovering a very serious slavery. Modernity has turned on us. Paul the Apostle believes that Christ can give us some reprieve and perspective on this dilemma.
Ephesians 3 Walls and How to Penetrate Them
This passage is all about the wisdom of God revealed to Paul: that he was to become a major player in arbitoring peace between Jews and Gentiles. They become one body in Christ, they share the spiritual heritage, the promise of God to carve out a people who will bless the whole world. The church is a reinterpretation of the narrative of Israel. It is an amazing discovery of fulfilment of the prophetic word in Isaiah 2: 2-3 and 56: 7. Outsiders from all nations are now included in the commonwealth of God’s grace. Their hostilities are being redeemed, walls are coming down, love is replacing suspicion and hatred. It is a ‘new humanity’ with unity amidst diversity. Difference, dissonance, disintegration, disconnection, sectarianism is being transformed into mutuality, one-anotherness and discovery of community. Chaos is transformed to order by a divine love that is stronger than death. It is a new paradigm, a creative vision for change. Ontological church opens a space for peace (Peterson 124) and hospitality, for new kinds of relationships as family; it becomes a new tapestry woven by God. All of this was in the plan before the foundation of the world. It is a deep calling indeed. Peterson (124, 126) writes: “
Jesus brings us home, Jesus brings us together, Jesus breaks down hostility, Jesus creates us as a unified humanity, Jesus reconciles all of us to God. Peace is complex and many-layered. A lot of action goes into making peace–and Jesus is the action…. Church is where peace is understood comprehensively as Christ present and working among us.”
It is deeply personal and comes via sacrifice.  He works with people at all stages of maturity and ability employing incredible patience. We get to host these same peace talks today week by week. Peace making and healing broken hearts and relationships is our business.
Peterson writes (130): “Growing up in Christ means growing up to a stature adequate to respond heart and soul to the largeness of God.”  There is something really profound here. There is a lot more to the church than we can see. We see this divine largesse in 3: 14-21. It is time to move beyond our self-centred adolescence to true maturity. This means that
  • Jesus demolishes the wall that separates insiders and outsiders, lost and homeless mean and women, aliens and strangers.
  • Jesus respects us as persons.
  • Jesus is our living, active peace.
  • Jesus is the heart of meaning, the heart of reality.
  • Love is at the heart of the Christian manifesto. It can penetrate these walls of shame and hostility.
What are the Berlin walls in society today? Faith and reason, science and the humanities, rich and poor, religion and science. What will penetrate them and bring people together in one heart, one vision, one joy? Can the large love of God make a difference? Can he blow our minds with a new spiritual imagination of the possibilities? Is this wishful thinking or the deepest truth available? Ask Martin Luther King Jr. Here is the song Glory from the movie Selma
Nothing worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous,  can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr
Ephesians 2:11-22
David Brooks, The Road to Character (262-67).

What is the nature of the church according to this passage?

A reconciliation of the races, equality of the sexes, changed status of the poor, settling old rivalries, reconciliation of alienated friends, inclusion of the excluded people groups. See also Galatians 3: 28,29

Challenge to radical individualism: growth as an isolated self-project:

Individualism is the growth-stunting, maturity inhibiting habit od understanding growth as an isolated self-project. Individualism is self-ism with a swagger.  The individualist  is the person who is convinced he or she can serve God without dealing with God. This is the person who is sure he or she can love neighbours without knowing their names…. This is the person who , who having gained competence  in knowing God or people or world, uses that knowledge to take charge of God or people or world. (E. Peterson, 112)

What is God up to with the church?

If we don’t know what God thinks of us and what we have to do with God, we have missed a huge part of what it means to grow up. We need to know that God is not just “deity in general” not off doing something big in the universe, remote from who we are or what we think of ourselves. God is not remote; God is present and active in us…. It is a radical redefinition of who we are in a way that is different from anyone else. we need to understand that God has to do with every part of our lives, not just the religious part.   (E. Peterson, 111)

We are pulled into the action trajectory of church, people of God, commonwealth of tribes. Those who were once excluded (Gentiles) from grace have been included in God’s kingdom. Given gifts like Jewish believers—tremendous status boost. Refugees have become citizens with all its benefits and responsibilities. (Quote on p. 120) It is a new humanity. What makes us worthy to be included is not our merits but God’s redeeming love. This act of faith changes the world.

What are people saved from…. and to….?

The Fall meant disintegration, chaos, disconnection, depersonalization

The divine Word brought the church into existence as his body. This is essential church, his body. What does that mean to you?

  1. Jesus is our peace, our peacemaker, reconciler. Jesus is at the epicenter of the action called the church (Quote p. 124). He becomes our peace through an act of sacrifice. It is a work in progress, complex and strenuous.
  2. Jesus is hospitality (Quote p 126)

How do we  work towards this peace process today on campus, in our city?

Ephesians 2: 1-10 
Grace (charis) is the main issue in this passage. Gift is a theme that runs throughout the book. It is rooted in God’s love, in a God who is love at his deepest depth. It is redemptive love which reaches us wherever we are. You might find the book What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey very enlightening. This should help to deepen your journey, your purpose, to live your life in terms of eternity. Another word for grace is gift. Here’s a thoughtful quote from Philosopher Calvin Shrag, The Self After Postmodernity: 
The point that carries the pivotal weight in the phenomenon of gift-giving and gift-receiving is that gift as gift remains outside the economy  of production and consumption, distribution and exchange. Indeed thee gift remains radically transcendent to the determination of reciprocity within the economy of goods and services; and insofar as it does impinge upon and interact with this economy, the gift displays a surplus of significations that overflow the particulars within the cycle of putative gift exchange…. The gift is both transcendent of and immanent  within the developing culture-spheres in which the human self aspires towards self-understanding.  (140)

Practice Resurrection

We all need grace to survive. Faith in Christ is a plunge into grace.  Ephesians is riddled with the theme of grace. According to researcher Brené Brown, many people are stifled by fear and shame (the feeling that ‘I am a mistake’), causing them to retreat and shut down. Shame is highly correlated with depression, addiction, aggression, violence, bullying, suicide, and eating disorders. She became a TED Talk sensation as she exposed this chronic societal problem. Christianity offers the kind of self-honesty, security and vulnerability that is an antidote to shame, as Paul notes in the life-promoting letter to the Ephesians. Our culture worships power and human achievement, and that can make us ashamed of what we have done, our capacity. In Ephesians, we are invited on stage with God the trinity, as key players in his great drama of redemption and reconciliation, where all things are called to submit to Christ and his Lordship, and we are empowered to carry out good, meaningful work. Students are thriving on this theme of a dram articulated on a foundation of grace. It gives something of that God’s eye view on life.

The Holy Spirit, through a living covenant, brings our lives both transcendence and presence. Believers have a high calling to listen to and engage the world, not to recoil in fear, as Rowan Williams articulates in The Truce of God. We are gift from beginning to end, given gifts, represent a complexity of giftedness, we are called and chosen to use gifts to build up other lives and bring heaven to earth. As Eugene Peterson says, humans too easily slip into a denial of grace, rather than allowing their lives to be a prism for God’s light. Theologian D. Stephen Long has some profound thoughts to leave with us in this stream of thought. It is an important message for today’s late modern culture, and contains a strong challenge for Christians to engage the world with all the spiritual graces. Without love as a strong foundation, we are quite vulnerable to collapse (Ephesians 3: 14-21). Knowledge and reason alone will not sustain us.

Only on the basis of an ontology of love can gift be understood. Because love, and not pure reason, is the basic structure of being, the failure of human reason to achieve infinite desires is not negative but positive. Thus we do not need to negate reason in order to believe, but rather to supplement and intensify it. We receive knowledge as a gift.… Gift, another name for the Holy Spirit, is the fullness of being, the perfection that surrounds us with an inevitable desire for truth, goodness and beauty. It illumines our lives…. For Wittgenstein, truth is not a matter of detachment, but engagement, the kind of engagement that love entails and that requires judgments based on qualitative contrasts…. Wittgenstein’s appeal to love depends on something more akin to ‘virtue epistemology’. Love is not opposed to truth; they are both necessary virtues for knowledge. You cannot know what you do not love; you cannot love what you do not know. (D. Stephen Long, Speaking for God, 2009, 159 and 300-1)

One other source for this concept of redemptive resurrection grace is in David Brooks’ new book, The Road to Character, where he talks about Adam I and Adam II. He offers some great stories to make his point. Brooks is noticing that there have been profound changes in cultural and personal values since early twentieth century. Adam I refers to our career success, fame and self-actualization goals; Adam II refers to the deeper things of formation like virtue, character, quality of relationships and personal integrity. He suggests that today’s society is far too focused on Adam I but very weak on promoting the values of Adam II. At the end of the day, Adam II (character) is essential to good employment and family relationships and one’s contribution to the world, as we will discuss in our upcoming November 17 panel on the Future Prospects of Higher Education. Woodward 1 at 4:00 p.m.

Here’s the hinge point in Chapter 2: 1-10. Grace ushers us into good work. It is not a contest between grace and works, but a both/and situation. All work is based on God’s work in creation. We join him in his creative work as both gardeners and artists. Jesus showed a congruence between grace and all that makes the world go round (daily work). Peterson says that every good work is a potential package of divine grace, a gift. We are God’s work; we are called to good work; we are agents of grace; grace is God-giftedness (Romans 12:1-3). We grow up into grace, into the full stature of maturity in Christ. This is how our work touches base with eternity, brings heaven to earth. According to Andy Crouch (Culture Making: rediscovering our creative calling), creativity is an instrument of change, adding new goods to the world. We can make something of the world and our work takes on a higher meaning and purpose. All work is holy task if we grasp what J.Richard Middleton said about the Imago Dei. There are two main kinds of work: conservation and creativity. We need to be in touch with our cultural heritage in order to contribute in significant ways. Innovation comes out of cultivation and preservation of heritage and natural resources: art comes out of gardening or husbandry. Culture keeping leads to culture making.

The posture of the artist and the gardener have a lot in common. Both begin with contemplation, paying close attention to what is already there. The gardener looks carefully at the landscape; the existing plants, both flowers and weeds; the way the sun falls on the land. The artist regards her subject, her canvas, her paints with care to discern what she can make with them. (A. Crouch, Culture Making, 97)

How do we use our creativity, our writing, speaking, experimenting, building, designing to construct community, to promote shalom (Christopher Alexander, The Nature of Order)? How can we become observers and entrepreneurs of grace?

 N.T. Wright “Love is not our duty but our destiny.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukyNU51OcnA
Thomas Merton responds: “To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything he has givens–and he has given us everything. Every breath we draw is gift of his love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from him. Gratitude takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference. “
Peterson: “In fifty years of being a pastor, my most difficult assignment continues to be the task of developing a sense among the people I serve of the soul-transforming implications of grace–a comprehensive, foundational re-orientation from living anxiously by my wits and muscle to living effortlessly in the world of God’s active presence. The prevailing North American culture (not much different from the Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Persian, Greek and Roman cultures in which our biblical ancestors lived) is, to all intents and purposes, a context of persistent denial of grace.”
One other source for this concept of redemptive grace is in David Brooks’ new book The Road to Character, where he talks about Adam 1 and Adam 2. The first refers to our success, fame and self-fulfilment; the latter refers to the deeper things like virtue, character, quality of relationships and personal integrity. He suggests that today’s society is far too focused on Adam 1 and very weak on promoting the values of Adam 2.
We have to mention a couple profound books: Andy Crouch on Culture Making: recovering our creative calling; and Calvin Shrag, The Self After Postmodernity (especially 139-148). Insights to die for.
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Thomas Merton
Below are some quotes from Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation. A New Directions Book. They relate well to the thrust of this passage.

31 To be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.

32 Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny…. We are even called to share with God the work of creating the truth of our identity…. To work out our own identity in God, which the Bible calls “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” is a labor that requires sacrifice and anguish, risk and many tears. It demands attention to reality at every moment, and great fidelity to God as he reveals himself, obscurely, in the mystery of each new situation.

33 The secret of my full identity is hidden in him. He alone can make me who I am, or rather who I will be when at last I fully begin to be. But unless I desire this identity and work to find it with him and in him, the work will never be done…. Not to accept and love and do God’s will is to refuse the fullness of my existence.

Sin: 33 To say I was born in sin is to say I came into the world with a false self. I was born in a mask. I came into existence under a sign of contradiction, being someone that I was never meant to be and therefore a denial of what I am supposed to be.

34 My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love—outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion…. A life devoted to the cult of this shadow is what is called a life of sin. All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my egocentric desires, is a fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, for honor, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real…. The secret of my identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God.… Ultimately the only way I can be myself is to become identified with him in whom is hidden the reason and fulfillment of my existence.

47 People who know nothing of God and whose lives are centered on themselves, imagine that they can only find themselves by asserting their own desires and ambitions and appetites in a struggle with the rest of the world.
60 To say I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name. If therefore , I do anything or think anything or say anything or know anything that is not purely for the love of God, it cannot give me peace, or rest, or fulfillment, or joy.
63 I who am without love cannot become love unless Love identifies me with himself. But if he sends his own love, himself, to act and love in me and in all that I do, then I shall be transformed, I shall discover who I am and shall possess my true identity by losing myself in him.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is quite an intellectual and offers some real insight in his 2005 book, The Truce of God.

There is no love without contemplation, no contemplation without a mind and heart open to receive and not seeking to create its own world out of nothingness of the ego and its fantasies. Contemplation for men and women is looking and listening and being molded by what is other. It is recognizing that you are created—limited, living in time—and allowing yourself to go on being created in and by the world of things and persons in time, all of them mediating the obscure universal initiative of an uncreated action, so wholly regardless of ‘self’ that it lets the whole universe be. Creation is there because of the limitless capacity of God for contemplation—allowing the other to be, engaging with the other…. God contemplates the world out of his own freedom…. We need to live in a world constantly inviting us to contemplation, a world which will not leave us alone, feeding only on ourselves—a world which delights us and which assaults us by its strangeness, its resistance to us. And above all, a world of persons, in which we can be invited to love by finding ourselves the objects of love, where we learn contemplative attention as we are ourselves attended to. (R. Williams, 2005, 40)

Ephesians Chapter 1 Notes and Questions
We are continuing this exciting investigation into Ephesians and the deeper purpose of our lives. The book is driven by a life-giving message that percolates with mind-expanding metaphors that stretch the imagination. What if gift, grace, forgiveness and reconciliation is the very axis of life itself? What is this more, this fullness that Paul is speaking about? Are we missing out on something really good? Could God be that invested in us and our well-being, that excited about our small lives? Did he pick me, choose me for a mission? Will I choose to live on the higher road, the ancient ways, rooting my life in eternal values and purposes? What does it mean to practice resurrection hope in a disillusioned world, to pursue life when others focus on death, to lean into meaning where others wallow in despair?
Ask yourself what you are willing to settle for. Do you want all that God has for you? Clearly we have a lot of very clever people around us at university and in culture, but what the world needs today is reflective, contemplative, deep people of substance and character. Paul tantalizes us with a claim that breaks the sound barrier of our normal expectations: that all things could be brought into unity under Christ, that divine love could rescue us from ourselves and our small vision of reality, our bigotry, tribalism, pettiness and narcissism. We need strategic wisdom, lives filled with gratitude, the courage to step into our truest self and speak the truth in love, to pursue justice, to engage life fully as a peacemaker. God calls us into a big world, with a large horizon, where he is operating and calling people to their best selves.
There are some power verbs (E. Peterson, 2010, 56-68) that Paul uses in this first chapter to awaken us to this new life. God blesses, choses, shows us our destiny, lavishes grace upon us, makes known the mystery of his ways, gathers up all things in Christ, with the goal of celebration of his glory. This helps to orient us in the cosmos, keep our lives in resurrection focus. There is a rescue from impersonal fate, from astrological charts, from karma and kismet, from biology as destiny. God’s grace is activated, super abundant. Peterson writes profoundly,

It is an old habit among us, a habit subsidized by the devil, to depersonalize, to abstract, to generalize not only our language with or about God but also our language with or about one another. It is a bad habit. We avoid the personal  in order to avoid responsibility. We find any way we think we can get by with to get control of God, our neighbour, or ourselves. We are relentless. We depersonalize God to an idea to be discussed. We reduce people around us to resources to be used. We define ourselves as consumers to be satisfied. The more we do it, the more we incapacitate ourselves from growing up to a maturity capable of living adult lives of love, adoration, trust and sacrifice…. In our identity-confused society, too many of us have settled for a pastiche identity composed of social security number, medical records, academic degrees, job history, and whatever fragments of genealogy we can salvage…. The Ephesians message is intended to gather us into the multifaceted, all-encompassing work of Christ in which we become whole, healthy, complete men and women. (E. Peterson, 2010, 66. 67 and 79)

Jesus is the wisdom of God and the power of God, the nexus of faith and reason. As divine logos (John 1), he is the transcendent word made flesh, the underwriter/guarantor of all human thought and all language. He is reason personified, the raison d’etre of it all, the meaning of it all, the answer to the deeper questions: Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are we here? What is our calling? Where are we going? We are called to take captive (recalibrate) all thought to his Lordship (II Corinthians 10), his oversight, his scrutiny. He is the end point, the fulfillment, of every human spiritual, moral and philosophical aspiration to make sense of our existence on planet earth. He has renewed and healed the current broken semiotic relationship between word and world (James Davison Hunter). He is public truth (Lesslie Newbigin) and this truth leads out into wider truth about all of reality. He offers more, the chance to make transcendent sense of life itself: revealing its often hidden purpose and telos. This wisdom provides a framework and a profound motivation for our thinking and reflection. Humanities scholar Jens Zimmermann at Trinity Western University captures it:

Christ the creative wisdom of God, and God’s active Word in creation, is enfleshed in the temporal-historical dimension of our world as the concrete Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ…. This is the Word through whom all things were made, and the Word hid in the eternal bosom of God, the Word who spoke through the prophets, the Word whose mighty acts defined the history of Israel. In Jesus the Christ this Word has become flesh, and the eternal has become temporal, but without ceasing to be eternal…. In Christ temporality and eternity are conjoined…. In the incarnation, creation, the world, time and history have been taken up into the God-man, who is the center of reality…. Faith and reason are inseparable because their unity is in Christ. (J. Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism, 264-5)

Chapter 1: 15-23 is also about blessing. Peterson says “the language of blessing permeates the language of Scripture. We receive the blessing and absorb it into our obedience”. Five gifts/blessings are offered: wisdom and revelation, an enlightened heart, hope, the riches of his glorious inheritance, the immeasurable greatness of his power. They are all part of the dynamic of living the resurrection life.
Saints: “The institutional way of looking at us in our schools and businesses and governments gives it imprimatur to this systematic and pervasive de-souling, de-personalizing, debunking anything in us that has to do with God… With all these voices coming at us from every direction and at all hours, how do we acquire a God-oriented identity?” Saint is about what God is doing in us, for us, through us. We need to be positioned in ways which allow us to carry out God’s assignments. Holiness is a posture.
Peterson says saints are the bowels of the church, the ragamuffins,  and yet “from within these bowels comes a continuous witness, sounds of praise, the totally unexpected word “resurrection”, talk of healing and forgiveness, preaching and praying…. loving of scandalous men and women who are called their ‘brothers and sisters’ and watching them take on their identity as a new creation. Baptism marks a radically new way to understand ourselves and one another: not by race, not by language, not by parents and family, not by politics, not by intelligence, not by gender, not by behaviour, but as saints, people who are called in God’s way.”
One final quote on Chapter 1:
God reveals himself in personal relationship and only in personal relationship. God is not a phenomenon to be considered. God is not a force to be used. God is not a proposition to be argued. There is nothing in or of God that is impersonal, nothing abstract, nothing imposed. And God treats us with an equivalent personal dignity. He isn’t out to impress us. He’s here to eat bread with us and receive us into his love just as we are, just where we are. ( E. Peterson, 2010, 87)
Introduction to Ephesians

The approach is to probe into the depths of the passage in Ephesians, while drawing from other authors and scholarship that is relevant to the text at hand. There is a sense in which we ‘interrogate’ (interpret) the text and also a sense in which the text interrogates us. Your questions and thoughts are key to opening up the meaning. It works best if we come with a teachable posture with a view to discover fresh insights.

Ephesus is in the area of present day Turkey (Asia Minor). It was major city (250,000 persons), second only to Rome or Athens, at the intersection of major trade routes, with a pluralistic culture, am many different religions. The theatre would hold 24,000 people. Not that much different than Vancouver and UBC. The two major religious cults were Artemis (Diana) and the Roman  Imperial cult (Caesar Augustus was seen as Son of God, warrior god of order, saviour. The calendar was remade around his birthday. See Acts 19: 23-31. Artemis was the godmother of Ephesus. The temple to Artemis was one of the seven great wonders of the world, larger than a contemporary football stadium, four times the size of the Parthenon. The city had a major market in pagan religious goods and services, many magical practices and occult.

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Who is Paul the Apostle? He was a Jew, a Roman citizen, and now a key leader of the early church. He was trained under the top Rabbi of the day Gamaliel (in turn he was trained under Hillel). He was brilliant, the equivalent of a Nobel Laureate. He once was a zealous Pharisee who persecuted the church and threw people in prison for following Jesus; he literally hated Christians. A radical change came when he was blinded by a beatific vision of Jesus, an I-Thou encounter, an epiphany. Eventually he became the greatest interpreter of the life and teaching of Christ, and one of the most courageous apostles. He spent about three years preaching in Ephesus during AD 53-56. Two years later he was imprisoned (three years in Caesarea and two years in Rome.

The Letter to the Ephesians It is one of the most important letters of Paul the Apostle (from Roman prison in 62 AD) that was circulated to all the churches in the ancient world. He attempts to recalibrate/re-think reality for and with them, or expand their horizon of the grace and goodness of God, and his eternal purposes. He wants them to realize the potential of their lives as they discover their giftedness and their calling to grow up into maturity in Christ. You could say that he lays out the high goals of Christian community and the amazing resources available to human flourishing: fullness in Christ. His message is a profound one: we must realize that despite the powers that be, Jesus Christ is Lord. It is an outright power encounter with Artemis and Caesar, a deconstruction of these cults. Paul is declaring these myths broken (oppressive) and seeks to liberate the people from their power and control.

He offers them an alternative view of reality (a different social imaginary or worldview). Christ is the new Caesar, the new Artemis with a difference, he has a new temple in heaven. He rules the entire cosmos and brings heaven to earth. Transcendence has a new name and this changes everything; we live and move and have our being in Christ. He is the great gift giver, seeking to bless the whole world. He announces that we, our lives, are gift from beginning to end.

The book is balanced on a knife edge, an axios, with chapters 1-3 constituting the call of God on our lives and chapters 4-6 focusing on our response. Paul writes “Live your lives worthy (axios) of the calling you have received.” The response to calling is walking. Peterson writes, “When our walking and God’s calling are in balance, we are whole; we are living maturely, living congruently with the way God calls us into being.” And again, “The Bible is not a book to carry around and read for information on God, but a voice to listen to…. It is a word to be listened to and obeyed, a word to get us going. Fundamentally is is a call…. Call comes into our ears, beckoning us into the future, bringing us into a way of life that has never been experienced in just this way before: a promise, a new thing, a blessing, our place in the new creation, a resurrection life.”(34)

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Some Questions to Dialogue across Worldviews

Sometimes it helpful to let the big name philosophers and theologians help you with the heavy lifting, people like David Bentley Hart, Alister McGrath, Charles Taylor and Alvin Plantinga. Ask God for worldview wisdom and discernment. This is what we call meta-understanding. 

Could you identify and define for me the framework of your present philosophical stance? Your favorite thinker? Where do you position or locate yourself in the current plural world of convictions? What resonates with you? What influences have shaped this?

Questions regarding its coherence, unity or consistency as a view of reality. Does not work for postmoderns who celebrate contradictions, paradox and difference.

Is your view open to the data of other people’s experience or do you have your mind made up? Closed or open stance? Agnostics are more open than atheists.

Use the three major worldview frames above to probe more deeply into the details; get all the facts and insights you can.

Look for the person’s interpretive paradigm, the intellectual grid through which they sift ideas and issues (philosophical glasses). E.g. Marxism, feminism, scientific materialism, environmentalism, nihilism, New Age, Yoga, or some form of liberation. This reveals what Charles Taylor calls their hypergood or dominant value. It is vital for you to understand this core dominating and controlling good in your friend.

Ask the questions of the livability and relevance of their view: the Pragmatic Life Test. How does it improve human life or solve human problems, promote more justice or hope, feed the poor, heal racial relations, help with global warming? Does it have power to promote the common good? How far can the assumptions be taken without promoting evil or destructive consequences?

Are you happy with your present views or are you shopping around for something better? People have emotions around their cherished beliefs, so tread carefully. They also get bored sometimes when their worldview no longer answers their questions, or the data of their experience does not fit.

Intrigue or redirect to get conversation unstuck: Could you define the God you do not believe in? Were you brought up an atheist or did you arrive at that logically over time; are you convinced of the hope that atheism offers the world? Are they a naïve or reflective atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, etc.? Many people need to be encouraged to slow down and think about their life and its trajectory.

 Key Posture: the pursuit of full knowledge, a more robust story or one might even explore the need for a whole new human narrative (Jeremy Rifkin) beyond individualism, greed, violence, and aggressive behavior. Why rule out the supernatural when it inspires so many billions of people? Naturalism often lacks explanatory power and is self-contradictory: David Bentley Hart The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss; Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos; Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies.

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Dr. Don Page’s Tested and Proven Servant-Empowered Leadership

  • Serves the followers for their benefit. Invest in people for their growth.
  • Primarily serves the interests of the followers above selfish or narcissistic interests.
  • Responsibility to followers is more important than positional entitlements.
  • Based on respect and love for the followers. Maintained through internal influence.
  • Willing to step aside for someone more qualified to lead. The position is held lightly.
  • Never pulls rank to get one’s own way, as that would be hurtful to the colleagues.
  • Accountable to everyone in the organization and outside constituencies as well. Concerned about the common good, not just individual good.
  • Welcomes regular personal evaluations as a means of improving the ability to serve followers. This kind of vulnerability speaks volumes.
  • Loyalty comes through the inspiration in the heart and soul of the followers. Have a low turnover rate because people are valued for their contribution to each other and to the organization.
  • Primary interest is in the well-being of their followers for their sakes. People on your team are seen as an end in themselves, not just a means.
  • Puts the spotlight on others. Servant leaders are generous with praise to others but not shrill.

See also Simon Sinek, Good Leaders Make you Feel Safehttps://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_why_good_leaders_make_you_feel_safe?language=en

Ten Things to Remember as a Growing Leader: Success is 90% Character, Virtue and Integrity

Take a Risk Once in Awhile: Sometimes you need to take a ‘leap’ of faith. Don’t make a habit of diving into the deep end without thinking, but a few calculated risks can reap major benefits; they can be strategic. If your trajectory is sound, the risk can be worthwhile as well. Assess the risks wisely with other trusted colleagues. There are good and also foolish risks.

Be Comfortable with Yourself and Your Vision: Take the time Write out your Manifesto Every successful person has experienced a time when they felt completely inadequate, lonely, without any support and without much confidence. Live within your skin and your narrative; think about what you can uniquely contribute to solve problems or make a better world. The more you believe in yourself and what you stand for (values), the more others will be able to see and understand your point of view and get excited about your project. Step into your domain and rally others. See for inspiration the book Unstoppable.

Learn to Adapt and Recalibrate: No one entirely likes being outside their comfort zone. Instead of giving into fear or panic, adjust to a changing environment, changing opportunities or changing relationships.  Show the boss or others in your workspace that you are flexible and adaptable–a team player. This is an incredibly powerful skill to have as things keep changing faster in our world.

Welcome Change as a Stimulus to Your Imagination: Change not only keeps us on our toes, but it also allows us to learn, grow and discover new things. Change for change’s sake is not healthy. Some traditions are worth keeping, and some methods are worth perfecting. Continuity in narrative is likely to be positive and build momentum. Being in reconcialition with and appreciation of one’s history is important to personal fortitude and endurance.

Learn from Mistakes: Don’t make a habit of committing the same ones over and over. Instead of dwelling on/obsessing over your errors, learn from them and make the lessons part of your mental furniture. Boil them down to their essenceand re-invent them as opportunity for growth.

Focus on the Future: If you need to make something right with a friend or co-workrer, by all means do so. But keep your energies and attention hard focused on the future hope/potential. Learn from history, but you can have a bigger impact on things going forward. Avoid distractions by trivial matters; they can grind you down.

Be Patient with Results: Good outcomes don’t happen magically overnight with minimal effort. If you want to achieve great things, then you need to invest time and lots of effort. Build your vision brick by brick and one day you will say, “Look at that, a house, a centre for community service, my vision in the flesh.” Good things eventually come to those who understand the importance of patience and endurance, and even longsuffering. This is hard for people raised on instant results from search engines.

Celebrate the Good Work of Others: You are contributing to moral capital and the common good. Highlighting someone else’s good work can put yours in perspective. You look less jealous or petty and get on with approaching your goals; let them inspire you. This is a kind of social lubrication.

Focus on the Things Within Your Theatre of Influence: Don’t worry about what others are not doing well. A focus on laziness, cheating or evil can be depressing. That’s their concern unless you are mentoring or supervising them. Drill down into your concerns; build your bridges; gather your troops/colleagues to move things forward. Depth brings results and high quality discipline.

Fight Hard for that Good Goal: If you believe in something, be willing to fight for it, to hang in there when others have quit. Obstacles and challenges always arise in everything worthwhile. There are times of course when you need to move on and give up on a bad idea or one that no one resonates with. Sometimes however you are on the cusp of a breakthrough just when you feel that nothing is moving forward (negative activation energy state). Some have taken months or years to convince others of their perspective or great idea. This loops back to believing in your Manifesto.


II Corinthians 12 and II Peter 1 Virtue Beckons Us

This week we are studied the Seven Capital Virtues to respond to Paul’s worry that the believers might be misbehaving (taking on a dark attitude in his absence) in last part of II Corinthians 12. The Apostle Peter in II Peter 1 also talks about such virtues. Try having a conversation with your colleagues about the seven deadly sins or seven capital virtues. Perhaps they have seen them played out in film or in a friend. Mark Buchanan, a Canadian pastor and author tries to recover this discussion for today in his book: In Plain Sight: the Secret of More. He also speaks of it on a YouTube series.


This list of seven virtues is a set of virtues which are to counter the temptation to succumb to the seven capital sins. For this reason, they are sometimes also called the seven contrary virtues; they represent the opposite of the seven sins.

The list of seven capital virtues stems from the subject matter of an epic poem written by an early Christian poet, Aurelius Prudentius Clemens, at the end of the 4th century. The poem, Psychomachia (meaning Battle of Souls), is an allegory which describes seven virtues defeating seven vices. One could also add to the list of virtues: faith, hope and love.

The seven contrary or capital virtues:

Humility – Humility is the virtue that counters pride. As pride leads to other sin, true humility clears a path for holiness. Pride is a sin based on undue and inappropriate appreciation of one’s self worth. Conversely, the virtue of humility is about modest behavior, selflessness and the giving of respect.

Liberality – Liberality, or generosity, is the virtue that is counter to greed – the sin of immoderate desire for earthly things. The virtue of liberality is focused not merely on the appropriate concern regarding one’s earthly things, but furthermore on generosity and a willingness to give, freely and without request for commendation.

Chastity – Chastity is the counter-virtue to the sin of lust. Chastity embraces moral wholesomeness and purity, and in both thought and action treats God’s gift of sexuality with due reverence and respect.

Meekness – Meekness, or patience, is the virtue that counters the sin of unjust anger, also called wrath or rage. Where the sin of wrath is about quick temper and unnecessary vengeance, the virtue of meekness focuses on patiently seeking appropriate resolution to conflicts, and on the ability to forgive and show mercy.

Temperance – The virtue of temperance or abstinence counters the sin of gluttony. To be gluttonous is to over-indulge. On the opposite hand, the virtue of temperance is centered on self-control and moderation.

Kindness – Kindness, or brotherly love or love for one’s neighbor, is the virtue which counters the sin of envy. Envy, in contradiction to God’s law of love, is manifest in a person’s sorrow and distress over the good fortune of another person. Conversely, kindness and brotherly love is manifest in the unprejudiced, compassionate and charitable concern for others.

Diligence – Diligence, or persistence, is the virtue which acts as a counter to the sin of sloth. Sloth, as a capital sin, refers to laziness in matters of Faith. Diligence in matters of the spiritual combat laziness and this virtue is manifest in appropriately zealous attitudes toward living and sharing the Faith.


 Seven Deadly Sins: lead to all sorts of other human problems

Pride is excessive belief in one’s own abilities, that interferes with the individual’s recognition of the grace of God. It has been called the sin from which all others arise (C.S. Lewis). Pride is also known as Vanity.

Envy is the desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, possessions or situation.

Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires. Not just food. It lacks self-limits.

Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.

Anger is manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury. It is also known as Wrath.

Greed is the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. It is also called Avarice or Covetousness.

Sloth is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work.

Seven deadly sins get us stuck spiritually taking us away from God and the good; they are a relational and moral dead end. They are far too often appealed to in advertising.

Recovery of the Virtues and the Virtuous Community

 The language of virtues is quite underplayed in contemporary academia, but you can find it if you look more deeply. This arena of discipleship includes character formation as per II Peter 1: 3-8; Philippians 4. The Apostle Paul adjures us to pursue the power of virtue ordained by the Holy Spirit whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable. Biblical discourse of ethics includes both the virtues and directives on how to live well and faithfully. Brilliance is great, but not sufficient, for the good life; there is a big need for moral will and moral skill. We need to celebrate our moral exemplars and develop a robust understanding of virtue. Make this a learning curve for you as you grow academically.

The C.S. Lewis Summer Institute in Cambridge and Oxford during July 2014 focused on the theme: Recovering the Virtues for Human Flourishing. Indeed we should see virtue as a humanizing, civilizing influence. Here are some of the talks for free http://www.cslewis.org/?utm_source=E- Chronicles+October+23%2C+2014&utm_campaign=October23+E- Chronicles&utm_medium=email

The conference has captured something quite vital as an arena for exploration, discovery and impact for the church. It is also provocative for moral development across the board.

We see a robust recovery of virtue ethics within academia. Ian Brooks just finished a doctorate in the field within philosophy at UBC and now teaches in moral philosophy sessionally at UBC and SFU. See also super scholar David Lyle Jeffrey of Baylor University who recovers this discourse in medieval studies.  The emphasis on character formation these days emerges in business leadership (Henry Cloud, Integrity).

Is virtue being taught at a serious level in churches? Do we highlight character and the virtues as a strength to be promoted? If we do not, we are missing a major countercultural opportunity of spiritual life and witness. Do we just assume it is being caught by osmosis? That is only partly true. Good resources for further discussion are found in: Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue. Stephen Bouma-Prediger, For the Beauty of the Earth. Other resources on the intellectual virtues include Brad Gregory, The Unintended Reformation; Linda Zagzebski, Virtues of the Mind.

The Virtuous Community This may sound like a strange concept,  but there is an urgent concern given the crisis of civility and threats of violence in the West and around the world at the moment. Churches have an opportunity to lead by example: building moral capital and enhancing the plausibility conditions for faith, justice and non-violence within society at large, helping curb fundamentalist religious radicalization. When violence is celebrated as heroic,  we are all in trouble. The Catholic Church has traditionally carried the strongest flame for the virtuous community, especially in the many monastic movements; Pope Francis is placing virtue and compassion for the poor up front in his platform. Protestants have also regained an interest and a stake in the discussion.

Civil Rights Activist Martin Luther King Jr. regularly heralded the concept of the beloved community as a key pillar of his inclusive, non-violent vision. It is a concept that can be recovered for the good of the church, as we see in the new monasticism movement where young Christians build community in a poor section of town (Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good). This arena of formation offers a strategic cutting edge of witness to a cynical culture which is struggling with dishonesty, greed, gossip, cheating and incivility.

Notre Dame History Professor Brad Gregory (The Unintended Reformation) articulated the vital importance of this issue for me in recent years and showed how human rights discourse could recover a more holistic context within the virtues. Jim Wallis’ notable 2014 book The (Un)Common Good: how the gospel brings hope to a world divided also gives a rich discussion of a robust kingdom heritage in Jesus teaching. See a recent blog of inspiring quotes from this book at ubcgcu.org.

When we speak of virtues, we are speaking of those rooted in Trinitarian communion, over against a Stoic approach of individualistic secular self-management. James Houston speaks of this in his The Mentored Life. There is a parallel discussion that occurs in Charles Taylor’s recovery of the good (Sources of the Self). There is a very wealthy resource here that remains untapped by many clergy, churches and Christians at large.

Among the Greeks, both Plato and Aristotle believed in virtue. Medieval theologian Thomas Acquinas produced a fusion of Augustine and Aristotle. It is a rich discourse worth exploring within your discipline. Ask questions in class about virtue. Character development is a good place to start; many people resonate with that even if they have no background in the virtue conversation.

Take Every Thought Captive (II Corinthians 10)
II Corinthians 10 is a wonderful and challenging statement on intellectual and spiritual discipline. In one sense, it offers the theme song, the very grammar, of Graduate Christian Union within academia: the ability and willingness, the quest, to think and negotiate the university landscape differently. Paul uses the dramatic, attention-grabbing metaphor of war while at the same time deconstructing the very culture of war–the myth, addiction, bravado, destruction and poison of war (See Chris Hedges, CBC Ideas program “War is a Force that Gives us Meaning”).
What kind of warfare is Paul addressing? What sort of weapons is he proposing that we learn to employ? What sort of strategy or battle plan is he offering as a leading Apostle? How does it relate to the academic enterprise? What ideologies among our colleagues set up a wall to the gospel? What worldview has taken our friends captive and hampers their sight of the transcendent? How do we get at the truth with the aid of the Logos? What are we fighting for day to day? These are critical questions for each of us.
Paul’s alternative weapons are rooted in the gentleness and authority of Jesus and the power of  the Holy Spirit: truthfulness and integrity, righteousness, patience, the gospel of peace and blessing (shalom), faith, hope, knowledge of God and his calling (Ephesians 6: 13-17), discernment and discipleship, respect and dialogue, leveraging agape love, refusal of cynicism and despair. It is not people but wrong thinking that we are called to take captive, arguments and pretentious that set themselves against the knowledge of, and intimacy with, God: scientism, consumerism, materialistic naturalism, secularism which excludes the transcendent, reductionism, market fundamentalism, toxic politics of hate, imperialism. Alister McGrath is a British theologian (a super-intellect) who represents someone that believes the mind matters to spiritual health, that sharp theology is important to all believers today. He captures and articulates Paul’s intent and strategy in his books: Intellectuals Don’t Need God? and A Fine-Tuned Universe. Christ must reign supreme in our minds and not just in our hearts and the universe. Grace and love must be combined with philosophical and theological strength.
How do we articulate our stance on faith and reason in the public university environment? How about a statement like the following? What would your statement be? How do you escape nihilism?
Jesus the Christ is the wisdom of God and the power of God, the nexus of faith and reason. As divine logos (John 1), he is the transcendent word made flesh, the underwriter and guarantor of all human thought and all language. He is reason personified, the raison d’etre of it all, the meaning of it all, the answer to the deeper questions: Why are we here? What is our calling? Where are we going? We are called to take captive, rethink and recalibrate, all thought to his Lordship (II Corinthians 10), his oversight, his scrutiny, his re-articulation of reality. He is the end point of every human spiritual, moral and philosophical aspiration to make sense of our existence on planet earth. He has renewed and healed the current broken semiotic relationship between word and world (James Davison Hunter, To Change the World). He is public truth (Lesslie Newbigin) there for all people of all faiths and ideologies to see and examine and reckon with; this truth leads out into wider truth about all of reality. He makes sense of life itself, revealing its often hidden purpose and telos. This wisdom provides a framework and a profound motivation for our thinking and reflection. TWU Humanities Scholar Jen Zimmermann at Trinity Western University captures it this way.

Christ the creative wisdom of God, and God’s active Word in creation, is enfleshed in the temporal-historical dimension of our world as the concrete Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ…. This is the Word through whom all things were made, and the Word hid in the eternal bosom of God, the Word who spoke through the prophets, the Word whose mighty acts defined the history of Israel. In Jesus the Christ this Word has become flesh, and the eternal has become temporal, but without ceasing to be eternal…. In Christ temporality and eternity are conjoined…. In the incarnation, creation, the world, time and history have been taken up into the God-man, who is the center of reality…. Faith and reason are inseparable because their unity is in Christ. (Jens Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism, 2012, pp. 264-5)

Some Thoughts on Agape Love

The Christian concept of love is based not on the nature of human beings but on the nature of God. God’s love tells us what love really is. (I John 4)

Agape is a prophetic love. It refuses to equate anyone with his immediate observable being. A human being is not deeply and essentially the same as the one who is visible to the employer, neighbour, salesman, policeman, judge, friend or spouse. A human being is destined to live in eternity and is fully known only to God. (Glenn Tinder, The Political Meaning of Christianity, p. 25)

Agape is about the spiritual destiny of the individual; destiny is a spiritual drama. My destiny is my own selfhood given by God, but given not as an established reality, like a rock or a hill, but as a task lying under divine imperative…. Agape is simply the affirmation of this paradox and of this destiny underlying it. Agape looks beyond all marks of fallenness, all traits by which people are judged and ranked, and acknowledges the glory each person—as envisioned in Christian faith—gains from the creative mercy of God. It sets aside the most astute worldly judgment in behalf of destiny. (Ibid., p. 28)

The process of mutual scrutiny is vain, and even the most objective judgements of other people are fiundamentally false. Agape arises from a realization of this and is therefore expressed in a refusal to judge. (Luke 6)

Agape exceeds the bounds of reciprocity; it cannot be defined in terms of prescriptions for self-realization or self-interest alone. In this love, we find the self involved in a transcendence of the strong variety. But when this grace disappears, coercion, contempt and terror sometimes flow in to take its place. (Gord Carkner)

Four Stages of Love: Bernard of Clairvaux

1. We love God for our own sake–carnal love or psychic automatism. It is an acceptable start because of our human frailty, but not the final goal of the spiritual life. We can even love our neighbour or boyfriend carnally. It can be anxious and insecure.

2. Loving God for our own sake in order to learn what one can and cannot do by oneself (wisdom). We see that only God can help us in some circumstances. This offers the sense of being carried by God’s love.

3. We begin to love God for his own sake because we become more aware of God’s selfless love, his infinite goodness (Psalms 90-100). Thereby, we can love our neighbour selflessly. We are enticed by this pure love (Psalm 117:1). We are drawn by the beauty and holiness of God (God’s suavitas). It is combined with the desire to be in communion with God (worship). It can be quite thrilling and deeply moving.

4. Loving ourselves as God loves us. This is a sheer gift of God’s grace, and nothing we can produce on our own effort. This love will mostly be tasted in eternity. This is the experience of being friends with God, coheirs with Christ. Perhaps martyrs taste a bit of this.

This is the love we long for down in the deepest part of our being (heart). You can see the movement as steps upward into maturity, as our identity shifts from a self focus to a God focus and agape love. Charles Taylor notes that one of the fundamental human desires is to be embraced. The pursuit of God, who is communion of love, is the quest for life itself (I John 4). It is foundational to human community, identity and wholeness.

Side Note on Biblical Hermeneutics (Anthony Thiselton)

1. We investigate, examine words, text, narrative, characters, poetry, historical-cultural context, author’s intention (to the best of our ability). This is the scholarly, documentary, linguistic side of the equation on route to discover the meaning of the text, the power of the text.

2. Scripture in turn investigates us by means of the Holy Spirit–shining a light into our deepest selves, searching our motives in deep places. There is a mirror effect when we read Scripture. It exposes our subtext and calls us to honesty, integrity and accountability, calls us to grow up, to deal with our messes, our self-deceptions. It is to be acted upon once we discover what it means for us.

3. Scripture exposes false representations in culture and the lies we as a society tell to ourselves over and over, false motivations that corrupts us, willfulness that alienates us from God. It offers an alternative human narrative to individualism, greed, narcissism, violence and war–one of empathy, one anotherness, compassion, responsibility and love for neighbour, both local and international.

4. The reading and study of Scripture is transformative and life-changing; it can even change our worldview (social imaginary) or how we see everything, how we discern reality, or understand ourselves. It can be quite captivating, riveting, engaging us at our depths. It teaches us how to love.

5. Scripture also exposes the heart of God and offers a narrative of promising, unrelenting, passionate love for each human being. This is a redemptive, suffering love, the only substantial hope of freedom. He wants us to be transparent, step down from our pride and come home. Kierkegaard called the Bible a “love letter” with life-giving qualities. At its core, it is a love story with the Triune God of grace as the key actor.

6. The Bible offers a gripping hermeneutic on the human condition–a realism about human foibles mixed with the vision of a better world, a beloved community and thicker, more substantial selves. It articulates a horizon that shows us that faith matters to the solution of all human aspirations, problems and concerns.

7. At the end of the day, the Bible points to Christ, the living Word. He is the Way. We abide in him and in his teaching. His story is the pinnacle, the apogee of Scripture.

The Ecology/Economy of Grace (Gift)

Grace (charis) begins and ends with God. It is in super-abundant supply if we know how to access it and channel it to others, to invest it in others for the common good. Then they can pay it forward to still more persons in need or persons underdeveloped in their potential. It is there in creation, in providence, in salvation, in social change, in the eternal weight of glory. Jim Wallis writes: “The greatest challenge to us in a world of injustice and a culture of cynicism is how to hang on to belief in a better world that would change this one” (The (Un)Common Good, p 39). What does this mean on the ground? First it means treating other people as our neighbour. It involves building bridges, healing relationships, binding wounds, bringing hope amidst despair, empowering the weak, even loving our enemies to bring peace. It is the restoration of all things, a paradigm shift in the cosmos and the human community (Romans 8): persons, relationships, institutions, power sharing, care for the environment/biosphere.

In the 18th and 19th century British and American revivals, converts were immediately signed up to join the slave abolitionist movement, thus showing them that God has an interest in changing society and dealing with injustices of their time. In late twentieth century South Africa, many converts were immediately signed up to fight Apartheid. Wallis claims that “the journey to faith goes through the lives of the poor” if we read Matthew 25 with an open mind. We are indeed judged on how we deal with the least of these. The top 1% of the global population control 50% of the wealth. 500 companies account for one third of the entire GDP of the planet. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing very fast these days, producing plutocrats and terrible grinding poverty. Some CEOs make 500 times their average employee. Where is the justice in all that? Good news to the poor is central to Jesus’ Nazareth Manifesto. We dare not ignore it if we  call him Lord. The Occupy Wall Street Movement had it largely right about corruption in the financial industry: something’s terribly out of balance. A public trust was broken.

Jesus is on the side of the poor and the marginalized: the shivering, blind, hungry and homeless. This is where you will find Pope Francis, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa and Jean Vanier. We will never run out of resources if we follow his mandate of generosity. God will fill in the gaps in his economy of grace empowering our generosity. II Kings 4:1-7 speaks of a poor widow who never ran out of oil because she gave to the prophet Elisha. We must handle our possessions lightly. God loved the whole world so much, that he gave and gave and gave again… This is the ecology of his grace. We are our neighbour’s keeper. How do we treat the people on campus as neighbour?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/video-the-story-of-the-co_b_3015687.html Jim Wallis on the Common Good

Further: What if we imagined that our very life itself is a gift? What a different outlook. What if our calling is to mobilize and cultivate our giftedness by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps our potential is much greater than we think. In Chapter 9 verses 6 to 15, Paul encourages a generosity that is robust and full of life (pregnant), that produces fruit that acts as a thank offering to God. There is a tapestry of the dynamics of grace, gift, goodness, gospel, community, love, thanksgiving, joy. Paul ends on a high note: no one can outlive or out-give God; his is the superlative gift of life through the Son. Ann Voskamp gets this concept that generosity and thanksgiving is at the heart of the gospel. The measuring cup of generosity that we use to dish out grace to others will be the same size as the one used by God to grace our lives; stinginess is not a mark of the kingdom. It is about goodness, gratitude, giving, grafting ourselves into the vine of divine life-giving love. In fact, it is essential to democracy: a good democracy needs good people, i.e. it is dependent on a tradition of virtue (John Milbank). Civil society springs from the spirit of generosity and mutual respect: valuing one another as a common possession and responsibility. See Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good. In the same light, secular humanism is a fantasy, an abstraction that leads to moral collapse: we need so much more than freedom of choice. Science was never meant to be a worldview, a structure of meaning. The Market has no soul; GDP has no soul; Free Trade has no soul. Economics requires a moral framework in order to be just, fair and equitable. Currently capital markets are quite vulnerable to a few oligarchs (Chrystia Freeland, The Plutocrats), which have dispossessed the middle class and the poor. When a powerful elite Fortune 500 companies control one third of global GDP, we are all in troubled waters. The 2008 Great Recession showed just how dangerous and destructive their greedy, risky and reckless behaviour could be. There is no sense of honour and responsibility in such extreme and unhealthy concentration of wealth. What happens when the invisible hand lets go of the common good? In Adam Smith’s book The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he notes that capitalism cannot function properly without a moral framework. The World Economic Forum is now calling for a “moral economy”.

Jim Wallis notes: “Here is the road to a new moral economy: from massive inequality to decent equality; from the narrow definition of shareholders to a broader vision of stakeholders; from short-term  to long-term thinking and acting; from the ethics of endless growth to the ethics of sustainability; from doing well to also doing good; and from broken social contracts to a new social covenant between citizens, business and government…. Let’s look at what it would mean to start moving toward a more moral economy that could enhance rather than undermine the common good.” (The (Un)Common Good, p. 201)

See the following websites on the vision of the common good: 350.org; Avaaz; Sojo.net

The Late Bishop Lesslie Newbigin Insights

Should we actually be asking ‘How shall we be saved?’ or in fact ‘How should God be glorified?’ Clearly God is to be glorified as we act out his calling to generosity which we see articulated in the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6). It is a calibre of generosity that does not come easily to us: love your enemies, treat well those who despise you, go the extra mile when someone coerces you into the first one of bearing their burdens. When we declare that Jesus is Lord, this is a response to a deep transformative calling on our lives. This generosity is a contribution to a human tapestry of grace, one rooted in the communion of love within the Trinity. We worship a Jesus-shaped God of suffering love. There is not greater certitude for humans than what God has done in and through Jesus Christ. The resurrection is a singularity, a unique and world-shaking, precedent-setting event which can be derived from nothing previous. It changes everything; it is a new start, a new arche. The biblical narrative offers a fresh way of thinking and seeing ourselves and reality, a new human narrative; we are continuing to exegete culture by it today, employing its heuristic power. This is a gift to humanity as a whole body; the Jesus story is a universal story. It must not be trivialized, as it reveals divine genius.

II Corinthians 8: Generosity, Stewardship, Empathy, Equality, Sharing, Justice Between Rich & Poor, Building Community, Greeks Helping Jews, a Super Generous God.

Paul holds up the Macedonians (northern Greeks) as a model of generosity in helping with the Jerusalem Collection for a famine in the mid to late 40s. They gave even though persecuted and relatively poor themselves. They gave willingly, sacrificially, considering it a privilege, knowing it built koinonia (fellowship) and solidarity in the whole church. This escape from Nihilism here is by means of solidarity with others in need during a crisis–a contribution to the flourishing of the other. Paul takes the risk of challenging the Corinthians in a friendly competition with the Macedonians, i.e. in taking responsibility for the public communal good. In the back of his mind, he is demonstrating to the Jerusalem Apostles that these converts from the Gentiles are real Christians as shown by their compassion, and the modelling of their lives after Christ. Paul takes two chapters to show that generosity is at the very heart of the gospel. His argument is to provide tremendous incentives to the Corinthians for completing their pledge, incentives which are endemic to who they are in Christ. It is not a guilt trip. We also talked about how hard it is today to give a gift genuinely from a perspective of transcendence (Calvin Shrag, The Self After Postmodernity). A true Christian gift is one the transcends the normal parameters of exchange and barter. Transcendence is a position of radical alterity.

The point that carries the pivotal weight in the phenomenon of gift-giving and gift-receiving is that gift as gift remains outside, external to, the economy of production and consumption, distribution and exchange. Indeed, the gift remains radically transcendent to the determination of reciprocity within the economy of goods and services; and insofar as it does impinge upon and interact with this economy,  the gift displays a surplus of significations that overflow the particulars within  the cycle of putative gift exchange…. The gift is outside the economy, both economy in the narrower sense of monetary management and in the broader sense of motivating forces and requirements of exchange in the culture-speheres of scientific, artistic, ethic-moral, and religious-institutional endeavours…. The gift is both transcendent to and immanent within the developing culture-spheres in which the human self aspires towards a self-understanding. (Calvin Schrag,  The Self After Postmodernity, p. 140)

In speaking of Kiekegaard’s vision in Works of Love, of a caritas that expects no reimbursement, with a character that is paradoxical, Schrag writes:

The love at issue here, which works itself out in the loving of one’s neighbour as oneself, is a love that finds its ultimate motivation and efficacy in a love that is freely given; a love that loves for the sake of loving; a nonpossessive love; a love that loves in spite of being unrequited; a love that expects nothing in return. The working of such a love is that which most poignantly tells the story of the profile of the self in transcendence. (Schrag, Ibid., p. 141)

In II Corinthians 8, charis (gift) means several different things: spiritual endowment, divine enablement, a monetary gift, a human privilege, a word of gratitude, and divine favour or good will. Grace is a multivalent concept in this chapter. God has enabled the Macedonians to financially assist destitute Christians in Judea whom they did not personally know; they are part of an empathic group, a larger family. This was rooted in their common faith and identity in Christ. Even though they are poor, they consider it a privilege to give. The communion of love within the Trinity is transferred to human community, making it super-natural.

The Holy Spirit, a member of the Christian Trinity, is a key mediation, inspiration and transformation factor in human goodness, human actualization and communication of divine goodness. The Holy Spirit offers a divine-human interface. Marquette theologian D. Stephen Long (The Goodness of God, 2001) is optimistic about the human quest for the good for this reason. He believes that with the Holy Spirit, moral self-constitution can be intimately and fruitfully related to the infinite goodness of God, that God and agape love can become part of the moral horizon that informs and shapes the self towards its highest flourishing—in fact to take it to a new level. He is optimistic that this will rejuvenate ethics once again and give new vision and inspiration to moral life. Moral relativism and primal choice philosophy lead to cynicism and nihilism. But this is not the only alternative for enlightened minds facing a complex world. The Holy Spirit offers a reconstitution of both goodness and freedom for contemporary identity with surprising results. One’s liberation in late modernity can be into theses higher moral dimensions and richer moral horizon. It opens up the field of human potential.

Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote of this in his idea of the circulation of grace. Long speaks of this grace.

The Holy Spirit infuses a goodness into us that makes us better than we know we are by ourselves. This better is what theologians mean by grace. People find themselves caught up in a journey that results in the cultivation of gifts and beatitudes they did not know were possible. They discover that this journey was possible only through friendship … The mission of the Holy Spirit is to move us towards the charity that defines the relationship between the Father and the Son, a charity so full that it is thoroughly one and yet cannot be contained within a single origin or between an original and a copy, but always, eternally, exceeds that relationship into another. The Holy Spirit is that relationship. (D. S. Long, 2001, pp. 302-3)

Divine goodness is made available as a gift by means of the Holy Spirit for the transformation of the self. The Holy Spirit offers relationship and empowerment towards being, doing and promoting the good. This is the foundation of Christian generosity. Amazingly, humans can in turn become entrepreneurs of divine goodness by being intentionally, proactively open to this larger moral horizon of the divine, infinite good. Here lies the possibility of discovery of intense meaning and purpose in human existence and distinct possibilities for opening doors to a new level of human flourishing. It can also fire the imagination of scholarship within moral philosophy. Take note of Glenn Tinder’s fine work (2000), The Political Meaning of Christianity: an Interpretation. where he applies agape love to a political vision of rights, dignity and responsibilities of citizens. He encourages a prophetic stance similar to that of the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 8.

The Holy Spirit is central to the moral life and common life, because he gifts individuals for works that they cannot or will not achieve in their own autonomous power (even with the highest ideals of human communality, benevolence, or generosity). It occurs within the limits of their own resources, accentuating those resources and producing a calling. He equips them to be capable of forgiveness, reconciliation and loving generosity in an agape sense.

The Holy Spirit as part of the Trinity enriches and empowers the self as the unrelenting, abundant and fecund source of all human goodness. He helps the individual transcend biology and personal survival instincts. This infinite divine goodness can be tapped to make a better society and world; it offers real influence in the here and now, time-space-energy-matter-social-economic-political world. This both underwrites and holds accountable the human good and human claims to the good; it grounds and sources the good in the dynamic goodness of a trinitarian God (where mutuality is an endemic characteristic). It contains a heuristic quality: encouraging a person to learn, discover, understand, or solve certain problems. This provides both inspiration and a call to grow up into this goodness, into a new identity in Christ by means of the Holy Spirit (Eugene Peterson, 2010, Practice Resurrection).

Study Group on January 15

Below are some thought provoking quotes from a profound book, The (Un)Common Good by Jim Wallis and some thoughts from our II Corinthians 7 study last night:

Wallis is basically trying to broaden our view of the gospel from a narrow private-atonement-gospel which saves me alone, to a broader, richer kingdom gospel, which Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 25, where we are saved into community, personal responsibility, social responsibility, and moral economy–i.e. where believers see that the world/society has to be transformed as well. This produces a will for the common good. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ Magna Carta, his constitution of the kingdom. Humility is a key ingredient, and it is countercultural today.
18 People are made for family, community and human flourishing, not for consumerism, materialism, addiction and empty overwork.
37 We are looking for moral clarity, mental sharpness, and emotional maturity in our responses to a steady assault of outside messages on our lives.
39 The pilgrimage of our lives is learning to apply the kingdom to the biggest and most consequential of social and political events, the most personal and closest of our relationships, and to daily interactions with colleagues, coworkers, neighbours and complete strangers.
Paying Attention:
48 To be able to feel the pain of the world is to participate in the very heart of God. The compassionate response of God’s people to human suffering is one of their defining characteristics.

https://www.ted.com/talks/jeremy_rifkin_on_the_empathic_civilization TED Talk by Jeremy Rifkin on the Empathic Civilisation

Reconciliation Requires: II Corinthians 7
1. We get in touch with God’s love as a foundation and resource for confronting the situation of a broken relationship. Confrontation must occur in love, on an equal footing or it will fail. Sometimes we have to bathe in the presence of God’s love to get ready for reconciliation, to find our own footing emotionally and spiritually.
2. Vulnerability and risk are part and parcel of the healing we long for with this family member, friend, colleague or persons involved.
3. Broken relationships cause deep pain to both parties, and reconciliation is also through the path of pain. It takes courage and perseverance.
4. We may need a mediator like Titus to help us work it through. That’s what counsellors are for. Desmond Tutu set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa to help people be heard and work through the pain and oppression of Apartheid, to get perpetrator and hurt party across the table from each other.
5. When someone challenges your competence or reputation, it is exceedingly painful; this happened to Paul. It required tough love to confront the congregation at Corinth and work towards justice and reconciliation–i.e. to heal the broken relationships.
6. True godly sorrow and repentance (change of direction and repair) which eventually occurred comes only by God’s power: prayer is a key element. Healing of a broken relationship is supernatural. Otherwise it is easy for the offending party who caused the brokenness to slip into bitterness and resentment once confronted in love.
7. It is what we do with our pain that counts. Admitting our part in the brokenness is part of the healing process. Do we really want wholeness and reconstruction of our friendship?
8. Justice serves everyone involved; much joy and deeper friendship is the result of true healing, but there has to be the will to heal and ‘reset the bone’. The relationship is back on track.

II Corinthians 5: 11-21 

Last Thursday we enjoyed discussing the last half of II Corinthians 5 on the art/commission/ministry of reconciliation/peace-making. Think the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew Chapters 5-7). This commission is grounded in three or four key conditions (i.e. rests upon pillars of grace): a. Fear-Love-Energy of God and for God and respect for his high calling–which includes the realization that people are in a better state of being when in a positive relationship with God and one another; his love brings new life in us and shakes us loose from our cynicism and complacency; b. Awareness that we are on level ground with everyone else–broken and in need of healing (aka sinners), with no room for presumption, superiority or triumphalism; c. We have experienced the life-giving impact of the new creation, the resurrection life; we are learning to practice resurrection (Eugene Peterson) not defeatism, and see our lives and other people from God’s perspective–this changes our entire outlook, offering a fresh paradigm of awareness; d. We join God in the great task of reconciling the world to himself as his ambassadors (representatives) of the best news people could ever discover–delivering hope and meaning to the core of their identity and being. It is a message of incredible grace that leads to eternal results of character development. It is a task which shapes the future. We easily experience the limitations of our humanity, but this commission, mobilized by agape love, powered by forgiveness, puts us in touch with divinity. Paul is saying that we are not to live for survival, as mere humans. This says something new about what it means to flourish as humans; we are encouraged to step up into this new identity, this communion of love. The New Testament lures us with the message of being in Christ.  Grace. Growth. Gratitude. Glory. Gift. Generosity. Metaphors that move mountains.

Thought Experiment: The Leverage of Love II Corinthinas 5: 14, 17 “For Christ’s love compels us…. If anyone is in Christ, a new creation has emerged.”

“What’s new?”, we often ask one another. What if love is more central, more fundamental than reason, more fundamental than matter and time? What if agape love, divine love is something we can leverage to shape the world, heal the planet, to change our relationships, to get past frustrating barriers, to solve the big problems?  What if the fundamentals are not cosmos, nebulae and galaxies, matter and energy, time, space, gravity, strong and weak forces and motion, protons and electrons, but rather love, joy, peace and goodness, I-Thou relationship, purity and unity of the inner self, benevolence towards others? What if we were meant to cooperate rather than compete? What if the heart is more important than the brain?

Only on the basis of an ontology of love can gift be understood. Because love, and not pure reason, is the basic structure of being, the failure of human reason to achieve infinite desires is not negative but positive. Thus we do not need to negate reason in order to believe, but rather to supplement and intensify it. We receive knowledge as a gift. … Gift, another name for the Holy Spirit, is the fullness of being, the perfection that surrounds us with an inevitable desire for truth, goodness and beauty. It illumines our lives. (Marquette Theologian D. Stephen. Long, Speaking of God. 2009, p. 159)

Agape love is a boon for people of many religious and ideological backgrounds, for atheists, agnostics and nihilists as well as believers. God will show up for those who stop their cynical rant and attend more carefully to his positive gestures and initiatives. Then the investigation will go through a radical recalibration; the data that was thrown out will be re-examined for its merits, its signification. The paradigm may shift; the way that we attend to the details makes all the difference. His agape love directed at the human conscience is an invitational call to an existential depth; late moderns will be capable of experiencing disclosure in the midst of transformation. Loyola Philosopher Paul K. Moser calls this kardiatheology. Agape offers an enlightening grace that shines divine light on inner depths and motivations. Here’s the critical question: “Are we sincerely attending to the divine call via conscience and experienced agape in a way that leads us humbly before the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus?” This involves a refraction of light received through a different prism to produce new insight (Bernard Lonergan). A new picture, a new creation, emerges, a fresh motivation captivates us. We don’t need more stuff, more wealth, more war; we need more connectedness, more compassion, more solidarity.

Love is stronger, more powerful than death. It was love that sent Jesus of Nazareth to his death on a Roman cross and love that raised him to life again. In God’s presence, there is no fear/terror of death (Psalm 23). According to Joseph Loconte (The Searchers), Harry Potter, “the most successful work of fiction in modern times draws it narrative strength from the Christian idea of sacrificial love–love unto death–can rescue people from the grip of evil, even from death itself.  It is clear in the New Testament gospel stories that people believed that Jesus had the antidote to death. Eugene Peterson (Practice Resurrection) claims that “the practice of resurrection is not an attack on the world of death: it is a nonviolent embrace of life in the country of death. It is an open invitation to eternity in time.” Jesus’ resurrection is a new creation, a new revelation, an epiphany. For centuries scores of religions and cultures have longed for such a insight into the human condition. Life with God, eternal life, is now possible for those who seek it; it is a public fact.

NYC Historian Dr. Loconte continues, “If the Christian story is true, then human life has a meaning and a destination. Its purpose is concentrated in a single individual, acting in a definitive moment in time. His triumph over evil and death is the focal point of world history. Even more, his victory signals the end of history, the beginning of the end of a world in  the grip of spiritual slavery.” (Ezekiel 34: 27). He is the author of life.

Within the zone of agape there is self-respect, forgiveness, dignity for outsiders, protection for victims, reconciliation with one’s deepest identity, compassion for the poor and marginalized and personal moral growth. This is the constitutive good which can empower the moral self, a self that emerges most robustly within a community of mutuality. I can win a Nobel Prize, but if I lack love, there is a huge existential hole at the centre of my personhood. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13: 4-7). It is the way of healing, hope and maturity for the human condition. Trinitarian love offers the self a certain stance towards our sociality, a stance of insight and leverage, a rediscovery of the amazing imago dei (image of God), which is articulated by Christ in real time.

Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor captures this insight in one of his books, A Catholic Modernity?.

Our being in the image of God is also our standing among others in the stream of love, which is that facet of God’s life we try to grasp, very inadequately, in speaking of the Trinity. Now it makes a whole lot of difference whether you think this kind of love is a possibility for us humans. I think it is, but only to the extent that we open ourselves up to God, which means in fact, overstepping the limits set by [nihilists such as] Nietzsche and Foucault. (C. Taylor, 1999, p. 35)

Yes indeed as Paul verifies, Christ’s love empowers us, gives us life, makes us new, redirects our desires, comforts us in our troubles, puts our lives in perspective, sets us free, gives us depth of field in our vision. Albert Einstein claims that imagination often carries more weight than knowledge. C.S. Lewis writes about the new heaven and new earth, a place where longings are fulfilled, sorrows are forgotten and joy runs like a river in every human heart, where the hidden God can be seen face to face. in Mere Christianity,

God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on his side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else–something it never entered your head to conceive–comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to chose your side. (Mere Christianity, p. 65)

Imagine how we can leverage that on campus.

Psalms 27: 13,14 “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord

On the Leverage of Love, there is much to be learned from the documentary called “I Am” by Tom Shadyac, some things that took a concusion to realize.

In II Corinthians 5: 1-10 Paul reflects on death and what comes after. His cultural context is Greek and dualistic (souls trapped in bodies), but Paul is Hebrew-Christian and promotes the imagination and practice of resurrection, resurrected new bodies in a renewed culture. He sees death as a portal to a more permanent world, a new city, in the very presence of Christ, fullness of life and meaning. This is one of the most researched and discussed/debated  passages in the entire New Testament. It is connected to I Corinthians 15. He encourages believers to live in light of eternity. Everything in their life matters; nothing is wasted; they are right now being shaped and shaping their destiny.

II Corinthians 4: The Eternal Weight of Glory

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zg-1yM6insA David Crowder Band

Our discussion centred around Paul’s conclusion that the longing for  eternity (Peter Kreeft, Heaven: the heart’s deepest longing) and the weight of glory put into perspective our all too human trials, frustrations, assignments, exams and sufferings. The glory far outweighs the trials, by an exponential factor. In fact, it was suggested that Paul mean to say that these trials and afflictions could move us towards this glory if we handled them in the right way, and gave them over to God for his transformation. As II Corinthians 3 concluded, it is promised that we can be transformed daily from glory to glory.

This is part of the meaning of suffering. The human trials are often heavy and hard to bear, but they are lightweights compared with the heavyweight eternity. The perspective of a vision of eternity in the heart (like the sun on the horizon, or the harvest moon) can help build ‘spiritual muscle’: realism. It is a kind f haunting. Many of the speakers in the C.S. Lewis Summer Institute series speak of the weightiness and substance and strength of the virtues; they believe that virtues of courage, justice, mercy, duty, honour, prudence , faith, friendship, loyalty, hope and love are heavyweights for human flourishing. Our assurance of this weightiness in the New Covenant is the glory in the very face of Jesus Christ. He is that promise incarnate. We have the privilege to carry such precious jewels as the gospel of  glory (presence, transcendence, transformation) in jars of clay. Even Parisian semiotic professor Julia Kristeva suggests we need to recover this perspective (The Incredible Need to Believe. 2011). The challenge is to wager on the great, well-trodden eternal path with glory as our trajectory for life; it is the way of joy that is a deep longing in every heart. This story is played out in Joseph Loconte’s brilliant little book The Searchers: the Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt. In speaking about the difficulty of finding immediate answers to our grief and sorrow, Loconte writes:There is a promise of something far better–if we do not give up the search for goodness in the valley of our grief.”

This is contrasted with the values of people in the Spanish television series Grand Hotel (English subtitles), where the game amidst aristocratic elegance is arrogance, dark secrets, will to power, greed, condescension, murder, adultery, corruption, mutual manipulation, and coercion. Why do we find such drama so intriguing? It is perhaps because it resonates with our trying experience of some people we live, study or work with, share a lab bench with, but these relationships are not praiseworthy. They represent humanity at its worst, spiralling ever downward to greater depths. Jung would call this our dark side. The gospel claims that we have a choice as to which path we want to follow.

“It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”  ~C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory.

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit.”
― C.S. LewisThe Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

“I announce to you redemption. Behold I make all things new. Behold I do what cannot be done. I restore the years that the locusts and the worms have eaten. I restore the years which you have drooped away upon your crutches and in your wheelchair. I restore the symphonies and the operas which your deaf ears have never heard, and the snowy massive which you eyes have never seen, and the freedom lost to you through plunder, and the identity lost to you through calumny and the failure of justice; and I restore the good which your foolish mistakes have cheated you of. And I bring you to the Love of which all other loves speak, the Love which is joy and beauty, and which you have sought in a thousand streets, and for which you have wept and clawed your pillow.”

“How I want to see the weight of glory break my thick scales, the weight of glory smash the chains of my desperate materialism, split the numbing shell of deadening entertainment, bust up the ice of catatonic hearts”

~Anne Voskamp

“If there is a Bach, there is a God. All the hauntings seem to come from the same source and point back to it, however diverse the media through which they come. Not only faces, romantic love, pictures, stories, and music, but also the sense of almost unimaginably remote lands hinted at in the smell of certain breezes, the fascination that children have with colour (remember that?), the unforgettable power in certain lines of poetry–all these and thousands more are hauntings that seem today the same thing. There is something bigger than the world out there hiding behind everything in the world, and our chief joy is with it. The world is its mask; we must unmask it. We are outsiders, aliens, exiles; if only we could get in!”

~ Peter Kreeft, Heaven: the Heart’s Deepest Longing, (p. 111)

II Corinthians 3: Talking Points

What does it mean to be the ‘aroma of Christ’ as Paul talks about it late in Chapter 2? Someone mentioned Tim Keller’s book, The Art of Forgetfulness to help us discern an appropriate kind of humility.

As we traverse between the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, the metaphors change from stone tablets to human hearts, from letter to Spirit, from a trap to a liberation, from Moses to Paul, from a veiled to revealed status. The theme of transformation through the New is fleshed out in Romans chapter 8 as well as other places. The key verse here is 18. “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory  which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” The Old was good while it lasted, but now we have the New, the fuller, clearer revelation, justification and sanctification. The aroma of Christ comes through reflection and personal transformation. Bishop Lesslie Newbign says that the most important religious question is: How shall we glorify God?

Interesting Details about The Great Wall of China: over 1600 miles long over mountainous terrain (equivalent from New York City to Denver, Colorado), cost equivalent of $360 Billion Dollars and cost one million lives, the largest such engineering project in history specially nurtured by the Ming Dynasty, the resilient mortar has a secret ingredient of sticky rice; offered China an unprecedented period of peace; Mongolian Genghis Khan and his warriors were let through the wall by starving neglected soldiers and proceeded to sack the capital; now an international heritage site. In the incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth, God accomplished something far greater.

In II Corinthians 1, the Apostle Paul writes that Jesus is the Yes and the Amen to it all. What does this mean? Below are some reflections from our Study Group. Much more could be added. 

http://www.christian.org.uk/news/christ-unique-and-universal-5/ Bishop Lesslie Newbigin Christ as Unique and Universal

  • Colossians 1: 15-20 speaks of Jesus as the source and “glue” of creation and the purpose or end of creation. He is more than 13.8 billion light years of time. He is above all things in creation and at the same time the ground of creation (the ground of being). All the fullness of God dwells in him (he is God with us–Emmanuel). He is God incarnate (fully God and fully man); in him, God’s eternity connects with creation’s temporality. It is through Christ that all things are reconciled to God—providing the source and basis of healing relationships divine and human, the prince (champion) of peace. He is the cornerstone or foundation of the church, through which he is present to the world.
  • He is the fulfillment of all the promises made to the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Israel, etc.) and prophets of the Old Testament, the Jewish Messiah, fulfilling the promise of redemption, renewal, justice and reform. Jesus is prophet, priest and king. His is the final priestly sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He is also a poet, firing the imagination with his life-giving, inspiring teaching.
  • He is the wisdom of God and the power of God, the nexus of faith and reason. As logos (John 1), he is the divine word made flesh, the underwriter/guarantor of all human thought and all language. He is the raison d’etre of it all, the meaning of it all, the answer to the key question: Why is there something rather than nothing? We are called to take captive all thought to his Lordship, his oversight. He is the end point of every spiritual, moral and philosophical aspiration. He has renewed and healed the current broken relationship between word and world (James Davison Hunter).

Christ the creative wisdom of God, and God’s active Word in creation, is enfleshed in the temporal-historical dimension of our world as the concrete Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ…. This is the Word through whom all things were made, and the Word hid in the eternal bosom of God, the Word who spoke through the prophets, the Word whose mighty acts defined the history of Israel. In Jesus the Christ this Word has become flesh, and the eternal has become temporal, but without ceasing to be eternal…. In Christ temporality and eternity are conjoined…. In the incarnation, creation, the world, time and history have been taken up into the God-man, who is the center of reality…. Faith and reason are inseparable because their unity is in Christ. (J. Zimmermann, 2012a, pp. 264-5)

  • He is the complete human, a fullness of humanity. He is a gift to us to direct our passions to that which can fulfill them. He came to take us higher, to show us the infinite goodness and agape love of God and to transform us by it. He is the renewed, most excellent representative of God on earth, the imago dei.
  • Jesus is perlocutionary speech act, God’s most powerful communication to human ears. He addresses us, calls our name, calls us forward into an adventuresome life. His words (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount) are a culture driver. Through him, we have been identified and called into a new community, given a new identity as royal priests (I Peter) and the people of God. He is the hermeneutic of a new reconciled humanity, drawn from all the nations of the globe, committed to bless (shalom). He is our home, our shelter/refuge, our anchor.
  • He is the Suffering Servant who empathizes with our human struggles, brokenness, alienation and pain, the Wounded Healer (Henri Nouwen). He has suffered and does suffer for individuals, society and the world (I Peter); it is a redemptive, deeply meaningful suffering. He is Compassion.

In Christian theology, Jesus reveals to us not only who God is but also what it means to be truly human. This true humanity is not something we achieve on our own; it comes to us as a gift … The reception of this gift contains an ineliminable element of mystery that will always require faith. Jesus in his life, teaching, death and resurrection and ongoing presence in the church and through the Holy Spirit … orders us towards God. He directs our passions and desires towards that which can finally fulfill them and bring us happiness … [and] reveal to us what it means to be human. (D.S. Long, 2001, pp. 106-7)

Other metaphors: the Vine, Root of David, Teacher, Shield, Son of Man, Lion of Judah, the Way, Portion, Lamb of God, Refiner, the Bridegroom, Saviour, Rock of Ages, Presence of God, Alpha and Omega, Son of God

We welcome you to listen to the Hillsong album called “Zion” to experience these thoughts as worship

Recommended Reading: The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey


David Wesley, His Love Never Fails


Greetings GCU Book Study Fans,

The 2010 Christianity Today Award Winner is God is Great, God is Good. (ed. Craig & Meister). It truly is a winner, with a super scholarly team behind it. We are due to learn so much together from this community reading and discussion. It offers a great spark to our thinking and dialogue. Other sources responding to New Atheism: David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: the Christian revolution and its fashionable enemies.; Alister McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion.; Terry Eagleton (Literary Critic),  Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009)

Archbishop Rowan Williams in dialogue with Richard Dawkins: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/9102740/Richard-Dawkins-I-cant-be-sure-God-does-not-exist.html

Insights Along the Journey of Our Study/Discussion

Chapter Eleven  “Recognizing Divine Revelation” by Charles Taliaferro

How are we to understand how God could write a message to humanity through mere mortals ove thousands of years? What are the human and divine elements at work? How do we trust writings that are 2000 years old or more?

Interview with Dr Craig Evans, Acadia University Bible 101 (Apologetics Canada Conference 2014 speakers)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_D_7z5xvyX8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2cx9iVCbwU Dr. Evans on Jesus & the Gospels Apologetics 315

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reYBCz_kf1c  Dr. William Lane Craig on Credibility of Ancient Text

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59RnvejNwKA  Dr. John Dickson (scholar)

See also the blog post Can We Trust the Bible?  https://ubcgcu.org/2013/12/03/can-we-trust-the-bible/

Chapter Ten “How Could God Create Hell?” by Asbury Philosopher Jerry Walls

The classic question raised by most atheists today is:  “How can evil and suffering be compatible with a Good God of perfect love and power?” Hell is that question pumped up on steroids. This is one of those existentially central issues; we may wish to avoid it, but should not do so if we are wise. It is not a superficial question, but connects to the deepest meaning in our lives. You may recall Dante’s depiction (see James Houston’s brilliant insights in Joyful Exiles) or that in the sculpture by famous Auguste Rodin. Perhaps you have read about C.S. Lewis’ famous bus ride from hell to heaven in The Great Divorce, or you have watched the DVD video discussing this topic  called “Hellbound?”.

We also recommend the profound statement on the mirror image of hell, Heaven: the heart’s deepest longing. (Ignatius) by philosopher Peter Kreeft. Here’s a quote: “We must become little children, for only a little child is strong enough to open the greatest gate, the gate of the Kingdom of heaven. That gate is the heart, and who can open your heart like a child? The child in us is called by three names: faith (trust and openness), hope (idealism and wonder) and love (adoration, yea-saying). These are the terribly vulnerable things.” (p. 40)

Kreeft about Divine Hauntings (p. 111) “Not only faces, romantic love, pictures, stories, and music, but the sense of unimaginably remote lands hinted at in the smell of certain breezes, the fascination children have with colors, the unforgettable power of certain lines of poetry–all these  and thousands more hauntings that seem to say the same thing: There is something bigger than the world out there hiding behind everything in the world, and our chief joy is with it. The world is its mask; we must unmask it. We are outsiders, aliens, exiles; if only we could get in!”

-the central image in Walls’ answer to this difficult question is that of the dance:  God is a fountain of happiness, a pulsating activity, a drama, a dance, a fountain of energy and beauty at the heart of reality…. He is perfect love, and joy, and truth, and beauty, and goodness. (160)

-God wants us to enter the fountain of energy and beauty at the centre of reality; he wants us to join the dance of joy that energizes the three persons of the Trinity; but we have to freely choose it; the heartrending reality is that we may not choose to obey and thereby close ourselves off from this life-giving relationship.

-when God created beings with free will, he created the possibility of hell. Rather than embrace the opportunity to dance, some might choose to reject the offer and attempt to construct their own substitute for joy. If these choices are made and persisted in, then the possibility of hell becomes a reality. In short, hell is created when free beings abuse the God-given freedom to reject him and his grace. They are turning away from the highest form of goodness, the most powerful life-giving force, the highest artistic inspiration, their own greatest good. Ann Voskamp would say, “They refuse to say thanks for all this.”

-Learning to love and trust and obey God is what we need to do to be at home with God in the divine dance of the Trinity. It is precisely in submission to his will that we discover our true identity, freedom and experience the delight and pleasure and satisfaction for which we were created. Hell it may be said is the long-term result of refusing to learn the dance steps. C.S. Lewis notes profoundly that the “doors of hell are locked on the inside”. (See the play by Jean Paul Sartre, “No Exit” for the existential dilemma we create for ourselves). God has gone to very great lengths to extend his love (incarnation and crucifixion), but he will not override our freedom; he wants us to freely accept his love, and freely to return love to him. This is a wonderful and profound mystery.

-It is our persistent choice to resist this offer of love that builds up the walls of hell, locks its doors shut and encloses its inhabitants in their self-created suffering. We could call it a consequential self-banishment from God’s presence and creative energy. It is not a logical or intelligible choice. In one sense, it is a failure to choose well, an irrational move. Self-will, pride and misguided desires lead us to refuse the eternal dance. This kind of choice offers its own distorted imitations for joy, pleasure, righteousness and satisfaction.

The tragedy in C.S. Lewis’ depiction of the imaginary bus ride of hell inhabitants to heaven (The Great Divorce), is that they all choose to go back to hell where they feel more at home with the character whom they have become.

Chapter Nine  “Are Old Testament Laws Evil?” by Philosopher Paul Copan

The charges made by the New Atheists are a distorted representation of Old Testament ethics. They fail to consider issues such as the earliest creational ideals (Gen 1-2), the warm moral ethos of the Old Testament, the context of the ancient Near East, the broader biblical canon and the metaphysical context to undergird objective morality. The unfolding story moves from wandering clan to theocratic nation to monarchy to afflicted remnant and post-exilic community of promise.

-moral codes and Torah’s legal material are consistently entwined with story, embedded in a broader historical narrative in order to show how they can be practically lived in society…. God ultimately instructs Israel not by laying down laws or principles but by telling stories of real people as they relate to their Creator and Covenant Maker.

-New Atheists ignore many moral, noble actions of the biblical characters: Abraham’s generosity to Lot, Joseph’s moral integrity, David’s refusal to kill King Saul, Nathan’s courage to confront David. We are also confronted in biblical characters with our own dark side of vices: anger, lust, ambition, and disloyalty; biblical characters are flawed like us.

-the Mosaic legislation is not the final word, but a springboard for moral progress anticipated. It affirms the Genesis ideals of the image of God in each person (regardless of gender, ethnicity or social class), life-long monogamous marriage and God’s concern for the nations. God starts with his people where they are (Goldingay) and moves towards a progressive revelation, a progressive shaping of his people. The trajectory is a journey of liberation to fuller humanity within covenant protection.

-Hebrew morality was far superior to that of their neighbours in the ancient Near East. e.g. Hammurabi Code

-Delicate Holy War Discussion: pp. 145-148  Copan provides fresh ways of thinking about this issue. Israel’s history is not to be idealized or universalized. I seem to remember that Dr. Iain Provan had some great responses to this question. Perhaps his new book Seriously Dangerous Religion is worth the read.

-Law of Moses: meant to be temporary rather than ultimate, finding its fulfillment in the new covenant in Jesus Christ (pp. 149-151).

1. Mosaic legislation is not to be equated with the moral law. It is quite an improvement on the other laws of the ancient Near East.

2. Mosaic law reveals God’s forbearance because of human stubbornness.

3. Mosaic law is an improved, more humanized legislation which attempts to restrain and control an inferior moral mindset.

4. Mosaic law contains seeds for moral growth, offering glimmers of light pointing to a higher moral path. God’s goal is ultimately love for him and other people: We see a ‘compassionate drift’  in the law which includes protection of the weak, especially those who lacked the natural protection of family and land (namely widows, orphans, Levites, immigrants and resident aliens); justice for the poor, impartiality in the courts; generosity at harvest time,  and in general economic life; respect for persons and property, even of an enemy; sensitivity to the dignity even of the debtor; special care for strangers and immigrants; considerate treatment of the disabled;  prompt payment of wages earned by a hired labor; sensitivity over articles taken in pledge; consideration for people in early marriage, or in bereavement; even care for animals domestic and wild, and for fruit trees.”  (p. 151 taken from Christopher Wright). Paul notes in Romans 13: 8-10 that love is the ultimate goal of the law, the ultimate fulfilment of the law.

5. Mosaic law contains an inherent planned obsolescence, which is to be fulfilled in Christ. The law isn’t the final word, but the new covenant is promised (book of Hebrews). Christ is the new Israel.

-the New Atheists resist the notion of Yahweh’s rightful prerogatives over humans; they seem uncomfortable with the idea of judgment or cosmic authority. They have a hangup with divine authority, but need to get over it.

-Despite historical deviation from Jesus’ teaching (Crusades, Inquisition, Witch Trials) biblical theism has historically served as a moral compass for Western civilization’s advances. Rene Girard makes a huge point of this in his book I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning, where he note how Judaism and then Christianity defended the innocence of the victim unlike many other tribes and nations of their day.

See also: Christopher J.H. Wright. Old Testament Ethics for the People of God. (IVP, 2004); and Gordon Wenham, Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament Narrative Ethically. (Baker Academic, 2004)

Paul Copan’s Talk:  “Is God a Moral Monster?” http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=paul%20copan%20is%20god%20a%20moral%20monster&sm=1

Bypass the cheeky puns and he gets into some good material.

Chapter Eight “Is Religion Evil?” by the brilliant and balanced Alister McGrath (also has a PhD in Biochemistry)

-Dawkins and Dennett et al view of religion turns out to be an article of faith, a belief which can be sustained only by highly selective use of evidence and what comes closer to a manipulation of history.

-core belief/declaration of New Atheism is that religion is the cause of the ills of humanity. It is a revision of the idea of original sin.

-but there is no such universal category as ‘religion’ but many worldviews and philosophies (e.g. Confuscianism); the real problem as Richard Wentz points out is absolutism: people create absolutes out of fear of their own limitations, and they react with violence when others won’t accept them–fanaticism. [Of course there is also propaganda such as in European Nazism–simplistic answers to complex social problems.]

-New Atheism is a superb example of a modern metanarrative–a totalizing view of things, locked into a worldview of Enlightenment naturalism. It can come across as intolerant, unimaginative and disconnected from the way real people live.

-Dawkins et al overclaim in a hyperbolic way that atheism is innocent of motivating violence. They are dead wrong on this point; they have their head in an atheist ivory tower or firmly placed in the sand.

-Robert Page (Dying to Win: the strategic logic of suicide terrorism) : surveys of every known suicide bombing since 1980 indicates that religious belief does not appear to be either a necessary or a sufficient condition to create suicide bombers. The fundamental motivation for suicide bombings appears to be political, not religious–the desire to force the withdrawal of foreign occupying forces. Scott Atran at University of Michigan suggests that elimination of religion is not the answer, but rather the need to empower religious moderates.

-Jesus of Nazareth showed a fundamental commitment to peace, not violence, and instilled this in his followers. The Crusades showed a perversion of this commitment to peace making.

-one doesn’t have to look far back in history to find atheist collusion with violence against scores of people: Soviet Union, Pol Pot, right wing regimes in Latin America. (pp. 126-8) Dawkins, Dennett and Harris seem to be living in a small box of their own creation (denial)–unquestioning faith in the universal goodness of atheism.

“The reality of the situation is that human beings [of all sorts and cultures] are capable of both violence and moral excellence–and that both these may be provoked by worldviews, whether religious or otherwise.”  When a society rejects the idea of God, it tends to transcendentalize alternatives–e.g. liberty or equality. Think the French Revolution and the idolization or worship of reason and liberty. The guillotine was the liberator. All ideals–divine, transcendent, human or invented–are capable of being abused. Such is human nature.

The simplistic belief that the elimination of religion would lead to the ending of violence, social tension or discrimination is thus sociologically naive. It fails to take account of the way in which human beings create values and norms, and make sense of their identity and their surroundings.

The New Atheists have attempted to produce an in-group, the ‘brights’ who accept no religion.  This attempt was fundamentally divisive and arrogant. It was a public relations disaster.

Michael Shermer of the Skeptics Society has a fairer analysis: “For every one of these grand tragedies there are ten thousand acts of personal kindness and social good that go unreported…. Religion like all social institutions of such historical depth and cultural impact, cannot be reduced to an unambiguous good or evil”  (How We Believe: science, skepticism and the search for God p. 71)

David Bentley Hart has much to say about the weak and inadequate scholarship of the New Atheist who often reduce themselves to shrill rhetoric without good evidence for their position. (Atheist Delusions: the Christian revolution and its fashionable enemies.)


Chapter Seven “God, Evil and Morality” Chad Meister, Philosopher

-everyone must provide an answer to (account of) the problem of evil. The view of the New Atheists is riddled with confusion and contradiction.

-if objective evil exists, there must be objective moral values binding on all

-we need a metaphysical grounding to objective moral values, but most moral philosophers have given up on such moral foundations

-New Atheists want a world with moral reality and objectivity; they deny moral relativism, but have no sound  justification for this view

-can we be good without God? Yes, but what is the basis for justification of such epistemic beliefs? Many moral philosophers have given up the search for a moral theory and justification.

-Dawkins (Selfish Gene) tries to root Good Samaritan instincts/impulse in biology (reciprocal altruism). His answers have little to do with what we normally call morality.

-Michael Ruse & E.O. Wilson believe more consistently with unguided evolution that morality is an illusion, a trick by our genes to get us to cooperate; this is a misfiring (see also for consistent reasoning Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos). To these authors, morality cannot be grounded in terms of naturalistic biological evolution. See also Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies.

Chad Meister: “The attempt  to offer a view of morality  in which good and evil are not ultimately illusory on the one hand, and yet are not grounded in a transcendent reality on the other hand, is perhaps the most confused characteristic of the writings of Dawkins and the New Atheists…. What they cannot do, from within their atheistic worldview, is provide a reasonable justification for existence of non-subjective, universally binding moral values such as compassion, dignity and respect or moral vices such as evil and injustice. For that task, they would need to include God in their inventory of what exists.” (117)

They ultimately fail to distinguish humans from animals.

Chapter Four  “God and Physics” by John Polkinghorne

-every worldview involves a commitment to a foundational belief, which is not itself to be explained but which will provide the basis on which all subsequent forms of explanation will ultimately have to rest. No worldview can be free from such an initial commitment, for nothing comes from nothing. Materialism and theism are two traditions that have been highly influencial in the West.

-the laws of nature, as modern physics has discovered them to be, have a character which is not self-contianed but rather seems to point beyond them to the need for a further and deeper level of intelligibility. Albert Einstein once said that the only mystery of the universe is that it is comprehensible.

-Why is it the case that some of the most beautiful patterns that the mathematicians can dream up in the minds are found actually to occur in the structure of the physical world around us?

-science has found that the universe is profoundly rationally transparent and beautiful. The feeling of wonder at the marvelous order of the world is a fundamental experience in physics and a fitting reward for all the labour involved in research. In a word, one could not say that physics explores a universe that is hot through with signs of mind. Thus the laws of ohysics seem to point beyond themselves, calling for an explanation of why they have this rational character. It is intellectually unsatisfying simply to treat them as brute fact.

-the deep intelligibility of the cosmos can itself be made intelligible if behind its marvelous order is indeed the mind of its Creator. The theist can say that science is possible precisely because the universe is a creation and scientists are creatures made in the image of their Creator, the God whose role is not simply to initiate the big bang but continuously to hold in being a world endowed with wonderful rational structure. Materialism just does not explain enough.

A Finely-Tuned Universe: Carbon-based life can evolve only in a universe that has a remarkably specific character. While life did not apear on the cosmos scene until the universe was about ten billion years old, fine-tuning meant that the cosmos was pregnant with the potentiality of life  essentially from the big bang onward. The heavy elements were given birth in the furnaces of stars. We are people of stardust, made up of the ashes of dead stars. Even the highly nuanced resonance within carbon atoms are essential for life (Fred Hoyle). If the laws of nuclear physics were a little different, this resonance would not be there at all or it would be at the wrong energy. Other necessary conditions of this process destined for life include the balance between the rate of expansion in the universe, the balance between the forces of electromagnetism and gravity. There are any other delicate balances contributing to this fine-tuning of the universe–something  of a discovery which came as a surprise to all physicists and a shock to some. See also the brilliant 2009 Gifford Lectures by Alister McGrath published as A Fine-Tuned Universe: the search for God in science and theology.

-the collection of anthropic insights seem altogether too remarkable to and precise to be treated as a happy accident. it seems to point beyond the brute fact of physical law and require to be set in a context of deeper intelligibility.

As Arizona Physicist Paul Davies might say, “Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth – the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient “coincidences” and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal. The crucial point is that some of those metaphorical knobs (of which there are 40) must be tuned very precisely, or the universe would be sterile. Example: neutrons are just a tad heavier than protons. If it were the other way around, atoms couldn’t exist, because all the protons in the universe would have decayed into neutrons shortly after the big bang. No protons, then no atomic nucleus and no atoms. No atoms, no chemistry, no life.”

Determinism/Mechanism Issue:  The first quarter of the twentieth century raised serious questions about determinism with the discoveries of relativity and quantum theory. Space and time were found to be intimately interrelated and their description to e dependant on the motion of the observer, while subatomic processes were found to be cloudy and fitful in their character. Mere mechanism had died with the discovery of intrinsic unpredictabitilites resent in the processes of nature. Unpreditability is an epistemic property; it implies that we cannot know what future behaviour will be. Chaos theory also added to this sense of unpredictability; even at the classical Newtonian world was not free of intrinsic unpredictability. Thus human intentional agency is viable; we are not a product of determinism or behaviourism.

-Nature it seems rebels against a crass reductionism: even the sub-atomic world cannot be treated atomistically. The theist who is a trintiarian will not be surprised to learn that created reality is relational. Quantum theory has contributed to a growing recognition that nature is deeply relational. Once two quantum entities have interacted with each other, they can retain a power of mutual influence that is not diminished by spatial separation.

Chapter Three “Evidence of a Morally Perfect God”: Paul K. Moser of Loyola University

Philosophy raises some really pertinent questions about the current approach to the debate on the evidence for God’s existence, that is a God worth worshipping, a morally superior God.

Are we willing to consider a morally demanding definition of God as part of our quest for the elusive divine?

Are we looking for God in all the wrong places: i.e. does our bias blind us so that we miss the personal moral challenge of belief in, or discovery of, God? Is our methodology and approach all wrong, off base?

Will we let God to be God in order to discover him? Or will we continue the fallacious spectator evidence approach, treating him like a lab rat or a mere object in the world, or a clown that must perform for us? Perhaps we are caught in the grips of an idol and desire too much control in the search for the very ground of our being. Our pride causes intellectual blockage.

Are we willing to consider purposively available evidence of divine reality, including his good, benevolent purposes for humanity?

What if our inquiry went beyond mere reflection and inference, to human obedience and disobedience? How would that change the situation of our search. God seems to hide from certain approaches and attitudes. What if there is no magic cognitive bullet available?

What is the available Authoritative and Invitational evidence, if we change our posture and investigative approach? This is what Moser calls kardiatheology: a new disposition of the core of our thinking, willing, deciding, the core of the self. Agape love comes into the picture.

What if God would be perfectly loving even in offering to humans any divine self-manifestation and corresponding evidence of divine reality?

How might one’s lacking evidence of divine reality then concern primarily one’s own moral character and attitudes before God rather than the actual availability of such evidence?


ChapterTwo  Further thoughts on worldviews:  J.P. Moreland examines the merits of the naturalistic or materialistic worldview. He elaborates some recalcitrant facts that call into question the consistency and coherence of this perspective or stance, and show it to be a weak explanatory hypothesis. He claims that the language of emergence is not an explanation. He quotes a number of honest atheists who see these problems as well.

  • Human Consciousness (see also David Bentley Hart brilliant treatment of this subject in The Experience of God)
  • Free will or the ability to choose spontaneously and even in spite of the pressures in another direction (Agency).
  • Human Rationality: can this emerge from material forces alone? How do we trust our own thoughts if we are merely the product of brute nature?
  • Unified Selves (where does the “I” come from and how do I transcend my biology?) This seems inexplicable through material causes alone.
  • Intrinsic Equal Value and Rights of each human no matter their status, race, gender, etc. Without the existence of God, how do we find a stable grounding for ethics?


We had a great start in our book study (God is Great; God is Good), beginning to build the foundations of a creative and positive apologia. We realized that it was important to understand worldviews, especially the three main ones: Naturalism, Pantheism and Christian Theism. It is always better if we can understand where our colleagues are locating themselves spiritually or philosophically, their personal framework. The first order of business is to ask a lot of questions like an investigative journalist, before we share our particular faith convictions.

Secondly, we saw that there was a variety of streams in Apologetics: philosophical (cosmological, moral, teleological, ontological), historical (resurrection evidence, documents of Scripture), pragmatic (liveability), personal religious experience (relevance), agape love argument, consistency/coherence. So there is a lot to draw on in terms of resources, and a real latitude of possible dialogue. The chapter by William Lane Craig offered a philosophical approach and we just began to crack that open. Usually a scholar focuses in one area to get very good at it, drill down into its wealth, debate well and present well. Each of us can start with what we know and build on that—to create a learning curve.

Finally, we chatted about the need for an explanation for our wonderful and challenging world: Lebnitz’ famous question ‘Why is there something and not nothing?’ Every human has to grapple with this reality. There are many other such fundamental questions that face all of us. More great investigation to come in the weeks ahead.

Gordon: gcarkner@shaw.ca
Review of the book: by Brian Auten
God is Great, God is Good edited by William Lane Craig and Chad Meister is a book geared specifically to address the arguments and rhetoric of the so-called New Atheism. With contributions from fourteen scholars, this is a 14-chapter book of essays critiquing the most notable points of contention from popular atheist writers Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens.Because of the topical way the book is composed, it could easily be read in a non-linear fashion; it doesn’t have to be read from beginning to end. However, the book follows a structure: Part 1 – God Is – presents essays dealing with God’s existence. Part 2 – God is Great – presents evidence from natural theology which show God’s power in creation. Part 3 – God is Good – presents essays with a moral theme. And Part 4 – Why it Matters – wraps up the overall case with discussions on divine revelation, history, and the identity of Jesus Christ. This review will present an overview of the chapter content and highlight some notable points.

William Lane Craig opens the book in chapter one and deals with Richard Dawkins’ treatment of the arguments for God. He demonstrates that the main arguments from The God Delusion are poorly formulated and outright inadequate. In particular, Craig deals with what Dawkins calls the main argument of his book – the “who designed the designer” objection. Among other things, Craig points out that: “In order to recognize an explanation as the best, you don’t need to be able to explain the explanation. In fact, such a requirement would lead to an infinite regress of explanations, so that nothing could ever be explained and science would be destroyed.”1In chapter two, J.P. Moreland deals with The Image of God and the Failure of Scientific Atheism. He explains that atheism and/or naturalism cannot give an account for five particular (and crucially important) features of human persons, what Moreland calls the “five recalcitrant features of the image of God.” These five are consciousness and the mental, free will, rationality, unified selves, and intrinsic, equal value and rights. He concludes that “given the epistemological and Grand Story constraints placed on the scientific naturalist ontology, not a single one of these five fits naturally in a non-ad-hoc way.”2 Like much of Moreland’s work, it is profound and fascinating; a mere listing of his five points does no justice to the depth of content he provides for each.Paul Moser contributes the third chapter dealing with the hiddenness of God, entitled:Evidence of a Morally Perfect God. Like many of the chapters in the book, this chapter could be called a condensed version of the main points of this author’s most recent work. For Moser, the is his notable The Elusive God: Reorienting Religious Epistemology. Moser’s theme is to show that a morally perfect God would present evidence for his existence that aligns with his own purposes for redemption, what Moser calls “purposively available evidence of divine reality.” Included in this concept is the idea that the heart condition and will of the person doing the seeking plays a vital role in the evidence that is available to them. To quote Moser: “What if divinely desired human knowledge of God is not a spectator sport but rather calls for obedient human knowledge of God as authoritative Lord, not as a morally indefinite creator?”3John Polkinghorne contributes chapter four: God and Physics. Here the physicist and theologian explores the implications of fundamental worldviews. His view is that materialism (naturalism) just doesn’t make sense of the world: “My contention will be that the materialist starting point is unsatisfying. The laws of nature, as modern physics has discovered them to be, have a character which is not self-contained but rather seems to point beyond them to the need for a further and deeper level of intelligibility.”4Chapters five a six deal with themes of evolution. Michael Behe’s chapter God and Evolution reiterates themes presented in his book The Edge of Evolution, giving evidence that evolution has its limits and a fully Darwinian explanation of life is unwarranted. Michael J. Murray’s chapter Evolutionary Explanations of Religion examines the New Atheism’s idea of religion as a mere bi-product of evolution. His discussion springboards from the “evidence that human minds are in fact, if not exactly hard-wired, at least strongly predisposed to religious belief and behavior.”5 He examines four different naturalistic accounts of religion and shows that none of them can answer the question satisfactorily.Chad Meister begins a chapter in the next section entitled: God, Evil and Morality. This is basically a discussion on the problem of evil based upon the arguments typically wielded by the New Atheists. However, Meister points out that: “Everyone must provide an account of the evil which exists in the world, and of the various worldview options it seems clear that the atheistic account is the least successful.”6 Meister doesn’t end with that point, but explores the issue in order to expose the core of the conflict: “…believing that something is right or wrong and justifying one’s belief that something is right or wrong are two very different matters. In believing in morality without justifying morality, the New Atheists are confusing an epistemic (knowledge) issue with an ontological (foundational existence) one.”7 He notes that atheists can do good things and accomplish worthy goals, but:

“…what they cannot do, from within their atheistic worldview, is provide a reasonable justification for the existence of non-subjective, universally binding moral values such as compassion, dignity, and respect or moral vices such as evil and injustice. For that task, they would need to include God in their inventory of what exists.”8

Alister McGrath continues the discussion of evil in chapter eight with Is Religion Evil? He points out the New Atheism’s angle: “One of its central themes is the simplistic soundbite ideally attuned to a media-driven culture which prefers breezy slogans to serious analysis:Religion is evil.”9 However, McGrath aims to show that only individual religions exist, “religion” doesn’t. He asserts that the real problem is absolutism. He shows that atheism has problems of its own to explain: “Atheism is just fine when it remains nothing more than ideas, discussed in university seminar rooms. But when it grasps political power, it turns out to be just as bad as anything else.”10 And finally, McGrath shows what happens when Dawkins’ atheism gains power: “…Dawkins fails to appreciate that when a society rejects the idea of God, it tends to transcendentalize alternatives – such as the ideals of liberty and equality. These now become quasi-divine authorities, which none are permitted to challenge.”11

Chapter nine is by Paul Copan: Are Old Testament Laws Evil? His goal in this chapter is to counter the numerous and varied accusations that the Old Testament laws are evil. Copan evaluates the ethics of the Old Testament in light of the historical context of the time, covering five common categories of objections. He offers clarifications, corrections, and context to the typical objections raised about Old Testament laws. He points out that: “The New Atheists resist the notion of Yahweh’s rightful prerogatives over humans; they seem uncomfortable with the idea of judgment or cosmic authority.”12 Copan also shows that from the atheistic view of the world, there is no actual foundation for their complaints because, “…despite Dawkins’s moral outrage, his metaphysic disallows it, admitting that a universe full of electrons contains ‘no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.’”13 Copan reminds the reader that: “…the New Atheists somehow gloss over the destructive atheistic ideologies that have led to far greater loss of human life within just one century than ‘religion’ … with its wars, inquisitions and witch trials. Atheism has proven to be a far more destructive force than ‘religion.’”14

Concluding the third part of the book is Jerry L. Walls’ chapter, How Could God Create Hell? He examines the idea philosophically with the goals to both clarify what the doctrine implies and to show that it does not contradict the existence of a loving God. Walls first points of the deep significance of exploring the topic of hell: “Not to care, and care deeply, about the truth of the matter where hell is concerned is nothing short of insane. […] Given what is at stake in the doctrine, however, no rational person can be indifferent to whether it is true or not.”15 He also points out that some reject hell because of the fact that many people either abuse the idea for purposes of manipulation, or simply respond emotionally to the threat of hell – however, rejection based on those reasons is an error in thinking. As Walls puts it, “…no one should make the mistake of concluding that the doctrine of hell is false because some, if not many, persons who have believed in it have done so for irrational or emotional reasons.”16 Walls comes to the conclusion that God is not torturing people; rather, people bring hell upon themselves because of their own choice: “So in short, hell is created when free beings use (more accurately, abuse) the freedom God has given them not to embrace him but to reject him. In so doing, they reject the only possible source of deep and lasting happiness, and thereby consign themselves to frustration, misery and suffering.”17 Walls draws from some of C.S. Lewis’ ideas and emphasizes the idea that hell is self-inflicted, while providing little scriptural support for the philosophical conclusions.

Part four (Why it Matters) begins with Charles Taliaferro on Recognizing Divine Revelation. He details four reasons for denying divine revelation: the problem of fairness, vanity and jealousy of God, the inadequacy of religious experience, and the no miracles objection. He answers each of them concisely and satisfactorily while suggesting that the critic’s concern should not only be with looking at the Bible; the critic should also attempt to look through the Bible and see who and what it reveals.

In chapter twelve, Scot McKnight writes on The Messiah You Never Expected. He lays out ten observations about the life and character of Jesus in light of the time period he lived. One of his goals here is to show that, upon encountering Jesus for the first time, people were in wonder and amazement at his character and his activity. He shows us that we ought to read the Gospels with this in mind (as if we are reading them for the first time) in order to answer the question: “Who do you say that I am?”

In chapter thirteen, Gary Habermas contributes his essay on Tracing Jesus’ Resurrection to Its Earliest Eyewitness Accounts. His goal here is to show that the resurrection appearances are securely grounded in the historical tradition. The original resurrection proclamation was exceptionally early and linked to the initial eyewitnesses themselves. Habermas concludes that: “This argument has stunned a generation of critical scholars, causing them to realize that Jesus’ resurrection appearances, unlike later parallels which may have borrowed from Christianity, are firmly grounded in the historical tradition.”18

Why Faith in Jesus Matters by Mark Mittelberg is the final chapter. Here Mittelberg makes a case for putting faith in Christ. Regarding faith, he says:

“This might surprise you, but even atheists live by faith – including the so-called New Atheists. They operate in the belief that there is no Creator, no higher moral law to which they are accountable, no divine judgment and no afterlife. They can’t prove any of these things. They don’t know for a fact that there is no God, spiritual standard, day of reckoning or existence after death. In fact, most people in the world believe that denying these things goes against the evidence as well as human experience and therefore requiresmore faith. I’ll say it again: everybody has faith – in something.”19

Two additional supplements to the fourteen chapters are the postscript and the appendix. The postscript is a discussion between Antony Flew (the former atheist) and Gary Habermas. The discussion between Flew and Habermas is meant simply to explore the journey that Flew took in his change of views. It is not meant to critically examine the multiple facets of the various arguments, but to get an idea of what lines of thought most influenced Flew. In response to Habermas’ question to Flew on the evidence for the resurrection, Flew says: “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity, I think, from the evidence offered for the occurrence of most other supposedly miraculous events.”20 The reader will also note his various reasons for not yet being persuaded by this evidence.

The appendix contains philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. It bears the title: “The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism “Ad Absurdum.” Although this review can be found freely on the Internet, its inclusion here is an appropriate final word on the most notable work of the New Atheists.

In conclusion, God is Great, God is Good edited by Craig and Meister is a substantive and scholarly response to the New Atheism. It is also a great introduction to the most recent work of some very notable scholars and philosophers.

1 William Lane Craig, God is Great, God is Good (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), p. 27.
2 J.P. Moreland, p. 47.
3 Paul Moser, p. 57.
4 John Polkinghorne, p. 65.
5 Michael J. Murray, p. 91.
6 Chad Meister, p. 108.
7 Ibid., p. 110.
8 Ibid., p. 117.
9 Alister McGrath, p. 120.
10 Ibid.., p. 127.
11 Ibid., p. 128.
12 Paul Copan, p. 152.
13 Ibid., p. 153
14 Ibid.
15 Jerry L. Walls, pp. 156-157.
16 Ibid., p. 158.
17 Ibid., p. 162.
18 Gary Habermas, p. 215.
19 Mark Mittelberg, p. 218.
20 Antony Flew, p. 242.

 ~Brian Auten from Apologetics 315 Site

II Corinthians, The Exposé of the New Covenant

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