Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Our task as the church

 Our task as the church is not to “change the world,” “make the world a better place to live,” or be the “moral guardians” of our time and place.

-The first is Christ’s job, and he’s done it.

-The second is a pagan preoccupation.

-The last is a perversion of the gospel.

Christ has changed the world. Period. That’s what the cross and resurrection are all about. Sin has been forgiven. The powers are defeated. New creation has dawned. The old world is passing away. The church lives from and into this new world amid the old world that is passing away.

The church is not about “making the world a better place to live.”  That’s what the old world, the pagan world is up to. It’s about “Making America Great Again.” The church, however, is about demonstrating a new world, a new way of being human that in Christ has become our destiny. The church lives a conflicted relationship with the old world, the old way of being (sub)human. Indeed, it’s presence is a reminder that that world exists under the judgment of God. A judgment of mercy directed to restoration and reconciliation but a judgment that resisted means the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Rev.6) have their way with that old world. As such, this old world can never be made “a better place to live.” It is riven by the judgment that rests on it and those who give themselves to facilitating that judgment.

Within such a world the church’s first business to is witness to the new creation that has dawned in Christ. To be a prototype of what God desires for human life. It bears this witness not as moral guardians who tell everyone else how to live. Rather, we live out our witness as those who take responsibility for the mess the old world is, confess our complicity and guilt in making it that way, and bear Christ’s cross in it. This cruciform way of life stands with others immersed in daily life, helps and serves them in doing what can be done to help them, sees the old world most clearly when it sees it from the point of view of those who suffer. If “follow the money” is the best way to keep tabs on the shenanigans of the wealthy folks’ schemes, “follow the suffering” is a gospel way of identifying where and how God is active in our world. And we are to be there with him. The church bears up under the judgment that already rests on the world and lives under its pressures and terrors in such a way that testifies to others that it is “Godness” not goodness that matters. And the name we give that “Godness” that rules our world in Christ is “Grace”!

Resisting Trump with Revelation (13)

the seven seals (2): Rev.6:1-8:1

To the question “What is going on in the world around us?” Jesus breaks open the seven seals protecting the scroll he took from the right hand on the One on the throne. The first four seals bring forth the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (6:1-8). The Conqueror, the War and Violence, Poverty and Wealth Inequality, and Death and Hades are loosed though limited to ¼ of the earth.

The fifth seal takes us to the altar in throne room under which are those martyred for their faithfulness to Jesus. They are in the place where the blood of the sacrifices in the Temple gathered. The deaths of the martyrs are priestly sacrifices to God.[1] “How long,” they cry, “till we are avenged?” They are given white robes and told to rest and wait till the full number of martyrs is reached which will be soon (6:9-11).

Text Box: “The root of edikeis is –dik, often translated as “just” or “justice.” The cry from the witnesses, thus, may be understood as a cry for justice, not simply revenge. “How long will it be before you bring justice in response to the violence of the inhabitants of the earth.” This could be understood, then, actually as a call for healing not punishment. How long until the contents of the scroll are revealed and the New Jerusalem come down and the inhabitants of the earth are healed of their warring madness?”Remembering the vision of chs.4-5 we must interpret as part of God’s loving outreach to the world. These martyrs have walked the way of Jesus’ strange alchemy of suffering, redemptive, love (white robes). Their cry to be “avenged” must likewise be understood not as a cry for revenge but rather for justice.[2] 

The word of assurance that there is a coming end to this martyrdom testifies that God is in control and their deaths serve his purposes and coming kingdom.

The sixth seal (6:12-17) unveils the end of this process for those who continue to stand against the Lamb and his people. That there is this continued rebellion accounts for the continuing martyrdom. Followers of the Lamb stand with him in the midst of a world wracked by the Four Horsemen and sometimes pay the ultimate price. But their time is coming. Their world will fall apart. That’s what the language of earthquakes, the sun turning black, the moon falling, and the sky vanishing points to (6:12-14).  All from the greatest to the least seek refuge among the rocks and mountains and even cry to be buried alive to avoid standing before the wrath of the one on the throne and of the Lamb (6:17).

Wrath is a difficult idea for us to wrap our heads and hearts around. But wrath is an integral part of the biblical witness and can’t be eliminated from it without distortion. Again, ch. 5, the revelation of the Lion as the slaughtered Lamb is crucial to keep in mind. God’s ultimate purposes are healing and restorative. Even perhaps for the those opposed to the Lamb who martyr his followers. In ch.21:24-26 we find the nations and kings of the earth (those supposedly destroyed in the great battle scene in ch.19) entering the New Jerusalem and bringing the glories of their people with them. And the gates of city are never shut to keep them out. Further, in ch.22 the tree of life runs through the middle of the New Jerusalem and produces fruit for the healing for the nations. Whatever role wrath plays, then, it does sin the interest of these healing and restorative purposes of God.

What does wrath tell us then? How does it contribute to fulfilling God’s purposes? It tells us that:

-God cares and is invested in his relationship to us,                                                                                                        -God is unwilling for us to be less than he created us to be,                                                                        -God is unwilling for his creatures to damage each other and his creation,                                        -God will not acquiesce in his creatures breaking relationship with him,                                            -God will make things right.

Probably the best analogy to God’s wrath is the “tough love” many parents have to exercise toward their unruly and rebellious adolescents. It feels like wrath, and I guess it is, but it is wrath is service of love, an intransigent unwillingness for one’s child to harm or destroy themselves. Theologically, God’s wrath is his “tough love” toward his rebellious children and unwillingness that they harm or destroy themselves. The Bible frequently expresses this divine tough love by God allowing us to experience the results of our bad choices and behaviors. In Romans 1 Paul uses the phrase “God gave them up” several times to express God letting humanity experience the process and results of their idolatrous rebellion against him.
Grimsrud takes us a bit further in our consideration of wrath’s role in serving God’s love. Let’s hear him at length on this.[3]
Text Box: This “earthquake,” then, could be seen as the destructive political consequences of “the kings of the earth” idolizing power and domination and exploitation—approaches to governing that inevitably lead to famine and pestilence and war. The role of the Lamb then becomes one of revealing the idolatry behind the kings (mis)rule for what it is.
The story in the gospels of Jesus’ faithful witness (which involved confronting misused power, both in individual leaders and in systems of domination) leading to the terrible violence against him by the religious and political structures (who were claiming to be God’s agents in the world) leading to vindication by God in resurrection (thus exposing the powers-that-be in their rebellion against God) actually involves a revelation of the “wrath of the Lamb.” It is “wrath” in the sense that through his consistent love, Jesus actually challenges the powers-that-be and makes more clear than ever before their illegitimacy as God’s agents.
The “face of the one seated on the throne and…the Lamb” is indeed wrathful toward the kings (6:16-17) because it is unrelenting in its rejection of the dominating ways of the kings. This rejection delegitimizes the kings and they simply cannot “stand” (6:17) in the presence of such wrath. The powers of darkness wither in the presence of genuine light.
The Lamb is utterly contrary to the “great ones” (Mark 10:42). They try to crush his way of freedom from idolatry. In doing so, they place themselves in the center of God’s wrath. The result is their destruction, as Revelation’s visions will continue to emphasize.


On to ch.7, the pause between the sixth and seventh seals and the opening of the seventh seal next.

[1] Darrell W. Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge: An Expository Journey through the Book of Revelation (Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2004, 174.
[2] Grimsrud, https://peacetheology.net/2015/07/03/revelation-notes-chapter-6/.
[3] Ibid.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Insight from The Chronicles of Narnia: Are The Chronicles Too Violent for Children?

This is another topical post rather than from one of the remaining Chronicles. Another recurring criticism of the stories is that they are too violent for children. There is plenty of fighting and war in them. If your standard is that any violence is too much, that children should not be exposed to such material, then, yes, Lewis’ stories are too violent for children. But is this reasonable or even possible in our world?

Taking possibility first, I doubt anyone would think that a child raised in the West today can be shielded from violence. It hardly seems possible even if one deems it desirable. This seems to me self-evident. For good or ill violence sells and whatever sells hits the media. And what’s in the media gets into our homes, heads, and hearts. No matter how vigilant we as parents may be.

Even if we could block our children from every hint of violence, is this a good thing? I don’t think so. Unrestricted abundance of violence is surely bad. And not just for children. We’re not talking about that. But our children are going to see some violence, warfare, and death in the course of growing up. What role might violence in The Chronicles play for its young readers?

A first matter is literary. Lewis affects a medieval chivalric style in most of the stories. The honorable knight serving the Lord and the land with his sword is how he portrays many of his male characters. Battle, then, is a part of the style of the stories.

G. K. Chesterton points in one direction.

“Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.”[1]

          Further, martial imagery in the stories prepares children and reminds adults that life is in one sense or another a struggle, a battle, a war. We must be called, equipped, trained, and deployed by that to which we are committed. This war has been won by Aslan. But there remain battles to be fought and resistance pacified as the reality of that victory spreads far and wide. It is this part of the struggle God calls us to participate in.

          The Bible also sees God’s people engaged in battle on God’s behalf. Not physical combat, of course. At least in the New Testament. The Old Testament is another matter for another time and place. St. Paul, in fact, says God has given us his very own armor for the battle to which we are called. He also says our warfare is not against other human beings but against malignant spiritual forces. But it is no less battle for that!

          Lewis’ stories reflect this biblical perspective that we are engaged in God’s side on battle against evil in the world. We must have that mentality if we are to faithfully serve him. This awareness communicated through fairy stories allow young readers to gain a measure of realism on the world they live in and the sense that greater powers have and are acting powerfully on their behalf.

          For these reasons, I submit, the martial and violent features of the stories are part and parcel of what young readers need to grapple with their world and gain a sense of their place in God’s purposes for them.  

 [1]Tremendous Trifles (1909), XVII: "The Red Angel"

Resisting Trump with Revelation (12)

Jesus’ sermon begins: Opening the seals (6:1-8:1)

The risen Christ’s sermon begins with him opening the seven seals that bound the scroll he received from the One on the throne. This very kinetic sermon full of words, actions, and song tell the story contained in the scroll.  As the scroll is unsealed, a series of seven trumpets unfold from the last seal, and from the last trumpet emerges another series of seven, this time plagues. These three series of sevens are the main points of Jesus’ sermon. After all, every good sermon has three points and a poem or sad story, doesn’t it?

The first two series of sevens, the seals and trumpets, have a pause between the sixth and seventh of their series. After the trumpet and plague series are a number of vignettes dealing with important matters of faithful resistance to the empire. In these pauses and vignettes we find our access into the story Jesus is preaching, the way we find ourselves immersed in God’s story.

The way these sequences of sevens are to be read is much disputed. The two main kinds of view are the chronological (Greek word chronos) where each scene is to be read one after the other in time, and what I call the kairotic (Greek word kairos), overlapping scenes telling the meaning of the same story from different perspectives thus not denoting chronological movement. I believe the latter approach is correct and will follow it though I will not attempt to justify it here.

Christ’s Sermon Outlined

Seals opened (6:1-8:5)

-Pause (ch.7)

Trumpets sound (8:6-11:19)

                -Pause (10:1-11:4)

Woman and dragon (ch.12)                                                                                                                                                   Two beasts (ch.13)                                                                                                                                The Lamb and 144,000 (14:1-5)                                                                                                        Three angels (14:6—13)                                                                                                                           Two harvests (14:14-20)

Plague bowls (chs.15-16)

                                Great prostitute (ch.17)                                                                                                                                                                    Fall of Babylon (ch.18)                                                                                                                                                                      Rejoicing in heaven (19:1-10)                                                                                                                                                         Rider on the White Horse (19:11-21)                                                                                                                                      Millennium (20:1-10)                                                                                                                                                                                 Final judgment (20:11-15)

New Creation (21:1-22:7)

The First Section of Christ’s Sermon: The Seven Seals (6:1-8:1)

This first section of Christ’s sermon addresses the question churches in the belly of the beast of Empire always have: what’s really going on here? Things seem out of control. Nothing seems to be going God’s way. How are we to make sense of all this?

It’s a natural question for us. And crucial. We’ve just sung God’s praises as the sovereign Creator of all. And the Lamb as ruler of all. But when we look out the window, it sure doesn’t look like it.

Things aren’t unfolding just as God wants them to. That would make God a monster we rightly resist and turn away from. No matter what theological justifications we come up with, this cannot be the case.

Nor is God completely uninvolved, with things just unfolding as they unfold. Sovereignty and rulership have to mean more than that.

That’s why we have to look again at chs.4 and 5 to be clear on how divine sovereignty and the Lamb’s rule are carried out. Ch.5, the revelation of the Lion as a Lamb, refocuses notion of sovereignty and power in terms of self-sacrificial servanthood that goes to the cross to accomplish its will. This reflects back on to the picture of God in ch.4 with whom the Lamb is acclaimed as worthy of praise and honor. The Lamb’s way is thus identified with God’s way. The cross is revealed at the heart of God’s sovereign and creative power as well as that of the Lamb.

That can’t mean God is directly in charge of history unfolding as a hot mess as one unjust and oppressive empire succeeds another crushing the poor, helpless, and hapless as they go. But neither can it mean God is uninvolved and that history unfolds according to some other power or rhyme or reason. John (and the rest of the New Testament) says it unfolds according to the counterintuitive, indeed, rationally unfathomable, of a divine love that suffers to save and expresses the sovereign power of the triune God.

This divine alchemy, beyond what we can fathom as I said, calls for discernment when look at the often chaotic and scary world we live in. Things are not as they seem, if what John has seen is right. All our calculations are turned on their head and power relations reversed. And that’s what the seals the Lamb opens tell John’s first readers and his readers today. We have to be told this truth because we cannot figure it out on our own.

The first four seals the Lamb cracks open unloose the famous four horsemen of the Apocalypse. As each one emerges one of the living creatures cries out, “Come!” Is this a summons for the horsemen? Or for John to “come and see”? Neither, I think. Rather, I believe that as each horsemen emerge the living creature matches their appearance with a cry for Jesus the Lamb to come as well. As history unfolds it horrors are answered by the creatures around God’s throne calling for the Lamb to come as well. This is the way John’s vision answers the question it addresses. The ills and harms of history are real and too often mortal. But the Lamb is present in their midst continuing his healing restorative work. And his people are there with him. And our hope, the answer to how we are to respond and understand what is going on around us, is in his presence and our joining with him in his work amid the chaos and traumas that befall our world.

The first horseman to emerge is a rider on a white horse wearing a crown, holding a bow intent on conquering (6:2). Rome feared invasion from the Parthians to the east. They were known for their use of the bow. Empires conquer and fear being conquered. The white horse symbolizes that intent and fear.

A rider on a red horse emerges next. The color of blood (6:4). Slaughter and chaos are unleashed. Twin terrors our world knows all too well.

A black horse with its rider comes next. Economic privation (a day’s wage for bare necessities) but plenty of luxuries for those with means to purchase (6:6). Poverty and wealth inequality – again something we are too familiar with from our world.  

The last of the horsemen, riding a pale green horse, brings Death and Hades in his wake. Enough said. But the reach of Death and Hades is limited to ¼ of the earth. This is not a literal number of course but an indication that the reach of these ultimate terrors are limited (presumably) by God.

With each horseman the call for the Lamb to come means that these disasters are not beyond the purview of God’s attention and that the Lamb’s healing and restorative work is present in crises the horsemen bring. That is the sense we are to make of what is going on around us.

We’ll pick up the last three seals and the interlude between the sixth and seventh seal in the next post.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Mission and the Priesthood of the Christ

March 25, 2013

One does not have to hang around the church very long to hear some weird stuff.1 For example, when I converted to Protestantism, one of the dominant narratives as I picked it up—usually via some kind of epistemological osmosis but sometimes quite explicitly—was that the incarnation was God’s attempt to get the reconciliation ball rolling, that Jesus had laid the foundations for reconciliation and then he went back to heaven to sit down next to God in the great lounge room in the sky to watch over how events would pan out. But just before his exodus, Jesus formed a little community who would work as subcontractors to the big boss upstairs. And foreman Jesus trusted this community to carry on his work while he was away, promising to turn up again when the job was nearly done just to check that it had all been done according to his instructions. What this means, as one often hears, is that if God’s costly work in Jesus is to make any real difference in the world then we need to get off our bums and make sure that we get everyone we know into a home group or along to a church service or, at the very least, reading a book or watching a DVD that communicates, among other themes, just how warm one’s future existence is going to be unless one prays some magic words.

In other words, according to this narrative, although God had once been personally invested in this little project called “creation,” God had now essentially taken a back seat to the whole program. God is now a bit like a corporation’s founding director who still serves on the board in a sort of honorary position but who has really relinquished the right to call the shots—the shareholders now do that. More seriously, in this plot, the church’s central claims about God—namely that God is triune and that God has, in Jesus Christ, embraced a fully human existence—make little if any practical difference in how we think and go about being a faithful community. This is a profound problem.

About twenty-five years ago, I came across a remarkable essay on the place of Jesus Christ in worship.2
Read more at http://theotherjournal.com/2013/03/25/mission-and-the-priesthood-of-the-christ/

Insights from The Chronicles of Narnia: Was C. S. Lewis a Male Chauvinist?

          We take a break from moving through the series to consider a regular criticism made of Lewis’ Narnian stories. He portrays the characters in stereotypical gender roles that reflect the patriarchal roots of Western culture. And they can cite a number of details from the stories in support of this charge.

          But Monika Hilder's has recently offered an acute, perceptive, and, in my judgment, compelling, interpretation that counters this charge. Her book The Feminine Ethos in C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia she challenges the terms and assumptions of this criticism itself. Matthew and Joy Steem explain in their article in Christianity Today (http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2013/june/finding-feminine-theology-in-c-s-lewiss-narnia.html) from which the rest of this post comes. They write:

“. . .by pointing to the disturbing assumptions underlying the traditional model of gender criticism, Hilder makes a convincing case that Lewis was not a sexist, and instead was consciously presenting a ‘radical theological feminism’ that actually liberates us from our sexism.

“In her call to seriously consider what our culture considers characteristic of ‘successful’ women, she challenges readers to reflect on how our ideas of female equality get shaped by the very same power-exertion paradigm we try to eschew in the first place.

“In an age that worships the cult of personality and aggrandizes the ‘virtues’ of the energetic, the magnetic, the stunning, and the forceful – because these traits lead to more materialistic wealth and power – what room left is there for the fruit of the Spirit? Qualities such as self-control, meekness, patience, and peace sound quite out of vogue; ‘Let's see how far the meek, patient, and peace-loving female can succeed,’ I can hear the cynic ask. Hilder, though, suggests that our struggle for independence, power, and autonomy echo Satan's thirst for domination more than Christ's model of humble servanthood.

“If we are uncomfortable with some of the female characterizations throughout Lewis's series, perhaps we should reconsider where this discomfort stems from. While we as women are right to strive for gender equality, we are wrong to measure it according to mere chauvinistic ideas of accomplishment. As Hilder states, ‘to the extent we have not examined our own chauvinism, we demean the 'feminine' qualities and extol the 'masculine'—not noticing that Lewis does the opposite.’ And indeed, it is in doing exactly that opposite that Hilder suggests Lewis's radical theological feminism can be found.

“So what brand of feminism does Hilder see in Lewis's presentation of certain stereotypically feminine traits? And how is this applicable to my pursuit of a physically, emotionally, and spiritually integrated life?

“To be honest, at first I was a wary participant of Hilder's controversial tour of Narnia. As a Christian, I know that I have been called to community, love, and reliance on God; as a secularly educated graduate, however, female characters who embody these non-assertive characteristics frankly insult my conventional ideas of politically correct gender discourse. What I can I learn about authentic living from this late-married bachelor?

“Lewis's idea of true spiritual strength— for both men and women— rests in openness to our Father, community, submission, compassion, truth, grace, and humility. So, when Lewis has Lucy run towards Eustace-the-dragon and bestow upon him grace only expressible in a child's unrestrained kisses, or Lucy and Susan weep with Aslan while he is on the stone table, or, even Mrs. Beaver demonstrate foresight and responsibility for those in her care (or one could even dare say, community mindedness) in bringing along her domestically stigmatized sewing machine, Lewis wasn't belittling these characters. I can learn that true spiritual strength, or spiritual heroism as Hilder terms it, ‘establishes the kingdom of heaven through humility, not independence.

“Lewis had the same model for men and women: spiritual heroism ever rooted in love and mercy. Indeed Peter's or Edmund's independent thinking, physical ability in battle, or autonomous action don't earn them praise. Instead, their actions are held to the same standards as the girls. Indeed, as Hilder suggests, it may often be because of our own sexist assumptions that we accuse Lewis of sexism.

“If the Christ life serves as our model, we can't be surprised by Susan's dismissal from Narnia. Not at all because we reject all interests in heels, hair, and cosmetics, but because we know what is of lasting importance: relationship with and delight in the divine. According to Hilder's interpretation, Lewis reproves Susan not because she is growing into womanhood, but because she falls into the trap of idealizing youth and beauty at the cost of investing in fellowship and love.

“In contrast to Lucy's enlarging commitment to faith in the wondrous nature of Aslan, joy in simplicity, and childlike obedience, Susan's world is made smaller by her shrinking realm of superficial pursuits. And isn't it exactly Lucy's childlike eagerness to abandon self-interests and respond to Aslan's numinous call of love that makes her so appealing?

“If Hilder is right, as long as we measure achievement according to attributes of conquest, autonomy, and self-assertion, we have all truly fallen prey to a merely chauvinistic narrative. It is only when we grow large enough to see the beauty of dependence, the value of compassion, and the splendor of love that we, like Lucy, will learn that every year we grow, we will find God has too.”

Thursday, February 23, 2017

How The Shack movie unveils toxic representations of God

The following is a guest post from Orthodox theologian and author Brad Jersak (PhD)

Heresy Hunters Are At it Again
Paul Young’s bestseller finally hits the big screen on March 3. That’s news—great news—as I’ll explain shortly.
What’s not news is how the so-called ‘discernment ministries’ (a euphemism for heresy-hunters) have begun yelping. They’re recycling ‘ye olde’ objections but, typically, barking up the wrong tree.
The charge of ‘heresy’ is serious, so it ought to be taken seriously, especially by those wielding it. But as an Orthodox theologian, I confess that its sloppy use as a pejorative, grates on my doctrinal nerves.
For example, the outcry against Young’s creative portrayal of God’s ‘Threeness’ or his imaging the invisible God as a black woman betrays a crass literalism that the author obviously never intended.
Rublev’s Trinity and Modern Misogyny
Russian painter Andrei Rublev’s famous icon of the Trinity (15th c.) would seem to break the same rules as The Shack, . . .

Read more at http://joshvalley.com/2017/02/23/how-the-shack-movie-unveils-toxic-representations-of-god/

Insight from The Chronicles of Narnia:  The Trinity in The Horse and His Boy

The Horse and His Boy (HHB) is occupied with the importance of discovering one’s true identity and living out of that identity. Shasta and Aravis, along with their horses Hwin and Bree, learn through their adventures fleeing Calormene across the desert to the north that they are not who they believed themselves to be and that their true longings were fulfilled only in learning and living into their true identities

          Lewis wrote this series of stories out of the Christian convictions that grounded and shaped his own life. The emphasis on identity in HHB is consistent with those convictions. However, there is one other identity that comes into clearer focus in this story. And that is the identity of God. Throughout the series we have heard of the Emperor-beyond-the-sea (analogous to God the Father in Christianity), seen Aslan in action (analogous to God the Son), and, if we’ve read carefully, noticed how Aslan’s “breath” brings life to whatever it is breathed on. Aslan is the Emperor’s Son, Creator and Lord of Narnia, but Aslan’s breath is never related to the Emperor the way we find the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are occasionally in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 13:13).                                                                                                                                           

Lewis writes in Mere Christianity of the fundamental importance of God’s triunty: “The whole dance or drama or pattern of this three-Personal life is being played out in each one of us: or putting it the other way round, each of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we are made.”

Narnia and Aslan and all that happens there is analogous in certain ways to the Christian story. As we have just seen, Lewis believed the triune character of the Christian God is integral to that story. It would be surprising, then, if some trace of that view of God did not find its way into The Chronicles in spite of the obvious difficulties involved. Such a trace is found, in my view, in the following interaction between Shasta and a Presence Shasta suddenly realizes is at his side as he wanders alone on a mountain trail.

“Who are you?” asked Shasta. “Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so              that the earth shook: and again “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then            the third time “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet             it seemed to come from all round you as if the leaves rustled with it.”

It is hard to think this is not an allusion to the Christian understanding of God as triune. The deep, low, earth-shaking “Myself” is the voice of the Father. The “loud, clear, and gay” voice that of the Son, and whispered “Myself” that of the Spirit. The “Myself” alludes to Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am.”

Lewis stands dead-center in the heart of the historic Christian faith with his views on the trinity. Participating in the dance of love of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit is human fulfillment, God’s intention for us. Graciously invited and welcomed to share in this relationship we experience and practice the love that brought us and our world into being. Baxter Kruger tells this lovely story to illustrate what this participation in God’s life is like:

“Many years ago when my son was six (he’s 18 now), I was sitting on the          couch in the den sorting through junk mail on a Saturday afternoon. He and          his buddy came in and they were decked out in their camouflage, face paint,     plastic guns and knives, the whole nine yards. My son peers around the corn-           er of the door and looks at me, and the next thing I know, he comes flying      through the air and jumps on me. We start wrestling and horsing around and        we end up on the floor. Then his buddy flies into us and all three of us are just       like a wad of laughter.

“Right in the middle of that event the Lord spoke to me and said to pay atten-      tion. I’m thinking, it’s Saturday afternoon, your son comes in and you’re hors-        ing around on the floor, it happens every day all over the world, so what’s the         big deal? Then it started to dawn on me that I didn’t know who this other kid       was. I had never met him. He had never met me. So I re-wound the story and               thought about what would have happened if this little boy would have walked        into my den alone. Remember, he didn’t know me and I didn’t know him, and         he didn’t know my name and I didn’t know his name. So he looks over and sees            me, a complete stranger, sitting on the couch. Would he fly through the air and engage me in play? Would we end up in a pile of laughter on the floor? Of course not. That is the last thing that would have happened.

“Within himself, that little boy had no freedom to have a relationship with me.                  We were strangers. He had no right to that kind of familiarity and fellowship. But    my son knows me. My son knows that I love him and that I accept him and that    he’s the apple of my eye. So in the knowledge of my love and affection, he did       the most natural thing in the world. He dove into my lap. The miracle that hap-  pened was that my son’s knowledge of my acceptance and delight, and my son’s freedom for fellowship with me, rubbed off onto that other little boy. He got to experience it. That other little boy got to taste and feel and know my son’s relationship with me. He participated in my son’s life and communion with me.”[1]

          Unless God is triune, the mystery of the one-in-three and three-in-one deity, he has no shared life to invite us to share in. Love requires an other and shared love requires a third outside itself for genuine community. The Father loves the Son, the Son returns the love of the Father, and both love the Spirit who is the eternal bond of their shared love. However abstract and inadequate such language may seem, and it is, it points beyond itself to the reality Lewis gestures toward with his three-fold “Myself” in HHB. And to the experience Baxter Kruger shares which is a real but dim expression of the difference God’s tri-unity makes. It seems appropriate, then, to close with the Pauline expression of this truth I referenced above, 2 Corinthians 13:13: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of[a] the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

[1] https://www.gci.org/God/perichoresis

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason.

In 1975, researchers at Stanford invited a group of undergraduates to take part in a study about suicide. They were presented with pairs of suicide notes. In each pair, one note had been composed by a random individual, the other by a person who had subsequently taken his own life. The students were then asked to distinguish between the genuine notes and the fake ones.

Some students discovered that they had a genius for the task. Out of twenty-five pairs of notes, they correctly identified the real one twenty-four times. Others discovered that they were hopeless. They identified the real note in only ten instances.

As is often the case with psychological studies, the whole setup was a put-on. Though half the notes were indeed genuine—they’d been obtained from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office—the scores were fictitious. The students who’d been told they were almost always right were, on average, no more discerning than those who had been told they were mostly wrong.

Read more at http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds?mbid=social_facebook

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Resisting Trump with Revelation (11)

Five Hymns (1)

The Gathering portion of our Resistical Worship service comes to a close with some hymns – five of them in fact. We’ve looked at the Call to Worship and John’s introduction of himself as Jesus’ interpreter and Jesus as the guest preacher for the morning. Jesus then offered his own messages to each of the seven churches in his congregation. Now it’s time to sing!

With these hymns John (and we with him) find ourselves caught up into the very throne room of God to join in the celestial worship going on there. So far we have learned that John’s vision (revelation) unveils the truth of the Sovereign lordship of God and of Jesus Christ his Son over all earthly authorities and powers no matter their pretentions.

We sing in worship today, though many us not very enthusiastically. I recently heard congregational singing described like this. Mennonites and Baptists, the speaker explained had good congregational singing. Methodists and Presbyterians mumbled their songs so low you couldn’t understand them. And Episcopalians paid people to sing their hymns! I think it was St. Augustine who claimed that to sing was to pray twice. Singing, despite its present low estate in many churches, is crucial to our experience and expression of our faith and our resistance to Trump. Our hypothetical worship service is well served here by four hymns in the place in worship we usually sing.

John reminds us again that he is “in the Spirit” (v.2; see 1:9). Even if he is referring to a special visionary experience it remains the case that it is the Spirit in and through whom we worship.

The striking scene John sees would daunt the greatest of special effects producers to effect. Some elements reflect Israel’s temple (“seven flaming torches [the Menorah]; “a sea glass, like crystal”; vv.5-6). Another takes us back to the flood story with the “rainbow” around the throne (v.3) suggesting the disposition of God is redemptive and healing, not angry and punitive.

Twenty-four thrones on which sit the twenty-four elders surround the throne (probably suggesting the totality of God’s people, the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles.  On each side of the throne are four living creatures – one lion-like, one ox-like, one human-like, and one eagle-like. With eyes all over they ceaselessly sing God’s praise (vv.7-8). “It is likely,” Paul Spilsbury writes, “the four living creatures . . . represent the whole created cosmos of heaven and earth. Their role is to spend their whole lives worshiping God.”[1] 

All of creation, all of God’s people, doing what they are created to do – praise God. What is to be done on earth is already being done in heaven (Matthew 6:10). And we get to participate in that worship “in the Spirit”!

The First Hymn (4:8): God’s Holiness

The four living creatures, all of creation, testifies to God’s holiness. Holiness if primarily about godness, the unique, and uniquely sovereign God. Not the Emperor. Not some King or Queen. No cosmic power or force. None of them have godness, or holiness. None of them have supreme authority. None of them deserve our unconditional or absolute obedience.  None of them are holy.

But the Bible’s God is – thrice holy! That’s the message of this first hymn. You might look at or listen to the great hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” to get a feel for the hymn’s claim here.

The Second Hymn (4:11): God’s Worthiness

The twenty-four elders join the living creatures in extolling God’s worthiness. God, the eternal one (“who lives forever and ever,” 4:10) is the Creator. As the source and goal of all things he has made, God is unique and in that uniqueness is intrinsically worthy of all praise and honor. The Creator of all is worthy of all praise!

The Third Hymn (5:9): The Worthiness of the Lamb

In ch.5 we enter what many consider the most important chapter in Revelation and, indeed, in the whole New Testament. The praise of the hymns here is elicited by the drama depicted. They witness to the central reality of the biblical story. The drama begins with God on his throne, a scroll resting in right hand (symbol of power in the Bible), sealed with “seven[2] seals” (v.1). A most desirable item to take a gander at.

Yet no one anywhere in creation is found worthy to open the scroll (v.4)! Only someone worthy as God is worthy can do it. But where is such a one? “Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals’” (v.5).

John turns eager to glimpse these regal being who is so worthy. But what he sees does not seem to match the description he hears. “Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (v.6). In this one verse, as Grimsrud puts it, John “creates a theological revolution that leads to a transformation in how theo-politics is to be understood – and actually reorients the way we understand the vision of the one on the throne in chapter four.”[3] In other words, this is “the” game-changer in the New Testament!

The Lion of Judah as a slaughtered Lamb. The One seated on the throne (ch.4) as a slaughtered Lamb. Yes, that’s what John sees and what his vision means. This changes everything! No longer do we seek to discover how godlike Jesus is. Rather, astonishingly, we are confronted with the reality of how Jesus-like God is. The New Testament, and John here in Revelation, tells us that we do not know who or what God is until we have looked in the face of Jesus Messiah and his work on our behalf. His life led to his death. The unthinkable – God in and as this man Jesus died (gasp!) for us (gasp again!). A Declaration of Faith captures something of the scandalous wonder Text Box: We believe that in the death of Jesus on the cross                                                                                         God achieved and demonstrated once for all                                             the costly forgiveness of our sins.                                                                     Jesus Christ is the Reconciler between God and the world.                  He acted on behalf of sinners as one of us,                                          fulfilling the obedience God demands of us,                                      accepting God's condemnation of our sinfulness.                                               In his lonely agony on the cross                                                                                    Jesus felt forsaken by God                                                                                                 and thus experienced hell itself for us.                                                             Yet the Son was never more in accord with the Father’s will.     He was acting on behalf of God,                                                             manifesting the Father's love that takes on itself                                         the loneliness, pain, and death                                                                                that result from our waywardness.                                                                   In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself,                                           not holding our sins against us.                                                                       Each of us beholds on the cross                                                                       the Savior who died in our place, so that we may no longer live for ourselves,                                                                                                                          but for him.                                                                                                                               In him is our only hope of salvation.and mystery at work here[4]:

This One, this slaughtered yet living Lamb takes the scroll and opens it up. He is worthy, because of his life of self-giving, sacrificial love to unfold the consummation of God’s plan for creation. He is worthy because, as God in action, he has demonstrated this love as the power that makes the world go around. The power that envisioned, created, sustains, and will bring to final fruition everything God wants.

Therefore the living creatures and the twenty-four elders, all creation, acclaim the worthiness of the Lamb.

“You are worthy to take the scroll
  and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
    saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
                                                  You made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
    and they will reign on earth.”

He is worthy precisely because of his redeeming death which reclaimed and restored God’s creation dream!

“Many angels” add their voices in acclamation of the worthiness of the Lamb in the fourth hymn (v.12).

And, finally, “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea” bring us full circle in acclaiming both the One on the throne and the Lamb (v.13):

“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might
forever and ever!”

Here the notions of power and sacrifice (throne and Lamb) are brought together in a full, final, and eternal way. The living creatures add an “Amen” and the twenty-four elders bow down in worship. As do we.


 These hymns add to and deepen our worship and acclamation of the world’s true and rightful Emperor. All the tokens of Rome’s imperial pretentions that saturate the world these churches live and work in are cut down to size here. The church is in the most desperate need of this kind of ballast to its theological convictions. Rome/empire constructs what is called a “plausibility structure” to catechize and reinforce its way of seeing the world. John’s vision in Revelation debunks this imperial worldview by borrowing many of its symbols and ideas and reworking them around what the God made known in Jesus Christ has revealed and done to make known and incarnate God’s true designs for human life and creation’s flourishing.

Singing is one of the best ways to construct a new plausibility structure calibrated to God’s gospel rather than Rome’s or Trump’s. Remember, if you are old enough, how vital the songs and music of Dylan, Seeger, Joni Mitchell, Negro spirituals, and the like were to the 60’s upheavals. Or how, more recently, how Pussy Riot galvanized and focused dissent in Russia. Revelation’s hymns function the same way, those in chs. 4 and 5 and those elsewhere in the vision, to consolidate and extend our resistance to the empire-building of Donald Trump!

[1] Spilsbury, The Throne, 58.
[2] Here’s that number “seven” again, completeness. The scroll contains the fulfilment of God’s plans and purposes. That it is written down and sealed suggests its certainty and finality.
[3] https://peacetheology.net/2014/03/30/revelation-notes-chapter-4/.
[4] A Declaration of Faith (PCUSA), ch.4, par.4 at https://www.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/theologyandworship/pdfs/decoffaith.pdf.