Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Devoted to the truth or ours?

Following on from my last post on John's prologue, I read this from the Emergent Village Minemergent daily communique. What do people think of this?

The Danger of Devotion to Truth 

Any truth elevated to a status above its purpose is, by definition, self-destructive and divisive. Truths will always serve us, but they can only take us so far and they are never arbitrary. Those truths we accept are those we accept precisely because they are most efficient at expressing the love that brings the Divine into presence with us. Otherwise, we are left with simple ideas which lack any power to move us. Our beliefs are permitted to change. It is the purpose and standard of our beliefs that must remain constant and to which we owe allegiance. It is not devotion to evil, but devotion to truth that has been present at every slipping of the Church. 

Irv Kaage

No glass half full, no empty quiver

14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” 16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

You may have encountered opening a chip (crisps, whatever) packet and found it was half full, and felt somewhat ripped off. Or maybe if you are a beer drinker, you've taken a sip only to find there is more froth than beer. Now who would want to go to a self-serviced petrol (gas for my US friends) station and asked 'filler up', only to stop half way down the road with an empty tank?

John writes that Jesus was full of grace and truth. Some may have some of the truth, some may reflect some of the divine grace, but only Jesus is full of it (so to speak). Paul in Colossians also says that in Christ, the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. We might say that Jesus is not half-assed about grace and truth, he goes the whole hog with it. In dying on a cross he embodies (and in a sense is disembodied by the Romans) the grace of God in dealing with human sin and evil - grace upon grace indeed. And because the Law through Moses divided Jew from non-Jew, this grace is freely available to all people.

Likewise, Jesus is embodied truth, the glory or image of God in all its fullness. In Exodus we often read of God's glory, and in 33:18 Moses asks to see it, but God responds that no one can see his face. Jesus, the only Son has seen God's face and makes God known. You can't know someone unless they choose to show you, else get to know someone who knows them better than anyone else. Ever had a friend tell you about someone important in their life so much that one you finally meet this person, you feel like you know them? Only Jesus can do this for us with regards to God.

Another aspect of glory is written about in Romans 3 - sin means falling short of God's glory, being less than what we were made for, less than human! In Christ, that image can be restored. We can shoot for glory, and even though our arrows may fall short, yet our aim is made more true by the one who shows us what the target is.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Receive, believe, born

1:10  He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 1:11  He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 1:12  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 1:13  who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (NASB)

I have one child, a son recently turned 10. He is a child who was and is always very loved and wanted. His coming into the world was very deliberate. Indeed, I am almost certain I know the night he was conceived, but I certainly won't be going into those details here ;).

For many having a child is a definite choice, especially those where some degree of medical intervention whether it be IVF or fertility drugs are involved. Of course all conceptions are subject to the vagaries of the human body, and nine months is a long time in which many things can happen. Yet many choose to have a child and end up with one.

Today's passage (sorry for the hiatus of just over a week) is about birth of sorts. There are times when in song, poetry or popular thought, we like to talk about the 'brotherhood of man', or that all people are God's children - however the later is thought about. It is true in a sense - I think Paul's speech in the Aeropagus in Acts 17 captures this. However, it also seems true biblically that being in God's family, is like human birth, and act of the will. One doesn't choose to be born, it's an accident of birth for us. Instead, the parents choose to have a child. Becoming God's children is an act of the divine will (verse 13).

And yet we see too the need to receive Jesus and believe in his name. Jesus is the Greek for of the Hebrew Joshua (Jeshua) which means 'God saves'. Indeed in Jesus God comes to save - so to believe in his name means to believe that God saves, that we need saving, and that in Jesus God himself is saving us. We are called to receive and believe. At this point we needed go into Calvinism or Arminianism - all that needs to be asserted is that we make a decision and we are born into God's family.

Note too that the world that Jesus made and his particular people (Israel) did not receive him. This is no cause for the sad antiSemitism that has marked a good part of church history. It simply highlights the fact that human hearts are inclined against God, sometimes even in the very act of seeking him. There are always those who do not believe and always those that do.

That there be a people who believe is God's will - in a sense this takes the pressure off us in sharing our faith and in feeling like we have to earn our own way. That receiving and believing is required means we have a responsibility to pray, read, understand, struggle and share. Without resolving the tensions we can both relax and work hard.

On a final note, if we are God's children by his will - sibling rivalry is ugly and more often than not avoidable. Charity between followers of Jesus is required - later Jesus will say that to love one another is a command - therefore and act of the will and not just a compulsion of the emotions. We are to show love to all, how much more those that God has born by his will?

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Make a little birdhouse in your soul

1:4  In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. 6  There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7  He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. 8  He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. 9  There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.

One of my favourite places to stay in Far North Queensland is Chamber's Wildlife Lodge. It's near Lake Eacham, an old volcano now full of water, and is a clearing in the rainforest on the Atherton Tablelands. They advise that if you are not used to the dark of the country, then you should leave the bathroom night on at night, like a night light (hence the title of this post as a reference to a They Might be Giants song). It is the theme of light in darkness that John is concerned with here.

Both light and life seem again to be references to Genesis 1, where God creates light and brings life to the earth. As mentioned in previous posts, this all points towards a new creation through Jesus, his life, death and resurrection.

Light is a theme in many religious traditions. Yet Christianity shows its colours here in claiming that Jesus is the true light. One might wonder if this is a sustainable claim in our modern, multifaith world (or indeed no faith world). Yet the first century was also a world of many faiths, so the claim is no less or more (despite what some atheistic scientists might claim) incredulous now then it was then. Does the claim then that Jesus as the true light mean that all other lights are false? Perhaps, or at least than many are incomplete. The unknown author of Hebrews recognizes that Jesus completes all that came before it in the Jewish faith, and Paul in Athens can recognize that 'pagan' poets capture some truth and that Athenian idolatry (although offensive to Paul's monotheism) was a reaching after the truth.

So what do we do about this claim to exclusivity, to Jesus being true light? It isn't something we can avoid. It isn't something to be ashamed about. But it is something to be humble about. Let me make a couple of quick points.

  1. The true light came into the world. He was not brought down, worked out, though out, discovered, sought, recognized then nor now without divine help. What we know we did not come to know on our own, from our own efforts or by our own cleverness.
  2. Every one who responds to him is enlightened by him. Note man here is the general world anthropos, meaning human being. If we are enlightened by him, again it is like light shining in the darkness, not darkness shining in the lightness. After all, no light, no eyes. Light does not need darkness, darkness needs light!
  3. Jesus is public knowledge. He shined and shines in the public squares of Jerusalem, Rome and Melbourne. This knowledge or enlightenment is not some secret cult but public knowledge. Enlightenment is for the many and not for the few. We are not the elite but the common, not the experts but the blessed.
  4. Like John, we ourselves are not so much the light and light bearers. We carry the torch of the gospel of Jesus - the message and its effects in our lives. We preach Jesus and what he has done for and in us, not ourselves. Christians should be the humblest of all, and not self righteous.
So, to borrow from the song, make a little birdhouse in your soul, the nightlight of Jesus in you.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

All things

1:3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. (NASB)

This verse deserves a second look to tease out something very important. John writes that all things came into being through the Word (Jesus), and uses a negative to emphasize this - there isn't anything that is that didn't come into being through him. Paul makes a similar point in Colossians 1:16. We might be used to thinking about this with regards God the Father - but here we see the redeemer as the creator of all things as well.

Genesis 1 (which these verses echo) makes the point of how good things are in God's sight - with humans in their place it is very good. It seems, according to OT theologian John Walton in The Lost World of Genesis 1 that this is a functional rather than simply moral statement (although I suspect the two are closely related), that is everything was working as it should until human sin disrupted relations with God, between ourselves and with the rest of creation.

So this fact that Jesus made all things should hint that he might redeem all things (Paul makes this point in Romans 8) but also that nothing is in itself not worthy of our attention or preservation. For example, many of the Early Church Fathers had a negative attitude towards sex, yet sex in itself is good. The context of its use is what makes it bad. Paul can state that sex is for marriage and marriage for sex (1 Corinthians 6) while reminding the Corinthians of the wrongs of adultery and other sexual misdemeanors. This is while Jesus can elevate singleness to a blessed state in a culture where marriage was the norm.

Jesus himself was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton, showing he liked to enjoy a meal with all comers, including a drink (in proper moderation). In setting aside the food laws he can say all foods are clean in Mark 7.

I guess the point I want to remind readers is that because Jesus made all things, then nothing in theory is beyond our concern, consideration or enjoyment. Paul puts it well in two places:

In Colossians (2:21-23) in dealing with asceticism in the church he writes "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)--in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. (NASB)

And in Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Let's be Christian hedonists, not pursuing pleasure for its own sake, but enjoying all that Christ has made and is of value with thankfulness.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New Beginnings

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 
1:2 He was in the beginning with God. 
1:3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. (NASB)

There are some Christians I know who don't make much of Christmas or Easter. So the logic goes, we can celebrate the resurrection every day. Of course one can and should adopt this attitude, but it seems to me humans like marking events, indeed seem bound to do so. We celebrate birthdays (unless we fear death I think), anniversaries, make New Year resolutions, and so on. We like to celebrate beginnings, remember them and make new starts.

New Year resolutions are often poo-pooed as facile and not enduring, but it is a fair time to reflect, even if the choice of day seems somewhat arbitrary on the construction of a calender. And so it seems timely to reflect on new beginnings here.

The opening verses of John's Gospel act as an introduction to the whole book (unsurprisingly you might say), but does so in a very tight way; starting many of the major themes of the book. The language is a deliberate echo of Genesis 1. Jesus is the Word who becomes flesh (covered in later verses) and was with God and was God. In one sentence we have a theology that divides orthodox Christianity from other believes, that Jesus was God (and indeed is God). The Greek lacks an article before God, but translations of a God miss the point (anarthrous predicates for the technically minded). Jesus is God but not to be identified with YHWH without remainder - ah the mysteries of the Trinity.

But the point of my reflection is that Jesus is identified as creator because the gospel represents a new creation, a new start. Not an abandonment of the old, but its renewal. This begins (as we will see later) with the hoped for rebirth of Israel (the original meaning of being born again).

Now often this new creation is limited to the heart, or even the church. But really it is as all encompassing as the first creation was. Christianity is never a private affair, never simply a matter of private faith, but of public profession. This isn't the imposition of views, morals or conduct but the proclamation and living out of a new reality and the ongoing invitation to believe and receive (another topic for later). What this new creation implies we'll look at later. For now it's enough to ponder this first day of a new year that we live now in a new creation, a creation being renewed. This new creation is evidenced every time someone comes to faith, in every act of faith, love and justice, every time light is shone into darkness in the name of the light.

So, let your new year's resolution be to look for signs of the new creation, live out acts of new creation, because the creator has come to his creation.


Although I already have a couple of other blogs, I wanted to do something a little different here. Ethos Environment is about environmental care and environmental theology (or more properly creation). Natural Philosopher is my all purpose blog that looks at theology, science, education, etc.

This blog, Biblia Cogitandi means Bible Thinking, and will be more of a devotional blog, digging deep at theology and thinking about its implications. Since we've just finished John's Gospel at church, I thought I work through it. It's been my favourite bible book for a long time. First proper post to follow soon.