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“Rapture” Theology

clouds-jesusFrom time to time, Christian End Times speculation heats up again. The latest wave of interest began with John Hagee’s pronouncements about the Blood Moons. No doubt it will be fueled further by the re-making of the Left Behind movies — now starring Nicolas Cage.

I’m old enough to remember the Larry Norman song “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” (used extensively in evangelism) and the evangelistic film churches used to show “A Thief in the Night.” Then after all that, I also remember the brief furor that was caused by a booklet that gave 88 reasons why Jesus was returning in 1988. More recently, Harold Camping predicted the Jesus’ return on May 21, 2011. Over the years, many of the predictions of end-times prophecy teachers have failed — some quite spectacularly — but, this is quickly forgotten when a new round of predictions starts up again.

The doctrine of the Rapture has been a staple of American fear-evangelism for a long time. In this teaching, Jesus will return secretly to remove all true Christian believers from the world — then a time of horrible Tribulation will ensue. And, it is still commonly taught by certain well-known “prophetic” teachers.

Evangelical and conservative Christians pride themselves on their devotion to the Bible. Yet, there are certain common features of conservative Christian teaching about the return of Christ which have little or no backing from the Scriptures. Specifically, the teaching that Christ will come silently and secretly to take believers out of the world, seven years before he returns in glory, is a teaching the lacks Biblical support. (more…)

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Thomas Aquinas: Power and Goodness

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

God’s power is His goodness: hence He cannot use His power otherwise than well. But it is not so with men. Consequently it is not enough for man’s happiness, that he become like God in power, unless he become like Him in goodness also.

— Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica Part 2a, Question 2, Article 4, Reply to Objection 1

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Charles Wesley: Unite Knowledge With Vital Piety

Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

 

 

Unite the pair so long disjoined,
Knowledge and vital piety:
Learning and holiness combined,
And truth and love, let all men see
In those whom up to thee we give,
Thine, wholly thine, to die and live.

— Charles Wesley, A Prayer for Children.

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Old Testament Foundations

Hebrew_bible_4In a church that I pastored years ago, one of the church leaders expressed surprise when I gave sermons based on Old Testament texts. He had pretty much written off the Old Testament — at least, from what he knew of it — and I hadn’t. In fact, I enjoy preaching from an Old Testament story or text.

I’m pretty open that I do not expound on the Old Testament the way a Jewish rabbi would. Yes, I try to understand the Old Testament in its historical context. But, for me that is just a beginning point. I also want to understand it (for the purposes of Christian preaching) in light of what God has revealed to us in Christ. (more…)

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Holy Spirit, Self-Trancendence, Community

Reason_for_HopeThis conception of the Spirit’s relation to the human person and to human community rings true for me.

Pannenberg sees in the heightened exocentric capability of humans the basis for their uniqueness from other animal forms. In the being-with-others that characterizes their existence, they are able to transcend themselves — to look back on themselves again — and thereby to develop self-consciousness. This exocentrically based development of self-consciousness indicates [this] to him as well as the connection between humans and Spirit. Pannenberg credits the self-transcendence required for this process to the action of the Spirit, who lifts humans above themselves, so that when they are ecstatically with others they are themselves. For this reason self-transcendence cannot be accomplished by the subject itself. Rather, all knowing is possible only through the Spirit.

By extension, the same ecstatic working of the Spirit found in the individual is the basis for the building of community. In fact, community is always an experience brought by the Spirit, who lifts one above oneself.

 — Stanley J. Grenz, Reason for Hope: The Systematic Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg (1989).

I expect worship to be an experience that lifts me out of my pre-occupation with myself. (more…)

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Rob Bell: Resurrection

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Ben Witherington: Easter and the Resurrection

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A Prayer for the Day

prayer&candleLiving God,
long ago, faithful women
proclaimed the good news
of Jesus’ resurrection,
and the world was changed forever.
Teach us to keep faith with them,
that our witness may be as bold,
our love as deep,
and our faith as true. Amen.

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A Prayer for the Day

prayer&candleAlmighty God,
Your name is glorified
even in the anguish of your Son’s death.
Grant us the courage
to receive your anointed servant
who embodies a wisdom and love
that is foolishness to the world.
empower us in witness
so that all the world may recognize
in the scandal of the cross the mystery of reconciliation. Amen.

 

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Pannenberg: The Cross & Resurrection

Wolfhart Pannenberg

Wolfhart Pannenberg

The resurrection effectively reversed the charges against Jesus and confirmed his mission. We thus see that if he had saved his life at the cost of his proclaiming the divine lordship, he would have actually made himself independent of God and put himself in equality with him. ‘Whoever would save his life will lose it’ (Mark 8:35 par.). This was true of Jesus himself. He could not be the Son of God by an unlimited duration of his finite existence. No finite being can be one with God in infinite reality. Only as he let his creaturely existence be consumed in service to his mission could Jesus as a creature be one with God. As he did not cling to his life but chose to accept the ambivalence that his mission meant for his person, with all its consequences, he showed himself, from the standpoint of he Easter event, to be obedient to his mission (Rom. 5:19, Heb. 5:8). This obedience led him into the situation of extreme separation from God and His immortality, into the dereliction of the cross. The remoteness from God on the cross was the climax of his self-distinction from the Father. Rightly then, we may say that the crucifixion was integral to his earthly existence.

— Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, Volume 2. (1991) pp. 374, 375.

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Standing Before the Cross

venerationcrossMany years ago I served a church in the northern part of Michigan. At the time I was there, the nearest town had a well-attended Ministerial Association.

The Ministerial Association had one program which was very successful and that was the Annual Community Good Friday Service. Because the local Roman Catholic Church had the largest sanctuary of all the churches in town, it was always the location of the service. Years before I came to town, one of the Roman Catholic priests who had been there  had written a liturgy for this service.  It involved recruiting young people to carry in certain symbols associated with the crucifixion. There was a large wooden cross standing at the end of the center aisle, for all the people to see. The young people would carry the symbols of the crucifixion story up the center aisle, past the cross and place them in the chancel area. Then, there was a reading of the passion story, in which several of us pastors took part. There was a message (the newest pastor in town always got that). Then, there was something called The Veneration of the Cross. (more…)

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Charactorizing the Walk With God – Psalm 15:3-5

integrity_3So, the question Psalm 15 raises for us is this: Lord God, what is it like to be the kind of person who is fit to live in Your Presence from day to day? We are invited into a life in the presence of God. And, by the grace of God we are enabled to live lives pleasing to God. What are we told about this kind of life? It is a life of wholehearted devotion and a life of inner integrity.

I am reminded of a verse from the New Testament: “…if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7 NRSV). Walking with God means continually walking in the light of God. There is a kind of honesty and openness and transparency to it. Our hearts are open to God and to others — insofar as that is possible for us.

Now, notice the qualities of the person who walks with God in this wholehearted devotion. (more…)

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Charles Wesley: “O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done?”

eccehomo01This is one of my favorite of Charles Wesley’s hymns about the Cross — though I discover many congregations have never heard it and never sung it.

1. O Love divine, what has thou done!
The immortal God hath died for me!
The Father’s co-eternal Son
bore all my sins upon the tree.
Th’ immortal God for me hath died:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified!

2. Is crucified for me and you,
to bring us rebels back to God.
Believe, believe the record true,
ye all are bought with Jesus’ blood.
Pardon for all flows from his side:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified! (more…)

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McKnight: The Achievement of the Cross

a-community-called-atonement-living-theology-scot-mcknight-paperback-cover-artHere is a nice quote from Scot McKnight’s book A Community Called Atonement. This appears on page 69, at the end of Chapter 9 on the Crucifixion theme in the New Testament account of atonement. I changed the formatting so that the first part appears as a list.

 

I suggest that we see the achievement of the cross in three expressions:

  • Jesus dies “with us” — entering into our evil and our sin and our suffering to subvert it and create a new way;
  • Jesus dies “instead of us” — he enters into our sin, our wrath, our death; and
  • Jesus dies “for us” — his death forgives our sin, “declares us right,” absorbs the wrath of God against us, and creates a new life where there once was only death.

Not only is this death saving, this same death becomes the paradigm for an entirely new existence that is shaped, as Luther said of theology and life, by the cross. A life shaped by the cross is a life bent on dying daily to self in order to love God, self, others, and the world. And a life shaped by the cross sees in the cross God becoming the victim, identifying with the victim, suffering injustice, and shaping a cruciform pattern of life for all who follow Jesus. The cross reshapes all of life.

 

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Gethsemane



Jesus-in-Gethsemane

“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two eons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me. Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’” — Matthew 26:36-39 (NIV)

There is something mysterious about Jesus’ struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane. There was a depth of suffering there that is impossible to imagine. In the gospel of Luke we are told that while he prayed “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44 N1V). It is hard to conceive how one we know of as the Son of God could be in such emotional torment. He says to his closest followers: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” There is something incomprehensible about the sorrow of the Savior. Like the disciples, we observe the scene of Gethsemane, as it were, at a distance. There is something here into which we cannot enter. It is beyond us. (more…)

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