September 20, 2016

Correlating theology and science

In this series we're looking at what Thomas F. Torrance (TFT) has to say in The Christian Frame of Mind concerning the integration of science and theology in light of the Incarnation of the Word of God. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1, 2, 3.

             Note: this post was revised on 9/24/2016.

Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Last time we explored TFT's theologically and scientifically reasoned understanding that the order we observe in the universe is contingent order, meaning that its "ground of being" is outside (beyond) itself. In this post we'll see how that concept has (in both theology and science) been displacing the idea of a universe possessing non-contingent order---a dominant viewpoint in much of theology and science in the modern era.

The ascending viewpoint of contingent order

The concept of the universe possessing contingent order and thus being open and dynamic has been emerging in the natural sciences and in theology since at least the time of Einstein. In science the evidence bolstering this viewpoint came largely through breakthroughs in quantum physics. As the concept of contingent order ascended, it displaced the concept of non-contingent order and related concepts that gave shape to theology and science in the modern era. which began with the Enlightenment in the Middle Ages and lasted well into the 20th century (with vestiges still remaining in the post-modern era of today).

The descending viewpoint of non-contingent order

Ironically, in the modern era, theology and science (formerly united, with theology seen as "the queen of sciences"), pulled apart, even though in modernity they shared a commitment to the ideas (and ideals) of a non-contingent, closed, static and mechanistic universe. The impacts of that commitment were significant in both fields: Theology in modernity conceived of God as "outside" a closed and thus self-contained universe. From this perspective God is seen as aloof---a deistic deity who got the universe up and running then stepped aside. Science (in part following theology as modernity emerged) conceived of the universe as a closed, mechanistic and static one. With no need for a ground-of-being outside the closed system of the universe, science stopped looking, and generally repudiated those who did.

The outmoded mythologies are fading away

In our still-emerging and morphing post-modern era, developments/discoveries in science, along with those in theology, have led to the emergence (one might say the "re-emergence") of the concept that the universe, which is dynamic and open, possesses contingent order. That concept is gradually overthrowing the concepts (what TFT refers to as the "mythologies") of modernity that see the universe as static, closed and mechanistic, delimited by non-contingent order (what TFT refers to as "inertial order "). TFT explains:
The theological and metaphysical concept of inertia... was taken up and built into the fabric of western classical science by Galileo, Descartes and Newton, when inertia, used as a kind of mathematical 'x' from which to make calculations about bodies in motion became mythologized into a kind of force. There is no doubt that inertia played a very important role in the remarkable elaboration of a coherent and consistent 'system of the word' within the static parameters of Euclidean geometry, which was very successful within its own limits. The end-result, however, was the damaging idea of the closed mechanistic universe, by which not only theology but all our western culture became seriously infected. The concept of inertia is still proving very difficult to dislodge, in spite of the work of Clerk Maxwell and Einstein, Bohr and Heisenberg, but this is due, in part at least, I believe, to the fact that the cultural framework of thought, within which scientific inquire and theory operate and are expressed, has been profoundly shaped by it. In this way inertia has itself acquired a hidden inertial force, in virtue of which it continues to obstruct the kind of open-textured scientific thinking required at the frontiers of knowledge. In face of this, Christian theology can only cry mea culpa [meaning, "my fault"], mea maxima culpa, for it was largely through its influence that modern classical science took this unfortunate path. (p. 25, emphasis added).
As TFT goes on to note, new developments in the natural sciences (quantum physics in particular) are requiring that we ask some new (and for some, quite troubling) questions:
Is there a range of reality that does not lie within the realm of what we call nature? Why is it that the rate of the expansion of the universe and the tight-knitted nuclear structure of matter seem to indicate that the physical laws which we have to formulate under the pressure of nature's inherent modes of order are so staggeringly improbable? Must we not now think of the order characterizing nature at all levels as radically contingent and as pointing to a rationality that extends indefinitely beyond it? Does the order of the created universe not depend after all upon a divine Creator and his will and order for the universe and its open-ended development? (p. 26)

Correlating theology and science

John Polkinghorne
TFT quotes physicist and Anglican theologian John Polkinghorne, who notes how the recognition of an open, contingent and intelligible universe provides new opportunity for the correlation of theology and science:
Behind the intelligibility of the universe, its openness to the investigation of science, there lies the fact of the Word of God. The Word is God's agent in creation, impressing his rationality upon the world. That same Word is also the light of men, giving us thereby access to the rationality that is in the world" (p. 26)
As TFT goes on to note, the point of connection between theology and science is the interrelation between "the kind of order that is disclosed through the Incarnation of the Word... and that which nature discloses to our scientific inquiries" (p. 26). Rightly understood, both the book of revelation (the written word of God) and the book of nature (which discloses the creative action of the living Word of God) speak of an intelligible, contingent universe.

In conforming their thinking to the reality of a universe that is both intelligible and contingent, science and theology have a basis to speak to one another concerning "the compelling claims of [that] reality... the order of how things actually are... [the] order that impregnates nature and pervades the whole universe." As TFT notes, that order for theologians "is correlated with the Word of God incarnate in Jesus Christ" (p. 26).

May we all, (theologians and scientists included), hear him speak!

To read more from TFT on the concept of contingent order, see his book, Divine and Contingent Order.

September 12, 2016

Contingent order in theology and science

In this series we're looking at what Thomas F. Torrance (TFT) has to say in The Christian Frame of Mind concerning the integration of science and theology in light of the Incarnation of the Word of God. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1, 2, 4.

Quarks spinning in a particle accelerator
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
As noted last time, by thinking with and through the mind of Christ, we are enabled to grasp the reality that the order we perceive in the cosmos is contingent order---order with a "controlling ground" beyond itself---order that is dependent on something (someone?) outside itself. As noted by TFT, thinking in this disciplined way yields important insights in both science and theology:
Science and theology are each dedicated in their own way, not only to clarifying and understanding order, but to achieving order... through relating actual order to the ultimate controlling ground of order from which all order proceeds. (pp. 16-17)
Let's look further at TFT's insights as they concern theology, then science.


Christian theology teaches us that God, who is love, is the source (ground) of the order in the created universe that we observe through science, and are told about, by revelation, in Holy Scripture. God, for love and by love, brought all that is outside himself into existence out of nothing (ex nihilo). Thus we understand that all that exists in creation is reliant upon the Creator God, and so in theology we refer to created reality being "contingent reality." Moreover we see (through science) and are told (by revelation) that this order is "intelligible order"---an intelligibility that is fundamental both to science and to theology. TFT comments:
God freely and ungrudgingly brought the world into being, giving it a genuine reality of its own though utterly differentiated from himself. Moreover he continues freely and ungrudgingly to sustain it in being through relations to himself, thereby constituting himself in his Love as its true determining end. God is the only One who is what he does and does what he is, so that the very Love that God eternally is in himself and in his relation to the universe he has made bears in a commanding ontological way upon it. That is the ultimate ground for its created order as well as its created being. (p. 17)
Because the order of the cosmos is intelligible, we are able to discern within the created order the presence of dis-order. Doing so helps us understand that through the incarnate Word of God (who united the created order with its Creator in his own person), God works within his creation to restore its foundational contingent order. Thus we relate the emerging order we see in the universe to the redemptive work of God---a work that lies at the very heart of the gospel message. TFT comments:
In the Christian Faith we look for a new order in which the damaged order, or the disorder that inexplicably arises in the world, will be healed through a creative reordering of existence as it is reconciled to its ultimate ground in the creative Love of God. (p. 18) 
At the heart of truly Christian theology is the concept of a contingent, intelligible order within creation. That concept is grounded in the truth that the Word of God in his eternal existence with the Father and Spirit, in love and for love (for God is love), created the universe and then through the Incarnation joined himself with it in order to restore its fundamental order. All this is by grace, for love, and for no other reason. The foundation (ground) of all that is, and is emerging---all this ordering and re-ordering is the activity of the Triune God of love and grace.


No less than true theology, true science (science connected to reality) is dedicated to and reliant upon the fundamental order of an intelligible universe. It has taken science millennia to see this order at both its macro and micro scales. Whereas science once thought the universe was trending toward disorder, it found, in the midst of disorder, an underlying ground of order. This insight emerged as science begin to see that the expanding universe is trending to greater levels of order, not to dissipation.

Science not only relies on the universe being orderly in making its observations, it does so in its work to attain order through its various technologies. As TFT notes, "in our engagement in scientific activity we respond to an ontological imperative, which we share with the whole universe of created reality in its constant expansion toward maximum order" (p. 19).

Increasingly, science is discovering what TFT refers to as "the ontic truth of things," which is the intrinsic order of the universe. Because this order is intelligible (rational), it is discoverable, if we allow the universe to speak to us in its language, on its terms. When we do, we find this intelligible order to be contingent---an order grounded in something outside itself. In that regard, as science studies the topic of time as an essential factor in physical law, it comes "face-to-face" with this contingency, or we might say with the universe's "ontological basis" of order outside (beyond) itself---its "ultimate ground of order," as it were. On this journey of discovery, science is having to "rethink physical laws in terms of their contingent relations to a stable ground of intelligibility beyond themselves" (p. 21).

These are exciting, mind-expanding developments in the natural sciences---particularly in the case of sub-atomic particle research where science has found that quanta (the very smallest particles in the physical universe) behave in truly baffling ways. According to TFT, it may be that physics has "found its limits," but in doing so has "gained a profound insight into the contingent nature of rational order which it cannot adequately grasp from its own restricted perspective, and where it needs help from beyond its own frontiers" (p. 22). TFT continues:
The more deeply scientific inquiry penetrates down to the rock-bottom structures of nature, such as quarks, which are not self-explainable, it seems to be putting its finger upon the very edge between being and nothing, existence and creation, establishing contact with a state of affairs the intelligibility of which calls for a sufficient reason beyond itself. That is to say, quantum theory has the effect of forcing out into the open the contingent nature of physical reality in such a way as to make a genuine doctrine of creation pertinent in its own field. (pp. 22-23)
TFT also notes that the discoveries of quantum physics in particular point to a direct relationship between the Incarnation and the Logos of creation by indicating that we must look beyond the created order to a "ground of being" that is contingent.

Wow, that's a lot to take in! So let's stop here, reminded as we go of the words of David:
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4 NRSV)

September 5, 2016

Thinking with the mind renewed in Christ

In this series we're looking at what Thomas F. Torrance (TFT) has to say in The Christian Frame of Mind concerning the integration of science and theology in light of the Incarnation of the Word of God. For other posts in the series, click a number: 134.

Last time we saw how the Greek Church Fathers taught that the Word of God, via the Incarnation, assumed our fallen nature (mind), and then through his life, death, resurrection and ascension, healed it. In and through the "personalizing person" of Jesus Christ, the corrupt human mind has been renewed---set on an entirely different foundation. And now, by faith, through the Spirit, we are enabled to think with, in and out of that mind, which is the mind of Christ. Though once we were blind, now, by grace, we can see things as they actually are.

The Church Fathers (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

In Scripture we are told that Jesus has made "all things new" (2 Cor. 5:17; Rev. 21:5), and that includes our corrupted minds, which renewed in Christ are now able to look anew at both theology and the natural sciences. In The Christian Frame of Mind, TFT has a great deal to say about how theology and science, rightly understood, together address the same reality---the reality of a cosmos created by, redeemed by and sustained by and in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Rejection of pagan dualism

Sadly, much thinking in our world continues to proceed out of the fallen mind. This results in the false (but common) view that theology and science are, at best, entirely separate; or, at worst, hopelessly at odds. Thankfully, there are theologians and scientists who, thinking with and through the mind of Christ, have rejected this pagan dualism. They understand that in Christ, all things live and move and have their being. An openness to this foundational truth, has led to the principal advances in the natural sciences, though, at times, progress has been impeded by old patterns of dualistic thinking---what Christian philosopher and scientist Michael Polanyi calls "destructive tendencies" in the human mind. TFT comments:
In all basic scientific activity we rely upon a deep intuitive accord between the laws of our mind and the laws of nature, so that any disharmony in that relationship gives rise to 'noise' in the functioning of our minds, distorting the patterns of thought which we develop in our attempts to grasp the orderly structures inherent in the universe that God has created. Thus the deeper and the more refined our scientific research becomes, the more we need the sanctifying reconciliation of the human mind with the Word of God that is mediated to us through Jesus Christ. Some intersection of symmetries between the order of redemption and the order of creation seems to be called for. It is just here, then, if we are to follow out the implications of the teaching of St. Basil and St Gregory Nazianzen [Greek Patristic Fathers], that deep-level coordination between theological and natural science should prove helpful. (p. 11)
John Chrysostom
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Helpful indeed! And how blessed we are to have testimony to these truths from men who thought with and out of the mind of Christ---men like the apostles Paul and John (who testified in the New Testament), and the Greek Patristic Fathers (who testified in the Nicene Creed), and on down the centuries with others like John Chrysostom who understood that there is "an inner, divinely ordained bond between the natural and the moral order." As TFT notes, Chrysostom understood that "a covenanted economy of righteousness and grace undergirds and stamps the whole creation.... It is in the existence and life of man as a physical and spiritual being that natural law and moral law overlap" (p. 12).

Understanding contingent order 

As TFT notes, early theologians like the Cappadocian Fathers and Chrysostom understood that the order (and thus intelligibility) of the natural world, is a contingent order:
The natural order is unceasingly contingent on God in such a way that he not only upholds and sustains it in its creaturely reality, but makes its coherent [intelligible] arrangement serve his supreme purpose in the communion of the creation with the Creator. The natural order, therefore, is to be regarded, not simply as the actual order in which things happened to be arranged, but rather as the kind of order in which things ought to be arranged under the imperative of God's Wisdom and Will. This deletion of the notion of accident or chance by the Christian concept of contingent order under God, carried with it the idea of an overall moral perspective in which the good is blessed and evil falls under judgment. (p. 12, italics added)
This theologically informed understanding was a radical change from the impersonal, naturalistic and fatalistic outlook that arose from the dominant, dualistic Greek philosophies. The change came into the world in the Incarnation of the Son of God and was promulgated throughout the world in the proclamation of the gospel of grace---the good news of the mind renewed in Christ, That mind gave us a view into a reality of a "hitherto unheard-of intimacy, in which God, as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, is intimately involved in all of his creation," a creation he brought about in love and for love out of nothing (ex nihilo). What these theologians understood and declared is that God, in the person of Jesus, interpenetrated the order of creation in a final and decisive way, setting it wholly upon the basis of God's grace.

Advances in the natural sciences

It is with this mind renewed in Christ that humanity has been enabled to see (to comprehend) the reality of how things actually are. And this, in turn, gave rise to huge advances in the natural sciences brought about by people, who as Christian believers, put on the mind of the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ. TFT comments:
Under God we have been rediscovering the contingent nature of the universe and its open-textured order which point beyond themselves altogether to the transcendent source and ground of their rationality in the Word of God. That is the very Word who became flesh in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. In him, as Paul has taught us, all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, created through him and for him. He is before all thins, an in him all things consist and hold together. Moreover, it is in and through him that we who once were alienated and hostile in our minds are now reconciled to God and are at peace with him. With minds inwardly transformed and sanctified in Christ we may look in new light upon the whole universe of space and time, with its astonishing order and beauty daily being disclosed by our science, as the theater of God's self-revelation and the sanctum for our worship and praise of the Creator and Redeemer (p. 14).
Amen! And next time we'll look at how these truths have given rise to the great breakthroughs in both natural science and theology. Stay tuned.

August 28, 2016

Was Jesus' human nature like ours?

[Revised/expanded on 9/5/2016]

This post begins a series looking at what Thomas F. Torrance (TFT) has to say in The Christian Frame of Mind concerning the integration of science and theology in light of the Incarnation of the Word of God. For other posts in the series, click a number: 234

In keeping with the biblical Nicene faith, TFT affirms that while remaining fully divine, the eternal Son of God, via the Incarnation, added our humanity to his divinity. But what sort of humanity? Drawing on Scripture as understood by the patristic fathers, TFT asserts that the Son of God assumed a "full and complete human mind"---the same one we have, which in The Trinitarian Faith TFT refers to as, "the defiled nature of man" (p. 153).

T.F. Torrance (public domain)
This truth is vital to understand, because it is in assuming our humanity in its corrupt state and then uniting it with his perfect and perfecting divinity, that the Son of God brings us the healing we so desperately need, but are unable to achieve for ourselves. Torrance comments:
Through his incarnation, the Son of God has made himself one with us as we are, and indeed made himself what we are, thereby not only making our nature his own but taking on himself our lost condition subject to condemnation and death, all in order that he might substitute himself in our place, discharge our debt, and offer himself in atoning sacrifice to God on our behalf. Since sin and its judgment have affected the actual nature of death as we experience it, Christ has made our death and fate his own, thereby taking on himself the penalty due to all in death, destroying the power of sin and its stronghold in death, and thus redeeming or rescuing us from its dominion. (The Trinitarian Faith p.157)
Gregory Nazianzen
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
As Torrance goes on to note, this understanding that the Son of God assumed our defiled human nature was taught by the early Greek church, a prime example being what Gregory Nazianzen (AD 329-390)---one of the Cappadocian fathers, referred to as "the Theologian"---wrote in his first Letter to Cledonius:
If anyone has put his trust in Christ as a Man without a human mind, he himself is really bereft of mind, and quite unworthy of salvation. For that which he has not assumed he has not healed; but that which is united to his Godhead is also saved. If only half of Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of him who was begotten, and so be saved as a whole. (quoted by TFT in The Christian Frame of Mind, p. 9, emphasis added)
Gregory's argument that the unassumed is the unredeemed had been put forward earlier by Irenaeus (died c. AD 202), in order to "clarify and deepen the theological grasp of the Gospel in the second century" (p. 9). Indeed, the church (particularly in the East), from early on, believed that in the Incarnation...
...the holy Son of God assumed from the Virgin Mary our fallen human nature, with all its weaknesses, sin and guilt, yet in such a way that instead of sinning himself he brought the judgment of God to bear upon us in the depths of our human nature, redeeming, healing and sanctifying at the same time what he took from us, through his atoning birth, life, death and resurrection. (p. 9)
The twin books Incarnation: the Person and Life of Christ and Atonement: the Person and Work of Christ  (both edited by Robert T. Walker) compile TFT's writings and lectures into a systematic theology. In Incarnation, TFT has a great deal to say about the Son of Man's assumption of our fallen human nature. Here is an excerpt:
Are we to think of this flesh which he became as our flesh? Are we to think of it as describing some neutral human nature and existence, or as describing our actual human nature and existence in the bondage and estrangement of humanity fallen from God and under the divine judgment? It was certainly into a state of enmity that the Word penetrated in becoming flesh, into darkness and blindness, that is, into the situation where light and darkness are in conflict and where his own receive him not. There can be no doubt that the New Testament speaks of the flesh of Jesus as the concrete form of our human nature marked by Adam's fall, the human nature which seen from the cross is at enmity with God and needs to be reconciled to God. In becoming flesh the Word penetrated into hostile territory, into our human alienation and estrangement with God.... 
Now when we listen to the witness of holy scripture here we know we are faced with something we can never fully understand, but it is something that we must seek to understand as far as we can. One thing should be abundantly clear, that if Jesus Christ did not assume our fallen flesh, our fallen humanity, then our fallen humanity is untouched by his work---for 'the unassumed is the unredeemed,' as Gregory Nazianzen put it. Patristic theology, especially as we see it expounded in the great Athanasius, makes a great deal of the fact that he who knew no sin became sin for us, exchanging his riches for our poverty, his perfection for our imperfection, his incorruption for our corruption, his eternal life for our mortality. Thus Christ took from Mary a corruptible and mortal body in order that he might take our sin, judge and condemn it in the flesh, and so assume our human nature as we have it in the fallen world that he might heal, sanctify and redeem it. In that teaching the Greek fathers were closely following the New Testament. If the Word of God did not actually come where we are, and join himself to us and range himself with us where we are in sin and under judgement, how could it be said that Christ really took our place, took our cause upon himself in order to redeem us? 
What could we then have to do with him? We stand before God as flesh of sin under God's judgement, and it is into this concrete form of our sin-laden, corruptible and mortal humanity in which we are damned and lost that Christ came, without ceasing to be the holy Son of God. He entered into complete solidarity with us in our sinful existence in order to save us, without becoming himself a sinner. (Incarnation, pp. 61, 62) 
But why is this understanding not commonly held today by most Christians in the West? Because, as TFT points out, Latin (western) theology never grasped the profound implications of this key point of Greek (eastern) Patristic teaching. Torrance comments:
This western divergence from the eastern Church can be traced back to [Roman Catholic Pope] Leo the Great's hesitation to accept the fact that in the Incarnation the Son of God took our depraved human nature upon himself, while redeeming, healing and sanctifying it in himself. He held instead that it was not our fallen Adamic nature but some neutral human nature in Christ that became the instrument for his saving work for mankind. The theological consequences of that position were immense, as we can see in the typical approach of Latin theology to the idea of original sin as in the teaching of St. Augustine, in its formulation of a doctrine of atonement, largely in terms of external juridical relations, and of course in the Roman dogmas of "the immaculate conception" and the "assumption of Mary." 
...Failure to recognize that the human mind, far from being neutral, is actually estranged and twisted, and thus in need of internal healing, opened the door to a pre-Christian Greek rationalism that has affected not only western theology but all western culture.... (The Christian Frame of Mind, pp. 9,10)
Unfortunately, the Latin misunderstanding of the true nature of Jesus' human nature carried over to Protestant churches. Though helpfully reforming certain errors of Latin theology, the Protestant Reformation carried other errors forward and this is a prime example.

In my view, the Holy Spirit is at work bringing theological renewal to the whole body of Christ, extending across denominational boundaries, resulting in the church receiving a fuller, more accurate understanding of the nature of the Incarnation, and thus a better understanding of salvation and the nature of the human mind, which, in Christ, has been set on a new basis. More about the renewal of the human mind next time.
PS: It occurred to me that the title of this post, "Was Jesus' human nature like ours?" might, inadvertently, suggest that Jesus no longer has a human nature. But that is not the case. Jesus remains, forever, both fully divine and fully human. In other words, the Incarnation is a permanent union of God and humanity in Jesus Christ (two natures in one person). Of course, Jesus in his humanity is now glorified, as we one day shall be, for it is in and by Jesus' vicarious (representative, substitutionary) humanity, united to his divinity, that we have been justified, sanctified and glorified. Hallelujah!

August 21, 2016

The ministry of the reign of God

This post concludes a series examining key points of Andrew Purves' book Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation. For the other posts in this series, click a number: 1, 2, 3, 4. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

Christ Icon, St. Catherine's Monastery
(public domain, Wikimedia Commons)
We have looked at Andrew Purves' view of pastoral work as the ministry of the spoken Word of God, the heard Word of God, the grace of God, and the presence of God. Now we'll look at his understanding of pastoral work as the ministry of the reign of God, which is about helping people embrace the hope that is theirs in union with the Lord Jesus who reigns over all, both now and forever.

Rather than wishful thinking, this hope is grounded in the reality of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, who, already, has included us in his life through his vicarious (representative-substitutionary) humanity. This hope gives Christians power for living in the present, despite their weakness and suffering. Purves shares three points concerning this hope: 1) the ground of hope, 2) the liveliness of hope, and 3) the transformations of hope.

1) The ground of hope

Christian hope is based on the resurrection of Jesus (see 1 Peter 1:3, 1 Cor. 6:14, John 14:19; Acts 23:6), which the early church believed was "not only a sign that Jesus was alive, but a guarantee that they would live also" (p. 218). The church fathers understood that Jesus' resurrection must be understood in the light of his crucifixion, which is more than an event that ended Jesus' life---the cross "reached into God's inner experience in such a way that God in Christ has, firsthand, experienced life unto death" (p. 219).

Fully understanding our present suffering, God does not turn a blind eye to our weaknesses and sufferings in this sin-sick world. Though evil is a present reality, we are not alone---the Father, Son and Spirit stand with us in solidarity. Thus our hope, which looks to the future, is not dis-connected from our present. Indeed, the Father, in the Son and by the Spirit is present with us both now and in the future; in this life and the next. Purves' comments:
The hope of the gospel... lies not only in a hope for the future, but also in a hope for the past---our pasts and our coming pasts of sinfulness, disobedience and faithlessness. In the dying humanity of Jesus Christ, God has... gathered up our history and present experiences of fear, wantonness, violence, death, and so on into himself, and given humankind a hitherto undisclosed future that is now announced in the event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (p. 220)
Ascension of Jesus 
Hajdudorog Cathedral
(public domain, Wikimedia Commons)
Because Jesus, in his humanity, is our representative and substitute, when he died, we all died; and when he rose we all rose. That being so, "resurrection... must be thought of not just as a doctrine of faith to be believed, but also as a personal apprehension of faith through hope" (p. 220). The pastoral implications of this stunning reality are enormous, particularly in situations that involve death, for "hope affirms that life, not death, has the last word" (p. 221).

This hope is not mere wishful thinking, for Jesus himself is "the subject matter of hope, just as our union with him is the agency that makes hope personal and powerful in our lives." Indeed, "hope is not its own subject, at least not first of all, because Jesus and our union with him, not our hoping, is the hope of the gospel" (p. 221). This being so, in pastoral ministry, we seek to strengthen the hope of God's people by proclaiming and celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. Purves comments:
Pastoral work is always in one way or another a ministry of hope that because Christ is risen, we too will share in his life. This word of assurance, on the basis of this ground, must ever be on pastors' lips. The ultimate word, the decisive word that is ever and always announced is: Christ is risen! Life! (p. 222).   

2) The liveliness of hope

Jesus is the ground of hope, a hope that becomes ours in a deeply personal way through the ministry of the Spirit, who helps us experience the reality that Jesus is not just raised, but it now present with us in the power of the Spirit: Christ in your, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27) is the way Paul put it. Because Christ truly is our hope, by the power of his Spirit we live hopefully.

As Jesus promised, he is with us always (Mat. 28;20), and this is particularly true as believers gather in Christian community where they experience Christ's real presence in Word and Sacrament. Christian hope is announced in the sermon, sealed in baptism and participated in via the Eucharist. Through this gospel-focused, Christ-centered and Trinitarian-shaped worship, the answer to a key question comes into sharp focus: What happens to us when we die? The answer we are given in the gospel is that our future, both in this life and the next, is locked into Jesus, for his life is our life. "In some sense or other, then, Christian hope is for life in Christ and through Christ after death" (p. 224).

What are the implications for pastoral work? Here are a few: 
  • When preaching funeral sermons, our focus will be on witnessing to the resurrection and thus casting everything back on Jesus into whose future we entrust ourselves.
  • We will encourage people to participate in worship that orients us regarding God and ourselves---giving us perspective on life that is "true and not ephemeral and merely self-indulgent fancy, ...worship that keeps God's promises and hope for future fulfillment before us" (p. 224).
  • Our teaching and preaching will confront the Devil's lies that keep the people of God from missional living. As Purves comments: "Each Christian has a gift from the Holy Spirit, a blessing from God... given for a missional purpose.... Practical Christian renewal has to find a space for helping the people of God discover and accept their giftedness and blessedness and then to hold them accountable for its suitable employment and enjoyment" (p. 226).

3) The transformations of hope

Rather then being one of passively sitting by, or of withdrawing into a self-protective shell, a life directed by Christian hope is one in which we step out in hope and faith, willing willing to suffer as we actively seek positive transformation in the world. This involvement is not about advancing political agendas, but about being faithful to the "eschatological indicative of the gospel that creates its own imperative for action and life" (p. 228).

In short, hope fuels mission in the world as we willingly place ourselves into situations that call out for transformations. Purves comments:
The hope of the gospel must be seen as hope for the hopeless, wherever they are to be found and in whatever form that hopelessness is found.... There can be no real separation between work for social righteousness, evangelism and pastoral care.... Wherever Christ is, there the church is found. (pp. 228, 229.
As we step out in hope, our emphasis will be on the formation of community where person-building relationships are started and nurtured. As Purves notes, "In all things, Christians bear witness to the coming reign of God as relationship restorers" (p. 231).

On mission with Jesus, we will also be willing to address the great issues of national and international life in ways that reflect the mind of Christ. This "entails an advocacy of policies, attitudes, and behaviors that are congruent with the reign of God" (p. 231). This means advocacy against the things that demonize people, including their destructive behaviors. As advocates, rather than moral police, we love the sinner, even as we denounce the sin. As Purves notes, "Christians are to be advocates for social righteousness, peace, freedom, and dignity, though on gospel terms, not on terms of personal or national self-interest" (p. 232).

Purves concludes his discussion of Christian hope, and his book, noting that the prayer of the church is "Thy kingdom come." Only God can bring about his kingdom---all things finally are cast back upon him. And with that important concluding thought in mind, we pray, "Come Lord Jesus and establish the fullness of the reign of God on the earth."

If you benefited from this series of posts on Reconstructing Pastoral Theology, you will likely appreciate two other books on pastoral theology by Andrew Purves: The Crucifixion of Ministry and The Resurrection of Ministry. Enjoy!