March 29, 2015

A message for Easter: Come Awake!

In Christ we died and rose to new life (2 Corinthians 5:14-17). This is the gospel, and the gospel-shaped invitation that flows from it is this: Come Awake! -- live into the reality of who you truly are in Christ. The video below powerfully offers this simple, yet profound invitation using the song "Christ is Risen" by Matt Maher and Mia Fieldes. Here is part of the lyrics:
Christ is risen from the dead,
trampling over death by death,
come awake, come awake,
come and rise up from the grave!
O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?
O church, come stand in the light
The glory of God has defeated the night!

If you'd like to show this video in worship, you can purchase it at Worship House Media or Igniter Media. Free lyrics and chord sheets and information about purchasing the song are found at WorshipTogether.

March 23, 2015

Overcoming the "third great schism"

This post continues an exploration of the book "Deep Church Rising" by Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry. To read other posts in the series, click a number: 1.

Walker and Parry assert that a move toward "deep church" is essential if the church's "third great schism" is to be healed. That schism resulted from a centuries-long movement in Christendom away from the historic, orthodox Christian faith. In this post we'll see how the schism arose and what it entails.

Modernity and secularization
The authors largely attribute the third great schism to the secularization of western-Christian cultures. They define secularization as "the complex of social processes by which religious thinking, practices, and institutions become socially marginalized" (p. 32). The rise of secularization in the West has stretched from the 1500s until now, with the net effect being that God was effectively banished from acting in the world. Deism became the popular conception, with God seen as operating "from a distance" on a largely mechanistic cosmos.

Portrait of René Descartes
by Frans Hals (ca. 1649-1700)
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Within this secularized, modernistic setting, human reason reigned supreme (recall RenĂ© Descarte's statement, "I think, therefore I am") and supernaturalism was suspect (how do you rationalize miracles?). A hermeneutic of suspicion replaced that of trust toward God, his revelation and Christian tradition. Orthodox doctrines of the church such as the Trinity, the incarnation and the resurrection became open to attack. Christian values were more and more relegated to the sidelines in public life and discourse. Add to this the rise of the industrial age with its urbanization, individualism and rapid growth of capitalism leading to a rampant consumerism that is expressed in this statement: "I shop, therefore I am."

As a result of these factors, the social significance of the church diminished--a move exacerbated by the emergence of scientism in which religion, viewed increasingly as subjective and arbitrary, was relegated to the private realm (p. 30). The authors comment:
The public world came to be dominated by pragmatic, instrumental reason that aims at maximizing efficiency by tailoring means to ends. By contrast, the private world is the world of emotional escape from the harsh impersonal and rationalistic realm of the public square.... This way of dividing up the world was unknown before modernity but seems second nature now (p. 34). 
In this modernistic setting, the work of the church, along with belief in God, became largely a private matter and, therefore, only marginally relevant in the life of the culture at large. As the authors note, it's not that modernity rejected Christianity, but that it began to view Christianity with indifference (p. 36).

Postmodernity
In modernity, the individual and not God or the church, is at the center of life. This person-centeredness continues in postmodernity, though the individual is "subjected to de-centering and deconstructing" (p. 40). Postmodern thought also differs from modernism in its rejection of scientism with its inherent positivism. Instead, postmodern thought is open to truth beyond the scope of science. In that way, postmodernism represents a return to some aspects of premodern thinking, though the church continues to be marginalized, with religion being seen merely as one of several options with therapeutic benefits.

Post-Christendom
The Christendom of pre-modernity (and the early years of modernity) is gone forever (p. 43). The cultural shift that sidelined Christianity from the center of public (and even private) life and discourse, is an undeniable reality. At times the church sought to respond to this shift in ways that were tantamount to abandoning the historic, Christian faith (tradition). It is this abandonment that the authors of Deep Church Rising refer to as the "third great schism." This movement was, no doubt, often motivated by good desires to make Christianity relevant to modern/postmodern people. But the effect, in many instances, has been to lose the very center of the Christian tradition, namely the gospel itself (the apostolic tradition).

Retrieving the tradition
In order to heal the third great schism, the authors call upon the church to return to its ancient, premodern tradition. This move toward deep church, "is neither 'renewal' nor 'revival,' but retrieval... A quest for something old" (p. 49). It's not a church-growth gimmick, another program or a mere technique. Instead it's a necessary step back so we can move forward toward a church faithful to the tradition while being relevant in the current modern/postmodern cultural context. The authors comment:
The purpose of going back is not one of antiquarian curiosity, but to retrieve something that we have lost in order to make the church vital again in the present. And the something that evangelicals and others have lost and need to retrieve is tradition" (p. 49).
Of course, the word tradition makes many Protestants nervous. Why? Because to them, "tradition" means "dead tradition." But that is not what Walker and Parry want to retrieve. Instead, they are calling for a return to the "apostolic tradition." Next time we'll see what that entails.

March 12, 2015

Is "deep church" rising?

This post begins a series exploring Deep Church Rising by Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry. To read a review, click here; for an author's summary, click here; to download a sample chapter, click here. For additional posts in this series, click a number: 2.

Subtitled The Third Schism and the Recovery of Christian Orthodoxy, the book Deep Church Rising seeks to counter an ongoing movement that takes some churches away from key tenets of Christian orthodoxy toward a faith its proponents deem more in step with modernity/post-modernity. Walker and Parry speak out against this movement (which they refer to as the church's "third schism"), calling for a return to "deep church"--the recovery of the historic, orthodox Christian faith (what they refer to as "the tradition").

For the authors of Deep Church Rising, the way forward in this return includes both looking back to recover critical elements of the historic Christian tradition and forward to imagine how that tradition can be faithfully practiced within contemporary cultural contexts.

Robin A. Parry
In looking back, Walker and Parry call for a recapturing of the church's ancient Trinitarian, Christ-centered theological vision--one very much in keeping with what is advocated in this blog. This does not mean, however, that Surprising God readers will agree with all conclusions in Deep Church Rising. Nevertheless, a review of the book is well worth the time for those interested in seeing an incarnational, Trinitarian theological "turn" within the greater Body of Christ.

Andrew G. Walker
As the authors note, one of the mistakes made by churches in modernity was setting "tradition up in conflict with the Word or with the Spirit" (p. xi). This mistake was (and still is) common within some fundamentalist, ultra-conservative evangelical, and liberal church traditions that dismiss tradition as being the "dead works of men" (p. xi). But in the view of the authors, tradition is not dead at all--it's a living and thus vital aspect of the ongoing life of the church--part of an essential "threefold cord" that entwines tradition with the Word (Scripture) and the Spirit.

Deep Church Rising begins with a helpful review of Christian history, including the two great schisms of antiquity. The first (called the Great Schism) came to a head in A.D. 1054, dividing the Eastern Church from the Western Church. There were many factors leading to the split, including dueling doctrines concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit. Though there have been several efforts down the centuries to heal the rift, those efforts have failed (though efforts in recent decades have yielded some progress).

The second schism, which occurred in the 16th century, split the Western Church into Roman Catholic and various Protestant offshoots. Though positive reforms flowed from what typically is referred to as the Protestant Reformation, the seeds planted in that schismatic movement have led to multiple schisms within Protestantism itself:
The Reformation became reformation ad nauseum, and modern denominationalism was born. This was inevitable while the reformers saw Protestantism as replacing the authority of the Pope with authority of the Bible. It was also the case that now every person was their own "pope" and could--and did--interpret the Bible according to his or her own lights (pp.7-8).
Because Protestant reformers strongly emphasized Scripture standing alone outside of tradition, the seeds of a third great schism had been planted. The journey from the second to this unfolding third schism has been a long one (some 500 years!), during which multiple factors (often intertwined) have been at work. Not the least of these factors is the Enlightenment of the 17th through the 18th centuries, which tore much of Western culture away from not only the ancient Christian tradition but also away from Scripture itself--thus planting the seeds of the modern (now largely post-modern), secular age with a worldview that emphasizes rationalism (including anti-supernaturalism) and individualism.

Various Christian authors and leaders in our day seek to make Christianity "intelligible to modern people" by presenting "the gospel in ways that connect with modern culture" (p.11). In many respects, this is a laudable goal and tactic. However, some (perhaps many) of these reform efforts have lost touch with the gospel itself. The unfortunate result is a growing "third schism" within Christianity that is separating at least parts of the church from its historic, orthodox Christian moorings.

As a corrective to this third schism, Walker and Parry advocate a return to those historic moorings--a return to deep church, meaning a church deeply connected to the orthodox, historic Christian faith with its enduring, gospel-centered tradition. C.S. Lewis referred to this as "deep church" (and the better known term, "mere Christianity"). Deep church is grounded in "the apostolic faith of the New Testament interpreted and handed on by the fathers of the early church" (p.13). This "common tradition...pre-existed the divisions of Christendom, and, as far as [C.S. Lewis] was concerned, remained the deep structure of the [authentic] Christian faith" (p.13).

A move toward "deep church" is thus a move toward recapturing the Christian tradition (in the classic sense of that term). Those reading this from some conservative evangelical and liberal Christian perspectives may bristle at this (given the negative take on tradition noted above). However, what the authors of Deep Church Rising advocate is not a return to "dead tradition," but to the historic faith of the ancient church--a tradition that is both a historical and existential reality. Note their comment on the historical reality:
The historical reality [of the Christian tradition] rests upon two givens: first, the very fact of God's self-revelation to the world in the person of his Son; and, second, the institution by the Son of his church. This historicity--of revelation and institution--has bequeathed to the people of God a living memory of what Christ has wrought on the cross for our salvation, and what he has continued to do in time through the operation  of the Holy Spirit in the church (p.14).
And note their comment on the existential reality:
To become part of deep church we have to experience God not only historically and intellectually but also existentially.. open to the presence and indwelling of the persons of the Trinity....
Church communities that have accessed the living memory of the common tradition but are not sharing in the life of the triune God are mere antiquarians rummaging around in the tradition like children looking for hidden treasures in a dusty attic... Deep church is only truly operative when the mediated revelation of God's Son and the historical givenness of the ekklesia are conjoined with the immediate presence of the Spirit (p.15).
According to Walker and Parry, the movement toward deep church "is an ecclesiological and missiological imperative" (p.16). As we proceed in this series, we'll learn more about why they think this is so.

To watch a GCI interview with Robin Parry, click here. And for a short video promoting Deep Church Rising, watch this:

March 5, 2015

Communion with the Triune God: Conclusion

This post concludes a series that reviews Communion with the Triune God, in which Dick Eugenio examines Thomas F (TF) Torrance's trinitarian soteriology (doctrine of salvation). For other posts in the series, click a number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

TF was careful to approach the doctrine of salvation in accordance with the incarnational, Trinitarian understanding of the Christian faith set out in the ancient Christian creeds. As Eugenio notes, rather then seeing salvation as transactional (in accord with the reductionist formula of "accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,"), TF viewed it as "union with Christ and being adopted as sons and daughters of the Father in the incorporating communion of the Holy Spirit," by which humanity is enabled to "share in the inner relations of God's own life and love" (Kindle ed, loc 4925). God, in Christ, by the Spirit, makes this union and communion subjectively (personally) possible because it is an objective reality in the enduring union of God with all humanity in the person of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ.

For salvation to be understood in this incarnational, Trinitarian way, it's essential that we see God for who he is: a triune communion of love; and that we see salvation for what it truly is: our sharing in that triune life and love. Thus for TF, salvation is far more than a mere transaction--it's an enduring relationship that is mediated by Jesus Christ himself (1Tim. 2:5). Of course, to see God and salvation in this way, God must reveal himself to us for who he truly is. And this he has done in the Person and work of his incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who is the full and final revelation of God. It is Jesus who shows us the Father and the Spirit, and thus the truth of God's tri-unity. Moreover, Jesus, in his enduring humanity, shows us our true humanity, in intimate relationship with God.

For TF, this knowledge of God and humanity is far more than mere facts with which we agree--it's knowledge that transforms; what TF referred to as "evangelical knowledge." Why? Because this truth is "revealed to us through the incarnate or human economy which Christ undertook toward us, in the midst of us, and for our sakes" (loc 4949). Thus TF was fond of writing about the evangelical Trinity, noting that there is no other God than the redeeming God who, in his Son and by the Spirit, has united himself with all humanity in a redeeming way (loc 4962).

Whereas some theologians view the Trinity in a static, Aristotelian way, TF sees a "relational God, a person-in-relation" (loc 5052). For God, "to be" and "to-be-in-relation" are the same. TF writes about this using some of his favorite patristic terms:
It was in connection with this refined concept of perichoresis in its employment to speak of the intra-trinitarian relations in God, that Christian theology developed what I have loge called the onto-relational concept of the divine Persons, or an understanding of the three divine Person in the One God in which the ontic relations between them belong to what they essentially are in themselves in their distinctive hypostases. Along with this there developed out of the doctrine of the Trinity the new concept of person, unknown in human thought until then, according to which the relations between person belong to what persons are (loc 5092).
One of the important implications of TF's understanding of God as relational being is "the realization that communion is what makes being 'be'" (loc 5121). Said another way, there is no separation between God's being (who he is) and God's act (what he does). God does what God is. He is being-in-communion. "In contrast to Aristotle's God as the 'Unmoved Mover,' the biblical God is a dynamic active being. Life, Movement, and activity are intrinsic to the very being of God" (loc 5188).

Salvation, then, is dynamic and relational--our sharing in the love and life (communion) of the triune God as God's adopted children. In communion with God, in Christ, by the Spirit, we are saved in the full, relational sense: delivered, held safe, healed, and lifted up to participate in the very light, life and love of the Holy Trinity (loc 6460).

According to Eugenio, "Torrance is an outspoken critic of the fascination of federal Calvinists with the benefits of the death of Jesus Christ, understood in a mechanistic-logical manner" which leads, inevitably to the idea of limited atonement:
At the root of this view, according to Torrance, is a logical one-to-one mechanistic view of the relationship between what Jesus Christ accomplished and what humanity receives (i.e., because not everyone is saved, Jesus Christ died only for the elect) without consideration of the dynamic nature of the triune salvific economy (i.e. Jesus Christ is elected by the Father in the Holy Spirit for the world). Thus one effect of an explicit trinitarian view of atonement is that the dynamic nature of redemption is highlighted. Instead of perceiving atonement primarily in terms of a transaction, it is perceived as a dynamic movement that "begins with the Father, extends through the Son and reaches its fulfillment in the Holy Spirit," so that humanity through the incarnate Son in the Holy Spirit may become sons and daughters of the Father" (loc 5227).
TF is fond of depicting at-one-ment with God using relational terms like "sharing," "joining," and "participation" in the inner life and love of the Triune God (loc 5252). Perhaps referring to TF's soteriology as "participation soteriology" would capture its essence well (and perhaps "perichoretic participation" would be even more precise).

By the way, this view of salvation as participation in the triune life and love of God, in Christ (the Mediator), by the Spirit, is not a modern theological innovation--it's the historic, orthodox theology taught by the early church fathers and the theology that under-girds the Nicene Creed. This ancient view is the gospel taught by Christ's apostles. It is, indeed, very good news!  And with that declaration, we close this series with a hearty, Amen!

PS: If you have benefited from this series of posts, I urge you to purchase a copy of Eugenio's book. Click here to find it on Amazon.com (print and Kindle versions available).

February 25, 2015

Torrance on the church and its mission

We now continue our review of Communion with the Triune God where Dick Eugenio examines TF Torrance's trinitarian understanding of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). Last time we looked at TF's understanding of the role of the Spirit in salvation. Now we'll look at his view of the Spirit's work related to the church and its mission. For the other posts in this series, click on a number: 12345678911.

TF often noted that the goal of salvation is participation in the life and love of the Trinity. The Spirit's distinctive role is to facilitate this participation (Gk. koinonia, also meaning sharing, fellowship and communion). The Spirit does this work by coming into us, then opening us out to God, thus enabling us to commune with the triune God. TF elaborates:
As the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell in one another, so God is in us by the indwelling of the Spirit and by participation of the Spirit we are in God, and thus our being in the Father is not ours but is the Spirit's who is in us and dwells in us (Communion..., Kindle edition, location 4227).
Caterbury Cathedral (1890-1900), Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Ecclesiology

As is true of the Nicene Creed, Torrance's doctrine of the church (ecclesiology) flows from his understanding of the Spirit. Indeed, the church is the fruit of the Spirit, not a mere human institution. According to TF, "the church is founded in Jesus Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and is rooted in the Holy Trinity" (loc 4255). Eugenio comments:
[According to TF] the church...is the communion of the Holy Spirit where our union and communion with Jesus Christ is actualized in the actual structure of our human, personal, and social being. The relationship between Jesus Christ and his Body [the church], however, should not be understood only analogically or metaphorically. Rather, precisely because reconciliation is achieved by Jesus Christ through his own incarnate constitution as true God and true human in one person, the church is internally and ontologically related to Jesus Christ, made possible by Christ's incarnational and atoning union with us and our consequent union with him through the Holy Spirit (loc 428). 
The church, then, is "a community of people whose selves have been displaced by Christ, so that he is their true selves...'not I but Christ,' St. Paul said" (loc 4280). That the church is the Body of Christ has several implications. First it tells us that Jesus, himself, is the law of the church's life (and the Spirit mediates that life to the church). Second it tells us that the church (and its agenda) must never displace Jesus and his agenda. Third, the headship of Christ points to the essential catholicity (universality) of the church as the whole Body of Christ. Fourth, Jesus is and remains the model for how ministry and mission are to be accomplished by the church.

Missiology

In step with TF's ecclesiology is his Trinitarian, Christ-centered missiology, which emphasizes the koinonia of the church, by the Spirit, in Christ. TF elaborates:
It is only through a vertical participation in Christ that the Church is horizontally a communion of love, a fellowship of reconciliation, a community of the redeemed. Both these belong together in the fullness of Christ. It is only as we share in Christ Himself, that we share in the life of the Church, but it is only as we share with all saints in their relation to Christ that we participate deeply in the love and knowledge of God. Participation is a conjoint participation, a participation-in-communion, but the communion is above all a communion-in-participation in Christ (loc 4319).
The church, by the indwelling Spirit, is thus a "communion-constituting community." Its membership, which already is experiencing the reconciliation of humanity with God in the person of Jesus, is called to participate with Jesus, by the Spirit, in making the good news of this reconciliation known to others--inviting and enabling them to become part of the community of faith. As TF noted, the Holy Spirit is...
...poured out immediately only upon the Church, and yet through the Church it was destined for all men, for the church is sent out on a mission to all nations...that they too might receive the promise of the Spirit and be incorporated into the One Body (loc 4359). 
As the church participates in this God-given mission to be the Spirit-filled and led "reconciling community," it participates in what Jesus is doing, by the Spirit, to restore alienated humanity to fellowship (communion) with the triune God. The church does its part in this mission through its ministries of proclamation and reconciliation, by which the church not only proclaims reconciliation, but lives it by being a community of reconciliation. In this way, the nature and mission of the church are inseparably linked. If the church fails to be active in mission, the Spirit is quenched. TF noted how this sad situation occurs when the church becomes more concerned with itself than with the lost sheep outside the community of faith.

In concluding his discussion of TF's view of the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation, Eugenio notes that "the Spirit, through the church, reaches out to the world in the ministry of reconciliation, embracing every race and tongue, and incorporating everyone into the family of God" (loc 4383).

And to that we add a short prayer: "Fall fresh on us, Holy Spirit of mission."