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Liturgical Theology

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Having entered the season of Advent, a new year in the Christian worship (liturgical) calendar has begun. For some Christians, the liturgical calendar is of only mild interest, for others it's of no interest at all. But when viewed theologically, the calendar takes on great meaning. That meaning is explored by Simon Chan in  Liturgical Theology, the Church as Worshiping Community . This post takes a look at the book, excerpting some key points. Chan's purpose in writing Liturgical Theology  is to make a reasoned plea to Christians (Evangelicals, in particular) to recapture in their worship (both weekly and annually) a focus on the central truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. His concern is that many churches tend in their worship to focus instead on peripheral issues. In doing so, they experience what Chan calls "theological vacuity" (p 11). And so Chan's desire is for worship renewal through recovering a clear focus on truth , not in the sense of abstract ideas

Advent: God breaks in

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This post looks at Advent, the season of four Sundays that begins the Western-Christian liturgical year. In 2020, the first Sunday of Advent is November 29.  The meaning of Advent    In his book  Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year ,  Robert E. Webber shares this concerning the meaning of the season of Advent:  Advent is the time when God breaks in on us with new surprises and touches us with a renewing and restoring power. In Christian-year worship and spirituality we call upon God for a new breaking in, a fresh outpouring of his Spirit. (p. 38)   Advent Season is a profound reminder to us that God is not remote, aloof or uninvolved. Advent tells us that God has come, is coming, and will come again ("advent" means "coming" or "arrival"). This glorious truth helps offset a message that is prevalent in our me-centered, self-sufficient, individualistic culture: I can do it on my own, thank you! The forthcoming season of Adve

The Christ-centered ethic of J.B. Torrance

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What is the basis for an approach to ethics that is fully Christian? This is a vital question, given the many, often complex ethical issues faced by the church in our world. Dr. Gary Deddo addresses this question in " A Theological Tribute to James B. Torrance" ( click here  to download), an essay in Supplemental vol. 3 of "Participatio: The Journal of the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Society." Gary's essay includes the section quoted below, which summarizes JB's teaching concerning the ethical implications and obligations defined by Jesus Christ's all-inclusive humanity . James Torrance [JB] was well known for introducing certain topics by saying, “Have I told you about the time I was in . . .?” He would often then relate to us a particularly poignant interaction he had when in Northern Ireland, South Africa, or in the South of the United States, all places that at the time were experiencing social upheaval involving tremendous violence. JB felt a sp

Dealing with partiality and lording it over others

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Dr. Gary Deddo offers a biblically-grounded theological framework to assist churches in understanding and dealing with two sins at the root of racism: partiality and lording it over others.    One story, one purpose    The Bible gives us an  overall story  inclusive of all history. It's a  meta-narrative  that tells of the relationship God has with all humanity. In the unfolding of the story's four scenes (Creation, Fall, Reconciliation, and Consummation), we learn that the Creator, Redeemer God has made us  one  humanity,  one  race -- the human race. All persons, we learn, are of  one  blood .  Creation, Fall, Reconciliation, Consummation This four-scene story forms a Christian  worldview  by which those who follow Jesus view reality and critique all other worldviews. This story is God’s first and final word. It alone provides direction for living out the faith, hope and love we have as Christians for the Triune God who we worship. It alone upholds the true cosmic Lordship o

The impassible, passible God

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This post by Dr. Joseph Tkach (chair of the boards of Grace Communion International and Grace Communion Seminary) was published originally in the 11/20/2016 issue of GCI Update.    Down through the centuries, the church has taught that God, being impassible , is not subject to suffering, pain, or the ebb and flow of involuntary passions. God is seen as not being controlled, conditioned, manipulated or otherwise affected by anything external to himself. The impassible God is constant and faithful, exercising sovereignty over all. His impassibility is an expression of his immutable (unchanging) eternal nature, character and purposes. The church has also taught that the Eternal Son of God, through the incarnation, took on a real and complete human nature, becoming one of us. Not being impassible, we humans affected by all kinds of things external to ourselves; we are not constant in our emotional states and in how we voluntarily carry out our wills, purposes and ends; we also change our

Does belief precede salvation?

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In John's Gospel, we are told that "whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them" (John 3:36). How we understand this statement from John the baptist will depend largely on the theological lens through which we read (and so interpret) this text. If our lens is a  theology of separation , we likely will understand John's statement to mean that God stands separate from and in wrath against all people *until* they believe in Jesus, at which point God (for the first time) enters their lives, ceases to be wrathful toward them, and grants them eternal life. But is that interpretation justified? We answer no , because it is inconsistent with what Scripture tells us about who God is, as revealed in the person of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. According to that revelation, rather than separate from sinners, God is a friend of sinners , the God who is with us and for us, the God of lov

The descent of Jesus (part 8)

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This post concludes an exploration of Raising Adam, Why Jesus Descended into Hell  by  Gerrit Dawson. For previous posts in this series, click a number:  1 ,  2 ,  3 ,  4 ,  5 ,  6 ,  7 .     In concluding his book ,  Dawson offers this summary:   In the events from cross to resurrection, Jesus opened up the prison of Sheol. Jesus traversed the lost lands of the realm that follows dying. Jesus hazarded this sojourn in order to blaze a road to life in the trackless desert. He plumbed the inky abyss of separation from God in order to shine in the place where once no light could penetrate. Jesus made hell unnecessary and no longer inevitable. Now he is the experienced guide as he takes us into everlasting life. (p. 103)  Dawson is pointing out both the objective and subjective implications of Jesus'  great transit of mercy -- his journey of descent and ascent. In an objective (universal) sense, that journey delivered all humanity from the headship of Adam to the headship of Je

The descent of Jesus (part 7)

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This post continues a series exploring Raising Adam, Why Jesus Descended into Hell by Gerrit Dawson. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1 ,  2 ,  3 , 4 , 5 , 6 , 8 . Last time , we explored the significance for all humanity of Jesus' descent on Holy Saturday into the realm of the dead (Hades/Sheol). We now continue that exploration, looking at the significance of Jesus' ascent out of Sheol on Easter (Resurrection Sunday). The Resurrection by Tissot (public domain via Wikimedia Commons) Descended to death in order to ascend to life Reflecting on Jesus' Holy Saturday descent into Sheol on our behalf, Dawson notes that the arc of the Savior's descent ended with a splash into the bottomless sea of death. His great transit of mercy took him beneath the depths of all our dying. He dropped out of his body, out of our time, out of any place we know, still unaware of his Father's favor or his victory over sin. Saturday marked the farthest reach of his descent

The descent of Jesus (part 6)

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This post continues a series exploring  Raising Adam, Why Jesus Descended into Hell  by Gerrit Dawson. For other posts in the series, click a number:  1 ,  2 , 3 , 4 , 5 , 7 ,  8 . Last time , we looked at the steps in Jesus' journey of descent on Maundy Thursday evening and Good Friday. Now we'll explore what happened to him on Holy Saturday and why it matters.  The Descent into Hell by Tintoretto (public domain via Wikimedia Commons) Scripture declares that on Holy Saturday (which, by Jewish reckoning, began at sunset Friday), the human body of Jesus lay dead in the tomb. Scripture then suggests that Jesus' human spirit, now departed from the body, descended into the realm of the dead ( Hades in Greek; Sheol in Hebrew). Like the other steps in Jesus' great transit of mercy , Our Lord's descent into Sheol has great significance in salvation history. Though some object to the implication that something needed to be added to Jesus' death on the cross to

The descent of Jesus (part 5)

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This post continues a series exploring  Raising Adam, Why Jesus Descended into Hell  by Gerrit Dawson. For other posts in the series, click a number:  1 ,  2 , 3 , 4 , 6 ,  7 ,  8 .   Last time , we continued exploring our Lord's great transit of mercy --  considering the meaning and impact of several incidents in Jesus' three-year public ministry. We come now to what Jesus experienced on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, as he descended even further into our God-forsaken hell and death in order to lift us out of both. As Dawson notes, Jesus orchestrated these Holy Week events so that "his passion would occur at the feast of Passover. He would be the Paschal lamb. He would lead his people through the sea of death to the Promised Land of communion and life" (p. 60). Jesus' descent for us comes now to a great crescendo of sorrow and suffering on our behalf. Entering sorrow On Thursday evening of Holy Week, Jesus gathered his disciples in the Upper Room in Jerusalem w