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Showing posts from February, 2010

Luke 13:1-9; interpreting the parable of the barren fig tree

I received the following question from Warren Wilson, a reader of The Surprising God. I invite other readers to help me reply.

Luke 13:1-9 gives the parable of the barren fig tree. Obviously, we can understand our Lord's emphasis on repentance as encouragement for us to subjectively awaken to the salvation that is already ours through his life, death, resurrection and ascension. My question has to do with the apparent urgency with which he speaks. It has a now or never tone to it. "Better repent now because you don't know how much time you have." It gives the impression that they're excluded unless they repent.
I've looked at what Robert Farrar Capon has to say about this parable and it is not satisfactory. While he does remind us that the vinedresser in the parable is the Jesus figure who came to save us, not to destroy us, and that Jesus will be our judge, not the Father. he makes it sound as if there's a possible conflict between God the Father, the ow…

Keeping it practical: It's like riding a bike?

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Last time we began exploring the book Worshipping Trinity: Coming Back to the Heart of Worship, by Robin Parry, and highlighted sections making plain that the primary emphasis in worship should not be on our own faith, decision or response, but rather on the perfect faith, decision and response of Jesus – the Son of God and Son of Man – and that the Holy Spirit enables us to share in the resurrected and ascended Son’s ongoing prayer and worship of the Father.  Below are additional quotes as to what that dynamic means for congregational worship.

“Trinity should be related to our other beliefs like hydrogen is related to water.  Take the ‘H’ out of H2O and you no longer have water.  Take the Trinity out of Christian faith and practice and you no longer have Christian faith and practice.” (p. 5)

“Christian theology is not an interesting exercise in abstract speculation but is intimately connected to Christian living and worship.  Good theology matters for good worship.” (p. 6)

“Our spiritua…

An incarnational view of justification by faith (whose faith justifies us?)

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Kudos to the Experimental Theology blog for highlighting the work of Douglas Campbell (pictured right) in The Deliverance of God. Though Campbell's book is long, dense and expensive, it's an important trinitarian analysis of Paul's doctrine of justification.

Paul's thesis in Romans is summarized in 1:17: "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written, 'The righteous will live by faith.'"  Here Paul is quoting Habakkuk 2:4: "See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright - but the righteous will live by his faith."

Paul's point is often misunderstood by viewing the one referred to here as "the righteous" who will "live by faith" as you or me. That misunderstanding then leads to another, namely that we attain a state of being "righteous" through our faith in Jesus.This view leads on to a transactional theory of justificatio…

Keeping it practical: So, whose response is it?

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“I doubt that there is any other factor with undermines the mission and worship of the church more tragically than the widespread failure to appreciate the Trinitarian dynamic of worship….”

Those are strong words!  They come from Alan J. Torrance in his endorsement of the book Worshipping Trinity:  Coming back to the heart of worship, by Robin Parry (2005 Paternoster Press).  Alan is Chair of Systematic Theology at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews (and if his name sounds familiar, he is son of James Torrance and nephew of Thomas Torrance, each a highly respected minister, mentor and Trinitarian theologian).

Certainly none of us want to unknowingly undermine mission and worship in our congregations, so what is this Trinitarian dynamic of worship, and how might we be failing to appreciate it?  We already believe in grace, so what’s the big concern?

Robin Parry writes, “(Some) people think that although God has offered us salvation free of charge through grace, worship is still p…

An incarnational view of the atonement

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[This post was updated on 12/24/12]

Christian theologies acknowledge that the atonement is accomplished through the person and work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. However, they differ in how they explain how the atonement is accomplished.

Trinitarian, incarnational theology emphasizes that the atonement is not accomplished merely by what Jesus has done for us, but who he is for us--the incarnate Son of God who was born, lived, ministered, suffered, died, rose bodily, ascended bodily and now, remaining fully God and fully human (1Timothy 2:5), lives to intercede for us. This incarnational view of the atonement is explained by C. S. Lewis (pictured at right) in Mere Christianity (for Thomas Torrance's similar view of the atonement, click here):
"We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself.  That is the formula.  That is Christianity.  That is what has to be believed.  Any theories we build up as t…

The relation between Incarnation and Atonement

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The book "Atonement, the Person and Work of Christ" compiles the lectures of T.F. Torrance. In the introduction, the book's editor, Robert Walker, notes that the "linchpin" of Torrance's Trinitarian, incarnational theology is his understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ: "He who is the eternal Son of God, of one being with the Father, is he who is now also man and the fact that the same person who is fully and truly God is now fully and truly man, means that his person is and constitutes in itself...the union of God and humanity... In his one person, therefore, God and man, God and all humanity, are now irrevocably and eternally united. God and man can now no more be separated from one another in Christ than the person of Christ can be undone, or the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection be reversed" (pp.xxxvii-xxxviii). Torrance understands this union of God and humankind in the person of Jesus to bean "event, a becoming, the action o…

Mystery and Doxology

One of my favorite doxologies is Romans 11:33-36.  Those verses are also the lyrics to All Things by Joel Hendrickson, Steve Mills and Jeff Crumb (1992 Little Peach Music).  For years our praise band Higher Ground has often used this powerful song to place a rousing exclamation mark at the end of worship services.  (Pictured below - our guitarist Craig provides the stirring acoustic intro on All Things.)

This doxology (from the Greek doxa – glory) captures the awe and wonder that thankful believers express when confronted with the “deep riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God” revealed in Christ.  It also captures some of the mystery that is in the message.

It touches upon several key elements in Christ-centered (Trinitarian) worship and theology – that all things begin and end with God – and that even though his thoughts and ways are completely beyond our ways of knowing, all things (everything in heaven and earth) are accomplished through him and to his glory.  And although God does…