Showing posts from January, 2008

Presenting a Christ-centered gospel

Jeff McSwain As disciples of Jesus it is our calling and privilege to share the gospel with believers and non-believers, as we "go" (Matthew 28:19). How we understand and present the gospel necessarily flows from our understanding of who God is (call this our "working theology"). Jeff McSwain of Reality Ministries wrestles with his working theology in the context of sharing the gospel with teens. He argues against a gospel that flows from a theology that sees a separation between God and mankind (viewing God as separate from sinners until they repent); and thus a separation within the Godhead (seeing a Jesus that lovingly touches sinners, but a Father who remains separate until sinners repent). McSwain notes that God the Father is not separate (alienated) from sinners. He is the loving father in Jesus' parable who is unrestrained in reaching out to love his prodigal son even in the depths of the son's depravity. God (Father, Son and Spirit) is fully

Barth and Scripture

Understanding Barth’s view of Scripture is particularly relevant to the time in which we live, especially since “higher criticism” has caused many to question the validity of the bible. The beauty and importance of Barth’s theology is that it is Christocentric, rather than Bibliocentric. The bible tells us in John that “the Word was made flesh,” and Barth says: “absolutely, that’s the point.” In appealing to the Jesus as the Word, Barth advocates not attempting to read Scripture in isolation, but rather that it is the only ancient book that you can read with the author present as you read. God’s presence, as we study the bible is enlivened and made true as it can be only through the indwelling of God’s Spirit. It cannot be emphasized enough that Jesus is the only perfect revelation of God – his express image to quote the author of Hebrews. The bible is most certainly an inspired collection of books, but it is not equal to Jesus as if God can be reduced to writing on pages. The authori

Did Barth have a "low" view of Scripture?

Critics of Trinitarian (Christ-centered) Theology often charge that it comes with a "low" view of Scripture. This has frequently been leveled at Karl Barth (pictured on right) - a chief proponent of Trinitarian Theology in the 20th century. In response to this charge, I offer the following thoughts (my thanks to Joseph Tkach for sharing with me the content of point #2): 1. Trinitarian Theology does not rise or fall with Karl Barth. He was a prominent teacher of this theological vision, but certainly not the only one. The historic roots of Trinitarian Theology are found in Scripture itself, and in the teachings of the early church fathers (including Athanasius) who sought a theological vision true to the Jesus revealed in Scripture. Many teachers and theologians have articulated a Trinitarian Theology down the centuries, including in our 21st century (see the J anuary 16, 2008 post listing contemporary theologians who advocate Trinitarian Theology). 2. I do not think it

Trinitarian Theology Makes The Trinity Relevant

Trinitarian Theology is transforming my mind and my life in so many ways. I am seeing my wife, my boys, my family, my friends, my church, people I do like and even people I don't like in a much different way. It has also changed the way I see myself. No more condemnation. No more shame. No more guilt. In one word FREEDOM! Freedom to be all that I've always been in Christ. I came to believe various aspects of Trinitarian Theology before I knew it was called that and before I heard of theologians such as Baxter Kruger or Karl Barth. It wasn't just another band wagon I decided to jump on. I simply began to see scriptures I had never seen before. My paradigm shift wasn't easy. The shift continues even now. It has taken years, not weeks or months. It has in fact been painful as growth often is. This is what happens when our darkness is exposed to the Light that is Jesus. Our pride takes a direct hit when we realize that what we've learned, believed and ev

The role of Scripture in Christ-centered preaching

What is the role of Scripture in Christ-centered (trinitarian) preaching? Consider the following from Eugene Peterson (quoted from “Living into God’s Story” - click here to read the full paper): Scripture…does not so much present us with a moral code and tell us, "Live up to this," nor does it set out a system of doctrine and say, "Think like this." The biblical way is to tell a story and invite us, "Live into this - this is what it looks like to be human in this God-made and God-ruled world; this is what is involved in becoming and maturing as a human being." We don't have to fit into prefabricated moral and mental or religious boxes before we are admitted into the company of God. We are taken seriously just as we are and given place in his story - for it is, after all, God's story. None of us is the leading character in the story of our lives. God is the larger context and plot in which all our stories find themselves. How can we most

Trinitarian, God-centered preaching and worship

Transformative preaching and worship is trinitarian and God-centered, facilitating joy-filled communion with the Father, Son and Spirit through our union with Jesus. Sadly, preaching and worship is often unitarian and person-centered. This is the concern of Michael J. Quicke in "Beware Tuneless Preaching." Following is an excerpt. Too much contemporary preaching and worship misses out the Trinity. In a provocative analysis, James B. Torrance [in Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace ]   sharply contrasts what he terms unitarian and trinitarian practices of worship. Of course, orthodox preachers rigorously reject any association with the formal teaching of Unitarianism, that God is one person only, with unacceptable denial of the divinity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. However, Torrance demonstrates that ironically such preachers may actually practice forms of worship that are Unitarian, because they are closed to Christ’s continuing work and the Holy Spirit.

Does John 3:18 say that one who does not believe is condemned already?

Referencing “The Adopted Life”, Vol. 1, Issue 2, pp. 7-8, Jonathan Stepp says that the context for reading the Bible is the Word of God, meaning the Son of God who became flesh. The Bible is where we should have received our concept of who Jesus is and what He has done. If this is where we received this concept then why would we, as he put it, have to conform the Bible to this picture of Jesus? The bible represents our revelation from God, and it contains the original objective information describing the Son who became flesh and lived among mankind. The biblical description and teachings of Jesus and the teachings from his apostles should already be conformed to each other without our having to make adjustments to harmonize them. His picture of Jesus tells him that the apostle John cannot mean that one is condemned because he does not believe in the Son of God. He says that not believing will only mean that one will go on believing his own lie that he is condemned. He only feels lost a

Acts 2:38 - A formula for salvation?

The following post from Rick Shallenberger addresses the meaning of Acts 2:38 and the issue of baptism.  Many look at Acts 2:38 as a formula of how to do right by God. Here Peter says: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” So the verse seems to give us a step-by-step process that leads to salvation: 1) Be baptized, 2) Be forgiven, 3) Receive the Holy Spirit. It seems clear on it’s own. But if this is true, then isn’t baptism a work we “must do” in order to be saved? And if that is the case, we have a problem because that contradicts the gospel. Let’s put Acts 2:38 into context. The day is Pentecost and the many Jews have made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Holy Day. While the disciples were all together, a sound like a strong wind came and the Holy Spirit filled the room. The disciples started speaking in foreign languages. (We know these were l

Key Points: Trinitarian (Christ-centered) Theology

1 The Triune God created all people to participate through the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ in the love relationship enjoyed by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 2 The Son became human, the man Jesus Christ, to reconcile all humanity to God through his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. 3 The crucified, resurrected and glorified Jesus is the representative and the substitute for humanity at the right hand of God, and he draws all people to himself by the power of the Holy Spirit. 4 In Christ, humanity is loved and accepted by the Father. 5 Jesus Christ paid for all our sins – past, present and future – and there is no longer any debt to pay. 6 The Father has in Christ forgiven all our sins, and he eagerly desires that we turn to him. 7 We can enjoy his love only when we believe that he loves us. We can enjoy his forgiveness only when we believe he has forgiven us. 8 When we respond to the Spirit by turning to God, believing the good news and pic

Was the incarnation an afterthought?

Readers of this blog may be interested in an article in Christianity Today by Philip Yancey (author of "What's So Amazing About Grace"). His article is titled Ongoing Incarnation...Would Christmas have come even if we had not sinned? Yancey revisits a debate between 13th century theologians Thomas Aquinas (from Italy) and John Duns Scotus (from Britain): Was Jesus' incarnation an accommodation to human failure or was it the center point of all creation? Duns Scotus asserted that the incarnation was the reason for creation itself, not just a correction to the fall. Agreeing with Duns Scotus, Yancey muses: "Perhaps God spun off this vast universe for the singular purpose of sharing life and love, intending all along to join its very substance." I think Duns Scotus and Yancey are correct, though I would describe the original plan as adoption (Eph. 1:5), which, in turn, is worked out through creation (Genesis 1) and then through incarnation (John 1:14) to

Limitations of an "experience model"

Jerome Ellard shares the following quote from JB Torrance's book "Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace." Torrance contrasts what he terms the "experience model" of Christianity with a model that emphasizes our participation in Jesus' life for us with the Father through the Spirit. To illustrate the limitations of the experience model, Torrance addresses the "point of salvation." The experience model locates this point at the moment of a "personal decision" for Jesus, when there is typically a profound personal experience of conversion to Christ. Torrance comments on the limitations of seeing salvation principally from the persective of personal experience (the "experience model")-and note that what is shown in brackets are my clarifying additions to the words of Torrance. "I was asked by a student, 'What is wrong with that [experience] model? That is me! I was converted two years ago and gave my life to Chri

Jesus Christ: The Interpretive Key to the Holy Scripture

In Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics , Graeme Goldsworthy expands upon the thesis that the gospel (and by that he means the gospel of the person of Jesus Christ) is the definitive key to all Christian hermeneutics (biblical interpretation).  Commenting on Goldsworthy's book on the Reformation Theology website ( click here to read the whole article) J.W. Hendryx asserts that Errors and inconsistencies in our understanding of Bible texts occur when our interpretation is less than Christ-centered... Unless our study, however diligent, leads us to see that all Scripture points to Jesus Christ, our study is in vain. I agree wholeheartedly with his assertion (though I might disagree with some of his conclusions in the full article). In my view, the issue of being fully "Christ-centered" is indeed the "crux" of what we're discussing in this blog. How, we are asking, does Jesus Christ himself shape our approach to Scripture? In this we are clearly acknowled

Our Struggle with the Gospel (in modern street language!)

On my personal blog , I promised to re-translate my last post on our struggle to believe the Good News of Jesus Christ! Consider it “The Message” version of Karl Barth’s writing on the sidebar of this blog! I got colorful and broad in the re-translation but I believe it faithfully represents what Barth was trying to get across to us in our struggle! Enjoy! “Let’s imagine God talking to a person about the Good News of who they already are in Jesus. The person to whom it is said thinks God is crazy and says that they are not this new, peaceful, joyful person living in fellowship with Him. The person is convinced there is no such person and, if there is, it certainly isn’t them (because they supposedly know themselves better than God does.) The Word of grace replies: “I can appreciate your honesty, but you are embracing a lie and I am telling you the truth. Allow me to tell you the truth about yourself. After all, I created you and know way more than

The gospel = adoption

In defining the content of the gospel message, consider Paul's introduction in Ephesians: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will - to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves" (Ephesians 1:3-6 NIV). This amazing statement tells us several things about the scope of the gospel: 1. Where? The gospel involves blessings from God that come to humankind "in Christ." It is in (and only in) union with Jesus that humankind receives from God what Paul refers to as "every spiritual blessing." 2. When? Though Paul does not here say explicitly when humans would receive these blessings, he does say that God *predete