Reading and being read

Understanding Scripture is a life-long challenge. What was once obscure can become clear, and vice versa! Johnson’s lecture sits in the context of a shift from ‘if you are orthodox you will tick the infallibility / inerrancy box’ to ‘so you accept the authority of Scripture so explain to me how you read it’.

There are die hard 7 day creationists, not because of compelling scientific evidence, but because of a prior commitment to a biblical view. There are also convinced evolutionists who are evangelical believers, e.g. Francis Collins who led the Human Genome Project that was at the forefront of mapping DNA. His book ‘The Language of God’ ties together his work as a scientist and his firm belief in God as the author of life.

There are (really there are) those who believe in the priority of male over female as part of creation and redeemed order, and there are those who refute that. That was a disputed area some 30+ years ago and although the discussions rumble on there certainly is not the same strength that suggests anyone who explains ‘man as the head of woman’ in a non-hierarchical way is denying the authority of Scripture. The same arguments abounded a few generations earlier with the debate on slavery where one well-known evangelicals of the day said that slavery was one of the clearest tenet of Scripture! Now issues of sexuality are centre stage, with evangelicals on both sides of the many divides.

I have become more agnostic on certain issues, realising how we can use Scripture to defend us, reading there what we want to read. Dare I suggest God is more interested in my ability to reflect Jesus than he is in my doctrinal set of beliefs. Orthodoxy (right doctrine, though one could argue that the word should mean giving right glory) and orthopraxy should go hand in hand. The Pharisees knew the Scriptures but…

The challenge that the shift Johnson outlines is how do we read Scripture if we are not simply finding a set of textual evidences that back our view (and sometimes either ignoring ones that don’t or doing them a disservice by squeezing them into our already formed box). There is a challenge beyond how we read the Bible – it is allowing it to read us! That’s when the ouch can hit our rightness. More tomorrow.

How long is the cord?

I wrote yesterday about how Johnson’s article presented two questions; one concerning authority and the other concerning reconciliation to God. The former relates to Scripture, the second to the atoning death (and resurrection) of Jesus.

In the old days, particularly when the authority of Scripture was being challenged, doctrines such as infallibility and inerrancy developed. Those terms took a belief beyond inspiration. Of course even with those terms there were added terms such as ‘as originally given’. The original manuscripts of course we no longer have, so in all very hard to prove. What also were we to make of statements such as ‘the mustard seed being the smallest of all seeds’ – not scientifically accurate.

I understand the desire to make the Scriptures incredibly strong and therefore totally trustworthy, but to strengthen them in that way I am not sure is warranted.

I like to talk of the authority of Scripture and how we are to live (faith and behaviour) as followers of Jesus in faithfulness to the narrative of Scripture. So terms such as authority, truth etc. fit comfortably for me. However I also have to accept that even the term ‘Scriptures’ are somewhat problematic. Which canon? And please do not exclude the book of Revelation (or even call it a ‘disputed book’ as Luther did), the surest exposure of the politics of empire that exists!

There are elements of faith with any approach to Scripture – I am very happy to accept what I read (66 books) as the canon. That means I have to exercise some measure of faith in the process the church was involved in that eventually formalised a canon (or different canons). The work was not unlike that of the formation of the Jewish canon. They used the law, the prophets and the writings, and eventually made sure some books were excluded, seemingly to make sure that ‘Christian’ writings were not used. The canon were, more or less, the books in use (found useful, cf. 2 Tim. 3:16) that were formalised. In the same way the Christian canon developed, hence the different canons.

By what authority – for me the 66 books of our old and new testaments are that authority. I cannot prove they are the right ones nor necessarily the only ones, but by faith in the work of God within the historic Christian community that I identify with those are the ones.

Inspired – for sure. Inerrant – not ready to tick that box. Contradictions within the books – maybe I would rather use the word ‘conflicts of views’. I don’t think we are to iron them all out so as they disappear, but rather with a Jesus-lens we let them argue it out, and we seriously have to raise the volume of the texts that carry a Jesus-revelation. Ultimately Jesus is the revelation of God that Scripture bears witness to. We cannot place Scripture above Jesus, nor can we create a Jesus of our own making that Scripture does not bear witness to.

In the next post I will amplify a little on the adjustment of the volume of the text so as some are louder than others. We have to ask ourselves ‘how do read that text?’, ‘what does it say to me / us?’, and also ask ‘how are we being read by that text’. We might not always get it right, but the Scriptures point to Jesus, not simply with a historic meaning, but primarily in the sense of calling us to identify with and follow the only embodiment of the Godhead in human flesh.

Labels – useful or not

The early followers of Jesus were given the name that has stuck to us ever since. They were called ‘Christians’. Not a term we tend to use in Spain as with all labels they communicate what is understood by the hearer. Of course coming up with alternatives is not always easy.

Most of the readers of this blog I guess have grown up with the label ‘evangelical’. A number of years ago I read a very informative article, a lecture given to the American Theological Society in 1995 by Robert Johnson entitled ‘Orthodoxy and Heresy: a Problem for Modern Evangelicalism’. (My words) in the old days defining heresy was easy. Affirm the inerrancy (or at least plenary inspiration) of the 66 books and that only those who have prayed the sinner’s prayer are / will be saved. He describes that approach as a ‘bounded-set’ approach. If one has a set of beliefs within the boundaries one is orthodox; step outside and one is a heretic. He then shows how there had been a shift – and the lecture is almost a quarter of a century ago so the shift has continued – from a ‘bounded-set’ approach to a ‘centred-set’ approach.

With the centred-set approach there are two key questions. One related to the Scriptures and one related to ‘salvation’. The questions are:

  • By what authority do you believe what you believe and teach what you teach?
  • How is someone reconciled to God?

The answer to the first is on the basis of the authority of Scripture and the second through the atoning death of Jesus. Many, many different versions of the Christian faith can answer those two questions in the affirmative. A ‘hard-line’ fundamentalist can certainly answer it, as can a person affirming same-sex committed relationships as being approved of by God.

Hence the difficulty. Difficulty in defining who is in and who is out! Maybe though the challenge is bigger than the difficulty. The challenge is to be defined more by who we are than what we believe. The early followers of Jesus were just that – followers of Jesus. The label was terminology to focused more on their behaviour than their beliefs.

Following Jesus is very personal. I have to interpret what that means for me – in the light of being faithful to the narrative of Scripture. I am certainly not on the fundamentalist end of the faith… I am centred in with the two affirmative answers I outlined above. Having put a stake in at that point, how long is the cord attached to the stake? A lot longer than would have restricted me to stay within the old-bounded set approach of yester-year. I’ll try and explore how long my cord is over the next few posts.

Forces for good

I was recommended this book and am enjoying it. Paul Hargreaves is an entrepreneur and is unashamed about such issues as profitability, but what I like is that is not his only, nor primary, bottom line. His concept of ‘purpose driven business’ outlines four bottom lines:

  • people
  • planet
  • profit
  • personal change

It makes a great read… I think there are also a few other considerations to be added – like how to strategically lose money as that is one of the first tasks Jesus set himself. He broke the power of mammon at the start.

Another area I found very interesting was where he listed 7 feminine traits (mostly found in women) that make for great leadership:

  • empathy
  • vulnerability
  • humility
  • inclusiveness
  • generosity
  • balance
  • patience

Masculine traits, Paul suggests, include:

  • competitiveness
  • goal-orientation
  • independence
  • assertiveness
  • protectiveness

Probably true. But are they masculine traits – or simply sinful? Jesus died as male!

So the last few parts are my musings. The book is great.

Certainly not all Greek

No need to read the verses above! Just a lot of the word ‘anthropos’ that appears there including the part that affirms that Jesus’ identity post resurrection is as ‘the man Christ Jesus’… and yet that is what I wish to challenge.

The resurrection is a very key event which has enormous ramifications for creation. The resurrection is not a Greek alive-after-death scenario affirming that there is life after death, rather it is the resurrection of a physical body that affirms God’s ongoing commitment to his work of creation and secures a physical future.

Jesus died, Jesus rose again. The body that went in the grave is the one that came out and there was a transformation of that body. He enters the grave male and comes out…

A little speculative theology about to be embarked on here.

I have considered the question about resurrection and gender in my little head before and had previously reasoned that if sexual identity is an element of my identity then resurrection would include that element. Recently though I have re-considered. So a little journey to get to where I am speculatively settling.

A few basics first, and in this terminology is not always easy. I consider that God is neither male nor female, but both masculine and feminine. Humanity (and I appreciate there are biological exceptions to this) are either male or female but both are masculine and feminine. In other words I am using male / female biologically and masculine / feminine to relate to characteristics, and in that open up the whole scenario to the critique of cultural and gender stereotypes.

Jesus was male and Jewish. Jewish as they were the redeeming nation that had lost the plot. Born of a woman and born under the law he came at a time when the ‘sins of the Jews’ had reached fullness:

Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all (Lk. 11:50,51 – ‘sins of the Jews’ is a cheeky, but I think appropriate, adaptation of the term ‘sins of the Amorites’ from Gen. 15).

The nation called to be the means of redemption are condemned under the power of sin and therefore needed a representative redeemer. He is the Jewish Messiah. He dies as a Jew – we will come back to his resurrection in due course on this. He is not only Jewish but male, not because of some inherent superiority in the male gender – far from it. Male, as male had partnered with the powers, as expressed in patriarchal rule. Such dominance is antithetical to the kingdom of God. Jesus, as male, broke, through his relationships, behaviour, words and action this male dominance. A simple example of his cultural opposition to patriarchy is in Luke 11: 27,28:

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Her world view spilled right out in the presence of such a truly human presence. A woman’s status was like climbing a set of steps to the pinnacle. A woman needed to be married (step 1), to have children (step 2), to have a male child (third step) and the ultimate was to be a woman who not only gave birth to a male child but to a rabbi of the stature of Jesus. In one short sentence he corrected this totally. A woman’s status was not tied to her marital nor maternal relationships. Males are not superior, females are not subservient.

He is male, not to demonstrate superiority, but to deal with patriarchy. Unless sin at the sharp end is dealt with there can be no redemption. If he dies as Jew he dies for the world; if he dies as male he dies for humanity. Now to the resurrection.

He rises as new humanity, a humanity that is neither Jew nor Greek. Hence I do not see Jesus today as Jewish. He dies as Jew, he rises trans-national. And then… yes I think I have also moved ground on the maleness of the resurrected Jesus. He dies male, but ‘in Christ there is neither male and female’. This verse uses the term ‘and‘ when referring to male and female, unlike the ‘nor’ when referring to Jew / Greek and slave / free. The ‘and’ pushes us back to Genesis when God created male and female. New humanity is not male and female.

There is in heaven a human mediator:

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people (1 Tim. 2: 5,6).

I chose this translation with all its clumsy male language deliberately. ‘Mankind’ would be much better translated as’ humanity’, and the term the ‘man Christ Jesus’ is the generic ‘anthropos’ (humanity) not the specific ‘aner’ (male). Jesus was male, he (?) is now still fully human, but this verse leaves open the gender issue in the sense of ‘male’ or ‘female’.

The Godhead was not and is not male nor female. The Godhead was not Jewish. Jesus in the incarnation was both Jewish and male, but now?

OK, but when?

Evidently not May 21, nor October 21, 2011!! So many miscalculations so now it is my turn… I am soliciting a little help from 2 Peter 3 and his three-fold reason as to why the parousia was still future for him, and as it turns out for us too. (Before looking at his perspective, it is worth noting, as an aside, that although he uses language that could be pressed, if taken literally, to mean the destruction of creation this is not likely his meaning. Two reasons – he uses typical apocalyptic language (strong metaphorical and physical language to describe the significance of an event, not to describe the literal result); and the second reason for not taking it as literal is he has already stated that the flood had ‘destroyed’ the world of that time. It did not physically and literally destroy that world.)

Peter seems to list three reasons in response to those who mocked about his ‘coming’ (2 Peter 3: 3, 4; parousia, the common word related to his coming, and carries the meaning of ‘presence’). The three factors are laid out in verses 8-12.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.

  • A perspective of time – what seems to be forever to us is not viewed the same way by God.
  • Any ‘delay’ means more people can be rescued. This is a very interesting perspective and challenges the pessimistic view that ‘only a few will be saved’. The longer the delay the more that will perish is the result of the pessimistic view. (A much longer discussion needed here, but I suggest we need to reverse ‘only those who receive Jesus will be saved’ to ‘only those who reject Jesus will be lost’. Maybe one day I will post on that… maybe…)
  • It is the third reason that pushes me again to underline the unfinished work of Christ. How we live, what we look forward to speeds (brings it closer in time) the parousia. There is a work for us to do. There is a future and we align our lives in the light of that, we focus on the future, that vision burns of a new just world and as a result the future will take place sooner rather than later. I take that literally, and as I have written in the past, the work we are involved in is in the preparation of the material that God requires for the New Jerusalem. We cannot build it – an unfinished Babylon is all we can achieve, but a finished New Jerusalem is what comes down from heaven, from the throne of God. Only God can do this; the perfect cannot rise up; it has to come down to transform what is here.

But the jewels, the gold, the precious stones? They originate here. Wood, straw and the like are not part of the materials God will use, and Paul acknowledges (in the context of ‘temple’ construction) that there are apostles whose works are simply that. How they work will not survive the fire, it will be considered of no eternal value. In that light he provokes us all to consider what our works consist of. God will and is building with the material that we supply that passes the fire test.

When will he come? When the work of Christ is finished… the aspect of his work that he is now doing through the body. Jesus explained to his disciples that his food was to do the will of God who sent him and to ‘finish the work’ he was given to do. And in like manner so he sent us… to finish the work.

It is time to get an eye that sees the world that is to come, the world that is the other side of the fire that destroys all unrighteousness. What world do we see? If we are to hasten that day then we need to align our lives with the values of that world, not this; we must sow seed now that is the seed for that harvest. Small acts now, but vital ones. The mockers mock, but the seers work.

Maranatha – but when?

Old Testament hope can be reduced to a big picture vision of a future day (of the Lord) when God will show up in our world righting all wrongs with rewards to the righteous and punishment for the unrighteous. That coming might involve a Messiah (by the time of Jesus probably a majority opinion), two Messiahs or sometimes without the intermediary of a Messiah. The vision was to a future horizon, perhaps preceded by certain events but essentially one horizon. It was this hope that underpinned, and maybe ‘created’ the belief in the resurrection of the dead. They did not entertain some Hellenist (Greek) form of life after death in some other realm, but believed the transformation was to take place here and that bodily human existence was necessary to enjoy it. That issue then raised the problem of what about those who had died but had lived righteously? If they are not present when that future day comes but were counted worthy they would never receive their reward. The solution was that God would raise them bodily. The clear signs that the day of the Lord had come then was two-fold, the abundant presence of God (the outpouring of the Spirit) and the resurrection of the dead. The proclamation of the early disciples was highly controversial: everything has changed! The Spirit is outpoured, his body is not in the tomb. That turned the Jewish world upside down, and subsequently held major implications for the inhabited world.

When we turn the pages to the NT inevitably the first followers of Jesus held to a similar vision of a one-horizon future. This fuels Peter’s rebuke of Jesus when he ‘corrects’ Jesus declaration about his own future death at the hands of the Jewish authorities. ‘This shall never happen to you’, was his response. The one horizon perspective meant that Jesus would enter Jerusalem triumphantly and clearly inaugurate the day of the Lord. The disappointment for the disciples is palpable, and we read that the married couple on the road to Emmaus respond to the unrecognised Jesus with the words,

but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel (Luke 24:21).

Jesus explains to them that their one horizon vision was not accurate. The son of Man must first suffer, Jesus explained. The Cross (and we include here the resurrection and Pentecost) becomes a horizon not previously seen.

Pentecost does not bring the hope to a completion. There is more for Jesus to ‘do and to teach’ (Acts 1:1), not now in bodily form among us, but present by the power of the Spirit through his body. A theological truth is that the work of Jesus is the finished work, but this must not obscure the unfinished work of Jesus, the work to be carried out in his name through his disciples.

The one horizon perspective of the future gives way to a two horizon perspective – classically expressed as the ‘first and second comings of Jesus’. However, Jesus added another dynamic to the scene that brought another horizon in view, and to this one he attached a time frame. He laid out events that would take place within a generation. In the run up to the end of that period (40 years after speaking) the world enters a momentous time of crisis. With 4 emperors in an 18 month period, involving civil war, significant earthquakes, famines, wars and many rumours of wars, and with the genocidal war against the Jews and the circling of Jerusalem by armies, those final years in the 60s threatened the survival of the world, the end of the then known world was imminent. Little wonder the head of the beast had been mortally wounded, but when Rome survived, it took on this immortal aura. Such is the nature of all beasts / empires.

We move then from a one-horizon (the great reversal and redemptive day of the Lord), through a two-horizon (first suffering, then glory), to a three-horizon perspective that included the sun being darkened and moon turning to blood years culminating in the sack of Jerusalem in 70AD. We now live post AD70 with – unless there are some other major surprises – one horizon set before us: the parousia of Jesus.

I consider that all NT Scriptures, except Revelation, were written pre-AD70, hence the ‘man of lawlessness’ and such Scriptures that were future for the original readers are now past for us. There then is very little in the Scriptures making predictions into the timeframe post AD70 – the time in which we live.

When will the parousia take place? The final horizon that wraps up this chapter of ‘heaven and earth’ and inaugurated the ‘new heavens and earth’. That event that is so fully eschatological but perhaps not teleological? (I am referring to the two Greek words eschaton and telos, both can be translated as ‘end’. It is the former word that is used of the events that the parousia marks. It is the ‘end’ but maybe also a beginning – it might not be the ‘telos’ which carries more of a sense of final destination. Just a thought / possibility.)

The next post will look at the when of the parousia, the horizon that we are looking to.

Listen and speak

I am in the process of thinking about writing a few books that would try and bring together the many random thoughts that have developed over the past 10 years. The 10 years prior to moving to Spain were years of travel with an emphasis on how history shapes a geography spiritually (the land being the place where the corporate memory is held) and then how the church is to be a redemptive presence to remove the effects of the past and connect with and release the gift of the geography. The last ten years have been marked by a greater desire to see how the body of Christ can be repositioned within the world as a priesthood for the nations. Anyway those are my reflections and into that are continual thoughts about social transformation. So recently as I have been writing I am thinking about God’s ear and his voice, at least as far as concerning oppression.

God’s ear is turned toward the one oppressed and his voice comes to challenge the one oppressing.

We read:

The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob (Exod. 3: 23,24).

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering”(Exod. 3:7).

The ear of the Lord is toward the oppressed. He hears their cry. He then responds to the cry and commissions Moses.

And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt. (Exod. 3:9,10).

In response Moses is commissioned to speak to Pharaoh. Moses does not incite the people to riot and rebel, but is sent to speak to Pharaoh thus delegitimising his control and oppression over others. The word of the Lord so often comes to those with power to repent and come down from their position of control, independence and abuse. ‘Woe to you…’ is what we read to such people, whereas we often read ‘blessed are you…’ to those who are at the receiving end of such abuse.

If the Lord’s ear is toward the oppressed so that he hears the cry but his mouth is directed toward those who are the reason for the cry of the oppressed this surely must position the church with her ear and mouth turned in the same direction. God does not do everything. He calls, commissions and acts with those called and commissioned. It is the church’s responsibility to listen and speak.

The cry of the land, the groan of creation in bondage comes to the ‘sons and daughters’ who have found freedom and glory. There is a longing in creation to come to the same destiny, for creation to become all that it was meant to be. That cry is not always a pretty sound, nor an articulated sound, and certainly seldom is it a pure sound. Most pain sounds are not pretty! Therein lies the challenge. It can be easy to write off an impure sound, or an oppression that expresses itself in a less than attractive way, and in the process to miss the cry for freedom. It can even be easy to fail to listen but to speak to that impure sound and rebuke it. How many cries for freedom have we missed, and if we have missed them how many opportunities to be agents of change have we missed (and I am thinking more corporately than individually on this)?

Likewise it can be to easy to run with the status quo and not address the powers. And maybe speaking is not possible until we first listen?

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Wrong sight and we might partner with demons

In a recent post I suggested that when we dehumanise people we contribute toward demonising them. The word ‘demonise’ is often used when, for example, politicians are accused of creating a target enemy through fear. ‘You are demonising them’, is the retort. I am, though, meaning something beyond that, in that I give credence to the work of demons. Maybe I have blogged enough on this but I think there is a little more in this post that I will explore. So first a step back to lay out where I am coming from.

I have been seeking to find a way of looking at sin not simply as law-breaking. It is law-breaking, but I am not convinced that is what is at the root. The law-breaking is a result not a definition. Sin starts through not seeing God as who s/he is. In the Garden the generosity of God is seen through only restricting the wonderful risky adventure of life with only one prohibition. ‘Eat of all the trees except…’ There has to be a restriction to determine choice, and God makes the restriction as small as it could be. The temptation begins with a questioning of God’s character, of how s/he is perceived. The serpent paints a picture of God as restricting to limit growth, whereas God’s restriction is to enable growth. Sin is to fail to live up to the revelation of who God is, not to break some arbitrary law. The temptation successfully distorted the image of God.

Likewise Israel is not a nation called to live by laws but in response to the gracious call of God she is to live out her life in a certain way. This way will reflect her faith in God, an ordered society with room for the ‘widow, orphan and alien’. She is defined not primarily by race but by faith. Her failures are witnessed when they fail to see who God is. Law breaking can be catalogued but the root issue is their loss of true sight of God.

If we then move away from law-breaking as defining sin and to another approach to understanding the ‘missing the mark’ sense, we can come up with a connection to the second half of Paul’s statement in Romans 3:23. After he writes ‘all / both have sinned’ he goes on to write: ‘and fallen short of the glory of God’. If sin is tied to glory we can then understand it is to fail to live out the glory of God. Glory is revealed in the tabernacle and in the temple but ultimately and completely in Jesus who ‘tabernacled among us.’ That glory was seen, and it was seen to be full of grace and truth. Glory was seen in a human.

In 2 Cor. 3:17-19 Paul says that we might not be getting a totally clear view of the glory of God but the sight we do get is transforming us into the image we see ‘from one degree of glory to another’. Likewise John writes

When he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is (1 Jn. 3:2).

Clearer sight transforms, and ultimately when we see him with total clarity (‘as he is’) we will be like him. We will be glorified. Before that time there is the call to be transformed from one degree of glory to another, and the increase of glory is in relationship to how clearly we see the ‘image’.

It is the spirit of antiChrist that denies Jesus came in the flesh (1 Jn. 4:2,3). This statement is a huge affirmation of humanity, but also a huge declaration about who God is. Jesus, God in the flesh, reveals God. The glory of God was seen in Jesus, the human. The spirit of antiChrist has a God different to the one revealed by Jesus. He is the starting point, the central focus; he is not simply the lens for Scripture, but the only lens through which God can be clearly seen.

That which does not elevate humanity is on the spectrum of aligning with antiChrist, it is to demonise others as there is an agreement with the work of demons and it is human partnership is what empowers the demonic.

Humanity is elevated in creation – so much so that the Psalmist asks ‘what is humanity that you are mindful of them?’ (Ps. 2). Humanity is elevated through God’s identification with us in the Incarnation. He declares that humanity is the body through which God can be revealed. Humanity is elevated in the resurrection as it is not a spiritual declaration that there is life after death, but that a human body is raised from the dead, being declared to be the firstfruit of all creation. The final resurrection will indeed elevate humanity, and before that event the body of Christ (‘those in Christ’) are raised to a new level of sight.

John says in the passage following his comments on the spirit of antiChrist that ‘no one has ever seen God’, but then goes on to say, but ‘if we love one another, God lives among us’. I prefer to translate it as I have done, ‘among us’, rather than in an indivudal sense that he lives ‘in’ us. John uses the same phrase that is used in John 1:14 – he tabernacled ‘among us’ (ἐν ἡμῖν in both texts). God becomes visible among us when we love one another. When we live out what Jesus lived out his glory becomes visible.

Following this John goes on to say that as we love one another his love is perfected. That is the ‘perfect love’ that casts out all fear. It is not through someone’s hands and a prayer so that we are filled with the perfect love of God that casts out fear, but to live a life of love. That life lived out casts out all fear. Hence the fear narrative cannot be listened to by believers. The fear is used to dehumanise / demonise, and as we dehumanise we line up with the work of the demonic and increase their authority to oppress. If the ‘others’ react in a way that justifies our fear we have to ask if we have contributed to their behaviour.

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Letter to Diognetus

This post ‘Christians as the soul of the world’ is an anonymous letter to a cultured unbeliever called Diognetus, written around 140AD. It is an early Apology using terminology that would have communicated in the world shaped by philosophers such as Plato and the Stoics. There are aspects I would change. It is a little too dualistic for me, but it keeps with the theme of the body of Christ being in the world and related to it as the animating element.

 

Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labour under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.

Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonour, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.

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