Systemic sin

personal or systemic

I do read a number of posts each morning, one of which is by Scot McKnight or a contributor on his site. This morning, Patrick Mitchel, from Ireland wrote a very powerful piece, writing humbly from Ireland looking in on the current street scenes in the USA. Here is the article link:
https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/june/americas-original-sin-irish-perspective.html

There are so many great points in it but I simply want to pull out two here. Writing that sin is a virus that God will eradicate (our eschatological hope) he says that sin is deep in the structures, and then this very astute observation:

And those who don’t have this everyday experience (generally those with White privilege) tend to resist systemic analysis of sin – they tend to limit sin to the individual sphere.

And in particular responding from his own experience and observation from Ireland he writes:

The primary calling for brothers and sisters in America is to embody a different story to the story of racial division, hatred, violence, suspicion and fear that is tearing the country apart. The church is to be a ‘window’ into God’s new creation, not a mirror reflecting back the sins of the world.


Worth a read!! And the good news I too will have a guest author this month. I have read the first contribution, and hopefully tomorrow you can read it.


And finally, being clear. I am very cautious about writing about what is very visible globally regarding the streets of the USA. I used to travel fairly extensively there and have many good friends who are pioneering in so many healthy ways. There came a point though where the Lord said clearly that ‘you are not responsible for what takes place there… find and focus on your places of responsibility.’ We have our work cut out here, and some days it is pretty painful to see how little impact we are making. Currently there is what looks like a huge movement inside the Guardia Civil (militarised police) to get the current government out. By huge movement I am not talking numbers, but drawing on the sources deep in its roots. So we have our focus. It is not a ‘I don’t have time for something else’, but there is a task to be accomplished.

2020… what a year

A before and an after

At the start of the year as we gave ourselves to get some idea of shape into it, we realised that we were unable to do so. Sensing strongly that it was a year of disruption… how understated that conviction will prove to be!

It is unlikely we will have many people out to see us this year. Last year we hosted people for around 120 days and nights… this year? And we are not convinced we will be travelling outside either with the various restrictions. This week we had some restrictions lifted. We can now be outside during the day at any hour (previously it was before 10.00am and after 8.00pm). Yesterday no COVID deaths were recorded in Spain so the hard line has produced fruit, but for so many who have no income, or reduced income for weeks / months, so much has changed. There will be a before and an after.

Looking forward, I still maintain that this year will not be as shocking as 2022. There are ripples and major shocks this year, and currently the street voice in the US is being responded to globally (Photo at the top is of Liverpool FC taking a knee while training. Liverpool has a call to be a city of reconciliation… Cities can follow where we go.)

I am deeply grieved by what is exploding in the US. And given that north America is the child of Europe there is no way that we can look and point a finger. What we see is an image of the fruit of the past 500 years of exploitation from Europe. What is for sure is that there are crises that come to all dominating systems, and in spite of not believing in wrath in the sense of ‘personal’ when applied to God the biblical usage of the term might well be applied into this phase of Western history.

The biggest challenge is seeking to understand what it means to be those who see a new ‘creation’. That is the gift of the Spirit (pertinent as we celebrated Pentecost Sunday) and the challenge from the Spirit – what do you see?

Easy to say, not easy to embrace, but we have to look to see what God is making beautiful in this season. I, for long, have considered that we prophesy without having much clue as to what it means. The Bible is full of it, and we should not expect to do much better. I have read some of the words about ‘Passover’ and ‘Pentecost’ for this year. My only comment is that words like that are not given to confirm us to stay on the merry-go-round. I wrote a few days ago about the Exodus from where (Passover) and I believe there is a before and after this Pentecost – but the after is going to be as shocking as the fulfilment of Peter’s prophecy on the day of Pentecost. In my great and awesome writings (as if!!) I wrote that before every shift forward there is a conversion of the church to the world. Such a conversion is preceded by traversing the ground of breaking with the good that has brought us thus far.

I have been ever so tempted to write some of the prophetic statements I have made in the USA since 2001, particularly concerning presidential terms (I spoke of a time-line appointed in 2001 that was tied to the Bush presidency and that a second term would indicate extended time to idea with a root issue; in 2005 I spoke of the outcome in 2008 and 12). I have held back and will continue to do so as the Lord made it clear that we are not ‘responsible’ for that land; there are others who have to take that stand and bring the land through to a different future. Same as we have to do here. Suffice to say through that what is taking place now is a pretty natural follow on from those words.

Finally, not aimed where it might seem to be aimed. When we hold up the cross, or a Bible in certain contexts (Spain and the Valley of the Fallen) we disempower and nullify the very reality that lies behind the symbol. That is deeply worrying. It is the lie of Imperial power – the altar to peace was established on Mars Hill in the days of the New Testament in Rome. Altar to peace established on the mountain of war.

The signs are there for those who wish to look, and this is not about left or right in politics. I still hold out that when we understand the good/bad line does not run between me and you but THROUGH you and me that we can pull something incredible out of this time.

Which Exodus and where?

An Exodus in Jerusalem

I am currently writing, my fingers getting a little worn out, but enjoying it a lot. I am on to ‘volume 3’ (though they are really ‘volumetes’ so don’t be overly impressed). My writing today coincided with my readings which took me to the Transfiguration stories. There Moses and Elijah (the law and the prophets?) came to meet Jesus and glory was revealed as they talked.

The part that stood out to me was in Luke 9: 31 where they talked of Jesus’ forthcoming Exodus in Jerusalem. The normal word for ‘The Exodus’ is used and I consider very deliberately. Then I thought – cos it lined up with what I am writing about, the ekklesia released / commissioned with the p-small ‘p’ political gospel that means the public sphere is where the good news that Jesus is Lord is to be outworked… an exodus where?

Back up. Original exodus was so that a people called by heaven (and in those designations the people were called an ekklesia, hence Moses was with the ekklesia in the wilderness (Acts 7)) could go to their destiny, to a land flowing with milk and honey. They could escape the place that supplied all their needs… but at a price. The imperial rule of Egypt. Fast forward some 1500 years (from one possible date for the exodus…) and the Exodus is now not in a ‘foreign’ land but in a land that has become foreign to the ways of God, overrun by all kinds of foreigners, or maybe better by one kind of foreigner, the ones who represent the power of Babylon!

An Exodus in Egypt so that there can be a departure.

Now an Exodus in Jerusalem, so that…

Yes I think so! So that there can be a departure to the always-desired destination. As Paul says in Romans 4:13, the descendents of Abraham are not defined by race but by faith (always was the case just radically more so post-cross), and that Abraham was promised not a land but the world (ho kosmos).

The Exodus in Jerusalem was to free a people from all bondage. Nowhere was more in bondage than Jerusalem at the time of Jesus, hence he comes at the fullness of time. There is an Exodus and there is a departure. No lockdown in that city at that time!

The demonic elite

Probably in us all?

Ah yes a gentle little title there! How else can I get your attention?

And just to soften it a little, and only a little, how often am I a servant of the wrong ‘side’? In my infallible writings that I have started to go through with a few who hopefully will help me with feedback I have tracked how Peter withstood Jesus on the basis of revelation, only to be told to ‘get behind me Satan!’

I have been pushing a high view of humanity, because that is where God is invested. The spirit of antiChrist denies the humanity of Jesus, to sin is to fall short of the glory of God (as a human)… so I have been pushing to dehumanise is to act on behalf of the demonic world. Sadly I can do that in the name of Jesus, in attitude or action.

It is this high view of humanity that is restored in Christ so that ‘there is , neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor male and female’. A new humanity, where the bar is raised but the field is level. [Little side-note the text is actually ‘male and female’ not as is often translated ‘male nor female’. I think this is a deliberate quote from Genesis – thus creation is not the model…]

Now given that the human partnership with the demonic is on a sliding scale with none of us absolutely free, in reality or potentially, I have been thinking about the ‘elitist’ attitudes and behaviour that ‘rules apply to…, but not to me’. The effect is to set up a slave / free division and if I am one of the elite then I am above you. I am more human (???) and thus you are less so.

In my deep ponderings I decided ‘Not good.’ So good to have one conclusion a day I think.

This elitism is something becoming ever so more visible in society. If the body of Christ shapes society, I wonder what seeds have we been sowing so that there is a visible harvest like this now appearing.

A sign of the times

The end is definitely nigh

Writing about any crisis is difficult. I am not a medic, nor a scientist, nor a historian. I read a few reports, even the horrendous statistics in Spain (though thankfully improving) but have not talked first hand to someone in Spain who has had the virus. It is easy to write when it has not been in your home. I do know people who have had it and recovered, I also know (not know of, but know) people who have passed away from the virus. So at times writing seems a cheap and easy thing to do, and maybe it is.

I am glad I am not a politician. Open up, get the economy back; keep it shut down the risks are too high. It can be easy to say, typical money over people. But in this world life is a compromise. Choices are of what is the better / best choice looking forward. Or in more theological language ‘what is the most redemptive choice we can make.’ With faith in Jesus, and eyes and voice raised heavenward that is not easy, so for those who do not profess faith and probably do not really believe in any help from heaven this is a time of huge crisis that they are seeking to help steer us through.

‘It is a sign of the times’. Read Matthew 24, and that wonderful future predicting book, the last one. Read it and how can you not join the dots. The end is nigh, for sure, this time. Well it is not an unexpected response. Remember Y2k? Computers will crash, airplanes will fall. Stock up, make sure you have enough beans (did we ever get a thank you from Heinz?). I am glad for the prophets who later apologised. Yet it got many people. Add to the Y2k that the earth is 6000 years old (splutter, splutter!!!!!). 1000 years as a day and… oh yes there is that final 1000 years at the end. Quickly count the fingers. The year 2000 and a crisis.

In my youth the writer who explained all things was Hal Lindsey. His books were fascinating. But so many signs of the times, so much so that 1988 was going to be absolutely cataclysmic, and certainly he had no expectation of being around for the millennial celebrations as the year 2000 rolled in – the blessed rapture would have seen to that, the ultimate ticket out of here! [A cheap comment that is just that… but one I adhere to. The secret rapture was such a close guarded secret that not even a whisper got out to any New Testament writer.]

All of this signs of the times of course is not new. Martin Luther, Christopher Columbus… and the writers who lived when Napoleon was marching around Europe had a field day; not to mention the days of Hitler, the rise of communism… and so it goes on.

By all means refer to the Bible to get some guidelines as to how we should respond in a time of crisis, but I just don’t think it wise to try to get the pen out with a ‘look here it is, written here some x-thousand years ago’ and then draw a line to ‘and here is what was predicted’. A little reading of history and the odds are so stacked against anyone coming close to getting it right are so high.

But a sign? For sure. A sign that creation eventually calls a halt to the abuse that those who are responsible for it have messed up. Will we take note of the sign? (And I have for some time said there is something / some things combining that will have a far greater impact in 2022.

We have entered a new era, or maybe much better to suggest we are entering a new era as it is not happening in a moment, maybe over a decade there could be a clear before and after.

Scripture says that God makes all things beautiful in its time (Eccl. 3). Does not mean that all times are beautiful, but God is working to pull something through in all times. I do not see this time as some form of judgement in any sense that might suggest God has said, ‘I’ve had enough’. And it does not mean that this time is going to be easy.

For entrepreneurs it is such a new time. The journey for former entrepreneurs might be drawn on to find some pointers but the world is changing, and entrepreneurs now are not simply going to follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before, they are pioneering for a new world.

There are great surprises coming with regard to where we see the Spirit at work. A while ago I spoke of three phases of any outpouring: immediate, generational and then those ‘afar off’. I think it can also be put into the big picture of Asuza Street (and the immediate years before), the charismatic into the historic churches some 60 or so years later, and then another 60 years on and here we are. Surprises, and some of what has got us here (‘we have never eaten anything unclean’) will be challenged, and not challenged in a gentle manner.

My post then is hopefully gentle. We are not exempt from difficulty. Those who survive are not the ‘goodies’ and all other ‘baddies’. We are all contributing to the future in these days. There is an era passing and a new one here. I think it is fruitless to look back to find these days in the Bible, and as we look forward we can only see as if we are looking through obscure glass.

Human

Fully and Truly Human

The second chapter in the awesome first volume is going head on with a view on humanity. (I am on zoom with a small group Sunday and we will be gradually working through this booklet. The full booklet I will publish here in due course.)

I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,
your hand-made sky-jewelry,
Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us?
Why take a second look our way? (Ps. 8).

Many views of post-fall have humanity as basically evil, totally depraved. Better forms might suggest that totally depraved means affected in every area, but the final result is whatever good is done it is but ‘as filthy rags’. Having no value before God. It is easy to pull together Scriptures that prove a point (I would never do this!). filthy rags has a context, and it the context is not – regardless of who you are it is all rubbish whatever you do. The context was concerning religious behaviour.

Jesus is fully human, not semi-human. Although never ceasing to be God he becomes full human, sharing in our humanity (for those interested I am pretty much in the kenotic camp that he does not draw on his divinity while on earth). Beyond that, and unlike all of us, Jesus is also TRULY human. Coming to faith is a journey toward being truly human, final transformation will be ‘we will be like him’.

In this chapter I am seeking to establish (from my bias) that humanity is not evil but fallen. What is fallen can be redeemed, what is evil needs to be judged. Hence all behaviour that humanises is ‘Godly’ behaviour. dehumanisation is the work of the demonic. So sadly we can do ‘Christian’ things in a way that dehumanises and therefore does not resonate with godly behaviour. And by way of contrast, even someone who expresses no faith, can do genuine good, godly acts.

Where this is going is not in a therefore ‘all are saved’ direction. I want to take it in a value of human life; and beyond that the ‘ekklesia’ (this will be volume 2) is responsible to create a shape where the good that is in people comes through and the bad held back. Of course if we have a Gospel that is but if people are bad they need salvation and we don’t reach those who are ‘good’. For me that is a challenge to the gospel we believe and present.

This chapter is to bridge us into the next ones – Judas comes first, the disciple who is very like us, but whose human weakness was exploited. Then to Peter and with both of those disciples how their view of the Messiah is what messed them up. Our tendency is to be always on hand to be there to help Jesus out. Good motivation!! However, gets us in trouble every time. Passion + (our) vision of the kingdom = trouble.

I begin here so

Presuppositions determine our destination

Presuppositions so determine outcomes. In my first focused writing that I will be going through with a few on Sunday evening I come reasonably clean. If we start at a given point we are probably going to end somewhere predictable. So I open with a personal bio that I suggest is more a personal bias.

If I think the world is essentially a burning building with everyone inside already in danger and eventually they will all burn in Gehenna and I run around pulling people out by the hair I will be deemed a hero. If a person refuses to come, I leave them to burn and pull the next one out I will have ethically been good. A presupposition. However if I view the work of the demonic to dehumanise and objectivise people, ‘befriend’ in order to evangelise (proselytise) and move on till I find someone who was elected from all eternity (or simply responsive in time) then my partnering in the act of pulling willing people by the hair will not be seen as a heroic act but something that even-in-part partnered with the demonic. And given who God is I will still have testimonies as to how he wonderfully broke in and people found salvation. The above I have put in extreme language… but my point is that where we start will shape behaviour, our assessment of what is deemed right, and for the sake of the writing that where we start will largely determine where we end up.

The challenge of belief is not that there are many valid faiths. There are many valid perspectives but not all perspectives are equal. In sharing my perspectives I am not seeking to convert readers to my viewpoint but ot provoke a journey toward their personal convictions. I do not expect to influence (e.g.) someone with a hard line Reformed position, or someone running round with a placard saying ‘Repent the end is nigh!’.

In the mid 90s I read an article that helped explain something. It was on the shift that had been taking place within evangelicalism. Previously to be evangelical was to sit with beliefs that were within a set of boundaries. There might be a few variations within the boundaries (e.g. eternal punishing – and this is normally written wrongly as punishment – in hell, or conditional immortality – again wrongly written as annihilation) but if one was inside the boundaries one was ‘in’ and outside one was a ‘heretic’. The author went on to describe the shift as being to emphasising two questions as being central. One question was with regard to what the door was to reconciliation to the Father, and the second what was the source of authority for one’s beliefs. The ‘correct’ answers to become a millionaire to prove one was still an evangelical were ‘the death on a cross by Jesus’ and ‘the Scriptures’. So far so good! But those who belief Jesus only died for the elect, and those who belief in Universalism both respond with the correct answers. And so it goes on and the diversity of views we see today expressed into current thorny issues such as same-sex marriage simply illustrate how the ground has shifted.

With a personal bias (starting point) we are shaped by our reading of Scripture, our experiences etc., but also by so much that is internal. I was talking to someone recently who was reflecting that a colleague of theirs was reacting to what they understood to be a ‘universalist’ perspective. They reacted with ‘well if everyone is saved why should I bother to follow Jesus.’ I am not a universalist, but if my reason for following Jesus is to avoid going somewhere really nasty it surely is time for me to push a whole lot deeper in my relationship to the Lord. Beliefs reveal so much!

A few posts to read

Want something a little deeper than I write here, some writers worth engaging with. OKAY – don’t all shout ‘yes please’ at once. I don’t want to be too disturbed. Into my inbox came three posts simultaneously that I thought would be of interest…

Andrew Perriman does a quick review through John Piper’s ‘Coronavirus and Christ’ in this post:

Review: John Piper, Coronavirus and Christ

The divide not simply between the Reformed and a more Arminian position will be clear, but Andrew who seeks to operate within a full-on narrative-historical approach makes it very clear about why he objects to the Piper position. The Reformed position that Piper articulates requires a healthy dose of (un-???)healthy faith. Piper writes:

The secret… is knowing that the same sovereignty that could stop the coronavirus, yet doesn’t, is the very sovereignty that sustains the soul in it.

I wrote recently that: I am more in camp of the atheist on the issue of suffering than in the camp of ‘God is sovereign, we do not understand his will, but he has foreordained all things’.

Scot McKnight is a prolific writer – where does he find the time? In this review of Lee Camp’s book Scandalous Witness he posts:

Is America a Christian Nation?

Please do not simply think this is an ‘American’ question or critique. McKnight and Camp are north American hence the focus. I can substitute any other nation for the ‘America’ word.

In short he states that ‘Nation-state and Christianity are too much at odds to become partners’.

Finally Roger Mitchell re-posted in the current context a post he wrote a while back. I appreciate there are different perspectives on the ‘Brexit’, and maybe at some levels that is how it should be as all choices of that nature are never perfect, however there are underlying principles that inform our choices. In the post he engages with Anthony G. Reddie, who puts forward a critique from a black post-colonial liberation theological perspective. Vital we are critiqued from outside our own context.

Advance notice: Roger is working on launching a site for a Kenarchy Journal: articles grouped together exploring how the outpoured life of heaven engaged with sets our priorities for engagement with the world.

OH – almost forgot Roger’s post! Read it here: Why we must not let last December’s election result or the Pandemic obscure the roots of Brexit

Humanising the divine

Well what strange days indeed. We have just entered our second week of being allowed out for an hour a day – FREEDOM, after for us 9 weeks inside. But I think hugely rich days, and we continue to pray for the reset that is over-due. In it all there are a few subtle re-definitions coming to the surface. Essential work being one of those. (I have suggested that Paul was clear that if one does not work then one does not deserve to eat… our ‘we can monetise everything’ world has changed the text to ‘if one does not earn money’…. thus distorting any theology of work.)

There are places and times that are leverage points – the wider effect is greater in those places and at those times than we have previously experienced, finding that we shifted more than we anticipated. This is such a time. And no, this is not just going to disappear, indeed I have been saying this time is more of a sign than a simple reality as I consider 2022 being when there will be a combination of situations that will converge at the same time. Now is real, only too real, but at the same time it is a sign; signs point somewhere; it is the alarm, and the alarm is to wake us up into a new reality.

We have had to make practical shifts but the number of connections, particularly via ‘zoom’ has increased with a mix of old and totally new connections. At the same time I have been writing. In the mid-90s I coincidentally met Mark Dupont who did not know me from a bar of soap and immediately said ‘books, books, books… I see a stream of books.’ Since that encounter I went on to write 6 books, with chapters in some other, and translations into 4 languages. That was that era.

I have now entered the final phase of my life (no death wish I can assure you!). The final phase is to be the least public, but most effective, and I would love it to rock on for at least another 30 years. It probably needs to last that long as it would be nice to at least achieve a level of maturity that one might expect in a 21 year old. (Hey I was 21 once and was achieving a level of maturity back then that was frightening; the last years have been about growing down to the level of immaturity that I really have.)

A few years back I met Mark again, and again before there was any ‘hello’ he said ‘writing, writing, keep on writing… there is more to come.’

I have thought about that many times since. Books are strange, they are strange for an author as they catch something in time. ‘I wrote this back then because that is where I was, but it is in print so cannot change the text.’ Also strange because there is a practical element of how one publishes and sells. I suspect if I were to publish I could move around 150 -200 (such impressive influence!). So I have wrestled with the what, how questions.

I have no idea if I have answered the what and how, but I have completed what I grandiosely have called volume 1 and have entitled it ‘Humanising the Divine’. How, and whether I publish I am not sure, but on Sunday I will begin with a zoom to 6 other people where we will go weekly through a chapter.

I am beginning with a high view of humanity, although clearly acknowledging that God is not simply a bigger version of us. There is an otherness in God, but humanity carries the image of God; Jesus came in human form, and retains that; the hope is for the resurrection of the body not some spiritualised life after death.

Theology’s norm is to start with the doctrine of God (after all it is THEOlogy), while having a logic to the order also starts with what we do not know. Quickly the omni- words kick in. Then down the line comes the anthropological section and the human race is put in their place. Sin with all its wonderful words, often with ‘original sin’ right bang in the centre.

I am not suggesting the above is illegitimate, simply that is not the lens that I have had or used these past years. There is such a need to draw a distinction between ‘evil’ and ‘fallen’. Even creation is fallen, but has a voice calling out for the right rhythms – there has been a response to that voice in this crisis. Humanity too!

I will eventually post what I have written on these pages, and if the guinea pigs survive and find it moderately helpful I will look to multiply the zoom calls. Oh… and now I am on volume 2 so later today will be pushing those keys once again.

An explosive Scripture

Well we can ask which one as there are so many!!

In this little old lockdown era, that signals something much longer term for us all, along with countless thousands of others I have been discovering the world of zoom. Yesterday Brazil, today Germany and so it goes on daily. At the same time I have been writing, working on writing a book, or a series of booklets, not sure what to do with them yet, but one thought I have is of some form of publishing and then with a small group of doing a zoom chat on a chapter per week. So for all the millions who follow this blog put that at the back of your mind as ‘I would love to do that.’

I am trying to write material that would tackle some of the theological issues in a down to earth simple way, not so that I can gain converts to my incredible movement but to be a resource. I am sure that our goal in life is not to convert others to our viewpoint but to help stimulate people to develop their own convictions. Sadly so much of what we can access is predictable and simply re-enforcing the status quo. I think some simple theological principles might help equip us for wider engagement. Or so go my thoughts.

And before the Scripture quote (one I have been looking at in the context of the writing) how about this for a stupendous quote, regarding being inspired by the natural world:

The deep swirling grandeur of our gorgeous planet drifting through space on a mission to increase compassion and wisdom (Stephen Harding).

Moving on to the Scripture I was meditating on yesterday. In John 10: 47-53 we read of a behind the scenes meeting:

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

So much detail from the insider meeting. The corruption of the Jewish hierarchy, their collusion with Rome so that in the symbiotic relationship (you scratch my back and I will scratch yours) there was a recognition how everything could be sustained if they did not rock the boat. Jesus was rocking the boat and everything was being challenged, with a focus on the loss of the Temple. They decide Jesus has to be put to death to save the Temple. Ironically Jesus said ‘destroy this Temple and I will raise it in three days’, and he also said that within 40 years of his death the Temple the hierarchy cared about would be destroyed… wait for it… by the Romans. Irony, or irony?

The area that interested me in the text was that ‘Jesus would die for the Jewish nation (and not only…)’. We have focused our theology on ‘and not only…’ and in a very personal way – for the sins of the world = for my sins. However there is a huge theme in Scripture (or at least in the Pauline writings) of ‘the Jew first, then the Gentile’.

I think so much of our theology has been removed from the historical narrative of Scripture so much so that we have approached the Bible as if it was there as a book to develop systematic theology. Here is my illustration. We have a jigsaw puzzle, the biblical texts being the pieces. We know the finished product, the picture on the box (=my theology). I work my way through the pieces finding the ones that fit the picture, ignoring all along that are pieces in there that don’t fit the picture, they seem to belong to another puzzle. But we are convinced we have the right picture! So we proof-text (choose the bits that fit the picture) and ignore the non-proof texts. But the Bible is not a book of systematic theology it is a narrative. (Before moving on I simply need to state very humbly that I do have the correct picture and all texts irregardless of colour, shape or size fit my picture, but I state this humbly.)

In making a systematic theology we run in to the cross of Jesus and sadly often come down to some crude system that splits the Trinity. Jesus is definitely good, the one we call the Father… maybe some anger issues there? That is often the result of seeing the cross in a vertical way… God and humanity. (BTW I have written yesterday a chapter on the ‘wrath’ of God… appetite whetter there.)

If however we follow the biblical trajectory the cross is not primarily presented vertically but horizontally, it is set in a very exact time frame. If so then it needs to be explored what history is it bringing to an end, and what future is it opening up. No need to start with ‘God is angry’ and wrath can then fit in where I think it does elsewhere in Scripture, so we end up making a shift as the writer in Isaiah 53 did, from ‘we considered him smitten of God, BUT…’

Caiaphas prophesying said his death was for the nation. That is historical, that is horizontal, that is narratival, that is Jew first, then the Gentile. So the cross of Jesus answers an historical issue first. If we don’t start there I think our systematic theology will be squeezing the texts to fit with the courthouse dramas that came from the Reformation era not the narratival story of Jesus coming ‘to save his people from their sins’ (Matt. 1:21).

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