Different

Fall leaves are dropping,
autumn arriving in typical
colors and smells.
A cool breeze hints
at winter. But not just yet. 

A lady sits on a front porch,
smiling, as she watches
a brilliant-red cardinal
clinging, calling out from
his perch. 

His persistence pays off
and a young female
swoops in, shy but determined.
The lady on the porch rocks
slowly, smiling.

She calls out to the
cardinals—Hello mom, hi Chaz,
and goes back to
waiting for her
expected guest. 

Memories prance
through her head,
retelling days of
swings and sleepovers, of the
sand and the ocean. 

Her guest arrives,
reaching for the
wooden rail.
The first step creaks.
The guest steps into view. 

He is old—well, getting old.
Older than before the
trouble started. Older but
born anew. Better
Different.

She looks in his direction
and their eyes meet. She
stays in her rocking chair
evaluating, determining, hopeful
that it’s truly different this time.

Hi mom, he says.
Hi son, she replies.

©2020 Steven Barto

Let’s Go to Theology Class: The Works of Christ

The following is a summary of my most recent lesson in pursuit of my master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University concerning the “Work” of Jesus.

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

Grudem joins most Evangelicals in affirming that the penal substitutionary theory is the primary theory and most important way to understand Jesus’ atoning work. But after sampling other biblical images and biblically based theories, pick one image or theory other than penal substitutionary and “defend” it as your new favorite: What is the full scope communicated via this image or theory? Why is it especially meaningful to you?

The lesson this week gives us much to consider regarding the “work” of Jesus Christ, i.e., His sacrifice on the cross. I’m sure most of us realize the importance of “threes” in the work of Christ. First, it is a three-day event. Jesus was taken into custody sometime around midnight (Thursday into Friday) and brought before the Sanhedrin and Roman officials for a series of “trials.” He was crucified on Friday and, after defeating death, He rose from the dead on the third day. Looking at the “work” of Christ in greater detail, “three” shows up several more times. There are three “stages” to the event itself: (1) death; (2) burial; (3) resurrection. Further, each of these stages addresses separate issues regarding atonement. In the first stage, Jesus shed His innocent blood, which correlates with the axiom “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” In the second stage, Jesus suffered actual (physical) death. This stage satisfied our moral debt. The third stage allowed our “sentence” to be served by proxy.

K.M. Kapic provides a wonderful explanation of the work of Christ on the cross. “Taken together, the images on this colorful canvas can help us see the full portrait of atonement: in Christ, God saves us as our mediator, sacrifice, redeemer, justifier, substitute, king, victor, and healer.” [1] Arguably, a key component of the work of Jesus on the cross is His taking our punishment (penal substitutionary). For this week’s discussion, I wish to focus on 1 Peter 2:24. Jesus bore our sins. However, I believe it is only because of His death and resurrection that we have been given the means through which we can “die” to sin—resist its dominion over our lives, especially the “practice” of habitual sin—and live unto righteousness in Christ. Kapic does not believe Christ paid a “ransom” to Satan. I concur. Mankind was enslaved to “sin,” not to the devil. Release from the domination of sin carried a price tag: the death of Jesus Christ.

We see in Christ’s earthly ministry many examples of His beginning to “reverse sin’s curse,” especially regarding how to stand up to temptation, the critical importance of love, submitting to the will of the Father, self-sacrifice (even unto death), and restoration. These activities point to what righteousness should look like. Human sin is in stark contrast to righteousness. Not only does sin seek its own appeasement, it causes a “failure to ‘render unto God his due honor.’” [2] God cannot overlook man’s abject disloyalty. However, I digress. Let’s stay on the matter of Jesus providing the means by which we can resist sin and seek righteousness.

Grudem defines atonement as “The work Christ did in his life and death to earn our salvation.” [3] Although this is slightly vague on its surface, I agree. But I must add that the term “salvation” is very comprehensive and includes deliverance from sin’s power and effects. The Hebrew language indicates some synonymous terms for salvation: freedom from constraint; deliverance from bondage or slavery; preservation from danger. From a New Testament point of view, Christ’s atonement provided release from habit and vice, a growing emancipation from all evil, increasing spiritual perfection (maturity), liberty, and peace. R.E.O. White says Jesus did not die to “win back God’s favor” for us. We had it all along. Rather, the work of the cross enabled us to move from a life of rebellion to a childlike willingness to trust and obey. [4]

I see a vital application of this aspect of the work of Christ to my life. I was subjected to severe “corporal” punishment growing up, which only served to make me fearful and angry. I was not empowered to handle anger, express love, or socialize with others, which led to rebelliousness, sin, addiction, self-centeredness, and a lack of social consciousness. While in active addiction, I fed my sin nature and ignored God’s initial call on my life. My coping mechanisms included those typically associated with addiction: denial, rationalization, blame, escape through physical pleasure. I lacked respect for authority.

Although I tried to stop drinking and getting high numerous times, this was not possible until I began to see how far out of balance my overt behavior was to the Christian worldview I claimed (pretended?) to have. I had to stop seeing myself as the “failure” my father constantly alluded to and, instead, see who I am in Christ because of His work on the cross. This allowed me to love myself and my neighbor. Eventually, I was also able to forgive and begin to love my enemies; what I call my “worst critics.” Not surprisingly, the result was an increasing alignment of my will with God’s will, which led to recovery from addiction. No human power (including mine) could ever break me free from the bondage of sin and addiction. I am convinced that without the all-encompassing benefits of “salvation” we cannot stand up to sin and put on the righteousness of Christ. The work of Christ on the cross allowed me to be forgiven and escape just punishment for my sins; however, it also provided my emancipation from the bondage of sin.


Footnotes

[1] K.M. Kapic, “Atonement,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 97.

[2] Ibid, 97.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 568.

[4] R.E.O. White, “Salvation,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 769.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: The Person of Christ

The following is a summary of my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University regarding the Divine/Human Aspect of Jesus Christ.

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

I found information under the heading Biblical Perspective—Jesus Christ: Both God and Man to be a great springboard for this discussion. Indeed, one of the great mysteries in Christianity involves discerning how the two natures of Jesus (divine and human) relate to each. In fact, Paul tells us in Philippians 2:6-7, “[W]ho, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (RSV). Reading further, we also see that Jesus (while in human form) humbled Himself and became obedient to the will of the Father even unto death on the cross. To me, it seems counter to Christian doctrine to argue, as Arianism does, that Jesus was begotten by God the Father at a point in time as a being distinct from the Father and, consequently, subservient to the Father. Further, Arianism states that Jesus was the first creation of God. Interestingly, the heresy of Jehovah’s Witnesses would support this belief. In fact, it is for this very reason Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate the birth of Christ. JWs are essentially rationalists who reject the Doctrine of the Trinity and, accordingly, much of the teachings and miracles of Jesus Christ.

Arianism bases its belief, at least to some degree, on Colossians 1:15: “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.” Accordingly, I will begin with this biblical verse. Quoting from a transliteration of the Greek, Colossians 1:15-16 says, “In whom we have the redemption, the forgiveness of (our) sins; who is an image of the God—invisible, firstborn of all creation, because in him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or lordships or rulers or authorities; all things through him and for him have been created; and he is before all things and all things in him consisted.” [1] My interpretation of this passage is that Jesus is considered the “firstborn” because of His divine actions regarding creation itself. It refers to Jesus as the cause of creation. It does not refer to the creation of Jesus. Matthew Henry provides a helpful interpretation. Regarding Jesus, Henry states, “He was born or begotten before all the creation, before any creature was made; which is the Scripture way of representing eternity, and by the eternity of God is represented to us” [emphasis mine]. [2] Henry continues by explaining that all fulness dwells in Jesus; a fulness of merit and righteousness, of strength and grace for us. This seems to fly in the face of Arianism’s claim that God created the Son at some point in time.

To help support my opposition to Arianism, please consider the commentary of Finis J. Dake. The Greek word prototokos, translated “firstborn” and “first begotten” is used of Jesus to mean the firstborn child of Mary (Mt. 1:25). [3] To me, this refers to the firstborn in God’s family as it relates to God born into humanity and not to deity. Acts 13:23 says, “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised” (NIV). Acts 13:33 says, “He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.” It would appear this refers to God sending Jesus to earth (as God incarnate) which set in motion the plan through which all of mankind can become adopted sons and daughters. The Nicene Creed would seem to muddy the waters regarding this critical doctrinal question with the wording: “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God; begotten from the Father; only-begotten—that is, from the substance of the Father; God from God.” However, the Creed specifically states, “Begotten not made; being of one substance with the Father.” [4] In fact, homoousion to patri refers to the Father and the Son being “of similar substance” or “of like being,” and does not indicate that God the Father created God the Son.

D. J. Treier, in his treatise “Jesus Christ,” notes the biblical history of Jesus’s earthly ministry and inauguration of a “new humanity.” This is the very essence of the “good news.” Concerning whether Jesus was “begotten” of the Father, it is important to note that Jesus has always been, and He was with God and “was God” at the creation. Perhaps it is best to consider the remark “today I have begotten thee” to be the beginning of the Christology of Christ; the start of His earthly mission. Treier notes, “The Bible’s Christological foundation begins with the ‘incarnational narrative.’” [5]

We must also remember that Jesus said He existed before Abraham (John 8:58). Also, He claimed that He and His Father are one (John 10:30), that He is equal with the Father (John 5:17-18), and that He, the Father, and the Holy Spirit were present (together as separate beings) at the moment of creation (Genesis 1; John 1:1-3). And we must not forget that Jesus (the man) was born in the flesh through Mary as conceived by the Father. This is the only manner in which we can rightly state that Jesus was born of the Father; however, it is the incarnate (physical) birth of Jesus we’re speaking of in this instance and not His creation as God the Son. Moreover, God has always existed as a three-in-one being, consisting of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Consider the word “trinity” (tri-unity or three-in-oneness): meaning three and unity. I heard it expressed this way a few years ago: not one-plus-one-plus-one equals three, but one-times-one-times-one equals one.

Footnotes

1. Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 791

2. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 1164.

3. Finis J. Dake, The Dake Annotated Reference Bible (Lawrenceville: Dake Publishing, 2008), 389.

4. Alister McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader, 5th ed. (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2017), 11.

5. D.J. Treier, “Jesus Christ,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 442.

 


Footnotes

[1] K.M. Kapic, “Atonement,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 97.

[2] Ibid, 97.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 568.

[4] R.E.O. White, “Salvation,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 769.

The Peacemaker (Part 2)

The Peacemaker: A Biblical Perspective on Resolving Personal Conflicts and Letting Go of Resentment.

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Peacemakers are people to literally breathe grace. They draw continually on the goodness and power of Jesus Christ, and then bring His love, mercy, forgiveness, strength, and wisdom to the conflicts of daily life. God delights to breathe His grace through peacemakers and use them to dissipate anger, improve understanding, promote justice, and encourage repentance and reconciliation. Peacemakers help others let go of resentments.

Peace is essential to Christianity. There can be no doubt about it. God created this world with the intention that it be full of peace. But human sin derailed God’s intention. Brokenness now pervades that which God set in motion. Of course, God’s peace is inextricably related to forgiveness, salvation, redemption, and restoration. Luke 1:77-79 says, “…to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (RSV).

Matthew 5:9 says, “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God” (NLT). Our aim as Christians—indeed, as peacemakers—is to encourage others to break free from the habit of focusing on other people’s wrongs and to promote peace by focusing instead on their own contribution to the conflict. We must essentially develop a passion for peace. First, it is critical that we understand how powerful words are. Peacemaking begins with saying the right thing the right way. Everything is relationship. We are constantly presented throughout each day with numerous opportunities to promote peace.

4 important keys related to conflict resolution and promoting peace:

  1. Resist the natural reaction to blame others and focus on their wrongs and differences. People who to take a moral approach are particularly fond of directions. They stress justice and fairness, noting people typically “get what they deserve.” They concern themselves with tangible rewards and the fruits of their actions. This is a “reap what you sow” perspective. They believe emotions simply get in the way. Those who focus on morals concern themselves with top/down thinking and are dedicated to truth. Simply put, they are concerned primarily with right and wrong. This limited viewpoint, however, lends itself to taking things too literally. Moral-minded people often have difficulty understanding or dealing with emotions, and are frequently highly critical and judgmental. It’s all black-and-white, with no room for gray. Those who focus on relationship concern themselves with intimacy, mercy, grace, and empathy. Focus is on the heart rather than the mind. This can be risky, however, as emotions tend to lie to us and become “reality.” Too much emphasis on emotion risks God’s principles taking a back seat to what we “feel.”
  2. The blame game always makes conflict worse. The more “right” someone thinks they are, the more self-righteous they become. This causes the relationship—the very interaction itself—to be more difficult. When we think the other party is wrong, we are reluctant to offer concessions. Failure to see conflict with an open mind can lead to stalemate. When we’re open and honest, we are more likely to accept our share of the blame in a conflict. We need to resist the temptation to list the other person’s faults. Our approach must spring forth from a problem-solving mindset and not be about proving our point. Sometimes it is best to “drop it” in order to stop the blame game.
  3. Conflict can be altered by taking a soft approach over harsh language. Confrontation is a key element to conflict resolution, but there is a proper way to approach someone about his or her conduct. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (NIV). Peterson translates the verse this way in The Message: “A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire.” This concept holds true in conflict resolution, witnessing, and apologetics. We will be more successful in persuading others of our position, of being certain they actually hear what we’re saying, and increasing the chance to make a friend rather than an enemy, when we take a gentle approach. Even when others have unloaded on us, a soft response can prevent (or at least hinder or limit) an escalation of the conflict.
  4. Genuine reconciliation and lasting change require a transformed heart. Taking a hard-line moral approach when confronting someone is often counterproductive. It is akin to saying, “Here it is. Do it or else.” Effective peacemaking is a matter of the heart with a degree of give-and-take. Colossians 3:13 tells us, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (NIV). Christians are the most forgiven people in the world. Therefore, we should be the most forgiving people in the world. It is unfortunately never that simple. It can be extremely difficult to forgive others genuinely and completely. We cannot overlook the direct relationship between God’s forgiveness and our forgiveness. Biblical conflict resolution is built on the solid foundation of grace, unconditional love, and forgiveness.

Perhaps This is You?

It is impossible to completely and unconditionally forgive someone based upon our own strength, especially when they have hurt us deeply or betrayed our trust. We can try not to think about what they did or stuff our feelings and put on a happy face, but the feelings will still be lurking. Anger can fester for a long time, and often leads to resentment. Unless we undergo a change of heart—and are cleansed and set free by God—the hurt remains. The conflict goes unresolved. There is only one way to overcome this barrier, and that is to admit that you cannot forgive in our own strength.

Maybe you have prayed like this:

God, I cannot forgive him in my own strength. In fact, I do not want to forgive him at all, at least until he has suffered for what he did to me. He does not deserve to get off easy. Everything in me wants to hold it against him and keep a high wall between us so he can never heart me again. But Your Word warns me that unforgiveness will eat away at my soul and build a wall between You and me. More importantly, You have shown me that You made the supreme sacrifice, giving up Your own Son, in order to forgive me. Lord, please help me to want to forgive. Please change my heart and soften it so that I no longer want to hold this against him. Change me so that I can forgive and love him the way You have forgiven and loved me. God, please forgive me for my own unforgiveness.

Summary and Application

This is what reconciliation is all about. By thought, word, and deed, you can demonstrate forgiveness and rebuild relationships with people who have offended you. No matter how painful the office, with God’s help you can pay honor and glory to God by imitating His forgiveness and reconciliation for mankind that was demonstrated on the cross. By the grace of God, you can forgive as the Lord forgave you. This is of paramount importance in the scheme of peacemaking.

God bless.

The Peacemaker (Part 1)

The Peacemaker: A Biblical Perspective on Resolving Personal Conflicts and Letting Go of Resentment.

Blessed Peacemakers Matthew 5.jpg

Peacemakers are people to literally breathe grace. They draw continually on the goodness and power of Jesus Christ, and then bring His love, mercy, forgiveness, strength, and wisdom to the conflicts of daily life. God delights to breathe His grace through peacemakers and use them to dissipate anger, improve understanding, promote justice, and encourage repentance and reconciliation. Peacemakers help others let go of resentments.

The “Four Gs” of conflict resolution:

  • Glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Biblical peacemaking is motivated and guided by a deep desire to bring honor to God by revealing the reconciling love and power of Jesus Christ. As we draw on His grace, follow His example, and put His teachings into practice, we can find freedom from the impulsive, self-centered decisions that make conflict worse, and bring praise to God by displaying the power of the Gospel in our lives.
  • Get the log out of your eye (Matthew 7:5). Attacking others only invites counterattacks. This is why Jesus teaches us to face up to our own contributions to a conflict before we focus on what others have done. When we overlook others’ minor offenses and honestly admit our own faults, our opponents will often respond in kind. As tensions decrease, the way may be opened for sincere discussion, negotiation, and reconciliation.
  • Gently restore (Galatians 6:1). When others fail to see their contributions to a conflict, we sometimes need to graciously show them their fault. If they refuse to respond appropriately, Jesus calls us to involve respected friends, church leaders, or other objective individuals who can help encourage repentance and restore peace.
  • Go and be reconciled (Matthew 5:24). Finally, peacemaking involves a commitment to restoring damaged relationships and negotiating just agreements. When we forgive others as Jesus has forgiven us and seek solutions that satisfy others’ interests as well as our own, the debris of conflict is cleared away and the door is opened for genuine peace.

Peacemakers Resolving Conflict Biblically.png

Unfortunately, many believers and their churches have not yet developed the commitment and ability to respond to conflict in a Gospel-centered and biblical manner. This is often because they have succumbed to the relentless pressure our secular culture exerts on us to forsake the timeless truths of Scripture and adopt the relativism of our postmodern era. Although many Christians and their churches believe they have held on to God’s Word as their standard for life, their responses to conflict, among other things, show that they have in fact surrendered much ground to the world. Instead of resolving differences in a distinctively biblical fashion, they often react to conflict with the same avoidance, manipulation, and control that characterize the world. In effect, both individually and congregationally, they have given in to the world’s postmodern standard, which is “What feels good, sounds true, and seems beneficial to me?”

Pastor Mike Miller at my home church, Sunbury Bible Church, started a Spring series on peacemakers. He opened the series on April 22, 2018 stating, “Peace matters to God.” The Hebrew word shalom has a comprehensive meaning beyond being content or “at peace.” It also means harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquility. It can further mean “to be safe in mind, body, or estate.” Shalom speaks of a completeness or fullness that encourages you to give back. Jesus is not talking about mediators or political negotiators in Matthew 5:9, but those who carry an inward sense of the fullness and safety that is only available through son-ship with God. As you make others peaceful and inwardly complete, that makes you a peacemaker.

3 Relationships Needed for Building Peace:

  1. With God (first). Peace must begin vertically, between us and God, before it can be shared horizontally, between others. Man has a broken relationship with God since the Fall in the Garden of Eden. This has left a God-shaped void—a hole in the soul—which we try to fill with anything and everything. It’s like an infinite abyss.
  2. With Others (second). This is what helps build horizontal connectedness in order that we might live in harmony as much as possible. Philippians 2:5 says, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (NIV).
  3. With yourself (ultimately). We simply cannot expect to have peace within if we are at odds with everyone around us. Jesus knew this when He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (NIV). Moreover, we cannot expect to be at peace with others if we are not at peace with God.

But at What Cost?

Genuine peace is a priority, but it is costly. We often have to give up something of ours to obtain or promote peace. Genuine peace is only found at the Cross. We’re part of God’s plan of redemption and restoration. Genuine peace has eternal consequences. Most conflicts also provide an opportunity to grow to be more like Jesus. As Paul urged in his letter to the Corinthians, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul elaborated on this opportunity when he wrote to the Christians in Rome: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28-29, italics mine).

Jesus’ Reputation Depends on Unity

Unity is more than a key to internal peace. It is also an essential element of your Christian witness. When peace and unity characterize your relationships with other people, you show that you are God’s child and He is present and working in your life. The opposite is also true: When your life is filled with unresolved conflict and broken relationships, you will have little success in sharing the Good News about the saving work of Jesus on the Cross.

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One of the most emphatic statements on peace and unity in the Bible is found in Jesus’ prayer shortly before he was arrested and taken away to be crucified. After praying for Himself and for unity among His disciples (John 17:1-19), Jesus prayed for all who would someday believe in Him. These words apply directly to every Christian today:

My prayer is not for [My disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in Me and I am in you. May they also be in Us so that the world many believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You have sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me (John 17:20-23).

In Summary

The message given by Jesus and the apostles is resoundingly clear: Whether our conflicts involve minor irritations or major legal issues, God is eager to display His love and power through us as we strive to maintain peace and unity with those around us. Therefore, peacemaking is not an optional activity for a believer. If you have committed your life to Christ, He invites you to draw on His grace and commands you to seek peace with others. Token efforts will not satisfy this command; God wants you to strive earnestly, diligently, and continually to maintain harmonious relationships with those around you. Your dependence on Him and obedience to this call will show the power of the Gospel and enable you to enjoy the personal peace that God gives to those who faithfully follow Him.

Please join me next Monday for The Peacemaker (Part Two), when we will look at helping others to break free from the habit of focusing on other peoples’ wrongs and to promote peace by focusing instead on their own contribution to conflict.


 

Forming a Christian Worldview

IMPLICATIONS OF A WORLDVIEW

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Every worldview frames how one understands the world and how one acts in that world. Understanding the phenomenon of worldviews has implications for our thinking in at least three fundamental ways: (1) understanding what happens when variant worldviews meet, (2) recognizing the degree to which worldviews are inherited, and (3) acknowledging the limited degree to which we can objectively reflect upon and alter our own worldviews. Conflict between worldviews usually stems from incompatibility at the level of our assumptions. For instance, if one assumes that the material realm is all that exists, then talk of the immaterial seems absurd. Dialog between individuals who hold differing worldviews must begin by talking about the assumptions inherent in their respective worldviews.

A second implication of the fact that we all hold worldviews is, perhaps, more troubling; it must be admitted that worldviews are less chosen than inherited. From the moment we are born, our views of the world are shaped by the culture and subcultures within which we are raised. Our families, religious traditions, educational institutions, media, and a host of other forces instill within us assumptions about the world and our place in it. We are less aware of these influences than we might imagine or wish. Most of what we know and believe has been given to us by our parents, friends, community, and society. We learn more about the world from others than we conceptualize on our own. We accept and assimilate more than we reject or deny. In short, we do not develop our own private worldviews. At most, we refine and re-conceptualize what we have learned.

The repercussions of this claim are astounding. Very few people have been able to rise above their cultural prejudices to challenge institutionalized slavery, ethnic cleansing, gender bias, or a host of other societal ills. It is humbling to consider how many incorrect beliefs we have adopted – and how many immoral actions we engage in – because of how deeply acculturated they are in our own worldviews. The fact that so many of our beliefs and behaviors are blindly accepted and ignorantly followed is alarming. We are not completely without hope because of our observation about worldview thinking: We can, to a limited degree, perceive and reflect on our worldview. Willingness to look at our assumptions with humble recognition of our own finitude and failings, though, presents an opportunity for re-examination.

FORMING A CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW

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Worldviews ask four basic questions: “Who am I?” “Where am I?” “What’s wrong?” and “What’s the remedy?” The worldview with which you were raised, modified by your personal experiences and reflection, will inevitably affect how you answer.

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Creation

A biblical understanding of Creation informs our concept of who we are, the nature of the world in which we live, and the proper ends toward which we should strive. The biblical account begins not with an anthropocentric focus centered on humanity, but with a theocentric focus centered on God. It is God who creates. It is God who gives graciously and lavishly. It is God who declares the Creation to be “good,” and after it is completed with the making of an image-bearer, it is God who declares it to be “very good.” Humanity is intimately connected to the Creation, and yet is set in a unique relationship to the rest of Creation.

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The biblical sense in which humankind is an image of God, who is given dominion over Creation, is easily misunderstood. The image of a god was a familiar concept within the Ancient Near Eastern cultural context in which Genesis was first read. Images such as idols were thought to contain the essence of a god, and human beings were thought to have been created to care for that god and his or her god-image. Politically, however, Ancient Near Eastern religions promoted social stratification, where kings and priests had more access to the gods – and hence more power – than common folk. Kings and idols were carried in front of and venerated by those who were not royalty. In Egypt, it was not uncommon for kings to claim that they had been suckled by a goddess to buttress their own claims of divinity. The blending of the god-image with the elevation of the king afforded them an incredible amount of power.

Kings ruled their provinces as the gods’ representatives – as the caretakers of the land, resources, and people belonging to a local deity. Oppressive kings created and sustained economic, political, and educational systems that favored the elite and oppressed the marginalized. In contrast to the surrounding religious cultural context, the God of Genesis reveals that all of humanity was created to bear His image. To be His representatives on earth, to do what God would do: to lovingly rule and care for the creation (including not only what we might call “nature,” but also all other aspects of God’s Creation – including societal and cultural institutions). The Judeo-Christian belief that humans are the image of God and have dominion over Creation is not one in which some people have divine right over others, nor one in which nature is to be pillaged, but rather that all of Creation (natural and cultural) is to be tended and developed in loving submission to God’s sovereign rule over all things.

Creation holds two truths in tension, first, that humans are part of the created order, and thus, in many ways similar to the other creatures, and second, that they are made in the very image of God and given a caretaker role over the realm to which they belong. We are part of Creation, and yet uniquely set over it to steward it. More importantly, we are social beings, and only through community can we reflect the image of God.  First, God created man from the dust of the ground. Then, God decided that is not good for man to be alone. God made “a helper fit for him.” Loneliness is not good. It is clear that human beings are viewed as the pinnacle of Creation, with the affirmation by God that Creation is very good coming only after the creation of humanity. David felt this, and expressed his emotion in Psalm 119:14a, “I will give thanks to you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (NASB).

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The Bible shows Creation as infused with potential. God’s creative power bequeaths power and creativity to the Creation. Humans are told to tend the garden, that is, to develop its potentials. Certainly, there is a great deal of creativity involved in tilling the earth and mining its countless treasures. The presence of the first couple in the garden creates the beginnings of social and cultural life. It is through mankind that Creation will be shaped as people bring to fruition the possibilities of development implicit in the work of God’s hands. Creation is pregnant with potential for art, agriculture, education, civil government, science, and literature, waiting to be developed by those who bear the image of God. That is, after all, the very definition of Creation.

A final point about Creation must be made: that man, a created being, is given freedom. He can name the animals. He can till and tend and shape the garden as he wishes. But this freedom is also given limits: “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Genesis 2:16-17, RSV). There is a paradox in the concept of created freedom. It is the use of free will to transgress against God’s will that is the next part of the story, what theologians sometimes refer to as original sin.

The Fall

While Christianity affirms the goodness of Creation, it also teaches that this goodness is only part of the story. The next chapter in the story recounts the rebellion of the first human beings against their God-given boundaries, and a failure of their responsibility to tend the garden faithfully as God’s representatives. The result was a fundamental alteration of the entire created realm. As a result of human disobedience, pain was multiplied, relationships were damaged, the ground itself became cursed, and death entered the world (Genesis 3:14-19). From that point on, the Bible recognizes a twisted nature within the human condition: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NASB). Moreover, it is precisely because those who were given authority over the creation rebelled that the created realm over which they rule is subject to the curse.

f769055c4f4d064dab754584287d57d2--hush-hushLucifer falls from grace.

It is worth pointing out that the created realm is not just physical nature, but it also encompasses the potentials for culture and technology, and all of these things are affected by the curse. Thus, art, architecture, politics, science, commerce, and every human endeavor is now marred and easily twisted away from their proper ends – bringing glory  to God, stewarding the creation in love, and living in peace with each other and with nature.

As we read on through Genesis, we see that the sin of Adam and Eve leads in quick succession to sibling conflict and fratricide, to an antediluvian culture where God laments at how great the wickedness of the human race had become on earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time, and the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. (See Genesis 6:5,11). We are able to see sin as a corporate phenomenon. We begin to catch a glimpse of how sin becomes embedded within cultures and institutions, so that its members become blind to the sins of their culture. It’s sometimes easy to forget that evil is a feature of our existence – a certain undertow – separate from our personal choices and decisions. We are born into a world shaped and distorted by such evils as violence and abuse in families, apartheid, genocide, ethnic cleansing, discrimination, violent jihad, sexual immorality, and the wrongful taking of life.

Throughout Scripture we see not just an individual inclination to sin, but the corporate nature of sin, such that the last five of the Ten Commandments focus on social consequences of individual sin (murder, adultery, theft, false witness, covetousness). The permanent vices and crimes of adults are not transmitted by heredity, but by being socialized. The “gospel” of individualism has taught us to see the sinfulness of every human heart, and has inspired us with faith in the willingness and power of God to save every soul that comes to Him. But it has not given us an adequate understanding of the sinfulness of the social order and its share in the sins of all individuals within it. It has not yet evoked faith in the will and power of God to redeem the permanent institutions of human society from their inherited guilt of oppression and extortion.

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While it is entirely appropriate for us to attend to individual sinfulness, doing so is incomplete unless we also focus on our participation in the social and corporate sins of our social practices and social structures. Spiritual conversion, then, is not just repenting of individual sin, but also examining our participation in collective sin, and prophetically challenging sins that become embedded within a society, including economic systems which disadvantage some and privilege others. Unfortunately, many Christian denominations tend to focus either on individual sin and the need for individual repentance or on culturally embedded sin and the need for social reform and social justice. A fully biblical picture must acknowledge and address both personal and social dimensions of sin.

We must also note that sin has widespread effects throughout the created realm. While sin itself has both individual and social dimensions, the biblical view is that sin affects the entirety of creation. God told Adam and Eve, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:17-20, NIV). The effects of the Fall are pervasive, and yet we often fail to notice them, because they are part of the fabric of our lives. When sin shattered a perfect creation, everything changed. It’s not just that we sin or that we are sinned against; it’s that everything is different from the way God intended it to be, and all of these differences can be attributed to the consequences of sin. There are weeds in our garden now, and in our personalities. We have mental illness, disease, discontentment, failure, and a lack of vision. Since the Fall, creation now groans with birth defects and disease and poverty. Everything around us is broken. Things are not the way they are supposed to be.

Notice that we look forward not only to individuals being released from the consequences of personal sin, as we see in Romans 8:1-2, but now we see that all of the created order is being released from the consequences of the Fall. In part, the release of Creation from the bondage of the Fall comes about when the image bearers begin to rule properly as God intended, rather than in selfishness and idolatry.

A Christian understanding of human nature affirms our created origin in the image of God, and it recognizes the reality of human sin and its pervasive effects throughout the created realm. Decay, suffering and morality are among the unavoidable realities that led the author of Ecclesiastes to remark on the seeming futility of life. While a Christian worldview insists that we acknowledge the reality of sin – both individual and corporate – the Bible also speaks of God’s continuing interest in humankind, and recognizes remnants of the splendor in which humanity was created. In the Reformed view, Creation and Fall both frame important aspects of human nature, but it is the story of redemption that speaks to the deepest hopes of humanity.

Redemption

The biblical story proceeds from Creation and Fall to the unfolding story of Redemption and Restoration. The story advances through God’s interactions with characters such as Noah and Abraham and Sarah, and to events such as the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, and the giving of the Law to God’s people. It includes the progressive history of God’s interactions with the Israelites, the proclamations of the prophets, and the rise and fall of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. It reaches its climax in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It proceeds through the early church, and continues today through God’s activity in reconciling all things to Himself (Colossians 1:20). Throughout these encounters, we see Redemption cast in both individual and social terms. Individuals are called to turn from their evil ways, and the entire nation of Israel is called upon to enact justice.

Since sin has social consequences, and is corporate as well as individual, Redemption involves confronting both individual and corporate sin. Reconciliation of relationships is clearly a major focus of Christ’s redemptive work. But Redemption goes well beyond individual and social life. Colossians tells us that Christ is reconciling all things to Himself. This means that every aspect of creation is to be redeemed and restored: Art, music business, economics, politics, our caretaker role over the environment and our fellow creatures, and so forth. In every conceivable area of life, Christians are called to be agents of Redemption.

Consummation

The biblical story as discussed explains why human nature has elements of both good and evil. It explains why the world around us is subject to decay and disease. It introduces God’s desire to reconcile humanity and the entire created realm to Himself. If we were to leave the biblical narrative at this point, we would have an incomplete picture, because it has yet to address questions about our ultimate end and the final shape of God’s Kingdom. Christians believe that they live in the “now and not yet” of salvation. While a Christian has been saved from the penalty of his or her sin, the struggle with sin and the effects remain very real.

The term Consummation refers to the completion of God’s rule over the Creation that has been in rebellion against His sovereignty. The concept of Consummation is sometimes framed as re-creation – that is, that God restores the Creation from its fallen state. Fulfillment comes in the eschaton, the end of the present age, which begins when God’s rule is firmly established. Much of what the Bible has to say about this is difficult to interpret because it is often presented in apocalyptic imagery. It is also easily misunderstood, since modern, western, individualistic Christianity often focuses on the salvation of the individual rather than on the Restoration of all Creation.

Re-creation culminates in the reversal of sin’s effects on the fallen, judged Creation. The biblical account climaxes with the “new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (2 Peter 3:13, NRSV). It is clear that this picture is not just one of individuals saved from personal sin. It is also an image of the people of God living in community where righteousness reigns. Thus, the complete reign of Christ offers the solution to both individual and social dimensions of the Fall. Moreover, Restoration involves the redemption of all created things. It is my belief that Christ intended for us to live in a manner that promotes the redemption of all things within our present circumstances.

Concluding Remarks

To hope for a better future in this world – for the poor, the sick, the lonely and depressed, for the slaves, the refugees, the hungry and homeless, for the abused, the paranoid, the downtrodden and despairing, those who are mentally or physically ill, and in fact for the whole wide, wonderful, and wounded world – is not something else, something extra, something tacked on to the Gospel as an afterthought. And to work for that intermediate hope, the surprising hope that comes forward from God’s ultimate future into God’s urgent present, is not a distraction from the task of mission and evangelism in the present. It is a central, essential, vital, and life-giving part of it.

The whole point of what Jesus was up to was not merely saving souls for a disembodied eternity but rescuing people from the corruption and decay of the way the world presently is so they could enjoy, already in the present, that renewal of Creation which is God’s ultimate purpose. So, Consummation is the final outworking of what God will bring to completion, but which He is already beginning to bring about in and through His people in restoring all things to His rule.

 

Reconciliation: A New Heaven and a New Earth

When God surveys the depraved mess mankind has become, he notes Noah’s righteousness but describes the pervasiveness of sin and the repercussions of it this way: “As far as God was concerned, the Earth has become a sewer; there was violence everywhere. God took one look and saw how bad it was, everyone corrupt and corrupting – life itself corrupt to the core. God said to Noah, ‘It’s all over. It’s the end of the human race. The violence is everywhere; I’m making a clean sweep.'” (Genesis 6:11-13, MSG)

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Why would God flood the whole Earth? What did the Earth ever do to God? The answer, of course, is nothing, but the destruction of all living things – save those in the ark – shows the deep ramifications of our cosmic treason against God. Because the stewards of creation are corrupt, the Earth is corrupt. We are the opposites of King Midas – everything we touch turns not to gold but to ash. The ground is accursed on account of Adam and Eve’s sin, on account of our sin, because the consequences of sin must reflect the expanse of God’s glory.

His glory is eternal; therefore, sin is an eternal offense. This is why we believe in an eternal life, an eternal hell, and a remaking of not just some things but all things. The good news is that God’s plan for redemption is scaled to His glory, encompassing all creation. What is corrupt will be declared “very good” again. At the tail end of the story of Noah and the ark, as Noah finally plants his feet on dry land again and makes a burnt offering to the Lord, God promises, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” (Genesis 8:21, NIV)

God’s promise back then is actually a foreshadow of that day still to come when the curse will finally be eradicated from the earth, from pole to pole and from east to west. God’s plan of redemption is gigantic. The vision He has for the world, then, is not destruction, as many Christians have believed over the years, but redemption. Not annihilation but restoration. A new heaven and a new earth. Purified by fire. Clearly, the reconciliation God has in mind through the atoning work of Jesus Christ is both personal and global. Because all things in the earth have been corrupted by man’s fall, God will be “reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19) and putting “all things in subjection under his feet.” (1 Cor. 15:27)

When Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray, His example included the words “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) This was in essence the purpose of His ministry; to bring the kingdom of God to bear on the earth. Right now, the entire creation is out of wack. The stain of sin affects creation. The very ground we walk on is cursed on account of man’s sin. Jesus’s ministry of ultimately inaugurating God’s kingdom, with Himself as King, is not simply a mission of recruitment of subjects; it is about reversing the curse. Again, His was both a personal and a global mission. Consider the hopes of God’s people in the Old Testament: It was not just about individual salvation, but about national redemption, restoration of covenant, “real world” reconciliation.

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The Gospel of Jesus is epic. When Jesus says he saw Satan fall like lightning from the sky, He is saying that the Gospel is about the overthrow of evil itself. It’s not just about forgiveness of our sinful behavior. When Jesus casts out demons, He is demonstrating the authority of God’s sovereignty. When He heals the sick and the lame, He is saying that the Gospel is about the eradication of physical brokenness: the effects of sin. In fact, the mission of Jesus is so big that John the Baptist, in Matthew 3:3, quotes Isaiah 40:3-4. Here’s a look at that passage from Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message: “Thunder in the desert! ‘Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God. Fill in the valleys, level off the hills, smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks. Then God’s bright glory will shine and everyone will see it. Yes. Just as God said.'”

One of the dangers of a Gospel that stays on the ground too long is that it becomes man-centered. The idea, for instance, that the Bible is God’s love letter to us has a bit of truth to it,  but this shows how easily we trade the centrality of God’s glory for the centrality of our need. Colossians 1:18 puts this man-centeredness to rest as follows: “And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the first born from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy.” (NIV) The peace that is made by the blood of the cross covers everything. The scope of Christ’s reconciling work on the cross spans the brokenness between man and God and the brokenness between earth and heaven.

The cross of Christ is first and centrally God’s means of reconciling sinful people to His sinless self. But it is bigger than that too. From the ground, we see the cross as our bridge to God. From the air, the cross is our bridge to the restoration of all things. The cross of the battered Son of God is the battering ram through the blockade back to the Garden of Eden. Back to the wonders of the new covenant kingdom, of which the old was but a foreshadow. The cross is the keystone in God’s plan to restore all creation. And although we are each saved as an individual life, we are not saved to an individual life. Rather, we stand as part of God’s restoration of all things. When you and I are reconciled by Jesus Christ to God, we are brought into the covenant community of faith. Remember, we have been made members of the Body of Christ.

In Christ, we’ve also been called not just into the universal church but to the local church. I my case, I was called back to the church of my youth, where I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and was baptized at thirteen years old. This is where I became part of the work of reconciliation. I, like nearly all of us, went astray. Although I was covered by the blood, and saved by grace, I failed to participate in God’s plan of reconciliation. I discovered drugs and alcohol, and, through associating with the wrong people, and a series of very bad decisions, I ended up in state prison. There were times, even in those darkest hours, when I again participated in God’s plan of reconciliation. I organized and conducted a Bible study during free time known as “block out.” At times, as many as seven or eight prisoners joined me to study the Word of God.

Sadly, I continued to step off the narrow path, on to the wide path, which leads to destruction. It has taken me nearly four decades to return to the path God has chosen for me. Now, I am finishing my undergraduate degree in psychology at Colorado Christian University, and have applied to the graduate studies program at Lancaster Bible College for fall of 2018. I will be ministering to teens and young adults struggling with mental illness and addiction. Yes, we are awaiting the coming of a new heaven and a new earth, but of that hour no man knows. Our great commission, in the meantime, is to spread the Good News, and to bring freedom to the captives.

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God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth is about a refreshing of the earth rather than destruction of the existing earth. Dr. David Jeremiah tells of purification by fire. There will be renewal, not annihilation. 2 Peter 3:10-12 describes the heavens disappearing with a roar, and  the elements (the earth) being “laid bare” by fire. Heaven and earth will be new not in time but in quality. In other words, it is about renovation. Not something that never existed before. Something made better. Just as our bodies are redeemed and will be changed, so it will be with heaven and earth. Because the whole of creation has been affected by the curse, and further polluted by man’s sin, it is not a suitable place for resurrected, perfect people to live. How could we live among fossils, graveyards, and reminders of death, and a flood-scarred earth that bore evidence of God’s great judgment of sin? How can we live on a planet next to a sun that has a limited lifespan, or within a universe that has a build-in timer our physicists have labeled entropy?

Here is another way to look at it. Did the Great Flood destroy or annihilate the earth? No! Neither will God’s purifying fire. Just as our bodies die and return to dust, ultimately raised as new bodies that have continuity with who we were before our death, likewise the earth is fallen and will be renewed. The renewal of the earth is directly analogous with the resurrection of the redeemed in Christ. Just as we have to die before we are resurrected, the earth must be destroyed before it is renewed. It is not an ultimate or final destruction; it is a destruction that purifies and clears the way for re-creation.

Somehow we’ve managed to get away from the message of the Bible: Redeem. Restore. Recover. Return. Renew. Resurrect. Each of these words begins with the prefix re-, which means return to an original condition that was ruined or lost. God always sees us in light of what He intended us to be, and He always seeks to restore us to that design. Likewise, He sees the earth in terms of what He intended it to be, and He seeks to restore it to its original design. Realize this: If God doesn’t redeem or restore the physical world, then Satan wins, because he would have foiled God’s original purpose of Creation. The Bible promises that God will undo everything Satan did, and He will make creation even better than before. Frankly, man has an innate longing for a Golden Age; we’re homesick for the Garden of Eden. Paul tells us, “However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived – the things God has prepared for those who love Him – these are the things God has revealed to us by His Spirit…” (1 Cor. 2:9-10a, NIV)

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“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17, NIV)