Monday, May 26, 2008

Humility and boldness

Humility in theology means approaching the Scripture to find Christ there, and then following him wherever he goes. It means following the Biblical witness to Christ in whatever direction it takes me, putting aside my preconceptions about God, about humanity, about logic, about the unvierse. If Christ, leading me by the Scriptures, takes me to places that contain apparent contradictions, or places that seem to make no sense to me, or places that I just wish I did not have to go, I must follow him nevertheless. I am not at liberty to exercise my own judgement on such things, neither am I free to follow the judgement of others. I am bound to the Word of God.

Boldness in theology means that I must report to the church and the world whatever I find in the Scriptures, without fear of censure or disbelief or mockery. I cannot seek to preserve my own reputation, not even my reputation for orthodoxy. I cannot keep quiet where Christ bids me speak. I cannot hide what he bids me show. I am not at liberty to exercise my own judgement on such things, neither am I free to follow the judgement of others. I am bound to the Word of God.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Theology of Glory

A theology of glory sounds like a good thing; it isn't, at least not in the sense that Luther talked about it. The theology of glory is opposed to the theology of cross. The theology of glory is essentially theology exactly the way any human being would naturally write it. It has a high view of humanity and human capacities to reason and to know God. It imagines that God would act as a human being would, and therefore tries to side-step the shame and stigma of the cross - after all, why would the ultimately powerful God serve and suffer? No human being would. And the theology of glory has a high view of morality, being committed to the idea that human beings can improve themselves (although perhaps only with God's help). When it comes to the church, the theologian of glory dislikes the shame of the foolish and weak congregation, and argues for powerful hierarchies and the right of the church to impose its edicts on society at large. Perhaps in these more modest days, the theologian of glory will simply demand that the voice of the church be listened to on an equal footing with all the other pressure groups in society.

The problem is, the theology of glory makes sense to us. The other problem is that is has no place for Christ and him crucified.

Satan is the ultimate theologian of glory. He is continually tempting us to take this view of things, just as he tempted Christ. I am beginning to learn to read the account of Christ's temptation as an antidote to this type of thinking.

Whenever I start to think the Christian life should be easier than this - where are all the blessings?, it's as if I hear Satan say command these stones to become bread.

Whenever I start to think if only the church looked more impressive, or the CU could put on more spectacular events, it's as if I hear the voice of Satan: throw yourself down from the temple - surely an angelic rescue will impress the watching crowds!

And whenever I feel dismayed at the lack of influence the church has in society and think where is the rule of Christ in all this?, I hear the tempter whisper All these I will give you, if you bow down and worship me.

But Christ is not a theologian of glory. He will take the shameful, sorrowful path to Calvary instead. Will I take up my cross and follow?

Friday, May 09, 2008

On Pride

Augustine said that the essence of the Christian religion was three things: humility, humility and humility. It occurs to me that the essence of sin is pride. Pride works at least three ways to harden me against the gospel:

Pride denies that I am a sinner. Because it is unpleasant for me to think of myself badly, because to acknowledge my sin would put a dent in my pride and self-confidence, instead I say that I am 'not so bad'. Of course I am not perfect - nobody is - but I am at least as good as the next guy, and frankly better than most. If I have done things wrong, they are not very wrong; more youthful misdemeanours than sins. I am basically okay. In fact, I'm pretty proud of my moral standing.

If by God's grace I do become convinced of my sin, pride has a fallback position prepared...

Pride says I will get better. There is nothing that human beings under conviction of sin like more than an attempt at self-improvement. DIY salvation suits us down to the ground. I can do this. I can be better in the future; perhaps I can even atone for the wrongs of the past. Okay, I sinned, but it won't happen again. All I need to do is to pull myself together.

If by God's grace I realise that this is a fiction, pride resorts to its final stronghold...

Pride says I will not accept help. Maybe I can't get better. Maybe I am doomed to be a sinner. Maybe I am damned. Well then, I will be damned. I would rather pay for my sins myself than let anyone pay for me. It will be heroic: I will go down fighting. I will fight God with my very last breath even though I know I will lose, because frankly it is better to die standing than to live on my knees.

Oh Lord, humble my heart and by your grace grant that I might accept what you offer!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The cross from two vantage points

Sometimes I stand at a distance and look at the cross, and see that Jesus suffers there alone. He is there, and I am not. He is dying, and I am not. He is enduring the wrath of God, and I am not. All of which is amazing, because everything that he is going through is everything that I deserve but will now never face.

That is the glorious gospel truth that Christ is my substitute.

Sometimes I look down from the cross, and realise that Jesus' suffering there includes me. I died with him. I am there. My old, sinful self died as he died. My old identity as a sinner died as he died. My old way of living and looking at the world died completely as he died. Which is equally amazing, because it means that I can be a new person now - I can change.

This is the glorious gospel truth that Christ is my representative.