Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Jesus, the Elect

If you want to know where the idea of election, commonly attributed to (blamed on?) John Calvin, comes from, and how it works, you need to look at Jesus.  Jesus is the chosen one of God.  He is the elect par excellence.  When the Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism, this was a clear witness that he was the Father's chosen one, his elect.

If you believe that Jesus is unique amongst all human beings, you already believe in election, and you already believe in what many consider to be the most offensive part of the doctrine: that some are chosen whilst others are not.  If Jesus is the chosen, nobody else is.  Already you have the scandal of particularity - that God deals with this particular person, in this particular way which is not accessible to the rest of us.  Belief in Jesus as the Christ necessitates this.

But what is offensive to many about the Calvinist doctrine is that it is unconditional election; God's choosing does not depend on anything in the recipient.  This, too, can be traced Scripturally to Jesus (although I don't know whether Calvin ever did this, and I have reason to doubt it).  Early church theologians, following the witness of Scripture, spoke of the anhypostasis of Jesus' human nature, which was just an invented Greek word to say that the human nature of Christ had no existence apart from its assumption into union with the divine nature of the Son of God.  In other words, there weren't a bunch of humans sitting on a shelf and God chose one he liked; rather, in willing the incarnation, God willed that this particular human be.  He wasn't the elect of God because of anything he had done.  Everything he was and did flowed from his being the elect of God.

Which brings us to the aspect of election which doesn't get enough airplay in Calvinist circles: the elect are chosen for the sake of others.  Jesus is the elect in order to gather in the elect.  Until such time as that circle of election is complete, election always means election to service, because that is what it meant for Jesus.  And since Jesus was chosen in order to bring salvation to the world (without limits known to us), we cannot ever assume that anyone currently standing outside the circle belongs there.  Election means service.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Mocking God

God is not mocked - Galatians 6:7

...twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” - Matthew 27:29

A god who needs protecting is no god at all.  In particular, a god who needs human beings to take offence on his behalf and to violently protect his reputation and honour is no god.  If he is a god, let him contend for himself.  Let's be straight: a god who is this brittle, this fragile, this needy - he is nothing.  An idol.  Emptiness.

What difference does it make that God - the God we see in Christ - willingly submitted to mockery and scorn?  Surely at least this: every Christian crusade, every Christian blasphemy law, every time a Christian says 'well they wouldn't get away with mocking Islam in this way' - this is always a misunderstanding and diminishing of God.  It does not serve his glory for us to try to fight for him; rather in so far as we are able we conceal his glory.  His glory is revealed at the cross.

Christians serve a God who is big enough, strong enough, secure enough, that without his own glory being threatened in any way he could endure mockery and abuse from creatures he had made.  Indeed, we serve a God who could take that very mockery and abuse and turn it into the most stunning revelation of his own glorious love: the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He does not need us to take offence on his behalf.  He does not need, or ask for, our defence.

Let us not transform him into an idol, imprisoned by his own fragile glory.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015


Yesterday was the Epiphany, when we particularly remember the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles.  For those of us who are Gentile Christians, I think there are at least four good reasons to think more about our Gentile identity.

1.  It keeps us humble.  We were not people who were close to God - rather, we were separated from Christ, without God.  If we get a taste of the blessings of the gospel, it is as dogs gathering up the crumbs under the table.

2.  It reminds us of God's grace.  It is remarkable that repentance and life have been granted even to the Gentiles.  Unlike the people of Israel, we were in no way prepared for the reception of this gift.  Unlike the people of Israel, we had no obvious interest in Christ.  If God has revealed himself to us - even us Gentiles - in Christ, then it can only be his free grace.

3.  It keeps us focussed on Jesus.  We are certainly not the 'true Israel', the real people of God.  Neither is 'Israel' the 'true Israel'.  Rather, Jesus the Messiah is in his own person the only true Israel, the only one who truly kept the covenant, lived out his election, acted for and to God in faith and faithfulness.  If we are the people of God in any sense, it is only because we are joined to him by faith.

4.  It helps us to remember that we are not the final goal.  Just as Israel needed to remember that they were not called not only for their own sake but also for the salvation of the world, so we Gentile Christians need to remember that if we have been called it is ultimately for the salvation of Israel.  Getting this right is the key to remembering that in general we are called for the sake of others, and not just to rest in our undeserved privileges.