Hope in Jesus / hope in God

While browsing through some NT texts on hope, a couple of things stand out.

1. The object of Christian hope is overwhelmingly and consistently personal – it is no-one else but God himself.

Paul says in Romans 5:2 that ‘We boast in the hope of the glory of God’. And multiple other texts locate hope in the same place. The entire biblical narrative has as its climax the restored relationship between God and those created in his image. A relationship of peace, joy and worship with nothing to hinder its free expression.

Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. 1 Peter 1 :21

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 1 Peter 1:13

better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. Heb 7:19

while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, Titus 2:13

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 1 Timothy 6:17

That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:10

We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thess 1:3

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Col 1:27

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, Eph 1:18

On him [God] we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 2 Cor 1:10

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied 1 Cor 15:19

And this hope of restored relationship and perfected worship is most powerfully described in Revelation 21:1-5 where

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” Rev. 21:3

2. The object of this hope is interchangeable between God and Jesus Christ.

Now this is quite remarkable, but fully consistent with the extraordinary and high christology within the NT.

A sort of unofficial triumvirate of key writers has emerged on the development of early Christology: Richard Bauckham, Larry Hurtado and J D G Dunn, all of whom have written important books. See previous post here

Dunn’s most recent book on this was Did the First Christians Worship Jesus? The NT Evidence (SPCK, 2010). In it he shows a fair degree of ambivalence about whether the NT provides evidence that Jesus himself was the object of worship. He cautions against a sort of ‘Jesus-olatry’ where Jesus is worshipped almost as a separate deity from God.

Hurtado has a review essay of Dunn’s book on his website and judges that while Dunn’s concern is legitimate, he is too cautious in affirming what the NT does say about the worship of Jesus. I’m with Hurtado – you can judge for yourself here.

What is clear is the astonishing way Jesus is spoken in the NT as with an exalted status but always in conjunction with God / his Father. Christians do not worship two or three Gods, but one God.

What is remarkable in the NT is how Jesus is so regularly and consistently and unhesitatingly equated with God. [Bauckham argues that he is included in the ‘divine identity’].

It seems to me that the way hope in Jesus is used interchangeably with hope in God, is another strand of evidence in this discussion and one, perhaps, that has been somewhat overlooked.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

The Spirit and the resurrection

Picking up on the diagram from the last post, what is the ground of Christian hope?

Here is where Christian hope  gets what I call very ‘historical-spiritual’.

Historical because hope is inseparable from the resurrection of Jesus Christ the risen Lord. If Jesus is not raised, Christians are to be pitied more than all as a bunch of deluded eejits wasting their lives in the pursuit of a vain hope  (slight paraphrase of Paul here).

Basically the late Christopher Hitchens was right – those in Christian ministry are (even if unintentionally) lying for a living.

But if Christ is raised, his resurrection has profound spiritual consequences. The sting of death (sin) is overcome in the victory of God. And most of all, the Spirit, the empowering and loving presence of God himself, is poured out into the lives of Christians.

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Rom 5:5)

The Spirit brings the believer new life – resurrection life in the here and now. Therefore future resurrection certainly awaits.

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

The apostle Paul roots Christian hope in something that has happened. Jesus’ resurrection is the firstfruits of the resurrection to come for all those who belong to him (1 Cor 15:20). And, using the same imagery, the gift of the Spirit is the firstfruits of the new eschatological age to come.

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies

Let me put it this way: Christian hope is an embodied hope. A life in a resurrection body, fitted for a new order of existence in a new creation.

And the GROUND OF CHRISTIAN HOPE IS GOD HIMSELF. It rests on who he is and what he has done in his Son and in the gift of his eschatological Spirit.

Spirit, resurrection and hope are inseparably connected.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

The structure of hope

Continuing musings on eschatology, this is my artistic 😉 reproduction with slight edits of a diagram on the structure of hope from a chapter by James K A Smith ‘Determined Hope: A Phenomenology of Christian Expectation’ in Volf and Katerberg’s The Future of Hope: Christian Tradition amid Modernity and Postmodernity. Eerdmanns, 2004.

This structure could apply to hope for sunny day in Ireland tomorrow (doubtful), to Rory McIlroy’s winning of the US Masters in April (possible – here’s hoping), to Marx’s hope for a utopian society, to Daniel Dennett’s hope for a rational world free of religion, to Christian hope in a new creation.

Hope has a subject (the person who hopes). That person puts their hope in something (the ground of hope) – an act of faith. This hope is put into action, actively hoping for a desired future outcome.

That outcome is good – to hope is to hope that things get better. To expect things to get worse is not hope, it is fear and depression and angst.

There then comes a point when the hope is fulfilled. It reaches its ‘end’ – hence Christian eschatology.

Which raises an interesting question which I hope to come back to – What actually do Christians hope for? If you are a Christian, what are you hoping for regarding the future life beyond death? What is desirable about the new creation to come? What most excites and motivates you in the here and now?

The Hermeneutics of the New Creation

Today, Kieron Lynch, a recent IBI MA graduate, gave a paper at our IBI ‘research group’ on ‘The Hermeneutics of the New Creation’ specifically addressing the question of what happens to the earth in the future new creation.

Before getting into it, a question linked to what was said the other day in this post:

How does your eschatology (belief about the future Christian hope) shape your life, your conduct, your mission here and now?

This is one of the biggest questions lying behind the New Testament and huge theological ramifications flow from how it is answered.

Some answer it emphasising radical discontinuity – the earth will be destroyed and remade. Everything will be utterly new. And this can impact how we look at things like environmental concern, social action, the scope of the gospel and so on. The purpose of the gospel can be taken to mean ‘a ticket to get the hell out of here’ …

Others answer emphasising continuity – the future new heavens and new earth are this creation made perfect. And then argue out the implications of this theology for environmental concern, social action, the scope of the gospel as including the redemption of this earth and all creation. The gospel is presented more in terms of holistic mission.

Kieron examined three key texts and focused on the future of this earth:

2 Peter 3:10-14: the classic discontinuity text talking about the annihilation of this earth? But rather than interpreting it as destruction and remaking of the earth, it is better understood as a purging fire that will purify this earth.

Romans 8:18-23: the classic continuity text – this creation will be liberated. It makes no sense at all for the creation to be liberated and then destroyed!

Revelation 21:1-5: a discontinuity and continuity text. The old does pass away, the new does come. A transition from one to the other (rather than annihilation).

There are parallels to the great resurrection passage in 1 Cor 15: the continuity between the old and new body, yet discontinuity that ‘flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of God’.

And the big issue so often reversed in popular understandings of heaven is that the final destiny is God descending to the new earth to be with his people. The future is not some sort of ‘uncreation’ of disembodied souls floating around in the clouds.

Creation is good.

‘Man’s ultimate destiny is an earthly one’ George Eldon Ladd

So what are the implications?

Kieron followed people like Stephen Williams and Tim Chester who, while agreeing with some form of continuity rather than annihilation, caution against continuity as the main basis for social action, environmentalism and mission. In this they are pushing back against what they see as an over-continuity seen in Miroslav Volf and to a lesser degree in Chris Wright [and Rob Bell]

Rather our main basis for such action is LOVE.

Love for God. Love of others. Love for God’s creation.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

Dick France 1938-2012

News came through today of the death of Dick France.

He was a fantastic teacher, a top NT scholar and a wonderful warm and joyful Christian.

I remember his Matthew class at LBC (now LST) in the late 1980s as if it were yesterday. His enthusiasm, learning and fun were infectious. Students loved him. It is a reminder for all leaders and teachers in Christian ministry – you will be (rightly) remembered far far more for the sort of person you are in Christ than for the content of sermons or lectures or books …!

He chose to spend the last decade or so of his life in rural parish ministry rather than in a ‘career earned’ prestigious academic position.

This is one tribute from Professor Howard Marshall from a number of tributes given by members of the Tyndale Fellowship:

‘As a scholar Dick France was outstanding with his superb study of Jesus’ use of the Old Testament and his commentaries on Matthew and Mark. His conclusions were ever sane and sensible and yet also fresh and creative. He was not afraid to be adventurous, as in his interpretation of Mark 13, his support for women in ministry and his defence of apostolic authorship of the Gospel of Matthew. He was a capable administrator, and his combination of academic skill and tactful efficiency served him well in his chairmanship of the UK group working on the anglicisation of several editions of NIV and TNIV, a task that involved meticulous attention to detail and the making of finely balanced decisions. But above all Dick was one of the most gracious and saintly friends and colleagues whom it has been my privilege to know.’
— Howard Marshall

He ran the race well right to the end – and in the sure and certain hope of a new beginning.

Gender and ministry 4: seeing through eschatological glasses

Let me ask a question:  Do you see hierarchy / subordination between men and women continuing eternally into the new creation? Or do you see it as something imperfect, a result of the Fall, and something that will transcended and redeemed within a renewed creation?

The more you read the NT the more you will likely notice its thoroughly future orientated (or eschatological) nature. Pretty well everything in the present is seen through the lens of the ‘not yet’.  Christians live in the ‘in-between times’, the overlap of the ages between the kingdom come and the kingdom fully realised.

The future has burst into the present in the empowering presence of the Spirit of God. Christians are ‘new creations’ now (2 Cor 5:17). The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost marks the beginning of the end. Until then we live in the overlap of the ages (Gal 1:4; 1 Cor 10:11; 2 Cor 5:17; 1 Cor 7:31).

So certain is this future, that NT language frequently speaks of future events as having present consequences. Future judgement is already passed for those in Christ (Rom 8:1-3).  Believers are being saved, will be saved and have been saved (Eph 2:8). They have even already been glorified (Rom 8:30).

The church is an eschatological community whose citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20).

The Christian life is not a bunch of rules to be followed, but a call to live ‘a life worthy of the future’ in the present.

Think of 1 Cor 7, the great chapter on marriage in that letter. Paul’s consistent approach to different categories of people, whether married or single, male or female, is to set priorities in light of the future.

Or suffering – Christians are encouraged to think of even the hardest times as ‘light and momentary troubles’ when set against a glorious future hope (2 Cor 4:17 ;Rom 8:18)

The examples are everywhere, but you get the drift. Doing NT theology is to do eschatology. The future interprets the present.

So when it comes to gender and ministry, a consistently biblical move is to look at it through the lens of eschatology. And this is what Cherith Fee Nordling does as she finishes her excellent article on gender in The Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology.

To boil down her argument: if the final ‘end game’ of God’s redemption is a new community of equals marked by mutual love and service, without hierarchy over one another, then this is the sort of community life we should be living NOW in the Spirit.

Equality is simply equal participation in the gospel and all that entails as a call to self-giving love and service …. Our human dignity, value, and status are no longer based on these distinctions and their privileged status in the old order … because in Christ these distinctions do not define human personhood or position. Privilege is given and exercised for the building up of the whole community, whether by men or by women. This does not entitle women to roles any more than it takes them away from men. All service is cruciform, all service is a gift to be given.

… We become who we are as we live, and die, for others, in service to and celebration of the sexual, gender, racial, ethnic, cultural, and historical distinctions that make us unique in the Kingdom of God without prizing any one of them over the other.

Comments, as ever, welcome