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

Gender and ministry 3: gender in evangelicalism

A key underlying question behind different evangelical readings is how to interpret the biblical narrative. Is hierarchy and patriarchy part of the old creation, so rather than ‘fossilising it’, Christians are to live out lives of mutual participation within God’s liberating new creation?

Or is hierarchy and patriarchy rooted in the creation order and reflecting the ways things ‘should be’ at a very deep level? Back to Piper here – you can’t go much deeper than argue such patterns are founded in the nature of God himself.

Cherith Fee Nordling outlines different evangelical understandings of gender roles in her article in The Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology.

She suggests that evangelical ‘essentialist’ understandings of gender are drawn from Aristotlelian assumptions that have remained embedded in the church for centuries. It reflects a hierarchical male/female duality based on Aristotle’s philosopy and biology.

This pervasive Aristotelian essentialism endured from early church history through the medieval Church and into the Reformation where it has a continuing influence within the evangelical tradition.

And since the 1980s especially, this tradition has been reworked into the ‘biblical’ view of male hierarchy – which came to be called ‘complementarianism’ by its proponents. This holds to divinely ordained gender roles.

It is vital to hold to such roles because biblical authority is at stake. Men are to responsible under God for church and family life. For women to hold such roles is to disregard biblical authority.

[An aside here – I blogged here a while ago how NT evangelical scholar Howard Marshall said that it is this lack of any clear reason why it is so dangerous and wrong for women to be involved in leadership that has been so hard for many women (and men) to accept the hierarchical view.]

For complementarians, women are equal ontologically in being with men, they are not equal in role – such as authority, leadership, preaching, responsibility. Aristotle believed men were more suited to command than women – although he also believed men were ontologically superior to women.

Nordling implies here that Aristotle was more consistent than modern day hierarchialists. It is hard to explain how the limiting of women from certain functions is not based somehow on ontology. She quotes Becca Merrill Groothuis

It is logically impossible for the same person to be at once spiritually and ontologically equal and permanently, comprehensively, and necessarily subordinate

Hierarchy is the result of the curse, not a normative good pattern to follow. So egalitarians argue the Bible supports equal roles and functions for women in church and family life. Leadership is a gift of the Spirit for the good of the body, not a right for any man or woman. But it is a gift given to both men and women alike.

So ultimately this debate is a hermenutical one – how to interpret and apply the biblical narrative; how to interpret contentious texts like 1 Tim 2:12-13; 1 Cor 11:3 and Eph 5:22-23 within that overarching narrative.

To sum up a difference of perspective here: the hierarchicalists tend to read those texts with assumptions about fixed gender roles and see them as setting out a universal creation-order blueprint for how the genders should relate. The concerns are for biblical authority and obedience to the way God has ordained things to be (regardless if there is no strong explanatory reason why things should be this way).

Egalitarians will interpret those texts not as intended to be universal fixed codes of male / female relationships, but as needing to be read in light of eschatological Spirit who unites all in the one body of Christ and pours out his life-giving and gifting presence on men and women alike.

In the egalitarian perspective, yes gender matters and difference is embedded in our humanity. But without each other men and women experience deficiency. They need each other in mutual relationships of self-giving love for fullness, not defined or limited by assumptions about specific gender roles.

Comments, as ever, welcome

Gender and ministry 2: heroines of the faith?

Cherith Fee Nordling has a section in her chapter in the Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology that is easy to skip over. I was about to but then it stopped me dead in my tracks.

It is a sketch of famous women of faith through the history of the Christian church.

Sure I’d heard of the biblical ones – Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna … Jesus’ disciples (Joanna, Susanna, Mary, Mary Magdalene and unnamed others) .. Priscilla Paul’s co-worker and teacher, Junia ‘outstanding among the apostles’, Lydia, Nympha, Phoebe, Euodia and Syntyche and others.

and then after that I confess I know very little of many whom she lists (a selection below) …

Women  who were martyrs, teachers, scholars, evangelists, preachers, prophets and mothers: Blandina, Perpetua and Felicitas, prophets Prisca and Maximilla, Monica mother of Augustine, Paula supporter of Jerome, theologian Marcella, church leaders like Hildegard of Bingen, Hilda of Whitby, Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila.

With the Reformation were reformers and preachers like Argula Von Stauffer, Katherine Zell, Margaret Fell Fox (Quaker), Susanna Wesley (mother of the brothers), Margaret Davidson, Sarah Crosby, Mary Bosanquet Fletcher.  Later in North America preachers like Ann Hutchinson, Mary Dyer, Phoebe Palmer. And in Britain and North America were evangelists and preachers like Lucretia Mott, Lucy and Angelina Grimke, Antoinette Brown, Lucy Stone, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, the Blackmore sisters; social reformers and church leaders like Elizabeth Fry, Florence Nightengale and Josephine Butler.

and on the list goes up to the 19th century.

Nordling asks a simple but searching question.

‘How have evangelicals managed to miss or dismiss these women for so long?’

And what can be done so that women are not ‘missed or dismissed’ today?

Gender and ministry 1: what is gender?

I want to come back to Cherith Fee Nordling’s article on Gender in the Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology. I think it is one of the best short treatments of the issue of gender and women in ministry that I’ve read anywhere.

She asks what is gender?

And argues that it is “one’s bodily and cultural identity as male or female”. In other words, it is one’s sex (male or female) AND “assumed gender expectations regarding that person’s behaviours, personality, perceptions, motives, reactions, activities and attitudes.”

Here’s a key point: certain understandings of gender have dominated evangelical debates about men and women in ministry.

A ‘premodern’ view (which she locates as prior 1960) sees sex and gender as a natural given. There is a fixed natural order of things, a core way of being a man or a woman. There is a divinely ordered ‘essence’ of being male or female. (sounding familiar?) This is an essentialist approach that assumes a male and female nature that is universal and constant across all cultures and times.

A modern (post 1960) perspective rejects this. Gender is seen as more of a social construct, reflective of underlying cultural power structures. Gender and sexuality in this view are constructed according the values of those who have the power shape those structures. So those concerned with equality will work to change the structures to level the playing field between men and women.

Postmodern gender debates go further to stress the endless diversity and plurality of cultures, personalities, people, values and ideologies so as to show the impossibility of any universal values or meta-narrative – including the biblical narrative. Everything is local and contextual. Difference is stressed and any innate hierarchy is rejected.

So what to make of this?

Studies across cultures seem to affirm bits of all three views. People do learn very different ways of being feminine and masculine in different contexts globally. Yet these studies do show that there are at least three consistent things about gender:

The first two are rather obvious and universally agreed in all cultures : gender matters and there are two genders. The third is that there “are certain ways that males and females think, feel and act.” Yet this is this one that is hardest to pin down.

What are specifically male ways of thinking and feeling and acting? What are specifically female ways of doing the same? [sounds like an invite for some bad jokes]

The more you push this the more it becomes clear that there is no obvious or easy way to define what are ‘male’ ways of thinking, feeling and acting as opposed to ‘female’ ways of thinking feeling and acting.

Go on – have a go at trying! Are males uniquely ‘decisive’? Women uniquely compassionate? Males uniquely strategic thinkers? Woman uniquely networkers? This is where Piper’s ill defined supposed ‘masculine’ Christianity begins to fall apart. It is a subjective arbitrary set of assumptions and a model that is without biblical warrant. The Bible just does not set out to define ‘masculinity’ and then propose it as an essentialist model for the Christian faith.

Have you noticed that where Christians try to do this their version of ‘biblical masculinity’ or ‘biblical femininity’ ends up mirroring the assumptions of their own sub-cultures? So, for example, you get middle-class 1950s American assumptions about gender roles presented as the ‘biblical’ model of manhood and womanhood.

Instead the Bible celebrates that in Christ there is no male or female.  Men remain men. Women remain women. But in Christ deep religious, social, power, and cultural differences are overcome through common faith in Christ and the subsequent reception of the Spirit of God for all believers whatever their gender [Galatians 3-4].

Nordling puts it this way: men and women represent two hugely overlapping forms of humanity. It is impossible to draw clear lines between nature (sex) and nurture (experience). Such dualisms do not work. Being a man or a women is both having XY or XX chromosomes AND learning to be masculine or feminine [cultural constructs].

What God does call all his people to live in right relationships with each other and with Him, whatever their gender.

To be continued …

Comments, as ever, welcome